Back in 2010, inspired by Juliet, I set about doing 101 things in 1001 days. I had various levels of success, but one of the things I did complete was the aim of watching half of the IMDB Top 250. I didn’t stop at that point, but continued to work through it at a much slower pace until I realised that through the Queen’s library I had access to quite a few DVDs of things I was missing, and that it was perfectly possible to complete the list by the end of 2016. So I did.
I should point out that I didn’t set out to watch the list because I’m some massive film buff. It was more a mixture of watching things that I wouldn’t otherwise choose to, and also watching things I knew were providing cultural underpinnings to films I had already watched and enjoyed. That said, people have asked for some sort of write up when I was done. So here are some random observations, which are almost certainly not what they were looking for.
My favourite film is not in the Top 250
First question anyone asks is “What’s your favourite film?”. That depends a lot on what I’m in the mood for really, but fairly consistently my answer is The Hunt for Red October. This has never been in the Top 250 that I’ve noticed. Which either says a lot about my taste in films, or the Top 250, or both. Das Boot was in the list and I would highly recommend it (but then I like all submarine movies it seems).
The Shawshank Redemption is overrated
I can’t recall a time when The Shawshank Redemption was not top of the list. It’s a good film, and I’ve watched it many times, but I don’t think it’s good enough to justify its seemingly unbroken run. I don’t have a suggestion for a replacement, however.
The list is constantly changing
I say I’ve completed the Top 250, but that’s working from a snapshot I took back in 2010. Today the site is telling me I’ve watched 215 of the current list. Last night it was 214 and I haven’t watched anything in between. Some of those are films released since 2010 (in particular new releases often enter high and then fall out of the list over a month or two), but the current list has films as old as 1928 (The Passion of Joan of Arc) that weren’t there back in 2010. So keeping up to date is not simply a matter of watching new releases.
The best way to watch the list is terrestrial TV
There were various methods I used to watch the list. Some I’d seen in the cinema when they came out (or was able to catch that way anyway - the QFT showed Duck Soup, for example). Netflix and Amazon Video had some films, but overall a very disappointing percentage. The QUB Library, as previously mentioned, had a good number of DVDs on the list (especially the older things). I ended up buying a few (Dial M for Murder on 3D Bluray was well worth it; it’s beautifully shot and unobtrusively 3D), borrowed a few from friends and ended up finishing off the list by a Lovefilm one month free trial. The single best source, however, was UK terrestrial TV. Over the past 6 years Freeview (the free-to-air service here) had the highest percentage of the list available. Of course this requires some degree of organisation to make sure you don’t miss things.
Films I enjoyed
Not necessarily my favourite, but things I wouldn’t have necessarily watched and was pleasantly surprised by. No particular order, and I’m leaving out a lot of films I really enjoyed but would have got around to watching anyway.
- Clint Eastwood films - Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby were both excellent but neither would have appealed to me at first glance. I hated Unforgiven though.
- Jimmy Stewart. I’m not a fan of It’s a Wonderful Life (which I’d already watched because it’s Lister’s favourite film), but Harvey is obviously the basis of lots of imaginary friend movies and Rear Window explained a Simpsons episode (there were a lot of Simpsons episodes explained by watching the list).
- Spaghetti Westerns. I wouldn’t have thought they were my thing, but I really enjoyed the Sergio Leone films (A Fistful of Dollars etc.). You can see where Tarantino gets a lot of his inspiration.
- Foreign language films. I wouldn’t normally seek these out. And in general it seems I cannot get on with Italian films (except Life is Beautiful), but Amores Perros, Amelie and Ikiru were all better than expected.
- Kind Hearts and Coronets. For some reason I didn’t watch this until almost the end; I think the title always put me off. Turned out to be very enjoyable.
Films I didn’t enjoy
I’m sure these mark me out as not being a film buff, but there are various things I would have turned off if I’d caught them by accident rather than setting out to watch them.
- Charlie Chaplin. The Kid is the only one I really enjoyed. Nothing else did it for me.
- Italian films. La Strada and Nights of Cabiria in particular. Oh, and 8½. Hated it.
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I just didn’t get it.
- Metropolis. Too damn long.
I’ve kept the full list available, if you’re curious.
I recently had call to play with some 1-Wire devices at work (more of which in a future post). It was taking a while for the appropriate programmer to turn up, so of course I pulled out my trusty BusPirate. It turned out the devices in question would only talk in overdrive mode, while the Bus Pirate could only offer standard mode. So I set about trying to figure out how to add the appropriate support.
This is is a huge endorsement for test equipment with Free Software firmware. Rather than giving up I was able to go and grab the current firmware, which has been adopted by the community since Dangerous Prototypes have discontinued development. What let me down was the ecosystem around the PIC24FJ64GA002.
My previous recent experience with microcontrollers has been with the ATTiny range and the STM32. Getting up and running with both of these was fairly easy - the tool chains necessary were already present in Debian, so all it took was a simple
apt invocation to install everything I needed to compile code and program it to the devices.
Not so with the PIC series, which surprised me. There seems to be some basic support for the earlier PIC16 range, but for later chips there’s nothing that works out of the box with Debian. Investigation revealed that this was because there’s nothing maintained that enabled Free development for the PIC range. The accepted solution is the closed MPLAB X. Now, in one sense fair play to Microchip for making this available. But in another, shame on you. I can’t imagine ever choosing to build something based on a chip that only had a closed source tool chain available. I want things I can use in Makefiles and properly script, that are available in my distro of choice and that generally work in the same fashion as the tool chains I’m used to. I understand there might be some benefit in a closed compiler in terms of performance (and have HPC friends who would never trust a benchmark provided using GCC), but in general that’s not the space I move in. Nor does it seem to be the sort of attitude you should be taking if you are trying to attract the hobbyist and small production run market.
Any yet this seems common amongst hardware manufacturers. People whose core business is selling physical items, where the software is only relevant in terms of being able to use those items, seem to consider the software to be precious. Instead of opening up programming specifications and allowing a more widespread use of the hardware, increasing sales. I understand there are some cases where this isn’t practical, but the default attitude is definitely one of being closed rather than open, which is a terrible shame.
Anyway. I do have some Bus Pirate 1-Wire overdrive support now working (pending some testing to ensure standard mode still works), but I am glad I never spent a lot of time getting involved with PICs now.
So, it turns out when you move to static blog generation and do the generation on your laptop, which is usually in the timezone you’re currently physically located, it can cause URLs to change. Especially if you’re prone to blogging late at night, which can result in even just a shift to DST changing things. I’ve forced jekyll to UTC by adding
timezone: 'UTC' to the config, and ensuring all the posts now have timezones for when they were written (a lot of the imported ones didn’t), so hopefully things should be stable from here on.
(image courtesy of XKCD)
Last week I graduated with a Masters in Legal Science (now taught as an MLaw) from Queen’s University Belfast. I’m pleased to have achieved a Distinction, as well an award for Outstanding Achievement in the Dissertation (which was on the infringement of privacy by private organisations due to state mandated surveillance and retention laws - pretty topical given the unfortunate introduction of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016). However, as previously stated, I had made the decision that I was happier building things, and wanted to return to the world of technology. I talked to a bunch of interesting options, got to various stages in the hiring process with each of them, and happily accepted a role with Titan IC Systems which started at the beginning of September.
Titan have produced a hardware accelerated regular expression processor (hence the XKCD reference); the RXP in its FPGA variant (what I get to play with) can handle pattern matching against 40Gb/s of traffic. Which is kinda interesting, as it lends itself to a whole range of applications from network scanning to data mining to, well, anything where you want to sift through a large amount of data checking against a large number of rules. However it’s brand new technology for me to get up to speed with (plus getting back into a regular working pattern rather than academentia), and the combination of that and spending most of the summer post DebConf wrapping up the dissertation has meant I haven’t had as much time to devote other things as I’d have liked. However I’ve a few side projects at various stages of completion and will try to manage more regular updates.
For a long time I’ve wanted an ssh-agent setup that would ask me before every use, so I could slightly more comfortably forward authentication over SSH without worrying that my session might get hijacked somewhere at the remote end (I often find myself wanting to pull authenticated git repos on remote hosts). I’m at DebConf this week, which is an ideal time to dig further into these things, so I did so today. As is often the case it turns out this is already possible, if you know how.
I began with a setup that was using GNOME Keyring to manage my SSH keys. This isn’t quite what I want (eventually I want to get to the point that I can sometimes forward a GPG agent to remote hosts for signing purposes as well), so I set about setting up gpg-agent. I used Chris’ excellent guide to GnuPG/SSH Agent setup as a starting point and ended up doing the following:
$ echo use-agent >> ~/.gnupg/options $ echo enable-ssh-support >> ~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf $ sudo sed -i.bak "s/^use-ssh-agent/# use-ssh-agent/" /etc/X11/Xsession.options $ sudo rm /etc/xdg/autostart/gnome-keyring-ssh.desktop
The first 2 commands setup my local agent, and told it to do SSH agent foo. The next stopped X from firing up ssh-agent, and the final one prevents GNOME Keyring from being configured to be the SSH agent, without having to remove
libpam-gnome-keyring as Chris did. After the above I logged out of and into X again, and could see
~/.gnupg/S.gpg-agent.ssh getting created and
env | grep SSH showing
SSH_AUTH_SOCK pointing to it (if GNOME Keyring is still handling things it ends up pointing to something like
[Update: Luca Capello emailed to point out this was a bad approach; there’s thankfully no need to do the last 2 commands that require root. #767341 removed the need to edit Xsession.options and you can prevent GNOME Keyring starting on a per user basis with:
(cat /etc/xdg/autostart/gnome-keyring-ssh.desktop ; echo 'X-GNOME-Autostart-enabled=false') > \ ~/.config/autostart/gnome-keyring-ssh.desktop
After this it turned out all I need to do was
ssh-add -c <ssh keyfile>. The
-c says “confirm use” and results in the confirm flag being appended to the end of
~/.gnupg/sshcontrol (so if you’ve already done the ssh-add you can go and add the confirm if that’s the behaviour you’d like).
Simple when you know how, but I’ve had conversations with several people in the past who wanted the same thing and hadn’t figured out how, so hopefully this is helpful to others.
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