Posts in Category: Uncategorized


My evenings are short now that I am working elsewhere. The chores and tasks of existing do not vanish because you arrive home an hour and a half later in the evening, etc. There is the precious reading time to consider though. The first month of my commute has taken me through Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, a Martin Beck novel, and I’m currently nearing the final quarter of The Breaks of the Game. Anyway, this post is a placeholder for something I want to write about later and do not want to forget about.

Jonathan McCalmont, of Ruthless Culture and Interzone, has been reviewing the films of Andrei Tarkovsky as part of the current reissuing of his films, so that mortals can actually see them. I managed to see three of them at the cinema: Stalker, The Sacrafice, and Solaris. It is Stalker which I wish to write about, since Jonathan has added a fine piece of the genre of criticism about and around the film Stalker in the form of his review for FilmJuice. It’s a good piece with plenty to think about. It’s shorter than Geoff Dyer’s Zona too. His post around it can be found here.

The placeholder of an idea is a question. Why do certain films (Stalker being a prime example) invite rewatching, reinterpreting, and replaying to a degree of intensity more fervent than written fiction, especially the shorter forms?

I have unverifiable theories. And I will probably end up citing my own reading and rereading of the stories found near the back of M. John Harrison’s Things that Never Happen.

Time to clean up cat litter and apply flea treatment to the mangy moggies.


Recently I have been thinking about the kinds of games I enjoy playing. It is fashionable among my circles to enjoy grand strategy games which pit you as the mind behind a civilization. These games have my attention because they’re so intricate and clever, but they do not have my playtime. My ability to focus on them and understand their systems is too short.

It was through the Idle Thumbs podcast that I found my comfort zone.

The podcast has been going for a number of years now, although I only started to listen to it about nine months ago. In that time the panel have made numerous references to Far Cry 2’s shared experience of the live grenade rolling back down the hill towards you. Interested I took the opportunity one Steam sale and bought a copy. I’m seventeen hours into my first play though and thoroughly enjoying myself. My standard mode of play is to take a rifle and to calmly snipe my way through encounters. No check point of mercenaries is safe from me if they are in my line of sight.

This style of play: a deliberate and thoughtful adventure but without all of the mechanical trappings or heavy narrative of role-playing games. It works for me. And now that I have gotten my head around how the game works, I’m starting to find that experience in survival simulator The Long Dark.

The comparison which I’d make to this experience is from one of the opening scenes of No Country for Old Men. I attempted to find a suitable clip on YouTube and found that someone has made the comparison between it and Far Cry 2 for me already.

The prose from Cormac McCarthy’s novel better captures the stillness I’m searching for.

MOSS SAT WITH THE HEELS of his boots dug into the volcanic gravel of the ridge and glassed the desert below him with a pair of twelve power German binoculars. His hat pushed back on his head. Elbows propped on his knees. The rifle strapped over his shoulder with a harness-leather sling was a heavy barrelled .270 on a ’98 Mauser action with a laminated stock of maple and walnut. It carried a Unertl telescopic sight of the same power as the binoculars. The antelope were a little under a mile away. The sun was up less than an hour and the shadow of the ridge and the datilla and the rocks fell far out across the floodplain below him. Somewhere out there was the shadow of Moss himself. He lowered the binoculars and sat studying the land. Far to the south the raw mountains of Mexico. The breaks of the river. To the west the baked terracotta terrain of the running borderlands. He spat dryly and wiped his mouth on the shoulder of his cotton work shirt.

The rifle would shoot half minute of angle groups. Five inch groups at one thousand yards. The spot he’d picked to shoot from lay just below a long talus of lava scree and it would put him well within that distance. Except that it would take the better part of an hour to get there and the antelope were grazing away from him. The best he could say about any of it was that there was no wind. When he got to the foot of the talus he raised himself slowly and looked for the antelope. They’d not moved far from where he last saw them but the shot was still a good seven hundred yards. He studied the animals through the binoculars. In the compressed air motes and heat distortion. A low haze of shimmering dust and pollen. There was no other cover and there wasn’t going to be any other shot.

no country wind blowing



All the cool kids are doing link posts now and because I’ve had such weird days working for the past few weeks I’ve collected a bunch of things that I think are worth making some notes on.

First off there’s this talk by Harry Schwartz at the Boston Emacs Meetup called Getting Started with Org-mode. Fantastically nerdy stuff. In my experience there are several categories of tools for manipulating text. There is Microsoft’s Word, obviously, which is good enough for most people’s purposes. And then there are the more minimal text editors from the default notepad application which appears on every computer’s operating system and has a greater or lesser set of features depending on the system’s target audience. (Notepad on Windows is shit. Gedit provided with some Linux desktops is pretty good.) Then we have your integrated development environments. Scrivener, a tool for writers, is equivalent to the tools available from Jetbrains, who produce specialist IDEs for various programming languages. These provide tooling and automation for common tasks in the problem domain. They are often very good, but have a tendency to force you into a work flow.

And then there are the two sleeping giants: Vim and Emacs.

Vim could be said to be a minimalist environment, but it’s customisable and has plug-ins available. I use it for work because it’s installed on pretty much every server in existence. It’s good, but not for me.

But I’m an Emacs user. And I’m an Emacs user for two reasons: firstly it’s inherently programmable and you can change it to adapt to your work flow. It is an old joke that Emacs is a fantastic operating system in need of a good text editor. And while that’s got a genuine core of truth in it that’s slightly unfair. Mostly though I use Emacs because of Org-mode. The talk linked to above is an hour long outline of some parts of Org-mode, but is in no way an extensive tour. Like Harry, I use Org for todo list management and also for writing technical documents. At various times I have tried to use it for writing prose in, but find my optimal process often involves paper & pen then typing up, so text generally goes straight into Scrivener.

Anyway, look at that talk. Emacs and Vim are fascinating as they will likely be around for as long as we have computers and have parallel solutions for many tasks.

My evangelism caught the better of me there.

The next thing which has caught my interest has been the ongoing discussion around the Clarke Awards. It started with Nina Allan and continued with Martin Petto and Jonathan McCalmont. I suspect that my contribution to the discussion has been minor and betraying how junior I am within those circles. Broadly I’m less interested in literary awards than having a robust & boisterous culture of debate around literature. I nominally write SF, but only one example of it has been published anywhere of note. I’ve ruled out submitting material anywhere this year, as I just want to get good enough to my own standards and I’m not quite comfortable with what I’m attempting to articulate yet. To have spaces for lively arguments which are conversational is something that would help me get there.

The genre (whatever that is) has gotten better over the last fifty years, but everyone seems happy for us to be in situation where writing at a Hard Difficult level is the accepted norm. Personally I want to see myself pushing into the high E numbers along with my friends. It’s the critics who’ll get us there.

Related to the above I’ve been reading Lavie Tidhar’s HebrewPunk. It’s good and definitely of a high standard than is usual. Will have thoughts later.

I start work in an hour and a half, so best make another coffee. Tonight is the night that I resort to chemistry to power me through to 6AM.

See below for a selfie.



Last day of the holiday.

I’ve been good by not checking my work email since Thursday 28th It’s been good to have the time off. I did no project work at the weekend as I was mostly reading and taking some time to play Far Cry 2. I’m still enjoying that. Still struggling with the politics and have just reached a difficulty spike, which isn’t that fun.

The big success of the weekend was finding an iced coffee recipe which used the Aeropress. I took the recipe from Serious Eats and added a dash of soy milk to it. I was using the Foxtrot blend from St. Martins and will have to try the recipe with their house blend, Intrepid, as that’s what I tend to buy for week-to-week drinking. The Intrepid blend or their single origin Old Brown Java taste good/the same after being left in a vacuum flask for ten hours. Some of their other delicate roasts change flavor in ways which aren’t necessarily unpleasant, but make the other coffees I drink during the day taste sour. (I make coffee the night before work and put it in a Zojirushi flask to keep it warm because what I value most when I get to my desk in the morning is a cup of really good coffee.)

As usual the scrum notes for today are below. These are the last I intend to do for the duration of this project. The retrospective should be up later this week.

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday/last scrum to advance the project?
    • For The Market Underground:
      • I created a conversation with Harrison
      • I added more text and objects
      • I sent a compiled version of the game to Janos for testing
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • For The Market Underground:
      • Work on the feedback I received from Janos who kindly sent me transcripts of his frustrated attempts at playing the work
      • Start to write the retrospective for completion & publication post-project
      • Look at the ways to share the project as is to readers of this site without forcing them to download anything
    • Jon C and me have agreed on another prompt to practice against. I’d like to storm the first draft of that today. These exercises are meant to be quick & dirty and I risk over thinking them if I let them drag on
  3. What are my blockers?
    • While I was up early to start normalising myself for four days in the office I’ve spent most of my time this morning calling Hotpoint or waiting for their technician to arrive. They’ve been and gone now but it took a chunk of time out of my morning
    • Pizza dough has to be made for dinner


Bowing Moomin


My holiday is now in its final phrase. I’m back to the millstone on Tuesday and I already expect it will be a mildly unpleasant day. Part of doing these scrums has kept me honest although I’ve dropped the sprint planning and retrospective phases of the process, which has caused discipline to drop. The game will get a public alpha release on Sunday for people to take a look at. Once that’s done I’m going to look towards doing a full retrospective and post-mortem on this project.

Do I want to add to this work of IF? Yeah, I think I do. I’d like to keep it around as an experimental sandbox for ideas. Do I want to write other IF? Sort of. Yes. I’ve got a vague note scribbled on Wednesday to write a work based on my reading of The Buried Giant which uses gameplay mechanics to explore memory. Is this something that I have the time and expertise to do? Not really, but writing IF works is more enjoyable than writing short science fiction. Both are niches within niches. However IF is a niche which hasn’t yet been monetized by MFA programs.

I suspect also that my narrative tics fit better into contemporary IF than they do into short SF. As Jen frequently says, I’m aiming for most of my writing to have a quality similar to Scandinavian light — diffuse but just in the right, golden way. Also it’s hard to escape the process differences between prose and working in the Inform 7 language. Prose is not computer programming and while Inform 7 is roughly analogous to a natural language, it is still possible to write with agile, incremental, and rapid prototyping processes.

Oh that’s food for thought.

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday/last scrum to advance the project?
    • For The Market Underground:
      • I expanded the text in several places. See github for where :)
      • I inserted the start of scene text for ‘The Evil Waiter’ storylet
    • I read Moskva & I read two stories sent to me by Jon C.
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • For The Market Underground:
      • More text and object expansion
      • Add lanterns
      • Implement a conversation with Harrison
      • Implement the end of game condition
        • This will probably be a storylet
      • Create a blank storylet
    • Work on SILVER CHORD
  3. What are my blockers?
    • I’m off to see Shonen Knife tonight.

MUSIC NOW: Pig Destroyer’s Mass & Volume, a CD I bought years ago, ripped, and never listened to until now. Very nice.


I had too much fun yesterday evening reading The Buried Giant in a beautiful garden and then in a bar drinking beer & rum. Today I am paying for one of these things with a headache and lethargy.

The new J. Grimwood novel, Moskva, came out today. It was delivered to my Kindle at midnight in the moments before I slipped into strange anesthetized dreams. I’m two chapters in and it’s great.

Notes today will be kept short. I’m not sure if I’m due a sprint planning session or a retrospective. They’ve not been too important for this project as the momentum of writing the scrums has kept me on a pace.

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday/last scrum to advance the project?
    • I did things with git. It’s beyond the scope of the scrum to give full details, but the short explanation is that uploading a full Inform 7 project to GitHub is something I’m uncomfortable doing. The work around was to create a separate directory make that into the git archive and write a quick program to copy the source files and do the things with git which are a pain to do on a Windows computer. This took about an hour, which was enjoyable, but also a busman’s holiday. The source code for The Market Underground can be found at my github page and is fairly human readable. I now intend to look at a putting together a means for people to play it at the weekend
    • Along with setting git up I expanded the text for The Market Underground in several places and added another interactive NPC. I also renamed the waiters
    • Last night at the writing group I started to storm a draft of SILVER CHORD and in that address some of the comments Lucy provided of the story I asked for peer review on at the weekend
      • She also gave me a really good pep talk, which I can mostly remember
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • For The Market Underground:
      • More text and object expansion
      • Add lanterns
      • Insert the start of scene text for ‘The Evil Waiter’
    • Read Moskva
    • Continue storming the draft of SILVER CHORD
      • I have several pages of notes on the stuff and structure of it but the difficulty for me is always just getting it out onto pages as a mess which can be edited into shape later. I am a very self-conscious writer
  3. What are my blockers?
    • Today, I am lazy
    • Also I should go vote for something pointless





Yesterday was not the easiest day to motivate myself. A lot of it was spent either looking at the source code for The Market Underground feeling daunted at the amount of details which need adding or spent working out how the story SILVER CHORD is going to work. Today presents its own obstacles for my attention, but the worst of the time sinks, refactoring my Emacs configuration for this quarter, has been dispensed with after spending some hours hacking it into a better shape.

There are many features which I adore in Emacs and most of them are a consequence of its programmability, but the one which I keep coming back to is Org-Mode. It kicks the shit out of other time planning and document markup languages in terms of ease of use and the number of features it contains. The biggest stumbling block for me using it has always been that I work in an environment where sharing data by the cloud or any other means is at best frowned upon and actively discouraged by both policy and implementation. The logical consequence of this is that I can’t keep one unified organizer environment across my personal and current professional existence. In the past I’ve tried to reconcile the two in order to have a better todo system as per Getting Things Done or Tom Limoncelli’s Time Management for System Administrators, and I’ve always failed.

I’m not going to do that anymore. I want to use these tools to make me happier, so I’m going to have to accept that there is going to be a dividing line between the two spheres of my life.

The next exercise in distraction will be hooking Emacs up to my email. :)

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday/last scrum to advance the project?
    • I spent quite a bit of time polishing the text for The Market Underground. This included extensive spell checking and expanding some areas of description
    • For SILVER CHORD I made notes and wrote some samples of prose to find the edge in this project’s marble
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • For The Market Underground:
      • More text expansion and polish
      • Start the git archive for this project and commit to GitHub and share the repository with a few friends
      • Read up on implementing detailed environmental descriptions
    • Attend my weekly writing group
      • Write more style samples and attempt to unpick what I’m trying to articulate from the mess of notes
  3. What are my blockers?
    • Only some domestic chores and travel time




So it happened: Leicester won the league because Spurs bottled it. There’s not much else to add. I will be interested in seeing the mood in the city centre when I wander out for lunch.

Of interest to me this morning is Martin Petto’s piece “Two Proposals For The Structure And Administration Of The Arthur C Clarke Award” which is in dialogue with Nina Allan’s recent post on the Clarke Award, “The Last Hurrah?”. The section of Nina’s essay I’d like to draw attention to and would be interested in reading Martin’s views is quoted below:

At least a part of the problem resides in the fact that there is no recognised online ‘hub’ for British SF. For a number of years (from 2009 when the submissions list first started to be released), the submissions list was announced via the BSFA/Vector blog, Torque Control, where lively, informed discussions of many critical and ideological aspects of SF took place under the dedicated, engaged stewardship of Niall Harrison. In 2009, the post announcing the Clarke submissions list generated 112 comments, mainly debating the eventual shortlist and offering guesses. The following year saw an almost equal number of comments and shortlist guesses, surely a sign that interest surrounding the award was in rude health.

These critical and ideological debates have the capacity to be infinitely less stupid than Puppyshit, and instead of endlessly replaying the American culture wars over and over in commercial adventure fiction and actually converse with the rest of humanity and its crises. But having a critical conversation which is based around a yearly award ceremony strikes me as both an exercise in the short term, but also as fixed on something too real, and actually too commercial.

The best forum conversation I ever read was on the archives of the New Weird threads from the old TTA forum. The sub-genre at the time of the discussion existed as a few novels and short stories, but was, mostly, an abstract idea about to bifurcate into the VanderMeer’s commercial vision and whatever else was left. That movement fizzled and elements of it absorbed by those less committed. But still, it was not a conversation based on a general shortlist drawn up by an award process, but by a specific argument being made by a community. This is what made it interesting.

However, that discussion might only have been possible then. As the times have changed I struggle to see how a space can now exist, as we live in a time where people cannot make their arguments without being shouted down by individuals who possess both entrenched opinions on everything and a financial incentive to be on the winning team. We need to have a space to be wrong and to thrash out the assumptions behind our collective stupidity.

Also there are some scrum notes for today.

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday/last scrum to advance the project?
    • Yesterday I implemented two qualities in The Market Underground and integrated into the storylet that I’m working on at the moment. I gained new knowledge of the Inform 7 language and didn’t want to smash my head against a brick wall. This, dear reader, is progress
    • While in the pub yesterday I sketched out a second storylet. It uses some different mechanics to the first one and will leave something for the player which can affect a later storylet more directly than a quality of value
    • I started to expand the text for The Market Underground. It is also in serious need of a spell check
    • For most of the afternoon I read while the replicats interrogated by face with their noses. First I read two chapters of Theory of Prose (chapters two & three, the ones about deceleration and parallelism), which is always in equal parts a pleasure and a chore to read. After I reread some of Delany’s About Writing
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • Expand more text in The Market Underground and polish
    • Start to work on SILVER CHORD
  3. What are my blockers?
    • I imagine there is nothing of significance
    • Oh wait, the material above the scrum notes

NOW PLAYING: Jeff Mills Live @ BBC Radio One Essential Mix (07.06.1998)


The last month of Spring has begun and the weather is still atrocious. Welcome to 21st Century Britain! A corrupt ruling party and shit weather. We have it all.

Yesterday was a write-off. Things broke and I cooked dinner for my family.

Today has promise. Also I went into the cupboard under the stairs and extracted some of my favourite books. Sitting in a neat pile next to me are my copies of Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Other Essay, Samuel Delany’s About Writing, and Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose. Initially I went looking for the Theory of Prose and emerged with a slightly damaged food and eight other texts.

I’m calling today the start of the sprint because yesterday as non-eventful. The objects are to polish The Market Underground and to start putting words down for SILVER CHORD.

In retrospect I’m glad that I decided to concentrate on the technical framework for the Old Man and Evil Waiter storylet, as it means I can copy-paste the guts into the next one. I’m sad that I abandoned the story I was writing for Jon, but that happens. There is nothing to be mad about. It would be foolish for me to get annoyed with life getting in the way of project work.

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday/last scrum to advance the project?
    • On Saturday I attended the workshop session and presented a short story called A Venice for Half the Year. The response stung, but productive feedback and line edits were received
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • I am going to start the polish and expansion of the descriptions and dialogue trees in The Market Underground so it can go to public alpha release at the end of this sprint on Wednesday
    • I am going to implement two qualities. Let’s called them criminality and decency and unpack the implications of that over the design of the storylets
    • I’m going to sketch out a paper design of the second storylet
    • Make time to read
  3. What are my blockers?
    • It’s a bank holiday. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up in a pub drinking beer at some point. :)




Saturday, a day when the Walklate-Ellwood household sits in their shared office ignoring the world. Except not today, because the Ellwood half is heading out to a workshop session of the writing circle they attend. I haven’t looked outside today and the curtains are still drawn, so the weather could be anything and not surprise me.

Tomorrow Leicester City Football Club have a chance of winning the Premier League. If someone had told me this twenty years ago when I attended my only football match, a miserable second team match between Leicester City and Norwich, then I would have refused to believe it. This long held mood of low-expectations has start to lift over the city and blue banners are draped everywhere. This is an upheaval of the natural order and one which is pleasant to watch.

As I’m on foot most of the day and locked into a room for four hours this afternoon, along with the social activities I wish to enjoy after, today will I not achieve much. Because I intend to only have one or two drinks later I might be able to get some stuff done later tonight, but wouldn’t plan on it.

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday to advance the project?
    • I abandoned the story I was writing for Jon. There may be something in that can be saved, but the exercise I was layering onto our shared exercise wasn’t working out. Somewhere I hadn’t given it enough thought or made the right creative leap, and while I was able to drag 1200 words out of the scenario, I wasn’t able to paint the final three numbers of the picture.
    • I experimented with two conversation systems in Inform 7. One did compile, while the other did not, so my decision over which to use was made by a technological constraint.
    • After getting my head around how to do complicated things with that extension (Simple Chat), I implemented the through line for one of the NPC conversations, which means the storylet I’m working on has all of the core logic in place now. It works. I’m happy.
    • Late last night I revisited some prior work analysing the structure of J.G. Ballard short stories at a high level and an outline for a story I’d based on that work. For reasons, something hadn’t sat right with that outline, but with some attention and Jane Weaver I nudged things into a better state. One that I’m happy to progress with.
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • Attend the critique session and have one of my stories tested. I’ll also be looking at material from two others. This happens. It is not something to talk about outside of that group.
    • I need to think about the next storylet and sketch out its rough narrative arc. This one should be more complicated than the first. Would a treasure hunt or a collect a certain amount of items be of interest? It’s a very Fallen London thing and may not apply too well to a parser based game, but the implementation of it could throw a light on areas of the language I’ve yet to use.
    • I also need to find some qualities to use. If I do a treasure hunt then that provides me with one quality (statistic), but it would be smart if I started thinking about how to unify the storylets.
    • As I’ve abandoned the prose project I had been working on I am now free to concentrate on the other project. Let’s give it a code name: SILVER CHORD.
  3. What are my blockers?
    • There is nothing significant apart from the time I am in transit on foot, but this is an expectation of the day.

Yesterday’s food experiment worked. Today’s lunch will be whatever I can buy on Queens Road in Leicester, probably something from a nice deli. No idea what curry I’ll eat tonight.

THIS MORNING: Jen’s cat attacked my feet in a berserker rage!


Look at him. He wouldn't hurt a fly. Maybe.