August 2007

As promised, my chapter from O’Reilly’s Beautiful Code book is now online under a free license:

Subversion’s Delta Editor: Interface as Ontology

Of course, no chapter on programming would be complete without tree diagrams…

Beautiful Code, Chapter 2 (page 13)

Beautiful Code, Chapter 2 (pages 14 and 15)

Since all the authors’ fees are being donated to Amnesty International, an unexpected result of writing a chapter for this book is that I feel I can finally use those return-address labels Amnesty International is always sending me in their fundraising letters. I hadn’t donated before — they’re a good cause, but there are a lot of good causes and I’ve been sending my money elsewhere. However, now that O’Reilly is effectively donating in my name, I don’t have to print my own address labels if I’m short on time: I can, without guilt, use the rather nice ones that have been arriving for free in the mail for years.

It was time.

There were stacks of books sitting on the floor, for lack of space to shelve them. Even I could no longer deny it: a purge was required, my first in fifteen years (the last one was in college).

Quite aware that I lacked the willpower to do it on my own, I begged Lev to come over and help. He agreed, and showed up mid-morning with a bright smile and a ready whip hand — exactly what the situation called for. Our rule was that a book could stay iff I might reread it, refer to it, lend it, or recommend it to someone else. If a book did not meet at least one of these criteria, it was politely but firmly to be shown the door. (More than once Lev had to remind me of the rules.) We both fell into the trap of starting to read in and talk about the books, but fortunately always managed to extricate ourselves before it was too late.

Here’s Lev when we were nearly finished, with about two-thirds of the discards:

Lev, posing with the discard pile.

(There are a few piles not shown, from bookshelves elsewhere in the apartment.)

Afterwards, we used Lev’s car (because it’s both a sports car and a station wagon) to drive the books…

The books packed into Lev's car.

…over to Valencia Street, where we divided them between Dog-Eared Books and Modern Times Bookstore.

Neither store accepts computer books, so I emptied those four bags (containing mostly obsolete O’Reilly manuals, but also recent ones that I just finally had to admit to myself I’d never have time to use) into the free bin outside Dog-Eared Books. Then I went back inside to negotiate with the owner, made a quick trip across 20th street to Modern Times to ask a few questions, then back to talk to Dog-Eared a bit more… Meanwhile, every so often I’d glance outside at the free bin on the sidewalk, and see someone leafing through one of the computer books I’d just dumped in there. The whole process couldn’t have taken more than twenty minutes, tops, but when it was done, I looked over again at the free bin — and all the computer books were gone.

Tells you something about the demographics of the Mission district, don’t you think? They may look like hipsters, but don’t be fooled: they’re all working for Yahoo.

I don’t normally do “What’s Karl been up to lately?” posts, feeling that people would probably rather read short articles on specific topics. But the last three weeks have been unusually busy and interesting, and they have kept me from posting anything at all. So now I’m writing a post just to say what I’ve been up to. For those who are interested in that: enjoy! For everyone else: I understand completely if you decide to move along to a different blog now. This is just going to be straight news about my life, not commentary on current events.

Three weeks ago, I went to OSCON up in Portland. It was terrific, one of the best I’ve attended. The keynotes were particularly strong this year; my favorites were:

That first speaker, Rick Falkvinge, is the founder and leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, a political party based on radical copyright and patent reform that has started to have an electoral impact in Sweden.

Full disclosure, with undisguised relish: my organization,, arranged Rick’s trip to the U.S. After he gave his keynote at OSCON, and co-presented a session on copyright reform with me the next day, we drove down to San Francisco, where he spoke at various venues in the Bay Area for the next week. Videos of his talks are online, and while he was in town, did an interview with him too. Rick stayed at my place, and we had a truly memorable week. It turns out you can devote yourself to copyright reform and still have a good time; who knew?

Also at OSCON, I sat on the Art of Community session panel, organized by Dawn Foster and Danese Cooper and moderated by Danese. It ended up being a real discussion, partly due to provocative questions from the audience, partly due to participants who were willing to say unexpected things, and partly because Danese knows who to prod when; check out the video and see for yourself. Other panelists were Jimmy Wales, Dawn Foster, Sulamita Garcia, Whurley, and Brian Behlendorf (forgive me for not making links for them all, but hey, who needs links when we have search engines, right?)

While OSCON was in town, Powell’s Technical Books and O’Reilly Media arranged a panel at the bookstore, with an editor and several authors from the new book Beautiful Code, and moderated by the inimitable Ward Cunningham. The other panelists were Andy Oram, Greg Kroah-Hartmann, Simon Peyton Jones. It was standing room only and a lot of fun — again with a very provocative audience. That’s one thing I like about having open source hackers be my social set: they’re not shy about saying what they really think. (Never change, never change!)

A final bit of OSCON news. I got the heck surprised out of me: a 2007 Google-O’Reilly Open Source Award (for “Best Community
Builder”). It’s gauche, I guess, to blog about getting an award, but I want to for two reasons. First, since the nominations process is anonymous, I don’t know who to thank for this, so the only way to thank them is to do it here. Whoever you are: thanks, I really appreciate it! Other recipients that night were Pamela Jones, Aaron Leventhal, David Recordon, and Paul Vixie; that’s mighty good company to be in, and I’m honored.

The second reason is that some friends of mine (cough Brian Fitzpatrick cough Zaheda Bhorat cough) managed to pull off an amazing bit of deception. No one ever told me to show up at the awards ceremony; there was not a hint from any source that I should go that night. Somehow they managed to get me to confirm that I was planning to attend (which I was, since I thought there was a chance that someone I knew would win one) without my ever noticing that I’d been asked, or that I’d answered. I don’t even know exactly when they did this. Furthermore, since I hadn’t been told to go, I went in “knowing” that I wasn’t in the running (in fact, I thought I was probably disqualified since I used to work at Google anyway). So they managed to pull off a complete surprise. Nice one :-).

The week after OSCON was a complete blast, with Rick Falkvinge visiting, giving talks all over town about the Swedish Pirate Party (yes, we visited the Pirate Store near my house; how could we not?). I’m hoping to get some pictures from Rick’s camera from that week; I’ll post them when I have them.

And that brings us up to the present, nearly. What I’ve been doing this past week is also exciting, but it’s not done yet, so I’ll wait and blog about it later.

If you made it this far, thanks for listening! Check out Jim’s delightful post about opening a box of books.