A week in the life of Winston

Published: Saturday, Apr 18, 2020
Last modified: Wednesday, Jun 8, 2022 (0fbd635)

During these interesting times, I figure it would be a good idea to describe how I’ve been keeping myself busy, bugs I’ve fixed, and some of the daily tasks/routines that keep my day structured.

For context: I moved house on the weekend of March 21st, which is a couple weeks before the Covid-19 fiasco became a front-and-center concern for my geographical region. I am finishing my undergrad in computer science — this is my last semester. The classes I am taking are Compilers, Compiler Implementation Laboratory, and Matrices and Applications. I am now currently living in a very rural area, so I have been very successful in maintaining a social distance in all aspects of my life.

§Daily routine

  1. Eat the exact same thing every day: Eggs, Bacon, Corn Tortillas. Take any dietary supplements/vitamins.

  2. Make coffee — Aeropressed. Currently sourcing coffee from Ruby. I wish to see more Ethiopia/Kenya/Peru coffee but even a more earthy Colombia coffee is agreeable.

  3. Spend 30–60 minutes checking email, news, IRC.

  4. Wash up

  5. Spend about 2-3 hours on current tasks — schoolwork, bugfixing, packaging, or researching.

  6. Eat a lunch, make some tea

  7. Spend another 2-3 hours on same tasks.

  8. Take a break, preferably away from computer

  9. Spend another couple hours

  10. Have a dinner

  11. Spend some time with housemates, make sure we’re all on the same page

  12. Spend another couple hours on tasks

  13. Wash up, goto bed

    In retrospect, I think I should replace one of those task blocks with off-task things such as gaming, reading books, and so on. That’s way too much time on task, and knowing myself I end up being less productive due to too much time on task.

§Package work for this week

For a long time now, I’ve aimed to keep all my system-wide software packaged in the OS package manager. This allows me to easily rebuild my systems, or deploy the OS on new computers. This also means updates become a lot easier, because the package manager can track things such as rebuilding all library dependencies, and ensuring dependencies are installed and are the correct versions. Depending on your OS it’s pretty easy. In my case Gentoo makes it extremely easy.


I reintroduced Alephone packages1 to play the classic Bungie first person shooters Marathon, Marathon 2: Durandal, and Marathon 3: Infinity. Thankfully I could base some of my work off my old Portage overlay combined with couple-year-old commits from the official Gentoo repository.

After getting a show-stopping bug addressed, I added a prerelease package that includes fixes that should address memory corruption, flickering sprites, and (some of the) popping audio. See details in the Bugs Addressed section.

§The toolchain used for my university course

An ongoing desire was to do all my university homeworks locally, without logging into servers with less software choice, and an abnormal amount of network jitter/latency spikes. I finally made it happen with a combination of rsync invocations followed by a tar -czvf and a Gentoo package.

I find this very exciting. I invest very heavily into my computer environment, and try my best to avoid doing complicated work in unfamiliar environments. I can also do work offline now.

It is worth noting that the distfiles for this package are not publicly available, and as such you will have be a student in the course to install it. This is intentional. I have zero interest in trying to make this toolchain public or open source, I merely want to use it locally.

§Bugs addressed

§Deal with issue making Emacs unresponsive

I am pleased to discover and fix a longstanding bug that would yield my Emacs unresponsive after visiting files, then deleting the directories the visited files resided in. I wish I had documented the first time I noticed this problem; it may have been as soon as I introduced auto-virtualenvwrapper to my workflow. This package tells Emacs to automatically search for Python virtualenvs for use in ansi-term (terminal in emacs), running python code from emacs, and getting accurate tab completion when writing python.

This was one of those sort of irksome issues that is difficult to debug unless one invests effort to reconfigure emacs to report error traces, which can’t be set after the bug occurs. As a result every time I’ve encountered this bug, I have given up, and simply restarted Emacs daemon, because messing up the minibuffer precludes issuing a M-x toggle-debug-on-error RET.

I want to thank the maintainer of auto-pythonvirtualenv for being very responsive to pull request I made. Contributing to Emacs packages is a lot of hit-or-miss, because it seems some of the less commonly used Emacs packages are dead. Additionally there is a culture of disinterest in accepting PRs that don’t directly improve the maintainer’s quality of life.

§Strange Alephone memory corruption

I was very excited to get Alephone packaged and installed. I started noting weirdness on my workstation setup. It started with some graphics corruption, with sprites being rotated 90°, and severe visual corruption when interacting with the in-game text terminals. Invariably on every exit the game segfaults with corrupted size vs. prev_size.

I reported the issue, and after a lot of testing, it become apparent the issue only occurs when playing at my native resolution, which is 1440p (2560×1440), but does not happen at 1080p (1920×1080). Thanks to my (over) comprehensive testing and a couple passionate project maintainers, someone was able to pinpoint the source of the bug was due to an out of bounds write. The writes was caused by a statically allocated buffer used to copy artifacts of the render trees onto the screen. Or something like that.

I wrote a quick and dirty patch, then later one of the maintainers helped write a more future-proof patch. After testing it appears the problem is fixed. This was a fantastic experience, the discussion was on topic, there was no bike shedding, and everybody treated each other with kindness.

§Dropping Nvidia

In 2015 I purchased a Nvidia GTX 760 used for $50. It was a great investment. At the time AMD driver quality is pretty poor. This is the post-fglrx horror years, but the drivers were still subpar compared to Nvidia’s proprietary drivers. You could not expect to get Windows-par graphics performance on an AMD card in 2015. On the other hand one could expect Windows-par graphics performance on a Nvidia card.

§Why AMD and not Nvidia

The landscape has completely changed in the last 5 years. AMD has open sourced their graphics drivers, and is actively helping out in maintaining them. Nvidia on the other hand has inherit issues such as

§Gotchas switching cards

The GPU arrived Thursday, and I got super excited, and neglected to run an emerge -uDU --changed-deps -av @word after an emerge --sync. The card installed fine, but X would segfault. I noticed in the Xorg logs it couldn’t open the radeonsi driver. I thought I could simply add amdgpu to VIDEO_CARDS, but as the logs suggest, I need radeonsi and amdgpu. The Gentoo Wiki also suggests this. Because I was both trying to update and reconfigure my installation, this yielded to problems with blockers. It seemed nvidia was the problem, as it was masking Xorg versions I needed. I nuked nvidia from my VIDEO_CARDS and was successful in updating and reconfiguring my graphics stack.

Additionally, it appears the vulkan USE flag must be enabled on media-libs/mesa for some Steam games to work, such as The Talos Principle. I think the Nvidia binary drivers support vulkan out of the box, hence I never had to set a USE flag on the previous GPU driver.

Finally, I had to configure mpv to not use vdpau (I had forced mpv to use vdpau, for my Nvidia card). Otherwise mpv would give me a black screen.


I found using a graphics tablet to be valuable to my math class. I can take notes in xournal, and write problems step by step. You might wonder what’s wrong with paper, but it seems when in front of a computer watching lectures and interacting with online learning management systems, it is difficult to split attention between the computer and the notebook. As such I simply decided to digitize the notebook.

To make the experience more tolerable, I have been using youtube-dl to grab all the videos I can, and play them locally in MPV. This ensures I have global multimedia shortcuts to control video playback, have better control over frame advance, do not require internet access 24/7, and have better control over playback speed.

As I finally packaged the software used for one of my classes I can do all that class’s work locally except for submission. This is fantastic because I can use my Emacs 26 setup and do not require a 24/7 Internet connection.

My office is located in a room that can get down to the low 60°'s at night, and I found many times I’d want to do work, I could barely focus because I was so unevenly cold. The floor would be 60-65 but the room would be 70. I feel like an old man complaining about this, but really getting a space heater did wonders for my productivity and focus. This is a schoolwork problem, because it’s the most tedious sort of productivity.


This has been a rather long post. I really wanted to describe some of the things I’ve been up to, and some of the challenges I’ve been facing. I am very happy to have removed my workstation Nvidia dependency. I am very excited about graduating soon, and adjusting in this time, and keeping that in mind, has been a challenge. As usual packaging software and fixing keeps my computers usable and maintainable.

I hope to write more in the near future. I had started some posts on debugging a GTK bug, and some other topics, but the amount of material to cover kept growing, much like this post keeps growing. Stay tuned to read about seccomp madness.

  1. See my overlay on GitHub. ↩︎