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Fox encounters

I make a point of getting out of the office at lunchtime for a walk around the top end of the lake. It gets me out in the fresh air, enjoying a little leisurely exercise. And it's where I go to feed robins. And I keep my eyes out for other wildlife too.

In the last few months there's occasionally been a little fox; not much bigger than a large cat, so I think it's most likely a vixen. (Acually, on further reflection, at that size it's almost certainly a cub.) She's remarkably comfortable round humans, walking along the path and even crossing the footbridge in between groups of people. Twice now I've gotten close enough to her to take some pictures, but only had my phone on me. And while I was glad to have those pics, I wished I'd had my proper camera on me. Optical zoom is just so much better than digital. So today I did bring the camera and hoped I'd get lucky.

And I did. I SO did.Collapse )

Eleanor Ripley

It's been a long time since I perpetrated filk. And then this happened.




So of course I had to. Annoyingly I then remembered that her name is actually Ellen Ripley, but then Abi pointed out that her middle initial is L, (Louise, apparently), so Ellen L. Ripley it is. Ripley herself really deserves something rather more badass, but the bleak grimness of the wider backstory fits this song rather well.


Ahh, look at all the sleeping people
Ahh, look at all the sleeping people

Ellen L. Ripley, followed a signal
That came from a species unknown
Now she's alone
On the Nostromo, fleeing a creature
That burst from the chest of her friend
When will it end?

All the frightened people
With nowhere else to run
All the frightened people
Were taken one by one

Weyland-Yutani, dragging her back
To the world where the nightmare began
See how they plan
Send in the soldiers, say there's a creature
We want you to bring back alive
Who will survive?

All the hungry creatures
Where did they all come from?
All the hungry creatures
This world is overrun.

Ahh, look at all the fallen people
Ahh, look at all the fallen people

Ellen L. Ripley, died in the furnace
Along with her alien spawn
Dying unborn
Weyland-Yutani, walking away
From the fire as their specimen burned
What did they learn?

All the greedy people
Where do they all come from?
All the greedy people
Where do they go so wrong?

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Terry Pratchett is gone. We knew it was coming. We hoped it wouldn't be so soon.

I first heard of Terry Pratchett sometime in mid '88, when he was recommended to me by two unconnected people in the same week; one a work colleague in my placement year, the other an old schoolfriend. Thus inspired I took a chance and splashed out on the first three Discworld books at once. By total coincidence (yes,really) I ended up falling ill and taking a couple of days off just as I had three shiny new books to read. (Yes, that sounds like a fannish excuse, but I wasn't a fan then. Not yet.)

A year later, in Leeds, I was celebrating having taken my final exams by buying a day pass to my first convention, Iconoclasm '89, because I'd heard Terry would be there. Not as a guest, he was attending purely as a fan. Sure enough, as I sat awaiting the appearance of the guest of honour (hi, petermorwood!), someone pointed out a bearded fellow in a hat standing off to one side at the end of my row. Somehow a sheaf of manuscript began making its way along the row, page by page, before returning along the next row to its author; that was how I first read the then-unpublished Hollywood Chickens.

In 1992 I was delighted to find a new newsgroup appear called alt.fan.pratchett, and then thrilled when he himself began posting to it. In 1998 this led to my attending the second biennial Diskworld Convention, and thus my life - as with so many others - was forever changed.

Terry's books aren't simply about humour, they're about values, and as a result Terry's fans tend to be a pretty wonderful bunch, and my life is richer because so many of them have become friends. There are two girlfriends I would never have met if I hadn't read Terry. Others have jobs, careers, homes, new lives in different countries, marriages, children who would never have been born had Terry not brought them together. I spent a lot of time last night chatting with them as we gathered on IRC for an 8pm toast, and watching their tributes and mine on twitter. There was a lump in my throat; there had been pretty much all afternoon.

I didn't exchange too many words with him outside of signing queues (I'm a mostly shy retiring type who never wanted to be that guy), but I attended enough signings that he knew me by name. Pratchett fandom was, and is, a lovely place to be; it was full of warm affection and healthy irreverance on both sides. He delighted in taking part in fannish activity because he was just as much a fan as we were. I'll remember him presenting the winners of the costume contest, the Maskerade, with their trophy, a silver statuette of the Diskworld, "which I bloody well paid for myself!" (audience laughter) "Out of your own money!" (even louder laughter).

I'll remember being the first person to have him sign a computer (a Sparc workstation I'd smuggled out of work for a lunchtime signing; the hosts on our network were named after Diskworld, this one was Conina).

I'll remember making him laugh out loud over breakfast when he saw the t-shirt I'd worn to the '04 con.

I'll remember him...

I'll remember him.



GNU Terry Pratchett

Broadband issues

I currently don't have broadband at home.

The router I have is a Belkin F5D9630-4. The manual is here (PDF).

In normal operation it has 5 lights on. Power, one network port (there's only one PC connected), wireless, ADSL and Internet. Currently only the power and network port are lit.

When I try to get a wireless connection from my phone, the phone reports that the router is not in range. When I try to login to the router itself via the wired connection I get connection unavailable.

I've tried a hard reset, and a factory reset. I've tried swapping out the broadband filter, though not the RJ11 cable as I didn't have a spare.

Does anyone have any other suggestions to try, or am I right in thinking that, basically, I've got a dead router?

Birds' nest and Broadband

Question: do birds return to previous nests, or do they build new ones every year?

I had a problem with my broadband a couple of weeks ago. Owing to a previous repair there's a break in the line into my house, which is joined in a junction box at roof level. On this occasion the joined cable had fallen out of the box, and a tree at the side of my house had snagged it and broken the join. BT fixed it and fitted a new waterproof junction box which should be rather more secure. By fortuitous coincidence a Sky engineer turned up at roughly the same time and asked permission to cut the tree branches back because it was blocking the neighbour's dish, so I lent him a saw and between us we trimmed it back to a sensible level.

And among the fallen branches I discovered an abandoned nest. See picsCollapse )

It's amazingly soft and snug inside, and I love the idea that the birds could reuse it. So I might find a suitable spot to put it back in the remains of the tree, and maybe shelter it from the rain with an old drum head like I have with my bird feeders.

And while I'm photospamming, here's a swan and some gulls.See picsCollapse )

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Clive Burr has died, after a 12-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis. He died peacefully in his sleep. He was 56.

He was kind of a big deal for me back in '82Collapse )

Merlin, Mitch and Bacon.

So, Mitch Benn apeared on Merlin tonight. Only a brief walk-on, but enough to make me very happy.

Because, technically, that means I can now claim - via Proud Of The BBC - a Bacon Number of 4.

You may touch me.

update: Apparently the Oracle Of Bacon gives Mitch a Bacon number of 2 for appearing in "Live At Jongleurs" (click "more options" and select "TV shows and TV movies"), so I can actually claim mine is 3. Thanks to daibhid_c for spotting that. :-)

Hellooo, Monday.

10 mins before my alarm was due to go off the phone rang. Dragged myself out of bed to answer it, only to hear "we're calling from the internet security centre, we'd like to talk to you about your computer." Hung up on them without saying another word and crawled back into bed. Bastards.

Fast forward: locked the front door and was walking to the car when I noticed a small bird on the fatball feeder in the front garden. It disappeared into the bushes before I got a good look, but I paused by the car for a moment to see if it would come back, and sure enough it did... but it wasn't a bird at all. It was a mouse! The feeder is next to some fairly dense bushes, which I had trimmed back to give the birds clear access, but one tiny branch was still brushed up against it, and the mouse had climbed it.

The front garden feeder has always gone down rather quicker than the back one; I'd always assumed that this was because the back one was near the bird table so the birds' attention was divided, but it seems there was another reason.

Question is, do I trim the branch back to leave the feeder exclusively for the birds, as was originally intended? Or do I let the mouse stay on?

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It's almost time for the next episode, so I suppose I should do this while it's still a bit relevant.

(SPOILER WARNING: Yes, this does end with spoilers for Asylum Of The Daleks, so don't read on if you've not seen it.)

The Daleks were created by Terry Nation, inspired in large part by World War II; the authoritarian conformity of the Nazis and the fear of a faceless enemy exemplified by the blitz. The parallel was made explicit in Genesis Of The Daleks with the introduction of the Dalek's creator, Davros, a scientist whose obsession with racial purity as the key to miliary superiority drove him to create what he considered a perfect creature contained within an equally perfect weapon, the familiar armoured shell. The theme of racial purity would recur throughout appearances of the Daleks, notably in Remembrance Of The Daleks which featured two different warring Dalek factions. Imperial Daleks had continued to augment and improve the creatures within the shells with bionic enhancements, whereas Renegade Daleks viewed this as a corruption.

Next to the Daleks, the series' other great recurring alien manace were the Cybermen, created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. As with the Daleks, they had originated as organic life before becoming the robotic forms seen in the show. But where the Daleks had a single creator, the Cybermen were the product of an evolution of technology. Pedler had been inspired by the development of medical prosthetics, and wondered at what point could you no longer tell whether the resultant being was man or machine. The Cybermen had progressed from prosthetic replacements to enhancements and augmentations - some of which had become necessary for environmental survival, while others were military-driven, such as surpression of emotions which would obstruct a soldier's judgement - until the point where they had replaced so much of their natural bodies that they could no longer comprehend what they had lost.

One of the things they had lost was the ability to reproduce biologically. Inside their metal shells the Daleks were still complete - albeit horribly mutated - organisms, and could therefore reproduce (or at least be reproduced, whether grown, farmed or cloned), but a new cyberman could only be created by harvesting other beings and placing him into the metal suit. Which they could only do by first conquering and capturing other beings. Essentially Cybermen became trapped in a cycle of making war in order to assimilate new Cybermen to replace those lost in war. Cyberman invasions therefore often begin by stealth in order to accumulate soldiers and gain strategic advantage without losses, as opposed to full military campaigns which the Daleks might prefer.

Another point worth noting is that while the Daleks were driven by racial purity the Cybermen were driven by improvement, and the appearance of the Cybermen has changed radically over the years compared to the Daleks. (It may be suggested that this owes more to improvements in costuming technology than to actual continuity, but obviously no true fan would make such a ridiculous suggestion.)

So: two alien races, both of them a terrifying, relentless and largely faceless enemy, but behind the armour two very different ethos. Both have been explored to varying extents, and they make for a potentially fascinating contrast.

Which is why it was rather disappointing when the 2006 two-part story Rise Of The Cybermen / The Age Of Steel presented an alternate universe reboot of the Cybermen in which they were created by terminally ill billionaire John Lumic. The Cybermen didn't need a Davros, and to give them one was to miss the point. And while he may have been driven by the need for his own survival, the need to project that onto the whole human race came across as pure megalomania. And, worse still, pure plot device. At least Davros' need for racial survival was the twisted consequence of an ongoing war.

And now we see the reverse happening; the writers have lifted an idea from the Cybermen and given it to the Daleks. The idea that the Daleks would perform a "full conversion" of Oswin and make her a Dalek goes against their fundamental nature. They destroy anything not Dalek; that's what they do. They might capture specific strategic targets and make use of them, but they wouldn't promote them to Dalek. And even then they'd have to know in advance they were of worth. A passenger on a crashed ship? They wouldn't know if she was particularly intelligent and they wouldn't wait to find out. Shoot first, questions exterminated.


The Daleks and the Cybermen are the two most iconic enemies of Doctor Who. It's all too easy to see them both simply as relentless killing machines (not least because you or I would be mere cannon fodder if we met them), but they have their own reasons for existing with their own different consequences to explore. And I wish the writers would do more with that. Because if the show does present them as nothing more than a kill-or-be-killed menace why does it need them both? And that's why I don't like it when they conflate the ideas of either one into the other; it really doesn't help.


Which isn't to say I didn't love Asylum Of The Daleks, didn't laugh at Amy and Rory's one-liners, didn't choke up at their reunion, didn't shiver when Oswin's true fate was finally revealed, didn't grin like a loon as the Daleks were left asking the question hidden in plain sight: "Doctor Who?" Because I did. All of it.

But Moffat has shown us just how smart the show can be when it tries. Good. So don't go getting lazy with your most iconic properties, that way they'll continue to serve you well for years to come.

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Of fledgelings and foxes

It's been a while since my last photo post. That one probably had a lot of robins in it too.

During this week I found where a pair of robins were feeding their fledgelings. The gloomy weather hasn't been the best for photography, but the chance to get pictures of fledgelings was too good to miss. Didn't have any luck yesterday, but today was a very different story.

Robins and their fledgelingsCollapse )

But just so it's not all robins, some pics from my garden; a goldcrest and a foxCollapse )

And here's me with a couple of birds I picked up at the British Science Festival last yearCollapse )

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