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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.


Having a slow day to get started. There was a lot of activity yesterday and this is the weird middle day of a sprint, where I can see what I’ve done and I also can see ahead of me what’s left. I’ve been rereading the Fail Better Games Storychoices wiki this morning to refresh myself on a lot of their theory. I’m also trying to avoid playing their games Fallen London and Sunless Sea.

Maybe I’ll treat myself later.

Anyway it’s getting late in the day and I need to make myself some lunch, so the scrum notes are below.

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday to advance the project?
    • I advanced the handwritten draft of the story for Jon and typed material up
    • I made revisions for the story due to be critiqued by my peers tomorrow and sent the manuscript off for printing
    • In The Market Underground I implemented the framework for The Old Man and the Evil Waiter storylet. This includes basic items, NPCs, and the start and end conditions
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • More handwriting of the story for Jon. Aiming for completion of that draft
    • In The Market Underground my intent is to look at two things:
      • First I need to experiment with two menu driven conversation systems (Quip-Based Conversation by Michael Martin and Simple Chat by Mark Tilford) before making a decision about which I use in this project.
      • Second I would like to implement two NPC conversations and the game logic attached to them which will complete the basics of the storylet. This will leave me with the tasks of expanding text and polishing.
  3. What are my blockers?
    • There is nothing significant

It occurred to me after publishing this post that I didn’t set the goals for the sprint that started yesterday. They are fairly simple:

  1. Attend a workshop session and have a story critiqued
  2. Complete all of the technical framework for The Old Man and the Evil Waiter storylet
  3. Make progress with the story for Jon and have sent something to him by the end of Saturday

Of those three goals attending the workshop session is a fixed event in my calender and the bid for time has already been placed, and the second task is well on the way at the start of the second day.



The holiday starts today! All of the real work on this IF work starts today. Awesome. It’s also freezing cold outside, which should help keep me inside and not wandering the city looking for interesting places of caffeinated distractions where I can sit and read.

Yesterday evening I attended my local speculative fiction writing group. For the first hour of the session I distracted myself by watching the Clarke Award announcements on my phone and reading Aaron Reed’s book on writing interactive fiction, Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7. Second half I got some words down. Then went to the pub and had a reasonably good time discussing workshop bureaucracy and some other topics, which have escaped me. It helped that I could drink more than usual, but this also exposed the inadequacies of the bar we visited that I’d not normally exposed to. Oh well.

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday to advance the project?
    • Last night before I left for Speculators I finished the work Tuesday’s task of coding up the skeletal map of The Market Underground
    • I also typed more material up on Tuesday evening
    • Last night I wrote one complete section of the short story
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • I’m going to handwrite more of the story for Jon
    • I’m also going to type more of the above material up
    • The major task that must be completed today is to make adjustments to the piece of work I’m having critiqued on Saturday. Jenny sent me some really useful feedback. This must be done so it can be sent for printing
    • For The Market Underground I am going to start to implement the basics for the first storylet
      • Structure the section of the file to organise this
      • Define the NPCs
      • Define the significant items
      • Define the scene material
  3. What are my blockers?
    • There is nothing significant

Some items which came up in the unpublished Tuesday scrum, where I carried out a quick retrospective were:

  • I need to work on my ambition and ensure that I don’t hope to complete too much. Looking at today’s goals I think I’ve managed to qualify my expectations better. The tasks are mostly phrased in terms of advancing towards something instead of completing a task. The revision task is a clear exception, but that’s because it is for a set event
  • I noted that it made me mad that things kept breaking. I got the car exhaust replaced yesterday and an engineer couldn’t find anything wrong with the washing machine, although it had logged an error. I’m not longer mad about these things, as they’ve been closed off as active issues for now.

One item which appeared on my radar was Harry Schwartz’s talk on org-mode, which was posted to YouTube. It makes me want to revisit my configuration of Emacs & start using org-mode again to write documents and organise my life. There are some environmental interoperability issues that need to resolve, but it might be a task that I can reflect on if I get stuck with something else. Configuring my text editor to do cooler and cooler things is a form of meditation. :)




Yesterday’s afternoon of work was frustrated by our awful washing machine. It’s an excuse but one that I’m sticking to. Today has been made slightly more complicated since I am due to support some work activities from home later tonight, which will eat into the 21:45 – 22:30 time before bed that often gets used for reading/writing. This Monday I won’t get to watch some episodes of The West Wing, which makes me very sad. :(

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday to advance the project?
    • I created the Inform 7 project and started to fill out the boiler plate material.
    • Earlier today I received my new mechanical keyboard. Obviously it’s a very nice piece of kit, but had been bought with the intention of easing my interface with my PC.
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • I am going to type up the material that I have already written for Jon’s story and email it to him.
    • I am going to write more zero draft for Jon.
    • Optionally, I am going to finish the Inform 7 boiler plate and start implementing the basics of a map.
  3. What are my blockers?
    • Yesterday as I started to get into the swing of things the washer-drier we have stopped working mid-cycle. I lost an hour draining it and rescuing clothes from it. Abandoned serious work after that as it seriously frustrated me. An engineer is coming later in the week to repair it.
    • I’m due to cook dinner tonight and I have to do an hours work tonight at 10PM. At 7PM I’m going to buy ingredient to make a cheat’s Chana Masala
    • The work thing!

TODAY’S PODCASTS: No Such Thing as a Fish (end of while in car), America’s Test Kitchen (in car) & The Coode Street Podcast (queued to start for when I go for chickpeas for dinner).

das keyboard

Scrum #1 – Cortado

It’s a Sunday afternoon. Jenny & I are sat in our home office in front of our desktop computers. My work laptop sits next to me doing things. A glass of Co-Op apple and cucumber sparkling water sits half empty to the right of my keyboard. Pink Floyd’s The Wall plays through my giant red headphones. My parent’s will call for their weekly chat in a couple of hours.

Scrum notes:

  1. What did I do yesterday to advance the project?
    • I wrote a few hundred words of setting and thematic background fluff. I’m having to adopt a pragmatic approach to world-building as an activity rather than my ideological stance against it. I’ve drawn two maps: one geographic and the second map a logical one. They are required to give the programming activities shape. The setting and thematic writing will help me polish the game into a coherent demo in the final sprint.
  2. What am I going to do today?
    • Work on the story for Jon. This will take about two or three hours. Ideally complete the handwritten draft
    • Create Inform 7 project files for The Market Underground
    • Fill in all the boilerplate headings in the main inform file
    • Test a several menu driven conversation systems for Inform 7
    • Experiment more with the Inform 7 language
  3. What are my blockers?
    • None


cortado coffee


I have been made to book holiday or lose it, so will shortly be enjoying an extended break from productive work. This is great. There will be almost two weeks to lounge about reading and playing games. What the hell am I going to do with that time?

It’s simple. Apart from working on short fiction I’m going to learn how to produce material in another niche medium and write a piece of interactive fiction. I’ve had a book on my shelf about Inform 7 (a language for writing these things) and a fascination with IF for about half my life. It won’t be practical. It won’t make my day job easier. But it will be something different to do.

To keep myself honest I’m going to treat this in the same manner I’d treat a work project and run a variation on the Scrum Methodology. With twelve days off starting from the Thursday coming that’s enough time to do four sprints of three days each. If I start today running three day sprints then I’ll get myself at least five sprints over the course of the project. This post should be considered the planning session for sprint one. I will write a retrospective post on Tuesday and short scrum updates tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday.

The daily scrums will be published to this site in an effort to keep myself honest.

What’s this game going to be about and what technology am I going to use to write it? Well I’ve had the book on Inform 7 for ages and it’s a fun language to use. The snippet below is a work of rudimentary IF. This compiles into a working example.

The Study is south of the Landing. “Two untidy desks line the walls. A desk lamp sits next to a monitor and keyboard.”

A desk lamp is an object. “The lamp is a cheap Anglepoise knock-off.”

The Landing is east of the Bedroom. “The narrow corridor leads to the study, bedroom, and bathroom. A steep staircase next to the bedroom door descends into the Living Room.”

The Bathroom is west of the Landing. “A shower cubical & bath at one end. A toilet and sink at the other end.”

The Bedroom is east of the Landing. “Some of these directions are a bit tiresome.”

The Living Room is below the Landing. “A living room.”

The sofa is an object. The description of the sofa is “A blue Ikea sofa.” The sofa is in the living room.

Deckard is an animal. The description of Deckard is “Deckard is a fluffy brown tabby cat.” Deckard is in the living room.

There are some nuances which I have not yet explored, but you can do a lot quickly with Inform 7. As such the game is going to be set in an underground market place and involve three very short pieces of fiction. At the end of the project I want to have implemented and done the following tasks. Because the project is being ran under SCRUM I’m throwing in fiction writing activities under the scheme, so that the time is properly accounted for.

  1. Finish writing a short story for Jon Cronshaw. Type up. Send.

  2. Map out the game’s environment on paper and in code. Give full descriptions of rooms

  3. Write encounter one: the old man and the evil waiter. Implement this as a menu driven conversation with item collection

  4. Write encounter two: TBC. Ensure this is different and more complex than the previous

  5. Write encounter three. TBC. Ensure this is different and more complex than the previous

  6. Design a through line which unites the three diverse encounters and provides a number of different endings for the player

  7. Polish the game and release a beta version

  8. Attend at least one fiction workshop session

  9. Attend Wednesday writing sessions on Queens Road with the Speculators

  10. Start and complete draft zero of the story based on prompting phrase “Transreal Alien Landscapes”

In the first sprint I intend to tackle tasks one, two, and start prototyping for task three. Tasks one and two require little explication and will probably be worked on in the West End Brew Pub. :) Task three I will provide some requirements for in tomorrow’s scrum.

CURRENTLY READING: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Tranby house 43 gnangarra


So I am reading ‘All the Birds in the Sky’ by Charlie Jane Anders are the moment, because it’s a book which I suspect is going to get a lot of attention this year. I’m also reading it because it will be discussed on The Coode Street Podcast’s bookclub this month and I wanted to listen to the program more actively. I’m only about fifty pages in and I’m finding it difficult because of how inoffensive both the writing and the story have been so far.

(I don’t actually think it’s bad as such, just not my groove.)

However one small detail caught me out. Where I’m at the boy, Laurence, has just been given a Heinlein juvenile and recommended to read more Heinlein by a rocket scientist in her twenties. This strikes me as anachronistic and awkward. It’s hard to figure out why, but Heinlein was not in print when I was in my early teens and I’m not certain he had much to say to me. It feels like an awkward intrusion of skiffy nostalgia. The Ready Player One effect.

That said, my own nostalgic impulses would have had Laurence being given the triptych of Playstation Final Fantasy games (VII, VIII, IX), or even the first Kingdom Hearts game. They didn’t kindle my reading or my tastes for the speculative, but Final Fantasy VII is the game that encouraged my brother to learn to read[1] and feel like a more universal set of cultural touchstones than Heinlein. It would skew the feels down to an audience between twenty-five and forty something. I’m not sure where the Heinlein reference is meant to aim for and it jars.

[1] – For those unaware the Final Fantasy games are basically slightly interactive novels which take anywhere from 30/40 hours if you blast through the game just to consume the story to well over 100 hours if you explore/collect everything.

Currently reading: ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY by Charlie Jane Anders (UK), (US) & THE JUNG CULT: ORIGINS OF A CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT by Richard Noll (UK),(US)