Sunday, July 31, 2005

San Andreas

I've been away.

Five years. That's most of my adult life, counting the time from when I first picked up a piece and shot somebody. I don't think that I would have ever come back - contrary to all expectations I kept my nose pretty clean in Liberty City, took care of business and made a chunk of change.

Things changed though. I got the call telling me that ma had died, murdered and was now six feet under. I came back on the first flight I could get, and it cost me half of my change. The other half I lost to a certain Officer Tenpenny who rolled me as soon as the taxi left the airport. He shook me down, pretty much framed me for the murder of a cop from internal affairs and then dumped me in the middle of Ballas turf with only a bmx bike to get me home. Funny guy, and I don't mean in the amusing sense of the word.

I didn't think things could get much worse, but they did.

Most of the old gang was dead or gone or up the river. There were Ballas tags not three blocks from the hood. Sweet and Big Smoke had gone soft. My sister was seeing some cholo guy who actually turned out to be straight up, but that's another story.

Time to start putting things right. Get in shape to fight. Make a little money shooting pool and making some turf investments. Buy some heat. Wear the colours. Start spraying our tags again.

CJ is back, and you better believe it!

Well, that sort of explains what I have been doing for the last week, apart from working and finishing off Harry Potter. San Andreas is the most immersive game I’ve played in a long time – I’ve found myself planning my day and thinking I’ll spend a hour or two in the gym, followed by a game of pool in the bar and then a trip downtown listening to James Brown and Booker T on Master Sounds FM. Sweet. If you have a pc, xbox or ps2 then you really should get this game.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Happy Birthday to me ...

Well. What a fantastic birthday.

It was lovely to see everybody at the party last night, particularly Shullie and Loops who I know have been having a tough time recently. Jan did sterling work with the chilli and I hope that I managed to keep everybody supplied with drinks of various kinds through the evening. The surprise present of the Hutton Sabre from the fencing crew was most appreciated - thank you everybody for arranging this for me. I am really looking forward to learning how to put this wonderful bit of cold steel to its intended use ...

The evening finished when I nodded off by the chimnea sometime around midnight with the kids still discussing the mysteries of the universe ... I can't think of a better way to celebrate than with my precious family around me.

This morning sees me with a slightly befuzzled head from the bananana daiquiris and I am thinking about considering the possibility of getting up for a shower and a walk in the woods to blow the cobwebs away.

Thanks once again to everybody for making my birthday special. As the tee-shirt from my mum says - I'm not 40, I'm 18 with 22 years experience ... :-)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sim Nuke

Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb, on seeing the first explosion at the Trinity test site is reported to have said:

"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

One can only imagine that the people who thought that a sober and appropriate way to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the nuclear age was to set off a humungous firebomb in the middle of the desert would have said something like:

Heh. Heh. Nifty explosion dude ...

Toasta Bags

Toasta Bags were obviously invented by a drunk student. What's the first thing that you do when get in from the pub feeling a bit peckish? That's right - you cook a frozen pizza in your toaster (or should that be 'toasta') ...

This one's for Billy ...

Google Moon should be right up your street - just keep zooming in to maximum resolution for the best effect ...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Martian Heat Ray strikes

Originally uploaded by neilh.

The Assault Begins

Originally uploaded by neilh.

The End of the War

No one would have believed in the opening year of the twentieth century that the war against the Martian invaders could have ended. Few men even considered the possibility that the British Empire, almost brought to its knees a few short years earlier, could rally so magnificently. Some had expressed the hope that the invaders might have been felled by a weakness to common bacteria, but somehow they had anticipated such things when they drew their plans against us.

I remembered well the night that the first cylinder had fallen to Earth, two and a half years previously. By good fortune that initial attack was repelled by a company of artilleymen and the subsequent cylinders had changed their course to land in the Scottish highlands where they set to subjugating the population and constructing their monstrous fighting machines. We were not idle either, and used the brief respite to construct a defensive line stretching from Northumberland to Whitby on the east coast. The Martians launched numerous attacks with ever more powerful weapons but against the odds our line held.

Over the course of the following years, the formerly green and pleasant land was transformed into an industrial hell – oil wells were sunk in the south west, coal mines were dug and steel works were constructed in the heart of the English countryside. Technicians designed fighting machines of our own – self propelled artillery pieces and track laying vehicles (designated with the soubriquet of ‘tanks’). We researched better armour and improvements to munitions technology and fortified our defensive line with gun emplacements and fields of razor sharp barbed wire. Most importantly of all, work began on construction of the mighty ironclad ships that could shell Martian bases from the safety of the deep water.

At last, the push north began. We were horrified at the transformation we saw – roads and waterways choked by a hideous red weed, the proud city of Edinburgh reduced to ruins and monstrous farms where the few remaining men, women and children were harvested for their blood for some foul purpose.

Our resolve was set. The final assault into the Martian stronghold in the Grampian Mountains began, led by a column of our finest artillery pieces to tear apart the earthworks and heat rays that surrounded their control centre. We lost fully two thirds of our forces before the base fell, taking the remaining defenders with it to their destruction.

We were victorious, but at what cost? The British empire was now a forgotten glory as all of our efforts had been thrown into the war on our own soil. Would the world even remember our sacrifice should the invaders attack again when another century was done?

Finally, I could not help but wonder what might have happened if I had been in charge of the Martian forces? A determined lightning assault might have seen fighting machines at the gates of Downing Street before we were able to resist. It could all have been so different …

After a little tinkering, I managed to get the ‘War of the Worlds’ PC game running on my laptop. It’s a fantastic mix of real time battles and strategic planning across the map of the British Isles with the option to play as either side over an extended campaign. The music and graphics, even for an old game, are well done and are all based on the well known concept album by Jeff Wayne. Worth buying, if you happen to enjoy strategy games or maybe just want to grind humanity under the feet of a Martian tripod …

Friday, July 15, 2005

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Accelerando! is the latest novel from cyberpunk author Charles Stross and he has made it available for free download in a variety of formats. He explains that he sees this as being similar to making the book available through libraries and hopes that if you enjoy it you will buy a physical copy of it in the shops.

What an ace idea - three cheers for Charles Stross!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Great American Novels

I appear to have been on a bit of a Stephen King jag recently.

It started with the audio book of Hearts in Atlantis, narrated by William Hurt and Stephen King. I originally read this book a couple of years ago, but revisiting it in this form was most rewarding. The opening novella, 'Low Men in Yellow Coats', is perhaps one of King's very best works encompassing the magic of childhood, friendship, first love, betrayal and loss. It is set in small town America in 1960, where Bobby Garfield, who has just been given an adult library card for his birthday rather than the Schwinn bike he craves, meets Ted, an old man on the run from the eponymous low men of the title. King references several classic works of fiction - Clifford Simak's 'Ring Around the Sun', Wyndham's 'Midwich Cuckoos' (or rather the film version 'Village of the Damned') and most affectingly 'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding to illustrate Bobby's gradually expanding perception of the world around him, and perfectly evokes the joy of discovering other worlds through literature. The town and its environs are similarly well realized, particularly in the brief sojourn to the urban hell of Bridgeport - 'down there' - with its hustlers and scoundrels and seedy pool halls.

The other short stories in the collection follow the same characters, and those tangentially affected by them, through the heady rush of political and sexual awakenings against the back drop of an all encompassing card game in a small college in the late sixties, to the green hell of Vietnam and the blindness (both literal and metaphorical) of the Reagan era, and finally to death and the completion of the circle. An extraordinary journey, and all the more involving for the warmth and intimacy of the reading.

Next up was a pair of novels that had sat on my bookshelf for a while after being acquired in one of those special offer book of the month type clubs - namely The Regulators and Desperation. They are notable for taking the same characters and basic premise and then spinning vastly different stories from them. The Regulators was published as a Richard Bachman book, a pseudonym that Stephen King used for several early novels, and it shares some of the stripped down and immediate style of 'Roadwork' as well as some of the themes (namely, armed sieges in suburbia). The Regulators takes the form of the B movie western of the same name, where a small community is terrorized by external forces, apparently supernatural in nature. It is an extremely visceral novel - the fairly small cast of characters is whittled down with alarming brutality - and it is perhaps not one to linger over for too long. Desperation is the companion novel, and it complements the first one rather well. Most of the characters make a re-appearance although they are all different in various subtle and not so subtle ways. This book is far more apocalyptic and didactic in nature, with the ancient evil of a small mining town in the desert being explicitly countered by the forces of god (although whether this god is the christian one or not is open to debate). 'King' is more expansive and discursive than 'Bachman' and it is interesting to learn more of some of the characters only briefly sketched in The Regulators. Well worth reading these two as a pair, and in the order that I did, I think.

Finally, I've just finished listening to another audio book - 'The Gunslinger', which is the first novel in the Dark Tower sequence. This one is read by George Guidall, something of a superstar in the audio book world (and the reader of American Gods which we listened to last year). The book opens with the gunslinger of the title pursuing the man in black across an endless desert, and continues in an oddly dreamlike (not to say nightmarish) fashion as we learn more of the gunslinger, the post apocalyptic world (that has 'moved on') and his quarry. It is only a short story, really, (shorter than 'Low Men in Yellow Coats'), and it is really an introductory piece to set the tone for the subsequent books. One sequence recalls the film 'High Plains Drifter', with a small town seething with decay and the gunslinger as a cleansing moral agent, but the plot is not at all important other than as a device to introduce the enigmatic hero. I think that I will have to reserve judgement on this until I have read the rest of the books in the sequence, but I am certainly going to, which should tell you something about the quality of the book.

So, four very different works, all of them intriguing and well crafted in their own ways. Stephen King is certainly one of the greats of twentieth century American literature and well worth exploring if you had dismissed him as a hack only worthy of producing dime store pulp novels.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Homemade jet pack

I'm speechless

Five things

Five snacks I enjoy:
Vegetarian Sushi from Little Tokyo in Leeds, Mc Coy's Flame Grilled Steak flavour crisps, Peanut butter & Jalapeno sandwiches, Snickers Chocolate flapjacks, fresh salad with balsamic vinegar dressing
Five bands/artists that I know the lyrics to most of their songs:
John Otway, Dubstar, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Buffy : The Musical

Five things I would do with £1m.
Buy a cottage in Swaledale, install wi-fi internet for the whole valley, improve the local roads, subsidize the local school to keep it going, go and live there

Five locations I'd like to run away to:
Swaledale, Edinburgh, Arabba (in the Italian Dolomites), Las Vegas, The Moon

Five things I like doing:
Fencing, walking the dog, surfing the net, playing video games, reading

Five things I would never wear:
Tartan, lace, gimp suits, smart casual, a tie when I don't have to

Five TV shows I like:
Big Brother, Time Gentlemen Please, The Smoking Room, Battlestar Galactica, Traffic Cops
Five movies:
Das Boot, The Belly of an Architect, Aliens, Return of the King, Die Hard

Five famous people I'd like to meet:
Terry Pratchett, Bill Bryson, Bernard Cornwall, Iain M Banks, Richard Herring

Five biggest joys at the moment:
Walking in the woods with the dog in the cool early mornings, warm evenings and cold beer, fresh strawberries, wifi in the garden, my family

Five favourite toys:
Xbox, Nintendo DS, my mini poot, air con in the car, my sword

Pinched from leathermgoddess …


Red hot pussy!

If that doesn’t increase my google rankings then I don’t know what will …

By golly and gosh, it’s been warm the last couple of days, although I would imagine that inhabitants of Tijuana would be wrapping up in their wooly jumpers at this point. I picked up Frank the cat from the top of the stairs and he was actually sweating, which I think is quite an achievement in a cat. He didn’t seem too bothered though, and he found his way back to his patch of sunlight as soon as I put him down again. I thought that the dog was going to overheat as well from chasing round the garden in the evening.

It was blessedly cool in the mist in the woods this morning, although that didn’t take long to burn off and the mercury hit 34 degrees according to the temperature gauge in my car. I had my pay rise through from work today, which was all well and good, but today I have been mostly doing clerical work on the timesheets system which is something of a waste of my time to be honest. It’s not as if I don’t have rather a lot of pressing development work to do, and it would be more cost effective to get a temp in I would have thought. Also, the Tescos in Dudley failed on the sandwich front again, with only fairly rank ‘Seafood Cocktail’ sandwiches on offer. The local Tesco Express at the garage down the road has more choice than that, and they’ve even started stocking sushi recently as well. I’ll have to start calling in there in the mornings before hitting the motorway.

Nearly ten o’clock at night, and still warm enough to be sat outside in shorts and t-shirt … this is the life, eh?


Saturday, July 09, 2005

Ice Cold in Burncross

All day I’ve been waiting for this.

Six hours of swordplay as temperatures soared in the hall and I kept myself going picturing this moment. Even a minor hold up on the motorway was endured with ease (and air conditioning). Home and a a quick walk with the dog, and then out into the garden with my laptop, sit down and relax.

The anticipation was well worth it. There is nothing quite so refreshing as a cold beer on a hot day as the sun is just dipping towards the horizon.



Thursday, July 07, 2005

Stress and nervous tension

Well, I was going to post about the stress of driving to Birmingham yesterday. I nearly cried when the traffic ground to a halt and the traffic news reported an accident at junction 28.

I was going to post about the stresses of work - the timesheet administrator is leaving this week, her replacement is off sick with a broken ankle, and I still don't understand exactly what mechanism they want for recharging expenses invoices for site visits, even after a two hour meeting.

I was going to post about my ex changing her phone number, so her ex has now started sending me weird messages, trying to find out where she lives and what her phone number is.

Then I saw an email from Creepy, saying she was fine, and I looked at the bbc news website ...

There are some evil bastards out there.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Originally uploaded by neilh.
You can tilt, rotate and pan, and if geological data is available you can see terrain features and major buildings as well.

Google Earth

Originally uploaded by neilh.
Google Earth is a fantastic new interface for zooming in on high resolution satellite pictures of earth.

Sports Day

Originally uploaded by neilh.

So tired ...

After spending what seemed like most of Tuesday in a traffic jam, I got to do it all again on Wednesday and Thursday. I was working down in Staffordshire, putting together a spec for the order processing system that it now looks as if we are going to write ourselves rather than buy. Unfortunately the route took me back through that same stretch of roadworks on the M1, and although the mornings weren’t too bad, relatively speaking, the return journeys were murder – at least ten miles of crawling traffic both times.

Yesterday, I was busy too – up at six to catch up on the washing and hoovering that I hadn’t had a chance to do in the week. Master Dogwood had his sports day, so I used my lunch hour to walk along to the school to watch some of the events. The day was muggy and a little overcast, but the kids seemed to be having a whale of a time. I went home to do an hour’s work before returning to pick himself up – his team had won a gold medal (sticker) for winning the hoop race so he was pleased with that. More work, and an irritating problem dumped on me at five to five – an out of balance journal which I tracked back to negative credit lines in a sales invoice batch. Finally, cut the grass, get the washing in, do some ironing and finally flake out in front of the tv with a glass of something cold, fizzy and alcoholic.