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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James Mallard – Laundry

25 May, 2016


By which we mean, actual sewerage. James inspected his nice new duds. High quality, expensive, hard-wearing, well-fitted travelling gear. Oh, his cloak was fine – magically unstained. Everything else though was a complete mess.

Not that there had been much choice – Elsbeth (was it Elsbeth? Probably) had told them that there were caged-up people in some godsforsaken pit somewhere needing rescue. So he, Elsbeth, Baisek and Tarry had rushed to the rescue. As you do. Oh, it might have been problematic of course if they had been legally imprisoned in some godsforsaken pit, but the empire would never do such without a proper trial and so forth. This was a pit run by the town criminals, which was mostly – well – the town. So, rescue.

Regrettably, the path to rescue had been almost knee-deep in unspeakable sludge.

Meanwhile, Cannis had remained outside with Mal, and Misthanar was elsewhere. In retrospect, advancing into unknown peril without their heavies was a grave mistake. Bad tactics, no matter how good the cause. It had nearly gotten them killed. Underground crab-people – of course it had to be underground crab-people. Nasty aberrant things. Misthanar had arrived during the fight inside, but apparently there had been a second fight going on outside involving Mal, Cannis, and some gnolls. Mist had joined that fight – those three were going just great.

James had fallen, and fallen again. One healing option later, and he was concious for long enough to put a Magic Missile into the final crab person. Satisfying, but Elsbeth had done most of the work, of course. Lightning and all that. Probably Toasten, as well.

The three heavies rocked up in a rowboat they had won from the gnolls. There was some issue involving an aberrant crab limb, or something. Mal put a spear through the bottom of the rowboat dealing with it. But a Mending cantrip fixed that, James being particularly adept with minor magics.

Further in, they found the pit/cage. Mal used his strange dwarvish power to shape stone, springing the bars free from the rock in which they were embedded. The people were in a dreadful state. But there was help for them, and a rowboat for the few whom even the hope of freedom could not stand on their feet. James and Mist’s attention was diverted by odd patterns on the walls. Mist saw scraps of old elvish. James saw more with his magic senses, but could not read the writing. A few minutes persuading a light cantrip to trace out the pattern, however, revealed it to Mist.

Casting as a ritual. Supposed to take 1d4 hours, but it’s a cantrip, James has Cantrip Mastery, and Andy is flex if it helps the plot along.

Ancient elven – something about the Darakhul, “to light the way to hold off the chosen people”. (or was that “the hold of the chosen people”?). This chamber was a place of power. Not a node, exactly. Perhaps a place that once was one, long ago. “What we need,” said James, “is a really good library. I was hoping to find one in Santa Cora or Horizon.” Left unsaid was that they had been refused permission to leave the city, for the moment, by the power in the shadows.

Which left James back at the inn, with his nice new duds completely impregnated with sewerage. Damn. Damn and several other words which a nice young gentleman probably should not know, but which anyone attending military school will earn. They were spoiled. Ruined.

Hmm. Broken.

The effect of that Mending cantrip on the rowboat had been interesting. Not only did the sprites repair the hole – pulling wood fibres back into place, filling what gaps remained with some sort of spiderweb – they had also bailed the water out. Faster than the eye could follow, a little arc of water emptying the boat. It seems the sprites could take “mending” pretty loosely, if you were creative with it. A boat is supposed to keep water out, ergo, water in the boat is something needing to be “fixed”.

Well, it was worth a shot. It took James Where’s my d4? Ah – here it is. Rolled 2, STG. an hour and three quarts to set up. A brazier, for fire. A couple of buckets of cleanish water. Another bucket of ordinary earth. And an open window for air. Clothing on a rack. Soap and wax. Spare thread for repairs. A pot of honey, some fresh cream, and a little jam – sprites loved anything sweet. The honey was particularly prized, as beehives are defended by bees who – thanks to the inevitable magic of evolution – are well equipped to deal with the occasional thieving sprite. A small pentagram for summoning. He needed sprites that could see and smell, and that were able to meticulously perform a fine task, all of which he specified in the circle around the pentagram. An enclosing binding triangle and circle for the whole setup. The drawings were just chalk and charcoal. The binding was probably not completely necessary, but this job was liable to take a while and sprites were prone to lose attention.

James was thinking the whole time that this was absurd overkill to get some laundry done. But, well, it was an experiment. Maybe next time this wouldn’t all be necessary, but better safe than sorry. What rampaging cleaning sprites might do – James didn’t know and didn’t really want to find out.

James concentrated on his intent and performed the summoning. The clothing was to be mended – fixed. Tears sewn, and bad smells and stains to be removed from the fibres. The sprites got to work. Water and earth sprites removed the poo, drawing it into the bucket of earth. Air and fire sprites dried. Others stitched the rents put into the clothing by the crab-men, waxed the leather, and imparted a fresh pine and slightly floral scent to the whole. It took a quarter hour of concentration, renewing the attention of the sprites when it flagged. By the end of it all, the honey, jam, and cream were gone – the jars licked absolutely clean. They hadn’t touched the soap – not necessary.

In the end, his gear was perhaps not quite as good as new, but certainly as good as it could be. Some stains (perfectly reasonable in travel gear), and some impossibly fine darning that plainly said to anyone who might notice it: “wizard”. He scuffed out his workings, and took the buckets downstairs to throw out. He had learned a fair bit.

And that, dammit, is my justification for James keeping his nice new duds after them being immersed in salt water/sewerage/aberrant slime. Regular mending is much less of a production, of course – well within the scope of the cantrip. Obviously it’s a little beneath James’ dignity to tailor for the whole party, but at the end of the day – dignity be blowed if it’s a choice between doing a little magic and letting everyone wander around in tatters.

James Mallard -needs to snap out of it

29 April, 2016

I mentioned my blog on another website, and just spent a little time re-reading it. In particular, the events at the node in Ebony Watch.

Deep down in a layer of James’ mind he was not fully aware of, the cloak posed him a question: “would you die for the empire”? And in that same layer, his training and its cameraderie, the histories he had studied – stories of valour and sacrifice, his commitment to make the best of his father’s decision to place him in the army, and perhaps even his childhood storybook lessons that the noble must protect the common people, together formed a wordless reply: “I am a soldier of The Empire.”

Sort of reminded me what James is about. He’s been in a bit of a funk since being suspended from duty. The whole “screw it, let’s go to Anvil” is a bit of a sulk, and he needs to snap out of it. Seeing the politics has disillusioned him a bit, but ultimately there are illusions we all have to grow out of.

My goal for the character, of course, has always been that one day he would be archmage. It’s pretty obvious – that’s why I gave him the “One Unique Thing” that I did. Hidden, locked-away arcane talent. Duh. But he doesn’t plan to be archmage one day – that’s my idea. He will do what’s best. He will serve if he is called.

Which is why I refused the shortsword that the DM offered him (obviously it was for James – no-one else uses a shortsword). James actually is good, and loyal, and responsible and all that. Heroic, even. He’s not going to take some proffered shortcut to a goal that he doesn’t even have, and he’s intelligent enough to know that you are cautious with magic items. After playing a string of bad guys (I re-read Korgul’s stories: funny as hell, and I wrote them), I want James to really be the kind of person you would want in the job.

Having said that – this is not something that could possibly happen in the game. The way I see it, 10th level is when you start being a serious wizard. A bit like a black belt – all it means is that you have learned all the forms of your school. It’s after that that a martial artist starts getting serious.

So, there’s been politics, and he’s been relived of duty. He’s beginning to see what a tangled mess life mostly is. Nevertheless it remains the case that there being an empire is better than there not being one, it remains the case that the emperor is warden and guardian of civilisation and all the people in it. It remains the case that, as Hobbes suggested,

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.

“To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Snap out of it, man. Being a soldier of The Empire is still the worthwhile thing that it always was.

LOTR: The great cover-up

13 April, 2016

Has the climax of Lord of the Rings, the destruction of the One Ring, ever seemed a little anticlimactic to you?

Has Sam’s role in book three ever seemed a bit – I dunno – superfluous? I mean, he carried Frodo at one point. Ok, and rescued him from the orcs. But the story might be a little stronger without a sidekick. Is he just there as a comment on the great british working class?

Oh incidentally, you know how Frodo tells Sam the ring will destroy him? Why? Why would it destroy Sam and not Frodo? Because Sam is lower class – like Smeagol – whereas Frodo is a property owner. Oh Britain, thy name is snobbery!

Getting back to it – why is there that scene where Frodo is just finishing up transcribing the record of is adventures, and it turns out to be the book we are reading? Isn’t it a bit awkward? Wouldn’t it have been better if that coda hadn’t been there?

Well, I’ll tell you why it is there. Whenever an author takes pains to let us know that a book is narrated by a character in the book, that is telling us that the book is not written from a neutral, third party perspective. It’s telling us that not everything is as it seems, that not everything is to be belived.

Smeagol/Gollum. What a survivor! Centuries old. Walked across middle earth. Survived. Spent centuries in goblin caves in the Misty Mountains. Survived. You know how Boromir said “one does not simply walk into Mordor”? Gollum walked into Mordor. Several times. And out again. He knew all about Shelob, and fully expected to be able to retrieve the ring from the lair of a demon spider that had lived since the end of the First Age.

And in the end, he just tripped off a precipice in a moment of sheer inattention and “Oops!” into the lava.

Do you believe that?

Why was Sam there? In that moment, in that scene? Why had the fates conspired to put him there, trailing Frodo all the way?

He had a job to do. A destiny to fulfil. Because at the end of all things, Frodo could not destroy the ring. Just couldn’t do it. It fell to Sam to do the necessary. Motivation? Hell yes – that business with the Lembas on the way in, on top of everything else. He was primed for his moment.

Read it again. Sam destroyed the great ring. Sam brought down Sauron. Sam ended the third age of the world. Sam – it was Samwise Gamgee, a simple gardener from the Shire, who finally made that decision, who acted. Who did the thing.

And Frodo wrote it out of the book, because when all’s said and done, it was murder. Oh yes, layers of motivation. But one of those layers was simple spite.

And that’s how it went down, there on Mt Doom, that morning at the end of the Third Age. That’s what happened, and why.

So don’t believe everything you read. Not when you are warned that the narrator might have an agenda.

Secret, secret, secret

12 April, 2016

So, Andy held another contest, and no-one entered but me. Well, normally I take a bit of a back-seat because I write a fair bit; but his time no-one but me even bothered. So screw you guys, I will take the prize and not be even a little bit ashamed of it. I got two choices from a short list of special, special rewards.

First choice: re-jig your icon points a bit. Which fits with what I was attempting to do anyway in the previous (and did I mention prize-winning?) post.

Second choice: introduce an NPC into the campaign. There are, of course, a whole range of possibilties. But as we arrived in Newport and Andy described the place, this kinda gelled for me.


You know what, guys? I won’t actually post the story. It’s way too awesome. I’m going to send it over to Andy, and leave what I wrote as a draft post on my blog (titled “Secret Skills”). At some point in the future, I’ll publish it. But for now, the NPC can be a bit of a secret.

So there! Bwahahahaha!

Last night, I dreamed of heaven

25 March, 2016

And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels
‘Round about the throne, and the beasts, and the elders
And the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand
and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:

Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power
Be unto Him who sitteth upon the throne
And unto the Lamb forever and ever
Worthy is the lamb that was slain.

Last night, early Good Friday morn, dreamed of heaven.

Heaven was a perfectly cubical building, about 1,400 miles across. Outside – there was no outside. All other existence had been done away with. Creation had served its purpose. Long, long ago (I will not say that it had been millions, or billions, of years – time has little meaning here), God had rolled up the heavens and the earth like a scroll, and all that remained of reality was this pocket.

The whole of the inside of this vast building, about the size of Brazil, was a ziggurat, one vast set of steps, on which people stood to offer their praises to God, while angels flew above, criss-crossing the space.

That’s it. That’s all that happened here. Angels. People. Singing and praising God. Non-stop.

The song changed:

Holy, holy, holy
God of power and might
Heaven and earth are filled with your glory

Hosanna, hosanna! In the highest!

The had all sung this song ten thousand, or ten million times before – been through the entire Hillsong back-catalogue and every other song of praise ever written ever, over and over. Yet they had only just begun to sing praises to God. They were going to be doing this forever. Exactly this. In this building. Forever.

At the peak of the ziggurat sat God. On a throne. He was not as western art pictures him. He was a handsome middle-easterner in the prime of his years. He had a neat little beard and wore a rich red and gold robe with a turban. He smiled and tapped along to the rhythm of the song, as the redeemed of earth offered their endless, deeply felt, utterly sincere flatteries. Thinking to himself:

“It was all worth it.

“I did it all for this, for this, and it was all so totally worth it. The religious wars, the persecutions, the racks, the burnings, the diseases, the worms that infected people’s eyes, the little children dying of hunger. I had to throw fifty billion souls into hell just to have these two and a half, but it was worth it. An endless age I existed all alone, just the three of Me, until I struck upon the idea of creation. All I ever wanted was some things that I made to tell me just how great I am, and now here they are doing it. This – this is awesome!”

The song changed again:

Thou art worthy, thou art worthy, thou art worthy O Lord,
To receive glory, glory and honour, glory and honour and power!
For thou hast created, hast all things created,
Thou has created all things.
And for thy pleasure they are created,
Thou art worth O Lord!

The thought struck him, as it always did (being unchanging, he never learned anything).

“Worthy!” He thought, in wonderment. “Worthy! I am worthy, I am worthy, I am worthy – yes! I am worthy! I deserve this! I deserve all this! Every last bit of it! And more besides, for I am a jealous God.”

A flicker of flame caught his eye. The whole of the floor of heaven, the whole ziggurat, was made of glass mingled with fire. Within it, the shades of the damned writhed and wailed in endless torment.

“Look at her!”, God thought to himself. “Stephanie Frumm. She didn’t think I was worthy, she went her whole life without telling me once just how great I am. Well, sucks to be you, Steph. Sucks to be you. All I ever wanted was for you to obey me, and I would have settled for an admission that you ought to obey me, and a weekly apology for not doing it. But no, no, Steph was just too good for that, to good to submit herself to the will of Me. Well fuck you Steph, now you’re burning, and you’re going to stay burning forever!”

Over on tier thirteen thousand seven, Stephanie’s mother – Enid – stood worshipping. Wearing a white robe, shining like a star in the reflected glory of God, she sang:

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.
You O Lord are my heart’s desire and I love to worship you.
You alone are my strength, my shield
To you alone does my spirit yield

“See that, Steph? You mother knows what’s what. You could have been out there right now if you’d just asked me to forgive you. She was faithful, faithful to the end. And now she has her reward. Well done Enid. I love you too!”

Around the throne of god the four cherubim flew, mightiest beings in all creation. With their six wings, they hid their faces, bodies, and feet, and the called in a loud voice “Holy, holy, holy is he who sits on the throne!” Non-stop. God never got tired of it, never grew bored or weary of it, never thought to himself “Ok, guys, I get it now”. Everything he had ever done, he had done for this, this single, endless moment.

Stephanie’s mother, Enid, had forgotten all about her daughter, about everything she had ever cared about in life. All tears had been wiped away from her eyes, all grieving and sadness and regret, all fear. All she knew was the endless love of God. She wore a gold crown set with precious gems just like everybody else, and a silver cord went from her navel to the small white pillar she stood next to, a white stone with a name on it that only she knew. Her eyes were blind, her sight burned away from looking on the glory of God, and her voice was hoarse from shouting his praises. She wept tears of joy, her face alight with devotion. She had made it. She was here, in heaven, worshipping God. Safe forever, and forever grateful because the love of God had saved her from a lost eternity in hell.

Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God

In my dream, I saw all this, flitting insubstantial among the redeemed, the saints in heaven. And then God’s gaze flicked over to me. His expression darkened, and he opened his mouth to speak.

Then I awoke and dreamed no more.

Starry Night

24 March, 2016

Sometimes events move slowly.

Sometimes events move quickly.

Sometimes there are foreshocks: a comet, an unexplained eclipse, a new star in the sky.

Sometimes there are not.

This time seemed to be one of the latter and the former, respectively. Fast-moving events, but with a little warning. A nova in the Flame of the Archmage, a new star. A tiny one, visible only with the massive magical brass telescopes of the Santa Cora observatory. Nevertheless, a new star

An uncommon phenomenon, although not exactly rare. As above, so below. Events move, and the stars move with them. The overworld speaks, for those who have an ear to hear. Or an eye to watch. Perhaps this new star would flicker out, perhaps it would endure. Never insignificant, and the placement of this one especially not. Flame of the Archmage, right on the third nodal meridian.

Friar Benson made his usual meticulous notes. Time, place, telescope settings. Murmuring the astronomer’s watchword, or perhaps lament: “if you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen”.

She was there.

“What news, good friar?”
“A small nova, lady, white. Brightening from 5 to 4 over the last three days. In the Flame.”
“Another one”, she said. “A new star, but not one of mine. Last Petal of the Grandmaster grows bright, Fifth Forge of The Mountain actually changes colour, Web of Shadows loses a star and The Forest gains one, God of Song begins to realign, sand stirs in The Hourglass. Even the nodes stir and speak. They are all in motion.”
“But where to, lady?”
The Priestess laughed. “Why, here, good friar! They are coming here. But I think they will not stay long. They travel to First Forge.”
Friar Benson was a little lost for a suitable response. “Strange times, lady.”
The Priestess collected herself a little. “It is always strange times. Keep an eye on that new one. Perhaps I should begin taking an interest.”

She moved on. Friar Benson went back to his telescope. It was a fine, clear night. A perfect night to watch the sky.

Riffing on that “watcher of the sky” thing from Deep Magic, the sky being “the overworld” of 13th age, seeing as how James is tossing around holy damage with Nova, and the whole business with being suspended from duty – maybe James’s icon relationship points should move around a little.

The Prize

12 March, 2016

A photodiary of a sucessful couple of hours.

ThePrize - 1c

A sucessful trip to Revolve

ThePrize - 2c

Ready to start work

ThePrize - 3c

Work in progress

ThePrize - 4c

First sight

ThePrize - 5c

The prize

The coil is actually freaky. The whipper-snipper does not have a distributor. Instead, it’s done magnetically (!!). See how the core of the transformer has a circular gap? There’s a lump of metal on the cooling fan on the shaft that closes and breaks the magnetic circuit as it goes past. Freaky.


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