Sunday, October 26, 2003

I never remember...

...quite how bad the effect of changing the clocks from BST to GMT is. As I compose this (as opposed to go online and publish) it's about 16:45, and the sky is dull grey, a little off-apricot in the southwest where the remains of sunset are. It's getting dark and not yet going home from work time. Certainly it's time to need artificial lighting to do anything detailed except close to a window. Ugh!!

All good things...

The final homeward cycle ride of the year started in fine sunny, if brisk, late afternoon sun. A wonderful time to cycle. But by about 3 miles into the journey (just under 6 to go), I'd gotten past the first couple of creases in the land, and had a view down a valley in roughly the direction that home lay - and saw a large grey cloud, trailing virga. Uh-oh!

A couple of miles later, cresting the last rise, I could see much more clearly that the rain was just about over where I judged the village to lie. Time to pour on the coal, blaze down the hill, and through a couple of miles of straggling villages. Crossing the main road, the next good unobstructed view of the scene looked seriously gloomy. No traffic to wait for, speed across the dog-leg junction, and another mile of village, now heading almost directly into the grey. What would have been a fine ride was turning into a race. One last curve, and out into a mile of straight between open fields - and blessed relief! The weather was off to the north of the village, so I could ease up, cycling less desperately along in the low sunshine, my shadow long on the fields towards the rain.

So it stayed dry all the way home, and the rain missed us - but the grey cloud brought premature end to the afternoon; by 17:15, it was time to put the lights on indoors.

Rust never sleeps

Earlier this summer, as I touched up the few stone chips and couple of finger-tip patches of rust by the door-sills of my '92 Corsa, I remarked how corrosion resistant modern cars are - I'd had more rust repair to do on our previous car, 8 years older, when it was only 3 years old. Then late last weekend, for the first time in several weeks (a dry summer has meant less use of this than typical) I lifted the bonnet to check that the wash-bottle was topped up, and something didn't quite feel right as I lifted it.

Yep, one corner, where the double skin ought to have drained through a small hole, enough water must have built up to corrode a couple of square inches of the inner skin, and that was where I'd lifted it, and my fingertips had gone through. So this Saturday, I stood out in the raw north wind with a bucket of warm soapy water, a small file and some pliers, cleaning off the engine grime and getting rid of the corroded through area, and getting just about down close enough to just bare metal around the edges that it was sensible to apply the rust-eating primer. The area affected is a bit too small and awkwardly placed (and shaped!) to use plastic padding and aluminium mesh to repair, especially given that I definitely want the space between the skins to be able to drain, so in the end I let it cure overnight then just sprayed the lot with top-coat to cover the black iron compounds left after the primer has done its thing, and that will have to do.

[Now playing - Radio 4 Six o'clock news]

Friday, October 24, 2003

This too shall pass...

Well, I wasn't sure I would have the weather for it - yesterday the forecast for today was for lots of showers, but the morning forecast has improved - but I have cycled into work for the last full day where I can this year. I could have done on Monday (but for visiting the vet) and Tuesday, but for misleading forecasts; though Weds was wet, and yesterday we had a serious shower about going-home time, while I was in the process of retrieving an old puss.

This time it was 4 miles plus before the sun showed angry and red through cloud on the eastern horizon behind me; there's a lot of cirrostratus and classic mares'-tail cirrus, and only a little blue sky.

When I woke, I thought intellectually that it would be good - having with one thing and another not gotten around to any real exercise so far this week - that I'd feel better for doing so, even if the thought of being out in the cold didn't appeal too much. But with a heavy brushed-cotton shirt over the T-shirt I need for the office (south facing glass wall + low sun = hot in winter), the arms felt a litle surface chill, but no more than that; and by the time I got into my office, I was feeling on the sort of high that reminds me why I like to cycle to work, and that's a joy to rediscover in the spring.

Cool for Cats

Well, Smoke came through the op alright - a couple of bad teeth removed, and a serious de-scaling. And a thyroid reading of 280 on a scale where 15-40 is normal. So it's little orange pills morning and night for a few weeks, so that maybe with the eating like a horse that he does he'll actually put on a little bit of weight, instead of being mainly bone and sinew.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Business Cycles

It's been many months since I last got anyone contacting me as a result of my on-line CV; now two in as many days. Either there are agencies out there desperate for business, or the IT slump is starting to wear off at last.

Autumn thoughts

The sunlight alarm is doing a wonderful job - there is always a moment of tranquil first consciousness in the morning thinking "It must be a beautiful day outside!" before the rest of the process swaps back in, and I realise what it actually means. It does get more difficult to resist the lure of resumed hibernation.

Meanwhile, it is now a beautiful day, and if it weren't that I had to deliver Smoke to the vet for his dental work, it would have been just wonderful to cycle. As it is, I won't even get chance to get a work-out today, as I need to wait by the 'phone to hear a puss's progress if things reveal a need for more work or a disaster happens. Hope I'll have the chance to cycle tomorrow, on the very last full day of the cycling year.

The autumn colours are really at their finest now - the golden leaves are well outnumbering the brown scorched ones from the long dry spell that have been sticking around since August.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

That Darn Cat

Smoke, our oldest cat (14yr 7mo) has always been a big eater; only now he's getting rather skinny, and rather picky in his habits (preferring to have the jelly but not the meatblob) and has started to dribble a lot after eating. So off to the vets last night.

Verdict - needs a bit of dental work, and a blood test to check if his thyroid has kicked into overdrive, which he's going in for on Thursday morning. One earlier cat of similar age that went in for dental work came out of the anaesthetic with kidney trouble, and had to be euthanased soon after, so I'm a bit concerned about our old thug-lump.

OTOH, another went in for dental work at that sort of age at the same time as a young cat went in to be spayed. The older one was checked over, and we were told that she had a heart murmur and might not survive the op. As it was, the old lady came out feisty as ever, and survived until nigh on 17 years old, whereas the young (pedigree Burmese) cat took several weeks and a return for hospitalisation before she recovered.

Night & Day

By 18:45 last night there was barely enough light to navigate down to the bottom of the garden. Next week, with the clocks going, that'll be soon after half past five. It's at this time of the year that I'd really like to be able to seamlessly relocate somewhere like New Zealand for six months.

And this morning, driving in, the car thermometer gave air temperatures just below freezing most of the way, under greyish skies with high clouds.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Harvest Home

Brought in the last of the apples from the tree (a Charles Ross) yesterday, so they're currently all arrayed over the dining table and part of the kitchen breakfast bar. That's it until the broccoli starts doing its thing next spring. The plums finished six weeks ago or more, at the end of August, and the Bramleys came in shortly thereafter.


At the weekend, I decided that some of my old pairs of underpants were probably past their "best before", so did like most blokes of my age have become accustomed to do - went into Marks & Spencer intending to pick up a pack or two of y-fronts, like what I've worn ever since I stopped wearing nappies.

But no longer was I under the protection of St. Michael, patron saint of sensible underwear! Discarding boxers [which seem to have for no explicable reason undergone a revival - as far as I'm concerned, they're something only old geezers like my dad's generation would wear], trying to find something that sat in the old y-front/jockeys niche was a struggle. Most of the offerings were either things looking like cut-off thermal long-johns, or posing pouches. I still haven't dared try the ones I bought on - things they called "slips", though as far as I'm concerned, a slip is a satiny skirt-like thing a girlie wears under her dress.

Has the world gone mad?

Twenty Five Years On

Autumn 1978 was quite busy for me - and the 18th was most important in my life. I decided to scrounge some coffee in the hour's gap between to lectures and suddenly a thunderbolt struck. Unwitting, I'd met the love of my life, and we're still here together today, despite much in the way of trials and tribulations. And the fact that it all happened, so far as I can tell, with pheromones going directly to our respective hind-brains, my complete lack of dating skills didn't matter (any more than it did when a certain other young lady decided to add a notch to her bedpost a couple of weeks previously, an event which made the Hawklords track The Only Ones off the Twenty Five Years On album significant to me).

To mark a silver "unniversary" we took a bunch of friends out to dinner, with enough diversity but enough overlap (most were gamers, most were in software, most had cats, most were people we'd known as students - but the mosts weren't the same in each case) that conversation could range free and wide. It was a wonderful evening.

Alas age shows, in that although only 4 bottles of wine were consumed amongst 10 of us (ok, 6 drinkers and 4 drivers), and the after-dinner coffee back at our place ended not that long after 00:30, I felt pretty wrecked the next day.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Season's End

Yesterday I commented about my ride to work; by the time I was getting back home, the low chalk ridgeline southwest of the village was already rising to obscure the sun - I'd been out all the daylight hours. Soon it'll be back to the season where I leave the house in the dark, and get home again in the dark; time to break out the SAD-hat for light therapy.

This morning was much the same as yesterday, only more frost/heavy dew making the fields all grey-white for the first mile; and less mist, though one tendril did cross the road at one point.

Next week is forecast to be colder, and there's mention of snow in the north - so I expect we'll see rain down here, which may mean that today will have been the last cycling to work day of the year, unless the weather is crisp like this on 24th December, when it is traditional to go home at lunchtime.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

More Gloranthan musings

If Kallyr Starbrow exists in any campaign I run, I think she will have to be an follower of Rigsdal One-Eye-Open, not that funny foreign Polaris chap.

Season of mists...

First real frost this morning, greying the grass at the far side of the front lawn, and covering the windows of the car on the drive - though a quick wipe with the hand showed that it was as much dew as frost, clearly hovering in that latent heat gap at 0C.

As I left the village, Urth was just turning its face to the day, the houses just dropping from the face of the sun, and the mist starting to rise again from the fields. Climbing the first rise, where just a couple of weeks ago I would see the sun blaze back at me from around where my shadow fell on the white line at the roadside, with its reflective micro-beadings, the land was still all in shadow. There was frost on the verges all the way, though the forecast had suggested that the wind would keep temperatures up overnight.

As it was, it was a simply wonderful crisp morning to cycle in.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

A revelation

Thinking further about the Ehilm/Elmal thing. I just figured where Elmal is - it's the Orlanthi name for the Buserian Lightfore or Praxian Sun Daughter. The night-watchman, who patrols the skies while the Sun is absent.

MGDV as one might say.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

A dragon wing of string and sticks

A while back, I lamented a lack of possible takers for a HeroQuest campaign. Mentioning this to Peter and Janet, when I saw them the other day, for the first time after the rebuff from local players, they expressed a qualified interest, but in the face of a different problem to the one I had considered. Not that the kids would be up and demanding of attention, but that it would be likely that Lizzie, the elder of the two, would want to join in (having demanded to be let play, and having played a little bit of D&D 3e already).

Certainly when she puts her mind to it, as a bright 10 year old girl, she can be surprisingly grown up in the way she acts, especially when she is wanting to associate with the grown-ups, rather than stepping down to the level of her little brother.

It strikes me therefore as something that might offer an intriguing possibility. If I were to run a fairly standard Sartar/Heortling based campaign, where we now have a lot of data about the people and the society, playing up the culture game aspects, it would be possible to do things like turning the character generation into a story-telling/role-playing hybrid, talking her through the childhood and initiation/coming-of-age of her character. It would be an opportunity to tell the tales of the people, in a form that children might be told them, and let her make the decisions for her character in a role-played manner.

It would be work for me - I'd need to do the job pretty damn well - and it might just bore her to tears, but wouldn't it be something if we could pull it off!

[Now playing - Labradford E Luxo So]

The Seasons Turn

Bright, calm morning, and a brisk cycle to work, setting off a little before sunrise, and keeping a good pace in the cool. Maybe another couple of times to go this year. The waning gibbous moon was high in the northwest, in the place where the summer sun rides; and in one stretch, there was a layer of mist a few feet thick, a few feet off the ground, sitting on the fields, like ariver in the little valleys between the rolling uplands.

[Now playing - Labradford E Luxo So]

Long in the tooth

Well, actually yesterday would have been a cycling day , weather-wise but I had to go to the dentist to have a check-up, which would have taken rather a long time under my own power. Fortunately, I got a clean(-ish) bill of health. There is one filling that's got a polished wear spot on, and a tooth nearby is sensitive to cold (checking this involved putting a little swab soaked in some alcohol/menthol stuff on the tooth and watching me in agony) - all of which I blame on certain of my colleagues driving me to impotent grinding of my teeth.

Some discussion of a confusion over patient records - someone suddenly seemed to have acquired a perfect set of teeth. Short of a rebuild, this would suggest having not been subject to NHS dentistry on piecework rates during the 1970s, which got me a couple of new fillings every six months from a guy who displayed his rugby blue more prominently than his dental certificates.

Perhaps I'm a bit obsessive about teeth as a result - it has certainly shown up in my recent fiction.

[Now playing - Labradford E Luxo So]

Friday, October 10, 2003

Such Aladdin's Caves of Air...

Here are the answers to yesterday's questions. Most of these could have been googled - though the last one in the classical section is one where you would have had to know the answer in broad before that would have helped, and this page is now the only place that would help on the final question.

Classical (Before the fall of Constantinople)

  1. Q. Dante and Aeneas are linked by a person and a place. Who? And where?

    A. Virgil, and the Underworld

    The poems referenced are Virgil's Aeneid, book VI, in which Aeneas visits the underworld whilst yet embodied; and Dante's Divine Comedy, in which Dante, still embodied, is led through a descent into Hell and the ascent of Mt. Purgatory by the shade of Virgil. As a theological note, the function of the pagan underworld of the Aeneid is more akin to that of Mt. Purgatory, though its location matches that of Dante's Hell.

  2. Q. Who was the Golden Ass?

    A. Lucius

    The poem is The Metamorphoses, by Lucius Apuleius, a work more commonly known as the Golden Ass. The viewpoint character, also called Lucius, is transformed into the eponymous beast.

  3. Q. "Mind must be the firmer, heart the more fierce, courage the greater, as our strength diminishes..." Who died, and his body later buried at Ely?

    A. Byrhtnoð

    The poem is The Battle of Maldon or Byrhtnoð's Death - date and author unknown.

    The words

    "Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað.... "

    are spoken by Byrhtnoð's old comrade Byrhtwold over Byrhtnoð's body, as the Danes under Sweyn Forkbeard, son of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark [yes, that Bluetooth] are closing in on the last of the English. After the battle the Danes probably carried off Byrhtnoð's head as a battle trophy, but his body was recovered by the monks of Ely and buried there - there's a carven stone there in the cathedral today that reads

    Brithnothus Northumbrior Dux, Prælio Cæsus a Danis A.D. DCCCCXCI
  4. Q. Where in the Divine Comedy does Dante explain that surface brightness of an extended source is unvarying with distance?

    A. The Moon

    The reference within the poem is to Paradiso, Canto II:46. In this canto, a number of hypotheses as to the mottled appearance of what ought be a perfect - as being heavenly - body are discussed. Dante refutes the suggestion that the darker areas are simply further away by referring to an experiment with a candle and three mirrors, the middle one set back from the other two.

Tudor to Victorian

  1. Q. "Thou art more lovely and more temperate" than what?

    A. A summer's day

    The poem - Shakespeare, Sonnet XVIII

    "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:"
  2. Q. If the Lamb is Innocence, what beast is Experience?

    A. The Tyger

    The poems are Blake's - the Lamb, in Songs of Innocence, and the Tyger, in Songs of Experience.

  3. Q.

    "There was a naughty boy
    And a naughty boy was he,
    For nothing would he do
    But scribble poetry"

    - Whose self-assessment?

    A. John Keats, the poem being his A Song about Myself.

  4. Q. Who was the Red Cross Knight, and where did King Arthur meet him?

    A. The knight referred to almost exclusively as Red Cross is George, who later in the poem goes on to slay a dragon and hear the prediction that he will become patron saint of England; they met in the dungeons of the castle of Duessa, where Arthur rescues him from captivity.

    The poem is Spenser, The Faerie Queene, the meeting in Bk I, Canto VIII

    There are a lot of red-cross knights out there - Galahad (though I don't know of a poem), Hugo, son of Sir Uwaine, (Sir Uwaine's daughter by Thomas de Berverley (George Newcomen) - which dated 1925 is out of period), the Red Cross Knight by Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) - his poem of which I have no further detail, but is out of period, and Sir Lancelot (Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott) a poem from which Arthur himself is absent - but the epithet is only applied occasionally (once per poem) to those knights in the texts I do know.

Modern (20th century)

  1. Q. What is done in Madingley on Christmas Eve?


    "And things are done you'd not believe
    At Madingley, on Christmas Eve."

    - Rupert Brooke, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.

    This is from the middle section of the poem in which he libels most of the villages and towns in south and west Cambridgeshire

  2. Q. If "London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down" by the end, what is cruel at the start?

    A. April - "the cruelest month"

    - T.S. Eliot, the Waste Land.

  3. Q. Who tells you "That's the way things are."

    A. Your father

    The poem is from Roger McGough, The way things are, and has the refrain

    "I'm your father, and that's the way things are."
  4. Q. If one invented a cure for the common cold, what other cure would be required?

    A. Another cure for complacency

    The poem is by the late Robert Calvert, The Recovery, and celebrates the return of the sense of smell after a filthy cold. This was a deliberately recherché question. The poem appeared in his 1978 collection, sold as merchandise on the Hawklords 1978 tour, Centigrade 232, and can be heard under the final section of the track Psi Power from the Twenty Five Years On album, from which, at time of writing, we are a few days over 25 years on from. (Doesn't time fly when you're having fun!)

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Oh, for a Muse of Fire...

Today is National Poetry Day, and as I won the it last year, I'm having to set a little quiz on poetry for the guys at the office; and I'm posting it here for the hell of it. As the theme is Britain, almost all of the questions are on the works of poets writing in this country, the exceptions being some of the Classical section. To make up for that, a couple of the questions relate to very local events indeed.

Ten fairly straightforward questions, and a couple of obscure ones to stretch you, and bring the count up to a round dozen in three sets of four.

Answers tomorrow.

Classical (Before the fall of Constantinople)

  1. Dante and Aeneas are linked by a person and a place. Who? And where?
  2. Who was the Golden Ass?
  3. "Mind must be the firmer, heart the more fierce, courage the greater, as our strength diminishes..." Who died, and his body later buried at Ely?
  4. Where in the Divine Comedy does Dante explain that surface brightness of an extended source is unvarying with distance?

Tudor to Victorian

  1. "Thou art more lovely and more temperate" than what?
  2. If the Lamb is Innocence, what beast is Experience?
  3.     "There was a naughty boy
         And a naughty boy was he,
         For nothing would he do
         But scribble poetry"
    - Whose self-assessment?
  4. Who was the Red Cross Knight, and where did King Arthur meet him?

Modern (20th century)

  1. What is done in Madingley on Christmas Eve?
  2. If "London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down" by the end, what is cruel at the start?
  3. Who tells you "That's the way things are."
  4. If one invented a cure for the common cold, what other cure would be required?

Acid flashback, man!

Caught a real nostalgic gig at the local Corn Exchange last night - Keith Emerson & the Nice, on the first date of their new tour. Yep, you read that right. c1970 keyboard rock rides again, down to the smoke machine, psychedelic light show and honest-to-God Moog Synthesizer, festooned with patch cables!

The first part of the set had the old hands, plus a young guitarist, doing old Nice numbers, then the old guys were substituted by a younger bassist and drumer to play a selection of ELP tracks, then absolutely everybody on stage for the finale and encore.

The down-side was that the voice mixing was mushy - could hardly make out a word anyone said or sang; and while the box we were in had the best view of the stage, it seemed also to be filled with the biggest prats in the audience, fooling around, throwing paper darts, and bootlegging, rather than just sitting back and letting the music wash over (or through) them like the folk in the body of the hall.

Certainly one of the loudest gigs I've been to for a long time, with the ears still noticing it a bit this morning - albeit nowhere near as loud as Motörhead were on the Bomber tour 25 years ago, where I was in the mosh-equivalent with the press of the crowd forcing me against the side of the speaker stack.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Wind and weather

Only two more weeks after this before daylight saving ends, and it gets dark at 17:00; 12 working days. And in the last 12 only one day of cycling as we get rain - and now strong winds, fragments of equinoctial gales, as well. The most annoying thing about the office having moved out of town - and 10 miles from home not six - is that on the days in spring and autumn where it starts wet and ends bright and sunny, I can't fall back to my old strategy of catching the bus in and walking home :( - yesterday's weather was like that, with showers in the morning, but bright autumnal sunshine in the afternoon (blinds down to keep it off my screen), albeit breezy, that would have been gorgeous to walk home in from town, with a stop for a pint at the half-way point.

Conan the Republican

It was back in '91 that a Shadowrun supplement had a throwaway about one Senator Schwarzenegger. Being born outside the US, that really is the only possible next destination for the new Gubernator.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Not Dead Yet

Another one of those weeks where miracles need to be performed on a daily basis at work, and then just too much to do in the way of hobby activities. On one strand I've been upgrading my network-facing machine at home from one I got 4 years ago to a more recent second-hand machine, which means a ton of stuff to do in the way of hardening it (not helped when Norton AV LiveUpdate doesn't play nicely with WinXP). Still to come are setting it up with all the external network stuff, installing all the hardware and software from the old box, swapping the network around, and decommissioning the old one.

Then, in the time I'd normally spend blogging, I've been advising my friends at Mhorann Games on the web-site they've put together. At the moment it looks slightly better than a "My First Website" - and at least there are no broken links now - but the table driven layout has its problems. If I were doing it myself, I'd be using .pngs with transparency for the banner and the buttons, and CSS layout, for reasons explained on sites like A List Apart. [That piece was written over 30 months ago. There's no reason to be molly-coddling old browers in Q4'03!]


The Norton LiveUpdate issue turned out to be a proxy problem of some sort - at time of writing, both XP machines were going out through a copy of the Privoxy proxy server. Moving the new one to have the modem, LU seems to work OK. Although the modem seems to need to be on at boot time for XP to notice it's there. My older XP box has the same problem with my Visor in its synch cradle - have to see if the new one is better behaved. At least having an industrial strength OS kernel, however wrapped in consumer glitz and entry-level limitations, the frequent blue screens seen with the Mailwasher spam-filter on Win98.2 are a thing of the past.