10 useful things…

I had just tidied up the lawn mower after a strenuous 2,000 square foot workout.

[[Had to use satellite photos to work out how much grass there is in our garden. Seems to be (very roughly) 1,500 out the front and 500 at the back. I think it’s important that I can help you visualise that by matching the area of our garden with some commonly used reference. There’s a handy website that is able do that for me. My garden is half the size of an IMAX screen.]] 

I always wrap the cable like so:


A figure-of-eight rather than a simple loop so you get more length of cable on each circuit; less loops means the cables will stay on the hooks better.

I’m sure my dad showed me this trick (or “life hack” in the new parlance) years ago. And then I thought this would be good for one of those shared list meme thingies – “10 useful things my dad taught me“. I started to try and recall what other sort of things that my dad would have helped me with. Little tricks to make life easier.

Another thought popped into my head. “But what about mum? Shouldn’t it be a ‘parents’ thing?” And then I realised that a “10 useful things my mum taught me” would look very different – how to eat; how to get dressed; how to wash…


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Compilation tapes from the 80s – #1

Going through boxes of 30+ year old tapes that are cluttering up the bedroom. Thought I’d share the sort of music I was recording off the radio whilst I at University. This one is from 1983.

  • Jasper Carrot – “Magic Roundabout”
  • Monty Python – “Eric the Half a Bee”
  • The Doll – “Desire Me”
  • Lindisfarne – “Fog on the Tyne (live)”
  • Lindisfarne – “Clear White Light (live)”
  • Status Quo – “Caroline”
  • Tears For Fears – “Change”
  • Echo and the Bunnymen – “The Cutter”
  • Jimi Hendrix – “The Wind Cries Mary”
  • Juluka – “Scatterlings of Africa”
  • Set The Tone – “Dance Sucker”
  • Police – “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”

And here’s a Spotify playlist so you can relive the music of yesteryear with me.

John comp tape 1

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It’s No Longer the Same

My feelings for my phone have changed. It’s back from the dead but doesn’t quite feel the same.

It’s a sort of abusive relationship as I’d signed my Lumia 950 up to the Windows Insider Programme. Every now and then a new Operating System build comes along which I always fully expect the phone to accept without complaint. Which is does, when someone is doing their job properly.

On my birthday, Microsoft had a surprise for me:

A note about the unintentional release of builds today

Hello Windows Insiders!

Many of you discovered that earlier this afternoon, builds from some of our internal branches were accidentally released for PC and Mobile. This happened because an inadvertent deployment to the engineering system that controls which builds/which rings to push out to insiders. The team was quick to revert the deployment and put blocks in place to stop these builds from going out to more people. Our analysis shows only a small portion of folks got these builds.

If you received this build on Mobile: This build will *not* install on your device. If you installed this build, your device will be stuck in a reboot loop and the only way to recover is to use the Windows Device Recovery Tool and re-flash.

So overnight my phone turned from the key tool to make life at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham much easier to a slab of useless junk.

Before dashing off for the train, I grabbed my old HTC Radar (WP 7.8) so I could keep in contact with home while I was away. No texting or calling, though, as the phone SIM was now too small to put back in the Radar without a little frame which I couldn’t find. And a lot of web pages don’t like trying to display properly on the Radar’s IE9 browser. And the camera is rubbish. But a least it works, as does my faithful Zune.

The weekend passed and I came home. The Lumia remained as I’d left it. Days past as I avoided having to work out what data I could salvage. I hadn’t yet found the blog post above so didn’t know all was hopeless. Luckily, I had configured the phone to store files on a 128GB removal chip so I wouldn’t have to repopulate that when the device was flashed.

Eventually, nearly two weeks later, I cranked up the Windows Device Recovery Tool to turn junk back into high tech. Was pleasantly surprised to be prompted to restore a backup from before the broken update was released. Unfortunately, it didn’t work 100% although I don’t know what was not restored. Data definitely not lost was five months of text messages – initially it looked like it only backed up the last month’s worth but this was because the default was just to restore that much to the phone and I soon had it all back.

In the Store, all the 120+ applications I’d previously installed were queued up to download again. What I am missing, though, is the home screen tile layout that I was happy with. I’ve tried to recreate the tile arrangement but it’s just not right yet.

I’m confident we can patch things up together.

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Game Design – A Crash Course

Having a clear calendar, I made a last-minute (ish) decision to spend £35 on a 3-hour workshop on game design. James Wallis is always entertaining and engaging, and Eclectic Games (Reading’s premier games emporium) is a friendly place to be, if a trifle warm in the summer.

James is off to Gen Con soon to run the workshop there so, like a comedian warming up for Edinburgh Fringe, was using us as testers for v3 of the content. ((What’s that you say? The Gen Con workshop is only $20?))

After 40+ minutes of history, anecdotes, and advice, we were divided into four groups and let loose on James’ supply of blank cards and arts & crafts materials. We couldn’t get the design theme to be politics but instead had to go with something British.

My group eventually agreed on a weather-themed game – “The Great British Summer” – where players play activity cards that are most appropriate for that day’s forecast (e.g. sunny for weddings, windy for kite-flying, wet or cold for staying indoors for a movie.) A lot of time went in preparing the few dozen cards and writing the rules, neither of which looked particularly flashy due to time constraints, rather than thinking how the game would be played or be fun.

After 30+ minutes, the first versions of our games were ready and we moved tables to try out the efforts of neighbouring groups.

The first game we tried – “The Sitting On The Bus Game” – was surprisingly enjoyable. Simple game mechanic of rolling a dice and placing that many of your passengers (tiddlywinks) onto seats; when a block of seats was filled, it was scored with progressively more points depending on how many passengers each player had in the block; the dice also had ‘move’ and ‘swap’ instead of the 5 and 6 to add some variety. Some questions arose around the end game as it was quite easy for one player to use up their counters a few rounds before the others, leaving them with not much to do but problems like that are perfectly acceptable in a game that didn’t exist much earlier, let alone having gone through any playtesting.

Afterwards, feedback was passed. Honesty was important and our weather game fared poorly. We could now try to rework the game but time somehow whizzed by and it felt like version 2 was almost identical to version 1. More bad reviews were bound to be on their way after the next playtest session.

This time we played ‘Shagaluf’ where you collect sets of cards to represent the sun, sex and booze you’ve enjoyed in Majorca with added stitch cards in the shape of sun-strokes, hangovers and STDs. Again, another hastily designed game that was easy to pick up and play. You could easily see how the development would proceed towards a more complete experience, especially with some decent themed artwork.

And then it was wrap-up time before James sent us off on our way. My group allowed me to take the game home and I’ll definitely give it some attention to see if there’s something I can use for family games at Christmas. Hopefully my co-designers will keep in touch and maybe share ideas on keeping the concept alive.


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Songs from the Nationals

For the last four years I’ve been running a D&D/Pathfinder game for the Student Nationals. To make the game more fun, I’ve started making props for the players – last year they were given Beholder deely boppers:

This year, microphones:

Thankfully, the props do usually get the desired player involvement.
Kieran Harwood has kindly provided the lyrics to the limericks and songs he wrote on the fly for the band of War-Chanter bards during the game.
Obviously, a lot of context is lost if you weren’t there… Imagine “The Voice” with monsters:

There once was a fighter from Tyr
who fought his foes without fear
But on the plane of air
he was attacked by a bear
and now all he wants is a beer

There once was an evil assassin most foul
who’s face was hidden by a cowl
he tried to kill our hero
but his chances were zero
so in seconds he threw in the towel

There once was a demon from the depths of the Abyss
Who sealed her deals with a lone kiss
One day she got drunk
and made out with a skunk
And now her breath smells of … urine

There once was a half-orc who wrote limericks
and this is an example of those limericks
His alignment was any non-good
and his lyrics were also non-good
plus the last line didn’t even rhyme

There once was a wizard on the coast
who’s name was feared by most
he saw some tieflings perform
and said “that was the norm
and their music is as bland as toast”

There once was a tiefling in a band
who’s music kept getting them panned
They were coarse and irritating
and they seemed to get everywhere
So basically, they were just like sand

There once was an elf walking into a bar
accompanied be a dwarf and a centaur
they started drinking at one
and when they were done
they had all ended up on the floor

There once was a wasp summoned from Hell
that left us a great tale to tell
we beat the beast down
with nary a frown
and the summoner’s name starts with “Bell”

There once was a giant wasp, oh shucks!
It flies at Goodberry, but she ducks
we barely fend it away
until we’re gone from the fray
and I’ll just end by saying: “4th Ed sucks”

There once was a dwarf with a tiny beard
who was neither respected or feared
a fight he did pick
but with his small… trick
his opponents simply laughed and jeered

There once was a pair of giant space hamsters
and we’re riding a Spelljammer with them
They are super cute
sorry, this isn’t a limerick
I just wanted to brag about the hamsters

There once was a Marilith on the drum
who was angered by Modrons being dumb
The brass was in dismay
because one was a flambé
but a band’s only as good as its sum

There once was a man who lost his principles
But he had lots of money, so didn’t care
Turns out this isn’t a limerick
There’s not even a fifth line
… … …

The treant’s time is up, our time is now
You can’t vote for him, our time is now
It’s the Shillelaghs, boy We’re singin’ now
You can vote for us, our time is now!
In case you forgot or fell off we’re hot – knock your bark off
Our gold pieces fat plus I can’t turn the swell off
The Shillelaghs, doin’ singin’, we live this
It’s automatic we win this – oh you hear those harps, you finished
War-Chanter Bards, and we stay near you fightin’
Plus we’re singin’ at you chumps like we’re thunder and lightnin

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Helping science

Many years ago, I used to sell items on eBay for friends and co-workers. Some of the items which didn’t sell are still cluttering up the loft, over a decade on. One piece of electronics I decided to dust off and give another go was a Philips Facial Studio HB175 tanning device. Thought that maybe February would be a good time to sell as the sunshine was in short supply.

Surprisingly someone from Southampton won the collection-only auction and offered to pop round to pick it up. I assume he was in the area…

Great news was that he worked in the Oceanography department of Southampton university and needed a UV source for one of their test tanks rather than to top up his tan.

So somewhere in Southampton, maybe at the National Oceanography Centre, I’ve managed to help some science get done.

This was a triumph!
I’m making a note here:
Huge success

It’s hard to overstate
my satisfaction




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Finally, a phone upgrade

“Early adopter” is not really something you would expect to see on my technology profile.

For Christmas 2011, I was treated to a HTC Radar Windows Phone (a year after Windows 7 came out). It’s a lovely little phone – perfectly pocket- and hand-sized. Still does most of what I need it for although the browser (IE9) tends not to be appreciated by some web sites.

So five years on and for Christmas 2016, I was treated to a Microsoft Lumia 950 (a year after it was released). No HTC this time as they’ve dropped out of the Windows Phone market before making a WP10 product. This phone is definitely not pocket-friendly and the screen size may mean it’s actually in the phablet range.

I’ve added a 64GB MicroSD (which I couldn’t do with the Radar and its laughable unexpandable 6.5GB storage) so I may be retiring my trusty Zune as well, the latter’s 30GB of music and podcasts now easily accommodated. Nine years of stalwart service so I’ll be sad to see it go.


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