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The second issue of YAAH! magazine is out, containing three abstract games by me (Army of Shadows, Guerrilla Checkers, Uprising). I also wrote a short simple article on the think-value of abstract games, these in particular, hooked to Ben Franklin’s love of chess. It’s partly adapted from a presentation I gave at Connections-UK in 2013.

Perhaps you'll find it interesting:

Or the original item:

Movin' On

Aug. 22nd, 2011 02:49 pm
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In the wake of the last Long Livejournal Outage, and with the near certainty that the Russian government (oh, all right, Persons Unknown) will continue attacking LJ until it folds its tents and blows away, I have decided to migrate to Wordpress - no real reason to choose that over say Blogger or any other except that it seems fairly stable, widely used and non-intrusive.

Or am I making a mistake? If you are migrating somewhere else, or have a blog elsewhere that you think might make a good choice, let me know.

I'll continue posting in both places for a while, as the spirit moves me. I've been posting here for eight years, a fair chunk of my adult life, and while it's been mostly drama-free in that time (the blog, not my life) I will miss chronicling here all these silly things that I notice or happen to me.

RSS feed:

- Brian
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Well, I'm back from the "Connections" conference at National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, and things went VERY well. (site) (agenda)

I got to Washington late late on Sunday night. Monday afternoon I went to NDU, first to the Metro station (what is it about every subway system I've ridden on that they all smell the same? It's a hot, dusty smell that must come from the engines on the trains or the stale air down there) and then a few blocks to Fort McNair (a small Army post named after a general who was killed by friendly fire in July, 1944 in France). Met up with Skip Cole, late of the US Institute for Peace, and reunited with Rex Brynen, the McGill professor I mentioned (, after thirty years! That night Joe Miranda and I went out and looked over Washington at night - we saw the Washington Monument, and the White House, both from afar. We wanted to have a beer at the bar of the Watergate Hotel, but apparently it has been pulled down - there is still a building called The Watergate but it is full of condo apartments and dentists' offices.

Tuesday: first day of the conference proper. Keynote speakers were James F. Dunnigan and Peter Perla, both great figures in the development and history of board and professional wargaming, and they spoke well. The panel on which I was presenting came right after. I was third, and was sitting at the end of the table waiting to go, and James FREAKING Dunnigan walked back into the room and sat down next to me, muttering that it was "standing room only back there". I told him I thought he could sit anywhere he wanted. I went up and made my presentation, which went well but was a bit rushed because I was third. My presentation was called "Ploughing in the COIN Field" and was about the series of seven counterinsurgency/guerrilla warfare games I had designed since 1995, very different from each other in topic but using the same basic system.

I went back and sat down, fielded questions and that was it for the panel discussion and then JAMES freaking DUNNIGAN shook my hand and said, "I like what you're doing".

Anyway, that's certainly my brush with greatness this year.

That afternoon were game demonstrations, my Guerrilla Checkers was a hit! (

Ya know, sometimes Value Village will give you just what you need... I had found a bag of 1,358 little red buttons, 1 cm across with a "handle", just in time for $2.99. This made up 20 sets of 66 guerrilla pieces, and I used some miniatures from an old parts copy of Risk for the 6 counter-insurgent pieces for each set. I copied a grid and shortened rules onto a card, and gave those away for free. I got some cotton napkins from VV as well, and had an 8x8 grid silkscreened on them, and got some large and small stones in contrasting colours from Michael's to make up another set of nice copies.

I started showing someone how to play, and within five minutes the free copies were flying away and there were five or six games going at once.

Rules, in case you're interested, at: Next thing to do is make some kind of Web or mobile app for the game; I had a couple of discussions with people on this.

Tuesday night were some more playtests, Wednesday was devoted to more presentations and working group work. Interesting discussions, including some talk on how to involve non-military people in military wargaming. I suggested we should call ourselves "ludic futurists"!

Wednesday night Joe and I went out to Georgetown. It started to pour rain the moment we stepped outside the Metro station, and we walked and walked. I was absolutely saturated but it was quite warm, so we dried out a little bit at a good Italian restaurant staffed by Filipinos.

Thursday were some final discussions and meetings, promises of further action, and the long flight home. I still think it's pretty remarkable that I could travel over 5,000 km and visit three coasts of the continent in less than a day. I got home at midnight on Thursday. Security wasn't too bad, only one pat-down in Seattle and I lost the little snow-globe of the White House Lianne asked for - apparently those are verboten, in any size, unless you drain them yourself first. So remember!

All in all, a good week - I made a lot of good contacts and plan on going back next year (it will be at NDU again).

Oh, and I also found that the article I wrote on the Dieppe Raid ( was nominated for "Best Historical Article" in the Charles S. Roberts Awards ( But it didn't win.
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Today I went out for a walk at lunch (still trying to break in those new Corcoran boots, the left one has developed a crease that presses on top of my foot and I'm nost sure how to prevent it) and turned my steps southward, to check out the James Bay United Church weekly jumble sale. Found this:

in a nice wooden frame and bought it. Put it in my office, on the windowsill for now. I don't know how old the actual photo is, I don't want to tear the paper off the back. Anyway, now I have a nice picture of one of my favourite writers.
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Aiee, six weeks passes like nothing. So, more updates:

My article on the 1942 Dieppe raid appeared in the latest issue of Strategy and Tactics. Got a couple of positive comments but no one really seems to have noticed. Thought I would ruffle some feathers but I guess not. - the only discussion so far has centred around what kind of Churchill tank was portrayed on the cover. The issue also contained my short review of Kilcullen's The Accidental Guerrilla, which someone else liked enough to go out and buy the book, which is praise I suppose.

Thanksgiving weekend we went out to a mail art show, Dale Roberts' Mailmania, at the Vancouver Island School of Art. It was good fun and my friend Anna Banana came over from Sechelt and stayed with us. Then we went to Pender Island for some turkey! It was a quick visit.

Last weekend was my birthday. I have almost outlived George Orwell. We had pizza and a big DQ ice cream cake. Lianne got me a Tempurpedic pillow which is good for my back, and a couple of bits for my Dremel tool (I am going to try using it on lino blocks to see how well it can cut and shape 'em) and I got myself The Gun, a newly written history of the AK-47.

Locals will know (or perhaps you've forgotten already) that the day after my birthday the government was reorganized. My old work unit has ceased to exist - still have a job, will probably be just like my job was, only in a different (and completely new) ministry and perhaps in a different building after a while (I will definitely miss working in this beautiful old building, if the move comes to pass I will work in a cube in the sky looking down on a desolate building site and an icky arena).

Halloween weekend was fun! [ profile] shadesofwinter organized a party for the [Unknown site tag] people on Saturday night at the Ledge. Lianne came too and we both dressed as Maoist Red Guards - we looked cute together but photo not available as it shows me to distinct disadvantage! I got to DJ for the first hour, it was fun and I only screwed up once, hitting the wrong button. No one seemed to notice; nobody dances in the first hour or so anyway. Set list (s'pose I could have chosen better, it sounded like I did a lot of butting one beat into the back of another):

Joy Division - Exercise One
Klaus Nomi - The Twist
Wire - Follow the Locust
Nash the Slash - Swing Shift
Gary Numan - Telekon
Blutengel - I'm Dying Alone
Manufacture - As The End Draws Near
Kraftwerk - Showroom Dummies
Skinny Puppy - Smothered Hope
Xmal Deutschland - Mondlicht
Numb - Blood
Killing Joke - Chop Chop
Pere Ubu - The Final Solution

Halloween night we didn't even bother putting the light on or making candy available - last year only TWO kids showed up all night, and I didn't even hear any passing by on the road outside this year. Lots of firecrackers and rockets though. I made a big pot of ham and pea soup and watched Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (TCM has been running a lot of these movies in the last month or two, and I find them pretty funny, with Leo Gorcey's malapropisms and Huntz Hall's goofy jokes.)

Hope all is well with you, Deah Readuhs... and for my American friends, I am so very very sorry.
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It's rather late, but for those who are curious, I did get my article on Dieppe done, and turned it in at the beginning of January. I did a lot of research on this one, and the best find was a lengthy 200+ page doctoral dissertation on the raid done by a guy who had done his history BA and MA at UVic, and sent a copy of his doctoral dissertation back from Oxford to the Special Collections at UVic. I spent a very valuable day there reading it.

The article ended up a trifle long, but it did not say the usual "noble sacrifice of our brave boys, as a dress rehearsal for D-Day they saved thousands of other lives..." blah blah woff woff. Truth is, it was nothing of the kind and I say so. Left me with an abiding distaste for Louis Mountbatten - I didn't have much of an opinion about him before this but I do now. Last week I saw the CBC film on Dieppe, pretty minor work and used as its main source a very very anti-Mountbatten book called "Unathorized Action", which I did use as a source but thought it went rather too far.

Also, today I published my game on the Finnish Civil War of 1918 to my webpage. I claim firsties! No one has done a game on this war before.

For years I have been wanting to do a game on the Finnish Civil War of 1918. Chaotic, savage, balance tipping this way and that, and one more facet of the turmooil coming out of World War One. In September-October 2009 I finally got it together to make such a game - actually made it in two versions: one using the Freikorps/Konarmiya/War Plan Crimson system with 280 counters, and one with only 50 counters using a modified FK/K/WPC system that I was going to send in to Victory Point Games, which does a lot of small fast games ( They use the same map.

I finished them at the end of October 2009, then got sidetracked on writing the Dieppe article and other end-of-year stuff. And VPG's pipeline is seriously impacted, even if they were interested in thei obscure tussle and accepted the idea right away it would be 2-3 years before it came out. So, I decided just to upload it to my page - getcher free copy here: (scroll down)

Updates on new games: Summer Lightning: went up on P500 in June 2009, now has roughly 115 pre-orders which miiiiight be juuuuust enough for Lock n' Load to print it. It's excited some interest, and I hope it will come out soon. Greek Civil War and Balkan Gambit are both pretty much ready to go, and have been since the fall. Fiery Dragon, the publisher in Toronto, has been cutting way back on production of new items, especially wargames which have iffy sales. The publisher has a digital printing business which simplifies most of the production but he has of course had to concentrate on keeping that business afloat - if it goes under, then no one gets anything out of the deal. So, still looking for those two to come out in 2010. Likely Green Beret will follow in 2011. As for Virtualia, I have had very little time to work on this, VASSAL looks to be the way to go but I haven't had the time to figure out how to make a workable module. I'm told that once you do, producing others is easy. Thinking of overhauling it (not much required) to handle Afghanistan situation. I recently read David Kilcullen's The Accidental Guerrilla and what he is saying seems to fit in with the game concepts of Virtualia. Even better if I can get that onto a computer screen.

Conventions and things: I haven't gone to anything. Had to spend $$$ repairing the sundeck last summer, so no Consimworld Expo, will miss this year's "Connections" conference in Dayton Ohio this March (I'm acting Boss at work, trying to put old house on the market again, and no money as we have to fix the roof siding on the new house), no MORS meetings (Irregular Warfare conference in February 2010 was classified, as is the annual Symposium in June in Quantico VA.)

Dream: Last night I had a long dream where Lianne and I went to visit J.G. Ballard in his home in Shepperton. He was very nice and friendly to us, was wearing a beige suit with vest and tie. Sometimes when I looked at him he had a mustache, strange because he never grew one in his life. I remember feeling mortified every time I opened my mouth to ask him a question - thinking that he had been asked it 400 times before, or that what I had asked was utterly banal, or both. Later we went out for a pint and I made him a chocolate peanut butter pie in his kitchen, but for some reason there was no time to bake it.
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Well, a few things have been a-happening.

I'm slowly getting out from under this stupid cold; figure I have produced enough phlegm in the last 10 days to fill a large salad bowl. Now I'm waiting for the "hinny" to strike. Argh. The high point of my birthday weekend was a short trip to Dairy Queen - I had a small Blizzard. But I got some nice books, though - The Fighting Canadians by David Bercuson, Kilcullen's very good The Accidental Guerrilla, and a history of the AK-47 rifle (there are actually several such in print right now, I think I got a good one).

Also recently is issue #259 of Strategy and Tactics magazine, containing my game Battle for China and my large accompanying article on the Sino-Japanese War 1937-41. Seems to have been well received, at least no one has written in demanding to know why I didn't use his favourite reference book or that I missed mention that the 1st Parachute Battalion was dropped in the second battle for Changsha, Or Something. I think this is the high point of my gamer notoriety - World at War has a circulation of about 5,000 I think, and S&T about 15,000. This will be the last time these games will be published as I sold the copyrights to the publisher - but this marks the third time for the Spanish game and the fourth for the China game, not bad for an amateur effort.

Now I need to get going on an article on the impact of the Dieppe raid on Allied doctrine - I'll have some time to work on it next month maybe. Meanwhile, finishing up a game on the Finnish Civil War (January-May 1918) that tries to do something a little different. Also worked on the cover artwork for my Greek Civil War (1947-49) and Balkan Gambit games; they ought to come out in early 2010.

I don't think I wrote about my fruit trees. I have a large apple tree and a smaller pear tree in my backyard, and while neither one has been properly pruned or looked after in years, they both bore lots of good fruit. I made many, many crisps, since I can't be arsed to make pies or cakes. This spring we will have them looked at by a tree surgeon, and they should do well. Will also cut back that large maple tree that overhangs my backyard and made my vegetables waste most of their effort growing sideways to get out of its shade.

Been listening to Gang of Four's early albums lately - if the Situationists had had a house band, they would be it.

The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
Ideal love a new purchase
A market of the senses
Dream of the perfect life
Economic circumstances
The body is good business
Sell out, maintain the interest
Remember Lot's wife
Renounce all sin and vice
Dream of the perfect life
This heaven gives me migraine
The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure

Coercion of the senses
We are not so gullible
Our great expectations
A future for the good
Fornication makes you happy
No escape from society
Natural is not in it
Your relations are of power
We all have good intentions
But all with strings attached

Repackaged sex keeps your interest
Repackaged sex keeps your interest
Repackaged sex keeps your interest
Repackaged sex keeps your interest
Repackaged sex keeps your interest
Repackaged sex keeps your interest

The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
Ideal love a new purchase
A market of the senses
Dream of the perfect life
Economic circumstances
The body is good business
Sell out, maintain the interest
Remember Lot's wife
Renounce all sin and vice
Dream of the perfect life
This heaven gives me migraine
This heaven gives me migraine
This heaven gives me migraine
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A couple of weeks ago issue #8 of World at War magazine, featuring a leading article and full-size wargame on the subject by Yours Truly, hit the stands. Yes, you probably missed it because the mag has a circulation of only about 7,000, but it was nice to see some of my game work hit the relative big time.

And you know, it wasn't long after the magazine came out that I got an e-mail from the publisher, passing on an e-mail he had received from a person billing himself as a visiting professor in Spanish studies at Indiana University. He had found the magazine at a Barnes & Noble and had written in to correct me on where he thought I was wrong, on separatist movements in the autonomous regions of Spain, and suggesting I refer to the works of Stanley Payne and Pio Moa, a Spanish writer. They were fairly minor points but Stanley Payne (who I did not use) has defended the work of Pío Moa, a controversial writer who is viewed by many academics as a pseudo-historian, revisionist writer and apologist for Franco. It's obvious that the war is not over yet!

I've been writing articles for this magazine's sister publication Strategy & Tactics for 16 years, and I have to say this is only the second time anyone has commented to me on the content of the article - and the first time it was to complain about a misdrawn provincial border on a map of 1848 Germany that I never even saw until it appeared in the magazine!

One of the best references I did use in writing the article was Anthony Beevor's relatively recent book The Battle for Spain. I found an interesting review of it online (from The Independent, published: 21 May 2006), not least for his comments on Kids Today:

Antony Beevor: On the joys of history

The Left isn't going to like Antony Beevor's book on the Spanish Civil War, but he's used to controversy - his account of the fall of Berlin elicited heated protests from the Russian ambassador. Danuta Kean talks to him about the joys of digging in the archives, his despair about history students today and his brush with Jackie Onassis

Antony Beevor is horrified, but, for once, it is not accounts of rape, torture or political betrayal uncovered in the archives of Berlin and Moscow that exercise the author of Stalingrad. What angers him is the state of British education, especially the teaching of history. "Britain is the only country in Europe, with the exception of Albania and Iceland, where history is no longer compulsory after the age of 14." His words are rapid as machine gunfire. "There is an extraordinary conviction, which has come partly from teacher training colleges, that history is elitist and reactionary and not worthy."

Read more... )
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An idea that makes sense and which I hope will catch on:

Google digital books can become instant paperbacks

By Chris Lefkow, AFP September 20, 2009

AFPWASHINGTON – More than two million books in the public domain can be turned into instant paperbacks under a deal announced on Thursday between Google and the company behind a high-speed book-printing machine.

Google, which is scanning millions of out-of-copyright books as part of its controversial book project, signed an agreement with On Demand Books that will give the maker of the Espresso Book Machine access to public domain titles.

Like its name implies, the Espresso Book Machine can print and bind a library-quality paperback book with a full-color cover in about the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee.
Read more... )

No matter what you think about Google and its deals, I hope this idea of print-on-demand will save the book publishing business, because it's not dong well right now. It never made sense to me that publishing companies expended prodigious amounts of all kinds of resources printing hundreds of thousands of copies of books, most of which as it turned out were not wanted, and shipping them huge distances only to have the remainders stripped and shipped back all that way to be destroyed. Why not have a bookstore with two or three copies of everything available for impulse buys, and a big printer in the back to whistle up more when they are needed?

I recently bought a very obscure and long out of print book on wargaming through, it was kind of expensive (about $28) but it was that or, well, nothing. I got it in just a few days and was happy with it.

Honestly I don't think electronic books will ever really catch on (it may for textbooks and other reference works), because people who like to read for pleasure want to touch what they are reading. Granted there are fewer and fewer of these every year, though....
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An interesting post from the Canadian Internet company Tucows, which has provided me in the past with many interesting things, on copyright and creativity:

Read more... )

Oh, and I finished and submitted my Greek Civil War article: almost 9,200 words all told, which is more than the magazine asked for. But in the past I've gone long and they haven't bothered cutting me back. Feels good having done with it. Next month and November will see the appearance of my games and major articles on the Sino-Japanese war and Spanish Civil war, so more egoboo there, and meanwhile I have to get busy on an article about Dieppe!
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I took Friday off to work on my article for a bit, then in the afternoon after Aki's tutor lesson we went to Pender Island to see my favourite uncle, who is visiting my dad. We almost left it too late to get the ferry as there was a huge lineup for... ships... going... somewhere... BC Ferries doesn't seem to know where or when, but you should line up all the same.

Saturday we went fishing and caught a big pink. I don't go fishing very often and catching something is even less frequent, so this was good. My Dad gave it to Aki - we took the 5:00 ferry home and I cooked the salmon on the barbeque for him, just that and some rice and he was fine.

Sunday I worked on my article all day and I would say that it's finished! Although I might add one small sidebar on the Greek Civil War's place in the Cold War as a whole - hm, maybe I will just work that into the body of the article. The darn thing is probably too long, I'm guessing it's well over 9,000 words. That's the problem with writing about these conflicts for gamers - some will have little idea what happened so there has to be lots of narrative; others already know the gist so you have to have lots of niggling detail. And there's never a lot of room left for analysis, without all that supporting narrative or detail. And if you're wrong about something trivial, they will let you know about it - well, maybe not: in all the articles I have had published in this magazine, I have only ever had one error pointed out to me, and it was a misplaced border in a map that I never saw until the article was printed, between two countries that were not germane to the subject of the article. But I suppose the correspondent felt obligated to say something.

Anyway, glad I am finished - I always curse while I am doing it, "whatthehellamIdoingthisfornoonereadsthedamnthingsandit'sjustsixcentsafreakingword" but I am always glad when it's done (and even happier when I see it in print). Next, something on Dieppe, but I have until the end of the year to write it.
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Short article from the BBC Magazine with the usual complaints about Powerpoint, but some hints about what to avoid - that is if you are stuck having to use it:

Tuvan Independence Day party went well. More than two people showed up and it didn't rain, so I count it a success. The roast goat went down a treat, as did the grilled-fresh-out-of-the-garden zucchini.

Struggling to finish a long article on the Greek Civil War, 1943-49. It's going OK but will probably be too long. Working on it for 90 minutes each night after supper and tutoring are done is not the most efficient way to get it done either.

15 Books Meme, taken from my old friend Johnny from Facebook.

Select fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you.
Choose the first fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.
Don't take too long to think about it.
Tag some other people if you want; I won't.

I assume this to mean books that you will always remember, not because you found them life-changing but because you found them enjoyable or memorable, at any age, for a variety of reasons. I certainly could list some unpleasant books that have stuck in my mind over the years.

Anyway, in no particular order or ranking:

1. 1984 - George Orwell
2. Will - G. Gordon Liddy
3. Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis
4. Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon - Jim Paul
5. Crash - J. G. Ballard
6. The Forgotten Soldier - Guy Sajer
7. This Kind of War - T. R. Fehrenbach
8. Tuva or Bust! - Ralph Leighton
9. The Ancient Engineers - L. Sprague de Camp
10. Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein
11. Neuromancer - William Gibson
12. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
13. Two Little Savages - Ernest Thompson Seton
14. How To Build A Flying Saucer - T. B. Pawlicki
15. Cache Lake Country - John Rowlands

Hm, that was harder than I thought.
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In preparation for the Connections conference next week (yikes! that kind of crept up on me), I spent the weekend tussling with some software called VASSAL, a "game engine" that allows people to create online versions of board and card games and play them over the Internet in real time.

The software was written to permit play of Advanced Squad Leader, a very complicated tactical board wargame, but it's pretty flexible. Unfortunately, I don't think I have the time to create a VASSAL version of Virtualia - I've never even played one of these things online. No time, no time.

But it's amazing to see the lengths that people will go to mimic on a computer the experience of sitting across a table from a real live person to play a paper game (sorry, "manual simulation"). I wonder if I should even bother with this, though.

In other better news, The Lost Box of Books has surfaced! (ref It was found as we excavated our way to the bottom of our video holdings - it must have been one of the first boxes moved into the new house, and then buried by everything else. Well, too late to have written a better article, but perhaps it would have turned out pretty much the same anyway.

I also spent some time on Saturday baking - [ profile] shanmonster's Spicy Devil's Food Cake, which was really good, and an almond-flavoured Dutch butter cake - which recipe I got from a co-op student at work. Also really good, like shortbread but more chewy.


Feb. 18th, 2009 10:45 am
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Yes, I know, it's been a while since I posted but I've been busy. Finished writing yet another article: 7,600+ words on the Sino-Japanese War, to top the 9,300 I cranked out on the Spanish Civil War over Xmas and New Year's holidays, means I've been a busy little bee.

The problem this time is that in the aftermath of moving every blessed thing I and everyone else near and dear to me own, about a mile away from where it was, is that I lost the box of books and reference materials I had pre-packed in order to write this article without having to unpack my entire library. Over 40 boxes of books and guess which ONE is missing. It has to be somewhere in the damn house. Anyway, I had to round up some lesser quality reference materials and get it done in a cracking hurry - at least there were no library books in that box. Wouldn't want Lt. Bookman to get after me (

Next up: the CONNECTIONS conference in Orlando Florida, in early March. Some potential here for making some, uh, connections in the serious games world, wish I had time to convert Virtualia to some kind of digital form. I've given up on learning to use Visual Basic this year - life's too short. Probably not going to Phoenix this year even though I have three games coming out by then (Greek Civil War game, Balkans invasion game, and revision of Vietnam 1964 game), need to save money to fix the back deck and put the stairs back in.

Oh yeah, about lunch: I just realized I am about to tuck into baloney and mustard, with processed cheese on white bread, and wash it down with genuine orange Tang. What am I, nine years old? But that's what was in the fridge this morning... I will try to do better.
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Ballard's Room:

Writers' rooms: JG Ballard, Friday 9 March 2007 10.03 GMT

Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

My room is dominated by the huge painting, which is a copy of The Violation by the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux. The original was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940, and I commissioned an artist I know, Brigid Marlin, to make a copy from a photograph. I never stop looking at this painting and its mysterious and beautiful women. Sometimes I think I have gone to live inside it and each morning I emerge refreshed. It's a male dream.

There are photos of my four grandchildren (one, along with a picture of my girlfriend Claire, is just out of shot). The postcard is Dali's Persistence of Memory, the greatest painting of the 20th century, and next to it is a painting by my daughter, which is the greatest painting of the 21st century. On the desk is my old manual typewriter, which I recently found in my stair cupboard. I was inspired by a letter from Will Self, who wrote to me on his manual typewriter. So far I have just stared at the old machine, without daring to touch it, but who knows? The first drafts of my novels have all been written in longhand and then I type them up on my old electric. I have resisted getting a computer because I distrust the whole PC thing. I don't think a great book has yet been written on computer.

I have worked at this desk for the past 47 years. All my novels have been written on it, and old papers of every kind have accumulated like a great reef. The chair is an old dining-room chair that my mother brought back from China and probably one I sat on as a child, so it has known me for a very long time. A Paolozzi screen-print is resting against the door, which now serves as a cat barrier during the summer months. My neighbour's cats are enormously affectionate, and in the summer leap up on to my desk and then churn up all my papers into a huge whirlwind. They are my fiercest critics.

I work for three or four hours a day, in the late morning and early afternoon. Then I go out for a walk and come back in time for a large gin and tonic.

My Room:

Well, I don't have a picture of it, though in the new house I actually do have a sort of office/ writing room. On the floorplan of the house, it is referred to as "Area 10'10" x 10'2"", and it is adjacent to "Area 10'10" x 9'4"" which I will use as a studio for casting, printmaking, and general arty almost-outside stuff. There is no door, which I may change in time, but there is space for my books and my desk.

I was interested in Ballard's comment on how he does his writing, as I have long thought that the method in some part determines the composition itself. I spent much of my Christmas holiday writing what amounted to 9,300 words on the Spanish Civil War (got to get cracking on something on the Sino-Japanese War Real Soon Now) and I used the method I always have: first draft is longhand, make revisions on the fly as I am typing it into the computer, and there is my second draft. I normally find I do not have to make a third beyond a few revisions made after I let it sit for a few days.

But then again I am not a fiction writer. No gin and tonics either.
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I have three typewriters at home, two manual and one electric. And I'm going to keep them, along with a supply of old ribbons. So there.

I used to have a boss who insisted that I put two spaces after a full-stop period, just like in Grade 10 typing class. Never mind that we did all our work on computers, with proportional spacing, adjustable kerning and nice proportional serif fonts. Two spaces after a period looked stupid. But she insisted, and would actually go through anything I wrote and indicate where a space had been left out. So from time to time I would type something for her using a font that imitated a grubby old battered manual typewriter (I often used ), being careful to add the two spaces. Oh, I kill me....

Why typewriters beat computers

By Neil Hallows

They're clunky, dirty and can't access the internet, yet every year thousands of people buy typewriters when they could probably afford a computer. Why?

Read more... )
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Former Montrealer sets up $75,000 prize for history writing
Last Updated: Friday, April 18, 2008 | 10:12 AM ET

A former Montrealer has established a lucrative new literary honour designed to shine a light on the genre of non-fiction history writing.

London-based investment manager Peter Cundill, a graduate of McGill University, has unveiled the $75,000 US Cundill International Prize in History.
Read more... )

About bloody time!
I haven't read any new good fiction in years, except maybe William Gibson. Yet non-fiction writing continues to improve. Most new books I buy these days are non-fiction, usually history.
But I acknowledge I am in the minority.
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Simon Reynolds wrote Rip It Up And Start Again, the best book I've ever read on my favourite period of pop music: the post-punk era, 1978-84. I've been meaning to post something about the book but haven't gotten around to re-reading it, which I would like to do.

Meanwhile, here is an interview with the author, on the connection with one of my favourite writers:

Simon Reynolds on the Ballard Connection

Interview by Simon Sellars for the website Ballardian.

Simon Reynolds is one of the most recognisable music critics around — or at least his style is, not least for its willingness to tackle pop music as an art form worthy of sustained intellectual discourse rather than as a fleeting moment of adolescent flash. Reynolds breaks new ground, melding unbridled enthusiasm with a robust theoretical framework in a body of work that is thrilling for its eclecticism alone: he’s never less than compelling writing about hip hop, Britney or rave, as he is about grunge, prog or grime.

Reynolds reached a peak of sorts with the publication of Rip It Up and Start Again, a deliriously good excavation of the postpunk era, the generation of musicians that broke immediately after punk: Cabaret Voltaire, PiL, Magazine and so on. What’s more, J.G. Ballard was a thread throughout the book, as Reynolds charted the influence of JGB — and The Atrocity Exhibition, especially — on this particular era.

Read more... )
Original site with pictures:
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I put this here because I know I won't find it again - William Gibson, writing in Wired magazine, about appropriation.

Last night I finished reading Utopia Parkway, the first full-length biography of Joseph Cornell. Fascinating.

Issue 13.07 - July 2005

God's Little Toys
Confessions of a cut & paste artist.

By William GibsonPage

When I was 13, in 1961, I surreptitiously purchased an anthology of Beat writing - sensing, correctly, that my mother wouldn't approve.

Immediately, and to my very great excitement, I discovered Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and one William S. Burroughs - author of something called Naked Lunch, excerpted there in all its coruscating brilliance.

Burroughs was then as radical a literary man as the world had to offer, and in my opinion, he still holds the title. Nothing, in all my experience of literature since, has ever been quite as remarkable for me, and nothing has ever had as strong an effect on my sense of the sheer possibilities of writing.

Later, attempting to understand this impact, I discovered that Burroughs had incorporated snippets of other writers' texts into his work, an action I knew my teachers would have called plagiarism. Some of these borrowings had been lifted from American science fiction of the '40s and '50s, adding a secondary shock of recognition for me.

By then I knew that this "cut-up method," as Burroughs called it, was central to whatever it was he thought he was doing, and that he quite literally believed it to be akin to magic. When he wrote about his process, the hairs on my neck stood up, so palpable was the excitement. Experiments with audiotape inspired him in a similar vein: "God's little toy," his friend Brion Gysin called their reel-to-reel machine.

Sampling. Burroughs was interrogating the universe with scissors and a paste pot, and the least imitative of authors was no plagiarist at all.

Some 20 years later, when our paths finally crossed, I asked Burroughs whether he was writing on a computer yet. "What would I want a computer for?" he asked, with evident distaste. "I have a typewriter."

But I already knew that word processing was another of God's little toys, and that the scissors and paste pot were always there for me, on the desktop of my Apple IIc. Burroughs' methods, which had also worked for Picasso, Duchamp, and Godard, were built into the technology through which I now composed my own narratives. Everything I wrote, I believed instinctively, was to some extent collage. Meaning, ultimately, seemed a matter of adjacent data.

Thereafter, exploring possibilities of (so-called) cyberspace, I littered my narratives with references to one sort or another of collage: the AI in Count Zero that emulates Joseph Cornell, the assemblage environment constructed on the Bay Bridge in Virtual Light.

Meanwhile, in the early '70s in Jamaica, King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry, great visionaries, were deconstructing recorded music. Using astonishingly primitive predigital hardware, they created what they called versions. The recombinant nature of their means of production quickly spread to DJs in New York and London.

Our culture no longer bothers to use words like appropriation or borrowing to describe those very activities. Today's audience isn't listening at all - it's participating. Indeed, audience is as antique a term as record, the one archaically passive, the other archaically physical. The record, not the remix, is the anomaly today. The remix is the very nature of the digital.

Today, an endless, recombinant, and fundamentally social process generates countless hours of creative product (another antique term?). To say that this poses a threat to the record industry is simply comic. The record industry, though it may not know it yet, has gone the way of the record. Instead, the recombinant (the bootleg, the remix, the mash-up) has become the characteristic pivot at the turn of our two centuries.

We live at a peculiar juncture, one in which the record (an object) and the recombinant (a process) still, however briefly, coexist. But there seems little doubt as to the direction things are going. The recombinant is manifest in forms as diverse as Alan Moore's graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, machinima generated with game engines (Quake, Doom, Halo), the whole metastasized library of Dean Scream remixes, genre-warping fan fiction from the universes of Star Trek or Buffy or (more satisfying by far) both at once, the JarJar-less Phantom Edit (sound of an audience voting with its fingers), brand-hybrid athletic shoes, gleefully transgressive logo jumping, and products like Kubrick figures, those Japanese collectibles that slyly masquerade as soulless corporate units yet are rescued from anonymity by the application of a thoughtfully aggressive "custom" paint job.

We seldom legislate new technologies into being. They emerge, and we plunge with them into whatever vortices of change they generate. We legislate after the fact, in a perpetual game of catch-up, as best we can, while our new technologies redefine us - as surely and perhaps as terribly as we've been redefined by broadcast television.

"Who owns the words?" asked a disembodied but very persistent voice throughout much of Burroughs' work. Who does own them now? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do. All of us.

Though not all of us know it - yet.


Oct. 26th, 2006 09:12 am
ltmurnau: (Default)
BrianDate 42.00546:

1. What a great time I had at Lucky on Tuesday! The Batnix played really well, and even played a new cover tune, the old "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight" by the Rezillos! The burlesque was OK too, I stayed just for the first few acts.

I cadged a free drink from the bar itself, and [ profile] play_to_zero very graciously bought me one too! Aaron gave me two Cheapass games, something I totally did not expect but am very grateful for (incidentally, I can't access from work any more, as it's now "red-screened" as a Naughty Place, so I can't find out his e-mail address - can anyone help me?) I took the last bus home so full of ego-strokes I thought I was gonna 'splode.

Thank you all, my friends, for wishing me happy birthday!

2. Yesterday I was Googling myself, as I sometimes do, and found that an article I had written about the Bonus Army of 1932 had been republished without my knowledge: The Bonus Army and the Torching of Hooverville. The magazine in question is Press for Conversion, a Canadian publication that started as a protest sheet against an annual arms show in Ottawa, and the issue (#53, March 2004) theme was "facing the corporate roots of American fascism".

However, in reproducing the text of my article, they did not reproduce the admonitory paragraph I placed at the bottom of the page from which they took it: "NOTE TO PLAGIARISTS: If you are going to just copy this text, add your name and submit it as a term paper, be aware that I have placed a small but significant error in this paper. If your teacher is any less lazy than you are, it will be found and you will be caught. However, if your motives are honest and you have read more than one document on the Bonus Army or the Hoover Government, then you will be able to catch the error and correct it."

And of course, though the editor did not substitute his name for mine, he also did not catch it, or contact me to correct the error. Har har, hardee har har.


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