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Square Festival, Borth

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

I would blog from the Square Festival in Borth, but it will take several hours to upload my photos and, well, I’d rather go to the Festival.

Xandros Linux on the EeePC sucks hard 🙁

Don’t be the Lamb

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Easter Fireworks

There was no build-up.

I had expected everything to be closed, but quite to the contrary, the street was lively as we stepped out at 10 p.m. to look for some entertainment.

We settled on what was quickly becoming our regular: Cosmogonia Bar where the locals outnumbered the tourists, the atmosphere was convival and great music played as the night wore on.

And wear on it did: at a quarter past eleven there was still no direction in the way people were ambling up and down the street.

“I think I should go,” I said to John. “I have no idea where everybody is supposed to come from, but come midnight it’s going to be packed out there. Perhaps I should climb up the hill for a better view.”

‘Out there’ was the church yard, barely fifty metres down the road from the bar. Directly behind it was the hill that led up to the fortress. From there I was hoping to get a good vantage point over the crowd that was supposed to gather a few short moments from now, lighting candles at the stroke of midnight, like twinkling stars that announced to the world that Christos anesti—Christ is risen—and Easter had arrived.

I had a beer to finish first. When I stepped out barely a quarter of an hour later, the street had miraculously filled with people. Young and old, visitors and locals, huddled shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the church entrance, awaiting the announcement with bated breath, candles in hand.

There was no way of getting through to the path that led up the hill.

Somebody pressed a candle into my hand. I turned to see another tourist behind me, grinning.

I shook my head. “I’m a atheist!”

“Me too. Enjoy!”

From the direction of the church, flickering lights began to appear. Already?

I handed the candle over to somebody who must have dropped theirs. I wasn’t worthy of it, but I hoped the guy who’d given it to me wouldn’t mind.

Easter Candles

Truth be told, I was too busy clicking away—with the flash off but feeling somewhat dirty nevertheless.

Then fireworks exploded behind the church tower. And something else: shots rang in the air and charges of dynamite shook the ground.

I became a little worried. The land wasn’t parched, and Easter happens every year, but yet…

Suddenly the scene turned unreal. As if in a dream, I watched great orange tongues of flame licking at the hillside, building up into waves that crested the trees and broke at the wall of the fortress, threatening to engulf it.

If the wind turned—just a little—the town would be next.

“Do you think that’s staged?” I whispered to the guy behind me.

He looked grim. “Doesn’t look staged to me. But by all means snap away. Don’t mind the town or the people.”

I stood frozen, staring at the flames, while all around me the people cheered on, oblivious.

Easter Celebrations

[read on]


Friday, March 21st, 2008

Thanks to my EeePC (and a very slow network), I’m able to blog live from a science fiction convention for the first time ever.

If the batteries hold out, that is 😉

Random entries will find their way to either here or my LJ (which is more writing oriented).

This morning I surprised myself by getting up at seven—yesterday’s drinking session nonwithstanding—and getting to the venue (Edwardian Raddissson, Heathrow) by nine, only to find that the registration doesn’t open until ten.

But I could hardly miss the first panel, could I? ‘Russell T Davies: Best of British or Fan Boy Let Loose?’

For tomorrow I’ve brought a hall costume. Watch out for the Sweeper of Souls. (“Isn’t that Death?” “Death tends to drop things, and Hell needs a street cleaner 😉 “)

Borth 2008

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

It was the party of the decade, if not the century!

Aberjazz filling up the Dancefloor

Have a look at the menu and laugh (or weep):

  • 13:30 Soup Lunch & Fresh Rolls: Welsh Cawl, Potato & Leek (V)
    —50 portions @ 250ml

  • 16:00 (pre-rugby) Early Supper: Baked potatoes, chilli, vegetarian lasagne, salad
    —30/15 portions resp.

  • 18:00 Cocktails & Canapés: parmesan tuiles, lapsang souchong-marbled quails eggs, savoury choux balls, rice paper rolls, Thai fishcakes/sausage rolls
    —yes, they were all on the list. I was hoping for three of them to come off. Some did, but not the ones mentioned here.

  • 19:30 Sandwiches: egg mayo, tuna& sweetcorn, cheese & coleslaw/salad, ham & salad
    —20 medium-sliced loaves, mainly for the 50 members of the choir. Next time I’ll ask for thickly sliced!

  • 19:00-onwards Finger Party Food: Tricolore crustades, mini samosas, Thai sausage rolls with soy & ginger dip, savoury palmiers, puff pastry pouches, devilled eggs, crudités with blue cheese dip baba ganoush and white bean dip, mini baked potatoes, roast vegetable skewers, köfte meatballs with hummous dip, falafel-pita bites with hummous & tzaziki, tortilla bites with mango salsa and soured cream, guacamole, pumpernickel/blini/bread bites with tapenade, mackerel pâté, smoked salmon, prawns etc., stuffed cherry tomatoes and cucumber cups with herby cream cheese, cheese board
    —Most of this got made, but not the way I intended it. For example, did you know that 750g potato curry makes enough filling for 100 samosas, but a pack of Filo pastry has only 6 sheets in it?

It was five o’ clock on the day of the event before I started on the party food prep—at about the time when the chef who was helping said that we should start plating up. So none of the canapés turned out quite as intended. But what is most amazing is that only nine of the 50-odd proposed menu items didn’t get made in the end. No, really.

Long entry warning (2,500 words)
[read on]

Santa Claus is coming to Town!

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Santas at Great Scotland Yard

Once a year, hundreds of Santas invade the city of London for the annual Santacon shenanigans.

Santa Tux Santas of all shapes and sizes gather at a central location to spread Christmas cheer and holiday goodwill, and of course they would not be complete without their companions and associates. Those Pesky Reindeer Again!

As for me, I was accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, the grumpy servant who is always at Santa’s side on St. Nicholaus Day in Germany to deal with the naughty children.

Badass Knecht Ruprecht

If only the assorted assistants, servants and companions would keep from fighting for five minutes…Did I Spot a Reindeer?

Despite Santa’s best effort, open conflict was only narrowly avoided, and Santa has the sprout marks to prove it! (Those pesky elves got me while Knecht Ruprecht was busy with the reindeer…)

So long, until next year!

Super Santa meets Body Idol

P.S. I’m currently baking a black cake or three, and if it works out I will blog the recipe both here and on Flickr, even though it’s too late to start one now. (Well, you could simmer the fruit in alcohol for half an hour and soak overnight, but it’s not quite as authentic…)

From 0 To 50k in 30 Days…

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Reading Glasses

The only travelling I’m doing at the moment (aside from a short break, but more about that later) will be in my head.

Today is the start of NaNoWriMo and I have nothing to go on, except that I’m writing a SciFi romance about cetacean communication, new programming paradigms, shoaling intelligent probes sailing past the solar system and a villain who uses the protagonists’ findings to develop AI—with the best of intentions—that turns out to be the real alien.

Meanwhile, earth is threatened by a series of natural and man-made disasters which provides intreresting background material, in case I get stuck, and also powerful motivation for the inadvertent villain who wants to save humanity from itself.

I’ll be posting occasional updates on my LJ

That’s it, for another Year

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Golly, I’m sick of writing about Worldcon.

Ferris Wheel, Yokohama


Up until now it felt as if I wasn’t really in Japan, and in a sense this was true. For while Japan was all around us, Worldcon creates a pocket-universe that’s all its own.

It was time to get out. Time to leave the cushy business hotel and familiar crowd of writers and fans and go to discover Japan.

Time for the real trip to begin.

My Computer is Bigger than Yours!

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Earth Simulator Supercomputer

By about 30 teraflops!


I have already raved about JAMSTEC. Well, not only do they have a ship that can drill 7km beneath the sea floor into the Earth mantle, they also have the world’s biggest supercomputer, the Earth Simulator System. It outperforms the then Number 2 (the ASCI White system in the US) by a cool 30 teraflops.

Earth Simulator Supercomputer moduleToday we went to have a look at the thing (and the rather cool JAMSTEC facility, which includes a nice garden, tennis courts and a social room with a bar and BBQ-barrels out front; just in case you’re looking for a job…).

It’s not at all what I expected. The Worldcon-special tour was limited to 14 members, so I thought we’d get a look inside the labs or at the aquarium or something, but it soon transpired that I was the only biologist. And when we approached the icerink-like building in which the real beast was housed, the geeks in the group (i.e. all but me) started to salivate.

Here we have a building that is shielded against all sources of electromagnetic radiation (internal light is channeled through fibre-optic cables), radio waves, lightning and seismic vibration (believe it or not, the thing is built on rubber mats) and which houses a computer system that spans 4 tennis courts, connected by 1,800 miles of cables (83,000 in all).

Earth Simulator Building lightning rod

In the main building, adjacent to the icerink, there is a museum and lecture hall. Our guide showed us a presentation of the Earth Simulator being put through its paces, running a climate simulation over the next eighty years. The changing colours made the hairs on my neck stand up. I don’t know whether this was one of the consensus models, but temperatures at the North Pole rose by over twelve degrees.


Visiting JAMSTEC was a fitting end to NIPPON2007, the 65th Science Fiction Worldcon and 46th Japan Science Fiction Convention. When we got back, they were already in the process of packing up. Boxes were stacked high, cables unthreaded and people were milling around various props as I made my way towards the bustling organisers’ offices and the Green Room at the end of the corridor, holding up my badge with the red ribbon at the entrance desk.

The atmosphere in the Green Room was different. An refuge from the frantic activity outside, people were clustering around long tables laden with plates and a long bar lined the wall, stacked with bottles and flanked by barrels full of cans of beer and chilled soft drinks. The Dead Dog Party is traditionally where the remaining booze is drunk down to the last drop: a final cheer raised to the organisers and volunteers, participants and fans who make worldcon what it is.

A cheer to past and future worldcons.

Dead Dog Party


Friday, September 21st, 2007

The Delegate


Yesterday somebody called me “Denni-san”. And somebody else called me “cool”.



I got savvy about signing up for time-keeping slots and reserved the space on Ted Chiang’s interview panel today.

The queue stretched around the corner. Apparently, while Greg Egan is regarded as a god here, Ted Chiang is regarded as a demi-god. I love this country.

When we’d advanced to the room, I broke off and walked up to the front doors.

“You know there’s a queue,” one of the organisers grunted.

“I know.” I flashed my time-slips.

“Oh, you’re the timekeeper! There’s a seat reserved for you in the front row.”


Ted Chiang I won’t bore you with details, except to say that I’m a complete fan. Ted Chiang has only written nine stories (ten by now), but his first sale won the Nebula.

Why so few?

“Writing for me is very hard.” An idea has to really interest TC, taking hold in his brain for months or years. Nevertheless, he made his first sale while still at Clarion.

“It’s embarrassing for me to say [that] what I’ve written can be read in one afternoon.”

What was that about writing less crap and getting it right?

Take ‘Story of your Life’. Chiang wrote it after watching a play about a wife dying of cancer; it’s a story about facing a pre-determined fate with acceptance, feeling both incredible pain and incredible love…

The organiser crept up to me, bowing low to avoid obstructing the webcast, and tapped his watch. I tapped mine in return. I know. Last two minutes.

In the kerfuffle, I managed to hold up the ‘Finish Now’ sign in error. The chairman hurridly wrapped up the session when he still had a minute to go, leaving me feeling guilty about stealing a minute of Ted Chiang’s time.


Bees in Petridishes The parties wound down that night, and once again we found ourselves at the harbour lounge, attending the Montreal Anticipation 2009 Bid thank-you bash which (even though I didn’t pay to vote) everyone was invited to.

But further down the hall there were people in labcoats. Café Scientifique was, sadly, just winding up, but they let me sample some of their delicacies: pickled bee pupae and wasps served in petri dishes.


Pacifico Yokohama Convention Center

Party On

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Dollers at NIPPON2007


I inadvertently found out how to switch off the fucking alarm which had woken me up at 7:30 a.m. on my first day and was roused by reception ringing to ask me, rather tersely, when I wanted my room cleaned. It was lunchtime.

Hazy memories surfaced, of whisky and coke being consumed in large quantities while chain-smoking with ‘Big Tim’ (pretty and female) and a couple of cool cats (plus one or two who were not so cool) at the abandoned concierge’s station in front of the Hotel Intercontinental at 4 a.m. that morning. This is why I like to stay within walking distance of the convention center.

And this was only the first of the party nights. Oh my…
[read on]