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After a fairly quiet October, we ended up having a very busy November. In addition to everything else, my parents also came to stay with us for the first time, as Mum had some outings with her friends planned. We cooked them spinach and mushroom calzone.

Ice Skating at Somerset House

We chose Somerset House this year for going Ice Skating, and it was a really nice rink. We went on a weekday and Emily's friend Matt met us since he worked nearby and managed to get out for a break.



It was a good size rink, the music was an interesting mix of classical and Dolly Parton, and afterwards we drank a mulled wine from the bar (the smell of it, next to the rink, was an excellent hook).


Tower Bridge engineering tour

We got tickets for a tour of Tower Bridge that included some of the engineering rooms, showing off the pump equipment for the bridge opening mechanism, in addition to the Bascule Chamber, which is where the counterweights for the bridge swing down into. Fortunately the bridge wasn't raised while we were in there!

We learned that while historically the bridge would open to any passing boat that needed it, while boats still have priority over road traffic, an advance notice is now required. However, they will open for any registered vessel over a certain height, so by all means tape a flagpole to your pedalo and register it with the government....

Anyway, first we went into the viewing gallery with the glass floor.



Then we descended into the engineering room, via the old control room which had lots of train signal-box style levers on it. Then we walked down into one of the bascule chambers, which are located at the foot of each of the sunken supports for the bridge.



A small ray of light came in from bridge road level, but the rest of the room was artificially lit. The staff were pretty cool with letting people walk up the increasingly steps and generally having a poke around.

On the way out, I bought a postcard from the little shop, remembering the Hello Internet podcast's flag referendum.


A flour mill and a hill fort

We visited my parents the next weekend in Budleigh Salterton. We had a nice walk up the River Otter. We didn't see any otters but on the way back we got a great view of birds flocking into the nature reserve en masse at twilight.

A good way along the river is an old mill that is still in working condition and does demonstrations each week, selling the flour. We had a look a the millstone, and Emily bought a painting from the craft shop in the rafters



The next day we visited the Woodbury Castle hillfort, and Emily and I walked back to Budleigh after my parents had left in the car. It was a really picturesque walk with a great view of the Ex estuary.



The hillfort itself was really beautiful, overgrown with trees sporting autumn leaves, and roots covered in moss.




Christmas at Kew

A couple of years ago Emily and I visited Kew Garden's After Dark and this year they had put it on again, rebranded Christmas at Kew. While the last time was a bit better (prettier, less commercialised, and more eccentric) this year was still pretty good.

The trail started off with a walk through some large choir-singing lit-up bushes, and the path was lit up with floating stars.



There was a fire garden and glowing tree-tents, and our favourite installation was a giant cube lit up with lights hanging down in threads.



The lights changed colour to some relaxing music, and we went back just before closing time to (nearly) get it to ourselves.



We also had a mulled cider (I think) and rode on a carousel. One of the horses was called Emily, but we didn't find a Nick.


NaNoGenMo

Throughout the month I was also working on NaNoGenMo, a programming alternative to NaNoWriMo where instead of writing a 50,000 word novel, you have to write code that will generate a 50,000 word novel.

I ended up trying to implement a text-adventure-style multi-AI hunger-games-style arena which would play itself and have its characters write up interesting letters home about what they'd been up to. My full write-up is here while an example novel (the code generates something different each time) is here.

The novel didn't end up as interesting as I'd planned (I ran out of time to really add interesting events and ways of having the AIs write up their experiences with character) but I found the coding experience rather enjoyable.

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