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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts from January 2007

Futurology

In which we note Mario Reading’s prediction has still not come true

Author Mario Reading has been in my mind recently, because people have been searching for information about him. In case you’ve forgotten – it is, after all, exactly a year since I first wrote about him – he’s the chap who predicted that some time this year or the next, someone will try to assassinate George W Bush.

He says he isn’t predicting that, of course. He says the prophet Nostradamus predicted it, a few hundred years back, and Reading is merely spreading the word. Even though noone would probably have come to this conclusion without hearing of Reading’s work, that’s irrelevant: he says Nostradamus said it, and it’s nothing to do with him. It’s still another couple of years before we can point and laugh at Mario Reading, and say he got it all wrong; but I’m going to try not to forget him.

Now, at first I thought: “how hard can it be?” Surely anyone can just get hold of some Nostradamus, and slap some current references over the top? But, then, secondly: surely the original text has nothing to do with it? Surely I could write something that looked like Nostradamus,* add “interpretations”, and – if my theory that the original text has little to do with what most Nostradamus-fans come out with is right – my interpretations would be just as valid predictions of the future as anything else. So, I think I might just try that. Coming soon: my own book, “Nostradamus, honest”.

* or, at least, Nostradamus-in-translation. I don’t speak either medieval French, or Provençal.

Meanwhile, moving on…

In which we’re blown about

The world turns, things change, and another week is over.

Wee Dave seems to be settling in well at the office. We seem to agree on a frightening number of things, many more than I did with Big Dave. The office still hasn’t been blown to bits by the wind, although it came fairly close. The office toilets are jammed up in the attic, spread out across creaking roof-beams, and sitting up there in a heavy gale sounds, I imagine, like riding in a hard-pushed galleon sailing across the Atlantic.

The storm seems to have been blowing everyone’s heads about, upsetting people, breaking things up, putting people on edge. I blame it for all the tension that seems to be all around me.

Books I Haven’t Read (part eight)

In which we fail to read “House Of Leaves” by Mark Z Danielewski

Books I Haven’t Read has come round once again. I considered leaving it for a while, after the last Book I Haven’t Read – the Author I Hadn’t Read managed to find it, and left a comment calling me “pathetic”. Ah, well, if you’re going to ego-surf, you have to be prepared for what you might find.

No risk of that happening with this post, though, because there’s already so much on the internet about this installment’s author, he’s unlikely to get around to discovering this place. Today’s Book I Haven’t Read is one that I’ve already warned you* would be coming. It’s House Of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski.

When I mentioned I’d be writing about House Of Leaves, I invited people who had read it to own up and tell me how they managed it. Nobody did. Whether that means noone has managed it, or, more likely, not very many people read this site, I’m not sure. No responses, though. I’m not the sort of person to get rid of books,** but a few years ago when I was very short of cash I did try taking some down to a local second-hand bookseller to see what I could get. House Of Leaves was turned away, unsellable. I ended up using it as a doorstop.

It has some good ideas in it, but in the end it’s just too hard a read. There are too many things packed in, too many different layers. It has to be unpacked like an onion; like an onion there seems to be nothing solid in the centre, but it has no flavour to make the unpacking worthwhile. Take the endless academic footnotes, for example. Flann O’Brien’s Third Policeman famously includes a parody of academic footnotes, long ones, telling a whole story in themselves. It’s done with a light, delicate, comedic touch, though. Danielewski’s parody of academic footnotes, with notes going on for page after page after page, is dull and heavy-handed.***

If you have managed to read House Of Leaves – all of it, without skipping bits – then I’d still like it if you let me know. I’d like to know if it’s worthwhile getting to the bottom of it all, if there is anything lurking to find in the middle. I strongly suspect there isn’t, though. I strongly suspect that was supposed to be the point.

* if you’re a regular reader

** Get rid of books? Heresy!

*** although the list of buildings in footnote 146 – which is spread out over eight complex and densely-typeset pages – does include one building that I used to live next-door to. Mind you, the list is so long, every reader of the book has probably lived within 100 yards of one of the listed buildings at some point.

Confidence

In which the weather keeps the camera indoors

Today was going to be a photo-post day, but with the continued weather it wasn’t sensible to go out with the camera, despite the beauty of the clouds over the Heath. A sky full of little scudders, each angled up against the plain of the horizon, each blowing across a dark background, far more regular than anything natural should have been.

Windy

In which there is a howling blast

Room 3B (the IT Office) lies deep inside the building. We never get fresh air, and there’s never any sign what time of day it is outside, or what the weather’s doing. Rain, sun, snow, whatever, nothing ever reaches Room 3B.

Until today, that is. Today, it was so windy, the wind broke through. A horrible howl burst from the air conditioning, before suddenly a huge cloud filled the room. A cloud of dust and chunks of plaster, blown out of the ceiling void through all the little joints in the ceiling. I spluttered and coughed, as pale pink dust settled on me, on Wee Dave, all over our desks. The weather had finally broken in.

Ancestry

In which we’re descended from great men

Today’s top news* story: English Heritage have been putting out newspaper adverts around the world announcing that they are searching for the descendants of Edgar Aetheling, claimant to the English throne in 1066. As the closest relative of Edward the Confessor, under modern law he would have received the crown; but under Saxon law kings didn’t automatically inherit their position, so he didn’t. Everyone remembers the other kings of England from 1066, but everyone forgets the teenage Edgar.

To be frank, I think it’s a silly idea. Edgar will have millions of descendants, all around the world, most of whom will have no clue and no chance of knowing. Out of these millions, only a small handful of people might be able to prove a connection.

We know this, because a few years ago geneticists managed to trace thousands of men who are probably descended from Niall Noigíallach. Niall Nine Hostages was one of the greatest kings of Ireland,** founded a rather large dynasty, and is the reason O’Neil is a common Irish surname.*** Niall lived around 1500 years ago, half as long again as Edgar, and probably fathered many, many more children than Edgar did. Nevertheless, around 20% of men in north-west Ireland are probably descended from him in the direct male line. If you include everyone who has a woman somewhere between them and Niall in their family tree, you’d probably find that everyone in Ireland is descended from him by one route or another.**** The Queen of England certainly is.

The chances are, you’re descended from someone important in history too. You won’t know it, but you almost certainly are, just because there were so many important people in the past. There’s no way of knowing it, either. English Heritage are on a bit of a wild goose chase, because the people they are looking for are in the country all around them, invisible.

* yes, another topical post

** one of the greatest kings of the Irish or Scots, in fact; when he was around, “Scots” still largely meant “people from Ireland”.

*** You can’t entirely blame him for all those crappy theme pubs though.

**** but the geneticists didn’t do that, because it would have been almost impossible.

Unstoppable

Which fits him to a T

One of the friendlier managers at the office was down in London at the weekend, and so met up with Big Dave for a drink, to see how he’s been getting on for the past couple of weeks.

“So how is he?” I asked.

The manager’s face creased into a broad smile. “UNSTOPPABLE!” he roared.

Topical

In which we beware the homophobes and have milky tea

Apparently, it turns out that tea is much more healthy if you drink it without milk. The news isn’t going to help me, though, because I will never ever drink the stuff without milk in. I’ve tried it. It makes me ill. Without milk in, without fail, it brings up my stomach. So the news that it’s healthy raises a bitter laugh.

More serious news: as I type,* people are protesting on the streets of London for their God-given right to be nasty people. More specifically, they’re protesting that homophobia should be legally sacrosant, on religious grounds. I’m not sure I understand these religions for whom “keep away from the gays, you might catch gayness” is apparently more important than “love thy neighbour”. Take the Christians, for example – Jesus famously didn’t say anything at all about sexuality. St Paul did, but St Paul said lots of things.** The Old Testament does, but the Old Testament also says that wearing mixed-fibre fabrics should attract the death penalty.*** If being able to turn people away because they’re gay is such a religious issue, how come it’s never been a major tenet of your faith historically? If it’s not, why are you being nasty?

* see, that’s damn topical

** Then again, most Christians probably pay more respect to the teachings of St Paul than Jesus himself. St Paul wasn’t even one of Jesus’s followers, but he still managed to invent most of Christianity. For one thing, he came up with the controversial and shocking idea that you didn’t have to be Jewish to be a Christian. Want to feel like you’re going to heaven but can’t give up the bacon rolls? Thank St Paul! Trying to get your child into an Anglican school, but don’t want to have to stay away from everybody when you’re menstruating? Guess who you should thank!

*** I will look this up and check it later, I promise.

Up to date

In which we make sure everything is shiny-new

And on the subject of procrastination, I’ve finally got around to making sure this site is running on the latest version of WordPress. Hurrah! I’m normally slightly reluctant to upgrade, on the grounds that the upgrade procedure is very long and detailed, and involves deleting most of the site to reinstall the new one. So you have to take the site down,* and if anything goes wrong it might stay down. I know that doesn’t really matter for a frivolous site like this, but it makes me wary.

I’m thinking of introducing Guest Contributions to the site, partly to make sure I can keep to one post per day whilst still having time off occasionally. So, if you’d like to write maybe one blog post per month that would fit in with the style of this place, get in touch.

In other news, I’ve discovered** that classic 80s popular-science TV series The Secret Life Of Machines can now be found on Google Video. Written and presented by engineer and cartoonist Tim Hunkin, it really was a very good show that inspired an awful lot of modern “let’s see if we can make one in our garden shed” science telly. I’ve you’ve never heard of it before, go and find it.

* The latest press release from the FP Militant Invective Laboratories says: “Stop taking your site down – take it out for a drink instead! FPMIL tests prove that 87% of .php files prefer to be taken to a quiet bar for a drink, rather than be taken offline in the ordinary way. Most .php files prefer to drink rum and coke, although plain .html will generally choose gin and tonic as its tipple.”

** Thanks to boingboing

Update, August 27th 2020: Who remembers Google Video? The Secret Life Of Machines, nowadays, has all been put onto YouTube by Mr Hunkin, with links from his website, here

Responding

In which we answer back

I gave you my vaguest possible list of things to change this year, on Monday. I’ve thought of something to add, though, something slightly more practical. I’m going to try to respond to people quicker.

I’m not the only person who is bad at responding to emails and so on. I once had a boss who had a long list of emails in his inbox, ones he should definitely have answered. Every few months he would delete the ones that were more than a year old, on the grounds that by then the original query would be so out of date to make replying pointless. I don’t want to get that bad. I’m none too bad at one-line responses to one-line questions, but anything that needs a substantial response I’m terrible at. And as soon as it drops off the bottom of my inbox, it’s out of my mind.

So, from now on, I’m going to make an effort. I’m going to make use of the “show starred mail” view in my inbox, for one thing. I’m going to reply to things. I’m going to answer questions, write to people, put some effort in to keeping in touch. A friend recently said: “if you want to stop talking to me, tell me so, don’t just stop writing.” And I don’t want people to think I’ve lost interest in them just because I haven’t answered their emails. From now on, I’m going to be responsive.