Category Archives: Life!

Writings about anything that takes my fancy

Riots in London

Two days ago I narrowly missed a load of riots in good old London. In the morning I had to get a visa for my upcoming trip to Thailand. I then got the tube to Leicester Square and wandered into Soho for a bit of lunch at Wahaca (which was awesome if you are interested). I then meandered around Soho before going to my eye laser people on Tottenham Court road to have a check up on my eyes (which are also awesome). I then walked down Charing Cross road to look at books then down Bond street where I had a coffee and met my wife for a bit of shoe shopping (not quite so awesome). From there we walked around the area before having a quick pint at Green Park where I got on the tube to go to work. I even saw Bob Geldoff out for a bit of Christmas shopping. A very pleasant day. Except for the work bit at the end. 

I find this very depressing

I somehow missed all the riots just a few minutes down the road. I knew there were protests that day but the police usually surround them. If things kick off or the rioters smash stuff then the cops either club them and get accused of being heavy handed, or let them smash a few things and get accused of not being prepared. All fairly normal. 

I knew things might not be going to plan when vans of police kept belting around every corner. If I looked south, I could see helicopters. In shops I could hear the radio warning that rioters were heading our way. On twitter and the internet there were reports that they had burnt the Christmas tree in Trafalgar square (a few minutes walk from Leicester square). They then smashed shops on Oxford street where I had just been then shouted their way up Regent street and attacked Prince Charles’s car – a road I had just crossed. 

I wasn’t particularly worried about the rioters as I haven’t cut my hair in a while and was unshaven and scruffy, so would probably be mistaken for one of their own. I was mildly concerned about being ‘kettled’ by the police and trapped for hours but not that bothered really. London has a lot of alleys and twisty back streets and I know a lot of them as they tend to have late night bars on them so I was confident I could escape. I was mostly concerned that the tube station I needed to get to would be shut and I would be late for work because of some dickhead rioters or overzealous plod. I am freelance and charge by the hour after all. 

At first I was all for the protests. How does making a student take out a massive loan, that will eventually be paid back decades later, help our economy right now? Will this mean even bigger rises for foreign students? They pay almost triple the fees of local students – apparently so that fees for locals can be kept low. Cameron said last month: “foreign students will still pay a significant amount of money – but we should be able to keep that growth under control”. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11724431) Well that’s ok then. We are already one of the most expensive places to study outside of the US but as Cameron should be able to keep things under control then they probably won’t all go somewhere else and lose universities pots of cash from people who pay a lot in advance. 

Of course there millions of arguments, some very good, for both sides. I can’t be bothered to go on any more about it. The point was that I was all for the supposedly peaceful protest. My image of students remained a mixture of: 

Students protest!

and: 

and just a bit of: 

i know it's gratuitous but it's my site

Unfortunately, the protest got hijacked by a load of twats. As usual. This has caused a lot of people to think less ‘Yeah! Stick it to the establishment’ and more ‘you pointless bunch of pricks, why smash windows on Oxford street during the shopping season and burn down the Christmas tree’. It was as if they were attacking Christmas, the joyless scum. 

Is this man a student protester, or a dick?

Most of the rioters (as opposed to the protesters) looked suspiciously like the sort of non-student who just like a fight and hates capitalism and the royal family and blah blah blah. In fact they look a lot like the sort of people who hang out around the bridge in Camden down the hill from my flat. 

Quite frankly it’s all very sad. The next time the students protest, they should casually ask others in the crowd if they are up for smashing a few shops. If they answer is yes, they should beat them up with truncheons in a powerful ironic statement of some kind. Then they can still have a protest, people will like them, and I can shop in peace. 

It won’t change anything anyway. I can say that because I’m a cynical grown up well versed in the frustrations and pointlessness of real life. The only way they could really get stuff done is through spreading embarrassing secrets about the government on the internet then hacking into websites and stuff. They’ll have to wait their turn though.

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The iPad for writing. One month on.

iPad landscape mode for writing

I have now had my lovely iPad for almost a month. A friend suggested I write about it, so here we are. How does the iPad work as a writer? How is it generally?

When I originally bought my iPad, I was actually on my way to buy a netbook. At least, I was going to look at netbooks with a view to getting something I could travel and write with. My main laptop is still superb and state of the art and I love it lots. It’s just that it is big and heavy. I wanted something portable that I could carry everywhere and had a decent battery life. In short, I’m very demanding.

Buying the iPad

At the new Apple store in Covent Garden you can have a play on the iPads. There is a whole section dedicated to it, largely peopled by tourists grinning in wonder at the iPad like small children staring at fireworks.

Having elbowed a few children and tourists aside, I had a go on one. I tried writing on it and was impressed. Very impressed. It seems to suit someone such as myself who types with the “two fingers and a thumb of each hand” typing technique. In landscape mode, I really can’t tell any difference in my typing speed. In portrait, it is slightly more fiddly but some people seem to find no problem with it at all.

Keyboard Docking Station

As well as the iPad, I bought a keyboard which also doubles as a docking station. This is what I am writing on now as it happens. For sustained periods of writing, this is a seriously good option. A few critics have complained that this means carrying around an extra bit of kit. They are right but I have found a cunning way around it – carry a bag. The keyboard doesn’t weigh much after all. The keyboard is great if you intend on writing for hours at a go. Plus, with the docking keyboard you can see more of the screen than with even a conventional widescreen laptop.

iPad Keyboard dock

iPad Keyboard dock

Another problem I was worried about was with writing for the internet. This isn’t the only site I write for and nearly every site requires you to write in a window in a piece of third party software. This site uses WordPress for example, and other sites like Suite 101 require that you write in these little windows. This is because a lot of writers aren’t savvy when it comes to things like HTML. We’re creative and all that crap.

For some reason Safari doesn’t seem to like these interfaces. There was no need to worry though. As it says on the adverts – there’s an App for that. One option is called ‘Split Pea’ which allows you to open a document in one half of the page and a non-Safari browser in the other. Another option for this site, is the WordPress App. Does what it says on the tin, although it is a tin with a few bugs in it. A third option is called iTeleport which allows you to control your PC/Mac through the medium of magic as far as I can tell. It’s a bit weird seeing your PC on your iPad, but it is cool being able to manipulate files and so on. It means your laptop has to stay on and there can be trouble with firewalls, but it is possible.

Conclusion – 1 month on
I bloody love this thing. My writing levels have increased dramatically. For some reason, it doesn’t feel like as big a deal to write on a bus or in the corner of a pub. Even with a net book you probably wouldn’t bother as it involves opening the thing and going through startup and so on. Maybe it is just me. If I want a more extended period of writing then the keyboard dock is superb. Otherwise the landscape screen does very nicely.

So writing is great.

Surfing the internet is superb too. Lots of sites seem almost designed for the iPad. An evening’s telly while surfing the web has never been so user friendly.

Is anything wrong with it?
Personally, I have come across two main issues. Only one of which is of concern to me and possibly none which will be of concern to you.
One is that it doesn’t have a camera pointing directly at your face so you can’t video Skype or anything. There is a microphone socket, so it will have to be audio only. I am pleased about this as I don’t even really like the phone, I certainly don’t want the added stress of a cam. Calling in sick for work will soon be a nightmare.
The other is that I can’t play poker on it. This might not bother some, but it pisses me off that Apple won’t let this happen. I can gamble on football or horses but not poker.

Otherwise, I am delighted with my purchase. Unlike my laptop, I no longer have to worry about whether it is worth bringing it along given the weight. I carry it everywhere. As a device for other things – apart from the poker thing – there is an App for that.

Lame though that sounds.

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i Dosing

No one can accuse thewordofward of not having its finger on the pulse. You want zeitgeist? This is it baby!

i-Dosing is allegedly the new craze sweeping the easily swept youth of today. It works on a principal that uses ‘binaural beats’ where opposite ears hear differing sound waves. If I was to be cynical, I would call this fascinating aural phenomenon something whackier like ‘stereo’.

But apparently i-Dosing can get you off your tits with the effects replicating a variety of drugs. You can get stoned or coked-up but all legally and without coughing or numb gums. Essentially the audio waves put you into a trance state. This theory has apparently been used in clinical settings to research things like sleep disorders and has been around since its discovery in 1839 by German physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove.

To add even more credence to i-Dosing’s ability to ‘fuck you up’, it has already been the subject of some panicked warnings by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Maybe they are over-reacting a tad. I suspect no-one who’s panicking has based their fears on anything as daft as actual fact or evidence.

There are numerous i-Dose tracks available through the genius of the non-judgemental internet. In the name of science I thought I’d try out a couple that are on youtube. So you don’t have to. Nice of me isn’t? Putting my brain on the line for a website. I remember an awesome bit in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash when a guy in a virtual world (like Second Life) gets a scroll and when he reads it, it scrambles his brain and puts him in a coma. This could have happened to me.

In the name of science and journalism I have previously ‘experimented’ with weed and cocaine. The weed was in Amsterdam where it is decriminalised and therefore morally ok. The coke was at a party – I work in TV and it’s practically compulsory. If a policeman reads this then I should point out that I’m lying and you can’t prove nothing copper.

So what happened?

I can reveal that i-Dosing does fuck all. No drug induced state, no euphoria, nothing. I did experience intense moments of boredom and irritation though. I’m not sure what clinics have used this technique but I suspect they also use aromatherapy and healing crystals. This is clearly a lot of quite clever kids having a laugh at the establishment. It reminds me of when Chris Morris invented the drug ‘cake’ and persuaded celebrities and politicians to jump on the band-wagon. Morris even got them to say that ‘This is a made up drug’ that affects the part of the brain called ‘Shatner’s Bassoon’. I’ve said it hundreds of times on this site – the press loves a good scare story and won’t let contrary evidence or pesky facts get in the way of selling their product. Here’s the dozy media terrifying parents over nothing:

In case you don’t believe me I have included an i-Dose clip. I will not be held responsible if you have a good time or get a headache though. If, like with weed, it leads inevitably to you using crack, then it’s because you are an idiot not the ‘binaural beats’. I suspect this whole craze is made up and is some kind of viral hoax to be spread around the internet by drug addled writers like myself. If it doesn’t work, and it won’t because it’s someone having a laugh at the press, I can recommend Thai stick and Pink Floyd. Enjoy!

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Stop eating fish!

The Faroe Islands

I saw a documentary the other day called ‘The Cove’. It was a pretty awesome documentary about a secret bay where a load of Japanese slaughter thousands of dolphins for no real valid reason. At the start of the documentary, before you see the slaughter, the activists involved are a bit baffled as to why. Dolphin meat has toxic levels of mercury and don’t make good eating. They then discovered that the fisherman were passing off some dolphin meat as whale meat and people were unwittingly poisoning themselves. My first thought was that it sucks for the dolphins but at least they aren’t endangered like whales – if people ate what they thought was whale but were in fact ingesting toxic dolphin meat, then at least some good is coming out of all this. Lots of dead whale munchers. Then it turns out that kids were being fed this meat too and that’s just wrong. They should at least have the chance to grow up and make their own choices.

As you can see from the photo here though, the Japanese are not alone. Norweigans, Icelanders, and the Faroe Islanders kills whales.They justify it because these long finned pilot whales are on the slight increase and so therefore it’s ok to hack at them with choppers.

One of the reasons given by the Japanese in the documentary for killing whales and dolphins are that the animals in questions eat too much fish and

No more fish

stocks of fish are depleting. This is ridiculous. Numerous studies have shown that fish stocks are depleting because, and this seems fairly obvious, we are all eating too much fish. When you hunt a marine species to the point that less than 10% of its population survives, that species goes into collapse. It has been proven that if diversity drops, then so do fish yields. In about 40 years we may just run out. According to UN studies fish exports rose 55% from 2000 to 2006. Six of the top ten exporters were Western countries (http://www.fao.org/newsroom/common/ecg/1000850/en/fishtradefacts08b.pdf). Killing dolphins and whales won’t help fish recover, not eating them will.

Another argument put forward by all whaling countries, is that it is a way of life. Well, tough shit. Do something else. Unless you’re an idiot you can retrain. Plenty of jobs have gone – chimney sweeps, hansom cab drivers, coal miners, dodo handlers, British Airways staff (soon). Welcome to the modern world. Become a web designer or something. Thanks to the EU nearly all British fisherman have had to do this.

I’ve had friends that claim to be vegetarians but then it turns out they eat fish. It’s weird being lectured by someone with a plate of 30 dead whitebait in front of them that my eating a slice of cow is wrong. Also when people say they eat fish, they actually mean fish, crustaceans, molluscs, arthropods and so on. Basically they seem to hate eating anything that made the evolutionary crawl out of the sea. It’s ok for one person to eat 50 mussels but not 50 people to eat one cow. At least now you can point out that they are causing the death of huge amounts of species and the imminent collapse of marine ecologies, while you are eating an easily sustainable food-source or ‘sausage’. (Apologies to these friends as you no longer do this.)

So what should you eat? Obviously something has to die as we live on organic matter. You can eat vegetables and fruit. Woohoo!

I personally think it’s ok to eat cows, pigs, lambs, chickens, insects and swans. The first four can be humanely farmed and can happily trot round fields before you fire a bolt into their brains. Insects are in no danger of dying out and are pretty much the same as prawns. Bit weird though I’ll admit but huge amounts of the planet eat them. I ate a fried grasshopper in Thailand once and it was actually quite tasty although when I woke up with a hangover and found a leg stuck in my tooth, I almost threw up. Swans are ok to eat because they are pure evil. I hate swans.

Basically you should eat your greens and if you choose to eat meat, eat one that is easily sustainable. Preferably one that would die out pretty quickly if we stopped looked after them, like with cows.  I do think that the animals should be organic and free range though. Battery farming is cruel. This will also mean that meat will be more expensive, taste better, and will become more of treat. People shouldn’t expect a chicken for a fiver or meat with every meal.

So please my friends, don’t eat so much fish, campaign against whalers, stop the slaughter of dolphins. Also avoid tofu, it’s just weird.

Sources and pictures:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6108414.stm

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization http://www.fao.org/newsroom/common/ecg/1000850/en/fishtradefacts08b.pdf

http://www.laughparty.com/funnypicture/Eat-More-Chicken/300/

barcelonareview.com

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Total Perspective Vortex

This is a really cool video that, like the Total Perspective Vortex, makes you feel like a utterly pointless speck of nothing.

In case you aren’t familiar with the Total Perspective Vortex, it appears in what must surely be one of the greatest series of books / greatest radio plays of all time – The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

The story is this:

This is just for our galaxy but you get the idea.A man called Trin Tragula gets pissed off with his wife always saying that he has no sense of perspective. So he builds the Total Perspective Vortex just to shut her up. Essentially, it is a device that shows you a virtual recreation of the entire universe, everything in all its glory and hugeness. Then it has a tiny arrow saying ‘You are here’. Trin Tragula’s wife goes inside and when she realises how utterly and completely insignificant she is, she goes mad. It then gets used as a torture device for shredding people’s minds. The only person who has ever survived this device is Zaphod Beeblebrox, who said that it just confirmed what he has always thought, “I’m a really great guy.”

Well the following video is a bit like that. Someone gave me a link to this, but unless my ego is so huge that I’m immune, it won’t send you mad. It will just make you feel very small. When it comes out in 3D or virtual reality, then be afraid.

Now go back to your pointless job and do some work.

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How to survive Armageddon

Sick bastard that I am, I often fantasize about the end of the world. Obviously it would mean billions would die, there’d be no more internet, no restaurants, no pubs, no online PS3 wargames, no pizza delivery, and so on. (I suppose hospitals and government and things like that deserve a mention too.) I mostly dream about it when I’m bored or fed up at work because there’d be no mortgages or pensions or accountants or taxmen to worry about either.

When I think about how I will survive, my mind basically thinks this:

Pretty much my entire survival plan

Pretty much my entire survival plan

Me, guns, and a dog. That’s my plan. (Plus my wife, obviously.)

In reality, I might have to end up in a cave eating berries. The above picture would be how I’d start out but I’d probably end up like this after a few months:

Piss off, those are my juniper bushes!

Piss off, those are my juniper bushes!

Obviously a bit more planning would be required. Some fellow on the Ask Reddit website has thought this out. So if there’s a zombie holocaust/alien invasion/ robot uprising/ triffid or kraken attack, or any number of cool possibilities, here is a plan you can print out and laminate in advance. In reality, it will probably be a mutated flu virus that everyone ignores because there have been so many that turned out to be crap.

So print this out and get prepared. That way I can turn up in cool leathers and shoot you and steal it all.

Here’s how to survive:

I’ve played this over in my head before and decided there are two lifestyles. Nomadic and Static. The following considers staking out a territory for a “home base” where one is secure for the rest of his days. It also assumes “the grid” is down. No electricity or internet, some plumbing works.


Pre-Phase Phase (I’m not good with phases)

  • Before Anything: Eat Exotic Fresh Fruits while they are around. They come from so far away that, odds are depending where you live, you will never ever get to have Banana, Pomegranite, Starfruit or Mango again in your life. Savor every bite. Make Fruit Leathers and Freeze what you cannot stomach to consume. You will also need to bone up on Vitamin C while you’re doing the most work.
  • Unless you plan on maintaining and protecting cows for the rest of their/your life… you’re unlikely to have a fresh glass of cold milk ever again. There are dehydrated milks (Klim) but it’s not the same.
  • Bacon. Eat all of what you can find. Cook it all up and dehydrate what you cannot stomach. Even if you hate it. You may never have the opportunity to eat bacon again.

Phase 1 – Fuel for your Future

The world is going to be vastly different in only 5-years time. Buildings will collapse from non-maintained roofs. Cars and Trucks won’t operate off of stale fuel. Uncut lawns will overgrow and cripple streets along with freeze/rain cycles. Animals will grow unchecked and rampant predation will resume. Insects will rule the fields. There is no more weather channel, internet or food store. It will become an inhospitable world very shortly, you need to prepare.

  • Refined Gasoline and Diesel will be useless in 2 years. You CAN make your own fuels (Combustion/Steam, Biodeisel) but there is a much much simpler answer.
  • Propane is everywhere and it’s shelf life is longer than yours. Walmarts, Home Depots and Millions of Tanks behind people’s homes, half full from the previous Summer’s BBQ Season. Safely, stockpile the conventional tanks (using trucks while they’re still useful) making sure to properly maintain them.
  • If you’re lucky enough to be near gas stations with those huge above ground tanks, secure passage to them and secure their protection. Map out every one of them in a 50-mi radius. Expend the furthest ones first. O-Rings and valves can corrode and fail on the conventional ones, but the big boys aren’t as likely to fail. Don’t ever think about moving them.
  • Store canisters away from your domicile but within reasonable distance with good ventilation. Keep Oil-Based paint nearby and paint them every few years to stave off rust.
  • Go out and find Propane Powered Appliances. Forklifts, Bobcats, Refrigerators, Lanterns, Ovens, Weed Wackers, Generators.
  • Yes, if you really want to you can dick around with Solar Panels / Wind Turbines and work on a battery farm and keep some modern conventions. DVDs will work for 10-40 years depending on the press and plastics involved.
  • Keep growth down inside the compound. The rest of the world will become overgrown, last thing you want are a ton of thornbushes and poison ivy invading your space. Keep your paths clear with weedwackers and machetes. The roads won’t completely overgrow in your lifetime, but at least clear the cars out of the way with bulldozers while you still can.

Phase 2 – Secure your Food

There’s a ton of food still around in the world that’ll be good for the next decade. Rice and Beans, Canned Fruits and Veggies. The Average Domesticated Human relies on these foods and cannot subsist “off of the land.”

  • One of the first things you should consider doing is getting a freezer farm up and operating off of generators (or using propane freezers which can be found for RVs.) Scour the lands for processed meats, hoping that they’re still in a frozen state. Fruits, Veggies, Variety. Nobody will be farming these things anymore and odds are, the world will eventually become too inhospitable for you to maintain a farm without insects plaguing it.
  • Sysco Trucks are refrigerated and can probably stay cool a week or two, and are likely chock full of the meals you’d otherwise be served after they’ve been microwaved at Olive Garden, Johnny Carino’s, Applebees, TGIFridays, McDonalds, etcetc. If they haven’t been looted already, they’re a great solution to a “freezer farm.” Now that you have all the time in the world, figure out how to use RV Propane Freezers to keep these trucks cool. Move them to your home, reinforce them in concrete and keep them free of bugs and animals.
  • The Nearby Ocean may become tarnished in 2-5 years as runoff from humanity’s downfall pours off the coasts and out of the unmaintained sewers. If you’re a sailor and can sail out a couple miles for some mahi-mahi to freeze, that’s awesome. Also, after the death of Gasoline, you can probably rig a Propane-Powered Weed-Wacker to be an Outboard Motor for a boat.
  • Hunting is useful if you know what you’re doing. Avoid protein poisoning by eating fats. Cook well-done, always. There’s no cure for food poisoning now.
  • Find a nearby river where no humanity is upstream for your water source. Use a Propane Forklift to carry a water back in a large container. Treat it with Chlorine Dioxide, Bleach or use Ceramic Filters. There’s probably still usable water in water towers but no telling if whatever killed humanity has contaminated those.
  • Incinerate your leftovers (there shouldn’t be any…) to keep down on insect infestation.

Phase 3 – Home Compound

Insects and animals will grow plentifully without humans now. Wild Dogs, Bears, Coyotes, Mountain Lions, Feral Cats are all now the enemy. Malaria, Lymes Disease, Bebesia can be carried by insects and with Rabies, will likely grow out of control without human intervention.

  • Secure an area, preferably within a high-walled region to keep bears and other predators away. Chain Link Fences need to be painted to prevent rusting. Paint them with motor oil a couple of times in the summer (if you don’t give a rat’s ass about the environment now)
  • Drive Vehicles over to your Compound while they still work. Mobile Homes, School Buses, Fire Engine Tankers & Ladders, Electrical Contractor Cherry Pickers (for Hunting Blinds), Flatbeds, Box Trucks.
  • If you can do it singlehandedly, transport the biggest few Yachts you can find to your compound. Ever see the inside of those things? Home away from home. Might be a nice place to spend the night if you need to feel like you’re civilized again.
  • Construct a cinder-block-based shelter away from Hurricane-Prone or Earthquake Prone Areas. Something very secure that’ll survive hard rains, winters, and can keep out animals and insects, but simple to maintain and secure.
  • Use Carbon Monoxide Detectors hooked up to a battery system. All this propane will generate Carbon Monoxide.
  • If you can remove the septic tank, use RVs for their bathrooms then drive out with the forklifts and dump it somewhere… downwind.

Phase 4 – Self Preservation

  • Stockpile Medicine. Most pills will lose effectiveness after 2 years. Painkillers should be kept nearby. Doxycyclene for Lymes Disease will (effectively) last 2 years. Some Pharmacies may have Mepron which is for Malaria.
  • Treat every wound as if it’s going to infect and kill you. Alcohol Wipes and Topical Antibiotics in small packets are long-lasting as well.
  • ALWAYS BRUSH YOUR TEETH. Learn to brush your teeth with Baking Soda. Toothpastes will inevitably harden in their tubes or liquify into an unusable congealment. There are no dentists anymore. If you get a cavity, you’re probably screwed bigtime and will need to take care of it yourself.
  • Hone your skills. You’re now the worlds only Mechanic, Electrician, Farmer, Hunter, Gatherer and Doctor. Books are a remarkable resource.

Phase 5 – Recreation

  • Find the closest highway and burn all the gasoline you can syphon out of all the cars around in a Maserati, Ferrari or Ford Focus by risking your fucking life. This insane maneuver might help you keep some sanity… but in 2-years-time gasoline will have gone stale and most cars will sit where they were.
  • There are some propane based cars and Go-Karts. Offhand, I don’t know where I’d find one around here so I’m in a bad position… the internet will be down and “propane go-karts” won’t be found in phone books.

Phase 6 – Keep your mind busy

  • Write about what you’ve done. Every day. Write your thoughts, your transgressions, your hopes, your angers. As you fill books, put them in some permanent enclosure of sorts, sheltered from the elements.
  • Gather up Atlases, Medical Books, Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Put them all in the same place. Who knows what evolution has in store? Perhaps in a couple hundred million years, some badger learns to make fire and read. It’s your legacy and you can’t accept the fact that this is the end of intelligent life. Write for them. Explain what transpired. If only to keep your mind busy and your heart steady.

Final Phase – Seal your fate.

You are the last of your kind. Evolution may replace humans with another Sentient Creature capable of interpreting the past, but for now, this is it. As representative for humanity, you do not want to suffer. No sense in bleeding to death over the course of several days pinned underneath a mountain of rubble.

  • Always have the ability to kill yourself nearby. Holster a classy 6-shooter in your shoulder, at your ankle or your hip at all times.

This all came from:

http://viigo.im/2HRa

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Climate change

Pretty heavy topic eh?

I was going to try and lighten this entry a bit with an amusing picture or two. I scoured the internet and discovered that the only jokey pictures I could find were on right-wing ranting sites that basically slagged off Al Gore and called everyone who believed in climate change a hippy or a liberal who’s part of some global plot. I also discovered a universal truth – right-wing humorists are shite. They have no sense of humour. All the jokes they made were god-awful.

So no funny pictures I’m afraid.

I read in the paper that less and less people believe that climate change is caused by humans. More and more people are believing that global warming is a myth. I find this a bit sad. There seems to be a lot of science backing it all up but this is being ignored. Even if the science is wrong and it is a myth/lefty plot, so what? Surely it is better to cut carbon emissions anyway?

Here is how I see it:

We cut carbon emissions and there is less pollution. I have lived in places that couldn’t give a fuck about carbon emissions (Thailand and China) and it can be horrendous. Smog blocks up your lungs and you feel dirty all the time and everything is coated in a layer of crap. More people have asthma and breathing problems. It is the equivalent of smoking but without the benefits of enjoyment or looking dangerous and cool. It is always a relief to go to a place with cleaner air. So why not cut emissions on that basis alone?

There is also the fact that if we don’t cut carbon emissions and it turns out global warming is true – billions would suffer. Why take the risk? If it’s untrue, then we are left with cleaner air. I know some people might not give a fuck and think it might not affect them but that also means they don’t give a fuck about their kids or grandchildren too. The next generations are going to have to either breathe all this crap or possibly die if the ice caps melt. If enough people still don’t care about that then fine – let’s all die. Just remember who made that decision and live with it.

Apart from people who sell oil or cars, I really don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want a cleaner atmosphere. Unless they don’t believe in pollution either.

I found it amusing and saddening that the recent climate talks in Copenhagen achieved fuck all. Airplanes release tons of carbon into the atmosphere and apparently there were 150 private jets there to carry all the delegates to and from the talks. That did nothing. Way to go! Luckily there were protesters outside who showed their anger at carbon emission by, er, burning stuff. Good work there too.

I think that everyone should be made to state their position on this. By law. Those who believe in climate change should then show what they are doing to reduce their carbon footprint. Those who think it is all crap can carry on being twats and make our environment all smoggy and unpleasant as before. If nothing happens, everyone can feel happy and smug anyway. If the sea levels rise and there is suddenly a lack of housing and food – all the people who disbelieved in climate change should be eaten. That would make people think twice.

I’m off to build my ark.

The Thai wedding.

Well it’s all almost over. After a month in Thailand, the return to Blighty and darkness and televisual toil beckons once more. No mysterious benefactors have stepped out of the woodwork to give me the millions I’ve hoped and prayed for, so I’m coming back. As an atheist, the prayers were probably a waste of time but I thought I’d give the deities a go, a chance to redeem themselves, but nothing…

It has been a superb trip.

The first week was all predictably taken up with preparations for the wedding. Actually all the main preparations had been done and paid for by Nim’s family before we even got there. I am eternally grateful to them all for this as the day turned out to be perfect.

My nerves started to mount as we met members of the family and gave them invites. One minute it was a retired colonel, the next minute we were at a hospital owned by a member of the family, the next was a nice household full of friendly relatives drinking tea. It was a bit of a whirlwind! We then saw the ballroom and stage and seating arrangements and where we were to pray and sit and make speeches. It was all a bit daunting. Then there were visits to the tailors where my wife got a stunning dress and I got a Thai-style top that actually made me look quite good – as opposed to a daft foreigner in a Thai shirt (although there was an element of that). Nim truly looked gorgeous though.

In all our finery!

In all our finery!

Then it was the actual day! We loitered around the entry area welcoming the hundred or so guests. (I nipped out for a few cigarettes but was there a lot.) A few million photos later and we were seated in special chairs. There was a row of nine monks in front of us who started chanting and everyone adopted their finest prayer positions. As stated before, the ceremony was opened by the head of the Ministry for the Interior (another family member). At some point Nim and I had to pour water into a special bowl and then light some incense and candles at an altar. Then there was more chanting and praying. I became surprised and mildly alarmed at how tired my hands had started to become and noticed a few Westerners feeling similar discomfort. The prayer position is not a natural one. Try it yourself for half an hour.

The room as guests begin to arrive.

The room as guests begin to arrive.

We then knelt and received a blessing from the head monk and more water was poured. Things became a bit confused in my mind at this point but I had helpful whisperings from Nim as to what I should be doing and was apparently quite convincing in pretending I knew what the hell was going on. We then prayed in front of each of the monks who flicked water on us with bunches of twigs. Soon after this the monks were given food and we gave them gifts each.

Blessed by monks.

Blessed by monks.

Nim and I were then instructed to sit in a different bit and we knelt forward with our hands over ornate bowls. My hands immediately started to cramp again. Some beautiful flower things were draped over us, some kind of paste daubed on our foreheads and a circle of string was placed around both our heads that were joined by a single strand. A queue formed and people came forward to pour water from a special gourd over our hands and into the bowls as they blessed us. It was all very touching but by the end my hands began to ache and shake. Hopefully no one noticed or thought it was emotion.

It was incredibly touching and emotional though as I was warmly welcomed into Nim’s family.

When all this was done, I breathed a sigh of relief and started to flex my weary digits. Too soon! We had to stay in position as a million photos were due to be taken. Ages seemed to pass and as we were joined by precariously joined pieces of string, there was no way we could see what was happening behind us. Eventually it was done and I have to say that some damn fine photos came out of it. My smile grew increasingly fixed by the end and my hands began to curl inward but it was worth it.

We then broke for lunch and a tour of tables and relatives. And a quick smoke break.

Flowers and string

Flowers and string

Four of us were then summoned to the stage – Nim’s uncle, my dad, Nim, and myself. Nim’s uncle gave a speech in Thai that seemed to go down well. Then my dad gave a great speech that started with a sentence in Thai and received immediate applause. Nim was supposed to be next but then I was asked to step up instead. Which was good as it pre-empted my nerves. I gave a speech in English, which seemed to go down ok and then came the bit I had been dreading. My paragraph of Thai. I’d practiced it a lot but was fairly concerned. Ninety percent of the audience spoke the lingo pretty well after all. I think because it came at the end of my fairly well received English speech, I was no longer nervous and it went quite well. A Thai friend remarked afterwards that it was the first time she’d actually understood everything I’d said. Nim then gave a superb and emotionally charged speech that put mine to shame and had half the room in tears. Bless her.

Can you understand my finest Thai?

Can you understand my finest Thai?

Feelings were running quite high at this point but there was a bit more to come. A new area was prepared and Nim and I knelt and were blessed by our nearest and dearest members of the family in turn. We knelt and the couples sat on chairs and gave us astoundingly beautiful gifts and family heirlooms that had been passed down through both our families. I felt honoured to be receiving lovely gold and jewel encrusted heirlooms that had been passed through Nim’s family for generations. It was probably the most touching part of the whole day as our parents whispered blessings and well-wishes.

Then we were done. I was physically and emotionally drained – as was Nim. It was quite a day. It was at this point Nim turned and said, “That was the short version of a Thai wedding.”

All done!

All done!

That evening there was a party at a pub owned by a friend of ours called The Pickled Liver. It was quite alcoholic and very welcome.

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I got married… again! This time Bangkok Buddhist Style

Yes, I’ve done it again. Same lady, but different country and very different ceremony. So my blog and review output has been somewhat lacking. Apologies for this but I have to have priorities.

My ‘Wedding 2’ was held in a large ballroom in Bangkok. There were nine monks, a hundred guests, and lots of emotion. It also featured myself giving a speech that ended with a load of surprisingly comprehensible Thai. I will write more on this very soon but I’m a bit drained at the moment. It promises to be a fascinating article when it happens. The ceremony was opened by a (now) relative who is the head of the Ministry of the Interior. That’s just for starters. I will talk about all the monks chanting and string tying and water blessings soon. I promise.

Life has almost returned to normal. Normal for my life in Bangkok anyway. It feels great to be back here and hanging out with friends. I barely feel as if I left. All I have to do now is write a 1500 word essay on linguistics and historical perspectives on socio-dialects and attitudes toward them by tomorrow night. Then I can finally chill out and blog my ass off.

Right now though, I’m going for a pint. Of Tiger. In a street cafe in Bangkok. Life is good.

Spam

Spam! Spam! Spam!

Spam! Spam! Spam!

I’m not going to talk about delicious Spiced Ham in a Can. Nor am I going to talk about the Monty Python sketch where a load of vikings are in a cafe chanting ‘Spam, spam, spam, spam, spamedy spam’ (etc). I’m talking about the internet pricks who offer you ways to lengthen your, er, prick. Or harden it. Or meet girls who might be interested in the result. Or any of the other pointless lies that get sent to you via email.

I have been fairly free of spam thanks to the wonders of gmail that seems almost psychic in its filtering abilities. Then I started this site. I spend a lot of time playing games and reading books and thought it would be nice to share my opinion of them as a service to my fellow humans. Plus it makes all the time I spend on the couch seem slightly more worthwhile. I also live in a big city and drink a lot of coffee, so thought I might as well vent occasionally.

Then I started getting inundated with bastard spam. Curiously, very little of it goes to the site’s email. Most of it goes to the comments section and it is beginning to annoy me. Usually it is in two forms: a comment saying ‘Like your blog’ or ‘that was interesting’; or a joke that would shame a Christmas cracker. Then a link to a Viagra site.

At first I took delight in going to these sites and writing incredibly abusive emails, but this has grown dull. I’m seriously toying with disabling the comments bit. This site, I’m proud to say, has been attracting almost double the readership each month it has been going. Last month 1500 people viewed it and the number rises daily. I thank you for that. Spam has kept in line with this figure however. Sadly in this modern world, spamming can be done anonymously. Or at least fairly anonymously. What can be done about these bastards who daily piss off the planet?

Ok maybe too drastic. How about a swan? I hate swans.

Ok maybe too drastic. How about a swan? I hate swans.

If you’re hoping I will provide an answer – sorry I can’t. I liked the end of the Jay and Silent Bob movie where they visit each of their internet critics and beat them up but that would sadly be difficult to do. I also don’t want to be seen condoning violence.

I don’t what’s wrong with naming and shaming them. Police can catch all sorts of other scumbags on the internet so why not spammers? I know that naming and shaming can lead to ugly scenes where, as sadly happened, morons who can’t spell attacked a pediatrician but they were probably off their tits on cheap medication. Spam is a pleasingly short word that can’t possibly lead to confusion – even among illiterate knuckle-dragging reactionaries.

Stress is the number one killer in the West and spam contributes to this. The government should compile all the known spam offenders, accidentally leave the list on a train and then deny everything. If you discover you live near a known spammer then you should post all your junk mail through their letter-box. If you go on holiday to a third world country, buy loads of cheap panadol and try and flog it to them at a massive mark-up whenever you pass their house. Try and get their phone number and call them up all day and ask them who provides their internet.

It could bring communities together.

Or put them in stocks and lob actual spam at them in a cruel-and-unusual punishment-fits-the-crime kind of a way.

It’s also possible that all the caffeine in my system will left by tomorrow and I awaken calmer, baffled as to why I got so pissed off over something so trivial. Then I will log in and see all the spam directed at this post. Which would almost be amusing.

They're giving this wonderful product a bad name. Look at what it can do!

They're giving this wonderful product a bad name. Look at what it can do!

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Computer games are good for you

video games are goodI have been meaning to write about this topic before, as it is clearly a topic close to my heart. Not really because I give a flying fuck about about health issues (I have a legendary constitution and a long list of ancestors living past 80) but because any justification for playing games is good.

Hollywood is rarely inspiring these days.

Hollywood is rarely inspiring these days.

As Hollywood’s output and quality continues to dwindle, I find myself turning more and more to books and games for a decent tale and cheap thrills. I don’t care what pretentious types say – there is still a ton of watchable movies coming out each year but the good ones don’t number high enough to satisfy my copius spare time. Perhaps it is because I watch the bulk of movies and tv shows at work. Whatever. Books have always been my medium of choice but games are now beating movies hands down in their demand on my attention. I’m currently loving Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Batman: Arkham Asylum but find it hard to remember more than three films I’ve seen in the last year that rated better than: “That was ok.”

Lots and lots of games now feature well-known actors – look at the cast of the last few GTA games for example, or even the games I’m playing now have Patrick Stewart as the king (Oblivion) and Mark Hamill as the joker (Batman). Graphics have progressed to a level that are almost equal to your average CGI-laden blockbuster. I have played numerous games that feature more realistic baddies than the scorpion king at the end of The Mummy Returns for example. As adventure goes, Uncharted Drake’s Fortune was better than the new Indiana Jones film. (Which actually makes me weep a bit but that’s another issue.)

The mummy returns.

The mummy returns.

As stories go there has already been a rich history of writers penning game plots. Douglas Adams wrote the game Starship Titanic and got his friend Terry Jones to write the book of the game. Granted neither were brilliant but if you’re a fan of both personages it still beats watching Eastenders as a way of passing your time. Clive Barker wrote Undying, a first person shooter that had some genuinely scary moments. Dead Space was a great game, with a truly ominous atmosphere and good story. And so on.

Games have numerous advantages over movies and that will increase as time goes on. There is more scope for plot development and characterisation. Some of the stories in Fallout 3 and Oblivion are superb and you get to know some of the individuals as if they are real and are almost saddened when the game finishes (like with a good book). They deal with you differently too, depending on how you react to them and your reputation. More and more games feature differing plots depending on the choices you make. Some of the radio stations and characters in Grand Theft Auto 4 had me pissing myself with laughter (and that doesn’t include the fact that you can go to a comedy club and see Ricky Gervais doing stand up). Some set pieces in games literally have you saying “Fuck, did you see that?” to a disintereted wife or partner. The scene when a nuclear bomb goes off in Call of Duty 4 or the landing in Killzone 2 leap to mind if you happen to be cool or sexy enough to have played them.

Reality_Worst_Ever_Game

Whenever I get blocked on a platform by baffled tourists anywhere in the world – you can tell they don’t play enough games. Solving the riddle of a tube map is a piece of piss compared to lots of puzzles you are forced to solve in games like Resident Evil or Myst. When travelling, I’m nearly always the one who works this sort of thing out, and I’m convinced it’s down to a mixture of innate genius and gameplaying.

I won’t even begin to talk about Massively Multiplayer Online Games like World of Warcraft but the fact that people have died playing must mean they are pretty good. People have been divorced and married through these games and some employers are now asking if the prospective employees play them as they are worried about them turning up.

So having established that there is more scope and depth to a lot of games, there is the added fact that you are in control. It is this interaction that adds to the suspense and enjoyment of the experience. When you are creeping down a dark corridor and hear a scream ending suddenly from a door near you, the fact that you are the one who moves and opens that door can scare the crap out of you. It is also this interaction that is the beneficial part and why it has been scietifically proven that games are better for you than movies.

PROOF:

THEY ARE GOOD FOR YOUR EYES

From the BBC website:

“US scientists have found that regular players of shoot-em-ups, such as Half-Life and Medal of Honour, have much better visual skills than most of the population.

The researchers have shown that gamers were particularly good at spotting details in busy, confusing scenes and could cope with more distractions than average.

The two scientists also found that with a little game playing the visual skills of anyone can be improved.” An apple and an hour of killing stuff a day is beneficial.

“By forcing players to simultaneously juggle a number of varied tasks, action video game playing pushes the limits of three rather different aspects of visual attention,” wrote the researchers.

A similar story from an article on yahoo:

“The University of Rochester put a group of college-aged non-gamers through the paces of such high-caliber action fare as Gears of WarLost Planet andHalo. After 30 hours of gameplay, the subjects outperformed the control group in their ability to accurately pick out objects in a cluttered space.

Research author Daphne Bevelier explained, “First-person action games helped study subjects improve their spatial resolution, meaning their ability to clearly see small, closely packed together objects, such as letters… the present study highlights the potential of action-video game training for rehabilitation of visual deficits.”

In laymen terms, that means years of fragging might actually sharpen your vision by training your brain to quickly process information. This also has therapeutic ramifications, potentially aiding in the treatment of a variety of ocular disorders including vision loss from aging and lazy eye.”

The following few are from an article by Ben Silverman.

THEY ARE GOOD FOR FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION

“Though in its infancy, the burgeoning field of gaming as a means to contend with the negative effects of ADHD was bolstered by a Cornell study demonstrating the positive effects of video game training in ADHD-afflicted youth. Even at an early age, kids seemed to respond well to games as a treatment method, showing significant improvement over their non-gaming peers.”

THEY CAN HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT

Ok, I’m talking the Wii fit and those dancing games here. Although getting fit by playing these things is a good reason for playing games – these are crap games. The Wii is a gimmick and fun for 30 minutes tops. It relies too heavily on having a controller that can move stuff on the screen. Big bloody deal. Focus on gameplay and story. Have you seen those ads where the girls meet up online and go shopping or fishing or something? I mean, jesus. The Wii is for… Alright I’ll shut up. I don’t like it.

I know this goes against what I'm saying but this is lame.

I know this goes against what I'm saying but this is lame.

THEY CAN HELP YOU UNDERSTAND CLASSICS

“It’s no secret that games draw inspiration from books, but one enterprising teacher has turned the tables by using Halo to help his students understand the complexities of Homeric epics.

Roger Travis, associate professor of modern and classical languages at the University of Connecticut, claims that the trials and tribulations of Trojan hero Aeneas chronicled in Virgil’s Aeneid mirror those of Halo‘s Master Chief.

He likens the interactivity found in contemporary gaming to the oral tradition that prompted ancient audiences to connect with their plays.”

THEY HELP KIDS LEARN

This is from the Times:

“[K]ids have changed. They’re not little versions of us any more. Because of the technology they’re growing up with, they’ re able to learn in different ways, able to teach themselves in different ways and one of the greatest places they’ve got this from is by playing the complex games of today.

The notion of what a game is has changed too … over the past 20 years a more intricate sort of game, such as Civilisation IV, which teaches the span of Western history, or The Sims 2, which teaches strategies for winning and losing, has emerged. You have to reach multiple goals, it takes multiple skills and it takes 30 or 40 or 50 hours to play and master a game. From those games the kids learn a lot.”

THE BEST STRESS RELIEF

From ezine:

“Some people read a book or watch a movie as a way to get their mind off of their problems. Basically, they allow people to be transported to a fictional world for awhile. In that area, video games are actually the most effective form of release, because they provide a deeper and more encompassing transportation.”

From ABC science:

“Physio and occupational therapists started using simple video games in the late 1980s to treat people with a whole range of conditions from physical, learning or emotional disorders to cognitive problems following stroke and brain injury.

Today, a growing area of brain research suggests modern fast-paced action video games — in particular first-person shooter games — may sharpen your vision, improve your attention and working memory, and develop your fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

What’s more, these skills aren’t just virtual: they can help you do better in real-life situations, like driving your car or juggling more than one task at a time.”

OK ENOUGH PROOF. BACK TO THE RANT

Ok, that’s enough. This is all from just a tiny bit of the studies going on all over the world. There are hundreds of articles in a similar vein. I think I have proved my point. What I don’t get is why it is still an issue. The facts are there. Stop being so damn passive! Stop watching shows with ‘Celebrity [fill in the blank]’ as the title.

Watch Ulrika pick her nose on Celebrity Big Brother

Watch Ulrika pick her nose on Celebrity Big Brother

I’d suggest moderation in this, obviously. Don’t play so much that your social life suffers or you read less. I’m just suggesting you play instead of watching shit like Big Brother (scientifically proved to increase your moron levels) or indeed any reality show. They do nothing for you. All the time spent reading about celebrities or more than 10 minutes on Facebook is a waste of life too. As is watching sport (I could write for hours on this). Playing sport is great but why watch others doing it? What’s the point? I could mention all time spent worshipping deities here but I won’t. They are a humourless and unforgiving bunch that I wouldn’t want to meet online, let alone in reality.

I think I went on a bit long about this topic. I’m wasting my life at work at the moment and have little else to do. I will end this with a brilliant piece I found on http://madisonian.net/ It is from Steven Johnson’s new book “Everything Bad is Good For You”. It is a joke and not anti books but it raises some good hypothetical points. My next blog entry will be shorter I promise! Here is the extract and good night:

“Imagine an alternate world identical to ours save one techno-historical change: videogames were invented and popularized before books. In this parallel universe, kids have been playing games for centuries—and then these page-bound texts come along and suddenly they’re all the rage. What would the teachers, and the parents, and the cultural authorities have to say about this frenzy of reading? I suspect it would sound something like this:

Reading books chronically under-stimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page. Only a small portion of the brain devoted to processing written language is activated during reading, while games engage the full range of the sensory and motor cortices.

Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. These new ‘libraries’ that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious to their peers.

Many children enjoy reading books, of course, and no doubt some of the flights of fancy conveyed by reading have their escapist merits. But for a sizable percentage of the population, books are downright discriminatory. The reading craze of recent years cruelly taunts the 10 million Americans who suffer from dyslexia—a condition didn’t even exist as a condition until printed text came along to stigmatize its sufferers.

But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. For those of us raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person? But today’s generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to ‘follow the plot’ instead of learning to lead.”

computer_games_dont_affect_kids_i_mean_if_pac_tshirt


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The Metro is now my sole source of news

metro_270309_cover

There used to be a lot more newspapers lying around the places I work but that seems to have changed. Now it just seems to be the Metro which I will already have read. My work commute takes me 24 minutes which is coincidentally the exact time it takes me to read the Metro. As I work shifts I tend to miss all the TV news and there are way more interesting things to look at on the internet when not at work. The channels I work for are all of the refreshingly shallow and forgettable variety. Consequently all my news comes from the Metro and the occasional follow-up on the internet while at work. This is probably a bad thing but it keeps me happy. TV news is usually dire or dull. You can’t skip through the boring parts where they repeat information that you already know. Like the economy is screwed but might get better. Or politicians aren’t wholly to be trusted but there will be new legislation to try and keep them in line – drafted by politicians and consequently ignored. Or the situation in the Middle East is still shite.

Look at these luvlies!

Look at these luvlies!

Newspapers are pretty crap too. Britain has a fantastically free press. Something to be praised and treasured. The problem is that they have to pick a stance and stick to it. The Mirror, Sport, Sun etc, seem to be obsessed with paedophiles and rant on about ‘monsters’ and ‘sex beasts’ romping with young women then pausing to have a picture of a topless 18 year old called ‘Luscious Lucy from Liverpool. Cor, look at them jubblies!’. The Mail and the Express are torrid right-wing rants that use the word ‘outraged’ about a 1000 times an issue before blaming all of Britain’s woes on immigrants – even though the average reader lives in a dreary suburban clone and remains utterly unaffected from an influx or exodus of filthy foreigners. The Guardian (probably one of the better ones) prides itself on being for the ‘independent thinker’ but everyone I know who reads it has the same opinion as other Guardian readers on absolutely everything. An opinion they got from the Guardian – which can be astoundingly naive on some topics. It does have great cultural, reviews and travel sections though and is therefore one of the best. I’d be willing to bet that its readership considers itself too intellectual and free thinking to read something as awful as the Metro though. The paper seems to inspire intellectual snobbery and I can see the sneer now. The broadsheets are just too big to read anywhere you would normally read a paper – like the train or the toilet.

This is news!

This is news!

So there you go. All news is crap.  So how do I remain so wonderfully informed? I read the New Scientist for science,  satirical news shows like Have I got News For  You or Mock the Week coupled with Private Eye for politics, Time Out for reviews, Empire for movies, Edge magazine for games, and Fortean Times for quirky stuff. While all the above keep me fantastically informed on the topics I’m interested in, they aren’t daily. When a mental schoolkid guns down his classmates or a nutter raises a family with his daughter and keeps them locked in the basement, I read it all first in the Metro. It is like a daily taster of what I will read in depth at a later date. If it’s something major like a war or serial killer, I wait a couple of hours and watch a hastily-made documentary.

Don’t get me wrong here, the Metro isn’t brilliant either. But it is perfect for the train. It has the news but not in too much depth. It has movie and book reviews and weird facts. It features a science bit which tackles some quite big topics but explains them as if the readers were five years old. It has a comments section where people can astound and amaze you with how absolutely pointless and banal a thought can be and still get in print (“I met a man called John Smith, he was bitter.” Someone actually thought that was brilliant enough to write in. Pointless shite like this is what blogs are for, surely). It feels thrown together by a team who have absolutely no communication with each other. Marvellous randomness! Front page – 10 killed in a day in Iraq, turn over and ‘Ohh a panda that can sing’, turn over and an explanation of black holes with comparisons to sinks, and so on.

I have in front of me Friday’s edition. On half the front page there’s a story of a consul killed in the Caribbean in a suspected gay-hate attack. Pretty powerful and shocking stuff. Turn to the next page and there’s a guy who travelled the world for £1 on his bicycle doing magic tricks (this is an entire page). The next two pages are full of stories randomly thrown in – a tribute to a dead soldier, a facebook killer, bankers’ pensions, and a woman called A Payne changing her name to Truly Scrumptious. Sometimes the news seems to conflict with itself from one article to the next. On page 9 for example there is a story that reads ‘Suicide is bigger killer of young men than crime’. It begins with: ‘Forget the headlines focused on a country riddled with teenage knife culture and gun crime – young people are more likely to die by their own hand than they are to be killed in a violent attack.’ This is all well and good. Thanks for reassuring us that the press is being sensationalist and we should ignore these alarmist headlines and articles. Ones like, say, er, the piece directly above this one. The one that reads: ‘Just one in five knife criminals is jailed’ and talks about how Labour ‘has failed to get a grip on the rising scourge of knife crime’. The following page tells how a man stabs himself in front of ITN staff next to a story about the gravitational corridors that can aid a spacecraft navigating its way to Mars. Brilliant.

Other highlights include: Usain Bolt’s 100 metre record is broken by a cheetah. You know, the fastest land mammal (a cheetah) beats a human (also a mammal) at being fast, shocker.

Swine Flu will peak before going down. Probably. But it may or may not be that bad.

THE NEXT BIG SCARE – monkey malaria! I kid you not. Better start panicking now.

A Buzz Lightyear doll has now spent more time in space than any astronaut.

An article about Syria followed by an article about polar explorers.

Scottish people spend more on personal grooming products than any one else in Britain. This could be just because they are fatter but I’m speculating.

A cat that eats nothing but lasagne. You know like, Garfield! Wow! This is accompanied by a half page picture of the fat cat next to a plate of lasagne. Just for clarity.

A quick quarter page of world news (war, famine, North Korea, etc) that ends with a story about a town in Germany that is so fed up with a prostitution area they are spreading fake vomit on the streets. It smells like the real stuff too. Apparently that’s a preferable option, which doesn’t say a lot for the town.

A brilliant story about an advertising campaign that was meant to support recycling and read ‘Taking an old bag for a ride’. Unfortunately it was on the side of a pensioners’ Dial-a -ride bus and all the old ladies got annoyed.

And so on. How could you not enjoy this smorgasbord of random, slightly interesting stuff? All you need to know about the world plus lots you don’t. The only flaw in this is that it is now Sunday. No free papers since Friday morning. I hope nothing much has happened.

The longest serving astronaut

The longest serving astronaut

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Science fiction looks different these days

Well, I survived yet another trip to Amsterdam and have since been working a lot. Mostly for the Syfy channel. The combination of brain-battering in both places fused together to make me wonder about something that would not bother most. At least I hope not or humanity really needs to focus.

What I noticed was that alien planets in the fictional future of my childhood look different from alien planets in the fictional future of today.

The Vasquez rocks or an alien planet?

The Vasquez rocks or an alien planet?

In my youth alien planets were desert but today they are forests. To be specific, in my youth they looked like the Vasquez rocks outside LA and now they look like a Canadian forest. The former strikes me as more realistic as most extra-terrestrial planets (not the gas giants obviously) are desert-like in appearance. Look at Mars. Or Venus. I should stress that this probably won’t bother most people but it does me and this is my site. If you do care and you want proof, here goes.

Star Trek Original series. Arena.

Star Trek Original series. Arena.

In a classic episode of the old Trek called Arena, James T. Kirk is beamed down to a planet and made to fight a green lizard thing that is the captain of another ship.

Spoilers: They are placed there by an alien intelligence to see which species should be allowed to survive. It’s a fight to the death and Kirk manages to make gunpowder and shoots a diamond at the alien with a piece of bamboo.

Which is exactly what I’d have done. He refuses to finish the alien off and humans turn out to be er, humane and we’re let off.

Notice the background?

Same episode but with alien

Same episode but with alien

In the highly under-rated Futurama, cartoon Vasquez rocks:

Futurama does Star Trek

Futurama does Star Trek

Buck Rogers went there in the 25th Century:

Buck Rogers

Buck Rogers

There’s a great bit in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey where they watch the Arena episode and then a few minutes later get thrown off the very same rocks. I couldn’t find a photo of this but here they are in preparation:

From fantazone

From fantazone

Evil Bill and Ted meet Good Bill and Ted

Evil Bill and Ted meet Good Bill and Ted

Ok so it is all to do with budgets and nearness to the studio. It’s just that my youth has been filled with images of the Vasquez rocks. The Flinstones movie has these rocks behind Bedrock. A godawful movie called Shockwave features them. In Friends, Joey is going to be in a low budget Sci Fi film that is set here.

Here’s Airwolf episode 1:

Airwolf!

Airwolf!

Austin Powers!

Austin Powers!

So there I am watching old Sci Fi juxtaposed with new Sci Fi. The difference is glaring. New Sci Fi looks like this:

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica

Stargate

Stargate

As stated, it is obviously about budgets and this entry is making no point whatsoever. Except maybe don’t go to Amsterdam and then watch the SyFy channel for three 12-hour shifts in a row. Especially if you’re a bored pedant.

 

Hopefully soon, some big budget movie will come along and return to the planets of my youth with its Vasquez like rocks. Actually… that’s happened. Guess what movie? In a joke that would appeal to sad Trekkies, JJ Abrams’ brilliant new Star Trek film featured a picture of Vulcan.

It looks familiar and god bless him:

Vulcan in the new Star Trek. Genius.

Vulcan in the new Star Trek. A return to Vasquez. Genius.

Next blog entry: something completely different.

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Moon landings, dashed dreams, conspiracy idiots.

moon-landing

Forty years ago we landed on the moon. It is consistently voted ‘mankind’s greatest acheivement’ in any poll that allows votes on such matters. For the next few years more people and more missions landed there and collected moon rocks, left reflectors, conducted various experiments and so on.

This inspired my parents’ generation to look to the stars and dream of what the future may hold. It was to be filled with space travel, moon stations, settlements on Mars. They looked at their children (people of my generation) with a certain amount of envy. We would live under the sea or in floating cities and have flying cars, jet packs and robots to do our work.

Then… a couple of decades of boredom. Sure, in the 80s we got advances in satellite TV, computers, mobile phones, and the space shuttle, but they were all pretty shit really. It was like everyone gave up on looking to the future and focused instead on politics, buying stuff, and wearing fluorescent socks. The world turned dull.

The 90s were better. A bit. Space stations were a bit crappy back in the 70s and 80s, but were finally showing a bit more promise. Mobile phones were finally small enough to carry in a pocket. Computer games got more colour. None of the cool stuff our parents dreamed of but it was a start.

This decade has at least brought us some cooler stuff. Slim laptops and wireless internet mean that you can play games, have video phonecalls, and look at a huge chunk of humankind naked pretty much anywhere. Our phones now take pictures, have games, surf the internet, have apple applications and can phone anyone on the planet (who has a phone, obviously). There are hundreds of satellites that can bring us thousands of channels of largely shite TV in High Definition. The space station is growing.

Also, there are new superpowers that seem to be kickstarting a new space race. At long bloody last. I firmly believe that countries like China will make America and Europe panic enough to start planning things space-wise again. The advantage the USSR had over the West was that they could chuck a few cosmonauts into space and hope for the best. If they died, so what. Apparently there is a chilling recording of a pre-Gregarin cosmonaut shouting that his country has killed him and they are all a bunch of bastards as he drifted around in space with no hope of return. The problem with the West’s space missions is that we are wimpy enough to want our astronauts to get back safetly. China has no such scruples. They just go for it. Here’s their plan for the next eight years:

In 2009-2010, build a space station in orbit.

In 2010-2011, land an unmanned probe on the Moon.

By 2013, launch a rocket with triple the lifting power of the nation’s largest. It would be able to carry a payload of 27 tons to space, three times today’s nine tons.

In 2015-2016, land another unmanned probe on the Moon to collect soil samples and return them to Earth in preparation for a human moon base.

In 2017, land a man on the Moon.

(Thanks to www.spacetoday.org for this)

In case you are interested, a Chinese spaceman is a Taikonaut, which sounds pretty nifty.

So the race is back on.

We are now also trying to race them to Mars. An actual planet. Something that may finally pip the moon landings to the number one spot.

Plus, if we go to Mars there will be more and more proof to shut the ridiculous conspiracy theorists up.

On top of the superpowers, we have now allowed independant enterprises to enter the space fray. Including the former Soviet Union and Virgin. You can now pay to become a space tourist. They have started to advertise trips around the moon. Yet another nail in the conspiracy morons’ coffins.

onion moon

You may have guessed by now that I get pissed off by people that claim we haven’t been to the moon. What they have done is look at all the stuff NASA has put out and rather than construct any decent arguments, have simply picked holes in the ‘proof’. Gathered together it seems like a strong argument and this is where the gullible become convinced. But it is easy to take every single one of their flimsy arguments apart.

Let’s look at a few:

The flag seems to wave in the wind. This can’t happen in a vacuum.

First off – they claim the moon landings were filmed in a studio. I work in TV and have never seen a studio with open windows. They are always deep in the building behind big heavy doors, usually a couple of them. Soundproofed for obvious reasons. Where did the wind come from in this ludicrous scenario? I repeat – there is now way wind can get into a studio. They use fans if they need that effect. The flag only ever moves when someone is holding the flimsy aluminium pole! The fact that it remains completely stationary for hours at a go when no one is touching it seems to be a fact that is overlooked. There’s no wind fluttering it then.

It’s impossible to get through the Van Allen belt – the radiation would kill them.

This is bollocks. The Van Allen belt would take about 30 minutes to cross and astronauts can be easily shielded from the solar radiation. One person who says this part of the conspiracy is crap and easily disproved is… wait for it… Professor Van Allen. Apparently conspiracy buffs know more than he does about this belt.

There are multiple light sources.

Yes there are. In a vacuum, light is very reflective. There are light sources on the craft, from the astronauts, from the sun, and from the Earth. Night-time on Earth is rarely pitch black because of the sun reflecting off the moon. This is the same on the moon except the earth is bigger and shinier.

I could go on but won’t. A lot more of the arguments are along the lines of: on a rock you can sort of see something that looks like numbers like you get on props. I can’t even be bothered to talk about this.

Evidence that we have been there apart from the footage is numerous.

Moonrocks have been collected and brought back to earth and have been carbon dated and proved to be older than any rock found on Earth. These rocks have been studied after having been brought back to Earth by the Apollo missions, the Russian ‘Luna’ missions (remote probes) and ejecta that have fallen to Earth. They are all distinctly different from Earth rock but similar to each other – including the supposedly faked Apollo missions. Another distinguishing feature is that they are completely devoid of any minerals found in Earth’s water. They are unique. Unless the American, Russian and geological collectors are lying, the carbon dating people are lying and chemists are lying.

They have left a reflector on the moon that scientists (and others) regularly fire a laser at, and have it return, so that we can accurately measure the distance from the Earth to the moon. Apparently it is pulling away from us. Which is interesting if you believe all these science types.

Other factors such as the amount of people who would have to lie to keep this a secret are pretty convincing. The theorists try and say that it was all ‘compartmentalised’ so no one really knew what the others were up to. 400,000 worked for a decade to make the moon landings possible. If this compartmentalisation was true there would still have to be a couple of thousand people in on the secret. Given that even the Royal Family are ratted out by their butlers and celebs secrets are always getting out, I find it hard to believe this many people would keep quiet.

For me though, the best bit of evidence flies against the principle idea that underlies the moon-landing-is-a-hoax theorists. Most believe that the whole thing was faked because of the cold war. The thing is, if there was any doubt at all that it was faked, any problem with the science or the pictures or the videos or anything – surely the USSR would have been the first to accuse the Americans of faking it. They never have. Not once. The only people who have made this accusation are ill-informed non-scientists trying to pick holes in the established facts.

So there. In fact, I need not have gone on for so long. It has all been pretty thoroughly debunked already. I think I just get annoyed because it feels like people are trying to lessen an amazing achievement. We need more of them. Plus, if humanity is to survive we need to get off this planet in case an asteroid hits.

I’ve heard people complain that we’ve screwed up this planet enough and maybe it would be a good thing that we died out. Nice thought. I just hope they don’t have kids as they obviously don’t care enough about them. Another argument is that we should spend more money on hospitals instead. You know, so we can all live longer and over-populate the planet even more, forever and ever building more hospitals. Good plan.

I say: let’s go to Mars. Let’s dream of the future. We should ban people who claim the moon landing is a hoax for a start. Damn conspiracy nutters. I just hope the aliens, men in black, and David Icke let us. They’re in control after all.

I'll admit this may be faked

I’ll admit this may be faked

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