Monday, 30 September 2013

Giant Igloo for Sale

Ever wanted to own an igloo? This fine specimen is up for grabs. Located 180 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, it was intended as a hotel but the owner got into straits. It's not handy to anything at all, but I suppose that's all part of the charm. The future owner would have to upgrade it to comply with building regulations. Lots more pictures at the original article, courtesy of Curious History.

Reading: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

In a departure from my current diet of SF reads, I delved into this story recommended by a friend. It's a very large tome, taking me five long evenings to chew through; yet never was there any temptation to give up.

On the outside, it may appear like the tale of a missionary family in the Congo in the 60's, but it is more than that. It is also a damning, passionate exposé of the harm done by foreign intervention - but it is much more than that. A whirling narrative from five wildly different viewpoints of how Africa changed each heart forever...yet it is so much more than that again.

Language is a tool in the author's hand as she uses it to shape each character. Consider the palindrome-obsessed and poetic Adah, the grammatically challenged Rachel, feisty yet needy Leah.

Here's a sample. It was so hard to choose just one excerpt, so I chose a few, some from near the beginning and the last from near the end. Many are the treasures in this book.

Sunrise tantalize, evil eyes hypnotize: that is the morning, Congo pink. Any morning, every morning. Blossomy rose-color birdsong air streaked sour with breakfast cookfires. A wide red plank of red - the so-called road - flat-out in front of us, continuous in theory from here to somewhere distant... 
Congo sprawls in the middle of the world. Sun rises, sun sets, six o'clock exactly. Everything that comes of morning undoes itself before nightfall: rooster walks back into forest, fires die down, birds coo-coo-coo, sun sinks away, sky bleeds, passes out, goes dark, nothing exists... 
Backdrop to the Kilanga pageant, rising up behind the houses, a tall wall of elephant grass obscures our view of anything but the distance. The sun suspended above it in the afternoon is a pink, round dot in the distant white haze you may stare at and never go blind. The real earth where the real sun shines seems to be somewhere else, far from here. And to the east of us, behind the river, a rising rumple of dark greek hills folded on each other like a great old tablecloth, recending to pale hazy blue... 
If only a river could go uncrossed, and whatever lay on the other side could live as it pleased, unwitnessed and unchanged. But it didn't happen that way. The Portuguese peered through the trees and saw that the well-dressed, articulate Kongo did not buy or sell or transport their crops, but merely lived in place and ate what they had, like the beasts of the forest. In spite of poetry and beautiful clothes, such people were surely not fully human - were primitive; that's a word the Portuguese must have used, to salve their conscience for what was to come. Soon the priests were holding mass baptisms on shore and marching their converts onto ships bound for sugar plantations in Brazil, slaves to the higher god of commodity agriculture.
There is not justice in this world.

Daily Doctor: In My Voice

Did you "hear" it in his voice?

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Irish authors I want to read

This page lists some popular contemporary Irish authors. I want to read some of them for sure! Even just their names are so musical. I do like Maeve Binchy and Niall Williams, and their writing is musical too. The list is worth checking out!

Cholesterol Good, Carbs Bad? Yup.

I am coming more and more to the conclusion that much of modern nutrition advice is completely skewed. Consider, if you will, these facts which now shape my behaviour:

Saturated fats do not cause high cholesterol.
If my doctor told me to avoid butter, eggs and red meat in order to lower cholesterol, I would not comply. Ahem. This may have actually happened. But there is no evidence linking the one with the other.
In fact, eating saturated fat is the only way to reduce levels of Lipoprotein A (a risk factor for heart disease).
Trans fats such as margarine and canola oil, on the other hand, are harmful.

High cholesterol does not cause heart disease.
I have seen enough evidence to convince me that heart disease is caused by inflammation. If my doctor ordered statins to lower cholesterol, I would not comply. Cholesterol is needed to repair damage from inflammation, which can come from any kind of infection; historically, heart disease increased after flu outbreaks and the like. Statin use is like shooting the firemen who would put out the fire.

Eating carbs has the same effect as eating sugar.
Carbs cause a sugar rush and can lead to insulin resistance just as surely as sweets. I have eliminated most carbs from my routine, but at the same time I'm not guilty about a weekend indulgence - if it's all the same for my insides anyway, it might as well be chocolate, right?

Some of my sources:
Why Butter is Better / It's the Beef - M. Enig, S. Fallon
7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat - M. & M. Eades
Does Cholesterol Really Cause Heart Disease? - J. Mercola
Cholesterol-busting medicines may do more harm than good - Daily Mail, UK
Consider carbs and sugar the same thing - The Cook and the Cardiologist

Daily Doctor: Don't hide

Ladies and gentlemen, Catherine Tate. She says it so well.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Meet Marcus Gavius Apicius

Marcus Gavius Apicius was a chef in first-century Rome, who liked to cook up weird and peculiar recipes. There is a cookbook attributed to him, and some of the recipes can be found here - with many sauces dependent on a kind of boiled and reduced wine. It's interesting to look at Roman recipes, but I don't know if I would ever try to make one!

Reading: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

I did not think I had read this book. Imagine my surprise, then, when I went onto Goodreads to find this cover image, and it appeared with a big green tick. I think this must have been in Balbriggan, where I raided the science fiction shelves all the months of my stay.

Anyway, it did not seem familiar as I read it. Of course I've seen the movie by the same name, but that is completely unrelated to the stories in this book.

These are linked stories, various narratives from one woman's lifetime as she worked with robots from her youth to old age. So they span a goodly number of years in order to show the development of robot capabilities, and the settings vary from laboratories to family homes to space stations and other planets.

This, then, was a spark that ignited the imaginations of many as regards robots. Really, it just seems like the very tip of the iceberg, a bare touch of the subject matter. Asimov went into much greater depth in many other robot books to follow, I see.

Daily Doctor: Celtic Tardis

This. Because it's beautiful. And I might just learn something for my Celtic knotwork project if I look long enough. Drawn by Scadbound at DeviantArt.

Friday, 27 September 2013

An Effective About Page

Joel Friedlander writes here about the importance of your blog's About page. He includes some interesting pointers for things to make sure you include, and also the attitude the whole thing should take - i.e. it should speak to your readers and inform them what you can do for them.

An About page should be like a regular blog post, he says, with just as much cohesion to pull the reader into a story. As for me, I'm still pondering how best to put this advice into action. My About page here is certainly quite out of date!

Book stand in Paris, 1910, photo by Eugène Atget

Tech Tip: RSS Reader

Do you read a lot of blogs regularly? If so, I sure hope you recognise the symbol above. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It sounds all technical, and it is on the back end, but not where you need to worry about it. I couldn't get by without my RSS reader - or at least, life would be that bit less interesting.

An RSS reader, or feed reader, takes all the article titles of the blogs you are subscribed to, and drops them into a browser window or program - looking much like an email inbox. You can scan the titles, click to read any that interest you - most right inside that same window without going to the blog page itself (Jump code = the bane of RSS readers, but at least it's fairly rare).

I guess the best thing is that I can skip right by anything that doesn't grab me. No blogger is going to write something that fascinates me every single time. Therefore, I have saved hours I might otherwise spend in going to various blog sites one after another (and how often??) to see what they've got.

The reason I post this today is because I still see people talk about visiting blogs regularly. What a time-suck! Of course, if I want to comment or read comments, I have to click through to the site, too. But in this way I can at least keep a finger on a ton of things that interest me, from fandom news to the publishing industry, from typography to photography, from serial fiction to art and design. Yeah. Where did you think I got all this stuff? ;)

What about you - do you use a feed reader?

Daily Doctor: Don't You Dare

This was a very moving scene in both instances. But do you see the twist in time? In the top two pictures, they are both saying it out of their hearts. In the lower two, they are both remembering how the other said "Don't you dare" in reply. That's how it goes, meeting people in the wrong order.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Hercules the Liger

Hercules was fathered by a lion and birthed by a tiger. He is the largest living cat in the world.
Click through for more photos and a bit more information about him.

He is obviously somewhat tame, as humans are cavorting with him. And he's a bit overweight. The question arises: is it ethical to breed such a huge and dysfunctional creature? He looks happy enough.

Photo Story - Balbriggan Harbour

Five years ago I spent a summer in Balbriggan, on the coast of the Irish Sea just north of Dublin. I often walked into the town for my groceries, taking a turn around the harbour first. Always charmed by the many colours of the fishing boats, and always hurt to the heart at the sight of two sunken wrecks against the seawall. It's an interesting harbour; it has no water at all when the tide is out, leaving the boats high and dry.

Daily Doctor: The Adventurers

This "movie poster" did the rounds already some time ago, but I just think it's pretty cool.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Suspicious Tea

A man in Mumbai, India, was recently arrested for "drinking tea suspiciously." It makes for a funny story, but it's sobering to think that some police officers have the freedom to arrest anyone they want to for no good reason. Full story at the Times of India, including the judge's comments.

Reading: More McCaffrey

This book includes two novellas: Nerilka's Story and The Coelura. It's a small book and that was what I needed last night as the gale raged around my attic. My second McCaffrey, and I think I'm going to like her quite a lot.

The first tale is supposed to be backstory to another Pern novel, which I haven't read - but no harm in that. It has a very useful introduction that explains everything about Pern's history and illuminates why this is science fiction and not fantasy.

The second is very different, and very clearly SF. I assumed it to be part of the wider history of the star system in which Pern is located; this does seem to be the case, though some reviewers say it's not. Sentient clothes? What an imagination.

Daily Doctor: Moving along

Taking what life throws at you, Doctor Who style.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Aliens, the Universe, and Us

i09 has this great article about different perceptions an alien race might have, just touching the surface in terms of sight, hearing and smell. It's fascinating to think of the things that might be different, and what kind of stories this might cause. Indeed, I have seen some trace of this in Larry Niven's "Outsiders" race, who do not exist at the same speed as humans, and also in China Mieville's Hosts, who are unaware of language as used by humans.

Cattle Sax Magnet

I do enjoy a good bit of sax. This jam session is enlivened by its attraction for cows.

Daily Doctor: Pirate's Gold VI

A dank smell assailed Donna's nostrils and she reached a finger to the wet concrete wall. "Did you build this?"

"No," said Karanga, "the network of tunnels was already here. Some from the gold mining that began almost two centuries ago, and some from the railways that were built through the hills to carry the gold away."

Donna peered at the tiny green glowing dots that illumined their pathway. "What kind of lights are those?"

"Glowworms. Now hush, or they'll go out."

The Doctor and River continued their conversation unabated and Donna noticed the glowworms dimming as they passed by. She took care with her steps and paid attention to what they were saying.

"That war could have been avoided," said the Doctor. "So easily. If the populace had ousted a few greedy people from government...but isn't that always the way?"

"There would have been other greedy people to take their place." River's voice was chilly. "Believe me, I've seen more of that sort of behaviour than I like. Even in myself. There was the time I-"

"You what?" The Doctor turned his head to her as they strolled on.

"Oh...nothing." River fell silent.

The Doctor sighed. "All those races involved in the fight for that one strategic planet."

"What do you know about the nanobots?" River asked.

"Well, the fighting was so bad that most of the forces involved were either defeated or turned tail and ran home. It came down to two armies. The invading Veton, at a fraction of their initial strength but still formidable, and the Thrikeshaw, our friends here, who were defending their own planet."

"I know that part," said River. "Then the Veton released the nanobots and the Thrikeshaw managed to get their DNA ark away just in time, leaving the planet for the conquerors."

"Ah, but the conquerors had little joy in their victory." The Doctor's voice sounded sad and tired. "The nanobots were self-multiplying and their controllability failed. They destroyed their own creators' fleet, leaving the Veton homeworld without protection."

"So nobody got the planet in the end."

"Nope. It's just a mass of writhing nanobots from the star to the forcefield."

"That's terrible!" whispered Donna to Karanga. "It must have been so hard to give up your home."

Karanga wiggled her head. "It was not I myself, nor any of us here. We have only the telepathic memories passed down to us in the DNA. That is loss enough for anyone to bear. But we are changed now. This is our home."

Donna looked up and realised the hallway was emptying into a door on the left. River and The Doctor were already out of sight, and the birds continued to follow. She reached the opening and poked her head around, completely unprepared for what she would see there. "Oh, my giddy aunt!"

The soaring cavern appeared ancient, shored up with old timbers in places. But what took Donna's breath away were the shiny high-tech consoles that filled the room. Kiwis sat at screens and tapped on interfaces with their beaks.

Karanga brushed against Donna's exposed ankle and sent what could only be described as a telepathic smile. "Welcome to the Thrikeshaw nerve centre."

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Pudding Air Miles Man

David Phillips is an engineer from California. He figured out how to convert puddings into air miles, and hasn't paid for any of his family's many flights for years.

The method is mind-boggling. Yes, there was an offer of air miles on the pudding cups, he bought up thousands of them, and got so many miles that he landed himself a ton of other perks as well.

Click through for an inspiring read at Today I Found Out!

My Friend the Witch

Jemima ran a little side business as a witch. Crystal ball and all. She used to hang out with Patrick, before she got into all that; Pat had actually thought they were pretty good friends. Then, suddenly, it was like Jemima vanished off the face of the earth.

Some time later, her new business emerged. Pat slowly put two and two together and wondered if Jemima was scared that a "Christian" would be down on her for messing with that stuff. When the fact is, she had told him a long time ago just where she got the fortunes she told, and he couldn't care less. Scared? Bite me, thought Pat. Judging? Oh, puh-lease.

Jemima was the same person she used to be, though Pat didn't think he was. He hoped her crystal ball hadn't told her to stay away from him - if it had, that crystal ball was in DEEP CRAP.

(A fictional character study; to be continued?)

Daily Doctor: Angel Wrangling

There might indeed be a slight problem for the person assigned to put the angels away. Except that the angels on set are not statues. They're people painted grey, so they can walk out themselves. Which in a way is even creepier!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Officer, you're a rat!

These lovely fellows are soon to be employed by the Dutch police as contraband-sniffers.
I say, good on them! Article and video here.

Photo Story: River Winch

This image comes from Regensburg, and I took it from an island in the Danube. There is a bridge there, built in the 1100's and still in use today. It sits on massive boat-shaped pylons that churn the river into whirlpools. More pictures of the setup here. Anyway, back in those days, ships moving upriver didn't have enough power to pass the turbulence, so a winch was built. That's the winch house there in yellow, and if you look closely, you can see a long slit in its wall - that's where the winch cable came out to attach to the ships and guide them up past the rough spot.

Daily Doctor: The Stone Rose (review)

Hanging out at Mum's house today, we came across this book. I ended up sitting down and reading it cover to cover in about an hour and a half. These tie-in novels always seem to look bigger than they actually are - I think it's the chunky hard covers and thick paper. Certainly makes for a nice collector's piece.

Anyway, it was a pretty good read, if a bit light and fluffy as these things tend to be. The premise goes that Mickey finds a 2000 year old statue of Rose in a museum, which launches her and the Doctor on a mission to get the statue made. The answer to that mystery is a bit of an "awww!" moment! There are a couple of genuine tear-jerking scenes and plenty of the usual randomness as the Doctor gets thrown to the lions in ancient Rome (this was actually a distraction from the main plot!) and a machine from the 24th century displaces a teenager.

There is an audiobook read by David Tennant. Curious, I listened to a sample, only to discover that narrated sections are read in his own Scots, while dialogue is in character accents. It's a rather head-shaking mixture. The Doctor is the Doctor, of course, but the impressions of Mickey, Rose and Jackie are pretty darn impressive, too. I didn't get to a part with ancient Romans, I wonder how he read them?

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Flying Kiwis... with Jetpacks

There is such a thing as a jetpack, and it comes from New Zealand!

Local aviation authorities are having a hard time defining it for registration and pilot certification purposes. It's not like anything that's been before. Over in the USA, apparently they're defining it as an ultralight. Yeah. Totally the same thing.


Check out the whole article (and video) here.

Seven Years In Bavaria

I had visited Regensburg once a couple of years earlier and found myself enchanted with its old-worldiness. One of the only German cities to survive WWII, it still boasts a largely intact medieval core. Now, granted, the earlier visit had been my first experience of a foreign country and maybe it was that that left me starstruck. In any case, I ended up deciding that I had to live there, so I took off with only a couple of weeks' planning, not knowing where I'd live or what I'd work at. That may not have been very smart.

Youthful spontaneity notwithstanding, things did turn out all right. I got a job with the Bavarian Police, shared apartments with three wonderful friends, lived in an 800 year old building while working in one that was 300-ish, kept four pet rats (not all at once!) then two cats, and got to travel around Europe a little bit.

Germany has a deep sense of permanence and establishment that can often out itself in lives that don't ever change. Low wages and high rents - never mind the idea of buying a house! - can trap people in the same places for ever and ever, amen. It was like a fog over the land.

Eventually, I just missed the sea too much. So I came home again.

With a heaping helping of improved German language and a kind of haunting from living amongst all the antiquity. <

Daily Doctor: Child of the TARDIS

This particularly lovely painting comes from DeviantArt user Saimain and was inspired by the moment in Let's Kill Hitler (Series 6) where the TARDIS teaches River to fly.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Font Room

Courtesy of Dornob, I came across this innovative decor design for a music room. Each musician and band is represented in a typographic style and some with logos.

I think I'd find this a very distracting environment! For one thing, I'd be trying to figure out what all the different fonts are. And the names written there would be running through my brain every time I set eyes on them. I guess if a musician wants to work like that, it's his prerogative!

More pictures and a video at the original post here.

The future of study - online exams

Now I'm probably a bit behind the times here, as I haven't concerned myself with the methods of universities since I finished my last courses almost 13 years ago. All I know is that back then, we did most everything by hand. Computers were available in the labs, with a rather harried punk chick who assisted us hapless newbies into their mysteries. I often wondered what became of her.

Anyway, I was interested to read that exams, that final bastion of handwriting, are starting to be trialled online at a local university. A webcam monitors the student's attention to ensure there is no cheating. I agree with the thought that I would find it hard to write by hand for three straight hours these days.
"We've digitised our curriculum heavily at Massey but the one aspect still a bit of a contradiction is we then ask people to sit down and write for ... hours on paper. There's a physical issue about people's ability to do that and we think we have to invest in this technology to work out how we're going to address that problem in the future." ~ Professor Mark Brown
Check out the whole article here.

Daily Doctor: Pirate's Gold V

Hurrying to catch up with the others, Donna and Karanga came up behind the Doctor and River. He was gesticulating wildly. "Yes, but how did you get tangled up in all this?"

"I really can't tell you that, dear."

"Gah!" He stomped onwards. "All right, well, can you at least tell me what you've done already to help?"

"Analysed the captured nanobot, created a reader that unpacks its programming and commands, and set that to processing while we came to get you. That do for starters?"

The Doctor stopped in his tracks. "What? You called me here - will call me here - because of a lone nanobot? You realise I can make all of this never happen."

"Oh? How's that, then?" River's voice was heavy with sarcasm.

"Easy-peasy. I just won't tell you how to summon the TARDIS."

"Really, Sweetie, I thought you'd know better than that." She flicked open the heavy leather console on her wrist and slowly began to tap and twist its controls. "I guess I didn't learn that from you. Not today, anyway. Besides, I'm the one who can still make this unhappen. I haven't decided yet if I need you. So if I never make the call..." She flipped the lid shut. "Zip. Nothing happens. Although, since you're here, I obviously do decide in the positive. Always lovely to see you, anyway." River reached over and fondled his chin with a soft laugh and he jerked back, speechless and scowling as he rubbed it.

Donna was trying to make sense of the strange exchange when she heard a sound beside her that might be throat-clearing. She looked down. "They have known each other a long time?" asked Karanga.

"Actually, I'm not sure," said Donna. "Sometimes it seems that way, but he's always surprised to see her." And she's supposed to be dead, she thought, but didn't say. Some things were just too weird to share with someone you just met, even if that someone was an alien pretending to be a bird and thus should generally have no problem with weirdness.

"Time travellers," said Karanga. "Easy for things to get muddled up."

"I suppose." Donna decided she'd have to consider it later. She bent to step through a gap between two leaning branches, and gaped at the sight of the Doctor vanishing calmly into a large doorway in the hillside.

The kiwi birds followed after him, all except Karanga, who waited patiently at her side. "This is our base. You will be safe here - and this is where Mrs. Song has set up the machinery."

"Mrs. Song, hmm?" Donna stuck out her lower lip and nodded slowly. "So she's married," she muttered to herself. She'd save that up to tell the Doctor later, assuming she ever got him to herself again. The way that woman just wrapped him around her finger! Well, Donna was certainly not averse to giving him a dressing-down when he needed it, but not in a way that suggested she wanted him. Ewww.

"Enter, please," said Karanga, and pointed with her beak at the dark hole.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Mary Ruth's Realm Makers Recap

I was really chuffed a few days ago to find that Mary Ruth Pursselley had mentioned Splashdown in her recap of the Realm Makers conference we were both at in August, along with many of our colleagues. Mary is of course a recent addition to Splashdown's future line-up. Here's an excerpt:
Now though, I have every confidence in the world that by the time it's done, Song of the Wren-Falcon is going to be absolutely the best novel that it can possibly be. And it's going to be good for me as a writer, as well as for the novel itself. 

Brief, I know, but you should really click through and read Mary's whole post here.
And here's a photo I took of Mary crossing swords during the fight scene seminar. Yeah, it was a cool conference.

A hearing test that varies by age

This is a hearing test whose results vary by age. I stumbled on it after needing to look up the term "Teenager Repellent" - apparently, some establishments emit unpleasant sounds that adults cannot hear, thus discouraging youngsters loitering. The video has beeps at various pitches that purport to tell your age...

Daily Doctor: Accents

The 10th and 11th Doctors certainly react differently to their companions' efforts to fit in.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

2D images can become 3D with a little help

Ever wanted to reach into a photo and adjust the position of an object? No? Well, some of us have. :P

3-Sweep is a new program allowing just that. With three simple mouse strokes, the user's human perception is used to snap the three dimensions to lines in the image. Of course it has to be a sharp image with good contrast. The video at this link is fascinating!

Submarine Car for sale

This is James Bond's car from the movie The Spy Who Loved Me. Apparently it's the only working one ever made, and it looks like it still goes. It's being auctioned off in London today.

Click through for an intriguing tale of how it came to its present owners!

Daily Doctor: Remember CAL?

There is a blogger called "Mal" who recently posited some interesting theories on the possible connections between Clara and CAL, the computer in the Library from the episodes Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead. Now, I have to tell you, if you haven't caught up to the very end of series 7 then this will either make no sense to you at all or else it might spoil the whole thing, so consider yourself warned. No spoilers here, but click through at your own risk. Here's an excerpt:
Whenever the words, “run”, “clever”, and “remember” are said, they are given a very peculiar emphasis. “Remember” goes a bit unnoticed, bc we know there’s a specific reason it’s being said. But think about that. Clara’s phrase is always, “Run you clever boy and remember.” The key words are “run”, “clever” and “remember”.
As far as words go, they also have Miss Evangeline talk about not knowing where she is when her suit is ghosting. In fact, she very nearly says, “I don’t know where I am.” She is asking about her whereabouts, etc and begins “I—I do—I don—” and then they cut her off.
Now let’s talk about some very interesting details about CAL. First of all, she only has her dad. Now in other incarnations, Clara’s mother died when she was a bit older. However, it’s interesting to note that her mother is always dead when Clara meets the Doctor. Granted, she has been around the same age in every other episode in which the Doctor has seen her.
On top of this are the two children that CAL invented within the data core: a girl and a boy, the girl being the eldest of the two. In both versions of Clara that we’ve seen (where the children she looks after are present), this is the same combination.
I found it very interesting reading, and perhaps you will too - if you're all up to date! Here's the link.

Monday, 16 September 2013

A blind man sees...for the first time

This is Pierre-Paul Thomas. Born blind into a poor family, his cataracts were never removed - until now. Click through for the video and meet the old man who, as he says, is "like a child again." Oh, and the Quebec French accents are funky, too (don't worry, there's subtitles!).

Dreaming of Travel

I've had a spring in my step this week, and it's not just because spring has sprung - though it definitely has. It's only been a few weeks since I returned from my last trip. It was a hard return in many ways - I had been sick, and had some travel tangles along the way. But in these past days I have realised I operate best when I have something to look forward to. Therefore, I hopped over to Pinterest and started collecting beautiful photos of places I would like to revisit. The above is a screenshot of part of my feed. It's exciting, I tell you! I love to feast my eyes on images like these, to remember being there - yes, that's what it was like, and it will be again.

Experiencing a range of places is also essential in my writing journey. No location has quite the same feel as another - there are the little things you notice, the smells, the ambience, the colours of the sky, the mannerisms and language of the local people. I have written about many of these places before, and hope to do so again with all the force I can muster, to drag readers inside the experience as if they were there themselves.

Of course, writing science fiction often means the settings have to be tweaked - say, a little for a futuristic Ireland, or a lot for an alien planet.

Even if the travel itself is still a faraway dream, looking at the pictures is a darn good substitute for now.

Daily Doctor: Parallels

Steven Moffat is a very clever writer. Fans keep finding parallels between his older and newer stories. I love twisty connections like this! Sure, the last one is just a BBC-ism, they have to re-use a lot of their locations. But the rest...good job.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Hidden World of Son Doong

Over in central Vietnam, they found this cave system that is the largest known in the world - over 5 miles long. It contains a jungle and a river. Pretty amazing stuff. Lots of eye candy pics at this HuffPost article, and do check out the video near the bottom of the page. Truly gorgeous.

Retrospective: Island Living

A long time ago, when I was 22, I went to live on an island for a quarter of a year. It was a calculated move; I had just completed university and wasn't entirely sure what to do with myself. Orama is a campground and community on Great Barrier Island (NOT Reef; that one's in Oz!) about four hours by fast ferry from the city I call home. I had been to Orama before for camps, but never for more than two weeks at a time. That was about to change.

It was an isolated place, even for the time. Nowadays it has wireless Internet and everything. But I had no need of outside contact except occasional phone calls from home. The first couple of weeks - after Christmas - were very busy, because the annual summer camp was in full swing. Hundreds of people were using the facilities and as a volunteer, it was my job to help set up the dining room for breakfast, clean public areas and so on. It was like a little town all of its own.

Then everyone left except the long-termers, and we all relaxed just a wee bit. All the rooms, cabins and apartments continued to be rented to holidaymakers, requiring cleaning in between, as well as the usual upkeep and feeding the inhabitants from the gigantic kitchen - still the largest and most efficient one I have ever seen. You could easily fit a whole house into that thing, and two or more in the dining room. Even so, we often ate outside that summer.

That was also the summer I started writing my first novel in earnest. It would take seven years to complete, and even then it was not finished - it is due to be republished in time to come - but here is where the seed began. Of course, pretty soon after I came home from Orama, I moved to Germany. I was glad to have soaked up some true Kiwi ambience before going away.

Daily Doctor: Strong Tea

"Tea. But the strong stuff. Leave the bag in."

I have to say, my sentiments exactly. There's nothing like a good strong cuppa.

Here's another trailer for that episode, beginning with the same line, but totally different in feel:

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Book Collecting

I ran across this fascinating blog post today at Jared Shurin writes about book collecting, and making it more than just haphazard hoarding. I am intrigued! Here's an excerpt:
Book collecting is one of the greatest hobbies there is. It combines beautiful, interesting objects with the excitement of the hunt and, who knows, maybe even the possibility of making some money! Worst case scenario—you wind up with a lot of books. There’s no way to lose.
First, figure out why you’re doing this...Second, pick a theme.
I chose “theme” not “topic” deliberately, because what you collect can be something more intangible - perhaps even a category that may only be specific or identifiable to you.
(Read the whole article here - it's very worthwhile.)
Well, I have a few vague thematic collections going on already. There's the Stephen Lawhead collection, which is complete barring only three volumes. There's the grouping of Splashdown titles I have published and which I am very fond of. There are favourite books on writing. There are true classics like Austen and Joyce and Lewis. There are my top-shelf beloved stories which only I can specify. There are the inspirational SFF books, although I haven't been able to get through them all. There is Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, oh how I love them.

Wow, I'm all over the place and that isn't even everything. It would do me no harm to get a bit more deliberate in my collecting. I have bought a couple of books from the Top 100 SFF list, and no doubt that theme will grow on my shelves, too.

Out on the Town

Went out last night to a local restaurant, The Postman's Leg. Now this used to be quite a run-down sort of establishment, but having been assured that more than just the name has changed, it was time to give it a go. The vibe is definitely quite upmarket now, while still managing to be cosy and homey. In keeping with the name, the décor is stamp-themed and the menus look a little like aerogrammes (anyone remember those?).

Not being particularly hungry, I chose a small plate for dinner: lamb wontons with aioli. Six perfect pieces were served on a wooden board and I found them to be just equal to my appetite.

For afters I chose the crème brûlée, which came with coconut ice cream and a cinnamon wafer. Yum!

Daily Doctor: Well, not quite. But nearly!

It recently came to my attention that the stage production of Much Ado About Nothing is now available for online rental or download. I've been keen to see this since I heard that David Tennant and Catherine Tate teamed up again (everyone knows Season 4 of Doctor Who is my favourite!), and now the opportunity presents itself. We'll probably get a few folks together for the event...

Friday, 13 September 2013

Frog Photobombs Rocket Launch

Via PetaPixel and NASA comes this extraordinary photo taken at a recent rocket launch.
It was captured on September 7, 2013 during the launch of the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft. The craft will enter orbit around the Moon’s equator in order to study the exosphere and dust particles in the area.
Check out the full article here. I hope that giant leap brought the frog to safety!

Talking About *MY* Authors

Over the years with Splashdown I have had the privilege of working with some amazing people. Writers who have gotten aboard with me - no mean feat of bravery! Above you can see some of them that were gathered at the Realm Makers conference.

I feel incredibly lucky to have met so many of my colleagues in person. And of course I appreciate that they have entrusted me with their opuses (opi?) for polishing and publishing.

Soon on this blog I will be starting a series about my people. No interviews, reviews, or any of that kind of hype, at least not right now (haha). Just some observations about them, their writing, and what we did on the day we met. Because I think they are really kinda cool.

Daily Doctor: Pirate's Gold IV

The Doctor's face lit up with delight. "Oh, I say, you are gorgeous! Hello down there. By all means, speak." He spread his hands.

"We greet you in the name of the Thrikeshaw, who were once all but wiped out in the nanobot wars of Jalopherum. In desperation, we reduced our essence to DNA and seeded ourselves here in an accelerated evolution pod. Thus we developed into these forms in just a few thousand years. We have survived - we were content."

As he spoke, Donna reflected that the voice sounded more like a cartoon character than anything else. It was hard to take seriously. Then again, a talking bird was probably one of the less weird things she'd seen in her time with the Doctor.

The Doctor stuck his hands in his coat pockets. "So what's the problem then?"

The leader stepped forward and craned his neck up. "The nanobots have found us."

River fixed the Doctor with a gaze. He gaped first at the birds, then at her.

"Nanobots, that's bad, right?" hissed Donna.

"Just a bit, yeah. Would have taken over the universe starting from Jalopherum if the Shadow Proclamation hadn't ordered a forcefield set up around that entire system."

The Doctor turned back to River. "How did you get here?"

"Vortex manipulator." She raised her wrist. "Easy peasy. But come on, it's not safe out here."

River turned and led the way into the dark forest. The crowd of birds picked their way after her as Donna watched, fascinated. Left, right, beak. Left, right, beak. Maybe they used to have three legs in their prior form.

The Doctor glanced at Donna and strode off after River. Donna huffed once under her breath and followed. Nothing but a torch, and she was pretty sure that wouldn't help against nanobots.

"You will be safe with us," a cartoony voice warbled from close by.

Donna yelped and thought she heard giggling. "Don't frighten me like that! I nearly died." She looked down at the speaker. "Uh...I'm Donna. Pleased to meet you." She knelt and extended a hand, then almost thought better of it. A bird can't shake hands. But the creature calmly laid its beak into her palm.

A sense of great history came over Donna, a sense of loss and survival against huge odds, and finally a sense of this particular creature's character. Female, fun-loving, single...single? She slipped her hand away. "You're telepathic!"

"Only by touch. My name is Karanga, the song of welcome."

"Donna!" The Doctor called from some distance ahead. "Don't get left behind!"

She and the bird followed along. "So...Karanga. The people around here think you are real birds?"

"Oh yes. Once they even hunted us for food, but now we are venerated as a national icon. Kiwi, they call us, for the sound we make. I'm afraid we haven't learned proper birdsong."

Donna peered down at her new friend. "Hang on...Kiwi. Isn't that a hairy brown fruit?"

"Well." Karanga laughed and fluttered her tiny wings, indicating her own plump hairy body. "What do you think they were named after?"

"How about that." Donna shook her head slightly and worked on catching up to the Doctor and River.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Multiples: A Book of Compounded Translations

Normally we translators strive to make our end product as near to the sense of the original as possible. However, in this case, editor Adam Thirlwell has turned that principle on its head. 12 stories, in 18 languages, by 61 authors; each story is passed through the languages from one translator to another like a massive game of Chinese whispers.
Part of the pleasure of the translations being undertaken serially, rather than in parallel, comes from watching a little distortion or imprecision being compounded, or amplified, as the series progresses. A Lebanese story by Youssef Habchi El-Achkar features a setting rendered by Rawi Hage as a "coffee shop". Tristan Garcia's French translation calls it "le café" – not quite the same thing. In English, under Joe Dunthorne, this becomes a "cafe-bar". In Francesco Pacifico's Italian, next, "il bar". So we're now, apparently, in a bar. And it's in London. Which is absolutely not where we started.
Intriguing! I may have to take a look at this, even though I can't hope to read most of it!
Check out the whole article here.

Reading: Friday, by Robert Heinlein

Okay. This one was a wild ride. It pretty much starts out with a horrendous torture scene which the victim seems none too concerned about. Then it changes location, seemingly several times within the first half hour of reading. Space. The Midwest. New Zealand. Canada. And on it goes, a merry chase around North America in search of...what?

Friday Jones is an artificial person and has never felt quite human. This is used to explain her resilience in the face of torture, and also her propensity for leaping into bed with everything that moves. I don't think she quite believes that herself, even though she appears to view sex as a sort of sport.

So it's a search for identity, which she does eventually find. Her route to peace is brazen and twisted, full of betrayals and losses and then compensated by a number of incredible coincidences that come together at the end to give her everything she ever wanted.

I did not like the victim mentality and the perceived cheapness in which she held herself, reinforced by the fact that she ended up marrying one of the dudes who tortured her in that early scene. I mean, really?

What I did like was the speed of global travel. Anywhere on the planet by semi-ballistic rocket in 45 minutes? Yes please! As usual, Heinlein has crammed the setting with every possible futuristic invention.

I got through it sure enough, but every time she met someone new and bedded them it was like "here we go again..." Still, I can see why people like it.