Jet lag city

Just off a plane from Tokyo, so A) that explains why there hasn’t been much bloggage around here for a while and b) why it will probably be a few days until normal service is resumed.

Blog theft – Oh the irony

Eh, is it routine practice amongst the blogging community to steal other people’s blogs and reproduce them elsewhere, without giving credit or even posting a link? I don’t think so.

However, incredibly, somebody has taken the liberty of lifting my previous blog entry, and reproducing it on another blog. Really, somebody has stolen a blog entry on the evils of plagerism, and then plagerised it.

Here’s the link:

Google finally taken to task

Finally some sanity. I read today that Google (and its subsidiary Youtube) are to be sued by entertainment giant Viacom for copyright infringement. The BBC website says this:

Viacom, which owns MTV and Nickelodeon, says YouTube uses its shows illegally. Viacom alleges that about 160,000 unauthorised clips of its programmes have been loaded onto YouTube’s site and viewed more than 1.5 billion times. As well as more than $1bn in damages, the legal action seeks an injunction to prevent what Viacom calls “massive intentional copyright infringement”.

This has been a pet irritation of mine for the last six months, as these companies have pursued a policy of deliberatly undermining copyright law on the internet, with the knock on effect of facililating the knuckle-dragging morons that populate internet discussion forums arguing that there’s nothing wrong with stealing copyright material.

Why do I care? Well, Google video is currently hosting several full length illegally uploaded DVDs made by my martial arts instructor. Some half wit decided to upload them “as a service to everyone that’s interested” but these titles are commercially for sale and the viewing figures for them online are enormous. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the fact they are availble for free online is seriously damaging their sales.

Now, I don’t have shares in the company that produces them, so arguably it’s none of my business, but I personally know the person being shafted and I don’t believe in turning away when I see a wrong being perpetrated. So when I saw these DVDs were illegally online, myself and a few others tried to contact Google to let them know. I naively thought that they probably had a fair usage policy that had been breached and that once it was drawn to their attention, they’d have them pulled.

Well, not so. You see, under the Google terms and conditions anyone can upload content, but only the authorized copyright holder can lodge a complaint if copyright has been breached. In this case, the person who holds the copyright is a Japanese man in his 70s who doesn’t even own a computer let alone surf Google, Youtube and Ebay randomly enforcing his intellectual copyright. (To cut a long story short, a third friend was authorized with legal power of attorney to complain about this, and it’s currently being dealt with. Ditto the people on ebay selling illegal copies of the same material.)

But actually in this case the principle is more important than the problem. Youtube decided to unilaterally ignore copyright law and allow people to upload broadcast content that is obviously under copyright to the internet and then made it hard to complain about. It wasn’t interested in what was morally or ethically right, but only with what it could get away with. Google then bought Youtube in full knowledge of this.

I depend on copyright to make a living. When I write an article, I get paid not for the article, but actually for the right to publish it – in essence I’m leasing the article for a short period of time and granting the purchaser the right to publish it once. In the past, I’ve had to chase up many companies that have reproduced my work on their websites to point out to them that it’s not their property and it’s not free.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to sue anyone, but I happily would because the principle is extremely important. As it is, there are genuinely large numbers of people out there who really don’t understand why they can’t just download movies, music and books from the web? They think that the people that want to stop them are just spoilsports, or should lighten up. I wonder how they’d feel if I hacked their bank account and ripped them off. Hey, what’s your problem – lighten up? : )

I know that’s silly, but you can see how it doesn’t help when global behemoths like Google and Youtube attempt to bulldoze through international law to normalise this. It creates a culture of acceptance and expectation amongst the general public, and even where it is the so-called large corporations-that-can-afford-to-lose-a-few-quid, it’s still wrong. So I hope they get their asses handed to them in court.

Hot Fuzz and Hot Jon redux


I got this e-mail from my long time friend and fellow troublemaker Jonzer, currently living in New Zealand. He says I can post it here as long as you get the back story:

I went along to the promotional signing for Hot Fuzz in Wellington just after the premiere (which I did not know about or would have gone along). Anyway, I made up a “Hot Jon” poster, which is an obscure reference to “Look Around You”, the Tomorrow’s World piss take with Peter Serofenowicz in it. If you have not seen it, in the last episode, which is supposed to be live, Nick Frost is in the audience outside the studio holding a sign saying “hot jon”, when approached he is aksed what it is and as soon as he starts explaining the sound cuts out and returns just in time to hear him say “… and that’s ‘hot jon’. I was not sure if they would get the joke but they sure did. When they were walking in I held up the sign and both Edgar Wright and Nick Frost said “Aha! Hot Jon! Fanstastic.” So I was chuffed to say the least

That is seriously cool. Nice one Jon! Wikipedia has more on this.

Skynet’s gonna get ya!

Wait, wasn’t Skynet the name of the evil computer network that wiped out humanity in The Terminator? Have we learned nothing??

The British military is set to take one of its most significant steps into the digital age with the launch of the first Skynet 5 satellite.

Taken from the BBC News website

Book review: The Pilo Family Circus

Laughs mixed with terror

The Pilo Family Circus, by Will Elliott, Quercus, €16.15.
Published Sunday, February 25, 2007 – The Sunday Business Post

Reviewed by Alex Meehan

For most people, a trip to the circus is fun, a chance to escape to a shiny, happy place full of smiles and laughter. Not for Jamie though – for him the circus will never be the same again.

At the start of The Pilo Family Circus, Jamie is a twenty-something Aussie living in a shared house with not much to show for his life – no girlfriend, no job, and not much in the way of a backbone. All that changes when he accidentally stumbles across a trio of clowns up to no good late one night in a Brisbane suburb.

Stalked, harassed and finally auditioned against his will, Jamie is carried off by psycho clown Gonko and his sidekicks Goshy and Doopy of the Pilo Family Circus. It turns out that the Pilos are recruiting and whether he likes it or not, Jamie has been chosen as their newest clown.

But Pilo’s is no ordinary circus and these are no ordinary clowns. Presided over by the demonic Kurt and George, the circus functions as staging point between hell and the real world, existing in a netherworld into which unsuspecting members of the public are lured to be harvested. The clowns play a lead role, with their ultra-violent performances and viciously dark and twisted humour. Elsewhere in the circus, dwarves, acrobats, fortune tellers and magicians lie in wait for the nightly ‘tricks’ to wander in from the outside world.

Initially, Jamie is shocked and stunned by the hellish nature of the circus, and he scrapes by on terror and adrenaline as he learns his new role and how to avoid the monstrous and grotesque freaks that populate the fairground.

The story takes a twist when Jamie gets made up with magic face paint that turns him into his alter-ego – JJ the Clown.

JJ takes to his new role with gusto, becoming the most enthusiastically psychotic clown of all, and the stage is set for an epic battle as Jamie and JJ’s split personalities struggle for supremacy. The plot takes side diversions into inter-circus rivalries, as the clowns attempt to take out the acrobats and finally shut a meddling fortune teller down, but essentially Jamie’s story is of his struggle to come to terms with JJ’s actions and his attempt to escape the circus.

Meanwhile, we get to explore just exactly what makes up a clown. In the real world, clowns are the children’s favourite – most people see them as delightful, whimsical entertainers, but there’s a shadowy side, and many others see them as deeply sinister perversions, with their grotesque painted faces and comedy footwear.

Needless to say JJ the clown, along with head clown Gonzo and the others at the Pilo Family Circus owe a lot more to Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King’s IT than they do to the children’s favourite Bobo or even the Simpson’s Krusty.

There is a spark of originality here and the story drives itself along well, while also heavily referencing the kinds of worlds loved by Terry Pratchett and Stephen King.

There is also a healthy dose of The League of Gentlemen – take the wrong path at The Pilo Family Circus and you could easily bump into Papa Lazarou lurking down a dark alley. However, this is essentially a light-hearted book. There is an anarchic joy to be taken in the twisted humour and The Pilo Family Circus is escapist in the literal meaning of the word.

It manages to be edgy while also being genuinely funny and scary without descending into the cliches of the horror genre.

As a debut, this is outstanding: well conceived and well written. The Pilo Family Circus is certainly worth a visit, but hang on to your candy floss – the ride can get bumpy.

Taken from The Sunday Business Post

Freelancing for a living

The life of a professional freelancer is not without its drawbacks, but on average I know that I have landed on my feet with this one.

I get to work the hours I want to, take time off when I want to and broadly speaking I get to pick the work I am interested in (within reason, sometimes the bills just have to get paid). Not insignificantly, I get to keep more of the cash I earn because the tax laws are more favourable to those who are self-employed in Ireland.

I get to talk to new and interesting people pretty much every day and I also get to take advantage of some major perks – I get consumer electronics devices for free to keep or on extended loan for review purposes – I have four brand new cell phones on my desk as I type this – and I also get to travel for free when writing about travel. I’ve done more travel at the age of 30 than most people will ever do, probably several times over. I’ve even had to replace my passport because it ran out of pages to get stamped.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Bet you’re thinking about a career change about now, aren’t you? Well, I won’t lie – it beats the hell out of most people’s jobs. However, in case it seems that this blog entry is purely intended to annoy you the reader, here are some of the drawbacks.

I have to motivate myself, because there’s nobody to stand over me – I don’t work I don’t get paid. There’s no sick leave or holiday pay to be had. I’m heading off to the Far East next week for two weeks – which I’m paying for myself, in case that’s in doubt – and not only do I not get any paid holidays, I have to work twice as hard in advance of going to make sure the mortgage gets paid while I am away. (That’s partly why the blog has been a bit quiet lately.)

I have no job security in the sense that any one of the companies I work for can decide they no longer need my services and drop me without notice. (Although, in fairness, that also works the other way – I can stop working for any company whenever I like.) I can also be messed around by companies that ‘forget’ to pay for six months and have no real job security.

It can be lonely – particularly when I’m very busy with lots of deadlines to hit, I can sometimes be working 10 or 12 hours a day for days on end including weekends and because I work from home I can go days without actually leaving the house. This is not good, so I have to make time even when I can’t really afford it to get out and meet people and do stuff. Mental health is a valuable commodity.

Speaking of health, if I break a hand or am otherwise incapacitated in an accident, I don’t get paid. I have insurance but frankly it wouldn’t last long. It’s very hard to earn more money than I’m already earning, because there is a fixed word rate per job for freelancers, so it’s entirely conceivable that in 20 years time I could be still doing exactly the same job and earning the same rate.

Experienced and valued freelancers can commend slightly higher rates than newbies but negotiating is not easy. Freelance rates increase slightly slower than grass grows – they certainly don’t stay in line with inflation. I get a premium rate from a few publications, but certainly, nobody has ever heard of a millionaire journalist.

Finally, I have the grief of having to do my own invoicing, tax and VAT – it’s a lot of paperwork and can be a major pain in the ass. Despite all that, I think it’s a great job – so by all means if you think it’s for you, have a go.


I listen to music pretty much for 12 hours a day. In fact, the only time I turn it off is if I’m conducting a phone interview, transcribing notes or sometimes working on something that’s actually complex and requires 100 per cent concentration. Otherwise, it’s loud and it’s constant. I bet my neighbours love me.

What’s playing at the moment? Currently, I tunes is playing a random selection of tunes from the collection:

Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones

Break on through to the other side – The Doors

I am the Ressurection – The Stone Roses

All cats are Grey – Levinhurst

Three Imaginary Boys – The Cure

Fool’s Gold – The Stone Roses

How Soon is Now – The Smiths

Before Three – The Cure

John the Revelator – Depeche Mode

Bei Mir Bist Du Schon – The Sisters of Mercy

Mr Brightside – The Killers

Wake Up – Arcade Fire

For the Truth in You – Roger O’Donnell

Robotic laws for real?

Dr Isaac Asimov died in 1992, but before he did, he wrote or edited over 500 books, included amongst them some of the finest science fiction every put to paper. His approach to science fiction was rational and realistic, asking clever “what if” type questions and then making realistic characters react realistically around the situations those questions provoked.


One of his most interesting contributions to science fiction were the three laws of robotics which first appeared in a short story called Runaround in 1942. Asimov wanted to write stories about robots, but he was mostly interested in how real human beings would interact with advanced robots – how would they treat them? What would happen if the robots acquired human characteristics over time? How could mankind keep robotic slaves safely subdued to avoid creating a new race that might one day decide it didn’t like having an off button?

So Asimov thought about these issues and came up with his famous three laws of robotics. These state:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

He then wrote an excellent series of stories, collected in the book I, Robot which got mangled by Hollywood a few years ago. Anyway, why am I blogging about this today? Well, Here’s the first paragraph of a story on the BBC website this evening:

An ethical code to prevent humans abusing robots, and vice versa, is being drawn up by South Korea. The Robot Ethics Charter will cover standards for users and manufacturers and will be released later in 2007. It is being put together by a five member team of experts that includes futurists and a science fiction writer.

And . . .

“In the 21st Century humanity will coexist with the first alien intelligence we have ever come into contact with – robots. It will be an event rich in ethical, social and economic problems.”

Seriously. Check it out at Sounds nuts, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s not as mad as it might sound. This is Fujitsu’s newest service robot, and it’s not a prop.



It’s called Enon, and is an “advanced practical-use service robot that can assist in such tasks as providing guidance, escorting guests, transporting objects, and security patrolling,” according to its makers. Personally, I think they’re wasting their time – Asimov had this all figured out 50 years ago.

You know you got me . . .

Perhaps of limited interest to readers of this corner of the blogosphere (can a sphere have corners? Hmm, probably not. Anyway . . .) but the soundtrack to my morning today has been the second single from Paul Hartnoll (ex of dance behemoth Orbital), with vocals by The Cure’s Robert Smith.

It’s called Please and there’s a mix of it on Hartnoll’s myspace page. It’s a grower . . .

(There are other mixes at and at