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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

July 31
Of course, having build the BOINC client from source (with great trouble) for a Red Hat 7.3 Pentium II box, I discover there is no longer a SETI client for such hardware. Gah.

The new UTF8 complaining in Perl's HTML parser stuff is all very well except that WWW::Mechanize doesn't seem to have caught up with it. Maybe I need a new WWW::Mechanize.

July 30
Migrating all the boxes from the old SETI@home client; for no reason other than that I could, I held off doing this until I'd reached a round 8,000 units on the old client.

Rebuild the other laptop using FC4. This would be the one that's using an external screen on account of its dead backlight.

More Palm datamerge silliness has produced a fairly rough but workable AddressDB.pdb to vCard convertor, largely cannibalised from work I did on PilotManager's SyncAB conduit before I got fed up with it.

July 29
Much to my annoyance, the default media player with FC4 - Totem - is yet another instance of "throw out everything that was done before and start again". It claims to be based on Xine, but doesn't appear to have some of the more useful features of Xine such as being able to play DVDs or being able to use arbitrary codecs. Since it refers to gstreamer in its README file I'd assumed that if I add some codecs to gstreamer, totem would pick them up, but so far that doesn't appear to be the case. Grr.

July 28
Trying to round up the half-dozen or so Palm backups I have; I've knocked together a fairly nasty script to merge a bunch of databases together. I'm not 100% sure it's the right thing, but I also don't want to spend a day flipping through a few hundred Palm records to figure out which ones are dupes and which ones are discards.

Natural Born Killers was banned from Irish theatres by the Irish Film Censor, and to be honest I can't say I'm exactly clear on why. Pretty much none of the violence is lingered on in the way other films either then or since have done; indeed, most of the actual killing happens either in fast cuts or off-screen. I didn't think much of the movie overall; probably it had more of an effect when it was released, before it all became kinda passé. Here's someone else's take on it, back when it was playing in theatres (i.e. fresh):
NBK was a completely amazing movie. I think it was very nearly perfect. Little plot, very disjoint, and fascinating visuals every step of the way. Every second in the first hour was beautiful, and most of the second hour as well. It was pure ultraviolence, even more over-the-top than A Clockwork Orange. I was grinning about it for hours, and Susan was just stunned -- she said she felt like she had been beaten about the head for two hours. When we got back to their place she went rummaging through their cabinets for alcohol, finally coming up with a bottle of bourbon; "I need something to numb it down," she explained.
I dunno. I'd agree that it had little plot and was very disjoint; some of the visuals were certainly different, more arthouse than mainstream, complete with occasional jump-cuts around the timeline and a couple of slices of animation. I think the comparison to A Clockwork Orange is probably pretty apt, too, but I definitely preferred it to NBK. I guess your mileage may indeed vary.

July 27
Caught some of Zefferelli's classic 1968 production of Romeo and Juliet; I found it interesting that he interpreted the Mercutio/Tybalt fight as a friendly, playful scrap gone wrong, as opposed to a serious proxy response to Tybalt's insult to Romeo. It works well, and makes Mercutio's death all the more tragic.

I've been using a more-or-less stock Gnome desktop for the last week or so in place of the fvwm setup I'd used since about 1993, and despite the slightly excessive bulk I'm pretty happy with it. I need to figure out how to make some of the window-based hacks work, though (such as XChat only calling for my attention if I'm not already looking at it).

40 Days and 40 Nights has a cheesy premise, but it's remarkably well done. Sure, it covers pretty much all the obvious toilet humour, but it's a head and shoulders above, say, a Farrelly Brothers movie. A few of the lines were laugh-out-loud funny, and it's nice to see Paul Costanzo in a role other than "Science Geek Who Gets None"... definitely worth watching.

July 26
Phew. As of this evening, I've driven about 1,200 miles this month, with three trips to Ballina accounting for the bulk of it. The end result is a happy car (and thus a happy driver), although the final bill is dependant on some dickering over warranties and suchlike (not by me, more on my behalf). Basically a component that would normally be good for the useful lifetime of the car lasted a mere 5,000 miles; unfortunately, it was guaranteed only for six months and was replaced seven months ago.

July 25
ColdSync on FC4 will SEGV and die if you are using any conduits with it. This is down to some code that I'm sure should never have worked: setjmp, followed by opening a filehandle, followed by longjmp, followed by an attempt to do something with that filehandle. By my understanding of setjmp/longjmp, that should ALWAYS result in the filehandle being unset, but then I've not read the C spec to find out. Anyway, as a hack I blocked out the attempt to use the dead filehandle and everything seems to work fine.

Unloaded all the pictures from my phone in an attempt to sort them out and discard the more drunken unclear ones. Due to the non-working IrDA I had intended bouncing them via Vodafone's My Pictures thing on their website, but since it's taking two days or more for each picture to get from my phone to the site (nevermind the general flakiness of the site), I decided to abandon that approach in favour of using the My Pictures And Sounds app on Windows. Since I have figured out how this works I should really make a Linux version...

July 24
My ghetto GPS tracker seems to have stopped working; I think it's on account of some Firefox updates, but it could also be the phase of the moon or, I dunno, the relative humidity in Bangalore. It'd be nice if you could get useful responses to invoking javascript functions by remote control.

Committed the synced BBDB code to Xemacs CVS. Now I should see about fixing some bugs...

July 23
Working on syncing the BBDB CVS trees again. There must be an easier way to do this.

My fileserver had some sort of disk issue overnight which I think may be related to my rather aggressive tweaking of the drive sleep timeout. In my post-reboot investigations I discovered that I was not running smartd, logwatch, or a viable mail configuration on the server. In particular, there were something like 3000 queued mails for the root account which were waiting for another machine to appear on the network which has, well, long since died. Oops. Cleaning up that mess already.

The Good Thief was recommended to me by The Brother; it's a pretty tidy heist movie, with some funny lines and a pretty girl, but I'm not quite sure I follow the ending. Was it all according to Nolte's plan all along? Seems like there were too many things that happened by chance for that to be the case. Oh well. Some great music in this, too, especially that which accompanies the DVD menus (and the opening and closing titles).

July 22
Trying to install openssl-devel so I can rebuild my IrDA-to-mail hack; somehow there's an unresolvable chain of dependencies despite the aforementioned adherence to stock repositories. I suspect some out-of-sync mirrors. So I manually resolved the dependencies and shrugged. However, I now seem to be stuck on actually getting the port to work. Bah.

Made some tweaks to Finance::Bank::IE::MBNA to accomodate either changes in layout or changes caused by my OS upgrade. Testing is required, no doubt, but nothing seems to have exploded so I've uploaded it to CPAN.

July 21
Back in Dublin again.

I am currently sticking fairly resolutely to the stock FC4 repositories, and installing non-FC4 packages here and there using system-install-packages. So far this has been pretty painless and more-or-less sane.

July 20
Got Jawmail set up at home with a small amount of abuse; it wants a module that no longer appears to be part of PHP/Pear, and it doesn't like self-signed certificates, but now it's working. The main point of this, of course, is webmail access via my WAP phone.

So, in one of those mouth.location = money.location gestures, I'm trying to fix up the basic stupidity with the Gnome Pilot application I mentioned earlier. And just now I've gotten this error message:** (lt-gpilotd:9234): WARNING **: Some clown returned undeclared exception 'IDL:GNOME/Pilot/NoAccess:1.0'. On the plus side, it's doing this in response to trying to sync off a device I don't have access to, which would previously cause the client to simply hang. Go me.

Grr. Having gotten over problem one, viz. that the daemon wasn't communicating inaccessible device errors to the client, I am now faced with problem two, which appears to be some failure of the daemon to talk to my PDA at the protocol level. Weirdly, it seems to be down to closing a listener socket after another socket has been accepted from it. Odd, odd, odd.

Off to the cinema to see Wedding Crashers, which was far, far better than I expected. Perhaps the lack of Ben Stiller made it so much fun. Or maybe it was the unutterably gorgeous Rachel McAdams. This is a good movie, with plenty gags and very little reliance on the gross-out rubbish that you might have anticipated. A must-see.

Back at the house, Big Daddy was just winding up and, well, I'm glad I didn't see any more than the last half-hour or so. "saccharine rubbish" doesn't even begin to cover it, and Adam Sandler's trademark rambling delivery just makes matters worse.

July 19
Picked up The Transporter cheaply the other day. It's not by any means a great movie; what makes it good, though, is the fact that it doesn't try to apologise for being a mindless action movie. I'd previously seen this in the cinema and it was every bit as much fun as I recall.

In other news, one of my automated job searches emailed me a match today. A position with Microsoft. Those of you who know me at all can start giggling now.

July 18
The laptop has been happily suspending to RAM and to disk after I made some small deviations from the standard FC4 install: I've installed a swsusp-patched kernel and associated tools, the DRI version of the graphics drivers, and added an ACPI events file to handle the Suspend button. This combination gives me hibernate-to-disk (which I've hooked up to the Gnome battery applet in place of the apm command that was there) plus hibernate to RAM with no requirement to manually shut down the screen like I had to do with the Evo. Which, as they say, is nice. I'm still not entirely sure I like that the laptop wakes up from RAM sleep when I open the lid, but I don't appear to have a choice about that, and it would be nice to have BIOS-supported hibernate-to-disk but I think at this point I'd need to do an amount of drive reformatting to make it work.

It's all movies, movies, movies; if I had a movie channel I guess I'd never leave the house. Down With Love was, if I'm not mistaken, panned by the critics, but damn it's a funny movie. It's stylish, well shot, well written, has some cheap-but-amusing visual gags, and some fantastic music. Definitely worth a look. And Suddenly Last Summer is an intriguing sort of detective story without a detective, and with more of a "what happened" than a "whodunnit". Some of the monologues in it I found a bit draggy, but that's probably because I'm used to more modern clipped dialogue for us attention-deficient folk. I see there's a 1990's remake of it; I wonder if they "fixed" the script?

Finally, saw most of Diner, which is the sort of cinematic bubblegum that studios produced in their droves in the 80s. I can't say anything was actually bad about it, but nothing stood out, either.

July 17
After the exertions of last night, today was very much a sofa day. Dr. No and The Talented Mr. Ripley provided visual distraction. I've seen Dr. No enough times to be able to recognise Ms. Andress' arrival onscreen from the sound, and the special effects such as they are are pretty much par for the era, i.e. they're not very convincing in this day and age. Still, the story's good enough to entertain, and it sticks reasonably closely to the source material. Funny to see all of the signature Bond gestures on their initial outing - winning in a casino, flinging his hat to the hatstand, the banter with Moneypenny, the Walther PPK, the medium-dry vodka martini, mixed (yes, mixed, not "shaken") and not stirred, and so on. M is there, but not Q, and Felix Leiter gets a look in. Somewhere between this and the more recent Bond movies there's probably a peak in terms of quality, production, and realism before the whole thing descends in the silliness that has dogged the last few movies. Might be interesting to check the IMDb ranks for the entire collection as a guideline!

The second movie, well, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. Matt Damon's character is impressive, as is, I guess, his portrayal; however, I found that the whole issue of him being gay was badly done, almost as if it had been added on as an afterthought - at least to the script, since I've not read the source material. Also I found it hard to judge at times if he was Ripley-playing-Character or Just Ripley, which I guess is in part the whole point, but did make for some confusion on my behalf. Jude Law was brilliant; his carefree lifestyle was wholly believeable, and barring the incessant availability of cash I found myself comparing his exploits to things I've gotten up to or wanted to do myself. I loved the jazz club sequences, despite not having more than a passing interest in jazz - I guess at some level it's just a case of being attracted to the combination of music and technical proficiency. The ending of the movie was extremely, well, MEH. It's an obvious setup for a sequel, but it also felt totally contrived. Again, maybe it's handled better in the source.

Oh, almost forgot. Sheila picked up the first episode of Ewan McGregor's motorbike-around-the-world epic, Long Way Around. It's basically all the preparation they went through; the actual journey starts in the closing minutes of it, followed by a bunch of teasers for the rest of the series. Which, of course, left us both sitting there resolving to see the rest of it, because it looks fascinating. So without even having seen the whole thing I'm recommending this!

July 16
Volunteered as a marshall for the Ballina Street Festival Mardi Gras parade. Was co-opted into being in the parade itself. Whee!

July 15
Well, despite my whining I've moved all my stuff to the FC4 laptop, so let's see how it works out.

Strange as it may sound, The Boxer contained a lot more boxing than I expected. I actually walked through one of the sets for this movie while it was being filmed in Dublin - watch for the exterior shots of the "Belfast City Hall" (actually Dublin's) towards the end of the movie, and imagine my surprise to wander onto a suddenly becobbled Parliament Street replete with burning car and other scenic accoutrements on my way home from the pub. A fairly solid movie about Northern Ireland's painful transition from the Troubles to the Peace Process, and definitely worth a look. Especially for Emily Watson, who is gorgeous throughout.

To Sir With Love II is pretty a much by-the-numbers teacher-overcomes-inner-city-kids movie. There is approximately one surprise, which is so surprising that it's preposterous (this would be Mr. Thackerey's discovery in the hospital) but beyond that the movie is 100% predictable and not particularly well put together. Strike me down for thinking it, but Poitier seems far more suited to roles that require more gravitas, or maybe Shakespearian stuff. In this sort of a movie he just comes off as some guy with an oddball delivery that distracts from whatever dialogue he's trying to get through. Also, is it just me or does Dana Eskelson (Evie) look like Jodie Foster in this movie?

July 14
Brief panic this morning as it appeared that the laptop I've rebuilt had ALSO blown its backlight. Turns out to have just been faulty ACPI again, grr.

July 13
So, I've finally got the laptop running FC4. And I'm trying to interact with it as would, say, a non-experienced Linux user. Well. Evolution crashed within ten minutes of me starting it up (configured to pull in all my mail, poked around a few folders, went back to the prefs to change something and *bang*), and up2date tells me that none of the updates are signed and prompts me to accept every one of them. I can sort of see the point, but a simple "Yes to All" button wouldn't go amiss. I'm currently looking for a way to install the kernel-utils package but apparently there isn't one (handwaving the fact that a novice user wouldn't be looking for such a package in the first place).

Actually, it appears that installing any packages using system-config-packages assumes you're sourcing the packages from the install discs. I wonder if it has a network option? Not from the GUI, anyway.

Plugging in the Pilot USB/Serial device had no visible effect. Yes, it loads a driver and creates /dev/ttyUSB0, but there's no indication of that on-screen. And I can't seem to sync with that, either. Nor with the cradle, although the latter may be a permissions problem. Shouldn't I own /dev/ttyS0 if I log in on the console? And even having force-fixed that, I still can't get it to work. Brilliant. No logs to tell me what's broken, either.

If you save your session on logout, some apps don't get saved, which Gnome happily blames on the application (they're X clients. Just save the damn things already). Evolution remembers to start up, but doesn't remember that you were running it full-screen. Speaking of; Evolution snagged a bunch of things off my mail server that weren't folders. When I try to unsubscribe them, it tells me they're not folders, and refuses to remove them from the list. If they're not folders, why are they in the folder list, hmm?

The point here, in case you missed it above, is that I know how to solve a lot of this stuff. But I shouldn't have to. And the solutions I know of aren't plainly obvious.

I tried debugging the Pilot failure.(gpilotd:7976): gpilotd-WARNING **: An error occured while getting the pilot's system data. Note, no mention of what error; pilot-xfer is just PEACHY with the PDA. And note you can't trivially access that error in the first place; the front-end just sits there doing nothing (what the hell is the timeout setting for, if you disregard it at this point in the process?) while the backend has washed its hands of the whole thing. Brilliant. Does anyone even try running this stuff once before declaring it releaseable?

Black Hawk Down is one gritty movie. In terms of visuals, think Saving Private Ryan; it's not for the squeamish. There's very little of the gung-ho I expected here; once things go bad, they go really bad, and there isn't any lightening up of the tension once it becomes obvious that the half-hour smash-and-grab operation has turned into an utter disaster. Minor sideswipes are taken at the UN in the movie, but really, this is more a horror-of-war movie than anything else. Of course, since I was in college and not paying attention when the story this is based on took place, I'm now going to have to read up on it, although I am aware that some people feel the movie is a justification for armed incursions to "ensure peace". Can't say I noticed, what with the way the mission went. If anything, it's a poster child for "stay the hell out of other peoples' fights". Definitey one to see, but not, as I say, if you've got a weak stomach.

July 12
Another gorgeous sunny day. Still, I took time to get annoyed with FC4 as I tried to lever it onto the laptop I've freed up with the last few days of network munging (this site is no longer being hosted on said laptop, among other things).

July 11
Scored a nice set of Sony MDR headphones (proper headphones, with a headband) for just under a tenner at the local Argos, yay!

Sin City didn't blow me away quite as I'd expected. Yes, it's very stylish, and does look pretty much like a live-action graphic novel, but to be honest I think the latter was distracting at times; it makes the CGI (well, the whole movie is CGI, really) far too in-your-face. The action is gritty and visceral (very visceral) and the stories are good, but I didn't quite go for the narration, either - again, I guess, a necessary artifact of the movie's origins. It's not all darkness; there some decent one-liners, one of which caused a ripple of laughter (the one with the pipe wrench) but for the most part it's pretty much noir to the core. Go see it, and if you're a fan of the source - which I've not read - you'll probably love it, but if you're just a casual viewer, the obsessive stylishness may put you off.

July 10
Made a totally ghetto GPS tracker using 30 lines of PHP, 30 lines of Perl, Google Maps, and Firefox's remote-control feature. Mad! Actually what's impressed me most is how close to reality my GPS is, now that I've got some means of drawing on an actual map.

July 9
Weird: FC3 + the basic PHP package won't render any PHP pages; instead the processing webserver child falls over. Install the php-devel package and the problem goes away.

Still rearranging my network; I've just moved mail and its attendant antivirus/antispam bits, so I'm not going to touch anything else for a day or so to allow obvious errors to show up. In the process I've more-or-less accidentally switched to the Dovecot IMAP server, since Cyrus IMAP was failing in some indeterminate fashion and I really didn't feel like debugging it; Dovecot Just Worked.

July 8
Argh. Laptop's backlight died this morning. I wonder if I can buy a replacement rather than having to send my laptop through CompaqHP's drawn-out repair process?

Set up the 3Com box that one of the regulars at the local gave me (yes, hardware sourced at the pub) and then migrated the webserver to my rebuilt-in-a-case MiniITX machine. Hopefully this all works...

July 7
Sat around playing Sudoku for most of the day. How productive, eh?

July 6
Cross-country jaunt in a hurry to get to another Amazon interview on time. Made it, just!

Man About Dog is a great movie, but unless you feel you could follow an entire cast that speaks like Brad Pitt in Snatch, it might all be lost on you.

July 5
Must've been a power outage in Dublin overnight - all my machines had rebooted, and that's not how I like to discover that my webserver's not set to autostart!

Watched most of The Colour Purple which, well, I don't know how to rate a movie like that. It had a story, which is sort of Not The Done Thing these days, and it was a complex story, which definitely isn't right, and, well, nothing exploded. Where are my reference points?

July 4
Hmm. Happy Birthday, America, I guess. Spent a large part of the day reading about Linux device drivers and TCP congestion avoidance/management algorithms. Some of the latter looks like it might be fun to research further, although it looks like far smarter people than me have already applied themselves to the problem and come up with some pretty cool suggestions.

Two more movies: Sideways and Blade Trinity, although this time on the small rather than the large screen. The latter, written and directed by Batman Begins scriptwriter David S. Goyer, appears to be an example of what happens if you divide your attention too much. It's all over the place, jumping from dark horror to cheesy wisecracks to let's-play-with-gimmicks and back to the cheesy wisecracks again, it's got some jarring continuity issues in terms of the resilience of the non-vampire cast, and on the whole you could probably spend the time it takes to watch it doing far more useful things without missing too much. Sideways, on the other hand, is a wonderfully assembled road trip/buddy movie/rom-com following the last hurrah of a no-name actor and his oenophile college roommate who is trying to apply some class over the actor's crass. There's some lovely scenery in it, some classic dialogue ("Did you drink and dial?"), and the story's actually pretty good. Although I kept waiting for Paul Giamatti's character to throw a punch, to be honest. And, equally honestly, I found parts of Giamatti's character sufficiently familiar as to be poignant. Maybe I should take up wine-drink^Wtasting.

July 3
Happy Birthday, Sheila!

July 2
Poked at the GPS toy for a bit, then drove to Ballina.

Two movies at the cinema: Batman Begins and War of the Worlds. The former is an excellent piece of work; it's dark, it's got depth, it's got action, it's got laughs. Michael Caine as Albert is excellent, although the accent (can you accuse Caine of hamming his accent?) was a little too obviously British; Bale makes an absolutely excellent Bruce Wayne, and aside from the slightly-overdone gravelly voice is equally impressive as The Dark Knight. Gary Oldman plays neither bad guy nor madman in a hugely subtle performance as Jim Gordon, and believably fumbling - not bumbling - when faced with driving the Batmobile. Which deserves an entire movie of its own, and I can only hope that the DVD release contains far too much coverage in too great detail of this wonderful toy. Batman's Q, Lucius Fox, is played by Morgan Freeman in another fairly understated performance; nothing is taken away from Bale's role as The Lead Actor, despite the presence of far more experienced actors on set. And Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow is far more menacing than I'd expected from anything else I've seen him in, including Disco Pigs. Truly malevolent. Probably the weakest performances were Katie Holmes and Liam Neeson; for some reason I found Neeson's performance more distracting than anything else despite his character's key role in Batman's development. Overall, though, beautifully assembled and well worth seeing. Possibly twice.

War of the Worlds, on the other hand... Well, look. Your hero is a short guy with a big nose who goes nuts on talk shows. Good start, that. The whole "let's make it a movie about The Family" aspect really didn't work for me, and to be honest I'd have preferred to see the Bruckheimer/Bay take on this, which I imagine would somehow involve procuring a real martian spacecraft and blowing it up. For a movie like this, you expect big, recognisable things to get destroyed, including (presumbably by some sort of unspoken contract) the Chrysler Building and maybe the White House if there's time. Instead, Spielberg focusses solely on Cruise and his kids, leaving the Official Response To The Martian Threat as a footnote - a few jets flying overhead, lots of flashing explosions, a fleet of Apaches and a convoy or two of grunts - which really isn't, as I say, what I expect from The Summer Blockbuster With The Aliens In It. Oh well.

July 1
Cleaning Doolin stuff out of my hard drive. Deleting Lotus Notes freed up rather a lot of space!

I've had Hollow Man sitting on my table for the last week or more and only just got around to watching it. It's not bad, but it's not terribly good either - as you'd expect from a Paul Verhoeven piece, there's plenty blood (at one point quite literally being thrown around) and gratuituous flesh. The special effects are good enough that you stop noticing them as soon as they stop showing them off, but you know, I can remember seeing a black-and-white movie of The Invisible Man (probably the 1966 version) and being pretty wowed at the sequence where he takes off his bandages. And there are too many dramatic endings; apparently the invisibility serum is like PCP in that it gives you awesome superhuman powers as well as a dose of psychosis, except when the plot requires you to be briefly stunned/incapacitated/immolated. Hollow Man is worth a look, but don't rush to rent it. Oh, and for the DVD itself: the main menu system is pointlessly difficult to use - the titles you're supposed to select are rotating around so that you have to wait a few seconds to make out each one. It's not even particularly pretty to look at, which makes it even more pointless.

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