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stephenw32768


/var/log/stephen

cat /var/log/stephen >/dev/eyes


Bothering politicians
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stephenw32768
This evening, I emailed the candidates for my ward in the forthcoming local election. Here's the text of the email:

I am a resident of Redlands ward and am as yet undecided about how to cast my vote on May 22nd. To help me decide, I would like to ask about your policy regarding the kerbside recycling scheme in Reading. It's something that is used by everyone in the town, and I think that it could be improved.

Specifically:

1/ It is my understanding that bottles are the only plastic items that are currently accepted. Bottle caps, yogurt pots, margarine tubs etc. are not accepted, despite often being recyclable. If this has changed recently and these items are in fact accepted then the council has not adequately communicated the change. But if this restriction is indeed still in force, perhaps it is time for the council to review it in order to reduce the amount of waste needlessly sent to landfill.

2/ There is no kerbside provision for recycling of Tetra Paks. I am aware that they can be taken to the Rivermead facility; however, because I do not own a car, this is not practical for me. Until and unless the provision for recycling of Tetra Paks is improved somehow, mine will continue to end up in landfill. If it is not possible to collect Tetra Paks at the kerbside, perhaps the council might consider collection points for them alongside the existing bottle banks.

My questions to you as a candidate for election to the Council are:

1/ Do you agree with me that the recycling scheme in Reading is in need of improvement?

2/ If elected, how will you work to address this problem?

Thank you for your kind attention. I look forward to your reply. (Please do not add my email address to any mailing lists).

Best regards,

Stephen Williams

thalassa's retirement
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stephenw32768
Today is the seventh birthday of thalassa, my PC. It will soon be retiring.

thalassa's graphics card failed last December and had to be replaced in a hurry. A second component failure is now looking likely: the power supply unit has developed a loose connection. It only works if I push the on/off switch firmly into the "off" position (yes, really). In any other position, it makes a nasty crackling noise and spontaneously powers down after a few seconds.

I could replace the PSU, but new units for old Shuttle PCs are not easy to come by and are expensive. Spending very much money on propping up a seven-year-old PC is probably not sensible, I'm honestly surprised that the hard drive hasn't given out after so many years of fairly heavy use.

It's had a very good innings for a PC; it's predecessor, chryseis, went five and half years before retiring. Seven years is the longest-lived main PC I've owned, I think; the Amiga A500 I had as a teenager through my first year at university didn't go quite that long. It's not the longest-lived of any computer that I've owned, though: my server, nyx, is nine years old and will also be retiring this year.

thalassa's replacement has been ordered.
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Moribund journal
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stephenw32768
Hmmmm, haven't written much in here recently. Not even last week's Doctor Who anniversary was sufficient motivation.

If anyone is still reading this, you might want to glance at my Twitter feed instead. I don't write much in that either, but short writings of 140 characters or fewer do require far less effort...
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Mockingjay
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stephenw32768
I'm now four chapters into Mockingjay, having started it yesterday.

I am allowed to read two chapters each weekday, one during my morning commute and one on the way home. The episodic nature of the chapters and the fact that they tend to finish on cliffhangers makes the Hunger Games books particularly suitable for reading in this way.

Only four chapters in, and I'm already finding myself thinking "not long until my next train journey, then I can find out what's going on with Katniss".

I read Catching Fire while on holiday in July; I did enjoy it, but not as much as the first book. Perhaps it was because I cover-to-covered it in a short space of time rather than savouring it on my commutes, or perhaps it suffered from being the middle part of a trilogy; they're often the weakest. I tend to find that the first part of a trilogy works well as a story in its own right, but the second part seems primarily aimed at setting up the third part. That said, I did like that some of the character developments and revelations that I had hoped for during the first book did come to pass in the second.

As for Mockingjay...

Not really spoily, but I'll cut it anywayCollapse )

Silencing the trolls
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stephenw32768
There's been a bit of discussion recently about trolls abusing the comment systems on websites, a high-profile science website having disabled commenting completely for this reason.

For a while, I've been using Stylish with custom CSS to automatically hide the comments on news sites. I find that my blood pressure stays much lower if I'm not drawn to reading the inane rantings of keyboard warriors with too much time on their hands.

Here's some CSS to use with Stylish:

@-moz-document domain("telegraph.co.uk"),
               domain("independent.co.uk"),
               domain("bbc.co.uk"),
               domain("guardian.co.uk"),
               domain("theguardian.com")
{
   div.dna-comments_module, /* The BBC  */
   div.d2, #d2-root,        /* The Guardian  */
   div.disqus,              /* The Independent  */
   #dsq-content             /* The Telegraph */
   {
     display: none !important;
   }
}

I also have "safety mode" enabled on my YouTube account; one of the effects of that is to disable comments. YouTube becomes a much more pleasant experience when it's solely about the videos.
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Retrocoding
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stephenw32768
It's been all quiet on this LiveJournal lately; my free time has been occupied with Z80 assembly language. I've been writing a tape loader for the ZX Spectrum. It's a totally different mindset from the business programming I do for my day job, and I'm enjoying it a lot, despite not being very good at it (yet?)

I've put some demo videos on my Google Drive. They may or may not play directly from there, but you can download them.

"standard_loader.mp4" demonstrates a test screen being loaded by the Spectrum's standard tape loader. "47loader_simple_demo.mp4" shows my loader doing the equivalent. You can hear that it sounds quite different to the standard loader; this is partly because it's faster, and partly because the data stream is encoded xor 0x90 (i.e. bits 4 and 7 of each byte are toggled: zeros are represented by ones in the data stream and vice-versa). This has the effect of breaking up long runs of zeros that are quite common, and gives the loader a busier, slightly harsher sound that I like a lot; it's a deliberate attempt to imitate the sound of the Speedlock loader that was used on a lot of games.

"47loader_direction_demo.mp4" shows the loader changing direction mid-load: it loads the pixels backwards but the colours forwards. This is quite easy to do. "47loader_ldir_demo.mp4" is a touch trickier: without missing a beat, the loader loads the colours first, off-screen, then copies them into the video RAM so they appear instantly, then the pixels are loaded directly into the video RAM. It's harder than it looks because copying 768 bytes takes a finite amount of time, but the tape doesn't stop moving; so a tiny delay has to be inserted, then the loader has to resynchronize with the data stream before resuming the load.

I'm documenting my progress in a thread on the World of Spectrum forums. This is my first attempt in a while to join an online community, and I seem to be fitting right in, even though I'm splashing around in the shallow end compared with some of the coders there. One of the chaps has kindly been trying my code on a real Spectrum; having done all my testing so far in the ideal environment of an emulator with a virtual tape, the initial results with a real tape were... not promising. But I'll get there!

Touch-screen retrogaming
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stephenw32768
Action games don't work well on a touch interface; I did try playing the Spectrum version of Arkanoid on my tablet but soon realized it was going to be too awkward to be any fun. (The Wiimote does work nicely as a controller, mind).

For touch-screen retrogaming, puzzle games are definitely the way to go. Thus far, I recommend:

Of those, BeTiled! and Pariboro are my favourites. They're also not "true" retrogames, both having been written fairly recently, albeit for a retro platform.

For emulating a Spectrum on an Android device, the open-source Xpectroid seems to work pretty well.

We've all been on a summer holiday
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stephenw32768
Just arrived home after a pleasant few days in Norfolk with my parents. The daily grind will begin again on Monday; but until then, I'm still in holiday mode, and have very much appreciated the break.

The weather was much cooler by the coast than it has been in the Thames Valley of late. I appreciated that, it's much nicer to be out and about in pleasant warmth than in sweltering heat (by this country's standards).

I stayed off the grid for the duration of the trip, not feeling any compulsion at all to check my email or read websites. The Internet seems to have become quite a drain on my time and energy recently, it's suddenly turned into information overload. I've stemmed the flow of data by trimming back my RSS feeds and Twitter follows. I'm only following eleven Twitter accounts at present, and that's quite enough. (I don't understand how people keep up with much more than that, and the appeal of the sheer tsunami of data that is Facebook continues to elude me).

My holiday wasn't tech-free, mind. I recently joined the tablet PC set, so I loaded my shiny new Kindle Fire HD up with reading material, games, music and videos to keep me amused on the journeys and during the evenings.

I do like lazy holidays. Really not looking forward to the resumption of adulthood next Monday...

Microwave flapjacks #3
cake experiments
stephenw32768
I like cherries. I like almonds. And one can throw just about any fruit and nuts into flapjacks, so...


  • 3 oz spreadable butter
  • 4 tablespoons demerara sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 5 oz porridge oats
  • 1 oz toasted, flaked almonds
  • 2 oz glacé cherries, chopped
  • 2 oz dates, chopped
Microwaved for five minutes at 800W. No photo because they look very similar to the last lot I made.

They're not half bad. A little almond extract goes a long way; there's a clear, though subtle, almond flavour. An extra ounce of flaked almonds wouldn't have hurt, though, and perhaps a few more cherries.

The spreadable butter doesn't seem to do any harm, the texture seems the same as the previous batch that used "proper" butter. And spreadable butter is just so much more convenient for everyday use that I'm blowed if I'm buying "proper" butter just for cakes.

Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin
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stephenw32768
OverClocked ReMix's latest epic has been released.

As a Kickstarter backer, I've had early access to the first disc. If the rest of the album is that good, we're all in for the treat of the year.

Time to get torrenting!
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