Arizona – 2 July

July 3rd, 2011 - One Response

We started the holiday weekend with a good old, as American as apple pie, missile silo tour.

Right near here – in fact, we pass it most days on the way to and from work – is the only still-intact Titan II missile silo. There were 54 of these things buried in American soil for around 20 years of the Cold War – a true, concrete and steel implementation of the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction. Well, a concrete and steel and nuclear warhead implementation, really. I certainly have a sense of “this rock keeps away tigers” around the whole concept of MAD. Sure there’s no proof it didn’t work, but from a tour of that place it’s pretty obvious that it could have gone disastrously wrong. Take for instance the example of the guy who, one day in 1980, dropped a three pound socket and caused an explosion that destroyed a whole silo, including most of the missile (fortunately not the warhead). If the wrong eyes had been watching, and mistaken that for a launch…

All that said, there’s no denying that it is an impressive piece of engineering.

Looking down through the silo doors.

The control center. Sorry this panorama is a bit rubbish, I was rushed. Note the frankly ridiculously large shock isolation spring in the background.

Vibration-isolated hallway between the control room and the silo proper.

This is a real Titan-II missile, but was previously used for training purposes and thus never had a warhead or fuel.

With the taste of that experience washed away by a 44oz (1.3L) cup of Dr Pepper, we spent most of the rest of the day wandering improbably large chain stores, punctuated only by a frankly outstanding lunch at Cafe Poca Cosa. Sorry I didn’t take a photo of this one (I’ve been saving some food photos up for a single blog post later on), but I will definitely be back there before we leave.

Yes, that says 79 cents

Arizona – 25 June

June 26th, 2011 - 2 Responses

Today we explored a chunk of Arizona’s southeast, and discovered some interesting places that were not flat, brown, or covered in tarmac.

First off we headed on down to the Mexican border town of Nogales, where you can see right across the fence to the where the huddled masses… huddle. It was quire a bizarre juxtaposition.

From there we struck out northeast, passing through Patagonia, where we had yet another quintessential American experience of being run out of town by the Marshal. Further east, the barren landscape gave way to grasslands and windmills.

Next up was Tombstone – the quintessential wild west town – for a cool root beer in a saloon, interrupted only by a brawl and a gunfight. The people in costumes and souvenirs were a bit tacky, but the impromptu tour we were given of the Bird Cage theater’s foyer, complete with numerous bullet holes, knife slashes, and genuine playbills, really brought home the fact that once upon a time this really was a place of cowboys and outlaws.

Then it was back along the I-10, a short stop at a border patrol station, and back to the villas for a swim in the 40 degree, 5pm heat.

Arizona – 23 June

June 24th, 2011 - No Responses

Finished with our inductions, and we are headed out of town for the first time to San Ignacio, 35 miles south, where we will be staying for the long haul. The urban sprawl gives way to low desert scrub, brown and dry. About 15 miles into the journey evidence of mining looms up to our west, and it stays there all the way to our destination.

Cacti outside our villa.

It's not rogue justice... it's Zane's Law.

Arizona – 21 June

June 22nd, 2011 - 2 Responses

The strip malls, parking lots and fast food franchises spread for miles. Tarmac stretches from horizon to horizon, crisscrossed with pickup trucks and SUVs.

I am not sure where the people come from to support this level of retail redundancy. There are no houses in this part of town, but every corner sports a cookie-cutter burger joint. Every block, a pharmacy or a supermarket. This strip mall alone sports three shoe stores (or warehouses, or “factories”), and there is another strip mall just like it across the way. Maybe this is zoning efficiency, rather than madness? Maybe.

Arizona – 20 June

June 21st, 2011 - No Responses

From the air, it is clear that this place is still very much the wild west in some senses. The small farming belts are dwarfed by the immensity of the open desert in between. Aside from the occasional vertebral protrusion of a hard rock mountain range, it is flat, and the roads stretch for miles and miles without a curve.

After 20 hours of sitting on planes and standing in queues we are about to begin our descent into Tucson, and the great American Southwest.

Bookfest Jan ’09

January 20th, 2009 - 2 Responses

Bookfest January '09 Haul

Bookfest comes but twice a year.

Nadir preview online!

November 21st, 2008 - No Responses

A preview of the prologue and first chapter of the novel is now up.

Read it here!

Novel website online

November 12th, 2008 - No Responses

A page is up for Nadir at

More content will be added over the coming days and weeks.

Novel News

November 10th, 2008 - No Responses

In recently broken news, I finally submitted my PhD a couple of weeks ago. It sure has been a long time in coming.

I’ve been taking a much-needed break, and working on some stuff for the novel. I’ve got the map all sorted, and two different covers. I’ve settled on the traditional epic-fantasy-style cover: you only release your first fantasy novel once.

I’m all but ready to get this self-publishing train off the ground. So, one of the remaining things I have left to do is to work out how many copies I need printed. I’m going to set up a facebook group for pre-orders (this is the internet age, after all) but if you want a copy and can’t tell me over there, leave a comment or send me an email.

Language, Pedantry and Pleasure

November 4th, 2008 - No Responses

I was reading a blog entry (or blessay, if you will) by the excellent Stephen Fry this morning on language, pedantry and pleasure, and a few thoughts have been percolating. Some of this is brain-dump material, but, as always, I’m not trying to make you think the same as me. I’m just trying to make you think.

I think about language often. I collect words and phrases hither and thither. I make up funny (in the dual senses of humourous and strange) little rhymes or phrases or songs to amuse myself. I make up words for their sound or their feel (there aren’t nearly enough ideophones for my tastes), or because they fill a much-needed gap. I’ve spent idle hours wondering at the fact that our writing and speaking voices are comfortable in different registers and with different idioms. You might say that makes me a geek, and to that I say “well spotted” in a sort of dry sarcastic font remarkably similar to my everyday speaking font. I am indeed a language geek, among my other geekeries. I’m sure most of my (two?) readers are geeks in a few ways themselves. Language as a love for me, however, is an artistic rather than intellectual pursuit.

Anyone who knows me well will attest to the fact that I have an abiding love for words and language. I delight in wordage. In building and sculpting and tweaking phrases that trip or flow over the tongue of the mind with just the right taste. In distilling from these scratchings on silicon or paper or stone an essence composed of not just an intellectual concept, but also primal elements of emotion: a touch of familiarity, a dash of awe, a sprinkling of forbidden thrill. The connections with stories, another of my great loves, should be obvious. One connection worth pointing out, however, is that neither of them are really worth bothering with unless you’re at least trying to do something new. At some point that means breaking rules. And, indeed, as long as the communication aspect is not interfered with it’s tough to make a case for ‘knowing the rules before you break them’. Which quite neatly (as if it were happenstance) brings me around to the pedantry aspect.

As a sometime amateur futurist (purely for the purposes of self-amusement, you must understand) I feel I must ascribe any pedantry I hold over the usage of language to a vested interest in our ability as human beings to communicate, and to continue to be able to communicate. I applaud creativity in language, even if I sometimes cringe at new words or ‘creative misspellings’. Two parties need a common set of rules in order to communicate, however, and I see those rules potentially breaking down in two ways: dilution and divergence. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want to do is stifle the growth and evolution of language. And don’t think I’m unaware of the fact that people have been prematurely despairing the demise of languages for as long as they’ve had words to allow them to do so. I posit that the internet changes the playing field, however. Anyway, I’m not asking anyone to stop doing anything. Let’s just say I’m watching with interest.

The first concern is the dilution of language. Let’s take that perennial example of internet forums and comments, there/they’re/their. Using your eyes you’re sure to see there that they’re distinct words, but their usage in general would seem to contend that all three are valid spellings of one word with three very distinct meanings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some forum vigilante who flits from board to board righting the writing of the many, but I do see that loss of distinction as something to be lamented. Ideally they wouldn’t be homophones to begin with. It’s not like we’ve run out of potential words. I submit that gryzik/they’re/flibbin would be less confusing, assuming we all learned it from an early age. As long as communication isn’t affected, the effect of all this is negligible, but I still don’t feel that losing words is a good thing under any circumstances.

The second concern is the divergence of language. Here’s the thing: the internet is the Tower of Babel all over again. Not just in that we’ve built something bigger than any of us could even conceive individually, nor indeed in that large parts of it are built solely to demonstrate to others just how clever the builders are. Perhaps more than any invention of humanity, this is the one thing that echos “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” To some, it seems to pave the way to the long-sought-after Tribe of Humanity. The danger is that people get caught up in the smaller tribes. The Tribe of Mac and the Tribe of PC are good examples of this, or the Tribe of Facebook and the Tribe of Myspace. The fact is that the connecting properties of the internet bring together tribes that couldn’t possibly have existed before, to the point where everything is a tribe these days. Microcultures spring up around the smallest of shared experiences, spawning memes and traditions and yes, even language. If I identify with even as few as a dozen tribes, and you another wholly distinct dozen we each have large tracts of our language space inaccessible to the other. As an unqualified amateur observer, I only see these trends accelerating. Let’s just hope we don’t all end up speaking different languages. Still, for the most part, I think it’s brilliant. You can’t make the omelet of the Tribe of Humanity without breaking a few memetic eggs. More than that, the internet is one of the single greatest advancements or advancers of human science and culture, and it only works because everything is (at least in potentia) on the internet. (Which is yet another reason why liberty-eroding internet censorship schemes such as the horrific ‘Clean Feed’ debacle will either fail, or result in massive community efforts to transmute the internet into something that simply cannot be corralled.) So, lest ye be called a n00b, embrace the blogosphere, and the podcast and the vodcast, and the lolspeak that is even now in ur tubes.

But if you ‘LOL’ out loud, as it were, we’re going to have to have words.