Kickstarting your project

It’s fairly easy to get addicted to Kickstarter.

My first use of it was for Shaenon Garrity’s Narbonic Perfect Collection, a drive to get the funding to print the Compleat Editions of her wonderful comic series, Narbonic. Second was for the well-documented OOTS reprint drive, third for the even more well documented DoubleFine Adventure. Then the Elevation iPhone dock, and a project to make an open-source tabletop RPG system.

I like preordering things way in advance. It’s like buying my future self unexpected suprises, but all the things I have Kickstarted have shared one thing in common: I get to play with the item at the end.

If I’m helping to fund a game, and I’m donating more than the game will cost, I want to get the game at the end of it. Not just a beta-tester credit, a thin T-Shirt and five bits of concept art wallpaper, but the game. Think of it less as a cannibalization of our future sales, and more an advanced preorder. Paying $30 to help develop a game is nice, but another $30 to buy it afterwards? I’d rather send you $50 up front and get both the warm fuzzy glow *and* the l3wt.

And my top two Kickstarters right now:


Adventures in Gymnasia

(This was written last night, and then I forgot to post it)

The important thing about gaining fitness is to make it part of your routine, I’m told. At the conclusion of the prologue to this adventure I narrowly avoided joining a gym. They were going though a restructure of their prices, and a few days later my sunny and proactive rep emailed though to say she’d got the new prices together, and I should book another free session so we could go over them. So I did. Then I didn’t make it because I had a deadline, and then I didn’t make the next one because I forgot my PE kit, and eventually me, my PE kit and my schedule all lined up in a neat little row on a Monday near to the end of December…

…and I was suddenly very glad I didn’t have a gym contract, as I no longer had a job to fund it. Then it was christmas, and while we do have a gym below our block of flats it’s all the way over there. Plus, I’m not entirely 100% confident in how to use them without accidentally recreating iconic loony tunes moments. I have small wooden signs with “Oh dear” and “I suspect this is going to hurt” prepared for these occasions.

New Employers are talking about free gym memberships, which will be nice, but with some calculation I realised a few days ago that while it currently takes me an hour and a half to get to work in North Finchley by bus/train/train/bus, it would take only about half an hour longer than that to walk to Turnpike Lane and get the same final bus. Today, I arbitrarily decided on leaving work that I would do this today. Deciding shortly afterwards that a better and possibly saner idea would be to do about half of it today, bus the other half, and see how much my legs hate me in the morning. So, iPhone loaded with a walking route and a three hour radio show about Spike Milligan to keep me entertained, I set out.

It was fine, handily. If I hadn’t stopped at the “I’ll bus from here” point to do some shopping, I’d have been happy to walk the rest of the way, I think. We’ll see how this turns in to tomorrow when my feet settle their oncoming debt, but it seems like a nice way to earn a couple of hundred Fitocracy points ever few days. And maybe – whisper who dares – I might end up buying a bicycle, and join the elite and superior race of beings who cycle though London. Not yet, though. I’m not crazy.

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Not Lovingfilm enough


Shoebox » Chuck & Beans.

So I unsubscribed from Lovefilm DVDs today.

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Uses for an iPad

So, it’s been 190 days since I bought an iPad.

I bought the magnetic cover and a bluetooth keyboard for it. At Charlie’s suggestion I also picked up the Origami case for the keyboard, bringing the price for the whole caboodle around the same as a cheap laptop. A couple of months later I also bought the new iPhone, and I’m already sizing up Airs against the fact I’m probably going to have to move house soon. So far, deposits are winning.

English: Apple iPad Event
Image via Wikipedia

The iPad became part of my default carrying stack from the day I got it, and I haven’t touched either Laptop since I bought the keyboard for it. I can see that changing if I want to start doing dev work on it, but mostly if I’m getting out of the house to type it’s blog or story related. To and from work it’s a great video device. I’ve subscribed to a few series on iTunes (notably, the currently airing US series of Castle) and moved most of my physical magazine subscriptions to Newsstand, plus the Guardian iPad app is a wonderful thing. With the addition of the Kindle App and the Buzzplayer for non-apple formatted video, I use it a lot as a media consumption device more than most other things. It’s more comfortable to watch and read than a laptop (although for long-term book reading the Kindle beats it hands down, unless I’m going on a long journey it’s this I’ll take with me).

Evernote for iOS icon
Image via Wikipedia

The larger size on-screen keyboard works for me, although I kind of miss the haptic feedback from android devices, and is good enough to keep notes on in meetings or jotting things down on the bus. My primary software for this is Evernote, primarily because its absolutely seamless syncing between slate, phone and desktop means I can start a shopping list at home on my desktop, update it on the bus when I think of something, and then check it on my phone when I’m in the shop.

One of the things I missed from the Apple

Image via Wikipedia

Ecosystem when I stopped having devices attached to it was Omnifocus, Omni’s Getting Things Done organisation tool. Omni are firmly a mac-focused company, which does very well for them, but I wish they’d open the API for their syncing server, or write a web client for it, or something (One of the things I like about Omnifocus is that you can chose to sync on their servers, or on your own if you have a WebDav server you could use. I could write something myself to parse the files, I suppose.) Stuff I need to remember to do goes in Omnifocus, and I tend to keep that open and propped up on my desk at work as a running to-do list.

It’s not a perfect device. The refusal of iTunes to automatically sync files to a non-apple App whilst simultaneously refusing to play non Quicktime files is irritating, even if I understand why the latter is necessary. It makes getting video files to the device harder than necessary.

Mostly, though, it Just Works. Almost all the actual problems I’ve had with the device have been due to iTunes rather than the iPad itself, and iOS5 has been a great upgrade that has improved the battery life and usability of the device. It just works, which is mostly what I want from it.

When I bought it, I wondered if I was making a mistake, getting a new device that I didn’t really have a model for using. It was one of those things that would either be a boost to my day, or an expensive digital camera frame. I know a few people who have found the latter more true than the former, but I’m not one of them.

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Boilers and the tyranny of "but it works"

So, our flat’s been out of heating for a week or so. Long term readers will remember our current boiler has never been the most logical of devices. About a year ago it entirely packed up, and various attempts to fix it by our Intrepid Plumber got us hot water but still no heating. For that December (2010), he came around about once every few days, spent a few hours trying a new possible solution to the continuing problem, replacing bits and pieces, fixing stuff with washers and duct tape, and generally roping the thing into some kind of order that would last long enough and be tickable as “Fixed” and to, importantly, enable us to not freeze. The pump got replaced, the control panel which I spent so much time blogging about was bypassed by a new digital interface, and it eventually all came back on, sometime in January last year.

Two weeks ago, when it failed again (when it was snowing, obviously), back came the Intrepid Plumber to fix and screw and replace bits and pieces of the boiler, saying how it needed to be flushed though, and got it back just about working having manually twiddled the filter.

Saturday it died again in exactly the same way. Intrepid Plumber wasn’t well, so our landlord’s agent sent a new company they hadn’t used before. New company took one look at it, listened to what happened when it was turned on (Thunk rattle rattle rattle, *thunk* rattle rattle, *thunk*, [pause], *PHWEEEEEEEEEEEE* as the steam safety valve does its best Ivor the Engine impression). And said, in effect, “Okay, that’s fucked. I’m going to call in for a new one” (By which point it was Wednesday, because the wheels of higher beings turn more slowly than for those without hot water). So, at quarter to eight on this Friday morning I’m waiting for the plumbers to arrive with the new boiler we probably needed a year ago.

(There’s a bit more complication, as our 17th storey status  means that installing a new boiler isn’t exactly trivial if they need to expand the flue, but they appear to have got around the original quote of needing to build scaffolding all the way.)

To drag this back to a relevant point, instead of waffling about boilers, the central problem was that once the dodgy boiler was “fixed” to the point where it provided hot water and heating, all the impetus to do anything further to shore up the system had faded away. My Landlord wasn’t massively willing to throw another few hours of Plumber time on something that was clearly working, and I wasn’t going to push them a lot further because I have better things to do during the working week than harrass my Landlord’s agents into fixing a working system.

Development suffers the same problem. Once a system is up and working, even if some of the ways that happened aren’t ideal, it’s quite hard to justify going back and risking breaking system for the somewhat arbitary goal of making it “better”. There will always be time to scale it, to refactor it, to reindex it, later. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Until eventually you’re sitting in a cold flat without having been able to have a shower for a week with a heater that might as well run by burning five pound notes.

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Draft Excluder, Volume 2

Because the last one was so popular.

The Tyranny of Bone China – In which your humble narrator attempts to find the name of a plate pattern.

A Dark Tea-time – In which I explain the soul-sapping nature of unemployment.

Between a rock and a hard tweet – In which I try to figure out how Twitter is suddenly responsible for ensuring international free speech instead of, say, the United Nations.

Dear – In which I get very annoyed at a DNS provider for being a dick about transfers.

Dear – In which I get very annoyed at another DNS provider for being a dick about SOPA

Money where my mouse is – In which I consider the nature of Piracy and how my personal piratical nature has decreased since I can now actually *buy* most of the stuff I used to pirate quickly and easily.  Today, the Oatmeal produced an effective counterpoint, and between this and the increasingly limited selection on Netflix, we do appear to be going backwards.

Odyssey – In which I attempt to explain LARP. All of it. At once. This entry has been postponed due to a scoping issue.

Projects Random

Stick Figures

I can’t imagine anyone reading this who has any interest in it hasn’t heard by now, but Rich Burlew’s OOTS Pledgeathon for new books is coming to an eventual conclusion in about 9 hours (5pm GMT), having beaten his original $60,000 target just a smidge, the totalometer reading $1,172,452 as I type. One for the Kickstarter record books, second most funded project of all time (until Doublefine’s multi-million dollar drive ends next month, at least).

It’s really interesting to see this whole new method of funding take flight. It’s not for everyone. Rich has got ten years goodwill behind him, Doublefine – via Tim Schafer – has twice that, and for every successful project to make a revolutionary new form of coathook, there’s a dozen scientific magazines, animated films or arthouse flicks that have fallen more than 90% short of their funding goal, so while it’s a good way to *get* the money people want to give you to make your thing happen, you need that audience to exist *first* to a large extent. (The Elevation Dock people got around that, but they were heavily featured on tech blogs too, so you either need an audience or PR).

Also, it’s interesting that the most popular Kickstarter drives haven’t been for support, or for the money to make something you’ll pay for, but to a large extent a massive pre-ordering of something, in a way that can be used to make the eventual item better (rather than the current system, where pre-ordering a book, game, DVD or whatever is merely gaining interest for the retailer until the release date.

For myself, while encouraging Mr Burlew to make more comics is important, I’m mostly using the funding drive to plug the holes in my OOTS book collection, since the ones I’ve been missing have been out of print for a while now. That I get extra free stuff is very much a bonus 🙂

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The last Rolo

So, of the opinion that cooking things was not going to happen this fine winter’s evening, we turned unto the Internet to send us food. Our preferred supplier of local internet foods at the moment is called SZS, and has a new item on the burger menu:

A rolo meal.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, a rolo looks like this:

A rolo and a half

Note that the rolo is not pictured alone. A final rolo contains an important cultural concept that is so sacrosanct, so deeply embedded into our culture, and so pedestalised that it can only be expressed by getting your own solid gold (and thus, inedible) last rolo for £79.99 + P&P.

But in the context of a burger menu, the concept of a rolo, singular, alone, possibly melting forlornly inside a toasted seseme seed bun, seems not to fit. So I want to know what the rolo is.

But, alas, I don’t want to spend £3.99 finding out. So I ordered the chicken burger instead.

computing Politics

On not pardoning Alan Turing

(Then) Prime Minister Gordon Brown, September 2009, being Right:

So I am both pleased and proud that, thanks to a coalition of computer scientists, historians and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activists, we have this year a chance to mark and celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of dictatorship: that of code-breaker Alan Turing.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of the Second World War could have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. [from the Telegraph]

Minister for Justice Lord McNally, February 2012, being significantly less Right:

A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted.

It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd-particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times. [via Hansard]

The information that the former apology was made instead of a pardon is an interesting one, as I don’t think that was reported at the time, and I can understand – though I disagree with – the desire not to set a precedent of retrying old cases under new law. But while Gordon Brown’s statement on the subject explained how badly the government felt about it, I feel that the legal status of a pardon – admitting that the forced chemical castration of homosexuals for the crime of being homosexual was absolutely wrong – is a point worth making, and if by making that stand those who were castrated under those circumstances and still live come out into the light of public notice, then it is all to the good. They were all subject to a terrible law. As someone whose contributions to both the war and foundations of the information change is extensive, and yet was driven to suicide by a government who valued his sexuality over his astounding record,  Turing presents a great banner-figure, but the acceptance and public acknowledgement of this awful legal decision warrants more than a letter to the Telegraph about one of its more notable fatalities.


Don Camillo

I’ve got out of the habit of practicing reading stuff aloud, which is a shame. Also, I was reminded of a series of short stories I read a long time ago, amusing tales of a somewhat irreverant priest and his battles against local communists in rural Italy, called the Little World of Don Camillo. So:

Don Camillo – A Confession