Dan Q found GC7B9CP Platform 9 3/4

This checkin to GC7B9CP Platform 9 3/4 reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Even on a Monday morning the muggles are lining up to hold the trolley. Not me. As an actual magician, I’ve no need for such frivolities. Instead, as I’m passing anyway on my way to a train to an entirely different magical land (The Netherlands), I just snapped a selfie with the sign visible in the background. Easy peasy. TFTC.

Dan, a queue of tourists behind him, points over his shoulder beyond them to a sign on a brick wall, "Platform 9¾".


Everyday Magic

Having lost the (stupid, proprietary) charging cable for my smartwatch, and not been able to find it for several days, I’ve undertaken the magical ritual that’s most-certain to make it reappear: ordering a replacement one.


For World Book Day (which here in the UK is marked a month earlier than the rest of the world) the kids’ school invited people to come “dressed as a word”.

As usual, the kids and teachers participated along with only around two other adults. But of course I was one of them.

This year, I was “magical”.

Dan, a white man with long hair (tied back) and a beard, stands in a Cotswolds-esque village green wearing a black jacket and holding three large novelty playing cards and a magic wand.


[Bloganuary] Fun Five

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

List five things you do for fun.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret of Magic

I’m currently doing a course, through work, delivered by BetterOn Video. The aim of the course is to improve my video presentation skills, in particular my engagement with the camera and the audience.

I made this video based on the week 2 prompt “make a video 60-90 seconds long about something you’re passionate about”. The idea came from a blog post I wrote back in 2014.

Too Many Cards

Somebody on /r/MegaLoungeVI 1 this week asked me what my favourite magic trick (to perform) is. And because it’s far easier to show somebody than to tell them, I turned on the webcam and did a one-take shot of this, my attempt at something akin to Derek Dingle‘s stunning interpretation of Larry JenningsAmbitious Classic:

Given that it’s rare for me to film myself performing magic and be, on the whole, pleased with the result, I thought I’d share it with you all, too, in case there are those among my friends who haven’t had the opportunity yet to see me perform (apologies for the fake-sounding monologue – the sound was dubbed on later).

Why do I like this particular effect so much? It’s certainly not the thing that gets the best reaction from my spectators. In fact, if I were to ask people I’ve performed for what trick was their favourite, I imagine that not one of them would choose this. But for me, it represents the challenge of magic: it’s a moderately-complex series of sleights joined together into a rhythmic dance.

I’m not sure if that translates well, or whether one of those things, like describing code as poetry, that you already need to understand before you can understand.

In any case – if you were impressed by my trick, you should now watch a master performing it, and perhaps you’ll see how far I’ve yet got to go…

1 One of Reddit’s MegaLounges2, access to which is gained by being gilded in the prior MegaLounge (or /r/lounge itself, in the case of the first MegaLounge).

2 For the last 5 years, it’s been possible to buy “Reddit Gold” subscriptions, and for most of that time it’s been possible to anonymously gift individual months of Reddit Gold to other users (known as “gilding”), in acknowledgement of a contribution they’ve made on the site. Having “Reddit Gold” grants you access to the official gold subreddit /r/lounge; getting gilded while in /r/lounge gets you access to the unofficial /r/MegaLounge, and so on. There are several dozen ‘levels’.

[Off-topic] I’ve made a tool that helps /r/MagicSecrets folks find one another.

This self-post was originally posted to /r/MagicSecrets. See more things from Dan's Reddit account.

Please forgive the non-magic talk, but I wanted to share with you something I made recently. It’s a plugin you can install into your web browser that does this (pic).

What’s that? It’s a top hat and wand alongside the name of /r/MagicSecrets folks. It’s only visible to other /r/MagicSecrets folks, of course, but it’s visible from anywhere on Reddit. So you can instantly spot fellow magicians whether they’re hanging out on /r/AskReddit or just commenting on kitten pics on /r/aww.

What it’s especially useful for is spotting folks in e.g. /r/magic when the discussion gets close to something that should only be talked about in here. You instantly know whether you should say “let’s go talk about this in /r/MagicSecrets” or whether you should simply say “this isn’t the place to talk about this.” But honestly, these last few weeks I’ve mostly just been using it to give me a smile when I spot magicians elsewhere: like when I noticed /u/Jokers247 in /r/ImGoingToHellForThis earlier this week!

Want to try it? Instructions are over on /r/MegaMegaMonitor. Apologies again for the off-topic post.

Secrets of Magic

When I was younger, I thought that magic was all about secrets. I’ve since changed my mind. Twice.

That the secret of magic is secrets isn’t an unreasonable assumption. We all know that magicians famously don’t reveal how their tricks work, so it feels like the secrecy is what makes magic… magical. When as a kid I watched Paul Daniels make an elephant disappear on his (oh-so 1980s) TV show, and I remember being struck by the fact that he must be privy to some kind of guarded knowledge, and my school friends and I would speculate wildly as to what it was. I saw the same kind of speculation when Derren Brown predicted the lottery a few years back: although the age of the Internet changed the nature of the discussion, making them more global and perhaps more-cynical (not helped, perhaps, by Derren’s “explanation”).

Paul Daniels makes an elephant disappear.
Given the quality of this VHS-grade recording, you ought to be told that the big blob is the tent, the medium-sized blob is the elephant, and the small blob is a lens flare caused by reflection off of Paul Daniels’ head.

But as time went on, I came to learn that the key to magic isn’t secrets.

That’s not to say that secrets aren’t important to the enjoyment of magic – they truly are. In the case of 95%+ of all of the magic tricks you’ve ever seen, you’d be considerably less-impressed if you knew how they were done! And that’s because, most of the time, the principle behind any illusion is something so simple that you just can’t see it for looking. As my childhood interest in magic grew, I acquired a small collection of props and books (one of which I rediscovered while removing things from my late father’s house, the other year), and my model changed: in an age when information is as easily-available as your local library, magic isn’t about secrets, I decided, but about practice.

A 125-trick Paul Daniels' Magic Set
Did anybody else have one of these wonderful, if plasticky, magic sets? I wonder how many contemporary magicians started out this way.

Practice, practice, practice. A magician’s art starts alone, possibly in front of a mirror. And then it stays there for… quite a long time. If they’re interested in doing anything beyond the most-basic card tricks, a card magician has at least half a dozen different moves and sleights to perfect, from which they’ll be able to derive a multitude of different effects.

(There’s an anecdote about a young magician who tells her mentor that she’s learned a hundred tricks, and asks how many he knows. He thinks for a moment, and then he replies, “I would say about nine.” If you feel like you ‘got’ the joke in that story, then you’re probably either a magician or else a Buddhist: there are some strange similarities between the two.)

If they want to learn how to link rings or rejoin cut ropes or make things levitate, then the same rules apply. But even while that’s true, and practice is absolutely critical… practice is also not the secret of magic.

Dan with the King of Hearts
“Palming” a card is difficult at the best of times. This particular King of Hearts might require larger hands than mine. Still, you know what they say about a magician with big hands…

The key to magic – the thing that’s even more important than secrets and practice is… showmanship. I’ll come back to that, but first, let me tell you how I lost and, later, rediscovered magic.

I loved magic as a kid, but my interest in it (as a performer, at least) sort-of dwindled in my early-to-mid teens. I can’t explain why; but you’d be forgiven for assuming that perhaps I was distracted by discovering, like many teenage boys do, a different kind of ‘one-handed shuffle’ that provided far more-instant satisfaction. In any case: aside from a few basically-self-working card tricks here and there, I didn’t perform any magic at all for almost twenty years.

Until Christmas of 2013.

Temporary tattoo showing the seven of diamonds
Is THIS your card? Damn… I probably shouldn’t have got it inked, then, should I?

At Christmas, Ruth‘s little brother Robin visited. And at some point – and I’m not even sure why – he said, “I want to learn a card trick. Does anybody know any card tricks?”

“I might know a couple,” I said, thinking back and trying to put my mind to one, as I reached for a pack of cards, “Here: give these a shuffle…” I can’t remember what I performed first: probably a classic like Out Of This World or the Chicago Opener: something lightweight, and easy to learn, and based entirely in muscle-memory manoeuvres and not in anything as complex as even a basic misdirection.

And somehow that act of teaching Robin a couple of beginner card tricks, and challenging him to take that knowledge and develop them some more… that simple act was enough to flip a switch in my brain. Suddenly, I wanted to jump headlong back into magic again.

Dan holds up a card for a spectator.
I’ve been performing at whatever opportunity presents itself: at bars, around the office, to passers-by in Oxford’s Covered Market. Basically – anywhere they haven’t thrown me out of, yet.

Since last time around, there’s not only books (and so many great books) but also DVDs from which to learn (and relearn) magical principles. I’ve been learning new sleights as fast as my brain – and my hands – can take it, and gradually building a repertoire of effects that fall somewhere between confusing and delighting. Because I’ve for so-long had such a strong belief in the importance of practice, I’ve been trying to find excuses to perform: to such an extent that I’ll spend some of my lunchtimes in any given week hanging around in Oxford’s public spaces, performing for random passers-by. Practice in front of a mirror is good and everything, but practice in front of a stranger is so much-more valuable… especially when you’re forced to think on your feet after a spectator does something that you didn’t anticipate!

I also accidentally ended up starting a local magic club: I joined a thread of people bemoaning the lack of a club in Oxford, on a forum on which I participate, and after I’d found a couple of other guys who felt them same way, suggested a date, time, and venue, and made it happen. Now it happens every month, and we few are the closest thing Oxford’s got to a magic society.

Evening event at the Ashmolean.
I tuned up at the Ashmolean Museum for their magic-themed event, in May. They’d hired some professional magicians, so I parked myself away from the main events and just spent a few exhausting hours performing for an endlessly-renewing crowd. A few people asked which of the entertainers (named on their brochures) I was, and I had to explain that no, I was just a guy who liked magic and had turned up. With props. Yes, really.

But yes: showmanship. If there’s a secret to magic, then it’s that. Any fool can find your card in the deck (even if you don’t know a way to do this – the “secret” – then I can guarantee that at least one of your friends does). Any magician can do it in several different ways (the “practice”), and thus keep you guessing by eliminating the options – how did he do it blindfolded? But a magic trick is only as enjoyable to watch as it is well-presented: like any entertainer, and perhaps more than many, a magician relies on their presentation style to make the difference…

This is an opinion that sometimes puts me at odds with some of the other magicians in the club. I’ll demonstrate a new routine I’m working on, and they’ll ask how it was done… and when I reveal that I used the cheapest, simplest, easiest or plainly cheekiest approach possible, they’ll be instantly less-impressed. There are plenty of magicians more-talented than I, for whom the artistry comes from the practice, and to see somebody achieve what is – to a layperson – the same result in a way that requires less sleight-of-hand or a less-subtle misdirection than ‘their’ way is apparently a little grating! They’d rather perform an illusion using their best moves and their most-sophisticated sleights than to simply do it “well enough” to get the desired effect (and thus, the desired reaction). Certainly, it’s desirable to have several ways to perform the same trick (just in case you end up performing it twice), but those ways don’t all have to be the most-complicated approaches you know: sometimes the magical equivalent of “look behind you, a three-headed monkey” is more than enough.

(For those with access to the Mega Man Lounge, I’ve kicked off a debate about this very topic.)

This video later inspired a video, which you can watch here.

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Surprises, e.g. a Brother-in-Law

Last weekend was an exciting and unusual experience, full of exciting (expected) things interspersed with a handful of exciting (unexpected) things. Let’s go chronologically:

Thursday/Friday – Mario, Magic, Marriage

I left work, picked up a rental car (having unfortunately forgotten to take my counterpart driving license to the rental place, I had the choice of either cycling for an hour to collect it or else paying a fiver for them to run a DVLA check, and I opted for the latter on the grounds that an hour of my time (especially if I have to spend it cycling back and forth along the same stretch of road) is worth more to me than a picture of Elizabeth Fry. I drove home, packed a bag, said goodbye to Ruth, JTA, and Annabel, and drove up to Preston.

"I just found this card."
“I just found this card; is it yours? Maybe it will be, later.”

There, I spent most of Friday playing the new Mario game with my sister Becky, gave a few small performances of magic (did I mention I’m doing magic nowadays? – guess that’ll have to wait for another blog post) at various places around Preston, and went out for a curry with my mother, my sisters Becky and Sarah, and Sarah’s boyfriend Richard. So far, so ordinary, right? Well that’s where things took a turn. Because as Becky, our mother, and I looked at the drinks menu as we waited for Sarah and her boyfriend to turn up… something different happened instead.

Sarah and Richard announce to the rest of the family that they're now married.
Never before in our family has a marriage been conducted with so little pomp nor pre-planning. Except for our mother’s, of course.

Sarah turned up with her husband.

It turns out that they’d gotten married earlier that afternoon. They’d not told anybody in advance – nobody at all – but had simply gone to the registry office (via a jewellers, to rustle up some rings, and a Starbucks, to rustle up some witnesses) and tied the knot. Okay; that’s not strictly true: clearly they had at least three weeks planning on account of the way that marriage banns work in the UK. Any case case, I’ve suddenly got the temptation to write some software that monitors marriage announcements (assuming there are XML feeds, or something) and compares them to your address book to let you know if anybody you know is planning to elope, just to save me from the moment of surprise that caught me out in a curry house on Friday evening.

Richard pushes Sarah around Sainsburys.
Tie some cans behind that trolley and spray “just married” on it in shaving foam, would you?

So it turns out I’ve acquired a brother-in-law. He’s a lovely chap and everything, but man, that was surprising. There’ll doubtless be more about it in Episode 32 of Becky’s “Family Vlog”, so if there was ever an episode that you ought to watch, then it’s this one – with its marriage surprise and (probably) moments of magic – that you ought to keep an eye out for.

Saturday/Sunday – Distillery, Drinking, Debauchery

Next, I made my way up to Edinburgh to meet up with Matt R and his man-buddies for a stag night to remember. Or, failing that, a stag night to forget in a drunken haze: it’s been a long, long time since I’ve drunk like I did on that particular outing. After warming up with a beer or two in our hotel room, the five of us made our way to the Glenkinchie Distillery, for a wonderful exploration into the world of whiskies.

Still #1 at the Glenkinchie Distillery.
It’s hard to appreciate how large the pair of stills at Glenkinchie are, if you’ve only seen the stills at other Scottish distilleries before. See the people in the background, for scale.

And then, of course, began the real drinking. Four or five whiskies at the distillery bar, followed by another beer back in the hotel room, followed by a couple more beers at bars, followed by another four whiskies at the Whiski Rooms (which I’d first visited while in Edinburgh for the fringe, last year), followed by a beer with dinner… and I was already pretty wiped-out. Another of the ‘stags’ and I – he equally knackered and anticipating a full day of work, in the morning – retired to the hotel room while the remainder took Matt out “in search of a titty bar” (a mission in which, I gather, they were unsuccessful).

The Glenkinchie Distillery bar.
The Glenkinchie Distillery bar carries a full range of Diageo Scotch whiskies, plus a handful of other brands, and expert staff are on hand to help with tasting.

Do you remember being in your early twenties and being able to throw back that kind of level of booze without so much as a shudder? Gosh, it gets harder a decade later. On the other hand, I was sufficiently pickled that I wasn’t for a moment disturbed by the gents I was sharing a room with, who I should re-name “snore-monster”, “fart-monster”, and “gets-up-a-half-dozen-times-during-the-night-to-hug-the-toilet-bowl-monster”. I just passed out and stayed that way until the morning came, when I went in search of a sobering double-helping of fried food to set me right before the long journey back to Oxford.

All in all: hell of a stag night, and a great pre-party in anticipation of next weekend’s pair of weddings… y’know, the ones which I’d stupidly thought would be the only two couples I knew who’d be getting married this fortnight!

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