A Weird Imagination

100% CPU usage in games with Nvidia Linux drivers

The problem

Every game, no matter how old and simple, I run on my computer constantly uses an entire CPU thread even when idling at a menu. (Except for some newer multi-threaded games that do the same with multiple threads!) To raise this from a curiosity to a problem, this means that my computer's fans are on at full blast whenever I have a game going, so I notice.

The solution

To be clear, that symptom could be the result of many different possible causes, others of which I may explore in future blog posts.1 But specifically for systems with Nvidia GPUs using the Nvidia proprietary driver (as opposed to nouveau), setting the environmental variable __GL_YIELD to USLEEP fixed the issue in some games for me. To do so when running a single game, run __GL_YIELD="USLEEP" /path/to/game or to do so permanently, add the line

export __GL_YIELD="USLEEP"

to ~/.profile and restart X.

The details

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Change title based on visible section

The problem

In the computer game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, the "bomb expert" players are looking at a fictional "bomb manual", often frantically searching for the right page. While the intention is for this document to be printed out—and physical paper makes it relatively easy to keep the headings at the top of each page visible—there is also a web version if you prefer to view it on a screen (or don't have access to a printer). Scrolling through the web version feels a lot more awkward than flipping through the paper version; one workaround I found was to open different pages in different browser tabs or windows, but then identifying which page is in which window is still awkward.

The solution

I created a userscript, "BombManual.com Tab Title and TOC" that automatically updates the tab title to match the title of the currently visible page. It additionally adds a table of contents to make it easy to quickly open all of the pages in separate tabs or windows.

If you do not already have one, you will need to install a userscript manager extension for your browser to use it. Alternatively, you could bookmark this bookmarklet, but as you would have to click that bookmark on every instance of the page you opened, that's less convenient.

The details

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Long Polling in Django Channels

The problem

In a web app where the display should be constantly up-to-date, the client needs some way to get up-to-date information from the server. One of the simplest ways to do so is to regularly (every few seconds) query the server asking if there is new information. This involves making a lot of requests and is wasteful of bandwidth and processor time on both the client and server (the latter can be improved with caching).

If updates are rare, it makes much more sense for the server to notify the client when they occur, but HTTP is designed around the client making requests to the server, not the other way around. And, furthermore, the Django web framework (like many web frameworks) is built around that model.

The solution

Of course, this is a well-understood problem and there are a wide variety of APIs and libraries to solve it discussed on the Wikipedia page for Comet. The main workarounds are WebSockets which is a very flexible technology for two-way communication in a web browser and long polling which is a simpler technique which involves merely having the server not answer a request immediately and instead wait until it actually has an update to reply with.

In the rest of this blog post, I discuss the changes I made to convert a Django-based web app that I originally wrote to use a basic polling pattern and hosted using uWSGI to instead use long polling and be hosted using Gunicorn/Uvicorn. I also cover nginx configuration including hosting the app in a subdirectory.

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Eliminating Control.Monad.Error

The problem

Compiling the Haskell package language-python (a dependency of xcffib), I got the following warning stating that the typeclass Error is deprecated:

language-python/src/Language/Python/Common/ParseError.hs:25:10: warning: [-Wdeprecations]
    In the use of type constructor or class ‘Error’
    (imported from Control.Monad.Error.Class, but defined in Control.Monad.Trans.Error):
    Deprecated: "Use Control.Monad.Trans.Except instead"
   |                                 
25 | instance Error ParseError where 
   |          ^^^^^                  

I wasn't sure how to "Use Control.Monad.Trans.Except instead", as Except is not a drop-in replacement for Error.

The solution

As this StackOverflow answer recommended,

Short answer is: Replace Error by nothing at all

The code used throwError, which I replaced with

throwError = lift . Left

Other than that, I just removed the imports of Control.Monad.Error and the typeclass instance of Error. The full diff is in this pull request.

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Troubleshooting python-xcffib

The problem

The monitor-lock.py script in my previous blog post uses python-xlib, which currently mainly relies on manually porting Xlib functions to Python. This is why it is missing the barrier-related functions I needed in that post. There is work on automating this process, but it appears to be abandoned. I started trying to pick up where they had left off before finding the python-xcffib project which provides auto-generated bindings for libxcb and therefore gives full support for interacting with X at a low level from Python.

python-xcffib (named after the cffi library it uses for binding to the C XCB library) gives a slightly lower-level API than python-xlib, but they are both fairly thin wrappers over the X protocol, so the differences are minor. It was fairly straightforward to port my script from the previous post to use python-xcffib, available as monitor-lock-xcb.py.

Unfortunately, I ran into a bug in python-xcffib:

Traceback (most recent call last):
...
  File "./monitor-lock-xcb.py", line 38, in main
    devices = conn.xinput.XIQueryDevice(xcffib.xinput.Device.AllMaster).reply().infos
...
  File "/usr/lib/python3/dist-packages/xcffib/__init__.py", line 139, in _resize
    assert self.size + increment <= self.known_max
AssertionError

The solution

I've submitted the fix upstream, so most likely you will not encounter this error. Updating to the latest version (after v0.8.1) should be sufficient to fix the problem.

The fix I applied was to modify the module's __init__.py (the location, which may be different on your machine, is in the stack trace). Specifically, on line 108 in the function Unpacker.unpack(), in the call to struct.calcsize(), change fmt to "=" + fmt.

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Lightweight multiseat X

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The problem

I hosted a LAN party1 a little while ago and ended up needing to loan out multiple computers to guests in the interest of having no one try to lug their desktop over. As it turns out, I don't keep multiple of spare gaming-ready laptops around, so I needed to get more computers somehow.

The solution

My desktop has three screens attached to it (two monitors plus a projector), so given an extra keyboard and mouse (or two), it should be possible to run multiple instances of the game on it at the same time to let multiple people play using the same computer.

The script from this forum post makes it easy to set up multi-pointer X so a second keyboard and mouse will get its own mouse cursor. Then each keyboard and mouse pair can interact with its own instance of the game.

As an additional aid, I wrote monitor-lock.py which allows you to assign a mouse to a monitor, so it cannot be moved off that monitor to prevent accidentally interacting with the other player's instance of the game.

The basic usage is that you first run it with no arguments to get the available screens and pointers getting an output something like this:

$ ./monitor-lock.py 
...
Available screens:
screen 0: {'x': 0, 'y': 0, 'width': 3840, 'height': 2160}
screen 1: {'x': 3840, 'y': 0, 'width': 1920, 'height': 1200}
screen 2: {'x': 3840, 'y': 1200, 'width': 1920, 'height': 1080}

Available pointers:
device 2: Virtual core pointer
device 17: second pointer

USAGE: ./monitor-lock.py [device] [screen]

and then in a screen session (so you don't have to worry about accidentally doing this on a monitor you've locked your pointer away from), run

./monitor-lock.py 2 0

and

./monitor-lock.py 17 1

to lock the primary pointer to the first screen and the second pointer to the second screen.

Just use Ctrl+C to kill the process when you want the pointer to be able to move freely again.

The details

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Emulating Xbox controllers using GameCube controllers

The problem

I previously wrote about making different controllers act like Xbox 360 controllers. While it's a useful general-purpose solution, it's can be a bit clunky to have to explicitly set the mappings for each controller. More importantly, the remapping leaves the original controller entries in /dev/input/, although they don't do anything, and some games1 assume that the four players are controlled by the first four controllers. This is no longer true if js0 is the real first controller and js1 is the copy made by xboxdrv to look like an Xbox 360 controller. Or, worse, if js0-js3 are the four real controllers and js4-js7 are the ones we want the game to actually use.

The specific reason I'm remapping the controllers, is that the gamepads I'm actually using are GameCube controllers connected via the Nintendo GameCube controller Adapter for Wii U, which connects up to four GameCube controllers to a USB port. wii-u-gc-adapter makes them usable as controllers, but they appear different enough from Xbox 360 controllers that remapping them is necessary for most games.

The solution

Just build and use the version of wii-u-gc-adapter in my feature/mimic-xpad branch and your GameCube controllers will show up as Xbox controllers.

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User scripts on iPad

The problem

Google Forms is a tool that allows for easily setting up simple structured data entry. But it's designed to make it easy to analyze a lot of data that has been entered, not to view a single entry. There is a view to show individual entries, but it's very cluttered due to including all of the options that were not selected as well as those that were selected. A display that showed only the entries that were selected could be used as a quick and dirty way to make a form letter-like website.

To make this problem harder, the solution has to run on iPad, a platform not exactly known for its user programmability.

The solution

Bookmark this link: hide unselected items in Google Form. Then select that bookmark when on the appropriate Google Forms page. Note that in addition to hiding unselected entries, if the entry that is not select has a value of "Yes", then its entire section will be hidden. If you don't want that behavior, bookmark this variant of the script instead.

The details

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Encrypted files in Vim

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The problem

There's a handy Vim plugin openssl.vim that allows you to easily edit encrypted files with Vim simply by giving the file an extension like .aes. Then Vim will ask for a password upon loading and saving the file in order to decrypt and encrypt it with openssl.

Unfortunately, the plugin was last updated in 2008 and makes some assumptions about openssl's defaults which are no longer valid. The most pressing issue is that the plugin now outputs a warning message when encrypting. By itself, that's worrisome, but, worse, that warning message gets output into the file along with the ciphertext. Needless to say, the resulting file cannot be decrypted without manually removing the warning text.

The solution

Simply fixing the options the script passes to openssl is a good start, but I also wanted to make sure any files encrypted with the old settings could be decrypted. My updated openssl.vim1 does both in addition to fixing some other annoyances.

The details

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Devlog: Anagram Bagels: Part 2

There were two non-trivial aspects of the design of Anagram Bagels: puzzle generation, which I discussed in my last post, and how to handle saving and sharing puzzles, which I will discuss in this post. I wanted an intuitive design that satisfied the following constraints:

  1. It should be possible to easily share a puzzle with another person in the form of a link.

  2. The difference between a link to the game and a link to a specific puzzle should be clear. (So the user doesn't accidentally bookmark a link to a specific puzzle when meaning to bookmark the game.)

  3. The game should gracefully handle the common mobile browser behavior of reloading the page if it hasn't been viewed in a while.

  4. Opening multiple instances of the game in separate tabs shouldn't break anything. (This is the default for web sites, so it's true unless doing something to actively break this assumption.)

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