Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Oxygen concentrations


This is something I have been meaning to mention for a while but don't think I have done... been sitting on it as part of the idea for an SF storyline, but fuck it - I have more of those than I could use in a lifetime of writing, ideas are not my problem.

Something we take for granted is combustion - simply apply heat to a wide variety of things like wood or coal or oil and they'll happily burn. But do you realise that if the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere was only slightly lower this would not be true? It's far more critical than you might think, a reduction of only a couple of percent is enough to stop combustion... But life would still be perfectly possible, humans can survive perfectly happily at oxygen concentrations far below those necessary to support combustion.

So what? I hear you think... well, the thing is that the oxygen concentration in our atmosphere has varied quite widely and could very easily have been lower than it is for the whole of human existence - now, if that had been the case then fire would not work... without fire we could not have developed any form of technology... no extracting metals from ores, no alchemy leading to chemistry, no glass, no ceramics, no steam power...

What a terrible trap lurks for intelligent beings who happen to evolve on a planet with such an atmosphere.


Friday, June 20, 2014

BASIC


[amusement] It occurred to me during a conversation that BASIC was a language designed for beginners to programming and used to be regarded as trivial to use; but it's now regarded by modern programmers as far too complicated for them to do anything with...

One wonders where this process will end. When the final "programmer" becomes unable to operate the single switch required to turn the computer on, I suspect.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Software blues.


Just done a little light reading for relaxation - a guide to optimising x86 assembler code... it is both amazing and appalling how much hardware there is inside these poor processors to try to deal with the awful code they're given to run by compilers.

It's insane. Rather than have programmers write competent code - which, I keep having to remind myself, is actually quite easy - we've ended up in a world where nearly all programmers write complete garbage that includes masses of other complete garbage that other equally-incompetent garbage-mongers have gathered together, and all this offensively incompetent shite gets compiled to a vast swamp of instructions that are then examined by the hardware, broken up into smaller micro instructions and re-ordered into some kind of sense before actually getting executed... but no matter how impressive that hardware is - there are typically tens of billions of examples of this happening in each and every computer in every second - it doesn't make the whole ridiculous process any less inefficient... and all this hardware and furious activity burns electricity and generates waste heat.

Feel your computer - is it warm? hot? Unless you're doing something that actually needs lots of computation (3D games count) that heat is almost entirely generated by programmers being stupid.

Why is this all so inefficient? Mainly because the languages and tools programmers prefer to use are chosen *not* by any logical, rational process but by the whims of fucking fashion by programmers with no idea of what is actually going on under the hood and no interest in finding out.

And they'll tell you this doesn't matter - hell! they tell *me* it doesn't matter and I know exactly how full of shit they are - but it matters to the extent that at the present moment the IT industry accounts for about 2% of all the energy used in the world. That's about the same as the entire aviation industry.

Think about that for a second... it should be such a small fraction that it can't be bloody measured easily. Instead it's a major source of wasted energy and pollution... and this energy isn't used because it needs to be used; not at all. This energy is almost entirely wasted, and it's wasted because programmers are so fucking useless. And they're not getting more efficient either, quite the reverse. All the time they find new ways to add layers of inefficiency to everything.

Programming constantly moves away from energy efficiency towards less efficient languages and tools. Programmers actively choose not to use efficient languages and expect everyone to buy faster and faster computers to keep up with the growth of their inefficiency. But this is hardly new, it was old news thirty years ago... for most of my life I've watched them at it with a kind of shocked disbelief... knowing how to write efficient software easily leaves you wondering what the hell it is about getting things wrong that other programmers find so appealing. It's harder to do it badly.

Reading this status has probably used about a million times as much energy as it should have done, and would have done if all the programmers involved in writing the code involved were skilled... the sad fact is most programmers aren't just bad but completely fucking clueless. So monumentally incompetent that there is no way anyone outside the IT industry will ever understand how fucking thick and clueless they are - most of you just don't have any experience of anything being done as badly as programmers do things. They make cowboy builders look like paragons of efficient competence. Saying they build structures like Heath-Robinson contraptions is ridiculously understating the absurdity of their habits.

Ah, fuck it. This is pointless... It's our energy and money they're wasting, and it's our planet they're raping, but nothing I say is going to stop that or make even a single one of the lazy bastards change their ways or admit to their crimes. And make no mistake - they are crimes. I just hope that one day they're recognised as such and the software industry becomes accountable for the energy they waste.

Now, programmers will be reading this and bursting with asinine remarks in defence of bloat and crud - understand clearly that I don't give a shit what miserable justifications you present; I've heard them all, and shown them all as the tripe they are countless times... what I'm left with is the sense of utter shame that people outside the IT industry confuse what I do with what you do.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mice...


Given that mice are affected by the scent of male researchers, I wonder if there's a market for things that clip onto their cages in labs and releases that male scent over a long period to acclimatise the little buggers.

I'd look into patenting the idea and making these if I had time... someone get on with it, I want 5%...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Help getting it up...


Dear computing agony aunt... I have an embarrassing problem... does size matter? I know everyone says it doesn't, but are they just being kind?

It's... it's hard to talk about this... but I feel embarrassed whenever programmers start talking about the size of their sources. I just can't compete. I can't show anyone my printouts, they're just so weedy. I have to hide them inside the covers of other people's sources... when it comes to lines of code, I'm absolutely convinced modern programmers know how to write far more of them than I do. And not just twice as many, or ten times, but thousands or even millions of times as many... I'm not imagining this! I'n not! I'm not! I need help bloating!


I mean... I've just added up all the lines of code in my wireless sensor network, a big project with operating systems, networks, applications, servers, all sorts of horrible things, dozens of different processors, and I had to add in the sources for the tools I used to build it all to even scrape into the ten thousand line bracket... I wrote half of it in assembler, you can't say I'm not trying! What more is a man to do? My bugs got tired of complaining that they had nowhere to hide and left me.


I try, I really do, but they're always talking about simple things that they've needed millions of lines of code to do, and I always run out of project before I reach even ten thousand lines... I add things and put bells and whistles and all sorts of unnecessary options in, and they only add a few hundred lines at best. Maybe a thousand if I'm really verbose and hide a game or completely different application in there somewhere... It's a worry. What am I doing wrong? Please help... I feel so lonely and out of touch.


(minimalist from Chester, 52)


PS. I was told to try C++ or Java, but... I still can't seem to manage it.


It's not fair... I'll never be able to survive by charging by the line. [sniffle]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Modern programming...


What I would like - hell! What I would absolutely fucking LOVE is for software products to have to include an ingredients list... if it uses open source garbage it should say so on the packaging in a great big warning label. The proportion of the source-code that the "author" hasn't even fecking well looked at, let alone understood, should be stated so that people have an idea how little the vendor knows about what they're selling.

It really REALLY pisses me off that there's no public distinction between the software written by people who have a clue what they're doing and the integrity not to use random garbage and the utter tripe that's thrown together by mindless, clueless garbage collectors, who go bin-diving in the open-source sewer and pile up sludge until they have enough to call it a product... except that image is far too kind for what clueless modern programmers actually do; there are really no ways to describe or conceptualise the extent of their miserable incompetence.

It sickens me to be thought of as belonging to the same profession as modern programmers. It utterly, utterly sickens me.

[later, after watching more news about the latest exploit found in open-sewer security software]

Whenever I see some turd of a programmer extolling the "virtues" of open-source software, using the lie that "anyone can see the source so it gets reviewed", as if many of the modern programming crowd have the competence to judge anything or anyone has the time to wade through the hundreds of millions of lines of code that get dragged into every project these days, I want to kick the lying shit out of them.

[muses] It would be unfair (and inaccurate) not to acknowledge that there are some very skilled programmers involved with writing open-source code, and most of the people who do it have good intentions. But the problem is that, like a chain, the weakest link is what determines the overall quality of any project, not the strongest, or even the average.

Writing reliable code involves far more than enthusiasm and the willingness to become involved; it's a real skill, it takes time to acquire and not many people have the right mindset, patience and consistency to do it even if they have the willingness to try, and few do - there's far less glamour in carefully writing a solid reliable application than there is in dashing something QAD (quick and dirty) out and then scampering on to something new and exciting, leaving behind a trail of half-finished projects for others to clean up.

But never mind... I have discussed this subject many times over the years and to do it justice requires more time and effort than I'm prepared to spend on it on facebook; I could and probably should write books on the subject. It's hard enough to get people to understand how to write code that can be tested, let alone expect them to try to test code that wasn't written with testing in mind by someone else who doesn't understand the process, who has a different coding style and skill level and like as not was introducing new problems while trying to deal with others and working on a completely different hardware platform... so the oft-mentioned concept of open-source generating reliability by peer-review and the process of bug detection/removal is childishly, painfully naive. 

I predicted over twenty years ago that we should expect software to stop behaving like an all or nothing digital system that either works or doesn't, but instead to experience a combinatorial explosion of unreliability until computing environments behave in an analog fashion with multiple degrees of failure of varying severity following an exponential decay curve slowly approaching - but never reaching - a stable state. I pretty much nailed that one, unfortunately.

Monday, February 03, 2014

From an old grumble of mine. I doubt I'd change a single word:


The complexity of any given software project may informally be judged as proportional to the number of requirements the design must satisfy raised to the power of the number of programmers involved, and the likely reliability as inversely proportional to that complexity raised to some power greater than unity.

(It should be understood that the number of programmers used here is not limited to those actively engaged in directly writing code for the project, but must also include, in some suitably scaled fashion, those who "contribute" to any libraries, objects, tools or operating systems involved. I usually describe this process as "The more, the messier")

In practical terms the consequence of this is that the only chance there ever is of producing reliable code is to reduce the number of requirements for each project and use small teams or competent individuals who are responsible for designing the entire system. The history of computing and indeed engineering in general is full of examples of successful designs using this strategy, and also of alternative large-scale design processes that consistently fail, overrun deadlines and eventually produce bloated unreliable garbage when they produce anything at all.

I have been asked "if that is really the case, what is the solution?" a question I regard as fundamentally flawed. There is no short-term solvable problem here; it's a limitation of human intelligence and the overheads of communication. They're hard limits, and any software project that cannot be divided into fractions which are within the capability of of a single competent individual should be expected to be (a) unreliable and (b) delivered late if delivered at all...

In the long run the problem may be solved by the development of AI and the arrival of more competent individuals/reliable communication; given the intractable nature of intelligence and the inherent inefficiency of the software development required to produce them I would not expect this development to occur for several decades.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Various grumbles of mine, old and new...

Just wandered through facebook and collected a few of my brief grumbles (some date from much earlier, back to the early 80's and were references there to even older grumbles from cix (mainly) or other publications of mine) that I don't think have made it to the blog... these were ones I've used as status postings. I wish facebook would let me download comments easily, there's lots of other funny stuff there too and I might collect some of that one day...

I hate defending myself from accusations that are unfair - I have defences prepared for the accusations that are fair...

I always said I wanted to be the world's best lover. Some people say I'm aiming too high, but that's just the first kiss.

Fear the demands of reasonable people; others can be disregarded, but these have to be prioritised.

Fear the dreams of the powerful.

Conment (n): a comment intended to confuse a situation, usually for the author's amusement.

Love of money is the root of all evil; indoctrination is the route of all evil...

I want to have a quiet word with whoever wrote the script for today...

"Once things start going wrong, they usually develop quite some momentum"

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but irritation is the father...

Being kind isn't a weakness, but it can certainly feel like it is at times.

By their assumptions shall ye know them

"I wonder why they call them altars - they never alter anything"

Religions are just different flavours of insanity.

"publish and be dumbed"

"Will mankind end its reliance on technology before technology ends its reliance on mankind?"

"It's the man who fell to earth and landed head first" Guess who is being forced to watch "The Voice"...

Whenever people go on about staring into the abyss I always think it's too deep for me...

I'm not sure that having your car make panicy bleating noises then draw a mushroom cloud as a dashboard warning sign is an entirely good thing...

"it's easy to tell when a programmer is writing garbage: their fingers move"

This is what happens when you build gormenghast on a budget.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a TV must be in want of period drama...

You are responsible for your actions; not the interpretations others place on them.

I spend my life trying to be funny, to cheer others up, and what happens? People just laugh at me... Bastards.

Quantum physics implies we are living in an immature universe; like teenagers, things only behave sensibly while they are being observed...

If you share the credit you can also share the blame

"A lesson many people never learn is that it's hard work trying to hide your true nature, and doing so alters it anyway - rarely for the better"

It is impossible to remain depressed while watching someone attempting to ride a unicycle for the first time...

The rule "if something sounds too good to be true, there's something wrong with it" always sounds too good to be true...

"It may not be coincidence I stopped writing games after I discovered sex"

It's paradoxical how often people use the process of asking questions as a way to avoid having to understand the answers to previous questions...

"I have no fear of heights at all. As long as they remain above me"

Hell is not seeing any connection between what you can offer and what you need.

How innocent a fresh new board looks before any software is written. After that they lurk.

For a social website there are a great many antisocial people on Facebook.

Would having a lover with multiple personalities count as an orgy?

The universe is full of things that get harder to understand the more you try to simplify them.

I'm dimly wondering about making an "I'm giving up moderation for lent" t-shirt...

I sometimes think that my drinking coffee is the equivalent of Clarke Kent visiting a phone booth.

"Sophistication is not my m├ętier"

I think I need a magic ring that makes the wearer visible when worn.

I laugh at anyone who doesn't have a sense of humour, unless they're a comedian...

Sometimes I feel my insults are wasted... "You must be a terrible embarrassment to your subconscious" "You wot?"

[muses] What if all the conspiracy theorists are part of a larger covert organisation?

"Why do computers use Silicon for their logic?" "Because thirteen and a half billion years of trying to make Carbon work logically has failed..."

I often wondered - is "ferrarri" Italian for "sleazy"?

Confused someone greatly yesterday by pointing out that iron is really star-poo.

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make parent"

#twitter: a small for people who can't handle a proper medium.

"The art of philosophizing is saying with two words what any damn fool can say with too many"

I really can't make my mind up if I understand quantum superposition or not.

Is it ironic to not understand a paper on learning algorithms?

I was thinking about reading a book on procrastination... Actually, how would a book on procrastination ever get written?

There are times when I don't feel like screaming.

Understanding other people is usually easier than understanding yourself. Unless you're schizophrenic, of course.

I've just been accused of hiding beneath women's skirts - things are definitely looking up.

I rarely give advice, but if I did it would be "never give advice to anyone who might actually take it" - they're only after someone to blame when it all goes horribly wrong...

The paradox of keeping secrets - if you are really good at it, nobody ever finds out.

[muses] Are they called mermaids because they lack the necessary parts to get laid and become merwenches?

[muses] Was there ever a more repulsive concept than "sexual conquests"? Love isn't a battle, get it right and you can have winners without losers.

[muses] It's ironic how often people discuss science unscientifically...

[muses] If sex was ever incorporated into the Olympics I reckon I'd have a shot at an individual gold.

[muses] If you are what you eat... why don't nuts come with a health warning?

[muses] Relationships have two ends and women get to decide both, in my experience...

[muses] Why do judgemental people usually show such poor judgement? You'd have thought practice would improve it.

[muses] How do you learn to hypnotise people? Every time I try it in front of a mirror I put myself to sleep.

[muses] "Intelligent Design" is a remarkably ironic name for a concept that no intelligent designer takes seriously.

[muses] Pay attention to what people say when they're criticising others, it's often very revealing of their own character; people usually focus on and draw attention to the traits they see - and despise - in themselves.

[muses] Men insult their friends, women compliment their enemies... It must be bloody confusing to be bisexual.

[muses] Blogging is thinking locally and acting-out globally. Needs more pith. It's not pithy enough... Think loco, act-out global? Gah.

[muses] It's rarely a good move to tell someone that you understand them, but if you do make sure you do it in such a way as to leave some doubt in their mind - people usually need to believe that they're more complicated than everyone else. It's rare to find someone who appreciates being understood half as much as they'd appreciate you to have made a valiant effort at understanding them and failed... Of course - I could be wrong.

[muses] It strikes me as paradoxical that the world is so complex that the finest minds have been flummoxed by it, yet many of the most dramatic changes to it were made by those holding doggedly fast to ridiculously simplistic ideas.

[muses] was there ever a more passive-aggressive act than that of inventing the term passive-aggressive in the first place?

[muses] In my life I've met one or two people who took themselves very seriously, didn't have much of a sense of humour and who weren't also complete and utter arseholes - and maybe thousands who were; the odds aren't good people... If you want a pretty reliable guide to who to avoid in life I don't think you can do much better than look at how often someone laughs. Unless they're putting kittens in the blender at the time or something of that nature, in which case run like hell...

[musing] If one god started the universe off with a big bang, shouldn't it be called the Big Wank Theory?

At some point during the invention of language someone had to come up with a word for "think" and explain what it meant to everyone else... I bet that was frustrating.

Who was it who said "nothing that can't be proved is worth believing"? [rummage]... Hmmm... [more rummaging]... Oh, apparently it was me.

General advice... don't absent mindedly wipe your nose on the same tissue you've just used to wipe away some surplus superglue...

Being prepared and willing to understand the other parties viewpoint is a hell of a disadvantage when dealing with someone who isn't prepared or willing to understand yours...

I have nothing at all against people who can't write software, but why do so many of them become programmers?

Are "fundamentalists" named after "fundaments", ie "bottoms"? No wonder they're all arseholes.

While thinking up alternative terms for arseholes tonight I came up with "excrementally-advantaged" and "rectomentalists", neither generates any hits on Google. So, at least they're original, though I guess that means they're crap.

Intelligent design? We live in a universe where the slow drivers are always in front of us holding us up, and the fast ones behind, being a pain in the arse, and yet people still believe in intelligent design?

How come there isn't a single creation myth where Gawd starts out wanting coffee? I mean, I have to go to enormous lengths to get a mug. I have to get out of bed, dressed, toiletted, drive a vehicle - negotiate an industrial estate full of foreign lorry drivers - a door with the combination lock from hell, that hates me... Frankly, in comparison, for a supreme being I'm sure knocking up a universe must have been a doddle.

Laugh and the world laughs with you, cackle and the buggers stare at you... It's quite disturbing, actually... Muha! Muhahaha-aha!... See? See?

Am I the only one who finds the process of "reductio ad absurdum" slightly absurd?

Was there a spell in Harry Potter called "Stupidify!"?

I sometimes wonder what it is that is so fucking *wrong* with programmers... The more someone else knows about software engineering, the less respect they have for them.

Never mind contact lenses - I've just invented "contract" lenses - makes everyone appear slimmer...

One of the rarest graces is the ability to admit to your mistakes.

It might surprise people but hoodies share several percent of their DNA with humans. They share the rest with paper tissues.

There is nothing so stupid that some religious nutter or other hasn't advocated it.

"The finest trick of religion is to persuade you that it is not nonsense"

It perplexes me that the belief that a god exists which created man in his own image can infect any halfway rational mind in the first place, but how such a belief can survive the process of going to the loo and having to scrape shit off your arse with bits of paper is utterly beyond me... I can't really imagine a supreme being doing that, nor would I even consider worshiping one that can't come up with a better way to power its creations... especially as it is also supposed to have created electricity at some point earlier in the week.

For some reason I just had the mental image of a ninja retirement home. A place for people who used to ninje but who are now reduced to shuffling around terrorising the staff with poison-coated zimmer-frames.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a sleeping woman in possession of a good grip on the quilt, must be in want of a cold foot in the small of the back. Okay, it's not universally acknowledged... maybe it's not even true... but it works. For small and rather exciting moments of 'work'.

I have been chatting with someone (who shall remain nameless) who tells me I need to brush up on soaps in order to understand women and have some common ground. I do not watch soaps. They are boring. Even the ones with enzymes.

Whatever enlightenment there is to be found in this world, it isn't to be found wandering around an empty beach at night. Not alone, anyway.

There is an entirely different kind of boredom on offer at the seaside. Nowhere else on Earth could I find myself watching Olympic showjumping with what could be described as relief...

I have had an epiphany. But it's ok, I cleaned up afterwards.

"Don't give the universe ideas? People exist to give the universe ideas"

"I've read several holy books. If you ask me God needs fewer prophets and more editors"

[muses] As 69 is a well recognised sexual position for couples, why aren't 6 and/or 9 recognised positions for singles?

Blue... Blue... Was there ever a less onamatopoeic word?

We are rainclouds in search of a sky.

I have long wondered why Sinbad wasn't called Singood or Sinfun...

Gave up and went to see the quack yesterday, told her I was suicidal and demanded drugs... She recommended hanging - bastard NHS cost cutting...

"Bible belt" isn't a location, it's an appropriate response... "Thwap!"

"Statisticians warn that living longer increases the risk of death"

You know that moment when someone you think of as a tiresome and pretentious fool unexpectedly comes out with something profound and interesting for a change? Well, you do now - what's it like?

Speaking about memory erasing, a few years ago Morag and I were discussing Rohypnol and how foul the whole idea of date rape was when she surprised me by saying she was prepared to try it to see what the effects were like. It's funny, but I can't remember what happened after that.

It's important to try to understand other people's motivations, as long as you're never foolish enough to believe you've entirely succeeded; if nothing else the exercise will provide useful insights into your own motivations - unless you're foolish enough to believe you already understand them...

Alien abductions... I've worked it out... The aliens must need ballast for their ufos. I bet there's a statistically significant correlation between an abductees weight and the likelihood of abduction. That's why they go for Americans...

Sometimes, less is

During conversation tonight... "Well, I thought, I've already lost an ear, I may as well try my hand at painting"

I sometimes - hell, most of the time - think that life must be far easier for those lucky enough not to understand people. Especially themselves...

"Happy people are responsible for nearly all cases of depression"

Sometimes the gods eat a *lot* of roughage before taking a dump on people...

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first give hope"

"I loved the sound of the phrase 'deferred gratification' so much I always put off checking what it actually meant in case that turned out to be a disappointment." [Statement made by a character in a dream last night. Macci's getting subtle in his old age]

There is no situation so bad that it can't be recovered by a few kind words or a hug from a lover... and no situation so good that it can ease the loneliness of not having one.

There are times when hearing about situations I despair at the sheer injustice of the world; life isn't often fair and that may be beyond our control, but how we choose to act about it isn't...

Why can you only get return tickets to paradise?

We've all heard of the "To Do" list... I'm thinking of inventing the "To Don't" list, but the first entry on my prototype is "Don't invent this list", which makes the project somewhat problematic...

I hate the internet; it's hard to compete with all the weirdness out there...

Gods!!! could there be *anything* more ironically annoying in the entire panoply of human experience than having someone dissect and explain a pithy phrase to you that you invented in the first place? As if you were so profoundly stupid you couldn't possibly get it? And irony of ironies, the phrase was "publish and be dumbed" - I did; I was...

"Anyone who regards sanity as desirable must be crazy" - I'm surprised but Google regards that line of mine as original... In fact no hits for "Anyone who regards sanity", which is very surprising. Has nobody ever regarded sanity before in the entire history of literature? I feel a poem coming on...

"Anyone who regards sanity as desirable must be crazy" "Yeah, but just because they're crazy that don't make them interesting... There are loads of crazy people you wouldn't want to meet in an asylum, that's all I'm saying" There is only one catch, and that's Catch Twenty-Flurble.

I was woken out of a dream this morning, and for that reason alone I can remember the last part of it, which was an argument where someone was referred to as "so shallow a piece of paper couldn't sink in them"... I wonder how many gems like that are created and lost forever every time a dream is forgotten?

"99% of religious beliefs wouldn't survive 1% of common sense"

[muses] Sometimes it depresses me how vividly our world is chronicled by failures; perhaps for no better reason than that only those who have nothing else to offer have the time to write about their lives.

There is a style of walking - I don't think it has a name - and it's a dead give away that the person using it is a parent - it involves the moving foot leaving the floor but not by very much; moving slowly forward while remaining close to the ground; being put back down slowly. I suspect it's acquired as the result of having trodden on one too many carelessly placed and surprisingly sharp toys.

"That comparison is rather like waking up in hell to find the devil asking which ball you'd prefer to have crushed first."

"Why not give evolution a hand? It gave you two..."

People are forever being said to have been "driven mad", but what about those who are so close to mad already it would be enviromentally irresponsible to drive them such a short distance? Can you walk someone mad?

There is no design cockup, no matter how extreme, that doesn't directly result from a design concept that seemed perfectly reasonable to the designer at the time...

It should be a crime to expose anyone under the age of consent to religion.

While pontificating today: "Let's face it, any particle that can change into three different forms is going to spend most of its time arguing with itself. It'll be far too busy to go faster than light"

'Which came first, the chicken or the egg?' Who cares; what comes last is all I'm interested in - the chicken omelette...

Is there a programmer's semicolon to go with the baker's apostrophe?
"You've got to have semi-colons. Programmers can't be trusted with full-colons." [Settling into stride] "I mean, give them a full-on man-sized colon and they'd shit themselves."

"I realised some time ago I'm a trope, but I was hoping a spot of metonymy might upgrade me to a synecdoche"

I have a theory that most of the world's religions are the result of somebody missing the point of a joke.

An engineering principle that goes largely unsaid - the more certain you are of something, the less useful that knowledge is... We can only be certain of trivialities. So don't go through life seeking certainty - you can only have it about things that don't matter, and those who peddle it are selling their own ignorance.

"Good design is impressive; great design is invisible"

Contrary to popular opinion Wales is in a different time-zone to the rest of the UK -the middle ages.

"The greatest lie ever is romance. It's something men often want but can't have, and women often have but don't want. It's a lie so powerful people will die for it in the full knowledge it's a lie... We strive to make fools of ourselves by worshiping at the altar of romance, where the luckiest are sacrificed by those doomed to outlive them"

I'm beginning to suspect my sense of humour needs calibrating again. Who's got the reference mother-in-law?

"Plants are solar powered. They are not wind-powered. They evolved chlorophyll pretty damned smartish because solar energy is worth exploiting. They've now had billions of years to evolve in ways that would exploit wind power but haven't. Think on this oh ye advocates of windmills, and despair..."

Are they called "remote" controls because you can never find them?

"I am a great believer in the empowerment of women in general, despite my experience of the empowerment of women in particular..."

It needs at least two to love but only one to hate.

I have a theory - condoms have learned how to breed with humans. This is why there are so many empty brainless morons out there...

The entire history of the universe would be different if god had remembered to trim the sprue off Adam after he came out of the mould...

Isaac Asimov's short story "Nightfall" asked the question what would happen if the stars were only visible once every thousand years or so... Well, I'll tell you - it'd be cloudy.

"Don't knock it until you're tried it" said the guy installing the door-bell...

"I see myself as basically a gag writer" I said. "Well, you've made me gag often enough" he replied.

"I'm in touch with my feminine side" I said. "Go and wash your hands" she replied...

Many lives have been lost to the soviet union's AK47, the American M16 has caused its fair share of death and destruction, but when it comes to creating misery and despair nothing even comes close to the English M6

Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you sleep alone.

Is 'cuddly chemical' an oxytocin?

The moving finger flips; and, having given you the bird, Moves on.

I was being fondled intimately by a lover recently. "Oooo, that's huge!" she said. "Are you pulling my leg?" I replied.

Cats are natures way of justifying extreme cruelty.

Sanity is fragile.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is religion.

Sit by a river long enough and eventually you'll get pushed in...

A symphony of overcomplication...


I suppose a (c) Simon Brattel isn't out of place. I've seen quite a few of my one-liners repeated and generally it amuses me, but I try to attribute sources and I'd quite like it if others did too... it took me seconds to think some of those up. Seconds... 

Friday, August 09, 2013

Romance.

I always said I wanted to be the world's best lover. Some people say I'm aiming too high, but that's just the first kiss...

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Indoctrination is the route of all evil"


One of my better ones. And from a brain full of snot, too...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dave


Dave was not in a particularly good mood after having wasted an entire afternoon, then most of an evening visiting a potential customer and listening to proposals for a new design concept that was neither new nor practicable, nor even - in Dave's mind - really coherent enough to deserve the term "concept"... Why was it that people, customers really, always wanted something that was not quite possible? Why was nothing ever easy?

Dave mused on the injustice of the world as he drove back, alone in the dark.

So absorbed was he by these thoughts that afterwards he couldn't decide if the warning light on the dashboard had been illuminated for some time, or if it had just sprung to life when he noticed it. It was the red glow that he (finally?) noticed and he peered at the dash trying to make out what the symbol was. It looked vaguely like a tea-pot, but the dash was so mucky that the shape was obscured. Ignoring the advice of a long-forgotten driving instructor Dave reached one hand through the steering-wheel and wiped at it a few times.

There was a pop and suddenly smoke issued forth from the Dashboard. He recoiled with a startled squeak and let go of the steering wheel, watching in stunned disbelief for several seconds as the inside of the car filled with darkness. It made no sense - was the car on fire? There was no heat, no smell of burning; no flames. Before he could find a way to rationalise it the smoke, if smoke it was, started to clear, and he was able to see ahead again... The returning view brought with it the realisation that he had been driving without any regard to the road, or the bends and trees and inconvenient ditches that lay in wait for those who drove cars full of smoke. He snatched back at the wheel and simultaneously stamped hard on the brake pedal, resulting in several seconds of exciting gyrations and squealing tyres, culminating in a thump and a few moments of weightlessness as the car left the road before landing again and coming to rest at an odd but possibly not irrecoverable angle.

Dazed, but not badly, Dave took stock of the situation. The car had left the road backwards and appeared to be resting with the rear wheels in some sort of ditch, judging by the slightly elevated view through the windscreen. It seemed unlikely there was any serious damage, there had not been any really expensive sounding moments. He closed his eyes, leaned forward until his head rested on the steering wheel and breathed a sigh of relief.

There was a discrete cough, a clearing of the throat, from the passenger seat.

Dave's head snapped round, and without any conscious control he found himself pushing back against the driver's door, backing away from the impossible... thing... now occupying the passenger seat. The sight was preposterous... In the seat was a... a Genie.

"What the fuck?" spluttered Dave.

"Hello mortal. I am the Genie of the oil-warning lamp. I - "

"What?" interrupted Dave. "You're the what?"

"Salaam. I am the Genie of the oil-warning lamp. I am here to offer you three wishes, oh mortal"

It was too much to take in. With trembling hand Dave slowly reached out and poked an index finger into the naked stomach of the Genie. He expected it to offer no resistance, half-hoped that the image would fade away or retreat like an optical illusion, but no. His finger pushed into the Genie, and it felt like normal flesh; soft, warm and slightly greasy. He withdrew his finger and wiped it on his shirt. Then he made his first mistake.

"Fuck me" he muttered.

When relating this tale in later times Dave was never clear about what transpired in the next few minutes, preferring to gloss over the loss of his first wish with various tales even more unlikely than reality.

However, regardless of the exact details we will resume our narrative with Dave panting and swearing and the Genie readjusting his clothing and checking in the car's rear-view mirror the state of his left eye. It was probably going to develop a remarkable bruise. Dave certainly hoped so.

After an uncomfortable few moments of silence the genie spoke thus:"You have two wishes remaining, oh mortal"

"Two wishes? Two?" Dave spluttered. "You utter bastard! A moment ago it was three wishes! I wish you'd make your bloody mind up... Oh"

The Genie looked thoughtful for a moment, appeared to reach a decision, nodded and then smiled.

"My mind is now made up. I am quite certain you have one wish remaining, oh mortal"

Dave at least had the wisdom to bite back his instant reply. He considered for a moment.

"Bastard"

The Genie looked pleased.

"Well, does it have to be oil-related? Can I wish for, say, world peace? An end to conflict, eternal youth?" ideas began to form... "Success with women? What about Caroline?"

The Genie looked pained, and managed to convey with a sneer and sideways glance at the manufacturer's logo on the steering-wheel that both wishing for world peace and success with anything worthwhile were somewhat grandiose wishes for the driver of a Skoda.

"Be reasonable, mortal. I do have a certain familiarity with oil..." a look of distaste passed across the Genie's face, "... but that is to be expected after several years waiting in a sump. These modern times are hard for those indentured. But with anything else there are other factors and limitations, considerations and restrictions, provisos and requirements - "

"Oh, for fuck's sake! I wish it was simple..." As soon as these words left his mouth he paled. "Oh, shit"

The Genie looked thoughtful for a moment and then smiled.

"You have no wishes left, oh mortal. How much simpler can it get?"

And he started fading away, the car filling with smoke and deep, mocking laughter.

"Oh, you utter bastard!" repeated Dave, fists flailing at the smoke impotently. It was all too much; he'd be damned if he was going to be outwitted again. But what could he do? Already the smoke was fading as it rushed back into the dashboard. Dave tried to stop it by placing his hands over the hole, but he couldn't find it - the smoke rushed between his fingers and disappeared, apparently back into the surface.

Already the car was nearly clear, but suddenly he had an idea. Was there time? Flailing around he looked for some container - and wedged in the driver's door pocket was - yes! - a half-empty plastic bottle of coke.

Racing against time Dave tore at the lid, managing to unscrew it and shove the bottle into the flow of smoke before it completely cleared. He clapped his left palm over the top of the bottle just before the last threads of smoke reached the dashboard.

There was silence. Dave lifted the bottle, carefully keeping his hand over the top, and peered into the gap above the liquid. Was that a hint of smoke? He shook the bottle.

"Would you mind not doing that?" Said a muffled, irritated and markedly higher pitched voice from behind the dashboard. "It's sticky"

"Aha! Caught you!" Sneered Dave.

"No you didn't" Said the disembodied voice, but with an unconvinced tone.

Dave shook the bottle again.

"Stop that! Look, give me my... my... those... that... back"

"Shan't" said Dave.

"Be reasonable, you can't hold it closed forever"

Dave considered this. There had to be a way... He held the bottle between his legs and picked up the top in his right hand. He considered quickly moving his left hand out of the way and putting the top on, but it seemed problematic. There was an air of expectancy, as if the Genie was waiting for this move.

"Just try it", it said with an air of smugness.

Still holding onto the top, Dave lifted the bottle again and inverted it, so that the coke ran to the bottom.

"What are you doing?" said the voice, but Dave ignored it. The smoke was now trapped above the coke, and with a grin Dave let the top fall into the fingers of his left hand, then slid the hand so that the top was on the bottle and tightened it. Some coke ran out during this process, but the smoke remained. He shook the bottle.

"Now, let's go through this whole three wishes thing again, shall we?"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Profile text...



An amusing thread from facebook, when I was trying to figure out what to say on a dating site...

Monday, October 01, 2012

The pigeon


So, I'm driving along on a quiet country road at about 3am and as I approach it a lump of stuff in the road that I'd thought was litter resolves into a young pigeon. It's sitting right in the middle of the lane and I can't slow down in time to avoid it, so I aim right at it to make sure the wheels don't get it, and hope - though not much because I assume that it's going to panic, fly up and get killed...

Nope, I go right over it and looking in the mirror I can see it hasn't moved at all. So I carry on for a bit, pondering, and then turn round and drive back. It's still there. 

I roll to a stop level with it, open my door and peer down. I'm so close I could lean out and poke the thing if I wanted to. It looks back, head tilted to one side as pigeons do, clearly unimpressed but apparently uninjured.

"Move, you stupid bird... You're going to evolve out if you stay there"

It thinks about this for a few seconds, moving its head from side to side as it considers me, then grudgingly gets up and wanders off, very slowly, round the back of the car.

I'm now facing the wrong way so I drive down the road a bit, turn round, and head back again... And the stupid bird is back where it started.

I'm not going fast this time so I stop. The bird sits there unperturbed. I flash at it - nothing. I blip the engine - no reaction... So I turn the car off and get out, and as soon as I stand up and it sees I'm a human and not just part of the car the damned thing squarks and flaps off into the trees in complete panic.

A ton of metal driving right over it, loud noises and lights don't frighten it, but I do? Charming...

Monday, September 03, 2012

There are some strange people in the world.


I just went outside and moved the car onto the high street, where it would be out of the way in the morning. I'm half asleep but it needed moving, I'd had to leave it parked on the pavement earlier.

And when I'd moved it and got out I noticed a worm on the road. It has been raining and the damned thing had probably been rained out.

So, I feel sorry for it because it's clearly going to die there and I crouch to try to pick it up. It resists... I start muttering at it...

"Come on, you stupid bugger, I'm trying to help you. Stop squirming. Stop it. Behave! Oh, for fuck's sake cooperate!" and so on.

At which point some guy with a dog wanders past. Looking disturbed about something.

I realise that being crouched in the middle of the road appearing to be talking to myself might be a little out of the ordinary so I look up, smile and say "Worm" by way of explanation.

This does not have the desired effect; he recoils and gathers in the dog hurriedly.

"I'm just... It's... Um. They drown, you know..."
"What?"

"Worms. Not very good swimmers"
"What?"

"Worms. This worm. It's lost, I'm just... Oh..." I said to his rapidly retreating back.

I get the impression he thought I was weird, which is strange really considering I'm not the one carrying a bag of warm dogshit home...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Conservation



[muses] Conservation... We're all missing something and I think it threatens the well being of future generations - it's all very well to speak of trying to preserve natural resources, to strive so that there will still be the occasional tree where entire rain-forests once stood, or a couple of fish in the sea or maybe even a few drops of oil preserved behind glass for our children's children to marvel at, and indeed there are even people who do more than speak of such things and actually act in some way calculated to encourage others to do something about it. But these physical threats to the future are as nothing to the threat hanging over us all... the overconsumption of Ideas.

Ideas are being used up at an ever-increasing rate, and natural reserves of ignorance are dwindling... In the time it has taken you to read this several new ideas will have been used up, ideas which cannot be replaced... Nobody is even trying to conserve as yet unexplored ideas for future generations - indeed the entire effort of the scientific world is directed to rooting out fresh ideas and having them, getting them down on paper and claiming credit for them. Completely ignoring the fact that there are only a limited number of ideas in the world and once had they can never be un-had again, short of a collapse of civilisation... I think these people need to be stopped. Someone needs to stand up and defend wilderness areas of ignorance so that our children and their children's children can experience the joy of discovery for themselves...

Oh, bother and dammit... That was an original idea, wasn't it. One more gone then. Oops...

And what do we do with the toxic waste dumps of dangerous ideas? Continue to put them in libraries and just hope nobody ever goes there? This is utterly irresponsible... 

It's not like nice, safe nuclear waste which decays - a dangerous idea doesn't have a half-life... they're not just dangerous for a while, they remain dangerous forever. We're still paying the price for some of the first dangerous ideas ever had... religion... marriage... photographing cats... coffee...

Radio Gaga


A few years back a guy called Trevor Baylis "invented" the clockwork radio and received far too much attention for this, considering how many hundred people must have connected clockwork motors to dynamos before, and so despite the fact he's probably quite a nice guy I have occasionally grumped about him and the publicity he received. And about the fact the radios were crap - the clockwork made so much noise you could hardly hear the radio, and there were other design flaws.

I know this because despite my misgivings I bought one, mainly because the sales here subsidised the radios in the developing world, where they were actually useful, but also as a present for someone.

Well, the damned thing died a while back and I was asked to look at it.

So I did... The clockwork in it is powered by a coiled spring. A big spring. A damned big spring, not to put too fine a point on it, made of spring-steel about an inch wide and several metres long that has nasty, sharp edges and a very bad attitude.



 

This evil bugger basically wants to spend its life wound one way on its home drum and when it is there it's nice and happy and contented. But that's what it wants, not what it gets - what happens is that when you wind the thing up you are taking this vicious piece of steel, waking it from its slumbers and uncoiling it off one drum and coiling it backwards - painfully, I suspect - onto another... This it does not like... 

In this backwards state it contains a significant amount of energy, which is released as it unwinds itself again. This is where the power comes from for the radio... A whole set of gears and pulleys and what-nots exists to tame this evil little bugger so it unwinds slowly in a controlled fashion, over ten minutes or so, rather than what it would like to do, which is explode off one drum, lash about like the demented, razor-edged tape measure from hell that it is - destroying and lacerating everything nearby - before ending up panting and smirking on the other drum.

You may gather I have had some experience with clockwork coil-springs before. I don't trust them.

So, I am given this radio and I ask what's wrong with it. Maybe it's something simple. Maybe it's the electronics. Maybe the spring has broken and I need not worry about it. Is my luck that good? Of course not.

"What's wrong with it?"

"I wound it up and it won't go"

"Won't go?"

"No. I wound it up and it doesn't go round. The bit at the back that moves isn't moving... Actually, I think I might have wound it up too much."

"Too much?"

"Well, I wound it as much as normal and it didn't go so I wound it some more. And then added a couple more turns. In fact, that was yesterday, it still didn't work today so I tried harder again and then I might have forced it round a bit. Quite a bit actually, now I come to think about it..."

"Oh... great... I'll just look at it then, shall I?"

I take the radio with some trepidation and peer into it... Mr Baylis was so proud of his idea he had them made with translucent plastic so you can see the innards. The clockwork is clearly visible... My heart sinks. The spool that the spring would be on if it was safely run down is empty... The entire spring is coiled up on the other spool, poised and ready to pounce... it is so tightly coiled that it's half the diameter I expected. I'm amazed they could get so much spring in so little volume. In my mind's eye I can see beads of sweat glistening on it as it suffers... this spring isn't poised, this spring is on the rack being tortured. This spring is pissed off. This spring is out for bloody vengence and looking for someone to murder.

But - all is not lost - I see that Mr Baylis (not being a complete idiot) has enclosed some of the clockwork - including the spring - inside a separate box, for safety... I may be able to open this bloody thing and live, after all... So I do.

I take the screws out and gingerly open it. There's a red warning sticker on the inner separate box, which says "Do not open, danger of death", but I have no intention of opening that, I've seen what spring-steel can do. I gently ease the electronics away from the mechanics, which creaks, threateningly, but doesn't go for my throat... I touch a gear, nothing happens. I poke at another gently and nothing happens - the clockwork is locked solid. I relax slightly - in fact I can see the problem immediately - one of the gears has failed, some teeth are broken and the bits have jammed in the mechanism.

Relaxing completely, I put the thing down on my lap. At which point all hell breaks loose. There's a bang and the fucking thing spits a gear out at me - this hits my glasses and flies off across the room - but I couldn't care less about that because the rest of it is jumping about on my lap. It starts emitting parts with wild abandon and the scream of machinery speeding up as various remaining gears spin faster and faster out of control... I join in with a little scream of my own, not that this helps much... Another part flies off and the spring starts making determined metallic unwinding noises - fuck this! I want it off my lap now before the bugger gets out and slashes me - so I flail at it with my hands and try jumping backwards out of the sofa from a sitting start... this at least gets it off my lap, but the damned thing hasn't finished with me yet - it lands on my feet and some vile spinning part catches and starts ripping one of my socks off... "Waaa! Fuck off! Fuck off!" I scream at it, and manage somehow to simultaneously pull one foot out of the sock and kick the damned contraption with the other, while still in mid air. I'm sure the law of gravity was repealed temporarily... But after a moment gravity reasserts itself and we both land heavily, separately this time, thank the gods, and I sit there in shock and watch as it munches the sock while dancing victoriously around on the floor. After a while it slows down and stops, but not until - with one final, triumphant twanging noise - it catches a dangling wire and rips it out of the electronics, breaking the circuit board.

I survey the damage. I am bleeding from several cut fingers, one quite deeply. The radio is a complete ruin, especially after I have finished stamping on it to make quite sure it is dead.

I hate clockwork.


Friday, May 04, 2012

All the ships sank...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Artwork


For some reason I decided to paint an alien flower... an experiment in faking depth using layers and blur, mainly, which explains the terrible composition.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Life, the universe and nothing...


I have always - since childhood - been of the opinion that the universe must have required no information to start with. This is obvious; where could that information have come from? If from outside the universe then change the boundaries of the definition of "universe" to include that place and repeat the process... at some point the whole shebang started with no information.

This forced me to assume that many parallel worlds existed before I knew about the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum physics, and my reasoning was as follows:

Consider a toy universe, that contains nothing but a light switch and an observer. Oh, we'll throw in a light as well and some kind of power source and so on.

Now, suppose that observer sees that the light is on. They then find themselves in the position of wondering how it came to be on - and no doubt given time they'll create a cosmology of a loving god that created the universe with the light switched on so they could read the instructions. Pity there aren't any, I forgot to supply them.

But however they look at it they can't avoid the fact that their universe contained at least one bit of information at the beginning - the fact that the light was on.

But suppose that this isn't the whole of that toy universe... suppose it has another part with an observer (identical to the first) and a light,etc, but here in this part the light is turned off. Again they'll come up with a cosmology of a creator - maybe after a lot of fumbling about, and it'll be regarded as a bit of a bastard this time, I suspect - that created the universe with the light switched off.

But however they look at it they can't avoid the fact that their universe contained at least one bit of information at the beginning ie the fact that the light was off.

But to something that understands that this universe is a multiverse, with the light both on and off, there is no need for that initial bit of information. Their reality contains no information about that switch, when taken as a whole.

What the observers see as information is simply a function of their limited viewpoint based on where they are in the multiverse, it's not information intrinsic to the multiverse as a whole. They think that their reality is more highly specified than it actually is...

This is how I've thought our reality works for a long time; I've pretty much always thought that the universe must have required zero initial information and the old question of "why is there something rather than nothing" is fundamentally resolved by the fact that "nothing" is a much more highly ordered state than "everything" - there is, after all, only one single way for there to be absolutely nothing. That's as ordered as it's possible to get ;)

If the multiverse contains every possible outcome of every possible 'decision' then it's as disordered as possible, and in my casual usage of the terms here contains no information at all. Oh, sure, there's a *fuck* of a lot of it out there, but what evidence do we have that reality is bothered by questions of scale?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Case of The Curious Ukulele


"When you have eliminated the impossible, Watson..." said Holmes, reclining in his chair, "When you have eliminated the impossible..." he paused and looked distracted for a moment. "When you have...Hmmm..."

"Then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" I supplied for him. Sad as it is to relate the simple fact is that as the years advanced he was becoming forgetful.

"What? Don't be obtuse, Watson! All sorts of irrelevant facts remain, all perfectly possible but entirely unrelated to the matters in hand. Really, I do not know why I have put up with you for so long. You are not as young as you once were, you know". With this he took up his ukulele and started absently picking out notes.

It was with a sense of resignation that I sat back and resumed reading the paper. While I am certain that my friend held me in high regard he rarely allowed these feelings to surface. After a painfully long time attempting to tune the instrument Holmes put it down and sighed.
"It is no good Watson. It is just no good..."
"Well, it would help if you had all the strings. We could afford a new set"
"No. It was not the deficiencies of the chordophone to which I was referring. It is this new case - there are..."
"You have a new case?" I interrupted "But what about the restraining order? I understood you had agreed to be bound over to - " I saw the look in Holmes' eye and stopped.
"And I thought we had agreed not to mention that again. The subject pains me"
"I'm sorry"
"It was an easy mistake to have made. When matters reach a head it is time to act, Watson, one cannot delay! One must seize the moment!"
"Indeed, Holmes" I placated, "Seizing the moment is fine. Seizing the moment is good. It was your seizing of the woman which precipitated all the unpleasantness".
Holmes shuddered. I wondered if he would ever again hear the phrase "The woman" without shuddering.
“It was an accident, Watson. A mistake anyone could have made – seen from behind she distinctly resembled Moriarty".
"So you say, Holmes, so you say. In point of fact you said so at the time. I wouldn't be surprised if that is why she insisted on pressing charges"
"Possibly, Watson. But one need only look at her to see she was -"
"A woman?"
"Yes... No! A troublemaker, Watson. It was clear from the moment I set eyes upon her. And it was very unsporting of the prosecution to mention her wheelchair. But let us move on. I do not wish to discuss the subject further"
"Indeed. Consider it closed."

Holmes stood up and began pacing the room. “Women, Watson – it was easier when they had the common decency to dress differently. These days... I sometimes think we have lived too long, we are in these times but not of them”.

When these dark moods settled on Holmes it was usually best to ignore him. I mumbled agreement and feigned interest in the paper. Holmes wandered the room until, as I was afraid would happen, he went to stand in front of The Picture.

It was hung in an alcove, with a couple of curtains in front of it that were seldom opened. I heard these being moved and shuddered. Without looking up I knew that Holmes would be intently studying the image I could not even bear to look at. Not that I needed to, it was as clear in my mind as the day when it had been painted – in this very room. Holmes then had been at the height of his powers, and had reluctantly agreed to be painted “for posterity”. How ironic that remark seems now, nearly one hundred years later. After the pair of us had been committed to canvas – Holmes a somewhat enhanced dashing figure, his ever faithful Watson looking both ever faithful and constipated – Holmes had hung the picture and we had forgotten about it. And that, I suspect, would have been the end of the matter, with us now both gone to our reward and the picture gathering our dust had not Holmes challenged Aleister Crowley to prove he was not a charlatan.

“You are right, Watson... It does seem a preposterous way to settle a dispute” Holmes said, quietly.
“Holmes! How could you possibly know what I was thinking?”
“A simple matter. From the moment I started contemplating the painting I could tell you were thinking of the day we were cursed”
“But how, Holmes? Surely this requires nothing less than the telepathic arts!”
“Not at all. I could speak of subtle changes in muscle tension, unconscious movements, the eyes especially can tell a trained observer everything - “
“But damn it all, Holmes, your back was turned! You couldn't – ah... You saw everything reflected in the glass”
“Well, that is a valid theory, but in this case it was enough to hear you tearing at your paper and cursing Crowley under your breath”

“Ah. Yes, I see”. Gritting my teeth I stood and joined him in front of the accursed picture. Over the years my image had progressed from constipated to moribund, but was still recognisable. But disturbingly Holmes' image was distorted beyond recognition. It was barely human. I have often wondered why the two age differently, but remain none the wiser.

“I wish I had never lent him that damned book” said Holmes. “That's what gave him the idea. And if I had known in advance the perils of immortality I would have given some thought to who was included in the picture. I'm sure some room could have been found for Mrs Hudson – the modern world is not entirely without merit - “ he gestured towards a pile of empty pizza boxes, though perhaps he intended the laptop sitting on them “ - but you cannot find a domestic servant worthy of the name”

Obviously the pain of his last attempt was still fresh. When seen in hindsight the placing of an advertisement for a 'gentleman's gentleman of discretion' had been ill advised.

I returned to my seat. Behind me Holmes closed the curtains over The Picture and started pacing again. He stood for a while in front of the trophy wall – some would say it was in questionable taste but after the case known to the world as “The Hound of The Baskervilles”, and to Holmes as “That Damned Dog” he'd had the head of the beast responsible stuffed and mounted on the wall, and now used it as a hat-stand.
He'd had the head of the hound mounted as well, further down.

I decided it was time to lighten the mood. “You mentioned a new case...”
“Yes?”
“Is it for the ukulele?”

There was a moment of silence. Holmes glanced towards the mantelpiece where his tobacco pouch was weighed down by his webley revolver. “I think, on the whole, it would be for the best if you were to go out for a few hours, Watson. I would like some time to myself”.

“Is -” I started.
“No! The game is not afoot!” Holmes shouted. “I said that one time! Once! And now it's 'Is the game afoot' every time anybody leaves the room!”

I stood to leave.

“No, Watson. Wait. I have had an idea. Something that -”
“Is it related to the case?”
A strange look passed across his face. “Yes, Watson, you might indeed say that it is related to the case, or rather to your mention of the case – wait here a moment. This will not take long”

Holmes left the room and returned a few minutes later holding a small glass tube, which he handed to me. I held it up to the light – it appeared to contain a  few ounces of an oily yellow liquid.

“Now Watson – no! Don't shake that! Not yet, anyway. Now, what you have in your hand is the result of my latest research into the nitrating of glycerine. I think it will prove to be of inestimable importance. What I would like you to do, my dear Watson, is to take this and empty it into the Thames. Somewhere quiet. You should be alone and unobserved – do you think you can manage that?”
“Certainly Holmes!”
“Now – this is important – the contents will settle, so you must give it a good shake just before you release it”
“For how long Holmes?”
“Oh, as long as it takes, Watson. As long as it takes! All will be revealed in good time”

His humour visibly restored Holmes returned to his chair and picked up the Ukulele. I left the room to the twang and curse of the final string breaking.

Life rarely proceeds as we expect, and I was in a considerably perplexed mood when I returned to Baker street later that evening.

I was greeted by loud music and when I opened the door to our rooms a bank of sweet smelling smoke looking for all the world like the fogs of old rolled out into the hall. Holmes had clearly been at the incense again. But of him, there was no sign.

Now, I have often had cause to remark on the skills Holmes has with disguise, so when the door to his room opened and what was apparently a young and scantily clad girl emerged, I was not fooled as many others would no doubt have been.

“Holmes! If I did not see it with my own eyes I simply would not believe it!” The young woman blushed. “You have excelled yourself!”

“I think you should let her be the judge of that” said Holmes, somewhat coldly, as he followed her out. “I wasn't expecting to see you back... so soon”

"Holmes! I, ah..." Not knowing what to say I sat and attempted to find something of interest in the paper. Holmes showed the young woman, presumably a client, to the door where I heard them exchange a few words and, judging by the rustling of paper, a quantity of money. This was indeed welcome news - our finances recently had been tight.

"So, Watson, am I to take it from your expression that you met with some difficulty?" He said, as he closed the door and crossed the room to stand next to the fireplace.
"Indeed Holmes! You see everything!"
"I see you, Watson, which is more than enough for the moment. And I also observe that you are holding that paper upside down. Still, I doubt it alters the contents of the Daily Sport significantly". Saying this Holmes picked up his revolver and casually inspected the cylinder "As a matter of interest, what became of the... glycerine nitrate?"
"Well, Holmes, there is the thing..." - as I spoke I reached for my pipe. It was not in the usual pocket and as I patted the others an inexplicable change took place in Holmes. The colour drained from his face and he reeled back against the wall. "Stop!" he squeaked before diving behind his chair.

Such was the speed and unexpectedness of his movement I was slow to react, and remained seated. A moment passed.

"Ah. Watson. Yes... My mistake. You were searching for your pipe, were you not?"
"Indeed!"
"I, ah, thought I saw it behind the chair. But I was mistaken. Pray continue"
"Well, Holmes, I - are you going to remain there? I have found it"
"Yes, Watson, please continue. I can hear you perfectly well from here. The acoustics of this room make this position ideal, in fact."
"If you say so, Holmes. Well, in accordance with your instructions I set out to find a quiet place to release the liquid but I was unable to find anywhere where I was not being observed."
At this Holmes muttered a few words under his breath, but I was unable to catch them. Perhaps the acoustic properties of the room were uni-directional.
"In fact I began to realise I was being followed!"
"Followed?"
"Yes. It was the same man in several different locations. I could tell because he had a wooden leg"
"A what?"
"A wooden leg. And a parrot - though the parrot was - "
"You were being followed by a pirate?" Holmes looked round the side of the chair. "I want you to be very clear about this, Watson. You claim you were followed by a man with a wooden leg and a parrot? Was alcohol involved?"
"Holmes!"
"And this parrot. Was that also wooden?"
"As a matter of fact, Holmes, it was inflatable - I have it here, see for yourself". I produced the parrot with a flourish and laid it on the table.

There was a sad wheezing noise as the last dregs of air escaped from it.

The effect on Holmes was profound. He rose from behind the chair, moved round and fell shakily back into it, without his gaze leaving the parrot at any point.
"Holmes? Have you met this parrot before?"
"Never mind the parrot, Watson! Tell me everything you noticed about the man!"
"Well, he was - good grief! Surely you don't think it was - Moriarty!"
"Moriarty? No... " Holmes said with a quiet conviction and intensity I didn't register at the time.
"Only, well, I don't know how to say this, Holmes, but we've all come to doubt that Moriarty exists" I said. This was a subject I'd been meaning to broach for some considerable number of years and now seemed like the right moment. "Lestrade - you do remember Lestrade? He noticed that if you rearranged the letters of the name 'James Moriarty' you could form the words 'My Major Satire', and well, as nobody but you has ever actually seen Moriarty..." My voice trailed off. Holmes had raised his revolver and was pointing it in my direction.
"Watson, this is a webley 45. The most powerful revolver in the room. It could blow your head clean off... I'm sorry. I've always wanted to do that. Now, Watson, as you value your life - tell me about the man!"
"Well, he had one leg. And the parrot, and he - "
"Watson! For once in your life I need you to focus!" Holmes leant forward in his chair and with a terrible intensity demanded "Was he foreign, Watson? Did he have an accent!"
"Foreign? Well, yes, he was Swedish"
"Swedish? Are you sure? Swedish?"
I nodded and Holmes relaxed. "Thank the gods, Watson, thank the gods. For a moment there I thought we were in trouble".

Holmes withdraw a handkerchief from an inside pocket and wiped his face. It was such an uncharacteristic show of emotion that it left me feeling as if I had witnessed the changing of an age, an event of cataclysmic importance.

We sat in silence for a few moments, taking stock. I noticed that the handkerchief was decorated with the initials JM and resolved to ask Sherlock about this at some point, but it was clear he was shaken and would not welcome any questions at the moment.

I reflected that it was some time since I'd thought about Lestrade, tragically killed in the prime of life by an explosion at Scotland Yard, one of many such in those dying years of gas lighting. How prescient of Holmes it had been to invest so heavily in the new electricity companies. But then with his remarkable powers of deduction who is to say he might not have anticipated the problems gas would have.

"I haven't thought about Lestrade for years, Holmes. Or the accident. Strange to think how many people we knew who were killed by gas explosions. A good thing electricity came along when it did, eh?"
"I'm sorry Watson, what did you say?"
"I was saying that it was a good thing electric lighting came along when it did. Do you remember the days when one couldn't light a lamp without fear of explosion?"
"Indeed, Watson. Which reminds me - what became of the glycerine?"
"Ah. Well, there is the curious thing, Holmes. It was stolen"
"Stolen?"
"Yes. By the pirate - I say - I suppose we could say it was an act of - "
"Let us not, Watson. Let us not. I presume it was during this exchange that you came to be in possession of the parrot?"
"Exactly!"
"Well, let us examine the bird"

Holmes lifted the parrot and extracted his trademark magnifying glass from a pocket, then began a meticulous inspection. As was my habit I watched the proceedings in silence - I didn't have the heart to point out that the lens had fallen out again and was presently to be found on the mantelpiece where I usually left it - Holmes was a little sensitive on the subject of his eyesight.

"Aha. As I suspected, Watson, this bird was made in China. And... What is this? The price sticker is still attached. And from this we can...we can..." There was a long pause, then Holmes replaced the parrot on the table.
"Watson?"
"Yes?"
"A thought occurs, Watson. You say he was Swedish... On what do you base this conclusion?"
"He said so, Holmes"
"He said so?" Holmes sat forward in his seat.
"Yes. He said, and I believe I can repeat it verbatim, 'I am just a salty Swedish sea-dog'"
Holmes sighed and passed his hand over his face.
"Strangely, though, now I come to think of it - he said it in a French accent"
"Well, in that at least I believe you. The price on the parrot, Watson, is in Francs"
"But what could this mean?"

Holmes stood abruptly and walked quickly over to the side of one of the windows, where he lifted the side of a curtain and stood looking out upon the street.

"What it means, Watson, is that your pirate was none other than the most dangerous man in Europe!"
"Moriarty!" I exclaimed.
"No, Watson! Not Moriarty. Moriarty has standards. Moriarty can be reasoned with..." Holmes took out his gold and diamond encrusted pocket humidor and extracted a cigar "He can even be bought off. With Moriarty, there is always a chance, however slim”
“But surely nobody could be worse than Moriarty, Holmes. You yourself called him the Napoleon of Crime!”
Holmes was silent for a moment. “Well, I may have had reason to exaggerate. But what we're facing here is less a man than a force of nature. He is certainly without equal. He can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop, ever, until... until..." Holmes paused. “Until what, Watson? Why would he be following you?”
“I have no idea. Unless – might he be interested in your glycer-majig?”
Holmes winced. “Glycerine... Unlikely... It has been a long time since I last had cause to use it. But I had forgotten about that – tell me exactly what happened again!”
“Well, there isn't much more to say, Holmes. Having finally found a quiet spot at the dock I was about to give the stuff a damned good shake - “
“Pity” muttered Holmes, still watching the road.
“- when there was all that business with the pirate. I think there must have been two of them – someone hit me from behind. The last thing I remember is him saying 'now is ze time!' and then I was knocked out”

I rubbed the back of my head, ruefully. “And when I woke up there was no sign of anyone and the glycerine was gone”

“Well, we will see, Watson. I wonder what he will make of it?”
“Oh - there was another strange thing, Holmes. As I made my way back along the dock there was a large hole in the ground. I'm sure it wasn't there earlier. That's where I found the parrot, as a matter of fact”

There was a choking noise from the direction of the window and it took me a moment to realise that it was Holmes, and he was... he was... laughing.


[To Be Continued]