Thursday, November 25, 2004

Doing a Terz

I'm going to channel Terz for a moment now, and complain about cabs.

You know how the inside door handle on cabs has a little recess in the top? Right - for putting your hand in - it's part of the handgrip. That's why it's a door handle. This morning, for the umpteenth time, I opened the cab door, got in, reached to pull the door shut, and put my fingers right into a pile of balled up tissue paper.

What - is - it - with - these - morons? what kind of inconsiderate, lazy, person would just blow their nose, and then stick the tissue in the door handle of a cab? This isn't the first time it's happened to me either, so there must be a fairly significant number of door-handle-tissue-stuffers out there.

[A quick look at Comfort Taxi's website gives us the figure of 10,200 taxis, making 390,000 trips daily. Let's round them down to 10,000 and 350,000, for convenience, and on the assumption that companies are generous with their own figures. There are other taxi companies out there, but we'll err on the side of caution here. I take cabs almost every working day - say 260 days a year, some days once, some days twice. Call it 390 cab trips a year. I've put my hand into tissue about 4 times a year - that's about 1 in 97.5 odds. Put that to the figure of 350,000 cab trips a day, and that's 3589.7435897436 3500 people for whom the combined muscular and mental effort of holding on to their tissue papers for their 25min cab journey is just too much]

[yes, I know my maths is off, but that's not the point really]


High on my list of Things To Do is "Organise Books In Study". I've just spent the last hour ploughing through the entire wall of bookshelves to find some books I needed, realising in the process that whatever system we had for organising them (and we did) has become hopelessly muddled in 3 years.

I also found my copy of the The Bhagavad Gita, with, of all things, the invite to my junior college graduation night slipped in between the pages. I remember now that I carried it in the pocket of my jacket as backup reading material in case the night got boring, which is quite funny now that I think of it. If I could send a message back in time, I would say to my old self "forget the book, just have a good time". On the other hand, The Bhagavad Gita is excellent reading, and the penguin edition is a slim volume that fits well in any pocket, and even now I still tend to carry a book with me "just in case".

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Passing of Newness

There's a moment that every gearhead-slash-geek dreads: the moment when you get that first scratch, bump, or blemish on your shiny new toys stuff. This is all the more painful with Apple's beautiful artefacts - like my gleaming white iBook and iPod, minor works of art in and of themselves.

You wait in dreading anticipation for that inevitable moment when a ding or nick will take away the aura of newness, and force you to change your mental labels from "new" to "used". It's almost a relief when that moment comes and goes, because it signals the end of the softly-softly kid-gloves treatment, and means you can start using them properly. Well, that moment has just come for me, in the most spectacular and economical way. I dropped my iPod ...

... on my iBook. Though no significant damage was done to either, it is The First Accident. It's also pretty daft. And about the simplest way it could've happened, two birds with one stone - if one of the birds crashed into the other, as it were.

The Tyranny of the Love Song

One of the overlooked gems I dug out from my collection of CDs last night was a collection called 'Til we outnumber 'em, a tribute to Woody Guthrie, who might as well be patron saint of the American folksinger. One of the 'spoken word' tracks was a little statement by Fred Hellerman, on what an ear-opener listening to Guthrie's music had been:

Until now, all the American song I had heard was that whole body body of popular music that deal with the 57 varieties of forsaken love ... misbegotten love ... love, that was it. Occasionally there was a three little fishies thrown in there but essentially it had to do with a very single, narrow subject matter. And then to realise that there's a whole world out there which can be and needs to be and deserves to be sung about.

One of my complaints about the music that dominates radio (at least here) is how much it flogs this dead horse of the love song to death. I like love songs - but not all the time, and not all the same way. Radio friendly music tends to adopt the same rhythms, phrases, positions, and some songs have reduced themselves to mind-numbing repetition in terms of lyrics and melody.

Songs should go somewhere (or rather take you along somewhere) either lyrically, or melodically. When they repeat the same lines over and over (the radio-friendly hook extended to its logical conclusion) or the same tune, ditty, or lick (again, in its ultimate form, the 'ear-worm' that locks itself into a loop in the listener's mind) they become boring.

The only way then to distinguish your song from the next is by varying (usually increasing) the intensity - louder, faster, or simply raunchier, which is what we see now as well. Perhaps the term "love-song" isn't even accurate anymore, since they're about sex.

And there is a whole world out there that can be described in song, and deserves to be, outside of this very limited ambit. The funny thing is, what people usually want to hear on the radio when they're driving is stuff that won't challenge them to think, and so love-songs it is, not because they're intrinsically less interesting (or easier to write well), but because we are so familiar with the conventions that they're like the old shoes we slip into when we just want to step out for a while to throw out the garbage.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I've been coping with what I'm guessing is a low-grade flu/cold for the past two days - it started Sunday night with a sort-of sore throat, become a sort-of cough yesterday, seemed to get better this morning, and then transformed itselfed into desultory sniffles. Part of me wishes I would just go ahead and fall properly sick so I could at least get some rest, but there's too much work to be done anyway. We'll see if the Lemsip helps a bit.

With the advent of my new iPod, I took a look through my CD collection to see if there was any more music I hadn't downloaded yet, and to my surprise, I counted around 30 CDs. Most of them were stuff that I hadn't loaded onto the old 10GB iPod for lack of space, but with more room now, I',m slowly ripping them in. I have to resist my "completist" tendencies: whereas I've loaded every single Dave Matthews album in its entirety, I'm forcing myself to be more selective now. Some of the stuff is going in for sentimental reasons - as a child of the 80s, I feel obliged to have U2 represented on my iPod, for example. In fact, I've discovered quite a sentimental streak in me recently, manifested in the urge to buy these "Best of the Eighties" type compilation albums so I can listen to all the stuff I heard on the radio as a teenager, but never could own.

On the reading side of things, I've finally finished Trust Us, We're Experts, an examination of how big industry uses 'experts' and scientists to confuse, mislead, and befuddle the public. It confirms what I guess we've suspected all along - you can't trust profit motivated organisations to tell you the truth - but is equally damning in its critique of Big Science, and the culture of 'expertise' that's grown up around it. Highly recommended read.

Also highly recommended is The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, for those of you who (like me) absolutely need a map when you can't figure out where the heck the Hittites came from, where the Hurrians, Mittani, Phrygians and Kushites resided, and generally how all these wierd and wonderful sounding tribes, cultures and civilisations related to each other spatially. I love maps, I have a deep interest in ancient history (if coloured by a wargaming focus) and this book is an excellent reference. And the author's got a nice, droll sense of humour even when dealing with the driest of topics: here's his explanation of the superiority of tin-based bronze versus the earlier version:

Tin bronze improved on its arsenic-based predecessor in two ways: the alloying process could be controlled more easily (because tin was available as a metal) and the alloy itself was superior in strength and ease of casting. Also, it didn't kill you while you were making it.

I'm at 515 BC now, and I forsee myself reaching the next millenium before this night is over.

More quizzes ...

Got this off a link off Garfieldt's blog, (who is himself a link blogger). Having calmed down a bit from the last post though, I wonder if that qualifies me as a 'rant blogger', or something like that?

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

Damned Spam Scams

I am quite sick and tired of these damned Nigerian email scams. The most despicable version of this email scam I have ever seen, however, is this one I've just received:

"Dear friend,
My story may sound odd but I must tell you that September 11th is a day I will never forget till the day I will finally die, that was the day of entire lost of my whole life that I built for 62 years, the same day I lost my two sons in world trade center, I thank God my health is getting better now as I am down with stroke. My dear friend I am sorry if I have taken much of your time, but I want you to sit down and read through my mail and see what you can achieve or gain from it."

The email, of course, goes on to offer you fundamentally money for nothing, mentioning God at every opportunity. The reader is offered 15% of the man's inheritance (playing on the receipient's greed), told that he should take the money and move out of the US where it's safer from horrible tragedies like those that have befallen the sender (playing on the reader's fear), told that 70% of the inheritance will go to charities to help the poor (playing on the reader's conscience, as well as greed, since the implication is that he's leaving the money to you to disburse), and that the sender, Mr Anthony Adams, only requires the remaining 15% back to pay for hospital bills. You can see where this is headed, can't you?

What really infuritates me about this particular variant of the Nigerian scam is how they could use a tragedy like Sep 11 to try and get an edge on people, and how they could say things like this:

"As I believe you are a God fearing Human if you are not please do, because he died on the cross of Calvary for you and I to have life and have it in abundance."

I hope there's a special place in hell reserved for these people.

What also makes me mad is thinking about how there would be some people with that unfortunately none too rare combination of greed and stupidity to be fooled by this sort of thing. I don't know which type of person is worse, but I do know that I'm sick and tired of receiving emails from 'people' like:

- Mrs Eveline Babatu (husband murdered by evil dictator Robert Mugabe, oh the poor soul - but hey, look at all the money he left behind)

- Mrs Chae Dae Soon (husband died in Iraq during the fighting, oh the tragedy of it all, but whoops, there's another massive inheritance)

- Prince Johnson J Smith (who apparently, is, and I quote: "32 years old and good looking man, and I am from a Royal Family of an Oil rich Bonny Kingdom Of River State of Nigeria, I have B.SC in Public Administration and I work in my family company (JOHNSON MARKETING COMPANY LTD) as a Sales manager." Right. SURE. Prince. Johnson. J. Smith)

- Mr Adams Benson (some family tragedy or another - HE WROTE IN ALL CAPS SO I COULDN'T BEAR TO READ THE DAMNED EMAIL) (but I'm sure there was lots of money involved)

- Rosemary Rolands, and all the other lottery directors in South Africa whose lotteries I apparently have won, without even having been to South Africa, let alone bought a ticket for. If I had a dollar for every one of these I received, I would ... well, I'd probably just put it in the lottery back here, where I can get a realistic result (i.e. nothing).

For all these scammers out there who are filling my mailbox with scam, may your hard-disks crash, may your file directories be as corrupt as you are, may your monitors ever be blue as the screen of death, and may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your belly buttons (to quote an old curse I learned a long time ago).

P.S. 419 Eater has some pretty funny accounts (illustrated and all) of the tables turned on the scammer. Well worth a read, a laugh, and possibly an evil snigger.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Nanofiction #2


Sitting at his cubicle, he was surprised by the touch of sun on this back, like an old friend tapping him on the shoulders, telling him with a glorious sunset that he only now saw through the window that it was time to log out, shut down, get up and get out. Which he did.

A Wedding

Weddings are such intense things. Over the weekend, K and I were helping out at a friend's wedding, taking photographs, and we were exhausted.

The pace of the day was what got us. Memorable last minute runs include:
- rushing to town to buy shoes (her) and cufflinks (me) the night before the wedding;
- last minute equipment check for camera gear, when I suddenly realised that I didn't have any Tri-X in 35mm - only medium format. classic oh-shit moment, at 11pm the night before the wedding, resulting in post-Church service run to Ron's to get 12 rolls of Tri-X;
- having the flash we borrowed from her dad conk out on us the morning of the wedding (leading to a spectacular pre-wedding-dinner run to Cathay Photos to get an SB-800 Speedlight - in my dress shirt and shoes, with K in the car outside, engine running, dashing into the shop to make what must surely have been the fastest ever Speedlight purchase in Cathay's history. I should've made a scene of it, in my best poncy accent - "A Nikon Speedlight my good man - and hurry, there's not a moment to lose! The future happiness of two young people absolutely depend on it!". Never spent so much money so quickly before).

All this between trying to dress up, look good, and not sweat, for crying out loud. I didn't realise how stressful it would be being responsible for photographing someone's wedding - suddenly, you feel burdened by the thought that the happy couple may never have a visual record of some important event on their wedding day - did we get a photograph of them kissing? of him lifting the veil? putting on the rings? doing that thing with the candles? I must add that the couple themselves were perfectly cool - they were remarkably nonchalant about the photography - it was K and I who were sweating it out!

Lest I give the impression that it was all stress and strain, I must add that it was a wonderful wedding, possibly the most fun one I've ever been too. By the time the evening wrapped up, the older folks had left, the room was left with some very drunk and very happy people, the floor was covered in confetti (as were the bride and groom), and everyone left on a happy, if tired, note. The bride's garter was lying on the carpet in the lift lobby as we left, having been passed like a hot potato from one bachelor to another, who for some reason really didn't want to hold on to it (the girl who got the bouquet, on the other hand, accepted it with much more grace). All in all, a great time.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Black Kitten

Black Kitten
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
When I came home yesterday, this little fella was came bouncing up to me at the lift lobby with a little 'meek' and 'squeek'. A new arrival - I've never seen either him/her (couldn't tell the gender) or the mother cat before.

The mother cat was the most trusting feline parent I've seen: most are extremely nervous about humans coming into contact with their kittens, but she was perfectly happy to lie there and let the kitten come ambling up to me.

I haven't decided what name to give him yet - these families are like transients, they sometimes pass through the area and are never seen again. I remember one particular mother and kitten pair who we saw once, then never again. Cute little furball of a kitten that was too.

Friday, November 19, 2004

And now, for something completely different ...

Courtesy of The Dialectizer, here's what my most recent blog entries would sound like ... in redneck. (clicking on the links in the 'translated' text will take you to Dialectizer, with an option to translate the linked page into the dialect of your choice).


A few nights ago, ah decided t'look at th' Archetype cards ah bought recently. As yo' know, mah wife an' ah have a fair colleckshun of tarot cards, an' other inspirashunal o' dvinato'y decks. Th' Archetype cards appealed t'me on account o' of mah interess in Archetypes an' mahthology.

Th' card thet ah pulled out was Th' Alchemist, an archetype thet has menny links in mah life. Packrat most recently pointed me t'this site, which is frightenin' eff'n only on account o' th' blogger an' ah seem t'share menny interests in common, as enny fool kin plainly see.

Diggin' deeper in mah past, thar's th' link wif C.G. Jung (previously blogged about har), who inco'po'ated menny ideas fum alchemah into his own take on psychology (an' whom ah have t'thank fo' fust intryducin' me t'th' wo'd syzygy, a wo'd which is remarkable fo' its complete lack of vowels, as fine as bein' potentially one heck of a sco'er fo' Scrabble, 'cept thet a Scrabble set don't haf 'nuff 'y's t'make it).

Thar's th' book Th' Alchemist by Ebenezero Coelho, one of them books of which varmints (at least in reviews) say it changed their lives, but which did not change mine (muss've caught me in a particularly cynical phase), but which is a fine read nonetheless.

Whut in tarnation's wrong wif Blogger?

Ha'f an hour's wawk craf'in' a post was ett up up by Blogger in ha'f a second - how unspeakably frestratin' it is t'have a post lost on account o' of some computer glitch.

For those who wish to pursue this further, the site also allows translation into Pig Latin, Cockney, Elmer Fudd, and Swedish Chef. Ooodee-doodee-fun.


A few nights ago, I decided to look at the Archetype cards I bought recently. As you know, my wife and I have a fair collection of tarot cards, and other inspirational or dvinatory decks. The Archetype cards appealed to me because of my interest in Archetypes and mythology.

The card that I pulled out was The Alchemist, an archetype that has many links in my life. Packrat most recently pointed me to this site, which is frightening if only because the blogger and I seem to share many interests in common.

Digging deeper in my past, there's the link with C.G. Jung (previously blogged about here), who incorporated many ideas from alchemy into his own take on psychology (and whom I have to thank for first introducing me to the word syzygy, a word which is remarkable for its complete lack of vowels, as well as being potentially one heck of a scorer for Scrabble, except that a Scrabble set doesn't have enough 'y's to make it).

There's the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, one of those books of which people (at least in reviews) say it changed their lives, but which did not change mine (must've caught me in a particularly cynical phase), but which is a good read nonetheless.

There's Pierre Bensusan, whose piece (you guessed it) L'alchemiste was my 'song of the day' for the trip to work, another one of those serendipitous things when I pulled out the very card from the deck later that day. On an aside, my iPod has 8+ gigabytes of music on it now, dominated by either instrumental guitarists like Bensusan and Michael Hedges, or by guitar-heavy bands - hit the "shuffle" option on my ipod, and there's an even chance that something by either Dave Matthews or Ani DiFranco will turn up.

(I have, in fact, actually tried this out: on a shuffle of 50 songs, I got
- 8 by Ani DiFranco,
- 1 by the Counting Crows,
- 4 by the Dave Matthews Band, and
- 4 by Michael Hedges
I'm guessing Ani turns up marginally more often than DMB, despite the fact that both of them have 12 albums on my iPod, because the DMB has longer and fewer songs, due to the massively self-indulgent solos on their live albums. I love 'em anyway)

Bensusan's music is elaborate, ornate, and partakes of a whole melange of influences - for a French Algerian fellow, his dominant influence, oddly enough, seems to be Celtic music, but he borrows and hints at stuff as diverse as jazz, new age, to what I suspect critics call 'North African' simply because they can't pin it down and decide they have to say something about the Algerian thing. The last thing he sounds like is French. Some days Bensusan sounds like the most profound guitarist, and you hear nuances you never heard before in his pieces: other days he sounds like elevator music. It's odd that way - but L'alchemiste is my favourite piece by far.

Which brings us back to The Alchemist. Linked to The Magician in a traditional tarot deck, the Alchemist represents a quest to transform the base into the precious - whether it be the literal (and simplistic) quest for turning lead into gold, or the search to transform our baser selves into something purer and more innocent. The Alchemist is about the search for unity (uniting opposites, as in the aforementioned syzygy) as well as the search for the "philosophers' stone", the key and catalyst that transforms all things into better things.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

What's wrong with Blogger?

Half an hour's work crafting a post was eaten up by Blogger in half a second - how unspeakably frustrating it is to have a post lost because of some computer glitch.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Joy of Fragging

This weekend was probably the longest for some time - the rare conjunction of a public holiday on Thursday and Monday probably won't happen for many more years to come, like some rare alignment of the stars and moon.

The long weekend, of course, was spent rediscovering the joys of fragging. Terz and I basically realised on Friday night that we could link our two Macs wirelessly (score another point for Apple: connecting our two laptops via Airport was as easy as one mouse click) and before we knew it, we had a game of Mohaa (that's Medal of Honour: Allied Assault) going.

Originally uploaded by Wahj.

Fragging continued on Saturday, in between watching the Star Wars DVD (summary: Solo still shoots first, Vader's lightsaber has gone pink, Luke's lightsaber does the mood ring thing, switching from green to blue, Jabba looks marginally better in Episode IV, and Hayden Christiansen appears as one of the three Jedi spirits. Yuk). The high point of the weekend was when we managed to link 4 computers together at Packrat's for a happy few hours of oblivious 2 on 2 team play. Finally, more fragging on Monday to round things off - all in all, it's been a very productive weekend. = )

The wives, of course, have done their fair share of wifely eye rolling (and blogged about it)- although I've discovered that the sound of computer generated gunfire sends my wife to sleep.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


I woke up this morning from a dream featuring an old friend, whom was struggling with the problem of suddenly having become the patron saint of teachers. Besides the fact that she was understandably worried about not knowing what the job involved (intercession in classroom managment? the miraculous marking of 300 scripts?), the rest of us in the dream were discussing the finer points of her sudden sainthood: was her being the patron saint of teachers an opt-in or opt-out patronage for the rest of us? - i.e. was she your patron saint unless you specifically said 'no', or only your patron saint if you specifically said 'yes'?

This was about the only coherent part of the dream I recall, and I'm guessing it's my Inner Bureaucrat asserting itself. Then again, this is the second time an issue of saints has popped up in my dreams - last week, Saint Anthony was the subject of a dream involving boats and ships. The scary thing is that I'm not even Catholic ...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Cat

New Cat 1, originally uploaded by Wahj.

New Cat 2
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
For T and Y's reference, here's the cat from the pet shop. Right now, she's languishing behind bars, along with a bunch of other cats, (one of which bullies her quite badly) but a cat of her elegance and breeding is clearly going places soon. I mean, just look at that face ... = )


Deepavali is upon us at last, and I can finally breathe easy.

I've been waiting for this break with increasing anticipation - things have been piling up in increasing degrees of shittiness, starting from Mild and going up to Throw In The Towel levels of fecal profundity.

The bright spot in this sullied week is the new iBook - all 12 inches of gleaming clean lucite whiteness, like a shiny white brick of pure Mac computer goodness, oozing comforting vibes from every rounded corner and streamlined edge.

If I've never said so before on this blog, I'll say it now: nothing beats a Mac for a truly human computing experience. All the PCs I've known have made me work around them, cursing and swearing: all my Macs (iBook being the third after the TiBook and the iMac) have made it easy be around them. I transfered my entire user account from my TiBook to the iBook with no problems at all - no need to dig up the whole chain of passwords and user ids for the internet account, or find my favourites and bookmarks from my browsers, or indeed even try and find the program files: just link the two computers with a firewaire cable, start the process, and 1 hour later (hey, I have a big home folder) I switch on the iBook, and resume computing as if I'd never changed computers. It's like coming home all over again.

Saturday, November 06, 2004


The weekend's finally arrived, and we've yet to have a chance to test out the D70 (yes, we finally bought it).

First impressions of the D70: an impressively solid piece of equipment. It feels much the same way my Voigtlander cameras feel in my hand - it feels right. You know that expression 'nothing but net'? Well, that's the way it feels shooting the D70 - every whirr and click is purposeful and directed, there's a sense of confidence in the camera's movements and actions. This is in direct contrast with the shutter that most digital camera's suffer from. The most irritating thing I find about digital cameras is a lack of responsiveness - that's why I like my mechanical cameras so much. When I hit the shutter, the shutter goes, no questions asked. The same thing for the D70, which is very impressive.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Nanofiction #1

Picked up a card game recently, from the same people who brought us Fluxx (a game that kept K and I happily occupied on rainy afternoons in Cambodia) called Nanofictionary. It's a game where players compete to craft the best (short) story possible from cards that provide the setting, characters, complication and resolution. Looks to be a great game, other than it needs a panel of judges to decide the winner.

Following up on the history of the game led me to this website, and the category of fiction called nanofiction - stories under 55 words in length. Here's a description culled from the site on what the boundaries of nanofiction are:

This book, entitled The World's Shortest Stories, edited by Steve Moss, sets down the rules for 55 word stories as such: each story must contain the following four elements: 1.) a setting, 2.) one or more characters, 3.) conflict, and 4.) resolution. Plus of course, the whole thing can only be 55 words long, not counting the title, which must be no more than 7 words long.

(apparently there's a slightly more long-winded ancestor called microfiction, at 100 words)

It's been a long time since I've written anything, but something clicked when I saw the description of nanofiction. I remembered how I used to write poetry way back when. Ok, so it was bad poetry (well, what do you expect from a teenager? or a Literature undergraduate, for crying out loud?) but it was fun. Over the years, I've stopped writing altogether, except for one brief coughing fit of haikus a few years ago (must go dig those up). For the busy man, who has to juggle work and wargaming, hobbies and a household, cats and career, surely nanofiction is the way for his inner Bard to once again re-express himself, at minimal expense, barely any effort, and only a few minutes of work each day?

Also, I always needed to learn brevity. So, here's Nanofiction Number 1.

The Seventh Biscuit

After the beggar, he knew the seventh biscuit was close. He shuddered, remembering her words, and tried not to look at anything on the bus home. At his door, he stopped, a scream frozen in his throat: the hand that reached into his pocket for the keys was holding the mouldy remains of a biscuit.

(based on a real life imagined incident - really)

Four more years

Picked up the newspaper this morning to read:

It's four more years for Bush

Surely that should be "four more years of Bush" for most of the world. When a nation becomes an empire, it's internal politics are of international interest and concern, and I think these U.S. elections have been most keenly watched and felt by the rest of the world, including me. In the wake of this, I wonder who will get invaded in the next 4 years?

Monday, November 01, 2004

A surprisingly good read

Finished reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Most excellent read, and like most books I've enjoyed recently, I enjoyed it because it surprised me.

I had been fooled into reading it as if it were a historical novel. Quite a few reviewers have compared Clarke's writing to Austen or Dickens, and everything about the novel - the title, the look, the font, the style - led me to treat it as if it were one of those detail-heavy, character driven, long-winded drawing room type novels. The nameless narrator (who speaks to you as if you've known him/her all your life, in a very Austenesque, very Classic Realist omniscient narrator way) speaks entirely in the present tense in the many footnotes accompanying the text, as if now were the 1800s. There's a wealth of accurate historical detail - the description of the battle of Waterloo, for example, something I know well, and was quite pleased to see the attention to detail there (down to some of the more bizarre 'truth is stranger than fiction' moments, like the button salesman turned aide de camp).

Somewhere along it line, to my surprise, it turned into a fantasy novel - in fact, it reminded me of Tad Williams' Dragonbone Chair, with menacing faerie creatures and an unwitting hero. The connection is probably more due to the fact that Tad Williams had come up in a conversation with Tym, than any real similarity, since Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is quite in a class of its own - an entirely new breed of creature, I think, which makes it hard to describe. Think Jane Austen meets Harry Turtledove, an alternate history of an England where magic once ruled, and will rule again, played out in dusty libraries in isolated country houses.

I think I enjoy books that surprise me in this way because I've become too canny a reader - too aware of the mechanisms and conventions of writing, and so easily bored by them. I zipped through Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in one day, because it was fluff, though entertaining fluff. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, on the other hand, caught me off guard, and I liked it.

The remainder of the weekend not spend reading saw me painting up some of my backlog of 15mm miniatures. I've been sitting on a bunch of Carthaginian figures for the longest time, some really nice ones from the two best companies (in my opinion) in the business - Corvus Belli and Xyston. These guys make about the nicest 15mm ancients figures you'll find, and since I've ordered a bunch more figures for a Mycenaean army, I thought I'd better get these painted and out of the way before the other stuff comes in.