Imported From Epistula MLP


Imported From Epistula stories


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BrowserAngel computing Imported From Epistula programming

General Public Virus

Today, I’m going to take a minute out of my working day and rant at you about software development.

I work for a company that does Cool Things With Data. That’s all you know, that’s all I’ll tell you. When we are looking for testers, I shall mention what it is, and you can all go “oooh”.

One of the things I’ve done in this is created the method by which RSS data is put into the program (Our automated statistics are generated into RSS, because I was fairly sure it would be easy to get it out again). Now I want to get it out again, so I’m going to have to write an RSS-Reading Thingy.

This is not my desire. The last thing I want to spend x amount of my life doing is writing RSS parsers. Far better minds than mine have spent ages on the problem of parsing the amount of really, truely horrible things that people do with RSS, and they have released these things.

The best and most respected that has been released in PHP, which is the environment I’m doing this in, is Magpie RSS, which you give a URL and it gives you an object containing data. So far, so hoopy. I installed it, integrated it, loved it and forgot about it.

Now we come to Second Stage stuff, and I’m looking at the licences of the bits we’re using. The sections we grabbed from Epistula are fine, because they’re BSD licenced. Magpie isn’t, because it’s GPL, and the GPL specifically states that I can’t include a GPL library if my code isn’t going to be GPL’d.

It isn’t. Not because of any “We want to trap our users” stuff, but simply because out continued existance of a company involves people paying us for our services. With this money, they can pay me. With this payment, I can write more software. And eat. And buy broadband. And spend my weekends making free software. And I realise that in the ivory tower of the Free Software Movement it doesn’t matter, because All Non-Free Software Is Evil.

Out of interest, any Free Software Zealots in the audience know how we programmers are supposed to earn our food?

This shouldn’t matter. This is Politics, and I don’t care that ESR supports Baring Arms, nor which direction Linus voted last election, nor what RMS thinks of his country’s economic prospects.

What I care about, as a user and a developer, is that I am currently unable to use the best tool for the job because of the politics of making something free.

So, the next time you decide you want to release under a free licence, remember there are other licences than the GPL that even Debian likes.

And now, Back to XML parsing. Yay.

Imported From Epistula Moving to Letchworth Personal


It’s been an Interesting Week on Planet Aquarion. The big news is that my SO is – finally – in permenant work after over a year of searching. The bad news – from my point of view – is that it’s in Letchworth, about half an hour north of London. We are in Reading, about a half an hour west of London. Going across London is about a half hour, and, generally, it’s too far to commute. So LoneCat is living with her Grandparents near Letchworth, and we are planning to move again.

We’ve only lived here six months, and we’re now moving back to almost where we moved from. Great.

My current plans involve a certian paranoia in not, under any circumstances, allowing what happened last time to happen this time too. Last time we moved out of Cambridge on 1st April. We finally moved into Reading in mid-May. A month and a half sleeping on sofas with 90% of my belongings in storage was unpleasant, and I have no intention of doing it again. The other down side is that this house requires 60 days notice on moving out, as opposed to the 30 days the previous house required, which means even if we move out tomorrow (unlikely) we will still be paying rent until the end of January. (Probably. I may have a way around this).

On top of all this, our Letting Agents decided not to honour LC’s letter of intent from Reading Council to pay her housing benefit (It was delayed by 12 weeks by the time it was delivered last week) by sending us a letter stating this fact, and then a week later with an eviction notice. This was also sorted.

Last friday was the final deadline for the first version of my project at work. I dislike 12 hour days, but when I was unable to go into work on the Thursday because I was too ill, I didn’t get much choice.

Oh, and apparently it’s nearly christmas. Yay.

But yesterday I went to Cambridge and met people, and played fun games, and saw LoneCat, and this was Good.

Now, everyone should watch University Challange tonight (BBC2, 8.30) because my friend is on it (Warner, Caius).

And Ccooke and Ruthi are engaged. Congratulations 🙂

Content soonish. Promise.

Imported From Epistula MotW

Play On

If music be the food of love, here we have sprouts marinated in marmite.

I present, for your delectation and possible fear, The video of Lenoard Nimoy’s classic single: ‘The Ballard of Bilbo Baggins’

(Requires Quicktime)

Computer Games Imported From Epistula

Broken Sword 3 – The Sleeping Dragon

A little while ago, I promised to write a reviews system for Pol, who hosts Aquarionics. Since this was around the time of [E]2’s existence, I decided that instead of writing the reviews section of the new Epistula, I would write a generic reviews system. Thus the world would continue to turn and I’d never lose content.

This hasn’t yet happened, so you’re stuck with reviews-as-articles until I find the required shaped tuits.

The Broken Sword games are adventure games. Every time a new adventure game is released, every magazine starts the review with a paragraph about the death – supposed or otherwise – of the puzzle-based adventure. Broken Sword has always been a standard use-rope-on-scaffold-to-absail-to-new-level type of adventure game, and this has survived the transition into 3D just as well as the also recently released Worms 3D has. It’s a wonderful game.

Sleeping Dragon is a traditional adventure game, but in three dimensions. It has the dreaded ‘Action Elements’, but in contrast to almost every other adventure game which has tried this, these are never separate arcade bits, but flow quite naturally though the game. They come in two parts: First are the Dragon Lair type ones, where you have a limited amount of time to do an action (Normally just clicking “use”) before the next bit of the cinematic kicks in and you either succeed – if you hit the button – or die – if you didn’t. If you didn’t, the game just instantly picks up from the beginning of the cinematic and you try again. The second type is the action stuff that has made Adventure vultures up and down the Internet hold up their hands in despair. George runs! and Jumps! and climbs! The immediate assumption seems to be “They’ve turned it into Tomb Raider” which is unfair. It’s just another adventure thing. When you get to a button, you have the option of examining it, pressing it, or using a hammer on it, or something. Standard adventure stuff. When you get to a ledge, you might have the options of climbing it, jumping it, or tying a rope to it. Standard adventure stuff, just better animated.

Here we lead onto the biggest flaw most reviews have found in the game. One of the things you can push, pull and climb over are crates. Fassands of ‘em. In the same way that previous adventures have used object based puzzles, dialogue based puzzles and just puzzle based puzzles (pull the stoppers in the right order to released the organ grinder’s monkey type stuff) Sleeping Dragon adds slidy-block based puzzles to the mix. Move crate, step on crate, shift crate. There are a fair number of them scatter around the area, slightly too many, in fact. They are rarely ever the same, and vary about as far as it is possible for them to do, but still the game would have been better less a few of them.

The game takes about 10 hours to complete, or did for me. The plot flows smoothly on from the last two games, although neither of them are required knowledge, with George and Nico no longer together and from there right though conspiracies and characters to a dramatic conclusion. The story is well planned, well written and well executed. It doesn’t cause any major continuity problems from previous games, and very few internally. The voice acting is well done throughout and made me laugh out loud a few times. The graphics were very, very shiny (on my Athlon 2000XP & Geforce 4, so your mileage may vary) although the low polygon counts on some objects and people were a little too obvious. The musical score is impressive and haunting by turns, edging its way in to build up tension where necessary and underlining important plot points where you might otherwise miss them.

The interface is without a doubt the best realisation of a 3D adventure yet. Sleeping Dragon utilises multiple fixed cameras most of the time, occasionally using guided-rail where necessary (Walking down corridors, for example) which ensure that you can always see the important items. Interesting items are highlighted using both the “Head turn” method from Lucasarts (where the character’s head turns towards any object you can examine) and a “Glint” method last seen in Adventuresoft’s Simon the Sorcerer II where every interesting item has a glinting star over it (In Broken Sword these are the items near your character, in StS2 it was all objects on screen), both of which deal nearly with the common pitfall of missed objects.

My only major fault with the interface is that there is no method of skipping dialogue. This is particularly annoying when you have to sit though several paragraphs of explanatory text that only tell you this character has no more to say to you on this topic.

All in all, a top notch adventure game, well worth the hours of your life it takes away.

(In related news, Revolution Software – who made Broken Sword 1, 2 & 3 as well as Lure of the Temptress and Beneath as Steel Sky, are offering the latter two of these titles for free. Lure of the Temptress from their web site and BASS as part of their support of the ScummVM project. ScummVM enables you to play all your old LucasArts adventures (and also BASS and Simon the Sorcerer 1 & 2) on any supported platform (Inc. Linux, Pocket PC and Smartphone))

Humour Imported From Epistula Photography


computing Imported From Epistula Personal

Home & Hardware

They say you can never go home again.

So last night I went home.

Yesterday I decided, completely on a whim, that I couldn’t be arsed with going back to Reading, trudging through a wet and windy night to a dark and cold house where I would warm a tin of beans over a bunsen burner and spoon them into my mouth before chuging a bottle of whiskey and collapsing where I lay, reveling in sleep’s sweet blanket until the sharp fingers of dawn sliced my eyelids announced the morrow.


Instead of going back to Catrion Towers in Reading, where there are no people, I went back to the Fictional Town of Paddock Wood to visit my parents, and was convinced to stay the night. I discussed DIY with my dad, watched X-Men 2, and generally caught up, decided to stay the night, and wandered into work again this morning. Yay randomness.

In the meantime, I apparently have had a delivery at home. I do hope they didn’t leave it on the doorstep.

Monday, you see, was fun. Sunday night was also fun. Sunday night LoneCat escaped to the wilds of Letchworth, which was depressing, and Monday…

It was a dark and stormy morning.
I awoke, rose, showered and broke fast. Repaired it, and had breakfast.
Then I started the days tasks, which included changing the router so that mail flowed to the right place.

Routers are one place where my geekdom fails me. Every time I go near the router when not armed with a shiny GUI interface, I manage to completely screw up the config in such a way that I’m no longer online, and can’t fix it.

So this time, just for a change, I screwed up the config in such a way that I was no longer online, and couldn’t fix it.

Right. Dialup.

I own two modems. a 56k that served me very well for three years, and a 33k Pace modem that I was given for free by the squatters in the flat above. One of these had a power supply, the other didn’t. Guess which was which?

Second, When LC had left, she took the phone extension cord with her so she could get online. It was time to go talk to Maplins.

Maplins wasn’t busy. The person behind the counter was banging his head against it, and after a short while I realised why. Chistmas has come early to Reading. Every shop in the town centre is now in full festive swing, with trees and lights and joy and bells and gifts and toys and carols. The carol CD they had wasn’t bad, but was on a half-hour loop. I felt sorry for the people behind the counter, bought my extension, and left.

a little while later, I came back for a lead to plug the modem to the phone line.

I plugged the 33k in, found my old Freeserve account and dialed in. I was able to log into IRC and say “Dialup sucks” before I was disconnected.

I redialed.

It didn’t work.

Windows didn’t recognise the modem. It scanned COM1. Nothing. COM2. Nothing. COM3 apparently had a modem, but since I only have two COM ports, and plugging the phone line into the modem whilst trying COM3 failed.

I found the power supply for the 56k and tried that. Nothing. Tried it on both servers. Nothing. No combination of modem and computer worked.

I unplugged all modems, uninstalled all drivers, and reset my computer.

It found a modem.

When I was putting my computer back together last month, I had found my brothers old internal modem and thinking it could do no harm, had installed it. This was the fictional COM3.

After a while, I also discovered that my Freeserve settings were out of date (I was using the Surftime (Unmetered) number which I don’t pay for anymore) which hadn’t been helping.

Eventually I got online, and with ccooke’s help, rescued the router.

I hate hardware.

2003 Imported From Epistula


I’m not religious.

This isn’t that I didn’t go to church regularly. I went. As a Scout, with church parade, to every Remembrance Day service, sat though the silence, wore the poppy.

A few years ago I was one of the people who did the Remembrance service. My friend Barry had been the one who plays the last post, and I was one of the people who did readings in assembly. I read two things, the first was Rupert Brooke’s classic piece of poetry, The Soldier (When I am gone, think only this of me // That there’s some corner of a foreign field // That is forever England.) and some statistics.

In World War one, over 8.5 million people died. 65 Million were mobilized for war. Britain alone lost 900,000 people, almost 36% of all those sent to the front. I was reciting a list of statistics like this to a hall of 250 people a time, twice a day for two days. I thought about this, and started actually doing the remembrance thing. It’s important.

A little while ago (1980) some tin-pot organisation decided to hijack remembrance day. They chose to do so by creating white poppies and selling them. The then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, commented that she felt it in “Deep Distaste” which I agree with. Their proposition was that Remembrance day glorified war, and that we should stop remembering the dead and begin to save the living.

I find this attitude scary. One of the most dangerous things you can do is forget what you have learnt before. The tens of millions who have died in wars up until now did not deserve to die, and that they did should be noted and watched and learnt from, not drawn a line under and told “Right, seen that, now we try this”. You must face what has happened to resolve not to let it happen again. If at first you don’t succeed, understand why, and try something else.

This is generic, and I’m trying not to pull the current conflagration into this, but there is a very good example of it in the current conflict. In the US Military high command, there is a phrase called “The Dover Test” which refers to the public perception of coffins arriving at Dover, Delaware, the US Air Base which receives such things. For the past 40 odd years these ceremonies have been public, but recently (As in, shortly before the conflict began) the traditional televisation of these events were banned. The US public no longer sees every coffin come home, there is no Dover test. Mr Bush has yet to go to a single funeral resulting from this conflict, and I’m terrified that they’re just numbers.

When we forget the dead, we condemn the living. We should not forget those who died that we might live.

We will remember them.

2003 Imported From Epistula

11th Hour