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Saturday, 1 February 2020

THAT SHELF OF UNREAD BOOKS : A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.


I’ve decided that reading books is not about reading books. No. It’s about reading books that come into the house as a specific category. As I write this in January, eleven books wandered into the house. I’ve read one of those.
   This doesn’t mean I’ve read one book this year. (Yes, yes, as I type, I’ve read one book in the first week of the year.) My decision stands: reading books is not about reading books. How many books did I read this year? Irrelevant. Match the number you’ve read against the number that came in.
   The specific category is this: how many books have I read that came into the house this year? That’s the only measure worth considering. Did I read everything I bought/was given?
   This leads to a number. Not the number of books I managed to read in a year, come December the 31st. The number is a small figure, I hope. Did I read all the books that came in? Answer. The number I’m looking for is…small…
   Books that came in minus books that I read = ?
   Yes, the number could be zero. I somehow balance the books.
   Balancing the books is no good. Let us speculate, and suppose that 50 books come in over the year. (Even I take a fortnight’s rest from purchasing sprees.) Any positive number is a failure. Take 50 in, minus 49 read, stare sadly at the landscape, calculate, and that leaves a total of one unread book.
   The challenge isn’t to reach zero or to limit the size of a positive number. No. The job is to generate a negative number. Fifty books come in. I somehow manage to devour 60. Introducing this system must take account of unread books left over from last year. Winning, stemming the tide, comes about by generating negative numbers.
   This plan is simple. Keep generating negative numbers until I finally balance the books. Then there are no more unread tomes to tackle within the building. I’d turn my attention to unread tomes outside. No, I don’t mean in the garden.

*

Writing in January for February, I overlooked something. Now that this is February, I’m forced to consider all the quirks and quibbles. What did I overlook? A BIG something. Not the pile of unread books, though, good gravy, that is a big something, I’ll reluctantly admit.
   Gosh, look at that interesting thing over there.
   When keeping track of books I’d devoured in a year, I kept track of books I’d devoured in a year. And I kept notes on a weekly basis.
   This time around, changing the way I keep note, I’ve only just noticed that I haven’t kept note of anything. The vital statistic to look for is the number of books coming in.
   Well, it’s February and I don’t know how many books came into the house this year. Beyond the first week in January, I didn’t keep notes at all. For the mad scheme to work, there’s a vital statistic that I vitally ignored. Eleven books wandered into the house, as part of a sale. I was given a book. And then I lost track.
   There was a free duplicate book, and I was meant to give that away. I must give it away soon. Can’t really count that one. If a book comes in and I’ve read it and don’t keep it, there’s little point adding it to the tally. I didn’t expect that to come up. Damn it.
   This is more complex than I thought it would be. Books in and books finished inside the year. Why the hell would I ever consider books out? Books rarely go out. That is part of my shelf problem. A free duplicate book reared its pagey head and threw my count out. Or threw itself out of my count. Let’s go with that one. It’s easier to process.
   Now I must think over other anomalies, glitches, one-offs that multiply into their own categories, and whatever else I’ve messed up by accident and possibly on purpose.
   I look forward, and to the right, beyond the edge of the screen, to see a borrowed book on one shelf. How many borrowed books do I have here? I have one book that must go back, and I’m staring at it. Okay. So far, so good. Any other items I should consider that I am not considering?
   Damn it. All those pamphlets.
   In running a boardgame/roleplaying channel on the interwebs, I must, from time to time, buy in boardgames. These games come complete with rulebooks. (Except for that one time when the rulebook wasn’t enclosed and I was asked to send the entire game back for a replacement. Free postage, luckily, but it was SUCH a faff.)
   For the most part, game rulebooks are pamphlets. Occasionally, they are mighty tomes. Those need not concern us here. Okay, do I count those rulebooks when I am dealing with the books that come in this year?
   No, I don’t count those. But they do come in. And they take time to read. So I must read them. And that removes reading-time from reading chunky big books. Hell, it removes time from reading slim volumes as well.

*

Let us recap, and see where this path took us. Books came in. Part of the sale. I was given a book. Rulebooks sneaked in – we’re not counting those. Duplicate books don’t matter, provided I’ve read the originals. The borrowed book is a one-off.
   I hold a deep and terrible suspicion that there are categories lying undisturbed in the dust of ages, and those categories will ambush me as the year unfolds.
   Time to keep notes. I’m saying twelve books came in. One book is done, after the first month of the year. The tally, then, is eleven. This number must go. And I’ll read that borrowed book as well. What happens next? To dig deep into the negative numbers, I must…
   Stop buying books.
   Boardgame rulebooks don’t count. Roleplaying game books are hefty, and will count if I buy more. I expect to buy a few over the year. Hardly any. I should aid my cause by not borrowing books. Luckily, I am not borrowing books.
   What about books going out? Perhaps it is time to look through the shelves and uncover duplicate copies that could go to charity shops. This manoeuvre is likely to consume a great deal of time and much effort for a tiny adjustment to the shelves.
   And books I no longer want or need, that should just go? That isn’t a category. I have reference books entirely sidelined by the instant accessibility of the internet. Yet my reference shelf, directly to the right, remains intact. Those books represent part of the history of being a writer.
   Besides…if I clear shelves of books, I’d have to fill those shelves with books. And I am not meant to be buying books this year. Damn it, I have to add a new category to this mad scheme. It was all so much simpler when I just scratched another line on the piece of paper that marked the number of books read annually, week by week and month by month.
   Now I must chisel out another list on the stone tablets. Books I bought this year that I shouldn’t have purchased – knowing damn fine that there’s an embargo on throwing money at new volumes. That list must stay as close to the number zero as possible. And it has to be a monthly list.
   Monthly book gains. January. Eleven bought. (Given a book. And gained a duplicate book.) February. Zero. Twelve books in and one book read. That must change. January was scrappy, and rather busy. I started books. And I will finish those books. March is the month to look for, to see how this business shapes up.
   It will be the relentless march of books, in March. But the March march is in the other direction, slicing through tomes and racing through narratives whether factual or fictional. Of the books mentioned here, almost all are factual. Three are fictional.
   If you write in a particular area of fiction, read outwith it. Also, read outside fiction entirely. Bring other forces and influences to bear on your chosen subject. Read as many vampire stories as you feel you need to, when you want to write vampire stories of your own…
   But read beyond vampire stories. And read beyond made-up stories. Delve into biographies and technical subjects and whatever you can lay your hands to. Read…more books than you buy this year. How will you know? Keep notes, and read over those.
   There are books out there, unbought, that I refuse to buy until a particular series is over and done with…for fear that the author won’t live long enough to finish the work in question. So, yes, there’s a list of books to buy. But I won’t be buying them any old time soon. That takes us into another topic entirely. Stories writers must finish scribbling, even as they turn to write other stories in the meantime.
   That is an endless saga, older than the hills, and too large a thing to contemplate here.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

EIGHT FOLDERS: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.


Time to eat eight folders. Then I can say I ate eight folders. The major reorganising of the computer archive was always going to leave loose ends. I look back on that change now and I see eight folders left dangling in the wind. They have their slice of the sub-folder pie, it is true…but I’m down to those eight folders at last.
   Am I, though?
   No. The point of the archive was to duplicate effort here, there, and avoid loss of data. As far as I am aware, in all my time computing, I haven’t lost any major data. I’ll tell this one again, about gaining data. There were files that had to be cut down.

*

It was important to keep the files, with their file names, but data inside those files had to die. I started weeding. Select text. Delete text. Select text. Delete text. The autosave hadn’t kicked in. I worked rapidly. The power went.
   Bzzzt. Except, without that sound.
   I hadn’t saved the file. And the system hadn’t autosaved the file. The only changes made were in data erasure. All those cuts were gone when the power was restored. I faced a power-cut and gained data in the file I worked on. All the erased material waved back at me. I had to delete that stuff again. Careful in what I deleted, I saved as I went.
   This brings up a point of procedure. When generating data, I save regularly. It’s a habit of mine to save every paragraph, and to save mid-paragraph if I feel the need. There are times when I save every sentence. This is not a difficult process. I hit the left CONTROL button and the letter S and the save goes ahead.
   No matter the state of play in terms of sentences or paragraphs, I save if I have to step away from the machine. There’s always an exception, and my exception is data removal. I am cautious in what I delete, and ensure the right thing goes. Later, I’ll save it. Obviously, the power-cut intruded on that routine and here we are with this anecdote all over again.

*

To stress the vital point: save often, and save early. I don’t believe I’ve lost vital data. There are many back-up systems in place. As far as an author is concerned, the best back-up for your work is always going to be publication of it. Write it. Check it for typos. Back it up by putting it out there into the void.
   Tackling eight file folders is a mammoth task. I’m not deleting the information inside those folders. Instead, I am moving things around to sit, neatly, under new signposts. That’s the tricky part. This feels like having moved house. And, having moved house, looking from room to room and seeing packed boxes lying around…hell, that is inevitable. Life-draining. Unavoidable. Part of existence.
   Let’s see how many folders I can face tackling as I write this blog post.

*

These folders are, typically, all sub-folders themselves – falling under the category of archives to 2017. This is clearly a lie, as two of the folders are for 2018 and 2019. I know exactly why I didn’t change the main heading…
   There’s a desktop shortcut leading to these files for my convenience, and to change the folder title is to destroy the link to the shortcut while leaving the shortcut icon mocking me on the desktop. Once I’ve reorganised the lot, the shortcut goes. But not a second before. That way, madness lies.
   Nothing is ever straightforward in the archive. How many empty sub-folders will I encounter across the archive? There’s no way to ever truly know that number. It is one of the last great mysteries of the universe.

*

One coffee and a bit of wrestling with categories later, and the folders are what I’d call manageable. I find myself creating more folders…what a surprise…to deal with the way I categorise things now. Then, there were categories with different names. Ah, simpler times. It’s all about managing signposts.
   A few things defy categorisation. That is what the miscellaneous folder is for. I discover miscellaneous material from 2011, but no folder to house that stuff in. I see that 2011 was a year for quite specific things, and not that many miscellaneous items. Not enough to warrant the building of a mighty folder, back then.
   Now, it is but the work of a few irritable seconds. Though…the new folder is far from mighty. How much deletion is involved? I find a spot of duplication. It would be unutterably strange to find zero duplication. Accept this.
   I find obsolete files that should give pangs on deletion, but I feel nothing. They are, after all, truly obsolete. Other entries give pause for thought, Horatio.
   For there are more things in files than mere data samples. I see and hear people who flitted in and out of my life and work. Some I could call on today and take up conversations where we left off, even at the distance of GASP time. Others wandered into different universes.
   Also, there’s a fucking shocking record of prices in 2011. A few items from back then would be bargains now. If you could get them at all. And other necessities, being necessary, shot up in price with rockets strapped to the tags.

*

My digital archive is as random as are the books on my shelves. I store things where they need to go at the time and under the circumstances. The storage of those things makes sense, then, and makes sense to me now only in the sense that it all made sense then.
   A missing file from 2012 turns up in the 2012 folder. Colour me stunned.
   Only a few seconds of work in it, and the 2013 folder sees its wayward sheep herded into a large miscellaneous pen.
   I’ve written with a miscellaneous pen from time to time. The last time I wrote with an actual physical pen was at the end of 2019. And with a pencil? Oh, the week before that. There are still reasons to scribble things down, away from the digital archive. And, yes, I take notes on the digital archive by pen. Sometimes, it’s the easiest way to fly.
   In the cosmic scale of things, I am approaching another coffee. It’s clear to me that not everything in the archive was in the archive. Now that I’ve eaten eight file folders, noted by year, and deleted the obsolete shortcut leading there, I am certain that…
   Not everything in the archive is in the archive. When a new year unfolds, I’m forced to unpack the months. I keep a folder of sub-folders with the months of the year running numbered 1 to 12, listing the first three letters of each month.
   No, I don’t know why I arranged things that way. I suspect, if pressed on the matter, that this notation is the orphaned remnant of a far earlier computer system. Let me just run a check on something. No, I don’t see what I wasn’t looking for.
   Inside an entirely different system, I used to have aardvark files. Yes, this was purely alphabetical. Priority files went at the start start, with the double aa in aardvark. But that primitive computer system gave way to this primitive computer system, and I don’t truly need aardvark files any longer.

*

As I type this entry, I am minutes into 2020 and already I need to set up a monthly file entry. Generally, I use monthly sub-folders to keep track of communications with people across the year. And people are using the internet to wish me a Happy New Year. I’m buzzing on mints and the notion that the last day of the year was one of the frostier ones in an otherwise mild winter. That thought resides in this file. Soon, it’ll be in a monthly folder.
   Archiving with aardvarks may have ended long ago, but archiving itself never ends. It’s one thing to look forward to 2020, and quite another to actually set the files up to cope with the admin of looking forward into the future of right now, just this minute.
   The feeling haunts me…I should set these damned things up well in advance instead of having a microwaved template that I drop into folders as and when needed. But the point of a template is to have a template just for these moments.
   It’s better to wait around and see who and what I’ll need to set the monthly archives up for. Copying and pasting into every last corner is too much duplication of effort. Even for me.
   I ate the eight errant folders a million years ago, whoosh, and need never concern myself with those loose ends, stowed away as they are. But I’ll always have months in years to deal with. Life is set up that way, and I don’t see any other system coming along to replace the calendar any old time soon.

Friday, 6 December 2019

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE TO GO BACK IN THE WATER-BASED PAINT: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

In creating a dedicated video channel for boardgames and roleplaying games on the YouTube, where the interwebs live, I added boardgames to the bookshelves, true, true. And that should’ve remained the limit of my limit. For a year, though, the first year of video production, I contemplated the unthinkable.
   A return to painting figures.
   I still paint figures. But I considered returning to painting with a major investment in materials. To paint, I needed a place to paint and all the tools that go with the activity of slapping overpriced coloured wetness on overpriced metal miniatures. The video studio, which sits to my right as I type, has an alcove in it.
   A large echoing vault.
   That vault is padded with sound-management foam, to reduce the echo. Painting at the video table would disrupt video production unless video production magically becomes all about videos on painting.
   I’d rather watch paint dry than make painting videos. That’s why I’ll be editing my painting videos to within a hair’s-breadth of their non-existent lives.



The problem, as ever, was of space elsewhere. I’d need a painting table. The solution was to remove a bulky chest of drawers from a cluttered elsewhere and dump it in the alcove right here.
   Though the alcove was an empty echo-chamber of a place…it wasn’t exactly empty as I stared over at it, and I had to move stuff out to make way for the incoming monolith.
   And so, I danced the dainty dance of shifting stuff from one room to a second room to make room for the stuff that would leave the third room, giving me room to move through halls from room to room. Or something. Those rooms have no room in them. It was all a blur – and anything but dainty.
   I started by measuring all the things, real and imagined: the things that existed and the things that would exist in fresh-cleared measured spaces. In a movie-like dream-sequence, I planned what would happen if I removed the bulky set of drawers. Bookcases danced before my eyes, Disneyed up and singing their hearts out.
   When the music stopped, the bookcases left an illusory space for a table. I was in business. Make your dreams real, even if they are merely dreams of tables.
   And so things went, day after day, long into the night and the beyondness of beyond, with yours very truly shuffling bookcases around to make room for a path. The chest of drawers huffed and it puffed and it trudged the path down. I measured and I ordered equipment and I hunted for bargains.
   My idea of a bargain is not buying a thing for £10 at the cheap and cheerful cost of £5. No. Life is more complex than that if you are creating a miniature workshop. I’ll spend £200 to save £100. Harsh, I know. I budgeted for the workshop itself, tools, paints, and storage for figures. There was a budget for figures, too. But buying figures is all about buying storage for figures. An old song.



At the end of my eye-watering fiscal study, I knew I’d spent GASP money and saved EVEN GASPER GASP money on top of that. The cost was ridiculous, but the saving was even more ludicrous. I told everyone about the ridiculous ludicrous luminous saving, and then took a flight to the moon by wet-air balloon. Yes. That mad.
   Then the work began. The unpackaging. Recycling of cardboard. Assembly of tools. Mostly, this meant reaching for a large bottle of glue and something to wipe the glue away with. Occasionally, I’d hammer a bit of wood with another bit of wood.



Where are we now? I dare not relate the fable of the table, a tale too terrible to put in print. I may arrange spaghetti letters on a plate spelling it out, but that’s as far as I dare venture. Let the record show only that I based my purchases on a certain size of table. And that I had to move to a larger table-size for reasons of bullshit and mayhem.
   Luckily, that improved the situation and adjusted the weather for ten minutes. All was right with a small part of the world for a time.



Upshot. Done with huffing glue and peeling myself off the ceiling at night, I set the glue bottle aside until such time as the kingdom required its return. And, inside a week, that time arrived.
   An arm rose up from out the bosom of the Glue Lake, clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, holding the glue bottle. The Lady of the Glue Lake passed the bottle to me in the hour of need, and nations wept.
   Remember that the key to using glue is ventilation. So unlock those doors and windows. No need to turn teary-eyed or all clogged up with nowhere to go.
   With a larger table installed, I knew I could fit a few more wooden modules in place. Those are on the way. A fabled messenger bleep told me. Pigeons are so last millennium. And the millennium before that...and that.
   Everything settles. Eventually, you reach a point at which you’ll no longer move bookcases around. And I’ve reached that point many a time. It’s like déjà vu all over again. Well, I was finished with it again again.
   Definitely done.
   Except, of course, I went after something different this time. I wasn’t moving bookcases around to make room for more bookcases. That saga ended a long time ago, back in November of 2019. Yes, I write this in December, 2019. What of it?
   This time around around, I moved things around as recently as last night. The table is in position. Most of the modules are locked in place aboard the Good Ship Painterly. I’ve glued units, hammered magnets into wooden panels, avoided cutting off my fingers, and pledged not to move any furniture ever again.
  Truly, I’ve run out of space.
   All to give myself space in which to paint. Painting used to be done in a well-ventilated kitchen on a folding table that went against one wall, down the side of the room and out of the way.
   Or painting took place in other venues, with varying degrees of space, lighting, and ventilation. Now, consistently, there’s a painting table. It’s also a preparatory table, with room for tools that I’ll hack away with. I mean…I’ll prepare figures for painting using surgical skill and precision moves akin to the dance of the bullfighter.
   No bulls will be hurt in the process, though one or two minotaurs may require assembly.



This is a return to the world of trimming flash and lines, drybrushing armour and fur, applying glue and mixing up clay, and – horror of horrors – pinning. In the Olden Times, I’d find inventive ways to avoid pinning…
   Now, frankly, I just can’t be arsed and I’ll have to get on with it. Welcome to the fiddly world of cyanoacrylate and epoxy. Glue only takes you so far in fixing one part of a model to another. With metal miniatures, there’s little to no realistic bearing of a load on a rough join. Always accept that the join is rough, no matter how great the manufacturing process is.
   I have to fill in the flawed areas with model putty and/or epoxy resin, possibly throwing in superglue when appropriate. Moderately rough handling knocks all that work into the bin. Superglue is great for a quick fix, but one sharp tap shatters your dreams.
   The only way to be sure your dragon’s wing will stay attached to your dragon’s body is by drilling into the metal and fixing pins to the pieces. Then you finish the job with glue. And a prayer to a satanic god.
   It’s a super-fiddly world. Can’t wait to get back into it. What I’ve lost in terms of reflexes down the centuries can and should be made up for by the wealth of experience garnered down in the modelling trenches.
   I’d put that wealth at a £ or two. 
   Buying material in meant staring long and hard at the material that remained. War-torn paint pots and battle-scarred brushes. To replenish supplies, I started with a budget of no money and stuck that budget in a rocket to the moon.
   If I thought painting materials were expensive before, I thought right. Oh, to return to those “expensive” days. My budget for a painting station was about right. Paints and tools consumed the money they consumed. I planned that part of the operation in two stages.
   First, update, replenish, buy in – and save money by purchasing a paint set. Stage two is about buying individual paint bottles. Memory tells me we bought paints that way in the Olden Times.
   I stare at the enamel paints, those high-flying chemicals and their magic carpet fumes. Individual pots. Specialised metallic pots. And the multiple purchases. Black, for everything. Flesh tones. White paint, utterly absent. I culled the dead pots, and the multiple white paint pots had died a death. They were truly most sincerely dead.
   Moving from one size of table to a proper size of table, I could go back in and order a few more wooden storage modules. With the painting bottles now camped out at the paint station, it’s time to consider going back in and buying multiple pots of black, white, flesh-tones, strong primary colours, and as much metallic variety as I can lay a brush to.
   We don’t need figures and floorplans to enact roleplaying games. They are handy, though. For video purposes, figures on maps go a long way to aiding description. And so, a-painting I must go.

*

The photos in this article depict unfinished HobbyZone modules, sitting at all sorts of rough angles without the connecting magnets fitted. I assembled modules, left the glue to cure, slapped those boxes on the table to see how I'd organise them in the end, and then...
   Went back much later, sure of the glue, and hammered the magnets into position.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

BETTER LATE THAN NOVEMBER: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.


I sat staring at published blog posts. These posts are published monthly by pixies under the stairs, usually within the first week of the month. Late-month blog posts are almost always extra blog posts.
   If I feel the need to scrawl an obituary, I’ll do so. Usually I wait until confirmation of the unliving nature of the supposedly-deceased. I had to wait a wee while for groper Harlan Ellison to drop dead, and he inconvenienced me by going out in the wrong week of the month.
   That obituary was ready to roll the moment he karked it. This was my Batman-style vow. So I published near the end of the month. I could’ve waited a few days and gathered more sources confirming the Old Fart’s death, but no.
   Life gets in the way, even of death. I have the strange sensation that someone died and I was meant to write an obituary of that uncertain someone. This is a regular sensation, and it soon passes.
   Y’know, I think it was Mark Twain. Others have covered the event in endless detail, and I must let this pass with little meaningful comment.

Mark Twain, who has died in a mountaineering accident at the tragic young age of 183, leaves a grieving widow and a vast CD collection of old-timey music. Twain, who was visiting Amsterdam on a fact-finding mission, found himself in an argument with the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions.
   Twain’s contention, that his recent discovery of a Dutch molehill should be classed as a mountain, upset the Board as a body – leaving the organisation no option but to redraw all the maps or face Twain in a duel to the death. The Board chose the latter path to posterity, and promptly shot at Twain to preserve the honour of the country.
   Only 99 members of the organisation could muster at short notice, and all of them missed. Twain died laughing. Coroner’s verdict: death via mountaineering dispute.

Occasionally, life really gets in the way and I publish late in the month. Last month’s blog post was last week: better late than November. What happens if I really can’t make the monthly quota?
   Nothing. Doesn’t mean I’ve died. Might mean I’ve died. It’s just as likely that my computer has died. If one machine died, I’d have to take it off life-support and unplug all the cables. (Shudder.)
   Yes, I shudder. After recently revamping the layout, I told myself I’d never need to climb back there and mess with the cables again. Until the computer karks it, of course. The double-task is remove latest dead computer from life-support and plug old barely-living computer into life-support…to be continued…
   Purchase brand-new computer. Unplug feeble reserve computer from life-support. Set up brand-new computer, hoping, wildly, that the very latest computer is so advanced that it no longer even needs cables.
   Life got in the way of my train of thought on life getting in the way. I wandered the country in rain, rain, and more rain. Autumn leaves provided the only brightness to the day. It was, to use a technical term, dreich.
   That is a bad word to use if you are describing someone’s cooking, given that it is almost always employed to explain the nature of the weather.
   I’d have published this blog post on the 1st of November, explaining why some blog posts are delayed, but this blog post was delayed. Yes, late-month posts are usually extra posts, adding to the quota. Not always. Sometimes, being busy keeps you busy and makes you busier.
   After walking through a rain-filled world, down by swollen rivers, past leaf-filled landscapes, I reached that point. It’s the point at which you return home and know you’ll be struggling out of your outdoor gear for a million years before you can reach that coffee.
   I reached that coffee in record time. And then, thinking I wouldn’t be busy, I grew busy. There was the matter of relocating wiring in the loft without illuminating my skeleton. The wiring was never put in neatly. Neatly, in the case of wiring, is another way of hoping the wiring is put in safely.
   With this thing moved around and that thing ripped out and this bit of wood cut short and that nail removed to help shift that pipe away from there for a moment or two…
   The wiring went where it should have been all that time ago, when it was put in at 4.30 on a Friday afternoon…same as all the other slightly wonky things around the place. My good self most likely included, now I think on it.
   Yes, it is important to produce blog material regularly. In the earlier phase of the blog, I’d write at least once a week. Then, in the later phase of the blog I switched to at least once a month. But it’s fine if it isn’t possible to blog.
   My efforts are heading more and more into video production, and it is difficult to produce a video every week. Somehow, I manage. It’s just like blogging…I try to write 1,500 words for a video script.
   That stems from one of the main inspirations for the blog – listening to Alistair Cooke’s radio talks. He’d do a fifteen minute talk every week for a million years. I felt I could parcel a thought or two into 1,500 words of waffle. That’s how the blog went for a good while.
   Eventually, I felt that I’d get by on whatever I wrote. If I only wrote 1,000 words and said what I wanted to say, that’s what I did for that entry. I’m still here, typing nonsense. Now, though, I’m recording what I type and turning that into video nonsense.
   The world doesn’t end if I don’t blog for a wee while, or even for a big while. But what of the sudden end? I contemplated that as I used electrical tools to chew bits out of things in various parts of the house.
   Sudden internet silence might be down to sudden incapacitating injury. Don’t confuse a keyboard and a power tool of any kind. Keep your fingers off one. And keep your fingers off the other, too, if that’s how the mood flows. It’s moods that flow and blood that pumps…all over the rafters.
   Yes, my typing is that severe.
   I look around at a crowd of bloggers who no longer blog, and I wonder what it is that keeps me going. No, I don’t have anything meaningful to say. But I say it. Type it. Think it aloud as I hit the keys.
   If the blog stops, I’ve mistaken a keyboard for a power tool and written my thoughts in my own intestines. Always preferable to doing that in another person’s intestines. It’s considered rude not to ask first, and rude whether asking or not in any case.
   And that’s all I wrote. I was clambering around again, and making sure I didn’t fall into anything, that nothing fell into me, that I didn’t land on lumpy objects, that lumpy objects didn’t land on me, and that all sorts of dangerous things were safe. Shaky, but safe.
   I could’ve used that for the title of this blog post. SHAKY…BUT SAFE. A report from a clumsy author who didn’t need an ambulance, after all.
   Delays to blog posts are technical or non-technical. They may involve coffee and biscuits. Or cakes. Coffee and cakes. By law, delays to blog posts must involve coffee and biscuits. And cake. Cakes, preferably.
   I opened this blog post by contemplating published blog posts. But there are unpublished ones. I had obituaries ready to go for groper Harlan Ellison and Time Lord Terrance Dicks. Who would I do an obituary for, now? Three people…
   Me, myself, and I.
   This won’t work. I could write it up without difficulty. But publishing would be awkward. Set it up to auto-publish by a certain date, and then keep changing the date. That won’t work very well if I’m in a coffee coma.
   Is a coffee coma a coma from too much coffee or not enough coffee? I feel more non-scientific research is required in that sphere.
   Time for blogging advice. Write regularly. And write irregularly. Type with coffee. And type with coffee. There is no typing without coffee. Stay as safe as you can. There is a risk that you can never eliminate risk. Be vaguely aware of this. Avoid cables. Don’t trip over them, slice into them, or entangle yourself in their cabley entrails. Use machines that limit the number of cables. Or avoid machines entirely.
   I’m pausing to check for coffee, cables, and switches that are meant to be off. This is important stuff, and writing will see you through it. Blog when you can. If you blog to a routine, then that’s blogging when you can. Better late than November. That was true of my October post. I should say something about November 2019 and Los Angeles and replicants. But others are covering that, elsewhere.

Friday, 25 October 2019

LOOSE ENDS: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.


It’s that time of year again. From September to January, it’s the best time of year. And I consider the loose ends I’ve created alongside the loose ends I’ve tied off. What’s gone? Tied off? Can I be sure?
   I feel my cable war is over. For the YouTube channel, I’ve rearranged the microphone system. It’s amazing, how casual I make that sound. I rearranged it…’twas nothing. This is a lie. I took out the tiny USB hub and added one with a longer cable, allowing it to reach the computer housed inside a devil’s den.
   With the computer moved to the left, the USB cables struggled to reach their targets – cameras, microphone, and that second TV monitor on the far side of the Bookcase Mountains. Adding the new longer USB hub solved that problem, once I’d clambered through a nest of cables to connect everything.
   It all hangs by a well-connected thread. The loosest of loose ends…tied off. I knew I was in trouble when I counted four USB connections, forgot a fifth, and then gradually deduced that I’d flat-out ignored a sixth. It’s all better now.
   That’s that. No more cables. Sorted. Except that one of the cables might be on the way out. This is a technical term. I’ll look into it.

*

Yes. I removed a flickery USB cable from the recipe, and it all tastes so much better without that bogus length of electrical liquorice.
   Other loose ends?
   For once, another loose end that I tie off regularly…that stirred trouble.
   It fell apart and floated away, and my system collapsed.
   Regularly, I kneel on the floor. This is important. There’s a table in front of the letterbox. And almost everything that comes through that letterbox lands on the table. Occasionally, a thing slips between the letterbox and the table and falls to the carpet. It’s almost always easy to see the thing that falls, as it remains wedged upright and highly visible.
   Today I watched the postie push parcels through the letterbox. Everything landed on the table and all was right with the world. And yet, with business carrying me away for a few days, I felt I might have missed something.
   So I went back and looked more closely, kneeling in the usual manner. And there it was. The dreaded red card declaring that a parcel was waiting for me at the depot. I could type in the serial number and arrange for redelivery.
   No serial number.
   This annoyed me. I’d just come from the depot to pay off the hostage tax for a parcel from the Americas. Now I’d have to arrange another depot visit and buy cinnamon buns as I wandered the town.
   You can’t let that go. It’s the law.
   Needless to say, I retrieved the parcel that was too wide for the letterbox. I opened it to find MOSTLY PADDING. They should’ve packed it in a smaller box. But then…if they’d done that…I wouldn’t have had my excuse to go and buy cinnamon buns.
   You need no excuse to buy cinnamon buns. Unless you want to use coffee as an excuse, and that’s perfectly legal.
   Cinnamon buns happened.

*

The updated archive is still lying around in bits and pieces, with unsorted bones and derelict cogwheels scattered across the landscape. This fix proved to be a big one. It’s a pile of loose ends. Once I tidy the mess away, believe me…it’s done.
   Reorganising that is a one-off. Until the next time, of course. There’s a spectre at the feast. When I transferred the music archive from LAST COMPUTER to THIS COMPUTER, I thought everything came across. There are gaps I discover only when I have a hankering for a particular movie soundtrack or TV score.
   This leads me to wonder what’s not there. Checking that is a very difficult task…a large loose end that flails across the deck and risks knocking the crew overboard. I suspect I’m dealing with a problem amidships…
   Early music purchases are intact. And all the very latest stuff is accounted for. But how vast is the soggy middle of that rain-drenched burger? We’ll never know. I’m not going to keep detailed records of the quest to fix things.
   Instead, I’ll just stare at music and fix things. I’m not here to map out loose ends. As long as the ends are tied off and they still work when tied…that’s a result I won’t lose sleep over.

*

Since I shifted this blog from weekly to monthly, I haven’t missed a monthly post. And that’s why I am posting this now. Before the month of October ends in spooky masks and premature bonfires.
   I was busy. Yes, I stared at another loose end. Bookshelfia. The bookshelves. They are, as I’ve often remarked, a writer’s bookshelves. Books are arranged on those shelves by that strange measure, the space available.
   No, nothing is alphabetical there. You’d think with everything crammed in everywhere that there’s nowhere else to shift things to. But I’ve been staring at the bookshelves and muttering about reorganising a few stacks.
   I can cram more things in if I shift a tome here or nudge a volume there. Volume is the problem with volumes. I could digitise the entire archive and store it in a pocket. If I could digitise the physical archive.
   And that I cannot do. The shelves now compete with one another to house bulky physical object with low levels of reading to them: boardgames for my video channel. The board is designed to hold all the playing pieces, and to fold into a quarter its size to fit inside an industry-standard box.
   My books are crammed in there and could do with a touch of redistribution, it is true. The boxed boardgames, though, benefit far more from shuffling around and squeezing in. It’s another task ahead of me. And there’s no alphabetisation in sight, thankfully.
   Sadly, there’s no end in sight – even though my boardgame purchasing levels are far below those of large professional boardgame channels. When in doubt, climb high. Build up. The other day I turned a bookcase sideways and it changed everything…
   For now. It means, shock-horror, that I could fit one more bookcase in there, atop overburdened floorboards. And I was convinced that I’d never fit another bookcase in there again. When fitting bookcases into rooms, follow rabbinical advice: measure twice, cut once.

*

Aside from consolidating piles of boardgames and magically gaining space on shelves by stacking boxes higher and higher, I’ve been busy with other things. Suddenly, it’s more than three weeks into the month and there’s no blog post.
   I could’ve published within the first few days, but I felt like writing at least a thousand words on a topic. Loose ends. And the topic itself was a loose end that flailed around week after week.
   The world doesn’t stop rolling if I stop posting a blog or when I am away from Twitter. Admittedly, it would be strange to come back to social media to hear news of the world suddenly slowing down.
   If we all float away, let us float away with coffee and cake. This reminds me that I am bound by law to go hunting the wild coffee and untamed cake. The penalty for not having coffee is having coffee. And that’s as neat a law as you’ll find on the caffeine-stained statute books.

*

And now I find myself preparing next month’s blog post. I say that, but the preparation is in the thinking stage rather than the typing stage. You need never type anything of world-shattering importance…
   This isn’t a NEWS blog. It’s a blog about whatever I feel like blogging about, even if I don’t feel like blogging about anything. Come the next blog, the untamed cake will be no more than a memory referenced in a digital archive.
   I plan to take my trusty spear to that untamed cake. It’s a multi-pronged approach. In short, my spear is a fork. I’d call it a spork, but that seat’s taken. The same is true of a fork-spear when attempting to call it a fear.
   Legally, I am required to type this between bites of coffee and sips of cake. The food is quadruple chocolate cake – which is a level of chocolate reached by eating triple chocolate cake and throwing a small bar of chocolate onto the plate.
   This is what slows my blogging pace: chocolate cake and coffee and the savouring of chocolate cake and coffee. Oh, and all the things that kept me busy, whether rearranging shelves or the mere contemplation of the rearranging of shelves.
   It is the season of loose ends. Leaves curl, brown, and yellow, and redden. Rain falls sideways. Streetlights switch on two hours before they should, when heavy clouds roll in and the landscape resembles Mordor.
   Wind deadens the face. Gloves and boots are in, and boots are in puddles. Frost threatens. I tie shoelaces and scan bookcases. The hunt is on for cake, and coffee supplies remain high. This whole blog post is one giant loose end. And there’s nothing wrong in that.

Monday, 2 September 2019

OBITUARY. TERRANCE DICKS.

The death of renegade Time Lord Terrance Dicks at the relatively young age of 2,001 has put a frown on the face of the Universe, forcing widespread alterations to the Encyclopaedia Galactica and wholesale revision of Google Star Maps.
   In keeping with the Gallifreyan habit of adopting a title in place of a name, Terrance was often simply referred to as The Editor. His malfunctioning TARDIS touched down on our small blue world on the 10th of May, 1935. Things were never the same for Terrance or our planet after that.
   To his near-eternal shame, the Editor's crash-landing obliterated the cenotaph in East Ham's Central Park. The only way to make amends, Terrance reasoned, was to disguise his TARDIS as the cenotaph. Stranded through the failure of a defective flux capacitor, there the idling space-time machine remains to this day.
   While on Earth, in a misguided attempt to fix a faulty mercury link, Terrance inadvertently became a pioneer of lottery rigging - making use of the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle to mistakenly improve his chances of winning a lottery not yet established.
   Thinking it over, and bypassing the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, Terrance made a short trip into the nightmarish future world of 1994, discovered a lottery just starting up, and spread his considerable winnings over the next five hundred years - keeping score in his diary.
   Rooting around in the past was his favourite hobby, and he would often produce the most amazing curios from the depths of his capacious pockets, while muttering about e-mail, e-space, or other e-related oddities that he promised to explain later.
   Later, around the year 2525, he provided all those explanations - and generations yet-unborn will be thankful.

*

As for the generations of fans, they are thankful, too. Terrance Dicks, who regenerated and flew back to Gallifrey died recently at the age of 84, pretty much was MR DOCTOR WHO.
   His mark on the show as script editor and episode writer was as indelible as the mark he made off to the side of the show in writing TARGET adaptations of storylines.
   There's a particular place in space-time for Terrance. His TARGET adaptations covered an era when vintage WHO episodes weren't routinely aired years after the initial showing.
   On top of that, whole chunks of storylines were missing from the BBC archives, presumed destroyed in the not-so-great videotape cleansing. If you wanted your DOCTOR WHO fix, living out the tales of old, you had to read the books in the days before home entertainment and wall-to-wall collections and shiny future discs and audio commentaries.
   You had to read the books.
   And if you read those books, you discovered David Whitaker and Terrance Dicks. There are plenty of other people out there in the dark who will scribble far-better obits of Terrance than the one I am typing now.
   I remember him as a writer who described capacious pockets and all the unusual things fished from them. You can't get past an image of Pertwee without imagining a shock of white hair atop a remarkably young-old face.
   If the hat/coat/scarf/mood is Bohemian and concerns a floppy broad-brimmed hat over a mop of curly brown hair, then the TARDIS doors must, by law, open on a toothy shot of Baker's face grinning like a loon.
   Terrance gave us that stuff. Episodes, brought to life again as chapters. The Doctor and his trusty companions were always escaping into danger and facing the deadly attack that was sidestepped at the last second.
   And after the final farewells to freedom fighters/mine workers and promises that your planet should be just fine, off our heroes all go in a big (bigger than that) blue box that departs with a wheezing-groaning sound, leaving only a square patch on the grass and the memory of adventures-just-won.
   That's what Terrance Dicks means to me. Farewell, Mr Capacious Pockets. Rest easy.










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Sunday, 1 September 2019

ARCHIVE UPDATE: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.


Completely reorganising the digital archive was easier and harder than I thought it would be…which is pretty much how I thought things would go. It’s been easier reorganising the physical archive this past month. How is that going? I set the last bookcase in place.
   No, really, that’s it. I am done, this time. My bookcases are now leaping ahead of the game…I have excess storage for a time. How much time? A length of time equal to a piece of string. No more than that. Might be considerably less than that.
   It looks as though I’ll have excess digital storage for a long time, too. I knew one of the big problems would be stuff I couldn’t move. One of the other big problems is stumbling on utterly empty folders. They don’t need to be there. Gradually, very gradually, I sift through the shifting sands while perched on the hump of a rabid camel sliding down an iceberg into the jaws of hell.
   On a Sunday.
   When everything is shut and the buses run on a whim.
   In the heat of August on an October day in March.
   Yes, it’s a bit of a mix.
   What can I move around?
   Everything, so far.
   I’ve yet to encounter that dreaded mirage of the sands, the file that I just can’t move at all. These files exist. Files that are in use cannot be shifted, obviously. There are times when the computer tells you that you can’t move a file as it is in use…though, CLEARLY, the file in question isn’t being used at all, hasn’t been used in a dog’s age, and will, almost certainly, never be opened again.
   The solution is to rip the plug out at the socket and try again when the temper is cooler. Temperature. I may be mispronouncing my wurdz.

*

With the passage of time, how fares the job? I entered the grimmer stages of archiving. There were files I simply couldn’t move, for fear of disturbing internal links. I disturbed those links and moved the fucking files. Then I dealt with the hard part – fixing the links back up.
   Done and dusty. Very dusty.
   The rest of the problem won’t go away. Duplicate files. Good gravy, the duplicate files. If I ran this archive the way a nuclear power station is run, I’d have enough duplicate safety systems in reserve to build another dozen or so nuclear reactors out of the spares.
   Dig deep.
   They said.
   It’ll be easy.
   They said.
   Then I found dig deep references duplicated out to a depth of ten files, with a hint of ten more lurking behind yet another subterranean archive of an archive of an archive. I must impress upon you the nature of the tight ship I ran. If I’d run the Titanic as tightly as I ran my digital archive, the fucking iceberg would’ve been the one that sank.
   And yet, even running the tightest of ships, I am reminded that you can photocopy a digital archive in a very short time. And in a very long time. You know all about the very short time of copying an archive deliberately over the course of a few hours, girder by girder.
   But you don’t feel the grass growing under your feet, year to year, as accidental duplicates pile up. Long story short, duplicated, I had to stop archiving. The danger is that I delete every duplicate in some of the dustier areas of the archive.
   It’s one thing to take a fucking flamethrower to whole swathes of files, burning the fields to the roots and beyond. No harm done – I have the original crop saved for use at the drop of a file. But the killing of an essential file. And all its clones. In some massive flaming fucked-up way. It’s hard to take that shit back.
   ESSENTIAL essential files are duplicated in different locations. If an asteroid hits the town, losing data will be the least of my problems. Think of all the travel I’d be forced to endure, just to reach half-decent second-rate shops again.
    Yes, my difficulty lies in not losing data. Over the centuries I’ve been blessed with that curse. I’ve not lost so much essential data that I now have far too much duplicated essential data. And seeing the extent of it by shifting the archive from one end of the wedge to another is, frankly, shocking.
   Going from…
   YEAR X: TOPIC ONE, TOPIC TWO…
...to…
   TOPIC ONE: YEAR, YEAR, YEAR…TOPIC TWO: YEAR, YEAR, YEAR…
   Well. Fuck.

*

There’s no cure for this. It had to be done, and must be finished. Even just dipping in and starting this, I found everything arranged much more easily, and far more to my liking. Basic file usage feels so much better. I suspect that, as I shift files to the new system in chunks, shifting files will grow harder…
   The log-jam is coming. I’ll be down to the last few (thousand-odd) files and I’ll realise I’m caught in a puzzle of a riddle of a mystery of Scooby-Doo proportions. And, as I am the only suspect, I’ll rip this rubber mask off to reveal that I am Scooby. Scooby rips the mask off to reveal she is Velma. Jinkies.
   What’s the upshot? Well, it’s September. I am a few faded leaves and frosty mornings from year’s end and putting the 2019 archive to bed. It’s no longer the 2019 archive by year, though. Now it’s eighteen archives by topic, with twelve 2019 folders distributed across those topics.
   That’s right.
   Nothing is simple or straightforward when it comes to simple and straightforward archiving.
   I have one 2020 file set up already and it is only September. What do you mean Christmas decorations are on sale in the shops? It’s not even fucking Hallowe’en yet. Damn it. Upshot? I’m hunting wabbits, and I must be vewy vewy quiet.
   There’s a fifty-fifty chance that the annual archiving requirements somehow strangely clash with the overall change to the archive. Nothing’s been lost in the shuffle yet, as far as I know. The advantage here lies in this archive being easier to use. Technically, I should find lost stuff more easily as the new archival pillars go up.
   But, gasp, shock, horror, I had to take a break from it. The digital archiving ran through the long grass with another bout of physical archiving. I took a break from one to tackle the other. That wasn’t enough. When the alarm bells go off and you realise you never hooked the alarm bells up in the first place, you know it is time to shut that monstrous machine down.
   If you can.

*

No, I’m not keeping an accurate account of the number of duplicate files I roasted away into the digital sky. Loads. Too many. Yes, I check the duplicates to see if they are EXACT duplicates or part of the usual digital clusterfuck that forms within file folders over time.
   I’m staggered by it. Hashtag stunned. And I haven’t even addressed the raging shit-show that is this blog’s own archive. Somewhere along the line, I began writing the blog posts in Blogger itself. With each blog’s publication, the entry made its way to me via an e-mail notification reproducing the topic in full.
   This automatically generated a duplicate archive with no direct file copy on my computer itself. With no rhyme, no reason, to the writing of blog posts, I’d find myself writing directly in the blog or else in a file on my computer for transfer to the blog.
   I have more holes and patches in my archive than I care to face. Doesn’t matter. There’s the e-mail archive. Yes, I should fill in the holes and create a complete blog archive. I’m all archived out right now. There are woods and there are trees. I can’t see those for the giant whale burbling past my submarine window. And that’s a bit tricky to deal with, given that I am typing from the top of the Empire State Building.

*

Time for a moral.
   Better, perhaps, to quote Shakespeare…than to come up with a moral myself. Shakespeare wrote that. It’s in my archive. Next to twenty-umpty copies of the same file in four different (yet occultly-related) folders. I’ve had it with archiving. Even though I know I must return to the planet after being catapulted out of an absurd cannon, hell, that doesn’t make the journey feel any better.
   My over-archived file and folder collection prevented the loss of data. A few times, the archive steered me wrong. I recovered. With the new arrangement, I feel the archive will rarely send me off in the wrong direction. I am willing to accept the slight chance of falling off a cliff in the dark over the old method of occasionally stumbling into caves full of hungry bears.
   Right now, I could do with a coffee. Staring at the empty cup to my side, I see that I have just destroyed a coffee. So? I could still do with a coffee. An eyeball over the archive tells me I’ve created 2,695 files containing the word coffee. Not even a full one per cent of the files on this machine. Guess I drink more of it than write about it. That’s as the state of coffee should be. The state of the archive I’ll leave until I’ve had considerably more coffee.