Tag: Personal

    Raspberry Jammin’

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    Last Saturday was the Linux User & Developer Raspberry Jam event at Poole RNLI college. I took the tank, of course, and Joseph too — worrying all the while that he’d be the youngest kid there by about ten years, and he’d get bored within half an hour.

    How wrong I was.

    We eventually escaped almost an hour after the scheduled end of the event, once Joseph and the other kids — many his age — had had their fill of Minecraft and the Raspberry Tank.

    Along the way we’d met the awesome people from PiBorg with their much more impressive RPi tank, along with robot arm-wielding BigTraks and 3D LED matrices. We’d done a show-and-tell session, drunk a lot of coffee, and most importantly been part of a room of 20+ kids all learning to code for the first time using Python and Minecraft.

    It was really an amazing thing to see and be part of, and my heartfelt thanks go out to the organisers from Linux User for hosting a fantastic day!

    Here’s the kids playing with our tank:

    The Lego of Tomorrow

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    “All I’m doing is building stuff,” Joseph says.
    “That’s what Minecraft is good for, isn’t it?” I reply. “It’s like Lego with infinite pieces.”
    “Yeah,” he says, and turns back to his computer screen; back to the childhood task of creating the new.
    I turn back to the washing up that I was in the middle of, back to my adult role of cleaning and tidying and preserving that which already exists.

    It feels odd to be writing about Minecraft in 2014. Following its 2009 “alpha” release, it quickly became the darling of the indie gaming world. There’s not a lot to say about it that hasn’t been said by countless reviewers and bloggers over the intervening years. I’d played it myself a few times—I made my character wander around, mine some rocks, fight some monsters, craft a few things. But I never “caught the bug”. That’s the all-too-adult brain at work again—I looked at the landscape and appreciated it for what it was, not what it could become.

    Today though, for the first time, I saw Minecraft through the eyes of a child.

    Joseph's first steps in Minecraft

    Raised on a self-imposed diet of videogames since he was old enough to shake a Wiimote, our son has never had the enthusiasm for Lego that I did at his age. While I would disappear to my room for an afternoon to build, he always wanted to spend it with gamepad in hand. On occasion I despaired for him and his generation. I worried that their entertainment had become so pre-packaged and targeted that they wouldn’t want to create their own games. How could silent, limited, awkward Lego sets compare against a million man-hours of Nintendo’s finest creators delivering pure entertainment?

    But now I sit and watch Joseph at work, and I know how wrong I was.

    As night falls, his character flies up over the landscape and looks down to behold all that he has created. Torches spread out across the world like the fires of a nascent civilisation, casting light upon those things that human hands have built.

    Torch-lit buildings at night

    There are houses, now, where once there was only grass. Some of the roofs are made of coal and supported only by bookshelves and hay bales, but they are houses nonetheless. They are dry when the rain pours outside. There was a bed for his character to rest in, but now there are more than a dozen—for his character’s parents, siblings and cousins, Joseph explains.

    There are railways that connect them over fragile bridges far from ground. There is a torchlit tunnel beneath the surface, joining the houses of the tiny village to the woods where sheep and cows roam. There was a spider that “freaked him out”, so Joseph’s character started to carry a sword with him at all times.

    The environment, once wild and random, was being tamed.

    Then Joseph noticed that water would flow if the ground around it was removed. The great lakes of his world could be channeled. The tunnel became a great underground river, bringing water near to the houses of his people.

    Terraforming

    He built a black-lined room carved out of a hill, and decorated each block with a torch.
    “It’s a Christian place,” he explains. “My character is a Christian.”
    I had just watched that nascent civilisation invent religion.

    Dawn breaks. Among the high forest canopies there now stands something else—a tower, built on lowlands but rising taller than the hills. It is a vast structure of stone and glass and, for some reason, pumpkins. It is not built the way an architect would build, but nor does it look like a work of nature. It is the work of an almighty creator not restricted by principles of gravity or shearing moments. It is not utilitarian; not a house or a bridge or a water channel. It is something that was built just because it could be built.

    The land was tamed, now; the world mastered. And so his one-man civilisation had reached for the stars.

    A Tower Taller than the Clouds

    I am no longer under the illusion that neat, rail-roaded videogame adventures will leave us a generation lacking the desire to create for themselves.

    He may not spend his afternoons building Lego cars, but that’s okay. Within the last four hours I’ve watched him take a world of random-seeded entropy and transform it into a place where bridges of stained glass tower over the skies.

    I think our children’s generation will be just fine.

    Stained glass bridge

    Sharing Isn’t Caring

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    Like many angsty young adults, I spent the last few months of my time at University wondering what would become of the friendships I’d made there — which friends I’d keep in touch with; how often I’d see them. Having lived and worked with many of them, and shared each other’s lives in such minute detail, how could I deal with not having that constant interaction any more?

    Then, something magical happened.

    Facebook app running on an iPod Touch

    Suddenly, it was like the old times were back again. We could stay in touch forever, and share the minutiae of our lives just like always.

    But since then, it’s kind of taken over. I’ve caught myself checking Twitter and Facebook on my phone while crossing the street, as if that iota of interaction couldn’t wait thirty seconds for me to ensure my own safety. My son has started talking to me while I was using my phone, and in my mind it was the phone that had priority and Joseph that was the inconvenience.

    I saw this comic the other day, and although its charicature of the social networking-obsessed user is a long way from the way I act most of the time, the intention behind it still rings true.

    Art (c) Gavin Aung Than of ZenPencils.com

    How did we get to a point where I would rather share some witticism I think of with the internet at large than with my own wife, who matters far more to me than the rest of the web ever could? Why do I regularly spend my evenings idly refreshing Facebook, then complain that the flat is a mess because I never have time to do chores?

    This culture we created of over-sharing our own experiences and being glued to a screen awaiting what our friends share seems to be cheapening our interactions with the real world. It’s escapism from something I no longer want to escape.

    If I am allowed to make “mid-year’s resolutions”, I resolve to share less of my life online, and to spend less time refreshing a page waiting for others to share their lives. It’s no bad thing to wait a few days to see what friends are up to, if it means spending more time caring about my family, my home; the things that I’m sad to say are more important than friends and certainly more important than the retweets and “likes” of strangers.

    The Last of Last.fm: Seven Years in Pretty Graphs

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    I started using coming to the conclusion that I should stop back in 2011. Although the social media narcissism of “everyone must know what I’m listening to!” is no longer appealing in these days of over-sharing, I kept my Last.fm account around for its free “recommendations” streaming services until deciding earlier this year that a Spotify subscription was a worthwhile investment.

    I was reluctant to delete my account, though, as seven years of listening to over 30,000 songs is a lot of data — so much that it feels wrong to click a single button and pretend it never happened.

    Luckily, I’m far from the first person to want to turn their years of recorded listening habits into some kind of accessible permanent record. The most famous such service, LastGraph shut down earlier this month — annoyingly on the very day that I intended to use it — but there are many other ways to get interesting data from a Last.fm history.

    Last.fm Playground

    Last.fm offers their own visualisation tools in their “Playground” site. Many are for subscribers only, but even free users get access to some interesting graphs.

    For example, the Gender Plot uses your history to guess your gender and age. As you can see below, Last.fm pegs me as 24 (I’ll take that as a compliment) and it’s pretty indecisive on my gender — a largely manly playlist conflicts with my fondness for Tokio Hotel, apparently only listened to by 18-year-old girls.

    Last.fm Gender Plot

    Last.fm Graph

    Last.fm Graph is a third-party Java app that takes your favourite artists and displays them as a network graph, showing the interlinking between them. The result is interactive and designed to be played with, which unfortunately makes for a pretty poor screenshot.

    According to my output, my main genres of metal and EBM don’t intersect anywhere — perhaps they would have if more industrial acts had made the “top 50 artists” cut-off that I used for the data set. My 2006-2007 J-Pop phase is sitting on its own separate from everything else (and deservedly so).

    Last.fm Graph

    Last.fm Extra Stats

    Last.fm Extra Stats (Windows only, .NET 2.0) generates much the same graphs that LastGraph did, more configurably but perhaps a little less pretty. Everyone’s favourite is the “Wave chart” view, showing trends in listening to your most popular bands over time.

    Here, the amount of music I listened to — or at least, the number of tracks I scrobbled to Last.fm — dominates the chart causing a very bumpy output, but it’s all there. The sheer volume of Kotoko and Scooter tracks I’ve listened to are now laid bare for the world to see and silently judge me on.

    Last.fm Graph

    LastHistory

    My favourite of the bunch has to be LastHistory (OSX only). It’s not the prettiest visualisation, but what it does do is not just plot your listening over time on a day-by-day basis, but minute-by-minute. The resulting visualisation displays information about your life, while others simply display your music.

    In this history I can see my varying sleep patterns as I changed from student to office worker to father. I can see the all-nighters I pulled and what music I chose to accompany me. The days when I listened to music only on my commute, and the rarer interludes where I managed a whole day of listening.

    Last.fm Graph

    Reminiscence rears its head in strange places, few stranger than a 30,000 point data set began one day with a 20-year-old thinking people on the internet would be interested in his music.

    Today I delete my Last.fm account, thankful for the opportunity to look back over seven years of my life summarised in scrobbles. I hope this page proves useful for anyone else in a similar situation, looking to extract pretty graphs — or even memories — from their Last.fm history.

    The Ego, the Social Graph, and the Great Unfriending

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    Long ago, in the early years of Facebook’s rise to power, it became apparent that it had another key feature alongside feeds and wall posts – the friends list. Not only was it a good way to keep in touch with friends after University, it also became a good way of declaring who those friends were. This aspect was emphasized more and more as the site’s user base increased; you could now keep a quite exhaustive catalogue of who you knew. There were even apps on Facebook’s fledgling platform that allowed to to map those friends, and see interesting groups and connections form.

    Facebook Friends Graph

    My Facebook Friends Graph

    For a shameless nerd such as myself, this is great stuff – I love having a neatly curated index of almost everyone I know, particularly one with which I generate pretty visualisations. This one here shows a nice distinction between people I went to school with (orange), university (blue), people I work with (green), DDRFUKers (purple), and a great interconnected yellow mass of Soton Kiddies, LARPers, neighbours and post-University friends.

    But however nice it might be to see this in pictorial form, I know this information. All of it is in my head; each different group and the few people that make the links between them. There’s no need to record this data to help me.

    Of course, I need to record this data in order to talk to these people and share status updates on Facebook. But I barely interact with anyone I went to school with. At work, a mention of something I posted on Facebook tends to be embarrassing. Most of the dots marked yellow or purple are people who are on Twitter, and who I would prefer to talk to there.

    So for whom am I updating, and publishing, what has become known as my “Social Graph”? I have already established that although I curated my Social Graph out of an egotistic and nerdy desire to catalogue everything, it serves no purpose for me. Presumably, then, I am doing it for the benefit of Facebook and its advertisers who can use it to add cruel hooks into friends’ feeds. “Hey, 24 of your friends play this!” “Ian R likes some guy’s band!”

    At best, “unfriending” on Facebook seems like something that is done by spurned teenage girls complaining about how much of a bitch their ex-“BFF” turned out to be. At worst, it seems like an outright denial that you have ever known a person. But what benefit does a user get from declaring themselves “friends” with someone they’ve said not a single word to in ten years?

    If, as I have previously bemoaned, I still don’t want to quit Facebook entirely, then I fear a Great Unfriending may be nigh.

    Lament for Web 0.1

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    With every passing day, my Facebook feed is spending more and more time informing me that old school friends “like Amazon”. (No shit, really?) In the background, it’s fiddling our feeds, showing and hiding entries according to what it thinks is relevancy, and also what it thinks is profit for itself. Game spam is constant. On the other side of the fence, Twitter is trying to force out the third-party clients that made it great, so that it can monetise its users more easily.

    Facebook Pages You May Like

    Should we be surprised? Feel betrayed? Not at all. Facebook and Twitter are in it to make money, yet we use them for free. It’s pretty clear that if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. We should only expect free-to-use websites to change in favour of their profits, never in favour of us as users.

    But I’m growing tired of it. My use of these sites is intensely personal – they are my default, or only, way of contacting many of my friends – but yet this personal process is controlled by a company that is willing and able to affect the process to make money. If it’s more profitable to show me “Bob likes Product X” than to show me Bob’s deep and meaningful status update, you can bet I’ll be shown the “like”.

    I miss everyone being equal. I miss services that were honestly free. I miss being close to the infrastructure I use to communicate, rather than having it abstracted. I miss Web 1.0.

    Hell, I miss Web 0.1.

    irssi

    There was a time, not so very long ago, when IRC was our Twitter. It was just as full of funny links and pithy comments, but it was communication between friends, not 140 character witticisms broadcast into the ether in the constant, vain hope of affirmation delivered by the retweets of strangers.

    There was a time when blogs were our Facebook, our innermost thoughts put out there for our friends and no-one else; when our friends would think of something to say and say it, rather than simply dishing out an iota of affirmation with the “like” button.

    There was a time when mailing lists were our forums, just simple e-mails back and forth without the need for moderators, or advertising, or CAPTCHAs.

    There was a time when USENET was our Reddit, a place to while away hours without karma whores and downvotes.

    Those times are never coming back. No friends of mine are willing to leave Facebook and talk to each other on a mailing list. The monetising services of Web 2.0 are simply much better, easier to use, nicer to look at, more functional. But they’re lagging behind the tools and services of the old internet in other ways. Honesty – what you put into IRC is what you got out, no server inserted “promoted tweets” into your channel. Thoughtfulness – we had to say things to each other, no likes, no retweets, no upvotes.

    At this point it would be appropriate for me to announce some kind of online “back to the land” movement, ending with a rhetorical “who’s with me?”. But rhetorical it would be, because nobody’s with me. I am, at the age of 27, simply old and curmudgeonly before my time; sitting typing in monospaced text to an audience that already sold themselves to play FarmVille.

    The Need for Mobile General Computation (aka, why I’m stuck with Android)

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    My mobile phone contract has well and truly hit the “18-month itch” stage – although I still have six months until an upgrade is due, I can’t help but look at adverts and scan gadget blogs and think “ooh, I want one of those”.

    I could go for an iPhone, and have a vast library of apps to choose from – far more than Android has ever offered.  I could go for a Windows Phone device and enjoy a user interface that is genuinely refreshing compared to the rest of the mobile OS options.

    But much as it annoys me with its weird bugs, poor battery life, fragmentation, weird manufacturer-specific skins and inconsistent interface, there’s one important advantage to Android that sways my decision back to it every time I consider the alternatives. It is simply this:

    I want to be in charge of my device.

    The seeds of the war on general-purpose computation are already taking root in the mobile OS space. Phones and tablets are quickly gaining ground as the primary means of getting things done in our online worlds, and implicit in that is that users of these devices are putting the manufacturers and the mobile networks in charge of what they can and cannot do with them.

    I reject this trend. I want root.

    I want to be able to uninstall the apps HTC and Vodafone think I should use. I want to firewall apps off from “phoning home”. I want to back up a complete partition image of my phone. I want to run any script I can think of. I want to tunnel my network access over SSH.

    By and large, mobile software and hardware manufacturers are hostile to this kind of activity. It’s impossible on a Windows Phone device. iPhones can be jailbroken but OS updates – including important security updates – undo the jailbreaking until some enterprising hacker can find another exploit.  Of the current crowd of mobile operating systems, only Android, with its open-source releases of the core OS, allows said enterprising hackers to create their own distributions of the operating system and maintain “root” whilst applying Google’s own OS updates.

    So although I am bored of Android, though I crave a new and interesting user interface to play with, I crave freedom more. If I can’t make a device mine; if I can’t choose to be master of all that goes into it, out of it and through it, it’s not a general purpose computer – and I refuse to base a good proportion of my future computing needs on it.

    On Very Small PCs

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    With my recent acquisition of a Bluetooth keyboard added to the PowerSkin, my phone has completed its transition from thin, attractive polycarbonate slate to the monstrous assault on product design you see before you.

    Desire HD + PowerSkin + Bluetooth Keyboard

    Or so I would have said in the dim and technologically distant days of 2010.

    But really, I don’t have a giant ugly phone – because the other day, an incoming call interrupted my SSH session and I was briefly confused as to why someone was calling me on my computer.

    I don’t have a giant phone – I have a really tiny laptop, with a battery that lasts two days.

    Did the future happen while I wasn’t looking again?

    The Rise and Fall of LiveJournal

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    Once upon a time, accounts on blogging site LiveJournal were precious commodities indeed – the site gave out invites for its members to use, but there was no public sign-up page. I got my invite in the autumn of 2003 thanks to sasahara (Account active 2003-2009) from the IRC channel that I frequented at the time.

    LiveJournal was the ‘in’ place to be for angst-ridden students like myself, in the dim and distant pre-MySpace past. We were all there; it was our network before Facebook came along and crushed all other ways of swapping awful memes with your friends.

    If I recall correctly, on our first encounter, squirmelia (2001-2011) asked for my LJ handle before I was asked for my name. (Though seeing as that night was also my first encounter with eldritchreality_ (2004-2011)_ and charon47 (2001-2010), and my first trip to The Dungeon, that recollection may easily be in error.)

    As the place where we bared our hearts for the world to see, there were good and bad times aplenty, all pasted up on the internet – though in the case of the most intense drama, it was locked down for only certain groups of people to see. I recall having “Everyone except X” groups for all three of my University crushes, plus the girl I ended up with.

    The LiveJournals we created for characters in a roleplaying game, like my own Kotori (2004-2005) are still there. And aside from an in-character Remus Lupin blog (2003), eldritchreality and I are still the only LJ users to express an interest in combat magic. We spammed countless quizzes and memes together, organised dozens of parties over LJ; my friends and I.

    Good times. And yet, in a few short years, it has become nearly irrelevant.

    10% of those people I was friends with on LJ have properly closed their accounts; 90% of the rest stopped posting long ago. 20% of the groups I was a member of are closed, 100% of the rest are silent or beset by Russian spammers. 19 of my friends have their own blogs elsewhere. And I irritate everyone I’m sure by syndicating my own posts from my blog to LJ with the accompanying hook link to direct people back to my site.

    Scrolling back as far as I go in my LiveJournal friends list turns up a grand total of 10 people still using it, of which 8 post only unprotected entries which I could easily pull using an RSS feed.

    Which leads to the conclusion that LiveJournal is taking up its space on my toolbar and in my brain in order that I stay in touch with two people – both of whom I interact with more on Facebook than LiveJournal anyway.

    Sad as it is to see LiveJournal wither and die when once it was our companion through our angstiest years, I think it may soon be time to declare it over. Like all technology in our century, it ends not with a bang but with a whimper, simply rendered archaic and irrelevant by its successors.

    Like tears in rain, and all that.

    A Farewell to Marmablues

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    May 1998, half a lifetime ago. It was my 13th birthday, and my parents – no doubt annoyed by four years of me messing with the family computer – bought me my own. It had a 333MHz processor, 32 glorious megabytes of RAM, and most exciting of all, a 56k dial-up modem.

    With Microsoft Word as my co-pilot and under the ever-watchful phone-bill-monitoring eyes of my parents, I discovered the delights of owning my own website. It had it all, oh yes. Giant background images, a different one for each page. Animated GIFs. Background MIDIs. Frames, <blink> and <marquee>. Web rings to click through, and Tripod’s banner ads inserted at the top of every page. It was called “The Mad Marmablue Web Portal”, and it was exactly as horrendous as you are imagining.

    A few years later, a chronic lack of smallprint-reading led me to buy it a ‘free’ domain name, only to receive a scary-looking invoice a month later. In the end my parents sent the domain reseller a letter explaining that I was a dumb-ass kid who shouldn’t be trusted on the internet, and that was that. But at the age of seventeen, in possession of a Switch debit card, I found a web host who would set me up with a domain and 100MB of space for £20 a year. “marmablue.co.uk” was born.

    Today, it died.

    I shouldn’t feel sentimental about jettisoning an old unused domain, particularly not one that harks back to the late-90s animated GIF horror of the Mad Marmablue Web Portal. But it was a part of my youth, the place where for the first time I could put something and anyone could see it. It was where I took my first steps with HTML – by ripping off other websites, naturally – and in time, it was where I first learned JavaScript, PHP and SQL too.

    I will miss it. But if I sit very still, and very quietly, I can still hear that horrible 8-bit MIDI rendition of the RoboCop theme tune. So maybe I won’t miss it all that much.

    RABIES, Six Years On

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    Somehow, against all odds, a party we threw in June of 2005 to celebrate the graduation of Racheet and Andy turned into a regular yearly event. This, for spaffy self-indulgent reasons, is its history.

    RABIES 1
    RABIES, a horrible backronym of “Racheet and Andy’s Big Incredible Extravaganza of Summertime”, came at what was the end of my second year at University. Andy and I cooked what was to be a sit-down meal for 18 specially-invited guests, and would have been just that if we’d had enough chairs and tables to seat everybody. In practice most of us sat on the floor and served ourselves buffet-style from food on the two big tables we’d borrowed from the Games Society.

    There was suspicious vegetarian stuffing, an experimental recipe all of our own. There was Christmas pudding (what better time than June?), there were swordfights in the garden under the blazing sun, and there was performance of the worst lemon fanfic we could find on the internet.

    It marked the closing of a time in my life that was saturated with the company of so many friends – a time I knew would soon be gone, but RABIES was always about forgetting that for a day.

    It was, with the possible exception of the day I proposed to my girlfriend, the happiest day of my life.

    RABIES 2
    If the first RABIES marked the end of a year of friendship, the next marked the end of a year of drama. So much fell apart in the nine months that preceded it, yet by the end, by the time June and RABIES rolled around, much was fixed again.

    2006 was the graduation year for many of us, myself included. We spent days trying to figure out another suitably horrid backronym involving everyone’s initials, but in the end gave up and declared it “RABIES 2”. Racheet and Andy were both still in attendance, so it didn’t seem too much of a stretch!

    Out of necessity we relocated to a different house and the sit-down meal became a barbecue, a change that was to define all future events.

    RABIES 3
    RABIES 3 was a turning point for me. Having graduated and moved away, I was coming back to Southampton just for the party. And having not spent a great deal of time in my old University town that year, RABIES had moved on a generation. It had become adopted by the Games Society as a society event, attended now by freshers that everyone else knew, but I had never met.

    I had no imminent leaving to forget that year. But as a father-to-be with a brain full of all the stress that entails, I suppose it helped me forget about that for a day – pretend I was back at University again, with a child’s carefree existence away from what my life had become.

    RABIES 4
    As the now increasingly inaccurate RABIES 4 approached, a thread appeared on the Games Society forum asking what on earth “RABIES” stood for. It dawned on me then: they don’t know who Racheet and Andy are. Three years had passed. Those graduating that year could have spent three whole years of University life in the time since we’d said goodbye to those two.

    RABIES 4
    And when I arrived, people clustered around me, asking how I was, bemoaning how long it had been since we’d last met, asking how my job was, how my son was. I was old.

    New traditions were born here – the location moved once more, though the barbecues remained. It was here that the dubious tradition of “Shirtless O’Clock” was born, and where our fondness for fire staves and poi blossomed into fire-swords, fire-chucks and the fire-naginata. Truly, it was a new generation of drunken recklessness!

    RABIES 5
    The fifth RABIES continued in a similar vein, with alcohol and barbecue and fire aplenty. We also ventured deep into the hedge behind what was by then known as the House of A (and E), no longer the preserve of Gemma and Tallulah and the Chemistry students of the once-glorious Extreme Breakfasting Society. Beyond that hedge we found all kinds of bizarre things. We emerged bearing them, but we emerged changed people.

    RABIES 6
    And now, RABIES 6 has been and gone. Five years have passed since Andy, Mark and I first sketched up a guest list of the friends we’d like to invite to a sit-down meal in honour of their graduation.

    The attendance these days tops 40, and the hunt continues for ever larger back gardens in which to hold it. Nothing short of 20 pounds of mince and 40 sausages were bought for the barbecue, and outdoor tables groaned under the weight of drinks bottles piled high.

    And oddly, things have come full circle, for Andy is graduating again this year, albeit in a city far from us.

    I am the last of what we called the Soton Kiddies to still be in attendance at RABIES; the only person to have been to all six. I don’t organise, these days, and I am barely involved with the cooking.

    And I wonder, at times like these, how long RABIES will continue.

    Will I still be going when I’m 30, five years from now? Did we create a tradition that will last the test of time, still happening every year 10 or 20 years from now, when no-one remembers any of us, and RABIES has become an acronym for something else entirely?