The Old One

Five ways I know I'm getting old:

(1) Songs from my youth are on Radio 2. The BBC runs eleven national radio channels, among them Radio 1 for contemporary pop appealing to teenagers, and Radio 2 for tedious old farts politely referred to as "over 35s" - who don't like loud or strange music but also aren't into classical or jazz.

When I was in Radio 1's "target demographic", Radio 2 featured morning programmes dedicated to songs from stage musicals, and evening programmes for big band dancehall stuff from the 1940s and 50s.

Now it's got Human League, Ultravox and (oh the horror) Status Quo.

(2) Recession and mass bankruptcy. Coalition and Conservative government. Casual racism from the public and simpering patriotism in the newspapers. Idiots saying "I'm not sexist, I love pretty girls", TV news being thinly disguised advertising for other programmes, and the Brain Drain.

All things I spent half of my adult life being told were gone - and good riddance. Yes, I remember them all from the last time. At least I don't remember them from the time before that

(3) I don't associate much with people my own age - because they're boring.

It's a jolt to realise the thirty six year old man in the pub pontificating on subjects he know nothing about as an elder to a skinny-jeaned group of students half his younger than me.

(4) I automatically expect the next big thing to be the same shit in different packaging. The iPad - a glorified netbook. Lady Gaga - early Madonna with even worse dress sense. The latest political theory - trickledown Regenomics. Another royal wedding - another PR stunt.

(5) Questions like "What am I supposed to be doing with my life?" overshadow questions like "What do I want to do today?"

I had my midlife crisis when I was fifteen. Another one is just not welcome.

Streetwise Sunday - Stuffed Edition

The last Streetwise Sunday of the year...and I think the last for a while. So, as with everything else at christmas, there's three helpings, plus a little extra, even though you don't really want it.

First, the large cooking bowl I found on a pavement. At the time, it was filled with stale dogfood that must've been there for at least a week. I dumped the contents into a bin, took the bowl home, washed it...and weeks later Mother made a christmas cake in it.

I'd like to show you the cake, but I'm eating the last of the second christmas cake as I write. So here's the bowl in it's pristine state.

The term "street furniture" can refer either to things like cars, lamp-posts and homeless children that you tend to see outside, or to the result of a home or pub that's just had a refurbishment - and leaves the defurbished furnishings (furbishings?) outside for, well, anyone who might want them.

And the mysterious thing is, no one ever does. Not even me.

Our third helping is...actual food. Specifically, a microwavable lasagna-for-one (price GBP1) on the pavement outside the university's biomedicine department. Now, the people who mostly eat these things are the unemployed, students, the retired, and the otherwise bankrupt. I'm at least two of these, and I quite like them.

So, who inhabits the university at christmas, and which rooms have microwaves? Postgrad researchers...and the offices of postgrad researchers. So I think I have a fair idea who microwaved it, then threw it out of the window in disgust.

Unless they were recreating the famous apocryphal experiment of dropping things off the leaning tower of pizza. Except it wasn't pizza, it was lasagna.

And the bonus?

Christmas is a time for togetherness, for getting a little bit drunk and enjoying yourself doing something silly, and for big sparkly trees.

Either that, or the time for the council to put up a big sparkly tree outside the guildhall, then putting a fence around it with dire warning not to go anywhere near, just in case people get a bit drunk and do something silly, like climbing up the tree until it topples over, dumping them hard on the they can sue the council from hospital.

The One Day of Christmas

"Sir, I protest! I am not a merry man!"
- Worf, Star Trek: The Next Generation

This year I got exactly one text message wishing me a merry christmas. It read "Happy Christmas. Your vid gave me a stiffy". I think I'll have it framed.

Most of the assorted great aunts and uncles, Nth cousins and their offspring - the ones who made childhood christmas so tense and unpleasant - are now thankfully dead, estranged, in homes or in, er, Canada.

Even my brother decided he'd rather spend the season with colleagues rather than family, which is fine. So it's just two retired parents, three parrots, five dogs, an indeterminate number of mice, several tones of accumulated junk and one currently unemployed and penniless teacher - spending most of the time in separate rooms. Finally, a family christmas we can actually enjoy.

I was going to do a twelve-days-of-christmas type list, but most of them are ones. So here goes:

Here are twelve things of christmas that came to old Kapp-y...

One night on youtube
Far too much chocolate
One book of science
Crap Doc Who Special
One drunken phonecall
Old films on TV
One mislaid wallet
Cold in the nose....
One family noshup
Big indigestion
Refrozen snow
And a txt msg about a stiffy

Last Christmas (but One)

Two christmasses ago I spent the holidays backing up a few hundred gigabytes of data from hard drive to DVDR. Now I'm backing up much the same data from DVDR to external hard drive.

That christmas I got a present - thermal underwear. This christmas, it's so cold I couldn't manage without it. Back then I was awake most of the nights and asleep most of the days, living on tea with powdered milk, and chocolate biscuits. Now...well, I had to replace the old kettle.

I was putting off the hard work of writing lyrics by developing a collection of virtual synths. Now I've got a chorus and half a verse in front of me...and I'm coming up with a way to add a little unpredictability to mixing desk EQs.

I was getting nostalgic with a lot of old recordings I'd made of 70s Dr Who episodes. This year it's Blake's 7. The cold virus probably isn't the same one either.

But one thing is different this time. I've been given my very own christmas tree.

Happy Sleighbells to you, and may your new year resolutions last longer than your new year.


Someone's sent me an ebook. It's called "Answers to Non-Muslim's Common Questions about Islam" by Dr Zakir Abdul Karim Naik, published by the Islamic Research Foundation.

Instead of me editorialising, why don't I just summarise what it has to say, and you draw your own conclusions? Here goes:

1) Why is polygamy allowed in Islam?

Most religions (including Christianity and Hinduism) allow polygamy - or at least don't explicitly forbid it. It's secular laws that limit marriage, even though men are biologically promiscuous - which science proves.

Islam is better than all the other polygamous religions because it's the only one to warn you not to have more wives than you can cope with.

2) Why not polyandry?

It's forbidden because women only need one man, and besides if she had more than one husband it might not be certain who the father of her children is - and that would be, er, bad.

3) Doesn't Islam degrade women?

Every other civilisation does, and western culture turns women into sex objects while pretending to free them. Sexlessness is dignified in women.

And the veil prevents rape in some unspecified way.

4) How can Islam be a religion of peace when it's been spread by conquest?

If Islam were a religion of violence, all the non-muslims would have been executed when Muslim armies invaded their country.

5) Are Muslims terrorists?

"The policeman is a terrorist for the robber."

6) Why aren't Muslims vegetarians?

They can be.

7) Why do they slaughter animals by decapitating them?

Because it's quick, relatively painless...and it lets the nasty germ-ridden blood flow away.

8) But doesn't eating meat make people violent?

Not if they only eat herbivores.

9) Isn't bowing to the Kaaba (that giant black cube in Mecca) idol worship?

It promotes unity among Muslims, so it...isn't.

10) Why aren't non-muslims allowed to go to Mecca?

Immigration control is good when we do it.

11) Why can't Muslims eat pork?

The Qur'an says so - just like the bible. Plus pigs carry disease, and aren't monogamous - "Many times after dance parties, they have swapping of wives".

12) Why can't Muslims drink alcohol?

The Qur'an says so - just like the bible. Plus "8% of Americans commit incest...Almost all cases of incest are due to intoxication".

Oh, and "ALCOHOLISM IS NOT A DISEASE - IT IS SATAN'S HANDIWORK". (Yes, that part is all in capitals.)

13) In law, why are two female witnesses equivalent to one male witness?

Women are more emotional than men, so less accurate.

14) Why is a woman's inheritance half that of a man?

Occasionally it isn't. If "the deceased has left no ascendant or descendent but has left the uterine brother and sister, each of the two inherit one sixth".

And men need more because they have families, which women don't.

15) Is the Qur'an the word of God?

Here I can quote the full text:

"(to be corrected and provided after a few days)
* apprximately 5 pages"

It would appear Dr Naik hasn't got around to writing this part yet.

16) How can you prove life after death?

Science can't prove it doesn't exist, so it's logical to believe it does.

If there's no afterlife, morality is impossible.

The justice in the afterlife balances out the injustice in this one.

17) Why are there sects in Islam?

All the other sects don't read the Qur'an right.

18) What's so special about Islamic ethics?

Under Shariah law, reported rapes and thefts are low.

19) If Islam is so good, why are Muslims as bad as everyone else?

It's media slander, it's just a few rotten apples giving the rest a bad name, and some non-muslim historians say the Prophet (peace be upon him) was a wonderful person.

I don't know about you, but I find it perversely comforting that although customs and cultures are so varied across the world, drivelling bullshit is the same everywhere.

Out of Africa

I was offered a job. Actually two jobs. Actually two jobs for me and one for a friend.

I'd get to be a teacher of general English in a school, and a teacher of Business English in a prestigious university in the capital city. Combined, the wages come to around USD1000 dollars per month, plus free food and lodging, in a country where everything's really cheap.

The other job is running the school, for the same sort of deal. USD250 per week disposable income each.

There is, however, one tiny niggling problem. It's in Khartoum, which is in the Sudan, which is probably just about to have a civil war, and where white folks and gay folks are not notably popular.

I knew there was a reason they were so desperate for me to sign the contract so quickly.

Oh, but there has been another offer. From people I've found to be much more educated, friendly and non-judgemental than almost everyone in Britain. The affluent middle class of the stable, rich, technologically, Saudi Arabia.

National stereotypes: Less confusing than reality, but just as absurd.

No Worries

I've a nasty feeling I'm going to look back on this part of my life as a happy one. Because I've got no major problems - just a constant stream of minor irritations.

This evening I got a phone call saying could I please come to the university for twenty minutes to help out with poofing a thesis. Fine - I do a lot of poofing, but I'm not averse to proofing as well, which is what they actually wanted.

So I stomp along the slippery remelted snow, and when I arrive...another call saying please wait (in the cold) for ten minutes. And there will be food!

The student arrives when promised...and has us stomp for another ten minutes to his flat, where he's very kindly decided to cook for us both before doing the work there. It's lemon chicken with rice, and lots of trimmings - very nice.

Of course, I'd just eaten a large meal before leaving and I was already feeling stuffed would have been impolite to mention that. Just like it was impolite to mention that the requested twenty minutes had become three hours I'd apparently agreed to.

So three hours later, after midnight, he says he'll call me at six AM. Ah no, I chuckle, you mean six PM - you've got them mixed up before, remember? No, he means six AM, because there's a load more work to do and he's left it till the last minute and it's due in the day after.

So, this is Kapitano, the man with no problems, about to sleep off quite a lot of indigestion in preparation for an early phone call on the day of rest.

Streetwise Sunday - Christmas Come Early Edition

Yes, I do believe in Santa Claus! And I can prove He exists!

Walking home I found, within five minutes of each other...a glove and half a fizzy drink.

Followed by something to go with the fizzy drink - two chicken mayo half sandwiches.

Followed by something to wash them both down with - half a can of coke.

If I have food poisoning tomorrow, I shall also believe in the devil.

Weekend Woundup 6

All the tweetlike thoughts I've stumbled on recently and thought they'd look good on the sideblog.

The first words of wisdom are "I don't know".

The second are "And neither do you".

All political questions resolve to one: Are you on the side of the bully, or the victim?

There are those who state their principles clearly, and those who live by principles too unclear to state.

The former are harmless bores, the latter are the best and worst of people.

An authoritarian is someone who answers your question only to make you stop asking it.

when someone says they love you, they're trying to blackmail you into loving them - whether or not they do love you.

A 'Love Story' is a fiction where this coercion does not exist, and is always effective.

Love that dies is preferable to love that turns bitter.

It's easy for me to forgive others for being right. The hard thing is to forgive myself for being wrong.

Recognising that the establishment intellectuals are wrong does not entail believing the anti-establishment proletarians are right.

Socialists who are not proletarians lose nothing by failing to see this, so they often do fail even though they have a word for precisely this failure - workerism.

The moment someone describes their work as 'Subversive', it ceases to be so.

A one sided debate will only convince those who are already convinced.

When encountering a group: find the leader and assume they're incompetent until they prove otherwise. This saves time, as almost no leaders deserve their power.

The Encyclopedia of American Loons

"The Nice Must Go."
- Not Frank Herbert

"Don’t overestimate your reader’s knowledge and don’t underestimate their intelligence."
- Tim Radford

"You educate people by explaining complex ideas in a simple way, not by explaining simple ideas in a complex way"
- Ed Young

"Dignity isn't something that can be bestowed on another, it can only be taken away."
- PZ Myers

"After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."
- Mr Spock

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird."
- Richard Feynmann

"You simply cannot solve problems that you do not want to identify."
- Dierdrie Walker

"There is a boy across the river
with an arse like a peach,
But alas, I cannot swim".
- The Wounded Heart, Afghan poem

"Secrets are only as secure as the least trusted person who knows them."
- Bruce Schneier

"A man thinks that by mouthing hard words he understands hard things."
- Herman Melville

"One Trot faction
Sitting in a hall
One Trot faction
Sitting in a hall
And if one Trot faction
Should have a nasty squall
There'll be two Trot factions
Sitting in a hall."
- Alex Kelly

"A is for Beginning"
- Paul Morley

"Beauty's where you find it."
- Madonna, Vogue

It may be true that we all have one good novel in us, but who's to say it's the one we write?

"The notion of objectively ordering works of art seems bizarre to me."
- Roger Ebert

"Something is missing."
- Paul Morley

Streetwise Sunday - Poolish Edition

Either someone was carrying a kiddie's paddling pool and dropped it on the pavement upon realising they didn't have children, or this is the sad remains of the council's latest efforts to persuade us we're a summertime seaside resort.

They do that periodically, before someone points out that you need sun for that kind of holiday.

A Gay at the Races

People used to tell me "Opinions are like arseholes - everyone's got one but no one wants to examine each other's".

They used to tell me that quite a lot - and chuckle as though it were (a) funny (b) insightful (c) true and (d) something I hadn't heard a hundred times before.

Opinions can be like arseholes of course - there's usually a big hole at the center, there's a lot of shit behind them, some people seem to spend their lives sucking up to someone else's, I don't show mine in public very often, and they generally benefit from being strongly fucked occasionally.

The same people used to tell me things like "Everyone is genetically nationalist so there's no point in fighting it" or alternatively "Everyone is naturally xenophobic but I've overcome it through willpower". As though these were not the arsehole-like opinions they'd opined about earlier.

Different people told me things like "Black on black racism is a myth created by white racists", or "The whole notion of race is pseudoscientific rubbish and if only everyone realised that they'd stop hating".

(In fact there is a useful - though vague - idea in biology called "race", which neither racists not anti-racists differentiate from its pseudoscientific namesake. Neither group knows or cares about science, in my experience.)

By a quirk of fate, I'm currently spending half my waking hours with middle eastern men. No, not like that - I'm helping out with the wordprocessing side of writing PhD theses. With the nice side-effects that I'm (a) getting acquainted with fascinating and complex ideas in genomics and proteomics, and (b) getting acquainted with people who can help me get a well paying job sometime soon.

Yes, they know I'm gay, and have so far shown no inclination to throw rocks, tell me I'm evil, or cast out demons - which places them some way above the local evangelical christian church, which did once order Satan to stop controlling me. Though it also provided me with a boyfriend for a week in 1992.

But oh dear. What should I hear from my scientist friends in a conversation about an African colleague who'd just left the room? "These black people - if you look at them the wrong way they'll kill you".


There are a number of good reasons to neglect your blog.

  • Having nothing interesting to write about
  • Having nothing interesting to write about that would stretch further than a twitter post
  • Having not much free time
  • Being too tired to blog in what free time you have because you're so busy the rest of the time
  • Being kidnapped by space aliens and rectally probed for quite a long time

One of the above is not a reason I haven't been updating recently. I'll try to do better.

Streetwise Sunday - Fitness Fad Edition

You decide to get fit. What's the first thing you do? Come up with an exercise regime? Stop eating chips? Go on ebay looking for cheap treadmills? Tell someone?

No, before you do any of that, you've got to have the right clothes. Jogging shoes, training suits, and maybe one of those nifty pedometer plugins for your iPhone. So, all fired up, you go to Sports-Stuff-R-Us and get your gear, because you've got to do this fitness thing properly, right?

Then a week later you're so pissed off with feeling exhausted all the time while still being exactly as fat as you were before, you throw the gear out of the window.

This is one item I thought about taking home but didn't.

The White (Photo) Album

I live in the town where Charles Dickens wrote that insipid potboiler about ghosts and Tiny Tim's big turkey. Some things haven't changed much since the christmas he wrote it.

There are christmas trees, and trees that look christmassy. They look nothing alike.

It looks...gloopy. Gelatinious. Like an enormous dump of egg white or...something.

We have a big open-air TV screen in the town square. I'm not absolutely sure when or why it was installed - maybe it was for the last olympics. In any case, it's usually tuned to the BBC's 24-hour news station, which means we get to stand outside in the snow, watching a snow-topped plasma screen three metres across, telling us how there's a lot of snow about lately.

There are three things you can do with snow. You can annoy people by throwing it at them, you can write your name in it, and...

School of Life

Things I discovered this week:

* I sing better in G than in A.

* Thai food is very nice.

* One electric blanket costs the same as twenty marsbars, lasts longer and gives more pleasure, in this weather.

* A cheap new pair of shoes costs the same as an electric blanket, and gives a lot more pain.

* The amount of material cut-and-pasted from journals into PhD theses - including material the student doesn't understand - is staggering.

* In America, some people tend to unplug coffee-making devices when not in use, on the spurious ground that anything which makes coffee is an electrical fire hazards. Though they happily leave VCRs, TV and bedside radios switched on all the time - and these things cause a lot more fires.

* That story about an Arab woman being able to legally divorce her husband by saying "I divorce you" three times is just the pile of dren I thought it was. Which is to say, it's true - in the same way it's true you can make a citizen's arrest on George W Bush for war crimes.

Streetwise Sunday - Two Halves Edition

People buy junk food. They eat and drink half of it, decide they don't want any more, and despite there being a bin right next to the bench, leave it on the seat.

And I'm glad they do, because I get thirsty.

And I put them in the bin when I'd finished.

Gah, No Write Mode

I had a small data crash. Annoying but I've got good at dealing with them - before doing anything else, recover and back up all your data using various unix utilities on your specially prepared USB stick, then if you can't get the operating system working again, format the drive and reinstall, then reinstall software and restore data.

I did all that, and in twenty four hours was back to normal. Except for one folder of text data which for no apparent reason didn't recover. Which data was that, Kapitano? Well, you remember I was writing something for NaNoWriMo?

Yes. So excuse me while I bash my head against the wall, reminding myself to do what I always advise everyone else to do - make frequent, regular backups of what you're working on.

The Drecks Files

Here's something I wrote a few months ago, but seemingly didn't get around to posting.

I'm fond of conspiracy theories. Or rather, I enjoy picking apart the psychology of conspiracy theorists. The latest I've stumbled upon is The Obama Deception, viewable as a film on youtube.

The central thesis is: The Bilderberg group is a secret consortium of bank owners and major politicians, managing a hypercompetent conspiracy to form a world government. They engineered the current recession to help them form this 'New World Order".

Two things tend to strike me about this kind of theory.

One, the conspiracies are omnipotent and omniscient. They never miscalculate, never have second thoughts, and if anything happens, it's because they made it happen.

In this kind of notion, A single rogue element in the government killed JFK, then successfully bribed, intimidated or killed all the witnesses, and controlled the mass media for the next four decades - presumably letting Oliver Stone make his questionable movie as cover.

Or, thousands of people conspired to fake the moon landings as a PR stunt, and none of them ever thought to supplement their pension by writing an expose. Or if they did, the CIA used magic to infallibly find out and stop them.

And the second thing about conspiracy theories...the conspiracies are so weak they'd essentially fold if the general public knew about them. Somehow, for some reason.

The Bilderberg group do of course exist, as an umbrella for the most powerful men on the planet to do business. It's a private club, not a secret society. It's a talking shop for the superrich and superpowerful, not the headquarters of SPECTRE.

The irony is that what the group does in real life is quite sinister enough.

Here's a few more things I 'learned' watching the film:

  • The Bilderberg group are utterly committed to the New World Order, and to secrecy.

  • At least two members frequently supply the producers of this film with inside information.

  • They meet in secret.

  • Protesters easily find out where they meet, and picket them.

  • They will happily kill anyone who threatens to expose or inhibit them.

  • The don't shoot protesters, or people who make films like this one about them. And they don't seem to mind men with video cameras and anti-cooperate teeshirts wandering around openly filming in the hotels where they meet.

  • Obama is nothing more than a PR puppet, controlled by the group.

  • Obama is one of the 125 members of the group, so somewhat more than a puppet.

That's the third thing about conspiracy theories. They're complex and unrefutable, containing enough provisos and ad-hoc get-out clauses to counter any inconvenient questions or evidence from skeptics.

They're like the delusions of paranoid schizophrenics - except that paranoid delusions hold together better. Conspiracy theorists go slippery and vague when their ideas don't add up, evading the point, accusing the skeptic, or just ignoring what they don't want to hear.

Genuine paranoids are like dedicated theologians, making incompatible ideas fit together by increasing their complexity and reach until they form a jigsaw.

So there you have it. Conspiracy theories - a bit like some mental illnesses, but shoddier.

This is The News

You know what I'm really sick of? Explaining the thuddingly obvious to people determined not to listen. Here are a few thuddingly obvious thoughts about some of today's news stories.

  • If we must have priests at all, there is no good reason not to have female priests. There are dozens of incredibly stupid or irrelevant reasons - Jesus only lived with men, Paul was a misogynist, tradition, women are too silly for church etc. - but a big pile of nonreasons doesn't add up to a reason.

  • So an English prince is marrying a minor aristocrat with no discernible personality whatsoever - because it worked out so well last time. Nonevent.

  • The pope thinks male prostitutes should wear condoms. Evidently because he thinks HIV is spread mainly by male prostitutes, because he thinks it's a gay disease, because that suits the prejudices he's both pandering to and promoting. Like any politician, even if he does know the truth, his power relies on spreading lies. Lies, hate, and fear.

  • North and South Korea have a disputed border. South Korea set up a military base on an otherwise uninhabited island next to the border. Yesterday North Korea shelled it, then South Korea shelled an area of North Korea but won't say where. If you think this is about one country being in the right, you're not out of the first grade politically.

  • The machine which sees through clothes at airports can't detect explosives or drugs hidden inside the body. Squeezing passenger's external genitalia is likewise conspicuous invasion for the sake of appearances, but otherwise functionless.

  • If your aim is to kill as many people as possible including yourself with a bomb, stand in the middle of the queue waiting to be fondled at the airport, and set off the bomb in your luggage. A bigger bang, a bigger bodycount, bigger headlines, and far more disruption and political impact than you'd get smuggling a small hidden bomb onto a plane.

    Where did the idea come from that everyone's entitled to their opinion? If you don't understand Newton's equations, you're not entitled to comment on them. If you only select historical facts which support what you'd have preferred to happen, you're not entitled to write history books.

    I like discussing things with people. I enjoy learning new facts and aspects from experts - and when I do, I do the listening. What I do not enjoy is spending an hour walking someone through the ten seconds of elementary reasoning needed before you can begin a grown-up discussion.

  • Streetwise Sunday - Shoo Off Edition

    People leave a lot of clothes on the street - I still haven't worked out why. And a lot of them are shoes, and a lot of them are children's shoes. From which I can conclude, either:

    (1) Large numbers of young children are being kidnapped by aliens, using a matter transmission beam which leaves shoes behind, or

    (2) Kids get bored with really bad, tasteless, nonpractical shoes hurting their feet, and throw them away when the parent isn't looking.

    Unless of course it's just one child who gets a lot of shoes, and doesn't like any of them.

    A Family Announcement (Part 2)

    I'm going to Finland in three months. Yes, for the wedding. It was decided, then I was told.

    My brother and his other half have invited a dozen more people, and they're paying for our airfares. Even though we've dropped more hints than a dog drops hairs on a newly cleaned carpet that we don't really want to go, we're all going.

    It's a new experience to me, being told I have to take a holiday. I might be under orders to enjoy it too. Though it's a more familiar sensation to be berated by people who have the same thoughts but are horrified that anyone should express them.

    So, expect tales of moose-based cuisine, hotel mixups, incomprehensible TV gameshows, photos of snow, touristified shops where everything's in English, and if we're very fortunate, a drunken punchup between strangers at the wake, erm, catered thing.

    A Family Announcement

    My brother is getting married. A few things about this:

    (1) There seems to be no reason at all why he's doing it.
    (2) There seems to be no reason why he's doing it in a cold foreign country.
    (3) We don't want to go.

    Now, my brother's been happily living with his girlfriend for years. Neither of them has any desire for children, nor any deeply held superstitions about the need for marriage, nor any legal or cultural reasons to start calling themselves Mr and Mrs. They're just...doing it.

    Which is to say, they're taking a long weekend holiday, and getting married along the way. Which involves making promises they've no intention of keeping about raising children, to a god neither believes in.

    The wedding is in Helsinki - apparently inside a chapel that is also somehow an igloo. That part may have got garbled somewhere along the line. The journey is a two hour train ride to the airport, followed by a twelve hour flight, followed by a four hour flight, followed by a car drive to a hotel.

    And the same back again two days later.

    I'd quite like to see Helsinki, in the same vague way I'd like to see Mount Rushmore and the Moscow Underground. But I don't especially want to spend 40 hours travelling for a quick tour. I've been in enough aeroplanes to know they're (1) uncomfortable, (2) really uncomfortable after the first two hours, and (3) all pretty much the same.

    The guest list so far consists of:
    * My mother
    * My father
    * Me
    * The bride's mother
    * One of my brother's friends

    So, quite a low-key affair - and no particular reason to go through the legal hell of getting the paperwork to get married in a country where you're not a citizen.

    Fortunately, I've got a reason not to go - namely, five dogs and three parrots to look after. Unfortunately, I've also got two parents with their eye on the same reason - and only one of us can use it.

    Families. Society's gentle introduction to crazy people.

    Sreeetwise Sunday - 'It's a Wrap' Edition

    Nighttime, on the street, wondering whether I wanted a bag of chips or not.

    Or rather, knowing full well that I wanted a bag of chips, but wondering whether I should.

    Or rather, knowing full well I shouldn't, but wondering whether I could resist.

    Or rather...ah, what's this? Someone's left a spicy chicken wrap sitting on a windowsill, next to the liquid remains of a curry. Someone obviously wasn't as hungry as they thought.

    Here it is, my supper waiting for the kettle to boil back in my room.

    The Evolution of Sex

    No new novel segments, but a science fiction short story.

    Introduction to The Evolution of Sex
    (1st Edition 2153)
    by Matrachio Seldi, MpD

    Everyone enjoys sex.

    That is not to say everyone enjoys having sex with another person, or going through the social rituals the procure it, and there are still those who go through emotional torture as a result the contradication between their belief system and the facts of sexuality. Rather it would be true to claim that everyone enjoys the bodily sensations of sexual stimulation, as opposed to the presence of another human body giving those sensations.

    For some, the distinction is a subtle one, but the industries of sex toys, dildonics and interactive pornography depend on it completely.

    Arguably, even prostitution is a business model dependant on the client's desire to replace a human being - with a mind, desires and agendas - with a responsive body which they can pretend has no thoughts of its own not related to the client's desire.

    Even today, prostiution still exits, and its practicioners may not care to liken themselves to the blow-up dolls of our grandparents, but this author is certain they can understand the characterisation.

    In any case, this publication is concerned with recent advents in wholly artificial stimulation devices, and with research conducted by The New Angeles Institute for Erotics and the its sposor, the Bodyplex corporation.

    There is no reason why the mechanical devices and methods used to autostimulate should resemble the biological devices and methods a human can provide. The placement of the clitoris, for example, is not convenient for stimulation by a penis. The prostate is easier to reach, but neither penises nor fingers can provide the rapid sensations of a vibrator.

    This is why the most effective clitoral stimulators look nothing like any bodily organ, and the modern penile oral stimulator has up to five 'tongues', each concentrating on different sub-erogenous zones.

    In the following sections, a variety of authors working in various fields will detail their recent work, and put it into historical context.

    The first section deals with a number of still-common misconceptions, especially that stimulation is a way to get to orgasm as quickly as possible. Methods for this do exist, but actually the majority of research does not concern orgasms at all - neither advancing nor delaying them, extending them, making them multiple, or decreasing the refractory period before the next one.

    Indeed, only a minority of nerve clusters classified as erotic are involved in orgasm production at all. The scrotum or outer vagina, the buttocks, perenium and inner thighs, the anus and rectum, the nipples and indeed the face are all sensitive areas capable of stimulation.

    Furthermore, when we speak of stimulation, we do not just mean the common wet licking, dry sucking, rolling, massaging and pulling variations. We are also referring to sensations that would be called painful in another context - pinching, pinpoint heat, rough friction and so on.

    The second section expands on this, detailing devlopment of the latest full-body sex suits. With these all the common pleasure centers (plus most of the uncommon ones) can be simultainious stimulated.

    The mouth for instance is filled with a wide, slightly spongy mass which pulses and has waves of warmth traveling along its length, which tapers at the velum to bypass the gag reflex, then expands again to push against the throat - optionally extending down as far as the stomach opening.

    The lips however require a completely different stimulant - distantly related to a kiss, it involves massaging the lips with soft rollers which release a viscious oil that serves a secondary purpose for the olfactory sense.

    The nipples are alternately 'spiked' and 'soothed', as are the thighs. The rectum is filled with a balloon-like structure with rounded studs, inflating and deflating every few seconds to create a kind of breathing internal pressure.

    Many users enjoy the rectal stimulation, but not the sensation of the anus being transversely stretched, so the tube going into the rectum can be made small. Thus it is possible to have the feeling of a penis or a fist in the rectum, without the inconvenience of one passing through the anus.

    These and other innovations are discussed, with the focus on the development process. Marketing, empirical research, hormone theory and ethical issues are also touched upon.

    The third and final section deals with expanded sensation methods, which show great promise but are still in early stages.

    The human brain contains a map of the body, continiously updated by sensory feedback. However, sometimes the map or the update system misfunction, leading to alien limb syndrome, phantom limb syndrome in amputees, and the rare conditions where the brain thinks the body has an extra (invisible) part.

    It was this last condition which led a team of NAIE researchers to speculate that the brain could be electromanipulated to create new body parts existing only in the bodymap - complete with sensory feedback, erogenous zones, and unique kinds of stimulation.

    After ten years of experimentation, it is now possible to generate and remove multiple 'illusory' organs in minutes, with a range of pleasurable sensations not possible in the physical body.

    Needless to say, this is tremendously exciting work, and we look forward to future refinements. We have come a long way since the days when the only way to gain erotic pleasure was in sharing it with another. That way still exists and, humans being the social creatures they are, is in no danger of dying out. But with technology, the possibilities are now so much greater.

    Matrachio Seldi
    The New Angeles Institute for Erotics

    Irritation Station

    I wonder if I should start a weekly column of things which have annoyed me that week.

    There's no shortage of material, from the way my 75 year old father can't grasp that his computer isn't telepathic, to the way the media vacillate when reporting a protest which turns into a riot and occupation - do they call the protesters rude names like "animal" and "mindless" with loving, lingering shots of one policewoman with a cut forehead...or do they dismiss it with a ten second segment on a handful of misfits making a racket?

    They don't know either, so they do both.

    What should I call such a column? Ticked-off Tuesday? Why-I-Hate-My-Life-Wednesday? Kapitano's Krappy Days?

    Yesterday I dragged myself out of bed for a 10am meeting with a student - to spend the morning proofreading their PhD thesis. Still wishing I was in bed at 1030, I called the student in the cold outside their department, to gently ask why they're delayed.

    The response was a bleary voice saying I'd just woken them up, so could I wait half an hour for them to shower and bicycle in. I said okay.

    At 1130 I called again, just to check they were still coming. The response was a bleary voice saying I'd just woken them up again, so could I wait half an hour for them to shower and bicycle in. I said okay again.

    At 1215 they appeared - and wanted to go to a coffee shop for breakfast. Seeing as this involved them buying me a cup of coffee, I went along - and got talking with a friend of theirs who wanted English lessons for his wife. Another client maybe - nice.

    So at some time after 1pm, we started our, erm, morning of work, which ended at 5:30 when we both needed to go home to catch up on sleep.

    And started again at 9pm when we'd done that. Because the PhD was due handed in the next day. I suspect this is how all five year PhD projects work.

    I got home at 2am and collapsed into bed - my plans to work on my great novel put on hold for the day.

    This morning, woken up first by a strange man in my bedroom - actually a builder who needed to check something or other before repairing the drains. My parents have had a shifting cast of cheerful men in paint-stained jeans doing things to the outside wall for the past fortnight, but this is the first one who affected a plummy accent with clipped vowels.

    The second time it was the student again on the phone, wanting to know how to copy and paste in Microsoft Word - on which he's spent years typing up his PhD.

    And finally it was another strange man - this one in a call center, reading painfully from a script trying to sell me stock market tips. Presumably it was a company which takes commission from other companies to recommend the latter's stocks and shares as sure-fire wins - but instead of asking I just hung up.

    There's an art to hanging up on nuisance callers which I haven't yet mastered. Next time I'll try doing it in the middle of their second sentence.

    And finally, the weather's bloody cold, the shops are full of frelling christmas music, my wi-fi keeps cutting out, people keep telling me I can't be happy till I make some babies, the country is full of people who blame people poorer than themselves when the government makes them poorer...

    ...and the world is slightly more doomed than it was yesterday because Barack Obama made John Shimkus chair of the House Energy Committee. This man believes climate change is impossible because God promised Moses Noah he wouldn't flood the world a second time.

    Correction: Yes, it was Noah, not Moses. Blame my annoyed mind for not concentrating on that part.

    Fill by Mouth

    Today a man spent ages poking in my mouth, giving it a really thorough seeing to while telling me how good I was being. He gave me two big fillings one after the other and afterwards I couldn't talk properly for hours.

    Yes alright, but "Kapitano Goes to the Dentist" doesn't sound as interesting.

    But I did get a bit of writing done. Here's a section:

    Alex rounded a corner into a quiet side street contrasting with the traffic and pedestrians. Slowing to a rapid walk but still glancing about, he turned another corner, counting the house numbers till he found number 34. Hesitating and out of breath, he pressed the buzzer.

    He waited, fingers twitching, nervously shifting from one foot to the other for half a minute. His finger was almost on the buzzer again when the door was opened by an Indian man two years older, who looked surprised to see Alex standing there.

    "Rob!", blurted Alex, "Rob, I..."

    "What is it man? What's wrong?"

    "Sorry Rob, I couldn't think of anyone else. It's...I've..."

    "Come in man. Tell us about it."

    Alex followed Rob inside, carefully shutting the door behind him. In the sitting room, Rob flicked off the TV with a remote and sat on the leather sofa, gesturing Alex to sit on the chair. Looking straight down, the younger man sat perched on the edge, one hand over his forehead, covering his eyes.

    There was a long silence.

    "What's up Al?", said Rob, "What's got you freaked?"

    Alex drew a breath. "Rob I...I think I've killed someone."

    Another silence, broken again by Rob, speaking gently.

    "What you mean man? You think...?"

    "I killed someone. Some bloke. He was in my room, going through my things. He...he had this knife and I hit him with one of my weights. He's dead in my flat Rob. What am I gonna do?"

    "Okay Al. Does anyone else know? Was anyone else there?"

    "No. No one else. Never seem him before. I got in and he was going through my stuff!"

    "Okay, so no one'll be back till tomorrow morning. Now listen Al. I'm going to make us some coffee, and you're going to tell me everything, then we're going in my car to your place to see what we can sort out..."

    "Oh thanks man. I knew if I asked you..."

    "But first you've got to tell me, are you absolutely sure he was dead?"

    "Dead? Oh yeah, totally. I checked his pulse. In his neck. Nothing."

    "Okay. Now you sit and get your head together, and I'll be in the kitchen. After I get back we'll go in ten minutes. Understand?"

    Alex nodded, still looking down. "Yeah sure thing Rob, thanks."

    In the kitchen, Rob mechanically took out two coffee mugs and a jar of instant. His face showed a kind of determined blankness, going through the routine of spoons, sugar, filling the kettle and swatting it on.

    He was dressed in the same basic uniform as his friend, but cleaner, more expensive, less abused. His hair was more neatly clipped, the cutlery draw organised, and above the steaming kettle spout, a framed certificate in management.

    Returning with two mugs of coffee, he set them down carefully and waiting for Alex to take a sip before speaking.

    "Alex. Why did you come over instead of phoning?"

    "Phone's out of charge."

    "I see. And did anyone see you leave your place?"

    "No. I checked to see if the coast was clear and there wasn't anybody."

    "Right, good. Now when did you get back and find this bloke?"

    "It was...It would've been four thirty - or a bit after. I unlocked the front door, went right upstairs to log on the net, and there he was, going through the stuff on my bed."

    "What was on your bed?"

    "Just clothes - and the duvet."

    "Jackets? Coats?"

    "Um. Yeah, my leather jacket. You think he was looking in the pockets?"

    "Maybe. Were there any drawers open? Did it look like he'd been looking anywhere else?"

    "Uh, no. I don't think so."

    "And what did he do when you saw him?"

    "He didn't see me at first. I said something like..."What the fuck you doing?"...and he turned round real quick. There was this pause, then he got this knife out of his coat and went for me. I wasn't thinking. There were my weights and the bench press between him and me, and he kind of tripped up on the dumb-bell. And I grabbed one of the weights and...kind of...threw it down on him. On his head. He didn't make a sound."

    "Okay. What did he look like?"

    "Sort of older. Maybe forty? Stubble, long hair, it needed a wash. In fact, I think he looked like a homeless guy."

    "Did he smell of anything? Cider? Sweat? Cigarettes?"

    " No he didn't. Mind you I wasn't paying attention."

    "And it was a white guy, yes?"

    "What? Oh yeah, white."

    "Was there blood?"

    "Couldn't see any. But I didn't look real close."

    "But you checked his pulse."

    "Well yeah, I didn't know what else to do."

    "Did he say anything? Before coming at you?"

    "No, nothing. But he did look..."


    "Scared. In fact the bloke looked terrified."

    "And when he tripped and you got the weight, was there much noise?"


    "Do you think anyone could've heard him or you?"

    "Um. Not really."

    "So there was just you saying 'What the fuck are you doing?', and the sound of him cracking his shin on the bench press and falling over."

    "Yeah. And the sort of thud when I dropped..."

    "Yes okay. Right, drink up. We're going over to have a look. We'll see if he's really dead or if he needs hospital treatment. If he does, we'll say he broke in to your place and you found him like that when you got home - he obviously tripped up and a weight fell on him. I've got some vodka - if we have to take him we'll get him completely drunk first so no one'll believe him. If he is dead we might have to go to the police."

    "Rob, no! You can't grass me up!"

    "No one's going to grass anyone up. If we can get away with saying you just found him like that, that's what we'll do. If we can't, we'll make it look like he broke in and attacked you."

    "But that is what happened."

    "We'll make it look more like that. And if we can't do that...well, lets just say you're going to owe me for a long time, mate."

    "What do you mean? What'll we have to do?"

    "Dispose of it. Now come on."

    In the car the two said almost nothing, and after parking they didn't speak until they were in Alex's room, looking down on the lifeless body of a strange man, lying face down amid the clothes and biscuit wrappers. Rob sighed and was the first to break the calm.

    "I don't think we'll be taking him to the hospital. Help me turn him over.


    "What is it?"

    "I don't want to...touch it."

    "Neither do I, but you got me into this, you asked for my help, now let me give it."

    Alex hesitated, then helped turn the body over, wincing more with squeamishness than effort.

    The man was probably in his late forties, with lank greying dark hair around a pasty, moist face that was somehow both puffy and undernourished. There was a stud in the left ear and a hole in the nose for another - it looked like it had been infected at one point.

    He was wearing baggy clothes, two or three sizes too large for him. A green pullover seemingly with nothing underneath, a dark beige overcoat and trousers patterned with a faint tartan - a kind that might have been worn by Alex's grandfather. The shoes were brown leather in good condition, but too small over the argyle socks.

    There was no visible blood on the carpet, and only a little crusted around an inch-long gash in the man's temple. With his eyes closed, he could have been just another homeless man, passed out in a shop front.

    "We've got a choice.", Rob's voice interrupted both their staring. "We can either trust the coppers and the courts to do a good job and find the truth, where you're innocent kid who defended himself against a mad homeless burglar...

    "Or we can trust them to pin the blame on the obvious suspect whose already got two drugs convictions, so was probably selling crack to the man or something. In which case we've got a body to hide."

    Alex was silent, staring at the dead man's face.

    "You've got to decide this one Alex, and you've got to decide it right now, and stick to it no matter what. If you want to cover up, I'll help you - but you've got to do exactly what I say, and you're going to owe me big time. Forever. Understand?"

    Alex said nothing.

    "Al? You've got to tell me, now."

    "It's not him."


    "It's not the man who was here. It's a different man."

    Streetwise Sunday - Hooverville Edition

    This week's ThingFoundOnThePavementTM leads me to think someone tried to clean up the streets. But forgot something.


    I am writing, though not as much as I should. There's a plot of sorts, a narrator who's also the protagonist, and a form. Here's a taste, though if I ever finish it, the parts probably won't be in this order.

    There is a famous article by George Orwell called Decline of the English Murder.

    It's about the peculiarly English fascination with murder in fact and fiction, and how it has, in his view, degenerated from an interest in elegant puzzles of detection, to a morbid obsession with tacky meaningless killing.

    I think he's wrong.

    Carol. My sister, two years older. When I was fifteen, I found a school essay she'd written when she was nine. It was about how she'd broken a window and blamed it on her younger brother, but when she saw how he'd be punished, she owned up, and her mother had forgiven her because she'd been honest.

    Of course it never happened. She'd been set the homework to write a story about why it's always best to tell the truth, and the teacher had given her the story in case she couldn't think of a real incident to demonstrate.

    The same teacher gave me the same story two years later, and I wrote the same essay with the roles reversed.

    Agatha Christie broke a lot of rules. In Murder on the Orient Express it's all the suspects who are guilty. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd the narrator is the killer. In The Mousetrap one of the suspects is really the detective undercover, and the detective is really the killer in disguise.

    In Poirot's final case, Curtain, there are two killers. One is a man so supernaturally skilled in psychological manipulation he guides others into committing murders they would never otherwise have considered, but the manipulator's only motive is pleasure in the manipulation.

    The de facto detective is Poirot's sidekick Hastings, after Poirot's death. Hastings deduces that the manipulator must have been killed by Poirot himself - because there way no legal way to stop him. Poirot, having effectively become the enemy he spent his life tracking down, sees no other honourable way out.

    Christie broke a lot of rules, but only ones that weren't needed for logic and plausibility. There were no long lost identical twins, no locked rooms with impossibly intricate deadly mechanisms hidden in the grandfather clock, no murders with zero motive except the killer being a deranged foaming psychopath who'd somehow managed to pass as normal for forty years.

    Jenny. I don't remember what she looked like. She sat on the other side of class and we probably never spoke.

    Girls and boys didn't mix much - girls played their games of skipping and hopscotch, and boys shot each other with pretend guns, or kicked around and improvised football.

    It was sometime in November, she started telling the other girls about her father. About how he took her on little weekend holidays to Blackpool or Brighton, about the enormous ice cream cone he'd bought her with five scoops, each a different flavour. Then about how he touched her at night.

    Word got around, and soon she was telling the headmaster, then the police. Suddenly all the teachers were telling us we could confide in them if any grownups touched us in a "wrong way".

    Some of the playground games changed. "Perv" was basically tag, but we passed on the tag with a slightly different touch. I remember playing a varient on kisschase called lickchase - just one time, before a teacher broke it up and smacked some of us around, shouting. And at the center of it all, Jenny, who was more upset by the attention than anything else.

    Then suddenly it all stopped. She didn't have a father - he'd died when she was two. She'd invented an imaginary father-friend, and mixed him with a documentary she'd seen on TV.

    Was Jenny her name? It might have been Gemma.

    All narrators are unreliable, even when the author doesn't intend them that way, because all authors are unreliable.

    Detectives don't have romance. Occasionally they have sex, and they're even sometimes married, but if it's a good marriage the wife is invisible, and it's usually not a good marriage.

    Poirot was a confirmed batchelor. Which is to say, a gay stereotype. An epicure as opposed to a hedonist, a vain man as opposed to a handsome man, a solitary man as opposed to a lonely man, a solver of puzzles as opposed to to a resolver of problems.

    Miss Marple is a lesbian stereotype, though a benign one - elderly and never married, wise and cynical, rather private and a little bit prissy.

    Holmes was more-or-less asexual, and impatient with Watson's habit of adding romantic interest to cases. There was of course one woman, Irene Adler, who he felt a kind of affection for - but that was strictly in terms of admiration. At least, that's how he permitted himself to express it to watson.

    Jason King was metrosexual three decades before the term was coined - by a gay man. Patrick Steed is similar. For that matter, Lord Peter Wimsey is a dandy - though not a fopp. The main difference between the dandy and the chorusboy was social class, not intellect or behavior.

    King, Steed and Wimsey were all nominally straight, and all three had female sidekicks who were hopelessly in love with them. But even if you can find subtextual hints that they reciprocated the emotion, you can't deny the obvious fact that you had to delve and search hard in the subtext to find those hints.

    These men were happy for women to love them, but they didn't feel the need or indeed the capacity to love them back. The women knew that, and seemingly accepted it without bitterness. Which means Emma Peel...was a fag hag.

    Thomas and Timothy. The twins. when I was five, at school there were twin boys in my class. They always sat opposite each other, always dressed alike and had the same haircuts. They had name tags - Tom and Tim - pinned to their shirts, but they were always swapping them over, so sometimes only they knew who was who.

    It took me a long time to realise, but it wasn't their choice, and they hated it. Their parents - especially the mother, I think - made them wear identical clothes. We all expected them to go everywhere together, do everything together, do it in the same way, so they did.

    We shared our sweets with them when they made us laugh by completing each others sentences, or eating their packed lunches in unison. And we stopped when they were different.

    One thing tipped me off. They were far too young to shave, but one night one of them had tried, and cut his cheek. I think it was Thomas. The next morning he came in with a plaster placed neatly over the cut.

    The other twin had an identical plaster, over the same spot. But at some point during the day, he ripped it off.

    We made the other one take off his plaster too. The next day both were back.

    I should have realised earlier. They never liked it when we called them Tom and Tim - they prefered Thomas and Timothy. It was more different.

    If you could kill one person, and be sure of getting away with it, who would you kill?

    A politician? A historical figure? A parent?

    The one who bullied you at school, the one who mugged you, the one who made you feel like a fool in front of your friends?

    the one who broke your heart, the one who stole away the one you loved, the one who never returned your glances?

    My Mother. She had me when she was twenty, and I don't think I got to know her till I was that old myself.

    It was only then she felt able to tell me I'd been a mistake, and after I'd been born the doctors hadn't expected me to live. When she told me, I wondered whether I should respond with a secret of my own, but decided that wasn't what she wanted.

    I don't think she wanted anything from me - certainly not forgiveness or understanding. She just wanted me to know.

    Presumably the father was the man I'd grown up calling Father, and that was why she married him. Maybe that's what she was trying to tell me.

    she took up music after I left home - piano, a little guitar, even some saxophone. I saw her play in a smooth jazz band booked for someone's birthday party - it was pretty good, though I think I was the only one listening.

    It was like she'd been waiting for her children to go before getting on with her life.

    Who would you kill? Who's worth it, even if you get caught?


    You in America might have the craziest politics right now, but we're catching up. Slowly, but we're doing our best.

    This a van parked near my home.

    Who are the English Democrats? Essentially, they're the halfway respectable end of the isolationist movement. The closed-borders anti-immigration movement - which is to say, the anti-foreigner party. Which is the say, the racist fuckwit scum movement.

    But they're different from the British National Party, because they're dewey-eyed sentimental racist fuckwit scum, whereas the BNP are literal nazis.

    The English Defence League are a completely different set of pondlife, in that they hate the other two for being jewlovers, ie. supporting Israel. Odd how the nazi party are pro-Israel, but there no limit to confusion and hypocrisy, especially where drooling hate is involved.

    The EDL are into Arthurian legends and pig latin, the ED are into Bulldog Drummond and pretending to be apolitical,and the BNP are into worshiping Hitler, but only when they think there are no cameras watching.

    There's also the UK Independence Party, but they're a joke even among hypernationalists.

    The ED, the BNP and the EDL are dedicated to making Britain pure British - that is, to making it pure White. Like it never was in the golden age which they can never quite place historically.

    Not that terms like 'pure white' or 'pure british' have meaning anyway, for the same reason 'pure human' has no meaning. But dedication to a meaningless notion is politically very useful - because a meaningless notion can be made to mean anything.

    We may not have much in the way of Birthers, Deathers, anti-masturbation candidates, ex-gay frauds, marches comparing health insurance to deathcamps, or candidates who want to gamble social security on the stock exchange...but we have loonies too.

    Eat Your Words

    The last time I tried to eat healthily, I bought a lettuce. And ate the whole thing in one sitting. With a little pepper. It was quite nice actually, and the indigestion didn't last long.

    The time before that I tried drinking water. You know that myth about how everyone should drink 1.2 litres of water a day? I think I about doubled that over an hour.

    You wouldn't believe how much rivita I can put away.

    Anyway, tonight I have another lettuce, a choice of half a dozen classic but as-yet unseen movies as inspiration, and a target of two thousand more words.

    Yes, I've got about four thousand written so far, but they don't exactly form a linear story - partly because I've only got the vaguest outline of a plot. If it gets to a state of linear readability, you'll read it here first.


    I'm going to do a book.

    Or at least try. So there.

    I don't actually have a plot yet, so if you've got any thoughts on that, they'd be most welcome.

    Weekend Woundup 5

    If Halloween were really about anything scary, people wouldn't be wishing each other a happy one. And if a collection of quotes amounted to an education...I still wouldn't have one.

    Bare Faced Messiah - the classic biography of arch-fraudster L Ron Hubbard. Free to read and download.

    "There's nothing like the lonely horror of realising you've made a really massive cock-up"
    - Charlie Brooker

    "Team sports are good for teaching kids how to feign enthusiasm and harbour resentment."
    - Charlie Brooker

    "When your skin is the only thing you feel truly proud of, it's become a prison in itself."
    - Charlie Brooker

    Crash Blossoms - Newspaper headlines which lead you up one syntactic path, while they go down another:

    The horse raced past the barn fell
    Proposed to by a lightning strike
    Lou Gehrig's Victim: Kill me for my organs
    BP caps ruptured well, but more hurdles remain
    The spy who loved herself
    May axes Labour police beat pledge
    Ghost fishing lobster traps target of study

    Odd how we think of achievement as something you've finished, more than as something you've worked towards.

    One thing I'm very good at is doing all the things which need to be done before the thing I want to do.

    If you're not sure that you want to do something, you don't want to do it.

    If you're as young as the last time you changed your mind, and you're as successful as your last gig, are you as smart as the last time you made a fool of yourself?

    "A culprit who isn't caught is a defeat for you -- it means still another folder in the unsolved cases file. But a culprit who doesn't exist, who never existed, that's something completely different, worse than all your records burning up, worse even than confused language in your official reports, it's the end of the world! For you the existence of the perpetrator of a crime has nothing to do with victory or defeat -- it's a matter of the sense or absurdity of your profession and your daily activities. And because catching him means peace of mind, salvation, and relief, you'll get him by hook or by crook, you'll get the bastard even if he doesn't exist!"
    - Stanislaw Lem, Chain of Chance

    "The irrational belongs to all of us."
    - Johnathan Meades

    "We don't elect the places that touch us."
    - Johnathan Meades

    - EBN, Hello

    "A friend in need is a friend indeed.
    A friend with weed it better."
    - Placebo, Pure Morning

    "If the belief did not make us happy, it would not be believed: how little must it then be worth!"
    - Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

    "A neurosis is a secret that you don't know you're keeping."
    - Kenneth Tynan

    "We shall be judged by what we do, not by how we felt while we were doing it."
    - Kenneth Tynan

    "When a society has doubts about its future, it tends to produce spokesmen whose main appeal is to the emotions, who argue from intuitions, and whose claim to be truth-bearers rests solely on intense personal feeling."
    - Kenneth Tynan

    "Any country that has sexual censorship will eventually have political censorship."
    - Kenneth Tynan

    "On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."
    - HL Mencken

    “History does not repeat itself. Historians repeat each other.”
    - Arthur Balfour

    When reading philosophers, there are two questions which you must ask to get anything meaningful out of their text - two questions which most histories of philosophy studiously ignore:

    1) What questions are they trying to answer, or what problems are they trying to solve?

    2) What previous answers or solutions to the same and previous questions and problems are they reacting against?

    In short: What are they trying to do, and which errors are they avoiding?

    A moralist is someone who doesn't grasp the difference between gluttony and starvation.

    "Well, an idea is an idea. The present one may be right and it may be wrong. One thing is quite certain: that no progress will be made against it by denouncing it as merely immoral."
    - HL Mencken, Preface to Nietzsche's The Antichrist

    "The majority of men prefer delusion to truth. It
    soothes. It is easy to grasp. Above all, it fits more snugly than the truth into a universe of false appearances--of complex and irrational phenomena, defectively grasped."
    - HL Mencken, Preface to Nietzsche's The Antichrist

    "One never hears of a martyr in history whose notions are seriously disputed today. The forgotten ideas are those of the men who put them forward soberly and quietly, hoping fatuously that they would conquer by the force of their truth; these are the ideas that we now struggle to rediscover."
    - HL Mencken, Preface to Nietzsche's The Antichrist

    Twenty years ago homosexuals were misrepresented so they could be hated. Now they're misrepresented so they can be loved. Two ways to make group powerless - make everyone else hate them, or help them trivialise themselves.

    Theology is the practice of trying to think precisely about ideas which are inherent imprecise, and dispassionately about ideas which only make sense as passions.

    Reasoning about god fails for the same causes reasoning about prejudice, love and an LSD trip fails. You can't reason someone out of faith in the same way you can't reason them out of a crush.

    "Sade, tell me. What is it that you seek? The rightness of wrong? The virtue of vice?"
    Enigma, Sadeness Part 1

    "If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point."
    - Jon Stewart

    "You cannot be reasonable with people who do not reason."
    - Bryan Lambert

    "The ink of scholars out-weighs the blood of martyrs."
    - Muhammed

    "It is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than to make a mistake in punishing."
    - Muhammed

    "Religion is easy."
    - Muhammed

    "War is deceit."
    - Muhammed

    Educability is a matter of temperament, not intellect. If you don’t enjoy the frisson of suspecting you may have been wrong all your life, the most you can become is an imbecile with a head full of quotes you mistake for ideas.

    Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% figuring out how to make a computer do the hard work for you.

    "We are the sort of people our fathers warned us against."
    - Augustus John

    "Glory is a retrospective and sentimental adjustment of the actual. It's like dressing an accident victim for his coffin."
    - Johnathan Meades

    "Ritual is never without a purpose."
    - Johnathan Meades

    But What I Don't Understand is...

    Here are three things I don't quite understand.

    What exactly is this poster trying to say?

    Is it saying "Don't smoke because it's bad for your health"? No, it's saying, "Don't smoke cheap cigarettes because they might be illegally imported which is...erm, bad for your in some other way. But we don't know what".

    What precisely are the dangers of smoking cheap cigarettes, over and above smoking expensive ones? And why does our beloved government want us to know about them now?

    There are no posters telling us not to put cheap imported batteries in our mp3 players. There's no media campaign warning us about completely unspecified dangers of buying cheap clothes from street vendors. We're not even warned against moonshine brewed in someone's garage.

    And what the hell do they mean by 'fake cigarettes'?

    Treasure Island Media make gay porn. Porn that somehow manages to be breathtakingly direct and unpretentious, accompanied by astonishingly pretentious interviews and press releases - stuff about sexual uninhibitedness promoting world peace and putting good honest sweat back into the sanitised porn market.

    They've announced a new movie - or should that be "release" - with only HIV-positive performers.

    Some commentators are saying it's exploitative and tasteless - demeaning to people with HIV.

    Um. How? Surely it can't be because people with a virus shouldn't be allowed to have sex because...well, we only like them when they're sexless victims. Just like we only like gay celebrities who drop smutty innuendos all the time but never have sex.

    And finally, my lunch.

    It's nice. I want to have some more soon. But it's...curried lasagna. I don't understand why that feels wrong.


    The word "bullshit" has two distinct meanings.

    The first is basically "lies". When a certain American president said "I did not have sexual relations with that woman", it was a barefaced lie - though Clinton later tried to redefine "sex" in such a way that, although she was having sex with him, he wasn't having sex with her.

    But that's just backing up the original bullshit with more bullshit - the word "sex" doesn't work like that, and however fond politicians get of giving terms like 'freedom' and 'the people' private personal meanings, it comes down to simple lying - as when a different president said "Mission Accomplished".

    The other flavour of bullshit is I think more interesting. This is a piece of genuine ad-copy I just stumbled across:

    This application is useful for students, small and large businesses, and other organizations that want to increase productivity. Our mission is to empower business people from around the world to reach their full potential. We aspire to be renowned for our capacity to assist our customers in becoming more competitive, in a world where businesses transact at an unprecedented speed.
    Through a unique product development process, our passionate and dedicated employees and our excellent relationship with our customers, we strive to deliver high quality and practical yet affordable products.

    If I tell you it's about a computer program, does that make things any clearer? What if I say the program is a PDF editor? Not really, because it isn't about the program - it's about the alleged aspirations of the company.

    What makes this bullshit is, I think, not that it's false - rather that it's so vague there's no way to know whether it's false, true, half-true, an exaggeration, understatement or whatever.

    It's not exactly meaningless - the statements could in principle be checked against observation, so they must be interpretable, however elastically. And that's what makes it both kinds of bullshit - because it's vague and false. We know it's false because business and the marketplace don't work that way, just as having sex doesn't only go one way.

    So here's my attempt at bullshit. I reckon it means almost nothing, and what it does mean is so untrue only a teaparty election candidate could believe it.

    Our vision is to pro-actively enable the self-empowerment of the people to self-actualise their potentialities, within a modality framework of non-partisan mutuality.

    We consequentially affirm with zealful conviction that we can non-destructively and auto-interactively reawaken sublimated and hitherto subaltern realisations, furthermore and moreover depolarising dichotomas vocalities with a view to ever-deepening harmonious fusion of interpenetrating contradictions.

    Our motto is our watchword.

    What do you think?

    Not Fade Away

    Twenty five years ago, we backed up data to floppy discs. Compared to what we'd used before - Winchester discs that you could just about carry with one arm - they were a godsend. Light, portable, relatively cheap, with a reasonable capacity of a few dozen kilobytes - enough for all the little programs and documents you wanted to keep. It even took less than a minute to access.

    Yes, one of the many storage mediums which were tried was...videotape. And it worked too, but it was slow, and couldn't hold as much as systems which came out shortly afterwards. Like the zip drive, which was good but had the misfortune to be launched shortly before CDRs, which had larger capacity

    There were a few problems though, like their habit of going blank if left in bright sunlight, or placed next to a strong electro-magnetic field generator like, for instance, a computer. And there was always some dimwit who carried the only copy folded up in their pocket then couldn't understand why it didn't work.

    Another alsoran was tape specifically designed for backing up computer data. In 1992 it was pretty fast, but reading and writing was strictly linear - like music tape, if you wanted to get to a specific part, you had to spool through the rest.

    Then twenty years ago we got floppy discs you could carry in your pocket. With twice the capacity - 1.44 MB - you could store an entire novel on one, and with a rigid outer casing it wasn't killed by sunlight or slight knocks.

    How many standards of floppy disk were there? There were the 10" discs, the 5", the 3.5", the 3.25" and the 3" - the last supported, as I recall, by almost no one except some Amstrad machines. People badmouthed Sinclair and IBM for using nonstandard hardware, but Amstrad were just as bad.

    Then roundabout fifteen years we got...CDRs! Which blew us away with a staggering 704MB, later 800. Enough for carrying five hundred novels.

    It was always a dilemma, when putting data onto a CD - maximise use and minimise cost by using up all available space with whatever would fit onto it, or have a simple filing system with one item per disc. Usually, I went for the former.

    With the new MP3 format, you could keep ten albums of music on one disc - that cost one twelfth of an album, and later a tenth of that. A bit later with the MP4 video format, you could squeeze a forty minute episode of a TV serial onto one, if you didn't mind waiting two hours to encode each episode on your spiffy 1GHz machine.

    Half of David Bowie's discography, on two discs. Amazing, really when you take a step back and think about what you've got used to. One day, I might have time to listen through it.

    No more problems with sunlight...but get just a little scratch on the surface and you've probably lost everything. This little detail spawned an industry of protective CDR storage cases - and a habit of buying twice as many discs as you needed, so you could spend hours making backups of your backups to put in cases in a cardboard box in a cool dry dark space.

    Jewel cases, paper wallets, double 'book' cases, clear plastic wallets, super-economy clear plastic wallets.... I developed a way of using the cheap ones with home-made paper inlays. The wallets held the disc, the paper did the actual protection. Plus, you could write on it!

    Then ten years ago, DVDRs got cheap enough for common use. They looked rather like CDRs, but with six times the capacity, all those TV episodes suddenly took up a lot less space.

    Carry 100 CDRs/DVDRs in a soft valise with a handle. Or if you're me, carry 200 - 2 in each pocket, with a slip of paper between them. Is that cheap, or ingenious?

    Unfortunately there was still the problem of the scratches, and therefore still the cases and duplicate backups. And eventually we realised that squeezing DVDR-sized data onto a CDR-sized disc actually made the writing process less reliable. Which is why we sometimes made three copies of our data, just to be safe.

    A selection of some atrociously bad science fiction movies, which thanks to DVD technology, can inflict themselves on us forever.

    We were promised CDRs and DVDRs would last forever, and in a sense that's true - the physical media is remarkably difficult to destroy. It's just the data which lasts five years. That's five years on average, which is why I've got DVDRs from six months ago that won't read, but CDRs from ten years ago that will.

    Well, one year ago I got myself a solid-state external hard drive with 1.5 terrabytes. A safe, stable, long term place to back up all the perishable data from my 500 DVRs.

    My First External Hard Drive. Looking a bit battered. Just as I was writing this, the shiny, white, new one arrived. The one I haven't told you about yet - oops.

    Yesterday it failed for the second time, and I spent all day recovering the data. What caused the failure? Solid state drives are essentially gigantic USB memory sticks, designed for serial storage, never file manipulation. What constitutes file manipulation?

    I deleted one zero-length file - and the whole partition became unreadable. Now that's what I call delicate.

    Which is why today, my new non-solid state 2TB external hard drive should be arriving. Larger, less volatile, slower but less inclined to lose 200GB because I did basic housekeeping.

    So as of today, I'll have an external drive to store everything I'm not working on at the moment, a solid state drive to back that up, and the original DVDRs that were backups from...a different hard drive.

    And now I get to stop worrying about data storage.

    Heh. Right.