Strange Adventures: a film list
Presenting the list I mentioned earlier in which I highlight a number of worthwhile science-fiction films (also some TV productions) that aren’t the usual Hollywood fare. I’ve spent the past few years watching many of these while searching for more. This isn’t a definitive collection, and it isn’t filled with favourites; I’ve deliberately omitted a number of popular films that would count as such. It’s more a map of my generic tastes, and an answer to a question that isn’t always spoken aloud in discussions I’ve had about SF films but which remains implicit: “Okay, if you dislike all this stuff then what do you like?” I tend to like marginal things, hybrids, edge cases, the tangential, the unusual and the experimental.
Just the stills make for interesting browsing.
In Defense of Interactive Graphics
Knowing that the majority of readers doesn’t click buttons does not mean you shouldn’t use any buttons. Knowing that many many people will ignore your tooltips doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use any tooltips. All it means is that you should not hide important content behind interactions. If some information is crucial, don’t make the user click or hover to see it (unless you really want to). But not everything is crucial and 15% of readers isn’t nobody. So there is a lot we can do with interaction, and I am going to point out three examples below.
XTerm: It's Better Than You Thought
Some useful config options showing off flexibility beyond the basics.
Wireless is a trap
I used to be an anti-wire crusader. I hated the clutter of cables, and my tendency to unconsciously chew on them if they got anywhere near my face. But running into bug after tricky wireless bug—mostly while trying to make my video calls work better—I’ve apostasized. The more I’ve learned about wifi, Bluetooth and related protocols, the more I’m convinced that they’re often worse, on net, than wires.
This starts off with the usual, but then there’s some real wtf.
Qt included a component which would poll for networks every 30 seconds whenever a “network access manager” was instantiated, causing pretty much any Qt app using the network to degrade your wifi for ~5 out of every 30 seconds. There were already multiple bug reports for this issue, one of which was declared “closed” by an engineer because they allowed users to use an environment variable to disable the polling.
Hot Air and High Winds: A Love Letter to the Fantasy Airship
I’ve had a bit of a thing for airships since I was in my teens. I loved - and love - all airships, but it was the great steampunk contraptions of wood and cloth and wrought iron that had me most under their spell. Where the ‘ship’ is taken literally and a creaking old galleon is slung implausibly and enchantingly beneath bulging balloons. Games love them too - they’re most associated with JRPGs, although I think it must have been in Super Mario Bros 3 that I first encountered them. But the airship that really sparked my love affair was in a much more obscure place. Does anyone remember the Fantastic Worlds expansion pack for Civilization 2? Anyone remember the airship units? I do. For some reason that unit captivated me. I loved it, in all its tiny, pixellated glory. I couldn’t find a picture of it. Sorry. Take my word for it, though: that was a good airship.
Announcing NetBSD 9.0
This release brings significant improvements in terms of hardware support, quality assurance, security, along with new features and hundreds of bug fixes.
Autocomplete as an interface
I’m used to thinking of autocomplete as a convenience tool that saves you a few keystrokes, but it’s much more than that. Good autocompletion has become a driving factor in which tools I choose. If I were writing a sophisticated user interface today—say, a programming language or a complex application—autocompletion is one of the primary constraints I would design it around. It’s that important.
It was 20 years ago today
It’s amzing to think I’ve been doing this whole blog thing for a whole twenty years.
But despite all the code changes, the actual storage format has not changed one bit in all twenty years.
Teletext’s creative legacy lives on
Like Walkmans and VHS recorders, teletext now seems impossibly quaint. But designer and writer Craig Oldham explains that not only was Teletext a revolutionary technology in its prime, its creative legacy lives on with a new generation of artists who love its creative limits.
Celebrating 50 Years of Unix
A lot of this folklore (including the gremlin) is going to be on display at the Unix 50 event. The archivists at Bell Labs have outdone themselves by pulling together a massive collection of artifacts taken from the labs where Unix was developed for over 30 years. I was able to photograph a few of these artifacts last year, but so much more will be exhibited at this event — including several items from the personal archives of some attendees.
Plus quite a few more links at https://www.bell-labs.com/unix50/
What Remains Technical Breakdown
What Remains is a narrative adventure game for the 8-bit NES video game console, and was released in March 2019 as a free ROM, playable in emulator. It was created by a small team, Iodine Dynamics, over the course of two years of on and off development. It’s currently in the hardware phase as a limited batch of cartridges are being created from all recycled parts.
The game plays out over 6 stages, wherein the player walks around multiple scenes with 4-way scrolling maps, speaking to NPCs, collecting clues, learning about their world, playing mini-games, and solving simple puzzles. As the primary engineer on this project, I faced a lot of challenges in bringing the team’s vision to reality. Given the significant restrains of the NES hardware, making any game is difficult enough, let alone one with as much content as What Remains. Only by creating useful subsystems to hide and manage this complexity were we able to work as a team to complete the game.
Herein is a technical breakdown of some of the pieces that make up our game’s engine, in the hopes that others find it useful or at least interesting to read about.
Beginner Problems With TCP & The socket Module in Python
Your operating system will deceive you and re-assemble the string you sock.recv(n) differently from the ones you sock.send(data). But here is the deceptive part. It will work sometimes, but not always. These bugs will be difficult to chase. If you have two programs communicating over TCP via the loopback device in your operating system (the virtual network device with IP 127.0.0.1), then the data does not leave your RAM, and packets are never fragmented to fit into the maximum size of an Ethernet frame or 802.11 WLAN transmission. The data arrives immediately because it’s already there, and the other side gets to read via sock.recv(n) exactly the bytestring you sent over sock.send(data). If you connect to localhost via IPv6, the maximum packet size is 64 kB, and all the packets are already there to be reassembled into a bytestream immediately! But when you try to run the same code over the real Internet, with lag and packet loss, or when you are unlucky with the multitasking/scheduling of your OS, you will either get more data than you expected, leftover data from the last sock.send(data), or incomplete data.
Not strictly a python problem, either.
ASCII table and history
To understand why Control+i inserts a Tab in your terminal you need to understand ASCII, and to understand ASCII you need know a bit about its history and the world it was developed in. Please bear with me (or just go the table).
Most teleprinters communicated using the ITA2 protocol. For the most part this would just encode the alphabet, but there are a few control codes: WRU (“Who R U”) would cause the receiving teleprinter to send back its identification, BEL would ring a bell, and it had the familiar CR (Carriage Return) and LF (Line Feed).
DragonFly kcollect(8) improvements
DragonFly has a utility called kcollect(8), for gathering about the last day’s worth of kernel statistics. It recently gained some extra flags and details, and should work well if you want to collect stats in a low-impact way.
A one liner to rename files.
ls | grep ‘aaa’ | sed ‘p;s/aaa/bbb/’ | xargs -n2 | xargs -L1 bash -c ‘mv $0 $1’
A literary appreciation of the Olson/Zoneinfo/tz database
What I didn’t appreciate, until I finally unzipped and untarred a copy of ftp://elsie.nci.nih.gov/pub/tzdata2009o.tar.gz, is the historical scholarship scribbled in the margins of this remarkable database, or document, or hybrid of the two.
DragonFly BSD 5.6
DragonFly version 5.6 brings an improved virtual memory system, updates to radeon and ttm, and performance improvements for HAMMER2.
Improvements in forking, threading, and signal code
I am improving signaling code in the NetBSD kernel, covering corner cases with regression tests, and improving the documentation. I’ve been working at the level of sytems calls (syscalls): forking, threading, handling these with GDB, and tracing syscalls. Some work happens behind the scenes as I support the work of Michal Gorny on LLDB/ptrace features.
dragonfly - Add initial FUSE support
The basic code design comes from FreeBSD, but the code is written from scratch. It was just easier to write from scratch than trying to port sys/fs/fuse/* in FreeBSD for various reasons. Note that this is to implement FUSE API/ABI, but not to be compatible with FreeBSD implementation which contains FreeBSD specific sysctls, etc.
ufs - Expand time_t support to 48 bits
Fix time overflow issues in the original 32-bit UFS code in two ways. First, treat the original 32-bit seconds fields as unsigned.Second, utilize the spare fields to expand these fields to 48 bits each. Retain the nanosecond-grain accuracy of the nsec fields.