Future Soon

There’s a black rectangle, 124mm by 59mm by 8mm in my pocket which, all the way back home from work, keeps track of satellites in the sky and works out my position based on which ones it can talk to. When I get within range of the position I’ve marked as Home, it starts looking out for signals for my own private wireless network, which it organises a secure connection to. As it does that, notifies a program on my phone which, before I’ve reached the front door, asks if I want to put the kettle on. If I say so, it then talks to my kettle over the wireless network and asks it to boil to 100 degrees Celsius. Once that has happened, by which I’m inside and have taken my coat off, it notifies the device in my pocket, which in turn sends a low-power notification to my watch to inform me that the kettle’s boiled, and tea’s up.

Once I’ve made my cup of tea, I can sit down in front of a larger device, and talk to friends I’ve made over the last twenty years on the internet. Some I’ve never met, some I’ve met a couple of times, some I used to know well but have drifted out of contact with, and some I will see on Tuesday. I talk to and play games with my brothers, one in Kent - less than 50 miles away - and one in Thailand - nearly 6000 miles - with no noticeable gap in response than if they were talking to me here.

I can share files, photos, ideas and emotion with people from all over the world; and have their files, their photos, their ideas and emotions shared with me in turn.

It’s not a detachment from the world around us, it’s an attachment to the worlds around our friends. It’s not the recording of life overriding the living of it, it’s the sharing of life, and the outsourcing of memories outside of our frail and doomed bodies to more reliable storage, that we can find it again.

So when you say, when you think, when you express that the future promised rocket-cars and Mars bases, and that what you got was Twitter and Call of Modern Warfare; you should remember that with those you got international free video calls, entire world maps in the palm of your hand, instant access to more words than you can ever read, and articulated robot powered prosthetic arms.

How to bake a cheesecake

A recipish

You will require:

  • Bowls.
  • Time.
  • Effort.
  • An Oven.
  • A nine inch cake tin. Preferably one with a loose bottom (aha).
  • Greaseproof paper. Not tinfoil.
  • All your base:
    • Bikkits.
    • Cinnamon
    • Nutmeg
    • Butter
    • Brown sugar.
  • The creamy goodness:
    • Cream Cheese
    • Sour Cream
    • Double (Heavy) Cream
    • Sugar
    • Flour
    • Vanilla Extract
    • Eggs

Take your cake tin and line it with something. The recipe recommends butter, but this doesn’t work terribly well. Last couple of times I’ve tried Tinfoil. If you really, really want to use tinfoil, then do, but the shear effort it takes to line the cake tin in tinfoil would be better spent walking to the local supermarket and saying “What ho, fine supermarket, sell me one roll of your fine grease-proof paper, if you would be so kind”, including the resultant time spent in a place with nice friendly walls.

Cream Cheese

3×8oz packets of cream cheese. You can use spreadable “soft” cheese for this too, but if you see something that says “Cream Cheese” buy that instead. This works with Philadelphia, and it works with Mascarpone, and it works if you use one of each.

Cream

You will need a whole cup of each of sour and double (which Americans call “Heavy”) cream. Shockingly enough, an official ‘cup’ is about a the size of a cup, or about half a pint. It’s important to note that this is one of the middle size of cream availability, or close enough to it for jazz. If your moronic Helpful Local Supermarket Delivery Collective are stupid enough to supply you with the smaller size, take the time now to go forth and send a minion to fetch more stuff, whilst you play Civilization and wipe out the evil empire of Sainsbury’s with a tactical nuke.

Bikkits

Bikkits in this case are defined as “digestive bikkits” if you’re British, Graham’s Crackers if you’re American, and “the crumbly dark brown ones that may usually be covered in chocolate” if you’re neither. You’ll need about a cup of these, too. How do you measure a cup of a non-cup-shaped solid substance? This is simplicity itself. Take an amount of bikkits, and hit them with a hammer until they fit into the cup. This strategy works with most things.

Stage Zero: Oven.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

Stage One: All your base

Get about five tablespoons of melted butter. You can do this by putting about half a block into the microwave and nuking it for a minute or so.

Summon all your hopes and dreams that have been dashed upon the hard rocks of reality, and apply the resulting frustration to a small tower of biscuits until they break down into their component crumbs. Add these to the yellow goo, mix in 3 table spoons of brown sugar, a tablespoon of cinnamon and a tiny, tiny amount of nutmeg (The recipe said half a teaspoon. This is accurate if you really, really adore the taste of nutmeg) and stir until it’s consistent slush. Pour this slush into the bottom of the cake tin and bash until it’s level and coats the bottom of the tin. Personally, I recommend using a potato masher for this task. Hit it and make it as level as you can, or until you get bored. If you realise at this stage that you’ve totally forgotten to add the sugar, then sprinkle it over the top. Bung the kit and caboodle into the oven for 10 minutes. Or, ignore the oven bit entirely and do the next bit.

Stage Two: The Toppening

Bung the cream cheese and a cup of white sugar into a bowl and vent frustrations for a while, or put it into an electric mixer. Either way, you want smooth gritty stuff.
Add both types of cream (A cup of each) and attack.
Add a tablespoon of Vanilla extract, and three tablespoons of plain white flour.
Attack mercilessly until it begs for forgiveness.

Now, wash your hands.

Take the index finger of your right hand, and swipe it though the mixture. Now lick the cheesecake stuff from your finger. This is important, because it tastes really nice, and we’re about to add raw eggs, after which you really shouldn’t eat it until it’s baked, so savour it for now.

Add the eggs (Three of them) one at a time, avenging your lost loves upon the ghost of cheesecake past between each egg.

Pour the pure white fluffy white goo upon the dark, forbidding ground of the Biscuit Mix That Time Forgot and bung the entire unholy creation into the Place Of Heatedness for an hour to an hour and a bit before you withdraw it from its personal hell and place it into the Place Of Coldedness.

Here you must suffer Hell, for you must remain aware that there is a freshly baked cheesecake in the fridge, but you must leave it pristine and uncut for at least six hours. Hell is a cheesecake you cannot eat.

After that, you can top it (For example, melt half a packet of chocolate with a small tub of cream and pour it over the top and let it set) and eat it. I’d provide a picture here of what it looks like, but there isn’t any left…

Jeeves & Wooster

Today I went to see Jeeves & Wooster: Perfect Nonsense, which is a play running on the West End. 

I had my doubts that Jeeves and Wooster would work as a play, in the same way as while I liked the Fry & Laurie versions a lot, I always felt that the translation away from the narrator removed too much of what made the stories great. The play is awesome. It maintains the metanarrative by turning the whole thing into a story Wooster is telling, which makes the telling of the story - which is a farce - a farce in and of itself. Mark Heap is currently playing Jeeves, and is doing masterfully, and while I’m not absolutely convinced of Robert Webb’s Wooster, it’s certainly an excellent performance. Very much recommended if you can see it in London, and probably also worth seeing if you can see it when it goes on tour later this year

Empire Year 2, Event 1

Empire happened. My pedometer is happy with me, and wishes for me to know that I walked thirty miles over the course of Thursday to Monday. My boots agree. 

It had low bar to clear to be my Best Empire Ever, and cleared it high. I was asked to take over the admin-side of the Senate system, which I think I did successfully. I enjoyed being able to advise player characters on how best to use the political powers they have, and I believe it was a good start. I felt useful and appreciated, which is always nice. But also, some of the process changes and conversations can help make the game better for the players, rather than instruct the players on how best to play the elysian ideal of the game.

I enjoyed the game a lot, but part of the new systems involved sacrificing my fun and energy for the betterment of the game and players, and my major aim is to claw some of that back - not all, because the trade of some or all of character agency, fun and energy for game, player betterment and meal tickets are pretty much the definition of crewing, but I’d like to whittle down the amount of crazy it takes to do my bits to the point where someone else is willing to if I’m not there.

The game went really well from our perspective, I think. Gate & GOD especially seemed to be running like oiled clockwork, Site seemed to be almost entirely ahead of where players were likely to need them, and the organised chaos of Plot appeared to be getting everything out. There are lessons learned, tweaks to be made, conversations to be had; but it looks like the game as a whole is starting to find it’s stride.

(Photo by Charlotte Moss)

"Dear Landlord, the boiler? That was broken? And then was bodged fixed? Yeah, that’s not working again. Also the immersion heater’s fucked, and - and this is a really low priority, for some time when someone’s free - the extractor fan in the bathroom’s kaput"

"THE EXTRACTOR FAN, YOU SAY? I SHALL PUT MY TOP MAN ON IT"

And so I’m working from home today…

Tabletop 3, Indiegogo, and the perversion of the Kickstarter concept

Tabletop is awesome, and @wilwheaton does a fantastic job of making board games presentable and apparently fun (I’ve bought a few games because they’ve appeared on TT)

Yesterday they annouced a fundraiser for Tabletop S3, and that would be great too.

However, Indiegogo’s flexible funding is a perversion of the Kickstarter-style ethos, and entirely breaks it as a funding model, and Indiegogo themselves are terrifying.

The Kickstarter Model is great for projects that need some funding to actually get going. Occulus Rift is a great example of this, and almost all the popular things on Kickstarter are awful ones. The theory is that you need X dollars to make this happen, and Y dollars to make it awesome. Less than X dollars means it doesn’t happen, and more than Y dollars makes it more awesome. It’s really simple, and there lies the basis for a good system.

This means it’s great for things like Tabletop S3, or even the Rift, which will work if there is a market for the things it produces, but if it doesn’t, it will fail. This is fine, because either the money is there, the consumers are willing, the market is stable, or it isn’t. Kickstarter stops you having to invest money in something that Just Won’t Work no matter how much it looks like it should, and as a veteran of several startup companies, I am aware that this is a really useful bit of information.

It also means that if goal X isn’t reached, if the market says “Good, but not worth my cash”, the thing doesn’t get the money. If X is what it needs to happen, there is no point in getting half X, or 85% of X. What happens if they do? If you’re willing to do a crappy version for 85% of X, change your value of X, and make the awesome version a higher goal.

The big difference between IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, as a backer (and I’ll admit I have a Kickstarter Problem) is the Flexible Funding model, where no matter if the project gets 85% of X, half X, or even barely enough to get a cup of coffee, they still get the money.

What’s their responsibility at that point? Are they obliged to deliver on everything they said in the video, only on the coffee-cup budget?

There’s no recourse either, really. The Paypal for an Indiegogo campaign goes directly to the coffers of the funder, so if the project doesn’t reach X, you’d have to petition the project for a refund, who might be a shell company for a Russian company, for example.

And when I say “for example”, I mean “in the example of the Healbe Gobe”, which is a device that can measure your heart rate, calorie burn, and calorie intake, magically.

I say magically, because I can’t find any scientific basis for this, and neither can anyone else, and despite being on track for raising about $1,000,000, IndieGogo have no interest in doing anything about it.

So while I love Tabletop, and love the Kickstarter model of funding, and some of those backer rewards look awesome, I can’t support IndieGoGo and especially anything using their Flexible Funding model.

Taking Stock

A year and a bit ago, I roasted a chicken (Stabbed a lemon, half-sliced it, put a bay leaf inside the lemon, put the lemon inside the chicken, put the chicken inside the oven, waited a bit) and then made stock from the remains.

Actually, I put the remains in a saucepan of cold water with some vegetables and then left it for several hours, after which I was alerted to a horrible burning smell, the smoke alarm went off, and the kitchen stank of burning bones for days.

About six months ago, I roasted a chicken (Herbs inside and out, bacon over the back, covered in tin-foil and thrown in the oven) and then made stock from the remains.

Actually, I put the remains in a saucepan of cold water with some vegetables and then left it for a while, then went to bed, and was alerted by my partner waking me up to ask if I’d meant to leave the stove on, and that it was running out of water.

Yesterday, I roasted a chicken (Stabbed a lemon, put it in the chicken, onions around the roasting tray, season the back for crispier skin) and then today I made stock from the remains.

Actually, I put the remains in a saucepan of cold water with some vegetables and then left it for a while, then remembered I had done this, and filtered the stock out from the saucepan into heat-proof bowl (As Certified By Nigella) and was just throwing the hot carcass into the bin when, with an alarming snap, the bowl cracked down the side like the scar of Harry Potter and deposited the fresh stock all over the countertop and the floor below.

I think I’ll go back to Oxo cubes for a while.

My Grandfather, Frank Miland

This week has been… difficult. There’s a post coming up about writing this, and the events leading up to it, but this is the eulogy I read at my grandfather’s funeral this afternoon. 

Frank Miland was born in Cambridgeshire during the First World War, and he and his family - Lily, Audrey, Arch & Eric - moved to Pembury when he was 8. He worked on the farm as a boy, catching rabbits to sell rather than cook, but during the depression they lost the farm, so Frank was sent out to work, and he did whatever there was, from delivery driver to errand boy, until when the second World War broke out he joined the Army, and was sent to be a delivery boy for them instead, driving an ammunition truck in Dunkirk.

Once, when the bombs started falling around them, they decided driving an ammo truck was probably less safe than the ditches around them, and hunkered down under the nearest headgear they could find, which turned out to be some german helmets, but the safety of the ditch proved insufficient, as he was captured, and as a Prisoner of War was forced marched for four months across Czechoslovakia and Poland, where he spent the next four years, then back to Bavaria where he was freed by the advancing Americans. The conditions were beyond imagining, without food or any standard of clothing, but he made the friends he could on either side of the fences, and when he spoke of his war, which was never often, that’s what he spoke of.

When he returned, he met and married Muriel in 1948, and found any job he could, Cycling to Dartford and Leybourne until the elder Frank, my great-grandfather, loaned him the money for a motorbike, which made him well known in his village, even if all you could hear was the roar of the motor, and all you could see was his back though the dust.

Free time he could find was spent with family and with his friends at places like the old time dance club.

My mum, Jill, was born later on, and a while after that so was I, and my brothers. There’s a lot of life in between, but I’m not sure what happens if I go over my time limit, and I’m fairly sure I shouldn’t find out.

My enduring memories with my grandfather are of things being built, of the workshop in the garage, of the motorcycle sitting in the back. I remember summer afternoons harvesting the strawberries, and then sorting them into punnets to send out to the greengrocers of tunbridge wells. I remember Picking fruit from the garden to cook in crumbles later, and Riding on a trailer on the back of the tractor he was driving, sending potatoes down a chute to be automatically planted.

My grandad was a force of nature, but also a fixed point in the universe, solid and occasionally unyielding, confident of his place in the world, who loved and cared for his family and did everything he could to keep their lives on an even keel.

He was retired for almost all the time I have been alive, and seemed eternal. I personally regret not making more time in recent years to go visit him and my grandma, as full of life as he was, it always seemed like there would be time when everything was less busy.

He died after a long and active life, leaving behind Muriel, Jill, and our family; of complications arising from pneumonia. Which is, to my mind, like eventually arresting Al Capone for tax evasion.

It was the only thing that could get him in the end.


Thank you, grandad, and we will all miss you.

I’m working late tonight. In fact, it’s 22:10 and I’m still in my office, which looks like this:

image

It’s usually a little tidier than that, but I started at 08:00 today, spent six hours of it traipsing around London to do final approval on physical objects, and have pushed about a dozen new builds in three different offices. It’s been a Day. My fitbit is very pleased with me, and is sending me messages of encouragement over walking 8 miles. My feet are less pleased with their part in this. Anyway, it’s late, the entire building has gone home, and I was on an anti-RSI enforced keyboard break. So I went exploring around the office park I rent space in.

Most of the corridor lights turn off around 21:00, so everything was dark, but there was a light

image

Huh. Most of the corridor-facing office windows have blinds, and a quick peek didn’t show anyone inside. What is this? There was a sign on the door.

image

Huh.

I am not a faith person, in general, but I understand they are mostly fine people with occasional dedicated fuckwits. However, this being North London, and the office being quite small, I did wonder how they managed to fit within the small office the multivarious different faiths and sectors of a hundred-office complex? I opened the door.

image

Hmm. How very post-modern. The faith was inside you all along, and the quiet space can reflect your inner peace and tranqu… No, wait, I think I found something…

image

Faith, now with tumblr fandom recognition.

Explanatory note for younger readers: “Ceefax” was an unusably slow information service that closely resembled a shit version of the internet made out of Lego, and you accessed it via a boxy device called a “television”, which was a bit like a bulky prototype iPad, except it couldn’t take photos, and would only display pornography if you drew the curtains and hooked it up to a “VHS recorder” – a crude form of Netflix dating from the Victorian era.

On the nature of time and television

According to my emails, I bought Supernatural Season 1 from iTunes on 10/Feb/2010.

I just finished the season finale.

That’s 22 episodes in 1495 days, or ~68 days an episode. As of today, 187 episodes have been broadcast, or 165 remaining for me, which means assuming no more episodes are broadcast ever, including the one on Tuesday, I will catch up in 11,055 days, on Tuesday, June 21, 2044, when I will be 63.

If instead I mainlined Supernatural without sleeping, I could catch up in 5 days 3 hours 45 minutes. Or, in fact 5 days 4 hours 30 minutes because the new one would be out by then.

Assuming I don’t watch anything else. As it happens, I have other TV shows I’d like to catch up with. In fact, excluding Supernatural, I have 225 episodes of series currently airing that I intend to watch, and a further 276 episodes of things that have had their final finale, for a grand total of 15 days 15 hours 45 minutes assuming 45 minutes average per episode, or 20 days 18 hours if I include Supernatural with that.

That’s 3 weeks, and it assumes no more TV is broadcast ever, and that I never want to do anything other than watch TV I’ve not watched before.

If I watched everything at the speed I watched the first season of Supernatural, it would take 45152 days - 123.6 years - and I would finish on Tuesday, October 29, 2137, when I would be 156.

Also, it takes 12 hours 5 minutes for the entire bluray extended LOTR series, and assuming the Hobbit series remain at around 169 minutes each for the theatrical editions, and expand by 120% for the extended editions, the full extended LOTR/Hobbit cycle will take 21.98 hours, which is 110% of the running time of every Harry Potter movie, clocking in at a full 19 hours 39 minutes without time-turner, bathroom breaks or food

Time: It’s out to get you.

Blunt and curved the word-swords fall

Earlier today someone on my dashboard posted “Often I wonder what would happen if I set this thing on fire. Most of the time the answer is ‘It will be on fire’”. Often I have thought something similar, although my thought processes are generally “If I do this thing, this thing will be on fire. Is this thing a candle or a house?”.

Usually, I use words to light fires. I find words amazing, when they dance to my command. I can play with phrases and sentence flow for hours without actually improving the meaning or making anything better, or deploy the exact words to destroy a thing beyond repair. It’s a life skill, and the candles light my life, and the house-fires destroy it.

(There’s a story of  P.G. Wodehouse, where he would pin the pages of his novel in a ring around his office, and move each up or down as he evaluated the language and flow of each one in relation to the others. It would not go to the publisher until the every page touched picture rail. Somewhere between Wodehouse and Douglas Adams lies my aim, because if I’m going fall from the shoulders giants, I want a long time to consider my life before I hit the ground). 

I can trace almost everything I think I’ve done wrong by lighting the wrong house, or leaving a candle alone. Today I lit a house on fire, and it burns brightly still. I’m trying to save the contents, to put out everything I can, to douse and defuse the flames, but the flames dance merrily in the starlight, and it will take a while to rebuild.

I try to live with the spirit of the staircase, L’esprit de l’escalier, the french phrase for when you figure out the perfect retort, the mot justice, on the stairs down from losing the argument. It’s been a good night for the right words, but it was a bad morning for the wrong ones, a worse evening for the inflammatory ones, and a good afternoon with nothing catching on fire.

I’ve been asked if I’d like to speak at my grandfather’s funeral, to which the answer is Yes, and so now I need to find words, and actual real meaning. And nobody will think less of me if I back out, except me.