Monday, 29 December 2008

Halting State

I got this book for Christmas (along with a few others which will be popping up in reviews over the next few weeks) and it was top of the pile in order of the things that I wanted to read. A bank robbery in an online game sparks a series or murders, which might be at the heart of an act of international espionage and terrorism... And how does this fit with a set of ARGs (alternate reality games) related to spying?

Charles Stross' novels are usually a whirlwind of ideas, and Halting State is no exception; set only ten years from now, it shows an incredible array of technology freely available to the public and providing swathes of information at the blink of an eye. Augmented reality glasses are on the drawing board now, and it is by no means inconceivable that they could be used for the purposes outlined in the novel - even though it might take a science fiction writer to come up with those uses. The story moves along fairly quickly, and at times it's not easy to see where things are going (or where they've come from). It's a very enjoyable read, but at the end of it I couldn't help but wonder if the amazing ideas didn't make up the greater part of the enjoyment than the plot.

Halting State is a good novel, a science fiction airport thriller that doesn't put style over substance and has a great streak of humour running through it. The ideas are big, but they show a world that could only be a few years away... Lets hope that we don't see the kinds of ARGs that pop up in this world though.

At the end of the novel there's a great interview with Charles Stross; one answer in particular jumped out, and gave me a little hope for my own future writing.

Q: Do the ideas just keep on coming?
A: Yes. And here's the weird thing; ideas breed. They multiply in dark corners when I'm not looking. I learn something new and trivial and the next thing I know, it's jumped a hoary old cliché and they're enthusiastically breeding a new master-race of cockroach-like plot tropes that scurry off and hide behind the wainscoting of a novel! (I am very grateful for this, incidentally.)

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Ooops! 28 and 33

As they currently stand, things 28 and 33 are essentially the same thing! How could I have overlooked that? How could I have done that, not only eight months ago, but how could I have not noticed???

At the moment:
28. Make a short animated film.
33. Make an animated short.

*raises eyebrow*

I will have to think about what 33 is now going to be. Something creative. But what?

Sunday, 21 December 2008


Dorothy Gael is an unhappy orphan living with her aunt and abusive uncle in Kansas in the 1880s; Frank Baum is a wandering actor, working as a teacher for a week or two he is inspired by the young girl in his class... Year later, Frances Gumm (better known as Judy Garland) is working on the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz; the film goes on to become a major success, and a huge part of the life of Jonathan, an actor dying from AIDS in the later 1980s. He searches for signs of the "real" Dorothy, spending his final days and hours searching for her home in Kansas.

Was is a beautiful story; it's quite dark in places, but some of the descriptions, particularly of Jonathan and his deterioration as his condition worsesns and the visons that he experiences as a result are heartbreaking. There are very few novels that I have read which have really hit me emotionally as I have sat there reading them (The Lord of the Rings, Flowers For Algernon, The Time Traveller's Wife) and had I not been on a train as I finished it this afternoon I am sure that I would have cried reading about Jonathan's final hours.

In the past I have wondered about a story where the character knows that their life is almost up, how they would approach it, what they would be thinking, how they would face it. I might write something in that vein one day, but I will think long and hard before I do; in Was, Geoff Ryman has written a beautiful and dreamlike story, and while some parts - particularly some aspects of Dorothy's life - have a difficult subject matter, it is never anything other than a terrific and compelling read.

The Atrocity Archives

I've read a few things by Charles Stross before (Glasshouse, Accelerando) and have really enjoyed his brand of genre fiction - big ideas, hard sci-fi, cool characters - so when I saw The Atrocity Archives on the library shelf I decided to give it a go. I knew from the blurb that it wasn't sci fi per se, but it seemed pretty interesting. It would be tempting to call it a supernatural spy thriller, except supernatural doesn't seem quite right, and it has a lot of pure horror overtones. And the supernatural aspects are explained as a deeper understanding of maths and physics, connections with other dimensions and parallel universes - and not just explained in a hand-wavy kind of way either, especially when we get on to things like Ragnarok's Ice Giants, come to put the world in eternal winter...

While it might be difficult for me to tell you exactly what genre The Atrocity Archives falls into, I have no troubles in telling you that it is a great read, a real page turner. The lead's mix of intelligence, humour, and theoretical knowledge with limited experience in the arena that the story is set make him a really engaging character, and the plot is in the best tradition of noir and spy thrillers, dangling lots of loose ends and plot strands that you know must connect somehow, a jigsaw whose picture you can't see until the final chapters. If you see it on your library shelf or in your local bookshop, I'd recommend you give it a go.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

George's Marvellous Medicine

After watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a few weeks ago I really felt in the mood for some Roald Dahl. Now, I know I'm nearly 28 years of age, and maybe these would be more suited for someone twenty years my junior, but re-reading George's Marvellous Medicine was a breath of fresh air after reading Stranger in a Strange Land. Perhaps it would not be released today; perhaps it was simply because of the other's publishing record - don't mistake me, the story is short, sweet and great, but the subject matter (young boy decides to mix household products to make 'medicine' for his grandmother, with surprising results) would earn it disapproving looks from parents and teachers everywhere one would suspect.

A great little treat to read; I'm currently reading The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, but will next be reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Flash Fiction: The Bacon Bush

The Bacon Bush
by Nathan Ryder

Things never just happen in science. All those happy accidents that lead to 'miraculous' breakthroughs are never that at all. I'm serious. The guy who invented non-carcinogenic cigarettes? He just wanted smoking to be cool again.
Take Mike Brewster's discovery, the one that got him the Nobel in 2017: you might think that there was some noble goal there, maybe wanting to feed the starving masses, giving them more than just grain, giving away cheap, easily available protein. What a great humanitarian, an innovator in the area of agricultural genetics.
Nothing of the sort.
Brewster overheard the woes of one of his post docs, did some thinking of his own (the realisation of how profitable it could be pushed him along a bit probably), and arrived at a solution.
Not the one that his post doc was going for, but a solution nonetheless.
That post doc – my friend, Adam Harris – didn't have a noble goal in mind either.
He just wanted to impress his vegetarian girlfriend.

“I just want to impress Helen!” he said, after a pint or four in the local.
“You can't give up meat,” I said. I was slurring a little I think, a little bored too, but you support your mates when they're having relationship problems. “You don't give a crap about poor little Chicken Licken or Porky Pig, she knows that!”
“I know, but I really want this to work...”
“Look mate, you tried before, but that textured soybean stuff she buys just isn't the same,” I said, draining my glass. I set it down and stood up, my turn to get the round in. “It's not like meat grows on trees, is it?”

Back in the labs some weeks later, Adam was trying to explain the problem he was having in getting the right proteins to knit together. I was just amazed that he was getting anything from the adapted soybean plants.
“I'm getting chunks from the first strain,” he said, as Brewster popped his head around the door, “The amino recombination is almost there, it really is!”
“But not quite,” I said, frowning and looking at the sequence that he was proposing for a future culture. It was out of my area, but I could understand enough of what he was doing to offer an opinion.
“Strains three through seven are producing something that looks like mince but tastes like crap,” he said, nodding a hello as he realised his supervisor was there.
Brewster cracked a joke about Adam knowing what craps taste like. We laughed dutifully, and a few seconds later Brewster walked away. Six months later I realised the importance of that moment, Brewster's eyes hungrily taking in the diagrams of protein chains and enzyme mappings that were strewn across the wall.
We should have remembered the allegations that had been made against Brewster a year earlier. Questions had been raised about his conduct whilst he had been supervising a visiting student (and Brewster's subsequent filing of patents) but nothing had ever come of it.
And we should have remembered that he has a photographic memory.

Six months passed and Adam cracked it.
He and Helen had split up by then, had done so two months earlier when she called in at the lab and saw that strain thirty-seven had produced a curly little tail. But it didn't matter. Adam had done it. We trimmed a few 'fruits' off, slapped them in a pan and fried them. Served on toasted white bread, no butter, it was pretty good. Thin trim of fat at the edge, a little too pink maybe, but a good texture and the taste was spot on.
Officially he was going to call it Glycine Max Modified Strain 53.
Between us we had taken to calling it the Bacon Bush.

One week later, he was almost ready to present his research. A hundred little seedlings, four mature plants, and even a new variant that produced rashers of streaky bacon. I had just stopped by to see how the press statement was coming along, when a group of geeks from the seventh floor burst in.
“Mike Brewster is giving a press conference in the main lecture theatre!”
“It's a major advance apparently!”
“He's on the midday news now!”
We put the feed through to the wall screen. Brewster was ten minutes in to his spiel and we tune in to the moment that said it all: Adam's last six months of work and his failed relationship were all for nothing.
Brewster beamed for the cameras and pulled the screen aside; you could almost hear the biotech firms scrambling over each other to put an offer to him.
Broad green leaves, main mass of the plant two feet high, thick vines supported like tomato plants with inch thick slabs of red meat hanging down from. Not a soybean plant base, that much was certain, but too much of a coincidence.
Adam let out a howl as he turned away and stormed out of the room. Meanwhile flashbulbs went off again and again as Brewster said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the Steak Plant!”

Creative Commons License
This short story is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works License. Feel free to repost and share it with others, so long as you credit me (Nathan Ryder, 2008) as the original author and link back to this page. It would also be nice if you dropped me a comment!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Stranger in a Strange Land

I just finished reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, and I've been left a bit bemused by it all I have to say. It starts off pretty good, but about half way through it goes off in a very weird direction, and I'm not sure that it was enjoyable by the end - I'd just gotten so far in to it that I had to finish the story.

Mike Smith is the first human raised by Martians; brought back to Earth in his twenties, he becomes involved in the strange future human society that has flourished, first trying to get to grips with an alien world, and then showing his new "water brothers" what his Martian family have taught him. He inherits a fortune, works in the circus and founds a church... And the book could really be about half the size it is. I was reading the unabridged version, and I can't help but wonder what the originally published version was like, and whether it was a better read.

Heinlein's politics always make for an interesting read, and the subject matter is pretty good, but overall it's bloated, extremely dialogue heavy and there are times when it feels like some of the supporting characters are essentially interchangeable. Some of the scenes and situations do stand out as better than the rest of the novel in general, but I think that if you're looking for interesting 60s sci fi you should go for something by Philip K. Dick, maybe or Martian Time Slip or A Scanner Darkly.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


When I first heard of Changeling it really didn't seem like my sort of film. The synopsis - missing son returns, but his mother believes that the police have brought the wrong child - has a lot of possibility, but it just never grabbed me. The film, or what I had heard about it until about two weeks ago, just really didn't feel like it was something that I would want to see.

But then I heard that the subject of the film wasn't quite the synopsis that I had heard. And so I took a chance and went to see a film about corruption, about murder, about loss... Angelina Jolie gives a great performance - quite different from anything else I've seen her in - but for my money the real acting highlights are the people who are opposite her, particularly Jeffrey Donovan, John Malkovich and Jason Butler Harner, all of who give brilliant performances. If I was giving out an award I would find it difficult to pick between the three of them.

My friend who I went to see it with was flabbergasted when I told him that I didn't think I had seen a film directed by Clint Eastwood before (since then I think I might have identified one of his films with the orangutan as one I've seen); on the strength and control displayed in Changeling I will definitely be filling out my list of classic films with entries from his body of work.

Waltz With Bashir

Q. An animated documentary? How does that work exactly?
A. Pretty well actually.

Waltz With Bashir is a documentary about Israeli soldiers who fought in the 1982 conflict with Lebanon. At this point, you may or may not be like I was about six weeks ago: "there was a 1982 conflict between Lebanon and Israel?" I had never heard of this before I heard about the film and started to read more about it. The director of the film had started to think about his military service in the early 80s, and realised that there were things that he could not remember about it. And when he started to have memories of things after talking to other people who had served in the army at the time he started to wonder whether or not they were real memories, or whether they were just things that his brain had constructed.

So he set about interviewing people he knew who had served at the time, and who were present in his memories of the time, to see if they could remember if what he remembered was correct. In doing so, a picture is painted of the conflict, in particular a portrait of an atrocity, a massacre that happened seemingly because everybody knew it was taking place or going to take place but nobody wanted to take any responsibility.

I've used a lot of artistic words in the previous paragraph, and as I said at the outset, Waltz With Bashir is an animated documentary. Rather than simply present things as a series of talking heads with some recreations of events, the director, Ari Folman, has animated everything. This gives a great sense of continuity, we see his interviewees at different points of their lives and it's great that it feels like it's the same person: we don't have to stretch as we might with a straight reconstruction.

Animation also allows for some really breathtaking shots and backgrounds as well; the style sometimes threatens to take things over a bit, and in some ways the audience is left wondering what the point of it all was. I guess with documentaries I often feel like the director has an agenda or a message that they want to get across, and I felt like I didn't really understand what Folman's was. It's definitely a very personal project for him, but I couldn't help but wonder what his intention for the viewer was ("What am I supposed to think about this?" - whether I agree or not).

It is a great film though, one that should be on any film fan's list of films to see as soon as possible. It made me aware of a conflict that I never knew about, and also gave a profound insight into the minds of people who fight in wars and how it affects them for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Over For Another Year

Another November, another NaNoWriMo...

Learned a lot from it this year; especially that when I'm writing the novel isn't the only thing that you get out of it. Or it doesn't have to be at least. This year, out of the last three years, I've probably had the least successful novel in terms of doing stuff that I wanted to do with it, but it's given me so much more in terms of ideas and things that I think I would take away in to other writing projects.

It's also been great because I've met some really cool people who have been going through the same thing of writing a novel; we're going to start our own little writers group to encourage each other in writing - a writer is for life, not just for November (or something)! Hopefully start to pick up the pace when it comes to writing flash fictions.

Anyways, will be back on to blogging more regularly over the next few days. First up will be some thoughts on two films I've seen recently, Waltz With Bashir and Changeling.

Take care, more soon.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Where Does The Time Go???

Work has been quite hectic lately, and I've also had National Novel Writing Month going on! Apologies for not writing. I'm hoping that next week I'll get back to writing more regularly. Went to see Waltz With Bashir at the pictures last week, and that's definitely a film that I'm going to write about when I get the chance.

Not 100% happy with how things have gone with NaNoWriMo this year - the story has definitely not worked out as good as in previous years. Given me some interesting ideas that I think I'm going to work on some more, but the actual novel doesn't work as well as I'd hoped... Oh well. All a chance for exploration.

More soon, stay tuned!!!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Short Summary

Work. Work. Oh, and work.

I've started on this year's National Novel Writing Month challenge; things are going well and I'm currently on track to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month. I'm quite enjoying what I am writing too, even if there are times where I'm wincing at just how clunky something is. That's not the point, the point is to just write and get it all out. If I decide that I like it afterwards I can go back and re-write and edit.

Have read a few books, saw Quantum of Solace and liked it a lot, thought that it really carried the themes and tone of the Ian Fleming books very well. Afterwards I went to a "Gourmet Burger Kitchen" and had a buffalo burger. Tasty.

I have been working on a few of my 101 things, but work at the moment just hasn't left me much time to blog (here or on Cognitive Blindspot). But I am enjoying life, and things seem fine and dandy, dandy and fine.

Now back to work!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Graveyard Book

I started reading Neil Gaiman's latest novel, The Graveyard Book, yesterday evening, and finished it just before dinner tonight. I loved it, from start to finish, it totally hooked me. I had read the first third of the book in one go before I realised that I had done it, and then I was about halfway through when I turned the light out last night.

As with most of his other work, it has a fantastic cast of characters and an intriguing set-up, where all is not as it seems. The story moves along at a great pace, the chapters moving forward over years as the main character (Bod, short for Nobody) grows up, raised by a mysterious guardian and watched over by a graveyard full of ghosts.

As National Novel Writing Month approaches The Graveyard Book inspires and scares me in equal measure: inspiring because I want to write something good, and scared that I'll never be able to do anything as brilliant!

Thursday, 9 October 2008


Yesterday and today I read Maus, an excellent and compelling account of the Holocaust. I started it in the early evening, then stayed up late reading, and finally finished reading it over breakfast. I've read a lot of good graphic novels, but it's been a long time since I've read something which has hit me as hard as Maus.

It's quite famous, and I should have read it years ago. A young cartoonist recounts his father's story, the story of a man who survived the Holocaust, who lived through terrible times... The story is told with very simple artwork (the Jews are mice, the Nazis are cats) but doesn't leave out the details of the suffering that people faced at that time. I think if the artwork showed humans it would be almost too much to take.

All I can really say about it is that it is amazing; there were times when I couldn't quite believe the cruelty of the Nazis, or the selfishness of some of the non-Jews that the author's father met as he tried to survive, and to try and say more about it now would diminish the story somehow I think. I can just recommend it to you without reservation, and tell you that you will not regret reading it.

EDIT: As Matt pointed out, there are two volumes to Maus, and these are collected in The Complete Maus; I read both volumes, but didn't count them as separate books.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Graphic Novels

I really don't know how I missed the graphic novel section in my local library when I first went a few weeks ago. Last time I was there I got two books from that section; this week when I went I got five graphic novels, two sci fi novels and a popular science book. I've read three of the graphic novels already, and as two were quite long I'm putting them in as two of my 101 books.

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale is a fantastic mystery story; the recent Batman film borrows some of the story's beats and themes (though not in their entirety), with Batman, Harvey Dent and James Gordon joining forces to take down organised crime in Gotham City. All of their plans are in disarray though, thanks to a killer striking on holidays throughout the year. 'Holiday' kills criminals from the mafia - but who is he? A mob rival? A villain like the Joker? Harvey Dent? And why is Catwoman circling the major players?

The Long Halloween
has beautiful artwork and a totally engrossing story. The mystery running throughout makes it stand out as something really, really special. As the good guys try to discover the identity of Holiday they are also forced to question whether or not he is doing some good by eliminating criminals previously untouchable by the law. I'm hoping that the library also has Batman: Dark Victory as well, if memory serves that's a kind of sequel by the same creators.

On the other hand, Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean is an intriguing graphic novel, but I'm torn as to whether or not I really enjoyed it. It's a dark and stormy night, and the inmates of Arkham are loose and have taken hostages; their list of demands calls for Batman to come to the asylum, but all is not what it seems... He is forced to play their demented games, trying to survive until midnight - and trying to unravel the real mystery for the inmates' escape.

Dave McKean's artwork is really incredible, but it gives a very strange, dreamlike quality to the whole book. This supports Grant Morrison's story, but at the same time it all feels a bit strange - Batman is a hero by virtue of his personal dedication, more than a man because of his training and will, and yet I've never seen a story where he has seemed more lost, more human... On reflection, I guess I did enjoy the story, but can't say that I would recommend it as readily as The Long Halloween.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Just Like That - Thing 79

How did I forget to report about Thing 79, organising my comics? This was quite a big effort actually, although spread out over a few weeks with one final push; the stuff for the next two years, Thing 80 (cataloguing them) is going to be even bigger. Organising them wasn't so bad. I wouldn't claim that there was an absolute order on them now, but at least they aren't overflowing on to everything, just taking over my room. I bought a big shelving unit to put DVDs and games on, and then used the space that created in my filing cabinet to store the comics.

Marvel is with Marvel (mostly), DC is with DC (mostly) and the indies are off doing their own thing. All is as it should be.

I didn't really get the chance to separate out the ones I was thinking of putting on eBay, but I figure that I can roll that into the next two years of Thing 80.

I'm happy. Nine down, ninety-two to go!

Thing 22 - Done!!!

So, 8/101... Life is good. Just to fill you in on the final few days of Thing 22:

Day 26 - Off To London
In which I talk about my then forthcoming trip to the capital.

Day 26b - Sleepwalking to Dystopia
In which I have to talk about identity cards.

Day 27 - Metropolis
In which I wonder if we've kind of lost our way.

Day 28 - Weekend in London
In which I'm excited to have been away.

Day 29 - End In Sight
In which I talk about not very much at all.

Day 30 - Work Work Work
In which I really have to keep it brief!

And that's that. I ended up with 31 posts in 30 days! Not bad at all, even if I do say so myself. And as soon as I settle into a routine with work I'm going to try and keep it up.

Not during NaNoWriMo though. That would just be crazy...

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Tropic Thunder

I saw this on Monday, and it really made me laugh a lot. It wasn't quite as funny as I had hoped it was going to be, and most of the things that really made me laugh stemmed from Robert Downey Jr's brilliant performance as a white Method actor playing a black army sergeant. None of the other actors' characters could really hold a candle to it, and none of their lines seemed to be quite up at his level.

The only other thing in the film which came close to being as good or funny as Downey Jr was Tom Cruise cameoing as a deranged studio boss; it's a great visual gag to see Tom Cruise in a fat suit, bald and bearded and swearing with every other word, and he uses some real choice phrases. The plot is crazy but cool, although it's obvious from the start what is going to have happened by the resolution. It is a bit by the numbers in terms of the tropes that are used, but the specifics (and the heavyweight nature of many of the cast) do elevate it above what could have been just another comedy.

Well worth a watch then, but you could wait 'til DVD in my opinion.

V For Vendetta

Just a short review of V For Vendetta: I absolutely loved this book. I'd been meaning to read it for years, and when I spotted it at the library a few weeks ago I decided that the time had finally arrived for me to give it a try.

It's around twenty years old now, but still reads as though it were written yesterday. The thought of living in a fascist dystopia seems oddly close (will that ever go away I wonder?) The artwork is great, very simple in places, quite haunting actually. I'd seen the film previously, and while I can understand some of the changes that were made it doesn't stand up to the depth of the book or the expression of the themes within it.

While I think Hugo Weaving is a fantastic actor, the character of V in the graphic novel is a much more intriguing person and his goals seem much grander than the character in the film. The supporting characters also have much more to do in the graphic novel, you really get a feel that you are looking at a real world, a terrifying vision of the kind of world that could be.

Project Euler

So I've made a good start so far on thing number 82, solving 25 problems on Project Euler. From the site:

Project Euler is a series of challenging mathematical/computer programming problems that will require more than just mathematical insights to solve. Although mathematics will help you arrive at elegant and efficient methods, the use of a computer and programming skills will be required to solve most problems.

I've solved six of the problems so far, and while I'm not going to go into huge detail on how I did them, I thought I would list the ones I've solved and say a few words on how I did it.

(you know, so you know I'm not just cheating or anything)

Problem 1: Add all the natural numbers below one thousand that are multiples of 3 or 5.
This was quite straight forward, there are simple formulas for adding sums of numbers. We simply take add the formulas for sums of multiples of 3 or 5 and subtract the sum of numbers which are multiples of 15.

Problem 2: Find the sum of all the even-valued terms in the Fibonacci sequence which do not exceed four million.
I did this with a simple program I wrote. It's easy to write out the steps by hand, the problem here is in the number of steps involved. A simple C++ program solved it.

Problem 5: What is the smallest number divisible by each of the numbers 1 to 20?
This just took a little bit of thought, no computing involved.

Problem 6: What is the difference between the sum of the squares and the square of the sums, for the numbers from 1 to 100?
Again, there are formulas for these, I just had to look them up.

Problem 8: Discover the largest product of five consecutive digits in the 1000-digit number.
For this one the site gives you a 1000 digit number; I did think about trying to test the basic C++ skills I have to read through it and find the requisite place, but in the end it was easier to do it by observation than mess around with C++. (note: this is not a good idea in general, the "by inspection" approach does not scale well!)

Problem 20: Find the sum of digits in 100!
This was simple, although I will talk about how I would do it differently now that I've thought about it. I found a website which would calculate 1 times 2 times 3 times...times 100, and then just summed the digits.

Now, C++ only allows operations on integers up to a certain amount (around four billion). 100! has a lot more digits than that; I've thought about it since, and figured out how I can create a "big number calculator" for C++. I'm sure someone else must have done it before, and I only have it in principle in my head so far, but I'm reasonably confident that I can create it soon.

Six down, nineteen to go!

Thing 22 - Day 25

Day 23 - Worst Case Scenarios
In which I link to a taxonomy of the end of the world.

Day 24 - Wordless Wednesday: Yummy!
In which I show off my cooking efforts.

Day 25 - DO NOT WANT
In which I am annoyed about recent news regarding a prequel for I Am Legend.

Almost there...

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Thing 22 - Day 23

Well, not quite. I've not written my post for today, but I will soon. I'm really pleased that I've stuck to this, although I am concerned that this weekend I will be going to London and am just hoping that I can find time to write (the good thing is I can always send something from my phone).

So what have I been writing about on Cognitive Blindspot? Well, since you asked:

Day 13 - Overclocked
In which I get a bit excited! (don't worry, it won't last long)

Day 14 - Robinson Crusoe in our circumstances were beyond the operation of fear.

Day 15 - Halfway There
In which I am shocked at a credit card offer.

Day 16 - Changing Traditions
In which I talk about my ambitions and my family's history.

Day 17 - Wordless Wednesday
The empty desk in my former office.

Day 18 - Tired!
In which I expound on the statement that working for a living is tiring.

Day 19 - Curious Symmetry
In which I link to a maths related thing.

Day 20 - Fun and Games
In which I'm rejoicing about the arrival of the weekend.

Day 21 - Iron Chef
In which I announce my culinary ambitions.

Day 22 - Another Way to Die
In which I link to the new Bond theme.

Is it really that long since I wrote about thing 22? Wow. I hadn't realised. That's a lot of formatting to do. Sigh.

Coming soon on Racing Entropy (seriously folks, I promise):
Reviews of Robinson Crusoe, V For Vendetta, and Content, as well as my thoughts on Tropic Thunder, some solutions to Project Euler challenges (or at least how I went about the problems) and some flash fiction. In fact, in the absence of anyone in the office, I think I'm going to start on the latter now.

(that's right blogosphere, I'm sticking it to the Man)

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Just a Castaway

Apologies, as usual, I promise and don't deliver. I said at the end of my last post that I would write later in the day, but of course I didn't. Oh well. I'll try to be better in future...

I finished Robinson Crusoe a few days ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's said to be the first novel in the English language, nearly 300 years old, and seems really fresh even today. Reading about Crusoe's exploits - how he becomes self-sufficient, how he finds faith - is really engaging, and there was something about the self-sufficiency and what he does in order to fend for himself that really engaged me.

As I noted on Cognitive Blindspot, there were passages that just jumped out at me. One in particular towards the end of the book really stuck in my mind. Crusoe looks within reach of leaving the island, having found some allies (after nearly thirty years of solitude) but the course that they are about to take is dangerous, confronting many armed men. Someone points out that they are in a terrible situation, and that they might be injured or killed in the attempt.

I smiled at him and told him that men in our circumstances were past the operation of fear.

I really, really love that line, ...past the operation of fear... There's a tremendous thought behind it.

So what else has been going on? I had a meeting on Thursday last week which was going to be just about getting some experience in the area that I am trying to get into. Following a meeting on Friday morning I now have two or three weeks of covering some admin, then a couple of workshops where I will be working as a tutor lined up. It seems to be growing all the time! So that's quite interesting. Once this two or three week engagement being on call to cover whatever arises is done I'll be registering myself as self-employed, which is a whole other exciting adventure.

It just feels crazy that I went from a week ago with nothing in particular planned but an idea of a general direction that I wanted to go in, to today where I have a job that's paying the bills at the moment with promises of work in the next two months which are going to pay well and be invaluable in establishing myself in an area that I want to get into.

More soon, I promise. I still need to talk about Project Euler and how I've been getting on with that!

Just a castaway, an island lost at sea...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Thing 22 - Twelve Days In

So what have I been talking about over on Cognitive Blindspot? This and that really. I originally started it with noisms to be somewhere that we could just talk about whatever we wanted, and I think the last week has really given some posts that are in that vein, a real variety pack.

Day 5 - Lull
In which I say a few things about a few things, and show a picture of La Princesse.

Day 6 - A Saturday of This and That
In which I tell you about my Saturday. (that was a bit obvious!)

Day 7 - Free Reading
In which I talk about how awesome the library is.

Day 8 - Busy Busy
In which the writer posts a video and asks a question about Bond songs.

Day 9 - Split
In which the writer has a headache. (actually, this has been an issue for the last few days...)

Day 10 - Wordless Wednesday
In which we see my travelling companion freezing.

Day 11 - Several Links
In which I tell you all about some cool things I've found on the internet.

Day 12 - Serendipity
In which a plan comes together.

Life isn't too bad, and I have a very good feeling about the next few months. Will post more later today, have a few book review related things to do, and also want to talk about Project Euler as well, which I've already made a start on.

Take it easy.

Friday, 12 September 2008

I'm Alive!

This has been a manic, manic week. Writing every day over on Cognitive Blindspot along with the other things going on in my life has meant that writing reviews and keeping things up to date over here has fallen by the wayside a little. Now the weekend is nearly here, and in order to take a little break before the next phase in my life begins I think I'll try to get a few posts under my belt on here over the weekend.

Hope all is well in your neck of the woods, wherever that may be!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Thing 22 - Regular Blogging

I've made a start of thing 22 on my list: writing every day for a month on Cognitive Blindspot. When me and my friend noisms started the blog over a year ago we planned to both update it at least three times a week. That's kind of fallen by the wayside of late (and noisms hasn't written on there for a long time - although he does keep an interesting RPG-related blog at Monsters and Manuals), and I thought that now was the time to work on getting back on track with that more general blog. Trying to accomplish thing 22 seemed like a good way to get back into blogging regularly, and we'll see how it goes...

So, a quick summary of what I've done this week!

Day 1 - The Bad Beginning
In which our writer tells of tutoring, and sets out his stall for September.

Day 2 - Ugh
In which we see snails on a girl's face. Ugh.

Day 3 - Wordless Wednesday
In which the writer shows a painting that he owns.

Day 4 - Thursday Thirteen
In which the writer considers thirteen things he will miss now that his PhD is over.

Will update on this as it progresses; book reviews and possibly flash fiction at the weekend!

Monday, 1 September 2008

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

Without going to check, I think I'm right in saying that "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier" is the first graphic novel that I've read as part of thing 68. It's very good, but very different from the preceding volumes in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. Whereas the earlier works are comics collected in to graphic novels, this is more of a hybrid of various things, a story about a dossier collecting certain information from down the years; the dossier is reproduced and interwoven with that is a graphic novel relating the adventures of Mina Harker and Allan Quatermain, two of the surviving members of the League.

The hook for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was showing further fantastical adventures of characters from late 19th century literature - Harker and Quatermain, Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man - and placing all of these fascinating characters in a Victorian England where many of the characters and situations from 19th century literature are real. So in Volume 1 we see the League battling Fu Manchu and Moriarty, and Volume 2 has the arrival of Martian tripods.

Black Dossier is different in that the time moves forward to the late 1950s, and shows an England drastically different from the one which actually happened. The recent overthrow of the "Ingsoc" government (from 1984) as well as the contents of the Black Dossier gives a very different reality - and an utterly compelling one. A familiar British secret agent, the story of the earlier Leagues (with members including Gulliver, Prospero and the immortal Orlando) and the fascinating alternate world of 1950s England made this a real treat, totally unlike anything else I've read in a very long time (graphic novel or otherwise).

One should read the previous volumes first probably to get a handle on a few of the events referenced, but it does stand alone very well I think. Track it down and treat yourself!

Friday, 29 August 2008


Over four months in now, and I've decided to make my first substitution; it dawned on me that I hadn't been using a monthly face mask since the first month (although you will be glad to hear that I use a moisturising face scrub at least every other day), and it didn't feel quite right that this was going to be something that I couldn't make up.

So I've substituted "Solve twenty-five of the problems on Project Euler" for number 82, which was previously the monthly face mask. Project Euler is a site that posts challenging maths and computing puzzles, and there are over two hundred of them now. I think this is a challenge that will really appeal, as some of the puzzles do have "brute force" solutions - such as number 6, the one that I am considering first - i.e., you could solve it with a program that would obtain the answer through simply performing the required operations, but there is always the probability that there is a more elegant solution. With a bit of careful thought one should be able to find the answer...

I'm going to try and solve the first ten problems, and then see which other fifteen take my fancy.

More soon on other things!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


Some progression on one of my travel plans! I'll be visiting the US next summer - in fact I'll be crossing the whole country!

Last week my friend Dave and I were sat in the pub bemoaning the fact that neither of us had had a holiday this summer and that next summer we should do something. Very quickly, and I forget which one of us came up with the idea, we snowballed on to the idea of a road trip across America. A few hours speculation - supported by me going home and getting my Lonely Planet guides - lead us to the rough outline of a plan that we have now. We'll start in New York in early July, rent a car (Dave is insisting on a convertible) then head west-ish, passing through a fair few states - much more than the five I had as my goal - and end up in San Francisco about five weeks later.

We sat down last night for a few hours with GoogleMaps and a hastily cobbled together chart and came up with a rough outline of an itinerary. Dave works in the United Arab Emirates and is headed back there on Friday, and won't be coming back to the UK until next summer, so although we have ten months to sort out what we're doing exactly we just had to get a few details down now while we're both here.

Destinations along the way include Washington, Denver and Las Vegas, but nothing is set in stone yet regarding our itinerary - so if anyone has suggestions of cool places to visit (on a roughly east to west journey across the US) we'll be glad to hear them! Also, if you have any advice about good/cheap motel chains that are worth staying in that would be helpful too. We're planning on motelling on the big drives (Chicago to Denver, Denver to Las Vegas), and saving our nickels to stay in the Bellagio or the Wynn when we arrive in Las Vegas!!!

To get some ideas I read "Drive Thru America" by Sean Condon, which is published as a Lonely Planet Journey. It's interesting and very enjoyable, but at the same time the author's frequent flights of fantasy and digressions - which reminded me of some of the writing of Woody Allen - mean that it's a narrative inspired by a road trip rather than a straight account of the trip that he and his friend took. It's well worth a read if you like travel books (and I've not read that many before, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about), but I think I need to read quite a few more books for inspiration.

Ten months to go...

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Spook Country

For the longest time I've forgotten the associated pleasure that goes with reading a William Gibson novel for the first time... Spook Country was great, and for the very simple reason that Gibson has tapped into something with his latest "series" of books (going on past performance I'm guessing we can expect one more novel set in the almost present day of Spook Country and Pattern Recognition), something which one of his characters says quite early on in the book: "Mysteries are cool."

Hmm, maybe they say that secrets are cool, but it amounts to the same thing. By having the story be about people who are not in the know, and not even in the know about what they aren't in the know about, he creates a beautiful structure that keeps the reader turning the pages from very early on in the novel because we need to know what it is that is going on. We need to know what is in the mysterious cargo container that Hollis Henry is sent on the trail of, even when she doesn't know that that is what she is after. We need to know what happens to Tito, the young man who seems almost superhuman in his physical abilities and mental discipline, and yet who is actually quite a humble character.

Spook Country has a genuinely intriguing plot, and is written beautifully. Gibson really knows how to turn a phrase; while I have a great fondness for the Sprawl Trilogy and for the Bridge Trilogy, I have to admit that he just seems to get better and better with each book. He tells compelling stories that are populated with fantastic, interesting and three-dimensional characters and which just hook you from the start in a world of amazing observations and a real sense of place.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

I'm a guy in my late twenties. I wasn't even born when Star Wars came out, but of course it casts a shadow pretty much over my whole life, what I think, how I respond to popular culture - everything - it all comes down to the hum of a lightsaber, seeing the Millennium Falcon (aside: Best. Spaceship. Ever) jump into hyperspace, and watching a small green man lift an X-Wing through the Force.

OK, so the prequels didn't quite live up to the original films' brilliance - it was probably unreasonable for me to expect them to - but they were something, and they had their moments of greatness too. When Star Wars: The Clone Wars was announced I was a bit sceptical; I'd quite liked the animated Clone Wars shorts, they were fun, they were alright - but it wasn't serious Star Wars. The Clone Wars film was supposed to be somewhere in-between though, filling the gap between Episodes II and III, kick-starting a computer-animated TV series... I mean, is it a Star Wars film, or is it a 100 minute trailer for a show?

The answer, to borrow from another famous sci-fi franchise, is it's Star Wars, Jim, but not as we know it...

From the tweaked opening music and fast-paced scene-setting replacing the opening text crawl through to the "nothing more Star Wars" dialogue-free closing shots The Clone Wars is hugely enjoyable - if you take it on its terms and for what it is. Highly stylised versions of the prequel trilogy's characters, beautifully animated backdrops, a story that doesn't focus on politics and trade federations (although there are quite a few mentions of shipping routes): it's a cool, fast-paced antidote to some of the tedium in the prequels.

It's not without flaws unfortunately: it's a little episodic in places, the music isn't bad but it's just not the same as having John Williams at the helm, but these are minor complaints next to the inclusion of Jabba the Hutt's uncle, Ziro the Hutt...

It's also true that the animation is a little under-developed on some of the characters, and that some of the sparring between Anakin and his padawan seems bizarre (having been raised as part of the Jedi Order, would a young girl really start out so cocky when she's first apprenticed to a renowned warrior?), but all in all this is a fun film that definitely doesn't detract from previous films in the Star Wars franchise. It's not Episode II.5, but it works well as an introduction to The Clone Wars TV show and is definitely enjoyable for both kids and adults alike.

And it also really makes me want to start research on making lightsabers a reality...

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Crooked Little Vein

I read a few books in the last week (including The Raw Shark Texts, which was alright but not as great as it initially promised) but the one which stands out in my mind is Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis. Ellis is the writer of a lot of graphic novels and comic books, and writes a very interesting blog, and Crooked Little Vein is his first novel.

It's a very strange story: a detective who always gets the thin end of the wedge, who always ends up working the weirdest cases is tasked by the Chief of Staff to the president to find the real constitution of the United States - something which can help bring the country back on track. He sets off, meeting body modifiers, Godzilla porn enthusiasts and serial killers on the way...

It's probably not to everyone's taste (and I think ten minutes spent reading through random posts on Ellis' blog will help you to figure out whether it might be to your taste), but it is an entertaining read and it's also a thought-provoking read. People say, "Oh, there's all kinds of weird stuff on the internet" - but the internet is mainstream, it connects a huge percentage of the world's population, and so if something is on the internet, is it not already in the mainstream?

Even if that material is for Godzilla porn enthusiasts?

Crooked Little Vein is not for everyone, but it's a good read, moves along at a breakneck pace and makes you think as much as it makes you go "There can't be people interested in that..."

Monday, 11 August 2008

Happyslapped by a Jellyfish

Happyslapped by a Jellyfish by Karl Pilkington is not exactly what you would normally expect from a travel guide. It's not really close to what you would expect from a series of humourous anecdotes either, mainly because all Karl does is moan about his previous holiday experiences.

That first paragraph probably sounded harsh, let me put this another way: despite being unlike any humourous travelogue you've probably ever read (or any other you ever will read) Happyslapped by a Jellyfish is brilliant. From the opening introduction (wherein Karl discusses why he has stopped buying lottery tickets - because if he won his girlfriend would always want to go on holiday) through to the final handwritten page (which is the end, unless you're a Chinese person who 'reads books back-to-front') it's a fascinating insight into the mind of a person who just doesn't view the world in the same way as other people.

For those not in the know, Karl Pilkington is one of the stars of the world's number one podcast, The Ricky Gervais Show. The other stars, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (creators of The Office), once did some radio work and Karl was their producer on that show. The podcast started in late 2005 and has had several series since then; the format of the show is quite simple all in all, with Ricky and Steve basically just finding out what Karl thinks about various subjects.

I think the only way I can really give you some insight into the mind of Karl is to leave you with a few quotations (from his quotations page on the Pilkipedia - a Ricky Gervais Show fansite):

On Life:
"I look at life like a big book and sometimes you get half way through it and go 'Even though I've been enjoying it, I've had enough. Give us another book.'"

On Ugly Babies:
"You can be an ugly baby and everyone goes 'awww innit nice?' There was some women in a cafe the other week that I was sat in, and she came up and she sat down with her mate and she was talkin' loudly goin' on about 'oh the baby's lovely.' They said 'it's got, er, lovely big eyes, er, really big hands and feet.' Now that doesn't sound like a nice baby to me. I felt like sayin' it sounds like a frog. But I thought I dont know her, there's only so much you can say to a stranger. I dont know what kept me from sayin' it."

On Jellyfish:
"They are 97% water or something, so how much are they doing? Just give them another 3% and make them water. It's more useful."

Friday, 8 August 2008

Flash Fiction: Five Cigarettes

Five Cigarettes
by Nathan Ryder

“I thought you said that you were going to quit.”
She exhales and blows the smoke out, a small grin tugging at the corners of her mouth.
“Let me guess, they'll kill me, right?”
The cigarette is almost gone anyway, I don't know why I brought it up. Just something to break the silence.
“Well - ” I began.
“It's not really been top of my list, you know?”
She checks the pack while she takes another short drag.
“Only four left,” she says quietly.
We both sit in silence, and only speak again when we hear a faint noise, drifting through the night. That's the way it's been for the last few days, just talking until we decide to sleep.
“I'll stop after these are gone,” she says, “I'll make them last.”
A week ago there were six of us. Now there's just me and her.
“We can probably get some more from that shop on the corner,” I suggest. “It's no big deal.”
“No,” she says, taking one last drag and stubbing it out. “I'll stop after these.”
Something outside, closer than before, sends a long howling moan into the night, and once the noise stops we just look at each and blow out the candles.
Ben died two days ago.


We escape over the roofs, jumping from the edge of one building to the next.
They got in.
They're not fast, but the way we figure it, we need to get away and out of sight as quickly as possible. They've not got enough left mentally to chase us for long, they might not even “think” to follow us out of the attic...
There's just so many now.
We stop, out of breath. She points to the top of a petrol station a few stories down. We stop and watch the street, wait until we've caught our breath.
The flat's trashed, gone. And here there's empty streets.
We scale down a fire escape and then just run for it. We climb up onto the roof of a van and from there I can just about reach onto the petrol station. She boosts me up and then I reach down for her, pull her up.
We lie back, saying nothing. I realise after a few minutes that she's shivering. I pull the blanket out of my pack and drape it over her. She looks at me and smiles, lifts the edge of the blanket and I huddle underneath with her.
I wake at sunrise. She sits, her legs hanging over the edge of the roof, watching the dawn, smoke trailing up from the cigarette in her hand.


I hear a scream, drop the torch and then pick it back up again, run.
At the doorway to the shop there isn't a second's pause, and without thinking I find myself throwing the torch straight at the man looming over Jane. She's still screaming. The man stumbles back and I jump over her, falling forwards and taking me and him over to the floor. His arms shoot up and his dead fingers grip at my throat. I put my hand out, scramble and find the torch.
As he starts to pull me down to his mouth I bring the handle of the torch down on the man's face. He moans, growls again and his arms struggle again at me; I bat them away and smash the torch in the centre of his forehead. With something sounding like a sigh he stops moving.
I roll off him and look over to Jane. She's sobbing still, but looks like she's calming down, composing herself.
Something's wrong and for a second I don't understand.
Then I realise. I can't say anything.
“I was just having a smoke,” she says, wiping her eyes and nose on her sleeve, “I turned around and he was just there...”
She catches me staring.
She looks at her hand.


“You promise?” she asks quietly. A thin plume of smoke rises from the cigarette in her hand. Since lighting it a few minutes ago she hasn't inhaled. She holds the other hand close to her, keeping it out of sight.
“I promise,” I say, hoping that my voice doesn't quaver.
She finally takes a drag. We used the last candle two nights ago, and the only light is from a pale yellow moon.
I don't know how long it is before she speaks.
“Where will you go?” she asks. I look at her, and see the light hitting her eyes. They're more distant than yesterday. I'll have to... I'll have to go when she falls asleep.
I want to.
But I promised.
“I don't know... Maybe the next town. Try and find some other people. Food would be nice too!”
“Yeah,” she says, “I think I'll feel better if I eat something.”
I look down, but know that she's looking at me.


Two days later I set out. She died peacefully, and then I waited.
She went less peacefully the second time.
I wrapped her in a bedsheet and laid her in a rooftop garden that I found.
I stood over her and smoked the last one out of the pack.
I'm glad I never started before but I don't think that one will kill me.

Creative Commons License
This short story is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works License. Feel free to repost and share it with others, so long as you credit me (Nathan Ryder, 2008) as the original author and link back to this page. It would also be nice if you dropped me a comment!

Intro to Flash Fiction

Thing number 16 on my list, as regular readers will be aware, is to write 101 pieces of flash fiction. I decided on this as a nice creative challenge, something to just flex my mental muscles while I was thinking about other creative things.

Instead it has taken me over 100 days just to get to the point of finishing the first one! I have plenty of ideas, but when it comes to writing something of between 250 and 1000 words (which is what I am going to take as my restriction) you have to be very creative with the story that you're telling. Now, I'm not suggesting that I am very creative, but I'm hoping that readers will find something interesting in at least a few of these stories that I'm going to tell.

On the off chance that someone wants to link to anything I write, please remember to credit me (Nathan Ryder) as the author, and if for some bizarre reason you'd like to reproduce it in some way or whatever then please get in touch. Look at the Creative Commons licence that I have in the main site sidebar for further detail.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Haiku and a promise

Stitch her together
From fresh meat; my servant snarls;
We wait for lightning.

I don't know what that says about me, I really don't... But there it is. I guess I was thinking about zombie haiku the other day, and a little later this came to me. Something Frankenstein-y, mixed in with black and white movies from the 1950s (I watched the excellent The Last Man on Earth a few days ago, much better than I Am Legend!).

For a long time I've talked about flash fiction as well... And I've promised and promised to write and put something up. And every time I've broken that promise.

Tomorrow I will post my first piece of flash fiction, Five Cigarettes, as it is written and tonight I am just going to go through and see if there is anything I want to tweak. I finished writing it at the weekend, and decided to let it rest for a few days before I looked over it again.

In other news I have started learning C++, as in the absence of news on my corrections from my examiners and news of jobs I've applied for (I've pretty much settled in my head that I am going to go on holiday in September) I thought it would be good to keep the learning process going. Learning C++ is something that I think will be pretty good too, as it gives me some more skills for the future, and will also allow me to achieve one of my 101 things.

'Til tomorrow then!

The Moonstone

It took me a while to get into The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I started reading it for two reasons, the first of which was that last year I read another novel of his, The Woman In White, which is pretty good; the second reason was that I had recently read somewhere that The Moonstone is thought of as being one of the first detective stories - possibly the first. Since I've grown very attached to reading mystery and noir stories over the last year it seemed like a good book to read.

It starts off quite slowly really, and for a while I was worried that I had mis-read the review ("It's the first detective story... but not that good..."), however before I was a quarter of the way through I was totally hooked. What's great about it is that it totally gives you the feeling of being a participant or a close friend of those involved; it is told in the form of various journals and records of events as they happened and just like the characters in the story, one develops theories as to what has happened to the titular diamond - and time after time that theory is shown to be wrong (the true circumstances of the disappearance of the Moonstone are brilliant, and very imaginative).

The characters themselves are always well-written: some of them are not very likable people, but they are all three-dimensional, they all stand out from the page. Collins gives such life to them, especially to Gabriel Betteredge (a devoted manservant) and to the outcast Ezra Jennings - who gives one of the shorter contributions to the tale but leaves one of the biggest impressions in my opinion.

I don't do marks out of ten or anything like that, but if you are looking for a good book to while away the time as you sun yourself on a beach this summer, or to pass the time on the train or in the evenings then you will be hard pressed to find a better companion than The Moonstone.

Saturday, 2 August 2008


It's been a while, but yesterday having watched "Zombie Haiku" on Youtube (courtesy of a Boing Boing link, and by the way, I guess the link is a little bloody and zombie-ish, so reader beware) I was inspired to write a couple of haiku in the evening. The first actually is a zombie haiku, and is - in some ways - a bit of a cop out, but I think that a lot of fun could be had with it, especially if one was to illustrate it in a really interesting way.

brains... brains... brains... brains... brains...
brains! brains-brains-brains... brains...? BRAINS!!! brains...
brains...? b-b-braaaains? braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains...

Let's leave aside the pedantic notion of whether or not zombies really go for brains, or whether it is just a general human flesh thing that they do. I quite like the idea of zombie haiku as a funny little thing, and the haiku in the Youtube video are pretty funny.

The second haiku that came to me is more of a story - well, not quite. Or rather, I was originally thinking of it as the starting point of a story (not in a haiku form, but in some kind of descriptive prose) but then I realised that perhaps the simple imagery of it - and everything that might be suggested by it, or one's own imagination could create from it might make it quite a nice little haiku.

The black box tumbled;
Blocking sunlight we saw it,
And all we knew changed.

That's all I got for now, maybe more later. I was going to go out trainer shopping, but I think that the shopping centre will be busy (and plus, no-one should ever go to a mall when they've been thinking about zombies, it's just wrong) and I can probably shop in more peace if I go tomorrow.

The rest of the family are all out now, so I might just use this opportunity to get some writing done that I keep putting off...

Friday, 1 August 2008


With an absence of pressing emails in my inbox this morning, and also a lack of urgent matters at the office I decided to go and see WALL-E at 11, take the morning off and relax. It was a good plan, WALL-E was just beautiful.

There are lots of big ideas running all through WALL-E; the biggest is probably the disturbing backstory that is responsible for the state of the earth at the start of the film. A single corporation drowns the earth in rubbish, and then takes the entire population away for a five year cruise among the stars that stretches to seven hundred years while robots clean the earth. After seven hundred years there's only one little robot left, a little eccentric maybe, but still working hard.

In some ways the plot of the film is really straight forward, but then it doesn't need to be complicated: it's really engaging, and it's just gorgeous to look at. The romance between WALL-E and EVE is fantastic too, it's one of the greatest little love stories I've seen in a film in a very long time, and once again Pixar's animation has taken another step forward. WALL-E's earth that we see at the start of the film seems almost photo-real, and despite being filled with rubbish is gorgeous to look at.

Plus, and this is a big plus, the Pixar short before WALL-E, Presto, is just sublime. It's a laugh out loud couple of minutes, that reminded me a lot of the sheer anarchy of old Loony Tunes cartoons.

It's been out a while, if you haven't seen it, go and see WALL-E!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Dark Knight Redux

I'm meeting my mum and sister at FACT in about an hour to go and see The Dark Knight again.

Can I count that as one of my thirty films a second time or is that, as my brain is telling me, a little bit cheeky?

I know I did a whole "three months" post a few days ago, but I think tomorrow (so long as my counter is right) it will be 101 days since I started. I'm thinking of going through the list and tweaking some of my things, especially the one about reading "Cerberus" - I might change that to reading all of "The Invisibles" or all of "Transmetropolitan". It would be good to read one of those all the way through I think.

For now I will keep the one about growing a beard in the style of Gregory House...

Friday, 25 July 2008

Template question

I've just been tweaking the template code for simple stuff to widen the text areas for the main body and the sidebar, that all seems fine. My template skills are non-existent however, I only knew how to widen the columns because I looked over the code and picked out stuff to do with pixels and so on. What I want to do is add a horizontal break line after each post, so that the format would be something like


and so on. Anybody know of any way to do that, or know where I should look for assistance?

The Dark Knight

Here's my review of The Dark Knight:

"Amazing beyond words."

Don't really know what to add to that. It was one of the most brilliant films I've seen in the last few years, a sprawling, epic story which tied together comic book lore, superb action sequences and a fantastic script, which was then fused beneath some incredible performances: everyone is talking about the late Heath Ledger - and rightfully so - but Aaron Eckhart deserves a lot of praise too, as does the rest of the cast.

Empire and SFX, the two magazines that I trust when it comes to film and book reviews said this and this about The Dark Knight. Go and see it, if you haven't already. If you have, go and see it on IMAX. If you've seen it on IMAX then you're luckier than me (but I intend to follow your lead very soon!).

Journeys Ahead!

My new passport has arrived! I've not seen it yet, I just got a text before from home to say that it had arrived. Considering that there was a three day strike of passport office workers this week and that I only sent my application off last Wednesday morning I'm really amazed and surprised that it is back. It was sent to me by special recorded delivery (for security), but then half an hour later I got another text to see that my old passport had arrived back through the normal post. Quite surprising, I would have thought that they burned them after they had expired and you had your new passport, but never mind.

Some time next week I will post side-by-side pictures of the passport photos, show you how I have changed in ten years; the new picture is terrible - the old one was terrible because I was so young in it, but at least I was able to smile in the picture! Under the new guidelines for passports in the UK you are not allowed to smile for your passport photo, meaning that I look like a real misery in mine...

If my thesis corrections are ever confirmed then perhaps I can make some holiday plans for the coming months. I've just finished reading about a happy little trip in "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome; I've heard about it before, and my decision to read this was influenced by the wonderful "To Say Nothing of the Dog" by Connie Willis which I read last year (a great time travel story, and also incredibly funny). It's quite a whimsical little story, and the meandering plot and observations of the narrator really draw you in.

On the train this morning I started reading "The Search for the Dice Man" - the sequel to "The Dice Man" by Luke Rhinehart - which I picked up for £1.25 in a charity shop a few weeks ago. I read "The Dice Man" nine years ago (almost to the day, now that I think about it) and thought it was a very interesting book. I'll let you know my thoughts on the sequel when I've finished it in a few days. Still have a short stack of books to read, but I also have a growing list of books that I've spotted on Amazon that I want to get. Seeing as how I'm probably not going on holiday in the next month I'm debating treating myself to a big stack of summer reading to get my teeth into.

Seven down... Ninety-four to go. Am hoping to get maybe another three things ticked off by the end of the summer. One of the maths things might be within my grasp, and am also probably going to get around to selling stuff on eBay in the next few weeks.

Onwards and upwards...

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Three Months

So what have I achieved in my first three months? Well, I'm on track with sending letters, I've finished six out of 101 things and I've read a fair few books. That's a good start, right?

Disappointingly, I've not been able to write a single piece of flash fiction yet. Whenever I sit down I just dry up, even when I'm strict with myself (maybe not strict enough) and set myself deadlines like during National Novel Writing Month. But I have ideas, I have more and more ideas every day. I have titles. I have characters and names. All I have written is a single page of typed A4 called "Seven Cigarettes," an unfinished zombie story.

But! That will all change! I promise! Coming soon...

...a young boy shows off his science fair project, a working model of a green and blue planet complete with orbiting body...

...extracts from the diary of Dracula's fourth bride...

...and Ethical Conditions, a story about the galactic gourmet food market...

All to appear here - exclusively! - in the coming weeks, here on Racing Entropy!

(was that "exclusively!" a bit over the top? I can never tell...)

Monday, 21 July 2008

Recommendations, Kind Of

I trust SFX, a UK- based sci-fi magazine, when it comes to recommendations for books and authors. I've been reading the magazine for over a decade now, and haven't missed an issue in that time - and actually still have all of those issues (most of them stacked in the bottom of my wardrobe now for want of somewhere to put them). So, it was with some disappointment that I finished "Infected" by Scott Sigler the other day, the first time in a long time that I've read a book and felt like it's been a bit of a waste of time.

I feel quite harsh in saying that, but I got to the end of it's 450 or so pages yesterday evening, closed the book and shrugged my shoulders. (my sister is reading what I'm writing over my shoulder, and just said, "That's a few hours of your life you're not going to get back." She's right) It was an interesting idea from the start, but just took forever to get where it was going - and where was it going? Well, nowhere. It seemed quite well thought out in some of its ideas, but was really boring. For something that was about people trying to stop a mysterious disease making seemingly unconnected people crazy (a government bioweapon gone wrong? terrorists? aliens?) there weren't many people infected, and there didn't seem to be any big consequences other than a few deaths.

And then the end just comes out of nowhere as the "heroes" start to close in on someone who is infected (up to this point nearly everyone that they get to is already dead by the time they arrive, or is dead soon after) and, oh my gosh, in fifteen pages they avert what could have been a global catastrophe and we still don't really know what was causing the problem (OK, we kind of do, but we don't know what the motivation for it all was). Worryingly, this felt like the first part of a series - but I guess I shouldn't be worried as I won't be reading it!

It was an interesting idea, I'll give the author that, but it just seemed to go off the rails about a quarter of the way in. SFX gave it four stars (out of five): I would give it two. It's the first time in a long time that I've considered putting a book down before I'd finished it. (the last time was "Cell" by Stephen King, and the time before that was "Labyrinth" by Kate Mosse - I actually put that down after twenty pages!)

I'm not sure what I'm going to read next. Possibly the sequel to "The Dice Man," maybe a big collection of science-fiction short stories.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Saturday - Today

Picked up some postcards yesterday; will work on getting some of them written tomorrow. Anyone else out there want one? Then drop me a line!

Finished item 47 on the list, my replay of Metal Gear Solid 2. It's a great game, and still seems very fresh despite the fact that it is about six or seven years old now. For the most part it's hide and seek - the aim of the game isn't to run headlong into danger and take out the terrorists, but to be stealthy, to work around them, draw them away so that you can get past them. There's always more than one way to approach a situation, and it's extremely rewarding to come up with clever solutions in order to get around the security schemes that your opponents have come up with.

It's an older game, and I don't know if you can play it on the PS3 or not (backwards compatibility seems to be dependent on where you buy your console) but it should still be available on PC. Go for it, even if you never normally play games: the script is incredible, some people think it's longwinded, but it's deep, it makes you think - even if you disagree with it and all its philosophical musings. And the gameplay is sublime, it really is.

Ugh. Have felt a bit rough for a few days now. I think it's just the fact that I am waiting for the results of my corrections. Sleeping less. Lack of focus.

Short sentences.

More after the weekend, going to work on the postcards tomorrow. And a piece of flash fiction!

By the end of the weekend I will have written one piece of flash fiction.

There. Can't take it back now.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Yes Man

Yesterday I finished "Yes Man" by Danny Wallace, and it's a book that has really given me food for thought. Having read both "Yes Man" and his previous book "Join Me" I feel like Danny and I would really get on where we to meet in a pub. He has a really positive attitude, and a real determination to stick with things, and those are qualities that I wish I had more of.

Reading "Yes Man" has definitely made me feel better about 101/1001; whenever I tell people about 101/1001 I get a mix of responses between "Oh wow, that's interesting" to a bemused sort of look on their faces - since I first started thinking about this around six months ago I've only spoken to one person who has said, "Oooooh, I think I'll do that!" At times it feels like a really silly thing to be doing, and at times I think why did I put that on my list, I'm never going to get that done! But now I'm thinking Yes, come on, this is great! And all because of seeing what happens when one man says yes to every opportunity that comes his way for six months!

Still not heard anything back from my examiners about my corrections, though have no idea how long it could take. A few weeks? Let's hope...

Applied for one of the jobs in Edinburgh, and added my CV to a jobs site. One more application, then I'm leaving it. Let August 10th come around and then I'm going full steam ahead with the holiday and private tuition plan.

What else? Oooh, well, I've been working on the "stacked 4-tangle" problem that's in my list (and which, when I figure out the answer, I will explain in layman's terms for you all!) this week, and have made a bit of progress. When I submitted my corrections earlier in the week I celebrated by going home and immediately starting my replay of Metal Gear Solid 2, which has brought me a lot of happiness in the evenings this week. Waiting for my passport to arrive... 10 days or so and then in theory I can just leave the country and go travelling!

And as usual, lots of ideas for things that I'm just not writing down... This is something that I need to work on in the coming weeks.

Let's go!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Passport renewal and general excitement

I sent off my passport renewal application this morning! Finished my corrections to my thesis yesterday - I hope, sent them off to my examiners and so am waiting - and decided it was time to start cracking on with some of my 101 things, or I'll never get anything done by the time I turn 30.

Started back on the job application front, looking at three things at the moment; but at the same time I want to do a little bit of travelling in September. I guess I have to set a kind of deadline: something along the lines of if I don't have an interview/job by August 10th then I'm just going to book the flights and be done with it.

Is that last line binding?!?!

I've had four people in total so far say that they would like a postcard! (I crossposted to my other blog and a site that I belong to) Any more takers?

I have my preview ticket for The Dark Knight next Wednesday, and I think I might take this Friday afternoon off to go and WALL-E. It's quite cool that the two films I've been looking forward to the most in the last year are coming out within a week of each other in the UK, although I wonder what that really leaves me to look forward to cinema-wise...

Just finished reading a really interesting book by a guy called Danny Wallace. "Join Me" chronicles what happened when the author placed a classified ad in a local London paper that simply said "Join Me, send a passport photo to this address..." It's brilliant, at first people join with no idea of what they are joining - indeed, Danny has no idea what they're joining! - and then, as events unfold things get stranger and stranger, inviting people who have joined to perform random acts of kindness on Fridays.

I'm about halfway through his next book, "Yes Man," which details six months of his life where he says yes to every opportunity that comes his way. Incredibly brave, very funny and something that pulls on the heartstrings in places. Might finish that this evening, don't think I've got anything else going on tonight. I picked up a few books at a charity shop at the weekend, so have a nice little pile to get through.

"Anna Karenina" stares at me from the shelf saying You said you would read me Nathan... Why haven't you read me? It's been five years... Sigh. I should read it some time this summer.

That's all for today! If I crack on with job applications tomorrow I think I might do something to spruce the blog up a bit.