Category Archives: Blogging

How to Make My Kind of Coffee

  An instruction manual for future reference

  1. Check that there’s water in the reservoir. Red coffee maker is sad without water.   water
  2. Flip the 0/1 switch to 1. Two lights will turn on. This starts the coffee maker heating up water; you’re going to want to wait until the COFFEE light goes off. While you do that…switch5
  3. Make sure you have the smaller of the two filter cups (those things with the holes in the bottom) in the holder.smallcup
  4. Get the canister of ground coffee from the fridge. Put the holder on the upturned lid of it, and spoon about a teaspoon and a half of coffee into it.grounds
  5. Use the tamper tool to compress the coffee. Feel free to give it a good whack with your hand (this is why I had you put it on the upturned lid! Won’t dent the counter.)tamp
  6. Put the holder into the coffee machine. Push the handle as far to the right as you can. You’re allowed to whack that, too. Coffee is a violent, violent stuff, historically, politically, and in terms of how the beans are made ready to drink. A little hitting is right in tune with all of this. Then put the little ceramic cup underneath it, because we are small, and from where we sit, we can only wait helplessly for the products of violent history to rain down on us. (We are more mighty later in the day.)handle
  7. Has the COFFEE light gone off yet?switch1
  8. When it does, flip down the COFFEE switch. switch2
  9. There will be noises. And the dark brew of sanity will flow. Let it about half-fill the ceramic cup, then turn the COFFEE switch back off. A person can only cope with about half a cup of sanity at a time, I reckon.brewed
  10. Stop the flow of sanity by flipping the COFFEE switch back up. It doesn’t matter what the light is doing.
  11. Remove the holder. Do it now, because later, there will be pressure and bad things. Put the grounds in the green bin. (If you forget to remove it now, leave it until the coffee is all the way made and the machine has cooled down. It won’t harm anything being left in place. Just don’t remove it during the steam process.)
  12. Flip the STEAM switch down. Note that the light below the COFFEE switch is now on. You have to wait for the COFFEE light to turn off again before you get steam, because some poor designer got overrulled in meeting after meeting. Pity them while you do the next steps.switchesx
  13. Because I am not sweet enough, I need sweetening for my coffee. Because I am not self-accepting enough, that takes the form of a zoetje. Put one of them in the coffee mug.zoetje
  14.  Add milk to the mug, leaving enough room for the coffee to go in later. Use the box milk on the top shelf of the fridge, or if you forget/we’re out, the normal milk. If you use the coconut milk, your life will become very interesting, because people whose coffee is messed with hold grudges for a surprisingly long time.milk
  15. When the COFFEE light is off, the machine is ready to steam milk. It may be doing very dramatic things, because it gets kind of excited about this stage. switch3
  16. Position the cup with milk so the steam nozzle is inside it.  I tend to put it on the larger filter cup. Make sure it balances!cupstand
  17. Put the thermometer in, and turn the knob on the right hand side of the machine.steamknob
  18. When the thermometer reads about 40, turn the steam
  19. Take the mug out, give the steam nozzle a wipe with a sponge or a damp paper towel, and turn everything off.switch4
  20. Pour the coffee into the milk. Give it to me and collect your hugs and kisses.done

Note that this is my optimized method. If you do it “wrong”, you’ll probably still end up giving me a lovely cup of coffee, and I’ll still be grateful.

Except if you do the coconut milk thing. Then it’s war.

My Worldcon Schedule

I’ll be on the following panels at Loncon3. Do feel free to come along!

Diggy Diggy Hole! Minecraft and Gaming Communities

Thursday 13:30 – 15:00, London Suite 2 (ExCeL)

Minecraft was the surprise smash hit of 2011, and continues to be a huge part of gaming culture, however one of the most interesting things about it are the communities that have grown up around them. Webcasters like The Yogscast are now incredibly popular, with more people watching their daily shows than many television programmes. At the same time, huge communities have sprung up around these groups, as well as the games themselves. How important are these games and communities to the future of gaming?

The Deeper the Roots, the Stronger the Tree (moderating)

Friday 10:00 – 11:00, Capital Suite 9 (ExCeL)

The roots of modern science fiction and fantasy are often associated with authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, T.H. White, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley. But plenty of 19th- and early 20th-century authors with minimal or no fantastical or sfnal content have inspired and continue to inspire modern genre writing, including but not limited to Alexandre Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen, and Georgette Heyer. What is the on-going appeal of such authors, their styles, and their worlds? What is it about them that lends itself to genrefication?

Settling the Alien World

Friday 12:00 – 13:30, Capital Suite 9 (ExCeL)

Here are three star systems, each with a planet potentially habitable by humans. One is Mars-like — probably lifeless, and needs warming and water before we can live there (or we need to adapt ourselves). One is Earth-like, with similar biochemistry even (score one for panspermia theory), but so far as we can tell, no sentient organisms. And one is Earth-like but with early industrial cities. What narratives do we imagine for humans arriving in each system? How might humans be shaped by the life and landscapes they encounter? And how might questions of contact, colonisation or cohabitation be tackled in each scenario?

Saturday Morning Cartoons: The Next Generation

Friday 16:30 – 18:00, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL)

Alongside the much-discussed golden age of animated cinema, we’re living in a golden age of animated TV. Shows such as Gravity FallsVenture BrothersMy Little Pony: Friendship is MagicAdventure Time, andAvatar: The Last Airbender can be as clever, funny, politically challenging and emotionally sophisticated as any live-action show. This panel will discuss when and why the best of these shows work so well — as well as the constraints they still face, and whether some of them fall short of their ideals.

Entomosemantics, or, how to talk about bugs

One of the skills they pay me the big bucks medium-sized Euro for at work is assessing the risks of changes going into production. To do it, I’ve become pretty good at evaluating the system that is being changed.

I could snow you with talk of checklists, metrics, and charts, but really, my most valuable analytical tools are my pattern-matching wetware and my experience. With those two things, I can usually describe the current state of the system and estimate its chances of going horribly wrong in the near future, just based on gut feel.

Below are my private terms for the various states of computer system health. I use different ones in official reporting. Usually.

  • clean: The system runs smoothly, with no visible bugs. I read the logs to calm down after stressful meetings.
  • stable: There are the occasional interface bugs, but the thing runs reliably. It feels like a melon you tap in the supermarket and decide to buy.
  • scruffy: Most users hit some kind of bug or another, but they can make it work most of the time. Regular users have workarounds the way commuters have rat-runs that avoid traffic blackspots.
  • buggy: This is when users begin to see the bugs they encounter as a pattern rather than individual occurrences. They start to wonder if the pattern of bugs indicates a deeper unreliabilty. They’re right to.
  • brittle: Bugs aside, it pretty much works…right up to the point where it shatters into little tiny pieces.
  • fragile: It falls over a lot. Ops can pretty much always get it back up again in a reasonable time. We spend a lot of time apologizing.
  • fucked: It’s broken. Again. Fortunately, we have backups, and we’re fairly sure they’ll work.
  • comprehensively fucked: The backups didn’t work. Shark time.

Entropy tells us that, barring intervention, systems tend to move down this sequence. But it’s not a linear progression. For instance, brittle and fragile, are parallel routes to fuckedness. They’re basically two different failure modes: the Big Bad Bang and Death by a Thousand Cuts.

The applicability of these categories to other matters is left as an exercise for the reader.

Cross-posted on Making Light, where any comments will live.

A request, with a little help from my friends

Dear people, can I ask you a couple of favors?

For background, let me tell you about a couple of my friends.

E just got out of the hospital. She had a stroke on Tuesday night. Her scans and her doctor confirm that she sustained no lasting damage from the experience.

S had a stroke, too, a year and some ago. He spent a good deal of time in the hospital, and now he’s got language and mobility problems.

The significant difference between these two people is that E got medical help quickly. She was with someone who recognized the symptoms of a stroke as they occurred†, and called for help immediately. S, for reasons that seemed good at the time*, delayed calling the ambulance.

So. First favor. Read this good, approachable post on strokes. The whole thing is worth your time, but the key information is this list of symptoms:

  • Sudden onset weakness, numbness, or tingling, particularly one-sided.
  • Facial droop, particularly one-sided.
  • Slurred speech, or aphasia, or suddenly using inappropriate words.
  • Unexplained blurred vision, particularly one-sided.
  • “The worst headache of my life.” (Thunderclap headache.)

Not every stroke will have all of these symptoms, but if you see this tendency, think “stroke” and get dialing.

The second favor also comes with yet another friend story. B went to the doctor the other day, and has since been sent to the cardiologist. It’s everyone’s fervent hope that she won’t ever call an ambulance—on time or late—because preventative care reduces the chance of having a stroke in the first place.**

So if you don’t know your blood pressure, dear readers, nor your stroke risks, can you go get yourself checked out? I know it seems like a stinking nuisance so soon after the stinking nuisance of the holidays, but going to the emergency room is even more of a pain.

In short, be B. Failing that, be E. Otherwise, S will be most vexed with you.

As will I.

† Partly because of S’s experience
* Uninsured in America**
** Anyone wonder why I get worked up about health insurance and health care reform?

Making Light: Holed up in the mall

The official story is that Making Light is down because its server is down. Patrick is SpeakerToHostingProviders in this context. All will be well, and updates will appear here in a calm and controlled manner:

But, dear reader, I can reveal to you that this is all a cover-up, because the officials don’t want you to know the truth: the Zombie Apocalypse has come, and our beloved Making Light is trapped inside a mall.

For the latest updates, check out the Making Light Twitter feed. I’ll repost them in the comments as well, and any suggestions for what our beloved website can do are most welcome.

3:25 pm EST: Per Patrick, the server crashed. Hosting Matters is doing a disk check and will bring it back “soon”.

4:14 pm EST: And we’re back. It was all a dream. Honest.

Semi-Occluded Light

That collection of abstractions bound together by a mental model* that we usually refer to as “Making Light” has got back-end troubles. Although it does not reflect the underlying reality, feel free to think of it as the result of an enormous office party by the comment approval gnomes. That’s much more entertaining than “too many connections”.

The upshot is that you must treat what already sits on the site as a perfect jewel. Feel free to admire it, but you may not at this point add to it. Commenting is broken.

A support ticket has been raised with the host, but until we get this fixed, feel free to chat here.

Further bulletins as events warrant. The final update will mention a murnival.

Further Bulletin One:
The error message all the cool kids are getting has moved from “too many connections” to “Can’t call method "created_on" on an undefined value.”

* Or rather, a coalescence of multiple mental models which mostly† manage to intersect into a single consensus reality‡. I would never expect that anyone else’s mental model is any more than functionally equivalent to mine.
†in this context, possessing an outlying model is symptomatic of trolldom.
‡ I can’t believe I just used “reality” as a synonym for the internet.

Biking at Making Light

I’ve been trying to write about my life as a bicycle commuter for a couple of years now. I’ve touched on specific aspects, both here and on Making Light.

But a lot of the ways that biking to work matters to me really are not verbal, so I’ve struggled to phrase things in any useful or meaningful way. I knew what I wanted to say in the middle of the post (what routes, how far, how long it took) and at the end (thinking as I ride). But how to begin?

My sordid history as a Rush fan came to the rescue. The immediacy of the lyrics of Red Barchetta was exactly the tone I was looking for to pull the reader into the experience.

The result: My own personal Rota Fortunae.

Not dead, nor yet a zombie

[insert typical “sorry I don’t blog here more often” paragraph]

The fact of the matter is that I am still writing, rather a lot, over at Making Light, a blog owned by my friends Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden1.

This is kind of unfair to everyone who keeps looking here for news of me. I know this. I’m going to start doing pointers to Making Light when I’ve posted something there that people here might be interested in, and hanging out here for people who want to talk about those things with me rather than a large crowd of strangers2.

My most recent post is about the quilt that I made this spring: Works and Days of Hands. It’s also about the process of making something like that, and how process and design mirrored each other for me.

Fibonacci spiral quilt: front Fibonacci spiral quilt: back

Another post I really enjoyed writing was Op anger tale, which is an exploration of the relationship between a particular Dutch dialect and Wikipedia.

One thing I’ve been talking about over there, rather a lot, has been the US health care situation. The conversation can get quite heated from time to time, of course, but that heat has certainly caused me to clarify and reaffirm my own beliefs in this matter.

  1. That phrasing makes it sound like we were friends, and then I pitched up on their blog. Really, it was the other way round.
  2. Though many of my friends here are also friends on Making Light, it’s a smaller group.

How to sour a community, in one easy lesson

Simple. Tell them that they’re not one.

It won’t destroy it, of course. Wherever a group of people collaborate for a common endeavor, there we find community.

But communities come in different flavors. My favorite kind includes a substantial amount of trust among the community members, and between them and their leaders/moderators. They are often powerfully goal-oriented, whether the goal is to build something or simply to have good conversation. These ones are electrifying to be a member of. Shared endeavors and a sense of shared ownership seem to actually create energy.

Other communities, however, just depress everyone. A group of rules lawyers, whose shared energy is absorbed in the feeling that bad behavior is punished but good actions go unrewarded, is still a community. It’s just not a very pleasant one. One doesn’t go out and evangelize for such a community or for what it does. One doesn’t hope that others will come join it.

(There is a third kind of community to be mindful of, of course. A mob, like a depressive community, is a common failure mode of an energized community.)

The breakdown of trust is of course the most common reason that the first kind of community turns into the second. It’s easy, particularly as a leader or moderator, to feel betrayed by everyone when the crowd goes in a direction that you don’t want it to. And the fear of the mob is a powerful motivator. The temptation is to lock everything down, pretend that there is no community ethos but the one you provide.

But people don’t work that way. Clamp down on a community, and it turns sour; the community spirit becomes one of grumbling and nit-picking conformance to the stated rules. Spontaneous action for the common good, being unrewarded, goes away.

I’ve seen online communities go completely sour at this point, as the members in their turn feel betrayed by the moderators. Subsequent events just confirm the mutual hostility. Eventually many of these things break up completely.

This isn’t universal; sometimes the shared endeavor of the community is motivating enough to overcome the mutual mistrust. Gradually, a new balance is found; member behavior builds moderator trust and moderator trust reduces member resentment.

Communities may recover in time, but it’s not a pleasant process.

This rather discouraged rant has been brought to you by the letter M and the number 2.

Alex deduces

Yesterday, Alex turned to his dad and told him there was no such thing as the Tooth Fairy.

Apparently, lying in his bed the night after Christmas, he had started thinking. He knows fairies don’t exist1. The Tooth Fairy is a fairy. Therefore, she doesn’t exist.

But he didn’t stop there. He went on to consider the problem of the exchange of teeth for money. Was there a more plausible agent than the now-deprecated fairy? Of course there was; he knows that I creep into his bedroom every night after he’s asleep to give him one last kiss and tell him that I love him.

So he reckoned that Martin or I would exchange the tooth for money in the night.

Coincidentally, he lost a tooth yesterday evening. He considered setting a booby trap to catch whoever was doing the money exchange3. But he forgot to put the tooth under his pillow last night. I’d left it on the shelf in my bindery.

*** 4

This morning, I was in the bindery getting a hair stick. I called him in and pointed to the shelf where his tooth had been last night, and where a nice shiny Euro coin was now sitting.

He laughed and laughed. He accused me; I said I’d left a tooth there the night before and there was a coin there now. He reckoned it was his dad instead.

He won’t take the coin, either. Principled little guy.

  1. Why? I told him, in the context of Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book, and it accords with his very good reality/fantasy distinction2
  2. Unlike his reality/science fiction distinction, which is weak
  3. He’s capable of it; he has a couple of kiddie spy kits that have motion sensor alarms.
  4. This is a Murder of Roger Ackroyd reference, if you are familiar with the book.