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Wed, Aug. 17th, 2011, 06:45 pm
Last night's dream

I'd been sentenced to death. A guy had tried to rape me and I punched him in the face. He fell backwards and cracked his head on the floor, which killed him. I was then sentenced to be hanged, although 'sentenced' isn't really the right word as it was all very sudden and surprising. There was no trial or anything, I just remember seeing the death sentence written out, so I guess I was living in an absolute monarchy or similar.

There were six of us milling around a yard, waiting for our turn to go through a small gateway and be hanged. We were being watched by a school dinnerlady-type person (portly, with an air of congenial authority). I started telling one of the other guys why I was there, and why I thought it was somewhat unfair, when the dinnerlady told me off, pointing out that talking to the other people wasn't allowed.

I apologised, and asked if I could have a chewing gum (I'd found a pack in my pocket). She said yes, and I asked if she wanted one. "Yes please!" she replied, and I said "I'll leave them to you in my will!" We both laughed and the atmosphere was surprisingly cheerful, considering.

I then pulled out my phone and updated my Facebook status, mentioning that I was being hanged (it had all happened so quickly that I hadn't had time to tell anybody) and saying that I was laughing and joking right up to the end.

I woke up about then, so don't know what the scaffold or hangman looked like. Hopefully the hangman was Matt Berry.

I was a little bit miffed about the unjust and surprisingly rapid nature of my death sentence, but overall I took the prospect of impending death rather well. I hope I can be that chilled out when my time comes for real.

Tue, Aug. 16th, 2011, 12:50 am
In case anybody's wondering

I'm still alive and relatively well. I ended up back in Redditch, which I remembered as pretty much a shithole but has pleasantly surprised me. Although it seems to have an above-average share of single teenage mothers and young men with too much time and not enough brains (although nobody rioted here, so either they're not as bad as they seem or they all hopped on the train to Birmingham where all the really cool kids were rioting), it's also a delightfully green town. Especially after the vast expanse of concrete which is London, the amount of trees and parks (and not fenced in "Here's some grass we've carefully preserved" parks like you get in London, but expanses of nature which feel as though they were there before the town) is really rather pleasing.

I'm still sleeping on a camp bed in my friend's living room, which isn't ideal. My friends insist they don't mind, and I'm actually useful to have around as I distract the kids now and again, but I still don't want to impose for too long. And I'm looking forward to getting settled again, anyway. Getting back to proper sleep patterns (although when I was 7 I rarely got up before 10:30 in the school holidays, my friends' 7-year old is generally up around 8am) will make me feel so much better. I rarely feel fully awake at the moment (yet my natural inclincation is still to stay up late every night), and I realise that people with children spend entire years feeling that way, but that's one of the reasons I've chosen not to procreate.

I'm really looking forward to getting my PC set up again, and getting back to writing. I could write in longhand, of course, or in Google Docs whenever I snatch moments on my friends' laptops, but having my own PC sitting on my own desk is so much more conducive to getting words onto the screen. I have two short stories plotted in my head, which I may submit to magazines/competitions initially before self-publishing later, or I may just self-publish them right away. And of course I want to finish '69'. And then I'm hoping to manage a short-story a week, more or less, before giving NaNoWriMo another try in November. If I can manage all of this then by the end of the year I'll have around 10 short stories and a novel, or at least the first draft of a novel. I picked up a novel writing book in a charity shop today which looks interesting. Part of the introduction states: "The hardest part of writing a novel is finishing it, and to make sure you do, you'll use a special template to plan your entire story - subplots and all - before you even start writing." It may be that the 'special template' is overkill, but I do think I need to have a reasonable outline before I make my next attempt at writing a novel.

A combination of Redditch library's book sale (30p a paperback, 50p hardback), a charity shop with 50p paperbacks (just like the one in Penge!) and some decent offers at The Works recently has led to me buying the following books in the past two weeks:

It's quite a long listCollapse )
And now sleep calls, for I shall be rudely awoken in about seven hours.

Sat, Jul. 30th, 2011, 04:23 pm
They're not just zombies, they're Nazi zombies!

Just about to pack Cool It when I noticed that I'd folded the dustcover into a page (one of the great things about hardbacks: you don't always have a bookmark/receipt to hand to mark a paperback page, and I hate folding the corners down) as I do when I want to quote something at a later point. So here it is:
"As we have seen above, there is a lot of "fear, terror and disaster" being bandied about - a kind of choreographed screaming. We need to move to a more sensible and fact-based policy dialogue where we can hear the arguments, sensibly debate their merits and find long-term solutions. Presumably, our goal is not just to cut carbon emissions, but also to do better for people and the environment.

Yes, climate change is a problem, but it is emphatically not the end of the world. Take sea level rise. Sea levels will rise over the coming century about a foot - or about as much as they rose over the past 150 years. This is a problem, but not a catastrophe. Ask a very old person about the most important issues that took place in the twentieth century. She will likely mention the two world wars, the cold war, the internal combustion engine and perhaps the IT revolution. But it is very unlikely that she will add: "Oh, and sea levels rose." We dealt with sea levels rising in the past century, and we will do so in this century, too. It doesn't mean that it will be unproblematic, but it is unhelpful - and incorrect - to posit it as the end of civilization.

Moreover, what we have realized is that sea level rise will be a much bigger problem for countries that are poor than for countries that our wealthier. In fact, if we work hard on reducing sea level rises, it is likely that we will reduce the rise by 35% but at the same time end up making each person about 30% poorer. The upshot is that places such as Micronesia and Tuvalu will get three times more flooded, simply because lower incomes more than outweigh the lower sea level rise."
Also, Breaking Bad is still amazing. I watched S4E2 over lunch today. Ep3 is on tomorrow but I don't know when I'll get a chance to download and watch it. Hopefully sometime next week!

Sat, Jul. 30th, 2011, 01:03 pm
Her head is in a bitter way, her brain's on fire

I just commented on John Scalzi's last blog post. He mentioned that he'd bought a new laptop partly for "causal gaming". My comment: "Causal gaming? Just think of the consequences!"

It made me chuckle. Then again, I am easily amused.

Last night was quite sweet. One of the regulars actually cried a little when she found out I was leaving soon (she said "I'm having my birthday party here and I definitely want you working. I'll give you fifty quid extra." I replied "Unless your birthday party is tomorrow, I'm going to be gone."). Another regular bought me a "Sorry you're leaving" card and put a packet of Haribo Starmix in it. Another one bought me a garlic bread pizza.

So many people have made a point over the past few days of telling me I'm a nice guy and they're sorry to see me go. It's really quite touching. Everybody is extremely 'down to earth' here, very rough around the edges. And I suspect I'd disagree with most of their views on immigrants and similar topics. But in many ways they're really decent people. I'll even miss them a little.

Anyway, enough dilly-dallying online. I got me some packing to do. I start work in seven hours, and it's going to be a busy shift as a popular band are playing (popular in South East London, that is. They are very good though). I'll probably be working until after two. And I suspect I'll end up having at least a beer or two after my shift. Steve's hoping to get here for 10:30/11:00 so I'll have to be up about 9. Hopefully I can get a bit of sleep inbetween.

Fri, Jul. 29th, 2011, 10:43 am
Should You Try To Get Published?

Anyone who knows this business believes that traditional publishing is in for a few years of massive turmoil because of the increasing decline in standard book sales and the inability of most publishers to get out of huge labor contracts, trucking contracts, and warehouse contracts. After this third quarter, this will really start to show in corporate balance sheets next spring.

The only way out of many of these messes for a publishing company is through bankruptcy to break the leases and contracts, just as Borders tried and failed to come through. And writers’ books will be assets of the bankruptcy. Not a fun thing.

Some companies will be able to move fast enough to keep a balance with electronic publishing, others with massive overheads and long leases on book warehouses and union contracts will not be able to move. Some companies and imprints will just vanish as owners decide to just shut them down because they are no longer profitable. Other publishers and imprints will just float right through.

All this will start to clear in a few years.

So go learn indie publishing, get away from your sinking agent, and get ready for the new world that is coming. It is already clear that publishers are going to mine indie publishing for tested books to buy. That might be the way of the future. It might not be. No one knows.

The new world of publishing is going to be a ton of fun.

Step back, learn indie publishing to keep your fans and readers happy and your mortgage paid, and watch the news.

You’ll know when the time is right to head back to traditional publishing.
~Dean Wesley Smith, The New World of Publishing: Traditional or Indie? What To Do Now?
In other news, I'm moving back to Redditch. Steve - a good friend of mine for many years - is picking me up on Sunday, and I'm staying at his place for a few days while I sort a room out. There's not going to be enough room in his car for all my books, so I have to sort out storage for them. I thought it'd be fine to leave them here for a month or two - there's a massive cellar, along with about fifteen unused hotel rooms, so there's plenty of space - but Adrian doesn't want me to, for reasons he wasn't entirely clear on (I suspect he's just worried that I'll never pick them up, and he'll have to sort them out himself). Saffron says I can store them in her flat, which is only just up the road, but that's still quite a trek with four heavy boxes of books. Maybe I can steal a trolley from Sainsburys...

Tue, Jul. 26th, 2011, 03:27 pm
Most people live in a myth and grow violently angry if anyone tells them the truth about themselves

While at Kris's the other day I had a small 'run in' with one of his flatmates. The conversation turned to fruits, mangoes were mentioned, and I said that I made a mean mango cheesecake (to be fair I've only made it twice and it came out a bit shit the second time, but the first time it was amazing). Kris pointed out that his flatmate was vegan and I said that I'd only ever made vegan mango cheesecake, as I was a vegan for a couple of years.

His flatmate (I forget her name) asked why I stopped, and I said it was partly because I'd had a rethink of the ethics behind it. I pointed out that, arguably, an acre of soya kills more animals than an acre of cow pasture. Kris then mentioned the large amounts of rainforest which are cut down in order to plant soya.

His flatmate immediately became very defensive. She said to me "There probably aren't any other animals left in the cow pasture as they've been trod on and shat on," and I replied that a field mouse is going to have a much easier time avoiding a cow's hoof than a combine harvester. She then said that she didn't appreciate having her beliefs attacked, that she hated the way most people were lazy and uncaring while she was ethical, and left the room.

Which was curious. She asked why I was no longer a vegan and I replied. I didn't give a full explanation as that would have taken quite a while, but my brief response was a fine starting point for discussion and debate. But as soon as we ventured into debate she got pissed off and left.

I have no interest in converting vegans. It's even possible that I'll go back to it myself one day: the ethics are multi-factorial and complicated. I wasn't attacking her or her beliefs in any way. But she appeared to view any challenge to her beliefs as a personal attack. And she responded by instantly accusing me (albeit not directly) of being too lazy and uncaring to be ethical.

I find the ethics behind our food choices extremely interesting and would have been very happy to discuss them with her. But I was equally happy to leave them be and chat with Kris, which is what I was there for in the first place. But she very quickly took offence and attacked me (and Kris). It's like her sense of identity was very fragile, and she instinctively recoiled at anything which might possibly puncture her sense of moral superiority.

It's interesting how easy it is to interpret a challenge to our beliefs as an attack on ourselves. Discussions of politics, religion, ethics, etc. all too quickly descend into ugly arguments, and often end up in physical violence. Why is it so difficult to simply discuss these things? Why can we not debate our notions of the perfect political system without descending into personal attacks? Look at any discussion of, e.g., politics on the Internet and count how many comments go by before somebody calls somebody else a "fucking idiot" or similar. Why is it so hard for us to just say "I think your analysis of Politician A's proposals is glossing over the fact that..." and then respond in a similar measured fashion?

My guess is it's because our humanity is only a tiny percentage of what we are. The so-called lizard and mammalian brains make up the bulk. And so any debate can very quickly degenerate into mammalian posturing, throwing shit at each other to defend our territories, even though our territories in this instance are mere ideas.

My title quote is by Robert Anton Wilson (I had to shorten it a little for LJ) who elucidated these points extremely well. Every year I feel like I gain a greater appreciation of his work, despite having read it over a decade ago.

Sat, Jul. 23rd, 2011, 02:55 am
Are you writing?

"I've got some bad news for you.

Right now, you're reading one of the most relevant, controversial, popular, and opinionated blogs about the world of publishing, and it is an epic fail on your part.

You want my sales. That's a statement, not a question. Or if you're dreaming even bigger, you want John Locke's or Amanda Hocking's sales. You want to make enough money to retire within the next 12 months. And you've dropped by my blog to learn how.


Here's the bottom line: every minute you spend here is a minute you aren't spending on your writing.


How many words have you written today?"
~J A Konrath, Are You Writing?
I have to answer his title question "No" today. I did write a couple of stories earlier, but right now I'm cranky and in pain (just the IBS again) and in no mood to write. But the man is right, undoubtedly.

Fri, Jul. 22nd, 2011, 01:32 pm
The future is coming, slow but sure

Based on spectroscopic observations of meteorites and asteroids, Lewis estimates that an asteroid 500 meters across would be worth about $4 trillion in cobalt, nickel, iron, and platinum. The metal is pure and in its raw form, making mining relatively easy, and the profit from such a venture would be more than enough to pay off any initial investment. And that's a small asteroid. Bigger ones abound.
Philip Plait, Bad Astronomy (emphasis in original)

Fri, Jul. 22nd, 2011, 12:45 am
Europe is our playground

I really like bar work a lot of the time. It's nice and varied. Today:

I heard the landlord telling somebody that the last landlord here - over ten years ago, now - was shot and stabbed, which was why he left this pub.

I was chatting to a guy who's recently developed a product with his dad. Two friends invested £100,000, they've developed the product and are selling it to a variety of companies. The guy is a builder at the moment but is hoping to take the company public and retire a very rich man. The product is one of those simple yet brilliant ideas which could easily make him millions. Flat pack card vases. Waterproof, biodegradable, with whatever logos or messages you want printed on them. Blooming Simple.

Chris, the Canadian comic book writer, came in again and we were chatting about various things, including how shit American beer is (like making love in a canoe, it's fucking close to water) and what an arsehole the landlord at his pub is. The pub I had an interview for a few weeks ago, where I concluded that I didn't want the job because the landlord was a complete arsehole. Chris doesn't plan on staying there more than a few weeks more.

The foreign students were supposed to be in for a party tonight, but they cancelled. Which was a shame, as a room full of attractive young Europeans tends to liven the evening up a bit. But still, it was a pretty cool day.

My last shift is in nine days time. I really need to figure out what I'm doing with my stuff and where I'm going to be living. I already have the train ticket to Glasgow so I could just stick with that. We'll see.

Sat, Jul. 16th, 2011, 05:06 am

I have no idea what "bull-puckey" means (well, it's obvious from the context, but I've never heard it before and don't know where it comes from) but this made me smile:
"It takes me about 15 minutes, give-or-take (depending on the book and the day and how I’m feeling) to write 250 words of fiction. (Each writer is different. Time yourself.)

So if I spent that 15 minutes per day writing on a novel, every day for one year, I would finish a 90,000 word plus novel, about a normal paperback book, in 365 days.

I would be a one-book-per-year writer, pretty standard in science fiction and a few other genres.

15 minutes per day equals one novel per year.

Oh, my, if I worked really, really hard and managed to get 30 minutes of writing in per day, I could finish two novels in a year.

And at that speed I would be considered fast. Not that I typed or wrote fast, just that I spent more time writing.

God forbid I actually write four pages a day, spend an entire hour per day sitting in a chair!!!! I would finish four novels a year. At that point I would be praised in the romance genre and called a hack in other genres.

See why I laugh to myself when some writer tells me they have been working really, really hard on a book and it took them a year to write? What did they do for 23 hours and 45 minutes every day????

The problem is they are lost in the myth. Deep into the myth that writing must be work, that it must be hard, that you must “suffer for your art” and write slowly.

Bull-puckey. Writing is fun, easy, and enjoyable. If you want hard work, go dig a ditch for a water pipe on a golf course in a steady rain on a cold day. That’s work. Sitting at a computer and making stuff up just isn’t work. It’s a dream job."
It's from this post in Dean Wesley Smith's blog. He has some interesting perspectives on writing. He completely disagrees with that old phrase "90% of writing is rewriting" (or whatever the actual percentage is) and says that he never rewrites anything, ever. He also doesn't do promotion, choosing to spend his time writing more instead. He sold his first novel when he was 38 and has since published over 100, so he must be doing something right.

In a comment to another post Smith says:
I have never understood people who say, “I hate writing.” Yet in the same breath say they want to be a professional writer. That’s just silly beyond words. I have, much to the disgust of my family and a couple of previous wives, refused to work at anything I didn’t like. I just wouldn’t do it. Early on (like the second month) of Kris and my relationship, I was in Wisconsin, had rented an apartment, but was running out of what little money I had left and needed a job. So I found one waiting tables. But they wanted me to wear a Tux. And the shift started at 7 in the morning. I got into that Tux, did one shift, and gave them back the Tux and quit. I liked waiting tables, but not that job. Not worth it. I would rather starve than do jobs I hate.
He's a man after my own heart, it seems. "If it's shit, quit."

It seems I have another name to add to my list of 'writers whose blogs I read even though I haven't read any of their writing'. John Scalzi was on that list for a good few years, before I picked up a copy of Old Man's War. It's a funny old world

Fri, Jul. 15th, 2011, 02:47 pm
The writer's life, it ain't for everyone

John Scalzi linked to an interesting article where Steph Swainston (a fantasy author of certain renown) explained her decision to abandon writing and train to be a chemistry teacher instead.

The piece provides an interesting contrast to the things I've been reading from authors like JA Konrath, who are more enthusiastic about writing than ever, and are embracing the self-publishing model. Although she doesn't mention it and apparently hasn't considered it, Steph Swainston clearly hates everything about the self-publishing model.

One of the benefits of self-publishing extolled by many is that you're not limited to only releasing one book each year. Publishing schedules restrict you to that because they don't want your books to compete against each other. But with the lower price points of self-published ebooks, publishing several books a year leads to greater sales.

Steph says that being forced to produce one book a year prevents her from spending time on her novels. It seems to me that if you're a full-time writer and you can't manage to write one novel a year, then you have problems with time management, motivation, etc. Or perhaps that you shouldn't be a full-time writer, as you're obviously not comfortable with treating writing as a job.

Writers are more and more responsible through their own promotion even when they have traditional publishing contracts. Self-publishing takes this a step further: you're entirely responsible for your own promotion. Most self-published authors have blogs, twitter, facebook, etc. They go on 'blog tours' to get themselves known to other readerships. And this works: I've bought a couple of books by writers I discovered via guest posts and other blog links.

Steph hates doing her own promotion, saying, "it's an author's job to write a book, not do the marketing," and even, "The internet is poison to authors." The latter quote refers to the greater connection between writer and fans that the internet offers, such that fans can influence the direction of your next novel. Many authors regard that as a good thing, Steph Swainton doesn't.

Interestingly, JA Konrath says he does far less promotion these days than he used to. Very few blog tours, very few personal appearances. The reason being that he finds it's more profitable to spend his time writing. Once you've built something of a name for yourself, it may be the case that simply getting more books out there in the marketplace is all you need to do to keep increasing your earnings. If you enjoy getting out there, meeting fans, etc. then that's a different matter of course.

Another of her complaints was that, "I suffer terribly from isolation while writing. I really need a job where I can be around people and learn to speak again." People who don't enjoy their own company, and feel a need to be around others much of the time, probably shouldn't be writers.

Steph's story clearly shows that the author's life certainly isn't for everybody, but I'm not sure that there are any wider points to take from this other than that Steph Swainton has discovered that she doesn't want to be a full-time writer.

The description of her novels has made me curious, though. I may well pick one up.
"While the Fourlands, on the face of it, might look a wee bit like Middle Earth, and Swainston's winged hero Jant can fly, he also has a nasty little drug habit, wears T-shirts, and reads sports reports in the newspaper."

Wed, Jul. 13th, 2011, 05:10 pm
Make way for Super Gran

How Joe Konrath Got Published is really quite a lovely tale. The line which sums it all up is: "After ten books, twelve years, and four hundred and sixty rejections, my dream had finally come true." Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The piece appears to only be available in the ebook The Newbies Guide To Publishing (pdf, 6.82MB), which is chock-full of interesting information, and free.

In other news, the flat in Campbeltown has gone up from £99 a month to £299 a month. Not entirely sure why. Maybe they heard that I was thinking of renting it and wanted to put me off. The cheapest place Zoopla have listed in Scotland is now a £179 a month two-bedroom flat in a little town between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Maybe I'll find a flatshare in Glasgow instead. I might even end up going somewhere entirely different, despite the fact that I've spent thirty-something quid on the sleeper train ticket. I find it hard to make my mind up before I absolutely have to.

Tue, Jul. 12th, 2011, 06:12 pm
Tangible is only a state of mind

Today's achievements: Wrote a new product page for my website, fiddled about with Wordpress and PHP to get a funky little feature working, wrote seven or eight articles for backlinks.

It sort of feels like a lot, but that's only because I'm so prone to slacking. The PHP stuff took longer than I was expecting, but other than that it was definitely less than an hour's work. I woke up around noon so I've had a good four or five hours to do work in. So not a great ratio, really.

I've been reading a great deal about self-publishing over the past couple of days. Mostly stuff from JA Konrath (I'm pretty sure Liz's flatmate was reading one of his books the last time I was round there, which is a groovy coincidence), Barry Eisler, and John Locke (who is neither the enlightenment philosopher nor the guy from Lost, unfortunately). Three people whose work I've never read, but whose perspectives on self-publishing are extremely interesting.

Self-publishing used to be the second-rate option. If you couldn't find a real publisher then you might - just might - resort to publishing it yourself. You wouldn't make much money but you might make a bit, and at least your book was out there in the world. Things have changed. Earlier this year Barry Eisler turned down a $500,000 advance from his publisher in order to self-publish. Half a million dollars. Turned down. "No, thank you, I don't want your half a million dollars."

Why did he turn it down? Because he can do better by himself.

The times they have a changed. And changed fast. In March last year Konrath said on his blog that "Print is still the way to make the most money and reach the most readers." In April this year he basically said that any writer planning on the traditional publisher route is an idiot (Are You Dense?).

Konrath sells around 800 ebooks a day. At $2.99 a book, with 70% royalty, he makes over $1,600 each day. Granted, he's an outlier (although by no means the only one), and for most people it's hard to make decent money self-publishing. But, as he says, "It's even harder to make decent money by legacy publishing."

I have a few hundred books. Maybe a thousand. As much as I love them, they're a pain in the arse to lug around the country every time I move. Given that ebooks are the future, why do I hold on to them? Is it anything more than inertia?
"I want a tangible product.

Me too. I have over five thousand books. I love owning them. I love how they look on the shelf. I love perusing my library.

But I'll be honest here. I used to have over a thousand cassette tapes. I loved owning them. I loved how they looked on the shelf. I loved perusing my music library.

Then CDs came along, and I repeated the love affair.

Eventually I got my first iPod.

I don't even own a CD or cassette player anymore.

I still love to own. But now I own digital files. I still love to persuse my music library. Except now I do it on iTunes.

Tangible is only a state of mind..."
~JA Konrath

Mon, Jul. 11th, 2011, 07:48 pm
Writer's Block: Going the distance

Would you uproot your life and move to another city for someone that you love?

Have done before, would do again. Although the fact that I've uprooted my life and moved to another city on nothing more than a whim - on more than one occasion - makes it a little less romantic I guess. I don't really get attached to place, jobs, people, so it's never that big a wrench leaving things behind.

Sun, Jul. 10th, 2011, 01:45 pm
It's a drunken punchup at a wedding, no no no

I just bought a train ticket to Glasgow. It leaves on the 2nd of August (I think...may have been the 1st) and arrives on the 3rd (or maybe 2nd). It's a sleeper train, which will be a new experience for me, and was actually the cheapest ticket I could find.

Once I get to Glasgow I don't really know what I'm doing. I sent an email today to the estate agents I mentioned before, the one with the £99 a month flat in Campbeltown. Campbeltown is a few hours from Glasgow, and they also have flats in Glasgow itself.

Glasgow has the advantage of being a reasonably sized city where I could find a job (although the anti-English bias will make it slightly harder), while Campbeltown would probably involve signing on until the internet marketing really takes off, although westcoastjobs.co.uk does list three jobs in Campbeltown, so maybe not. I can't imagine there'll be that much competition for the jobs, at least, unlike London where fifty people apply for every vacancy. Although, according to this article:
"Three Scottish areas are among the worst four blackspots in the country. West Dunbartonshire is worst, ahead of East Ayrshire, while North Ayrshire is fourth. The Western Isles is eighth, meaning four areas north of the Border are in the UK top ten."
All four of those areas are in West Scotland, where Campbeltown and Glasgow are. So perhaps I'm wrong about the competition. It does look purdy, though. Kind of reminds me of Porthleven in Cornwall. There's webcam footage here (mostly taken through a window, so not amazing quality, but still purdy).

And I can go back to the plan of applying for university. cybermule popped down the other week, and one of the comments she made was "University sounded like a plan." And indeed it was. It was a five year plan, even, which is a considerably long time. Building the internet marketing up to a decent level and then travelling the world is also a plan, but if I'm living in, say, Leicester and doing that then I don't have any backup plan, and if I don't make the IM work (which will be nobody's fault but my own, but still...) then I'll probably wind up drifting around for another few years. Drifting seems to be my default mode of action, so I have to work hard to avoid that.

Sun, Jul. 10th, 2011, 12:03 pm
I will eat you alive

There's a Pepsi Max game on Facebook which has a prize of £2,000 each week. To win it you have to answer questions about the people on your friends list, by sliding a can of Pepsi Max across some ice and stopping it in bullseyes (four bullseyes per question, each one representing a different friend).

It's been running for a few weeks now but this week is the first one I've really noticed it. This week is also the last week it's running. 7pm tonight is the latest you can submit a score to have a chance of winning the week's prize.

£2,000 would be really useful at the moment. Money is pretty tight and I need some cash for the move in a few weeks. Unfortunately winning it takes about three hours (based on the current scores on the leaderboard and the amount of time each 'frame' takes), and I have to work today. Which is a bummer.

Mind you, when I was playing it earlier it crashed (after about 35 minutes), which was even more of a bummer, and possibly makes the previous bummer irrelevant. Mobile broadband probably isn't the best for online flash games.

Back to the original plan of simply not spending any money for the next few weeks! Today's breakfast was baked beans & sausages eaten cold from the can, which is a good start methinks.

Fri, Jul. 8th, 2011, 12:08 pm
All I need is love, and stimulating conversation

I just woke up from another one of those dreams. The last thing I remember is saying to the woman "Come here, I've got something to tell you...You're extremely beautiful and I love you very much." She looked like a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow and this woman called Marie who used to drink in a pub I worked in. I only chatted to her a couple of times (Marie, not Gwyneth) but there was definite mutual attraction, we flirted quite a bit and I kind of regret not asking her out. I really regret not asking her out now, but that's just because I'm associating her with the great feelings of my dream.

I also woke up wondering if I'd pissed myself (never happened before, at least not since I was a wee bairn, but there's always a first time I guess). I even felt the sheet beneath me to check. It turns out that somebody's cooking something which smells quite a lot like urine. A fishy dish of some kind. (I once ate pickled shark; that tasted a great deal like urine, and had the texture of chewing gum.)

Last night nicely illustrated one of the things I like most about being a barman: you get to meet a lot of interesting people. It's sometimes frustrating because you just want to stand and chat with them, but work keeps on interrupting. But if you weren't working then you most likely wouldn't have met them at all, so ultimately it's a good thing.

Last night I was chatting to a Canadian guy called Christopher T Gerow (that's not how he introduced himself, he gave me his card before he left) who wrote a comic called Sojourn which was apparently quite big in the nineties. He's re-releasing it for free on his blog, a little every Friday (although he's missed a couple of weeks due to being in the UK), so I shall give it a read soon. (The inside front cover of the first issue looks pretty cool anyway)

I'm sure his name is familiar to me, but I don't know why. When I said that to him he said "It shouldn't be." There's very little information on the Internet about him or his comic (there's a different comic called Sojourn which started in 2001 which has a Wikipedia page, but not Chris's) so I have no idea where I might have heard his name. Oh well.

Thu, Jul. 7th, 2011, 01:40 pm
Procrastination kills your dreams

Dave left a great reply to somebody's comment on his blog the other day. It really shows why he's been as successful as he as, and is applicable to anything in life:
"The main thing is to stay inspired. Take the post that Lissie wrote for example. You can see by mine and Terry’s replies that we are men of action. I don’t mean that to sound crass but the honest truth is that this is where the money is. Not thinking, ah that was good advice, I will follow that up at some point.

It is rather, yeah, I am gonna do that. And you do. So, 2 days later and I have 2 books published, the Wife has written one and we are thinking about more stuff. So, Wifey wrote 5000 words for a part of a book in a day amongst doing other stuff and that is how you need to be. Get on with it and work as much as you can. No checking mail, FB etc. will improve your productivity no end.

If you really concentrate then you can set up a site, get a theme, install aff links and write about 15 posts on a blog in a day and have a ready made site. Most peeps simply would take weeks to do it and pretend they are working. That is the key, being honest with your time and being productive."
He hasn't mentioned any exact figures for his earnings for a long time, but he's said that the new things he's been trying have been working and improving his income. He's definitely making five figures a month.

Do you want to succeed at something? What are you doing to make it happen? Dave and his wife don't work evenings or weekends, they keep the same hours as they would in a job. And they're reducing their hours to part-time as they've hired a few people to do a lot of the work for them. But for every hour they work, they work. Steve Pavlina has said that the average office worker does just one and a half hours of actual work in an eight hour day. When Steve kept a detailed time log of his own working week he found that he:
"only finished 15 hours worth of real work in a week where I spent about 60 hours in my office. Even though I was technically about twice as productive as the average office worker, I was still disturbed by the results. Where did those other 45 hours go? My time log laid it all out for me, showing me all the time drains I wasn't consciously aware of -- checking email too often, excessive perfectionism doing tasks that didn't need to be done, over-reading the news, taking too much time for meals, succumbing to preventable interruptions, etc."
4-Hour Workweek is a book detailing similar principles, and mentions the Pareto Principle quite often. Otherwise known as the 80/20 Principle, it states that 20% of your work produces 80% of your results. By focusing on that 20% you can work less and get better results. But focus is still the key. Many hours spent pissing about writing blog posts, checking Facebook and emails, etc. are going to add nothing to your bottom line (whatever that bottom line is, it doesn't have to be money).

The rest of this post will likely be of no interest to anybody else, hence the cut.

Talk about Adsense and stuffCollapse )

Tue, Jul. 5th, 2011, 03:56 pm

aporia: difficulty determining the truth of an idea due to equally valid arguments for and against it.

Dictionary.com's word of the day, and something I have major problems with. "Certitude belongs exclusively to those who only own one encyclopedia." as Robert Anton Wilson once said. But thanks to the Internet we all own a thousand encyclopedias now, and we can never be certain of anything again.

Sun, Jul. 3rd, 2011, 11:39 am
Nice dream, if you think you belong enough

Just had an interesting dream. I was going out with this gorgeous woman - tall, slim, long blonde hair, a little like Alicia Silverstone - in Florida. I lived in Florida too somehow, but hadn't been there very long at all as America still had its sheen of newness and wonder. She was beautiful, but her top set of teeth were metal due to a weird illness she had as a child. They were white, but in a certain light you could see a metallic sheen shining through. She had to take painkillers and other tablets for them every day.

We were hanging out at her place - her mum's place, I think - and were going to take a bath together, but then went for a walk instead. She pointed out that her neighbours were mostly Eastern European war criminals. We walked across this strange obstacle-course bridge, and saw a bunch of guys lying beneath it with no shoes. I shouted "You all right guys?" and one shouted back "Yes...and you're not so bad yourself, love" (they were Londoners for some reason). I said to her "I think he meant you."

We walked to a hospital, and then split up. I had to go and collect some mail and deliver it to a certain office. As I was walking I was thinking about her, about how lucky I was, about how I was falling for her and she seemed to feel the same about me. Then I couldn't remember her name. And I thought to myself "What is her name?...Ah, shit, this is just a dream isn't it?" Unfortunately this didn't make me lucid, I just woke up soon afterwards, feeling very sad to have 'lost' her.

Wed, Jun. 29th, 2011, 03:58 pm
More boobies, less violence

I have conflicted feelings on the recent violent video games ruling (for those who haven't seen it: the US Supreme Court ruled that California could not ban the sale of violent video games to children, as it violated the first amendment protecting free speech). On the one hand, I do like the whole 'free speech' idea, and wish we had something similar to the first amendment over here.

But at the same time, I'm not opposed to restricting the sale of violent video games (and violent films) to adults only. If I had a ten year old child then I wouldn't particularly want them playing Postal 2, although I've spent many enjoyable hours playing it myself. And yes, it would be my job as a parent to ensure that they weren't playing it, but that doesn't mean that age guidelines shouldn't be enforced. It would be my job as a parent to ensure that my children weren't drinking cheap cider, but that doesn't mean that shops should be allowed to sell it to them.

And one thing I find curious is the selective implementation of the first amendment. Justice Stephen Breyer (one of the two dissenting votes) put it rather well:
"What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting a sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?

What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only when the woman - bound, gagged, tortured, and killed - is also topless?"
As quoted in Free-Speech Rulings: Violent Video Games vs. Sexual Images
Long-time readers of this journal will possibly remember that this is a point which has baffled me for quite some time. This entry from nine years ago (nine years and three days, to be exact) has an interesting, if somewhat clumsily portrayed, perspective. And elsewhere I've written about my uncle and Live TV.
Among its programmes were Topless Darts, with commentary by comedian Jimmy Frinton. Other features were the weather, read in Norwegian by a blonde model (Eva Bjertnes or Anne-Marie Foss) wearing a bikini, Britain's Bounciest Weather with Rusty Goffe (known, although uncredited, for his appearance as an Oompa Loompa in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory) who due to his small stature bounced on a trampoline while doing the forecast (bouncing higher the further north he was talking about), Tiffany's Big City Tips, in which model Tiffany Banister gave the financial news while stripping to her underwear, Painted Ladies, which involved topless girls "painting" on large sheets of paper with various body parts and the News Bunny, a person in a rabbit suit who stood behind a newsreader making gestures and expressions for each item.
Live TV was everything I wanted in a cable channel (naked women and weird shit) and I was quite sad when it ended in 1999. I used to watch it at my uncle's house, because he was the only person I knew with cable TV. And he would always be concerned about the kids seeing the later coverage, when the boobies came out. And yet he had no problem with them watching films like Robocop, which feature brutal violence (I think the scene where they're blowing pieces off Murphy with a shotgun gave me nightmares as a child).

I have no idea why this attitude is so prevalent. What possible harm is going to come to a child who sees boobies? Even if those boobies are jiggling as the woman throws darts, or are covered in paint as the woman rolls around on a giant canvas. I certainly wouldn't encourage children to watch porn, especially the more hardcore variety, but I have to think that it's going to do less harm to them than watching brutal violence. Having sex is generally a good thing, killing people is generally a bad thing. Why are we happier for our children to watch the latter than the former?

Free speech should be protected, but certain restrictions to protect children seem reasonable, as children have a poorer ability to distinguish between fictional representations of reality and reality itself. And protecting one kind of free speech - decapitating schoolgirls with a shovel (one of many fun things you can do in Postal 2) - while heavily restricting another - boobies - is ridiculous at best.

Tue, Jun. 28th, 2011, 07:52 pm

I'd forgotten that my first date (sort of...the first 'proper' date anyway) with Saffron involved us gatecrashing a lesbian wedding. I like that. Funky life events are, well, funky.

Mon, Jun. 27th, 2011, 01:52 pm
Writer's Block: Going for the throat

Would you rather be a vampire or a vampire hunter, and why?

Vampire, obviously. Vampires are all sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll while vampire hunters are uptight Mary Whitehouse types who, driven mad by their own crippling inability to have fun, are determined to prevent anybody else from having fun either.

Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2011, 03:40 pm
You're going to push me baby, right to the edge of right and wrong

I just popped to Sainsburys and on my way back Jamie (the girl currently working on the bar) said "You've got a busy night tonight. There are thirty French students coming in." My immediate thought was "Young French girls! Excellent!" They should make the night a little more entertaining than Thursdays normally are, at any rate.

I bought some butter at Sainsburys (we'll see how well it lasts at room temperature...). I've pretty much abandoned any idea of eating healthily as it's just too damn difficult with no kitchen and a limited budget. But if I slather some butter onto my hot cross buns instead of just eating them dry then at least I'm adding some saturated fat into the mix and muting the blood sugar spike somewhat. Of course it doesn't do anything for the gluten, but I'll just have to put up with that for a while. It's only a few weeks before I can cut it from my diet completely (I'm very interested to see how I feel after a couple of weeks of no gluten, especially given the link between gluten sensitivity and depression). But in the meantime wheat is cheap calories, and that's what I need.

I have six paydays until I leave, so I really need to save as much as possible. I think paying out for a passport is probably worth the cash, given its effect on finding employment, but other expenditures need to be cut right back. This move's going to be a little tighter than many, but it's doable.

Mon, Jun. 20th, 2011, 10:01 pm
So he stands up and laughs as he zips up his fly

It occurred to me the other day that if you support drug prohibition then you support the idea that the government can legislate good health. That being the case, where do you draw the line? Should fast food be illegal? Should motorcycles be illegal - they're clearly more dangerous than cars? Should hang-gliding be illegal? What about swimming in the sea? Far more people die out there than in swimming pools: why isn't that illegal?

Some may think I'm being facetious, but I'm really not. If you accept that a substance - ecstasy, say - should be made illegal solely because it is potentially harmful to its users, then you're accepting that the government has the right to make laws to keep/make you healthy. And if you've accepted that, then why shouldn't they greatly expand their health-promoting legislation?

Maybe joining a gym should be a legal requirement. Maybe annual medical check-ups should be mandatory, and hefty fines issued for those whose cholesterol has risen. Certainly Coca-Cola and Pepsi should be banned: everybody's in agreement that high-fructose corn syrup is damaging to health (studies link it to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and hypertension amongst other things).

My viewpoint is probably obvious, but I'll say it anyway. I think consenting adults should be free to engage in whatever unhealthy activities they like. If I want to inject heroin into my eyeballs before engaging in anal sex (riskier than the vaginal kind) using high fructose corn syrup as a lubricant, then that's nobody's business but mine (and the anus's owner, of course).

It should not be illegal for me to engage in potentially unhealthy activities. That's just fucked up.

Sat, Jun. 18th, 2011, 04:37 am
Sucking on my titties like you wanted me

Work tonight was pretty good, for the most part, although I am tired of what cunts people round here can be. As I've mentioned before, the clientèle of the pub in Chiswick were so much nicer than most of the people here. Politeness is what it boils down to. It's to do with class, and poverty, and lack of education, and lack of community, but the upshot is that a lot of people here are just ignorant - in all kinds of ways - twats. And, given the choice, I'd rather not spend time around them. There are only so many hours in the day, so why spend them with people you don't like? One of Ian Read's editorials for Chaos International, talking about elitism and a man being known by the company he keeps, springs to mind.

A local football team had recently won the league, and had a private party in the back room to celebrate. There were several attractive young women present, which always makes the night more pleasant (the vast majority of the customers here are ugly old men, so the contrast is striking), and the fact that the room was full of reasonably young people having a good time made a nice change as well. On two occasions they ordered 20 Jagerbombs. The glasses with Red Bull were lined up along the bar, and the shots of Jagermeister were balanced on the glasses. Then, with one push, a very satisfying clink-clink-clink sound accompanied the cascade of shot glasses falling into larger glasses. Adrian videoed it but with the light so low there's a good chance it won't come out very well.

After work I had a couple of pints and chatted to Adrian. He asked me if I was still thinking of moving out of London and I told him that I wanted to stay here, living and working, until the end of July and then piss off. He said that was fine. So I guess it's official now. We talked a little about the South East London mentality (I said that there was a general lack of politeness and he said "That's putting it mildly; people are downright rude."), his former life (he didn't come right out and say it, but I'm pretty sure he's killed at least a couple of people), and my plans - or lack thereof - for the future. He said it's a shame I didn't continue my studies, and I should decide what I want to do and go back, because I'm too intelligent to be doing this.

Which, of course, I've been told plenty of times before. If you asked me to sum up my career in three words then "Wasting my potential" would do as well as any. But, although I'm not quite young any more, I'm still young enough to find my way.

I'm glad I've worked here. It's not 'my kind of place'. I wouldn't really drink here. And I don't think I've increased my skills by being here. But it's introduced me to a lot of interesting characters, and made me realise just how common amazing stories really are. I never would have thought that in one pub I would meet a former Lithuanian special forces commando who fought in Chechnya, several local thugs who've spent several years inside, a cocaine dealer, a man who's doing a PhD before moving to Cambodia to try to stop the child sex trade, a man who makes a living from foreign exchange spread betting. Not to mention the landlady whose dad worked for the Krays and who was married to an arms dealer, and the landlord who's killed people in the employ of a Dutch gangster. There are probably a few who I've forgotten as well.

It's not exactly Cheers, is it?

I'm meeting Liz for lunch tomorrow so I should probably get some sleep. I might tell her about the move tomorrow (I've been saying for weeks that I'm not sure if I'm going to stay in London or not, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to her) or I might leave it until Sunday, when we're meeting up in the evening.

At one point tonight there was a slow song playing and all the footballers were dancing with their girlfriends. I felt a severe pang of loneliness. Which told me two things. One: that I don't have the connection with Liz that I'm seeking. Which wasn't really a surprise, but two: that I am seeking that connection. I had it in my head that I was going to keep things casual for a few years, just seek friendship and fun. And I may still do that. But there's a significant part of me which wants true love. 'Forever and ever' as Kim and I used to say to one another, quoting The Hunger.

Fri, Jun. 17th, 2011, 05:01 pm
Leaving empty souls when he avenged...he drank the blood like lemonade

I've just finished eating a packet of Sainsburys Basics pork luncheon meat. It's only £1.18, and quite filling. With 848 calories, 61g protein, and 62g fat I suppose it should be. There's something about cold meat, though, and I quickly lose my appetite for it. So although it's a cheap source of nutrition, it's not one I can indulge in too frequently (well, I probably could force myself to eat it but I don't really want to be suppressing the gag reflex with every meal). So takeaways will remain my primary source of food. I'm very much looking forward to having a kitchen again.

I'm thinking that if I stay here until the end of July I'll be able to pay Saffron back, buy a passport (a lot of companies won't employ someone without a passport or full driving licence, and replacing my passport is going to be a great deal cheaper than learning to drive), and have enough money to move with. This relies on the guys here being okay with that, of course, but I think they probably will be. I'm good at my job, and letting me stay in this room doesn't really cause them any problems (but makes them a small profit from the rent), so I can't see why they'd mind.

And then I might head to Nottingham. While it's no longer true (if indeed it ever was) that women outnumber men 4 to 1 (every customer I've mentioned possibly moving to Nottingham to has immediately told me that 'fact') it's still a nice city, and it'd be good to see my family more often. I can get stoned with my cousin for the first time. And rental prices are cheap there, which of course is the main reason for leaving London.

Other possibilities include Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester... basically any decent-sized city outside London.

Wed, Jun. 15th, 2011, 07:42 pm
Ganja and axe murderers: just another Wednesday

Worked from 3-7 and now I'm having a chicken 'n' chips break before going back to work (just 8-10 though). A sign that I've lived in London too long is that I got slightly pissed off about the length of the walk to the chicken shop from here. It took about seven minutes. Moving out of London would encourage me to slow down a bit (in that specific 'rushing to get everywhere' sense; I certainly don't need to slow down in any more general sense. My mother used to say I was too slow to catch a cold).

One of the regulars - an old guy who's been drinking here for years - had some incredibly pungent weed on him today. The whole bar could smell it, so I gave him a couple of money bags to try and subdue it a little. A little later he asked if I smoked and said he'd give me a bit. 'A bit' turned out to be quite a lot. He's a dealer (I always thought he dealt cocaine, but maybe it's weed. Or maybe both) so it has a different value to him, but still, it was a nice 'tip'. I wish I had somebody to get stoned with. A few of Liz's friends smoke so maybe I'll try and hook up with them one evening. Getting stoned alone is great, but sometimes it's nice to have company.

It's strange how little I smoke these days. It's never been a daily thing for me, but I used to smoke a couple of times a week. Now it's not even once a month. Probably just a phase.

Adding to the strange stories surrounding the people in this pub, one of the new guys phoned in sick today, the reason being that his flatmate attacked him with an axe last night. He jumped back and the axe narrowly missed splitting his skull, just cutting his lip instead. Takes all sorts to make a world, I suppose.

Sat, Jun. 11th, 2011, 06:22 pm
Just raise the flag and finger and leave it there to linger

Takeaway food really becomes your life when you don't have a kitchen. It's simply the cheapest way to get your daily calories. Today I went to Sainsburys because I didn't have any cash on me, and the local cashpoints are outside Sainsburys. I ended up spending maybe twice as much as I would have in the local chicken shop, for the same degree of satiety.

Sainsburys do these very tasty roast chicken breast things in different flavours (tikka, barbecue, chilli, etc.). They're £2.59 a pack, or two for £4. Three pieces of chicken and chips from Morleys (not sure if it's a national chain but they're all over South East London, just like Wimpy which seems to thrive in these parts despite being extinct in the rest of the country) costs £3.49. With the Morleys meal I normally end up leaving some of the chips because there's just too much food, and I'm full for a good portion of the day. Two packs of the Sainsburys chicken, on the other hand, are little more than a snack.

Packs of ham are moderately filling, but you have to buy several packs to get the same level of satiety as you get from the chip shop/chicken shop/Chinese, and these end up being more expensive, not to mention more monotonous (there's a £1.29 smoked sausage which is tasty and filling, but after about a dozen I started craving anything other than sausage).

The only way Sainsburys can fulfil my daily food requirements cheaper than the local takeaways is if I buy biscuits. A pack of digestives is about 40p and is extremely filling and calorific. (I've just noticed how much that sounds like a portmanteau of 'calorie' and 'terrific'. I think I prefer it that way. "This kilogram of pork is calorific!") When I went through my impoverished phase in Edinburgh, living off less than £1 a day, I ate a hell of a lot of digestives. It's viable in the short-term, but I can't imagine that one would be particularly healthy after a few months.

None of this is a huge problem, of course, just an interesting (to me) observation. I can cope with spending the next five weeks or so buying fruit and nuts (and perhaps the occasional Pot Noodle) from Sainsburys and all other meals from takeaway shops.

Fri, Jun. 10th, 2011, 02:49 pm
Blue like water, blue like heaven is all of the time

Actual exchange two of the regulars had last night:

R: "M, Where did you do bird?" [Bird is cockney rhyming slang. Bird-lime = time, as in a prison sentence]
M: "I did two months in Pentonville."
R: "Pentonville? That's a nancy boys prison. It's full of homos. I was in Belmarsh, mate."

Yes, there really are people who base their self-esteem on how tough their prison was, and many of them drink in my pub. I've really got to get out of this place.

Which kind of brings me back to the whole 'leaving London' thing. Moving to Campbeltown is probably a bad idea. Lovely though it seems, it will be nigh-on impossible to find work there. And although my website is back in Google's good books and earning me money, and I have several other websites to build up, I'm not confident enough in my own abilities to rely on that earning me a living wage. That lack of confidence is probably a large part of the reason it isn't earning me a living wage, but there you go.

But not moving to Campbeltown doesn't have to mean staying in London. Places like Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham, Plymouth, etc. are all a great deal cheaper than London, but have a lot more work available than Campbeltown. Bar/Retail work should be relatively easy to get in any city. And will pay me pretty much the same as I'm getting in London.

A ten second glance at Gumtree Birmingham unveils a "Quiet Large Double Room" with all bills and 50MB broadband included for £280pcm. An equally quick glance at Gumtree London unveils "ONE DOUBLE BED TO SHARE IN A DOUBLE BEDROOM(MALE ONLY)." for £216pcm. It doesn't specify whether one would be sharing the double bed with a gorgeous young woman, but the chances seem slim. £50 a week to share a bed with a strange man. That's fucked up.

So, given that I can stay in this room for a month or so (they said there's no time limit, but recent experience has made me wary of such statements), and ideally I'd like to leave the job at the same time as leaving the room, there's little point to staying in London.

It is definitely a nice city (there was a feature in yesterday's Guardian about London being one of the greenest 'mega-cities' in the world. There are apparently so many trees here that it technically counts as one of the country's largest privately-owned forests.), and I like living here. But I don't think I can justify the premium I'm paying for it.

I realise I'm vacillating terribly on this issue, because I'm an emotional cripple who is shit at making decisions. But the practical choice is to go.

Marcy Playground's debut album is still amazing. It's a shame that, aside from Sex & Candy, they never made much of an impact.

Thu, Jun. 9th, 2011, 01:31 pm

My phone just rang, the screen said it was my boss. I answered thinking "What have I done? I'm pretty sure I haven't done anything. I know I'm not meant to be at work for another few hours..."

The conversation went thusly:

Him: You know I wanted you to do Friday afternoon this week, instead of the evening?
Me: Yes [Thinking: "Shit. I completely forgot about that. And I've arranged to meet Jo in the afternoon. Bollocks."]
Him: Is it okay if we change back to the evening? Unless you've already made plans?
Me: No, that's okay, I can do that.

Sometimes things just work out!

Wed, Jun. 8th, 2011, 08:23 pm
"People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading." ~Logan Pearsall Smith

Forgot about 'Today Is A Good Day' reason #4: Books.

I bought That Mitchell & Webb Book from the 99p store. It's one of those light-amusement Christmas stocking kind of books which I probably wouldn't have spent £16 on, but for 99p it's a bit of a bargain.

I also bought:

Spontaneous Healing: How to Discover and Enhance your Body's Natural Ability to Maintain and Heal Itself by Andrew Weil. Natural healing, the placebo response, etc. is a subject I find incredibly interesting, and I enjoyed a previous book by Andrew Weil, so this was a must-buy.

Eat More, Weigh Less by Dean Ornish. The 'Ornish program' is often criticised by Tom Naughton and others in the low-carb/paleo community. I've read quite a bit of the low-carb literature and their arguments are persuasive, but one should always study opposing sides. Robert Anton Wilson recommended regularly reading a magazine you completely disagreed with - if you're a scientist and highly sceptical of the paranormal, read Fortean Times, if you're into psychic healing and astrology, read CSICOP - to avoid getting too entrenched in your particular world-view (reality tunnel).

The Last Generation: How Nature Will Take Her Revenge for Climate Change by Fred Pearce. I bought this for similar reasons to the above. I've recently read a few books by authors sceptical of the currently popular view that climate change is going to cause death and destruction on a huge scale. My own views have shifted over the past year or two as I've broadened my reading (from Al Gore and George Monbiot) to the point where I'm not overly concerned. The effects will probably be much milder than the 'worst case scenarios' the media likes to write about, and technology will probably advance to the point where those mild effects can very easily be dealt with. Fred Pearce has completely the opposite view, so reading him will be an interesting challenge to my current beliefs.

A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Morphic Resonance by Rupert Sheldrake. I saw Sheldrake speak in Greenwich a couple of years ago, and I've read about his theories before (possibly in a Robert Anton Wilson book, I forget) but I have yet to read the book. Morphic resonance is a fascinating theory, so I'm very much looking forward to reading what he has to say.

The price for all of these? £2.00. There's a rather lovely charity shop in Penge (where Liz lives) which sells paperbacks for 50p each, and hardbacks for £1.25. Every time I go in there they have at least two or three which catch my eye. I also bought Deus Ex from there on a previous visit. It's the St Christopher's Hospice shop, should anybody happen to wander through Penge. And yes, I think naming a hospice after the patron saint of travellers is a little insensitive as well.

Wed, Jun. 8th, 2011, 05:47 pm
Let's get ready to rumble

Today has been a pretty good day so far, for three reasons. I bought some RAM off eBay, installed it today, and now my computer is running infinitely more smoothly. It's rather impressive just what quadrupling your memory (from 512MB to 2GB: the maximum this motherboard supports) can do.

The second reason is that Sainsburys had a reduced pot of 'Taste The Difference' Madagascan Vanilla Cream. It's lovely. I've been putting a spoonful in every cup of tea as an alternative to milk, and just eating some straight from the pot. I have strawberries to eat it with later too.

The third - and best - reason is my website. I mentioned that a few weeks ago my best performing website pretty much fell out of Google completely. Multiple first page rankings turned into not a single page in the top 100, and traffic fell from ~70 per day to less than 7 per day.

Well, it's back. Of the keywords that I've been actively targeting, Market Samurai tells me that twelve are on Google's first page and another five are on the second or third page. After it dropped I undid the change which I think caused the drop, and then left it be, hoping that it would return one day. Similar drops have happened to peeps I know and it was sometimes a year or more before the site came back. I've been quite lucky (touch wood, cross my heart, and all that stuff) it seems.

So now I need to get back to working on it! I have a persistent headache (caused by copious beer drinking last night, mostly in Wetherspoons (Tuesday is steak night!)) which makes me very reluctant to work, but I really need to push this, make some cash, and quit the whole 'working to make other people rich' thing. I think I've got some aspirin somewhere...

Tue, Jun. 7th, 2011, 12:56 pm
It is just possible that the predators and parasites will actually win altogether

The end of The Rational Optimist is a warning of the possibility of regression. There are agents working against the force of historical progress, and there's a chance that these agents could win.
It is just possible that the predators and parasites will actually win altogether, or rather that ambitious ideological busybodies will succeed in shutting down the catallaxy [a Friedrich Hayek term meaning "The every-expanded possibility generated by a growing division of labour"] and crashing the world back into pre-industrial poverty some time during the coming century. There is even a new reason for such pessimism: the integrated nature of the world means that it may soon be possible to capture the entire world on behalf of a foolish idea, where before you could only capture a country, or perhaps if you were lucky an empire. (The great religions all needed empires within which to flourish and become powerful: Buddhism within the Mauryan and Chinese, Christianity within the Roman, Islam within the Arab.)

Take the twelfth century as an example of how close the world once came to turning its back on the catallaxy. In one fifty year period, between 1100 and 1150, three great nations shut down innovation, enterprise and freedom all at once. In Baghdad, the religious teacher Al-Ghazali almost single-handedly destroyed the tradition of rational enquiry in the Arab world and led a return to mysticism intolerant of new thinking. In Peking, Su-Song's astronomical clock, the 'cosmic engine', probably the most sophisticated mechanical device ever built at that date, was destroyed by a politician suspicious of novelty and (t)reason, setting the tone for the retreat to autarky and tradition that would be China's fate for centuries to come. In Paris, St Bernard of Clairvaux persecuted the scholar Peter Abelard. criticised the rational renaissance centred on the University of Paris and supported the disastrous fanaticism of the second crusade. Fortunately, the flames of free thought and reason and catallaxy were kept burning - in Italy and North Africa especially. But imagine if they had not been. Imagine if the entire world had turned its back on the catallaxy then. Imagine if the globalised world of the twenty-first century allows a globalised retreat from reason. It is a worrying thought. The wrong kind of chiefs, priests and thieves could yet snuff out future prosperity on earth. Already lords don boiler suits to destroy genetically modified crops, presidents scheme to prevent stem-cell research, prime ministers trample on habeas corpus using the excuse of terrorism, metastasising bureaucracies interfere with innovaion on behalf of reactionary pressure groups, superstitious creationists stop the teaching of good science, air-headed celebrities rail against free trade, mullahs inveigh against the empowerment of women, earnest princes lament the loss of old ways and pious bishops regret the coarsening effects of commerce. So far they are all sufficiently localised in their effects to achieve no more than limited pauses in the happy progress of the species, but could one of them go global?

I doubt it. It will be hard to snuff out the flame of innovation, because it is such an evolutionary, bottom-up phenomenon in such a networked world. However reactionary and cautious Europe and the Islamic world and perhaps even America become, China will surely now keep the torch of catallaxy alight, and India, and maybe Brazil, not to mention a host of smaller free cities and states. By 2050, China's economy may well be double the size of America's. The experiment will go on. So long as human exchange and specialisation are allowed to thrive somewhere, then culture evolves whether leaders help it or hinder it, and the result is that prosperity spreads, technology progresses, poverty declines, disease retreats, fecundity falls, happiness increases, violence atrophies, freedom grows, knowledge flourishes, the environment improves and wilderness expands. Said Lord Macaulay, 'We see in almost every part of the annals of mankind how the industry of individuals, struggling up against wars, taxes, famines, conflagrations, mischievous prohibitions, and more mischievous protections, creates faster than governments can squander, and repairs whatever invaders can destroy.'
I was reminded of this by a story on Boing Boing which symbioid linked to. A pupil was suspended by his school for posting an animation he'd made onto Youtube. A spokeswoman for the school board said that things which are "considered detrimental to the positive moral tone of the school" can be acted upon, even if they happen in the pupil's own time. Which is ridiculously vague, not to mention archaic. It's amazing that shit like this still happens today, but I suppose there will always be people afraid of modern times and wanting to drag the rest of us back to a landscape they find more comfortable. The trick is to ensure that these people are marginalised and kept away from any positions of power.

Sun, Jun. 5th, 2011, 03:18 am
So many people, so many stories, so much life to live

Well, that was an interesting Saturday. The shift itself was pretty dull, as the pub was very quiet, but the post-shift drink was interesting, as I got chatting to Ad - the boss.

I learnt the story behind the story of Stephen Lawrence, which was interesting, but the really interesting thing was the lives of Ad and his wife, Ab. He comes from the Netherlands, and I knew he used to work as a doorman there. But tonight he mentioned that he also worked for a while for a guy named Harry who 'collected money'. Ad was always a pretty big guy - and he studied Ju-Jitsu and other things - and Harry employed him to just stand at the door, while Harry collected the money. Ad said he clearly remembered one day when a 'customer' was protesting, begging, saying he couldn't afford to pay that week. Harry slammed a screwdriver through the guy's hand into the counter-top and said "Now call your fucking wife and get me my money."

Now obviously one is aware that these things happen. There are lots of true crime books and TV documentaries. But they still seem almost fictional. You read about them or watch them on TV, but they're not really real. Somebody recounting them as a simple past experience is a world away.

His wife used to be married to an arms dealer and drug smuggler, wanted by Interpol. She once found a car bomb attached to her car, meant for him. Again, this is something you see on TV, not something that the people in the flat downstairs were involved in. Also, her father worked for the Krays.

You can never say for sure, of course, but Ad doesn't strike me as the type to bullshit. I'm pretty sure that what he's saying is true, to the best of his memory.

For a while it made me wonder if I've lived at all. But then, what is living? Somebody who's seen front-line action, who's held a friend as their guts spilled out onto the floor and watched the life fade from their eyes, who's been woken by the sound of mortars tearing apart their camp, would regard Ad's stories as nothing. But surely we don't all have to fight a war to say that we've truly lived?

We have to find our own stories, and push our lives to our own extremes. Find your own path rather than looking wistfully at another's.

Ad said as much to me: "I hope that this [running a pub in South East London] isn't your final goal, because you're intelligent enough for far more."

It gets to me the amount of times people tell me that I'm very intelligent and could succeed at almost anything. Because the connotation is "So why haven't you? What the fuck is wrong with you?" And I can't answer either of those. I'm bumbling through life doing jobs which are apparently far beneath me because...because...because...

But anyway, tonight's main lesson was that stories surround us. Talking to the seemingly normal people you see every day will likely reveal amazing tales you never would have expected. So many people have so many stories to tell. It's really quite crazy.

Sat, Jun. 4th, 2011, 05:45 pm
"The twenty-first century will be a magnificent time to be alive."

I heard about the book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves when it came out last year, I forget where from (it's possible it was reviewed in New Scientist). It sounded incredibly interesting and I made a mental note to buy it sometime. The other week I found it in The Works for £2.99, bought a copy, and immediately began devouring it - putting aside the two books I'd been reading to do so.

The core idea is one that I haven't encountered before, at least not in the way Matt Ridley expresses it, but makes a lot of sense: the prime reason for the rise and subsequent dominance of humanity is exchange.
Somewhere in Africa more than 100,000 years ago, a phenomenon new to the planet was born. A Species began to add to its habits, generation by generation, without (much) changing its genes. What made this possible was exchange, the swapping of things and services between individuals. This gave the Species an external, collective intelligence far greater than anything it could hold in its admittedly capacious brain. Two individuals could each have two tools or two ideas while each knowing how to make only one. Ten individuals could know between them ten things, while each understanding one. In this way exchange encouraged specialisation, which further increased the number of different habits the Species could have, while shrinking the number of things that each individual knew how to make. Consumption could grow more diversified, while production grew more specialised.
I have, over the years, been somewhat addicted to doom-laden prognostications of humanity's fate. I own The End Of The World - The Science And Ethics Of Human Extinction along with several peak oil books, and Jared Diamond's Collapse, an exploration of several collapsed civilisations. I own the film What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire which discusses peak fossil fuels, climate change, and species extinction and the almost-inevitable demise of human civilisation as a result of these. I've downloaded or streamed over a dozen similar films, and spent many hours reading websites devoted to peak oil etc..

This massive dose of gloom was partially balanced by reading New Scientist fairly frequently, and having read large amounts of Robert Anton Wilson at an impressionable age ("An optimist can find ten solutions for every problem a pessimist finds," to paraphrase one of his lines, and he had a Julian Simon outlook on resource depletion). A childhood spent reading large amounts of science fiction also left me hungering for Mars colonies and interstellar travel, so I kept my fingers crossed that humanity might survive long enough to achieve this.

The Rational Optimist would have met with Robert Anton Wilson's approval, I'm sure. It prevents a solid case against the prevailing pessimism of our times, spending 359 pages fleshing out the H.G. Wells quote "It is the long ascent of the past that gives the lie to our despair."

I have a habit of making notes on my phone (I sometimes use bits of paper, but then I tend to lose them) when reading an interesting book. I made six such notes while reading J.K. Galbraith's The Affluent Society (a fascinating read), but made seventeen notes while reading The Rational Optimist. It has given me much food for thought.
If my great grand-daughter reads this book in 2100 I want her to know that I am acutely aware of the inequality of the world I inhabit, a world where I can worry about my weight and a restaurant owner can moan about the iniquity of importing green beans by air from Kenya in winter, while in Darfur a child's shrunken face is covered in flies, in Somalia a woman is stoned to death and in Afghanistan a lone American entrepreneur builds schools while his government drops bombs.

It is precisely this 'evitable' misery that is the reason for pressing on urgently with economic progress, innovation and change, the only known way of bringing the benefits of a rising living standard to many more people. It is precisely because there is so much poverty, hunger and illness that the world must be very careful not to get in the way of the things that have bettered so many lives already - the tools of trade, technology and trust, of specialisation and exchange. It is precisely because there is still so much further to go that those who offer counsels of despair or calls to slow down in the face of looming environmental disaster may be not only factually but morally wrong. (Emphasis mine)
The book could be subtitled "How Free Market Capitalism Will Continue To Save Us" and some may find its political ideology unpalatable (although he's certainly not a "the free market will solve everything" type, lauding the conversation movement amongst other things), but I would recommend reading it to anybody. Whether you agree with it or not, it will certainly make you think.

Fri, Jun. 3rd, 2011, 02:28 pm
Here we are, born to be kings, we're the princes of the universe

I moved into the pub on Wednesday - Liz and her sister (who works as a gardener and hence has her own van) helped me out, and her sister very generously refused the money I tried to give her. The room is ridiculously large (it contains two single beds, a wardrobe, a sofa, two tables, two chairs, and still has enough space to swing a pony). It also has four windows, so is lovely and light. I have my own bathroom (well, shower room) and toilet, which is good - sharing with the boss would have been very weird. There's no kitchen, unfortunately (obviously the boss has a kitchen in his flat, which is the next floor down, but he and his wife don't really want me using that), but I've been living off fruit, nuts, and takeaways for the past few weeks anyway so a little bit longer won't hurt (I bought some cod liver oil and multivitamin tablets the other day, just to try and avoid any serious deficiencies).

I discovered on Wednesday that there was no internet here, so I bought a mobile dongle and set it up today (seems to be working fine so far; we'll see how the data limit goes - I have to remember not to download/stream any films). Although some good could come of living without internet for a few weeks, on balance I'd rather not. Although the recent setback left me briefly despondent, I have a couple of ideas for websites and want to get started on them ASAP. Well, not ASAP obviously else I wouldn't be sitting here writing this, but as soon as I've caught up on emails, Facebook, and LJ anyway.

I very nearly bought a guitar and amp yesterday. Liz works in a guitar shop, and as I stayed at hers Wednesday night I walked her to work, then popped in and had a browse (along with three cups of tea). They've got a couple of second-hand Squire Stratocasters which look pretty nice. £79 each. I'm the kind of guy who'd rather have something a little more unusual, just for the sake of it (the Epiphone Les Paul Black Beauty has always appealed to me), but these are solid guitars for the price and I only need something cheap at the moment anyway.

Correction: I don't need any guitar at all. I quite want one, but technically I'm supposed to be saving money for somewhere to live. Although moving in here has taken the pressure off, it's not a long-term solution so I still need to be saving.

Also, spending a hundred quid on a guitar and amp when I still owe Saffron money would be somewhat selfish, bastardly, and irresponsible. So I shall probably avoid going into the shop again, thereby keeping well out of temptation's grasp.

Fri, May. 27th, 2011, 03:43 pm
What I wouldn't give for a Teasmaid

I really want a cup of tea but my flatmates are in the lounge/kitchen. I'm far too old to be hiding away, but I feel like my very presence offends them these days, and it's their flat, and I'm not paying them anything to be here, so I just do my best to stay out of their way/sight. My tea consumption has dropped massively as a result.

That's one major downside to having an open-plan kitchen/living room. While it's nice to turn cooking into a social activity, if you're sitting quietly watching a film then the noise of the kettle is quite disturbing. I suppose the ideal is to have a kitchen/diner and a separate living room, but this is London and nobody can afford that many rooms.

Another reason to stay in London is that I still owe Saffron some money. I was planning on paying her back soon, before the flatmates took their sudden dislike to my presence, but moving expenses have delayed it somewhat. Staying in London and working full-time will likely result in a much faster pay-back than moving to Campbeltown and relying on uncertain incomes from websites.

Staying in London is probably the responsible thing to do.

Fri, May. 27th, 2011, 02:25 pm
Darling you've got to let me know, should I stay or should I go?

I had another wee look at the flats in Campbeltown the other day, and one of them has gone down to £129 a month. That's insanely cheap. Even if bills come to £100 a month (which there's no way that they should) that's a lot cheaper than any London room.

So: a whole flat to myself in a small coastal town surrounded by gorgeous scenery, or a small room in the wonderful sprawling mess of a city that is London? Or, of course, I could go somewhere else. Leicester or Birmingham, maybe. But London vs Campbeltown feels like an important one to decide.

If I go to Campbeltown then I'll apply for university. So I'll have a year in Campbeltown enjoying the peace, building my business, and getting plenty of writing done. Then I'll have four years in Edinburgh (probably) living the student life - intelligent conversation, the joy of learning, alcohol consumption, and nubile young women - and finally getting a degree.

If I stay in London then I'll be working full-time, so will have a lot less time to spend on the business and writing. There will, however, be lots of stand-up comedy opportunities. Which, if I stay, I really have to pursue. I have a certain knack for it, and if I put the time in there's every chance I could take it somewhere, especially as two friends of mine are in touch with several comedy promoters.

The most important thing for me to do, whether I stay or go, is to sort my head out. London offers more formal therapeutic possibilities, while Campbeltown offers ocean, countryside, and free time. Possibly the perfect space in which to get my shit together. And possibly not. It's kind of hard to say without trying it.

I feel as though I might as well flip a coin. Which is terrible. I feel no emotional connection to the place which has been home for the past 5/6 years. Deciding whether to leave behind everything and everyone I know to move to the other end of the country makes me about as emotional as deciding whether to have fish or chicken for dinner.

I need to buy some boxes today and start packing shit up. I have to move next week. My boss offered me a room in the pub a while ago and I asked him last night if the offer was still open; he said he thought so but he'd check with his wife. Although I have just about enough cash to move next week, it would be handy to stay there for a few weeks and get more dosh together. And maybe in that time I can figure out the best course of action.

Sat, May. 21st, 2011, 01:19 pm

The flatmate woke me up today with a list of rooms he'd found on Gumtree. He'd even phoned a few of them. "You can go and see this one today, and this one tomorrow."

For fuck's sake, I know you want me gone, and I've agreed to go. I'm not some kind of retard who doesn't have a clue how to use Gumtree or newsagent's windows to find a room. I know I'm not wanted here, but it's rather impolite to rub that fact in my face.

Tue, May. 17th, 2011, 10:10 pm
I want to rip your clothes off and piss on your tits

I seem to be having a bit of a TV splurge at the moment. Splurges seem to fit my personality somehow. I don't particularly like the whole 2/3 hours of TV a night thing that 'normal' people do, but quite enjoy watching an entire TV series in one night once in a while.

Last night I watched The Walking Dead which has been in the back of my mind ever since I read a review somewhere many months ago. 'Twas a fine show, although at only six episodes it was strangely short for American TV (six episodes is fairly standard for a British series, however). Other than the main character's desire to wear his silly-looking sheriff hat all the time, it was excellent viewing and I look forward to series two.

Tonight I'm going for Misfits. I thoroughly enjoyed series one of Heroes (I never got around to watching the later series, although I may do one day) and Misfits is somewhat similar: take average present-day characters and give them superpowers. But the 'average present-day characters' of Misfits are teenage delinquents doing community service for assorted crimes. And their probation officer.

It feels a little cheap compared to Heroes (probably because it is: there's so much less money floating around British TV) but it's equally as engaging. I've only watched the first episode so far, but would definitely recommend it. It's got a kick-arse soundtrack as well.

And now I'm off to watch some more. TV rots your brain, and sometimes that's a good thing.

[Edit to add: Just finished the first series (6 episodes) and the verdict is: bloody brilliant. Well written, well acted, and very funny. And that finale! What a way to end a series! All episodes can be watched for free on Channel 4's website (may or may not work outside the UK) so check it out, why don't you?]

Tue, May. 17th, 2011, 03:44 pm
That's how it goes, everybody knows

What Everyone Knows May Be Changing is an interesting blog post on Tom Naughton's low-carb blog. It's about the way the benefits of a low-carb diet are increasingly making it into mainstream media, and may slowly be turning around the 'everyone knows' common knowledge that fat=bad.
"Fat is not the problem," says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases."
It's interesting to ponder how much we're influenced by 'everyone knows' kind of knowledge. In that post Tom talks about watching Seinfeld, and little things the characters say about nutrition. TV shows are such a large part of so many people's lives, the characters become almost a part of their communities, and their ideas and beliefs must certainly be shaped by what the characters say.

Most people are not skilled at thinking critically - most people seem barely aware of the concept, in fact - and so this 'everyone knows' knowledge becomes all they have. I've had several arguments with people over cannabis (not so much in recent years; I'm not sure if that's because common wisdom has changed, or because I've stopped engaging people on it) where I would summarise the multitude of studies which show it's relatively harmless and they would respond with variations of "No! It's bad for you!" without presenting any evidence at all. 'Everyone knows' cannabis is bad for you, therefore it must be.

I wonder if it occurs to the writers of popular TV shows how much power they have? You can reinforce and perpetuate the prevailing prejudices, or you can challenge them. Entertainment is your first priority, of course, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be aware of the influence you have, and make a conscious choice about which orthodoxies you promote.

Mon, May. 16th, 2011, 08:22 pm
Writer's Block: Cinco de Mayo

Do you consider yourself patriotic? If so, how do you express it?

Not at all. Patriotism seems ridiculous and idiotic to me. I simply can't understand the logic behind it, and I suspect patriotic feelings are inversely proportional to intelligence and rationality.

"I love this country!"
"Because I happened to be born here!"

I quite like living in the UK, but there's a very good chance that I would like living in the USA, or France, or Romania. Maybe I'd like living in those places more than I like living here, it's difficult to say without trying it.

There are good and bad things about every country, and the good things should be admired, celebrated, and - if appropriate - copied. That way all countries would progress and gradually become better places for their citizens to live (although I very much look forward to the day when countries no longer exist, all national boundaries are dismantled and we're all simply citizens of the world (and later citizens of the galaxy)). Patriotism gets in the way of that process, and hence is one of the forces preventing humanity from reaching its potential.

Fri, May. 13th, 2011, 01:37 pm
If they wanna get me, well, I got no choice

Something I did to my site just before the internet went down caused Google to take an intense dislike to it. Multiple page one rankings turned into not a single page in the top 100. I've gone from 80 visitors a day to 7 visitors a day. Which is a bit poo. I've undone the thing and now just have to wait and hope that things improve.

If things don't improve then that will be incredibly annoying. This site has been steadily improving for a while, and I was putting some real effort into it before Virgin let me down (hence the change I made which had unanticipated results). My plan was to build it up to a reasonable income level then use the profits to build a few other sites, then sell this one (it's in a niche I don't particularly like playing in any more...too scammy).

Oh well. C'est la vie. It was slightly crushing to log on after the extended break, wondering how much money I'd made, to find that everything had gone to shit. But that's just the way it goes sometimes.

I've never been entirely comfortable with Internet Marketing as a career anyway, but I'm getting really tired of serving intoxicating liquids to retards for a living, and I don't really know what else to do, at least in the shortish term. Do I wanna make tea at the BBC, do I wanna be, do I really wanna be a cop?

Fri, May. 13th, 2011, 01:43 am
Don't call me Mark Chapman

As people who keep up with my Facebook page will know, the internet's been down for about a week, because Virgin sucks. It's back up and running again now, and it seems like I haven't missed a great deal. But I'm probably not going to catch up with a week's worth of journal entries (got lots of hours at work over the weekend, then still have that whole "I need to find somewhere to live and, ideally, a job with more hours to pay for somewhere to live" thing going on) so if I have in fact missed something, point it out to me.

Lots of people wanted to give me money at work tonight. It was nice. I turned down a few, and still made about fifteen quid in tips. Which would be a shit night in some places I've worked, but this current place doesn't do food and is a bit of a shithole, so it's exceptionally good. It means I can buy some dinner tomorrow, anyway.

I watched The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford last night. Fine film. When it ended it left me with an overwhelming sense of the futility of existence and I cried for about ten minutes. Which, to be honest, is probably more about me than about the film but there you go.

I'm still in two minds about where I'm going to go when June comes around; whether to leave the festered ratmosphere (to quote Julian Cope) that is London or whether to just get a room fairly close by. I shall probably just leave it to fate. If I've made enough money to leave then I'll leave, and if not then I'll stay.

Wherever I end up sorting out some therapy should be a priority. I need to recapture the feeling that life's actually worth living.

Wed, May. 4th, 2011, 03:57 pm
Running the world is far too important a job to be left to politicians

symbioid mentioned recently that he found it hard to grok my political leanings, so I thought I'd have a stab at defining them (for my own amusement as much as for anyone else's enlightenment).

The reason my leanings are hard to grasp are because I try not to have leanings. As a wise man once said, "It is my firm belief that it is a mistake to hold firm beliefs." Or, to put it another way:
"You can predict, with about 99% accuracy, whether a given individual will believe Watson's story, irrespective of the evidence, or lack of evidence - just on the basis of that individual's political orientation. (Whatever you believe imprisons you.) The one percent whose reaction to Watson's charges cannot be predicted from their previous politics - the one individual in a hundred who would like to know what the hell is really going on - are the only persons on Earth not included in Gurdjeff's dismal declaration that this is a planet of conditioned robots."
~Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger Volume 1
I may not always be in that 1%, but I try my damnedest to be. It strikes me as the only sensible, rational way to be. I have ideas of how I think things should be, but I can't say with 100% certainty that my ideas are correct. My ideas are merely hypotheses, to be tested and accepted, refined, or discarded based on the evidence accrued from such testing.

Until relatively recently medicine was mostly dangerous bullshit. Bloodletting was extremely popular for a long time (George Washington, for instance, had around 6 pints of blood removed on the day of his death, as well as having various toxic substances poured into various orifices). Then came the rise of clinical trials, the application of the scientific method to medicine, and doctors started doing more good than harm.

Politics, to my mind, is still in its 'mostly dangerous bullshit' phase. Political debates are rather like doctors arguing over which is a more effective remedy for scurvy, bloodletting or arsenic enemas. The whole left-wing/right-wing/Republican/Democrat/Labour/Conservative is all just so much tribal bullshit.

I don't see that anybody should care which political party is responsible for a policy. The only question worth asking is whether or not a policy works.

I'd quite like to see a complete scrapping of the whole party political system. It's outlived its usefulness and is far too prone to corruption (both by lobbyists of various kinds and by personal ideologies). We merely need to define our goals and then use Evidence-Based Policy to meet those goals. Instead of electing a 'representative' who is often anything but, we can engage in a periodic re-examination of our goals, and of the new evidence regarding the most effective ways to achieve those goals.

Of course this isn't likely to happen any time soon, but a gradual move away from partisan 'sports fan' politics and towards a respect for evidence is a worthy thing to push for.

[Edit to add: This letter to the editor (pdf) makes the case rather well:
Ms. Schorr’s advocacy of innovative programs without definitive evaluations is the approach U.S. social policy has largely followed, with little to show. New programs, introduced with fanfare as able to produce dramatic gains, have come and gone, with no one knowing for sure which were effective, and minimal progress being made [...] Randomized trials offer a way to end this spinning of wheels.

Fri, Apr. 29th, 2011, 02:19 pm
Nice day for a white wedding

I just popped into the kitchen/living room (decided on Pot Noodle & tea for breakfast; takeaway for dinner) and the flatmates are watching the news, which was showing coverage of some people in Wales watching the wedding. Not coverage of the wedding, coverage of people watching the wedding. The most pointless bit of television since Big Brother? I think so.

The newsreader then spoke briefly about the devastation in the southern US, mentioned the protests in Syria and Bristol almost in the same breath, then cheerfully said "And now back to our main story..." Good to see we have our priorities sorted.

I really don't understand why anybody cares. I wish the best for any couple who get married, but unless I know them I don't really give a shit. One of the Welsh women was crying "It's magical! It's magical!" The last wedding I went to - the druid ceremony on a hill - was rather magical (although that would never be my first choice of words to describe anything) but watching an overprivileged inbred marry an overpriviliged woman with seemingly reasonable genes (at least Kate doesn't look inbred like William does) on the telly really isn't the same.

But whatever. If people love it then let them love it. They're not harming me. Devoting time and energy to ranting about it makes me far more ridiculous than those who are enjoying it.

[Edit to add: The flatmates went out again, so I popped the pork joint in the oven. Just half a kilo of pork this time; I decided that those whole kilos were a little too much. A pound of meat is a much more sensible number.]

Fri, Apr. 29th, 2011, 01:11 pm
In Campbeltown, I'll meet you by the underground

I feel rather tired today, despite sleeping for over nine hours. It might be because I haven't eaten in almost forty hours. I plan on rectifying that soon, though. I'm not sure whether to cook or get takeaway. The flatmates were out, and I thought they were going to be out all day, but they've just arrived back. I kind of feel as though I shouldn't cook when they're here, because it bothers them, so I tend to buy far more takeaways than is strictly healthy.

I'm really looking forward to getting 'sorted'. Having a full-time job which I don't hate, living somewhere I don't feel 'in the way', eating a healthy primal-type diet, exercising regularly. Such a lifestyle won't solve all of my problems, but it really can't hurt.

I was browsing Zoopla for places to rent in Scotland yesterday and I found a couple of one-bedroom flats in Campbeltown for £200 a month. Not only is that incredibly cheap, but the advert says:
1. No Deposit Required We fully understand how difficult it is to get your hands on one month's rent and one month's deposit all in one go. Therefore we have some helpful packages where you can move in without paying a lump sum and accrue a deposit or even bypass the whole deposit issue altogether subject to meeting certain conditions and status.

2. We Accept Dss If you are unemployed or in receipt of incapacity benefit then we want to hear from you. Our doors are wide open and we do not discriminate simply because you are out of work or unable to work. We believe that everyone deserves a home.

3. A Credit Check Fail Does Not Mean It Is All Over If you do fail a credit check performed by us then there are many ways round this issue. We accept guarantors, rental payments well in advance or taking a sensible view on the situation. We own all our properties that we let so we have full discretion over every tenancy. When you speak to us you are speaking directly to the landlord.

4. Make Us An Offer On Our Rental Price Our rental prices are not set in stone. If you see something you like but can't afford the rent simply make us an offer. The worst that can happen is we say no. That's it. If we're feeling generous and you've timed it right you never know, you might just save yourself hundreds of pounds off your annual rental bill!
Not your typical landlord it seems! The downside here is that Campbeltown is a tiny place (not much over 5,000 people) in a remote part of Scotland. But it might be cool. I could 'detox' from London for a while, work on the business (not sure if high-speed broadband will be available, mind you), get plenty of hiking done, and apply for university.

Campbeltown looks nice, too. It has a higher population than many of the towns I lived in growing up, is coastal, doesn't appear to be too cold (by Scottish standards, at least)... It is remote, but there are several flights a day between Campbeltown airport (which has one of Europe's largest runways, due to being an old RAF base) and Glasgow.

The problem of getting me - and my stuff - all the way up there, and the money that would take, will probably mean that I don't move there in June, but there's a slight chance. I could probably box my stuff up and leave it here for a little while, I don't think they have any intention of actually using this room for anything once I've gone.

Something to ponder, anyway. But for now I should eat and shower and all that groovy stuff one does before work.

Thu, Apr. 21st, 2011, 12:56 pm
Writer's Block: Available: 3 bedroom, 2 bath, with hot and cold running chills

Would you live in the perfect house or apartment rent-free if you found out a brutal murder had taken place there and it was rumored to be haunted? Why or why not?

This question is nonsense. The perfect house would, by definition, be haunted by the victims of previous brutal murders.

Wed, Apr. 20th, 2011, 05:22 pm
You gotta fight for your right to parley

For over 24 hours now Saffron & other peeps have been occupying the corridor outside Professor Finkelstein's office, demanding that the closure of the single honours philosophy course be put on the agenda for the academic planning meeting on May 5th.

The university attempted to quietly close the program down, stating that they've made no decision over its long-term future. But the decision to not let anybody onto single honours philosophy in 2011/2012 is a pretty clear signal of their intentions. Hence the campaign to make some noise, to go out with a bang, not a whimper. Or, of course, to not go out at all.

I really admire all those involved. I am somewhat worried that Saffron is sacrificing her future for this, though. Her dissertation is due in less than two weeks, and I don't imagine she's getting much work done in that corridor. Also, if things go badly and the university calls the police in, that means arrests for aggravated trespass. Any kind of conviction, possibly even just an arrest, would harm Saffron's chances of continuing with the Philosophy In Schools project which she's invested so much into.

But I suppose principles only become real when upholding them is risky. Anybody can pay lip-service to 'doing the right thing' but making sacrifices and taking risks is a whole other matter.

Have you signed the petition yet? Noam Chomsky has.

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