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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

January 28
Poking around some family tree stuff lately. Engaging stuff!

Beat the current crop of bugs out of the Emacs lisp I use to insert IMDb references. Muttering noises about parsing HTML using regexps go here.

January 27
Lots of reading this week, not much watching... Tyrannosaur is a grim but well-made piece about quietly desperate lives. You kinda get a sense of how it's going to be when it opens with the male lead, drunk, kicking his dog in a rage. Tough movie, but worth watching; there's quite a twist in it.

January 18
Home stretch... Epsiode 11: Boom Town brings us back to Wales again. This is an interesting episode that brings up the conflicted doctor again, with an opponent from a previous episode confronting him about being a killer. Mickey shows up to be the hapless idiot, allowing Rose to be a bit more capable, and then to drive Rose a bit on the whole "Mickey vs. Doctor" undercurrent. Actually, Mickey is generally a pretty hopeless character throughout this series; it's like Rose is the side of human nature that leaps into the unknown with gusto, while Mickey is the side that wants to stay in watching reruns and ignoring danger in the hope that it'll just... go away. Pacing in this episode is pretty good, although there's still a tendency to overegg the Moment of Peril. Captain Jack makes a few more overt hints about the fact that he's not picky about which gender he's attracted to, and there's a bit of useful-looking setup of the Tardis having a core that you shouldn't necessarily look into. This will be on the exam, I'm sure.

Episode 12: Bad Wolf finally reveals why that phrase keeps cropping up... fooled you, it doesn't. Reminds me of the Fast Show tailors doing Becks commercials: "Do you want it, sir? Well, you can't have it!" or words to that effect. This is a fun episode as it takes a bunch of Channel 4 shows (remember, Doctor Who is a BBC production) and roundly mocks them, using the real-life hosts / voices from those shows as well. Oh, and the Marquis de Carrabas from Neverwhere shows up, although I didn't recognise him until I read the credits. Anyway, the guys who were supposed to be all dead from a previous episode are back, with a very handwavy explanation of why, and the progenitor of the survivors is gone a bit wacky - although how you'd tell I'm not wholly sure; the Doctor is clued in by the fact that DALEKS GOT RELIGION - EXCOMMUNICATE! EXCOMMUNICATE! which I suppose is as good a hook as any. The Doctor also gets to ponder the consequences of his actions in a previous episode - confronting the Doctor with consequences is something that happens again as the new episodes roll onward after this series, but I don't think anyone ever actually brings it to any sort of conclusion. So, recurring themes: robotic tin cans hell bent on destroying anything not them, and unresolved morality. Anyway. This is part one of a series-ending two-parter, so on to...

Episode 13: The Parting of the Ways in which the Doctor saves everyone except the entire population of Earth in the year 200,100, the population of Spacestation 5, the entire Dalek race (3rd iteration?) and, er, himself (hence the title). Oh, I suppose I should say, "spoilers!" As finales go, it's not bad, even if (once again) the Moment of Peril (actually in this case the moment of Peril Resolution) is again drawn out beyond the necessary. Daleks reign supreme, trash Earth, Rose does something stupid/genius-like, Rose's mother shines, Mickey is little more than a tool (but in the sense of "something to get the job done" rather than "idiot"), various bystanders are sacrificed (did anyone actually believe that the Daleks could be affected by mere handguns after the last round of Dalek fun?) and, er, wait, what just happened? Oh, ok, it makes about as much sense as the rest of the Universe, and now the Doctor's gone and triggered his regeneration. Closing out the end of the series, David Tennant pops into view to herald the Doctor's new look for next season.

As a series reboot, this was pretty impressive. As noted, I've never seen more than bits of the older series (I watched the very first episode out of curiosity, and had an awareness of the likes of Tom Baker and K9 at some point) so I don't have a real background in the show, putting me squarely in the other target market for this, viz. new viewers. It introduces a bunch of stuff - what passes for constants in this world where canon and continuity are frequently bent out of shape with some handwavy excuse that somehow was never invoked before - and is generally a whole lot of fun throughout. I think I've seen most of what happens after this, thanks to Selene introducing me to the show, but I'm pretty sure I'm missing the point at which Rose gets written out of the story, and for some reason I'd convinced myself it was during this season I've just watched, so I was waiting for the whole "Heart of the Tardis" routine to be the trigger for that. I guess I have to go dig out Season 2 and find out what happens next.

In nerd news, updating a Windows laptop yesterday hampered by Immunet (a virus scanner with woo-woo cloud features) insisting that one of Microsoft's official updates was a virus. Snarkily, yes, I'm sure it is, but that's Not Helping.

January 16
We've watched a bunch more of Doctor Who, I just haven't been keeping up.

Episode 3: The Unquiet Dead: the fact that this is set in Cardiff is a practical acknowledgement of studio location versus budget. The subsequent recurrence of distinctly Welsh accents is funnier, particularly when the setting is moved to distinctly un-Welsh locations. Of this episode, I'd say there's still a bit of the draggy peril stuff going on, but it's definitely improving, and this is again sitting somewhere in hide-behind-the-sofa territory, dealing as it does with walking corpses.

Episode 4: Aliens of London and Episode 5: World War Three make up a single story of alien invasion. These aliens wear human skins as body suits, with zippers in the forehead; that's about the only mildly creepy bit. The fact that this is split over two episodes seems to have completely dispelled the pacing issues, so the story moves along at a nice pace. Various future foreshadowings going on (if you haven't noticed the "Bad Wolf" thing yet, go back to the first episode and start again) but none of it overdone like, say, a recent Stephen King novel.

Episode 6: Dalek (re)introduces the classic Doctor Who opponent, apparently the last of its kind (but not really; there are so many loopholes to that particular sentiment that it's not really worth considering as any sort of useful data at all). I hadn't realised prior to this episode that the whole Time War thing which, to my latecomer mind, is firmly embedded in the Doctor Who chronology (such as it is), was something that happened offscreen in the 15 or so years of downtime this show had, and all the dark hints of it to this point would have been genuinely intriguing to more seasoned followers. Anyway. For this episode, I found the ending a bit rubbishy; even taking it at face value it disposes of an enemy that really could have been useful to keep around (not that the disposal actually signified the end of said enemy, of course). I like the development of the conflicted Doctor as well, but again that's something that is leaned upon in later series which I've already seen.

Episode 7: The Long Game was a bit meh. Oh look, Simon Pegg. Oh look, self-serving idiot boy from episode 6 is being a self-serving idiot. Potential paradox averted by ... answering machine. On the positive side, the alien in this showed something of an improvement in the special effects, even if they spent so much on just having the alien that they couldn't actually have him do anything on-screen. Dragged-out peril made an unwelcome reappearance, too.

Episode 8: Father's Day is a dramatic upswing from the previous episode, except for the bad guys (can I call them Langoliers?) who look like cheap computer effects. Really cheap, in fact. So cheap that they should have spent the money on a guy running around in a rubber suit, duplicated as many times as needed, and greenscreened into the shot, because it'd have looked so much better while costing about the same (actually, I have no idea if that's true, as I don't know what this sort of stuff actually costs). The story, though, was awesome. Classic paradox stuff, beautifully played by the cast. Still some traces of the pacing issues, but not enough to make a huge difference to the story.

Episode 9: The Empty Child and Episode 10: The Doctor Dances is another two-parter that takes us back to London in 1941 (would it really hurt to kit out the Tardis with an arrivals board?) and another creepy episode; the creep factor in this one comes from a faceless child (more literally than you first expect) who keeps asking for its mother. This is a generally good episode, although the introduction of another time traveller with no surprise or comment from the Doctor is a bit weird, and the greenscreen stuff doesn't quite cut it (to be fair, this seems common for small-screen viewings - it's something I've noticed with far bigger productions that look perfectly convincing at the cinema, while looking artificial on DVD) but aside from those minor quibbles this story ticks along nicely. Oh, wait, the whole dancing Doctor thing? Should have been cut. Doesn't add anything to the story, isn't particularly funny, and ultimately it sounds like one of those inscrutable phrases like "Silence will fall when the question is answered" that show up as plot arcs in later series.

January 11
Epsiode two, The End of the World. Still trying to get used to Christopher Ecclestone gurning, it's not something I'm familiar with. The little critters in this remind me of something else - they're a bit like the spiders in the Lost in Space movie, but that's not quite it either - maybe they showed up in another Who episode? This wasn't as good as the first episode, all told; I felt it was a bit humdrum, and again the moment of peril was drawn out far longer than it needed to be.

January 10
Started watching Season "1" of the modern Doctor Who, with Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper. First episode, Rose: So, aside from the melodramatic, er, drama, this was a pretty good opener for a series that had been dormant, and I think probably did a reasonable job of balancing between placating the fans and drawing in new viewers. Onto epsiode 2!

January 5
Spy Game is an awesome piece of work with none of Tony Scott's annoying visual hackery that I found so distracting in Domino to take away from a really, really good spy story. There are a couple of clichés, sure, but as always, if it's done well I really don't care how hackneyed an idea is. This has layer upon layer of cleverness, and it's a fantastic display of a man at the end of a spying career making use of all his experience to remain one step ahead of the people he's sitting in a room with while they try to hang one of his agents and, if they can manage it, him as well. I can't understand how I've never seen this before. If you haven't seen it, go fix that immediately.

January 3
While tooling around with Calibre I noticed that it lacked a store plug-in for Eason's, an Irish book (among other things) seller which offers eBooks for EPUB-compatible readers. So I figured I'd have a go at writing one, which lead me to discover what a steaming pile the Eason's search facility is. Let me elaborate: So that's why I'm not going to bother trying to provide a little free support for this particular Irish business. Perhaps some of their competitors have more professional offerings that I can work with.

January 2
Speeding the Net: The inside Story of Netscape & How it Challenged Microsoft isn't available for the Kindle. Which seems either very wrong or completely predictable, depending on your level of cynicism.

January 1
Happy new year. Or hangover, as appropriate.

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