Category Archives: Blog

My blog and occasional comment on current affairs.

Map of the Dead

The Map of the Dead

If you are anything like me you will have (incredibly sensibly) planned what you are going to do when the inevitable zombie apocalypse occurs. My plan involves leather, shotguns, and a castle. In case you are just starting your plan some genius on the internet has just made your job easier. He has made a google map specifically for surviving the zombie outbreak. It is genius.

The Map of the Dead shows you where the nearest essentials are. Things like the nearest camping shop, chemist, hospital, supermarket and so forth. It also shows where the nearest cemeteries are, which is pretty important. I love when people wisely spend their time doing shit like this. The map would work for any kind of apocalypse – it’s just that zombies are cooler. Also, didn’t the Mayans predict a zombie outbreak? Click here for the map.

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Pac-man the movie

I just thought I would share this with you. It’s pretty cool. Not brilliant as such but I just like the fact that someone has gone to so much effort to make stuff like this. I should also clarify, before you lose 6 minutes of your life, that this is a fan made film. It isn’t a real movie trailer or anything. Enjoy.

 

The slow boat to Luang Prabang. Part Three

 

Pakbeng. To summarize: Nice enough.

Pakbeng is a small and not particularly brilliant little town. It was clearly just a little village that was fortunate enough to be roughly half way between Houie Xai and Luang Prabang. It exists as it is now because of the boat. The hotels and guesthouses are fine for a night, but in comparison to most places are pretty shit. Our hotel was ok for £10 a night, but you could get a better deal pretty much anywhere in Thailand outside Bangkok. And we were in Laos, which is even cheaper. But it was perfectly adequate for 1 night, so I won’t grumble. The town has beer, ok food, and sold pillows and baguettes. I happily bought a pillow.

The next day we were up at dawn and the Mekong looked stunning below our balcony in the morning light. The evening before I had been dreading the second half of the trip but despite the solid bed and bizarrely huge and rock hard pillows in our room, I found myself eager for the trip. The boat was due to leave at 9am, so at 8am we loaded up on baguettes, and snagged some great cloth-covered seats at the front left hand side of the boat. My buttocks loved the added comfort of the pillow.

 

Ignoring the wires, the view from our hotel balcony was stunning.

Pakbeng has some nice views.

The morning was the aforementioned ‘bracing’ and when the boat left at the crack of 9:35, everyone was wrapped up in jackets. The day and the view then proceeded to be pretty identical to the one before. The difference this time was that the temperature remained superb until about 2pm. The scenery remained spectacularly beautiful. Our new improved seats were similarly awesome. We were so content and comfortable we celebrated with a Beerlao at 11am. Others on the boat were enjoying Sangsom Whisky and coffee which was pretty damned civilized of them.

The boat was a nicer one on the second day for some reason. The lady selling snacks, coffee and beer at the back even had a little counter. The toilet was nicer as well although I was still pleased not to have to sit on it. This was fortunate as we were supposed to be on the boat for at least 8 hours. Or thereabouts. We were originally told we would get to Luang Prabang at 4pm. Someone near us said that they had heard 3pm and someone else said 5pm.

At about 4pm I saw something I recognised. The Pak Ou caves. I had been there before on a boat rented from Luang Prabang. The caves are at the foot of massive cliff and are filled with thousands of Buddha statues. It’s pretty cool and well worth a visit. I confidently predicted another 10 minutes or so which was a mighty relief as everyone was getting a bit fed up again. It is a long time to be sitting in boat, no matter how gorgeous your surroundings.

Same old gorgeous Mekong

Over an hour later, there it was. Luang Prabang at last. A finger of raised land that sticks into the confluence of the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. I could see temples and bars all along its side high above the river. It looked like the promised land. It looked lovely and relaxing. The only negative aspect was that, like around northern Thailand, the locals think it is an awesome idea to burn down half the forest. It makes farming easier and if that means a few people choking to death, what the hell. On the plus side, the smoky atmosphere made for some spectacular sunsets. The whole area is beautiful.

The looks didn’t deceive. Luang Prabang remains awesome. The trip was worth it.

You might cough up your lungs but the smoke makes for a nice evening.

In case you navigated to part 3 by accident, part 1 is here.

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The slow boat to Luang Prabang. Part Two.

Our boat was due to leave Huay Xai at 11am and it was hot already. Easily over 30 celsius. Given that we were in Laos I was fairly surprised at the efficiency of the crew and the fact that we left just after 11:30. (I’m not being sarcastic, I have been to Laos before and timetables are like indecipherable hieroglyphs.) The first couple of hours you cruise down the Mekong with Laos on your left and Thailand on your right. The scenery is pretty with the occasional concrete or wooden village on each side of the low banks. Once the river turns off into Laos itself the banks rise a bit higher and eventually so do the hills behind. The riverbanks alternate between cool igneous looking rocks and white sandy beaches. Most of these beaches are deserted but occasionally you see wild buffalo lying in the sand chewing, flicking their tails and generally looking happy with their lot. At first everyone leapt up to take photos, but the novelty soon wore off.

Village, rock, sand and a bit of undergrowth on fire. This sums up most of the river.

In the hills among the jungle there are occasional villages perched on the slopes made out of wood, the houses raised up on stilts. Occasionally some of these villagers need a lift. The Mekhong river is their only way of getting around as the roads are pretty poor or non-existent. They will plant a white flag on a prominent part of beach or rock and the boat will pull in and the villagers clamber aboard and sit on plastic stools in the aisles. Usually the boat pulls into another village to let them off, but occasionally a smaller craft will pull up alongside and the passenger will transfer themselves and (usually) their tons of things into the moving boat.  It’s pretty impressive.

Laos villagers hitching a ride

Typical Laos village with locals waiting for a lift

There is a lot of talk about rivers being a ‘lifeline’ to somewhere, or that it is the ‘beating heart’ of a place. A lot of that talk is fairly valid but less so these days. In olden times the Thames for example, brought trade and wealth to London. While there is still some trade and money being made by the Thames, it is now mostly a place where Londoners can erect tourist attractions or, if you are bastard rich, even live next to. Most Londoners don’t really need it as such in their day to day lives and can go months with even seeing it.

The Mekong really feels essential to the communities that live by it. Their life exists because of it. All along the river you see villages that exist, and continue to exist, purely due to the Mekong. There are fishermen standing waist deep in tshirts and swimming trunks casting their nets by hand. There are bamboo fishing rods tied to rocks throughout its length (either the same fishermen with the nets or a really lazy guy having a nap). There are even a lot of people panning for gold, which caught me off guard and gave me a flash of avarice until I saw how clearly unsuccessful they must be given their obvious poverty. I guess they found enough gold to just about survive.

Buffalo and fishing boats

By about 3:30pm the heat was at its maximum. Even the buffalo were in the river at this point, their horned heads just visible along the water. I don’t know if the kids went to school (I doubt it), but on the beaches and rocks below each village there were scores of them playing in the Mekong. Some were starkers, some were in trunks, some in trunks and tshirts. They all seemed happy and waved, shouted and occasionally posed for photos as our boat carried on by. On one group of rocks a bunch of teenagers waved and started diving into the water. By this point, I was feeling a bit hot and cramped. I had a Lao girl on a plastic stool pressed against me on my left, Nim on my right, and a hot plastic seat welded beneath me. Even constant cans of Beerlao failed to make me feel better. I envied those kids.

From 5pm onward the temperature thankfully began to drop. It now seemed to be adult time by the river and we passed small groups of villagers having their evening bath in the river. Men in swimming trunks and women wrapped in Lao embroidered skirts were soaping up and washing their parts all along the bank. I generally tried to avert my gaze when a group of ladies were washing but when they all waved at the boat I thought, bollocks to this, and took some photos and waved back. Everyone seemed very chilled and relaxed.

Even though we were uncomfortable, it's hard not to like this

By half past five everyone was pretty eager to get off. Even the pillow gang were uncomfortable and those of us in the back, full of Beerlao and stuck to our seats, were doubly keen. The sun was surprisingly low on the horizon and was gorgeous and we knew we were nearly there. Shortly after 5:30pm, we thankfully pulled into Pakbeng.

The moment our boat touched ashore, the touts were on us. It was like being boarded by overly friendly pirates. Thankfully we had booked ahead and waved them off. We wearily headed up to town and I predictably headed for a Beerlao.

Here endeth part two… In part three – we make it!

 

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The slow boat to Luang Prabang. Part One.

Our journey began in the mountains an hour outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand. My group consisted of myself, my wife Nim, my mother-in-law (Nim’s mum), her friend, a guide (who happened to be a student of Nim’s mum and was a local Chiang Rai businessman), and another guide who was from Laos. A lot of guides I know but they also happened to be friends, so it was pretty relaxed.

The view from our balcony. It is a bit hazy.

We were staying in a resort owned by another student of my mother-in-law (he was also tourist police so we felt pretty safe) called the Maenam resort and a bloody nice place it was too. Our balcony overlooked undulating jungle covered hills and fields. It was downright peaceful and relaxing. The view was hindered somewhat by the fact that half the mountain was on fire due to the annual slash and burn but It was beautiful there despite the smoky haze and falling ash. We drove two hours from here to town of Chiang Kong and had a quick breakfast of crispy pork, rice and chilli (awesome) before hitting the local market. We bought a chicken (a dead and cooked one) and some sticky rice and we were good to go.

The first stop was Thai customs which consisted of a small building by a dusty track that led to the river. It took about a minute to be allowed out of the country. Then, there before us, was the mighty river Mekong! Stretching from Tibet to Vietnam via China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. We jumped on a tiny and unnecessarily low boat that took us across the sluggish, brown (but mighty!) river. A perilous minute later and we were in Laos. I love travelling overland, it seems a lot more civilised than all the shite you get at airports. The next step was to get a visa at the Laos border office. This took about 10 minutes and for no reason at all included two queues – one to get the visa and one to pay for it. You are supposed to have a passport photo but for the unprepared, like myself, they will scan your passport for $1, which is actually cheaper than if I had gotten a passport photo in the UK. Fortunately the windows are next to each other and I didn’t actually have to move. The visa took a couple of minutes, during which time the border guards chatted to my Thai wife. It was either because they were curious about her having married a farang, or because they were chatting her up. Either way, it made the process fast and friendly.

Ahead of us is Laos. Thankfully our vessel was just up to the job. Just.

 

This is an international border crossing. Laos style.

 

The throbbing metropolis of Huay Xai. Pretty much all of it.

We were now Laos, in a small town called Houie Xai, although the spelling varies (Huay Xai being another). My mum actually came here in the 60s during the war. Officially the war never visited to Laos but that, excuse my Laotian, is well known to be bollocks. In fact war did visit and it overstayed its visa and behaved pretty badly throughout its stay. My mum hitched rides all over Laos with either aid workers or CIA agents (sometimes the same person). When she was there the town was called Ban Houie Sai. It is a tiny place that now seems to exist purely for the border crossing and as a place to buy tours and Beer Lao. From here we were driven through the brown and dusty streets to the pier where our ‘luxury boat’ awaited.

I may be a soft city type but it wasn’t that luxurious. But it wasn’t too bad either. A better term would be simply ‘boat’. It was about 80 feet long and there were probably about 100 of us. There were two seats on each side separated by a narrow walkway. This averagely luxurious vessel was to be our transport for the next two days. I could smoke and they sold large chilled bottles of Beer Lao, so I was confident I could survive the trip.

Our fairly magnificent averagely luxurious boat.

First off, here is my advice if you are going to do this trip:

Arrive a bit early. Although it is supposed to be allocated seats, it isn’t. This is Laos and nothing is that organised. The boats vary, but on ours the first half of the boat had quite comfortable seats with a cloth covering and the second half had plastic.

Try and sit on the left hand side as you are facing the front. Or the ‘port’ side if you are a nautical type, you salty sea dog. This way you will avoid most of the sun. We were in plastic covered seats in the sun and it became a tad uncomfortable in the sweaty buttock region after a few hours. Sadly there are no photos of that.

Bring a pillow. A huge group of Scandinavians got on all carrying pillows. At first we mocked them (in a friendly way) and dubbed them the ‘pillow gang’ because we are so damned witty. Four hours later as my arse fused to the seat, I realised they were pretty wise. Bastards.

Bring a jacket or something warm. This may seem laughable at first when you are sitting in 35 Celsius sunshine but by the end of the first day, it can get downright chilly. The early hours of the following day are definitely brisk and bracing and other alliterative cold words like brrr (both alliterative AND onomatopoeic – woohoo). Then it gets bloody hot again.

Bring some food. You can buy pot noodles, crisps and biscuits on board but you will envy those with the foresight to bring baguettes. Or a chicken.

Wear thick sandals, shoes or preferably Wellington boots as the toilet can be a bit iffy and there are lots of bad shots on a swaying boat. The toilet on the second day was much better, so the unpleasantness seems a bit random. Good luck.

Owing to lots of photos and general waffling I have decided to split this up. Excitingly in the next installment – the actual trip…

The Mekong River

 

 

 

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Retirement in two years!

Hooray! Back to work!

Boohoo I’m back. Not just back in London but back at work. The first day of our return it predictably rained. To cap it all off, our heating is still broken so it was cold too. The following day was sunny – which sounds nice but actually sucked as I had to sleep due to my starting the first of five twelve hour nightshifts. To sum up the situation, it was all bollocks and might have lead to undignified self pity.

Fortunately I am a cheerful sort. Despite all the introspective, snivelling, spoilt, cry-baby-ness of my opening paragraph, I am in fact feeling refreshed and inspired! Even the teensiest bit of perspective helps me to realise what a selfish prick I would be if I wallowed in gloom – just look at what the majority of the rest of the planet put up with each day and here I am whingeing about my return after a 5 week holiday. That perspective and the fact that I have a huge TV rarely fail to provide an emotional lift when I feel a bit fed up. Nil carborundum illegitimi! Currently however, my (apparently mildly annoying) chirpyness comes from having a superb plan.

I turn 40 in a couple of months and apart from the uncontrolled and unmanly weeping I intend to do on the fateful day of the digit change, the rest of my year and those that follow will be epic. My wife said that we can go back and live in Thailand once I can prove that I can earn £1000 a year off the internet. You can live well out there for that amount and the money will only increase. I know that sounds like the opening premise of a sitcom where I go on to try whacky, yet hilarious things to hit my target but it is possible. My plan is fourfold:

1/ Write more. My eBook The Uneven Passage of Time (BUY IT IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY!) has had over 600 downloads and will hopefully continue to earn me money until I die or the internet does – and I intend to live until I’m 400 thanks to advances in science. So the more I write, the more money I will make. I will also write a lot more entries on my websites until they become huge and I get pissed of with the fame and pressure. (Most of these entries will be more interesting and less self absorbed than this one, I promise.) I also intend to write a fiction book before I hit 41.

2/ Keep trading. I am getting the hang of this buying and selling shares malarkey and am finally starting to make money off it. Big tip – when the stock market has a timidity spasm and drops massively, don’t shit yourself and sell everything. Hang in there.

3/ Poker. I am now consistently winning at online poker. Granted I am only taking part in games that cost $1 where most of the players are crap, but a year of constant play has honed my skills and I am now ready for the big time. The $3 game. Even if I just win £10 a day, I will be almost a third of the way toward my £1000 target. I confidently predict that within 2 years I will be able to call myself by a cool poker nickname. A decade or so after that, people may even call me by it.

4/ Write what I have just written. According to Professor Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds
(great book by the way), one method to help improve your chances of hitting self imposed targets is to tell people about them. This obviously doesn’t include drunkenly telling people that you are going to quit smoking and write a book while in the pub because I have been trying that for years. I feel that if I write my plan down somewhere more permanent for others to see – like a flickering group of pixels on a screen – then I am more likely to succeed. See, it has already worked. Part four of my plan is done already.

I won’t be tracking my progress in some lame girly way such as found in Bridget Jones’s Diary either. Oh no. I have gone for the more manly option of a spreadsheet on my iPad. It looks pretty awesome.

The target I have set myself is to have all this done by the age of 42. It is my lucky number (thank you Douglas Adams) and a good age to retire from the workplace. So in just over 2 years I should be writing, trading, and playing poker on my laptop in the warm tropics. It won’t be retirement as such, but I will be very happy indeed to spend the rest of my days avoiding the office and doing the things that I love.

Laptop on a lilo. I can't see anything wrong with plan.

 

 

My next gripping entries will all be about Thailand and Laos. Tropical adventure! Uncomfortable travel! Sweat! Similarly self-absorbed waffling as above but it will be informative, interesting, and will have pretty pictures. Probably.

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Hello from Luang Prabang

Dear wordofward readers,

I am now in the stunningly glorious Luang Prabang in the equally stunning and glorious country of Laos. It is astoundingly beautiful here. Luang Prabang is a World Heritage UNESCO site and rightly so. It is a town/small city located on a finger of land at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It has a dozen old but lovely temples and a million charming cafes and bars all set in French colonial architecture.

The trip here included: flying to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, taking a bus to the even more northern Thai city of Chiang Rai, driving from Chiang Rai to a town called Chiang Kong, taking a boat across the river to Huay Xai in Laos, then a day’s boat journey to a Lao town called Pak Beng, followed by a further day’s boat journey to Luang Prabang. If that sounds epic, I can confirm that it bloody well was. We did stop for a few days at places though.

The whole thing has been a simply superb trip and an incredible experience. I have been to Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang before but this time the trip has felt more of an adventure as we didn’t fly between the two. I danced in a traditional Thai square dance type deal, ate a few fried bugs, got drunk with a Vice Director of a Chiang Rai province two nights running, met the mayor, saw one of the coolest temples (it had plaster severed heads hanging outside), and had an incredible journey down the Mekong.

I would write more but the sun is setting over the Mekong and my Beerlao Dark (awesome but unavailable in Britain) is getting warm.

Nim and I fly back to Bangkok on the 9th and I should be able to post more blog entries WITH PICTURES soon.

Until then hang in there.

Hope you are missing me lots,
The Word of Ward

It’s freezing! (Damn airconditioning.)

Dear reader,
In case you are wondering why I haven’t replied to your messages, answered your calls,let the milk pile up, and generally not write much recently, it is because I am in Thailand. I was worried about letting you know this too much in advance because of the resentment this seemed to cause in my fellow shivering snow-bound Londoners when I mentioned it to them while huddled round a pub fire. ‘You prick’, seemed to be the general consensus if I happened to mention the over 30 Celsius weather conditions I was soon going to have to endure.
To give everyone credit, the people here in Bangkok do seem a lot happier than they did back home. Maybe it is the balmy warmth of the tropics, maybe it is the food, or maybe it issimply the fact that you can see their faces which are blissfully free of scarves and hats.
So I suppose I should apologise. Sorry for not writing and sorry for where I am. Let’s just pretend I am in London shall we?  Trembling and frozen in my broken-heatered flat. (I’ll turn the air-conditioning up.) Man it sucks here doesn’t it? All that cold and stuff! Brrr.
Anyway, I will write more imminently. I’m off for nice spicy er, pie.
Speak soon,

The Wordofward

Scientists dig to underwater Lost World

This is the stuff of classic Science Fiction. Except it’s real. 13,000 feet below the Antarctic ice sheets lies Lake Vostok – the third largest lake by volume on the entire planet. It has been buried down there for 20 million years. Russian scientists, (one of them undoubtedly a beautiful woman unless science fiction has steered me wrong,) have finally, probably, drilled to its surface through all that ice in the culmination of a 20 year project. This sort of thing is unbelievably awesome.

Weird deep sea creatures

So far we have found life everywhere there has been liquid water. Even places it was previously deemed impossible. It was assumed for ages that nothing could live at the bottom at sea but they finally went there and discovered a brilliant array of truly, utterly, weird and cool looking fish. If we can find life in Lake Vostok after it has been sealed below stunningly thick sheets of ice for 20 million years, then it seems pretty damn likely that we will find life inside Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Aliens!

As you can tell, I am pretty damned excited about this. What can be down there? Most likely it will be a lot of weird looking fish. Which will be fascinating. I am hoping that there is a whole civilisation down there like at the end ofThe Abyss
. Which is not so likely. Or possibly a giant sentient creature that feeds off all the fish and has lived there for millions of years. Or a frozen UFO with creatures inside like in The Thing
. Or, or… There are so many possibilities and cool possible story plots my mind is being boggled.

Who knows? It’s going to be cool finding out though.

Cthulu anyone?

Cthulu

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Scottish iPhone 4s

I wrote recently about some pranksters reprogramming an iPhone 4s in a shop so that it swore at a kid. It was pretty damn funny. I then talked about Siri in general and how how it seems genuinely handy and can even help you find a place to bury a dead body or get a blowjob. More monthly events than daily, but still pretty cool.

My Scottish mate then informed me that it isn’t quite so helpful in Scotland. Apparently Siri, like the rest of the world, finds it hard to understand the Scottish accent. It doesn’t understand simple phrases like ‘Hoots! Hoots! Och aye the noo’ at all! (Apologies to any Scottish readers, I’m just having a laugh.) In case you don’t believe me, just watch this funny video.

 

Dogs bark the Star Wars theme

This is genius! Not much more to add really. I saw this on some site or other and thought I would share it. Enjoy.
http://youtu.be/6ntDYjS0Y3w
 

It’s called an Americano

What follows is a pointless rant about coffee. I wrote it yesterday while hopped up on caffeine.

I’m writing this in a coffeeshop and quite frankly it sucks. First of all there are about ten kids running around shouting while their parents either remain oblivious to the noise and its affect on others’ enjoyment, or they stare at them proudly, occasionally looking up presumably hoping to catch someone’s eye so they can say, ‘Isn’t my child just wonderful?’ Selfish bastards.

What has made it worse though, is an argument amongst adults at the till. An older gentleman is insisting on a “coffee”.

“I just want a coffee,” he pleads.

“What sort?” the delightful Eastern European barista girl asks.

“Just, just a coffee! A normal coffee!”

“Do you mean an Americano?”

“I don’t know, just a normal coffee.”

This is an Americano

It isn’t the first time I’ve heard this discussion/exasperated argument and quite frankly it annoys me.

I did a bit of research. All I knew about coffee was that it apparently came from Ethiopa back in the era of yore. This is pretty much true. The Internet is vague on precisely when ‘yore’ was but let’s just say it was around 1500 and became popular in the city of Mocha. In the early 1600s it spread to Turkey and Italy and the rest of Europe. It arrived in the UK soon after but the first coffee house wasn’t until 1651 in Oxford. It then went mental and rapidly spread through awesome cities like London. Apparently it was a place where writers, scientists, and political dissidents went to chat. Isaac Newton held a series of coffee evenings to discuss the movement of the planets. Byron and Shelley used to hang out and talk about poetry and getting laid. It sounded brilliant. Now they are just full of bloody kids.

This is standard coffee

Anyway, the vast majority of coffee was simply ground beans with a small amount of hot water chucked in. It was thick and viscous and left a layer of sediment. Think Turkish coffee. It pretty much stayed like this until the early 20th century. During the first world war American troops got a bit fed up with the bitterness and strength of standard coffee and started to add an equal measure of hot water to this ‘standard’ and thus was born ‘the Americano’. In the 60s and 70s percolators and drip coffee became all the rage after a few decades of tea obsession. It is the generation born between 1920 and the mid 70s that tends to have this argument about standard coffee. It’s purely because they forgot its true name.

I was born in 1972 and had almost a decade of drinking this so called standard coffee. By that I mean paying £1 – £1.50 for a smallish cup of filter coffee. Most of the time the coffee was fucking awful as it had been stewing for (if you were lucky) a few hours.

Then, at the end of the 90s came the advent of modern coffeeshops. Boo! They introduced that most hated of things to – choice. You have to pick the size and the type! Apparently this choice is too much and things were better before.

Ok, as usual I have gone on a bit here. My point is that coffee used to be the sludgy stuff for about 400 years. Then, for about 80 years they added hot water to it. Now they have lots more choice.

So someone saying, “I just want a coffee, a normal coffee!” is just referring to coffee as it has been made since the Americans invented the Americano 100 years ago. In reality they are probably referring to coffee since the percolator and drip – 50 years ago.

I was annoyed by the argument for two reasons. One was the arrogance of the gentleman in thinking that the way coffee was made from his childhood until the late 90s (in this country not the rest of the world) is the norm, and that everyone should know this. 50 years out of a 500 year history. I’m giving the guy the benefit of the doubt in that he had never been to a coffeeshop since the millenium and had therefore had never been presented with this irksome agony of choice. It isn’t too hard to remember ‘Americano’, so presumably he won’t have this argument ever again.

The other was the barista for not admitting she had had this discussion a million times and just given the guy an Americano. When people say they just want coffee, you do know what they mean, even if it’s annoying. Just politely explain that it’s called an Americano and always has been and please remember that.

If it was me I would be tempted to chuck some ground coffee into a small cup, add a small amount of water and hand the thick matter to the guy. “Here is some standard coffee as drunk for 400 years. Enjoy it. You might need a spoon.”

Anyway, bollocks to this place. Coffeeshops are rubbish to sit in these days. I’m off to the pub. Where I will have a beer. Just a beer, a standard beer!

 

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Blood and rice crazed Chinese scientists create Blood Rice

Fields of blood. The good kind.

Well, China is up to mad-science-that-looks-cool-but-suspicious-from-space yet again. I previously wrote about the huge but weird things they are building in the desert here. (If you missed it, check it out, it’s awesome.) The difference this time is that we know what they are up to and it’s incredibly beneficial to all mankind. It also can’t be seen from space. Yet.

I’ll stop beating about the bush. Chinese scientists have invented Blood Rice. I know what you’re thinking. ‘At last! That’ll be delicious.’ Sadly it isn’t destined to be a black pudding/ rice pudding hybrid. Because this is human blood. At some point, probably over lunch, the scientists came up with the idea of embedding human genes into the DNA of rice. As you do. Unbelievably this crazy idea seems to work. This could lead to unlimited blood that is untainted by any of the possible nasties you can get from blood transfused from one of us nasty humans.

Obviously a bit more research needs to be done but it seems possible that there will soon be huge swathes of red covering large chunks of the globe. When I think of ‘Fields of Blood’ I usually think of battles from olden times (up to WW1), when warfare seemed to consist of large groups of men forming up and charging at each other, followed by horrendous and tragic loss of life.

These will be the good kind. Weird yes, but good.

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Doomsday clock set one minute nearer Doom

Midnight

We’re all doomed! On the 10th of January 2012 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (acronym is BAS but BLAMS would be better) moved the Doomsday clock from 6 minutes to midnight up to 5. In case you are unaware of this clock, midnight means we have just blown our planet up and are all dead. Most of us anyway. The few that remain will be donning leathers, forming gangs, and sharpening their finest cannibal cutlery in a cool post-apocalyptic landscape.

This is just like in Watchmen when they have a doomsday clock that counts down to midnight. In the comic/movie the clock gets to 1 minute to midnight before… well just read/watch it. The nearest the clock has been before is 2 minutes to Doom during the cold war, when the superpowers were dicking about threatening each other over Cuba. The clock was last changed two years ago when, in a spirit of unbridled optimism, BAS moved the clock up to 6 minutes to Mass Death. The reason they gave was:

Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face.” (http://www.thebulletin.org/content/media-center/announcements/2012/01/10/doomsday-clock-moves-1-minute-closer-to-midnight )

They have since decided that not only have world leaders not bothered to do anything, in most cases the world is a bit worse. Lazy arses.

It all feels a bit like the scientists felt they were missing out on all the misery of recessions and wars and wanted to chip in to add to the general malaise sweeping the globe with some scientific pessimism. Thanks for that.

I will keep you updated on any more clock movements just to make sure you feel the appropriate levels of stress and anxiety as you go about your day. At one minute to midnight, I will be doing this from a bar on a beach. Post apocalyptic tropical islands will be nicer that post apocalyptic cities.

Just keep in mind: Be mildly afraid!

London post apocalypse

Thailand post apocalypse

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Japanese build robot farms

Danger! Danger! We need carrots

The Japanese are cool. When faced with a problem the average modern Japanese person will probably take a photo and then build a robot to fix it. Or maybe I’m stereotyping.

But that is certainly what they are doing to solve their post-tsunami food issues. They are going to spend £33 million on a 600 acre site that will be run by robots. How cool is that? The robots will plant, tend, grow, pluck and package the food. All they need after that is a robot chef. I can’t wait until they create a single robot that you could have in your garden or allotment that grows all your food and then fixes you a nice salad before you go to work.

Obviously they will inevitably rise up and attack you with potatoes but until then it will be pretty sweet.

The shot-gun wielding robot farmer will be a bit scary though.

Get off my land! You have 15 seconds to comply.

 

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iPhone 4S swears at a kid

 

The sassy new Siri

After the misery of my last post where I simply listed what happened last year, I thought I would start 2012 off with an amusing local story. In a Tesco supermarket in Coventry a 12 year old lad called Charlie picked up a display version of the iPhone 4S. He wanted to test out the new Siri system – where you can ask the phone a question and it replies with a sexless female robotic voice. It is supposed to answer your question, but not always it seems.

When little innocent Charlie asked ‘How many people there are in the world?’ The delightful android replied: ‘Shut the fuck up, you ugly twat.’ Naughty little virtual minx that she is.

Apparently some hilarious pranksters had fiddled with the settings of the phone. I’m just impressed that the iPhone 4S has an offensive sweary setting. I’m kind of annoyed that my old school 3GS is annoyingly polite. Stupid prick of a phone.

In case any Daily Mail readers stumble upon this and are about to bleat to the world how horrifying it must be for the kid and whine on and on in their pointless whingefest forums let me just point out the following. The kid was 12, he’s probably already seen porn. The kid was in Tescos in Coventry. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll know the air is riddled with swear words as people lament the fates that led them to be in Coventry. It’s a ghastly place which was completely flattened in the war and rebuilt entirely in cement by architects with no souls.

The final point is the kid’s mum. Upon hearing the swearing she was duly shocked and outraged. So asked the question again and got the same reply. Still shocked and outraged she then played the message yet again to the staff. So little Charlie heard the message three times and is now probably desensitised to the words anyway.

Intrigued by what Siri can actually do, I did some research. It seems to have a sense of humour and was clearly programmed by cool dudes into Scifi. In the film 2001 the main character suspects that the computer HAL is malfunctioning and wants it to open the pod bay doors. HAL refuses. Here’s what happens with Siri:

Here is Siri answering one of life’s imponderables with a quote from Monty Python:

Siri answers the meaning of life

Of course Siri can be helpful too:

Siri helps hide bodies

I then stumbled upon the following after typing in ‘What does Siri sound like?’ into google. She seems rude but capable.

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What happened in 2011?

I hope all my lovely readers had a superbly indulgent and alcoholic Christmas. And will do likewise for the New Year. Unless you don’t drink or celebrate Christmas, in which case I hope you are simply having a superb end of December.

Every TV and radio show is now poised to launch its end of year review show. Some will be funny, most will be depressing. It has been quite a momentous year all things considered. Charlie Brooker mentioned that if 2011 was an episode of a TV show, then it would have been an end of season finale. Good luck topping this 2012! Unfortunately it would be a fairly depressing and gritty show that not many people would want to watch.

Let’s look briefly at some of the bigger events:

Arab Spring

Arab Spring

Someone in the Middle East watched the original Star Wars or Flash Gordon or something and realised that dictators and oppressive regimes suck. So things kicked off and for the first half of the year one mental bastard after another was toppled from power. Thousands and thousands of secret police are now out of work. The whole thing has generally been seen as positive, obviously no one wants to be tortured at random by despots after all. It just remains to be seen how good the new fellows are and if they will sell us oil so we can fuck up the planet for less cash. So fingers crossed.

Osama bin Laden finally found and shot a lot

Keeping with the Middle East, the Americans finally killed Bin Laden! There was no, ‘Unfortunately, he put up a fight and we reluctantly shot him’ bollocks. I guess Obama just thought that as no one would buy that, just shoot the prick and be honest. I think this was a good decision. Why spend a fortune on putting him on trial and eventually hanging him, when everyone for once thinks the bad guy should definitely die. All over the World tedious boring people in pubs where hurriedly denying that they ever said things like ‘You mark my words – he’s dead already,’ or ‘They’ll never find him.’ Hah! Sussed!

Sad loner in Norway kills lots of innocent people because he is worried about increased Muslim… er… was fighting a crusade against… er… was a colossal fuckwit that should be ignored

In Norway an horrendous loser blew up a bit of Oslo then killed a load of teenagers on an island. He was complaining that his country was under attack from extremists or something. He wanted to draw attention to his moronic belief by the massacre of innocents. The press obliged and went on about it for weeks, thereby assuring any copycats that this technique works. Sadly they didn’t just shoot him and cover it up. Or publicly ridicule him until he becomes a twisted laughing stock putting fellows nutters off. Sad.

Disasters. Sadly there were lots

There were also plenty of disasters around the world. It was all very depressing and tragic. Flooding and mudslides in Rio killed 903 in January. More flooding killed 434 in Pakistan in September, Cambodia lost 207 in flash flooding in September, but the worst hit was Thailand (my past and probably future home) with floods killing 657 people. The biggest disaster of the year was of course the tsunami  off Japan. An estimated 15,840 were killed and 3,926 are missing. Other disasters included an earthquake in Turkey (604 dead), famine in Somalia and 1,249 killed in the Philippines by a storm. I could go on but I am getting down thinking about it.

The West’s economy gets fucked over by Europe. That doesn’t include Britain, we’re just next to Europe and join in occasionally.

Invest in 'defensives': gold, tobacco, and beer.

Economically the entire planet stayed pretty fucked. Even China’s rapid growth has shrunk to being very slightly less rapid. Although every country on the planet would probably dream of having this new reduced rate of 8.8%, so it’s hard to be that sympathetic. In Europe tons of things happened economically, with France and Germany doing the bare minimum to keep the EU going but without doing enough to actually fix anything. They did the maximum bleating about it though. Annoyingly I have to agree with Cameron using his veto. People argue that it might diminish our power and influence in Europe but as Cameron said he would go along with Merkozy et al if they agreed a few small concessions and they flatly refused, just how much say do we have anyway? Bollocks to them. Anyway, to conclude, Europe’s dicking about has caused chaos and misery.

Bombs

There were a lot of people blowing themselves and others up all over the place. I don’t know if this has been an increase or if it just seems that way when I look at news sites and statistics. Like all the above, it’s very depressing.

The Iraq war ended

Hooray! The Iraq war ended and happiness and peace spread throughout the land. Unfortunately the people who live there haven’t realised they are at peace and continue to have a horrible time. Afghanistan still has coalition forces in it though. Not sure why Iraq was a huge success but Afghanistan still needs work. I have been fairly disgusted with the whole thing for years now so won’t write more about it. One thought comes to mind though… if the West had just left Iraq alone and the Arab Spring had kicked off there too, would it be in a better or worse situation than now?

Science has cheered me up.

Science has had a good year. Which is a relief because having read all the above I want to be injected with longevity drugs, put in a spaceship and escape. The sad news was that the Space Shuttle project ended. On the plus side, this may open the way for others to leap into the inky (hopefully sexy-alien-filled) void of space. I wrote about these exciting new things here. In other science stuff:

The world’s first artificial organ transplant was done successfully. It was an artificial windpipe make from stem cells and is giving hope to smokers everywhere.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took photos of what looks suspiciously like proof there may be liquid water during the balmy summers on Mars. Liquid water means that there was highly likely to be life on Mars at some point. Religions around the world are hurriedly rewriting their beliefs to make it look like this somehow fits in with what they have said all along.

Juno, the first solar powered spacecraft is launched and is on its way to Jupiter. Also launched is the ‘Curiosity’ – the most advanced Martian exploration vehicle ever (due to land in August 2012).

Finally, the Large Hadron Collider dudes discovered a new particle. Those whacked out scientists captured the public’s imagination by naming it chi-b(3P). Awesome. It has something to do with matter apparently and will help scientists understand things most of us never will.

Conclusion

Apart from science things seemed pretty dire. Of course lots of great things happened too. They just don’t get mentioned. Things like the worldwide launch of www.scifiward.com. Other things like the Word of Ward getting 1 million hits from 50,000 unique visitors!

But most important of all. I published a book called The Uneven Passage of Time
on Amazon kindle. I know for a fact that not all the 50,000 visitors bought one so let’s change that shall we? Buy my trilogy of short stories and I may be less self absorbed next year. Think of it as a Christmas present. Click here to buy and support the arts this New Year. Or the tab at the top of the page that says ‘my books’.

If I’m happier, then maybe next year I will write about all the good things that happen in 2012. Stories like: The Mayans were wrong and world doesn’t end (although they didn’t predict that but who cares), or Everyone is still broke but triple dip recession is unlikely, or aliens are discovered but only want to enslave us, not destroy us. Or something.

Anyway, enough blathering.

HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM THE WORD OF WARD AND SCIFI WARD! (AND MRS WORD OF WARD)!!!!!

 

 

 

 

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The Uneven Passage of Time

The Uneven Passage of time by Jason Ward

If you buy one book this year make it this one. And also read more, that’s pathetic.

I have always banged on about writing fiction but have never actually published any. It isn’t about the thrill of seeing my name in print – my first job was in journalism, so that’s hardly a novelty. I lived for a couple of years writing for magazines in Bangkok recently and it’s a good lifestyle but not really what I wanted to do. It’s a bit dissatisfying writing for an editor and being told what to do and having to conform to the magazine or paper’s house style. That’s partly why I like my sites as I can just dick about.

I wanted to write fiction and I’ve finally got round to doing it. It isn’t the book I’ve been promising since I was 10 years old but it is A book. A short book. Three short stories in fact. I’ve written tons of short stories, they are fun to write and you don’t have to plan as much as you do with a full length novel. So I decided to group a few stories together and sell each little group for a pittance. That’s right. A pittance. Surely you can afford that? It’s not an excuse if you don’t have a kindle either. You can download the kindle app for free and read them on your computer, your phone, your iPad or whatever. For the cost of a fifth of a pint I’ll be disappointed if you don’t and will probabby shun you.

I found three stories that already had a sort of theme – time. Although they concern our passage through time they are all set in the modern age. There’s no travelling back and fighting dinosaurs or saving Kennedy or anything. They are more about people. Here’s the blurb:

Product Description

Time, famously, is relative. In this trio of short stories journalist and fiction writer Jason R. Ward looks at three individuals and their unorthodox journeys through time. These entertaining tales blend the themes of psychology and perception with classic science fiction. 

Stephen Hawking once sent out dinner invitations to all future time travellers. No one turned up. But what if one had? In ‘A Date to Remember’ a young physicist is convinced he has worked out the secret to building a time travel device. Lacking the resources to construct the machine he sets a time and date for a meeting with his future self.

It is a truism that people remember the big events in life and forget the repetitive. For most people, their year skips by unnoticed, punctuated by birthdays, world events, big personal milestones or traumatic events. As you age life seems to speed up and you find that the years seem to fly past. ‘As Time Goes By’ is the story of Frank Gilbert who is experiencing this to the extreme. His time seems to be accelerating at an abnormal rate. Years of his repetitive life seem to go by in days. Can he break the cycle in time?

The final and longest short story is ‘The Man Who Loved Statues’. Captain Michael Pike is a man who has taken a bit of hammering in life. With nothing much to live for he volunteers for an experiment that is going to attempt to alter his passage through time and put him in stasis. Things don’t go quite according to plan.

So there you go. Give them a try. Here are the links.

For the US:
http://www.amazon.com/Uneven-Passage-Time-ebook/dp/B006MHSWI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324264158&sr=8-1
For the UK:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Uneven-Passage-Time-ebook/dp/B006MHSWI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324258518&sr=8-1

 

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Cryonics and being frozen in a cool pose.

I read last week that Larry King, the legendary American interviewer, stated that he wants to be cryogenically frozen. For years, I always said that I wanted a viking burial, where I am floated out to sea on a boat with all my treasured belongings and the severed heads of my enemies. Sadly that wasn’t practical. Being older, nearer death, and more sensible these days I decided that I now want to live for thousands of years and will consequently be frozen and brought back by attractive people in the future.

This decision has caused me to do a bit of research and quite frankly cryonics looks like an awesome way to go. I can’t bear the thought of being buried and cremation just isn’t for me (unless I’m on a boat that’s on fire with the theme tune to the 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian playing obviously). Getting frozen is looking increasingly practical.

Here’s why:

One of the problems with the process is that crystals form when you are frozen and this fucks you up. While researching a short story about a guy being put in stasis I came across a frog that lives in Canada and Alaska that freezes solid for winter. Solid. You could probably shatter one against a wall (if you were a psychopath).  It’s called a Rana sylvatica or Wood frog if you are interested. It does this by using chemicals in the blood that stop the crystallisation process. Since 2001 this has been possible with humans thanks to new developments. There are photos on weird websites showing the difference between brains frozen pre 2001 and now. Which means the first people to get ‘iced’ are probably screwed.

Numerous studies have shown that it is the structure of the brain that counts. Embryos are routinely frozen for years and humans have survived freezing temperatures that have stopped their hearts, blood and brains for up to an hour. After that, crystals form and you are doomed.

One of the main problems is tissue damage but with new advances in nanomedicine we are increasingly able to repair individual cells. Which sounds pretty cool. Loads more scientists are now seeing the whole thing as being plausible. There are only a couple of hundred people frozen right now but thanks to these advances there are over a 1000 signed up and that number is going up. Hopefully they aren’t all dull if we have to hang out together in 2312.

This will be my coffin. Inside I will be pulling a funny face.

It isn’t even that expensive really. The average cost of a funeral in London is over £4000 – add in lawyers fees, wakes, drinks, cars, and other costs and you are looking at £10,000. You could get your head frozen for that in what is known as the ‘cheap package’. I wouldn’t recommend the cheap option as they probably just cut of your head and chuck it in a freezer but there are better choices. From what I’ve seen, it will cost about £100,000 for the full body, with an extra £500 a year for electricity and polishing and so on. This is obviously a lot but I intend to be loaded and the rest of my money will go to family and starving people with diseases, so it’s all good. I will also chuck some money in a high interest account and reap the benefits in a hundred years (with more going to starving kiddywinks too, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise).

There are other reasons why it is looking increasingly feasible but I can’t be bothered to go on too much about it.

The main thing is, I’m an atheist. I think this existence is all I have and frankly I’m terrified of death. If I believed that when I die I went to a place that was just constantly brilliant forever and ever, I would probably look forward to it. Even if I thought there was an afterlife I would be too scared to pick a religion in case I got it wrong. Most religions seem to think all the other ones are going to be punished and have shit time for eternity because they backed the wrong deity. This doesn’t seem to bother religious types as the vast majority of them just pick the same faith as their relatives and ancestors and somehow convince themselves that coincidentally they definitely got the right one.

I think faith in scientists and the possibility of being brought back is much more believable. Even better, if I’m wrong I’m still just dead. If there is an afterlife then at least I wouldn’t have spent my life pissing off a god(s) for making the wrong choice. (Which is likely if you look at the odds of you being correct).

So the only thing left is to pick a pose. I would prefer a clear-fronted freezing pod otherwise the pose would be wasted.

At first I thought angst might be funny. There could be a caption underneath reading: ‘WHY ME!!! WHY YOU BASTARDS??!!!’

WHY??!!

I then thought it might be better if I struck a pose for the ladies.

Hello ladies!

I’m pretending like there is an option in my head. I’m a traditionalist and when I die at 120 will still be a traditionalist. There’s only one option. See you in the future.

The classic cryogenic pose.

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John Martin: Apocalypse at Tate Britain

Apocalypse by John Martin

 

Everyone loves a good Apocalypse and everyone seems to love John Martin’s work. I certainly did.

John Martin was hugely popular in the 19th Century and toured the world with his spectacular paintings of the end of the world and scenes from the bible of God smiting the shit out of everything. Obviously most of the paintings come from the Old Testament when God was going through his ‘angry phase’ and regularly destroyed cities and drowned the whole planet. Fortunately he chilled out a bit after that and started banging on about being meek and merciful as if all the mass destruction had never even happened.

Martin’s work focuses on these more exciting bits of the bible along with other scenes such as debauched feasts and epic battles. Man, the bible went downhill in the second half (apart from the epic destructive end scenes, but it was too little too late to save the book in my opinion).

At the time, plebeian Victorians flocked in their thousands to see the huge and exciting pieces of work. They were the blockbuster cinema equivalent of the time (it was boring back then, hence all the warfare and Empire building). Of course the intelligensia of the day slagged off Martin’s work as being distasteful and dubbed him the ‘people’s painter’. Intellectuals hate stuff that gets too popular and John Martin was the Michael Bay of his time. The main difference is that Martin is now seen as being ahead of his time, whereas I suspect Bay won’t be.

Sodom and Gomorrah after God gets pissed off

John Martin: Apocalypse
is well worth seeing. I loved it. There’s an added bonus near the end where a load of arty actors have done a voice over for a sort of mock up of the sensationalism that surrounded his tours. This consists of a triptych of pictures (three paintings in case you’re an oik) with lights and cool effects.  The left picture is of heaven and has cherubs lolling around fatly and pointlessly. The centre has Jesus being judgemental and condemning half the population to eternal torture. The painting on the right is of hell and collapse and general coolness. This is accompanied by the actors recreating the sort of cinematic voice-over sensationalism that was used to publicise his work. ‘SEE THE DAMNED CONDEMNED TO THE FIERY PITS OF HELL’ sort of thing. It was brilliant.

As I said, I loved it and so did everyone I was with. It’s on at Tate Britain until mid-January, so you have plenty of time.

Bizarrely, here’s a trailer:


 

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