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October 31, 2005

Writing a Piece of a Grant

During my time at Tufts I've attended countless meetings specifically convened to discuss grant ideas, and even more where the focus has been something else but the conversation turned to finding grant funding for a particular idea. Over the past two years I've been more involved in grant planning and serving as a technical advisor to the grant writers.

Most recently I've been involved in a series of meetings focused on putting together a proposal for a specific grant. Today I led a discussion with a handful of folks to review the broad technical steps involved in accomplishing the ideas on the table for the grant application. After the discussion, and for the first time in all those meetings about grants, I was asked to write a part of the grant.

I don't know if I should be excited or scared, but for some reason it felt like I had passed a milestone that was worthy of note.

Posted by mike at 8:42 PM

October 26, 2005

Damian Conway's Small Miracle Talk at MIT

Sitting (with the other three TUSK developers) at MIT watching Damian Conway, who's delivering his "Small Miracles" talk. It's the story of Damian getting to a YAPC in 2003 and hearing that he's going to stand in for Larry Wall. Damian describes this talk as:

In 2003 Damian arrived at the YAPC::NA conference only to be told that he had to give both keynotes, rather than just the one he had prepared. "Oh, and we need you to present the extra one this time tomorrow." Ever wondered what you'd get if you locked Damian in a hotel room for 24 hours with nothing but a perl interpreter, a deadline, and a dozen PowerBars? This talk reveals the ten terrifying answers.

The talk is classic Damian Conway, a bit of introduction to the situation in "Part the First" and then covers the Perl programs/modules in "Part the Second:"

  1. makeslides - make text files to view in vi to deliver presentations
  2. application.pm - call any application from a perl program (jpg viewer, iTunes)
  3. Smart::Comments - module to add progress bars to running applications by sticking in comments in specific formats
  4. Tenacious::Undef - give Perl trivalent logic (and yes, Damian likes Tenacious D
  5. Memoize::ITU3X ("I Tell You 3 Times") - a module to go through source code finding packages and caches modules to make Perl calls run in zero time
  6. Manifest::Constants - module to control if/where constants can appear in Perl
  7. ?? - I got too enthralled, can't remember this one (battery ran low, had to stop)
  8. Perl6::Junctions - Perl 6 junction functionality in Perl 5
  9. Text::Autoformat - added a long-requested fix to the processing of mail headers and footers

After Damian finished his presentation there were a lot of questions about the different modules which eventually led to a long conversation about operators in Perl 6. Although I understood what was being said, I have to confess I've never seen such passion for the inner workings of Perl. Enlightening. The Boston.pm folks were quite friendly and made us feel welcome.

Posted by mike at 7:32 PM

October 20, 2005

Getting the Hookup at Local Market

I've been going to this small market a few blocks down from my office for several years. Sometimes I'm in there a few times a week for a bag of chips or soda and then there are other times where I don't stop in for weeks.

I just noticed this week that the owner, an older Asian gentleman (this is in Chinatown) who I think owns the store, is giving me a discount. I went in twice this week to get a soda and noticed it both times.

It's a small thing, a dime here and a nickel there, but it's enough to make me think they know me and appreciate my business. With that kind of feeling, why would I ever go to CVS where I'm just one of a hundred customers in line waiting to get shuffled through?

Posted by mike at 1:41 PM

October 19, 2005

Boston MySQL Meetup?

The mysql.meetup.com list is now up to 32 folks in the Boston area who are interested in a MySQL meetup. Today I got an email from a former Tufts employee who's now a MySQL DBA in the Boston area suggesting we get something started. I have been tempted to make the leap and step up as the meeting coordinator but have 1) never done something so outwardly social and 2) am not sure I have the time to commit to coordinating these. However, I think it would be a lot of fun and worth the time to be able to exchange ideas with other MySQL users.

Are there folks that are really interested in this? What makes for a good, first MySQL meetup? What would make the meetup compelling to attend? A good speaker or topic, the right location? If I talk to the right people I think I could line up a room at Tufts (either Boston or Medford campus). Is a function room in a campus building going to deter folks from coming (as opposed to a coffee shop somewhere)?

I would propose that the Boston MySQL meetup, if/when it does meet, use the "United MySQL Meetup" day and meet on the first Monday of the month. Unless someone else steps up and starts coordinating for a Nov 7th meeting (I'm at AAMC), I'm thinking of December 5th as a possibility for the first meeting.

As you can tell, I'm still not fully committed, otherwise I would have clicked on the "I'll be the planner" link and gotten things rolling. Any reason I shouldn't?

Posted by mike at 8:05 PM

October 18, 2005

People do read this weblog!

Over the past 6 months I have been amazed at how many times this weblog has come up in conversation. It seems to happen a lot in meetings at Tufts, many folks know I blog and either read along or just know me as "the person to look at when I mention the word blog".

Just yesterday I was at a meeting that included some discussion of the disaster recovery plan and my blog post about the meeting I went to with the consultants (comparing it to Office Space) was mentioned. That post was from May 2004, over a year ago. I couldn't remember what I had said, and got what I think was a nervous look from my boss. After a review, I don't think there's anything to be worried about.

As equally suprising are the times when I've been at various conferences and am approached by people who stumbled into this weblog for any number of reasons and got caught up in reading more than they were looking for and now know details about me that I guess I never thought would be looked at.

The honest truth is that I still think of this weblog as a place that I keep track of things I'm doing, find interesting, or might want to remember down the road. I write as if someone might read, but operate under the "nobody in their right mind would find this stuff interesting."

So to those who do read, thanks. My writing frequency goes in waves, and fluxuates between a wide range of topics. If you are ever interested in suggesting a topic I should post on, or a follow-up to a post that I've forgotten to provide closure for, please don't hesitate to write or post a comment.

Posted by mike at 8:29 AM

October 11, 2005

5 Days, Just Me and the Kids

For Mother's Day I gave Heidi a plane ticket to Arizona to visit a friend. She's been there for 5 days, and comes back today. Since last Thursday it's been just me, Jo (4yrs) and Ezra (3yrs).

It started as a daunting experience. There is no way to describe what it's like to think that for the next five days I will have to be there for everything from morning to night and the only pure break is from 8pm to 7am when they sleep.

To keep the sanity I scheduled at least one activity each day. On Thursday we did a bunch of errands, but started them with a visit to a favorite playground where we played for over an hour.

Friday was school, which goes from 8:30 to 11:30. I used that time to make progress on the Linux Magazine article. In the afternoon we went and got Ezra a new pair of shoes.

On Saturday we went and saw March of the Penguins. It was the first time either Jo or Ezra have been to a movie in a theater. I thought it would be cool and fun and exciting but the movie wasn't as interesting to the kids as I had hoped so had to run out and get some popcorn and candy to keep them occupied. Afterward it was clear that although they acted bored, they did pick up a lot of details from the movie.

Sunday was church and then we went and visited some friends in the late afternoon and let the kids have free reign over the living room and toys.

Monday we went up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and spend several hours in the children's museum, which is an old three-story school that's been converted. We left after breakfast, and didn't get home until almost dinner time.

In all, the experience was really good. I know a lot of dad's shy away from these kinds of opportunities. If you are interested in getting to know your kids, and getting to know yourself, I highly recommend doing something of this nature. It's not easy, but a rewarding experience. I felt pretty good when Heidi came back and everyone had "made it through" having had a pretty good time.

Update: In the days following Heidi's return I got more than one request from the kids to have another time where the kids get to spend all day with just dad. That's a good feeling.

Posted by mike at 8:57 AM

October 8, 2005

Draft of MySQL Article off to Linux Magazine

Jay and I spent the past week writing a MySQL article for Linux Magazine that's now in the hands of the folks over there. Whew, nice burden of the shoulders. Looking forward to some feedback to incorporate into a final draft.

I wasn't sure I wanted to tackle any more writing after having wrapped up Pro MySQL in June, but found that as I got going it was pretty enjoyable. I really enjoyed being back at the MySQL prompt working in MySQL 5.0.13. Noticed a few things (triggers are now in the database namespace) when doing the article examples that made me want to do another pass through the MySQL docs. I wasn't so crazy about the shift to a less formal voice and using "you" everywhere instead of "we." Not easy to switch writing styles after having spent so many months using the Apress style.

As I was writing I came up with a few other article ideas which I hope might be interesting to the folks at Linux Magazine. As always, way too many ideas than there is actually time to do with.

Posted by mike at 12:31 AM

October 7, 2005

New House Windows

We lived in our last house for five years, and told ourselves several times
that someday we'd replace the old single-pane windows. Rather than do that again, and waste some huge amount of money in heat going through the single-pane windows in our new house, we called in the experts and had ten of our windows replaced. That's somewhere around half of the windows in the house, we did all of the third-floor windows and the bedrooms on the second floor.

We chose NewPro windows, which are made locally and seem top-notch. The best part of it is that we paid one price to have the windows sized, manufactured, and installed (including removal and disposal of old windows). The installers were finished within 6 hours.

Interested to see how the windows hold up over time . . . yes they have a 50-year warrantee but the sales guy didn't have any evidence on how long they would actually last (wouldn't a customer testimonial after 20 years be good?). Hopefully I'll write in another 5 or 10 years with a report on the duration of NewPro satisfaction.

The photo is a snapshot I took once all of the windows were removed. Kind of strange to see the house with the gaping holes.

Posted by mike at 11:15 AM

October 5, 2005

Meeting of the Tufts University MySQL Minds

Last week I attended a meeting with a few co-workers at Tufts University to talk about MySQL. I don't know that anyone has a good guess as to how many instances of MySQL run in the university (three campuses, dozens of departments). Of the folks at the meeting there were ~30 instances represented.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide input to consolidation of the instances that the systems group are responsible for. They have ~20 instances of MySQL spread across as many machines and are thinking about combining many of these instances onto a few, more powerful servers.

The conversation touched on many systems running MySQL at Tufts including DNS management tools, the RT tracking system, TUSK (Tufts University Sciences Knowledgebase), webmail (IMP), etc.

We spent most of the time talking about the existing systems and what kinds of questions needed to be asked/answered in order to make a sane decision about moving toward a new setup. This included everything from determining what version of MySQL was running on the various hosts and if there were application dependencies on those specific versions, to looking at specific queries running on different systems to get a sense of how intense the database was being used.

Before heading into the meeting I had talked to the organizer and offered some suggestions on how to monitor the usage of a MySQL instance. Upon arrival one of the sysadmins showed the attendees a cricket monitoring system she had set up to plot a number of different statistics about their various systems. Pretty cool.

That's one of my ideas for a MySQL presentation proposal . . . how to plan for the future of a current MySQL installation. There are lots of tools out there to tell you how well your database will perform under certain loads, and a bunch of stats for what's happening right now, but I haven't seen much in the way of gathering statistics and plotting them over time. Just an idea.

Anyhow, the meeting of the Tufts MySQL minds was fun and I got to meet at least one person I hadn't met before and get to know a few folks better.

Posted by mike at 10:53 AM