LUGRadio social Travel


or “What I did on my holidays, by Nicholas Avenell aged 29 and a bit

One of the interesting things about London is that it has a kind of black hole effect. Most of the time, things come to you instead of you having to actually leave London, and I realised this week that – save for LARP excursions – I haven’t actually left the city boundaries since Christmas. Part of this is that I don’t find London the least bit boring, but when I was invited to D and Sarah’s housewarming in Glasgow, I decided to stretch my horizons a bit and go from a flat city to a more hilly one.

I’ve taken three plane trips in my adult life. To and from Amsterdam, and a Newcastle -> London plane one christmas when I was bored of trains. For this reason, I took the train this time. The price worked out almost exactly the same, but the amount of faff around getting in to and though an airport disuades me, even when I don’t factor in volcano ash or my environmental footprint. Besides, on modern trains I could sit, code and spod on the Internet, which is close to what I’d be doing at home anyway.

Yeah, not so much. Internet was terminally flakey, and my netbook’s screen was rendered unreadable by the position of the sun. On the way to the station I popped into an art shop, and replaced my much-missed japanese brush pen, and so I ended up spending the journey mostly relearning how to draw using it, being bored at Twitter, watching the scenery tick by both from the window and on my phone’s GPS + Google Maps. Even when the sun wasn’t stopping me, it turns out that the new version of PHP (which my laptop now runs) doesn’t like my favoured database abstraction library, which was last updated in 2007. I may end up having to rewrite Plank’s database stack to either use a different abstraction library (I dislike most of the others), or take over this one. Neither prospect appeals to me, and appealed even less on a train at 10am on a saturday.

However, going up by train give me a chance to watch the countrycide. Great sweeping vistas of fields and drystone walling, like someone was shooting a live action version of Postman Pat; The flat horizon of the north sea, suicidal kayakers bouncing off the coastline; the great cathedral in Durham. Shiny things.

Glasgow was quite shiny too. I hit the city with just enough time to make a pillgramage of a kind to Demijohn to buy a housewarming gift. London’s kind of skewed my idea of “a big city” and so I decided to walk it. Glasgow has several things London does not. It has, noticably, more people with red hair, slightly fewer kebab shops per square mile, and also hills.

London is mostly pretty flat. Glasgow isn’t. After a while of walking up and down hills in straight lines, I took a radical step. Cannot, apparently, go over the hills. Don’t have time to go though the hills. Have to go though them. Fortunatly, I was assisted in this regard by the fact that Glasgow has a toy underground system. It’s like the tube, but everything is built to around 6/8ths scale. So cute!

Later I was informed that this was mostly because London digs the tunnels out of mud. Scotland, being brewed from SOLID ROCK and girders, is harder to dig tunnels in. This is fair enough, but still, diddy toy trains! Also, apparently they used to be pulled around by giant cables powered by even more giant steam engines, which is significantly more interesting.

Then there was a party, which contained beer and wine and Guitar Hero and lovely people, some of whom I even remember the names of, and finally there was sleep and an EPIC journey home.

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In which Aquarion has no idea who you are

Yesterday I had a flatwarming. It was great and stuff, and there was alcocustard, and mead, and cake. I think it went well. Today we went to Forbidden Planet and I accidentally an art shop, then we went to a pub with a tree inside it for food, then some people went home and other people went to collect cars and meet at the pub later. I went back to the flat, so as to as to recover my cope before heading to the pub to socialise again.

(People are great, I like people. I need gaps of no-people between lots-of-people).

So I’m sitting in our flat at my computer, the view behind it over the football fields of Hackney Downs, and I check Google Reader with some trepidation, as I’ve not done so for a couple of days. The flat is silent save for the whirr of the server fans, all is quiet, all is peace. There’s a message on the screen.

“One new person is following you”

For a short amount of time, the terminology of our new Social Internet hits me at the wrong angle. They’re following me? Why? How did they get my address? I can’t hear them. Are they in the flat?

A click, and Google Reader illucidates slightly:

“Paul is following you”

That’s it.

Who, exactly, is Paul?

The profile image doesn’t inspire confidence, and there are no further details. Either they don’t have a Google Profile to click though to, or Google Reader doesn’t click though to it.

“Paul is following you”

This isn’t a unique problem. I keep getting mails from twitter saying “$foo is following you” (You’d think with all these people following me I’d be able to see them. Perhaps milling around while I’m in the flat or something) without any way to connect $foo with an identifier I could actually recognise.

“Paul is following you”

A bit of digging (though the Google Reader Sharing Settings Page, of all places) gave me the google account ID of my followers, which was a little better. (If you’re interested in finding out who I am where, check Project Walrus.

In conclusion, profiles on social networks do actually serve a purpose: They allow your stalkees to identify you. This means you, Paul.

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25 Things

People keep asking me to do the 25 things meme. Or Tagging me, or something. Since Linus Torvolds – of all people – used my idea on how to do it best, I’m going to do it differently.

  1. All things are really meringue. The illusions of things that are not meringue are caused by gloss paint and superglue. It takes the supreme baker five years to bake enough meringue to run each second of our time. It requires more hens than there are space for.
  2. Purple elephants never weigh more than twelve stone, unless you dip them in coffee.
  3. The book that most affected the course of evolution was called “Ugg’s envelope”, and did so by being dropped on the head of someone at the critical point of conception.
  4. Civilisation is no more than four meals away from breakfast.
  5. If you summon an undead cactus, you will not be able to tell the difference.
  6. Science has yet to work out why your toes have toasters on the ends, but assume that it’s not a mutation that will enhance the species. Sorry.
  7. It has been proven by advanced magic that the missing ingredient in your last chilli was sugar.
  8. In Wassock, TX, they have built a coffee mug sufficient to wake up the sleeping earth. The only thing between us and a sentient planet is that they don’t know if they should make it white or black, or how much of a bad idea getting it wrong would be.
  9. Accordions are no longer banned in Westminster, but only if they do not repeat the “9th Note In The Octave” incident.
  10. You cannot fold a single piece of paper enough times to balance that table.
  11. The radius of a CD was specifically designed so that you could use them to put your drink on when the burn fails. The entire industry dedicated to specific objects for that purpose then collapsed, because it had been coasting for years.
  12. In the next series of Top Gear, all the Stigs will be put on trial for corrupting the time stream.
  13. According to tradition, the last person to leave will indeed turn out all the lights.
  14. Yes, they do come with a manual. No, you’re not allowed to see it. That would remove the fun.
  15. If you don’t get well soon, they’re going to shoot you.
  16. There is a fundamental universal law against anyone naming a decent drink “Starboard”
  17. There probably is no event horizon, now relax and enjoy your shoes.
  18. The proof of the pudding cannot be submitted for scientific analysis if you have already eaten it.
  19. Conceptually, it is impossible for elephants to fly under their own power in their current form.
  20. There’s no such place as Brazil, everyone has been lying to you.
  21. Pluto’s demotion was a coverup, really it resigned so that the affair with Tarvos wouldn’t be an intergalactic scandle.
  22. Elvis is the music industry version of Mornington Crescent
  23. Adding more cornflour stops working after a certian – very early – point.
  24. You’ll never get to heaven in a girl-guide’s arms.
  1. There are only 24 things on this list.
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Books for Bricks

  1. And so it came to pass that a friend of mine’s house is falling down
  2. And thus it is useful for him and his family to repair it before it collapses.
  3. And the chances of the insurance coming though before the ceiling does appears small.
  4. And it so happens that he has a book of children’s stories, which I’m told is Good (My copy has not arrived)
  5. And so, if enough people buy the book, all will be well.
  1. And for more details and links to the online places that sell the books, you should go to the website created for this drive,
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The Eosian Council 10

Am back from The Eosian Council 10.

tEC is the name for a series of the UK -based contingent of’ meetings. The definition of a tEC varies from person to person, but the basic format is that the group hires a house (usually a youth hostel) for a weekend, and spends it playing games, doing quizes, bitching about Eddings’ more recent output (You do not need to comment here with "I like eddings but he writes the same story a lot!!!!". Really) doing music quizes and generally being social with people.

Also, it ends up being my first non-larp pre-planned weekend away this year.

My very first ever experience of meeting people I’d met over the internet in real life was the tEC 2 prelude meet in London, followed the day after by tEC2 itself, which was nine years and a bit ago, which is faintly scary, which was at a beautiful cottage turned into a YH in Badby. There we got ambushed a bit by the local radio station (This was back in July 1999, and tinpot internet communities were newsworthy) . The venerable Aquarius is still hosting the MP3 of the resulting interview, and also there is the MP3 David Eddings sent us on how to pronounce things badly.

This years event – the first in about four years, after the community disolved quite a bit – was in a glorious rambling holiday home near Tiverton in Devon that would comfortably sleep 22 (there were twelve of us) and had an open fire and a massive kitchen and was, basically, the house I would build if I become rich and not-living-in-london. Upsides include no internet and patchy mobile coverage. Not good for a home, but perfect for a weekend away.

There was good food, good company, beer and games, and I generally had a fabulous weekend.

How was yours?

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Politics, Vegetables and Paul and Storm

For some unknown reason, possibly just the random whims and zephers of ideas that float across my mind, I have become more interested in US politics recently. This means my normal daily diet of The Daily Show (and occasionally Colbert Report if I have time) has been joined by occasional episodes of Countdown and other things. I like Countdown, the presentation appeals to me. I haven’t been watching it long enough to know how balanced it is – He’s pretty obviously liberal, but the other side have been doing more stupid things recently – but finding a balanced news source is like looking for a needle in a club whose major clientelle is pins that dress up like needles every night and get stuck in. I do hope Obama wins. John McCain doesn’t appear to be a bad chap, at the end. When he’s actually speaking as himself – instead of reading speeches or working from incomplete information he’s been fed – he appears to have a solid grasp of reality and a fair manner. My worry is that he appears not to be able to see the balance in the information that he’s accepting, which is a bad position for a president to be in. Also, I do not like Palin. I think he should ditch Sarah Palin and swap her for Michael.

New topic. At the pub last night Tristan was demonstrating his Eee’s ability to run Mame games by playing Karateka) on it. But due to pub noise and accent-parsing, I could only hear it as “Carrotica”, your one stop shop for carrot-based erotica. For Carrots, by Carrots. With a Coleslaw department for those who like Carrot bondage. Etc. I just thought I’d share that with you.

Finally, I went to see Jonathan Coulton on Thursday, although in truth I was as much there to see Paul & Storm – two of what used to be Da Vinci’s Notebook, which has kinda-split-up-ish – as the main act. Neither disappointed in the least, especially with “Soft Rock” devolving into Pink Floyd’s “Wish you were here” as well as “Welcome to the Machine” and various other songs. And, for a £20 bet supplied by the audience, Paul performing most of “Mein Herr”:

Closing off with an epic ten minute version of The Captain’s Wife’s Lament (NSFW. Also funny):

(A full featured and contentful post today)

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An Update

Most of what I’m doing right now is working, and due to the nature of my working, it’s dull. I’m mostly writing unit tests. And because it’s work, it’s occasionally awesome and fun, challanging and occasionally frustrating. We are, however, looking for PHP dev to work in our Kings Cross office, so if you know any PHP devs looking for a new job, fire an email at nicholas care of trutap dot net. I do hope to be able to shout about stuff we’re doing soon.

Because I’ve moved to the place with the most integrated transportation network in the country, it’s obvious that the next thing I need to do is learn to drive. Since my last experience I haven’t actually had any driving lessons at all (Well, not true. I got one while in Bedford, but taking a two hour lunch break meant I missed my bus home and didn’t get back to Letchworth until 22:00. I didn’t repeat the experience), But I’ve just signed up with Go Red for a lesson on the 1st August. Now to pass my theory test for the third, and ideally final, time.

One of the reasons for the above is my current habit of going LARPing, and the fact that lugging all my stuff on trains is annoying. Also, National Rail always seem to schedule line work over me coming back from Maelstrom, which is irritating. A car would make getting there – as well as Treasure Trap in Cambridge – easier. This weekend is another Maelstrom weekend, which should be fun.

This means that I’m going to not only miss LUGRadio Live, which annoyed me, but when it became the very last LR event ever, it just seemed like malice. I’ve listened to, and enjoyed, the show from the first episode, and while I’ve recently not been much part of the community, I’m proud of the bits I have been part of. LUGRadio is a staggering achievement, and I hope someone picks up the idea and does it half as well as the various generations of Gents have over the years. I don’t know what they’re planning to do with the site after it’s over, but if it fractures into a few dozen local LUGRadio divisions – such as was originally the plan for the series, I believe – it will be interesting.

Still not completed GTA4 yet.

Most of my “home” coding right now is being done on AqWiki, which is now running a community wiki for Maelstrom fans as well as one for an Ikariam alliance – pushing the under-developed macro system to the limit with treaty managers and databases. I’m also working on Lampstand, which is an IRC bot again for Maelstrom fans. It’s based on the Twisted framework, which is something of a run-up all of its own, and eventually I hope to integrate it into a django-powered community site.

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New Qualitative Analysis in the Dreamworld

Something that interests me. I’ve been used as a psychological study in a marketing consultation report. Or, actually, in 2004, someone took my Names article (Itself three years old at that point, and now seven) and used it as a basis for part of Three Dreams: New Qualitative Analysis in the Dreamworld.

It says:

With that in mind, let us turn to our final sample of data. It is drawn from the website of a British man who calls himself Aquarion. The site appears to have been up and running for some four years and in that time Aquarion has added a good deal of content, principally diary entries, links and opinion pieces. The part of the website that will interest us is a passage of text from a page entitled “Article – Names”. It reads as follows:

(Contents of Names article follows)

EM and DA will help us get to grips with this text. The EM emphasis on personal accountability helps us see that Aquarion is not simply expressing a preference for one or another form of address. More than that, he orientates to his preference as problematic and his account of himself is organised so as to anticipate and deal with those problems. For instance, in line 40, Aquarion signs off “Yours in total sincerity”, clearly an acknowledgement of the problem of deliberate insincerity – deception – as a feature of life online. In lines 9-14 Aquarion justifies himself with reference to some previous bad experience that was the result of his failure to adequately conceal his ‘real’ identity from troublemakers (notice the emphasis on “ever” in line 12, which stresses the severity of the problem he encountered without going into details). His allusion to this experience additionally serves the very useful purpose of rhetorically categorising Aquarion in a socially recognisable group of ‘innocent victims’ and distancing him from a contrasting group of internet wrong-doers. Moreover, in lines 23-24, Aquarion offers the conspicuously rational criterion of public recognisability as the reason for his preferred title (and notice how that distinguishes him from, and opposes him to, the sort of person who would go online for the express purpose of achieving invisibility and hiding from public view). In lines 5-8 and his postscript of lines 42-43 he presents himself as someone who follows “the rules” of service providers by exposing his “real name”, even when doing so is to his own disadvantage and even though the rules are conventionally not enforced. Finally, we should not overlook his ironic self-description of line 38: “Aquarion is a fairly mucked up person” – amongst other things, a display of self-knowledge and transparency that trades on the common-sense idea that someone genuinely “mucked up” would be unlikely to advertise the fact.

At the same time, interleaved with Aquarion’s various acknowledgements of the problem of deception are signs that he orientates to precisely the opposite issue: the idea that the internet offers as its unique and characteristic benefit the possibility of a new self. Insights from DA help us to see how this is achieved. For instance, he makes effective use of techniques of normalisation and nominalisation, both of which are thoroughly researched and discussed in the DA literature (e.g., see Potter, 1996). On line 1 he uses inverted commas and upper-case letters to offer the self-reflective question of “Who is Aquarion” as the sort of question that persons in cyberspace might routinely encounter. He repeats the technique on line 29. It is not just that he personally prefers not to feel confused about who he ‘really’ is but in fact (he suggests) “Who Do I Want To Be Today …?” is a common “problem” of a known “variety” that the reading audience could be expected to recognise. Moreover, notice the wording and structure of “Who Do I Want To Be Today…?”. Aquarion could have offered an alternative, something like “Who Am I?”, for example, but in fact he is hearably drawing on the culturally available resource that is the Microsoft strapline “Where do you want to go today?”. In so doing, he normalises “Who Do I Want To Be Today…?” as a problem of the technology and therefore not unique to the “mucked up” individual. Finally, we cannot conclude even a superficial analysis of Aquarion’s “article” without reference to the absolutely fascinating phenomenon that is “$REALME” (line 28). This ingenious linguistic construction could only happen in textual form (there is no oral equivalent) and indeed only makes sense in the context of the net. It consists of three elements, all working together. There is the use of exclusively upper-case letters, the welding-together of ‘real’ and ‘me’ to form a single word, and the preface of “$”. Away from cyberspace, “$” reliably means ‘dollars’ but in the context of the internet, signs such as ‘$’, ‘?’, ‘#’ and even ‘*’ take on a new and flexible range of functions that are unique to the digital environment and therefore function as metonyms for it. The combined use of these three elements serves to ironise Aquarion’s ‘real self’ and display it as no less constructed and contingent than the online version which is known as ‘Aquarion’. That is, had Aquarion simply inserted his ‘real’ name in place of “$REALME”, readers might have had difficulty accepting that the two identities are different but equal and more or less interchangeable. There would have been the risk that readers would feel that Aquarion’s ‘real’ name was in fact the original and authentic ‘self’ that he ought to use, while the name ‘Aquarion’ looked, in contrast, like more of a costume or a disguise. However, his ingenious and imaginative construction “$REALME” resembles an off-line ‘real’ name even less than “Aquarion” and so the reading audience is helped and encouraged to understand “Aquarion” as an adequately genuine and authentic ID.

What is the upshot for marketing? Clearly, the number and range of ways that it’s possible to exploit the dream of Transformation far exceeds traditional ideas of purchasing products so as to become a muscular hero or raving beauty, although those functions of the dream are still going strong. The lesson offered to us by Aquarion is that there are certain aspects of contemporary social life in which consumers themselves will put Transformation and Alter Identity on the agenda. The point, then, is to achieve some insight into why and how that happens, and to understand both the triggers and barriers so that we can offer products and services that help consumers do what they are attempting to do of their own accord. For example, the Aquarion text suggests that people are going to respond well to any product or service that helps them take advantage of the internet’s opportunities for self re-invention while simultaneously facilitating their display of themselves as one of the ‘good guys’. People are evidently looking for ways to mark themselves as honest and transparent, not despite but because they also want the facility to be anything but. Moreover, it may be that “Who Do I Want To Be Today?” articulates a consumer need that’s even more relevant and genuine than “Where do I want to go?” and this is certainly something that would merit some more research. Evidently, thinking of the internet as a ‘space’ around which consumers travel – ‘surfing’ to places of interest and eventually returning ‘home’ – is only one possible metaphor for what people are actually doing online. It might be even more relevant and useful to provide people with metaphors that facilitate identity play, freedom and work on the self as well as those that facilitate travel and exploration.

This amuses me. Partly because of the seemingly genuine attempt to work out how “online people” think, partly the outsiders viewpoint that puts a remarkable emphasis on my throw-away phrase that includes a pop-culture (or, at least, pop-geek-culture) reference.

But mostly that the article, which was part of a sequence of me slowly over-analysing myself and my identity until it (the identity) completely collapsed under the weight of my own theories, has itself been over-analysed, and was apparently presented at a conference!

I do hope someone took the presentation and dissected it into little pieces with logological scalpels, that would make my day.

Of course, I’m also interested in the very fact that Ms. Lowes took it upon herself not to contact me at all when she found this goldmine of pseudo-intellectual claptrap and used it to base her paper on. However, since I’ve just reprinted a large swathe of it, I should probably avoid throwing stones.

I only found it because I did a search for my old usenet sig, ‘Yours in Total Sincerity’.

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Syncronised Twitter

There is a good explanation for this. Well, better than “We were at the pub and it seemed like a good idea at the time”. Except the last one, that’s got nothing to do with me.

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It's not for you

Chris Selland:

But as a biz dev guy (who doesn’t have time – or a reason – to be online much) – and despite the fact that my job is all about relationships – I find twitter to be pretty pointless. LinkedIn, on the other hand, I use every single day.



I’ve been watching the Social Networking backlash with something of a professional interest, seeming as I’m working for a company whose primary product is to interact with many of them, and my primary response to “I can’t use Facebook as a professional Customer Relationship Management system” and “Twitter’s no use in maintaining business relationships” and “Google’s not helping my website get more hits” is… er…:



Twitter is ambient sociality. It’s what it is good at. It’s for “this is what I’m doing” and – more often – a ping in the background with something that someone else is doing. Attempting to use it as a network management tool, either for people or servers, is not what it is designed to do. It works suprisingly well as a command-line interface to remote websites (I’m a new convert to remember the milk), but complaining that Twitter doesn’t help you manage your business is kin to complaining that you can’t use lego for your corporate HQ. It may look the right shape, but you need a heavier tool.

Facebook is at its best as a social – in the “go out with friends” sense – network. Not as a network of everyone you have ever met, but as everyone you’ve ever wanted to keep in touch with. I have a simple criteria for adding people to facebook. a) Can I remember something you’ve said to me, b) Were you on fire, would I look an extinguisher or piss on it if the former is not an option. Subquestion: If the former _is_ an option. As a kind of online contacts directory of everyone I’ve ever met or worked with, or wish to maintain a professional relationship with, it’s not really the target market.

LinkedIn is, though. Facebook I use daily – more this week than ever before – LinkedIn I’ll visit periodically to add someone I’ve worked with/for, or more often if I’m looking for people to work with (trutap is, incidentally, hiring perldevs, Ops team & QA folks), but I wouldn’t use it to keep track of – for example – my best friends from secondary school.

There appears to be a tendency within the web technologist literati to see there only being one online social network to which you throw your allegiances and all others can hang, but they’re all better at some things than others, and until we can transport all our networks from one place to another though an defined standard format (I have my doubts as to this ever actually happening, but leave the floor open to the more optimistic) you’re always going to have more people on one network than another, so you have to decide on whether you’re going to miss out on a person for a website account, which – to me – isn’t any choice at all.

There is no silver bullet. There’s no best language as there will never be a best social network, best operating system, best text editor (though emacs will retain it’s bottom position, obviously), there is merely the best tool for what you’re looking for right now, and you can find me on most of them.

And if just one of them is perfect for everyone you want to list as a friend,