Snow Day Like Today

On the other hand: here the snow is thick and heavy! Paul and I made it to Preston in the end, after a series of train journeys along an unusual route (but, remarkably, virtually all running on time). From Aberystwyth, it’s genuinely challenging to appreciate how significantly the recent snowfall has impacted on the rest of the UK. By Dyfi Junction the train staff were warning about the conditions on the unploughed platforms, and at Manchester, unused platform ends lay heavy with slush piled up around the tracks.

Snow in my dad's garden, part one
Snow piles up in my dad’s garden – still several inches thick despite a damp night

The major roads are swept, but the side roads are piled high with drifts and it’s hard to see (or even feel) the speed bumps in the residential estates. Apparently, the other night one of my sisters – Becky – had to drive into town to collect the other – Sarah – as she couldn’t get a taxi home after a night out… because the taxi drivers were refusing to drive through the snow that littered my mum’s estate.

Snow in my dad's garden, part two
A cat’s footprints winding their way across my dad’s garden

It’s quite remarkable to see this much snow here – the most I’ve seen anywhere in England in about fourteen years. We may well be having a white Christmas yet!

× ×

Snow Way Out

Aberystwyth - no snow!
Aberystwyth this morning. Not a patch of snow to be seen, not even on the hills.

This year, my plan was that my friend Paul and I would head up to Preston to spend Christmas with my family there. My sisters even kindly offered to drive down and pick us up, which is nice , because the alternative for moving the presents I’ve got boxed up in my living room would be to strap them onto a sled and find some livestock to tow them up North. I’m not sure where I’d find animals around here capable of running a sleigh: how many sheep do you think it takes to pull a grown man, his clothes for a week, and a stack of gifts?

When I received a text this morning saying that Preston was, functionally-speaking, snowed-in, I was at least a little surprised. I opened the curtains: here in Aber it’s reasonably warm, mild, and sunny, with not even a hint of snow – not even on the distant mountains. It’s hard to believe that from only a hundred or so miles away the snow is so thick that it’s having to be ploughed off the road, and that in the South-East, drivers have had to spend the nights in their cars after roads became unusable.

So… I might make it out of Aber by Christmas. If anybody can tell me where the nearest magic reindeer farm with lax security is, it’d be appreciated.



pudd /pʊd/ (verb, third-person singular simple present pudds, present participle pudding, simple past pudded, past participle pudd)

  1. (transitive) to cause an observer to interpret meaning where none exists
    “The beauty of the sunset pudds me into believing that it was put there specifically for me to enjoy.”
    “Interpreting the lyrics pudded Dan with ideas far beyond those intended by the songwriter.”

  2. (intransitive) to interpret meaning (esp. into the meaningless)
    “Though I don’t understand your grunting, I pudd that you are angry about something.”
    “Despite the emptiness of her life, Mary was pudding.”

pudd /pʊd/ (noun, pl. pudds)

  1. The meaning or purpose of something, as understood through individual interpretation, without specific indication any such meaning exists.
    “His pudd is that life is for having fun while it lasts.”
    Pudds are easy to find when you’re looking for them.”

You know how in How I Met Your Mother season 5, episode 3 (Robin 101), Ted says “Anything sounds weird if you say it a hundred times,” and proceeds to say the word “bowl” over and over until it begins to lose all significance for him, becoming a meaningless vocalisation? The phenomenon is called semantic satiation, and the other day I experienced something a little like it, and then – as is my way – went one step further.

For some reason – perhaps saturation of the word in my brain that mirrored the saturation of the food in my stomach at and following last weekend’s feast – I lost the meaning to the word “pudding”. I’d stare at it, but it didn’t make any sense – it was just a collection of letters. I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar at some point in your life.

But then an unusual thing happened: my brain began to see it in a different way, almost adding meaning to it. My imagination whirred. The part of my brain responsible for recognising the components of language, which has recently been spoiled by the regularity and predictability of Esperanto, began to see the word “pudding” as the present participle form of a verb, “to pudd”. I pudd, you pudded, we’re pudding, everybody pudds.

There’s no English verb, “to pudd”, that I’m aware of, so I’ve invented one. The definition is based on the experience that lead me to inventing it, and as a result it is at least a little bit recursive. The definition is as above. I’ve invented an accompanying derivative noun, too. I anticipate that the intransitive verb form is the most useful of the three definitions: in fact, I’ll be using it in this very article.

I don’t pudd that I was somehow supposed to do this; that my temporary inability to comprehend a word was destined to have me invent one: and if you’re pudding that right now, you’re mistaken. But if you must find pudd in this whole jolly story, perhaps you can just settle on that I am a fan of language, and at least a little bit eccentric. Isn’t that enough?

Mystery Hot Chocolate

The week before last, I received an unusual package at work. It contained a single-serving packet of organic hot chocolate, which I later consumed (and it was delicious).

There is, however, a mystery: from whom did this care package originate. The postmark is unclear, so I’m not sure which post office handled it, but it’s hard to imagine somebody who lived in Aberystwyth spending 69p to have this delivered to me when they could have just dropped it in themselves.

The back of the envelope may be considered a clue, too:

It looks like the envelope has been re-used, which suggests that the sender was the recipient of the original package, which seems to have come from Toronto, Canada, back in March 2009.

Aside from that, all we know is that the mystery sender’s handwriting is a little sloppy.

If it’s you that sent it: thanks! But who the hell are you?

Insanity Clause

This was one of my most-popular articles in 2009. If you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy:

I believe that it is ethically wrong to lie to children about the existence of Santa Claus. And, as it’s a topical time of year – and because I know that this view brings me into conflict with the views of many others (I’ve certainly had more than a couple of arguments about this before) – I thought that I’d explain my thinking.

"I'm not real, but don't tell anyone!"
"I'm not real... but don't tell anyone!"

Bias of background

I probably ought to come clean, first, about my own background. There’s a certain bias that people can have towards their own upbringing: the implicit assumption that the way one was brought up is somehow the best or the most-correct way. I’d like to think that I’m speaking from a position of rationality as well as morality, but I can’t deny that my judgment may be clouded by my own childhood.

I never believed that Santa was real, and was never encouraged to. My family played out a whole variety of modern, secular Christmas traditions, such as leaving out a mince pie for Santa, hanging stockings, and decorating a tree. But these were always understood to be what they actually were. There was never an illusion that the mince pie wasn’t being eaten by my dad just minutes after he’d checked that I’d finally managed to curb my excitement get to sleep (even without a belief in the patently mythological, Christmas can still be an exciting time for a child).

What’s the harm?

When I was growing up, I came into contact with many children for whom the Father Christmas myth was very real. I gather that they’re still remarkably common… and who can blame parents: perpetuating the Santa lie can provide a very easy and pervasive way to control the behaviour of their children!

For the vast majority of these children, the revelation of the lie was a harmless experience: over time, they developed doubts, from the childish (“We don’t have a chimney? How can Santa slide down radiators?”), to the logical (“Reindeer can’t fly! And how big is a sleigh that can carry presents for every good child on Earth?”), to the profound (“Why does Santa give the children of rich parents more expensive gifts than the children of poor parents?”). They’d hear stories from other children about the falsehood of the Christmas stories when they spoke to other children or, often, older siblings. Many would eventually challenge their parents on these lies, and most of these parents would then come clean, correctly judging that the lie had run it’s course. So what’s the harm?

There are some children who didn’t come off so well. I’ve seen children bullied at school and in social settings as a result of clinging to their belief in Santa. One kid I knew – bolstered by his mother’s ongoing lies (she would later claim that she thought he knew, but was just “playing along”) – genuinely believed in Santa until he was 14 years old, defying all argument to the contrary, and suffered so much that he ceased to gain any enjoyment at all from the festival for years to come.

I’ve spoken to parents who have attempted to justify their decision to lie to their children by dismissing it as only “a white lie”, something which does more good than harm, and I can see their argument. But for some children, as we’ve seen, this lie can spiral out of control, and even if this were to happen with only one in a thousand children, I wouldn’t personally want to take the risk that it was a child of mine.

One of Santa's biggest benefits is that he has a list of where all the naughty girls live.

That Magical Christmas Feeling™

A common response to my claim that lying to children about Santa is ethically wrong is that there is something particularly special (or “magical”, it is often said) about being able to believe in Santa. Those who make this claim invariably come from a background in which they were encouraged to believe in him, and they frequently talk of wanting their children to be able to have the same experience as them. (I would speculate that there’s a large crossover between this group of people and the group of people who would rather their children were brought up with their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, than be given the opportunity to make their own choices, too).

Having experienced life as an a-santaist, I can say that there never for a moment felt like there was something missing from my childhood Christmases. Children have a rich and beautiful imagination and a way of looking at the world which will find wonder and magic, if they want it, regardless of the untruths they’re told. Imposing false beliefs as truths on healthy young minds does not result in a net addition of “magic”. At best, all that is achieved is that the child fantasies about a specific lie, perhaps one that the child’s caregivers can relate to. We’ve discussed a couple of the worth cases already, and these aren’t isolated incidents.

Christmas can be a magical time anyway. There’s time away from school (for children of schoolgoing age), a chance to see distant relatives, the giving and receiving of presents (how can I have left this until third in the list!), following unusual and exciting traditions, eating special food, the potential for snow (at least in this hemisphere), and a time for telling special stories and singing special songs. Special events are magical, and that’s true whether or not you subscribe to any particular religious or secular holidays. For a child, birthdays are magical, bonfire night is magical (ooh! fireworks!), the summer solstice is magical: whatever you’ve got can be magical when you’ve got a child’s imagination.

Think back to whatever family traditions you had as a child, especially the ones you had to wait a whole year for. They’re all special, all by themselves. You can enjoy eating delicious chocolate eggs without believing in either a magical rabbit with a confusing reproductive system, the crucifixion of the embodiment of a deity, or spring coming forth thanks to the earned favour of the fertility gods. Sorry, what were you saying? I was still thinking about chocolate.

Santana - a full 100% more real, but only 95% less magical - than Santa

So, no Santa at all, then?

If you were paying attention, you’ll have seen that I said “telling special stories and singing special songs”. My childhood was a secular one, certainly, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t full of stories of a jolly red man, songs about cervines with nasal photoluminescence, and so on. I enjoyed stories about a gift-giving magical man, just like I enjoyed stories about anthropomorphic talking animals: and it’s okay to understand these things for just what they are: stories! There’s perhaps something a little special in stories about Father Christmas in that they’re told pretty-much exclusively at Christmas time (and, perhaps, a little much – how many Christmas-themed movies are scheduled for television broadcast this winter?), but we don’t have to treat them as if they’re real.

My rules are pretty simple. If you (a) know something to be false and (b) teach it to a child to be real with (c) the intent for them to believe it wholeheartedly and for an extended period of time, you’re abusing the position of trust in which that child has placed you. (a) provides an exception for religious upbringing, (b) provides an exception for relationships in which there is not a disparity of power, and (c) provides an exception for whatever so-called “white lies” you feel that you need: that’s a pretty hefty lump of exceptions, if you need them – but still people raise objections.

Here’s what Santa means to me. To me, “Santa” is, and has always been, the embodiment of anonymous gift-giving: the genuine “spirit of Christmas”, if you like. And given my way, that would be what I’d want to teach my children, too. I’m not for a moment denying anybody the magic of the season, I’m just saying that there’s a big difference between Santa as an abstract concept (like a storm “wanting” to break) and Santa as a real, albeit magical, being (like Poseidon sending the storm).

It’s a matter of trust

For me, this all comes down to trust. I don’t want to lie to my children. It’s not a difficult concept to understand: the only difference between me and a large number of other people is that they choose a different definition of “lie”. For the virtually all children who discover that they’ve been deceived about Santa, their trust in their parents remains fundamentally unharmed. For some, it’s dented for a short while but then comes back. But this still doesn’t make it right.

I want to be somebody who my children will always know that they can trust. I want them to know that I will not lie to them or deceive them. I want to be somebody who they can turn to for advice. I want to be somebody who they know will put them first, even in spite of tradition and convention.

That’s where I stand. Let’s here what you guys think.

Now this is the kind of Santa that I can get behind.

But first, there’s one more argument…

…that I’ve heard recently. I’ve heard it put that it’s beneficial to lie to children about Santa because it teaches them not to trust everything they hear, teaches them to be critical thinkers, etc.. That being taught a lie will toughen them against other lies that they will be given to them later in the big, wide, and cruel world.

This argument holds no weight with me. Do these same parents like to beat up their children “just a little” so that if they get into a fight at school, it won’t be so bad? Do they lock up and abuse their kids so that if they’re kidnapped and raped that it isn’t so hard on them?

In my mind, a lie that you keep up for years on end is no longer a harmless lie. When I want to teach my kids about deceit, I’ll perform magic tricks for them. The first time you perform a magic trick for a child, they genuinely believe it – how did he make that coin appear from behind my ear? Leave it for a minute or so (a minute can be an eternity when you’re a kid). Then I’ll show them how it’s done. I’ll teach them to do the trick themselves, and they’ll see for themselves that magic is an illusion. Plus, they’ll have learned a cool trick.

The world is full of many very clever illusions and tricks, and often you can’t see how they’re done, but that doesn’t mean that they’re magic. There’s no shame in not knowing all the answers, but looking for answers is a noble and beautiful thing. I want to foster in my children a natural suspicion of magic, so that they’re better-able to avoid being conned by those who would do them harm. And I can achieve this without lying to them for more than a few minutes at a time. Shove that in your stocking, Santa.


No offence intended to those who genuinely believe that Poseidon is the master of storms, naturally.


Alice Cooper, Richard & Kathryn’s Wedding, Etc.

A very brief summary of some of the things I got up to last weekend with Ruth:


  • Alice Cooper concert in Nottingham.
  • Absolutely spectacular: it’s amazing that this over-60-year-old man can spend a couple of hours singing and dancing and leaping around and being executed – I was tired just watching him.
  • Great to hear a setlist with a good mix of his older material as well as stuff from his latest album. Vengeance Is Mine was particularly brilliant to see performed live.
  • Support band Man-Raze were pretty good, too.


  • Wedding of my old college friend Richard to his wife Kathryn.
  • He works as a tax inspector these days, and we found ourselves sat at a table of his tax inspector buddies and their (bored-looking, during a brief period in which they were “talking shop”) partners.
  • Think we managed to upset the bride quite a lot (although, to be fair, we were only the messengers): after picking up a slice of wedding cake and returning to the table we presently shared with the bride and groom, Ruth turned to the bride and said “We must have missed you cutting the cake?” She replied, “We… we didn’t cut the cake, yet!” Whoops. Turns out that the hotel staff got the wrong end of the stick somewhere and sliced the cake for them!

Ruth with a large cone of ice cream, at about midnight.


  • Was nice to see my family. Sarah and Ruth seem to be getting along a lot better than they used to, as well.
  • Preston has a late-night ice cream parlour! How cool is that? (I know perfectly well that it sounds like slang for a drug dealer, as in, “I’m going to the late-night ice cream parlour: want some tutti frutti?”, or perhaps a brothel)

Kiwi Evolution

A discussion at SmartData this morning:

Dan: (eating a kiwi fruit) So why are kiwis hairy?
Gareth: To give insects something to cling onto?
Dan: Like “kiwi headlice”? But to what purpose? How does that benefit the plant?
Gareth: Well, then maybe it’s to make them look even more like gonads.
Dan: Heh. But again, to what purpose?
Gareth: To attract homosexual male humans to it, perhaps.
Dan: Which gives it an evolutionary advantage how?
Gareth: Well, homosexual men are better at disseminating seed.

My Friends Are Amazing

I’d just like to take a moment to say how amazing my friends are. It’s likely to be a little sappy: for those of you who like your blog posts on the other side of the wall, please switch off your eyes now.

Earlier this month, I blogged about Claire and I’s break-up. For many of the people I know, this will have been the very first they’ll have heard about it. Over the 36 hours or so that followed, I was completely swamped by consolations and concern: by comment, text message, Facebook, instant message, e-mail and phone – as well as in person from those I’ve seen in the meantime. Every single one of those messages is appreciated so very much. Thank you all.

And that’s not even mentioning the check-ins that people have made in the weeks since. It’s so kind of you all. I hope that Claire’s feeling as supported as I’ve been lucky enough to feel.

So how’s it going? That’s what everybody asks. Well…

…it’s still difficult. I’m not sure why I might have expected anything else: Claire and I were together for a quarter of my life so far. I still cry quite a lot, especially when Grooveshark Radio conspires against me and decides to queue up a whole series of songs that remind me of her. I don’t see as much of her as I used to, and I miss her, but when we’re together I often find it quite painfully awkward: even just down to little things, like the times that I realise that for the last few minutes I’d forgotten we aren’t a couple. I’m intensely keen on us being friends, and at least salvaging the awesome friendship we’ve shared for most of the millenium, but it’s not as comfortable as I’d like.

As I’ve said to a handful of people, now: without Claire, there’s no compelling reason for me to stay in Aberystwyth, so in the New Year, I’ll be aiming to leave town. I’m not sure where I’ll go, yet, or what I’ll do, but I’ve got some ideas. Today, I told my boss about my situation and that I’d like to start taking steps to make sure that the company can do without me: the joy of small-team development, eh?

When I first came to town, I promised myself that I wouldn’t get caught in the trap of being “stuck” here. I realised that Aberystwyth was a place that I could really fall in love with, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t stay more than ten years.

That was ten years and two months ago. I think it’s time to leave my love behind.

Murder in the Reign of Terror

Paul in his wonderful English aristocrat costume
Paul as Sir Percy Blubbery

Apologies to those who’ve been waiting to see the photographs. Since my last blog post I’ve been kind of distracted and not had the chance to blog properly.

On Friday 31st October, Ruth hosted another of her fabulous murder mystery nights in Paul‘s end of The Uberflat. The major difference with this one to all of the previous ones, though, was that instead of opening and playing a “kit”, this murder mystery was written by me.

And wow; it turns out that writing a murder mystery night is actually quite a lot of work. It’s like writing ten separate stories at the same time, which must all be internally-consistent with one another, but simultaneously must all neglect information that is known to one another in a dynamic and engaging way. After a few months of it (on and off) and a week or two of it (every spare waking hour) I felt like I had an understanding of the characters I’d invented so intimate that even their own imaginary mothers would be put to shame by my encyclopedic knowledge of them.

Adam as Mr. Gerry Knuckles
Adam as Mr. Gerry Knuckles

In order to minimise the risk that I would simply write the plot such that Paul would be the murderer (we’ve an ongoing joke about Paul always being the murderer, after he was for a couple of murder mysteries in a row), I didn’t choose who would play which character. Instead, I wrote a number of different characters and left it up to Ruth to match them up with guests.

This also had the added benefit, in my mind, that the characters were not written to match the people who would play them: and as a result, I was pleasantly surprised to see my creations brought to life through the improvisation of my friends, interpreting the characters as they saw fit.

I was remarkably nervous about whether or not I’d “got it right”: had I given enough detail about the characters that the guests would feel comfortable performing them, but not so much detail that they would feel stifled and unable to add their own flair to them? Had I given enough clues as to who the murderer was, but not so many as to make it obvious? Had I written enough dialogue for the time planned? Was the plot sufficiently gripping that the guests would actually care about defending their characters to the bitter end?

Dr. Manatee and his daughter, Lucie; as played by JTA and by Ruths mother
Dr. Manatee and his daughter, Lucie; as played by JTA and by Ruth's mother

My fears weren’t helped by the fact that I had to make a number of last-minute changes to the script to accommodate the fact that Rory – one of the guests – had a family emergency and had to drop out. By the time I’d finished (re-)writing the last of the dialogue, I still hadn’t had a chance to read through all of the script and make sure that all the loose ends were tied up: and, in fact, they weren’t, as I discovered to my horror some way through the night.

Mlle. Plosh and Mr. John Basterd; played by Claire and Matt P
Mlle. Plosh and Mr. John Basterd; played by Claire and Matt P

The evening kicked off reasonably well. There was a little awkwardness, as usual, as people tried to fit into the shells of their characters, but – again, as usual – the guests’ reservations turned out to be soluble in alcohol, and by the time everybody had gotten a drink inside them, things began to pick up steam. A second cause of difficulty at the beginning of the night is that nobody knew who they were supposed to be in relation to everybody else. I had expected that Ruth (who had told everybody who they were) had sent the full character list to everybody who was coming, but owing to a mis-communication between the pair of us she’d only sent everybody their own character description. As a result, we had whole families of characters who were not aware that they were supposed to already know one another. Thankfully I’d reprinted this information on the inside cover of the sourcebooks, and handed these out as people came in through the door, which resolved the issue.

Re-branded wine. Who brought this? I dont remember.
Re-branded wine. Who brought this? I don't remember.

Yet again, Ruth produced a fantastic and wonderfully theme-fitting meal, with a variety of French-themed, freshly-made courses. Paul, again as usual, put together a playlist of music of the period. Everybody’s costumes were superb, right down to the detail of Dr. Manatee’s eccentric quirks (JTA brought a spoon which he constantly fiddled with and refused to let anybody else touch) and Sir. Percy Blubbery’s wonderfully accurate English aristocrat’s clothes (Paul had sent me a text a week or so before the event in which he’d derided my costume suggestion for him and proposed his own, based on his research into the period).

A remarkable number of people, and particularly Ruth’s mother and Matt P, spoke a remarkable amount of French, which caused endless confusion for poor old me, who hadn’t spoken any, really, since high school. Had I thought about it, I might have tried to put a little more effort into ensuring that the grammar and spelling of what little French I’d put into the script was more correct.

There were only two fuck-ups worthy of note:

  • After I’d hastily removed Rory’s (absent) character from the script, I’d neglected to add back to the dialogue an important point that he makes, early on: a fact about a particular door in the inn being creaky, which, combined with other information from the other characters, could be used to conclusively demonstrate the whereabouts of the murderer at the time of the murder.
  • Worse yet, another part of the same evidence tree, to be delivered by Mrs. Marguerite Blubbery – played by Ruth – had also been broken by my sloppy last-minute editing. In her sourcebook, I’d given Ruth two conflicting pieces of information, and she’d opted to interpret the first one as being correct and the second one as being false.

In other words, fewer things “went wrong” than they have with a number of the professionally-made kits that we’ve bought over the years, which have, from time to time, had plotholes so big that youcould park a plane in them, or even mis-prints which have resulted in clues being revealed in the wrong order!

The guests point the Finger Of Blame at the murderer!
The guests point the Finger Of Blame at the murderer!

Nonetheless, a strong motive (to those who noticed it) and a weak alibi allowed about half the guests to correctly identify the murderer, which suggests to me that the mystery might have been slightly too easy (had I correctly implemented the two clues, above, everybody would probably have guessed). Still, it turned out okay as a result of my mistakes!

Unlike playing murder mystery “kits”, as we have before, having one of us write the story gave us the benefit that one of us – in this case, me – knew the entire plot from the start. I played a narrator/investigator role, therefore, similar to that played by audio CDs, DVDs, and paper-trail clues in many of the kits that we’ve used, and this actually turned out to work really well: I was able, for example, to keep the flow of conversation moving, to make sure that no crucial clues were completely missed, and to generally “host” the mystery part of the evening.

I’ve also learned a lot about how to write this kind of mystery, and I know what I’d do differently next time. In fact, I’ve already started work on a new mystery which I’m hoping we’ll be able to run late in January: Murder… In Space! Hopefully I’ll see some of you there!

Finally: if you want to see all the photos I took on the night, here they are.

The Break-Up

Yesterday, Claire and I broke up.

We’ve had several rough months, and several even rougher weeks, and this seemed to be the best solution to a variety of difficulties we’ve faced recently. It’s hard to answer the question as to whether the split could be described as mutual, but it can certainly be described as amicable, if that’s enough. If not, then perhaps it might help to understand that we’re both, little doubt, unhappy, but that it’s better to end things now in a friendly way than, say, in six months time in an unfriendly way.

I’m sure that neither of us want to go in depth into the issues behind this break-up in the public forum, but I’m sure that those of you who are our friends are more than welcome to ask privately, “what happened?” I apologise to everybody for whom this comes as a shock (i.e. most of you, from what I gather).

I’ve no doubt that Claire and I will continue to be close friends and will kick arse in all the fabulous ways that you’re used to, whether in one another’s company or apart. And I expect I speak for both of us when I say that there’s a slap on the wrist waiting for anybody we catch “taking sides”: there are no sides to be taken.

Virgil wrote that omnia vincit amor – love conquers all – but he was wrong. Despite our love for one another, if Claire and I had carried on the way we were, people would have ended up hurt. I’m feeling drained and miserable, but it’ll pass, and all will be well again. For a quarter of my life thus far I’ve been Claire’s, and she’s been mine, and through one another we’ve done so much. For the last seven and a half years I’ve been thankful for the great richness of experience that my relationship with Claire has brought. There will always be a special place in my heart for her.

Thanks for reading. I think I shall go and sit quietly for a while, now.

Edit @ 21:20 01-Nov-2009: Claire has a few things to say, too.

Saw It A Mile Off [Drink!]

Can I be the first to say “Saw it a mile off!” (the giveaway was Sian “getting organised” by looking up people’s addresses).

Can I also be the first to say, at least via the digital interwebworknets: congratulations! You’ll get my RSVP very soon.


From Feed Proxy To FreeMyFeed

As those of you who use my Feed Proxy service to get your LiveJournal friends’ blogs (including friends-only posts) into Google Reader or a similar service know, the service hasn’t been working for the last few days.

I made all of the changes that LiveJournal’s bot policy required of me. I e-mailed them; no response. I e-mailed again; no response. I e-mailed to ask were they receiving my e-mails – yes, they were, but the person responsible for unblocking the bot “wasn’t in” at the moment.

I e-mailed again: yet again, no response.

I’ve been finding it harder to keep up with my LiveJournal friends because of this, and I know that a lot of you are pissed off, too. But it looks like LiveJournal aren’t going to be cooperative any time soon. So it’s time to switch services.

I’m moving my authenticated feeds over to FreeMyFeed. FreeMyFeed provides many of the same services at Feed Proxy did, although it also works for a wider variety of web applications (for example, you can also use it for Twitter, if you’re one of the dozen or so people who still uses Twitter).

If you’re already a Feed Proxy user:

Within the next few hours, each LiveJournal friend you’re subscribed to through Feed Proxy will produce a post explaining how you can convert their feed over to FreeMyFeed with about two clicks. I suggest that you mark that post as “read” and then click the link, and the rest of the work is mostly done for you. You’ll see some “read” posts all over again (boo!) and FreeMyFeed doesn’t convert LJ “moods” and “comment counts” for you automatically, but apart from that it should serve you well.

If you’re not using Feed Proxy or FreeMyFeed yet, or you’ve deleted your Feed Proxy-powered feeds from Google Reader:

Google Reader’s a great way to keep up-to-date with all your friends’ blogs – as well as with news, comics, and more – both in and out of LiveJournal. To subscribe to a LiveJournal blog in Google Reader or a similar service, friends-only posts and all, go to the FreeMyFeed website and enter into the boxes:

feed url:
(replace username with the LiveJournal username of the person whose LiveJournal you’re subscribing to)

user: your LiveJournal username

pass: your LiveJournal password

Thanks for all of the support you LiveJournalers have given me over the years, both for Feed Proxy and for it’s predecessor, LiveJournal-To-Google Reader. It’s been fun.

Your Experience May Differ

To: Daniel Hill <dlh9@….>
From: Dan Q <dan@….>
Subject: Aberystwyth University Is Awesome! Warning: Your Experience May Differ.

Dear Daniel,

There’s an age-old tradition amongst Aberystwyth graduates, and in particular amongst Computer Science graduates. But to truly understand it, you first need to understand a little bit about Aberystwyth University. Also, to understand recursion, you must first understand recursion (you’ll “get” that joke by your second year, if you don’t already).

As you know, your username is “dlh9”. There’s a reason for that: The letters are your initials. “But I don’t have a middle name,” I hear you cry (or, at least, not one that the University know about), “Where’s the ‘L’ come from?” Well, it turns out that Information Services, who look after all of the computer networks, have a System [TM]. And their System [TM] is that staff get usernames like “abc”, undergrads get “abc1”, postgrads get “abc12”.

(this has lead to some awesome usernames: for example, “bed” used to be the username of somebody from Residential Services, and “sad” was once the username of one of the counsellors at the Students’ Union)

Anyway, I digress. I was talking about usernames. The digit in your username is the year you started your course. So, because you’re starting this year, yours is “9” (see, ‘cos it’s 2009 – get it?). You’re not allowed to spend more than nine years getting your degree, so that’s a pretty good primary key (you probably know what one of those is, but if not, you will before the academic year is out). Postgraduates get two digits because they often hang around for years and years. I don’t know what would happen if somebody spent a century getting their PhD, but I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be pretty.

And so there’s been a long-standing tradition amongst Aber grads, and particularly Comp. Sci. Aber grads, and especially particularly Comp. Sci. Aber grads-who-graduated-and-got-jobs-in-Aberystwyth and never got around to leaving… that when their username comes up for “renewal” – when a decade passes after they first started their course – they finger (you’ll learn what that means soon enough, too) the Aber computer systems and check if their username has been re-assigned. It’s a great way to make yourself feel old, as if the annual influx of younger-every-year Freshers didn’t do that perfectly well already.

Over the years, I’ve seen many friends play this little game. Some of them won, but most of them lost – it turns out that the odds aren’t really on your side: there are 17,576 conceivable username combinations each year – from aaa9 to zzz9 – and only 3,000 new students, so odds are less than 50% whether or not you ignore the statistical biases that mean that things like “qxz9” (Quentin X. Zachary?) are basically never going to turn up.

So imagine my surprise when I, for the first time, get to play the game, today… and I not only win, but I get a double-win, because the person to whom my old username has been recycled is an undergraduate in my old department!

Yes: I was the last owner of “dlh9”. I was “dlh9” from 1999, when I started, to 2004, when I graduated, an alumni of the Computer Science Department at what was then the University of Wales, Aberystwyth (it changed it’s name to Aberystwyth University shortly afterwards – this, combined with the fact that I have since changed my name by deed poll, means that I am the proud owner of a degree certificate that contains neither my name nor the name of an existing university!). At the time, my name was Daniel Huntley – I didn’t have a middle name, either – and I spent five years getting a four-year degree in Software Engineering before I started working for a software company here in this very town. I haven’t yet got around to leaving.

It still feels strange to write an e-mail to your e-mail address – my old e-mail address. It feels like I’m writing an e-mail to myself. I wonder what I’d have made of it if I’d have received this e-mail when I first arrived at University. It’s not so hard to imagine: the person I am now would be unrecognisable to the person I was back then, just like I am a complete stranger to you, but writing to you nonetheless. But even if you discard this e-mail and never think of it again, you’ll have done me a wonderful service by allowing me the chance to participate in a fascinating thought experiment that has granted me a great and deep nostalgia for the time I spent at that University.

(by the way; I apologise if your e-mail address is still getting the spam it used to get when it belonged to me)

Like me, Aber’s changed over the last ten years. The University’s changed, and the Computer Science Department has changed too. But I’m sure that you’ll find the place as beautiful and as satisfying as it has always been: this remarkable town on the West coast of Wales, where the mountains meet the sea, full of strange and quirky characters, a million miles from anywhere, and truly unique. I find myself longing for you to have *my* experience of Aberystwyth; to do all the great things I did, to meet all the great people I did – but you won’t. You won’t have the same lovers; you won’t discover the same music; you won’t join the same clubs; you won’t have the same beautiful sunsets while you roast burgers on disposable barbeques and the rising tide laps at your ankles; you won’t have the same hangovers; you won’t scrape through the same exams; you won’t steal the same traffic cones; you won’t climb the same mountains. A different story told differently.

You won’t have any of the things that made my time here in Aberystwyth so wonderful for the last ten years, but don’t dispair, because you’ll have something far better – you’ll have all of your own marvellous experiences. Mine are mine in nostalgia alone, but yours are yet to come. And I hope you have an ass-kickingly good time, because that’s what every Aber Comp. Sci undergrad deserves when they come to this magical corner of the world.

When you get as far as your lectures, tell Richard Shipman I said “Hi”. That’ll put you in his good books, I’m sure. ;-)

And if you see me around town, give me a wave and I’ll buy you a pint. If you got nothing else from reading this old man’s drivel, you just earned yourself a free pint. When I was a student, I’d have called that a win-win. Your experience may differ.

Good luck, and best wishes;

Dan Q