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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

June 25
Good news, everybody! In their latest attempt to "implement" PSD2, Permanent TSB will now send a push notification to your registered phone or device! Of course, they'll still ask you which of the identical registered numbers you want to send "a SMS or push notification to" (with no indication that you don't get to choose which form of notification it is); the notifications are one-shot, so if you didn't enable notifications in the app (or maybe you didn't install it? I dunno, does it fall back to SMS then?) you won't get the notification, and there's no "Send new notification option" on their confirmation page, so you have to back out of the payment screen and start over; and when you finally do manage to approve the payment on your registered phone or device, you still need to go back to your browser and manually submit the payment form on the 3D-secure popup because detecting that you've approved the change is ... too hard? impossible? customer friendly, and we can't be seen to be encouraging customers?

Alas, much like telcos in Ireland, the only useful protest you can make - with your feet - just takes you to another customer-abusive operation, so there's nothing to be gained by it, really.

I'll be fair on one point: app-based approval is more secure than SMS-based approval, at least. It's just that the implementation comes across like it was built by someone who has no experience whatosever of, well, people.

June 16
My working environment in the office has encountered a problem with a recent upgrade whereby I have a version of Emacs that's fighting with the desktop software (this month's Gtk desktop, whatever the hell it is). What happens is, you try to do some perfectly normal Emacs thing, like running a compile, or as I discovered yesterday, jumping to the end of a reasonably large buffer, and Emacs disappears. If you ran it from a terminal, you get a stack trace and a link to a bug report blaming the GTK3 library for poorly implementing something that used work fine in GTK2. I was briefly hopeful that using the Lucid toolkit version would bypass this, but that just failed with a random X11 error (BadDrawable or something along those lines), possibly not at the same point. I don't appear to have any other apps which suffer from whatever this proclaimed bug is. What I find distinctly annoying about this is that it's par for the course for Emacs: ship something buggy, blame someone else, and refuse to even try to work around the problem. Better to maintain your pure intentions than to let people, I dunno, just use a frickin' editor for more than five minutes.

I've given some thought to taking a week off from regular work to just go through the accumulated list of things I need to fix in my working environment - like the above - and maybe burn through a few training courses and in-house videos. Not yet, though, as I've a deadline approaching.

In other SOFTWARE BITES ME complaints, the thing I love most about Apple's magical cut-and-paste-across-devices is that you never know if it's going to work. Typical scenario: I want to log into a service that uses 2FA so I go to the login page. Use my password safe to copy and paste the password, because with a password safe I don't even need to know what the password actually is. Then it wants the second factor, which comes from an app on my phone. Launch the app, press the "copy to clipboard" button and then... gingerly paste into the 2FA box. I have no idea how often this has resulted in pasting the password I'd grabbed from the safe instead of the 2FA code, but it's happened often enough that I'm extremely wary of even trying to use it. If there was some simple visual indicator like, say, a change in the cursor or a transient notification or, well, anything to say it was ready to work as advertised... but then I suppose that would ruin the magic on those rare occasions when it Just Works? I dunno.

June 14
Ok, so The Expanse Season 3 finale landed pretty nicely. So of course we're gonna jump right into Season 4. I'm still on book 3, and still noting the differences while also being slightly amazed at how well the book conveys - without going to town on it - a good deal of what wound up on the screen. Thinking particularly right now of the space behind the gate being described as like being inside a dandelion head; that's actually bang-on for the TV show visuals.

June 13
I have been somewhat remiss in updating this, because I left the laptop downstairs for the last week as a means of plugging it directly into the same part of the network that the backup drive lives on, because I'm still fiddling with backups. Having determined one source of new/changed files, I was still left with a few GB to account for, and while I was doing that Apple dropped an OS upgrade, so that obviously created a massive change and by the time I'd decided to relocate the laptop it had already made a half-dozen attempts to complete the backup. Which meant when it finally did complete the backup it spent another day cleaning up the failed attempts. I've since identified another largeish file that gets constantly backed up: a SQLite database that's part of a toy project. The file is about 3-4 GB in size, and changing a single byte means backing up the entire file, so I figured this is one of those things I can probably ditch. So now the laptop's back upstairs and currently contemplating a mere 1GB of data.

The thing about the 4GB-ish of data it was trying to back up is that it was taking more than 24h to do so, and by the time it was done, enough change had accumulated to make the next backup another 4GB-ish, and so the cycle would continue, and for added fun every so often the network glitches in some way that only affects TimeMachine, causing it to lose its place and have to start over.

It'll be really embarassing if I ever lose anything from these backups, given the amount of effort I'm putting into making sure they're working.

So, ah, aside from pointless tinkering with copies of data: we're just about to wrap up Season 3 of The Expanse, which is going down pretty well. Naomi's accent seems to have gotten ridiculously stronger in this series, which maybe is supposed to reflect that she's more closely aligned with the Belters, but from a viewer perspective it's simply jarring. I started reading the books as well, and I'm into the third one, which means I'm having to hold back so I don't find out the end of the story before we get to it. There are some interesting differences between the book and the series, and I'm a little curious as it's not like you can write them off as "oh, that flows better" or "that wouldn't have worked on the screen".

We caught up with our contiguous supply of Midsomer Murders, so have now branched into seasons 10-12 as that's what was on offer. It's sort of funny when both of us pick different likely suspects and it turns out that not only were we both wrong, but we find out we were wrong as the suspects turn into the next and almost-next victims.

We also managed to catch the entirety of Sir Alec Guinness playing George Smiley in the 1979 mini-series of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This was very good, and much closer to the source material than the more recent movie - hardly surprising given that the mini-series format meant 7 hours of screen time to play with. Guinness did a nice job of conveying Smiley's "grey man" who every so often bares his fangs, much to the surprise of everyone who'd assumed he was being a nice little lapdog.

What else, what else... we're 75% a Pfizer household, I'm just waiting on my second jab. And then at some point I'll be getting an epic haircut, for which I'll likely have to bring a strimmer for the hairdresser to use. Oh, and maybe we can take a holiday this year, too!

Last weekend I did an 8.5km run as part of the Sanctuary Runners team for Cork City Marathon. Managed a reasonably respectable 0:51:28, slowed down slightly by the fact that I took photos every 1km (while running) and posted them to Twitter (still running!). I also took a photo at the end of me "towering over" the entrance to Dublin Port, except that I didn't notice until a day later that the camera had autofocused on the concrete thing I'd set it on top of. But I wasn't going to go back and do another lap, so.

Most of my current fiddling with code - ostensibly the subject of this text - has been around tracking what we've watched and alerting us when something we want to watch is available. So, screenscraping, questionable javascript hackery, etc. etc. I have a big ugly chunk of code for probabalistically matching a movie or TV series against IMDb which includes all manner of heuristics for figuring out name and title mismatches and other fun things and mostly has left me appalled at the data quality in a streaming video offering that I was a beta-tester for. Someone suggested to me that it's not so much a quality issue as a garbage in, garbage out issue; the errant data is coming from the rights holders, not the streaming service. Still, that's not the kind of detail that's immediately obvious (if it's even true) and the net result is that it just looks bad. Ah well.

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