Have been meaning to write this post for a few days but didn’t and so something more important that has just happened is going to be in this entry. I’ve got my results, and exactly what I thought would happen has happened: my marks as 59 63 63 47 i.e. I’ve got a 2:1, I’ve made my target, or not because actually I haven’t because that unanswerable question on the fourth paper decimated my overall average down to below 60. Really I’ve done quite well to have recovered from such a terrible year to 60% which was my target but I can’t feel at all good about this because instead something entirely out of my control, an examiner not taking sufficient care when setting a question, has taken that away from me. My mother and step-father are both lecturers, and they assure me that something like this wouldn’t be allowed to stand at their universities, but I reply that Oxford will manage to get away with it. I am going to try to appeal but it’s all arrayed against me. First of all you have to get your college to appeal, you’re not allowed to do so yourself, and so I’ve started this process but the senior tutor is already very pessimistic, saying that this sort of stuff just doesn’t get fixed. So Oxford are allowed to get away with setting unanswerable papers. It’s pretty rubbish.

I am more worried about how this is going to affect my work this summer and into next year. Every time I’ve thought of something to do with Oxford over the past few days I’ve had a pretty grim feeling of not really belonging there anymore. This will pass, but more serious is how I will struggle to work as hard as I can as I have planned to when I know that it’s now virtually impossible for me to get a first. First of all I have to have a perfect set of papers, and secondly I have to be cleverer than I am. Neither of these are likely to come about. However I should still try and do well so that my average is high which will help with getting into graduate study but it will be hard to keep this in mind.

Speaking of work, I haven’t really started yet despite my plans, having only had a few sessions of reading. Instead I’ve been doggedly clearing out task lists and doing really boring things. What happens is that I go to bed maybe ninety minutes late—say, midnight—working on an unfinished task, then I get up late due to going to bed late and just say to myself “I should just get on with this task again, get it done”[1] and so it goes on. I think this is okay because it will get things out of the way. But it’s taking longer than I expected and I’m having to go into a third week of this stuff. And it’s not particularly pleasant. I am spending eight to ten hours a day in front of the computer screen, so I’ve always got a headache, and it’s boring and this saps how much I get done. I am realising just how much I prefer desktop computers to laptops, because I’m getting a sore back from being hunched over a laptop reading and writing notes on what I’m doing to the other machine for hours at a time at an awkward angle on my desk. Also I’m not using my time efficiently in the sense of multi-tasking when waiting for files to copy or things to compile: I end up sitting in my chair spinning round/just doing nothing for twenty minutes at a time. This is really weird and means that I end up being in a situation where I’ve just spent two days reinstalling my desktop PC, fair enough it takes ages to copy files around and back and forth, but I have nothing else to show for the days when I really should have; I’ve got a laptop sitting right here.

All this leads me to ask whether what I’m doing is worthwhile or not, because no-one else goes home for the summer and immediately spends three weeks moving files around, reinstalling computers and collating chunks of elisp. The basic drive behind most of the computer stuff, if we take out my educational project of installing CRUX, is that I want my system to be entirely redundant and completely replaceable. I don’t want to be any risk of losing any data or setup, or at least almost no risk, because I’ve got it stored up in a sensible fashion that I can sync around. The only reason I’m not already in this situation and have to work towards it is that I’ve been careless in the past and have lots of data to move. Hopefully things won’t be so high-maintenance in the future.

At this point a few moans in the direction of various pieces of proprietary software are due. Firstly I wouldn’t have had to reinstall my desktop as I had to if Windows had been capable of shrinking its partition; I want my laptop and desktop to have the same sized GNU/Linux partitions so that I can sync all my media with no issues of one being too small, so I spent about a day and a half trying to defrag my NTFS partition but to no avail for a tiny little unnamed system file refused to budge from the last sector. Frustrating use of time. Secondly Google’s claimed dedication to letting you keep control of your data starts to wear a bit thin when you try to backup Gmail and Google Docs, as I’ve been doing in preparation for nuking SilentFlame’s Google Apps account. Its IMAP has always been buggy (more on that in a minute) but further it seems to throttle you an awful lot after a while. I had around 3GB of mail to download the other day and granted, this being split into over 123 000 messages over the IMAP protocol is going to slow this down but it should not have taken over ten hours on a connection that tends to get 1.1MiB/s on ordinary file downloads outside of peak hours. Google Docs is worse because there is a blanket ban[2] on transferring document ownership out of a Google Apps domain, so the only way to preserve your documents is to share them with your ordinary Google Account, make a copy from that account (fortunately this preserves both collaborator lists and revision history) and then nuke the original. The ‘make a copy’ option is per document so you have to open each up in turn to achieve that.

All this has renewed my anti-software-as-a-service feeling, an objection best set out by rms, but for me right now it’s more a frustration with the practicalities of using this stuff that you can’t control, as outlined above. Something really horrible happened with this, again this week, when I tried to move a friend’s relatively small mail store from his Google Apps account over to my e-mail server. Google’s IMAP screwed up somewhere along the way—it doesn’t seem to be direct human error, and I refuse to believe my beloved mutt got it wrong—and so about a year of messages have disappeared into the ether. Despite there not seeming to be any direct human error, this situation is my fault because I insisted on nuking the Google Apps account right away after the transfer, to avoid XMPP weirdness etc., but we didn’t need to do this and it would have saved us when the messages were discovered to be missing. So my arrogance over my own ability to keep data safe meant I lost a load of someone else’s. Really careless; I haven’t done anything like this as a SysAdmin ever before, so I feel really bad about letting my friend down.

The other activity to question the worth of is all the messing about with Emacs I’ve been doing. There’s nothing new going on, because as I say I’m generally happy with my setup, but it’s a case of clearing out all the “look at this later” links relating to Emacs I have stored up, and also “fix this annoying bug”; the latter is generally worth it as it makes my life a little calmer but the former is questionable at times. I have consigned many of the items to my task list archives marked as CANCELLED because some are clearly not worth it; these are the tweaks mostly related to coding, which I don’t do enough of to warrant spending ages setting up massive additions to Emacs to help with. However I end up in such a weird situation with some of the others, because I find it extremely hard to just let marginally useful but not that great things go. It is as if my whole life is going to swing in one direction or another over this and that it is my last chance and I can’t possibly just throw away this opportunity can I? Well, I’m not doing because these things get archived anyway so if I notice something missing from my life I can dredge them up, but the fact of the matter is that whether or not I implement the lisp, I’ve forgotten about it ten minutes later and no longer care. If I can get past that moment of indecision I can defeat these desires, it seems; should I be doing this? Well yes, because while a certain amount of this is fun and useful, this is one of the exceedingly few occasions where the phrase “life is too short” actually applies.

So I’m getting there, even if it’s taking longer than desired, and my life overall will be better off with these systems in place, but I wish I’d been just a little more efficient in putting them there. It’s scary to think though just how much of the summer three weeks is: it’s a quarter of it. Time is moving slowly up to now but if it speeds up then I’ll be in trouble. It’s okay though, I have my plan, and there is good stuff to look forward to. There is a LAN coming up and we’ve had a few days of gaming, and I’m seriously considering starting up a Terrestrial Exalted campaign. There are lots of other people I haven’t yet seen enough of, and there’ll be so much more to do when I’m not in front of the screen for so long. And of course much interesting Maths and Philosophy to be getting on with, if I can. Glad that I wrote exam stuff at beginning of post now because setting these other things out has restored, at least a little, my general positivity about the vac.

[1] This desire to just get on with it has also stopped me from going running very often; I’ll take this up again properly once I’m back into my work

[2] One would expect it to be possible to turn this off as the domain admin, but you can’t.