Friday, March 28, 2008

Yesh, mashter?

Decades of under-investment in the medical sciences mean that a brain surgeon in the Ukraine sometimes operates on his patients with a Bosch drill bought in the local market ...

And that is the new, improved, invested-in Ukrainian health service.

Full story at:

Secondhand medical equipment is also provided by UK surgeon Henry Marsh, who personally lugs it over from St George's Hospital, Tooting. Apparently they are still using a drill bit that he delivered ten years ago. In the UK it would have been used once and discarded.

And it seems to work. The site contains a couple of work-in-progress videos on a conscious patient who says it’s like having the workmen in – a lot of banging and scratching upstairs.

It's a little unnerving that the Ukrainian surgeon wielding the drill is called ... Igor.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Strung out in Heaven's high

I only watched Ashes to Ashes out of a sense of duty, really. It had some nice moments but came across as just too conveniently contrived: Gene moved to London, maybe, but Chris + Ray too? And, oh! Look! An 80s icon being unexpectedly encountered. Time after time.

But what an ending! Hilariously funny in places. A twist I really didn't see coming. And Gene, having been crucified by Lord Scarman, still manages to justify his entire existence with a snappy little sentence and the closing song* could not have been more appropriate as Alex realises she isn't just going to snap back to the future.

Still don't know if I'll watch the second series, though.

[* "Take the long way home" by Supertramp, of course.]

How to not pay the BBC any royalties

It's a police box. Be honest - what's the first thing that comes to mind?

But now let's step back a little ...

It's about an inch high and is part of a much larger tableau of Hornby products depicting a railstop in the idyllic 1930s English countryside. To be found on the Hobbies floor of Hamleys, Regent St. Right under the noses of the BBC rights lawyers. Even allowing for the fact that the Met didn't typically plonk their police boxes on top of railway points - Messrs Hornby, I salute you.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Windy walking

We thought we would walk off the Easter calories and combine it with a will we/won't we/still-not-quite-sure rehearsal for the Sarsen Walk. Start at the parking spot on the road to West Ilsley, walk along the Ridgeway parallel to the Rutherford for about a mile, turn left and head down into the valley, round the edge of West Ilsley, across the road and up again, returning to the parking spot from the other direction. Time taken, 1.5 hours; distance covered, approx. 5 miles; weather ... variable.

By which I mean sunshine, hail, snow, rain and a fairly constant, very strong wind. The first mile of the walk was directly into it - freezing, face numbing, eye watering, nose streaming. But then came that turn and suddenly, ah bliss! The wind was behind us.

I remembered that Celtic blessing - may the road rise up to greet you, may the wind be always at your back. On the Ridgeway more often than not the road falls away in front of you, but, "may the wind be always at your back"? That's one of the nicest things you can say to anyone.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mallard basics

These two individuals seems to have taken up occasional residence in our garden. We've no idea why. The nearest body of water is the Ock, the other side of a main road, a block of flats and a carpark. We thought maybe they had got lost or confused by our high wall and trees, until we saw that when they feel like it they can take off almost vertically. So we can only assume they want a break from the river and are trying out this dry land concept. The other day they climbed up our steps just so that they could do a poo on the top one, then waddled back down to the garden with a sense of a job well done. Duck fact #1: they would make lousy Jehovah's Witnesses.

When we got back this morning they were standing in the middle of the driveway, wack-wacking (ducks don't actually go quack, have you noticed?) quietly to each other like a pair of tourists. They also displayed all the sensitivity that you associate with tourists by totally refusing to take the hint as the car bore down on them. A pigeon or a crow would have been long out of there but these two just moved slowly down the drive. Eventually Best Beloved got out and shooed them ahead, but even then they just waddled a bit more quickly and the wack-wacking got louder. Finally they very reluctantly stood aside and let me pass, but you could see they were thinking "honestly, what is the big metal thing's problem? We were here first."

Duck fact #2 : they have no traffic sense.

When I got out of the car the male duck may have finally twigged there were large mammals around and did the vertical take-off thing, leaving lady duck to fend for herself. Duck fact #3: ducks are no gentlemen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

So very busted

There are times ...

Like, the time earlier this year when the Boy was (for some reason) browsing Amazon on my computer rather than his for games. And I was hoping and praying he wouldn't look at the "recently viewed products" which was a long list of titles like Counselling Bereaved Children and Helping Teenagers with Grief.

I've just been doing some random surfing, blogs of blogs of blogs, and come across a reprehensible little gem on Amazon called Affair! How to Have your Cake and Eat It, which seems to be a self-help guide to conducting a successful extramarital affair.

Excuse me, I am now off to explain to my lovely wife how that came to be in "recently viewed".

Without any fuss, a star goes out

So farewell then, Arthur C. Clarke. The BBC has an obituary here. Personally I think Patrick Nielsen Hayden says it best on Making Light:
"Like Heinlein, and unlike Asimov, in Clarke a practical science-and-engineering outlook coexisted with a mystical streak a mile wide. Indeed, much of his work establishes the basic template for one of modern science fiction’s most evergreen effects: the numinous explosion of mystical awe that’s carefully built up to, step by rational step. So much of Clarke’s best work is about that moment when the universe reveals its true vastness to human observers. And unlike many other writers who’ve wrestled with that wrenching frame shift, for Clarke it was rarely terrifying, rarely an engine of alienation and despair. He was all about the transformational reframe, the cosmic perspective, that step off into the great shining dark. He believed it would improve us. He rejoiced to live in a gigantic universe of unencompassable scale, and he thought the rest of us should rejoice, too."
Preach it, brother. I will also add that Clarke's characters tended to be either British (for the same reasons as Heinlein's tended to be American) or - best of all - international.

I find it hard to be upset at his passing: The Songs of Distant Earth (1986) was about the last book worth reading. But his body of work from before then deserves to be immortalised.

Every report I heard on the radio banged on about Clarke being best remembered for 2001, which seems grossly unfair. 2001, or something like it, would have been made with or without him. Likewise communications satellites were an idea waiting to happen. But Clarke saw the great technological and scientific vistas that were opening up after WW2 and, even if he didn't always get it right in the details, the themes he communicated prepared us to receive the future.

Ancient of Gays

The BBC news site has two tabs at the bottom, for stories most read and most emailed. I often start my browsing there. But I do wonder how many times something has to be emailed to qualify as "most". I'm guessing not many, because every now and then something extremely old floats up from the bottom of the archives, which obviously someone has discovered and shared with their friends. The man who had to marry a goat (February 2006) is an old favourite in this category.

Or there's this one today, which I've not seen before, from October 2003. "What does the Bible actually say about being gay?"

As superficial overviews go, it's as good as you're going to get. In fact it's quite informative. The pro-gay argument about David and Jonathan - which I've heard before - always makes me angry; I mean, jeez, can't two guys just be friends??

(I once heard a talk from China Mieville in which he compared socialists to Canadians: both feel themselves part of a minority; both will eagerly jump on anything that remotely shows their kind in a good light and claim it as their own. To this category I will also add Christians and gays, and the above argument is just one such example.)

But the rest gives pause for thought. My biggest problem with this kind of thing is that it gets all technical and lawyerly, with people bending over backwards (rather than forwards) to put in contortedly subtle shades of meaning. It's a bit like talking to a Creationist. But gay theology wasn't worked out by theoreticians or as a deliberate plot to undermine the Kingdom of Heaven. It comes from people who are faithfully Christian, and homosexual, and have to work it out for themselves.

I have never been a fan of telling people with practical experience of a subject that, based on my theoretical understanding, they must be wrong. As a Christian ex-public school science fiction fan from a military background, that's four key areas of my life where even people who talk good sense in the other three can get it totally and utterly WRONG.

I will make no definitive statements either way. I will say that I once, somewhat to my surprise, found myself at the blessing service for two women that I knew from university. This was about 10 years before civil unions became possible. It was a wonderful, moving celebration and the rafters were lifted with worshipful choruses singing praise to Jesus Christ. One of the women, through the ministrations of the other, had recently become a Christian by now too. Was it the devil's work? If it was then surely convening a church service full of worship of Jesus was a bit of an own goal. The subject is just way too complicated for either side to get right in a straightforward black and white manner.

Now if you'll excuse me, I just saw a coat made of mixed fibres that I rather fancy buying.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

From meme to you

Okay, the world is so sated with Ben-knowledge that the great meme call so far only gets one response. From Anna:
"I'd like to hear about your life."
Hokay. Draw breath: born Northern Ireland, army family, school in Dorset, lived in (I think) 22 houses by age 26 and 1 thereafter, Warwick University Philosophy & Politics 2.2, celebrated 20 years of publishing-related activities last November consisting of 4 years social science publishing in London and thereafter in or about Oxford: 6 years IT journals, 2 years medical, 4 years overlapping self-employed science fiction books / law journals, 4 years technical writing and editing.

That's the basic framework. Anything else, you'll have to be more specific ... or possibly see here.

"You write a lot about writing, or posting links to stuff you've found, and that's all great, but I still don't feel I know you very well. Tell me what's been on your mind today."
Well, today (i.e. yesterday) was quite a normal day, spiced up by the imminence of an annual conference we hold for which various documents are required and which therefore must be approved by all relevant parties by close of business Thursday. The fact that some of these documents do not yet exist is what really adds spice to the proceedings. My job is mostly editing with a little bit of design; I have a colleague whose job is mostly design with a little bit of editing. Together we knock these things into shape. Apparently.

Then a relaxing evening of booking a car for our forthcoming Swedish trip (on you can browse the models available, or on you can specify that you'd like to add an extra driver to the booking, but you can't do both on both sites), freelancing, watching a fairly dull episode yet key episode of Battlestar Galactica + The IT Crowd, and so to bed.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Meme me

Okay, I'm feeling brave and uncreative - fatal combination. This challenge has been popping up on various blogs so it's my turn to contribute to the meme plague.
“Everyone has things they blog about. Everyone has things they don't blog about. Challenge me out of my comfort zone by telling me something I don't blog about, but you'd like to hear about, and I'll write a post about it. Repost in your own journal if you are so inclined.”
One version I've seen adds: “Ask for anything: latest movie watched, last book read, political leanings, favo(u)rite type of underwear, graphic techniques, etc.”

Anyway, you get the idea. I will only add: “within reason.”

Go. If you must.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Get back on board

My first venture into self-publishing one of my out-of-print titles with resulted in a grand total of four sales and the book's unexpected re-issuing by my present publisher. So let's see what happens this time. Yes, His Majesty's Starship, my debut, is now available again.

Here's how it originally looked. See what I did with the new cover?

I'm quite pleased with the combination of navy rings, stars and Photoshop ripple effect to knock up the insignia of my future space navy. Less pleased with the typeface, but I couldn't really find one (or a colour) on the system that worked on the background. The title on the original cover was defined more by the absence of lettering but that couldn't be done here. I should probably have just created my own cover file from scratch and uploaded that. Hmm, project ...

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Saddest game in the world ever ever ever

So, who remembers Owzthat?

For the uninitiated, it's cricket made interesting and manageable. You get two hexagonal dice, one for the batsman and one for the bowler. The batsman's has the scores 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and "owzthat". The batsman rolls this and notches up his scores until "owzthat" comes up, whereupon the bowler rolls his to establish whether or not the batsman is out, and if so, how. It can be scored on a proper cricket scorecard.

I had fond memories of this until a lunchtime conversation today ruined it forever.

"So," said a Kiwi colleague, frowning to understand, "it's role playing ... for cricket?"

Oh. My. Gawd.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Not to be confused with the Sarah Jane Adventures

Saw the first episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Virgin 1 over the weekend, and have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. As far as I can tell it carries on from the second Terminator film and quietly pretends the third didn’t happen, which is probably best for all concerned. Well, it worked for Highlander. Also, like the second film, it quietly pretends Reese never said that line in the first about the time machine being destroyed after he came through so there won’t be any more time travellers, ever.

At about the 25 minute mark a fly on the wall in our living room would have heard the following:

TV: bang, boom, smash, screech of tyres
Ben (live): "Come with me if you want to live."
Good Terminator (on screen): "Come with me if you want to live."
Ben: "Yes!"
Boy: [sigh]

Reasons to enjoy The Sarah Connor Chronicles:
  • Logically develops the plot of T2
  • Explosions
  • A really quite intelligent use of time travel
  • Summer Glau as a good Terminator
  • Summer Glau beating up bad guys (which fans may remember from Firefly / Serenity she does quite well)
  • Summer Glau (briefly and tastefully) with no clothes on (ditto)
Pause for thought: the first Terminator movie came out in 1984. The lad playing John Connor is, by my reckoning, the fourth to hold the role, if you count the non-speaking adult John seen briefly in T2 – and the first to be younger than the series.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

If she senses your fear, she goes for your throat

Took me a while to work out why this site is so creepy.

Finally I decided it's because her eyes are a little blood shot. It gives the final, juddering edge of ooh-ooh-ooh to her smile.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Something in the air

Family lore says that Pilot Officer Sidney Jeapes was killed in action over Germany on 25 April 1944, though I'm not sure precisely where. He wasn't in my direct line of ancestors - no more than a very distant cousin. And curiously enough, on the same night the Boy's great-uncle was killed when his Lancaster was shot down over Munich.

So Best Beloved was moved to do some web searching and see exactly what else was going on over Germany on that date ...

And, wow. From the Bomber Command history page, we learn that on 25 April 1944 Germany was attacked by ...
  • Karlsruhe: 369 Lancasters, 259 Halifaxes, 9 Mosquitos. 11 Lancasters and 8 Halifaxes lost.
  • Munich: 244 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos. 9 Lancasters lost.
  • 165 aircraft carried out a diversionary sweep over the North Sea to a point 75 miles off the German coast. 2 Wellingtons lost.
  • 23 Mosquitos bombed Düsseldorf.
  • 6 Lancasters dropped flares and target indicators over Milan as a diversion for the Munich raid
  • 4 Stirlings to Chambly railway depot, 18 Halifaxes minelaying off Channel ports and in the Frisians, 7 aircraft on Resistance operations. No aircraft lost.
  • Total effort for the night: 1,160 sorties, 30 aircraft lost.
And that, boys and girls, was a typical night out in 1944.