Feeding the weblog

Now that Feedburner has been bought by Google, I’ve signed up with them so that I can see how few people subscribe to my RSS feed. In theory, this should make absolutely no difference to anyone who is subscribing to the feed, since the current address automatically redirects to the new Feedburner address – but if there are any problems, let me know.

Another nice Feedburner feature is that it can send my weblog posts out via email (yes, I know that WordPress can do this as well, but it seemed a bit more difficult to set up). So if you have a look to your right, in the sidebar there’s place you can enter your email address. I can’t see a lot of people using this, but if you do everything by email, maybe it’s the right thing for you.

…and all done

Welcome to the new Mssv! The most obvious change is that the design is different (easier to read, I hope) and that all three weblogs have now been merged together. I’m glad I tried the four-year long experiment of three different weblogs, but ultimately it didn’t work due to the fact that I only have a finite amount of spare time and I wasn’t updating the main article as often as I wanted to. I’m optimistic that this simpler structure will see me writing much more.

There are a few other nice bits and pieces on the weblog, mainly to do with Search (it exists now) and Comments. On the old weblog, comments were a complete pain both for reader to post and me to moderate, but things should be much easier now. There’s also a Recent Comment box on the sidebar to the right. Unfortunately, I’ve still lost a fair number of comments from the old weblog.

Basically, what happened is that I ran out of space on my webhost, and as a result the comments database file became corrupted. This is no excuse for Movable Type, which continued to act oddly after everything had been fixed, and so I resolved to finally switch over to WordPress, a weblog engine that is under much more active development and is markedly more pleasant to use (although not perfect).

Under Construction…

Obviously, things have changed around here. I’m still in the midst of tweaking things and doing the proper changeover from my old blog (which precipitated all of this by – apparently irrevocably – deleting a huge swathe of useful comments), but things should be all finished in the next few days. Look forward to updates more often, now that the design is changed!

No comment moderation on Massive

In order to celebrate a new article in the ‘Massive’ section (it was going to be in this column but I thought it deserved more), I’ve turned off the registration mechanism there. Previously, you had to sign up for Typekey in order to post a comment. I did this to prevent spam from clogging things up, but now that I have a blacklist system set up, that’s no longer necessary.

A New Post

Regular readers may have noticed some subtle change in the appearance of my weblog – yes, I have in fact posted a new article in the ‘massive’ section. It’s not very long, but people into alternate reality games might be interested. Basically, it’s an edited version of the extended abstract I sent into the GDC 2006 conference a few months ago. Now, I admit that the ‘All Games will be Alternate Reality Games’ title is rather hyperbolic, but I’m increasingly being persuaded that it’s the case for more and more games. One interesting piece of news I heard recently was that Far Cry published a short ‘The Rough Guide to Jacutan Archipelago”, a fictional place in the game. This is not a particularly new idea – I still recall the story goodies you used to get from games like Elite and Ultima – but it’s nice to see the concept return.

Normal service will be resumed

I know what you’re thinking. “What the hell is this article about coach services in Oxford doing on a weblog that is supposed to be about massively multiuser online entertainment, biology and space, in that order?” Well, what can I say – I take the coaches a lot, and along with the Indian Visa article, I think some people will find it very useful.

However, I know that’s not what a lot of people come here for. Recently I was reading through my old mmoe articles from way back, and two things struck me. The first was that they were really badly edited and the early ones don’t read particularly well. The second was that they’re still interesting (at least to me) and I now have many new thoughts on the genre. Part of the reason for my silence on the mmoe/ARG front has been simply pragmatic – I can’t talk about my talk. However, that should mostly cease to be a problem fairly soon, so I’m looking forward to writing a new series of articles looking at the current and future state of massively multiuser online entertainment and alternate reality games.

Where’s Adrian?

A surprising number of people have been asking why I haven’t updated my site for so long. Here are the reasons: I’ve been wrapping up my current 4 month project which is researching the basis of vision in mice (using three different experimental paradigms), planning my trip to a conference in Florida, working on Project Syzygy, writing essays and dissertations and reading a vast number of good books including Perdido Street Station, China Mountain Zhang, The Confusion and lately, Godel, Escher and Bach. I’ve also been training for a 10k run that’s taking place next month here in Oxford (yesterday I managed 5 miles in 36 minutes without feeling particularly tired).

They aren’t very good reasons because it’s not really any more work (or play) than I usually do, and I’ve still found the time to do endless amounts of surfing on the Internet, going to the pub, writing to the Culture list and other such activities which could easily be substituted by, say, updating my weblog. Anyway, over the next few days I’m going to be reposting some of my longer emails to the Culture list here (reviews, that sort of thing) while I get my head together and also finish reading GEB, which is shaping up to be one of the most wonderful and beautifully written fact/fiction books I’ve ever read.


One of the great things about living in a university town like Oxford or Cambridge is that interesting events and lectures are being held almost every day, and they’re usually free to attend. Most of the events that I go to, I hear about through friends or mailing lists, but of course there are many more that I miss because they’re advertised poorly; not that I blame the organisers, because I know it’s difficult, but you just can’t put up a few dozen posters or hide away your events list on a society or department website somewhere and expect the whole of Oxford to know about it.

The problem is that information about events in Oxford is totally dispersed and difficult to locate. The solution is to create a website that aggregates events and assigns them multiple categories so that users can view and subscribe to different event feeds based on their preferences. It’d also be necessary to allow users to submit information about their own events in a way that balances the workload for the website administrators but also maintains quality.

Superficially, it sounds quite easy to make this website. You could simply set up a weblog powered by Moveable Type or TypePad, create multiple editors, set up a bunch of different categories and give them their own RSS feeds. No problem. But how do you order the events? In MT, as far as I know you can only assign them a single timestamp. In this case, do you set the site up so that events are announced when they actually happen (which obviously is no good since that gives no advance warning) or a number of days in advance? How many days in advance? Should there be reminders? How do you cope with events that span several days? Already the scope of the site is exceeding what can be done with vanilla MT.

Alternatively you could use calendar software like iCal, which has the ability to share and import calendars. This would be perfect, if not for the fact that hardly anyone uses it.

An events list website is not a new idea, of course. Two already existing sites include Upcoming.org and the London Art Aggregator. Upcoming.org is not a bad effort but it’s not flexible enough and if everyone in Oxford put their events into it, you’d be overwhelmed with a huge and unsorted list. The Art Aggregator is more suitable but this time, it’s too specialised – it’s great at what it does, which is aggregate art events in London, but that’s it.

So at the moment, for anyone wishing to set up an Oxford events list website, there are two ways forward. You could take weblog software like MT and hack it into shape, resulting in (most likely) a pretty good but nonetheless imperfect website, or you could just code it all from scratch. I don’t think it would be particularly difficult to do it from scratch if you had experience in Perl/PHP and MySQL, and if I had a spare fortnight or so I imagine I could give it a pretty decent shot myself.

At first the site probably wouldn’t get much traffic and the admins and readers would simply add events that they know about and are interested in, but if it’s useful enough then it’ll attract more users. I think ultimately the site could become highly popular and extremely useful, and maybe even make money via textads. Who knows. As it is, I don’t have the time to do anything about it now but when MT 3.0 comes out I will probably see if it is more amenable to being the backend for an events list.


Occasionally* I have reason to look at my website logs and referrer lists. These tell me how many people visit this site and where they’ve come from. So, for example, I can tell if a page is linking to me if it has referred visitors to me. Every now and again I see that people have reached my site by searching specificially for my name. I don’t find this particularly strange or worrying because I’ve developed a habit of casually googling the names of friends or acquaintances. It almost never does me any good, because the vast majority of people have basically zero web presence and thus are immune to googling, but sometimes I find out something interesting.

The opposite is true with me. If anyone searches for ‘adrian hon’ then they will find all of my personal websites, several hundred thousand words of writing written by me on essentially every topic under the sun (apart from personal matters, hah!) and about 2000 other hits. You can find out my political views, my scientific views, my views on life, my personality, my hobbies, my friends, what I look like, what I know, where I am and where I’ve been. Again, this doesn’t bother me because I put it all there myself and I am ready to stand behind my words. Still, I do wonder exactly who it is that searches for my name, and what they think when they see all the hits…

* Occasionally meaning ‘every day’. Not that I am concerned about the number of hits I get – after running a weblog for three years, you tend to stop caring about how many people visit.

In Print

‘One of the best veteran bloggers’ (scroll to the bottom of the page) – that’s what I am kids, according to the NetGuide NZ magazine. A while back I got an email from some reporter asking for weblogging tips for a magazine. I was in half a mind to delete the email because it looked suspiciously like spam, but I later relented and bashed out a couple of paragraphs, which have apparently made it into the magazine. Neat stuff.