In Loving Memory of Square Checkbox

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

…every major OS vendor has been adhering to the convention that checkboxes are square and radio buttons are round.

Apple is the first major operating system vendor who had abandoned a four-decades-long tradition. Their new visionOS — for the first time in the history of Apple — will have round checkboxes.

Four "round" checkboxes, two of them checked.
Apple Design Resouces — visionOS — Library

Anyway, with Apple’s betrayal, I think it’s fair to say there’s no hope for this tradition to continue.

I therefore officially announce 2024 to be the year when the square checkbox has finally died.

The Web did a bad enough job of making checkboxes and radiobuttons inconsistent. I’m not saying you can’t style them, Web developers, but let’s at least keep the fundamental shape of them the way that they have been for decades so that users can understand them!

But yeah, Apple’s new designs could spell the beginning of the end of this long-established standard. Sad times.

Four "round" checkboxes, two of them checked.×

[Bloganuary] The Fear

This post is the final part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What’s the thing you’re most scared to do? What would it take to get you to do it?

After a few wishy-washy prompts earlier in the month1, suddenly this is a spicy one!

Tabby kitten hiding under a rug.
“I’mma just hide here until next Bloganuary and do one of those prompts instead, a’ight?”

I’ve had sufficient opportunity to confidently answer: I’m most-scared… to express personal vulnerability.

For example –

  • I’m prone to concealing feelings of anxiety, shame, and insecurity (out of for concern that I’ll be perceived as weak);
  • I exhibit rejection sensitivity, especially when I’m under stress (which leads me to brush-off or minimise other people’s gratitude, respect, or even love);
  • It can be difficult for me to ask for what I want, rather than what I think I deserve (so my expressed-needs are at the whim of my self-worth).
Grey-brown kitten with Scottish Fold-style ears standing semi-upright on a light blue sofa with an expression that, were it on a human, would be described as fearful.
“Oh my god you’re actually typing this stuff onto the Internet‽ What will people think of you, Dan!”

Two things I oughta emphasise at this point:

  1. I’m doing much better than I used to.2 I “pass” as well-adjusted! My fear of vulnerability still causes me trouble, especially if I’m emotionally low or stressed, but nowhere near as badly as it used to.
  2. I’m still learning, growing, and improving. I’ve had the benefit of therapy3, coaching, and lots of self-reflection, and I’m moving in the right direction.

What would it take me to face or overcome this fear? I’m already working on it, day by day. Time and practice, just like you’d use to overcome any other obstacle. Time, and practice.

I’m glad that this challenging question came last in Bloganuary, after I felt sufficiently-invested that I had to finish. If this were the first question, I might never have started!

Footnotes

1 Obviously I’m thinking about day 25’s “what do you enjoy doing most in your leisure time?”, to which I wouldn’t have been able to come up a fresh answer after already writing responses to day 2’s “do you play in your daily life?” and (especially) day 23’s “list five things you do for fun”.

2 The best evidence for the fact that I’m less afraid of expressing vulnerability than I used to be is… well, things like this blog post, which I couldn’t conceive of writing say a decade ago.

3 The primary motivation for my most-recent bouts of therapy wasn’t anything to do with this, but counselling helps you make connections that you otherwise might not! You can find yourself reverse-engineering a whole other part of yourself than what you expected.

Tabby kitten hiding under a rug.× Grey-brown kitten with Scottish Fold-style ears standing semi-upright on a light blue sofa with an expression that, were it on a human, would be described as fearful.×

Installation of Windows has Stalled

I was told Windows installation should take less than 20 minutes, but these ones have been sitting outside my house all day while the builders sit on the roof and listen to the radio. Do I need a faster processor? #TechSupport

A pile of window frames, factory-fresh and covered with tape. propped against the side of a white house, on a gravel driveway.

A pile of window frames, factory-fresh and covered with tape. propped against the side of a white house, on a gravel driveway.×

[Bloganuary] Toilet Paper

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What do you complain about the most?

I’m British. So I complain about very little. Instead, I tut loudly to myself.

But the thing that makes me tut the loudest, perhaps, is when I discover that somebody has put a roll of toilet paper on its holder the wrong way.

Annotated composite photograph showing two toilet rolls on their holster. One hangs in front of the roll, as is correct and proper, and it labelled "right". The other hangs behind the roll, in the terrible forbidden way acceptable only to imbeciles, and is labelled "wrong".
Of all the hills a person could choose to die on, I seem to have chosen the most absorbent.

I’m aware that there are some people who do not hold a strong opinion on the correct orientation of a horizontally-mounted roll of toilet paper. That’s fine; not everybody has to care about these things. Maybe you’ll be persuaded that there’s a “right” way by this post (and there is), but if not, no problem.

But for the anybody who deliberately and consciously hangs toilet paper the wrong way… here’s why you’re mistaken:

  • Hanging it the right way puts the loose end closer to the user, which means they’ve got less-far to reach.
  • Hanging it the right way means the loose end is easier to find, which is especially useful if you didn’t turn the light on yet because you’re not ready to fully wake up.
  • Hanging it the wrong way increases the amount of time the paper spends cleaning the wall, which isn’t something I want or need it to be used to clean.
  • Hanging it the wrong way increases the risk that the loose end is in a place where it is inaccessible, sandwiched directly behind the roll and against the wall, requiring the user to manually turn the roll to expose it. When the same thing happens on a roll hung the right way (which is rarer on account of gravity) a pinched end self-corrects as soon as you pull the roll slightly away from the wall.
  • It’s been argued that your way is “tidier” because unused toilet paper sits closer to the wall which which it’s approximately parallel. Sure (although I disagree that it’s tidier, but that’s clearly subjective): but I counter that I don’t need it to be tidy, I need it to function.
A hanging toilet roll being shredded by a black cat.
I’m willing to concede that for some pet owners and parents, hanging the “wrong” way might discourage curious animals and toddlers from playing with the exposed end. But even that’s not a guarantee, as wrong-way-hanger Dan4th Nicholas discovered. Photo used under a CC-BY license.

I share a home with a wrong-way hanger, but about 13 years ago we came to a household agreement: I’d quietly “correct” any incorrectly-installed toilet rolls in shared bathrooms1, and nobody would deliberately switch them back2, and in exchange I’d refrain from trying to educate people about why they were wrong.3

Composite screengrab from Taskmaster Season 11 Episode 4 (Premature Conker) showing Mike Wozniak talking about an empty toilet roll tube perched on top of a closed pedal bin (rather than having been put inside it).
Like Mike Wozniak, I also have a pet hate for people leaving the cardboard tube from toilet paper rolls in suboptimal places, like on top of a closed pedal bin. But I don’t see so much of that.

(While researching this article, I was pleased to discover that no major emoji font depicts a toilet roll in the wrong orientation. 🧻🎉)

Footnotes

1 A man can do whatever the hell he likes in the comfort of his own en suite.

2 This clause was added after it became apparent that our then-housemate Paul decided it’d be a fun prank to go around the house reversing my corrections (not because he preferred the wrong way, but just to troll me!). Which I can admit was a fun prank… until I challenged him on it and he denied it, at which point it became gaslighting.

3 This doesn’t count as forcing an education on my household. My blog isn’t in your face: you can skip it any time you want. You can even lie and say you read it when you don’t; I won’t know, especially this month when I’ve been writing so prolifically – now on my longest-ever daily streak! – that I probably won’t even remember what I wrote about.

Annotated composite photograph showing two toilet rolls on their holster. One hangs in front of the roll, as is correct and proper, and it labelled "right". The other hangs behind the roll, in the terrible forbidden way acceptable only to imbeciles, and is labelled "wrong".× A hanging toilet roll being shredded by a black cat.× Composite screengrab from Taskmaster Season 11 Episode 4 (Premature Conker) showing Mike Wozniak talking about an empty toilet roll tube perched on top of a closed pedal bin (rather than having been put inside it).×

Open Turds

I’ve open-sourced a lot of pretty shit code.

So whenever somebody says “I’m not open-sourcing this because the code is shit”, I think: wow, it must be spectacularly bad.

And that only makes me want to see it more.

[Bloganuary] Sportsball!

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What are your favourite sports to watch and play?

I’ve never really been very sports-motivated. I enjoy casually participating, but I can’t really see the attraction in spectating most sports, most of the time1.

I’m a good team player at basketball, for sure.

My limited relationship with sports

There are several activities I enjoy doing that happen to overlap with sports: swimming, cycling, etc., but I’m not doing them as sports. By which I mean: I’m not doing them competitively (and I don’t expect that to change).

I used to appreciate a game of badminton once in a while, and I’ve plenty of times enjoyed kicking a ball around with whoever’s there (party guests… the kids… the dog…2). But again, I’ve not really done any competitive sports since I used to play rugby at school, way back in the day3.

Dan, wearing a red t-shirt and in bright sunshine, pretends (badly) to be shouting excitedly. In the background, a group of people are watching a televised rugby match; one is wearing a South African flag as a cape.
“Yay, sports‽” This photo was taken in a Cape Town bar which was screening the 2019 Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa. Much as I didn’t care about the sports, I loved the energy and atmosphere that the fans brought (and I’ve sufficient comprehension of the sport to appreciate that South Africa played a spectacular game, putting up an unstoppable wall of players to overcome the odds and take home the cup).

I guess I don’t really see the point in spectating sports that I don’t have any personal investment in. Which for me means that it’d have to involve somebody I care about!

A couple of dozen strangers running about for 90 minutes does nothing for me, because I haven’t the patriotism to care who wins or loses. But put one of my friends or family on the pitch and I might take an interest4!

What went wrong with football, for example

In some ways, the commercialisation of sport seems to me to be… just a bit sad?

Take soccer (association football), for example, whose explosive success in the United Kingdom helped bolster the worldwide appeal it enjoys today.

Up until the late 19th century soccer was exclusively an amateur sport: people played on teams on evenings and weekends and then went back to their day jobs the rest of the time. In fact, early football leagues in the UK specifically forbade professional players!5

Monochrome line drawing showing a 19th century scene of a football match. The ball appears to have been headed towards the goal by a jumping player; the goalkeeper is poised to dive for it.
Back in the 19th century the rules hadn’t been fully-standardised, either. If you look carefully at this contemporaneous picture, you’ll see that all these players are wearing the same kit, because there’s only one team. Also, the goalkeeper is wearing riding chaps because he’s permitted to bring his horse onto the pitch for up to 13 minutes in each match. I may or may not be making all of that up.

As leagues grew beyond local inter-village tournaments and reached the national stage, this approach gave an unfair advantage to teams in the South of England over those in the North and in Scotland. You see, the South had a larger proportion of landed gentry (who did not need to go back to a “day job” and could devote more of their time to practice) and a larger alumni of public schools (which had a long history with the sport in some variation or another)!6

Clamour from the Northern teams to be allowed to employ professional players eventually lead to changes in the rules to permit paid team members so long as they lived within a certain distance of the home pitch7. The “locality” rule for professional players required that the player had been born, or had lived for two years, within the vicinity of the club. People turned up to cheer on the local boys8, paid their higher season ticket prices to help fund not only the upkeep of the ground and the team’s travel but now also their salaries. Still all fine.

Things went wrong when the locality rule stopped applying. Now teams were directly competing with one another for players, leading to bidding wars. The sums of money involved in signing players began to escalate. Clubs merged (no surprise that so many of those “Somewheretown United” teams sprung up around this period) and grew larger and begun marketing in new ways to raise capital: replica kits, televised matches, sponsorship deals… before long running a football team was more about money than location.

And that’s where we are today, and why the odds are good that your local professional football team doesn’t have any players that you or anybody you know will ever meet in person.

That’s a bit of a long a way to say “nah, I’m not terribly into sports”, isn’t it?

Footnotes

1 I even go to efforts to filter sports news out of my RSS subscriptions!

2 The dog loves trying to join in a game of football and will happily push the ball up and down the pitch, but I don’t think she understands the rules and she’s indecisive about which team she’s on. Also, her passing game leaves a lot to be desired, and her dribbling invariably leaves the ball covered in drool.

3 And even then, my primary role in the team was to be a chunky dirty-fighter of a player who got in the way of the other team and wasn’t afraid to throw his weight around.

4 Unless it’s cricket. What the fuck is cricket supposed to be about? I have spectated a cricket match featuring people I know and I still don’t see the attraction.

5 Soccer certainly wasn’t the first sport to “go professional” in the UK; cricket was way ahead of it, for example. But it enjoys such worldwide popularity today that I think it’s a good example to use in a history lesson.

6 I’m not here to claim that everything that’s wrong with the commercialisation of professional football can be traced to the North/South divide in England.. but we can agree it’s a contributing factor, right?

7 Here’s a fun aside: this change to the rules about employment of professional players didn’t reach Scotland until 1893, and many excellent Scottish players – wanting to make a career of their hobby – moved to England in order to join English teams as professional players. In the 1890s, the majority of the players at Preston North End (whose stadium I lived right around the corner of for over a decade) were, I understand, Scottish!

8 And girls! Even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were women’s football teams: Dick, Kerr Ladies F.C., also from Preston (turns out there’s a reason the National Football Museum was, until 2012, located there), became famous for beating local men’s teams and went on to represent England internationally. But in 1921 the FA said that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged”, and banned from the leagues any men’s team that shared their pitch with a women’s team. The ban was only rescinded in 1971. Thanks, FA.

Dan, wearing a red t-shirt and in bright sunshine, pretends (badly) to be shouting excitedly. In the background, a group of people are watching a televised rugby match; one is wearing a South African flag as a cape.× Monochrome line drawing showing a 19th century scene of a football match. The ball appears to have been headed towards the goal by a jumping player; the goalkeeper is poised to dive for it.×

Automattic Shakeup

My employer Automattic‘s having a bit of a reorganisation. For unrelated reasons, this coincides with my superteam having a bit of a reorganisation, too, and I’m going to be on a different team next week than I’ve been on for most of the 4+ years I’ve been there1. Together, these factors mean that I have even less idea than usual what I do for a living, right now.

Dan, wearing an Oxford-branded t-shirt, shrugs and looks confused in front of a screen showing Automattic's "Work With Us" page.
What is it I do here again? Something something code WooCommerce something something marketplace awesome something, right?

On the whole, I approve of Matt‘s vision for this reorganisation. He writes:

Each [Automattic employee] gets a card: Be the Host, Help the Host, or Neutral.

You cannot change cards during the course of your day or week. If you do not feel aligned with your card, you need to change divisions within Automattic.

“Be the Host” folks are all about making Automattic’s web hosting offerings the best they possibly can be. These are the teams behind WordPress.com, VIP, and Tumblr, for example. They’re making us competitive on the global stage. They bring Automattic money in a very direct way, by making our (world class) hosting services available to our customers.

“Help the Host” folks (like me) are in roles that are committed to providing the best tools that can be used anywhere. You might run your copy of Woo, Jetpack, or (the client-side bit of) Akismet on Automattic infrastructure… or alternatively you might be hosted by one of our competitors or even on your own hardware. What we bring to Automattic is more ethereal: we keep the best talent and expertise in these technologies close to home, but we’re agnostic about who makes money out of what we create.

A laptop computer on a desk, showing a WordPress wp-admin page.
This stock photo confuses me so much that I had to use it. It’s WordPress, as seen in Chrome on Windows Vista… but running on a MacBook Air. The photographer has tried to blur their site domain name (but it’s perfectly readable), but hasn’t concealed the fact they’re running µTorrent in the background (for Obviously Legal Reasons, I’m sure). Weird. But the important thing is that, crazy as this person’s choices are, they can use Automattic’s software however they like. It’s cool.

Anyway: I love the clarification on the overall direction of the company… but I’m not sure how we market it effectively2. I look around at the people in my team and its sister teams, all of us proudly holding our “Help the Hosts” cards and ready to work to continue to make Woo an amazing ecommerce platform wherever you choose to host it.

And obviously I can see the consumer value in that. It’s reassuring to know that the open source software we maintain or contribute to is the real deal and we’re not exporting a cut-down version nor are we going to try to do some kind of rug pull to coerce people into hosting with us. I think Automattic’s long track record shows that.

But how do we sell that? How do we explain that “hey, you can trust us to keep these separate goals separate within our company, so there’s never a conflict of interest and you getting the best from us is always what we want”? Personally, seeing the inside of Automattic, I’m convinced that we’re not – like so much of Big Tech – going to axe the things you depend upon3 or change the terms and conditions to the most-exploitative we can get away with4 or support your business just long enough to be able to undermine and consume it 5.

In short: I know that we’re the “good guys”. And I can see how this reorganisation reinforces that. But I can’t for the life of me see how we persuade the rest of the world of the fact6.

Any ideas?

Footnotes

1 I’ve been on Team Fire for a long while, which made my job title “Code Magician on Fire”, but now I’ll be on Team Desire which isn’t half as catchy a name but I’m sure they’ll make up for it by being the kinds of awesome human beings I’ve become accustomed to working alongside at Automattic.

2 Fortunately they pay me to code, not to do marketing.

3 Cough… Google.

4 Ahem… Facebook.

5 ${third_coughing_sound}… Amazon.

6 Seriously, it’s a good thing I’m not in marketing. I’d be so terrible at it. Also public relations. Did I ever tell you the story about the time that, as a result of a mix-up, I accidentally almost gave an interview to the Press Office at the Vatican? A story for another time, perhaps

Dan, wearing an Oxford-branded t-shirt, shrugs and looks confused in front of a screen showing Automattic's "Work With Us" page.× A laptop computer on a desk, showing a WordPress wp-admin page.×

[Bloganuary] Not The Lottery

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What would you do if you won the lottery?

I know what I’d do, and I’ll get to that. But first, let me tell you about the lottery game I play.

"LOTTO Schleswig-Holstein" player slip with two "series" of numbers selected: in game one, all the numbers ending 7, and the lucky stars 1 and 2; in the second game, the first five numbers (the lucky stars aren't visible).
“Why yes, my numbers are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, with lucky stars 6 and 7. What do you mean, they’ll never come up? They’re just as likely as yours!”

Not the lottery

I don’t generally play the lottery1. I’ve made interactive widgets (now broken) to illustrate quite how many losers there are in these games and hopefully help highlight that while “it could be you”… it won’t be.

But if I ever happen to be somewhere that the lottery results are being announced, I sometimes like to play a game I call Not The Lottery.2 Here’s how you play:

  1. Set aside the money it would have cost for a ticket.
  2. Think of the numbers you’d have played.
  3. When those numbers don’t come up, congratulations: you just won not-wasting-your-money!3

Want to play Not The Lottery retroactively? Cool. I’ve made and open-sourced a tool for that. Hopefully it’ll load below and you can choose some numbers (or take a Lucky Dip) and have it played through the entirety of EuroMillions history and see how much money you’d have won if you’d only played them every week. Or, to look at things from a brighter perspective, how much you’ve saved by not playing. It’s almost-certainly in the thousands.

Loading game… please wait… (if it never loads, Dan probably broke it; sorry!)

Winning the lottery

But that’s not what the question’s really about, is it? We don’t ask people “what would they do if they won the lottery?” because we think it’s likely to happen4 We ask them because… well, because it’s fun to fantasise.

And I sort-of gave the answer away on day 20 of Bloganuary: I’d do my “dream job”. I’d work (for free) for Three Rings, like I already do, except instead of spending a couple of hours a week on it on average I’d spend about ten times that. I’d use the luxury of not having to work to focus on things that I know I can do to make the world a better place.

Dan poses in the centre of a group of seven other Three Rings volunteers.
If money was no object, I’d spend more time with these happy folks (and many more besides), making volunteering easier for everybody.

Sure, there’s other things I’d do. They’re mostly obvious things that I’d hope anybody in my position would do. Pay off the mortgage (and for all the works currently being done to infuriate the dog improve the house). Arrange some kind of slow-access trust or annuity for the people closest to me so that they need not worry about money, nor about having to work out how to spend, save, or invest a lump sum. Maybe a holiday or two. Certainly some charitable donations. Perhaps buy really expensive ketchup: the finest dijon ketchup5.

But mostly I’d just want to be able to live as comfortably as I do now, or perhaps slightly more, and spend a greater proportion of my time than I already do making charities work better.

I don’t know if that makes me insufferably self-righteous or insufferably simple-minded, but it’s probably one of those.

Footnotes

1 I’ve been caught describing it as “a tax on people who are bad at maths”, but I don’t truly believe that (although I am concerned about how readily we let people get addicted to problematic gambling and then keep encouraging them to play with dark patterns that hide how low the odds truly are). I’ve even been known to buy a ticket or two, some years.

2 While writing this, I decided to retroactively play for last Friday, having not seen whatever numbers came up. I guessed only one of them. Hurrah! That means I saved £2.50 by not playing!

3 There are, of course, other possible outcomes. You could have missed out on winning a small prize – the odds aren’t that low – but the solution to this is simple: just keep playing Not The Lottery and you, as the “house”, will come out on top in the end. Alternatively, it’s just-about possible that you could pluck the jackpot numbers from thin air, in which case: well done! You’re doing better than Derren Brown when in 2009 he performed a pretty good magic trick but then turned it into a turd when he “explained” it using pseudoscience (why not just stick with “I’m a magician, duh”; when you play the Uri Geller card you just make yourself look like an idiot). Let’s find a way to use those superpowers for good. Because what you’ve got is a superpower. For context: if you played Not The Lottery twice a week, every week, without fail, for 393 years… you’d still only have a 1% chance of having ever predicted a jackpot in your five-lifetimes.

4 What if we lived in a world where we did use statistics to think about the hypothetical questions we ask people? Would we ask “what would you do if you were stuck by lightning?”, given that the lifetime chance of being killed by lightning is significantly greater than the chance of winning the jackpot, even if you play every draw!

5 Y’know, to keep in the fridge in the treehouse.

"LOTTO Schleswig-Holstein" player slip with two "series" of numbers selected: in game one, all the numbers ending 7, and the lucky stars 1 and 2; in the second game, the first five numbers (the lucky stars aren't visible).× Dan poses in the centre of a group of seven other Three Rings volunteers.×

[Bloganuary] Reading List

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What books do you want to read?

Well, I probably ought to start with my backlog! Between our traditional Family Christmas Book Exchange and my birthday, it’s pretty common for me to have a lot of books on the “next to read” pile on my bedside table, this time of year1.

A pile of books on a round-topped wooden bedside table. From top to bottom: Time's Mouth by Edan Lepucki, a slim book whose spine doesn't show a name, Bad Words by Philip Gooden, Absolute Efficiency: Book One by Neil Wilson, Market Forces by Richard Morgan, Kids on Brooms by Jonathan Gilmour, Doug Levandowski, and Spenser Starke, Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins, The New Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, and a book whose spine is turned away from the camera.
I’m enjoying Time’s Mouth, but it’s taking some time to enjoy fully. Note that my previous paragraph may be misleading: not all of these books were (recent) gifts, and not all the books I recently received as gifts are shown here. Trust nothing: or all you know an AI made the entire image based on the prompt “eclectic pile of books Dan might like”.

Aside from that: a book that I’d really like to re-read2 is Antkind by Charlie Kaufman.

Antkind is quite something. Here’s a synopsis: film critic “B.”, its protagonist, discovers an independent filmmaker who’s spent literally his entire life producing a film with a three-month runtime. The filmmaker agrees to show it to B., but only if thon3 watches it in a single sitting: the film is scripted to provide opportunities for breaks for sleep, toilet trips, eating and so on. B. watches it and discovers to be a masterpiece and the most impressive piece of art thon has even seen.

Photograph of Dan in bed, seemingly asleep with an open copy of Antkind on his face.
In local news, a man was killed today when he was crushed to death by a book after he fell asleep reading it.

Despite the arduous effort required to watch the film, B. decides that it’s a sufficiently important and significant piece of work, with great artistic merit, that it needs to be seen by the world!

Thon takes the print for distribution… and then promptly loses the entire thing in a fire. All but one frame, with which – with the addition of thon’s own memories of their single viewing of the movie – B. attempts to reconstruct and recreate. The process drives thon somewhat insane, and the story begins (continues?) to be told by an delusional and unreliable narrator in a an increasingly surreal-to-the-point-of-absurdity setting.

Page 657 of the book, featuring a number 1 footnote (indicated by a finger).
Somehow, despite everything else that might make this book confusing, the biggest headscratcher for me was this footnote reference. There are no footnotes nor endnotes in the entire volume. It’s the only such reference in the entire story. It could be a printing error or the result of some editorial cuts… but it appears in a section about the impossibility of perfectly recreating a piece of art, which makes such an “mistake” strangely fitting: is it a deliberate piece of meta-humour?

I remember getting to the bit set in the far future, where there’s a war between the employees of a fast-food chain and an endlessly replicating army of robot replicas of Donald Trump… and as I reached that part of the story I thought to myself… wait, how did I get here? Every step along the way felt like it was part of the same narrative, but if you compare what’s happening right now to what happened at the start of the story then you wouldn’t believe for a moment that they were in the same book.

It’s truly bizarre and I’m looking forward to my re-read of it4… just as soon as I can face lugging the mammoth tome off the shelf.

In other news: after doing Bloganuary for 27 straight days, this is now my longest consecutive daily streak of blogging, beating a 24-year-old record streak from late 1999! Hurrah!

Footnotes

1 Gotta admit, this was a convenient blog post to be writing from bed during a Saturday morning lie-in.

2 I keep promising myself I’ll re-read Antkind some day, and possibly blog more-deeply about my thoughts on it, but it’s been sitting on my bookshelf gathering dust since I first read it, shortly after its release. It’s too heavy to comfortably read in bed, is part of the problem! Maybe I could get the ebook version…

3 B. uses thon/thons/thonself pronouns.

4 But I’ll probably stop at reading it twice, unlike the protagonist who would, based on thon’s description of their usual film review process, read it seven times in several different ways (forward, backward, etc.).

A pile of books on a round-topped wooden bedside table. From top to bottom: Time's Mouth by Edan Lepucki, a slim book whose spine doesn't show a name, Bad Words by Philip Gooden, Absolute Efficiency: Book One by Neil Wilson, Market Forces by Richard Morgan, Kids on Brooms by Jonathan Gilmour, Doug Levandowski, and Spenser Starke, Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins, The New Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, and a book whose spine is turned away from the camera.× Photograph of Dan in bed, seemingly asleep with an open copy of Antkind on his face.× Page 657 of the book, featuring a number 1 footnote (indicated by a finger).×

[Bloganuary] Traditions

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

Write about a few of your favourite family traditions.

We’ve got a wonderful diversity of family traditions. This by virtue, perhaps, of us being a three-parent family, and so bringing 50% more different traditions and 100% less decisiveness over which to accept than a traditional two-parent family. Or it might reflect our outlook and willingness to evaluate and try new things: to experiment and adopt what works. Or perhaps we just like to be just-barely on this side of the line across the the quirky/eccentric scale1.

Posed sepia photograph of Dan, JTA, Ruth, and their children and dog, dressed in Victorian-era clothing, by a Christmas tree.
Having family photos taken in the style and dress of the Victorian era might be becoming a family tradition: this hangs proudly in our living room in the space formerly occupied by its similar predecessor from some years ago.

But there are plenty of other traditions we’ve inherited or created, such as:

  • Pancake Brunch Sundays sort-of evolved out of a fried Sunday breakfast that used to be a household tradition many years ago. If you come visit us for a weekend you’ll find you’re served pancakes (or possibly waffles) with a mixture of traditional toppings plus, usually, a weekly “feature flavour” around midday on Sunday. For no reason now other than it’s just what we do.
A boy in blue-and-brown striped pyjamas, on a table stacked with plates of waffles, slices into a birthday cake with six candles.
Sunday Brunch stops for nothing, not even birthdays.
  • Family Day is an annual event, marked on or near 3 July each year, with gifts for children and possibly an outing or trip away for everybody to enjoy. It celebrates the fact that we get to be a family together, despite forces outside of our control trying to conspire to prevent it.2
  • Family Film Night takes place most months: in rotation, the five of us take turns to nominate a film or two that we’ll all watch together along with snacks and sweet treats. It might be seen as a continuation of the pre-children tradition of Troma Night from back in the day, except that we don’t go out of our way to deliberately watch terrible films: now that happens just as a result of good or bad fortune! We also periodically schedule a Family Board Games Night, and a Family Videogames Night.
Family members read books in a living room, seen over the top of the pages of an (out of focus) book in the foreground.
Books! Books books books! BOOKS!
  • Christmas Eve Books: a tradition we stole from Iceland is that we give books on Christmas Eve. Adults in our household now don’t really get Christmas gifts, but everybody present is encouraged to exchange books on Christmas eve and then sit up late reading together, often with gingerbread, chocolate, and/or a pan of mulled wine keeping warm on the stove. I find it a fun way to keep my reading list stocked early in the year, plus it encourages the kids to read3
  • Festive meals, while I’m thinking about that end of the year, are pretty-well established. Christmas Eve is all about roast duck pancakes. Christmas Day sees me roast a goose. New Years’ Eve is for fondue. Plus vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) alternatives to the otherwise-unsuitable things, of course.

I’m certain there must be more, but the thing with family traditions is they become part of the everyday tapestry of your life after a while. Eventually traditions become hard to see them because they’re always there. I’m sure there are more “everyday rituals” that we’ve taken on that are noteworthy or interesting to outsiders but which to us are so mundane as to be unworthy of mention!

But every single one of these is something special to us. They’re an element of structure for the kids and a signifier of community to all of us. They’re routines that we’ve taken on and made “ours” as part of our collective identity as a family. And that’s just great.

Footnotes

1 Determining which side of the line I mean is left as an exercise to the reader.

2 It’s been what…? 6½ years…? And I’m still not ready even emotionally to blog about the challenges we faced, so maybe I never will. So if you missed that chapter of our lives, suffice to say: for a while, it looked like we might not get to continue being a family, and over the course of one exceptionally-difficult year it took incredible effort, resolve, sleepless nights, supportive families, and (when it came down to brass tacks) enough money and lawyers to seek justice… in order to ensure that we got to continue to be. About which we’re all amazingly grateful, and so we celebrate it.

3 Not that they need any help with that, little bookworms that they are.

Posed sepia photograph of Dan, JTA, Ruth, and their children and dog, dressed in Victorian-era clothing, by a Christmas tree.× A boy in blue-and-brown striped pyjamas, on a table stacked with plates of waffles, slices into a birthday cake with six candles.× Family members read books in a living room, seen over the top of the pages of an (out of focus) book in the foreground.×

[Bloganuary] Landslide

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What do you enjoy doing most in your leisure time?

Boo to this prompt! This Bloganuary already asked me how I like to play and about five things I do for fun; now it wants me to choose the thing I “enjoy most” from, presumably, that same set.

Dan, wearing a purple t-shirt with a WordPress logo and a Pride flag, sits in his home office and gives two "thumbs down" signs while frowning at the camera.
This prompt does not win my approval.

So I’m going to ignore this prompt.1 Instead, let’s go look up last year’s prompt from the same day:2

What is a song or poem that speaks to you and why?

Much better.

Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac.

I’ll save you looking it up: here’s a good live recording to put on while you keep reading.

At 5½ years older than me, the song’s been in my life effectively forever. But its themes of love and loss, overcoming naivety, growing up and moving on… have grown in significance to and with me as I’ve grown older. And to hear Stevie Nicks speak about it, it feels like it has for her as well, which just doubles the feeling it creates of timeless relevance.

In concert, Nicks would often dedicate the song to her father, which lead to all manner of speculation about the lyrics being about the importance of family. And there’s definitely an undertone of that in there: when in 2015 she confirmed that it was about a challenging moment of decision in her youth in which she was torn between continuing to try to “make it” as a musical act with her then-partner Lindsey Buckingham or return to education. Her father was apparently supportive of either option but favoured the latter.

Ultimately she chose the former and it worked out well for her career… although of course the pair’s romantic relationship eventually collapsed. And so the song’s lyrics, originally about indecision, grow into a new interpretation: one of sliding doors moments, of “what ifs”. In some parallel universe Stevie Nicks dropped out of Buckingham Nicks before Keith Olsen introduced Lindsey Buckingham to Mick Fleetwood, and we’d probably never have heard Landslide.3

Stevie still sings Landslide in concert, and now it feels like it’s entered its third life and lends itself a whole new interpretation. Those lyrics about turning around and looking back, which were originally about reconsidering the choices you made in your youth and the path you’d set yourself on, take on a whole new dimension when sung by somebody as they grow through their 60s and into their 70s!

In particular, coming to the song as a parent4 is a whole other thing. Its thoughts on innocence and growing-up, and watching your children do so, reminds me of my perpetual struggle with comparing myself to the best parent I know. An intergenerational effort to be my best me; to look forwards with courage and backwards with compassion for myself.

All of which is pretty awesome for a song that under other circumstances might be just a catchy twist on a classic country rock chord progression with some good singing. Sliding doors, eh?

Footnotes

1 It’s my damn blog; I can do what I want.

2 This is my first year doing Bloganuary, so I didn’t get to answer this prompt last time around.

3 Nor, for that matter, any of the other excellent songs that came out of Nicks’ and Buckingham’s strained relationship, such as Silver Springs, Second Hand News and, perhaps most-famously, Go Your Own Way. I guess sometimes you need the sad times to make the best art.

4 Nicks, of course, famously isn’t a parent, but I refer you to a 2001 interview in which she said “No children, no husband. My particular mission maybe wasn’t to be a mom and a wife. Maybe my particular mission was to write songs to make moms and wives feel better.”.

Dan, wearing a purple t-shirt with a WordPress logo and a Pride flag, sits in his home office and gives two "thumbs down" signs while frowning at the camera.×

[Bloganuary] Harcourt Manor

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

Name an attraction or town close to home that you still haven’t got around to visiting.

I live a just outside the village of Stanton Harcourt in West Oxfordshire. It’s tiny, but it’s historically-significant, and there’s one very-obvious feature that I see several times a week but have never been inside of.

Dan, wearing a black t-shirt with the words "Let's make the web a better place" on, sitting with his back to a standing stone with megalithic remains in the background.
The Old English name “Stanton” refers to the place being “by stones”, probably referring to the stone circle now known as The Devil’s Quoits, about which I’ve become a bit of a local expert (for a quick intro, see my video about them). But that’s not the local attraction I’m talking about today…

When William the Conqueror came to England, he divvied up large parts of the country and put them under the authority of the friends who helped him with his invasion, dioceses of the French church, or both. William’s half-brother Odo1 did particularly well: he was appointed Earl of Kent and got huge swathes of land (second only to the king), including the village of Stanton and the fertile farmlands that surrounded it.

Odo later fell out of favour after he considered challenging Pope Gregory VII to fisticuffs or somesuchthing, and ended up losing a lot of his lands. Stanton eventually came to be controlled by Robert of Harcourt, whose older brother Errand helped William at the Battle of Hastings but later died without any children. Now under the jurisdiction of the Harcourt family, the village became known as Stanton Harcourt.

Three stone towers stand about the height of the tallest trees in Stanton Harcourt.
These three (Normanesque) towers of Stanton Harcourt are, from left to right: the manor house kitchen, Pope’s Tower, and the tower of St. Michael’s Church. Photograph copyright Chris Brown, used under a BY-SA Creative Commons license.

The Harcourt household at Stanton in its current form dates from around the 15th/16th century. Perhaps its biggest claim to fame is that Alexander Pope lived in the tower (now called Pope’s Tower) while he was translating the Illiad into a heroic couplet-format English. Anyway: later that same century the Harcourts moved to Nuneham Courtenay, on the other side of Oxford2 the house fell into disrepair.

Woodcut print showing a mostly-intact stone structure of two or three stories in an 18th-century rural setting, with a church in the background.
A View of the Ruins of the Kitchen, and part of the Offices at Stanton-Harcourt, in the County of Oxford with a distant view of the Chappel [sic] & the Parish Church, 1764 woodcut by George Harcourt, photographed by the RA, used under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons license per their copyright policy.
In the mid-20th century the house was restored and put back into use as a family residence. A couple of decades ago it was routinely open to visitors throughout the summer months, but nowadays guests are only admitted to the chapel, tower, gardens etc. on special occasions (or, it seems, if they turn up carrying a longbow…), and I’ve not managed to take advantage of one since I moved here in 2020.

It’s a piece of local history right on my doorstep that I haven’t yet had the chance to explore. Maybe some day!

Footnotes

1 If you’ve heard of Odo before, it’s likely because he was probably the person who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, which goes a long way to explaining why he and his entourage feature so-heavily on it.

2 The place the Harcourt family moved to is next to what is now… Harcourt Arboretum! Now you know where the name comes from.

Dan, wearing a black t-shirt with the words "Let's make the web a better place" on, sitting with his back to a standing stone with megalithic remains in the background.× Three stone towers stand about the height of the tallest trees in Stanton Harcourt.× Woodcut print showing a mostly-intact stone structure of two or three stories in an 18th-century rural setting, with a church in the background.×

Dan Q temporarily disabled GC9EXXX Church Micro 14129…Sutton

This checkin to GC9EXXX Church Micro 14129...Sutton reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Cache removed and temporarily disabled. The council have just started installing new signage to advise of a new 20mph speed limit around here. 🎉

When they recently did the same in a nearby village, they removed a cache of this type as a (presumably accidental) side effect. I don’t know if this cache’s host is among those that’ll be affected but I suspect it will so I’ve temporarily removed this one as a precaution and I’ll reinstate it after the works are complete.

A 20mph "repeater" speed limit sign around the corner from the cache location.

A 20mph "repeater" speed limit sign around the corner from the cache location.×

[Bloganuary] Fun Five

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

List five things you do for fun.

This feels disappointingly like the prompt from day 2, but I’m gonna pivot it by letting my answer from three weeks ago only cover one of the five points:

  1. Code
  2. Magic
  3. Piano
  4. Play
  5. Learn

Let’s take a look at each of those, briefly.

Code

Code is poetry. Code is fun. Code is a many-splendoured thing.

This is not what real coding looks like. This is what real coding looks like.

When I’m not coding for work or coding as a volunteer, I’m often caught coding for fun. Sometimes I write WordPress-ey things. Sometimes I write other random things. I tend to open-source almost everything I write, most of it via my GitHub account.

Magic

Now I don’t work in the city centre nor have easy access to other magicians, I don’t perform as much magic as I used to. But I still try to keep my hand in and occasionally try new things; I enjoy practicing sleights when I’m doing work-related things that don’t require my hands (meetings, code reviews, waiting for the damn unit tests to run…), a tip I learned from fellow magician Andy.

My favourite go-to trick with an untampered deck of cards is my variant of the Ambitious Classic; here’s a bit from the middle of the trick from the last time I performed it in a video meeting.

You’ll usually find a few decks of cards on my desk at any given time, mostly Bikes.1

Piano

I started teaching myself piano during the Covid lockdowns as a distraction from not being able to go anywhere (apparently I’m not the only one), and as an effort to do more of what I’m bad at.2 Since then, I’ve folded about ten minutes of piano-playing3, give or take, into my routine virtually every day.

This is what piano playing looks like. But perhaps only barely.

I fully expect that I’ll never be as accomplished at it as, say, the average 8-year-old on YouTube, but that’s not what it’s about. If I take a break from programming, or meetings, or childcare, or anything, I can feel that playing music exercises a totally different part of my mind. I’d heard musicians talk about such an experience before, but I’d assumed that it was hyperbole… but from my perspective, they’re right: practicing an instrument genuinely does feel like using a part of your brain than you use for anything else, which I love!

Play

I wrote a whole other Bloganuary post on the ways in which I integrate “play” into my life, so I’ll point you at that rather than rehash anything.

A lot of my RPG-gaming takes place online, via virtual tabletops, and is perhaps the most obvious “playtime” play activities I routinely engage in.

At the weekend I dusted off Vox Populi, my favourite mod for Civilization V, my favourite4 entry in the Civilization series, which in turn is one of my favourite video game series5. I don’t get as much time for videogaming as I might like, but that’s probably for the best because a couple of hours disappeared on Sunday evening before I even blinked! It’s addictive stuff.

Learn

As I mentioned back on day 3 of bloganuary, I’m a lifelong learner. But even when I’m not learning in an academic setting, I’m doubtless learning something. I tend to alternate between fiction and non-fiction books on my bedside table. I often get lost on deep-dives through the depths of the Web after a Wikipedia article makes me ask “wait, really?” And just sometimes, I set out to learn some kind of new skill.

It’s not always wacky and off-the-wall things like basic blacksmithing that I learn. Sometimes it’s normal, practical activities like baking bread or… umm… Argentine tango?

In short: with such a variety of fun things lined-up, I rarely get the opportunity to be bored6!

Footnotes

1 I like the feel of Bicycle cards and the way they fan. Plus: the white border – which is actually a security measure on playing cards designed to make bottom-dealing more-obvious and thus make it harder for people to cheat at e.g. poker – can actually be turned to work for the magician when doing certain sleights, including one seen in the mini-video above…

2 I’m not strictly bad at it, it’s just that I had essential no music tuition or instrument experience whatsoever – I didn’t even have a recorder at primary school! – and so I was starting at square zero.

3 Occasionally I’ll learn a bit of a piece of music, but mostly I’m trying to improve my ability to improvise because that scratches an itch in a part of my brain in a way that I find most-interesting!

4 Games in the series I’ve extensively played include: Civilization, CivNet, Civilization II (also Test of Time), Alpha Centauri (a game so good I paid for it three times, despite having previously pirated it), Civilization III, Civilization IV, Civilization V, Beyond Earth (such a disappointment compared to SMAC) and Civilization VI, plus all their expansions except for the very latest one for VI. Also spinoffs/clones FreeCiv, C-Evo, and both Call to Power games. Oh, and at least two of the board games. And that’s just the ones I’ve played enough to talk in detail about: I’m not including things like Revolution which I played an hour of and hated so much I shan’t touch it again, nor either version of Colonization which I’m treating separately…

5 Way back in 2007 I identified Civilization as the top of the top 10 videogames that stole my life, and frankly that’s still true.

6 At least, not since the kids grew out of Paw Patrol so I don’t have to sit with them and watch it any more!

[Bloganuary] New Tricks

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024.1 Today’s prompt is:

If you could make your pet understand one thing, what would it be?

The strangers who we keep inviting into our house do not want to steal your toys and do not need to be “seen off”.

A champagne-coloured French Bulldog looks up from behind a fence, in a hallway.
“Somebody’s at the door! I’d better bark to see them off!”

Lately, we’ve had a lot of strangers in the house: builders, plumbers, and electricians, all working on some significant building works.

And even though she’s got to be starting to recognise the same old folks coming and going, day-in and day-out, our little pup still goes completely mental every time the builders turn up, each morning.

Composite photo showing (a) a white house clad in scaffolding and (b) a workman looking up at a large square hole that's been cut in the ceiling of a bedroom.
It’s been… a little stressful and chaotic for us all, here. Every few days a new hole appears in the house, and a new set of curious buried problems emerges (why does this pipe go here? who thought it was  good idea to wire these sockets like that?).

I get it. They come and go but don’t smell like they live here. They make a lot of noise and dust. But seriously, dog: these people aren’t going to bring us any harm2. Just chill out already!

Today we’re having one of the biggest bits of work done: the removal of the ceiling in the main hallway and the installation of a new staircase. So the dog’s spending the day… elsewhere! We’ve sent her off to play with her little doggy friends at our dogsitter’s house. It’s probably for the best.

Footnotes

1 Also, this is now my second-longest daily-streak of blogging ever. C-c-c-combo continues!

2 Some days they don’t come through the front door at all, but up the scaffolding and in through the roof: she knows they’re here from the banging sounds but not from which direction they’ll approach, and she’ll sometimes gather all of her toys into a pile and guard them… y’know, in case they’ve come here to steal all her most-valuable well-chewed playthings.

A champagne-coloured French Bulldog looks up from behind a fence, in a hallway.× Composite photo showing (a) a white house clad in scaffolding and (b) a workman looking up at a large square hole that's been cut in the ceiling of a bedroom.×