jlm-blog
~jlm

25-Aug-2018

Open source CPUs are not new

Filed under: general — jlm @ 23:25

There’s this video going around “An Open Source CPU!?” about SiFive’s implementation of RISC-V being “an open source CPU”, but it’s so duplicitous that I wanted to tear out my hair as I watched it. RISC-V is an interesting and worthy project, but the video is misleading in so many ways it’s hard to know where to begin.

For one thing, the x86-16 ISA wasn’t just hacked up in a few weeks from nothing. Intel’s architects spent months on it, and it was based on Intel’s 8-bit 8080 ISA, which was in turn informed by the experience of their earlier 8008 ISA. It had also already been on the market for a few years by the time IBM got around to the PC. For another thing, the x86-32 ISA was hardly lacking competition during its era of desktop dominance, with Motorola’s 65000, IBM’s Power Architecture, and DEC’s Alpha all big-name-backed ISAs trying to displace it. When the time came for 64-bit PCs, even Intel itself failed in its attempt to push a new kind of ISA for the PC market with its Itanium architecture.

Regarding the RISC/CISC divide, it is true that CISC processors don’t execute their ISA instructions directly in hardware now, but instead run RISC microcode (because RISC instruction-handling circuitry executes faster and is easier to design) for a CISC ISA interpreter. But that doesn’t mean RISC is best for application or system code, because microcode has no instruction cache! In the embedded systems and mobile-device markets, ARM had to abandon the “elegant” simplicity of their RISC ISA and supplement it with non-RISC “Thumb” and then “Thumb-2” extensions to raise its code density (important on small processors with small instruction caches) to keep x86 ISA microcontrollers, with their dense CISC code and ever-decreasing prices, at bay. As is often the case when competing technologies butt heads, the best solution is to find a way to use the advantages of both!

The video’s title is “An Open Source CPU!?” — and this is its biggest lie, because SiFive’s CPU being open is presented as something new, which is very much not true. Even if you dismiss all CISC designs as unworthy, there are open RISC specs with open source implementations that predate RISC-V, both grassroots and of commercial origin. Furthermore, SiFive’s CPU not only isn’t the first open source RISC processor, it’s not even the first open source RISC-V processor! You can get open source implementations of RISC-V here (VexRiscv) or here (ORCA) or here (Sodor).

This video is just an advertisement of SiFive’s pretending to be an independent informational video, spreading misinformation about the history and present state of microprocessors. (For your amusement, go and pause the video around 6m12s — the presenter is stating the inferiority of other open ISAs compared to RISC-V while showing a changelog on GitHub. But the changelog shown is not that of anything to do with another ISA, but the opposite: it’s actually the changelog for the port of gdb to RISC-V! The presenter could have grabbed a screenshot from the GitHub pages of the ZPU project with insignificant additional effort and shown something that was actually applicable to his claim, but once you’ve stepped off the straight-and-narrow path of honesty onto the wide highway of dishonesty, why bother?)

In short, that video is complete and utter BS, the presenter should be downvoted into YouTube oblivion, you should never pay one red cent for anything from SiFive, and RISC-V deserves better. It’s strong enough that it should be able to fight honestly, and having its proponents descend to dishonest shilling for one corporation is disgraceful.

5-Oct-2017

Tutorial for building .so files

Filed under: linux, programming — jlm @ 18:34

Exactly how one goes about building .so files* isn’t widely understood, and the documentation on it is overcomplicated IMHO. So, I figure the web needs a tutorial demonstrating how to build an extremely simple .so file. Et voilà, here’s a step by step guide for building a .so file on Linux or a similarly flavored Unix using a GNU-compatible toolchain.

We’re going to make two .o files, “call_me.o” and “die.o”, and combine them into a single “call_me_and_die” shared library. Making a library is very much like making an executable, just with some tweaks to the build commands and some extra steps at the end. To make our “call_me_and_die” library, we start the way we would with a “call_me_and_die” executable: writing a .h file for the common function signatures. File so_tut.h:

extern void call_me(void);
extern void die_die_die(void);

(more…)

11-Sep-2017

EBUSY: Another decade, and still sucking

Filed under: general, linux, programming — jlm @ 12:40

Today’s xkcd riffs a common frustration about busy files: programs that can’t do their intended operations on them rarely (if ever) specify the file that’s busy or tell the user which programs are using the file — and without that knowledge, the user can’t fix the problem.

There are tools that can help you discover those things, as I describe using ten years ago, but I’d already been running into EBUSY problems for ten years by then, and the old guard before me for another ten years beyond that. Why haven’t things improved?

Sometimes file_operation(filename) fails — hey, this happens, busy files are a thing, ain’t nothing your program can do about that. But report to the user that file_operation on filename failed for reason strerror(errno)! Not reporting the filename is just sloppy programming.

It’s not like the tools have gotten any better. What, you think it’s acceptable to make the user trace your program, looking through a haystack of every system call to find the needle which is the program’s critical failure? Is that work you’re putting on the user’s shoulders less than sticking the filename in the error message? This has sucked for two generations now. Please help making it suck less.

4-Mar-2017

twitcode #4: reverse diff — using the right tool for the job

Filed under: programming — jlm @ 20:29

Mercurial’s  hg diff  command supports a  --reverse  option which shows the regular diff output except it reverses the sense of the comparison — i.e., it goes from the “destination” to the “source” (git diff  supports this action too, but as the flag “-R”). Most of the time you want the ordinary “forward” sense, but occasionally the reverse sense comes in handy, and that’s why that option’s there. On rare occasion, I’ll even want to do this to files not under version control, but the regular system diff doesn’t support this feature.

So, after hitting this deficiency again recently, I decided to write up my own reverse-diff command which would swap its last two arguments and call diff. I started with the shell, as dealing with command arguments and calling programs is its forte. But it turned out to be surprisingly difficult to do stuff like copy the argument list or mess around with the end and near-end of the argument list, which I thought would be dead-simple operations. After futzing around with shell variables and parameters and the various options for variable/parameter expansion for something like 25 minutes, I came to my senses and did it in something like two minutes using C, where nothing’s going to interpret any kind of data as anything unless you explicitly request it to, and array manipulation is built in with clean syntax. All I had to do was swap argv[argc-1] and argv[argc-2] then execvp("diff", argv), easy peasy.

And if I golf argc and argv into c and v, then it fits in 130 chars [source]:
#include <unistd.h>
int main(int c, char**v) {
 if (c>2) { char*t=v[c-2]; v[c-2]=v[c-1]; v[c-1]=t; }
 return execvp("diff", v);
}

I could probably omit the check for ≥2 arguments, as the system diff doesn’t support the convention that a missing file argument means to use stdin (instead, it treats a filename of - (single hyphen) as representing stdin), but perhaps it’ll be used by somebody who’s installed an enhanced diff program.

I’m also amused that each of my “twitcodes” has been in a different language: shell, perl, python, and now C.

29-Dec-2016

A puzzle about C’s stdio

Filed under: programming — jlm @ 18:06

I found the C puzzles webpage by Gowri Kumar to be a very interesting collection of oddities of the C language and some of its basic libraries. If you work with C for fun or profit, I encourage you to go and give them a try. I found very few of them to produce behavior I hadn’t expected, which could be a symptom of overfamiliarity with C. I did find a few surprises though, which I felt warranted further investigation. (more…)

28-May-2016

twitcode #3: New mail in mbox

Filed under: programming — jlm @ 09:12

Once upon a time, people’s interactions with computers (those few people who got to interact with computers directly) was mostly through a teletype: a combination of a keyboard where they could type instructions to the computer and a printer where it gave the responses back to them. This model is tenaciously clung to by a handful of still-active projects such as gdb, but the bulk of its use nowadays is from command shells (bash, zsh, cmd.exe) because command-response interaction is much easier to specify, record, automate, examine, modify, and perform remotely in a teletype-style than a GUI-style.
(more…)

24-Nov-2015

twitcode #2: decoding MIME

Filed under: programming — jlm @ 12:12

Messing around with some mail handling scripts, I was surprised I didn’t find any good ways to decode MIME as a stream filter. Ten minutes later, I have 13 lines of Perl which do it in 201 characters in my normal non-terse style. It’s great for normal use, but a tiny bit of golfing fits it in a tweet’s 140-character limit:

$ cat mime_decode.pl
#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use strict; use utf8; use MIME::WordDecoder; 
binmode(STDOUT, ":utf8");
while (<>) { print mime_to_perl_string($_); }
$ wc mime_decode.pl
  4  16 137 mime_decode.pl

Good thing there was already a method which does all the real work…

4-Aug-2014

Faces are hard

Filed under: web — jlm @ 22:10

So, there’s this webcomic Prequel Adventure set in the Elder Scrolls: Oblivion universe. It’s an excellent comic, with a compelling plot and great humor. (It also is paced extremely slow, with a real-time:in-universe-time ratio that handily exceeds even that of Freefall.) The panels are drawn simply, supporting the story’s elements and the comic’s jokes, and clearly indicating that the focus is on telling a good story in a funny manner, and not on having beautiful art (another similarity with Freefall). But despite the comic’s simple drawing style, there’s one bit which Kazerad absolutely nails: Facial expressions. I mean, look at the final panel from this page.
(more…)

16-Nov-2013

… and also the wrong things with the wrong people

Filed under: web — jlm @ 18:21

G+ advertises user control over sharing on post complaining of G+ unauthorized oversharing

<SOURCE>

 
"That's what we call Irony!"

23-Dec-2012

Addressing the fragile base class problem

Filed under: programming — jlm @ 21:47

I’ve been thinking about the fragile base class problem lately. (Yes, I know it’s almost Christmas. My mind works mysteriously.) I started thinking by analogy to APIs, which the interface a superclass gives a subclass in fact is, even if it’s not called that. So, the superclass’s API changes, breaking the subclass, just like a regular API’s change can break a client. How do we deal with this with regular APIs? If we are to make a compatibility-breaking change (which introducing any member into a superclass potentially is), we version the API so that a client requesting version 1 semantics gets them while only clients written against the newer semantics will request version 2. We could do the same kind of thing with class inheritance if we mark everything with revision numbers, which we reference when inheriting.

class base@2 {
    void start@1();
    void stop@1();
    void idle@2();
};

class child@1 extends base@1 {
    void idle@1();
    void park@1();
};

Here’s our classic case of a fragile base class. child subclassed base and defined the new method idle(), then later base was extended with its own method idle(). Normally, this would cause a problem — the new stop() implementation might call idle() perhaps, and child’s idle() won’t be written with overriding a then-nonexistent base::idle() in mind. But with these revision markings, we say that child only overrides methods marked as being in revision 1 of base. So, when stop() calls idle(), it gets base::idle, not child::idle, and when park() calls idle(), the call resolution goes the other way.

The problem I see with this though, is that when going to an indirect superclass, it can be unclear which revision that should be.

class grandparent@3 {
    void method@2();
};

class parent@2 extends grandparent@2;

class child@1 extends parent@1 {
    void method@1();
};

Uh-oh. Should child’s method() override grandparent’s? If parent@1 extended grandparent@2, then yes. But if it extended grandparent@1, then no. So do we need to list the parent class revisions of every revision of the child class? I’d hope there’d be a better way. Perhaps we’d be relying on an IDE to handle the revision numbers for us, keeping them updated is just a dumb task, so in that case the IDE could maintain the manifest of parent revisions too.

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