The Roberto Selbach Chronicles

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Not a-ok

I have a little confession to make: our family is going through a rough patch. Both my wife and I are having problems. No, not between us. And both are experiencing very different sorts of problems. But the happening-at-the-same-time complicates the one-supports-the-other thing.

And to compound to that, I have been sick.

As I sat in the waiting room at the hospital the other day, waiting for some exams, I felt like this is one of the worst times of my life. I feel tired, unmotivated, unappreciated, and generally unhappy. And fucking hopeless. That’s the worst part, I suppose.

I also have been distancing myself from friends lately. Ostensibly to avoid distractions in a time where I am having to give all and a bit more to a project I do not believe in. Truth be told, I just don’t feel like small talk but I also don’t want bring others down to my Dark Hole of Misery. And so I’m trying to keep some distance.

I feel lost. I look at my friends and how they all seem to have it all figured out already. I’m still trying to figure out who the fuck I am. I was so sure when I was younger. I was so fucking good at what I did. Now? I just don’t know anymore. I feel unhappy.

I know some people who will be So. Fucking. Happy. reading the paragraph above. This one’s for free for you guys.

But not all is bad news. I actually got some good news last night. I can’t tell the details although I know some of you know exactly what this is about. Anyway, I now have a set date for it and it’s in under six months from now.

I’m actually confident that this will make it all better somehow. Just have to wait.

Sorry for the downer, but I felt like writing something.

The day a videogame changed my life

Last night, as I tried getting my three year-old to sleep so I could play my brand-new copy of NHL 13, I had an epiphany of sorts. It dawned on me how much videogames influenced my real-life pleasures. And the story actually started a long time ago. story begins in a rather pleasant Saturday afternoon in late 1993. We went into a shoddy building, walked up the stairs to the first floor and found this rather unassuming office at the end of the hall. We skimmed over a thick catalog of game titles and started picking a few we wanted to try. They were cheap, pirated games. After selecting the titles, the guy there noted them down and asked us to wait. In the back, two guys got some floppy disks and started copying the games for us with VGAcopy. Nice!

Of the games we bought, only one I can still remember: NHL Hockey. To that day, I had only a general idea of what hockey was: Soccer on the ice. We picked it simply because the clerk there told us it was good.

We went home that day and probably tried some of the other, now-forgotten games, but then we installed NHL Hockey from the floppies to MS-DOS. We were both hooked instantly! The game had an arena atmosphere that later version never quite managed to reproduce. We did not know the many rules of hockey, we learned as we played. I remember vividly as my friend pumped up the volume on the PC when the game would play an 8-bit version of “We will rock you” while two cartoon hands clapped on the virtual jumbotron. played that game throughout that night and into Sunday. It was fast. It was fun. We were hooked. NHL 96 was the first game I ever legally bought. And I’ve bought almost every version since then.

Back to how it influenced my real-life, playing the game got me into Hockey as a sport. A Brazilian hooked on Hockey? Not supposed to happen, but one likes what one likes. It also indirectly started my love affair with Canada, but that’s a different story. Following Hockey was not easy until I found a radio that streamed games and later the League started offering live vide streaming for which I have been gladly paying an exorbitant amount of money for half a decade or so. I’ve experienced a similar effect thanks to the Madden and NBA Live series, but NHL Hockey will always be a special case for me.

I realized that thru hockey I’ve made friends, some of whom are real good friends. And all of this started because a couple of decades ago we got some pirated games in a Saturday afternoon.

Want to make a comment or suggestion? Do you feel like you need to correct me for not fitting the Standard Brazilian Specification? Feel free to talk to (or scream at) me, I’m @robteix on and also on Twitter.

My need for anonymity

Much has been said about the pros and cons of anonymity lately, prompted by Google+ TOS which require the use of one’s real name. No pseudonyms allowed, except apparently if you call yourself Lady Gaga or 50 Cent.

I have seen many kinds of arguments both for and against the use of aliases and I will not repeat them here. There is however one use of aliases that I haven’t seen stated anywhere and that coincidentally affects me personally. Perhaps this is so because the problem I am about to present is not so common after all. Or perhaps it is common but people decide not to talk about it. I have no way of knowing.

Anonymity is a vital necessity to people with a certain kind of disability, a mental disorder. I am such a person. As some of my friends know and others mock, I suffer from a mental condition called social phobia, also known as social anxiety. I take medications that help me overcome some of the most serious effects and that allow me to do things like write about it on this very blog.

Social anxiety manifests itself in varying degrees in all kinds of social interactions. And the levels of manifestations are not what you might expect. I regularly make presentations without a second thought. I’ve given talks to hundreds of people. And yet, ordering a pizza over the phone is terrifying experience to me. No matter how many times I’ve done it, I still have to “prepare” myself every time. I rehearse, play several unlikely scenarios in my head until I finally get the courage to dial the number and talk to the person on the other side. One characteristic of this anxiety disorder is that rationally I know that there is nothing wrong; there is no risk in calling the pizza place. But the brain acts as if there were. But I digress.

I love coding. I have been doing it since I was a kid and it’s the best thing I know how to do. And then there is open source. Open source projects should be the perfect venue for me to have fun. Except I am scared stiff by the idea that someone might laugh at the code. It came to a point where it is impossible for me to contribute. Then I’ve come up with a solution: an alias. For the past several years I’ve lived two different lives online: one as myself and another as an alias. I keep them strictly separate.

Using the alias, I actively contribute to several different projects. And I enjoy it all. And it would be impossible for me to do that using my own name. My pseudonym allows me to work around my condition. It allows me to live my life.

I understand the rationale behind the requirement for real names on Google+. But I also know that the requirement makes it impossible for people like me to be really free on the Internet. So far, Google hasn’t figured out my alias. Hopefully it never will.

(Photo by Abhishek Singh)

“¿Por qué están todos hablando inglés?”

I’ve been spending an insalubrious amount of time on Google +. I managed to plump for a pretty good group to follow and as a consequence I’ve been getting consistently interesting content. As for myself, I mostly I post in English. A couple of days ago, I posted something most inconsequential and it would have been an unreservedly unremarkable post wasn’t it for the fact that it was geolocated in Cordoba, Argentina, which caused it to attract the attention of people nearby. In the middle of the comments, someone asked, in Spanish: “why is everyone speaking English?” That was a fair question and it touched something that has bugged me in the past.

Some part of my brain must miss the good old times of hunting and gathering as I ended up as a nomadic man—albeit one who doesn’t hunt and at most gathers food from grocery stores, so there might be a flaw in my theory. My rootless nature made me move a lot. This and the nature of my work caused me to make friends in several places other than my native Brazil[1].

We’ve already established that I communicate in Portuguese. Working at a US-based multinational as well as with open source, I also use English quite a bit—and my aforesaid rootlessness has taken me to inhabit the beautiful state of Oregon in the past. Oh and did I mention I am currently putting in a tour of duty in Argentina?

The Myth of the Tower of Babel

The result of all of this—in blatant contrast with the pre-Tower of Babel times when everybody obviously spoke English—is that I communicate daily in multiple languages. There isn’t a day—well, weekday—I don’t have to speak Spanish, Portuguese, English and French with someone or another. And that is fine and actually quite nice: you do lose languages if you don’t use them. Not like riding a bike, I suppose. Regardless, it is not a problem to communicate 1:1 in those languages. But what about 1:many conversations?

Blogging is a clear example. Should I blog in Portuguese as some keep telling me I should? I cannot reasonably expect my non-Brazilian readers to understand Portuguese. If I write in French, my Quebecer friends will be happy but what about the rest? Nationalistic rants aside, English is an international language nowadays, just as Latin and French once were. Aside from very few people, the vast majority of the people I know can understand English and that’s why I use it most often than any other.

Ideally, one would use their own native language and computer translation would do the rest. Unfortunately we are not there yet. I will admit that computer translation is getting better and better and it is fairly good if you write clear, short sentences. And it will get better. But I am skeptic that we will ever get to the point where the algorithms will be able to deal with subtleties, innuendos and all the puns that make up human interactions.

The way I see, I currently have a few options –

  • I write in Portuguese, as the ever vigilant Brazilian crowd demands it. That would soothe the wrathful nationalists who believe me a Traitor Of The Fatherland™. But it also limits my already limited audience; not good.

  • I write multiple versions of the same thing in each language. That would begin to feel like actual work, not fun. Also, having tried that in the past, I’ve learned that after I was done with the first version, the others never came out naturally.

  • I write in English. Sure it makes me a bootlicking lackey of the imperialist Yankees in the eyes of the insecure, but it also helps me reach pretty much everyone I know.

But using English is not a perfect solution either. For once, I am obviously not a native speaker and thus have an imperfect and narrow vocabulary. As well, I don’t share the cultural experiences that help define the subtleties of English. And finally, there are heaps of topics that just feel wrong in English: such as local—as in Brazilian—topics. It just feels weird.

Back to Google+, I have created Circles for Portuguese and French, but these are not much valuable until Google comes up with some system of set arithmetic that would allow me to say something to the effect of “Post this to members of Circle X who also happen to be members of Circle French.” Until then, English is my best bet.

[1] Experience tells me that I am required to point out that we, cheerful Brazilians, speak Portuguese, not Spanish.

(Image Credit: ThomasThomas, Creative Commons)

How can I get rid of (not so) old books?

I’m not a big believer in keeping books forever, even though I do keep some. Most books, however, I just want to read and pass along.

It just so happens that I have a ton of books that I want to get rid of. I could throw them away, but it somehow feels wrong. Also, I could donate them to some school, but considering where I live now, I assume this too will bring me one hell of a bureaucratic nightmare. Also, most of the books are either in English or Portuguese, so schools would probably not use them anyway.

With very few exceptions, all the books are either mathematics, economics, programming, or scifi. I thought I’d simply take the books to the office and give them away to anyone who’d like to have them.

But then my wife gave me an idea. Instead of taking the books and giving them outright, I started sending random emails to a mailing list with geeky questions, often related to the book topic. Whoever answers correctly first, gets the book.

This worked amazingly well.

  1. It created a fun environment for all involved. People actually want to get the answers right. Others learn by, well, learning the winning answer.

  2. For books that normally no one would care about, the fact that you have to win to get it suddenly adds value. It’s no longer a book no one wants, it now is an award.

  3. All of a sudden everybody loves me 😉

Had I just announced I had a bunch of books, people would get by, pick a few they cared about and that would have been it. No fun. So every now and then I take a few books from home and then give them away to quiz winners.

It’s actually lots of fun.

Suquia Creek

imageThings are starting to get busier on my new project. It is, alas, still listed as Restricted Secret, which means I cannot really talk about its details. Nor could I even reveal its codename, even though codenames reveal nothing about what a project really is. For the sake of making referring to it slightly less annoying for me, I’ll refer to it using a made-up codename in the best traditions of the company’s history of naming things for lakes, peaks, creeks, and towns. So the secret project shall henceforth be known as Suquia Creek (being the creek across from my house.)

Since I cannot give any details on Suquia Creek, what could I possibly talk about? A lot, it turns out. I can talk about things I’m learning while working on the project.

Ah boy, am I learning!

It turns out Suquia Creek is going to be the longest, most complex project I’ve worked on. Until SC came along, the longest project of my life had been Lava Peak, which ran for about two years. But that included post-launch activities. We managed to go from ideation to shipping in just under a quarter (I even won an award because of that back in 2007.) Suquia Creek, on the other hand, is scheduled to ship in 2014! That’s nearly half a decade of work.

As well, for earlier projects I only had to worry about software. Suquia Creek, however, is also hardware. And on the software side, off the top of my head, it involves —

  • Processor µcode

  • Chipset code

  • BIOS extensions

  • Firmware code

  • Drivers

  • An SDK

  • User-level apps

  • And a few other things I can’t say without revealing more than I should.

Bottom line: it’s huge as far as I’m concerned! And we should support multiple versions of Windows and one distro release of Linux. It also involves several cross-functional, geographically-dispersed teams based mainly in Argentina and the US, but also with some smaller efforts coming out of China, India, and Israel. That amounts to six different timezones, for a current maximum time difference of 17 hours.

And then we come back to schedule. I have no idea what I’ll be doing at home during this weekend, but I have to have a rough idea of what we’ll be delivering on, say, week 41 of 2013! That assumes the world will not end in 2012, of course.

This week we had our first engineering meeting to plan on a tentative schedule. Late next month I’ll be flying around between Silicon Valley and Silicon Forest to work out the (semi-)hard schedule. By then, we’ll actually have one internal alpha release in place already. After that, we’ll have another alpha before our first “release”, an internal proof of concept, which will then be used by customer as part of a (quasi-confidential) pilot. The customer? One of the world’s largest… well, can’t say what is their industry yet. It’s huge though.

After that pilot I expect to be able to open up a bit on what the project actually does. In the meantime, I’m going to be sharing my learning experience.

It’s going to be an exciting half-decade for me :–)

A Decade as a Linux Pro

After I recently accepted my old age, I was talking to some friends who, to their own surprise, found they were old too. We were talking about when each of us started working with Linux and a friend noticed he had been working with Linux for 10 years. That’s when I realized it’s been a decade since I was first paid to work with the operating system.

I had been using Linux for a little while. My first contact with it was in mid 1995. I had bought a computer magazine from the UK that had this pink CD-ROM with something called Linux-FT.

One of the cool things about Linux-FT was that it had a licensed copy of the Motif window manager, which was pretty cool at the time. I had been using some RISC boxes in college running CDE, so I felt right at home.

infomagicNot long after that, a friend who was an administrator at a new ISP let me borrow his Walnut Creek CD-set containing Slackware 2.1 or 2.2 (I’m not sure anymore. Old age, remember?) Then I purchased a copy of the wonderful InfoMagic 5-CD set containing Slackware, Red Hat, mirrors of some FTP site and another distro I can’t remember either (Shit! I’m old…)

Then in 1999 I was hired to help this company migrate from Windows to Linux. It was the first time I was ever paid to do anything related to Linux.

I went to work at Conectiva the next year, where I learned I didn’t know anything. What the heck do I do now? That’s also where I learned like never before, made lots of friends, and found the love of my life. (No, not another Linux distribution! I mean my wife! What’s wrong with you?)

In 2004 I left Conectiva and started working with one of the company’s founders on another Linux project. The work itself was interesting, but it was also my first contact with something that I would see a lot more in the future: the downright dishonesty of Linux entrepreneurs in Brazil. Of course, I then thought it was an isolated thing and decided I didn’t want to be a part of that and left the company in 2005.

That’s when I came to Intel to work at the CSO, a “personal” project of Andy Grove. CSO had a simple mission: to foster Linux usage by financing and providing engineering to business with good ideas. How great is that? I was going to work on my passion (Linux) and meet all kinds of people who shared it with me. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh boy.

In the following year I’d see things that would still make me sick years later. From businesspeople to self-appointed free software leaders, all I saw was guile and greed. It was such a disappointment that I requested a change. I stopped working with Brazilian businesses and projects completely, moving to support projects in other countries. Things were much better, which is another disappointment and one of the reasons why I hold us Brazilians in such low regard as a people.

Outside Brazil things were very different and despite some funny things here and there, I am proud of the Linux work I’ve done, especially the megalarge project with the government of Venezuela. I even met Hugo Chavez, which is funny considering my political stand 🙂

Regardless, I was also getting disappointed at other things as well. After years developing projects such as KDE, I was bored to death. I started witnessing things being done on other platforms and suddenly the Linux desktop just felt stale to me. It was dull and lifeless and at the same time I was doing all these cool stuff on Windows.

Add to all that the fact that KDE started getting full of kids adding more and more useless features… and politics… ever heard the one about the moppet who decided that all KDE About boxes should contain a thank-you note to American troops worldwide? And he wasn’t even American? You know what?

Screw Linux.

I dropped it like you wouldn’t believe. And it felt good. Not having to edit configuration files to do something simple made stuff pleasant again. I was introduced to Mac OS X and I loved it. It was Linux on steroids. All the good stuff without the kludge.

No more politics. No more GNU Slash Linux. No more open source vs. free software. No revolutionary-audio-framework-of-the-month. No juvenile cockiness. No rWindoze. No Micro$oft.

Just fun.

After nearly 15 years, I’m truly free.

The Grumpiest Post I’ve Ever Written

So today I was called grumpy, which was inconsiderate and uncalled-for, so I did what every stable adult man would do. I complained to the one person who’s required by God and Country to always be supportive: my wife. “Who the hell does she think she is calling me grumpy?” I asked. And my wife went “well, you totally are,” which was an inconsiderate and uncalled-for answer. “Hey! You’re my wife! You’re supposed to love me!” and she was “I do love you! And that’s why I need to be honest.”


It’s not that I could not live with the idea of being grumpy. It’s just that I don’t see myself like that. Or rather I didn’t. Now I kind of do.

There are a couple of young kids who are all high on the whole GNU Fucking Slash Linux. Not unusual. When we’re young, the world does seem a lot more black and white. That’s fine. Kids will rebel and Linux… Ops, sorry! GNU Slash Linux provides an outlet from which all the rebellion that a young nerd can muster. I mean, it’s not like these kids get invited to the parties where popular kids do their rebelling, right? Again, that’s all fine and dandy. Been there.

But then these kids—high as they are on GNU Slash Kool-aid—forget that they’re the new kids on the block. I mean, seriously people, Linux isn’t new anymore. There is a lot of people who came before you kids came out of daddy’s place. No shit.

Let’s face it, this is part of being young. You feel like you have all the answers and everyone else in the world failed to see The Truth. No problem with that. Except…

Except that shit means I’m now officially old!


Today I see a friend commenting about Linux and one of these cocky, know-it-all kids jumped on his case like he was some kind of newbie or something. Hell, that actually got me angry. And then it hit me.

Doesn’t that make me grumpy?

So. Fucking. Be. It. I hereby accept the label of grumpy and shall sport it with pride.


So my friend works with and improves Linux for years and then a kid comes out of nowhere—having never done more than tweeting about Linux—and dares berate the guy? Go suck an egg, son! The guy I’m talking about knows more Linux—and note how I dropped that slash shit and I don’t even care—on his pinky toe than all your friends together. Kid!



P.S.: I’m not really angry. Or am I?

The Delusion of Not Being Deluded

Ever came across someone who wanted to show off how independent and free their own thinking was? I have, many times. Discussing with these people is an amusing and yet wretched event. It’s like goping to a funny dentist. She may be funny, but she’s still going to bore a deep hole in your tooth. And boy, will it hurt! At least one of you will be laughing, right?

I happen to know a couple of people who have got such strong conviction of their own uniqueness in being free from delusion that they cannot avoid being delusional themselves. Both are on this righteous crusade to extricate people from their self-foisted enslavement in the hands of evil Apple. Wait, what? Yes, that’s right. From Apple! Apparently to some people, the operating system or the phone we use is the wrong one and we are pulling the wools over our own eyes into thinking otherwise. Fortunately for all of us, there are these cavaliers in shiny armor who will rescue us from ourselves. Dude, seriously? How much more fucked-up delusional can one get?!


I don’t know if those guys did too much role-playing in their lives (and I don’t mean in bed) or it’s just too much World of Warcraft. I don’t really know. But if there is one thing I do know, it’s that it’s delusional. Why is this so? It’s really a synthesis of a couple of things —

  • Belief that one is right about something. Being fair, we are all like this. If you ponder about it, this is the very definition of having an opinion. Nobody thinks they are wrong about their opinions.

  • Self-aggrandizement. Again, to a variable degree, we’re all like that. We all love to think we are more than what we really are. Probably a defense mechanism. Without that, we’d all have killed ourselves by the time we reached puberty. Or maybe not all of us, because I am super awesome.

  • Strong illusions.

What exactly is a delusion? A delusion is the belief that an illusion is real. We all have illusions, but a few go farther. They have such strong illusions that they begin believing in them.

These people actually believe that there is a war going on. A struggle between good and evil. A conflict between freedom and slavery. And let’s face it, everyone wants to be one of the good guys. Except supervilains. Supervilains want to be on the wrong side. Always.

Once you are set on the idea that (a) there is something like black-and-white good and evil, and that (b) the fucking clash is on, there’s really no stopping you. You need to fight to Good Fight. But since there really isn’t a war going on, the only way to fight it is by making up stuff as you go. So you pick your villains (say, Microsoft and Apple) and your heroes (say, Google and GNU) and you go out saving us ignorant civilians. From ourselves. And from Apple. Because Apple is, like, super evil. Ah, if everyone was like Google…

Holy. Shit. People. Grow the fuck up!

Let’s all pretend for a moment that there really is a war going on. That Google is out there fighting for our rights to free goodies in exchange for nothing at all. That Microsoft really owns the world’s Secret Cabal and Bill Gates sits down everyday to plan what evil deed needs to be done that day. Let’s say all of this is real. Wouldn’t it be a lot more productive for you to focus on your enemies and leave us civilians alone? Go ahead, wear your fancy penguin costume and take pictures of yourself peeing on the Microsoft logo. A lot of people will love that. And more importantly, you will feel like you’ve finally accomplished something! You won a battle for the good guys! Hooray!

But please leave the rest of us alone.


P.S.: a friend just sent me this picture, which says a lot. I think the message is: Dude, don’t be a fag!