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Sunday 25 September 2016

The Lazy Problem In Science Fiction

Consider, for a moment, this quote.
"Let's gather up the bits and pieces and define the Simon-pure science fiction story: 1. The conditions must be, in some respect, different from here-and-now, although the difference may lie only in an invention made in the course of the story. 2. The new conditions must be an essential part of the story. 3. The problem itself—the "plot"—must be a human problem. 4. The human problem must be one which is created by, or indispensably affected by, the new conditions. 5. And lastly, no established fact shall be violated, and, furthermore, when the story requires that a theory contrary to present accepted theory be used, the new theory should be rendered reasonably plausible and it must include and explain established facts as satisfactorily as the one the author saw fit to junk. It may be far-fetched, it may seem fantastic, but it must not be at variance with observed facts, i.e., if you are going to assume that the human race descended from Martians, then you've got to explain our apparent close relationship to terrestrial anthropoid apes as well." - Robert A. Heinlein
What's your favourite science fiction story?

It is a highly debated genre, science fiction; totally ignoring the notion that literary fiction considers genre fiction to be unimportant, it is at war within itself. What counts as science fiction? What doesn't? There's several different definitions, assigned in different periods and by different individuals. The one I picked above - one by an author whose work I enjoy - is perhaps cherrypicked for purpose of the point of this blog.

Here's a selection of others:
"Fantasies are things that can't happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen." - Ray Bradbury

"I like to present my characters—whether they are in the past or in the future—with interesting moral choices, and it seems to me that science-fiction writers are, or should be, the prophets and moralists of today. I am fairly well up on the biological sciences, but I am deeply uninterested in gadgets. A writer's job is to write about people with sympathy and insight." - Naomi Mitchison

"Science fiction is the improbable made possible, and fantasy is the impossible made probable." - Rod Sterling

"SF has never really aimed to tell us when we might reach other planets, or develop new technologies, or meet aliens. SF speculates about why we might want to do these things, and how their consequences might affect our lives and our planet." - John Clute

"The hardest theme in science fiction is that of the alien. The simplest solution of all is in fact quite profound — that the real difficulty lies not in understanding what is alien, but in understanding what is self. We are all aliens to each other, all different and divided. We are even aliens to ourselves at different stages of our lives. Do any of us remember precisely what it was like to be a baby?" - Greg Bear
I have used a lot of other people's words in this blog. A lot of good people up there. I hope I don't piss any of them off in spirit by using their words poorly.

Almost all good stories include a conflict. This conflict can take a great many forms, but if there isn't a conflict, then the story is probably going to be a bit tedious (and/or described as "fun and frothy" in the pages of Hello magazine). We can probably identify the central conflicts in our favourite stories, they are pivotal to character development and plot resolution.

See, wherein we accept that science fiction is about the consequences of some kind of scientific advance and the social and personal repercussions of them - and wherein we accept that conflict is central to any story - surely the conflict in question is the futuristic otherness that makes the story scifi?

The conflict in 2001 isn't between the humans aboard the Discovery One and the monolith - it's between Dr David Bowman and Hal 9000. The monolith, and the subsequent change that it puts Dr Bowman through - that is the future, the otherness. It's not the central source of conflict.

Alien - the conflict is between an alien creature that we couldn't conceive of. It's put on the ship by the manipulation of a company whose job is moving around heavy industrial goods through space, the first blue-collar sci fi movie. Now if it was simply a story of the workers not liking being bossed around - that would frankly be lazy.

To just have the thing that is different be the conflict each time is...well, it's not very likely, is it? Which is part of why I find Star Trek hard going most of the time. I like Deep Space 9 - wherein the Federation isn't perfect, and the constant tussles between two warring people and those trapped in between that conflict are the actual story. It's not about the wormhole - it's about the people.

Because in the end, while I do love the fascinating what-if stuff about cool tech and aliens and out-there goings-on - stories are about the people. They're not about what megacorporations did to the world, or how one travels from one place to another, or how creating too many robots fucks your life up. Sure, that's a thing in the background - but what effect that has on people is what the story is about.

So to all you writers: yes, your theory on how we can get to Mars is amazing. Yes, that alien species is wonderful. Yes, the concept of energy-based life is fascinating. But don't make it the conflict. That's the domain of cheap tricks - action movies with an element of the future in them, with a special effects budget of millions and zero scientific consultancy.

It's hard, but it's worth it.

Money Talks

I'd like to conduct a mental exercise with your assistance.

Picture for me, if you will, a successful person holding an object of value. Imagine them in their home, and how that all looks.

Are we ready for the thought experiment?

Hands up if the person you imagined was wealthy, or had some obvious sign of being so - a suit or similar. Similarly, hands up if the object of value was an expensive one - and finally, hands up if the home would definitely rank on the pricey side.

I bet that's a few hands up. (Put em down again. You did it. Well done.)

Now you know my agenda, go ahead and look back at the request. I didn't mention money, not at all - though several of the words I used imply it.

We're paying attention to words at this point. The actual semantics of the situation. Now we can be careful about how we phrase things.

Who can remember a time when money didn't pretty much dictate our lives?

Not a lot of people who read this blog, that's for sure. There's a significant proportion of people alive in this day and age that live by subsistence farming and agriculture. Money probably doesn't come up for them very often - so I daresay it doesn't have the linguistic hooks dug into common parlance.

Here, though - here, today - most of the things we do have a coin involved somewhere. Work is so impressed on us, so central to our culture, that it is the default answer when someone asks us "What do you do?" - something I try and shake up whenever asked. "You mean for money or for fun?"

If we want to achieve almost anything, it is monetised - and if the act itself isn't, then the accessories and support services associated are. You can run for free, but these running shoes are £50 a pop. Lift weights? A branch will do - but unless you want splinters, join a gym, get the gloves, grab some dumbells.

To achieve things in this society - and to simply survive - we require money. It's difficult to do so otherwise. Some people do so, but they themselves will tell you how hard it is. Note that I do not mean living on benefits, as that is simply acquiring money from a different source (and is just as valid, if you are legally entitled to the money, you take it, it's yours). I mean literally not handling money at all. Often it results in criminality. This country has only just taken to heart the French idea to deliver unsold food - not even spoiled, just one day out of date - to places wherein the homeless and disadvantaged can access it.

Aspiration is often hitched to fiscal increase, too. If you want a better thing, it will cost you more - so you'd best get more money, hmm? And if the achievement doesn't require money or anything similar, then it is worth pointing out, because it is a difference, a change.

So when we talk about someone being successful, we assume that to mean wealthy - unless specified otherwise. Because what other universal handwave term for being well-off is there? Of course, in a world dictated by the flow of currency upward and upward, having more of it is a literal success.

Something being valuable is automatically assumed to mean expensive, too - because that is the de facto measurement of value. The thing is, the most valuable things to me are not the most expensive things I own, because there's levels of value. My most expensive possession is my laptop. Sure, I value it very highly - but not more than the silver chains my dad gave me, or the notebooks I have stuffed with old ideas, or the ticket stubs I still possess from the big five gigs of my life (Pearl Jam @ Hard Rock Calling 2010, Nine Inch Nails @ O2 2009, Counting Crows @ Brighton Arena 2009, Alter Bridge @ Portsmouth Guildhall 2008, Foo Fighters @ Wembley 2008), or the first CD I bought in America - also my favourite album of all time. Value is not monetary cost; however the cost is so important to us on a day-to-day basis that it becomes the standard assumed meaning.

The thing is, having money does not equate to having happiness or feeling satisfaction or security. It can contribute a whole hell of a lot, mind. If your income is very close to your expenditure, increasing that gap can only make life easier - there's less stress, less concern. We don't worry so much about having to take a week off, or missing the next pay raise, or the cost of bread increasing with little to no warning.

Of course it is also a truism that as income rises, so does expenditure. As we have more, so we take more. That's the nature of the beast - because again, in a society wherein the measure of success is money, that means that all goods that we may want have a cost, and the more desirable goods always cost more. Who doesn't want a slightly bigger fridge, a slightly nicer car, a slightly better laptop, a slightly larger house?

It all costs. We just accept that. To cover the costs we have to work, and we just accept that too. We earn so much less than the people who pretty much instituted this way of life, and we accept that also. It wasn't a shadowy conspiracy of a group of figures in a dark room. The people with the money just wanted to make more, and so they did. Because that's how it works. When you have it - you make more of it.

When you think about it like it not surprising that whenever anyone suggests doing something that casually disregards the constant hunt for further funds, that it is treated with incredulity?

Traditionally, the Labour party in this country has been a left-wing worker's party. It was dragged more toward the centre-right in the late 90s by one Tony Blair. They did well, because after Margaret Thatcher's hatchet-job on the average blue-collar worker to line the pockets of the financiers, right-wing attitudes in this country had started to come to the fore - but the Tories still had the reputation of being nasty. So we can still be right-wing money-grubbers and also not be held up as evil? Sign me up!

The thing is, they took over the entire party. Tory-lites. Women and men whose view of the world was pretty much the same as their blue-tied brethren on the opposite benches, just with a nod to the poor and the sick. And don't get me wrong - having been on the receiving end of benefits and sickness support in both the Blair era and the subsequent ConDem/Tory era, that nod actually helped us out a lot.

Recently, the party voted for a new leader. That leader was Jeremy Corbyn, an old-fashioned left winger whose attitude is that we should really be helping people and doing the right thing regardless of income or profit.

For this, he was treated to a non-stop campaign of hate. People mocking him, calling him a communist (incorrect) and a socialist (they wouldn't know one if it hit them in the face), saying he was unelectable (despite being elected as party leader). There were threats of mass resignations, mass resignations, personal attacks, smear campaigns across the wide breadth of the media. The temptation of digging in and fighting back must have been great, but his line has always been the line of grace under fire. However much political capital he could have made from getting into verbal fisticuffs with all and sundry, he just got on with it.

All this came to a head in the most recent leadership re-election. A vote of no confidence was called. Those who wanted him gone were - as you'd expect - Blairite neo-Tory coatriders. Those who had profited from still being the right wing in an apparently left-wing party. Those comfortable in quiet opposition, which isn't really opposition when it comes down to it.

When it became clear that it would be down to the party members to vote, another hatchet job was put in place - and this time, it was basically electoral fraud. People who joined up for the party in droves in order to show their support for the party leader were told that they wouldn't get a vote, apparent reason, other than the fact that Owen Smith and his people had ascertained that those new members were signing up to support Jeremy Corbyn. It doesn't take a genius or a statitician to work out that this was a calculated attempt to undermine support for the man who had already been made leader once.

Out of 551,000 members of the party, only 285,000 got to vote - just over half. Can you imagine the outcry if 49% of a country weren't allowed to vote in a General Election because it was thought that they were going to vote a specific way? Can you imagine? (If you live in Florida you don't have to imagine. Thanks, Jeb.)

Even so - out of the 285,000 that got their vote, over 168,000 of them voted for the unelectable man. 59% of them. Then there were the supporters and affiliated voters, whose support for him ran at an even higher percentage.

It's only now that we can understand where the term unelectable comes from.

In a world where a successful person is one who earns a lot of money, and a valuable object is one that costs a lot of money, the one who understands both of these things to be inherently true is seen as more acceptable, more grounded than the one who does not. If we accept blindly that money should rule our lives, then the man who wants us to believe this to be true is our friend, and the man who wants us to question this belief is our foe.

In a world wherein our way of thinking is highly informed by money and worth being commensurate, the man telling us that there's more to life than just money has to be painted as a madman, a man without a grasp on reality. A hopeless man. A man that can never lead, can never expect to be followed. A man that is unelectable.

Now look around you.

Are you a failure because you aren't earning more? Because you aren't living in a mansion? Are you a failure because you aren't bedecked in jewels and driving a sports car? Are you a failure because you buy things at a discount rather than crates of expensive nasty-tasting champagne?

Or are you a success because you made it this far, rather than by how much is in your bank account? Are you successful for reasons other than a six-figure salary? Do the things you own have value that isn't connected to how much they cost you? Is your home your home, regardless of how much smaller it is than the homes of those that collect our taxes and make our decisions?

If the answer to any of those is yes, then you are already smarter than the prevailing attitude. The natural divergence of semantics based on who dictates what is good or bad hasn't changed you into a heartless machine, driven by greed. Because at the heart of it, nobody really believes it. Not really. It's just the way the world seems to be going, and is the way the world has been going since enterprising merchants started agreeing that this much maize was worth this much silver.

If we are to be higher beings than this, if we are to be better than simply biological machines to be used to make money for ourselves and others, then we need to look at the use of these terms. We need to apply them differently, to make specific examples. We need to find value in that which is inexpensive, success in that which is unmarketable, happiness in that which is free, and worth in that which is penniless.

That is how we elect a man who is unelectable.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Life Tips

For this blog I wanted to do something a little different, and offer up some tips that help me through life.

Some of them will be quite specific. Some of them will be vague. Some will be pertaining primarily to me, but you know, they may well help someone else in my absence...

I was going to call this Life Hacks but I hate that term with a passion.

So without further ado:
  • Don't be an asshole. You know when you're being an asshole so don't pretend you don't.
  • If you have curiosity about a subject, go look into it. It's easy and fun.
  • Some lessons take more than one exposure to sink in. Give it time.
  • You are worth more than you think you are, and you deserve happiness, no matter what you think.
  • Seasonings are your friend. Find five or six that you like, then put that shit on everything.
  • Learn how to take compliments. Yes it is awkward, but the person giving it probably means it. Perhaps reply with a compliment of your own? Or simple thanks! No need to not be humble.
  • Everything in moderation - even moderation. Let go of the reins once in a while.
  • You are not contractually obligated to keep anyone in your life. Aside from your spouse, and even that can be anulled.
  • Recognise and minimise your flaws. Likewise, recognise and hone your talents. They don't define you, but they are important.
  • Always   I   readlovebetweenyouthe alllines.
  • You can't prevent your very first thought in any given situation. You CAN reason it out, challenge it, correct it, before you act on it - and that's the real measure of morality.
  • There's no shame in liking something popular. There's no shame in disliking something popular.
  • Don't hate on yourself for not getting literally everything done that you think you should have. You got up, and you tried. That's a victory.
  • Trust your instincts - but logic-sweep them too. Thinking before acting is what separates us from cavemen.
  • Think about all the things you enjoy in your life. Picture your life without them, one at a time. When you find the one that makes you angry to imagine missing - throw yourself into it without fear.
  • Watch, read or listen to something once a week that you haven't heard of before. Expand those horizons.
  • Some people will raise you up whenever you feel low. Some people will tell you the truth when a lie would hurt less. Keep both close to you.
  • Other people are going to think badly of you if they want to, regardless of what you do. The people that matter don't mind - the people that mind don't matter.
  • Learn yourself. Know yourself. Understand the battles you can fight and win, and avoid those you can't.
  • Do what you can with what you have.
  • See the doctor. If the idea of seeing your doctor makes you uncomfortable, get a new doctor.
  • Love isn't the feeling of weird fear-excitement you get when you look at someone. Love is the feeling of happiness you feel whenever you think of them.
  • Always leave a decent layover between transport changes. Use that time to eat something, or just take a breath of non-train air.
I hope these tips help you in some tiny way, at least once, in the next month.

If not, well, hell, I tried.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

The Gold Road

The way you think about money is wrong.

Okay, that statement is purely there to pique the interest, I'm sorry. I think I can state with confidence, more accurately, that the way most people think about money colours how they perceive other monetary interactions.

We've all had money, haven't we? We have got it, and we have spent it. We have spent years earning it and working out how to earn more, saving it, exchanging it for goods and experiences. We probably have some with us now. Our lives are pretty much devoted to its acquisition, if only because it is our shortest, simplest way to comfort and security - which can often lead to big problems, but I digress.

The way we handle our funds, and their physical existence in our perception of the world, implants a quintessential untruth about how it works and how it circulates. The difference between budgeting and economics is that economics looks at the whole, while budgeting looks at the individual case. People don't study economics - they budget, and thus they have a great understanding of budgeting...

...but not necessarily of economics.

I am not formally educated on the topic. I have done a lot of reading, I have debated it with a great number of people that know a fair amount on the subject. All of this is opinion backed with some research, not given as evidenced fact - so please, utilise a pinch of salt during your reading.

Why do folks hate people on benefits so much?

Because the way they see it, these individuals are being rewarded for something. They are being given something, and they don't apparently deserve it (not as much as the complainant at least). We all know someone who thinks that those who don't work shouldn't get anything, because they've worked hard their whole lives, etc, etc, repeat ad nauseam.

We probably know more people that believe refugees and immigrants shouldn't be given anything at all. They will often use terms like "charity begins at home", despite giving very little to charity themselves, or "why should we", or "where is it going to come from". I don't think that everyone who believes this is racist. I think that there are people who are racist that use those terms to mask their less socially acceptable thoughts, but I think the majority of people who wish to withhold support for expatriates (as I will be referring to them from now on) are doing so because they think we can't afford it.

And who is to blame them. We are seeing public services get cut because we "can't afford them". This is a line that has been touted so often that people repeat it without even questioning it. Even in the face of actual displays of where money is being spent, and how much of it can be reallocated to those in need. As I often say: It is never about not having enough, only about misallocation.

The mistake we make is assuming that, when someone on Jobseekers receives the kings ransom of £72.40 to last them for two weeks, the money simply vanishes.

Which is absurd, when you think about it.

So let us assume that there is an individual who has no other source of income. They receive housing benefit that pays for 100% of their rent and jobseekers allowance that pays them the aforementioned £72.40 a fortnight.

(If you aren't in the UK, these two things are means-tested benefits given to you by the government for various reasons, which are paid for out of public taxes. The circumstances in which you are allowed either housing benefit or jobseekers allowance are regularly reshuffled and usually made tighter. The welfare of poor people is not in the interest of our current government.)

To begin with - housing benefit is paid directly to the landlord. (Edit: it was, for a time. Now it is paid to the recipient of the benefit - but it is probably paid on in rent, seeing as there's not a huge rash of people claiming housing that immediately become homeless. Thanks for the correction, Nick.) That landlord is more than likely some kind of housing group or business, which has lucrative contracts with the local council; or the landlord is a private individual who owns the property and is kind enough to rent to those being assisted by the state. Trust me: many don't.

So the housing benefit only benefits the person receiving it insofar as it gives them somewhere to live. Meanwhile it guarantees the landlord a return on their initial investment, after removing the costs of maintaining the property. Either the private individual has any net profit to spend on their own day to day lives, their own house, their groveries, their luxuries - or the group or business receives a net profit, which it uses to keep running and pay its employees, who again go out to pay their rent and buy their groceries and purchase their luxuries.

The jobseeker's allowance, £36.20 a week of it, gets spent - because people in poverty don't actually have the option to save. The margins of affording to eat and not are too small. Where does it get spent? Shops usually - local small concerns and chain stores.

The money spent there, after covering costs, pays the employees (and in the case of bigger stores the shareholders). They then spend that money in other shops and on other things. Once more, that money is allocated and spent. And over and over it goes.

What happens every time someone spends money?


While the UK doesn't have sales tax like the US does, the vast majority of products bought and sold have a rate of Value Added Tax (VAT). It is invisible to us because it is included in the price on the box. If you've ever been to the US from the UK and been stung by the sales tax - like you went to buy a dollar soda and it turns out to be a dollar and five cents, but the label says nothing about it - then what occurs with VAT is the reverse.

Standard VAT rate is 20%. Some goods - goods for children, electricity and utilities - are charged at 5%. Some goods, like basic food and apparent "necessities", are totally exempt. (Apparently condoms are considered a necessity and tampons aren't, which is absolutely fucking ridiculous, but that is an outrage for another blog.) Some goods and services even have special taxes in and of themselves - fuel pays an extra 10-50 pence per litre on top of the 20% VAT, 6% on insurance, 20% on travel insurance, significant additional taxes on tobacco and alcohol above and beyond the 20% VAT rate.

Almost every time someone spends money, they pay tax back to the government, back to the public purse. £20 of the benefit recipient's money gets spent in a local shop - £2-4 of that goes to the government, the rest goes to the shop. Out of the rest, a portion goes on costs, and the rest goes into the pocket of the people that work in the shop, which gets spent elsewhere. Every time the money moves from point to point, an amount ends up in the same purse that is paying for the benefit recipient in question. Even if they can't afford a car, they take the bus - and the money they spend on the bus not only funds the driver's purchases that week, but also pays a significant amount of fuel tax right back to the government.

Then there's savings and investment. Now, the average recipient of benefits doesn't get enough to save anything - it's just not possible, as previously mentioned. Margins are too small. However - those who benefit from the money of those recipients (see what I did there) invest. They put money away for a rainy day. That money goes into banks, who - since the dissolution of the division between investment banks and savings banks - use it to invest and make money. Those banks don't pay taxes, but they do provide loans to people who do - and those loans are spent on things, which again attracts tax.

Always, always, it finds a way back. It leaves the public purse and flows through wallets and pockets and by inches and yards makes its way back.

"But John," I hear you cry, desperately pushing aside the crowding lobster pots filled with pokemon miniatures. "Doesn't this prove that trickle-down economics works?"

To you I say... nay nay.

See, as I have pointed out - those below a certain level of income can't invest. The money is needed for survival. It can't be squirrelled away in savings accounts, or used in share trading, or utilised in other financial instruments used to make large amounts of money. That requires a significant initial investment.

The money spent by those with a lot of it tends to stay within a certain circle of expenditure. I've blogged before about class and about those with high income. We can probably infer that high-value goods and luxuries are more their purview than anything you would buy in Pound Land. Likewise, the reason why "millenials aren't buying diamonds" is because they can't. They can't afford it. We can maybe squirrel away something in an ISA or a holiday fund. Cost of living has risen so much faster than wages.

But those big companies who sell a lot of products to those with lower income - I am loath to actually name any, as that is stereotyping, but I am sure you can think of your own - have wealthy shareholders who are not people who use those products. The inverse is not possible. DeBeers doesn't pay dividends to a bunch of minimum-wage folks; hell, it barely pays minimum wage to its own employees, but I digress.

Rich money may trickle down a little; but it trickles up far more. It's the money of everyday people that keeps the companies aloft, and lines the pockets of the shareholders and executives that are invested in them, and the politicos that they lobby. If it isn't money that they poured into the system, it is the product of their labour - every factory needs workers. It also bears consideration that those who are wealthy try and find ways to not pay taxes, while those who aren't, can't. Not really.

If the wealthy are made more wealthy by the money in the pockets of those who are not - and if the government is made more wealthy by the same - then...

...why aren't we giving more money to those that don't have much?

If we bring expatriates here, and if we look after them; if we fund the poor, and those on limited income; then not only will the government fund be further refurbished, but so will the companies that pay us our wages. If foreigners show up and they need houses, then build them. Sell them. Make money. Pay tax. Help the government. Help yourselves.

If I am to put my left-wing tendencies aside and speak in right-wing monetary terms: the poor and disenfranchised are an investment opportunity. Stop seeing them as scroungers and start seeing them as debt you can sell that WILL repay to you, sooner or later, in some way. The gold road will run and run, all the way through. Every step it takes, it feeds back into public funds. Sooner or later, it will have paid for itself in entirety - and paid some other people's way besides.

And hey - maybe if you put enough money in an expatriate's pocket, they might have something to save. Wouldn't that be nice for the banks?

I mean the only way you'd think this is a bad idea is if you were some kind of bigot.

Sunday 4 September 2016

7 of 7 - You The Viewers Decide

(We made it! A week of daily blogging! Don't get used to it. ;) )

So when I first announced this week of blogs, there were a lot of good suggestions for topics. All of which I have, thus far, not done much with. To make up for that, my lovely people - today I am going to address each of them in turn!

Order is in how they appeared on my Facebook...

"Best cake" - Hmm. This is a hard one, not being a big cake eater. But I'd have to go with either coffee cake, carrot cake, or lemon drizzle.

"Boobies :D" - At risk of sounding like a huge sexist: yes, I do like boobies.

"Attractive and unattractive things in a human being" - Ooooh. Deep. Okay. Avoiding the obvious (yes boobies) I am drawn to people's minds, senses of humour, general vibe, things they like and dislike, attitude, how they treat others. Looks don't tend to rank high up the list. Like I can find them appealing but it doesn't often turn into actual attraction. Any more than I am attracted to a well-painted miniature. Unattractiveness? Wilful ignorance, toxicity, arrogance. Being fucking evil is a huge turn-off too...

"Silly little things that annoy people in day to day life xx" - There's rafts and rafts of these, different things for everyone I am sure. I tend to get irked by: people not knowing the walk-left-stand-right rule for escalators and anything else, people stopping dead in the street without checking to see if there's anyone behind them, unwanted physical contact, people cutting in line in front of me, people being privilidged assholes - the list goes on and on.

"Underrated places to travel to. X" - Most cities honestly. Almost all of them have something good to be found, somewhere. Unless it is like Slough. Or Hull. That's about it. Even then, good things come out of them. Also, tiny little villages with one hotel and one pub. Great to visit. Shit to live. I think one of the places I enjoyed staying in the most (that I didn't expect to) was Lake Elsinore in SoCal.

"Maybe the evolution of the world's maturity on and off the internet?" - ...maturity is difficult because there's a lot of ways to measure it. And some things that people think are mature aren't very good measures at all. Like I used to think that being mature meant finding nothing funny. A lot of people think that maturity is about shouldering responsibility, which is fine. In the end how mature someone is, I think, is how they cope with day-to-day shit without losing who they are. Aaaand the internet is difficult for that, because - in a place where you can do whatever you like and be pretty anonymous about it - you can become better at "adulting" in one tab and watch old Tom & Jerry cartoons in the other. It's hard to measure. I do think that you find a lot of people's true attitudes to life on the Internet rather than in person though. They can hide behind miles of cabling and different usernames.

"Stereotypes" - See these are problematic but also useful. Like if you are incapable of seeing the person behind the stereotype then you are going to have a really bad time in life, you will spend literally all your time misjudging people, and you'll end up being an asshole. In a strictly literary sense though - in terms of movies and books and such - a stereotype is useful for when you need a small gap briefly filled. You can't give the delivery man a four-episode backstory if you only have twelve episodes for the entire run. I think the way to balance it is to assume you will never know someones entire story, unless you take time. Just respect them. If you learn more about them, respect that, too. Don't assume anything outside of the fact that they deserve your respect.

"The best cereal" - Count Chocula. NEXT

"Possible colonisation of Luna..." - Difficult. I mean the biggest problem as I see it is getting all the materiel there without wrecking it and without it breaking the bank. I daresay a railgun for deploying stuff to orbit is the way forward. Just toss it up into orbit with Laplace force, and cut out the majority of the fuel burn for achieving orbit. If the stuff isn't coming back, all you'd need is fuel to burn to make the gravity-assisted moonshot and to land properly. That cuts down on the weight-fuel ration something silly, so you could afford to take more stuff at once - atmospherics would be a problem, mind, because it isn't really practical to just keep shipping oxygen tanks. There would have to be a way to generate a breathable atmosphere, like say keeping a super-dense area filled with plant life. I know that they don't convert CO2 to O2 like that but it will help at least...once we conquer those two steps I daresay it is actually a possibility.

And there you have it, folks. The seventh day, the seventh blog; and honestly I have had a blast doing this. It's been a little out there reaching for concepts and topics, but I think it has worked out well for all concerned, don't you?

Thank you, for joining me on this little journey; and who knows. Maybe it will happen again soon.

Keep your eyes peeled!

If anyone you know may enjoy, appreciate or be interested in anything I have blogged about - either in the past week or ever - please do pass a link along. It might just be a little thing, but it's my little thing.

And once again: thank you, dear reader. You're the REAL MVP.

Saturday 3 September 2016

6 of 7 - Distant Drums

(It's the penultimate seven-day marathon blog! Will we make it? I think so!)

As of right now I have the window opened for two reasons - to enjoy the cool breeze, and to take in the distant sound of the carnival.

We have a local carnival here. We have a few in fact, one for each of the major towns. As a kid I used to love carnival season, seeing all the colorful floats and people in costume and marching bands. These days there's a lot more samba bands than marching bands, and it seems to be a lot smaller. That is probably just kid-scaling. It was a thing of wonder and beauty, a sensation of community before I could properly convey what it felt like.

These days I don't have a lot of time for the carnival. It is physically difficult for me to stand in one spot for two hours. I mean I can do it, it just hurts like hell, and it is super-hard to enjoy anything when you are in a significant amount of pain. Also I think I am just a lot more miserable and scroogy about the entire thing. Having seen Notting Hill once, coming back to Ryde Illuminated can be a bit disheartening.

You know what, though? I like that it happens.

I like that big mobs of Island folk who are otherwise not talking to each other on a daily basis can get together for a while and see other Islanders prance about and have fun. I like the fact that, for a while, we get a little bit of community. The backbiting and rumour-mongering stops, and we just listen to music and look at pretty lights. We just enjoy life for a while.

Some of us do anyway.

I don't know what I would do without music, and listening to music in the distance, listening to it come to so many sets of ears and be freely heard by the populace - that's a thing of beauty. Music is life. The beat is life. Even if it's a samba band. Even if it's a bunch of drunk pub regulars dancing around to Jive Bunny on the back of a flatbed, as I remember from my youth.

I can hear those distant drums and I know that there are kids laughing and cheering and hoping that the ambulance at the end never comes, that the traffic never starts running again, that the parade of colour and light and sound just keeps running and running. That this thing that the entire town knows about and acknowledges and even kind of likes would just...never end.

And that's something that we can all kind of understand, right? We've all found those moments, those events, that we have wanted to continue long after dark. That we've wanted the sun to never rise on, because the sun leads to waking up, and responsibility, and work, and being the same as we were before this thing changed us forever and made us smile like we meant it.

The really tragic thing is that, quite often, we don't realise that we're in that place - that we're there, nestled in the warm arms of just feeling right and happy and secure and hopeful for once - until we wake up the next day; and just like waking up from a beautiful dream, we clutch for it helplessly, desperate to save just a little piece.

The memories are our reward. When we can look back and smile. And the time comes wherein you realise that there's certain things you won't get to do again. I speak personally in this regard - I know I won't hit up another music festival or go sleep in the desert under perfect stars. I can't. My body won't take it. But I do remember the time I did the things I did. I remember main stage at Reading, singing Under The Bridge with thousands of other people. I remember Brighton, and standing ten feet away from Adam Duritz as both of us burst into tears. I remember being driven home from a Poison show in Denver in a yellow Mustang. I remember sitting on Ryde sea front at midnight with the rest of my graduate friends, kings amongst men, yelling our challenges at the future with gusto.

I remember being seven, and sitting on my front garden wall, as the carnival came past - all those marching bands with buttons and instruments brightly polished, all those people in bright costumes, all those flatbeds full of dancing fools.

Drums in the distance, reminding us of when it was good, and that - just maybe - it can be good again.

Friday 2 September 2016

5 of 7 - Space Ming For Fun And Profit

(For the 5th of our 7-day blogathon, we look at a game I have returned to after a decade - Eve Online!)

What is Eve Online?

It's an MMO, set in a fictional chunk of space, in which you play a "capsuleer" - a dedicated starship pilot who has been thrust into a world of politics, war and industry. Your goal? Well, you choose. Assist one of the many factions, make as much money as you can, hunt other players - it's all valid.

I've played multiple MMOs in the past, WoW being my first. If one was to count Planetside 2 then I've tried out a good half dozen. None of them have really drawn me back, though; and I think the only reason Eve has is because it doesn't feel like an MMO.

When I say that I know that logically it has a great number of players and it is online. But you aren't special. You're just a capsuleer. There's thousands more like you. There's no destiny, no demonslaying, none of the things that are sprinkled through WoW to make one feel special despite the fact that thousands of people have done it once already. All you are here for is war and profit, and it makes no bones about that.

Another thing that draws me is the economy. It is player-driven in just about every way. The production of damn near everything is handled by other players, so all the money that changes hands goes between players. On occasion people run scams, and that is legal - you just have to not get caught. Corporations (the equivalent of Guilds, which make a lot more sense) are formed just to dodge taxes, or sharded off other Corps to declare war on rivals without dragging the main Corp into trouble.

Piracy is real. If you're in the wrong sector of space you stand a good chance of being warp scrambled and destroyed for whatever is in your hold.

It appeals to me because the system of doing things relies on thinking right before thinking fast. Like the fitting of one's ship and knowing how to use it far outweighs the ability to click rapidly. Preparation and tactical acumen is rewarded far more than reflexes. This applies to the industrial field as well as warfare; maximising one's margins, producing for just slightly cheaper and selling for just slightly more, these are the ways to high profit.

A game that combines tycoon sim and mega-starship command? What larks. And some of the starships get VERY big. A ship I can actually pilot right now can ship two Eiffel Towers stacked end-to-end, room to spare.

Daily I can swap from lengthy mining expeditions turfing out thousands upon thousands of tons of ore an hour, to exploring spacial deviations that contain precious materials and hostiles, to running missions in a swift destroyer packing banks of missiles, even going so far as defending my corporation mates with a battleship with railguns capable of firing over 100km accurately. Mining and construction are my primary passions though - nabbing blueprints for cheap, harvesting my own materials, buying the last few rare parts and selling the results on the open market for a big-ass profit.

It's not all fun and games. There's some scumbags in the community - signing into Mining chat is a bad idea at any point of the day - but you can find some really cool people with a little patience, and eventually find a corporation that you fit with. My corporation (Quantum Mining) is a good bunch, industrialists primarily, all independent though we all have skills that help each other.

Soon it is becoming somewhat free-to-play; a tiered system, wherein those that don't pay have significantly less freedom of development than those that do. It's worth it though. My skills have only recently gone beyond those that would be allowed by the "Alpha Clones" as they will be called. There's still a lot of game to be played there.

So if I ever say I am mining - that is what I mean!

Thursday 1 September 2016

4 of 7 - The Faith And The Flag

(This is the middle of the 7-day blog challenge! Can we make the full run? YEE!)

So...apparently one of the worst things going on right now is that Colin Kaepernick didn't stand for the national anthem. what?

Okay so, here's the thing. If you are part of a NATIONAL sports team, if you are representing your entire COUNTRY, then the national anthem being played at the beginning of a match is perhaps a little more important. You, like that anthem, are representing your nation. It's good form to at least look like you know the words. Even in those circumstances, there are witch hunts put out against people that don't sing along. Which is madness. Because if you can't sing, then don't deface a good song, right? But anyway...

...Colin Kaepernick plays for the Niners. That's not a national team. That's San Francisco's state team. Which begs the question, why the Star-Spangled Banner is broken out at every single gathering wherein more than ten people are sat down watching the same event. It's a very alien thing to an Englishman like me. We don't tend to play God Save The Queen before each Cricket match. It's not necessary.

That aside.

The Star-Spangled Banner was written about the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The British beat the everloving shit out of the fort but still those inside didn't budge. For 27 hours they sustained heavy bombardment, while the flag flapped merrily away as a sign of their resistance.

Now, the reason why the US got involved in the first place was to do with the Napoleonic Wars. Trade restrictions due to the war were hampering US trade; there were territorial squabbles too, and also the British were lending a fair amount of support to local Natives to resist the expansion of the new nation.

It could be seen as an extension of the War of Independence, which ended some 31 years previously. To the British it was just another front in the war against Napoleon; to the US, once more, they were standing against an ancestral oppressor. They wanted to make the land theirs, to own it, to be free of the shackles of royalty and tyranny.

The song celebrates the land of the free. It is an anthem of liberty, freedom, a rejection of autocracy.

So obviously, if someone doesn't stand for it, then they aren't doing what they are told and they must be punished for it. Right?

Let's look at context here: the flag represents a system that is objectively oppressive towards minorities. Like it's such a fact lodged in statistics that it is impossible to ignore, and to claim otherwise is either naive or mischievous. It is a nation - much like ours - that was made very wealthy exploiting people of colour. The history of oppression is a long and thoroughly documented one.

I can understand not wanting to kowtow to that. When we are children we are forced to pay respect to people that we don't respect and that don't DESERVE respect; as adults, we are grown enough to make that decision ourselves. Sure, we may catch some social flak for it - but in the end I'd rather people think I am some kind of aloof prick than an asskisser who hits the knees for anyone that thinks they are somebody.

Speaking as a person who, as a child, was forced to get on with people that bullied me every day - forced to pretend to be their friends, forced to APOLOGISE to my bullies for something I had done in retalation - I can tell you that paying respects to those that don't respect you is a hollow thing, like ashes in your mouth. It sits wrong. It rankles.

The only difference between me choosing to not stand up for God Save The Queen and Colin Kaepernick not standing up for the Star-Spangled Banner is that he is in the public eye - and if you stop being yourself and doing what you believe to be right because people can see you, then that's surely worse than not engaging in patriotic rituals.

And perhaps, people who think otherwise... people who insist that if you don't participate in patriotism means there is something inherently wrong with you... are hiding something a little deeper than that. Perhaps there's a crack deep inside that shell of patriotism. A mote of doubt. A fear that, just maybe, the image of the nation that is communally built up in the minds of its citizens isn't the actual truth.

Got news for you, folks. America hasn't been what you've thought it's been for a very, very long time.

But hey. Why would you listen to me?

I don't stand up for the national anthem either.