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Sometimes it's alien seed pods

Feb. 25th, 2012 | 09:32 am

I was quite tired last night, so possibly not quite at my sharpest when I stood by the sink to clean my teeth. There was a slight sound from the sink, hard to identify, a bit like a pop.

I looked down and saw... well, it had to be an alien seed pod, growing from the inside of the sink. The root was irregularly shaped, like a little mound, the base of which spread out as though to  cover a wide area to hold on as best it could, but the whole root was indistinct because of the creamy gelatinous substance covering it, as though it constantly exuded some kind of noxious gel to deter animals. The pod itself was brownish and wrinkled, and oval-shaped, with one tip of the oval emerging from the root, and the other slightly pointed and facing upwards, towards me, as though seeking my life-force.

Those were my first thoughts, all at once, as I glanced down at it. A seed-pod that had drifted from Yag the Accursed Planet, deep in the Outer Dark, and floated through the black night to land, somehow, in my sink. If left alive it would grow and eventually possess all of us in its vampirically vegetable thrall. Yet could I even fight it, now, without danger to myself, even with it being so small?

My next thoughts were that one of the almonds I'd been eating earlier must have fallen into my clothing, and dropped out when I removed my top to clean my teeth, and landed in a small puddle of toothpaste that a previous sink-user had dropped and not cleaned up. Whew.

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Dolphin style mon

Jul. 7th, 2011 | 04:50 am

...you'd have 8 hours out of 24 with your brain fully awake, 8 hours with only the right hemisphere awake, and 8 hours with only the left hemisphere awake. Not only will this let you spend 12 waking (ish) hours with each partner, you can also tailor the shifts perfectly so as to get the most apposite brain half to hang out with each partner. If you're a chap, then your -- let's be technical and call it your hippy hemisphere -- your yoghurt-weaving, basket-dying, tie-smoking brain meats half can spend its waking hours jus' chillin' with your manic pixie dream girl, and your, I suppose, scientist math-hemisphere can spend its waking hours with your xkcd-reading implausibly bespectacled nerdy hipster geekette, playing D&D and alphabetising your SF collection. It will be perfect...

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Input: Zelda LRP for kids

Jun. 10th, 2011 | 10:00 pm

Kyle's 11th birthday celebration is happening tomorrow. I have around 16 hours to design a Zelda-themed LRP adventure (and, I suppose, game system) for him and his 6 or so friends. Crew is around 3-5 adults (don't know precisely how many yet).


Er, that is, I know little about Zelda. But lots about LRP! Surely it will even out?

Plan at the mo is:

Simple global hits system
You play either:

Warrior (6 hits, or 7 if you have armour; sword and shield, or 2 swords)
Ranger (5 hits; staff, or spear, or bow, plus sword; woodland lore skills)
Wizard (4 hits; sword; healing potion; 3 spells a day taken from charm, firebolt, or trip; magic lore skills)

Everyone is back up to full hits after every fight.

8-10 classic linear encounters, featuring

Bulblins (Orc-like, just fighters probably)
Gerudo (bandit women, vaguely Bedouin-style)
Zora (mermaid-like -- probably a helpful, talky encounter)
Armos (living statue/armour -- probably guards set up by an evil sorcerer)
Stalfos (skeletons -- again probably guards)

Any suggestions from Zelda fans as to the main antagonist (I'm thinking, from the wiki, that Onox or Vaati might be good)?

Other thoughts?

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Yesterday's Doctor Who (spoilery)

May. 15th, 2011 | 10:34 am

Read more...Collapse )

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That 15 characters game thing

May. 8th, 2011 | 11:35 pm

Here's the answers to that entry ( http://serpentstar.livejournal.com/320973.html ), since it seems to have died:

1) The Brain, of Pinky And The Brain (Guessed by Fox)
2) Solomon Kane (Guessed by mytholder)
3) Aeryn Sun (Guessed by Fox)
4) Omar (The Wire) (Guessed by oxfordgirl)
5) Medb (Slaine) (not guessed)
6) Gemma (Sons of Anarchy) (not guessed)
7) Zoe (Doctor Who) (not guessed)
8) Violent Marv (Sin City) (not guessed)
9) Druss the Legend (not guessed)
10) Capt. Jack Sparrow (Guessed by Fox)
11) Belit (Guessed by mytholder)
12) Flashman (Guessed by oxfordgirl)
13) Jirel of Joiry (not guessed)
14) Elizabeth (Pride & Prejudice / Pride & Prejudice & Zombies / Lost in Austen) (not guessed)
15) Severian (Guessed by oxfordgirl)

Fox and oxfordgirl are joint winners (3 each) with mytholder coming in 3rd place (2). Sorry if the others were too tricky. Geek harder next time please.

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Bodyhacking update (already posted to Fbook around 3pm)

May. 4th, 2011 | 07:57 pm

As I tuck in to a brunch of Viana smoked tofu (the tastiest straight-from-the-packet tofu -- best bet if you want tofu but don't have a really good and dedicated veggie cook handy) and mixed beansprouts, first food after an 18-hour fast, fresh from my afternoon nap (brief today, because I was hungry and had just unpacked a load of food from Suma, and probably dreaming of trying the Montezuma's spicy dark chocolate I just put in the cupboard), pondering when I need more caffeine (last cup of coffee, midday-ish; topped up caffeine levels with green tea an hour or so back, but coffee has a 3.5h half-life so I may need actual coffee soon, and there was some in that delivery)... I thought I'd just mention the current state of my bodyhacks:


Churchill-style biphasic sleep is absolutely sustainable, and I'm feeling better on it than any other style of sleep. Sleep 5-6 hours a night, plus a nap of up to 2 hours in the afternoon, *every* afternoon; but don't use alarm clocks. Advantages: (1) Less sleep needed than other methods, so productivity increases. (2) No afternoon slump in awareness and concentration due to tiredness; when it starts to hit, I just go for my nap. (3) Adaptable -- if I do a lot of working out, I end up with close to 8h a night, total, but when not working out so much, it's more like 6, with no particular adaptation period required (thanks largely to the "no alarm clock" thing). (4) Suits my body clock, which in sleep research terms is owl-like, i.e. I like to stay up late at night. (5) Also suits the ability to interact with others at normal human hours, as I wake up early too (typically sleeping from around 2am to 7am, +/- 1 hour on each time). (5) If I do a late morning or early afternoon workout, I can get some sleep soon after, letting my body repair itself very soon after working out, leading to much-reduced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. There are 2 slight disadvantages so far: (1) I really need that afternoon nap, now, and very much notice if I don't get it, because I actually feel tired again for the first time in weeks. (2) Haven't precisely settled into a food routine that maps on to the sleep routine, yet, but sticking with Zone diet principles works fine with it overall.


Food -- still sticking pretty well to the Zone diet, around 3 years since starting it. I eat a fair bit more healthy fat (olives, nuts, etc.) than the weight-loss version of the Zone, so closer to Athlete Zone than anything else, moving towards a more strict Zone diet for a few weeks if I start to notice my stomach getting rounder than I want it to be. This is the case right now, largely due to that enforced time off exercise due to back/neck probs a month or so back. No worries -- will be suitably buff again by Odyssey. Still aiming for a high dose of dietary Omega-3, and a relatively low intake of Omega-6, for brain and heart health. (I know some of you Goldacre fans will scoff, but I think you and he are both wrong.)


Fasting -- still intermittently fasting (maybe about once every 10 days, for 14-20 hours). This is for long-term health reasons -- there's some evidence that intermittent fasting has some of the same life-extension benefits as longer-term calorific restriction, so I'll stick with it.


Drink -- caffeine is most effective when topped up hourly in small doses, but does fade gradually. I avoid high doses of it in the evenings, but otherwise it's coffee first thing, green tea with gingko an hour or so later, white tea with pomegranate an hour later, more coffee, green tea with mixed antioxidant berries & leaves, more white tea, more coffee... seems to work pretty well, for a fairly constant low-level potentiation of ionotropic responses and stimulation of the central vagus, you know. ;) And, yes, I'm sufficiently convinced of the probable health benefits, and lack of risk, of around 4-5 cups of green and white tea per day, to think 'em worthwhile. If nothing else, they're a great low-dose caffeine top-up.


Chairs -- avoiding them pretty well! I've moved my standard laptop position from sofa to spare bed, on the mezzanine, which is lovely and light, too. Once the lappy is fully charged, I take it downstairs and work standing, at a high table, till it runs out of charge. If I'm waiting for a web page to load or bit of software to fire up, I do a few squats in front of the screen.


Exercise -- dammit, 2 bank hols in a row meant no judo... I am well enough now that I could and should be working out again, but desperately short of time.  :(  Trying to squeeze in short, intense workouts, anyway.

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That contest

Mar. 3rd, 2011 | 09:14 am

Previous entry -- shall I just tell you all the missing answers, or would you like to ask more questions, or shall I give you some clues and you can guess again, or what?

Copy of _Cloud Atlas_ to the person(s) who get(s) most right, posted at my expense.  ;)

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(no subject)

Feb. 12th, 2011 | 12:15 pm

mejoff has been doing one of these on his LJ, and I love it -- sort of somewhere between a very geeky 20 questions and freeform roleplaying game. So, here's mine (his is still ongoing, though, and I can certainly recommend adding to the discussion there too).

The Fifteen Character Meme. It goes like this:
1. I make a list of 15 fictional characters.
2. You post questions about entertaining situations they might get into (such as "6 and 7 walk into a pub. What do they order and where do they sit?" or "How do 4, 7 and 15 cope with a zombie apocalypse?").
3. I answer the questions.
4. You try to guess who the 15 characters are.
5. I update this post with a list of the ones you've guessed.

All right? Then let's play.

Correct guesses:
1) The Brain
2) Solomon Kane
3) Aeryn Sun
4) Omar
10) Jack Sparrow
11) Belit
12) Flashman
15) Severian

Bonus Clues: The era each character typically inhabits --
5) Estimates vary between around 10,000BC and 500BC. I'm inclined to go with 10,000 BC, for reasons of ice ages and land bridges. I have a feeling she has some capability to travel through time, though.
6) Early 21st century.
7) Early 21st century, originally, though she hooked up with time travellers for a while... and the early 21st century she inhabited was not quite our own, though it was intended to be our world by those who invented the character.
8) Late 20th century; again, though, this is not *quite* our world, since the city this character supposedly occupies is fictional; other than that detail the setting closely resembles the real Earth.
9) More-or-less a medieval setting, but very definitely not on Earth.
13) Medieval setting, supposedly on our Earth, but again the specific region it takes place in is fictional. This character has also been propelled to other worlds and times, though that is rare.
14) Born in the late 18th century; nothing much exciting happened to her till the early 19th though. Some fiction in some medium has her in the 21st.

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First blog post at SKG

Feb. 9th, 2011 | 11:12 pm

I will probably be doing more game-related bloggery there, at least for a while, rather than here. Depending on how much my cohorts Jon and Gar let me stray from Dragon Warriors, you may get to read stuff on general and specific game design, how much other RPGs suck, miniatures wargaming, and LRP. Or not.

Here's the first post there from me, looking back 26 years to when I first bought a Dragon Warriors book:


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Press Release: Serpent King Games is new home for the Dragon Warriors RPG

Feb. 7th, 2011 | 11:47 pm

Press Release


Serpent King Games is new home for the Dragon Warriors RPG


1st February 2011, United Kingdom


Dragon Warriors, the classic 1980s dark-fantasy RPG recently re-released by Magnum Opus Press, is moving to new British publishing company Serpent King Games.


From 1st April the game will no longer be available from Magnum Opus, which had published Dragon Warriors through Mongoose Publishing’s Flaming Cobra imprint.


Serpent King Games will keep the existing Dragon Warriors books available, and will publish new supplements for the game. The first new release will be the Dragon Warriors Players Book, in July 2011, with another two releases planned for the first year.

Serpent King Games is industry veterans Gareth Hanrahan (former Mongoose Publishing writer and lead designer on the new edition of Traveller and the Laundry RPG), Jon Hodgson (
art director at Cubicle 7 and cover artist for Dragon Warriors), and Ian Sturrock (ex-Mongoose writer responsible for the Conan and Slaine RPGs, but who also worked on most of the recent Dragon Warriors books).


"I’ve worked with everybody at Serpent King over the last ten years, and they are fiercely talented," said James Wallis, director of Magnum Opus Press. "Dragon Warriors and the Lands of Legend are in the hands of amazing people who are going to take it in some very exciting directions."

Dragon Warriors is SKG's first project, but more great games are in the works. Check out
www.serpentking.com for regular updates.


All rights in Dragon Warriors are the property of Fabled Lands LLP, and are used with permission by Serpent King Games Ltd.


For more information, contact info@serpentking.com

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Quick update

Jan. 11th, 2011 | 11:07 pm

Back to lecturing after the Xmas break. I have a fairly easy week on that score this week -- I'm largely going to recycle the World Design lecture material I wrote for UCLAN. In theory the game design students should be gearing up to have the first playable iterations of their games ready for coding, anyway, so I will probably spend a fair bit of time just assisting with any problem areas they may have spotted already.

I'm quite busy with a medium-sized RPG adventure, with a deadline of this Friday, so will probably not be checking LJ again this week. It's the sequel to Little Girl Lost, the William Blake-inspired adventure I wrote for Pelgrane Press's excellent The Esoterrorists RPG. I find the setting a lot of fun (sort of X-Files meets CSI, with a distinctly darker tone than either, and more consistency in the opposition, too); it lets me use a lot of real-world research & knowledge, so the first instalment had eco-activists, pagans, druids, Manchester hippies, occultists, and all the rest of the cast of characters from my not-so-troubled-but-huge-fun youth. The concluding part will be apocalyptic, and then post-apocalyptic, in nature: Fimbulvetr grips the land!

I just reviewed Cubicle Seven's release of the also superb De Profundis RPG, here, for Strange Things Are Happening. With a bit of luck, that should turn into a regular gig. Any game publishers or studios wanting to send me review copies of tabletop or video games that are suitable for Strange Things Are Happening should drop me a line (sturrock at gmail dot com) for my postal address. It needs to be material that's in keeping with that website, i.e. horror games of pretty much any type, or schlocky, trashy, pulpy, mondo craziness of any kind. At the moment, I'm not really up for reviewing PDF copies of games -- I spend enough time staring at a computer screen as it is.

And... it looks like the Tekumel d20 RPG, which I wrote nearly a decade ago for the now-defunct Guardians of Order, might finally see publication. More news as I have it, but I believe a short run of playest copies is being produced imminently.

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London on foot

Dec. 9th, 2010 | 12:29 am

In the early 90s, when I ran an occult bookshop, I had a friend called Steve, aka Crystal Steve, who ran one of those Gaia-despoiling crystal shops, as well as selling jewellery.

Although Steve never got back to me about the £40 ring he sold me, that I returned to him for repair, I figure it was worth the lost £40, because he did give me two great tips, long before anyone else did:

1) Massive Attack: Protection, which I first heard in his shop, and heard again and again whenever I went into his shop for a week or two, and then heard most days in my home for the next year or so, sometimes more than once.

2) If you're in London and have a bit of time, walk around the place instead of getting the Tube. It doesn't take all that much longer, and it's a lot more fun.

So often, since then, if I was in London, it was for work, and at least somewhat urgent, or it was late at night, and at least somewhat scary. Last couple of times, though, I've done the walking thing, and he was so right.

This morning -- I got the overground train to London Bridge from where I'd been staying just outside London itself, then walked to Borough Market to pick up some amazing-looking charcuterie and sausages and anchovies from some of the organic free range delis and butchers there. (Naturally, since the weather outside has been at fridge temperatures all day, I figured I'd be OK to just keep it in my rucksack). When I first looked at the map, it seemed that Euston, where I had to go to get my train home, was way too far... till I really started looking at optimal routes, and realised that not only was it at most an hour or so's walk away, but that the optimal route went right past the Globe Theatre, *and* the Tate Modern gallery, *and* over the Millenium footbridge, *and* right through all the Gormenghastian baroque craziness of the Temple area, where the barristers have their weird secret society things... and that there didn't seem to be many busy roads en route either.

Cue another hour or so in the gallery, looking at the Poetry and Dream wing, which is a seriously good surrealist exhibition. Lots of great pieces there -- my favourite was Lightning With Stag In Its Glare:

Funniest moment came just outside the gallery, on the bridge. A woman, gazing intently at the tiny map on her iPhone, stopped me and asked me if I knew where the Tate Modern was. Had she paused to look directly ahead of her at the titanic edifice a few paces in front of her, which had the words "TATE MODERN" written in letters taller than her, she might not have needed to ask. Technology, eh...

Anyway. It was a lovely walk. If you're in London and have a bit of time, walk around the place instead of getting the Tube. And, I'm really not kidding about the sunscreen every day thing.

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Dec. 5th, 2010 | 12:09 pm

Repeat of the workout (and warmup) as of 30 October:


As many reps as possible of 1-hand 1-pood kettlebell swings, changing hands as necessary, in 4 minutes: 127. Big improvement on 90 (30 Oct). Still plenty of room for improvement. I've been doing more lifting and met-con stuff this last month or so, and logging it sometimes, but mostly on Fbook rather than here (lazy, lazy, even at updating).

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(no subject)

Nov. 2nd, 2010 | 01:03 am

I finally made a fish recipe Kyle will eat! Been trying to get him to eat oily fish for ages.

So --

Ian's Japanese-inspired Marinaded Tuna

(mostly 'cos Kyle is obsessed with Japan and Samurai right now)

Take some tuna steaks
Make a marinade of some olive oil, some Tamari sauce, some honey or Agave syrup, fresh herbs (I used chives because I have been growing some quite successfully in the garden wall, but I expect other stuff would work too), fresh black pepper, crumbled dried red chillis, diced garlic, and diced ginger (a little more spice than you would use if concerned that fish has a "delicate" flavour).
Marinade tuna steaks for 2 hours
(or, if you are American, you need a... Salamander, I believe!)

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The Muties Song

Oct. 24th, 2010 | 02:55 pm

We have no car stereo, as of Friday, due to the mechanics switching the battery off when they installed the new clutch (the old clutch was worn down to the rivets, which were themselves worn down), meaning we need a code because the stereo thinks it's been stolen. Thus my 4-hour drive to Suffolk on Friday was noiseless, other than occasional yells and rants from me, and the opportunity to practise both the folk songs I know, repeatedly. Since I was off to a Warhammer 40K-themed LRP event, I gave one of said songs new lyrics, with 40K theme (no challenge intended to GW's mighty intellectual property Empire, of course, though several of the themes in this particular song are at least as much inspired by GW's inspirations, i.e. the Dune series and 2000AD comics, as by GW's IP itself). Anyway -- here you go -- The Muties Song (tune link later).

The Muties Song

In Forty-thousand and Forty-Nine
On Dead Orc's Hill
A Tau-lovin' band they called the Muties came to defy the Emp'rer's will
They defied his Arbites
They defied his laws
They were tentacly abominations who claimed what wasn't theirs

We come in peace, they said
To dig and sow
We come to work the land in common, kept warm by the rad-waste's glow
A galaxy divided
We will make whole
So it can be a common treasury for all

This sin of property
We do disdain
We'll work together for the Greater Good, and not for private gain
By sword and bolter
Empire took this land
Now everywhere force fields rise up at their command

Governor makes the laws
Arbites chain us well
Ministorum dazzle us wi' heaven, or they damn us intae hell
We will not worship
The God they serve
Emp'rer of greed who feeds the norms while muties starve.

We work; we eat together
We've no chainswords
We will not bow to nobles, or pay rent to the lords
We are free freaks
Though we are poor
You Muties all stand up for glory, stand up now.

From the Lord High General
The order came
He sent Imperial Guard stormtroopers to wipe out the muties' claim
Immolate their hab-dome
Destroy their corn
They were eviscerated... only the vision lingers on

You freaks take courage
You norms take care
Planets were made as common treasuries for everyone to share
All things in common
All peoples one
We come in peace... the order came to cleanse and burn

To the tune of Dick Gaughan's "The Diggers Song / World Turned Upside Down" (from his astonishingly good "A Handful of Earth" album):

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(Other people's) poems, one a day, in the runup to National Poetry Day

Oct. 5th, 2010 | 02:32 am

   CLEVELAND: THE RECTAL EYE VISIONS by d.a.levy (excerpt)


Read more...Collapse )

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Music meme

Aug. 20th, 2010 | 05:55 pm

15 albums that'll always stay with you, without thinking too hard (the 1st 15 that spring to mind in 15 min or less).

1) Iggy & the Stooges -- Raw Power. This is the perfect raw proto-punk rock album. Every song is about sex, death, or both, and delivered with passion and agony and ecstasy and madness.

2) Massive Attack -- Protection. Arguably Mezzanine is a better album, but Protection defined an era.

3) The Creatures -- A Bestiary Of. Contains most of my favourite Siouxsie craziness, including a couple of my favourite songs by any artist.

4) Tekno Acid Beat. This is actually a Psychick TV album, though not billed as such. Pretty much the first dark acid house album. Still quite amazing.

5) Mark Stewart & the Maffia -- Mark Stewart. Chaotic, existentialist, fuliginous dub from the post-punk proto-Bristol Sound genius. This is the aural equivalent of Camus's _Exile & The Kingdom_.

6) Michael Moorcock & the Deep Fix -- New World's Fair. Bleak, bitingly funny post-apocalyptic fairground psychedelic rock.

7) Imminent Starvation -- Nord. Mostly because it has Tentack One on it, but the whole album is damn fine. Imminent is pretty much the finest exponent of Power Noise.

8) Sheila Chandra -- The Zen Kiss. Amazing vocalist. Her Speaking In Tongues tracks are incredible, but Waiting is utterly, captivatingly beautiful.

9) Dick Gaughan -- A Handful Of Earth. Superb folk music, mostly traditional, but Gaughan has an especial interest in politically radical folksongs.

10) Doctor John, the Night Tripper -- Gris Gris. Still one of the most consistently fine voodoo rock albums.

11) KLF -- The White Room. Another epoch-defining album for anyone who was listening to music in the early 90s.

12) Nurse With Wound -- Large Ladies With Cake In The Oven. Mostly for Glory Hole, though this compilation is rather good throughout...

13) Alabama 3 -- Power In The Blood. Probably the most consistently brilliant album from the Brixton purveyors of Elvis-, Mao-, and smack-tinged sweet country acid house music.

14) David Bowie -- The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars. Five years till the End of the Earth, and the kids no longer want rock and roll...

15) Natural Born Killers soundtrack. The soundtrack to my favourite movie, put together by one of my favourite musicians, containing some of my favourite songs... kind of a no-brainer really.

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(no subject)

Jul. 9th, 2010 | 09:41 am

More on the live roleplay vs tabletop benefits and drawbacks -- I think that the latest Odyssey design blog, again, is indicative of some of the leaps and bounds that the theory and practice of LRP gaming have taken, not necessarily ahead of RPGs, but perhaps in a different direction.

Bear in mind that it's a player-vs-player game.

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(no subject)

Jul. 7th, 2010 | 08:45 am

From oxfordgirl 's blog:

'I find it hard to get into tabletop RPGs. Especially since I discovered and identified exactly the sort of high-immersion, character-driven adrenaline-junkie all-IC-all-the-time LARPing that really hits the spot for me, I've been wondering if the style simply... wasn't for me. A nice way to spend an evening, but on a par with "staying in and chilling out with a good book and a beer", rather than "sprinting full tilt through the forest with six rounds left in your shotgun and the stone-cold conviction that you're going to run out of ammo before the cultists run out of knives".'

...discuss, I guess. I've often felt the same way. I wonder if it makes working in the game industry trickier, or easier.

I will often enjoy a really good tabletop game, but not *much* more than I'll enjoy a good book and a beer.

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Armoured calisthenics

Jun. 27th, 2010 | 11:36 am

This is me doing some push-ups, squats, star jumps, sit-ups and burpees, wearing late 15th century style medieval armour (full plate leg harness, full plate arm harness, gauntlets, riveted mail standard, steel brigandine on the torso, & a cotton & wool arming doublet underneath). The idea is to demonstrate that even heavy plate armour was designed to be form-fitting & mobile, so the wearer could perform a wide range of physical activity without significant impediment. (Also I am showing off a bit, naturally.)

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First Conan movie pics

May. 11th, 2010 | 09:23 am

...are here.

Well -- certainly I agree with The Cimmerian's critique that Cimmeria, while misty enough, really isn't wooded enough (and doesn't look too hilly & mountainous either, TBH). That's a relatively minor detail though...

I initially thought Momoa could make for an OK Conan if he did the right exercise regime before starting, but it doesn't look like he did. He's a good height -- 6'4" -- but his muscles are wrong. I'm glad they didn't go for an Arnie-style bodybuilder, but Conan is described, even as a youth, as having "broad shoulders, massive chest and heavy arms".

Momoa doesn't look like a warrior. It's great that he doesn't look like a bodybuilder either -- but he looks like what he is, an actor with a bad personal trainer. His shoulders aren't broad enough, and his forearms are frankly puny, even allowing for his height. If you wield a sword or axe, professionally, you are going to get incredibly grip strength, and really quite big forearms to go with it. He needed to be prepping for the role by doing a load of pull-ups (for the shoulders) and high-rep, high-weight squats (for the massive chest) and grip work (which could include pull-ups, and deadlifts, but probably a load of combat athlete type stuff like sledgehammer work, hammer levering, etc.).

And -- also on the "actor, not warrior" front -- where the hell are his scars?

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New Doctor Who, so far -- short reviews

May. 9th, 2010 | 11:03 am

Partly reposted from a comment on ed_fortune 's LJ.

spoilers behind the cutCollapse )

Overall -- by far the best season of New Doctor Who, so far. It'd take some really weak episodes to put a dent in that, and I don't think we'll see that any time soon. Go Team Moffat! (But please grab a science advisor.)

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(no subject)

May. 6th, 2010 | 11:37 am

Just a brief, but carefully considered, "fuck you" to anyone who thinks it is somehow my duty to go out and vote today.

No politician is getting a mandate from me.

No politician is ever going to have any justification for saying that the ridiculous new laws they pass, the power they willingly give away to big business, the healthcare and social care budgets they cut, or the atrocities of the wars they start, were supported by me.

Fuck them all.

And, if you think I'm a bad person for refusing to give my support to any of them -- fuck you, too.

No offence.

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Response from Susan Elan Jones

Apr. 20th, 2010 | 10:36 pm

Here it is:

Dear Mr Sturrock,


Thank you very much for your email, and especially the detail you have gone into for what is for most of us 'non-techies' a complex area. I am quite happy for you to post my response on-line if you like.


Now, in terms of the Act, my understanding is that the main aims of the legislation was to ensure that we have a competitive digital communication infrastructure in the UK; we protect intellectual property; ensure the UK is at the leading edge of the global digital economy and also maintain plurality in regional news (something that, heaven knows, is particularly important to us here in Wales - I am sure I am not alone in having spent many years watching Granada and Central - in fact, anything other than rather blurred receptions of Welsh news!). 


My understanding also is that this legislation is key to Labour’s policy of industrial activism and central to our strategy to secure future jobs - the UK’s digital economy sectors account for nearly £1 in every £10 that the economy produces each year.


So far, I suspect, so good - but then I suspect we touch on the more thorny issues. The copyright issue is one a few residents have written to me about. The view they have taken is that illicit file-sharing is costing the UK’s creative industries and creative talent hundreds of millions of pounds a year and that if we do nothing, it will be a blow to jobs and economic growth – and could also put at risk the films, computer games and music that people enjoy. Other correspondence I have had from some residents describe the proposals as proportionate as they will not criminalise file-sharers or create new criminal offences.


However, I am not without some concerns about the act and the hypoethtical case you make about a relative downloading something and then net access to be cut off is a concerning one. If that is a net result of the act, then I think it is a lesson in what happens where there is only limited opportunity for the Commons to debate the issue. Now arguably I suppose one could blame the Lords (which spent a long time discussing it) and say that had the bill’s progress been speedier through the House of Lords than there may have been sufficient Parliamentary time to discuss the bill further. However I don't really think that answer is good enough and it quite clearly does need some further examination.


My understanding is that the Bill will tackle the problem of infringement of copyright by placing obligations on internet service providers (ISPs) to work with copyright owners, notify infringing subscribers and enabling copyright owners to target legal action against the most persistent infringers.  If this approach is not as effective as expected, then after at least a year after the code for the initial obligations comes into effect the government will have the power to order ISPs to take further action, which may include bandwidth capping and account suspension.


As you quite rightly point out, suspension is a serious issue, so the identification process will have to be as robust as possible and there will be an independent and easy route of appeal at every stage in the process.  But the only measure identified that works for all content on all networks is suspension - however there will be a range of safeguards before any action is taken. These include a clear and effective appeal mechanism, including appeal to a First Tier Tribunal.  No technical measure can be imposed on a subscriber until any appeal has fully run its course, but I will make sure I play my part in helping to monitor how this process works to ensure we do not penalise innocent users.


I hope this email goes some way to dealing with the main issues you have raised.


With best wishes


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Open letter to my prospective Labour candidate, Susan Elan Jones

Apr. 15th, 2010 | 10:55 am

Dear Susan

Thanks for your swift reply (and apologies for taking a while to get back in touch, myself -- I've been busy).

You're interested in my concerns about the Digital Economy Bill.

First, some background -- I've used the internet for work, usually self-employed work, for the past 13 years. For the past 10 years, about 90% of any work I've done has involved extensive, daily internet use, working from home. I work as a writer, editor, designer, & researcher. I work with hundreds of people who are in similarly creative fields -- writers, artists, designers, small publishers, small software houses, etc. Many of them work from home, too, using internet cafes or free wi-fi facilities as backups to their home net connection.

So, clearly there are concerns about the draconian possibilities outlined in the DEB regarding the closing down, without trial or even evidence, of people's net connection, just on the say-so of big business interests. This could also, of course, apply to the many libraries, free wi-fi bars & cafes, etc. All it takes is a record industry representative claiming that they believe a person's net connection has been used to download copyrighted material, and that person could have their net access cut off.

Now, of course, it's likely that in many or even most cases they'd be right -- that person's net access had indeed been used to download copyrighted material. However, the lack of a requirement for a fair trial or even the presentation of evidence is clearly a major concern here. It's not so much that I and others think that the big business interests that this Bill empowers are somehow inherently malevolent and will take delight in closing down people's net access; it's just that we don't want to take the risk, which seems reasonable. I have a lot of faith in human nature, but not enough to suggest that we, for example, replace the current system of an accountable police force & trial by jury, with privately run police forces who can dispense "justice" at their whim.

Even when a person or business's net access has been used to download copyright material, in many cases, closing their net access down will punish far more people than the guilty party. If a neighbour or passer-by is able to hack my Wi-Fi & use my net connection to download the latest Lady Gaga album illegally, should I be punished? Likewise -- though my son is currently only 9, and not yet technically savvy enough, and hopefully never unethical enough, to download his favourite movies illegally -- should I really be punished with the loss of my means of earning a living, solely because of his or his friends' actions? Without a burden of proof? Without trial? Without appeal?

I'm very glad to hear you also opposed the Iraq War. You'll doubtless be aware of the recent publication by the Wikileaks website of footage of US helicopter crews in Iraq gunning down innocent unarmed people, including Reuters staff and children, and laughing and joking about it. Did you realise that the Digital Economy Bill gives the government the power to block access to Wikileaks, or indeed any other website, to all UK people, again without the need for evidence, if it is believed that the website in question might at some point be used in connection with the distribution of copyrighted material? Wikileaks, in fact, exists primarily to distribute copyrighted material, and quite rightly too -- the US government attempted to prevent them from distributing the film from those helicopters, but Wikileaks recognised that in this case, telling the world about the murder of innocents was more important than worrying about which US government body owned the copyright on the footage. The Digital Economy Bill doesn't worry about such things as the greater good, or the possibility (currently recognised in the wider body of British law) of committing a crime to prevent a greater crime from being committed.

I mentioned earlier that I know, work with, & do business with several hundred creators of intellectual property -- supposedly the people the Digital Economy Bill was created to protect. I don't know any of them who approve of the Bill, and in fact the majority of them are among the 20,000+ people who wrote to their MPs to oppose it. This Bill has been brought in by a few big businesses, not by the actual creators of intellectual property. It gives big business another tool with which to harass & persecute ordinary people; a somewhat cheaper tool than the usual means of pursuing them through the court system. If Labour want to protect the livelihoods of the actual creatives, the writers and artists and musicians and programmers, you need to give us more tools to ensure we get a fair deal from the big businesses we often deal with -- not empower the big businesses even further.

I would suggest you take a look at Tom Watson's Digital Pledges:


If you want to ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of intellectual property creation -- purportedly the aim of the Bill -- you would do well to consider signing up to a similar pledge & doing all within your power to get the Bill repealed if Labour returns to office. If you're willing to make such a public pledge, I will very gladly give you my vote in the upcoming election.

I'm in the process of posting this to my blog, too, and will be linking to the blog post from my Facebook account, so you will get around 700 other people reading it. You'd be very welcome to reply directly to the blog post as well as to me, if you want to respond to any of their comments, or ensure they read your reply too -- alternatively, I will very happily post your reply to my blog myself, if that's acceptable to you.

(I do, of course, need to get your permission before I can make your response public, as any letter or email written by you is copyright to you, and I don't want to have my internet access taken away by reposting it without your permission. More importantly, though, it wouldn't be ethical for me to do so without permission, so I won't. Odd, isn't it, how somehow people do the right thing anyway, without the need for yet another nanny-state law to enforce obedience? It'd be lovely if you also opposed Labour's other rather random nanny-state nonsense, like the excessive anti-terrorist legislation which has so far been used predominantly to harass ordinary people like photographers, but that's not strictly necessary to get my vote; just sign up to the Tom Watson pledge or something similar.)

Here's a link to the blog post:

Kind regards

Ian Sturrock

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Gaming & geek culture blog

Mar. 23rd, 2010 | 04:23 pm

I've talked for a while about splitting my LJ off, so as to keep this one just for personal stuff, and have another blog for generally longer, more detailed articles on gaming, pulp fiction, book & film reviews, etc.

I plan to do the latter. I would like input & thoughts about how, especially from those of you who have more commercially oriented blogs of your own.

Here are the options, as I see them:

1) Use my existing, somewhat dated website for a blog. Pros: one-stop shop for all your Sturrocky genius needs, easy to run ads or affiliate links if I want help with hosting fees, lots of control over the look & feel of the blog; easy to remember site name (which could take you straight to the blog). Cons: harder work? I'm guessing? I would at least need to beg Bridie (who coded the site initially) to take another look at it & tweak things so that I could update it automagically using some kind of softwarey gubbins thingummy (er, I'm sure someone can tell me what that would be).

2) Again, use the existing website, but keep its link to the kingserpent  LJ account (via the "News" button on the website), and use that LJ as my other blog. Pros: nice and easy; fits with exisiting plans. Cons: not much control over the look of the thing; not that easy to remember the URL; LJ seems a bit dated now; LJ seems dubiously ethical now.

3) Wordpress. Pros? Cons? You tell me.

4) Blogspot. Pros? Cons? You tell me.

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Pipex caved

Mar. 22nd, 2010 | 04:41 pm

 Predictably. They reckon that there was somehow an £8.82 balance on my account, dating back nearly 2 years, that they'd never bothered to ask for before... and that they're now cancelling "as a gesture of goodwill".

I've asked them to confirm in writing that they recognise that I owe them nothing, & that they've called off the debt collection agency (which wanted £28, or £98 if it went to court) & cancelled the court case.

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Angry again

Mar. 19th, 2010 | 03:01 pm

Had to send this to Pipex yesterday:

Dear Madam or Sir

I've had no dealings with Pipex since I had such outrageous difficulty getting you to give me a MAC Code a couple of years ago (see various email exchanges below). Now I've suddenly been sent a letter from a debt collector (Commercial Credit Services; their ref: xxxxx; acct number: yyyyy) in relation to a fee that you are apparently attempting to charge me under terms and conditions that I have never agreed to.

Please confirm by return of email, and separately in writing, that you recognise that I owe no such fee or debt, and that all legal proceedings & debt collection proceedings will be cancelled.

I have just now made a formal complaint to OFCOM about this matter.

Please ensure the matter is resolved within 5 working days, or I will also raise a formal complaint with Otelo.

In the event that your debt collection company does take this to court, note that I will provide the court with a full account of the appalling service I received from you (see below), the repeated time-wasting you indulged in, and your repeated refusal to abide by OFCOM terms & conditions regarding the provision of a MAC code. I will expect any court judgement to go in my favour, and I will expect Pipex to end up paying all my legal fees and costs.

Once this matter is resolved, I will regard any further contact from Pipex or from any agency acting on your behalf as harassment, and I will pursue legal action to the fullest extent of the law.

Ian Sturrock


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(no subject)

Mar. 16th, 2010 | 09:26 am

Watching hardcore porn is good for you, whether you're male or female.

The rest of the media, on the other hand, is a load of sexist, anti-women, oppressive, mental-health-threatening evil, basically.


(Also posted to Facebook.)

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Jonny Nexus Blog Tour Contest Winners!

Mar. 3rd, 2010 | 06:09 pm

Apologies for the delay, folks. Life has been busy.

OK, without further ado, Jonny has selected two winners, for:

- Best Writing

- Best Roleplaying Humour

(It doesn't mean that the winner of one hasn't got the other, and vice versa, just that he can see different ones that are stronger in each area).

Best writing is SteveD's Conan one:
Best Roleplaying Humour is the Chinese "monk" pirate one:


I believe he'll be in touch with the people who posted those stories soon to offer them copies of Game Night. Many thanks to all who entered, and congratulations to the winners!

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I'm still on livejournal...

Feb. 13th, 2010 | 12:30 pm

...but Facebook has polluted my mind and attention span to the point where I can no longer either read or write anything longer tha

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Game Night Blog Tour, Part II: The Contest

Jan. 28th, 2010 | 10:57 pm

OK, now you've read the interview (see Part I), and had a look at Jonny Nexus's website with the info on Game Night, it's your turn.

To win a copy of Game Night, write a drabble, below, in the comments section. The theme is roleplaying game comedy. A drabble is a short story that's precisely 100 words long. The writer of the best drabble, as judged by Jonny Nexus himself, will win a signed copy of Game Night. You have one week from today (so, till midnight GMT on 5 Feb 2010) to write your drabble & submit it to the comments on this entry.

The contest is open to all, but all comments will be screened, and any comment that is not a drabble (including any comment that is not precisely 100 words) will be deleted.

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Game Night Blog Tour, Part I: Jonny Nexus interview

Jan. 28th, 2010 | 10:51 pm

The clever & talented Jonny Nexus is currently on a Blog Tour, to promote his very funny gaming comedy novel, Game Night. We agreed that he'd stop by here, for an interview with me. There'll be a contest after this, too, in Part II. My questions are in black; Jonny's replies are in red italic.

1) I thought about writing an intro to the book, myself, but then realised that (a) I have the author right here, so I could get him to tell my readers about it, and (b), I'm lazy. So, Jonny -- I've seen you do a spiel about the book at several games conventions, to several potential customers, and they all seem to start off looking a bit wary, and then buy the book. What do you say to them? What's GameNight about, and why should people buy it?


Well, I guess I might as well give the standard spiel that I give at conventions when selling the book (yes, I do have something I've near memorised word for word):


You know the old idea of Greek gods who play games with the affairs of mortal men? Well this is six Greek-*style* gods playing a roleplaying game with the affairs of a group of mortal men. It's really an excuse to tell the story of a roleplaying game from the point of view of both the players, the gods, and their characters, the mortal men. But the key thing here is that the reality the mortal men are experiencing is real, because when gods dream they create reality – albeit a horribly fractured, warped, dysfunctional, looping reality, because they're playing the game extremely badly.”


I don't know if that's a particularly good explanation, but it can't be that bad because I've sold getting on for five hundred books at conventions.


2) You've done most of the marketing for this one yourself, but as mentioned above, you're selling it in some quantity. Any tips for other people wanting to sell their books, or games?


Well I haven't discovered any kind of magic formula, and to be honest the main lesson I've learned that it's much harder to sell books than I'd thought. That's not to say that I was naïve enough to think it would be easy; rather that I'd thought it would be pretty hard, but it turned out to be very hard.


One lesson is did learn is to concentrate your publicity efforts during and before the launch, when your book still qualifies as “news”. I got so caught up in the actual process of getting the book ready that I put publicity as something to do later, once the book was available. So by time I got round to contracting local and London papers for example, the impact of what I was saying was diminished.


e.g. “A book written by a bloke on the Underground during his commute is about to be published” might make it into Metro; “A book written by a bloke on the Underground during his commute was published two months ago” is much less likely to make it in.


3) What kind of effect has giving away the chapters for free on enworld.com had -- have you seen a sales spike as a result, or do you think people are just reading it for free, waiting for the next instalment?


Well it's still early days yet, but I don't know if I've seen a significant sales spike. Sales did go up, but I would have expecting that anyway, because it was just before Christmas, and last time we saw a significant spike in the Christmas period – presumably lots of people buying it as a Christmas present. If people are reading it for free, that's fine – the main thing is that they're reading it.


4) Back in the Critical Miss days, you were James Wallis's most ardent fanboy -- almost a worshipper. Now, I know that was at least partly tongue-in-cheek -- but how does it feel to be working with the Great Man himself, now that he's your publisher? Do you feel like you've become The Pope, to his Gaming Godhood? Did you base the AllFather in GameNight on Odin, or God, or solely on James Wallis?


It's very cool, and was perhaps a bit weird at first, although in a good way. I was a real fan of James, to the extent of being tongue-tied when I used to meet him. Luckily, by time we got to the point where he was much publisher I'd managed to move onto a point where I could speak to him without looking like a drooling imbecile.


I should perhaps point out why I was such a fan. I first encountered James (met might be too strong a word) at a convention called Killercon in early 1999. At that point, I was working on Issue 2 of Critical Miss, but had got quite depressed about it. In fact, I was on the verge of giving up, and if I'd done that, who knows what might have happened, or more importantly, might not have happened.


Then I want to a panel/talk that James gave about breaking into the roleplaying industry. He was really inspirational, and since one of the things he said was that you should go out and do a website, that really gave me the confidence and the drive to go on and get issue 2 done and out.


He's a very cool guy.


5) You seem to have a love-hate relationship with dysfunctional roleplayers. You've made a career out of writing about them, but I can never quite tell whether they annoy you as much as they annoy the AllFather in the book, or whether you secretly love gaming with them and wouldn't have it any other way. Do you think that even the most pretentious Roleplaying-As-Art types actually yearn for some powergaming dungeon-bashes, sometimes? Or are they above that kind of thing?


I don't think I'd say I have a love-hate relationship with them. Hell, in many ways, I am a dysfunctional roleplayer. The inspiration for Critical Miss was our own roleplaying sessions, which frequently disintegrated into total chaos.


Hell, I once had a MERP character who tried to sell house insurance to the hobbits of the Shire, and I'm a notorious session amnesiac. There was also the mute galliard (galliards are apparently oral storytellers) I created in werewolf, although to be fair that was due to ineptitude rather than intent.


6) What's next for Jonny Nexus? Do you have another book in mind?


Yeah, I'm currently working on a time travel novel, which will hopefully have a similar humour style to Game Night. However, at the moment I'm being very boring and not talking too much about it. (I don't like talking about things until they're fairly well advanced, and at the moment I'm still on the first draft).


But the plan is to have something which has the same type and quality of humour as Game Night, but in something which won't be perceived as such a niche item.


7) Talking of which -- when is Critical Miss Issue 11 coming out?


Erm... Sometime. I would like to do another issue, but at the moment, the new novel is taking up all of my writing time. But if I ever have a gap between novels, it would be good to try and put out another Critical Miss.


8) Have you used the 63336 service (formerly AQA) since you wrote the article about doing so, for Critical Miss #10? (http://www.criticalmiss.com/issue10/AQAMunchkinsDream1.html ) Have you ever texted it while actually playing an RPG, in a Munchkin's Dream kind of way?


I've never used it for an RPG. But I have used it several times over the years. The one that comes to mind now is finding out whether the popcorn at a particular cinema we were at was okay for vegans.


I had thought that I might not have used it since getting an iPhone, but I've just searched back through my text messages, and there is one from 31st January last year asking if getting married invalidates any wills you might previous have made (answer yes, which is what I was saying, and yes, it was to resolve an argument, although in this case, I now can't remember who I was having it with).


It's a good service.

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Merry NoDeMiWiGiGiFe

Dec. 23rd, 2009 | 12:04 pm

That's Non-Denominational-Mid-Winter-Gift-Giving-Festival to you (thank you Melvyn for the great name).

I didn't do any kind of Solstice greeting -- too busy with work stuff -- but I figure that the festive season in almost any religion lasts at least a week, so today will do, right in the middle.

by H.P. Lovecraft

Published December 1926 in Weird Tales

There is snow on the ground,
And the valleys are cold,
And a midnight profound
Blackly squats o'er the wold;
But a light on the hilltops half-seen hints of
feastings unhallowed and old.

There is death in the clouds,
There is fear in the night,
For the dead in their shrouds
Hail the sun's turning flight.
And chant wild in the woods as they dance
round a Yule-altar fungous and white.

To no gale of Earth's kind
Sways the forest of oak,
Where the thick boughs entwined
By mad mistletoes choke,
For these pow'rs are the pow'rs of the dark,
from the graves of the lost Druid-folk.

And mayst thou to such deeds
Be an abbot and priest,
Singing cannibal greeds
At each devil-wrought feast,
And to all the incredulous world
shewing dimly the sign of the beast.

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Places I stayed overnight in 2009 meme

Dec. 22nd, 2009 | 12:53 pm

Always fun to do this one...

Luxur, Egypt.
Hurghada, Egypt.
Cairo, Egypt.
Wrexham, UK.
London, UK.
Hertford, UK.
Various tents & huts in various fields, all over the UK (I think, from memory, that it was Derby a coupla times, near Wrexham a couple, Candleston Campsite in S. Wales, & the Dumnonni site in Devon).
Westminster, Colorado, USA.
Leicester, UK.
Shrewsbury, UK.
Chester, UK.

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Workout of the Day

Dec. 11th, 2009 | 02:45 pm

So, I've managed to mostly keep up with my attempts to do long slow distance type cardio at least 3 times a week, and judo once a week, but haven't managed to keep lifting weights at least once a week too. :( And I am starting to feel it. My knees, dodgy at the best of times, become a morass of pain if I don't do heavy squats on a fairly regular basis. So -- I am determined to manage one workout a week that involves a lot of iron. I'm still using Starting Strength as my weight training bible, naturally.

Today -- work up to 3 x 5 x 60kg back squats, 3 x 5 x 35kg shoulder presses, and 3 x 5 x 90kg deadlifts. Could probably have pushed all those a little higher, but I already know I'm going to ache like a bastard tomorrow... let's leave it at that for the moment, while I'm still supposedly concentrating on long slow distance work. Will do the other basic Starting Strength workout next week.

Interestingly, although my right knee, in particular, was painful throughout all the squats -- crying out in pain at the work I was having it do -- and although I would usually stop a workout as soon as I felt it was causing me pain.... I know from experience that with this particular knee issue, the heavier I squat, the less painful it gets. And thus it was today; the 20kg bar-only squat that I started my warmup with hurt, but no more than the squats in my YRG workout last night, and by the time I was squatting 40kg+, the pain was very much reduced. Right now the knee feels better than it has in days.

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Blog article: "When search engines are not enough"

Dec. 9th, 2009 | 05:20 pm

This is my first blog article for 63336's new blog:


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Doctor WTF?

Nov. 16th, 2009 | 01:01 am

It's been some years since I dared expect anything more than (at best) light-hearted, fast-moving, melodramatic tosh from any Russell T Davis-scripted episode of Doctor Who.

Tonight's ep, yet again, didn't even reach that rather dismal standard.

Sadly, when RTD attempts to do anything but out-and-out fantasy and/or soap opera, you can pretty much guarantee it will be dreadful. I mean, I know Doctor Who has never been hard SF, but, really... I can suspend my disbelief a lot easier watching DVDs of classic Who than I can watching anything he's done.

Part of the charm of old Who was the Sonic Screwdriver's ability to do whatever the scriptwriter needed it to -- within reason. RTD seems to have been similarly charmed, but his Screwdriver can do whatever the scriptwriter needs it to, within reason... or whatever the scriptwriter needs it to, totally beyond the reasonable... or whatever the scriptwriter's passing whim settles momentarily on, without any reason at all. The old Who, in pretty much any incarnation, was the epitome of the Hero Engineer. You got the feeling that the Screwdriver was there as a very fancy, high-tech Swiss Army Knife; not necessarily the perfect tool for the job, but give the Doctor twenty minutes with the Screwdriver, whatever gizmo had to be reconfigured, and a couple of rubber bands, and he might just be able to jury-rig a solution.

Cut for spoilers and nostalgic fanboy whingingCollapse )

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...a few links...

Nov. 7th, 2009 | 01:29 pm

 Clark Ashton Smith (pretty well my favourite 1930s pulp fiction writer) -- I've mentioned The Eldritch Dark website before, where most of his work is archived, but thought I'd point out a couple of my favourite stories there:

The Planet of The Dead

This is science fantasy, technically, I guess, but it reminds me of Poe more than almost anything else; the morbid languor of the story is rather reminiscent of _The Fall of the House of Usher_. Romantic and very, very sad all at the same time.

Schizoid Creator

You would probably have to classify this as SF, given that it's based on what was thought of as the science of psychiatry at the time. I love the occult vibe, though; it reminds me quite strongly of Blish's _Black Easter_ and Swanwick's _Jack Faust_ in its mingling of SF and Satanic lore.

CAS was a noted artist & especially sculptor, too; some bits of his surviving work can be seen in this gallery.

Via s0b , a CD collection for Peelie fans:

Kats Karavan: The History of John Peel On The Radio

Via ed_fortune : towards a common nomenclature for Lego pieces.

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A review of annoying books

Oct. 25th, 2009 | 06:13 pm

 A lot of people have been suggesting that Bernard Cornwell's _Azincourt_ is his best novel ever.

I can save you all the trouble of reading it by saying that it isn't, and that it's fairly typical medieval Cornwell -- about as good as his Grail books (Harlequin etc.). The Sharpe novels are better, and the Warlord Chronicles and Saxon stories are a *lot* better. 

There is a very nice description of medieval mining and counter-mining. That's the main strong point. His writing, technically, has improved somewhat over the decades, too.

The weak points include repetitiveness (both internally and compared to his other books; after a while, the relentless descriptions of abuse of women, murder, & torture, though possibly historically accurate, become rather dull, and one can't escape some feeling that Cornwell doesn't much like his female characters, who usually seem to exist solely to give his male characters someone to shag, rescue, and/or avenge), and, especially, the poorly researched descriptions of medieval arms and armour.

Here's an example:

"Most men, like Hook, wore a padded haubergeon sewn with metal plates over a mail coat. They had helmets and a few had aventails, the hood of mail that was worn beneath the helmet and fell across the shoulders."

The 1st sentence is ambiguous; is he confused, and thinks that "haubergeon" can be used as a term for any flexible torso armour, and so "padded haubergeon" is his term for "padded jack", with metal plates sewn into it? Does he think you'd wear a metal-plate-reinforced padded jack over a mail coat? That's not too badly incorrect, in that padded jacks (probably sleeveless) would occasionally be worn over mail coats, as an additional layer of protection against arrows; they wouldn't have been reinforced with metal plates, though, and they wouldn't have been called haubergeons.

Or is he confused, and thinks that the "haubergeon" is some kind of all-in-one armour, comprising 3 layers attached together: first padding, then mail, then plates? That would be particularly confused, and wrong.

Either way, it's especially annoying that he uses the term "haubergeon" rather than the more simple & well-known "hauberk"; I don't much mind it when writers (or anyone) deliberately use obscure terms, but hate it when they get them wrong! There's nothing quite so sad as an incorrect pedant.

As for "aventails" -- I think it's more of the same -- he's found a New Word, and wants to get the best possible use out of it (he was worse when he was writing American Civil War stuff, though those books are otherwise rather good; then, his favourite New Word was "aver", and hardly anyone ever said anything, when they could aver it instead). He repeatedly uses "aventail" in this book -- but always when he means "coif" (a coif is a mail hood, usually worn under a helmet, whereas an aventail is a section of mail permanently attached to the back and/or sides of a helmet to extend its protection). (Authors! Save "aventail", and its synonym "ventail", for SCRABBLE, where they are awesome, if you don't know precisely what they mean.)

I'm pretty sure some of his longbow info is iffy, too (he describes Hook getting a new bow, and seeming to tiller it into bending fully, but over the course of a few minutes rather than a few weeks, and using its existing bowstring instead of a tillering string), which isn't too great for a book focusing on archers.

Hmmf. That's put me right off Cornwell for a bit. I'm going to have to leave it a few months before I try the next one in the Saxon series.

I'm also somewhat disappointed with the 1st of the Gaunt's Ghosts series, by Dan Abnett. I picked up the 4th one ages ago, finally got round to reading it earlier this year, and decided it was good enough, and thought-provoking enough, that it was worth getting the others, too. The 1st one has the usual Black Library / Games Workshop annoyances (mostly bad editing, really, failing to spot the grammatical errors: affect/effect, feint/faint, and appraise/apprise, are the ones that stick in memory; those things bug me more than ever, these days, because I expect -- and get -- better grammar from my AQA researchers), but without quite so much of the character development & reflectiveness on the nature of war that the 4th one offered. I'll stick with the series, anyway. I know it gets better, and for fits-in-your-combat-trouser-pocked train ride reading, this stuff is fine.

Good books I've read lately (or am reading now) include Niffenegger's _The Time Traveler's Wife_ (at last; good, solidly written stuff, tackling those favourite themes of time-travel books, love & loss; it's rather reminiscent, in a good way, of old BBC drama The Flipside of Dominick Hyde, and is the 1st book to bring a tear to my eye in years), Vonnegut's _Timequake_  (staggeringly, laugh-out-loud funny, thought-provoking, and easy to read), and Fraser's _Flashman & the Dragon_ (again, very funny, if even less politically correct now than when it was written in the 80s). I'm also reading Chickering's translation of Beowulf, aloud, to Kyle -- very, very good -- and just finished reading him a Clark Ashton Smith short story anthology, which went down very well (given that pretty much none of the stories have a traditionally happy ending; usually the necromancer wins).

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Spicy beef stew recipe

Oct. 8th, 2009 | 11:03 pm

 Posting this at least partly to remind myself how I made it, on future occasions, 'cos it was extremely tasty and extremely easy, which is always a great combo.  :D

It's somewhat Jamaican-inspired, with a big nod to "Stewed Peas", but not based directly on any particular recipe.

Serves 4 or so

400g casserole beef
4 rashers bacon
2 tins kidney beans
1 tsp mixed herbs
1" piece peeled ginger
1 star anise
1 small piece mace
6 cloves
2 small red chillis
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp soya sauce
1 tsp vegetable stock powder
1 tsp honey or agave syrup or sugar
Some water
1 tin coconut milk
6 crushed garlic cloves
2 tbs oats

Combine all ingredients up to & including "Some water" in a large pot. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 90 min. Add coconut milk. Simmer for 60 min. Add garlic & oats. Simmer for 5 min. Serve with rice.

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Some links

Oct. 1st, 2009 | 09:05 pm

Here's a very smart article from the Wall Street Journal that says, way better than I can be bothered to, why lit fic has become a genre in its own right, and why, as a genre, it is now somewhat past its best.

So, er, science fiction for the win, I guess...

(I actually read about as much lit fic as I do SF; but most of the lit fic I read, with the exception of the likes of Borges, Calvino, Allende, and the like, is either not all that good, or is actually rather good SF in disguise anyway, like David Mitchell and Rupert Thomson.)

Great, well-thought-out blog post from oldmotherchaos on the very real dangers of the USA descending into fascism. The lunatics are already taking over the asylum.

Obviously the whole world is talking about Polanski and whether he should be extradited. If you check out the court transcripts, it's clear he got off very, very lightly with his plea bargain; he may or may not be a "great artist", but he's also a rapist, so as far as I'm concerned, he can go to jail and then go on to create a great and personally researched prison movie.

His increasingly bizarre assortment of apologists seem to be suggesting that there's an acceptable amount of paedophilia and rape that's the price you pay for great art; the Catholic church have recently suggested there's an acceptable amount of paedophilia and rape that's OK for their priests, and claimed that other religions are just as bad. Which is also pretty bizarre, when you think about it. "They're all doing it too" isn't much of a defence, and frankly most of the Catholic church's recent 'achievements' haven't amounted to anything more than continuing to be part of the problem, so there's no acceptable price to pay, as far as I can see, for a doddering old religion that really should be retired.

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Letter to the head this afternoon

Sep. 24th, 2009 | 12:31 am

Dear [headmaster's forename]

[insert apology for not getting back in touch yet about an assembly I'm helping him write for next week]

I'm actually writing with regard to another matter. Mrs Edwards gave
Kyle (and other pupils) a flyer from an evangelical Christian
organisation last week -- it's visible here, on their website:


Although the flyer claims that the course it's advertising is suitable
for any faith, the organisation hosting it (Rockwood Mission) is an
evangelical Christian one; their website (advertised on the flyer)
makes it clear that they acknowledge no authority other than the
Bible, and believe every word in the Bible to be literal truth. The
group who designed the course, "Care for the Family", is the European
branch of a far-right-wing American fundamentalist Christian group,
"Focus on the Family", who are highly political and (among other
things) condemn homosexuality & oppose teaching of evolution. "Care
for the Family" is also closely associated with another fundamentalist
group, "Christian Action Research and Education".

There's more info on "Care for the Family" and "Christian Action
Research and Education" in this newspaper article:


I do strongly object to any religious organisation being permitted to
advertise its events & activities through flyers given out to primary
schoolchildren, but I'm especially concerned at this one being
permitted to do so, given its international far-right connections and
fundamentalist approach. Please let me know what action you intend to
take to discover how this was allowed to happen, and what you intend
to do to ensure it isn't allowed to happen again.



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I should be in bed, but...

Sep. 22nd, 2009 | 12:37 am

...someone is wrong on the internet.

In this case it's John Mullan, Booker Prize judge and "professor of English", who said he "was not aware of science fiction," and "it is in a special room in book shops, bought by a special kind of person who has special weird things they go to and meet each other."

You know -- Mr Mullan -- you may be right. Science fiction fans may be special, and weird.

But, well, ISN'T IT YOUR FUCKING JOB to be aware of English literature? And, really, if a part of that literature is special and weird -- doesn't that part deserve especial study? You epic fucking cunt?

(Thanks to roaster for coming up with the simple but effective "epic fucking cunt" insult a couple of weeks ago. I borrowed it before -- I managed to completely silence a fellow eidolon who, in the Maelstrom, told me I was "a wanker", when I replied "And you, sir, are an epic fucking cunt; no offence intended to epic people, or cunts, or practitioners of fuckery"; I hope the insult will have a similar effect on Mullan.)

This, my friends, is (a) why much of Eng. Lit., as an academic subject, is not just dead to me, but ontologically defunct; and (b), why so many Eng. Lit. professors are narrow-minded, hide-bound, epic fucking cunts who haven't had an original thought in their plaque-encrusted brains since 1972.

Mullan! Drop dead! The world needs another pompous study of Defoe a lot less than it needs another Alastair Reynolds novel, and my eco-tastic principles demand that we use our limited resources to get the latter in print rather than the former.


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Sep. 20th, 2009 | 10:44 am

An object lesson in why you shouldn't expect professionally creative people to just do you freebie favours in their chosen field:

I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script.

It's quite funny, but the Dr Suess style poetic version, read by Harlan Ellison, is even funnier.

Perhaps rather cruelly, but quite fairly, the Telegraph has the 20 Worst Dan Brown sentences.

Very positive article on polyamory from The Independent.

Finally -- from The Onion:

How To Stay Goth Past 50

Warcraft Sequel Lets Gamers Play a Character Playing a Character in World of Warcraft

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Sep. 3rd, 2009 | 02:02 pm

For you clockwork and brass fans -- the steampunk laptop. Pretty.

The Sigh Co site has my favourite T-shirts in a while. There are some great Lovecraft and Poe ones, but my favourite is this one -- not sure I could wear it round here without summoning angry mobs with torches & pitchforks though. If I were female, I would want these too.

Anyone with any interest in strength traning, or watching World's Strongest Man contests, or the human body, should check these vids out.

Anyone who remembers Games Workshop's best ever game, Space Hulk, should buy the 3rd Edition before it sells out. It's one of my favourite boardgames ever, and it's a standalone, too. Yes, it's expensive, but if you find you hate it, you can more than make the purchase cost back next week by breaking it down into components and selling them on eBay.

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Medieval / Renaissance combat techniques compared to modern ones

Aug. 5th, 2009 | 12:25 am

This is a brilliant video. I suspect that most martial artists -- whether doing Western martial arts, combat sports, MMA, whatever -- will see at least some points of similarity between what they do and what's shown here. There are, after all, only so many ways in which it's efficient to strike, throw, strangle, or otherwise injure another human who's trying to do the same to you.

Accompanying article here.

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Torchwood: Children of Men

Jul. 11th, 2009 | 12:00 am

It's the best thing RTD has done since Queer As Folk, by a light year. Somewhat disjointed and distinctly spoilery thoughts behind the cut:

Read more...Collapse )

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Jul. 9th, 2009 | 04:05 pm

"British Govt are basically unethical scum", part 372: Outsourcing Torture: Atrocity Package Holidays to Pakistan.

"It's not like the Tories are any better", part 73,248: Let's Start Banning Books Again, That Works So Well.

"At Least We Can Still Trust The Police Not To Be Murderous Psychos In Disguise, Not", part 48: Kicked Out For Excessive Force? Rejoin Here.

"Never Mind - Perhaps A Self-Help Mantra Might Help... Not", part 2: Science Proves That You Can't Turn A Sow's Ear Into A Silk Purse By Getting It To Say 'I'm A Silk Purse' Repeatedly.

What Really Helps Is Getting Naked, Apparently.

In Which Case, Let's Hope That "Project: Brigantia Reborn In The Form Of A Giant Naked Hill-Goddess" Sorts Out Open-Cast Mining's Self-Esteem Issues.

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Munchkin conversations

Jul. 8th, 2009 | 05:49 pm

Munchkin conversations:

serpentstar  "I can't use this Broad Sword [Item, +3 Bonus, 1 Hand, 400 Gold Pieces. Usable by Female players only (or sex-changed Males)]. Do you want to swap it for anything?"

bridiep  "I have Short Wide Armour."

serpentstar  "Well, you're not a dwarf, and I'm not a broad..."

bridiep  "No, you're right here."

. . .


serpentstar  "I think I'm finally beginning to suss out the tactics of this game..."

bridiep  "What, make sure Bridie doesn't win?"

serpentstar  "Technically, that's a strategy rather than a tactic."

Kyle's contribution was mostly wordless primeval roars of fury, as he realised he wasn't going to win...

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