I suppose I should say something about the execution of Saddam Hussein.

This was meant to be the great crow of triumph for the American government. This was supposed to be what the whole occupation was about - toppling the hated dictator, making him pay for his crimes, and freeing the Iraqi people to develop two-party elections and eat bigmacs.

Instead, we get pictures of a broken man with a noose round his neck, and no progress. No economy, no oil, and no one knows how many factions, including one puppet government, still mass killing each other, with no end in sight.

Everyone realised it was inevitably a showtrial - indeed there were only token efforts to portray it as anything else. Everyone knew it would end with a death sentence. And pretty much no one had a problem with the justness of that.

The only point of disagreement is over how much influence the American government had over the trial conducted by the Iraqi government it created. Were they pulling a few strings behind the scenes, or all of them openly?

It's interesting the Americans felt the need to exert any pressure at all. Did they imagine any of the Iraqi people - even those who benefited from his regime - seriously wanted the dictator around? A dictator has no loyal supporters - only temporary allies with knives.

Statements by politicians have all followed the same line - essentially: "The death penalty is part of Arab culture, but not western culture. But tolerance is a western virtue, so we westerners tolerate their barbarism in this case, because he deserved it."

There are people who swallow the line, but only by coating it in palliative terms like "sovereign nation", "free court" and "lawful process", until there's no content left.

When it comes time to write the history of this Iraq war, the execution will be a footnote. I suspect the bulk of the tome will concern the protracted many-sided civil wars that only start properly when America leaves.

After declaring victory, of course.


My brother gave me a lava lamp for christmas. It's pink.

Now, I may not be the most butch person in the world, but I thought I wasn't obviously gay. Not the kind who flounces around in sequins and refers to insults as "bitching". I'm not a great fan of Abba or Shirley Bassey, and I don't worship Judy Garland or Joan Collins.

But no, it seems I'm the kind of person who gets given pink lava lamps.

I've come up with a song, inspired by Wolfsheim's "Find You're Here" - probably my current favourite.

Provisionally titled "Someone Else":

Verse 1:
You hold my hand
You're thinking it doesn't show
That you're thinking of
Someone else from long ago

You say my name
I turn as I hear the call
But I wonder if you're
Saying it to me at all

Chorus 1:
And when the lights start to go dim
You can forget that I'm not him
And when the time starts to run out
There's nothing left to talk about

Verse 2:
I hold your hand
I'm hoping you cannot know
That I'm dreaming of
Someone else from long ago

I say your name
You walk away and I fall
Did you think that I was
Only talking to the wall

Verse 2:
And when the lights start to go dim
I don't know where i should begin
And when the time it starts to fade
I think i'll stay for one more day

Two things about "Find You're Here" - it's released only as a single, and it's got a twin. "Find You're Gone" is a sequel/prequel/parallel, with the same chords, structure and vocal rhythm, but different lyrics and music.

It's an interesting idea - I'll have to try it out sometime.

C told me a joke today:

What's got four legs and goes "Boo"?

A cow with a cold.

Thank you.

Keep Killing TV

There's been no word back on the review I wrote for Torchwood episode 8 "They Keep Killing Suzie", so presumably they won't be using it - probably because it's too negative. Well, if they don't want it, here it is. This is the full length version of around 1500 words - the version I submitted was cut down to 1200.

I really don't know what to make of Torchwood. After an incredibly shakey first three episodes, it's blossomed into some of the most watchable and engaging television around. On the other hand, the plots don't make sense, the humour is juvenile, the sexual themes serve no purpose, and the science is junk. But I'm still tuning in each week, watching repeats and lovingly dissecting it on the Outpost Gallifrey website.

Episode 8, "They Keep Killing Suzie", opens with a racap from episode one. In it, Torchwood team member Suzie Costello became addicted to an alien gauntlet with the power to bring people back from the dead - but once only, and for a few minutes. She'd murdered three innocent strangers, just to bring them back in the name of "research".

Policewoman Gwen Cooper and the team discover what Suzie's doing and, rather than be sacked and memory wiped, she shoots herself through the head - this is her first death. Gwen joins the team.

Now, three months later, Suzie's corpse is in the Torchwood mortuary freezer and all her belongings are in storage - the fate of all the implied hundreds who died working for the organisation. And someone has killed three innocent strangers, writing the word "Torchwood" on the walls with their blood.

Gwen persuades Captain Jack to use the gauntlet to resurrect the victims and question them about their murders. Gwen is the only one who can make the gauntlet (or "Risen Mitten") work. The victims provide is two names - Max, who killed them, and Suzie. The victims were members of a philosophical debating society called "Pilgrim", and as the team discover, so was their former college Suzie.

So, Gwen resurrects Suzie for questioning. But it only works when Jack "kills" the corpse with the knife (the "Life Knife") that is somehow partnered with the glove - this is her second death.

Then there's a surprise, and a problem - Suzie stays resurrected, and as she lives, Gwen's health slowly starts to deteriorate. Creeped out but helped by Suzie, the team locate Max, bringing him to the Torchwood cells. He is blankly unresponsive, except for exactly ten seconds of violent rage every time he hears the word "Torchwood".

Suzie, forbidden to talk to anyone about her work with Torchwood, but desperately needing to, had used Max as her confidant for two years. After each weekly conversation, she fed him the memory-wipe drug "Retcon", maintaining security and keeping him available. So, excessive retcon exposure presumably drove Max insane. Given that retcon is fan slang for “retroactive continuity” - fixing plot holes of earlier episodes in later ones, familiar to fans of Dr Who and sci-fi in general - this is presumably a joke.

But it's not over. Suzie befriends Gwen, persuading her to break security and take her to see her dying father in hospital. Gwen suspects Suzie's fascination with the metal glove began with the desire to save her father. She takes Suzie out of the bunker, and drives her to the hospital. The team are about to follow, but the entire base shuts down, locking them in.

Suzie had planned the whole thing while still alive - programming Max to kill Pilgrim members if he didn't see her for three months, leading them to bring in Max and resurrect her, and installing a shutdown mechanism activated by Max automatically intoning a particular poem by Emily Dickenson. Now she's alive and free.

In the car, Suzie tells Gwen there is no life after death, but there is a "darkness". At the hospital, Gwen collapses and starts to die, Suzie's headwound and death migrating into her, leaving Suzie with Gwen's health and vigour. Suzie's father is terrified at seeing her, and instead of helping or comforting him, she pulls the plug on his life support machine. It seems it was hate that brought her, not love.

Meanwhile, Max's trancelike poem recitation gives the team the clue that another poem from the same collection might deactivate the shutdown. Managing to contact the Cardiff police station by phone, they persuade the inspector to relay Dickenson's poems to them, line by line - but with no effect. Then Tosh has a brainwave - maybe typing the ISBN number of the collected works into her keypad would work. The computers have no power, but the keyboard membrane just might. Presto! The lockdown is reversed.

With Gwen almost dead, the team catch up with her and Suzie on a marina. Jack kills Suzie - her third death - but she does not die. He shoots her several more times, but though bloodied and presumably in pain, she just laughs. On a desperate hunch, Jack instructs Tosh back at base to destroy the gauntlet. When it is vapourised, Suzie spasms and dies - and Gwen's life energy rushes back where it belongs.

Just before she dies, Suzie tells Jack that there's "something moving in the dark" and it's coming for him. The team are left to their tangled emotions about Suzie, their job, and each other.

You see what I mean about Torchwood? It's a rollicking ride that makes no sense at all.

The glove responds only to Gwen and Suzie - why? Is it because it only works for women? When the second victim mentioned Suzie, the team leapt to the conclusion - only later verified - that it was their Suzie. In Suzie's belongings, Jack immidiately and very conveniently found just one book - the collected poems of Emily Dickenson - and no others. The relationship between the knife and the glove is entirely mysterious. Suzie "programmed" Max - how? Suzie keeps Gwen close till the end - is this because the transfer of energy is weakened by distance? There isn't even a hint of an explanation.

Suzie's whole plan hinged on several big gambles. That she could persuade someone to let her out. That the team would bring Max back to the base at the right time. That he would activate the shutdown at the right time. If she expected to be resurrected, why couldn't she activate the shutdown herself, with a delay to give her time to get away? If that's what she actually did, why was Max reciting the poem? And why did he continue to recite it long enough for the team to hear it? This is just lazy plotting.

Suzie's biggest gamble of all was that the one who used the glove on her would have enough life energy for her to recover, and would "want it enough" to bring her back "all the way". There's no way she could have known that glove user would feel that guilty about Suzie's first death. Indeed, we didn't Gwen felt such guilt and the need for recompense that until the plot suddenly demanded it. Did Suzie plan all this just so she could kill her father? If so, it's absurdly overelaborate. If not, what relevance does the father have at all?

Where did Tosh get the frankly bizarre idea that, if the sound of a Dickenson poem triggered the shutdown, the typed ISBN of Dickenson's collected works would reverse it? What if the team only had access to a different edition?

If the keyboard had no power, that meant the membrane didn't either, and even if it somehow did, the computer it's connected to has no power either, as shown by the blank screens. This scene is absolute blithering nonsense. It seems technology only makes sense in Torchwood when it's magic, like the glove and knife.

The final scene shows Ianto and Jack pondering on the idea that "gloves come in pairs", so there may be another one around. This is an effective coda, marred by some pointless and unprefigured apparant flirting between Ianto and Jack. There is also the suggestion that Jack and Gwen are slowly falling in love - while Gwen is two-timing her boyfriend with Owen.

Torchwood is no longer the little child spinoff from Dr Who - it's a cousin. Torchwood is it's own show, with it's own flavour, plots, world and probably fanbase. Both shows have given us some of the best, and worst, television of recent years. . Torchwood is largely independent of Dr Who, but they share a definite family resemblence. There's the mixture of soapy romance with dark science fiction, the fake science, the crude humour shoehorned in where it doesn't fit, and the ethos of joie de vivre in a world where life and happiness are delicate and fleeting.

I will continue to be perplexed, irritated, and greatly entertained by Torchwood for as long as it runs.

The two part finale to season 1 is coming up on New Year's Eve. I expect it to follow the formula, i.e to make no sense at all and keep me glued to the screen.

Mac Spy Graves

Kapitano's top five post-christmas meals:

(5) Turkey sandwiches. The old classic - simple, quick, and needs an inch of mayonnaise to taste of anything. Becomes somewhat less interesting to eat when you've run out of bread and mayonnaise.

(4) Cheese and wine. We have eight kinds of cheese in the fridge, and at least five different bottles of wine, all gifts from uncles. There's also an enormous box of cheese crackers from an uncle last year.

(3) Turkey stew/casserole. Highly welcome, mainly because there's almost no christmas in it.

(2) Bubble and Squeak. The great british tradition of mashing leftover vegetables together, and frying the result with (in this case) chopped sausage, bacon and turkey. Can be served with pickles and/or sauce.

(1) Christmas soup. I invented this one this morning. Chop up the meat and stuffing leftovers, and heat in pureed lentils. I don't think I'll be trying it again soon. In fact I may never eat anything again.

You know the stereotype of the overweight 35 year old gay man who lives with his parents? In around three weeks, that will be me.

I'm not sure whether being the techno version of Max Bygraves is part of the stereotype. "I've arrived, and to prove it, I'm queer."

But then, 35 is probably too old to be getting interested in industrial synth bands like And One, Assemblage 23, Beborn Beton, Edenfeld, Faith Assembly, Funker Vogt, God Module, Imperative Reaction, Neuroticfish, Psyche, Psykosonic,
Seabound, Velvet Acid Christ, and Wolfsheim. I'm doing it anyway though.


What could be nicer than this?

Spending christmas eve getting gently drunk with comrades, disagreeing about Italian film directors, schooldays, and the masculinity of professional wrestling. Declining a texted offer of seasonal sex because it's too cold I'm a little too unsteady for it. Getting a call from C.

Spending christmas morning working on a murder mystery, and the afternoon curled up in a warm bed with chilled music on the speakers. And a John LeCarre novel for company.

I got a pair of fluffy slippers from mother.

Coming up: the Doctor Who christmas special. Followed by an absolutely enormous christmas dinner in the evening with family. Turkey, potatoes, parsnips, three different kinds of stuffing, bacon, peas, sprouts and chestnuts. Probably followed by trifle. With ice cream.

After which I will be much too full to blog about anything.

Of course, some things could be nicer. There could be no sprouts, for instance. The weather could be warm enough for outdoor sex, I could not be bankrupt, and neither could half my friends. The Doctor Who christmas special could be great TV (though I know it won't), I could be three pounds lighter and the rich bastards who run the world could be suffering all the torments of Dante.

But in general, a pleasant 25th of December.

The Christmas Post

There is a theory among sociologists that the point of festivals was to use up surplus resources, so they couldn't fall into the hands of a few people. Festivals were a way to prevent the rich getting too rich.

The excuse for the festival was trivial. It could be the official birthday of a monarch, the day assigned to a local saint, the first day of winter, the last day of summer, or whatever. Just so long as festivals were regular and fairly evenly spaced, they served their purpose.

On the one hand, this means christmas, easter, thanksgiving and shrove tuesday really are about exactly what people complain they've become - an occasion for conspicuous consumption, with the vague pretense of marking the anniversary of some mythical event. Or even a real event, in the case of thanksgiving.

On the other hand, there's so much available now - so much chocolate, wine, cake, meat etc. - that's it's not possible to use it all up. Productivity is so absurdly high, and the market so dependent on ever increasing consumption, that overconsumption is the norm, and festivals are used to promote even greater consumption than that.

And, there's more and more festivals - hanukkah, saints days, mother's day, father's day, president's days, and more. Oh, and instead of preventing the rich getting too rich, it fills their coffers even more, because they're the ones selling it to us.

Be honest. Did you ever actually believe in Father Christmas? Even when you were five years old and getting presents was an exciting experience?

I'm pretty sure I never did. Being raised the vaguest kind of protestant and being smarter than most of the other kids probably helped. I was afraid of the dark, I knew that respectable people voted "conservative", and I was puzzled that adults got embarrassed when children used the word "erection" to describe buildings, but I never believed in a jolly bearded fat man in a red suit.

One of my few childhood memories is of christmas 1976, when I was four years old. I was lying awake in bed, listening to the creaking floorboards and rustling sacks (pillow cases) as my father tried to make no noise as he crept into the bedroom of me and my brother. As soon as he'd gone I tried (and failed) to noiselessly unwrap the contents to see what santa claus had brought.

In spite of all this cynicism, christmas day still feels special. Or rather, it feels as though it ought to be special. The shops, TV, radio, computer games and publishing industries are all trying so hard to make it feel special. And there's a lot of people out there who seem to genuinely feel that there's something remarkable and joyous about all the gaudy glitz and seasonal music.

So, though I may be a bitter and cynical old queen, and I feel a little bit sick from too many mince pies and chocolate bars, I'll still wish you a slightly jaded Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho.

Just don't mention Jesus getting born. That spoils it.

Dialect Talk

Dialectics is one of the two theoretical pillars of marxism, the other being Materialism. Taken together, they are known as Dialectical Materialism.

Materialism is the idea that the real world is a solid, consistent place, existing independent of our thoughts, governed by physical laws and definable forces. Knowledge comes from practical interaction with the real world, not from political authority, religious revelation, or armchair speculation.

Dialectics is the theory of how this material world changes, not abruptly in jumps, but constantly and smoothly. This means the categories we use to conceptualise the world break down because when something is partway through a process of change, it straddles two or more incompatible categories, giving it a blurred, undefined feel.

Dialectics is conceived as a form of reasoning that both includes and supersedes aristotelian logic, goes further than multivalent and fuzzy logics, and describes not just the way the physical or social world changes, but any form of change.

Most marxists either embrace dialectics and use it extensively, or ignore it and get on with campaigning. A few though, actively reject it while still calling themselves marxists, and someone going under the name Rosa Lichtenstein is one of these.

She(?) argues that the failure of marxism to become a significant force in either academia or the political arena is due to several factors, one major factor being the acceptance and use of dialectics by marxists.

On the introductory page of her site, she makes a number of related points:

Given the fact that dialecticians assure us that truth is tested in practice, and that "materialist dialectics" is the main-spring of all they do, this can only mean that their 'theory' has been tested and shown to fail.

Firstly, marxists have never claimed that dialectics is the sole wellspring of their ideas and actions. To build a bridge you need both mathematics and steel - each is useless on it's own. Likewise to act politically you need both a sound method of analysis and a lot of people - and even then, success can be partial, or nonexistent.

Secondly, her popperian reading only works, even in strictly popperian terms, if she can show that the acceptance or rejection of dialectical reasoning was the sole determining factor in all (or any) past defeats. That, for instance, the failure of attempts by the German left to stop the rise of naziism were a test of the dialectic, and of nothing else.

Oh, and thirdly, she seems to think that overthrowing all the governments of the world and replacing them with worker's states is the only goal of marxism, and because this has not happened there have been no successes.

...there is a close connection between the class-origin of the ideas found in DM and the rabidly sectarian nature of revolutionary politics.

I take this to mean that marxists are mostly middle class, and Dialectical Materialism is a doctrine which both stems from and legitimises the worldview of this class.

It may (or may not) be true that most leaders of marxist groups and movements are middle class - in the marxist sense of the term, obviously. Lichtenstein seems to think being middle class predisposes you to thinking in terms of blurred boundaries and shifting categories. In my experience, the opposite is true.

dialectics is an important part of the reason why revolutionary groups are in general vanishingly small, neurotically sectarian, studiously unreasonable, consistently conservative, theoretically deferential (to 'tradition'), and almost invariably tend toward all forms of substitutionism.

Substitutionism is the notion that, seeing as the workers aren't engaged in the struggle that's in their interests, we've got to do it for them. It is a common pseudomarxist idea among small marxist organisations.

It's certainly true that marxist groups tend to be small, authoritarian and given to fighting each other. But it's a complete mystery to me why belief in the dialectic should be the cause of this.

Differential Calculus is a branch of mathematics which deals with change in a way that resembles dialectical logic, but we don't see organisations of mathematicians publishing screeds against each other or expelling members for expressing doubts.

A lot of christian groups behave like the revolutionary cadres Lichtenstein talks about - but there's nothing dialectical about their beliefs.

...all the major theses advanced by dialecticians do not stand up to close scrutiny.

I can't comment on this yet, because I haven't yet read Lichtenstein's close scrutiny.

the criticisms dialecticians make of Formal Logic and the so-called 'Law of Identity' are as ill-informed as they are misconceived.

This is just silly. If you want to know about First-Order Logic, Aristotelian syllogism theory, or the work of Frege, Russell, Whitehead, Tarski and Quine, ask a marxist who's made extensive study of dialectical logic.

...bitter experience over the last twenty-five years 'debating' with the DM-faithful tells me I am talking to Marxists with stoppered ears.

In other words, "They don't listen to me because they're scared". I'll have to reserve judgement on this one.

Three billion or more workers cannot be wrong; we can't keep blaming our failure on their "false consciousness". Dialectics is not the "world-view of the proletariat", since they know nothing of it, never have, and never will.

Strawman. No one has ever claimed the workers are instinctively dialectical. To say that marxism is derived from what is in the interests of the workers is not to say it comes from what the workers are interested in.

Lichtenstein expands on a justifies these points in many essays, and promises many more to come. I'm not terribly impressed with the arguments she gives in the overview, but I'll be reading more of her work when there's time.

Dialectology (so to speak) is a surprisingly neglected field, given how central it is to several schools of philosophy. Chris Arthur has written articles and a book on the subject, and there's John Rees' "Algebra of Revolution", plus of course works by Engels. I think we could use more, and Rosa Lichtenstein is one of the few writing about it.

As a footnote, a google search on Chris Arthur (Who I met briefly at a conference on...dialectics) bumped me into this this site. Myths and legends of Marxism - looks promising.

Alta Native: Ba-Dum, Tish!

Tuesday was a day for synthetic drums and productive failures. Well, I'm sure it was a day for lots of things, but that's what I used it for.

I spent most of the daylight hours messing about with this bit of software. It models the vibrations of percussive membranes. In spite of being called EasyPiano.

It seems to be a highschool project of three Russian students, and it's far from finished. It can't even save WAV files, and there's no damping mechanism - so it can convincingly make metal drums, but not those of manmade fibres or wood. Not yet anyway.

However, after several hours I did get a reasonable steel snare drum sound. And then decided not to use it. But nevermind - I know how to make more now.

Tassman is also capable of synthesising real-sounding drums, and I spent another few hours trying things out with that. I've little doubt I could come up with a several complete drumkits in Tassman - given a spare week or two with nothing else to do. A future project.

I'd been trying to come up with a tenth and final cover song for the gig in January, and the part of my brain that enjoys being perverse suggested a triphop version of Squeeze's "Cool for Cats". With real sounding drums - hence the work with EasyPiano and Tassman.

It's an "interesting" idea, but didn't really work when I tried it out. So I switched to the reserve idea - "First We Take Manhattan" by Leonard Cohen, done a la Georgio Moroder.

For this I needed...synthetic sounding drums. Rather than searching through backup discs, I knocked together a new set in an hour, using filtered white noise in Audition.

Remember the Symmons drum sounds of the 80s? Think Cameo, the later Fine Young Cannibals, Michael and Janet Jackson, and a million soul records with no soul whatsoever. Same synthesis technique, same sort of sounds.

The drum and synth demo of "Manhattan" was okay, but not inspiring. Generic Kapitano - slightly grungy primitive synths and bangy drums. It was late and I was tired. Just before climbing into bed with a chapter of John LeCarre, I tried out something on impulse...

Rapping "Cool for Cats" over the Cohen/Moroder backing. It worked. I thought it sounded pretty good. So that's going to be the final song.

So I've got my set - in demo form at least - and I've got a few new skills that I won't use this time, but which will come in useful. And that's what I mean by productive failure.

What I've Got

I've got two boots.

That is, my laptop now has a dual-boot system - Windows 2000 and XP, so I get to enjoy all the infuriating idiosyncrasies of both.

I've got a Mother with a white wig from ebay. And that's one of those quite plain and innocent sentences you just don't expect to hear.

I didn't expect to stagger downstairs one morning to find her in it either. And she won't tell me why she's got it. She dyes her grey hair black (or sometimes red), and puts a white wig on top. Very puzzling. But at least it's never blue-rinse.

I've got a hard disk slowly filling up with synthpop mp3s - and they're not the same hundred played on all the ShoutCast 80s stations either. They're courtesy of Pandora.Com

I've mentioned Pandora before - it's a personal streaming net radio station, based on the notion that you'll like unfamiliar music if it's similar to familiar music you already like. "Similar" is defined in terms of 400+ characteristics that pop songs and bands have.

For instance, "Suffer the Children" by Tears for Fears shows "synth rock arranging, electronica influences, a subtle use of vocal harmony, repetitive melodic phrasing, and a vocal centric aesthetic". "I Ran" by A Flock of Seagulls has "vocal centric aesthetic, minor key tonality, [and] prominent use of synth".

I told it I liked Information Society, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Dead or Alive and OMD, and it's giving me Spandau Ballet, The Bee Gees (in their synthpop phase), Thompson Twins, Psychedelic Furs and (a little surprisingly) Mike and the Mechanics. Just up: Wang Chung.

Of course, Pandora is really a marketing tool - a way to introduce fans of a particular genre to similar stuff they might not know, so they can buy it from iTunes and Amazon. They go to increasing lengths to stop you saving the streamed files, but there's always ways.

There's straightforwardly recording what the soundcard plays with TotalRecorder, or even Audition, both of which I've tried. There's also a ripping tool, still in development, called Pandora's Jar. It requires some knowledge of MS-DOS batch files, and it'll only work on XP with SP2 and Flash 8. Well, it should, but it won't for me.

After 24 hours frustrating messing around with it, I've gone lo-tech. The mp3s are uploaded to your hard disk, played, and deleted when you close down Pandora's Java window. For some reason, the temporary folder alternates between "\Documents and Settings\Kapitano\Local Settings\Temp" and "\Documents and Settings\Kapitano\Local Settings\Temp\plugtmp-1" (on Xp at least), with two different file naming systems - both of which inevitably produce uninformative file names without mp3 extensions.

So, copy the files from both folder to somewhere else before you close the window, use a duplicate finder from Tucows to remove multiple copies, use a free file renamer to rename them something like "Pandora Synthpop [Serial Number].mp3", and put what you've got on random shuffle in your favourite mp3 player.

Result: A lot of 44.1/128mbps mp3s you don't know that sound like ones you do, and no easy way to know the artists and titles. Not good for finding specific songs, but rather good for pleasant surprises and inspiration.

I've just been introduced to Saga and Fischerspooner, and reintroduced to Front 242 and Holly Johnson.

I also have a cold. As is traditional around christmas. The kind that saps all your strength and muzzies up your head.

And finally, I have a choice of food. On one side of the table is a bowl of green porridgelike substance that is filling, nutritious, healthy and contains no fat or sugar at all. On the other side is a mars bar.

It's Only Words

People have no trouble in describing something rigid and square as a "floppy disc". Oh, there is a disc inside the square, and it is indeed floppy, but that's not the point - most people who use floppy discs don't know that.

Once you realise how loose the connection is between the meanings that words have in sentences and the meanings they have in stock phrases, a lot of other terms become explicable. Creation Science and Christian Science, Born Leader and Natural Victim, Compassionate Capitalism and Friendly Fire. None of which mean what a dictionary would suggest.

To say nothing of Absolute Idealism, Incapacity Benefit and Straight Flush.

It's not always a bad thing. Take Chaos Theory - a theory about patterns that are infinitely complex and inherently unpredictable, so in a sense not theorisable. A theory of untheorisability - brilliant, and seemingly true too.

There's a sticker on this laptop showing the words "Designed for Windows XP". Since I've installed XP it's been nothing but trouble. Slow to open programs and update display, prone to crashes and lockups.

If/when Windows Vista ever becomes available, I won't be inclined to try it out. I don't mean the first release - I mean the second or third, when the bugs we've come to know and love from Microsoft have been ironed out.

The only major reason for me to use XP is Nuendo won't install under 2000. Will Cubase 3SX? I'll have to check.

There's always Macs. There's always Linux. But I'd have to run most of my existing software on a PC emulation - which is just a touch perverse.

UPDATE: Looks like Cubase 3 (and 4) require XP. Bugger.

FruityLoops and AcidPro can run under 2000, but their composition style is more loop based. I'll have to think about this.

Compare and contrast two snippets of well known pop song lyrics:

Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think I can take it
'Cause it took so long to make it
And I'll never have that recipe again
- "MacArthur Park" by Richard Harris, covered by Donna Summer

No, no limits, we reach for the sky
No valley to deep, no mountain too high
No, no limits, won't give up the fight
We do what we want, and we do it with pride
- "No Limits" by 2 Unlimited

One of these is routinely derided as shallow and trivial. The other is routinely lauded as a clear evocation of a passionate state of mind. But which is which?

Which is downright silly, and which gets its message across effectively?

Oh, and parks, as a rule, do not melt.

People have been finding my blog through search engines. Here's the search terms from the last two weeks:


Always a popular combination. Like ham and eggs, fear and loathing, drunkenness and debauchery, Terry and June.

Maybe not Terry and June.

wherefore art thou homeo and homeo
kate bush sensual world mp3
eratic NLP

I could describe Neuro-Linguistic Programming in many ways. Fraudulent, expensive, ineffectual, a waste of time, the center of a cult, a pseudoscience, a reincarnation of EST, one reason Richard Bandler is an alcoholic cocaine addled multimillionaire, a mishmash of cod freudian psychology and misunderstood chomskian grammar, a way for managers to manipulate workers, the subject of some of the most pathetic self-help books I've ever flicked through and, well, a pile of pernicious shit. But "erratic", however

testicular pain gay torture

Erm. Yes. Well. Another always popular combination.

happy birthday happy happy birthday

That's half the chorus to one of my songs! Not one of my better songs, obviously.

"this christmas i gave you my heart" lyrics

It's "Last Christmas", and I suspect it's really a song about shagging a co-worker at the office christmas party, then finding the next day they're a bit of a slut.

Last Christmas, I gave you my cock
But the very next day you remembered it not
This year, because I've gone queer
I'll give it to someone real hot.



trojan garden

Sounds like an indie band. Probably is an indie band.

audio dropout nathan barley DVD
doug kenline

Oh I remember him. The kind of nutcase who rails in equal measure against liberals, homosexuals and income tax.

what happend to Gqueer

I think it became Guys4Men.

something excellent for me

Always a good idea.

CD130E2NG software support

There isn't any. The software is a pain to use even when it does work, the camera doesn't work, and there's no support.

Keeps changing channel
tatoo tree peredur
tatoo on left chest

What is the word for one half of the chest? Pectoral, I suppose.

Reszo Serres who wrote Gloomy Sunday and Meghalt a szeretet!
Doctor Who and the Daleks

Two of my favourite things.

Right, I'm going to have to reinstall Windows again, going back to 2000. Again. See you in a day or so.

Gay Day Away

Saturday spent with Minge, touring the sights of Portsmouth.

He arrived by train, complete with corduroy cap and jacket, scarf and cheeky grin. Plus the northern habit of calling everyone "Love" or "Hen" and hugging instead of shaking hands. Portsmouth people generally don't like to touch each other - at least not those over 25 and above the poverty line.

Fortunately, Portsmouth people don't like to make eye contact either, so they can't do disapproving glares. I think I can honestly say I've never been kissed by a minge before, ANYWAY...

The first port of call was a crowded caff for tea and shared flapjack, launching into discussion of the Scottish Socialist Party, Tommy Sherridan the oily scottie commie and George Bloody Galloway, the Respect party's biggest liability (and asset). With detours into whether we'd let them shag us.

Then I introduced him to some comrades doing the Saturday Socialist Worker sale in the shopping precinct, and we compared perspectives on the complete and utter blithering mess called Iraq. Odd how absolutely everyone - up to Henry Kissenger and George Bush - acknowledges that it is a blithering mess with no obvious solution. There's just no consensus as to which desperate measure is least dangerous.

Then we trolled through the architectural highlights of the Guildhall (once used in a movie to represent the Peter & Paul Palace in Moscow), some war memorials (forgotten and unvisited, as is the whole point of memorials), the Anglican cathedral (nasty redbrick), the Catholic cathedral (nice whitestone), HMS Victory ("Why has it got funnels?")...and Gunwharf.

Gunwharf is half hideously expensive shopping mall, half hideously expensive luxury apartment flats. It was the last stab at "urban renewal" five years ago, and has provided us with a shop that sells nothing but sunglasses, one that sells enormous bars of ultracheap chocolate, and a lot of empty flats no one can afford to live in. But at least we get a cinema out of it.

We ate lunch in one of the many sophisticated eateries, served by a sweetly camp waiter called Ken - Bengali I think. Minge's UKP11 got him a steak with salad, and my UKP5 got me fried calamari and more salad. Minge paid for everything, which I'm grateful for, because I'm rather close to bankruptcy.

We spoke of the myraid mysteries of human sexuality - the way it can become "attached" to any object or activity as a fetish, the way it changes of it's own accord but can't be made to change, and the endless hypocrisy's of public attitude. Minge is a smart guy, interesting to talk with.

The most well known part of Gunwharf is the tower. Essentially a very tall liftshaft, with a glass observation tower at the top. For UKP5 each, you can view the town as a seagull would see it - which is admittedly an impressive sight. You also buy mementos from the small and painfully tatty giftshop - tower pencil sharpeners, tower rubber balls for your dog to chew, two foot long bendy tower biros, and "highly abstract models" of the tower itself. Which is to say, hollow plastic tubes with a sliding foam "elevator".

The evening we spent in The Old Vic, Portsmouth's least trendy poofpub. Joined by Simon M, we happily talked of showsongs and politicians. And which ones we'd let shag us.

Simon thought he was very sweet and rather cute. We kissed goodnight next to the city's enormous illuminated christmas tree - fenced off so no one could climb up it and fall off. Minge took the train back to a different seedy seaside resort, and I went home for exhausted sleep.


I wrote this to clarify my own thoughts on writing murder mysteries, but it grew somewhat.

Crime, setting, clues, plot. Four factors that influence each other when creating the outline of a mystery story.

"Crime" is, of course, the criminal event, which is usually a murder. There's no great significance in the crime being a murder - it's just part of the genre. It could just as easily be theft, rape or fraud. Indeed, it could be an event which is not technically illegal but is noteworthy, such as the bride absconding from a wedding, or someone taking a surprising job. However, I'm going to assume the crime is a murder.

The murder has a Setting. I don't just mean the place where it happens; I mean all the aspects of a location, building, era, culture etc. which limit what the killer, victim, witnesses, suspects and detective can do.

If the murder takes place in the present day, in the attic of a guest house, then this places limits on how the killing could be achieved, what the witnesses could have seen, what clues could be left, and how the detective could find them.

The killer can't use antigravity boots to get into the attic, can't persuade the victim to smother themselves with a pillow, and can't disguise themselves as the victim well enough to fool all the other residents for a week.

The Clues are a collection of individually incomplete indicators of how the crime really occurred. Together, they have to logically show both that the perpetrator committed the crime in a certain way, and that it could not have been committed by anyone else in the same way, and that it could not have been committed by anyone in some other way.

Sometimes clues indicate motive, but thankfully this is currently out of fashion. Any mystery that is solved simply by showing which one of the suspects had a motive is just plain rubbish. Dorothy L Sayers wrote that once you know the only possible way a crime could have been committed, that will tell you who is the only person who could have committed it. And once you know that, motive is either obvious or trivial.

Maybe she was overstating the case, but in my opinion, motives are very easy to construct, and can be just tagged onto the rest of the story as an afterthought, if you are so inclined.

Some clues are red herrings - they point to some perpetrator or method other than the "real" one. Red herrings are tricky to write well, because there need to be extra clues which constitute incontrovertible proof that they're the false clues and the others are the "real" ones. If you don't find a way in the story to convincingly discount red herrings, there is more than one possible solution at the end of the book and - shock horror - the detective might be wrong.

The good mystery writer hides real clues in a mass of irrelevant detail and a few red herrings, but doesn't withhold them from the reader.

The fourth factor, Plot, is the way the clues are laid out in front of the detective, and is also constrained by Setting. If the detective is a Miss Marple-like character, they have to go around each of the characters, interviewing them informally, hoping that some clues will slip out in their testimony. Miss Marple can blag her way into the hotel room where the murder occurred and nose around for a few minutes, but she can't get a search warrant or batter down the door. Also, she can't aggressively interrogate anyone, unlike DCIs Taggart or Tennyson.

There is a fifth factor - character. The personalities and quirks of the characters, including the detective and victim. Some character traits, such as a habit or a way of walking, can be clues. However, most characterisation is there to turn the puzzle into a story. It makes the story more readable - and bulkier - but doesn't add much to the mystery.

Having said that, some murder mysteries are highly novelistic, with extensive characterisation - even including subplots that have nothing to do with the mystery. The fashion for novelistic mysteries - or even novels where the mystery is just an excuse for the other plots - is quite strong as the moment, perhaps because all the straightforward puzzles have already been done.

So, we have Crime, Setting, Clues and Plot. Plus the parenthetical issues of Character and Motive. When constructing a mystery story, you can start with any one of the four main factors, seeing what it suggests about the others, and letting the implications bounce back and forth, sometimes changing the initial premise.

For example, let's say I want begin with the Crime and work outwards. I begin with the premise that an elderly woman, a patient in a care home, is found dead one morning. She's been poisoned, but has no obvious enemies, was not wealthy, and had not visitors for the last six months.

Already this gives me some elements of the setting - a care home for the elderly, containing a varied community of old people (mostly women), plus carers, administrators and visitors. Let's say the victim was maintained there by her family, who would have the cash to do so, but, as she's not rich, neither are they.

This gives me a plausible motive - the family, running out of money because the old woman is living longer than expected, kill her to stop themselves going bankrupt. That's the "why" sorted out, but what about the "how"?

Let's say the old woman, who I've decided on a whim to call Mary, was sent a box of chocolates, one of which was poisoned. it might take her a week of occasionally eating random chocolates from the box to find the poisoned one, but eventually she did. So the killer wanted her dead, but wasn't on a strict timetable.

If Mary's family just visited out of the blue after six months and gave her a box of chocolates, soon after which she died, that would throw suspicion instantly onto the family. So they need to find another way to get the chocolates to her.

How about: Mary had been receiving romantic letters for months from what she thought was a male admirer? He could ask her to burn all his letters - to eliminate evidence - and she wouldn't be suspicious if he sent her a little gift in the post.

But if Mary is 80, is this likely? It's possible, but not probable. So let's make Mary 60, attractive and mentally active, but forced into the home by her parents because she couldn't walk easily and had a heart condition?

And what if she'd had a fling with a married man when she was 40? A man who appeared to be writing her romantic letters 20 years later, now that his wife had died. The killer, knowing about the fling, could easily make Mary think he was writing to her again.

This suggests a clue for the detective to find. Mary keeps the letters from her old flame, and the police track him down - to find he's living with his domineering wife, and still having affairs with women his own age at the bowls club. But handwriting analysis shows that whoever sent Mary the letters, it wasn't him.

This tells the detective that someone who knew about Mary's past had killed her. Which excludes the carers and most of her friends at the home, because she never discussed the affair with them.

The handwritten letters show nothing interesting forensically, and the handwriting is too idiosyncratic and inconsistent for analysis, and doesn't match any of the suspects. The variability of the handwriting is a clue, which I've just retrofitted into the story.

So now I have a crime, a setting, some clues, and the barest outlines of plot, the development of which have modified the original crime.

But what about non-family members who knew about Mary's past, and might want her dead for their own bizarre reasons? Mary had a confidant at the home, a fellow inmate (call her Sarah) she trusted with knowledge of her past exploits. Could Sarah have written the letters? No, because she has Parkinson's disease, which makes her hands too unsteady.

Could she have dictated the letters to a nurse, on the pretext that they were just conspiring to cheer up poor old Mary who's family never visited her? I'm sure there could be a red herring where the nurse does write Sarah's letters for her, but they're to her solicitor, and concern her will.

Now how can I tie all this up into a plot? Well, it gives my detective (a police inspector, not an amateur) a set of people to interview, all of who can drop clues. Specifically:

* The resident who found the body
* Some administrators of the home
* Some carers, including the one Sarah used
* Sarah
* Sarah's solicitor
* Mary's family - let's say her daughter and the daughter's husband.
* Mary's old flame

Interviews with these gives a plot outline something like this:

* The administrators know nothing. Neither do most of the carers, or the resident who found the body.

* One of the carers tells the detective that Mary had been receiving letters, and she was always cheerful afterwards, writing back immediately.

* Sarah confirms that the old flame was back in Mary's life. On a second interview she says that the letters she dictated were to her solicitor. The solicitor confirms this, as does the carer who helped write the legal letters.

* The old flame maintains he hasn't heard from Mary in 20 years. A handwriting expert shows that neither he nor his wife wrote the letters.

* Mary's daughter maintains (truthfully) that neither she nor her husband had visited Mary for six months, but admit that they had pushed her into the care home to be rid of her. The husband lets slip that he's in debt - which suggests they can no longer afford to keep Mary in the home.

* The postmark on the letters to Mary are from a town nowhere near where any of the characters live. However, the husband does drive through there every week as part of his job.

* The handwriting on the letters is highly variable and doesn't match any of the suspects, but if some words or phrases were written by the daughter and some by her husband, a match is possible.

* Between them, they did it.

Okay, it's not great, but I think it's passable as a whodunnit puzzle. There's undoubtedly some holes that can be picked, but I only came up with this one as an exercise. The real one will need more time to work out.


Life is basically a bit crap at the moment.

I'm short of cash, and so is everyone else. I don't mind a frugal christmas; but a broke December is another matter. C is in trouble and I wish I could help but I can't - maybe I'll post about that sometime. The sky is a dozen shades of dim cold rainy grey, and the mood is infectious.

I had a raft of blood tests yesterday, and should have the results in about a week.

The job market is very strange right now. Five years ago it was possible to find temporary, rubbish jobs that you'd do for a few months until a worthwhile vancancy came along in something you actually wanted to do. So there'd be quallified computer programmers working as drivers and cleaners for a while, before going back to programming computers on a long term basis.

Now, most of the computer programming jobs are temporary...and the traditional rubbish jobs have almost disappeared. Unskilled work for packers, stackers, choppers and cutters, skilled blue-collar work for sparkys, chippys, truckers and the like, all gone. There's obviously still people doing these jobs, but there's no vacancies - or if there are, they're snapped up by sections of the working class who're invisible to me.

There are call centres taking on new people. I actually got an interview for one of them years ago - imagine Fort Knox run by the Stepford Wives. One day in one of those places and I'd be carving poetry into the warm corpse of my boss just to have something less pointless to do.

I've just applied for an archivist job at the university. They want a part-time graduate to do the work of six full-time experts. Which, oddly enough, describes the last job I had at the university.

Anyway, in short: no money, no jobs, no prospects.

There is one thing to look forward to. Minge is visiting on Saturday, and I have a guided tour loosely planned of the more historic and photographable bits of this town that I can't quite manage to leave.

I'm collecting ebooks on how to be an author. The shortest so far is "Writing successfully in 10 minutes" by Stephen King. This is my one minute summery of Mr King's ten minute course:

1) If you can't write well, don't try writing for a living. Or as King says "Be talented". No one knows exactly what talent is, but if you've reveived 500 rejection slips, you don't have it.

2) Be neat - type double spaced, use good paper etc.

3) Be self-critical - if you haven't extensively annotated your first draft with changes, you're being lazy.

4) Make your point quickly - don't be verbose, or circuitous, or preachy.

5) Don't research as you write - if you're not sure of a fact or spelling, check and correct it after you've written.

6) Know the market - submit manuscripts only to publishers who deal with the genres you write.

7) Be entertaining - be informative, angry, exact, satirical, inventive or whatever, but only so long as you're entertaining first.

8) If you don't enjoy writing, don't write.

9) Listen to criticism - if 7 out of 10 readers don't like something, change it.

10) Submit properly - return postage, SAE etc.

11) Be your own agent until you're successful enough to have one.

12) If you know your story is bad, discard it.

These points are pretty obvious, though I think (3) is exagerated. I'd add a thirteenth point - write as you speak when you're speaking well.

I've started work on a short story - a nice simple murder mystery that shouldn't be too difficult to complete, before I try anything more ambitious. I'm also keeping notes about the process of writing it - the idea being to post both when it's done, to show both the production and the product, and hopefully how the two are related.

Injected with a Poison

Which can I live without more - two of my back teeth, or half of my bank account? And which would I prefer - a friendly dentist, or one who's honest about how much he's going to charge?

I might know when my jaw stops aching.

I'd forgotten that novocaine injections made you feel nauseus for hours even after the nerve numbness fades.

I'm always fascinated by just how stupid people can be. I don't mean how ignorant or misinformed, I mean how confused and how certain in their confusion.

This is a comment made in all seriousness by the poster "armyofghosts" to the Outpost Gallifrey discussion forum:
Im not sure if i believe in globabl warming. Even if things are getting warmer what am i supposed to do about it? Also what is wrong with nicer wether? People complain too much.

The discussion was in response to a report from the Bush administration, on how climate scientists are political zealots who get a feeling of power from creating panic. Which is in itself pretty stupid, though most posters understood it was just the administration persuading itself it could be complacent.

Much of the debate was in the side issue of whether or not climate change is caused by humans (i.e. by industry). Presumably the thinking is that, if the planet becomes uninhabitable because of human activity, we should do something about it. But if it becomes uninhabitable for other reasons, we should let it happen.

Who says physics isn't sexy?

My trojan infection was quite sneaky. So far as I can tell, it looked for files called "setup", and created randomly named duplicates of itself in the same folder - sometimes several. All the duplicates are 126Kb exe files, named with random 7-character strings of upper and lower case letters and numerals.

I'm doing a global search for files that match those parameters, and deleting them. However, I've checked and there's a lot of them in my RAR archives - which of course I made just prior to reinstalling windows - so I'll have to unzip them all and repeat the search.

The trojan disables CTRL-ALT-DEL access to the Task Manager, to make it harder to shut it down while running. But I'm still not sure what it actually does. My firewall blocked some calls out from "CRSS", so maybe it's just garden variety spyware.

UPDATE: I found 152 of them.

Tick the Box


One laptop with most software reinstalled - Check.

One 20 minute set of 7 cover songs by Unknown Future, suitable softknee'd and exciter'd to make it sound good, on CD for the band - Check.

Two 40 minute sets by Strict Machines, similarly processed - Check.

One foot in the door to music industry - Check.

One review of Torchwood episode 8 completed and sent to the editor - Check.

One dreaded 0830 dentist appointment in five hours - Check.

One bedroom too cluttered to sleep in - Um, check.

Vocals for 8 songs recorded - Not yet. Too busy.

Three friends, one depressed, one bankrupt and one suicidal - Check.

what I can do to help - Not much.

In Short, in Fine, in Brief...

Quite a lot has happened, but most of it's either personal (as in trivial) or personal (as in sensitive and private). So, given that I'm too tired to write much, here's recent events in summery form:

2300 I get a virus on the laptop.
2330 I lose my internet connection and find I can't get rid of the virus.
2335 I decide to reinstall Windows.

0100 I collate all the files that need backing up, and put them on 3 DVDRs. This takes six hours, so I pass the time watching Torchwood and reading Montaigne.
0700 I try to format the system partition and install Windows XP.
0800 I find an XP disc that works, and sleep while it installs.
1700 I wake and remember I'm suppose to record the Strict Machines gig.
1900 We finally get to the Nell Gwynne pub.
1945 The gig finally starts, and recording goes fairly smoothly.
2330 Go home

0130 Get internet connection back.
0200 Start to install software on Windows.

At a rough count, there's eighty programs and plugins that I use regularly. As of 0300 I've installed five. Oh sod it, I'm going to bed.

Alta Native: Brace Yourself, My Dear

I learned quite a few things about sequencers and physically modelled guitar plugins last night. I also learned that "Hey Matthew" done a la The Clash doesn't work.

I thought "What would be a surprising take on the song? I know! A 70s reggae-as-punk version". So after six or seven hours, I had two and a bit candidate backing tracks for the song, with basslines Paul Simenon might play in an alternate universe, and off-beat rhythm guitar that even Joe Strummer would find simple.

Result: Two and a bit tracks that I can't find a way to sing the lyrics over. The Clash themselves could (and did) learn their instruments as they wrote their songs, but I'm not so good at combining experimentation with production.

However, I do now know how to make a ska-like track using Nuendo and Slayer 2. So I'm thinking..."Holiday in Cambodia"?

I won't get to do much tomorrow. Strict Machines are (a) practicing X-Ray Spex songs using the tabs I found for them and (b) playing a gig in the evening, which I'm recording. Piping six ambient microphones into a digital recorder turns out to be less of a logistical nightmare than giving each band member a stereo input.

They're "playing support act to" (read: headlining for) a band of 14-year old punk girls, who are reputedly very cool and would probably appreciate a CD of their set too.

I've got to find some snippets of samplable film dialogue to go between the tracks of my own CD. There's over 300 films and TV episodes on DivX DVD in front of me, but they're in no particular order, and uncatalogued. So if the samples sound a bit random, that's probably because they are.

There's one somewhere of Jason King shouting "Your turn, Capitano!".


UKP35 for a six year old video camera, with power lead but no batteries or instruction manual. I call that a pretty good bargain from ebay.

On an impulse, I had a look at the newsgroups dedicated to ebooks. I was expecting a few posts of old classics from Project Gutenberg. Well I was wrong.

The largest newsgroup I looked at - alt.binaries.e-book.technical - had over 160GB of stuff. That's one hundred and sixty gigabytes - enough to fill 36 DVDRs or 233 CDRs! There's PDFs, CHMs and RTFs covering a vast range of subjects - from ancient history, human anatomy and photography to the specifications of warships, home electronics and big bang nucleosynthesis.

It took me nearly two hours to sort through the list to select the fraction that I thought might be interesting - or comprehensible. But now I've got 50 introductions to C++ (some of them full length books), some classic transcribed lectures from Richard Feynman, instructions on how to do pencil drawings, textbooks on calculus, and language courses in Spanish, German and Japanese. Oh, and a hundred Star Trek novels from another group.

Sometimes I get jaded and blase about the internet, with it's spam, viruses endless stupid websites. But there's just so much great stuff out there - If I want to, I can read ten books about abstruse scientific subjects the average university library wouldn't cover.

Even if it does take me hours to sort through, and take up all my hard disk space.

Mother is studying XHTML, XML and CSS (subjects I know only in barest outline) with the Open University, so I've got a load of stuff on that for her.

Karel Fialka is a professional teacher of music technology. He also had one hit record in the 80s with "Hey Matthew" (here on YouTube). It's a slice of one-hit-wonder idiosyncratic DIY synthpop, in the same vein as White Town (Video) and Murray Head (Video)

So, guess which song I had the urge to cover?

I don't believe it. The email scammer, the one who needs my bank details for their USD5 million, the one I sent a sarcastic reply to - they've got back to me.

And they're going along with my suggestion - I open an empty account, and they put a million dollars into it. But they stress that time is short, so could I please do it now.

I'm half tempted to see how far this could go. Maybe I should find a bank I've never used, make an account, and email the "African heiress" - dropping in asides about my time spent imprisoned in The Bay and mentioning Allah-May-Peace-Be-Upon-Him.

But then, it has all been done already.

PS. More short stories coming soon.


I wrote this short story in 1992, when I was 20. I've edited it slightly. The title comes from the philosophy of Heidegger, and means roughly "forgetting that one exists".

It was a nice little ceremony. Just me, her, the vicar, the ring and her family. My family all refused to come. Three months later Nicholas was born, then two years later a girl. Even then I sometimes considered walking out, but I didn't have the nerve. It took me fifteen years to work up to it, then I just walked out the front door. I felt like a character in a spy novel - hat and dark glasses, clutching a document folder, sitting alone in a carriage, on a train chosen at random, going north.

I was in a rock band when I was a teenager. I suppose that's quite common. We called ourselves 'Fatalistics'. Our drummer wanted to name us after an old Beatles track - I can't remember what it was called. The guitarist left and we changed our name to 'M for Murder'. I met my first girlfriend at the second gig we played. It was in a local pub. We were playing 'Stand by your man' and she walked in with her sister and another female friend. The band split up soon after I started going out with her. Our first date was to see a horror film in some old run down local cinema.

I got off the train when it stopped in a town I'd never heard of. I found lodgings in a guesthouse. It was run by a horrible cantankerous old lady called Mrs Goddard. I got a job in a local bank and settled down to my new life. I decided to buy a small bungalow with my savings. At first I considered taking lodgers of my own, but decided against it. The only trouble I ever had in that small town - more of a village really - was with my neighbour. A retired colonel named Plunkit. He never called himself 'Mr', he always insisted on 'Colonel Pluinkit Retired', with a slight punctuation between the second and third words. A handlebar moustache would have suited him.

Our first child was a boy. We called him Thomas. She wanted to call him Nicholas. Our second child was a girl. We called her Sal. At age three Sal caught influenza - she nearly died but the doctors bought her through. I've always had great respect for doctors. I don't think I could do what they do.

People like to think that small towns are peaceful, with quiet, nice people. They are not. Small towns are just as noisy as large towns (and just as parochial) but the people get worked up over different things. Smaller things as a rule. Retired Major Plunkit, my next door neighbour once lent me his lawnmower, but when I gave it back he said I'd put a dent in it. I hadn't of course - the dent had always been there. He stopped talking to me after that. Strange, to stop talking to your own neighbour because of something a minor as a dented lawnmower, but there you are. That's people for you I suppose.

I think the first time I thought about leaving her - my common law wife, that is - was when our first son (his name was Nicholas) nearly died of influenza, and she blamed me. In fact I'm not sure she ever really stopped blaming me. Some say that women arn't rational, that men are the ones who need to make the decisions, but I don't think that's true at all. Women are rational, in fact I think they're more practical than their menfolk, but when it come to children, especially their own children, they seem to lose all power to be objective.

I remember my first girlfriend. Our first date was going to see a local band called 'Dial M for Murder'. They weren't very good. I met her again, quite by chance, about ten years later. It turned out I'd been to school with her sister. In fact her sister was the girl whose pigtails I used to dip in the inkwells at school, in Miss Caldicots's Geography lessons. She - my ex-girlfriend that is, not her sister with the inky pigtails - eventually married a bank clerk who ran off to sunny Spain with a loose woman.

I think the people of the village were actually quite sad to see me go. I was their resident mysterious stranger. They probably thought I was a war criminal, or a bank robber. Mrs Hobbes, a local shopkeeper, gave me a little going away present. I caught a train going north, not bothering to find out it's route. My next door neighbour but one - a retired Colonel - tried to get me to pay for repairs to a lawnmower he'd lent me that I'd apparently damaged. I don't know what he was talking about - he'd never lent me anything. Tight fisted old sod. Anyway, I jumped on a train and headed north.

I remember, on our honeymoon, on the first night of our honeymoon, we went to see some ridiculous horror film. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but looking back I don't suppose it was the most romantic of evenings together. Sill, it can't have been all that bad. That night she got pregnant with our first child. I wanted to call him Thomas, and she wanted to call him Nicholas. In the event it was a girl. Slightly premature. The doctors did a good job with our little girl. I've always admired doctors and people like them. I don't think I could do what they do.

I felt like a character in a rather bad spy novel. Hat, trenchcoat, document folder, sitting alone in a train carriage, not knowing what I would find at the other end of the line. I learnt something important about train journeys that time. When listening to to that syncopation of wheels on track, you should never, repeat never, try to fit words to the rhythm, because if if you do, the wheels will be saying it for the entire journey, and you simply can't get rid of it. It's the same with a dripping tap. In fact I think it's the same with people talking.

When I was about ten years old I wanted to be a fighter pilot, then a nuclear scientist, then an actor. The trouble was I had vertigo, and didn't know anything about science, and didn't understand Skakespere. Someone once said you always end up doing what you're second best at. The thing is: if I'm second best at walking out on my wife and kids, what am I best at?

I got off the train. This town was somewhat larger, and more industrialised, then that last one. I found temporary bed and board in one of those cheap and cheerful guesthouses catering to businessmen and women 'just passing through'. It was run by a cantankerous old woman called Mrs Goddard and her husband. I never heard the husband speak once.

It was an eighteen month engagement, and we got married in a Registry Office. Just me and her. We first met a little more that two years beforehand, in distinctly unromantic circumstances. It was in a pub, with a somewhat over-loud local band playing old Beatles tracks at one end. She was there alone. In fact she was only there at all because her boyfriend of the time was the drummer in the band.

I moved out of the guesthouse, and bought myself a small apartment in a flat with my savings. I found a job, as a bank clerk. Started going out with a young woman. She had pigtails.

Our first son was born twelve months after the marriage. Our second son twelve months after that. They both wanted to be fighter pilots when they were ten. Thomas, the second son, wanted to be a nuclear scientist when he was twelve, and an actor when he was fifteen. He joined a rock band, called 'Fatal Statistics', or something like that.

I've always liked women with pigtails, it makes them look like little schoolgirls. I remember, at school, one girl kept on accusing me of dipping her pigtails in the inkwell. I didn't, of course. Though I admit I had been tempted. The woman I was going out with had been married once, but her husband had run off to Spain with some other woman, and her child had died, some years earlier, at age four, of influenza. I think she just needed someone to talk to. She told me about he husband. He had been in the army, a major, but had to retire for health reasons.

I think, the thing I most regret is never having settled down, got married, had kids. I think I would have liked to be a family man, with a little dog to fetch my slippers and the newspaper. But no. I don't really regret anything. It's not been a bad life. I've got my wife, my kids, my medals from the army. I was a colonel. I was a major. I was never in the army. It's just a shame we never had kids. Our first child was born prematurely. I thought about running away but never did. I haven't seen my family for nine years. It was a nice little ceremony. Just me, her, the vicar, the ring and her family. Her family all refused to come.

You Are Here

Today would have been a good day for recording some singing, catching up on physics study, and generally tidying up. But I slept through it all instead.

I was awake long enough to keep a doctor's appointment, to get the results of the blood test and schedule some more. The good news is, I'm not diabetic - my blood sugar level is absolutely normal and the pressure is a little high but not dangerously so. The bad news is, I still have diabetes-like symptoms - lethargy, thirst, excessive urination, and cramps. The blurred vision is a symptom, but that's explained by the astigmatism. So I'm bookd for another dozen or so tests to find out the cause. Bearing in mind I might just be a fat old slob.

I got an exciting email today from a complete stranger. They want to know my bank details so they can transfer 5 million US dollars into it.

I've written back, offering to open a completely empty bank account for them. If they deposit a million dollars there, just to show they mean business, I've promised to give them my own bank account. I think that's fair, don't you?

Minge is coming to town! The Fabulous Minge is spending christmas on the south coast, and will be dropping by Portsmouth in about a fortnight. I'll be showing him the sights and sounds (and smells) in a guided tour of my home town.

The district I live in is Southsea, which is (a) the part of Portsmouth that periodically tries to be a seaside resort, (b) the suposedly fashionable part and (c) the part with the blurriest boundaries.

When a business or institution located in one of the 22 less fashionable places wants to raise it's profile, it pretends to be in Southsea. I've seen arts centres and doctor's surgeries with postcodes and premises that were miles away, but elevated to respectability by including the word "Southsea" in their printed address.

Eastney is a small district known for it's military barracks and...not much else. Apart from a cruising area next to the barracks, with beach huts kindly provided by the council for privacy. But now, it's started calling itself East Southsea, to reflect it's proud possession of a bowls club, a (small) golf course, and a marina with boats.

You Are 8% Capitalist, 92% Socialist

You see a lot of injustice in the world, and you'd like to see it fixed.

As far as you're concerned, all the wrong people have the power.

You're strongly in favor of the redistribution of wealth - and more protection for the average person.

You Are a New School Democrat

You like partying and politics - and are likely to be young and affluent.

You're less religious, traditional, and uptight than most Democrats.

Smoking pot, homosexuality, and gambling are all okay in your book.

You prefer that the government help people take care of themselves.

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 96%

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, "blame America first"-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day.... in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Alta Native 04/12/06

I actually have seven completed backing tracks waiting for me to record vocals over them - including a nicely lush string quartet version of "Them Heavy People" and a banging house cover of "Girl U Want".

Which means I have a fairly impressive number of half-finished jobs.

I've cobbled together some updated lyrics for Heaven 17's "Fascist Groove Thang". Here's the original:

Everybody move to prove the groove

Verse 1:
Have you heard it on the news
About this fascist groove thang
Evil men with racist views
Spreading all across the land
Dont just sit there on your ass
Unlock that funky chaindance
Brothers, sisters shoot your best
We dont need this fascist groove thang

Verse 2:
History will repeat itself
Crisis point were near the hour
Counterforce will do no good
Hot you ass I feel your power
Hitler proves that funky stuff
Is not for you and me girl
Europes an unhappy land
Theyve had their fascist groove thang

Brothers, sisters, we dont need this fascist groove thang
Brothers, sisters, we dont need this fascist groove thang

Verse 3:
Democrats are out of power
Across that great wide ocean
Reagans president elect
Fascist God in motion
Generals tell him what to do
Stop your good time dancing
Train their guns on me and you
Fascist thang advancing

Verse 4:
Sisters, brothers lend a hand
Increase our population
Grab that groove thang by the throat
And throw it in the ocean
Youre real tonight you move my soul
Lets cruise out of the dance war
Come out your house and dance your dance
Shake that fascist groove thang

And here's the update, as it stands:

Everybody move to prove the groove

Verse 1:
Have you heard it on the news
About this fascist groove thing
Evil men with racist views
Spreading out across the world
Rising crime, blame immigration
Falling work the same thing
Living in a suspect nation
Don't need this fascist groove thing

Verse 2:
History comes round again
They always say it's different
Finding someone new to blame
For the same old problems
Germany in thirty nine
Burning with a hooked cross
Then too late to see the signs
Marching fascist groove thing

Brothers, sisters, we dont need this fascist groove thang
Brothers, sisters, we dont need this fascist groove thang

Verse 3:
Democrats are back in power
Don't think we can trust them
Still think they can win somehow
In this war on terror
Oil men tell them what to do
Stop you thinking too much
Cameras on me and you
Fascist thing advancing

Verse 4:
She's the latest threat to peace
Woman with a headscarf
Smiling hatred on TV
Beamed into your own room
Brothers, sisters, take a stance
Together for the future
Live together, love and dance
Kill that fascist groove thing

Can I be immodest and say I think my lyrics are better than the original? Oh alright then.

The original version had a rather inconsistant rhyme structure, jumping irregularly between ABCB and ABAC, with a few quatrains that don't rhyme at all - mine's all ABAC, which is fairly unusual.

I'm finally getting to grips with the massively complex Nuendo sequencer. And a dozen carefully chosen VST plugins. I've spent the last five years making music with Reason, including most of this album, but there's no way I could make the punky guitar stabs in "The Dreaming" or those real-sounding strings in "Them Heavy People" in Reason.

The thing is though, it takes hours (or days) to find your way around a new synthesiser, especially when it works with virtual hammers, bows, strings and resonators instead of virtual oscillators, filters and envelopes.

UPDATE: Okay, three hours later, make that eight finished backing tracks. The Heaven 17 track is now rechristened "Acid Groove Thing", on account of harking back to the minimalist acid scene of the late 80s. Sampled 808s and a rough approximation of two 303s.

Incidentally, Heaven 17 seemingly like to compose in A-Minor. Probably for the same reasons I do.

I Seek Not to Know All the Answers...

I am tagged by the fabulous Minge.

10 things I'd never do:

1. Take a package holiday with a pengiun
2. Take a package holiday
3. Sing any song written by Justin Hayward
4. Have sex with Anne Widdecombe
5. Join the BNP
6. Pretend to be a stockbroker
7. Have sex with anyone called Anne
8. Read Dale Carnigie upside down
9. Have sex with a woman
10. Have sex with Dale Carnegie

Other things I'd never do:

Believe in Uri Geller, appear on a gameshow, clean my teeth with a haddock.

Fifty questions from Moncrief Speaks:

1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought?

So I'm still me then.

2. How much cash do you have on you?

20 pence. Tonight I spent £10 on drinks for me and others, £1 on a small polystyrene box of chips, £1.50 towards someone' train fare, and £35 on something from ebay.

3. What's a word that rhymes with "DOOR?"


4. Favorite planet?

Mars. It's where the invading little green men come from. Though Jupiter has more style.

5. Who is the 4th person on your missed call list on your mobile telephone?

Paul, guitartist with a band I'm recording.

6. What is your favourite ring tone on your mobile telephone?

Favourite? You mean it's possible to enjoy a ringtone? I use the monophonic nokia "tapdance", because it can be heard through anything.

7. What shirt are you wearing?

Cheap (3 for £5) white teeshirt, with a small curry stain just above my cardiac sphincter.

8. Do you "label" yourself?

Gay but not camp.
Intellectual but scatty.
Secure but poor.
Kind but impatient.
Labelled but contradictory,

9. Name the brand of the shoes you're currently wearing?

Black trainers. No visible brand.

10. Bright or dark room?

Bright. I'd prefer it darker.

11. What do you think about the person who took this survey before you?

I think they probably have a mole just below their left shoulderblade.

12. What does your watch look like?

My clock is my phone. It's the cheapest phone I could find.

13. What were you doing at midnight last night?

Trying to install BitTorrent. It eventually worked. It had now stopped working.

14. What did your last text message you received on your cell say?

Really sorry mate I have to cancel. I'm steaming pissed mate just staggering home so I can pass out when I get in. Sorry buddy.

15. Where is your nearest 7-11?


16. What's a word that you say a lot?


17. Who told you he/she loved you last?

A man called C. And he really did too. I was stupid enough to say I loved him too, without being certain.

18. Last furry thing you touched?

A rather nice fleecy jacked I found lying in a gutter

19. How many drugs have you done in the last three days?

Alcohol and caffine.

20. How many rolls of film do you need to get developed?

All my cameras are digital, and none of them work properly.

21. Favorite age you have been so far?

Thirty two. I fell in love, started singing, and shook off most of the past.

22. Your worst enemy?

International corporate imperialism. Either that or the one bloke in the universe too dumb to work out I'm gay. His name's Dave.

23. What is your current desktop picture?

A uniform dark blue.

24. What was the last thing you said to someone?

Oh right, thanks. I'll watch it later.

25. If you had to choose between a million bucks or to be able to fly what would it be?

The million bucks. There's nowhere I want to fly to.

26. Do you like someone?

"Like" as in "like and would like to like better"? No. I've given up on that for a few months.

27. The last song you listened to?

Heaven 17 - We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thang.

28. What time of day were you born?


29. What's your favorite number?


30. Where did you live in 1987?

Mostly in my own head, but apart from that in the same town I've lived in since I was four. I was 15, miserable, bullied, and wanted two things out of life - one was for almost everyone I knew to die horribly, and the other was to make music. I also wanted to read lots of books, and have sex with lots of men, both of which were the cause of the bullying.

31. Are you jealous of anyone?

Anyone who knows more about anything than me.

32. Is anyone jealous of you?

Amazingly, yes. For the same reason, I think.

33. Where were you when 9/11 happened?

Replying to emails about software. I saw the TV, and thought "Is this a disaster movie?". I realised it wasn't and thought "Just how low below it's usual flightpath have to fly before it hits a skyscraper? The pilot must be seriously incompetant.". Then I realised it wasn't an accident and thought "Ah, so there's going to be a war. Shit."

34. What do you do when vending machines steal your money?

Warn the next person not to use it.

35. Do you consider yourself kind?

Yes, in a random way.

36. If you had to get a tattoo, where would it be?

On my left chest. Like a badge.

37. If you could be fluent in any other language, what would it be?

No one believes I can speak Esperanto. Or rather, no one believes anyone can speak Esperanto, except those who know anything about the subject.

I think German would be quite useful.

38. Would you move for the person you loved?

I've only been truely in love once, and I was ready to move without question. Then he dumped me. He was right.

39. Are you touchy feely?

Not remotely.

40. What's your life motto?

You Have Forgotten Something.

41. Name three things that you have on you at all times?

Phone, pen, paper.

42. What's your favorite town/city?


43. What was the last thing you paid for with cash?

A polystyrene box of chips. With salt and vinegar. And a plastic fork and paper napkin. And mayonaise on top.

44. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper and mailed it?

1996. For information on a language course. Esperanto.

45. Can you change the oil on a car?

I have never owned a car, and never changed anything on one. Except the indicators once, when I tried to learn to drive.

46. Your first love: what is the last thing you heard about him/her?

That he was in a band.

47. How far back do you know about your ancestry?

My parents are tracing their ancestry back to the doomsday book.

I know that one of my grandmothers has eight siblings. Nothing further back.

48. The last time you dressed fancy, what did you wear and why did you dress fancy?

A few months back, when I wore a suit to play a lawyer in a play. Before that, 1997 when I wore the same suit to a funeral.

49. Does anything hurt on your body right now?

My left nipple. It got twisted last night.

50. Have you been burned by love?

Is there some other way to be in love?

Alta Native 02/12/06

That's what I'm calling the album - Alta Native. Meaning either "one who dwells in a higher place", or "one who's home is in other terratory". Erm, I think.

I used to have a poster filled with aphorisms drawn from the world of computer programming. One was "90% of the development takes 90% of the time. The other 10% takes the other 90%". In other words, one reason projects tend to overrun is the final stages, which seem so simple in the abstract, can take a very long time indeed.

It's the same with music of course. Last night I worked from midnight til seven, putting finishing touches to the backing tracks of five of the songs. Tonight, I've been...adding more finishing touches. And they're still not quite finished, but by seven today I'll be ready to begin recording vocals. Except I'll probably be asleep, because I've been up all night.

Anyway, I thought this little project could use a stream of posts and a label of it's own.

The Kate Bush song I initially had the most difficulty with - Army Dreamers - is now my favourite. While the one I first thought of for covering - Experiment IV - I'm not happy with at all. Odd that the much poppier Experiment IV should be so much less ammenable to the Kapitano electroclash-synthpop treatment than the radio-unfriendly Army Dreamers.

Anyway, with any luck there will soon be sounds to go with these words, and my musings might start to seem relavent to something.

Nineteen Eighty Four

When I was growing up in the 1980s, the newspapers were full of three subjects: Gay men (who were evil), AIDS (which was terrifying), and Russia (which was evil and terrifying). A quick glance over the day's lead stories gave me a sense of deja vu.

The 'papers and TV are still full of gay men and their sexuality, though being a queen has gone from being Every Parent's Nightmare to Youth Fashion Accessory. Gay men are now celebrated in the media - so long as they're young, attractive, wealthy, witty and completely vacuous.

The mantle of Every Parent's Nightmare has shifted from "your child being abducted by a psychotic poof" to "your child having a sexuality". Children being molested by adults, children losing their "innocence" by seeking sex with adults, children having sex with children - three separate objects of contemporary fear that have coalesced into a nebulous terror of kidsex.

Then, as now, the media was full of pretty underage children, singing, dancing, chatting and being cool. And then as now the kids were shown as sexy, but never actually sexual. A 12 year old girl could lipsync with lipstick through a pop song about lust on primetime TV, but unlike older female singers really was Like a Virgin.

Now though, there's an extra layer of irony, as pubescent (and sometimes prepubescent) children continue to be presented as deniably sexy, but instead of ignoring the sexiness like the elephant in the room everyone painfully refuses to think about, it's an object of paranoia.

Kids are expected to be (a) alluring, (b) unconscious of it and (c) chaste. As opposed to chased.

Today was World AIDS Day. The time is long past when, 20 years ago, the headmaster of my school could tell the class "AIDS is a disease caused by man's immorality". It's gone from being the Gay Plague, to the Damocles sword hovering above us all, to the ravage of Africa, to...what?

It may no longer be a death sentence in the industrial west, but transmission rates are still high, there's still no vaccine or cure, and ARC can still make life unbearable - as can the side effects of the drugs used to treat it. Of course, if you don't live in a privileged part of the world, it's much simpler - half the people you know have HIV, and death from AIDS is commonplace.

When the TV asks me to remember on World AIDS Day, I'm not sure what I'm being asked to remember. A decade of young men dying horribly? That much could have been prevented if Regan and Bush Mk 1 hadn't been homophobes? AIDS babies in Africa? The economic causes of the African situation? Or just that the disease hasn't gone away, isn't going to go away, and there's still no cure.

Remember Cold War fever? The idea that there's a gigantic nation of brainwashed fanatics who hate western freedoms and want to enslave the world? Of course, no one could possibly fall for tripe like that nowadays, could they. We're all much too sophisticated and cynical.

Ah well, it looks like the Russians are officially scary again. After an obscure dissident in exile was killed with polonium after decades of ineffectually criticising each Russian government in turn, and now a second dissident may have been poisoned, the fingers of blame point to Putin and the outfit formerly known as KGB.

The Blair government reacted in typical fashion, promoting a mobile clinic for members of the public who feared Russian spies might be trying to assassinate them. And a slightly confused BBC reported that alpha radiation had been found in the second man's urine, and radiation should be kept away from open wounds. The absurd and the illiterate.

Five planes and a luxury hotel are being swept for radioactivity, and the vague notion that Russia is in some way dangerous to the Free World is bubbling under the surface again.

New dross, same as the old dross.