Wedding Day – Las Vegas 07/05/10, 06.00

[Slightly belated post]

Too excited to sleep so I get up and take a stroll about. Inevitably there are people still in the casino – some starting early some finishing late. You can normally tell the difference between the early and the late shift depending on whether they’re drinking coffee or booze. Usually...Vegas is not so much the city that never sleeps as the one that got thrown out of school for Attention Deficit Disorder.

I head outside where gardeners are starting to hoover the grass (seriously – it’s all artificial nowadays) and mosey amidst the joggers and stragglers over to the nearest Starbucks to buy a couple of lattes. The sky’s an azure desert blue, the wind’s died down, and it’s a beautiful day in Sin City. A beautiful day, in fact, to get married.

The ceremony’s fabulous. Nice, simple and uncluttered, with the photographer – a cycling nut – as a witness. A lot of couples get married at The Chapel of the Flowers, but the place did a very good job of making us imagine for a minute that we were the only ones. And, as far as we were concerned, we truly were – the only two people living and breathing on the planet for those moments. Kate looked heart-wrenchingly beautiful and the ceremony and photo shoot afterwards was full of love and laughter. Brilliant, utterly, utterly, brilliant.

The only way to top it was with landscape, so we got changed and headed off to the Valley of Fire, about 60 miles north of Vegas. It’s a stunning place; a desert ecosystem dotted with giant red sandstone formations (it doubled for Mars in Total Recall) on which the Ancient Pueblo Peoples drew petroglyphs on the rock whose purpose and meaning remains elusive to this day. More than anything though, there’s a real feeling of age and gravity to the place; a timeless, brooding ancientness which makes it as different from Las Vegas as it’s probably possible to get while remaining in the same universe.

From there we headed up the Stratosphere to the Top of the World restaurant. It’s not, of course, but the views from the windows as the restaurant slowly revolves 800ft above The Strip are pretty spectacular – lines of neon and light stretching to the desert horizon in petroglyphs all of their own. Food, wine, more food, more wine, and a significantly wallet-lightening bill later, and our wedding day was pretty much done.

It was, of course, only the start of the journey though...

Defining Vegas moment: in a bar where a giant volcano that took up the size of a standard English semi erupted, spewing out a girl in a bikini who promptly slid down a waterslide and into a giant margarita mixer, whereupon she began dancing Esther Williams style while people on stilts stalked around egging the crowd to clap along. Mad. And it wasn’t just the margaritas talking – promise.

Most amazing non-wedding Vegas moment: 250 miles away or thereabouts at the rim of the Grand Canyon. The seminal horror writer HP Lovecraft used an interesting literary cheat in his works, saying that Cthulu and his ilk were ‘too horrible to describe’...and so, he didn’t. As a writer myself I can only admire the cheek (while, being paid by the word, decrying the potential lost income). But Reader, to paraphrase the man himself, words truly cannot convey the majesty and the wonder of the Grand Canyon. Go there, see for yourself.

Dumbest Vegas moment: Anything involving a fruit machine and beer for a dollar.

Weirdest Vegas moment: The last exhibit at The Atomic Testing Museum. The museum is great, chronicling the Nevada nuclear tests from back in the day when the mushroom clouds could be seen towering over The Strip, but then it gets to the point where it justifies the continued funding of the testing facility (even though the Test Ban Treaty remains in force). So, you end up with lots of stuff about terrorism, some bits about rogue states and nuclear suitcases, and then a chunk of I-beam girder from the World Twin Trade Towers in New York. And you end up touching it because you can .

Most equestrian Vegas moment: Riding through Red Rock Canyon on the back of a couple of ponies. Inevitably, Kate (experienced rider) got a perfectly behaved horse called Stagecoach, while I (second time ever in the saddle) got a stubborn-minded git called Big Joe who wanted to stop and try and eat every single bit of vegetation that came under his hooves. About half-way through I started calling him Evostick...

Foodie Vegas moment
: Vegas does a lot of food blandly in portions that would make Jabba the Hutt blanche. That said though, the corned beef hash at Tiffany’s 24-hour Diner & Pharmacy (you can picture the clientele for yourselves) was pretty spectacular in a ‘That’s really unhealthy but I’m glad I’ve eaten it’ sort of way. Plus we got to say we’d eaten breakfast at Tiffany’s afterwards...We really did eat in all the best places.


The science news cycle

How the media helps the world get hold of the wrong end of the stick and give it a damn good tug...

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Grading Gear...

An article I wrote about grading the BBC's Top Gear for High Definition magazine. Not often I get to quote AA Gill twice in the same piece. You'd think he might return the favour sometime...;-)

WELCOME | High Definition magazine

The end of advertising

Interesting presentation to say the least...

Faster Future: Publishing possibilities now and beyond: Time to end the failed experiment of advertising


A brief interlude...

Written for a New Scientist competition to write a short story about the future in 350 words or under.

Border Point

The border point was along a quiet, non-electrified B-road in the middle of the countryside. It was secluded and there were guns. Richard held Jeanette’s hand.

“So, you want entry into Rutland?” asked the Guard.

Richard swallowed, but stuck to the plan. “Citizenship actually....Refugee status even,” he added, seeing the look on the Guard’s face.

Don’t babble, he thought to himself. Be strong. You’re the one with the power here.

He babbled.

“Look, we’ve been on the move for a year now, ever since Surrey enacted the Native Wealth Laws and threw us out because Jeanette was born in Kent. We work where we can – we work hard, we’re science teachers – but no-one wants us. Lincolnshire has given us a five-day transit visa but it runs out today and if we’re caught we’ll be Interned.

“And,” he concluded in a whisper,” I can’t let that happen.”

They stepped off the road to let an oil-burner go past. Richard coughed from the stench of its exhaust. There had even been a driver behind the wheel. What sort of Godforsaken backwater was this?

“Look, mate,” said the Guard. “There’s not a lot I can do. Unless, of course, you have special reasons for me to look into your case...”

He left the sentence hanging. Richard sighed.

“Bananas?” said the Guard. “Tea? Coffee? We’re landlocked here and trade negotiations aren’t going well.”

“I’m sorry,” said Richard. “We’ve given away everything just to get here.”

The Guard leaned in and whispered earnestly. “Can you fight? It’s starting to look mean over Leicestershire way.”

Richard shook his head.

“Well, then, be off with you,” the Guard shouted. “We have no use for your type here.”

“But where can we go? We’ve tried all the borders!”

“Have you tried the sea?” the Guard sneered, and stalked off.

Richard went to leave and reached for Jeanette’s hand, but she took a step forwards.

“I can show you how to make mustard gas,” she said.

The Guard turned.

Alcohol map

One from Strange Maps-

"It matters where we are, for it helps determine who we are. Or, as the quote often attributed to Napoleon states: Geography is destiny. That destiny extends to drink, as demonstrated by this map. Where we are determines to a statistically significant degree what kind of alcohol we prefer. Or is it the other way around: the kind of alcohol preferred is determined by the place where it is produced?

This map shows Europe dominated by three so-called ‘alcohol belts’, the northernmost one for distilled spirits, a middle one for beer and the southernmost one for wine. Each one’s existence and extension are a mix of culture and agriculture."

442 – Distilled Geography: Europe’s Alcohol Belts - Strange Maps


Time Traveler Essentials

This is quite simply brilliant: a cheat sheet for mad scientists to hang in their time machines so that they can fundamentally rebuild civilisation (or at least make serious amounts of money) if they end up stranded back in the past. Have to admit to thinking about this in the past, probably as a result of a boyhood collision with some L Sprague de Camp book or other, so there's definitely a market for it!

Would presumably also work in advent of nuclear war, asteroid impact, or any other chance to rebuild civilisation. Nifty

TopatoCo: Time Traveler Essentials Print


Newspapers and technology

Interesting piece in The Economist:

Newspapers and technology: Network effects | The Economist:

"The internet may kill newspapers; but it is not clear if that matters. For society, what matters is that people should have access to news, not that it should be delivered through any particular medium; and, for the consumer, the faster it travels, the better."


Bugger Avatar

[via sfx]
"According to New Zealand’s Dominion Post Peter Jackson is secretly developing a sci-fi film based on the Mortal Engines books by Philip Reeve.

The newspaper claims that Weta Workshops is already busy with designs, but a spokesman for the company would only respond, “any comment should come from Peter.'

The article also points out that Jackson has also optioned the rights to the historic-fantasy Temeraire novels by Naomi Novik, which tell an alternative version of the Napoleonic Wars where tame dragons are used for aerial attacks."

SFX: the leading science fiction, fantasy and horror magazine:


Somali pirate stock exchange

This is the point where the world actually turns into a Bruce Sterling-written satire.

Somali pirates have set up a stock exchange to attract investors, according to Reuters Here's one woman's brief story:

"Piracy investor Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old divorcee, was lined up with others waiting for her cut of a ransom pay-out after one of the gangs freed a Spanish tuna fishing vessel.

'I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation,' she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony.

'I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'.'"

Wonder when the futures market will kick off?

Somali sea gangs lure investors at pirate lair | Reuters


BBC turns down the flow

Chris Forrester on trouble at t'mill.

BBC cuts HDTV bit-rate - Rapid TV News: "Now we know why the BBC’s HDTV images are suffering. Ordinary viewers have been complaining about the BBC’s picture quality, and there’s little doubt amongst the industry’s ‘golden eyes’ that the bit-rate spigot is being tightened."


20121? It's going to be a long three years

A potentially useful infographic to be deployed and referred to at any point over the next three years when Some Idiot in the Pub starts banging on about how the world is going to end in 2012.

It's not.


The only significance to 2012 is a) that the likes of me will have been writing about the broadcasting of the Olympics for what will feel like forever by then and b) the events of Rush's seminal 2112 are still 100 years in the future ;-)

Anyway: here's the link: 2012: The End Of The World? | Information Is Beautiful



Feel really quite torn by this. On one hand, being someone of a fairly geographic and map-oriented persuasion, being able to geographically track my friends and my life is immensely appealing. On the other though, at what point do you stop experiencing the world fully unless it's foursquared, facebooked or tweeted - nevermind the privacy issues.

It's the consumption of tourist spaces by photographs taken to the next level. The experiential nature of being somewhere has to be validated with evidence which, as it moves towards the realtime web, means that that validation inevitably dilutes the actual experience of being there.

As to foursquare, no iPhone and working from home kind of puts the mockers on that, but I do kind of wonder for how long.



Andy & Kate’s Grecian Odyssey – A Decent Proposal

The short version: I asked Kate to marry me. She said yes.

The long version: Galaxidi was perfect. I’d been waiting to ask Kate to marry me for some time, and the blue waters of Galaxidi’s twin harbours with the yachts gently lapping at their moorings and even the cries of the gulls seemingly somnolent in the Mediterranean sun looked to provide a perfect backdrop. The hotel was in the budget range, but the room was large and clean, painted in a jaunty blue and white, and had a balcony overlooking the aforementioned dappled waters, so that fitted the bill too.

There were only two problems. The first, was the election. Delphi is meant to be the most romantic of the Ancient sites in Greece – haunting, mysterious and slumbering under the weight of history – but it was closed because of the election. Whether they were worried that people would go there and consult the Oracle before voting, we didn’t know. Certainly the election was arousing passions, one Greek TV channel having an entertaining version of the Brady Bunch opening credits where men in insets in the main picture simply shouted at each other for an hour or so. But either way, Delphi as a romantic hors d’ouvre to the evening’s main course of pledging undying devotion was a bit of a #fail.

The second was champagne, which is not a regular commodity in your average Greek taberna or corner shop. Luckily, however, Galaxidi is just a couple of hours down the coast from Athens and has been well and truly discovered by the Greek yachtie set, which means that an awfully nice young Dutch chap living there could walk me to a shop which sold the stuff at daft prices to even dafter yachties. He shook me by the hand and wished me luck. “I hope she says yes,” he said.

What do you mean *you* hope she says yes, I thought.

I went through the checklist.

Location – check
Balcony – check
Sparkling sea - check
Sunset – check
Champagne – check
*Cold* champagne – well, almost
Fly done up (always worthwhile) – check
Girlfriend – check
One knee – check
Ring – check

So, no time like the present then...

I have no idea what I said. I just remember grinning foolishly afterwards and being very, very happy. In fact I really don’t remember much of the rest of the evening. There was good wine and good food in a restaurant overlooking the darkening harbour, there were even a couple of cold beers afterwards. But to be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur – just floating along on a happy cloud with the world turning on its axis around us by way of a novelty. We became the centre of things. What I do remember is that every time I looked down at Kate’s hand there was a silver band arcing across her finger and it just looked very, very right.


Andy & Kate’s Grecian Odyssey – A Brief Note About Driving

We did a lot of it, about 2100km in total, and everywhere we went we saw little roadside shrines by the road marking the point where some unfortunate had come unglued from the tarmac and then from life in short order. These aren’t your normal wilted bunch of flowers by the road, these are mini churches full of offerings and the fact that there are so many of them concentrates the mind rather wonderfully.

The theory part of the Greek Driving Test must be the quickest exam in the history of the world (“Can you see that sign? Yes? You’ve passed, well done.”) and we’re not sure we ever worked out the actual rules at road junctions. What seems to happen in an absence of markings is that people turn up from different directions and, depending on speed, make urgent or really urgent eye contact with each other. Some sort of telepathic code is then passed between the drivers, one mashes his foot to the floor, the others stamp on the brakes and/or swerve, and everyone carries on to the next junction and repeats the process. Still, it seems to work well enough, though perhaps the fact that the hire car we had was a sort of greeny yellow that you can only by rights get if you dip metal in the sea at Sellafield for about five years helped our progress.

Andy & Kate’s Grecian Odyssey – Meteora Shower!

If you’ve ever watched The Shining, you’ll have some idea of what our hotel in Meteora was like. It was a giant, five-star place perched on a hill at the end of a dirt track that was crewed entirely by an Eastern European couple with their obsessive compulsive kid, who had his toys lined up in regimented rows in the enormous, vaulted central hall.

“What time do you serve dinner?” we asked, naively.

“We don’t do food.”

“You don’t do *what*?”

Turns out, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, that they did do food, but only when tour groups were staying and, as the one that was there that night were all going out to eat, it was a big of crisps or a drive to the nearest village. Hmmmm. We wondered around the place, it’s huge marble staircases, and echoing lonely corridors and wondered exactly how much money was being laundered through the place by Russian drug czars. Maybe there’s an exchange scheme going on, and somewhere on a Russian steppe Greek hoteliers are selling weed to bemused cossacks.

The view was good though. Once upon a time, around the 11th century, a monk went up a rock and became a hermit. Then some others went to join him, which kind of blew his hermit status, but did give them the werewithal to start building a small monastery. Some other wandering hermits in search of a nice, high place to perch saw this, and climbed up a nearby rock and repeated the process (which became rather a matter of survival when the Turks invaded). Do that a few more times and you have Meteora, a landscape of smooth sided rocky pillars with (nowadays) six active monasteries perched precariously on their precipices and undoubtedly one of the most stunning landscapes on Earth.

Once reached only by rope ladder and windlass, steps were finally built up to them in the early 20th century and the monks, knowing a good thing when they saw it, started opening their monasteries to the tourist trade. These places are fascinating, the biggest – Moni Megalou – in particular being a repository of some of the best religious art it’s ever been my pleasure to clap eyes on (as well as some entertainingly feisty stuff painted around the time of the German occupation [1]. Dodging the inevitable puffing and panting tour groups and spending some time in the incredibly ornate churches on our own was an amazing experience, especially as the Orthodox frescoes are not exactly restrained when it comes to depicting the travails of the martyrs.

The pictures (and there are plenty more of them here) really don’t do it justice, so we suggest you grab any opportunity to head up there yourselves at some point and yank firmly with both hands. Just watch out for the Hotel Meteora and the bloke at the reception desk typing ‘All work and no play makes Vlad a dull boy’ time and time again...

[1] Greece has, at one time or another, been occupied by pretty much every invading force in history, with the result that you can point to pretty much any part of the Greek landscape and the history books will tell you that x number of people got massacred there a few centuries back. The value of x is often distressingly high.