Alt.Fiction 2007

Alt.Fiction 2007 is a one day event in Derby featuring leading UK talent in science-fiction, fantasy and horror writing. The event is in its second year and is proud to present great authors such as Iain M Banks, Harry Harrison, Ramsey Campbell, Mike Carey, Graham Joyce and many more.

Alt.Fiction consists of four rooms, offering you a choice of 28 sessions throughout the day featuring nearly 40 fantastic writers. You’ll have access to a wide range of sessions including workshops, discussions, readings, Q+As and book launches, making Alt.Fiction 2007 a day not to be missed for readers and budding writers.

The event takes place on 28 April 2007 at the Darwin Suite, Assembly Rooms. Doors open 11am for 12pm start. Final session ends at 8.45pm. Tickets cost Β£20 (Β£15 concessions)
(Source: Derby Council)


What a brilliant day. Even though it was all a bit last minute for me as I didn’t even know it was on till yesterday morning, I managed not to miss too much. I even took part in a writing workshop, by accident. That’s what happens if you follow authors around.

I got there late and missed the talk with Peter Hamilton and Tony Ballantyne. This was a pisser as I love both those authors. So, I wandered up to the stage, hoping to at least get a couple of mooncalf glimpses of them. Luckily, I’d written my name on my badge and Tony said, “Jyoti – hello!” (I’ve emailed him before, trying to set up an interview that never panned out due to my rubbishness). Then I made my confession to Tony:

Even though I’ve been an SF fan for the last 32 years, I’ve never been to any kind of convention before. I’ve always been a bit too shy.

Well, Tony then took me under his wing and introduced me to loads of people. Yep, I’ve forgotten all of their names! But they were all very friendly. The vibe was so positive, so… well, familial is the only way I can describe it. All of us there were fans. Whether we’d come for the SF, fantasy or horror, we’re the kids who grew up with their noses buried in books, shunning the sunshine to escape into fantastic worlds.

I realised then that I was with my kin. Here were people that would understand my rambling about Inconstant Moon or I’m In Marsport Without Hilda or Flowers For Algernon or All My Sins Remembered. These were my brother and sister geeks!

In the afternoon, I heard this man speak:

Yes. Harry fucking Harrison! In the flesh! Unless you’re an SF nut, you won’t understand just how much this means to me.

I’ve been reading this man’s stories since I was eight years old! He’s written both some of the finest short stories and novels I’ve ever read. And every ounce of the wit, wonder and energy of Harrison’s writing was there when he spoke. I felt so privileged, being able to sit there and listen to anecdotes about John Campbell and Isaac Asimov.

The last session of the event was this feller:

Iain M. Banks. (I’m using the ‘M’ as he was there in his massive, fuck-off spaceship, SF capacity.) His talk, and the Q+A session that followed it, was both funny and very illuminating. Banks got a lot of serious stuff over covered with fluffiness. We heard about the snobby “proper” literature world vs. the SF community, the perils of having books adapted for the screen, the reason his SF pseudonym is so crappy (and could have been Johnny Glenlivet). But the best bit for me was hearing the author read the prologue to his next Culture novel, ‘Matter,’ which isn’t released till next February. It’s going to be a doozy, I can tell you…

I felt very lucky to spend the last half of the day in the company of Tony Ballantyne and Roy Gray. We went for a meal after it finished and, again, we could have talked all night. I felt so at home with these people I’d only met that day, it was quite spooky. Just finding out that Tony’s also a Greg Egan fan made me so happy! But, forgetful as always, I was having such a good time that I forgot to get pics of them. πŸ™

Perhaps at the next con? πŸ˜‰

(Click here for the alt.fiction blog)


InDigital Vidcast
The InDigital crew: Wil, Jessica, Hahn.

Look, I’m a bit late coming to the whole vodcast er.. video podcast umm, vidcast thing. Although they’ve been going for ages, I couldn’t be bothered with them until I got my fabulous AppleTV recently.

InDigital is yet another excellent prog from Revision3. It couldn’t be closer to my idea of geek heaven: they feature all the latest gadgets and emerging techs that I love to drool over, interviews with people at the forefront of all that hoo-haa and one of the presenters is Wil fucking Wheaton! YEAH! Wil fucking Wheaton!

I mean, come on! Not only is he a bona-fide D&D-playing, Linux-poking, geocaching nut, he was in ST: TNG! He’s an official Geek Master, a Yoda amongst geeks!

Years ago, I used to be on a forum Wil had. I left because loads of nutjob pro-war types turned up and they were more intent on trolling than discussion. It was a sad end as I met many cool people on that forum, some of whom I still know now. Ironically, Wheaton’s made very public anti-Iraq war statements himself.

So, basically, I’m a lazy Wheaton stalker: anything he’s doing, I’ll be keeping a beady eye on. I say lazy because, y’know, I’m not really that obsessed with the bloke, I just think he’s cool and, if he lived in Derby, I’d like to discuss the pitfalls of psychoacoustic encoding or MTBF stats or ‘GΓΆdel, Escher, Bach’ with him. The kind of stuff that sends my actual friends glassy-eyed with boredom.

Wil is, of course, fantastic on InDigital. Light, breezy, funny. But that’s not to say the other two presenters are rubbish. Jessica Corbin has a precise, informative style that packs a lot of info in. I loved the bit where she’s reviewing exercise machines at CES – it takes a lot of dignity to report coherently and be gyrated wildly by a robot lover.

Hahn Choi (producer of InDigital) is also very, very cool. He goes the extra mile and, unlike a lot of geeks, he’s not afraid to share his mistakes. And his mistakes might help us save money. The tales of his TV and satnav woe will make any geek sniff in sympathy. Full marks for not praising everything that gets reviewed, that’s what puts me off a lot of gadget websites. Here’s Hahn with the new Canon 1D Mk3:

Hahn InDigital
Hahn with the sumptuous Canon 1D Mk3.

Above is the reason I’m watching more vidcasts and less “normal” television. I’m a photographer, I’m a geek. So, of course I’d love to see the new Canon on my telly, look at the size of it and hear what 10fps sounds like (bloody silly). However, I’m not going to get that on mainstream telly. If I want to see the stuff I’m interested in, I can only find that online in vidcasts like InDigital and Diggnation.

Even if you haven’t got an AppleTV or similar media wotsit, if you’re geeky, check out InDigital. You can subscribe to it in iTunes (just search for it) or you can download eps directly from the R3 website.

Just wait till you see the Tesla car… Vrooooooom! πŸ˜€

Disks Done!

(Unless you’re a computer geek, you’re going to find the following post very dull.)

Well, after recent hard drive woe, I’ve spent the last two days recovering as much data as possible and installing two new HDs.

One was in my Macbook Pro. This was a fiddly but relatively logical job. I nearly went wrong at the start when I hadn’t realised that you have to undo the two torx 6 screws hiding in the memory compartment. All the others (around twenty) are Phillips head – why the hell are these last two different? I’d started to prise up the top of the case and would have wrecked it if I hadn’t stopped and checked.

So… then I went online (as I should have done first!) and found a proper how-two. It’s for the 15″ but it’s nearly the same for the 17″ I have, there’s just an additional aluminium clippy thing I had to unscrew.

Installed the new HD (a 5,400rpm, 120gig Seagate Momentus, the same as the one which failed), put it all back together and then crossed my fingers and booted.


I hadn’t knackered my laptop and once I’d run Disk Utility, the new drive was formatted and working fine.


It’s terribly slow. Since the internal fell over, I’ve been booting off my external Firewire 800 disk.

And I’ve got used to its speed.

Now, running off the internal disk is damnably slow. Firefox takes four or five bounces to start whereas it’s around one running off my external. I also have huge iPhoto and iTunes libraries which take aeons to load off the internal 5,400rpm disk but snap into place with the external 7,200.

So, I’ve decided to use the internal as my backup and run off my external. Yep, pretty unorthodox but it works better for me! πŸ™‚

After all that faffing around it was a piece of piss to shove a new 500gig SATA drive into my G5. Not even one screw to undo! Re-booted, it came up, I formatted it and then SuperDupered my boot drive onto it. Easy!

I was left with a feeling of smugness and some crapped-up disk drives. I didn’t want to let those gigs of lost data pass with no remembrance so I took them apart and then got a few pics of their deceased innards. Click the pic at the top of the post for the anatomy of a disk drive! πŸ˜€

Cats On Fire

If you’ve read Bzangy for any great length of time, you’ll know that I love Cats On Fire. They’re simply one of the best pop bands currently performing.

I was lucky enough to see them live in London on Friday night. They were… well… magical. It was a special gig.

Click the pic above for a gallery of snaps!

And here is a very lo-fi video snippet I took at the gig:

Ahhh, what a night! πŸ˜€

Hard Drive Hell

Below is an email I sent to a mate explaining my recent insomnia:

As always, it’s basically my fault.

I bought an Elgato EyeTV to record freeview digi snippets onto my Macbook Pro (then ship them to my Apple TV). Installed it but when I clicked record, my HD made a noise like some giant cockroach and the comp froze.

And then it wouldn’t reboot.

So…. I fished out my backup FW HD (only 7 weeks out-of-date), booted off that and tried to run Disk Utility. Red text, baaad errors.

So…. I went online and bought Disk Warrior. Set it going. Three hours later… red text, baad errors.

While all this was going on, I decided to make a backup of my current working G5 HD. Started off SuperDuper (which has the best rep amongst Mac backup progs) and left it.

When I went back to check, it hadn’t copied. So… I ran Disk Utility on that disk and got:


Booted off my aged backup of *that* drive (so old it was 10.3.5). Tried to reboot off the *wrong* system disk and got this:

Ran Disk Warrior. Left it to check and then went back, around 4am.


I spent from 7pm till 5am in the morning wrestling with failing hard drives and didn’t get anywhere. The same last night. In fact, I didn’t get to sleep till 8am this morning, trying to salvage songs off the scrapped drive with Disk Warrior. This happened at one stage of madness:


If you search online, many peeps are having problems with the internal HDs on MB Pros. The prevailing theory is that it runs too hot and fries the drive prematurely. As for the G5, that’s had plenty of freezes and power-cuts and I didn’t check the HD after re-booting. I think hardware errors built-up, errors so bad that even Disk Warrior couldn’t fix them.

The laptop drive makes a sound like a plunger, there’s something seriously wrong there. I dunno if the same is true of the G5 drive but I don’t want to put any more important data on it.

So… I’ll have to buy two new internal HDs and perhaps a new external one or two as well.

Roll on flash drives…

Oh man… I’m soooo tired… πŸ™

love and kisses,

And the moral is?


Goodbye Kurt

Kurt Vonnegut

One of the outstanding figures of modern US literature, Kurt Vonnegut, has died aged 84 in New York.

He became a cult figure among students in the 1960s and 1970s with his classics of US counterculture.

The pivotal moment of his life was the bombing of Dresden by allied forces in 1945. The experience informed his best-known work, Slaughterhouse Five.
(Source: BBC News)

Last night I was rambling about life, death, the universe, non-Euclidean geometry and other lovely stuff with my friend Sean.

This morning, I found out that Kurt Vonnegut passed away yesterday.

I think I was around nineteen the first time I read any Vonnegut. Immediately, I fell in love with his writing. It’s hard to describe what good writing is but when you read it, you know it. Vonnegut had that. I’ve never read a bad Vonnegut book because he never wrote one.

But unlike the “middle-class comfort fiction” churned out by the authors who are the official elite, Vonnegut’s output was also overflowing with ideas. Big, mad, grotesque, beautiful ideas. Alien zoos and world-wrecking chemicals, time travel and fractured people. Science fiction ideas.

SF remains a derided genre, smirked at by the arbiters of what is and what isn’t “literature.” I even met a Vonnegut fan once who bridled when I called Cat’s Cradle sci-fi. I find it sad that the BBC obit says he was “initially seen as a science fiction author.” He was always SF. He was and is one of the essential authors of the genre. Only idiots think SF=spaceships and screaming women being carried off by robots.

I got lost in Slaughterhouse Five, still one of the most unsettling and upsetting books I’ve ever read. That book changed me forever. I hooted with laughter at parts of Cat’s Cradle before the terrifying end. Bokonism seems so terribly accurate now that I’m older…

It’s pretty pointless me writing on about his writing since I haven’t his talent. There’s no way any description I make could do his work justice. If you haven’t already, you must read his books. They will change your mind and, perhaps, as they did with me, your life.

That’s all Vonnegut the author. Here’s why I love Vonnegut the man:

With his columns for In These Times, he began a blistering attack on the administration of President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. “By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East?” he wrote. “Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas in December.” [18]

In A Man Without a Country, he wrote that “George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography.” He did not regard the 2004 election with much optimism; speaking of Bush and John Kerry, he said that “no matter which one wins, we will have a Skull and Bones President at a time when entire vertebrate species, because of how we have poisoned the topsoil, the waters and the atmosphere, are becoming, hey presto, nothing but skulls and bones.”[19]
(Source: Wikipedia)

Look, I’m forty. I’m obviously at that age where I notice the great people who are leaving the party and being dismayed by their replacements. But I still think I’m right when I say we won’t see another one like Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut: a great writer and, more importantly, a great human.