Pat's Log
Sat, 28 Jan 2006

Ye Olde Computor
20060127 Earlier this week I got an interesting piece of eMail from a local Adobe employee regarding some of the code in my fourth year project from last year. One thing led to another, and this morning I visited the Adobe Ottawa building to see their Linux operations. Apparently, a large portion of the building is devoted to this. They do a lot of work in Java.

Being in the vicinity of Carleton I decided to stop by and talk to people who I hadn't seen in nearly a year. It wasn't the best day for that, as many people are away on Friday. Still, I spent over two hours there catching up with people.

In particular, on my way out, I bumped into Phil, who let me see how his work on Carleton Engineering's old PDP-8 is progressing. He got permission to attempt to activate the unit after it's been on display, non-functioning for approximately my entire lifetime. I'm told it is a very rare unit.

Suffice it to say that I was immediately captivated by the project. I scanned in a very badly faded photo that shows the original setup at Carleton. Gimp automatically fixed the contrast. It was neat finding the exact corner where that unit stood over twenty years ago. I opened up one of the massive hard drives and played with a platter nearly 1cm thick. I fiddled with the optical paper tape reader until its locking mechanism worked as it should (a spring had fallen off). My father tells me this is the ├╝ber-advanced unit: the one he had used had mechanical pin sensors. It was amazing how by staring at the controller board, seeing eight identical rows of resistors and transistors, plus one slightly different arrangement (for parity), makes it blatantly obvious how the unit works. I imagine fixing these things can be done with the simplest of electronics tools.

Speaking of fixing things, the unit it missing significant portions of the various boards it needs to function. On the bright side, it seems that at least one of each board exists. Further, the boards are, for the most part, dead simple, with as few as a half-dozen components. They can probably be built from scratch. The more complex units could probably be emulated with the cheapest of Atmel microcontrollers to perform the tasks of components no longer available. The hard part is figuring out what all of the components do.

This old computer can turn out to be either a wonderful learning experience or fantastic waste of time. Exciting!

[] | posted @ 04:20 | link
Mon, 23 Jan 2006

Stainless Steel
20060122 The VHS transfer, cleanup, chapter setting, and burning is done! Praise $DIETY! A grand total of 30 discs over the last two weeks.

My mom's birthday was yesterday. I found her this really nice all-stainless knife set. I couldn't resist doing a false-greyscale photo of it. The blue light from outside and the yellow light from inside create a very soft contrast. That, and I love the machined texture on the blade itself.

Gym yesterday was great. I pushed myself really hard while swimming and it got me into a great pace (good). I rewarded myself by eating too much cake (bad).

Today, I found RealGTA.Net, an amazing (free) expansion pack for GTA3. It basically replaces most of the models in the game with more realistic versions, including real branding. Simply an amazing expansion.

I'm looking forward to this week of work. Good things should happen.

[] | posted @ 03:30 | link
Sat, 21 Jan 2006

A Great Day
20060120 Great days are few and far between. It is very fortunate when they occur on Fridays, because it reduces the stress level on weekends to zero. Today was such a day.

Developments at work are going fantastically. A good chunk of the week was spent making my AMD64 builds of Xandros install cleanly. Today, it all finally started working very smoothly. It's incredibly relieving knowing that everyone's software works and no major re-writes will be necessary. Some small items, like our boot screen, written in 1999 and relying on VM86 mode (not implemented in the AMD64 kernel), will have to be deprecated, but I've been pushing for that for several years now! No more pushing video cards into video modes directly and writing straight into video RAM!

Additionally, my side project at work ("playing sys-admin") is increasingly exciting as the server room is becoming more and more a server room proper. "My" rack now has 21U of goodness in it, and today I spent time re-organizing the room so as to start using our DMZ rack.

The VHS-to-DVD transfers are almost done. I predict only about five more discs will be needed. I've currently made 25 discs, which is over 26 hours of video. The gap between the new DVDs and the video previously on DVD is getting small. It would be nice to be done with it this weekend.

[] | posted @ 04:32 | link
Tue, 17 Jan 2006

Today I Feel Great. Tomorrow I Will Regret It.
There hasn't been an update here in quite a while. For the most part it's all "same old." Excellent progress at work. The VHS-to-DVD transfer is taking a long time. It will be about 40 one-hour discs, and each disc takes one hour to rip, half an hour to clean up and set chapters, and then another hour to compress and burn. Do the math. I'm well over half done at this point.

The other big project, namely using the Carleton Athletics facilities, is going very well. For this I have allotted Monday and Thursday evenings, as well as Saturday afternoons, and sticking to it has not been a problem. I do 30-45 minutes of cardio/weights, followed by an hour of swimming. Tonight I pushed myself harder than normal, by doing an extra ten minutes of biking and I recently started swimming 40 lengths (1 km) rather than 30. It feels great now, but I'm sure I'll regret it tomorrow morning. Or not. The human body is a strange machine.

Other miscellaneous items have included watching the first two episodes of Battlestar Galactica's season 2.5. As usual, the performance was exceptionally well delivered; can't wait to see what will happen next. Saturday night was nice: played Settlers of Catan at Hub's house and found my new favourite song, Rebellion by The Arcade Fire. I hear the CD is quite good, perhaps I will buy it.

There has not been photography here in a long time. This is most likely because I haven't taken a single photo since Christmas. Time to start that again, too.

[] | posted @ 04:39 | link
Fri, 06 Jan 2006

Working Out and Digitizing VHS

Getting out of shape. Restless. Not any heavier, thankfully, but clumsier. The remedy: a membership at Carleton Athletics. I enjoyed using their facilities while at university, and the grad discounts are too good to pass up.

This evening I spent an hour "warming up" in the fitness room (until my muscles could take no more), then I swam 32 lengths. Making this a three-time-per-week would do me well. I will sleep well tonight.

My current computer project is to digitize all of the family videos to DVD, much like I did with whatever originals were still on 8mm tape last year. The results of that were fantastic. However, I was worried that digitizing the old VCR through the Firewire camera would produce bad, blurry results, or worse, that the VHS tapes since 1992 had degraded. Unfortunately, they were all recorded in the fastest speed, meaning that the image would look bad. Furthermore, that was after an analog transformation from the source camera. A further annoyance is that dual-layer discs are only available in the '+' format, and the good ones are a whopping seven dollars per disc.

The results of the earliest tape look quite good. They really could not be better. It is comforting know that since they are 10Mbps MPEG2 they will not deteriorate any further. While that is about 4.5GB per hour, I'm going to keep a backup of all of the DVDs on hard drive. If CD-Rs are any indication of how discs can deteriorate, it's good to have a copy. Storage is cheap.

Sidenote: I was a cute kid at 10 years.

[] | posted @ 04:42 | link
Mon, 02 Jan 2006

New Year, New Stuff
20060101 Welcome to Anno Domini 2006. It's amazing we've gotten this far. 2001 was supposed to be the big year, where we're either waltzing in space Kubrick-style or the world comes to an end, but neither ever happened. And here we are a whole five years later and there has been pretty much zero progress.

The Celestia 1.4.1 work progresses smoothly. I gave in and reluctantly created a splash screen for GTK Celestia. I just checked it in, and it's running very smoothly. So smoothly, that I've actually grown fond of it.

Creating a splash screen was in some ways more and in other ways less difficult than I imagined. The screen was to have alpha transparency and could display start-up progress based on recently-added core code. Figuring out how to do the transparency took a full day of work. It is implemented with Cairo if the composite extension is on, and if it is not, the fallback is to do a screen capture of the area beneath the window and set it as the splash screen's background. This gives the illusion of transparency.

Despite adding around 200ms to the start-up time, the fact that there is a nearly immediate response to clicking the application's icon makes it feel a whole lot more responsive.

The biggest stumbling block was when the code magically started not compiling. "common.h" is included in every one of my source files, but when it was included in the new splash source file, there were bizarre errors in things that had already compiled. It took a few hours of head scratching, but eventually reading the 83,482-line pre-processor output (splash.ii) made it clear:

(...) ControlKey = 0x10, }; enum 0 { ArrowCursor = 0, UpArrowCursor = 1, (...)

Basically, the enum 0 was originally enum CursorShape, but this got included while playing around with cairo and Xlib:

X11/X.h:#define CursorShape 0

While the naming collision is obvious now, GCC did not complain about it, as there is nothing wrong with the define. That said, it is probably why defines are often fully capitalized and prefixed with underscores. It had me tearing out what little hair I have left. I'm quite surprised it has not been an issue before now.

[] | posted @ 03:33 | link

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