Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Time Enough At Last?

We drift down a stream of consciousness, and we call it living. Are we in control of it all, or is it all dictated by some plan etched into the foundations of time? We'll never know. We just drift, drift, drift. Yes, it may seem as if we're paddling, but the rudder is missing, and probably being sold in a bargain bin at Eternity's second hand rudder store. It's nice to just mentally drift when you're tired and recovering from all the tensions of modern life. Drift drift drift.

Suddenly, the words stop flowing. What happened? A drift is vulnerable to strange intersections with banks and shoals, and nothing will ever stop that. You just need to stay in the current long enough to bounce off back into the river, free to strain the seams of tortured analogy until it falls apart into subatomic matter. Eventually, said analogy is forced into retirement, and we move on to more diverting things. An analogy can only go on so long, after all.

All this tutoring can really drain the mental stamina. It's fortunate that these improvisational pieces don't have to be about anything in particular, just a stream of what passes for consciousness set against a backdrop of 'Mission Impossible' and whatever else might be going on. Yes, as long as it works, it works! There was another for improvising that used to be used here, though. What was it? Was it 'extemporise', perhaps? There's nothing like a nice bit of extemporisation and introspection to really get the brain going. This piece could go on forever, given more time, but time is always the thing we lack most.

What would people do if they time enough at last? Would the world settle into a happy and contented place? It would be nice to take the positive view, that a utopia would sweep over the world, never to leave again. Isn't that a nicer target than the dystopian visions supplied elsewhere?


Monday, 25 July 2016

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part III

(Part II , Part IV)

Dream had been gone a long time. On the other hand, she had never really been gone at all, and had merely been asleep on a different plane of existence. The Wordspace had rolled on without her, and while she slept, the others dreamed. No sleep lasts forever, however, and so Dream awoke on a tuft of punctuation near the Well of Vocabulary, and stretched on the symbology luxuriously. It took a while before she woke up enough to realise how quiet everything was. She popped open an eye, and looked around. The Well was quiet, as it always was, and School was nowhere near. That was strange. School never ventured far from the Well.

Dream got up, stiffly flexing her syllables in the process, and wandered over to the origin point for new words. It was a hole, with a small surrounding bank of bricked up letters, and the usual wet content of Hs and Os. She still found it hard to believe that she had crawled out of there, just like any other juvenile word, gaping at the magnificent world all around her. It was a black pool...

"Good grief! Dream!" Boomed a voice, and before she knew it she had been swept up in a massive hug. It was a very familiar experience.

"Justice!" She managed to squeeze out the greeting. ``What's wrong?''

"We thought you had gone forever!"

"It was just a little sleep."

"You've been gone for a hundred and fifty cycles, Dream!" Another hug, but this time less punishing.

"A hundred and fifty cycles?"

"And we're in a state of crisis. You had best come with me." Justice pulled Dream along behind him, and around a small hillock. There, in a shocking turn of events to Dream, was a little trapdoor set into the bedrock of the Wordspace. She stared at in shock. Justice looked at her, faking his own turn at surprise. "Yes, some things have changed, and not openly. Will you come with me?"

Dream could only say yes, caught up as she was in the dream-like aspects of what was going on.

Her old friend opened the door. "Come on then! Who knows when that invader might arrive here?!" Justice scooted down the tunnel. To somewhere entirely new to the knowledge of the Wordspace. The foundation was supposed to be inviolable. Still confused, she entered the tunnel herself. Mystery would be proud of her, she thought, wherever he might be.

More? Of course more!

Saturday, 23 July 2016


The word 'galactic' is inextricably bound up in the original idea of the Milky Way. Our galaxy was thought to be the only galaxy in existence for a long time, and as a result 'galaxy' is a very milky direct translation. Galactic doesn't just describe things that relate to galaxies, but also a generally milky nature. That's right, whenever you describe anything in terms of the galaxy, then you're just as equally saying they came from a dairy farm! It's amazing what you can find on that Phrontistery site...

Oh, our marvellous galaxy, what a wonderful thing to think about. A massive swirl of stars spiralling out from its cosmic core. What might it look like from the outside? Is it really like the picture of Andromeda we normally use to represent the Milky Way? What imagery to use in naming the galaxy! What on Earth is in that cosmic core, anyway?

Can you imagine what it must have been like, in the time of the ancient Greeks? Can you imagine a land with so little light pollution that you could see the great and dim band of concentrated stars that form the galactic plane, and to call that vast whiteness the 'Milky Circle', which would be translated later into the 'Milky Way'? Throughout history, we have kept that name alive in Europe, while other equally lyrical names emerged from the rest of the world. In China, they called it the Silver Way, while in Georgia the galaxy is called 'The Deer Jump', and in Thailand it has the enigmatic 'Way Of The White Elephant'. Can you imagine such a scope for imagination?

Perhaps our blindness to the galaxy is one of the reasons that exploration has faltered in the twenty-first century. We can barely see the stars now, and so we don't remember they're out there, waiting for the people to go and see them before the end of the universe. We'll have to make some advances, though, and invent most of the technology seen in 'Star Trek' to do it. Who knows? Perhaps there will be other people there, taking a look of their own?

The stars are still there, if you look for them. And they remain more than a little milky.


Thursday, 21 July 2016

Board Game: 'Robo Rally' (1994)

It's a great game indeed that makes it into the pages of the Quirky Muffin. This time, the game in question is 'Robo Rally', the programming game that sees you setting out sequences of actions to guide your robot from A to B to C, only for unforeseen circumstances to send it careening from spinner to conveyor belt to gaping pit instead. It's a great game, and one which can definitely be classified in the same way as 'Carcassonne', 'Ticket To Ride' and 'Tales of the Arabian Nights', as the perfect encapsulation of a mechanic. 'Carcassonne' is the archetypal tile laying game, 'Ticket To Ride' embodies set collection and pushing your luck, and 'Tales' is the perfect realisation of storytelling and reading. In its place, 'Robo Rally' is the ultimate in programming and mayhem. I do love an archetypal game!

Now, don't be put off by the idea of a 'programming' game, as it's not really what you think. At the beginning of each round, you choose the five actions that your robot will make, in order, as will every other player, aiming to get to the next check-point on the map. The ultimate goal is to reach the finish line first and win the race. There may be collisions, laser accidents, falls into pits, spins on the turntables or even misadventures on the conveyor belts of doom! There is no knowing beforehand what will go wrong or what you have forgotten, and once you set off there is no going back. It's a wonderful game experience.

It can also be an odd experience, though, if you don't follow the advice of the illustrious Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower. He does sometimes know what he's talking about, especially when it comes to throwing out badly conceived rules. To play 'Robo Rally' well, you have to ditch the 'three lives' aspect, build small and tight courses of no more than three or four checkpoints, and perhaps even remove the pre-inflicted damage to replacement robots. Also, to avoid a lot of fuss, get some eight-sided dice to monitor player progress instead of fiddling with the tiny tiles! If you do all that, and don't take it too seriously, then a great game is there to be enjoyed.

A programming board game... Who would have thought that would be good? Who would have thought that forgetting to include the motion of a turntable would wreak such havoc, or that that tiny little pit would be so hard to avoid after the conveyor belt makes your plans just a little 'kaka'?


Tuesday, 19 July 2016


The great thing about a weekend away, and a cumulative twelve hours on the coach, is that your mind clears completely of the comparatively trivial things that normally get in the way. Yes, thought occurs in between compulsive page turning of 'No Name' or Mark Twain's 'Joan of Arc', but what kind of thought? It's hard to say, as it drifts away with the miles.

Ah, Quirky Muffin, what are we to do now? Leisure time is over once again, and the gruelling slog that is Summer is upon us, complete with a thoroughly unpleasant heat wave, that threatens to convert the whole country into a sweaty mess. The endless murk and cloud have departed, and for what? Sunburn and a desperate desire to find a cool cave and shelter there for the next three to six years? You can never be too careful.

Perhaps we could now, after a long absence, dip into the Phrontistery once again and review some of the rarer words that don't get used any more. Perusing under the letter 'E', a particular and topical example soon pops out from the others:

eirenism: peaceful state of mind.

Yes, extended coach trips are conducice to eirenisms when you least expect them, except in the most extreme of circumstances. Sometimes, when packed in with too many items in a sweltering heat, and with elbows poking into your ribs, other states of mind might be far more likely! When you think about it, tranquility is one of the most prized and rare states of the modern age, and one often thrown away in the endless quest for things unowned. Maybe we should work toward some form of eirenism instead? Good grief, I hope there's not some implication to the word that I know nothing about...

Runner-up words for the day are the following, with a special emphasis on 'empleomania'. Aren't rare words wonderful and enchanting?

eclipsareon: astronomical toy used to show phenomena of solar and lunar eclipses.
empleomania: mania for holding public office.
euphonism: custom of using pleasing sounding words.

Let's all try to relax, spin and not to swelter. The horrific Summer of news is now over, and we can get back to being deeply decadent. Aaaaahhh... 


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Is The Storm Over?

An interruption is coming, as the Quirky Muffin goes down for a long weekend. Yes, it is time to revisit Beeston once again, that grand little town buried in the urban tentacles of the city of Nottingham. It's a lovely little place, packed full of the most positive memories of that postgraduate portion of life. How long ago it seems... Ahem. Putting the false nostalgia to one side, the Quirky Muffin will reopen in the middle of next week, with twelve hours of travel musings to serve as vital blogging fuel. As always, there might be cover posts, if time appears, but expect them not.

The times, they are a changing. It has been a crazy time for domestic politics, so crazy in fact that even the Trump is being drowned out. However, politics is boring, so let us move on to something else. It's hard to remember how this worked back before the bizarre events of 2016 began galloping all over real life. What on Earth happened to the interesting word of the week? What happened to just spinning in place, or air conducting to Jerry Goldsmith music? If the whole readership of this blog didn't consist of web robots, three Belgian waffle makers in Pittsburgh, and a goldfish called Ivan, such a lapse would be unforgivable! As it is, Ivan probably won't notice a difference.

It will be nice to stop worrying about things quite so much, and get back to being moderately silly instead. Yes, moderate silliness is the target tone here, as befits someone who writes stories about ninjas of health, alternate dimensional versions of Aberystwyth, and whole time space continua made out of words. It's time, dear readers from the Phantom Zone, to take the bung out of the bottle and see what words flow. Yes, the worries can stop, and the fingertips can be wafted through the air to feel the currents. The giant pencils can be unleashed for air conducting, and most of all it is time to spin for no reason.

My, 'Garfield and Friends' was a good show. How on Earth did they pull that off for one hundred and twenty one episodes, and three itmes that many segments?


Monday, 11 July 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XII

( Part XI , XIII )

The interior or Crane and Nelson's was what you might expect from a maritime store. There were dinghies, ropes, sails, compasses, items so specialised that they will remain nameless, and a marvelous antique ship's wheel stood proudly amongst other valuables in the expensive collectors' area of the store. The Man walked over to it, and held on to it like a dear friend. "Would you ever actually sell this, if someone came up with the extortionate price?" He asked the Oracle.

"Two people offer to buy it every week, usually. I always tell them it's been reserved by someone else. People who come back look at me quizzically and ask again. The wheel remains here." The seer of things to come patted the wheel affectionately. "You can't see the direction of the future if you don't know your own direction." Then, he led them into the back area of the store, and up some steps.

Beyond a perfectly plain white wooden door, lay the Oracle's Room of Seeing. It was a perfectly normal looking room, in fact, except for a simple collapsible cards table, and a few books on fishing on the single bookcase. There were three foldable chairs leaning against one wall, and the Oracle pulled one off for himself.

"Don't you want to know why we've come?" Asked the Woman.

"No, it will only complicate what I have to do. I know already that there has been an incursion from elsewhere, and that you have been contacted. That is more than enough context."

"You seem to have changed your method a little..." Noted the Man, who was beyond curious. No water pool this time, and not even a chalk pile!"

"I've been experimenting with weaves, actually. He held up a small woven multicoloured tablecloth and threw it on the table haphazardly. Then, seated on the little folding chair, he closed his eyes and put his hands on the tablecloth. The two visitors sat down as well and watched, confused. It all became a lot clearer when the weave began to change in front of their eyes. Colours moved back and forth, crossed over, jumbled, and mixed until finally a confused woven picture was visible on the cloth, as complete as it could be under the circumstances.

"What could it possibly mean?" Wondered the Woman.

The Oracle didn't reply. He was fast asleep.

More? Of course there will be more!