A Small World Conspiracy

I keep getting caught up on small world coincidences, since I started working at the Bodleian Library last week. I know about selective biases, of course, and I’ve always said that coincidences happen nine times out of ten, but this is really starting to feel like some kind of amazing conspiracy that I’ve somehow wandered into.

The most recent chain of connected coincidences is also probably the most impressive. But to explain it, I’ll need to take you back in time by almost three years. Back in the summer of 2008, I went to BiCon for the second time, accompanied by Claire and Matt P. Among the various other things we got up to, we met a young lady called Ann (who, if I remember rightly, got along very well with Matt).

This morning I received an email from Ann. It turns out that she works in the Bodleian Libraries: she’s likely to be one of the very users who it’s now my job to provide training and technical support to! She saw my photograph in the newsletter I mentioned in my last blog post and looked me up: small world! I emailed back, suggesting that we get together for a drink after work, and she agreed: great! She also asked if she could bring a friend along, a colleague from the library. Sure, I said, sounds good.

This lunchtime I sorted out some of my holiday entitlement for the rest of this academic year. I booked off a few days for a Three Rings “code week” in the summer, and a couple of days around the time that I’ll be moving house next month. One of these days clashed with a meeting that I’d had planned with the Web/Digital Officer of one of the libraries (I’m doing a grand tour of many of the libraries that comprise the Bodleian, in order to meet all the relevant people), so I sent an email to this staff member to ask if we could reschedule our meeting to another time.

“Okay,” they said, “But I think I’m meeting you in the pub in 90 minutes anyway…”

It turns out that the person whose meeting I’ve asked to reschedule is the friend of the person who recognised me from the staff newsletter, having originally met me three years ago. Out of all of the people (I’m not sure how many exactly – it’s probably in the staff handbook I haven’t read yet – but I’ll bet it’s a lot) that are employed by this, the largest university library in the UK, what are the odds?

BiCon: The Game

I shan’t be at BiCon this year, but I thought I’d share with you all something that tickled me today. Last year, at a Naked Lunch, I ended up chatting to several geeks about Interactive Fiction, and I through out a few ideas for a BiCon-themed piece of Interactive Fiction. Little did I know that this idea had sunk in, and cogs had begun to turn…

Rach has just released BiCon 2010: The Game, and it fully embodies everything that’s fabulous about BiCon. It’s also a really good bit of IF, for a first full adventure, and involves some fascinating hacking of the gender pronouns system for Inform. I tip my hat to the author.

(there’s some discussion going on about the game on the BiCon LiveJournal community)

The 17 Blog Posts That Weren’t

It may come as a surprise to you that the stuff I write about on my blog – whether about technology, dreams, food, film, games, relationships, or my life in general – isn’t actually always written off-the-cuff. To the contrary, sometimes a post is edited and re-edited over the course of weeks or months before it finally makes it onto the web. When I wrote late last year about some of my controversial ideas about the ethics (or lack thereof) associated with telling children about Santa Claus, I’m sure that it looked like it had been inspired by the run-up to Christmas. In actual fact, I’d begun writing it six months earlier, as summer began, and had routinely visited and revisited it from time to time until I was happy with it, which luckily coincided with the Christmas season.

As an inevitable result of this process, it’s sometimes the case that a blog post is written or partially-written and then waits forever to be finished. These forever-unready, never-published articles are destined to sit forever in my drafts folder, gathering virtual dust. These aren’t the posts which were completed but left unpublished – the ones where it’s only upon finishing writing that it became self-evident that this was not for general consumption – no, the posts I’m talking about are those which honestly had a chance but just didn’t quite make it to completion.

Well, today is their day! I’ve decided to call an amnesty on my incomplete blog posts, at long last giving them a chance to see the light of day. If you’ve heard mention of declaring inbox bankruptcy, this is a similar concept: I’m sick of seeing some of these blog articles which will never be ready cluttering up my drafts folder: it’s time to make some space! Let the spring cleaning begin:

Title: Typically Busy
Unpublished since: March 2004
Unpublished because:
Better-expressed by another post, abandoned

In this post, I talk about how busy my life is feeling, and how this is pretty much par for the course. It’s understandable that I was feeling so pressured: at the time we were having one of our particularly frenetic periods at SmartData, I was fighting to finish my dissertation, and I was trying to find time to train for my upcoming cycle tour of Malawi. The ideas I was trying to express later appeared in a post entitled I’m Still In Aber. Yay, in a much more-optimistic form.

Title: Idloes, Where Art Thou?
Unpublished since: June 2004
Unpublished because: Got distracted by rebuilding the web server on which my blog is hosted, after a technical fault

In anticipation of my trip to Malawi, I was prescribed an anti-malarial drug, Lariam, which – in accordance with the directions – I began taking daily doses of several weeks before travelling. It seemed silly in the long run; I never even saw a single mosquito while I was over there, but better safe than sorry I suppose. In any case, common side-effects of Lariam include delusions, paranoia, strange dreams, hallucinations, and other psychological
effects. I had them in spades, and especially the weird trippy dreams.

This blog post described what could have been one of those dreams… or, I suppose, could have just been the regular variety of somewhat-strange dream that isn’t uncommon for me. In the dream I was living back in Idloes, a tall Aberystwyth townhouse where I’d rented a room during 2002/2003. In the dream, the house caught fire one night, and my landlady, Anne, was killed. Apparently the fire was started by her electric blanket.

Title: Are We Alone In The Universe?
Unpublished since: March 2006
Unpublished because: Never finished, beaten to the punchline

Here’s an example of an article that I went back to, refining and improving time and time again over a period of years, but still never finished. I was quite pleased with the direction it was going, but I just wasn’t able to give it as much time as it needed to reach completion.

The Drake Equation

In the article, I examine the infamous Drake Equation, which estimates the likelihood of there being intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy (more specifically, it attempts to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations “out there”). Which is all well and good, but the only way to put the formula into practice is to effectively pull unknowable numbers out of the air and stuff them into the equation to get, in the end, whatever answer you like. The only objective factors in the entire equation are those relating to the number of stars in the galaxy, and everything else is pure conjecture: who honestly thinks that they can estimate the probability of any given species reaching sentience?

The post never got finished, and I’ve since seen other articles, journals, and even stand-up comedians take apart the Drake Equation in a similar way to that which I intended, so I guess I’ve missed the boat, now. If you want to see the kind of thing I was working on, here it is but better-written. I wonder what the probability is that a blog post will never end up being published to the world?

Title: Why Old People Should Be Grumpy
Unpublished since: October 2006
Unpublished because: Never finished, possibly bullshit

In this post, I put forward a theory that grumpy old people are a positive sign that a nation is making just enough change to not be stagnant: something about the value of keeping older people around crossed with the importance of taking what they say with a pinch of salt, because it’s not them that has to live in the world of tomorrow. I can’t even remember what the point was that I was trying to make, and my notes are scanty, but I’m sure it was a little bit of a one-sided argument for social change with an underdeveloped counter-argument for social stability.

In any case, I left it for years and eventually gave up on it.

Title: The Games That Didn’t Make The List
Unpublished since: July 2007
Unpublished because: I could have kept refining it forever and still never finish it

After my immensely popular list of 10 Computer Games That Stole My Life, I received a great deal of feedback – either as direct feedback in the form of comments or indirectly in other people’s blogs. Reading through this feedback got me thinking about computer games that had stolen my life which I hadn’t mentioned. Not wanting to leave them out, I put together a list of “games that didn’t make the list”: i.e. games which could also have been said to steal my life, but which I didn’t think of when I wrote my original top ten. They included:

  • Castles and Castles 2
    The original Castles was one of the first non-free PC computer games I ever owned (after Alley Cat, that golf game, and the space command/exploration game whose name I’ve been perpetually unable to recall). It was a lot of fun; a well-designed game of strategy and conquest. Later, I got a copy of Castles 2 – an early CD-ROM title, back before developers knew quite what to do with all that space – which was even better: the same castle-building awesomeness but with great new diplomacy and resource-management exercises, as well as siege engines and the ability to launch your own offensives. In the end, getting Civilization later in the same year meant that it stole more of my time, but I still sometimes dig out Castles 2 and have a quick game, from time to time.
  • Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates!
    Early during the development of Three Rings, I came across an existing company with the name Three Rings Design, based in the US. Their major product is a game called Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, an MMOG in which players – as pirates – play puzzle games in order to compete at various tasks (you know, piratey tasks: like sailing, drinking, and swordfighting). Claire and I both got quite deeply involved during the beta, and played extensively, even forming our own crew, The Dastardly Dragons, at one point, and met some fascinating folks from around the world. When the beta came to an end we both took advantage of a “tester’s bonus” chance to buy lifetime subscriptions, which we both barely used. Despite the fact that I’ve almost never played the game since then, it still “stole my life” in a quite remarkable way for some time, and my experience with this (as well as with the Ultima Online beta, which I participated in many years earlier) has shown me that I should never get too deeply involved with MMORPGs again, lest they take over my life.
  • Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
    As a Civilization fan, I leapt on the chance to get myself a copy of Alpha Centauri, and it was awesome. I actually pirated my first copy of the game, copying it from a friend who I studied with, and loved it so much that I wrapped up the cash value of the game in an envelope and sent it directly to the development team, asking them to use it as a “beer fund” and have a round on me. Later, when I lost my pirated copy, I bought a legitimate copy, and, later still, when I damaged the disk, bought another copy, including the (spectacular) add-on pack. Alpha Centauri is the only game I’ve ever loved so much that I’ve paid for it three times over, despite having stolen it, and it was worth every penny. Despite its age, I still sometimes dig it out and have a game.
  • Wii Sports Tennis – Target Training
    Perhaps the most recent game in the list, this particular part of the Wii Sports package stole my life for weeks on end while I worked up to achieving a coveted platinum medal at it, over the course of several weeks. I still play it once in a while: it’s good to put on some dance music and leap around the living room swinging a Wiimote to the beat.
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon 2
    In the comments to my original post, Rory reminded me of these games which stole my life during my first couple of years at University (and his, too!). RCT2, in particular, ate my time for years and still gets an occassional play out of me – but was pipped to the post by OpenTTD, of course.
  • X-COM series
    Another series of games which hooked me while I was young and stayed with me as I grew, the X-COM series (by which – of course – I mean Enemy Unknown, Terror From The Deep, and Apocolypse; not Interceptor and certainly not that modern travesty, Aftermath). Extremely difficult, each of them took me months or years before I completed them, and I’ve still never finished Apocalypse on anything higher that the lowest-two difficulty settings.

I wanted to write more and include more games, but by the time I’d made as much progress as I had, above, the moment felt like it had passed, so I quietly dropped the post. I suppose I’ve now shared what I was thinking, anyway.

Title: Rational Human Interaction
Unpublished since: September 2007
Unpublished because: Too pretentious, even for me; never completed

I had some ideas about how humans behave and how their rationality and their emotions can conflict, and what this can mean. And then I tried to write it down and I couldn’t find a happy medium between being profound and insightful and being obvious and condescending. Later, I realised that I was tending towards the latter and, besides, much of what I was writing was too self-evident to justify a blog post, so I dropped it.

Title: Long Weekend
Unpublished since: April 2008
Unpublished because: Too long, too wordy, and by the time it was nearing completion it was completely out of date

This post was supposed to be just an update about what was going on in my life and in and around Aber at the time. But as anybody who’s neglected their blog for more than a little while before may know, it can be far too easy to write about everything that’s happened in the interim, and as a result end up writing a blog post that’s so long that it’ll never be finished. Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, the highlights of the post – which is all that it should have consisted of, ultimately – were as follows:

  • It was the Easter weekend on 2008, and town had gone (predictably) quiet, as many of my friends took the opportunity to visit family elsewhere, and there was a particular absence of tourists this year. Between Matt being in Cornwall, Sarah being out-of-town, and Ruth, JTA, Gareth and Penny off skiing (none of them wrote anything about it, so no post links there), it felt a little empty at our Easter Troma Night, which was rebranded a Troma Ultralite as it had only two of the requisite four people present: not even the three needed for a Troma Lite! Similarly, our Geek Night only had four attendees (but that did include Paul, unusually).
  • Claire and I took a dig through her wardrobe about found that of the skirts and dresses that she famously never wears, she owns over two dozen of them. Seriously.
  • I played and reviewed Turning Point: Fall Of Liberty, which turned out to be a second-rate first-person shooter with a reasonably clever alternate history slant. I’m a fan of alternate histories in video games, so this did a good job of keeping me amused over the long bank holiday weekend.
  • Paul and I were arranging for a beach-fire-barbeque with Ruth and JTA when they got back, to which we even anticipated attendence from the often-absent not-gay-Gareth.
  • And finally, I had something to say about Jimmy‘s recent experiences in Thailand, but that’s as far as my draft went and I don’t remember what I had planned to say…

Title: Confused And Disoriented
Unpublished since: April 2008
Unpublished because: Never finished; abandoned

Having received mixed feedback about my more-unusual dreams over the years, I’ve taken to blogging about a great number of them in order to spread the insanity and let others comment on quite how strange my subconscious really is. This was to be one of those posts, and it catalogued two such unusual dreams.

In the first, I was at my grandma’s funeral (my grandma had died about two years earlier). A eulogy was given by both my mum and – confusingly – by Andy R. Afterwards, the crowd present booed them.

In the second, I revisited a place that I’ve dreamed of many times before, and which I think is a reference to some place that I found as a young child, but have never been able to determine the location of since. In this recurring theme I crawl through a tunnel (possibly of rock, as in a ruined castle) to reach a plateau (again, ruined castle-like), from which I am able to shuffle around to a hidden ledge. I have such vivid and strong memories of this place, but my faith in my own memory is shaken by the very “dreamlike” aspects of the event: the tunnel, the “secret place”, as well as the fact that it has appeared in my dreams time and time again for over 15 years. Perhaps it never existed at all: memory is a fragile and malleable thing, and it’s possible that I made it up entirely.

Some parts of it are less dream-like. For example, I’m aware that I’ve visited this place a number of times at different ages, and that I found it harder to fit through the tunnel to re-visit my secret childhood hiding place when I was older and larger.

A few years ago, I spoke to my mum about this dream, and described the location in great detail and asked where it might be, and she couldn’t think of anywhere. It’s strange to have such a strong and profound memory that I can’t justify through the experience of anybody else, and which consistently acts as if it were always just a dream. Maybe it’s real, and maybe it isn’t… but it’s beginning to sound like I’ll never know for sure.

Title: The Code In The School
Unpublished since:May 2008
Unpublished because: Never finished; abandoned

Another dream, right after Troma Night 219, where it seems that the combination of the beer and the trippy nature of the films we watched inspired my brain to run off on a tangent of it’s own:

In the dream, I was visiting a school as an industrialist (similarly to how I had previously visited Gregynog on behalf of the Computer Science department at Aberystwyth University in 2005, 2006 and 2007). While there, I was given a challenge by one of the other industrialists to decipher a code represented by a number of coloured squares. A basic frequency analysis proved of no value because the data set was too small, but I was given a hint that the squares might represent words (sort of like early maritime signal flags). During mock interviews with the students, I used the challenge as a test, to see if I could get one of them to do it for me, without success. Later in the dream I cracked the message, but I’m afraid I didn’t make a record of how I did so or what the result was.

A particularly famous message represented in maritime signal flags (click for bigger version)

Title: Absence

Unpublished since: May 2008
Unpublished because: Forgotten about; abandoned

At the beginning of the long, hot summer of 2008, I wrote about the immenent exodus of former students (and other hangers-on) from Aberystwyth, paying particular attention to Matt P and to Ele, who left for good at about this time. And then I forgot that I was writing about it. But Matt wrote about leaving and Ele wrote about being away, anyway, so I guess my post rapidly became redundant, anyway.

Title: =o(
Unpublished since: June 2008
Unpublished because: Too negative; unfinished

I don’t even know what I was complaining about, but essentially this post was making an excuse to mope for a little while before I pull myself together and get things fixed. And that’s all that remains. It’s possible that it had something to do with this blog post, but without context I’ve no idea what that one was about, too. Sounds like it was about an argument, and so I’m happier just letting it go, whatever it was, anyway.

Title: Spicy Yellow Split Pea Soup
Unpublished since: November 2008
Unpublished because: Got lazy; unfinished

I came up with a recipe for a delicious spicy yellow split pea soup, and wanted to share it with you, so I made myself the stub of a blog entry to remind myself to do so. And then I didn’t do so. Now I don’t even remember the recipe. Whoops!

In any case, the moral is that pulses make great soup, as well as being cheap and really good for you, and are especially tasty as the days get shorter and winter tightens it’s icy grip. Also that you shouldn’t leave just a title for a blog post for yourself and expect to fill it in afterwards, because you won’t.

Title: (untitled)
Unpublished since: December 2008
Unpublished because: Too busy building, configuring, and working on my new PC, ironically

December is, according to Rory, the season for hardware failures, and given that alongside his troubles, Ruth’s laptop died and Paul’s computer started overheating, all at the same time, perhaps he’s right. So that’s when my long-serving desktop computer, Dualitoo, decided to kick the bucket as well. This was a particularly awkward time, as I was due to spend a weekend working my arse off towards a Three Rings deadline. Thankfully, with the help of friends and family, I was able to pull forward my plans to upgrade anyway and build myself a new box, Nena (which I continue to use to this day).

I began to write a blog post about my experience of building a computer using only local shops (I was too busy to be able to spare the time to do mail order, as I usually would), but I was unfortunately too busy building and then using – in an attempt, ultimately successful, to meet my deadline – my new computer to be able to spare time to blogging.

But I did learn some valuable things about buying components and building a mid-to-high spec computer, in Aberystwyth, all in one afternoon:

  1. Daton Computers are pretty much useless. Actual exchange:
    “Hi, I need to buy [name of component], or another [type of component] with [specification of component].”
    “Well, you’ll need to bring your computer in for us to have a look at.”
    “Umm; no – I’m building a computer right now: I have [other components], but I really need a [name of component] or something compatible – can you help?”
    “Well, not without looking at the PC first.”
    “WTF??? Why do you need to look at my PC before you can sell me a [type of component]?”
    “So we can tell what’s wrong.”
    “But I know what’s wrong! I only took the shrink-wrap off the [other components] this morning: all I need is a [type of component], because I don’t have one! Now can you sell one to me or not?”
    “Well, not without -”
    /Dan exits/
  2. Crosswood Computers are pretty much awesome. Actual exchange:
    “Hi, remember me? I was in here this morning.”
    “Yeah: how’s the rebuild going?”
    “Not bad, but I’ve realised that I’m short by a [type of cable]: do you sell them?”
    “We’re out of stock right now, but I’ve got some left-over ones in the back; you can have one for free.”
    /Dan wins/
  3. It’s possible to do this, but not recommended. The local stores, and in particular Crosswood, are great, but when time allows it’s still preferable to do your component-shopping online.

I later went on to write more about Nena, when I had the time.

Title: Child Porn
Unpublished since: April 2009
Unpublished because: Never finished; too much work in writing this article

I had planned to write an article about the history of child pornography, starting well before Operation Ore and leading up to the present day, and to talk about the vilification of paedophiles (they’re the new terrorists!) – to the point where evidence is no longer as important as the severity of the alleged crime (for particularly awful examples of this kind of thinking, I recommend this article). I’m all in favour of the criminalisation of child abuse, of course, but I think it’s important that people understand the difference between the producers and the consumers of child porn, as far as a demonstrable intent to cause harm is concerned.

Anyway, the more I read around the subject, the more I realised that nothing I could write would do justice to the topic, and that others were already saying better what I was thinking, so I abandoned the post.

Title: 50 Days On An EeePC 1000
Unpublished since: May 2009
Unpublished because: By the time I was making progress, it had been more like 150 days

Earlier in the year, I’d promised that I’d write a review of my new notebook, an Asus EeePC 1000. I thought that a fun and engaging way to do that would be to write about the experience of my first 50 days using it (starting, of course, with reformatting it and installing a better operating system than the one provided with it).

Of course, by the time I’d made any real progress on the article, it was already well-past 50 days (in fact, I’d already changed the title of the post twice, from “30 Days…” to “40 Days…” and then again to “50 Days…”). It’s still a great laptop, although I’ve used it less than I expected over the last nine months or so (part of my original thinking was to allow me to allow Claire to feel like she’d reclaimed the living room, which was being taken over by Three Rings) and in some ways it’s been very-recently superceded by my awesome mobile phone.

Title: El De-arr
Unpublished since: September 2009
Unpublished because: Too waffley; couldn’t be bothered to finish it; somewhat thrown by breaking up with Claire

Over the years I’ve tried a handful of long-distance romantic relationships, and a reasonable number of short-distance ones, and, in general, I’ve been awful at the former and far better at the latter. In this blog post I wrote about my experience so far of having a long-distance relationship with Ruth and what was making it work (and what was challenging).

I’m not sure where I was going with it in the first place, but by the time Claire and I broke up I didn’t have the heart to go back into it and correct all of the references to her and I, so I dropped it.

Title: Knowing What I’m Talking About
Unpublished since: October 2009
Unpublished because: Never finished; got distracted by breaking up with Claire

On the tenth anniversary since I started doing volunteer work for emotional support helplines (starting with a Nightline, and most recently for Samaritans), I wrote about a talk I gave at BiCon 2009 on the subject of “Listening Skills for Supporting Others”. It was a little under-attended but it went well, and there was some great feedback at the end of it. I’d helped out with a workshop entitled “Different Approaches to Polyamory” alongside fire_kitten, but strangely it was this, the workshop whose topic should be that which I have the greater amount of experience in, that made me nervous.

This blog post was supposed to be an exploration of my personal development over the previous decade and an examination of what was different about giving this talk to giving countless presentations at helpline training sessions for years that made me apprehensive. I think it could have been pretty good, actually. Unfortunately a lot of blog posts started around this time never ended up finished as I had other concerns on my plate, but I might come back to this topic if I give a similar presentation at a future conference.

So there we have it: a big cleanse on my perpetually unfinished blog posts. I’ve still got about eight drafts open, so there’s a reasonable chance that I might finish some of them, some day: but failing that, I’ll wait until another decade or so of blogging is up and I’ll “purge” them all again, then.

And if you had the patience to read all of these – these “17 blog posts in one” – well, thanks! This was more about me than about you, so I don’t mind that plenty of you will have just scrolled down to the bottom and read this one sentence, too.

× × × ×

Post-BiCon Disasters

It’s not all fun and games, though. In fact, it feels like it’s going to be one of those weeks.

  • When I got back from BiCon, I discovered that somehow, in my absence, my fridge/freezer has gotten turned down to the lowest setting, turning it from a chilled box into a room-temperature cupboard, and turning everything inside it from tasty food to rotten mulch.
  • I’d have loved to have cleaned it out and generally sorted out my unpacking and things already, but I’d completely forgotten that I’d made commitments for Monday night, which themselves overran. And they themselves weren’t full of hugs and rainbows, but were the other kind of commitments.
  • Then, this morning, I got a call from another BiCon attendee, by proxy, to say, “Yeah, you know how you hugged me? Well it turns out I’m carrying around an infestation of headlice, thanks to my kids. Umm… sorry?” Of all of the communicable diseases to contract at BiCon, who’d have thought that headlice would be the one to look out for.
  • And on top of it all, it looks like it’s going to be a busy, busy work week.

It’s not all bad, though. Ruth‘s been immensely helpful in fixing the fridge situation, even in my absence (work etc.), and was also kind enough to poke through my hair with a nit-comb to check for any nasty creepy-crawlies (she didn’t find any, yay!).

BiCon 2009

This weekend, I was at BiCon 2009 (my third BiCon – I guess that makes it a tradition), and it was awesome. Here’s a short summary of the highs and lows:


Worcester’s closer than I remembered, and – once Claire‘d gotten used to the Vauxhall Astra we’d rented – we made good time there and back. It’s a really simple journey, really – you just drive along the A44 until you get there, and then you stop (well, okay, there’s a brief stretch on the A470 near Rhayader, but that doesn’t really count, does it?). The biggest difficulty we had was on the University of Worcester campus itself, which is a maze of twisty little passageways, all alike.

University of Worcester campus residential area


The usual student halls affair, although with rooms far larger and kitchens far better-equipped than those in, say, Penbryn. Also, the organisers must have run out of regular rooms, because the flat Claire and I were in had en-suite rooms, which was an unexpected luxury.

An interesting quirk in the halls of residence at Worcester is that they’re very, very keen on motion-sensor-activated lighting with very short timers. The lights in the hallway outside my room would come on for barely seconds, and when I first checked in, I’d only just worked out which was my door and dug my key out of my pocket before I was plunged into darkness and had to leap around to get the attention of the sensor and get the lights back on. The one in the kitchen was even worse – while playing board games on the first night, we eventually grabbed an anglepoise lamp from one of the study bedrooms to use, as it was simply too frustrating to begin your turn right as the lights turn off, and have to wait for a few seconds until your movement is enough to turn them back on again.

On the other extreme, the light (and the – noisy – linked extractor fan) in my bathroom was so sensitive that it would turn on if I so little as walked outside the door to my bathroom, while it was closed, and often wouldn’t turn off for several hours.


Registration was the usual fun and games, with less time than usual setting up our badges in accordance with the “sticker code” (sort of a handkerchief code, but with a key and an atmosphere of being a little more playful). As usual the sticker code started small (and, unusually, with a distinct and separate “official” code) and expanded over the course of the weekend, such that by the end of the conference it looked like this:

The sticker code at BiCon 2009

I didn’t spend very long on my badge and stickers this year: just enough to get a core message across… plus a not-on-the-key “Q scrabble tile”, as a reference both to being a board gamer and to Claire and I’s unusual surname. There’s probably at least half a dozen others I could have legitimately added to my pass.

My BiCon 2009 badge

To save you squinting at the pictures (or clicking on them to see bigger ones: that’s allowed, too), I’ll decode my badge for you: polyamorous, likes hugs, possibly available (as in: I’m theoretically open to new relationships, but seriously – where would I find the time?), and the aforementioned “Q scrabble tile” and another “Q” that I found in the sticker stash.

Claire volunteered for a shift of reception desk duties, which is cool, because they’re always in need of more folks there.

Other People’s Workshops

I didn’t go to as many workshops as I have in previous years: many of the things I was interested in clashed with one another, and other slots were simply full of topics that didn’t catch my attention. Also, I’ve found that going to a workshop in “every other” timeslot is a perfectly good way to get by, and spending the alternating periods hanging out, meeting people, and playing board games is a great way to keep energy levels up in the otherwise quite draining busy-ness of BiCon.

  • Right at the start of the conference, I narrowly missed going to Genital Show & Tell, which I later heard was awesome – I’d gotten carried away talking to people and got there after they’d locked the door, putting a sign up on it that read “This workshop is closed. Sorry.” and underneath which somebody had added “Yes, it is possible to have too many genitals in one place!”
  • I enjoyed Fun & Games, at which Ele joined me and we shouted lots of rude words, although never in as articulate a fashion as Nomad.
  • Went to the Smutty Bisexual Storytelling workshop for the first time this year, and it was amazing: huge thanks to the amazing Jacqui (is that spelled right?) for that fabulous (hot!) session.
  • Loved the talk and the discussion at the Quaker Marriage workshop (much thanks to the facilitator, whose low-key online presence suggests might prefer to remain unidentified), and the fabulous religion/marriage/sexuality conversation I had afterward with another participant in that workshop.
  • Hung out at two of the three scheduled Naked Lunches, at which I enjoyed bonding with several other (naked) geeks over a shared love of Interactive Fiction. Who’d have thought?

My Workshops

This year was the first year that I ran a workshop (last year’s impromptu purity test party doesn’t count), and, because I like a challenge, I ran two:

  • Alongside “fire_kitten“, I got bullied into (well, okay, I sorta promised) running a workshop entitled Different Approaches To Polyamory. As the only official poly-workshop on the programme (that’s why I offered!), it was somewhat over-subscribed, and we actually ended up with almost a quarter of the conference attendees present, and for part of the workshop we had to split them between two rooms. A lot of people grabbed me later during the conference and thanked me for the workshop, which was pleasing, especially as I did very, very little: mostly I gave the participants some conversation topics and split them up into groups, and chaired a bit of a chat about it all at the beginning and at the end. But if it worked, it worked, and it sounds like it worked.
  • When I’d first heard that there was a minor shortage of workshops, I felt compelled to provide one, but I couldn’t think of anything that I knew enough about to stand up and talk about, that people might actually be interested in hearing about. And then I thought of something. I did my other workshop on Listening Skills for Supporting Others, and it also went really well. It was a little under-subscribed, probably because it was timetabled against the time that many people will have been preparing their BiCon Ball costumes (hell, if I’d have been doing so at that time, it’d have made things a lot faster and easier for me!). However, it got some fantastic feedback, even from folks who seemed skeptical at the beginning that any good could be done by listening and supporting feelings, rather than by providing practical help.

BiCon Ball

The theme of the BiCon Ball was Crime and Punishment, and so there were – predictably – plenty of burglars with swag-bags, police officers, superheroes and villains, and the like. The standard of body-painting was even better than normal (a number of people opted to wear virtually nothing, instead being painted as, for example, Wonderwoman, who didn’t wear much to begin with).

Just to be that little bit different – and to take a metaphor to it’s illogical extreme in our characteristic manner – Claire and I decided to actually dress as a crime itself. She dressed as a salt shaker and I dressed as a Duracell D-Cell, and together we were… a salt and battery. Get it? Everybody else we spoke to that evening did, too, eventually, although many of them needed some prompting.

Dan & Claire on the way to the Ball

And There’s More…

Other highlights and notable moments include:

  • The “settling in” period seemed a little worse than usual this year than last year. Somehow it took me a little while longer than normal to “get into the BiCon groove” and to start appreciating BiCon for the heap of awesome that it really is. It’s always challenging jumping into that environment, and that’s to be expected, but something made it a little slower this year. Perhaps the lack of a beer in my hand!
  • Thoroughly enjoyed the last-minute late-night picnic party we helped kick-off after the BiCon Ball. Some of the coolest people at BiCon found their way to the quad not far from the students union, carrying their leftover food supplies, and we broke bread and exchanged hugs and chatted and it was fabulous. After all that and one thing and another, I finally got to bed at almost 4am, knackered but happy.
  • Discovered some cool new board games that might be finding their way to a Geek Night near you (assuming you live in Aberystwyth) soon, including Frank’s Zoo, Snatch, and Type Trumps (Top Trumps, but with typefaces; yes really).
  • Feeling like I’d helped make BiCon a success by volunteering to do a variety of bits and pieces (like the workshops, above) and generally being useful. It feels great to contribute back to the event and the community.
  • Katie managing to accidentally break a pool cue between her breasts. I didn’t even know that such a thing was possible (apparently, it’s left quite a bruise, and I’m not surprised).
  • Catching up (albeit only in passing) with Henri and Pascale, with whom we shared accommodation at our very first BiCon.
  • Spending an hour and a bit chatting to somebody who seemed to coincidentally know their way intimately around pretty much every interest I’ve thrown myself at over the last twelve months. But better. The killer was when it turned out that she spoke Esperanto better than me (if it’s any consolation, she made up for knowing everything by being gorgeous).
  • Watching another somebody dancing. Honestly, I could have watched him all night.
  • Everyone seemed to like the campus, which is cool (presumably they didn’t have rooms with extractor fans that whirred until three in the morning, which is quite irritating if you happen to have gone to bed before then, which happens sometimes).
  • Didn’t see as much of my flatmates as usual, which is a pity, because it included some fabulous people.
  • Having common sense. Knowing what to say yes to, and what to say no to, and why both are okay.
  • Not too bad a “coming down” post-BiCon period, this time.

Right; that’ll have to do for a BiCon 2009 Roundup, because Ruth‘s cooking me dinner so I need to go eat.

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BiCon 2009 Registration Is Open!

It’s that time of year again: registration for BiCon 2009 is now open! Claire and I will be going, as usual (and, in accordance with the tradition, as this’ll be our third year on the trot, it’ll become tradition that we go), and you’re welcome to come, too! Yes, you!

Rather than re-hash an old post, I’ll just link to some of the things I’ve said before about how great it is, and why you should come along. If you’re interested, leave a comment or get in touch with me privately and I’ll make sure you get to come along (or, of course, you could just turn up, but this way you’re more likely to get to share a flat with us for the weekend).

Prices this year start at £97 – for three nights regular accomodation plus event passes for Thursday afternoon, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning plus the inevitable post-conference faffing – and it’s 20th-23rd August 2009, at the University of Worcester, so nice and central and not too much of a trek whether you’re hitching a ride with us from Aberystwyth or making your own way there.

Here’s me telling you why you should come along, if you’re not convinced:

If you’re not persuaded to come, but you think you’d like to be, get in touch!

Pictures From The Weekend

I couldn’t (easily) post these pictures while out-and-about, so I thought I’d share them now:

The tailbackon the M6. That’s a serious amount of traffic at a complete standstill, and people million about on the carriageway. In the distance, in the first one, you can just about make out the tops of the emergency services vehicles, despite the low resolution of the picture.

Gareth and Penny’s birthday cakes. Gareth’s is decorated with a small place flying across a blue sky, while Penny’s is shaped like a fairytale castle.

This was the moment during their recollection of their boating holiday that Matt suddenly realised that what Liz was telling him about a “steaking incident” was actually true and not something he’d dreamt.

Claire, Jimmy, and Beth. I don’t think Beth approves of this photo being taken.

A fabulous example of BiCon’s non-assuming, gender-doesn’t-really-matter thinking, in the form of the signs on the toilet doors. Behind these, the secondary signs are the same, except the the “Toilets with urinals” sign has had appended to it “Standing up okay,” and the “Toilets without urinals” sign has had appended to it “Standing up okay, put you might end up pissing on the seat.”

Not only a transgender-friendly statement, these signs also function as a reminder that in an environment where your gender is one preferred by not 50% but closer to 95% of the people present, imposing privacy by something as arbitary as gender is even more pointless than it is in the rest of the world.

The organisers of BiCon run a census each year. I think this photograph of a small part of the survey really does reflect “BiCon thinking” when it comes to the definition of gender and sexuality. One question reads “What term(s) do you use to describe your gender?”, with the following options – female only, female mostly, female somewhat more, female/male equally, male somewhat more, male mostly, male only, none/no gender, androgynous, genderqueer, other (please specify). Where almost any other survey would provide in the region of two mutually-exclusive choices, BiCon’s survey provides 10, which can be used in combination, and the space to define an answer yourself if you’re not satisfied with those available.

BiCon attendees are encouraged to decorate their name badge with stickers showing their affiliation to various groups, causes, ideologies, relationship structures, fetishes, etc. These make really good conversation-starters, but the list on the first day – with about six different “codes” – tends to have no bearing on the final-day list, fully-expanded by people adding their own codes and encouraging one another to make use of them. Click on the list to zoom in.

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Back From BiCon

Just got back the The Cottage after the drive home from BiCon. Where’d we get to at the end of the previous post…? Ah, yes…

Naked Lunch Saturday was amazingly oversubscribed. One attendee, a regular to Naked Lunches for the last 10 years or so, described his experience of coming into the room and, at the sight of so many people, briefly thought he’d come into the wrong room up until he noticed that everybody was naked. I skipped the next workshop slot for a nookie-and-nap break, because both Claire and I were beginning to suffer from the heat and exhaustion, as well as being in anticipation of having to be more wakeful for the journey up to Manchester and the party that’d be waiting for us there.

The run up to Manchester could have gone better. Sure, the M6 Toll was zippy as always, but two minor fuck-ups slowed us down. Firstly, I made a miserable failure of navigating our way to Beth‘s house (the map didn’t show all the no-right-turns on Leicester’s ring road). Secondly, we got caught only about 35 metres behind a five-car pile-up on the M6. All the lanes were completely closed and people were outside their vehicles, milling about on the motorway. Eventually the emergency services, having rocketed along the hard shoulder past us, were able to clear a lane for us, and we were able to carry on. I’ve got a fab picture of the tailback with people standing around on the carriageway.

We finally reached the airfield where Penny and Gareth‘s party was being held. I’m not sure, but somehow a flying school with a fully-stocked bar seems like a bad idea to me. In any case, we drank a lot and ate barbecued food and did a “pub quiz” and ate fabulous cake.

It was really nice to be able to catch up with folks like Liz, Bryn, Matt R, Matt P, Jimmy (although he’s coming back to Aber soon!), Beth, and – of course – Gareth and Penny. I don’t see enough of these guys these days. It was really great to catch up and share drinks and stories with them.

Being at BiCon had rubbed off on me, of course, and a side-effect of this was that I kept looking for the name badges (and accompanying “sticker code”) of strangers at the party, which of course they didn’t have.

We made great time on the motorway back down to BiCon, rocketing our way back down the M6 and reaching Leicester at almost 2am. We dropped off Beth at her house (far easier to find with her in the car giving directions, although still not as simple as you’d expect given that she’s lived in the town since she was 2 years old), because we couldn’t manage to persuade her to accompany us back to BiCon, pay for a day pass, and see if we couldn’t all find a party to go to – she said she had some kind of family thing to do in the morning.

The BiCon Ball had finished well before we arrived back on campus, but people were still doing their thing: lounging out on the grass singing, sitting around in or outdoors chatting, and wallowing in a paddling pool full of tiny toy lions (the “lion pit”), among other things, with copious quantities of food and alcohol strewen around and being shared freely with just about everybody. Fair play to the staff at the conference centre, who had no problem whatsoever with the fact that their venue was chock-a-block with people at various levels of sobriety hanging around not just around the campus but also in the bar and accompanying buildings, which by rights they probably could have locked up hours earlier.

Eventually, Claire and I found ourselves – at 5am – among a pile of people in a the “lion pit”, drinking mead and beer and an awful bottle of wine that somebody donated to us simply to get it off their hands. I’m a little fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure that we had some kind of “lion pit rule” about pillow-beatings (and occasional whippings) for participants who made particularly bad puns, performed experiments in trying to get a circle or people each using the one to their left (or their right) as a pillow, and exposed breasts. By the time we went to bed, the sky was beginning to get light – apparently some of the folks we left behind were still chatting and throwing toy lions at one another right up until the sunrise.

Sunday morning brought me into workshops in Housing Law (this was actually a really fascinating lecture on the legal aspects of different kinds of tenancy and non-tenancy agreements such as being a lodger, the definition of homelessness and being threatened with homelessness, and an easy-to-understand summary of the rights and responsibilities of tenants and of landlords), and in Conflict Management. This second workshop was a follow-up to the previous one, and actually gave us as a group an opportunity to try out a variety of different techniques for resolving jealousy, domestic disagreements, and more. I took a lot away from the session, both imminently useful (for example, a better understanding of my own feelings about some of the inevitable complications that have come out of Claire and I’s unusual [well, unusual in general – at BiCon we were among a large minority] relationship structure) and a selection of great ways to ensure that I’m expressing those feelings and getting the best compromise possible in general. I remember, shortly afterward, talking to another participant who’d said how much he wished that more monogamous couples had the kinds of negotiation skills that poly-people end up having to learn, and I agreed (and, to be fair, this has been my thinking exactly when I’ve lent my copy of The Ethical Slut to monogamous friends).

There was time for one more Naked Lunch between trips to pack all of our stuff back into the car, and the Twister board came out again, so I got to play a game of Naked Twister in the end (and I’d have won, too, if it weren’t for a particular young lady who tripped me, the dirty cheater!). In hindsight, playing Naked Twister then stopping for a ice cream and a chat about software engineering with a pair of geeks, completely nude, could be remembered as at least a little unusual, but at the time nothing felt less weird. By the time a group of disrobed people have gotten beyond their “hey, we’re naked!” moment, they mostly act just like clothed people. But with marginally more perving.

The closing plenary was it’s usual collection of thank you and goodbye messages, as well as an offer by the organisers to the guests to loot any food, beer, and training materials that remained at the centre. After this came the traditional ritual of dozens or personal goodbyes, hugs, and exchanges of e-mail addresses, social networking usernames and weblog URLs, and phone numbers. Yet again, I’ve met a ludicrous number of fascinating people, and I’m hoping to catch up with some of them at events like PolyDay, if I can make it to it.

So, just like last year, BiCon rocked. Huge thanks to everybody who made it great for me, whether that was by running one of the fabulous workshops, drinking with and chatting to me at the bar or at any other gathering, showing me what a dirty slut you were at the purity party (have I got plans for next year – oh yes!), bringing and playing board games, stripping off, or just being there and being fabulous. See you next year!

Edit: Corrected spelling of “pasty” to “party”. Most of this entry was written using my phone, while in a moving car, and so my use of predictive text was less-than perfect. Let me know if you find any more typos like that!

Edit: Fixed more spellings; thanks Sarah!

BiCon Fun And Games

It’s been hard to find time to post a blog entry here, with everything that’s been going on. Here’s the quick rundown so far:

Thursday. Arrived. Checked in. Accommodation is a lot like Penbryn, for those who know what I mean, although with bigger (but more sterile-feeling) bedrooms. Caught up with loads of folks from last year. Drinks at the bar. Board game (Apples To Apples) with friends. Fab.

Friday. Quick trip to Sainsbury’s (we were looking for Asda but got lost) for food supplies. Bacon sandwiches for breakfast. Opening plenary. Bigging Up The B In LGBT (which turned out to be about how trade unions can better represent their bisexual members). Being Bisexual In The Workplace. Then clothes off for the Naked Lunch. Chilled out for a bit. Solving Conflict In Poly Families (met some people with fascinating poly-backrounds). Dinner of pasta. Self-Harm: How We Cope With Stress (some fascinating perspectives expressed there). Missed out on Naked Twister. Drinks on the grass. Ran a Purity Test Party. Fell into bed at about 2am, but some folks were partying all night (none of this “bed at dawn” nonsense: ACTUALLY partying all night).

Saturday morning. Flapjack for breakfast. Juggling workshop (fun ball-tossing fun and perving at hot poi-people). Non-Traditional Families (lots of interesting child-raising ideas). And now I’m making a packed lunch to take to today’s Naked Lunch, then time for a few more workshops before driving up North to Penny and Gareth’s party, picking up passengers on the way.

All in all, having a fab time. Wish you all were here.

Bicon 2008

Claire and I have decided that after all the fun and games of last year’s BiCon, we’re going again this year. So, if you want to come, now’s the time (well, within the next 30 days or so) to let us know, and we can help you out with lifts, combining payment, etc. If there’s anybody out there we haven’t put off with all our incessant talk about what it was like last year, we’d love for you to join us.

Here’s the (very, very vague; liable to change) plan:

  • On the afternoon/evening of Thursday 28th August, we’ll drive from Aberystwyth to Leicester University. The journey’ll be about three-and-a-half to four hours, and we’re easily able to pick up people from Aberystwyth, Shrewsbury, Telford, Wolverhampton, Birmingham or Coventry areas on our way through, as well as pretty much anywhere in the Northern half of mid-Wales. We’ll check in at the University, get our welcome packs and accomodation, and find out who we’re living with.
  • BiCon kicks off on the morning of Friday 29th August. We’ll get in a full day of workshops and whatnot.
  • BiCon continues on Saturday 30th August. We’re aware, however, that this evening is likely to clash with Penny/TGB‘s combined 21st/30th birthday party, so rather than going to The BiCon Ball this year, we’ll zip up to Warrington (again, providing lifts where needed, if we’ve got space) early in the evening to join the party, and return either late on in the evening or early the following morning.
  • Then, we’ve got another activity-packed day on Sunday 31st August, after which we’ll either return to Aberystwyth or stay overnight and return after breakfast, depending on what the options are (the website isn’t very specific right now, grr) and what we’ve all got to do on Monday (nothing, one hopes).

BiCon’s fabulous, but by badgering you all in bulk online like this I’ll be able to better refrain from badgering you all in person. If you need further persuading, just ask. The cost of the conference plus accomodation this year starts at £100 (if you’re unwaged) and climbs gradually with your earnings potential – or, if you want to live off-campus or you already live or have somewhere to stay in the area, it’s as little as £25 for the entire event or £12 per day – so if you consider it a holiday, it’s about as economical as the Real Ale Ramble (which I’ll be bothering you all about in the near future, too).

Oh, and if you don’t want to leave a comment that could be interpreted as “I’m a dirty bi slut” by the world at large, speak to me privately and we’ll get you to BiCon without the knowledge of the world at large.

Really Bad Erotica For Dummies

In a recent post (The Magic Of BiCon) I mentioned that some new friends and I had spent some time reading bad erotica (store-bought, would you believe it, not home-made) to one another. I just thought I’d take a moment to share with you exactly how awful some of this literary pornography was.

It was almost as though the creative process the author – based on the writing style, almost inevitably a man – had taken could be summed up as this:

1. Okay, I’m writing a short story. Let’s call it The Oilman, ‘cos that sounds saucy already. Ooh, and let’s make the oilman’s name Roger. Roger the Oilman. Hee hee, I made an innuendo.

2. Okay, now a plot: I saw Roger. We fucked. Then some woman arrived. Then we all fucked. Brilliant!

3. Hmm, that’s pretty good as-is. I don’t really see the need to put any effort into describing, well, anything. Guess I’ll just try to cram in AS MANY SWEARWORDS AS POSSIBLE into it. That’ll sell. That’s the measure of good porn, right? How many times the reader cringes per paragraph?

This really does feel like the process undergone. Who reads this crap? Just to really help you understand the quality of writing we’re talking about, here’s a snippet (from memory, might be slightly off but the overarching concepts are there):

Precum dribbled from his wet piss slit. His hairy cream sacks suddenly exploded.

Hairy cream sacks?!?! What the fuck?

Really ought to get up now.

The Magic Of BiCon

Three sit on the damp grass. One reads out a bad example of a good erotic story, stopping from time to time to turn the book around and show the pictures to the others, who laugh.

Five cuddle up in each others’ arms, in some sort of exclusive party for those they love – or might like to love – the most. It’s past 3am now, and the quiet skies are punctuated by occasional, beautiful flashes as meteorites strike the atmosphere. “I’ve never seen a shooting star,” one says. “Then just watch,” says another, adjusting his arm to better cup her icy hands, “And maybe you’ll see one tonight.”

Suddenly, low on the horizon, there is a bright green flash and a long white trail. “I saw it!” she says, excitedly. They all have. Their extremities, damp and cold, are beginning to numb, but they’re beyond caring. The rest of the party has started to disperse. A few couples cuddle or chat or share a drink nearby. One or two have curled up under blankets or duvets or towels. But these five stay where they are, wrapped around each other in peaceful comfort. Now and then an arm or a leg will move, or a hand will adjust it’s grip on another, and it is good. Sometimes, not quite by accident, two pairs of eyes will hold a stare for a little longer than necessary, or two faces brush against one another.

One leaves. Then another. Then another. The remaining two, still untired, chat on, watching the skies, until exhaustion takes hold and a sudden drop in temperature threatens hypothermia, and they call it a night.

It all started with a midnight picnic, and it all finished with the deepening of a new friendship. Almost nobody said anything, because nothing needed to be said. Time, and trust, and a little bit of love.


BiCon Ball

Wow. Last night’s costume ball was amazing. Claire’s “Lara Croft” outfit went really well, and our efforts in the Costume Workshop earlier in the day to convert my picnic rug into a great kilt (for my William Wallace costume) paid off. Unfortunately at midnight the spell was broken and my kilt turned unexpectedly back into a rug while I was dancing, but a quick scavenge for safety pins (thanks, everybody on the information desk) proved sufficient to keep me decent.

Not that it would have mattered much, of course, judging by a couple of the other costumes! One young lady wore just a chainmail bra and knickers (leaving little to the imagination), which also doubled as a sheath for two long sharp knives. Another wore a leather skirt completely devoid of sides, a spiked bra, and am enormous pair of demonic wings. A young man appeared at first to be dressed as Robin Hood, but this costume later turned out to consist only of body paint and a strategically-placed handkerchief. Another came wrapped somewhat less-than-completely in tubular bandages, which exaggerated, rather than hid, those parts that he might normally hide.

The costumes weren’t all excessively revealing, of course (although some, like those above and the Lelu [The Fifth Element] costume, really did expose quite a lot). I was particularly impressed with the effort taken by the wearer of the stunning HAL 9000 costume.

Got to go and help run a BiCon Geek Night now. Will post more as and when.