Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)

  also known as zed
  & handle of notzed


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Friday, 24 February 2012, 13:28

Scene Graphs

So, today is my weekly RDO and rather than spending it down the beach like I should have, I poked around ...

I was thinking of experimenting with a scene-graph model for GadgetZ (used in ReaderZ); not for any particularly practical reason, just to see how it would work. But I kind of got stuck on how to manage the layout mechanism and then lost interest ... still a bit burnt out from my hacking spree a few weeks ago, and I need a good sleep-in one day to catch up on sleep as well (they're still building next door).

I did however end up spending quite a bit of time playing with the JavaFX stuff. The 32-bit-only build wasn't too much hassle to get up and running on Fedora. It has some (pretty big) issues with focus, and the performance ranges from awesome to barely ok, but it is only a developer preview after-all.

Some observations:

Some issues though:

I'm not about to use it for anything; i'm not even going to bother to try for that matter, but I'll be keeping an eye on it. It seems to finally heading in the direction it initially promised after JavaFX 2 was announced: a high performance modern toolkit with a clean simple(ish) design, media support, and so on. Simple enough to use as a RAD tool, but complete enough to write real applications as well.

It seems as though Java8 will have something to look forward to for once ...

I'm also curious to see how the JVM based JavaScript engine will work; the JVM is fast, but I suspect the language will some bearing on achievable performance as well.

(i've nothing to comment on regards the hope to use it as a flash replacement for internet deployment, i'm just considering it as a desktop application development platform).

Tagged hacking.
Friday, 24 February 2012, 10:03

Flash: good bye and good riddance

Hmmm, so the news of the day is that Adobe are dropping flash support for GNU/linux. Oh praise the day it finally goes away for everyone ...

One can speculate on why, and why they're only `supporting Google':

Overall this isn't such a bad thing: even if it is just at the periphery, fewer projects will consider using this legacy technology. Already with Apple not allowing flash on their web-enabled mobile devices they have destined it to become history. Without its cross-platform ability it loses its main feature. It's just shit tech anyway; flash struggles doing much on my dual-core low-res thinkpad; it will be a while before ARM chips match that (ok, maybe 12 months in consumer devices), but the machine is fast enough to run other software quite well.

However, everyone seems to think HTML5 will be the answer. I think it will be a horrible mess harking back to the bad old days of netscape and microsoft extensions. Already most of the HTML5 demo's only work on one browser, or even a specific browser version. Most HTML5 video is in H.264 format: i.e. inaccessible from firefox by default. And you can't simply 'flash-block' a javascript animation: leading to an annoying browsing experience and a lot of wasted power animating web pages you're not even looking at.

I find it odd that HTML5 is being pushed so heavily: on the apple iphone you can't really do much more with it than simple games or animations. You can't even upload a file from a web-page (as far as i can tell), and device access is right out. To me the impression is that all the marketing hype is just FUD to get people from spending time on competing technology.

Some of the tech demo's are all very nice and all: but web software is still much shittier than a local application for interactivity and control, not to mention security. It's like using AMOS: it might be a lot easier to write a game, but you still end up with a shitty game. Down the track it's obviously aiming to be a 'be-all-end-all' RAD application development environment that makes writing simple applications easy; thing is, simple applications are already quite simple to write, and complex applications are always going to be complex to write. Adding the web tier adds a lot of complexity in itself.

Complexity is not your friend

The complexity of standard like HTML5 isn't there to benefit users or developers. It is added to benefit proprietary vendors and stifle competition by raising the barrier of entry to new competitors. And of course lawyers and other parasites end up getting a cut as well: the complexity is so great vendors must cross-license software in order to be able to get something working. That's even before you add issues like patents into the mix, which is just insanity.

HTML is already so complex that creating a fully compliant implementation is only possible by large multi-national corporations; and opera and mozilla. HTML5 only raises the bar higher and that's before you add all the proprietary extensions to the standard which are already proliferating.

Goodbye Freedoms

HTML5 applications will also be much harder to modify and control; even if the source is available, it may be impossible to create a local copy that works without the infrastructure on the server-side used to support it.

Thus forget about distributing and sharing your changes with other users, or hiring a third party to make a customisation tailored to your business.

Welcome to the Tabbed Desktop

So we're all moving toward a tabbed desktop. i.e. who needs multitasking when you can just swap applications at the press of a key ... Well, microsoft windows and the apple macintosh pretty much forced this from the start because their systems were so poor at multitasking; but real systems have been able to utilise multiple overlapping windows in a way which improves user productivity for decades.

But it seems we're going back to the full-screen application model. Except now the applications are running in a crappy single-threaded virtual machine and being loaded remotely.

Hang on, I think thats 80's calling ... they're asking how that WIMP thing worked out ...

Tagged rants.
Wednesday, 22 February 2012, 15:11

Early morning drowsy mistakes

Oops, so yesterday morning I went to replace a dead HDD and re-install the OS on it. I thought I was being careful and unplugged the other, working HDD with a different OS on it so when I came to partition the disks I just deleted everything (the replacement disk had previously had CentOS on it).

Only i'd unplugged the wrong one, and ended up deleting the working OS and not the spare drive i'd just installed! Unfortunately that OS's installation partitioning tool writes every change immediately, so it was all gone even though I realised before i'd moved to the next screen. The installation disk for that OS is pretty crap too - it kept refusing to install on the disk I just formatted using the installer: it took a couple of resets before it was happy with it's own formatting ...

I tried recovering the partitions using testdisk, but either because of the filesystem types or the partition layout I had no luck with that. Just an hour down the drain waiting for it to scan the 1TB drive.

Fortunately I had made a full backup, so I lost nothing apart from half a day re-installing everything.

This time I installed Fedora 15 using the 'minimal install' option; and apart from some strange package selections (e.g. ssh client isn't installed, but server is), it actually took me a lot less time getting a comfortable and working system than it did when I just let it install GNOME and then had to remove all the crap (pussaudio, notworkmanager, and similar crud). What is also strange? It boots, logs in, and runs much faster than it did the day before. And now Thunar opens immediately the first time rather than pausing for a few seconds.

I had some weirdness with systemd and it not starting X after I installed it - which seems to be much more fucked and complex than I could possibly have imagined - but that just magically fixed itself after enough reboots. Also with thunar's auto-mounting stuff, which I think I fixed by installing gvfs, but it might've just been enough reboots too ...

Tagged rants.
Wednesday, 15 February 2012, 11:03


So the dishwasher that came with the house finally died: I've hardly ever used it. It's been flakey for ages and I've mostly been waiting for it to die so I can replace it with one that cleans properly and uses less water so I can actually use the thing. Not that I would even bother with a dishwasher myself if it wasn't there, but well i'm getting lazy and the rest of the house seems to waste a lot of water doing dishes. It washes glasses well too.

I think it's only a solenoid gone; if I add water into the sump it pumps it down the drain so the pump works. Or maybe it's the logic board: it runs for half an hour with no water in it and sits there blinking at me.

Ahh decisions. I spent hours very late last night (for some reason I wasn't tired), trying to work out what to get. Money isn't an issue: but I don't like getting ripped off either. I've a Miele washing machine and plenty of people swear by those for dishwashers too but they do seem a bit pricey. But then there's Asko and Bosch too ...

I'm thinking the latest Asko at the moment, but I guess I should try and find somewhere that sells most of them so I can have a look. Unfortunately the big-box retailers are miles away and mostly in people-unfriendly strip-malls; or they're so fucked I'll never return to them (Radio Rentals, Main North Road: unfriendly shop design, with one-way doors and no staff, Spartan Electrical, Henly Beach Road: fuckwit salesman when I was after a stick blender I knew I could get $15 cheaper 5 minutes away by bicycle).

So it could be a long purchasing cycle: waiting until I could be bothered to make the long trek to a shop, hoping they have the ones i'm interested to look at, and putting up with being treated like shit by salesmen who will say anything to sell. Or getting fed up and going on-line again with a sight-unseen buy.

Hmm, maybe i'll poke around the back of the one I have ...

Update: Well the back-look was worth it. Apart from finding the remains of a mouse and nest - which explains at least one of the weird smells in the kitchen over the years - I gave up and shoved it all back together (in a rather slap-shod not-caring kind of way so now the door's a bit stiff). And now it's taking in water ok, will have to see how the full load of glasses and jars I wanted to clean goes. Either I jolted something in the process or it was just the act of re-seating the solenoid connector ...Update: Ahh fuck it, it wasn't that: it just keeps puming for 10 minutes after the initial spray, and eventually times out. Water sensor must be out. Something for another day.

Tagged house.
Wednesday, 15 February 2012, 09:28

Crappy Stories, Shitty Journalism, etc.

I read the tech news fairly regularly: mostly via boycottnovell.org since it's conveniently catalogued there (but not only for that reason). I occasionally drive-by comment. But today's headlines do seem a bit crappier than usual so I guess it's time for a bit of a rant. I think I finally got the hacker worked out of me for the time being too (and I need to get the house ready for a party), so that's always good for a rantfest.I wont link to the articles, check the source if you care, which you probably don't.

Is Windows 8 Metro failing even at Microsoft?
SJVN is normally worth a read, it's all a bit fluffy but at least he's (usually) fairly on track. But today SJVN's lost the plot a bit, surely an ex-developer using an Apple PC must be the end for Microsoft?!

This one almost got me to sign up to zdnet, but thankfully I decided against that - the commenting readers there are pretty rabid and like them i'm only likely to comment when pissed off.

Although clearly the 'tablet shell on a desktop pc' idea is insanity, and so is a 'desktop shell on a phone', but the main thrust of the article seems to be dissing a photograph of some ex-microsoft lad sitting at a desk adorned with an Apple PC?

Firstly, who cares what some guy i've never heard of has behind him in a picture of him seated at a desk. Even if he was still at microsoft (although I'm lead believe their culture is kind of fucked up so wouldn't allow it), it's no big deal to track the competition: actually it's quite smart. And apart from that we all know that plenty of Free Software, `open source', and Linux developers use Apple PC's.

And people in big companies leave all the time, and for software that is more likely to happen at the end of a release. This is something Roy on boycottnovell.org seems to get worked up a bit too much over as well.

FSF Wants To Police JavaScript Use
Well any article purportedly about the Free Software Foundation which mentioned `open source' in the first paragraph isn't even worth reading. So I didn't.

Can't have had much thought put into it.

iOS More Crashtastic Than Android (they've even got some stupid 'copyright' notice when trying to copy and paste the title, i decided to delete it)
This seems to be a PR release from 'Crittercism' (whomever-the-fuck they are) with almost no journalistic input.

From a magazine calling itself 'Linux Insider', you'd think they'd point out one of the main points of Android's stability: it's kernel is Linux, which has had far more resources put into it than any kernel in history. No single corporate identity could ever compete with that.

Not to mention the application layer technology which is the real issue when talking about end-user application software:

  • Android's application layer is based on a mature platform proven to be stable, robust, and above all: crash-resistant. Java.
  • iOS' is based on C. That should be `'nuff said', but not only that, some fucked up weird-arsed dialect of C, unfamiliar to most of the programming world. And we all know how robust and crash resistant C is. I really love C, and can write good C (IMNSHO), but crash-proof and robust it is clearly not.

I've told this anecdote before, but when I first started coding in Java again (after a year-long-ish stint pre-2000), I was astonished that my code didn't ever crash. Sure i could get piles of exceptions and things wouldn't function; but the application would keep plodding along tickety-boo. I had just had 3 years of c-hash, and I'd always been lead to believe that dot-net was basically just the same as Java.

And that crashed all the time. It's not as easy to crash as C which makes something of an art out of it, but it still crashes, and even what should be non-fatal errors can bring the application down with no indication of the cause.

But of course it isn't like Java at all: at the heart of it, dot-net is just a different and more dynamic linkage system for object files distributed in an intermediate format. So it still crashes like C, particularly when the platform was so immature and badly written (WPF, how I don't miss you). That's before you add the shitty memory management and crappy compiler to boot (oh man, and visual studio: i'm still astonished anybody could do more than barely-tolerate that piece of shit: some people actually seem to like it).

Is GNU/Linux just not cool anymore?
This article isn't really too bad, for what it is (and it isn't much). For for the `Free Software Magazine', they could have at least grabbed the google trends on 'free software' and 'open source'.

Particularly considering the only non-commercial searches they performed were for 'linux mint', and 'gnu/linux', and two others weren't even related to software development in any way-shape-or-form and seem to have been added just to find an up- and a down-pointing curve to add visual aesthetics to the page.

Ok, so maybe the article wasn't so good after-all.

If they had have tried `free software', at least they'd have found a fairly flat trend. Unlike `open source' which only sees steady decline (despite it being term more often showing up in discussions about security matters based on it's other, more-descriptive meaning).
Tagged rants.
Wednesday, 15 February 2012, 00:24

Australian politics and the reporting thereof.

Plumbing the depths of irrelevance and insignificance.

At best, the reporters seem to think they're writing the society pages for Canberra socialites, or following TV celebrities (i.e. famous for no reason). At worst, it's just the local small-town gossip column.

And all the pollies only seem to be interested in making those pages as well.

Real shit happens every week that affects us all and the so-called reporters only want to talk about leadership squabbling (which seems to be made up for the most part) and Tony's dick stickers - when they're not talking about American politics that is. It's like they're writing/talking shit for their 'in-crowd' mates to chat about at their next cocktail party with the 'stars' they fawn over.

It doesn't help that Tones is a complete and utter nut-case, and Julia - just like Kev before her - only seems to want to lead from behind, making decisions and statements based on polls or some fukwit's column in the Murdoch press, or some local talkback radio station that most of the country can't even listen to ...

Apart from the 'insider' reporters and idiots like Barners, who really gives a fuck about this gossip crap?

And Crabb with her, `Cooking in the cabinet' (or whatever it's called) - a pretty ordinary looking 'celebrity host' cooking show: with active cabinet members presumably. Surely a low-point of both Australian politics and political reporting ...

(I usually just don't even bother watching the news, but I caught some earlier this evening about the never ending Rudd leadership ambitions crap and it ticked me off).

Tagged politics, rants.
Monday, 13 February 2012, 14:40

PDFZ searching

So after finding and fixing the bug in my outline binding - a very stupid paste-o - I added a table of content navigator to PDFReader, and then I had a look at search.

Which ... I managed to get working, at least as a start:

As can be seen, it's a little flaky - mupdf is adding spaces here and there in the recovered text, and i'm not sure i'm processing the EOL marker properly (and possibly I have a bug in the search trie code too). But as I said - it's a start.

I decided to use a Trie for the search (Aho-Corasick algorithm) - because I know it's an efficient algorithm, and because I know there was a good implementation in evolution. So I grabbed an old copy from the GPL sources and modified it to work on the mupdf fz_text_span code. Thanks Jeff ;-) Basically it's a state machine that can match multiple (possibly overlapping) words whilst only ever advancing the search stream one character at a time.

I tried to copy the emacs mode of searching to some extent:

I put some code in there to abort the search if the page is changed while it's still searching (because I hooked the search into the page loader/renderer), but on the documents i've tried it on it's been so fast I haven't been able to test it ...

This is one of the first times I used JNI to create complex Java objects from C - the array of results for a given page. It turns out it's fairly clean and simple to do.

I guess the next thing is to see if i can integrate the search functionality into ReaderZ. Time to write one of those horrible on-screen keyboards I guess ...

But for now ... the weather's way too nice to be inside, so I think it's off to the garden, beer in hand ...

Tagged hacking, java, mediaz, pdfz.
Sunday, 12 February 2012, 20:41

PDFZ stuff

Amongst other hacking, I poked around with PDFZ a bit today:

Update: I got in touch with the mupdf devs, and I found out the next release is targeted by the end of the month; this will be a good opportunity to sync up with the api whilst the project is still fresh in my mind.

Tagged hacking, java, mediaz, pdfz.
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