Presidents: Well, America actually got what appears to be a halfway decent President for once. By 'decent' I mean 'capable of forming a coherent sentence or thought while on national TV'. With any luck, he'll turn out to be everything the people who voted for him are hoping for. A bit like we thought Tony Blair would be, but unfortunately wasn't. Knowing our luck, Britain'll lose its free national health system just about the time America finally gets one.
Mike Brotherton is a hard sf writer who enjoys the wonderful distinction of being a working astrophysicist, which means he actually knows what he's talking about when it comes to the science behind his stories. I've found his blog to be very enjoyable reading. I stumbled across him because, according to the US Amazon website, people who buy Stealing Light also most often buy his latest book, Spider Star. His previous (and first) book, Star Dragon, is available in full as a free download from his website, if you fancy trying before you buy.
Look at this picture below.
Terrifying, isn't it?
Every now and then I fly from Taipei to Hong Kong and back again. Most often my departure lounge is the Hello Kitty! lounge. To get the full effect of the picture, it's best to put on a cd of punk-pop hits as sung by midgets overdosing on helium. The stand-out 'kill me now' track pumped out regularly at the Hello Kitty! departure lounge (at Taipei's Taoyuan airport) is "Ça plane pour moi", originally a hit in '77 for Plastic Bertrand. I don't actually wait in this lounge, I hesitate to add, I wait as far from it as I can humanly get before making a fast dash through it and onto the plane as quickly as possible.
If you're very unlucky, one of these days I might post a picture of the Hello Kitty! passenger jet.
Television: if I were to trace the exact moment at which I decided my life might be better without a television set, it would be the moment when, slumped on my couch in Glasgow about five years ago, I found myself watching - remote in hand - as a couple with a failing relationship were offered 'relationship advice' by an 'expert'.
This 'expert' advised that they should listen to opera in the bedroom while the lady in question reclined upon silk sheets. The gentleman in question, despite not having an artistic bone in his body and all the verbal sophistication of a nightclub bouncer, was required to sit at an easel and paint his girlfriend's portrait. He sat there dabbing at the canvas like a bored four-year old stuck in the house when it's raining outside, making random marks with a brush. I watched his cheek twitching spasmodically with the promise of incipient violence. I knew he had the same image in his head that I did; that of sawing the expert's head off with one edge of a blunt easel. It was one of the most cringe-worthy things I've ever witnessed.
The point of this is the obvious contempt not only for the couple in question, but for the audience watching. I wondered if I really wanted to keep on paying my TV licence, which costs me about £140 quid a year. And yet I did keep on paying, since outside of visual slop like the aforementioned, the BBC, in particular, is capable of some stunningly high quality programming.
So imagine my joy when I recently discovered that the license only relates to live television. If you don't have a TV receiver, but you do have a computer with a biiig monitor and a broadband connection, you're not required to pay. Instead, you can stream programming from both the BBC sites and the various sites that cater for the independent UK channels, since these don't qualify as 'live'.
Even before I left the UK I was using a DVR to pre-record only those shows I wanted to watch to a hard disk. So when I get back to the UK, the TV goes. And in comes a bigger monitor. Or maybe even a table-top projector.