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After six years at Macmillan - Nature Publishing Group I am being made redundant, it's my last day here today. Some of you may know that 2 and a half years ago the company gave everyone notice that they intended to move all job roles to London in 2014. At the time I thought it was good that they gave us such long notice of the move but it turns out for those of us in Basingstoke not interested in doing a 1.5 to 2 hour each way commute to the London office that long wait felt like everything in life was put on hold until it finally got here.

In truth I am quite happy to go, the redundancy payout is quite nice and it's come at a good time meaning I can enjoy the summer months off work (don't be too jealous now), I'll be free to enjoy August with WorldCon and catching up with everyone coming to the UK for that. I will also be free to concentrate on TitanCon in September which is practically a full time job in itself. I can start looking for a new job after that and I feel confident that I'll find something new without too much trouble, after all everyone needs a website these days, it's a good field to be in.

Goodbye Silk

My cat had not been eating much for the last few weeks and so I took her to the vet yesterday and it did not look good at all. A growth under her tongue. The vets knocked her out earlier today to get a better look and there was just nothing they could do with it so sadly I had to have her put down. I got back from the vets a couple of hours ago. Silk was 10 years old and I kinda knew it was coming but even so it's pretty sad. I shall miss her.

To Silk, one of the sweetest cats of all time. RIP

Decisions to make

Been a while since I posted here so this is a little update about what's going on with me.

Yesterday my manager and his manager came down from the London office for a meeting with me. The discussion was about my company's move to London in March 2014 (they gave us the news about this in November 2011 so we can't say they didn't give us adequate notice) and specifically about my request for flexible working. I asked to be allowed to work two days at home and three in the office to avoid the nearly 2 hour commute at least some of the week. They have agreed to my request and so the next thing will be to decide if I want to accept the offer in London or take the redundancy package. For me that would amount to about six months salary as a tax free lump sum. Very tempting to take the money and run but what else is out there? This is a very good company to work for, lots of cool benefits (cheap books!) and they treat us well. Hell they gave us two and a half years notice of this move where some companies you would be lucky to get two and a half week's notice.

So lots for me to think about. My colleagues in the web production team (I am the sole web developer here in the Basingstoke office, different team, different management) were not nearly so lucky with their requests for flexible working. They have all been offered a bizarre scheme where they get to work at home one day every two weeks or something. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details but I know they are all very unhappy about itand very unlikely to make the move. So this will probably be our last Christmas together as a group in this office. Very sad but times they do keep a-changing and all'a that.


BWB London meet-up Report

Great meet-up last night in London, one of our best attended with 30 people there at one point. Good to see faces old and new. I chatted with Lord Jo Favourite Spearwife about some exciting ideas and plans for TitanCon - more on that as and when we can reveal the details.

It was about 9.20 when Laura Pradelska (Qaithe) and Amrita Acharia (Irri) arrived. I'm not sure they knew what they'd let themselves in for and might have been a bit overwhelmed by the reception, but they were lovely and wanted to know all about the BWB, how we met, what we do when we get together. They were interested and interesting as well. And they wanted to meet and chat with everyone, happy to be in photos with us - like this one. It was nice to put a face to Qaithe, see what's beneath the mask. I had a chat with Amrita about our mutual friend in LA Jake Stormoen. But they had an early start the next morning so they left about 10.30, Laura had to drag Amrita away in the end.

It was at this point I found out we had two gatecrashers with us. MC Geek had tweeted Mitch Benn to say our party was the best in town and he should come join us, and he did! Bringing horror writer Sarah Pinborough along with him. They were both lovely and it was really nice to meet them.

About half an hour after Laura and Amrita left us Miltos Yerolemou arrived, exhausted but he made it as promised. He'd just come off stage from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe show where he is appearing as Ginarrbrik, the Ice Queen's evil dwarf henchman, although he plays it as a comic character. He chatted with some fans and did well to stay on his feet because he was really tired after all the wirework and jumping around he does in this production. Miltos left about quarter to midnight and I went soon after, getting home just after 1 am.

Good times and hopefully we'll do it again soon.

It may appear that work on my Animated Timeline Map project has stopped, but in fact a lot has been going on behind the scenes on two different fronts. First is a huge and complex spreadsheet which details the entire timeline of A Song of Ice and Fire. Work is ongoing with this monumental task but I hope to have the spreadsheet finished before the end of 2012. The second task I've been working on is to create a new map which incorporates both maps of Essos from A Dance With Dragons finished in the same art style as Tear's original Westeros map. I am happy to announce the map is now done.

Speculative world map - small

Of course having just finished this map we now learn that George is working on a new book scheduled to be published later this year (30 October 2012) entitled Maps of Ice and Fire. George has informed me (see below) that the maps in this book will take us far beyond what we've seen before, going as far east as Asshai. So that means in just over six months from the time I write this, my speculative map will become redundant. We will finally have official maps showing the real shape and position of all the known places in George's world.

You may wonder why I am going ahead with releasing the map in light of this information. Well it would be a shame to let all that work go to waste. And most fortunately none of this will be wasted. I am confident that what I've done here can be reshaped according to the new maps so that eventually I will be able to create a full beautiful map which I will be using as the background for my Animated Timeline Map. New versions of my speculative map will be posted on this website at a later date.

Show/Hide map features

One good reason to publish this map on the Internet now is that I have also created an interface which will allow viewers to show/hide the map features they choose. For example you can hide the labels or the city/town markers. It is now possible to see Westeros in it's natural state devoid of the map features which obscure the landscape below. I know gamers have been after this kind of map for a long while and I hope this will be useful to you guys.

The online interface is fairly memory intensive and due to the image sizes involved it is not recommended for users with slow connections to view it. Check the top left corner of the map in case there is an error message with a map layer failing to load properly. Use a hard refresh (shift + F5) to clear the problem and download a full new version of the page, otherwise you may load a cached version which repeats the same error.

Licensed under Creative Commons

In the bottom left corner of all versions of my speculative map you'll find details of the Creative Commons licence with full details of what is and what is not allowed under the terms of the licence. This means that other fans are able to remix this map for their own fan based projects (non-commercial) and I'm sure there will be many people with lots of ideas for new ways to use the map, so that's another good reason to make this available now.

Speculative sections of the map

This is very much a speculative map and will remain so until after the Maps of Ice and Fire book is published. Please do not take this as an official map. The non-canon sections of Essos and non-canon city/town locations are clearly marked on the map. Please see the map legend in the top right hand corner of the speculative map for more details about this.

Some of the colour textures and transitions across Essos are a little rough. I must admit to taking a few shortcuts with the Dothraki Sea and the areas north and east of it. In future I hope to smooth some of these rough patches out and blend the colours in a much better way. But that will wait for the big update after the Maps of Ice and Fire book is published.

What George has to say about my speculative world map

I'm sure everyone will want to know if George has seen this and if so what he thinks of it. Of course I have already emailed a copy to George and here is what he said in his reply:

Sent: Thursday 1 March 2012

This is a very handsome map. And based on the information you have, it's quite good.

But of course there's lots of information you don't have, so it's not accurate. There are certain things -- the geography and location of the Summer Islands, the placement of Qarth and the Jade Gates, everything east of Slaver's Bay and the Dothraki Sea... that you would have no way of knowing.

> Of course having now finished the map I discover there is to be a Map of Ice and Fire book published later this year which will no doubt contain an official world map. So I may have wasted some of my time here but I'm sure I can adapt what I've done to match the official maps and that will give me a good background to build the animation on.

Yes, I'm afraid so. I've been working on maps for the Bantam map book for most of the last week. Including lots of maps of places we have never seen before, and a "known world" map that goes as far east as Asshai. (Not a true world map, of course. If my world contains analogues of the Americas, Australia, Antarctica, and the like, the people of the Seven Kingdoms are unaware of them, so it did not seem right for the readers to know more than the characters.

> I appreciate you don't have time for more than a cursory look over this and it won't match the real maps you're working on but I thought you might get a kick out of seeing it all the same.

I did. Thanks for letting me have a look.

George RR Martin

I am really looking forward to seeing this new book with all the official maps. It's going to make a big difference to getting everything figured out in the timeline.

All of which means it will be well into 2013 before I make any further progress on the Animated Timeline Map. But I will be using this time to finish off the spreadsheet of data I will be using to build the timeline and also to redesign the entire interface from the ground up. This is now necessary and unavoidable because of the enormous map that is larger than Flash can handle in one piece. I may need to use the Google Maps API to get this to work which complicates things considerably. I am also investigating a move to HTML 5 which hopefully should be a lot more user friendly and will open up a greater potential for new features and details to be added. It will be awesome if and when I ever finish it but its going to take quite a long time so please bear with me in the meantime. Thank you.

I spent most of Saturday reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. HOLY SHIT! It may be fan fiction but it is still a work of genius. Well written, intelligent (apart from a few goofy moments), thought provoking (even if it is guilty of a couple of straw men here and there) with a far more complex plot with more complicated characters than J K Rowlings' books. Of course it totally riffs off the original and pokes fun at all the stuff that did not make any sense (like Quidditch) but it is so radically different that it could be argued that it should be considered a work of art on it's own merits.

The basic premise is that in this version Petunia did not marry Vernon Dursley and instead dumped him for an Oxford University professor and so Harry Potter grows up in a highly educational environment and becomes a child prodigy who has studied maths, science, philosophy, psychology, politics and much more to a university degree level and is also a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and all the SF classics. So this Harry is a completely different character by the time he reaches 11 years of age, however everyone else remains the same at the start of the story but because of the way things unfold they react and change over time in a completely believable way because of more or less interaction with Harry. For instance Harry considers Ron to be too stupid to be his friend so he never spends time with him. Hermonie becomes Harry's intellectual rival. And with his grounding in SF Harry immediately recognises the pattern of this story he is in and realises Voldemort must still be alive and Draco is a pawn of his father so he resolves to redeem Draco and use him for his own ends.

This Harry is perhaps less likeable, even as he uses logic and rational thought to deconstruct the magical world and get the better of all the teachers. It would have been really easy for the author to write this Harry as a total gary-stu but he does not get everything go his own way, not at all. In fact his methods of rationality often gets him into very deep trouble. Although he did not grow up living underneath the stairs and his parents provided every opportunity for him to learn they were still emotionally distant from Harry and so he does not make friends easily and has very different psychological problems to overcome.

There are many scenes which are genuinely laugh out loud moments. We get chapters written from the point of view of character's other than Harry such as Hermonie, Draco and Professor McGonagal which make for a refreshing change of pace. Something which elevates this above 99.9% of all other fan fiction is that it pokes fun at the whole fan fiction sub-culture. For example one girl has a crush on Snape and her heart flutters when he tells her to stay after class and see him. Usually in fan fiction this would prompt something really icky but here Snape crushes her dreams saying he does not return her affections and tells her to stop it immediately. With all seven books of the original series complete the author has the entire source material to go at and he uses it in very different ways, for example the Deathly Hallows get mentioned and other plot elements and characters from later books are introduced early for comic effect.

I am about half way through the 78 chapters that have been written so far and the author (enigmatically known as Less Wrong) is still on the first year at Hogwarts. He releases new chapters as and when he can, usually every couple of weeks or so. Not sure if he will write up all seven years of the story or if this Harry will defeat the Dark Lord in half the time it took the original Harry. But then when the rules are this different anything could happen, maybe Voldemort will win, or maybe Harry really will become the next Dark Lord and have to be defeated by the other characters. It genuinely could go anywhere and that makes this interesting and worth reading.

The first 63 chapters are available in a neatly typeset PDF.

New chapters are released on this website (they don't look anywhere near as nice but they do come with author notes).

A seasonal EHK website update

Since I had a few hours with not much to do I decided to put up another topic on the EHK memorial website. I looked for something Christmassy but could only come up with "Santa Claus shoots up his family - can we get rid of guns now?"

Here is the blurb for it:

Since it is the holiday season here's a nice festive topic to get you in the mood. Of course it might not be Christmas when you're reading this but for me it's just a few days before Christmas 2011 as I write this blurb so I figured this topic from Christmas 2008 would be a good one to post right now. And nothing says "Christmas" quite like banging your head against the brick wall of ignorance that is arguing the obvious necessity of US gun control with pro-gun nutjobs. Beats arguing about brussel sprouts with cranky family members at least. Merry Christmas!



SMOFcon 29 Amsterdam

I am back at work after a weekend in Amsterdam. Learnt a lot of good things about con running at SMOFcon, some tips that will help to improve the experience for everyone at TitanCon 2012. I also got drafted in to helping with programme ops at Eastercon next year, but I was probably going to do that anyway.

Also picked up some interesting details about upcoming Worldcons including something awesome that may be happening the evening before Worldcon in Chicago next year, I can't say what it is but I strongly recommend being in Chicago on Wed 29 August 2012. Also everyone needs to encourage as many friends as possible to come along to ChiCon because if they don't reach their expected numbers this cool thing will be the first item that gets cut.

Texas 2013 is also coming along nicely but not many new details to share. London 2014 showed off a video of the ExCeL convention centre which looks really impressive. The big new detail they had for us was about the parties which will all take place in a single large exhibition space with a big communal bar area in the centre and separate "booths" around the edge for each group hosting parties. Not sure how well this will work but it probably is the best option given the fact that none of the hotels in the area will allow room parties. It will be noisy and not particularly private, grrm will probably hate it.

The Spokane 2015 bid gave a terrible presentation where they started out explaining what a Worldcon is, somehow the guy did not realise it was not necessary to explain what Worldcon is to the people who have been running it for the last 30 years. He then put his foot in his mouth by saying "he wanted to do Worldcon better". What so it wasn't good enough before? His flyers left off the crucial detail of where Spokane is (Washington state, an hour's flight from Seattle if you want to know). Not easy to get to and not much there anyone wants to see. When he was told he had 1 minute left of his presentation he said incredulously "really?" and then rushed through the rest of his slides with all sorts of unnecessary details, completely failing to get across enough important details to impress anyone.

Orlando 2015 did not do themselves any favours by sending a Youtube clip instead of a representative in person to answer questions. Apparently nobody really knows this group from Orlando but they still scored big points over Spokane simply by having a good video highlighting all the cool stuff to see and do there. Been a long time since we had a real fight over a Worldcon bid so this could be an interesting fight - although I think I know which way I'll be voting.

Beyond that we have Kansas City in 2016 which looks like a shoe-in to me. Japan in 2017, although given the fact that they are still massively in debt over the 2007 Worldcon I wouldn't necessarily bet on them getting it again so soon. New Orleans 2018. Montreal announced a bid for 2019. New Zealand in 2020, although they may face opposition from the Christmas 2020 bid where they plan to host Worldcon from Christmas Eve through to New Year with presents for everyone! Anyone who was in Reno will remember their spoof-bid party with it's awesome Christmas decorations. Funny stuff.

Two great highlights of the weekend from Saturday:

Playing Live Mafia/Werewolf or in this case Aliens invade The Netherlands with a group of Dutch fans from BeNeLuxCon (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxumbourg - they did say they never get any fans from Luxumbourg at the con but still keep it in the name. alytha - have you ever heard of this con, ever thought of going?). The next BeNeLuxCon is to be held at KatCon in early March. They wanted to try the game out for that. I drew an an alien card, [info]zoeiona was a seer, multiclassgeek took on Mod duties since the organisers weren't really sure of what they were doing and I think everyone else at the table had no idea what they were doing either, 11 people in total. My alien partner was a good pick since she was able to seem innocent but was actually quite devious, even getting her husband lynched after he claimed "their bed was empty last night". Maybe he heard her move during a night phase or something but everyone believed he was the alien and not her.

Basically we cleaned up.

The highlight of the game being when zoeiona suddenly turned on me claiming I was being quiet and therefore very suspicious. It was actually my alien partner that came to my defence and accused [info]zoeiona of having an agenda and that turned the vote against [info]zoeiona who lost out 4 votes to 3 and got lynched. It turns out that she had used her ability to learn I was an alien and [info]zoeiona said afterwards she should have revealed herself as the seer and knew I was the alien, if she had it would have turned the game and they would have probably got the other alien too but we both survived to end game and killed them off. This amused me no end :)

Then later on Saturday night during the Worldcon bid presentations one of the guys from FinnCon gave the performance of the night with his bid for Mariehamn 2016. The Finnish fans can't afford to do Worldcon and the Swedish fans can't either so they propose to hold the con in the Åland Islands, north Baltic sea right between the two countries. His presentation had such enthusiasm as he told us that the "islands can be reached by ferry from both Helsinki and Stockholm", no airport, and that a "brand new state of the art town hall can hold 600 people" which will be the main auditorium for Warldcon. Additional programming will take place outdoors, in some of the villagers houses and on two fishing boats in the harbour (it can only fit two boats). People will have to camp since the hotel will only be large enough for a handful of guests. When asked what the weather will be like he exclaimed "Sunny!"

Maybe you just had to be there to witness how funny it was but the entire room was in tears of laughter, simply brilliant.

In the bar afterwards we did all we could to turn this spoof bid into a real bid with the creation of a website, Facebook group and I somehow ended up on the bid committee for that - although I would just like to point out I did not have anything to do with the website!

Some sad news from home

So I was working in the London office yesterday and in the afternoon I received a text from my mum which said "call me asap" - never a good message to get. She was at the hospital where my stepdad had been taken because he was feeling very unwell. He was shaking and clearly not alright in the ambulance on the way there but he was talking and joking with people as was his way. When they got to the hospital he suffered a heart attack but they could not restart his heart.

He was only 60 although he had never lived the healthiest of lifestyles and had been ill for a while, but it was still a bit of a shock. They had been married for 10 years and I think they would both say it was happier than their previous marriages had ever been.

Christmas will be tougher this year, me and my sister have already made plans to have Christmas over here and get mum out of the house, something different, and I quite like cooking Christmas dinner anyway.

Also I started reading The Road yesterday on the train journey to London, great book but entirely too depressing for right now, yeesh.

For anyone that finds the colour schemes of Westeros too distracting, too difficult to read or hard to get away with while at work, help is at hand with these handy alternative Skins.

Stark skin v3.0

A plain white background with muted grey tones, perfect for keeping a low profile while in the workplace.

Targaryen skin v3.0

Black background with white text and red highlights. For those who prefer the dark side.

Also now available optional extras:

Option: Hide Avatars v1.0

Option: Remove BG and Logos v1.0

Option: News Right v1.0

In order to use these unofficial skins you will need to be using either Firefox with Stylish add-on or Google Chrome with Stylish extension. Full details on how to download and install the skins is available on the Westeros skins page of my website: www.sermountaingoat.co.uk

Please note that these skins are "unofficial" and are for "your own personal use" which means that if the Westeros forum admins change something across the entire website and this causes a display problem because of the skin then under no circumstance should you blame Ran for this and give him hassle about it. In fact please don't give me hassle about it either. But if you do notice anything which is not displaying properly, or if you have a suggestion for a change to improve the skins, or an idea for a new option, then please feel free to contact me and I will see what I can do to help.