The Tyranny of Resilience and the New Normal

Resilience - you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic there is a word and a short phrase that are both in very common usage. All too often they are used in unhelpful and arguably incorrect ways.

Elasticity has Limits

Resilience has an interesting etymology, coming from the Latin ‘resilire’, ‘to recoil or rebound’. It came to encompass ideas of elasticity, naturally enough, as its meaning evolved over centuries. From an engineering point of view, the most important aspects of elastic behaviour for our purposes are that:

  1. An elastic object returns to its previous state after the load is removed;
  2. Past a certain load, elastic behaviour is no longer seen, permanent change remains after the load is removed.

You might already see where I am going here.

The Temporary Abnormal

The “New Normal” contains a similar unspoken assumption: that we have passed through a phase of one normality, through some transition, into a new normality.

But the truth is we are still under unusual load, still in the transition, and this is not the new normal. Using that phrase to imply otherwise can be potentially disrespectful and distressing to the everyday experiences of people who are struggling with the circumstances of the pandemic and in many cases the constantly changing and/or escalating demands it places on them.

It’s like that unhelpful use of the word “resilience” — used by some people allocating load to imply that coping with trying circumstances is purely the responsibility with those under extreme load. That usage reminds me of a quote from the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

We have normality. I repeat, we have normality. Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem.

Douglas Adams

But in reality the problems that emerge in the temporary abnormal are a shared responsibility – from recognition to resolution. Individuals should not be left to feel they are on their own and that if they were only resilient enough everything would be fine, regardless of the load.

We must all remain mindful that resilience has its breaking point, its “elastic limit” and we have a shared responsibility to pay attention to this.

The New Normal is yet to come

There will indeed be a new normal, but it’s going to take quite a while to emerge. Some of this will be enforced upon us, some of this will be negotiated, and some of it will be opportunistically seized.

Much innovation will come in the transition phase, “the temporary abnormal”, and we can expect to see a great deal of this to survive into the post COVID-19 acute phase. Many old assumptions will be revisited and fall away. There’s room for optimism and enthusiasm here, that while many thing will not rebound to how they were before we have a wonderful opportunity to shape the future that will eventually emerge.

The Most Dangerous Idea in History

In the modern world we often throw around the word meme to mean some comic image, video or idea that has become associated with a concept, but the word has a different origin.

“an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.”

This usage was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The selfish gene“. Like genes, memes are replicated by one process or another, sometimes with mutations. Like genes, memes are subject to a form of “evolutionary pressure”, a survival of the fittest.

So memes are not just ideas, but ideas can be seen as memes. I’ll likely use the words a bit interchangeably for convenience, however, in this article. The best ideas or memes, can survive for centuries or millennia, as Dawkins himself noted:

“But if you contribute to the world’s culture, if you have a good idea…it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool. Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today, as G.C. Williams has remarked, but who cares? The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus and Marconi are still going strong.”

In effect, memes can be more immortal and long-lasting then genes. And the transmission can be more direct as well. You may not descend from Socrates, Newton or Curie, whatever benefit that may or may not give you, but you can easily open a book and have those memes transmitted to you directly (or more likely through one or two intermediaries) very efficiently.

This is a very important feature of humanity, perhaps its most important: the ability of a human to learn from more than just its immediate family or peer group, however valuable that interaction is.

Some people have explored the viral nature of memes, and in this sense, we can easily understand that in terms of the common usage of a word in social media.

Of course, some memes are millennia old, have virally spread and are just plain wrong. The popular meme that humans have five senses is wrong. So memes can survive selection pressure despite error. Of course, the pressure may be more intense and effective if the consequences are more significant.

I contend that the most dangerous idea in history is one of a family of related ideas on this theme:

It is bad / wrong / sinful / wicked to question / doubt.

This is a very widespread meme indeed, and a successful one therefore in terms of its own survival. It exists in various strengths and in various contexts. And it doesn’t seem especially dangerous; it’s an innocuous statement.

So what’s the problem? Well, there are two aspects to this.

Firstly, it knocks out your mental immune system. This idea is almost parasitic because it reinforces itself with circular logic. Once it is in place, it prevents or inhibits its own eviction. After all, one has to challenge the idea to reject it, and the mind the idea resides in has already accepted that this is unacceptable.

People that have been taught this as part of their philosophy, ethics or morality, will of course tend to pass it on as a necessary element in those systems, and one can see why.

Because the second aspect is that, this idea rarely comes on its own. The really big problem with this idea is that explicitly or implicitly it tends to actually be found in this form:

It is bad / wrong / sinful / wicked to question / doubt [X].

And then X is or can be the problem. In other words, this is a mental virus that often comes with an associated payload. Like a two-part drug.

For convenience, let’s call X the “payload“, the idea or collection of ideas that hitches a ride with the “immunosuppressant“, the idea that one must not question the payload.

It’s the other part of the coupling that makes the first part dangerous.

Maybe the payload is trivial, like somebody learning a martial art who has essentially been told not to question anything in what they are being taught. In such cases the immunosuppressant challenge could cause poor form or technique never to really be corrected, or not to be open to improvement from ideas from others.

Surprisingly one can find the immunosuppressant quite easily in class rooms, where groups of students have been told that they have to accomplish a task by certain means are exhorted not to think about why. Or sometimes they are so frightened out of asking questions that they pick up the immunosuppressant meme all by themselves. This can damage their ability to discern good ideas from bad.

If the payload is something more serious, such as having significant ethical or moral content then it might still be a relatively minor problem. For example if the payload is ethically benign such as some variation on the Golden Rule, then few issues arise, since the immunosuppressant defeating aspect is reinforcing a behaviour (payload) that is ethically non damaging or even perhaps, life enhancing.

But, if the payload contains many ethically or morally dubious aspects, then you have real problems, because these ideas and behaviours simply cannot be challenged from outside that mind. If the person swallowing the two part pill has accepted the immunosuppressant wholeheartedly then almost nothing can be done to recover that mind’s proper function. It’s trivially easy to see this at work in the world, where people of a given faith can’t even accept that adherents of different strands of that faith are worthy of respect, or in extreme cases, life itself.

In most cases the payload is complex, comprising both good and bad ideas; in these cases the immunosuppressant is the main reason preventing people from discerning which bits to hang on to and which bits to discard. Fortunately, for many the immunosuppressant isn’t full strength, and they quietly, and quite sensibly work out which parts of the payload to discard, but often with no fanfare. They are sometimes still ashamed to state that they do this or don’t even admit it to themselves.

But we shouldn’t be embarrassed to say that parts of a payload are good and parts should be rejected. For instance, most people of faith, from the Abrahamic tradition, quietly reject parts of the payload, let’s take this one:

“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

I mean, there’s no getting around it. It’s perfectly clear, in the payload, and it’s equally clear to most 21st century people that this is wrong. Wrong. Illegal. Murder. Ludicrous even. But still many lovely and kind people will try and apologise for this, quoting nicer parts of the payload, rather than just admitting that this is wrong, often because the immunosuppressant part of the pill says we have to not question any aspects of the payload.

And then we are surprised when people kill each other around the world based on the differences in their ideas, even if those differences are trivial, and pose absolutely no threat whatsoever.

But why should we be surprised? The answer is all too obvious.

Horrifically, in many cases, they have been explicitly told to do these things. It’s there in writing. And the immunosuppressant is strongly in place. It’s no good saying that the payload has lots of nice bits in it too. That’s great. That’s wonderful, but the payload will only become better when people are able to admit that parts of it are just plain wrong, and need to be rejected. For this to happen, the immunosuppressant has to be removed. At this point their natural mental immune response comes back to life. It is then possible for peers to influence people for the best. It is easier and possible to learn from the positive examples of others.

If we want to rid ourselves of some of the worst most horrific memes of our past, we need to admit that this is a possibility, and this is why doubt and questioning isn’t a sin, or an error, but the most basic principle of mental hygiene.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

Python Script To Copy a Playlist and Linked Files

Most tools for copying files onto MP3 players (often actually a phone these days) work on the basis that you copy your entire music catalogue and then make playlists linking to various files on it.

It can be a trickier process to copy your favourite selected audio files – the ones specifically used in your playlist, that usually exist in a deep structure of their own. There seem to be some proprietary tools for it, but here’s a Free (in all senses) and Open Source solution.

I adapted my previous Python scripts (that allow for files to be appended to a playlist on the command line, and shuffle a playlist from the command line) to make a – well – bit of a Frankenstein’s monster that will take a playlist as input, and copy the playlist and all its referenced file to another directory. It will create the required directory structure, but will only copy the actual music files on the playlist.

I have used this successfully to move a playlist and the selected directory structure onto more modest sized music players.

Usage looks something like this. -v -i /path/to/your/list.m3u -o /path/where/you/want/it/all.m3u

Have fun, use with care, and I’ll try to clean it up at some stage. If you break something, you own all the pieces, but feel free to write me a (nice) comment below.

At some point I’ll move these scripts to Python 3 and off the deprecated option handling code module.

#!/usr/bin/env python

# Simple script to copy a whole playlist and its contents
# Colin Turner <>
# 2016
# GPL v2
# Need to move all of these scripts to Python 3 in due course

import random
import re
import os
import shutil
import eyeD3

# We want to be able to process some command line options.
from optparse import OptionParser

def process_lines(options, all_lines):
  'process the list of all playlist lines into three chunks'
  # Eventually we want to support several formats
  m3u = True
  extm3u = False
  if options.verbose:
    print "Read %u lines..." % len(all_lines)
  header = list()
  middle = list()
  footer = list()

  # Check first line for #EXTM3U
  if re.match("^#EXTM3U", all_lines[0]):     if options.verbose:       print "EXTM3U format file..."     extm3u = True     header.append(all_lines[0])     del all_lines[0]    loop = 0   while loop < len(all_lines):     # Each 'item' may be multiline     item = list()     if re.match("^#EXTINF.*", all_lines[loop]):
      loop = loop + 1
    # A proper regexp for filenames would be good
    if loop < len(all_lines):
      loop = loop + 1
    if options.verbose: print item

  return (header, middle, footer)

def load_playlist(options):
  'loads the playlist into an array of arrays'
  if options.verbose:
    print "Reading playlist %s ..." % options.in_filename
  with open(options.in_filename, 'r') as file:
    all_lines = file.readlines()
  (header, middle, footer) = process_lines(options, all_lines)
  return (header, middle, footer)

def write_playlist(options, header, middle, footer):
  'writes the shuffled playlist'
  if options.verbose:
    print "Writing playlist %s ..." % options.out_filename
  with open(options.out_filename, 'w') as file:
    for line in header:
    for item in middle:
        # Get the filename, as it will be
        mp3_filename = resolve_mp3_filename(item[1], options)
        copy_mp3(item[1], mp3_filename, options)
        for line in item:
          # TODO We should wewrite line 1
    for line in footer:

def copy_mp3(source, destination, options):
  'copys an individual mp3 file, making directories as needed'
  source_playlist_path = os.path.dirname(os.path.abspath(options.in_filename))

  destination_playlist_path = os.path.dirname(os.path.abspath(options.out_filename))

  mp3_source = source_playlist_path + os.path.sep + source
  mp3_destination = destination_playlist_path + os.path.sep + destination

  mp3_destination_dir = os.path.dirname(os.path.abspath(mp3_destination))

  if not os.path.exists(mp3_destination_dir.rstrip()):

  shutil.copyfile(mp3_source.rstrip(), mp3_destination.rstrip())

def copy(options):
  'perform the copy on the playlist'
  # read the existing data into three arrays in a tuple
  (header, middle, footer) = load_playlist(options)
  # and shuffle the lines array
  if options.verbose:
    print "Copying..."
  # now spit them back out
  write_playlist(options, header, middle, footer)

def append(options, artist, title, seconds):
  'append the fetched data to the playlist'
  mp3_filename = resolve_mp3_filename(options)
  # Check if the playlist file exists
  there_is_no_spoon = not os.path.isfile(options.out_filename)

  with open(options.out_filename, 'a+') as playlist:
    # was the file frshly created?
    if there_is_no_spoon:
      # So write the header
      print >> playlist, "#EXTM3U"
      # There was a file, so check the last character, in case there was no \n, os.SEEK_END)
      last_char =
      if(last_char != '\n'):
        print >> playlist

    # OK, now able to write
    print >> playlist, "#EXTINF:%u,%s - %s" % (seconds, artist, title)
    print >> playlist, "%s" % mp3_filename

def resolve_mp3_filename(filename, options):
  'resolve the mp3 filename appropriately, if we can, and if we are asked to'
  'there are three modes, depending on command line parameters:'
  '-l we write the filename precisely as on the command list'
  '-r specifies a base relative which to write the filename'
  'otherwise we try to resolve relative to the directory of the playlist'
  'the absolute filename will be the fall back position is resolution is impossible'

  if options.leave_filename:
    # we have been specifcally told not to resolve the filename
    mp3_filename = filename
    if options.verbose:
      print "Filename resolution disabled."

  if not options.leave_filename and not len(options.relative_to):
    # Neither argument used, automatcally resolve relative to the playlist
    (playlist_path, playlist_name) = os.path.split(os.path.abspath(options.out_filename))
    options.relative_to = playlist_path + os.path.sep
    if options.verbose:
      print "Automatic filename resolution relative to playlist base %s" % options.relative_to

  if len(options.relative_to):
    # We have been told to map the path relative to another path
    mp3_filename = os.path.abspath(filename)
    # Check that the root is actually present
    if mp3_filename.find(options.relative_to) == 0:
      # It is present and at the start of the line
      mp3_filename = mp3_filename.replace(options.relative_to, '', 1)

  if options.verbose:
    print "mp3 filename will be written as %s..." % mp3_filename
  return mp3_filename

def get_meta_data(options):
  'perform the append on the playlist'
  # read the existing data into three arrays in a tuple
  if options.verbose:
    print "Opening MP3 file %s ..." % options.in_filename
  if eyeD3.isMp3File(options.in_filename):
    # Ok, so it's an mp3
    audioFile = eyeD3.Mp3AudioFile(options.in_filename)
    tag = audioFile.getTag()
    artist = tag.getArtist()
    title = tag.getTitle()
    seconds = audioFile.getPlayTime()
    if not options.quiet:
      print "%s - %s (%s s)" % (artist, title, seconds)
    # OK, we have the required information, now time to write to the playlist
    return artist, title, seconds
    print "Not a valid mp3 file."

def print_banner():
  print "playlist-copy"

def main():
  'the main function that kicks everything else off'

  usage = "usage: %prog [options] arg"
  parser = OptionParser(usage)
  parser.add_option("-i", "--input-file", dest="in_filename",
                    help="read playlist from FILENAME")
  parser.add_option("-o", "--output-file", dest="out_filename",
                    help="write new playlist to FILENAME")
  parser.add_option("-l", "--leave-filename", dest="leave_filename", action="store_false",
                    help="leaves the mp3 path as specified on the command line, rather than resolving it")
  parser.add_option("-r", "--relative-to", dest="relative_to", default="",
                    help="resolves mp3 filename relative to this path")
  parser.add_option("-v", "--verbose",
                    action="store_true", dest="verbose")
  parser.add_option("-q", "--quiet", default=False,
                    action="store_true", dest="quiet")

  (options, args) = parser.parse_args()
#  if len(args) == 0:
#      parser.error("use -h for more help")

  if not options.quiet:


  if not options.quiet:
      print "Playlist copy complete..."

if  __name__ == '__main__':


Fred Carroll (1945 – 2015)

Fred Carroll
Fred Carroll

A picture of my father, Fred Carroll, a zoologist by education, an archaeologist by career, who died this week. I unfortunately only met him once as an adult but was very glad for that, and that we corresponded subsequently. I sent him a number of pictures of Aimee and Matilda which delighted him. He was an interesting man and I am very sorry that he is gone.

Obituary, Impartial Reporter

Obituary, Fermanagh Herald

Straight Edge Razors

I went for a nice simple classic look with bamboo.

As most men, and many women, will know, over the last decade or more the ubiquitous disposable razor head has just kept increasing the blade count. This supposedly produces an excellent close shave but even if that is taken as a given there are a number of problems, for instance the blades are expensive and at least for me practically require a pressure hose to clean, during and between shaves. At home, I’d find myself putting my thumb on the tap to force the pressure to be high enough.

One holiday, a few years ago, with the predictable low pressure on the taps I decided there had to be a better way. So I thought I’d go for the opposite extreme. One, very sharp, non disposable blade – the “cut throat” or “straight edge” razor. At the time I got some good advice from my friend Ricky Craig who had gone down this route, and such advice is really useful. This article is intended to serve as an introduction for anyone interested in going that route but who isn’t sure where to start.

A lot of people will tell you this form of shaving is cheaper. It certainly can be, but there is an initial outlay and personally I buy better stuff, much less frequently. It’s possible I have recouped my investment by now, but my point is a switch will probably be cost neutral.

Some Advantages

  • Cleaning a straight edge during and between shaves is a doddle. There are no more clogged blade heads. You just have to make sure you are gentle with the edge of the blade, and if cleaning it with your fingers obviously move them towards the edge so as not to be cut.
  • Shaving several days, weeks or months growth is easy with a straight edge. I personally found that skipping a shave at a weekend would lead to a very uncomfortable shave and a blade head so clogged it needed to be discarded. A straight edge just needed washed off more often, so paradoxically makes it easier to be lazy for a few days. (Note, I do not recommend your first straight edge shave be with more than a day’s growth).
  • You can get a much closer shave from a straight edge, especially if you do multiple passes. I tend to do two passes, one downwards and one across. I do a third pass upwards on rare occasions – I wouldn’t recommend this till you are very comfortable with the other directions. A single pass will still do a good job.
  • You use much less consumable product – no more packs of blades, much less foam and goo. You can afford to treat yourself to much better quality stuff, and you generally go months between needing to buy more stuff.
  • Mornings are often frenetic but this kind of shaving demands attention. However short it provides a nice Zen like moment in the day.
  • You can enjoy some unique one of a kind items as part of your daily shaving routine.
  • It’s not just quite as dull as shaving usually is.

This one might be just me, but working with blades in Iaido means that the blade and it’s care and maintenance is interesting.


  • Initially shaving is likely to be a lot slower. It takes quite a bit of practice to be fully comfortable and you should never be complacent. It probably takes a few months to really get it all sorted out. Most shaves will be good faster than that, but you may well have some better and worse shaves till you reach consistency.
  • Goatees may be so common because they mean you don’t have to shave some of the most difficult areas, under your nose, the edges of your lips, the bottom of the chin at the jawline. You will have to learn how to tackle these areas again for a reliably close shave.
  • You may, especially in the early months, misjudge it and the razor taps your skin and a line, quite similar to the kind of scratch a cat might inflict will appear. You may also occasionally start a bleed on a spot or similar. Some of these things happen with other razors too.
  • It’s harder to buy supplies in the average chemist, even a good shaving brush can be hard to find. But you need supplies so infrequently that this isn’t such a problem.
  • Periodically you will have to sharpen the razor or have someone else do it. I sharpen my own every six months but others will do it for you.
  • You have to treat the razor carefully, both because it is easily damaged and is a dangerous item.

Other Advice

The most important advice is that you should always be focused when using the razor. Picking it up, opening it, shaving, setting it down, cleaning it, drying it, putting it away. Sloppiness will be punished, obviously.

And the razor is fragile, a dumb accident like bashing the blade off a tap when washing it could damage it a bit or chip the blade. On the other hand, don’t be too gentle when cleaning and drying it, make sure it is bone dry before putting it away, if your razor is proper carbon steel and not stainless. And of course it is, right?

What you need. Where to get it.

Part of the fun of this approach is that it is very individual. You should do your own research and buy a razor that pleases you in both a practical and aesthetic way for instance, but I indicate where I got things below as a starting point.

A good quality razor.

I got mine on-line from the Invisible Edge. There’s good advice on the site about the kind of razor you might want. You can buy vintage and old razors, but I’m not really sure that’s a great choice for your “first” razor – at least if you don’t trust its source to ensure it is properly sharp and well maintained. It’s a cliché, but a dull razor is uncomfortable at best and dangerous as well.I went for a nice simple classic look with bamboo.

A strop.

Strop for Razor
I got a strop that was able to travel with me easily.

A strop is used to refined the very edge of the blade. There seems to be a lot of babble about this and general quackery but I do find that not stropping the razor can lead to an uncomfortable shave, though nowadays I don’t strop the razor every time and it seems fine. I got mine from the Strop Shop, great service and nice one of a kind goods that is one of the joys of this kind of shaving.

A shaving brush.

Shaving BrushOnce again it’s best to buy something nice quality that will last. It’s hard to pick up even a decent shaving brush on the high street. I’m pretty sure I bought mine from Amazon.

Shaving soap.

This is your one big continuing outlay, so personally I think it’s worth treating yourself to something nice and good quality you will enjoy. I have found that the creams are easier to make a nice soft lather with but the “dish” type soaps last a lot longer. I get stuff from Crabtree and Evelyn, expensive but great quality, nice to shave with and lasts months.Shaving Soap

Update: Alum or a Styptic Pencil

As my friend Simon Slater pointed out after I first posted this article, it can be a good idea to buy something to stop any bleeds – actually however you shave I guess. I did buy a styptic pencil, but found it not fully effective at its job – it eventually fell apart from getting too wet and I haven’t bothered with anything else since, but your mileage may vary. A cheap alum block or styptic pencil is well worth trying.

And the rest…

Optional extras abound, but mostly seem gimmicky and I’ve never needed them.  There’s a surprising amount of pseudo scientific babble about all of this. I have bought hones to sharpen my razor which I do about every six months.  I bought my hone from the Strop Shop again. Well actually I bought a cheap generic hone from Amazon for high grit, and this beautiful hone which is a piece of art in its own right for the fine work: this one is made of Welsh slate and a finer stone bonded together, but lots of people seem to send their razors away to be sharpened once in a while. If you are careless with the razor and chip it you may need to use a hone to work that out.



If you want to take a step away from dozens of cheap plastic razors every year, and mountains of expensive but nasty shaving foam and gloop this is worth a go. It leads to a nice meditative experience first thing in the morning with non-disposal quality items you can enjoy.

Postscript (June 2020)

When I wrote this article over five years ago I wasn’t sure if I’d financially broken even from my initial investment. I most certainly have by now. While I’ve had a beard continuously for a few years now I still use my razor almost every day to trim, usually with nothing other than water. I’d continue to recommend them.

Zen and the art of Ingress

Ingress is an augmented reality game from Google. It features portals, points of significance in people’s lives: statues, buildings etc. and two teams. The teams vie for control of portals by capturing them for their colour. They then form links between three portals in a triangle to colour it as a field for their team.

This article is a light hearted look at the philosophy of the game. Just like the game it shouldn’t be taken too seriously :-).

Ingress has to be played by going to places so is intended to promote exercise. It is like a mix of geo-caching, orienteering and a social network since the game rules promote cooperative play. Google are experimenting with technology here and maybe people too. There will be more that a few sociology papers on it, no doubt.

In Zen, one is taught among other things to eschew attachments to things, and live in the transience of life.

This is good advice for Ingress. Portals can change hands many times a day and perceiving them as belonging to you is likely to lead to psychological distress. Some players live or work within range of a portal and this can lead to strong feelings of possessiveness. In turn this can lead to serious resentment when the portal is captured, especially repeatedly.

This leads to an interesting conflict. A player having access to a portal can use it to “farm” lots of resources for the game. If the portal is well established and several team members have helped they can often get much more valuable resources.

As Ingress is a game all about resources one can rapidly see that such a portal becomes an important target for the other team. But when they destroy it are they attacking the resource or the player? And what is the perception of the current owner, who may believe they have a right to this portal.

The two teams are reminiscent of the residents of Swift’s Lilliput and Blegescu, trapped in a struggle over something of uncertain consequence. But the division is even more arbitrary. The two factions live among each other and come from an almost identical demographic.

And yet it takes little time for a bias of perception to creep in between the teams. All human life is here, the good, bad and ugly, with some of the latter reminiscent of the Stanford prison experiment in a darkly comic way.

It is good to, as in all things, try not to offend, and try not to be offended.

The Tao of Ingress


Ingress is really like the Tao, the symbol of Yin and Yang that represents a dynamic equilibrium between two halves.

This is what it should be, one team rises and the other falls but for the pattern to reverse the next day.

The other thing the Tao reminds is that both halves are essential and complimentary. Each half is meaningless on its own.

In Ingress this is literally true. A static tableau of one team is dull and destroys gameplay which is about creation and destruction in a cycle. There will be islands that are habitually one colour or the other and this must also be in approximate balance so that both teams can resource themselves somewhat. But these will also rise and fall.

An attempt at outright dominance from either team is futile for gameplay, but if semi-successful will perturb the balance of the game to deprive the other side of resource so that equilibrium is slow in returning. Of course if players on the other side become frustrated and bored they are likely to stop play leading to a Pyrrhic victory for the first side. It’s not dissimilar to the Fox / Rabbit population problem, populations will recover from extreme predation, but slowly.

Even the most Enlightened players need to work hard on their Resistance against possessiveness. It is ultimately an illusion that they own a portal, an area or a given place. Feeling this way will bring misery and frustration. On the other hand it’s hard not to feel fed up of being deliberately lorded over by the other faction on your home turf if that becomes excessive.

An exercise in training for players: walk fully armed with your scanner open through your own “enemy” occupied area. Don’t destroy anything, just for one walk. Not as a tactic against “them” but to see how it makes you feel to tolerate this. Trash the place another day once you have learned about yourself.

On the flip side, as you enter territory in an area normally occupied by the other side or where you know one of them lives. A useful exercise might be to destroy and build but still leave something. Not because you have to but because you can and because it will let the opposition player more quickly provide a new canvas for you.

Ingress is above all a game of time. The person who can throw the most time at it can win nine times out of ten, but if there isn’t an approximate balance between the factions and the time they are willing to throw at it locally the game play will come to a halt soon enough.

If you (perhaps because you are starved of action) leap on everything that appears from the other faction within minutes, don’t be surprised if they get bored and play somewhere else or not at all. If you keep doing that over and over, you might actually “win”. But it’s not total war. It’s a game.

If you respect the Tao of Ingress it is more likely to remain fun for everyone. Have fun and obey Wheaton’s Law :-).

Of Wired, Wireless, Sky+ and 5GHz, and the Linksys ea6300 router

This is partly a ramble, partly a product review, and partly a howto, and mainly an aide memoire. It will naturally therefore be unlikely to succeed perfectly at any of those, but if you have questions, place them in a comment.

We moved into this house just under two years ago, and when we moved in there was no network. Yes, I know – in this day and age.

So we had a Sky+ bundle installed, slightly sadly because I always got broadband from Zen Internet previously, and I have to say I just love them, but the price for the bundle was simply too much below what was possible from Zen.

For a while we had to have an extension cable trailing through the house to where the router had to be installed because the phone socket was in an odd place. Then I finally installed a double socket a bit closer. Then we had a tidier install, but WiFi only throughout. Somewhat to my surprise we got a reliable fast enough signal throughout the height of the (three storey) house. A bit slow, but everything worked.

Bringing gondolin (my main server) back here caused a bit of a headache, partly to due to the loss of a static IP address, and mainly because of a lack of wired network. Two old Ethernet over mains adaptors took care of that to some extent, but it was slow.

So probably about a year ago I finally installed a Cat 6 cable from the router up to the room housing the computer (and a Smart Switch). This was a BigDeal (TM), because now I finally had reliable and fast wired network where all my main IT infrastructure was.

However, we have a couple of smart TVs and a Sky+ box which were all running off the WiFi, and over the years this caused some problems. The TVs were generally OK, but occasionally the streaming quality of video just wasn’t very good and Skype was sometimes flaky (impossible to tell if the problem was our end). The Sky+ OnDemand service was much more of a problem. Hooked to a wireless to wired Access Point it would often drop a film in the middle of streaming and require a lot of intervention (and frustrated viewers) to resume the streaming. We also saw the WiFi space around us grow more crowded and performance at the top of the house became a problem.

So I needed to get a wired network to our living room, ideally with connections for four devices and preferably move the wireless upstairs.

The house is old and the floor boards brittle, so I decided to run the cable around the gable end of the house, alongside some coax cables already there. I hate ladders, but it turns out I hate flaky network connections more, so on Christmas Eve after a lot of hassle I finally squeezed a Cat 5e cable out of an existing but quite full cable hole, and around to the network switch.

I wired plugs on both ends and connected the switch at one end and Sky+ box at the other. Having got a successful wired connection, I then planned to move the Sky+ router to the living room. This would mean that essentially the BT OpenReach box would connect to the switch, and the switch to the router. For reasons that were just not clear to me I couldn’t get the router to connect to the internet in that position. You will see below that there may have been a prosaic reason but in any case the router would have only provided three spare ports and not quite the four I needed, and I found some hints online that the idea  of having a switch in the middle would not work.

So I had a rethink and bought a Linksys ea6300 router, it was on offer at a local supplier, and a check of the manual indicated it could be placed behind an existing router. It also has 5 RJ45 ports, one for the upstream link, and so the four remaining that I needed and offers dual band WiFi.

Installing the router was initially easy, it had good web based configuration behind a custom WiFi network out of the box. I did experience a few headaches on my first attempts at configurations but I find that pretty common with WiFi, especially when you want to do something unusual. I didn’t immediately go for bridge mode, but in the end found that in the IPv4 configuration and that sorted it.

One point to note, in bridge mode it wants to default to a dynamic IP but then can’t be configured (obviously) unless you know that IP. Fortunately I had configured by DHCPD to allocated it a specific IP, or I could easily have “lost” it. But in any case, my bench tests showed that in the study, it was connected to the Internet and working perfectly.

So I moved the box back into the living room, plugged in the network cable and awaited my triumphant success. In vain. Nothing was working. I plugged the cable back into the Sky+ box, it got a connection straight away. I tried flexing the cable to provoke a fault, nothing. I checked the cable (again) with a cable tester, all wire pairs reported as correct.

I went around in this circle for quite a while, messing around with settings on my Smart Switch and ports as you do when a red herring is about. I didn’t want to accept anything could be wrong with my new cable for two reasons; one was that it was working with the Sky+ box, but the other was I didn’t fancy another afternoon up ladders racing against the sunset.

I had visually inspected both plugs of course, but decided there was nothing for it but to try new plugs. I cut off the living room end and fitted a new plug. And it all worked… it seems my cable crimping skills and cable tester are both in some doubt.

I was able to plug four devices that could be networked into the back of the router, and got two new WiFi networks into the bargain. At the moment one has the same SSID and password as my old WiFi (and both are operating currently), a second 5GHz network is so labelled at least for now to help with testing.

I am getting excellent speeds from the WiFi now over the upper areas of house. I think occasionally there seems to be a connection hiccup and I may have to rename or disable the downstairs main router WiFi but I am leaving them both for now.

I can much more easily stream video at the top of the house, and the image quality is consistently much better.

The Linksys router is a nice, inexpensive device for this purpose, although that is obviously only a small amount of its functionality. It has no external antennae but as it is adding to coverage at the moment that is not a problem, it’s a visually neat box and the inbuilt web interface is slick and well designed. One very good feature is that it does not come with the usual “admin” or “password” preset but a randomly generated password on install (which you can edit). More devices should do this. The manual is not particularly clear about all questions one might have, but overall this is a good solution for my problem for now, at least at the low price I was able to obtain it.






Heaven gets an Audit

This is a whimsical storyline I knocked out this morning. If you don’t know much about HE (Higher Education) or the QAA it may not mean anything to you. Indeed, you might need to know a little bit about the Metatron. and some other Judeo/Christian theology to follow this. Absolutely no offence is intended to anyone!

There was a polite knock on the door. The Metatron looked up from his desk and bade the guest to enter. And so Michael, Field Marshal of the Heavenly Host entered the room, a troubled look on his normally serene face.

“Peter says we have an unusual guest at the gates. He claims to be from something called the ‘QAA'”, he said.

“The QAA?”

“Yes, some sort of Quality Assurance Agency.”

“And why are they here?”

“Apparently”, and here Michael paused for a moment, “they want to audit just how heavenly Heaven is…”


“They say that there are some metrics which cast some doubt on the issue apparently.”

“But Heaven is the definition of perfection. How could anything be found wanting?”

Michael looked wretched for a moment.

“He’s asking if this is so, how was it that we had… the Incident…?”


“Well,… he’s saying that if everything here is so great and perfect how come we have a, what were the words he used again? Oh yes…. a retention problem.”


“Apparently yes, this is one of the metrics they use. They are apparently concerned that our ‘First Output’ showed an ‘attrition rate’ of a third.”

“Did you tell him about Free Will? That it’s up to sentient creatures to choose their own path?”



“He says everyone uses that excuse.”

The Metatron paused while he considered this.

“OK, so what next?”

“Apparently they want to see the figures to see if this is a one time ‘blip’, they are asking for our ‘Academic Plan’ for the next output.”

“Oh dear…”

“Is that a problem?”

The Metatron thumbed through some documents on his desk.

“Apparently we only intend to ‘retain’ 144,000 of our second output.”

“Out of how many?”

“Well, sort of, um, 100 billion and counting so far.”

“Isn’t that an attrition rate of over 99.999%?”

“Yes,… do you think that will present a problem?”

The two angels considered for a moment, after a while, the Metatron cleared his throat again.

“Do you think we could classify purgatory as an exit award?”

Email, should the “Old Ways” quietly die?

I was having an enjoyable early Summer BBQ chat with Mark Kerr and Jonathan (Noodles) McDowell a few weeks ago. We know each other from the days of Fidonet’s greatest glory. Fidonet still exists, but back then the internet did not have a presence in normal people’s lives, academics I worked with at Queen’s only selectively had email access, and that through the dark arts of Kermit. Back then a few of us ran Bulletin Board Systems, over plain vanilla modems with all sorts of speeds, 1200 bps transfer rates were common.

The systems were held together as nodes in Fidonet, and the hundreds or thousands of users on each system could send a form of email to other users in the same system, or even users across the world. Every message was piggy backed on the daily or nightly phone calls from one system to a neighbouring system. Mark and I would call some odd systems, like that of Joaquim Homrighausen and Mats Wallin in Sweden, and we would happily carry any mail going for Sweden or coming back.

Everyone was sharing a bit of the cost. As such, it was considered the height of poor etiquette to reply to a message tens of lines long, quoting the whole message with a “me too” at the top or the bottom. You were expecting someone else to pay for transmitting the whole original message again, just for your extra words. You were expecting in echomail (the Fidonet equivalent of newsgroups, or mailing lists) that hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of systems would store all that information on all those hard disks.

No, it was correct to trim a few salient lines from the original, and put your reply below it. That’s enough for everyone to see what is going on. Every mail editor in existence showed the quoted text either with a “>” character to the left, or sometimes a “CT>” to indicate the initials of who wrote it.

These trimmed, quoted conversations allowed the full flow of the conversation to be followed by anyone without referring back to every word uttered by the original poster, and showed the coherence of the thread in a way that is hard to do in any other way. Google Wave is perhaps a modern attempt at the same idea.

But than people grew indifferent to bandwidth because there was so much, so they never bothered to trim their replies. You can expect in a modern mailing list to find each reply containing complete copies of all the previous correspondence to that point, which is already stored in the list, shown in a nice threaded view in your editor. Some new email programs (I’m looking at you, Outlook), made it almost impossible for people to do anything other than “top post”, because they don’t easily show quoted text.

And here I am, an old dinosaur who still tries to stick to the old ways, because I believe it’s easier to read properly quoted replies… but increasingly, you can’t have conversations with people with braindead mail software because they just can’t do it. And they haven’t even seen it before, they can’t understand it. They complain when you don’t top post your replies. Like the stereotypical cantankerous codger sitting in his porch watching the kids mess on his lawn I want to tell them that no, they are the ones doing it in the stupid new fangled way. We were here first. 🙂

So maybe we should just give up… those few of us left, but then I was reminded (by Noodles) that now email is being shipped around mobile devices all the old arguments of bandwidth and storage are increasingly relevant again. So I ask the open question, is there any point in trying to stick to the “old ways”? Thoughts on a postcard please.