somewhere to talk about random ideas and projects like everyone else



Raspberry Pi 14 August 2012

As part of the shift between long multi-kiloword blog posts which are somewhat more like press releases back into a sort of more personal (i.e. blog-esque) format, I guess I’ll talk about my newly-arrived Raspberry Pi. Right now, there isn’t terribly much to talk about since I’ve only had it for about two weeks.

I’ve been planning on getting a Raspberry Pi for a pretty long time, and I was actually pretty excited about that. For the weeks preceding the official announcement, I built a tiny script which ran in a ten-minutely cron job which would basically download the purported Raspberry Pi store (, note the dot-com rather than dot-org, which their homepage is situated at) and compare the hash, notifying me via Ubuntu’s built in notification system.

On that sleepless night when the actual pre-sale announcement was being made, I was incessantly checking, which had suddenly morphed into a server maintenance message (which remains to this very day). The anticipation was intense, and some twenty minutes after it was supposed to happen was when I realized that the whole time I had been checking the wrong page. The announcement came instead on, their main blog, and by that time, it was certain that all the distributor’s sites were already collapsing under the crushing load of a million souls crying out for a taste of berry-scented silicon pastry.

On the next day, I checked the sites again, and all the order pages were already closed. Either way, it wasn’t terribly useful for me because most of them didn’t support Paypal. Fast forward a veritable eternity, on June 16th, I was notified via email that RS Components that I would be allowed to order the device some time in the near future. Sure enough, on the 22nd, another email gave me a link to the order form, which I promptly filled out and I began the process of waiting. Not really, since I had other stuff to do and most of my interest had already vaporized at the daunting 7 weeks it was supposed to take.

Another eternity later, it arrived in some rather nice packaging. It actually came as a bit of a surprise, because I had become so accustomed to waiting that I had never really expected it to materialize so suddenly. But when it did, it was everything I imagined and more. It came in this rather nice cardboard box, which I eventually cut in half with an X-Acto knife (which nowadays, I use for all my paper splicing needs) to build a makeshift case. I fumbled around in a closet and found a neglected 16GB SD card (probably back from the era when point-and-shoots were actually preferable to mobile phones) and installed that weird Debian distro (after having a little internal debate on what to install). But the first thing I had done was plugged it into a monitor through a HDMI-to-DVI converter. I took the charger from my Galaxy Nexus (I wasn’t using it for anything since I charge it in my room from my HP Touchpad Charger, and my Touchpad idly draining power from a cool inductive stand, the standardization of chargers is really pretty awesome), and used that as my Pi’s permanent power supply.

I also had a 2000mAh LiPo battery which I was going to use with my Arduino LilyPad for some cool foot-operated telegraph which I wanted to use as essentially a UPS for the Pi, but a bit of googling reveals that that might possibly entail actual electronicswork, so maybe that’s something for later.

I turned it on, and lo and behold it didn’t work. I actually never quite figured out why. Then, I tried plugging it into a really old 13 megaton CRT TV, which makes me realize how it’s sort of weird that the unit of megatons is hardly ever used for things other than atomic weapons, and now it feels oddly inappropriate for a hyperbole for the mass of a TV, but maybe it’s actually sort of appropriate because CRTs are terrifying. So analog seemed to work, except for this problem where my keyboard would keep repeating letters and not working well. That wasn’t a good start.

But after a little googling from my Chromebook, it turns out the keyboard issues came from the fact that I had plugged in my only spare USB keyboard which happened to be a Logitech Mouse+Keyboard+Speaker thing and my teensy Galaxy Nexus charger couldn’t eke out enough watts to power it. And the issue with the HDMI-to-DVI thing was just because I needed to restart with the cable plugged in. But neither of them posed a real material issue because I had been intending to use it as a headless rig from the start.

The first thing I really noticed was how surprisingly easy it was to install things. I had expected the ARM repositories to basically lack everything which might be useful, but it turns out that actually almost everything I wanted was available. I didn’t dare compiling anything, but Node (albeit a somewhat old version) was available from the repos, so I never really needed to. I had to manually update to a new version of npm, but that wasn’t that bad. I set up forever to run a few apps, but not much.

One of the main reasons I could justify getting the Raspberry Pi however, was to run my Facebook logging script on something other than my main computer, and aside from getting confused trying to use sendxmpp, it was fairly straightforward.

Pinball 19 June 2012

Last year, for Computer Science 1, I built a pinball game in Java. Yes, Java, as in sans-script. I wrote it in Eclipse and it was pretty functional. Of course, the biggest part of the game was the collision detection, collision detection which, mind you, I built with only the slightest knowledge of how it’s actually done. So yeah, I made up a scheme. It sucks, but at least it sort of works. I was actually fairly proud of it since it was basically the only thing which was mildly interesting and non teacher directed (that is, it took more than one hundred ninety two seconds to write after the teacher gave a cue to attempt the task). I thought it was so cool in fact, that I decided to port it over to both Javascript and Coffeescript, the latter being a language which was uber-hip and awesome (I believe these events transpired approximately at the time of Coffeescript’s big one-oh release).

In essence, the collision detection scheme I devised was pretty simple. The ball experienced gravity in the form of a constant downward acceleration. It would move up and down. That was maintained by a variable (actually an array to mimic a vector), named position, and another one named velocity, where the y-coordinate for the latter was incremented by some term every time a frame was rendered. The collision detection system deals with the intersection between lines. First it takes the current position of the ball, and envisions that the current velocity is a line extending infinitely in that direction. All the other attributes of the environment are also lines, and the algorithm treats them all as unbounded (rather than segments). It quite trivially computes the intersection between the lines and calculates (with euclidean distance) how far that intersection is from the ball’s current point. If it detects a collision (the distance is less than the specified radius of the ball), then the ball’s direction is altered based on its current position and the tangent of the line it intersected with.

Fast forward a few months, and it’s July of 2011. Since then, I’ve basically forgotten about the pinball game, because it really isn’t cool enough to be worth revisiting. But I was in Virginia’s Summer Residential Governor’s School for Science/Math/Technology (hardly wholly unexpected). It was some dark night and I was in the back row of a white shuttle bus en route to an observatory where artificial light is verboten. Well, it started raining and the trip was cancelled and we were going back and I was bored. So I pulled out my iPad, which I had for some reason, and decided to look at what I had on my Dropbox which I could play around with offline. Lo and behold, there’s a pretty crappy Javascript pinball implementation (which notably, never having been finished is just a ball bouncing between a few lines). I changed the parameters and made weird shapes the ball hopelessly bouncing around in awkward trajectories, and I thought it was cool.

A friend, sitting next to me noticed that the balls were speeding up. He inquired whether or not I was using the euler method, and I didn’t know what that was. Either way, inadvertently, I was in fact using that. But the point was that here he was, making a fuss about the fact that my simulation in two dimensions blatantly ignores the conservation of momentum. And as such, I was compelled to finding a solution. I studied the code for a bit longer, trying to expose the nasty snippet which might have made it evade the laws of physics, albeit to no avail. In the midst of my struggle, he noticed at some point that since the trajectory paths are simple parabolas, it should be possible to find a closed form solution to the collision problem (rather than my iterative approach. In the end, I nobly gave up on my epic quest to fix the universe, and worked on some other crap.

A week ago, I finished my first formal (that is, in school) calculus class, where I learned what euler’s method was and how I inadvertently implemented it. But I still had to take the class final, which the teacher rather kindly decided to make extremely easy. And since I also had a huge math portfolio (which I decided to typeset with LaTeX, as I have for nearly every paper this year, for no real reason whatsoever) due that day, he made it take home, with the only caveat that we aren’t to collaborate on the final in his presence (eg. after school in his room), a subtle nod of assent to all other forms of aid. Well, at home, I thought that I should probably make use of all the tools I have at my disposal. I thought of that copy of Mathematica which hopefully wasn’t collecting dust on my hard drive platter because that might lead to a head crash, but alas was figuratively gathering dust.

I decided to start playing around with the awesomeness that is a computer algebra system, named after a guy whose last name is that otherwise inexplicable W on the periodic table (purely coincidental, unless Stephen Wolfram is actually a british iron manganese tungstate mineral). In what felt to be no time (at least it seemed interesting and productive enough that I in no way thought to discern the real time which elapsed), I had completed my final exam in a somewhat minimalistically formatted Mathematica notebook. I had, figuratively, fallen in love.

Soon afterwards, as I was working on some other completely unrelated project (creating a intraframe-only WebM encoder), I needed something somewhat cool to generate a series of frames to be encoded into video. Digging through my (newly reorganized) Dropbox project folder, I found that old incomplete pinball game. And I remembered that story and that brief suggestion and decided to use my newfound Mathematica prowess (that is, my ability to use Solve[] with some degree of it not puking) to find that solution to the collision between a parabola and a line. To my dismay, Mathematica returned an ungodly mess of an equation. And it also didn’t work for vertical lines.

But eventually, I did manage to get it to work. And thankfully now it obeys the laws of physics, at least to about 10x10^-13. And I also realized that that demo isn’t actually that cool but I used the older version anyway for my video encoder demo. So that’s the happy ending, everything lived happily ever after despite the fact the algorithm is still totally buggy and breaks when things are either too fast (velocity > 4000px/second) or too slow (velocity < 1px/second). And with corners, it occasionally fails. But I’m long since past the threshold of caring. At least now, you can speed it up a lot because the path prediction and the collision detection are completely separate from the render cycle (which also lets the speed become independent of processor speed). It uses requestAnimationFrame and other stuff, and if you want to try it, here.

JS vs Python 27 August 2009

I sorta expected it due to the new V8, Tracemonkey, Nitro, and SquirrelFish engines. But I’m thinking of making a port of ShinyTouch to JS and I was looking into what differences it might end up as.

I have to say I’m really quite suprised. It’s a simple piece of code:

    var start = (new Date).getTime();
    var n = 0;
    for(var i = 0; i &lt; 10000000; i++){
        n += i;
    var end = (new Date).getTime();

Just doing a loop a huge number of times and adding some numbers. But the unscientific results are quite amazing:

Python: 2640, 2110, 2000, 2190

Firefox 3.0 Spidermonkey: 777, 672, 685, 665

Firefox 3.5 TraceMonkey: 659, 365, 629, 629

Chromium Nightly: 146, 150, 147, 152

While these only test basic arithmetic and recursion, The browser is 15 times faster than Python, it just feels quite incredable.

Progress Report 22 October 2007

I’ve not been releasing anything for a while, for several reasons:

1. I’m converting everything to the Ext UI (from textareas, tables, etc. to Ext grids, form fields) 2. I’m completely rewriting the timeline. including a host of new features much for speed. (several TIMES faster) mainly becuase it generates only 300 frames per layer by default, instead of 500, but automatically adds new frames DYNAMICALLY when more is needed. But the rewrite is sorta unstable 3. Tons of UI upgrades. A short list of changes from the top of my head are, a new login stystem (lot’s of fading effects) My Animations; list, faster animation loading. The user animation browser is completely changed-with stuff like Rating animations and comments coming. 4. Sorta goes in UI upgrades, is a new loading splash screen. It has a progress bar, showing status. And CSS is dynamically added, and loads from either the local server, or google code’s subversion (faster). 5. Cross Domain Ajax. The current ajax implementation only allows you to generate flash animations if you are on a php server with all the libraries/files installed. And sometimes you go to it from a proxy or google code beta or something. If that happens, you will not have any access to creating flash animations. So, soon it will curcumvent this restriction, by using a script tag hack, to load the animations from the server. Though the current ajax implementation will still be used for larger animations. And i might revive animation compression for this purpose. 6. Upgrading to Ext 2.0, this is not really happening NOW, but is being actively thought of. It’s not really a “painless” upgrade, with lot’s of stuff to modify/rewrite. 7. Everything has two options. One is to load from subversion, or the local server. It’s better if you load it from subversion, if you are mirroring it, or if your server is slow. And in many cases it’s really fast, and automatically gzip encodes the stuff. Great isnt it? so it has an option of loading all* (okay, most…) images and CSS from google code.

8. And even more stuff……