July 2008 Archives

Thanks to chezfugu, who mentioned it in a comment, I now listen to the Long Now Foundation podcast (iTunes Link). The one I started listening to today is very interesting: it is the presentation of Rusty Schweickart titled “The Asteroid Threat Over the Next 100,000 Years”. It is a very refreshing and down to Earth approach to a problem that we will have to face, in the long term. I find that it is a very good example of what the Long Now Foundation is all about.

If you're more into science fiction, I recommend Manifold: Time, by Stephen Baxter (non-affiliated Amazon link). It opens up some very interesting perspective about the future of mankind.

I don't know why this fascinates me, as I probably won't see the 2100s. But these major events could happen tomorrow. Anyway, in the meantime, there is this looming energy crisis that is going to be very “interesting”. Much change lies ahead!

Il y a une grève-surprise des bus aujourd'hui à Bologne. J'ai de la chance, j'ai trouvé un moyen de venir travailler. Mais j'ai eu le cœur retourné de voir quelqu'un complètement paniqué qui attendait le bus depuis plus d'une heure et qui n'avait pas de solution pour aller bosser. Et pas assez d'argent pour se payer un taxi.

Je suis contre toute forme de blocage de services publics, quelle que soit la raison, parce que je tiens aux services publics. Dès que l'on force quelqu'un à chercher une alternative, dès que l'on se place dans un mode compétitif, l'approche service public perd de son sens et cela devient une entreprise comme une autre. Pour moi, l'essence du service public est l'égalité d'accès : ne pas payer plus cher les routes, l'électricité ou le gaz parce que l'on habite à la campagne. L'avantage est aussi politique : il permet de planifier, de prendre en compte des externalités, et de ne pas chercher à optimiser le profit immédiat à tout bout de champ. La situation de la production énergétique est un bon exemple, si on compare les pays où tout est privé aux pays où (presque) tout est public (enfin, pour un temps).

Lorsque l'on bloque un service public, que ce soit en tant qu'acteur ou spectateur, on prend clairement position contre ce service. Et c'est quelque chose que je ne peux pas accepter.

For more than a week, my Palm Tungsten T3 has been laying the bottom of my backpack, instead of my pants pocket where it used to be. Upon writing this post, I recovered it to see if the battery had died, and it had not. palm.png It was very low, but I had not lost all my data, a nice change from a couple weeks ago when I went through several full restores after total data loss due to the battery running out.

This T3 is almost 5 years old. And for its age it's a very respectable little gadget. But I need something I can rely on. I'm using more and more my Moleskine notebook to take notes, but I don't store in it my often changing calendars, my growing list of contacts, and a lot of the information I want to keep handy. For this I still use the Palm, as a read-only data viewer. And it's of course not very satisfying.

The normal course of action would simply be to go and buy a new model. I started using Palms 11 years ago, and the T3 is my third one. There is room in my heart for a fourth! But the problem here is Palm, the company. None of their products is what I need. The Treo comes close, but it's using the same single-task OS as my old Palm. I could switch to Windows Mobile, but I really don't want too. And there is the question of synchronization as well: I really don't want to deal with MarkSpace anymore, after the fiasco that was the (lack of) free upgrade to use their software with Leopard. (If you're curious about it, go check the archives of their forums around November 2007.) So a new Palm is not a solution.

What's a little sad in this story is that they really had it, 5 to 7 years ago. They were making great innovative versatile devices, with a thriving community of developers. I've read books, listened to music, played games (even “Dungeon Master” on an Atari ST emulator), and kept track of many things on these little beasts. I quickly learned that a Palm was worth as much as one puts into it, and much I did! Lists of books, appointments, phone numbers, notes from meetings, recipes... It would be my small computer away from my real computer. The only thing it was lacking was some form of connectivity, in this very wired age. The other thing that was tiring was to carry a separate cell phone, and a separate iPod.

So I'm going to take the logical step. In a couple weeks, when the craziness has subsided, I'll go buy an iPhone. Till then, I may keep looking up a phone number once or twice a week, when I'm away from the computer. But most probably my T3 will run out of battery at the bottom of my backpack, forgotten.

Then it will really be “Goodbye, Palm.”

My trip to the US the last few weeks was not only about choosing papers for a great conference, or getting ready for presenting some recent works, but also some great hacking time on Unison with Benjamin Pierce.

The result is best summarized by this message Benjamin sent on the Unison-users mailing list:

Dear Unison Users,

During the past couple of weeks, Alan Schmitt and I have been doing
quite a bit of work trying to improve Unison's ability to deal with
large files and directories. This has required some major internal
changes, which will take a little time to fully stabilize, but we're
using it ourselves and it appears to be working. (Also, we believe
that we've left all of Unison's paranoid double-checking mechanisms in
place, so the new functionality should at least be fail-safe.) At
this point, we'd love to have some other courageous souls using it, to
help us shake out the last remaining bugs.

We've done two main things in this version:

  • Added support for resuming directory transfers if Unison is
    interrupted in the middle. This functionality is always on.

  • Added support for using an external utility for single-file
    transfers. (Unison's built-in transport mechanism is not very fast
    for this case, so an external program like rsync can substantially
    improve performance.) If the external program is able to resume
    interrupted transfers (as rsync is, for example), this will make
    things even faster.

This functionality is enabled by setting the flag "copythreshhold" to
something non-negative. Setting it to zero will use the external
program for all whole-file transfers (i.e., where the file has been
created on one host). Setting it to something positive will use the
external program for transferring files larger than this value (in KB).

The external utility is rsync by default. If you want to use a
different one, set the "copyprog" and "copyprogrest" preferences.
(They are described in detail in the Preferences section of the user

You can find both sources and binaries (for OSX-Intel and Windows) on
the Unison download page. Please post a note here with any
experiences, positive or negative.


  • Benjamin (and Alan)

Don't hesitate to give it a test! I have OS X (Universal) and Windows (Gtk) binaries ready for you.

And for historical records: Unison was a stop-gap measure waiting for efficient and easy to use distributed file systems. Unfortunately we are still waiting...

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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