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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

September 30
On a whim I shut down the laptop completely, and lo and behold, the recalcitrant USB port has sprung back to life. Yippee!

Taxi (1998) is a much, much better movie than the useless remake I watched on the 16th. Surprisingly (to me, anyway) much of the storyline is the same. The traffic-light sequence made no sense to me, though, given that the drivers appeared to be ignoring the lights anyway, and the peugeot sounded like it had been overdubbed with the engine of a Formula 1 car, but this is another "you gotta see this" movie.

September 29
Did some long-overdue hacking on the Big Secret Movie Thing that I've been playing with for the last several years. It's mainly secret because the code is awful and fragile. Plus it does a lot of website scraping which usually upsets someone.

Hot Fuzz: awesomely good. Much like Shaun of the Dead, it's a pitch-perfect homage/spoof of a genre, in this case the Buddy Cop Movie. The cast is pretty astoundingly good, too - Timothy Dalton, Edward Woodward, Bill Nighy, to name three - and the plot, well, who cares? These movies are never about the plot, and even this gets spoofed. The only complaint I'd have is that some of the cutting in the action scenes was too fast, rendering them something of a blur, but that's pretty minor. You really have to see this.

September 28
So it appears I've killed (in some unspecified way) the USB port on my poor beleaguered laptop, probably when I plugged a power-hungry device into it. As a result I'm looking for PCMCIA cards that provide USB ports. And the main problem I am having with the available selection is that most of them come with the ports integrated into the card, meaning the card has a bulky protrusion that won't allow me to use my wireless network card at the same time. The only cards I've found that are "flat" are on sites in the US, and I'd prefer to stick with local shipping if at all possible.

The website from which I scrape my TV listings has altered the page layout, so that's another script that needed fixing...

Shortbus didn't quite end up where I thought it would, but I enjoyed the ride, if you'll pardon the pun. It's not for the squeamish or the prudish, but there's a sizeable chunk of romance at the heart of it all.

September 27
Stopped into Lou's (relatively) new gaff to check it out. It's rather nice.

September 26
Mom visited, so I could explain techie stuff directly instead of writing about it!

September 25
I've noticed a couple of times now that my laptop gets in a bit of a state, flipping randomly through workspaces without me being able to interrupt it. I'm not sure if it's because I was trying out Komposé, which is a nifty toy to show you all your running applications side-by-side. This time around when the laptop got confused, I had to log in from another machine and restart the desktop. Which, while it stopped flipping around randomly, has become confused as to how things are laid out. Nothing too crucial, just mildly annoying.

September 24
Still recovering from my little running excursion. By which I mean "lounging on the sofa not doing a whole lot".

September 23
So the problem with the Palm toolset is this: normally, you can extend long lines of source code by putting a backslash (\) at the end of the line. The compiler treats this as an instruction to glue the subsequent line onto it, thus rendering
foo \
foo bar
The problem is that the toolset is using an older version of the C compiler which doesn't understand this notation in certain situations. I don't know if this is a violation of the C specification or what, but it's certainly annoying, since the particular sequence of bits that triggers the bug is present all over the version 5 developer files. So, step one is to see if I can patch around the problem, and step two is to see if I can upgrade the toolset to a more modern compiler. Step three, the fallback, is to fix the version 5 developer files to not have this particular layout, but I'd rather not have to do that.

Ok, that's marginally less annoying: the problem appears to be that the files are Windows text files rather than Unix text files, so in theory I should just be able to convert the files easily and shazaam, job done. I still want to fix the toolset, though.

Bobby is a bit over-complicated and drawn out, but interesting enough nonetheless. Interesting use of archive footage of RFK rather than (for the most part) using a double, but it's a bit jarring when the movie switches from whatever the latest in chromatic technology is to 1968-era film and back again; I think it might have worked better if they'd done one of those "digitally aged to look like the original footage" jobs. I also thought it was a bit odd that the bystander victims in the shooting didn't correlate with the real bystander victims; were the real ones not cinematic enough or something?

Accidentally rebooted the laptop, by which I mean I yanked the power cable and the battery, for some reason, didn't take up the slack. Gah. This was the whole point of me getting the battery!

September 22
So today I ran 13.1 miles in 1:43:57 (official time pending). Boy do I hurt.

Found an older version of the busted files from the folk at Palm. Actually, I'm no longer sure who's responsible. Most of the old Palm developer links on the web wind up on a site for Access Company, which in turn points at developerpilion.com; meantime, there's a new developer section on Palm's website which doesn't appear to correlate in any meaningful way with the Access Company one. Oh, and whatever old logins I had for this no longer work. But I digress. Installing version 4 of the Palm-sourced files instead of version 5 results in me successfully building one of the demo applications, so definitely the problem is that the tools don't like the newer files. Now I need to figure out what the actual problem is. Or not, in fact. Since my own Palm V runs version 4 of the operating system, I don't have a real need for the version 5 files.

Now, what was I going to do with these tools again?

September 21
Ok, so Palm Pilot dev tools, take #2. Or #3. Or maybe #24,184. Maybe this is why the Linux-on-Palm effort died out - all the tools are broken. Or maybe it's just that there's cooler stuff available to work on...

Contact (1997) was on TV, so I figured I'd at least leave it switched on, since I remember watching this when it came out, possibly in the cinema or possibly on DVD some time afterwards. It's not bad.

Ok, so data point: the pre-built PRC tools fail in the same way as the ones I built myself, so it's not a problem with my own efforts, it's a problem with the tools themselves. Actually, the problem appears to be specifically with some files provided by Palm themselves which the tools don't like. I wonder if I can lay hands on an older version of same that actually works.

Ok, so I think I've identified the problem, but that's not to say I've fixed it. Time for bed, I have a bit of running to do tomorrow.

September 20
After further poking at the code and some fetching of bits via Google, I appear to have a working compiler for the Pilot. Hooray!

Hmm, I spoke too soon: it's not quite working. I'm getting a peculiar error, in fact, that makes no sense to me. Oh well, guess I'll leave it for another night.

September 19
Continued trying to assemble working tools for aforementioned Palm Pilot coding. After various attempts at fixing broken things myself I did what I should've done in the first place, which is to go to the PRC Tools website and dig out the last unreleased code, since the released code is waaaaay out of date.

Well, that was slightly more successful, but still not quite there. Bah.

Started fiddling with an idea I had for regaining control over the eleventy-million images I have all over this website, only to have an image-processing library (ImageMagick) crash on me. That's no good...

Ah. Turns out I was being a bonehead. D'oh.

September 18
Decided once again that I want to try writing a few bits and pieces for the Palm Pilot. Getting together the relevant tools for this is essentially a wild goose chase through various websites to figure out who last touched any of it and what actually works.

Did the minimal thumbnail/index thing with my Rome photos.

September 17
Met up with Lou for coffee and chat.

I'm not sure how I convinced myself that Smokin' Aces would be worth watching; maybe it was the somewhat all-star cast or something. Shame on me, it turned out to be pretty crap, with about zero redeeming features.

September 16
Rebooted my main server to pick up an upgraded kernel. In the process discovered that it won't run Xen kernels, presumably because it's not a real Intel system (it's a Via C3). My vague plan-shaped thing was to run it as a Xen system with separate virtual machines for mail, web, etc. but I'm not even sure the hardware is beefy enough for that.

[Guide For Mom: Xen is a modification to Linux that allows running multiple "virtual computers" (virtual machines, or VMs) on a single physical computer. In other words you get the same effect as having three or four computers even though there's only one actual computer present. Useful for keeping things like a webserver and a mailserver separated from each other (essentially they behave as if they're on wholly separate machines) or for testing things when you're short of hardware.]

Taxi is, ah, pretty awful. Jimmy Fallon is utterly unbearable, and the only redeeming features are the car chases and the bike run at the start (think "parkour with a bike across New York"). Don't bother with this - see if you can get the chases as clips on youtube or something.

September 15
Mostly fiddling with the code I use to back up stuff off my phone. It's pretty much gotten to the point where I need to rip it apart and start from scratch now that I know all the ways I can get it wrong...

September 14
Some time ago I added some configuration to my laptop that would cause it to load up the bluetooth system when I plugged in my bluetooth interface, and unload it when I plugged said interface out. Just now while checking for something else in the system message log I noticed an error from the startup process: the old setup used allow you to configure a script or action whenever a bluetooth PIN is required, so that you could have a pop-up window requesting you to enter the PIN or whatever. Not only is this no longer a configuration option, but I can't trivially locate either the point at which it was deprecated or the intended replacement. I suspect I'll have to unpack a pristine bluetooth configuration and see if there are any hints there.

[Guide For Mom: bluetooth is a short-range radio network for connecting things like mobile phones to computers, or car-phone kits, or phone headsets without using cables. In order to give some semblance of security, you can set up bluetooth so that you need to enter a password (PIN) of some sort on both the phone and whatever it's connecting to. Usually, you only have to enter this password the first time you connect two devices together, so not having a pop-up window for the purpose isn't as much hassle as it might at first seem.]

September 13
Did the tourist thing a little, and then flew home again.

September 12
Attended a wedding. Congratulations, Georgina and Dalton!

September 11
Flew to Rome.

September 10
More classics from my cellphone provider's billing application:
Total Unbilled Calls 17.230099999999894

Evolution's stability continues to impress me: what more can I say about an application that, on startup, has some arbitrary component of itself crash with no trace of what went wrong? Gah.

I found Watch The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid (google video link) pretty fascinating, particularly since I've been a fan of the KLF for a long time. As far as I'm aware this isn't not the actual movie they made, it's a documentary covering the lead-up to and follow-on from the event. The burning itself is quite banal: Jimmy and Bill standing on either side of an old fireplace, tossing handfuls of £50 notes into a blazing pile of, well, more £50 notes. More interesting is their own reactions and the reactions of others, and the debate over whether it's art or not. Strangely, no mention is ever made of the fact that it's actually a criminal act, and the end of the documentary seems to imply that, nudge nudge wink wink, it was all a publicity stunt for their next single, an idea which clearly irritates Bill Drummond. It's worth a watch, if you've got an hour to spare.

Swimming Pool doesn't seem to have much plot beyond some flimsy excuses to have Ludivine Sagnier wandering around in little to no clothing for the duration. Can't say I'd particularly recommend it. I will note in passing that the rules for French movies applied reasonably well, despite this being a Belgian movie. Especially rule 8 (water, check; murder, check; family, check; art, check).

September 9
Poking at my mobile phone again. Seems that in order to load it up with useful applications that can do things like access the Internet without asking you every time if it's okay to do so, you need to have them approved by Vodafone. Or you can delete a particular file off the phone, doing which apparently stops the built-in applications from working. Bah. This is what happens when you let a decades-old monopoly design your "consumer-friendly" device.

Not exactly a stellar sporting weekend for Ireland: dragged to a 2-2 draw in soccer, and looking decidedly dodgy against the opposition in rugby - we beat them pointswise, but there were a lot of very silly mistakes.

September 8
Went to see Knocked Up at the local cinema, something of a change from my usual DVD watching. Excellent movie, with some really good gags and a touch of schmaltz to keep the closet romantics happy.

September 7
Watched most of Kingpin, which, despite some fairly obvious bad jokes, is actually rather a good movie.

September 6
Quiet night lounging around doing, as we say, feck-all.

September 5
Well, I ordered it back in May, had the wrong item delivered, argued with the vendor, returned it, waited, complained to the vendor some more, and now I finally have a replacement battery for my laptop. Hurrah for something or other.

Briefly investigated swapping my instant messenger client (currently XChat with BitlBee) only to discover my choice of alternative (Pidgin) uses more memory, which was the specific thing I was trying to address.

September 4
Shaft (2000) isn't a bad cop movie, but the dialogue is positively awful in places. I don't know if this was an intentional attempt to riff off the original movie, but if so it really didn't work - even Samuel L. Jackson couldn't save it. And I'm completely passing over the fact that not once did the bad guys even put a scratch on Shaft, despite several close-range firefights. On the whole, it wasn't terrible, but don't rush out and rent this or anything.

I should probably remove the bits in my Emacs startup file for the version of Emacs I used use in Motorola some, er, 13 years ago. Last time I checked, that version of Emacs wouldn't even compile on any of my Linux machines.

[Guide For Mom: Emacs is an application I use to edit text such as email, software, this diary, etc. When you start it up it reads a file containing assorted commands that are generally intended to customise its behaviour to individual tastes - for example, my particular setup figures out how big the screen is and then sets the Emacs window to be as tall as possible within the screen's height. I started putting things into this file in college and have brought it around with me from job to job ever since, accumulating more and more bits along the way. One of the things I've had to cater for is changes in the application from one version to the next, or even within the same version but depending on whether I'm running on Linux or Windows. As for the last comment, well, compiling is where you take the "human-readable" version of a piece of software and turn it into the version that the computer runs (also sometimes referred to as "building"). The version of Emacs I started out with stopped building on Linux - due to changes in Linux - somewhere around 2000, I think.]

I'm not sure if there's supposed to be some sort of message in Secuestro Express, maybe "it's ok to be rich if you don't rub it in the face of the poor", or maybe "it's ok to kidnap people who have more money than you". Hard to say, between dialogue and narrator (actually more of a chorus) but hey. It's a slick enough film, lots of jumpy cutting to accentuate the on-screen action, and probably at least worth a look.

September 3
Had a flood of spam due to the spam filter dying on my mail server. Further investigation revealed that the automatic updates system had decided it was taking ALL the memory, so everything else was getting killed off to make way for it. Bah.

September 2
Back in Dublin. Still sore.

September 1
Off to Tramore/Waterford for a stag party. Paintball, meaning ow ow ow bruises...

Happy Birthday Donal!

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