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Week 33 – Long Time Passing

That I now have to make a decision on whether weeks begin on Sunday or Monday for this is probably a bad sign. It’s Monday, anyway.


My current contract is coming to an end, and with the company on a different footing to the last year, my position of emergency relief may be coming to an end. I kind of have to assume it is, anyway, so I’m looking for more different things. I’ve got an interview on Wednesday for a full time contract, which will be something of a novelty after working 3 days/week for the current one. Part of their interview process was this intensive logic-based Aptitude Test, and if I’d seen it coming I maybe wouldn’t even have applied. It’s the kind of mental-gymnastics “Could you get into Mensa” test that I’ve traditionally done really badly at – which means I panic, which means I do worse. I got the Face to Face interview before they sent me the test, though, and they haven’t cancelled that yet. Doing it on Wednesday put me on edge, though, which made a sudden explosion of drama in one of my corners of the internet hit a bit hard, so Thursday was crap, and then Friday, by dint of an astounding series of coincidences that built up into a *huge* pile of shit, was worse.

So it’s been a weird week, and this week isn’t looking much quieter.



The drama’s based around my “big” larps, those run by Profound Decisions that I help crew for, and was based around how well PD deal with abuse reports. To clarify: My role at Odyssey occasionally means dealing with the first part of these, in that I’m usually the first person people end up speaking to, but I’m under strict instructions – which I almost always follow – to directly redirect such complaints to non-volunteer staff (Sometimes the player doesn’t want to, sometimes other things get in the way). Paragraphs deleted here. I’m not getting into it.

Part of it is that I’m going to be running events, I hope, in the future; and I can’t see a clear path where I would have done it better or even particularly differently. The numbers are low enough that statistics become inferable to specific cases too easily, and I fundamentally disagree with last-action policies. That is, if you know someone is attempting to deal with anger issues, and you poke them with a stick so you can then point at them and say “This was going to happen anyway”, my sympathy is significantly less than if you poke them with a blunt stick and they bit your head of on spec. I don’t even begin to know where the answers are on events that happen out of the game that affect people’s ability to feel safe in the same tent/camp/field/county; and the line between asking people quietly to fall in line and publicly being seen to make a stand isn’t clear cut either.

It’s a hard problem, it’s a disservice to everyone – organisers, crew and players alike – to pretend there are heavy black lines around all of the areas (Yes, some actions are clearly bad), and the initial explosion of righteous “They’re being stupid”, “They’re being oblivious” didn’t help. The more nuanced discussions later were a lot better, but that was after the initial damage.


I spent most of Saturday on PiracyInc, the long lost Pirates Game I’ve been working on for years. It’s currently an excuse to learn Node – I do a lot better at learning languages by building things in them – and rebuild the visual mechanics of the game as a Cookie-Clicker style percentage bar system, but backed onto something akin to an MMO engine. There’s almost certainly better ways to do almost everything I’m currently doing, but right now I have the basics working, and can now start putting meat onto the bones.


I’ve also been working on my personal data archiving project, Lifestream. Right now it’s drinking in data on a lot of things in my life, and storing them in a database. A lot of that’s reproduced as part of, but some of it is on two timeshifted accounts, Aquarions Of History, which reproduces my tumblr of four years ago in real time, and @timeshifted-aq, which does the same for my Twitter stream. The new updates for the Twitter side replace “@” with the unicode ? symbol, to avoid sending notifications to people for tweets 4 years ago. On the tumblr side, I’m using queueing to make the times slightly more accurate (Twitter doesn’t let you schedule tweets with the API, so they appear when the script runs, every 15 minutes)


My iPhone 6S arrived on Friday, and I’ve been experimenting with it over the weekend. Battery life is a lot better than my (2 year old, >800× recharged) 5S was, Using it to navigate to a new place was – as expected – a large drain, as was being in a low-signal house for a while. Staying in the same place with low signal but wifi calling appears to have only lost 10% over the day, though, so it’s looking a lot better.

I’m looking at porting my Trello-based voice-mail system – Vox-ex-machina – from its current mess of hand-coded PHP into a nicer Node-based system, but that may come after Pirates gets a bit more love.


Still playing AdVenture Capitalist. Can clearly give it up any time I want to.

Batman Arkham Knight

In an attempt to use my PS4 a bit more, I picked up Arkham Knight for it – also affected by the reports of the PC version being shoddy. I like the Arkham games a lot, they’re hands-down the best representation of the concept of Batman in video game form and the gadget-centric progression fits the model of the character really well. That said, Knight’s push bigger has lost focus somewhat. The explicit mission tracking is welcome, but the scope and repetition of some of the tasks aren’t doing so well. Primarily, the Batmobile is massively overused. I understand they want to fit all the things they wanted to do with it over the last couple of games, but the Batmobile as puzzle-solving device gets old quick, and the shooting-gallery of tanks is just frustrating. It would be better if there *wasn’t* a concept of clearing out the islands, because it makes the one-line notification of “oh, BTW, there’s another stack of tanks to beat” frustrating. AND THEY RESPAWN. One of the leading lights of the Arkham series’ vaulted combat system was that when you got into a fight, you could see there are twenty guys, and then you’d beat 20 guys, and you’d win. Here – and it’s not just in the batmobile sections, they do it in the hand-to-hand too – there’s a high chance of multiple waves, without telegraph, that means you can never tell how close to success you are. The number of special-combo-to-beat enemies appears to have gone up too, turning many fights into effectively quick-time events as the tutorial window pops up with “Press X-X-O-Meta-Bucky-Five to disarm quantum field generators” with the added bonus of having to abort halfway though as some other fucker throws a TV at you from off-screen.

So, while I’m enjoying Arkham a lot, it’s not without flaws. Most of the reasons why I’m enjoying it a lot are where they’ve improved the original concept, and most of the places where I’ve not is where they’ve stretched it.

They’re making me bored of the Batmobile, though, which is an achievement in itself.

Pillars of Eternity

With the new expansion released, I’m also retreading though Pillars of Eternity. I’d got though to Act 3 previously, but when I came back to it I had no idea where I was, so I’ve restarted as a Moon Godlike Chanter, going from the least original class/race combo in the series to something distinctly more interesting. The replay’s going fairly well, I’m remembering most of the major plot beats and getting slightly different results, but the game’s still got a problem with leading you into fights you can’t possibly win at your current state, which I’m hoping the expansion’s better at. Though since by the expansion the party will be at a significantly higher level, it may work out anyway.





Every Two Years

It’s new phone time again. I’m fairly statically keeping to the iPhone ecosystem for my main phone (I own android devices, but mostly for testing & backup). Having fallen out of “Smartphones” with a disappointing O2 XDA, my first experience of the first iPhone was borrowing one from the CTO of Trutap overnight, and losing it on the train home. It was an expensive day. From then I got an iPhone 3G when it arrived in the UK, switched sides to an HTC Desire when the iPhone 4 didn’t appeal to me, but after falling out with android’s lack of focus, switched back to the iPhone 4S for my next contract.  And here I’ve stayed. Two years ago I bought the iPhone 5S, and just as the battery on that is beginning to get annoying, the 6S is here.

Out with the old…

Out with the old - an iPhone 5S being put back in its box
Out with the old – an iPhone 5S being put back in its box

And in with the new…

in with the new, an iPhone 6S, cherry
in with the new, an iPhone 6S, still in plastic

…and then back in with the old

An iPhone 6S, restoring from backup
An iPhone 6S, restoring from backup

Almond “Milk”

In theory, this kind of post is what is for, but in a content drought, spreading around what I _do_ write is probably unwise. So, a food thing.

I like iced-coffee during the summer. Generally I’ve got a bottle of cold-brew in the fridge, and that plus milk and a bit of sugar syrup (generally on hand due to a cocktail habit) makes a nice iced coffee. I’m also generally interested in other food types. I’m not vegan, or vegetarian, or even allergic to anything, but I think that that’s no good reason to ignore “vegan alternatives” in a more omnivorous diet for their own properties and tastes. So since I quite like almonds, I bought almond milk and attempted to use it as a milk alternative, to mixed results.

The store-bought stuff wasn’t “right” in tea (It’s going to take more than a few days to retrain thirty-odd years of tea with skimmed milk, though I trained myself out of sugar in tea to the point where tea and sugar just tastes wrong, so it’s all possible). It was fine with cereal, if a little thin, but worked great in iced-coffee.

Almond milk & cold brew coffee. Groot for scale.
Almond milk & cold brew coffee. Groot for scale.

With a half bag of decaff ground coffee slowly drifting towards its use-by date, I decided to make a batch of cold-brew with it. Using a tip I’d seen online, I bought a nut milk bag for it (it’s quicker and easier than the muslin filters I was using before), which is basically a draw string nylon bag.

Cold Brew Coffee: Twice as much cold water as coffee. In a jug. In the fridge. For a day. Strain, bottle, fridge, drink within a week or so, maybe two. If it’s going to go beyond that, fill an ice-tray with it (ideally plastic rather than silicon) and freeze.

Since I now had a  nut milk bag, it also made sense to attempt to make my own nut milk, if that seemed easy. The bag came with a recipe, which I’ve summarised without adding any more detail than the recipe did:

Almond Milk:You soak some almonds in water for some hours, attack them with a blender and more water, and aggressively filter the mush until it’s mostly dry and you have a small lake of almond milk, which you then bottle and fridge. Lasts a few days.

I soaked the almonds overnight. The soaked almonds killed my (cheap) blender – smoke and electronics, the best combination – but the hand whizzer and some more water made short work of it. Fridged it for a while, then tried. Added a blob of agave nectar to sweeten, and some more fridge time. 500g of almonds made for about 1 litre of “milk”. Works really nicely in iced coffee. And if you have frozen some of the cold-brew from earlier, that would be even more perfect…




Apple, Kremlinology and Technology in action

During the cold war, a starting phrase that begins all the best topical blog posts, when the USA was on Not Speaking terms with the USSR, the only way to work out what the political situation in Russia could be was to examine the official photos of events, and take notes of who was standing closest to the leaders, and whose star appeared to be fading. This gave breath to the word “Kremlinology”, the inference of probable facts from disparate unconnected information. Since Apple are so secretive about their intentions and arcs, media covering them generally make things up based on what seems to be true. I’m going to do that in a bit, but I don’t think my guesses will be better than anyone else’s.

I’m wary, though, of anyone who has financial incentive for Apple’s stock price to change. Think-pieces on how Apple “has to launch a new product this quarter” and is “doomed” (frequently) if it doesn’t follow a specific trend. I’m frequently amazed at how many announced (unlaunched, unspecified, and some times *in research & development*) products get reported as being able to kill Apple. A lot of people stand to make a lot of money on long bets of Apple’s stock price, because – like the London property market – it has gone from a thing that is what it is, to being a Financial Item, and is therefore being played by people who have no interest in the market around it, only in the the number it is tagged with. Apple is one of the few companies in its ballpark that knows the meaning of the word “Doomed” from a business perspective. The company has seen how it happens, and it has recovered.

I’m also ignoring the Android “war” in this. I chose my ecosystem a long time ago, and I’m invested in it. Since my first iPhone in 2008, I’ve sunk hundreds of pounds into apps and daily processes that apply to it. My thoughts on “Apple’s copying what X did Y time ago” are that it’s great that my ecosystem can do some of the things yours can do, equally it’s nice that your ecosystem’s picked up tricks from Apple. Rising tide, all ships, etc. Android’s got the market share – more people own Androids than any other smartphone OS. iOS sells fewer units than Android, but Apple makes more money than HTC. Actually, the only real winner is Samsung, since they manufacture iPhone parts and also the competing Samsung phones. Neither company has refrained from bitchy comments, though. Apple’s new Android app to help you move over to iOS was introduced as “The neighbourly thing to do” in a snide comment, and Samsung buying adwords on “iPhone 6S” with bitchy comments was just as bad. The shit-slinging is just petty.

Having said that, the iPad Pro is a broadside shot against the MS Surface. I’m not a fan of the surface keyboards – I’m told there’s a newer one that might be better, but the travel on the keys has always been something that didn’t work for me. The smart-case with a built-in keyboard looks a lot nicer to type on, though I’d need to try it. The screen looks absolutely glorious, though. It was hilarious to watch them announce a keyboard that was on a direct descending line from the Surface Keyboard and then introduce Microsoft on stage to do the dull office stuff and validate use of the prefix “Pro”.

One of the main problems the iPad seems to have – at least for me – is there’s no compelling upgrade path. My phone is tied to a contract I renew every couple of years anyway, and even my laptop is on a 3/4 year obsolesce path due to hard-drive and memory upgrades, but my only compelling reason to stop using my iPad 2 was the retina screen, and even then it took me until the iPad Air to even consider the upgrade.  I’ve not even looked at Air 2 upgrades, and another “thinner, lighter, faster” speedbump upgrade wouldn’t change it. My iPad is a reading and triage device, primarily existing to watch comics/movies/TV or to triage Omnifocus tasks, email, Teamwork tickets. One of the reasons it’s not a note-taking device in general is that my soft-keyboard skills aren’t that fast, and writing on it – even with a stylus – is a pain. The Pencil and the Pro look really nice, offer a new use-case for the device, and generally turn a bigger/faster/shinier update into a fairly compelling upgrade.

Notably, though, the iPad Pro’s missed Apple’s new interaction method. From the video, they needed to rework how the screen sensors pick things up in order for the Pencil to work properly, and in the 6S they reworked the screen for 3D Touch, and I guess those things just couldn’t be reconciled into the same device yet. It’ll be interesting to see if the Pencil support makes its way down the line to the smaller devices, or is reserved for the iPad Pro line; but dollars to donuts Touch 3D climbs up from the iPhone with the next hardware revisions.

No new iPads this year, though. Apple works in cycles, and for the last few years the iPads have shared a stage with the OS X release with the October announcements, but for the first few (iPad 1 though to iPad 4) the iPads were part of their own annual announcement in Spring. This year, Spring was the Apple Watch big release (having been teased in the autumn), so I’m wondering if iPads are moving to the Spring announcement with the next Watch. The announcement of the new iPad Mini 4 crammed in at the end of the Pro announcement weirds that out a bit, but maybe they wanted to get the new Mini out in time for christmas.

Apple TV looks good. The big thing it does is aggregate all the places you *could* see a film into one searchable archive (so you find Matrix *first* before finding out it’s not on Netflix but is on iTunes). I’m hoping this has some kind of app-interface, so Plex can say “I’ve got it!” or Amazon Prime – very notable by its absence across the entire presentation – can be plugged in quickly. I’m betting not, though.

The iPhone 6S is a nicer phone in the same case with better camera. Sold. The Force Touch / 3D Touch looks interesting, but seems a little mystery-meat in its navigation. How do you know if a thing can be pushed hard on? It’s all very well to talk about “exploration” and “discovery” in apps, but it’s not accessible. Plus, does it really do anything you couldn’t have done with touch-and-hold?

The final big thing was slipped in at the end, though. Apple As A Service, where you pay a monthly subscription and get a new phone every year. Apple’s finding a way around the 24 month phone contract stranglehold, I think, in order to try and consolidate its customers on an annual loop instead of a biannual one. The implementation is kind of sketched-out and clunky on the site right now, it seems to involve a 24 month loan from a 3rd-party bank, with no mention of the upgrade at 12 months bit, and doesn’t seem to answer basic hire/purchase questions such as “Is the phone mine at the end” and “am I still liable for the rest of the 24 months if I lose or break it, even under insurance” but also missing is “is this coming to the UK” so for me, at least, the point’s moot.

As mentioned on twitter, the entire Macintosh line got the same amount of stage time today as the Lisa II. Post PC society, indeed.


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Personal Projects

Week 29 – Attack on Box Mountain

Hmm. I may not have actually left the house since the last update, which is a fairly bad state of affairs. Not one I’ll repeat this week.

Most of my free time has been spent attempting forced relaxation (You *will* sit down and play some mindless video games!) after the stress of the last few weeks, and attempting to conquer Box Mountain.

Also, I recreated our new flat in Sims 4, as per the header image.

I’ve mostly defeated Box Mountain in my own room, by the time-honoured method of shoving all the boxes into cupboards and ignoring them. This isn’t a long-term solution, but provides me with some working space, since my room also needs to be an office during the week. Networking’s been fun, since there’s a weird glitch on the wifi where it just stops sending packets every so often, for between ten second and a minute, then resumes as if nothing was wrong. Same was happening over 5Ghz as 2.5Ghz, and from everywhere in the house, which is distressing. This made actually using it close to non-viable, so I started running loose cables. This also being less than optimal, I got some powerline adapters, which is when I learnt that my room’s sockets are on a spur off the Kitchen, not the socket circuit.

Several hours of yak-shaving later, I have a connection, I have a desk, I have an internet. A whole one.

Empire’s coming up, so I’ve dedicated some time to admin around that. It’s my last one crewing until Odyssey’s over, and I’ve got mixed feelings about it.

Development-wise, I spent a while on Retort, my web-based interface to my wifi kettle (which is, of course, written in Flask), which now provides an API to my kettle too, which means I could use it to create statistics on how often its used, and when. This doesn’t seem like a sane thing to do, though, so I haven’t.

I also started some work on learning Angular.js, which seems like a good fit for a couple of things I’m working on – the Skute dashboard, but also a basis for PiracyInc’s front end. So far it seems a bit… magic, tbh. I’m doing complicated stuff in a fifth the code of a native jquery implementation, but I’ve got less of an idea how.

Onwards, however, and upwards.