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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

July 30
Despite leaving my actual Kindle in an airplane seatback pocket (since recovered, thank you Etihad), I read rather a lot over the course of my two-week trip. One book in particular I'd put on my wishlist ages ago, long enough that I'd forgotten why: Daniel Suarez' Daemon. It's his first novel, and a bit over-laden with technobabble (to be fair, technically sound technobabble, but something of an audience-limiting factor in as much as those who don't understand it will be put off and at least a portion who do will also be put off) but also hosting a rather interesting idea: the maker of a popular MMORPG uses it to, essentially, hack society. The idea intrigued me, and in particular the post-hack world where the Daemon of the title was providing its adherents with access to cloned databases which it had obtained one way or another. Made me think a lot about digital footprints and the like. Anyway, the book rattles on for a while and then comes to a screaming cliffhanger, which annoyed me a bit. Didn't stop me from purchasing the sequel, however: Freedom ™, wherein I'm suddenly no longer sure who I want to "win", I'm still finding the technobabble overdone, and I'm still chewing through the book like it's a race. Again, more food for thought here about digital footprints and tracking people and what not, and a graphic example of the dangers of using biometric markers (retinas, fingerprints) as an authentication mechanism. Oh, and the Razorbacks were silly.

Anyway. Long story short, you should probably read these if you like a good techno-thriller; it's not Neal Stephenson, but it's in the same ballpark. You will need to read both; the second does kinda recap the first in the opening chapters (another annoyance) but you're missing both a lot of nuance and a good deal of fun.

Oh, and I figured out where I got the recommendation when Warren Ellis mentioned that he was reading Suarez' most recent work.

July 28
Holidays being holidays, I got to watch some movies while sitting on a plane:

· Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was a nice bit of fun, and I didn't roll my eyes too hard at the bit where they did the "hacking through the electrical outlet" bit.
· Perhaps surprisingly, I'd never seen Alien (in fact, I'm not sure I've seen Aliens, either, but I've definitely seen some part of the franchise in its entirety before). Anyway, this was pretty good, although I probably lost something in the cut-for-airplane, squished for small-screen viewing version. The only thing that jarred was the whole "THERE IS A HOMICIDAL ALIEN STALKING ME BUT I MUST FETCH THE CAT" routine, which was tiresomely stupid.
· I heard exactly two types of opinion on The Lego Movie: "it's AWESOME!" and "it's AWFUL!" I liked it. There were some great gags, Batman as a loser was pretty epic, and the whole dad/son bit at the end was nicely played.
· Anchorman was... meh. This was pretty much universally pitched to me as a must-watch, but maybe I'm that one guy who doesn't find Will Ferrell's manchild routine funny? In any case, I watched the whole thing and found a few bits of it amusing but nothing that had me actually laughing.

And an honourable mention: Ethiad was carrying two episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and I don't care if it's in its forties, and some of the humour might be a bit dated, the attention to detail put into this show is something to behold. The thing that particularly struck me was the needless (and therefore funny) continuity: one episode had an early sketch involving an ever-increasing number of brown-coat-clad gasmen, culminating in a panning shot showing a line of same stretching down the street, all identically dressed; throughout the rest of the episode, this line cropped up as a background element without anything to draw attention to it. Genius.

July 27
Some of the photos came out pretty well (a phrase from the pre-digital era, but nonetheless still valid). Here's one I took using my sunglasses as a filter.

July 26
Back from Sri Lanka. More later.

July 6
One more endorsement from my week of goofing off domestic maintenance: Colm Murray at The Shower People. It's a shame that the general standard of service in Ireland is so poor that I have to identify things that should be a basic standard for anyone, but still: Colm was polite and helpful on the phone, immediately identified the problem, showed up on time, did a speedy job, and left the place clean and tidy.

(For comparison, other people I contacted over the week didn't get back to me, didn't get back to me for several days by which time I'd found someone else, didn't record the fact that I'd already told them I'd found someone else so I got a second call several days after the first, and so on. This stuff isn't hard, people. Get it together.)

I've turned up a few details I didn't previously have in the General Registry Office's new online BMD records at irishgenealogy.ie. The available data is, however, a little disappointing (although understandable, given the hodge-podge of source data used), as is the lack of a useful facility for ordering actual paper copies (which you need to get the full details of any given record); your only online option is a fully-authenticated replica certificate (legally valid, etc. etc.) at €20, or to fill out a form and post or fax it to Roscommon if, like me, you're just looking for a photocopy. Plus there's no direct link from a given record to "order this record" which seems like a major oversight. Ironically, the form for photocopy requests indicates that the photocopy can actually be emailed to you at no additional cost. I can only assume that when they say a photocopy, they mean an actual photocopy, as opposed to "pull up image record #17 from the database and print it off", and the mental obstacle of dealing with a fill-out paper form might act as a natural throttle for people who might otherwise be requesting records willy-nilly...

If you're on Facebook, this article may be of interest. Short version: Facebook changed friends-list privacy settings in a manner that left the author exposed to someone who had endangered her in the past, and Facebook subsequently made it so that friends lists were public so that she had no prospect of undoing the damage other than leaving Facebook entirely - a course of action I wholeheartedly recommend. The middle bit about totalitarian regimes feels a bit overcooked (it may not actually be, just that it felt that way) but there's some good stuff in there on dependency and so forth.

July 5
Off to Bob's for the annual summer barbequeue. For the first time in as long as I can remember we actually had some seriously bad weather (a couple of torrential downpours) but there was still enough non-rain weather to allow us to sit around and laugh at reactions to the "Shocker" sausages JC brought over from Switzerland - perfectly innocent-looking sausages loaded with jalapeños and habaneros.

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