Bike advice, roleplaying advice

My bike has got sufficiently doubtful in various ways I'm going to treat myself to a new bike, and maybe try to fix this one up as a spare. I moderately know this, but what do people recommend looking for most in a new bike? I would usually be using it for commuting, but for now using it for similar commuting-type journeys.

I think I don't need a racing bike per se. And I don't want a bike so expensive I'm scared to leave it locked up anywhere outside. But it's probably worth investing in anything that does make my life easier for cycling several miles on Cambridge roads. Having my main transport be inviting makes things a lot better.

Roleplaying Advice

I am *still* not quite making time to plan the games I want to run, but it would be nice to be able to play in something. There are lots of places I might look for games online, but does anyone recommend anywhere would be a good place to find people I'm likely to get on with? Ideally where I can play a game in one or two sessions and be done, rather than signing up a long a campaign in advance. Likely I should be looking for online cons, I'm not sure? I have previously played mostly DnD, but I'd like to play something with lighter rules and more interesting characters, but still more roleplaying than improv.

Alternatively, I have a few not-exactly-roleplaying games, Microscope and Fiasco that you run without a GM, that work with the players each contributing one element of a story, but that are very much designed to work without putting people on the spot or getting crowded out, and produce a fun result even if people don't really know what they're doing. Would anyone be interested in trying to play one online again? You can also comment at https://jack.dreamwidth.org/1127186.html using OpenID. comment count unavailable comments so far.


I have been doing drawtober all month, trying to adapt to drawing on a computer instead of paper. It's been a strange journey, some things so much easier, some things a lot harder, but I really enjoyed some of my experiments.

Probably the most convenient place to see them is on facebook: Recent uploads and all my art. You should be able to see them without logging into facebook! If not, please comment and I'll have a fiddle. Or if anyone has a recommendation for a more reliable place to store images in albums, please suggest it.

I particularly liked the silhouetted dinosaur at sunset, the cow basking in a field of sunlight, the two superhero figures against dramatic color backdrops, the big wave, and the snowy foggy forest, and the swirly blue mist ghost.

There's some quite different techniques. The wave and forest were from Realistic Paint, a program that aims to simulate physical paints a lot more. The figures were made in Krita, a major open source digital paint program, drawing an outline (freehand or tracing a poser), using a tool to fill, and adding shades and highlights on a new layer which make it pop as a on-flat figure. The cow and dinosaur were made in Krita trying to emulate some of the techniques of realistic paint.

I found an old graphics tablet I never really used and it helped a lot with sketching well. The pressure sensitivity isn't working on this computer yet though, I don't know if that's worth debugging further.

Krita seems to asusme there's no point doing paint-y stuff unless you have a pressure sensitive graphics tablet, which makes sense, but seems strange. The colourful effects I made by using a combination of different brushes to put in colour and then smear it about to make texture, and I'm not sure if that's normal. I assume you CAN make a brush that does something similar to a paintbrush in Realistic Paint, but it doesn't seem to be the default and I'm not sure if I understand why.

But I have a cartoon-y style and paint-y style that both seem to produce results, so the month has been reasonably rewarding. You can also comment at https://jack.dreamwidth.org/1127151.html using OpenID. comment count unavailable comments so far.

Come have distanced coffee?

How much have other people been socialising in person?

Now I consider it fairly safe, who else wants to come visit on our patio furniture for an hour or so (with optional masks and optional drinks)? You can also comment at https://jack.dreamwidth.org/1126153.html using OpenID. comment count unavailable comments so far.

Friday five: Superstitions and Favourite Pens

What superstitions do you have?

I don't actually believe any supernatural things. I do have a certain amount of habits that could be superstition, like not jinxing an outcome by saying it's certain before it's been confirmed.

And I guess, some habits that just make me feel good, like running a set of tests several times, just to feel the reassurance that they're all passing. Or if a new test passes first time, deliberately breaking the code just to make sure the test exists.

What is your favorite pen to write with and why?

I don't have a special special pen that I always like to use, but I like having a plentiful supply of medium to good quality ballpoints so I can always rely on having a decent non-flaky pen when I want to write anything. Getting rid of miscellaneous doubtful pens and keeping a supply of ones I like using has made me feel more comfortable in my life.

In fact, that might be a trend with me. I tend to rarely have special things, perhaps from dislike that they will only last so long, or might get ruined. But I appreciate treating myself to a good baseline by having good ish things as a standard. You can also comment at https://jack.dreamwidth.org/1126040.html using OpenID. comment count unavailable comments so far.

Meme from FB

Yes I cooked from scratch:

5. Spaghetti sauce. I mean, a variety of sauces that go on spaghetti, but not thin enough I'd usually call it sauce
6. Yeast bread. With a breadmaker, but I mean, I STARTED from scratch. That seems like a weird category, I guess it means "yeast bread" as opposed to "sourdough bread", not as opposed to flatbread?
7. Cake. Only a few times though. We've made the lemon cake a few times but I've not made it by myself.
8. Icing. I think? Again, once.
10. Chilli. I'm not sure exactly what counts, but I make something that's closer to chilli than anything else.
13. Mac and cheese. Copying Rachel.
19. "A pot of greens". Not sure what that is but I assume what I do with veg counts some of the time?
27. Yay, pancakes!
28. "Roasted vegetables in the oven instead of boiling them?" I mean, I've roasted vegetables, but I'm not sure I've ever boiled them, although that's probably how I learned first. I guess, adding peas or sweetcorn to pasta water? Or boiled potatoes?
29. Zested an orange or lemon. Yes, every time we make lemon cake :)
30. Made an omelet.
39. Lived in a house without a dishwasher? Yes, for more than 30 years.
40. Eaten a bowl of cereal for supper? Maybe not as my main evening meal, but I've certainly eaten cereal whenever it's felt like the right thing to eat, which has sometimes been in the afternoon or evening.

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Pandemic Predictions

The good outcome

When lockdown started I was scared the infection rate was just going to go up and up. I thought the government was likely to just reflexively sleepwalk into a strategy of "go through the motions of lockdown, downplay the problem, bury the numbers, pretend everything is fine" and switch seamlessly to "oh well, completely unforseeable, will of the gods, too late now, no point crying over spilt milk, lockdown failed, lets try to get the deaths over with as quickly as possible".

If everyone gets sick at once would our clockwork supply chains falter? Would we have actual food shortages? This seemed like a real risk. Although a "real risk" can mean anywhere from "not likely, but likely enough to need a plan" to "likely" depending on the type of risk, which I didn't consciously think through. I was torn between a justified status quo balance and a recognition that we had almost no precedent for how we'd deal with a pandemic like this.

But that didn't happen, the infection rate actually DID go down again despite government shilly-shallying. Delaying turned a short lockdown into a long lockdown, and we might yet get another one, but it didn't yet turn it into the worst case scenario, so that was a lot better than it might be.

What else turned out well?

The bad outcome

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Darchi, Necromancer

Darchi's tumbled to her hands and knees on the dark hillside, nearly going head over heels on the slight slope. She hissed under her breath, and the undead owl perched on her shoulder hooted reproachfully.

"I am being careful, Grandmama!" she hissed back. "You're supposed to warn me! That's why we were so pleased to find the owl."

The owl hooted quietly in gentle rebuke, and Darchi cringed inside. She methodically rearranged her limbs until she was sitting securely with her knees clasped in front of her. The owl had flapped the remains of its gigantic wings about her head keeping its balance as she shifted position.

After a moment she spoke more calmly. "I'm sorry, Grandmama. I'm ok."

A gentle, comforting hoot.

"There's the spirit house." Close enough at the bottom of the slope for her to see without the Owl's night eyes. "Can you see anyone?" she asked again.

The owl hooted tiredly.

"Yes, I know you'll tell me," she sighed. "I guess, I just mean, I'm ready."

She rose elegantly to her feet, and took a small, measured step down the hillside, squinting at the dark ground to avoid another tumble. She glanced up fixing the position of the dim shape of the spirit house in her mind, and then down at the slope and took another careful step, and then another. Closer to the corner of the graveyard where foreign dead were buried, hemmed by the smaller, separate, spirit fence. The failings spirit fence. The corpses she might be able to use. You can also comment at https://jack.dreamwidth.org/1125344.html using OpenID. comment count unavailable comments so far.

Writing tips inspired by The Importance of Being Earnest

1. The middle act should go in a NEW direction that's exciting and surprising, not be "and then some stuff happens you don't really need to know".

2. The character's concerns should be petty (for a comedy) or weighty (for a drama) but they themselves should take them seriously. The characters don't overreact. That would be forced. The characters react very naturally -- given the ridiculous nature of their hang-ups and predicaments.

3. Does the character shape the scene they're in? Does every line push the conversation in a new direction? Can no-one act without caring about what the character will think? Do they act with confidence even if stupidly? If so the character is probably interesting, and you can fit in as many interesting characters as you can.

4. What do you excel at writing? Stuff every scene chock full to the gills with that. What do you endlessly struggle with? Figure out how little makes the story suffer, and how much gets it to the end mostly ok.

5. Does this section sing? Does it make you want to know what happens next? Does it make you fall in love with the characters? Does it set up the events of the next page, the next scene, the end of the play? If not, can it do all those things? Not every scene has to be necessary, but as many as possible have to be great. You can also comment at https://jack.dreamwidth.org/1124954.html using OpenID. comment count unavailable comments so far.

I met people in real life

I met up with some people from work. Outside, on parker's piece, distanced from each other. It was a very normal geek conversation. But I think it was the first time I'd met people purely socially other than close family since March. And the first time I'd used my bike lights. And the first time I'd taken my wallet out since not long after that, except for one delivery.

And... it felt completely normal, not at all like a massive shift. But even so it was a notable milestone. If the situation continued to get better, the next large benchmark would be hugging someone outside my household, but I don't know when.

I'm still quite unsure what I actually think is safe. I think meeting up with people outside is probably basically ok, although still better to do less often than more often. And wearing masks would be better if there's any room for doubt but is basically ok to go without. I'm avoiding shops because I can, although I would shop in person (with mask) if I needed to. I think crowded pub gardens are probably not ok, but quiet pub gardens are probably ok. I think wearing a mask on quiet pavements where you never need to go within 2m of people is probably not necessary but useful for encouraging mask-wearing as a norm. But I'm not sure about any of that -- what do other people think? You can also comment at https://jack.dreamwidth.org/1124840.html using OpenID. comment count unavailable comments so far.

Watchmen series: Review in nine bullet points

What was excellent, kind of a big one:

* A lot of people including me had never really heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921, when the most thriving black community in America was attacked by a mob, backed by police, with a lot of weapons, and private planes dropping firebombs, and acres of shops and houses were destroyed and a hundred or more people living there killed, but Watchmen brought it to a lot of people's attention.

What else was excellent:

* It projected the sensibilities of the original Watchmen into an alternate present shaped by those events, the international tension, the continuing rains of squid, the effects of Dr Manhattan
* But it didn't retell those concerns, it reflected problems currently in society's awareness like racial violence, employment, etc
* The music and visuals were AMAZING at evoking the feelings, both of gritty reality and magical alternate reality
* It showed what happened to many of the original characters without making them all about what we'd last seen of them. It was amazing to see Laurie move forward with her life without Watchmen. Rorsach's memory had been coopted by white supremacists. Ozymandias changed everything but maybe thought he was more unique in that than he was.
* All the new characters were memorable, Sister Night, Looking Glass, Red Scare, Pirate Jenny, Panda-head guy, tough police chief, rising politician, and reminiscent of the original setting without just repeating a new generation of costumed heroes
* It replicated the balancing act of making the plot about the the interesting characters, but the world-changing effects all due to a small number of things we already know about, rather than inventing a lot more characters with Manhatten-like powers
* When we do find out anything about Dr Manhatten it replicated the balancing act of making him seen human and sympathetic and alien all at the same time

What was questionable, kind of a big one:

* If you're going to make a series about how bad racism in America is, get more people who aren't white to help run it, aim for an audience that isn't mostly white, have more characters who aren't white, and have a lot fewer sympathetic corrupt police characters. You can also comment at https://jack.dreamwidth.org/1124581.html using OpenID. comment count unavailable comments so far.