It's a little difficult to blog for a general audience about what you're doing, when what you're doing isn't what general audiences do.

I'm learning some more C++ and a bit of DSP - while rediscovering the tendency of experts to give either too much information or too little when teaching students.

Odd how they never consistently apply the notion of top-down design - teach the basics of each topic in turn, then go back to the beginning and show the more complicated details, then do it again for the really abstruse details and advanced techniques.

The best computer teacher I ever had at university (except he never professionally taught me) used exactly that technique. A lot of his students were indignant that he was openly teaching them partial truths to be filled in a corrected later.

We teach human languages like that - general first, specific later, approximate first, precise later - because it would be impossible to teach all the details in sequence. Imagine learning all about nouns - singular, proper, collective, mass, in apposition, adjectival in use etc - before getting any hint of what an adjective is.

But, computer languages are still mainly taught linearly. Odd how program design is top down and modular, but teaching of that design isn't.

Infomaniac will be pleased to hear I've had sex with three people in two days. And one of them was against a wall.

They do say, "Nothing for ages then three cum at once". My nipples are killing me.

Two possibilities. Either the number of extremely weird people, dementedly hatefilled religious nutcases, and truly mindgrindingly awful movies just happened to become enormous...at exactly the time the internet made it possible to fetishise them.

Or these horrors have always been there, but mercifully hidden until some twit at CERN invented the WWW.

Either way, The Internet Makes You Stupid.

I'm listening to a webcast from RadioG, which claims to be "the first Hungarian gay radio" station.

It's good that in most of the nominally democratic world, it's far easier to be happily out and gay than it was even a decade ago - though there's the irony that Iraq was pretty tolerant before pretend-democracy was introduced, and now isn't.

It's good that I can flirt with straight blokes and embarrass my more restrained gay friends - though the culture is such that if I wanted a boyfriend I'd have to be 15 years younger, 40 lbs lighter and 500 candela dimmer.

It's good that the Velvet Mafia has even less credibility as a conspiracy theory than the Elders of Zion - though it might be nice if every single resistance organisation in the world weren't reported as "associated with Al Quaida".

But...what is Hungarian gay culture? Judging by the music on the channel - admittedly not a deep or reliable source of information - it's the same as the gay culture right here.

The music is almost entirely in English, and most of it's familiar from trance and EBM stations from America. The website (in Hungarian) refers (in English) to the "Mr Gay Hungary 2007" competition.

I spent my teen years dreaming of a time when people like me weren't routinely scapegoated and vilified. I just hoped we wouldn't have to become as shallow as everyone else to get there.

We haven't won a victory, exactly. We've joined everyone else in accepting defeat.

Homo-genised, indeed.


I've seen some bands.

Saturday evening, Portsmouth's premier flamenco skatepunk combo Strict Machines opened for American blues influenced goths The Human Value.

Exactly why a signed band from Los Angeles touring England should play a small pub on the south coast, I'm not sure. But they did, and they were bloody good.

Strict Machines, though I love them dearly, were not so good. Mainly because guitarist Paul, after being gently persuaded to not turn his amp up to full, stopped the band in the middle of a song so he could make his guitar louder.

And then did it again the next song. So we were treated to a half hour set of rhythm guitar, with drums and vocals somewhere in the background.

As The Human Value set up, I was preparing for the worst. The drummer was an enormous black guy with wrap-around shades who didn't so much hit the drums as pulp them, and the guitarist had a plate of effects units the size of a small table. It looked like we were going to get 30 minutes of white noise thrash.

What we actually got was a succession of melodic indie pop songs, with pounding beats, grinding Joy Division-like basslines and great hooks. The female vocal style reminded me of Joan Jett, or maybe The Epoxies. It was a big, rich, expressive voice.

You know how some musicians secretly think they're too good for their fans? It's a secret that becomes obvious pretty quickly.

Well THV turned out to be warm and switched on people, circulating while Strict Machines...erm, played their second set.

They were perhaps a little embarrassed too that 40 strangers who'd never heard of them before had fallen for their work on first hearing. They sold a lot of CDs.

Watch out for this band - I think they're going to get a big hit and a big following soon.

Then on Monday, I get invited (by Strict Machines members, as it happens) to see Sonic Boom Six. They had a spare ticket, and they thought of me. I am the spare seat man.

There were three support bands. First up, Lost on Landing, who after one song managed to keep up ten solid minutes of banter while their bassist failed to repair his bass and borrowed one from another band.

There was nothing wrong with them. They were just...boringly competent rockers. Record label talent spotters must get very familiar with the feeling of seeing a band who play very well, write good songs, and have all the innovation of karaoke night.

The second band...I remember exactly nothing about.

Then Pickled Dick - a trio of university students who think they're sixth form students who think they're, like, totally mad man. They played a kind of surfpunk - all poppy hooks and powerchords.

I'd have liked them a lot more if (a) the guitars hadn't been permanently on maximum distortion and (b) they hadn't been such dorks between songs.

Then came Sonic Boom Six. Can you imagine Punk-ska-hiphop? Neither can I, but that's what they are.

Fronted by a diminutive Indian lady with a singing (and speaking) voice straight out of bollywood, backed by rhythm and bass guitarists who are also strong singers. And all three can rap - they do it well and in unison, which is practically unheard of, and really impressive.

Plus drums of course, some backing tape samples, and occasionally a trombonist who recalls the brass sound of 80s reggae, and wields his instrument like the most phallic of guitars.

Some bands like you to see how skillful and well practiced they are. SBS make immense skill look easy.

Imagine 50 teenagers, half shirtless, most extremely drunk and/or stoned, frantically bouncing and moshing to the sound of...Asa Bhosle and Public Enemy meet The Specials via The Sex Pistols.

The bassist from Pickled Dick joined them for one number, reading an impromptu rap from the back of an envelope. And wearing a wedding dress. Interesting.

Can it be, that after 15 years of stagnation, pop music is finally getting interesting again?

Bulls Hit!

Mother and me have got hold of some new diet pills. They're called "Equical", and they're such a well-kept secret they're not even on Wikipedia. The idea is you chew up one pill every four days, and drink as much water as you can after each pill and whenever else you're able.

The same supplier offers a Penis Development Pump and a Sex Magnet for men. I rather like the latter - it sits in your pocket and "transmits its therapeutic magnetic field throughout the genital area". There's also a range of softcore porn DVDs, vitamins, Ginkgo Biloba, and Breast Enlargement Capsules

My particular favourite is the Anti-Nausea Wristband, next to the Anti-Embolism Stockings.

In similar territory, I spent an evening skimming blogs for stuff on homeopathy. Most of it was scientific types going over familiar reasons why the notion is unscientific - good to see but, well, dull.

There were scattered posts from users who're sure homeopathy works because because, unlike with conventional medicine, they've never seen it produce an adverse reaction. Well, unless you're allergic to water, it wouldn't.

One blogger obviously wants to believe it works, but is searching for a scientifically plausible method. I had a brief and civilised exchange of comments with them.

The following is a survey of the last 25 years of computer programming, and if you haven't been programming computers for 25 years, it won't mean anything to you.

In the dim distant past of the early 1980s, when I wasn't yet a teenager, computers were small, programs were monolithic and variables were global. We didn't have pointers.

Then in my teens, computers got bigger, programs were divided into procedures, and their variables could be local. We'd heard of pointers but didn't use them.

Then in my 20s, computers got really big, procedures became a special type of function, and many of their variables were local. We used pointers occasionally.

Now, computers have stopped getting bigger, programs are functions which call other functions, pretty much all variables are local...and we use pointers all the time. Pointers are used mainly to create and destroy global variables. Except we don't call them that.

So after a quarter of a century refining programming methods, one wheel has come not quite full circle. We now have global variables which can be discarded after use. Why didn't someone think of that 25 years ago?

Something else mother and me got the chance to try is Windows Vista. A local businessman - whose grasp of computing is slightly worse than my knowledge of ancient Cantonese - asked mother to set it up for him. So we've got his office computer running next to the fridge.

Previous versions of Windows let you format the hard disk before installing - a basic precaution. They also let you install to the drive of your choice - a basic courtesy. Vista does neither of these, making it the only application I've ever tried that doesn't give you installation choices - you just put the disc in and an hour later it's all done. And nearly impossible to change.

Windows 2000 was good for networks, because you could configure the network settings. Windows XP is good for sound and video applications because you can disable nonrelavent modules, increasing CPU efficiency.

Windows Vista is good for...looking pretty. And resisting any and all efforts to tailor it to specific uses. It's absolutely perfect for anyone who wants to use their computer for "general stuff, but nothing heavy", and who takes their car to a professional garage when the tyres need changing.

Crunch crunch crunch on the diet pill
Glug glug glug from the glass
Drool drool drool at the chocolate
Manfully resist and hope for a thinner arse

Fuzzy Bear

Cafe Scientifique is a loose organisation whose aim is to get the public interested in science. They give seminars and discussion forums in cafes, pubs and other places outside traditional academia.

The aim is more to enthuse than to educate - a way of getting nonscientists interested enough to start educating themselves. For this reason the subjects tend to be romantically cutting-edge and even science-fictiony.

Well, I went to one a few nights ago and it was...a positive but mixed experience. The speaker (who I knew slightly from political forums) spoke for 20 minutes on Fuzzy Logic, then with breaks to get coffee and beer from the bar, the audience of around 30 discussed what they'd heard and he answered their questions.

Interesting stuff, and I learned some details that I hadn't known before, but the two imperatives - to educate and to enthuse - proved somewhat in conflict. On the one hand, the speakers has to explain what fuzzy logic is - essentially, binary logic but with n states instead of 2, where n depends on the application - and on the other hand to make this simple (even trivial) innovation sound like a worldshaking breakthrough.

The five stages of "terror alert", or the coded belt colours in karate, or the 6 (or whatever) levels of rank that a police officer can have - these are "fuzzy" in this specialised sense. There's no alert level between 3 and 4, there's no way to be both a brown and a blue belt, and there's no other ranks outside the police system.

There's always one or two show-offs in the audience. One of them made two contributions, the first suggesting that fuzzy logic as a way to make computers more user friendly was doomed because people were getting better at thinking like computers, and the second longwindedly misexplaining Schroedinger's Cat as an example of how fuzzy logic applied to quantum physics.

A physicist in the audience gently explained to him that in (the Copenhagen interpretation of) quantum physics, many states are simultaneously true until an observer collapses the uncertainty, while in fuzzy logic only one state is ever true at a time. It's a different kind of fuzziness. As for the other point, I thought the point of technology was to make machines service humans on terms set by humans, not the other way around.

The other show-off was...er, me. I pointed out that the thresholds between fuzzy states weren't at all fuzzy - they're just as sharp and sudden as in standard binary logic, so they don't support grey areas or probabilistic uncertainty. Alex the speaker agreed that this was the case, and a problem, but said the issue was being addressed in "type 2" fuzzy logic. What is this? I have no idea.

He said he'd never heard of Tarski, Quine, Montague, or Hegel's dialectic (which I know for a fact he has), but assured me that fuzzy logic is better than any of the paraconsistent logics, and was quite capable of modelling systems in flux.

I also asked about fuzzy logic's inability to model human thought - humans can be hypocrites believing two incompatible things at once, or have hazy understandings, or just be unsure what to think, but these kinds of fuzziness are beyond fuzzy logic's capabilities. Alex's response was that fuzzy logic's purpose is to make computers easier for humans to use, not to model human thought. Hmmm.

One of the patrons took me aside in a break to clarify whether fuzzy systems are probabilistic (sometimes giving different answers to the same question) or deterministic (complex but always giving the same answer). When I answered the latter he was distinctly unimpressed - he'd got the impression that it was a way of dealing with noisy data by making the responses noisy, rather than a way of representing continuous quantities by quantal degrees.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable way to spend an evening, and I think Cafe Scientifique is a worthwhile project, that is still working out details of how it should operate.

Whoever heard of getting up at eight in the morning? Or even seven thirty?! I had to wake up absurdly early today, to go to a jobcentre and fill out some forms so I can try again to go on a pointless course in a month. Except I didn't have to fill them out after all because they fell out a folder, having been previously lost.

Oh, but I almost couldn't be sent on the course anyway, because the computers weren't working properly. This is the civil service that implements the government's wishes and audits your life. What a soothing thought.

I'm reading some more about C++, including Class (but not the kind Marx talked about), Object Orientation (but not the kind Freud talked about) and Typecasting (but not the kind actors complain about). To say nothing of Overloading, Private Members and Methods, which have nothing to do with excessive work, parliamentary debate or Rene Descartes.

I'm not the kind of person who can read one book on a subject intensively and then be able to talk confidently about it. I need to hear the same ideas explained in several different ways from various angles before I can apply them.

That's why I tend to read several introductory textbooks in a row before trying anything more advanced. At the moment I'm being introduced to the difference between a Class and its Members for the third time in a week - even though it's essentially the same as the difference between Universals and Particulars in the philosophy books I read 20 years ago.

Learning a programming language just to design some sound effects for music is little like learning electrical engineering just a build yourself a toaster. There's plenty of readymade toasters out there designed by people with years of expertise, and they'll probably work better than your creation.

On the other hand, if you want a toaster that applies butter and marmalade to your breakfast, you've got to either make it yourself or pay a million pounds to a team of engineers who'll do it for you.

And if you've got a million pounds, you can damn well employ a butler to put marmalade on your toast.

Anyway, this is the third time in a week I've reread basic introductions to Public and Private Members (I remember when some textbooks called them "Private Parts"), plus Class Constructors and Destructors. And this is the third time in a week I haven't understood it.

(Update: I think I've got it now. But now it's Dereference Operators which are making my head hurt.)

I'm still in demand. Shooting video for one student, composing music for another, redrafting notes for a third...if this keeps up I'm in danger of losing my reputation as a ditzy old slapper who sleeps all the time.

Simply Divine

I dreamed I was the son of a goddess.

Specifically, I dreamed that my mother recieved a copperplate handwritten letter from a venerable firm of solicitors, informing her that her brother - leader of a small religious cult - had declared her divine co-ruler (subject to his vetting), and she therefore had special legal privilages.

I wondered if that gave me any special tax or education rights - whether I could blag a place at a decent university under the government's faith based schools initiative. While wondering vaguely which of my nonbelieving uncles was the holyman, and when he'd become a megalomaniacal charismatic nutcase.

Then I was woken up by a cheery text message inviting me to spend an afternoon pushing election leaflets through letterboxes. Which is a form of religions devotion, I suppose.

I couldn't go because I'd managed to injure my foot in a really girly way. For the same reason, I didn't get to go to the climate change awareness thing.

I would have been free to do the leafletting because the civil service lost some of my forms again. Last week I was supposed to start a pointless course for the unemployed, but couldn't because my "SL2" form had disappeared - together with the forms for several others.

They apologised and arranged an interview this thursday to fill out all the forms again.

Two more banks want to give me millions, and I've won five more lotteries. Including the "Microsoft MS-Word Online Lottery". Four times in one day.

Interesting forum on Sunday on "What would socialism be like?". Short version: with an economy designed to serve the needs of all instead of the greed of a few, work will be less of a drudge because it serves the worker's purposes instead of the boss's, and all the dumb hatreds which divide people with so much to unify them will no longer have a basis.

There were the usual objections about human nature being capitalist (silly), Russia being Communist (silly), Socialists being utopian (silly) and sufficient working class unity being unachievable (maybe not so silly).

Then most of us bundled into the pub for a more in-depth analysis. I had one very useful discussion with a student called Nick about religion and the burden of proof. He'd been frequently stumped by the demands of believers to justify his atheism by disproving their religion.

It's odd how people who understand perfectly well how it's up to climate scientists to prove climate change, politicians to justify their policies and students to prove their abilities, still don't grasp that it's up the faithful to prove their superstitions.

But then, giving lessons in elementary logic to people whose self-worth depends on being selectively illogical has never had much effect.

Speaking of logic, there's a presentation tomorrow from a local academic on fuzzy logic. I expect we in the audiance will be told why it makes washing machines more energy efficient, but not why it still retains most of the inadeqacies of binary logic.

And speaking of fuzzyness, I then spent several hours getting drunk in the home of a sailor (also called Nick), with his friends, doing the kind of outrageous flirting only possible with men completely confident in their heterosexuality.

I like Nick - he's got the kind of casually perceptive warmth of someone who spent his youth seeing most of the planet, through the bottom of a beer glass.

The Unbearable Truth about Kapitano

A copy of "The History of Psychology" falls through a timewarp. The introduction reads:

In the 19th century, psychology was all about child abuse and buried resentment. In the 20th, it was concerned mainly with how to manipulate others while avoiding manipulation. In the 21st century however, it matured into the precise sciene we've had for the last five centuries.

You are a Brainy Girl!

Whether you're an official student or a casual learner, you enjoy hitting the books.

You know a little bit about everything, and you're always dying to know more.

For a guy to win your heart, he's got to share some of your intellectual interests.

A awesome book collection of his own doesn't hurt either!

You Are the Very Gay Bert and Ernie!

Two grown puppets living together, sleeping in the same room?

They've even got coordinating striped shirts!

The Ultimate Death Survey

What do you think happens after you die? You rot

Do you believe in heaven? No

Do you believe in hell? No

Do you think you will be judged after you die? No

How many people would attend your funeral? Fourteen

Would you rather that people cry or laugh at your funeral? Laugh

What's better? A shot in the head or downing pills? Shot

What should be written on your tombstone? Too Late Now

Would you rather die childless or divorced? Childless

Do you want to die in the morning, afternoon, or night? Afternoon

If you had a million dollars to leave, who would you leave it to? My best friend

What kind of flowers do you want at your funeral? Dead ones

On your deathbed, which moment will you most remember? The time I realised I didn't have to be polite to bastards

Have you ever watched someone die? No

What's the most gruesome death you can imagine?

How often do you think about death? 1.3 times a month

Is fear of dying your number one fear? No

Do you believe in reincarnation? No

Have you ever wished someone you loved were dead? Yes

Do you consider life short or long? Short

Do you think you have a soul? No

Assisted suicide for a terminally ill person is: Necessary

If you were cremated, where would you like your ashes? Thrown in a bad man's face

Would you choose to be immortal, if you could be? Yes

Take The Ultimate Death Survey

Get more cool things for your blog at Blogthings

You Are a Key Lime Cheesecake

Unconventional and quirky, you live to shock people.

You see the world in very weird ways. Sometimes you even surprise yourself!

You Are Pretty Happy Being Single

You have a full, fun life. And you definitely don't need love to be content.

Of course, being single can get you down a little. Especially when you've been single for a while.

But you know how to be patient and wait for the right person. You're life is too good to settle for anything!

Guys Like That You're Sensitive

And not in that "cry at a drop of a hat" sort of way

You just get most guys - even if you're not trying to

Guys find it is easy to confide in you and tell you their secrets

No wonder you tend to get close quickly in relationships!

You Are 50% Boyish and 50% Girlish

You are pretty evenly split down the middle - a total eunuch.

Okay, kidding about the eunuch part. But you do get along with both sexes.

You reject traditional gender roles. However, you don't actively fight them.

You're just you. You don't try to be what people expect you to be.

Your 80s Theme Song Is:

Wild Wild West by The Escape Club

Your Inner European is Italian!

Passionate and colorful.

You show the world what culture really is.

Your Uncommon Name Is:

Donte Modesto Farfan

Your Personality Cluster is Introverted Sensing

You are:

Responsible, ethical, and trustworthy

Loyal, with a sense of roots in your community

Someone who treasures and remembers the past

Adverse to surprises and the unknown

You Are a Glam Rocker!

You put the "show" in rock show with your larger than life self.

No doubt, you are all about making good music...

But what really gets you going is having an over the top show.

Glitter, costumes, and wild hair are your thing - with some rock thrown in!

Your Brain is Green

Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance.

You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver.

You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

You Are Spider-Man

Quick and agile, you have killer instincts (literally).

And that kind of makes up for the whole creepy spider thing.

You Are 53% Addicted to Blogthings

You're a Blogthings fiend - addicted but not totally dependent.

So what if you know your personality type by heart?

And while you may feel like Blogthings is crack...

There are people much worse off than you!


You are "Sleeping"

Too Much Reality

A short story. Let me know what you think.

Doctor Alice Fletcher wasn't listening.

Her current patient was a middle aged bank clerk who could talk for hours about how his wife didn't love him, his friends didn't respect him, his colleagues didn't value him and his children didn't want to see him. About himself, in other words.

He liked to say his problem was that people didn't understand what he was about, and couldn't relate to him. Privately Alice was sure everyone did understand, and that was why they didn't want to relate to him. The only thing he was about was himself. It was all he talked about, all he cared about, all he knew about.

God! What was his name? She'd forgotten again. She gazed at her psychiatric diplomas on the wall, and weighed up the pros and cons of pronouncing him sane, cured and happy, versus losing whatever he was paying her to sit in the same room pretending to take notes.

Only five more minutes till I have to throw him out. Just hold on till then. They I can have a nice cup of coffee and open that new packet of chocolate biscuits before the next patient.

She became aware that he's stopped talking. She glanced up.

"Well?", he demanded. "What should I do?"

Jump of a cliff you tedious windbag, thought Alice. Aloud she said, "It's not my job to tell you what to do. Only to let you find out for yourself how you feel."

"Yes but...what do you think?"

I've no idea what you're on about and I don't care. Now leave me alone. "I think we've made some important progress this week, and this is a good point to end today's session. You need to think about what we've learned, and build on it next time."

She stood up and held the door open for him. He walked out looking confused and trying to hide it. She nodded and smiled at him as he left, and closed the door firmly.

Alice let out a deep sigh. She didn't feel well - hadn't felt well all week. It could be mild food poisoning, probably from that restaurant. Her husband had taken her out and they'd spent far too much money on far too much food and far too much wine. And then they'd...well, it had been lovely. It had all been enormously sweet of him but...somehow typical she'd spend the next week suffering for his kindness.

The intercom bleeped. "Detective Wheeler is here to see you", said Madeline's voice through the tinny speaker.

Alice frowned, "I've got another patient in five minutes. Did he make an appointment? I'm rather busy."

"Detective Wheeler is your next appointment, Doctor", said Madeline in her best 'talking to an idiot but making an effort not to sound patronising' voice. "It's about Mr West. You agreed the police could interview you this morning."

Did I? You're probably lying to me, you old cow..

"Send him in, Madeline."

The door opened and a podgy grey haired man in a neatly pressed suit and trenchcoat walked in.

He even looks like an inspector from the TV. I bet he drives an old banger and he's got a rubbish lovelife.

"Good morning Inspector", said Alice professionally. "Please come in and sit down. Or lie on the couch if you prefer."

"Thank you, I'll just sit." replied Wheeler. He had a voice that matched the rest of him - neat, careful, and past it's prime.

He sat, carefully. "I understand Mr Greg West was a patient of yours, Doctor Fletcher."

"Was? Has something happened to him?"

"I'm afraid so. He shot a man with a pistol at point blank range, and then turned the gun on himself."

There was a long, surprised pause.

"You're quite sure it was him? And they're both dead?"

"Yes...and yes. There were several witnesses. You'll probably read about it in the evening papers."

"I...see. And you want me to tell you why he did it."

"Well, if you could maybe shed some light on what he might have been thinking.

Alice was silent

"Did he have any real enemies? Did he talk a lot about killing?"

"No enemies that I knew of, and...no, not the way you mean. He talked about other people dying all the time - it was why he was referred to me, but..."


She sighed. "I'd better start at the beginning."

Gregory West was a thin man of 26, with strawlike hair and sharp features. He had a look that you'd describe as 'intense' if you liked him, or 'beady' if you didn't.

After introducing herself, Alice glanced through the notes she'd been given, before speaking again.

"You've been seeing Doctor Gibson for six months, and he referred you to me. He says you believe you have some kind of precognitive ability, and you were sent to him because you kept trying to warn people about the future. Is that right?"

"I know when people are gonna die."

"How do you know? Do you hear voices?"

"I just know. Whenever I meet someone. Always know."

"Can you give me any examples?"

"Yeah. When I was seven my mum was stung by a bee on her throat. She choked to death. Took her ten minutes. Allergic reaction they said. I was there. I knew it was going to happen. I'd always known. I thought she knew too. I thought everyone knew. I tried to tell my dad later but...he hit me till I stopped."

"I see. You know what..."

"Yes, I know what all you psycho types say. You say I was deeply hurt by seeing my mum die and my dad abusing me and I made up a fantasy of knowing. I'm not stupid you know. Anyway it keeps happening."

"Like when?"

"I had a friend at school. Martin. He was always climbing things. I told him if he climbed up on the school roof he'd fall off and smash his head. He didn't believe me. Then a couple of months later he did it. His head was spilled all over the playground. At the funeral they said it was an accident. But I knew."

"Were you there when he climbed up on to the roof? Did you go there with him?"

"What, you think I pushed him? No, I wasn't there. I was off school. You can check."

"And was there anything more recently?"

"I had a job interview. Didn't get it. Met the manager. Evil old bastard. Tried to break my hand when he shook it. Blew smoke in my face. Always smoking. I knew he'd die of lung cancer. Two years time."

"And? Did he?"

"Not yet. It was only a year and a half ago. But I read that he was in hospital."

Wheeler interrupted her. "So you didn't believe him?"

"No of course not! One quarter of my patients think they've got supernatural powers, one quarter think everyone's whispering about them behind their backs, and one quarter think their girlfriends are CIA spies."

"And the other quarter?"

"They just want someone to talk to. So far as I could see, Greg West was just a confused young man with an overactive fantasy life. It was my job to ascertain whether it was a dangerous fantasy, and if it was, help him get rid of it."

"Hm. Did he tell you when you were going to die?"

Alice smiled grimly. "Oh yes, he tried to pull that one on me. He told me I'd die in childbirth in a little over a year."

"I take it you think that's unlikely."

"Five years ago my husband and I decided to stop having fertility treatment. I can't have children, Inspector."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Did you tell Mr West that?"

"No! I never discuss my life outside of this office with my patients. It would be grossly unprofessional. Besides, it would drive me stark staring bonkers if I let some of my patients into my life."

Wheeler smiled. "Are psychiatrists supposed to use terms like stark staring bonkers?"

Alice fought to keep her mouth from twitching. "Only when talking to policemen. And each other. But Greg West wasn't like that. I think all he really wanted was for someone to believe him. Which of course I was never going to do."

"Mmmm. And all this happened...when?"

"Four months ago. I can get the exact date if you need it."

"Later, if it turns out to be important. Right now I just want a general picture. You were telling me what happened the first time you met Mr West."

"He gave me a few more examples of people he'd known who'd died - or he thought were going to die. It was quite clear he was very skilled at rewriting his memories to give himself advance knowledge. Foreknowledge after the fact, I suppose you'd call it. Prophecy in hindsight."

"And how many other times did you see him?"

"Only four or five. Each time he told me a series of his death stories. The deaths were all different, but the stories all really the same. It was odd how many people he'd known who'd died. Assuming he had known that many. I began to suspect he'd not known anyone who'd died, apart from his mother. I thought he might be inventing the whole thing. In fact I was going to suggest that to him on his next session...

"But he never turned up. Now you're telling me that's because he killed a stranger and then himself. I'm sorry Inspector, all I can say is...he thought a lot about death and...maybe it went too far."

Wheeler nodded, as though unsurprised. "Well, Doctor Fletcher, I'm sorry to have taken up your time. I think you're probably right - it's just another murder suicide by...excuse me for saying it, but someone who's not quite right in the head.

"I'll see myself out. Good morning, Doctor."

...and he left without ceremony. Alice got up to put the kettle on for a nice hot cup of coffee. The intercom buzzed.

"Mrs King is her for her weekly appointment, Doctor Fletcher."

Madeline's voice had its usual edge of being ever so slightly patronising.

Oh fuck it. And fuck you too, Madeline.

"Send her in."

Three days later, Alice had got a colleague to prescribe her some pills for the queasiness, and she was enjoying her third cup of coffee with chocolate biscuits of the morning. Then Wheeler unexpectedly dropped by.

"Back again, Inspector? Are you sure you won't take the couch this time?"

"Thank you, but no. There's been some, ah, developments in the case of our friend Greg West."

"Go on."

"He left us a note which...sort of...explains what he did. He sent it by email and we get hundreds of crank messages a day, so it took a while to surface. And it turns out the man he shot was a big time gangster from the north, planning to expand his little drug empire down here. Name of Ricky Flynn."

"Oh! Sounds like Greg did you a favour."

"Well...you wouldn't hear me say it on the record. But the thing is..."


"The message said he met this girl in a pub, hit it off with her and...knew this fellow Flynn was going to kill her in a week. So, he decided to kill Flynn before he could kill her. We don't know where he got the gun from, and we can't trace any connection between him and Flynn. I don't suppose he mentioned any criminal associates or connections to you at all? Or a young lady named Samantha who might be mixed up in it?"

"I'm sorry Inspector. Greg was a rough type, but not like that. And if he had, I think I'd have told you."

"Hmmm. Well it was just a thought. Looks like there's going to be a big enquiry now, and we won't be able to keep the press out of it. So I'm just saying, you'll be asked to testify...and if some journalist gets wind of the supernatural angle...well, they might start to bother you. Just thought I'd warn you."

"I see. I think I can deal with coroners and newshounds."

"Okay. I'd better be on my way."

Wheeler turned to go

"Oh Inspector?"

He half turned back.


"What happened to the girl?"

"It looks like she's...disappeared."

Wheeler reached the door.

"There is one other thing Inspector."

Wheeler turned again.

Alice opened her desk drawer and took out a small strip of paper. It was stained with a line of bright pink.

"You remember how Greg said I'd die? And I said he was wrong because I couldn't have children? Well I've been feeling sick recently so this morning I bought this test kit and...

She held up the strip.

"I'm pregnant."

Being Mean About the Green Scene

Al Gore is promoting a pop concert to raise awareness of climate change. There'll be big name stars getting big ratings and giving the big picture on the biggest of big issues.

On face of it, it's a good idea, Most of the target audiance have a deep distrust of politicians, manifested as political defeatism, but a passion for music and celebrity.

Going a little deeper, I have to ask: Surely anyone whose awareness can be raised has already had it raised?

There are those who will always deny the inconvenient truth because it scares them so much. They'll always be able to latch on to some half-understood pseudosciene to justify their fearful complacency.

There are those who profit in the short term from environmental destruction, and these can always invent paper thin rationalisations - including the notion that it's already too late, so why bother?

There are those who see the problem as too large to solve, so reconceptualise it as vastly smaller issues around low energy lightbulbs, loft insulation and recycled coke cans.

A subtype of these are those who defer action by preaching that children must be educated into green awareness, because the children own the future and they need to ensure their children don't inherit a ruined earth blah blah blah.

There's the campaigners who think it's all about saving this or that species of fluffy animal from extinction, or making plane tickets more expensive. Or raising taxes to punish people who are too poor to move out of their old, ungreen, underclass homes.

None of these types will be persuaded by a green pop concert - or even twenty green pop concerts. They'll make some thought-terminating remark about the electricty for the event coming from burning coal. Even if they go to the concert themselves - probably driving there in an SUV.

No, such people will never listen, so there's no point in talking to them. The concert is aimed squarely at keeping the embryonic movement going. And in it's current state - small, timid, ideologically confused, composed of groups with incompatible aims and beliefs, and held together only by the vaguest of common interest - it needs all the solidarity it can generate.

So yes, it is a good idea. Just not for the stated reasons.

As above, so below. Here in Portsmouth we have a "Climate Awareness Event", created by PCAN - the Portsmouth Climate Action Network. A day of stalls, workshops, talks and films, followed by an evening barbeque (with vegan option) and a night of live music.

One thing good socialists are good at is working with people we think are quite wrong in all ways execept the most important - especially the kind of trendy-liberal middle-class greener-than-thou hippies who inevitably dominate events like these.

Which is odd really, because working with people who disagree with them on details is something that trendy-liberal middle-class greener-than-thou hippies are extremely bad at.

And I'm not even a very good socialist. But I'll be there.


Everybody needs my help.

Stephen P needs my help to make a short film to graduate. He's a very good computer animator but knows next to nothing about sound recording and processing. So I'll be teaching him all about microphones, compressors, delays and editing, sometime this week.

And I'll be doing the music and sound effects for the film.

Roxanne C needs my help to make another short film so she can graduate. This young lady always leaves things till the last minute, and always ropes in her friends to help her get it all hurridly together. The irony is she could do it all herself - she's got the brains and imagination - but doesn't have the confidence. She's also the only person I've met who has a messier home, more hopeless sense of direction or vaguer timetable than me.

She's always extra-nice when asking me to help her out, sometimes improbably promising to persuade her amazingly handsome but completely straight brother to succumb to my, um, attentions. There's two other ironies there - first, I help her out because I like her, not because I fancy the pants off her truely gorgeous brother. And second, if by some dark miracle he left his pregnant girlfriend for this fat old poof...what in hades am I supposed to do with him?

Simon M needs my help to set up a website.

John M needs my help to put together Powerpoint presentations. Though it is one of my small ambitions never to give one of those vaccuously imbicilic presentations where I project buzzwords onto a wall and then read out the words. His consist entirely of great artworks.

Strict Machines need my help to record an album. For the last year their manager has been telling them they need to have a good demo CD to get gigs. Now they've finally decided to do it, just as one band member is ill and the other two are spending weeks in other countries. They know several amateur sound engineers, but only one who can fit their eratic schedule. And more to the point, only one who'll put up with the guitarist's tantrums.

The government needs my help too - to help fake the unemployment statistics. I get reclassified from "Jobseeker" (=unemployed) to "Restart Scheme Customer" (=unemployed but dealt with by a different department), where I shall recieve vitally needed training in Basic Information Technology, how to make a CV, how to read the job ads, how to be interviewed and something called Soft Skills. I've asked my jobsearch advisors, and none of them know what that means.

So, for the next two weeks I will be pretending to learn something new from people pretending to teach me how to look for jobs we pretend exist where I pretend I care about what I'm doing and the boss pretends to know what they're doing, all so the government can pretend the unemployment figures are down. Though no one pretends to believe them.

And that gentle reader, is why I haven't written any more of my murder mystery.

Friday? Good!

Apparently it's been Easter this week. I honestly wouldn't have known if it hadn't been for one of those ten minute "Jesus is nice" TV programmes we get around this time of year.

Sometimes I thank the Lord (capital L) I live in a country of godless hellbound heathens. Though I'm never quite sure what a heathen is. Someone who lives on Hampstead Heath, presumably.

Today's Spam in my Inbox:

* Weight Loss with Viagra - All my favourite meds, discreet and "No_Prescripti0n_Needed!". So how does one lose weight with a drug that inhibits production of the chemicals needed to lose an erection? Or shouldn't I ask?

* Dear Beloved in Christ - The heart-rending (or gut-wrenching) story of a christian woman with terminal cancer who wants to put her dead husband's USD7.5 billion into my bank account. Provided I use it for good christian purposes.

* URGENT REPLY NEEDED PLS - A barrister is writing to me in his professional capacity at work, asking me to email him in his personal capacity at home, about a professional matter. USD25 million.

* CONGRATULATIONS!!!Batch: 074/05/ZY369 - News that I have won 350 thousand euros in the Irish Lottery. Strange, I didn't know there was one. Last week I won the Norwegian Lottery.

* WINNING NOTIFICATION!!! - I've won the UK Lottery too.


* Confidentiality Required...(Proposal) - This time it's a bank that wants to store millions in my account. Don't they have any of their own?

* BLESSED BY "THE BLESSED TERESA OF CALCUTTA " - Unusually for spam, this one isn't trying to get money off me. It's just a link to a document written by a paranoid fantasist, seemingly about how the "saffron brigade" are watching and intimidating him.

Defrauding and derangement - that's the internet today.

One of the monitors is gone.

Starting Tuesday next week, a private company contracting out from the civil service will spend two weeks intensively educating me about how to search for job vacancies, how to prepare for job interviews and how to impress employers.

That's right, it's another wanky government scheme for the long term unemployed.

So, for two weeks I won't have time to do anything useful.

Cutting a variable width groove on a rotating wax disc is a downright weird way to record sound. At least so it seems now. The disc is fragile, the playback equipment prone to malfunction, and the pickup device degrades the coding every time it's played.

Encoding a soundwave as a series of polarity variances on what is essentially powdered rust glued to a plastic strip...is only slightly less bizarre. You tend to get softknee compression whether you want it or not, plus saturation effects and a constant red noise rumble, and you lose any crispness to the higher frequencies. This is now fondly referred to as "analog warmth" by people who don't have to live with it.

So much for vinyl records and compact cassettes. Radio was just was strange.

For the first two decades of my life, I listened to radio transmissions where the progression of instantaneous amplitudes of a sound wave were encoded as variations in the amplitude of a carrier wave - Amplitude Modulation. It was muffled and monophonic.

Then in my late teens radio switched to the more complex system of encoding the same points on a sound wave as variations in the frequency of a carrier wave. And I bet you can't guess what this new system was called. The sound was shimmering and stereophonic in comparison.

Now, radio and personal listening are all digital - though there was a period where DJs played CDs while you listened in FM, which rather defeated the point of the exercise.

Now when I hear records they sound like they're being played through a cocoa tin, and cassettes sound like they're underwater. I can't remember the last time I listened to a broadcast in FM, let alone AM. There are still low quality digital broadcasts of course, via some web radio, but their distortion doesn't resemble anything you'd find in the world outside.

The point of all this? Well, it just struck me that we, listening to ten year old pop music on our mp3 players (because most of the stuff produced more recently is rubbish), are now able to hear what the studio engineers originally heard. With high bitrates, VBR and remastering, we can now hear familiar music as it was supposed to sound, instead of filtered through old technology.

It's a little like taking off sunglasses after you've been wearing all day, or, better, losing those drops of water that have been clogging up your ears since you went swimming.

So don't anyone tell me that storing points on an oscilloscope reading as bunches of 16 semi-redundant binary logic pulses on solid-state bubble memory...is a strange way to keep music.

Techno, Techno

Three days ago, someone left two computer monitors on the pavement at the end of my street. With a note saying they were in perfect working order, and inviting anyone who wanted a monitor to take one.

They're still there. Two 15'' CRT monitors probably worth GBP75 each if they were new, and nobody wants them. This says something - about human generosity, local pavements, and the computer market.

Everyone who's got a computer has a monitor. They sometimes upgrade the computer and occasionally the monitor. When they upgrade the computer they usually keep the old monitor, or if they do upgrade...they want a flat one.

In other words, you can't give them away.

Well almost. Last year I bought two second hand computers from Portsmouth University. I got two free monitors with them. And two bubblejet printers. And six PS2 keyboards and mouses.

I gave one of the monitors away.

I've come to the conclusion that most synthesisers sound awful. I've spent 48 hours trying out softsynths, looking for a a decent general purpose "analog" VST synth for making demos.

I don't need anything special - just two oscillators, a nice smooth lowpass filter, an LFO or two, maybe an FM module and a decent unison function. In other words, a basic 80s style synth for making pulses, bleeps, sweeps, chimes and pads - the standard fare of synthpop for the last 30 years.

There's some great synths for advanced sound designers - Pentagon, Blue, Albino, Rhino and others that can produce the most amazing and unexpected sounds. Provided you spend two months doing nothing but study and experiment with them.

There's also exquisitely meticulous software recreations of the classic Moogs, Korgs, Novations and Yamahas that cost thousands of dollars and sometimes took three people to carry in the early 80s. These have their place in retro-cool, but it's not really what I'm after.

No, there are hundreds of "workhorse" softsynths out there - some are free and made by enthusiasts, some cost up to USD75. And most of them either have the sonic impact of a wet strand of spaghetti, the warmth of fingernails on a blackboard, or all the flexibility of a stylophone.

Yes, you can get authentic recreations of the stylophone too. Though I've not yet seen artificial fingernails in software form.

Ubu.Com - the YouTube of the Avant-Garde. I stumbled upon it months ago, noted it as something to wallow in later...and promptly forgot the URL. Duchamp, Ono, Beckett, Maya Deren and a lot of lesser known names waiting to be discovered. The one by Genet and the one with the eye slicing bit included.