Monday, 21 October 2013

The kangaroo who went to the pharmacy

...or chemist shop, as we call them hereabouts. This kangaroo somehow got loose in Melbourne airport and went to a nearby pharmacy for something to help his sore feet.

More info and a video here at The Journal - don't forget that in an Irish newspaper, the best part of a funny story is often in the comments that follow it...

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

This gorgeous video introduces a new coastal road in Ireland's wild west. I have seen only a little of it, and it is truly stunning. Notwithstanding the slightly corny advertising spiel, I got just a little bit teary at the thought of the auld land where my grandfather and great-grandmother were born. I have to get back there someday.

Feeling like crap

Something has been crreeping up on me these past few days - perhaps I just exhausted myself, but I have been feeling far more drained than ever before. Last night I started getting feverish and that has continued throughout today, though I was able to keep my appointments, but I didn't feel like eating anything and that is most unusual for me. My temperature was a little over 39.5 C (103 F) earlier today. I think I'm going to try sleeping it off and hope I'm well enough to go out for a couple hours tomorrow as well.

Sorry for a bit of an insubstantial blog today, but I honestly don't have the brains for anything better. And perhaps it wasn't a great idea to start King's The Stand last night either, haha. That one might have to wait until the eerily similar symptoms are all gone...

Daily Doctor: Did Clara save River?

WARNING: SPOILERS (if you haven't watched all of series 7) --
Blogger Charina at has postulated a scenario in which one of the versions of Clara returns to the Library and rescues River from her final fate. The analysis is in depth and fairly sound, but represents just one of many twists that Moffat could have been setting up for. Have a read and see what you think.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Bolero Pool Flashmob

aka... Splashmob! With an "ice skating song" that we children of the 80's will never forget. Torvill and Dean, anyone? But the scene couldn't be any more different than this...

I confess, at 1:41 I thought the dude got out of the hot tub because he was weirded out. Wouldn't you be? But no, he was just off to an instrument of his own, or at least it seemed so at 2:20.

Reading - Just After Sunset by Stephen King

I think this is as good a place as any to begin a foray into King's work. Many of these tales are nail-biters, making me skim so fast (to find out what happens) that I barely recall anything about the language use or the writing itself. Others are less so, just creepingly creepy, and there's even a couple in there I would call sweet.

King explores his own fears and in doing so, banishes them from his mind and possibly into his readers'. He never shies away from the gritty side of life, whether it be someone's ignominious sexual memories, the texture of decomposing excrement, or the obscenities and prayers that factually would occur in such situations.

He does have a particular gift for depicting what goes through people's minds when they think they are about to die. It's a very human thing.

Although these are horror and thriller stories, many with a paranormal element, there is a thread of triumph running through the collection. The protagonist doesn't always get through unscathed, but there are plenty of positive outcomes - and plenty of ambiguous ones as well, where things have changed forever and the character now faces a different future that may not have been wished for.

Of this bunch, my favourites were Stationary Bike and The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates. And it has a cool cover. While it was on my couch, two different people wanted to know if it was printed in 3D - but no, that's all in the ordinary 2D effect.

Daily Doctor: NZ Coins

From the New Zealand Mint comes this collection of coins, one for each Doctor. There is a twelfth space in reserve for the release of another coin next year. They come in a fob watch case and each one has a face value of one dollar in Niue. There is also a separate Tardis coin in gold and coloured silver versions. Too pricey for me, but it's nice to look at the pics - closer views of each coin here.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

This Steampunk's Local

I read with interest in the local rag of a team of people raising funds to make a steampunk movie. The graphics in the trailer are awesome, to say the least! Space trains appear fairly often in literature but I don't recall seeing one in film before. This will be something to watch out for. More details here, though I wonder at the somewhat one-sided view of steampunk the article shows.

Author Spotlight: Caprice Hokstad

Caprice and me go a fair way back, as online friends go: it must have been around 2006 that we met in connection with the Lost Genre Guild, where she is now a trusty co-moderator with me. She's a fabulous and versatile writer, with the rare ability to do full justice to both fantasy and science fiction. I am honoured to include her Ascendancy Trilogy in the Splashdown lineup, and it's an ongoing fight to get her the attention she deserves. Words like diamonds, people. I also enjoy reading her self-published science fiction with a slightly harder edge.

The picture above is from my visit to California last December, and a trip to a nut farm for their festival which included rides on a tractor-train thing. Yep, it was pretty grand weather, but I hear it doesn't change much at all in that area.

If you are even slightly a fantasy or SF reader, you've got to try her books. You won't regret it and they're certainly not the usual fare!

Caprice's Amazon page (Fantasy)
K.J. Blaine's Amazon page (Science Fiction)

Caprice's blog

Daily Doctor: 50th Anniversary Stills

The BBC has released this preview image from the upcoming anniversary episode. There are a few more to see here. I don't know about you, but I don't reckon that tie on Ten has ever been seen before in this capacity :P

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Coventry's Dungeon

Recently, an Irishman with the online handle demc7 made an exciting discovery when he moved into a new apartment near Coventry, England. The flat was part of an old monastery building, so it makes sense that a place like that would have a few secrets.

Here's his video tour of the "dungeon"...

How to set up email filtering in Gmail

Email filtering is an absolute necessity for me personally, as it keeps my inbox clear of all but the most vital direct messages. Gmail doesn't have folders per se - but its labels function can operate in much the same way.

First, select a message of a type that you want to filter away from your inbox. Then click on the Label button above your inbox, this looks like a little tag. Select "Create New" and insert your label's name.

Then find something about that message and others like it. Do they come from the same email address? Do they always have something particular in the subject line? Enter one or more criteria into the Advanced Search panel (reached by clicking the dropdown arrow to the left of the blue magnifier button). At the bottom right of that panel, you will see an option to "Create filter with this search".

You will then get a list of options. The first is the most important: Skip the Inbox! Then be sure to check the box "Apply Label" and from the dropdown, select the label you created previously for this category of message. If you wish, also check the box to apply to existing messages that fit this search, then all relevant items will be cleared out in one move.

Thereafter, when a message comes in that matches your filter, you won't see it in the inbox. Rather, it will appear in the Label list on the left of your screen, with a number in brackets indicating how many unread messages you have in that category.

When you are creating a new label, you also have the option to "nest" it - that is, make it a subcategory of another label.

Life is complicated enough without having to manually chew through large numbers of emails each day. Let Gmail or another system get them out of your way - or even delete them! As for me, I'll take all the help I can get.

Daily Doctor: My Trafalgar

I got a bit of a thrill seeing this shot from the upcoming adventures of the Doctor, because that's Trafalgar Square in London, and I have been there - as a child, when I paddled in the fountain pool, but also more recently when I climbed on one of those pedestalled lions, maybe that very one! Here's proof:

That's me on the left, and Marcelle on the actual back of the lion. I was never good with heights. And while this was indeed long enough ago to fall into the era of terrible cameras, at least it's still in living memory.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Optical Illusions: Bending your mind

Not everything is as it seems. What is real and what is not? What is 3D and what is merely flat?

European Journeys

When I lived in Germany, I got to make several brief trips to other places around Europe. These included:

France (Paris, staying in a quaint old family-run hotel at the foot of Montmartre)
Spain (Guardamar del Segura, Costa Blanca, with friends)
Austria (Salzburg, to see the castle, also once Innsbruck and once not sure of exact location; remote mountain)
Switzerland (Zurich, Geneva, Winterthur and another remote mountain location)
Czech Republic (only just over the border, for work - I think we ate lunch in Rozvadov)
Tunisia (Hammam Sousse, with a friend for a week in February to escape the northern winter)
England (London, visiting dear friends in Wembley and getting to play the tourist)
Scotland (With my mother, Edinburgh, Perth, Glasgow, Isle of Bute, and a glimpse of Strathraer as we left it)
Ireland (Bangor/Belfast, Dublin, Balbriggan, Doolin, Antrim, Downpatrick, Newtownards and Strangford Lough - Ahem. There'll be a whole other post for this lot!)

Here's a couple of my favourite photos from those trips. Bear with me - for much of this time I was using a first-generation cellphone camera!

On the outskirts of Geneva, looking across the border into France - yes, that's a giant cliff. Geneva is on a bit of Switzerland that sticks into France, so it's possible to use city transport to cross from one French border to the other in about an hour. Which we did. Fun! There was a cable car to go up the cliff, but it happened to be closed that day, so instead we found a nice French restaurant out here in the middle of nowhere and had a meal of several courses for a very good price.

The terrace at Hotel El Menchia in Hammam-Sousse, Tunisia. We breakfasted here each day, then set off to explore the local area - markets and bakeries, and nearby towns by bus or open trolley. Sousse itself has a marvellous souk that pours itself, walled, down a hillside above the modern city, and in the other direction we found a yacht marina with everything a tourist might want.

Walking about the Isle of Bute, we got alternately rained on and dried by the sun. Just look at that blue sky and black cloud! This is a view from the Rothesay golf course above the town, looking east at the mainland and the Firth of Clyde.

So many places, so much to see! Perhaps all of these will need their own posts eventually...

Daily Doctor: The Enemy of the World - Trailer

By now it's old news that nine of the lost Patrick Troughton episodes have been found in Africa. That's nearly two whole stories, and one of them is introduced in this fascinating trailer. It seems the Doctor has an evil lookalike. Looks like a great story - very psychological. I think I'll enjoy this whenever I get to see it.

Monday, 14 October 2013

What if the moon's orbit were only 420 km?

An imaginative videographer has put together this composite piece showing what it might look like if the moon orbited the Earth at only 420 kilometres. Most striking is the sudden blackness as it passes overhead during the day, followed by only a crescent being visible thereafter.

Publisher's Life 1

I've been in the indie publishing business for about 6 years all up - my own self-publishing to begin with, followed by four years of Splashdown and the release of 26 books, most pictured here. So I thought it might be interesting to blog through the motivations, the technicalities, and eventually the day-to-day decisions that come with being an indie publisher. I know a lot of you are thinking about self-publishing. Maybe it seems like too much scary work. I know it can be - it certainly feels like that some days for me even now! But I'd like to explain how I did it, to help shine a light through what can be a murky and mysterious topic.

Writing will always be my first love. But as I went about self-publishing my first book six years ago, I grew to enjoy the process of making books. And I realised that I could never write fast enough to satiate my hankering for the release of fiction similar to my own: speculative fiction, but with an uplifting and sometimes literary bent. Eventually I found plenty such material languishing in an unpublished state and resolved to do something about it. 

To be continued...

Daily Doctor: The Doctor Goes to Camp

Fan site Kasterborous reports that a camp in Massachusetts includes in its programme the chance to play a part in the Doctor's adventures. Check out the details here...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Here Comes My Flying Car

As we near the date when Marty McFly visited the distant future, many of us have complained about the glaring lack of flying cars. Well, they may not be all that far away after all!

Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway is a fabulous natural monument on the north coast of Ireland. The legend goes that an Irish giant was fighting with a Scottish giant, and threw stones into the sea in his desire to make a way across to teach the Scot a lesson. There is a similar formation beyond the ocean in Scotland (image search: Cave of Melody). Check out's Giant's Causeway page for more background and a lovely video.

As for me, I visited in 2008 with a friend. The long and winding cliff pathways, the conveniently foot-sized stepping stones on their long seaward tongue, and the organ-pipe formations in the hillsides all make for an expansive and mind-boggling experience.

Daily Doctor: River Said That

A particularly correct juxtaposition in my Pinterest feed.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

NZ: Islands got names!

The two main islands of New Zealand have never had official names. Until now, that is - the situation has been rectified! The names North Island and South Island (locally always used in conjunction with a "the") are now properly registered as titles, alongside Te Ika a Maui and Te Waipounamu. No, I didn't look those up. They're well known already.

Week in Review

It's been a busy week, but a good one, with lots of things getting done. As of today my car is going again (yay!) though I still need to give it a good scrub, deal with some rust spots, and update the Warrant of Fitness and registration.

I've been reading Stephen King's short stories, and that is quite the intense experience. The suspense is so heavy that it's impossible to linger over words. An admirable quality in a thriller, even if it's not what I would aim at myself.

Translations have kept me busy too, with several jobs coming through from various agencies. On the publishing front, I've done some doodles of Celtic knots for an upcoming book cover, had a number of discussions with authors submitting to Splashdown, brainstormed a new royalty and marketing system with my team, and further clarified my plan for my own writing. Worked some on our next anthology project and also reformatted a couple of full submissions for reading on the Kindle in the weeks to come.

We're getting a new flatmate next week so there have been some preparations to make. I also finished rearranging all of my books into various bookshelves in the lounge, bedroom and hallways, and was pleasantly surprised to find I have several shelves' worth of space available for new books. I must go and check out the secondhand shops again and see what classics I can pick up.

And I've just come back from a laughter-filled evening with friends over archery, food and Balderdash, in which I learned what a twangdillo is, and gained points for some legal items involving Canadians and fresh bear meat. I love that game!

Daily Doctor: Losing the Fez

An actually very moving piece of dialogue becomes insanely ridiculous when one applies it to the fez that River shot to smithereens.

Friday, 11 October 2013

An 18th Century Robot

Behold the face of a doll that can write. Built by Jaquet Droz in the mid-1700s, this automaton is programmable with any combination of letters and writes them with a feather and ink.

There's a video here of how it works. I found it quite creepy, yet fascinating at the same time!

5 things I love about GIMP

GIMP stands for the Gnu Image Manipulation Program. It's a free piece of software that pretty much does any design work you could ask of it. My only limitation in working with it is that I often run up against the end of my knowledge, but that never seems to stay a problem for long, as you'll see. Here are my favourite things about it!

  1. It's free and open source! This means it is always without cost, and anyone with a code-monkey brain can fiddle with it and add new bits, and there are lots of those new bits floating around for anyone else to use as well. Native to Linux, it also does just fine on Windows.
  2. Imagine it? Then do it. If there's something I want to do in my design but I'm not sure how, it's a simple matter of hunting down one of the huge number of crowdsourced instructionals and following the steps until I get the gist of it. A search string like "gimp metal effect on layer" will bring up various results.
  3. Preset Logos aka Text Effects! These may sound scary, but essentially you can take any piece of text or a whole layer and apply a 3D effect to all of it. There are only a couple dozen presets, however when one considers that each can be tweaked in inexhaustible variations from the default, paired with the use of different colours and fonts and backgrounds and textures...Yeah. I ain't gonna run out of options.
  4. Standard Functions. Everything you expect in a graphics program, from sliding colour adjustments to freehand painting and line drawing with customisable brushes; sophisticated cloning tools, layer mechanisms, transparency, powerful undo options, filters and shadows, animated GIFs, perspective, alignment, and exporting to all standard image file types. It takes a while to learn it all, but every item works just as it should.
  5. It's fun! This may be more of a personal thing, but I very much enjoy the way the program is set up and the endless tweaking I can do on any project. Yes, in some ways it's like a pencil and paper; yes, it lacks physicality, but goes a good way towards making up for it in potential pizzazz.

Daily Doctor: Donna's Sass

Tardis, Timelord, yeah! Donna, human, no!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Make Your Own Font

Everyone knows I'm a bit font-obsessed. So of course I'm pretty glad it's easy to make my own fonts when the notion takes me. Simply go to, download their PDF template, print it out, write in the boxes for each letter, scan and upload. The system will process your image immediately, and you can then download and install your very own font - and share it too, if you want. The first considered use is of course to make a font with your handwriting. I've done a few of those with different thicknesses of pens - a Light, a Bold and an Extrabold, if you will. But then there are the design implications. If I couldn't find a suitable font for a design project, I have the option of creating one myself. It's not a science I know a lot about, but this template makes it possible to get fairly good results on the first try. Why not give it a go?
(Preview of the template)

Author Spotlight: Fred Warren

I met Fred in person for the first time in Dixieland, as you can see, last November. Actually this was a restaurant on the fringes of Kansas City. With thanks to Chila for clicking the button.

I've said it many times but it's never more true: Fred did a brave thing when he became the first author to sign on with me and Splashdown Books. His novels are full of whimsy and deepness; and even deeper shadows come out in his short stories, while I've also really appreciated his enthusiasm for the Avenir Eclectia world in which he has been one of the key players from the beginning.

Read The Muse and The Seer if you like funny contemporary fantasy that might just get you in the heart. Read Odd Little Miracles if you like to get creeped out; and read his Avenir stories for space opera sense of wonder. As well as his work with Splashdown, he also has a long list of short stories published elsewhere.

Fred's page at Splashdown Books
Fred's page at Amazon
Fred's blog Frederation

Daily Doctor: Finding Beauty

The Doctor finds beauty even in dangerous things.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Reboot Actor Morphs

Over at DeviantArt, user ThatNordicGuy has begun a fascinating project whereby he uses photo editing software to combine half of one face with half of another. Most of them are Star Trek actors: half Original Series, and half JJ Reboot. I could scarcely believe it until I squinted and covered one side of each face at a time, and then one person or the other became clear. Goes to show just how well the new movie was cast, that these faces mostly fit very well as a mirror image of the original actor. Be sure to check out the full size images here.

Ratties doing tricks

I love rats! And I'm really impressed by this rat owner who has taught her rats to do all sorts of things from fetching to jumping and even raising the Canadian flag! Enjoy.

Daily Doctor: Windsor Castle Theme

The Queen is a Whovian, it's a well known fact. Proof is offered here as her guards are ordered to play the theme tune... Seems to be the 8th Doctor arrangement, I wonder if he's a particular favourite?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

13 Types of Tea Drinker

I wish I'd come up with that title, but I didn't. This article over at Ireland's Daily Edge lists a variety of people that perhaps we all know, with some amusing images of which the above is undoubtedly my favourite. And if anyone knows tea, it's the Irish.

I didn't really find myself in the list, though. I shall have to add a #14: The one-strong-cup-in-the-morning milk-and-honey addict. Seriously, I should try to wean myself off it someday - it's scary how bad I feel if I don't get it.

Photo Story: San Francisco Boats

It was December of 2008 and I was near the end of a trek that had seen me on the road for about 8 months through Germany, Ireland and the USA. Unlike all my other stops, I had no one to visit in San Francisco, but wanted to see it anyway; so I booked a bed in the Fort Mason hostel overlooking the Bay and Fisherman's Wharf. I snapped this shot nearby in the sharp, golden evening light. Just near here was the stomping ground of the street entertainer who hid behind some branches he held, and jumped out at passers-by. After being frightened themselves, most would join the crowd to observe the next poor soul coming past. In this way I suppose he earns his pocket money. He did jump out at me, but I have to admit, I was so oblivious and intent on my purpose that I didn't even realise until I was well past and the crowd had started to laugh. Just call me unflappable, I suppose...

Daily Doctor: Pirate's Gold VIII

The Doctor strode around in a wide circle, or at least as wide as he could manage in between all the birds and people and equipment. "So, extrapolating from what we know, the likely scenario is that someone -"

"Let's call him the Pirate," put in Donna. "Arrr!"

River rolled her eyes. "How exciting."

The Doctor gave them both a brief intense stare, as if questioning their sanity, before continuing. "Someone managed to not only find out about the nanobots and their gold-making propensities, but also discovered their location, travelled through space to get there, and had the technical know-how to actually break through that forcefield and reseal it afterwards. And believe me, those Shadow Proclamation forcefields carry some clout."

"How do we know they sealed it up again?" asked Karanga.

"Because they didn't take over the universe yet."

"Oh, great," said Donna. "So we're on borrowed time."

"It's not so bad," said the Doctor. " least, not as bad as it could be. Not yet." He bounced up and down on his heels and pouted.

River huffed. "The hole's only getting deeper, love. Best just stop talking until that genius brain of yours gets itself untangled."

The Doctor gaped, fish-like, and started a couple of words that ended up not going anywhere.

River ignored him and turned to Donna. "We're definitely safe for now, my dear. Using a code reader, I was able to determine that this bot was part of a smaller swarm after it left the forcefield. The small swarm is still growing, but obviously not at the sheer volume of the other."

Donna gulped. "Okay, let me get this straight. Someone - our pirate - opened the forcefield, let some nasty creepies out, and closed it up again. So what's the problem - aside from tut-tutting about a morally corrupt thief?"

"Ah," said the Doctor, but River cut in.

"Because what pirate would be content with a tiny portion of that astounding hoard?

The Doctor finally regained his power of speech. "The question is, how big is that new swarm?"

"Well," said River, "I was hoping for some help from that great big head of yours. My swarm sensor needs some Timelord tweaking."

"Okay. Show me."

River tapped a pattern on the screen and a complicated code filled it and continued to scroll. The Doctor said no more for the time being, but bent over the display.

"Honestly, you two are like an old married couple." said Donna.

"You're very perceptive, bright one." River turned an appraising gaze on her.

"There," said the Doctor. "I've synced the algorithm matrix to the polarising capacitor." He waved the buzzing sonic screwdriver over it. "and upped the frequency range to tthe widest known." He grinned. "Now you should be able to pick up just about everything in the universe."

"Thats a bit rich, even from you," said River, and flicked back from the code to operational view. Her jaw dropped fractionally and Donna moved to peer over her shoulder.

"What is it?"

"We really can see all of known space on this thing. Was that necessary? Just the outer galaxy arm would have been enough."

The Doctor tried unsuccessfully to repress a smile.

"You naughty boy, you'll use up all their power," said River, inclining her head towards their hosts.

"Let's hurry and find what we're looking for, then," said Karanga from her spot on the table.

Stars and planets whooshed by on the screen. All appeared in comforting shades of blue.

"Inputting coordinates," said River. The display turned as if it were the viewscreen of a spaceship, so abruptly that Donna fought a shred of vertigo at the sense of whirling in space. It streaked past stars and slowed as it zoomed in on a dot that grew to swallow the view, alive with red.

"Okay, we found our golden star," said River.

"Actually, it's a yellow dwarf," said the Doctor. "Not unlike Sol."

Donna peered at the reading. Aside from solid red there was another cluster of it, moving through space some distance from the mother system. "Look at that," she said, pointing.

"Yep, that's the new swarm. Escapees."

"But what's that other thing chasing it?" asked Donna. The new object had only a spot of red in a smooth blue shape.

"I think we found our pirate, said the Doctor, "and whoever it is, he's pretty close to the forcefield. He could try to break it open again at any time, which we do not want to happen."

Donna set her fists on her hips. "There's only one thing for it." She turned to River.

River nodded, eyes blazing. "To the TARDIS!"

Monday, 7 October 2013

What the World Eats

This photo series has been around for a little while now, but I just came across it again and was newly fascinated. Each image shows a family and their food for a week. Spot the differences between America, Britain and Germany, then look at those who have far less. The pictures give glimpses of their homes as well. Some surprises, such as a huge amount of Coke in Mexico. Also, in Ecuador (above) they like black hats.

This gets me thinking about what my personal food for a week would look like, since I'm only feeding me. Well, and the cat. Maybe I'll have to put together a picture someday. But in the meantime, a list will have to do - as it currently stands:

- Seven black teabags
- 500g honey
- 2 litres milk
- 2 heads broccoli
- 600ml yoghurt
- 500g mixed nuts
- 1 doz eggs
- 4 oranges
- 1kg fresh meat
- 1 leek or 2 onions
- 1 aubergine or equivalent volume in mushrooms
- 125g butter
- Bunch of silverbeet or spinach or lettuce
- 2 slices grain toast
- 1 can soup
- Various spices and sauces
- Chocolate, variously...

That time I got stuck in Timbuktu

Okay, this is where things get crazy. Or maybe things were already crazy a long time before that, who knows?

I flew from Germany to meet several Kiwi friends in Ghana. We proceeded to trek through Burkina Faso and then Mali, which last is where these pictures are from. In Mali we visited several World Vision project villages and were duly presented with a chicken by the elders of each. The above picture is from a school visit; we had brought puppets to show the children, and these caused huge excitement everywhere we went.

Then came an opportunity to visit Timbuktu in the northern reaches of Mali. So we did. Except we got stuck there, because the return flight we'd been sold didn't exist. Our friends drove up from the capital to help get us back to our next flight on time.

The lower picture is a street in Timbuktu. At the edge of the Sahara, this ancient city is constantly under threat of being inundated by sand. The buildings are mostly mud brick, with patterns scratched on them to stop the surface from cracking. We slept in the open on one of the roofs.

Daily Doctor: Teacher Trouble

This is another older clip many of you might have seen already, but I wanted to post it here to have a full record of this classic material. It will be a lot funnier to you if you are familiar with Series 4 and Donna Noble, of course.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Travelling Light?

This new bag from Minaal claims to be the perfect carry-on. The exact size to fit within those dimensions, with a special laptop pouch plus additional pockets. I admit, I've been drooling a bit over this one. And I could get one if I back their Kickstarter project, which is certainly worth a look. But then I think, that sure is a lot of moolah for what is essentially just a backpack.

I've been very happy with my secondhand purple duffle. The only thing it lacks is wheels for when I'm tired of lugging it on a shoulder. The Minaal bag also lacks wheels, so I'm not sure the advantage would be very great over what I have now.

Maybe I should just figure out a way to attach wheels to my duffle...

Photo Story: Edinburgh Sunset

Cockburn Street, Edinburgh, Scotland. Location:

I was here in the winter of 2008, staying in a nearby hostel that overlooked the railway station in its huge glacial valley. Cockburn Street is one of the steeply curved connections up the side of the valley leading to the High Street ridge, at whose top sits the Edinburgh Castle.

One evening near sunset as we passed by one of these quaint little shops - something like our corner dairies in NZ, selling basic groceries at elevated prices - three teenage boys were leaning over the counter in the face of the nonplussed owner. "I want a refund," said one of the boys in best Scots brogue, pushing an unseen item at the older man. The owner said something about wanting to see a receipt. "Look," said the boy, "I bought that here and I swear to it on my grandmother's grave."

We passed swiftly on and did not hear the outcome. The whole affair seemed pretty fishy to me, though. Bringing his grandma into it smacked of trying too hard to be convincing...

Daily Doctor: Mapping London

This mapped guide lists all the London locations that have featured in Doctor Who over the past 50 years. Each pin comes with a brief description of the episode concerned. I have to agree that the aliens must all think it's the centre of the world...

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Undersea Falls of Mauritius

In the Indian Ocean lies the island of Mauritius, and off its southern coast lies the phenomenon of the "underwater waterfall."

Seen here from the sky, it looks like a cascade is pouring off the island shelf into the depths below. Well, apparently that part is an illusion; water wouldn't fall like that inside of itself. However, something is falling down that hole, and that something is sand.

More details and larger pictures here and here.

An Educated Mind

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Written by Aristotle more than two millenia ago, these words have rung especially true to me lately. Most specifically in that it is possible to be friends with someone I disagree with. Too often today we see people tearing down each other's character because of a difference in opinion, but that is not necessary at all.

Entertain the thought. Consider the what-ifs. Cogitate on the manner of thinking, but without necessarily accepting it yourself. Yes, it is possible, and it sure makes life a lot less stressful!

Daily Doctor: The Curse of Fatal Death

An oldie but a goodie. If you haven't seen Rowan Atkinson, yes, Mr. Bean himself, taking the Doctor's mickey, well, let me tell you, you're missing out...

Things to watch out for: Hand-powered TARDIS consoles, real BBC Daleks, and a most unusual form of language...

Friday, 4 October 2013

Fiction and Washing Machines

I got a good laugh, and more, out of Victoria Mixon's recent post 7 Reasons Fiction Needs a Washing Machine. In it, she begins by poking fun at spam and ended up imparting some important truths about writing: metaphorically, writing involves getting very dirty, and just when you think you've gone as deep as you can, you should dig even deeper and find more dirt. Dirt in the sense of grit and truth and utter cosmic honesty. Anyway, do go and have a read - it certainly gave me pause to think.
Victoria Mixon

More Book Loot

These are the books I've picked up secondhand in the past few weeks. All were just a couple of bucks except for the Star Wars one, and that's okay, because that's one I've wanted a copy of for a while. I borrowed it from the library in Balbriggan the first time I read it.

Of these, the Handmaid's Tale and Neuromancer come from the Hugo winners' list. McCaffrey of course was a winner with other titles, and I am getting to like her work a lot so I was pleased to find this one. The Time Traveller's Wife and the Whale Rider could possibly be seen as part of my genre in the widest sense; and the Austen, McCall and Binchy are just plain delightful and very good for my language development.

Daily Doctor: Tardis Goes Swimming

Five summers ago in Hyde Park, London, several blokes went to work to make the Tardis fly. This ended up amounting to throwing it in the lake - along with a Dalek and a couple of lookalikes. The video is quite amusing, and the details can be found on the project website.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Irish Bond

Staying with our Irish theme, it was recently announced that the next James Bond flick may be filmed in Dublin. Ever quick to the fore, my compatriots leaped into the Twittersphere and made all sorts of suggestions for what such a movie could be titled, including such gems as Quantum of Bollix and On Yer Man's Secret Service. The Journal compiled the 9 best ones here, and the hashtag on Twitter is also worth a peek!

Top 10 Tools for Online Living

The Internet's a crazy place. Over the years I've developed an arsenal of strategies to handle it and stay sane, too. Originally I was going to call this the Top 10 Online Tools for Writers, but in fact, they are essential for pretty much anyone who spends time interacting online. Some require a little techspertise, however, you'll soon find that it's worth it - they save so much time.

1. Email filtering - When you sign up to mailing lists or join groups or social networks, the amount of notifications landing in your inbox can be overwhelming. You can create folders and have messages from certain addresses or with certain keywords go straight there instead of clogging up your front page. Of course you can also opt out of notifications, but if you do want them, they don't have to swamp you.

2. RSS reader - I've already talked about this, but in brief, you can add all your favourite blogs to a service where you can then peruse their titles like email subject lines. Only read the ones you are interested in - and you don't have to visit every site individually!

3. Facebook Landing List - Hundreds of friends? Their posts will only appear in your News Feed if Facebook's algorithm deems them worthy - decided by factors such as overall response to a post, or how much you interact with that person. But you can make a custom list with a subset of priority friends, then use that location as your landing pad and never miss anything truly important again.

4. Instant Messaging - There's nothing like it for teamwork or a bit of a chat. 'Nuff said?

5. Blog Scheduling - Statistics prove that certain times of day are more effective in gaining attention. Not around at those times? I'm not, because I sleep away most of the American day. So I schedule my posts for advantageous timing and head off to dreamland.

6. Blog Syndication - This is where it gets really powerful. A scheduled blog post, appearing while I sleep, triggers a Tweet on Twitter, two Facebook posts (one on my personal feed and the other on the Splashdown Books page) and one on Google Plus. Each with a link to the blog post and most with a preview image. In addition, post comments can appear as activity on Google Plus as well. To say nothing of the full post being pushed through to my Goodreads and Amazon profile pages. That's at least six different appearances for each post!

7. Free Phone Calls - Skype and Google Talk allow for international contact like never before.

8. Pinterest - I am still figuring out this one. But I must be doing something right, since I often get 20-30 repins and likes per day. The image's clickthrough link should always go to its original source, but my thought is that if I include a link in each pin's description, it can travel very far as it gets repinned - because people rarely bother to change the existing description. The trick now is to find a blog post or book of mine that is relevant to that pin.

9. UnPolitic.Me - Triggered by keywords of your choice, replaces Facebook posts with an Instagram feed of your choosing. In my case, I replace political comments with Doctor Who images. You may want to clean your feed of cats (perish the thought!), or babies, or food - this tool can do all of those things and more.

10. AdBlock Plus - Makes the Internet a nice place by removing all those junky advertisements.

So there we are. I'll write up a wee comment on each item in the weeks ahead, and link them here when they're done. What are your favourite online tools?

Daily Doctor: The Capaldi Connection

I mentioned here before how Peter Capaldi already appeared in The Fires of Pompeii, meeting the Tenth Doctor in series 4. Well, it appears there is going to be a logical reason for all that. The above is from part of a video interview Steven Moffat has done with the Nerd3 team. Check out the whole thing here if you want - but be warned, it's over half an hour long!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Bear in the Polish Army

The Polish army once enlisted a bear. They came into possession of the orphaned cub, named him Wojtek, and raised him as their own. He seems to have been completely tame. He was given a military serial number and the rank of Corporal in order to be allowed to sail with his company from Egypt to Italy.

The full article here is well worth a read, including several of his adventurous exploits.

Photo Story: Chicago from above

Back in 2008 I toured the USA for about 2 months. On my way I visited Frank Creed and family in Indiana, near enough to drive to Chicago for a day trip. We went up the Sears Tower (yes I know its name has changed but I can't remember the new one...)

From the viewing deck, Frank pointed down at the area to the north of the tower. "That's the zone where my novels take place," he said. As it turns out, we ended up putting a version of this picture on his third book in the series - but don't be fooled by this screen image, it looks way cooler in print!