Friday, December 26, 2003

Festive joy

Well, yesterday was grey (green if you're looking on the bright side) day, with a couple of deep red roses still in full bloom in the garden. And so mild that if it weren't also so wet, I'd've felt compelled to go out and mow the lawn which still hasn't stopped growing. I did have to haul more leaves out of the pond, and rake others off the lawn today, as well as topping up the bird feeders, and putting out the trash for tomorrow's collection.

As usual, we started the holiday Wednesday evening with a 5 course dinner with college friends - soup, fish, sorbet, traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings (ham, sausages in bacon, cranberry sauce, potatoes, parsnips, broccoli) , and pudding ablaze with brandy - and more in the brandy butter, mints and coffee (but none of the Chablis, Côtes de Rhone or Tokay as I was driving - chiz), which went in leisurely fashion until gone midnight. Then the obligatory visit to the in-laws - which would be better if it didn't involve driving M11, M25, A2 - I dislike motorway driving at the best of times, the M11 is the most boring road on this part of the planet, while the M25 is just nasty, and at dark they're both worse, even with only holiday traffic (while I'm doing a nice fuel efficient just under 60mph, there are flashy motors streaming past at at least 30mph above that); and of necessity again dry.

This year, through the magic of, I'd already put a wish list in place, which could be communicated to those who are not on-line, so there was only one shirt in an extreme plum purple fine grain corduroy (really!), and a couple chocolate bars (not being a chocolate eater) that I had to grin and accept - and the usual festive food basket containing a fair amount of normal plain Indian leaf tea (something I rarely drink - an occasional cup of something spicy and exotic after a cold autumn's session in the garden, perhaps - maybe half a dozen times a year, and even then not much more than scalded in the water, so most of the tannins are left in the leaf), which can be passed on. Now I just have to organise the obligatory visit to my parents, maybe catch up with the brother who may only live a few miles down the road, but whose news I usually catch up with from his website.

It was amusing to note that of the wish-list items, the Revengers Tragedy DVD, Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, and Alastair Reynold's Absolution Gap and the second series of The Water Margin turned up, but no-one contaminated their own accounts with any of the anime or manga items...

Spent today reading Absolution Gap and not doing a lot else (especially, not doing eating, since I'm still waiting to feel hungry again after the last two days). I'd guessed after Redemption Ark that there would be two more volumes in this cycle, not one - and there was indeed a lot of material skipped between the last chapter and the epilogue which finessed the overall ending. Endings are always difficult as the resolution can never be as transformative to the reader as to the characters. In cases like this, where the story has grappled with things that affect the entire human race, and with big events happening on screen, endings that focus down just on a handful of characters and how their parts in the story turn out, where the camera pulls back from the battered, bloody, but unbowed protagonists and fades to black with all the mopping up still left to do, just leave me with a sense of anticlimax.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Did it!

For the first time in years, conditions were opportune for me to take advantage of the fact that the shortest working day fits inside the daylight hours of the almost shortest day, and I cycled in to work.

Setting out just about sun-up, with the crows cawing in the oak tree at the end of the road, it was a milder morning than many in October - T-shirt, with a denim shirt over that, completely un-buttoned, just to provide sleeves. In the overcast early light the various plastic Santas and snowmen looked drab and dispiriting. The snowmen are ironic given quite how mild and wet it was; and the Santas showed that this is indeed the festival of the patron saint of carbonated stimulant beverages.

For the last leg of the journey, along farm track into the side of the still under construction new villages, it was no suprise to find it muddy enough that it was better to walk than clog the wheels up with gritty mud. And no surprise that the pathway had been mucked around with again, and had been re-routed.

But all in all it was marvellous. I really miss the endorphins from the exercise. Roll on mid-March, when the days are long enough again - and the current project has to have completed.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

At the nadir

Only a few hours now from solstice.

It's easy to see why there are mid-winter festivals - a little bit Things can only get better... from times past, Saturnalia and Yule, however later rebadged. And why folk Down Under express a wish for a mid-year festival for their midwinter. And why the suicide rate peaks at this time of year in lands further north yet.

Thursday, the frost was like a dusting of snow, barely below freezing, and bright in the sun; frustration at work gets taken out at the gym - a personal best on the rowing machine of 2 miles (3218m) in 14:41. Friday was milder but duller, and Saturday opened with heavy rain, and the streetlights on a half hour or more after sunrise. Today was brighter, with sun for much of daylight hours, but not many of those - under 7h 45m from rise to set - and the strong wind chill from the North, so raw, even if the air temperature was well above freezing at about 6C. There's a promise of snow in the next day or so.

Saturday, town was very quiet - no problem parking, no crowds when going for brunch, some economic therapy, and a panettone for Thursday's breakfast. Today, going for another workout, more cars in the car-park, and many more people about when I went to top up on cash.

Meanwhile, the festive inanities continue, with self-appointed style gurus on the radio telling us what we should be hanging from our trees this year (apparently tinsel is well out of fashion). Over recent days at work, when I've been considering something along those lines, it would require a much more substantial tree than the usual miniature spruce. And a hempen rope. Unfortunately, improving company productivity by permanently eliminating folk who have demonstrated positively Soviet levels of value subtraction over the last year isn't looked on kindly even under American hire-and-fire employment legislation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

A lifetime of flight

A century on from Kittyhawk, people are still queueing up to do this thing.

My first flights were to and from Glasgow from London - what I was doing when JFK was shot was taking a BEA flight to Heathrow. My next flight was in late '65 as a £10 pom, 48 hour long-haul in a Vickers Viscount (a turbo-prob job), London-Kuwait-Columbo-Singapore-Perth, with the Columbo to Singapore leg going through (it couldn't go over) a tropical storm, with passengers praying in the aisles as we were thrown around, up and down, in the turbulence, the wings flapping, and some of the passengers helping a stewardess hold a mattress over the leaky seal of the rear cabin door.

The next time I flew was in 1985, a business trip to Rome. In the early 90's a number of short-haul flights to Amsterdam (starting with the Worldcon in 1990), and Paris (for transfer to rail and thence cycling holidays until the Eurostar was available - much more comfortable and convenient, and much less chance for luggage to get lost). 1992 Jordan and back to see Petra (and realising that I prefer to be in a developed country even on holiday), 1995 to Melbourn on business, 1996 New Zealand to see relatives, 1999 Dublin on business, 2001 and 2002 business trips to Florida.

I hope I can keep the number of flights down similarly over the next 40 years.

Nearing the turn...

A still, cold morning, temperature averaging -2, some thin strips of mist. If it were like that a week from now, ideal for cycling on the shortest (working) day. But a week from now is long enough for the next weather pattern to change.

Meanwhile, the approaching Solstice is marked by my having to roll the blinds down to elbow height so that I can see what I'm doing on my screen when the sun is out.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Bright today

Only a few shreds of cloud on the eastern horizon. Stars showing as I set off, temperatures just above freezing. The sky lightens to an almost colourless dawn, throwing a cool white light off the buildings and landscape ahead of me. By the time I get to work, stars are not visible; Jupiter needs searching for, near the waning half moon.

For the record

What a weekend - first the Queen goes into hospital to avoid having to knight Mick Jagger; then on Saturday, the unlovely EU Constitution runs into the sand, if not, alas, the rocks. And Sunday, only 15 years late, Saddam is captured.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Decisions, decisions

There was a piece in the news recently about how intelligent animals display signs of indecision. I have to conclude that there are two types of indecision, since our fluffy ginger cat is an archetypal beautiful but thick animal. His bouts of indecision seem to be more a matter of getting from zero alternatives to one, rather than refining two or more down - except when he can't decide which door to come in by and sits outside squeaking his usual pathetamew.

Red sky at dawning...

Getting to work at about 07:40, dawn was like a conflagration, handsbreadth high, of intense red, just shading into orange near the horizon. And the weather forecast is for rain to arrive this a.m. and continue until tomorrow afternoon.

With the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit, evenings stop drawing in about now, but sunrise continues to be later up to the New Year. So we're getting close to the nadir now, but with one measure - the more obvious one to me, getting up in the dark - making things more miserable for a while yet.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Writer's Block

It's amazing what things will cause the juices to flow, and what not. This a.m. I've spent doing end-of-year self-appraisal, which is one of those regular events that really causes the flow of words to dry up. It's not even the sort of thing that can be worked around by cut-and-paste.

On a lighter note, I'm now about 3500 words - about 1/3 the way - into the latest chapter of Castles in the Sky, the words coming in slow fits and starts since the summer. Meanwhile on Sunday last I just dashed off 2500 words of Dirty Pair fanfic in a couple of hours. Ease and merit of writing output don't correlate.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Network junkie

Getting into work today, I discovered that the network linking us to other sites was out, and we had only one ISDN's worth of connectivity to the outside world. It's amazing quite how little work can get done without being on line these days. Even simple things like looking up HTML standards - no-one has them in dead tree form, when there's just a click of a mouse away.

Winter Wonderland

Well, for the first time in ages, it was frosty today, with bright winter sunshine. I hate to think what it would have been like setting out at ~07:30 as usual in the misty grey half-light of a cloudless winter dawn. Going in late, it was still -3C at the coldest; but the air was damp enough that within seconds of scraping the screen clear, it had frosted up again.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Man is the measure

One interesting thing I've noticed over the years is how RPGs tend to work from the author as norm, and what is actually human doesn't always fit. At under 150cm in height, Lee Gold (Alarums and Excursions, Land of the Rising Sun, GURPS: Japan, Lands of Adventure) never finds herself on other peoples' height/weight charts. Neil Taylor, a gamer friend of mine from college days, was surprised to find that he only fitted as a Melnibonean on the original Stormbringer height/weight charts. Ron Wheelhouse, another college friend, had such poor night vision that as well as at times having to help him through dimly lit parts of various Cambridge colleges, I found that I rated somewhere between elf and dwarf in his nightsight tables. And the 100kg normal human from Hero System is more an upper bound than a mean.

And it's not only what makes a human. It's the ecology too. A lot of USAn material assumes USAn ecology, with funny stuff like poison ivy or critters like racoons (but it's not only games - see also the live action 101 Dalmatians for a racoons near London episode), rather than old world bestiaries. Glorantha has shedloads of New World material - pumas, maize, potatoes.

And the climate. OK, the UK does have a fairly anomalous climate, in terms of mild winters at high latitudes (until the North Atlantic Convergence chokes). But I just discovered one that had passed me by. It's about the Wastes, east of Prax in Genertela in Glorantha. Historically, my reading of these has been rather like the Red Center of Australia (or perhaps the Tekla Makan desert of Central Asia), with Prax being like the West Australian acacia scrub.

But the other day I read The Book of Drastic Resolutions : Prax for the first time since burn-out, and looked at the climate descriptions there. The wastes are supposed to have 20" rainfall a year, almost all in the winter half.


I live in East Anglia. It's the grain and sugarbeet arable heart of UK farming. It has an annual rainfall of 18" a year (semi-desert - real desert starts at 12" or below); again mainly in the winter, with summer thunderstorms. That's a whole different take on the Wastes as being mainly just steppeland, south of the snowline.

That's before we consider that the Heortlings (standard skills including snowshoe use) live to the south of the inveterate toga wearers of Dara Happa. IMG, at least, Sartar is more like the Yorkshire Dales in terms of climate - but the cool is due to altitude and being south of the Solar equator, which passes through Dara Happa.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Too busy

All of a sudden, after a couple of years when stuff I've been working on in the pre-product line has always been handed over to other teams for integration and release, my team is currently actually going to go directly to release. This means back-filling all the process documentation while simultaneously shepherding the product through test.

So posting is likely to be light into the new year.

Road Rage

Rain absolutely bucketing down on the way to work this morning, puddles all over the road, showing all the unevennesses of the surface - especially the "tram-lines" worn by the passage of traffic. And still there are drongos who think that it's good conditions for doing 60mph along winding country lanes. I wish they'd all go somewhere else to try killing themselves.