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In which lockdown is bemoaned, some code is written, RPGs continue on, and the excess of television provides an opportunity to waste more time.

Outside The Asylum

Day 121 of lockdown. I mean, the first few weeks were dogsitting, but that was the last time I left Oxford, or Headington, really.

I am a professional remote worker. I’ve been working remotely for most of the last ten years, on and off, and I was totally one of the people who said “Ho ho, I have been socially distancing for years, ho ho.”

Ho ho.

I hate video conference meetings with a venimence I usually reserve for Marmite, XML Parsers or Stephen Donaldson. Voice I can at least get on with in a two person chat, but video conferencing breaks a lot of my social cues, and all my learned behaviors over not talking over people. It’s harder to tell when someone’s trying to say something, and harder still to shut down someone who’s on the third paragraph of their minimally relevant point.

The chat around a table is the closest thing I have to a natural habitat, and I miss it a lot. Not enough to do my Patriotic Duty and troop down to the nearest Wetherspoons for a pint of Spitfire come Economicly Expedient Day on the 4th, but I miss it none the less.

It’s also bad for my productivity. Without occasionally imposing some external structure (ie, working from the office in London, or a coffee shop, or somewhere that at least requires trousers) I drift slowly into a 26 hour day that I then have to force-reset over the weekend.

Work have been really good over the crisis, to be honest. We’ve been moving towards a more remote workforce over this next few years anyway, and this accelerated the timeline a bit. Pretty much all of the distilleries in my bit of the company (Absolut in Sweden, the various Scotch distilleries in… well… Scotland, and Jameson’s in Ireland) switched to supplying raw materials for hand sanitizer, causing – I’m told – some taxonomic confusion for the Absolut bottle collection market.

Working in a fully-remote team is always better than working in a partially on-site one, to be entirely honest. There’s a lot fewer critical bits of “ambient information” that nobody realises didn’t make it outside of a conversation, and keeping a social connection with a group of people is easier. There’s no real way to stop being the easily ignorable voice from someone’s laptop as the only remote member of a meeting, and I’ve lost count of the times that over the years the connection to the room has dropped and nobody’s noticed.

The remote work shift is one I’ve been hoping for since I started this, and while the cause is awful, I’m hoping some good will come out of it. Like, for example, better corporate support for ergonomics of home offices. We can but dream…

Library of Code

A long time ago (like, 2009ish), I was writing the first version of Skimlinks’ Product Guide, which is the last thing I worked on before I was, figuratively, stabbed in the back and thrown into a passing garbage truck. The original version was based on Solr, a java based search system. Never being one to leave technology at work, I hacked together a project to index all the issues of SJGames’ Pyramid magazine up to that point, which SJGames had helpfully released as a zip file to all existing subscribers when it switched to the new format in 2008. This gave me a bundle of genre-specific documents with shared keywords and all that helpful juice to make my amateur data analyst’s heart glad.

All this was done on my home server, Fjord, a delightful 2U rack-mounted machine which I bought from someone in a pub in Hackney. I broke my very first iPhone by leaning the server on my thigh in order to press the button to cross the road while carrying it to the bus stop.

Sadly, Fjord’s fan controls didn’t work under Linux, so it ran like a jet engine, and turning it off reduced my electricity bill by a third. By now, it could be outperformed by a raspberry pi, I think.

Anyway, that tangled mess of PHP, Bash and Java apps was long gone, but when I recently recovered the contents of Fjord (having moved house four times without turning it on, and it having lived in a cupboard for five years. Well configured RAID is a godsend) and remembered it existed, also: I have *far* more random RPG PDFs (due to Humble Bundle, Bundle of Holding, Kickstarter and other slips of the credit card) now, and I’d like to search them.

I’ve not really been doing personal coding much these last few years. My previous major coding projects had mostly stalled due to lack of interest (mine and others), upstream bullshit or the end of projects. The last major things I wrote for personal use was the system for managing the LARP system Odyssey. I’ve been barely maintaining things like the Panopticon (as open APIs slowly go the way of everything else), and shutting things down as they drift into obsolescence.

But I spent a few nights over some weeks building Thalium, which involved learning Laravel, ElasticSearch and a lot about how much worse PDF parsing has been made over the last ten years (Thanks Adobe, Thadobe), as well as brushing up on Docker advances to build a nice development environment and WSL2 to get it working on my gaming machine (which has more powah for handling several gigs of PDFs than my beloved Macbook). It’s not something that’s ever going to be generally accessible, but it’s been a fun project, and really handy when looking up rules for systems I’m GMing.

Socially Distanced Murder Hobos

RPGs continue on. I’m still running two – A custom Torg Eternity campaign and Tomb of Annihilation in D&D 5th – but back up to playing two – Toby’s 3.5ed World’s Largest Dungeon campaign that I’ve been in for … maybe four years? and has been going on for a couple of years before that, and Ian’s new Enlightenment Gothic 5th ed game, designed to be the kind of world that all the old Hammer Horror movies could all take place in.

In the latter I’ve rolled up an Artificer who – in this low-magic system – creates little clockwork creatures that have the effect of spells. So a copper spider who sews your wounds up, a clockwork bunny which detects magic. I’m really enjoying the adorable body-horror images of it all, as well as the system in general.

Tomb of Annihilation is meandering through the final act (with no character deaths! I’m disappointed in myself) so I’m kind of wondering what to run in its stead. There’s a queue of games I’d like to run, and new ones get added and merged every so often. I think New Verticals – Cyberpunk dystopias in the Animal Crossing universe – is edging out in front right now. But time is a fickle something or other, and the road ahead is long.

Tyranny of the Televisual

This is the end of a week off. I intended to spend it doing nothing much – not that there’s much choice at the moment – and catching up on TV. I don’t watch a lot of shows, but I’ve seriously fallen behind (like, I’ve not even started S2 of Westworld or Legion, I really want to get back into Preacher) and I keep finding new things I want to watch (Killjoys is great, and the Clone Wars series is too). Then the voice in my head says “You should rewatch Star Trek” and suddenly 22 days of television appear on my queue.

Oh well, it’s not like I’m going to be down the pub, I suppose.

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