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.

The Meaning of Silence

There's a kind of communication paralysis, where you've got plenty to say, but you're afraid to say anything because your listeners might not understand, or be interested, or be sympathetic. I've had that recently.

Put it another way. If you met me professionally and heard I had a blog, you'd probably assume it was about linguistics and language teaching. If you were at the last band practice, you'd think it must be about music technology. If you lived with me, you'd think it was about politics and philosophy. And maybe some sex.

I haven't been writing about these things because I was quite sure anyone who drops by regularly won't want to read about why the infinitive is probably a myth, or how to build a glitch unit, or why rescuing 33 trapped miners is a PR campaign which just happens to be the right thing to do.

Or how I got two absolutely fantastic blowjobs yesterday. That would be totally boring.

Result: The more there is to say, the less gets said. And that situation is just plain silly.

So, I'd like to start communicating again by introducing you to one of my alter egos.

This is Kronsteen. He's a superspy and chess master, one of the villains of the second James Bond movie. He's played by Vladek Sheybal, a polish actor who spent most of his english-speaking career playing criminal masterminds and suspiciously enigmatic east europeans. Mr Sheybal was a consumate scene stealer, and I've a lot of time for him.

My version of Kronsteen is a music technlogy buff, living on internet forums. He spent the last week working on over 450 exotic waves to modulate synthesiser parameters.

The week before he spent simplifying synth architecture to the eleven commonly useful amplitude and filter envelopes. This month he's started making instructional youtube videos - though seems to have lost his Polish accent somehow.

Because net identities tend to overlap, some of his work appears on my other blog. Sqriblz is just a place to keep song lyrics, short stories, tabulated numbers for music production...and an esperanto rhyming dictionary one of us put together.

I have a third identity for the sex...but that's for maybe another time.

Streetwise Sunday - Unnecessary Advice Edition

The Magic Number

Three unimportant, unrelated, and unworthy announcements:

First, today is 10/10/10. The perfect ten, you might say. Like Floor 13, avenue 666, people being 100 years old and being the millionth customer, there's no mystery about it - just keep counting and you'll get there eventually.

But I'm disappointed there's no numerologist claiming it means the end of the world or the dawn of a new age. From what I read, all the cranks are too busy campaigning for the American mid-term elections.

Second, it is now possible to have sex with your laptop.

Technology, capitalism and sex - the unholy trinity.

Third, NaNoWriMo is on the horizon again, and I have a vague impulse to do something about it again. I get a lot of vague impulses. Does that make me vague or impulsive?

Two Printses

There's two kinds of idiot. Those who think they know everything and those who can't do anything. The arrogant and the reliant, the worthless and the helpless, the penpusher and the eternal helpline user.

The latter couldn't find their arse with both hands, the former...are the arseholes. Fortunately, this post is about the ones with searching hands. I like searching hands.

I got a call yesterday, from a company that prints greetings cards, menus, invitations and the like. They'd been sent a PDF from a customer - who'd asked that it be amended, urgently, before printing. So the shop wanted to know how to open a PDF, how to edit a PDF, and by the way what was PDF anyway?

PDF is Portable Document Format, and it's the format of choice for ebooks. You open it in Sumatra if you like small simple programs, Foxit if you want something a little more sophisticated, Adobe Reader if you like pointlessly bloated software, and Adobe Acrobat if you're rolling in cash and you really need to edit the document.

If you do want to edit the document - the one you've just created in a word processor - you should go back to the wordprocessor document and edit that, before turning the result into a second PDF. Or if you're a stupid and lazy customer, you ask the print shop to do some free graphic design for you. In this case, the print shop that doesn't know what a PDF is - and calls me to ask.

So what is this document anyway? It's a list of names - some of them with grey boxes drawn around them, probably put together in ten minutes by someone running MS Word 2000.

I use Word 97 myself - it's small, fast, almost never crashes, looks good and does everything I want. And Windows 7 can't run it - just another small reason to hate Windows 7.

So, after ninety minutes and three telephone calls the man in the print shop finally agreed to do what I initially suggested - politely ask the customer to spend thirty seconds changing a name in a wordprocessor, or if they can't manage that, get their permission for the shop to forward the PDF to, um, an external contractor with a name starting with K, who will attempt to use software he's inherited but never used to change the frelling PDF.

The man in the shop decided on...the latter course of action. Sigh. And that's the last I heard.

The list was for a wedding. I bet they get lost trying to find the church.

Weekend Woundup 4

Winding up the weekend with awuther weekend woundup. The weeks stuff fwom the sidebwog. Fwom Wapitano.

"It doesn't know how I take my coffee.
It doesn't care how I play my part.
It doesn't care about truth or lies and it
Never gives any good advice.
It doesn't care if I'm suicidal,
consideration for my precious hide.
It doesn't give a damn if I stand or fall and it's
Got a beat that says it all."
- Ashbury Heights, Decent Cancer

"I am the shepherd,
and the wolf."
- Covenant, I am

"Never mind the conclusions, what's the evidence?"
- Mark Lieberman, Language Log

Most arguments about morality are really about money. All are about power.

All the great questions were settled a century or more ago. It's just that no one's been listening above the sound of their own opinions.

All the debates of any given moment are clearly settled as soon as they arise, by a small number of clear minded thinkers. But a settled debate sells no newspapers, and understanding clear thinking requires a clear head.

Suicide is a problem, right?

Who exactly is it a problem for?

Suicide prevention is a good thing, yes?

Who is it good for?

It may be that there are no moral issues at all, that every moral question has an empirical solution, and every moral conundrum is the result of insufficient evidence or insufficient rigour.

Every intelligent person defines their intelligence by the stupidity they see through.

"Editors have an uncanny ability to find what you feel is most important, and cut it out."
- Claude Chabrol

"Conservatives can do without a god, but they can't get through the day without a devil. Their entire model of reality revolves around the existence of an existential enemy who's out to annihilate them. Take that focal point away, and their whole worldview collapses into incoherence. This need is so central to their thinking that if there are no actual enemies around, they'll go to considerable lengths to make some (or just make some up)."
- Sara Robinson

A bad movie and a badly made movie. The former makes you a worse person, the latter the same person - just in a worse mood.

The more I try, the more I find out what I can't do. Anyone who thinks this is useless information has never tried to do anything.

When I'm 20 I know what I like. When I'm 40 I know why I like it.

It is possible to be mistaken about whether you're feeling pleasure? No. Is it possible to be mistaken about whether you enjoy doing something? Most definitely.

"I enjoyed that movie". "That was a good movie". Learn to completely seperate the two before you pronounce on either.

Anyone who thinks "be yourself" is good advice is unclear on who they are.

Right and wrong only apply to behaviours which affect other people.

"It is tough to be modern; the difficulty of being modern makes it easy for individuals to be restless and anxious; restlessness and anxiety lead to fear; fear converts freely into hate; hate very easily takes on political form; political hate assists in the creation of real threats such as the atomic bomb and guided missiles, which are not imaginary threats at all; the reality of the threats seems to confirm the reality of the hate which led to it, thus perpetuating a cycle of insecurity, fear, hate, armament, insecurity, fear, and on around the circle again and again."
- Cordwainer Smith

Streetwise Sunday - Beanz Meanz Findz Edition

Today's thing found on the street is...

Two tins of baked beans! I found these on a wall, in a plastic bag. Which brand are they? Actually they seem to be no brand at all - on the other side, where you'd expect to find a brand name is an advert for a local computer shop. Isn't sponsorship wonderful?

A few metres away from where I took the beans out to photograph them, there was a man falling over...and just lying there, groaning. He had a scraggly beard, a tattered coat, and a can of beer - yes, one of the homeless people our government says don't exist. A 'gentleman of the street' as my grandmother used to say.

After a few attempts, I helped him stand up - for which he was effusively grateful for a good five minutes. Maybe he was looking for a way to tap me for some money, or perhaps he really was just as astonished as he seemed that anyone would help him. We exchanged names - I lied and I think so did he - before he went back to sitting outside the church with his beer, and I went home with half the recipe for beans on toast.

Now I just need to walk along the street till I find a tin opener.