[ occasional pirate ], [ scribbly fellow ], [ hat devotee ], [ improviser ], [ cat dad ], [ sometimes unhappy in the brain ], [ AFOL ], [ consumer of eye-candy ], [ beer drinker ], [ enraged cyclist ], [ please talk to me about Transformers ], [ very bad at DIY ], [ enthusiastic duct-taper ]
Well, I’ve been busy. And also lazy. I feel I’ve been very lazy. When I became part-time last August I envisaged an explosion of creative activity: daily posts; wonders goddammit. I’m stunned to discover that I failed to achieve my own expectations. Instead I’ve found myself unwinding and relaxing for the first time in years. Dropping from five to three days has had a profound effect on my internal peace. It’s given me distance from the remarkable and seemingly unending stress and anxiety of being in an organisation which has gone from the quite bad state of being torn apart from the inside out, to reckless transformation by way of brutal tectonic violence under the ethically-smeared wings of corporate opacity. That’s been ace fun and while it can be enraging during the day time I’m able to leave it behind in the evening. Without that daily environment I’ve sidestepped most of the anger, fear and cynicism of my colleagues. I have been ridiculously fortunate to be able to escape it.
It seems absurd to suggest that I’ve spent nearly 9 months uncoiling from its shadow, because that feels so indulgent. On the other hand it took me more than fifteen years to escape the chains of abuse, or at least rust ’em away to a fashionable tarnish. So I think that’s what it is – I’ve been chillin’ out. It wasn’t just work though. My other half and I have had to recover from the sudden loss of our cat, beloved Merly-Boo last April. Huge chunks of the last year have been among the very worst we’ve ever had. Adjectives fail me. I know a lot of people don’t really get it, but if you substitute ‘cat’ for ‘the thing you love most’ (like your child or something) then it’s easier to grasp. As a partial consequence I’m fitter than I’ve been for years. Near daily cycling and swimming dug me out of that pit and kept me from teetering on its brim. I have lovely shoulders now. It’s harming my awesome t-shirt collection though. My virtues are countered by good beer and chocolate intent on retaining my alco-tum. I suppose I could do something about that.
Since then… I’ve done some writing. NaNoWriMo was wonderful. I’m still slowly revising Watchers from the raw unedited state I posted up every day. Eventually it may even be quite good. The Desert Crystals will be completed one day, honest. In relaxing I’ve changed from being a producer to a consumer of media.
Wondrous Netflix and Prime
I’ve watched a lot of TV and film. The last few years have produced some wicked sci-fi shows and I’m closer than I’ve ever been to seeing it all (I’m miles and miles away!). God bless Netflix, Amazon Prime and my capacity for soaking in twelve hours of viewing at a time. I doubt I can even recall all of the amazing shows, but it’s worth a shot:
In particular I’ve been delighted by Marvel – obviously Daredevil and Jessica Jones were superb, both in performance, direction and production. Even Agents of SHIELD came back from its dodgy first season as a completely different beast. I’m sad that Agent Carter has already been canned; I loved season one. They nailed ’40s film noir with beautiful set design to match. Damn those cancerous cancelling studios. Marvel’s film and TV output has been in stark contrast to DC. I used to prefer Batman and Superman in comics to Marvel’s, but the last five years has completely flipped that round. DC just can’t make good stuff… Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Batman vs Superman, Gotham have all been at best briefly watchable. It’s an amazing fall and failure to capitalise on their incredible properties. I think it’s partly because Marvel’s approach is to define a character, and then give them super-powers, whereas DC thinks of a super-power and then skips character entirely. It’s the same problem in Sony’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
The Very Best
The hands down winner of all sci-fi however is Star Wars Rebels. This is the Star Wars I have been waiting for since I was a kid. I loved The Force Awakens but Rebels is just perfect. The cameos are wonderful surprises (Lando, Leia, Vader… I won’t spoil the end of season 2) and the setting, animation and characters have me enraptured.
And The Rest
Weirder stuff: ‘ve helped empty and reorganise the loft of my aunt in Sweden – we saw the amazing sights of a genuine Swedish dump site, Ikea and a candle-lit swim. It was an odd little holiday but I enjoyed the time with my dad and his sister.
I’ve also been reading, and spending whole days reading reminds me of being fifteen again and chewing cover to cover through Stephen Donaldson’s white gold wielder tales. So I’ve made a decent dent in the terrifying stack of books and comics awaiting my sweating eyes. We have of course, doubled it in size since then. I try to pretend that all the books I have on the Kindle don’t really count. I’m now almost solely using Goodreads to keep track. All of my back of the notebook lists have expired.
Gaming and Being Outside
I have played no video games. Apart from Plants Vs Zombies 2, Punchquest and Minigore 2. But mobile games don’t count either right? Instead I’ve been doing more compering for Furthest From The Sea in Derby, Luton and Northampton and performing with MissImp. Our ongoing quest for a place to live has brought us the nether regions of the Malt Cross (for now). We’ve spawned a killer show – Millions of Voices – The Improvised Star Wars Show. We’ve performed it at Leicester Comedy Festival, Derby Comedy Festival and soon at the Nottingham Playhouse (where we’ll be supported by the other new MissImp spin off – Rhymes Against Humanity).
Lego has taken up more of my time than most adults would readily admit. My present project is illustrating the Flash Pulp podcast. I’m all the way up to episode 15, out of 450… I even made myself a light box to take better pictures with, but it is of course too small for most of the things I’ve built. Curses.
I guess that’s actually quite a lot. Perhaps most important of all, certainly for my brain and our home life is that we have acquired a new kitten. Young Geiger. He’s adorable, bonkers, so cute I want to bury my face in his fur until the crazy takes him and he bounds off, tail quirking like a runaway walking stick sticking to furniture with his claws. He’s amazing. I have spent since November getting to know the little guy since he was eight weeks old. He’s massive now. I’d rather talk about him and his gorgeous puffy tail and rumble-tiger purr than anything else in the world. I’m sure I’ll get over my anxiety about him being outside on his own.
So why am I writing this now? Because I’m finally feeling ready for change in whatever form it takes, and that’s given me permission to do one of the many things I love – writing. I’m sorry for the hiatus (if you’ve noticed), but I’m back – in some form.
Knowing that there is a science fiction thread hidden away in the Flash Pulp universe has been tweaking my Lego gland for a while. Actually, there are several sci-fi threads now, but for ages Joe Monk was the only one. I refuse to look ahead through the programme, so it came as a lovely surprise when it turned Monkish on me. Tragically there aren’t many stories in this thread so I’ll have to go nuts over whatever I find.
Joe Monk – the last surviving human being – flies through space in the vessel that has been his home since he was but an infant. Little entertainment has been laid in the poor lad and as he hits his twenties he’s increasingly aware of it. There’s only 200 hours of recorded music in the Music Room, and when he locks it for what he thinks is just six months he’s forced to bury himself in the microfilm room instead.
It’s Cold Inside…
I’ve only worried about the interior for this build, though I do have some thoughts about what it might look like from outside too. One of things I like about the story is that the future is rather archaic and retro – microfilm! It made me think of pale greys and beige moulded computer housings. Rather than just make everything grey and cornery I’ve gone for curves and whirly bits.
Everyone loves a good corridor, right? I’ve put transparent panels in the walls to allow a little more light to get around and to break up the very, very greyness of it all. I’ve always loved the Blacktron yellow control panel tiles from when I were but tiny and I’m happy to find a home for them.
Even the dullest corridor is better with colourful helper bots! These guys don’t feature in the story at all, but I couldn’t imagine having the ship being entirely unpopulated. These little dudes were very pleasing to build. I envisage them having extendable necks and retractable legs (parts conservation and availability has limited what’s on show!) and them bumbling around the ship fixing things.
What Lies Beyond Yon Door?
Although the story covers three rooms – the music, movie and microfilm rooms, it was the last of the three that snagged my imagination. I’d love to do all three, but the walls have been rather parts intensive; I’d need a lot more to expand it fully. The doors themselves are a slight cheat – they only have one side as I couldn’t think of a way to make a door the same on both sides without using at least four plate widths. And that’s just cray cray.
This is the microfilm room where Joe spends a distressing amount of time. I’ve added a nice rack of microfilm reels (using the huhcaps/cores from wheels). I also needed a microfilm reader, so I’ve gone for a rather massive, steampunky device. It fits together quite neatly and I’m pleased with it, as I am the chair Joe’s using.
What’s a reading room without a view?
I’m very pleased to have found a use for one of Cinderella’s carriage’s wheel, and all those transparent 1×2 bricks I picked up.
Finding The Minifigures
As usual, assembling a suitable character figure took quite a while. Most of his bits are Ninjago originally, dug out of the Build-a-Figure bins at the Lego Shop. His hair is one of those nice rubbery bits, also Ninjago from one of the ‘free with the shame of buying The Daily Mail’ last year. I’m quite chuffed with the drink he has – using a chemistry flask is space 101, and the straw is a Galaxy Squad alien antenna. I’ve possibly pitched his face at slightly too young, but I have very many similar ones for future stories.
The little helper bots are also one of my favourite things in this build. They’re dead simple to build, using just a Star Wars soldier droid body, a few clips, studs and eye tiles. I wanted to make hundreds, but the colour scheme using the body to set the rest has limited my options a bit. I think they’re really cute. I’ve got just a handful of Plate, Modified 1 x 1 with Clip Light – Thin Ring rather than Thick Ring, which is the only way I’ve got the little blue and white dude’s eyes to join up in the middle. On the rest it looks like a mouth, possibly.
Wrap Up and Spin Around
This might be my favourite build for ages. I’m really happy with the rounded finish to the walls. I had to order some extra bits because I was missing just one corner piece (devastating, obviously). It’s a neat T-shape, with an odd symmetry that appeals to my eyes. It also contains far more bricks than I thought it would.
I can’t wait to come across the next Joe Monk tale in the series!
Oh – I almost forgot – here’s a very badly done turntable view of the whole thing: //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
There are a load more pictures of the details here, on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eric_the_bewildered_weasel/sets/72157668298142972
While we’ve got thousands of paper books which are beautiful and brilliant, but cause us endless space problems, I’ve also got quite a lot of digital books. Kindle is spectacularly crap at managing them. The manual creation of collections and adding books is tedious beyond all 21st Century technology except perhaps the Amazon Prime app on our TV. I buy a lot of books through StoryBundle and Humble Bundle, Tor give away lots of free books, and anywhere else I see them. I send web pages and articles straight to Kindle, and add my own files and stuff (stories and poetry for events) to a place I can access them easily. They’re just on a computer so they don’t really exist – it’s not like they’re in giant stacks in the spare room or anything. I have been in dire need of organisation, and I love organising books.
Calibre became my saviour last year. It’s a combination of eBook creator / formatter and library app. You can add Virtual Libraries, manage multiple devices, add and delete book. It’s everything I was looking for. I used it to create an eBook version of Watchers just for fun. Simply having a programme to store and browse books by title and author is a pretty good start. Removing and Adding books from my library to Kindle is brilliant too – it’s better than endlessly paging through book lists on the Amazon website. It gets a lot better than that really fast though – there are many amazing plugins that people have built to make life better. I quite like the Goodreads Sync which helps me remember which books I’ve read, and whether I liked them. Calibre can pull alternative covers and metadata from dozens of web sources so that browsing my Calibre library becomes like reading the back covers of paper books.
The thing that impressed me first off was the DRM-stripper plugin you can add. That means I can buy books for Nook, Play Books or in any other format and convert them to Kindle. Handy. When I buy a book in real paper I can just read it and stack it in whatever book shelf I want. I want to be able to do the same thing with eBooks. The second brilliant feature was being able to group series of books together. So I can find all of my Dresden Files books and see what order they’re in. Of course that doesn’t necessarily translate to the Kindle itself, so I’ve taken advantage of the DRM stripping to rename the books, e.g. ‘Dresden Files 01 – Storm Front’. Now I can see we exactly which book is next.
Along the way I’ve picked up lots of stand alone short stories, like the ones Adrian Tchaikovsky has published on his blog over the years, plus a tonne of stories scanned in from ancient copies of ‘Asimov’s Science Fiction’ and ‘Fantastic Universe’. Those were all floating around as separate books. EpubMerge has let me concatenate them into single volumes. It tidies up an awful lot and now I have a lovely ‘Sci Fi Anthology’ Tag, so I can find them when I want to read ’em. This has been very useful for combining all 50-odd of my pirate stories into a single volume, which will make poetry evenings a lot easier to handle.
That was all quite helpful, but the plugin that has just bowled me over and made this into a vital bit of kit is ‘Kindle Collections’. You can impose collections based on how you set up the plugin onto the Kindle directly. Apparently it’s having trouble with Kindles more advanced than Kindle 4 which may require some additional Kindle hacking, but I’m alright for now. You can generate collections based on almost anything – Author, Series, Tags or interesting custom combinations of your own. I’ve gone with ‘Series’ and ‘Tag’. eBooks have a billion tags and floating bits of meta-data, to make them useful I’ve begun the seemingly endless task of re-tagging books into groups that suit me. There were about thirty variations on ‘SF’ alone. Calibre let me rename all the similar ones and delete the duplicates – it was just a start.
The trick to tagging books along genre lines is to use as few Tags as possible, otherwise when I create Collections based on Tags I’ll end up with a million Collections and I may as well not bother at all. All I really do That creates and populates Collections on my Kindle of (for example) ‘Dresden Files’, all the books are in the right order because I’ve renamed them. I also get a nice Collection called ‘Paranormal Fantasy’ and ‘Detective’.
A lot of my books are science fiction and fantasy. I’ve made a slight distinction between ‘Science Fiction’ and ‘Science Fiction Adventure’. It’s not a hard and fast distinction and I’m using it mainly for authors like E.E. Doc Smith and Edgar Rice Burroughs – stuff where it’s the adventure that is the main context for the story, not the science. I’m instantly getting into genre hell – everything overlaps but I reckon I’ve hit on a fantasy/science fiction distinction that holds, at least for today, until I find another book that trashes it. Science Fiction books have a setting that is explainable, frequently the result of scientific advances: Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth books have a universe that has been made possible by science and sciencey stuff is frequently part of what drives the story on. Fantasy books have a setting and context that is not explained – it just is. I’m thinking of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series – much of the plot is the result of technological development in that world, but it is fundamentally a fantastical realm where the links between man and insect is never fully explained. Like I said, it works for some of my books…
My aim is to be able to find the kind of book I want to read, when I want it and avoid the current problem I have with our paper books. Calibre is the best thing I’ve seen for handling eBooks so far. The guy who has developed it, Kavid Goyal is a modern day hero. It’s free – you pay if you want to help support the development; you can develop your own plugins. The UI is pretty self-explanatory and the help guides are great. Thank you Calibre!