Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Off day the second

No post today again due to still not feeling well.

I will just say that the (highly predictable) problem with the “democratization” of the publishing business enabled by eBook readers is lack of quality. If a writer is not obsessive-compulsive about correct grammar, he should have an editor who is. Of course, in many cases this does not matter because the book is unsalvagable in other aspects anyway, but not always. For example, Daniel by Keith Yocum is a novel that is mildly entertaining but marred by such lack of attention to basic issues. Unsurprisingly, it is published by a “self-publishing company”.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Off day

No post today due to not feeling well.

I will just mention that Fellini’s is a very good film.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Of mosquitoes and men

I read somewhere that a new method of repelling mosquitoes was discovered: apparently, the creatures will not pass through certain kinds of light beams. The cause for this seems to be unknown.

When I went for a run the other day, I came across a strip of blue LED lighting integrated into the pavement – one of those features that are entirely without merit but seemingly beloved by property developers. There is something very peculiar about having light coming from below; it felt like I was approaching some kind of physical barrier, and had to exert my force of will in order to cross this line of light.

Advice

If I were ever to publish a Life Advice book (and I would avoid calling it a “self-help” book, since I want to make it clear that it is I that does the helping), it should contain a passage somewhat akin to the following:

It is often advised that difficulties are to be faced, as opposed to avoided. If you are a wimpy person (and I know many of my readers are), I recommend strictly against this. To wimpy people, difficulties are monstrous, immeasurable icebergs that admit no trespassing around, over, under or even through them. Facing them, attempting to stare them down like one’s arch-enemy, will only result in contracting hypothermia from the antarctic winds. Instead, dear reader, you should avoid making them part of your life as far as possible, whilst not falling prey to the dangerous temptation of denying their existence. This is the balancing act you must master: set your sail smoothly towards fresher waters, whilst keeping an awareness of the icy-blue obstacle at the rear of your consciousness; like a grain in one’s eye one can’t get rid of, or a pimple at the tip of one’s nose one must not extinguish.
Luckily, I have no plans to publish any such work.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

On tour

One regularly reads about people embarking on a journey with some sort of highly artificial and in some sense comprehensive goal: hike the entire Appalachian Way, traverse England from south to north, cycle along the circumference of Afghanistan.

I’ve always seen the attraction in these endeavours. A variant which I imagine to  be worthy of investigation is a thorough criss-crossing of a limited territory. For example, spend two months walking x kilometres of London’s streets, never walking the same street twice. Take a great deal of photos and write down impressions in great detail. The only downside to this would seem to be its gruelling monotony and potential loneliness, although one could undertake it as a group project. In that case, however, one can imagine what a juxtaposition of the initial and the last pages of the final report might look like:

“Seven Dials, Covent Garden, 6 am. A hazy, uncertain light greets us. Seventeen strangers have become friends within the last amazing three weeks of meticulous planning – and now we are finally here, burning to explore this familiar yet strange city with new, greedy eyes. Spiralling ever outwards, we will make our way through its pompous boulevards as well as its seedy side-streets. And off we go, sauntering giddily into the sunrise, towards Holborn…”

—versus:—

“Dave finally quit as well yesterday; stayed on another night at that dirty so-called hostel (forgot the name, too many recently lol!), while we were off again. Were going to get early start but Lizzy and what’s-her-face were bitching about some trifle again. Really don’t know why I’m still doing this. Oh yeah, and we saw the millionth independent fucking record store. Who cares.”

That’s how I imagine it anyway.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Colours

Is it conceivable that there exists an as yet undiscovered colour? The obvious answer is “obviously not” – all one has to do is traverse the electromagnetic spectrum from infra-red to ultraviolet, and one has seen them all.

But if one takes a subjective rather than a purely scientific approach to this question, the answer becomes perhaps a little less clear. Who has not seen some stunning colour in a painting or a sunset that seems entirely its own – and is not at all to be found in the Microsoft Paint palette? One may argue that this is merely a psychological trick which the composition of the painting or the brilliance of the sunset plays on us; but then, we are interested particularly on the subjective effect of the colours.

This encourages us to believe that maybe there are other colours which can be perceived, if one seeks to enlist other agents in support of the mere electromagnetic wave. The first things that springs to mind are psychoactive drugs, with which your correspondent admits a lack of familiarity. Also, they are “cheating” in the sense that any novel chromatological experiences are merely simulated internally rather than stimulated externally, although the boundaries are admittedly blurry.

So who knows – maybe there is some unique combination of electromagnetic waves of various frequencies, made to perform some elaborate microscopic dance upon one’s retinas, which, when the experimental conditions are right (test subject 1 m under water, eyeballs gently vibrated), necessarily leads to the perception of an entirely new colour, which no man had theretofore ever experienced.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

On the Kindle

Everyone knows the Kindle. It’s a great product. It’s also pretty revolutionary. I thought I’d write down the pros and cons of a Kindle (you may substitute any similarly-featured ebook reader) versus a book, in approximate order of importance in each category.

PRO
  • Many classic books are available for free, e.g. on Project Gutenberg
  • It features a convenient built-in dictionary
  • You can purchase books anywhere with WiFi / 3G (depending on your model)
  • Many books are cheaper, including current bestsellers
  • No need for bookmarks, the device remembers it for you
  • If you have lots of books on it, and you lose your Kindle, replacing it is easier (and certainly more convenient) than replacing all the books
  • Nobody knows that you're reading the latest Twilight movie tie-in (but then you’re not, so that's okay!)

CON
  • It Just Isn’t The Same Feeling
  • You cannot rapidly flick through the book, or rapidly look at the previous page; the E-Ink screen is just too slow
  • Nobody knows that you're reading an excellent and very erudite/hip (delete as appropriate) novel
  • On a Kindle, all books look the same; there is no individuality in terms of paper quality and thickness, font face and size, page margin etc. etc. While some of these options can be configured on the Kindle, there is no way to set them per book.
  • If you only have a few books on it, and you lose your Kindle, then replacing it will be more expensive than purchasing the same books again
  • If you’re somewhere without electricity for a long time (a few weeks to a month), you won’t have anything to read
I’ve listed these because they make a rather interesting set of advantages and disadvantages. There is no clear winner here; to me, both have their deserved place. It really is revolutionary.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

On Dear Esther

Dear Esther is a melancholy tale set on the Hebrides. It takes the form of a first-person 3D game, and was released on Steam about a week ago.

Is it a good story? As far as it goes it is not a bad one; but it does not go very far. Firstly, the game takes only about two hours to play. Secondly, it prefers to shroud itself in a certain layer of mystery, although the essence of the plot is made pretty clear.

Is it good in other ways? Yes: it boasts some beautiful scenery, particularly in the middle section of the game, despite using the ageing Source engine. It has an excellent, haunting soundtrack. The voiceover acting is quite well done, too.

Is it essential for it to be realised as a game? That is perhaps the most interesting question. It is striking how entirely non-interactive the game is: all you can do is walk around. No jumping, no using of objects, no crouching. Moreover, the walking is really a frustratingly slow gliding. I sometimes wished the story was able to progress without me having to hold down w all the time.

And yet, the scenery is so well realised that on the other hand I was actually grateful for the ability to explore it to my heart's content. This ability to connect a little more deeply with the environment is the advantage that Dear Esther is getting from being a “game”.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Infinite city

What if… the small world around me was infinite? What if I could walking the streets of this city, in one direction, forever? What if the endless succession of traffic lights, caf├ęs, supermarkets, primary schools, honking cars and loitering youths, billboards and canals, parks and police stations, bus stops and bubblegum machines, streetlights and stop signs, bridges and breweries, pubs and post offices, what if it all were literally infinite? Nobody you asked could tell you why it was infinite. Everybody would know plenty of local history. There would be politics, with an infinite hierarchy of governmental levels.

The city would vary in many aspects: over here, they prefer sweet potatoes, while yon, all houses are built on stilts in the lake. In my neighbourhood, one likes to build skyscrapers, while the people of the far north live underground, and leave the surface to host artfully shaped parks.

In fact, the further one goes, the more incredible the sights become. A traveller from afar once told me of people who build their houses under the surface of the river.

A pleasant fantasy. Is our world so different?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Resolution: a story

He had awoken after a long coma. He was now convalescing in an expansive sanatorium by the seaside. Still very weak, he took walks on the beach, watching the grey sea heaving under the cloudy sky. Seagulls danced erratically. When he got back from his walks, he always licked his salty lips; every time, his appetite was a little better than the day before.

On the fifth day, he was well enough to feel the full weight of boredom, unimpeded now by the fading weakness in his bones. He was itching to return to the world he had so long called his home: the world of biological research. In fact, to his own surprise, he was now beset by a youthful, exuberant enthusiasm for the simple pleasures of his subject, and he was beginning to spend his mornings scouring the local flora, watching the feuds of the ants, cataloguing the local wildlife. All species were now fascinating to him, and he satisfiedly ascribed this to the newly-blossoming bios in his own self.

After three such blissful days, he was longing to have some equipment. He had always been particularly interested in cell biology, and its study via the optical microscope. He finally decided to mail-order one; sure, it cost a bit, but he was sure to find a good use for it in his lab once he got home. He passed the days until its arrival quietly observing the seagulls, noting their flight patterns, trying to remember all he knew about behavioural ornithology.

Finally, the day came that the microscope arrived; the porter handed him the heavy apparatus with a friendly nod. Eagerly, he took it up to his room, erected it on his desk with a few practiced motions, and trained it upon the subject he had ready: a nettle leaf that was befallen by a certain interesting parasite.  Taking a step back, taking a quick breath, he smiled to his reflection in the mirror; anon, he sat and gazed into the microscope.

It was a beautiful leaf at forty times magnification, with deep valleys and high furry peaks.

It was a bewildering network of canals and ridges at a hundred times magnification, giving pause for reflection upon the structure of this intrinsically important yet amazingly autonomous part of the plant.

At four hundred times magnification, individual cells should have come into view.

They did as well, after a fashion. Cells were there… but they were strangely blurred, somehow. He was beginning to have doubts regarding the microscope – perhaps there was something the matter with it.

He adjusted the magnification to 800, the farthest it would go. And then he saw it. What he saw had already been there, quite clearly at 400, but it had made no sense, so he had not allowed it. But now, what he saw were pixelated cells. Genuine, living, throbbing cells; but presented to the viewer as an array of approx. 100×150 picture elements each. He rotated the leaf; the pixels rotated with it.

This was an optical microscope, containing no electronic tomfoolery but only good, honest spheric lenses. He knew this for certain, and yet he made sure of it by disassembling and reassembling the instrument. Frantically, now, he inspected the leaf again, turning it this way and that; he took other flat objects he could find – his driver’s license, a brochure, a fingernail. All gave the same, pixelated result.

A new optical phenomenon, he thought. Or an existing, surprisingly-little-known one. But it made no sense; nothing was in any way extraordinary about the experimental set-up.

He took another intent look through the microscope. He could make out the cell organelles, just about, serenely floating in the cytoplasm. Then something astonishing happened. The resolution suddenly halved. Four pixels became one. He could now only guess the location of the organelle he had just before observed. A strange shiver worked its way up his spine and along his
shoulders.

It happened again: what had been sixteen pixels were now one. He could hardly make out anything amidst the godforsaken unicoloured blocks. And again: the resolution halved.

Frantically, he took his eyes off the microscope. His mouth open with an inane grin, his eyes darting at his hands, everything looked normal. As expected. He waited. His shiver became stronger, although he felt strangely calm.

Epilogue

Pleasant Beach Sanatorium received a few press inquiries regarding certain bizarre rumours from the local area about the mysterious disappearance of a patient, and the equally mysterious appearance of a large cuboid object on its premises; but after hiring a renowned public relations company that started releasing verbose press releases offering multiple banal explanations for all reported phenomena, interest soon waned.

The only observable sign nowadays of any past disturbance lies in the frightened tales that a certain nurse will impose on any travellers to the village, if they choose the wrong time to visit the King’s Head public house.  Then, one may hear words like, ”Do not listen to them, they are suppressing the truth! Oh, when I found this… giant cube… it was as of no Earthly material, so shiny was it! And everything else – the furniture, everything – in his room was gone, gone… they will tell you I’m insane, they will, but it is not true, oh no…“

Introduction

The purpose of this blog is to make me post one at-least-semi-interesting thought every single day. It will be amusing to find out how long I can keep this up. If the answer turns out to be “an embarrassingly short amount of time,” I will take my cue from shady institutions everywhere: delete all evidence and pretend the experiment never happened.