A New Keyboard

I already own the best mouse in the world. Maybe it’s time for a new keyboard, too.

An unexpected parcel.
What a large package! I wasn't expecting that!

A few weeks ago, Adam blogged about his trip to London last year, and mentioned that, after trips out to Soho’s “G-A-Y” nightclub when he was younger, he’d often surprise himself the following morning to wake up in some quite distant travel zones of London. My favourite bit was when he mentioned that, on one ocassion, he’d…

…somehow managed to whore my way beyond the reach of the Underground.


I replied with a comment, stating, among other things:

You owe me a fresh herbal tea. Also a new keyboard, which might never recover from the nasal spraying of herbal tea that it’s just been exposed to.


(it’s not a particularly original comment, I know: Jimmy said something similar in a comment on this very blog, about four years ago)

A gift note from Mr. A Westwood: Hi Dan, As requested, one replacement keyboard. I do hope that it's a suitable replacement and that nobody's got their wires crossed. Happy tapping! Adam xx
This note went a little way to explaining the parcel.

In any case: the week before last I received a pair of unexpected parcels. I opened the first, an Amazon box, and pulled out a note. It was from Adam, and stated that the contents were “a replacement keyboard”, assuming that “nobody’s got their wires crossed.”

The 'keyboard' that Adam had sent.
Adam's instrument. You need to wrap your lips around the tube and give it a good blow, while you finger the other end.

A musical keyboard: this one’s powered by air (I’d have never guessed that Stagg would have made such a thing!). The musician blows into a tube while they play the notes in order to elicit a tune. It doesn’t sound bad, actually, although I do feel that it could do with a MIDI port. And an air-driven dynamo to power that port. And then a battery-powered pump so that you don’t need to blow it at all.

The second parcel continued the theme:

Several boxes of fruit and herbal teas.
Hot and fruity: just the way I like them.

A selection of herbal and fruit teas, from Asda’s Morrisons’ range. There was no note in this parcel, but it was pretty clear by now who the sender must be. I’d have been ever so confused if I’d have opened the second parcel one first.

So thank you, Adam, you crazy old fool, for making me laugh out loud yet again. I shall have to compose a song in your honour: and given the amount of air intake that’s needed to keep the keyboard playing, I shall call it, The Big Puff Song.

Diplomacy, Parcels, and WW2 RTS Games

What have I been up to of late? Well, as you ask…


Ruth‘s game of Diplomacy got off to a fine start, and the backstabbing began soon afterwards. I’m not so keen on the engine, for reasons I’ll discuss later. Here’s how the map looks right now.

Diplomacy Map 211

I’m the red guys down at the bottom who are getting their arses kicked by the purple and brown guys. Very sweetly, JTA (leader of Russia) sent me an e-mail to apologise a little (and gloat a lot) about his recent pillaging of my lands, and congratulate me on trying to set him and Andy (Germany) against one another. It’s kind-of sweet, as I said, but really un-necessary: breaking alliances is what the game is all about.

Plus, it’s not like I didn’t see it coming. My alliance with Russia as a show from the start, but I didn’t realise that Russia planned to attack me so soon (I’d just issued attack orders against him). My mistake was that I didn’t anticipate that Germany side with Russia and backstab me. Memo to self: assassinate leader of Germany.

Sadly, the Diplomacy engine we’re using – phpDiplomacy – has a few interesting bugs that make it hard to work out who’s actually on your side. Here’s an example situation:

The problem with phpDiplomacy

The screenshot is faked, but the situation is plausible – the engine doesn’t accomodate for this. In this situation, the red player has been successfully attacked by the brown player, displacing their army (according to the message from 10:36pm). It’s not possible that the brown player did this alone, in this situation: they must have had help from at least one of – the green army in Piedmont, the green fleet in Venice, the purple army in Vienna, possibly a purple army from the region above (not shown), or perhaps even from the red fleet in Trieste (an unusual strategy, but not unheard of in some unusual circumstances, is to support the enemy against your own units).

But the engine gives no indication which this is. In this situation, the red player does not know which – green or purple – supported the attack. If the red player had alliances with the two of them, they would not know which one had betrayed them, for example. Whoops!

This could make it an interesting (or a frustrating) game. I’m certain that in the near future we’ll see players strategically helping one another perform attacks, without revealing that it was them that supported it.

A Strange Parcel

A strange parcel from Matt.

This morning, I received a strange parcel from Matt in the Hat, addressed to “Jen, Paul, Dan & Claire”. The contents, as pictured, seem to be two Guinness glasses and three cartons of organic fruit juice. I’m not sure which bits are for whom – or even why we’ve been sent this package at all – but I’m sure Matt will enlighten me soon.

Update: I’ve spoken to Matt on Jabber, and apparently the Guinness glasses box does not contain Guinness glasses. And I’m to make sure that Jen gets one of the cartons of juice.

Basically, Matt’s lost the plot. However, he still managed, through his insanity, to pick a selection of objects who’s size ratios made packing them easy.

Company of Heroes

I’ve been playing a lot of Company of Heroes these last couple of days: it’s a spectacular game. It’s been a long time since a real-time strategy game has amused me so much (since, perhaps Red Alert 2, seven years ago). It’s yet-another-world-war-2 game, as if we haven’t seen enough of them of late, but it’s a battle-level strategic game, rather than a first-person shooter, and it does a wonderful job of what it does.

Tanks roll through deformable terrain. Infantry hide in the craters your artillery has blown out. And the whole thing looks and sounds beautiful, from the hushed descent of paratroopers into a muddy field (reflections and all) to the flashes and blasts of a distant battle (complete with radio chatter, or plain old voices if you’re looking directly at the speaker). You can build sandbag walls and minefields, and blow them down just as easily. Don’t want to risk your men down a long, sniper-infested street? Steal some German artillery pieces and blow your way though the walls, then – the whole map is completely reshapable. The AI’s not to be sniffed at, either (although it’s a bit fiddly when it comes to multi-selecting and moving a group of vehicles together and they all crumple into each other when they reach a chicane, rather than taking turns).

It needs a beefy machine to do it justice, which is why I got it – to push my new gaming rig to the limits – but it’s more than just a graphics-fest: it’s also a very clever and gritty game.

So, who’s for a co-op?

Writing Comedy

And, of course, the other thing that’s been occupying my time has been writing stuff to say on Sunday’s Gorillamania event. But I’ve already said enough about that recently, so I’ll shut up and get on with some work.

Paul Is The Most Fucking Random Person In The World

Paul M: fucking nutter. The most random person you’re ever likely to meet. But you’ve got to love his sincerity.

This morning, I’m happily sat at my workstation, staring, as I do, at program code and pausing from time to time to check the RSS feeds of the usual crew, when the phone rings: Matt answers it; it’s Technium reception – they’ve got a parcel for us. Ooh; that’s exciting, but Matt’s deeply involved in some code so I offer to go and collect it. The arrangement here among us lazy folks is that the receptionist puts the parcel in the lift, and one of us toddles along the corridor and takes it out of the lift on this floor.

I stood outside the lift and listened as it came up to the first floor. The door opened, and I lifted out the parcel… and that’s when I noticed the first strange thing: the parcel was addressed to me, personally (which is very unusual) and the address was written entirely in marker pen (rather than being a printed label, as most goods delivered to us here are). I’m not expecting anything; least of all at work: I never give my work address to anybody. Who could have sent this?

I opened it and laughed out loud. It took just a second to realise what was going on, as I recalled a conversation in the RockMonkey ChatRoom yesterday lunchtime…

[11:38] * Ava_Work goes to nuke food
[11:38] <Ava_Work> Hmm… spaghetti hoops on toast for me, methinks…
[11:39] <Pacifist_049> You’re microwaving spaghetti hoops?
[11:41] <Ava_Work> Yup.
[11:41] <Ava_Work> Why?
[11:41] <Pacifist_049> Philistine
[11:41] <Ava_Work> So…
[11:41] <Ava_Work> …how else can I do it?
[11:41] <Ava_Work> And think carefully now…
[11:41] <Pacifist_049> Pan
[11:41] <Ava_Work> A pan. Which I don’t have. But let’s pretend I did. How would I heat it?
[11:41] <Pacifist_049> I know you don’t have a cooker at work, but that’s not the issue here. It’s the principle, damnit!
[11:42] <Ava_Work> So; as it pisses YOU off so much, feel free to bring me a pan and a cooker. Then I’ll do it your way, which is – in the end – preferable.
[11:42] <Ava_Work> However, it doesn’t piss ME off enough that I’ll go hungry rather than nuke spaghetti hoops.

Parcel containing a loaf of bread, a tin of spaghetti hoops, a pan, wooden spoon, and an electric hob. Close-up on the beans pan, and wooden spoon.
Click on images for larger versions.

The parcel, as shown above, contains a pan, wooden spoon, loaf of bread, tin of spaghetti hoops, and a strangely familiar electric hob.

Which is a fab gesture, although if I use it for my lunch today I’ll have to do so on the sly, on account of the fact that the Technium facilities manager is in today and this particular piece of electrical equipment has not been electrically safety-tested.

Electrical safety test sticker.

What the fuck. Thank you, Paul!