Friday, October 23, 2009

Karmic Koala Ubuntu 9.10 beta review.

This is for the beta release, and most(I think all) of these bugs have been reported in the bug tracker. (Note the bug tracker is currently reporting errors... so I can not link to bugs).

I do like a lot of things about the release... these are mainly things I don't like. So please don't take this as a bad view of Ubuntu 9.10 overall... just some criticism.

Hibernation seems to not work correctly all the time(for me)... when I close the lid, and open it later it does not seem restore properly. It shows the screen, but does not respond to input on the keyboard/trackpad. Then after a bit the screen goes black. Then I need to press the power button, and then the login box comes back up - and I can log in again. This has worked for the last two ubuntu releases, so it's annoying.

Booting seems slower... and is actually slower(timed it) for me. Perhaps I need to install from scratch for it to be faster or something. Pete Shinners has some benchmarks on his blog of ubuntu booting faster for him... boot benchmarks.

pulseaudio was installed again, stuffing up my sound settings. However after removing pulseaudio, the multimedia keys on my keyboard do not work... as they used to work in the previous release without pulseaudio. Apparently the ubuntu mixer applet only works with pulseaudio now. Yuk. If you go to the sound preferences dialog, it only works if you use pulseaudio.

So pulseaudio is using 3% of your cpu when no sound is playing, or pulseaudio does not work with your screen reader... or many other reasons you do not want to use pulseaudio, and you want to remove it ubuntus gui mixer fails.

The main pulseaudio author even says the ubuntu implementation of pulseaudio is bad on his blog... so I hope this is fixed before the official release.

Changing the speed of the CPUs/cores now requires a authentication... and typing in a password... annoying!! So now I end up leaving them at full cpu... wasting power, as I need full cpu in some situations. The usability is not considered here... I think people will just use more power.

Some of my icons were messed up, along with applets I was using. eg, my firefox icon got changed into a red circled crossed with a line through it.

I leave a memory card in the memory card holder... and now ubuntu pops a message up telling me it's there each time I open the lid. Even if I press the ignore button. Annoying. The last ubuntu did not ignore my request.

Newer versions of many software packages are available... which is nice. The graphics do seem to be faster on my intel machine... again nice :) New gcc, etc etc.

Still no jack/pulseaudio compatibility stuff. Still no OSSv4 sound system packaged :( Ubuntu have made it hard to have alsa, jack and pulseaudio all used side by side. The authors of those systems have worked to make the situation better, but ubuntus implementation is not good. Better to install audio stuff yourself for this release too.

Ubuntu has old SDL, and pygame releases... unlike a lot of other platforms which have the latest stable releases.

So expect Ubuntu karmic koala 9.10 to still have bad sound, and bad support for games. I have hopes that bugs will get fixed before the beta finishes... but I don't have very strong hopes.

update: Pete Shinners has some benchmarks on his blog of ubuntu booting faster for him... boot benchmarks. Added link to pulseaudio authors blog about poor pulseaudio on ubuntu.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

web design for robots

More robots are reading websites than humans - so should we be designing the websites for robots?

Thanks to the search engine wars, most visitors to most websites are by robots. But has anyone asked what these robots enjoy?

There's often a divide in artists between introverted, and extroverted artists.
"Fuck you - I make art for myself and not for others." OR "I make art for people to enjoy, I'm not so selfish and self indulgent that I just make art for myself".

So I decided to interview a few robots to find out what some of their favourite websites are. But where to find a robot to ask questions of?

I had to look no further than an internet enabled fridge. So with my notebook in hand I pull a chair up to the fridge and ask it some questions. I open with a flurry of questions, trying to provoke a response.

"Do you have any favourite websites?" I ask. No answer. Obviously this robot does not know english. I give it another ten minutes of questioning - then give up. I leave my card for the robot in case it feels like answering questions later, and pull away my chair. The fridge seems relieved I have gone.

Luckily I can just query some robots brains directly. No need for tricky questions to extract the information I'm after. I stuff a proxy in between the fridge and the internet. A week later I study the statistics of its favourite websites.

As we all know, just because you go to a website five times a day - does not mean you enjoy it. However, it might give us an idea of what this robot does like. First I noticed it occasionally calls home to it's place of manufacture. I guess to send details back home of what it's up to. However, I guess its family has moved on - 404 - page not found for where its trying to send it's details. I wonder for how many years this will go on? It would be like you sending a post card home to your family for 20 years, and never knowing that your family moved house 19 years ago. Oh well, we keep sending the post cards anyway.

First rule for web design for robots - they are really dumb, and will possibly forever, keep looking at the same urls. Robots do not change with the world around them.

The Egyptians knew about mixing colors around 4500 years ago. Do robots know how to mix colors, and do they care about colors? Some of those early Egyptian paintings and scupltures, and poems are really interesting - and still provide joy, and insight. By designing for robots today, will robots in the future still appreciate our work?

A robot mind can often not change once set. Well, until it is updated by the programmer. What happens when the robot programmer moves on to another project? Will the robot ever be updated again? Will the robot gain a split personality? The result of many different programmers updating its brain, must surely be a variety of personalities mixed in there.

Continuing these thoughts - thinking about how robots think - is not really interesting to me. I am now forcing myself to continue writing, in a workman like fashion. Sorry (you should probably stop reading my robot friends).

What if the robot has some way of asking people to tell it what is nice, good, sane, and lawful? What if the robot can ask the people to tell it things... and reward them in some way for their work? Provide the robot brain programmers with some value, and the robot will evolve - for free.

Oh, so the robots are driven by the programmers - and what the robots can sense about the world around them. Can the robots also be driven by positive and negative feedback? Well certainly, it's possible. Is it possible? Then robots need to process the input - the signals - and make sense of them.

Signals are processed by the robots, but what signals do the robots enjoy the most? Signals that fall into easily recognized patterns surely.

Maybe robots will like other robots art the best? Robots that make things for other robots? Well, robots can make things all by themselves this is true.

What if the robot masters try to tell the robots - "do not care about what the robots make - only care for what the humans make". Well, then the robots try to appear human. There are robots who try to become human, and robots that try find out the difference between a human and a robot.

Signal - human. Signal - robot. Robot, human, robot, robot... 101010101...

We shall call this test the Robot Turing test. The Turing test is the test to see if people can see if a signal is from a human or a robot. An idea from a man dead - at the hands of government lives on in our brains, and in robot brains. Shifting signals henceforth into patterns recognised a long time ago.

Robots can use the human brains as a resource. Humans can use the robots as a resource. Who is in control in the end?


Is anything in control? Or is it stuck in an infinite loop? Are the humans and robots just sending post cards, even though their family has moved house?

Should someone tell them all to stop sending postcards?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

game review - Tonk Tanks

Tonk Tanks is a really small, and fun game. All game play is on one screen, and the controls are simple.

You have arrow keys to move your tank around, and a button to shoot the other tanks. It's like one of those old atari 2600 tank games, but a more modern version. Once you die, you teleport to a different respawn positions around the map.

The game is quite playable single player - but the author is working on a networked multiplayer version. Another nice addition would be multiplayer on one machine - especially with joysticks or mice support (since keyboards are evil).

The tank AI seems different and varied enough, that I have not worked it out from playing it ten times or so. Usually my games only last about five minutes before I move onto something else. It's one of those games I can play for little while when I want a short break.

Tonk Tanks works well on linux, windows and Mac (and probably other platforms supported by python+pygame). There's a windows .exe available, otherwise you need to have python+pygame installed to play. I don't think it's packaged for any linux/*bsd distributions yet.