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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in [mdw]'s LiveJournal:

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Monday, September 18th, 2006
10:36 am
The Bed Bolt
For those whom I've not yet told: I moved house last week.

One of the (surprisingly many) last-minute jobs involved was disassembling the bed. I don't think I've actually written the First Bed Saga yet, in which a great hero sets out to obtain a device for comfortable sleep and is frustrated at every turn, but suffice to say he eventually won through and obtained said item.

The bed frame is a king-size thing. It consists of three main parts: a base made out of steel bits and wooden slats, and head- and footboards. These `boards' consist of cylindrical legs joined together with other decorative tubes in a pleasing way. Near the bottom of each leg are a pair of threaded receivers, into which a bolt can be screwed, and this is how the boards are fastened to the base.

So, to disassemble the thing, all one needs to do is remove the bolts. Easy enough: I did them up after all. Run next door, where I packed the socket set, bring it back, find the right socket, and assemble the ratchet gadget. Seven of the eight bolts come out fairly easily. The last one is stuck. Precisely: it's stuck to the receiver, and the receiver is now turning relatively freely in the leg. Bummer.

Run next door again and unpack the Leatherman. Recruit crazyscot (thanks) to try to grip the bit of the receiver which stands clear of the actual leg with the pliars while I try to turn the bolt. No joy. Swap jobs. No joy.

Idea! Attempt to file flat edges on the side of the receiver, to aid in gripping it. No joy: all this does is scratch the previously nice nickel-plated leg.

Eventually we gave up, and I cut the head off the bolt with a hacksaw. The bolt head stayed uncomfortably hot for a surprisingly long period of time.

The next day, the removal men failed to get the base down the stairs, so I had to partially disassemble that too. No problem: take half the slats off and remove one side of the base, and it's fine.

The next day, I wandered to Mackays and obtain an amazingly cheap hacksaw, a couple of bolts and washers (I had to destroy one of the existing plastic washers in my previous attempts to remove the recalcitrant bolt), and some adhesive to keep the receiver in place. A conversation with my dad resulted in a recommendation for Loctite 638, which appeared to be too scary for Mackay's (`We only do engineering grade adhesives'), so I settled for superglue and epoxy. The girl behind the counter took one look at the example bolt I brought with me and said, in a surprised tone, `That looks like a Whitworth thread.' Which, indeed, it was: 5/16" BSW.

Use hacksaw to cut a slot in the top of the (now headless) bolt. Squirt superglue around edge of receiver, and daub rapidly hardening epoxy around the edge, just to make sure. Leave the thing for a couple of hours. Come back. Destroy two screwdriver bits trying to shift the bolt. Bummer. I guess it's really stuck, then.

Then I had a new idea. I went back to Mackays, found the helpful girl again, and asked for a couple of matching nuts, a die, and a die holder. Dig out metalworking file from the toolbag in the garage. Gently smooth away the flash and other unpleasant rough bits from where I brutalized the bolt with my hacksaw. Try a nut: no, that's still not going to fit. Unpack the die, mount it in the holder, and recut the thread on the bolt. This doesn't take long, and soon finds the existing thread, which suggests I didn't mess it up too badly. Try nut. (Fiddle fiddle.) Success!

Reassemble bed. Ahhhhh!

I'm sure it's not meant to be that difficult. At least (a) I now know what to do if one of the other bolts gets stuck (and, indeed, have all the relevant stuff), and (b) can undo this one even if the bolt comes loose (since it has a slot in the end).

Current Mood: Victorious
Wednesday, April 12th, 2006
3:23 pm
A number of things relating to Lisp archaeology.

Last night, I dug up a simulator for CADR Lisp Machines. I'm impressed. The simulator (or maybe the LM itself?) is a little buggy, but it's pretty much there. Zetalisp is an interesting dialect, and ZWEI (part of the worst collection of acroynyms I can think of) is definitely a recognizable Emacs.

I also unearthed a MacLisp manual, and
an old chineual (so named because `Lisp Machine Manual' was written across the entire cover, back, spine and front, and that's all you could see from the front). Comparing these to ANSI Common Lisp is very interesting. At least, if you like this sort of thing. And I dredged up some tape images for ITS, so eventually I'll try actually running MacLisp.

It occurred to me, while I was reading the MacLisp manual, that miscuddling is not at all a new phenomenon. Indeed, it seems to be a way that programming languages actually evolve. In old Lisp, all variable values were stored in the value cells of symbols, just like special variables still are in Common Lisp, and you assigned them by calling the function `set':
Since `set' was just a plain old subr, not anything fancy, its arguments got evaluated before being passed in, so if you wanted to actually change the value of x, say, you had to quote the x:
  (set (quote x) 4)
or, given the nifty reader-macro,
  (set 'x 4)
Some people decided it looked prettier if you attached the quote not to the symbol x which was actually being quoted, but to the `set'.
  (set' x 4)
I suspect they actually knew what they were doing, and that there wasn't really such a thing as a set' form. Anyway, eventually, a fsubr called setq eventually appeared, which did precisely what set' would have done if it existed.
  (setq x 4)
Of course, with lexical variables, as Common Lisp and Scheme have, setq behaves rather differently to set'. The old `set' function is hardly ever used now – everyone uses setq or setf – but that's where the name comes from.

Current Mood: hystorical
Monday, April 10th, 2006
12:07 pm
Previous residents
It seems that the previous residents of my house (well, the one I'm living in at any rate) left without telling anyone at all.

For several months after moving in, I got random phone calls from people wanting to talk to Mrs Previous-Resident. This was kind of annoying, but eventually I managed to get the message over that She Doesn't Live Here Any More, and No, I Don't Know Where She's Gone. I still get annoying junkmail for the P.-R.s, but that doesn't worry my very much.

Then, on Friday evening, I found something surprising. A note had been pushed through my letterbox, addressed to Mrs P.-R. The node was from the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, informing her that she was required on Monday at the county court as a witness in the case R v. Previous-Resident. I called the Plod the next day trying to explain the situation. I must have sounded very convincing, because they seemed to take my word for everything. I explained that the house was rented and they might get some more joy out of the landlord, but they never asked who he was. Oh, well. Not really my problem, I suppose.

And then this morning, as I was getting ready for work, I find a little girl and her father, on bicycles, outside the door, asking for (I presume) the P.-R.'s daughter. No, I explained, they've disappeared without telling anyone where they've gone. Oh, and there was a letter for Mrs P.-R. from the CPS this morning. Despite piquing my curiousity, it's gone, intact, back into the nice pillar-box, with a 553 note written on it. (No, I didn't actually write `553' on it.)

So, the P.-R.s have disappeared without telling friends or family; one of them is meant to be up in front of the county court for some reason, and Mrs P.-R. is presumably meant to be giving evidence (in defence, I'd guess) but can't be found.


Current Mood: Investigative
Thursday, March 9th, 2006
9:22 pm
Version control
So, CVS blows goats. We knew this. We didn't know, however, that it also screws up your history.Collapse )

So, why have I switched to GIT?Collapse )
Saturday, December 17th, 2005
8:25 pm
Try saying this when you've had a few
`A good brand of bad brandy.'

Current Mood: twisted
Friday, December 16th, 2005
7:33 pm
Are Japanese poems about marriage called hitch-haikus?
Wednesday, December 14th, 2005
12:04 am
Lions, Witches, etc.
I've just seen The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Before I start dissecting, let me say that I rather enjoyed the film. But dissecting is what I do, so here goes.

If I had to sum up my criticism of the film in a word, it'd be `bloodless'. Literally: there's an impressively big battle scene towards the end, and there's no blood!; Peter sticks his sword in a gribble and it comes out shiny clean. Figuratively: there's just not very much happening underneath.

Tilda Swinton makes an uninspiring White Witch. When I saw the trailer, I mistook her for Ailce Krige, who'd have done a much better job of it. She ought to be imposing, beguiling – seductive, even – and thoroughly evil. As it is, she's just a bit bland: a Turkish Delight waitress with bad hair.

There's a line in the original story, about Aslan: `Of course he's not safe!' Alas, this one seemed safe enough.

And pretty please, keep the Americans away. In a production so generally full of `proper' English (well, British, at least) actors, the occasional American voice jars horribly. I want to pick out particularly the voice of Maugrim, the chief wolf, as sounding almost entirely unthreatening.

I don't know which of the stories they're going to release next, but they really ought to film The Magician's Nephew soon: otherwise Tilda stands a good chance of aging too much to pull off the part of Jadis in a prequel.
Tuesday, November 29th, 2005
4:37 pm
Linguistic ponderings
I have a server I want to communicate with, over a Unix-domain socket. The server speaks something which used to be a simple textual command-response protocol, but now has all sorts of strange asynchronous notifications, background jobs and other weirdness.

Deliberations hidden.Collapse )

Current Mood: indecisive
2:20 pm
Stargate musings
I'm in the (long) process of rewatching Stargate SG-1 with lark_ascending. While my general impression of the series as being awesomely wonderful is unchanged, there are some annoying bugs I've noticed in the process.

Unfortunately, reading on would spoil the series for those who haven't even started yet. Mentioning no names.Collapse )

Current Mood: nitpicky
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005
3:30 pm
Bashing hashes
For anyone who doesn't know, I'm currently in Gaithersburg, MD (kinda near Washington, DC), where I've been attending the NIST Hallowe'en Hash Bash.

Cryptographic musings herein may be dull and/or incomprehensible.Collapse )

Current Mood: secretive
Saturday, October 8th, 2005
4:53 am
Burn the land and boil the sea
I've just been to see Serenity. Wow.

OK, so I was a big fan of Firefly, ever since I impulse-purchased the DVD box-set in Tesco's on the basis that Joss Whedon can Do No Wrong. Executive summary: he's still not failed me.Collapse )

Current Mood: exhilerated
Friday, September 9th, 2005
2:49 pm
ISP in being bloody useless shocker
ISPs aren't just for screwing up the complicated things in life. They can mess up the easy things too.

So, I call Demon to switch me over from my old dial-up service to a shiny ADSL connection. The salesdroid assures me, over my doubts, that I'll keep my old static IP address. About a week later I get the pack through the post explaining that I have a new IP address.

Then my router arrives. Preconfigured and everything. Preconfigured with the wrong IP address, that is. Doesn't matter: I was going to rewrite its brain anyway. (It's a rather shiny SpeedTouch toy with more features than even I need. Happy with router.)

But the really impressive thing is that they've managed to screw my reverse DNS. The PTR record for my old IP address has been replaced, but looking up my shiny new one gives me NXDOMAIN, which is a bit a shame, really. Particularly as chiark bounces any mail I try to send it and becomes [irritated] with me.

So I call their tech support people. They say that the right guys to talk to are on a different line and only work sensible hours. Fair enough, really. So I call again the next morning. Oh, bugger, quoth the man, that whole block isn't working. We'll sort it out real quick. Next morning, same sitch. Call again the next day. Oh, we'll have that done in a couple of hours. Wait two and a half hours for good measure and try again. No joy. Call again. Oh, some time today. Can't be more precise.

I am going to get very stroppy with them tomorrow if they've still not sorted it.

Current Mood: Fuming
Thursday, August 4th, 2005
9:29 pm
Stunning cnuts
Buy a Cnut t-shirt today. G'wan. Some are even funny.

I originally ordered a shirt about a year ago. For some reason, it never turned up, and I sort of gave up on it after a while. But, given a recent reminder, I went back and, deciding that it was my own bloody stupid fault for ignoring the situation, put the order in again. Fine, except that the website went mad just after the card payments house had accepted my details but before the order had been confirmed. Bummer thought I, and reached for the telephone. I'm not about to let this one go again without a bit of a fight.

The phone was answered almost immediately (yay!), and I was even more-or-less expected, given that the system had just put in an order containing all the necessary information except for what I actually wanted sent. So I explained what had happened, told him which shirt I wanted, and rambled on a bit about how I'd ordered one earlier which never arrived but I was too useless to chase it up, and he insisted I choose another shirt now which he'd sent me free.

So I'm now wildly enthusiastic about Cnut, and, having read their ranting, rather less impressed by FCUK.

Current Mood: evangelical
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005
3:13 pm
Fat-fire separation exercise
Ahh, 1730: just the right time of day for M to tell me about a screamingly urgent bugfix, when I'm already trying to wind down for a pleasant evening of dinner and making loud noise at the Lock-Up. Oh, well. Eventually I'm accorded heroic status (again) at 1900, having gained a much clearer insight into the behaviour of Steel, the mostly-ploddy horse I described earlier. I think his approach was more sensible than mine.

Current Mood: impatient
Monday, August 1st, 2005
4:44 pm
Holiday musings
If you want the blow-by-blow `what I did on my holidays' account, sorry: this isn't it. However, lark_ascending already wrote one, more or less, and if you're on her f'list, you can read it here. She actually, like, took notes and stuff as we went along, whereas I'm just relying on memory, and mine isn't that good. Instead, I give fragments of my recollections. Some might even be true.

  • The cottage was great. Wiring my iRiver into the stereo was amusing, until I found out that the trick is to plug it into the `Mixer Mic' socket, switch the stereo source to `tape', and press play on the cassette player.

  • They have Proper Weather out there in Devon. When it pisses down, you get suitably drenched. It's great. Well, it's great while it's happening, but then one is left with the Clothing of Unutterable Sogginess, and a miserable girlfriend. And driving back after a wet Wednesday on the moor involved caution and ABS. Also, it'd be good to pack more than one pair of jeans next time.

  • They also have Proper Roads out there. Nice, fast, relatively empty, and free of Gatsoenteritis. For some reason, Vicky decided that I'm a boy racer. Phhht.

  • There are Proper Beetles too. Really big ones. Or maybe just the one, but he walks quickly. Interestingly, beetles were the one thing Vicky didn't take photographs of.

  • Note to self: it's annoying when the lightmeter turns itself on in the camera bag and the batteries are worn down so it doesn't work. Check it in advance next time. Particularly when the batteries involved are mondo weird.

  • Sitting on horses is fun, but there's a stiff penalty to pay. At least, there is if one's utterly unfit and hasn't done it for about 25 years. I'm still feeling the pain a bit. And the reassuring feeling one has that one's been matched with a big plodder of a horse who actually has a clue what's going on (which was nice, 'cos I didn't) helps much less when, in the closing stages, said plodder catches sight of his lady love and takes off. But I'd still do it again.

  • Dartmoor ponies eat cars. Astonishing but true. Well, they chew paint off wingmirrors at any rate. And they seem to have a go at Landrovers too.

The weather was too grim for there to be a sensible summary, but the executive version runs like this: Devon's a lovely place, Vicky is wonderful, and I've just had my best holiday so far.

Current Mood: happily exhausted
Thursday, July 21st, 2005
4:34 pm
Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for Tomorrow We Rock
Well, actually, we prepare like crazed preparing stressed things.

This morning I finally got the car to the garage. I tried yesterday, but they didn't actually have The Bit, so I drove away again and surprised everyone in the office by turning up at 0930. New sensor seems to work, so I should have warning of explosion now.

Oh, and the brake warning light has come on too, so I got them to check the pads and discs while they had the car, replacing them as needed. But in fact all the brakes are fine, so they say. And I believe them, because if they were going to tell me a porky pie, it wouldn't be `No, don't give us money to replace stuff, it's all fine.' So if Vicky and I die horribly due to defective brakes, blame United Motors in Huntingdon.

In other news, my knob was wobbly and loose, but I fixed it by tightening a nut. (Guitar maintenance. Sigh, get your mind out of the gutter. The volume pot on my RG2750 had become loose and was turning more or less freely.)

Tonight I go shopping, load up the car for tomorrow, and set aside everything I need for Saturday. And in the breaks, I watch Blake's 7.

Current Mood: anticipatory
Wednesday, July 20th, 2005
7:42 pm
Console weirdness
I just tried rebooting tux (Debian etch, kernel 2.4.x). It wedged trying to write stuff to /dev/console, which I thought was weird. A lot of fighting with stty(1) proved kinda pointless, and eventually I gave up and said
  # cd /dev
  # mv console _console
  # ln -s null console
  # shutdown -t5 -r now
which seemed to kick the thing into action. But I'm slightly weirded out by the blocking write to the console. I don't have serial consoles or any such complicated stuff turned on. My setserial configuration doesn't look completely mad.

Oh, well. I've booted it now.

The reason I needed to boot tux is also kind of annoying, so while I'm in the ranty frame of mind, I'll go on about that too. The problem is that, every now and then, the Xv overlay stuff stops working and my attempts to watch DVDs without caning the CPU (OK, so it can cope fairly well, unless I want full-screen, but I do) result in a rather boring blue window. Nothing I can think of rectifies this situation. (I admit it: I'm using the Evil nVidia Graphics Driver, and as a result it's All My Own Fault, but I'm still annoyed. It's really nice apart from this problem.)

Current Mood: ranty
Tuesday, July 19th, 2005
11:19 am
Supplication from the Base of the Pedestal
See nothing but as a reflection of your own beauty.
Hear nothing but as an echo of a song in your own praise.
Do nothing but in the knowledge of your own perfection.

(I think the last line is from Clive Barker's Imajica; the others are mine. Fourteen years ago I had a different version, but I've forgotten it, and it never had a title.)

Current Mood: devoted
Monday, July 18th, 2005
7:26 pm
GAS; knoblessness oblige; veni, vidi, viki.
I've been having mild GAS for a while now. Fairly specific GAS: I want a nylon-strung electroacoustic guitar. A nice one. I've got a steel-strung one already, and it's nice, but I prefer the sound of nylon strings, and it tends to suit the sorts of things I do with acoustic guitars (Obligatory Fingerpicky Quiet Bit Before The Massively Overdriven Storm stuff) better. Indeed, I think that what I want is an Ibanez GA5TCE. But alas they're not available in the UK until the end of the year. Besides, I'm not in a great big rush, and I want to actually try it out, compare it to other NSEAs, and generally be sure it's the right thing before I shell out. Almost certainly I want to try the actual guitar I'll buy; I'm willing to trust Ibanez on their solid-body axes now, but rather more nervous about `proper' guitars.

While I was in Arena Music (that's the name of the shop in Mill Road which I forgot when I wrote this article – sorry), as well as asking about GA5TCEs, I noticed the blurb about the DigiTech Death Metal pedal:
Simply put, we have turned the gain up to “eleven” and ripped the knob off..
It's true: there isn't a gain knob. I don't actually want the thing – I've got a JCM2000 dammit, and there's no point in having one of those beasts and using a little pedal for the dirt sound – but I did like the blurb.

Oh, and Vicipaedia. S'tis dictum est.

Current Mood: linked
12:13 pm
Red hot motor
So I'm driving back home from Cambridge on Sunday night, and I notice the engine temperature gauge is reading off the scale. Like all the way past the red and pressing against the imminent-explosion end-stop. So I pull over and pop the lid: everything seems normal there. Thinking back a little, I convince myself that it was actually running properly and not being weird. I press on gently back home without a problem.

This morning, I notice that, despite being left standing all night, the temperature gauge is still in the why-haven't-we-exploded-yet? position. I take the car to a garage anyway, where they confirm my suspicion that the temperature sensor is busted and everything else is cool.

Still, I'll get it fixed Wednesday. I'm not really big on the plan of driving my girlfriend to Devon in a car where I can't tell the difference between normal running and looming instant death.

Current Mood: nonplussed
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