Week 23 – Everything All At Once

[I left this in my out-tray. I’m an idiot]

One of those.

I learnt a new thing! I played with Aftereffects for several dozen hours, learning how enough bits of it work to make something, and produced a new video based on Secret Lore stuff, and got… five views, no comments, and a Like. Maybe it’d work better with a new audio track, rather than a reused one, but I’m not currently incentivised to try, or do anything ever again.

It’s a month of finance stuff, as well. Corporation tax is due, so I’m checking the numbers on that before I send HMRC a moderately scary amount of money, Then my personal tax thing needed to be done as well, and then finally my landlord chimed in with another 10% rent increase. Rents are something like boiling a frog. So long as the increases are slow, the tenant will boil alive before they realise how fucked they are, but a notification of a heavy increase, and only a few months after the last one applied (It’s a warning of an increase in September) has given me the chance to take a step back and say “No, that is more than I’m willing to pay for this level of pokeyness in my accommodation”. It’s never been a great flat for the money, but with the perennially nearly-fixed boiler and now £1.5M new housing where our garden used to be, I’m getting out of the water.

Right now, we’re looking at Oxford, for reasons of London connections and existing support networks for both me and Fyr, and it’s a nice place I haven’t lived in yet. Its rental market seems sane when compared to London’s, which means its still overheated and crazy, but at a level I’m more comfortable with. Plan is to head up and blast though viewings mid-next-week, then go from there.

Empire’s this weekend, and it looks like my little world of the Senate’s going to be quite exciting. Went to a player event as my NPC last week, which was fun in its own way, but probably not something I’ll do again. The inability to push my own agendas (very much) made me miss playing a great deal, and I’m looking forward to my holiday away from it next year.

Mostly playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. I bought a subscription, which gives me an XP boost so I can level a character all the way without doing anything but the class story quests, and I’m using that to do them if I can. I finished off my Imperial Agent last week, and I’m working my way though the Jedi Knight quest line. As single-player quest lines, they remind me a lot of Knights of the Old Republic, not without good reason, and without the “Kill ten womp-rats” filler between the stories, it’s a lot nicer to experience. There are a lot of really good non-class-based questlines too – I’m particularly fond of the Gree “Black Bisector” set – but it’s nice to have a clear run though the story.


Current Affairs Personal


Yesterday, I was on a tube train that stopped suddenly.

I’d left work early, to avoid the tube strike, and had a fairly busy but not terrible journey from Farringdon around the Circle line up to King’s Cross, and eventually caught a Piccadilly train up to the fictional place I live in. The first stage of the Pic from KX north is a long slog. There used to be a station midway, but it shut decades ago, so there’s just this wasteland of nothing before Caladonian Road. No seats, and in the vestibule I was standing in was a circle of Spanish teenage tourists, laughing and talking. I was listening to music – Lonnie Doonican & Van Morrison’s Sloop Jon B – when there was the familiar slowing as we approached the station, and then the less expected sudden sharp stop.

I assumed a red signal before the station, because it always is.

Some of the lights had gone out. More than the usual, actually. It was quite dark. The radio crackled into life.

“Sorry for the, er, delay. We’re stopped… someone went under the train. We’re going to be here a little while, while this gets sorted out.”

Passengers glanced at each other, sharing the brief eye contact of “holy shit, that’s terrible” with an underlying and less virtuous “…this is going to fuck up my day”. It was less than an hour until the strike was due to start.

Most of my carriage continued the stoic British tradition of brief eye contact and endless regret, sticking to our small chosen areas – the train was quite busy – and wondering how long this would take. The visitors were less sanguine about the situation. They asked each other what the driver had just said, and then eventually asked the passengers around them. “Something’s happened? He said we’re stopped because of a person on the train?” Not on, I explained, er. under. “Under?” I made a hand gesture. Brief, and without any humanity whatsoever: Under. “Someone jumped?! There’s a dead person under the train? We hit someone?” Maybe. Probably someone just slipped. They haven’t said. “Does this happen often?” Not often. This is the first time I’ve been anywhere near one. “They’re saying” the guy I was talking to, indicated his colleagues “this must happen often, as everyone’s just… accepting it. Staying quiet. We’re Espagnol, and if this happened to us we’d be all ‘What’s going on?’ and stuff”. Culture thing, I think. We can’t do anything about it, so we wait until there’s something to be done. They’ll announce something shortly. “I… er.. really don’t like… this many people”, I’m sure we’ll be moving soon.

We were. The front of the train was in the station, and we were led though the train and up and out of the station. I just went to the exit, but other passengers tried to crowd around the front, to try and catch a glimpse of what was going on. Half informed scuttlebutt drifted around like osmosis, she was a child, she’d tripped just before the train came in. She was awake, but flat on her back on the bed of the tracks. I’ve no idea of the truth – the official reports aren’t committal – so I’m going to stick with Minor Injuries and assume she’ll be fine. I don’t have the rubberneck tenancy, which makes stories like this less interesting.

Caledonian Road, once I got there, was heaving. I’d taken the stairs up, and was breathless and hating the world – though my watch was very happy with my activity level that day – and the local population explosion wasn’t doing the cell towers much good. I worked out North and struck out that direction, until I got enough signal to work out a better route. Normally, I’d get back to Kings Cross and strike up on the Victoria, change at Finsbury Park for the rail line to the Hertfordshire line, get out at Bowes Park and walk home, but by the time I’d get to KX it would be either heaving or closed, so I took the half hour walk to Drayton Park to get on that same railway.

Wandering though new bits of London’s always fascinating. Similar but always slightly different, as the city’s great melting pot leaves veins and identifiable sections of original material. Drayton Park’s notable mostly for specific parking regulations. It’s close to the Arsenal ground, so almost everywhere you can leave a car has special provision for match day.

My final train, rush hour on a strike day, was a sardine-can, but eventually I got home, two hours after starting out.

As much as I love travelling in all its forms, be it the commute or the holiday, the platform edge at rush hour is something I fear. Travelling, especially alone, is where I regenerate ideas, where solutions present, and a place I recharge. The rush hour platform edge is a strong source of vertigo-like symptoms. Not the height that breaks me, but the consequences of falling. When I’m standing at Kings Cross station, with thirty people in the six feet square behind me, I have to hope that nobody pushes though. There’s nowhere to hang on to, and only one place to go. More than once I’ve stood at that place, having missed three trains as they fill to bursting ahead of me, and duck back into the crowd to find a more open space – pretty much anywhere – until the world calms down again. In assuming she tripped, and assuming that it was partly because the platforms were too full (I don’t know, but they probably were, by the number of people expelled from the station with us) it’s one of my worst nightmares given vision and form.

Today the underground workers strike, not for pay, but against a deal that puts them on 13 extra weeks of night work without consultancy, on top of TfL’s program of reducing staff at stations, and under questions of how safe it is. I can’t begrudge them any of that, and I can’t begrudge us that either.


Character Generation

I approach character generation with the tools of an A-Level drama student, the blueprints of a Narrativist, and the min-maxing skills of the average pot of superglue.

Generally, we start with a few anchor points. In today’s case, the starting point was that I’m playing Empire in the League, because I want an excuse to use some signature kit from a few characters back and that’s the nation it fits best in. Second, I’m playing Politics, because fighty isn’t really in my nature, and I know from experience that Tradey isn’t really my game. Third, I’ve got a group (The volume of “come, join us” when I mentioned I would be playing was gratifying), and it’s not a group of people I’ve played with a lot before. This means I can fall back into comfortable roles, to some extent, because I won’t be bouncing of the same people in the same ways.

So, Nation chosen, and group gives me a guide to which bits of the nation I can fall into. Next up, the name.

Generating Detail Marshall, a character I played at Maelstrom for a long while, started roughly the same way. I was joining an established group as a family member, which gave me a nation and some existing background guidance. I picked out a direction I was interested in – gunsmithing – and a name. For Detail, I picked up his full name first – James Marshall-Frauser – without realising how little the last bit fit the setting, as his “True” name, the one that unlocked his soul if spoken. Then I chopped off the end to make his True Name less discoverable, and gave him a nickname – Detail – then a shortened form – Det – then a backstory as to why he had it (James Marshall was his father, and Det had picked up “Attention to detail” after displaying a lack of it. A series of hilarious adventures exiled him from home and to the New World where Maelstrom took place). I added “Det” as a short form, but that didn’t last very long. It didn’t fit the character very well.

So what I’m looking for a name is three things, a common thing they are called, an optional clue to deep backstory, and a full “Mother shouts that this when angry” full name with as nice as possible flow of syllables.

Once we’ve got a name to hang things off, Drama Student mode kicks in. A few question/answer sessions not a million miles from this meme I did for Detail around 7 years ago give me a few hooks to hang the character off – Who would you never betray, what’s your best memory, who wouldn’t you piss on if they were on fire – to work out the basics of characterisation, level of the Utter Bastard scale, and D&D alignment, and we’re ready for first play. I prefer first play to be as non-canon as possible, since it’s still a rough sketch of character. For this, I may be using him for an upcoming non-mainline player event hosted by my new group, which fits perfectly.

Assuming I get the rest of the costume sorted within a week. Erk.

computing Larp Personal

Week 20 – Whether the weather be fine

…and then it was July. Weekly updates! Woo! Er…

The sun has got his hat on, this week. Last year, I bought a freestanding aircon unit thing. Not a proper one, with a hose, but the kind you can put cold water in and it blows cold air out. I am pleased I did this, because without it this last few days would have been more hell.

My project for the last couple of years is now up in public, and I’m sure I’ll get around to doing more about Skute later on, like constructing the back-end and generic tech assumptions. It’s a content sharing platform based around physical location. So, for a slightly corporate example, there’s a new bit of Mountain Dew sponsored street-art up in Shoreditch that’s got a closed Skute on it. If you scan the Skute tag next to it (it’s NFC, so this is Android only for now) you can see some video of them putting it up, and info about the artists. If you’ve got the app, you can subscribe to updates about it or them, otherwise you get a read-only web view. A slightly more open example would be a skute stuck to a common skater hangout, with an open skute that anyone with the app can add videos of them doing tricks to. (More likely, I see friends-list locked skutes for that case. Getting big enough to have to worry about spam on them is one of those “good problem” rakes in the grass of the future). There’s still a lot to do – there are a few core features I wish we’d had time to polish off before going public – but it’s good to see it out in the open.

I’m kind of hoping that with Skute out in the open and the Gadgets post out of my queue I can get back to content updates here. There’s a new audio update coming tomorrow – a reading of a recent Faction Fiction piece – and then I hope to get stuck into a new Secret Lore episode. Also coming up is my first adventures in brewing, which has been interesting.

Gameplaywise I’ve recently got into Marvel Heroes, which is basically a FtP Diablo clone with added licencing, and had a lot of fun playing Hawkeye in it. I got tempted in to SWTOR again via their XP boost system, which means I can run the (interesting) class storylines without needing to care about the planet storylines I’ve done a dozen times already. I’ve just closed Chapter 1 of the Imperial Agent, and I’m hoping to get though that and two others before my sub renews. Secret World’s got its anniversary content on, though, so that’s going to be a distraction.

I’ve also ended up running an ARK: Survival Evolved server for friends. ARK’s a survival/build/minecraft/thing with added dinosaurs. It’s fun and interesting, and at some point I’ll play it as well as running the server 🙂

And LARP. Odyssey went well, both on a personal level and a game-running level. For the first time – I’ve been crewing it since event 2 – I got out on the field as a character, and into the NPC meeting rooms as two different gods. Playing an all-powerful literal god in LARP is the crackiest of all crack, and I need to do it more often. Not everything was perfect, and there are aspects of the game we need to address (we screwed up blessings quite a bit), but the game was an emotional high… which meant the resulting fall came with a bump. My last couple of games crewing Empire, at least for a while, are coming up and preparations for next year’s odyssey (ahem) into playing are well underway. Kit is being acquired, and I’ve just received the notification that the group I applied to join has accepted me. Commonly, larp groups have a “black-ball” joining system so you don’t end up having to roleplay with someone you have an out-of-character abhorrence to. It’s the first time I’ve had to go though that kind of system, though, and it’s faintly nerve-racking. However, success. And now I have to build and name a character..


Flung Forth


Audio version of some text from the other place


Technical Gadgets That Have Not Changed My Life Episode X: The Apple Watch

I am an aspiring early adopter. I rarely have the budget to buy the newest shiniest version of a thing, but I do tend to be the first in my monkeysphere to engage with technological things.

There’s a common narrative that technologic devices change your life, or revolutionise it, and if they don’t then they obviously have failed. I find this isn’t true. Technological devices usually take something I already do and shift the context, either generalising it or specialising it, and then add functionality. Sometimes this results in a new thing I do, which might shift into another device later. That’s a bit complicated, so an example:

For my first iPhone (the 3Gs) I got an app called Sleep Cycle. The idea was that you put your phone under the sheet next to you when you went to bed, and the app used the motion trackers in the phone to measure how much you were moving around in your sleep. From there it could time your sleep cycles, tell you how well you slept, and wake you up when you were lightly sleeping within twenty minutes or so of your optimal alarm time. For a while it was my default alarm, because it helped me get up on time. On the downside, iPhone apps at the time didn’t support running in the background at all, so you could screw up the whole thing by clicking on the home button in your sleep. Plus, having the phone in the bed with you always risked accidentally sleeping on it – not great for either of you – and it didn’t work as well once Fyr moved in with me. When I drifted to Android for a couple of years I got a similar app for that – Sleep as Android – which was better at the background thing, but didn’t work as well for me. Later on I used a Fitbit for sleep tracking, which didn’t do the alarm cycles trick, and for the last six months it’s been one of the things Misfit tracked with my Pebble. Most recently, it’s what the Sense is for.

I had a Diamond Rio MP3 player when they could only hold 8 songs in terrible quality, and then a Rio 500 when they could hold almost 30. At one point in the early 2000s, I had a Palm Pilot, an IRDA connection to get it on the internet via my nokia, a no-brand MP3 player with almost a gig of usable storage and no pocket space at all. The iPhone didn’t really change what I was doing, it just put it into a single dedicated thing.

All of this is four hundred words of preamble to the following statement:

Technological devices are generally not life-changing revolutions, but different/better ways of doing things. The advancement is evolutionary, even with revolutions in technology.

A wrist, with a watch on it.
A wrist, with a watch on it.

It’s with that in mind that I bought an Apple Watch.

I’ve taken my side in the war, and I took it gladly. I signed up to the Apple ecosystem, and I’m happy with it. It’s not my first Apple device.

Left, my KS-backer original Pebble. Right, the new hotness.
Left, my KS-backer original Pebble. Right, the new hotness.

It’s not my first Smartwatch, either. I’ve been a happy user of my Pebble since I backed the Kickstarter for the first model, so the revolutionary aspect of being able to look at my wrist for notifications (and look like I’m an asshole who has somewhere he’d rather be) has replaced the aspect of looking at my phone for notifications (and looking like a more generic brand of asshole).

It’s not a revolution. It doesn’t change that I’m wearing something on my wrist – before the Pebble I wore a less-smart-watch. It doesn’t change that I have a computer on my wrist – as I say, Pebble. It doesn’t even change whether people talk to me about the Apple watch on my wrist, as that was happening while I was wearing a pebble too.

So, these are the things I use it for, and from there you can make your own judgements on whether it’s a worthwhile thing.


My standard simple watchface. The red dot means I have notifications waiting
My standard simple watchface. The red dot means I have notifications waiting

I’ve turned off most of the notifications in my life. SMSs, mentions in Slack, emails from people I care about, these things notify me, but as far as possible I’ve trimmed down the things that buzz and ping from my pocket. This is a continuing process, it was down a lot for the phone, back further for the Pebble, and the watch hardly at all, but I’ve come to like the Watch notifications. It was advertised as a “tap on the wrist”, which is a little more human than the final approach ends up being. It’s a more subtle form of haptic feedback, but it’s still mechanical. By default it still pops and pings when things happen, so I generally run it in silent mode.

Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy looms large over the concept of the smartwatch. One of the first watches I ever bought was a cheap plastic digital Dick Tracy style watch, with an LCD-rendered analog screen and a light where the speaker would be. The thing you couldn’t do with it, and even up to recently couldn’t do at all with a smartwatch, was actually take calls on it.

Which makes sense, because you don’t actually want to.

A couple of times in the last month I’ve taken calls on the watch, either because the phone was far away or the time was pressing, and while there’s certainly an element of secret-spy future-living moment, more so there’s an element of attempting to have a conversation on a small tinny speakerphone in an inconvenient location. I’m happy with the lack of video in these, too, since my nostrils don’t need that deep an investigation.

Going Around In Circles

The second big thing in the Watch’s existence-reason list is the monitoring and exercise tracker functions. One of the uses of my Pebble, and Fitbit before it was as a pedometer, encouraging me to complete my X steps a day. The watch replaces this with a series of concentric circles, encouraging you to stand once an hour, move a bit, and do 30 mins of heart-rate-rising exercise a day.

So far this is working well for me. The tap to remind me I have been sat at the same keyboard for two hours is a welcome reminder, and I’ll often make decisions about routes home based on things that will please my watch. It’s a little annoying you can’t correct it – if I don’t have it on when I go for a walk, it might as well not have happened – but its a nice bit of encouragement.

Five Second Interactions

Deliveries app informs you when stuff's likely to arrive. The white blob will be a map when it renders.
Deliveries app informs you when stuff’s likely to arrive. The white blob will be a map when it renders.

But the big thing that the smartwatch replaces, non specific to the Apple Watch, but done better by it; is the replacement of all the five-second glances at your phone. Not only the simple world of notifications, as mentioned above, but the five second “Heading home now” text message. The check on the map that you’re on the right road. The skipping of this song, changing of this playlist, pausing of the track. Is it going to rain in the next hour? Siri, remind me to take the washing in at 4 o’clock.


Full high resolution LCD displays, wifi connectivity, all this comes at the cost of power, and the battery life on the Watch isn’t great with the first version. Mine consistently hits ~30% battery life as I got to sleep at the end of the day, I can squeeze a couple of days out of it if required. The only time I’ve actually run it down was a day that started at 4am and required a lot of travelling – I was doing a fair amount of navigating by it, which is always a killer – where it hit Low Power Mode sometime near midnight on the way back to the hotel. Low Power is a mode where it turns off everything except a simple digital watch display, and will last a few days in that state. I’ve not really got an issue with having to charge it at night, it goes alongside my phone.


The Apple Watch does everything I wanted the Pebble to do, but it couldn’t due to technology or API constraints. The first hardware version – as with pretty much all r1 hardware – isn’t superb, and I wouldn’t recommend it without caveat. The future revisions of the interface (WatchOS 2 happens later this year) look like the right track, though. It’s a wrist-mounted interface to the bits of your phone you can fit in a 40mm square screen, it does that very well, and if you think that’s worth your resources, go for it. I’d recommend waiting for the Watch 2, though.