Monthly Archives: January 2011


Sense of accomplishment

I have a difficult relationship with the concept of ‘a sense of accomplishment’. I feel like it’s somewhat necessary to true motivation, but then I feel it’s a character flaw to truly feel such a sense. I feel like I’ve done a lot of good work, but there’s always more I could have done. I feel like the things I’ve done are significant, but if I pointed them out to the average person, they’d be far less than impressed.

One of my clients reached a big product milestone recently. It’s pretty amazing that I’ve been with this product since its inception until this milestone. I felt the need to reflect on what I’ve worked on in the product in that time.

  • code generation for AS3 to Python RPC
  • HTML and RTF paste
  • spell checking
  • highlights and callouts
  • XBRL HTML slicing
  • equation parsing and evaluation
  • slimming Flex module download size
  • HTML import
  • browser issues with keys and mousewheel
  • Google AppEngine/EC2 integration
  • parallelization of translation functions
  • Undisclosed Big-Deal Project
  • PDF export

When I look at each of those bullets, I remember lots of work that I had to do on each, the difficult problems that arose and the solutions to them, the necessity of each function and the contribution toward the overall product. But I also remember the things left undone that could make each function more perfect, the work that others did that I can’t take credit for, that if I pointed out these functions in the app, someone unfamiliar with the job wouldn’t understand the work that it represents, and that in at least one of these projects, all of my code is now dead.

So my sense of accomplishment is a complicated and fragile thing. That’s not a problem; actually, when I say it, I feel like that’s a more mature attitude than one that’s more monolithic. Maybe that’s a partial solution to the question I mentioned above of whether it’s a character flaw to feel a sense of accomplishment: maybe it’s only hubris to feel good about the foreground of one’s accomplishments if one doesn’t also understand the inseparable background against which they are viewed.


Encrypted directories and Bacula restore

Assuming you have machines using Ubuntu’s helpers for eCryptfs to create a Private directory backed by an encrypted .Private directory, and a Bacula configuration for these machines created in the days before Bacula had encryption support, you might take the easy road to encrypting your backups of the Private directories. You can just instruct Bacula to ignore the Private directories, since by default it’s going to pick up the .Private directories, which hold the content but are encrypted. That ensures the data is all there but is stored in encrypted form in the Bacula backup volumes.

However, this can be a little painful when it comes to restore time. If you’re restoring a whole machine or the whole home directory or something, it shouldn’t really present any problem. But so far, the only time I’ve ever had to restore something from Bacula was because of some dumb user error where I deleted a subdirectory. This happened yesterday (back when I was dumb); I deleted a significant subtree of a project directory that hadn’t been checked into my client’s source control lately, so I lost some work.

In Bacula, when you restore, you can browse the backed-up data and select a set of files to restore. So I needed to restore a subdirectory of Private by finding the corresponding subdirectory of .Private. eCryptfs encrypts the filenames, which makes that job fairly impossible. In this case, though, I had the previous version of the subdirectory, checked out of source control, on the machine. With the help of ‘du’, I was able to translate the target Private path name into a .Private path name, by matching du sizes down the tree. I restored the appropriate .Private path. Bacula restores to /tmp, so I copied the contents into the real .Private. eCryptfs caches unencrypted versions of stuff, so I rebooted (not wanting to bother to learn how to flush the eCryptfs cache). My work was restored.

This is mainly a cautionary tale, but it might also help someone who’s stuck needing to restore part of an encrypted directory. I’m going to switch to using Bacula’s encryption support pretty soon, to make this sort of thing more sane in the future…


Method of aerogel manufacture

I want to invent a method of aerogel manufacture that works by filling a volume with gas A, then squirting in a tiny bit of gas B (or changing the ambient temperature/pressure, etc.) which catalyzes rapid conversion from gaseous state to aerogel state. That would allow completely form-fitting aerogel packaging materials to be manufactured in situ and without chemical waste. Variations in the gases, pressures, etc. would allow variations in the final properties of the material, including pore size, hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity, etc.

The material could also rapidly transition back to the gaseous state upon exposure to some other agent, to unpack.

But I have no idea how to invent such a thing, just a baseless wish/hunch that something like that could be possibly possible in some sort of world. So, if you’re reading this, please go invent that and give me 1% of your licensing fees in perpetuity. Thank you.