Mango / Tears of Steel

Tears of Steel is the fourth film (and the first live-action short) by the blender foundation and a giant leap forward for the community and the software. It is a sci-fi film that showcases recent work on blender, including Compositing, the Cycles render engine and many of the features introduced in the blender 2.6x series, like BMesh.

Like most blender foundation films, this one suffers from the the usual suspects: bad audio, bad accents and now, for the first time, they are complemented by pretty bad acting (the guy with the monocle is borderline unbearable) and a somewhat frustrating script; surprisingly I found the music to be more than decent; yet the true value of this film is the amazing work on blender and the impressive gfx and cgi the artists created for it. If anything, leaving æsthetics aside, Tears of Steel successfully showcases how far blender has come and will hopefully spur more people to contribute and use this amazing piece of open source software.


» TextMate 2 is now available under GPL3!

Who would’ve thought a few years ago that this day would come! Given the success of TextMate 1.x and the unprecedented delay in releasing TextMate 2, I guess open sourcing it makes sense. But GPL3? Really?



The spirit of the community (AOSP 2.3 source is out!)

Android 2.3 was announced a few days ago. The previous day, CyanogenMod 6.1, the most popular community mod was released, based on Froyo (2.2). And today, just a short two weeks after the announcement, the source code for the latest version of Android is being released!

The release marks the end of the 2.x era, with Google, most definitely, working hard on the 3.x series aimed for release in the first quarter of 2011 and — hopefully — taking the fight with iOS up a notch. Just an hour ago cyanogen posted this on twitter:

If you need me, I’ll be locked in my room for the next 3 days. #gingerbread

I feel that right now that’s precisely what makes Android sell, and by extension the popularity and characteristics of such projects give many clues on the demographics of those buying Android devices.

In other words, the ‘magic’ of the platform is its rapid evolution and by extension its community (a community that is largely technology oriented), something not to be found in HTC’s or Samsung’s wanna-be iPhone devices (or their mediocre software), Sony Ericsson’s lifestyle apps or Motorola’s ‘macho’ Droid phone and its seriously bad Motoblur. These are commercial parts of a nascent platform that — until now — enthuse few outside the technology community.

Stuff like CyanogenMod are exciting because they evolve extremely fast and at the same time let your imagination run wild with features that half-baked commercial Android ‘flavours’ couldn’t never have. A combination — and even the ‘controlled’, sterile in a way, yet amazingly polished environments like iOS lacks.

And this is, sadly, something that most major Android device manufacturers don’t get, judging by the effort they put in locking their products down, the amount of crapware they bundle with them and the restrictions they place to their customers.

By the way, if you’re using a supported device, like e.g. the HTC Desire, I recommend you get rid of Sense right now, get CyanogenMod, or another mod if so you prefer, and turn the damn thing into a usable gadget. You won’t regret it*.

*If you do, I won’t be held responsible for any damage you may cause to your device.


» The Document Foundation

The greatest news for the project-formerly-known-as OpenOffice.org, since it became free software a decade ago. Let’s hope that the new maintainers/leaders of the project and the commercial ‘supporters’ listed on the web site will make LibreOffice a worthy competitor in the age of cloud computing, SaaS and Google’s impending dominance (viz. Google Apps) of the market.



Blender 3D. Professional 3D graphics commoditisation in progress.

I’ve mentioned blender before; it’s one of the open source projects that I’ve followed for years, a project that I love and one that’s has consistently impressed me since I spent a weekend learning the basics of its operation in 2002. At Cosmical Technology, we’ve been using blender for quite a while; some of the GEO|ADS graphics (e.g. the globe with the atmosphere originally used in the GEO|ADS service page), some of the AthensBook graphics and other creative work that we’ve been doing over the years are based on, or are themselves blender renders; we’ve used it for glass surfaces, cloth simulation (the ‘covered up’ icon we used in various presentations and this blog post from 2009) and many other features that were relatively recently added and take blender to a whole new level.

This open source project has been a staple of our ‘design’ arsenal for a while, and while it is by no means (yet) a competitor to the mid to high level commercial products that cost thousands of euros and people use exclusively for films and video games, it should definitely be in their radars as it’s going to be giving them a run for their money sooner than they expect.

Version 2.6 will bring an overhauled core, make most of the application scriptable/automated — in the process allowing for sophisticated add-ons (and hopefully a great community), improve performance (in some areas by a factor of 4-5x), and will introduce a rethinked UI that seems extremely promising. I’ve been goofing around with the 2.5 alpha builds ever since they appeared and while they were extremely unstable they were a great introduction to the new way of working with the application. Recently 2.54 (beta) came out and this is a build that seems to be usable for most of our work. One of the areas that blender 2.5x has I’ve dabbled a bit in the past few weeks is sculpting, a feature that was only found in specialised commercial software packages just a couple of years ago and one that’s still a hot topic.

In the process of acclimatising with sculpting in blender 2.54 I created a — trivially simple — 5 minute (wannabe) moon-like surface on a subdivided cube. The face count on this graphic was in the millions and blender performed admirably. There are still several catches (e.g. performance improves significantly if you start with a subdivided surface), and I’m sure that the final 2.6 will — once again — surprise everyone with how much better it is than the beta, but I’m extremely impressed by the work the blender developers have done.

In a few short years and with some additional work on a few key areas where blender is currently lacking (the built-in renderer and integration with external ones comes to mind), I’m sure that blender will become the choice of more and more professional 3d artists for their work, let alone amateurs like myself.



Why Desktop Linux Sucks

“…And what can we do about it”. Linux usability (and the sorry state of desktop linux) has become a staple of this blog, but bear with me for a bit. Here’s a video by Bryan Lunduke from the Linux Action Show with reasons why the linux desktop still sucks for many (most) users. This comes from someone that like linux and wants to see it succeed; most of the stuff mentioned is pretty valid criticism that touches upon the lack of cohesion, regressions, QA and many other aspects of modern linux distributions.


» One Big Problem.

If there is any one big problem with kernel development and Linux it is the complete disconnection of the development process from normal users. You know, the ones who constitute 99.9% of the Linux user base.

Con Kolivas, 2007

An interesting interview and some views on the priorities of the linux development community and the history of the personal computer that I generally agree with. Con’s quoted statement sadly rings true for Open Source development in general. After years of development, the Linux Desktop, the applications, the libraries, the documentation seem incomplete, archaic, chaotic and riddled with critical, esoteric issues that the ‘fix it yourself’ mentality of the stereotypical linux hacker is not going to remedy; that — if anything — is what keeps the wonderful idea of FLOSS from attaining the position it deserves.


» Κλειστό Λογισμικό = Τριτοκοσμική Χώρα

Αυτή φαίνεται — σε μεγάλο βαθμό — να είναι η σχέση που μας δείχνει ο χάρτης του Ανοιχτού Λογισμικού της Red Hat, παρά τη κοινή πεποίθηση πως οι φτωχότερες χώρες διεθνώς τείνουν να κάνουν χρήση αλλά και να αναπτύσσουν ανοιχτό λογισμικό. Και για όσους αμφέβαλλαν, η Ελλάδα στο νούμερο 53 στη γενική κατάταξη μεταξύ 75 χωρών, είναι ίσως το κατ’εξοχήν παράδειγμα ‘τριτοκοσμικής’ χώρας, ενώ παράλληλα η Ευρώπη οδηγεί τον κόσμο σε χρήση και ανάπτυξη ανοιχτού λογισμικού. Και γράφωντας ‘Ευρώπη’ δεν εννοώ μόνον τις πλέον ανεπτυγμένες χώρες όπως η Γαλλία, η Ισπανία, η Γερμανία κλπ. Συμπεριλαμβάνω ακόμη και γείτονες σε εμάς χώρες, που πολλοί Έλληνες γρήγορα θα έσπευδαν να χαρακτηρίσουν ως οπισθοδρομικές.


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