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Archives for November, 2010

Abingdon, Oxford

November 21st, 2010

Today is my activity day so I diligently headed off on the next part of my Thames Path adventure from Culham to Oxford. Culham, if you remember, was where I had to be evacuated from by taxi after the unexpected coming of darkness a few weeks ago. It turns out Culham is the site of the UK’s two fusion experiments – MAST and JET – which I missed before, on account of it being dark.

It was a fairly short section of path – around 12 miles – which is just as well as it was cold and grey and intermittently wet. After a few miles I came to Abingdon.

Because I don’t have much to talk about this week, I’m going to insert a topical factoid: the building you can see above is the County Hall. Why is this topical? Well, it’s tradition that on important royal occasions such as coronations or the upcoming wedding the local dignitaries climb onto the roof and hurl buns at the crowd below. The local museum apparently has preserved examples of buns that were thrown as long ago as the 19th century. Unfortunately it was closed today so I’ll have to go back again.

After several more hours of walking I arrived in Oxford. Beyond Oxford is a great unknown, as I don’t believe I’ve ever been to Wiltshire before. But that will have to wait for another day. I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am.

A new toy

November 20th, 2010

I have a new toy! It’s a tiny computer. Specifically a BeagleBoard-xM. Here it is next to a pen for comparison:

Inside is a TI OMAP3530 SoC containing an ARM Cortex A8 core, TI C64x DSP, and a PowerVR GPU. As well as 512MB RAM and 256MB NAND flash. It supports tons of peripherals including a UART, Ethernet, audio in/out, DVI out, and four USB ports. So you could actually use it as your main computer if you wanted! There’s also an expansion header for electronics projects and a JTAG port for hardcore debugging. Underneath is a micro SD slot which it can boot off.

I haven’t done too much with it so far: I’ve built a Linux 2.6.36 kernel and booted it with an Ubuntu userland to check everything works. I also rebuilt and re-flashed the bootloader and Das U-Boot to make sure I knew how they worked. While doing this I ran into a bug with the bootloader where it was unable to read files from the second sector of the FAT32 root directory. It was quite simple to fix (thankfully the source was available) and you can get the patch from my GitHub if you run into the same thing. Alternatively use FAT16 for the boot partition. Hopefully it will be merged with the mainline code soon though.

I’m not sure what I’m actually going to do with it: currently looking for a project. I want to play with the PowerVR GPU (it supports OpenGL ES), and I’ve done a little bit of TI DSP programming in my day job so learning more about that could be fun. I also like the idea of trying to get NetBSD to boot on it (FreeBSD doesn’t yet support this ARM core version). Hopefully I will find something interesting to do and post it here.

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xcowsay 1.3

November 11th, 2010

Out of the barn and on to the interwebs: here it comes! xcowsay 1.3! This version is another minor upgrade to xcowsay with the following changes:

  • A number of small bug fixes in xcowsay itself and the configure script.
  • Setting --time=0 now means the cow is displayed until clicked.
  • If the text is so wide that the speech bubble would not fit on the screen, word wrapping is automatically applied. This can be disabled with --no-wrap.
  • As requested by some users, it is now possible to make the speech bubble appear on the left hand side using --left. This is useful if you are using your own left-facing image, for example.
  • New Russian and updated Portuguese translations.

You can download the source code here: xcowsay-1.3.tar.gz. There are no binary packages for this release as xcowsay is now in a large number of Linux distributions and BSD ports collections which will hopefully be updated soon.

You can now track xcowsay on GitHub if you like.

Several people have asked about anti-aliasing the edge of the cow and speech bubble. I’ve experimented a bit using Cario but unfortunately this does not seem to be possible as X only accepts a binary mask when cutting out shapes in windows. I think you would need a compositing window manager with a proper alpha channel for this to work so I doubt xcowsay will support it any time soon.

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Goring to Culham

November 7th, 2010

I walked along the next bit of the Thames Path today, slowly making my way towards Oxford. Today’s segment was between Goring and Culham. It was quite pretty with autumn trees and quaint villages, but it did rain a bit. I didn’t manage to take many good pictures, but here’s one of some ill-looking berries:

Unfortunately it nearly all ended in disaster as I somewhat overestimated the distance I could walk during the daylight hours available. So I found myself hurrying along a muddy path as darkness closed in alarmingly quickly. I made it to Culham before it was completely dark but not in time to catch the last train home. Luckily there was an adjacent pub where I could acquire ale and the services of local taxi firm who conveyed me to Didcot for an outrageous fee – seriously, £16 for a seven mile journey??! I think I left quite a lot of mud in his car so maybe that’s fair.