Saturday, 1 August 2015


I’ve never been to GenCon, and I certainly haven’t followed the Ennies, it’s not really where I intersect with the hobby. However I am aware thanks to social media that Red and Pleasant Land has just won a bunch of awards (gold for best writing and silver for best adventure and product of the year, I think) in spite of having a fanbase supposedly in the minority compared to the total number of voters, and therefore “no chance of winning”.

This means a decidedly not mainstream-common-denomenator-product, produced by a not mainstream publisher, won several awards. It means that it is possible for a niche, independent product to win a mainstream popularity contest on quality of writing and vision. Much more interesting than yet another award going to a mainstream game line that I have no interest or investment in. (At this point I confess that I don’t own a copy of RPL yet, though I’ve got Vornheim and Death Frost Doom and I like those, they’re quality.)

And yeah, Zak S has his fans, there was still a hype machine, but… as far as I’m concerned that’s fair play, that’s politics. So congrats to Zak, James Raggi and whoever else worked on RPL! Jolly good. But while we’re at it, two other awards I care about:

Congrats to Stacy Dellorfano for the Contessa Blog award!

…and to Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws for the award for Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff!

At least, I think I’ve got that right.

(I know some people might be annoyed by this owing to the personalities involved… well, whatever. I don’t have a dog in that fight. Also personally this weekend is shaping up to be shit on a stick without the stick. Let’s just try to get along and be happy for each other, eh?)

Friday, 28 November 2014

Dream Diary

Something a bit different today. I’m not in the habit of remembering dreams much less writing them down in a blog, but these were so vivid I can recall them hours later.

Dream 1

The first was me being in a school assembly hall (as an adult) watching a film on an old-school projector and screen, sitting next to a woman I didn’t know. This was intercut with scenes of me waking up in the dark in a pool of rubbish somewhere with a dead body next to me, and her somewhere else with a body next to her.

Then I found myself in a third location in an apartment, being held hostage and forced to submit to bizarre orders under threat of hurt being inflicted on my loved ones (which may or may not include the woman in the pool).

The last part of the dream involved me being forced to swallow a fist-sized gobbet of semi-molten gold, held towards me at arms length in a pair of tongs by a six-foot tall assassin in a trenchcoat. I protested a bit saying I can’t possibly do that, and he replied in a rather jovial way that it would all be fine and I could swallow it no problem. I set to trying to deform the ball with my hands, because it was still liquid inside, and maybe if I made it more like a cigar shape I could get it down.

Then I woke up.

Dream 2

The second was in some high-tech office building with a big void in the centre (like the megablocks in Dredd) and the means of getting to different rooms was to wait for a platform to take you across — a platform with no guard rail, just a flat hovering sheet of metal. There were other high-tech things too like the lunch que, where you programmed in your chosen meal (I had a pre-programmed “usual”).

Then in the afternoon there was some kind of military drill where all the platforms were locked down. This was a scheduled thing that happened every thursday, and it meant all the office workers who needed to get to the other side of the building for meetings were forced to climb through crawlspaces and up to service platforms, where they’d leap meter wide gaps to get where they were going. Dozens of people in suits and lab coats and security armour jumping back and forth, and no-one fell, which was a surprise.

Then the dream cut to the roof where there was some kind of real military incursion going on — a lone assailant in a helecopter was shooting the place up, but really it seemed to be a vendetta between them and a corporate employee who also had a helecopter with guns. Eventually one or both of them were shot down, and the first one dispatched the second on the ground by forcing some strange breathing apparatus — it looked a lot like a pair of big blue lips — over the other’s nose and mouth. Instantly the victim’s lips and tongue went blue and swelled up, and they started convulsing as the invading chemical (biological agent, nanotech weapon?) began rewriting the geometry (and function?) of their internal organs, with unpleasant popping sounds.

Then I woke up.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Michael Gove Turing Test

Michael Gove and the Turing Test

Brought to light in this G+ post, which included the following exchange:

“But could he pass a Voight-Kampff test?”

“You reach down and flip the education system on it’s back, Michael … it’s trying to turn itself over, but it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping…”

Monday, 12 May 2014

New Scenery

So, I’m trying something out with the scenery… the images come from some random ink drawings I did when using up the last few drops in the ink converter before flushing the pens out.

Inkscape2 z

The Sea

Inkscape4 z

 Tower Between Realms

Inkscape5 z

Degrees of Infection

A bit hit-and-miss. Unfortunately the scanner doesn’t pick up the lovely red sheen in the first one, but it’s there. Images copyright me, whatever.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Cut Up Sunday


The Cronenberg Project opens on November 1st of this year, celebrating “all things Cronenberg”. Unfortunately it’s in Toronto, but there’s a virtual exhibition.

Cronenberg donated several props to the Toronto Film Festival — including the Clark Nova from Naked Lunch, which opened the press conference.



The iconic Clark Nova writing on its own and then in full BugWriter mode. In real life it’s a Smith Corona Sterling. For yet more typewriter porn check this page on for some pics of authors and typewriters — including Burroughs with the Clark Nova.

Re-watching Naked Lunch I noticed Optimum’s little promotional booklet of their other films — and was surprised to find Malcolm Tucker:


Welcome to Annexia, Malcolm.

Like all Cronenberg films Naked Lunch was scored by Howard Shore — and I’m torn between it and his score for Crash as my all-time favourite.

I could talk about Burrough’s own recordings, which include Dead City Radio, his readings for  Giorno Poetry Systems and the fantastic Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales (with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy). But I just found this recording of Frank Zappa reading “The Talking Asshole”:

Since I’m on youtube and in a Burroughs mood, here’s Bomb the Bass’s Bug Power Dust:

Did you get all of it? The lyrics are easier to hear on the downtempo mix from the K&D Sessions.

Anyway. I also found this fantastic Beastiemix of Root Down. It’s something like mix number 3728:

And talking about the Beastie Boys:

…yeah. These must be the symptoms of withdrawal from a substance that doesn’t really exist.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Safari So Goodi

…I went abroad for work and caught something unspeakable from The French; a nasty little bug that did its worst about 12 hours after I landed back home and pretty much wiped out the weekend.

Coughing my way back to the normal routine, I’ve already missed a few deadlines–two weeks of playlists, for one thing–but this will all be rectified shortly. In the meantime I’ve been playing with pen and paper.

The latest fountain pen aquisition is a Lamy Safari. I bought two–a Vista (clear plastic) and the Safari in white. I offered one to my wife, who said “I’ll have the clear one, the white one is U-G-L-Y”. True, although I think of it as Dr Marten’s boot ugly–or maybe Lego brick ugly, since the Safari is made from ABS plastic.


Aren’t you a bit short for a stormtrooper?

The Safari was designed by Wolfgang Fabian and Bernt Spiegel more than 30 years ago as a school pen for German students. Notice the triangular shaped grip that makes you hold the pen in a particular orientation–the kind of “feature” that inspires fanatical devotion or hyperbolic outrage in equal measure. Like anchovies, or the New Mini, or Harry Styles1 you either love it or hate it.

It turns out that a lot of people do love it. And by love it, I mean fetishise it. And don’t tell me it’s nostalgia–not all of these people can be German.

Lamy pander to these obsessives via limited edition colours–last year’s was a rather nice apple green, this year it’s a questionable neon yellow. There’s a variety of combinations of plastic and clip colour, and even country specific editions.

The cunning thing about the Safari is it’s just cheap enough to be an impulse buy, which probably motivates most purchases. But it’s not actually a cheap pen. A new one with a converter will be the best part of 20 quid, which seems a lot for a plastic pen (although shop around and you’ll knock a fiver off that). As for the impulse buying–I found myself considering the green one, the charcoal one, and other colours after buying the two I already had.

The thing about reviews of the pen is that they’re rarely objective. People either love the colours, the swappable nibs, the playroom feel of the pen, or they hate the triangular section and the variable quality control. Here’s my very brief review:

Pros: ABS plastic is tougher than you think; I love the design; the swappable nibs are a huge advantage; cheap enough not to worry if you lose it (unless you paid an outrageous sum for a collectable).

Cons: the nibs vary a lot in quality between batches–going from buttery smooth to really scratchy. The grip section is uncompromising. It’s plastic.


p>I like using fountain pens, and the Safari is one I can travel with and not be upset if I left it in another country. This is not true of my other pens. However, despite the fanatic’s admonitions that they would use a Safari in preference to their other pens costing ten times as much, the Safari isn’t as nice as a Pelikan or a TWSBI or a more expensive pen. But it’s a lot nicer than a biro.

[1] Actually, I quite enjoyed One Direction’s performance at the Brit awards. I say enjoyed, I tolerated it. I say tolerated, I stuck a spoon up my nose. Because if I’m going to hurt that much, I’m going to do it to myself.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

His Nibs

“You’re about due for something new to geek over” said the other half recently.


We’ve just started playing De Profundis and although I planned to type all my 1920’s style letters (with the Travelling Typewriter font) handwriting them is a lot more fun.

Some time ago I decided to buy one fountain pen. Then I kept it in a desk for ages and never used it. Then I aquired a second fountain pen from my late grandmother, which prompted me to start using the first. Since then I’ve carried a fountain pen to work every day. 



Top to bottom, the four pens are a clear TWSBI mini with a steel italic nib, a Pelikan M200 with a fine gold-plated steel nib, a Parker 51 with a broad-ish nib which is probably gold but I don’t know, and my boring Sheaffer 300  with medium steel nib.

The Sheaffer is my going-to-work pen, including going abroad–it’s the only one that takes cartridges and I’m not about to walk onto a plane with a full ink reservoir. Its body is brass and it has a really strong articulated clip that can even go into my leather jacket.

The Parker is a vintage pen. No idea what age; I inherited it from my late grandmother. It’s my “Sunday Best” pen, for obvious reasons.

I didn’t need a third pen, but the Pelikan was a birthday present. I certainly didn’t need a fourth pen, the TWSBI–that was a recent present to myself, and is pretty impractical with its 1.1 italic nib.

They all write differently. The Pelikan is probably the most fun, being slightly springy and giving my handwriting the most slant. The Parker and the Sheaffer are both lovely and smooth, although different due to weight, thickness, etc.

The TWSBI needs a bit of care because of the italic nib, but it’s very nice and smooth. Nice enough that I fancy a broader italic to practice some blackletter and other styles.




My hands-down favourite pad paper right now is Rhodia’s DotPad. It’s special for 2 reasons:

  • it’s spaced like 5mm squared paper, but because it’s dots instead of squares its much less obtrusive;
  • it’s a pretty robust pad, and is great to work on in landscape for drawing diagrams etc.


It’s nice white shiny paper that takes ink very well.

The runner up is Pukka Vellum. It’s a bit yellow which is a feature, although blue looks slightly peculiar on it. It’s only available ruled, and it’s slightly rougher – but it’s spiral bound, punched and perforated making it easy to bind up the useful notes.

Due to De Profundis I’m also experimenting with nice letter paper. Since the stamp is more than 50% of the cost of sending a letter, spending a bit more on nice paper makes sense–writing on laid paper is a lot more interesting and (I hope) makes the letters nicer to receive.

I would fancy some Old Crown Mill paper, however it only seems to come in A4 (too large for a handwritten letter) and A5 (too small). In between there’s the Post Quarto size which is just right, and supplied by Basildon Bond.




Diamine inks are UK-made, cheaper than than fancy inks and come in a hundred colours. The Edelstein Onyx comes in a nice bottle and flows well on all sorts of paper–but it’s rather boring.

It’s worth noting that pen luminary Richard Binder rates Diamine as highly reliable and low maintenance, which is good to know. Also I love the bottle my WES Blue came in.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


A few years ago I went on a leadership course. It was a strange and challenging experience that certainly altered my view on life and people forever.

It consisted of a number of lectures and team-building exercises (with a bunch of strangers). It was not the sort of course where you get a handy ring binder at the end; no-one took notes when the lectures were delivered. Even so I can remember the content of most of them, which is pretty remarkable retention.

The number one concept that remains is the idea of tiers of communication. I don’t think I’ve seen this anywhere else (so if a reader can identify the theory, I’d be grateful).


Base is the bare minimum of communication you must do to get by. Facts are irrefutable observations. Once you go into the realm of Opinions you start to risk offending someone by talking to them. Showing them Feelings exposes you to even greater risk–but at the same time there is a better overall understanding. It all comes together in Peak communication, the optimum and complete form.

I like models, and this is one of the most useful I’ve encountered. It’s easy to observe and test. Colleagues who only communicate with smalltalk can become wrong-footed when you suddenly move to expressing opinions. The main example we got was greeting someone with “how are you?” and being answered with a cheery “fine!” despite the fact they were limping. Once you move to “actually, I’m in a lot of pain” you’ve automatically moved into an uncomfortable space of statement of fact (or even feelings). You’ve put a foot on the communication ladder.

I’ve been suffering with the misery of sciatica for two weeks now. This is why it’s 4am and I’m standing up to write a blog post waiting for the painkillers to start working, when I should be asleep.

So when colleagues ask me “how are you?” I reply honestly. It’s clear they didn’t want to know; they’d rather get away. I tend to let them off pretty quickly by changing the subject.

One chap asked me how I was and I did just that. He nodded politely and made to disappear. Then as we were parting, he said

“I’ll pray for you”.

I know he’s a Christian, but even so–he’s taken more risk than I did in that conversation by leaping into the realm of Opinion (and if he was sincere, Feeling) about his personal religion.

I don’t have much more to say about that. I guess I could talk about how in gaming we should strive towards peak communication between characters by taking risks, stating Opinions and displaying Feelings of our characters. But, the main thing I’m thinking about now is how deeply those statements intrude into the thoughts of others, particularly a secular heathen like myself.

I also think about how much less they would matter if spoken in a Christian community, where prayer is taken for granted. In that context, they’re a statement of Fact. But they’re still an expression of Feeling, maybe even Peak communication. As people become more alike, do you go up the scale or down?