Aquarionics Current Affairs Personal Projects stories

Week Zero, or possibly Week 52

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.

A Ballot form with the options "bad choice" "worse choice"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. Photo by Charlotte Moss –

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.


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This policy document brought into existence by a fucking useless waste of trans-European governmental time.

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Cloud Frontin'

Cenote, the server which hosts Aquarionics and 64 other sites of varying complexity, has better things to do than spend its CPU and bandwidth on static content. It’s set up with a memory-limited version of Apache (which I can retune now I’ve bought a larger Linode, but was important at the time) so connections are at a bit of a premium.

The Enterprise solution to this is a CDN, of course, an international network of local stores that make everything better. But CDNs are traditionally tuned for heavy lifting – capital D Downloads rather than asset serving – and aren’t generally useful for one-man-band outfits where most of the readership is in RSS anyway. Plus, it’s something I’d like to do for work, so I was playing with tech.

The solution I’m currently using is Amazon’s Cloudfront, which works in a way pleasingly similar to Epistula (my old CMS)’s Fried Caching system. You point all your static files at a cloudfront-backed domain (in my case with exactly the same URL, and if it’s got it and it’s not too old, it sends it out. If it hasn’t got it, or it’s too old (defined by the caching headers on Aquarionics) it gets it from my server, sends it out, and saves it for later requestors.

This causes a minor problem if I want to change a static file quickly, because the CDN will cache it for ages, but I can either turn off the CDN, or I can invalidate part of the cache using boto like this:

import boto
cf = boto.connect_cloudfront(KEY,SECRET)
cf.create_invalidation_request(CLOUDFRONT_ID, [URI,URI,URI])

It’s currently costing me around $0.05/week, but it’s not very high traffic (Around 6k requests/month), but the site is a hell of a lot faster.



I’m clearing out the drafts folder for Aquarionics. All these come from posts that will never be finished.

Event. July 2010:

Last night, in between dreaming of the great hall of beds in Oxford University and arguing with my girlfriend about something her Maelstrom character did, I dreamed about a friend of mine attempting to control a group of thirty or so six year olds, hopped up on sugar, armed with rubber swords. They were screaming loud enough to crack the paned windows of the hall of beds (which were made out of “distilled glass”) and kept on crashing into priceless black vases. Dan was, apparently attempting to herd them to the next thing they had to do.

On a possibly related note, I recently spent three days reffing a larp event.

(Written and posted before I’d agreed to help ref Odyssey and WITW)

Not Useful, July 2010:, Please stop dragging your heels on domain name transfers. It’s petty and degrading, it makes you look desperate, and it just delays your customers and makes them ensure they won’t ever transfer back.

Bookmeme, August 2010:

“A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just freaking end already (or both!)”

I’m not really very completist about book series. I’m fairly completist about cycles – if I read two books of a trilogy I’ll generally read the last – but if a series is bugging me I’ll generally give up on it without malice (or, when it’s fun, with malice. This will come up later). I stopped reading the Wheel of Time at around book three when my friends who were on the latest book at the time (7, maybe) said that nothing had happened, nothing was going to happen, and the wheel of time needed some kind of clutch control. I gave up on the Robin Hobb books after the Farseer cycle (I do appreciate the “What’s the worst thing that could happen right now?” method of keeping the plot moving, but I feel that the exponentially increasing weight class of the tragedies that befall the main characters was excessive. When the first chapter of the Liveship books set up the only thing the character had ever loved or could ever, I said that if that got destroyed in the first half of the book I’d give up. As I recall, I didn’t get past chapter two)

Clickity Clack, August 2010:

A few years ago, someone fullfilling my eternal desire for feedback described something I wrote as “kind of Douglas Adamsy”. They said a number of enormously good things about what I wrote.

I was taken aback. I was shocked and stunned. Chuffed to the mintballs, DNA being one of my favourite orderers of words ever.

I then promptly stopped writing for about six months.

Playing With Half Finished Things, August 2010:

last week, I was attempting to work on when I couldn’t. I ended up yak-shaving. In order to work on PiracyInc’s ship combat, I needed to fix a problem with the data model. The problem with the data model was that where it interfaces with sessions was causing PHP to segfault on any page without an associated user login. Somehow. Debugging a scripting language is usually pretty easy, because you can throw in debug statements and see where it gets to, but when PHP segfaults, it does so with no line numbers or anything. Somehow, something in PiracyInc, Plank (the PHP framework I built for PiracyInc to be on), the Database Abstraction library I’m using, or possibly even PHP itself, something is fucked. I decided that I was building too many storeys of this stack, and decided to switch to a framework.

Civilisation V, September 2010:


(Only had a title. I don’t think I stopped playing long enough to put my thoughts down)

The Tyrany Of Being Sold Things You Want, November 2011:

A man walks into a bar pub

The barman says “Oh, hello Bob, Pint of the usual? Or I’ve got this nice Espresso stout you’ll probably like?”.

What happens next?

a) “Sounds good, I’ll take a pint of the stout please, Mike. How’s it going?” “Well, I’ve ordered some scaffolding for the beer festival next week. Usually I borrow the local CAMRA stuff, but it’s all booked up at the moment…” and the evening carries on.


Have you spotted my delicate simile yet?

I’m aware that there’s a somewhat hypocritical bias against people making money online. If you display adverts, you’re selling out. My favourite was a site which ended up using content-covering pop-over adverts due to falling revenues, and the users complained – obviously – and then said they prefered the older, less intrusive ads because they were easier to block.

Yes, exactly.

I’m sure I had an idea for an actual argument there. Ah well.

Crazy, January 2011, in reaction to the shooting of congresswoman Giffords:

Did you know that crazy people have a detachment from reality?

Video games do not make people crazy.

Violent films do not make people crazy.

These things are established. We’ve done studies,

Gun sights on a poster do not make people crazy.

Status, March 2011:

Okay, so I’ve been a little busy recently. These are the things that have happened:

(End. I’m good at this blogging thing, honest)

The Routine, June 2011:

There is a morning, and my phone informs me of this. I lie back and attempt to reconnect from reality from the more entertaining world of dreams (My dreams at the moment tend to conflate the most recent Larp systems I’ve been playing with the computer games. Given that the Larp I’m overdosing on at the moment is Odyssey (a Miffic world of greeks, romans and gods) and the computer game is Bulletstorm (A game which gives you massive bonus points for firing a grappling hook at someone, pulling them towards you, shooting them in the crotch and then kicking them back into a cactus) this is currently on the surreal side of interesting).

I pick from the redundant array of inexpensive teapots (A system that insures that at any one time I should have at least one small teapot available, saving the terror of having to wash up before tea happens) while the kettle boils. Warm the pot. Dry it. Add tea leaves and then boiling water. Quick shower while it steeps. TEA.

Security, July 2011:

Imagine a world where there wasn’t a building code.

There was a really popular way of building houses, but you had to install the door properly, otherwise it could be opened with a credit card and a bit of skill. Now, imagine that this way of opening doors was well known and avoidable, but that even people building houses now still installed doors in the same way, with the same flaws, in a way that let anyone with a flimsy bit of plastic get into your house.

Now there is a guy, who is kind of a dick, and has a knack for getting people to listen to him. In order to demonstrate exactly how useless badly constructed doors are at defending stuff, he goes into some houses using this method, photocopies their financial records (easily enough for someone to commit serious identity fraud with them) and papers the neighbourhood with the copies.

Who is irresponsible for this? Is it the builders, the jerk, the people who live in the houses, or the people who commit identity theft?

Actually, it’s all of them. A culture where the people who hire the builders don’t think door security is their problem and that it’s somehow a “builder problem” are being irresponsible for the records inside, which they are holding in good faith, is making the situation worse. The jerk believes he is providing a public service by demonstrating that faith in doors is misplaced, but is still breaking into places and causing trouble mostly for people who believed the builders. People a lot like the jerk, in most places.

My thinly disgused metaphor for Lulzsec verses the world falls apart around here.


Right. That’s them deleted then, no more cloud of things I might want to finish over my head. With any luck I’ll finish more articles than I start from here on out.



I’m a little backed up on blog posts right now, mostly because there are a couple I want to get _right_ which generally stops me posting anything at all until they are.

Yeah, I’m stupid.

Anyway, I’m going to attempt to clear this backlog over the next few days, not quite as polished as I’d like them to be. Half baked, even.

Aquarionics Decade - Ten years of AqCom

Decade Part Five, Personally

I was eighteen ten years ago.

I’d not really had a girlfriend, I was getting into this “Social Internet” thing (I’d been to several AFE meets and a couple of AFP ones), I was just starting at university.

I’ve moved (Paddock Wood -> Sunderland Halls -> Sunderland Fishbowl -> Paddock Wood -> Cambridge Geekhouse -> Reading -> Letchworth Casarufus -> Bedford Fishtank -> Walthamstow Smoothieville -> Leyton Keldaby -> Claption Fyrion Towers) ten times.

I’ve had (Drawer for IDL, Typer for BrowserAngel, Typer for EM, Typer for Trutap, Typer for Skim*) five jobs, some relationships, some disasters, some triumphs.

I’ve been depressed and destructive, cheerful and creative.

I’ve abjectly failed at my ten year plan, though extending it a bit might mean it comes true. This may be the case for a while.

And almost all of it’s on this site, somewhere.

Hello. I’m Nicholas Avenell. I’m usually a geek, sometimes a writer, mostly a fool.

This is my website.

May it last at least another ten years.

2009 Aquarionics Decade - Ten years of AqCom

Decade Part Four, Popularity

The site as it started was an extension of my interest in games, and to find out how this “web” thing worked.

Later, it became an extension of my life at school, injokes and bits.

When I hit Uni, it became an extension of my university life. The blog was started partly to keep people back home informed that I was still alive, partly as an extension of my IRC/Usenet presence, but also as a platform for mucking around with new technology and talking about doing so. This engenders a split in my readership I’ve never really managed to solve. If I do too much personal stuff, I lose the technical half of my audience. If I do tech stuff, the personal bit of my audience get confused.

I’ve tried to mitigate this with splitting them up, but to be honest a lot of my best stuff is on the dividing line, and I don’t actually like double-posting things, so it’s a division I’ll have to live with.

During the early days of blogging it was quite easy for whole *dozens* of people to know who you are, and for us to fit pretty much all of london blogging into one pub. The “London Blog Meet Ups” right now are mostly full of “how to be a professional blogger” type things, which I think misses the essential point and advantage of blogging.

Anyway, there are three high points of my blogging lifestyle that I remember. They were all over five years ago now, which is a bit depressing, but the world was smaller then and more cool things could happen.


RSS is annoying, because a lot of the format is tags, and the spec on how to parse them was vague. This was fine when it started, because it was simple, but as it grew multiple things got blessed and some of them contradicted each other, so there were massive bun-fights about how much RSS sucked. The last of these bun-fights ended with Atom, but in between I failed to help with a new syndication standard, based on tab separated values, called ESF, which was quick and bandwidth efficient. My favourite thing in the world ever? WordPress supports it by default. It got linked to by Mark Pilgrim, and my site didn’t fall over, which was a surprise.

The other two things are both “Aquarion reads stuff” for two of my favourite bloggers, one of which I inadvertently insulted during the ESF fiasco. The first was when David Salo (standard geek biographical note: Middle Earth Languages consultant for the LOTR movies) wrote a piece for Caveat Lector called Cave Linguistica and I turned it into performance art, which led directly to Shelly “Burningbird” Powers asking me to read a short story she wrote, called “The Mockingbird’s Wish“, which I read eventually (Note, both of those are links due to the ravages of time on Dorathea’s archives and the complete removal of Shelly’s (Her reaction to the recording is archived here).

(Burningbird is the person I accidentally insulted with ESF, a badly phrased “Even Shelly could use it” taken as an attack on her abilities rather than a comment on her dislike of the current situation. I am, occasionally, an idiot).

Since then my traffic’s sloped downhill, as I stopped journaling personally here due to… well, stuff, and I stopped writing technically because I was too busy working on it. I’ve now given up on filtering what I write here, so I’m going back to “Stuff that interests me” and seeing what that does for the world. If nobody reads it, then at least I write it down.

2009 Aquarionics Decade - Ten years of AqCom

Decade Part Three, Technology

Originally, Aquarionics was straight HTML written in EditPlus on my non-internetted computer (ah, the year 2000), transfered to zip disk, brought to University and uploaded. My first hosts – Pennyhost – ran windows-based servers which supported server side includes, which was as advanced as I had any clue about. Within a short while I’d found Blogger, which would do all the complicated bits at its end and then FTP the files over (the Blogspot hosting service would come later).

I could code Visual Basic 4, 5 & 6 and was learning Java and C at uni, but I didn’t start learning PHP really until I got quite heavily into a game called “Solar Empire” which was written in it. This meant finding a host with PHP, and as it happened I had a conversation with fellow AFPerson Caomhin in the line for a Neil Gaiman signing, and soon I was moving everything over to his Beehost service.

At the time, there were a lot of CMS systems, but not many blogging ones. I didn’t (and don’t) get on with Movable Type, which was the gorilla at the time, so I built my own. It was called “Klide“, it stood for “Klide Links In Diary Entries” and was really quite simple. The only really advanced bit was some of the archive interogation:

The other bit is behind the scenes. Klide now can display seperate entries (, for example, goes to entry number 200); it can display all the entries *since* a date (for example, is everything since Sept 11th) and *also* the last x entries ( is the last 3, for example) complete with comments. The ability to turn off comments is coming. Promise :-). Also, the system now has a text-mode ( for those in Non-CSS compliant browsers. So Comment. Have Fun. Speak 🙂

Later, this also gained the ability to do “?on=*-12-25”, which would display all the entries written on christmas day. I like this feature. It took ages for me to get it into Klide’s replacement, and then I moved over to WordPress soon after. I should build a plugin to make that work again.

Klide existed alongside Klind (Klind Links In Node Data) and Kewl (Kewl’s excessively wonderful links). The former was a pre-wiki wiki modelled along the lines of Everything2 with a tenth the featureset and none of the charm, the latter a fairly basic start-page/portal thing mostly for my own use.

In Q3 2002, I did the One Thing you’re not supposed to do with established code-bases, and dumped it. Then I did the One Thing you’re not supposed to do with established websites, and took it offline, rewriting the entire thing as Epistula (in the open). This is my primary basis for the belief that you should actually tear down and write from scratch occasionally. Epistula was a second system, and in some instances it showed, but it was more of a framework than a full CMS. At some point I’ll sit down and write what it did that other things didn’t, but mostly I’m quite pleased that something I wrote in 2002 was still able to handle everything I wanted to do with it until 2008.

AqCom’s technology base stayed quite stable between 2002 and 2009. Various modules were added to Epistula to support fledgling new standards (WoX, which became necho, which became atom) new obsessions (delicious, flickr, twitter) and new things I just wanted to do. I moved hosts to another friend’s server – Pol’s Geekstuff, but the technological basis remained the same.

When I wrote Epistula, PHP’s OO functionality was quite limited, and I wasn’t really an OO person anyway. I knew all the basic theory, and would use Objects for data in circumstances, but I hadn’t really lined this up with my web development coding or PHP.

Between 2002 and 2007 I became a better programmer, but I was still working very Functionally. When I moved over to Trutap in January 2007, I had to get up to speed very quickly on more formal Model-View-Controller systems and, once we moved over to a Zend-framework based system with a very formal OO structure on top of it, the switch in my brain flipped properly and I got to grips with how it all worked.

After that, working on Epistula became harder. Coding new stuff for it in the old style was distressing, and coding in the new style was bending the internal APIs until they whined. I built a new central routing interface, and was in the process of rewriting modules to work with it, when I broke Admin.

Admin’s always been a weak point of Epistula. Not being public facing, it’s never been pretty, and when the site had been down for a month and I needed to get back up and running, it was Admin that got hacked into shape worst. Specifically, the bit that broke was the code that worked out the differences between applied categories and current categories to update the linking table with the new information. It became impossible to edit categories on posts and then, when I’d worked on it a bit, to post things at all.

I could go back though SVN, but the functionality that broke Admin fixed too many other things. I put it to one side, I meant to get back to it later, and I never did.

In April, I bit the bullet and installed WordPress on Aquarionics. I’d already been using it for other sites, so I knew how it worked. I got all the content in without losing the metadata, which took a while. That I failed to make any diary entries of worth between January and April is probably for the best, all things considered.

I’ve been meaning to update more ever since then, to be honest, but it’s mostly a matter of establishing a habit. So, this is a new attempt to do so, and keep the site running for another ten years.

I still need to add missing functionality. The URLs don’t match up with the old ones completely yet, the articles are still mixed in with the diary entries, the search interface sucks, the 404 is boring again, but I can post (to the future, even) and I can update, and maybe I can get some people reading it again.

Though that (popularity) is a discussion for another day.

2009 Aquarionics Decade - Ten years of AqCom

Decade Part Two, Content

The journal really started as part of the old Aquarion site back on Netmanor. I was keeping a daily-ish diary of what I was doing and thinking, mostly as an exercise to keep me writing. Most of the entries for the first six months or so have gone the Way Of All Things, but in April I found out about this new thing called “blogger” that I could use. This kind of revolutionised how I was using the site. Previously, stuff got written up in longhand on the bus in to and from university, on trains, occasionally in class. I would transcript it in the evening into a local copy of my site, transfer it back to uni over floppy disk or Zip drive and upload the new version of the site.

Blogger made publishing new articles really very easy, but to some extent took a lot of the planning of articles out of the system. On the other hand, everything I wrote in Blogger was converted into Klide – my original CMS – and from there into Epistula (Klide’s replacement) and eventually into WordPress earlier this year. Nothing before that survived, which says something about offsite backups, I suppose.

Aquarionics went though four of its 16 – so far – redesigns in the first four months as I gradually got a better idea of what I was doing. Redesigning a site with ten years of cruft has its very own varieties of “interesting”. There’s a lot of entries which contain stuff that only really works in context of the design they were originally written in, and whilst almost everything was written assuming black text on a white background, that’s not really universal either. Lastly, whilst around Epistula’s start I set up a series of CSS styles for common stuff I would want cross-design (Float this picture right, caption this, this is a Q&A section, this is an amazon link) not only does stuff prior to that randomly fail, but sometimes stuff afterwards does as well, as the classes have evolved to suck less in newer browsers.

Originally, Epistula was going to keep everything in an arbitrary XML format (see XML is the new black, from May 2003) based on XHTML with some custom attributes and compile it into whatever HTML the design required on render (which it would then cache until the next edit. Fried Caching in action), with the added bonus that stuff could be compiled into PDF or LaTeX instead. However, in the interests of Actually Relaunching The Site, this was ditched and everything was just saved in either text, textile or HTML form with a flag indicating which. I still somewhat regret doing that. I’ll talk more about Epistula tomorrow.

On top of this is the things that just fell down the cracks, like the article on the Sunderland Student Games which I should put back at some point. Changing hosts, reworking the site, transferring everything between CMS systems, all these things cause entropy, and every so often I’ll go looking for something I’ve posted that just isn’t there anymore. Half a dozen stories, for example, or readings of a poem I never typed up.

The above is kind of one of the problems with Aquarionics as a whole, which is the shear weight of badly indexed content makes longer-term relevant stuff harder to find. A lot of the Articles are still useful, but almost all of the diary entries aren’t. There’s a whole bunch of crappy fantasy schlock that shouldn’t be anywhere, let alone on a site people might visit, and other bits of writing I’m less upset for people to discover (Though most creative writing stuff goes on Faction Fiction, which – as you can see – is just as well updated as everything else. Though that’s mostly due to more creative writing going on things not yet public). Since useless stuff rarely becomes useful, and useful stuff will only atrophy, the best bet might be to go though everything in the system and add a “This is still useful” flag, and periodically review it and remove it from things that lie.

(Part three is technology)


Attn. Livejournal Users

Livejournal’s rss feed system sucks goat balls.

Please do not comment on the LJ feed, because I don’t get notified and I’m unlikely to notice it.

(Not that I get a huge flood of comments in any form, but the additional point is that I’d prefer not to split the comments I do get between the place where I posted the original post and a website that will delete without recovery a comment on any post more than two weeks old)

(Actually, the above also pretty much applies to Facebook, and I can’t disable comments there either. Yay syndication)

Also, LJ mangles local URLs to be relative to google (whose feed proxy service I use) instead of the WEBSITE AT THE TOP THAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO USE.

I do have a feed carefully constructed so that even LJ won’t fuck it up, but last time I asked they flat out refused to change the feed to use it, because as a content creator I don’t actually deserve any control over this kind of stuff. I’d turn off comments on it, or at least sign up for notifications, but LJ don’t allow that.

In conclusion, I’d appreciate it if you’d click one of the links at the top of any posts you see in the Aquarionics LJ feed, as if I’d added “Read More” links and just fed you a snippit of the content.

I’m a little sorry about this, mostly about the fact that involves leaving your friends page, which I’m aware is annoying and faffy, but I am afraid I cannot do anything about how badly they mangle the site feed.

Mostly, though, I’m just pissed off.