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Rescuing GNU Talkfilters

Arch Linux recently produced a list of packages that cannot be built from source because of broken URLs. I had received messages like this before, and usually they simply indicate that the website for a package has changed. This happened a lot, for example, in 2016 when Google Code was shut down and replaced with a raw archive of project snapshots. So I expected that I would only have to do a little bit of searching when the notification came for GNU Talkfilters.

Instead, I could not find any up-to-date sites hosting the source. Every post about it still pointed to the old site with links that lead to 404 errors. It started to look like talkfilters had disappeared from the web. This is unacceptable for any free software project, especially one that ostensibly bears the "GNU" distinction. Because I had compiled the program on my own machine years ago, I was lucky enough to still have a copy of the source lying around. I promptly uploaded it to this very site and updated the Arch package accordingly. As a result, the crisis has been averted and free software users with nothing better to do are still free to apply chat filtering rules like this:

$ echo "Welcome friends, to a new home for GNU talkfilters!" | pirate
Welcome crew, t' a new home fer GNU talkfilters! Shiver me timbers!

Thank-You VLC

Something that caught me by surprise was the release of libbdplus which happened almost exactly one year ago. This filled a gap in the free software community that had been open since 2007 when the first BD+ discs came out.

The story here is that Bluray discs won the format war against HD-DVD because they don't just encrypt their files with AACS. They include a diabolical piece of self-modifying code called BD+ which gained an early reputation for thwarting decryption efforts. For many years, open source Bluray decryption tools only existed for discs that were BD+ free. Those cracking tougher nuts had to use MakeMKV and AnyDVD which kept the source code hidden thereby making important knowledge vulnerable to censorship.

In 2009, when I first heard about VideoLAN's plan to develop libbdplus, the lack of a git repository was suspicious. Why would a group known for prompt code releases in all of their other projects suddenly decide to develop one behind closed doors? Especially the most anticipated advancement since libdvdcss. Years went by and rumours of an imminent release became less frequent. Not only that, but other BD+ projects ceased development because they saw no need to duplicate effort. By 2013, I was not just accusing the developers of changing their minds, but causing outright damage to free software in the process. The end of December 2013, when they released libbdplus after all, was the time for me to take it all back. But hey, it's Christmas... a time to be pleasantly surprised!

Fun With Enforcers

I need to mention a fun thing that I did almost exactly when this site went offline. I signed up to volunteer in an RCMP training exercise scheduled for June 18, 2013. At the information session, the head of Risk Management UBC told us that one could either get up at 8am to play a regular hostage or get up at 6am to play a hostage wearing bullet hole makeup. I chose the former.

RCMP officers at UBC.

The RCMP officers tried to keep their techniques as secret as possible. I got this picture before the hostages went to their assigned buildings, but I didn't take any once I was inside. I don't think anyone else did either, for fear of being kicked out. The closest thing we have to a picture of the actual rescue comes from an article in The Ubyssey.

Back With A Vengeance

My site has been down since mid-2013 but I finally got it back up about a week ago. Much has happened in that time (such as starting a new degree) and I plan to post some random anecdotes from the past year as if the down-time never happened. If you are worried about the site going down again, don't be. I am now paying $10 per month to Linode which is very organized. To make a long story short, Justin Hayes stuck it out well all this time, but after high school, most people just have too much uncertainty in their lives to be reliable web hosts.

Tales Of A First Time Driver Developer

Since 2004, I've owned a ThinkPad A22m - a laptop that came out in 2001. Much to the dismay of certain friends, I still feel no need to purchase a newer computer. I've often said that this old hardware can do everything I need while still letting me run modern software. However, it now seems like I will have to take some responsibility for the code if I want that to still be true in the future.

1x1 repeat test 2x2 repeat test 4x4 repeat test 5x5 repeat test
8x8 repeat test 10x10 repeat test 16x16 repeat test 32x32 repeat test

Specifically, I am talking about open source ATI drivers on GNU / Linux. The four main video card lines released by ATI (now owned by AMD) have been Wonder, Mach, Rage and Radeon. I don't think Wonder cards have any features that would warrant the development of a dedicated driver but Linux drivers for the other three have been written.

The Radeon driver is actively maintained by software engineers at AMD and some people who work for other software companies. The other two? Not so much. The Rage 128 driver was especially in need of a major update recently. And since my computer has a Rage Mobility graphics card, I felt motivated to start working on the code even though I had never hacked such a low-level piece of software before. Since the effort has largely succeeded, I would like to share my experiences with editing an open source video driver. The learning curve was quite steep and when I first started reading documentation, it seemed like it was written for a different audience. This post is going to be an unadultered attempt to get a completely new reader to catch on to what I did. I'm sure I will later find out that many things written in this post are technically incorrect, but I will not edit them. I want the only knowledge communicated in this piece to be the knowledge that one might reasonably be expected to have after jumping into driver development for the first time.

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