JBQ's spot on the Wild Wild Web
The musings of a French mathematician living in the heart of the American technology industry

News in March 2003

There's been a lot going on since I last wrote anything here on my web site. I never ever have time to get bored, there's always something that I feel like doing, something that needs time, something I don't have enough time for...

I've survived the layoffs that happened last year, but they didn't make my job any easier. Software engineers naturally dislike being stretched to reach a schedule or pushed for results, because it forces them to make compromises, and they know by experience that such compromises are always more expensive in the long term. The most painful part is that we know that it's a vicious circle, that today's trade-offs will cost us time in the future, which will open the gate for more such trade-offs, and we know that the loss of a single engineer in a team of about a dozen causes the balance to shift dramatically from catching up quickly with a backlog to creating more backlog.

I've done quite some painting, especially late last year. I've been fooling around with acrylic paints, seeing how they behave on different surfaces (I like canvas best), how they mix, dilute, interact with brushes. It's very very very fun, but I am limited with my total inability to draw anything. I really like how acrylic can be used to produce an amazing variety of textures, from ultra-diluted watercolor-style painting on paper all the way to pure undiluted paint that leaves thick marks on the canvas. Somewhere in the middle, moderate dilution allows for perfectly uniform coverage of canvas, and a bit of extra dilution allows to leave some fluid brush marks.

I was on vacation in Europe from mid-December to mid-January, spending about half of the time in Greece with my in-laws and half of the time in France with my parents. One of the weeks in France was actually spent skiing in Val d'Isere, where I was painfully reminded of the fact that I'm a slug and that I should exercise more. My legs don't have the strength any more to hold my long old skis straight, nor do they have the endurance to withstand a full week of ski, or even a full day of ski. Overall, this was a very nice vacation, which allowed me to stop thinking about work for a while (the bad part was the end, where I got sick for 2 days just before coming back home, where we couldn't get seats on the flight that we had reserved and ended up arriving home 8 hours later than expected, where I got ill barely 2 days after coming back).

What had been a plan for a Christmas present turned into a late-January present: I bought myself a decent film camera. I've shot quite a few pictures with it (quite a few rolls, actually), and I'm pretty happy. I've got three main gripes, though. My first issue is that light in the Bay Area is often very harsh during the day, there's none of the nice lightly overcast sky that sends a soft light all around (and I'm too lazy to get up very early in the morning to enjoy the softer light of sunset). My second issue is that getting a camera that allows for more control made me investigate the various aspects of the different parameters, and made me realize that good photography is a very hard issue (the worst one being aperture, I think, which is related to distortion, diffraction, depth-of-field, falloff and obviously exposure), and I don't have an instinct for all those details yet so that I either forget about them or spend too much time thinking about them. My third issue is that equipment is expensive, that there are situations where I know I could get better pictures if I had better equipment but where I can't justify the cost of this extra equipment for what is only a hobby (still, I wouldn't mind a decent film scanner and an Epson photo printer).

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