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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

November 25
Dear useless credit card provider, this past weekend I attempted to pay my bill online; your website, having asked me to verify my details, provided me with a page indicating an error (along the lines of "this page is not available right now"). You utter monkeys. You could have told me before I entered my details, or before the verification page. This stuff isn't hard, and you persist in making it so. I have, as previously noted, moved almost all my commerce off your crappy little bits of plastic and will forthwith be closing my account and seeking refund for outstanding credit balance.

LOVE, WAIDER. (p.s. I'm lying about the "LOVE" part)

In other news, recently done with a week of jury duty. More anon, maybe.

November 23
Weird. Some random recent iPhoto upgrade caused a bunch of images to have their timestamps moved back by 21 seconds. Very peculiar.

November 21
The process of attempting to make a compatible-with-my-existing-hackery Python script for handling RSS feeds has lead me to discover several interesting problems with the existing code that I hadn't really ever been aware of; today, for example, I discovered that (once again) I was attempting to work with data-as-served, which was gzip-compressed, instead of data-as-intended, which is the uncompressed version; I also discovered that someone out there is periodically generating individual RSS entries in excess of 64k, which it turns out is the size limit on the database field I chose to store this particular thing in.

November 20
Hacking around on a "spare" Time Machine volume to try and figure out how to persuade it I've got an extra backup, and I run smack into the many, many permissions options available to you on an Apple HFS+ volume: you've got your filesystem-level "is it read-only or not?", you've got your standard Unix read/write/execute bits, you've got your may-be-interpreted-by-random-tools extended attributes, you've got your file flags (immutability and what not) and you've got your POSIX.1e ACLs. Figuring out which ones of these were involved, and how to list them, was entertaining, especially when I was confusing ACLs and flags (I know, stupid, right?). I've still not figured out why the "Latest" backup symlink is apparently protected from all manner of monkeying, and creating a fake backup by hardlinking an existing one and creating or cloning various flag and metadata files failed to result in my phantom backup appearing in Time Machine's browse list. More archaeology required, I guess.

November 18
Don't let your software devs write your customer-facing error messages. Otherwise you get "calories_burned: ensure no more than 0 decimal places" instead of something that a human might say. (Full disclosure: my home-made web toys display HTML-formatted stack traces)

So I thought that Adobe Flash was now able to silently update itself. This doesn't explain the downloader that opened a new tab and required manual launching, and that wanted to shut my browser. Nice one, Adobe.

November 17
Hacking away at some Django stuff, including trying to convert bits of the ol' RSS toy to python (that link is actually the old, old RSS toy...) and discovering just what a mess I'd made of character encoding, since Perl is a lot more laissez-faire about it. In particular it looks like I've got some doubly-encoded strings floating about.

November 16
Real Steel turned out to be a whole lot more fun than I was expecting; sure, it's Precocious Child plus Deadbeat Dad plus Underdog vs. The Man, but it actually works well (granted, you know almost exactly how the story is going to pan out in advance) and has a lot of a feelgood stuff going on.

In other media, I recently finished John Sheridan's Paradise Alley, a not-wholly-fictional novel about the part of Dublin I live in. It's an excellent piece of work, with lots of heart, lots of humour, and some keen insights into Dublin of the early 20th century. Do read this, it's worth it.

November 10
"Do you want to trust the website "www.your credit card.ie" to use the "SharePoint Browser Plug-in" plug-in?" HELL NO. Who thought that was a good idea?

(I'm actually slowly but surely removing all reason for me to use these guys, i.e. finding all the places I registered those cards and changing them to another card).

November 7
I had need of a plumber this week due to an unexpected water pressure problem in the hot water circuit, coupled with the water stoppages making it difficult to refill the system as there was either no water or insufficient pressure. My previous plumber had a major problem with timekeeping and, it turns out, did a number of questionable things to my boiler, so I felt a new plumber was necessary; of course, engaging the services of a new and unknown tradesman is always a bit risky. A little googling turned up three plumbing companies/collectives, two of whom have some variation of "Dublin" and "Plumbing" in their name, and Plumb-Fix (spoiler: guess which one I used). There were a few more, but, well, phone interaction is not my favourite thing and these were people offering email or web-form contacts.

Plumbers #1 never got back to me. Plumb-Fix took a day to get back to me on email, by which time I'd engaged the services of Plumbers #2. Good, I thought, took only three hours to respond to an online query, did so by email, fair enough.

Failed, of course, to respond to further enquiries. Eventually turned up at five to six, had a bombastic "I'm the knowledgable one" attitude, and left after a few minutes having determined the problem to be a ruptured expansion vessel which he would replace the following day. I was waiting on a go/no-go for a meeting which would require my presence in the office, so he said to let him know the following day when he could call. I said in any event, after 2pm would be fine.

The following morning: emailed the guy early as I'd got word that I didn't need to be physically present in the office. Followed up an hour later with a text message. At lunchtime, having had no response, I reluctantly resorted to phoning; much tooth-sucking noise and hedging and "I should be around between 4:30 and 5 this evening". You know how this ends. 5:45, the guy texts to say he can't make it, and will Saturday do? (This is Thursday, and the fault means we wake up in a cold house each morning with no hot water.) Reluctantly I agree - by text - and enquire when on Saturday he might call. No response, again. Right, I say to myself, I need a new plumber. Maybe that guy from Plumb-Fix who got back to me a day late.

9am Friday, phoned Plumb-Fix. Got an answering machine that didn't appear to have an outgoing message. Le sigh, looks like I'm stuck with Plumber McScrewYou. Five minutes later my phone rings, and it's John from Plumb-Fix. Armed with the knowledge that I need an expansion vessel fitted - for which I've noted the capacity and model details - I tell him what's up, and he says he'll be around that day at 3pm. Right then. 2:50 pm, the doorbell rings, and there's John and his apprentice ready to go. Half an hour of poking around the boiler and the job's done - he's even taken effort to swap the expansion vessel without draining the entire system so it's a good deal faster to get everything back up and running. He's also put some leak sealant in the system - as there has been a trickle leak in it for some time - and says to keep an eye on the pressure, and if it hasn't sorted itself by Sunday let him know. By Sunday the system has settled, and as I'm writing this some days later it has been running without a hitch.

So, need a plumber in the Dublin area? John Harding at Plumb-Fix is your man. Those others that have websites asking you how you can be sure you've found a good Dublin plumber, etc. etc. (i.e. filling their websites with SEO spam)? Don't bother, wasting your time.

November 6
Further to the Time Machine stuff mentioned yesterday I've hacked together something to try out my crazy theory, but now I need to figure out how I'm going to test it - without, you know, destroying a backup.

November 4
Two of my three lost SSL certs from the Great Server Crash of 2013 have finally expired, so I can renew them for free (I use Startcom's free certificate service). The third will be up for renewal in a couple of months, I think.

Found today: discussion on the use of directory hard links in MacOS' Time Machine, along with a dinky commandline tool to create and remove such things. I have the same question as a whole bunch of people - how do I merge two Time Machine backups for the same damned machine which TM in its great wisdom chose to make into separate entities - and I suspect a little bit of experimentation with this tool may reveal the answer.

November 3
Finished watching Sopranos season 2. People I wanted written out who were written out: two - well, one of them permanently, so there's always the risk of the other returning, boo. People I was expecting to be written out who were: three. No loss there. People I was expecting to be written out who weren't: one, but I understand the actress died in real life, so I can possibly be assured that there are no further occurrences of this particular character. And here, at the end of season 2, I'm still not finding this compelling. Given the demise of a somewhat major, but expected to be dead, character at the end of this season, it's interesting to try and pick out who might survive to the end of the series, but I know that David Crane is no George R. R. Martin, so I'm fully expecting a bunch of people to survive simply to carry the franchise if nothing else.

November 1
Iron Man Three was another fun movie, although the whole post-Avengers-without-the-Avengers bit felt like something of a gaping plot hole - if Tony Stark is part of this team of super buddies, where the hell are they all when he's under threat? It works just fine as a standalone plot, though. Also, as you'd expect, stuff explodes, everyone cracks wise, etc. etc.

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