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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

September 30
Spent the morning trying to chase down specs on ISDN cards and what Linux supports. It's no good me finding a document from April 2000 that tells me to look in /proc/pci - I want to find out before I buy that it'll work!

Eventually I found that the nice people at Allied Data not only have a Linux-friendly TA, but they also provide various downloadable bits - albeit for RedHat 6, but heck, what's a little kernel-hacking between friends? And Maplin's site revealed that this piece of kit was one they supplied, too.

Then, of course, reality intruded. Not only did they not have the required piece of hardware in stock, but the rather ignorant counter jockey didn't offer to poke around for alternatives or order one for me. Well, thanks. Another great example of "service with a grunt". So I tried Dixon's, but they're still coping with the heady rush of 56k modems - KFLEX and V.90 ("soon to be approved") and at the sort of price you'd expect to buy some sort of Cisco device for; IT Direct had the internal, but not the external Eicon TA (my preferred choice), and so I headed off out to PC World in the wilds of Lucan, where they had a wide selection of TAs but only two external serial - the aforementioned Eicon, and a Hayes Accura. The Accura was about £100 cheaper, so I've opted for that. Now I need to get the ISDN line switched on. And I need to get it done really soon, because the phone line is now to all intents and purposes unusable for data.


September 29
Finally got the puzzle program to solve the basic cubes for me, with some assistance from a permute function in the Perl Cookbook. It's not quite right yet, but it's close; certainly it solved all the cubes.

And then I discovered that there's a website for the puzzles. From the front page, it looks like they major in promotional versions of the puzzles. Insert your logo here.

September 28
More poking around with my puzzle program. OpenGL programming looks pretty neat, but figuring the coordinates and angles is hurting my head.

September 27
Hmm. Looks like I might have ISDN soon, which means no more crappy connection. On the other hand, it means getting an ISDN TA of some description - I'll probably get one of the Eicon boxes I used in Stepstone - and higher call costs.

September 26
It rained today. The connection on the landline is even worse. Time for another complaint, I think.

September 25
Twiddling some stuff for Micromail, including fixing a bug that I'd long ago forgotten I'd said I'd fix. D'oh. Of course, uploading the fixes was hampered by both the landline and the cellphone dialups giving me grief. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.

September 24
The puzzle code can now insert the last remaining piece correctly. In theory, all I need to do now is build a big loop that tries all pieces in all positions sequentially. Of course, that just solves the small cube puzzle for one of the six cubes. I also have to feed it data for the remaining 5 cubes, and then start feeding it information on the more complex shapes. And then, when I'm done, I'll turn the whole thing into an xscreensaver GL hack, bwahahahahah!

September 23
Made a few tweaks to my CDDB files to standardise the marking of discs as singles.

Finally managed to purchase a bicycle mount for the eTrex. I'm sure I had a good reason for this, other than a collect-the-whole-set attitude towards eTrex accessories - I think the only thing I don't have at this stage is the carry case.

Also purchased an adapter for my cellphone that'd allow me to plug in the generic headset I got a few weeks back. Needless to say, the connector conspiracy ensured that they were incompatible re: tip/ring assignment. No worries; a little chopping and splicing will fix that.

Added another file format to the GPS toy's reader: this one is GPSMan's Track Export format. Man. Why can't we all just GET ALONG already?


September 22
So it occurred to me that I could hook the GPS toy I've been tooling with up to things other than mapping servers. How about, say, TerraServer? Get yourself an actual satellite photo of where you are. Problem is, what data they had on Ireland is gone, so I don't have a practical testbed. Bah. Of course, there's a whole lot of other places you can get this sort of data from. Probably you end up with something like Hiro's globe thingy in Snow Crash. And, predictably, someone's had a go at this globe lark already. Of course, it seems that NASA have all the best toys of this sort to play with, if you can only take the time to filter through them.

September 21
Oops. Rebuilding the kernel to fix the VPN stuff broke Klortho's 2.4.9 setup. Luckily, I had a 2.4.8 lying around; luckily #2, my build script makes it pretty painless to fix the problem. There was some mention in Alan Cox's diary a while back about a RPM target in the Makefile for the kernel, but I'm guessing if he finished it, it applies to the ac series only.

September 20
Bah. Phoneline noise back again. Of course, just when I'm trying to dial into the office.

VPN busted, too. Actually, Microsoft's VPN stuff boggles me. I can't seem to get it to work with a dialup connection when booted into Windows - it seems to want to own the dialup itself, instead of using the already-dialed connection. On top of that, if it can't connect, or if it disconnects abnormally, you have to reboot before it'll ever connect again. On the Linux side of the house, it looks like my modules got all screwed up somehow. Blech.

September 19
Urgh. I think I'm catching the 'flu.

September 18
Why does Oracle's application server product generate so many damn files? I know it's cobbled together from bits they found lying around on the 'net, but they could have at least consolidated things like log directories and temporary file areas. Oh, and made things like the report and forms servers clean up if they exit abnormally. It's not like SEGV handlers are unheard-of voodoo or anything.

Did some tooling around with the code that manages the Micromail website. Mostly making it all OTB indent style - I wavered between OTB and some other random style for a while, and there's a mix of it in the main script, but I'm a firm believer in OTB now.

Had a look over some older Micromail stuff that I'd been working on, including an almost fully-functional site redesign. I need to check out the latter in a browser that doesn't choke so much on large tables, i.e. IE or Mozilla. And Navigator used be such a good browser *sniff*...

Downloaded a mirror of the Micromail site while I was at it. Yeesh. There's a lot of data there. About 20MB of it in book descriptions alone.

September 17
I'm torn between thinking &quot;SQL is pretty neat" and "my GOD, who came up with this?"

Phone saga: to my astonishment, phoning back the number that had been left in my voicemail connected me to a very friendly - and apologetic - engineering manager who's responsible for my entire neck of the woods. He was eager to get the problem sorted out, and not, as far as I could tell, simply to get rid of the Official Complaint I'd registered, either. I thanked him for his apology and his eagerness, and told him that the problem seemed to have gone away, to which he replied, "if it comes back, phone me up on this number and I'll have someone check it out immediately - we'll try and catch it when it's happening". Wow. I'm impressed, for once.

September 16
Monza F1 today, somewhat overshadowed both by the events of the week and Alessandro Zanardi's horrific crash which left him with both lower legs amputated and in an artificially-induced coma. For the record, Montoya finally got over the gremlins and the unsteady driving to win his first F1 race, Barrichello came in second for Ferrari and Schumie junior picked up the last podium spot. Jordan lost Trulli at the start when his future team mate placed far too much faith in a cold set of brakes and punted the back of Trulli's car; Alesi had a good run, but didn't manage to score any points.

Committed some BBDB hackery to CVS that I'd had sitting on the disk for a while. This entailed backing out some changes I'd made elsewhere that were incomplete, but it fixes a few stupids in the head of CVS that I'd already expressed public dissatisfaction with. Perhaps I can kick out a release in the next month or so... HELLO MR. FATE, I AM HEREBY GIVING YOU NOTICE OF TEMPTATION.


September 15
Perhaps, since this diary appears to have something of an audience, I should say a little more about the events of the week and how they affected me. For starters, I have no direct, personal involvement. When I heard the news and discovered that all the usual news sites were offline, I logged onto Nerdsholm for the first time in quite a while and talked to people there, ranging from two network admins in Langley Air Force Base to folk in middle and western US, to two Canadians and a Scotsman. Some people in my office figured that I had the best newsfeed and clustered around my desk for a few minutes, to get the news as it came in. Those initial reports made the scale seem far, far bigger - reports of more missing planes, reports of a crash in Camp David, second and third hits on the Pentagon, and so forth. I relayed the collapse of the towers to people in my area. The main upshot of this live connection, however, was that I quickly learned that all the people I know in the NY area were safe. After a while, it occurred to me that my Boston-based brother might have been on a trip to NY, and I phoned him. After three attempts, I got through to his cellphone to find that he was at home, watching the news on CNN. I then phoned my parents to pass the news on, and almost broke down on the phone to my dad over the sheer enormity of what was happening. By the end of the day, I waited half an hour after official end of business for my adrenalin to subside sufficiently that I felt safe about driving the 40 miles home.

Over the next few days there were discussions about "what should be done", and the general consensus among most people I talked to was - and still is - that a military strike is both wrong and most likely a waste of time. If Osama Bin Laden proves to be behind the operation, destroying him merely makes way for another of his kind, with a steelier resolve (if that's possible) to fight the US. (Which, incidentally, is something that's been bothering me about a lot of the rhetoric and oration since the event; this was not an attack on democracy and freedom. This was a very specific attack on a very specific nation. Democracy and freedom are incidental to the whole thing.) The US tried military action on Bin Laden in 1998 to no useful effect; why should it be any more effective this time around? And from a moral point of view, how do you justify killing under any circumstances, no matter who has done what to whom?

The other viewpoint that seems to be slowly surfacing amongst a lot of commentators, including, perhaps surprisingly, American ones, is that this sort of thing was going to happen sooner or later. The US has played a part in many armed conflicts around the world, not all of them with the "moral" high ground of the second world war. Yet the last time any of this fighting took place on actual US soil (excluding sovereign claims over other countries) was during the bombing run on Pearl Harbour, in 1941. US involvement has wreaked havok on innocents around the world and produced a generation of dispossessed who have nothing to lose and a whole lot to hate, and it seems some of them have finally found an effective way to act on that.

Now stop there. You're about to call me anti-American, anti-democratic, anti-freedom, revisionist, perhaps communist, I don't know. I'm not any of these labels. I'm an apolitical, free-thinking person with a good education and an amount of world travel under my belt. I've seen some of the aftereffects of US involvement first-hand, and it's not pretty. And it's not just US involvement, either. As someone pointed out in a conversation during the week, every nation does what it thinks is expedient in the short term in order to protect its own interests. Many grey areas exist over Ireland's contacts with Germany during the two major wars of the last century, for example. Ireland itself has been subject to all sorts of injustice in the name of English foreign policy. All of this has been perpetrated by politicians who are supposedly acting with the best interests of their electorate in mind. They are generally, in fact, acting with their own best interests in mind; "will this make me likely to retain my position in government?". And that's why I'm apolitical.

Perhaps my views are naïve. They may be underinformed, but I'm pretty sure they're not significantly so. I have this notion that if people acted in each others' best interests, we might rise above the cycle of hatred and violence that causes this sort of atrocity. If instead we lash out in reflex reaction, we will only further fuel the cycle. I don't know what the answer is, but I do know it's not violence.

September 14
Still playing with the puzzle code, and thinking about BBDB (as opposed to my usual "hack first, think later" approach).

The phone saga continues, incidentally. The line seems to be clean now; I've not had the dance-of-modem-doom for several days, yet I haven't had any "is your problem fixed now?" reaction from Eircom, either. And then I found a message on the landline answering service from them, leaving a number for me to call. Er, GUYS. I gave you two contact numbers, and emphasised that calling the landline was pretty much pointless.

September 13
Tooling around with a piece of code to solve an old foam-rubber puzzle. In Perl, of course.

September 12
I'm mostly just watching TV and talking to friends in the US at the moment.

September 11
Hope you weren't in Manhattan today.

September 10
Building OpenSSH on Solaris 2.6 with gcc: configure, rm config.cache, configure. Why? I don't know, but it worked.

Started messing with some code to solve a puzzle. As if I haven't enough abandoned projects on my list...

September 9
(or more precisely, September 9, 02:46:40)

Happy 1,000,000,000 seconds, Unix!

I wonder what I should do with all these IP addresses that ask me for a default.ida file? The bulk of 'em so far are from wannadoo.fr, with one Spanish one for good measure. And that's on my dialup box, too. As if the line wasn't already flaky enough... I guess I should block port 80 from outside, at least. I used have it blocked, but for some reason I don't now. Doh, really.


September 8
Mmmm, hangover! Mmmm, post-beer mouth!

Hrm. OpenSSH requires you to run a command before it'll fork to background, even if you're just port-forwarding.

Found another NTLM proxy recently. This one's written in Python, and done by some guy called Dimitry Rozmanov. I couldn't make it work, and I'm not much of a Python hacker, so I left it be. What are the chances, another Russian named Dimitry hacking on some undocumented crypto...

September 7
Played around with a toy that Søren wrote for parsing referrals from Google out of access logs. Quite amusing; I may add it to my site update stuff once I've finished playing around with it.

Oook. Drinkies with my boss from Stepstone, who has just finished up there.

September 6
Phoned the customer care people. My complaint, I am told, has been registered as an Official Complaint, and has been passed on to the Operations people, and will, I am assured, be resolved in the next few days. Well, good. Bring it on, I say.

After some amount of headscratching, I managed to get OpenSSH working as well as regular ssh used. I'm still a little confused, but it seems to all work, so that's okay.

More evil. Starting to get notions about putting the entire machine under ssh control, including stuff like xdm's authentication. There's a PAM module for this, conveniently enough. Which is currently BSD-only, inconveniently enough.

Finally got around to building and trying out GPSDrive. It's rather neat, although I couldn't seem to replay my big NMEA dumpfile to it.

September 5
Today I did something very sick and horrible with a combination of JSP, Java and JavaScript, the end result of which is a file which, when included in a given JSP file with a small amount of extras, produces a date field with a pop-up calendar. The actual calendar comes from the downloadable bits on Oracle's site, the rest from my own sick mind.

Eircom's customer care people phoned. The house. While I was in the office. Wonderful!

September 4
Wrote a letter to my alleged phone service provider to complain about the past MONTH of misservice. Actual paper and stuff.

September 3
My GPS mapping toy can now parse NMEA, GPS Manager, and Waypoint+ track data natively, instead of me using assorted conversion programs. If GPS::Garmin worked as advertised (or if I could be bothered hacking it) I'd plug that right in, too.

Poking around on Freshmeat, I found that someone else had a similar idea to mine (albeit a different implementation); he's called it GPSdrive. Looks rather nice, although I've found the MapBlast maps to be less accurate than the MapQuest ones. Maporama seems to have the best of the lot, but getting a map for an arbitrary Lat./Long. is, uh, non-trivial, to say the least.

By strange coincidence, the author also works on a phone-book thingy, sort of like the BBDB...

And finally. The phone line. An engineer called my cellphone, various stressful noises were made from my end about (a) being repeatedly fobbed off and (b) him not calling when he was supposed to; various noises from his end indicated that the muppet who took the support call should have flagged it as a specific time call as opposed to it-would-be-nice-if time. He phoned back about five minutes later to say he'd found a line break outside the house and had fixed it, so my problem should now be solved. Hallelujah!

Haha. I speak too soon again. No sooner than I've tried to make serious (ab)use of the damn connection than the line starts dropping, and then while it's dialing I can hear the static again. I'm never going to get this fixed, am I?

September 2
Drove back to Dublin, arriving just in time to watch the third restart of the Belgian Grand Prix. Luciano Burti miraculously failed to kill himself after planting his car in the barrier head on at some insane speed (braking and steering become rather useless when your front wing has been demolished and your front suspension is damaged) and Schuey senior picked up first place, and a record number of race wins, in typical Schuey style - leading by over 30 seconds at some point. Alesi brought his Jordan home sixth, which was also pretty cool.

Hmm. I need to figure out why it is that my diary-twiddling code gets the days in reverse order when it's backfilling for a new month, but does it right under other circumstances. Also the "Sunday detection" stuff is inconsistent.


September 1
Got up late enough to miss breakfast, didn't like the look of anything on the Brasserie menu, so I headed into Killarney and strolled around, trés cool with my flapping hair and wrap-around shades, until I found a place doing all-day breakfasts. Tip to the traveller: an all-day breakfast around this part of the world means an Irish breakfast, and that's "all the parts of a pig we can fry, plus eggs and tomato". Mmm! Cholestrol-icious!

Post-feeding (Busy-B's, just off the main street and on some other less-main street), I got changed for the wedding and went off looking for the church - the map that John faxed me being in the house of a cow orker after Thursday's antics. I found the landmark from the map, O'Sullivan's Shop, pretty quickly, then drove straight on instead of turning right, and continued on to Kilorglin - I had tons of time to spare, so I figured I may as well do a little tourism. Came back to Beaufort via a different road, found an old abandoned church on the way where I took a photo, then eagle-eye like noticed a taxi wandering around with the driver making gestures and discussing things with the passengers. On a hunch, I followed the road they'd taken and presently ended up at the church, about 45 minutes before kickoff. Literally, since John's wedding coincided with the Ireland/Holland World Cup qualifying match. Satisfied that I knew where the church was, I wandered around a little more and stumbled across a sign reading "Carrantouhil 5". Woah. Did a bizarre three-point-ish turn to get oriented in the correct direction, and scooted off up the mountains. Absolutely breathtaking scenery, marred only by my reversing onto some fencing wire which scratched poor Elvira. Then back down to the church, taking a left turn just before a brand new Pug 307 and thinking, "Wouldn't it be funny if that was someone I knew?" - it was. A friend from school that I haven't seen in several years, so we stood around at the church with John, who had turned up shortly after us, and then decided that Breda was going to be fashionably late so we'd have time to grab a coffee at one of the pubs in Beaufort (it's a tiny village, and I counted at least three pubs. All closer to the village than the church, incidentally.), which we duly did. Back to the church, Breda turned up, and the rest of the day was wedding fare. Finally got back to my luxurious hotel at about 3am and crashed out.

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Waider
It's been September on Usenet since about 1997.