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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

October 31
Hacked a little on the Emacs lisp I use to maintain these pages in order to, er, maintain these pages.

So, a little detail on the holiday. We headed out on the 14th, arrived in Sri Lanka on the 15th, stayed in Hikkaduwa until the 24th, spent a night in Colombo, then came back on the 25th. Little to no actual tourism took place as it was mainly a relaxation break. Media consumed as follows:

Freedom was a nicely entertaining read. One thing that struck me about it after the fact is that it's essentially the story of a handful of people with the world at large being a fuzzy prop in the background - in this case, the Iraq war getting passing mentions and minor integrations with the lives of the characters, but little more than that. I've never really considered this before, so I can't really say if it's something specific about this book that drew it out or if I've just been oblivious to other writers using the same technique.

Anathem was far, far better than I'd expected from various snide remarks I'd seen about it in passing (I don't generally seek out book reviews, particuarly where authors that I like are concerned); I knew it was good when I was having trouble putting it down despite having trouble keeping my eyes open due to the lateness of the hour. It reminds me a bit of Robert Anton Wilson's work, where there's a Big Idea in the book being sold to you as part of a (science)fiction piece, so you don't notice that you're getting exposed to the Big Idea until you stop to think about it. Or if, as Wilson constantly advised, you're paying attention to the details. Anyway, as with pretty much every Stephenson novel I've read, I was a little dissatisfied with the ending, mainly because I had a little trouble figuring out exactly what happened (I had this problem for years with Neuromancer, and it turns out that Gibson was being blindingly obvious and I was imbuing the book with an inscrutable opacity that wasn't actually there) and had to re-read a few bits to make sure that I'd got it. Well, I think I got it. I'm still not wholly sure.

Instapaper provided a bunch of other reading material for me; I've finally read the Amazon Dynamo paper, just as people are starting to publicly pick large holes in the CAP theorem which it references, and there was a bunch of other stuff sitting there waiting for me to catch up on as well. I didn't manage to finish An Intimate History Of Humanity, On The Origin of Species, or the King Arthur e-book I'm reading despite tackling them; the first is a really tough read, the second is, well, a bit dull, and the third I've only been dipping into at random.

Movies... our TV had HBO, and we had two many-hour flights, so there was a good deal of movie-watching. HBO was mostly running a loop with a bunch of old movies and a few more recent releases, and the in-flight movies were cut with the usual heavy hand (I abandoned Daybreakers after about ten minutes because the cuts were so obvious and interfering with the movie), but we still covered a good deal of ground.

The A-Team: surprisingly good, again considering the comments I'd come across about it. Yes, they ditched the classic GMC van. Yes, they moved the backstory to Iraq. Yes, people got killed, instead of somehow surviving a hail of bullets and explosives without a scratch. None of this particularly matters unless you're convinced that a TV series made for kids would appeal to the same "kids" thirty years later if they retained everything exactly as it was. Although I supposed I would have liked if they'd kept the van. The only thing that really grated was B.A.'s whole "I became a peaceful man" nonsense, which came across as something that was tacked on as an afterthought and was written by someone who shouldn't be allowed near sharp objects, such as pens. Verdict: worth seeing.

The Limits Of Control kept turning up on HBO. We watched about twenty minutes and spent the rest of the time complaining at the TV whenever it showed up on the "Up Next" panel at the end of whatever we were watching. I'm sure it's great if you're into your art movies, and I've watched a few Jarmusch offerings that I liked, but this was... no. Just no.

Riding In Cars With Boys: one woman's story of how everyone ruined her life. Really, I had no sympathy for her, and while the movie was a good enough telling of the story it didn't alter the fact that it was essentially an elongated whine. Might be some peoples' sort of thing, it's not mine.

The Paper was entertaining enough in a very undemanding way. We missed the start of it, and possibly some part of the middle as well (at least, I'm certainly missing a chunk between where we started watching and the end of the movie, but I'm not sure why) but I quite enjoyed it as something to pass the time.

Seven Pounds: I figured out the rest of the movie about half-way through. A nice movie; nothing earthshaking, but well done. I think I prefer Will Smith in ass-kicking mode, though.

Iron Man 2: totally rocked. I liked the first one (which I also saw on a plane) but ultimately I felt that the pacing, or something, was a little off. The sequel is, I think, absolutely spot-on perfect. Easily the best movie I saw over the entire holiday, and probably one to buy.

Ninja Assassin was as shlocky as you'd expect. Not so much a movie as a series of ass-kickings coupled together loosely with something you could squint at to call a plot. I wouldn't recommend this except as pure brain candy, for which it served admirably. I'm also surprised at how watchable it was in its cut-for-airplane state.

Jonah Hex was quite enjoyable, given that I was watching it as filler (what can I watch that will be over before the plane lands) and I knew nothing about it in advance. I think I'd like to watch this again on a big screen without an aircraft engine droning in the background.

And finally (because I'm sure there were other movies that I can't recall and/or didn't write down): Sherlock, the TV series. This new thing that the BBC are doing whereby they give you three episodes of a show, do it really, really well, and call it a season, is by turns brilliant and annoying. It's brilliant because it appears to have allowed them to pursue high production values - because they're not budgeting for a lot of episodes - and it's annoying because after three episodes of this I wanted more More MORE. The modernisation of Holmes and Watson is remarkably well done, retaining enough of the original to be recognisable while making good use of modern references and technology. And I really like the way they work text messages. The third (final) show ends on a HUGE cliff-hanger, so I'm eager to see the next "series" when it shows up.

So that about covers the holiday: since we came back, there have been two more:

We caught RED on the big screen, and it's bloody awesome. Total Warren Ellis fanboy that I am, I grinned when I saw his name on the screen at the start... I think my only real regret with this movie is that I watched the trailers, because they give away some key plot points - not in a spoilerish way, but enough that you're waiting for the next trailer segment to come up as you're watching the movie. You must go see this, and I must buy this as soon as it's available.

Lazy Saturday evening movie: Some Kind Of Wonderful is one more of Screenclick's 80's Classics, and I'd seen the last ten minutes or so of it previously. As 80's movies go, it's not actually that good, but then again when I rewatched Ferris Bueller (which I loved back in the 80's) I thought it was rubbish, so maybe it's the elapsed years that makes it cheesy and I'd have loved it if I'd seen it back in the day. Anyway, mainly just ticking a box by watching this. I wouldn't really recommend it.

In other other news, the 320GB drive attached to my Cube appears to have died horribly while I was away. This is bothersome mainly because I have no real clue what's on it. I'd moved all the music and videos off it some time earlier this month (onto a 500GB drive that's about half the physical size) but I do know that I was using it for my Time Machine backups, which probably accounts for its demise (on account of that causing fairly heavy use of the disk). It also has backups of at least a decade's worth of retired Linux boxes (my old laptops, etc.) which I'd kinda like to retain - at least until I finish the slow process of identifying things that are discardable, made slower by the fact that it's boring and I've not done anything with it in ages. Having already tried (unsuccessfully) the Freezer Trick, I may have to resort to actual professional data recovery. The most annoying part about this is that while I got very little warning that the drive was failing, I did get some warning, and figured it'd last a little longer. Let that be a lesson to me.

October 27
I'm back from a few days in Sri Lanka. Movies, books, etc. will be noted at some point, probably the weekend.

Also, I have an Apple TV. It is cute. More later, zzz now.

October 13
Due to the present location of the appropriate laptop, we were faced with trying to resync an iPhone with a laptop for which it was not previously synced last night, losing all the music contained therein. Having done the iTunes Library Shuffle before I can easily manage this when all the files are to hand, but in this case, as noted, the files were elsewhere. Enter DeTune, discovered after an amount of Googling and eventually following a link from the page of the predecessor of this particular app. But it was worth the wait: it's free, open source, and does exactly the required job: plug in iPhone, drag and drop music and video to a folder somewhere, and you're done. Much better than the scrappy applications looking for money and not working due to not having been updated in several years...

October 10
More 80's classics: The Untouchables, from a time when Ennio Morricone did your soundtrack and Sean Connery did pretty much whatever he wanted as long as he got to do it with a Scottish accent. It's a good movie, and hasn't really lost anything over time.

October 8
Kevin Smith directs Bruce Willis and previous co-conspirators Jason Lee and Seann William Scott. Sounds like it might be a bit of fun, eh? No, no, no, no, no. Cop Out is a sad, tired movie with an incredibly poor and annoying sidekick to Bruce Willis' character, a cheap plot, a pointless more-or-less cameo for Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody (what exactly was achieved by that scene where Willis meets them in the bar?), and basically a complete waste of talent combined with a showcase of poor talent. Don't bother with this, it's awful. Oh hey, they said "Youtube". They're so hip. Eeesh.

I also re-watched Once, which was a much better experience.

October 7
Finance::Bank::IE 0.22 uploaded to CPAN. I figured the PTSB code was good enough as it stood, by which I mean it works.

October 6
PTSB module now retrieves account summary and mini statement. I'll clean this up and, I think, let it loose.

October 4
Cute hack for the day: I've added Alt-N as a global shortcut on a KDE desktop; it runs a script which figures out what application currently has open, and attempts to open a new window for that application. Users of Macintosh computers will recognise this as an attempt to work around my pressing ⌘-N and expecting a new window to open. So far it's mainly for XTerms and Thunderbird, but I'm sure I'll find some other apps that need to have it added.

I am somewhat annoyed that my experience with a home printer (a Canon Pixma MP 480 All-in-One Printer) is much the same as work experiences: it's Not Quite Right. In this case, I thought I'd save us some hassle and clutter by storing it elsewhere in the house, cabled up to the Cube which would act as a print server. This appears to work on a fairly random basis, in as much as periodically something decides that the client - my laptop - can no longer see the server in some crucial way, and all print jobs will be on hold until this situation is rectified, usually by reloading the printer daemon on the server. Conspiracy theorists will, no doubt, identify this as an Apple scheme to make me shell out for MacOS X server, I'm sure.

October 2
PTSB code can now log in and get account balances. Time to check it into CVS before I break it again. I might even manage to release the code by the end of the weekend.

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