Monthly Archives: April 2007

Rooting Around – Part 2

[This is part 2 of the 4 part short story Rooting Around, you may want to read Part 1 if you haven’t already]

Sean dragged himself up through the hatch and into the attic. He stood up and found the light switch. He’d only been up here once before, but he’d already worked out that it was a really stupid idea of whoever it was to put the light switch up so high that you couldn’t reach it from the ladder. It was bad enough coming up the ladder, but going back down in the dark was particularly hair-raising.

What this room needed was a particularly good clean. That’s what Sean would have done if he was keeping any of this stuff, but this stuff was all going to be loaded into the back of Sean’s car and taken to the dump. He’d get all of the stuff out and then he could work out how to clean this space. He turned around slowly trying to take in the sheer amount of stuff that was here. How many trips to the dump would it take? 10? 20? Far too many was what he decided.

He looked at the floor and realised that it was completely covered in dust and grime. He shifted one pile of boxes to one of the clear spaces and saw, as he had hoped, that the floor under the boxes was relatively clean. He climbed over some of the boxes and sat in the clean space he had made. It was like he was in the kind of fort that he used to build as a child. It felt relatively safe and reassuring. Since he’d moved into the house he’d never really seemed to be able to fill it enough. He’d always thought that this sensation wasn’t really anything to do with the amount of stuff that had turned out to be Jen’s so he hadn’t been able to take with him, and that it was more about there not being another person there. The silence of somewhere empty is deafening. It’s partly the way they aren’t speaking but it’s partly the way that you know as you return home each time that everything will be in exactly the same place as you left it. When he was living with Jen he had resented the fact that she kept moving everything, now he knew that he missed it.

But maybe there was more to the amount of stuff side of things. There were, after all, some rather strange spots in some of the rooms downstairs. There was an empty room that really looked like there should be a dining table in it. And in the living room the fact that there was only a tv and a single-seater arm chair certainly hinted at being alone. But, Sean thought as he settled in up here between the boxes, here for the first time he felt safe.

The light from the florescent bulb was creating a shaft of light that fell just a few feet in front of Sean, and as he looked through it he could see all of the dust particles dancing through it. He watched them fly in every direction and it was very peaceful. Something truly distracting. He let out a giant sigh as he slightly decompressed, letting go of a very small part of the stress that he’d been carrying in between his shoulder blades for the past few months. As he exhaled all of the particles of dust sped up, and moved in different directions. And he watched as they slowly came back to their normal non-interrupted pattern and fell again as they had before he had disturbed them. He was very tired, he hadn’t been sleeping well at all, and now as he looked at all of this around him he started to feel very sleepy. His eyes slightly lost their focus, but then something suddenly snapped them back, and he was suddenly wide awake.

Just beyond the shaft of light, the box just beyond it, had written on the side of it, in professionally printed lettering – “Time Machine”.

[Tune in for Part 3 next Friday.]

A man buys a parrot

But discovers too late that it is extremely foul-mouthed and bad-tempered. The bird keeps shouting obscenities at the man, who is forces to lock it in his garden shed to try and shut it up. This does work, and he can still hear the filthy-mouthed bird from the house. In desperation the man retrieved the parrot and shuts t in a cupboard, but the bird still keeps screaming at hi, and now the neighbours are starting to complain about the noise. As a last resort the man shelves the parrot into the fridge. Miraculously the parrot suddenly shuts up , so the man takes the bird out of the fridge and puts it back on its perch The parrot then apologizes for its appalling behaviour and asks to be forgiven. ‘That’s okay,’ says the man, ‘As long as you don’t do it again.”

“I won’t,” says the parrot, casting a nervous eye at the fridge. “By the way… what did the chicken do?”

Out of control?

A lot of people are clamoring for gun control in America at the moment, but there is an important statistic that should be remembered in all of this. And it boils down to these two facts

1) More people own guns per capita in Canada than in America.

2) Far more people get killed in America per capita by guns.

Now, Canada does have tighter controls on who they let have guns than America does and certainly I agree that these controls should be implemented in America. But we all know that implementing them will be very difficult and still doesn’t mean less guns.
The base of the problem is cultural clearly. Something in the culture tells them that this is a way to deal with life.

What always happens in these situations in America is that the politicos go constitutional on everyone’s ass. The democrats call for gun control and the republicans sensing they can’t win the debate say that it was because of some movie / album / video game thus making it about freedom of speech. We’ve been there, done that got the “out of my fucking cold dead hands” tee shirt.

The solution has got to be outside the box. We have to do something that seems really crazy. More guns in schools. Woah there Alex what are you saying, like armed guards and stuff? No. People who think they have guns to defend themselves are part of the problem. We need to teach kids about guns and about how dangerous they are. Teach them that owning a gun makes you more likely to die in a gun crime rather than less. Teach them that killing others doesn’t help you feel better (I guess it can’t or why do they all kill themselves at the end)? It’s all about education.

But we’ve been there with education you’re all saying. Look how long we’ve been trying to make sex education a reality. Well yes so we have to trade something with the gun lobby. What we have to give them is, something so tasty they’ll just never see the punch coming. We make buying weaponry tax deductible.

What?

Yes tax deductible.

Why is this good? Well first we get to know where all the guns are. That’s one of the best bits.

Then we make it so that if you claim this benefit you have to allow the government to inspect how you keep them safely on your premises.

We should make it so there are two different rates of tax relief one for hunting weaponry and one for non hunting weaponry. So that later we can ban all not hunting weaponry rather than having to debate each time if certain guns are dangerous or not. Like we should really have to ask this question.

Finally we fix it so that the gun shop carries a large part of the tax burden if the individual fails to keep their gun securely. This way it is in the shops interest to check out their customer.

With all this we aren’t forcing registration, we’re not changing the constitution. We’re just saying, “oooh wouldn’t this tax break be nice”. And people will gladly trade in their liberties for money.

Now you may say that this will simply drive the trade underground. That bad guys will still need to get their guns from somewhere. But most guns are stolen from people. Not bought from distributors wholesale. If people are encouraged to keep them more safe then perhaps students won’t be able to get hold of them at least, and criminals will certainly find it harder too.

I know it probably sounds insane. But it might just work.

Two monkeys are having a bath.

One turns to the other and says, “Oo oo ah ah!”

The other replies, “Well, put the cold tap on, then.”

A meeting in the park

Two men are sitting on a bench in the park on an incredibly hot summers day. They are both wearing woollen suits and sunglasses. They even have the kind of hair that screams, “we are secret service operatives doing something dodgy”.

There is no sign that of contact between the two of them. The suggestion being that these two people wearing identically inappropriate clothing just happened to sit down next to each other. They have a newspaper sitting between them, the one who didn’t put it down will pick it up before walking off. But before any of that can happen a single red balloon goes floating past them both.

They both break they’re thousand yard stares they’ve been practicing and look at it float gently past. The one closest to it jumps out of his seat and goes after it. It’s floated a reasonable distance away by the time he’s able to catch it. But when he does he doesn’t head back to the bench. He just starts walking away.

Suddenly the seated suit jumps up, “Er, Simon, you’ve forgotten your paper.”

“No Jonathan,” says the balloon carrying Simon, “it’s your turn to take the paper today”.

“Oh sorry,” says Jonathan, “getting up and taking the paper. It was that balloon, it completely distracted me.”

“Yes,” says Simon, looking rather quizzically up at the balloon he is holding, “me too”.

“Shall we try the museum tomorrow?”

“Fewer balloons”

“And less hot.”

Great photos

Katherine has a great eye, for photos, she actually only has one eye that properly works but that’s by the by I suppose in this situation. This photo that was taken in Verona has inspired at least one person to join Flickr is an example of exactly the kind of thing that she notices that others don’t. Enjoy:

And go and see them all: Kat’s Flickr page.

Framing the argument

So if you want to argue with me about religion there is something that people try to do which is called, in my book, “having it both ways”. This is a problem that Richard Dawkins gets himself into. Richard Dawkins believes, as I do, that evolution is true. But the problem is that religious types know the weakness of the argument and they exploit it. Scientists can’t prove evolution, or at least haven’t yet. So religious types say, “you can’t prove it so you can’t use it”.

But the argument really should be like this:

Option 1

We both admit that you don’t need proof to believe in things. In which case evolution trumps god because it explains the way the world works far better than religion does

Option 2

We both admit that we should only use things that we can prove in our argument. In this scenario Evolution doesn’t exist, but neither does God.

Because Dawkins can’t conceive of Option 2, he lets God in by the back door. He attempts to say, “I’m allowed to say things are true that you can’t prove, but you can’t”.

So, yeah. I personally don’t mind what you believe in, but I think evolution sounds more likely than God.

Rooting Around – Part 1

It had been a month, and Sean knew it was time to go up into the attic. He had been avoiding it since he moved in. It was a complete mess up there. Why hadn’t he paid more attention to that estate agents check list? The old man hadn’t been required to clear it, and now it was all just up there, sitting there. Somebody elses stuff that just hadn’t been wanted any more. He had tried to motivate himself by watching Cash In The Attic and Antiques Roadshow, but Sean just wasn’t that lucky. He knew it would just be useless junk. He wasn’t even interested in it.

He went to the fridge and took out another beer, returned to the couch and sat there trying to decide why he thought he was so unlucky. The answer he knew was exactly the kind of thing that he hadn’t been thinking about for a while. It was the reason he was here in this house that he didn’t really like. It was the reason he was sitting on the couch drinking beer at 11 in the morning, and had had time to watch daytime television like Cash in the Attic.

But he had been trying hard, really hard, not to think about her. And he had started to wonder, just recently, if perhaps this effort wasn’t part of the problem. Perhaps the fact, that he hadn’t stopped and actually thought about it, was part of the reason why he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Each time the thought surfaced he would bat it away. It seemed to be every few seconds it would occur to him.

He would look at the way that the cutlery was arranged in the draw and know that Jennifer wouldn’t have arranged it that way. He would look at the way his living room looked like a dentist’s waiting room and know that Jennifer would never have laid it out that way. He would look into the fridge and know with a vague nagging sense that raw meat and cooked were supposed to be on separate shelves, and one was supposed to be above the other, and know that he’d been told a thousand times but had never bothered to really remember. And he knew he was certainly doing the washing up wrong, but couldn’t remember why.

All he knew, all too well, was why he was in this state. Sean had introduced Jennifer to his boss, and that was it, she had left Sean for his boss. This was the short truth of the situation. That was all of it in a nicely packaged single sentence. A single thought. If only he had never introduced them! Then none of this would have ever happened. They had been happy before that. Well sort of. But if they’d never gone to that stupid office party then none of this would have happened.

Could he have done more to stop it? Could he have tried to win her back? Maybe he could have, but he didn’t realise that she was going until it was all far too late. She had already fallen in love with his boss long before Sean had ever realised that she had had fallen out of love with him. And what wasn’t to love about him. Tony was a sort of perfect man, he had money, a great car, knew the good places to go to dinner, was cultured and knew about the theatre and stuff and he was sporty. He didn’t know as much about movies as Sean, but then that might have been something that Jennifer appreciated about him.

She was always asking him to stop analysing movies in the car on the way home. It wasn’t fair, they had used to love talking about movies when they first started going out and now what, she wanted him to change that as well? He’d changed to much for her already. He’d started putting the toilet seat down, he had worn shirts with collars, he’d done the washing up without being asked, he’d even not sworn when her parents were round for dinner. What more did she want? She wanted him to take down some his movie posters and stop talking about movies as much? Well that just was different! He could understand the other stuff, he knew he had just been getting away with stuff before, stuff that he shouldn’t have been doing anyway. And actually, once he tried it, even he could admit that he looked better in a shirt with a collar. But this stuff was different. This was changing something about him. But that’s where it had started to go wrong. He should have resisted, but he couldn’t.

He had decided to surprise her, to do something different. So on one movie night he started getting ready like usual, but when Jen had come in to ask him what they were going to see he presented her with the invite he’d been given at work. It was an invite to a swanky party. He got them all the time, not that he told Jen, but he never went. They were a perk of his job, he just didn’t like them. He just didn’t like all of the smoke and noise he told himself. But that wasn’t true, he loved all of that, he feared parties because they required him to make small talk, to make polite conversation with people who never had anything interesting to say, to listen to them babbling on about how they got there, what the traffic was like, how well they are doing in their boring pointless jobs. And then to hear himself doing the same back to them. He hated all of it, he was afraid of it. He saw it like some kind of gladiatorial challenge, the test being could he think of something to say the next time the other person stopped talking. Every time there was a pause in the conversation, his heart would start pounding, as though it was keeping a time of how many seconds had been silent. Fearing the shame, fearing the silence and especially fearing the inevitable moment where the person would say something like, “right well I’m going to mingle, I’ll catch you later” and then wonder off.

He feared them also because of the attractive women who would be flirting just feet away, not necessarily with him, but close enough. They made him sweat and he was sure they could smell it. And now it was worse because when he was with Jen, he felt that he shouldn’t look, and that she would see him looking or even just think he was looking. So now he just kept flitting between men, staring at one of them, and then violently snapping his head to the next guy trying to avoid even resting his eyes for a second on any of the women, even though he wanted to. Then he’d start worrying that Jen would think he was a gay and he’d start sweating again. So, taking Jennifer to a party instead of a movie was a big move for Sean.

And that’s where it all went wrong, thought Sean. He finished his beer and put it in the recycling box. Some things, he thought, had stuck. He liked the recycling box because it was like the beer walls that he used to construct as a student showing off how much beer they had managed to consume in a weekend. The box showed how much beer he’d drunk in a fortnight. Same idea.

Something about the word boxes triggered a memory in Sean’s mind. He remembered all too suddenly that he was supposed to be clearing the loft. Okay, he thought, I can do this. He went upstairs, opened the hatch, lowered the ladder and went in to the loft.

[This is part 1 of a 4 part story, check back next Friday for Part 2]

Why shouldn’t the chicken cross the road?

Because it would be a fowl proceeding.

Rage Against the Machine

There once was a boy called Jimbo who created a wonderful game. Jimbo was the school inventor and because of this he generally hung around with a lot of the geekier kids. When Jimbo showed them his wonderful game they all loved it and wanted to play with it. Right after they started playing Jimbo started walking over to where the bigger kids were.

“No”, his geeky friends said, “you can’t play with them, some of them are bullies”.

“Don’t worry,” Jimbo said, “we can all play this game together and the cool thing about this game is that when people start being mean, and not playing properly the game helps us all find the mean people and fix what they break.”

“But,” said the geeky kids, “what if they say mean things about us or hit us?”

“Don’t worry,” said Jimbo, “the game will help you. Whenever something nasty happens it’s deliberately amplified so people can fix it. And anyway, just ignore the bullies”.

“But surely,” said the kids, “we need a complicated set of rules that says what you can and can’t do.”

“No,” said Jimbo, “because if we have a complicated set of rules then we might stop something new and exciting from coming out of the game. The playground as a whole will police itself as a whole and everyone will decide what they can and can’t tolerate. Don’t fight the playground,” he said.

Well many years passed and Jimbo became one of the most important boys in the school. But just when he thought things couldn’t get any better a group of particularly naughty boys were particularly mean to one of his best friends who was a girl. And strangely his usual reassurance that she should just ignore the bullies didn’t come. Strangely he didn’t say, don’t fight the playground. Strangely this time he said, here is a completely new set of rules.

He had forgotten his usual mantra. And just as his mantra predicted, everyone ignored him. Jimbo Wales you should know better.

Jimbo Wales in case you aren’t aware is the man responsible for Wikipedia. And one of his friends, Kathy Sierra, had a lot of nasty things said about her on her own blog. And so he and chief geek Tim O’Reilly have decided to create a set of rules about blogging. Jimbo famously once said, “don’t fight the internet”, to explain why Wikipedia works in some ways because of the trolls rather than as expected being destroyed by them. Troll attacks on Wikipedia actually help alert editors to areas on controversy which shouldn’t appear in a neutral point of view article.

All in all, as Doug says, Don’t feed the trolls. It’s the same as ignoring the bullies. They are only after a reaction, it’s much better to not give them one. This massive reaction is exactly, exactly what they wanted. These rules will be ignored by the everyone except the trolls. Why would the trolls pay attention? They will remember every part of the rules line by line and follow Jimbo, Tim and Kathy round the internet pulling them up every time they make a minor transgression. They will do this because that is what bullies do, they know the individuals will have to react.

If you’d like to read the rules then they are here.