Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

May 20
Now that exams are done, we've started into Bosch Season 3, American Gods, and the new season of Doctor Who. All good so far.

May 18
I've finished reading all of Len Deighton's Samson books. It's arranged more or less as three trilogies plus a prequel, so ten books total. In the preface to the edition I read of book one (Berlin Game) he had much to say about plotting the character development over the course of a large number of books. Frankly, I can't say I saw much evidence of this: Bernard Samson starts out as a capricious ex-field agent, now effectively civil servant in the spy world, but still doing agent things; at the conclusion of 9 books, he's pretty much the same person. You find out more things about some of the characters, but the characters themselves don't actually develop.

Of the books themselves: they start out strong, but by the time I got to the end of the first trilogy I was getting a little tired of the protagonist who seems to wilfully work against his own best interests; his all-style, no-substance direct boss who seems to only get rewarded for his constant incompetence; and the fact that almost every woman who appears in the book is involved in an affair at some point or another; all of ths continues throughout the series. There are little tirades here and there in the text that seem to be Mr. Deighton himself using his books as a platform to air his chest on such weighty subjects as the cost of hairdressing and how much the result looks like you just tousled your hair. There's an amount of the writing that strikes me as realism, such as the petty politics and griding bureaucracy of the civil service, but to be honest I read thrillers as escapism, not as a reminder of the grim side of an office job. And then there are the multiple denouments: fine, it's a layered story, and Spy Sinker gives you the closest to a full telling of events, but it's all undercut by untrustworthy narrators who make you question how much of what you're being told is actually true in the book's universe. Which, again, bonus points for added realism, but really, if I'm getting an omnipotent narrator's view of the world, that should be the reliable one that sets everything into place. Otherwise you wind up with all this tension created by not knowing what exactly happened that never gets resolved. And you get to the end of the series with at least one contradiction / lie - who killed Thurkettle - and a handful of loose ends, such as the passing remark about the presence of a female Winter at the shooting of the Winter brothers. The prequel, Winter, would have been a nice place to tie that detail up, by the way, but it was left as if forgotten about.

The prequel is probably the strongest book in the entire series. It follows Peter and Paul Winter from their childhood at the turn of the century, through their engagement in the First World War, then their divergent paths in the Weimar period, and finally into and through World War Two. The rise of Hitler and the NSDAP is portrayed largely from Paul's perspective as associate, and then a key member of the organisation. Familiar faces from the rest of the series start to appear late in the book - as you'd expect. It's a historical tour-de-force, notwithstanding the placement of Paul as a key player in key events (e.g. making the Night of the Long Knives legal, figuring out how to make Hitler as Chancellor head of the army, etc.) and, as I said, the strongest in the whole series. It does have its flaws: more seemingly arbitrary infidelities and characters dispatched almost as footnotes ("oh yeah. She got killed by a random bomb."). On the whole, though, I think this is probably the best Deighton book I've read, and it does stand on its own, more or less.

May 17
SSD encryped and in the case. And boy howdy is there a performance boost.

May 16
SSD cloned from internal drive but still hanging off the side of the MacBook by a USB cable. I'm encrypting it at present, and when that's done I'll do the necessary case-opening surgery to install it, but already I'm noticing a distinct improvement in performance.

May 15
Got my SSD for the MacBook. Now to figure out how to install it...

Had The Ipcress File (or more correctly, The IPCRess File?) on the DVR for the last couple of weeks, so watched it last night. Not bad, although knowing who the bad guy is does spoil it a bit.


May 9
My MacBook's hard drive is giving hints that it may not be the happiest piece of hardware on the premises. This is a mid-2012 MacBook, so that makes it about 5 years old. My original MacBook from 2006 (?) is still happily running with its original drive, albeit increasingly sluggish as MacOS versions became more dependant on having a SSD.

Also, annoyingly, the drive SMART status says, "everything's cool". My past experience with this on Macs is that it says everything is cool right up until the drive explodes.


May 2
About two weeks back, Virgin Media sent me a promo to upgrade to their latest home broadband router, or "Digital Hub" or some such marketese. I'm quite happy with the cruddy Cisco EPC2425 I got from their predecessors (UPC) in as much as it works most of the time. However, there was this one spell where it'd repeatedly fail in a non-obvious fashion: it would stop being able to route DNS traffic, so your existing connections would all work fine but you'd be pretty much unable to do anything new. Well, shortly after the marketing email, guess which router failure returned? It's been going on intermittently since, and in the middle of all of this, Virgin Media sent me a survey asking, "How are we doing?".

rolls up sleeves, rubs hands together

(this got so bad before that I set up an MRTG instance to monitor it; this revealed to me that the RTT to the "local" DNS resolver was worse than the RTT to Google's 8.8.8.8 resolver.)

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