Robotic Tendencies
The personal blog of Robert McQueen

May 21, 2010

VP8 rumblings

As you all know by now, exciting moves from Google on the WebM project have lead to them open-sourcing On2’s VP8 codec to provide a freely available video codec for HTML5 content. Collabora Multimedia worked with Entropy Wave to add support to GStreamer for the new codec from day 1, and I was really happy yesterday to update my Debian system and get the support installed locally too. Thanks to our and Igalia’s fine work on GStreamer HTML5 support in WebKitGTK+, Gustavo Noronha found it worked out of the box with Epiphany too.

Predictably, the MPEG-LA aren’t too pleased with this, and are no doubt winding up their PR and industry allies at the moment, as well as this opening a new front on the Apple vs Google ongoing platform battle. But if your business model is collecting money through what is essentially a protection racket and spreading FUD about patent litigation, the VP8 license implicitly creating a zero-cost zero-revenue patent pool is not going to be good news for you (from the department of Google deleting your business model). The question is now whether the allure of Google’s content will win over against the legal chest pounding of the patent trolls, and whether they start flipping switches to make YouTube only serve up WebM content after a while.

Also in amazing and incredible news, Collabora’s Telepathy/GStreamer/GNOME/Debian/general R&D guru and staunch Web 2.0 holdout Sjoerd Simons has actually now got a blog after a mere 3 years of us suggesting it to him since he joined Collabora as an intern. He’s been hacking on some RTP payloader elements for VP8 so we can use it for video calling on the free desktop. All very exciting stuff, especially in conjunction with Muji (multi-user video calls over XMPP) support heading into Telepathy thanks to NLNet‘s ongoing support.

posted by ramcq @ 6:13 pm
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July 27, 2005

aalib has company

In unstable, aalib1 has just been renamed to libaa1, in line with normal shared library naming policies, giving rise to the following:
$ apt-cache search libaa
libaa1-dev - ascii art library, development kit
libaal-dev - Reiser4's application abstraction library

Which is more useful? Which has more users? Which is on more crack? 😀

posted by ramcq @ 3:41 am
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May 2, 2005


Was helping a friend with his Debian box, he thought he had some filesystem corruption after an unclean shutdown, so we booted from a live CD and unpacked coreutils into /tmp/asdf and started replacing the corrupted files including /bin/ls which was segfaulting. Then set about doing the usual dpkg -l | grep ^ii | awk to get a list of packages to reinstall, but then ls started segfaulting again, and grep got Aborted. Hmmm…

livecd:~# /tmp/asdf/bin/cp /tmp/asdf/bin/ls /bin
livecd:~# /tmp/asdf/bin/ls -la /bin/ls /tmp/asdf/bin/ls
-rwxr-xr-x  1 root root 75948 Apr 29 16:20 /bin/ls
-rwxr-xr-x  1 root root 75948 Jul 16  2004 /tmp/asdf/bin/ls
livecd:~# grep
Usage: grep [OPTION]... PATTERN [FILE]...
Try `grep --help' for more information.
livecd:~# /tmp/asdf/bin/ls -la /bin/ls /tmp/asdf/bin/ls
-rwxr-xr-x  1 root root 80611 Apr 29 16:20 /bin/ls
-rwxr-xr-x  1 root root 75948 Jul 16  2004 /tmp/asdf/bin/ls

Pwned! Turned out to be unstable from about February 2004 with kernel 2.4.22… aaargh. Gave him Ubuntu so that he gets a little pop-up icon when there’s security updates to install in future, and he’s very pleased with it. Might try and do some forensics later, but in the meantime I’ve got some dissertations and finals to stress about for the next month.

Of course, I managed to find time to sponsor a shiny new unison 2.10.1 package, complete with long-overdue Gtk2 support, coming soon to a mirror near you. The old 2.9.2 version is now provided in a unison2.9.2 package for compatibility with woody systems.

If anyone wants to help woody to sarge upgrades for Gaim users by forward porting the ability to import at least your IM accounts from old .gaimrc files, which was removed in Gaim 0.7x-ish, please let me know. I don’t really have time to dedicate to doing it right now.

posted by ramcq @ 10:36 pm
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April 15, 2005

Debian Planet

NOTE TO THE SLEEPY: This post is about Debian Planet (founded 2000), not Planet Debian (founded 2004).

Sorry about the needless verbosity of the previous post. I’ll try keep this one shorter because I’d like some feedback on it. robster (who founded it) and I are essentially the only active staff of Debian Planet, and neither of us are able dedicate much time to it because we’re both kept busy with all manner of university-related stuff, both academic and not. It’s been suggested by some people within Debian that DWN and especially Planet Debian render it defunct and nobody reads it anyway. However, robster and I don’t really share this opinion – Planet Debian contains opinions, hacks, experiences, recipes and stuff that can be very interesting if you know the people involved, but really doesn’t necessarily perform the function of making Debian’s development more translucent to the outside world if you’re not on the mailing lists (although certain relevant blog posts can be highlighted, as DWN does). DWN seems to be aimed at a fairly technical audience who is generally aware of the projects’ internals but wants to keep up with day-to-day issues – it frequently includes stuff that’s not hugely relevant to the big picture unless you’re inside the project.

As far as we know there aren’t any other sites that are aimed at demystifying Debian for users, and with the advent of Ubuntu, depending on your viewpoint we stand to lose or gain (indirectly) many more users too, some of whom may take (or retain) an interest in Debian development (and we can cover Ubuntu too). The site does something in the region of 30 GB a month, a lot of this down to RSS feeds, so I’m sure articles that are posted actually do get read by quite a few people. Posts to the site itself asking if we should continue, and in what form, have prompted a surprising amount of positive feedback, and have been enough to dispel any ideas of closing down the site, although we’ve been quite lax at following up the resultant offers of assistance thus far (an ESR style list subscription of anyone who shows interest is exceedingly tempting).

What we’d like to do now is make it easier for other people to contribute (our editorial control has been an iron grasp thus far, with most articles being written or mostly rewritten by a very select few), and find some more people to help us out with keeping up with goings-on in the project, and we’ve also potentially got to find new hosting over the next few weeks. Are we misguided? Should we bother securing new hosting for the site and keep it going, or is it as needless as people say? Does anyone who’s reading this agree with our goals and want to help us out?

posted by ramcq @ 2:49 am
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March 21, 2005


I was trying to quickly (always a mistake) configure a printer on my (sarge) laptop the other day using GNOME CUPS Manager, which I’d previously been very impressed with when it had Just Worked(tm) on a friend’s Ubuntu box. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work for me, because unlike the one in Ubuntu, didn’t realise I was in the lpadmin group and didn’t need to become root to add a printer, and also unlike the one in Ubuntu, asksed for my root password and not my sudo password, because it or gksu hasn’t been patched, but invoked gksu wrongly, so it didn’t work anyway – I had to use the web interface. I certainly remember that whilst working on a project using GNOME CUPS Manager over the summer, I had to patch it to work with our setup (and not crash if you forget to install the icons *g*). Does anyone except Debian not patch it and expect it to Just Work?

Looking at the Ubuntu package, recognising I’m in the lpadmin group and hence not needing to become root to manipulate the printers is a patch they have applied. It relies on the assumptions that CUPS is running on localhost, and that some bloody-minded admin hasn’t renamed the lpadmin group to something else – these are true on Ubuntu, but not necessarily on any given Debian box. How do we solve this for Debian so our GNOME CUPS Manager Just Works – if the server’s on localhost, read the configuration file to see what the admin group is, or is there a sensible way to find that from the server?

This is probably one of many examples where Debian packages aren’t as usable as the Ubuntu equivalents because Debian users are more likely to challenge the assumptions. Strictly speaking, there shouldn’t need to be this usability gulf between an almost-identical group of packages in Debian and Ubuntu. What’s the right strategy to solve these kinds of problems elsewhere?

As a side note, how is foomatic actually supposed to work if you don’t cheat and install all of the pregenerated PPDs in the foomatic-filters-ppds package?

posted by ramcq @ 2:11 pm
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March 16, 2005

Fontconfig fun

As is common when I upgrade fontconfig, all of my fonts changed appearance fairly randomly, using the wrong kind of hinting, selecting the wrong fonts, and generally looking very ugly. The usual problem is that debconf runs and decides something different to how I had it configured before, although I can’t quite see why (possibly related to losing my debconf cache to HDD corruption some time ago…). This time round, after upgrading from 2.2.3 to 2.3.0, I ran dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig and successfuly set it back to native hinting, and things looked roughly like they did before, with one major exception: some websites which requested serif fonts, and had previously used Bitstream Vera Serif, now used some other random font which hinted very badly and gave me coloured fringes, and looked generally horrible. The problem also applied in some cases to other sans and mono fonts on websites too, but not all of them.

After a while of using Firefox’s excellent Web Developer Extension to fiddle with the CSS, reading /etc/fonts/fonts.conf, and stracing firefox to see what fonts it was actually loading, I managed to work out that the change was due to this commit in fontconfig CVS. Rather than the old choice of just looking for Times New Roman to provide Times, Arial to provide Helvetica, and Courier New to provide Courier, the fonts.conf in 2.3.0 binds these to the Postscript Type1 Nimbus family of fonts that come in the gsfonts package, which 2.3.0 is now able to read even without having gsfonts-x11 installed. Previously websites which requested Times, "Times New Roman", serif fell back to Bitstream Vera Serif (I don’t have the Microsoft fonts installed) and looked fine, but now are using Nimbus Roman 9 to provide Times, causing the change in appearance.

My first attempt to fix this was to enable the autohinter on these fonts, rather than relying on the native hinting, which works well for the Bitstream Vera and Microsoft fonts, but not otherwise. It was better, but still not that good… So I just overrode the mapping of Times/Helvetica/Courier with my own mappings to the Bitstream Vera fonts. Which worked brilliantly, you can download my ~/.fonts.conf here. I left the autohinting stuff in because occasionally pango might use a glyph from the Nimbus fonts anyway. It also includes a snippet to put the fixed font back even if you have bitmapped fonts turned off, which dato was asking about in #debian-devel.

Sleeping from 7am to 1pm, and the fact I have no food in my room, cupboard or fridge, is probably not helping my cold, so I still feel utterly terrible… *sniff*

posted by ramcq @ 2:34 pm
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