Rebuilding a Windows box with Chocolatey

Computers Don’t Like Moving House

As always seems to happen when I move house, a piece of computer hardware broke for me during my recent house move. It’s always exactly one piece of hardware, like it’s a symbolic recognition by the universe that being lugged around, rattling around and butting up against one another, is not the natural state of desktop computers. Nor is it a comfortable journey for the hoarder-variety of geek nervously sitting in front of them, tentatively turning their overloaded vehicle around each and every corner. UserFriendly said it right in this comic from 2003.

This time around, it was one of the hard drives in Renegade, my primary Windows-running desktop, that failed. (At least I didn’t break myself, this time.)

Western Digital Blue 6TB hard drisk drive
Here’s the victim of my latest move. Rest in pieces.

Fortunately, it failed semi-gracefully: the S.M.A.R.T. alarm went off about a week before it actually started causing real problems, giving me at least a little time to prepare, and – better yet – the drive was part of a four-drive RAID 10 hot-swappable array, which means that every single byte of data on that drive was already duplicated to a second drive.

Incidentally, this configuration may have indirectly contributed to its death: before I built Fox, our new household NAS, I used Renegade for many of the same purposes, but WD Blues are not really a “server grade” hard drive and this one and its siblings will have seen more and heavier use than they might have expected over the last few years. (Fox, you’ll be glad to hear, uses much better-rated drives for her arrays.)

A single-drive failure in a RAID 10 configuration, with the duplicate data shown safely alongside.
Set up your hard drives like this and you can lose at least one, and up to half, of the drives without losing data.

So no data was lost, but my array was degraded. I could have simply repaired it and carried on by adding a replacement similarly-sized hard drive, but my needs have changed now that Fox is on the scene, so instead I decided to downgrade to a simpler two-disk RAID 1 array for important data and an “at-risk” unmirrored drive for other data. This retains the performance of the previous array at the expense of a reduction in redundancy (compared to, say, a three-disk RAID 5 array which would have retained redundancy at the expense of performance). As I said: my needs have changed.

Fixing Things… Fast!

In any case, the change in needs (plus the fact that nobody wants watch an array rebuild in a different configuration on a drive with system software installed!) justified a reformat-and-reinstall, which leads to the point of this article: how I optimised my reformat-and-reinstall using Chocolatey.

Chocolate brownie with melted chocolate sauce.
Not this kind of chocolatey, I’m afraid. Man, I shouldn’t have written this post before breakfast.

Chocolatey is a package manager for Windows: think like apt for Debian-like *nices (you know I do!) or Homebrew for MacOS. For previous Windows system rebuilds I’ve enjoyed the simplicity of Ninite, which will build you a one-click installer for your choice of many of your favourite tools, so you can get up-and-running faster. But Chocolatey’s package database is much more expansive and includes bonus switches for specifying particular versions of applications, so it’s a clear winner in my mind.

Dan's reformat-and-reinstall checklist
If you learn only one thing about me from this post, let it be that I’m a big fan of redundancy. Here’s the printed version of my reinstallation list. Y’know, in case the copy on a pendrive failed.

So I made up a Windows installation pendrive and added to it a “script” of things to do to get Renegade back into full working order. You can read the full script here, but the essence of it was:

  1. Reconfigure the RAID array, reformat, reinstall Windows, and create an account.
  2. Install things I routinely use that aren’t available on Chocolatey (I’d pre-copied these onto the pendrive for laziness): Synergy, Beamgun, Backblaze, ManyCam, Office 365, ProtonMail Bridge, and PureVPN.
  3. Install Chocolatey by running:
    Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force; [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol = [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol -bor 3072; iex ((New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString('https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1'))
  4. Install everything else (links provided in case you’re interested in what I “run”!) by running:
    choco install -y Firefox -y --params "/l:en-GB /RemoveDistributionDir"
    choco install virtualbox -y --params "/NoDesktopShortcut /ExtensionPack" --version 6.0.22
    choco install -y 7zip audacity autohotkey beaker curl discord everything f.lux fiddler foobar2000 foxitreader garmin-basecamp gimp git github-desktop glasswire goggalaxy googlechrome handbrake heidisql inkscape keepassxc krita mountain-duck nmap nodejs notepadplusplus obs-studio owncloud-client paint.net powertoys putty ruby sharpkeys slack steam sublimetext3 telegram teracopy thunderbird vagrant vlc whatsapp wireshark wiztree zoom
  5. Configuration (e.g. set up my unusual keyboard mappings, register software, set up remote connections and backups, etc.).

By scripting virtually all of the above I was able to rearrange hard drives in and then completely reimage a (complex) working Windows machine with well under an hour of downtime; I can thoroughly recommend Chocolatey next time you have to set up a new Windows PC (or just to expand what’s installed on your existing one). There’s a GUI if you’re not a fan of the command line, of course.

Buying Another House

Seven years ago, I wrote a six-part blog series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) about our Ruth, JTA and I’s experience of buying our first house. Now, though, we’re moving again, and it’s brought up all the same kinds of challenges and stresses as last time, plus a whole lot of bonus ones to boot.

Our house in Kidlington
Our old house – seen here in 2013 – has served its purpose. It’s time for us to move on.

In particular, new challenges this time around have included:

  • As owners, rather than renters, we’ve had both directions on the ladder to deal with. Not only did we have to find somewhere to move to that we can afford but we needed to find somebody who’d buy our current house (for enough money that we can afford the new place).
  • The first letting agents we appointed were pretty useless, somehow managing to get us no viewings whatsoever. Incidentally their local branch got closed soon after we ditched them and the last time I checked, the building was still up for sale: it doesn’t bode well for them that they can’t even sell their own building, does it?
  • The replacement letting agents (who sold us this house in the first place) were much better, but it still took a long time before we started getting offers we could act on.
  • We finally selected some buyers, accepting a lower offer because they were cash buyers and it would allow us to act quickly on the property we wanted to buy, only for the coronavirus lockdown to completely scupper our plans of a speedy move. And make any move a logistical nightmare.
  • Plus: we’re now doing this with lots more stuff (this won’t be a “rally some friends and rent a van” job like last time!), with two kids (who’re under our feet a lot on account of the lockdown), and so on.
Dan with his solar panels.
We added significant value to our old house during the time we owned it, for example by installing solar panels which continue to generate income as well as “free” energy. As well as being now conveniently close to a train line to London which I suppose would be good for commuters even though we’ve mostly used it for fun.

But it’s finally all coming together. We’ve got a house full of boxes, mind, and we can’t find anything, and somehow it still doesn’t feel like we’re prepared for when the removals lorry comes later this week. But we’re getting there. After a half-hour period between handing over the keys to the old place and picking up the keys to the new place (during which I guess we’ll technically be very-briefly homeless) we’ll this weekend be resident in our new home.

The Green, our new home
Our new home’s pretty delightful. I’ll vlog you a tour or something once we’re moved in, under the assumption that a housewarming party is still likely to be rendered impossible by coronavirus.

Our new house will:

  • Be out in the fabulous West Oxfordshire countryside.
  • Have sufficient rooms to retain an office and a “spare” bedroom while still giving the kids each their own bedroom.
  • Boast a fabulously-sized garden (we might have already promised the kids a climbing frame).
  • Have an incredible amount of storage space plus the potential for further expansion/conversion should the need ever arise. (On our second-to-last visit to the place with discovered an entire room, albeit an unfinished one, that we hadn’t known about before!)
  • Get ludicrously fast Internet access.

We lose some convenient public transport links, but you can’t have everything. And with me working from home all the time, Ruth – like many software geeks – likely working from home for the foreseeable future (except when she cycles into work), and JTA working from home for now but probably returning to what was always a driving commute “down the line”, those links aren’t as essential to us as they once were.

Sure: we’re going to be paying for it for the rest of our lives. But right now, at least, it feels like what we’re buying is a house we could well live in for the rest of our lives, too.

I certainly hope so. Moving house is hard.

Buying A House, Part 6

This blog post is the sixth and final part in a series about buying our first house. In the fifth post, we finally exchanged contracts with the sellers after a long-running disagreement about who was going to repair the front door…

A series of days flew by in a cardboard-box-filled blur, and suddenly it was the last Friday in July – the day upon which our sale was completed. I’d run out of spare days of annual leave, so I was only able to justify taking the afternoon off to pick up a van, scoop up Ruth and Matt, get the keys to the new house, and meet JTA there.

Ruth and Matt at the Europcar office.
The first mission was to collect a van from Europcar, so that we’d be able to spend the entire weekend going up and down the A34.

The estate agents were conveniently just two doors down from a locksmith, so we got some keys cut to what we believed to be the new front door, while we were there. It’s also sandwiched between a funeral home and a florist, which makes it sort of a one-stop street when somebody dies and you want to put their house on the market.

Dan is handed keys and a bottle of sparkling wine by Mark, the estate agent.
The great thing about getting champagne as a housewarming gift, from your estate agent, is that you don’t need to unpack the corkscrew to open it.

We soon discovered that the “fix” that had ultimately been applied to the broken front door was simply to swap it for a different exterior door, from the inner porch. A little cheeky, and a little frustrating after all the fighting we’d done, but not the end of the world: we still had a perfectly good front door and – as we planned to use the annex as part of the main house, anyway, we were happy to take the door down and leave an open doorway, anyway.

JTA opens the door of Greendale.
We gave JTA the honour of being the first to open the door to our new home. After some fiddling with what turned out to be the wrong key, the door turned out to be already unlocked.

A vacant house feels big and empty. Our new – large! – living room felt enormous. Meanwhile, packing up our old house – with its painted walls and wooden floors – was beginning to sound echoey as it became emptier.

Ruth lies in the empty living room of Greendale.
Lounging in the living room. (or is she living in the lounge?)

We spent a long time working out which of the many keys we had fit which of the locks, as there were quite so many: there’s the front door, the inner front door, the other inner front door, the back door, the outer conservatory door, the inner conservatory door, the gate lock, the shed lock, the window locks, and a good handful of keys besides that we still haven’t identified the purpose of. It’s was like the previous owners just bought a pile of additional keys, just as a prank.

Boxes on New Earth
Our old house – New Earth – became emptier and yet more-chaotic as the stacks of boxes were gradually loaded into the van.

We’d rented a van over a long weekend in which to do the majority of the move, and we’d hired some burly men with a bigger van to move some of the heaviest furniture, and to collect a piano that we’d bought (yes, we have a piano now; booyah).

JTA in the back of the van, in which a small mock living room has been assembled.
“Pack the living room into the van,” I said. “Okay,” said JTA, putting the kettle on.

Very helpfully, Alec came and joined us, and helped run an enormous amount of boxes and furniture down and out of the three-stories of our old house, and in and up the three-stories of our new house. Why do we keep torturing ourselves with these tall buildings? At least our new staircases are a better shape for carrying mattresses up.

Removals men carry our sideboard out from the back door of New Earth.
Now that I’ve discovered that I can hire muscular men on-demand, I’m not sure that I’ll ever do anything else.

The weather stayed good, with only occasional showers (and thankfully, never when we were carrying soft furnishings between a van and a building) and one brief but wild thunderstorm (that we managed to avoid only with a quick re-arrangement of the van contents, slamming the doors, and sprinting for cover), and we worked hard, and we ended up a day ahead of schedule before we were finished.

Alec tests the piano at Greendale.
Alec helped out with lots of heavy lifting, but also with ‘testing’ the piano. Which, before it had been tuned, wasn’t the best of experiences for anybody involved.

In order to minimise the amount of the deposit that we might otherwise lose, from our old place, and because we rightly anticipated being too exhausted from the move to do all of the requisite cleaning ourselves, we’d hired some professionals. By this point, we weren’t even able to think in terms of money like normal people – by the time you’re spending five figures on tax and lawyers, you find it pretty easy to shrug off the cost of a team of cleaners!

Matt filling his face with ice cream.
I’m pretty sure that the local ice cream van driver was following us around, because on each day of the move, he’d arrive on the scene right after we’d finished unloading a van and could really do with an ice cream break.

This did mean that Ruth and I had to each work from home, from the old house, for one last day while we let the cleaners, gardener etc. in. We left in the old house an absolute minimum of furniture: a single desk, chair, laptop computer, cup (for water), router, and cables.

Dan works from home on the final day of the occupation of New Earth.
One desk, one chair, one laptop, one router… in a five bedroom house. It’s a lonely life.

As I left the house for the last time, as empty and quiet as it was the day we first moved in, I felt a sense of serenity; a calm that came from a number of simultaneous realisations… that this was probably the last house move I’d have to do in a long while… that I finally lived somewhere that I didn’t (theoretically, at least) have to ask for somebody’s permission before I put a picture hook up or painted a wall… and that at long last I was paying off my own mortgage, rather than somebody else’s. It was the beginning of a new era.

Alec among furniture and boxes.
The first box that we unpacked was the one containing Alec, of course.

Changing tack from the theme by which our houses have been named since 2010, our new home is called Greendale. And yes, there’s a website (albeit a little sparse, for now). There’s always a website.

Matt and Susan on a bean bag as we rest at the end of the first day's moving.
Susan didn’t help much with the packing and moving, but I’m not sure I’ve put a photo of her and Matt online yet. So now I have.

There’ll be a housewarming party on 22nd September: if you’re a friend of one or more of us, you’ve probably received an invitation already. But if you haven’t – and it’s not impossible, because we weren’t sure of everybody’s best email addresses these days – and you expect you should have, let me know. It’s not that we don’t love you: we just don’t love you enough to remember to invite you to stuff, that’s all.

Buying a House, Part 4 – Call To Arms!

This blog post is the third in a series about buying our first house. In the third post, Ruth, JTA and I had acquired some lawyers and started the conveyancing process…

We’re moving house! And we want your help!

There’ve been… a few hitches with the house move. A few little hurdles. And then a few big hurdles. It’s been a little challenging, is what I’m trying to say. I’ll write about that in Part 5, but for now: we need your help!

Here’s what we’ve got:

  • A weekend in which we want to move (27th – 28th July).
  • A van (probably).
  • A lot of furniture, piles of boxes, and all the board games in the known universe. – a lot of stuff!
  • Three people: one of whom has really dodgy knees, one of whom is pregnant, and one of whom managed to concuss himself last time he tried to move house – not the best crew in the world, perhaps.
  • Lots of alcohol that needs drinking.

Here’s what we need:

  • A couple of extra pairs of hands who are willing to load and unload vans in exchange for:
    • Pizza
    • All the booze you can eat
    • Being among the first to see our new home!

(cynical folks might notice that pizza, booze, rental vans and friends are a lot cheaper than professional removals companies, especially for short hops across to the other side of a city)

Simply put: we need you!

Can you help? Can you be free for some or all of the weekend of 27th & 28th of July, to come and shift boxes in exchange for good times, booze and snacks? If you are, we’d love to have you over. Ruth has written more about the wonderful perks that you’ll enjoy if you can help us, so – if you’re free and can get to Oxford – please come! And it’ll be lovely to see you, too!

Buying a House, Part 1

This blog post is the first in a series about buying our first house.

Today, I called up a man on the telephone and – on behalf of Ruth, JTA, and I – offered him several hundred thousand pounds in exchange for his house. Well, actually I spoke to the agent who represents him, but – crazy alternatives notwithstanding – I gather that’s sort-of the way that things are often done in the world of buying and selling property.

A very pink attic bedroom.
When looking at houses, it’s important to look beyond its current decoration, and see the potential beyond. If you ever get your eyesight back.

With house prices in Oxford averaging about twice the national average, it’s a genuinely scary thing to be doing, to be looking seriously at owning one. On the upside, once we’re done paying for it we could sell it and use the money to buy a yacht. On the downside, by the time we’re done paying for it the sea level may have risen by enough that we’ll need one.

A wood-burning fire.
Sure, it’s got a wood-burning fire, lots of space, and a fair price… but what are the downsides?

House-hunting has been challenging, at times. The place that first caught our interest got quickly pushed down the list after we thought about the implications that the layout of rooms would have for us (as well as its crazy stairwell). The second place that we ‘connected’ with seemed like a clear winner; lots of great features for a very reasonable price. But then we tried cycling to it, and it turns out there’s no way to get there from Oxford without going over what JTA described as “a mountain”! And then, in case we needed more dissuasion, I looked at how far it was from the nearest telephone exchange, and discovered that broadband Internet access there would be only marginally faster than dial-up… until at least 2015. It doesn’t matter how good its countryside views are, it’s not worth trading high-def video for!

Our current home in Oxford.
Will this be the last rented accommodation we ever have? [Google Street View]
I don’t know if there’ll be much to say about the process of buying a house, from here. I don’t know if there’s anything interesting enough to share! But just like my imminent jury duty, I thought I’d share with you all anyway, even if just to say: “How about a housewarming party, sometime?”

11 years, 11 days.

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

The escape is imminent. I am leaving Aberystwyth (with Jim soon to join me) for Gloucestershire. I am greatly looking forward to several things: Access to proper shopping More live music More comedy Multiscreen cinemas! Having disposable income Being nearer to some of my closest friends There are, of course, things that I’ll miss: The…

Claire and I broke up in 2009, and I left Aberystwyth shortly afterwards. It look her a little while to complete her PhD and be ready to leave, herself, when she made this blog post.

Content Freeze

Isn’t memory strange?

Last week, we updated to the latest version of the CMS that powers the Bodleian‘s web site. During the process of installing and testing the new version, we initiated a “content freeze”, disallowing the 100+ regular content editors access to the administration sections: any changes they’d have made wouldn’t have been replicated in the new version, and we didn’t want a discrepancy in content while we were testing that the change had taken! We still had back-end access, of course, and a few minor “emergency” changes were made (on both the old and the new version), but in general, the site was in a read-only mode for several days.

A similar thing happened to my head during this weekend’s house move.

While running  a van-load of stuff from Old Earth to New Earth, Ruth, JTA and I stopped off at Argos to buy a few bits and pieces for our new home. We parked in one of the few remaining parking spaces capable of accommodating our extended wheel-base van. Unfortunately this brushed us up very close to an unfortunately-placed tree, whose branches reached in through the door as I clambered out. I spent a while trying to reposition them so as not to slam them in the door while Ruth and JTA walked ahead, towards Argos, and so when I was done they were quite a way ahead. I turned and ran to catch up with them…

BAM! Something struck me on the top of my head. We’re still not all in agreement as to whether it was a branch or the wing mirror of the van, but it hurt like hell. My knees buckled up and I collapsed into a heap.

Before long I was on my feet, but as I began to feel dizzy and nauseous, we started to worry that I might be concussed, and Ruth took me to the hospital. By then, I was unable to keep my eyes open without feeling like the world was spinning and I was going to throw up, and I kept feeling like I was moments away from falling asleep.

By the time I’d seen a doctor, about three hours later, I was starting to feel a little better. We took a leaflet of “things to watch out for after a concussion”, which advised that I shouldn’t lift any heavy things (“But I’m moving house today!”) nor use a computer or drink alcohol (“This is my life you’re talking about!”), all of which I ignored to some degree or another.

I napped on and off for a lot of Sunday and some of Monday, but it was on Monday that the amount of damage I’d done became most apparent. I got out of bed and staggered downstairs to find that Ruth and JTA had at some point bought a shoe rack. They weren’t around, but neither was the van, and I reasoned that they must have been out collecting more boxes, but I thought I might as well make myself useful by assembling this shoe rack they’d gotten. It was of the variety that hangs on the back of a door, so I spent some time deciphering the instructions and putting it together… only to find that it wouldn’t actually fit onto any of the (quite thick) doors in our new house.

That’s when Ruth & JTA arrived. “I saw you’d bought a shoe rack,” I said.

“Yes,” they replied, “We bought it yesterday. We told you about it.”

“Oh. I don’t remember that. Anyway, I built it, but it turns out that it won’t fit any of our doors.”

“Yes, we know: we told you that too. We were about to take it back to the shop.”

I have no recollection whatsoever of that conversation. Or several other conversations, it seems. In the hospital, I remember that Ruth talked to me for an hour or more (I wasn’t capable of conversation myself, some of the time, but it was nice to hear a familiar voice), and I still can’t remember any of it except for snippets (something about her father’s new house?).

For much of Sunday, my brain went into “content freeze”, too. A read-only mode where my memories worked fine, except that I couldn’t construct any new ones: everything just went in one ear and out the other. Maybe this is to be expected: a quick look at some maps of brains and an examination of the bump on my head indicates that the blow came to a point squarely in the centre of the middle frontal gyrus (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex)  of the right hemisphere of my brain: an area associated with emotional self-control, social judgement, lateral thinking, and the transfer of working memory.

Still: it was certainly a strange experience to be told about events from only a day earlier that I simply can’t remember. It also made Tuesday interesting: long weekends are confusing at the best of times, but parts of my memory made it feel like I’d had only a two-day weekend (as parts of Sunday are simply missing from my memory), and so it was even harder than usual to shake the feeling that it was Monday when I arrived at work on Tuesday. That’ll be a pleasant surprise on Friday, anyway, when the weekend “comes early”: maybe I should bang my head every time there’s a long weekend.

Earth Sunset

As regular readers will no-doubt know, the other Earthlings and I are currently in the process of moving house. Last weekend, as well as watching the Eurovision Song Contest, of course, we packed a lot of boxes (mostly stuffed with board games) and moved a handful of them over to New Earth, our new home, by car (this weekend, we’re using a van, which – in accordance with our BSG theming – is dubbed the “Raptor”).

Isis, Ruth and JTA's car, laden with boxes.
Isis, Ruth and JTA’s car, laden with boxes.

Part of this pack-and-move process has been to cut down on all of the things that we no longer want or need. Of particular concern was all of the booze we’ve collected. I’m not just talking about the jam-jar of moonshine that Matt R left here after our last Murder Mystery, although it is one of the more-terrifying examples. No; I’m talking about things like the Tesco Value Vodka, the blackcurrant schnapps, and the heaps of absinthe we’ve got littering the place up.

Paul outside New Earth.
Paul outside New Earth.

The more we drink, the less we have to box up and move, you see! So we’ve spent a lot of the last fortnight inventing new (sometimes quite-experimental) cocktails that make use of the ingredients that we’d rather not have to take with us to the new place. We’ve refrained from buying alcohol, promising ourselves that we won’t buy any more until we’ve gotten rid of the stuff we’ve got and don’t want by one means or another. And it’s just about working.

JTA, Paul and Ruth eat pizza and drink Earth Sunset.
JTA, Paul and Ruth eat pizza and drink Earth Sunset.

Earth Sunset – a mixture of cheap vodka, grenadine, and lemonade, with stacks of ice – caused some debate when Paul compared the drink to a Tequila Sunrise, claiming that “it isn’t a sunrise without orange juice”. He’s certainly right that you don’t get that cool “gradient” effect without something lighter (both in colour and specific density) to float on top of the grenadine. But on the other hand – as JTA pointed out – this is an Earth Sunset: it’s name has little to do with what it looks like and a lot to do with what it represents – the end of our life on (what we’re now calling) Old Earth.

Earth's "Battlestar Galactica" poster, hanging in New Earth. JTA, under Ruth's direction, adjusts Earth's "Red Kite" photo (which we eventually decided to move elsewhere).
Earth’s “Battlestar Galactica” poster, hanging in New Earth. JTA, under Ruth’s direction, adjusts Earth’s “Red Kite” photo (which we eventually decided to move elsewhere).

For those who are following our progression and comparing it to Battlestar Galactica canon, you’ll be glad to see that this works. We arrived on Earth, but now we’re leaving because it was irradiated and inhospitable (okay, perhaps it’s a slight exaggeration, but the house was a little run-down and under-maintained). And so we find ourselves making our home on New Earth.

There’ll be a housewarming thingy for local people (and distant people who are that-way inclined, but we’re likely to have something later on for you guys) sometime soon: watch this space.

Who’s Your Daddy?

This morning I took a cycle out to the post office to put in the mail redirection forms (which they wouldn’t let us fill in online, and – in fact – they rejected once I got to the post office because I’d used blue ink in one place on the form, rather than black… but that’s another story) in anticipation of the Earthlings‘ upcoming house move, and on my way out of the garage our neighbour came over.

“We’ll be sorry to see you go,” she said, gesturing at the “TO LET” sign at the end of the driveway.

“Hmm?” I responded. It took a while to sink in that she was talking to me: apart from an occasional “Hi” or “Bye” on the way in to or out of the house, we’ve never spoken to one another before.

To Let sign outside Old Earth.

“Oh yeah,” I said, after a pause, “We’re moving over to the other side of the city: we kind-of wanted a bigger place for the four of us.”

“Oh,” she continued, “I suppose it might be a little small in there for four. It’s a shame, though: you’re the best tenants we’ve ever had.”

Something in my head snapped, and unraveled, and it took a little time before I managed to re-assemble her sentence into something that made sense to me.

“You… own this building?” I asked, pointing back at our house. We’d never met our landlords (at least, I thought we hadn’t): everything had always been arranged through our letting agency.

There was another twang in my head as something else snapped. Then moments later, half way through my next thought, I realised how incredibly racist I was being. You see: our contract had stated that our landlord’s name was Mr. Patel, and that’s a name that in my mind had associated itself with a certain tone of skin colour. And it had, for a moment, seemed inconceivable that the plump white woman in front of me could possibly be part of the family of the imaginary Mr. Patel that had taken up residence in my head. As I worked to reprogram my brain with this new information (and perhaps a little less capacity for runaway assumptions), she continued:

“The previous tenants have all been awful,” she said, “The last lot broke all of the windows. The ones before that tried to burn the place down!”

This actually went some way to explaining the state of the building, with it’s various weakened and damaged parts.

“Well thank you,” I said,  “I hope you get some more great tenants next time.”

“Yeah,” she replied, “I was going to say that to your dad this morning when I saw him leaving.”

“My… dad?”

“Yeah: he left here earlier; just a bit before your girlfriend left. Sorry: is he not your father?”

Every string that still remaining intact in my brain snapped simultaneously. This woman had just blown my poor little mind. I investigated:

“Dark-haired chap, with a beard?” I queries, miming the shape of a beard because for some reason that made sense to me – you know, in case she’d never seen a beard before.

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“Wow. No, that’s JTA. He’s… like four years younger than me.”

“Oh God!” she said, “You can’t tell him I said that…”

But it was too late: the blog post was already half-written in my mind, taking up the void that had been cleared during the earlier series of mental implosions. This one’s for you, pops.

My "father" updates the Earthlings' "Jump Track", a metaphor borrowed from the Battlestar Galactica board game to represent our readiness to "jump" to our new home. It looks like moving now has a 25% chance of us leaving 3 people behind. Also, it looks like the Galactica has put on weight since it's last step.

What I Learned About Democracy, Injury, Packing & Friendship

It’s was a busy weekend; the first of several, I’m sure. Mostly – put briefly – it’s been spent thusly:

Democracy: I’ll be voting “Yes” on Thursday’s referendum, and you should too (unless you’ve already been persuaded or are even helping with the fight). And while I’ve not had as much opportunity to help get this message out as Ruth and JTA have, I’ve tried to do my bit by joining them for a spot of leafleting over the weekend. I’m not entirely in favour of some of the campaign tactics being used (like the separate “Labour Yes” and “Conservative Yes” campaigns which act as if one another don’t exist: to me, whether or not we adopt AV has nothing to do with parties or candidates and everything to do with it just being a better way of representing the opinion of the voters), but I guess that they’re necessary to get the point across to some folks. And this slight spindoctoring quickly pales in the light of some of the lies that the no-to-AV campaigners are telling.

Injury: Not to me, this time, but to my father, who came off his bike while cycling around Scotland this weekend. I’ve not had the chance to talk to him since they pushed back his surgery (he’s broken parts of himself and they want to turn him into a cyborg put a metal plate in him, or something) until later this week. Right now, then, he’s confined to hospital, which I can’t imagine he’s enjoying very much. If they’ve hooked you up with Internet access, dad – get well soon.

Packing: Oh, so much packing. I got started on boxing up all of the board games, the other day, only to find out that there were quite a few more of them than I remembered. I’ve also started on my collection of cables and computer knick-knacks, and discovered that I have no fewer than five male-to-male VGA cables. Why? I’ve no idea. I’ve been gradually cutting down on my spare supplies (do I really need three spare floppy drive cables when I don’t use any floppy disks?), but it’s hard: the very next day after I throw them out, you can guarantee that’ll be the moment I need one of my many AT-to-PS2 keyboard adapters.

Friendship: A couple of weeks ago I met Adrian, an international student from the USA who’s been in Oxford for a year or so for the final year of zer* study. Ze and I ‘clicked’ and formed an immediate connection, instantly getting along remarkably well. We spent a little of this weekend together, and for a moment there, it seemed like there might be the potential for a romantic connection, too. But sadly, by the time we got into gear ze had only two days left in the UK before jetting off back home to the States… and 3,900 miles is a long, long way. We both agreed that we should have met a year ago, but c’est la vie: the world is smaller, these days, thanks to the Internet, so there’s every chance of building an online friendship, punctuated those rare occasions when we happen to be in one another’s country.

I don't have any pictures to-hand from this weekend at all, shockingly. So here's a picture of a strange-looking insect, having just shed its skin (left), on Adrian's hat.

* It’s a gender-neutral pronoun, if you haven’t come across one before (and as I usually only find myself using them in the context of BiCon, you’d be forgiven). Aside from their linguistic benefits in politically-correct society,  they’re often favoured by those whose gender identity is neither male nor female.

The title of this blog post is, of course, a reference to What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art & Commerce, a fantastic 2001 Goo Goo Dolls compilation album.

The Board Games Are Breeding

A a means to take a break from the code I was working on for half an hour (I’m doing some freelance work for SmartData in my spare time, since I left them to go and work for the Bodleian Library, in order to help wrap up a project that I was responsible for at the end of my time there), I decided to go downstairs and do some packing in anticipation of our upcoming house move.

The first four boxes full of board games.

I packed about four boxes worth of board games, and then stood back to take a look at the shelves… and damnit, they look just as full as they did before I started.

I swear that my board game collection must be breeding, somehow. “Perhaps that’s where expansion packs come from,” suggests Paul. Perhaps: but that wouldn’t manage to explain the optical illusion that makes it look like I’ve got four boxes full of games when in actual fact they’re all still on the shelves, unless they’re breeding as fast as I can pack them.

This might take a while.