Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's not the end of the world.

The end of the world came and went again and nothing at all happened. There have been a great many of these. It's a bit like the boy who cried 'Wolf'. One day someone will be right and nobody will take any notice.

My own prediction was absolutely correct. I didn't win the lottery.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saving the world.

I bought a lottery ticket today. First time in a very long time. I won't win, never have and never will. I am convinced God finds it amusing to make sure I have the numbers right next to the winning ones every time.

The draw is at 7 pm tomorrow. Unfortunately the end of the world is scheduled for 6 pm (UK time). So, if God wants to continue his unbroken run of ensuring I just miss the lottery numbers, he will have to postpone Armageddon.

There you are, I have just saved the world and it only cost one shiny British pound.

LinkSo on Sunday, assuming we are all still here, six billion people each owe me a pound. I think that's a fair price for saving everyone and it'll be the easiest six billion I've ever made.

There is one possible drawback. If I have the winning ticket, we're all doomed.

Unfortunately for Harold Camping, he is doomed either way because what he is predicting is not Armageddon, but the Rapture. That's the part where the faithful get called to Heaven before all the nasty and weird stuff begins. Actually, looking at the news, I think the Rapture must have already happened some time ago.

The thing about the rapture is that unless you're included in the Holy Removal Company's list, you won't know it's happened. Some living people will vanish but most of those on the list are already dead. So even if he's right, nothing will happen at 6pm Saturday, at least nothing anyone will notice. Harold Camping is going to face ridicule whether he's right or wrong. Unless, of course, he's on the list.

Camping, a civil engineer who once ran his own construction business, plans to spend the day with his wife in Alameda, in northern California, and watch doomsday unfold on television.

Somehow I very much doubt that God planned to distribute Armageddon via reality-TV, although these days it's the only thing he could use that most people would notice. I have planned a book called 'The Armageddon Show' but I don't think I can finish it by 6pm. I certainly can't get it published by then. It would be intensely irritating to find the story on TV before I've even finished writing it.

I was going to cut the grass tomorrow. I don't think I'll bother. If Harold is right, I'd have the deaths of millions of blades of grass to account for.

If he's wrong I can do it on Sunday.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Of ants and men.

There are many fungi, and some worms, that infect insects and take over their brains. It's not just insects. There is a parasite that can force a snail to expose itself to danger and make it flash its eyestalks so a bird will easily find and eat it. The parasite needs to move into a bird for the next stage of its life cycle and rather than leave it to chance, it actually takes control of the snail's physiology. Pretty impressive for something that has no brain of its own.

I wonder if there is one that makes people become politicians. But then that would assume a politician has a brain, of which there is scant evidence anywhere in the world.

Here's an interesting story. It's in a UK newspaper (well, more of a hack-rag but they do have some interesting things sometimes) and includes a video that could have come straight from the set of an alien-style movie, but it's real. I hope the article is available outside the UK or this whole post is going to look pretty silly.

Once you've been horrified at what a lowly fungus can do to a much more complex organism, consider something else. Consider the narrator. He's not just some reporter reading a script, he's a well-known nature expert and he didn't get to know as much as he does by having the attention span of a caffeine-laden fruit fly. In-depth study of anything needs concentration and application. That's how you make progress.

How confident would you be crossing a bridge built by Insanity Prawn Boy? How happy would you be in a skyscraper designed by Cornholio? 'Not very' is the answer I'd expect there. (You can find them on YouTube if you haven't met them before. Insanity Prawn Boy is in a series called 'On the Moon' and Cornholio is from 'Beavis and Butthead').

So you would think, faced with a class full of children who struggle to read something engrossing like Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' and can't hold interest in any book for more than a hundred pages, you'd want to do something about it. These are future bridge-builders and architects and doctors and okay, a lot of them are future supermarket-trolley-collectors and some won't even be much good at that but even so. Some will progress into life-critical jobs and we really need those people to be paying attention.

The solution proposed is to take away the hard stuff and put the whole class back on 'Janet and John' books. What is the point? As an ex-lecturer, I despair. I used to teach people who had reached physical, if not always mental adulthood and I would not compromise. I was teaching B.Sc. and if you were not able to keep up, then you weren't B.Sc. material. Try HND. A perfectly respectable qualification which I also taught, but biased more towards practical application rather than head-filling theory.

In those days, the B.Sc students were expected to go on to be scientists and the HND students would be technicians. Now it's seen as some kind of failure to become a technician. I don't see why. Scientists cannot function without technicians. The scientist comes up with the idea but the technician knows how to work the machinery and knows how to fix it when it (inevitably) goes wrong. They are two parts of the same thing and one part struggles when the other is missing.

You can take it to any level. Sure, the big architect can design a town but someone has to sweep those streets or it'll be a pigsty within weeks. A world full of architects and no street-sweepers is going to be a very unpleasant place to live. Just close your eyes for a moment and imagine what it would be like if nobody wanted to work on sewage disposal.

The current rubbish about 'no child left behind' ensures we will one day see buildings created by people who have learned the first hundred pages of a five-thousand-page series on safe building design. Old houses will soar in value. New ones won't be worth the number on the door.

It's simple. Some people are attuned to literature and some are not. Some people rave about Homer's Iliad and I found it the dullest block of print I have ever seen. Some dismiss the Gormenghast trilogy as the product of a swivel-eyed lunatic (which is fair enough) and I thought it was great. People are different and that applies right from birth.

This is not eugenics. Eugenics is a ridiculous concept that seeks to only breed the brightest and best of humanity and to cull the rest. Yeah. Great. So who sweeps the streets? Who deals with sewage? Who collects the trolleys in the supermarket - in fact, who works in the supermarket at all? Who works in the farms and factories that supply the supermarkets? Eugenics does not lead to Utopia, it can only lead to a Hell in which everyone has great ideas and nobody ever does anything about them.

That is not what the current system is creating. We are creating a generation of trolley-collectors because anyone who looks as if they might be better than Dim Jim in the corner is branded 'elitist' and denied the deep education they could cope with.

It is not wrong to teach the able to the best of their ability. It is neither wrong nor shameful to take a career as a sewer operative or a bin collector or a bus driver or a street sweeper. Civilisation needs all of them. It might be fashionable to tell children that growing up to be a grave digger is beneath them but someone has to do it. It is an essential job and one which, sooner or later, we would all like to have done by a professional. Not by some blundering idiot with five degrees and a professorship but who doesn't know one end of a shovel from the other.

The real solution is competition. I used this to great effect on a PhD student who was not working to her obvious potential. I told her I didn't expect too much because she was only a woman. Now I would be hauled before a disciplinary committee for saying it but you know what? She sailed through her thesis and produced a boatload of publications on the way just to prove me wrong. I have never told her I knew I was wrong all along. There is stuff in that thesis that is not yet published and there is a journal's worth of work that isn't even in the thesis. She was far better than she ever knew and although I have lost touch, I expect her to still be doing brilliant things.

If she's not, and if she happens across this, it's because you're only a woman, Shortly (she'll know what it means). If she is sitting at home doing nothing I will find out where she lives and come around and insult her in person. She already knows what that means.

Competition does not only bring out the best in the brilliant. It moves everyone up a notch. That future trolley collector might put some effort in and become a till operator. You may sneer but if you've experienced a North Scotland winter, indoors is far better than outdoors and the pay is better too. You have to deal with idiots, sure, but we all do. There are a lot of them around.

Civilisation needs people who can think up new stuff but it also needs people who can make the new stuff work. The brain is a wonderful thing but with no hands it is absolutely useless. It's all very well to design a sewage system that means nobody has to have a pile of poo in their garden but someone has to run it.

The future technicians, sewage workers, trolley collectors, till operators and street sweepers are now children. So are the future surgeons, scientists and architects. They are all essential and they have all been born.

Forcing sameness on children does not mean equality.

It means Hell.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"If you're good at something...

..never do it for free."

So said Heath Ledger's Joker in the Batman film 'The Dark Knight'. I confess I had to look it up even though I've seen all the Batman films.

I will never charge for an investigation of the paranormal beyond travel and accomodation and I don't need any of that first-class nonsense. I will travel by bus and I will sleep on your sofa. The biggest expense will be whisky, and bacon sandwiches. Most of the time I probably won't find a ghost anyway, just a rattly fridge, a dodgy electrical connection, a vent transmitting the neighbours' voices or a faulty motor in a fan. Besides, any attempt at charging will let the sceptics lump me in with sideshow fortune tellers and TV 'psychics' and that is not my aim.

I have other ways to earn money. One that was my hobby has now become a serious matter because the first novel is published. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it proves I'm doing it right but on the other, it's not a hobby any more because the taxman is involved now. It feels a bit like having your train set taken over by the railway company and forced to run to a timetable. Sure, you can make more money but that hobby is now a job.

The little book called 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' really just happened because I was sick of reading books that tell you to form some kind of Mission Impossible team, with uniforms and gadgetry and battle plans. None of that is necessary and none of it is any use. There is no such thing as a ghost detector. Until we have some idea what ghosts are made of, such a device cannot exist. It hasn't sold many copies but I didn't expect it to sell any at all. People like to believe that their EMF meters jolt because there's a ghost around, not because the fridge just switched on and sent a voltage spike through the house electrics. They like to believe that their laser-aimed infrared thermometers read the air in front of them, not the wall they're pointed at. They don't like to hear that in the modern world, there are many, many things that might appear to be paranormal but aren't.

Most of all I was sick of hearing the idea that every investigation must produce a result, as shown on TV. Ninety-nine percent of investigations get you nothing more than cold and tired. Orbs are a delusion, not a result. They are bunk. If you can't see the little light, it's not there. Your camera does not have magical powers to see things you can't, it just has dust in front of the lens. I've been working on a new and extended version of that book but writing it was a hobby until now.

As were the short stories I'd been producing. They earned nothing or nearly nothing. I didn't do it for the money. I did it for fun.

When I put the first load of short stories into a book, I did it because they had dropped off the internet or gone out of print. Magazines, print or internet, only keep the stories up for a little while and then they're gone. Often, the magazine shuts down too so all trace is gone. I put a collection together so I wouldn't lose those stories and I did it with a hastily-made cover because it was only to be for me. I didn't expect it to sell so I made the download version free. It did sell. Not much, but it moved. So I updated the cover into something a bit more professional-looking and put a small price on the download. If you have the old cover with the blue sky, look after it. It might be worth something when I'm dead. The new cover looks like this:

It's the same photo I used for the old cover. I grafted in a new sky, darkened the image and added some lighting effects. The name? Never publish under your precise name and never sign books with the same signature you use on cheques. To a modern fraudster, that's worth a lot more than the price of the book. A nom-de-plume protects much more than your privacy these days.

That cover, and the cover of 'Ghosthunting' is the reason I don't like digital cameras. It is far too easy to manipulate a digital image to add in a 'ghost'. With film you have an original negative that can be verified as un-tampered but with digital you can change the image, change the date of the file, change anything and it's hard to prove whether it's real or fake.

One thing I have found is that people don't regard writing as work. This mirrors Southern Writer's experiences with astrology. People think that since they don't see any effort, they don't have to pay you for the work. I've already lost count of how many people have generously offered to read my writing as a favour to me, because that's all a writer needs. Writers don't need to eat or live in houses. All they need is someone to read the words they write. Readers aren't entertained by the stories, they are only reading as a favour to the writer.

Well... no. The taxman wants his cut and the electricity company want to be paid for running the computer I type on and food isn't free. Writing is work, even if it only appears to involve moving fingers around. If you don't want to read it you don't have to pay for it. I have no such option with taxes, food, utilities and housing.

It's not a hobby any more. It's another business and businesses don't last long when they're done for free.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Song for Bin Laden.

Although it could apply to most world-leading figures too...

If you haven't seen the film this came from, it's worth it.

Profiting from the nearly dead.

Another explanation for near-death experiences has appeared. Surprisingly, once more, it's from someone selling a book.

I wish I could start a scandal or do something controversial. Apparently it's how books are sold now.

The thing about near-death experiences is that they are intensely personal and only happen while someone is unconscious. There is currently no way to study them directly, as they happen. They might have a completely physiological explanation, they might not. As things stand there is no way to be sure.

Several such cases include the experiencer relating things they should not have been able to know. Pick the physiological explanation out of that.

At the moment there is only one way to know for sure what happens after death. And when you know, you can't tell anyone.

I can wait.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Time-lapse apology.

Never post when in a rage. You just have to go back the next day and edit the red-mist blunders out of it.

Anyhow, I have calmed down a little because I have avoided looking at the newspapers today. If you do read the papers always save the cartoons for last. You don't want to use up the only smile-inducing thing in the whole paper too soon.

One story I did pick up on another blog was the news that the Spanish have apologised to the Jews for the Spanish Inquisition.

Yes, I stopped and paused for a while too. Yes, it was over four hundred years ago. Yes, the Inquisition targeted Muslims and Protestants and atheists too - in fact, it targeted all non-Catholics and quite a few Catholics for good measure.

Sometimes I wonder if all politicians everywhere spend their time looking for something to apologise for. Sooner or later some idiot is going to apologise for the apocalyptic effect on the environment caused by the invention of the wheel.

It seems an Israeli group asked for this apology. What astounds me is that they got it. So when is Italy going to apologise for the Roman Empire? When are the French going to apologise for the Norman Invasion? And the Vikings - oh, you guys are going to need kneepads for the apologies you have to make.

The human race started in Africa and spread from there all over the planet. So it's all Africa's fault and they should apologise. If you're religious, the human race came from Eden which would have been around the region of Iraq/Iran so to you, it's their fault.

Since Christianity and Islam both sprang from the original Judaism, when are the Jews going to apologise for the Ottoman Empire and the Crusades?

How far back does this ridiculous guilt-fest have to go before someone says 'Okay, it's just getting silly now'? For me it passed that point quite some time ago.

One day there will be demands for God to apologise for the Big Bang. He probably will because by now, even he must be thinking that it wasn't such a good idea after all.

Saturday, May 07, 2011


These days, it's all about asteroids.

We are supposed to live in terror because an asteroid won't hit the planet but might pass close enough that you could see it with a telescope. All this is probably great for selling newspapers but the ghostly hints are being pushed aside.

You know that scene in 'Men in Black' where they pick up a trashy paper for clues? It's no joke. Only the trashy papers will publish those stories and while most are junk, there are a few gems to be found in there. Not lately. All we have are asteroids and terrorists and other imaginary things to be frightened of.

Now, it's hard to find a ghost story anywhere that is not a blatant photoshop-type hoax. The hoaxes were always around and always fairly easy to spot but once in a while there was that odd, inexplicable one. They're all gone. Vanished among the terror of smoke, salt, booze and fat.

I have therefore been spending a lot of time just making stuff up. Well, everyone else does these days. Science is now more about imagination than reality so I have switched to imagination. At least I label my efforts in this direction as fiction and separate them from real science, which these days seems to make me a rarity.

The climate science debacle, the tobacco, fat, salt, alcohol and so on nonsense, have all brought mainstream science into depths of absurdity that have never been plumbed by the paranormal, nor even by witchcraft, alchemy nor even Celtic shamanism. Compared to much of modern science and the rigour by which it reports its results, I am not only mainstream I am at the top!

I should be pleased but in fact I am sickened.

There is no point attempting to prove anything through science when science is so corrupt. Third hand smoke. Passive obesity. Obesity epidemic. Stuff that Kafka would have dismissed as too incredible. All of it is such absolute crap and yet we have heads of important institutions nodding and saying 'Yes, this utter crap must be believed'.

I have to prove to these people that the ghosts I see are real? Why? I might as well try to prove to a lunatic that the jewels in his milk are just refractions of the sun. Which I could, but these days, why bother? He is as sane as the major leaders of any scientific institution in the world. Perhaps more sane. And less dangerous.

So the hell with it. I will continue to search for proof but in the current climate of science, I will apply my own rules. There will be no fake stats or imaginary conclusions here. I might become the last outpost of a forgotten dream called 'science' but I will hide it behind fiction that holds clues.

That's the game now. Somewhere in the fiction are the things I have really found out about life, afterlife, otherlife and non-life. I will hide them in plain sight but I will call it fiction.

Science, which believes so much trivial nonsense these days, will dismiss me as a crank as they always have. Then they will earnestly discuss passive drinking as if it could actually exist.

Some of the fiction will just be fiction. Some of it will not be. There is a lot here that should be told but cannot be told through a twisted modern science that follows Paganism but not Pan.

There will be changes here.