Richard Jones' Log

Sat, 11 Jun 2005
HTPC update

My Home Theatre PC project is progressing slowly. Very slowly.

The only stumbling block is the VIA chipset on the motherboard that handles video and TV-Out. It's a K8M800 chipset, and is supported by the open-source unichrome project (quite different from VIA's "open source initiative", which is anything but open-source). Thanks to that project, I have the chipset displaying X11 on a monitor fine. There's even some acceleration beyond the standard VESA drivers. Unfortunately, it seems the K8M800 chipset has a bug. Or the BIOS does. Or the Linux kernel does (though I'm given the impression that the chipset is at fault). Regardless who is at fault, there's a runaway IRQ 16 that the kernel can't cope with, and causes the DRI module to switch off (before anyone says anything, no, APIC isn't a cause or solution). In the end, I have to disable Vblank IRQs, which degrades performance. I can still play DVD full-screen, it's just at a higher CPU load.

On the TV-Out front, things aren't working there either. I've got a picture, but ... well it's not so good (it looks to me as though the interlacing isn't synchronising correctly).

So I'm still thinking that I will need to get a separate video card for the box. Or I've been thinking about throwing in the towel and just using the little box as my new desktop. That'd be a shame, and I'm willing to give the Unichrome developers more time to try to sort out the TV-Out issues.

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Wed, 08 Jun 2005
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

I just finished Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It's her first novel, and it's well worth it. It weighs in at 782 pages and has taken me several weeks to read.

It follows the resurgence of English Magic in an alternate-history England around the turn of the 19th century -- in particular two magicians of quite different character. As a period novel, it is quite faithful to the times (as I understand them) and the whole book has an air of authenticity.

Even though it was almost 800 pages, I never found it to be slow or dull. In fact, around the time my bookmark was about a novel's-width from the end (about 2/3 of the thickness of the book) I could feel the pace quickening a little and an end coming on. Then, even though the last 200-250 pages could be considered the final act, it was still a great read.

The main characters exhibited a comfortable blend of complexity and growth through the novel. The supporting cast added flavour and was kept a reasonable size so was never difficult to keep track of. The plethora of footnotes (some of which spanned pages) also added colour and authenticity by expanding on little stories mentioned in passing by the characters, or by making references to other, fictional works.