Tuesday, December 31, 2013

HKTrip13 - Day 1 - Ocean Park

This installment covers our visit to the Ocean Park theme park in Hong Kong. We only managed to spend an afternoon there (though at least there were no queues for most things - apart from the Cable Car and the Ocean Express to get back down the mountain). Nevertheless, it was a great place to visit. Personally, I particularly loved the Grand Aquarium, Goldfish corner, and the pandas.

HKTrip13 - Day 1

This installment covers some highlights of Day 1, including a visit to the Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant in Aberdeen.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

HKTrip13 - Inside the MTR

One of the things that impressed me the most on my previous visits to Hong Kong was the MTR system.

Whether it was the grand scale of the architecture, the novelty of the facilities (i.e. trains behind automated barrier doors, standing-room only transport, an interconnected underground network for getting from nearly one place to another without having to face the wind and the rain), or the brutal efficiency of the whole system as hordes of people are carted off in waves up and down escalators, on and off carriages, and in and out of the city in general. I also lamented at the time not really getting any shots of any of it - partly out of being unsure whether photography was allowed down there, but also since the speed that the crowds moved at made hauling a camera out slightly hazardous. Not this time though!

HKTrip13 - Sunrises

One of the best parts of staying at the Harbour Grand Kowloon (weather permitting) was getting to watch the sun rising in the east (though in my southern-hemisphere worldview, it always seemed to be rising in the west and setting in the east XD). And not just once... but 3 times!

HKTrip13 - Harbour Grand Kowloon

This time, we stayed at the Harbour Grand Kowloon hotel in Hung Hom. Having made a short trip there last year to visit a friend who was staying there for a few days, I decided that it this the next time I visited Hong Kong I was going to stay there, and finally experience living in a "real" hotel (i.e. one that looks and feels like one, complete with whatever other services/utilities). It was more than worth it :)

HKTrip13 - Flying to Hong Kong

This is the first of several posts in a series about my recent holidays in Hong Kong. It covers the flights and arrival in Hong Kong from Christchurch.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Season's Greetings

It's that time of the year again...

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! 

I'll leave you with some of the festive scenes on show in Hong Kong from my trip a few weeks ago.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Taming and Return to Windows 8

For the past 2 months, I've been using Linux almost exclusively for all my serious computing work (not including early-morning web/news/email checkups on my Android tablet). But since yesterday, I'm now spending a bit more time in Windows again. Read on for details of how/why this came up, and what I needed to do to make this a viable option.

Firstly, some screenshots of what this now looks like :)

"File Explorer" opening without starting in one of the blasted "libraries". Note the nice theming on show everywhere. For example, check out all the window border themeing and transparency effects, scrollbars, back/forward buttons, taskbar, etc.

A start menu again - with good access provided to everything that's important. Namely, quick shutdown/sleep access, documents/downloads/pictures access, quick navigation to folders without clicking (via cascading menus on the "Computer" entry)

The "fixed" taskbar - quick launchers for apps without having the confusion that pinning them causes (i.e. pinned app launcher becomes the window indicator), and multiple instances of the same app can be opened without appearing beside each other.

Monday, December 9, 2013

[FAILED] Getting Ralink RT3290 Wifi working on Linux Mint 15 (and HP Envy 17)

After almost 2 months of procrastinating and hoping that the default wifi drivers did in fact work well, I've finally bitten the bullet and gone ahead to replace the wifi drivers for my HP Envy 17 under Linux.

A bit of history:
- When I tried the LiveCD way back in late September/early October, wifi stability was spotty at best - frequently timing out, dropping out, and gradually getting slower as a session wore on.
- After installing Linux for real though, I didn't encounter any more of these stability problems during everyday use. At least for the first month!
- Last month, I started observing a few cases where wifi stability was really crap:
  1) At uni, where not only was signal strength weak, but the connection would frequently drop or refuse to connect, even after I fixed the logon issues,
  2) it was impossible to use the wifi on this laptop in the lounge, especially with about 3 other devices nearby, yet this setup worked perfectly under Windows 8!
- After returning from holiday, my connection has been really bad and spotty. In fact, it's been really hard trying to upload photos and posts on my blog (like the one yesterday), as everything just kept timing out and/or randomly dropping out. Google web apps like Blogger and Picasa seemed to be hit the worst, though even Google+ image loading was affected. All in all, it was a really frustrating experience!

EDIT: Moments after writing the last paragraph of this post, I got a kernel panic. Depending on how things go, I may/may not need to revert these changes if this instability continues...

EDIT 2: It appears that the kernel panics aren't a random occurrence, but rather something more pathological. So, I've been forced to roll back to the crappy and unstable (but non-crashing) default drivers :(

EDIT 3: After some more digging, it appears that my wifi router's firewall has apparently been hell-banning my laptop for apparent DoS activity (usually corresponding with me trying to load image-heavy, Google-hosted sites!) on some of the days when I haven't been able to connect at all. This follows some suspicious activity coming from an unknown (and untraceable) IP address last week. All in all, there've been a lot of weird happenings since I got back!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Back from Holidays in Hong Kong

How time flies. After 6 wonderful days in Hong Kong, I'm now back home in Christchurch again (and have been for the past few days - sorting through my significant stash of photos and unpacking).
Sunrise from my hotel room :)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holiday Time

In what is quickly becoming a bit of a tradition, tomorrow I'm heading off on holiday for a week. However, in a bit of a break from tradition, this time I'll finally be able to see a full Friday and Saturday in Hong Kong (since on previous trips I've always ended up arriving late on Saturday, and leaving on Thursday/Friday).

During this time, I'll have limited (if any) connectivity - a good chance to take a bit of a break and also to get some serious exercise! Char Leong, MTR, Christmas Lights: here I come!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Caminandes 2 Released

In case you haven't heard, Caminandes 2 has been released online.

Congrats to Pablo and the rest of the team for another entertaining short :)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoughts on Rebase-Based Git Workflows - Rebase Considered Harmful

Personally, I'm not a fan of the "rebase" tool in Git workflows. Having initially tried it when starting out using Git over 2 years ago, abandoning it not long afterwards, and finally having to (grudgingly) start using it again for Blender's repos, IMO, it ends up being more of a hassle than benefit.

In all my other repos, I've settled on using an GitFlow-inspired workflow, which I think works better in the long run for distributed/parallel development streams with small granular commits - something we're slowly migrating towards. This post discusses some of my concerns with rebase-based workflows, and the kinds of issues that arise from using it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Assorted Linux Tweaks - Over a Month in Linux

Here's another list of various tweaks I've made to my setup today to get it working with all the hardware I have (and a request for help!)

These include:
* Preventing USB Mouse poweroff on battery power
* Fixing video playback (green screen) issues in Qt applications
* Finding CA Certificates to get eduroam Wifi Working
* Avoiding duplicate entries in Bash up-arrow history

Monday, November 18, 2013

Blender Git Migration - Productivity Tips for using Git Gui

As I've written about before, IMO the "Git Gui" frontend is one of the best tools around. Sure, it looks butt ugly - like some nasty 90's relic when run on anything other than Windows (surprisingly!) - but what it lacks it more than makes up for in terms of being 1) flexible and easily extensible, and 2) it very clearly exposes you to the Git tools and workflow as it was meant to be done.

For all the pretty gloss and extra OS integration that all the others offer, you'll find that they fall down miserably on these fronts, and eventually end up just complicating things a bit.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blender Git Migration - Getting the sources for devs with commit access (as of Nov 16, 13:57 UTC)

As you may have heard, Blender development is finally moving over to Git. This is the second version control system switchover that's occurred over the years that I've been involved in Blender (the first being the CVS to SVN switch; and event that I still remember!).

After several delays, the repository is finally in place this evening, so I tried cloning (i.e. grabbing the sources) from this repository to get my dev setup with this sorted out again. Thanks to Sergey for help resolving some of the issues I encountered - hopefully many of these will be resolved by the time many of you start using this for real.

NOTE: These notes are only for developers with commit access to the main Blender.org repository. For everyone else, the
git clone --recursive git://git.blender.org/blender.git
on the wiki is the recommended procedure.

EDIT: Also, I'd strongly recommend using the setup I describe in my followup post.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Getting NVidia Optimus + Intel HD 4600 + NVidia 740M on Linux Mint 15 (64-bit) Working

I've been postponing this (fixing up the graphics drivers) step of my Linux dual-boot setup on my HP Envy 17-j007tx process for a few weeks, but today I finally got around to sorting out these issues.

This had been put off several times already, given the various tight deadlines I was facing and the fact that apart from some minor inconvenient issues (i.e. heat issues + shortened battery life + a few OpenGL rendering glitches) there weren't any really pressing issues for which it was essential that I got my NVidia card working (especially considering the price of failure: a non-functioning Linux setup, potentially with a forced return to Windows 8).

Friday, November 8, 2013

Silvereyes in Action [Video]

This evening, I returned to my desk to find two silvereyes happily munching away, the closest just centimeters from the window. Not wanting to frighten them off, I decided to try capturing some video of their antics...

"This is the life!" - A plump silvereye surrounded by an all-you-can-eat buffet, leisurely munching away.

"Clumsy Silvereye" - This is one of my two favourite clips from today. I crack up every time I watch the antics of the hungry, clumsy, and slightly plump silvereye in this clip. So cute!

There's also a third video, but I'll hold off uploading that one lest I inadvertently overuse my bandwidth allowance and suffer Internet downtime for the next few days (not that I won't now :/) due to crappy throttling which results in frequent infuriating timeouts. Here it is, uploaded from where with a faster and less bandwidth limited connection. (BTW, the downtime from last time lasted 3-4 days)

"Close Up" - A silvereye dining right up against my window.

Blender Tip: Disabling Path Following for Curve Parents

Recently I investigated a bug report and a similar thread on BlenderArtists about how to have greater control over how objects behave when parented to curves.

For instance, sometimes you want to parent one object to the curve object, so that the two components will be translated/rotated/scaled together. That is, when you go into edit mode on the curve and try to move the endpoints of the curve, the position of the child objects should not change, moving relative to the moved points.

To have child objects ignore changes to the curve path, simply disable the checkbox in the "Path Animation" panel header. This setting controls whether a "Path" (i.e. a tessellated representation of the first curve island within a curve datablock, with positions on this accessed using a parametric parameter - similar to the "Offset Factor" in the Follow Path constraint) is generated and used to determine the parent location that child objects see. It is enabled by default to make curve following animations easier to achieve.

Silvereye Season

November is one of my favourite months of each year, as that's when the bottlebrush outside my window flowers, attracting the silvereyes within close range to feast. In past years, it's usually at least the second week (or after the 10th) before the bottlebrush really starts to flower. But this year, it's some 2-3 weeks early, and is currently in full bloom!

So far, I've seen at least 3-4 different birds coming in this year. So far, it seems that one of them has an orange patch on its head, and there's a pair of them which often come together.

This year, they seem quite tame, and in general don't seem quite so scared about my presence as they happily feast on for several minutes even while I'm following them intently with a telephoto lens pointed straight at them and clicking away noisily (having a convenient clump of flowers which stick up above the rest but still within close camera range helps too :)

On some days though, they've been a bit sneaky: it's like they have a sixth sense which lets them know if I'm sitting at my desk or not. For example, I once caught a flock having a free-for-all one day after having wandered off for just 5 minutes! They didn't even make a single noise as they happily dined!

(Side Note: I'm currently still in the process of adjusting my photography workflow on Linux. Apart from adapting to some new software/hardware support issues, I'm still struggling a bit with monitor calibration on this laptop. In its default configuration, yellows and blues have some rather sickly casts, which have been somewhat tricky to entirely correct).

WIP Experiment - Including Relevant Parameters in Keymap Names

Today for a bit of a challenge, I've been playing around with the keymaps editor UI to try and get it to display more helpful names for operators. As anyone who's played with this knows, it's not terribly helpful right now when you're faced with a list of 10 items in a row labelled "Context Enum Toggle" and each with different hotkeys ;)

DISCLAIMER: The following screenshots merely demonstrate a highly proof-of-concept hack aimed at establishing techniques for successfully extracting the necessary info out of the PyAPI. In practice, this has been much less cooperative than I'd have liked, so the ways that these things are actually presented is less than optimal.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Release Notes for Blender 2.68 and 2.69

It's been a few months since I last made a post highlighting some of the changes to animation-related features in Blender. During that time, we've had 2 (!) major releases. So, it's probably time that we caught up on things a bit :)

Since it has been quite a few months, I may have missed some changes in the following highlights. Also, since it's getting a bit difficult to remember which version exactly some of these changes occurred in, I've just clustered these by category instead.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A few sketches and busy-stressful times...

Just a few fun sketches I made last night to wind down before having an early night for the first time in nearly two weeks.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

GSoC2013 T-Shirt and Certificate

This morning, I finally received my T-Shirt and Certificate for Google Summer of Code 2013 :)

When my schedule/workload allows (perhaps mid-November/December), I'll start looking into getting the new depsgraph <-> Blender integration work under way. In the meantime, back to the academic trenches!

Canon 7D and Linux Mint 15 64-bit (With USB 3.0 ports)

Yay! After over a week of failed attempts, this evening I finally managed to get Linux importing photos off my Canon 7D.

"Grape Flowers" - One of the images I managed to import off

Searching around on the internet, apparently this is a very common problem ([1] [2]) for 64-bit Ubuntu-based systems (12.10 onwards or so) with USB 3.0 ports (USB ports are apparently unaffected).

I managed to get this working by following the instructions here, and using digikam to import.
I can probably get this working with another application as well (e.g. gtkam - I'll try that next time, since digikam doesn't really create directories that well)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Blender Tip: Keyframe Selection Hotkeys

Yesterday while browsing the comments section the Caminades blog, I noticed a feature request relating to a feature to select all the keyframes within a channel in the DopeSheet Editor. At the time, I thought: surely this already exists! I'm sure I've implemented something like this, which was ported over from an earlier feature in the old 2.4x days... Apparently I did implement said feature, but apparently only in the Graph Editor! Grief!

While checking out the code for the mappings used, I realised that it would be handy to let animators out there know what the mappings were. I've probably posted about these in the past, and if I have, it's probably been a while since I did so and people may not have seen it (or have forgotten by now). So, a little reminder probably won't hurt.

So, without further ado, here's the logic behind the current mappings.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

One Week of Linux

So, it's been just over a week since I switched my laptop over to a dual-boot setup with Windows 8 and Linux Mint 15. (Has it really only been one week?!)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Orange Fish

Today, I came across the following fish in one of the aquariums I visit from time to time:

Apologies for the image quality - it was an impromptu shot taken using my ultra-crappy phone's camera (which promptly died a few shots later, just when I had lined up another really nice shot of another new arrival in the tank).

EDIT: Apparently, this is a "Sea Perch"

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Linux Dual Booting Adventures: Part 3 - Installing Linux (Tutorial for HP Envy 17-jXXX)

In this post, I'm going to try to document the process I used for installing Linux Mint 15 (Cinnamon) on my HP Envy 17-j007tx alongside the preinstalled Windows 8. Hopefully this will be useful to someone out there, just like the post that I based much of this process on helped me (cheers to Larry Mulcahy!)

I'll start with a condensed version of the process I employed. Along the way, various missteps taken will be noted/numbered, and discussed at the end.

Ok, let's get started!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Linux Dual Booting Adventures - Part 2: Installed at Last!

As of about 2 hours ago, Linux Mint has been installed on my laptop, and as of just under an hour ago, I've managed to get it into a stable configuration so that I can start it up normally :)

Say Hello "hippoalpha"

The setup process has not been without some very hairy moments. And, the setup I've got right now is not actually completely configured correctly yet...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Linux Dual Booting Adventures - Part 1: Getting the LiveCD Working

Last Wednesday, I finally managed to get the Linux Mint Live CD running on my new laptop, after over a week of failed attempts and a lot of reading online. Moments later, there was a strange wind outside, and the sky looked something like below:

Sunday, October 6, 2013

LaTeX Tip: How to define variable like \subtitle{...} which can be used from the preamble

Quite often when working with LaTeX, it is quite convenient to be able to define things like subtitles and/or other extra fields to be included in the title section, as per the screenshot below:

Now, before we go any further, I should mention that I am aware of the existence of ready-made custom document classes out there in the wild which often provide the necessary bits and pieces already. But, for argument sake, let's say that we want to keep things lightweight (i.e. fewer deps on external packages) or want to know how to do this in future should the need arise.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thoughts on Windows 8 and a New Laptop

A few weeks ago, I finally bought a new laptop as the successor for my long serving and well loved Toshiba. As much as I love the computing setup I have on the Toshiba (including what IMO is the best keyboard around. Period.), in recent months, a number of factors have conspired to remind me that eventually, I'd have to find (and adapt) to working with a successor for it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Argh! Stupid Automatic Updates!

I've been slowly coming to the view that "automatic updates" are evil.  E V I L!

Of course, there are some valid uses for this (from a software engineering perspective): namely for distributing critical security patches to users who would otherwise never install them let alone know that they were available. However, apart from that very small corner case, it is NOT ACCEPTABLE that automatic updates are able to barge their way onto users' devices, steamrolling working setups and workflows with little to no option for users to choose otherwise.

In particular, it is particularly not acceptable that an update which completely rearranges the UI, removes valuable point-of-difference functionality, and in the process also manages to make previously beautiful interfaces look like a pile of steaming crap designed by preschoolers, should be forced upon users without any way of opting out or easily rolling back to the previous setup.

This is the situation I find myself in with my tablet this morning, after it had a forced firmware update pushed and downloaded to it this morning.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Caminandes - Episode 2 Open Movie Announced

Following the success of the first episode of the Caminandes (or "Llama Drama") short, the original team have been joined by several other well known Blender artists to produce a second installment as a Blender Foundation Open Movie Project in Amsterdam!

Follow the team's progress on their blog and join the presale funding campaign! I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spring has Sprung

Over the weekend, the weather here was really nice, with the spring flowers in full bloom...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Depsgraph - First Milestone Reached - Depsgraph Module Compiles!

I'm pleased to announce that the first milestone towards getting the new Depsgraph engine into Blender has finally been passed. As of a few minutes ago (4pm local time, 14th September 2013), the code I've been working on in a separate repo can now be dropped into the Blender codebase and compiled (*). Woohoo!

(*) Of course, a few caveats do still apply ;)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wild Windy Weather

Wow! What a night it's been...