First weeks at work are generally a bit chaotic, new accounts, new processes, new people. This combined with a few other complexities (We had a Virgin Engineer around to fix the fact that every so often my ping times hit 20 seconds or so, a side effect of a fix of an issue a few months ago, when some gas engineers took a back-hoe to the fibreoptics) made the week slightly less relaxing than ideal.
Going to a new place is often a point of comparison, and it’s possibly worth writing up some of the practices and theories of operation of doing AWS stuff at enterprise-grade that I didn’t have the mental energy to get permission to write about before I left. All theory, anyway, since I can’t refer it back…
This week we won a RL battle of getting all the people lined up to play the third session (And first with everybody there) of Doug’s Trail of Cthulhu game, the Charybdis Protocol. I’ve got an IC writeup of the second session (my first. Scheduling is hard), and I’m working through the writeup of the second (Slightly harder. I’m attempting to walk the line between “useful session notes” and “one-sided account” in a session where I kind of lit a jerry-can of explosives on fire and threw it at the rest of the character party) (In my defense, shit got weird). Those will appear on my IC Diary site – The Hero Diaries – assuming the rest of the PCs don’t mind, and I’ve got their character names right.
Video-Game-wise, I’ve mostly been playing Warcraft, as I’ve been attempting to get my Monk to the end of the levelling campaign. Right now I’ve hit one of my least favourite bit of WoW end-game mechanics, the “Do tiny repetitive missions that reward junk and reputation to get through the reputation gateway” bit. Happily, I’ve managed to get my gear up to the level where I can do pick-up Heroics, so I’m balancing that with knocking out low-level achievements (Explore these zones, Poke this NPC, Poke that interactive object) while watching Twitch channels.
Twitch is my current background noise. Annoyingly I can’t get my old username back – I had a Justin.TV account before they were Twitch – but I did just realise that I could do the same thing as I did for this, so my new Twitch channel is Twitch.TV/Aquarionics. My first experiments in streaming had some mic-quality problems, but it is something I intend to experiment more with.
This may be combined with the fact that SWTOR is picking up speed in my local community again, so might end up doing more of that, and the idea of live-streaming a character path appeals. We’ll see.
I’ve had no beer explode this week, which can only be a plus. Brain-gremlins are down, sociality is up. I never really realise how badly stressful environments screw up my headspace until I’m out of them.
The lack of Odyssey meetings and discussions is kicking in to my calendar, and I’m kind of itching to run something game-like. This, coupled with Torment coming out and a block of Cipher-system/Numenera setting content that I backed with Kickstarter years ago turning up all at once is making that look like a short-run Numenera campaign. Tempting.
However, existing projects exist. I tidied up a bit of The Book, and it’s looking a lot better than I thought when I gave up on it. I almost don’t feel the urge to ditch it all (again) and rebuild. What I probably need to do is go over the first few chapters, redraw the arcs, and get a second opinion on whether the style actually tells the story. And then: Pirates.
I fell out of the habit of writing in 2016. Well, kind of. My Facebook output skyrocketed, and the number of things that went on outputs I actually own fell a lot.
I’ve got a lot of things in the Draft folder. Some have been sidelined because they still feel a bit incendiary, some because the time they were relevant passed, and some just stupid. I spent a lot of the summer working on an idea for a new project, which then failed so hard it left no impact in the wall at all, so there’s a post-mortem on that. But that’s just depressing to write, and without any conclusions to draw it just seems like a stick to beat me with.
2016 hasn’t been a great year in the global space, and my personal 2016 has been significantly mixed. Feeling like I’m stagnating professionally and personally has been an anchor on an already less great year, and while I’ve been getting more social and made a number of new friends who have massively improved my life, I’ve failed to leave Oxford for nearly anything that wasn’t larp or funeral related in a year. Mostly, this is due to a commute that’s eating my days, which means my value of decompression time at home heightens, reducing my desire to go anywhere or do anything.
Having said that, LARP has successfully got me out of the house more than any other thing this year. We successfully landed Odyssey with two of our best-run events ever – I’ll accept some credit for that, but the entire team was without peer; I did two new games purely as a player – Slayers and Tales out of Anchor – as well as successfully starting a purely PC Empire character, who I’m enjoying playing a lot.
The end of Odyssey gives me some free mental space for a couple of other LARP things, and mostly I’ll be focusing on Trajectory, I’m intending on publishing some Theory of Operation type stuff here as it coalesces in mine and ccooke’s heads.
At the end of 2015, I screwed up my major projects. PiracyInc got backed into a corner where I need to sit down and rearchitect the whole thing, and the Novel – Hereinafter Stark Mockery – hit a brick wall where I realised a number of the underlying genre tropes had gone toxic. I’ve started salvaging the book, and will attempt to do so with the game, but I need to put my free time in order.
And then there’s this. AqCom’s been coasting on without major revision for years now, and I want to fix that. So I’m going to try to go back to the Week N series that kept me doing things through 2015, or at least feeling guilty for not doing them. A few times this year I’ve referred back to entries I made years ago to see when something happened, and not having that facility in the future will irritate me, so we shall give it a try.
All of which lays out my plans for 2017:
Reclaim my days
Repair my projects
Write more fiction
Write more LARP
Write more this
Travel to new places, meet interesting people, don’t kill them
Next plan: Go to NYE party. Celebrate. Then prepare for 2017 with a red rag and a baseball bat.
Okay, so we moved into this house a month ago, getting on for two, but up until this week most of the front room was still taken up by boxes. This weekend, I turned it into a pile of emptiness:
And then turned it into a sofa:
And then, eventually, the same with my new desk:
Coming to the end of my current contract, and not sure how I feel about it. I always knew I wasn’t going to be able to tie everything off with a neat ribbon, but I keep cutting things I want to finish just to be able to get *some* things done. No new place confirmed – current best hope was at the AWS conference all last week, which delayed the process a bit – so it might get a bit fraught.
Spent some of the weekend in Sims, attempting to arrange lives where my own is messy, but some of it in the new Battlefront Beta, which reminds me a lot of early Battlefield games. It’s a lot more mass combat, a lot less Call of Duty, and quite a bit more fun. I found I wasn’t hitting anything as a Stormtrooper, but that the rebels got overwhelmed a lot, so it’s pretty true to the universe.
Brewed some beer, got the stuff to lay down some mead later in the week (Looks like one of my demijohns didn’t survive the move, so I’ve ordered a new one). Between that and actually getting the sofa and desk up, it’s been a productive while.
I’ve been working on the Pirate game too, there’s an early beta up, but it doesn’t do very much yet.
That I now have to make a decision on whether weeks begin on Sunday or Monday for this is probably a bad sign. It’s Monday, anyway.
My current contract is coming to an end, and with the company on a different footing to the last year, my position of emergency relief may be coming to an end. I kind of have to assume it is, anyway, so I’m looking for more different things. I’ve got an interview on Wednesday for a full time contract, which will be something of a novelty after working 3 days/week for the current one. Part of their interview process was this intensive logic-based Aptitude Test, and if I’d seen it coming I maybe wouldn’t even have applied. It’s the kind of mental-gymnastics “Could you get into Mensa” test that I’ve traditionally done really badly at – which means I panic, which means I do worse. I got the Face to Face interview before they sent me the test, though, and they haven’t cancelled that yet. Doing it on Wednesday put me on edge, though, which made a sudden explosion of drama in one of my corners of the internet hit a bit hard, so Thursday was crap, and then Friday, by dint of an astounding series of coincidences that built up into a *huge* pile of shit, was worse.
So it’s been a weird week, and this week isn’t looking much quieter.
The drama’s based around my “big” larps, those run by Profound Decisions that I help crew for, and was based around how well PD deal with abuse reports. To clarify: My role at Odyssey occasionally means dealing with the first part of these, in that I’m usually the first person people end up speaking to, but I’m under strict instructions – which I almost always follow – to directly redirect such complaints to non-volunteer staff (Sometimes the player doesn’t want to, sometimes other things get in the way). Paragraphs deleted here. I’m not getting into it.
Part of it is that I’m going to be running events, I hope, in the future; and I can’t see a clear path where I would have done it better or even particularly differently. The numbers are low enough that statistics become inferable to specific cases too easily, and I fundamentally disagree with last-action policies. That is, if you know someone is attempting to deal with anger issues, and you poke them with a stick so you can then point at them and say “This was going to happen anyway”, my sympathy is significantly less than if you poke them with a blunt stick and they bit your head of on spec. I don’t even begin to know where the answers are on events that happen out of the game that affect people’s ability to feel safe in the same tent/camp/field/county; and the line between asking people quietly to fall in line and publicly being seen to make a stand isn’t clear cut either.
It’s a hard problem, it’s a disservice to everyone – organisers, crew and players alike – to pretend there are heavy black lines around all of the areas (Yes, some actions are clearly bad), and the initial explosion of righteous “They’re being stupid”, “They’re being oblivious” didn’t help. The more nuanced discussions later were a lot better, but that was after the initial damage.
I spent most of Saturday on PiracyInc, the long lost Pirates Game I’ve been working on for years. It’s currently an excuse to learn Node – I do a lot better at learning languages by building things in them – and rebuild the visual mechanics of the game as a Cookie-Clicker style percentage bar system, but backed onto something akin to an MMO engine. There’s almost certainly better ways to do almost everything I’m currently doing, but right now I have the basics working, and can now start putting meat onto the bones.
I’ve also been working on my personal data archiving project, Lifestream. Right now it’s drinking in data on a lot of things in my life, and storing them in a database. A lot of that’s reproduced as part of NicholasAvenell.com, but some of it is on two timeshifted accounts, Aquarions Of History, which reproduces my tumblr of four years ago in real time, and @timeshifted-aq, which does the same for my Twitter stream. The new updates for the Twitter side replace “@” with the unicode ? symbol, to avoid sending notifications to people for tweets 4 years ago. On the tumblr side, I’m using queueing to make the times slightly more accurate (Twitter doesn’t let you schedule tweets with the API, so they appear when the script runs, every 15 minutes)
My iPhone 6S arrived on Friday, and I’ve been experimenting with it over the weekend. Battery life is a lot better than my (2 year old, >800× recharged) 5S was, Using it to navigate to a new place was – as expected – a large drain, as was being in a low-signal house for a while. Staying in the same place with low signal but wifi calling appears to have only lost 10% over the day, though, so it’s looking a lot better.
I’m looking at porting my Trello-based voice-mail system – Vox-ex-machina – from its current mess of hand-coded PHP into a nicer Node-based system, but that may come after Pirates gets a bit more love.
Still playing AdVenture Capitalist. Can clearly give it up any time I want to.
Batman Arkham Knight
In an attempt to use my PS4 a bit more, I picked up Arkham Knight for it – also affected by the reports of the PC version being shoddy. I like the Arkham games a lot, they’re hands-down the best representation of the concept of Batman in video game form and the gadget-centric progression fits the model of the character really well. That said, Knight’s push bigger has lost focus somewhat. The explicit mission tracking is welcome, but the scope and repetition of some of the tasks aren’t doing so well. Primarily, the Batmobile is massively overused. I understand they want to fit all the things they wanted to do with it over the last couple of games, but the Batmobile as puzzle-solving device gets old quick, and the shooting-gallery of tanks is just frustrating. It would be better if there *wasn’t* a concept of clearing out the islands, because it makes the one-line notification of “oh, BTW, there’s another stack of tanks to beat” frustrating. AND THEY RESPAWN. One of the leading lights of the Arkham series’ vaulted combat system was that when you got into a fight, you could see there are twenty guys, and then you’d beat 20 guys, and you’d win. Here – and it’s not just in the batmobile sections, they do it in the hand-to-hand too – there’s a high chance of multiple waves, without telegraph, that means you can never tell how close to success you are. The number of special-combo-to-beat enemies appears to have gone up too, turning many fights into effectively quick-time events as the tutorial window pops up with “Press X-X-O-Meta-Bucky-Five to disarm quantum field generators” with the added bonus of having to abort halfway though as some other fucker throws a TV at you from off-screen.
So, while I’m enjoying Arkham a lot, it’s not without flaws. Most of the reasons why I’m enjoying it a lot are where they’ve improved the original concept, and most of the places where I’ve not is where they’ve stretched it.
They’re making me bored of the Batmobile, though, which is an achievement in itself.
Pillars of Eternity
With the new expansion released, I’m also retreading though Pillars of Eternity. I’d got though to Act 3 previously, but when I came back to it I had no idea where I was, so I’ve restarted as a Moon Godlike Chanter, going from the least original class/race combo in the series to something distinctly more interesting. The replay’s going fairly well, I’m remembering most of the major plot beats and getting slightly different results, but the game’s still got a problem with leading you into fights you can’t possibly win at your current state, which I’m hoping the expansion’s better at. Though since by the expansion the party will be at a significantly higher level, it may work out anyway.
Hmm. I may not have actually left the house since the last update, which is a fairly bad state of affairs. Not one I’ll repeat this week.
Most of my free time has been spent attempting forced relaxation (You *will* sit down and play some mindless video games!) after the stress of the last few weeks, and attempting to conquer Box Mountain.
Also, I recreated our new flat in Sims 4, as per the header image.
I’ve mostly defeated Box Mountain in my own room, by the time-honoured method of shoving all the boxes into cupboards and ignoring them. This isn’t a long-term solution, but provides me with some working space, since my room also needs to be an office during the week. Networking’s been fun, since there’s a weird glitch on the wifi where it just stops sending packets every so often, for between ten second and a minute, then resumes as if nothing was wrong. Same was happening over 5Ghz as 2.5Ghz, and from everywhere in the house, which is distressing. This made actually using it close to non-viable, so I started running loose cables. This also being less than optimal, I got some powerline adapters, which is when I learnt that my room’s sockets are on a spur off the Kitchen, not the socket circuit.
Several hours of yak-shaving later, I have a connection, I have a desk, I have an internet. A whole one.
Empire’s coming up, so I’ve dedicated some time to admin around that. It’s my last one crewing until Odyssey’s over, and I’ve got mixed feelings about it.
Development-wise, I spent a while on Retort, my web-based interface to my wifi kettle (which is, of course, written in Flask), which now provides an API to my kettle too, which means I could use it to create statistics on how often its used, and when. This doesn’t seem like a sane thing to do, though, so I haven’t.
I also started some work on learning Angular.js, which seems like a good fit for a couple of things I’m working on – the Skute dashboard, but also a basis for PiracyInc’s front end. So far it seems a bit… magic, tbh. I’m doing complicated stuff in a fifth the code of a native jquery implementation, but I’ve got less of an idea how.
Last couple of weeks have been a little hectic, and the next couple seem to continue this trend. So:
Shifted to a new primary project at work for the first time in quite a while. Enjoying new challenges, and a more modern codebase to work from. My side of Skute has wound down a bit while others fan the spark a bit, which gives me a chance to plan the next bits for the API.
Still going though SWTOR, mostly. I’ve not had a lot of playtime.
We have the keys to the new flat, big move is this weekend. We moved a few dozen boxes yesterday (Thanks Dan & Jenny for being awesome). Between that and Odyssey, I’m mildly dead now.
I’m a head ref for Odyssey, and work closely with the Story team to help everything go smoothly, and one of the things that didn’t go smoothly last time was our “Blessings” system – the system by which we add reactionary special statuses to characters (Blessings from their Gods, Curses, Long term effects of magic spells, transformation into bloodless monsters, Roleplay effects, Extra hitpoints, everything). Previously we worked with a somewhat Heath-Robinson contraption built of Excel and Access-based PDF generation.
Previously, I built a system called Mimir, which tracks the kudos priests and other characters can earn with their gods. We’re a more narrative-based than stats-based game, so the numbers get fudged a lot, but it’s a decent guideline. It’s also got a fairly fully-featured blogging engine, which is for debriefs.
My last couple of weeks not-working time has been spent extending and expanding that a lot. Folding in an Autocomplete library that linked to the current list of active players and the Blessing system (complete with three-stage approval process and player-facing PDF generation), and then a general once-over on the design has swallowed a lot of my coding time.
When I built it originally a few years ago, I built it in PHP (because I wanted to be able to make quick changes on the fly during an event) using a custom lightweight microframework, and Idiorm/Paris as the database/ORM model. I’m slightly surprised how well that’s held up. I didn’t need to edit the framework at all for this major revision, and Idiorm & Paris worked really well for me. The frontend’s built in Bootstrap, which gives me style without much effort – though I do need to bite the bullet and shift up to v3 – and I’ll be releasing it as Open Source once Odyssey is over, alongside graphs and statistics generated from the actual dataset.
I should put up another post later on about how well Odyssey went, but now I should be getting ready for work.
Work ramped up, both sides of the coin, after a time-bomb screwup I made several weeks ago suddenly got trodden on, and the other side hit deadline week. Trying to keep on top of both sides of that has been tricky, especially as this month I’m basically going full-time with what was originally supposed to be my temporary part-time contract, and is now tracked to last at least a year…
Odyssey is getting really quite close (it’s the 14th), and my sole contribution to the non-uptime bits, in the form of a new system to track Blessings/Curses and other Involuntary Special States, is nearly on track. The weekend’s task was to get PDF generation of blessings working, and from there printing, so I’ve sunk a few hours into that. The PDFs are being generated, although the text and design’s not quite there yet. Task for this week’s evenings is to finish that up, and import the existing blessings list.
Project Move-To-Oxford proceeds apace. We’ve now got the place, but are in an unusal limbo position while it’s repainted and the various ducks swim into alignment for the actual move to happen. I’m already pulling in previous move’s lists of people to contact and things that need to be done, but a lot of them have this massive overhanging dependency, so I can plan all I like, I can’t do anything yet…
Because the thing that I need now is a new, additional hobby for the remaining seconds in the day when I’m not already doing things, I’ve taken my occasional experiments in blending and infusing alcohol a step further into actually brewing things. I’ve got an article on my first batch of beer in a semi-finished state, and now I’ve also got a jug of mead merrily farting away in the dark corner of the kitchen.
For a friend’s birthday party I also dug out my traditional Cheesecake recipe, and revised and updated it with ten years experience making it. I even made a label to put beside it so people could see what was in it, and then entirely forgot to take it with me. So it’s presented here, where it can be entirely useless forever.
…which has, in general, been a week of text editors and trips to Oxford, and I’ve not been playing very much. However, I did declare “Sod it all” last night for a decent session of GTAV and then get distracted by Sims for a while (House moving always makes me want to play Sims, it makes life look so much neater).
I’ve got a minor obsession with personal digital archiving. Mostly, this presents itself in the form of things like the current NicholasAvenell.com, or rather the database behind it from which the site cherry-picks data sources.
Ideally, I’d like to expand the database – though not the public facing site – with more and more metrics. Getting data out of Apple Healthkit to it is on my project list, and I’m looking forward to Sense’s API so I can add that too. Things like credit card transactions, amazon orders, stuff I can scrape and pull in and run analysis on.
The most recent expression of this has been “Where was I X years ago”, in the form of a bot that pulls out data from exactly 4 years ago and posts it to Twitter & Tumblr every fifteen minutes. The twitter account is protected to avoid sending @mention notifications to people I was talking to 4 years ago, but I’ll accept followers if anyone’s interested. The account was setup for jwheare‘s TwitShift, which did the same thing on a one-year-rolling basis until it shutdown a couple of years ago. For the same reasons that went away, I’m not opening it up as a general service (That’s what Timehop’s for) but the code’s up as part of Lifestream.
A fairly productive fortnight, all told. I blew the dust off Larp.me and wrote one of the larger puzzle pieces between it and the fabled fiction archive section, and upgraded the server it’s on in the process. I attacked my PC with a screwdriver and fixed several of the noisy fan issues it’s had since Wk12, and did prep for some larp games.
In the world of computer games I spent a long time on Cities: Skylines, about which I should write, about 6 hours on The Magic Circle, about which I did write, and some time in The Secret World’s new issue, which I’m still processing. I’m aiming to finish that off tonight.
Next weekend is Empire, so that’ll be fun. With any luck I’ll have finished writing up Falling Down by then…
Missed a Tuesday, then a Wednesday. I’m great at this…
Last week at work was preparation for our first real outing for Skute, where we’re running a music thing at Streetfest. Getting all the content-related ducks in a line has been a bit of a flashback to previous lives doing agency-type things, but with a couple of days to deadline it’s falling in to place, now to fit actually doing it around my day job…
The weekend was Falling Down, a LARP (or probably LRP, in this case) event based on the classic Tribe 8 setting. I’ve got half an article on that, and I need to both finish that and get some photo clearances. The event was awesome. I went in as Kitchen crew, with a full character to play, and managed to get invested in the plot, further my own agenda, and also help cook delicious stew. Plus, I brought along my vacuum coffee apparatus, about which people were suitably awe-struck.
Spent a lot of time on business admin and stuff. It’s almost exactly two years since I pulled Istic out of mothballs, so there’s a block of admin and domain renewal stuff on my desk. Excitement and adventure.
Playtime has mostly been more Fallout: New Vegas, which is probably an article in itself, but this week the final act of Broken Age dropped, so I’ve been working though a replay of Act 1, then the new content. That turned into a review of this slightly disappointing game.
Oh, and I found a new theme I like for Aquarionics. Farewell to the slider, at least for now. I liked the concept, but I need to find a new way of making it work. That’s pretty much the only personal-projects thing to get any love this week, though I fixed a few bugs in Lampstand’s logging and Lifestream’s fitbit tracking.
Title image is some playing around with an idea for the new header, but I’ve got back to traditionalism…