Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

October 31
A few days back I noticed I could no longer read XKCD from home. It seemed like maybe a transient problem, but this morning it was still broken so I investigated. It would appear to be on account of being unable to reach imgs.xkcd.com, which in turn appears to be because I can't look it up, which is in turn because the results returned by the DNS server for this address are so damned big it tries to switch to TCP mode and, whoops, it appears I don't have the firewall open for TCP mode transfers between my local server and everything else. My bad, or maybe Apple's, because I don't specifically recall doing anything to enable DNS access in the first place. Anyway, a quick poke around in the firewall and DNS config panel doesn't reveal anything that might immediately fix the problem, so I'm going to have to go digging in config and log files. Boo.

Of course, as soon as I'd said that, something I tweaked evidently took effect, and presto, working website.

According to this diary, I've never before watched Brassed Off, or at least not since time began. I have, but anyway. Fun movie, a bit stark in places (well, it's about unemployment, black lung, suicide, financial issues, a sad clown, a lost love...), and featuring excellent music throughout (if the performance of the William Tell Overture at the end doesn't move you in some way regardless of the movie's plot, you are officially dead), this is a definite one to watch.

Trying to get MRTG running as a launchd job, and running into issues. The interaction of KeepAlive with everything else seems poorly documented; ideally I'd like to say something like, "run this every five minutes as long as there's an available network connection", but I get either "run this every five minutes" or "run this repeatedly, as quickly as possible, as long as there's a network connection". Oddly, it appears I even have to explicitly set KeepAlive to false. There are hacks around this, of course, such as playing with the respawn time, but it's mildly bothersome as it stands. Anyway, here's what I wound up with:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC -//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd >
<plist version="1.0">

U2: From The Sky Down isn't as good as I'd hoped, in as much as it's a lot of Bono talking and it seems to lack a certain depth, but the sequence where they reveal the genesis of One, from a bridge shoved into the bones of Mysterious Ways to a full song in about ten minutes of stand-up noodling at their instruments, really is one of those hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-up moments. Well, maybe it is if you're a U2 fan, at least.

October 30
The usual confusion after a clock change where the iGadgets have quietly updated but the clock radio is still on "old" time.

As an approach, I'm sufficiently impressed with Test-Driven Development to want to use it, but I still find my instinct is to code first, test later. I'm currently (still) retrofitting unit tests into my initial attempts at reworking the RSS toy into Java, and some of the tests are revealing bad program flows that really need fixing, and I'm torn between "do it right" (set up a test that matches the existing behaviour before changing things) and "not so right" (fix the weirdness and update the tests as I go). Since this is a piddling little hack project, it doesn't much matter either way, but I guess there's the bigger issue of establishing a principle (that I can, of course, discard when I choose).

Also, those familiar with the territory who've read about my wrestling with use of a database for testing will probably wonder why it is I'm not using a dependency injection framework to handle the problem; the reasons are much the same as my reason for starting out with raw SQL rather than going straight to Hibernate - I want to understand what's happening at a lower level to some extent before I gloss over it, and I'm converting an existing project which makes it easier (in some sense) to do the new code at the same level of building block as the existing stuff before trying to improve on it.

Neglected to mention that my "clever" solution to Time Machine's incessant spinning of fans didn't work, so my next plan is a launchd-operated script that notices changes in the networking configuration, and if I'm on a wired connection spins up a backup. I might also have it nag me from time to time if I go too long without a backup.

Hmm, and then I noticed that the local backup folder had a recent datestamp. Looks like it does work, but I still want to add the bit that switches on the full Time Machine if I plug the laptop into the router downstairs.

October 29
Robots (last watched January 28th, 2006) is still laugh-out-loud funny in spots.

October 27
The Machinist was a good enough movie, but afterwards I kept wondering about bits of it. Like why Miller seems remarkably laid-back about his accident, instead of being a basket case in need of therapy. But anyway.

October 25
Seen in RSS feed (presented here as a mysql query):
BBC News - World2011-10-26 13:00:02 Winehouse 'was four times limit'
The Irish Times - 2011-10-26 13:00:24 Winehouse 'was five times limit'
The Irish Times - 2011-10-26 14:51:31 Winehouse 'three times over limit'
The Irish Times - 2011-10-26 15:00:26 Winehouse 'five times over limit'
It's like an auction or something. Can I get six? Will anyone go for six? No? Sold to the Irish Times at five times over the limit.

Not long back, I signed up to the RSS feed of a well-known one-man website for Apple-related news, thinking, from the brief passes I'd made on the site, that the tone was even, the view unbiased (or at least somewhat so, anyway) and the discourse reasonable.

I was wrong.

The thing you'll notice about the RSS excerpt above, although maybe it isn't obvious, is that I track changes to stories over time; to be specific I poll feeds at half-hour intervals (unless they say otherwise, and I do so using ETags and If-Modified-Since to avoid being a nuisance) and record updates to existing stories as entirely new stories. What this shows is that a few authors (or publishers, maybe) have a tendency to fiddle with the entries a bit for a short time after a story has been posted; for example, BBC has a tendency to play around with their headlines often in ways that look like responses to editorial or other feedback (including one instance where the initial headline was either a terrible pun or in really bad taste, and it was very quickly replaced with something more appropriate).

To return to my story, the aforementioned Apple news site turns out to be (a) rabidly against everything that isn't Apple; (b) supercilious, arrogant, mocking in tone to these things that are not Apple; (c) constantly tweaking the short needling stories about how laughable these non-Apple things are. There has been, for example, some discussion on the interwebs about the new Google Android release, and in particular a font therein named Roboto; the site I will shortly be removing from my RSS feed had a dozen updates on this "story", and while there was some of the tweaking mentioned above, not all of the discussion was confined to a single post. What's really making me turn this off, though, is that somewhere in the middle of all this concentrated hatred for a mere font, he takes the time to laugh - ho ho ho - at the idea that he's biased in Apple's favour. Of course, I'm just a shill, he laughs, with the same tone of false modesty you get from people who say, really it was nothing when they really mean phew, I thought you'd never notice how awesome I am.

So anyway. Longwinded way of talking about what I read, and without mentioning names (although I'm sure if you're familiar with the subject matter you'll know who I'm talking about).

October 24
I vaguely recall a bunch of negative press and reviews for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but I'm pretty sure it's the best of the PoC movies since the first one as they're not quite so obviously trying to build another franchise out of it (in as much as a good deal of the second movie was a setup for the third). There's not a lot to say about it content-wise: pirates, zombies, mermaids, swashbuckling, the Fountain of Youth, and Johnny Depp staggering around in that drunk-yet-somehow-not-drunk way of his, with supporting swaggers, punches and drinking from a bare handful of previous cast regulars, and Ian McShane as Bill Nighy, Penelope Cruz as Keira Knightly, and some guy I don't recognise as - sort of - Orlando Bloom. This is a lot of fun, and worth a look.

October 23
Selene hadn't seen Definitely, Maybe, while I had (last watched: 30th November, 2008), and it was showing on Film Four, so we watched that. I think my opinion of it is about the same, although knowing that the derail at 90 minutes is on its way lessens the impact somewhat and means it's definitely more in the formula I was expecting. Maybe. (You see what I did there?)

Hadn't noticed before, but the Address Book app doesn't allow you to consolidate entries across accounts - so for example I have two entries for The Brother, one being the iPhone/Mail/iCloud/etc. listing and one being the Yahoo! listing.

Ah, turned out that there is a switch I didn't notice to swap between photos and faces when trying to match faces, at least when you're doing the "confirm these photos are this person" part of the process.

October 22
I upgraded iPhoto mainly to get the face tagging, and while it's a nifty enough thing the whole "I've scanned your library and there are 5,297 unknown faces" interface would be much nicer with the ability to click on a blurry face and see the photo from which it comes, or at least some metadata - a whole bunch of my photos have filenames that list all the people in the photo.

I'm also slightly appalled at the number of photos I have of people whose names I should know and don't (mainly friends of friends that I'm in touch with sufficiently frequently to recognise, but insufficiently to wedge their names into my leaky brain).

After much fiddling about I got a database connection successfully injected into my JUnit tests. This seems to be one of those tasks that should be a no-brainer, and/or should have a clear step-by-step guide, but I wound up pulling bits and pieces of a half-dozen Google searches before getting it sorted out. The method I wound up with creates an InitialContext, then builds a datasource using Properties and BasicDataSourceFactory, which it then binds to the InitialContext. For now, it works, so I'm not too concerned with the ugliness.

October 21
Hissy fit with TimeMachine: I turned off the over-the-network version and turned on the local version. Not sure if this will actually work, however. If it does, what I'll do is tie it to something that checks the state of the network connection, and if I'm on wireless it won't do network backups, since that's when it seems to get all in a tizzy with indexing.

October 20
Even with the much-vaunted OS-level integration of Twitter in iOS5, I'm still finding it more of a nuisance than anything on account of there being no notion of server-side bookmarking to keep track of what you have and haven't seen. So I glance at a tweet or two on my phone, and then have to page through the same ones on the laptop.

October 16
Got my Java project back on the rails. Managed to replace some hacky testing with some cleaner stuff with Mockito, which is nice. Slightly less nice was figuring out how to get a test to use a database, since I'm still doing cargo-cult programming when it comes to things like connection pools. I have something in the test that is deeply ugly but actually works, and I'll need to replace it with something a bit more graceful at some point when I've sorted out things that currently don't work.

The Sixth Sense is another movie that I hadn't seen when it was doing the rounds, and never got back to. I found out the twist some time ago (after initially thinking that the twist was the line that featured in the trailer, "I see dead people") and tried to watch the movie without taking note of what I knew was coming, but really, it wasn't possible. Basically, the movie has nothing going for it if you know how it works out in the end, i.e. it's all about the destination rather than the journey. Not helping is the fact that, particularly as you close in on the big reveal, the director / screenwriter are basically walking behind you with a megaphone yelling "DUN DUN DUN THE SECRET IS...", which is a bit distracting to say the least. Watch it once, I guess.

October 15
iTunes migrated to the Mini with minimum fuss. I think iPhoto might not be out of place there either, if it was more "cloudy", but since it's not I'm keeping it on the laptop for now.

True Grit: a good deal more entertaining than the last couple of Coen Brothers movies I watched. It's a fairly decent by-the-book western, aside from the fact that one of the protagonists is a lippy teenage girl; Jeff Bridges is a good grizzled US Marshall, although it's hard to understand what he's saying at times. Gunfights, hanging, horse-riding, whiskey, robbery (offscreen, but mentioned), campfires, snakes, Indians... it's all there. I'd probably watch it again if it was on the box, but I'm not sure I'd say it's a must-see.

October 14
Everything is now iClouded. I need to see if I can move the iTunes setup to the Mini so that I'm not tethered to the laptop, but on the whole it's working nicely. One odd thing I've noted: despite having location services, Reminders on the iPad don't have the same location-based functions as the iPhone version. Or maybe I'm missing the right knob to switch them on.

I Am Number Four suffers from the same complaint as Salt - nothing wrong with it for its genre, per se, it's just mundane within that genre.

October 13
Moving to iCloud... upgrading the MacBook and the Mini were a little fraught as I was competing with everyone else to download the 10.7.2 update, plus the updates to the update, plus... still, it went smooth enough, aside from the bit where my router spontaneously rebooted, killing all the downloads. The iPhone steadfastly refused to update; I gave up after three attempts. The Apple TV worked on the third attempt. The iPad2 displayed a worrying set of basic setup questions that made it look like it hadn't bothered restoring my backup, but that turned out not to be the case. Selene's iPad had a similar oopsy; some fiddling around with iCloud cleared that up. I'm retrying the iPhone for the fourth time now, and this time it looks slightly more convincing.

Also, very funny, guys:
Oct 13 19:58:21 twong AppleMobileDeviceHelper[356]: AMDeviceConnect (thread 0xaccce2c0): This is not the droid you're looking for (is actually com.apple.mobile.restored). Move along, move along.

October 10
Eclipse code rot is becoming seriously annoying at this point. I have a working project, which I save. I leave it for a week. I reopen Eclipse, and suddenly I am faced with bizarre errors, such as the inability to find my database driver, or a Java compiler environment mismatch which had previously been resolved, or other non-code-related issue. How do people get work done with this, exactly?

October 7
American Graffiti is one of those movies I saw a long, long time ago and couldn't remember much about. On watching it tonight, perhaps that's because it simply isn't worth remembering for anything other than the soundtrack; it's possible that the sound mix was screwed up by the DVD transfer and the original was clearer and had less dynamic range, but that doesn't fix the fact that it's a largely storyless collection of dated set pieces that belong to a cultural mythology that is alien to me. Maybe if you grew up in America the accolades this film received make sense, or maybe they make sense in the time it was made, but I can't see this as something I'd recommend.

October 5
Elizabeth: The Golden Age was better the second time around (last watched: 21st March, 2008). That is all.

October 3
I saw the trailer for Bright Star and thought, "Cool, a biopic about John Keats". Turns out that (a) it's a biopic of a slice of Keats' life just before he died and (b) it's not a great movie. Hard to identify what, exactly, is wrong with it; I felt it lacked a cohesive narrative, that it seemed to randomly jump from scene to scene with no connection and sometimes with abrupt cuts (one such that sticks in my mind is a kitchen scene which ends as someone calls, "come here, I need your help" or similar, and it seems like there should have been at least a few seconds more). I wouldn't particularly recommend this.

October 2
Backup vs. Indexing problems continue, which means the laptop is spending an awful lot of time running its fans. I may once again have to simply trash the backups and start over, although I may also wait for iCloud to arrive and move the backups there.

In other nerd news, I've been hunting down error messages in the system log and trying to figure out where they're coming from. So far I've managed to get rid of all the stuff concerning my long-defunct Palm Pilot, and also a stray mount point that referenced the Cube. Still bothered by: constant usbmuxd messages, the presence of a utun0 interface, and something about mobilemesync being unhappy. Oh, and the ever-present backup messages concerning index failures.

October 1
Add Doubt to the list of Meryl Streep movies I've seen that I don't like. Her character was so... despicable throughout that, for me, it completely obscured any moral issues that might have been under consideration.

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