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

"That’s the problem with nature – it’s never natural enough."
- Mark Simpson

"Freedom of Press is limited to those who own one."
- HL Menken

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
- Upton Sinclair

"Silence is consent."
- Paul Haggis

"I’m English, and as such I crave disappointment"
- Bill Bailey

"It is impossible to obtain a conviction for sodomy from an English jury. Half of them don’t believe that it can physically be done, and the other half are doing it."
- Winston Churchill

Twelve Fails of Christmas


Holidays.

These are periods of a few days or weeks, which you set aside and plan ahead to enjoy yourself. In the event you probably don't enjoy it, but you take some photos to look at later and tell yourself you did.

But there are two kinds of holidays. Ones where you go somewhere new, meet new people and try out new things. And ones where you stay at home (or go home), spend a long time with people you already know quite well enough...and eat too much.

Christmas...is the second kind.

So once you've eaten enough turkey and chocolates to feed a small African country, exchanged giftwrapped socks with distant cousins, made smalltalk with people you normally avoid because of their tedious smalltalk, and got slightly drunk on that bottle of special liquer that's been sitting on a shelf since last year...what is there to do?


Watch TV. Always a favourite.


Watch a DVD.


Read a book.


Practice the guitar. (Which I've been meaning to do.)


Have some friends over.


Catch up on sleep.


Wake yourself up with a refreshing shower.


Or a bath.


A big, luxurious bath.


Have a beer. Always a reliable time-filler. (Even though I hate beer.)


Put up the decorations.


Potter around on the computer. Write a blog post or something - and maybe find a use for some of those pictures which have been cluttering up your hard drive.


Guess which one I did?

So, have a happy Hannukah, prosperous Kwanzaa, merry Festival of Saturn, enjoyable Winter Solstice...or a Noodly Holiday if you're feeling geeky. Anything but christmas.

"Without humor, a sports fan is a religious fanatic."
- Keith Olbermann

"The fact that capitalism is not just, far from being something which makes it more intolerable, is precisely what makes it palpable for the majority. What makes it palpable is its very injustice, and that we knwow it’s unjust."
- Slavoj Zizek

"Americans are brought up from childhood to have no curiosity about anything, because they might not like the answer."
- Gore Vidal

Happy, not Clappy


Aimee blogged, asking what benefits her atheism has over religious faith.

I wrote a response, which grew into a small essay, which I thought worth posting.

"Sometimes i still wonder though, whether i am really any better off now as a non-believer than i was as a believer."

I think it depends exactly what you mean by atheism. To me, there seem to be three common senses, which often get mixed up in people's heads - including atheistic heads:

1) Not believing in a cosmic tyrant - who sees all, knows all, and judges all according to some arbitrary (and inconsistent) moral code.

2) Not believing in anything supernatural or incredible - ghosts, reincarnation, telepathy, the illuminati, shapeshifting alien lizards, time travel etc. At least, until some decent evidence comes along, in which case they're no longer fantasy.

3) Believing that, if a problem is genuine and actually has a solution, whether it's theoretical or practucal, empirical or moral, reason can find it, given sufficient evidence and opportunity.

The third position is a kind of faith, and might be identified with humanism.

Specifically, it's faith based (inductively) on good but not perfect evidence - as opposed to faith based on no evidence, or weak evidence, or actually opposing the evidence. I wrote a lot of paragraphs about different kinds of faith, which I'll spare you.

It obviously can't be proven that every possible real problem is rationally soluble, but given the vast evidence, it's inductively very likely.

You're asking what benefits atheism has. I'd turn it around and ask what harm religion does.

An atheist in the first sense is free to live without the fear of an invisible abusive parent in the sky. They live without cosmic Stockholm syndrome.

The real world is a scary enough place, without inventing invincible demonic versions of real cultural barriers. Atheism here doesn't exactly make you happy, but it does make you less sad, and less scared.

An atheist in the second sense is a skeptic, or a rationalist - someone who's cautious about what they believe, and so isn't easy to fool or con. Again, skeptics don't always make great decisions, but they make fewer foolish ones.

GK Chesterton made a famous remark that ceasing to believe in god left one open to any other belief. It's quite possible to be an atheist in my first sense, but a gullible believer in my second.

I think the third position is, by definition, rationalism - in the broad, lower case sense, as opposed to the continental philosophy sense.

It may indeed not provide the pleasant fuzzy sensations of an imaginary friend, but as soon as you're required to make a practical decision, it's a lot more reliable.

Finally, there are plenty of sources of spiritual nourishment that don't involve irrational belief, so the unbeliever is left far from starving. Music, literature, film and theater are I find quite sufficient, and come with fewer strings attached. And let's not forget friendship, love and indeed sex.

So in short: Atheism doesn't make you happy, but it does make you sensible, and there's plenty of other things to make you happy.

"Go the whole hog, be bigger than god."
- John Lydon

Touched by the Hand


Touch screen technology - a solution waiting for a problem.

I tried it two years ago when I got a new phone. It was sleek, powerful, and an absolute pig to operate. After three days I took it back to the shop and swapped it for one with lower specifications - crappy camera, no ebook reading facility, very limited video viewing, sort-of but not-really MMS ability.

But it was actually usable, and the lack of such 'selling points' as mp3 ringtones, secondary camera and en-suite video editing wasn't an issue because, well, what kind of person buys a phone because it can play last months chart-topper instead of ringing?

However, that contract has nearly expired so...I've got a new one. With QWERTY keyboard for writing my novel, android apps for mapreading, and a 5 megapixel camera that can shoot video at 720x480 and 30 frames per second. In other words...DVD!

It's a frelling camera phone, and it can make movies of up to 2 hours in domestic DVD quality. Or rather it could...if it had a good quality lens. Is it me, or is that combination of overkill and cheap design a bit mad?

This new phone can read PDFs, and other ebook formats. It's got a second camera facing me so I can put video diaries on Youtube. There's an option to upload photos to Flikr immediately upon taking them...before I even review them. Whose idea was that?

It's got a special dedicated button for connecting to bloody Facebook. That alone speaks volumes about what the designers think about and of the target audience.

The battery life is two days - one third of my old phone. Oh, and it's got possibly the naffest name of any phone ever: The Cha Cha. Yes.



All of which I can happily live with. But the touchscreen aspect isn't as peripheral as the advertising copy suggested. It's absolutely central, and there's almost no keyboard alternative - which would be usually faster.

Imagine your computer didn't have a mouse, but you clicked and moved things by putting on a boxing glove and rubbing it around the screen. Gloves aren't precise, so to click anything you need to keep dabbing at the screen until it decides you've hit the right spot. And then you drag a slider up or down to where you want it, except you have to guess because you can't see the slider because...the fucking glove's in the way.

Look, technology doesn't advance by identifying problems and finding solutions. It advances by finding new things it can do, and then casting about for applications.

X-rays weren't discovered by someone looking for ways to diagnose bone fractures - they were a mysterious new wave that got beamed at anything and everything to see what happened, for decades. It was marketed as everything from a baldness cure to a replacement for the telegraph.

Nuclear fission still doesn't have a safe application, but it's still being pushed as an expensive and risky way to run steam turbines. If you think nuclear energy is green, ask yourself what infrastructure it relies on.

Electricity was a lab-bound curiosity for decades. Now we're so reliant in it, civilisation would collapse without it.

You can now get laptops with touchscreen capability - the new super gee-wiz version of the mouse. The one that doesn't work as well as the mouse, and gives you different, worse types of repetitive strain injury.

I've watched software engineers wax lyrical about how touchscreen will enable users to interact with the computers in whole new ways. But they never, ever, speculate what these new ways might be.

Hey, maybe there are uses for touchscreen that keyboards, speech recognition, Kinect, tracker balls and mouses (mice, meese, moose) can't do. There's just been no sign of them yet.



As for my new handset, it's got a full keyboard which might come in handy, occasionally useful apps, a pretty good camera, and I can read miniature books on it.

For everything else - music and audiobooks, battery life and, erm, talking to people on the phone, the old handset is actually superior. So I'll probably be moving the sim card over to it, having effectively signed a two year contract and got a free micro-palmtop.

Oh, and the old handset I bought two years ago: it was obsolete at the time.

"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

"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

"Serious matters seldom break through to cliché-ridden minds."
- Gore Vidal

"The Church essentially exists to convince the proletariat to accept its lowly earthly lot while taking its money."
- Shawn Baker

"We ought to be suspicious of something that we very much want to believe."
- John Searle

"If a culture stops allowing people the right to fail, that culture will die."
- Tariq Ali

Hey Kids, Don't Do Drugs


You remember I got hold of some legal drugs to see if they gave me some much needed energy? And you remember how I came over a bit weird?

Well they come in packs of two, and I found the other one, and took it just to see what would happen. They're called 'Speed Freak Ultra', but seeing as all "herbal supplements" have over the top brand names, I didn't think much of it.

It's seven in the morning, and I have just spent five hours being...intense. Specifically:

* Dry mouth

* Thirst

* Stomach cramps

* Being rather too wide awake

* Not exactly a headache but a kind of pressure from inside the temples.

* Having a desperate sexual craving. I've been known to have a fair sexual appetite sometimes, but I've never before spent five solid hours thinking obsessively about penises. Sucking and swallowing. Not even when I was thirteen.

* Having no physiological sexual response whatsoever. My nipples have been sensitive ever since I was nineteen when a deeply strange man showed me what they were for. Tonight: slightly less responsive than the average toenail.

As for traces of erection...or that sickly sweet feeling you get near your bladder for which there doesn't seem to be word. Or those tingles you sometimes get radiating outward from your groin. Not a hint.

It's probably good I was alone, as I'd most likely have been a complete pain to any company - though possibly less wall-climbingly frustrated.

It can be fun to mess with your own head. But I don't think I'll be doing this again. Some experiences are for remembering rather than having.

"A low budget is almost always a release."
- Tilda Swinton

"If you want people to do wicked things, you need religion."
- Christopher Hitchens

Everybody Likes Like


How many of the things you do for pleasure...actually give you pleasure?

Holidays? Famously stressful. There's something about paying to be in unfamiliar surroundings that makes families want to kill each other.

Friends? Be honest - how many of your friends are annoying people you've got into the habit of tolerating, but you've forgotten why?

Sporting events? Ninety minutes of watching highly trained minor celebrities simulate violent sex with each other, with occasional minutes of excitement when they, erm, 'score'.

Sex (violent or otherwise)? There's something rather deflating about letting someone try to make you substitute for their fantasy, in the hope they can subsitute for yours.

TV? I've often caught myself checking the clock to see how long it'll be till the programme ends and I can do something else. Since when was mindless entertainment a timetabled chore?

Music? How often do you put on some favourite music, and after ten minutes realise you've been ignoring the music while reading your emails?

Chocolate? If the taste is so good, why are you so keen to swallow that piece and start on the next?

If you really do enjoy any of these things, then fine. But I've come to the conclusion that everyone should take a long hard look at their list of enjoyments every few years, and prune it down to things they do enjoy - as opposed to things they used to enjoy, or only tell themselves they enjoy, or think they ought to enjoy.

And when we've all done that, we can ask the next question.

How many of the things you do to gain approval...acutally get you approval?

"All I ask is that you be consistent with your bullshit."
- Chuck Sonnenberg

"Stop organising your life around people who don’t get the joke."
- Laurence O’Donnell

Words and Numbers 2


How many words with ten syllables does English have?

According to my wordlist (extracted from the digital version of the 1997 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) the answer is: None

But it's not a simple as that, because it lists "floccinaucinihilipilification" (the act of estimating something to be valueless) with seven vowels or vowel+glide pairs, and thus seven syllables. Except I make it eleven.

"Praetertransubstantiationalism" is a word from catholic theology that I learned in seminary. I still don't know exactly what it means, but I reckon it's also got eleven syllables. It's not in the SOED.

Everyone's favourite pointlessly long word - "Antidisestablishmentarianisn" - isn't in there either, but I think it's got twelve syllables. Likewise "Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" (a disease of the lungs) is absent but, by my reckoning, has sixteen.

I can sort-of pronounce "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch" (nineteen syllables), mainly because my father lived there in the first world war.

Some people stick extra schwa vowels into words to make them easier to pronounce. Others glide adjacent vowels together, or skip over entire syllables. The two longest common surnames in Britain are "Cholmondalay" and "Featherstonehaugh" - pronounced (and often respelled) "Chumley" and "Fanshaw".

So, still no dectasyllablical squipidalianisms, but the SOED lists eight words with nine syllables. See how many syllables you say them with:

Reticuloendothelial (9)
Arteriosclerosis (I make it 7, probably)
Extraterritoriality (9)
Immunoelectrophoresis (9)
Otorhinolaryngology (9)
Polytetrafluoroethylene (9)
Propionibacterium (8)
Stachybotryotoxicosis (9)

"Your enemies form you much more than your friends."
- John P Meier

"A is for Beginning"
- Paul Morley

Words and Numbers

English has 441 nouns that are pronounced the same in the plural as the singular. Most of them seem to be from the French, and I understand maybe a dozen of them. Here they are:

AbonnementAdageAffaire
AgacerieAlléeAllure
AmendeAndouilleAndouillette
Arc-BoutantArrière-PenséeArriviste
ArrondissementAssembléAssemblée
AubussonAumônièreAuteur
AuvergnatAvouéBagarre
BagneBahutBaignoire
BalancéBallonBallonné
BatterieBéguinBénitier
BerceuseBergèreBêtise
BevueBiberonBibliothèque
BidonBiftekBlagueur
BlancBlancbecBlanquette
BoîteBondieuserieBouchée
BoulevardierBouleversementBourgade
BriquetBriséBrouillon
Cache-PeigneCaféCafé
CafetièreCagotCagoulard
CahierCamaieuCarmagnole
CarrefourCauserieCauseuse
CeintureChaînéChaise
ChambranleChangementChanson
ChanteuseChasse-MaréeChassepot
ChateaubriandChatonChaussée
ChevaletChevelureCheville
ChiffonnierCivetClochard
CohueCombleComédie
CompotierComptoirConférencier
ConfrérieConsigneConte
ConvenanceCoureurCouvert
CrémaillèreCriseCroûte
CulotteCuréDalle
DanseurDanseuseDébat
DébouchéDécoupageDégringolade
DélassementDémêléDémenti
Demi-ViergeDéveloppéDiseuse
DotDrageoirÉbauche
ÉbénisteÉboulementÉchevin
ÉchevinÉclaircissementÉcrevisse
ÉléganteÉlèveÉloge
EmbarrasEmbusquéÉmeute
ÉmincéEnceinteEnchaînement
EncoignureEnfantillageEngouement
EngrenageEntremetÉpanchement
ÉpaulementÉpicerieÉquipe
ÉruditEscargotEsclandre
EsquisseEstacadeEstafette
EstaminetEstouffadeÉtalage
ÉtangÉtourderieÉtrenne
ExternatExtincteurFanchon
FauteuilFaux-BourdonFélibre
FéraFilletteFiltre
FineFlaconFlâneur
FlècheFontangeFourgon
FournitureFriandiseFriseur
FrondeurGalèreGarçon
GarconnièreGareGargouillade
GarigueGavrocheGilet
GirouetteGîteGlissé
GoûterGrognardGuérite
GuinguetteHausseHausse-Col
HommeHorizontaleIncroyable
InéditIntermèdeJabot
JaponaiserieJongleurJour
LacetLaisseLande
LangueLettreLivraison
LoupMadrierMagnanerie
MailMaillotMaire
MairieMaisonMaître
MaîtresseMajoratMamelière
ManchetteManoirMarigot
MarmitonMarotteMarouflage
MarsouinMascaretMâtin
MédaillonMessagerieMétairie
MétayerMiliceMilitaire
MillefeuilleMinaudièreMinot
MirotonMitrailleurMitrailleuse
MorgueMortierMotard
MouchardMouleNaïveté
NécessaireNefNégociant
NévéNoceurNon
NouilleNounouNouvelle
ObjetOeilladeOeuvre
OrageOuvertOuvreuse
PalmierPalourdeParapluie
ParatonnerreParfumerieParisienne
ParloirPartageParticule
PartiePartousePatronne
PaysagePaysannePelouse
PensionnairePensionnatPeulvan
PiedroitPignonPinard
Piou-PiouPiqueurPiqûre
PlacePlaidoyerPlaisanterie
PlanhPlatPlié
PlongeurPochoirPoêlée
PointPointePoissarde
PoitrinairePolicierPolisson
PolitiquePommePopote
PortefeuillePorteurPortière
Post-ChaisePotichePotin
PoudreusePoulePoupée
PourboirePourparlerPousse-Café
PrairePré-SaléPresbytère
PrimeurProcédéProcureur
ProjetProlongeProvocateur
PuyQuartierQuillon
QuincaillerieQuintonRaccourci
RafaleRaisonneurRapide
RastaRastaquouèreRaté
RatelierRavalementRazet
RéchaudRécitRéclame
RécolteRédacteurReflet
RégieRégisseurReglement
RelâcheRelanceReligieuse
RemaniementRemboîtageRemueur
RenseignementRenteRentier
RépliqueRepoussoirRésistant
RetiréRetraiteRéveillon
ReverdieRevirementRognon
RomanRôtisseurRouget
RoulementRoutierRoutinier
RoyaleSalaudSalmi
SalutSanglierSaucier
SaucissonSautSéjour
ServanteSévignéSignifiant
SignifiéSingerieSirop
SirventeSnobismeSociétaire
SoigneurSolfègeSommité
SottiseSottisierSoubise
SoubresautSoubresautSouffre-Douleur
SoupeSouperSoupirant
Sous-EntenduSouteneurSpectacle
StrapontinSuisseTabac
TabagieTabatièreTaille
TailleurTastevinTâtonnement
TendreTendresseTerrasse
ThéTianTirage
TommeTonnelleTonton
TourmenteTraiteurTranche
TricoteuseTripotTrouvaille
UrinoirVagueVeillée
VeilleuseVendangeVendeuse
VernissageVespasienneVie
ViguierVinVirage
ViveurVivierVoyant
VoyouVraisemblanceVulgarisateur

I can reveal this fascinating fact because I'm trying to write a bit of software to be a rhyming dictionary - with options for perfect rhymes, slant rhymes (rhymes which ignore the difference between similar pairs of consonants), vowel rhymes and more.

Actually, I've spent most of the last week trying to make scripts to tidy up the raw data of spelling and pronunciation. It's either that or spend a year doing it by hand.

In the meantime, there are 179 pronouns, including such rarities as 'Yez' (plural You), Whosoever, and Hern (Hers). And 261 prepositions, including Yond, Neath and Abune.

And 65,796 nouns, the last of which is Zythum - a kind of ancient Eqyptian wine made from fermented malt.

UPDATE: Thanks to the OED's not-entirely-consistent system of classification, I've found some more:

crudéclassédéraciné
gratinéjournalierlisse
afficheaperçuarrêt
assietteassignatattentat
battementcache-potcache-sexe
charcuteriechassécomte
comtessecongéconvive
couvre-piedcrèmecru
déclassédéjeunerdémarche
demi-mondainedéracinédévot
digestifdiguedormeuse
entrechatfarceurfaubourg
ferronnièreficellefiche
figurantfouettéfrisson
Généralgratingratiné
habituéilluminéjournalier
lavaretlisseloge
longueurlycéemandat
mascaronmélangemésalliance
mignardisemouchoirmuscadin
muséeniaiseriepalafitte
papeteriepari-mutuelparti
pastourellepesadepis
pissoirplafondpochade
pompierpont-levispotage
pot-et-fleurpouletrenversement
répétiteurrivièreruelle
sallesapinsuprême
têtevicomtevicomtesse
visite


"Everybody can write about everything and freedom of science consists precisely in people deliberately writing about things they have not studied."
- Frederich Engels

"It appears to me that direct arguments against christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds which follows from the advance of science."
- Charles Darwin

"Who is to even say something is a clue? It might simply be a fact seen in the light of suspicion."
- Roger Ebert

"Presence is sometimes as creative as ideas."
- David Thomson

"Utopias can’t co-exist with other ideas."
- Naomi Klein

"Public opinion is a mirage."
- Richard Seymour

Manwatching


I used to know a man who, every month or so, would drive 100 or more miles - over state borders - to have sex with men he met on the net. He was happily married, active in the local church, and decidedly...traditional in attitudes to adultery and family.

Now, according to him the real buzz in these encounters was when men told him things like, "Gee, that's a real big dick you've got" and "Wow, what a great cock". They'd suck each other for half an hour, then he'd drive back to the wife and kids, generally in a cloud of guilt and determination never to do that again.

He also liked to watch me masturbate on webcam, but always said he didn't have a cam of his own - so I couldn't return his appreciation. Oh, and it might have been the settings on his monitor, but he was under the impression that I wasn't a completely white guy - "Yeah, jerk that coloured cock for me".

Are you getting the impression of mixed motives here? Enjoys being desired, but he's the one doing the looking. Likes mexican and 'dark' men, but politically conservative. Crosses state lines as a way to compartmentalise his sexual lives, and likes to say homosexuality is wrong because it's sex outside marriage.

I'm not moralising about someone else's hypocrisy - rather I'm thinking about how the lies we tell change with the role of who we're telling them to, and how the lies change when the role of the listener changes.

There are the lies we tell our aquaintences to make us look good to them, lies we tell ourselves to make us look good to ourselves...and lies we tell our confessors to make us look good to god. Or 'society', which is the same thing.

In my role as extramarital fun I got one story. In my role as listener afterwards I got another - which depended on whether I was listening to post-orgasm guilt, pillar of the community, or internal monologue validated by a nonjudgemental audience.

I have to wonder whether he liked sex with men at all, or was one of those straight men who fetishise masculinity - as bodybuilders do. Or whether he'd found that the people who made him feel sexy and desirable just happened to be other men. Or whether the half hour encounters with elaborate distancing rituals were more about the idea of sex than the reality.

The number of men who sit for hours at their computers to arrange sex, and then find ways to avoid it, should show how common this last is.

All this was well over a decade ago, and if he ever told me his name I've forgotten it. I don't think I could tell you one definite thing about what his motives were, least of all whether he knew them himself.

"Those who can’t teach, criticise."
- Unknown

"Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end to divine things."
- Hippocrates

"Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it"
- Mark Twain

"A business opens because someone perceives demand for a product upon which a profit can be made. A business does NOT open because someone wants to make stuff. That’s called a hobby."
- Artie Gold

"The Ninth Rule of the ethics of means and ends is that any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical."
- Saul Alinsky

"Someday the slaves will rush to put on their chains."
- Jean Jaques Rousseau

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
- Mohandas Ghandi

"Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Noise was really not born before the 19th century, with the advent of machinery"
- Luigi Russolo

"Everything that can be labeled can be hated."
- Internet Rule #18

"All advice is autobiographical."
- Austin Kleon

Feel the Power


I've got fat fingers. This means there are two professions I probably shouldn't follow - proctologist, and guitarist.

Have you ever noticed how you don't get many short stocky guitar players? Brian May, Axl Rose, Mike Oldfield and to some extent Jimi Hendrix - they're all quite tall, thin types, with long thin fingers to match.

I, however, have a guitar - a small guitar that could have been deliberately designed to make it almost impossible for me to arrange my fingertips on the fretboard in a way that shortens the strings correctly while not getting in the way of their vibrations. In other words, impossible for me to play.

Ah, but I'm not looking to play complicated melodies, and most of the time I'm just looking to play chords. And barre chords - or bar chords - where you strap your finger against the fretboard to shorten all the strings by the same amount...are easy.

So why don't I retune my guitar so playing barre chords will produce triads - the basic three note chords that even a musical ignoramus like me knows about.

It's even easier because I tend to think in minor keys, and default to A-Minor because
(1) It suits my limited vocal range and
(2) It's all white notes. Yes I know guitars don't have white and black notes, but I grew up with samplers, which means I grew up with keyboards.

So, if I tune the lowest pitched string to A, and the one above to C, and the third to E...and the next three to the same but an octave higher...I should be able to play my three chord masterworks without ever having to contort my fingers.

Um. Provided the three chords don't include C. Or G. Because thanks to the never-quite-perfect mathematics of music, my C-chord would have a flattened E as the middle note, which would clash rather horribly with any D or E notes that any other instruments are playing. The G-chord would have a flattened B, which is almost as bad.

Humph. So...what I should actually do is miss out the middle note completely - retune so adjacent strings play fifth-interval dyads. Known to rockers as...Power Chords.

Power chords. If you want a big, clean sound but aren't very good at playing the guitar, power chords are your friend. So all I need now is to work out which strings are capable of how much retuning, and within that which retuning will give my chords the power.

Standard tuningLow EADGBHigh E
Semitone Detune0+2-2+400
New TuningLow ELow BMid EMid BMid BHigh E

Six strings with five notes between them, a low string with standard tuning for playing basslines on, and a crisp series of barre chords that still sound clear even when you crack up the distortion.

And that, my friends, is my solution to how people with fat fingers can rock out.

I'm still a bit hopeless at strumming though.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
- John Kenneth Galbraith

"The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is a complete fiction - conversely the one small node of reality left to us is inside our own heads."
- JG Ballard

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

"Some of us have to come out twice — once as gay, and then again as gay geeks."
- Shawn Baker

"When the prevention of evil becomes more important than the preservation of freedom, authoritarianism grows."
- Roger Ebert

"I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’."
- JRR Tolkein

"Tradition, like numbers, never seem to work in a minority’s favor."
- Shawn Baker

Idée Fixe


I've been trying to persuade my doctor that I'm not depressed. This is the condensed version:

Doctor: How have you been feeling lately, in yourself?

Kapitano: I'm tired all the time, which is to be expected in diabetes, but generally okay.

Doctor: Hmmm. That's also a symptom of depression. Are you sure you're not depressed.

Kapitano: I haven't had depression for fifteen years. So I know what it feels like, I can recognise it, and I don't have it now.

Doctor: I think it's something we should bear in mind as a possibility.

Kapitano: When you're depressed, you've got no energy - you're unhappy but you can't get the willpower to do anything about it. When something bad happens, you can't fight back and you're more likely to dissolve into a puddle of non-resistance than get angry. I've been getting extremely irritated at a lot of things lately, so I'm not depressed.

Doctor: Getting angry can be a symptom too. Not all depressed people are wusses you know. If you're irritable, you could have depression.


What could I possibly have to be depressed about? Apart from welfare state bureaucracy.

Advisor:: You need help in designing your CV. I admit there's no jobs around at the moment, but the reason you can't find work has to be you have a badly designed CV.

Kapitano: I'm a graphic designer, and here's my CV.

Advisor:: Ah well you see, you've listed your qualifications at the top. You should have listed them on the back. Employers don't want to know about qualifications - they want to know what kind of person you are.

Kapitano: I'm the kind of person with a low tolerance for bullshit.

Advisor:: Then you need to change your personality to make employers like you. Anyway, I'm putting you on a one-day course so you can design your CV.

Kapitano: I've already had a job offer, and I've accepted. Starting in January.

Advisor:: You still need a nice CV. And you should do voluntary work - it looks good on your CV.

Kapitano: I already looked at voluntary work, remember? The Red Cross said they had no use for an English teacher with IT skills.

Advisor:: Then you need to approach them again. I'm putting you on a one-day course for people who want to do voluntary work. You could be a carer - would you like that?

Kapitano: I've already applied for the carer jobs.

Advisor:: Really? Why?

Kapitano: I want to do something worthwhile.

Advisor:: Um. You need to apply for a wider range of jobs.

Kapitano: I've applied for all the jobs in the region than I can do. That's almost everything except the 75% which are in sales.

Advisor:: Why not sales?

Kapitano: Do you think I could sell you shit you don't need and I hate? Do I strike you as a smooth-talking salesman?

Advisor:: I'm putting you on a course - a special course with a company who'll find you a job. It'll give you a warm glow of satisfaction to be in work. Isn't that worth it?

Kapitano: I'll let you know what I start the job in January.


It would appear that intelligence and authority cannot co-exist in the same mind.

"Party for your right to fight."
- Public Enemy

"I don’t want to get married because I need the state to tell me that my love is real. I want to get married because I want my partner to be my next of kin."
- Dan Savage

Hammer On or Pull Off?


Learning the guitar is hard work.

When every time you change the string-fretboard alignment to prevent 'buzzing', you have to start tuning again. When every time you change the string length at the bridge to keep the octave intervals in tune, you have to start tuning again. When you've got new strings which tend to stretch a little and, well, go out of tune.

You can find yourself spending the whole night fiddling with allen keys and miniature screwdrivers, and never get around to plugging it in or opening Bert Wheedon's book on how to "Play in a Day".

On the other hand, doing a favour for a friend - the kind of favour that should take an hour but winds up taking two days. The kind that involves sitting in front of a wordprocessor doing what they should have done if they'd read the instructions. That's light work. The kind you can do with the radio on, giving most of your attention to the radio.

Guess which one I'd much rather be doing. Give me difficult and meaningful over easy and meaningless any day.

I once knew someone who spent most evenings configuring their collection of TV satellite dishes. They could get thousands of channels - none of which they felt like watching - they just enjoyed figuring out the technology.

Oh yes, my guitar arrived yesterday. And tomorrow I have the day and an empty house to myself - which means I have a choice. Do I invite a friend round for a drink and a shag...or do I start learning to play the guitar?

"Nothing matters so much that you’re not going to have a cup of tea."
- Tilda Swinton

"It is easier to accept inequalities if one can claim that they result from an impersonal blind force."
- Slavoj Zizek

I Wanna Be a Rock Star


I've bought an electric guitar.

The reason is quite simple: After a year of trying, on and off, to create realistic strumming and plucking with samples, scripts and physical models, I've come to the conclusion that...it can't be done. Making a realistic emulation of a plucked string is simple, as is a set of samples of muted and open chords. It just sounds totally unrealistic and choppy when you make a tune out of it.



If you want something that sounds like a real guitar - acoustic or electric - you have a choice. You can either:

(1) Use slow and painful MIDI programming to recreate the dozen or so subtle but important interconnected parameters which constantly change in context to make up the sound of guitar strings, or
(2) Learn to play a guitar.



Ah, but my guitar needs to be small and portable, because I'm short on space and will probably need to fit it into a travelbag for transport. So I spent a week looking at half-size guitars.



Now, most half-size guitars are aimed at children under ten, and the biggest seller is the absurdly (or wonderfully) named Dangleberry Music. They're real electric guitars, with optional humbuckers and professional-level rosewood and maple build. It's just that they come in pink, or bright yellow, or camouflage patterns.



But the much more sensibly named Tanglewood do a (cheaper!) range which are "great for beginners, those with small hands and those on the move". So all I need now are the hands of a child.



And music lessons.

"Science. You couldn’t make this stuff up."
- Scicurious

Oh Christ


You've got to know who you really are to be happy, so I'm told.

It's a strange notion, because even if there is a 'real' you buried underneath the 'false' you that you and everyone else thinks is the real thing...if you're confused about who you are, isn't that confusion part of the real you? And what happens if you find the real you and you don't like it?

Anyway, I think I now know a bit more about the real me. I'm a fag hag. For christians. A christo-bitch. A godbotherer-botherer. A soteriological vampire.

If a fag hag is a straight woman who hangs around gay men because she's both attracted to their sexual non-threateningness, and simultaneously wants to destroy it by seducing them...

...then I'm a skeptical man who hangs around jesus sunbeams because I'm both attracted to their happy simple-mindedness, and simultaneously want to destroy it by making them doubt.

You see what I mean about not liking one's real self.

It would be nice to believe in something mystical. I spent much of my 20s trying to find something mystical to believe that wasn't also preposterous - which is a little like searching for cakes to devour that aren't also fattening.

Most of my boyfriends were christians - and some of my christians were also, erm, eager to be persuaded. But no, like one of those wonderful straight women who attach to gay men, I can't be one, and even if I could...I wouldn't really want to.

"I gave up on my species."
- George Carlin

"A friend in need's a friend indeed. A friend with weed is better."
- Placebo

"A neurosis is a secret that you don’t know you’re keeping."
- 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

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

"War is deceit."
- Muhammed

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

"The problem with straight men is they’re repressed. The problem with gay men is they’re not."
- Mark Simpson

"Tradition is one part expectation, one part wish fulfillment, and one part convenient denial."
- Shawn Baker


Happy Halloween. At the mountains of madness.

The Hills are Alive.






"A gay subtext makes every movie better."
- Quentin Tarrantino



Right?


NaNoWriMo is nearly here again, and I've just spent the night trying to come up with a plot. Two plots in fact, but the detective mystery had too many holes, and the science fiction was just...well, boring. When you're bored by your own plot outline, it's probably not a good idea to write the story.

So I'm asking myself: What is a writer anyway? Is it someone who has a story to tell, and the determination to find a way to tell it? Or is it someone who wants to tell a story, and is determinded to find one?

In other words, which comes first - the thing you want to express, or the desire to express something? I only ask becuase after eight hours bashing ideas together in my head, I'm not sure I've got either.

Samuel Beckett (who I usually list as my favourite author) said the need to express is innate - with the twist that for him there was nothing to express. Dorothea Brande (author of "Becoming a Writer" - the only book on how to write that I've ever found useful) says the thing to do is sit down and start writing, and you'll be surprised how much of the result is good stuff. Martin Amis just said "I want to have written a novel."

I went to school with someone who, at age 15 was a published semi-professional writer of science fiction. Apparantly I appear as a character in one of his long short stories - as "the fairly intelligent man who's trying to be very intelligent." He said the one thing a writer needs is "human compassion".

On the one hand, I have very little sympathy for or interest in the vast majority of the human species. On the other, he said I should definitely try to get my stories about telepathy and time-travel published, 'cos they were good. Incidentally, I was 20 at the time - but that's another story.

So, I have one day to figure out what a writer is, and whether I am one. Or could be one, depending on what it is. Or would be the kind of one that I'd want to read if I decided I was.

One thing I'm sure about: Novels about existential crises and people on a quest for their own identity bore the hell out of me.

Scaramouche, Scaramouche


There's a line from the first made Star Wars movie which has always stuck with me. It went something like: "Who is more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him?"

I suggest an alternaive, more appropriate to the prequels I still haven't seen: "Who is wasting their time more? The idiot on youtube or the one who tries to correct him?"

To help you answer this vital question, here are three youtubic 'debates' from my inbox:


On Objectivism

Chaaarge: I think the philosophy itself makes plenty of sense. The alternative to life is death, so if we want to truly live, we must hold life as our moral standard, therefore, things promoting life are good, and sacrifice is bad. This makes altruism evil. Seems logical to me

Kapitano: Interesting how randians can never explain themselves without redefining words as they go - and then pointing to the new definitions as proof of their argument.

Chaaarge: what are the words I have redefined?

Kapitano: Life, death, promote, sacrifice, altruism and evil.


On Science:

zico739: I acknowledge scientific data, long as it does not contradict to the Bible.

Kapitano: According to the bible, the ratio of diameter to circumference of a circular wall is exactly three.

You therefore deny all geometry, and therefore engineering, astronomy...and the mathematics involved in designing the computer where you typed that comment. Congratulations, your comment denies its own existence.

zico739: whats so right about the bible and what does the bible say about the ratio of a diameter..

Kapitano: 2 Chronicles 4:2

Zeta739: there is nothing in the bible that explain oure excistens

Kapitano: Um...the book of Genesis?


On Theology:

onceuponapriori: I believe in the virgin birth, provisionally.

Kapitano: Surely you know about the Alma/Betulah/Parthenos problem? That the Hebrew word for 'young woman' was mistranslated into the Greek for 'virgin'. It's on every christian theology syllabus worth the name - and it's always instructive to watch students' reactions to it.

strugglinalong: The Alma/Betulah/Parthenos "problem" has never been a forefront issue because we have no documents to suggest that Hebrew scribes ever dicredited or debated Parthenos.

Kapitano: You seem to be confusing Hebrew scribes with Greek translators centuries later.

strugglinalong: The real issue is the inclusion in the lineage of Mark and Luke. This particular "problem" is anything but.

Kapitano: *Matthew* and Luke actually. And it's two problems - the incompatibility of two lineages, and the questions of why Joesph's lineage should matter at all if he wasn't Jesus's father.

strugglinalong: No, the Septuigent was in distribution some 200 years before the birth of Jesus. It's original scribes were Hebrew scribes, not Greek translators. The obvious error I made above was to site Mark in stead of Matthew. No, the contention stands. The Alma/Parthenos "problem" is no real problem at all.

Kapitano: The word 'Septuagint' (note spelling) was a koine Greek translation of what we now call the Old Testament. The translation issues of Mary's virginhood are obviously of the New Testament - whose translations of terms from Hebrew to Greek (eg Meshiah > Christos) may or may not reflect errors fossilised from the Septuagint.

strugglinalong: teh Hebrew alma and betulah mean young lady, as in not mariied (virgin)

Kapitano: So two words each have always the same three meanings? Amazing.

strugglinalong: the Greek Septuigent was clearly in circulation some 200 to 250 years before Christ

Kapitano: You evidently think this is relevant, and contested.

strugglinalong: The area of question (not concern) is why Matthew and Luke add the narrative. Your argument needs to be abandoned.

Kapitano: Obviously it should concern you, because it entails a contradiction at the heart of christology.


I hope things are clearer now.

It's Good to Talk


Before I delete them, here are the last 12 month's comments on my old - and empty - yotube channel, presented for your edification:

TaqiyyaExposer: Ow so you're either a fucking Muslim or an absolutely hardliner leftist. Either way, may you die slowly and painfully.

zailaach: you must be a liberal lunatic who just sits on his ass probably wayy too gay and lazy to work, lives on welfare, and from the sound of his comments definitely a drug dealer or some sort, I honestly feel bad for you, what a sad way of living, Get a job and be useful instead of stealing my tax money and be pathetic have a good life !!!!

CoDeNaMeCrZyChCk: JESUS LOVES YOU!!!! You may not love Jesus back, but guess what he still died for you.

CoDeNaMeCrZyChCk: You're an old geezer.

MaIcoImZieI: Chose God.

Celovath: The mainstream beholders has you by the balls...Later dude.

penisfuckeye: "Gallup polls" are fabricated.

xxNephlimxx: im am the smartest one on here. gays are dumb.

xa25: loser faggot

xa25: go suck on a tail pipe faggot

other9421ify: great channel


"The camera is a not just a recording device but a looking device."
- Jean Luc Goddard



"We need to fear people who love systems more than people."
- Naomi Klein

"Correct...behave...police...machine."
- EBN



"If you have to ask what it symbolises, it doesn’t."
- Roger Ebert



"If you have to announce that you’re a genius, you aren’t a genius."
- PZ Myers



"Never mind the conclusions, what’s the evidence?"
- Mark Lieberman



"No democratic delusion is more fatuous than that which holds that all men are capable of reason, and hence susceptible to conversion by evidence."
- HL Mencken

Snuff 'n' Stuff


I've been reading the latest Terry Pratchett - a police procedural titled 'Snuff'. Which means I've had the curious sensation of a book which irritates the hell out of me, but which I still enjoy reading.

I stopped being a fan of 'PTerry' more than a dozen books ago, when he started to believe the reviewers who insisted he wasn't 'only' a humorist - he was a Serious Writer dealing with Weighty Issues. So now we get a lot fewer jokes, a lot more characterisation...and Issues.

The Issue here seems to be class war - or rather the fantasy that there are three kind of people in the world: Poor idiots, rich idiots, and implacable heroes who are somehow outside matters of rich and poor, looking in, understanding everything, being cynical about it but fixing the problems caused by everyone else being an idiot. Using methods that are of course justified because it's the hereos using them.

The heroes are: The coppers. Police - incorruptible, unstoppable, serving only justice. 'Snuff' is a fantasy in more than one sense.

Pratchett is actually a very good writer - in the sense that his mastery of sentence and paragraph structure, pacing and plot, metaphor and expression are highly impressive.

It's just the Message behind the story, which is anviliciously and repeatedly hammered home. The notion that society needs lone heroes accountable only to their own (miraculously blemishless) conscience. The message is both pernicious and nonsensical - and I rather get the impression that the author is slipping into writing books to get messages across, rather than to tell a story.

Pratchett recently presented a very good, serious documentary on assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Obviously there are no coherent arguments against euthanasia, and he wasted little time demolishing the pretend ones. But he made some excellent points - especially that in the case of degenerative brain disease, a person who has the intellectual capacity to chose instant painless death to escape a lingering painful one...is by definition not yet at the point where their life isn't worth living. If you want to chop off the pointless part of your life, you also have to chop of some of the good part.

Exactly why a multi-millionaire comic fantasy writer should be the one to tell us what any intelligent thirteen year old could work out in the programme's running time, I'm not sure. Maybe Dame Stephen Fry wasn't available.

But it's never good when we rely on professional light entertainers to do our thinking for us. And it's never good when they start to enjoy the role.

Knock Knock


I did a seance once. It was at school, after lunch at one in the afternoon - in the 'Special Needs Department'. I never quite figured out why everyone wanted to spend lunchtime in 'Special Needs' aka 'Remedial', but the Lego bricks and ghetto blaster might have something to do with it.

The reasoning of the other boys was that the dead would be best summoned by someone who didn't believe in an afterlife. Yes, that's what I thought.
But it did involve holding hands with two other boys as we linked around the table, so I did my best.

Evidently the dead weren't impressed by my efforts at tearing the veil or putting on a floaty, distant voice. Perhaps I should have tried impersonating someone's grandmother?

Anyway, Walter De La Mare has a better seance story.



"The psychopath never dates."
- JG Ballard

Children of the Night

An idea's just popped into my head:

There's an attitude which says "There's a universe of strange stuff out there."...and after a pause adds "It's terrifying!". That's horror.

There's also an attitude which presupposes the same universe but adds, "Wow, let's explore!". That's science fiction.

And somewhere in between there's an attitude which adds "We must civilise it!". That's...bad science fiction. AKA, most science fiction.

It's commonplace that horror and scifi (and fantasy and porn) blend into each other at the edges, but what I'm suggesting here is a sliding scale, something like this:

Cowering in terrorLovecraft
Resigned to horrorPoe
Defensive warBattlestar Gallactica
Star Trek DS9
Alien
Star Wars
Kill all bugsStarship Troopers
Predator
Invasion of the Bodysnatchers
Civilising the nativesStar Trek TOS
Enterprise
Planet of the Apes
Enlightened empireEE Doc Smith
Orson Scott Card
Babylon 5
Star Trek TNG
Cute childlike aliensSpace Precinct
Mork & Mindy
Peaceful coexistence2001


And now, the next time you've got three and a half hours to spare, see if you can figure out where Bram Stoker's Dracula fits on the scale.

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."
- Christopher Hitchens

Home, Sick


I live in a faded town by the sea, where by night you can see strange not-quite-human figures stumbling about, muttering in their strange language.

If you have two and a quarter hours to spare, HP Lovecraft has the details.



"I want the world to be filled with fluffy little ducks."
- Darek Jarman

Two Eyes and a Mouth


Dolls, clowns, and shapes that almost form human features. Odd how fun faces are unsettling when you're not having fun.





Flashes


Three short horror stories from me, and one from MR James. Which one do you like best?

1.

Imagine you could do the one thing you want to do most of all. Now imagine you could never do anything else.

2.

There's a man standing in our garden. He's been there all day and all night, facing away and never moving.

I want to go out and ask him who he is, what he wants. But what if he doesn't answer?

What if he does?

3.

I looked in the mirror, but I'm not sure if the one looking back was me.

They smashed the mirror.

4.



"The true traditionalist is always a revolutionary zealot in conflict with pharisian society."
- Arthur Koestler

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

Corkscrewed


On this the third day of my completely arbitrary countdown to a festival I've never taken part in. On this my third post loosely inspired by the subject of fear...

I have never seen the point of fairground rides. I've been on a ferris wheel, and it felt exactly like slowly going around in a big circle. I've been in a dodgem car, and it felt exactly like slowly gliding around, deliberately banging into strangers - a bit like gatecrashing a party where everyone's taken both barbituates and cocaine.

But the 'real' rides are the ones supposed to be scary. The ones that spin you round like a record baby, drop you vertically like being dumped in a text message from the love of your life, or throw you sideways like, well, like the love of your life used to do to your emotions before they did you a favour by dumping you.

I've been persuaded to try one or two. They didn't inspire fear. They didn't make me throw up. They weren't exciting. They were just rather unpleasant, and quite annoying. Like falling downstairs, or some idiot opening a car door just in time for your bicycle to crash into it.

And so on the subject of not being afraid, and being dumped, today's story is called 'Lost Hearts'.



What is that Ominous Sound?


150 years ago, ghost stories were scary. I mean, really scary - even though there was nothing to be scared of except vague hints that something otherworldly was hidden but close.

They can still be unsettling - just as unseen footsteps behind you on a dark night can be unsettling - but I don't think even a young child could find them terrifying, not now.

The Hound of the Baskervilles used to be a gothic horror story thinly disguised as a detective puzzle. Now it's a quaint detective puzzle with even quainter gothic elements.

Some say we've seen too much non-fictional horror - world wars, smaller wars that last decades, genocide and natural disasters - for the dimly glimpsed incomprehensible other to be scary. Parallel realities, shape-shifting lizards secretly controlling the world. godlike aliens - if anything, these are romantic notions now.

But surely there was plenty of real-life horror in 1901 when Doyle wrote about the hound. Cholera, starvation, infant death, industrial accidents and gangs of violent criminals were more common in developed countries then than they are now. So I'm not sure.

It's clear we can and do enjoy James, Poe, Lovecraft etc today. So either we enjoy them in a completely different way, or we're not so different from out great-grandparents as we thought.



"Life begins when you’re ready to face it."
- Fad Gadget

Bump in the Night


Shall we have a countdown to Halloween?

If this were America, I could go out trick-of-treating as one of the current batch of Republican senators - begging for noms and nominations. They're certainly scarier than your average movie about an axe murderer chasing a teenager around a basement in her bra and panties.

Though axe murderers in their bra and panties are pretty scary.

Anyway, I've got a small clutch of classic ghost stories, starting with some by the great MR James. Here's the first, and it's back to school.



"The opposite of coercion is not freedom, but connection."
- Martin Buber

His Captain's Voice


I'm trying a little experiment on youtube, and we'll see how far it goes.

The BBC make much of their content available to stream or download for seven days after broadcast. And did you know that if you were to setup your computer to download all the radio drama, comedy, documentaries and readings - but not music and news programmes - for a year, it'd take about 200GB? I know this because that's what I've been doing.

In a few decades time I will most likely be sitting in a cold, unpleasant room with nothing to do and no money - but hopefully with an electricity supply, some kind of computer and a device for playing AAC files into my ears. And if anything drives me insane I'm determined it won't be boredom.

Radio is the traditional companion of the elderly and the bankrupt, so while I've got no money to save up, I can at least save up some company. But in the meantime, why not share some of it around?

This week, starting with some enjoyably kitsch Sci-fi....















"God doesn't write books."
- Muhammad Sven Kalisch

"A moralist is someone who lectures on the vices of which he has grown bored."
- Oscar Wilde

"Being ridiculous is a dirty job, but if someone has to do it, it might as well be me."
- Cher

Bet You Can't Eat Three


There's a book on how to blog interestingly, called 'No One Cares What You Had For Lunch'. Quite right too.

So here's what I had for breakfast and supper. Breakfast was:

1) A wheetabix with olive-oil-themed butter-substitute, and mother's home made aprocot jam.


2) Another one with mother's home made lime jam.


There were also batches of lemon jam, apricot & apple jam, and a slightly mysterious 'fruit' jam, but these failed to set. So my ever inventive mother got a lot of wine-making equipment out of the cellar...and soon I shall know what lemon wine tastes like.

3) One with with greek yoghurt.


4) A cup of tea with lemon and lime juice. Or possibly horse urine - it's hard to tell from the picture.


I'm informed that only a gay man would put lemon and lime in their PG Tips. I beg to differ - only a gay man would have a kitchen implement specifically to squeeze lemons and limes for their PG Tips. My straight image is intact.


Supper is about to be:

1) What is apparently called a 'bed' of lettuce, a slightly lonely sardine, and chedder cheese - to give to the dogs when they sit under me and hintingly wag their tails. Oh, and a dollop of that great contradiction in terms, low fat mayonnaise.


2) I'm getting sophisticated and posh, so there's a second course. A different brand of greek yoghurt, with a little syrup. Or possibly horse urine again, it's hard to tell visually.


I did have an offer to have, erm, sausage for supper. With a creamy filling, if you catch my meaning. But I decided I'd much rather stay in, read my Lenin, and watch some old spy serials on youtube. My straight image is still intact. I must be getting middle-aged and boring - or else respectable, which is much the same thing.

Besides, if we wait till the weekend they'll be an actual bed available.

But in the meantime:

3) PG Tips with lemon. I've run out of lime.

"Out of sight and out of mind, are deadly traits when they’re combined."
- VNV Nation

"From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent."
- HP Lovecraft

"Educated men become communists chiefly for moral reasons."
- Whittaker Chambers

"The revolutionary's utopia [...] is always modeled on some image of the lost paradise."
- Arthur Koestler

"One does not fall in love with a woman, or enter the womb of a church, as a result of logical persuasion."
- Arthur Koestler

"On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog."
- Geoffrey K Pallum

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

"Good intentions and a spine is no guarantee against insanity."
- Encyclopedia of American Loons

"I’m the bad guy? How did that happen?"
- Michael Douglas

And a One, And a Two...


I was never much good at being a nerd. I've played Dungeons & Dragons exactly once, can't quote Star Trek scripts verbatim, and stopped reading superhero comics roundabout puberty.

But I can program computers a bit, I do read XKCD, and people often tell me I'm rude and insensitive - so that's something.

Today's nerdicule (defined as a particle of nerdery) came from a question: If I want to write a song of a particular target length, at a particular tempo, how many bars does that give me to play with - and by extension, how many verses, choruses, breaks etc. can I have, and how long can they be?

Well, the number of bars in a song is equal to the tempo in beats per minute, divided by the number of beats per minute, which is itself divided by the song length in minutes. In other words...

Bars per Song = Beats per Minute / (Beats per Bar / Minutes per Song)

There's usually four beats to the bar, so a three minute pop song at 120BPM gives...

Bars per Song = 120 / (4 / 3) = 90

But rather than work it out each time, how about a lookup table? The X axis is tempo, and Y is song length.


2m2m 30s3m3m 30s4m4m 30s5m
80405060708090100
85435364748596106
904556687990101113
954859718395107119
10050637588100113125
10553667992105118131
11055698396110124138
115587286101115129144
120607590105120135150
125637894109125141156
1356884101118135152169
1407088105123140158175
1457391109127145163181
1507594113131150169188


The irony is, it took longer to work out how to make the table than to work out the equation.

"There’s a springtime in your life when you think it should add up and make sense, and an autumn when you think, the hell with it, anything can happen."
- Roger Ebert

"A sense of humor always withers in the presence of the messianic delusion, like justice and truth in front of patriotic passion"
- Henry Louis Mencken.

"The cake is a lie."
- Internet Rule #66

"Experiences can always be explained away."
- Karl Popper

"You can’t con a man into selling his soul when his soul is the only thing he values."
- Zack Handlen

"When the United States was actually ‘the greatest’ on this planet, no one needed to say it over and over again."
- Tom EngelHardt

"When you once believed something that now strikes you as absurd, even unhinged, it can be almost impossible to summon that feeling of credulity again."
- Margarat Talbot

Simple Pleasures


I'm not what you would call any of these things:

  • Healthy - A big bag of deep friend chips, with a jumbo bar of chocolate to follow. That's my idea of eating out.

  • Athletic - Run for a bus? How?

  • Thin - I'm something like 230 pounds, with a discernible cleavage. I've met exactly one man who found male cleavages attractive - and he had an impressive one himself.

  • Sensual - Other people like to look at mountains and flowers. I'm more interested in geology and botany.

  • A drug user - In my life I've tried ecstasy once - a gift from someone who'd decided to give it up and had one tab left. I spent three hours wondering at how red the roses were, and how musical ringtones had suddenly become.

    I've been given speed twice - and both times tried to have sex while on it. The first was brilliant and amazing, the second a dismal failure.

    This apparently is normal with amphetamines. Though Ted Haggard managed.

  • A dancer - I actually quite enjoy dancing, I'm just absolutely hopeless at it. Imagine a walrus having a seizure, and you're probably close.

  • Especially cheerful - I quite enjoy TV and radio comedy. I just very rarely laugh our loud about anything.


So, with my general level of health making me depressed, I decide to try to dance and be athletic so as to get thinner and healthier. The problem being I've got all the stamina and willpower of a sloth on a Jersey Shore marathon.

The obvious solution? Drugs! The kind which let you use up all of tomorrow's energy in a frantic two hour burn today - provided you have no plans for tomorrow.

But no one's dealing drugs anymore, on account of idiotic laws pandering to the passionately ignorant voters. So...legal drugs!

I tried drinking six cups of insanely strong coffee...and fell asleep. I tried a bottle of guarana pills...and fell asleep.

So I got some Floradrene, in the form of 'Hummer' pills, available at GBP10 (EUR11.5, USD15.5) for 4, at all good shops with yin/yang symbols in the window and middle-aged women with hair in multicoloured braids at the counter. You know the type.

The first two items in the ingredients list are caffeine and guarana, so I'm not expecting to be impressed. I swallow a hummer and go out for a brisk stroll. Forty minutes later I'm exhausted from my stroll, and sitting on a bench like a big fat lump, getting my big fat breath back.

Then quite suddenly after twenty minutes I'm...jogging! And jumping! And (back home behind a firmly closed door) dancing! It's still like the spasming walrus, but I can do it for ten minutes at a time!

An hour of this, and I'm covered in sweat, breathing hard, and coming down. There's no trippy sensations, no enhanced senses, no feeling of oneness with the universe, no craving for twice your own body weight in biscuits, and no compulsion to talk vast streams of utter horseshit at anyone and everyone.

At least I don't think there is, because I'm leaning against a wall with my shirt off, cooling down and...

...the last time I was pressed against a wall for any length of time was fifteen or so years ago, and I was drunk and being buggered by a man who looked suspiciously like a certain TV celebrity. He was loving it and I was patiently waiting for him to finish, so I could get off the cold, damp, comfortless concrete.

I think he was drunk too, as he was informing the empty air that "This guy's got a great arse! Really tight!". Which was nice to hear.

This time I must have spent 15-20 minutes resting alone against the wall. Enjoying its coolness, breathing in the faint musky smell which I'd never notice before. On impulse I...licked the wall, kissed it, and continued to taste it for several minutes.

The way the light played on the irregularities of the surface, the gradations of colour, the sound of an aircraft overhead, mixing with someone's stereo far away blasting dance music. The feel of my own skin and the sound of my own breath.

Need I emphasise: This is not like me. I don't do touchy-feely, least of all with inanimate objects. I don't even like to kiss people.

It was, well, sexy. But not genital - more like a whole body sensation. When people talk about enjoying what their senses give them - taking in a sunset, sipping a wine - is that what they mean?

None of the reviews I'd read of 'Hummers' mentioned this. But the endorphin rush which some athletes report - but most dispute - sounds a lot like it.

It's now exactly midnight, three hours since I took the pill. I'm wide awake, thirsty, and I've a feeling my muscles are all going to ache tomorrow.

So there you have it. In order to not die of a heart attack in middle age, I have become a drug taking pervert with a fondness for walls.

Life is full of surprises.

"There can't be a practical reason for believing what isn't true."
- Bertrand Russell

"A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell."
- George Bernard Shaw

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

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

"Religion is easy."
- Muhammed

"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

Banking Off


Here are the three ways I can find out how much money I have in my bank account:

1) Open my latest bank statement, and check the figure at the bottom. This is accurate to the last fortnight.

2) Walk to the ATM, insert my debit card, type my PIN, and read the numbers. This is accurate to the last four days.

3) Switch on a computer, load up a browser, go to my bank's website, type in my 10 digit identification code, then three digits from my security number, then the answer to my security question.

Now, I had a choice of 6 security questions, including such universally applicable queries as "What is your first child's name?" and "What is your favourite restaurant?". Considering that I'm inexplicably childless and not pretentious or rich enough to eat out more than once a year, I'm left wondering what kind of question setter thinks everyone has a favourite restaurant.

Presumably it's the one you go to with your life partner when you've hired a nanny to look after your first child, in your gated community.

Anyway, having entered all this, I get out the credit-card sized 'digipass' device which the bank have sent me, tell it my PIN (but not the one I use at the ATM), and type the 6 figure code (different each time) it generates into the webpage.

Ah, but what if I've forgotten which was my favourite restaurant at the time I set up the security question? Fear not, because then I click the 'Forgotten your memorable answer?' link, do the rigmarole with the digipass widgit, and answer another two security questions.

These are things like 'Who was your best friend at school?' and 'What is the name of your pet?'. Considering most people had several best friends throughout their schooldays, and most pet-owners have owned more than one pet, this is just as well thought out as the rest of the process.

There is then a third security question, but this one's called the 'Memorable Q&A'. And then there's a mysterious 'confirmation' process which I haven't yet explored. But then I can see my bank details.

Ah, but what if I've somehow forgotten the 10 digit code the bank assigned to me? Then I click the 'Forgotten Internet Banking ID?' link, and type my 6 digit sort code and my 8 digit account number, or my 16 digit debit card number...and then do the business with the digipass doobry and the security questions.

So, for internet banking all I need to have is:
* 1 ID code of 10 digits
* 1 security number of 6 digits
* Answers to 4 security questions that don't apply to me
* 1 PIN of 4 digits, in addition to the one I use at the ATM
* 1 sort code of 6 digits
* 1 account code of 8 digits
* 1 debit card code of 16 digits
* 1 breakable little handheld device

With all that, I can read the digital version of my latest bank statement.

Which is accurate to the last fortnight.