Older blog entries for jameson (starting at number 28)

Vacation
Just returned from it. Southern France is a great place for people who enjoy beach-style holidays, with sunny weather, refreshing breezes, great food and mostly acceptable prices (It's not Poland, but it isn't Switzerland, either). Unfortunately, being naturally receptive to sunburns, I'm not particularly into lying on the beach all day, but it was still quite entertaining- while the area may be lacking the inns that tend to mark places well-suited for hiking and no major (> 250m) height differences can be found there, it's still a fun place to just wander around and explore. Still, next time I go on a vacation I should take the time to learn the basics of the native language spoken in the country I'm going to- while not being able to understand even some of the most basic signs and phrases is sufficiently embarassing already, having to fall back to a third language (usually english) is downright impolite. At least IMO. Although I'd be the first to admit that the necessity to visit a bathroom wins over politeness most of the time.

Life
10 days without net access. And while I'm away, HP buys the big Q, the Andromeda TV series starts, and an utterly insane amount of e-mails piles up in my inbox. Ten days sure are more than they used to be... I blame time dilation. Time has been slowing down perpetually ever since we started collecting information in information networks. The conclusion is obvious- information has a negative mass, thus we're building a white anti-hole now.
And now for something completely different. claudio: You do qualify for a 'master' ranking- you've worked on a wide variety of Free Software projects, both commercial and non-commercial, in user- and in kernel space, both contributing and leading development, on a large number of platforms, in war and peace, above and beyond the call of duty. Besides, you like Pokey the Penguin. Anyway, you have a much better idea of what you're doing than I have [of what I'm doing], and this ought to be reflected in some way.

FreeSCI
Time to start focussing on a new release. I've been told that the Win32 port has been improved in some major ways, but I'd prefer it if there were more updates to the UNIX side than just bugfixes. Well, it's not as if there was nothing left on the TODO list, but starting something grand and new doesn't fit particularly well with "focussing on a new release"...

School project
Working on a communication protocol for this thing (page in German) here. It's a, well, bike of sorts. And it's stuffed with an insane amount of technology (No, you won't be able to buy this thing any time soon). We were originally planning to use one of Compaq's iPAQ systems (running Linux) to act as the speed indicator and general configuration management system (allowing centralized parametrization of the devices connected over the bus), but Compaq's reluctance to support us and their recent troubles may force us to fall back to a different device.

Life
Exams are next week, so please bear with me if I take a little longer to reply to non-urgent e-mails. Unfortunately, a friend convinced me to visit LinuxTag on saturday, so I loose yet another day.

LinuxTag

    I'm going down to Stuttgart, gonna have myself a time
    Friendly hackers everywhere, making code and presentations
    going down to Stuttgart, gonna leave my code behind.
I'm wondering if I'm going to meet anyone I know- a few people from the local LUG appear to be going there, but I haven't met many of them physically, so this isn't really going to help. Maybe there'll be a few names I recognize at the Debian booth...

Graphical web browser
Wo-hoo! I finally have one of those for myself! The thing I have is called 'Konqueror'. It appears to be a bit unstable- segfaults every third URL or so with a warning that the received header has a size of -1- but, otherwise, it's nice, particularly for a first version. Wonder why it says 2.2something, though...
Kudos to Chris Chimelis and RevKrusty for getting it to work, BTW!

Requiem for the Alpha?
This doesn't look good, particularly if they guessed the buyer correctly. I believe that IA64's an interesting addition to the 64 bit marketplace, but it is not a replacement for the Alpha. Intel will think differently, of course...

Time
Spending most of my time on university stuff lately, so there's not much going on development-wise. With some luck, a university project might turn out to become another addition to the Free Software world, though. OK, to be honest, it's the other way 'round- I'm trying to get a piece of code I'm working on to be accepted as a replacement for a much more boring project I'm supposed to be working on.

C++
GCC 3.0's out, and I'm supposed to be happy. Unfortunately, Compaq's (soon Intel's?) cxx is faster by an order of magnitude. I haven't compared the code quality yet- neither compiler manages to build Mozilla or the kdelibs on my box, and I'm not really in the mood to do benchmarking.

Movies
Since the last update, I went to the theaters exactly four times: Twice to see Mononoke Hime, which I highly recommend- the German synchronized version is surprisingly good-, once for Perfect Blue, which wasn't bad either, and once again for The Mummy 2 (Or whatever the official title is), which I didn't enjoy quite as much as most of the others I talked to. It had a few nice ideas, but it was just too cheesy ("Hollywood-ish") in places.
Anyway, I think I'm going to skip Perl Harbour- according to two reviews and one oral report, it's apparently not worth watching. Not quite on par with Saving Private Ryan, Das Boot or Hotaru no Haka('Grave of the Fireflies').

Sarien
Frightening news from claudio: It's back! With a vengenance! It's got the Star Generator, and it's probably trashing Mega-Tokyo (no, not Megatokyo) right now!
It's definitely great to see this project (one of the original motivations for starting FreeSCI) resurrected. However, the URL would appear to be slightly different than indicated in the original post- the other project referenced looks interesting, too, though...
I still think the new FreeSCI gfx subsystem (which desparately needs a name!) can be strapped onto Sarien. It'd probably add some overhead, but it would allow Sarien to take advantage of all of FreeSCI's graphics drivers, such as GGI, and... uh... the Xlib driver... and... the partially implemented SDL driver.... OK, still, there might be some benefits, such as trilinear filtering, or maybe some performance improvements on system with more memory. Or maybe not. But it'd be something I should try eventually...

FreeSCI
/dev/sequencer doesn't like me. Somehow, we run out of partials (voices) much too soon, even though a sufficient number of note-offs (MIDI 8x... or was that 9x?) are sent. Also, far too many gfx optimizations appear to be hitting worst-case situations (especially noticeable in the HQ character setup screen). Don't like that at all.
A few interesting suggestions regarding extending SCI have been suggested on the IRC channel, mostly regarding BSD socket support. Personally, I think a more interesting challenge would be to extend the interpreter to have 32 bit support without breaking the existing 16 bit code. Anyway, general interest in using SCI for new stuff bodes well regarding Brian Provinciano's SCI development thingy. Don't think I'd want to use a 16 bit interpreter for a new project, though...

Interpreters and virtual machines
I got an interesting mail from someone who slightly mis-judged the order of magnitude of FreeSCI and wanted to pit it against Java and .NET. He was rather persistant with this, especially since, as he pointed out, a proprietary VM called ICVM was much faster than Java on his system. From what I can tell, ICVM looks like a more register-based approach (like Dis) with a highly CISC instruction set. Due to the CISCness, the interpreter overhead was supposed to be rather small, making a JIT unneccessary.
However, the design of ICVM looks rather PC-centric- most of its registers are 32 bit, and it only has 6 general purpose integer and 3 general purpose floating point registers (On most architectures, you could play Space War in the remaning registers without this noticeably affecting performance...).
Anyway, the main point he was making was that there ought to be a free VM design around. Creating a good real-life VM would certainly be an interesting challenge, but I'm not sure whether it'd help Free Software in general- after all, it would just encourage people to keep their stuff closed again. Then again, it might help making non-mainstream platforms more popular, which might turn out to affect the BSDs and GNU/Linux positively... Of course, the amount of work needed to create something in the order of manitude of Java would be immense. A more sane starting point would probably be to start off an existing project (such as Python) and use its libraries, tweak its VM for performance, and write a gcc backend for it...
Well, I guess I'm spending too much time thinking about this- a project of this kind couldn't happen without massive interest from a group of powerful hackers, and I don't think we'll see that.

Exult
Looks like Exult will be going into Debian's contrib. IMHO that's pretty good news, but I'm not certain whether the auto-built Alpha port will work well (since they're probably building it with gcc rather than cxx).

Anime
Watched the first ten episodes of Cowboy Bebop for the third time (with a constantly increasing audience). I do have the third DVD lying around here, but, not having a DVD player myself, I'll have to wait for other people to have some spare time in order to finally learn what happens after Ganymede Elegy...
Mononoke Hime is going to be shown in our local theaters RSN. Only two more weeks or so...

FreeSCI
Eventful 1.5 weeks lie behind us now. The most interesting part for me was the new bug tracking system- this was my first real-code encounter with Python.
One of the other interesting problems was how to deal with badly behaving single-user code. SCI games sometimes loop over the GetEvent() system call without explicitly waiting (they didn't have select() or anything like this). It's not unlike the "repeat until kepressed;" thing I used to do back in my Turbo Pascal days, and it sucks about as much. FreeSCI tries to trap it now by using the most obvious route- it keeps track of calls to functions which wait explicitly or retreive time values, and, if none of these was called after two subsequent GetEvent() calls, it executes a "penaly sleep" period. CPU usage in some sequences dropped from 1.25 to 0.22, so this appears to be a useful optimization.
Traffic in the IRC channel has increased significantly. It's fun, of course, but IRC can easily distract from doing real work (although this doesn't appear to be a problem for most developers yet).

Python
This appears to be pretty much the most convenient language I've used so far. From what I've heard, its integration into C appears to be pretty good, too, making it a good choice for scripting languages. Of course, it still has a few things I personally consider problems:

  • Indentation rules. Changing control structures sometimes becomes a battle between me and EMACS' tabbing rules. Also, they doesn't help with automatically generated code (this may not be what Python was designed in mind with for, though).
  • list comprehensions and static lambda expression evaluation are missing. I know, they're in Python 2.1, but that doesn't help much until the licensing issues have been resolved (alternatively, those could be counted as the problem).
I still have to check out some of the other functional languages around to be able to judge it more appropriately. However, I agree with most of the other opinions regarding it that this should make an excellent teaching language, and, thanks to its extensive libraries and C integration, a good language for general purpose programming and prototyping, too.

Alpha
Rumors about Samsung ditching API are about- don't know what to make of that yet... OTOH, Samsung has information about the upcoming UP1500 board on their page, whereas I can't find anything about it on API's page...
Anyway, if we disregard politics for a second and examine the specs, this looks like just the board everybody and their 400W power supply have been waiting for: Compared with the UP1000, memory bandwith was doubled everywhere (more than doubled in some places, IIRC), including AGP, and it comes with SRM rather than AlphaBIOS by default. Seems to require an EV68, though, so I'm left to drool...
But back to programming: For some reason, Compaq's ccc appears to have problems if people pass more than 6 parameters into inline assembly blocks. This breaks the current alpha blending code, of course... Any ideas?

Well, it's been a while...

FreeSCI
Slashdotted! Somehow, I had expected to rise to a higher level of awareness, or something like that. Well, can't have everything.
Anyway, we now have sound, tri-linear filtering (plus something I used to call bi-linear filtering which definitely isn't), alpha-blending on Alphas (see "Assembly" below- it's just a feature, so I didn't feel too bad coding this non-portably), and lots of bug fixes. I guess it's time to prepare for a feature freeze again...

Exult
Haven't touched that project in a while, but will get back to it soon- they're gearing up to the next release, so I'd better make sure cxx works.

Assembly
It's been the first time since roughly two years that I touched assembly again, and it feels quite weird. The Alpha instruction set is so much different from the ia32 one I grew up with. With all of its extensions, it's not quite as clean as the original MIPS one, but the core concepts are pretty clean and RISC. I definitely don't mourn my ia32 assembly days.
It's really a pity that we (well, most of us, anyway) are stuck on the ia32 architecture because of "binary compatibility" issues. Shouldn't it be possible to do a complete flow analysis of a program, transform it into a device-independant representation (java bytecode comes to mind, although I'd prefer something more functional and tree-like... maybe RTL?), and then re-assemble it on an arbitrary target device? Sort of a ia32 compiler frontend.
Normal compilers generally have to make some concessions towards code generation; specifically, they need to be reasonably fast in order not to slow down the development cycle (used to be a major problem before harddisks and compilers with few passes became common- those advances pretty much killed off research in incremental compilers, but that's a different story). However, a cross-assembler would typically be run on a program that is known to be working already; therefore, if the cross-assembler itself was fully operational, it would not be required to be run more than once for each program; consequently, it could be slow as hell (hey, it should be possible to get Prolog to do that stuff by back-tracking...). External functions (e.g. DOS: Int 0x10, 0xa000 memory access) would still have to be modelled in some way, of course, but I don't see why this shouldn't be possible if we accept a moderate performance loss. Has anybody heard of a project like this?
Anyway, this is too much work for a project for the evenings; maybe I should look into this (or the theoretical aspect of it, at least) for my Master's Thesis...

Work
Yeah, I'm back at work again. XPath, XSLT, Java, some business buzzwords, and roughly everything in between. This in itself would be pretty boring, but I just love the work atmosphere- being a research institute, we have enough time to think about things before we build them, and our bosses actually have some clue about the stuff they're doing (or, at least, are able to admit it and ask for help if they don't, which appears to be a surprisingly uncommon feature). Anyway, I got to install Debian/Sparc on a Sparc notebook (which didn't have working fd support). A rather fun and enlightening experience, until I got to the point where it turned out that 'sed' would segfault on complicated stuff, such as the stuff done in configure scripts. OK, NP, just grabbed the most recent release from the GNU ftp server, ran ./configure...
D'Oh.
OK, well, maybe it wouldn't be quite that easy. Still, a manual compile didn't really improve the situation- it built, but it segfaulted all the same. So I took the BSD sed and tried to compile that. This was the moment where I realized that the BSD people care for OS independance in their system tools about as much as the GNU guys do...
Anyway, it works now. Anyone who wants a copy of the ported BSD sed, just give me a call.

"Retro gaming"
(Warning: Rant ahead)
That phrase sounds pretty weird to me. It's implication is that the games it covers are "obsolete" in some way, that they're more of a historic curiosity than an actual game.
I beg to differ.
Don't get me wrong- I whole-heartedly agree that there are great games with much better graphics and sound than, say, Space Quest 3 or Ultima 7, and that some of those games are actually fun and challenging.
(Of course I've grown somewhat out of touch with the "gaming community", so I'll just assume that there are any new games which fit that description...)
Still, how does that obsolete those old games? I mean, chess or Go are ages old, however someone playing them is not considered to be "retro". Some games which are only a few decades in age, though, are looked down upon, people generally assuming that a WAFF might be the only reason to re-play them.
I guess this is yet another sign of how much power advertisement companies, marketing divisions, and mass media hold over us nowadays. They don't need to convince everyone, but if they convince enough people, those will convince others. In this case, they'll convince them that they need those great new graphics and surround sound, or they're stupid.
Dealing with this kind of mental enslavement is likely to be one of the greater challenges of our future (and no, I'm not just talking about "retro gaming" here...)

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.

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