Friday Jan 23, 2009

7 Things You May (or May Not) Know About Me

I recently got hit by a blogger virus Ponzi scheme meme tradition where you get to write about yourself while blaming others for it (thanks, Tim!). Well, I haven't blogged much about myself and I still owe you, dear reader, an "About me" article, but this blog is meant to be useful, not self-serving so you'll have to do with these seven pieces of useless information for now.

  1. The Atacama desert in ChileI used to be a nomad as a kid. My mom worked for the German department of foreign affairs which usually meant that every 4 years or so we would move to a different country. That's why she met my dad in Santiago de Chile and so the secret of my not so German last name "Gonzalez" is finally revealed. Despite all of that, I was born in Bonn, the former capital of Germany, we moved to Switzerland for a bit, I spent my kindergarten years in Bogotá (Colombia) (my brother was born there in 1975 and he can claim Columbian nationality by birthright, cool). I actually picked up Spanish as my first language with only little German (everybody including the TV was speaking Spanish so why should I have listened to my Mom?). From there we moved to Istanbul (Turkey) where I finally learned German (yep, there's a German school there) but halfway through the term, there was a minor terrorist bomb attack on my elementary school (I hardly noticed, really) so my parents had enough of foreign countries for a while and we moved back to Bonn around 1978. I spent most of my school time in Germany until we moved to Rome (Italy) after grade 9 (1986-ish). After finishing school, I went to Clausthal (Germany) (yes, quite a culture shock) to study computer-science while my parents and my brother continued to Lisbon (Portugal), Bonn (Germany, again), then Barcelona (Spain). Now I've been living in Munich for more than 10 years, so I call this "home" at the moment. My wife and I spent our honeymoon in Chile, exploring my roots and I'm sure I'll go there again, someday...
  2. The Kellerclub logoAs a student, I was CEO of a pub for a year. The pub is called the "Kellerclub" and it still exists :). You know how it goes: Your favourite student pub is actually a nonprofit organization for tax purposes so we could serve beer at the lowest prices in town. Any nonprofit needs to have a board of directors of at least three people and that night in, hmm 1992?, anyway, that night when they had to elect a new board, I volunteered together with two others and strangely noone else volunteered so the three of us got to run the pub for a year (in Germany, a nonprofit board has to have at least three members). While the other two members had to deal with financial bookeeping, booking the bands, etc., I mostly had to deal with legal issues (we got exorbitant high fees for social security for all the bands we booked over the last 5 years to deal with), fundraising (we needed new speakers) and trying to keep the bartenders under control so they don't drink more than they earn or close later than the police would let us. Oh, and keeping the school kids out of the club was always an issue, too... But it was fun and we learned more about real life than what the university could have taught us, especially during night after night of bartendering with all kinds of weird guests.
  3. Tim blogged about playing around with mod files in his "7 things" entry, which reminds me of the good old homecomputer times. My first computer was a Dragon 32 which turned out to be a clone of the Radio Shack TRS 80 Color Computer. Back then, it wasn't as popular as the Commodore 64, but it had the better OS (read: More commands in its Basic interpreter). That didn't count much, because the C64 had the better games so I upgraded to a Commodore 128d after a few years. Those were the golden times of the SID sound chip and my friends and I spent hours, days, weeks and months listening to cool video game music (and of course playing those videogames, too) and watching breathtaking demos from the demoscene. Back then, you could know everything about your computer, including machine language, hardware registers (there were no "drivers" back then :) ) and the full specs (and undocumented features) of all of the chips inside your computer. I'd loved to program my own music, but somehow my musical talents were limited, and so I spent my time ripping music from games and figuring out how they worked. Then, the Amiga came and I earned my Amiga 500 by teaching my mom's staff how to use a word processor (they shipped PCs with Microsoft Word to the embassy where she worked, but did only one week of training for everything to a staff that never saw a computer before). The Amiga beat the PC world hands down in every category of coolness from audio to graphics to operating system features (multitasking, baby!) for years and of course its sound capabilities were more advanced (it had a real multi-channel sample player), but the SID had that analog touch that the digital world never could quite replicate that well back then. Just when the Amiga times were over (I owned an Amiga 4000 running NetBSD) and the PC won, I was saved from having to buy my first PC by deciding to play on a Sony Playstation console and working on an Apple Newton instead, which both outclocked all the PCs in my neighborhood by a wide margin :).
  4. Me drumming in RockBand during the CEC 2008 partyI still want to create music, but hardly find the time. I've played around with keyboards, but mostly preferred programming music using several software tools, such as Logic Pro. My biggest achievement so far is the intro music to the HELDENFunk podcast which I help create on a regular basis. It's not much, but at it doesn't seem to be bad either. At least noone has decided to replace it with a better tune yet :). I secretly wanted to become a drummer when I went to university, an ambition that was unexpectedly reignited during CEC 2008 when Glenn, Bob (?), Ted and I founded "They call me Ted" while playing Rockband in between CEC lectures. Our "band" reached the CEC 2008 highscore. We didn't win the final round (because none of us knew the song we were supposed to play), but we'll be back in 2009 and I'm now playing drums in Guitar Hero World Tour whenever I find the time as a practice. Back to real music: I'll start playing with Logic Pro again, this time trying to create a full song. And then there's the Korg Kaossilator which seems to be really cool, or perhaps I'll finally learn a real instrument like an electric guitar... Who knows?
  5. During university times, I worked at the local cinema as a projectionist. Our projection room (to the right) looked remarkably similar to this photo from the Wikipedia article on projectionists. Back then, a projectionist had to do real work, such as splicing together 6 rolls of film (coming in boxes, no reels) into two reels (about one hour each) and manage the transition from one projector to the next during the show without the audience noticing too much. Of course a film would rip in the middle of the movie more often than not and then you had to run back to the projection room very quickly unless you wanted to spend the rest of the night trying to wind half a mile of film back onto the reel. I still keep a piece of film in my wallet as a lucky charm and occasionally I pull it out to show how the Dolby Pro-Logic, Dolby Digital, DTS and SDDS sound systems work on film. Today, I like tweaking my home cinema to get good audio and video quality and it's sad to see how bad the quality of cinemas have become as they spend less and less in getting image and audio quality right.
  6. In the mid nineties, I ran my university's web server and in 1997, I got hired by Sun to run the ARD webserver, (ARD is the biggest German public TV network), which back then was sponsored by Sun. I still was a student and I did it as a contractor for Sun, but that gave me a nice topic for my master thesis, a motivation to finish my studies and start working as an SE for Sun in 1998.
  7. I like to make up funny, useless words. They just pop into my mind and I end up using them for stuff. Think something like "Gadonga". When my daughter Amanda was born, we said she looked like a cute little "Maus" (mouse in German). Well, the Spanish female diminuitive ending is "-ita", so we often call her now "Mausita". I hope she won't hate me for this when she reaches her teen age :).

Well, I hope this was not too boring, and I now get to tag 7 other people:

The rules:

  • Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged.

Monday Sep 17, 2007

The Importance of Archiving (For the Rest of us)

A few weeks ago I was on the road with Dave Cavena. He works as an SE in Hollywood and helps our customers there understand the importance of digitally archiving their movies. The issue here is a simple one: Today, movies are being archived by storing rolls of film on shelves in gigantic warehouses and hoping they'll survive for a few years to come. "Few" could be tens or maybe hundreds of years, but nobody really knows how long they'll really survive and how good the movies will look after a couple of decades of archiving. Will the colours look natural? Will there be scratches? Will the film material degrade so that the movie rips right in the middle of the most important scene? Or will it spontaneously decompose into a heap of dust when someone opens the door after 150 years to see what the heck people were keeping in that warehouse anyway?

Digital Data on the other hand can be kept indefinitely and it can stay perfect through eternity, if people store it right. "Right" means things like keeping redundant copies in geographically distant places (so that the movie survices a warehouse fire or an earthquake), periodical integrity checking and fault healing based on those redundant copies (so silent data corruption can be detected and corrected) and periodic copy and conversion cycles so the data can survive format and media evolution. Try playing "Dragon's Lair", a classic arcade game from the 80ies which was originally produced for Laserdisc-based arcade machines. I loved the game back them and I was glad I found it on DVD. Now look it up on Amazon: You'll find Blu-Ray and HD-DVD versions as well!

Dave and some other very bright people have written an interesting white paper on "Archiving Movies in a Digital World". It is a great read: It shows why archiving movies the digital way is so important (so they can't get lost), how to do it and why this is actually cheaper than keeping rolls of film in warehouses (Hint: Archiving bits takes up less real estate and looks a lot cooler if you use one of these. Your archives may even become smart by using one of these, too!).

That got me thinking: What will happen to all those photos that people are taking using their private digital camera? Parties, Vacations, Babies, Families, etc.? Yes, if people don't start thinking about a good archiving strategy soon, they will all be lost in the next couple of decades. By the time my little daughter gets married, I might have lost all of her baby pictures if I don't do something real quick (as in: This decade).

Storing them on a file server running a serious, enterprise-class OS with ZFS on a set of redundant storage media (could be disks, could be more disks, iSCSI devices, could be USB sticks, it really doesn't matter) is a good start, because it can provide 100% data integrity and self-heal any damages before they become permanent. But this is still not enough. They need to be stored in multiple locations and they need to be periodically copied into more recent media.

I'll figure out the multiple locations part someday (probably a second server that replicates the first file server's ZFS file systems through a couple of zfs send/receive scripts) and the periodical copying means I'll still have an interesting hobby when my daughter has children of her own. Meanwhile, just to be sure, I've started to copy all of my photos to a popular photo-sharing service called Flickr on the net. Yes, all of them. This means I can still decide who can look at my pictures and who not, I get access to all of my pictures from everywhere near a web browser and I can store as many photos as I want for just a small annual fee. And they'll still be there should my basement catch fire or should all of my disks die for some strange statistical reason or when I start taking 3D photographs of my grandchidren. What more could anybody want?

Now what if the movie industry found out about this and started archiving their movies on Flickr as well, image after image, all of them, for just the same small annual fee?

Update (Sep. 18th, 2007): Thanks to Jesse's comment, I've now tried SmugMug and I love it! They offer a 50% discount for Flickr refugees during the first year and there's a nice tool called SmuggLr that makes migration a snap. Thank you Jesse!


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