Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 08:56 pm
I recently scored tickets to a recording of the long-running BBC Radio 4 programme "Just a Minute". For those who are unfamiliar with it, four panelists are given, in turn, a random topic by the host and must speak for one minute on it without repetition, hesitation or deviation. The other three panelists try to catch them out, and if they score a correct challenge, they take over the topic and continue speaking. A single round can take quite a lot longer than one minute whilst the panelists and host argue over whether or not the challenges are in fact correct. Or end up chatting about something else entirely.

This was the first recording I'd attended that wasn't at Broadcasting House. It was in the Shaw Theatre, between Euston and Kings Cross stations, and it has greater capacity than Broadcasting House. Unfortunately, it isn't air-conditioned. It was also packed full, because "Just a Minute" is a cultural institution and is still very popular. Nicholas Parsons has been hosting the show for almost fifty years, and the adulation he received at the start and end of the recording made it practically impossible to hear his greetings and farewell.

We had a little unintentional pre-show entertainment. The ticketing system works thus: You turn up an hour before the doors open, present your ticket and are given a sticker with a number on it. When the doors open, the production guests (wearing wristbands) file in first, and then the ticket holders are allowed entry in groups of fifty. It all works in quite a civilised fashion despite the crush in the lobby, because British people love queuing.

However, once we'd (nearly) all sat down, it became evident that there'd been some sort of cock-up involving the seating of the production guests. Four people wearing viridescent wristbands were stood at the front, looking up at the full rows of seats with evident displeasure. One was a blonde woman in a white jacket with a formidable aspect. I should not like to have been the young production assistant attempting to mollify her and receiving the pointy end of said displeasure. Hands were waved about. The small number of solitary seats scattered about the theatre were indicated and obviously rejected. Eventually, some audience members were convinced to shift around slightly to permit the foursome to sit in pairs on opposite sides of the theatre.

This had all taken a good ten minutes, by which point the ostensible start time of the recording had passed. The drama had now attracted the attention of literally every person in the audience. When the formidable woman sat down, the entire theatre broke into a cheer. She stood up a few seconds later to hand her empty drink cup (two will get you seven that it was a large gin and tonic) to a frazzled usher. The audience booed. Unfased, she turned around, smiled beautifully and resumed her seat gracefully. I was impressed, as I suspect most of the rest of the audience would have died of embarrassment right then.

It was not until the very end of the show when Nicholas Parsons was bidding us farewell that we had the measure of what had transpired. "If," he said, with a twinkle in his eye "you happen to run across the fellow who tore the sign reading 'Reserved for Nicholas Parson's wife' off the seats in the front..." He made a small, meaningful gesture with his cane.

The four panelists were Paul Merton, Tony Hawks, Zoë Lyons and Julian Clary. I shall say no more of the two very funny shows that were recorded, but I think I can safely share another pre-recording anecdote. Nicholas Parsons asked each panelist to speak into their microphone for the sake of the sound engineer at the back. Not one to pass up an opportunity for innuendo, Julian Clary put on his most deliberately camp voice and said, "Hello, David, are you receiving me in the rear?" Nicholas Parsons: "Yes, I think so. Poor David. He can't hear anything now."

After departing the Shaw, I arrived at my place of sleep around 22:30. I walked in the door and was greeted by the smell of freshly baked apple & rhubarb crumble and vanilla custard heating on the hob. A whisky glass was placed in my hand and unopened bottles of Lagavulin and Scapa presented upon the kitchen island for my perusal and selection.

Sometimes, I am a very lucky Nanila indeed.
Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 01:50 pm
This post doesn't require anyone to step in and solve a problem for me. I solved the problem I had before posting, all on my own! The problem is not that the phone made a noise: it is that the phone ONLY made a noise. I know that if I wanted to, I could use Android Pay to avoid having a card near my phone. I don't want to. Thanks!

I recently got one of those phone cases with slots to keep cards in it, in a bid to not lose my travel pass again. I actually got it two weeks ago, after temporarily losing my pass in my bedroom, and it was the process of looking for the pass to put it into the phone case a few days later that I realised I'd lost the pass more permanently…

For the last two or three days, just the last few days, a notification sound has been intermittently bugging the hell out of me - familiar, but not familiar enough that I could identify it. It never generated a message in the notification shade, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was.

Until a moment ago, when I slipped my contactless debit card back into one of the card slots, which at the time was folded back against the back of the phone, and my phone made the noise again.

Now, I've had my debit card in the phone case for the whole time I've been using the case, barring times when I'm actually using the card, because my travel pass uses similar technology and card readers tend to get confused if they get signals from both at once - but remember: this noise has only been happening for two or three days. (But it happens every 5-10 minutes when I'm using my phone, which is a lot, so it's been driving me UP THE FUCKING WALL.)

Anyway. The sound. The sound, it turns out, is the sound my phone makes when it thinks I'm trying to do something with NFC, but it hasn't been able to read the NFC thing properly.

WHY ISN'T THERE A NOTIFICATION FOR THIS? Why is there no written message saying "Sorry, that failed, please try again"?!

This has been annoying me for DAYS and it could have been SO EASILY solved if only there was something other than a *biddlyboop* that means ABSOLUTELY FUCK ALL except that my phone made an unidentified noise. FFS.

Oh, yeah, and *biddlyboop* does not sound like an error tone. Where's the doom and gloom? It doesn't sound like something went wrong, it sounds CHEERFUL.

So. My debit card is now back in my wallet. And I have a small request for software/UX/whatever designers: please, for the love of cake, if you want to tell me about an error, please, YOU NEED TO ACTUALLY TELL ME ABOUT IT. A notification to say "That didn't work". (What if my phone was on silent, for one thing?)

The cheerful sound I can cope with. Really, that's not a big deal. Except when it is your ONLY means of telling me "computer says no", in which case: DON'T DO THAT.

I'm not a UI expert, I admit, but seriously, is this not obvious?!
Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 10:38 pm
Happy Birthday to the Lovely [personal profile] softfruit.

I'm having a week that involves spending a lot of time on trains - which is particularly wearing these days. It was actually kind of better last week when trains were messed about by a giant hole opening up under track in South London - the delays and cancellations and chaos is much easier to cope with when it's for an obvious reasonable reason!
I'm loving the sunshine but it unfortunately comes with a side order of extra-hayfever. And i've had an annoying feverish cold so i've been a bit floompy and uninvolved with things.
But i'm looking forward to m own birthday and then BiCon.
How are you all doing?
Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 02:21 pm

1, It's not perfect. People who are more important to listen to on racism than me have some issues with Patty as a character; I can see those issues, and think that they could have been solved better (& could be solved in sequels). I do think, though, that Patty was not treated anywhere NEAR as badly as Winston was in the original.

2, I actually liked the gross-out jokes; in a film starring four guys those wouldn't even be commented on.

3, Holtzmann getting to do the slow-mo BadAss Action Hero shooty bit actually made me fill up. How many times do women get to DO that? And it was SO perfect, and there were no Male Gaze "this girl's doing it for you boys" tits'n'arse close-ups while she did it; she got to be the power fantasy that's usually reserved for men, but for ladies. I can only think of two other characters in recent years who have done that: Furiosa and River Song. There are countless, COUNTLESS male versions of this.

4, I loved that the film took all the pre-release criticism it recieved, and incorporated it into the film, every time with a big finger in the face of dudebro sexist arseholes everywhere. From characters reading internet comments to Slimer and Lady Slimer getting a Thelma and Louise moment, each bit was pitched beautifully.

5, Like Andrew says, it was fabulous to have a movie about a group of people where none of them are on the arsehole-with-a-heart journey that Bill Murray always plays. In fact, none of the four leads are arseholes, and none of them is a sexy lamp either. They're PEOPLE. Yep, it is 2016 and the fact that a film with four female leads doesn't make any of them into a total cliche is worth commenting on (note: while elements of Patty's character can be argued to be cliched, she's bookish and a history nerd; those things do not fit the stereotype).

Genuinely, while it's not perfect, I think this is the best film I have seen in ages. It's fun, it's funny, it's got a heart the size of New York, and you should all go see it.

See this film if:
  • You're alive.

Don't see this film if:
  • You're a sexist dudebro, or a gamergater, or otherwise an example of a person who has no humanity.

Scores: Acting: 9/10, Script: 9/10; Technical 10/10, Feels 10/10. Overall 9.5/10

If you liked this you should watch: it again. I did. And I very, VERY rarely see a film more than once in the cinema on initial release.

Star Trek Beyond

1, I liked that the script gave all the characters something to do, and that none of them felt incompetently handled, or incompetent at their jobs, both of which accusations could occasionally be levelled at Original Trek. Also, Scotty actually using Scottish words (I nearly typed "sounding like a Scotsman" then, but Pegg's accent is... variable) was grand.

2, I loved how they handled the death of Leonard Nimoy. The fact that the one thing Spock Prime brought with him from the alternate universe was a publicity shot for The Undiscovered Country photo of himself with all his friends, that he must have carried everywhere with him... that was just adorable.

3, I loved Jayla, and hope she will appear in future films. Given that they have said they are not going to recast Chekhov, and that she is now in Starfleet Academy, this could be an organic way of helping the gender balance a bit - they still need to bring back Chapel and Rand as well, mind.

4, Spock calling McCoy "Leonard", and his heartfeltness when he thinks he's going to die. Just... Oh the feels. Karl Urban continues to excel as McCoy, and Zach Quinto's Spock is pretty effing awesome too. I loved McCoy in all his crotchety grumpy glory, and he got to be the wise old bird a lot here, which is a role he fits well.

5, Idris Elba is his usual stunning self both in and out of his face-obscuring make-up.

6, I was one of the many people in the cinema clapping with sheer delight at the Beastie Boys saving the day. And yes, it was a bit of a cheesy thing referring back to the first Abrams film like that, and calling it "classical music", but I don't care. And choreographing the explosions to the music was beautiful, and totally fits with the excuse the plot uses for the music being there.

See this film if:
  • You're a fan of original Trek or Voyager or both, and you want to see Trek on screen actually be what it has always been in your head.
  • You want to see what Spock and McCoy are like together without Kirk as a buffer zone (adorable!).
  • You like the idea of Chekhov's gun being the Beastie Boys.

Don't see this film if:
  • You don't like things going kaboom lots.
  • You like your scifi incredibly cerebral.
  • You can't handle Simon Pegg's "Scots" accent.

Scores: Acting: 8/10 (but 10/10 for Karl Urban), Script: 9/10; Technical 10/10, Feels 10/10. Overall 9/10

If you liked this you should watch: Star Trek II & III & IV as a set, or VI
Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 02:56 pm
Bigwig's first impulse was to fight Woundwort on the spot.

[This post is part of my Watership Down read throughYou are welcome to join in at any time; please read my introduction post first.]

Notice: have Watership Down as today's Daily Deal, for £2.99

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 11:00 am
Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 05:00 am
I'm on vacation! For two whole weeks! I hardly know what to do with myself. But here is a list of things that I would like to at least think about doing:

* sleep
* do some writing, or at least continue working in my writing journal
* spend time with friends
* phonebank for Hillary Clinton because when Michelle Obama says to get to work, I get to work
* take Kit to visit my mother and J's relatives
* maybe start a Patreon-based advice column for writers, if that seems like a thing anyone would be interested in
* read
* meditate
* sleep

Despite the prominence of sleep on this list, it is difficult to keep my sleep schedule intact when I'm not working. I mean, it's hard enough when I am working and even harder when I'm not. But I'm going to do my best. Yesterday I stayed up until 7:30 in the morning, which was a bit excessive, but I think I can drag myself back from that an hour or two at a time.

I wish the weather were at all conducive to going outside and walking around. I just renewed my membership at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens but I can't enjoy it in this oppressive heat, and today's storm was so fierce that even I didn't want to be out in it (though it was lovely to watch from indoors). Maybe next week it will be cool enough for me to take a couple of long walks.

Now that I have Zipcar membership again, it's very tempting to drive somewhere upstate or out on Long Island where there're lots of trees and it's cooler and the air has more oxygen. But if I do something like that I think I'll probably take the train; it's easier on my arms and more eco-friendly even if I do always rent a Prius. I just really like driving. And I'm much more comfortable with it now that I've done the drive back from Readercon. I drove out to New Jersey this past weekend to visit J's grandmother and it was amazingly easy. Anything less than six hours of evening/night driving with the baby in the back of the car feels like a piece of cake.
Monday, July 25th, 2016 04:49 pm
Ezo Bistro, Barking, London IG11

Hello! Our featured article this week is Ezo Bistro, IG11 8TU, a cafe in the concourse of Barking Station. Stations are never usually conducive to good cafes, but RGL feels this one might be an exception. They've made an effort with the decor, and there's a mix-and-match sandwich menu for which you might get bonus spinach side-salad.

Several new articles too! Gurkha's Diner in Balham is a Nepalese restaurant which doesn't go very heavy on the spices (if at all). The Roebuck is a pub in Borough, busy on a Friday as you'd expect. The Blue Eyed Maid is another pub not too far away from that one, on Borough High St, and do Indian food during the day. Finally, Cafe Nomad in Norbury is a halal Mediterranean pizzeria and restaurant.
Monday, July 25th, 2016 11:02 am
Things I Have Learnt in My First Week of Playing Pokémon Go:

  • Popping a Lucky Egg, deploying incense and hanging out by a Pokéstop that's got a lure going is an orgy of Pokémon collecting joy.
  • Likewise, saving up evolvable Pokémon until you've popped a Lucky Egg is an XP explosion of levelling-up delight.
  • The game is not well suited to rural environments. We have a single Pokéstop within a 1 mile radius, and we have to leave the house to get to it. I know, I know the point of the game is to go out walking, but it's quite difficult to do when you have small children that you can't leave alone/asleep in the house and they don't understand this sudden continual urge to amble up and down the canal towpath that their parents have developed.
  • If you can't regularly hit up a Pokéstop for a supply, Pokéballs are a precious resource not to be wasted on annoying, relatively low CP Pokémon that keep jumping out of your Pokéballs. I have a hard limit of 3 Pokéballs per Pokémon.
  • OTOH, living next to a canal means you get a lot of water-based Pokémon. I have caught a lot of Magicarp, which are apparently hard to find in other places. This is good because for some reason it takes 400 Magicarp candy to evolve one of the bloody things, whereas most other low- and mid-level Pokémon only need either 12 or 50. I'm up to 125 [ed: transposed the numbers. It was 152. Now 160] Magicarp candies.
  • I don't know what a Magicarp evolves into, but it'd better be pretty fantastic.
  • Wow, it's a battery-killer. I get a max of one hour of play out of a fully charged battery with the screen brightness turned all the way down and no other applications running. My phone's getting a bit tetchy (it's almost two years old), so that doesn't help, but even the bloke's relatively new phone doesn't last much longer.
  • Hatching an egg is a great way to make yourself get a lot of low-key exercise. The GPS tracking is calibrated so you can't fool it by driving (unless you're going under 10 mph), cycling or even running. You must walk, although I have managed to find a single exception...
  • ...Riding a London bus during commuter hours. Because the buses are travelling pretty slowly and they stop frequently, you can enter the minigame to catch Pokémon and not lose them. You also rack up the mileage (kilometerage?) on your incubating eggs, again because you are traveling slowly.
  • The Tube is not good for playing the game. Despite the stops, even if you're above ground you often lose 4G/3G signal and thus attempts to catch Pokémon end in wasted Pokéballs, which is always a bad thing.
  • I have hatched, evolved or collected 50 out of the currently available 147 Pokémon. If there's an update with more soon I may have to start putting (even more limits) on myself on when I'm allowed to play.
  • Three-year-olds are pretty good at throwing Pokéballs.
  • A good 3/4 of the people I've had passing conversations with in the past week happened explicitly because both the other person and myself were visibly playing the game.
  • I'm level 13+ 14 [ed: after today's lunchtime Pokéwalk] and I still haven't joined a team or visited a gym. You can tell which aspects of the game I like best, no?
  • I haven't had this much fun or been this hooked on a game since...well, since Neko Atsume. :P
Sunday, July 24th, 2016 11:00 am
Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 11:00 am
Friday, July 22nd, 2016 12:22 pm
Trump made a scary speech last night. Today Max Gladstone had some passionate thoughts on not being immobilized by that fear.

This is really, really important. It's JULY. Stop acting like Trump's already won!

I understand being scared. Take a day and feel the fear. Then let it power you into positive action.

Last night a friend asked what I thought they should be doing to prepare for helping people if Trump wins, which I guess meant "should we furnish our attic for the next Anne Frank" or something. I told them that I have the energy to either phonebank for Clinton or become a President Trump prepper, but not both. So I'm going to phonebank for Clinton.

(Is she perfect? No, obviously not. But she's not a dangerous fascist, and Trump is, so Clinton's got my vote and my activism. That seems pretty straightforward to me.)

Also, I refuse to treat fascism as the tipping point for helping those in need. Help the people who are in need now, and who will be that much worse off under a Trump presidency. The institutional equivalent of your furnished attic is your local shelter; perhaps you could give them some time or money. Or donate to the Ali Forney Center; while Trump makes grotesque claims about loving abstract theoretical LGBTQ people, the Ali Forney Center is helping real actual queer kids who've been kicked out by their families. Or fight felony disenfranchisement, which horribly skews the demographics of who can vote. Or support organizations helping Syrian refugees to counter Trump calling them all future terrorists, or tear down his wall before he can put it up by supporting organizations for just and humane border practices on the U.S.-Mexico border. He has so many odious policies and positions that there are a hundred different ways you can push back against them, so pick one that calls to you.

And phonebank for Clinton*--you can do it right now from your home, so throw a phonebanking party or make five quick calls before work every day or whatever suits you--or volunteer locally. Give money and/or time to the Democrats or MoveOn or Avaaz or your preferred organization. As Max says, don't let the fuckers think they already own tomorrow.


and we have four months to win this. That is not a lot of time, but it's enough time as long as we don't pause too long to wallow in despair.

Don't furnish your attic toward an inevitable fascist tomorrow. Fight NOW so that no one needs to hide in an attic ever again.

P.S. Lots of people have been dropped from voter rolls. Check your registration right now. Re-register if you need to. And then register your friends and neighbors and relatives. And then help them get to the polls, or make their postal votes. And bring your kids to the polls with you so they can see democracy in action and learn that when they're old enough voting will be important for them to do. We need all hands on deck, now and in the future--the future that we get to shape.

* You may need to disable ad blockers to get the Clinton phonebank page to work.

Feel free to share the link to this post as widely as you like.
Friday, July 22nd, 2016 01:35 pm
Last night I couldn't sleep because of this nasty throat infection, so I went downstairs to complain to the bloke about it.

He had hooked a Raspberry Pi up to the television and was staring moodily at several open terminal windows.

"Sorry honey," he said. "Want to help me debug my Python code? It'll take your mind off it."
"....Okay," I said.

An hour and a half and some successfully sorted code later, we retired jubilantly to bed.

Where we spent an additional half-hour catching Pokémon and comparing Pokédexes.*

We totally win at romance. But the question is, which of these things is MOST romantic?

Poll #17584 Most romantic
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 44

It is most romantic to XXX in bed, where XXX ==

View Answers

debug Python code
27 (61.4%)

compare Pokédexes
17 (38.6%)

* Both of us have Pokéstops at our workplaces. Mine is the bust of Huxley (Thomas Henry, not Aldous) in the lobby of my building, and his is a plaque out on the quad. London and Birmingham campuses seem to produce favourable conditions for orthogonal sets of Pokémon, so we had much Pokédex envy to express.
Thursday, July 21st, 2016 12:16 pm
I was assigned to be on combat school at Kentwell this year.
In addition to those of us from Edinburgh, we had one new person who was very promising, a returner from previous years who is good and another newbie who also seemed keen, but had small kids and therefore mostly wasn't around.
Combat School is now slowly building up a group of regular pupils among the participants, which is nice - makes it look more appropriate.

On the first day I discovered that the dairy staff were all sick and there was one of the bakers in charge of it, on her own, so I went and helped out there instead. Unfortunately my kit was a bit posh for it.
On the second day the (massively overworked) bakery couldn't spare the baker, so the day started with me and one actually person who was supposed to be in the dairy, but had never done it before. It took until nearly midday for J1 to manage to find somebody who had appropriate kit, was free, and had done it before. I did a quick reminder on what was what and then fled.
... and none of my clothes smell of cheese... which is probably a minor miracle...

Another minor miracle was a dry day for packing up camp.

From there we headed to J2's farm.
We did more sword practice, some archery, and quite a bit of new cookery with different equipment, which worked well.
I'd forgotten the dye pan, and the river was in flood so we didn't get to soak willow to make baskets or build an oven in the river bank.
Also had a day trip to Hexham for a change.
Unfortunately the day we packed up there wasn't dry. It's taken a week and a bit to finish drying everything out back at the flat.
Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 11:00 am
Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 10:44 am
Last time I wrote one of these I observed that I was doing remarkably well despite there being a certain amount of stress in all three of my work, home and romantic life. One way or another that all seems to have resolved itself, which is helpful, as it frees up my processing capacity to deal with the fact that the country has gone insane.

I’ve only got a week left of my current contract, and I’ve wrapped up most of the things I needed to get done and am working on the nice-to-haves. I’m very much looking forward to never having to see my terrible client again. In some ways it seems a bit daft to have stayed on for so long given how grim the environment is, but there’s still a lot I enjoy about the work itself, and I’ve certainly learned a great deal. As per the recent locked posts*, I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking about where I want my career to go in the medium-long term and that’s starting to crystallise in a way that gives me more clarity and options in the shorter term as well. I’ve got an interview tomorrow for another fairly short contract, and applications out for some more senior permanent jobs, and I’m rather looking forward to having a short break in the meantime.

I had fairly major surgery a few weeks ago, and despite that my health is pretty much the best it’s ever been. I’m recovering ridiculously well, and although it’s meant that I’ve had to put the weight-lifting that I’d been getting into on a short hiatus, I’ve been using the time freed up to do more running, and last week managed to knock 39 seconds and 89 seconds off my 5k and 10k personal bests.

We made offers on a few more houses, but none of them worked out, and after the referendum we’re going to leave it a little while to see what happens to house prices, as even though we’re buying a home rather than an investment, it would be a little frustrating to buy now and then realise we could have saved tens of thousands of pounds by waiting.

I feel as though I should say something about the astonishing amount of news at the moment, but I’m not sure I have anything new or insightful to add. I am concerned about Brexit, and the collapse of any viable opposition to the Tories, but in some ways the events in Turkey have made me realise that actually, despite everything, we still have a saner and more democratic government than we have for most of our history and than a great deal of the world does now. I’m more concerned about the risk of President Trump - that does seem like something that could seriously fuck the entire world, but I have no idea what, if anything, I can do about it, so I’m mostly just sticking my head in the sand and thinking about all the malaria nets that I actually can do something about distributing.

*shout if you can’t see them and would like to
Tuesday, July 19th, 2016 11:00 am