Happy Halloween. At the mountains of madness.

The Hills are Alive.

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


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


"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
Star Wars
Kill all bugsStarship Troopers
Invasion of the Bodysnatchers
Civilising the nativesStar Trek TOS
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.


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


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


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?


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

They smashed the mirror.


"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


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

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