Curious Under the Stars

I’ve been listening a lot to this long radio drama series about a couple who run a pub in a seaside village. On the surface it’s a standard soap opera, but under the surface there’s a whole layer of hidden Welsh mysticism woven into the background. It’s got the a similar eerie feeling of the paranormal as Strangehaven - it hints at all sorts of magic things, without going along with the full Harry Potter’s World of Wizards.


I’ve continued my amateur cartography efforts. Here’s a very silly map of the British nations and regions.

uk map

Watch mod

I’ve made some further modifications to my Casio watch. I took it apart and flipped the plastic screen around, which results in a minimalist black band around the display.


Unfortunately, when it was flipped, the screen had a tendency to pop out occasionally. I settled on removing all the paint from the screen with some borrowed nail-polish remover. Washed it several times to make sure any residual acetone didn’t damage the LCD, then slathered it in toothpaste for good measure. It’s now completely transparent, so you can see some of the internal electronics of the watch.


The only downside is that now the backlight doesn’t reflect off the display as well as before.

People have been able to replace the LED with something brighter. That’s something to try in future.


I took advantage of the summer weather to get out and do some much-needed bike maintainance. I replaced the brake pads, pumped up tyres, methodically cleaned out all the gunge from the chainset and applied new oil to it. My bike was all shiny… until I cycled across some fields yesterday and now it’s caked in mud.


I also replaced my slippery handlebar grips with more secure ones.


These were a little too long to actually fit on my handlebars, so I had to get out my hacksaw and cut them down to size. As I was doing that a lady came up to me to ask if I was trying to steal the bike. I was a bit surprised, but I understand how it would have looked suspicious.

I still haven’t gotten a feel for how prevalent bicycle theft is in Leicester. The worst that’s happened so far has been my lights getting nicked when I left my bike at the station.


I have been carefully neglecting my personal hygiene, and have so far grown a short beard.

straggly face man

The main advantage of growing a beard is basically that you don’t have to shave every day, and at the moment it’s in the perfect stage of growth. It’s not itchy, not too long, and doesn’t get in the way of eating; I give it another couple of weeks before I’ll have to do something about it.

Free money

A few weeks ago, I found a torn £5 note in the street. These new polymer banknotes are supposed to be more resilient, but clearly they’re not indestructible.

ripped note

Whoever dropped the note probably thought it was worthless, they weren’t aware that the Bank of England will reimburse damaged banknotes. There’s a form you can print out, fill in your bank details, send in by post along with the note, and… about two weeks later, £5 magically appeared in my account!

bank statement


Last week, a game called Sigil was released. It’s made by John Romero, and it’s about the closest thing to an official expansion of Dooom since the release of the Ultimate Doom in 1995. I had a little playthrough:


I finished playing Dishonored, I ended up with the high chaos ending, and was puzzled when it didn’t turn out as I’d expected. I can’t remember my reaction the first time I played through this game, long before the sequel was announced. How do new players feel, now that the future of the story is fixed in place?


The other thing I noticed more about the ending the second time around was all the dialogue commenting on your choices. If you decide to assassinate the members of the loyalist conspiracy, Emily says she would have killed them anyway. It leads to a dark self-fulfilling prophecy, where you can make your own choices, but the consequences gradually slip out of your control.

I’ve also been reading the Wyrmwood Deceit comic, which bridges some of the story up to Dishonored 2.

Semantic interfaces

In my post about LaTeX, I diverted into some of the reasons why people prefer it, and specifically the advantages in terms of structured writing. Structured writing is another word for semantic markup and I’ve been thinking a little more around this idea of separating content and presentation, particularly in the context of what you could call ‘conflicts over presentation.’ Should a reader be allowed to style a document differently to the way the writer intended?

It’s an unrecognised dimension to the ad-blocking debate, where browsing with an ad-blocker not only makes pages faster and protects your privacy, it also makes pages cleaner. No clutter, no un-necessary web-fonts or javascript, just text and media.

While there are some browser add-ons which ‘fix’ the css for specific sites, the future teased by semantic markup is one where all all web pages can be styled according to a standard style sheet held locally in the browser. This makes a lot of sense, at least from a reader’s point of view, but at some point the web is no longer thought of as a huge library of (mostly) text documents. For example, e-books are published in a series of HTML-derived formats, but you don’t see many books published online as HTML pages. In another case, if you want to buy things on eBay/watch netflix/book a train ticket online, you don’t want to break every site with your custom stylesheet.

Custom desktop themes

Conflicts over presentation also came up as part of the recent GNOME theming controversy. GTK+ can be styled using CSS, and it can carry over common web-design concepts, such as responsive desktop applications which resize gracefully to mobile layouts. Different GNOME-based distributions have taken to shipping with their own custom themes, which sometimes results in broken interfaces. I think this was more or less tolerated for niche distros, but it’s become more of a problem since Ubuntu went about shipping a custom theme last year.

I haven’t used GNOME3 since the days it was just another Ubuntu flavor, so I don’t have any strong opinion on it. I’m just interested in this negotiation between app developers, end users, and desktop environments, where each of them have different visions of what they want their desktop to look like. All using a user interface toolkit which is explicitly designed to allow flexibility and modification in mind. Nevertheless, it causes friction when people go ahead and break the ‘intended experience.’

You can see a parallel issue with Windows, which pushed for a fancy touch-optimised interface on the presumption that everyone will soon be ditching their desktops for fancy new tablets. Four years down the line, most Windows 10 users are still navigating their ancient desktops with a clunky mouse and keyboard. So there’s this compromise between a future-oriented mobile-first environment based on web technologies, and the majority of ordinary people who just haven’t caught up yet.

I haven’t caught up either; I use a desktop environment whose fundamental design principles haven’t changed since around 2005.

Student orchestra

There was a university festival, to mark the end of exams, end of the academic year.

I went to a talk about creating vibrant spaces in the city, the economies of ‘urban buzz.’ Unfortunately, most students had already gone home by that point, and the campus never really buzzes even at its busiest point.

There was a stage with some music from the student orchestra.

I think this is one of the tunes used in Doctor Who?

And this is an Abba mashup. Even I can recognise Abba songs ;)