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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

November 30
Hoo boy. I wasn't expecting much from Transformers: Dark of the Moon but frankly it was still worse than I expected. Main character is basically a whiner at this point. Gratuitous eyecandy is lingered over at every possible opportunity and given about as much agency as a hatstand. Annoying comedy characters are just annoying. There are homophobic "jokes". The soundtrack is jarringly noticeable to the point that I thought I'd flipped into some sort of advert at one point. Product placement is so blatant that they may as well have run a chyron at the bottom of the screen repeating CISCO and LENOVO and CHEVROLET over and over. How did Stephen Spielberg think it was a good idea to have his name associated with this?

November 23
Captain America: The Winter Soldier I think I previously watched on a plane, which means it was probably cut. In any case, I'd kinda forgotten the details, so watching it again didn't hurt. It's good, but there's a small flaw in the whole thing: the "bad" guys are bad because they want to be a police force without oversight, which is, er, what Natasha basically says the Avengers want to be - or, de facto, are, at hearings at the end of the movie. Oooooo-kay.

November 22
A labourious round of poking at settings has sorted out some of the Outlook pain, but there are still annoyances like: I check a box somewhere that says, essentially, remove blank lines from messages when reading. And what does this do? It saves visual real-estate. Good. But then every time it does it, it puts a notice in the message to tell me it saved space by removing blank lines, thus... consuming space. <facepalm>

(also, if anyone knows how to make a "Delete" icon appear in the preview reading pane along with the reply/reply-all/forward buttons, I will give you my firstborn cat or something.)

(that's not a great offer, btw; firstborn cat is a bit of a terror.)

November 21
Stuck with a Microsoft Windows desktop today for handwavy reasons (my normal setup consists of a Mac and a RDP-connected Linux box). I realise there's a certain lack of familiarity at work, but how the hell do people actually use Outlook? There's 300 million things going on in the window where I'm trying to read my email, and trying to reduce the visual clutter is painful to say the least. Options? Preferences? View? Ribbons? Menus? Whoever it was said that every checkbox on an options page is a place where a designer gave up was a bit extreme, but Outlook is at the opposite end of the customisation scale from that.

That aside, there's smaller irritations as well, like the fact that the message I'm reading right now has a corresponding line in the mailbox pane, but I can't see it properly because the window cuts the text off horizontally. Deleting a bunch of emails by conversation / group / whatever you want to call it, I periodically get a message saying "there's more mail on the server" or "this mail is part of a split conversation" and I've no idea what the rest of those emails say because I don't care and I'm trying not to interrupt the flow of dealing with my email. And despite all the visual clutter, there's ACRES of whitespace.

Seriously. I read this same mailbox every day using the native email client on MacOS - which has its own barrel of quirks, to be sure, like "I will now randomly advance you to whichever message in the mailbox I think is "next" and good luck figuring out how that works" - and there's none of this visual clutter or clunkiness. Even Thunderbird on Linux was better than this.

November 14
A couple of years back, in the course of pursuing family history, I took to investigating one of the local landowners who had a named "Big House" next door to the house I grew up in (albeit one that was demolished a number of years before I was born). Having found out a few things and then run into the inevitable brick wall, I put together a page about Arsallagh House, including my hope that someone who knew more might stumble on the page and contact me. And this did indeed happen: a descendant of staff who spent part of his youth on the farm attached to the house reached out and over the course of the last two years he's sent me recollections and pictures which I've duly arranged into a document for posterity. And for good measure I'm meeting him for lunch today. Hurrah for the interweb!

November 13
Checked my database schema. I'm already using "MediumBlobField", something I created myself to map to MySQL's "mediumblob" column type - so it shouldn't be trying to interpret the data, but somehow it is. I hate it when I've not only thought of the obvious fix, but I've also tried it, forgotten about it, and it hasn't actually worked.

November 11
Token war story for the day that's in it: my great uncle Jack emigrated to Australia in 1916. He then signed up for the Australian Imperial Force, who promptly shipped him all the way back to Europe, where he was a driver with the third artillery brigade in the north of France. He returned "home" to Australia - apparently without incident - after the war ended, and during WWII worked in a munitions factory. I have a copy of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Jack's ship-out details scribbled in pencil inside the cover; whether this was Jack's book that found its way back to the family home, or whether it belonged to one of his siblings who used it to take note of Jack's transport, I have no idea.

November 10
Found the UTF8 error that's been bugging me. Turns out it wasn't the wineglass glyph; it's a bunch of spurious bytes in the file. I should probably have my code write an unparsed blob of data to the database rather than trying to interpret it as UTF8.

November 9
Big Hero 6 was a HUGE pile of fun. It's a reasonably well-worn plot (indeed IMDb trivia points out multiple parallels with the plot of I, Robot and I'm sure if you removed replaced the robot character with a person you could dig up a raft of other similar movies), but that's not to take away from the rendition of said plot - it's tight, the emotional beats are well placed, and the overarching sense of silliness is never far out of reach. Probably the only mild complaint I'd have is that Fred's character grated on me a little; I'm not sure why, to be honest. I also found it a little curious that the Valley-Girl-ish Honey Lemon - voiced by Latina actress Genesis Rodriguez - is the only one who pronounces Hiro's name Japanese-style, i.e. with the "r" as a "l"/"r" blend, and this isn't a subtle note, it's fairly obvious. Shrug. Someone knows why they did it that way, I guess. Anyway. Barrels of fun, go watch it. Also, there's a post-credits sting, so don't miss that (we did and had to go dig it out of YouTube).

November 8
I've been using macOS' log command to investigate what my TimeMachine backups are doing. They failed consistently for about a month and finally managed to recover earlier this week, but they're still not fully stable (a high churn rate on a section of the filesystem probably isn't helping). The log view of what's going on is certainly more informative than the UI, so for example instead of a power bar you can see how many GB and how many individual items it's copied or plans on copying.

Except not.

After the initial backup, which looked fairly sane, the last two or three have basically started out telling me they're going to copy X GB and Y items; both have then proceeded to copy about 10% of X, while the item count racks its way up to Y. Then Y starts increasing, so a progress bar would look like "copied 100% of 10 files", "copied 100% of 20 files", "copied 100% of 30 files" etc. I'm sure that this makes sense to someone, but I ain't that someone.

Anyway. The aforementioned filesystem churn is due to a piece of code which has been caching data rather lazily into individual files; I've now moved all that into a sqlite database so it should cut the churn a bit.

November 5
Really enjoying the new series of Doctor Who. It's silly, it's fun, it's touching, it's dramatic... it's what the show is supposed to be, I guess.

Observation from the recent trip Down Under: traffic in Sydney - cars and pedestrians - was extraordinarily well-behaved by Irish standards. Cars giving way to pedestrians; pedestrians mostly waiting for traffic signals before crossing roads, even when the roads were clear; cars stopping at stop lines rather than half a car-length across; cars stopping as the lights turned red, rather than the lights being a warning to the stragglers to accelerate. I can't say it's universal, since I was only there for two weeks and had a limited scope of wandering, but it was depressingly better than similar situations on my commute. The only exception to this general good behaviour were cyclists, and those, in the main, were "gig economy" delivery cyclists, almost all of whom seemed to cycle on the pavement, in the wrong direction on one-way streets, etc. What's weird is that I saw few enough non-delivery bikes, so I don't know if the Cycling Asshole is restricted to the deliverers, or if it's how bikes work in general in Sydney. I did notice that the discard-o-bikes were, as with every other city I've heard about so far, thrown pretty much anywhere. Like, not even propped against something - just dropped on the ground.

I have no theories here. I did notice equipment for detecting cars breaking red lights, and maybe if one segment of the road-using populace is forced into compliance, the other segments mellow out. Or maybe the pedestrian crossings are better managed - more frequently favouring pedestrians, for example - that people feel less inclined to cross when the signals say not to. And of course maybe I was just in a bubble of good behaviour and the rest of Sydney is a more familiar free-for-all.

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Putting the "no" in November