Murder on the Dancefloor

I couldn’t resist after the events of this week’s game – it was a masked ball in a Dungeons and Dragons game, of course there was going to be mayhem… The write-up just went live with full details if you can bear to read it.

Today’s been a hectic day on top of a sleepless night (just a slightly manic insomnia rather than worries but still…), dropping Lady M off for her first CIPS exam and ending up walking from Bookham to Leatherhead and back playing Ingress – as you do… The resulting sugar-low and dehydration has made me grumpy and a pain all afternoon on top of my usual stress over seeing my GP, so Lady M let me hide in playing the Destiny beta on XBox One this afternoon, knowing that killing aliens and playing with something shiny is usually a good distraction.

Once I’m home from seeing Charleesi I shall attempt to reboot my human simulation routines…

Archery Lesson

One of the cool things about changes in staff line-up is that as you get to know the new people you work with you sometimes find people volunteering unusual and distinctive hobbies. Case in point has been the recent revelation that one of my colleagues is an archer. She in turn has been fascinated by the tales of horseriding that I’ve been telling about my daughter and that our main nickname for her these days is ‘Charleesi’ – loosely inspired as a conflation of her name and that of ‘Khaleesi’ Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones.

Jokes have abounded about Charlie learning archery on top of her riding – perhaps summoning images of Attila the Hen, leading her own barbarian hordes to overrun the world in the shadow of dragons (well okay, perhaps our conversations get a little surreal between serving customers). All of which led to wondering whether Charlie actually would be interested. So I asked her. From the way her eyes lit up and a grin appeared I knew this was going to be fun. So this weekend we arranged to go to a field out the back of the BP Headquarters in Sunbury with Alice, who is a member of the local archery club.

Arrow nocked, bow ready to shoot
Charleesi takes aim

We went through safety and range discipline instruction before watching Alice assemble and string her bow and the lesson began. After her shoot and then walking the range to retrieve the loosed arrows, it was our turn.

Alice’s bow is a 24lb draw, and so no one was expecting Charleesi to hit the 40 yard target. Alice believes that if Charlie does take up archery that she would probably start with a 16 to 18 lb draw bow, for example. Nevertheless, she was regularly getting the arrows to fly a good 30-35 yards and more or less in the right direction. Her regular riding experience was definitely showing in her upper body strength and  positioning.

When it came to my turn – because let’s face it if the opportunity is offered why not take it – I was tending to overshoot the target. It gave me a new-found appreciation for how difficult archery is compared to how it is shown in film and television – or simulated in games like Dungeons and Dragons.

nocking an arrow
you learn all sorts of things about your coordination when nocking an arrow

There’s certainly something very soothing about archery. I found the rest of the world fading away, narrowing down to my view to the target down the shaft of the arrow. There’s a satisfaction to be found in the thrum of the bowstring on release that as a first timer meant I didn’t even care if I hit the target or not.

Perhaps there’s something primal about it – its  purely the storing and release of muscle power to propel that arrow far further than you could throw it. Arrows don’t fly straight, which is a little counter-intuitive, but spiral through the air instead, which to my mind makes the sport as much art as science, with just that little bit extra randomness in the process than you might expect from shooting a rifle, for example.

And then there’s just the plain satisfaction of it – comparing notes with Charleesi later – we both agreed that there’s something very cool about bow use. Look at archers in films in recent years – Legolas in Lord of the Rings, Hawkeye in the Avengers, Katniss in the Hunger Games – and there’s something indefinablyimpressive about the combination of hand-eye coordination and strength required that absolutely resonates when you’re doing it yourself.

bow string injury
This is why you wear a protective arm guard when you use a bow

The day, sadly, was not without injury. My own, in fact, which just highlights the need for proper protective equipment and awareness when shooting. Don’t worry, I didn’t get shot. My arms are considerably thicker than Alice and Charleesi’s, and we were using Alice’s forearm guard to protect against the slap of the bowstring when releasing our shots. Towards the end of my last round of shots the velcro fastening slipped enough that the first couple of shots moved the guard down my arm so that the next couple of shots smacked straight into unprotected skin.

As you can see in the photo, it easily broke the skin and bruised the surrounding flesh, and writing this about a day later I can testify that that you are certainly very aware of the wound for some time.

Will we do some more? I think we will. Asking about training costs and club dues were all very reasonable, so perhaps once we’ve had our Disney experience this summer we’ll be looking to take archery up on a more regular basis

Monday Gaming

This week’s Eberron D&D game writeup has been posted, featuring a long road trip and unexpected pyrotechnics and hints of shenanigans to come…

I’m finding that running a game that’s an extended chase scene is posing challenges in terms of pacing the sessions. In theory it’s simple enough, with a number of key scenes to get through, threaded by whatever paths the chase takes, but keeping the momentum going is proving interesting. The players are used to being able to dictate the pace of adventures to a degree, and there’s a certain comfort zone that comes with refereeing games like that. Taking them on a rollercoaster is certainly challenging me, and I hope they’re enjoying the ride – even if it’s with a degree of trepidation at the scale of the challenge ahead of them.

In other gaming-related news, there’s been a slight tweak to Ingress, where portals degrade faster. This, for me, is good news, as it gives me more reasons to keep doing the 5-6 mile walks needed to do the walking circuits in my area – exercise, woo hoo!

Online Identity

Maybe it’s a result of my unabashed geekdom, but I’m increasingly aware of how few of the people I grew up with seem to have embraced technology. While I’m sure they are still out there, it does seem sometimes as if most of them have dropped off the face of the planet. On the rare occasions that I meet up with anyone from school, I come away with the distinct impression that they are by and large rather unsure and worried about this newfangled interwebs thing…

This amuses me on several levels – not least of which is that home computing was in its birth throes just as I was growing up. I might therefore imagine that my generation might be more likely to have grabbed hold of and embraced computers and the online life that has grown up around us. Apparently not, even among those who showed an interest at the time.

At age eleven, my school had a couple of ZX81 computers in a fledgling computer lab, and at home we had a Dragon32 and later a BBC B micro that I played with and even tried to program on. My dad and I both had an interest in making these remarkable things work for us, and we pored over the BASIC manuals, swapping insights and working out ways that these strange things could be more than doorstops.

Then I fell out of involvement with computers as there weren’t any O levels or GCSEs at that point to take, and I ended up flirting with the on-line world when I got to university just as on-line MUDs and bulletin boards started to spring up. It wasn’t a huge part of life, but I remember it being significant enough that I adopted an on-line identity at the time that matched my tabletop D&D interests.

Not too long after I graduated and started to work, this strange thing called the Mosaic browser was released, and modems began to appear in the shops. My work place very reluctantly invested in one or two for individual machines about the time that I moved away from working on the library frontlines and into backroom systems support. I eventually got involved in writing web pages for people because I’d happened to pick up an HTML reference book and started to toy with files in my spare time. I worked a lot of evening shifts by this time, and was largely unsupervised, so finding ways to make HTML mark-up do interesting things was a good way to pass the time. I again started to have an occasional on-line identity, using nicknames and eventually a recurring name based on a character I’d made up for a series of doodles.

When I eventually arranged to have the internet at home, this on-line identity carried me along into all sorts of boards and chat rooms, but it became increasingly hard to leverage this nickname/handle into something professional. As a result I had to start running multiple email accounts and identities to cover professional and casual life and it all started to get a bit complicated, especially when those worlds intersected. Even then the debate about identities was starting to hot up, and on one memorable occasion I was threatened with a lawsuit over opinions stated in a private mailing list.

As my then-undiagnosed clinical depression grew into cyclothalmia, and I developed diabetes (talk about everything hitting at once),  life became very difficult and I largely withdrew from on-line life apart from using Facebook and continuing to dabble in playing EVE Online and using my professional email address to search for work.

The eventual path this brought me to was the beginning of writing to try and make ends meet. It forced me to make a number of decisions about my relationship with the on-line world. What this essentially boiled down to was that I needed to make a conscious decision to manage my on-line identity – reputation management as much as anything else – which is why I’ve thrown myself into trying to claim and be active on-line under my own name rather than using on-line nom-de-plumes. From Twitter to Tumblr I’ve been slowly claiming my name, or at least amending the details of things like my XBox Live identity to include my real name.

In part this accompanies work done while in therapy on owning the consequences of my own decisions and words, and in part it is a bit of brand management. I try generally not to say things I couldn’t live with seeing on the front page of a newspaper, for example. It’s not always easy and I trip every now and then, but its curiously satisfying. From a mental health point of view it also helps me keep a tight observation on my own behaviours and attitudes, giving me far less places to hide from myself.

If this sounds a brutal way to manage my own mental health, you’d be right, but it works for me. One of the ways that my initial deterioration went unchallenged was in having a hugely compartmentalised life, especially on-line. Removing those compartments now that I’m in a healthier place helps keeps me honest. It can be a scarily vulnerable place too, but I think it’s worth it.

Quick Roundup

This week’s innuendo-packed special edition of our weekly Roll20 D&D session is now up under Chapter Two of the Wartorn campaign. It was deeply amusing for several of the wrong reasons and is about as childish in humour as you could hope for under the circumstances.

In other news, I’m still trying to rebalance my diet as I adjust to my new meds – I seem to be suffering from the sulphur burps again, which my reading suggests is down to my digestive system slowing down. Its fairly antisocial, so I’m drowning my system with extra water, Rennies and cutting proteins and sugars even more from my diet. Hopefully I won’t have to compromise too much.

I’ve also started a Tumblr, which is about as random, but will probably where I snap sketches and doodles too, along with other gaming related bits and pieces

Now off to carry on building displays for this summer’s Mythical Maze event at the library. I’ve more or less sorted out Anansi, now to finish off Nessie…

Waiting for Visitors
Waiting for Visitors

The Dickens Law

I stumbled over the original text of the following article back in the late nineties when I was working as tech support at a local college. I copied it, showed it to a few people and then promptly found that the original site had disappeared and I to this day have been unable to find out who first wrote it. Bemused, I posted it online to share, and after a time forgot all about it.

Recently I was going through an old hard drive and found a backup of the old Orbital Shadow website that I ran in the early 2000s. Among the scattered html files was the complete text of The Dickens Law – which I present in its entirety below.

The Dickens Law: A Law Unto Itself


In past years it was commonly believed that the fields of mind science and physical science – or more specifically psychology and physics – were largely mutually exclusive. Most scientists did, and still do, believe that the rules which govern time, motion, mass and nature only needed to be understood in absolute values. For instance, take the following formula which describes the value for

s distance traveled

given the variables for:

u initial velocity
t time
a acceleration

s = ut + 1/2at2

If the variable values are provided we can calculate the exact value for s, which is variable only if we change any of the other factors in the equation. Therefore we know that if a man falls from a helicopter under the effects of gravity (9.8 m/s2), with an initial vertical velocity of 0 m/s, for a total of twelve seconds he will have fallen 6,914.9 metres. Notwithstanding wind resistance and the helicopter being less than 6,900 m above the ground, this figure is exact. However, at no time is the effect of this distance upon the psyche of the falling man taken into consideration, despite this too being a variable.

Is the man wearing a parachute? Is he being paid an enormous sum of money to jump into a huge haystack which might cushion his fall? Is he the pilot of the helicopter or a paying passenger? Is he likely to be met on the ground by angry guerrillas? Has he leapt from the helicopter to avoid angry gorillas? Has he been pushed or has he jumped voluntarily? Has his parachute been slashed to ribbons of silk in a harmless buck’s-night prank? Each of these possibilities and the infinite number of others must be considered, in addition to the actual distance he falls in twelve seconds.

In fact which is more important: that he falls 6,914.9 m in twelve seconds or that he knows fully well that his spine is about to be compressed small enough to stuff into one of his socks? We believe the latter to be of profoundly more importance. Perhaps not to a physicist, but certainly to our friend the paratrooper.

Our challenge then was to rethink the laws of physics in such a way that the mind of the subject would be a primary consideration in physical calculations. Obviously to rework the entire physics textbook in this way would be a mammoth task, so we have limited our efforts to the subject of distance and time, particularly in motor vehicles and on foot. In due course the research shall be performed that will examine the psychological/physical laws – hybrid science, we call it – that relate to such fields as circular motion, projectile motion, harmonic motion, momentum, power, electric current and potential energy, magnetics, and wave motion. But for now we must turn our minds to the newest law of distance time, known as the Dickens Law of Motor Vehicle and Man-powered Transport and Contributing and Resultant Human Effects, known hereafter simply as the Dickens Law.

Overview of the Dickens Law

The Dickens Law has been around for a lot longer than most people realise. In fact, many folk make reference to the law in everyday language. When one mentions that the trip from Sydney to Melbourne is “a dickens of a way” one is making direct reference to the law. So too when one speaks of “a dickens of a time.” Most would believe that such loose references to a law of science to be gauche at best, but those who speak in such a way are in actuality being almost as specific as one can get using the Dickens Law.

This then brings us to our first fundamental:

1. The Dickens Law is infinitely variable and immeasurable

The popularisation of science has prompted the usage of a variety of sub-classifications of the Dickens as a unit of measure. For example: “helluva dickens”; “flaming dickens”; “bloody dickens” and so on. These are largely inappropriate, and are only of any scientific advantage if the person making the classification is experienced in the same exact journey under identical social and physical circumstances, or in the event that the person is recounting a particular journey that they themselves endured. However, for the purposes of accurate scientific data such classification is too wildly fluctuant to be of any real use.

Let us then for the purposes of clarification identify some of the terms and symbols used when studying and quantifying the law, before going on to discuss them in greater detail.

D Dickens : was once the primary unit of Dickensian measure, but since it has become overused in common parlance the DQ has since been adopted (see below). Unlike a metre or a kilometre, D and DQ can only be understood in the context of a number of other variables.
DQ Dickens Quotient : the primary unit used in quantifying the Dickens value of a particular journey. The higher the DQ the less pleasurable the journey. A further sub-class is the Sliding Dickens Quotient (SDQ), which will be discussed in greater detail in a later chapter.
Q Qualifier : is applied to the entire equation. q is a binary factor which determines whether a DQ is at all measurable, for a certain trip is or is not a dickens of a way. If a trip is a dickens of a way then q becomes 1. If a trip is not a dickens of a way then q is 0, and the journey generates no DQ at all.
VQ Vehicular Quotient: refers to the mode of transport employed on a journey. Inversely proportionate to the quality and comfort of the actual vehicle. In the event that different vehicles are used on one journey the higher VQ is used in most calculations. A higher VQ equates to a higher DQ, but not necessarily on a 1:1 basis, as other factors can come into play.
P Purpose of Journey : directly influencing the DQ, P is not a numerical variable but an assessable variable. Assessment must be completely objective whereupon the DQ must then be accordingly modified. The Dickensian scientist must ensure that he does not allow personal preferences to interfere with his assessment, nor that he build other extraneous factors such as VQ into his final DQ and subsequent measurement of D.

Other extraneous factors include:

W Weather Quotient,
CV Company Variable
PCE Projected Cost Extrapolisation
FF Fear Factor
SC Social Complications
SFA Surrogate Financial Accountability


BS Background Sound (BS) which accounts for the quality of the music on the radio.
RDF Ridiculous Distance Factor: If a journey is so great a distance as to be utterly ludicrous and the DQ cannot be lowered to something within reasonable limits then the RDF should be applied to the equation, which effectively raises the DQ by an order of magnitude such that the journey becomes utterly implausible to attempt.

In its simplest form, Dickensian Science can be summed up in the formula:

D = q(P + VQ)

If therefore a trip is to be made from Sydney to Penrith (truly a Dickens of a way, q therefore being 1) to visit a close friend (P) in a reasonably comfortable car (VQ), then P = ~25, which is a low value for P, and VQ is ~30, also quite low. Therefore, accepting values as absolute:

DQ = 1(25 + 30) = 55

Let us now say that the car breaks down along the way and the subject must catch a bus. Now the value for VQ is closer to 120, and the DQ blows out to 145. (Remember that in the event of more than one mode of transport being used, each with a different VQ, then the higher VQ must be applied to the equation.)

Let us now assume that the same trip is being made by a commuter in the same car, traveling home after work. Now P is about 200, and the DQ becomes 230.

Now our subject is speeding to Penrith in a Ferrari that he has been lent for the weekend. VQ will become negligible, or may even become a negative figure. If this negative figure is high enough then the DQ will also become a negative. This brings us to another fundamental:

2. A fun Dickens is no Dickens.

A negative DQ suggests a certain enjoyment in the experience of the journey, wherein longer journeys are usually better. If this becomes the case there is no reason to assess the journey at all, for D automatically becomes 0 and the equation is unassessable. This happens rarely, and usually involves driving European sports cars at dangerous speeds.

This situation of ineligibility for application to the formula can change during a journey, however. For example, the Ferrari may break down, or the subject may wrap it around a Pole. In this instance the driver will be heartbroken and the Pole will probably be killed. It is then up to the subject himself to decide whether stacking the car was worth it to drive like an idiot just once, although in this researcher’s experience the DQ for that particular journey will probably reach into the high thousands.

A quick side piece

I went to sleep the other night with a small sentence fragment rattling around my skull and since then it’s spooled out into a short fantasy story of a little over two thousand words.

The first line reads: “Old Night was prowling the narrow alleys of the City of Towers, and Sergeant Menolli was picking up the pieces.”

I’ll have to see if there are any competitions it can be tweaked for, otherwise I’ll add it to the short story collection I’m compiling to self-publish.

In the meantime, here’s another dice shaming picture I’ve stumbled onto.


I’ll start adding my own ones from the gaming session soon.

Holidays are nearly here

In a little over a month or so, we’ll be off to the House of Mouse. Lady M is already regressing to be a six year old, while my daughter and I are only just starting to really get excited now that work, study and other distractions like exams have come and gone. After a number of years of not being able to take holidays, it still seems a bit surreal to be in a position to take breaks again. By scrimping and saving we’re managing to organise some amazing experiences. Last year saw us in the Maldives, which I would never have believed was somewhere I would ever get to see. Even with the accident and Lady M’s needing to be in a wheelchair for most of that break, it remains one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

I’ve already sort of joked that we would probably end up with something horrendous happening while we’re out in Florida. It might be a ride breaking down at a crucial moment, or our hotel getting flattened by a hurricane. Neither of these would be particularly surprising. Getting a phone call out of the blue last week to say that Lady M’s back had started to hurt again was rather more frightening. It brought back memories of a few years ago when initially undiagnosed prolapsed discs in the base of her spine kept her out of work. I essentially became her full time carer for a while – at a time when we had very little income and had to contend with the unhelpful and at times positively antagonistic Department of Work and Pensions.

We muddled through that and eventually got ourselves stable again, but hearing that her back was out of commission again was hard to hear. Fortunately it appears that this time around, it really is just a muscular spasm. She’s responding well to the strong pain killers and anti-inflammatories, and her place of work has been happy to let her work from home. Still, she’s exhausted from it all, so this year’s holiday to Disney in Florida has suddenly taken on even more importance than it already had.

It’s the first time any of us have been there. My daughter and I have been to Disneyland Paris a couple of times, a good few years back, and I had initially worried that she might see herself as too old or “too cool” for Disney now that she’s older. I needn’t have worried. The minute we broached the subject, her first response was to check that we really meant “the proper one” and I understand that she may have been driving her mother and other relatives somewhat to distraction by talking about it over the last six or seven months. I’m rather pleased about this breach in her usual cool reserve as it allows me to see the simple giggliness that she normally keeps well hidden.

For Lady M, and to a degree myself, Disney was one of those seemingly impossible locations that we always heard about when we were growing up. She grew up in the North East of England in the shadows of the Pits, while I grew up (largely) in a Vicarage family. Neither of these are places where money flows in abundance, so the dream of Disney was one that was usually handled with a vague “well maybe one day” and generally allowed to fall by the wayside.

Now that long-abandoned option is available again – along with trips to Universal Studios, to NASA and any number of other attractions thanks to some shrewd bargaining and scheduling by my very determined wife. We’ve struggled through spreadsheets and planning advice websites to load up an itinerary through the Disney Experience website that includes FastPass bookings, restaurant bookings, displays, shows and even the occasional lounge by the pool. I feel exhausted just from the planning.

So the holidays are nearly here, and with any luck none of us will burn out before we get there!