peteg's blog

The Truman Show

/noise/movies | Link

This one just scraped into the IMDB top-250; I guess the next blockbuster or two will push it off that highly esteemed list. I've never been a fan of Carrey and have definitely seen more of his movies than have been good for me. I had the distinct impression that he'd packed in after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so much wishful thinking on my part.

I doubt this is worth watching now that the reality TV bubble has come and gone, but perhaps it will be in a decade or two, when old things are new once more. The movie is thoroughly American, right up to the saccharine ending.

MPD on the nixie clock.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Slow and steady progress compiling software this week. It is tedious as hell, and I am mystified as to why mature projects still have such baroque configuration management systems. For example, GLib (a part of GTK) does not support cross-compilation out of the box. A few hacks later and it does compile relatively painlessly, so why haven't the hacks been folded back into the project itself? I think the lasting effect of Debian's packaging of the known universe is that these nasty problems get patched but not pushed (or accepted or whatever) upstream.

Anyway, I was shocked, surprised and relieved that my long-in-the-making cross-compiled MPD ran first-go on the ts7250. It took me an age to configure — ALSA calls the mixer "Speaker" instead of the conventional "Master", and ALSA is so overengineered that even something this simple requires forensic deobfuscation. Everyone's had problems with ALSA, so Google is full of unanswered questions from noobs with poor grammar, or pages from 2005 describing now-obsolete obscurities.

Well, yeah. Using the pleasant MPD client Theremin, I can now blast tunes from the Nixie clock and control it from the laptop. It sounds fine, and uses less than 60% of the CPU with the clock driver doing its thing. I feel like I have finally joined the class of 1998.

The last of the desiderata is a remote control, so I can park the clock on the mantelpiece and do less sophisticated things without the MacBook. The receiver half of this cheap-arse infra red thing I bought does not get along with the ts7250 too well, though it might be OK on stock hardware. Having pretty much given up on it, I will flog its carcase in all the fora known to Cirrus EP93xx sufferers as a public service. I would so dearly like to be cool and trendy and BlueToothy, but I have no cool and trendy mobile phone to pair a receiver with.

Return to Cape Banks.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I went for a mid-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Cape Banks, our second foray to the aquatic reserve beyond the golf course. The rescue helicopter was returning from somewhere-or-other, and I hope the rescuee survived.

We leisurely snorkelled from the south-eastern corner of the island eastwards towards the wreck. There were loads of fish out, the usual suspects for the most part, though I did see a fairly large maroon-coloured cat fish. Rob got this photo, again so much better than my usual efforts. One has to get up close and stick the camera in the creatures' faces.

Weather-wise today slotted between the short drizzle of yesterday and the promise of storms for the foreseeable.

Witness for the Prosecution

/noise/movies | Link

Agatha Christie made this for the stage and it shows. Dietrich is weird, unattractive and hackneyed here, a frosty scheming German who spends the dying parts of the movie pretending to be a woman overpowered by her emotions. The occasional good line for the barrister does not make up for the myriad dei ex Christies. I'm sure her fans think it really does rank around #150 in the IMDB top-250, but there's no need to inflict this stuff on the rest of us.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The water was a bit filthy, but not too bad. Beautiful temperature and quite a clear day.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

/noise/movies | Link

More dreck from Spielberg. Connery is implausible from the first. Given that this is ranked #100 in IMDB's top-250, I can see the population at large is fascinated by this mangling of mythology, a sort of Lawrence of Arabia for twits. How dumb would you have to be to invest that much effort in traps that are not reentrant?

Presently I'm chugging through Richard Burton's A Thousand Nights and a Night, which is more fascinating for Burton's footnotes than the stories themselves. The narrative structure is cute, and I now see where Salman Rushdie got a lot of his ideas from. Much doughtier fare.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lunch and an early-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Strong on-shore wind and relatively large surf (even some breakers). Pleasant enough in but not very tranquil.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Bloody hot day. I figured I'd try snorkelling at Little Bay, for it has been a while since I was there last. The building of Stocklandton continues apace. The water was warm, clean and clear though I didn't see much. Three blue bottles right near the sand should have forcibly ejected the constituent zooid who was responsible for inflating the sail in these conditions.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

/noise/movies | Link

More dreck from Spielberg. All of the characters are irritating infantile stereotypes, and I fail to see how anyone could consider it fun to know that each problem will be solved within a few minutes, usually by an omniscience blinded only by the requirements of plot. Apparently all Sikhs are evil, unless they're smurfs, in which case they're good because they're fighting with the English Empire... or something. The female offsider whines and squeals like C3PO, but with even less humour, and the child offsider is just plain awful.

The best part of it are the occasional iconic photographs, such as Harrison Ford wielding a whip on a rope bridge, but these are easy to get over.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people on the northern side near the scuba ramp, which looked somewhat like a postcard from some European beach. No rubbish in the water meant that it would have been great for a snorkel. The sea was a lot calmer than yesterday. Quite warm out, 30 degrees earlier in the day, and very pleasant in. About as perfect as it gets.

Cool Hand Luke

/noise/movies | Link

A Paul Newman classic, perched precisely midway up the IMDB top 250. Not really to my taste. I watched it in two sessions about a week apart, and that might have been why.

Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

/noise/movies | Link

Unbelievably #18 in the IMDB top-250. Riffing on all the cliches and motifs of Orientalism, there is little worth seeing here. Harrison Ford is at his wooden best, being marginally less banal than Karen Allen who plays his presumed-shaggable offsider. Totally unsubtle — the baddies are Nazis for god's sake! — but perhaps we can be thankful that it is certain that Indiana shot first and that's the way it's gotta be. Lucas was involved in the production and writing, and it shows: the treatment of anything human is entirely infantile.

It is much better than the recent one, for all that is worth. I remember now why I haven't seen many Spielberg films.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I met up with Pete R. around midday and walked with him to Bondi along the coastal walk. I haven't been along that track in many years, and the improvements are vast. We had lunch at the park in Bronte, where the beach was closed, as was Tamarama due to some hefty surf. Bondi itself was relatively tame, and surprisingly uncrowded.

The Game

/noise/movies | Link

I remember seeing this, apparently five years ago. It's a twist-piled-upon-twist sort of flick, not as successful as Fincher's best but still watchable.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

The days are definitely getting shorter again, the sun sets before 8pm now. Yet another early-evening paddle around an almost entirely deserted Gordons Bay. Some sea birds (maybe gulls, I dunno, I didn't have my glasses on) were dive-bombing for fish quite near the beach. The water was warm and less choppy than yesterday. A moderate amount of leaf litter and sundry crap in the water.

Fritz Lang: M

/noise/movies | Link

Apparently a classic, and highly-rated on IMDB to boot (#57). I couldn't get into it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Gordons Bay. The sea was continues to be unsettled so we didn't see much. We poked around the northern scuba-ramp and swam across the bay to what we hoped would be the more sheltered southern rocks. I think I saw some juvenile gropers. Very pleasant in the water, though there was a lot of matter suspended in it.

Scraping the nixie clock software together.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I spent the evening polishing a root filesystem for the ts7250. The flash is quite fat (128Mb) so I gave up on some of the buggy busybox applets (udhcpc in particular) in favour of their real counterparts from the Debian distro. This approach put dropbear back onto its branch, and as the board can reliably connect to the WiFi router I can now SSH into it almost always after boot. It displays the time now, and synchronises with ntp, and the built-in real-time clock works too, albeit with some hefty drift.

Unfortunately the system still does not schedule my program very satisfactorily: any perturbation in CPU load results in flicker, and it struggles to play an mp3 without skipping. This is with a low-latency Linux kernel (2.6.32.3). I get the impression that later kernels in that series are easy to get going on the ts7250, so I might try one, but apparently there will not be a full RT patch for 2.6.32. Bleeding edge it may have to be.

Part of the reason is that my program naively uses the kernel scheduler for all delays, not just the larger ones. Thus when there is contention for the CPU the system overhead spikes, taking roughly as much time as user code. The sirq (presumably clock interrupt) load is circa 10%. I can feel some busy waiting coming on.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Thinking that it had been more than a day since the last rain, and trying to get in ahead of the forecast shower, I went for an early-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The surf was quite rough even in the bay, due to an apparently 2.5 to 3.5 metre swell, and there was a fair bit of leaf litter, seaweed and garbage in the water. The wind was quite stiff, resulting in a lot of whitewater. A bloke was trying to fish near my hop-in rocks, but quit while I was in the water.

John Brunner: No Future In It

/noise/books | Link

I read this one over many months, dipping into it when there was nothing better on offer. As a collection of short stories from the early 60s and late 50s it is not bad, but Brunner really only got going about a decade later. There are some cute ideas but nothing scintillating, and the prose is a bit workman-like, as if he's in it just to pay for those drugs.

Some of the stories are structurally similar to his later work -- mysteries with a late twist, narrative sliced up with extraneous noise.

Putting it together.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Replacing the anode driver transistor was entirely routine. Its friend survived. As I was having one of those rare days when the crappiness of earlier decisions on this and other topics was not only manifest but within reach of correction, I decided to assemble the hardware. Here's some photos, taken with the Olympus μTough 6010 on Daz's shonky tripod.

It's running on one of Andrew T's old power supplies, as my old-school LM7805 arrangement couldn't handle the heat. These devices have good failure modes for the most part, but overheating manifests as a loop: the ts7250 draws less current when the CPU is idle, so when the regulator comes back from a shutdown due to heat the processor gets to run for a few seconds before the regulator overheats once more. Nasty.

I discovered the ts7250 puts out enough current on the USB port to power the WiFi and audio adaptors.

It seems that Google's Android platform is attracting a lot of people to ARM platforms.

Software-wise things are still on the slow. Debian's armel port features a working dropbear SSH server, so I reckon there's something fishy with my cross-compiler setup, maybe the C libraries. Conversely nothing ALSA-ish wanted to run. Generally things are looking pretty likely.

Debian on the ts7250 and another kind of disaster

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

The options for getting software onto the ts7250 are unappetising; either hand-compiling everything or running the risk of someone else miscompiling something. I'm sick of the former so I thought I'd try the latter, in the form of Debian's armel port. Martin Guy's recipe makes this straightfoward. Andrew T gave me a little script that copies binaries and just the libraries they depend on, but what I really want is an easy way to recompile programs and their dependencies. I've used apt-get source blah in the past and been happy.

Bogosity: dpkg does not like running on NFS exported through nfs-user-server. It seems that lockd has been on their TODO list for approximately the last twelve years. Sanity and serenity is provided by nfs-kernel-server.

I sorted out the remaining issues on the nixie board, viz making the anode resistors uniformly 11kΩ. The display is bright but some PWM will cure that. So it was time to fit the whole show together, and just as I gave up on one of Andrew T's power supplies I managed to release some magic smoke from the nixie board by forgetting how parlous the power arrangement was when reaching over the board. I'd switched everything else off but not my power supply, which the cockroaches will be getting when the time comes. The ts7250 survived unscathed, and a ginger replugging of it all revealed that I'd only managed to toast at most two of the anode switching transistors, and their failure mode is to go short-circuit. Phew. Relief. The Russian K155ИД1 is still going like a champ, and John Taylor's power supply didn't notice a thing.

More RoHS-non-compliant repair tomorrow.

Schindler's List

/noise/movies | Link

Another movie that was huge in the early 1990s that I only got around to seeing now. A great story, well told for the most part. Glad I did see it, for I usually give Spielberg flicks a miss. Ben Kingsley steals every scene he's in and a few in which he isn't.

Se7en

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this movie at the cinemas on George Street in Sydney with Lev back in 1996. It was the first R-rated movie I saw in a theatre, and with Trainspotting set my expectations of new-release cinema too high to be satisfied in this epoch. Start with something mediocre, I suggest to the youth of the day. Fincher's other classic is Fight Club, which it seems I haven't seen in five years.

This is Spacey's finest effort, and I was a fan right up to American Beauty. David Bowie's classic industrial-pop Heart's Filthy Lesson plays over the closing credits. I like what Reznor did to it.

Nixie clock update: hacking continues

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Well! It's been a long time since I wrote about this project. A lot has happened, even some good things. Hardware-wise I put the ts7260 beyond use by somehow trashing the onboard flash. All I did was ask it to write 6kb to the root filesystem! Instead it took out enough of Redboot (or perhaps one of the even more obeisant Technologic Systems boot loaders) that recovery became a matter of finding something with real serial ports, and trying my luck with the serial blaster utility that someone wrote for precisely this contingency. Suffice it to say I got far enough to know the board is not toast, but not as far as getting it working again.

I met up with Andrew T on Monday past and he gifted me with a pair of ts7250 boards, quite similar to the ts7260 but lacking the power supply magic; I must feed them 5v and nothing more. They both fired up fine, but with Linux systems too far out of date for my purposes. Fortunately their real-time clocks appear to work, and the world has regained its rosy tinge.

So I spent this last week, more off than on, building kernels and wireless drivers and whatnots for one of these boards, saving the other against calamity. It mostly works, albeit with some dodginess in connecting to the WiFi: the dhcp client in busybox takes a few goes to get a lease. I need it to reliably connect before I can cut the rats' nest of umbilical cords the ts7250 presently lives off.

Today I bought a Creative Sound Blaster Play! USB audio dongle. MSY is selling them for just $25, a steal for such an anachronistic device. (Creative itself wants $28 + $15 delivery.) Quality is fine to these non-discerning ears. It will take me a while to compile up all the ALSA libraries and things; I'm hoping to use MAD with an infra-red remote control.

Lesson of the day: say configure --prefix=$PREFIX yadda where $PREFIX is where the artefact will appear relative to the root of the destination filesystem, and say make DESTDIR=$DESTDIR yadda where $DESTDIR is the root of the destination filesystem on the host system. ALSA embeds absolute paths into the libraries. This approach screws up the paths in the .la files that libtool generates; it assumes that you'll be compiling relative to $PREFIX.

Software wise I hacked up a crossfader for the digits. It looks OK, but as Bernie observes it will certainly need tweaking to take care of the relative digit brightnesses and perhaps those amongst the tubes too.

I spent the final week of January in Orange. I helped Dad build a wooden case for the whole thing. It's not going to set any size or innovation records, but it looks tidy enough. I'll take a photo when the software is sorted out.

The Loved One

/noise/movies | Link

I stole Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One from mrak's shelf a few years ago, but it must have left little impression: I thought it was all about a pet cemetery. Apparently this movie is more faithful to the novel than my memory is.

Anjanette Comer's Aimee Thanatogenous is luminous, wide-eyed and credulous, the graceful love-interest of the Dr Strangelove-ish Joyboy and English cad Barlow. Cinematically this is very Strangelove, black-and-white, kooky and stylised. It is an unflattering satire of American life, almost unthinkable now.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I knew the rain was coming as the BOM had forecast it continuously for the past few days. The storm was late by about 90 minutes, rolling in around 7:30pm, snuffing out any chance of the Windies making the last two games of the one-day series worth watching, and otherwise unfolded as predicted. Somewhat amazingly Sydney dams went up 5% this past week.

Knowing this I went for an early-afternoon snorkel at Long Bay. Malabar was fairly dead, and the council was blasting the organic matter off the walls of the pool. I didn't see anything worth talking about, just the usual suspects. After all this time I figured I'd better get working on a duck-dive. The after-school traffic all along Anzac Parade and Avoca Street is totally ridiculous.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Getting in while the getting in is good: last night was damn hot and I slept badly. Zombified today. Had a late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay that was more soporific and aerobic. Big nimbus and some not-quite-condensed storm clouds blew through just before I got there, so grey skies but no rain. Slightly windy, warm water, very clean. An English couple were trying to fish in the middle of the bay.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. It has been raining heavily for several weeks, so this was my first opportunity in quite a while. The water looked clear, with no garbage on the beach or in the water. I am so unfit.

Douglas Adams: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

/noise/books | Link

Better, if anything, than the first Dirk Gently. In some sense Adams wrote the magic realism of my generation, those brought up on Halley's Comet and computers that could be fully understood, born after the moon was last visited by man, not identifiably Gen X or Y. He has a very British (not just English) sensibility, complementary to Salman Rushdie's. Perhaps his most perfect confection.

The Wages of Fear

/noise/movies | Link

A French classic perched somewhere in the middle of IMDB's top-250 list. The cinematography and effects are top-notch. Transporting nitroglycerin somewhere in South America makes for riveting cinema. Who'd have thunk it? I grant that the town scenes early on don't look promising.

Fallen Angel

/noise/movies | Link

Another Otto Preminger effort (he directed Laura). An overly pedestrian whodunnit with an all-American huckster whose shyterism wears thin quickly. Lord knows why a small-town beauty falls for him.

The Wild Bunch

/noise/movies | Link

I'm not much into westerns unless they've got an Ennio Morricone score. This movie probably deviates from the hallowed central precepts of the genre, and so might be some kind of revelation to connoisseurs.

Incidentally I realised while watching this that Stanley Kubrick never made a western.

John Brunner: The Sheep Look Up

/noise/books | Link

This is Brunner's eco-dystopia novel, and the last of his fat books for me to read. It takes its title from Milton's Lycidas:

The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread.

The style refines that of his earlier Stand on Zanzibar; a multi-stranded plot, a bazillion characters, plot-development-by-news-flash, set pieces that meditate on the author's pet concerns. It is tighter than his earlier fat books, but perversely this generates less information overload than they did, and so it tends towards the straight-out depressing. Those damn good drugs are found in lower concentrations here, and the language would embarass your grandmother.

Briefly, the U.S.A is overpopulated and incredibly polluted. Those in charge want business to continue as usual, responding to the environmental degredation via the usual war-machine mechanisms. The green movement is discredited (as always) by its association with sundry ratbags, left wingers and alternate-lifestylers. The foreign-aid do-gooders come in for a serve too. Some of his caricatured politicians don't sound so far from what we actually get on the topic of climate change (Lord Monckton springs to mind).

I couldn't find it locally in either bookshop or library, so I bought it from the agreeable Caerwan Books in Western Australia. Incidentally both this and Amis's Success use months for chapter titles.