Conferencing in Germany
I'm in Germany right now at Chemnitzer Linux-tag. Chemnitz is a town, and Linux-tag means "Linux day," which is slightly wrong because it's actually two days. The going theory for the misname is that the correct, pluralized name would be "Linux-tage", but we stupid anglophones would probably mispronounce "tage" much worse than we mispronounce "tag", so they leave it the way it is. Plus it might have been only one day, once upon a time.
Speaking of stupid anglophones, there are only two of us here (me and dcoombs, who is doing a talk on WvStreams), in a conference that some estimate has about 1800 German-speaking attendants. This is strange. In fact, I was getting really worried at first about the fact that we spent a lot of money to fly us here and neither of us understands, well, any of the talks. However, pphaneuf was totally right: the point of a technical conference isn't the presentations at all. It's the conversations you have with people outside of the presentations. And I've learned a lot by talking to people:
IPv6, Itanium, Dylan, Subversion, Non-sucky X Compression!
It turns out that IPv6 sucks much less than I thought, and Intel's Itanium sucks much more. Both of these revelations came to me from Matthias of symlink.ch, who showed me seamless, painless, easy IPv6-over-IPv4 and told me about his actual experiences programming efficient Itanium assembly language. So in both cases, he ought to know.
I also had an interesting discussion about the Dylan programming language. Tim Pritlove, a big proponent of the language, told me why it was theoretically so great, and I bounced him some tough theoretical criticisms (thanks, slajoie and pphaneuf, for providing me with most of these) that he mostly answered satisfactorily. Of course, nothing proves a language like actual real-world use, and, well... it doesn't have any. Still, very educational. I might try it out and see if the only reason it's not popular is that people like me don't try it out.
Other bits of wisdom: Subversion seems really good, except your whole repository is in one big, probably corrupted bdb database. Nomachine has now GPLed the important parts of their very excellent (I tried it months ago) NX X/VNC/RDP/etc protocol compressor. If you've tried other X protocol compressors before (eg. the worse-than-useless LBX), forget them; this is the real deal. And now you can get away without paying for it!
But most importantly of all:
German Bathroom Construction
German bathrooms are totally awesome. And I mean that not in the, "Yo, d00d, that awesome stuff totally r0x!" kind of way, but rather that when you experience one of these bathrooms, you are actually in awe. It's the kind of awe that makes you think, "You know, if me and this bathroom got in a fight, the bathroom would definitely win, big time."
In Canada, bathroom stalls simply don't lock properly. Don't get me wrong - they all have locks - but the locks, when they aren't actually broken, almost never line up with their sockets. This can't be just shoddy construction - it's shoddy construction combined with some kind of fundamental misdesign.
All German bathrooms, on the other hand (and let's be frank: I've tried a lot of them now, so I oughta know) are built like tanks. Not coincidentally, the Germans also invented tanks. The doors are super-solid, always line up perfectly, and have double locks. "No, I don't think that's locked enough, let's turn it one more time so it's extra locked!" And you're just not going to get out until you unlock - twice. I know, because I'm locked in my hotel bathroom as I write this.
In fact, all German construction seems to be this solid. You get the distinct feeling that anything built by a German is simply not ever going to fall down. And then you realize that we - yes, we, the people with the vastly inferior bathrooms - were actually at war with these people, twice, and somehow they lost. It's hard to believe.
Popularity Contest Popular
Yay, after all these years, my popularity-contest has made it to slashdot. Of course, most people seem to have assumed the code is totally dumb; they missed the fact that it only votes for packages that you actually use, not just the ones you install, so it's not inherently wrong. There are also lots of silly comments about how you shouldn't choose your packages based on popularity... well, maybe that's not how you should decide what to install (and maybe it is), but it makes perfect sense for the most popular packages to be on the first (and maybe only) disc!
I have to say, the people who took over popcon from me (since I'm lazy) do seem to have put a fair amount of good work into it. At least, they have cute graphs of the results.
Update 2004/03/29: Italicized "inherently." It just needed it.
Capitalism in Action
After reading a few semi-depressing books and articles about the way standard-economics-as-taught-in-school doesn't actually work (because almost all markets are inherently imperfect), and mostly agreeing with them, I realized that right now in Montreal I'm surrounded by examples of perfect free-market capitalism: restaurants.
Some background: some major reasons capitalist markets fail are incomparable goods and high cost of entry. For example, I can buy cotton from just about anybody with cotton, but CorelDraw just isn't the same as Adobe Illustrator. They're similar, but I can't only compare them on price; I have to decide which one I want more. Furthermore, some guy off the street can't just walk in, make a better graphics package, and sell it to you: he has to spend a lot of money (the "cost of entry") first. One big reason Microsoft can maintain their monopoly is that the cost of just getting started competing with them can (and does, regularly) put just about anyone out of business.
So basically, the software market is depressing, because I only took Economics 101 and it can't be explained by that. In my continuing attempts to simplify my model of the universe, however, I moved to Montreal, which brings me to my point: restaurants. Useless trivia: Montreal is second only to New York City in North America for "number of restaurants per capita", ie. the number of steps you have to walk down the street before stumbling into some food.
There are all imaginable prices of restaurant (and at varying quality, of course), and lots of each type, so they have to compete on price. You can buy as large or small a quantity of food as you want. You can start a cheap restaurant and quickly move up in the world, so the cost of entry is relatively low. And the market, in action, is amazing: just watch the consumers get sucked dry! No matter how much money you have, you can spend every last penny, no more, no less, on food, and still feel good about yourself, as this example shows. If you normally buy groceries, then eating out is a treat. If you normally eat at Burger King, then eating out anywhere else is a treat. If you normally eat at cheap diners, then eating at a nicer cafe/bistro is a treat. If you normally eat at nice bistros, then eating at a fancy restaurant is a treat. And if you always eat at fancy restaurants, well, Canada has a lovely progressive income tax system.