Firewood Game of Ur

If you don’t already, you should go and subscribe to the British Museum Youtube channel immediately. One Saturday breakfast time a couple of weeks ago I watched the video of Tom Scott playing this game against Irving Finkel.

Now. A couple of weeks earlier, after making some firewood dice, we’d been playing with making firewood platonic solids. Tetrahedron, Cube, Octahedra… that kind of stuff. As you do.


So we sketched out the board on a sheet of paper, grabbed the big tub of dice, and started playing. It’s a fun game. We only had two wooden tetrahedra, so we used some blank dice with three dot faces and three blank faces to match the probabilities of the tetrahedra.

Robin appears to be quite good at it.

So we then move the board onto a left over chunk of oak flooring and start hitting it with chisels and whittling knives.


We also started making little dice and counters. These dice are effectively coins, and are hard to pick up. Having four of them means you can score 0,1,2,3 or 4 – which makes a change from 1-6. Burr from the log pile, plus saw, plus sandpaper = tetrahedral dice.


It’s not finished yet – but it’s a fun game. You should make one.

Quick sidebar on buying game bits. For maybe £20 you can stock up a tub with dice, counters, meeples, and other game components. Having these handy for this kind of thing on a saturday morning is fun – if the wee lads are into a new game, or want to add a feature to an existing game, being able to quickly mock them up is great. If you wait until the bits arrive the interest will have passed and life is pointless.



Books for March & April 2017

Enjoying reasonably meaty books and trying to get through one a week is a little conflicted. Homo Deus is a brilliantly puzzling book. It needs some time to play with. Some time to decide which bits are nonsense and which bits are likely.

Anyway. To the list.

10 Known and Strange Things, Teju Cole
A collection of essays. Darts around quite a lot. Sync’d nicely with train journey sized reading blocks.

11 Embassytown, China Miéville
Space games. Probably a better book that Railsea, but I enjoyed Railsea more.

12 The Looking Glass War, John le Carré
Wow this is depressing. People!

13 We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
Disgracefully I only read this because it was on a list of short books that are any good. Rattled through this quickly – great book. I should likely read something a bit more fun though.

14 Against Everything, Mark Grief
Another essay collection. I found the tone a little grating, although plenty to think about. Much preferred the voice in Known and Strange Things.

15 The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
The ending could have been a little more distantly handled I think. Felt a little spelled out. I don’t know. Delightful book though.

16 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari
I’ve spoken about and recommended this book more than anything since Sapiens (and probably SPQR) last year. It didn’t go where I thought it would. It’s probably a third longer than it needs to be.

17 Ghachar Ghochar,  Vivek Shanbhag
Short but awesome. Translated novels kind of amaze me anyway. Read this.

18 A Sticky Note Guide to Life, Chaz Hutton
The internet is wonderful. A book by this guy.

19 Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware, Andy Hunt
My first re-read of the whole bookaweek thing. I think it’s maybe five years since I read this. Surprising how much that was surprising the first time round is just ‘the natural order of things’ this time round.

Wonky firewood dice

Firewood is weird stuff. It’s wood, from a tree, but we just throw it in the fire to warm us up. I wonder if a tree would rather be firewood or a table.

We get a load of wood in late summer, stack it in the garage, and slowly turn it back into dust and gas and heat through the winter. The mix of woods is always a bit random. Half hardwood, half softwood. There’s usually some birch, beech, oak, ash and others I couldn’t hope to identify. It’s fun to stack it and see the variation and similarity. You can pretend you’re at Walden Pond. It’s the exact opposite of sitting at a computer. It’s nice.

When we started the boardgame a month thing – the boys and I went to the garage and started making some firewood cubes. They wanted to make a different version of Bang!, so while we waited for the blank dice to arrive from ebay we made our own. Home made is more fun – they are wonky, they are unfair, and they are a little disconcerting to use.


They also just look wonky.


We haven’t used any oils / varnish on them. We ‘nut’ them. Rub a Brazil nut on them to give them a little sheen and stop them getting dirty.

calibrate wonky dice

The boys spent a while calibrating the dice. Figuring out which numbers were more likely to come up by rolling them again and again. They got to use saws. They learned about different grits of sandpaper, and how the order in which you use them matters. How preparation at early stages pays off by making later stages easier and quicker. They got to burn themselves on a soldering iron to do the wood burning of the dice dots. They also got to not just play a cool game, but make their own cool game out of a log that would have gone in the fire.

Something something life lesson something something even the rubbish old firewood something something potential something something with a bit of effort something something turns into a lovely thing everyone likes. Something something…

Boardgame a month?

This whole X a Y thing is addictive. Reading a book a week is fun. In addition, as a family, we appear to be trying a new board game a month in 2017. This should be easier. We love a bit of Carcassonne, Chess or Junk Art. Trying a few more games should be fun.

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Freezing outside = #boardgames inside.

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January – Sushi Go Party.

Deal a deck of cards from a MASSIVE tin box of cards, with all kinds of shushi on them. Pick a card you want to keep, and pass the rest of your cards to your right. Repeat. Do you try to make high scoring combos, or just keep high scoring individual cards? Do you aim high and risk collapse, or play safe and hope for the best? Do you play your own game or try and block your brother? Great value considering the sheer amount of variation in the game, the number of cards, and the nice tin.

Boys rating: 8/10
Grown up rating: 8/10

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BANG! #boardgames

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February – Bang! the dice game

Roll some dice, to score points, strike opponents, and other stuff. You play a sheriff, or an outlaw, or something. You have to try and kill your opponent. Some nice character cards, neat dice, and really fun quick game play that even the most distracted five year old will grasp in seconds. Also, wild west theme. Fun. Nice small box too, so good to tuck in the suitcase/car as an emergency rainy day half hour filler.

Boys rating: 10/10
Grown up rating: 7/10

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KING OF TOKYO FTW #boardgames #gamesnight

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March – King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo is the current head a shoulders leader of the boardgames. Parasitic Tentacles causes the odd grumpy battle – but on the whole it’s a perfectly balanced game for <10s. Just complicated enough to hold interest, without overloading the players with too many contradictory factors. Collect energy, buy power ups, earn victory points, try not to lose too many health points. The power up cards are really well done – full of character and the boys love just finding out what’s next in the stack.

Boys rating: 100/10
Grown up rating: 10/10

Codethecity Chatbots

Codethecity Eight. Wow. This thing has some legs huh?

We had fun making computers speak a little like humans, in useful ways. I was on a team this time, with Alan and Bianca. Which was fun.

Our project was around using chatbot interfaces as the only way to create meetings in a business setting. Instead of just being able to slap a meeting into someones Google Calendar, you have to negotiate access with their chatbot protector. I think this could actually contribute to the bottom line in a lot of businesses – and be a resilient, reliable, robust reminder of how things should be for people.

Too much coffee bot #codethecity

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* return

Browsers remember what you visit – allowing you to get to sites without typing the whole url. This is awesome. It’s well known. As I get increasingly impatient I find that a side effect of this is that any site that requires more than a single key stroke before hitting return is just annoying to visit. Two isn’t too bad (t-h-return for the guardian). More is now really painful.

Since I’ve started using a bit more it is genuinely frustrating me that I have to type gee oh oh dee return to escape the Google. That’s a whole five keystrokes to visit a website. I should really invoke some alfred goodness.

Running through the alphabet in chrome I get defaults like this:

I wonder how many of those will still be in place a year on.

January & February 2017 Books

Blogging the books I’ve read is a little odd. But I’ve started now so I’m going to keep it up. Habit > Logic and all than. Blogging like it’s 2001 again. I write these down so I’ll remember them, I think. Prettier list with covers and such on goodreads.

1 Human Acts, Kang Han
A far less depressing ending than I was expecting. Reasonably sure it needs a re-read.

2 Small Data, Martin Lindstrom
Interesting stories about weedling insights out of fridge magnet placement, unused toy arrangements and where we look in lifts. Continue reading “January & February 2017 Books”

Books 2016

A year ago I decided to try and read a book a week in 2017. I failed. I only read 47 and a half. I’m reasonably sure that if I’d skipped Midnight’s Children or SPQR I’d have made the 52.

Since the last books post

44 Do Not Say We Have Nothing Madeleine Thien
Remarkable book. You should read it. I love a bit of historical fact in a story, especially when I know so little of the history. Just brutal at times. Also, sometimes history repeats itself.

45 After the Quake Murakami, Haruki
I think short story Murakami is maybe my favourite Murakami.

46 The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World Andrea Wulf
This was just a delight to read. Started it in August I think, and picked it up from time to time for a chapter or two of olde adventures. The refs and footnotes are almost half the book.

47 Strange Weather in Tokyo Hiromi Kawakami
Trying to fill in the gaps in the profile of my books I thought a love story was in order. The food all sounds delicious.

47.5 Human Acts Kang Han
This is the half. I got half way through and just couldn’t pick it up again over Xmas. I’ll finish it in January. Similar student uprising territory to book 44 – only with absolutely no relief from the horror. Slightly jars with the endless sounds of Mariah, Ninjago and Junk Art in the background over the festive season.

Some numbers

Just over 17,000 pages total. Male/female author ratio was ~2:1. Roughly one in four books were translated into English. Just over 2:1 ratio of fiction:non. 5 Booker winners, 9 of the 2016 Booker long list. All but 13 books were written in the past 3 years, and only 2 before I was born. The exact opposite of my musical taste. Unsurprisingly the ISBNs broadly obeyed Benford’s law apart from 9.

The fiction ratio is the biggest shift. I’ve been reading almost all non fiction – so tackling a few stories has been fun.

Obviously a bunch of the best of the year aren’t in the photo – because I passed them on at some point. I don’t think I’ll pick a top three or anything you can find the full list on goodreads with handy amazon links etc… and all the books posts from the year.

Not sure if I’ll make the 52 in 2017. I might try making a better goodreads instead.

Lego everything

Lego is obviously the best toy.

Star Wars, Marvel, City, Technic, Ninjago, Nexo… even some Friends puppies with bows on their heads all mash into one ever shifting universe of battles and suspension bridges.


Lego even follows us outside when we’re doing worldly world skills stuff – like fire building, woodwork and whittling. Whittling a chess piece is fun – whittling a massive oak Nexo shield is funner.

We started this months ago, finally finished it. Disappointingly it won’t scan in the Nexo game to give you powers. I think we messed up the proportions of the snazzy little barcode border.


And no one lost a thumb.

Books October & November

The challenge within the challenge. Trying to read 52 books in a year is proving to be a toughie. I’m not including Harry Potter or Ug, I’m not including work books, I’m not including kindle singles. Just ‘proper’ books.

No challenge is complete without interim goals though – I decided to tackle the Booker long list. Genius idea! So this is the most Bookerish update by far.

The Sellout, which won the prize, was my last book from the previous update. I loved it, I even said I hoped it would win. Aren’t I clever.

Since then:

35 The Many Wyl Menmuir
This reminded me of Magnus Mills (read this if you haven’t). Entirely matter of fact descriptions of a slightly skew-whiff world. I was surprised this didn’t make the shortlist. I liked it.

36 Eileen Ottessa Moshfegh
Thoroughly unpleasant stuff happening. One of those ‘very good, but hard to enjoy’ books.

37 His Bloody Project Graeme Macrae Burnet
This is great. Being Scottish it’s been all over the Waterstones I walk past every day for months. Puts the idyllic crofters life in a slightly different light.

38 The North Water Ian McGuire
Whale fishing. The death throws of an industry in the northern seas, demise of which was caused by a new source of energy becoming commercially advantageous, making those brave men who go to sea redundant and in need of a new life… Hmm… Also brutal. Four books on a trot making it clear that the world is a dark, dark place.

39 All That Man Is David Szalay
Not sure about this one. I like a short story. This was basically the same short story repeated a bunch of times. The stories all mash into one after a few weeks, which I’m sure is intentional, but feels like a fail, which likely makes it very clever.

40 Hot Milk Deborah Levy
I mostly read on the train. This is, I think, the book with the most ‘girly’ cover that I’ve read so far. I’m sure the jellyfish are symbolic. Of what I’m in the dark. IQ>EQ and all that.


41 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot David Shafer
As a break from the Booker list, and because the prize was announced which took the fun out of the race a little, I pulled a techno thriller out of the stack. A break from the death and doom to read a fictionalised account of how Google and the NSA ownz us. Just as Trump wins and Theresa May starts logging my visits to goodreads and amazon in case I’m a threat to society.

42 My Name Is Lucy Barton Elizabeth Strout
Back to the Booker list, and another one I thought should have been shortlisted. More weird families stuff. Lovely writing, I’d have got through 80 books by now if they all flowed so nicely. Nearly missed my stop.

43 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler
I won’t say anything about this one. If you know, you know. If you don’t you should read it. Alexei Sayle mentioned this on Book Shambles while I was reading it. Which was spooky. Don’t panic. I don’t listen to podcasts while I read.

44 Do Not Say We Have Nothing Madeleine Thien
I’m in the middle of this one at the moment. It’s the last of the Booker shortlist ones. Enjoying it so far. It’s fun when they jump around in time a bit, and I don’t know nearly enough about Chinese history.

So by the end of Do Not Say I’ll have got through all 6 of the Booker short list, and 9 of the 13 long list books for 2016. I kind of picked the winner too.

It’s nearly Mythmas and I have 8 more books to get through. The race is on.