A new idiot in town

The latest email scam is breathtakingly stupid, but still serves as a warning to read things carefully.

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Couldn’t resist this!

Sorry there’s no big fancy title image or any of that flashy stuff, but in researching a blog post about WikiHow I came across this bit of advice:

How do I make money in the crop growing or animal farming business?

WikiHow answer:

Grow fast growing plants or raise animals that produce a lot of offspring eg: pigs, doves.

I marked this article as unhelpful and left a message: Where do I buy doves to start my own dove farm?

I’ll let you know if they answer, but I can only think there must be a growing demand for doves from magicians. This could be the next big speculative bubble. Invest in doves!

Interview – Matthew Wright

On my list of regular blogs to visit is the one written by New Zealand historian Matthew Wright. His interests, however, don’t just lie in the past but the present and future too, mixing current science with science fiction. When his book of essays came out examining the curious side of quantum mechanics, Explaining Our Weird Universe, I had to pick up a copy and this led to me wanting to know more, not just about the science but the ideas behind writing the book.

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A Familiar Formatting Problem


Most self-published authors will have encountered Smashwords’ notorious ‘meatgrinder,’ and few of them survive unscathed.

They know what I’m talking about, but for those of you who haven’t come across this Gilliamesque monster, it’s the automated system Smashwords uses to convert uploaded files into various ebook formats.

And it doesn’t work.

6-who-among-us-v1Take a look at the book cover on the left. It’s the cover of Who Among Us… the third book of the TotenUniverse. It’s been on the Smashwords site since 2015 and we’ll come back to it in a moment.

The cover on the right is the new cover to Who Among Us… and partwhoamongus of a newly edited version of the book. All the books in the TotenUniverse have been given a makeover, with new interior content. It’s all on Amazon now, available in Kindle format and over the weekend I started to upload the new versions to…

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All in One, All at Once

Imminent special edition of the Herbet West series by Audrey Driscoll…

Audrey Driscoll's Blog

So many books…

You know how it is — you read an ebook, think it’s pretty good, wonder if there’s a sequel. In a day or two, other books and life in general overlay the memory. Weeks later, something reminds you of that book. Now, what was the title? The author? You try to find it in your e-reader and your computer. So many books… You pick one that looks interesting and start reading, the book you were looking for forgotten.

This shouldn’t happen to readers of the Herbert West Series, because now they have the option to acquire all four novels at once — the complete series.

I started writing the first book on November 7th, 2000. November 7th, 2016 is Herbert West’s 130th birthday. In honour of the occasion, I have published a “box set” of all four novels, with a bonus — Chapter 1 of the…

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Pencils, Rubbers et al

Why does a rubber rub out pencil?

People are so nasty and horrible these days that if you ask a perfectly reasonable question they’ll say, ‘why don’t you google it, asshole.’ (It is possible to make these people look stupid by asking a rhetorical question…)

Back in the day, when I were a lad, I spotted a gap during a chemistry lesson, raised my hand and asked: “Why does a rubber rub out pencil?”

The class erupted in hysterics and I didn’t get a straight answer from the teacher. Later I asked my mate Paul Reid why everyone laughed. “Because only you would think of asking a question like that.”

Nearly four decades later I still don’t understand the physics of pencil erasers, so if anyone knows (serious answers only, no speculation) do leave a comment.

It’s not the only trivial bit of science that baffles me. Inkjet printers. We all take them for granted, hate them when they go wrong, and we know they’re designed to waste ink and therefore waste our money. But have you ever wondered how incredible they are from a technological point of view?

They can deposit a microscopic blob of ink anywhere on a sheet of paper no matter how big. This from a mechanical object. It’s not like a computer screen using algorithms and formulas to calculate which screen pixel to electrify. Printers have to move bits and pieces backwards and forwards, accurately, every time until the cyan cartridge runs out.

We don’t think about brilliance when the brilliance has become the everyday. What we take for granted seems simple, but it seldom is. Live events on television should astound you if you took a moment to think about what’s going on. All those tiny people running around a football pitch in Nice are not actors, it’s not a recording or a computer simulation, they really are there, thousands of miles away kicking a ball nanoseconds before you see it happen.

The technology, the speed of light broadcasting of an electronic signal is related to mobile phone technology. Take a look at that small oblong of plastic. Press the right button and some invisible connection is made to a mast somewhere, miles away. And the invisible connection travels through walls, through people’s heads, that passing bus is no obstacle. Everything between the phone and the mast is a conduit for the signal: electrons in the baby’s pram, the dog’s tail, the back fence, the cake display in Galloways, all vibrating and jumping to the next electron level to carry that mobile signal. No wonder everyone’s going mad with all the electromagnetic stimulation we’re bombarded with every day.

Hundred ton planes flying, thousand ton ships floating. It’s simple physics say the egg heads, but simple is still extraordinary.

I suppose if Aristotle had jumped out of his bath shouting eureka ten minutes earlier we might have had mobile phones forty years earlier and then I could have used mine to find out why rubbers rub out pencil. There’s nothing on the internet. Not even on google.


Interview – Harry Whitewolf

Back in September I reviewed Harry Whitewolf’s novel The Road to Purification, Hustlers Hassles and Hash. Author, poet and traveller, Whitewolf’s writing is a fusion of observation, fact and speculation. I asked Harry about his work, travelling, the number 11 and gn****.

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Am I The Only One Who Thinks The Zombie Joke Is Funny?

One thing I don’t like is reading jokes. Gags on paper are never funny for me. Comedy literature is different, but reading ‘this fella went into a bar…’ never raises a smile.

But I’m going to ignore my own rule with this post because there’s no other way of telling you the zombie joke. And when I do tell it no one laughs.

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Why The Private Sector Is Better

Ha! Fooled you. Clickbait, you see. It’s what the private sector is good at: discovering ever more devious ways of diverting you away from what you want to what it wants.

But I’m not here to bore you with pinko-commie anti-capitalist ranting. I want to examine more closely the often-heard assertion that the private sector does things better than the public sector.

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Spontaneous Human Combustion

I love the supernatural, I love the unexplained, the paranormal, a good mystery. In the early 1980s, the perfect magazine was published. Called The Unexplained, it was all about the unexplained.

It nearly scared me to death. Literally.

The adverts started to appear on telly and I was soon hounding my parents to buy it. I was at school at the time and someone else beat me to it. Another lad, Jeffrey Westwell, no stranger to the unexplained himself after turning up for school one day in a pair of inexplicably flared trousers, told me all about the first edition and a terrifying phenomenon called SHC: spontaneous human combustion.

When someone standing in a school corridor describes the human body going up in smoke it doesn’t have quite the same impact as seeing the after effects in print. The article had several pages of ugly black and white photographs of a solitary leg or the top half of a torso, surrounded by ash, the rest of the room virtually untouched.

At the time, the phenomenon was little understood. The surroundings unaffected by the heat, the burning apparently confined to the body and nothing else, baffled experts and with no obvious source of the fire the primary explanation was that the fire came from within, starting spontaneously. Hence the name.

Spontaneous combustion is not unknown. Haystacks, wood shavings, bales of paper, can heat up internally to immense temperatures and if the ignition temperature for that material is reached it spontaneously combusts. I’ve seen and felt a fire brick left inside a pile of tree bark mulch. After several hours the brick was too hot to handle without wearing gloves.

And spontaneous human combustion isn’t new, as anyone who has read Bleak House will know. Dickens, no stranger to the unexplained, created a seminal scene in which Mr Krook dies after spontaneously combusting.

It was a perfect storm. Grisly photos and a teenager already possessing a distaste for charred bodies. In 1975 following the IRA bombings in Guildford and Birmingham, the BBC helpfully displayed a police poster asking if witnesses could ‘identify this person.’ ‘This person’ being nothing more than a carbonised lump. I never forgot that image.

After reading the magazine, I lay in bed that night waiting for it to happen. Every twitch was the first stirring of the flame, every tingle round the ankle, every mild rumble of the stomach was the beginning of the inferno. I didn’t sleep for a week and got so worked up I had to sleep in a spare bed in my parents’ room.

I survived and life returned to normal until about two years later. We had moved house, my sister was married and one evening her husband bounded up the stairs with a question I hoped I’d never hear: “Chris, have you ever heard of spontaneous human combustion?” The anxiety began again.

But what exactly caused this bizarre form of death? There were two elements that had originally confused the experts: no apparent source of the fire (no bomb, no flame thrower, no anti-tank round, no exploding petrol tank. . . .); and the fire seemed to be contained to a very limited area (no burned furniture or walls, the only damage being to that immediate area where the body lay).

Experiments eventually concluded that the fuel was body fat and everything else fell into place when all the victims were considered as a group rather than viewed as individuals.

Many of the victims were elderly and living alone. Many of them were found close to an open fireplace or heater. The best explanation was that they caught fire from an exposed hem of clothing or a dropped cigarette end after they had fallen asleep. What happened next was rare, and by its rarity, exacerbated the explanations. Instead of going up in flames, the victim would lie burning, the fire fuelled by body fat which burns very slowly at high temperatures. They were in effect, cooked from the inside out. And because of the slow smouldering and internalised fuel source, there was little damage to the objects around them.

What these victims didn’t do was spontaneously combust.

Little comfort to me back in 1980, lying in bed shaking like a leaf, terrified of turning into a human candle. It ruined my birthday; the magazine was one of a number of gifts which included a 7 inch single of The Big Match theme tune, which to this day still reminds me of the torment.

And if you’re wondering why there are no images of spontaneous human combustion in this post, there are plenty on the internet if you want to search for them. But maybe leaving it to your imagination will be enough. It’s where the unexplained sometimes belongs, not in front of you in the real world.

Emergency! The Head Office Has Vanished

In a remarkable act of corporate conjuring, Apple has succeeded in making its head office disappear. This raises serious issues for CEO Tim Cook: has his chair disappeared too? Has Tim Cook disappeared?

Probably not because Apple have kicked up a fuss following the EU’s demands to pay back corporation tax owing to the Irish government who, in a twist of irony bordering on the pornographic, don’t want it.

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I Read The Guardian, But I Don’t Know Why

A few weeks ago I came across a free copy of the Daily Star. For those higher mortals who don’t live in Britain, the Daily Star is a tabloid newspaper. Noted for its bums-and-boobs approach to journalism, the Daily Star makes the Sun look like the Encyclopedia Britannica.

It’s a throwback to an age when humans shared the earth with Neanderthals. In fact you might say the Daily Star came along forty thousand years too late. It’s original editor was a toothy Cockney called Derek Jameson, nicknamed Sid Yobbo by Private Eye. The Spirit of Yob lives on in the Daily Star; brief of sentence, limited in intelligence, it isn’t read by white van man, it’s read by the van.

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Who On Earth Thought Insects Were a Good Idea?

They nip, bite, sting, burrow into the flesh, occupy our intestines and eat eyeballs. They spread diseases and those that don’t spread diseases carry the bacteria and viruses that do spread diseases.

In short, they are an unecessary evolutionary sick joke. They weren’t created by a Creator, they were created by the Creator’s morbid teenage son who had seen too many horror films.

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Interview – Leo X Robertson

This interview should have been posted here back in May (possibly 2015!), but thanks to a lethal brew of inertia and pre-occupation with a new job and duff car salesmen – excuses, excuses, they’re all just feeble excuses – indie author Leo Robertson has been forced to wait for his place in the pantheon of The Opening Sentence interviewees.

However, this is a big ‘un. Well worth the wait. So sit down with whatever it is you sit down with to drink and hear Leo’s take on self-publishing, world literature and selling out.

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Latest Spam no.4

There’s been quite a lot of spam recently in response to The Agent’s Cipher blog post, but that is now closed to comments, so those adverts for American football shirts will be coming your way soon.

Today, I received a very nice comment from a man called Xoy Chaopi, who might be Aztec, I’m not sure. Anyway, here’s my line by line response.

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Match of the Day v Kick Off

If you don’t like football, switch off now. This is a 100% footie post, with a difference. It’s not about football itself, but a television phenomenon that may outlast the pyramids.

Saturday nights in the 1970s had a certain pattern to it: The Generation Game, Starskie and Hutch, and the evening finished off in the smokey company of Parkinson. Sandwiched between Huggy Bear and Michael Parkinson being attacked by a puppet emu was Match of the Day.

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The Museum of Childhood Toys and Games

In 2015 I took a walk around the estuary of the River Kent and nearly walked my feet off. Half way along the route, passing a farm with a load of fairground rides in storage, an idea came to me: a museum containing all the toys and games of my childhood.

A search of Ebay revealed a lot of these games and selling for a lot more than we paid for them at Christmas and birthdays in the 1970s. I made a list of some of the exhibits. It would be an interactive museum with visitors free to play the stuff on display:

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