22 March 2017

Westminster terrorist attack

At least two people have been killed in a terrorist attack in Westminster in London. Full details remain sketchy and will probably be for some time. It seems the police responded very quickly to this and hopefully the incident is now contained.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those caught up in this horrific situation.

10 March 2017

Old Street station

I thought I'd share some photographs that I took yesterday of the Great Northern platforms at Old Street. This is on the former 'Northern City' line, part of the London Underground and taken over by British Rail in 1976; it was where the Class 313s first appeared and the dual-voltage units remain in use, although will be replaced by new Class 717s in the next couple of years.

The station is very much a throwback to the 1990s; with Network SouthEast tiling still very much in place.

So, here you go:

02 March 2017

Kumar Chameleon, A Star Citizen Story, Part Three: Cathcart

Sunita came through her trip across Wonderland unscathed and unlike Alice, at the same size that she came in. This was a relief for her. She started to check over her ship to make sure that it hadn’t lost any bits as Mary called over on the radio.

“Hey, Sunita”, she said, “Apart from one broken tea cup, we seem to have come through OK. You ready to head to Spider?”

“Give me a couple of minutes”, Sunita replied, “Then I’ll be ready”.

As her ship computer started to run its automated diagnostics, she took a moment to look out of the window. Space was a very beautiful thing that those on most planets never got to fully appreciate the beauty of from the surface because of things like light pollution and atmospheric distortion. That said, it was impossible for a human being to get a completely clear view of space because there was always something between your eyes and the airless void of the deep black.

The computer completed the checks and determined that everything was working OK. This was going to be essential here; while her four missiles and two forward facing guns were not much of a firing capability against a pirate attack, it was better than having nothing at all… while to be honest, having missiles put you at an advantage in some regards if the bandit pilot forgot to activate his ECM system. The gun purists could go taking a flying leap for all she cared.

“Yes, I’m ready”, the Aurora owner replied, “Programming course for Spider and preparing Quantum Drive”.

Sunita activated her navigation display and a string of potential destinations popped up on the screen. She ignored most of them, namely sleazy motels and low-rent mining facilities. She saw Spider and adjusted her facing to line up with the planet.

“Lined up and ready to go Quebec Delta. I’ll let you count”.

“Roger that”, Mary said, “Jumping in 5…”

Mary reached the end of the countdown and both of them activated their Quantum Drives. The two of them raced sharply forward towards the planet, space distorting around them as they travelled. In the corner of her HUD, the display showed how much fuel she had left and how far the two ships had to go.

After about twenty seconds, they had arrived and the two vessels dropped out of Quantum Drive barely fifty kilometres from the station.

“Ugly looking thing isn’t it?” Mary said.

Sunita couldn’t disagree with that comment at all. 

The Spider space station was what might be termed a hybrid design – a half-finished dedicated platform lashed together with a large array of ship hulls. Various parts of the station were closed at any one time due to the need to make repairs; in addition, there was the small risk of finding out just how long you could survive in hard vacuum without a spacesuit.

As a result, the docking computers were, to put it mildly, slightly unreliable and as a result, both ships had to come on manual for their docking. Both pilots managed it without damaging the paintwork or worse.


Cathcart was of course a pretty lawless place and those visiting Spider could access an array of illegal ‘delights’ ranging from narcotics to prostitution to pit fighting. Those were just some of the less depraved things available.

Thus it did not surprise Sunita in the slightest that as soon as she exited the ship, she was accosted by a digital advert for a place called the Blue Tulip, whose primary product appeared to be the opportunity to share a bed with a naked woman. Sunita was not one for brothels in general, but she knew that women in them didn’t tend to be as gorgeous as the ads made out – if you were that attractive, then there were more reputable professions like modelling, acting or weather forecasting.

As she secured her ship, she noticed that there was a no weapons rule on the station, so she left her pistol on board. She supposed that it wasn’t good for business to have gunfights on the station… which also of course ran the risk of treating bystanders to the aforementioned Hard Vacuum Experience.

Mary had arrived in a separate larger hangar and she waited in the atrium for her friend to arrive with her crew.

“Wow”, she said when Mary had come out with three others of her crew. She was now dressed in a black leather coat with four rings on her fingers instead of her usual two and earrings in the shapes of spikes. A liberal application of black eyeshadow completed the look.

“When in Rome”, Mary said.

“Where’s Becky?”

“Staying on the ship. Do you really think a woman that religious is going to touch this place with a barge pole. Unless she was on an evangelism mission that is…”

The ‘customs’ officer was definitely of the custom variety, with a big green Mohawk, loads of body piercings and a split tongue that made Sunita almost gag. Earrings were quite enough for her, thank you.

The five visitors were patted down by the custom officer’s buddy, who smelt of sweat, tobacco and cologne that could be used to break up rioting crowds.

“I sincerely hope that’s the worst thing we have to go through here”, Sunita said when they had done.
The small bunk on the Aurora was suitable enough for a few hour's sleep during a space flight, but not exactly ideal for being well rested. Thus the disguised Sunita needed to check into a hotel.

Walking her way through the main bazaar of the station, people tried to sell various strange and dangerous objects ranging from concealed weapons to hot dogs. She kept her wallet tightly zipped inside her pocket and her head on a swivel, checking for threats.

She arrived at a venue known as the Kitty Cat Mansion, which advertised itself by neon signs and had a reception playing soft easy listening music. The receptionist was a surly teenager who chewed bubble-gum the whole time that ‘Alice’ was checking in and asked if she wanted an overnight room or was paying by the hour.

The room itself was a very strange affair; consisting of black painted walls, a large mirror covered in graffiti… The bed had red sheets… and handcuffs already attached.

Sunita decided not to even look at the drawers, but instead decided to hop straight in the shower. Which was in the shape of a phone booth.

Was someone on drugs when they designed this room?

Once this was done, she went to sleep, hoping to be rested ahead of a difficult day tomorrow.


01 February 2017

Delay in next Berlin post

Due to some other things that I am doing, namely working on my novel and also another article for publication in a magazine, the two remaining Berlin posts are on hold for the time being.

I will get them done, but it may take a while.

30 January 2017

Donald Trump and extreme vetting

Many people have expressed their opinions on this already but here is mine. 

This is a monumentally stupid policy. Banning nationals from seven countries even if it is for 90 days because of the extremely slim possibility that one of them may be a terrorist is dumb. It is punishing the innocent with the guilty. 

It has only served to alienate moderate Muslims. 

Then again, the so-called Land of the Free has long been a massive case of high words, low actions. The Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are created equal was drafted by a slave owner. 

I could go on but it take all day.

28 January 2017

Sir John Hurt 1940-2017

When an actor's death is the top story on the BBC, you know that they were something special.

And John Hurt, who has died aged 77, was definitely something special.

His roles across his long career were legendary. The Elephant Man. Alien. Harry Potter. The dragon in Merlin.

Then most recently, the War Doctor. His appearance in Doctor Who in 2013 and later three Big Finish audio box sets, with a fourth due for release later this year, gave him yet another generation of fans.

His rich voice was truly memorable and I chose to use it as the one for Beeching, the computer on Alycidon.

His death was a surprise - he had beaten pancreatic cancer previously - but I am not that distraught about it. We all have to go at some point and hopefully he is in a better place now, swapping anecdotes in the green room in the sky.

He had a good long life. In fact, a spectacular one.

Rest in Peace, Sir John.

17 January 2017

Planet of the Really Bad Subtext (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.9, "Metamorphosis")

She's just watched "The Alternative Factor"

Stockholm Syndrome hadn't been identified at the time this episode had made... which is a pity, because this would have been a much better episode if it had been. Because frankly, its moral compass is broken.

[This review contains major spoilers]

Kirk, Spock and McCoy (quite why you put your top two officers and your medical guy on this mission, I don't know) are flying the shuttle Galileo - they've got a replacement after the previous one was lost - back to the Enterprise. Aside from those three, they are carrying a diplomat by the name of Assistant Commissioner Hedford, who has attracted a very rare illness and needs urgent medical treatment back on the starship. 

However, they are then taken off course by a mysterious space cloud that looks like Donald Trump's hair and end on an Earth-like asteroid. With a rather unusual inhabitant...

This is a rather 'compact' episode; with action limited to the planet, the shuttle and a couple of scenes on the bridge; Chekov is not present in this one.

None of the regulars really stand out in this story sadly. They do get the chance to do some electric shock dancing, but there is very little of the great character moments here.

Nancy Hedford (her first name is only given in the credits) is a headscarf wearing woman who starts off doing grumpy and ends up engaging in sweaty overacting. Played by Elinor Donahue - who is still alive and turns 80 in April - I couldn't help but be reminded of Alison Brie; who you might cast to play this sort of role - the latter dressed similarly in Mad Men.

The inhabitant on the planet turns out to be none other than Zefram Cochrane; the man who invented the warp drive! He went missing 150 years previously and was presumed dead. He in fact has lived on the planet, been rejuvenated by an alien companion who provides for all his needs to appear 35... and hasn't aged since. This is something he isn't entirely happy about. Played by Glen Corbett, he looks like a rather stereotypical sort of character for this period, a rather cynical space traveller; he also has a rather 'standard' haircut.

Cochrane's companion is a big glowing ball of animation on optical matte and looks very much of the period; many of the shots appear to be the same as in original transmission. Therefore, from the perspective of 50 years on, it doesn't pass muster. This said, its creator, Richard Edlund would later become a founding member of Industrial Light and Magic.

The massive issue that hits this episode in the middle is the revelation that the Companion is in fact female, deeply in love with Cochrane and that their relationship has basically been sexual. Cochrane feels violated by this... and the rest of the crew aren't, seeing his reaction as primitive.

Then the Companion, instead of curing Hedford, merges with her (did she ask?) and makes herself human... but can't leave the asteroid. So Cochrane decides to stay with her, because he's fallen in love with her...

To which my response is:

She imprisoned him and basically got her jollies via mind meld under false pretences for150 years! He's only in love with her because he's well and truly got Stockholm Syndrome! What a stupid, stupid, insulting twist!

Before that, however, the episode starts badly dragging. It's very talky and is arguably at least 10 minutes too long.
When being long and boring is one of the smaller faults in a work, then you have a problem.


What started off as an interesting affair involving unusual alien life began to increasingly drag... then turned very sour for me with the reveal about the creature and its purposes.

I have to judge this episode by modern standards and the morality I subscribe to, so I have to knock this down several notches.

This is the worst episode I've watched to date.