Mar 30

Following on from my recent efforts to clean out my flat, we started on my better half’s place last night. I got off to a strong start, working in the big bedroom cupboard and quickly building up piles of clothes to be washed or donated to a local charity shop (turns out I have more than a few t-shirts I completely forgot I owned, and a veritable mountain of underwear…I am, as my better half kindly pointed out, the Imelda Marcos of boxer shorts) but quickly fizzled, retiring from the bedroom cupboard field and instead working in the living room, tidying up the TV unit and running the vacuum cleaner around the place. I called it sticking to my strengths. Judging by the ever-so-slight look I got as my opposite number dug through piles of unwashed socks, I think it might also be categorized as being a bastard and cherrypicking the good jobs.

I have to say I had great fun with the hose attachment for the vacuum cleaner. My better half has one of those fancy Dyson things, which always looks to me as if it’s been nicked from the cleaning cupboard on the starship Enterprise. The proud boast of the Dyson brand is that their cleaners, because of their clever “cyclone” design, never lose suction. No matter what you try to pick up. Well I ask you, what was I supposed to do? Such statements cannot be allowed to stand untested. We live in a scientific age. Of course I had to hide my experiments whenever you-know-who went by with another pile of dirty washing, but that’s nothing unusual. True pioneers are often persecuted and unappreciated in their own times.

For the record, Dyson vacuum cleaners will pick up pennies no problem. Balls of paper, easy. They don’t like pens and tend to spit them back out after a second or so of angry clattering sounds, but they can even have a go at decorative glass beads. The ping-pong ball I found resulted in the best fun, even though it blocked the hose completely and made the vacuum cleaner make the most terrifying “HHOOOOO” sound as the tube was blocked.

That was when disaster struck. Again, like all true pioneers, my own curiosity and devotion to the scientific ideal was my downfall. The ping-pong ball, I reasoned, is round and shiny. So, alas, is my head thanks to a defective consignment of hairline genes from my dad. Shiny ball. Shiny noodle. Not much between them when you look at it. If the vacuum hose can hold on to one then surely it can…

HHHOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

It took a surprising amount of effort to pull the hose attachment off my forehead, truth be told. The overall effect for that magical moment was a bit like the scene in Starship Troopers where the guy gets his brain sucked out by the huge fat bug. Still, flushed with amusement and a fair sense of having contributed to the body of human knowledge, I put the hose back in the cleaner and went on to do other stuff. That is, until my better half pointed out that my “work” had left me with a memento to treasure. Where I grew up they were always called “nookie badges”. I think Americans call them “hickeys”, and I’ve heard them referred to as “love bites” by other people. Whatever you call them I had a spectacular (and perfectly, absolutely circular) one dead-centre on my forehead all of last night. Even today it’s still visible, though thankfully faded quite a bit.

Mar 29

Just watching a celebrity poker game on Challenge TV and one of their commentators just made me laugh out loud. Willie Thorne, one of the players, lost heavily on a hand and one of the commentators (who had been overexcited all night) said that he looked “…like a wounded Ibex” out on the table. For the record I’d just like to point out that Willie Thorne doesn’t look anything like an Ibex, wounded or otherwise. He looks like Super Mario. Go check out his website and see what you think. I’m telling you, the guy looks like he should grow ten feet tall any time he eats a mushroom.

Now if he had said “Willie looks like a fat Italian plumber who just got kicked in the nuts with a full house” I’d have agreed, but an Ibex? Nah.

Mar 29

Today was an odd day all in.

Following a dispute about pension rights (more here) some unions called a strike and as a result I found myself driving into work today past several of my colleagues on the picket line. One of them politely handed me a leaflet headed “Help save our pensions!” and gave me a quick smile as I went on into the car park. I liked this very British approach: we might be angry, we might be walking out to a picket line to make a stand, but we’ll be polite, we’ll hand out leaflets, and mind how you go now. Even when I was in the building the surreal atmosphere kept going: every now and again someone inside would peek out a window at the picket line. Sometimes someone out there would look back. It was like an incredibly genteel siege.

Now I have time to think about it I should have brought them a flask of tea and a book of old wartime songs to get the spirit of the blitz really going. Actually much as I might make jokes I admired the people standing out there in a line. My union wasn’t involved and I had to go in, but there they were, standing up for each other and fighting the good fight, sticking it to the man and all that. Sure, they all lost a day’s pay, but they stood up to be counted, and it seems they weren’t alone. It’s estimated that more than one million people walked out today. Makes me wish I was with them. Not that I would have been out on the picket line, but I have Babylon 5 DVDs to watch. Priorities, people. Gotta watch out for the important stuff.

All through the day the building was weird. Because so many people were off, staff were being pulled from all over the place to fill essential positions. The overall effect was like one of those Star Trek episodes where the crew are thrust into a parallel universe. Spock? At reception? Aren’t you the science officer? Well, not quite that bad, but in that general area. I kept expecting to see someone with a goatee beard and a general “evil twin” air about them.

Mar 25

I’m a good son. Today I helped my mum and dad move house, and did a damn good job of it too, even if I do say so myself. We emptied one house and moved their stuff into another in just under three hours. I shifted boxes, mattresses, cabinets, TVs, PCs, shelves, drawers, plantpots…you name it, chances are I’ve carried/dragged/been crushed half to death by it today. At one point I was even dodging a falling wooden camel with a spring in the neck.

As a result of all this, I swear there isn’t a square centimetre of me that isn’t in agony right now, and it’s only going to get worse tomorrow. Tomorrow I have to go be in a picture of a group of friends so we can give a framed photo as a gift. I just hope my better half doesn’t have to stick a broom handle up the back of my shirt just to get me to stand upright.

Fuck. Me. I think it even hurts to type.

Mar 24

I believe there are two types of science fiction fan in the world. The distinction isn’t between casual fans and obsessive fans: that’s just a matter of magnitude. It’s not between being cool and being geeky: those are just labels, as subjective as they come and correspondingly meaningless except in the very broadest of strokes. It’s not even being into literature or being into televised sci-fi: to me that’s a false distinction at best, one usually put forward by people indulging in snobbery. No, to me the distinction is between fans who enjoy what they’re into, and fans who are so protective, so po-faced about what they’re into that they’ve managed to suck all of the fun right out if it. To these people it’s like the subject has become so important to them it has stopped being fun.

Take, for example, Transformers. A toyline from the 1980s with a cartoon and comic series. They were a big thing back then, and chances are that anyone in their mid-twenties to early thirties today will remember them. I’ll quite happily admit that I like them, and have even enjoyed picking up some of the older ones from eBay. Recently two posts on websites about Transformers caught my attention and perfectly illustrated the divide between fans who enjoy, and fans who don’t know how to enjoy any more.

This post is from Botch, who writes about the subject with a notable level of enjoyment. His entire site is a labour of love really, and his enthusiasm shows. This is the kind of fan who enjoys what he is into.

This post, on the other hand, doesn’t show any level of enjoyment. It shows a level of commitment, to be sure. It shows annoyance. It shows the guy knows something of the toy collecting world…but show me where it reveals he enjoys it. Really, point me to it, because I sure as hell can’t see it.

That’s the dividing line as I see it, and I hope I always stay on the side I’m on now. I love science fiction: I love reading it, watching it and buying it (in transformable robot form). I think as an interest it enriches me, opens me to new experiences and gives me something to indulge in and simply enjoy. I hope I never cross that line and see my enjoyment turn jaded, see myself get angry at other people simply because they don’t enjoy it in a way I approve of. Quite simply I hope it’s always fun and never a chore.

Mar 22

…or, from the stars to the stars, via bollocks.

The web is a bad place for casual reading, especially if you have (like me) an overactive sense of curiosity. Often if I’m reading something and there’s a link, I click and follow it and never manage to finish reading what I was on in the first place. Then I click on another link. Click click, clickety click and I’m suddenly ten articles over to the right of where I started. In my experience Wikipedia is especially bad for this, and my reading yesterday serves as a perfect example.

It all started off with someone in my office asking something about Aquarius. Stuck with a boring task and looking for something to take my mind off it for five minutes in my break, I quickly popped over to the Wiki and looked it up. Click.

While reading through this, I thought “Why not check on the constellation I was born under?” So I go through the article and find a link to the constellation Capricornus. Click.

As I read about Capricornus I found out it is also known as Amalthea in Greek Mythology. The paragraph dealing with this also mentioned Cronos, the father of Zeus. Not knowing Zeus had a father I thought I would see what that was all about. Click.

Cronos castrated his father? Wow. I thought I had it bad not having much in common with my dad. Might not like the same things as he does but I’ve never gone after his twig and berries with a pair of pinking shears. Hmmm. I wonder what history there is to castration? Click.

Okay, in the thick of it now (literally). Actually turns out to be quite fascinating, I had no idea the practice went back so far or that it had such an interesting history. And practiced up to the present day? Okay so maybe I didn’t need to see the picture of a guy holding a horse testicle in his hand (that ketamine better be good stuff) but we live and we learn. While I’m working through this one and trying not to cross my legs, my eyes happen across a mention of a Marshall Applewhite. That name rings a bell. Click.

Turns out I have heard the name before and a bell was rightly rung. Applewhite was part of the Heaven’s Gate Cult, a movement that believed a spaceship was hiding behind a comet and would take them all to the stars. That, and ritual suicide. This mob were mentioned in a book I read recently called “The Men Who Stare At Goats”. I couldn’t remember what the cult believed beyond the whole comet thing. Click.

Oookay.

So, for those of you keeping score I started off at Aquarius, went through Capricorn, sidestepped through Cronus and Greek myth, passed through the joys of castration, chanced upon Marshall Applewhite and ended up reading about the Heaven’s Gate Cult, with a brief stop at the horse testicle photo. From one constellation to a crowd of people who believed they were about to get a closer view of the stars. Almost full circle. This is why I love the internet, but also why I think it needs a more disciplined mind than my own to use it for any kind of research.

Mar 09

Sometimes you just need to be honest, shrug your shoulders and surrender yourself to your inner geek. Such a moment just came for me when I read this post over at Kottke.org:

“Maybe the Green Mountains are like Klingons and have two hearts?”

My eye had barely skipped over the question mark when my inner geek’s nasal, whiny voice whispered in my head that Klingons don’t have two hearts, but Timelords do. Klingon bodies have multiple redundant systems and an eight-chambered heart, but it’s still just the one heart. Timelords, on the other hand, actually have two separate hearts.

As I wept for my future happiness my inner geek did an energetic (yet still tragically geeky) victory dance.

Mar 04

Identity is a funny thing.

You see it all stems from understanding, which is itself a tricky concept. On the TV show Babylon 5 the Vorlon Ambassador called understanding “a three edged sword”, later explained to mean “your side, their side, and the truth”. This could just as easily be applied to identity. What I understand about myself is not what others will see, and the truth probably does lie somewhere in between the two.

Recently a few bloggers have put up Johari Windows to examine aspects of their identity and see if what they think of themselves ties in with what their readers think about them. It’s a fascinating idea, but what other tools are out there that might give a little insight into our identities?

The other day I was checking something on my Flickr page and I happened to look at my tags. I think tags are one of the greatest ideas used on Flickr: they allow you to group your photos together by theme, and allow those photos to link in with different photos from other users. It turns individual collections of pictures into a living, breathing photostream and it’s like all other excellent ideas: really simple when it comes down to it. That’s when the thought occured to me that maybe the tags I apply to my images would give some insight into how I see things and, by extension, my personality. After all these photos are from my life, and surely how I categorise them has got to show something about how I view things?

So, not exactly a Johari window per se, but maybe enough for now. Have a look at the image above (you can also click here for a larger version if you like): would you say it reflects the aspects of me that you have seen in the year since I started the egg? Would you say other things need to be added? Do the images on my Flickr page reflect the person that has been writing this blog?

Who am I? Or, more precisely, who do you think I am?

Mar 02

Last night I made the mistake of stopping, mid-channel hop, and caught 5 minutes of the new series of The Apprentice on BBC 2. Damn! Half an hour later I’m sitting there, hooked, watching one of the candidates getting fired. Worst of all I suspect that I’ll be sitting there next week watching it again. Damn. Damn damn damnity damn damn damn.

Why all the damnation and tarnation, I hear you ask? (well ok, I don’t really, but as a bridging device from the introduction to the body of the text it’s quite handy, so just nod and go along with me on this one)

Simply put, because it smacks too much of reality TV for my tastes. I don’t mind watching TV and I think it is sometimes looked down on too easily by snobs among us. Some TV shows are as well written, tense, involving and emotionally engaging as anything in print. That said, reality TV really is just as bad as they say, and then some. If a good book is a healthy home cooked meal, and a good TV show is a nice meal from a good takeaway, then reality TV is bubblegum. Laced with poison.

Is this the beginning of the end for me? Will I end up watching the new series of Big Brother and become obsessed with the comings, going and inane witterings of people who couldn’t even spell “Orwell” much less read the book that features their show’s title? Will I start buying Heat magazine and obsess over the latest top that Jude Law is wearing, or how hot (or not) Madonna looked on the last red carpet she was on? Will my brains actually turn to mush, dribble out of my ears and seep into the carpet, which is already soaked by the saliva dripping down from my slack-jawed face as I gaze into the glaring light of C-list celebrities and consider what I’ll put on my Big Brother audition tape for the next series?

Never let it be said that I take things to extremes though. The show is interesting and unlike most reality TV shows, it does seem to be pointing towards something and involve a degree of talent: the contestants are up for a job, and need to impress Sir Alan Sugar, a guy who seems to have built himself up to where he is today and knows what he’s looking for. And at least unlike one reality show on TV over here in Blighty, it doesn’t involve eating kangaroo testicles (or at least I hope it doesn’t: I mean, Sugar seems to be an alright kind of guy but I don’t think he’s into anything like that).

I know I’m in trouble because today I even read a blog post about last night’s episode. If this is the start of the “reality TV brain-rot” downward spiral and I end up degenerating like the guy in Flowers for Algernon then I’m sorry. Tell my family I love them, and to remember me the way I am. I would go and tell them myself, but by that point I’ll probably be glued to my TV 24/7 and the only working muscles I’ll have left will be in my thumbs – one for changing channels and one for using my mobile phone to send text messages about celebrities to others like me.

Oooooh, Katie Holmes has a new tank-top. Gotta go.

Mar 01

Yesterday my car went in for it’s annual MOT test, and about an hour after I dropped it off at the garage the guy phoned me to run through what was up with the car and what would need fixed. Most of it wasn’t bad: a few small bulbs out here and there, and a bit of tuning and tweaking, no problems. The only major problem was that the two back springs for the car had broken, and the broken end of one of them was resting against one of my brake lines. He explained that if I went over a bump in the road the right way it would just have cut through the line.

“I’ve never seen them break this way before,” he said, as shivers ran up and down my spine at the thought of my car careening off a bridge Vanilla Sky style. “I certainly wouldn’t like to drive it any further like that.”

A slightly afraid “No” was just about all I could manage in reply, as the horrible images were followed by feelings of guilt. How long had it been like that? Why hadn’t I noticed? How many times have I driven friends and family around since that happened? Did the car feel different lately? Should I have taken it in for a service sooner? What could have happened to break those springs?

All these thoughts were driven from my head by the next question though:

“Do you want me to fix it?”

I swear, if they ever put “Duhhhh” in the dictionary this story should be used as the definition.