Fear Factory

Yes, it's Halloween, so I'm supposed to write something scary. But I'm not sure just what is spooky or creepy.

I think it's quite scary that some people really do believe in witches, demons and time-delayed curses that are corrupting your children tonight.

But I think it's scary that some people think Uri Geller isn't a stage magician, climate change is a liberal conspiracy and someone in Nigeria really does want to make you a millionaire, so what do I know?

So here's a selection of things about my humble existence, and you tell me if any of them gives you the creeps. Or the raving ab-dabs, or the screaming heebie-jeebies.

1) Last night I had the most astonishing sex in the world with a guy who considers himself "straight but occasionally bi". I asked him how a straight (but occasionally bi) guy could give such fantastic oral sex, and he said he practices - a lot - on women. But not as much as he'd like.

So there you have it, straight cunnilingueurs (that's a word I just made up) give the best gay blowjobs.

I like to think I held my own. Though I was actually holding his, just not with my hands. They were, um, otherwise occupied. Well one of them was - the other was quietly getting cramp, which remained completely painless until we disentangled.

He's a nice guy too, and during our post-langulolipal-glanofellation (another word I just made up) huggings, under the romantic full moon and warm night air (what?) I found myself thinking I could probably fall for him. But it's probably not a good idea to fall for your straight (but occasionally bi) fuckbuddy, so I decided not to.

2) You may remember that we have mice in the house.

We've got three dogs of a breed bred as ratcatchers, but they seem much happier as slightly pampered pooches that curl up all around you the moment you lie down. Occasionally they do see a mouse...and bark at it nervously.

I've got two mice in my bedroom. One is (I think) an occasional visitor from next-door via some permeable walls, and the other seems to live in the plumbing on the opposite wall. They're called Bert and Ernie, though for all I know they could actually be ten females who only appear two at a time.

They're soft brown hemispheres with tails and bright dark eyes, and I haven't actually seen either of them for weeks. But I can hear Ernie. Rustling around in papers and plastic bags, chewing on...something.

Is it the unspeakably greasy and tasteless fried chicken I threw away six weeks ago, that's still waiting to be taken away in a sealed black plastic dustbin liner in one corner? Is it the cardboard storage box of magazines documenting socialist theoretical debates of the 1970s - that I once in a moment of insanity thought I might scan and OCR?

I don't know. But like me, Ernie is an insomniac and night snacker, rootling around at odd hours of darkness inside something the rustles, pausing presumably to eat, poop and doze. But not, I think, breed.

I once found a half eaten bar of chocolate on the floor. That is, half eaten by me and the remaining half half eaten by small sharp teeth scraping away, leaving it looking like tree bark.

3) Tommorow is the start of NaNoWriMo, and I'm wondering if I should:

(a) Come up with a plot in the remaining two hours till midnight, then start writing,
(b) Admit to myself that my bedroom recording studio is not going to get any more ready no matter how many more final preparations I invent make, and I should actually start using it - instead of using NaNoWriMo as yet more displacement activity, or
(c) Go and have another one of mother's home-made chocolates, and then decide.

Oh yes, mother and me are on a diet, but it's slightly hindered by her newfound passion. Today's experiment involved mixing the chocolate powder from a dozen cappuccino kits with butter and peppermint oil, melting the result in with a block of cooking chocolate and setting the result in rubber molds from ebay.

Yesterday it was two thin layers of hard 70% cocoa chocolate sandwiching a dark paste made with castor sugar and various spirits, thickened with whipped eggs.

Tomorrow...will be even darker and more adventurous I'm sure.

So do I scare you? Am I deeply creepy or sleepily unfreaky? Would you let your daughter marry me? Would your daughter let you carry on with me?

Or are you the scary one?

Mmmmm. Chocolate.

There's a small discussion on political revolution over at Teenage Misanthropy.

As someone who's spent the last decade sitting in community centers with revolutionaries, I thought I'd give you an insight into what it's all really about. In graphical form:

[Click it to big it]

Nom Nom Nom

I need to lose weight.

Which means I need to eat less.

Which means I need to avoid the things which make me want to eat more.

These things are:

1) Television.

I fix myself some scrambled-eggs-on-toast for breakfast. I've a very particular way of making scrambled eggs, which involves slowly microwaving the egg whites with a little pepper and salt, then adding the yolk and mashing them up, maybe helping the whites to heat the yolk with another 15 seconds in the microwave.

The result is, well, scrambled eggs...but creamier. The vital thing is that the yolks need to be hot, but still liquid, so the lumps of white sit in them like a sauce.

So I settle down to eat, and realise there's something missing. Some non-culinary part of the experience. Ah! The kitchen TV.

I flip around the channels, looking for something to eat my creamy eggs to. There's the morning news (a non-report on a non-event), the morning news of a different channel (a non-interview with a non-interesting microcelebrity), the history channel (usually something non-informative or non-accurate about WW2), or a wide selection of violent cartoons.

I usually end up watching something about macho sports cars...or a rerun of one of the Star Treks.

The thing is though, it works the other way around. If my brain's too tired to do anything useful, I sit down to watch something nonthreatening or moderately informative - which usually turns out to be a medical drama or, um, one of the Star Treks - and then get the feeling that something's missing. Something...culinary, to go with the televisual experience. Some gustatory accompaniment.

For some reason, it doesn't happen with radio.

2) Boredom.

I'm bored! Which usually means "I'm too tired to do anything interesting but can't or don't want to sleep". What am I going to do?

Something that doesn't require any of the brainpower I don't have right now, but doesn't involve just sitting and staring at the wall. Or Star Trek.

3) Sex.

I used to live with someone who got cravings for cheese on toast after having an orgasm. I always fancied a cup of tea after mine. So after I bit his nipples till he came (what?) I went downstairs, put on the kettle, burned some bread and chopped up some cheese.

Nowadays the first thing I long for after love is...to have my ears mercilessly banged, by some hard, throbbing techno. German for preference, with guttural, doom-laden lyrics - you know the kind.

But there's also post-mutual masturbation munchies. After-anal avarice. Following-fellatio food. It could be a plate of pasta, rice with fish, or indeed some cheese on toast. Usually with a nice cup of tea - currently I'm favouring unsweetened tea with lemon juice. But basically I just want something hot and salty that I can swallow hard after...erm, yes well anyway.

4) Eating.

There's a French proverb which runs "Appetite comes with eating" - in other words, "The more you have of something, the more you want". But it's literally true too.

You feel like a little snack, so a little snack is what you have. Maybe just a cheese sandwich - which magically acquires toppings of peppers, lettuce, spring onions, mustard-mayo and whatever else is in the fridge.

It's quite nice, so you make another one. Which makes you realise how hungry you are.

That's not hungry as in "my stomach is empty" - it's hungry as in "I'm already full, maybe even a little bit overfull, but I really feel like giving my tastebuds something to do".

So you fix yourself something else, something bigger, something that makes you feel bloated and guilty afterwards - something that you know is going to make you bloated and guilty afterwards as you're eating it - but you enjoy eating it anyway.

Though for some reason you don't enjoy it as much as you expected, which if you're really far gone makes you try eating something else afterwards in the hope that that'll be as pleasurable as what you thought the last one was going to be.

Thin people seem to live with the bizarre delusion that we eat because we're hungry. If that were true all meals would be snacks, and there'd be no such thing as set times to eat.

No. I eat because of long-established psychological associations with other activities, and a habit of regarding it as the default "ticking over" state.

Oh, and because I enjoy doing it. I enjoy it a lot. If I were more organised and more traumatised I'd develop bulimia - so it's probably a good thing I'm both hopelessly disorganised and not haunted by my own childhood. It's difficult to be haunted by something that dull.

So, how do I get out of the two way association of TV and TV Dinner? Either stop watching TV, or spend several weeks forcing myself to not do one while doing the other.

The boredom connection? I'm not sure how to give up boredom, but there's an ever-growing stack of books I keep meaning to read.

Sex? No I am not going to give up sex. Maybe swallow a tab of appetite-reducing but sex-enhancing amphetamine before meeting with a regular? Hmm, that might just possibly create problems of its own. Not sure about that one.

And the French Feedback-loop problem? Probably comes down to willpower.

Sigh. Anyone got any better ideas?

Eighteen today!

Eighteen thousand visits to this here blog. The magic number came from someone surfing from this post on Aethelread's blog - in which I'm commenting something geeky.

And speaky of geeky...my visitor stopped by at 2053 on Oct 25, lives in or near London, runs Firefox on XP, with Javascript 1.5 and a monitor set to 1600x1200 at 32 bit colour depth. They use this hitherto unknown ISP and, erm, apparantly stayed zero seconds.

The Seventh Fail

Windows 7 is out today.

When Vista came out, there were a lot of glowing reviews of pre-release versions in magazines, a lot of caution from the more tech-savvy PC users, and Microsoft tried vainly to get the public to hold "Vista release" parties in their homes - using a series of cringeworthy adverts. And within a month everyone who'd tried it hated everything about Vista.

This time, there's a lot of glowing reviews of pre-release versions in magazines, a lot of outright hostility from the more tech-savvy PC users, and Microsoft has a new round of horrible party adverts - evidently having learned nothing from the last time. I wonder how many ordinary users are even going to try Windows 7.

After XP, Microsoft announced it was going to redesign Windows from the ground up - removing all the useless junk and memory-hogging redundant resources, doing away with all the bug-ridden bug fixes, spyware-installing updates, and security patches that created security holes and had to be patched themselves. The result would be small, fast and easy to use.

This they completely failed to do. The result was bloated, slow, impossible to configure and a pain to use. Yes, it was called Vista.

After Vista, Microsoft talked about...well, redesigning Windows from the ground up. For real this time, honest.

This they have completely failed to do. Windows 7 uses the Vista kernel, with some efficiencies made in memory management. I've used the beta version and read reviews from journalists who've used the release version. It looks like Vista, it's a bastard to use in the same way as Vista only slightly worse, it's about as configurable as a concrete block - just like Vista - and best of all...it's even larger than Vista, at 8-11GB.

Oh, and it's less compatible with XP software than Vista was.

Here's a benchmark test, to give you some idea of the speed.

I use a stripped down version of XP - my customised version of someone else's customised version. The OS is 500MB, plus about as much again for Java, .NET, C++ runtime and such. The software comes to 1.5GB for 78 programs, all in portable formats.

I started using XP because a few programs wouldn't run on Windows 2000 - programs that I actually don't use anymore. So I can't help wondering how many of my current programs would run perfectly under 2000, which has a kernel of 56MB.

But why do I use Windows at all? Ubuntu is more stable, Linux more elegant and configurable. OSX on a Mac would be faster.

There's two reasons. First, all my software is for Windows, and everything I know about fixing problems relates to Windows. I'm used to it and I know how to use it.

Second, there's just a lot more software around for Windows. I spent last night trying out a dozen free programs to make mindmaps - and there's two or three times that number of commercial programs to chose from. There's maybe half a dozen for the Mac. Months ago I tried out nearly thirty "session capture" programs - applications that make a "movie" of what happens on your screen - and there were at least as many that I didn't try.

In both cases, the best programs turned out to be free ones. That happens quite a lot.

How many DAWs does Ubuntu have? To my knowledge, one - and it's still in development. So if I don't like that one, I'm screwed. There's easily 20 for Windows - and incidentally the one I think is best costs GBP15.

Windows will never be great, but it is well supported and does work pretty well. Which is to say, XP works pretty well. I might check back on Windows 7 when it's on its second service pack and there's a lot of illegal programs to hack it into usability.

Ur Doin IT Rong

Today's IT phone call...

The Problem: Company A has sent company B a spreadsheet, partially filled out, for B to complete and send back. But instead of sending the spreadsheet file, they seem to have printed it out, scanned the result, and sent the picture as an attachment.

Solution 1: Print out the graphic, write appropriate figures in the appropriate columns, borrow a scanner, scan in the annotated printout, and send it back as an attachment.

Problem with Solution 1: Don't know anyone who's got a scanner to borrow it from.

Solution 2: Load the graphic into MS Word and overlay some text onto the blank bits.

Problem with Solution 2: Don't know how to do this.

Solution 3: Load the graphic into a graphics package (Photoshop, Draw, even MS Paint) and insert text in the white spaces.

Problem with Solution 3: That's exactly what the company had been trying to do - with the pencil tool :-S. And it wasn't working too well. Don't know how to place text on a graphic.

Solution 4: Ask Company A why they did such and idiotic thing, and get them to send the actual spreadsheet document.

Problem with Solution 4: Don't want to risk offending Company A.

Solution 5: Copy out the graphic onto your own spreadsheet, fill in the blanks, and send the result by email.

And that's what they're doing, as I type.

Technology - the more it does, the more idiots can screw it up.

Feeling better now! After a full day of nothing but...

...I'm now pain free and feeling more like...

Which is good, as I've run out of croppable gloryhole pictures. So, where were we?

Not so much of this...

...but still feeling like this...
Feeling somewhat better.

But still a bit distracted.

Joints still painful.

I've got a virus, so I'm feeling a bit lousy.

Asleep on my feet, in fact.

Day's Data - Part 21

0030: Half an hour's figuring out how the Windows Vista (hack, spit) version of Outlook Express (hack, spit) makes email distribution lists. Half an hour to make one. Then three hours scoffing burger and chips, getting slowly drunk - not least on half a bottle of bad red wine someone had left on the pub table.

So this is me, drunk, and this is my day, spent.

Day's Data - Part 20

1925: The bitch is back.

By which I mean...

We've got four dogs - three boys and a girl. The girl, Sadie, is 20 months old and goes into season about once every ten weeks - rather more often than is usual, but each time with the usual result of frantically whining and door-scratching boy dogs. Now, after being in season a little too often, she's finally "of marriageable ago". Old enough to make puppies!

Dog estrus lasts about three weeks - a week of hormonal buildup"
, a week of fertility, and a week of wind down, basically. Sadie's been staying with an old family friend for the first week...and now she's back and ready to breed.

So with any luck there'll soon be the patter of tiny feet in the Kapitano household.

In the meantime, I'm off to fix another computer. See you when I get back.

Day's Data - Part 19

1800: What's nicer than waking up and luxuriating in bed for an extra hour because there's nothing urgent that needs to be done?

Answer: Waking up and luxuriating in bed because, although there's always something that needs to be done, it's just too nice.

But there's always something that needs to be done. In this case there's someone who needs personal 1-to-1 tuition on how to use an email program's basic functions. Because they're too lazy to read the help file, too IT illiterate to understand it if they did, and too scared of computers to work it out for themselves by looking at menu options.

And in return they buy me an alcoholic beverage I don't really feel like, and tell me anecdotes I've heard too many times already. And that's the ballad of the long suffering computer geek.

In my own email box, China and Spain are silent as ever, but the Czech republic...are still passing my CV around. Jihlava have the vacancy filled, so they've passed my details on to Most. From which I conclude two things:

(1) "Urgent" means something different in TEFL from what it means in the rest of the world.

(2) Head office have yet to grasp that making decisions in parallel is quicker than doing it in series. How difficult is it to email two copies of a CV to different cities at the same time on the understanding that only one of them can have the teacher? To difficult for them, it seems.

Day's Data - Part 18

1055: Did I mention sleep? Sounds like a good idea.

And while I'm snoozing, or at least lying on the bed and thinking about snoozing, my trusty hardworking laptop will be uploading selfextracting archives of my programs to Adrive.com - just as an assistant deputy backup in case my backup discs get lost or damaged.

Because my trusty hard working laptops sometimes aren't that trusty. Or working.

Day's Data - Part 17

0930: The idea of structuring your life around media broadcasts now seems hopelessly restrictive.

You don't have to read newspapers at particular times, so why should you have to tune in to the TV news at a particular time? The only reason for insisting that you get this information at that time is...that the technology doesn't exist to make it any other way. Which now it does.

I look forward to a time when all the radio stations have become podcasters. You want the dance music show? Have it when you feel like energetic music. You want the drivetime show? Have it when you're actually driving.

It would be less of a transformation for TV channels - because most of them show repeats of stuff you've already seen anyway.

Unless you think I'm mad for using a software gizmo to download a supposedly "stream only" music show so I can listen to it five minutes later. Here it is - my current favourite music not-exactly-podcast.

Day's Data - Part 16

0800: Breakfast time! Fried mushrooms on toast, with tea.

Have you noticed, the term "Breakfast of champions" is only ever used ironically?

I read that one of the techniques used to "soften people up" for interrogation is to confuse their sense of time by, among other things, making every meal breakfast. Exactly why losing your sense of which day it is - or indeed eating quite a lot of cornflakes - should make you less resistant to questioning, I'm not sure. But then, I like cornflakes and don't particularly care what day it is.

Probably the main reason we have breakfast at all is the traditional sleeping pattern of a single block of 6-9 hours at night. A pattern, you may have noticed, I don't feel bound by. As far as I'm concerned, the most sensible time to sleep is when you feel like sleep, and the most sensible time to wake up is when you don't need any more sleep - but other people seem to have a different notion of "sensible", whereby the best time to sleep is whenever everybody else thinks they should sleep.

But it is possible to break your sleep up into smaller segments, spaced fairly regularly throughout the day. And the advantages are...that you wind up needing less sleep, and you're fully awake for much longer. Sounds like a good deal to me.

If I'd have heard about this "polyphasic sleep" months ago, I'd have given it a go, and might be doing it now. As it is, trying to start a new job is not the best occasion to experiment with your sleep patterns.

Oh yes, the connection with breakfast is that, when you sleep polyphasically, your meal patterns also change - you tend to eat a larger number of small meals. As a snacker, that appeals to me too.

Day's Data - Part 15

0730: What's the difference between Wikipedia and a paper encyclopedia?

With a paper encyclopedia you get to be distracted by more interesting things...in alphabetical order.

I once borrowed an encyclopedia of philosophy for some research on Hegel. The Hegel article was completely unhelpful...but next to it was a fascinating one on Heidegger, and next to that was a good one on Husserl.

Edmund Husserl founded the philosophic school called Phenomenology - concerned with the study of experience rather than reality - and Martin Heidegger was his star pupil, and inspiration to the French Existentialists. He was also a nazi, it turns out, but I still think his ideas on "personhood" are intriguing.

Anyway, soon afterwards I dashed off some generic paragraphs on Hegel, and settled down with my Heidegger and Sartre.

With wikipedia you do the same thing, but in order of tangential relationships.

So I go from petit mal seizures, to prosopagnosia (the inability to recognize faces), to computerised face recognition software, to the Capgras delusion (the belief that someone's been replaced by an identical impostor), to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to...um, the history of grave robbing and the life of William Henry Pratt.

I prefer the wiki way of wandering.

Day's Data - Part 14

0645: In the light of what I wrote earlier, I thought I'd do a bit of googleresearch. Googleresearch is like research, but about as useful as a sack of broken hammers.

So what do I find? I find a medical syndrome with possibly the best name ever: Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome.

Which leads with wonderful inexorability to the heading: What Causes Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome?

Day's Data - Part 13

0620: I've decided to backdate each post to the time it was written.

Ah, I've got a new follower on Twitter. Oh, it's just another pornospam account.

This picture from the site expresses how I feel about my new follower.

Day's Data - Part 12

0615: I dozed for 90 minutes, woke up, decided to go back to sleep and then...had a fit.

Yes. Confession time. You see, I have a form of epilepsy. At least I think I do. I've had it all my life.

Each attack lasts 20-40 minutes, starting gently, building to a peak about halfway through, then gradually fading away.

When I say epilepsy, I'm not talking about the stereotypical juddering, twitching, foaming and moaning episodes some people have, and I'm not talking about the temporal lobe epilepsy of the spiritual experience. With me, it's tactile, auditory and temporal exaggeration.

Tonight, I knew it was starting because, when one toe brushed against a bedsheet, it felt like the toe was three times it's normal size, and so was the bedsheet. I could feel the texture very precisely.

Minutes later, the sounds and sensations of my breathing became long and slow, as though I had the lungs and chest of an elephant sized creature, inhaling and exhaling slowly, ponderously, noisily.

My arm brushed against one of my nipples, and the nipple felt like a bulbous plate of flesh a foot wide. I scratched an itch on my cheek - the finger, the nail, the cheek and the itch were all somehow enlarged but remained in proportion to each other, and the action taking correspondingly longer to do.

I could feel the hairs of the stubble on my cheek in fine detail, against my fingertip. The itch was stretched and diffuse, like a piece of chewing gum pulled to cover a wider area but becoming "weaker" or "thinner" in the process.

It's impossible to do anything rapidly during an attack. Or rather, its impossible to feel like you're doing anything rapidly. I've walked with no loss of balance - if anything, the opposite - but with the sense that my legs are moving at a quarter their usual speed.

My speech is similarly slowed. I think the slowing effect is real because...on three or four occasions it's happened when I was with someone. On some I tried to explain what was happening, and one said my voice was strange and I was scaring them.

Sounds are loud - or rather, their volume is in some way stretched like the itch, so they're both louder but somehow thinner. Music booms and is "smeared", as though it's being played underwater.

When I was young the whole experience used to scare me. I remember once when I was about five it happened, and it felt/sounded like a train was being driven through the center of my head. Crashing and relentless, blotting out all other sound - all I could do was curl up and wait for it to end.

In my teens I got curious, and on one occasion wondererd what an orgasm would feel like in this state, so the next time it happened I masturbated. The orgasm was like the music, dull and heavy, muffled and indistinct, like the writing on an overinflated balloon.

These attacks happened irregularly, sometime seperated by a fortnight, sometimes for months. On averge I'd say they happened every three months. Between about 25 and 35, I think they became about half as frequent, but now they're happening about as often as before.

I've always been perversely ashamed of these episodes, and I hated having to tell anyone about them.But now I realise this shame is just as unhelpful as all the other shames I've discarded over the years. So now I'm telling you.

Perhaps this is quite a common experience, I don't know. Nowadays it's more an inconvenience than a problem, but I'm vaguely curious to know what's really going on in my brain.

Day's Data - Part 11

0255:I've got a headache. I need to lie down.

Ah, found some ibuprofen. Brilliant.

Day's Data - Part 10

0220: "This Islamic Community" - it's an odd term. Not so much for what it means literally, but for the way it's used.

You can meaningfully talk about "The Christian Community" - on the understanding that it excludes most people who call themselves christians, because most self-defined christians don't chose their associations on religious grounds.

"The Hindu Community" as commonly used seems to mean The Indian Community...except for the 5% who are christian. But sometimes it includes The Pakistani Community, but not The Bangladeshi Community.

I've known members of The Islamic Community. Some of them weren't actually muslims because they'd formally ditched their faith but not their families. Some had converted. And some people who actually are muslim and associate with muslims don't get included in The Islamic Community, presumably on the grounds that they're white.

So if you're Arab (but not Palastinian), or Asian (but not Indian, Japanese, Philipino, Tibetan...or Chinese), or politically "islamist" (but not a member of the Nation of Islam)...then you're probably in The Islamic Community. Unless you're from some parts of Africa in which case...you're in a different The Islamic Community.

I love clarity. That's why politics annoys me.

Day's Data - Part 9

0215: Gmail, hotmail, squirt account. Oh well, nobody wants to tell me anything. Except that I may already have won a holiday to...blah blah blah.

[Slurp tea...aaah!]

Day's Data - Part 8

0200:Yesterday Stephen Gately - 90s boyband popsinger - died.

Today the tabloid mill spins its usual insinuations about alcoholism, depression, drug addiction and suicide. Oh, and apparantly Gately was a right bastard because he broke off contact with the parents who hated him for being gay.

Tomorrow the boot goes further in - sometimes disguised as tributes.

Day's Data - Part 7

0130: Sigh.

No new email, no new podcast of the Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow shows, not hungry, not feeling creative, can't face trying to tidy up the bedroom...can't be bothered to have a wank. What am I going to do?

Have a cup of tea. I keep a cup, a spoon, a small teapot, a kettle, a box of teabags and a supply of dried milk in my bedroom at all times.

Day's Data - Part 6

0125: Another murder idea, got the same way.

A man, with the assistance of his sister, kills his wife, just as they're about to move from one town to another. The man arrives in the new town, accompanied by his sister impersonating his wife.

After making sure everyone in the neighbourhood knows them, they fake the "wife"'s death - making sure a third party finds the body, which then dissappears. The sister appears as herself, out of disguise, apparantly to comfort her bereaved husband.

In other words, a time-shift plot - and indeed a body-switch plot. How would the detective figure this one out? No idea.

Day's Data - Part 5

0055: Idea for a murder mystery, got tangentially from the review comments.

A will is written with labyrinthine terms and conditions, such that if two family members die in the right order, the youngest son gets the deceased's fortune. This is probably just an unintended consequence of the will being so complex - as when a program works perfectly but produces an unexpected result.

One of the family members is murdered, and the detective figures out the culprit and the motive. But makes a deal with the murderer to derail the investigation in return for a slice of the fortune - and helps to arrange an alibi for the second murder that will net him that slice.

Years later, a second detective investigates the apparant incompetence of the first - who was of course killed in a mysterious "accident" before he could start blackmailing the killer.

Day's Data - Part 4

0044: Just realised I don't really know what World of Warcraft is. Back to the reviews.

Day's Data - Part 3

0025: Get indigestion from hot chocolate and cheese biscuits.

While reading reviews (and comments) of my favourite TV medical drama written by an actual doctor.

Day's Data - Part 2

0015-0020: Check RSS feeds.

I'm currently having my little Firefox plugin monitor 76 feeds.

  • 7 friends' blogs
  • 7 twitter accounts
  • 16 science blogs
  • 4 politics blogs
  • 19 music podcasts
  • 5 short story podcasts
  • 3 blogs about linguistics
  • the inevitable 11 in the "Misc" category, and...
  • 13 podcasts on politics and science - though I think I'll cut down on both.

Even people with a great deal of good stuff to say seem to feel the need to whitter on as though they were presenting a "light" afternoon chatshow.

Plus most people speak at 150-200 words per minute, and I can get my reading speed up to 1000 - the benefits of some intensive-but-inconclusive research on speedreading a decade ago. 400wpm is a good comfortable speed for anyone who reads a lot professionally - or has 76 RSS feeeds.

Of course, it took rather longer to write all that than to check the updates - and find nothing special.

Day's Data - Part 1

At fifteen minutes to midnight, I decided to try blogging whatever I did in a 24 hour period. So this is it.

0000-0010: What's a good midnight snack for you?

How about hot chocolate, with cheese biscuits? I wonder how many now-traditional culinary staples are the result of not having anything else in the kitchen one night.

Not Like Progress

NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

As with all good abbreviations each word is misleading - there's no basis in neurology, not much to do with language, and there's no sense in which the brain can be programmed like a computer. If there were, there'd be no such thing as a teacher.

It's composed of large sections of Scientology, fragments of misunderstood Chomskyian linguistics, a smattering of cod Freudian psychology, and elements taken from EST.

EST is an expensive crank therapy based on the idea that if a lot of people shout abuse at you for several hours, you'll eventually have a miniature nervous breakdown, which will in some way liberate you from "old" ways of thinking, which will in some way turn you into middle manager better at manipulating other middle managers. NLP makes the same basic promise, but tries to offer variations for everyone.

It was originally formulated by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. Bandler now spends his time increasing his multimillionaire fortune suing everyone (including Grinder) who teaches NLP without buying his permission. He uses the cash to keep up the most amazing cocaine habit.

The premises of NLP are that:
(1) The mental processes of the best people in any field can be modelled,
(2) You can reprogram your behavior to mimic these processes,
(3) This will make you just as successful as them, regardless of your circumstances.

If you want to know whether NLP or the methods of any other self-perfection cult are effective, you have two options. You can either spend years wading through hundreds of arcane abstractions before asking yourself whether they add up to anything...or you can look at its master practitioners, and ask yourself whether they fulfil the method's promise.

Scientologists are supposed to have perfect mental and physical health. Objectivists are supposed to be completely rational, whatever that means. NLPers are supposed to be able to read your inmost desires and manipulate you any way they wish.

In fact Scientologists tend to be mental wrecks, Objectivists are preening jerks, and NLPers are among the most lonely, hated and ineffective people you'll ever meet.

And the most gullible, obviously.

Days Like These

People have been asking me, "What are you doing these days, Kapitano?", and I've been telling them, "I'm trying to leave the sodding country."

And they say "You've been doing that for two years. What's the holdup?"

And I tell them, "Bureaucracy."

Chinese bureaucracy that'll only let you enter the country through Hong Kong, and only after they're sure you're not a disruptive influence (ha!). Korean bureaucracy that want paper copies of everything before they'll even decide if there's a vacancy. Spanish bureaucracy that takes five minutes to do but five weeks to start to do.

Okay, these particular problems haven't been two years - more like two months - but it shouldn't be that difficult.

This should be the best time to get a job - the start of term, the time when a lot of schools suddenly realise they need another teacher. Followed by three to six months when there's a trickle of schools who suddenly need a new teacher because...the old one's just walked out in disgust or found a better job.

Either that or I start my novel for NaNoWriMo.

I like to personalise my computers.

My So-Called Life

People ask me, "What do you do with your life, Kapitano?". Well, here's the answer.

Two days ago, I got a call at midnight from an old acquaintance who wanted to know "How do I get the bar down from up the side?"

Yes, a computer question - "How do I get the XP taskbar back down the bottom of the screen?". Not a difficult challenge, though it did require explaining that you don't need to install "Dragon Drop" to drag-and-drop.

Yesterday, a call to ask "Why isn't my orange dong connecting?"

Why indeed? In the past I've been asked about "the donkey driver for my bluetooth phone", but this time it was a USB donkey for wireless internetting - courtesy of Orange telecommunications.

It started working on its own a few hours later. Apparently "the internet must've gone down for a few hours".

This morning...a call from someone I didn't immediately recognise. The school I worked for a year ago - the school that last month called me up to ask about "burning cassettes onto CD" - their accountant, a man with who I'd had three brief conversations.

He's working somewhere else now - a place that'd received an email attachment in a hitherto unknown format. So could I please advise him what program could read it?

I was actually offered payment for this one, but on this occasion declined. The pleasure of figuring out that someone had tried to email a corrupted .DLL file disguised as an MS Works text document was enough - though if you wanted to know why anyone would do such a bizarre thing, that investigation would come with a handsome price tag.

Time Warp

Did that MTV Rocky Horror remake ever get made? I'm guessing not - I would have heard the collective raspberry from the critics.

Did you know there were two remakes of Casablanca? And a TV series? All predictably dire and predictably forgotten. There were recently remakes of Get Carter and The Wicker Man, which everyone knew would sink without trace - everyone except those experts paid large sums by Hollywood to know what'll sink without trace.

I've actually seen the Stepford Wives remake - it was done as a comedy for no some reason, but without any laughs, even unintentional ones. I saw the Cohen Brother's remake of The Ladykillers, which would have been an okay-but-forgettable film if only they'd said it was "inspired by" the original, which effectively it was.

There was even a sort-of sequel to Rocky Horror called Shock Treatment - which has, shall we say, its own highly select cult following. Grease had a sequel and a remake, which is to say it had two footnotes even more embarrassing than the film itself.

There was a literal shot-by-shot remake of Psycho, which seems to be rooted in one of those pseudophilosophical ideas that only first year film students think is clever. I speak as an ex-film student.

Spot research for this post has reminded me of the 2006 Pink Panther movie with Steve Martin, which I'd mercifully managed to forget. And Posiden (2006), The Italian Job (2001) and the 2001 Planet of the Fucking Apes. So thanks for that, Google.

Returning to my own memory, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin sitcom has been re-booted twice - once as the American Reggie - remembered now because it was so execrable - and a more recent British remake that wasn't so bad in itself - it was just a completely pointless updating of something that didn't need any updating.

Michael Caine, commenting on the Get Carter remake, made the very valid observation that if you're going to have another go at a movie, do it with one that didn't work the first time. Though I'm not sure of the wisdom of remaking Battlefield Earth or trying I am Legend for the forth (yes, forth) time.

You could remake Mission to Mars a dozen times and eventually wind up with Red Planet...or you could just watch Red Planet. I'm perversely intrigued by how long it'd take to rehabilitate the piss stain of Black Hawk Down into the blood stain of Apocalypse Now.

Not all remakes are abysmal. Meet Joe Black was a remake of the 1934 Death Takes a Holiday, and wasn't amazing but wasn't horrible either. I'm told Battlestar Galactica was great and the 70's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a good film in its own right. I quite like both versions of The Fly.

The Johnny Depp Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has its fans - though I confess I haven't seen it and hated the Gene Wilder version. The classic Victor/Victoria actually was a remake, as was Scarface. You could make a case that The Magnificent Seven is a direct remake of Seven Samurai.

But what do I know? I preferred The Icicle Thief to The Bicycle Thief.

Who Pays the Pied Piper

I remember the first time I realised most journalists were idiots.

Not the first time I saw they were biased, or liable to spin trivial nonstories into big headlines, or liable to miss the important stories while spinning the nonstories into the big headlines, or indeed the first time they flat out lied. That was always obvious.

No, this was the first time I realised they weren't in fact clever liars - they were ignorant and stupid bullshitters.

It was around 1990, maybe a year or two before. The smiling blond lady presenter adopted her "big scary threat" voice to announce the headline - "The New Channel For Child Pornography".

And what was this "New Channel"? It was a new technical gizmo called "The Demon Internet".

Just let that take a moment to sink in. First, an academic/military computer network used almost exclusively for exchanging text documents...is cast as something created exclusively to transmit kiddie porn. By who? How?

And second..."The Demon Internet". Is there nothing these people can't fail to grasp? And "demon"-ise?

A few months later there was an article on how children were using "Floppy Diskettes" to exchange "indecent images" and look at them "in the privacy of their bedrooms". Because apparently if an adult put the disc in their computer, all they'd see was a lot of zeroes and ones. Yes, that's what the blond lady on TV said.

Kids looking at dirty pictures was apparently a completely new thing, as presumably was bedroom masturbation. This time the threat to innocent vulnerable "children" wasn't adults taking naked photos of them - it was innocent vulnerable "children" looking at pictures of naked adults. It damaged them in some undefined way, allegedly.

Over the next few years the media created more and more paranoia about how anyone - absolutely bloody anyone, even your most trusted friends - could secretly be a preternaturally devious and patient pervert whose only thought was to kidnap your little boy.

Girls got kidnapped too of course, but it was much more newsworthy when it happened to boys. I wonder why. There were long running news stories about satanist covens using social workers to steal children for ritual sacrifice, and morons in pubs liked to quote the "fact" that statistically you were never more that fifty feet from a child abuser.

At the same time, thirteen year old girls were singing pop songs about "love" in miniskirts on prime time TV, boybands were rapping about sex (and preaching anti-drug messages while stoned), and the teen pregnancy rate was reaching for the clouds.

Then just before the millennium, the UK seemed to wake up from its collective paranoia - though not its hypocritical sexualisation of underage kids - realising the country wasn't full of superhuman/subhuman kiddiefiddlers, for the same reason it wasn't full of communist infiltrators, satanist covens, or grey-skinned alien abductors.

I only mention all this because most of today's news is taken up with the conviction of three child pornographers - two of them "shockingly" female. Or rather the news is taken up with how they met...on the internet.

It seems the internet is to blame for their mutually encouraging each other towards greater and greater depravity.That's the word being repeated every minute or so - depravity. That and speculation that it might not just be three sick people taking and swapping pictures by email - they might have been part of a ring of hundreds. There's absolutely no reason to suspect there were any others but....what if they were?

"Questions are being asked", say the journalists. Who's asking the questions? Yes, that's right. And what are these questions? They're about how it should be the ISP's responsibility to monitor all the traffic that takes place over their lines - which of course they don't own and couldn't practically monitor anyway - but only to catch future pervs. Not for any other reason at all.

By the same reasoning, road builders are responsible for preventing car users breaking speed laws.

Though actually this case was broken when an office worker - completely by accident and innocently, they say - rifled through their colleague's work terminal until they found the pictures. Yes, it wasn't even being done on a home computer.

So, journalists are idiots. Useful idiots - just not useful to their audience.