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Captain's Blog

June 2002 | July 2002

May: 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Captain's Blog - 4 May 2002

So we had this election. The papers are screaming about the rise of the racist right, as they have been since Le Pen shook up Europe with his second place in the running for French President, in the process doing more to combat voter apathy than anyone in history. I guess it sells papers and keeps journalists in pub money.

It's also nonsense. Burnley may have elected three, count 'em, three British National Party councillors, but Burnley isn't any more racist than anywhere else. I worked there today and didn't see the first sign of racism. The only graffiti was 'no to the nazis' and the shifty eyes and skinheads belonged to the tv cameramen.

Burnley didn't vote BNP because the people agree with their policies. They don't want to ship all the Asians back home and turn England into a whiter than white zone. There's obviously a problem that the major parties are ignoring entirely, thus giving the extremists free reign to exploit whatever they can.

I'd guess that it's a similar problem to Halifax where we have a Council-created race problem. Our large population of Pakistanis can be vaguely divided up into two categories: those who do and those who don't. These are the same categories you'll see in any racial group but the Pakistanis who don't are quite willing to cry race at every turn. The Council throws money at them, hoping they'll shut up, but, shock horror, they find that they like this and ask for more.

I can understand people getting fed up with it. Only the council can do something about their own policies and now there are three racists on Burnley's council who will discriminate for the white English majority instead of against. They have no power to do anything except stand up and say things that the council don't want said, and that can only be good in my book.

Closer to home, I've been running an experiment in computer/user interaction. The impetus was this website. Go and take their quiz, then read on with an open mind. It may well shake your world.

What I've done are things that would have made me cringe, had I not read about the reasons why they make total sense. I'm starting to get very used to it, suggesting the experiment is mostly a success. You may want to try playing around with stuff yourselves.

Here's what I've found so far. First off, I moved my main windows taskbar to the right hand edge of the screen. That means the Start button is now at the top right but I just press the Win key anyway, so that's not a problem. I had to stretch it out pretty wide so that I could read enough of what was in each open window. It's now about two inches wide on my 21" screen.

As the screen is landscape format, it takes a less important chunk of usable screen space than the bottom, but I still felt it was way too much, so I set it to auto hide. Now I have maximum usable screen space but still a large taskbar, easily large enough to whip over to the right and right-click to vertically tile. I do that a LOT and always found it awkward with the taskbar at the bottom because there was no free space once I'd opened up six or eight windows. Now it's easy. And talking of multiple windows, I can now have twenty windows open and still see quickly what they all are. I have fourteen open right now and I can navigate very quickly.

I'm an Office toolbar user too, and I'm used to having that on the right hand edge of the screen. I have quite a lot of stuff there that I use regularly. I spent a while with it as a square at the bottom right of the screen but found that it interfered with scroll bars. Now I'm finally happy with it. I've copied the shortcuts to the Quick Launch toolbar which is painful to use when the taskbar is at the bottom of the screen but is superb when it's at the right. My twenty icons fit on three rows and take up effectively no space.

I've always hated the Quick Launch toolbar but now I'm finding it invaluable, so much so that I'm using the Links toolbar too. All of this still surprises me but I'm getting used to it very fast. More later.

Working from home means that I've had much more chance to read lately than I've been able to for some time. Last night I finished off Anthony Rud's The Stuffed Men, which I've read a few times before but always enjoy. It's an old weird menace tale that is hugely tacky and literarily worthless but is still great fun. I've never been able to find out anything about it until very recently, so thank you kindly to Jess Nevins and his/her Pulp and Adventure Heroes of the Pre-War Years for the best information yet.

Now, of course, I have to find the other novels. I refuse to check ABEBooks until I have money on my credit card. I have Paul Biegel children's novels to buy there too. I'm fighting the urge well.

On an entirely different level, I've read a few shorter pieces over the last few days. Ayn Rand's Anthem is something that I'd only heard about because of various Rush songs and all the fascist brouhaha that went on. Now I've read it I can see that it isn't fascist in the slightest though it is entirely anti-communist. It's a futuristic long story that had me mentally shouting YES! YES! It starts strangely confusing because one person tells the story from his own viewpoint but he uses the first person plural. Read it and you'll see why.

Another writer I've never read is Terry Pratchett, though for good reason. He wrote a superb review of William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland in Horror: 100 Best Books and I realised that if I read one of his novels I would just have to buy all the rest too. Finances declared otherwise so I've picked them up slowly at charity shops and deliberately not read them. Now I have all 26 Discworld novels in text format, I can get on with them and I couldn't resist starting with a short story called 'Troll Bridge'. It just confirms that I need to set aside a week or so to do nothing but read Pratchett.

The other book I've finished this week is Spider Robinson's Mindkiller, which is a serious sf novel quite unlike the Callahan's Crosstime Saloon stories of his that I'm used to. It has very interesting things to say about addiction and, while I didn't fall for all the twists, it kept me guessing up until the end. Highly recommended.

Captain's Blog - 5 May 2002

It's well known that there is almost no decent music on British radio, so I tend to listen (when I get round to it) to a couple of online stations. The bizarrely named Evil Dildo provides a modern alternative, while Morning Becomes Eclectic is everything a radio show should be. It's broadcast on KCRW, a community service of Santa Monica College, and plays a major variety of styles.

The one decent show left over here has been broadcast by John Peel for more years than I'd like to comfortably imagine. I'll never forget the time he played grindcore next to Roy Orbison. Now there's a second show that may just need adding to the list. Late Junction broadcasts from Radio 3, the BBC's classical station, and it goes out every night. More when I hear it.

Talking about music, I've been a metalhead since 1984 and, along with every other metalhead who gave up on Kerrang! magazine when it went indie, I thought metal was dead and buried. Not true. It may have mutated into nu-metal in the public's eye, and nu-metal can work on occasion, but there are other more effective mutations too that I'm thoroughly enjoying. If you like your metal without rap, check out Napalm Records out of Austria. Metal is alive and well in Northern Europe and it isn't all black/death metal. There are some fascinating blends of genre that I'm falling in love with.

Ever heard of choral metal? I have no clue what it's really called but it's a mixture of solid heavy metal with integral choirs that do far more than just sing backup. There are often multiple vocalists singing in different styles, often a hoarse death metal growl, an ethereal female contrast and a more traditional metal vocal too.

I've been hooked on Therion for some time, especially albums like Vovin, Deggial and Theli. Now I've discovered what has to be one of my favourite albums of all time, Tristania's World of Glass. Tristania play choral metal mixed with the sort of electronica that Paradise Lost brought in with their One Second album. I've listened to it almost solidly for a couple of weeks now.

When I'm not enjoying Tristania yet again, I've been listening to Lake of Sorrow by Sins of Thy Beloved, which mixes its metal with a huge amount of classical violin. Talking of classical, Pianissimo III by Suzanne Ciani is haunting contemporary solo piano pieces, that prove that people can still write classical music nowadays that isn't atonal.

On the book front, James Bibby's Ronan's Revenge is hilarious. Ronan the Barbarian, in his third outing, is chased by genetically modified cobrats and the Assassin's Guild, and must survive long enough to battle Mitosin and Meiosin, two mad dwarf scientists. It's the third of three Ronan books, complete with more bad puns per square inch than I've seen in years. Now, of course, I'll have to find books one and two.

Reading up on strange legal battles took me to the site of Terri Welles, the Playmate of the Year for 1981, who has been fighting to be able to use the words 'Playboy' and 'Playmate' in meta tags on her website. She finally won her four year battle in February. Now I need to pinch some of her code. She has a very nice, erm, main page.

And talking of code, I'm dabbling more and more into DHTML. When I have five minutes free, I want to really start fiddling around with DHTML and CSS. I've found a Web Development area on the O'Reilly Network that looks thoroughly useful. If I combine this with the DHTML Black Book that NewsShark so kindly delivered to me then I should be able to get somewhere.

Captain's Blog - 6 May 2002

Anyone even vaguely interested in what I'm doing for a living now can see it in action. We've landed a contract with a firm who have an existing website that is not up to scratch. My job is to create a better one so I've redesigned the look and feel and recoded the front page. The next stage is to contact the firm in question tomorrow and find out if it's what they're looking for. I'll make any changes they require and set up the remaining pages. Once that's been approved the whole site goes live at their new registered domain name and we get paid.

Here's the old site and here's my redesigned version. When everything's okayed it'll go live here.

That's the new web job anyway, which is highly rewarding work based from home. As of tomorrow morning, I'll be back on the 7.07 am train to Manchester for at least six weeks more contract-based IT support work. At least I'll be sure of my bills being paid and I'll get through a lot more tech training manuals on the train. Always find the positive side.

I've had a problem with democracy for some time. I look back at history and see concepts of government have their time and then be consigned to oblivion by the next concept to come along. I can't help but wonder what's going to consign democracy to oblivion. It will be interesting to find out.

Certainly it's not perfect, after all I am a firm believer that the majority is NOT always right, and in fact rarely is. If the majority was always right, Westlife would be musicians. But as much as it isn't perfect, it's all that we have. I can't see a better solution out there.

On paper, communism is perfect, but it doesn't account for a little thing called human nature. If you get one abuser of the system then the entire system collapses. Not a way to keep your country stable. That leaves benign dictatorship, which works a treat. Unfortunately today's benign dictator will quite possibly give way to tomorrow's evil dictator and everything goes pear-shaped without any undo button.

So, until something better comes up, we have democracy. What's strangest of all is that it seems to me that few people actually understand how democracy works. Those three BNP councillors came back up again today, from the viewpoint that sees all members of the BNP as fascist thugs with criminal records. This may be accurate but it's entirely not the point.

It's the argument taken by the leader of Burnley Council, of the Labour Party, who refuses to work with these newcomers. Democracy is about the majority and if the majority vote you in, then you're in. It doesn't matter if you're Joe Stalin or Adolf Hitler, you're voted in. Sinn Fein have MPs eligible to sit in the House of Commons and they're bloody terrorists. Why should we suddenly get upset about three BNP councillors elected with a bigger mandate (a 63% turnout) than any other councillor there.

If you're a councillor who disagrees with them, then vote against. If they incite a riot or commit something else categorised as a crime, then lock them up. If they actually sit there and represent the views of the constituency that elected them, then what the hell's wrong? Or is that what people are really scared of? Being honest?

In a country run by Tony Blair and his troop of fascist thugs who have a spin for everything, only people as extreme as the BNP (or Ken Livingstone or Ray Mallon or...) are going to stand up and be counted. Maybe the rosy spectacles that Blair and his cronies have manoeuvred into place over the collective vision of the nation will fall away and we'll see things as they really are. Yeah, that would be scary to the guys at the top.

For my part, I'd like to salute every single winner in Thursday's elections who didn't stand for any one of the major parties, regardless of their manifestos. Congratulations to the BNP and best of luck to you. Congratulations to new mayors Ray Mallon and Hartlepool football team's mascot. Congratulations to the Lewisham Local Education Action by Parents Party who now have a council seat.

Especially congratulations to the people of Wyre Forest who, through the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern, have not only already tackled local and governmental abuse of their hospital by electing a former consultant to Parliament by a massive majority, but have now taken a clear majority of their local council.

This is democracy in action and it's truly wonderful. May you all use your new found voices to open the eyes of the all-powerful majority.

Captain's Blog - 7 May 2002

I started this blog creature as an experiment. I enjoy The Open Diary but I couldn't ever seem to be a diarist. I was always just someone who enjoyed the challenge of leaving literary masterpieces on people's diaries in four hundred characters or less. The fringes for me, as always. What started it really was the expansion of my personal site, The Poe Station, that I set myself as a target earlier in the year. I have all sorts of sitelets here dealing with this or that, but not one that dealt with everything all at once. So here it is. Let's see how long it lasts.

It does bode well as I've written far more than I expected to so far. Of course, tonight I'm going to buck my own trend, as I plan on sinking into the arms of the Sandman at the obscenely early hour of eight in the evening. My excuse? About fifty minutes of sleep last night. No, cast those visions out, as I haven't been a debauched drinker for a number of years. To be frank, I was never a debauched drinker anyway but I have put my share of the demon booze away in my time. Now my body is a temple and, of course, the vestal virgins are welcome to pop in any time. Under the watchful eye of my good lady, of course.

No, I spent last night typing up an essay for my mother. She's on the last year of a local history degree and her latest research project had to be in by today. She's done the work, which mainly consists of a huge amount of heavy reading, but she hadn't put pen to paper. And yes, I literally mean pen to paper, as she still hasn't found the mindset to use a word processing package. Enter moi, to type up all that she wrote. She finished proofing my print at around five to six this morning, around an hour before I was due on the westbound train to work. The romance of getting old, huh?

So now it's many hours of sweet sweet slumber before tomorrow's meeting with the taxman. I can't wait.

In other news, I registered SubmitWolf Pro, a search engine submission tool, for use with my work with Telco Web Ltd and downloaded the shareware version of Axialis Professional Screen Saver Producer, which does exactly what you think it does and may just add another string to my bow. I like strings. Lots of them. Especially when they're playing Sam Barber's Adagio for Strings as a quartet. Anyway, more about those soon, I'm sure.

I'm reading Sax Rohmer's The Slaves of Sumuru. I can't keep away from good old fashioned pulp fiction and there was no way I could have stayed awake reading Linux text books on the train. I have a sneaking feeling that I should have read Sinister Madonna first but I'll get over it. So I'm backwards. Sue me.

Oh, and the latest movie news from Phoenix is that Spiderman is pretty damn good. We Brits have to wait another month or so for release. The only movie I've seen lately is a downloadable (warning: huge) animated film from Ericsson that I read about at Jeff Harrow's essential The Harrow Technology Report, formerly The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing when it was hosted by Compaq. It's called Warriors of the Net, which is incredibly cheesy but I'm forgiving because the movie's fun. It follows a bunch of data packets as they head off round the net to get information. It's far more riveting than it sounds, even if you're not a geek.

Now, time for bed, said Zebedee.

Captain's Blog - 8 May 2002

Oh, doesn't it feel good when you wake up naturally after a long, long night of sleep? Well that's the last one for a while. Sob.

I read on the BBC, possibly the world's best news site with one of the worst search facilities, that coincidence can be far more important than the pages of Reader's Digest. It can be intensely funny, of course, but it can become deadly serious too.

I've heard Slipknot, the US nu-metal band who try (and at least partially succeed) to be the scariest band in the world. They are loud, noisy, fast and sometimes even listenable to. Naturally their legions of young fans want to check out their website, which surprisingly enough does not exist at slipknot.com (or at least not yet) but at Roadrunner, their record label. The result is that many fans are using the search engines and finding The Knitting and Crochet Guild instead. They have a quarterly magazine of long standing called SlipKnot, you see. Quite how people can mistake the two is not something I can easily see but regardless, the good ladies are receiving a lot of stupid mail. It's easy to just press the delete key but if the numbers get big enough this could be a major problem.

What has become far more of a major problem already is the battle over katie.com. Katie.com is a book, published by Penguin, detailing events in the life of a young girl named Katie who was assaulted by a paedophile that she met in an internet chat room. That she has been able to write this book, publicise it, appear on Oprah, and raise the awareness level of other potential victims deserves a large amount of respect. However there's one problem. Katie's website is situated at katiet.com not katie.com. The domain name of katie.com belongs to a different lady named Katie who didn't just own it before the book came out but even before the events detailed in the book took place. Penguin discounted girl.com as a title, because they found that it was a porn site, but somehow didn't discount katie.com that didn't belong to them.

What makes this even more dangerous is that Katie Jones, who owns katie.com, ran it as a personal site with contact information and pictures of her infant son. She also works in the chatroom business and owns UKChat. It's pretty obvious that her life and her business have been seriously impacted by this, but Penguin refuse to even apologise. As Katie Jones is not financially able to pursue this matter in the courts, Penguin are riding roughshod over her. The whole situation is an obscene testament to the way that justice is not available to those who can't afford to ask for it. I'll be keeping an eye on this case for sure.

Captain's Blog - 9 May 2002

It's two minutes to midnight, to quote the immortal Iron Maiden, though fortunately not in the same sense they were using it. Time for a quick entry before sleep.

I should have been here long ago but I've been too busy browsing, something I very rarely do. I may spend a large amount of my time online but I usually know where I want to go and what I want to do when I get there. Just surfing around finding cool stuff is not something I do often. This evening, however, Dan and I found plenty of that cool stuff while sampling the delights of yoghurt apparently likely to give me weird dreams. More tomorrow when I can be bothered to post links for antique computers and converted toilets and potentially cool homes of free thought. Also more tomorrow on whether my dreams were in fact weird ones or whether I even remember them.

For now, you could download some classic tv theme tunes from some guy named Adrian. I went for Hill Street Blues and The Magic Roundabout. There's a QuickTime (spit) download of the Secret Tournament Nike ad for the World Cup which looks immensely cool, even though I didn't recognise a single participant. Not only that but I'm almost convinced that the host isn't Eric Cantona but Alexei Sayle. Hopefully my current success at avoiding the majority of modern popular culture will extend in large part to the summer's football. I mean, go England, but shrug.

As far as news goes, Stephen Byers is still, amazingly, employed as a minister in Her Majesty's government. It is entirely possible that nobody in the history of Parliament has ever been caught quite so red-handed or quite so often in telling such a blatant series of lies to the House. Not only that, but while his story is now diametrically opposed to previously, he claims he never misled anyone. Black is white, obviously. Now convince me that government is accountable...

Captain's Blog - 10 May 2002

I'm starting to get used to this blog concept. I'm even starting to believe that it might solve a web problem that Dan and I have been working towards for a few years. We both visit a lot of sites on the web and we both find a lot of useful pages that we bookmark and sometimes even revisit. There's a standard model for links pages and that's a bunch of links on a page. That's it. Not very sophisticated, given that the web has been developing its technology for the last ten years. OK, we can use DHTML to make categorisation easier, but it's not much of a help given that the biggest problem is that nobody updates their links pages more than once in a blue moon. Maybe this blog can prove to be the answer. How about my links page, The Poe Network, becomes just the places I visit frequently or use for common reference? Then all the oddments that never fit in any of those categories anyway can be safely filed away in the text of these daily gobbets. If I want to find them I can use a cgi search script or just plug in the Google API. More when I actually give this a try.

Talking of links, I promised a bunch of them yesterday, but first a brief musical interlude. I'm listening to Matmos and their rather strange album called A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure which is electronica mostly constructed out of sound outtakes from real plastic surgery operations. It sounds disgusting but isn't. There are some bizarre noises that make for some bizarre rhythms, especially in Ur Tchun Tan Tse Qi which features something that sounds like an acupuncturist on acid. All in all it's far more accessible than you'd think. If you get the chance check out their version of Disco Hospital on the California Rhinoplasty EP.

And back to the links. Some soul was kind enough to leave a copy of the internet section of The Guardian on the train for me to peruse. Some of it was blatant nonsense but there were some fascinating articles and some even more fascinating links. After all the best place to find out about the internet is the internet.

If you feel bored this weekend, how about browsing a chromosome or three at Ensembl which is the home of the Human Genome Project. Not only can you browse through Human v.5.28.1, but there's Zebrafish v.5.06.1 and even Fly v.5.1.1. The speed is notably excellent. ThoughtCrime contains all sorts of bizarre non fiction including Celia Green's The Human Invasion, which apparently is 'a book people have been ignoring for decades', possibly because we've never heard of it. I'll definitely be giving it a looksee at least.

Artist Lucy Kimbell came up with a concept that looks incredibly stupid at first glance but refuses to let go of your brain. Maybe it's the most astute thing anyone's ever done this year. Essentially she's constructed a weekly index called the LIX, which she tracks alongside the FTSE 500 and the British temperature. The LIX is nothing more than her performance, which goes up in creative or orgasmic moments, or because viewers vote it so, and down when bad dreams strike. Definitely one to keep my eyes on. At least I will do if it continues to exist. It was fine yesterday but seems to have vanished today.

LIX may be stupid or it may not, but online bank Egg have given us a stunner in the annals of blatant stupidity. They've launched a potentially highly useful service called Egg Pay which enables us to e-mail money to each other. The catch is that they didn't actually check the domain registries to see if the most logical domains were available. Thus, www.eggpay.co.uk is not Egg Pay, and neither is www.eggpay.com. Apparently eggpay.net is still for sale too. And in case you're wondering, the catchy url you're supposed to remember is http://new.egg.com/eggpay/. Yeah. It reminds me of the Halifax Bank's new car insurance company called esure. They did register a domain name, and the right one too, but unfortunately the domain registration lapsed just as they launched a major television advertising blitz. To make matters worse, it had been registered on one employee's private credit card and that employee was on holiday. Lessons to be learned, to be sure.

On the antique computer front, I was a Acorn BBC Model B user from the very early 1980s while Dan was starting the same learning curve on the Dragon 32. We still have old computers from the days when you measured your RAM in kilobytes not megabytes, typed your programs in from listings magazines and you hadn't heard of hard drives. We spent quite some time wandering through a few of these sites: Old-Computers.com and Old Computer Mags especially. We were both stunned at Brian's Collection that puts mine to absolute shame.

Interesting news today. Stephen Byers remains in office, prompting me to either believe that it's been April Fool's Day for the last few months or that Byers has well hidden photos of Tony Blair molesting a dead sheep. Also, in a shock switch of allegiance, a number of key alternative comedians of the anti-Thatcher school are featuring in a save the pound video. Labour backbenchers feature alongside Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves and Rik Mayall as Adolf Hitler, in a blast against the mainstream Blairite pro-Euro policies. The more the merrier.

On a more serious note it's good to see a high-profile murder conviction upheld by modern scientific method rather than thrown out. James Hanratty claimed innocence up until his hanging, but then so would most people, I'm sure. His family have carried the flame for the last forty years but now DNA testing shows that the right man was hanged.

Also, it's been interesting to see the continual labelling of assassinated Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn as a Nazi. Maybe it's this year's trend in the media. The rise of the right has become such a touchpaper issue that it's wheeled out at every possible moment. Sure, Fortuyn wanted to close his country's borders to further mass immigration but he was openly gay, almost a feminist and entirely for the legalisation of drugs. That doesn't sound particularly Nazi to me. Speaking up about flaws in the way we deal with race and immigration does not make someone a Nazi. Controlling the media and dictating morals does. Take a wild guess as to which government currently fits that bill.

Captain's Blog - 11 May 2002

Finally I have money in the bank. Finally I can resume my ongoing clearance of debt. The numbers are too large though I hacked them down considerably last year. I hope to obliterate them completely this year, maybe even in a few months. Much of this is bad financial management on my part, but mostly it was due to a fundamental mistake I made when I started my business in 1999. I knew I didn't want to learn the tax system, so I hired an accountant to do all of that side of things for me. I sent him all the information he would need and I expected to be told who to pay, when and how big the cheque should be. A year after sacking him, I'm still catching up. Soon, though, soon.

Whenever this happens I tend to hit a charity shop and blitz through their book section. That way I can gorge myself on spending money after a long gap but also spend almost nothing. I picked up a varied selection this time: fantasy (Diana L Paxson's The White Raven), horror/thriller (Archie Roy's The Sable Night), and general fiction (Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City). There's popular non fiction (Gerald Durrell's Three Singles to Adventure), children's fiction (Joan Aiken's Midnight is a Place) and a horror collection (Vincent Price's The Price of Fear, complete with the severed head of Mr Price himself mounted on a plaque). Finally there's an entry in the Internet Detectives children's series. This one's called System Crash and should be interesting to me both as a web designer and as a writer of children's fiction. More on that one later, I'm sure.

All of this set me back �3.00 and that was after following my policy of always giving extra when books are priced cheaply, but to leave without a purchase if they're not. Call it my tiny contribution to the cause of consumer power. I'll happily support your charity if you don't rip me off.

Before I get down to some serious work today, I've discovered a potentially addictive new online game called Collapse! that you can find at Shockwave.com. I'm impressed and I'll certainly be back for more. After a couple of games, my hiscore is 124,492 on level 9.

Right now my game of choice is the Internet Reversi that comes with Windows XP. I have one machine here running XP as an ongoing experiment and I very much like the way I can click two buttons and be playing a real person. There's no chatroom idiocy to worry about, I'll be playing someone who knows what they're doing and I can be in and out in five minutes. I'm good enough to expect to always win at reversi but I'm very aware that I rarely get to play anyone of my level. Now I'm playing people who are pretty much of my level or above it and I'm getting used to losing games accordingly, but finally I'm able to improve my strategy for the first time in years.

I try to check the news sites as often as possible, especially BBC News. They have the best global coverage that I've found. CNN is good too but not as good. Today I discover that my current ISP, Blueyonder have been issued with a Usenet Death Penalty for their failure to handle the spam heading through their servers out to the net at large. This means that we can't post to newsgroups until the UDP is relinquished. While at the moment I access some newsgroups but rarely post, I do intend to become more active in that area. Let's hope Blueyonder get their act together.

I hear that the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification, our national censor) has ordered a cut to the upcoming Star Wars movie Attack of the Clones. In order to receive its PG certificate they require that a one second clip of a headbutt be removed. How stupid and pointless can they be? It's obviously fine to shoot people but not to show a headbutt. And I thought the BBFC had found a little reality after their extreme antics got given the double whammy of open trade with Europe and the ease of buying DVDs from the US at Amazon.com.

Arguably even more stupid is the petition apparently doing the rounds in protest at director Peter Jackson's choice of title for the second Lord of the Rings film. Apparently his selection of The Two Towers is nothing to do with the fact that it's the title of the original book but is purely a callous and calculated attempt to capitalise on the suffering caused by the terrorist attacks of 11th September. Some people need to rejoin the planet.

Captain's Blog - 12 May 2002

Before I get down to more work, more news. There's plenty on the Marseillaise today. The French cup final was delayed because fans of the Corsican team Bastia booed the French national anthem. President Jacques Chirac stormed out of the presidential box and refused to let the game start until a full apology was given. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder got upset yesterday at the rise of the extreme right in Europe, but is aware that this is partly caused by the lack of communication from the European Commission and the people they supposedly represent. He sees the surge in the extreme right wing vote as a call to renationalise countries and pull back from European integration. Certainly the Corsicans are fed up with France and that's exactly why they booed the Marseillaise.

The French are already working on this national pride issue, having dished out a couple of months ago 72,000 copies of a CD featuring various different versions of the national anthem to schools. The standard one is there along with jazz, house and world music renditions, plus of course Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Can you imagine the fuss if the Blair Dictatorship did the same here? He'd be branded a fascist... hmm.

On the book front, I read the Internet Detectives book in the bath. This is the children's book called System Crash that I acquired yesterday. It turns out to be a pretty good read, and surprisingly realistic for a short kids book written in 1996. Michael Coleman must have been ahead of his time and certainly deserves to do well. I wonder how the last six years have gone for him.

I've finished the two Sax Rohmer books I mentioned too. It turns out that I was right in assuming The Slaves of Sumuru wasn't the first Sumuru book, but Sinister Madonna wasn't either. It turns out that there were five Sumuru novels that share nine titles between them. Such are the joys of cheap paperbacks. What seems to be a pretty definitive Rohmer site is The Page of Fu Manchu which told me all I needed to know. I guess it'll be ABEBooks before long to find the remaining three.

I found Sumuru to be more enjoyable than Fu Manchu on a lot of fronts. And yes, she has a heck of a front. Fu Manchu nowadays is seen as a stereotype, and regardless of how much he was the model that was copied by everyone else (and no, he wasn't the first, but he may have been the first to be popular enough to set a trend), it's hard to lose that stereotype. Sumuru is more than a female equivalent. Her philosophy is battled as being evil and wrong but actually makes a heck of a lot of sense. Maybe we should let her vision of beauty take over from the worship of ugliness and war. Maybe we should let beautiful female geniuses (genii?) run the show. Certainly it makes the Sumuru books far more thought provoking nowadays than Fu Manchu, who remains merely a solid pulp read.

Most importantly on the book front, I'm looking with a interior designer's eye at the middle room of my house, where much of my library is held. I've spent about eight hours over two nights during this last week reorganising bookcases to end up with a little more space. I have 170 bookshelves in this room housing an estimated 5,000 books. I've moved every single one of these books from one shelf to another this week, I've dusted every single shelf and I've moved quite a few bookcases around. I've also added in a few stacks of books that were waiting for this, as everything is sorted by genre and author. I now have far more space than before, and may even be able to add a couple more bookcases in when I have the money to buy them. The thing is that the books are all moved, but there's plenty of other stuff that now needs a space and I'm not convinced where everything should go yet. I'll figure it out in a day or two and then it'll be another couple of hours of organisation.

And more books. I've long seen Orange as the only serious mobile phone carrier of note, and I've been signed up with them for quite a few years now. They run a scheme called Orange Equity which is the mobile phone equivalent of a store card. Once signed up, I get points for calltime.

In true modern technology style, I sent a text message to Orange who automatically reply with my point count (17,192 points). However, while I know I can claim amazon.co.uk vouchers, I have to ring up to choose this option, then e-mail them to ask for it. Orange rang me back a day later to advise me that they would e-mail me the vouchers within 28 days! How long does it take to send an automated e-mail? Anyway, my �65 of vouchers arrived in two or three days, which is still a surprisingly long period of time to wait. Now I need to find out if I can use my thirteen �5 vouchers in one go or if I'm going to have to make thirteen separate purchases and lose out on delivery costs. But hey, free books. I'm not complaining.

Captain's Blog - 13 May 2002

Not a lot to write today because I'm judging sleep more important. There's good news in that my contract is already being extended, possibly due to today being the busiest day I can remember at the site I'm working at. I've only been back here for four days and they've asked for an extra couple of weeks already. This bodes very well for my finances and may well extend further.

I'm whistling through books lately, mostly due to the fact that I haven't gone back to those behemoths of IT training manuals on the train. Archie Roy's Sable Night was a thoroughly enjoyable read that reminded me of The Wicker Man in some respects. Somehow he managed to put in travelogues without them seeming to be out of place. I now know far more than I did about the Scots islands, and I'm fascinated about a burial ground on Iona mentioned in the text. Twenty four kings of Scotland are buried there, a few kings of Ireland, a king of France and a whole host of Norwegian kings too. More kings in one place than anywhere else, perhaps?

Captain's Blog - 14 May 2002

And not a lot today either. Time is something I rarely tend to have and it's becoming rather obvious that essentially working two jobs doesn't leave much time for anything else. Multitasking is a must. Not a lot of sleep is another.

Lots of developments on the web front today, with a few more sites becoming likely or potential. More wrongs committed by my idiot predecessor are being righted. We've almost caught up on those now and the future of the business can be free from his influence. This time next year, Rodders, we'll be millionaires.

I still haven't found time to work out what I did wrong with SubmitWolf. I submitted an initial four sites to the search engines and links pages listed within the software, but avoided submitting to the other categories as I saw them as being too specialist and therefore irrelevant. I've been monitoring the results by running a couple of reports every day but I haven't seen any success yet. I presume I've done something wrong, or at least something not right, so it's time to apply Engineer's Rule #1 to myself. RTFM. Read the Manual.

I'm really enjoying the reading time I'm getting on my daily train journeys. Today's book was Harvest Moon by Anthony Craze, which almost leapt off the shelf this morning as a worthy companion to yesterday's Archie Roy. I'm nearly done so maybe tomorrow I'll start The Wicker Man as a companion to the companion. Suddenly synchronicity. I love the stuff.

All this horror means I can once again start expanding my Encyclopaedia of the Modern Horror Novel, which will be renamed at some point, I promise. It's a guide to every horror novel published since the genre was revolutionised simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic by James Herbert (The Rats) and Stephen King (Carrie). I've done a lot of bibliographic work over the years in this area and have collated a good quantity of obscure pseudonyms. All of this features in my book, along with a synopsis, a review and a rating, plus anything else that seems appropriate to add. It's a huge task and not one I ever expect to finish but it's grown to quite a size already and I will post it within The Poe Station at some point.

Captain's Blog - 15 May 2002

These dated English novels dealing with ancient religions surviving in obscure areas of the country are really pulling me in. I finished off the smooth and swift Harvest Moon before sleep last night, and I'm a considerable way into The Wicker Man which may well be the pinnacle of the subgenre. I remember the film with wonder, even though I've only seen it once. Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee was both superb and everything else about it worked like a dream. Time to watch it again soon.

I'm still hoping to create another site this week but once again my plans were foiled, as tonight I spent almost all night on the phone. Other than business, I had a long conversation with my bank to sort out whatever went wrong with my loan repayment this month. My previous bank don't like me, after they took me to court and I won, but I do still owe them money and I'm looking forward to that debt being done with soon.

I also spent quite a while looking into Alexa for a friend of mine who is astoundingly paranoid about unwanted intrusion into his computer. Partly his paranoia is valid but it's far too extreme and every now and again something comes up that brings it all back to discussion again. This time he's discovered a spyware package hidden inside Internet Explorer that apparently sends a whole slew of your most confidential information to Microsoft.

Well, I've looked it up and it turns out to be as accurate as I expected. Alexa is the engine behind the Show Related Links option in IE. It doesn't do anything at all until the option is selected and then it only sends to Alexa the sort of anonymous information that your web browser returns to any web page it visits. Panic over. There is a more sophisticated form of Alexa in the guise of a downloadable toolbar but after reading the Privacy Policy, I really wouldn't want it to be running on my PC. It still isn't the spyware package that my friend envisaged but it is more than a little over the top.

There were a few interesting trends in evidence today. The continual 'rise of the right' cry has found new material in the Dutch elections, where the party of Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated last week, reached second place. I'm still confused as to how Fortuyn can be labelled a Nazi when he was a feminist homosexual in favour of drug legalisation. Now his party have done so well he's simply become a successful Nazi. Let's hope some of what he actually said lives on too.

The big American television networks have reversed the trend of the last few years to air US versions of successful British quiz shows. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link have both been axed, at least as primetime shows. Take those off and there's hardly anything left, in my opinion. OK, there's Greg the Bunny which was laugh-out-loud funny, at least in episode one which is all I've seen. There's Buffy the Vampire Slayer of course, along with its Angel spinoff, and there's a strange little kids cartoon called Teamo Supremo which I found intriguing a month or two ago in Phoenix. Other than that... nada.

Finally, in what I hope doesn't become a trend, the flamboyant Macedonian Interior Minister managed to cause a number of government officials and journalists to be hospitalised after a grenade that he fired accidentally deflected into the watching crowd. Quite what an Interior Minister is doing testing live grenade launchers is beyond me, and quite why there should be a surrounding entourage of hangers on is even more mystifying. A trend could be interesting to read about but I don't even want Blair to be part of a grenade launcher accident even though I'm sure it ought to have hurt to have said that.

Captain's Blog - 16 May 2002

And yet again the phone takes over. Tonight was a ton of computer advice, business stuff as always, finance idiocy, and of course my wonderful girlfriend who I won't see in person again for another couple of months yet. I seem to be entirely without free time in the evenings nowadays and thus Monday night's site creation still hasn't happened. Now I finally have five minutes to myself it's turned ten to ten and Guy Smith will be ringing soon. Then I'll ring my lass and sleep. Work, sleep, phone, work, sleep, phonesleepworkworksleeeephone. Something like that.

Tomorrow I'll be ringing my ex-girlfriend who remains my best friend. We both still live in soap operas, but highly different ones. On Saturday I'll probably be back at my mum's to type up her latest university essay. I still can't get into the mindset of writing by hand but she can't get out of it. Maybe I'll get things done on Sunday instead. I have a site to create, submission software to master and a screensaver creation package to evaluate. All that plus writing here, of course.

The one saving grace to all this business is the two hours a day reading time I'm getting on the train. Phone calls are mostly pointless because of the numerous tunnels and cuttings, so it's me and reading matter, which I always miss. The Wicker Man is done with now, and a great read it was too. Robin Hardy and Antony Shaffer ought to be proud of the way they wove their narrative. Never mind twists in the tail, essentially this entire book is one long slow twist. Everything is open and honestly portrayed but our assuming minds fall for the wrong assumptions. There are fundamental questions about good and evil, religious tolerance and our modern way of life and it asks as many questions as it answers. It's a worthy finale to my little trio of similar novels.

In many ways these three books accompany each other very well. All three reach a similar climactic finish but treat it in highly different ways. Thankfully, none of them fall for the stereotypical happy ending. They are all obvious products of the 1970s, though Sable Night didn't see release until 1987, and they share a very different assumed mindset from today. Characters that were highly believable then are not today. We don't tend to see honest journalists nowadays, or highly religious virgin policemen, but these characters fit into their stories perfectly. This backdrop of plot highlights just how much our attitudes have changed and leave us wondering how much they have yet to change. I'm very much thinking of them as a companion trio rather than as individual books.

Captain's Blog - 17 May 2002

It's a strange time for a web designer when his net access is unavailable. Currently I can't ping my ISP's DNS servers. That's bad. Trust me. Hopefully service will be resigned as soon as possible.

Typically, I now have time available to do various things that have been waiting since the weekend, delayed because of a week of seemingly doing nothing but talk on the phone. I spent much of my trip homeward talking to people. Now I have some time to myself and I can't use it to do what I want. Sassinfrassin.

Essentially what I want to do right now is to finish a website in progress. I created a front page with full graphic design and left it online on our servers for the potential client to look at. They've approved it today so I need to finish the rest of the site. It's not a big site but everything takes time. I've worked out the coordinates for the image maps on it and set that into code, because everything I design is also kept on my own hard drive. Once I finish work I can just ftp the work online. Unfortunately the rest of the site needs to be taken from an existing website, as I'm doing a thorough redesign of the whole thing. I need the text and the photos to throw into my code. I can't now do that until my net access returns.

I can't even sidetrack back to sorting the e-books that arrive on Dan's PC downstairs in large numbers, as Dan's PC is currently in Newcastle with him for the weekend. Oh well. I get to ramble a little more than usual, which rambling has been sadly lacking of late.

Hilarious news today on the government's plans to join the European single currency with or without the will of the people. As a thorough Euroskeptic I tend to surprise people when I say that I think the Euro is a wonderful idea. I just don't think it's a wonderful idea for this country. The small nations of Europe previously ignored by the big financial picture will be finding that they have climbed onto a powerful horse that will take them onward and upward without much effort on their part; but we big nations will merely find ourselves tied to the horse without being able to reach the reins. Whichever viewpoint we may take on this issue, I'm pretty sure that the unanswerable, unrepentant and unwieldy dictatorship that is New Labour will do whatever they damn well please about it.

What I found so funny was that an intriguing governmental leak to the press this morning on the issue turned out to have come from the mouth of Stephen Byers, he with the biggest balls in Parliament, who can stand up in the House of Commons in front of the men and women who fashion the laws of this nation and lucidly explain that black is white. One Liberal Democrat, whose name eludes me, found delicious irony in that Byers, after escaping any reprimand for being the biggest manipulative liar in Parliamentary history may just lose his job for telling the truth.

Recent problems I've had to deal with at work have led me to begin to fashion an organisational chart detailing how to deal with helpdesk calls. Other than my web work I'm currently working as a support engineer dealing with software problems. We don't really act like this but most of the time we'd very much like to.

1. Employ Engineer's Fix #1. Belt it one.
2. If that doesn't solve the problem, pass the call to the hardware queue. After all, someone belted it.
3. If it comes back, pass it to third level. They're supposed to know everything.
4. If it comes back again, ask the user to reboot their PC.
5. If that doesn't change anything, reimage it. This will wipe everything and replace it with a previous default state. It saves actually solving anything.
6. If even reimaging the PC doesn't work, ask the Call Controller to get in touch with the user and advise them that we'll send out an engineer next week. The problem will either go away on its own or the user will get bored with waiting.
7. Hey, you're a contractor. Go work somewhere else. Then it effectively ceases to be your problem. Before leaving, close the call with the simple explanation of PEBKAC and tell the user to e-mail bill.gates@microsoft.com asking him for help.

Time to head back to my book. The web is still somewhere out there beyond my fingers but there's still a gap in the link. I'm enjoying Thomas Burnett Swann's Green Phoenix which details the changes to the lives of dryads and fauns brought to the Wanderwood by Aeneas, the great warrior who fought at Troy. It's an intriguing read so far, old fashioned fantasy from the days before trilogies became de rigeur. I have a few more Swanns here so they've now leapt to the top of the queue. One looks to be as gentle as this one, but the other couple look to be a little more bloody. Maybe I'll stick with the genre and switch over to Lord Dunsany, H Warner Munn, J H Rosny and Ray Cummings. They're what a quick five minute glance over my shelves rewarded me with. Maybe then a little Arthur Machen. We'll see.

My tastes in fantasy are not particularly standard. I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, as almost everyone should, but I'm not a big fan of the big epic sagas. I prefer my fantasy old fashioned and, other than books like this where history and fantasy mesh, I gravitate towards the lost world stories, heroic fantasy, the romances in the old sense of the word. Then there's the eclectically bizarre stuff and, always, horror fiction.

Key fantasy authors for me would be Edgar Rice Burroughs (who lost and rediscovered numerous worlds), James P Blaylock (a quirky modern genius), C L Moore (who wrote the most delicious romantic fantasy), Robert E Howard (heroism and bloodshed), Paul Biegel (who every child should cherish), Garry Kilworth (true thought-provoking literature), Clark Ashton Smith (who transcended vocabulary) Anne McCaffrey (reinventing the guild system with dragons), Zenna Henderson (who taught me gentle tolerance)... For a reading list, you could do much worse than starting with The Paper Grail (Blaylock), The Best of C L Moore, The King of the Copper Mountains (Biegel), Out of Space and Time (Smith), The People Collection (Henderson) and The Songbirds of Pain (Kilworth).

For now I'll finish Green Phoenix and then ring Tracy on her day off. Once a week is not enough of a gap to properly keep up with the individual soap operas each of us are living in, but it has to suffice. I've yet only told one person that Captain's Blog exists, and her PC is currently dead. As far as I'm aware Tracy is possibly the only person who has found it on her own.

Therefore, welcome, my solitary reader, and enjoy. Talk to you soon.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, PEBKAC is possibly the most common error that we engineers ever come across. It stands for Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair.

Captain's Blog - 18 May 2002

Well my connection came back and is gone again. There must be major problems at Blueyonder. Even the two and a half hours I've just spent in the bath hasn't been enough to bring it back, and that's on a Saturday afternoon, surely the busiest time they have.

After a week of doing nothing but talk, now that trend seems to have reversed itself. I was expecting to talk with Tracy last night, but she unexpectedly picked up a shift. It's four o'clock on a Saturday now, my regular time to talk with Lori online, but she's on the other side of Blueyonder's uncooperative DNS servers. I didn't even get to talk to my twinlet last night either.

All this sudden time on my hands meant that I finished off Green Phoenix which was rather beautiful in its mosaic of emotion. In the bath I read The Weirwoods, also by Thomas Burnett Swann, which accompanied it very well. It follows the fate of Sutrium, an Etruscan city long ago, transformed through the actions of nobleman Lars Velcha. Eager to please his daughter Tanaquil, he captures a water sprite, Vel, to become a slave at his Sutrian villa. Tanaquil aids Arnth, a wandering minstrel, to gain Vel's freedom, but this freedom comes at a price. Vegoia, sorceress of the water sprites, provides the means of escape but Vel enacts it and the lives of the four become vastly different because of it.

It's a haunting read, but my expected description of 'gentle' isn't entirely appropriate. There is violence here, physical and emotional, but the story rules its events, and however unfair they seem, they are entirely fair. Swann writes with an unique voice and I shall certainly search for more of his work. Two more from my shelf left to read though.

Music of the day thus far has been courtesy of the delectable Pam Tillis. I'm out of date with her work but I ran through three albums earlier that I haven't heard in far too long. Nonetheless, I soon realised that I remembered every word. The albums are Put Yourself in My Place, Homeward Looking Angel and Sweetheart's Dance. She sings country but with a unique twist. There are few modern country singers who can be as instantly country yet so obviously different from the lookalike soundalike production line artists that exude from Nashville like so much pretty packaging.

Two other unique country voices have made themselves heard today. Iris DeMent has a voice like no other, and while it is avoided by many it's a most welcome one to my ears. Townes van Zandt is the greatest song poet who ever lived. I'm proud to have heard his voice though the only time I've met him was when I saw his grave. There will never be another. He humbles me.

I found a notepad today that I wrote in one day last year outside my girlfriend's place of work in Phoenix. This is how the evening went.

I have sat amidst the shocking pink pillar bases and the sickly turquoise roofing of the walkway. A broad canvas stretches over the Maryvale Plaza where the land is so flat that there seems to be too much sky. It has morphed around me from vivid blue to gradiated black via appealing streaks of pink, and beyond the flustered lights of activity planes buzzed in and out of Sky Harbor like fireflies.

Now it's dark. Battered traffic negotiates the sleeping policemen replete with too few hubcaps and too many dented panels. Their dust-choked engines are drowned out only by the mariachi music blaring out to entertain only the empty car park and me. It's unheard inside Factory2U but the ninja crew seems to dance along anyway.

By nine fifteen the last vestiges of clientele have been politely evicted but only after the district manager locks out the world does the store truly spring to life. Out have gone both flavours of manic Hispanic. There's the young and the restless who spoil their stunning physiques with bluntly highlighted eyebrows and great daubs of makeup. They look artificial. Then there's the images of their future selves who have bloated so far as to need a thousand per cent more fabric. Their outsize breasts protrude slightly less far than the bellies that support them. Only their shins don't wobble.

In flit the blue shirts of the inventory team, materialising out of nowhere but who seem slow and ineffectual from this side of the glass. I can see their bored dead eyes from here, unable to hide how much they're not looking forward to yet another all nighter. The district manager, stereotypically well fed, jangles his keys and props up the phone. Around him the red shirted ninja crew embody perpetual motion. The contrast couldn't be stronger.

The short fat woman handling the electronic end of the affair closets herself away amidst the counter machinery like someone entirely apart from everything around her. She didn't have to be that stereotypical.

All management is present tonight. The manager herself is a dynamo, aware of every movement anywhere in the store, but she is as mobile as her boss isn't. She looks as comfortable in this chaos as her junior doesn't. She isn't too hassled to smile. She runs a good crew and she knows it. She may just even know that it's far better than the one she's currently being forced to accomodate.

Eventually the red shirted flow of motion wends its winding way down to the counter end. Their job is done quickly tonight, aided by extra hands and a prep team keeping some semblance of control throughout the day. I smile knowing that I was unofficially responsible for a tiniest part of that. I smile even more knowing that my particular red shirt, decorated with sweat and flustered hair, and with heart and mind pounding for a free moment to rest, will soon be walking through a door and into my arms.

Captain's Blog - 19 May 2002

Sundays are family days here and both my sister's family and I head across to our mother's for dinner and to deal with whatever needs dealing with. This week was typing duty for me, with my mum's dissertation due in any day. She's writing about the Chartist unrest in the north of England and how it was dealt with by the authorities. I tend to find all her essays interesting and this one was no exception. Maybe I'll post them online once she's graduated, which is scheduled for the end of July.

Being at my mother's house means I get to read the Church Times, which to me is a valid platform for moral debate in our society and should be listened to far more often than the Mail or the Express, which are nothing short of dangerous. I grew up in the Church of England and served it in many roles, but left after the General Synod's vote to ordain women because I found that the organisation that is the Church was setting its own rules that didn't coincide either with the biblical teaching that they claim to follow or with my own evolving personal philosophy. I keep true to some of the principles I learned as a Christian but have moved a long way onward from others.

This week's issue proved to be a fascinating read. I can only applaud Bob Geldof for his call for a Marshall Plan for Africa. Everything in his image is exactly opposite to that required of a modern political leader, yet he speaks more sense than any of them. I remember well the work he did to create awareness of the African situation through Band Aid and Live Aid, and I also remember well the press conference that he gave soon after that was quashed by the media. He said that he regretted everything that he'd done because it had only worsened the hunger of the people he was trying to help.

Now he's throwing at us ideas and concepts that demonstrate just how much he is truly aware of things and how much he is willing to evolve his thinking past the barriers that we create to stifle our minds. He labels the authorities responsible for solving the problems of Africa with causing more. He says that bodies like the IMF and the World Bank have lost 'the language of logic and reason'. They have become evil without any intention to do so and they need to be overthrown. His words are so much the embodiment of common sense that I found myself agreeing verbally.

The call to evolve our thinking came from stand up comedian and modern day prophet Bill Hicks. He also explained why institutions of long standing are losing their influence on us by pointing out that they are no longer relevant. He called for new religions, new means of government and new ways of thinking that are relevant to the world we inhabit in the twentyfirst century.

One of these institutions under debate is the House of Lords. I happen to believe fundamentally in an unelected House of Lords that can calm and counter the elected House of Commons if need be. I may believe in a form of democracy but I do not believe the people are always right and to put one political party in total control purely on the whim of the public seems to me to be highly dangerous. That said, I can't see a justification to keep Lordships hereditary and I can't see why bishops should still be a part of things. Morals are something that are purely individual and I don't see them as something government can define. I read on and find the debate intriguing. I still can't see which way will win out.

Morals come up a lot when it comes to the Church Times because the Church of England sees itself as a leader in grounding people in moral and ethical decisions. I don't see how anyone can make any moral issue black and white because every one is an individual shade of grey depending on the perspective. I'm impressed to see the Church Times airing views that would not have been sanctioned even a few years ago.

Paul Vallely, associate editor of The Independent writes on the death of Diane Pretty and comes out firmly on the side of legalising euthanasia. I still find it somewhat obscene to spout rhetoric about rights yet criminalise the right to die. I'm just glad that she is at peace now.

Two letters to the editor slate the current Israeli policy of destruction without falling for anti-semitism. Indeed the Revd John Butler is lucid in his comment that: 'Of course, many of Sharon's supporters would like to accuse Palestine's friends of anti-Semitism. But anti-Israeli statements by Arabs do not carry with them the infection of European anti-Semitism realised in the horrors of the last century. They are born out of an entirely different context.' Hallelujah. Now can we say that Ariel Sharon is a rabid bloodthirsty psychopath without getting called anti-Jewish? No, didn't think so.

Captain's Blog - 20 May 2002

Another busy day for me as two jobs continue after a busy weekend. On the contracting side, I've been trying to reimage a PC with a 6 GB hard drive with an image that wipes everything, while holding onto over 2 GB of personal data on the drive. It's been tortuous. On the web side, I've made Owl Zim International Ltd live, after playing around with HTML forms for a while. I'm very happy at the way the form on the Contact page looks in IE6. Microsoft are obviously continuing to finesse their browser nicely, and that's from a traditional Netscape user who prefers Opera.

It's been a busy day for the family too. My mum handed in her dissertation today, as well as taking her final exam. She's taken seven years to do her six year part time degree (a year out to deal with my dad's terminal illness) and she says it's been worthwhile. It's certainly been hard going at times persuading her to carry on while the world seemed to stack every obstacle into her path, but finish she has and we're all proud of her.

My sister and her fiance had exams today too, as they finish year one of the Psychology A-Level course that enabled them to meet in the first place. They're quietly confident to different degrees, but year two will start very differently from year one. Life does change on us when we least expect it.

Finally, I don't know if I'm reading faster or the books are getting shorter but I started Thomas Burnett Swann's Will-o-the-Wisp on the train to work and finished it on the train home. This one's set much more recently than the last two, and follows Robert Herrick, one of those poets that everyone remembers but for which reason nobody knows why. He was a vicar and a pagan and a real character. Swann sets his work as a Devon vicar against the mysterious creatures known as Gubbins on Dartmoor. His ideas on the origins of Puritanism are a joy as is the entire book. I'm really becoming a fan of the way he imparts bliss. This one does have a far clearer happy ending but it's not the worse for it.

Captain's Blog - 21 May 2002

And Will-o-the-Wisp is still sitting, quirkily and pleasantly, in my mind. Good books and great books are easy to come by, but truly memorable books are rare and often appear out of nowhere. Will-o-the-Wisp may well be one. In comparison, Day of the Minotaur, my last Swann, is certainly good but is not likely to be truly memorable. Then again, I haven't quite finished it yet. Maybe I should set up a site called Truly Memorable Books, with the capitals being important. Something should be Truly Memorable just as much as it should be a Good Thing.

Potential news of the day has to be the discovery by Dan downstairs of PHP-Nuke, which I've heard of and frequently seen links to, butnever quite realised what it does and how easily it does it. It describes itself as an advanced content management system, which is as good a description as any. Essentially you can build portals quickly and efficiently and let them run themselves. Claiming that it is the future of the web is a pretty major claim but it has a lot more reason to do so than anything else that comes to mind at present. Check out Dan's implementation of it, which will expand and evolve rapidly as he works out what to do and how to do it. Expect my implementation soon.

Captain's Blog - 22 May 2002

Day of the Minotaur finished much as I expected. Not a Truly Memorable, but certainly a good read. I'd be mourning my newfound lack of Thomas Burnett Swann if I hadn't gone straight into King of the World's Edge by H Warner Munn. This is another historical fantasy that kicks off with the death of King Arthur and the end of the Roman empire in Britain. Ventidius Varro, Roman centurion, sails off with Merlin and the ragged end of the Sixth Legion, and becomes quite something in the unknown lands to the west. It's proving to be a solid read so far, which backs up Munn's well-deserved place in the Weird Tales pantheon.

The funniest story I found in the news today was the means by which Sony's much heralded new copy protection for CDs has been stymied using basics. Cleverly, Sony have thrown a data track onto the beginning of each CD, which will play fine on stereos but confuse computers. Hackers have found that such sophisticated technology can be worked around by simply colouring in the outside of the disc in felt tip pen. Given that digital music legislation tends to try to ban things that can break copyright, it'll be interesting to see how that gets applied to stationery outlets that are obviously brazenly selling hacking tools.

Captain's Blog - 23 May 2002

Well knock me down with a feather if I'm not still on the same book a day later; and one that I'm thoroughly enjoying too. Munn has his centurion hero wander the land to the west discovering plenty and influencing more. His playful mixture of American Indian, Aztec and Roman is fascinating and yet the book still works marvellously as a ripping yarn. I'm looking forward to finishing it off tomorrow morning on the train. Then it'll be J H Rosny, France's answer to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a book set even further back than Munn's, in the prehistoric age.

Meanwhile, back at home, I've discovered Laurell K Hamilton's second Merry Gentry novel, A Caress of Twilight, in amongst the newsgroup downloads. It's not out in paperback yet, or I'd have included it in my recent cash in of Amazon.co.uk vouchers. I thought I'd throw it into YBook and read the first chapter or two, but I suddenly discovered myself on chapter seven and broke it off there. More tomorrow. And I'll still buy the paperback when it comes out.

It looks very much like I'll be attending my first real gig in years next week. Opeth are playing Manchester University, and they're a unique modern metal band. I miss the walls of speakers, the mosh pit and the sheer thrill of a live band. This country seemed to swap gigs for clubs and live music for DJs. Each to their own, but it's heartwarming to see real live music still alive and in somewhere smaller than a sports arena.

Captain's Blog - 24 May 2002

Busy busy day, so quick quick news. King of the World's Edge finished with as much panache as it started. I would very much like to find the sequel, if it is likely to be as good. The original was written in the 1920s, but I think the sequel was fifty years or more later. An author's style is likely to change much in that timespan. A solid read but not a Truly Memorable.

A batch of Guy N Smith novels arrived today from Germany in the rare Erich Pabel editions. I had five of these, gifts from Guy himself, and they are the only copies I've ever seen except for his own. I am plugged into the Guy Smith trading network to a degree but I've never seen any of these for sale. To pick up five of these through ABEBooks endears that system to me immensely. The novels are mostly in magazine format, and published in German. One, Das Ruf des Werwolfs, has still never been published in book form in English. I can now add three of these to my collection making eight out of nine (still no Erich Pabel Slime Beast), and I have two to sell on at what should be reasonable rates.

Web news too. I'll be spending tomorrow building a couple of new sites, with another couple in the pipeline. Things are starting to move nicely. There's a long way to go to get to where we want to be, but we're moving at least, and in the right direction too. More soon.

Talking of moving in the right direction, I've just spent part of the evening at the Brown Cow Inn, almost a spiritual home to Dan and I, with plenty of personal history. The Brown Cow is where we can play pool on a stunningly uneven table, with no room to cue and with no tips, let alone chalk, on the cues. As far as I'm aware, I still hold the record for the nearest to the bar reached by the cue ball, sent by a valid shot. The Brown Cow is also where we plugged in a laptop, back in the days when laptops would seriously dent your lap, and played Tetris for a little while.

We were there to celebrate. Dan is a highly qualified, highly experienced engineer who can do pretty much anything as far as Microsoft products go. He is not just an MCSE but in two tracks, one to MCSE+I, and he is also an MCSA. He knows his stuff. Regardless, he's had a heck of a time trying to find work lately. It just doesn't seem to exist out there. Now, however, he has a new contract, which looks to be very promising indeed, and therefore there was plenty of call to celebrate with food at the Cow. You will never find a better pie and peas.

I was celebrating too, though not really until tomorrow. My girlfriend and I have no set day to celebrate as an anniversary, as while we can date exactly when we first talked to each other via e-mail this wasn't important on a relationship basis as we were merely good friends for many months. The nearest we can date actually becoming an item is just very late 2000, maybe November or December. As neither of us were looking, expecting or planning anything whatsoever it just happened and we didn't realise it until after the fact. We can, however, date the first time we met in person, which was in Las Vegas the Friday before Memorial Day when I gatecrashed her bowling team's annual league finale. Tomorrow it'll be a year since I walked off the plane and into her arms. It still feels the most natural place in the world, even though I won't be there for our first anniversary.

Now, back to Merry Gentry and the phone and blessed sleep.

Captain's Blog - 25 May 2002

If yesterday was busy, what word could describe today? I have three sites to build and I'm now aiming at tomorrow for them, though tomorrow has its share of delights also. I haven't touched them today and neither have I found a moment to return to Merry Gentry. Last night I managed a single chapter before I found my eyes wouldn't stay open. Today was other stuff.

It was appliance day. One fridge out, one fridge in. One washing machine out, no washing machine in, but then my kitchen looks spacious for the lack of one and that'll do me for now.

It was watch the weather day, as Halifax couldn't make up its mind whether to bathe in glorious sunshine or cower under driving rain, so it alternated between the two. It seemed as if some celestial prankster had discovered the possibilities that a giant shower head could offer.

It was also revamp day, and my desk shows massive signs of it. I have five PCs running on and around my desk: my main Pentium Pro 200, a newer Duron 800 and three old Compaq 166s. One runs Windows 2000 Server and manages the network, one contains my CD writer and the third is running Red Hat Linux. There are other machines in the house, upstairs and down, but these five cohabit the same space. There are only two monitors, two keyboards and two mice, as four of the PCs work through a KVM switch, but there's a lot of lost space and a whole mass of cables. Today I plugged in a newly acquired twelve port hub and reorganised the lot.

On a more organised basis, it was tournament day at Cosmo's Conundrum. This is the online trivia site that opened my doors to the world. It's a trivia quiz game and a chatroom all in one and it has become a place to live for many people over the years, both at the now sadly defunct US site and the abiding UK site. I've been at Cosmo since June 1998 and I've fallen in love, travelled continents and seen friendships blossom down the aisle. It's a true joy, for which I will always be thankful.

Lately a couple of players, including one from Argentina, have been organising tournaments. This one was for trios, so Wendy, Booly and myself pitted ourselves against the brightest and best on an eight game run. We didn't win but we certainly didn't disgrace ourselves. I don't get to challenge the chimp very often, but every time I revisit he brings back memories.

Dan and I spent quite some time this evening researching things. He has a couple of PCs to build for people, so we worked through current prices. I widened the search to include the plans I have for the network here. My machines are essentially obsolete but I do a lot with them. The money I spend goes on different things to the usual need for speed upgrades. Toward the end of this year I'm looking at a number of things and I totalled up a rough estimate of the cost. I know about Moore's Law and how it applies to computing in various ways. I know that prices drop consistently over time. I was still surprised at how cheap things can be done nowadays.

I will pick up a PDA at some point this year. I used Dan's Jornada on an extended loan for quite some time and I know that I need to acquire something similar for myself. I want it to be powerful but more importantly, I want it to have a slot for added memory, either compact flash or microdrive, and a slot for WiFi to enable me to wander round the house or its vicinity and still be alive on the network.

I want the network upgraded to 100 megabit throughout, and I want a WiFi access point for the PDA. I also want a machine, cheap and nasty, but with a solid power supply, so that I can plug in a decent Adaptec RAID card to stripe a terabyte of hard drive space. Eight 160 GB Maxtor drives striped would give me 960 GB, and I have 100 GB or so available to the network already. With those I won't just have my entire music collection available to the network but I could throw the latest copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on there too and drop a shortcut on the desktop. Encarta? Movies? Plenty of room.

It sounds like a lot but the cost of the whole shebang would set me back about the same amount that I paid for my first decent PC, which was a 486dx50 with no sound and no CD ROM. It was truly state of the art, with a massive 17" monitor, a solid 16 MB of RAM and the almost unheard of 200 MB of hard drive space. I remember working away on a BBC Model B with 32k of memory. Now I'm talking about a terabyte of drive space, fully redundant and shared out for the whole network. I will be able to sit in the pub and play chess, while browsing the internet at full cable speed via WiFi access to my network. The cutting edge moves along very quickly. Every now and again I move along with it.

We also researched the continent of Europe through AutoRoute 2002. While I've travelled extensively throughout North America, I've not yet set foot on the continent of Europe. Apart from my adventures across the Atlantic, I've spent an hour in Scotland and a week or two in Wales. That's something I want to put right before I move to Phoenix, and I'm going to set a deadline for that of a year from today, my second anniversary of meeting my fair twinlet for the first time in the flesh, as it were.

Dan, on the other hand, has never set foot on a plane, deliberately so, and thus his wanderlust has been closer to home. He is also far closer to the European mindset than I am, and further from the American. He has already seen many countries in Europe and has fallen in love with quite a few places over there, but wants to see far more.

It makes sense for the two of us to combine forces and organise a Grand Tour to remember. Dan can drive, with my assistance in rural areas, and we can live out of a tent. I can navigate, with the assistance of AutoRoute, a powerful laptop and a car charger. We can document the trip as we go, with pictures from Dan's digital camera formatted on the laptop, and update via mobile phone to our websites. I can also keep up with work, designing web sites literally on the move.

The route we've mapped out includes every country in Western continental Europe, with the exception of Finland and Greece, but including Eastern Europe in the form of Prague. The mileage will reach just over eight thousand, so we're looking at five weeks to do it right. The possibility, if finance allows and work doesn't tie us down at the wrong times, is to aim for mid October to late November. More nearer the time, when more information is in.

The exceptions are going to be few and it's going to add another list for me. I've already seen thirty of the fifty states of America, plus half the provinces of Canada. Now I'll see almost every country in Western Europe. The exceptions are Finland, which will be an awkward one; Iceland, which will be even more so; Ireland, which we can hop over to for a weekend at almost no cost courtesy of RyanAir; and Greece, which I'm hoping to fly out to for the first week in September to meet up with a friend from Texas. I wonder when I'll be able to finish crossing out that list.

Now I need to sleep. We'll be in Greetland for a christening at 10.00 am, and I want to talk to my twinlet on our anniversary before I sleep. I need more time. More time, I say! Dear God, Time. Amen.

Captain's Blog - 26 May 2002

When I was a regular churchgoer I always tended to shy away from all the singing and gravitated towards the beauty of the 1662 version of The Book of Common Prayer. I can understand how most people prefer to turn up to belt out a good hymn or two but it just wasn't for me. As far as I'm concerned, talking to your god is a personal thing and I found the roads of language and emphasis easiest to follow; when I sing my mind follows the music not the words.

Focusing on ritual tends to be a high church thing, but while some of that applies to me I'm not really high church at all. It's the words of the ritual that I follow, not the pomp and accoutrements. Today I went to a very low church service and found that while it did nothing at all for me, it worked immensely well for the large congregation. I'm not surprised to be that out of touch.

The vicar, unnaturally tall and thin, managed to stay incredibly down to earth while effortlessly staying the centre of attention. That's a neat trick to learn. There were three baptisms today, one of which was Tony's son Martin. All were babies, as is usual in the Church of England, but none of them cried, even when being walked around the church by the vicar, which is an even neater trick to manage. The man is a magician not a priest.

After the service it was back to Tony's parents' house, somewhere I haven't seen in daylight for years, for food and drink. Even though I could see it from my bedroom window when I lived in Krumlin and even though I used to deliver their paper (now delivered by Land Rover Discovery), nowadays I only see it at night when we descend on the disused pigsheds round the back for LAN parties. No LAN party today, of course, but somehow we young gents still found time to hit some sort of computer at least, with a few rounds of Sonic the Hedgehog, in preference to the pool or the trampoline. Then again, 'young' is a relative term. Tony and Pete are now both married with kids. Suddenly l feel old.

After a major afternoon nap I finally got some work done, though no site is complete. I know what I'm doing with the newest and I've set up much of it. I know what I want the graphics to look like but while I have a superb eye, evident in both my graphic design and my photography, I have no artistic talent whatsoever. I can't draw and I can't paint. I'm not even close. My sister, however, is a true artist, so I've asked her to do five quick impressionistic ink drawings. I'm sure she'll do a superb job. More soon.

I've kept myself company with Bixology by Bix Beiderbecke (Bix drank himself to death by the time he hit 28 so at 31 I'm definitely old) and Mule Variations by Tom Waits. Varied stuff, for sure, but all good. It took me a long while to get into Mule Variations but I'm used to not liking Tom Waits on the first listen. His music usually has so much depth that it takes a couple of repeats to let the groove into my bones. Now some of the tracks on this album are amongst my favourite Waits tracks, Black Market Baby and Chocolate Jesus especially.

Mule Variations was a Christmas present from my ex-girlfriend, Tracy, reminding me that after a couple of weeks of phone tag she has a day off today and just maybe we may get a chance to catch up. Of course as she's the only person that I know of who currently reads this, she knows all this already and I'm writing to myself. Shrug.

Captain's Blog - 27 May 2002

I guess I really do write more at the weekend, even when the weekend almost passes me by. I wonder why. This was never meant to be a diary, more of an open conversation with my future self. I'll be able to look back from years hence and rekindle memories. More substantially I'll be able to rediscover thoughts and see where the years had taken me.

I'll be able to see what I felt about books too. I finished Quest of the Dawn Man today, Ace's republishing of J H Rosny's The Giant Cat, which now seems to be a fair renaming. Much is made of the fact that the book went through forty editions in France, where it was first published, but I doubt it remotely successful anywhere else. Maybe Rosny's French was better than the Honorable Lady Whitehead's translation. Maybe it was his oeuvre that made him famous, rather than just one book. I don't know.

I just know that this quest started slowly and without much promise, but built superbly. It is entirely action packed adventure, following the prehistoric wanderings of two men, Auon the powerful fighter with an attitude that looks forward, and the innovative Zouhr, last of his race. They travel through new lands, ally themselves with a sabre tooth tiger, befriend new races and battle another, and find their future. Action packed it may be but it shows substantial depth too. It talks about race and extinction and attitude and much of it shows up our modern pretensions in the race of harsh reality. The only fault I can find, and a small one it is, is that for a book entitled The Giant Cat, the giant cat features far too little. Rosny wrote a lot of Cro-Magnon era novels. More for the wish list, I guess.

Captain's Blog - 28 May 2002

I need a new body clock. Asleep by eight, awake before the alarm at five. I'll write this and grab another hour before I get up. Katt will drop in the images I need tomorrow morning so I can finish off the new site tomorrow night and upload it. It's been a surprisingly difficult site to design, but I think it'll come together naturally when I have the images.

It does seem a little strange to be setting up a site for a firm called Byers Marketing a day after Stephen Byers finally leaves office, as marketing the name of Byers is going to be a difficult thing for quite some time. This is a wholesale drinks delivery firm though, and nothing to do with the most stunningly troubled cabinet minister I can remember. It does go to show that blind loyalty by Tony Blair to his ministers, regardless of how much they are caught red handed in the level of blatant lies and scandal that would have wiped out a Tory instantly, won't protect them forever. Finally, some good news.

Talking of news, though far from good, I ought to get a Million Word March piece out of the insane judgements being dished out of late. We are well aware, of course, that the police are unable to do their jobs in many instances because of restrictions on their conduct, but they get sillier as time goes by. One police officer was arresting someone when they decided to run away. The policeman gave chase, caught up to him, tripped him and finished the arrest, but was immediately censured by his superiors for the tripping bit. Apparently this is now seen as too violent. Hmm.

What the police are allowed to do, is to arrest people for questionable offences. One man recently returned home to find a drug dealer in his own bedroom peddling heroin to his kids. That he removed the man from his house in a rather violent fashion is perhaps not unnatural, but he was arrested (the house owner, not the drug dealer) and hauled before the courts where the judge decided that not only should he serve community service but that he should pay the drug dealer damages. Only when he absolutely refused to do so and the judge noticed the media outcry, was this removed.

Perhaps even worse, another man was recently released from prison after serving eleven years for murder. He was released because it was discovered that he wasn't guilty after all and it was about time that he could get on with his life. Other than eleven years lost, plus his name blackened, he has already lost both his father and his baby daughter who died while he was inside. He hasn't had a good time of it. Unfortunately, when he received the numbers for his compensation for his approval, he noticed that �37,000 had been deducted for his bed and board in prison. Whether this was the work of some idiot on his last day is questionable but it's about as disgusting as things can get. Such is life nowadays.

I'm on early science fiction at the moment in the shape of Ray Cummings's Tama books. There were a few people who wrote similar material to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and at the same time. Ray Cummings was one of the successful ones. These two are about civilisation on Mercury, where a precocious explorer ends up, only to cause interplanetary friction. The science is mad, of course, but Tama of the Light Country was written in the 1920s so that's understandable.

The story, however, is as lively now as it ever was. The interaction between the male race on Mercury and the female, who are quite different with their wings and all, is a very early depiction of feminism. The males force the females to clip their wings on marriage, but are now doing it regardless of any rhyme or reason, other than to exert control. The women rebel and so the men (or the few bad men running the show) decide to abduct a bunch from Earth.

Now I'm on Tama, Princess of Mercury, which picks up where the first left off. I'll have to search through my sf magazines because I'm pretty sure I have The Girl in the Golden Atom there somewhere too.

Captain's Blog - 29 May 2002

And Tama, Princess of Mercury, beauteous creature with fluttering wings, does her bit to save the day once again. This is pulp adventure at its best: not necessarily original, not particularly believable and without any surprising twists at all, yet somehow gripping, suspenseful and thoroughly enjoyable. In the absence of any delivery from Amazon, it'll be more Ray Cummings tomorrow, and then maybe I'll head sideways to other Edgar Rice Burroughs ripoffs. Chief among the clones of the time was Otis Adelbert Kline, and I have a few of his somewhere in the Burroughs bookcase.

More news on the Europe trip, now named Gran Turismo by Dan and for good reason. It will be in two legs of three weeks each, one late this year in October or maybe November, and the other in the April Spring. Dan, as the resident Europe expert, has been working on the routes and Autoroute maps are available at his website right here along with current itineraries. This is a trip that I'm very much looking forward to. Naturally I'll be writing a full report as we go.

Captain's Blog - 30 May 2002

The end of the month is almost upon us, my first month scribbling away here at Captain's Blog, and I'm suddenly remembering all the things I've done and seen that I haven't yet mentioned.

There's the stunning documentary video detailing John Carmack's new creation, Doom III, which promises to be so much more than just another sequel. LAN parties aside, I gave up playing computer games a few years ago, around the time Quake II came out. I don't see myself changing that, but there's no way that I won't be playing Doom III very quickly indeed.

There's the plethora of ratings websites that are cropping up nowadays. The idea is to rate the picture that appears on your screen, or maybe to pick the best of two. I got faced with a choice between an Iranian Condom Factory or Spaz the Cute Little Kittie. Which would you pick? This latter approach is the interesting concept behind What's Better?, to which I've even uploaded a couple of items, including the movie Bad Taste and my former local, the Brown Cow Inn. If you see either, vote for them. Of the more standard former approach, you can pick a site to match your mentality, from Rate My Kitten to Rate My Boobies by way of the stunningly tasteless Rate My Poo. I'm sure that soon we'll have a Rate My Ratings Site, but let's hope not.

There's also the fact that I didn't get to see Opeth, but rather stayed home to work. What a life. It'll be worth it all soon.

Talking of work, the current site in progress is for Byers Marketing and because I haven't finished yet, partly due to not getting home until ten o'clock tonight, I've uploaded the basic look to spare server space. If you're interested, you can check out my sister's wonderful graphics right here. I'm hoping to put this live tomorrow night. Then I get a four day weekend, courtesy of the Queen's Jubilee, thus preventing me from working and, by virtue of being a contractor, preventing me from earning any money. Thank you, ma'am. Anyway, four days means two more web sites up, so watch this space, as they say.

No book today, rather an oldtime magazine. Issue one of Famous Science Fiction dates back to Winter 1966/1967 and carries some superb material. I picked it up primarily for the Ray Cummings novella, The Girl in the Golden Atom, which contains even more dubious science than the Tama books, but remains glorious fun. I prefer the Tama series though, as being more clones of Burroughs than Wells. This one was very Wellsian, to the degree that it bore striking resemblances in many ways to The Time Machine. The hero just aimed in a different direction is all.

There's also a decent Clark Ashton Smith, the veteran of Lovecraft's circle so ably represented online at The Eldritch Dark, though the version I teleported down to my system a couple of years ago looks far better than the revamp. Among the rest was a very short but very telling little piece by George H Smith dealing with Roman Catholicism's take on the population problem, or as Bill Hicks would put it, 'this food/air deal'. It's very much ahead of its time. Back to the Burroughs clones tomorrow and some Otis Adelbert Kline Martian fancy.

Captain's Blog - 31 May 2002

Welcome to the end of the first month I've been writing this here blog thing. Today's entry is late because I got home and slept. Literally. I even got home on time regardless of Arriva Trains Northern trying to delay me like crazy by kicking us all off the 5.35 yet again. I'm not too worried if the brakes fail on a train while it's in the station. It isn't moving. They can fix it. We're safe. I get worried when this happens three times in a week. Not on, folks, especially on the day that you issue your free Arriva OnRoute magazine that shouts 'Full Timetable - Promise Delivered'. Not quite.

Book of the day is Otis Adelbert Kline's The Swordsman of Mars. Kline wrote Edgar Rice Burroughs material at the same time as Burroughs and dealing with exactly the same sort of plot, character and everything. Then again, so did a bunch of people, but Kline was good at what he did. Swordsman stands up to comparison with Burroughs's own work. For those poor uninitiated heathens, a title like this is pretty accurate. Harry Thorne fails in a suicide bid, so is sent to Mars instead. Not physically, but mentally, via a form of telepathy to the Martian civilisation of a couple of million years ago. He takes over the body of Sheb Takkor, a minor aristocrat, and saves the world by virtue of his honour, adventurous spirit and swashbuckling swordsmanship. Of course, he wins the hand of a princess too.

It all sounds immensely tacky and terrible but it isn't. This is pulp fiction at its finest. Sure, we know what will happen and when, though Kline still manages to put a couple of twists in there, but it's wonderful fun. Tomorrow I'll start on The Outlaws of Mars. I have Jan of the Jungle, Kline's take on Tarzan, just as his Mars novels are takes on John Carter. More soon.

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