Book recommendation: Island in the Sea of Time

I am getting increasing numbers of requests for books to recommend to people, and so I thought I would start to blog about it – and link directly to the books I mention through Amazon so that if someone does buy one as a result of my ramblings, I will make a couple of pennies from it!

First up is the incomparably excellent Island in the Sea of Time by S M Stirling. In this book the island of Nantucket in the present day is flung back to the year 1500 BC – and apart from that initial fantasy element the whole story is grounded firmly in reality. This is part of the reason I like this book so much – the characters are all modern day people that you can relate to… – and they are suddenly thrown into this extreme situation and as a result you can sympathise with them that much more, and the danger seems more immediate, probably because they relate to it much the same way that we would.

This is the start of the whole Islanders trilogy – and after that comes the Dies the Fire trilogy – and after that comes another series of at least four more books… – so if you like this one then be reassured that there is a lot more to come!

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The cafetierre coffee mug!

cafetiere-mugI use one of these at work: why? – mainly because life is too short for revolting instant coffee! Over the years I have developed a distaste for the instant muck and now drink proper, ground, organic Fair Trade coffee whenever I can.

Hence this mug: it is a mug combined with a cafetiere so you can get good coffee at work.  So many people ask me about it that I decided to blog about it and also link to in on Amazon so you could get your own if you wanted to!

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Right! That’s it! – time for Princes Harry and William to go marry some gorgeous African princess!

I cannot begin to describe how much the election of Barack Obama has moved me – and I am white! The country that fought a war over slavery – the country where black people had to fight on the streets for their rights has gone and elected a black man as their president!

Suddenly America is no longer a pariah – suddenly I find myself wanting to volunteer to help make President Elect Obama’s vision come true; suddenly I think that there is hope for the environment after all.

I was literally in tears when I saw it; and even now two days later I can find myself choking up when it hits me again.

And then a new realisation hit me – that now America is doing better than the UK in terms of race relations and making up for the bigotry of the past. And let me tell you – this feels very weird! I have been used to being proud of Britain for what we have done – the way that anyone here seems able to make it regardless of race – the way that we seem to be anti-racist. (I know that there is still racism around; what I am trying to say is that to me, the husband of a black woman and the father of a mixed race child, the perception is that things are getting better.)

And this is just not right! – we need to catch up to America and overtake them again! We need to do more – and if we elected a black prime-minister then that would just equal them; no – I am afraid that there is only one thing for it; Prince Harry needs to get out there and marry some gorgeous black or Asian or Chinese or Malaysian or Maori woman so that the next heir to the throne is mixed race!

Can you imagine it?! – Britain having it’s next but two king or queen someone of multiple heritage! – how cool would that be? – and how much would it say to every black, asian or other minority that you are part of this nation; this is your home – and of course saying the inevitable and obligatory fuck you to the racists!

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Every gold medal won by a black British athlete is another "FUCK YOU" to the BNP!

I get a profound shock of savage joy every time a black British athlete wins a gold medal at the Olympics, and then proudly grabs a Union Jack and does a victory lap with it – such as Christine Ohuruogu’s recent 400 m win.

It says “fuck you” to the BNP on so many levels;

  • that a black person beats people of all other races, thus shattering the myth of the Aryan master race.
  • that they consider themselves naturally British and are ecstatically proud to carry the Union Jack
  • that every single right minded person in the country is also proud of them, and sees them as first British – then as an Olympic medal winner, and – oh yes – they happen to be black!
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Let’s force the racists off the streets!

Did you see the news article about a load of racist graffiti being sprayed all over a block of flats?

Well, these flats are known to me and I thought I would not let a bunch of racists twats get away with this; so yesterday I printed off a load of leaflets and on the way home delivered them through the letterbox of every flat in the block.

These leaflets did not mess about either; it told people to get out and vote on Thursday in the local council elections for ANYONE but the fascist, racist, nazi BNP; register your protest and make sure your voice is heard.

All racism in every form needs to be confronted. Make the racists and fascists the ones that are worried; do not allow them a platform and challenge racism wherever it raises its ugly head.

To do more, go join up with the Unite Against Fascism and the Hope not Hate people – and most importantly vote on Thursday against the BNP.

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Heart of Empire CD-Rom; read the first chapter online for free

As long time readers of this blog might know, I run the official Bryan Talbot fanpage over at In many ways it is one of the proudest things I have done online.. When I was learning how the first web design packages (anyone else out there remember Adobe PageMill?!) I realised that I would need a real world, live project of my own to learn the software sufficiently that I could teach it. There is really no way that you ever learn something until you do it for real.

And so I thought long and hard about what I could do a website on, and I decided that one of the very few topics I cared enough about would be the work of Bryan Talbot. (also relevant was the fact that there were no other sites about his stuff yet in existence; if I was going to enter the field I wanted to be number 1 in it!)

And so – 12 years ago now – I started the website. And then when Bryan had finished Heart of Empire he came up to me with his now famous “I am getting really tired of people asking where I get my ideas from; is there a way we can tell them? – and maybe make a couple of quid into the bargain?” – and so the Heart of Empire CD-Rom was born.

Now; I have always found it hard to summarise what the CD-Rom is about in a short space of tme – the so called “elevator pitch”. If I have got 10 minutes or so I can easily get peoples heads around it, but if I have a couple of minutes it’s hard – mainly because there is just so much on there!

And so I thought why not release the first chapter online for free and allow people to read it and see what it is like without trying to explain it! – and so here it is! – allow me to present to you the entire first chapter of the Heart of Empire CD-Rom!

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Online marketing masterclass from the Gadget Show

Did anyone else catch the Gadget Show last night? It provided an absolute masterclass in online marketing. The presenters were given a challenge of “achieve online fame in three weeks flat”.

The first presenter – Suzi – went to an established online marketing agency here in Birmingham – Tamba Internet that thought they knew what they were doing…. They created a “viral game” that would publicise her. (and what’s more, the link to the game from their site opens in a new window for crying out loud!) Now the first they got wrong was allowing the presenter to make the “pay off” an “accidental” video clip of her getting changed with “accidental” movements of the other presenters hands covering up her naughty bits. Erm – sorry.. – this is interesting to me how?! In an era of celebrities hardcore sextapes leaking onto the net, how the hell is this gonna engage? This is pitched at the level of maximum crapness and patheticness; for anyone not used to these sex tapes it is just enough to shock; for anyone well used to the sex tapes it is utterly incapable of titilating in anyway… – and the agency should have told the presenter this! They failed in their duty to their client of stopping them from making a horrendous decision that would actually damage them!

Then the agency compounded this error by an order of magnitude, by making a game of such undescribable boring-ness that I wanted to poke myself in the eye with a pen to make it go away. It consists of the presenter reading out the name of shiny-shines – “Ipod!” – “DVD player!” – and then the player has to click on them on some shelves behind her. (and after playing it, it is actually quicker to get to the “naughty” video by losing! – if you just let the timer run down then the game ends – and you get the same pay-off for losing that you do for winning – but a hell of a lot quicker!) These idiots utterly fail to understand playability and usability; they do not understand gameplay or how to make something interesting and compelling and I failt to see how they stay in business.

They fall for the classic, basic beginners error; just because you can do something on the net doesn’t mean that you should… – of that if you go ahead and do it anyway just because you have the technology does not mean to say that a fetid dingoes kidney in the real world is any less of a fetid dingoes kidney just because it is an online Flash game that is an emailable viral marketing campaign.

Content, content, CONTENT!!

Postscript; this is how much these jokers fail to get the point; in their news article to plug their inclusion in the show they do not even link to the online game!

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OK; that’s it; time to join the Green Party

I have finally faced my deep cynicism with mainstream, existing political parties and joined the Green Party.

The existing political parties are too in debt to established big business interests and will not – and can not – take the moral leadership needed on these critical issues. Pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are doing great work… – but they are on the outside trying to exert pressure… – the only thing that will make a different is real world political power – and that’s local city councillors, MP’s and MEPS.

So – if you are also disgusted at the slow rate of change and also despairing about the worlds we will leave to our children then do something! – join the Green Party now!

In Birmingham they are trying an excellent tactic; focus all available campaigning resources onto a single council seat and go all out to win it. In other cities where they have tried this it has worked well, and I cannot believe that Birmingham does not have a single Green City Councillor! The only way to save the planet is to get serious political power; and the only people currently with any credibility whatsoever are the Green Party.

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Birmingham Freecycle now has 11,000 plus people in it!

Birmingham Freecycle now has over eleven thousand people in it! That’s just incredible!!

I heard about Freecycle back in October ’04 and thought it was such a great idea; when I came to check if there was a Birmingham UK one I couldn’t beleive that no one had already launched a group! – so I immediately did so and it’s just gone from there.

It started slowly, but for the past year has been gaining a huge amount of momentum. I still moderate the group every Friday – so watch out if you try and join on that day, or if you come and try and scam us… my patience for idiots gets less every year….

What I am trying to do now is to get the City Council to help us out; publicise us on their website and newspaper that is sent to every house in the City. The reason is that we are saving them cold hard cash from purely green motives and without making money ourselves; because they get taxed for every ton they put into landfill and there is nothing better for stopping stuff going into landfill than Freecycle.

Anyone out there know how to get the Council to actually do something?!

I wrote to my MP and she has started to badger their head of recycling – but so far – nothing!

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Birmingham is starting the fight against climate change

I attended the Birmingham Strategic Partnership consultation event last night at Think Tank on the Birmingham Climate Change Action Plan.

Whilst I was there I hooked up with Birmingham Friends of the Earth and volunteered and also shamelessly plugged Birmingham Freecycle to anyone who would stand still for long enough – and a few of those that wouldn’t….

The event itself was OK; the council thought seem to be still working under the assumption that they can reduce emissions by less than 90% and still carry on much the same…. this is a bit shocking for anyone else who has read any of the excellent George Monbiot’s work. Go there and read it now and prepare to be seriously scared; he shows how we need to URGENTLY cut emmissions by 90% or we will face a tipping point at which climate change enters a cycle of positive feedback and becomes self-reinforcing and runaway.

But what I have to rail against is crimes against usability again. The external moderator was from a company called BMG; she seemed to be seeing the presentation for the first time as she had no idea where each section finished and the next started and EVERY SINGLE TIME she overshot and had to fiddle with the PC on the podium to sort it out. Also it was glaringly obvious that she had never done the presentation in front of a real audience; it was “interactive” to the point where we could vote using a traffic lights metaphor – and each question was put on screen with the text and JUST the text in the appropriate colour on a strong blue background.

No thought was given to colour blind people; this probably violated the Disability Discrimination Act, and even people like me without colour blindness and with my glasses on found it almost impossible to read. No one had thought “you know – if we used huge blobs of colour on this we could make it easy to read”. It had clearly been slapped together by one of this power-suited busy executives minions without any thought to the final audience or any oversight by the person doing the presentation.

And it’s not as if it was a trivial message – you know the kind of stuff these market researchers usually do – “do you prefer cat food tin label A or B?” – no, this was about how we in Birmingham cope with and reduce the effects of climate change, probably the most important issue for the entire next century, and far too important to be left to losers like those last night. If anyone from the City Council ever reads this – you really should sack these people and emply someone who knows what they are doing; this issue is too important to be mishandled so badly.

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