Retreat!

Our most excellent week in Serbia has come to an end, and we three are now unwinding our travel stack, if you will. We just arrived back at Schiphol, again via Zurich, and here we’ll stay overnight before catching our flights home.

(Or homeward, at least; Vlad’s labyrinthine travel arrangements have him spending about 20 hours in Toronto on Monday, before finally making it back to SFO. Quel jet setter!)

Before quitting the Continent tomorrow evening, Vlad and I are going to revisit Amsterdam proper for some additional gift/souvenir acquisition. And then I have at least two weeks at home, to which I am very much looking forward, I must say. Stuart and I may go into the city for dinner tonight, though the rain is somewhat offputting; we’ll see how persuasive he is.

Downshift

So far, my Serbian vacation has been great. Vlad has been a great host, as were his family when we drove down to Jagodina to pay a visit and escape Belgrade’s potent cocktail of heat, humidity, and smog.

My mastery of the Serbian language remains frustratingly incomplete, but I was able to wander out on my own and get a drink and food the other night without too much difficulty. Comprehension remains alarmingly fragile, with “we only serve drinks now” being no problem and “we don’t serve food now” requiring several passes of “ne razumem” to resolve. I’m starting to feel like each new word takes up less brainspace now, though, which is a pleasant knee-in-the-curve sensation I recall from my early days of studying Latin, or for that matter various computer languages and environments. Vlad still makes fun of my pronunciation of several words, including the crucial “hiljadu”, or “thousand”. Given that a 1000-dinar note is equivalent in buying power to a little more than $20, this is a pretty useful word, especially when one is locked in battle with a waitress over the making of change.

My aforementioned difficulty notwithstanding, Serbian has ridiculously straightforward pronunciation: every letter is pronounced, every letter has a single context-independent sound, and the emphasis is virtually always on the first syllable. What pronunciation gives, however, grammar takes away with a smirking swipe. Coming from a modest background in French and Latin, and a mostly-forgotten semester’s study of Greek, I was emotionally prepared for the array of declensions and cases, and their construction is relatively regular. Their use, though, can be a little hairy. As an example, when you are speaking of “one” thing, the word for one is an adjective and accords with the thing you are counting. But when you are speaking of two to four things, you use the plural genitive, and once you’ve got five or more the singular genitive is employed. (If I recall correctly; I’m away from my book right now, and Vlad’s a little tired of answering my grammar-school questions.). I’m sure it’s quite natural once you get used to it. I am not yet used to it, though it turns out that screwing up one’s declensions does not render one unintelligible, so I manage to muddle along. Cyrillic is no big problem, other than that it slows my brain down to below the sight-reading threshold, and that sometimes I mistake which alphabet is in play on short signs and the like. Cursive Cyrillic is basically another alphabet, not unlike one composed primarily of mostly-indistinct sine waves; don’t get me started. Nor on italics.

In other communication-related news, our efforts to obtain internet access here have been largely in vain. We had a tenuous connection for a few hours yesterday morning at the offices of the Serbian Unity Congress, and a brief period of excellent connectivity for my laptop while we were speaking at ETF in the afternoon, but otherwise it’s been nil. Much of the underlying telecoms infrastructure in Belgrade is pretty veteran stuff, often dating back to WWII, so a certain, mmm, fickleness is to be expected. I wonder if we’ll see wireless-based ISPs take off here, as an end-run around the phone system (electronic and corporate). If nothing else, the IP-over-second-hand-smoke business plan practically writes itself. (My Blackberry has been terrifyingly reliable, and a marvelous deal if the $0.05/kB rate I believe I’m getting holds. The only place I’ve noticed not having full GPRS service on this whole European tour was at a 14th century monastery on Tuesday, when I was tapping in an email to Tyla. Clearly, it was a sign.)

Our somewhat impromptu talk at ETF (no link, sorry, but your search engine of choice will probably turn it up with some combination of “ETF”, “Belgrade”, and “engineering”) went well enough, though there didn’t really seem to be a lot of energy around participating in Open Source, as much as in consuming or advocating it. Certainly, the economic realities of needing a job to eat while studying are quite pressing, here at least as much as elsewhere, and I hope that things like Google’s Summer of Code programme will provide interesting opportunities to bootstrap things. There was some interest in exploring localization as a first involvement with Mozilla, which could work out nicely: our current Firefox localization was generally rated poorly (too formal or awkward, mainly). We’ll see how that goes.

We’re back in vacation mode today, with a nice late start and a trip to the Ethnographic Museum to see some traditional clothing, structures, implements, and energetic schoolchildren. Off to lunch with a family friend of Vlad’s — I confidently predict meat — and then probably some more museuming. The weather’s a little cooler today, but no less pleasant for it, so we’ll likely do a fair bit of walking around. Given the local diet and air quality (and inexpensive beer), I wouldn’t have expected it, but I feel like I’ve been having a pretty healthy time. Wonder if I’ll keep it up when I get back home… My email backlog is appropriately stunning, so it’ll be a few days next week before I’m back on top of things. Please do bear with me! In the meantime, you might amuse yourselves playing with a new extension that recently appeared on AMO, called “Jajah”. It’s a helper for their interesting twist on VOIP, and though there are still some rough edges I think their approach to integrating with the browser is promising. Inexpensive international calling is top-of-mind for me these last couple of weeks, for perhaps obvious reasons. Leave your comments in the usual AMO place — which we’ll be improving in the next little while, by the by — or send them to me via my gmail: mike.shaver@gmail.com. [tags]travel, serbia, mozilla, language[/tags]

Intermittence and such

As I mentioned in an earlier post, to which linking from the Blackberry is nigh on impossible, I’m headed to Serbia today with Vlad and Stuart, for a week of trying to not spend all my time working. First, though, I’ll going to dump the random contents of my brain. Viewer discretion is advised.

I’ve got a small number of things I need to wrap up before I really get my odmor on, for some partners and folks like the indefatigable Deb, but I hope to do most of that quickly and then retreat from work for a while. I’ll have email through the global wonders of my Blackberry, and while I’ll probably read or at least subject-scan most of what I get, I will be applying all of my scant willpower to avoiding replying as much as possible. If you’re the sort of person who has my cell number, you can call it if you need to get my attention. I probably don’t love you enough to answer at $4/min, but I’ll take a closer look at my mail when I see the call. (If you’re not the sort of person who knows my cell number, and you need to reach me with some urgency, the Mozilla universe is full of people who can help you.)

Generally, you should go after Chris Beard (cbeard@mozilla.com) for strategic or partnership issues related to extensions and such, and Mike Morgan (morgamic@mozilla.com) for operational stuff. (To be clear, you should do this when you would have escalated to me in email; please file bugs and use IRC and mailing lists first as appropriate.). For issues related to MDC, you should contact Deb Richardson (deb@mozilla.com), but really you should always do that anyway; she’s a lot better about that stuff than I am.

On Wednesday, we three are going to be speaking to, or perhaps “at”, a University of Belgrade group of as-yet-unknown composition and size. If they are fortunate, I will not inflict upon them my stumbing, ill-pronounced Serbian. I’ve been trying to learn the language, and though I haven’t been able to spend as much time on it as I would have liked (o, familiar refrain!) , my time-on-task has been pretty productive. For that I credit the book I’m working with — “Teach Yourself Serbian”, CD edition — as well as my experience with Latin and French, and of course Vlad’s patient indulgence of my many mispronounced questions. I’m hoping that I’ll pick it up quickly enough during my week’s stay, but even if I’m still not confident enough to use it outside restaurants before it’s time to leave I hope I’ll continue to work on it. I’ve had a fun time learning it so far, and it’ll let me torture Vlad with the rending and tearing of his native tongue.

Far be it from me to speak for others, but I had a good time at XTech, and I was pretty excited to see the links being made between people in the “core” of our community and others who are working on bits and pieces that will lead to the next microevolution of the web in the next season or two. There was more energy and “practical innovation” on display this year than last, and it was pretty neat to see the technologies and patterns we were previewing in 2005 in pretty-wide use already.

David Humphrey, a Seneca professor who Mozilla sponsored to XTech, was a whirlwind nexus of connections and ideas just by himself, and when combined with the schmoozing powers of myself and Chris Beard to form a social Voltron great things could indeed come of it. I’m really excited about the prospects for working with Seneca’s students and faculty even more: they have a ton of energy and a really excellent focus on practical results, and their increasing work in all manner of open source is going to be fascinating to participate in. If I were going to school to learn how to do software, I’d be at Seneca.

[tags]mozilla, serbia, vacation, xtech[/tags]