Work related posts have been moved.

9 November, 2010

My work and computing related posts are now at

If you have come here from a work-related perspective (computing, semweb, bioinformatics, math). Perhaps you could go there right now and not read the gory personal stuff here.

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Field Notes: Dwarven battle order

1 December, 2021

(It just seems to me that if the usurper Dwarf King did decide to send the dwarves against The Empire, they’d be shit at it)

We find ourselves in the unusual position of engaging with large dwarven forces on open ground. Although dwarves individually are tough adversaries, their battle order en masse leaves much to be desired. Certain aspects of their habitual voie de la guerre can be used to advantage.

Most obviously, dwarves are accustomed to defending tunnels. Their best tactics amount to raising a shield wall and plugging the gap, at which they excel better than any other troop. They do not cope at all well with flanking or encirclement: they have not the battle order to wheel a unit to face a threat from another direction.

Dwarves tend to treat any sort of wall or barrier as though it were miles of impenetrable rock. Above ground, the gates of their forts are heavily defended, but the walls defended lightly or not at all. It simply does not naturally occur to them that anything might come from that direction.

The same oversight applies to terrain. Dwarves do not cope at all well with mud or bog, which our farmlands tend to be at certain times of the year. To them, such terrain is effectively an impenetrable barrier, and they can tend to assume that it is a barrier for anyone else as well. Without training, advice, or bitter experience, they tend to organise their fortifications under the assumption that attacks can only come along the road.

Dwarves also tend to discount indirect fire until they have been on the receiving end of it. They have little experience with it – you cannot fire a catapult or a bow in a tunnel. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the dwarves traditional disdain of elven troops.

In respect of advice or bitter experience, they are particularly subject to the bane of armies everywhere: senior officers of noble rank freshly arrived from home with little or no field experience, who are quite certain that they know how war is done. Dwarves being so long-lived, their battle doctrine tends to be woefully out of date – centuries so.

A final noteworthy point, obvious as soon as it is stated, is that dwarves tend to be short-sighted. While human troops will see the dust of an approaching force miles away on the horizon, dwarves quite literally cannot see that far. Their forces may have auxiliaries who can, of course, but their information will tend to be ignored. Their hearing also is lacking. Their most useful way of detecting approaching troops is by the vibration through the earth of marching on stone or hard-packed earth.

Put simply, they are tremendously easy to sneak up on provided you avoid marching the troops.

Their greatest strength is their night vision. It is of paramount importance that camps and defences take this into account. At night, every aspect of battle is in favour of an attacking dwarven unit.

Their other greatest strength is, of course, their sappers.

In summary:

  • Approach through the fields or forests, avoid roads. Use route step. March heavy troops on the roads as decoys and feints. On approach, wrap the wheels of seige engines.
  • Attack walls, not gates. Breaching or surmounting. Indirect fire over the walls: trebuchet rather than ballistae.
  • Draw the enemy out into the open. Flank and encircle – do not simply send in a column of pikes.
  • Be especially vigilant at night. Camp discipline as for actions against orcs.
  • Stone fortifications are no defence against dwarves whatever. Camp on mud if at all possible.

L’Empire perdure.


I dreamed about work last night

5 September, 2021

To set the scene, this week for the first time I have been fully exposed to the release and deployment process at work. For most of my time as a developer my job was done when I checked in my code, passed the unit tests, and requested a merge. This week, I found out what happens after that. I did 50 hours this week.

In my dream, there was a small fire developing on the wood floor, which I stamped out. There was a wire poking out. The homeowner – who was really pleasant and nice – asked me what that was, and I said “maybe a network cable”, but I knew it wasn’t a network cable. After a moment, I corrected myself and told the truth. “It’s the lights”. One of the strings of programmable LED lights that I has run through this room. The end of the strip, where I had wired the connection, had gotten hot enough to light the wood.

With slowly dawning horror, I looked around the room. It was a big, split-level affair, I think trophies on the walls. Wood panelling. Lovely wood floor. I had run LED light strips all around the room – along the cornices, around the architraves, down along the skirting boards. The place looked fricking awesome.

And at each point where there was a join in the run of lights, at the corners where I had put in a wire to connect them, there was a small fire developing. Dozens. “Oh shit.”, I thought. “I am going to have to tear the whole lot out. It’s all got to come out right now.”

And that’s what work is like.


Ages of ages, cycles of cycles

13 March, 2021

In the beginning, the gods created the stars and the earth. And the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the face of the waters. And the gods said, “Let there be Light”, and there was light. And the gods separated the light from the shadow. And the light and the shadow were the first age.

Ages of ages. Cycles of cycles. A separation, a division of that which must rightly be divided.

The light is life, and the shadow death. How can there be death-in-life? And yet there is one who created death-in-life, and sent armies of the dead to march over the face of the earth.

How can there be life-in-death? How can there be light-in-shadow? Beyond the earth are the stars. When another one brings light-to-shadow, then the age will turn again.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

(with thanks to Ursula Le Guin, and to William Tyndale.)