Sunrise over east london

Sunrise over east london

Originally uploaded by Aquarion



This morning, I was entirely weirded out when the lights in the hallway of our block of flats appeared to follow me.

The light outside the front door was on, and as I walked towards the lift they switched on and off in sequence, a controlled pool of light that followed my every move.

The lights in the lift weren’t working properly either, and only the one near the door has ever worked properly, so I wasn’t that suspicious until I got to the lobby of the building, and once again was followed out by this flowing pool of illumination, silence save for the “click” as the light behind me switched off, and the light ahead of me switched on.

Outside was darkness, strange despite the bleak midwinter cold for my phone claimed 8am, and I double checked my possessions – Glasses, Phone, Keys, Wallet – as I buzzed myself out of the building.

I was distinctly unprepared for the spotlight.

The darkness above me was absolute; none of sun, moon or stars to indicate the presence of the sky, a few street lamps bathing the world around them a distinctly sodium orange glow; but around me and cast very obviously from above me was an oval of white light that pointed in front of me. As I stepped forward it followed me exactly, and I looked up to see what cast it.

There was nothing there at all. No bright point of light to blind me, just a deep velvet darkness that swallowed the universe, and no visible source for the spotlight that followed my every move. I stepped backwards, forwards, ran sideways, dodged left and right. It followed exactly. I lay down on the path and it grew larger to encompass me, I walked under a bus shelter and it vanished; only to reappear as I passed the shelter by.

The streets were empty, although I could see the spotlights of others far ahead of me. The occasional car passed in the darkness. I walked on.

* * *

A few other people were in the office working, though almost anyone who had seen the news had taken its advice and stayed home. We sat, glued to our chosen information channels. The darkness, apparently, was absolute. Nobody knew where the spotlights were coming from, who controlled them, or why. Reports from confused satellites reported the absence of stars, although whether that was due to their absence or a dust cloud or something nobody seemed quite sure.

The sun still appeared to exist, international temperatures were as normal, plants would grow. Animals across the planet – all in their own tiny spotlights, none as bright as those I had seen – were panicking. The spotlights themselves appeared to indicate something, some peoples’ being dimmer or brighter according to no known measure. The advice was to keep calm and wait for the smart people to work out what was going on.

Nobody ever did, and so we sit in the darkness so many months later, watching out over the field behind our flat, the occasional light flitting across the field as a rabbit runs for its life, the light suddenly going out as it escapes down the rabbit hole.

computing sysadmin


You should back up your data.

You should periodically review this backup system to make sure you can get data back off it, but you should back up your data.

I’ve been doing this “computer guy” thing for a while now, and these are three things I have learnt are always true:

  1. The only way to be absolutely sure you get rid of a virus is to nuke the system it’s sitting on.
  2. Backup solutions that require the user to perform an action don’t work.
  3. The universe tends to irony WRT backup systems. And everything else.

The second is always true, from the lowliest “I want the blue “e” to work again” casual user though the most fan-speed obsessed poweruser to the most jaded and cynical sysadmin, if your backup system requires you to actually do something, then it’ll happen less often than it needs to and the time you fail to do it, or fail to check it, will be the day your harddrive dies.

Apple’s Time Machine is great, because it automatically syncs stuff to an external hard drive or network backup as you’re using the machine. If you have a laptop with it, set it up with a network backup, because while it warns you about your last backup being out of date it will go away if you tell it to, and that’s a recipe for badness.

Obviously this is where I explain how my backup system is the ultimate, most perfect way to solve this problem, but it isn’t. This the way that works for me:


My music, documents and projects get synced to Dropbox on a continuous basis as I’m using them (it used to be just Documents, but I started using them as a full backup system last year) and from there synced back down to my other machines (Directly over the lan with the latest version). By sharing subfolders with other accounts, Documents & Projects get synced down to my laptop when it gets plugged into wifi (it doesn’t have the disk space for the whole thing) and as soon as Dropbox sort sub-folder syncing even that complication will go away. Various subfolders are shared with other actual people too, for the things I work on with other people.

It’s good, it works, I know within a few hours if it’s broken, and I don’t have to think about it.

Which is, for me, the perfect backup system.
Windows 7 has a great backup system also. It will continually pester you until you set up some kind of backup system, and then it will pester you if that stops working.

Neither of them are good enough, though. You can ignore the messages, you can forget to plug in the external drive every so often.

(Downsides mainly involve trusting a third party with your data)

If Ubuntu’s magic personal backup system was cross platform, I’d probably use that (this syncs between three OSs), but trading into a different closed ghetto isn’t something I consider a good idea.



On the 26th January 2010, when I will be 29, I shall be celebrating this having happened at the Pembury Tavern in Hackney from around 7pm onwards. Please come and join me, for drinking alone is depressing.

I will also be in the same place this the following Sunday.

Current Affairs


10 other things Martin Luther King said:


The Teapot theory of contextual humour

The context for this was a discussion on the American healthcare system, and how everything this particular person knew about it was based on episodes of Scrubs. The response was a pretty predictable “I’ve never seen this scrubs thing, but if it’s anything like everything else Hollywood put out it’s talking bollocks”. I’m paraphrasing here, but you can see the rough idea. He’d have put comedy dollar signs in the esses in Hollywood if it had any. (Incidentally: Stop doing that. If you’re typing “Micro$oft”, even in rants about how evil they are to free software? I don’t want you on our side. It’s the satirical equivalent of comic sans).

Anyway, I think that comedy is context, pretty much, and in order to have comedy, you need the comedic thing to work the wrong way, but – and this is the key – for the rest of the universe to be predictable. Unless you’re subverting, in which case you’re living on the edge, I salute you, and if you get it right you can have a cookie. The rest of you need teapots:

Because sitcoms generally take an accepted situation and place a surreal
teapot on it to focus the humour. The sureal teapot on a fractal
landscape of spinning vortexes and melting concepts is not inherantly
funny. The sureal teapot on an elephant has a context that it is out of.

In the case of Scrubs, the hospital, patients and outside world are the
frame of reference and thus the audience need to understand and connect
with it, it does not and should not act out of “character”. The characters
and eventual situations (mostly, in Scrubs, the characters) are the teapots.

(Mostly this is here because I’m forever losing bits of text I enjoyed writing in the depths of usenet)



In the UK, you can text GIVE to 70077 and £5 will be added to your phone bill and given to DEC for the Haiti relief appeal.

This number was previously used for Children in Need, then the network operators waived transaction fees for doing this, O2 – who set up the above – have said they are doing that again, I do not have documentation for other networks.

Google is collecting other ways to donate too.

DEC and the Red Cross are good people to donate to for this. There are a number of scams running under the name “Donate to Haiti”. Sometimes humanity sucks.


The “The weird shit all around” genre – Part II

Okay, only just “Tomorrow”, but I’ve been busy. Dragon Age, as a wise man once said, does not play itself.

The other two short stories in the Mean Streets anthology I mentioned yesterday were Remi Chandler and John Taylor. In the other order, then:

Into the Nightside, by Simon R. Green
Take Neverwhere. Neverwhere is one of my favourite books in the world, so this is a good start. Take the central conceit – a world parallel to London that is full of weird shit – and literalise it. The Nightside is a hidden world within London town, a classic fantasy subcity of out of time adventurers and out of universe horrors; of evil beyond your mind and technology beyond our ken; a world that normality may occasionally stumble into, but never lasts long within. Then put a PI there, give him a hidden backstory and a genre awareness, season with mixed metaphors, and continue into the future. It’s a darker side of the same concept Neverwhere explored, with back story and structure where Neverwhere had whimsy and flow. Where it occasionally trips over is a need to explain the world around it, though this builds a deeper universe you feel you comprehend. In both cases, you understand the world you’re in as the character does. Oh, and there’s always the rising tide of bad juju.

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas E. Sniegoski
An angel gave up on heaven and came to live on earth. He works as a private eye. He can understand his dog. Heaven occasionally needs his help to interact with humanity. There’s a rising tide of bad juju. It’s exactly like that, yes. It suffers somewhat from a lack of characters with a “normal” viewpoint, but given that this is a story about an immortal angel fighting his basic nature and trying to stay human against the background of aforementioned juju, that’s excusable. Possibly the weakest of the Mean Streets stories, but still pretty damn strong.

Now you should start recommending things at me 🙂


Detail Marshall


Originally uploaded by ara

For people who wanted to know what I look like when I’m in costume, this is it.


On feeling good about doing nothing

In memory of family and friends who have lost the battle with cancer; and in support of the ones who continue to conquer it! Donate to a cancer research charity, like this one.

Post on your livejournal or journal, and feel all virtuous about doing it as well, if you like, but don’t assume that posting this kind of thing is anything other than pointless.

some percentage of people will not bother to do this, and that’s fine, because they cannot afford it, or give somewhere else, or just don’t want to.

Have a sanctimonious day.

(This is a commentary on a meme you may not have seen)