Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Grade Bee Crime

Honey smuggling is a sticky racket.

Sir Terry Pratchett

Congratulations, Sir Terry. It's good to see you getting a knighthood before that wretched Rowling woman who isn't fit to sharpen your pen nibs.

Leap Second

Remember to set your clocks forward one second this evening.

Brought to you by the Anal Retentive Society

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Digging Out

Things are warmer and soggier at Chez Szondy and the daughter and I made our first trip to town in over a week. Chez Szondy got off lightly with only a small tree and a couple of bushes crushed, but other haven't been so lucky, such as this farmer, whose steel shed was once an elegant curve and now, thanks to several tons of snow, a crumpled mass on top of a pair of tractors.

Even he did better than his neighbour who grows flowers under cover. His entire set of plastic green houses are now so many flattened tangles of plastic and aluminium.

Looks like the clean up is going to be more than taking care of a few broken branches, ditched cars and collapsed woodsheds.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Thawing Out

After over a fortnight of freezing temperatures and serial snow storms, the weather at Chez Szondy has finally turned to something other than the sort that makes me want to say "I am just going outside and may be some time" every time I leave the room.

It's been a hell of a time, with the Cruiser's cooling system blown out and stranded at the dealer's in Monroe, the Hunmobile (AKA the Volkswagen Jetta) marooned a mile and a half away unable to get up the mountain, both the satellite antennae buried under mounds of snow, intermittent power outages, and my brilliant plan for stocking up against bad weather going pear shaped because with everyone trapped at home during a mini ice age the stock of firewood that I thought would last until March is now almost exhausted and the wine supply so alarmingly low that I was trying to figure out how to make snow shoes out of a pair of old squash rackets.

The thaw came a couple of days ago, though it didn't help much, as we hadn't any motor transport and there's a hundred feet of unploughed road between us and the main road anyway. Fortunately, the wife was able to borrow her father's four-wheel drive truck yesterday. Unfortunately, she managed to get it stuck this morning at an angle right outside our drive in a bank of snow and a ditch that required myself, the neighbour, two shovels, a cup of tea, and a lot of slaloming and cursing to get it out again. Also, fortunately, the main road was finally clear enough to retrieve the Hunmobile with a minimum of towing, but unfortunately, our decision that we really need a second car that is more suitable to the country means that we had to change our minds about scrapping the Cruiser in favour of getting it fixed so we'd have something to trade in later.

The lessons learned from all this: Invest in more wood, general supplies, a generator, and a lot more booze; get the wife on video stating that in the future she will believe me when I say we're definitely snowed in and thus avoid anymore death-or-glory breakout attempts; teach the dogs to tow a sled while carrying a note down to the off licence in the event of a real emergency; and remember the next time that the cruiser seems ready to conk out to drive it off a cliff so we can get the insurance to declare it a write off.

Now I suppose I should go into town, look for survivors, and see if civilisation can be rebuilt.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

One-Round Gombatz The Boxer

The awe and mystery of Flywheel, Shyster & Flywheel.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Happy Christmas

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Christmas Carol

A Happy Christmas from all of us at EI & Chez Szondy.

Back Saturday.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Ice Station Szondy

I've a low-grade fever, I'm as sick as a parrot and I'm still snowed in, so how did I spend the day? Up a ladder knocking snow off the satellite antennas so I can regain contact with the outside world and getting thoroughly covered in the wet white stuff in the process.

Well, at least I've been watching some DVDs to keep my mind off of the whole winter storm situation; A Christmas Carol, Ice Station Zebra, The Thing From Another World, Scott of the Antarctic, etc.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Snow Days

Winter has hit Chez Szondy with a vengeance–actually, it's more like a foot and a half of vengeance with about 15 degrees of frost and roads that aren't passable by anything that doesn't have four-wheel drive and chains. It's the sort of thing that we've anticipated and having laid in enough wood and supplies (booze) to last until the next thaw the whole thing is less of a hardship than an adventure.

At least, that's what it should have been, except my wife's company has decided to complete a massive wadge of work before Christmas and she felt duty bound to try to make it there on Saturday. That's simple enough to say, but in practice that meant spending Friday shoveling a hundred-foot stretch of road, pushing the Hunmobile backwards inch by icy inch along it to the main road, bundling wife & child into the machine, pushing it to a start, and then leaping into the passenger's seat while the car was rolling along at five miles per hour. Then it was literally tobogganning down the mountain, a nail-biting ride into Monroe to buy tyre chains, running around in said chains (I'm leaving out the dirty, miserable, painfully cold job of puttin them on) in search of petrol in a town that hasn't seen a fuel tanker get through in a week, and then back home where we threw the chains (twice) on the steepest, slushiest and most appalling stretch of road on the mountain and ended up stuck at the bottom of the hill in the gathering twilight. I then started to walk alone up the mile and a half home to collect a sled so I could walk back down and then haul the family back up in the dark.

Man-hauling; where did I see that before? Ah, yes. Scott of the Antarctic. They all died in that one, didn't they?

Fortunately, one of our neighbours came by in his Jeep and saved us all from the Adventure at the cost of little more than an unsolicited loaf of pumpkin cake.

The outcome: The Hunmobile is now stuck down the bottom of the road, the wife has given up on the idea of bullying into work in favour of remote Internet access and teleconferences, which is a good thing since with another storm breaking today she'd have been stuck forty miles away until Christmas at least, and I've made her promise to believe me whenever I tell her that the roads are impassable.

Now the question is whether I'll be able to post this. The weather has all but knocked out our satellite feeds, so this is a bit like posting an electronic note in a cyberbottle.

Or something.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Planet of the Twilight Zone

I was right, Planet of the Apes is nothing but an extended Twilight Zone episode.

Friday, 19 December 2008

The Deadline

Some writers were inspired by Woodward and Bernstein, I was inspired by Carl Kolchak. Explains a few things.

I'm facing a double-whammy of deadlines and editors that I hate to see cry, so entries will be a bit light.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Count Dracula, Call Your Service

The United States Defense Department is developing a machine to manufacture real human blood using stem cells (and not embryonic, if I know anything about the field).

Blood drives a thing of the past and no danger of transmitting diseases; this is so ethical that I can't believe that it's a product of modern medicine.

I Shot a Rocket Into The Air

During the cremation is no time to find out that the deceased has a rocket lodged in him.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

PT Cruising No More

I write a lot of articles about motor cars, but I can't say that I have any great love for them. Maybe it's because I've always preferred to play around with electrical circuits rather than fan belts or maybe it's because the cars I've owned have always been based strictly on what I can afford rather than what interested me. Or maybe it's because where a broken computer means falling back on things like pencils and paper, a broken car means being stranded miles from anywhere with the prospect of a whacking great repair bill at the end of it.

Or maybe it's because said strandings happen at the most inconvenient times.

Take yesterday. I'd had an appalling string of circumstances that had begun with my having the rare luxury of being a week ahead on my work and ended with my being five days behind and only four days to hit two deadlines. I'd planned my day out accordingly and cleared my schedule so that I could make my phone calls and pound out my articles in short order. The only thing I had to do was drop off my daughter at school and then it was back home to the keyboard. It was bloody cold with ten to fifteen degrees of frost, but that isn't too bad. Unless the car heater on the PT Cruiser refuses to kick in, that is–which it didn't. Then it's a bone-numbing episode with the daughter huddled under a blanket and my wiling away the time by wondering whether my fingers or toes would be lost first to frostbite.

But such cheery thoughts were soon banished as I saw the engine temperature gauge creep up from its usual operating zone and closer and closer to the red. That's scary enough in town or on the motorway, but when you're winding through mountain roads past farm and field ten miles from the nearest garage, that gets to be a bit hairy. Still, it wasn't actually in the red, nor were there any scary beeps and blinking lights, so I kept one eye on the needle and soldiered on. I dropped the daughter off at her school, checked the water level in the reserve tank , let the machine cool down, then ran it in idle for about twenty minutes. Everything seemed normal, so I figured that it was just a product of the cold and decided to try for home while my luck held.

It held alright; like a gallon of buckshot in a wet paper bag. I didn't get a mile and a half before the temperature shot up and I stalled at an intersection. Fortunately, I was able to get it running again by letting it sit for a half hour while I pounded my head on the steering wheel. Deciding not to take any more chances, I got on the motorway and made for the nearest service station.

It's the sort of gamble I've made many times before with blinking petrol gauges, cranky brakes, and whining tyres, but this time luck ran out and as I made to turn left at the lights, the PT Cruiser gasped its last and died. I almost wepted; partly out of sentiment for the valiant chariot, but mainly because the tin sod had not only conked out in the middle of traffic, but the gearbox was jammed, so I couldn't even be pushed.

So began several hours of phone calls to the insurance company, then to the wife to pick me up, arrangements for a tow, discovering the tow companies are insanely busy in snowy weather, standing in the freezing cold warning motorists to go 'round me (0ne of whom I swore was Santa Claus) and counting up how many asked me if they could help against those who thought I was deliberately parked there just to annoy them. Finally, two state troopers and a tow truck later, the Cruiser was hauled to the Chrysler dealer in Monroe, where I asked them to have a quick look at the damage before Chrysler went bankrupt–not that that would be likely after I answered the phone at home a couple of hours later and was quoted a repair price so high that any government bailout would be redundant in comparison. So, now my family is faced with the choice of either pouring an insane amount of cash into a car that never ran well since the day we bought it, or finding some alternative mode of transport.

Needless to say, I am now in the market for a secondhand motorbike with a sidecar.

Can't be worse.

Monday, 15 December 2008


James May, uh, "drives" the fabled Aerocar.

Kaiju Alert

A bask of crocodiles has taken up residence in the cooling pool of a Florida nuclear power plant.

Dr Daisuke Serizawa is picketing.


An automatic machine beer maker.

I no longer have a reason to go into town.

Logic Problem

We are Muslim, we can only eat halal food.

We are Sikh, we are forbidden to eat halal food.

And multiculti Britain is caught in the middle.

Let the games begin.

Death Rays of the Kalahari

The president of Uganda says that Africans should work harder, take fewer holidays, and develop superweapons.

Good to see that some African leaders have their priorities straight.

Pursuit of Happiness

Civilisation Part Six

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Friday, 12 December 2008

Bettie Page (1923-2008)

So ends a very strange episode in American pop culture.

Honda HP450

When you heat your house with wood, this sort of thing doesn't look quite so daft.

Cuppa Crusade

The United States is poised on the edge of a great tea revival.

I'll believe that when Americans start boiling the &%$ing water and serve milk with it.

Carrier Carried Back

Owing to inevitable defence cuts, the arrival of the Royal Navy's two new carriers has been set back by about two years.

In order to fill the vulnerable gap in Britain's defences, the Foreign Office is sending a polite note to all our enemies to be good sports and hold off attacking until we're ready for them.

Grandeur & Obedience

Civilisation Part 5

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Junior Newspeak

The Ministry of Truth's Oxford University Press's Junior Newspeak Dictionary will not include words that reference Christianity, royalty, Empire, myth, or the countryside, as such concepts have been decreed as thoughtcrimes for Outer Party members.

Note that "bacon" has also been declared a non-word.


A "radical" redesign of London buses that combines passenger and freight service–or just freight, to be honest, because any potential passengers would run a mile at first sight of this thing.

The Great Thaw

Part II of Sir Kenneth Clarkes classic documentary series and a reminder of what it is we are in danger of losing if we aren't careful.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Have I Got News For You

The Damien Green affair as filtered through the "satire" programme "Have I Got News For You", according to Samizdata:

Ian Hislop: It is amazing, isn't it, that they were were able to get 20 or so policemen to raid Mr Green's offices and search his house. Where are all these guys when you need to catch a burglar or something?

Compere: Ah, yes, that sounds like the sort of drivel you read in the Daily Mail.

Hislop: So let me get this right - are you saying that is perfectly okay for a bunch of anti-terror policemen to arrest, search and hold an MP for asking annoying questions in the House of Commons?

Compere: I am in all in favour of putting Tory MPs in jail.

Good Lord.

'No Excuses Will Be Accepted.'

The motto of Airstrip One modern Britain.


Good news: It's wrapped in carbon fibre and has a biometric key system.

Bad news: It costs $15,000, so unless it can take an anti-tank round, I'm not interested.

Shock Horror

Little Ann (AKA "Me Too!" owing to her reaction
whenever Carl the Cattle Dog gets petted.)
Startling news from the world of psychology: Dogs get jealous.

In other news, the sky is blue, water is wet, and fire is hot.

Do You Have a Permit For That Quill?

As a professional writer who grits his teeth every time hacks like J K Rowling, Dan Brown, or Stephanie Meyer come on the scene and suck up all the money to the applause of critics who should know better, it's a pleasure to watch Tim Blair take a fresh scalpel to a New York Times columnist who gets his knickers in a twist because he thinks "Joe the Plumber" is "unqualified" to be a writer.

Retreat of Empire

HMS Northumberland, the frigate that has been guarding the Falklands, will be replaced by the fleet auxiliary ships RFA Largs Bay instead of another warship because the hopelessly shrunken Royal Navy is too overstretched to meet its commitments.

In saner times, this would be a shot across Whitehall's bows that no one would dare ignore. Either increase defence spending dramatically or Britain is going to face a humiliation that it hasn't seen since Dunkirk.

Update: At least some men of integrity are taking this seriously.

The Skin of Our Teeth

The first installment of a documentary series that reminds us of what we are trying to preserve and how truly fragile it is.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Phantom Creeps

Featuring one of science fiction's less fortunate robots.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Forrest J. Ackerman (1916-2008) II

Forrest J Ackerman has passed on. Confirmed this time.

Is This a Precondition?

Headline from The Telegraph:
Fidel Castro offers to talk to Barack Obama
But only with the proper equipment.

The Eternal Question

Some say that his favourite food is curried duck eggs and that his nose is on loan to the British Museum.

All we know is, he's called The Stig.

A Møøse Once Bit My Sister

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601): Astronomer, duellist, and lover of beer-drinking moose.

House of the Future Past

P J Rourke visits the "new" Disney House of the Future and comes away less than impressed.
According to Disney, the shape of things to come can be found at Pottery Barn, with a quick stop in Restoration Hardware for “classic future” touches and a trip to Target to get throw rugs and cheap Japanese paper lanterns. HoF II was designed by the Taylor Morrison company, a home builder specializing in anodyne subdevelopmental housing in the Southwest. The company’s president and CEO told the Associated Press, “The 1950s home didn’t look like anything, anywhere. It was space-age and kind of cold. We didn’t want the home to intimidate the visitors.”
Come back, Frank Lloyd Wright; all is forgiven.

Sonic Nausea Inducer

Adam Sandler films have a similar effect and they're slightly cheaper.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Time Polyp

Hear the demand from some "female scientists" that the next Doctor Who be a woman?

If we're going to do series-killing stunt casting, I say let's grasp the nettle firmly and make him a hydrazoa.

Professor Quatermass, Call Your Service

David Schleicher of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona asserts that Comet Machholz 1is, in fact, from another star system.

Given how these things generally work out, I vote we give this one a wide berth.

Both Ends of the Spectrum

In this corner, we have the EyeDrive mini robot that can carry 16 miniature missiles.

And in this corner we have the RipSaw MS1 tracked robot, which can hit 60 mph and sports an M240 machine gun.

Was it something Sarah Connor said?

Palm Pistol

A pistol specially designed for arthritic geriatrics who want to pack heat AND it's available on prescription.

The United States is indeed a great nation.

Salt Declared Doubleplus Ungood

First they came for the cigarettes and I said nothing, then they came for the fat and I said nothing...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

130,000 Inflatable Breasts Lost at Sea

Some stories need no comment.

Be Prepared

One mystery of the Bombay attacks is why the police just stood around and didn't return fire on the Jihadists. Now this story from the Times of India sheds some light:
In the absence of a firing range and of ammunition for practice, members of the law enforcement agencies have not opened fire in the last ten years. ‘‘I’ve been in the police force for a long time, but I had no occasion to open fire for practice,’’ a senior inspector of police said.
Good Lord.

Poulsen Hybrid

With this handy kit you can convert your car into the hybrid you've always wanted–if you ever wanted one. Some people do, you know.

Just don't ask where the extra batteries are supposed to go

Fire Hazard

Fire extinguishers are being removed from blocks of flats across Britain because they pose (wait for it) a safety hazard.

Next up, fire exits are boarded up because people might wander off and get hit by a car or fall into a hedge or something.

Tip o' the hat to Neil Russell.

Cassandra Crossing

When Barack "He whose middle name may not be uttered" Obama was elected I had a private reservation that it would mark a resurgence of Jihadist attacks. Wanting to give the benefit of the doubt, I kept this pretty much to myself (i.e. my immediate family and anyone in shouting distance down the pub), but events in Bombay moved faster than I'd expected. I'd thought the Jihadists would at least wait until Mr. Bush left office, though Iowahawk claims the whole thing is a mix up.
(Ajmal Ami) Kasab, who is personally suspected of killing over 30 victims at point-blank range in a posh Mumbai hotel, was at a loss to explain how he and other members of the terrorist assault team remained unaware of the historic U.S. election results that many American analysts predicted would lead to an immediate and permanent outbreak of rapturous harmony and transcendent brotherly love throughout the universe.

"Jeez, I'm... I don't know, I just never got any kind of memo," said Kasab. "The ironic thing is that just the other day, when we were ritually shaving our testicles for final martyrdom, a bunch of us were talking about how great and symbolic it would be if the American infidels would only elect an handsome, articulate young African-American infidel. That way we could just lay down the suicide belts and scimitars and suitcase nukes and finally get involved in the positive aspects of community activism, like raising awareness for breast cancer research. Look, I know it's a cliche to point fingers at the IT department, but our email system really sucks. And it's hard to find a decent wi-fi hot spot in Northwest Pakistan."

Now we find this little gem of comfort:

The United States can expect a terrorist attack using nuclear or more likely biological weapons before 2013, reports a bipartisan commission in a study being briefed Tuesday to Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

And then there's Iran, where Mr. Obama has promised to hold direct talks with the Mullahs:

Intelligence estimates indicate that Iran is producing 2.5 kilograms of additional enriched uranium daily, officials say. Do the math, and you'll see that Iran may amass enough low-enriched uranium to have the capacity to make a weapon by the end of 2009.

"Change" is on it's way one way or the other.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Dude, Where's My Flying Car?

Popular Science takes a pictorial look at Future Past.

Stabby? Moi?

President elect Barack "He whose middle name may not be uttered" Obama has selected Senator Hilary Clinton as his secretary of state. I haven't commented on this until it became official because it struck me as being incredibly improbable, though not outside the realm of possibility, given that Senator Clinton did not fight for the nomination to the last drop of someone else's blood and this is not a woman who does something for nothing.

Don't get me wrong, this is a brilliant move–for Senator Clinton. After she lost the Democratic nomination her career was toast and I was chewing my pen as I worked on her political obituary. In the last election she used every debt the Democrats owed her, called in every favour and used every threat in what would have been her only hope of gaining the presidency. Having lost, there was no hope of her keeping her political machine together or Bill on a lead for four years when she would have been an old lady (fair or not, it counts in politics) without a marker to call in. Now, as the third most powerful person in the country after the President and Speaker of the House, she has a real chance of building a power base and she's in a position to issue favours and threats as suits her. So, 2012, here she comes.

Regarding what she will actually do as secretary of state: First, it will be whatever accrues the most power to her personally and second, there is no second.

As for Mr. Obama? He's just handed the most power-hungry woman in the world a bayonet and asked her stand behind him.

Somebody had better tell him that Kevlar is very "in" this year.