Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)


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Wednesday, 16 January 2013, 19:58

Kobo stuff

Well i had to do a factory reset of the Kobos - I just couldn't be fucked with seeing a blank page every time I opened a text file and dealing with their embarrassingly slow font tweaking window. I left it at the version it came with and just bypassed the "must have an account and be logged in to even use the machine" bullshit it comes with.

Very nice when simply "logging out" has it reboot to what appears to be a factory reset (it isn't, it just looks that way).

I left a rant on the mobileread forums about how shitfully fucked and slow the firmware is, but i'm just one voice amongst many there.

Anyway, so I guess I did do some kobo hacking soon rather than later after-all, and today I spent too much time today playing with some new widget code.

Basically i'm not all that happy with the old gadget toolkit stuff - although it surely would do the job. And although some guy who took a copy of some of the ReaderZ code via the koper project worked out how to make Swing talk to an alternative device (looks easier than I thought) ... after JavaFX i'm not a big fan of Swing either.

So, foolishly I started hacking on another toolkit which is basically a "cut down JavaFX". Which is obviously a bit pointless in itself because it should eventually be available in the ARM backend ... although that depends on if they support it for the soft float abi, and unless it comes with native eink support it might not be so easy to add it in.

Actually I just noticed that openjfx is GPLv2 + classpath exception, which I missed the first time I looked - should have been obvious I guess. Maybe I should just look at that (when it's ready?) ... although I guess by the time I get anything working maybe kobo will have released a working-enough firmware like 2.0.0 was.

Tagged hacking, kobo, rants.
Tuesday, 15 January 2013, 17:29

Kobo glo

So i was a bit bored so I went and got a kobo glo today - although there's nothing wrong with my kobo touch and I use it all the time, I though the light might be handy. And besides it isn't very expensive. Actually I got two, as i'm going to give one to my luddite sister who is in to reading books but otherwise wouldn't bother with such a machine.

I'm still going through the 'something happened to your network' errors whilst configuring it using the kobo setup software inside wine, but at least it appears to be working ... It did the upgrade now it's just syncing some books or something. Oh I can just skip that.

So I finally got to try the backlight after all that - the one in the shop (officeworks - bloody useless for customer service but it's close to me, although they only had black, or black) wasn't configured so just showed the setup screen. Looks like it's supposed to I guess, I will have to wait until I read tonight. If anything there is a slight bright line across the very top and slight dark line across the bottom but the whole text area is nice and even. The higher resolution vs the kobo touch is noticeable too, and now it's about the limit of my tired eyes.

The hardware looks nice as always - but it's a pity the software still has issues. Although the lack of the re-assuring home button is ... well, not as re-assuring as it is having one on the kobo touch. And the soft quilted back isn't as soft in it's quilting as the touch is. As to the software, the i/o code needs to be multithreaded or something so it's more responsive to clicks, and other annoying things. Like setting the font waits for the whole document to be reformatted before refreshing. And it still takes FOREVER to close a text file down (sometimes ... garbage collection is a massive massive win).

Speaking of fonts, Times New Roman has vanished! Only left with Georgia as a remotely decent serif font - which is just not good enough. I tried some of the 'fattened' ones on the mobileread forums but ended up with DejaVu Sans Serif for now - the descenders are a bit squat and the serif's aren't pointy enough but otherwise it seems ok. Unfortunately the font fine-tuning which I used on the touch doesn't work on third-part fonts but i'm happy enough with the weight as it is.

Anyway, this frees up my kobo touch for just hacking on, although I don't have any immediate plans for doing so. Whilst I have some holidays left I need to get some shit organised around the yard, well if i don't get too lazy ...

Update: Well I 'upgraded' to the latest firmware, and it's pretty fucked. Dropped linux filesystem support - well that's not the end of the world. But text files always open blank until you change the font settings. And they are excruciatingly slow to close or to suspend - it takes 25 seconds to suspend when reading one text file, which is about how long it takes to 'close' a text file as well. The touch with it's older firmware is pretty fast.

The hardware is mostly excellent, why is it so let down by shitty software?

So maybe it wont be that long before i'm hacking on it after-all ...

Update: So after having it for 6 weeks, here's a little update.

I did a factory reset to restore the original firmware it came with and bypassed the "must be logged in to use" mis-feature, and just load books using usb mass-storage or the sd-card. This makes it a pretty usable reading device, although without connecting to kobo I don't get a dictionary - but I can live without that even though it would be nice to have.

I've warmed to DejaVu Serif (extended version of Bitstream Vera Serif) and actually prefer now it to the Times New Roman on the touch (I never quite liked Times New Roman before, a little too thin). It just has a nice weight and horizontal density and good readability on the e-ink screen. The higher resolution of the glo is definitely noticeable compared to the touch too.

The backlight is really useful, allows me to read anywhere without any extra bits or reaching to turn off lights. I like the way the on/off button for the light works - unobtrusive and easy to access. As mentioned in some reviews I read, it would be nice if it was a touch dimmer at it's lowest setting for reading in a completely dark situation, but it's still comfortable enough as it is.

The battery life is definitely better than the kobo touch was which seemed to drain fairly fast in suspend mode, although i've been reading more epub's which seem to use orders of magnitude less cpu resources than text files.

The touch responsiveness is "adequate". It still seems to miss touches sometimes or get ones I didn't intend at others if my fingers are near the edge of the screen, but it's a minor annoyance. I'm not a 'skim reader', so any delay from a wrong page isn't the end of the world.

My sister is also really happy with the one I bought her, for the convenience and backlight, and also having access to old editions of classics which are hard to find in the cultural backwater where she lives.

The only thing I can say I really miss is the soft-quilted back cover! The touch is definitely nicer to hold with the raised diamond pattern versus the flat one. It's a feature I would never have thought to be quite so important but it was one of the first things my sister mentioned when I showed it to her and I would have to agree it is noticeable.

Although I wish they would improve the software, it works fine as a novel reader and I would get another one. Although I can't see needing one until the battery dies it's inevitable non-removable death. The support for standard formats and the ability to use it without any "desktop software" is a real winner for me. I just wish it came like that and didn't need poking at first.

Tagged kobo.
Wednesday, 03 October 2012, 09:28


I noticed Oracle have a developer preview for javafx on arm ... so I thought i'd give it a go.

My beagleboard isn't properly configured so I don't have EGL, but I did find an (obvious) option to enable software-only frame-buffer mode:


I also turned off the embedded mode, otherwise the mouse didn't work:


Well it's definitely not speedy, but I did manage to get Ensemble to work, sort of. I'm not sure if it's so slow as it's crashed or just busy but i didn't get past the front page without losing patience (it's minutes) ... the mouse over animated tiles (e.g. 'Rotate Transition') manage about 1fps. The StopWatch is so slow it barely updates the screen, best I got was about 1fps out of that too.

BrickBreaker works (and whilst a bit slow does animate at multiple fps!), but I had trouble getting the beagleboard to output any screen resolution my old monitor liked ... so I stuck with the 1024x600 from the Oracle setup instructions, however at that size the paddle is off the screen.

Actually I was more interested in running it on the Kobo as that would be really interesting - but it fails to run there. Apart from complaining about the input devices it seems to crash opening fonts. I copied over libfontconfig from my beagleboard but that wasn't enough on it's own. I guess with a bit more work I could get it going (partially, i'm sure the E-Ink wont update properly) but I spent enough time just trying to get telnet re-enabled on firmware 2.0 on the kobo touch. The new firmware turns the radio on/off very fast so you have to be quick after starting the browser to telnet in and kill off nickel (otherwise, it just appears as though there is no network).

Actually now I have that going again (I've been using it to read books lately, and the 2.0 firmware was a big big improvement - even if i keep falling asleep 1 page in most nights and then lose my place as i flip a few pages with my hand as i fall asleep) I might revisit ReaderZ with the public JRE now available. Well, if I ever get the spare time ...

I noticed whilst using strace on the kobo that it's doing thousands of gettimeofday() calls, so it's obviously some sort of profiling build. Obviously software rendering is never going to be lightning, but I was using Java2D on the Kobo with adequate performance, so it should be fast enough for simpler scenes (using the embedded jre helped quite a bit there though).

Anyway, the news that JavaFX will be fully 'open sauced' by the end of the ?calendar? year is very good to hear.

But for now I have to delve into some mobile-to-server multi-client database sync stuff. Oh joy.

Tagged beagle, javafx, kobo.
Tuesday, 03 April 2012, 15:23


So i've mostly just been using my kobo for reading lately (not a lot, but i'm usually so tired I cna barely go 5 pages before i fall asleep) - and it's crappy software is giving me the shits, particularly when reading text files. I'm not sure I could do much better, but at least I could try ...

It even got me riled up enough to have another go at working out suspend: but again I had no luck. I just can't tell how it's going into suspend mode. If I could work out that I would have enough to keep me happy and I would do some more work on ReaderZ.

But without it i'm just stuck and it just pisses me off.

Update So it occurred to me later that the problem might be more related to the wifi adaptor since I'm always doing this stuff from telnet. If I try to suspend using /sys/ it never recovers and I need to reset the machine.

Tagged hacking, kobo, readerz.
Saturday, 04 February 2012, 16:27

e-reader, epub

Had a mini hack-fest today, and whipped up an e-pub backend for ReaderZ based on CSZ.

I added very basic img tag support as well, as is obvious.

Apart from the code to parse the content.opf file from the .epub archive which was fairly small, I spent the most time trying to work out a URL handler for a made-up 'epub:' protocol. I copied the way the jar: protocol handler distinguises between the base archive and the filename using "!/" - this is so that the normal url resolution mechanism work. But I also wanted to resolve by the manifest ID and I use the url fragment for that (although in hindsight I probably don't need it). But anyway in the end it wasn't much code, and having it there made everything 'just work', which was nice.

I also had to deal with all the crap XML brings along: i.e. dtd resolution.

The actual viewer is a bit unwieldy as it works as a set of html pages. So you need to pan around to read each 'page' (i.e. chapter, or whole book), and changing pages flips between the items in the spine (i.e. chapters or whole book). To do better than that I really need a paginating layout engine: which is something for later.

I have no svg support not surprisingly, so title pages which are pure svg come up a re-assuring blank.

Still a bit slow opening new chapters, but what can you do eh?

It's all been checked in to ReaderZ and CSZ.

Tagged hacking, java, kobo, mediaz, readerz.
Tuesday, 31 January 2012, 18:28


Well I kept poking away at the XHTML/CSS stuff, for want of something better to do. I had a couple of wins along the way.

The cascading and inheritance is working somewhat better now, and I added a few more properties. Given that I'm not very familiar with all the various rules, I think I have a fairly efficient resolution mechanism by indexing various bits and pieces. The layout system is still crap, and very very incomplete, but at least I have baselines aligned now.

This is a totally contrived example, everything apart from the text layout and typefaces are hacked in one way or another.

I tried it on the kobo ... it's still fairly slow, but it's better (I think: TBH i can't remember what I tried the other stuff on). Still hampered by the text layout though.

For a 200k file (which is mostly just <p> elements), scanning the file, resolving the properties and generating the box list takes only a fraction of a second. I'm not trying to resolve or use very many properties though. About all i'm using `in anger' are some of the font-* properties.

But then performing the layout (as a single page) takes about 7s (once the jvm is warmed up), which is mostly due to TextLayout. I will have to try it with a simpler font than the one the JVM comes with.

Rendering is fairly ok (relative to the e-ink anyway) and all i'm doing is painting every textlayout in the whole tree ...

I uploaded it to MediaZ anyway, in the new CSZ module.

Hmmm, I should really take a break from hacking for a bit. But i'll believe that when I see it.

Tagged hacking, java, kobo, mediaz.
Wednesday, 25 January 2012, 20:04

A browser ... ?

Ahh, so I totally didn't think I was going to even try to do this ...But epub needs HTML, and I found CSSBox, and well one thing lead to another ...

So I've basically ported the SimpleBrowser example from CSSBox to ReaderZ - all it can do is render the page, and it lets you pan and zoom as with PDF files. No links or anything.

I tried rendering on the fly, and into an image - the former is a little slow to scroll (but not far off the e-ink speed), but I don't think it's clipping the drawing regions properly and so doing a lot more work than necessary anyway. Using an image scrolls fast but can't be zoomed very well, and takes more memory (I blew it with boycottnovell) ... so trade-offs.

It's pretty slow and clunky, but what can one expect when XML is involved?

Tagged hacking, java, kobo, mediaz.
Wednesday, 25 January 2012, 14:55

Reader Shell

So I kept poking away at the browser code and my gadget toolkit.

It's getting fairly sophisticated now: I improved the StackLayout gadget to add filling and relative sizing glue. I added a list gadget - which works by pages, and is similar to JList, including a cell renderer, list model and selection model and I played around with a whole lot of other stuff as well.

So I have enough to finally create a reader shell: it presents a list of the files on the device, and lets you open them up with a pdf reader or a text reader, depending on the file type. Once inside it has a full-screen viewer with no visible buttons - but without buttons you can zoom, pan, change pages one at a time or flip through many a time. A popup menu (single short press in the middle of the screen) lets you quit back to the shell.

I cache the pagination for text files, so they open very quickly after the first visit, assuming the font settings haven't changed. The pagination descriptor is small, about 7k for a 500 page document. On a re-visit of the same file (i.e. once the jvm is warmed up), it's loading 500k text file in about 1/2 a second but even from a cold-start it's only about a second. PDF files also open fast, about the same speed. i.e. not much slower than the e-ink can refresh a single greyscale page. Closing a file and returning to the shell is similarly speedy.

And whilst the interface isn't very complicated, everything is still quite responsive, with no missed finger presses or long unexplained delays (although the first time you open a 500k text file, it still takes about 25s to re-paginate).

My panning is still a bit slow, although I am rendering the bitmap on the fly as well.

But ... i've pretty much done what I want for now: prove that the kobo touch e-reader is a zippy little unit, capable of much more performance than the included software lets it deliver.

I'll drop the code in MediaZ sometime in the next few days, and continue working on it for at least a while.

Tagged hacking, java, kobo, mediaz.
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