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My Grandfather, Frank Miland

This week has been… difficult. There’s a post coming up about writing this, and the events leading up to it, but this is the eulogy I read at my grandfather’s funeral this afternoon. 

Frank Miland was born in Cambridgeshire during the First World War, and he and his family – Lily, Audrey, Arch & Eric – moved to Pembury when he was 8. He worked on the farm as a boy, catching rabbits to sell rather than cook, but during the depression they lost the farm, so Frank was sent out to work, and he did whatever there was, from delivery driver to errand boy, until when the second World War broke out he joined the Army, and was sent to be a delivery boy for them instead, driving an ammunition truck in Dunkirk.

Once, when the bombs started falling around them, they decided driving an ammo truck was probably less safe than the ditches around them, and hunkered down under the nearest headgear they could find, which turned out to be some german helmets, but the safety of the ditch proved insufficient, as he was captured, and as a Prisoner of War was forced marched for four months across Czechoslovakia and Poland, where he spent the next four years, then back to Bavaria where he was freed by the advancing Americans. The conditions were beyond imagining, without food or any standard of clothing, but he made the friends he could on either side of the fences, and when he spoke of his war, which was never often, that’s what he spoke of.

When he returned, he met and married Muriel in 1948, and found any job he could, Cycling to Dartford and Leybourne until the elder Frank, my great-grandfather, loaned him the money for a motorbike, which made him well known in his village, even if all you could hear was the roar of the motor, and all you could see was his back though the dust.

Free time he could find was spent with family and with his friends at places like the old time dance club.

My mum, Jill, was born later on, and a while after that so was I, and my brothers. There’s a lot of life in between, but I’m not sure what happens if I go over my time limit, and I’m fairly sure I shouldn’t find out.

My enduring memories with my grandfather are of things being built, of the workshop in the garage, of the motorcycle sitting in the back. I remember summer afternoons harvesting the strawberries, and then sorting them into punnets to send out to the greengrocers of tunbridge wells. I remember Picking fruit from the garden to cook in crumbles later, and Riding on a trailer on the back of the tractor he was driving, sending potatoes down a chute to be automatically planted.

My grandad was a force of nature, but also a fixed point in the universe, solid and occasionally unyielding, confident of his place in the world, who loved and cared for his family and did everything he could to keep their lives on an even keel.

He was retired for almost all the time I have been alive, and seemed eternal. I personally regret not making more time in recent years to go visit him and my grandma, as full of life as he was, it always seemed like there would be time when everything was less busy.

He died after a long and active life, leaving behind Muriel, Jill, and our family; of complications arising from pneumonia. Which is, to my mind, like eventually arresting Al Capone for tax evasion.

It was the only thing that could get him in the end.


Thank you, grandad, and we will all miss you.

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I’m working late tonight. In fact, it’s 22:10 and I’m still in my office, which looks like this:

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It’s usually a little tidier than that, but I started at 08:00 today, spent six hours of it traipsing around London to do final approval on physical objects, and have pushed about a dozen new builds in three different offices. It’s been a Day. My fitbit is very pleased with me, and is sending me messages of encouragement over walking 8 miles. My feet are less pleased with their part in this. Anyway, it’s late, the entire building has gone home, and I was on an anti-RSI enforced keyboard break. So I went exploring around the office park I rent space in.

Most of the corridor lights turn off around 21:00, so everything was dark, but there was a light

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Huh. Most of the corridor-facing office windows have blinds, and a quick peek didn’t show anyone inside. What is this? There was a sign on the door.

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Huh.

I am not a faith person, in general, but I understand they are mostly fine people with occasional dedicated fuckwits. However, this being North London, and the office being quite small, I did wonder how they managed to fit within the small office the multivarious different faiths and sectors of a hundred-office complex? I opened the door.

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Hmm. How very post-modern. The faith was inside you all along, and the quiet space can reflect your inner peace and tranqu… No, wait, I think I found something…

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Faith, now with tumblr fandom recognition.

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Explanatory note for younger readers: “Ceefax” was an unusably slow information service that closely resembled a shit version of the internet made out of Lego, and you accessed it via a boxy device called a “television”, which was a bit like a bulky prototype iPad, except it couldn’t take photos, and would only display pornography if you drew the curtains and hooked it up to a “VHS recorder” – a crude form of Netflix dating from the Victorian era.

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On the nature of time and television

According to my emails, I bought Supernatural Season 1 from iTunes on 10/Feb/2010.

I just finished the season finale.

That’s 22 episodes in 1495 days, or ~68 days an episode. As of today, 187 episodes have been broadcast, or 165 remaining for me, which means assuming no more episodes are broadcast ever, including the one on Tuesday, I will catch up in 11,055 days, on Tuesday, June 21, 2044, when I will be 63.

If instead I mainlined Supernatural without sleeping, I could catch up in 5 days 3 hours 45 minutes. Or, in fact 5 days 4 hours 30 minutes because the new one would be out by then.

Assuming I don’t watch anything else. As it happens, I have other TV shows I’d like to catch up with. In fact, excluding Supernatural, I have 225 episodes of series currently airing that I intend to watch, and a further 276 episodes of things that have had their final finale, for a grand total of 15 days 15 hours 45 minutes assuming 45 minutes average per episode, or 20 days 18 hours if I include Supernatural with that.

That’s 3 weeks, and it assumes no more TV is broadcast ever, and that I never want to do anything other than watch TV I’ve not watched before.

If I watched everything at the speed I watched the first season of Supernatural, it would take 45152 days – 123.6 years – and I would finish on Tuesday, October 29, 2137, when I would be 156.

Also, it takes 12 hours 5 minutes for the entire bluray extended LOTR series, and assuming the Hobbit series remain at around 169 minutes each for the theatrical editions, and expand by 120% for the extended editions, the full extended LOTR/Hobbit cycle will take 21.98 hours, which is 110% of the running time of every Harry Potter movie, clocking in at a full 19 hours 39 minutes without time-turner, bathroom breaks or food

Time: It’s out to get you.

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Blunt and curved the word-swords fall

Earlier today someone on my dashboard posted “Often I wonder what would happen if I set this thing on fire. Most of the time the answer is ‘It will be on fire’”. Often I have thought something similar, although my thought processes are generally “If I do this thing, this thing will be on fire. Is this thing a candle or a house?”.

Usually, I use words to light fires. I find words amazing, when they dance to my command. I can play with phrases and sentence flow for hours without actually improving the meaning or making anything better, or deploy the exact words to destroy a thing beyond repair. It’s a life skill, and the candles light my life, and the house-fires destroy it.

(There’s a story of  P.G. Wodehouse, where he would pin the pages of his novel in a ring around his office, and move each up or down as he evaluated the language and flow of each one in relation to the others. It would not go to the publisher until the every page touched picture rail. Somewhere between Wodehouse and Douglas Adams lies my aim, because if I’m going fall from the shoulders giants, I want a long time to consider my life before I hit the ground). 

I can trace almost everything I think I’ve done wrong by lighting the wrong house, or leaving a candle alone. Today I lit a house on fire, and it burns brightly still. I’m trying to save the contents, to put out everything I can, to douse and defuse the flames, but the flames dance merrily in the starlight, and it will take a while to rebuild.

I try to live with the spirit of the staircase, L’esprit de l’escalier, the french phrase for when you figure out the perfect retort, the mot justice, on the stairs down from losing the argument. It’s been a good night for the right words, but it was a bad morning for the wrong ones, a worse evening for the inflammatory ones, and a good afternoon with nothing catching on fire.

I’ve been asked if I’d like to speak at my grandfather’s funeral, to which the answer is Yes, and so now I need to find words, and actual real meaning. And nobody will think less of me if I back out, except me. 

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‘Old Bike’ by Rob Cantor
Everyone’s sad and alone sometimes
But it’s better to have a companion ride
Everyone’s Saturday night goes wrong sometimes

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Poison running though your veins

Our flat, quiet and serene, has a mouse problem.

Next door used to have a mouse problem, but they apparently moved out because of it, and now we have a mouse problem instead, which is awesome. Our landlord has put traps and poison boxes outside, but mostly said “It’s an old house, the mice are under the floorboards, sorry about that”. It’s not an old house, it’s a custom built block of flats. However.

I bought a humane mouse trap, because I’m not a fan of the killing of things save for the later eating of them, and kind of hoped it didn’t work, because the concept of taking a mouse on the bus and releasing it elsewhere didn’t appeal. Mostly because that’s just transferring the mouse problem to somewhere else – there’s nowhere I can get to on public transport within a couple of hours that isn’t basically London – but also because I’m not sure how it would work.

My wish granted, the mouse trap has stayed behind the bin for over a year now with no interest from the mice. 

They have, however, been at my flour.

A few weeks ago, there was a small crash from the kitchen, followed by a series of panicked squeaks. Further investigation revealed the aftermath of some kind of Tom & Jerry sketch. A large bag of flour, a panel of neatly nibbled edges from near the bottom of it, an avalanche of flour that exploded from the top of the shelving unit where the flour was, dusting everything to the floor with a coat of flour, a mouse-shaped pit at the start of the avalanche, complete with fresh droppings, and skidded paw-prints from there to behind the fridge.

I cleared up the flour, discovered the amazing adhesive properties of mouse shit when mixed with white flour, and ordered some mouse poison. I am a pacifist, but screwing with my food supplies is not cool.

This morning, I discovered the exactly the same tableau, only with a bag of self raising flour I’d forgotten I’d relocated. Once is unfortunate, twice is enemy action.

The kitchen now has strategically placed blocks of hopefully mouse-friendly-looking pink stuff near places I’ve seen them. With any luck they will associate the illness with fucking with my chi, and instead go and bother whichever concrete-footed volume-ignorer was practicing Riverdance early this morning.

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You mean the generation that paid three times as much for college to enter a job market with triple the unemployment isn’t interested in purchasing the assets of the generation who just blew an enormous housing bubble and kept it from popping through quantitative easing and out-and-out federal support? Curious.

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Guild Wars 2 and the Living Story Season 1 finale

The following post contains minor spoilers for the end of the GW2 Living Story Season 1 plotline, but I’ll say before I start on them. Mostly it’s an article about narrative within GW2 and the first LS season.

Either way, this is kind of long, so it’s been put behind a cut.

The Guild Wars 2 Living Story concept is something I find amazing. Like a lot of the GW2 featureset, it’s kind of revolutionary. Every few weeks content is added to the game, which advances the story and changes the world, and then with the next patch most of it is gone, leaving only its effects. The giant monster you defeated last month? Its metallic corpse is gathering snow in the mountains still. The scenery around where the nightmare tower errupted and was destroyed is blacked and dead still, but growing back. The world moves on, and the content you missed? You missed it. Sorry about that.

The concept I love, it breaks a lot of the static-time effects of MMOs, where it’s hard to imagine this as any kind of real world, and it adds new avenues of content to the game. Areas are built, bits are destroyed, the world moves on.

The concept I love, but some of the execution… 

Arenanet have a problem with narrative. For the latter third of the main quest arc of GW2, you are part of a team of the best of the best, the most elite of the elite, the A-Team of the world. And this A-Team which will save the world from darkness? It is lead by… not you. It’s led by a talking pot-plant named by Trahearne, who trusts you, who is saving the world. You’re helping! You are Trahearne’s right hand hero, at his back.

And this is very close to a really cool narrative. Very close indeed, in fact. Just one step forward, and to the left.

It’s something you don’t often see in games, and I suspect it allows them to have harder control of the narrative. Rather than pretend your character – no matter their background or training – is doing the heroic save the world thing, Trahearne is doing it, and you’re doing the important work that sees it done. But you’re not the hero of your personal story as of Act III, Trahearne is. And it’s a wonderful bit of Guild Wars lore, and it means that the story can always be consistant going forward (Trahearne saved the world! There can be statues of him, rather than of whichever player did it last).

So the resounding result of the GW2 personal story from launch was it was a great story with an annoying protagonist.

Enter Scarlet.

The Antagonist of the first year of the Living Story is another talking pot-plant called Scarlet Brier. She united a lot of the bad guys together of the course of the middle six months of last year, and then has spent the last six months deploying them to new places every couple of weeks to wreck more havoc in a new way. Now, I’ve missed a lot of the Living Story. I tend to play MMOs on a rotating schedule of specific interest, and GW2 cycled out in favour of TSW and then LOTRO last summer. It’s not really even concious, I just find myself playing something else. So I missed a lot of the actual events of the Living Story, because during the first part I wasn’t interested – it didn’t start well – and then I was elsewhere.

Scarlet’s annoyingness transcended that.

Scarlet is part of a recently discovered race (tick) who are part of a hive mind, kind of, but she’s broken free of it (tick) and discovered she’s smarter than everyone else (tick), and she was so impressive that collages let her into *all of them* in sequence instead of just one like everyone else in history (tick), and she found she really was better than everyone else and everyone liked her, but they were all so limited in their thinking that she was expelled…

Basically, Scarlet has serious Mary Sue issues. She has green eyes and red hair, she’s better and smarter than everyone else, and she’s been entirely invulnerable and undefeatable – and unsetbackable, for that matter – for six months of being an absolute *dick*. 

At the start of the last event, she’s finally built her magical supership and invaded the main hub-town of the entire game, and now you finally get to kill her. Her schtick is part of the “Eternal Alchemy”, and divides power into DynamicStatic and Synergetic. So the big event is when one huge boss of each decends on the city, and if you kill them all you can “atune” yourself to all three and thereby use her teleporters to get to her ship. (Big fight, whole map on three bosses, it’s quite cool).

Once there you are in a tedious square-dance where in order to do any damage at all you have to step in three coloured circles within thirty seconds, whereby you get a buff that allows you to do damage for thirty seconds, and then you can go circle hunting again. On top of that the boss is doing area attacks and line putting down temporary damage splats, so generally it’s a big square-dance. Then she splits by colour, and you have to run into the right coloured circle for the thing you’re fighting to do damage. Then back to the original fight for the last phase. Generally you’ve got about 80 people in one small room doing this one big fight, and it’s got some interesting mechanics, but generally it gets tedious after the first ten minutes. If you don’t complete it in 20 minutes, you’re killed straight up.

Spoilers for the end of the storyline begin here, and end with the next bold sentence.

Then you get to go to a solo instance where you actually kill her (Hilariously, using your currently equipped PvP Stomp power, so in my case she got stomped by a giant rabbit). And in this it works well, the person who eventually destroys the bad stuff is *you*, and you get to be the hero of the story. The final reveal – Scarlet is the servant of a dragon she was trying to awaken, successfully – sets up for an interesting next season.

And there end the spoilers

Interesting things include the budding relationship between two female characters that takes an extra step with this arc, which means there are more canon F-F love affairs in this game than M-F, to my knowledge. There are fanbois complaining that straight relationships are being marginalized, but frankly they can go fuck a duck.

Either way, I liked the end to the story, I hope we can go back to rebuilding now, and I’m looking forward to whatever ANet start with Season 2, they’re getting better at this narrative malarkey.

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Douglas Adams, Hitchiker’s Guide:

For years, the fabulously beautiful planet of Bethselamin increased its booming tourist industry without any worries at all. Alas, as is often the case, this was an act of utter stupidity, as it led to a colossal cumulative erosion problem. Of course, what else could one expect with ten billion tourists per annum? Thus today the net balance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete while on the planet is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave; so every time you got to the lavatory there, it is vitally important to get a receipt.

Discovery Channel News, 2014:

Climbers on Mount Everest will be forced to bring back eight kilograms (17.6 pounds) of garbage, an official said Monday, to clean up a peak that has become the world’s highest rubbish dump.

The rule, one of several new measures covering mountaineering in the Himalayan nation, will apply to climbers ascending beyond Everest’s base camp from April onwards, said tourism ministry official Madhusudan Burlakoti.

“The government has decided in order to clean up Mount Everest that each member of an expedition must bring back at least eight kilos of garbage, apart from their own trash,” he said.

Burlakoti, who is joint secretary at the ministry, said authorities would take legal action against climbers who failed to comply with the new rule, although it was unclear whether this would involve a fine or the confiscation of their mandatory deposit.