The end of the Great Purge?

The purge continued today. This time it was the turn of the board games and the University notes to fall under the scrutinous gaze of the purge police.

Both of these have been a subject of contention in the household for a long time: The board games take up a lot of space, and are rarely played, sadly; the University notes take up even more space, are very heavy to move around, and are never referenced. Well, how often does one need to refer to the equations for calculating the emission and absorption spectra of stars off the mainline of the H-R diagram in daily life?

So the obvious question is why have I held on to these things for so long. I mean, I’ve had the board games since myself and my friends back in Jersey spent days playing them during holidays and at weekends (faithfully putting the boards with games in progress under the bed between play sessions, of course) almost twenty years ago, and the University notes for at least ten years. The easy and honest answer that springs to mind, which is not the answer I’ve given in the past, is sentimentality. Pure and simple. I loved the hours playing Escape From Colditz and 221B Baker Street with my friends, and I really miss learning amazing things about the Universe on a daily basis. Whether it’s trying to guess if Mrs White really did it in the Study with the revolver, or solving Einstein’s equations of General Relativity to illustrate Kaluza-Klein cosmologies, it evokes a strong sense of nostalgia.

So how does one go about getting over this issue? Board games first, as those were, unsurprisingly, the easiest to find a solution for. My wife, that bastion of rationality when mine escapes me, and unfailing source of common sense, suggested that instead of completely purging the board games, we can just reduce their impact in the house. By removing the boxes (which were broken and ripped for the most part any way) and putting the pieces into their own bags (a better solution to avoid losing crucial pieces also) we can reduce the amount of space they occupy significantly. I eagerly agreed, and did just that. Diplomacy lives to be played another day.

On to the University notes, then. Alongside the nostalgia is a hope that one day I would have need to refer to the erudite contents of those binders; that I would find in my daily life reason to revisit tensor calculus and the calculation of expectation values of observables in a quantum reality. It has become clear, however, that this is unlikely as I continue to create video games. I decided that before I can dispose of them, I needed to go through and just see if I could still follow the mathematics and theories within them, and if there was anything worth salvaging. An amazing thing occurred when I did so: I realised that I could not stand the vast majority of courses that I had to take to complete my degree. In fact, aside from the early mathematics courses, and the later General Relativity courses, I hardly bothered making notes at all and the binders were full of largely unread hand-outs! Thus was nostalgia conquered! I swiftly nabbed the one really interesting course, put it in a much smaller binder of its own, and that was that. University notes purged.

I still miss playing board games, which I suppose is why I have become an avid gamer, maker of games, and why one of my priorities since moving into the Bay Area has been to find a DnD game (quest complete, by the way; the first session is in a couple of weeks). I also still miss learning, which also probably explains why I have the career that I do, and why I’m constantly eyeing up opportunities to continue my education. Maybe 2009 will be the year that I go back to school part-time and find out if I still have that bug. Either way, I’ve been surprised by what this purge has taught me about myself; about how my priorities have both changed and stayed the same over the years. I hope this is the last of it though: I’m not sure I can stand much more self-inspection.

A perfect day

It’s the end of Christmas day, and while it was the least Christmassy Christmas day I’ve had in a long time, it was exactly what I needed in terms of a day just hanging out in the apartment with the family.

There were some last minute things to finish up from the move yesterday, including the great Book Purge and Sort Out. I’m not a fan of getting rid of books, any books, and never have been. However, it became clear while unpacking that we just don’t have the room for every single book, and there are some books in the collection (800+. And now I write that down, I realise just how silly a number that is) that really don’t need to be kept. Someone else can find joy in the Dan Brown bought-at-an-airport-about-to-get-on-a-flight novels and a selection of fad diet books from the last fifteen years. As it turns out, figuring out which books to pass on to others was the easy bit; the difficult bit was actually putting the books we wanted to keep in the bookcases.

In the past, I have ordered my books loosely by genre (fiction, non-fiction, reference) and then by author, and finally by chronological order of first publication. However, when you are working with limited space, and many, many (i mentioned we have over 800 books, right) books, this is no longer an option. So I had to find a new system. The one I settled on is still ordered by genre, and in fact more strictly than I have in the past, but the author order is more general. When there are multiple books by the same author (Adams, Gaiman, Pratchett, Banks, Scott Card, Herbert, Tolkein, spotting a pattern?), they stay together, however the Herberts are not necessarily before the Holts, but they are kind of on the same shelf. The general effect is actually rather pretty, aesthetically, as the bookcases appear to be a little haphazard and disordered, but any book can be found very quickly.

The real end result of that digression, which I am leading too in a rather too rambling manner, is that we awoke this morning to a finally tidied apartment (not counting the den, or study, which we won’t speak about until after the holidays).

Now, I’m afraid I must wander off down the path of another aside here for a moment, before finally getting to what is rapidly becoming the point of this post no longer. The family tradition round these parts is not to cook the almight turkey and its various accoutrements, but instead to offer a smörgåsbord of cheese and breads, as well as meat things for those that eat it, and a selection of other bits and pieces such as hummus and pesto.

However, this Christmas morning, we started with pancakes. I’ve posted about pancake breakfasts before and they still remain my favourite breakfast. Now that we’re in the US, I suppose I’ll have to clarify that there are really crepes, and that I, probably unusually, prefer mine with different cheeses and pesto or olive tapenade fillings.

Once these were eaten, and episodes of Fringe and Pushing Daisies were also consumed, it was time to think about putting out the food for the rest of the day. But wait! No hummus has been made! And the last of the pesto was used in the crepes! What are we to do?!

Fortunately, sitting in the corner of the kitchen is a shiny new Krups mini food processor, perfect for tackling such projects. Now, we had a mini food processor previously, but it worked on the wrong voltage and was so old and blunt that you could put your hand in while it was working and still walk away with all of your fingers. The new one, though: You can feel the power throbbing beneath your hand as you push the lid gently down and encourage the blades to whirr within. You can hear the motor whine as it forces the blades through whatever you choose to process. It is just the right size, and an extremely pleasing shape, and activation by pressing the lid adds a more visceral interaction to something that is normally abstracted by a switch or button. I think it’s my new favourite gadget.

I decided to celebrate the arrival of this newest electronic child into the home by making pesto, for the first time, and hummus, not for the first time, but on a much longer leash than normal; away from the strict instructions of the hummus master of the house. For once, both my kitchen experiments were successful and it all turned out deliciously fresh and tasty. While I will take credit for much of this, I do have to allow part of that success to be down to the inclusion of the special ingredient: Skywalker Ranch Olive Oil, fresh from Uncle George.

The rest of the day is actually a bit of a blur, which is almost certainly due in some part to the bottles of wine that have become mysteriously empty during the course of the day. We had a short but sweet visit from our new neighbours, a chicken was roasted and two batches of Swedish cinnamon buns were baked, and the day was rounded out by a few hours of playing Little Big Planet together.

All in all, a pretty darn perfect day, Christmas or not. Tomorrow, we might even get the smörgåsbord going and try to make a dent in the dozen cheeses in the fridge as we entertain a very special guest.

It’s an insert-thing-here off!

We are purging. As we unpack into our wonderful, but smaller, apartment in SF, it is time to rationalise and minimise and lots of other ise’s. So far, purging has hit the t-shirt collection, the tupperware collection, the jumper sweater collection, and today it was the turn of the bedsheet and towel collection.

While it’s not possible on such short notice to get David Bowie to officiate, the favoured method this time, which has been more successful than previous attempts, has been to hold a ‘<thing-we-need-to-purge> off’. Essentially, the items in question are put up head-to-head and the favourite from each selection goes through, while the unfavoured is put in the pile to go. Once the winners are put away, runners up are allowed to fill in any remaining space.

And yes, everything that is purged is going to charity.

Of course, we retain the right to veto decisions too, if there’s a sentimental reason to keep something. And yes, dammit, it is possible to be sentimental about a tupperware pot that was used to hold the first batch of hummus the hamon family made together. That’s not weird at all.

I’m also putting together a site for some personal projects, and I’ve decided to use the same technique to pick the font for the logo. So far it’s worked well. I’m looking forward to seeing which other parts of my life I can extend the ‘<thing> off’ technique to. It does need a more catchy name before I write the best-selling book about it and get on Oprah…

Living on a prayer

Tonight was the Fünde Razor event in San Fran: A night of Rock Band, drinking, and raising money for a great cause.

The night started at 7.30 with a modest showing: About twenty geeks of the highest calibre had decided to attend. I thought this was about expected. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came off of rocking a 99% score on bass on hard for Living on a Prayer to see that well over a hundred were crammed into the tiny, but most excellent, Shine.

I could write for a while about all of the awesome things that went on, including the ill-advised drunken Ace of Spades attempt, but frankly it doesn’t matter. What matters is that a whole bunch of people turned up and made some money to help kids who can’t help themselves, and hopefully made their lives better. The fact that we all had a great time in the process just highlights how powerful a force people can be when pointed in the right direction.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get Bon Jovi out of my head and start practising for Rock Band night at Vertigo.

Oo-wa oo-wa oo-oo-oo-wa…

This looks like cheap CG, but it is apparently real. Don Pettit, an astronaut at the ISS, created this sequence from still images he shot of the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. Bonus points if you watch in higher quality and spot Orion peaking over the edge of the Earth.

Animated Aurora Borealis, from Orbit (via Revkin)


Box. Box box box. Box box. Bubble wrap. Paper paper paper paper paper. Paper. Box.


Box box. Paper paper paper paper paper.


I have a love-hate relationship with unpacking.