when I see your face

Getting my first eye exam in 2 years today, since I really need to replace my bent and scratched glasses. My prescription is pretty stable, but I got some eye drops that are apparently going to screw me up pretty good for the better part of 8 hours.

I am looking forward to fumbling through customs and security at Pearson this afternoon, liberty bag in tow. With my luck, I’ll end up having some allergic reaction that will leave me unable to drive from SFO — or maybe that’d be vlad‘s luck… [tags]personal, travel[/tags]

Je me surfeit

As any of our posse can tell you, a trip to Montreal means running a significant risk of developing gout. The food is amazing, as always, and other than a brief sputtering on Friday afternoon the weather has been perfect. None of this hotter-than-the-loins-of-hell crap that we left behind in Toronto, for example.

Lunches have been pretty low-key affairs, since breakfast was often taken around 11, though the paninis (one ch�vre, one “� la Cubain”) and salad at “olive + gourmand” were definitely a score. We of course did lots of wandering touristy stuff, including an excellent little exhibit on prehistoric Japan at the archaeological museum, and the impressive set of gardens-cum-exhibits at the International Flora event, and I managed to buy some new and much-needed clothes as well. But enough about non-eating pursuits.

On Friday evening, Steph scored us a table at her friend Chuck’s new restaurant, “Garde Manger”. It’s new enough that it really doesn’t have a sign outside, but it’s well worth risking mild confusion. When my Caesar arrived in a stein with two meaty crab legs sticking out, I knew we were going to have a good time. The three of us picked out a half-dozen items from the tapas-y daily menu, ranging from a fresh tomato salad to a ridiculous bavette with frites. Then, of course, the waitress upsold us — I mean called our attention to the availability of their assorted fresh seafood plates. We took the “small”, which only featured a dozen oysters in addition to crab and shrimp, which was undoubtedly the wisest course. A nearby table — which I suppose all of them were, really, given the scale of the joint — had a large “plate” hoisted onto their table with what looked like considerable effort; I believe there have been credible productions of The Little Mermaid with less underwater fauna. For dessert, we shared a generous slice of pecan pie which I would be reluctant to carry across the border without a doctor’s note. (We later learned, through Steph’s network of restaurant-industry informants, that the pie was made by Chuck’s mother.)

The next night (after the museum and garden stuff above, but I’m too lazy to edit for mere chronology) Austin arranged a table for Steph, Tyla and me at “Joe Beef”, the latest of David Macmillan’s endeavours. I’ve been a fan of David’s since first enjoying his work at Globe, and though David wasn’t on site last evening we had a pretty good time nonetheless. His partners Allison and Fred took care of us, and we gorged ourselves appropriately.

Before leaving today Tyla and I wandered over to Atwater market, a staple of our Montreal days. It’s been nicely restored since the fire a few years ago, and a little complex has sprung up across the street, boasting a large SAQ, some condos, and assorted grocery/drug/houseware stores. We’ll have to take a closer look when next we’re in town together. I hope I won’t be another 4 years! [tags]personal, mozilla, montreal, food, travel[/tags]

Je me souviens

Tyla and I are ensconced in the “did we say there was wifi? tee hee!” comforts of Via1, chugging our way towards Montreal. She’s asleep, and adorable; I’m pecking away at my infernal Blackberry, and unexplainably impatient — must be a day that ends in “y”.

Tyla hasn’t been back to Montreal since we moved back to Toronto in 2002, and I’ve only been there a handful of times for business. It’s a downright travesty, given how much fun the city is, and it’s one that we’re going to do our best to put right over the next few days.

There is an amazing amount of great stuff happening in my part of the Mozilla world these days, and I have been desperately derelict in my duties as regard publicizing them. I must atone for this, but not now. Now I settle back, enjoy the last 200 pages of a righteous, 6-volume sci-fi epic that vlad started me on back in Serbia, and plot my path of culinary marauding through the unsuspecting establishments of Montreal. [tags]travel, mozilla, montreal, tyla[/tags]

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]

telepartisanship

I’m in Amsterdam right now, enjoying the techie buzz of XTech and participating in a horizontal study on the relative merits of different jet lag compensation strategies. (I think mconnor is in the placebo group, the poor thing.)

While this is a pretty fun thing, it does mean that I am separated by geography, time zone, and the limits of our global media village from the fastest game on ice. Instead of watching Edmonton maul the unworthy Sharks on a high-definition television, whilst enjoying the dulcet tones of the finest hockey commentary on television, I have been reduced to sitting in my hotel room reloading the play by play and cheering with Jacob on IRC:

boc: LET’S GO OILERS LET’S GO
shaver: STOMP STOMP

(To be fair, which I realize is not really how this sort of thing is usually done, the Sharks have some good talent and have put it together pretty well. Edmonton just wanted it more, or left it all on the ice, or took it one period at a time, or something. Perhaps they followed the sage and nuanced advice of a Boston-area sportscaster, and combined “take an early lead” with “play strong defense”?)

(And furthermore, I probably wouldn’t have been quite as emphatic in my side-picking in this contest, even given my heritage, had I not been subjected to the criminal overuse of the Jaws theme during those replays on FSN.)

Transit

Writing this as wind through Heathrow’s Terminal 1 in search of a power adapter and maaaaaaaybe some scotch. Vlad and I are flying through to Amsterdam today, to join 30 or so of our closest colleagues and collaborators for a week at XTech. Should be an exciting week, and not having signed up to do a talk this year means I can relax a tiny bit more. This year Mozilla’s conference guests include one of the key players in our emerging and exciting partnership with Seneca College, one of the leading lights from the AJAX toolkit world, the architect of the amazing Seaside and DabbleDB systems, a grad student working on formal aspects of the upcoming ES4/JS2 language, a Venkman hacker, and one of our most prolific and capable technical-QA contributors. Their participation and unique perspectives are icing on the rich and delicious XTech cake, perhaps, but I sure do like me some icing. (I could tell you that I’m not linking to the appropriate pages to identify the aforementioned folk out of respect for their privacy or something, but really it’s because finding those links sucks when I’m working on the Blackberry.)

Vlad didn’t manage to sleep on our red-eye from Toronto (he came to visit for a week or so, taking advantage of the fallout from some truly arcane travel arrangements he made around Christmas), so I’ve tucked him away in the BMI Lounge — excuse me, “bmi diamond club” — to relax and rest.

Of course, once I’d gone into the BMI lounge area, I could only return to the main shopping/eating/speaking-in-adorable-accents area by going through the Flight Connections security line, again, which is not really how I’d like to spend these 20 mins of our layover. Ah well, truly a hard knock life. (I’m completely certain, at this point, that the ban on photography in this area serves no security purpose, but is instead in place to avoid people knowing how grisly it is before they book their flights to connect through LHR.)

After Amsterdam, Vlad and Stuart and I will head to Serbia (Belgrade and Yagodina, if I’m not mistaken) for a week of semi-vacation. I’m really looking forward to it, and have been learning a bit of Serbian in preparation. More about that part later, though, as I’m just about to get to the scanning-my-stuff part of this adventure in queuing.

GDC

As vlad posted, some of us are at GDC this year. I really enjoy GDC, and every year dread that it’ll have jumped the shark. There’s a little more navel-gazing stuff this year than when I first started coming, but not an unhealthy amount IMO. (Coming from the Mozilla community as I do, I probably have a higher tolerance for that stuff than most.)

Someone asked me the other day “man, why do you go to GDC?” He was asking because he wanted me to do something this week, and my schedule is pretty constrained, but I thought it was worth talking about anyway.

I’m here because:

  1. I like a lot of different things about software, and there are lots of different software aspects represented here. Performance and concurrency. Graphics and art processing. Test automation and tools. Artificial intelligence and simulation. User interface and visualization. Networking and protocols. Design and team structure. Internationalization and modularity. Languages and APIs.
  2. Games are fun, and fun is important. People here spend a lot of time thinking about what makes things fun, how you can map that fun into software and have it reach people. Making tasks fun is a noble and wonderful goal, and software — being involved in so many parts of people’s lives, and being so fluid — is a great thing to be working on if you want to help there.
  3. There are a lot of people here who are dealing with things that touch real people. Sure, it’s “only entertainment” — though sometimes things are pretty serious — but the interaction can be powerful and the focus on the user can sometimes approach the intensity of our own.
  4. Even though there’s a lot of focus on the “triple-A” megatitles and their movie-scale budgets, a lot of interesting things are still being done by small teams, and I am a big fan of small teams. Big fan, I tell you.
  5. And at the other end of the scale, there are very interesting things being done with or by huge communities, interacting at various levels of cohesion and co-operation and competition and shared creation. The relevance to our Mozilla world here is obvious, I think, and I even think that the game world (creators and players alike) could learn some things from our experiences. Not to say that the could just copy what we do, or that we did everything right, but whether it’s a good example or a cautionary tale, they might pick up a trick or two.
  6. Over the last few years, the games industry has started to adopt and investigate techniques and tools to improve “software engineering” practices. Agile development, version control (!), test automation, design methodologies, usability analysis techniques, generation of content and tools and meta-languages and domain languages and tools and components and reuse and APIs and extensibility, whee. People fit those things into their own worlds, against the constraints of history and tradition and culture and budget and schedule, which is the case everywhere, but I’ve especially enjoyed watching the games industry grow into these things.
  7. Shiny! There’s some really plain-old-neato stuff here every year, pretty and fast and small and creative and awesome. (And some stuff that isn’t so neato, and since I just have to talk about things and not build them, I get to be sarcastic for my own entertainment.)

I learn a lot here every year, and come back to “real life” energized about software and fun and reaching people and trying new stuff and selling all my Mozilla stock to fund a game company. I’ll write more about the stuff I see here, and maybe summarize some talks, but I probably won’t syndicate it to Planet Mozilla so as to avoid the flooding effect.

jsr

I lost a week to a horrible bout of insomnia — I cannot recommend it to you, my loyal viewers, even for experimental purposes — and then “lost” most of a week to a great management offsite and HQ visit. So I’m quite a ways behind in putting to bed various post-drafts about, especially, identity and Firefox’s disruptive potential. I’ve blocked off a fair bit of time this week to catch up on those things, as gently egged on by Kim and Frank.

I’ve also had a lot of interesting personal stuff going on, but that’s not really planet material, so it’ll be in another post or few.

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