Saturday, February 28, 2009

Written by me

Inspired by Peter, I've shunted the "Stuff written" section from the right-hand navigation of this blog to a blog of its own. It's a bit rough at the moment but I'll add images and links and titbits when I have the chance.

Off to do some shopping, then to see Codename: Moose, then off for a few days in Palma. Not planning on checking email while I'm away, but I might yet Twitter.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The stone age (i.e. 10 years ago)

Ooh, I’ve known Nimbos for 10 years. There should be a celebration. But he’ll have to settle for a blog post instead.

Nimbos and I both worked together at a mail order wine company, though in different parts of the building. A customer asked me when he could expect some wine he’d bought in advance of its bottling, and I was directed to Nimbos as the Man Who’d Know.

While Nimbos buzzed through the green-screen database for the answers, I noticed the keys on his desk. And the distinctive, anchor-shaped key ring.

“I know that object,” I said. And he knew I was quoting from Earthshock.

(At an academic thing last month, the Dr outed another fan by spotting the same TARDIS key on his watch-chain. He took great delight in showing it was attached to a Doctor Who fob watch.)

I invited Nimbos to the pub where Doctor Who fans still meet on the first Thursday of each month (I think; I haven’t been in ages). And he invited me to another colleague’s house to watch the first 30-second trailer for The Phantom Menace, which said colleague had spent all night downloading.

Hang on a sec… “Green-screen database”? All night downloading a 30-second trailer?

Such geekery reminds me how much things have changed, and how little the young folk will believe us. In early 1999, the mail order wine company was just daring to consider having its own website – fearing damage to the exemplary reputation it had built up over the phone.

Doctor Who and the SirensAround the same time came the promise of new Doctor Who on cassette – Big Finish would produce as much as one whole new story every couple of months. How would we ever keep up? CD versions were only available by special mail order. If I remember the press coverage correctly, producer Gary Russell (who I’d met very briefly the previous year) didn’t think audio-drama on CD would catch on, because tape let you stop and start easily.

Doctor Who Magazine #280 (cover dated 28 July 1999), ran a short article on the small number of Doctor Who sites on the internet. And new Doctor Who on the telly seemed so unthinkable the front cover tells fans to watch Buffy of Babylon 5.

At the risk of getting all Yorkshire, things were even more primitive when the Doctor had last been on the telly. In 1996, I was one of only a handful to use the small room of computers in the Fylde building – and there were serious discussions about whether they should allow students to submit typed essays. As news broke of the Paul McGann TV Movie, my friend D. in Scotland worried I’d miss out, so printed and snail-mailed the latest Who gossip from Shannon Patrick Sullivan’s news page.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Can we save “dirty” and “stick”?

Fascinated by this news story about the oldest words in English. It’s one avenue of research by Reading University’s evolutionary biology group. As their page on linguistics and cultural evolution says:
“Our studies of cultural evolution investigate the idea that human cultures behave as if they were distinct biological species.”
As Charlie Darwin worked out (with a splendid sketch on page 36 of notebook B, in 1837-38), evolution means branching development – a great long family tree.

My chum Millennium Elephant once nicely explained why tree-branching means there’s no such thing as a “missing link”. In his example, you go back in time 500 years and find that human beings are still human beings. They might be a bit cruder and smellier than folk today, but they’re still our species. Make sure you’ve packed your condoms.

The English language of 500 years ago is likewise a cruder, smellier version of ours. Our speech patterns might raise some eyebrows, but we would probably be understood. Their plays and essays might feel “ye olde worlde” to us now, but we can follow the meaning.

The further back you go, though, the cruder and smellier the people and language become, and the less like us you will find them. About 250,000 years back, the branch of Homo sapiens merges with Homo erectus. (No need for condoms, but shame on you.)

Language changes much quicker than genes: a bit less than 1,000 years back, English splits between Norman French and Anglo-Saxon. But English is made up of all sorts of words nicked from other and earlier languages. So the clever Reading fellows have devised a clever comparative wossname to guesstimate which of our words would still be intelligible to the crude, smelly past. This would be useful if you didn’t have a TARDIS to translate for you (or you did but that bit wasn’t working).

The Word changes gadget lets you set the dematerialisation controls on 200 common, modern words. My Slitheen Excursion is set in 1,500 BC and in Greece. But 3,509 years ago scores 11/200 matches:
I; we
How; who
One; two; three; four; five
I can see the stickiness of simple, everyday concepts for getting across vital information quickly. But “tongue”?

Presumably they had their own words for “dirty”, “stick” and “guts”. (Although not a word for “zero” which is a much more recent concept – we didn’t have it when we created the Anno Domini calendar, which is why the millennium celebrations were a year out. I keep meaning to read this book.)

But the news report also suggests that “dirty”, “stick” and “guts” are “likely to die out soon”. Note they don’t define “soon”. It’s discussing words suspected of being 40,000 years-old, so does soon mean next century or next millennia?

Second, if I understand it right it’s not that the words will die out but be superseded. We’ll use other words to say the same things. But which words will we use? Does the research give any idea? Surely these new words will have to be better than the ones we’ve already got.
“Evolution is NOT a process of "mistakes". It's an ongoing series of triumphs over adversity, and every species alive today is a gold medal winner. We're NOT just the recipient of a spoonful of divine generosity. We have worked our way up.”

Millennium Elephant, “Stupid by design”, 1 March 2008.

George Orwell’s splendid "Politics and the English language" is a manifesto for more concrete, less pretentious writing. He favours short, Anglo-Saxon words because they’re simpler and more vivid. It would be a shame to lose our guts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Twits

My chum Peter Anghelides is newly blogging, and today has a post about Twitter. I don’t get Twitter. At least, I don’t get what it would do for me.

If I was Stephen Fry, for example, off chasing kakapos round the world and generally being exciting, I can see how a microblog mechanism would be a great way of keeping in with ordinary mortals. On Facebook I get how status updates let you keep in with your friends and relations without all the arduous bother of speaking to them.

And I get that Twitter and Yammer and all these clever things make it easy to address the world in snippets. But the problem is the same one as with any media: what interesting thing will you say?

#Simon is wearing grey socks today
#Simon has drunk three cups of hot water this afternoon, in a Richer Sounds mug
#Simon hopes the moth-man got rid of the moths
#Simon will type this then catch the train home
#Simon is boring himself

At least with blogging you can try to explain and connect and illuminate. (No really, that’s what I think this blog is for, even if I’m only explaining, connecting and illuminating the bleeding obvious to myself.)

But then I’ve also struggled for the last month to come up with that list of 25 interesting things about me which even the Dr has filled out on Facebook. I’m stuck on about 11. It’s probably why I make stuff up for a living.

Wondrous persons like Stephen Fry – and Peter – evangelise twitter. So I watch on baffled but willing to be persuaded. Can someone please explain?

(I like how Peter’s blog lists his written achievements. I should sort something like that for here and do away with that whacking long list in my right-hand navigation.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Carpet munchers

Oh the joyous irony. While I was watching Toby’s lepidopterrific show last weekend in America, moths were busy eating my living room.

We’d put a patch of bald carpet by the window down to the rascally cat – it was right by one of the spots where he sleeps and we’ve caught him worrying the carpets elsewhere. But after the new shelves were put in and all our furniture moved around, we’ve discovered there’s a whole series of distinct bald bits.

Googled carpets and moths last night, and found a depressing account with pictures exactly like our problem.
“When I closely inspected the carpets I spotted hundreds of eggs along the edges of the carpet under a desk. The eggs are tiny - much smaller than a pinhead … When I lifted the carpet there were thousands more along under the skirting board.”

“Clothes moths attack!”, reviewmylife, 14 May 2008.

That post is from nearly a year ago, but a comment from the administrator posted only on Saturday says,
“No, we never managed to get rid of the moths :( My friend moved out of the flat. I don’t know what has happened about the moths since.”
So I called Rentokil at 9 am this morning, and their local exterminator just called me back. It’s not the moths as much as the larvae that are eating through our furnishings, and we need a two-part spray.

We’re to hoover just before they come for the first go, then empty and rinse-out our bagless Dyson. That’s to stop any larvae surviving in the hoover and reinfecting the flat.

They’ll spray all the carpeted areas of the flat. We then can’t be in the flat for three hours. So me and the vindicated cat will be holing up at the stunt wife’s house round the corner.

Then the exterminators come back 10-14 days later. We’re not to hoover in the meantime, though we can hoover just before they come. Again we need to empty and rinse-out the bagless Dyson. And then we hope that will be that.

(Bar the joys of replacing the carpets, which means moving the brand-new shelves which have just been built on the top of them. And no doubt all sorts of other things that will need to be paid for. Oh yes, I was going to buy a new bed...)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Technological marvels

Here are some things I've been sent in the last few days.

The Dr sends this Gigapan of Obama inaugaration, where you can zoom almost right up his nostrils.

Peter sends this video of people falling off mountains without parachutes which laughs in the face of The Spy Who Loved Me, but I suspect might be in a future Bond film.

Jonny has been blogging every day of this year, but reminds me it's no longer secret.

And, as if science cannot create anything more wondrous, there's a Lego Admiral Ackbar and a Boba Fett hoodie! (I saw the latter for real last weekend, as modelled by my new pal Ha-vee-air Gree-joe Marks-watch.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gallifrey and nine

Gallifrey was exhausting and brilliant and silly. Saw a whole bundle of old chums and made a great glutch of new ones. Flogged product and drank one or two ales. I said at the closing ceremony (where you have to say something) that I wished it could be Gallifrey every day. Which would be fun, but I wouldn’t long survive.

James Moran has made a number of very serious allegations about me, but surely there’d be pictures. And if there were pictures, surely there’d be evidence of Photoshop in them. I deny all accusations.

Didn’t sleep a wink on the flight home, and my entertainment system wasn’t working either. So I sat in the darkness and thought Thoughts that may one day become things I can brag about. Slowly the hours ticked by.

Eventually we plonked down in Heathrow. Turns out we shared our flight home with the Hoff, and dared each other to ask for pictures with him while we waited for our baggage. Don’t think we actually did – but by then my brain was drooling out my eyes. Out through customs to fall into me and M.’s waiting taxi. We slalomed through west and south London and then finally we were home.

Slept. And slept and slept. And woke up not knowing what day it was or where I’d left my head. Confused and stupid (no, more than usual) have got myself back into work. There’s been quick rewrites on a thing as-yet-unannounced and rewrites requested on something else. Went to the Post Office and the bank and fell through two splendid episodes of Being Human and nearly 300 emails. And then started sneezing; think I picked up a cold on the plane home. Dammit.

The Dr is, of course, delighted by the state I’m in. The whole point of jetting off across the pond without her was to come home relaxed, refreshed and skippy. Not snuffling and stupid and snoring. But I’m taking her out tonight for a posh tea, so she can’t complain.

Because nine years ago this evening I stumbled over to the Dr to tell her she was lovely. And dammit, she still is. The lesson is, my young padawans, that if you fancy someone, tell them.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Anime Pertwee

Oh. My. God.


Golden Gate

There is hopeSpent the day at San Francisco's fantabulous Exploratorium, and then walked from there, across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausolito. Knackering, wet and windy - and muggins forgot to take a coat.
Off to dinner now as a thank you to our landlords, then M. and I fly to LA tomorrow for a weekend's geeky larking.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The long walk

The stunt wife (M.) and I were out of the apartment at half eight this morning to make our 10am boat trip to Alcatraz - see my photos of Alcatraz. Were there for two hours, then had an ENORMOUS lunch of clam chowder soup followed by very rare tuna steak. Om nom nom.

We then walked to the cable car stop, cabled up the absurdly steep hills to the Cable Car Museum, and generally wowed at the big turney wheels. Next, we clambered down the hill to Union Square, had a coffee, and then trekked to a shop called Giant Robot, down 17th street and back to our pad. Got in just after six - a three-and-a-bit hour walk. All sorts of wild buildings and sights along the way. The photos of the walk are tagged "francisco", or you browse through the whole damn lot via the useful tag "san".

See how easy I make it? (I didn't just stuff up the tagging like a fool.)

Tomorrow, close up on the Golden Gate Bridge. And my feet hurt.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Vegas and the Hoover Dam

Having a lovely time. Today's the first day we've not had rain since I got here; and I've spent all day indoors finishing rewrites. But now I am FREE - and can do Alcatraz and the Cable Car Museum and the Golden Gate Bridge before knocking down to LA for the weekend.

Fab weekend in Vegas though: will try to write up my notes on the place before long. But in the meantime on Flickr, there are photos of Vegas and photos of the Hoover Dam.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Flowers in my hair

Hello from rainy San Francisco. Out the window there is a lemon tree in the garden. To my right, D. is transforming between a mammoth, a dragon and a.. something with shoulder pads in World of Warcraft.

Took exactly 24 hours to get here, door-to-door, coming via Los Angeles. On the plane I watched Burn After Reading (silly, twisty nonsense), Man on Wire (brilliant and mad and terrifying), Tropic Thunder (stupid fun) and Clone Wars (indulgent, stupid toss). 

Got rewrites of my Primeval novel to finish, and proofs of my Slitheen book to get through. Also got to see Alcatraz and the cable car museum. And tomorrow we are off to Vegas. 

Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow, shelves, Sherwood

Neighbours having a snowball fightSnowed in. There are no trains running so I can't get to work. It's like being back in Chicago. Only here we're all taking a duvet day. Means I've a chance to catch up on the hundred things I'm racing to finish. The Dr mutters darkly about how this time next week I'll be San Francisco.

I don't tell her I might be in Vegas.

The inclement weather has scuppered the plan to have new shelves built today; the Man can't hope to reach us. Which is a bother 'cos the Dr and R. spent all yesterday clearing the old shelves out of the way. There are books stacked all over everywhere now, and the old shelves themselves were gone within minutes of being put up on Freecycle. So we have a strange and echoing living room, a good foot wider to the right.

The Empty Wall

Crop circles



We sat in the tinny-sounding space last night to watch Attenborough's programme on Darwin and the Tree of Life, and then Being Human. Bah! that both shows were on at the same time. Bah! that it took an hour for Being Human to be up on iPlayer. But woo! for such splendid telly. And Moses Jones tonight.

Nimbos and the Dr are thinking of venturing out to take photos and build snowpersons later. I have work to get on with. Spent the weekend finishing something as-yet unannounced. But something I can now speak of is Robin Hood: The Siege. It's a talking book read by the apparently quite dishy Richard Armitage – the Dr has made known her approval of this assignment. The story is set during the BBC TV show's forthcoming third series. Release dates will depend on when that's shown...

Right. Plenty to get on with. But I'm going to go back to bed.