The journey of a thousand miles begins with stealing someone’s moccasins, or something.
Bullet point one on the list in Week 52 was “Reclaim my days”. Currently I’m spending 3 hours a day commuting, something I find stressful and literally counterproductive, in that 60-90 minutes waiting for and waiting on buses then requires a while of finding my calm again. As a result my mornings at work – traditionally my most productive period – aren’t very useful, and my evenings at home become vegetation. It doesn’t leave time mental space in my life to take driving lessons, work on personal projects, or even read much that requires brain power.
Last time I was working at a job I wasn’t enjoying with a commute that was eating my life, I waited until after everything important to me had died before moving closer to the job, then quitting the job when that didn’t help. This time, as above, I’m trying the other way around.
So, I’ll be contracting again as of early March. No point in attempting to line anything up this far in advance, I think, and I won’t be starting the big splashy changes (Updating LinkedIn, StackOverflow, Design refresh of istic.net and notifying preferred recruiters) for a couple of weeks to avoid various bits of panic.
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.
I used to do this kind of thing monthly in WRP format. It’s as good as any:
Skute’s in the wild, to some extent. Beta invitations have been sent out – the demons of the Play Store beta system are occasionally eating us – and the first few hundred tags are around. Speccing up bits for Phase Three of the backend system, and putting docs together.
Converted PiracyInc’s vagrant provisioning to Ansible as a test to see how easy that was. It was so easy I converted an app for my contracting gig, and today one of the Skute applications over (that already had ansible playbooks).
Again on a PiracyInc -> Skute path, used PiracyInc as an excuse to learn how celery (background task queuing thing) backs onto Flask, and then ported a couple of long tasks (uploads to S3, mostly) on Skute’s media server to it. Can probably extend this to some other tasks later on, but the speed boost on uploads is nice.
Need to work out how this would interface with the main API, which is on Heroku. Pretty sure using a remote redis as a queue store isn’t a great idea, though I’m sure it would work. I’ve got enough architecture problems with remote systems I can’t control or fix if they go wrong. Maybe I’m not thinking with my head in the Cloud enough. It’s possible that our time with Heroku is coming to the end of its lollypop, given we already have AWS servers to do the media stuff. I do love platform consolidation tasks, they make my dark heart glad.
More features & fixes up on Test, as well. Those will get migrated with the next android build…
Did the Empire Podcast with Mark and folks, which went really well. Massively glad I did that last weekend, and not next, as a series of blamestorms and internal bullshit has drained me of enthusiasm for the game entirely. This is probably linked to the cloud of rage and stress that’s currently hovering over me, but I did a toys-external rant this afternoon, and my attendance is now slightly shaky. That said, the toys-external rant appears to have actually made stuff happen.
One of the massive problems with doing freelance work and working from home is that my division line between working and not-working is flakey, which is adding to my current feelings of stress. I kind of need to decompress for a week or so, but can’t really do that until a couple of near-future milestones pass. So I’m becoming increasingly short tempered and unwilling to give any leeway to people fucking about, even when it doesn’t actually matter.
Other projects? There’s a long post on small-time media creators in the age of Facebook that I need to finish soon, but the short version is that everything else I do is trapped in a cycle of falling interest, because even the people who are engaged with the premise don’t get most of the things I produce for it.
I’ve booked for two larps, in a desperate attempt to play more than zero this year (Last year I managed one, which promptly collapsed).
More technologically, The new episodes of Dreamfall & Borderlands’s episodic things came out last week, and I drove through them with wild abandon. It’s interesting that Telltale’s hundred episode history hasn’t quite solved the narrative issues of a second part to a longer story, but to be fair Red Thread hasn’t magically done so either. Both felt like a small and not very important internal arc primarily to cause more questions and dominos to be set up for the main story.
MMO-wise, I’ve wandered back into Elder Scrolls Online to finish up the last area. Nobody I know seems to be playing it anymore – apart from fyr, who’s using my account – and I’ve no idea where social hubs are to find a low-key guild to bounce around with, so mostly I’m playing it as a more restrictive and more narrative Elder Scrolls single player game, with occasional multi-gigabyte patch downloads that don’t seem to add anything. I’ve fallen out of The Secret World for a bit. The new player experience is a massive improvement, and I’d highly recommend the game for anyone interested in that kind of modern-world conspiracy setting, with tinges of Lovecraft around the edges (ping me a for a trial code), but my next stage will be Nightmare dungeons and scenarios, and I need a better build, which means grinding out AP. I’m looking forward to the new issue, and the new dungeon that comes with it.
Daily posts are not interesting, and I’ve got the same problem as Norm, to some degree. I’ve got dozens of projects I’m working on, some of them professionally, so I’m going to try weekly updates, with the hope that with those come progress.
Project S is the company I’ve been working for, for the past year. They have a thing, and I’ll be explaining more about that thing the more public we are about it. The last week I’ve been mostly fixing communication issues with our API server (Beehive) and the Media server (Warehouse). Both are Flask-based python applications backing on to a shared CouchDB cluster, and I’ve been working on getting the transcoding services (Thumbnailing, indexing, that kind of thing) to communicate back to the main systems. It’s uncovered an interesting series of security context issues, and some horrible things around EXIF, where finding out if an image is the same way up it started has become troublesome.
My long running project for the other company continues. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I fear the light, now.
Over ten years ago, I created AqWiki, a PHP3 based, textile formatted basic wiki system. Originally as a replacement for BrowserAngel’s TCL-based wiki system, it contains structural flaws caused by being written for PHP3, conceptual flaws due to being written by me ten years ago, and security flaws due to being written by me in PHP3 ten years ago. However, one of those flaws is a slightly baroque SQL schema, and so writing an export of it has been hard, and writing an importer for any better wiki software harder still. However, my current saviour is Gollum, which is a git-backed wiki system. So, I have written an exporter for AqWiki to Gollum. It’s not perfect – There are a few formatting inconsistencies, and I need to fix some double-quoting issues – but it’ll get me off my own NiH platform, and into a new and better world.
More usefully, it’s meant digging deeper into gitpython and some more knowledge about how git works internally, which improves my ability to help others get out of git-holes.
Moving My Lampstand
Lampstand is an IRC bot I originally wrote for a channel I was on some time ago. Since then, I’ve taken over as Responsible Adult for the channel, and it’s become somewhere halfway between a utility bot, toy and mascot. It’s also rotting a bit, since the Twisted framework it’s built on never liked IRC much, and I’m using an outdated version. It’s never really needed deep enough development to keep me from working on the live bot, and it’s a toy, but a rewrite of the core is going to involve spreading the parts on the floor a bit and risking oil on the carpet, so I’ve built it a nice Vagrant virtual environment builder, which has the nice side effect of encouraging the people who report bugs and are able to fix them to be able to do so.
The empire plot wiki was getting occasional errors, so I bit the bullet and ran an upgrade of Mediawiki on it.
This will teach me to be quite so fucking stupid.
Everything broke, from the custom theme to the database access, the bugs still existed, and the search functionality – using a Lucene backend – was still entirely fucked. So I fixed what I could, ripped out Lucene in favour of the normal mediawiki search (which sucks, but at least was updating) and backed away slowly.
Then backed back in even more slowly when I got more reports of white-outs of death from updating articles. Fuck everything to do with mediawiki, slowly and with corkscrews.
Me and Mr Cooke have been batting around the concepts for a Scifi larp game for a while, and so I decided to put some of my initial thoughts into short textual illustration, which has raised some interest and caused a number of discussions on the metaphysic and how our Sci Fi universe works. Next steps are to turn it from a universe into a larp game, because I don’t have enough of those.
This month, I’ve mostly been getting better at working from home.
It’s been a year and a half since I quit my full time job and went contracting. The first gig was office-based, so didn’t change my day to day experience, but working for the New Startup (Now named Skute) and more recently for my second client, all the work is remote save a few catchup meetings. My self-disapline for working from home has never been great, so I rented an office at an industrial complex nearby, and spent eight months or so commuting to it daily.
Partly this is vanity. The idea of my tiny little company having an actual office with an address and a name on the door made it feel much more like a Real Thing than sitting around in my pajamas coding stuff. It kept work as a ritual, and put a firm dividing line between Work Time and Fucking Around On The Internet time, and all this was good for my productivity.
Less good for my general sanity was getting up early, going to an office to sit on my own all day, then going home and to bed. With the office in an even more remote bit of North London than the bit I live in, visiting people for lunch or going out in the evening was significant effort, and I could go for weeks without interacting with anyone apart from my girlfriend. In this regard, my previous office-experiement – a desk in a shared office space in Dalton – worked a lot better. The social buzz in the office was good for both myself and my business – a couple of contacts I made there have panned out well. The office complex, with a hundred different businesses behind a hundred anonymous blue doors, was a lot more isolated in every way. Also, quite expensive.
So I packed that in with thirty days notice in September, and am now in month two of working from home. The work-life division is embedded within my Macbook, which remains my work machine. While I use it as a personal machine away from home, the laptop works well as a Work Indicator to my brain, and mostly keeps me on side and focused.
The abandoning of the office wasn’t entirely positive, it’s always a downer to take a step backwards, even if they’re long-term-positive ones, but it’s given me a lot better ability to establish a Work mindset, even while at home.
Now to work out how to include gym visits when I don’t go past it on the way to work…
Updates are kind of hard to come by. The venerable Aquarius has celebrated his blog’s 10th birthday, which kind of made me think “Gosh, 11 and a bit years. I should update more often”. And Thus.
So, an update, then. At work, I’m working on the Next Big Thing for Work, which will have absolutely no impact on the tech industry at all, and because of the inward-facing nature of same will be worth not much.
Home-wise I’m working on The Book, which continues… well, crap, really. The story is there, and the writing is as not bad as is reasonable, but it turns out the actual story is far too slow to actually get moving, let alone get to anything that will hook the reader. The writing continues apace, and by this method the pace will be fixed, we hope.
Also, Lifestream, and more specifically the current incarnation of NicholasAvenell dot com. The actual display of which isn’t anything revolutionary, but I’m having fun writing the grid system it all runs under.
PiracyInc continues as well, with a new Combat system that I really should have worked out ages ago, but may end up being rewritten (again) into a language I know, because learning at the same time as doing does not appear to be producing the results I need it too. Right now the economics system works fine without any player input, so now all I need is added pirates.
So most of what I’m doing is entirely invisible to the public eye.
The only actual visible thing I’m producing right now is a series of parodies/satire on UK Larp systems, and the idea of the “perfect system”, which isn’t really interesting to my current readership who aren’t already involved, I think. It’s an interesting vector for creative writing. More interesting, to me, is the aspect of user feedback that centralising on Facebook provides. The frictionless UI that supplying a “Like” provides appears to increase user feedback, or at least enough positive feedback to avoid the “I’m shouting into a black hole” feeling that I’ve found posting anything on the internet tends to engender. This, I predict, will last until something I’ve invested actual mental effort into results in significantly less interaction than previous throw-away jokes, at which point the frictionless interaction will turn into a more friction-focused stick with which half my ego uses to beat the other half. The problem with being a feedback junkie is that the comedown is rough.
Also, the highs are hard to come by.
So, tomorrow work, and then on Thursday up to sunny Glasgow, Saturday the Brewdog AGM, Sunday Glasgow again, and Monday the long trek home. It’s entirely possible you’re in for a great deal more introspection over the next few days, for which I can only apologise.
Since I have to get up in seven hours, I should probably take my leave of this pub.
Having entered the murky world of Contracting, I’m putting together a new set of recruiters, since my previous circle of useful ones mostly deal in permanent roles. These are some things agencies have done that annoy me:
If I’ve applied for a role, and you’ve put my CV forward, and they’ve given you feedback of the form “Good but not the one”, please do not “wait until [you] have balancing news” before telling me of this.
This goes double, triple, quadruple for interview feedback. One agency got told “We’d hire him now, but he’s too expensive with your fee” and instead of discussing negotiations with me, fobbed me off with “They haven’t got back to us” for a month until they hired someone else.
If I apply for a job that happens to go though you, it’s because I’m interested in applying for that job. I’m not really interested in being on your database as a primary objective, and phoning me up with roles outside my field (The top part of my CV consists of a long list of buzzwords I’m compliant with. None of Java, .Net, ASP, Mercury or Drupal are on it, whereas other things like them are. Guess why?) will not make me happy.
Fucking Around With My References
My references aren’t on my CV. As of this month, though, I won’t give them out except to companies themselves, not to agencies. Why? Because a recruitment agent asked me for my references “because a company asked for them” and then used them to spam high-level contacts in previous companies. Well done.
Okay, kicking arse into gear to get new employment.
My method of job searching is to send notification out to a few recruitment companies who have been proven to Get It, add a couple of one’s I’ve not used before, and apply for interesting things I find myself. The recruitment companies bring some interesting stuff, but most of the really cool roles appear to come either from friends or looking at job boards. The new recruitment companies have been chosen (one more by luck, they happened to phone me on friday with a three year old version of my CV, the other is the new home of the recruiter who got me my last job), the trusted ones have been notified. That was 9am.
It’s now close to 10pm, I’ve had one interview (Recruiter L at Company T), I’ve got a phone interview tomorrow (Also Recruiter L, Company S), one company came via a friend, and they’ve expressed an interest in a meeting (Company G), a few more companies are looking at my CV. This is a suspiciously good start.