Category Archives: General musings

General musings on life, the Universe and how stuff works

New light though altered windows


Yesterday I had my eyes altered by Lasik eye surgery. My old prescription was right eye 7.5; left eye 7.0(ish). Today my distance vision is as close to 100% as makes no odds, and after a little blurring first thing this morning my still healing vision no longer required correction by contact lens or glasses. Pain is barely a little dry itchiness, I’ve had far worse with routine displacement of a contact lens and I currently find myself needing 1.25 magnification ‘readers’ to work at a keyboard. Although as the swelling in my corneas goes down, they’re presently a pale pink, this need should disappear. Another three months will see everything totally healed and stabilised, although I’m already signed off as being fit to drive. After less than twenty-four hours. I’m seriously impressed.

As far as the healing process goes, it’s a weird sensation having to wear sunglasses around the house. A happy by-blow of which was finding a whole ready-made screenplay with tagline unreeling from my overactive subconscious in front of the bathroom mirror. Lots of stunts and gags with a whole ream of ready to write sardonic asides. Overlay onto a fairly standard ‘save the world’ plot with a twist that is more of a mobius loop and Robert is one’s Father’s brother. I can have a lot of fun with the idea, even if no-one wants to buy. Maybe I’ll put together a script treatment have a go pitching it to a few of the studios and see what happens. All they can say is no, right?

Inspiration comes from the oddest places. Maybe it will help me finish ‘Darkness’?

Counting down


Having worn contact lenses for over thirty years, I’ve finally put together the time and money for laser eye surgery. Ever since I heard of the first primitive Russian treatments for short sightedness in Omni magazine back in the seventies, I’ve wanted to dispense with glasses and contact lenses for good. The reviews look good, and I’ve satisfied myself that the practice selected is both reputable and competent, so next Monday 16th February I’m booked in to have both eyes corrected.

Laser eye surgery isn’t cheap at four thousand dollars for both eyes, but as far as I’m concerned it will be money well spent. I’m told recovery time is twenty four hours with the selected treatment, and provided I don’t get hit in the eye for the next week or so afterwards, my eyes should heal up nicely.

The journey towards clear sight started last Thursday with a thorough set of eye tests which include having my cornea thicknesses checked with ultrasound. Which is a mildly disturbing sensation, rather like looking upwards at ripples in a pond. The other tests were more like the usual opticians checks where the retina and outside of the eye are checked for general health and dimension. Bright lights and reading charts. Each of the major eye checks done in a different room by a technician followed by a chat with the eye doctor himself. Then the money conversation, finding out that the advertised $400 per eye price is the most basic PRK treatment, not the LASIK the practice specialises in. Still, when you’ve set your heart on something, cheapest is very rarely best. I’ve elected to go down the high end route with a decent after care package just to be on the safe side. Not the latest cutting edge treatment, but the tried and trusted.

Being short sighted hasn’t been much fun. Not being so good at contact sports like Rugby because first, you can’t really see properly for distance kicks and passes without vision correction and secondly, wearing glasses while playing isn’t really practical. Contact lenses are better, but they do have the habit of popping out or even worse, folding or flipping over under exertion. Sweat stings more if it gets in your eyes while running too. Of course I’ve been able to swim wearing soft lenses, but with my favourite trick of swimming underwater, the lenses can get lost, even wearing swim goggles. There was also the usual tiresome business of getting bullied at school for being different. In Junior and senior school (6th to twelfth grade) my glasses were always getting broken until I got a reinforced set. Getting my first set of contact lenses in my early 20’s was a boon beyond measure. Now I’m looking forward to doing without any external vision correction at all.

As an interesting aside, I’ve noticed how certain people make up stories about the unfamiliar to compensate for their own anxieties. For example, I was working as a warehouse manager back in the early 80’s and mentioned to one of my colleagues that I was interested in the treatment. We were amiably discussing the matter, when another member of staff butted in with an involved and rather lurid tale about the treatment making one of her ‘friends’ go ‘totally blind’. Being of a sceptical bent, I later asked one of her closer work friends if this was the case. The answer came back “No.” Apparently her information had come from a second hand discussion about a TV consumer show where people had been complaining about low quality results from bargain basement treatment, or those who had not followed the post operative recommendations closely enough. Further asking around over the next month or so revealed that the “Friend” in question had not actually undergone the treatment, but rather backed out when they’d seen the full price tag. Which is why I didn’t go for corrective eye surgery at the time. Cost. I simply wasn’t earning enough at the time to afford the treatment. Although if I totted up how much I’ve spent over the last quarter century plus on contact lenses and fluids, maybe it would have made economic sense.

However, that was then and we can all be wise in hindsight. Today I find myself nervously counting the days until next Monday. Hopefully to enjoy 20/20 vision, but if the treatment gets close enough to let me work and drive without vision correction, I’ll be moderately content.

There’s also the thought, that back in the 1970’s when the first radial keratotomy eye treatments became available it seemed like science fiction. Now it seems the updated treatment is being offered in every single town in the Western world.

The implications of printed food


New year, new story detail. I was hunting around for a novel type of ‘crime’ for my sci-fi detective character to get embroiled with yesterday afternoon and found myself wondering about the implications of food replicator technology or 3D printed food like Pizza or Gnocci. What are the base materials? Would they be able to work off a basic amino acid powder mix, or something a little more familiar? How much adulteration would one of the units be able to take in the form of cheaper bulking agents before it broke down, as manufacturers try to minimise outlay? Adulteration might become a problem because, notoriously like white bread in Late Victorian times, ingredients like Chalk and Alum were used to bulk out and bleach wheat flour. At the time, the practice of adding these bulking agents were credited with leading to widespread malnutrition until the abuses were (mostly) stamped out. However, A more detailed analysis, shows that the situation was a good deal more complex than it might appear. So while all is not doom and gloom, instances of adulteration might occur as organised gangs infiltrate the 3D food replication chain. Maybe even instances of illegal drugs accidentally making it into the food supply.

Household replicators as an extension of 3D printing technology will initially be a status symbol, producing everything from a new pair of shoes to Sunday dinner or special order Pizza. Eventually reducing the need for agriculture as more people turn away from food productions less palatable practices, like slaughtering for meat, or simply even the messier end of cooking. Why bother with all that tedious slicing, mixing and dicing when a single machine can produce perfect hot meals every time? 3D food printing technology may be closer than we think. As for broader applications, a German company (Bizoon) is actually working on easy to chew versions of 3D printed food for Senior Citizens and high energy ‘Sports’ foods.

The possible social implications are enormous. A shift in the employment market away from manual fast food production, and there’s plenty of scope in there to experiment with crime related storylines. Ergo, I’m currently playing around with a bunch of short story type works (4-10,000 words) using the technology as a sub-theme. Maybe they’ll turn into something, maybe not. At the moment I’m purely in the note taking stage of research.

As for bribery and corruption; while technology advances so rapidly it’s often hard to keep track, it is my sad observation that human nature evolves at the speed of a heavily sedated slug.

Commerce and the world wide web


I’m old enough (Don’t remind me) to actually remember the ‘world wide web’ being ‘born’ in 1994. At the time I was trying to be a Business Development Executive, writing PR pieces for an IT consultancy amongst other things. Wrote a few trade piece articles, did a couple of local radio interviews. I do so hope they no longer exist. Cringe. I might be lucky as these low points of my career predated even the Wayback Machine. Everyone was trying to work out how to use the Internet to sell stuff and apply old business models to new technologies. Which still happens.

Back in the mid 90’s I recall penning a piece called “The Cybermarket, the future of retailing?” about how virtual 3D shops might work on line if sufficient bandwidth was available. Forget where I managed to place it. Didn’t foresee the rise of Amazon, Craigslist or eBay of course, but you can only get so much into five hundred words. With today’s big plasma screens and cable connections, creating virtual stores like in Second Life would be relatively easy. Think of an HD shopping channel connected to your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts so you could gossip with friends while doing the weekly shop. Cruise along behind your virtual shopping cart and not block the aisles for those with more pressing needs on their mind. No unruly children or other people’s personal issues. No waiting in line at the checkouts. Virtual shop assistants.

There is both an upside and downside of course. You couldn’t choose exactly what Oranges or Avocados to buy or do a first hand check for freshness. Unless there’s a real time arrangement where a robot arm and camera can physically pick and test the exact fruit / vegetable selected. Which is now possible. Delivered directly to your door by Drone. Fewer jobs in the retail sector as the need for physical supermarket premises shrink. More employment in non-public contact jobs like in legal departments thrashing out customer disputes. At first only available to the rich or avid early adopters, then as costs reduce over time available to the rest of the population. Should they want it. Rather like Amazon, eBay or Craigslist.

Is the Internet over?



Commenter Misha tells me that ‘the Internet is over’ and that ‘I won’. Oh dear, did I break something? I’ll try and fix it. Didn’t realise it was that delicate. After all the Internet was first designed to survive a first strike in a nuclear war and even famous rock stars haven’t been able to stop it (Even though they have subsequently changed their mind). Hmm. Maybe I can glue everything back together and no one will notice. All that TCP/IP and subnet mask setup, the horror, the horror. I’m so sorry. Didn’t mean to.

Yes, I know I was being teased. No offence taken and none, I hope, given.

Seriously; there’s an idea here for a new collective noun. An “Internet of argumentsfirst seen here. The Internet is full of argument and debate; from polite, studied discourse to flaming and virtual fist waving. There are virtual feuds and even death threats. People actually losing their jobs for making bad jokes (Which is a greater wrong than any original perceived wrong or slight). Which tells us that there are certain people who really should step away from the keyboard and take a chill pill once in a while. Which we all should do occasionally before adjusting our viewpoint and returning to any given discussion. That or become crazed obsessive compulsives.

In closing I would argue that arguments are very rarely lost or won, but they can achieve resolution. Even lead to new understanding if we learn to use such a useful sounding board as the Internet intelligently. Although this is only my opinion of course. There are others. Billions of them.

Why does the world have to be doomed?


In many Science Fiction movies there’s one plot device that, like a broken down show pony forced to perform despite old age, is dragged out time and again to strut its stuff. That of the Earth being ‘Doomed’ somehow by mankind through overpopulation or environmental disaster. Something that only a ‘hero’ can ‘save’ a sacred few from. It was a tired idea by the 18th Century CE (Seriously) and it’s worn to a nub of nothingness now. This premise is what’s put me off going to see the movie ‘Interstellar’.

In looking at possible (or impossible) futures I’ve always found it a good idea to examine what has sparked human migration since our species first learned to walk upright. From observation, the biggest motivator is that the grass will grow greener over the next hill. Fresh ground to occupy, new resources to develop, new ideas to explore. It’s part of the human condition. Only in the very early days of bipedal endeavour has environmental disaster played a significant role in mass migration. In the more modern era, migrations tend to be generated more by politics, war and economics than simple resources. To illustrate by analogy; when the fattest of cats have locked the dairy, the kittens will go elsewhere for their cream. And they will cross continents, even galaxies if the means are available.

It’s also worth noting that most of us simply want to get away from our parents and make our independent way in the world. Visit other places, learn other languages, meet other peoples. It’s been part of the human condition ever since we evolved to spread out a little. Mate, carve out a patch for the next generation and expand. If anyone were to ask me the meaning of life, that’s how I’d describe it. The Earth may well be our mother, but frankly wouldn’t it be embarrassing to tell other intelligent life forms that we still live in her basement?

Next….


Now I’m a fully sworn in Canadian and don’t have to worry about renewing residency, I can get back to overcoming the distribution issues I’ve been nagging at for the last few years. I’ve also been talking to my brother in law over the weekend who is one of the prime movers of the ‘Inanimate Alice’ educational project, about the benefits of games and interactivity. While Ian and I don’t agree about everything, our discussions sparked off a few thoughts.

I’m coming to the conclusion that a well made interactive computer game is an excellent aid to teaching. Particularly in terms of conflict resolution. And yes, this is one of those “There’s a story thread in this…” moments, where children (and grown ups) use interactive games as a means of working out real world frustrations, and at the same time hone their decision making processes using an Artificial Intelligence type game engine. Navigate everyday moral conundrums. Demonstrate causality and methods of obtaining positive outcomes from potentially negative circumstances without getting all preachy. Tricky, but do-able with the right resource. Computer games as a stepping stone to world peace? There’s a Nobel Peace Prize in this for someone.

Now, how might it all go completely pear shaped? There’s the rub.

First snow


Snow always gives pause for gentle reflection. This morning’s two centimetre whitewashing isn’t deep enough for a snow day and will be gone by mid afternoon. Overhead the clouds are already breaking with the promise of winter sun to grace a Victorian Saturday morning.

Today is not a writing day. Instead the snow has made it a gentle day of reflection to review what I’ve been doing this week regarding marketing and visibility. Yesterday was a day out checking bus routes for Sunday’s little trip over to Vancouver. Making sure the timing is viable, booking ahead on ferries etc. After travelling up and down the Saanich peninsula, Angie and I ended up downtown in the Bard and Banker, which has one of the best selections of single malts locally. Two pints of Innis and Gunn to lubricate the synapses and talk over what we thought we’d learned. Or at least what I thought I’d learned. Which are:

Things I’m trying to do: Raise my profile as a writer of science fiction. How am I trying to do it? Registering on as many of the book promotion sites as I feel able to regularly update. Putting out sample pieces. Linking my profile carefully back to this website and blog and other points of sale; ensuring people can find what they want in three clicks or less. Give them the opportunity to read samples and decide for themselves what they like, or not as the case may be. I’m also toying with the idea of doing my own sample readings. I went to drama school and did specialist voice training all those years ago, so maybe I should put what I learned about intonation and performance to good use.

Things I’m trying not to do: Making ‘friends’ with just about everyone who is visible online, then spamming their Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook feeds with interminable promotional links saying “Read my book!” and little else. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find that a huge turn off. Even for mainstream productions, my feeling is that the bigger the hype, the less likely the advertised content is worth seeing.

Like many writers in real life, I’m not a hugely social person and have very few real friends. Which is something I’m very comfortable with. Why? I simply can’t keep track of everyone else while trying to juggle a universe or two in my head. It’s too easy to slip into cognitive overload. Which is why I don’t list my contact details and never respond to blind “Add me to your contacts” demands via Skype. Whenever I see those pop up my paranoia asserts itself: Who are you? Why do you want to talk to me? I’ve had too many low quality experiences with the slightly unhinged to be comfortable with random online socialising. Ask a pertinent question in the comments or on FaceBook; even if it’s a bit geeky I’ll do my best to respond promptly. Providing I’m within reach of my keyboard.

Bearing that in mind I’d like to make a small request regarding invitations on Facebook; I’m a man of limited funds and have not the resources to flit hither and thither. Victoria is fine. I’ll happily wander downtown if the conversation is worth my while (A cup of coffee will suffice, I’ll pay my own bus fare). Unfortunately I can’t afford a two thousand dollar round trip air fare and hotel bill for Europe. Not for a small meeting. Not on my sales. But it’s very flattering to be asked.

Almost Canadian


Another day, another hoop jumped. We’ve been accepted for Canadian citizenship. Swearing in ceremony is for December 1st 2014, Vancouver. Angie and I have decided to make a weekend of it as we haven’t had a break that wasn’t work or family business related in almost a year. Christmas shopping, Citizenship, a little wine and personal abuse. I’m still shaking a little.

We had our interview on the 6th, which apart from the usual interminable waiting, went well. I think both of us were humming like tuning forks on the quiet. I was suffering from a bad case of “What have we forgotten?” on the drive up to Nanaimo, trying desperately not to go rifling through our documentation package every five minutes. We’d got our whole lives in there. Passports, old passports, Permanent Residency cards, copies of IMM1000 forms from November 2010. Copies of just about everything we could think of; certificates, travel receipts, a neatly printed out schedule of all absences from Canada over the past seven years, receipts for all travel, car hire, hotel bills the lot. Memberships, qualifications, the kitchen sink. We were ready for just about everything.

When Angie and I arrived at Nanaimo, we found our way to the right room in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, even though it wasn’t exactly as specified on our letter of notification. Joining a crowd of about eighty people, we sat down in a large room, about a hundred feet by sixty unless I’ve lost my eye for distance, with the oddity of power outletsalmost twenty feet above us in the alcoved ceiling. Four officers sat at brown folder loaded desks interviewing everyone in turn. Only one had a computer of any kind. Which I found a little odd in this day and age.

The time rolled past. Names were called, interviews done, documents inspected and boxes ticked in a surprisingly church-like atmosphere. Everyone talked very softly, so no one would miss their turn at being called. No voice was raised in frustration, exuberance or disappointment. Even the one young man we heard turned down over his refugee status barely spoke over a whisper. I found it curiously eerie.

After over an hours nervous wait our turn came and our young (Nice lad, mid-late 20’s, bespectacled Asiatic with a brown dyed buzz cut you could almost have balanced a plate on) interviewing officer checked our UK passports PR cards and Drivers Licenses. He asked me whether or not we’d been in trouble with the Police or Immigration, to which I answered “No, no, no.” in a mildly distracted manner, slightly surprised by the question. He worked for the Immigration department didn’t he? Surely he knew we were squeaky clean. He said that I didn’t sound convinced, but Angie confirmed we hadn’t had any problems, and that was the one tense moment over and done with. He asked us about our absences from Canada, then almost in a teasing manner asked about proof of the journeys. “Which ones?” Asked Angie.
“The first two?” He asked. At which my darling wife proceeded to extract the relevant stapled receipts, passes and booking forms out of a huge buff envelope. A wedge of papers two inches and more thick. I caught a flash of alarm in his eyes as if we’d called his bluff, but in the end it came out all smiles and handshakes. The right boxes were ticked, and we were offered the choice of Vancouver or Nanaimo for our citizenship ceremony. “What about Victoria?” I asked. Our interviewing officer did a little double take as he realised our new Victoria address was on the form, but we happily agreed to Vancouver on the 1st of December. Considering the course we’ve sailed, a ferry journey and long weekend are no real inconvenience.

With a final handshake we were on our way to pick up our house guest for the weekend. My knees almost giving way beneath me as Angie disappeared for her third rest room break in two hours. My sense of relief was that intense. We’d done it. From a wedding day promise in 2002 to here. I’m still not sure I really believe it myself.

Now it seems as though a leaden weight has lifted. I see a new happy light in my wife’s eyes. Citizenship has been a long road that’s almost broken both of us. But champagne has been drunk, a new confidence has arisen, and now we feel more secure in ourselves. Or we will do when we get our citizenship cards. We’re still a little on edge, but not so much. Smiling is much easier. 2014 has been a hard year emotionally.

‘A Falling of Angels’ should be ready for distribution by next Friday, and all the links will be on this web site, Authors Den and GoodReads by then. For now the only book I have to deal with is booking a Vancouver hotel.

Submission


This is always the most teeth-grindingly, nerve fraying end of writing. Publication. The eBook version begins processing today, and I’ve spent two days eyestrain formatting and triple checking a pocket paperback version of ‘A Falling of Angels’, the second in the Paul Calvin series. I found one typo and changed a grand total of eight sentences, very minor changes at that. Mainly tense and syntax. Alterations of meaning that only really matter in my mind. So this afternoon, sometime around 4pm Pacific Standard time 4th November 2014, I’m going to press. I think. A day earlier than schedule, but that all depends on your time zone, as it will already be the 5th of November in Australia.

After that I’m going to do some more reading for my citizenship interview on Thursday in Nanaimo. Angie and I don’t have to do the tests because we’re both over 54, but we’re studying for them nonetheless. Just in case someone changes their mind at the last minute. We’ve both worked long and hard for Canadian Residency and Citizenship; gone without, left comfortable social structures behind, spent a lot of emotion and money, but now we’re going to see if all our expenditure and effort has been worth the time. In that way it’s rather like writing a novel. Huge amounts of time spent working, writing, re-reading, studying and crowbarring information into recalcitrant neurons, all in the hope that someone else will like it enough to accept your work, and by the same token, you.

Seen from that viewpoint, immigration and novel writing both look like massive exercises in self validation. Like gambling. Win, it’s all smiles and massive whooshes of happy relief. Time for Champagne and celebration. Lose, and you simply have to pick yourself off the floor ready to try again. My paranoia has been on overdrive, trying to think of ways things might go wrong and then making sure they don’t. For a given value of certainty. I have so many contingency plans it is hard to remember them all.

It all comes down to the wire on Thursday. I’m so tense it’s hard to sleep properly.

Having a Literary weekend


Day off from the keyboard and wandering round downtown saw us take in the usual spots; Hey Happy, which brews some of the best coffee in town. Roberta’s Hats, where we got into conversation with one of the shop people over Shakespeare, acting and actors. Bought Angie a hat for her forthcoming trip to damp and rainy old Scarborough. Also a replacement for one of my caps which was about on its last legs, or brim, whatever. Stopped off at the Irish Times and James Joyce Literary bar for a drink, thence to Russell Books to update my literary education with a copy of the Portable James Joyce.

Now I’ve more or less finished writing ‘A Falling of Angels’ so I’m going to let my keyboard cool off a little to go see how one of the ‘Irish greats’ writes. I’ve read a little Brendan Behan, but not much else, so I’m trying to broaden my mind a little beyond purely English and Scottish authors. Joyce is a massive rift valley in my reading, and over the next week or three I’m going to try and put that right.

Fishing day


For the first time in ages I’m going fishing.   Rods and lines are ready. Licences purchased. My Brother in law is coming down for the weekend, and we’re going to do the guy thing down at Ogden Point breakwater if there’s room at the end.  The intention is to cast our lures into the water, talk, drink coffee, set the world to rights. Pick our wives up later for supper at Bubby’s on Cook Street this evening. Nothing heavy duty. There’s a nice little cafe at the landward end of the breakwater, should we tire of casting.

From the sound of it we both need a time out. Ian has had his head down in his educational software project, me in writing. Our respective spouses need quality sister time. Work and family duty has been pretty relentless of late. Too much really. Too much sadness. Time for a little Zen fishing.

I’m quite looking forward to the ritual of wind, line and water. Because sometimes an hour or two casting your cares into the sea is all you need to recharge the creative batteries. It clears the mind, helps tie up loose ends and unravels the kinks in the soul whether the fish bite or not.

As for catching anything worth taking home or losing bait, c’est la vie.

New short story sample and minor anxieties


New short science fiction sample posted here. It’s bit rough round the edges and in need of further editing. Just something to keep my mind off the possible disruption to air travel over Iceland. Eldest Stepdaughter Laura is flying back from Tanzania to the UK this Sunday and I’m mildly concerned in case the authorities completely shut down European airspace like they did with the Eyfjallajokull eruption.

Trying to look on the bright side, at least Badarbunga is easier to pronounce. Webcam of eruption progress here. A very useful Icelandic geology web site run by a local geology student. Icelandic Met office site here. The whole saga is surprisingly gripping.

Update: The good news is that Laura is safe back home in the UK, and this eruption doesn’t look like it’s going to cause major European air traffic disruption like in 2010.

Saturdays


I’ve finally found my thread with ‘A Falling of Angels’ again, but it’s hard to settle down to work when half the house is in boxes, and the other half being sorted for disposal. My dog, Amos is fussing around my feet because all his favourite hiding places are being disrupted. Three more weeks of this to go. I’m packing books, trying to write course assignments and falling behind in just about everything else.

This isn’t me making excuses, I think. But I’m square eyed from all the screen work and need a bit of a break. It’s times like this that make me think I’ve bitten off more than I can comfortably chew. All I can do is bite down harder and let sheer bloody minded determination carry the load.

When I signed up for my courses, I didn’t actually bargain for doing them in the middle of a house move. Oh well. Headphones on for a favourite tune or two.