Category Archives: Personal

What the hell was THAT?!

Those of you who’ve managed to read all seven parts of Son of my Father might well be asking yourself what the hell that was all in aid of. It started out one thing, turned briefly into something else entirely, segued into Cthulhu country, flirted with the notion of ending in a way no Lovecraft inspired story should, then went back to where Lovecraft fans (myself included) feel comfortable. Those of you who’ve never read Lovecraft, Derleth, Lumley, Campbell or any of the thousands of other works of fiction set in or around the Cthulhu Mythos will be justifiably confused. Those of you who have, might be a little put out by some of the things I’ve done in the story.

Minor Spoilers under the cut

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My God. It’s full of tentacles!

Oregon State university has put a webcam into an octopus tank!

Let me say that again, so that you grasp the full enormity of the awesomeness of which I speak.

Oregon State Universty has put a REAL LIVE FREAKING OCTOPUS ON A WEBCAM! Why are you even still here? Go and see the real live cephalopod doing cephalopodic stuff for your very own edification, entertainment and ellucidation. Oh the glorious tentacley, goodness!

OCTOPUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUS!!!!!1!!!!one!!!

News on new story, plus added childhood memory defilement courtesy of John Scalzi

First of all, I must direct your attention to this item of, well, this. Words fail me. (Link fully, 100%, safe for work and eyes of any age. Unless you live or work with fans of either Star Wars or Judy Blume, in which case you may want to show them this at some point in the future, should they ever offend you deeply enough that you wish to damage their memories irreparably.)

In other, far less disturbing, news, I’ve been working on  a new story,  which I ought to have ready to post by next week at the latest. If I don’t have a rough first draft version of it up by next Wednesday, you have my permission to come to my house and poke me repeatedly with a sharp stick (Home address will be provided on request, to people able to prove they have no access to sticks, stick sharpening apparatus or the means of transport to my home address). It’s a little bit different from my other works posted on here. Is that a good thing? Time will tell. Is the idea original? In the words of the immortal Will Smith, “Aww, hell NAW!”. Hopefully though, it’ll be as much fun to read as it was to write.

Oh yes, make sure to go over to the master of his domain (link in the sidebar), that comic really does get better and better with each passing week.

Good grief! It’s like I’ve never been away…

Hello again. Life’s been a bit all over the place of late, but things are beginning to settle down a bit. A few general updates of what I’ve been up to… Real life stuff, which I’m not going to post about publicly because, well frankly anyone could read this.

I’ve also done a couple of online things, namely over at a web forum called DreamWorlds, I’ve posted a new story. A quasi-mythological “fable” with a pre-Celtic feel to it. That distant grinding sound you hear, is Robert Holdstock slowly turning in his grave. Go to DreamWorld via this link: http://www.dream-worlds.net/forum/default.asp sign up, because the story is in a members only area, then read it here: http://www.dream-worlds.net/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=580 and tell me how much I’ve trampled on Mr Holdstock’s tradition of story telling. Then go back, look around and join in, because they really are a lovely bunch of people. In time, I may run it here as well, but for now I’m going to leave it over at DreamWorlds because it’s a lovely community and they deserve as many new sign ups as possible.

In other news, I’ve begun a football blog, which can be found here: http://worldcupwaffling.wordpress.com/ If you’re interested in the beautiful game, then head on over, read my ruminations, then disagree vociferously in the comments.

Remember folks, sign up to DreamWorlds. They need the input of creative people and I know that everyone who reads this is a creative type as well.

Ten money saving tips for people who are already poor to start with.

First of all, apologies for the prolonged absence. Long, boring, story made short? Connection issues. Sorted now. Good to be back.

Anyway… I’m skint. Chances are, so are you. It’s a recession, and while the economics spods may tell you it’s over because that nebulous and barely understood thing called The Economy grew by a quarter of a percentage point, times are going to be pretty tight for those of us not suckling from the teat of the banking industry for some time yet. With that in mind I’m compiling a list of real world money-saving tips for those on the kind of budgets where switching energy suppliers isn’t really a practical option. The kind of people who can’t do that because the pre-payment scheme you’re on is always slightly in arrears and you won’t be able to pay the £50 or £60 shortfall from the last bill when the switch takes place. We’re a surprisingly large demographic, we’re just not that vocal because admitting to being poor, not cutting back on M&S ready prepared crab on the half shell poor, but actual honest to goodness poor, is something of a social stigma these days. I’m posting about not wasting money, so I’d best stop doing the same with words. Here’s the list.

1. Stop buying fancy toilet paper. I can’t emphasise this one enough. Without being too specific, we all know what it’s being used for. Why is that everyday necessity worth £2.38 per pack of four? Is your bottom really so sensitive and easily offended that it needs pampering with herb infused paper? Chances are, the answer is no. Own brand stuff is more than good enough for purpose. Your arse isn’t starring in a L’Oreal commercial, so therefore isn’t worth it.

2. Baked beans really are all the same. Shush! Yes they are. I know it and deep down, you know it too. Beanz does not meanz Heinz. It means cheap filler so you can put a bit less of that costly meat product onto the plate. Own brand alternatives are often literally half the price of the leading brands. Would you pay £600 pounds for something that’s identical to an item costing only £300? Then why do it with something costing £0.60 over something costing £0.30? Small savings mount up quickly, especially on items that get purchased a couple of times a week.

3. A biscuit is a biscuit. Accept the fact that a branded custard cream costing £1.10 a pack, tastes much the same as a saver branded custard cream costing £0.45-55 a pack, depending on where you shop. What’s more, putting all your biscuits into a barrel will prevent choosy friends or judgemental in-laws from turning their nose up at the sight of the unattractive packaging. Without the packaging to tell people which one is the fancier, a branded Bourbon biscuit tastes no different from a cheap one.

4. The television is not your friend. I know, it comforts you in times of stress. It gives you the latest instalments of your favourite shows. What it doesn’t do is tell you anything useful about living your life. Adverts are shiny things, intended to trick the weak willed into buying things they can’t afford and telly chefs have no concept of a low income life. Feeding a family of four for a fiver is not economically sound when your entire weekly shopping budget is £20. The next time a telly chef tries to make you feel like a bad parent for feeding your child a Turkey Twizzler, hunt them down and poke them with a sharp stick. Really hard. In their posh, mockney genitals. If you’re genuinely worried about the damage a chicken nugget is doing to your 5 year old’s arteries, then 1. Get a grip. They’re 5 years old! Children of that age are not in a high risk group for cholesterol problems, and 2. Put them in the garden with a football, a bit of running around will soon burn off those calories.

5. Get re-acquainted with your DVD collection. Yes, I’m aware of the fact that the big supermarket chains are selling the latest blockbuster for £8.99. I want a copy of it too. But you know what? You’ve got some really excellent films on that shelf already and you haven’t watched some of them in years. Don’t pretend you haven’t already got good films, you wouldn’t have bought them if they weren’t good films, would you? You know your taste is impeccable, since you only buy the good stuff that you enjoy. Enjoy it again. English Literature snobs will tell you that you need to read the classics three times to absorb all of their meaning and nuances. Exactly the same thing applies to Breakdance 2:  Electric Boogaloo.

6. Learn to cook properly. I’m not kidding. Not that fancy gubbins you’ll see on telly with chicken breast fillets wrapped in prosciutto, that’s no use to people in our situation, is it? I’m on about real cooking, not showing off for dinner party guests. Soups, stews, casseroles. You know, the kind of thing that gets prepared for not much money and, most importantly, lasts for more than one sitting. Everyone likes to brag about how Bohemian they are, by eating last night’s take-away leftovers for breakfast. Stop buying take-aways and cook something that lasts for several days, in large enough bulk to spread over several days. Which leads into…

7. Frozen meats and vegetables are OK. No really, they are. Put aside your silly notions and snobbery. It really is OK to use them, especially in soups, stews and casseroles. You already knew you could save a bundle by buying frozen chicken portions for about £3 for a bag containing 10 of the things, rather than the fresh ones for £2.50 for four. I’m just letting you know it’s OK to do it. When meat is cooked slowly, even the cheapest cuts are delicious.

8. Bland cereals should not cost as much as ones with honey or sugar on them. Accept that fact, deal with it and move on. If you’re paying more than two quid for individually bagged portions of porridge in batches of ten, rather than 80 pence or so for a 2.5kg bag of porridge oats that will provide your breakfast everyday for a month, you may be beyond help. The same thing applies to the eaters of muesli and corn flakes. There’s no good reason for paying a lot of money for those items.

9. Learn to shop properly. What’s that you say? You already know how to shop? It’s just a case of putting things into a basket or trolley and handing over money? HA! That kind of thinking is what put you in a situation to be reading this list and me in a situation where I need to remind myself of it by writing it all down. Certain shops sell things at massive discounts. Those discount shops where everything miraculously costs a pound often have stock of decent quality teabags, coffee or toilet rolls for a pound. That’s right, a pound. Instead of buying everything from one place because it’s convenient to do so, shop around a bit. If like me, you’re needing to implement the advice on this list, then convenience is a luxury, not a necessity. Shopping around for bargains is a good habit to form and one which will end up saving you a lot of money over time.

10. Stop buying crap you don’t need. I’m not saying don’t buy anything that isn’t essential to your everyday survival. A life without pleasure is a life barely worth living. I mean stop buying the stuff that isn’t essential to a basic but acceptable standard of living. Most people like cake, but why does it have to be the brand named lemon slices? Buy an own brand sponge cake instead. Do you honestly need that football, T.V. listings or gossip magazine? You obviously have web access, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Go to a sports or showbiz gossip site instead. Lord knows, there are plenty of them. Think before you spend, is what I’m saying. You’d be amazed how much stuff you can cut out of your weekly spend without really missing it.

Implementing the tips above can save you at least a tenner a week, easily. There are those who think that saving a tenner is neither here nor there, but that’s not the audience I’m aiming this article at. I’m aiming at the people for whom a tenner is the difference between sink and swim. There’s more of us than you think and if you aren’t one of us, you probably know someone who is, but is embarrassed to admit it publicly.

Fun with Google: Further adventures in WTF?!

Earlier today, I had some problems getting AVI video files to run on my PS3. Being the rabid hater of customer service helplines that I am, I immediately turned to Google to help with my problem. The search term I was inputting was “why won’t my PS3 play AVI files”, find below what Google in its infinite wisdom thought I might be looking for answers about…

(Click to magnify)

And if I did, that would be the least of my worries!

I don't even HAVE a parakeet...

I can’t even make any sarcastic remarks about it, my mind is still boggling too hard.

Handwavium

So, in order to distract myself from the fact that my wife is in the hospital right now, I’ve been thinking really hard about whether or not I’ve got it in me to write a science fiction story. An old fashioned space opera kind of a thing. The thing is, once you get beyond basic Newton, Browning and Kelvin, as taught in high school, my brain struggles to comprehend anything not presented in a very basic and easy to swallow “Lie to Children”, such as those people like Michio Kaku or anyone who gives a lecture at TED put out there. Not the actual truth, but a close enough lie that laypeople can pretend they understand it. With that in mind, I’ve been asking myself the question “How much is it possible to hand wave in a sci-fi, space opera style of story?” I even invented a molecule of strange matter against future plot convenient technologies , named in the title of this post.

Taking into account the Fermi Paradox it is more than reasonable to ignore the possibility of alien races, and even alien biological systems in general by taking the idea of terra-forming to its full conclusion; the problem comes when trying to hand wave the technology. While it is a plausible solution to ignore the problem altogether it won’t make for a very satisfactory story to even a mildly experienced
reader of science fiction. The problem isn’t that the character doesn’t know how things work, it’s that I don’t know how they work.

Sometimes I think to myself that in a story set in the contemporary world, I don’t have to explain how a microwave oven works to allow the protagonist to have an instant pizza. Then I realize that this is because I know what a microwave oven is and how it works- sort of. (electro-wave thingies jiggle the food molecules and they get angry about it, hence the heat. Sometimes groups of Zen Buddhist molecules group together and reject their brethren’s anger, leaving cold spots. See, easy.) I can also assume that any potential readers of my potential work have a rough grasp of what a microwave oven is and does, hence the brilliant and incisive technical data above isn’t necessary to the story.

I can probably trick a relatively lazy reader, such as myself, with a phrase along the lines of “The I.S.S. Cauto Star was powered by a mark VII sub-light Orion drive*, fitted with series nine inertial dampeners and equipped with fully functional Grav simulators throughout the inner hull.” The problems come from more technically minded readers, who would take in the above passage and immediately wonder how all that fancy-schmantzy gear actually works (theoretically) and promptly fire off e-mails asking me how it works, the only possible answer to which would be “Buggered if I know, have you tried reading Asimov instead? That bloke knows his techno shit!” and a reader is lost to me forever, just because they guessed, correctly, that I am an idiot.

Does this mean that techno dummies of a faintly scientific bent like I am should keep off the sci-fi grass, so to speak? I certainly hope not, since the fringes of a space faring society are a truly exciting place to set a work a work of fiction after all. Does the average science fiction reader worry overly much about the technical aspects of any given story that they might read, so long as the fictional technology is employed consistently throughout the story and follows the implied rules of the fictional universe? I know that I don’t, but then I don’t know that I constitute a reasonable model of an average sci-fi reader. Unless your survey is very small, with very hazy questions. (Survey all of the people in my front room called Daniel, then ask them if they think too hard about the tech stuff mentioned in any sci-fi they might read.)

* By the way Wikipedia carries a pretty good article about the theory behind the Orion Drive, or Nuclear Pulse Propulsion.  Look it up. As for inertial dampeners and Gravity simulators? Buggered if I know, have you tried reading Asimov instead? That bloke knows his techno shit!

A Day at the Hospital, or Why the N.H.S. is Still Awesome

First of all, let me say this. Hospitals suck. This isn’t the fault of the frontline medical staff, who are as friendly and helpful as it’s possible to be when you’re working as hard as they are; nor is it the fault of the support staff, who let’s face it, the public rarely see, let alone deal with. Nor is the fault of the administrative staff, who simply do their job as best they can while the tabloids go out of their way to insinuate that the grand institution of the N.H.S is somehow crumbling into ruin and the admins and managers are to blame for all of it. No it is, in fact, the fault of the body of you or a loved one, for doing something weird, and most likely painful, which means you have to visit a strange place filled with people you don’t know while you or someone you care about is in agony. This tends to colour your perception somewhat.

Yesterday I was in Wansbeck General Hospital pretty much all day, while my wife was being poked, prodded, scanned, looked at, mulled over and generally investigated by nurses, doctors, more nurses, other doctors, scanning machine technicians, still other doctors and various other people whose job it is to figure out why your body is broken and how best to fix it. My wife was in agony with a chest pain and having had heart difficulties in the past, as well as a leaking heart valve in the present, this was considered something rather worrisome.

During the prolonged time we were in Accident and Emergency and then the Medical Admissions Unit I had the opportunity to watch at close hand how the staff of the N.H.S. go about their everyday business of saving lives, fixing broken bodies and generally being far more awesome than a lazy word-botherer like myself could ever hope to be. Let me say this to you (whoever you are), the press (as if they would ever notice this very quiet part of the Tubez), the Tory Party who insist the N.H.S. is a white elephant and thoroughly outdated and broken (like they would care, anyhow) and indeed anyone else who happens to drop by. The N.H.S. and the people who work for it are AMAZING.

I watched as – quietly and without fuss – people were  sorted according to severity of injury and condition, brought in and treated, made as comfortable as possible under very trying circumstances, moved from one department to another with speed and efficiency, examined by competent and thorough doctors who leave no stone unturned or base uncovered in their determination to get to the bottom of anything mysterious, while being skilled and speedy in their treatment of the obvious injuries and illnesses. I saw nurses and healthcare assistants who were skilled, efficient, courteous and good-humoured despite being absolutely swamped by people needing treatment and care. I saw multiple cleaners and support staff making sure the hospital was as clean and as free of infection sources as such a large public building can be. My wife, who was the reason we were there at all, was given excellent care and always treat with the kindness and understanding a person who’s frightened and in great pain should be afforded. Meanwhile I, as worried relative , despite being little more than a bystander and quite probably a nuisance, was always treated with good-natured compassion and never made to feel like the pain in the backside I no doubt was.

Tracey is still in hospital. The reason for this is that the doctor’s aren’t 100% convinced she’s well enough to come home. Think about that for a second. They’re pretty sure she’s not going to explode into a human fireball if she comes home, yet despite heavy pressure from parliamentary guidelines, budgetary constraints and the general impression of ineptitude, inadequacy and bad management that the N.H.S. is becoming synonymous with in certain quarters, their first and only concern is that my wife doesn’t leave their care until they are absolutely certain that coming home is the best course of action.

All of the above is why the National Health Service remains one of modern Britain’s crowning achievements, why the much maligned (at local level, anyway) Wansbeck General Hospital rocks and why I’m able to spend the time it takes to write this, rather than chewing my nails down to stumps with worry about the woman I love. Because I sit here at home, still worried, but comforted by the fact that my wife is receiving the best possible care.

Dear N.H.S. and staff of Wansbeck General Hospital, you guys are AWESOME!

Thank you.

That faint sound you hear, is 10,000 geeks falling into pleasure induced seizures.

This vaguely NSFW video <<Click here to view>>, shows performance art troupe Devil’s Playground doing some Star Wars themed burlesque routines. With Adam Ant’s Stand and Deliver as a backing track. At 1:03 minutes into the video, your childhood will be irrevocably tainted and you will love it.

An important message for the people who make Evian commercials.

Dear whoever it is who makes this* commercial for Evian mineral water,

I speak to you on behalf of hordes of people across the U.K. and any other territories your current commercial airs in. With one voice, we all say to you… STOP IT!

It’s creepy, unnatural and has no place in a civilised society. Babies should be sitting in high chairs, giggling adorably and looking vaguely reminiscent of British Bulldogs (I mean that in a good way). What they certainly should not be doing, is rollerblading, dancing, doing Ethel Merman numbers in fountains or any of the other unnatural and freakish abominations you’ve churned out in order to make us associate your product with horrifying demon babies intent on stealing our souls and handing them over as tribute to their demon overlords. It only makes us want to drink Volvic mineral water, and I’m sure that’s not your preferred outcome.

When I see a baby on the street, my natural reaction should be one of “Isn’t he/she/it adorable?”, combined with an utter certitude that I absolutely do not want one of my own. NOT a Pavlovian response of terror and a feeling of complete certainty that said baby is just waiting for me to let my guard down so it can get on with reenacting Children of the Corn.

That is all.

* Ordinarily, I would embed a youtube video in order that all of my readers (both of them) know what I’m talking about. On this occasion I wish to avoid looking on that hideous advert each time I load my homepage.