The Pink Pony

That’s what happens LOADS of time while discussing requirements.

<P O> I want a Pink Pony!

<P M> Ok, what that pony is supposed to do? Does it walk? Does it run? Which kind of user would ride it?

<P O> Oh well, not sure, a pony is cool and cute that’s what important! Ask Marketing for the details.

<P M> According to the information from marketing and design the average use would be a big adult, carrying swords, pikes and shield called Knight. You need a Steed not a pony.

<P O> But but, PINK, my daughter loves pink!

<P M> According to the current poll among the Knights the top colour is pitch black. Your target user wants a Black Steed.

(A longer version will appear sooner or later)

Again on shoveling stuff in other people mouth

Again we got a fun thread about having to do some extensive change on perfectly working systems because somebody has a *plan* and you must abide to it.

If before the plan was to have systemd as the true and only init system (on why systemd seems to me a bad idea by itself I’ll discuss on a later post, possibly after throughly study its latest iteration and comparing it), now the plan is to force people not to have a separate /usr or use an initramfs with an early boot system because… “because doing otherwise is broken and already had been in ages”.

That doesn’t tell you much and if you have lots of systems running perfectly on a separate /usr setup and you went that way because it was documented as a best practice, you might feel enraged.

Now, let’s make clear that there are operating systems that keep everything in /usr and have next to nothing in / (and system that do not have /usr at all and everything is in /), you can argue a lot about what’s the best and why. FreeBSD or Hurd approaches have both interesting perks.

The fact is that *now* you have lots of people with perfectly working system in a configuration somebody decided that is wrong and *unsupportable*.

If you try to dig down a bit more you’ll discover that the “brokeness” is mainly due:

  • Somebody keen in using a library that traditionally is in /usr for some fringe feature
  • Somebody hell bent to use glib everywhere
  • Somebody wanting to have d-bus running in the early boot phase
  • Some udev rules using some data that currently resides in /usr

All considered forcing people to spend lots of time because somebody might want to use a bluetooth keyboard on early boot (thus requiring bluez, thus requiring d-bus basically because you can’t use bluez without it) or other non widespread use case is not exactly nice.

Surely trying to get a cleaner layout so we have a bare mountpoint directory, a early boot system in initramfs and the rest of the system cleanly split isn’t bad by itself and probably it is something I would consider neat.

But you still need to have a good separation between what is early boot and what is not and you need to make sure the boot process doesn’t get too complex or too tightly coupled with systems that can and will break easily.

I’m quite happy that alternatives are already almost available for simple systems not needing the additional features requiring those extensive changes.

Hopefully somebody will have time to try to add rules marking in udev so complex rules won’t be triggered when the system isn’t ready for them and deploys using special layouts could stay supported in a way or another.

In the other news Gentoo had been accepted to participate to the Google Summer of Code and there are two projects proposed by me, one is about documenting and if needed extending openrc to be a complete viable alternative to systemd, the other about using containers and qemu-user to have better tools to do cross developement.

Shoveling stuff in other people mouth

Recently I came up to read this thread the initial proposal is to add systemd in some kind of fashion to gnome, with Lennart suggesting new and many features coming from that.

That alone isn’t a problem until people not caring about a broken toy from him (both systemd and pulse had been and are considered as such) can keep playing with gnome with their toys (e.g FreeBSD, any non systemd linux distro). The thread then evolved in something that could be sort of summarized with systemd developer not caring about anything else but Linux and so Gnome should do as well, with extremes from other people suggesting to ditch distributions and have a Gnome OS alone.

In the light of what happened before with HAL and on a minor degree with pulse that makes me wary.

So people willing to use Gnome in Lennart opinion must probably:

– Use Linux

– Use systemd

A quick reality check tell me that:

– Sun contributed a lot to Gnome, there are plenty of BSD users hacking on Gnome and/or using it.

– systemd is still a broken increasingly complex mess and the fact it needs _that_ many linux specific features to try to work tells a lot (Remember the UNIX way: small simple things you can understand and replace quickly)

– Gnome isn’t something that doesn’t have good or better replacements (Unity and Xfce come to mind if we want to consider gtk+)

I already switched from Gnome to e17 long time ago since I want that the WM/visual shell doesn’t get in my way and let me do what I want as I want.

Keeping Posix as baseline is important. Having your software working in different environments help you spot bugs quickly, get a more wider audience and generally improve. Even if I don’t particularly like KDE still I consider their approach to make porting KDE everywhere as easy as possible laudable.


Sebastian asked me if there could be something constructive about this post since it looks pretty much a rant. Well, most of the post IS a rant (and categorized as that) and a not so humble request to not rush adopting/forcing upon people random technologies as they are sound and tested when they are not at all.

There isn’t anything constructive to be said, I just hope that we don’t have yet another situation like the one we had with other unproven technologies forced upon people like HAL had been.

On a side note, not completely related I wonder why people wants systemd  and doesn’t ask us to adopt upstart then. It is from Ubuntu as systemd is from Fedora, and Ubuntu at least tries to be present in non-desktop environments while Fedora is quite focused on the Desktop and only that.

Gentoo has OpenRC as init system. It is simpler and smaller. Works well in quite a good number of environments and for a quite large deal of situations. Surely there is space for improvements but at least does not require daemons to be written for it and had been tested in years.


Probably you already know that my side of FFmpeg got forced to rename itself to Libav. Some people is still wondering why we did that, you might read some short and longer summaries, have a look at our git or our mailing lists to see how we are faring and where we are heading.

So far I’m quite happy with what we are achieving little by little and day by day: a shared and quite defined plan for the future of the library, releases being a first class citizen, long standing issues being tackled and solved.

We were sorely lacking in the communication side and now we are trying to improve there as well. (This blog post and the website work is just part of it)

In the Gentoo land Scarabeus helped me adding libav, now it is pending some migration work to have all the software working with both libav and ffmpeg.

I hope you’ll be pleased by the outcome (people longing for the multithread work being fully merged I think are).

CMake vs autotools: poppler

Poppler has a CMake ebuild now. Given how poppler is used it seems to me quite a bad move, poppler is small and used in system that may not have cmake already installed.

I run some numbers when wesnoth moved to cmake and claimed that it took about twice for me to build wesnoth+cmake on a phenom and building wesnoth alone took nearly the same time. Later a friend of mine wanted to play with me with wesnoth and given her pc is a _bit_ old, took ages to build an up to date wesnoth, about twice the time you may consider bearable thanks to the cmake switch.

Let’s see what means switching poppler to CMake now, after the previous post I got some news of nice improvements, hopefully it improved even more while I wasn’t watching.

Now some numbers:

I have my system in need to update poppler, still the phenom I used the other time, it is doing nothing right now:

cat /proc/cpuinfo | grep model_name
model name : AMD Phenom(tm) 9500 Quad-Core Processor

first: I need cmake

cmake ebuild tell me that I need xmlrpc-c with curl and curl with a kind of ssl support. I don’t see the point of having an xmlrpc library and two xml libraries for a make system, well let’s set the right useflags and trigger emerge cmake

time says

real 8m9.854s
user 13m8.121s
sys 3m7.664s

qlop on the cut down emerge.log says

domino ~ # qlop -t cmake -f mylog
cmake: 207 seconds average for 1 merges
domino ~ # qlop -t curl -f mylog
curl: 233 seconds average for 1 merges
domino ~ # qlop -t xmlrpc-c -f mylog
xmlrpc-c: 40 seconds average for 1 merges

So cmake is taking about the time of curl and it’s indeed faster to build that before (it alone), still autoconf+autotools take less than 60s here, and if we factor in the deps then we still have large margin for improvements (please make xmlrpc-c, curl, libxml and expat optional)


takes about 37-40 seconds

Hacking a bare ebuild w/out touching poppler makes it take about 60-66 seconds

So if you are having cmake already installed this poppler ebuild is _quite_ an huge improvement. If you are wondering why that happens I could guess that given that poppler is quite small the cmake quicker configure step gives this large boost, probably not having libtool in the way helps as well.

To sum up:
– the cmake poppler builds quite faster than autotools poppler.
– CMake improved a lot its build time, yet is largely bloated and could enjoy a trim.
– Poppler probably could be improved to be in line with the cmake times.

VLC Days vs Airfrance

Today I got an interesting email from airfrance…

> Dear Madam, dear Sir,
> We inform you that the flight AF1103 18/12 TURIN PARIS is cancelled.
> We thank you for your understanding.
> Please do not respond to this mail.

I’m heading to the airport now to see what’s going on wish me luck =)


I got some snow delays but in the end I managed to get to the Epitech (many thanks to jb that guided me sms by sms ^^).

The VLC Days were quite nice (a bit sad that what I wanted to show about feng got killed by the network crash) and hopefully we’ll meet again in fosdem =)

The Troll beer got appreciated (so much that _somebody_ proposed it as official FFmpeg beer, I’ll contact them soon to see if they like the idea)

That said I’m about to fight snow delays again to reach Narita, wish me good luck ^^

Paypal and nationality…

I do not have a paypal account.

I do have a credit card (AMEX) and I’m living in Italy.

Today I tried to setup an account and bind it to my card. I dislike localizations so the first thing I did was having it keeping the English language after I had to tell the system I’m Italian.
Well I registered and everything went smooth till the point of telling paypal the card I want to use…
I followed the links and… =_= Oh, my card isn’t in the list…
Strange. Let’s try to use the contact module to see what’s wrong and… Oh, it says that it isn’t available for “U.S. English”, I should go to my preferences and switch it to Italian…

In the end apparently IF I’m Italian I cannot use AMEX…

Paypal sucks?

Creppolo “l’ottavo nano” and short sighted politicians

Last week I spend some time visiting some friends in Massa, a quite nice city near a quite nice seaside. It’s all fine with sand, sea and the usual places where to relax. We went in a crepe and piadina shop, there we found the owner pretty depressed: he is thinking about closing the shop by the summer.

Though times you think, well no, Creppolo is quite known and lots of people gather there by the day and by the night, if you want to eat something tasty during the night and you are around there you’ll probably end up there… So, why closing? Well apparently the municipality council/major doesn’t like to have shops open the whole night (even if it’s a tourist city in the seaside…) and decided that by 2AM every shop MUST be closed. Creppolo made most of its sells between midnight and 4AM.

That is pretty annoying since I liked that place and pretty annoying for all the other shops that sell stuff at night (there are many). I always appreciate the short-sightedness of the people elected by people.

Today it’s an election day for the Europe, please make sure you don’t miss this chance to vote somebody that won’t spoil your hard work ^^

Communication, utf8?, strong words

That’s a follow up from Diego about somebody quite angry that went to vent a bit too much and got quite a backslash. Then he got also some issues with his blogging software hiding all the comments about his rant. Now things are more or less normal and you can read the comments again.

Given I’m the first using strong words about software I dislike (like cmake) I try to be ready to be proven wrong. Since that usually means that that either I got somebody planting some clues on me with the proper bat or things improve in the mean time, both cases usually I’m happy/happier to be proven wrong. Being wrong is something that may happen.

Now, I hope that what Matti and Boudewijn did was out of frustration, since I assume that after stupidity and before malice. If you release something it’s YOUR FAULT if it’s broken since YOU are the committer in your tree. Smearing other people to cover the fact YOU, too, messed up is plainly wrong…

Benchmarks – howto

Here a bullet list about doing benchmarks

  • Reproducibility: your numbers worth nothing if nobody could reproduce them, so you have to give along them a script or a detailed description of what you did.
  • Statistics: outliers and other artefacts may screw your results, make sure your script is run enough times
  • Indices and values: if you want to proof something you need hard numbers possibly something everybody can understand easily and cannot be misunderstood: cpu cycles, time to complete, memory usage, are quite good, given you aren’t testing on particularly different architectures or systems.

Quite short, isn’t it? Still many people just state their values by inference (like “it ought to do 2x the syscalls thus should be twice slow”), or just tries to benchmark something that isn’t what you want to test (like “glxgears is slower now, mesa is slower at rendering complex scenes”) or have a quite different settings and configurations (think about having your application with a minimal configuration and the same one with a larger one)

Usually the best way to get a meaningful benchmark is preparing a script and give instructions about how to use (like which version of companion software are you using) and then provide the numbers (media with variance if you are inclined) and a summary of the system, this way others can play and try themselves. This is quite useful since the optimization you are working on may be great on gcc4.3 on PowerPC but be problematic on x86 with gcc-2.95.

Other times you want just people to compare something that is _quite_ influenced by the surrounding system or is annoying to setup, in those cases having a full system image is quite a boon, _everything_ could be the same. And given how easy is to use virtualization/emulation software nowadays it just take a bit of bandwidth.