Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yay! Got him!

And the most successful Dalek in the history of Dalekkind gets to enjoy its triumph for about one second before being dispatched by Captain Jack's massive weapon. That's life.

I was expecting this post to be a rant about the over-reliance on Davros as a villain. Then, having seen yesterday's episode, I thought maybe I should hold fire until I've seen part 2 next week. But what the hell, here's something to fill the embarrassing silence.

Davros, evil creator of the Daleks, was a scientific genius of the Kaled race on the planet Skaro. The Kaleds were pretty well human, give or take, which was fortunate as it meant they could be played by human actors. Their level of technology, I suppose, was what we could call mid to late 21st century, though exact comparisons are difficult as they had been at war for thousands of years with the Thals, whose capital lay a short walking distance away the other side of a quarry. You can see how a war could get drawn out under such conditions.

Long story short - Davros was a technologically slightly superior amalgam of Wernher von Braun and Josef Mengele. He was a good one-off villain for a one-off adventure, at the end of which his creations (naturally) turned on him.

And so it made absolutely no sense that he should be resurrected centuries later by a science vastly beyond his understanding, and rise to become the kind of evil genius who can move planets into time/space anomalies thousands of lightyears distant. Why, it's like expecting Penelope Wilton to show a sudden unsuspected aptitude for subwave communications. And yet, every Dalek adventure after 1975's "Genesis of the Daleks" was ultimately a Davros adventure and the Daleks got more and more wimpy and laughable as a result. Three years ago the Daleks were resurrected in the inscrutably titled "Dalek" adventure, and I cheered, because finally the evil pepperpots were back in their own strength and not a sign of bloody Davros.

I wasn't pleased when it became clear he was returning ...

But let's leave that to one side. There's the usual running around and much too much shouting that we get in the end-of-season RTD crowd pleasers, but also enough going on to impress me. For goodness sake, we've had Bernard Cribbins - Bernard Cribbins! - showing that he actually is an actor. Okay, I presume he trained as one many years ago with the full range of drama, as actors do, but his career since then has hardly tested his ability to tug at the heartstrings. Possibly apart from Albert in The Railway Children upsetting the kids by thinking they were offering him charity. And as for that last shot ...

Hmm, yes, that last shot. Speculation will be rife over the next seven days. I'll only say that there's no law (as far as we know) that they have to end up different? Is there?

Anticipation? Dread!

Be it known to one and all that Anticipation, the 2009 world science convention to be held in Montreal, starts the day after what will be my grandmother's 100th birthday.

I am already feeling very conflicted.

Occasional recipes: chocolate mousse

From The Cook's Recipe Collection, ISBN 1-85833-441-1. Serves 6.
  • 175g dark chocolate
  • 75ml/5 tbsps water
  • 15g butter
  • 2 tbsps rum [we used brandy, which works just as well. Might need a bit more than 2 tbsps because we couldn't really taste it.]
  • 3 eggs, separated
  1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and combine with the water in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Remove when it's all melted to form a thick cream.
  2. Beat the butter into the warm chocolate. Add the rum/brandy. Beat in the yolks one at a time.
  3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour into small pots/ramekins/wine glasses/whatever [wine glasses in our case]
  4. Chill overnight. Finish with whatever kind of decoration you like - in our case, a glace cherry and grated chocolate.
So, apart from the "chill overnight" bit, a very quick and easy recipe, easily adaptable to experimentation. For instance, it would probably work just as well with white chocolate. Or - now here's a thought - dark and white chocolate, layered. Use any kind of liqueur takes your fancy. The recipe also suggested using strong coffee instead of water - possibly a step too far - or flavouring the mixture with orange rind. All in all and generally speaking - yum.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Signs and blunders

This place used to house the Oxford Courier, which went bust last year. Strangely, letting Bonusbarn's school know this fact before his work experience fortnight last summer was not high on their priorities. However, he was due to work there in the second week, so some other kid found out the hard way. Since then it has lain vacant, until recently ...

It is now to be occupied from this September by the Unicorn School. The safety fence went up a couple of weeks ago; a few days ago an adventure playground was installed in the front garden.

It's cruel beyond measure, but I'll do it anyway, to point out that the Unicorn School is for dyslexic children.

When grandstanding goes wrong

I admit it - back when the Conservatives were electing a new leader, I was hoping David Davis would get the job. He's older than me - I still can't really take seriously a politician who isn't - and less, well, rah-rah-rah than the bloke who got the job. Not that I especially wanted either of them as Prime Minister, I should add - I just wanted a decent Opposition party headed by a decent leader. There's a parallel world where William Hague stuck to his guns after the 2001 election and it's a lot nicer than this one.

Now I'm not so sure. Mr Davis, of course, recently resigned so as to force a by-election to be fought on the issue of Gordon's continued erosion of our liberties. A fine stance to take - but the sad fact is the Commons voted for it and that's where to fight it. Parliamentary democracy isn't perfect; you take the good with the bad, the smooth with the rough, and if everyone started resigning just because a vote (albeit a very important vote) has gone against them, the system would break down. It comes across a little - just a little - as a hissy fit. I'm very glad that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is not led by a man who throws hissy fits.

But there is a light side, as shown in a story in today's Times. Mr Davis seems to be the only one taking his election seriously. He wants a debate but no one worth debating with is standing against him: no Labour, no Lib Dems, not even the BNP or UKIP. The best he can do is lock intellectual horns with the Miss Great Britain Party. Candidate: Gemma Garrett, a.k.a. Miss Great Britain. Manifesto: compulsory health and beauty education.

The Times reminds us: "Mr Davis lies in the bed he made." I smile.

Which brings me onto this week's Henley by-election. No surprise, in the seat that gave us first Heseltine and then Boris, the Conservative guy won. The Labour guy lost. In fact the Labour guy came behind the BNP but ahead of UKIP. I stop smiling.

Henley is one of the most English places in England and the BNP and UKIP are both vehemently patriotic. Yet if the voters of Henley just wanted vehement patriotism then it would have been a split vote. We can only conclude the voters were swayed by the BNP's distinguishing feature, which is rabid xenophobia. For all Labour's faults, a protest vote that puts them behind the BNP is ... worrying.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Occasional recipes: pork with creamed leeks

Not done one of these for a while. This one is by James Martin from Ready Steady Cook. His recipe serves 1 so we rounded it all up for a family of three.

For the pork:
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 450g pork [if from Tesco, then obviously ethically sourced pork that has made a living will and signed all the right consent forms]
  • salt and pepper
For the leeks:
  • 3 tsp olive oil [actually I've only just noticed he says tsp. I used tbsps and it was pretty good]
  • knob unsalted butter [if that's your thing]
  • 3 garlic cloves [we used 5]
  • some thyme [resist jokes about have you got the thyme, last of the thyme lords, etc.]
  • 150ml milk
  • 450ml double cream [we only used 300ml as that was what was in the carton. Works fine.]
  • fresh parsley, chopped [optional, i.e. couldn't find any]
  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7
  2. For the pork, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Season the pork and sear in the hot pan for 1-2 minutes on each side. Transfer to the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until cooked through.
  3. For the leeks, heat the oil and butter in a pan and sauté the garlic with the leek and thyme leaves for 3-4 minutes, to soften.
  4. Stir in the milk, cream and parsley, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for a further 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Remove the pork from the oven and allow to rest. Slice on the diagonal.
  • James Martin says: spoon the creamed leeks onto a serving plate and top with the sliced pork.
  • Ben says: Mix the creamed leeks and sliced pork together. Make a bed of couscous on each plate. Ladle out the leek/pork mixture, with broccoli on the side.
A word about couscous. This has been one of the many new experiences to which marriage has opened my eyes. It's so easy. Pour it into a saucepan, with a generous lashing of olive oil and cover with recently boiled water. Put the lid on and leave for a couple of minutes. Remove the lid and all the water has gone. Fluff it up and serve it. The olive oil adds a lovely background flavour and it wil soak up any sauce-intensive food you care to use.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Eat your heart out Gerry Anderson

I used to think a gull-wing car door would be the ultimate in cool.

No longer.

Monday, June 23, 2008

On my lunchtime walk today I met ...

... a toad.


I was definitely expecting the donkey

This comes as a surprise (or confirmation that these online quizzes don't know what they're talking about). If anyone achieves the ultimate and becomes Pooh, do let me know.

Your result for The Deep and Meaningful Winnie-The-Pooh Character Test...


"It's a little Anxious," he said to himself, "to be a Very Small Animal Entirely Surrounded by Water. Christopher Robin and Pooh could escape by Climbing Trees, and Kanga could escape by Jumping, and Rabbit could escape by Burrowing, and Owl could escape by Flying, and Eeyore could escape by -- by Making a Loud Noise Until Rescued, and here am I, surrounded by water and I can't do anything."

You scored as Piglet!

ABOUT PIGLET: Piglet is a Very Small Animal, who used to live in his own house, a nice big tree. However, after Owl's house was blown over by a storm, he "found" Piglet's house, and Piglet didn't want to tell him that the home was already lived in. So he went to live with Pooh.

WHAT THIS SAYS ABOUT YOU: You are a rather nervous person, and you tend to worry about The Worst happening. You don't really feel capable of dealing with the things that life could throw at you, and so you tend to fret about it. You are one of those people who seems to think that worrying actually accomplishes something... and your friends can't help but love you for it. Your humble manner and self-deprecating ways make your friends feel good about themselves. They want to help and protect you.

Your loving friends are always trying to encourage you to be more independent, and they are right. You need to develop a bit of self confidence and stand on your own two feet.

Take The Deep and Meaningful Winnie-The-Pooh Character Test at HelloQuizzy

Final options

Yesterday's shenanigans with Firefox made me all the more appreciative of this.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Firefox is fired

Thanks to Semicolon for alerting me to a page that explains some of the improvements in Firefox 3. Yeah, okay, improvements. I admit it.

But the fact was the font rendering of some sites was simply unacceptable. And this was the official release, for crying out loud - how bad was it for the beta testers? Anyway, I'm now back on Firefox 2 and here I shall stay until it's fixed.

All credit to Mozilla, the uninstall feature includes an option to tell them why you're uninstalling - and then it displays the reasons to date. Which, as of 21.40 on 22 June are:
  • Performance (load delays, memory usage) 15393
  • Hard to use/confusing (menus, display, etc.) 11969
  • Missing features 11189
  • Security 8358
  • Some features didn't work 13792
  • Printing 6094
  • Plugin compatibility (Flash, Adobe Acrobat, Windows Media Player, etc.) 12377
  • Some web pages wouldn't work 21951
  • Just temporary, I'm planning to install Firefox again soon 14659
  • Other 22943
So the most popular apart from "Other" appears to be "Some web pages wouldn't work". Kind of a basic requirement for most browsers, you'd have thought.

Do mine eyes deceive me?

Next week in Dr Who, are we really getting Sarah Jane and Torchwood in the same episode?


Do you think she'll swear?

Software development and the democratic mandate

Two facts of life are there that really bug me.

One is the way that over time each release of a particular type of software becomes bigger and bigger, more and more bloated. I can remember (children) when a perfectly reasonable Windows-based word processor would install off floppies - floppies! - rather than a minimum of one CD. Exactly the same Word file can weigh in at approx. 30k (if I work on it at home) or 45k (if I work on it at work), due to the different versions of Office used. And so on. Fill in your own examples.

The other is the way that the longer a government stays in power, the more it has to fiddle with what already works perfectly well. And when you have what was already a pretty fiddlesome government by nature right at the start, 11 years later its fiddling is endemic. As m'friend David recently pointed out, Labour is now driven to fiddling with its own previous fiddles, so urgent is their need to appear to be doing stuff. But they're hardly unique in this. Just cast your mind back to the last days of Thatcher.

And therein lies the problem. It's not what needs doing, it's what they think it would be nice to be doing, and what they can do, so hey, let's do it. Look busy! In the fifteen or so years that I have been a Word user, I don't think there is a single feature that I regularly use that wasn't available right from the start; whereas, I can't think of a single new feature that I use at all. No, I tell a lie. The ability to have more than one document open at once is useful. But that's all. And I cannot think of one way that New Labour has improved my life.

All this comes from having downloaded Firefox 3 yesterday. I'm sure it does everything it says on the packet - makes my computer more secure, opens web pages quicker, etc. It also has - wait for it - a "back" button that is bigger than the "forward" button! Because - wait for it - users use the "back" button more! Gee-whillickers! This is as revolutionary, and as necessary, as increasing the size of the door handles on doors that I use most often. Thanks, I really feel I can work this out. The human brain is meant to have vast areas of unused memory so I might as well apply all that processing power to something.

Click on the address bar to enter a new URL and instead of what you used to get - a list of previously entered URLs, in declining order of likelihood - you get the URLs, plus their page titles, plus some kind of star rating that I'm sure I'll work out. Thanks again. I was the one who looked at those pages, I know what they are, I don't need their titles and I certainly don't need to know what my computer thought of them.

And meanwhile, to counter all these "advantages", when Best Beloved or I try to use our work webmail accounts, the screen now displays the messages in some ghastly unicode lookalike rather than a decent typeface. I would gladly trade all the star-rated URLs for the ability to check email without my eyes watering.

Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Most of the text is right

... except possibly the last sentence. The picture is definitely wrong.

Your result for The Fashion Style Test...

Sporty Hottie

[Tasteful Conventional Random Sexy]

You don't pay an awful lot of attention to clothes. You have a few criteria which direct you when shopping: you want your clothes to be as unpretentious as possible and to make you look as good as possible. Other than that you don't spend hours on thinking about outfits. You are not very creative in your choices but because you're comfortable with your body and like to show it, people, especially the opposite sex, judge your style highly. Maybe you don't wear sportswear but you might consider it: it's simple, unostentatious and tight.

The opposite style from yours is Fashion Artist [Flamboyant Original Deliberate Prissy].

All the categories: Librarian Sporty Hottie Office Master Uptown Girl/ Boy Brainy Student Movie Star Fashionista Glamorous Soul Fashion Enemy Bar Cruiser Kid Next Door Sex Bomb Hippie Kid Fashion Rebel Fashion Artist Catwalk God(ess)

Take The Fashion Style Test at HelloQuizzy

Sunday, June 15, 2008

And about time

One of my easier rejections for Big Engine was a "comedy" that had been knocked up by the author and his mates in a pub one evening. I'm assuming. Get this! On this futuristic colony world, the computers that designed the buildings only had monochrome monitors, so all the buildings were coloured in shades of grey! The second in command of a starship was an elf!! The captain didn't believe in elves so he refused to talk to his second in command!!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha [bonk as he falls off his bar stool].

People aren't stupid. No, scratch that. People are stupid and populations more so, but not to the point of personal inconvenience and not for long. Everyone in the long run takes the route of least resistance. The colonists of this future world would have invented paint ...

I was reminded of this three years ago at the end of the first new Dr Who series, when we were expected to believe that Big Brother and The Weakest Link and What Not to Wear were alive and well in the 30th century. Further, that they had become compulsory. It ruined what was otherwise a quite exciting adventure. Russell T. Davies obviously believed he was cleverly satirising something that was already getting passé here in the present day real world. Douglas Adams got away with that kind of thing because Hitchhikers was pure satire. Dr Who isn't.

And as Dr Who went on and Davies became more and and more entrenched in his position, he continued to unleash abominations like this upon the world. After the Christmas Titanic special I thought he could get no worse, until he wrote "Partners in crime" for the start of the current series.

And so, on Saturday, my hopes were not high when I saw who wrote the episode. They got even less high as the Doctor settles in for a comfy trip and the most inept stewardess in the history of popular transit spends a minute handing him all the freebies. "May contain nuts," she finishes, handing him a bag of peanuts (which, Mr Davies are no longer served on international airlines even in the present day for precisely this reason ...). "That'll be the peanuts," the Doctor replies cheerfully. Laugh? I almost thought about it.

And then came the big surprise. Suddenly this was a bloody good episode - a reminder of how RTD got to the point of being in charge of Dr Who. He got there by writing good scripts with good characters. This was a shoestring budget episode - I suspect because they're conserving resources for a really big season finale (which also explains why Donna wasn't around much). Only one studio set and a minimum of special effects. He created a bunch of distinct characters, pointed the cameras at the actors, and made them act. That's all. And they did it brilliantly.

But here's four reasons why I'm still looking forward to when Steven Moffat takes over. One. Two. Three. Four.

Call me Bulgaria

My niece by marriage is about halfway to becoming a mother later this year. That means I will be a Great Uncle. I'm 43!!

And while I'm still reeling from that, Best Beloved tells me that the Swedish prefix for 'great-' in this context is 'gammel', which just means 'old'.

I already wear a cardigan from time to time. I may have to invest in a shawl and some half-moon glasses too.

C'est la vie, said the old folks

Rectifying the recently reported non-backup situation took 30 hours. Thirty hours in which Bonusbarn couldn't play World of Warcraft. Mega-lols, as I believe the young people say. Possibly.

So to make up for his lost Friday evening of computer-induced solitude he got to pick a movie we could all watch. Which turned out to be Pulp Fiction, which he had never seen before but everyone should see at least once and I get more out of seeing every time. So, everyone's a winner, except the third member of the family who had to leave the room twice. It's a guy thing.

Here's one of the great scenes in the history of moviedom.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Woo-hoo! She's back!

Yes, the Psychic Pspammer has returned.

Good day Ben,

I'm just got back from my errand and sat straight down to write to you [so the errand was more important? I'm hurt] and explain a little further everything I hinted at in my last email to you this morning [It wasn't this morning, it was last month]. In the following letter I have taken the time to communicate to you all of the valuable information concerning this period during which you will be under the maximum influence of the Moon and I will explain exactly why this period is so important and why you must get as much out of it as is possible. This is a vitally important Lunar Transit and you must pay special attention to the details I will go through below.

Apart from these details which my study of your configuration has revealed I also wanted to work on increasing your energy and chance with an magnetic psychic action using an authentic Lunar fragment which I am fortunate enough to posses. I think I mentioned this in my last email [nope] but this is a piece of the Moon, a meteorite which weighs 36 grams and which was discovered on the 11th of November in the Oman desert. I am going to ask you for all of your attention Ben for what comes next. This will only take you 5 minutes to read but the information I am about to give you could change your life forever. First of all here is what you can expect during this 6 month period which will start on the 27 July 2008:

- A fulfilling and satisfying evolution concerning your love life.
- A financial gain and I can see that this is most likely to be linked to a game or lottery. [That does my self esteem as a hardworking writer no end of good]
- A important and exciting development in your professional life.
- The chance to solve the issues which have been worrying you for some time now.
- An encounter which is sure to bring you great pleasure and a really positive development as far as your love life is concerned. [Is this as well as the fulfilling and satisfying evolution?]

I want things to be very clear between us Ben as I need you to understand that such an opportunity is a very rare chance which does not come along twice in one lifetime and this is why this chance to change your destiny must be seized with all of your passion and energy. So I want to tell you that my explication will focus on 3 main points:

1) I am first going to explain exactly why this period is going to be so important for you and any professional astrologer will be able to confirm my findings. [Heaven forbid I should trust a lousy amateur]
2) I have worked with a fragment of our Moon to send you positive energy to help you through the times ahead. I have included all the details of this work in an attachment on this email.
3) It will be very important that you prepare yourself correctly for this coming period so that you will be able to seize the vital opportunities which will be open to you.

So let me explain point number one a little further. From the 27 July 2008 the Moon will find itself in a rare and very influential position in relation to the position it held at the moment of your birth and this position will have a very direct and powerful impact on your personality Ben. This will be an important transit during which the Moon will be extremely influential. This influence will last at least 6 lunar cycles, in other words around 6 months as the Moon completes one cycle in 29 days, 12 hours and 44 minutes [Ah! Science!]. In a more general manner, the impact of the lunar influence can be seen all around us and in nature and in our immediate environment. Three quarters of our globe are covered in water and these oceans are in constant movement (tides) due to the attraction of the Moon. Tides are simply the movement of the ocean's waters in an opposite direction to the spin of the Earth and the influence of the Moon does not stop here. It's proximity to the Earth causes a ce rtain atmospheric 'friction' and slows down the spin of the Earth [astonishingly, more science] which effectively means that the Moon also increases the length of our days. The Moon also affects underground water sources, regular terrestrial movements, vibrations on the Earth's surface and also touches living creatures such as ourselves as we are in fact made up of 80% water! This particular lunar influence can also be called biological tides.

Do excuse me for having begun my explanation with such technical details (I will soon get back to what all this means for you) but I believe that it essential that you understand exactly why the Moon has such a powerful influence upon ourselves and our environment as this you will be feeling these same influences very strongly after the 27 July 2008 and for a duration of 6 months.

I am going to go over some more examples, just to show you how extensive the lunar influence actually is. First of all, plants need the Moon's pretense [so it's just leading them on?] to maintain their good health and full lifespan. We now know that plant's metabolism uses photosynthesis which is basically the transformation of light rays into combustible chemical energy and these light rays must correspond to a certain wavelength which fortunately enough the Sun [damn, we'd be stuck if they didn't, eh?] and the Moon's rays provide [Skirting round the fact that moonlight is just reflecterd sunlight ...]. Lunar rays can be considered as a source of powerful energy and these rays work as catalysts in various natural processes in all living organisms on this planet. Animals for example feel this energy very strongly and certain species live according to lunar cycles, for example regulating their mating or hunting rhythms to the frequency of the lunar cycle. Certain fish for example only mate during a very particular lunar phase (gibbous) during the month of October. On land, koala bears only eat during the waning cycle of the Moon and many many other examples can be found of routines based firmly on the lunar cycles. I am now going to move on to explain how these lunar cycles affect us as human beings and I must ask you to pay special attention to this part as you will be able to see through my explanation how important the lunar influence will be for you Ben, most particularly during this period of 6 months. The Moon acts upon us all and on many different levels. First of all it affects our birth as studies have proved that women's menstrual cycles follow the Moon's phases and the births of newborn babies fall in line with this period of fertility. Menstruation is the preparation of the female body for pregnancy and ovulation is made possible by the presence of a hormone called LH which is made available from the 4th day of the cycle and after receiving this hormonal signal the body transforms itself ready to receive the fertilized egg, the human embryo. When fertilization does not take pla ce menstruation serves to clean the body of the uterus' mucus. Many scientists have concentrated on investigating the role of the lunar cycle in menstruation and have remarked on the number of menstrual cycles which begin during a full or new Moon. Men's fertility also seems to follow these same lunar cycles as many more fertilization's take place at the rise of a new Moon than at any other time of the month. These cycles are also reflected in the ticking of our internal clocks, our day's seem to be timed much more in keeping with Lunar rather than Solar cycles.

One interesting scientific experiment consisted of placing a person under observation and in an underground shelter far from light and any means of measuring time. The scientists noticed that the subject quickly adopted a rhythm which was based entirely on a Lunar cycle. The Moon was seen to act directly upon us, it conditions our emotions, our feelings and our responses and on an astrological level the Moon serves as a catalyst, concentrating and strengthening the influence of the many other planets of our personal Zodiac. And this is exactly what will happen for you Ben and it for this reason that you will find yourself before a whole range of opportunities in many different areas of your life such as your sentiments, your romantic tendencies, your relationships, your finances and your professional life. For a full 6 months the Moon will act as a magnifying glass, focusing the energy of a number of different planets upon you and to give you more of an idea about this magni fying action try to imagine that the Moon will be a cosmic TV - the Moon will take the transmissions from all of the planets around us and will form clear images of these transmissions inside of us just as our home TV set does though its cathode-ray tube. The astrological role of the Moon is to transmit clear and comprehensive images of everything which is going on around us and a portion of this energy which the Moon transmits towards us is absorbed by our bodies though the receptors that we all have within our souls and is then transformed into actions and events that we provoke. Psychics and other such professionals can see these centers of receptors, which are known as Chakra points in Hindi philosophy. To be honest with you Ben, this is how I first discovered that this kind of period was on the way for you and it was the astrological study which I then worked on which confirmed my initial feelings and led me to write to you today. That is as much as I would like to tell you for now about the importance of the Moon, I think you have already understood how and why the Lunar cycle is important for you, how the Moon plays a daily role in our lives and exactly what it's influence consists of. I now need to move on and explain something else. [And, breathe, stretch your legs, take the chance for a toilet break. I'll say one thing for this lady - the effort she puts into this knocks the Nigerian spammers out of court.]

2) As I mentioned, I started to work on something special for you, a unique technique which is highly charged in positive energy and it will send you a great deal of power bearing in mind the period you are about to be entering. I am lucky enough to own a fragment of the Moon itself, this is a authentic lunar meteorite which fell into the Dhofar desert of Oman and was discovered on the 11th of November 2002. The original meteorite weighed 36g and the piece which I now own weighs 0.024g and I got hold of this fragment from a member of the International Meteorite Collectors Association and this person was also a founding member of the Kansas meteorite society. On the page which I have included with this email you can see a photograph of this meteorite and of the energizing action which I have been performing for you. You can also examine the chemical composition of this Moon fragment and read it's authenticity certificate.

I must insist on the fact that the work I have been undertaking for you is very unique. [Good. I disdain partial uniqueness.] I have made an effort to associate you both energetically and magnetically with this Lunar fragment in order to intensify this Lunar energy and as this action is extremely powerful I am going to continue to perform it for you during the whole of this period of 6 months, if you give me your consent. This energy will be very beneficial for you Ben and you can see a photo of my work at the following web page:

[URL redacted]

3) Here is now what you must do to prepare yourself to be in just the right place and at the right time to seize all of the very important chances which are going to be offered to you. You also need to be vigilant against certain exterior elements which could disturb you during your period of pure chance and I intend to give you all of the information you require to make sure that this 6 month period really will mark a major turning point in your life so far. I remind you that even though this period will be marked by a range of opportunities, three principal events will be extremely important and will allow you to achieve a greater harmony in your personal life. One event will boost your love life, one will bring you a considerable sum of money at a time when you least expect it and the final event will provoke some important developments in your professional life. If you are able to seize these opportunities and are able to act correctly during these 3 distinct events you w ill be able to get rid of that one big problem which has been worrying you for quite a while now. I also want to tell you that this 6 month period will lead you to an important encounter and this encounter will bring you some radical changes in your personal life. This is how the 6 month period looks in a very general way Ben and before going on any further I want to explain to you how you can act to seize these opportunities. You must not delude yourself, your direct involvement is needed to get the most out of this period, chance will not simply knock on your door and throw itself at your feet. I can see your involvement on 4 main levels:

a) The first thing which we must work on together is to protect you from any negative elements which could affect you during both the run up to this period and throughout the 6 months. These exterior influences could stop you from benefiting 100% from this period and so we also need to boost your chance ratings so that you can enjoy these diverse opportunities. As you already know I have begun certain important tasks for you, I realized that your capital chance was at an all time low so I started to send you positive energy to help you stabilize this chance and I think that this energy has worked well for you already. Your Chakra points are now open and receptive and you are ready to receive the strong Lunar energy which will begin in just a short time. Things are going to get serious Ben as this period will represent the turning point you have been searching for in your life and so I am going to have to go even further and work on an energy emission [Bonusbarn does this a lot, usually after a meal] of a much greater scale in order to protect you correctly. I offer to start this energy 'prayer' for you 15 days before the period begins, from the 15 August 2008. I will work hard for you during these 15 days before your 6 month period begins on the 27 July 2008 until your capital chance is at a maximum and you are able to protect yourself from exterior tensions. You will also find yourself much more receptive to the chances and opportunities of this lunar period.

b) The second thing which you must develop is your personal capacity. As I think I have already mentioned to you, you have a great deal of powerful resources within you and these talents are just waiting to be expressed. Your enormous potential is stifled and has been for quite a number of years now. I am going to help you release this potential as you will need all of this power to get the best out of all the opportunities which will be open to you during this 6 month period, which will begin in just 78 days time - from the 27 July 2008 until the 27 January 2009. This is why we must act as quickly as possible to bring out this strength within you so that you may learn to use it, the importance lies not with which talent you will reveal but more in how you can learn to apply this new skill to the chances the Lunar transit will bring you. You need to balance the energy within you and find a certain interior harmony. You may be thinking that you already know yourself well enoug h but you must believe me when I say that my work as an astrologer has revealed a whole host of valuable information about you, important information which you could not have previously suspected. My role will be to show you this hidden potential, to help you bring it out to light and to teach you how to use your skills. I will produce a full personal reading for you will show you how can exploit all of your potential and how you can achieve your goals and make yourself more serene, powerful, determined and assertive. You will also be able to discover how other people around you perceive you to be.

c) You must be ready for the 27 July 2008, in the same way that an athlete prepares for a marathon. The date is coming up Ben and you need these few weeks of preparation to be at your peak. We cannot lose a single minute. I want to produce a full day-by-day guide for you for the whole of the period leading up to the Lunar Transit so that you know exactly how to act and when to act to prepare yourself correctly for this crucial period of chance. I will guide you day-by-day and I will give you all of the astrological forecasts you will need to act decisively on everyday leading up to this all-important date. This will also give you an important rhythm and will train you to follow daily forecasts. You will discover in this reading all of the information concerning the few precise choices you must make during this prelude to the Transit, there a number of things you MUST do before this astrological event.

d) Finally you must be aware of exactly what is in store for you and what exactly these opportunities are that lie ahead for you. You need to know quite simply when and where you will come across these opportunities. Knowing when to act decisively the key, armed with this knowledge you will have no difficulties seizing these chances. You will also need to know how you may avoid certain traps and pitfalls and the energizing work I have been performing for you will help you in this regard as I will do my best to protect you from exterior elements which may aim to disrupt your path in this new life the Transit proposes. You need to start studying a full report concerning this time as soon as possible. The Lunar Transit will be powerful, unusually intense and it will offer you a rare opportunity to make certain decisions on many different levels of your personal and professional life which will change your life dramatically for the future. I intend to give you all of the informat ion and support that you need.

This is going to be such an important Transit for you that you cannot permit yourself to miss out on this golden chance and you cannot simply sit by passively and let events pass you by. You must act! Up to today I have always left you free choice, you were able to choose whether or not to make the most of my professional advice but today Ben I must push you a little further. I think it would be such a shame for you to miss out on such a prime opportunity to change your life for the better. As you may have seen my preparation for your full reading, with the additional energizing work I have already been performing for you, takes a great deal of time and effort but I am ready to invest myself for you as I do feel a great affinity with you and I know just how important this Transit will be for you.

However I have to be sure of one thing Ben, I need to know whether or not you are really committed to changing your life and that you are ready to work towards seizing and using all of this period's valuable opportunities to your total advantage. I also need to know that you will use the information I provide you with, a lot of people ask me for help and despite this it would be a great pleasure for me to dedicate my time and concentration to you and to give you a full personal reading. If you use this information and you make the changes which I think you know you need to make in your life right now then my work will be complete and my effort entirely justified. Before beginning this work in this case I need you to give me your consent on the following web page:

[URL redacted]

I will be eagerly waiting for your response, please do not hesitate because the countdown to the Lunar Transit has begun.

Your friend and astrologer,

If, however you no longer wish to receive any messages from me, please let me know at : [URL redacted again] [And miss out on all the fun? You must be joking!]

You ought not to swear at your stepson

For the last week or so Bonusbarn and I have each been faced with a puzzle in our respective computing activities. I - the householder, the breadwinner, the one who pays for and regards our household broadband connection as a business expense - was wondering why the automatic backup wasn't backing up at 6pm each evening, as it's supposed to. It would start. I would go off to have dinner. I would come back to find it had given up.

He, freeloading parasite off the network by my grace and that alone, was wondering why around 6pm each day the available bandwidth for World of Warcraft shrunk down so low that WoW becomes unplayable.

Problem solved! Backup starts. Bandwidth shrinks. Unaware of the backup, he resets the router without thinking to tell me about it. Backup ends prematurely. WoW back to normal. At 6pm the next day, the cycle recommences.

We finally worked this out yesterday. He came in to reset the router and found me staring at the backup status on the monitor, trying to catch the moment it stopped. Um.

He was most put out to learn that I regard WoW as a frippery, not a basic human right that should be provided by the state. My 100% lack of interest in his ability to make pixels run around the screen and pretend to kill each other was a personal affront. This was not what Alan Turing did all that work for. Still, I tried to be reasonable, I really did. The backup (unlike WoW), I pointed out, is actually necessary. It's a duty of care to the people on whose behalf I do work. So what does he suggest I do? Ideas and solutions were batted about, but the sad fact is that any backing up be while I'm around in the evening (I don't leave the computer on all day) and thus would inevitably cut into the time that he might like to be playing WoW.

Or, of course, he could just do some revision or get a life while it happens.

"Well," he said, "it's a bit inconvenient ..."

And that, I'm afraid, is when it just blurted out. A paraphrase of God's command to Creation, but in a more vulgate version. It took him aback. Me too.

But isn't it nice that after (nearly) two years of familyness we can still learn new things about each other.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

As Flanders & Swann once said ...

uʍoɹɟ ʎɹǝʌǝ ɟo ǝʃıɯs ɐ
'ʃʃɐɟ ʎɹǝʌǝ ɟo ǝsıɹ ɐ sǝʞɐɯ ʇı
؛uʍop-ǝpısdn ɯoɹɟ pǝʍǝıʌ uǝɥʍ
ǝɔɐʃd ʃnɟɹǝǝɥɔ ɐ ɥɔns sı pʃɹoʍ ǝɥʇ

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Buzz buzz buzz, I wonder why he does?

Yesterday's excitement: a swarm of honey bees taking up lodgings in our car park. You can just see them here between the purple and the green bits.

Today's excitement (well, diversion from work, anyway): a man coming to take them away again.

Most of the bees went straight into the box with the black lid, which might have a technical term in bee-keeping jargon. I'm told he grabbed hold of the queen, put her in and the rest of the clump followed. It's full of slats and is doubtless a grade-A portable bee habitat.

This still left a lot of bees flying around. They don't show up in the photo but they were quite thick in the air. They went, with a bit of coaxing, into the grade-B portable bee habitat which looked strangely like a battered old box held together by brown masking tape. There may be a technical term for that as well.

A grade-C portable bee habitat doesn't bear thinking about. Just say that he was wearing low cut jeans and flashed the occasional coy hint of builder's bum.

Apparently this service is strictly amateur - there is no national Bee Removal Society - but in lieu of renumeration these people get to keep the swarm. Seems fair.

Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

The Rapture is one of the smugger, harder to swallow elements of Christian eschatology (long word = "all about the end of the world"). You can derive it from the Bible by selective interpretation of one small section of the epistles, yet Jesus himself was strangely silent on the precise mechanism of the last days, leading me to suspect that (like many other subjects that drive Christians into a tizzy but the man himself kept quiet about) it's not that important. I've never been able to get that excited about how the world ends. It will happen, one day, with or without me, and the net effect will be the same.

Summarised, the most popular interpretation of the Rapture is that one frabjous day Jesus will snatch the select, all the really good Christians, up into Heaven to live with him for evermore. Workers in the fields, drivers of cars, people on the toilet or in the shower – all just vanish. But in terms of the overall world population, this is going to be a distinct minority. Many more will be left behind for one last chance at redemption. After a certain period, up to another 1000 years, Jesus steps in, wraps up the world for good, and the really final Final Judgement takes place.

That is, apart from those who were passengers on a plane whose pilot has suddenly been raptured. Or patients being operated on by a surgeon. Or fellow drivers on the same road as a car whose driver has just vanished. They will be meeting their maker much sooner by the more traditional route of dying. This is just one of the many problems I have with the whole Rapture notion.

Others include:
  • It's complicated. I like my theology simple. Complex theology should derive from a few basic truths. This is already a highly complex initial starting condition.
  • Salvation is a sure and certain hope. This is hope + fingers crossed, eh?
  • Jerry Falwell was for it, Corrie ten Boom against
But assuming that it does happen, the folks at You've Been Left Behind at least have their hearts in the right place. They can't do anything about the wave of instant fatalities that the Rapture will cause. They can however give you one last chance to witness to your loved ones who haven't made it in on the first batch.
"Our purpose is to get one last message to the lost, at a time, when they might just be willing to hear it for the first and last time."
The service lets you store up to 250Mb of documents that will be delivered to up to 62 email addresses six days after the Rapture. Messages will presumably range from "see, it’s all true, please give your heart to Jesus now!" to "na na na na na, I made it, you didn’t!"

And the really clever thing is, it's automated! Given that the sysops are presumably among the elect, it has to be. The Rapture is deemed to have occurred "when 3 of our 5 team members scattered around the U.S fail to log in over a 3 day period. Another 3 days are given to fail safe any false triggering of the system." (Hence the Rapture will not be cunningly disguised as an outbreak of man flu.)

You can get in and edit your stored documents at any time – and also, I would hope, delete them altogether. Because it would be so embarrassing for the Rapture to happen, and your friends to get your message, and for you to still be around ...

As a result of writing this post, I will now have this going round in my head for the rest of the day.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Celebration of the teenage station

Today is senior godson J's 13th birthday. Golly. He's almost old.

He's not the first person I've known from infancy, though I think most of the others are family members. He's not the first child born to friends of my generation. He is however the first who simply didn't exist for quite a few years of my adulthood, while I knew his parents, and then appeared on the scene, and stayed in such frequent touch that I've never really noticed him growing. He went through a phase of having curly hair: otherwise, my memory assures me, he's pretty well unchanged from the little 7-day old scrap that I first held in my arms who opened his eyes long enough to assess his chances of getting a drink off me and went back to sleep again.

Except that of course he has changed. I haven't noticed his dad carry him around for ages.

I was there when he had his first ice cream – a choc ice at Millets Farm. Or maybe the choc ice had him. One of them ended up inside the other but it was hard to say which on the basis of a visual inspection. I've helped change some fairly horrible nappies (my role being to hold him down. No nappy contact took place. I checked the godparent's vows very carefully: big on renouncing the devil, very light indeed on coming into contact with nappies). I helped pay for his first bike.

Technically a godparent's role ends when the child gets confirmed. I haven't asked if this is his intention. Even so ... 13. A few more years and he's officially Grown Up. I hope we stay in touch.

One thing at least he can say for my godparenthood. When he recently did a review of His Majesty's Starship in class, I bet none of the other kids was reviewing a book dedicated to them.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Only a child can do it

The account of a senior family member will differ on this – in fact it differs every time he recalls it – but he's welcome to start his own blog and post it there. The gist of it is:

His version: We were on holiday ...
Me: True

His version: ... in our new car ...
Me: We’d had it for at least a year

His version: ... and I wanted to work out the miles per gallon ...
Me: Not having done this in the previous year of ownership

His version: ... and even though he'd just done his exams ...
Me: A-levels. My last maths exam ever had been two years earlier.

His version: ... Ben couldn't work it out because HE CAN'T DO LONG DIVISION.
Me: Live with it.

No, I can't do long division. I never could. There's a crack in my brain that long division just falls through. It's a form of arithmetic that relies on guess work. How can you do sums where you have to guess part of the answer anyway?

Short division, no problem, along with addition, subtraction and multiplication. I can do pretty good mental arithmatic, I can handle different bases and percentages, I can even do sums (with a little thought) in Roman numerals. But long division never made any sense to me and still doesn’t, despite just seeing it explained in a video halfway down this page. It's why God invented calculators.

However, I'm sufficiently proud of my other achievements to agree fully with the tone of the piece, which is that ignorance in maths is nothing to be proud of, so why do we indulge those who boast about it rather than laugh and point a finger and jeer, "ooh, thicky!". I too squirm whenever I hear some TV celebrity proudly admitting to being useless at it. It explains why those people were only able to become TV celebrities rather than do something useful with their lives. I have never been academically accomplished at it (a C at O-level) but that's a long way away from being useless. But at the same time we're not all Carol Vorderman, you know.

Yes, I know Carol Vorderman is a TV celebrity. Go away.

Tom Lehrer never did a song on long division, but as division is basically subtraction repeated, here's one he did do.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Medium in Japan

One of my various writing personae is to be part of Nick Shadow, proprietor of the Midnight Library. A small part. Maybe a thumb or one of his molars. As far as I can tell from the copies the publisher sends me, Nick's oeuvre is currently available in English, Norwegian and now Japanese.

My grandfather fought at Kohima. I wonder what he would make of it?

Denver fills up my senses

I tend to go to the world science fiction convention only if it's somewhere I would like to see anyway. The exception to this was my first, San Jose in 2002, which was a business necessity, though I did get a day out in San Francisco which was nice. Thereafter Toronto in 2003, Boston in 2004 and Glasgow in 2005. I gave Los Angeles a miss in 2006 – though as it turned out I had other things to be doing that summer – and I don’t think wild horses could have dragged me to Tokyo last year.

I knew way back when – long before I was married or had a stepson – that I would probably be going to Denver this year. When I declared this intention the future Bonusbarn, then aged 12, declared that he was coming too and was going to start saving. And did, coins in a bottle, which was rather sweet. He has stuck to this intention, though not necessarily to the saving. Somehow he also wangled a promise to drop in on New York. This all swelled into a major family holiday when we got married. Via a long and circuitous route it has now dwindled to just him and me again, flying out to New York for a few days at the end of July; then he flies home and I go on to Denver to do my stuff. Our onward flights are on the same day within hours of each other from different airports ... could be fun.

Different people get different things out of cons. Some go for the room parties, which are a refined form of hell on earth. Some go for the costumes, which just baffles me. I go for the panels: I enjoy the throwing about of ideas and I get a mild dose of self-promotion. Okay, the social scene is fun too and it’s nice to see familiar faces, though most of them are Brits and I could keep in touch much more cheaply by staying at home. Highlights of previous worldcon programmes:
  • Learning on arrival that I was meant to be giving a reading from The New World Order, not having actually packed a copy, leading to an epic wrestle with the Boston public library system as I tried to print off the chapter I had put on the website.
  • Partnering Christopher Priest in "I'm Sorry I Haven't an SFing Clue" at Glasgow, vs. Ken McLeod and John Meaney.
  • Also in Glasgow, chairing a panel on young adult literature and what is and isn’t acceptable. Somehow – and I’m still not sure how – discussion turned briefly to rainbow parties. An artist on the panel pointed out they wouldn't work because if you mix lots of colours together they just blend into muddy brown. "In that case," said one of the panellists, a Mr Pratchett, "you use masking tape ..."
Today I learnt my programme items for this year. Only two panels, though I'll let them know I'm happy to do more: "Where are all the travelers? (If time travel is possible)", Wednesday, 11:30 and "Depicting Christianity in F&SF", Thursday, 11:30. Both good, stolid staples of paneldom. Now to see who I’m on with ...

Next year's is in Montreal. Which I would also quite like to see.