Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been...

I'm gonna talk about last night's Battlestar Galactica and speculate wildly about what's to come.

Brad and I are so glued to the screen when it's on, we have to squeeze the business of catching up into the breaks. We have other rituals, like changing channels after the teaser to avoid the quick clips of the show you are about to watch. So we had absolutely no idea they'd stopped doing it this year, and we missed the revamped titles and new music too. D'oh!

They have a neat new trick of tallying how many people remain in the Rag-Tag Fleet during the opening. It changes each week. If no-one gets killed pre-credits next week, it should say 47,861. I assume this doesn't count Helo on Caprica because no-one in the R.T.F. knows he survived, or however many colonials are Cylon sleeper agents because that's an unknown quantity. Discounting look-alikes and twins, it can only be seven or eight. There are only twelve cylon models and they already know what five of them look like: Doral, Leoben, Valerii, "Number Six" and the regular cylon soldier.

Why doesn't Number Six have a name? The other models are referred to by the human names they were using when they were "outed". Baltar worked with Six for two years on Caprica prior to the attacks yet he never calls her by name. Shouldn't we at least call her Godfrey, after the model that tried to seduce Adama last year? Possibly it's a nod to the Number 6 in The Prisoner, another show about individual freedoms vs. state controls.

Unlike 24, which doesn't so much answer as rephrase its questions each week, I have faith that Ronald Moore will deliver. The constant crises and slow passing of time here, as on 24, are useful in keeping objective facts about the world of the show at bay. The more we know, the more characters we can rule out as impostors. The whole there-are-terrorists-living-among-us angle is the main reason I watch, personally. Whether and when they'll find Earth would seem to depend on how long the show runs!

How long have Cylons had the ability to look like us? Do they ever abduct and replace real people? Leoben said Adama is a Cylon, but he and Tigh have a backstory together in the miltary during the first Cylon conflict. If time is a factor, this could put Adama in the clear.

Can Cylons reproduce with humans, by natural or artificial means? Adama fathered two sons, which would seem to further eliminate him from suspicion. That Godfrey Woman keeps telling Baltar his destiny is to act as a protector to their offspring, but how metaphorically is she speaking? She didn't get pregnant in the two years she was sleeping with him on Caprica. If she means any child of human and Cylon parents, then the game just got bigger. One of the Boomers says she's having Helo's baby, but we only have her word for that. Baltar and Starbuck hooked up, but that makes no sense unless one of them is... well, now. It would certainly explain how Baltar is in constant mental contact with a Cylon if he had a simple Cylon transmitter in his simple Cylon head.

(Talking of babies, Brad has a theory that Billy and Dualla's relationship will be the positive counterpoint to the fleet's struggle for survival. Their eventual baby will be the Virginia Dare of the new colony. I like it, but the sooner Dualla gets a first name the more plausible it will seem.)

My top candidates for recurring characters being Cylons are: Ellen Tigh, thus restoring my faith in humanity because she's a horrible manipulative person; Lt. Gaeta, because he's a little too keen to network the computers and imagine if he, of all people, is not one of "us"; and Baltar, because we already know he's a machine in bed and it would explain a lot of other potential inconsistencies in one swoop.

Not knowing is simultaneously frustrating and the whole damn point. Most of all, I want to know that we WILL know the things we want to know. Then I can safely invest this much thought into the best TV show in years and relax about the speed at which it happens.


Einstein's Monsters

If no man is an island, Relative Theory Records has been my peninsula of sanity. No matter how prepared I was to leave the U.K. behind, I wasn't half as prepared for living in small town U.S.A. as I thought I was. Don't misunderstand: this isn't The Simple Life. Norfolk's been an up-and-coming town for years now... it just never quite seems to make it all the way there. Relative Theory opened in January 2004 and I arrived four months later.

That's Josh. Josh and Dave own the place. Tha place is Suite 200 (i.e. upstairs) at 271 Granby Street - conveniently "on the map". Jamie's like the manager and the electronic music guru. Ryan, the night guy, has moved on. I used to run into him at Hell's Kitchen a lot. High School Dave has a nice car. Heather's away at college but still manages to do a ton of artsy stuff in the back and once gave me a mean free haircut. Joy runs the coffee bar and Eric. They have an awesome loyalty card scheme (which helps them compete with larger retailers) and the friendliest staff (which makes it a no-brainer where to spend your severance pay). They have bands and movie nights. Or you can just hang out and read a local newspaper.

A record store was a sight for my sore eyes last summer and Relative Theory surpasses all previous experiences of feeling welcome in one. If only it had a liquor licence too, I'd never leave. They are gods. Gods! See you there tomorrow for four bands for $5.


I got drunk yesterday. I didn't mean to. I was at my computer by 0900 and rewarded a good morning's work with a beer at lunch. Mmm, Guinness Extra Stout. More-ish. So I had a couple more and before I knew it, it seemed like a good idea to stop doing job stuff because I didn't trust myself not to make typos or go off on a beer tangent! I don't think I ate properly either, because today I feel a little too rough for five stubby beers. Still, that was one of the upsides of unemployment in full effect. Cheers!

Vampire Wannabees

"The folkloric vampires had been peasants but, in the eighteenth century, authors were still reluctant to make peasants into major characters in stories so the fictional vampire was moved into the upper classes. By the time of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) he had became a pallid count, rather than the ruddy peasant of the folklore...

"The baffling part of this is that modern 'vampires' are claiming kinship not with the vampire that our ancestors actually believed in but with the fictional vampire derived from that one. This is like somebody claiming to be related to Rhett Butler in the movie Gone with the Wind. 'You mean Clark Gable,' you say. 'No, no. Rhett Butler. The character in the movie. He's my cousin.'"

- Historian Paul Barber in Skeptical Enquirer magazine (1996).

New Doctor Who Again

A major spoiler here for the end of Season 1. However, if you care enough about the show to be bothered by my spoiling you, then you probably already heard the news months ago. And in this way, we take our chances...

Eccleston was good but he's gone. Apparently he didn't have fun shooting on a Welsh industrial estate for eight months straight so he didn't sign for a second year. Though having been fifteen months in the sticks now myself, I only dream that I could have spent that time being Doctor Who. Rumour has it that the B.B.C. has the new guy, young David Tennant, on a one-year contract too. Have they even read the script? He's got three lives left then it's game over.

Tennant's had his initial photo session and he looks fab; an altogether more refined kind of English gentleman. I approve! (Let's hope some of it rubs off on Rose.) If his few onscreen words so far are any kind of yardstick, he's gonna be a lot less manic than his predecessor. Kudos to the costume people also, for helping us forget about the 1980s. We're back to stylish yet unassuming, but not so plain that I wouldn't wear it. (That's a nice suit, I'm telling you.) Being able to easily blend into a variety of situations was sort of the whole point of the show, so thanks for bringing that back.

The linked picture above epitomizes the British weather. It was probably taken in June. If you like your wallpaper less drab or less dreary, check out this large free selection from Marvel Comics instead (requires registration).


Hot Hot Heat

A week ago we were bitching about the heat. It hasn't taken the hint.

It's 100° Fahrenheit right now and feeling like 112. Those extra 12 degrees aren't just drama: the Heat Index takes into account that I live in a freakazoid humidity zone. It tells me that if I lived somewhere normal, it would have to be 112° to feel this hot. Tonight, we'll reach a low of 79-only-feeling-like-85° around 05:00 EST.

Before I lived here, I thought air conditioning was something primadonnas and hypochondriacs complained about in the movies. But I didn't believe you could fry an egg on the hood/bonnet of your car in summer, either. Why would anyone want to settle in these conditions? I can't think straight. Another 339° and my books are toast!


Waking Typing Eating Sleeping

I took a few days off. Not much to report, or you can bet I'd be sharing it!

The job hunt continues to generate more leads. I'd feel productive if it weren't that they're all unlikely to yield a result quick enough. Going to Gen Con Indy for some impromptu interviews seems mandatory now, though I'll need to check with Legal what it takes (paperwork, money, etc.) to leave the country and come back before that trip can be useful. I'm considering a final excursion to D.C. but no firm plans have been made so we'll see what transpires. It would surely be fun, but right now everything seems secondary to that question mark over my future.

I've been playing San Andreas before the police come crashing through my door to demand I trade in my copy for Finding Nemo (a slight overreaction there to this story. Thanks to Shocho for the link - in fact, he's been the Good Link Guy of late.)

I've been watching Batman: The Animated Series in all its "Dark Deco" gloriousness which, with the distance of a few years now, more convincingly looks like it was made in the 1940s.

And I just saw House Of Flying Daggers, another fine Chinese export with a great story in the first half that unfortunately degenerates into dross as the layers of deception are pulled back. The last 30 minutes I started web surfing. How Zhang Ziyi/Ziyi Zhang in disguise as a non-sword-toting anything is supposed to fool us in these movies any more is beyond me... not since Tom Cruise defined the role of Fallen Hero Seeking Redemption for himself to play over and over again has an actor so seemingly sought out to be typecast. Ultimately, Hero takes the prize in the Z.Z. "It Isn't Me!" trilogy, being largely devoid of the irrational romantic decisions that take over House Of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in their final reels.

More (possibly even interesting) tales when I have them...


Top Five James Bonds

1. Sean Connery
Pussy Galore: "My name is Pussy Galore."
Bond: "I must be dreaming."

2. Pierce Brosnan
Christmas Jones: "I've got to get [the six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium] back or someone's gonna have my ass."
Bond: "First things first..."

3. Bob Simmons
Stunt co-ordinator on many of the films and the guy in the "gun barrel opening" for the first three, before they re-shot it with Sean Connery. Ah, the lengths to which I'll go to keep douchebags like Roger Moore off the list!

4. Bob Holness
"I'll have a 'P' please, Bob."
The presenter of the British version of Blockbusters was an actor in his younger days and played 007 on South African radio in 1956.

5. Timothy Dalton
It was good for Bond to get serious again but, like Brosnan, his first movie was utter tosh and protracted legal wrangling over the rights to the franchise pre-empted his third.

I will give Roger Moore his props for Cannonball Run, in which he plays a deluded character who thinks he's both James Bond and the actor Roger Moore at the same time. Did you know that - if you treat the member countries of the United Kingdom as separate - the five actors to play Bond in the official movie series have all been a different nationality? I was surprised. Were you surprised? I was surprised.

The People-I-Used-To-Work-For Soundbite Of The Week

"Get gay or get out."


Shades Of Jay

Grey areas are fun. How I should even spell the colour is a "gray" area itself. Four of the six artists involved in this merry tale are pohms, so I'm gonna go with the first one. (This is all gonna be a bit muso so if you have as big an aversion to art criticism as I do to sports commentary, this may not be the article for you. Even with the free shit at the end.)

Last year, Jay-Z released an a cappella version of The Black Album for remixers and fools who are easily parted from their money and will buy anything he touches. At that time, I knew squat about popular rap music and a mash-up was something that happened on the motorway. But that all changed thanks to le internet. Someone called DJ Dangermouse mixed this Black Album with The Beatles' White Album and the resulting Grey Album was hailed by many in the music press as Album Of The Year.

Reasons to like it: it's the Fab Four's best album, in places; good rap is good, bad rap is fucking awful, and Mr. Z knows his stuff; and the juxtaposition of his aggressive lyrics and their music (every chord and drum snare is lifted directly from The Beatles) is mind-blowing. 99 Problems was an arrogant Ice-T tune to begin with and it's more so with Jay-Z toasting and the blisters-on-my-fingers Helter Skelter backing up the lyrics. The staccato piano part from While My Guitar Gently Weeps under "there's never been a nigga this good for this long" on December 4th is better than sex (unless I'm doing it wrong). It does run out of steam towards the end, but most of the tunes here are fab and several are golden.

Oh, but it's illegal. How the hell can art be illegal? Creativity and cash were unlikely bedfellows when the music industry started and they don't appear to have reached a state of harmony or comprimise yet. If I sing to my lady, I don't expect to get billed for it (except by her, to compensate for the trauma). The fact that DJ Dangermouse knew he was using samples that would never get cleared because they fit and that he's pissed off people who are richer than God is just another reason to like it, in my humblest of humble opinions. No-one's trying to make money off the record. It's just out there, existing; popular only because it makes people happy, not because it's cheap or a corporation told us that we need this music to complete our lives. Think how many beautiful Nina Simone recordings wouldn't exist if jazz artists in those days weren't free to sing each others' songs.

There are several other curious Black Album remix projects. The Brown Album is a mix by Kevin Brown featuring the soul/jazz music of Kevin Brown, whoever Kevin Brown is! The Black & Blue Album sounds like a funny idea but the mix is atrocious and the timing is horrible. A self-confessed indie music fan and non-D.J. calling himself Jay-Zeezer mashed it up with The Blue Album by Weezer. The Double Black Album is a mix with Metallica's own Black Album that the famous intellectual copyright defenders conveniently don't seem to mind... could it be that it's providing them with some much-needed X-factor?

And finally - for me, for today - The Slack Album. Since the Jay-Z disc and Pavement's Slanted And Enchanted both have 14 tracks, the remixer here imposed the additional restriction of fusing Track 1 on one record with its Track 1 counterpart on the other. A tremendous, pointless achievement!

I'm off now to combine Jay-Z with R.E.M. for The Dark Green Album. The lead single will be Get That Orange Crush Off Your Shoulder. Meanwhile, you can download The Grey Album here (requires BitTorrent). Sony has now dropped its legal action so you ain't even breaking da law no mo'.


Dumb Things I Know

You can get intestinal worms from raw fish at a sushi restaurant. You'd be mighty unlucky, but theoretically it is possible.

The Second Amendment needs ratifying.

The Corinthians wrote back! Paul's letters pick up as he answers questions the leaders at Corinth have written to him - some of which may be quoted in the New Testament. But they're not indented or italicized like in e-mail, and the mix makes some of Paul's statements sound contradictory.

Our moon is in synchronous (or "captured") rotation with Earth, so we always see its same side.

The Pisa Tower was off-kilter by the time construction was finished.

Stardates in Star Trek make little sense. In the original series they were assigned arbitrarily. The Captain's Log in episode Spock's Brain starts at stardate five thousand plus, but later Kirk makes a supplemental entry at four thousand and something. In later series, dates progressed 1000 star dates per season of television, starting at 40,000 on the first season of The Next Generation.

The egg came before the chicken, since chickens are descended from other non-chickenoid lifeforms that would have hatched from eggs.

"O.K." stands for "oll korrect". It comes from America in the 1830s when comic mis-spellings and abbreviations were something of a fad. (If you think that sounds dumb, just look at the persistence of "nite" and "lite" in modern culture.) It passed into the vernacular the following decade, when it was used in a political campaign.

The opposite of déjà vu is jamais vu - you're in a totally familiar situation yet you feel like you've never been there before.

Richard Dawkins (credited with first coining the word "meme", among other achievements) is now married to former Doctor Who actress, ex-wife of Tom Baker and all-round hottie Lalla Ward.

"Katie Holmes" is an anagram of "Tom Likes A He". He heh.


"I was in the first submarine. Instead of a periscope, we had a kaleidoscope. We were surrounded."

"I wrote a few children's books... not on purpose."

"I went to a restaurant that serves breakfast at any time. I ordered
French Toast during the Renaissance."

- Comedian Steven Wright in concert.


Hello, Boys!

About a month ago I set up Site Meter on this blog. (The following graph is for the semiologists, not the statisticians, so enjoy the pretty colours then look further down for genuine factoids about all y'all.)

48% of my traffic this week came from cox.net. This is most of the civilian population of Virginia, including me. My blog is my homepage because it's got all my favourite links on it but that's gonna skew some of my stats. I don't see my old colleagues showing up by domain name but 26% used Macs and surely no-one would do that unless they were getting paid for it?

Visitors to Ford Prefect this week were 94% English-speaking. Spanish and Hebrew ranked with 1% each, and 4% were German. (Hi, Ally!) Additionally, users with Dutch, Israeli, and Argentinian accounts dropped by. I guess many were just hitting Next Blog at the top of the page, cos I have referrals from people I don't know and sites that definitely aren't "tagging" me.

Google shows up in the list of referring pages too, and a simple mouse click in each case re-creates the original search. Yep, you guessed correctly: my porn post on 2005-06-30 has made me the third-listed site if you search for "Keely Coles". She uses a stage name and I had a helluva time tracking down her real name for the article. Since publishing it, I've become a source... a nodal point in the sharing of this precious knowledge. And that makes me a big hit with Googling perverts. Hello, boys!


Top Five Album Covers

I finally sold off my record player and all my vinyl in 2001. I was in love with the 12" format for its art and I just couldn't let go. Here are my favourite album covers of all-time as determined by how I feel right now today. It's not rocket science!

1. Weasels Ripped My Flesh: The Mothers Of Invention (1970).
This is a Frank Zappa record. I like it because, no matter what the hero or damsel says in a Roy Lichtenstein painting, the art usually shows a mundane scene from a 1950s romance comic. Here, the man's razor has turned into a vicious animal and is cutting up his face. The man's smiling and making a silly razor noise. And there are too many word balloons. It's so surreal I don't have the analytical capability to fault it. Zappa also gets honorable mention for We're Only In It For The Money, which parodies the Beatles' famous Sgt. Pepper cover.

2. Led Zeppelin III (1970).
I kept a few records for sentimental reasons, and this is one. It has a gatefold sleeve but only one disc, so they put something unusual in the front space: a cardboard wheel! It's attached at the centre and you can rotate it so that different pieces of the wheel show through cut-out spaces on the front. Tactile things are good. The band's fourth album didn't have a title at all, just four symbols on the back; Physical Grafitti again made use of die-cutting in sixteen windows that each reveal one letter of the album's name on the inner record sleeve; and In Through The Out Door had several collectable covers and came in a sealed brown paper bag so you didn't know which one you were buying.

3. Tigermilk: Belle & Sebastian (1996).
Oh, to be a plush tiger! Other good records with boobs on include Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, Roxy Music's Country Life, Pixies' Surfer Rosa and, unsurprisingly, Pulp's This Is Hardcore.

4. Different Class: Pulp (1995).
Another one I kept, because the cover is a cut-out frame. Inside you get a total of 12 full-size card images - all potential album covers. Choice is good.

5. Parallel Lines: Blondie (1978).
She's all in white except for a splash of black in her hair. They're all in black suits and ties, except for white shirts - like proto-Reservoir Dogs. The background is stark vertical black and white stripes. Punk is in full swing and Blondie wants you to choose a smarter, better-dressed way of life.

They may not have cracked the top five, but I nevertheless have special affection for British labels 4AD and Warp Records. The linked galleries show how each company uses a visual style to brand their releases above and beyond which artist appears on a record (though dip into each archive halfway through to skip the chaff).

Entropy Increases

It's as if there's a law of thermodynamics that kicks in every time I fix a broken thing. Earlier in the summer I had ants. The bath wouldn't drain. This week I had plumbing issues. Now a light bulb just burned out. I know it's only a light bulb but my replacing it will simply be a cue for something else - something potentially more expensive - to go wrong.

I think the jazz festival in Town Point Park has been rained off. (It thundered as I wrote that.) If the weather perks up, I'll go there and sup watery beer in the summer sun. If not, I'll be writing "fan fic". A friend of mine inspired me by having some short stories published and, whether anyone wants to publish me or not, I'm enjoying the opportunity to be creative outside of the Blogosphere.

Tenuous SF segue: Neil Gaiman spoke recently at the 2005 Nebula Awards, and it's available in The Sandman-style art form at Bookslut.com. Fun stuff if you're a fan of his stuff.



One week on, life seems to continue back home. People are shaken up but resolute. People are cautious and seem to be taking time to nurture friendships, for you never know what random event might take them from you. People are amazed at the inanity of their daily routines in the face of such huge issues.

The news that last week's four bombers were British was a shock. Richard Reed (the foiled shoe-bomber) was British too. According to N.P.R, extremists in the Muslim community are better at vocalizing their opinions on the jihad situation than the liberals. Our Tony has condemned any and all attacks on Britain's Muslim population. It's a shame it needs saying, but at least it's out there for those who need their morality prescribed to them. Sikhs are nervous too, because they wear turbans and the common man can be very ignorant when he wants to be.

Where will it all end? The right to free speech isn't enshrined in any kind of Constitution for Brits the way it is in America. Will we get to finger-pointing and accusations of "un-British" sentiment?

If you can, stop what you're doing for two minutes at midday today, in memory of the dead and injured.

San Diego Comic Con International

I hope I didn't excite you there with the promise of exotic tales. I can't afford to go to San Diego. I finally paid my July rent and I woulda stretched my budget if I coulda got the people I'm most interested in working for to say they would meet with me. But they didn't reply. Hearing of anyone in "the industry" hiring lately is rare (so double-plus-good on you, Mark).

Like Dragon Con last summer, I would have gone to Comic Con for the costumed goth chicks and stayed for the networking. The fact that a series of convention events are on at the same time is usually immaterial, but it is useful for meeing "my type" of person - people who aren't ashamed of their innate nerdiness or restricted by it socially.

If the guests aren't uber-famous, they barely register with me either. So only Joss whedon, Ray Bradbury, Jim Lee and Alex Ross this year! And get a load of this print that Mr. Ross is selling at the show... I wonder where he stands politically?

To the handful of friends that will be there: have fun, don't forget Saturday's Fark Party in the Gaslamp district, and bring me back a petite goth girl with red or blue dyed hair please.


Ticket To Hell

When I wake up in front of St. Peter on that fateful day, I'm pretty sure he's going to point out the "management reserves the right to refuse entry" clause on my ticket stub and cite one of the following links as the reason. They're so bad, they're good. Enjoy them, if you can, while I cast out the devil within me.

Is anyone still not yet over Star Wars? The Darth Side is Vader's blog leading up to the last movie release. Don't worry. They get worse.

Terry Schiavo's blog shares her inner thoughts on her recent comeback as a celebrity and, miraculously, her thoughts from beyond death too. "I figured I might as well let you know I'm done with this blog. Last night I stubbed my toe which I'm pretty sure is a sign that God is trying to punish me."

Let's turn it up a notch: new uses for a Playstation 2 controller.

If you're still reading, thank you for not flaming me already. If you are gonna flame me, you might wanna hold on and leave some room for this next one. It's The Legend Of The Blood Ninja! Imagine "crank calling" in the chat pane of M.M.O.R.P.G. World Of Warcraft. These are allegedly real transcripts of one guy getting people to consent to have cyber sex with him, then saying really dumb stuff. The same part of my brain that laughs at Jackass found this hilarious. But I'm still going to luncheon with Be'elzebub.

Finally, a challenge: I'm looking for a recent article by satirist Chris Morris from The Guardian where he says Al Qaeda are having "difficult second album syndrome", referring to the Madrid and London attacks as less dynamic follow-ups to New York. It's not linked at the paper's website, for reasons of taste. Marcus Points to every sinner who finds it!

Sounds Of The City

I did little going out over the weekend, just hung around at home. I left the window open for fresh air for about four days straight. During this time, due to continuing irregular sleep patterns, I'm sure I experienced the soundtrack of downtown Norfolk at all hours, twice over.

City Hall Avenue sees a lot of traffic - it's on a bus route or two, there's a parking garage on the other side of the street and it leads from one interstate exit to Granby Street and back onto the I-64 near the mall. I'm incredibly sensitive to constant noise at night, like hums, but intermittent traffic just has a whooshing effect once you're on your way to quality R.E.M. time. The buses growl a little, and the 7.30am garbage trucks on a Monday morning can only be interpretted as free form jazz breaks (for which I've never cared either).

The piledriving sounds from the terraforming experiment on Granby are a rare occurrence these days - a significant step down from six days out of seven in early summer! I thought I was jinxed for a moment there... don't ask how many times I've moved in somewhere new only for major construction to start nearby shortly after. (About four.)

The office block outside my window always has something going on, whether it's security guards patrolling, workers coming and going or drunk couples arguing in the early hours - one of my all-time pet peeves! Who needs the weakness of the human condition broadcast in the street for all to hear? Not me. Have some class, peasants! There's a generator of some kind on top of the office building, but it makes a sighing sound every few minutes which is soothing too. I'm really surprised how quiet this place is. I love it.

I'm bored as hell, of course, but there is an end in sight. I might be headed home soon so I'll start to apply for jobs in the U.K. too now. I don't want to go and leech at the family home again. I'm tired of all the moving and instability, but better times are ahead so I go with the flow. I've not given up here yet, though.

Here's a small moral dilemma for you all: how do I handle leaving my lease? They have a double deposit from me, which I'll no doubt lose if I tell them I'm breaking my 12-month contract. Or will they understand the extenuating circumstances? I'm not confident of that. At the other end of the scale, I could not even pay rent next month (I didn't pay yet this month and the late fees amount to just $12) and just leave mid-month. It's less honest, but they'll still have my large deposit and I'll be $500 richer. I'm torn between the right thing, and the right thing for me. Input, please!

Relief packages from Amazon.com are, well... a relief. I just had Neil Gaiman's 1602 recommended to me, which was a nice bit of synchronicity because I'd already ordered it. It arrived early in the mail today. Yip! I feel a teensy-weensy bit guilty about impulse-buying Appleseed and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly at the horribly over-priced F.Y.E. on Saturday but they were both discounted, I promise.

As far as I know, 1602 is an interpretation of the Marvel Universe as if it was set in the year 1602, so: geeky, British and 400 years retro. The art goes to black on the edge of every page, which makes the book all dark and sleeky on the outside. Squeal! With it came Doctor Who: The Robots Of Death - so geeky, so British and with a budget that can only be described as retro. My tastes really are very wide and varied! Plus I'm A Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson's notes on returning to America after spending 20 years in Britain.

And this is how I keep myself entertained while waiting for a lucky break. I'm having a very relaxing summer, if you can't tell! But this cave man is up for some bar time at the earliest opportunity. Yeah, even the Wonder Bar.


Top Five U.S. Snack Foods

Leaving Ben & Jerry's ice cream range aside for a moment, what do I reach for when the munchies come a-callin'?

1. Smartfood White Cheddar Cheese Flavored Popcorn.
Regular soft popcorn that you might get at the movies, with cheesey salt on like you might get on a Pringle or Dorito. The little bits at the bottom of the bag always have the most flavour.

2. Blueberry muffins.
From Relative Theory's coffee bar. Or from Starbuck's. Or from any place that wants to sell me a muffin with my coffee in the morning. It's the closest I come to breakfast each day.

3. York's Peppermint Patties.
My fellow Britons, imagine an After Eight mint that's the size of a Jaffa Cake but twice as thick. Now available in $2 bags of bite-size patties.

4. Oberto Natural Style Beef Jerky.
4oz of dried, cured meat in a bag. Such a guilty pleasure, but when the same store sells Pigs Feet in a jar (no, I have no idea how you're supposed to prepare them) I think I'm still on the acceptable side of redneck.

5. Reese's Nutrageous bar.
Americans love their peanut butter and my local grocery store, The Downtown Provision Co, has about a dozen chocolate bars that contain either peanuts or peanut butter in stock at all times. The cheekily-named Nutrageous is the king of them all. Bow down, lesser snack foods!

Finally, there's a weird thing going on here with Mars, Milky Way and Three Musketeers bars: two are like the European Mars and Milky Way bars, but their names don't match. They took the snacks and the names and mixed them all up for no reason other than to confuse me! But I have the final laugh, because they ALL taste good.

Where I'm Blogging From

I cleaned the place up a bit this weekend, so now I can have guests over. Come on in. It's only small but it's big enough for my humble needs.

The room is square, plus a hall and bathroom. Behind me is the kitchen area. I sleep in the corner, like a damn dirty dog. I finally got my Alex Ross up on the wall. My plant can't decide whether to live or die, no matter how much water and/or sun I give it. It's been this way for months now. I like it here because it's $550 a month including utilities, and the space is all mine. (By the way, if you see anything you like then take note: if I have to leave in a month's time then everything will need a new home quickly. Much can be given away or loaned indefinitely...)

Yes, my CDs and DVDs are alphabetized. I stopped caring once and couldn't find what I was looking for - never again! Brad will tell you the last time I moved we taped up the shelves and carried them as they were rather than packing my CDs in boxes. I couldn't face sorting them again and it was only a three-block move.

I used to live here (the pin should actually be one block west, on the U-shaped apartments) and now I live here on the north-west corner of the n-shaped building, above the m-shaped building. When I worked, it was here. Hence the phrases "is he on campus?" and "that's off the map". Zoom out on the Google maps to answer the most-asked question from my friends overseas: where exactly is this Norfolk of which you speak?

The apartment complex looks eerie at the back at night. It used to be a hotel (pictured above). I think my room was a store room.



Wikipedia really is the best read ever. Day after day I get lost there, clicking links that interest me and often forgetting why I went in the first place.

Do you ever have moments when you can't remember if something is real or if you dreamed it? Today, it was my dad telling me while I was learning German in high school about him learning a constructed language (a "conlang") when he was a boy in the Forties. For a second there I couldn't imagine my father, sensible to a fault, being involved with anything remotely like Klingon. But it's all true.

Esperanto is an a priori auxiliary language devised in Poland in 1887 to help foster international understanding. Phonetically, it's Slavic but its vocabulary derives mainly from the Romantic languages. Evidently, it was noble enough an ideal for Neutral Moresnet to consider adopting it as their official language when it looked like they might become independent before the First World War - guess what happened instead - and the short-lived micro-nation Rose Island, near Italy, actually did so in 1968. Do I sound like an expert? I just read Wikipedia.

Once again, it's time to feel sorry for the kids. There are up to 2000 native Esperanto speakers in the world today - no small feat for a language without a home or culture to support it. That's how many parents insisted on teaching their offspring a useless, made-up language, and doubtlessly dragged them kicking and screaming to annual Esperanto conventions until they were old enough to stay home alone/together. These dreamers even have their own flag and national anthem!

This is Marcus: reading Wikipedia so you don't have to.

We Shall Not Be Moved

"In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, may peace be upon the cheerful one; and the dauntless fighter, Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace be upon him. O nation of Islam and nation of Arabism: rejoice for it is time to take revenge from the British Zionist Crusader Government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heroic mujahidin have carried out a blessed raid in London. Britain is now burning with fear, terror, and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters. We have repeatedly warned the British Government and people. We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid in Britain after our mujahidin exerted strenuous efforts over a long period of time to ensure the success of the raid. We continue to warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the Crusader governments that they will be punished in the same way if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He who warns is excused."

- Al Qaeda's European website on Thursday.

"Those who perpetrate these brutal acts against innocent people should know that they will not change our way of life."

- Queen Elizabeth II on Friday.


I'm Thuper!

Updated, expanded and reposted. Now with added fire and brimstone!

I'm going back to South Park for a coupla reasons: new people are reading and I want to see little cartoon versions of them; I don't want anyone to misunderstand my views on religion following my 2005-6-14 post; and I've just seen a Christian website bash one of my all-time favourite films because it didn't understand it.

First, the fun stuff: me as a nine-year old with adamantium claws (like Wolverine from X-Men). How deliciously menky! You can make your own character courtesy of Comedy Central's website.

Now, let's get semi-serious: deep down, all religions seem to be about tolerance and I'll second that. Religion is much more prevalent in Virginia than where I'm from - in the last twelve months, I've unwittingly dated a preacher's daughter and a Sunday school teacher. But I haven't needed to modify my behaviour much to survive here and no-one's found reason to preach to me.

When faith become organized, that's when I opt out. Beliefs such as these can't be tested, making no one religion more truthful than the next. When P.O.T.U.S. says God blesses America, he doesn't know that. It's a conveniently un-disprovable endorsement of the government's own ideologies, by the government. Having religious status doesn't equal being righteous. Anyone making that mistake runs the risk of being authoritatively wrong instead of merely humbly wrong.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut criticises racism, mob rule, moral hypocrisy and censorship, but the folks at the Childcare Action Project have missed the point entirely. The movie isn't designed for children because they aren't usually developed enough to distinguish between glorification of a thing and satirization of it. The reviewer makes the same childish mistake: he's hung up on the curse words and vulgarities and doesn't notice issues that must be close to the heart of the C.A.P. being highlighted and discussed throughout the film.

They can't see the wood for the trees, which is sad, as is the fact that no-one is surprised at their kneejerk, face-value reaction. People like this give the rest of Christian America a bad name.


Benedict Arnold

When a work colleague called me "a Benedict Arnold" as a joke, I think the last reaction he was expecting was a blank look. The name may be synonymous with betrayal here but back home most people have never heard of him. I think we have so much history, teachers can pick and choose from the conflicts we won. The World Wars? Check. Agincourt? Yup. Waterloo? Trafalgar? All present and correct!

Sorry, Benedict. We're just not that into you. Which means I have little frame of reference when it comes to the subject. I was considering getting an "I Heart Benedict Arnold" t-shirt for laughs but, on second thoughts, I'd probably get lynched in the street. Wouldn't I?


The Rorschach Test

We humans excel in finding patterns - in clouds, constellations, tea leaves, etc. Below is a handful of pictures from yesterday's celebration.

Mother and baby pufferfish.
Kelis' afro.
The end of the Death Star or just some fibre optics?
Twin rockets.
Kirk trembles in fear because Melkor lives!
Shit! Did you see that?!

Happy 4th, everybody.

Top Five Phobias

Batman Begins got me thinking about fear. I'm trusting you all with this information. No messing around with me afterwards. I mean it!

1. Clautophobia
The fear of elevators, a.k.a. "Otisitis". I thought this was a peculiar thing to be troubled by but apparently it's quite common. Dean Martin had it. Sigourney Weaver has it too, but wouldn't you after the final battle in Aliens? It's not an outright fear of machines. I drive cars just fine and trust that aeroplane pilots have the training to respond to any problems. It's not claustrophobia either. I'm just not comfortable getting inside something automated because we all know computers can go wrong.

I live on 2 so I take the stairs often, though if I have luggage I'll take the most evil elevator ever - just don't make me get in first or out last, in case it falls! The lift in our building creaks, you can hear the winch winding and, if you visit someone on 8 the hum is so loud by the time the car reaches the top that you know the machinery is only feet from your head. I was 30 when I moved in, and had flashbacks to the ascension scene in Logan's Run. Luckily it has a real door, not a gate or - like one I had in Spain - nothing between you and the passing dirty brickwork at all.

2. Aquaphobia
The fear of drowning. I thought I was a fair swimmer until a 1996 vacation in Spain. My friend Ed dropped anchor on his boat so we could swim to shore and I almost didn't make it. I had my first of two panic attacks ever and had to cling to the side of another boat closer to shore for fear of going under. I was very very embarrassed.

3. Arachnophobia
Those bastards! Not the arachnids, but the people with the website that tops the list when you Google "arachnophobia + causes" and has a giant animated gif at the head of the page. I just shrieked out loud. Grr. Like most phobias, this one developed in childhood and has mostly passed now. Shelob in The Return Of The King was fine; Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets was slightly less so. Bizarrely, I'm the hugest Spider-Man fan. This is the number one phobia across ages, sexes and countries so don't feel bad if you have it too.

4. Arachibutyrophobia
The fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. I don't suffer from this - in fact none of the above are in any way debilitating in my daily life, and not just because I'm a hermit - but it was too cool not to get a mention.

5. I'm trying, but I can't make five.

I Have Finally Succumbed

The flip-flops and shorts are on. It turns out Englishmen have legs after all.

10.22pm EST: Update! We went over to Town Point Park to watch fireworks and I tripped on the metal base of a Road Closed sign in the street. My toe bled. I am not yet skilled in the wearing of the flip-flops.


Finding Neverland?

Kyle and I saw Batman Begins yesterday. Believe the hype! It's up there with the Spider-Man movies for putting comic books onscreen with the minimum of embarrassment. It's ones like this that make being a fanboy a little less reprehensible in the eyes of the rest of the world. It's not even a super-hero movie, really. Batman has never had super-powers, just martial arts training and a lot of expensive gadgets. But EVERYTHING here is justified in real world terms: why the Joker is so theatrical, how the Scarecrow inspires fear in his victims, how Ra's Al Ghul is immortal, etc. It's great to see everything taken so seriously, and the end result is a gripping journey in fear, psychology and morality.

Katie Holmes ain't great but neither does she spoil everything in her last performance before going mad. (Her final scene made me want to lend her my sweater, the poor thing.) The rest of the cast is unbelievably good: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson, Linus Roache, Liam Neeson... have there ever been more Brits in a major U.S. motion picture? I have a habit of remarking on cool Brits when they show up in my American life, and I think Kyle was deaf in his right ear by the end of the movie. Let's not forget the Dutchman (Rutger Hauer) and Irishman (Cillian Murphy) either. Thank you, America, for funding this European film!

By the way, if anyone can identify the actor playing the Wayne Enterprises board member who said "the apple has fallen far from the tree" in the party scene, please let me know. I swore it was John Hurt (British!) but can't find him on any cast lists.

This was my first trip to the movies since Serenity, so I saw a lot of new previews. First up, the Serenity trailer! It's weird to see an ad for a movie you saw already in previews, but it looked good. It showed enough action to get major bums-on-seats on release. A franchise here would be nice, though a TV show with more time for character moments would be even nicer.

Fantastic Four looked like it had four times the lameness, but we've known that for a long time.

Then came Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. You can always trust Johnny Cheekbones to give a memorable performance, but something tells me this one won't be for all the right reasons. He has a squeaky voice, a powdery white complexion and he invites children to his secret lair where the normal rules of society don't apply. With That Trial in the news for most of the year, he really creeped me out and I would not want my kids going to the Chocolate Factory. Oh god... is "chocolate factory" some horrible euphemism like "Jesus juice"? I'm disturbing myself now so I'm out.


San Rabia

I'd forgotten how useful Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas can be in getting rid of negative mental calories. To those who say it promotes violence, I shoot you in the head!

In five years working with gaming fanatics I only ever met one person who strongly objected to these titles and I think that had more to do with their accessibility to children than anything else. That concerns me too, but they do have an 18 rating. Should all adult-only entertainment be banned because of sloppy parenting? Likewise, anyone who goes on a mad killing spree because they played this game probably had issues before they first put the disc in the tray. It can be a catalyst at most, but it's always easier to have a knee-jerk reaction and place blame than examine the real cause. (I'm preaching to the choir here, I'm sure.)

Where you are welcome to draw a speedy conclusion is that I could give you better directions around San Andreas than I could around Norfolk.

I'm Deep!

Every time I tell myself astrology is a load of old hogwash, I read some really life-affirming hogwash. Below are excerpts from the Pisces profile. These aren't results from any kind of in-depth test and neither is time of birth (the basis of your moon sign) taken into account.

Pisces are caring, nurturing, and spiritual. They are the deepest of the signs, often contemplating other views or worlds. Their gentle, patient nature makes them devoted partners. At times, they can exist on an emotional rather than practical level and need a partner to keep their feet planted in reality.

I think more than I act, it's true.

Practical, romantic Cancer finds their match in romantic Pisces. You two fit like halves of a whole. Enjoy the bliss you find in each other (5/5). Virgo's exacting demands give Pisces something to strive for. In return, Virgo manages other aspects of life. The sensitive Pisces can lean on the strong Virgo (5/5). Scorpio provides mystery and excitement for emotional Pisces. This union will be a mix of possessiveness, sensual encounters, and a depth of unspoken emotions (3/5).

All Virgos and Cancers please drop me an e-mail. Include a photograph! Also, I'm gonna stop being so hard on Scorpios. What's three failed relationships in the last six years?

Life has so many options, at times you have difficulty choosing. One of those difficult choices is relationships. Often one will not satisfy your ferocious hunger. The unpredictability of a new venture entices you. Don't get scared of a steady partnership, they are not always as scary as they look.

I fucked one up because the grass seemed greener. You live, you learn.

Variety is the spice of life. You love to start many new projects because they are unexpected and exciting. The important thing to watch out for is that you don't start too many and not finish them. You will always seem to have a following because you are extremely generous. But those who no longer challenge you seem to get left over. Find out what made you like them in the first place and get that back! Keep finding that new challenge.

Sometimes when I seek out new experiences, I'm disappointed by them. But wherever I end up, it won't be for lack of trying.

Don't be embarrassed by failure. Cut through the red tape. You are a leader. If you take the chance and make your proposals, people will listen.

Somebody give me a job!!

Be careful to not get overly aggressive when you become trapped. Pay attention to your instinct and let that help guide you to your way out.

Man! How do they know me so well?!

Green is the color of Spring and the Tiger.

Tomorrow I shall be mostly wearing green.