I can't think of a suitably funny or ironic title for this post.

10 June 2012

I've been struggling to come up with a suitable title for this post but I gave up on the effort in favor of writing about what's actually been going on in my life lately. First, the good stuff, and then I'll follow up with everything else.

Last month we launched the new Project Byzantium website. It took us a while to get it together - we tried a couple of CMSes before we found one which struck a good balance between ease of use, usability, and plain old "it does what we need." I wish that it had been a smoother process, but sometimes good solutions wind up not being actually good solutions after all. We're also down a mirror site due to a hardware failure, which I'm working in my spare time to get back up and running. I haven't had a whole lot of time lately to do that, so it's in a holding pattern. When Pomegranate's back online, we'll announce it.

Second, Sitwon, Haxwithaxe, Ag4ve, and myself will be at HacDC twice this week. We'll be presenting at HARC (the HacDC Amateur Radio Club) on Byzantium Linux and how it fits into emergency communications on Wednesday night (13 June 2012). Then, on 14 June 2012 we'll be at HacDC demonstrating the release candidate for v0.2a for whomever wants to attend.

We had our monthly development sprint the last weekend of May, in which we worked dilligently to fix bugs, test code, and close out tickets to document what we've been working on. However, during the process of testing new ones always get opened, so we're prioritizing on fixing bugs more than adding new features. We made a lot of progress that weekend but we felt that we're a little too close to HOPE Number Nine and we're really like to have a new release for the conference. We're working very hard to avoid the "It works for me!" syndrome and exercise the changes made to Byzantium Linux as much as possible before releasing the .iso image. So, to that end, on Friday night Sitwon, Haxwithaxe, and I checked into a hotel in Maryland to hack for three days straight.

I wish I could say that it was all nifty-keen-like-wow like it is in the movies, but ultimately it was the three of us hunched over our laptops (the laptop-to-hacker ratio in the room was 2.3 laptops per body) paging up and down through code. Occasionally a sound not unlike a horde of hamsters racing across a keyboard could be heard. Every once in a while there was cursing because something didn't work the way it was expected, and the occasional shout of victory could also be heard. This weekend we mostly worked on ironing out corner cases - those weird situations where things don't do what you'd expect 5% or 10% of the time and screw everything up. Things like... DNS hijacking to redirect mesh clients to their local node is fine when the mesh doesn't have a link to the global Net. But when there is a working backhaul, DNS hijacking breaks everything not on the mesh. So, we had to overhaul and test how and under what circumstances that subsystem worked. And so on, and so forth.

By the time we checked out Sunday after noon we'd lost count of the number of commits made to the repository on Github, and I don't think any of us bothered to count the number of tickets opened and closed this weekend. On one hand it's nice to have something that you can count to show progress, but on the other hand the one thing all of us were doing was getting things done. Not closing tickets, but writing (and rewriting) code, testing it, and verifying that it does what we need. Altogether, it was a very productive and satisfying weekend, and we've made a significant amount of progress toward v0.2a.

And now for the other stuff...

Saturday morning of the weekend of the last development sprint I woke up to True Green spraying the lawn, something that I didn't know our landlord periodicallly had done. This concerned me somewhat because I've always been sensitive to the chemical cocktails that True Green and other such companies routinely treat lawns with. By the time I got to HacDC I was feeling a little dizzy, with scratchy sinuses and throat. By dinner I was seeing halos around things - not the gelatinous, pixelated forms common to my synaesthesia, but visual glitches that historically mean only one thing: An impending migraine headache.

I don't like writing about this becasue I'm concerned it'll come back to bite me on the ass someday, but on the other hand it was a sufficiently unpleasant experience that I feel the need to get it out of my system. Since the headache finally broke I've been quite afraid that it would return with a vengeance, and the notion makes me break out in a cold sweat. So, here goes my impromptu exorcism of it.

I've always been somewhat sensitive to chemicals in my environment. From when I was quite small I'd always had a nasty reaction to the chemicals used in lawn treatments. It wasn't until my parents cancelled their Chemlawn contract (some time in my first decade, I really don't recall what age it was) that the worst of my allergies abated, and over-the-counter medication could put a dent in them. As the years went by I forgot all about them. The symptoms were the same, and sucked just as much now as they did then - to be frank, it felt like somebody was spraying liquid drain cleaner into my sinuses at the same time they were pounding on my skull with an engine block. Any kind of light was painfully bright, and sound about a whisper felt like a dentist's drill headed for places that they (mercifully) haven't for a year or two. I also recall that my manual dexterity had completely tanked, and I was walking into things because I couldn't maneuver around them, and the menace I posed in the kitchen was thankfully minimal because I stuck to putting plastic things away rather than knives or other sharp objects. This was, in part, due to the circulation in my hands getting messed up (a common secondary symptom of migraines) and partially because my motor centers basically said "Fuck you," and refused to operate in anything other than a desultory manner. I also didn't have much of an appetite for most of a week. When I wasn't wishing for death I was sleeping, sometimes up to sixteen hours out of every day.

It was a bad enough migraine that I wound up missing most of a week of work because I couldn't concentrate well enough to accomplish much of anything. It's one thing to take a couple of days off, but when suck-starting a shotgun starts seeming like an option it doesn't feel like you're losing vacation time, it literally feels like the life is running out of you. By the end of the week I had it together enough to visit my usual physician to get checked out. The good news is that I didn't show any symptoms of organophosphate poisoning. Not enough had built up in my body to do any harm, but the bad news is that I had most of the symptoms of an allergic sensitivity to them, and the migraine was that allergy writ large. For whatever reason, my body's metabolism declares World War Three when exposed to a small class of chemical compounds and the side effects are... well...

I wouldn't wish them on anybody on this planet. I wouldn't wish that week of hell on a single soul on this planet. Not a one.

In the days that followed the pain faded to a dull ache and then nothing, the feeling came back to my hands and face, and my senses returned to their baselines (more or less). I'm still having some trouble sleeping and I have the odd bit of muscle pain in my arms and knees, but that's a damned sight better than were I was before. I'm hoping that I'll be able to go back to the gym sometime soon and get some exercise. Interestingly, the lawn treatment that morning wasn't a weed-and-feed, it was an insecticide treatment for ticks and mosquitos. We are in negotiations with our landlord at this time to find an alternative to True Green's insecticidal program. We don't have anything at this time but we're working on it.

And now, off to bed.