Bucket

The sign read: “Empty buckets are to be left with Sundry Officer. Failure to comply will result in swift retribution. Doors closed at 10 PM.”

Cliff sighed and looked sadly at his half-full bucket. The contents squirmed in a way that seemed to sigh back at him…

This wasn’t why he’d joined up. He wanted to travel through space, exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilisations, boldly going where no man had gone before.

He looked in the bucket again. It glooped at him mournfully, depositing a slimy tendril of mucus on his freshly laundered red shirt. His watch read 21:56.

He considered his options. He could, he supposed, attempt to hand in a not-quite empty bucket. He didn’t like the sound of the word ‘retribution’ though. He could tip the bucket out in the nearest garbage disposal, but as a vegetarian and animal lover, it would go against pretty much all of his beliefs. He squinted at the contents of the bucket. He was pretty sure that it was alive. It was certainly moving.

He looked at his watch again, then opened his backpack and tipped the gelatinous mass inside, before opening the door to the Office.

He’d always wanted a pet.

Monty: I’m not drunk…

“I’m NOT FRUNK! Not at *all*! dunk… drunk…”

Monty slurred, waving a finger for emphasis. He decided that being upright was entirely too much trouble, so half-sat, half-fell to the ground, whereupon he started giggling gently to himself.

Molly glared at him.

“Get your sorry backside *up* off the floor, or I will personally see to it that your life won’t be worth living.”

She reached down to grab hold of him under one arm, then stood again quickly as he made a retching noise and doubled over.

“I’m so sorry sir, ” she apologised, running one hand through her hair. “He’s been out celebrating. He doesn’t normally get like this.”

“Don’t worry miss, I understand. But he can’t stay here.” The security guard looked up and down the street, one hand on his torch.

“I’m going to have to insist that you get him out of here, or I’ll have to call the police.” He looked apologetic.

Molly smiled at him. “Don’t worry. I’ll take him home and sort him out. Seriously, he is going to regret getting this drunk.”

She prodded Monty with the toe of her high heeled shoes.

“Especially if he throws up on this dress. It’s brand new.”

Molly was wearing a little black number which clearly cost more than the guard made in a year. She gave a little wiggle, and cocked an eyebrow at him. “Do you like it?”

He blushed furiously before nodding.

“I don’t suppose you could be a dear and give me a lift with him? My car is just over there.” She nodded towards a black BMW parked under a street lamp on the other side of the road. She batted her eyelashes at him. “Please?”

The guard reached down and put his arms under Monty’s, hauling him to his feet. Monty belched, and giggled again. He reeked of whisky, making the guard’s eyes water.

“I love you,” said Monty. “You’re my mate, aren’t you?” He nestled his head against the guard’s shoulder, and promptly fell asleep.

Molly lead the way over to her car, opened the passenger door and helped Monty’s new best friend to get his unconscious load into the seat. She thanked the guard again, blew him a kiss, then got into the car herself.

She watched as the young man made his way back across the road to the office building. He swiped at the security sensor, looked back over his shoulder, then went inside.

Monty cracked one eye open. “Is he gone? Did you get it?”

Molly grinned, turned the key in the ignition and the BMW roared into life.

“Of course I got it. Lifted his security pass while you were cuddling him and cloned it on this.” She fished a PDA out of her purse and waved it at him. “It’s all in here.”

“You’re a marvel, you know that?”

“Learned from the master. You made a lovely couple, by the way. ”

Monty grinned. “Well, he was kinda cute…”

Monty: cars

An old snippet of writing that I stumbled across in a long-forgotten folder on my PC. Made me smile. Must write some more Monty soon.

~~~

The wind whistled over the damp cobbles, adding to the icy chill in the air. Molly picked her way between the frost-rimmed puddles which reflected the dingy sodium light of the street lamps. She shivered and pulled her long black coat tighter around herself. What was a nice girl like her doing out on a night like this, she mused to herself, checking her watch. Wrong side of midnight too. Closer to dawn really. A girl really needed her beauty sleep rather than being out in the cold.

Her cellphone buzzed in her coat pocket, breaking her reverie. She pulled out a bluetooth earbud, popped it in place and answered the call she’d been expecting.

“Ah, boss. I’ve got a little problem.” She turned at the street corner, scanning left and right. “It’s about the car.”

“It got towed.”

She pulled the earbud out as Monty unleashed a tirade of invective, gave her employer a moment to finish then replaced the tiny transmitter. “I know, I know. Looking for a replacement now.” She’d spotted a car a hundred yards down the street, parked in a dark spot between two lamp posts. She hurried towards it. Not ideal, and she could imagine what Monty would think of it, but needs must.

“Wait, got one. What’s your ETA?” A staccato burst of gunfire from above answered her question. She killed the connection and delved into her handbag, fishing out the lockpick set that Monty had made for her. He’d been giving her lessons on how to deal with the basics. She hoped that she remembered what he’d taught her. The freezing night air didn’t help and she had to stop to blow on her hands to warm them up as she fumbled with the slim metal tools. That one went in *there* and this one like *that*. She twiddled them experimentally.

The cellphone buzzed again. Monty announced that he’d need a car by the front entrance in, oh, about twenty seconds or so, preferably moving, preferably very fast. Ideally something in the bulletproof line, but he realised that beggars couldn’t be choosers but could she please hurry up, thankyouverymuch. Molly hung up and returned her attention to the lock. Another fumble and she’d dropped the tension pick. In the manner of all things dropped near parked cars, it helpfully bounced underneath the vehicle, just out of reach.

Molly swore loudly, kicked the car and examined her options. Monty needed a car, now. She’d lost her means of getting into this car. Any car, for that matter. Another burst of gunfire focussed her mind and a solution popped up.

The brick made a satisfying crunch as it went through the passenger window, spraying the interior with tiny shards of glass. Brilliant. One car. Hotwiring, she was good at, taught at a very early age by her elder brother, Charlie. Three seconds later and the car was laying down streaks of rubber. It hurtled towards the junction and she threw it into a handbrake turn, tyres protesting loudly. She grinned. This was fun.

Monty exited the building via the large glass front doors. She was not surprised to notice that he hadn’t bothered to open them first. Stylish. He was being pursued by two security guards bearing semi-automatics, firing wildly at their quarry. He bounded down the steps five at a time and dived through the newly removed passenger window. Molly, at his request, floored it.

It took him a second or two to recover his composure and dust himself off before he took in his method of escape.

“What on…”

Molly cut him off. “I know, I know. I was kind of stuck for choice.”

“It’s a…”

She gave him one of her trademark Looks. “Would you rather walk?”

He returned the Look. “Quite frankly, yes. I mean, there are cars and there are cars, and then there’s… this?”

She screeched the custom-built, neon-paint jobbed, darkened windowed, rear-spoilered boy racer to a halt. Two large fluffy dice bumped on the windshield.

“Out you get then.”

A bullet took out the rear window, destroying the elaborate flaming skull decoration. He sighed and waved her on. Molly smiled sweetly and put her foot down again.

“You’re actually sulking, aren’t you?” she said, glancing over at him, sat there with his arms folded and the beginnings of a pout on his lips.

“I don’t like these cars. Remember what happened to the last one? It was rubbish. It very nearly blew us up.”

Molly thought for a second. “No, the rocket-propelled grenade nearly blew us up. It was hardly the car’s fault. And it was either this or one of those tiny French cars. This one at least looked like it might get us out of here in a hurry.” She looked in the rear-view mirror. “Hold on…”

The car slid around the corner sideways, engine screaming in protest. Unfortunately for her, the guards seemed to have a very nice, very fast looking black SUV which took the corner almost as well as she did.

She looked down at the speedometer as it crept up past sixty, seventy, seventy five. There was no way they’d get away from these goons, not in this, not now they’d reached the main road. “Running out of ideas, boss.”

Monty delved into his backpack for a moment, and came out with a small package. “Lucky for us I didn’t need this to get into the safe. Those old Dortmunder & Fforde 900 models are too much fun to crack…”

He flicked a switch, grinned then leaned out of the window before lobbing the explosive charge in a carefully timed arc.

The resulting explosion was small, but enough. Especially as he’d thrown it at the lorry they’d been passing. A lorry containing a load of scaffolding poles, which rather helpfully strew themselves in the path of the SUV.

Monty leaned back in his seat. “Brilliant. Despite your appalling taste in cars, a job well done.” He delved into his backpack again. “Want to see it?”

Molly nodded, and whistled softly as he unwrapped the black velvet from his newly acquired prize. “That’s possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Monty grinned. “Isn’t it just? Zenn is going to be *so* mad. I wish I could see his face when he finds out it’s gone” He scratched his ear, thoughtfully. “Do you have…”

“In my bag.”

He retrieved the small laptop and powered it up. “Where..?”

“Third one down. It’s the one which says ‘monitor'”

Monty clicked the icon and a window opened onscreen. It was dark. “Come on, Zenn. You must be there by now. Don’t you want to even check… ahhh. There we go.”

A man’s face appeared in the window, a slim face framed by silver hair and a neat goatee beard. It looked annoyed. Very annoyed. Monty grinned and waved as his nemesis picked up the tiny remote camera he’d left in the safe.

“Gotcha…”

books, authors and writing

Currently reading (and enjoying) Iain M. Banks’ latest novel, Surface Detail. It’s a monster of a book, and if initial impressions hold true, Mr Banks is back on form. He has that enviable skill of turning out phrases so delicious that you have to pause and savour them, rolling them round in your mind to appreciate them fully.

A case in point is the opening line of The Crow Road, which is this:

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

Seriously, that’s got to be one of the best opening lines in a novel, ever. Who could not want to read on after that?

China Mieville and Jon Courtenay Grimwood are others who can do that to me. Though latterly Mr Grimwood has felt a little off his earlier form – his Arabesk Sequence is utterly superb and has a whole host of bits which I find myself re-reading and re-reading trying to work out exactly how he’s managed to distill a particular point down in such a way. There’s a bit in Pashazade (iirc) where the protagonist gets mugged (well, someone *tries* to mug him, at least), and it’s just beautifully written.

Then of course, there’s Michael Marshall Smith. One of my favourite authors – his Only Forward ranks way up on my Top Ten Books You Really Ought To Read list, followed closely by (or preceded by) the equally impressive Spares. Not quite so keen on his Michael Marshall books – they’re more ‘mainstream’ thrillers (for a given value of mainstream – still dark, gritty and well written, but not as groundbreaking or brilliant as his earlier, more sci-fi(ish) output).

His short stories are quite another thing, and utterly fabulous. ‘More Tomorrow…’ (of the short story collection of the same name) is utterly terrifying and has one of the most unpleasantly perfect last lines of a story, ever. Makes me shudder just thinking about it. The Man Who Drew Cats is superb, as is When God Lived in Kentish Town. Actually, they’re all great. If you can lay your hands on a copy of the rarer (only a thousand copies, signed and numbered), more complete collection of his short stories, ‘More Tomorrow and Other Stories’, I’d highly recommend it.

balls

stay with it past the first minute. This guy is *really* good.

I once heard a theory about juggling. Juggling three balls, on a scale of 1 to ten, ranks about a three or a four.

Juggling four balls, up to about 8 out of ten.

Juggling *five* balls, about 80.

That kind of crystal ball manipulation? We’re into thousands.

I can teach you to juggle three balls in an hour or two[1]. A couple of hours of decent practice more, and you’ll be at the point where you can impress non-jugglers with your newly-found skills, and be thinking about doing some tricks.

Give it a week, and you’ll get four balls – after all, it’s just two balls in one hand, in each hand. Bit of practice on your weaker hand, and you’ll get there.

Juggling five is an order of magnitude more difficult – throws are necessarily higher, and have to be far more precise as you just don’t have the time to constantly readjust the pattern. And picking up five is hard on the back. 🙂

Crystal ball manipulation? It’ll take you weeks to get even remotely smooth with a simple ball-over-the-hand. And that’s with your good hand. Doing the spinny four-ball pyramid? Hard.

Doing what the guy in the video does? Years of practice.

Beautiful to watch though. One day I hope to be half as good as that.

Now, where did I put my crystal ball?

day 15 20SEP2009

[1]No, really I can. You might be shaky on it, but it’s perfectly possible, assuming you can throw and catch one ball from one hand to the other.

My Review of Hackers

Originally submitted at O’Reilly

Steven Levy’s classic book about the original hackers of the computer revolution is now available in a special 25th anniversary edition, with updated material from noteworthy hackers such as Bill Gates, Mark Zukerberg, Richard Stallman, and Steve Wozniak. Hackers traces the exploits o…

fascinating

By dakegra from wakefield, UK on 8/26/2010
5out of 5

Pros: Easy to understand, Well-written, Accurate

Best Uses: Everyone

Describe Yourself: Developer

Hackers is a fascinating history of the computer industry from the late 50’s through to the late 80s, covering the birth of the personal computer, the internet and the gaming industry.This is the 25th Anniversary Edition though, so has been updated with a ‘ten years later’ appendix covering the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, and with updates from Gates, Stallman and Woz looking back at what has changed over the last quarter-century.

It’s a great read, and if I had one criticism it’s the jump between the original ending of the book to the ‘ten years later’ piece, when the world wide web exploded into everyday use. That said, I lost myself for several hours in the history – it’s told in an amiable right-in-the-middle-of-things style which I found enormously enjoyable and interesting.

(legalese)

My Review of Getting Started with Processing

Originally submitted at O’Reilly

Learn computer programming the easy way with Processing, a simple language that lets you use code to create drawings, animation, and interactive graphics. Programming courses usually start with theory, but this book lets you jump right into creative and fun projects. It's ideal for anyone wh…

useful introduction to Processing

By dakegra from Wakefield, UK on 7/16/2010

 

5out of 5

Pros: Helpful examples, Concise, Easy to understand, Accurate, Well-written

Best Uses: Intermediate, Student, Novice

Describe Yourself: Developer

This is a short but useful intro to Processing – it starts with the very basics and through a great set of useful and well-illustrated examples takes the user up to a reasonable level of understanding.

It’s not an in-depth book, but as the title suggests, is a perfect ‘getting started’ companion to a first foray into Processsing. It also lightly covers the basics of programming – for loops, functions and so on, so could be a useful primer for someone new to programming.

I really enjoyed working through the book and trying out the examples – it’s left me with a keen interest to try out more things with Processing and apply it to my own projects.

Great fun. Perhaps not ideal for experienced coders, but ideal for beginners and those wanting the basics of Processing explained neatly and well.

(legalese)