Cosmo – Building A Watercooled PC (Part 1)

Recently, I’ve reduced my hours working at the Bodleian in order to be able to spend more time working on Three Rings and engaging in other bits of freelance work… and to increase my flexibility so that I can be available for childcare and to generally make things more-convenient for the other Greendalians and I. Unfortunately, on my very second day of this new working arrangement Nena (which I built in 2008) had her power supply blow up, which sort-of threw a spanner into the works. This, along with a scary recent hard drive failure in JTA‘s computer, I took as being a sign from the Universe that it was time to build myself a new PC to replace Toni, my primary box, and relegate Toni to be the new Nena. It was time to build: Cosmo.

Frame from the Basic Instructions comic "How to Justify Upgrading Your Computer"; click for full comic
This episode of Basic Instructions, which came out disturbingly close to the construction of Cosmo, somewhat parallels my experience. Click for full comic.

Given that I had a little cash to burn, I decided that it must finally be time to fulfil a couple of long-standing dreams I’ve had – things I’ve wanted to do when building my last two or three computers, but never been able to justify the expense. And so I set out to build my new “dream computer”: a beast of a machine which would present me with some fresh engineering challenges during construction. Key features that I wanted to include were:

Liquid cooling

Most computers are air-cooled: the “hot” components like the processor and graphics chipset are covered with a heatsink (which works just like the fins on a motorcycle engine: drawing heat away through contact with cool air) and, generally, a fan (to improve airflow over the heatsink and thus increase cooling). Air cooling, though, is inefficient (the transfer of heat from components to air isn’t very fast) and noisy (“hot”-running air-cooled computers are annoyingly loud), and so in my last few PC builds I’ve drifted towards using cooler and quieter components, such as processors that are overpowered for what they’ll actually be asked to do (like Tiffany2, who’s virtually silent) and all-in-one liquid coolers for my CPUs (like these ones, from CoolerMaster – note that these still have a fan, but the use of a radiator means that the fan can be large, slow, and quiet, unlike conventional CPU fans which spin quickly and make noise).

Lookin' for some hot stuff baby this evenin'. I need some hot stuff baby tonight. I want some hot stuff baby this evenin'. Gotta have some hot stuff. Gotta have some love tonight.
The “business end” of the cooling system of a typical air-cooled graphics card. That grey sticky bit on the copper square touches the processor, and the entire rest of the system is about dissipating the heat produced there.

But I’ve always had this dream that I’d one day build a true, complete, custom water-cooled system: taking a pump and a reservoir and a radiator and cutting pipe to fit it all around the “hot” components in my case. The pumps and fans of water-cooled systems make them marginally louder than the quietest of fan-driven, air-cooled computers… but are far more efficient, drawing a massive amount of heat away from the components and therefore making it possible to pack more-powerful components closer together and overclock them to speeds undreamed of by their manufacturers. A liquid cooling solution was clearly going to be on the list.

Multi-GPU

And how to best make use of that massive cooling potential? By putting an extra graphics card in! The demands of modern 3D games mean that if you want to run at the highest resolutions, quality settings, and frame rates, you need a high-end graphics card. And if you want to go further still (personally: I love to be able to run Bioshock InfiniteFar Cry 3, or Call Of Duty: Ghosts at a massive “ultra-widescreen”, wrap-around resolution of 5760×1080 – that’s triple the number of pixels found on your 1080p HDTV), well: you’re going to want several high-end graphics cards.

Two ATI graphics cards linked in "Crossfire" mode using a link cable.
Even though the capability to run graphics cards in tandem, pooling resources, has existed since the 1990s, it’s only within the last decade that it’s become truly meaningful: and even now, it’s still almost-exclusively the domain of the enthusiast.

Both ATI/AMD’s Radeon and Nvidia’s GeForce series’ of chipsets are capable of running in tandem, triple, or quadruple configurations (so long as your motherboard and power supply hold up, and assuming that you’ve got the means to keep them all cool, of course!), and as a result all of my last few PC builds have deliberately been “ready” for me to add a second graphics card, down the line, if I decided I needed some extra “oomph” (instead, I’ve always ended up with a new computer by that point, instead), but this would be the first time I’d actually design the computer to be multi-GPU from the outset.

SSD/RAID 1+0 Combo

Toni featured a combination of a solid-state drive (flash memory, like you get in pendrives, but faster) instead of a conventional hard drive, to boot from, and a pair of 2TB “traditional” hard drives, all connected through the perfectly-adequate SATA 2 interface. Using an SSD for the operating system meant that the machine booted up ludicrously quickly, and this was something I wanted to maintain, so clearly the next step was a larger, faster, SATA 3 SSD for Cosmo.

RAID is for people who can't handle reality.
This is your computer. This is your computer on RAID.

Anybody who’s messed about with computer hardware for as long as I have has seen a hard drive break down at least once, and JTA’s recent malfunction of that type reminded me that even with good backups, the downtime resulting from such a component fault is pretty frustrating. This, plus the desire to squeeze as much speed as possible out of conventional hard drives, made me opt for a RAID 1+0 (or “RAID 10”). I’d tie together four 2TB hard drives to act as a single 4TB disk, providing a dramatic boost in redundancy (one, or possbily even two drives can be completely destroyed without any data loss) and speed (reading data that’s duplicated across two disks is faster because the computer can be effectively “reading ahead” with the other disk; and writing data to multiple disks is no slower because the drives work at the same time).

A few other bits of awesome

Over my last few PC builds, I’ve acquired a taste for a handful of nice-to-have’s which are gradually becoming luxuries I can’t do without. My first screwless case was Duality, back in the early 2000s, and I’d forgotten how much easier it was to simply clip hard drives to rails until I built Nena years later into a cheap case that just wasn’t the same thing.

The small non-blue thing on the left is Mark, Mark, Christian Mark.
If you were at, for example, Troma Night IV, on 17th May 2003, you’ll have seen Duality: she’s the huge blue thing on the right.

Another thing I’ve come to love and wonder how I ever did without is modular power supplies. Instead of having a box with a huge bundle of cables sticking out of it, these are just a box… the cables come separately, and you only use the ones you need, which takes up a lot less space in your case and makes the whole process a lot tidier. How did it take us so long to invent these things?

Needless to say, the planning about building Cosmo was the easy and stress-free bit. I shall tell you about the exciting time I had actually putting her together – and the lessons learned! – later. Watch this space, and all that!

My Very Excellent Liz Just Brought Us Sixteen Pizzas

I hadn’t really talked about it yet, because I’ve been too busy… I don’t know… blogging about Marmite and beds and computers or something… but I had the most fabulous time at a New Year’s party hosted by Liz and Simon at their house in Macclesfield. There was drinking, and board games, and truly awful Troma films, and then at midnight we all counted down from 7, or 12, or something, and spontaneously broke out into a chorus of Auld Lang Syne. See: there’s a video and everything –


(can’t see the video? click here to watch on YouTube)

It seems that my mnemonic (as used in the title of this post) is broken, unless we reinstate Pluto as a planet and rename the fourth and eighth planets in the solar system to Lars and Septune, respectively. Which I think are better names, anyway.

It was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with folks I don’t see enough of, to talk about what had gone right (and wrong) about the year gone by, and what we were looking forward to in the year to come. Liz suggested that perhaps this should become a regular thing, a little like “fake Christmas” has begun to, and that seems like a good idea (and I’m pretty sure I heard Bryn volunteer to host it next year…).

By the way: do you remember how last year Paul, Ruth, JTA and I invented Argh! It Burns Night? We’re doing it again this year, and because so many of you expressed an interest in joining us, we’d like you to come too. It’ll be on the evening of Saturday 4th February (yes, we know this is a little late for a Burns Night, but the second part of Ruth & JTA’s honeymoon is going to get in the way otherwise): drop me an email if you want to come along for a night of haggis, whisky, and fanfiction.

New Computer #1 – Tiffany2

This weekend, I integrated two new computers into the home network on New Earth. The first of these is Tiffany2.

Tiffany2 is a small "media centre" style computer with an all-in-one remote keyboard/mouse.

Tiffany2 replaces Tiffany, the media centre computer I built a little under four years ago. The original Tiffany was built on a shoestring budget of under £300, and provided the technical magic behind the last hundred or so Troma Nights, as well as countless other film and television nights, a means to watch (and record and pause) live TV, surf the web, and play a game once in a while.

The problem with Tiffany is that she was built dirt-cheap at a time when building a proper media centre PC was still quite expensive. So she wasn’t very good. Honestly, I’m amazed that she lasted as long as she did. And she’s still running: but she “feels” slow (and takes far too long to warm up) and she makes a noise like a jet engine… which isn’t what you want when you’re paying attention to the important dialogue of a quiet scene.

Tiffany and Tiffany2. Were this a histogram of their relative noise levels, the one on the left would be much, much larger.

Tiffany2 is virtually silent and significantly more-powerful than her predecessor. She’s also a lot smaller – not much bigger than a DVD player – and generally more feature-rich.

This was the first time I’d built an ITX form-factor computer (Tiffany2 is Mini-ITX): I wanted to make her small, and it seemed like the best standard for the job. Assembling some of her components felt a little like playing with a doll’s house – she has a 2.5″ hard disk and a “slimline” optical drive: components that in the old days we used to call “laptop” parts, which see new life in small desktop computers.

Examples of six different hard drive form factors. Tiffany2 uses the third-smallest size shown in this picture. The computer you're using, unless it's a laptop, probably uses the third-largest (picture courtesy Paul R. Potts, CC-At-SA).

In order to screw in some of the smaller components, I had to dig out my set of watchmaker’s screwdrivers. Everything packs very neatly into a very small space, and – building her – I found myself remembering my summer job long ago at DesignPlan Lighting, where I’d have to tuck dozens of little components, carefully wired-together, into the shell of what would eventually become a striplight in a tube train or a prison, or something.

She’s already deployed in our living room, and we’ve christened her with  the latest Zero Punctuation, a few DVDs, some episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess, and an episode of Total Wipeout featuring JTA‘s old history teacher as a contestant. Looks like she’s made herself at home.

(for those who are sad enough to care, Tiffany2 is running an Intel Core i3-2100 processor, underclocked to 3GHz, on an mITX Gigabyte GA-H61N-USB3 motherboard with 4GB RAM, a 750GB hard disk, and DVD-rewriter, all wrapped up in an Antec ISK 300-150 case with a 150W power supply: easily enough for a media centre box plus some heavy lifting if I ever feel the need to give her any)

Troma Night Adventure

Because I promised you some Aber-nostalgia.

Do you remember the RockMonkey Wiki? Many years ago, Ruth bought the domain name rockmonkey.org.uk as a gift for Andy K, who’d been nicknamed “Rock Monkey” for longer than anybody could remember. He decided that what he wanted to host there was a wiki engine, and I helped him get one set up. Soon, every Abnibber and Troma Night veteran was using it, filling the pages with all kinds of junk.

Soon, Jon launched the wiki’s first WikiGame: a maze exploration game using littered with Dungeon Master Java screenshots and monsters aplenty (monsters like Tubgirl and Lesbians and The Splurg). This kicked off a series of other WikiGames, mostly by Jon, Andy R, and myself (although Andy K started about a dozen of them and Ruth got some way through developing her first).

My biggest contribution was probably TromaNightAdventure, a text-based adventure in which the player attempts to explore Aberystwyth to collect (at least) three Troma Night stars, some pizza, some beer, and some films. It was an epic quest, far larger than I’d meant for it to grow, with multiple non-linear ways to win and a scoring system that told you exactly by how much you’d beaten it (some, but few, people managed to score the maximum number of points).

The screenshot above isn’t from the RockMonkey Wiki. It’s from my relaunched version of Troma Night Adventure. That’s right: I’ve dug up the final backup of the RockMonkey Wiki, extracted the relevant content, knocked together a mini version of the wiki engine and the WikiGameToolkit, and re-launched the game. It’s read-only, of course: this isn’t a real wiki; the real wiki is long-gone. But it does have a few extra features than the original, like a pictorial inventory and a nippy Ajax-powered interface. If you’re looking for some nostalgia about the old RockMonkey Wiki or about Troma Nights back in Aberystwyth, here’s your ticket:

Troma Night 300 (Hindsight)

For those who couldn’t make it to Troma Night 300 on Friday, but don’t want to miss out on the experience: here’s what you missed (along with lots of links to some videos for you to watch – note that some videos might be considered NSFW):

  • 8:00pm – in exaggeration of the tradition, everybody present threw a sponge across the room; meanwhile, simultaneously, Paul threw a sponge out of the window of the Commodore Cinema and clear onto the roof of the nearby shopmobility scheme portacabin.
  • 8:05pm“Kit, order the pizza!” As was the case in years gone by, Kit – in attendance by speakerphone – asked “What does everybody want?” and, via Scotland, relayed our order to Hollywood Pizza. Meanwhile, trololololololololololo man sang in the background (a comparatively recent tradition).
  • 10:30pm – Our second film again sees an introduction supplied by Matt in the Hat:
    • Matt’s video introduction – nobody, not even me, had seen this video before it was shown at Troma Night, but it had us rolling on the floor with laughter. I’ve had to modify the video for YouTube (imagine that the pint of Guinness isn’t there), which reduces its impact somewhat, but I hope that putting it online will afford those of you who weren’t there the opportunity to enjoy it almost as much as we did.
    • The Deadly Bees (MST3K edition) – a Troma Night classic and a particular favourite of Adam’s – he owns several different copies of this film. We have some technical difficulties towards the end of the film and switch to the original version to finish off, but this doesn’t make the film any less awful.
  • 12:10am – we wrap up with another screening of Matt’s introduction to The Deadly Bees, for those that don’t leave the room fast enough to avoid watching it again (the cowards): the final frame is left as a freeze-frame on the screen until everybody departs

All-in-all a fantastic Troma Night by anybody’s account: a huge thank you to everybody who made it special by coming along, by taking part remotely, or by sending well-wishes (Kit’s blog post, Liz’s blog post, comments on my announcement).

It was particularly important to me to have a Troma Night like this one, as this is likely to be one of my last Troma Nights in Aberystwyth: as I indicated last year, I plan to leave Aberystwyth during 2010. I’m currently looking into a possible window of opportunity that would give me the chance to move to Oxford within the next nine weeks, and it’s very unlikely that I’ll be around for another dozen Troma Nights here. In some ways, Troma Night 300 was – for me – a send-off of the concept of Troma Night in Aberystwyth (although you can be sure that we’ll be kicking off Troma Night Oxford once Ruth, JTA, Paul and I are settled there).

In other news, Alec’s LiveJournal account has been mysteriously deleted: did anybody else notice that?

https://danq.mebe around/2010/04/12/troma-night-300/

Troma Night 300

This Friday’s Troma Night will be Troma Night 300! It’s hard to believe how much time I’ve spent at this, our weekly film night. I wonder how many pizzas, in total, have been eaten? How many awful films we’ve groaned at?

I’m planning that for this special Troma Night we’ll temporarily revitalise some of the old traditions. I’ve already been in touch with Kit, and he’s happy to phone in the pizza order for us (“Kit, order the pizza!” // <sighs> “What does everybody want?”) in the traditional style. I’m hoping that Paul will be available to throw a sponge through a window (if he’s working, of course, we’ll try to arrange for him to fling a sponge around the cinema projection booth while we simultaneously throw a substitute sponge at The Cottage). We’ll aim to start a little early with a Flash Gordon short, for those who miss watching those before their Troma Night experience, too.

As for those of you who are no longer around, you’re welcome to join in from afar, too. Alec: why don’t you buy yourself a four-pack of beer and drink exactly three of them? “Strokey” Adam: perhaps you can arrange for somebody to molest you with unwanted physical contact on Friday evening? Liz: you ought to get a date for the night, introduce him to all of your friends, and then never see him again. See: traditions are great!

In other news: if you haven’t yet played Lost Pig (And Place Under Ground), you should. It’s a fun, puzzle-oriented piece of interactive fiction that’s full of charm, with a wonderfully lovable (and not your usual) protagonist. It’s a lightweight bit of adventuring that’ll take most of you under an hour, so go play! Install Gargoyle (for Windows or Linux) for the simplest-possible play experience, and have fun!

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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMAC

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 back.no joke
    Me: Gotcha! April Fools’.

Man, I love this day of the year.

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.

Vanilla Sky, A Letter, And A Trip

VANILLA SKY

Perhaps Vanilla Sky wasn’t the best choice of film to finish Troma Night last night on, based on the dream I had:

I dreamt that I was dreaming, and that during that inner dream I became lucid [not so hard, actually, and something I periodically do normally]. In the inner dream, I’d broken my phone while snowboarding, and needed to replace the battery, and so, in a test of dream control, I simply made a new battery materialise and installed it. However aware I was that I was in a dream, however, I didn’t come to realise that I was dreaming that I was dreaming – I was convinced that I was aware of my waking life as the one that I had in the first-level dream – until I “woke up” and, a few minutes later, achieved lucidity again.

Strange, but not really unexpected: mixing my head with films that have themes of altered states of conciousness almost invariably gives these kinds of results.

A LETTER

We’ve got a letter here addressed to Bryn – it came through the letterbox yesterday evening at some point. If you’d like to pick it up, Bryn, we’ll be around all morning and then we’re disappearing (see below).

A TRIP

Claire and I are off to Preston this afternoon to visit my family before moving on to Manchester tomorrow, where we’re seeing Foo Fighters. We’re back late on Monday night/early Tuesday morning. I gather that Geek Night B is taking place at Rory’s tonight, if anybody’s that way inclined, but I’m afraid you can’t have Pandemic, because I’ve promised to play it with my family. Next week!

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.

Quickly, Before They Turn The Glass Into Lesbians!

So, what have I been up to this weekend, you ask. Well…

“Cover The Mirrors” Launch Party

On Friday I took the train up to Preston. The train I was on broke down at Machynlleth when they linked it up to the carriages that had come down the Pwllheli line, and the repairs set me back by almost an hour, but it turns out that the rest of the rail network was running behind schedule that day, too, and so I didn’t miss any important connections. I arrived in time for a quick “birthday tea” with my family (for my dad’s birthday) before rushing off to the Waterstones for the launch party for my friend Faye‘s first published novel, Cover The Mirrors.

Dan with author Faye at the book launch

I drank as much wine as the store were willing to give me and bought myself a signed copy of the book. I even managed to get the photo, above, under the proviso that it’s only allowed to appear on the internet thanks to the fact that I’m holding a carrier bag in front of Faye’s face (she’s more than a little camera-shy). I haven’t started reading Cover The Mirrors yet, because I’m virtually at the end of The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, and I’d like to finish that first, but little doubt you’ll hear about it here in due course.

Dad’s Birthday

After the book launch, my sisters and I took my dad out for a few drinks to celebrate his 51st birthday. It turns out that, in my absence, Preston’s nightclub scene has really taken off. We started out in an 80s-themed bar which is part of a chain called Reflex. It’s so 80s it’s unreal: all 80s hits playing, David Hasselhoff and Mr. T decorating every wall, glitter balls and spots and mirrors everywhere… deely-boppers available at the bar… and so on. Really quite a fantastic theme venue. Then, under my sister Sarah’s recommendation, we tootled up the street and into a cafe/club called Manyana, where my dad got hit on by somebody young enough to be his daughter.

My dad and some 20-something year-old

I snatched this picture. I’ve no idea who she is – we didn’t get her name – but she seemed genuinely surprised to hear my dad’s age. So I had the DJ announce it, just to make sure there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that there was an old person on the dancefloor.

This influx of Preston nightclubs is making them all remarkably competitive with their drinks prices, too. I bought a few rounds for the four of us and none of them ever came to over a tenner, and one – thanks to the “buy one get one free” policy at Manyana – came to under £6, which is quite remarkable for a city nightclub on a Friday night for four people!

Back To Aberystwyth

On Saturday I had brunch with my sister Becky, my mum, and her boyfriend and then got back onto the trains to head back to Aberystwyth. Owing to line maintenance, the stretch of track between Crewe and Preston is unusable every weekend within sight, and so I was re-directed via Manchester Picadilly. Yet again, my train ran late, and I found myself sprinting accross Picadilly station, trying to find a train that was heading Shrewsbury-way…

…meanwhile, my friend Katie, having slept through her stop, woke up in Manchester Picadilly and, not quite awake, clambered off her train in an attempt to find a connection. I’d apparently featured in her dream, and so she was quite surprised (and not quite sure if she was seeing things) when I sprinted past her. She sent a text (which I chose to ignore: my pocket beeped but I was too busy looking for a train to take the time to get my phone out) and then phoned me before she was able to confirm that yes, it really was me.

As we were headed the same way, she joined me on my train for one stop, which was a nice surprise for what was a long and overcomplicated train journey. A few folks have suggested that this might not be a coincidence, and that she might be stalking me, but I’m yet to be convinced.

In any case, I don’t have a picture to go with this part of the story. Sorry.

Jimmy, Beth, and Troma Night

YATN. If you were there, you know how it went. Big thanks to Jimmy and Beth for coming along.

Lloyd Kaufman’s Visit

In case you’ve not been anywhere that I can pounce on you and go “squee!” recently, here’s what you missed out on. You’ll remember that last week I mentioned that PoultrygeistTroma‘s new movie – was coming to Aberystwyth. Well, it did. And it rocked…

…and better yet, Ruth, Claire, JTA, Paul and I got to hang out with Lloyd Kaufman, president of Troma Studios and producer of The Toxic Avenger, for a couple of pints and to share a bowl of nachos. The guy’s fabulously chatty and friendly, and if it weren’t for the awestruck feeling of “wow, we’re just sat here chatting with Lloyd Kaufman in Lord Beechings” we’d have probably been more interesting company.

Dan, Claire, !!!LLOYD KAUFMAN!!!, JTA, and Ruth

When he said goodbye, kissing the cheeks of each of the girls, I genuinely thought that they were in danger of exploding with excitment. Thankfully they didn’t, because I’d already bought them tickets to see Poultrygeist later on.

Which was, as I’ve said before, fantastic. It’s even better seen with a nice, energised audience, and better still when the director and several other people who worked on the film are hanging around afterwards to answer questions, chat, autograph things and so on. There are apparently 15 prints of Poultrygeist and the capacity to make more on demand, so if you want to see it and can’t wait for the DVD release, go speak to your local cinema now and ask if they’ll show Poultrygeist, even if only for a week (as Lloyd himself said, it’s better than showing Transformers on all 24 screens of some soulless megaplex). And hell, with Troma’s current financial situation, they could probably do with a helping hand with getting into as many projection booths as possible!

The title of this post – Quickly, Before They Turn The Glass Into Lesbians! – is a reference to one of my favourite lines in the film.

Paul might have bitten off more than he can chew, though, as he hinted on his blog. After some discussion with Lloyd, Paul is likely to be responsible for:

  • Re-establishing the UK division of the Troma fan club.
  • Acting as president of the above, for the forseeable future.
  • Investigating UK distribution of Troma films.
  • Oh, and making an official DVD subtitle track for Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead, which describes the Troma Night drinking rules and reminds you when you should be drinking. He’s got a few ideas about things that should be in such a subtitle track, too, and if you’re familiar with the rules you’ll probably be able to guess what he’s thinking about.

I’ll leave it to him to go into detail, if he wishes.

Matt In Hospital

Between places, we also joined a growing crowd at the foot of Matt‘s bed in Bronglais Hospital. His operation was a success, but he’s reacted unusually to the general anasthetic and they’re likely to keep him in for observation for another few days. If you haven’t had a chance to visit him already, he’d probably appreciate the company (although Sarah seems to have barely left his side): visiting hours are 3pm-5pm, 6pm-8pm: just ask if you need to know what ward he’s in and how to get there. If you’re feeling particularly cruel, mock him by talking about how well your bodily excretions are working, or swap his drip with his catheter bag while he’s not looking.

But seriously: I’m sure we all wish him well.

Curry!

Finally – as if we weren’t full enough from a large Sunday lunch – after leaving the cinema, Gareth, Penny, Amy, Ruth, JTA, Claire and I slipped down for a late-night curry at the Spice of Bengal. Which was delicious, although there was a little much food for those of us who were already quite full.

Dan eating curry!

Nonetheless, a fantastic end to a fantastic weekend! I’m sure everybody else will have a different story to tell (Paul spent longer with Lloyd and went to more films; Claire and Jimmy got horribly drunk together on Friday night after she, Ruth and JTA failed to see a Meatloaf concert; Matt’ll have his own morphine-fuelled tale to spin, and so on), because it’s been a rich, full couple of days for many of us abnibbers.

Black Red Tonight

As you probably ought to know, Black Red Black Dwarf Adder Night V is tonight, featuring the fifth series of Red Dwarf (including fantastic episodes such as Quarantine and Back To Reality) and the first half of the third series of Blackadder.

Saturday’s Troma Night is cancelled in favour of Adam‘s Eurovision Final Night. I’m sure Adam is probably fine with any Troma Night regulars who are inclined towards suffering the Eurovision Song Content joining in. As always, check before you board the plane.