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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

January 31
The Cube needed a QuickTime upgrade and reboot (this is what happens when you embed random bits of not-necessarily-kernel technology in your kernel) so I took the opportunity to install the RAM. Bwahaha, 320MB to 1.5GB makes quite a difference in how often the disk spins up.

January 30
Got distracted by some old code. Neglected to do anything with Apache 2 as promised to self. Also, I've got some RAM to put in The Cube, and I didn't do anything with that either. ABJECT FAIL.

January 29
I found The Reader quite engaging, although like the one review I read I was puzzled as to why Kate Winslet's character should have a relationship with David Kross' 15-year-old boy; it's been suggested to me that Winslet's character's passive nature is sufficient to explain it, so fair enough. The scenes of the boy walking through an abandoned Auschwitz were particularly affecting, especially when he walked into the room full of inmates' shoes, and the montage of Ralph Fiennes with his room full of books was similarly moving. Not a perfect or brilliant movie, but definitely not a waste of time.

January 28
Happy birthday, sis!

Spent some time trying to get apache2 up and running on something other than the Cube, as mentioned previously.

January 26
Successfully updated everything, although my webserver was down from about 4am to 9am this morning due to a minor oversight... also figured out the business with file permissions on the external drive: if you open the Info panel on the desktop for the drive in question and uncheck the box that says to ignore ownership and permissions, it starts working like a proper drive. I can't see offhand how you're supposed to do this from a command line, though. Maybe it's a sneaky diskutils option.

Next thing to do, just so I don't wind up going back to one of my many abandoned projects, is to see about upgrading from Apache 1.something to Apache 2.something.

January 25
With some difficulty I managed to upgrade the Cube's Fink installation (as previously noted); the difficulty was in upgrading Fink itself, which involved a build from source which isn't suggested anywhere on the site - it seems like the self-update process should have done the job for me. Anyway, I'm now going back over the desired knock-on updates that this has suggested, and slowly applying them to avoid breaking things. I'm still a little confused as to why the 10.5 installation on the MacBook has 7000-some packages available, while what I would have thought was an identical installation on the Cube has 8000-some. Oh, and there's the minor detail of how to persuade it that I do, in fact, have Apple's X11 stuff installed (not that it should matter, but something in the dependency chain wants to know).

I think the main reason that You Kill Me works so well is Ben Kingsley's performance. It's quite the funny movie, even when it's being a bit bleak, and the whole matter-of-fact treatment of Frank's job (he's a hitman) is a gimmick that could easily have gone wrong but doesn't. Definitely one to watch.

January 24
Making some minor tweaks to the RSS toy: the Irish Times breaking news RSS feed has moved, so that's just a database entry update, but the more annoying one was that the RTE feed started causing breakage.

Let me back up a little and explain: RSS is a mess. There's no such thing as a clean upgrade path from one version to another, there's disagreement over what the various versions actually mean, there's disagreement over how non-text should be encoded, etc. My solution to this, and presumably the same one applied by sites like Bloglines and Google Reader and so on, is to apply a bunch of rules-of-thumb to try and clean up the various feeds into something resembling a sane, parseable piece of XML, and to subsequently treat that as the authoritative data. The main problem with this is that one of the rules with XML is that if the input data is malformed, your parser catches fire and explodes. It's in the specification. Fire, explosion. So over the last few years I've graudally identified the most likely causes of conflagration and used ordinary text processing to get rid of them before the XML parser gets a look-in. And in general, this works.

The more recent problems, alas, are from the code that operates on this cleaned-up XML. The XML::RSS module appears, periodically, to introduce some new and exciting way of breaking on things that were previously perfectly acceptable, and it does so by following the XML parser model of fire and explosions. That this is plainly wrong is made evident by the fact that it's possible to have the module generate output that it cannot itself cope with. This is a pretty basic failure. The last occurrence of this I had to deal with was the author's decision to use an incomplete ISO8601 date parser which actually broke on the majority of the examples given in the ISO8601 spec, and worse, was trivially fixable. Having proved to myself that it was trivially fixable, I abandoned the fix and instead applied more preprocessing to the incoming RSS in order to avoid tripping over the bugs.

The latest "bug" is in the XML::RSS module itself: if the feed you're reading has a top-level image, but that image doesn't have a title attribute, then the output code will die. I can't see how this makes sense. My first approach to addressing the problem was simply to remove the top-level image from the feed, since I don't display them in my RSS toy anyway, but that then caused the output code to die because apparently it's treating top-level images as mandatory. My second approach, to delete the one image attribute the code uses to determine if the image should be output (don't get me started on that...), works just fine.

For now.

I think I'll spend the rest of the day doing something COMPLETELY different.

The decision to go see Frost/Nixon was a last-minute one: movies starting immediately with seating that wasn't in the front row. As it turns out, it's an excellent piece of work which really caught my interest, and never mind all the critics who said it made more of Frost's interviews than they actually meant in context. Go see this.

Stranger Than Fiction is another in the long series of movies that turn up sufficiently distant from when I added them to my Screenclick wishlist that I couldn't even remember what the film was about before I sat down to watch it. Will Ferrell is someone I have mixed views on; some of his work I have loved, some I have hated, so renting this was a bit of a gamble. Turns out it paid off, and paid off well: it's a nifty little plot device, and it's executed rather well. Again, one to go see.

January 20
Possibly tempting fate, I have attempted to update the fink install on this server (yes, my live web/mail server) to match the version running on my laptop. This should make it easier for me to do a few things to the site that I've been putting off. Assuming, of course, that I don't get distracted by some other shiny object.

I couldn't seem to get into We Own The Night. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, although arguably the big set-piece in the drug house half-way through seemed to upset the pacing, but for some reason I found my concentration drifting and never really engaged with the story. Joaquin Phoenix's accent seems rather weird, as well - half the time he sounds like he's talking through a mouthful of cotton wool, and then the rest of the time he's got perfectly clear diction. It's like he was trying to do a Marlon Brando voice, but occasionally forgot to keep it up. Anyway, it's not, as I say, a bad movie, but I don't think I'd feel inclined to see it again.

January 17
I think this picture clearly illustrates the dangers of keyword-linked advertising: Fly Emirates, right into the Hudson.

The Bank Job is apparently based on a true story, although given that the story on which it is based was subject to a press blackout it's kinda hard to tell what's real and what's fiction. The movie itself is pretty good, though; nice edge-of-the-seat thriller in places. Definitely worth a look.

January 15
Further to yesterday's threatened curmudgeonly activity, I'm now the proud possessor of... yet another Macintosh! My shiny new office toy is a MacBook Pro, which I'm being asked to tool around with to find the sharp edges. Woohoo!

January 14
Hmm, that's unpleasant: woke up this morning to discover my DSL had gone offline at 6:25am and didn't come back. Of course, if you can read this, that situation has been rectified... magically returned at 10:12. I wonder if I'll get that callback I requested?
[later] Yes, yes I did. A very nice gentleman named Sean called me back just before 11:00am, and told me that mine had been one of 2000 customer lines that had some difficulty. No mention of what the cause was, but I am strongly in favour of this pleasant customer service experience.

Fun at the office: twice so far this week my coworkers (including my manager, and my manager's manager) have suggested that I get given/forced to use some arbitrary piece of recently-developed internal tech, on the grounds that anything that's wrong with it will annoy me sufficiently that I'll fix it for my own use and everyone else will benefit by side-effect. I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but it's certainly based on a proven track record.

January 12
How peculiar. Before Sunrise turns out to be a far better movie than I expected given what I'd said about its sequel back in June '07; without having seen the movies, I'd have expected the first to have the Guy Talks Clever So He Can Get Laid angle, and the second to have Guy Has Grown Up Somewhat angle, but it actually seems like it's the other way around. Really, though, this is an excellent piece, and the "phone conversations" in particular cracked me up. It probably helps that I identify with Hawke's character in a surprising number of ways, not least of which is his reason for being in Vienna in the first place. It's a great dose of "what if..." stuff that, if it doesn't make you think about the sort of topics that the leads are discussing, should at least make you wonder what you were doing at that age and how you'd have reacted to the circumstances. I think I'm going to have to go back and watch the sequel and actually pay more attention this time - I suspect it'll be a good deal better.

And in nerd news: I hacked up some applescript to interact with iTunes on the Cube, specifically to make sure my iPod has synced before I head out to work, and also a command-line script to "eject" the iPod so I don't have to go fiddling around with the damn thing in the morning. If I were really trying, I'd have this keyed up to an on-call calendar so it'd know what time to eject the iPod by itself and have it ready for me to grab as I walked out the door. Cue up the video for Lazy (X-Press 2 featuring David Byrne)...

January 11
New Rose Hotel was watchable enough for the first hour, at which point they apparently stopped principal photography and just filled out the remaining thirty minutes or so with a confused mish-mash of cutting-room floor material and reruns of earlier shots and dialogue. The story and title come from a William Gibson short, and it's rather a shame that they made such a mess of the end of this, since as best I can recall the rest of it stuck pretty much to the original storyline. If you do decide to watch this, it's probably best to turn it off after Willem Dafoe's character crawls into the hotel cubicle, because there's nothing more in the film after that that you couldn't figure out from paying attention.

I'm not wholly sure why I rented Performance since it keeps showing up on TV, but that's neither here nor there. It's a bit hit-and-miss: some of it is absolutely fantastic, some of it comes across as a director's attempt to capture the experience of being on drugs, and some of it is just plain rubbish. The ending, I must admit, confused me a little, but it's not exactly a regular movie so I guess that was to be expected. On the whole, it didn't feel like a waste of time while I was watching it, but looking back on it I'm not so sure. Viewer discretion, as they say, advised.

January 10
Inkheart is ostensibly a kids' movie, but with a 12A certification I'm not sure how kid-friendly it actually is; there are one or two scary-monster moments that probably merit the cert. But anyway, I'm long past such concerns, and what this really is is another excellent "Brendan Fraser meets somewhat campy bad guys and has fun" outing. I'm beginning to think of Fraser in similar terms to John Cusack, in as much as I don't care what he's starring in, I enjoy simply watching him at work. That's not to detract from this; I don't think there was a single thing in the movie I didn't like. It was well scripted, beautifully shot, the effects were generally not intrusive unless required to be so, and on the whole I'd happily go see it again. Andy Serkis as the bad guy absolutely rocks, and Paul Bettany as the guy whose good/bad status never seems quite clear is equally brilliant, and of course Fraser as lead just runs away with the thing completely. Go watch.

January 8
I have no idea why I added Leatherheads to my wishlist, but I'm rather glad I did. A comedy set in the 1920s when professional (American) football was just getting formalised, it's got more than a tip of the hat to both previous Clooney rom-com Intolerable Cruelty and also to the slapstick routines of the silent movie era, including a passing homage to the Keystone Kops. I can only imagine this was a hell ("You can't say "hell" on the radio!") of a lot of fun to make, because it certainly looks that way in the finished movie. Well worth seeing again.

January 6
Busily consolidating data in order that I can throw out a few bits of hardware. Somewhere in the process I've run afoul of a few quirks of MacOS, such as the fact that it didn't agree with the Linux VFAT driver's interpretation of a valid filename and thus dropped a whole bunch of files I was trying to move from a DOS-format partition to a HFS+ partition. I also somehow managed to copy an entire directory structure without any of its attendant files, but as best I can tell none of the files were critical anyway - mainly stuff I'd downloaded and packaged for various versions of Fedora Core, which I'm not running on anything live at this point. Once I've got copies of various disks on the Mac I'll have a look at consolidating them and throwing away useless things like OS-level backups of boxes I no longer run. Oh, and maybe I'll eventually figure out (or some kind reader will suggest) why it is that the external drive shows up on the Mac in some sort of mode that prevents file ownership from taking effect - everything is owned by user "unknown". Maybe it's the fact that it's a removable drive, but it's damned annoying.

I've read a few bits and pieces on MacOS' NFS implementation; it seems that while it can get data from both the NetInfo Manager and the /etc/exports file, some options only appear to work if they're in the latter. Somebody did a big writeup (5 pages) on how he'd patched the NFS startup script to address this, among other things, but to be honest on cursory inspection of his patching I was pretty put off by the fact that there appeared to a bunch of changes made solely to satisfy his notions of how the file should be indented - i.e. cosmetic non-functional changes. I'm never keen on those, particularly when they obscure the real changes being made.

I've also made a few half-hearted attempts to figure out how to get Postfix doing SMTP auth. The basic problem is this: Postfix is built to use SASL for said auth. This is not a problem, as MacOS ships with SASL. Unfortunately, the documented hook for Postfix (and other things) is to tell it to use the pwcheck SASL mechanism, which MacOS doesn't ship, and my attempts to build it from the Darwin source have failed pretty miserably at the configure stage - i.e. before I even get to trying to compile anything - and I've thus far not been driven to figure out why. Fink ships a version of SASL also, which I suspect may have all the bits, but it's not clear to me that it's possible to run the system-provided Postfix against the Fink library - in fact, my experiences with attempting similar with Apache have proven unsuccessful. I'm convinced there has to be a useful way to use the system version of SASL with the system version of Postfix without actually installing MacOS Server (which I presume has all the bits I need) but so far I've not managed to find it.

January 5
The problem with watching an old classic movie like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest for the first time some 30 years and change since its release is that it's been copied and parodied so much in the interim that you keep getting these jarring moments of recognition for all the wrong reasons. Mostly Simpsons references, funnily enough. That, plus everyone knows what Jack Nicholson playing Jack Nicholson looks like these days, whereas back then it would've been something of a novelty. Suffice to say that this is probably a good movie, and certainly a good story, but the goodness was a bit lost on me.

January 4
Hurrah, nerding. The account activity stuff in my MBNA perl module stopped working some time before Christmas; you could get the current balance, but not the detailed breakdown of charges. Found the problem and fixed it, uploaded to CPAN Finance::Bank::IE version 0.16.

Re-watched Cashback; still as good as the first time. Except for the Flatliners bit at the soccer game, which, well, I thought that was silly the first time around, too, but the fact that I knew nothing further would come of it made the rest of the movie that little bit better. Also, I think there's a musical gag in the two break-up scenes: they're playing an aria from an opera. So, the fat lady is singing. Boom boom!

January 3
And today was the day I rewatched (possibly for the third or fourth time) Lost In Translation, another excellent piece of work that everyone really should see.

January 2
Finally got around to rewatching The Dark Knight; it's still excellent, albeit a little too long, and Harvey Dent as Two-Face is still too cartoonish for the realism that pervades the movie. I watched some of the DVD extras as well, and while the IMAX filming was awesome (if lost on those of us who don't have IMAX screens and BlueRay players), the truly impressive stuff is in the practical stunts. Like, they did in fact flip a full 18-wheel rig about its long axis. And that Batbike thingy (yes, yes, the BatPod™) was actually drivable. Up. A Flight. Of Stairs. Where can I buy one?

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Oh, it's January again.