Monthly archives: October 2010

King Penguins aren’t gay, they’re horny and bisexual

When there aren’t enough members of the opposite sex around, king penguins will pair off into gay couples. In zoos these couples have been given fertilised eggs and successfully hatched them and reared the chicks. Gay penguin couples will often split up and go off to find same sex partners later. The report doesn’t make it clear whether the penguins cycled between same and opposite sex partners.

Some people are trying to suggest that this somehow trumps all the other evidence of gay behaviour in hundreds of species, which is a typically huge logical jump. All it proves is that penguins are mostly bi.

Licence renewed

Warren Ellis on the hero-coming-out-of-retirment subgenre. He’s talking about the film version of his comic Red, which I’m looking forward to. I read the first two issues of the comic then, for one reason or another, completely missed the rest of it. Plus the film version has, as Ellis kept pointing out, Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle.

The Irwin tales fall into the unretired spy genre, after a fashion. Irwin has retired from MI6, though he did it far younger than Bruce Willis’ character in Red. After being injured one time too many he called time on a career that was trying to kill him, and has managed to find some less dangerous pastimes to take up his time. Of course, as the Irwin stories unfold, we’ll see him being dragged back in, as well as getting into dangerous situations entirely of his own accord.

links for 2010-10-21

  • South Manchester Tactical Society (SMATS) is an informal group united by a common interest in military history. All are welcome and admission is free

    We meet on the 2nd Monday of each month at 7.30pm upstairs at the Didsbury Pub, Didsbury, South Manchester. All we ask is that you buy a drink or maybe some food at the bar downstairs to keep Paul the landlord happy.

links for 2010-10-20

  • Russia is famous for Jacks of all trades. One of them has made a hand-made 3-D video camera that shots movies in 3D format. First experience was made on two professional Nikon cameras combined together. The video camera can’t shoot objects at the distance far than 5 meters. To improve the set the team put Chinese attachments behind the lenses. The scheme of this wonderful device is inside the post.
    (tags: 3d)
  • The White Lake Formula 1 Ring is a slot car track, in a basement, built by someone with a lot of spare time. But check your bias at pit row, because this scale track is better than most real ones.
    (tags: model slotcar)

The cupboard exploded

I’ve been in my flat just under a year, and there are still boxes which I haven’t looked in- let alone sorted- since the move. I have devoted several hours over the last few days to remedying that. It is, after all, part of The Plan.

The cupboard under the stairs has given up most of its secrets. The morning was punctuated by a slightly mad voice emanating from the alcove saying something to the effect of “Oh look, MORE Transformers and GI Joes!” and than laughing nervously, every time I opened another box. Most of the crates have come out, making the flat even messier than normal, to at least have their contents looked at. I’m going to have a really nasty bruise on the shin from the one which ambushed me outside the living room as I tried to navigate the hallway in the dark.

But it’s all just a step on the road to less clutter. I’ve emptied several cardboard boxes and got a fair amount of stuff ready for binning. All the GIs- but not their vehicles- are now in one crate, just, and Transformers and sundry robo bits occupy another two. When I return them to the land under the stairs there should be a lot more space left over. I could use it to shift some of the boxes from the hallway.

Or I could try to empty those boxes……

The Plan (first draft) 2

I’ve been, jokingly, telling people I’m having a mid-life crisis. It’s to comfort them when they get confused at my recent burst of planning. And myself. I’m a little discombobulated by it as well.

Every few years I have a crisis of some form, something which sets me off reassessing what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. The turmoil in the last year has mostly affected people around me, but it’s been impossible not to be affected by it. All in all, I was due a re-evaluation, and it hit me at the end of last month.

I was pushed into action by a couple of things. Harry is planning to cycle around the country in December, visiting all those places he’s always meant to see (with luck Harry should be posting about his cold cycle adventure, and the build up to it, here soon). And I got a book called The 4-Hour Work Week from the library. Harry reminded me that I had things I wanted to do which I was putting off until some unspecified point in the future, 4HWW showed me how one person had gone about reorganising their life to do more of the stuff they wanted to by wasting less of their time on the stuff that didn’t matter.

Over half of 4 Hour Work Week didn’t, I felt, apply to me, but I’m going to shamelessly nick some bits from it. Specifically some of the ideas in the first few chapters. Basically, you can’t achieve your goals until you’ve defined them properly. Basic project management, I’m sure, and not a great revelation, but I’ve got to start somewhere. As Joe Jackson put it, You Can’t Get What You Want Till You Know What You Want.

When I announced that I had a plan I said I wanted to go Interrailing next year and then move to a foreign city for an extended period. I hadn’t quite figured it out for myself, but neither of those aims is the real plan, just things to do when the plan works out. The plan, simply put, is to be able to afford to do these things independently of being employed by someone else. More specifically, to make enough money from my writing to fund the adventures which will serve as inspiration and research for further stories. I know this is essentially what I’ve been trying to do for as long as Spinneyhead has been running, but a lot of stuff has changed this year to make it easier to achieve. The market for authors publishing independently has finally caught up with where I wanted it to be in 2001. The growth of the market for ebooks is the main reason for this. Amazon’s Kindle is the market leader, and it became possible for authors outside the USA to publish for it at the start of the year. I didn’t notice this development for a while, so I’m about six months behind where I should be. Never mind.

So I sat down last week and started mapping out what I should do to achieve my goal.

First a little maths. The average UK wage is £25,400. Now there’s no way I expect to go from nothing to that in a year, so let’s set a more realistic target, £15,000pa for instance. One of the good things about Kindle sales is that, in the UK and US markets, any book over $2.99 gets the author a 70% royalty. Other territories, and lower prices, return 35%. There’s a bandwidth charge based upon the size of the book, but it shouldn’t be more than cents. So a $2.99 will make me around $2.09. Taking the pound to be worth $1.70 and doing a bit of spreadsheet formula twiddling it looks like I need to average 34 sales a day of $2.99 books (or equivalents- 4 x $1.99 or 6 x $0.99) to make £15,000 in a year. That is 34 sales every day, but the beauty of ebooks is that once they’re published they carry on working for me whatever the day and whatever else I’m doing.

One of the important distinctions I’ve been able to make was between targets I can achieve and ones which I cannot directly make happen. I can’t make 34 people every day buy my books, but I can do various things to make sales more likely. So that minimum number of sales is a desired outcome, I should set some targets to hit which will help me achieve it.

Starting with an obvious target, I have milestones of averaging 500, and then 1000, words a day. This may not sound like much, but 500 word a day is 180,000 words a year, which is a big book. Or lots of smaller ones, which is what I’m considering. It’s also proving harder than I’d expected, especially as I’m a bit writer’s blocked on A Death In Didsbury, the next planned Irwin tale. The average includes days spent proofreading and editing, which will bring it down as well.

The writing is the easy part, the job that’s going to prove tricky is the promotion. I know that I’m really awful at self promotion, I’d much rather be making the stuff I’m supposed to be selling. Good at the sex, crap at the seduction, as I’ve put it before. I need to work out how to get better at selling myself and my work, learn to be more of a slut, if you will. More and better press releases, review copies, fliers, etc. I’ve got to try them all until I find a combination which works.

Which brings me to a more clearly defined deadline. I have a competition planned for the launch of the new look, and new to Kindle, Sounds of Soldiers. I’m building a small diorama which I will photograph and use for the cover artwork. For the first month of release- provisionally November 5th until December 5th- people can enter a competition to win the original art, the model, for the cover. Entries will be based upon buying or promoting the book, in a similar manner to that used by Zoe Winters in the competition she ran to launch her last book. Her competition only lasted a week, but she has an established readership to kick start the promo, I’ll have to build mine.

After setting milestones and a few firm deadlines there should also be some more open achievements to aim for. Stuff without a due date, though they can be broken down into “do as soon as possible” and “do when it is possible”. One of the ASAP aims is to learn how to create EPUB format files. Various programs will automate it for me, but so far I haven’t managed to get anything which the uploader at will validate. I may have to do it all by hand. Something to do when it becomes possible might be paying someone else to do the conversion for me, it would save time and more likely be correct.

This has rambled a bit, and not covered everything I planned to cover. It’s also taken a week to finish. Another thing to add to the list- become better at writing long posts clearly and quickly.

links for 2010-10-19

  • On the shore of a lake near Diefdijk, in the Netherlands, lies a military bunker that's been sawn in half. It's part of a project to highlight the country's military history, dreamed up by a pair of Dutch design firms — Atelier de Lyon and Rietveld Landscape.

    The bunker was originally part of the "New Dutch Waterline" — a plan concocted in the 1500s and used until 1940 to protect the cities of Muiden, Utrecht, Vreeswijk and Gorinchem by intentionally flooding the terrain around them, turning the Dutch economic heartland into almost an island. Under the water lay ditches, barbed wire, mines and other hazards for advancing troops.

    (tags: netherlands)
  • in their study, Damisch and colleagues challenge the conclusion that superstitious thoughts bear no causal influence on future outcomes. Of course, they were not hypothesizing that the trillions of tiny cracks upon which we tread every day are imbued with some sort of sinister spine-crushing malevolence. Instead, they were interested in the types of superstitions that people think bring them good luck. The lucky hats, the favorite socks, the ritualized warmup routines, the childhood blankies. Can belief in such charms actually have an influence over one’s ability to, say, perform better on a test or in an athletic competition? In other words, is Ray Allen’s performance on the basketball court in some ways dependent on eating chicken and rice at exactly 2:30? Did Jason Giambi’s golden thong actually have a hand in stopping a hitless streak?
  • During World War II, Allied forces readily admitted that German tanks were superior to their own. The big question for Allied forces, then, was how many tanks Germany was producing. Here's how they reverse-engineered serial numbers to find out.
    (tags: WW2)
  • The first Bewick's swans of the season have arrived in the UK, potentially signalling the start of a bitter winter, as temperatures are forecast to drop below freezing in the next few days.

    According to folklore the early arrival of Bewick's swans heralds a particularly cold winter. Eight of the birds arrived in Gloucestershire yesterday, the earliest they have made their annual trip since 2003.

    (tags: weather winter)

Lost and found

A while ago there was a news story about an art courier in New York who got drunk after showing a prospective buyer a painting and then lost it on the way back to his hotel. I missed the follow up report until just now- the painting was found stashed behind a bush opposite the Metropolitan Museum Art and eventually returned. In the mean time one of the owners of the painting has been charged with fraud and the other has dropped a lawsuit against the hapless art courier. The tale still needs at least one murder before it becomes the plot of any one of a number of detective dramas.

Indeed, I was taken by the tale of a tipsy deliveryman losing a million dollar painting and may yet incorporate it into A Death In Didsbury as a plot thread.

Robots in the Park

What You Lookin at

BOT074 BOT079 car chase BOT081 Gardening Aircraft Carrier car chase2 BOT091 Parking The Gang BOT073 Axe

The plan was to get up early(ish) and release a bunch of Transformers whilst other people had a lie in. The problem is it’s Sunday, so I had a lie in. On the plus side, this way I got to see some of the responses to the robots, and I found out that teh South Manchester Model Boat Club sails on the boating lake on Sunday mornings.

boat Boats

links for 2010-10-16

  • From firecrackers to nuclear bombs, it is only recently that scientists are beginning to understand the complexities of explosions, and many of our big discoveries were more by mistake than design.
  • Isaac Asimov would probably have been horrified at the experiments under way in a robotics lab in Slovenia.

    There, a powerful robot has been hitting people over and over again in a bid to induce anything from mild to unbearable pain – in apparent defiance of the late sci-fi sage's famed first law of robotics, which states that "a robot may not injure a human being".

    But the robo-battering is all in a good cause, insists Borut Povše, who has ethical approval for the work from the University of Ljubljana, where he conducted the research. He has persuaded six male colleagues to let a powerful industrial robot repeatedly strike them on the arm, to assess human-robot pain thresholds.

    (tags: robots)

Ceci n’est pas un rendezvous

I find myself re-watching C’etait Un Rendezvous at least once a year for various reasons. Today it’s because of an idea I had last night.

In Rendezvous a film camera was strapped to the front bumper of a Mercedes and the film’s director, Claude Lelouch, drove it at speed through early morning Paris, ending up at Montmartre. My idea is that, as camera equipment has become so much lighter over the years, you could fasten a camera to a bike and, starting where the original ended, do a similarly mad early morning ride. There’s no way it could follow the same route, so it would have to finish at a landmark, ideally the Eiffel tower or at least the banks of the Seine with a view of the tower. I’ve only visited the city once, off the top of my head I can’t come up with an exact route.

Then my idea expanded a touch. Several manufacturers, such as Panasonic, are releasing 3D capable consumer video cameras. Wouldn’t shooting such a film with one of their cameras make for a great promo. I may have to put together a proposal.

I’d need a middle weight full suspension mountain bike- it wouldn’t have to be as tough as a full on downhiller- and a pro or semi-pro downhill rider to ride it, an apartment near the start point for a few weeks to use as the base of operations, and a 3D telly to watch the rushes on. And maybe their legal department, but I’d try to avoid that. Paris isn’t that hilly a city, but it’s where you’d want to film if it was to be a proper homage. Other ideas were to shoot it in Edinburgh or San Francisco. I’m sure there are other hilly cities.

And, because there’s no way I could mention it without including it, here’s C’etait Un Rendezvous-