Some time ago, I recommended Photopia as a great text-based adventure for both beginners and veterans: with a great, sweet story (with a slightly depressing ending) and a short play time, it’s just great to show people why text-based adventures are fun.

Here’s my latest recommendation: Vespers. It’s dark, cold, and disturbing – insanity, bubonic plague, and temptation in the face of heaven and hell… and a cool mix of biblical prophecy and murder mystery in a quarantined monastary.

There’s about 2 hours playtime in it for an experienced adventurer, but it’s got SAVE and RESTORE commands so you don’t have to do it in a single sitting. And of course I’ll be available for hints if you get stuck!

Features UNIX Has That Life Needs

It’s come to my attention that there are a lot of things that computers in general – and, in particular, UN*X-flavoured operating systems – offer that are sadly lacking in Real Life. I’m hoping that Life 2.0 will include a number of these features. (Life 2.0, of course, will not be like Web 2.0 – there’ll be no more rounded corners and glowing effects than usual, thank you.)

The most important features I think are missing are as follows:

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but life really lacks a grep command. grep is used to search for given text within a greater text (usually files, but stdin is equally valid). Whetever I use a ‘treeware’ book as a reference, I invariabley find myself disappointed at my inability to search it’s contents, leading me to favour the web and e-books as sources of information. How much easier would it be if I could simply write a regular expression that represented the kind of data I wanted to find? Johnny 5 could do it – why can’t I?
The other day, I was trying to remember the exact date that Claire and I moved into The Place. I couldn’t remember exactly, but I did remember that the note pinned to the kitchen noticeboard was written on that day. Had my life been more like a computer filesystem, it’s likely that I’d have been able to check the “modified date” of the piece of paper, and I’d have known exactly when we’d moved in.
How great would it be if you could make a nice backup of the world before you had to make any kind of decision without knowing the outcome… It’d be like a “saved game” of life. Plus, with enough storage space we could keep incremental backups of the entire planet at various times, and restore them onto virtual machines (well, virtual planets) as an aid in teaching history. Although I’d like to make sure that only sane, rational, trustworthy people like me had superuser access, or else it wouldn’t take long before somebody typed dd if=/dev/null to=/mnt/universe and destroyed the universe. Or, perhaps more interestingly, /dev/random.
At this point, you’re probably expecting me to imply that killing people is a good idea. But I’m not going to. After all, what a well-executed kill -9 does is merely removes the resources (processor cycles and memory) from a given process. And I’m sure we’ve all wanted to be able to steal memory from somebody, particularly when they’ve just heard us say something particularly embarrasing.
Yesterday, I was heating a pan of noodles, checking it ocassionally to see that it wasn’t at risk of boiling dry. What I’d far rather have been doing while the noodles cooked, of course, would have been to be playing Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, which I’m playing through again. But to do that would have involved me leaving some smart process in charge of the pan. Something like this:

while ($panwaterlevel > 10) { wait(1000); }
sprint("Dan! Come fix these noodles!");

Shouldn’t be so hard to implement once the other features in this list have been writeen.

As soon as I can find the address of the manufacturer of Life 1.0, I’ll be writing a letter of complaint.

Active Listening

I just thought I’d take the time to share with you all some things I’ve learned about active listening over the last few years: techniques to benefit more fluid communication with less scope for conflicts – and with the capability to help de-fuse arguments before they get out of control. I know that I’ve spoken with a lot of the people who read my weblog before about active listening and what it’s all about, but I’d still recommend reading this article, when you get the time. Why?

  • Firstly, while I know all of these principles and ideas, I’m not necessarily very good at executing them. You’ll get a far better overview of how to be a good listener (and communicator in general) by reading this than by debating it with me!
  • I’ve been thinking about what active listening is actually all about particularly much for the last few weeks, and I’ve got some new points. Go read.

What Is Active Listening

Active listening is a set of techniques for better listening to what another person is saying, and better expressing yourself to them in a way that they are likely to comprehend, using language that they are familiar with, and in a way that allows them to be comfortable with what is being discussed. It is widely used by therapists, counsellors, and helplines to help people be open and discuss whatever is bothering them in a way that makes them feel safe and unpressured, but it has wider value: the best team leaders, public speakers, mediators, diplomats, judges, hypnotists, “friendly ears”, consultants, journalists, attendees of any meeting whatsoever… parents!… in fact – anybody who needs to communicate with anybody else – exhibit characteristics of active listening as part of what they do. We say things like “you’re easy to talk to” to people who listen attentively and with whom we feel comfortable talking: and the techniques that people who are easy to talk to use all comes under the broad category of active listening.

Some people are naturally good listeners. You probably know a few of them. But that they are good listeners doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the other elements of their personality: some good listeners are quiet and shy, while others are outgoing and confident. Some good listeners speak well on the telephone, while others prefer face-to-face contact. There are as many different kinds of listeners as there are different kinds of people.

On the other hand, most of us normal people need to study what it is that makes these “good listeners” special and practice it before we can become better at it. And that’s what this article is here to help you do.

How To Listen Actively

The following techniques are used by active listeners to facilitate better communication:


It’s possible to take a huge leap forwards in your ability to communicate effectively by building rapport with the person or people you’re talking to. Rapport is all about a number of people having a mutual understanding as a medium over which to communicate their ideas: it’s about the subconscious assumptions that people make about your ability to appreciate their point of view based on the similarity of your physical and behavioural characteristics – tempered, of course, by their opinions.

So what does that all mean? Well; for a start, it means that people who perceive each other as being similar to one another typically communicate more comfortably with one another – no surprises there: I’m sure you’ll agree that most of the people you find it easiest to talk to are people who are on the same or similar level as you: in terms of factors like age, race, maturity, intelligence, accent, religion, level-headedness, and the distance they like to stand from you when you talk. Of course, the factors that influence your subconscious opinions of somebody will differ from mine and from those of everybody else in the universe; these are just sweeping examples of the kinds of things that people cite as reasons that they find communicating with certain people easier (or more difficult) than others.

And now comes the clever bit: you can improve your rapport with people by consciously making an effort to appear more like them – “getting along with them”. Start with your posture: if they slouch, slouch. If they stand upright, stand upright. If they lean on one arm, lean on one arm. Don’t be concerned about looking like you’re imitating them: it’s quite easy to make any movements quite subtle, and, if you watch a pair of good friends talking, you’ll see that they do these kinds of things instinctively. Try to find a distance that they are comfortable with – some people need more “space” between you, whereas others like to be quite close. If they like to make eye contact, make eye contact back, but if their eyes wander, look in the directions that they look in (but be sure not to have your eyes wandering too much, or it might look like you’re not paying attention to them). If they touch their face when they’re listening to you – touch yours when you’re listening to them. Through simple techniques like these you can easily make another person feel far more at ease talking to you than they otherwise would, and, as a result, facilitate friendly communication. Make sure, however, that your body language matches your tone of voice, or you’ll come across as a fake.

Some advanced rapport-building techniques, including both physical and verbal mirroring, and explored in a paper by John Clabby and Robert O’Connor [PDF]. Also consider reading about what causes friendship, which looks at psychological studies into things like the Ben Franklin effect (where you come to like people you help because “why would you have helped them if you didn’t like them?”).


An extremely important part of active listening is feedback; providing evidence to the talker that you are understanding what they’re saying (if you are!) and that their concerns are important to you. Active listeners achieve this in several ways:


They actually do pay attention to what is being said! The single best way you can appear to be listening is to actually listen. It may help to make notes on what is being said – particularly in meetings or during telephone calls – or otherwise find a way to record your memories of the event: but if you do this, do not try to deliberately hide your thoughts from the talker. If, in a meeting, you take notes but prohibit others from seeing them, it feeds suspicion that you are hiding something or that you weren’t being as attentive as you claimed! In addition, fidgeting and “clock watching” detract enormously from the image of your “all ears” persona: don’t!


Encourage the person talking to continue for as long as they wish to. In face-to-face conversations involving small numbers of people and when using the telephone, this can be achieved through body language and non-verbal reinforcement alone. Nodding says “I understand”, eye contact says “I’m listening”, leaning closer says “I’m interested”, turning your eyes to the side and slightly downwards says “I’m interpreting what you’ve said” – we do all these things in our day-to-day lives, but an awareness of them can help us to better understand the signals they they give off. For example, turning your eyes upward, particularly if they also turn to the side, can indicate that you are letting your imagination drift: this may be fine depending on the topic of conversation, but if you’re supposed to have your feet on the ground with somebody who’s telling you something quite important, it can be quite distracting. Similarly, looking directly over somebody’s shoulder while they talk can make them feel quite uncomfortable (try it sometime in an extended conversation with somebody who won’t mind and watch them squirm).


Express an interest in what is being said by inviting the talker to say more: short phrases like “go on,” “I see,” and “tell me more,” correctly placed, can make a talker feel wanted… and can work wonders for the confidence of a speaker who is less comfortable with what they’re having to say. Ask questions that identify key areas that you’d like them to talk about, by asking, for example, “could you tell me more about X?” but remember to let them lead the direction of the conversation (that said, if they begin to repeat themselves, you can use questions like this to influence the conversation to take another direction, to allow them to explore a new area, or just to improve your understanding of an element of what they’re saying).


Periodically, go back over old material in a shortened “summary” form. This aids retention, demonstrates that you were listening, and helps to clarify points. This is also useful for drawing a line under whatever has been said before, when the conversation’s about to take a new direction. For example, you could say “We’ve talked about X and Y, and we agreed that option 2 is the way forward: I’ll take a look this evening at the information on X so that we’ll be ready to carry on when we next meet. Now, shall we talk about the issue of Z?”

Sometimes, you and the other person or people may disagree on a summary that you’ve made: if so, apologise and ask them to explain the way that they understand it. The summary may be the last chance you have to formalise what you’ve talked about, so it’s important to get it right (particularly if you’re in a meeting scenario and incorrect information may otherwise be recorded where it could lead to future arguments).

Summarising provides a great opportunity for a break, too: having called an end to the last topic of conversation and agreed on what the results were, you’re able to come at the next topic (or addendum) with a fresh mind.


Arguably part of your rapport with the other person, language is of such significant importance that it warrants a section of it’s own. The choice of words you use when communicating with somebody is of comparable relevance as the semantics (what you’re actually getting across). Major factors which affect the language a speaker will use include:

Languages spoken

A conversation where the shared language is not the first language of one of the speakers may necessitate a different choice of words to that which would be used when speaking to somebody who’s native tongue it would be. Outside of their first language, speakers will often favour shorter, simpler words, and may try to explain detailed concepts rather than try to determine the correct phrase to use. They are also more likely to use gestures to expand on their points than they are words, and – in the absence of these gestures (for example, on the telephone) – they may have difficulty making their meaning clear. When dealing with somebody for whom you do not speak their native language, be ready to reuse their words (which they have demonstrated a familiarity with) and apply them to your points. Speak at a rate comparable with the rate at which they speak, and, if they seem to be having difficulty, offer to speak more slowly or to , repeat, or rephrase yourself.


Even where the language is the same, the words used in a conversation are heavily influenced by the background and upbringing of the speakers. Level of education, proficiency in a given topic, a desire to impress, confidence, and many other factors can influence the way that a speaker will talk. Be aware of the difference between the words and phrases you use and those used by them, and work to bridge the gaps by speaking in a manner that will be understood by them as well as by you.

This has to be done carefully, though – don’t be seen to “speak down” to somebody – watch for the warning signs: irritability and impatience with the speed at which you are progressing. Conversely, don’t try to bluff your way through a topic you don’t understand – if you don’t know what the speaker is talking about, ask!


A major factor that influences the languages used in a conversation is known as temperature. Temperature is an unquantifiable measurement of the tension of the parties engaged in a conversation. If temperature becomes too high, it can lead to an argument, an abrupt end to the conversation, hostility, uncooperative behaviour, and violence. But sometimes – rarely – too low a temperature can prove problematic, too – causing stagnation in the conversation and damaging the impetus of the speaker to drive on into a controversial or personal topic.

Things that raise the temperature of a conversation include:

  • Bad rapport
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Personal questions or embarrassing subjects
  • Feeling that what you say will incite negative opinions or reactions from the listener(s)
  • Difficulty in understanding the conversation
  • Excessive repetition
  • Pressure to answer questions
  • Judgemental questions (e.g. “Was it you that stole the cake?”)
  • Perceived threats
  • Condescending behaviour
  • Alcohol, caffeine, and many other drugs
  • Lying, by either party
  • Conflict of opinion or intention

Suggestions for lowering temperature:

  • Improve rapport! Get “on the level” with the other person.
  • Make longer pauses between saying things, particularly asking questions, allowing the other person time to compose themselves.
  • Take a break for a few minutes.
  • Change the topic (either temporarily or permanently – however, be aware that returning to the topic might result in an even higher temperature if not approached delicately). Sometimes, this can be the only solution to a runaway temperature situation.
  • Remain calm. Calm behaviour encourages calm behaviour: however, read incorrectly, calm behaviour can seem threatening.
  • Respect the other person’s position and their right to have their views and their feelings.
  • Ask only one question at a time.
  • If your actions have contributed to the raised temperature, it’s okay to acknowledge this and apologise for it – but don’t expect the other person to.
  • If the other person agrees, consider inviting in a third party as a mediator.
  • Backtrack – re-affirm what you are jointly trying to achieve, and go over the summaries made so far: if necessary, try to approach the “hot” topic from a different angle, or try to agree first on the cause of the temperature increase – it’s possible that there has been a misunderstanding.
  • Answer unanswered questions which are causing temperature increases – however, ensure that you have all the information you need to rationally answer any question: in a high-temperature environment, it can be difficult to consider the options fully. If you need it, ask for more time to consider the question.
  • Try to reach a compromise – don’t put your individual goals higher than solving the temperature problem.

High temperatures are dangerously counterproductive. Almost always it’s beneficial first to tackle the temperature, and then the goal at hand, as decisions made in a high temperature environment are more likely than not going to satisfy all of the parties involved.

At times, people will try to deliberately raise the temperature: this is done, for example, by “hard sell” salespeople, trying to trick you into making a quick decision, interviewers trying to test your capability to work under stress, or anybody for whom it would be more personally beneficial to catch you out and put you under pressure to answer their questions without having had a chance to properly consider them. Treat these the same as any other high-temperature situation: remain calm and take your time in handling them, and be aware of ways of improving rapport and reducing the temperature. Remember: outside of a genuine emergency (when snap decisions are extremely important), there is rarely ever a need for temperature to be increased – and there should never be a need to cause temperature to spiral out-of-control.

Asking Questions

There’s been a lot written about how to ask questions as part of active listening technique, because it’s a big topic with a lot of scope for debate. Let’s begin by looking at some different types of questions that you’ll come across. The linguists among you will immediately notice that not all of the example questions are, strictly speaking, questions: however, they are sentences which invite comment (in the way that “tell me about…” sentences do, despite not being questions), and in the context of active listening, these can be just as good and sometimes better.

  • Closed questions are questions which can easily be answered with a simple, single word (or short) answer – typically a yes or a no. Some examples would be, “Did you go to the shops today?”, “Are you enjoying this article?” and “What is the capital of France?” Closed questions are short and functional and great for getting answers, but they’re almost useless for active listening. For a start, they don’t provide any encouragement for the person answering the question to speak: if a one-word answer will suffice, then a less-than talkative person will give (at most) a one-word answer. Secondly, they can easily be read (or misread) as being accusational, even when they’re not: suppose I had asked you this morning to go to the shops for me, and then this evening I asked “Did you go to the shops today?” – this innocent-looking suddenly becomes more than a question; it becomes an accusation. With closed questions, care must also be taken when using negative terms (e.g. didn’t, won’t, etc.) – “Didn’t you go to the shops today?” is, taken literally, the same question as before, but the negative tone implies that the person it’s directed at should have gone to the shops: more accusation. People who’s dialects give them a tendency to use negatives as a start to questions in this manner should be particularly careful when using active listening skills to speak to people who don’t, as they can easily come across as overly hostile. Avoid closed questions where possible.
  • Open questions are a better option for most active listening exercises. An open question is one which can not be answered with a simple one-word answer, and for which a pause after a short answer would justify further comment on the part of the person answering. Examples of open questions include, “What happened at the shops?”, “How are you finding this article?” and “Tell me what you know about France.” Open questions are wonderful tools to help people feel that they can talk to you, and are an excellent way of getting information from people. An open question can take time to answer fully, so make sure that the person you’re talking to has all the time they need, and give them a few seconds after they speak to decide if they want to continue before you say something else.
  • “Why” questions deserve a category of their own. A question frequently asked while resolving conflicts is a “why” question – “Why did you go to the shops?”, “What made you decide to read this article?” (a “why” question in disguise), and “Why are you interested in France?” “Why” questions almost always appear on the surface to be open questions, but take care – they can easily appear as accusing (and as assuming) as a closed question, if not carefully worded.

When asking questions of somebody, try to give them a fair amount of time to respond. The amount of time given should be increased for tougher questions, for higher temperature debates (“thinking time” reduces temperature), and for stress-inducing topics or personal issues. The period of time you should wait for a response to begin to an open question should be such that it almost becomes uncomfortable to wait. Of course, active listening is a reactive approach to communication, and it’s more important still that you make the other person feel comfortable: try to (non-verbally) reach a compromise whereby they are given all the time they need in which to compose an answer, but are not given so long that they feel uncomfortable with giving it. Watch for signs of “holding back” an answer to a question: signs like taking a breath but then not saying anything, “catching words”, eyes wandering upwards, fidgeting, and repeating particular phrases that they’ve demonstrated they feel “safe” saying, rather than exploring new territory – these can, in many speakers, be signs that they have more to say but that they are consciously resisting saying them. Perhaps you need to give them more time, or talk about something else for awhile, or just find a better way of approaching the subject. Perhaps they don’t intend to answer your question fully at all. Or perhaps you mis-read them. In any case: patience, open questions, and a tolerant attitude to their responses is the way forwards.

Beware of asking several questions at once (for example, “Where did you go for your holidays? Somewhere nice?”): people, particularly when they are anxious or in a high-temperature environment, can react badly to chained questions like these – usually by becoming confused… which question was I supposed to answer again?


Another element of active listening is empathy (in fact, some people call it “empathetic listening”). In the context of listening, empathy is about being able to recognise, understand, and accept and the thoughts and particularly the feelings exhibited by another person. It is not to be confused with sympathy, which is a feeling of compassion for somebody else and wanting to see them better or happier than they are (sometimes described as “feeling sorry” for somebody). The difference can be hard to see at first, and the reasons for it even harder. The principle behind empathy in active listening is that you must be able to recognise the views of the other person for what they are so that you can appreciate their position and understand them, and you must do this before you can accept what they want and what they feel as being entirely valid for their current state. Sympathy, while productive and not without it’s place, is not welcome within active listening as it encourages a condescending attitude towards the speaker and does not help the listener “get into their shoes”.

How To Be Empathetic

Being empathetic does not mean that you have to agree with everything the speaker stands for (although it is likely to make it easier to empathise with them if you do) and it does not mean that they “win” any argument: what it means is that you don’t dismiss anything that the speaker says, or give anything any less value than the speaker gives it. Some examples of failure to empathise would be:

  • To somebody who’s just split up with their partner, “There’s plenty more fish in the sea.” To say this is to belittle the feelings that they have about the breakup of their relationship as something that will go away with time. Whether or not this is true is not your place to judge, active listening teaches.
  • Saying “don’t worry about that,” to anything that a speaker is worried about is an example of a failure to empathise, because it implies that the thing they’re worrying about is worth less than they’re making of it. Empathy is about trying to appreciate the importance of the worrying thing to the speaker, and accepting that worry as valid (even if you think it’s not).
  • Changing the topic to one you feel is more important than the one the person or people you’re speaking to is trying to talk about. This demonstrates a lack of concern for their feelings, putting yours on a higher pedestal.

How You’ll Know You’re Doing It Right

You’ll know you’re doing it right, first and foremost, because:

  • You’ll be communicating with the person you’re speaking to “on the level”, regardless of your or their position of authority.
  • You won’t impose your ideas or your solutions, unless you’re asked for them – and even then, you’ll ask what the speaker thinks they should do, first.
  • You’ll try to hear the whole story before passing comment on it.
  • You won’t express shock, horror, alarm, or disgust at anything you’re told, because – as much as it may disturb you, they’re not your experiences and they’re not your feelings and so you have no right to judge them.
  • You’ll be asking questions to try to help you understand the other person’s position, not so as to glean some part of the information that they’re giving you in order to help yourself.
  • You’ll be tired after the conversation because listening empathetically is surprisingly difficult.

And secondly, you’ll know you’re doing it right because people will feel comfortable talking to you and will say things to you where they wouldn’t normally feel comfortable doing so.

Thirdly, and this is where you’ll really notice that you’ve made an impact: the people you have communicated with in an empathetic way will go on and treat others in a more open, accepting manner (without necessarily even consciously knowing why they are doing so), as a result of the way that you have treated them.

Things To Be Wary Of

Here’s a few general things to watch out for when you’re listening to people:

  • Assume nothing – don’t assume that you understand the other person or can appreciate what they’re feeling, or that you are in any position to help them (you might be, but that’s up to them to decide, not you).
  • Ask first, advise later – before you dispense advice, ask the person what they think they should do, and talk though their options. If they solve the problem themselves, they’ll not only get what is definitely the right answer for them, they’ll also boost their self-confidence.
  • Make every effort not to misinterpret, or be misinterpreted – summarise the conversation so far, and the whole conversation at the end, regularly, especially if the temperature is high (if the temperature gets high enough, people will frequently make deliberate subconscious misinterpretations of each other’s opinion, as part of the brain’s self-defence mechanism). Also, be aware that when two parties are feeling hostile to one another, there is a tendency for them to automatically assume that the other is planning something underhanded, even if they’re not.
  • Beware of cultural and language barriers – discussing important points where cultural traditions (or translation difficulties) get in the way can lead to misinterpretation, raised temperature, and difficulties in understanding.
  • Ensure that communication is possible – over longer communications – for example, a series of meetings or an extended number of phone calls – ensure that there is always a way to establish communication by either party with the other, and that both feel comfortable doing so. This will help to ensure that there is a way to resolve any conflicts that occur outside of meeting hours.
  • Actually listen – breaks in the conversation are for the person who was asked the question to think of their answer, not for the person who asked it to start thinking of their possible next lines. If you have difficulty with this, try to distract yourself with watching the way that the other person is behaving and trying to understand how they are thinking.
  • Don’t lie – unless it is impossible to evade the question; don’t evade the question if it is possible to answer it. And if you must evade the question, try to explain why you are doing so. Honesty, particularly in business communications, builds trust and aids future empathy.
  • Don’t raise the temperature – keep your cool, and show the other person how to keep theirs. There are some great resources in books and on the internet on the subject of calming people down: if you frequently find yourself communicating in high-temperature situations, they’re well worth a read. I particularly like the ones involving establishing rapport and then leading by example (by, for example, encouraging the other person to become more calm by initially acting like them and then slowly becoming more calm yourself).
  • Crisis control – if you’re looking into using active listening as part of crisis control, read this guide to crisis communication: it talks about ways to communicate effectively in a crisis, and maintain calm, collected listening skills even when time is short. There’s also a wonderful article on rumour control.

Further Reading

Closing Words

Well; that’s pretty much the sum of my knowledge about active listening, all nicely bundled together in one place for the world to read and benefit from. I first started writing this document after an argument where I realised I’d done an awful job of all of these things (and, in my opinion, so had the other person involved) and I wanted to write myself a reminder… and share with the world some ideas I’d wanted to for awhile. Hopefully you’ll read this, go off, and communicate better with your friends and workmates, be a better listener, and make yourself and other people happier as a result.

Active listening can’t be learned from a web page. You have to go and try it out. Go talk to somebody, and actually listen to what they say – and encourage them to say more. Find out what their opinions and feelings are, and try to appreciate them from their perspective, even if you don’t agree with them. Good luck.

Feedback appreciated. If you can’t get the comments form to work, send e-mail to active spam listening at scatmania spam dot org (remove the word ‘spam’ and the spaces and put @ sign and . where indicated).

Nothing Tonight

There’s nothing happening tonight. Nothing at all. No Geek Night. No Link Night. Zilcho. Just so you’ve been warned.

This Will Make You Laugh

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

This repost was published in hindsight, on 18 March 2019.

Matt R wrote:

Well it would have were you there. I hope.

Sunday came and went and left me with the greatest buzz I think I’ve ever felt. I’m loving this comedy lark. I was terrified of the performance right up until the end of my first set and then I started to relax into it. Things started to fit and I let my material flow more than I probably should have in that I abandoned what I’d worked out of my script and left much of it up to the audience. It certainly paid off that night because the audience were spectacular. They deserve the most credit for the night as they came along wanting to laugh but best of all was their forgiveness. They would sit listening with the attitude “OK, that didn’t make me luagh but maybe the next one will”. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen that sort of generosity from an audience before.

The performances went well and Dave was better than I thought he would be (don’t misread me, I thought he was going to do well and he did marvellously). He’d rehersed his stuff well and thought it through and the closest I can come to a criticism was when he talked through the laughter, but that has to be balanced against his angry man ‘character’ and starting and stopping that can remind the audience that they’re watching a rehersed, rather than spontaneous, performance. Absolute Kudos to the man for not being phased by a joke that didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. I think it’s still got potential if it has a bit more set-up and is moved a little later in the set so the audience is more in tune with his character.

The ‘winner’ of the night was Adrian O’Toole who really was very good. He kept the audience laughing with his festival experiences and paused in the right places, had his call-backs to earlier jokes, spoke to the crowds experiences, called in his own without alienating them. He was very very good, especially considering he had only got up as part of a Gorman/Wallace style challenge system. You phone the man, set him a challenge and he’ll try it. When we told him afterwards that he was kind of expected to perform at the next comedy night he was very despondent. “But I’ve had twenty years to come up with this material” and that was exactly how I felt after my first show. I didn’t know how I’d ever be able to come up with anything else. I hope he carries on trying because he was a delight to watch.

Big shout out to Scatman Dan who’s review and expansion on what other people had done was fresh and exciting, definitely the sort of thing that we’ve been looking for — anything that goes against normal comedy boundries and pushes things in a new direction. Refering to other comics in your act is at least tabboo and at worst shunned and disparaged. I see both sides of the argument but if it’s done in a respectful manner I don’t see too much of a problem with it. If it’s not… well… I think that anyone who would do it without being respectful should be condemned to a red coat forever. Dan, of course, was nothing but respectful and I’d like to see him back, especially with some of (forgive the expression and please take no inference from it) his own stuff. I especially liked his explanation of the second war in Iraq.

There was a guy videoing it and I’ll let you know how that turns out. I really want to see it to find out where I went wrong (getting more and more Ducth Couraged on stage may have been one of them) and what bits worked better than I thought. Don’t worry Mum, I’ll send you a copy too.

Not quite finally I’ll be performing again (possibly MCing) at Yr Undeb on Tuesday. No, this is not the professional comedy nights that Steve-o runs but it is for RAG week and so please come along to support a well deserving charity case… and RAG! BOOM BOOM! No. There’ll be about five of us doing comedy and I really don’t know much about what else is going on that night but it should be good, and if not at least it’s for a good cause.

Finally I’m quite worried that I’m only funny when playing to a small crowd of Aberystwyth students who, if they don’t know me, at least know of me.

Microsoft Visual Studio 2005

Would you like to share your setup experience with Microsoft?

What is a “setup experience”? And why do Microsoft want to share it with me, anyway?

Improved performant!

I can’t actually find a definition of the word “performant” – can anybody help?

Would you like to share your setup experience with Microsoft?× Improved performant!×

IRC Doesn’t Kill People – People Do!

There’s just been an interesting debate on the RockMonkey ChatRoom (#RockMonkey on Freenode) about where the channel is going, where power should lie, and all that jazz. It’s pretty much inevitable that this kind of discussion takes place on a channel, but this is the first time I’ve seen it happen on such a small one (and at a pleasantly low temperature, too). Changing times, eh?

Among many users of the channel, I’m sure it’s no secret that there are a few… personality clashes. That’s healthy, and can leads to great debate (or blazing arguments). The concern I raised was that channel operators (effectively: moderators of the chat room) haven’t been using their wizard-like powers in a responsible manner.

Jon asked me to blog it, but I soon realised that any blog entry I wrote would inevitabley sound bitchy. So instead, I’ll just provide a link to some fantastic channel guidelines which explain what Freenode think is good practice when participating on, and, particularly, running and IRC channel. It says, far more eloquently than I would, exactly how I think the channel would be better run, and why.

Open Mic Night

As I’d promised, I went along to the Ground Zero open mic night at The Angel tonight – and it was a most spectacular night. Matt was MC, and did a wonderful series of gags and skits to liven up the crowd and fill the gaps between the performers. Unusually, all the acts were of an extremely high quality – a lot of good material from a lot of different people, delivered well. Particularly worthy of mention was Adrian O’Toole, who performed during the second act a fantastic piece of comedy, having been charged with doing so as part of an ongoing dare/challenge with some friends. Apparently, he’s joining… pretty much any society that’ll have him, “doing it all”, or some such thing, and part of this included doing open mic comedy. By the end of the night, he’d been signed up to be in a Christian indie band, despite not having the appropriate qualifications in either religion or music. We’re going to invite him to Troma Night. Even if standing in front of several dozen people and telling jokes didn’t break him, the traditions of our weekly film night might.

And so – infused with beer and impressed by the atmosphere – I put my name down on the board for the second act. And it went remarkably well: as well as could possibly be expected considering that I’ve never done open mic before, that I hadn’t planned to do it tonight by more than half an hour, etc. Rather than try to compose some humour within the few minutes available I opted to instead advance upon the acts of some of the people I’d seen so far: Matt had talked about the quirks of Aberystwyth; “Magic Ian” (hmm… Supergran reference, Claire and I wonder?) discussed The Crystal Maze… etc. etc… and so I took a little from each and added my piece. It was sloppy because it was unprepared, but for an improvisational spot it worked wonderfully and I was glad to see that the crowd mopped it up. I’d have liked to have ended on a better laugh, but all-in-all it was great… I’d do it again (albeit with a little more preparation).

The funniest moment of the night for me, however, happened not on stage but in the toilets. I’d just gone to the gents in between the second and third acts, and had just finished washing my hands when another attendee came in. He looked at me and recognised me as somebody he’d seen on stage earlier, muttered a congratulatory message, and went to shake my hand. I took his hand with mine, which I then realised was still warm and damp from the sink. “Sorry,” I said, as a look of repulsion spread across his face, “I pissed on my hand.” His face was priceless.

In other news, Adam linked to what is perhaps the funniest thing I’ve seen online in a long time: If you read his blog you’ll have seen it already, but who cares – watch it again: Ultimate Showdown!

Further reading:

A Change Of Plan

Okay, contrary to what was advertised earlier, there won’t be a Geek Night this week (unless Claire or somebody else wants to run one), as I’ll be going to the open mic night at The Angel, where Matt’ll be doing his stuff. If you were going to be coming to Geek Night but now (obviously) won’t be, please consider The Angel as a second option.

If you’re concerned that the cancellation of Geek Night is a crafty way of us denying you access to the tasty brew I was giving out last night (which was unanimously named Yeast InfectionAlec‘s suggestion), fear not: folks are more than welcome to come by before The Angel and tank up, or there’ll be enough to save for events during the coming week (there’a about 18-20 pints left, not to mention the other beverages that went down surprisingly well amongst the non-beer drinkers last night).

Right: got to get on with some work.

Open All Night

Matt R wrote:

Guys, I really need your support here and I know that it’s very last minute.

There’s a comedy open mic night tomorrow in The Angel and, not only am I performing in one of the slots, I’m also the MC. This is a big thing for me so if you could all come along I could at least be guarnateed some laughs. Well, that’s not entirely true; I’m worried about failing in front of my friends and possibly even worse that you’ll only laugh because you know me and I’ll carry on with this dellusion that I’m funny but if tomorrow isn’t a success (for the bar, I mean) then we may not get to do anymore at The Angel and then I’m certainly scuppered. I know that some of you already have plans and again I’m sorry that this is so last minute but if you could make it to The Angel at 20:00 tomorrow (Sunday) and pay £2 on the door then that would be fabulous. Had I more money I’d bribe you all with drink. Also it is open miic so if you’ve got a great anecdote or a good impression feel free to step up and give me some respite.

Please please come.

I really hope I’m good.

Ooh. Open mic. I’ll give that a go, if I can think of something to say.

See you there.

What’re You Doing This Week?

For the benefit of the Abnibbers (and the other folks that hang around The Place), here’s a roundup of some of the events of the rest of the week:

Naruto Night from 8pm, as usual. Proposed anime for the night includes Bleach and Excel Saga, with the possibility of Full Metal Alchemist if the appropriate episodes can be obtained; Naruto otherwise.

Geek Night has been moved to Sunday this week to make room for Link Night: Claire, Paul, JTA and I, infused by the power of the Four Sword, will continue our quest to free Hyrule from the clutches of an evil Bad Link (and Ganandorf) and free yet more maidens and stuff. Yay. Player slots are filled, but spectators are welcome (and are certainly allowed to entertain themselves with, for example, the other GameCube). In addition, it’s proposed that Binky use this evening to perform the first part of his distillation experiment, as at least two of his experimental samples will have reached maturity by this point. =o)

Troma Night as usual. The theme this week is “Bring Your Own Pint Glass” – all attendees are requested to bring a pint glass with them (buy one, steal one, whatever – I don’t care), in exchange for which I’ll repeatedly fill it with any one of a selection of the various beverages that I’ve been brewing for the last few weeks, including wines made with grapefruit, peach, pear and pineapple, a spirit of Binky‘s devising (made from one or more of those previously mentioned, but probably the grapefruit), and lots and lots of cask beer. Bring your own bottle, as usual, if you think you’re going to need it, but a pint glass and a sick bag should be sufficient for most. Proposed on the film agenda is “a good old-fashioned Troma Night”-theme: a good film; a bad film; and an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

If you enjoy what you drink on Saturday, please consider donating a pound or so into “the tub”, the proceeds from which will be used to buy further materials for the making of more communal alcohol for Troma Night. Making alcohol in large quantities is cheap (on money – most of the investment is in time spent washing things, shaking things, boiling things, etc), but not quite free. And if you don’t enjoy what you drink or you’re as skint as I am, just consume anyway. Mmm… beer.

Geek Night. In accordance with the prophecy, this week’s Geek Night takes place on Sunday rather than Friday, to make room for questing and merriment on the part of the four incarnations of Link in it’s place. Usual deal this week.

Angry Saudi Protesters

In the style of her comic, The Aber Effect, and in the light of recent protests about the religious implications of a comic, Claire has made a marvellous one-framer, shown below:

Angry Saudi Protester Against Free Speech, by Claire

Much thanks to Claire for allowing me to publish this online.

Angry Saudi Protester Against Free Speech, by Claire×

Curry At All Spice – TONIGHT!

Curry at Cafe All Spice tonight. All welcome. Geek Night moved to Sunday this week. Jon, Hayley, and TGB in town. Time not yet certain, so meet at The Place during the evening or get a message to Claire or I and we’ll let you know when we know… but it’s likely to be about 9pm (when TGB expects to arrive in town). Also; keep an eye on this blog post for updates.

Be there, or be sober and hungry.

Special instructions –

In actual news, Abnib Gallery now carries 877 photos. My efforts to keyword/caption them all is going slowly, so if you want to help, please do (just sign up an account on the site then contact me to get your permissions sorted out).

What Might Have Been

You’ve all seen nanofiction before (which must, of course, have no more than 55 words of text plus no more than 7 words of title in it), as is used in games like Chrononauts and some of the other Geek Night favourites, but I’ve only recently discovered the idea of a drabble – a work of fiction totalling exactly 100 words.

I thought I’d share with you all a drabble written by a friend of mine (she’s put it only in places it’s hard to find, so I’m duplicating rather than linking).

From the day we were born, my twin sister was always the one people noticed. In our first photograph, just hours after our birth, she looked rosy, while I looked pale, like a wax doll. She grew into a beautiful and talented young woman – her singing voice was quite something to behold. I have no doubt that my mother loved me – although my father’s discomfort and disappointment in me was fairly blatant – but I remained something that was discussed as little as possible. I didn’t want to envy my beloved sister. If only I had been born alive, too.

© Faye L Booth 2005 – used with permission – no unauthorised reproduction, in whole or part

Fabulous, I thought, and so I got permission to share it with you lot, too.