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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

August 26
In search of one-hour shows to watch, we landed on The Night Manager; despite a near-irresistable urge to see Olivia Coleman's "Coventry"-based office as a Slough House sort of setup, this is really, really good. Although I'll be honest, I can't quite take Tom Hiddleston seriously as a nasty character; his Loki in the Marvel movies is evil, but he's cartoon evil, and the setup in this series makes him far too nice for the subsequent turn of demeanour to stick the landing. And of course Doctor House with an English accent? Who's gonna believe that? (or Bertie Wooster with an actual functioning brain, if you prefer...) So I guess, yeah. The typecasting of the leads is a little bit of a problem, but to repeat: this is really, really good. I wonder how much better it'd have been if they'd chosen, say, Peter Capaldi as the Night Manager, and, I dunno. Who would you cast as Richard Roper? He's been suave and persuasive thus far, but I'm sure he's going to have to turn brutal and nasty at some point. Maybe Daniel Craig, if you could avoid seeing him as Bond?

For reasons to do with failing hardware I'm currently dealing with Microsoft Outlook on Windows on a more regular basis than would be the norm for me. And over the last two days I've had frankly puzzling behaviour with meeting invites: two invites sent out, both of which received "decline-and-propose-new-time" responses. So, in my head, there would be a giant button to push that says, "accept new time".

Apparently not.

For the first of the two, I peered intently at the response, looking for some indication of the expected button. Nothing. I was, I will note because it is important, looking at the preview pane; I'd not opened the response in its own window. Because who does that? Anyway. Eventually, I decided I'd look at the meeting in the calendar instead, and popped up the detail window. It told me the recipient had proposed a new time and I should ... click the Scheduling Assistant button to find out more. Ok, not exactly intuitive, but... uh. Where's the Scheduling Assistant button? After some searching I found it on the ribbon. Ok. We'll put that one down to not being able to see my nose in front of my face or something. Clicked on the button. Right, this is overly complicated, because it's showing me a whole window full of information about rescheduling, including a room finder, but at least the top of it shows me the proposed new time along with the original time. Right. Click on the proposed new time and ... now what? The biggest visible button, what you'd consider to be "take next logical step", is "Cancel meeting". I can't see any way to accept the change of schedule after selecting it. Frustrated, I click on the "X" button to close the popup and ... get prompted to send the update to the meeting. Great. Again, not intuitive, but it's what I wanted.

So the second meeting? This time - by accident - I opened the response in its own window, i.e. not the preview pane. And lo, there's a button there somewhere to say, "accept proposed time". So I clicked it. And it, ah. It apparently ignored the propsed time and just confirmed the meeting for the original time. More to the point, it altered the original response so I could no longer accept the proposed time. So I pinged the recipient on IM, apologised for calendar screwups, and manually dragged the meeting invite to a mutually agreeable slot.

I've seen a lot wrong with calendar software that falls into grey-area edge cases, but this seems like a failure in basic functionality. I mean, I guess I'm using it incorrectly somehow, but when there are no cues to how to do it right...

August 23
Took some time off last week and headed to Kerry for a couple of days. Somewhere in there we watched The Old Man and The Gun which was a little goofy, a little harmless, and a nice wind-down for Robert Redford. And hey, Tom Waits playing someone who seemed to be mostly compos mentis, to misuse a probaby poorly-spelled phrase. Other than that we've not been watching much aside from our continued trawl through Midsomer Murders and some Rick Stein series. (Tonight, our Ricky was talking to the Dalai Lama who suggested Ricky could use his show to help spread the word that self-centered nationalism etc. was a blight on the world. Clearly his holiness has never actually seen any of Rick's programmes, wherein he spends a considerable amount of time lamenting the good old days of colonialism and the like.)


August 15
My home-grown RSS Reader has become a bit sluggish in recent weeks; I'd assumed this was because the database needed pruning, something I do infrequently enough that I've not bothered to automate it. So, at some point, I duly deleted all the accrued items older than a year or so which weren't immediately going to be backfilled from their corresponding RSS feeds. No real improvement though. Eventually I realised there's a second table which references this that keeps track of which of the accumulated items I've read; this gets consulted every time I look for unread articles, so obviously if it's gotten big it's going to hit performance. Sure enough, turns out there's over two million dangling references in there. Oops. Cleaning those up should improve things a little...

We had Virgin Media scheduled shennanigans on Monday: they posted notice that services would be down for the day with the promise of unspecified improvements thereafter. Alas, the service is still the same speed, we've had the connection drop (I think) at least once a day since Monday, and the "is there an outage in my area" widgets on their website are both still broken. Wouldn't want to be giving customers any sense of entitlement now, would we.

(I keep meaning to set something up to more accurately monitor the state of the connection; I've got something that'll tell me if the connection's down for more than five minutes, but a modem recycle usually sneaks in under that, and the mechanism by which it works is reliant on a few too many moving parts to definitively indicate that the problem is with the connection.)


August 4
Pretty much devoured Mick Herron's latest Slough House book (titled, conveniently enough, Slough House); I've really enjoyed these, and I'm surprised to read in a Guardian interview that the initial books were flops on first publication and it was only through the persistence of an editor in the UK that they gained some level of status. I'm mildly annoyed with the cliffhanger ending of the current book, even with the promise of another in the series next year, as it's not really been the sort of thing you'd find in the previous books - misdirection from chapter to chapter, certainly, but not a giant hook in the closing pages.

The books, if you've not encountered them, concern a sort of sandbox office for failed spies: ones who've made a sufficiently large cock-up that they'll no longer be employed by the service proper, but who for one reason or another are retained in a backwater office where they mostly do utter scutwork and hope vainly that they'll somehow redeem themselves and rejoin the ranks of spies proper. Of course, they wind up doing more actual spycraft than said propers. Their leader is the world's worst boss and possibly highly placed in the list of generally unpleasant humans as well, but he takes care of his own when he's done mocking them for whatever got them dumped in his lap, tasking them with ridiculous work, and generally making their lives hell. Touches of the real world are scattered here and there, the most amusing / scary of which is a BoJo analogue who comes with a scarily plausible inner dialogue. There's humour by the barrel, but it'll turn on a dime and suddenly someone's come to a nasty end. While Herron has a habit of killing off characters you sort of got to like, it's muted somewhat by the sense of inevitability and in some ways the ineptitude - which is what got these people into Slough House in the first place. I just read that it's being turned into a TV series; I have mixed feelings about that, because I don't know quite how well that'll work, but who knows.

August 1
Finished Expanse Book 8, wherein major characters are killed ARGH and because taking that cue from GoT wasn't enough, REDACTED happens.

Actually I've no idea if anyone reading this would be spoilered by me going into detail. Look, Amos gets killed. Graphically, stupidly, and in true Amos fashion, protecting someone unlikely. And then It Is Revealed that sure, he was killed, but he's back. Which is done a bit hamfistedly, to be honest: they had the ingredients to hint at it obliquely and then reveal it dramatically, but instead there was a giant neon sign indicating the likelihood of his reappearance/reincarnation, meaning I spent the remainder of the time until said reappearance waiting for it to happen. The other major deaths, well, one of 'em was undramatic and more or less "off screen" and frankly not unsurprising, and the other, hmm. On one hand it was a fitting death for the character in question; on the other hand, the way it was written felt a bit like the death of Finn in The Mongoliad: offhanded and at a remove that almost felt dismissive of the character. "There, that's done" dusts off hands.

All that aside, I'm now waiting for book 9 to drop, which I think is the last one in the series. Or intended to be, until someone decides on a prequel or Tales of Laconia or something. It'll be interesting to see how it winds up and who will be left standing at the end - I'm expecting at least one heroic death, and Amos' new metabolic status is obviously going to be a significant element.

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Waider
Still sorta March. 2020.