Yesterday’s Internet Today! (Woo DM 2023)

The week before last I had the opportunity to deliver a “flash talk” of up to 4 minutes duration at a work meetup in Vienna, Austria. I opted to present a summary of what I’ve learned while adding support for Finger and Gopher protocols to the WordPress installation that powers (I also hinted at the fact that I already added Gemini and Spring ’83 support, and I’m looking at other protocols). If you’d like to see how it went, you can watch my flash talk here or on YouTube.

If you love the idea of working from wherever-you-are but ocassionally meeting your colleagues in person for fabulous in-person events with (now optional) flash talks like this, you might like to look at Automattic’s recruitment pages

The presentation is a shortened, Automattic-centric version of a talk I’ll be delivering tomorrow at Oxford Geek Nights #53; so if you’d like to see it in-person and talk protocols with me over a beer, you should come along! There’ll probably be blog posts to follow with a more-detailed look at the how-and-why of using WordPress as a CMS not only for the Web but for a variety of zany, clever, retro, and retro-inspired protocols down the line, so perhaps consider the video above a “teaser”, I guess?

Oxford Geek Nights #52

On Wednesday this week, three years and two months after Oxford Geek Nights #51, Oxford Geek Night #52. Originally scheduled for 15 April 2020 and then… postponed slightly because of the pandemic, its reapparance was an epic moment that I’m glad to have been a part of.

Matt Westcott stands to the side of a stage, drinking beer, while centrestage a cross-shaped "pharmacy sign" projects an animation of an ambulance rocketing into a starfield.
A particular highlight of the night was witnessing “Gasman” Matt Westcott show off his epic demoscene contribution Pharmageddon, which is presented via a “pharmacy sign”. Here’s a video, if you’re interested.

Ben Foxall also put in a sterling performance; hearing him talk – as usual – made me say “wow, I didn’t know you could do that with a web browser”. And there was more to learn, too: Jake Howard showed us how robots see, Steve Buckley inspired us to think about how technology can make our homes more energy-smart (this is really cool and sent me down a rabbithole of reading!), and Joe Wass showed adorable pictures of his kid exploring the user interface of his lockdown electronics project.

Digital scoreboard showing Dan Q in the lead with 5,561, Nick in second place with 5,442, and RaidIndigo in third with 5,398.
Oh, and there was a quiz competition too, and guess who came out on top after an incredibly tight race.

But mostly I just loved the chance to hang out with geeks again; chat to folks, make connections, and enjoy that special Oxford Geek Nights atmosphere. Also great to meet somebody from Perspectum, who look like they’d be great to work for and – after hearing about – I had in mind somebody to suggest for a job with them… but it looks like the company isn’t looking for anybody with their particular skills on this side of the pond. Still, one to watch.

Dan, outdoors on a grassy path, wearing a grey hoodie. On his head is a "trucker cap" emblazoned with the word "GEEK" and, in smaller writing "#OGN52".
My prize for winning the competition was an extremely-limited-edition cap which I love so much I’ve barely taken it off since.

Huge thanks are due to Torchbox, Perspectum and everybody in attendance for making this magical night possible!

Oh, and for anybody who’s interested, I’ve proposed to be a speaker at the next Oxford Geek Nights, which sounds like it’ll be towards Spring 2023. My title is “Yesterday’s Internet, Today!” which – spoilers! – might have something to do with the kind of technology I’ve been playing with recently, among other things. Hope to see you there!

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Remembering December 2003

For the first time in over seven years, I’ve recovered a handful more of my “lost” blog posts: articles that were written prior to the great server fuck-up of July 2004. in August 2003, showing off the simplistic look it had before it was deleted.

Since then, I’ve kept regular backups. A lot of the old stuff is sometimes cringeworthy (in a “did I really used to be such a dick?” way), and I’m sure that someday I’ll look back at my blog posts from today, too, and find them shockingly un-representative of me in the future. That’s the nature of getting older.

Nostalgia’s awesome, which I choose to represent with this photo of me and my parents on a hilltop somewhere. You have permission to “aww”.

But it’s still important to me to keep all of this stuff. My blog is an extension to my diary: the public-facing side of what’s going on in my life. I back-link furiously, especially in the nostalgia-ridden “On This Day” series of blog posts I throw out once in a while.

Castle of the Four Winds in early 1999.
If you remember my blog when it used to look like this, back in the late 1990s, then you’ve been following me than longer than most folks have been on the Web at all.

The blog posts I’ve newly recovered are:

Andy & Sian, the adorable couple who I declared “most surprising” of the new relationships to get underway late in 2003. The pair married in 2010.

So there you go: especially for you stalkers or those of you looking for a trip down memory lane – some links to what I was up to in December 2003.

For those of you who are really on a roll, here’s some further reading from the period: Kit, on the last Troma Night of the year; a religious argument that Alec kicked off (thanks,; Liz starting her first blog; Paul applies for a hardship loan;

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The Game Disbalancer

Coming to an Arkham Horror game near you… never.

Click for large-o-vision. You know, I think that having this guy on the team might just make the game winnable. Maybe.


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.
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Dan’s April Fools’ Jokes This Year

After JTA and I’s monster plan for a great April Fools’ joke got rained-off this year (maybe another year), I just had to go ahead with two smaller April Fools’ gags this year.

The Photocopier Prank (click for full-size)

The Photocopier Prank

A nice simple joke at the expense of the people in the office building I work in (and far less complex than last year’s prank against the same): I found a document online, printed it out, and stuck it to the photocopiers.

It instructs users that the photocopier has been upgraded with voice controls, so you can just “tell it” to copy, collate, staple etc. and it’ll follow your instructions. The document goes on to explain that it’s in “learning mode” right now and it might not get everything right while it learns your voice, so be patient and take the time to repeat yourself slowly and carefully.

I haven’t got eyes on the copier, so I’ve no idea how many – if any – people it caught.

The Abnib Announce/Joke Of The Week Prank

For the last few years, I’ve run two a text-message based mailing lists (I’ve got unlimited texts as part of my mobile contract, so it’s as-good-as free for me to do this). The first, Abnib Announce, lets people in Aber know about Troma Night, Geek Night, and similar events. The second, Joke of the Week, goes to a far wider audience and shares, every Friday, the best (by a loose and arguable definition of the word) of the jokes I’ve heard over the previous seven days.

This morning I sent out the following message to both lists:

Abnib Announce/Joke of the Week Update:

Bad news, everyone. My network has been in touch to say that running these regular bulk SMS lists is a violation of their Fair Use agreement, so I can’t run them from my “free texts” package any more. The good news is they’ve offered an alternative. These lists will now become subscription-based SMS services. This will cost you no more than 15p per message received, and a maximum of £1 per week (so £2 per week if you’re on both lists). I’m supposed to ask for your permission before subscribing your number, but I know you’ll all agree anyway. If for some reason you DON’T want to continue receiving Joke of the Week or Abnib Announce at 15p per message, please text me back BEFORE the first message, this afternoon. Ta!

I’ve had a handful of great responses, so far, including:

  • Nice try.x
  • Them: The rotters, what a bargain, keep the jokes coming please sir
    Me: Seriously? When I made up those prices this April Fools’ Day I should have put them higher!
    Them: Hahaha, got me, first one too. Love to the crew
  • Halfway through a serious response to this i remembered what day it is…
  • April fool?
  • Totally not falling for that, sorry! Happy April Fools
  • Them: Hey dan. Sorry i cant do that on my phone as my mum Pays my contract
    Me: Happy April Fools’!
    Them: Hee.very good
  • Them: I dont want to pay thanks. I have enough problems with arguing with orange over my phone bill at the minute, thanks. Hope you are good.
    Me: April Fools’!
    Them: Is it april already?! Damn i fell for it again! Nice one :-)
  • Them: Take me off the lists please! Ill get info from [other subscriber] and jokes from sickipedia
    Me: Tell you what: because it’s you I’ll negotiate with your network: you’re on Orange, right? I’ve kidnapped the dog of the CEO of Orange; I’m pretty sure I can get him to waive the charges in your case.
    Them: Is vodaphone, and their ceo only has a parrot and 5 fish.
    Me: =op
  • Them: Im confused, if its 15p per message why is it £2 a week?
    Me: NO MORE THAN £2 a week (well, £1 per week per list). So 4 Joke Of The Week messages would be 60p, 8 would be £1, 20 would be £1. Remember that it’s usually a multipart message spanning 4/5 messages each week. Full terms and conditions apply.
    Them: Lol, sounds confusing, being a poor student i’ll have to pass i think, though i’ll miss moaning at your messages ;-)
    Me: Really? You’re actually going? And, even more unbelievably, you’re actually falling for this obvious April Fools’ gag?
    Me: Gotcha ;-)
    Them: Yup and yup lol :-P
  • Happy April Fools day!
  • Them: oh arse, i can’t as i don’t pay the phone bill. is it possible for you to put them online?
    Me: April Fools’, dummy!
  • Lol, good one. Did you manage to snare anyone?
  • Them: Textin joke
    Me: Gotcha! April Fools’.

Man, I love this day of the year.


Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be

It’s been a bit of a day for nostalgia. It started even before I woke up, when I was dreaming about an argument that could have marked the end of Claire and I’s relationship, if it weren’t for the fact that it didn’t even slighly represent the actual circumstances of our seperation (I’ll spare you all the details). I was woken by a phone call from a company with whom I used to deal. Later, I caught up with an old friend via instant messanger, in what was probably my only delibrate act of nostalgia of the day. Finally, while working this evening on a techy project that’s been part of my life for about the last eight years, the random number generator in my MP3 playing software decided all of its own accord that what I’d really like to listen to is the same music I was listening to when I first started on the project.

Did I not get the memo that this is National Nostalgia Day, or something? Is everything conspiring around me, or is this all a coincidence?

The thing I’ve learned about nostalgia is that it’s generally best left as it is: a collection of figments in your mind. Some are accurate, some mis-remembered, and all are seen through glasses tinted with the colour of hindsight. And that’s great: that’s exactly how your brain is supposed to experience times past. If you’re an optimist, like me, it’s easy to pick out your favourite memories and pretend that your life gone by was all as great as your happiest moments. If you’re a pessimist, well: you probably do the same thing, but compare those great memories to how awful things are right now (and you’re wrong, but I can’t just tell you that and give you a more rational worldview, just as your cynicism won’t “fix” me, either).

That’s inevitable, of course: think back to the moment in your life at which you felt the most content that you ever have – at least that comes right to your mind. Unless your time on the planet has been a continuous curve of improvement, with no ups-and-downs, then there’s something remarkable about that moment: it’s not right now. Well duh, of course it isn’t. The most elementary mathematics would indicate that of all of the experiences in your life, there has to be some kind of regression toward the mean going on: what you’re experiencing now should, on average, be representative of your life so far even before you factor in the Von Restoroff effect and other cognitive biases.

But I digress. My point was this: I would love to be able to finish what I’m working on and go play a game of Chez Geek in the Ship & Castle with folks like Bryn and Kit and Liz and Strokey Adam, just like I did over six and a half years ago. But that’s not my life nowadays. And while I can get all doe-eyed about how awesome the Ship & Castle used to be before they gutted it and made it look like a trendy wine bar (apologies to those of you for whom this is the news being broken of its demise), or I can pine for the days that those friends – now long-gone – used to all live a stone’s throw away from me, but that’s not the full story. I don’t miss being even poorer than I am now, I don’t miss having to juggle my academic life with holding down a job, and a certainly don’t miss being quite so arrogant as I was back then (for those of you who’ve only recently met me; think of me now, only more so).

Nostalgia is like alcohol: it’s great in moderation, but if you get too much of it, or you become dependent upon it, then you’re liable to get stuck and not be able to move on. And I think that’s the message I should be taking away from this morning’s dream.

(and now, in a somewhat ironic and roundabout way, I’d better stop writing so I can go and play board games with the current Aber crew, as part of a tradition that started with Chez Geek in the Ship & Castle, all those years ago…)

Board Games And Waterfalls

It’s been a fun, full weekend. Highlights include:

A good Troma Night

In case you weren’t following, Troma Night is on Fridays nowadays. We watched the fantastic 1945 film Brief Encounter, which I’d highly recommend, and Lava, which I wouldn’t (although if you do see it, watch ’til the end: it improves, I promise).

Same about the early finish, though. People are such sleepyheads these days.

A lie-in!

Ah, it shouldn’t be such a rarity that it’s noteworthy, but unfortunately it is. I thought I had so little to do on Saturday, so Claire and I lay in and then went for a leisurely brunch… and then is when I remembered all of the things I was supposed to be doing – helping out with the Samaritans stand at the Aber Farmer’s Market, meeting up with a friend for a drink, and meeting my dad and his partner Jenny who were visiting.

Did manage to find time to hack around with some Wiimotes, though. I’ve been doing some fun reverse-engineering of their peripherals. More on that later, little doubt.

An awesome Geek Night

My dad had a little difficulty with Munchkin, but apart from that it was a fast-paced and fun Geek Night. I kicked arse at Gnostica, but only by being a bastard (Claire almost had it at one point, and even got so far as to declare an imminent victory), and also played a hell of a game of Puerto Rico, winning by only a couple of points. It was nice that Jenny was able to win Apples to Apples on the first time she’s played it, despite not being able to “play to the judge” as the rest of us so often do.

And afterwards, most of us lounged around and chatted, in that way that’s sometimes become the end to a Geek Night, and it was fabulous. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard as I did while Jimmy was trying to explain to Elizabeth how variable the consistency of semen can be. You probably had to be there, I’m afraid.

Pushing my dad off

My dad’s visit marked the beginning of his now-annual Aberystwyth to Preston cycle ride (yes, the mad fool rides the 130+ mile journey in a day).

I pushed him the first 5 yards, though, along the prom, so I’ve done my bit. He set off at about 08:30 and got home at about 19:15, so made a run of 10 hours of 45 minutes. And I’m pretty sure he couldn’t have done it without that first 5 yards, so it’s my victory, really.

Hafod estate

Ruth and I decided to make the most of the day, having gotten up early to see my dad off, and so – armed with a Forestry Commission brochure from the hotel where he and Jenny had been staying – we went to go for a walk around the quite-beautiful Hafod Estate, near Devil’s Bridge. It’s a quite beautiful part of the Ystwyth valley, filled with forests and waterfalls.

And yet another Whedon Night

And then a Whedon Night (our weekly Buffy & Angel night) to finish off the weekend. We’ve decided to try to squeeze a couple more of these in over the coming weeks in order to try to finish the final series of Buffy (and the penultimate series of Angel) before Ruth leaves for Oxford at the end of the month.

Jimmy, Start Your Engine

Here’s a photo I took this afternoon especially for Jimmy:

It’s a pity he won’t be around this weekend to make the most of this exciting new addition to our irregular weekly Power Grid face-off.


What I’ve Been Up To This Weekend

This post should have appeared on Monday 24th March 2008, but owing to technical difficulties didn’t make it online until Thursday 27th. Sorry!

Like many others, I’ve had both Good Friday and Easter Monday off work, and as I haven’t blogged enough recently, I thought I ought to provide a quick update about the things I’ve been up to:

Aberystwyth Goes Silent

Okay, so that happens about this time every year: the last week has been the usual lull between the disappearance of the majority of the students and the appearance of the Easter weekend tourists. But this year it was particularly quiet, because even many of the people I’d sort-of expected to be around are elsewhere: Matt‘s still in Cornwall, Sarah‘s also absent, and of course Ruth and JTA are away on a skiing holiday with Gareth and Penny. So it’s been even quieter than we’re used to at this time of year.

Bedroom Tidy-Up

It’s been long overdue, but anybody who ever went into Claire and I’s bedroom at The Cottage will know that it contained bags of clothes that we’d never got around to unpacking since we moved in, over a year ago. So, I finally unpacked them: many of them right into other bags which made their way to the nearest charity shop.

Why do I share this with you? Well, because it leads to an interesting guessing game. You know how Claire pretty much never, ever wears a dress or a skirt (and makes a point of mentioning this to people). Well, having unpacked/washed/sorted/re-hung all of her clothes, take a guess at the exact number of skirts and dresses (total) that she owns. I’ll reveal the actual figure (assuming there aren’t any I’m yet to discover in the final bag) a little further down.

Troma Night Lite Ultralite

Pretty much every Saturday for about four years, we’ve held Troma Night, our film night of the best and the worst films ever made, and, over the years, it’s gathered a number of interesting traditions. One such tradition is that it only counts as a Troma Night if there are four people present. That’s fine and dandy, and there have been a number of three-man Troma Nights, which we’ve instead called Troma Lite. But this Saturday was the first ever (that I’m aware of) Troma Night with only two people present.

That’s right: only Claire and I were there. We’ve now dubbed this event Troma Ultralite – a Troma Night with only two people present. So we (re-)watched the RiffTrax‘d version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed by Watership Down, which I hadn’t seen since I was a small child (it gave me nightmares, I seem to remember).

(A Very Small) Geek Night

Yesterday brought us a Geek Night, of course, hosted by Rory, but only he, Claire, Paul and I were present, and Paul had to disappear before then end because unlike the rest of us, he’s still working his usual crazy number of hours this Easter weekend. Unlike last week, when I played like a complete moron, I rocked last night and thoroughly trounced everybody, which I shan’t be letting them forget for a while. Well, until next week.

Turning Point: Fall Of Liberty

I got hold of a copy of Turning Point: Fall Of Liberty, a new video game, and played through it this afternoon. In it’s favour, it’s a very clever idea for a game. Apparently, in 1931, Winston Churchill was hit by a taxi cab while in New York, which gave him a characteristic limp for the remainder of his life. In the game’s alternate-history universe, this accident killed him, and he never went on to lead Great Britain during the Second World War. In 1940, Britain surrenders and comes under the occupation of Nazi Germany, who never forge a wartime alliance with Japan against the United States, and do not turn their sights on Russia.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before, of course. The time travel of the Command & Conquer: Red Alert series of games played the idea to death (of course, they instead had a young Adolf Hitler killed, but the principle is similar). But there’s something quite well-executed about this particular alternate history. In 1953, Greater Germany and Japan launch a combined surprise attack against the United States, capture key cities on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and force the President and Vice-President to step down so that they can replace them with a “puppet President” during the first part of the occupation.

The game plays as a first-person shooter: the player’s character is a New York construction worker who for some reason is highly proficient with a huge variety of firearms and can withstand several simultaneous bullets to the chest time and time again without dying. The game opens as bomber and paratrooper blimps, accompanied by bomber wings, attack New York, and it’s here that you really see how beautiful the game can be. The draw distance is fantastic: you can see the distant planes passing over Liberty Island as they get closer and closer until eventually they’re strafing the buildings you’re above. And so your adventure begins.

Unfortunatley, it is – at heart – a console game, for the Xbox 360, and it shows. The controls are somewhat clunky and ill-described (and why oh-why are you forbidden from using the mouse to navigate the menus?), the aim “assist” that’s so essential on most console shooters feels out-of-place when you’re playing with a nice accurate mouse, and it’s impossible to save the game except when you pass a “checkpoint.” Worse yet, these checkpoints get further and further apart as the game goes on, as if the developers couldn’t think of how to make the game challenging any more so they just made it more frustrating: here’s a clue – doing the same thing over and over isn’t challenging, but it is boring. They’ve tried to make it not feel exactly like Half-Life 2 (even some of the scenes seem to be copied directly from the game, like the Tower Bridge mission) by adding in the “plant a bomb” minigame, but this is about as challenging as picking your nose: all you have to do is press the appropriate coloured buttons in order. There isn’t even a time limit to doing so – at least not one that I ever found.

The middle of the game draws on and somehow skips over the key elements of the story, which could otherwise have been fascinating. Perhaps I’m looking at the “wrong” things, but I’d really like to have seen more of the politics, the formation of the resistance movement, and the German propoganda slowly appearing on the walls of the city. Oh, and the civilians! Where do they all disappear to? When they’re not part of the plot, they disappear after the first chapter never to be seen again.

And then the end brings it all back again – those huge draw distances, those beautiful wide fight scenes, and the (really cool) blimps (including a fucking flying aircraft carrier – how cool is that?). It’s a bit easy at the beginning but it makes up for that by being really quite hard towards the end, except for the very final scene which was a bit peasy (although I don’t think the level designers expected me to have saved myself an anti-tank rocket launcher and a dozen rockets from way earlier in the level, the use of which was my entire strategy for defeating the Third Reich).

So, in summary: it’s a good way to waste an afternoon if you “do” WWII first person shooters, and you’re interested in alternative history, AND you can put up with the fact that this is, in the end, a console shoot-em-up that’s been half-heartedly ported to the PC.

Fire! On The Beach!

Not-gay Gareth’s free tonight for the first time in ages, so he and Paul have organised that we’ll be having a fire on North Beach tonight when Ruth and JTA get back into town (or maybe starting a little before then). There’ll be a barbeque, so if you’ve got anything to grill, bring it along. It’s on Abnib Events, of course, as well (which I fixed last week and is now working properly again – sorry about that!).

So, How Many Skirts And Dresses?

And the answer to the earlier question? 24. Yes, 24 skirts and dresses are now hanging in the wardrobe of a woman who never ever wears any of them. How did this happen? I’ve known Claire for six years, and I’m not sure I can count 24 times I’ve ever seen her in a skirt, never mind some of the things in her wardrobe which I’ve never seen before in my life. How does she manage it?

A Comment From Thailand

Oh yeah, and you’ll remember a while back I blogged about a postcard from Jimmy in Thailand. Well, it turns out that somebody from Thailand (allegedly, at least) found the page and corrected his spelling of the name of the island he was on, in a comment on this blog.

Right; that was longer than it should have been. I’ll try to be less of a sloppy blogger.

Geek Night At Rory’s

Tonight’s Geek Night will be hosted by Rory (follow that second link for a map to his place if you don’t know where it is – don’t worry, it’s easy to find).

What would people like me to take there? I’m thinking Carcassonne, because it’s been getting a lot of enjoyable playtime recently and there’s rulesets we still haven’t played in recent times, the Treehouse sets, and perhaps something light-hearted like Chez Geek (it’s been a knackering week for me, so don’t expect too much in the way of intelligent play from me tonight). I assume Rory‘s projector takes component inputs in case anybody needs rules projected (which I hope is the case, because I’ve been looking for an excuse to try out the TV-out and PowerPoint viewer on my phone).

It’s All Fun And Games

Back to work after a great weekend. Troma Night was particularly successful this week – we watched a RiffTrax‘d copy of Eragon (“Get your ragons online at e-ragon!”), which was suitably hilarious; the classic bit of self-deprecating sci-fi that is Barbarella (“Hmm… camp bad guy number 104… how will Barbarella get past this one? Oh; using sex. What a surprise!”); and Human Traffic, which is what Trainspotting could have been if it wanted to appeal to the 24 Hour Party People demographic. Kinda.

That’s three mediocre-to-good films, plus a RiffTrax on one of them. That’s pretty good stamina for Troma Nights these days. After the last film had finished, everybody stood up and meandered towards the door, chatting as they went about the various recent events (floods, terrorism, blah blah) that had been going on. Then stopped walking. Then kept talking. “Well, I’m sitting down again,” I said, after awhile, and so did everybody else. And so, for the first time in years, a 3-film Troma Night ended with everybody sat around chatting for half an hour or more. Which is fab: Troma Night’s always supposed to have been about the people (not the films, the beer, or the pizza, which jointly come about second), and actually stopping to pass time at the end of a night was a fun and unusual reminder of what we’re all really here for.

Then on Sunday we had a low-key but “different” Geek Night. We only had Matt P, Claire and me, so we took the opportunity to learn and try out a handful of the games from the Playing With Pyramids book and Treehouse sets Claire had gotten from Looney Labs (creators of Chrononauts and Fluxx, amongst other things). Aside from Treehouse itself (which is an easy-to-learn and short game – with perhaps a little too much luck – that gets you used to playing with the pyramids), we played Icehouse, Homeworlds, and RAMbots.

Icehouse is the original Icehouse strategy game – a real-time (no, not simultaneous turn: actually real-time – players can all perform legal moves whenever they like) board game, which is somewhat unusual. Icehouse is fun, but I think it would work better with more players, more diplomacy, and more thoughtful strategy than we were executing.

Homeworlds is a stunningly-clever turn-based game of space strategy, diplomacy, exploration, and conquest. There’s a few things in it that make you have to think quite hard (such as the way that the hyperspace system works, the fact that the orientation, not the colour, of a piece implies it’s ownership, and the difference between free and sacrificial actions). Not to mention the secret alignments of the players. This game’s been running through my head ever since we played (I’ve just come up with a strategy that I should have done in the last three turns to lead me to a victory that would have been particularly brutal).

Finally, RAMbots – which I quite liked, but which I think could be ludicrously good fun with four players – is a simultaneous-turn based game of secret orders, which reminds me slightly of the ship-to-ship combat in Yo-Ho-Ho! Puzzle Pirates! or Space Fleet. Players each secretly “program” their robots using instructions from their “limited” code pool and execute them in a way that will seem instantly familiar to any computer scientists who play it (at least, those who are familiar with ideas like priority queues, program counters, and parallel processing), and shouldn’t be so hard for others to learn, too. These robots can drive around the board (actually a chessboard) trying to activate and ram “beacons” in an order chosen by the player to their right, but it’s also possible to ram, push, pull, tip up, and shoot at the other robots too… causing damage lets you “steal” from their instruction set, making it harder for them to write effective programs… and so it goes on.

We’ll be having another Geek Night on Friday, if you want to join in: we’ll be playing more of these four games (and perhaps some other bits of pyramid-related fun), and maybe even a game or Illuminati, if it’s not too late by the time it (and it’s carriers) arrive.

Playing Lord of the Rings, in The Flat

I’ve been pulling old videos off of devices I used to use. This came from an early-2000s mobile phone, back when mobile phones were REALLY bad at video. It features Paul M, Ruth V, Matt R, JTA, and Claire M playing a single turn of the Lord of the Rings boardgame (it was a complicated turn).

I’m not sure whether they won in the end, or what the final score was, but I’m sure I’ve got it written down somewhere.

Also available on YouTube.