Older blog entries for jameson (starting at number 21)

4 Feb 2001 (updated 4 Feb 2001 at 18:04 UTC) »
FreeSCI
0.3.1 was released on thursday. It's been over half a year since the last release, and I guess that delays of this size are not good for free software projects. Anyway, what's more important, we now have a TODO for 0.3.2. One of the more interesting points in there is the suggested re-implementation of the parser. We're using a "proto-Earley" algorithm for parsing right now- it works, and it's not really performance critical because it's only used once right after something has been entered, but I don't really like it anyway. I'll read up on LL and LR parsers for this one; however, it looks as if the most sensible change would be to change the emulation of non-determininsm from set management to back-tracking in the algorithm. The Sierra grammar typically matches two to 8 derivation trees(is that the right phrase?), of which only the first one is considered, so we're wasting a lot of memory and resources in this place.

Exult
Looks like the others want to release a second alpha RSN- this means I need to catch up with the Alpha port again (probably tomorrow). Turns out that it's a bad thing that Compaq's cxx doesn't understand the -include flag- while it's possible to emulate that with 'make' rules, this emulation step appears to be a PITA in automake. This means that it won't be possible to de-uglify my Alpha/Linux/cxx modifications. Well, it wouldn't help with the main ugliness (#ifndef'd includes of standard system headers), so I won't investigate any further into that direction.

ISP
Now they did it. Looks like my ISP, which just happens to be the dominant ISP here in Germany and a remnant of the former telco monopolist, managed to blow up all of their routers and backup systems in Frankfurt/Main. Or something equivalent (that'd be the only "sane" explanation for the current situation). Anyway, my 'net connection is slow as hell and totally unreliable (using CVS is almost impossible). A friend of mine was told that this will probably be fixed "in a month or so". Oh, and on top of that, my DSL line will be delayed by, well, roughly half a year (Note that those guys never had any friends in the first place, so they're not risking anything there).
I had to take my system to work (where they have a T3 connection) just in order to release FreeSCI. This sucks badly.

Entertainment
Got a Cowboy Bebop DVD. They didn't have the first one, so I took #2 (after all, it's supposed to be rather episodic). Watched it yesterday, and I really like it. Somehow, it reminds me of Elite and Frontier, and anything that does can't be bad.
I also started learning Japanese. I guess it'll take a few years, but it's an interesting challenge. Thanks to Anime, I'm even semi-guaranteed to keep motivated for quite a while (Note that Sierra's adventure games were my base motivation for learning English...).

University
The semester is coming to an end. This means that I have to finish some work, including the seminar paper mentioned earlier, and prepare for a few tests (OK, so I'm not going to do that until one day before the test, but WTF).

Work
My regular job resumes on February 22nd. Then it's back again to Java, XML, and e-commerce (shudder). I'm looking forward to doing more XSLT work, though- while the language does have its design-by-commitee weirdnesses and is a PITA to type (-> active code generator?), it's certainly a refreshing break from most of the other stuff I'm supposed to work with.

Games
I wish I had time to play any. OTOH, the only commercial game that runs on my box would be Civ CTP, so I'd probably just play Nethack or Moria or Angband or something like that. Anyway, it looks as if Loki is having problems. This is an inherently bad sign, as they were the gaming company closest to "doing it right", in my book. This is going to send a very bad sign- I just hope they'll recover (and port Deus Ex to the Alpha).

Graphical User Interfaces
Regarding recent discussions of GUIs here: Personally, I never got the hang of GUIs. I do agree that customizeable keys (or even just functions available via hotkeys) are a good thing, though; in fact, my personal opinion is that the pointing device should be as optional as possible. We need graphics, for a vast amount of reasons, and we need pointing devices, because they are more efficient whenever some sort of aiming is required. However, without speech recognition or stylus + handwriting recognition, we can't go without a keyboard (and even /with/ those, I'd recommend against going without one), so there's no point in trying not to use it. OTOH, without a touch screen, we need the mouse for certain kinds of graphical interaction (at least for the rough aiming). Still, my impression is that the keyboard is superior for the vast majority of tasks, and GUI designers shouldn't forget about that. While I'm ranting, I might as well mention the other thing I perceive as a common misfeature in graphical programs: Popup windows, or, more precisely, stealing the keyboard focus. I don't care about the fact that Mozilla couldn't get a host name resolved while I'm typing my password for a remote account, so I don't see the point of it stealing my keyboard focus. Neither do I see the point of it opening a window to tell me so when it has ample space in the browser window to do just that. Of course it might be argued that some things are important, and should be brought to the user's attention as soon as possible. I guess some sort of "notification bar" would be most appropriate for that- a bar (occupying a few pixels on top of the screen) which flashes or shows some sort of icon whenever some program wants something urgently or believes that I absolutely have to be told about something else. Given a sufficiently versatile type system, users would even be able to weed out events they don't care about, or sort those by their own asessment of the events' priority. I guess what I'm proposing could be called a "non-intrusive user interface". I don't know whether this is the kind of thing Joe Random User would like to use, but it's the kind of GUI I'd be comfortable with (provided that it'd fulfill the usual requirements like customizeability and easy control from the keyboard). Come to think of it, we should also assign numbers and letters to windows (same as we do to virtual desktops), so that they can be addressed in very few keystrokes. (This might also help with voice input- changing the voice input focus should be easier if you don't have to say things like "the second x-term from the left").

FreeSCI
Code freeze since yesterday evening. I guess I should update the homepage with the news. Anyway, 0.3.1 is close, though it'll be UNIX only this time (mostly because the DDRAW gfx driver is still incomplete).
I think I'll abuse the Compaq TestDrive systems for testing this time... wonder if FreeSCI builds on OpenVMS...

Entertainment
I don't quite recall who it was, but someone here at Advogato recently gave a pointer to megatokyo.com- whoever you were, thanks- I can't believe I overlooked this online comic/manga for so long :-)

Handheld
Looks like a YOPY Development kit is finally available. The YOPY, for those who don't recall, is one of the Linux handhelds announced last year (StrongARM, 32 MB Flash, 16 MB SDRam, IRDA, RS-232C, CompactFlash type 2, 240x320x65k color display, batteries). I played with one of those on last year's CeBit, and it seemed pretty cool back then (the display wasn't too clear, though, and some of the programs didn't work yet). My main complaints about it are the size- it's not too bad, but more kludgy than a PalmPilot- and the use of batteries. For a further analysis, I'd need one...
But back to the YOPYDK: It's priced at roughly 0.7kEUR (read on before panicking), and it includes an actual YOPY. Unless I missed something, all software and patches are free (gcc, gdb etc.), so the actual value you get is the YOPY itself. They're targetting ia32/Linux workstations as development platforms, which means that their gcc/binutils/gdb patches might require some 64 bit cleanups before I can use them, but still...

Considering how much I write about this thing, it seems likely I'll get one after this year's CeBit or so. I don't see why it shouldn't be possible to get FreeSCI to run on it (once memory usage has been reduced somewhat further)...

Improbability factor 262144:1 and falling...

On monday, which just happens to be the the last monday prior to the intended FreeSCI CVS freeze, my router's root HD finally decided to go the way of all hardware and leave me without net access. The same day, my car started leaking massive amounts of oil, rendering it effectively unusable.

Improbability factor 2048:1 and falling...

So starbase42 (the router) was destroyed. Deciding that net access was more important than mobility, I set out to buy a new HD and install Debian rather than SuSE (nothing personal, I just happen to like apt). Everything went well, until I started loading the ISDN modules: it took me 7 hours to find out that hisax.o was not autodetecting the IRQ correctly- 7 hours I intended to spend refining my slides for a presentation, which, not surprisingly, happens to be tomorrow.

Improbability factor 1:1... Normality... Repeat, we have normality...

Most things are still very broken ATM. rei (my workstation) still doesn't have a 'net connection due to missing ipchains on starbase42 (which I should probably rename to starbase42-A now), my father has to use an old KDE snapshot and no StarOffice until apt finishes updating, and so on.

Well, I'm still mostly alive, which is not really surprising since I wouldn't be able to suffer otherwise.

FreeSCI
One of the new sound guys, Stuffed Crust, is starting to dig into the code and change things in preparation for a sound implementation. This means that we might have a 0.3.2 release pretty soon after the 0.3.1 one (and yes, we should start freezing features in CVS for it RSN.) One problem we kept on having was memory leaks. A lot of memory was being lost during the game (e.g. all game resources were present twice, and stuff like that...); using dmalloc, we managed to track down most of them. FreeSCI now uses 25 MB RAM on my box, in 640x400 16bpp, which is less than two thirds of the initial value it used there (and you no longer loose 1.5MB each time the background pic changes).

One thing that is concerning me are the numerous calls for SCI1 support (SCI1 is, very roughly, a name for the the first VGA versions of the SCI interpreter). We still aren't fully stable in SCI0 yet- Colonel's Bequest, Conquest of Camelot and Hoyle's Book of Games have known problems- and I'd rather fix existing problems before starting the vm re-organization we will need for SCI1. However, a lot of effort appears to have gone into SCI1 research already (still waiting for documentation...), so I don't really want other people from working on it with the things we have in FreeSCI either...

I guess the best approach to this would be to fork off the 0.6 development branch right after the 0.3.1 release. Thus, SCI1 people would have something to work on now. (Most of the remaining pre-0.4 work is related to refining the graphics subsystem, adding sound support, and fixing bugs. This is relatively orthogonal to the VM reimplementation, so forward-porting should be rather simple in most cases).

Linux 2.4.0
Somehow, I feel much less thrilled than I felt with the 2.2.0 (aka "Brown Paper Bag") release. I haven't installed it on any of the boxes I administrate- I don't need any of its features on the ia32 one, I'm not going to trust my Alpha to it just yet, and the SGI Indy isn't anything I'd want to run Linux on.

Happy new year! (Yeah, I'm late ;-)

Local hardware
Lots of network changes around here, but everything went smoothly. This is a bad sign, obviously- things aren't supposed to go smoothly when networks are involved.
I finally replaced my trusty old NEC CP6 with an HP Laserjet 1100. Technology sure has come some way since the last millenium- that thing prints a postscript page in less than 10 seconds! (5 to 7, I'd guess). The same took several minutes on the CP6...

FreeSCI
Widget system is in, menus work again, savegames appear to be operational- somehow, things are getting together much faster than I had expected them to. We'll probably start preparing for a new release RSN- end of this month seems like a good date for 0.3.1.
I guess it's appropriate to update the homepage with a few new screenshots now...

g++
g++ 2.95.3 doesn't fix the SIGILL when running Exult on Alpha/Linux, so I'll continue trying to make it work on cxx for a while.

Workstations
Here is a review of the Sun Blade 1000 (in german). Looks like another piece of hardware I'd appreciate having around ;-)
It has the usual disadvantages of Sun systems, though- GNU tools aren't installed (I don't have the slightest Idea why they keep on forgetting to ship them pre-installed), and the price is relatively high at roughly 15kEUR (for the cheap 512 MB system). You can probably get a DP2000+ workstation with 2 833 MHz EV67s (or are those EV68s?) and a gig of ECC RAM for two thirds of the price, at roughly 1.2 times the FP and Int performance- for one processor (but IO and Mem throughput might be a bit worse, and you won't get a funky 3D accellerator with it). Well, you could, if enough of those systems were shipping.

28 Dec 2000 (updated 1 Jan 2001 at 14:07 UTC) »

Merry post-christmas, everyone!

University
Spent the last four days preparing a for a seminar in mid-january. Usually, I'd never voluntarily pick a seminar on "information commerce", but the person responsible for this one happens to be my boss, and he actually gave me an interesting topic to work on: Combining three modal locics to model deadlines and similar stuff in business transactions. (well, "combining three modal logics" is the interesting part here, the rest of the title is decoration). It's based on two papers ([1] [2]), but it turns out that, while providing a nice algebra for writing things down, it's too messed up for sensible reasoning or planning in any but the most trivial of cases.
Researching for this one taught me to like the NEC CS citeseeker
However, there still is one thing I hate about seminars, and that's preparing the slides. I enjoy presenting my stuff, and I like writing the seminar paper (if the subject is interesting, which it is in this case- combining deontic logic, dynamic logic, and temporal logic (PTL, to be precise)), but watering down the contents to improve the grokability factor hurts. A lot. But that's the price I'll have to pay for taking a seminar which mostly CS economists ("Wirtschaftsinformatiker") (US people: think CIS) are involved in.
Slides have another problem: While the TeX seminar mode works great for me, my boss wants PowerPoint slides. However, I don't have access to any win32 system and couldn't install it on my Alpha if I wanted to (which, surprisingly, I don't), so I'll have to try something like converting them to eps, which SO5.1 is supposed to be able to import (I can't run that one locally, either, but it's installed on some Solaris boxes I have access to).

Christmas
For Christmas, I turned an SGI Indy into an X terminal, so that my father can finally enjoy KDE2 to do whatever it is he wanted to do in the Internet. Turned out that konqueror renders the FreeSCI homepage correctly, which makes it look pretty broken. Oops.

Exult
Good News, Alpha users: Exult/CVS works now! Except for the segfault when clicking "Setup" in the main menu, everything looks pretty good- as long as you use playmidi for MIDI output. I guess I should have a look at libkmidi or timidity...

FreeSCI
Considerable improvements- the display lists work great now! I just wish the guy working on sound support had more time for FreeSCI. Anyway, I guess I'll take a break from writing seminar slides now and try to fix the two remaining dynamic/static display list bugs. And, if that works, re-enable some more of the disabled graphics functionality.
Also fixed the FreeSCI homepage. Sorry for needing so long to find out about that, Konqueror (Konquerer?) users!
BTW, I think I'll try this IRC thing tonight.

FreeSCI
Despite the pretty screenshots, not much interest popped up. I really need to test/debug/fix the widget subsystem ASAP, so that 0.3.1 can be released before the semester is over (before Woody starts to freeze, actually).
Some more bugfixing and re-enabling of disabled stuff proved to take care of some problems, though. However, there are enough bugs now to warrant an extensive bug hunt- no more features until the priority map, the SQ3 intro, and collisions work again.

Exult
Alpha users: Don't try it just yet; SF didn't let me access CVS yesterday (they moved a few servers, apparently), but I learned that some important patches of the Alpha/DECCXX patch are still missing.

I also noticed that a lot more people are working on Exult actively than there are on FreeSCI, even though the latter covers more games. This may be because of the recent release, but I also suspect that their IRC sessions, which happen to be rather productive, help a lot with keeping people in touch and together. Or maybe DrCode is just better at managing projects or motivating people than I am... Well, I can try to improve, but I'm wondering about that IRC thing. It's much easier to build a community with an IRC channel, of course... do any of the people who actually read this have any experience with the affect of "official" IRC channels on the development process in a free software project?

Other games
Tried Chromium BSU. Lots of typecasts of pointers to ints, so I didn't bother letting it finish compiling. I guess I won't have time to fix this one too soon, though.
Sarien: claudio wanted it to have a new graphics system one day. I hope that the FreeSCI one will be fit for the task once the widget stuff has stabilized.

Entertainment
Don't have enough time to have a lot of it, but I squeezed some "Family Guy" and "The Slayers" into some spare time slots. Turned out that both are quite entertaining in their own little ways, but neither is a "must-see". IMHO, both are worth watching, though.
BTW, some people may have missed this, but Shin Seiki Evangelion (Neon Genesis Evangelion for US people) is being broadcast in Germany these days (subtitled). I'd be pretty happy about this if I hadn't bought all the tapes (well, at least now I can watch them with german subtitles...). Anyway, Anime appears to be making its way inroads here, and I guess that's a good thing.

Exult
Finally managed to get it working on Alpha/Linux- you can get a binary from this place, if you're interested. The page also includes rough build instructions and a link to my outdated patch. DrCode registered me as a developer just after fingolfin added most of that patch; I'll try to fix the remaining issues as soon as I have some spare time again (ca. April 2032).

FreeSCI
Fixed the dynview display list (mostly), and released two screenshots that didn't look too broken. The new graphics subsystem definitely takes more time to render the background pictures (it uses flood fill, after all), but, personally, I like the results. Also, the actual screen update time (time spent in the Animate system call) has improved significantly (3x3 currently plays at roughly the speed of the old 1x1; if nothing changes on the screen, network traffic should be minimized when playing over X as well), and, of course, it's more scalable, but I mentioned those two things here before, so I'm not going to go into any detail here.
I still hope I'll have some spare post-christmas time to devote to the gfx subsystem, but a seminar presentation I have to prepare may take a lot of that time.

Alpha
Compaq have released JDK1.2.2 for Alpha/Linux to the general public. This is an important event, since it almost obliterates one of the three platform disadvantages of the Alpha I mentioned here (or was it the Heise newsticker?) a few months ago- they were:

  • Broken g++
  • No recent JDK
  • No hw-accellerated GLX
Point #2 is only almost obliterated, since the license agreement you have to click-sign in order to download the JDK (and the form you have to fill out in order to download libcpml, which the JDK depends on), does not allow free redistribution of those things (and not re-packaging either, although the point in this is rather limited if redistribution is disallowed anyway). (Most of these things were pointed out by Christopher C. Chimelis, probably the Debian/Alpha guy, which I thought I'd better mention here.)

Anyway, regarding the other two points: cxx is quite good, if you ignore the implicit g++ namespace mangling. cxx is evil, proprietary, and binary-only, of course, but there's not much of a point in preferring a free broken compiler over a working non-free compiler.
WRT to GLX, I've heard a few success reports regarding PCI graphics cards (Voodoo 3), but AGP cards still aren't fully supported on my UP1000 because of firmware troubles (an upcoming internal API contact promised to give me an estimated date for the release of the upgrade next year, though).

University
AI test tomorrow. This should be fun- I like the subject. One of the few things that are more fun than building compilers or engines for 10-year-old games.

Time
I'm out of it consistently now. People trying to contact me should probe back after christmas, in case I'm still alive (and don't rely on my answer then).

g++
No, this is not another rant about how much gcc 2.95.2's c++ frontend sucks on the Alpha, breaks with internal compiler errors, creates incorrect function tables, cancer, famine, and a whole load of other evil things. No, it isn't- I just wanted to point out to those who missed it that the gcc steering commitee appears to be planning to put out a 2.95.3 interim release. This is great news- even though the hairs I pulled out won't grow back this way, a lot of programs might *finally* work on the Alpha. Like Mozilla. Or Qt. Or KDE. Or, of course, Exult.

FreeSCI
Implemented and verified the new decompression method, but haven't checked it in yet. Since the new widget system is doing quite well, I'll lay off implementing the hooks from the SCI kernel calls to the widget system until after christmas.

Christmas presents
My favored present for everyone this year would be that they don't have to buy me a present. Too bad not everybody is happy with that, so we can't limit ourselves to singing and celebrating and generally stuffing our stomachs with various kinds of comestibles, much like we did with the traditional goose (or whatever kind of animal or plant you happen to traditionally prepare for christmas).

C++ and Exult
Trying to get Exult to work on the Alpha now turns into a hunt for a working C++ compiler. It's not much of a secret that 2.95.2 seriously sucks on the Alpha (fortunately, we're at least getting working, though not quite very optimal stuff when using the C frontend, but C++ ist just broken), so I tried a CVS snapshot, which appears to have some problems with its own header files. (Well, it's a CVS snapshot, so I can't really blame them for this, though this shows they still have some way to go for 3.0.0). Next thing to try will be Compaq's cxx. It's proprietary and binary-only (i.e. evil), but maybe it will work, which would put it at a distinct advantage over gcc. Oh, and did I mention gcc 2.95.2 sucks on the Alpha? BTW, welcome, fingolfin, and thanks for your help with this yesterday!

FreeSCI
I received a few... historical documents about the SCI engine. Apparently, some Russian hackers took the system apart as early as 1992; their discoveries were put down in a series of e-mails (or, more precisely, posts to a FIDOnet discussion forum), which, by a set of weird and confusing circumstances made their way to me. Now this would be great if they wouldn't happen to be written in Russian ;-) Fortunately, Sergey Lapin (who re-implemented one of the decompression routines for FreeSCI) appears to be able to read that stuff, so we're not quite left out in the cold here :-)

As hoped (but unlike anticipated), the improved widget subsystem was checked into CVS last saturday. If I refactor any further, we'll re-write the whole thing from scratch... Anyway, the widget system, while not quite doing everything the way it's supposed to do it yet, is progressing- and it is faster than the old thing :-) (and more scaleable, of course).

Simpsons
Oh my god- they killed Maude! You Bastards! (It sure takes a while for US episodes to propagate over here).

Binary stuff
Thanks to FreeSCI, I'm regularly encountering new binary formats no man has ever encountered before (or something like that). My descriptive attempts for them have been pretty informal so far; but now I'm starting to wonder if there is a good formal machine and human readable description language for binary data (Yes, I know it's pretty late in the game, but there are still a few data formats used in later games we don't support, and lots of other formats that haven't been properly described yet). Of course, using a declarative attempt for binary languages has one disadvantage: While creating efficient reader programs from the declarations should be possible, creating writer programs may be either be NP-complete, result in programs that use NP-complete algorithms, or will require the language to be restricted beyond usability (compare this to the problem of creating "good" MPEG encoders).

Still, the ability to automatically generate reader programs from platform (meaning processor, OS, and programming language) agnostic description files (including automated checking) should easily make up for this...

So, has anybody heard of anything like this?

FreeSCI
Moving slowly... I've been re-working part of the widget system from a flag-based to a function variable based system. This is relatively straightforward work, but I don't seem to be able to find the time to work on it very much lately... Still, it's almost done now, so there's a real chance the whole thing will be released to CVS in the next 10 days or so- this way I can finally focus on fixing bugs once again (Woo-hoo... I guess..). A new contributor popped up, and, with some minor assistance, managed to describe an algorithm for the deflate-based decompression algorithm required for later SCI games. With some luck, we may soon have implementations for all SCI compression algorithms.

Exult
As a long-time Ultima fan, I took the recent alpha release as an excuse to finally try Exult. It's based on SDL, multithreading and C++, i.e. mostly stuff I'm not really familiar with, so that's another good excuse to play with it :-) Unfortunately, it turns out that it doesn't work on the Alpha, so I'll have to whack it in the head a few times. Now I'm finally experiencing the joys of debugging multithreaded code... However, DrCode appears to be very willing to help me with the port, so I'm not quite left out in the cold there. (Yeah, I know, this is heresy, but don't worry, I'm not abandoning FreeSCI quite yet ;-)

US elections
For those of you fearing that the rest of the world might be making fun of the US because of this: Rest assured, we are.

EU council vs. patents
So they decided against patentability of software (with Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Austria being the bad ones this time). This is one of the rare moments where we have to be grateful that the concept of deregulation (patenting computer programs is explicitly disallowed) is something the council has yet to grasp.

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