Renovation

A country lane. An iron-wrought gate. It opens automatically. The car silently glides up the winding drive. A turning circle in front. The car stops. I emerge.

Walking forwards. The doors open, and I enter. The high-ceilinged entry hallway is bathed in light streaming through the high windows above. This is an old house. Hidden passages, though you wouldn’t know it without a careful eye. Wood panelled walls. A library. Several living rooms. A conservatory, a large kitchen to name just a few. The pipes rattle as you draw a bath. That kind of house. A house, with character. With a presence. Even standing there now I can feel the house. It’s looking at me, and sizing me up, as much as I am looking at it.

I didn’t have much stuff to move from my old place. Mostly books and clothes. A minimal amount of furniture. And whilst I could tell that the house wouldn’t have a problem with books being housed inside its walls, it might not be quite as happy with having a refit of its electrics and plumbing.

When you end up owning a house like this, you have to negotiate with the house itself as much as with the seller. If the house doesn’t like you then you’ll have a hard time changing it. Sometimes it will want to change, but other times, like now, a house might be resistant to being brought into modern times. And when a house is in that kind of mood you might suddenly encounter unexpected issues whilst renovating. Issues that would cost a fortune to try fixing, only for them to recur again and again. Damp. Subsidence. Rotting roof beams.

It’s funny how people say that objects sometimes have a mind of their own. They never realise how close they are to the truth. But every saying has to start somewhere with some truth to it.

I know that to renovate this place for the modern era I’m going to need to first get to know the house. So I set about living in her, as she is used to being lived in. I fill her with books. I work around the limited electric points and make do with using logs fires for heating. I get to know her quirks and explore her passages.

Eventually I feel I’ve gotten to know her. And so I start doing some re-wiring. Stripping her down slowly. one room at a time, where possible. I know she likes her period fittings, so I’m careful that new sockets will keep to the existing style, even if there are now far more of them. By the end of this her electrics will be far more suited to our modern needs.

The hot water and heating system proves more of a challenge. She is reluctant to let go of the traditional wood fireplaces, and no amount of experimenting seems to go without resistance. problems continuously occur, as I feared. Eventually, having realised we are at an impasse, I decide to communicate directly with the house. Usually this isn’t necessary, in fact although it’s documented and taught how to perform this rite; there is no record of it having been performed in living memory.

Having found its core whilst first exploring and getting to know the house, I begin the preparations. Runes are sketched on the floor of the library in the middle of the house. Circles. are inscribed, and herbs are prepared.

The following evening, just as the moon is rising I perform the. ceremony, summoning the house to take on a form I can directly communicate with. As I complete the summoning and open my eyes, a fox is there. to greet me.

The fox tilted its head to one side and I blink.
“Not what you expected?” the fox asks from behind a grin.
“Not… exactly,” I stumble out “I expected a more human appearance”.
Bother. This was going to be more difficult than I expected. There’s a reason the saying is that someone is as sly as a fox.

War

At Southampton Cenotaph I stand. Busses hiss as they travel past. Cars rev their engines waiting for the nearby traffic lights to turn green. The wind is clean, for a city. I stand, looking on this winter day. The sun illuminating one side of the monument.

To either side are glass panels, engraved with the names of the dead. From the Great War. From the Second World War. From the Korean War and the Mau Mau Upraising. From the Malayan Emergency. So many names. So many. Some from conflicts I’d never heard of.

“Our Glorious Dead” proclaims one inscription on the Cenotaph. Perhaps they are glorious, but War is not. War is bloody. War is violence. War is not glorious.

I stand there, and away fades the present, as I picture how they might have died. Cold and scared in the trenches. Screaming as their plane went down. In a Prisoner of War camp.

One can’t help but wonder. Are we glorifying war? “Lest we forget” we proclaim once a year on one day. And the other 364 days we pay it no mind. The simple poppy has itself become a battleground. It almost seems to have become a contest in itself, a contest to see who can be the most sad and the most respectful of deaths. It’s keeping up with the Jones’s for remembrance day. There are ways to respect the dead, privately and without fuss, without being loud and visible in wearing a symbol. But public remembrance has its place too. I am conflicted.

Is there a way to respect and remember the dead and the sacrifices they made without glorifying the conflict itself? Was there even any other way to end the conflicts, without resorting to war?

War has changed these days too. Now there are drones, and missiles launched from afar. How are we to remember future wars, when we aren’t likely to have so many familiar names to remember, but will likely have far more foreign names to remember?

Leaf

Sun shines
Birds call
Squirrels run and trees rustle

We lay
Leaves fall
One lands right upon your nose

You sneeze
I smile
The world sighs and it is right

Travel

A winding country lane. You know the sort. Hedgerows on either side. Bendy and narrow, miles and miles from anywhere and definitely no streetlights in sight. No artificial lights at all…. except for your headlights.

You’re playing music over Bluetooth from your phone. There’s no mobile signal here. Let alone any data. Spotify is out, you’re relying on what you have stored locally.

Sure, you could put the radio on but then you’d be connected. You’d know you’re still in the world. You need to just be alone for a while.

Driving down these unnamed country roads, occasionally passing a farm where the lights are off. If anyone is there they’re fast asleep at this time.

You find this relaxing. It’s just you and the car. No signs of modern civilisation. The stars are clear and the moon is full. What more do you need.

You’ve been driving for hours now, you start to wonder if you’ve switched to a different universe, because anything at all could be happening. It’s a pure escape.

A glow on the horizon. A city is now on the horizon. You sigh. Streetlights. Cars. People. You switch back to the radio. You wonder when you’ll find time to do it again.

Silence in a storm

Inspired by The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel

I stood. Looking down upon the streets, as hundreds walked past. I could see the blue of a phone screen infront of them or, if not that then headphones. There was sun. There was silence.

There was noise. Birds chirping, people talking or laughing. But noise was all it was. The sounds didn’t matter to anyone but the one making them. There was silence.

Clouds darkened the sky, and still the people walked unseeing, uncaring of what was happening all about them. The silence continued. The skies opened and rain comes pouring down. Thunder crashes and lightning flashes. Still the silence reigns. No-one caring, except that now the people are carrying umbrellas, or wearing coats. Obscuring from on high the sight of the earbuds.

As a peal of thunder crashes I scream. The thunder fades, the scream fades. I scream again, without the thunder. And still the silence holds. I wonder if others are doing the same. I don’t look to find out.

I leave the roof, go down to the street. I put my headphones on, pull my hood up, and walk. The Silence was undisturbed.

Silence at 200km

Ever since the first days of humanity, we have been fascinated by the stars. By the blinking lights in the sky at night, by the massive light that rises in the morning and sets in the evening. We mythologised the ones that moved, assigning them the status of gods like Mercury, Jupiter, Mars. We grouped them into constellations, seeing patterns among the random scattering. As we stared, we learned more about them. As we stared, we learned more about the universe, from their motions and from their light. We moved from calling them gods to calling them lumps of rock, or balls of gas. Our understanding grew. And as our fascination grew, we dreamed. We dreamed of the day we’d send probes up there. Maybe even men.

In 1957, we launched Sputnik 1. It was meant to be the first probe to orbit the earth at a height 215km. Except as it hit 200km above sea level, it vanished. The signals stopped. The Russians assumed it had been lost for some reason. An engineering defect perhaps, after all nothing had gone that high before. No debris was reported or found.

The near success of Sputnik 1 started the space race.

Sputnik 2 rapidly followed, with the engineers having tweaked the designs in the hope it was simply a manufacturing defect. It too, disappeared. The US tried too, and again at 200km it also disappeared.

This caused the scientific and engineering communities great concern. Nothing in the theories or models predicted anything that could destroy a probe at 200km. Probe after probe was tried, and they all failed. No signals were received after a probe reached 200km. Religious communities seized on this failure of modern science, trying to portray it as a sign that science was wrong, that it didn’t know everything.

The Space Race ended, inevitably, when both sides agreed that the 200km phenomena needed cooperation to resolve. And so that lead to today, where we’ve worked together to engineer a rocket capable of reaching almost, but not quite 200km, and capable of sustaining life for a time so we can report back what can be found, as our probes are evidently incapable of detecting anything.

As we launch, I’m in constant contact with mission control, as is my one crew mate. We both know the risks, that we might not see our loved ones again. As the rocket lifts us up we keep looking ahead, straight out of the window to see what, if anything we can see. The altimeter in the corner of my vision is counting upwards. 50, 60, 80, 100, 150. The rockets cut out, momentum should be enough to take us to our desired height now, at which point we’ll just maintain altitude. As we hit 199km we can just see space. It’s beautiful. It’s exactly as we’ve always seen. Below there are clouds, and in some places ocean and land. It is beautiful.

We know what we need to do. Our sensors, and senses, report nothing unusual. Looking at each other, and with a silent nod, we tell mission control that, against orders, we’re going higher. Silence in response.

We go higher, and higher….. the altimeter ticks over to 200.

Quoting property names in JavaScript

JavaScript is relatively lax when it comes to valid object syntax. Property names can be quoted or unquoted in most circumstances. These two examples are identical.
 

I’ve noticed recently that I’ve developed my own quoting style at some point that seems to be rather uncommon so I decided to finally share it and why I’ve come to use it. I’m sure I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to come up with this system but it’s probably worth a blogpost anyway.
A lot of the time in my job I find myself having to work with JavaScript objects derived from JSON (or JSON Schema). Functions consume them, or construct them, and output a modified version of them based on user input. These objects have very strict rules over what properties they can have, but certain property keys are user configurable (In JSON Schema, these are ‘additional properties’.
NB: By user input here I mean any input into your function. It could be user input, or it could be input from an external component that interfaces with your functions in some manner.
 
Consider the following example JSON Schema where quoted property names are never used.

The same example, but this time with every property name is quoted

 
Now tell me. At a glance is it obvious which property names are open to manipulation by the user, rather than being a schema-defined name from the schema (in this case JSON Schema)? At a glance, what is the type of the somethingElse property under filed?
Contrast that with the following example, where I quote fields as I would under my system.

 
To me it makes it much clearer which properties the user chose, and also makes it easier to visually navigate eg if this is in a test file and I need to update a particular fields type to reflect new behavior, because syntax highlighting now colors them differently.
This example happened to be an instance of JSON Schema, but I feel this technique works equally well for any object where the user can control the structure of the object, as opposed to just the content. Every object your code is working with will have some structure to it.
More generally I guess I’d phrase this as quoting significant property names, or ‘Significant Quoting’ as opposed to always quoting or never quoting.
Obviously there’s a couple of drawbacks in representing objects this way in test files. JavaScript quoting rules are somewhat complex, and so mandating a property name be quoted or not sometimes has to depend on the name itself rather than the source of the property name. The other drawback is that there is no linting rule I’m aware of to enforce this. Which, as an advocate of automated rule enforcement and correction, bugs me. A linting system to enforce this could probably be devised with enough investment and time defining typescript style rules or annotations for the objects you work with.
Despite those drawbacks though, I really do feel that in code and especially in test files, this quoting system can make it much easier and quicker to comprehend the structure and navigate down a complex object.

Questions on the Bethesda reselling drama

For context the drama I’m referring to is described over in this polygon article. It’s been updated a couple of times since original publication so you may not have read the most recent version.
A brief summary however is that a firm that’s been hired by Bethesda demanded that a third-party amazon seller take down their listing for a still-sealed game that they no longer wanted and had listed as being ‘new’. The reasoning given by the firm is that they are an unauthorised seller, and thus it comes without a [manufacturer] warranty (I assume this is because the warranty only applies when bought through an authorised retailer). This, they claim, creates a material difference which means that first-sale doctrine (remembering we’re talking about the US here) does not apply. Notably they are not, as far as we can tell, going after products listed as ‘used’. Presumably because if it’s listed as used that makes clear that any manufacturer warranty likely wouldn’t apply.
Now with the background set this raises some interesting (to me) questions.
Is new an accurate description of the product in this case?
Does it being listed as new imply that it comes with a manufacturer warranty?
Should a manufacturer warranty be able to be limited to just purchases through an authorised seller; bearing in mind in this case it’s unopened unused software and thus should be in factory-perfect condition.
Let’s imagine this wasn’t a marketplace order (which afaik is never the default shown seller, but instead a formal business who can be the default seller).
Would a consumer know it’s an unauthorised seller? As it was listed on amazon, amazon might default to showing this seller depending on their Algorithms, when a consumer searches for the game. The only indication would be they ‘sold by’ tagline.
What about if this merchant uses Fulfilled by Amazon, so the seller ships goods to an amazon warehouse and then when it sells it ships from an amazon warehouse (which means Prime delivery /shipping fees for the consumer)? This seems straightforward until you remember than Amazon will commingle inventory from different sellers, including their own.
(Slight segue: what this means is that if Amazon, Seller A and Seller B all sell Widget X; Amazon will put their own inventory and inventory shipped to them by Seller A and Seller B all in the same bins. When you buy Widget X ‘sold by Seller A Shipped by Amazon’; you might get the Widget X that Seller A shipped in to amazon, or one that Seller B shipped in, or even one Amazon themselves directly received. Sellers can opt-out of commingling like this – but it involves paying amazon more money)
In this commingled case someone may have bought a copy ‘sold by Amazon’ and that will be printed on their receipt, and presumably entitled to the manufacturer warranty with Amazon being an authorised seller… but they might actually receive a copy stocked into an amazon warehouse by an unauthorised seller (who, for instance, may have bought their copies in bulk in a sale, and then listed them once the sale ended at a small markup on the sale price below the current non-sale price). Does this matter? Does it even make sense when commingling is involved to have a concept of ‘authorised sellers’?
I ask these questions because the discussion around this seems to be getting caught up in the implications for selling used copies – which is, to me, a much less interesting discussion given that this case is specifically around something being sold as ‘new’.

The hollow cuboid

An image of the Enclosure sculpture
Enclosure – Paul de Monchaux. The inspiration for this piece

The structure appeared one day.
You might expect that no one paid much attention to it, that they believed it to just be another art installation in a city park.
But people noticed. It wasn’t an art installation. At least, not one sanctioned by the local administration. Not the national one for that matter. And the international bodies didn’t concern themselves with art. Usually….
The first person to see it in the early hours of the morning on their bike to work noticed The Quieting.
Approaching the frame, they realised they could no longer hear the sound of their bike on the path. The sound of the wind in the leaves. But they were running late to take over their shift and so onwards they peddled, putting it out of their mind. Or trying to.
As news spread of The Quieting the military was mobilised. You could hear them coming with their loud rattling Jeeps… so long as you weren’t in The Zone.
They came with their devices and their guns – not being sure what to make of it. Enquiries were being made to determine where it came from.
The first thing their devices told them was that The Quieting was absolute and, apparently, passive. It wasn’t like noise cancelling headphones – emitting a sound that just cancels out other sounds. There was no sound. None. It was as if the air was perfectly still, held in place. Except, of course, it wasn’t. You could still feel the wind.
Enquiries came back with no information. No one knew where it came from or why it was there.
And then the military scientists had another result come back that resulted in the cordon being widened.
They simply walked through it. They didn’t do this immediately naturally. They’d tested with microphones, speakers, cameras, sensors of all kinds and nothing had happened. But when the junior scientist walked into it they simply vanished.
Everybody was shocked. You would have heard a yell from the soldiers. Screams from the observers. Except for The Quieting.
It took a minute or two in all the panic for the soldiers and people at the cordon to notice… but where the cordon was previously outside of The Quiet Zone, it was now silent. The Quieting had reacted.
Military rushed to widen the cordon again, but really there was little need – the public had fled after seeing the soldier disappear.
Day after day, week upon week, this continued. Experiments that, while consistent and repeatable, refused to make sense. And slowly The Quiet Zone expanded as more experiments triggered its apparent defences.
Eventually the size of The Quiet Zone, and the refusal of The Quieting to yield to science lead to weapons being used. It was attacked with jackhammers, drills and power tools of all kinds. Each caused a reaction from The Quieting.
The public was scared. The Government was powerless despite the assistance of international bodies.
One by one countries, governments, fell. With The Quieting becoming ever more aggressive the political ramifications were felt the world over.
And when The Quieting was complete, when The Quiet Zone was global, what happened? Something spoke. Not out loud, for no longer was there sound anywhere. But something spoke into the minds of everyone.
‘You are ready’

On being trans

I’ve been on HRT for two years now, and I feel a need to write. So here’s some small insight into my feelings.
Sometimes I feel great. I put in the effort for appearances. I can almost believe I look good.
Sometimes I feel crap. As though no matter how much effort I put in cannot repair how I was made. Cannot make me appear female.
Sometimes I pass. I get addressed correctly. Whether as a genuine pass, or just a well meaning Stranger.
Sometimes I completely fail. Getting ‘sir’ed. Getting ‘he’ed. Those send me down.
Even the best and worse days can turn on a dime depending on how I get addressed.
And yet I don’t want to draw attention to myself by making a fuss. Especially to people who likely won’t see me again – coffee shop baristas, restaurant waiters etc. Yes I’ve been sir’ed in a Costa before. I don’t blame the workers. But it does cause a dip.
Sometimes I’m ok with how my body appears. Sometimes I really really am not. Some days I wake up and think I can pull an outfit off. Some days I wake up and just want to get rid of certain parts by any means necessary.
Sometimes people are genuinely nice. Smiling or whatever when we pass in the street. Other times they stare. Or kids laugh.
Kids can be the best or the worst. They don’t have the awareness of how to hold their tongues. Divide internal thoughts from external speech. This is very much a double-edged sword.
I need to work on my voice. But doing so solo means listening back to recordings to make sure I’m up in the right range. It’s a rare day that I can stomach doing that. It’s improved after the speech therapy I had a while back… but it’s not quite there yet. It’s still got a fair chunk of resonance even when trying to speak from the mouth.
My body hair is a nightmare. It always has been. My facial hair is better after the funding for some hair removal sessions. But it’s still not great. I need to look in to funding. But that means actually confronting the problem.
A lot of my issues – working on voice, keeping body/facial hair under control stem from what I call the pain of action. Doing something about it is a painful thing – the act of face shaving, the act of voice training – is a constant reminder that if all was right I wouldn’t have to go through this. The pain of inaction, of doing nothing, however is different because by not doing something about it it in some ways makes it easier to ignore… or atleast not actively think about. It’s a defence mechanism, however self-defeating it is. By not taking action you don’t have to actively think about, actively concentrate on the problem. It’s just there as a consistent background noise that to some extent you can tune out.