October 28, 2009

“No, father, you never did care about anything except your precious job.”

This is a line from Blood and Iron, spoken by a young woman to her father, and overheard by a nearby robot.  Given the circumstances in which the words were spoken, I originally used an expletive in place of precious.  But then I realised that as the words were being translated by computer as the young woman spoke them, and robots don’t use human expletives which tend be organically based, the sentence would probably read

“No, father, you never did care about anything except your rusting job.”

This is logical, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to the reader at first glance as it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing a young woman could say.  I could have put in an explanation (a common writers’ mistake, in my opinion), but that would have slowed down the action, and worse, taken the reader away from the scene and reminded them they were reading a book.

I love a complicated plot, I love hard SF, but when it comes to the writing I always like to Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Anyway, Blood and Iron is finished and should be with Macmillan now.


Hymns Ancient and Modern

October 20, 2009

Watching Belshazzar’s Feast last Saturday evening in Bradford (they were the support band at the Bellowhead concert) I was struck by what an easily overlooked resource the hymn book is.

The pair played an old Welsh Hymn by the name of Ebenezer ( or Ton-Y-Botel), quoting the hymn number.  I checked  when I got home in the very tatty old book that I own and had a go myself.  It sounded great- even more so, I thought, when played in 3/4.

Now my preferred definition for Folk Music is something like this one I just found on the web :

the traditional and typically anonymous music that is an expression of the life of people in a community

and of course, hymns were an example of just that in the past for large parts of the community .

Of course, tunes travel both ways.  A quick scan through the hymn book showed many folk tunes appropriated by the church: Londonderry Air, Scarlet Ribbons even Scarborough Fair.  A quick scan through my records and CDs threw up such gems as John Renbourn’s excellent version of Monk’s Gate (which I remember singing as a child to the words “He who would valiant be”) and Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Travellin’ on For Jesus, and an awful lot of Christmas Carols (I found at least five versions of While Shepherds Watched, including the local one which is sung to the tune of Jackson).

Anyway, I’ve been playing through the hymns, some of them sound very nice (at least, the ones written before 1950 do).  Definitely something to look at in order to increase your repertoire.  (Have you learnt the Valeta yet?)

By the way, I enjoyed Belshazzar’s Feast.  Accordion and Fiddle:  a classic combination.  I’m not so sure about the slide whistle though…

Micro Men

October 14, 2009

Have you seen Micro Men yet?

If, like me, you learned to program by typing out lines of BASIC on a Sinclair ZXx, an Acorn Micro or Commodore machine, then you’ll love this story of the rivalry between Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry as they battle for supremacy in the early ’80’s micro market.  If you are too young to remember those days (for example you may be one of my Computing class who is reading this rather than getting on with your homework, you know who you are, and it’s due in by Thursday) then watch it anyway and marvel at how primitive those early machines were.

What struck me whilst watching was how much of a dead end the first home computers were.  Although many machines were sold, nearly all of them were used for playing games.  Only a few people put the micros to their intended use and learned to program on them (Incidentally, I remember paying £10 for a book on Assembly Language, and another £30 for an Assembler on a ROM cartridge.  Nowadays, if you want to learn to program you can download a fully functioning IDE and access hundreds of excellent tutorials for free).

One question we never really asked back then was why did people need to learn to program anyway? The subject is no longer taught in schools, except as a specialism.  Ten years ago most people wanted a computer so they could learn how to use the internet or to word process.  Today even that isn’t really the case, and pupils are now  taught Flash animation or how to set up websites instead.

A few of us may owe a debt to those early machines, but what the world was really waiting for was the PC equivalent.  The trouble was that such a thing was too expensive, or at least more than people were willing to pay in those days.  It was down to Alan Sugar to produce the AMSTRAD word processor, the first reasonably priced machine that bore some resemblance to today’s computers.

Anyway, watch the program.  It’s funny and poignant, full of the sense of missed opportunities.  I can’t help thinking the world would be a much geekier place if Sinclair and Curry had worked together instead of fighting (and geekness, of course, is a good thing).

Folk against Fascism

October 7, 2009


Now, I realise that I am stretching the brief of this blog a little by including a picture of a melodeon (we deal with robots and accordions here, after all) but it’s for a good cause…

Why Folk against Fascism?  Well, if you haven’t heard, this is not so much a call for Morris Dancers to take up arms, but rather the reaction of a group of musicians who are understandably annoyed that the BNP are trying to hitch their wagon to traditional English music.  Crofty describes all this rather well on his blog.  The FAF site is here (and includes an interesting take on the issue by Jon Boden)

Personally, I’m pleased if anyone wants to come along and listen to the music and help keep the tradition alive. What’s annoying is appropriating someone else’s work for your own political ends.  What’s irritating is when you don’t appear to have studied that work in the first place.

Anyway, I’m going to see Show of Hands tomorrow night in Chester.  They’re quite folky, if anyone is interested.