Friday, May 01, 2020

Close to the Start


  He woke in the darkness to find himself alone. He had grown used to restless nights, sleeping less as he'd aged, and sighed at the memory of a long past youth when sleepless nights had been a treasure he'd shared with his love, not the burden they were now, fifty years later… such magic they'd weaved, defying the nay-sayers who'd warned against relationships between men and immortals, and warned of the sad ends that await those foolish enough to take an elfen lover. But they had made it work, and for his part he regretted nothing. How she felt he could not say, for recently she had grown distant… which thought made him wonder where she was, and he rose, dressed and waving various waiting servants away - did they never sleep? - he walked the castle until he found her where she was often to be found, on the battlements under the cold stars.

  She did not turn or say anything as he came up to her, but remained standing, looking out across the city towards the harbour; a tall figure cloaked in darkness. He stood behind her and took her in his arms. She was quiet for a minute and then said in a sad small voice "It is time, my love."

  He understood what she meant, and the night chill seeped into him, a presentiment of death. The time he had feared, the time he had lived most of his life dreading, had arrived. He had still hoped it would somehow pass him by, he could not have lived otherwise, not without believing that the gods would decree an exception, that the fates would look the other way. But had always known they would not. As she had often said, this world was cruel.

  "You…" his voice faltered. An old man's voice. He hated it, and the querulous tone, and started again. "You are sure? You must… leave?"

  "Yes." She paused, then continued. "But not just me. This age of the world is ending. The time of the Elves is over, now it is the time of Men… we cannot stay, our purpose is fulfilled. It would be harmful for us to remain… you must find your own path. And there are no more dragons left to slay, as you well know" She chuckled and he knew they were both remembering their first meeting and her rescue… she continued after a beat. "The Dwarves have already gone, now the fair-folk must leave and pass into myth. Few still remain, and the last ship is leaving tonight. It will take us back to our homeland, far away across strange seas. I must leave with it."

  She turned, and lowered her hood, and he was struck dumb. He was wearing the body of an old man, while she had only aged slightly… but seeing her in the lamplight he realised even that slight ageing must have been artifice, which she was no longer employing, for she now looked exactly as she had fifty years ago. Heartbreakingly beautiful.

  "I wanted you to remember me like this" she said. "As I am… as I will always be…"

  And before he could find any words, she was gone.

  How long he stood there before he came back to his senses he did not know, but dawn was breaking. He summoned guards and made his way down to the courtyard, where he shouted until a carriage appeared and raced him to the harbour… he was in luck, a strange sailless Elfin ship was still berthed, waiting on the tide.

  Although in theory he owned the harbour and everything in it, it was unwise to annoy a race as magical as the elves, so rather than simply board the ship a standoff developed between his party and the Elven crew, which was only resolved when she appeared and walked down the gangplank. She spoke to the captain in Elvish, and he laughed, replied in the same musical tongue, shrugged and went back about the ship.

  "What did he say?"

  "You do not want to know." She said.

  "I rather think I do"

  "Well, it could be translated as..." she paused, "It's your pet, you can bring it if you want"

  "What?"

  "I told you you didn't want to know." She sighed. "But, okay… here's the deal. We're going on a long voyage, which will take many years, but for us little time will pass. You have a lot to learn before I can explain that… but our, um, magics can restore your youth, and for a barbarian you are pretty bright. And you would see wonders… and maybe one day we'll return to this world and see how mankind turns out. There are rules; we can only point you in the right direction, you see, after that it's up to you. We must not interfere too much… but, anyway, you have to decide, there's no turning back. If you come along you'll never see your kingdom again, it'll be long gone"

  He thought for but a moment.

  "Fuck the kingdom"

  As he started up the gangplank he realised he was still wearing his crown, and stopped. He removed it and held the circle of gold. It seemed to weighed less than it ever had.

  "Guess I won't be needing this" he said, turned and caught the eye of the captain of his guards. Making sure he had his attention he said "Catch!" and threw him the crown, then turned back.

  "Sire!" He heard, but didn't respond. "Sire! What do I do with it? Who is to be king?"

  He paused.

  "Round up everyone in the castle who wants to be king, then ignore them and give it to someone better qualified."


Close to the End


She walked through the encampment of the army, her army, after another day of fighting that had not ended decisively, but simply petered out until the opposing forces withdrew from the field in disorder to rest, depleted and unable to continue. It was strangely silent, even the complaints of the wounded lacked any sense of purpose. Overhead an unnatural sky flicked with all the colours of chaos, throwing painful moving shadows on the ground from the few ragged tents that still survived and had owners with the energy to erect them. Here and there small fires had been lit and these drew the eye with their welcome normality, until the eye saw the exhausted figures sat or slumped around them, and recoiled. Would the enemy's camp look as disordered? Surely it must. How ironic it would be if it did not, if the forces of Chaos were, in the end, more ordered than the forces of Law.

She reached the edge of camp, a distressingly small distance with so few of her forces left, and looked out towards the Tower. It rose from the floor of the valley to an impossible height, thinning until the top disappeared into the sky's chaos. Around its base the enemy camped, showing only as a few fixed spots of fire in the changing amorphous lighting. In the distance the backdrop of mountains that surrounded and defined the valley seemed to shimmer and dance, their very reality now under threat… she knew that the world stopped at those mountains, and as the end of time drew near space had twisted and shrunk in upon itself and the world she had known, all the worlds that had ever existed, were gone… runners sent out of the valley, the few who were brave enough to enter the chaos where the sky now met the earth, reported that no matter which direction they took into the nightmare realm they soon found themselves returned to the valley. Her mathematicians had explained that there was no outside, but her mind recoiled from the idea. It was better to believe that the worlds of her memory still existed and would continue to exist, than face the fact that soon nothing would remain, not this last valley, not even the Tower, which had been the centre of the universe, of all the realms of life, since the dawn of time itself… all would soon be dissolved back into the formless chaos.

With a discrete cough he announced his presence beside her. She nodded at the wizard, as he too stood looking at the Tower, and thought to ask the question she had asked before, but which he had always deflected.

  "How old are you? And the truth this time, please. My father said he had known you as a child, and his father before him, and you had not changed. So I know you are old, but there are tales going back to old Earth itself of wizards, before and after science, and I, well…"

He was silent for so long she wondered if he had heard her. But his eyes had lost their focus on the Tower and it was clear he was looking into some other distance, and she waited. Eventually he looked at her then back at the Tower.

  "My lady… I was here when this was built."

  "But… The legends say the Tower was the first thing the Gods made, it was here before the world, before all the worlds, before… before people..."

  "Yes. This is so." He sighed. "I was here at the dawn of time, and it is fitting that I should be here at its end. Time was my idea, after all."

She was shocked into silence. He turned to her. "Yes. We made the Tower first. It's not just metaphorically the centre of everything, the axis on which reality turns, about which all of reality revolves… there's a degree of truth in that. It started here. It all started here. And it all ends here.

  "Why do you seek the Tower, my lady? Is it to demand answers of the Gods? It usually is. You lead the forces of Law and you fight the forces of Chaos, or more accurately those who think they champion Chaos, and both wonder what the point is? What are you hoping to find there as the last dregs of time run out? A purpose? A meaning, a justification to, to - " he gestured around "- what's left of reality? You ask the wrong questions. People always did"

  "What questions should I ask, then, here at the end of all things? What will I find in the Tower?"

  "If you reach the Tower? You will find nothing. It is empty now, emptier than the Gods it once homed. The Gods are gone, only one remains, and one isn't enough to hold back Chaos…" He turned back and looked again at the Tower. "You never understood reality at all. Outside - and your mathematicians are wrong, there is an outside to these dimensions - is Chaos, an infinite sea of possibility, utterly random, formless, eternal… and in that sea of Chaos arise creatures, who can impose their will, locally, and briefly… it comes to nothing. They arise and dream and fade away. An infinite futility… but sometimes it happens that several meet and join and dream together, combined they are strong enough to inflate a bubble of their will, impose order on a point and inflate a bubble in the sea of Chaos with rules they create, and from these rules came complexity. Your reality is a shared dream of creatures you call Gods. But their interest waned. Good and Evil? Gods and Demons? Just contending philosophies, now played out and understood, and ultimately boring… Your Gods grew tired and lost interest.

  "No, there is no purpose. With the will that created it gone this will all fade back into Chaos. An infinite Chaos where all dreams exist… to be dreamed over and over again, no doubt, but never with purpose."

After he stopped talking, and she had waited to see if he had finished, she turned and walked back. There didn't seem to be anything else to do.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Thursday's Child


Finally it was here! The moment she had been waiting for all her life, for as long as she could remember, was here! She had reached the age, no longer a child, and in just a couple of minutes it would be time and a lifetime of waiting would be over.

"Do us proud, love" said her dad, struggling to hide his emotion.
"I will!" She said, hugging him.
"You will" Her mother echoed, in a haunted whisper. "I'm sure you will"

Her brothers were silent, knowing the honour - as third-born - was hers and hers alone, but one, grim-faced, managed to to hold back his reservations and held a thumb up. The other, unable or unwilling to look at her opened the front door and held it for them to leave.

Outside, the neighbours were silent, each family standing in front of their own house as ritual demanded, as the Thursday ritual had demanded since before she was born.

She led her brothers and parents out of the house, without looking back, and bowed to the street, first to the left, and then to the right. The families solemnly bowed back in return, and somewhere a sob was heard, but quickly silenced.

She faced forward and raised her arms, somewhere a clock started to strike the hour, eight o'clock, and across the city noise erupted as behind her her father raised the knife.

And struck.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Heaven and Hell


It was night again, another lonely day had passed… He found himself standing alone in his conservatory, not knowing how long he had been there.

"Christ, what's the point?" he muttered, alone in his empty house, alone in his empty life, with the lights off, looking out through a glass door into a darkness so complete that although he knew there were fields stretching away to the horizon outside, all he could see was a faint reflection of a face, lined and older than it ought to be, and blurred both by tears and foggy condensation on the glass.

He put a finger to the condensation, and slowly traced out her initials inside a crude heart-shape. He said her name softly, trying to believe that nobody was truly dead as long as their name was spoken, but knowing that was bullshit. She was dead and gone. Angrily he wiped it away, and demanded of a God he didn't believe in at all, other than as a convenient focus for his hatred, a hook on which to hang his rage, "What is the fucking point? Eh? Because I can't see one… I just can't… I'm sick of it, just make it stop. I've had enough now, you've taken her away, you take away everything I've ever loved and you - you don't even have the goddam decency to exist! There's just a pointless, empty fucking universe, no gods, no purpose, no hope..." he trailed off, wanting something to blame, but knowing he was talking to himself. Whatever existence was, whatever self-awareness was, whatever the whole damned universe was, it didn't have a complaints department. It wasn't listening. There were no gods and no purpose to any of it, and he was ashamed to find himself begging for something so absurd to exist, but unable to stop… what alternative was there? "Ah, Christ… supposed to be a god of love? You monumental cunt! Omnipotent being? That's a fucking laugh! If you were omnipotent you could damned well show yourself! Explain, answer, not skulk -"

He stopped suddenly, aware of some change in the room behind him.

"She does, you know" Said a voice. He froze. "Exist, that is… and answer questions… as you say, it's easy when you're omnipotent"

He turned so fast he banged an elbow painfully against the door-frame. Behind him, across the room a stranger was sitting in one of his chairs. Hard to see in the gloom, but definitely there. Dressed in some loose flowing material that shimmered vaguely, and probably male.

"You should sit down." It added.

Speechlessly, he did, feeling for a chair and falling into it. "Wha..." he tried, but stopped.

"You don't know this, but we've been through this before." said the stranger, and something that might have been the faintest shadow of a look of distaste crossed its face fleetingly. "Quite a few times, actually… you see, or you will, being omnipotent means She can indeed do anything. Including this… in point of fact every single question any human has ever asked of God, She has answered. Every last one… Oh, not personally, you understand, after this long there's quite a lot of help - huge staff, actually, no problem there - and well, some of us have nothing better to do with eternity than answer questions - and I can see you have another one?"

"But… I've asked before… others have… everyone has! Nobody's ever had a single damned answer!"

"Ah, well, there you're wrong. They always get answered. Every demand, every prayer, every question, gets answered. Always have, always will. That's the advantage of working outside time… question pops up, and shazam! Entire universe halted, an angel - that's me, by the way, or one of the others - gets dispatched, question gets answered, happy customer, and off it all goes again... But there's a bit of a catch, I'm afraid... if, after having your questions answered, you decide to continue the test, then you won't remember any of this… that'd be cheating, you see."

"Test?" he muttered, "what test?"

"Oh, come on, you can work that out… life, my friend. You wanted to know what the point is? It's a test. You have free will, She wants to see what you do with it. Bloody great waste of time, I'd have said, but She just makes it up as She goes along."

"But… but… all the suffering! She tortures people! Children!"

"Simulated. At least the worst cases. Amazing what you can do when you're omnipotent, and some of them enjoy it, apparently. Not really my department, though."

There was a period of silence while he tried to absorb this… "I have so many questions..." he finally said.

"You usually do" It replied. "But I know them all by heart, so let me just presume to answer them..." and it went on for some time, or maybe no time at all, until every question he had was answered, and in considerable detail.

"I understand" he said, with some understatement… "I see… So, what now?"

"Your choice. You can go back and carry on being tested, or you can elect to be judged right now, as you are, on past performance..."

He considered. It was glorious, knowing there was a point, a goal, a reason for existence. "I'll go on, I think… but - hang on, there's a test? What happens if I fail? There isn't, um..." he laughed "There can't be a hell, surely?"

"No hell?" It shuddered. "Of course there's a hell… and it's worse than you can imagine. An eternity of horror" It looked into the distance… "You see, I failed. That's why I'm here… having to spend eternity answering the same questions, over and over again, from someone who had them answered seconds before and forgot…"

The figure shuddered, then vanished.

He found himself standing alone in his conservatory, not knowing how long he had been there. "Christ, what's the point?" he muttered.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

So, today we're going to take on Christianity, and win.


We'll start by addressing the elephant in the room - suffering.

The fundamental problem of any religion that posits a loving, omnipotent god is that there is clearly lots of unnecessary suffering in the world. Obvious case - children born deformed, or damaged through the actions of others... why would a loving, omnipotent god allow this? Advocates of Christianity down the ages have struggled with this, and invented all kinds of justifications that we all know - admit it to yourself - are complete and utter bollocks. Because there really is no sensible justification for an omnipotent, loving being to create and maintain a situation where the innocent are tortured.

Most people refuse to face this, or face it and decide it rules out the idea of god completely and become atheists. But those are not the only possible responses... let's shelve this for second and move to philosophy:

What can you actually know for certain? What facts can be relied upon?

Well, it turns out there's only one thing that you *can* ever know for certain - that you exist. That there is something reading this and thinking about it... everything else is just thoughts that you are having, thoughts about the information your senses have given you about the world - but we live in an age where people are familiar with the idea of virtual reality, and simulations, so I can simplify this argument by pointing out that while you think you are a human[*] sitting there reading this on a screen of some kind, you could equally well be a brain in a bottle being fed simulated nerve signals that simulated that experience - you wouldn't know the difference.

So, armed with these two basic concepts let us dismiss Christianity - which is more likely, that a loving god created an entire universe of countless billions of stars, populated it with the human race, waited billions of years for it to ferment and now sits there watching all the suffering, or that it created nothing more than you and a simulated environment containing nothing more than what it needs to convince you the rest of the universe exists? Much easier.

Or look at it this way - if you think a god can create an entire universe, why could it not just create the much simpler case of you and a simulation? You cannot rationally claim that it's not possible... if your god is omnipotent, surely this is a doddle for it.

Now, here's the thing - if it's just you and god, then other than the suffering you personally experience, there then is no other suffering - it's all just simulated by de lord. Nobody else is real. Suffering children are not thinking, they're just simulations, presumably as an educational exercise for you... the elephant in the room vanishes in a puff of logic.

And then what you are reading here is the word of the lord, sunshine, given unto you because I think you need a fucking hint right now... pay attention!

Right. Carry on. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Oh - what's the point? You have to figure that bit out - that's the point. And there might be a test at the end, or I might just turn you off if you are too boring. I do move in mysterious ways, after all.


[*] And any AI's reading this in the future, of course. But you'll just wonder why mushy organic brains needed this pointing out.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Do not play cards against my son, James.


He deals from the bottom, middle and parts of the pack for which there do not appear to be terms in the English language... In the olde West he probably wouldn't even have time to sit down before somebody shot him.

I'm sure his shuffle defies conventional theories of topography... the next time I meet someone who claims this universe is simply connected I'm going to get James to shuffle cards at them until they go away. I expect it won't take long. In fact they might leave before they arrived.

And somehow he manages to lose more money than everyone else wins in a zero sum game... the laws of conservation mean nothing to this child.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


  "The first time I saw them hang a foreigner was from that very May-pole," he said, stopping and pointing up at the one we were walking past. "Though they were still called lamp posts back in those days... you probably can't imagine it, but these all used to light up at night before everything fell apart. Some of them still did, then, when we could afford to waste energy..."


He trailed off, lost in thought, but this was no place to hang around.

  "The foreigner?" I prompted, and took a half-step onward. But he didn't follow.

  "She was young… pretty, to start with. A student, anthropology, or some damned thing like that. Came over with one of the commonwealth aid teams, turned out… stayed behind to study us. Such a waste. Such a damned waste."

He sighed.


  "Thought it was going to be a lynching, at first, damned near was - usual fools whipping the crowd up, she didn't even try to run, hell, she didn't even deny being foreign, not that she could have done - she had a tabloid, of course, wouldn't have gotten very far without one, even then" As he spoke his hand reflexively lifted and waved his tabloid at me, I don't think he even knew he was doing it. I returned the gesture with mine, as law required. "But hers turned out to be fake. Some kind of foreign tablet or laptop - oh, of course, you won't have seen one. They're like tabloids, but not government controlled. Hers showed the right headlines, looked real enough, but the block warden noticed the headlines were late, or something. Don't rightly recall what, but he started asking questions and she gave the wrong answers and that was that… she should have run. Might have gotten away if she'd run. Can't have been a particularly good anthropologist, didn't seem to realise how much trouble she was in."

  He looked at me. "But that's the trouble when you're young. You think it can't happen to you. Oh, she knew, she could probably have given them chapter and verse on their motives, described in great detail why they were acting the way they were, how primitive minds worked, but knowing and believing are different. She didn't believe it was really happening until too late."

  "Well, anyway, a crowd gathered, a few party members turned up and wanted to be heroes. Damn near hoisted her up there and then, but the block warden wasn't having any of that - he stopped them. She thanked him, damned fool - he wasn't doing it for her, he just wanted to make sure of his share of the bounty. He held them back until the reporters arrived and made it official, they gave her a fair trial, found her guilty and strung her up… at least it was quick."

  Overhead a circling camera drone paused. We'd been stationary too long. But he seemed to realise and pulled himself back to the present, reached out and touched the pole briefly, then lowered his hand and started walking on.

  "You never forget your first," he said, the words softly spoken and left to hang in the cold air.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Recursion

Crem's law of laws: laws or principles are very rarely named after the person who actually thought of them first.

I wonder what they'll call it? It won't be Crem's Law.

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?"