28 Feb 2003 raph   » (Master)

Well, CodeCon is over. I think my talk went pretty well. At least, I got some good questions after the talk, which is always encouraging.

Talk of war

chalst: I'm basically in agreement with cmm here. The free software community has a some advantages over the unwashed masses; we can mostly read and write, even sometimes think, and we're very comfortable with challenging the conventional wisdom. But I don't think there's anything that gives us any special insight or privilege compared to other thoughtful people.

Ordinarily, I would consider discussions of politics to be off-topic for this site, but this war threatens to affect us so deeply that I think it deserves some attention from everybody. It's a scary thought, but if it goes badly, it could change some priorities; we could be worrying more about how to treat radiation burns than whether it should be "Linux" or "GNU/Linux".

That said, given the focus here, I'd like to see mostly posts that bring insight, or have some special relevance for free software people. There's an awful lot of stuff written on the Net about the war, and frankly, most of it is dreck. That includes knee-jerk anti-Bush flaming just as much as knee-jerk pro-war (or "anti-peace", as I prefer to call it :) sentiment. I much prefer things that make me think. John Perry Barlow's Sympathy for the Devil is one recent such piece.

I pray that we can avert a large-scale conflagration in which many people die, and hatred of America rises to a fever pitch. I think the uncertainty about it is really hard on people - a lot of people around me seem down, and a friend of mine has observed a trend of "shabbiness".

CSS

sdodji: have you looked at the RCSS codebase at all? It uses some clever algorithms to efficiently do the CSS selector processing. It wasn't written with the Simple API for CSS in mind, but you might find some of it useful in any case. You're welcome to use the code any way you see fit, and if you want me to explain some of the more rocket-scientific aspects, just ask.

Work

A lot of cool things are happening. For one, rillian is getting good results out of the jbig2 code. It actually renders nontrivial PDF files now, although it needs some cleanup to make the error handling more robust, etc. It sounds like we'll have real users soon.

I'm also very, very excited to be working with tor on the design of Fitz and related things. I think the first chunk of released code will be a library of filters for PS/PDF (mostly used for compressed images). This will give us a chance to gain some valuable experience with the new runtime discipline in the context of a well-defined problem domain.

Conscious design of runtimes is fun, but challenging. Our main goals are ease of integration with diverse codebases, performance, and robustness. I've been carefully studying the Ghostscript stream implementation, and have found a number of small bugs, areas where performance can be improved, and ways in which we can better tolerate exceptional and corner cases. I think the new code will be altogether simpler as well.

So we're really trying to do things right. One of the elements going into the runtime is an interface for atoms (in the Lisp sense; they're called "names" in PostScript/PDF lingo). These need to be very fast, have an easy interface, and not leak (I found it interesting to learn that Java interned strings did leak until the JVM 1.3 and weak references). After some discussion, I think we've arrived at a good answer.

Tor and I are mostly using irc to communicate, and it's working well. We had another wide-ranging discussion today, including careful analysis of Quartz Extreme and general design questions about how to get inter-app transparency working well in both software-only and hardware-accelerated environments.

These are exciting times! I'm happy to be alive.

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