Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Freshening up my (Linux) hat

I was getting ready to do some work on Derby, and since it was a fine weekend and I had some time to spare, I decided to take the opportunity to update my development environment.

I had been running Fedora 22 for quite some time, and it's become rather out of date.

So now I'm running Fedora 25, which is much more modern.

I still have the dickens of a time trying to get Linux guest machines to recognize my video hardware via VirtualBox, so all too often I just get a 1024 x 768 display, which ain't much.

The message

VBoxClient: the VirtualBox kernel service is not running. Exiting.
should win some sort of award for "error message most likely to give you bad and useless suggestions when you Google search for it."

Still, at least I've got a more up-to-date OS on my guest.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

GVFS status report from Microsoft

The largest Git repo on the planet:

Today, I want to share our results. ... we have largely completed the rollout of Git/GVFS to the Windows team at Microsoft ... we now have about 3,500 of the roughly 4,000 Windows engineers on Git ... We knew when we rolled out Git that lots of our performance work wasn’t done yet and we also learned some new things along the way. ... over time, engineers crawl across the code base and touch more and more stuff leading to a problem we call “over hydration”. Basically, you end up with a bunch of files that were touched at some point but aren’t really used any longer and certainly never modified. This leads to a gradual degradation in performance. ... another round of performance improvements we call “O(modified)” which changes the proportionality of many key commands to instead be proportional to the number of files I’ve modified (meaning I have current, uncommitted edits on) ... we invested in building a Git proxy solution for GVFS that allows us to cache Git data “at the edge” ... 70 seconds vs almost 25 minutes is an almost 95% improvement ... working to get all of those changes contributed back to the mainline

Also interesting: Git at Scale:

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Upper Rhine Valley: chateaux

A co-worker asked me to sum up my visit to France in two words; on the spot, I chose "wineries" and "castles".

It's of course no surprise that a visit to France is rich with wineries, but when we were first thinking about traveling to Alsace I was not thinking about castles, which are more properly described as chateaux.

And for much of our time in France we were in towns and cities, and really didn't think much about either wineries or castles, but rather about cathedrals and cobblestone streets and canals and half-timbered houses and the like.

But then, one day, we went out for a drive in the country, and we stopped and had a picnic lunch.

And there we were, sitting at a picnic table next to a beautiful country winery, in a beautiful town in a part of the world where wine-making has been practiced for nearly two thousand years. And the weather was beautiful, and we were looking up at the Vosges mountains above town, and we saw, across the mountain ridges, castle after castle after castle.

Really, it's just like they promise on the chamber of commerce web site:

Anyway, this part of France is simply blanketed with these beautiful chateaux, as you can easily see for yourself by looking at the "Bas-Rhin" (lower Rhine valley) and "Haut-Rhin" (upper Rhine valley) sections of the List of castles in France page on Wikipedia. Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin, together, comprise the major part of the Alsace region, and just by skimming the Wikipedia page you can see that no other part of France is as full of castles as this.

Why is that? Well, apparently we have a father-son pair to thank: Frederick the first of Swabia, and his son Frederick ("the one-eyed"), founders of the mighty Hohenstaufen dynastic family of the Middle Ages, ruled over these parts in the 1100's and built literally dozens of castles along the ridges of the mountains on either side of the Upper Rhine Valley (the Vosges to the west, the Swabian Jura to the east).

One lovely local guidebook I read says that there is an Alsatian saying that "Frederick the One-Eyed placed chateaux around the Vosges as though he was flicking his horse's tail."

Even in ruined state, these castles are gorgeous, as you can see in this picture I took on our visit to Kastelberg, near Waldkirch, Germany:

But, really, it's very hard to understand the role of these castles in their ruined state.

You find yourself mystified: what were these places like? Why were they built? Why on the top of mountain ridges? Who lived here? What was it like to live here?

Questions like these are why Chateau Haut-Koenigsbourg is such a delight.

Although the castle is one of the Hohenstaufen constructions, and hence is almost 900 years old, and was completely destroyed during the Thirty Years War, it was beautifully and carefully restored about 130 years ago and has been carefully maintained ever since.

Taking the tour of this castle was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. The museum is superb, with lots of information displayed as you wander the massive, extensive castle from bottom to top and back down again.

We were lucky to visit on a glorious summer day, yet have the grounds mostly to ourselves (a major surprise, since the castle is said to be one of the top 10 most-visited destinations in all of France!).

We spent hours there.

In fact, I was so enthralled that I broke one of my unwritten "laws of traveling" and bought a lovely little souvenir booklet in the gift shop, which I very much enjoyed reading.

If we had a month to spend in Alsace, or better if we actually lived there, I'm sure I would go to visit as many of these beautiful chateaux as I could.

But since our time was sadly limited, I am wonderfully happy that we got to see the ones we did, and if you ever find yourself in Alsace I thoroughly recommend that you visit at least Chateau Haut-Koenigsburg, and perhaps several more as your time permits.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

It's not just a game ...

... it's a mini-series: The Witcher Is Getting A Netflix Series.

... and it's a story that stays with you, years later: Reading The Game: Witcher 3

It is the story of a man looking for his daughter. It is the story of a lot of people looking for a lot of missing things — friends, comrades, nations, history


It is rare for a big game to be so focused on the small things. Exceedingly rare for it to be made up, more or less, of a thousand trivial, funny, sad, often pointless stories which all, in their way, cut the path that the plot will ultimately follow.

Good games are epic. Great games are true. And Wild Hunt is that rarest of modern, digital myths: One that is both.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Updated list of my trips with Mike

I'm going to try to use the Blogger "pages" facility to keep track of this, because it works better than having a new summary post every year: My Backpacking Trips with Mike.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Upper Rhine Valley: prelude and overture

We took an altogether-too-short but thoroughly wonderful trip to the Upper Rhine Valley region of Europe. I'm not sure that "Upper Rhine Valley" is a recognized term for this region, so please forgive me if I've abused it; more technically, we visited:

  1. The Alsace region of France
  2. The Schwarzenwald region of Germany
  3. The neighboring areas of Frankfurt, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland.
But since we were at no point more than about 40 miles from the Rhine river, and since we were several hundred miles from the Rhine's mouth in the North Sea, it seems like a pretty good description to me.

Plus, it matches up quite nicely with this map.

So there you go.

Anyway, we spent 10 wonderful days there, which was hardly even close to enough, but it was what we had.

And I, in my inimitable fashion, packed about 30 days of sightseeing into those 10 days, completely exhausting my travel companions.

Once again, no surprise.

I'll have more to write about various aspects of the trip subsequently, but here let me try to crudely summarize the things that struck me about the trip.

  • Rivers are incredibly important in Europe, much more so than here in America. Rivers provide transportation, drinking water, sewage disposal, electric power, food (fish), and form the boundaries between regions and nations. They do some of these things in America, too, but we aren't nearly as attached to our rivers as they are in Central Europe, where some of the great rivers of the world arise.
  • For centuries, castles helped people keep an eye on their rivers, and make sure that their neighbors were behaving as they should in the river valleys.
  • Trains are how you go places in Europe. Yes, you can fly, or you can drive, but if you CAN take a train, you should. And, if you can take a first class ticket on TGV, you absolutely, absolutely should. I have never had a more civilized travel experience than taking the TGV from Frankfurt to Strasbourg. (Though full credit to Lufthansa for being a much-better-than-ordinary airline. If you get a chance to travel Lufthansa, do it.)
  • To a life-long inhabitant of the American West, Central Europe is odd for having almost no animals. People live in Central Europe, nowadays; animals do not. BUT: storks!
  • France, of course, is the country that perfected that most beautiful of beverages: wine. While most of the attention to wine in France goes to Southern France, don't under-rate Alsace, for they have absolutely delicious wines of many types, and have been making wine for (at least) 2,000 years. We Californians may think we know something about wine; we don't.
  • The visible history of the Upper Rhine Valley is deeply formed by the Franks. Don't try to understand the cathedrals, villages, cities, etc. without spending some time thinking about Charlemagne, etc. And, if you were like me and rather snored through this part of your schooling, prepare to have your eyes opened.
  • The other major history of the Upper Rhine Valley involves wars. My, but this part of the world has been fought over for a long time. Most recently, of course, we can distinguish these major events:
    1. The Franco-Prussian war, which unified Germany and resulted in Alsace being a German territory
    2. World War One
    3. World War Two
    Although the most recent of these events is now 75 years in the past, the centuries and centuries of conflict over who should rule these wonderful lands has left its mark, deeply.

    So often through my visit I thought to myself: "Am I in French Germany? Or perhaps is this German France?" Just trying to form and phrase these questions in my head, I realized how little I knew, and how much there is to learn, about how people form their bonds with their land, and their neighbors, and their thoughts. Language, food, customs, politics, literature: it's all complex and it's all one beautiful whole.

    This, after all, is the land where Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, where people like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Louis Pasteur, John Calvin, and Albert Schweitzer lived and did their greatest work.

I could, of course, have been much terser:

  1. The Upper Rhine Valley is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The people who live there are very warm and welcoming, and it is a delightful place to take a vacation
  2. Early May is an absolutely superb time to go there.

I'll write more later, as I find time.

Back online

I took a break from computers.

I had a planned vacation, and so I did something that's a bit rare for me: I took an 11 day break from computers.

I didn't use any desktops or laptops. I didn't have my smartphone with me.

I went 11 days without checking my email, or signing on to various sites where I'm a regular, or opening my Feedly RSS read, or anything like that.

Now, I wasn't TOTALLY offline: there were newspapers and television broadcasts around, and I was traveling with other people who had computers.

But, overall, it was a wonderful experience to just "unplug" for a while.

I recommend it highly.