Yearly archives: 2010

Fiction- Mia In The Snow 1

Sheba’s ears are floppy and triangular, and when she faces into the wind the airflow lifts them up and they stick out like little wings. That always makes me smile, and when we’re out in the wind I always try to get her to face the right way to make it happen. After a while she’ll give me a look- if she could talk she’d just say “Silly person, stop it.”- and go back to sniffing the snow banks.

In Summer, Sheba bounces around and lives up to the Springer part of her breed name. In winter, with freshly fallen snow halfway up her legs, she doesn’t jump so much. But she will still do funny things like sticking almost her whole head into a bank of crispy, fluffy snow just to get a better sniff of what’s underneath. When she pulls out she has a white beard and eyebrows- another thing that makes me laugh- then she huffs and shakes it off.

Maybe Sheba’s doing little doggy laughs when she looks at me. I couldn’t blame her. My boots are furry and warm, with a cage thing on the bottom with criss-crossing coils of wire to improve the grip. They’re deliberately too big, so’s I can wear big woolly socks that come up to my knees. I’m wearing Nana’s old winter coat, that I’m not big enough to fit yet, with fleeces and thermals underneath. My hat has a bobble on the top and cheek muffs that fold down and should tie under my chin, though I’m just holding them in place with my scarf. My gloves give me cartoon hands which can’t hold anything properly and I’m tugging the clear circular “flying saucer” sledge that Daddy made from a sheet of spare perspex. Even with the snow I think it took me longer to get ready than it will to walk up the hill.

* * * *

Mrs. Aiden is old. She’s always been old, as long as I’ve known her. She has grey hair and grey skin brightened by spidery red veins on her cheeks and is quite skinny, though you can’t tell that with her winter layers on. The walls of her cottage are very thick, with lots of insulation, so she can afford to keep it hot inside. Once I’m through the three doors into the kitchen I stand on the welcome mat as the snow melts and runs off me and I begin to sweat. I hold out the boxes I pulled up the hill on the sledge.

“Two dozen eggs Mia?” Mrs. Aiden looks surprised, “Are you sure you can spare them?”

“Daddy says the poo powered heating is keeping the chucks happy and they’re really laying. He also said that one of your cakes is worth at least two dozen eggs.”

“Did he now? Well he’s in luck, because I have one of my cakes just for you.” she bustles over to the far worktop and brings me back a plastic box with a firmly sealed lid. It’s heavy for its size, Mrs. Aiden’s cakes are dense, moist and very tasty. “Would you like some tea love? The kettle’s about to boil.”

I’m about to boil too, and getting out of these clothes will be too much work if I’m just going to get back into them. “No thanks Mrs. Aiden. Grandda was just starting to make lunch when I set off. It should be ready by the time I get back.”

Sheba is curled up outside the outer door. Through the double glazing I can see her tail start to wag as I open the middle door, but she doesn’t jump up until I’m outside again. I’d propped the flying saucer against the wall. I lay it in the middle of the road just where it flattens out at the top of the hill and carefully place the cake tin on it. I clamber on so the box is safely between my legs then I take the rope and twist it around both gloved hands.

From this angle it looks like the windmill on top of the fell is actually sticking out of the chimney of Mrs. Aiden’s cottage. I should tell Grandda that, he could photograph it. I lean back and then jerk my body forward. The sledge moves a little way and sinks slightly into the snow. I repeat the movement and I’m closer to the tipping point. Sheba is giving me a puzzled look. Once more and I’m moving down the hill. I lean back and pull on the rope to lift the front so I don’t shovel up snow. Sheba runs after me. Now she bounces.

The round sledge is very hard to control. It spins all the way around twice as I go down the hill and steers by climbing the snow banks and sliding back down them in a new direction. But I don’t need to guide it. The road runs downhill until it turns right at the end of our drive. I don’t make the turn and carry on onto the yard, coming to a stop just outside the door to Grandda and Nana’s house. And just in time for lunch.

* * * *

Nana and Grandda and Daddy say there used to be winters like this- and summers almost as hot as we have- before I was born. But they happen every year now, not every ten or fifteen. I asked Daddy what it was like when there was this much snow and people weren’t ready for it and he showed me some old video on the net. It was funny, but a little sad. All those people trapped away from their families because no-one had known how much snow they had to plan for.

I’ve got a globe with an animated skin and I can play hundreds and thousands of years of data back and forward on it and watch how things changed. I watched the temperature one and saw as there was less white and blue and more orange and red. If I look at it month by month I can see the cold winds of the Arctic get warmer and blow further South, bringing more snow to Britain, Northern Europe and the United States. The changes are quick, I guess I can see why those travellers were surprised by the weather.

* * * *

We live in the barn next door to Grandda and Nana’s house. The walls of the barn look like a huge puzzle, one of those boxes of blocks with 50,000 combinations but none you can work out. All the stones it’s made from are different shapes and sizes- the builders must have just picked one up and glued it into the pile wherever it fit. When they’re not coated in snow the stones are lots of shades, but mostly a sort of blue-y green-y grey, and they’re decorated with white and yellow lichen that has frilly edges and gets crispy and brittle in summer.

The roof on the South side of the barn has solar cells on it. When the sun comes out the exposed parts of the cells warm up quickly and even after snowfall like last night’s they can still clear themselves and start producing lots of electricity. The snow must have slooshed down while I was climbing the hill, because when we get back from lunch the meter in the kitchen is all green and we’re charging the batteries under the floor. When they’re full we’ll start exporting power to the grid again, so long as I don’t turn on too many lights.

I sort of remember how Daddy, and all the people who helped him, turned the barn into our house. I seem to remember standing on a plank on the muddy floor and staring up at the roof and seeing the under sides of all the tiles. It was so big at the time, but I was so small. Now I’m almost as tall as the snow drifts.

What’s sad is that I can’t remember Mummy. I can look at pictures of her, including ones where she’s holding me as a baby, and pretend I remember her. But I think that’s all it is- pretending I remember her. Daddy explained how we lost her to the flu pandemic, which happened just before we moved out of London to the Lake District. We visit “The Smoke” a few times each year. Mummy’s grave isn’t far from Auntie Jasmine’s home, so I make a point of going and leaving some flowers whenever we’re there for more than a couple of days.

* * * *

My job for the afternoon is to take down all the Christmas cards and decide how they should all be recycled, then put the pictures back on the wall. I’ve got a clever folding stepladder that I printed out at Easter when I decided that I should do more fixing of stuff around the house, and my bag of tools. I’ll need the hammer, because I’m going to bash a few more nails in and rearrange the layout.

There’s a pile of cards which should be recycled and another pile which can be reused as labels next year. Reuse, repurpose and recycle, those are the rules. We live well by them. The little clip together holders go into a plastic bag for next year and I can decide where to put the pictures.

I’m in all the pictures, of course. There’s Grandda and Nana holding me as a really little baby. Then there’s a picture of Daddy with me. The next picture is of me and Mummy, it’s the one that most makes me feel I can remember her. She’s holding me up as I try my best to put one foot in front of the other. She looks beautiful, with long black hair, big brown eyes and dark skin. I’ll never have the same skin colour, and my hair can get curly, but I do have the same brown eyes. Normally this one would be the third in line, but I want to add another picture, and there’s no room to carry on the sequence.

I use a plumb line to mark points directly below the existing nails, and a spirit level and ruler to make a horizontal mark so the new nails are level. I hammer the nails in gently and rub the marks off. Then I hang the picture of Mummy and me and get the new picture from my tool bag.

Anne is Daddy’s girlfriend. She lives in Manchester and works all over the world, so we don’t get to see her very often. The photo was taken last Summer when we climbed Scawfell, it’s of me and Anne on top of the world. Anne looks nothing like Mummy, she’s blonde and, what was the word that Grandda used? Buxom. I should look that up.

Daddy must have heard the hammering, because he’s come to investigate. He lays his hands on my shoulders as he examines the new layout. “Nice work kid.” He kisses the top of my head.

“When are we going to see Anne again?”

“In a few weeks. She thinks that’ll be the end of her contract. I’ve asked her if she’ll move up here and work on our projects. If that’s okay with you?”

“Of course it is.”

* * * *

Anne’s job is to find leapfrog technologies and work out where they’ll be most useful. Leapfrog technologies are the ones that let people get modern without having to work their way through the wasteful steps the rest of the world did. Like all the Africans going from no phones to mobiles and all the stuff that’s getting made on the 3D printing stalls in India. We met her when we attended a conference in Manchester on what could be done with 3D printers, because daddy was about to get one for his business. She showed me how to use a virtual 3D interface to sculpt things whilst he talked to a salesman about specifications. Afterwards she took us out for lunch.

At first I was jealous that Daddy was stealing my new friend, but I grew out of that.

Daddy still isn’t very good with the goggles and wands of the virtual interface, so I help him out with finishing designs. He jokes about child labour, but I like that I can help him earn a living.

The old cow shed is Daddy’s workshop. He makes stuff, whatever people need. He says he would have been a blacksmith in an earlier time, but now he gets to work with more than just iron and steel. I’m not allowed to use the lathe or CNC machines yet, and I don’t mind that. They look dangerous, I’ll put off learning how to use those.

The printers are safely away from the high speed machinery, inside their own room. One machine prints plastic and another can do metal. Metal bits need to be heat treated in a kiln to properly fuse, but then they’re almost as tough as cast metal. We make a lot of jigs for electric motor components for when people want to convert their old car to battery power. Sometimes I’ll watch the printers for ages as they create something I’ve designed, one super thin layer at a time. Daddy’s found me sleeping in there sometimes, the swoosh and buzz of the print head can be just like a lullaby.

Today I’m designing a weather vane. One of Mrs. Aiden’s neighbours is an artist. He paints landscapes and draws cartoons. One of them was of a man in a suit windsurfing. He’d like to know if it can be printed in plastic- for him to paint- and then mounted on a swivel to show which way the wind is blowing. This is quite a challenge. Daddy and I worked out the basic shapes on a 2D screen and now I’m cleaning it up in the 3D interface.

I’ve got to wear goggles, which are a bit big- I don’t think they expected kids to be using their system. The monitor alternates views really fast, one each from slightly different angles, and the glasses’ lenses darken and clear up so each eye only sees one of the views and the picture looks like it’s coming out of the screen. I use the wands to move the model or the view around, zoom in or out or redraw shapes.

There’s a ringing from the computer, the video call tone. I push up the goggles and switch to the VoIP screen. It’s Anne. “Hey there Mia, how’re you?”

“I’m very good.”

“Sculpting something?” she’s spotted the goggles on my forehead.

“A weather vane.” I pick up the icon for a screenshot of the windsurfer and drop it onto the video window.

“That’s cute.” Daddy comes through from the kitchen. Anne gives him a pretend serious look, “Are you forcing your daughter to do your work again?”

“It’s either that or send her up chimneys, and she’s getting too big for chimneys. How are things going over there?”

“Well, it’s not snowing. I’d like to have a snowball fight.”

“We’ll put some in the freezer for you.” I suggest.

Anne grins, “You mightn’t need to. We’re so far ahead of schedule that I’ll be back next week.”


“Then it’ll be a week of exit interviews and I want to come up and join you. I’ve got some ideas for things I’d like to make with you.”

“We can make it a family business.” I suggest.

Daddy and Anne are both looking at me. I may have said something wrong. “That would be nice.” Anne admits.

Daddy’s got a smile. I think he and Anne are trying to exchange a meaningful look over the video link. I take off the goggles and hand Daddy the wands. “Were you making dinner?”


“I’ll go and see what I can do with it.”

There’s veggies to be cut up, so I start on that. I try not to listen to the conversation in the living room, but I can’t help but smile. Not a replacement for Mummy, but a new member of the family. It’s a lovely late Christmas present.

Notes Mia In The Snow is a little piece of world building. It was inspired by the suggestion that the future could see more winters like this one and last year’s, marked by extreme conditions as winds from the North Pole push further South, whilst summers get harsher and hotter. Whilst I’m not very optimistic about governments’ abilities to do enough about climate change I want to do some stories about people coping, and even prospering, with the changes which are coming.

links for 2010-12-29

  • It's 75 years since Parker Brothers, the Massachusetts-based games company, published Monopoly, the property speculation board game that has become one of the enduring staples of toy shops the world over. That first edition used the New Jersey resort of Atlantic City to supply its street names, as the US edition still does, but the game crossed the oceans almost immediately. The first foreign edition was the British game, with London streets, followed swiftly by versions in France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and Austria, before it spread around the world. What White and I plan to do is roll our way round the board to discover how some of the areas of the London Monopoly board have changed in the intervening three-quarters of a century.
  • Why are many European carmakers now planning to build electric vehicles? Because many European cities are widely expected to ban high-emissions vehicles from their city cores over the next decade–perhaps even vehicles with any emissions at all.

    Now, Paris may be the first city to experiment with such a policy. Next year, it will begin to test restrictions on vehicles that emit more than a certain amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometer–the measure of a car's contribution to greenhouse gases.

    An official within the Parisian mayor's office, Denis Baupin, identified older diesel-engined cars and sport-utility vehicles as specific targets of the emissions limit.

links for 2010-12-28

  • Mark Cothren, who lives in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky, said he killed the domestic cat-sized animal after it wandered into his front yard and he did not recognise what it was. The creature had long pointed ears, whiskers and a long tail but was completely bald.

    Many of Mr Cothren's neighbours have speculated that the mystery animal could be a chupacabra, or "goat sucker", a mythical creature said to suck the blood of livestock.

    (tags: Chupacabra)
  • Two feet of snow, 20-degree temperatures and patches of black ice will keep most cyclists away from the saddle. But a few brave souls insist on combating old man winter's drudgery by hitting the streets, no matter how poor the conditions.

    Besides, sometimes the bike is your best bet in winter — especially when cars are getting stuck, the buses aren't running, and the sidewalks are a slippery mess.

    (tags: bicycle winter)
  • Giant online retailer announced Monday that the latest version of its popular Kindle e-reader has become the top-selling item in the company’s history — surpassing the previous champ, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7).

    On Christmas Day, Amazon said, more people activated new Kindles and bought more e-books than on any other day in the company’s history. Kindle (Wi-Fi) and Kindle 3G devices were the best-selling products on Amazon this holiday season, the company said.

    As usual, Amazon did not say exactly how many Kindles the company has sold, but Forrester Research’s James McQuivey has estimated that by the end of the year, Amazon will have sold about 6 million units.

    (tags: kindle amazon)
  • A BBC investigation has shown that some online retailers are still failing to comply with distance selling regulations brought in to protect consumers who shop online or through mail order.

    Trading Standards has also been criticised for not doing enough to enforce this aspect of consumer law.

    It is a legal obligation for sellers to give buyers a full unconditional refund, including initial delivery costs as long as the purchaser informs the seller that they wish to return the goods within seven working days.

    (tags: online)
  • A plan to allow popular online petitions to be debated in Parliament within a year has been given the go ahead by the government.

    Ministers will seek agreement with the authorities, including the House of Commons Procedure Committee, to give the petitions parliamentary time.

    (tags: politics)
  • The UK's justice system will take a "backward step" if the government closes its Forensic Science Service, experts have said.

    The warning comes in a letter to the Times which was signed by 33 leading forensic scientists.

    They say the move would see the UK lose its position as the world leader in crime-scene investigations.


Scientists are proposing a project they’re nicknaming The Knowledge Collider, which will do for global data collection and analysis what The Large Hadron Collider aims to do for particle physics.

An international group of scientists are aiming to create a simulator that can replicate everything happening on Earth – from global weather patterns and the spread of diseases to international financial transactions or congestion on Milton Keynes’ roads.

Nicknamed the Living Earth Simulator (LES), the project aims to advance the scientific understanding of what is taking place on the planet, encapsulating the human actions that shape societies and the environmental forces that define the physical world.

This is pure science fiction, which we’re now reaching the processing power to make fact. I have visions of sexy young scientists- led by someone with an eyepatch, though I don’t know why that’s significant- running simulations and dispatching doctors, soldiers or super spies to potential trouble spots to do whatever is needed to head off problems before they really begin.

links for 2010-12-27

  • It is now clear that David Cameron systematically lied to the electorate. He said it was "sick" and "frankly disgusting" to say he would end the NHS guarantee for cancer patients to be seen within two weeks – and then scrapped NHS guarantees, so that the number of patients waiting months before their cancer is detected has doubled. He said hospitals were "my No 1 priority" to be "totally protected" – and then slashed 20 per cent from the budget of specialist hospitals across the country. He said he would "protect the poor" from cuts – and then slashed the income of each poor family by £1,000 and began forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes.
    (tags: cameron Tories)
  • Israel has successfully tested it's the Trophy APS (Active Protection System) with real missiles. Tanks equipped with Trophy were fired on with anti-tank missiles that had inert warheads. Thus, if the missile gets through, the tank crew feels a bump as the missile bounces off. But so far, no missiles have gotten through. Israel is undertaking this highly realistic (and expensive, the anti-tank missiles aren't cheap) testing to see how different conditions (the speed of the tank, the presence of dust and smoke, how close the missile launcher is) influence the performance of Trophy.
    (tags: weapons Israel)
  • The Booktrust charity had been expecting to see a 20% cut in its £13m-a-year government grant, but was then told it would be losing the entire sum.

    But, following a furious backlash from authors including leading children's writer Philip Pullman and former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, the Department for Education is to continue funding the charity's book-giving programme.

  • In November, The New York Times reported that approximately 9 million electronic reading devices are in use in the U.S. When holiday purchases are tallied, that number will most certainly go up. While there are many different kinds of e-readers, they share one thing in common: They need to be filled with books.

    Two years ago, e-books constituted 1% of total book sales, a figure that's now closer to 10%. As electronic media accounts for a larger and larger portion of the book business, consumers are benefiting from lower prices for books, and manufacturers are enjoying massive sales. But how is the e-book revolution affecting authors?

    See full article from DailyFinance:

  • “When something does happen it probably won’t be the emergency services making the key decisions,” he added. “It may be the person being paid £5.50 an hour at the front gate.”
    (tags: terror attack)

links for 2010-12-26

  • Sugar beet is an important crop of arable rotations throughout the major growing regions of the UK. Commonly grown in conjunction with wheat, barley or pulses, sugar beet provides a valuable break crop returning organic matter to the soil and preventing the build up of disease. The root of the beet has a sugar content of around 17% and in the UK provides over half of the sugar we use. The balance comes from sugar cane that grows in tropical and semi-torpical regions of the world.
    (tags: sugar farming uk)

Did Santa bring you an ebook reader? Then I have some books just for you

I reckon one of this year’s breakout presents is going to be ebook readers. Amazon’s Kindle will most likely lead the pack, being cheaper than the competition and tied to the world’s biggest bookseller, but there are also Nooks and other readers.

May I recommend, for your reading pleasure, the books which I have published for the Kindle. The books are all DRM free, so you will be able to convert them for other readers using software such as Calibre. I’m still learning how subscription to the blog (Ian Pattinson’s Facts and Fictions) works, but I’m fairly certain it can only be delivered to Kindles, sorry everyone else. However, I have reduced the prices of Ruby Red and So Much To Answer For. And this price drop isn’t just for Christmas.

links for 2010-12-25

  • This Christmas, for perhaps the first time ever, Britain is a majority non-religious nation. Most of us have probably seen this moment coming, but it is a substantial event nonetheless. It is undoubtedly a development that would have astonished our ancestors who built a Britain on the basis that we were and would remain a predominantly Protestant people. The victory of secularism would have flabbergasted them almost as much as the pope appearing on the BBC with his Thought for the Day.

links for 2010-12-23

Ian Pattinson’s Facts and Fictions is now available for the Kindle

Ian Pattinson’s Facts and Fictions is a regularly updated blog to read on your Kindle. You’ll get everything from Spinneyhead’s “Facts and Fictions” category, straight to your ebook reader. Content includes short stories, very short “fast fiction”, serialised snippets from works in progress and articles on writing. It gives you an insight into what I’m working on and details of the research I’m doing, methods I use and subjects which inspire me.

You can sign up for a 14 day free trial before committing to subscribe and then it’s a very low rate (99p in the UK, I don’t know exactly what in the US, but not much.)

links for 2010-12-22

  • Microsoft has publicly offered a "thanks but no thanks" to adult entertainment company ThriXXX, stating that the Australian firm's Kinect-powered sex game will never end up for sale on Xbox 360.

    A video (NSFW link) cropped up earlier this month that showed a wily Kinect hacker using hand gestures, voice commands and objects to interact with a 3D-rendered, scantily clad lady. It offered up a working prototype, thanks to efforts in the hacking community, to show off how Microsoft's new peripheral could work in adult games.

    (tags: xbox silly)
  • For whatever reason, Amazon won’t come out and say just how many Kindles it has sold. Other companies, like Apple and Samsung, tend to crow about it every time they hit a milestone, but Amazon has stayed mum for years. Estimates have been made before, and they’ll be made again, and — why, here is one right now!

    “Two people who are aware of the company’s sales projections” have made bold to say that sales have exceeded said projections by a quite a large amount, and actually fix 8 million as a rough estimate of how many will have been sold in 2010.

    (tags: kindle)

Sergeant Birdbrain

Just above the point where his impressive nose met his brow, there was a bulge on Sergeant Templeton’s forehead. A wrinkly bulge of paler, younger skin. With two yellow eyes which sometimes moved independently of one another and always blinked at the most disconcerting moment.

The reasoning had been simple. Pigeons process images three times faster than humans. So why not give a human, a soldier, a pigeon’s image processing abilities. They’d be able to detect enemy movements more easily and their aim when shooting moving targets would be excellent.

The brain grafting technique had only taken a few billion to perfect,and Templeton was an incredible marksman and the perfect man to take point. He only tuned into the bird brain and eyes when he needed to, the rest of the time it could think its own little thoughts.

But he did have a way of bobbing his head whilst talking which made people think he was pecking at them.

links for 2010-12-20

  • The Harrier made its final flight with the British RAF last week, marking an end to the jet famous for being able to take off and land vertically. The jet's recently declassified flight manual shows just how extraordinary it was.

    The original Hawker Harrier Jet was designed by the British in the 60s and utilized a "vectored thrust turbofan engine," which allowed the thrust created by the jet engines to be pointed in a downward direction. The first planes were launched using an upward-curved ski-jump ramp on flight decks for a short takeoff.

  • How bad is violence in northern Mexico? Our old pals at Texas Armoring have seen business skyrocket for armor-plating low-profile beaters. When you need a bulletproof Toyota Camry, something's truly wrong with the world.
  • I took a stroll over to the Kindle store to do some browsing in the grandaddy of the ebook stores. Looking through the “Top 100″ it’s remarkable how many different forces are at work in presenting ebooks. I picked out a bunch of covers to take a closer look at.

    Some of these clearly are winners—they’ve made the leap to a different format successfully, and do a great job of selling their books. Others . . . not so much. Take a look.

  • Every day life is a good inspiration, my best sellers were initially created for my own needs, I started modeling iPhone 4 cases a few weeks before I went to get mine, since I'm a bit clumsy and knew I would drop it at some point. I think my record at the moment is once a week, often on a hard surface and so far no cracks!
  • Every December I do a post about resolutions for writers, and every year I add more of them. This year is especially interesting, because my latest advice goes against some of my earlier advice…
  • CYCLONE by Vanhulsteijn: A beautiful high quality head-turning bicycle that is designed for fast, comfortable rides. The frame is completely handcrafted out of stainless steel and can be suited with a wide variety of high quality parts.
  • With the onset of winter, we believe that you have the opportunity to encounter some truly fantastic environments on your bike. Despite the heightened media on slips, accidents and ice, riding in the snow is actually quite safe (you are travelling slowly and there are lots of drifts to fall into) and most of all, its fun!.

    Like anything new, there is a bit of working out how to do it for it to work for you, so you have to get out there and try it. In the meantime, here are a few tips to help you get your riding sorted out in the white stuff.

  • The next time two smartly dressed young people knock at your door, keep you chatting as if they're casing the joint and then ask you whether you really understand the true meaning of Christmas, try this: invite them in, brew up some hot mead, and explain to them patiently about a time 2,000 years ago when early Christians went in search of an arbitrary date on which to celebrate an event of middling theological importance in their fledgling religion.

    Sitting around a festive Yule tree (redolent of the Norse god Ullr), decorated in tiny, glittering symbols of the end of darkness and the return to light, watch their little faces light up as you share seasonal offerings of meat and sprouts, in communion with the seasonal generosity of nature. Soon they will understand the true meaning of the Winter Solstice.

Daily post 12/20/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.