The Nameless Horror

The prime minister’s got to act in the national interest to give the protection to people of this country that they need and deserve from horrible attacks of this kind, and I think the Communications Data Bill could be an important element in that programme.
The natural thing to do following the brutal murder of a man by two fucknuts with machetes is, of course, to push once more for the constant monitoring of all internet use and email messages in the UK.

BSP: Murder Park sale

Minor, and probably fruitless, bit of plugging, but I’m experimenting with sale-pricing MURDER PARK since it’s mostly been very quiet for months. If you’ve not heard of it/bothered with it/gotten round to it, it’s terribly cool, and currently half off at Amazon (linkage: US & UK) & Kobo, and, more interestingly, variable from free to full price direct from me. I’d have loved to do a proper name-your-own price thing with it, but the particular WP plugin I use can’t quite stretch that far. It’s the same package whether you get it for nowt or pay full whack, so knock yourselves out.

What starts the process, really, are the laughs, slights and snubs when you are a kid. Sometimes it’s because you are poor, or Irish or Jewish or Catholic or ugly or simply that you are skinny. But if you are reasonably intelligent and if your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn you can change those attitudes by excellence, personal gut performance, while those who have anything are sitting on their fat butts.

Once you learn that you’ve got to work harder than anybody else, it becomes a way of life as you move out of the alley and on your way. In your own mind you have nothing to lose, so you take plenty of chances, and if you do your homework many of them pay off. It is then you understand, for the first time, that you really have the advantage because your competitors can’t risk what they have already. It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top. You find you can’t stop playing the game the way you’ve always played it because it is a part of you and you need it as much as an arm and a leg.

So you are lean and mean and resourceful, and you continue to walk on the edge of the precipice because over the years you have become fascinated by how close to the edge you can walk without losing your balance.

Richard Nixon speaking to his former communications director Kenneth Clawson. I’ve always loved that quote. (The final line of it, summing up what went wrong, is: “This time there was a difference. This time we had something to lose.”)

Quick thoughts on the Nook thing

"The Nook thing" being reports that Microsoft are thinking of buying up B&N’s Nook arm and killing the hardware division.

  • While B&N’s ebook sales have (presumably) been OK, hardware sales have been less than stellar. Kudos to them for doing it, but the Nook hasn’t made huge waves, except briefly as a cheap Android tablet before the market was swamped with such, and as an ereader-tablet-hybrid producer it can’t compete with Amazon’s financial clout (needed to keep Fire prices low and hardware decent) or Apple’s consumer demand (technically the iPad isn’t an ereader, but if you have one it certainly fills that niche).
  • Dedicated ereading devices, with the possible exception of ultracheap original Kindle-style e-ink budget ones, are, and have been for some time, rapidly approaching the end of their consumer lifespan. They’ve done enough to create an ebook market. But now our other devices - phones and tablets - can handle reading perfectly well, as well as doing other things. Now there’s no need to keep producing hardware unless you’re desperately trying to keep your store locked down (Sony, AFAIK), or are trying to break into the full tablet market itself (as Amazon has with the Fire).
  • The Nook store is cross-platform these days already. It doesn’t need a dedicated device.
  • Microsoft has its own entries in the full-blown tablet market, and even if they’ve bombed (as they appear to), it doesn’t need to try breaking into the market again, and certainly not with Android.
  • It therefore makes perfect sense that they’d kill the Nook hardware if they took control of the division. This would not affect the storefront at all. If anything, they’ll broaden it to give them bigger market spread.
  • The loss of the Nook hardware would’ve happened anyway, even if B&N stay in business and all is well. They were losing money on them, and dedicated devices for a niche activity are mostly doomed.
  • The money will probably help shore up B&N a little, and that’s a good thing.
  • The only bit I can’t really fathom is why MS would see an ebook retail front (the part of the subsidiary they actually want to own) as something they’d fork out money for. Yes, they’re predicting a return to profit within four years, but that’s a risky horse to back given the shifting state of the ebook retail market and the amount of cash they’re fronting. Especially when you consider that their core OS business is looking shakier than ever with Windows 8 widely considered a flop. Is it just another attempt, as they’ve done with the Windows software marketplace, to find a way to emulate Apple and become content distributors to reap their 30% ad infinitum?

For Aidan's birthday: the zombie story with a twist he and I wrote

Aidan turns six today. In honour of the occasion I’m going to share something we worked on together a few months ago. The thing is, if he wants to play on the computer, he has to do reading and writing practice. And that means we write a story, consequences-style, Aidan writing what he wants to write, then having to read what I choose, in stages every morning. We’ve done four or five of them in the past eighteen months. Over time we’ve added refinements like pictures every four pages (I’m not much of an artist, so my side of these aren’t very good, and he was only five, so…). If I want to give him the chance to take things in a new direction, sometimes I’ll leave my last piece on a cliffhanger - “Something surprising was waiting inside!” / “There was a letter. What could it be?” etc. - and sometimes Aidan will take me completely by surprise with what he chooses next.

Here is one of those stories, Zombies Versus Humans. And while it started off as your basic survival piece (at least, your basic one as written by a five-year-old), it soon took a couple of completely unexpected twists partway through. I’ll leave you to guess which bits are mine (though obviously the name “Ash” should tell you that was me) and which are Aidan’s.

Zombies Versus Humans

There was a moaning and a groaning from the other side of the wall. What could it be? Zombies!

There was a person who came to kill the zombies. The man’s name was Ash. He stood on the wall and looked down. “I should get my guns,” he said to himself.

Below, the zombies said, “Brains, brains, brains, braaaaains…”

The zombies had come every night for months. Ash didn’t know why. “I’m going to kill you, zombies.”

Zombies

Ash went downstairs to fetch his guns. He felt quite lonely because he was the only human he had seen.

He saw another human getting his guns. “Hey,” Ash said. “Those are my guns! I need those to fight the zombies. Wait… who are you and how did you get here? I thought I was the only human.”

"There are two of us and two guns, so we can share."

"But who are you? What’s your name?" he said.

"My name’s Bert. I’ve been hiding from the zombies."

"But how did you get in?"

"Oh. There’s a back door. It was open…"

"The zombies are coming!"

"Brains, braaaaains!"

Ash and Bert grabbed their guns and ran to the back door just as the zombies reached it. There were lots and lots of them there. The zombies broke down the door and Ash fired a bullet at them.

The zombies break in, and a map of the defences

(A map of their defences.)

They shot the zombies until enough of them were dead for Ash and Bert to wedge the door shut.

"Brains, brains, braaaaains!" said the voices outside.

Ash and Bert looked around the room. There were some shelves on the wall with food on. There wasn’t much left. “If you’re going to stay here then we’ll need to find some more,” Ash said.

"I think it’s just a little food."

"There’s a ruined supermarket nearby," Ash said. "We’ll have to sneak past the zombies to get to it but it should be easier in daytime because they burn up in daylight."

Once the sun came up, the streets past the walls went quiet. Ash and Bert took their guns and stepped outside. They came back with a whole bunch of food.

Zombies outside the supermarket

(The zombie has a sad face because it couldn’t find them.)

When they got back with the food it was still light out. But Ash saw something strange high up on the wall.

It was a cow stuck to the wall.

"How did it get up there?" Bert said.

"That’s not important," Ash said. "We’ve got to get it down before the zombies see it and come to eat it. Oi, cow! Can you move?"

"Moooo," said the cow. It couldn’t get down because it had been sellotaped.

It was a great mystery who had stuck the cow to the wall - was it a human or a zombie? Ash climbed up to cut the cow down. He found there was a note on it.

Be warned: this cow can hardly move.

The cow is stuck

Ash quickly cut the cow down but the poor animal still didn’t want to move far.

The shepherd, who looked angry, was hiding behind the wall. He looked like a zombie who had hoped the cow would keep Ash and Bert outside until it got dark. The shepherd was only pretending; he was wearing a suit.

Bert and Ash brought the cow indoors so the zombies wouldn’t come looking for it - and them! “We need to think what we’re going to do now,” Ash said. Ash and Bert wondered if the shepherd wanted it back.

The shepherd

They decided to put up a sign outside saying: “Your cow is here if you want it.” Everybody knew zombies can’t read.

One of the zombies came into the shepherd’s barn and scared the shepherd. He went running out, very afraid. He needed to cross town to reach Ash and Bert. Suddenly he felt very silly for sticking the cow to their wall.

He got to Ash and Bert’s house in time. Night was falling by the time he knocked on their door and asked to come in. “Help,” he said. “There are zombies after me. I’m sorry I put the cow on your wall.”

"OK. You can come in just this once."

Run away shepherd

"Why did you stick the cow to the wall?" Ash asked.

"I wanted to keep the zombies away from my barn," the shepherd said. "I thought they would be too busy to eat me. I’m very sorry I stuck the cow to your wall."

"That’s OK," Ash said.

Then, from outside, they heard many voices all saying, “Brains!”

"We’ll have to deal with this," Ash said. "Let’s get our guns."

They went outside and killed all the zombies. When they checked them though, they found something very strange.

It was an egg. It was a chicken egg.

"This can mean only one thing," Ash said. "The zombies must have been to a farm, or else someone in the city keeps chickens."

Finding the egg

Before they went looking for the place the egg had come from they knew they had to make their house safer. They collected some things to make barricades and walls.

After they had made the barricades they put them where the egg could hatch.

Safe place for the egg to hatch

They left the egg in its special place for the whole night. The zombies outside tried to get in, but the barricades were too strong. Then they tried to get in through the door but couldn’t do that either.

In the morning they checked the egg and it still hadn’t hatched, so they took some food and some weapons to try to find the place it had come from.

They found the house where someone had kept chickens. There was no one there, just feathers in the back garden. “The owner must have turned into that zombie,” Ash said. “That’s why he had the egg still.”

The owner had gone shopping with the chickens in a basket. Ash was wrong! “Look,” Bert said, “the trail of feathers leads this way - towards the supermarket. Quick!”

But instead they went home to see if the egg had hatched. When they checked the safe place they found the egg had hatched. But the chick looked strange - its feathers were green instead of yellow. It was a zombie chicken!

Luckily the chick could see out of the window but couldn’t get out.

The zombie chick

(Ash and Bert peer through the window of their hatching box to watch the chick.)

At first they were worried about the chick. “What shall we do?” Bert said. “We can’t keep a zombie chicken.”

But before long, they realised the chick was friendly. It said, “I can save you.”

"Did that chicken just talk?" Ash said.

"Shh!" the shepherd said. "Let’s hear what it has to say."

"How can you save us?" Bert asked. "Can you get us away from these zombies?"

"I can do it in a second," the chicken said.

The chicken laughs

(The chicken rolls around, laughing at anyone even thinking of questioning its powers.)

They thought about it for a long while, but then decided to see where the chicken would lead them. They also made sure they had plenty of food for it too, just to be sure it wouldn’t eat them!

They took it for a long walk and it didn’t bite them. The chicken took them to a part of the town they had never been to before. In the distance, past the buildings, they could see fields and hills. They played in the park and slid on the slide. The sun was shining and they were enjoying themselves.

"But where are you taking us?" Ash said. "What’s your plan, chicken?"

"There’s a farm outside the city, away from all the zombies," it said. It took them there and there wasn’t a single bit of dirt. They looked around, amazed.

"This place is so clean," the shepherd said. "No dirt."

"There can’t have been any zombies here," Bert said. "They’re very messy."

"Let’s check the rest of the farm," Ash said.

There were footprints leading upstairs. Zombies had been upstairs!

They thought it might have been a trap but the chicken said it was safe. When they got upstairs they found out why. The owner of the farm had been a scientist. In his room was the special dezombifier he had built. There was no sign of him or the zombies he had cured, but with the machine and his fleet of robots for cleaning and fixing things they would be safe forever!

The end

Happy birthday, Aidan.