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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

December 31
Good Riddance, 2020. May we never see your like again.

Final movie watch for 2020 was The Mummy and let's put it this way, it did not improve on the general shitshow that this past few months has been. It's worth noting that this was a big enough flop that it killed of a planned franchise, and it still took in $400m worldwide. Pro tip: if taking in $400m is considered a commercial failure, you may be doing something wrong.

RTÉ's New Year thing was even more atrocious than I had expected. Graham Norton seemed to be doing his regular chat show. Jools Holland's live/replay was ok, but I couldn't help noticing his entire band were maskless, by comparison to the earlier show I'd skipped past where the entire RTÉ symphony orchestra had masked up; it's not just about whether or not they need to, it's leading by example. In the end we figured we'd watch RTÉ for the roll-over; they ran a long ad break at 23:55 and then had four talking heads yammering about rubbish until suddenly it was midnight and to be honest there was so little notice of it that we almost missed it. At least we had a repeat of last year's view of fireworks both on TV and "live" to the south of us.

I am DONE with this year. OUT, DAMNED SPOT 2020!

December 29
Losing track of movies here. Somewhere along the line we've watched Stargate, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Jason Bourne - all rewatches, so you can probably find my previous observations somewhere else on this site. Stargate holds up remarkably well for a mid-nineties movie - some of the special effects are very obviously rotoscoped or poorly chromakeyed, but aside from that it could've been made any time between then and now.

December 28
So, ah, Avengers: Infinity War. If you've been watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe this is sort of the finale, or so I thought, until it ended rather abruptly and I had to go find out that Endgame (which I was aware of the existence of) is sort of "Infinity War Part 2: Everything Isn't Terrible". So now I need to go watch that. But what of its predecessor? It's too long, it's too busy. Trying to fit in all those characters and still maintain a coherent storyline is just ... too much. Things seem to be introduced into the storyline way late in the movie because of this, so instead of laying out the pieces and building something from them, it's still digging around in the box and pulling things out while you're trying to figure out what the hell the objective is. And the ending, as noted, is kinda abrupt: big setpiece fight, bad guy shows up with bad weapon, good guy shows up with good weapon, wham bam credits. Wait, what? Oh, and for good measure, RTÉ opted to cut the credits out and replace them with a title card reading "The End", so if there was a stinger after the credits we didn't see it. Thanks, RTÉ.

December 26
Post-christmas movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark which I mostly remembered beat-for-beat, with the exception of the submarine. I guess the whole idea that Indy somehow manages to hitch a ride undetected on an actual submarine for a non-trivial voyage that includes it going underwater is so preposterous that I just forgot the submarine even existed. I mean, really. What's supposed to happen here? He slips in a sealed hatch as the damned thing is going underwater without somehow being noticed, and then hides for the duration of the journey only to somehow slip off again? And of course the script writers didn't even try: it's simply presented as "fade to map" followed by "fade to destination". Oh well. It's still a riot of a movie.

December 25
Christmas movie: The Matrix, which I've not seen in ages, and which TCM (Turner Classic Movies, or if you're to believe the continuity announcer, Turner Classic Movies Movies - he said "TCM Movies") managed to spin out to three hours through the repetition of essentially the same ad break every 20-30 minutes for 10 minutes or so. Dear LORD that was painful. Anyway. The "Trinity Loves Neo" bit was still as clunky as I remember. Some of the dialogue seemed... unfamiliar; a different cut, maybe? Other dialogue ran strong on cheese. Tank's training-day starter conversation with Neo? Cheesy. Mouse talking to Neo at breakfast? Cheesy. Morpheus? Generally overimpressed with his own dialogue, but he carried it off. Trinity? Aside from the cringeworthy "lurve" dialogue referenced above, actually pretty damned good in terms of acting, but the dialogue she got was honestly pretty forgettable for the most part.

Keanu Reeves looks so young in this. Also, all the CRT screens. Yeesh. This was a mere 21 years ago and the flatscreens in the movie were small things designed to evoke "future" but nowadays the sort of thing you'd find in a digital picture frame or a car's reversing camera, and Neo the uberhacker with his mad programs on, what, miniDiscs? had a bunch of what looked like not particularly large CRTs hooked up to whatever his ergonomic keyboard was plugged into.

Also, I'm sure this has been analysed to death by the Matrix-as-my-new-religion people, but this is the first time I noticed that Agent Smith's suit jacket in the subway fight has the same mustard-yellow lining as Thomas Anderson's at the start of the movie. I have no idea if this means anything or was just the wardrobe department working from an artificially limited palette.

December 24
Since I lost track of this and needed it again: DPD UK postcodes for Ireland, because they can't simply use Eircodes: Outside of Dublin is ZZ75 0AA and inside of Dublin is ZZ71 0AA.

December 23
More from CJH Studio Sessions: Eye of the Tiger, (podcast link) wherein it is noted that there is a beautiful piano track that's basically inaudible in the final mix. (Almost as funny/tragic as the perfect cowbell track on You've Got Another Thing Coming that's buried in a pile of guitar, bass, drums and yelling.)

Ah, and some links!So probably enough there to find a new podcast once I chew this one up.

December 22
I have no idea how I stumbled across Christian James Hand's Studio Sessions on KLOS 95.5 (podcast link - right-click and copy, then paste into your podcast software of choice), but they're awesome. Now, the shows on this podcast only run from September 2016 to March 2018, and I've not yet looked to see if there's a continuation elsewhere, but lemme set this up for you: it's a 20-minute breakdown of a song to give you the individual tracks that it's made up from, so drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, vocal, etc. Some of the shows seem to use studio mixes, so there's a clean separation, others are maybe isolated using audio tricks so there's still a bit of guitar on the vocal track, and some were just recorded that way so you can't isolate things cleanly. Mr. Hand is a bit of a muso, which helps loads: he's able to talk about what's going on, he knows what's interesting, and he's got a couple of random facts to throw in along the way as well. It's broadly rock-oriented (KLOS being "The Rock of Southern California" according to their branding) but there's an occasional foray outside of that. So what's good? Well, it's all good, and the studio banter only makes it more good, but the stand-out ones for me so far have been the ones with the surprising discoveries: I could go on - there's usually something in every session to make me go "waaaaaait a minute let me play that back again", and the studio banter between Hand and the morning show hosts is just EXCELLENT. Once I run out of tracks on this podcast I'm gonna have to go find out what they've been up to since 2018.

December 20
Upgrading the OS version on a Raspberry Pi. Shrugged at the "backup your SD card just in case". It's a throwaway toy, to some extent, and you can get away with a lot of silliness with live upgrades as long as you don't actually power off the device in the middle of the process.


Guess who tripped a circuit breaker mid-upgrade?

So now it's doing a full reinstall instead of an upgrade.

December 19
I got a raspberry pi "Pi NoIR" camera, and was perplexed by the inclusion of a circular plastic cone in the packaging - there was no included documentation. Eventually I found out that it's to refocus the camera - it clips, with some difficulty, onto the lens and by rotating it you can screw the lens in or out.

December 18
Right, where are we at?

His Dark Materials, Season 2 is trundling along nicely, although I still feel it's a little on the slow side and could do with some editing for pace. Also I can't see Andrew Scott in any scene without thinking of Moriarty - I don't know what "natural" Andrew Scott is like, but John Parry and Moriarty certainly seem to carry simliar airs of polite menace. The two leads - Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson - are brilliant, though.

House, M.D.: we've landed in Season 7, where the eponymous doc is ... suddenly sort of human. It's a bit surprising and you keep waiting for it to blow over - which I'm sure it will, as misanthropes everywhere probably fled the show, panicking the writers into rolling back the changes - but it's kinda the character development I was looking for. The scripting seems sharper and more fun, too.

We managed to pick up two of our "lost" Star Trek: TNG episodes. Perhaps ironically, all we're missing now is the very first two episodes of the entire series.

In non-visual media, I was persuaded by of all things Wikipedia to pick up Eoin Colfer's extension of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's series. It... was a mistake, and I tried to like it, but there were too many things wrong with it, and let's face it, the only reason you'd read - or write - another book in this series is to wallow in the familiar nostalgia of the first five books. Even the Adams' last, Mostly Harmless, while a much darker book, still retained the same thread of silliness that made its four predecessors so much fun. Colfer's work, well. The whole paddywhackery thing was a collossal mistake, I think. I mean, think about it. The central character in the entire serious is a some sort of stereotypical Englishman; too poilte to complain, set upon, secretly of the opinion that he's better than those around him - sometimes he is, sometimes not, and for the most part conservative and disinclined to upset things but capable of the occasional greatness. He's a bit-part player in his own sixth novel, and time that should have been given to him is instead given to a woefully irritating pastiche of Oirishness, which goes out of the way to explicitly tell you it's a pastiche, and reminds you towards the end of the book in case you forgot. There are too many asides into "the Guide" which is really an authorial fourth-wall-breaking that should have been used far more sparingly, and the "voice" of the Guide is all wrong. At least, that's how it felt - who knows, if I go back and reread Adams' books I might find that I'm wrong about his "Guide" segments, but I don't think I am. Ultimately I'm of two minds about this: on one hand, I think the prospect of another HHGTTG is a tempting idea; on the other hand, maybe it was a huge mistake and we should all have been left slightly disappointed that Adams basically chose to answer all the questions opened by the previous books with a very large and final (and slightly cranky) full stop.

December 11
Knocked off the missing two episodes of ST:TNG Season 7: a two-parter called "Gambit". A good episode.

December 5
I'm always slightly bemused by reviewers on shopping sites who write up a product review that talks about the seller, the delivery person, the speed with which the item arrived, etc. without really talking about the actual product at all. Five stars, would buy again.

(Also just read a three-star review of a textbook that starts with admitting that the purchaser just glanced at it and was rating it based on this.)

December 3
Having a fun time with Homebrew (macOS package installs, not beer): Apparently this comes from defaulting an unversioned python dependency to python3 (or python@3 or whatever) regardless of whether that was actually intended by the package author coupled with Homebrew's preference for its own builds over whatever you've already got (the system has Python3 installed already). I've done some listless poking at the net to try and find a way to tell it not to do that, but it's not trivially discoverable so I'm thinking it may be time to promote "get rid of Homebrew" on the Round Tuit list.

Encountering this was in service of trying to build something to figure out what's going on with my ZWave toys in more detail than OpenHAB seems to allow. It looks like everything fell off the network due to a range extender that didn't want to play, then magically returned to the network at midnight (network heal time is not midnight), except one device that still insists it's not on the network - even though its status is correctly reflected in OpenHAB. I dunno. And I have two phantom devices which the controller insists are online even though they don't actually exist.

Got the thing built, then spent some time trying to figure out how I'd used it before (key: /dev/cu.usbmodemXXX, not /dev/tty.usbmodemXXX), then set about trying to unscrew the network. I had to remove the repeater, then add it back, which seemed to cause the rest of the network to recover, except that one TRV; with further attention, I managed to remove that one TRV from its old slot, but the phantom devices it created (somehow) are stuck on the controller and I can't seem to get rid of them. I guess in theory the controller eventually tags them as failed, at which point I can remove them, but there doesn't seem to be a way for me to manually instruct the controller to nuke 'em. Oh, and devices removed then added come back at a different slot, so that means some further tweaking will be required once I put all this back into its box.

Ok, so all I had to do was get bored enough waiting to try some random things, and sending a refresh, followed by "is node failed" allowed me to move it the failed list, which then allowed me to remve it from the controller. Lather, rinse, repeat, and we're almost back in shape. Just waiting on one node to check in.

December 2
So AirSane: run it on the same box as your SANE scanner installation, and it will make your scanner visible to any macs on your network. Much to my surprise this even works on my mac which has stopped supporting scanner sharing outbound. Installation was a little bit of a palaver as I was trying to build it on a Raspberry Pi which is running slightly older versions of libusb and libpng and doesn't have prepackaged versions of the newer ones. The libusb one is easy enough to fix - you can just wedge the missing enum value into the appropriate header file or use #define to set it to zero for compiling; the libpng one is slightly more annoying as you have to compile & install libpng-1.6, then likely rename the include directory from libpng16 to libpng, then make sure the linker picks up the correct version of the library at the end of compilation AND at runtime.

And voila, Preview immediately offers to scan from the networked scanner. Amazing stuff.

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Hell of a year