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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

September 30
The DSP 10-year reunion dinner partying thing. Pictures will probably show up on the DSPsrv Gallery at some point.

September 29
Hmm. Missing a day again.

September 28
More socialising with Nat and Jenine.

September 27
Met up with Nat, Jenine and William for a chat, some food and some beer. Almost completely avoided any technical conversation whatsoever. Not bad for a buncha geeks...

Played around with jmatrix again; now it can do the phonecall trace mode, although the numbers are back-to-front. Watched The Matrix again and decided that jwz's xmatrix characters are too fuzzy by far. Contrary to what the C source says
In particular, note that the characters in the movie were, in fact, low resolution and somewhat blurry/ washed out.
the characters are actually pretty crisp, just with an amount of glow and some slight blurring from the motion. Also the "spinners" appear to always move down the screen at the head of a column rather than being at a fixed point. It might be possible to generate a plausible character set in the same way as phosphor does.

Not that this matters a damn, of course.

September 26
Hurrah! DSPsrv is back on-line. Two kernel panics, apparently. Dave and JoeV are poring over the runes to see what might have caused it. I'm grabbing email while I can and trying to think of ways to do less financial damage to myself while netting over the mobile phone.

Spent most of the rest of the day making good on my random comment to turn the Monitor code into a module. There's a few bits of Perl reference hackery that I'm still not familiar with, or at least that I can't seem to make work in the way I'd expect. More investigation is required.

I could, of course, ask Perl Wizard Nathan Torkington who's arrived here for a few days with his wife Jenine and son William, but heck, he's come here for BEER, not Perl...

September 25
Hauled the rest of Hacker Central into the new apartment and then ran away in terror for a few hours. Came back and figured out how to at least get everything to fit in the room in such a way that I can still use the room. A lot of this difficulty will go away once I get my new bookshelf, since that gives me more horizontal space at the expense of vertical space that I'm not using.

For the record, the 16" monitor for the mac is currently sitting on a stack of hardware about two-and-a-half feet tall. Eep!

PilotManager seems to be working again. I think the problem is that PilotManager is more sensitive to VMware than pilot-link. I also think I've come across this problem before and noted it.

September 24
Reassembled Gonzo and tried to figure out where the rest of Hacker Central is going to go. Aie!

September 23
Did some bootdisk fandango to get LILO all happy again after I'd swapped the disks around.

September 22
Last day at work! Some more small changes to the Sunday Business Post site, and some time spent puzzling over why PilotManager has stopped working. It appears to be dying on a DLP command that works perfectly well in, say, pilot-xfer.

September 21
Still thinking about yesterday's fix. There's still something a bit iffy going on in the VM integration code when you force it to create a record. Of course, I'll have so much more free time to work on this now...

Yvonne from the Sunday Business Post called around to see what I'd done with the cross-branded website and to suggest some changes.

Gratiuituous Disk Abuse:
          root # dd if=/dev/hdd1 of=hdd1 &
          root # dd if=/dev/hdd2 of=hdd2 &
          root # dd if=/dev/hdd3 of=hdd3 &
          root # dd if=/dev/hdd4 of=hdd4 &
If you're not laughing already there's no point in trying to explain.

September 20
Found and fixed another BBDB buglet caused by not testing. Every time I think about automating testing of changes I get put off by the interactivity of the damn thing. There's probably a way around this that doesn't involve building a complete X remote control...

Started fitting the 30GB drive into Gonzo. It will replace the 4GB drive currently known as hdb, so that I can retain my dual-optical drive setup. And heck, if you've got 30GB, what's the incentive to hang onto a bitty little 4GB drive?

September 19
Two cross-branding website mockups before lunch, AND helping Louise out some more with procmail. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Okay, so it's not that big a deal.

Moved Gonzo out to the new digs this evening, so Hacker Central has now officially relocated.

September 18
Miracle of miracles, the ISDN line appears to be fixed. Not that anyone actually told me; I checked the error rate, noticed it had gone down, and tried kicking the line up to 128k. And lo, it worked. And there was much rejoicing and downloading of new viruses, flong, and pr0n.

Spent the rest of the morning at the offices of my previous job discussing a cross-branding thingy with them, and spent the afternoon helping Louise out with procmail.

Went netsurfing using the mobile phone again. It crashed twice in the half-hour or so that I was online. Quality, desu ne? And speaking of quality, I gave up on trying to rebuild my broken NT installation; I dumped the disk into a tar file and started reinstalling. What a piece of rubbish this alleged O/S is.

September 17
Whee, no hangover. Conor looks like he died, though. Drinking at least one of everything does that to you, apparently.

Went to what is now my old apartment to move some more stuff, and found an email from Lloyd about my problem with connecting to Amazon; apparently there's a new feature in the Linux TCP/IP stack called "ECN", and a lot of sites don't seem to like it. Switching it off (echo 0 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_ecn) cured the problem.

September 16
House-h^Hwarming party tonight. Beer!

September 15
Finally, I get something positive:
Me: Right, I'm dialed in.
Him: Says here that you're in at 128k.
Me: Um, no. I'm only using a single B channel.
Him: Eh, right. Let me try this.
(time passes)
Him: Okay, I've managed to connect at 128k, but there's something wrong with it. There's a lot of packets being dropped.
Me: Actually, yes. On the 64k link it looks like we're losing up to 50% of the packets.
Him: Well, it looks like we've definitely misconfigured something on this account. I'll have to get one of the NOC guys to sort it out.
Me: Right. Thanks. *drops phone* *dances happy happy joy joy dance*

So. It only took me three and a half days to get to someone who knew what they were talking about. What a great service.

Of course, this happened at about 11:30, and I didn't get anything out of 'em for the rest of the day.

September 14
Thought over breakfast: It took me about a minute to produce a log of the LCP and IPCP conversations with the server for both a successful 64k connection and an unsuccessful 128k connection. How hard can it be to do the same on the server, and thus determine what's wrong?

The DSP's are having another party, and this time, it being the 10-year reunion for some of us, we're making a CD. One of the guys put together a PHP page to suggest songs and cast votes, and I've just spent 10 minutes and a dozen lines of Perl (songtally.pl) parsing it into a final scoreboard. I could probably have done it faster if I'd just grabbed the data file off the server...

Latest from the ISP: "the techie didn't call you back? gosh. well, they're telling me here that you're back up at 128k.". Uh, right. For that to happen, I'd've had to reconfigure the ISDN box. Which I haven't done, because noone told me that we should be back to 128k. Reconfigure, redial, fail, reconfigure, back to 64k. o/` La La La o/`

September 13
Played phone tag some more this morning. The techie who was supposed to call me back failed to do so, so I got onto some random techie (front-line) and explained the situation to him without mentioning Linux. They have an interesting customer system in there: first, he couldn't find my account based on my username. Then he couldn't find it based on my name (I say, "Waide. W, a, i, d, e." And I hear him murmuring, "no entry for W, a, d, e"). Finally, when he looked under the company name, he found the account, and told me we were only set up for 64k. I said, "uuuuh. We're paying for 128k, and we've been getting 128k for the last six months" (well, except for when the ISP screws us over...) so he looks at the billing record and discovers we are, in fact, paying for 128k. Then he gets onto the "Press Start" page of his three-ring binder, and I break it to him that I don't have a Start button. More phone tag, followed by the One True Tech being unavailable - maybe he's handling calls from other Linux users - so I wound up leaving him a message. I'm currently downloading the latest version of ppp at an intermittent 200-odd bytes per second while I wait.

The techie techie I'm dealing with apparently hasn't been paying much attention. Aside from not calling me back on three of the four occasions when he said he would, he also missed the point I was trying to make:
Me: So, any word from the network guys?
Him: Yeah, they said you were logging in on two channels, and now you're only logging in on one.
Me: Er. Yes. That's what I told you this morning, and what the email I sent you confirmed. We can't log in on two channels. The server's not responding in any way that makes sense when we try.
Him: Um.
How do companies like this stay in business, exactly? Where's Darwin when you need him?

September 12
Ha ha ha. Internet Service Provider. Why do they include the word "service"? It's not like you get any. Our dual-channel ISDN line dropped at 13:30, and failed to restart. Cursory inspection of the logs revealed that it was a recurrence of a problem we had about two or three months back, where we'd dial, connect, authenticate, request our IP, get no reply, get another authenticate challenge, re-request our IP... and time out waiting for a reply. I spent 40 minutes playing phone tag, getting hung up on, getting redirected to other lines - including the wrong company - and generally being pissed about. Part of the problem, of course, is that the ISDN line is hooked up to a Linux box, and the first thing the guy on the phone tells you is "Press Start", followed by "Oh. Linux. We don't support that."

Eventually I resorted to backdooring their technical support structure by phoning the sales guy I dealt with when we set the line up, and getting him to contact the techie techies (as opposed to the ring-binder-following front-line support) directly. One of them, I was assured, would call me back, although there was nothing wrong with the line.

Ha. Since we were offline anyway, I hauled the ISDN modem - an Eicon Diva TA - onto a Windows machine, installed the necessary software, and tried to connect:

- Error _ [] X
Windows Dial-Up Networking
cannot establish a compatible
set of protocols. Ha ha ha.

or some such nonsense. So, on a hunch, I backed the modem off to single-channel mode, and tried again. Presto! I'm in!. So, back to Linux, reconnect at 64k, yep, that works. So, we now have 25 people trying to squeeze all their web access through a 64k pipe, until I can find someone at the ISP who will admit to changing something.

September 11
Had another look at the xscreensaver vt100 hack, and found a page of notes on writing terminal emulators. After reading about half of it, I came to three conclusions:
  1. People who write Terminal Emulators are, by necessity, demented.
  2. VT100 emulation is hard (see 1.)
  3. My best bet is to rip off the xterm code, since (a) it works and (b) it's got the right license.

Making this work could be interesting; I know I'm building it in an X environment, but I'd prefer if I could make it a standalone chunk of code (for arguments' sake, libvt100) which means digging out all the X stuff and replacing it with plain ol' C equivalents.

Reimplemented a feature in BBDB that had gone missing, and added another feature per a user request. I'm starting to think about a proper 2.2 release soon, for which purpose I've built a 2.00.06 release for comparison. See what we broke, etc.

September 10
Italian F1 this morning, and house moving this afternoon. Some poor fire marshal got a wheel to the head in the former and became the first F1 fatality since Senna in 1994, as far as I know. The latter will require maybe two more runs with the car, and then I'm officially out of The Maltings. No hacking to speak of.

September 9
Someone on bbdb-info is having a little trouble with the info file for BBDB. He's getting an error that was cured by the CVS version of the file he has. Bizarre.

Yet more bizarre: Gonzo cannot connect to Amazon. However, Klortho, running on IP masquerading through Gonzo, can connect just fine. Problem being that I run Squid on Gonzo, so I had to tweak my proxy autoconfig script to tell it to connect directly to Amazon. The BBC news site seems to suffer the same problem. I have NO idea what's going on here.

September 8
Mucked about a bit with NMEA today. It's actually NMEA 0183; NMEA is an association which tries to set standards for the likes of Garmin to use. Reading between the lines, they have about as much success in this as W3C have making Microsoft adhere to the latest revision of HTML. For laughs, I hooked up the GPS toy to Klortho and left a data dump running while I cycled home, and then fed that to some Perl to try and figure out what it was saying. I'm currenly considering how I should handle the data - keep a series of GPS Lat/Long/Altitude objects in a list, or sling it all into a grid of some sort with resolution blah by blah and average Lat/Long out to the nearest grid point.

September 7
Hacked on Mailcrypt to make it talk to PGP 6.5, since that's what I have. Found some vague bogosity in the code; it derives some stuff from running the pgp executable and parsing the output that it could as easily get from parsing pgp.cfg and the PGPPATH environment variable. Like, who am I and where's my keyring? Got some of it working and then got bored with it. I hate debugging other peoples' code... Oh, and for the record, PGP 6.5's "2.6 compatibility" isn't compatible. The switches might work the same, but the output formatting is different.

Tweaked the mp3 renamer to cope with a small, stupid change in CDDB's HTML search output: there's a space before the closing > on the HREF tag in the result listings. Having a bunch of obscure KLF tracks on MP3 and feeding them to this script has shown me just how much junk there is in the CDDB, actually. Metric tonnes, in case you're wondering.

September 6
Reinstalled the AvantGo sync toy for PilotManager. Well, actually, I discovered I hadn't deleted it in the first place, so it was just a matter of relocating it to the correct directory. I still can't recall why I trashed the original stuff. For those of you who can't wait for the pilot-link folk to update the Perl code for Perl 5.6, I've hacked up this patch to make it work. Note: I don't know the first thing about XS code. I just fixed compile errors until the damn thing built. This also includes the malsync patches, btw, and fixes for some of the bugs listed on SourceForge. Apply this patch in the Perl5 directory.

Hacked together a silly piece of code to tell me what phrases are linked to what pages across my entire site. This is kinda vaguely aimed at what I was saying about Remembrance Agent back in August.

September 5
More political fun. I think I've got that out of the way now, though.

Played with GPS some more, and realised that the output I want is the NMEA stuff, since it kicks that out in realtime. For some reason I'm interested in the idea of getting the GPS to feed me a location and then using the IR port to ask my cellphone what the signal quality at that point is. Also in making my own sorta navigational toys around Dublin. I should probably drink less coffee or something.

September 4
Spent some time in the morning playing phone & email tag to get a code control environment set up in the UK office. This will be a fun mishmash of software I don't like and politics, a surefire recipe for, uh, whatever.

Played with my eTrex GPS toy some. Things seem to block randomly on opening /dev/wotsit, presumably down to stale locks or something. Eventually hacked one of the toys to close the port cleanly when I crashed it, and also to get past the fact that it was trying the Wrong Thing to kick the GPS at the start of the conversation. Then I discovered that the eTrex uses a shiny, new, undocumented way of storing the data. Jeez.

September 3
Grabbed the latest PGP release and discovered that it seems to be a binary-only distrib, and is still somewhat bozotic. It really is a shame to see a good product go down the toilet like that. Kinda puts the lie to the thinking that a company-supported product is better than freeware, too, although NAI are hardly an example of a good company in this respect. And the people who espouse this thinking can always point at Mozilla.

Had a look at cramming ID3v2.3 writing into MP3::Info. It's a lot harder than I thought it would be; Chris's code doesn't seem to support the per-frame flags in the spec, so I'm most likely going to have to break compatibility to make it work. Maybe I should just use the other MP3 tag code.

September 2
Once we were semi-awake, I showed Dermot my collection of toys. He was most impressed with the Linksys hub, mainly from the point of view that I got it so cheaply. So we wandered in for the Saturday coffee thing, then wandered out to Maplin to see if he could buy the same kit himself. Alas, they only had the hub, not the kit (2x network cards, 2x cables, 1x 5-port + MDIX hub) so he settled for a similar 8-port hub. Being wise to my power supply woes with the first kit I got, he got 'em to open it up in the shop and check the PSU. Sure enough, 5V vs. 3.3V. Someone obviously had a bad day at the Linksys factory.

We (JC, Cliffy, and I) had also made a concerted effort to persuade Dermot that he needs a Palm. So we tried Maplin: they didn't stock 'em. We tried Peats: they only had the IIIc. We tried Dixon's: they had a Vx, but only the display model and the shopguy couldn't find the bits to go with it (cradle, software, etc.) so Dermot left sans Palm. Finally, we tried Argos, but they stock only the Psion and a bunch of those dubious addressbook yokies that aren't much more than oversized calculators. He did buy a stack of blank CDROMs, though. Then back to the pub for more beer. Oh, and I bought another Nerf gun. Whee!

September 1
I quit my job today. No kidding. Dermot arrived up from Limerick to help me celebrate. Whee!

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Maybe there's a manual page for this
-- smarry