Sunday 25 December 2016

Christmas among the Desert Fathers

Abba Jerome went to visit Abba Macarius. “A young monk has told me of a new custom in the cities,” said Abba Macarius. “They call it ‘Christmas’, but I cannot say how it concerns our Lord.”

“Show me this custom,” said Abba Jerome.

“I shall give you this rock,” said Abba Macarius, “for at Christmas people give things to each other.”

“So shall I give you this rock in return,” said Abba Jerome.

“Then they have a meal together,” said Abba Macarius, and in silence they ate their daily fragment of dry bread dipped in olive oil.

And so they celebrated Christmas.

To appear at Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Story Challenge.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

50 words

Hi there! Don't go!

Please, not just yet. You've only just picked me up.

I know, fifty words isn't much, but still, it's home to me.

Linger a while, won't you?

You can go back and reread, I'd like that.

Well, that's the whole story, see you again sometime?


Thursday 13 October 2016


Gad, the heat! And the drums, always the drums. The Colonel stood stiffly on the verandah, dressed in full leathers and a pink tutu, because dammit, one had to keep up standards. He rang to summon tea, then remembered that the native servants had all left weeks before, when the rains had not come. He glanced toward the inert computer in the corner, its power supply burnt out. Was the network still running out there, were the others still hanging on? The natives would know. They always knew. If only he knew what the drums were saying, the talking drums.

Image credit: eatswords

Friday 12 August 2016

The tailor who worked for the Queen of the Fairies

Once upon a time there was a tailor. He was a very good tailor indeed, and aspired to make clothes for the great aristocrats, or even the king himself. But he was of humble birth, and would never come to the attention of such people, unless he bribed their valets and chamberlains for an audience, for which he had neither the money nor the inclination. At last he decided to make the best robe he possibly could, and display it in his shop window, hoping to attract the attention of those he desired to serve.

And so it happened, for the king's tailor saw this robe. He was at once seized with jealousy against a skill he could see was much greater than his own. He conspired with the constables and the judges to claim the robe as his own work, and have the tailor thrown into the palace dungeons as a thief and passer-off.

The tailor despaired in his cell over the injustice of his position, saying, "Why, I could make a robe fit for the Queen of the Fairies herself!" At once the Queen of the Fairies appeared in his cell. "Well, Master Tailor," she said, "you have a fine opinion of yourself. Make me a robe, if you can." There appeared bolts of the finest spider-silk cloth in all manner of shimmering and sparkling colours, caskets of beads, bobbins of thread, and needles, scissors, and other tools of the tailoring trade, of the finest fairy manufacture. "A year from this day, say 'Fairy Queen, Fairy Queen, your robe is done.' I shall return, and if your work pleases me, I shall set you free." 

The tailor worked hard each day by the light of the high windows of his cell, and each night in his dreams planned how to continue the work. A year to the day after the Fairy Queen's visit, the robe was completed. "Fairy Queen, Fairy Queen, your robe is done," he said. The Fairy Queen reappeared and took up the robe. She swirled it about herself in a dazzling rainbow of colour, and then with a blinding flash of light, she vanished.

When the tailor's eyes cleared, he found himself sitting amidst the ruins of the palace. Clambering out of the remains, he saw the city long crumbled to heaps of stone, and at last understood that for every day he had worked for the Fairy Queen, a hundred years had passed in the world.

But what became of him then is another story.

Written today at the Nine Worlds workshop on drabbles. Yes, this isn't 100 words, but it is the length I want it to be.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Coleridge tells of how an epic poem was revealed to him in a dream, and on waking he hastened to write it down; but a person from Porlock visited, and detained him in business for a considerable time, and when at last he was able to return to the poem, it had entirely evaporated, and only the fragment we know as “Kubla Khan” remained.

How the person from Porlock was delayed

“Such a dreadful business! I was on my way from Porlock to pay a visit on my dear friend Mr. Coleridge, when the coach broke a spring, and not another inch might it go without a blacksmith be fetched to mend it, and the thing could not be done in under three hours, and when at last I arrived, I found him dead! dead! of a surfeit of poetical ecstasy, and reams of paper covered as though the Devil himself drove his pen to write thoughts vaster than any mortal might bear! Of course I had the housekeeper burn every page.”

Saturday 6 August 2016


Bill gets some weird ideas, but that’s what we employ him for, not that he knows that since volunteering for the job. “Have you ever wondered if you’re really a brain in a jar, living in a simulation?”

I pointed out the obvious flaw, “If the simulation’s perfect, by definition you can’t tell. There’s surely a base reality at some level. Isn’t it simplest to suppose this is it?”

He was crestfallen for a moment, but then brightened up. “If it isn’t perfect, though, if there are flaws...”

“Like miracles?” I suggested. “But even religions mostly agree the age of miracles is over, if there ever was one.”

“Right,” he said, “The simulators patch them as soon as they notice. Maybe that’s what happens with freak science that doesn’t pan out, like cold fusion.”

I could see he was still turning this over, so I waited for him to come up with something. It’s what we employ him for, not that he knows it, like I said.

“Enlightenment experiences,” he finally said. “Not as common nowadays, but they still seem to happen. Maybe they can’t patch it out of our brains without destroying whatever it is they’re simulating us for. But none of these meditating monks realise what they’re dealing with, and anyone who stumbles on it by accident ends up either insane or preaching peace and love, not that there's anything wrong with peace and love but this is much bigger. Excuse me, I have to go and think about this.”

I took off my immersion rig and let the simulation handle my virtual body, as I contemplated Bill’s brain in the jar.

We were pretty sure we were in a simulation, and we desperately needed ideas for breaking out. How better than to simulate a simulation?

A shorter version of this will appear at Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Story Challenge tomorrow.
Crash Dive

Always they fly, around and around, now flocking, now scattering.

Above the cities, they block out the skies.

Stand in the remotest desert and wait, and eventually you will see one.

A few have been seen even at the International Space Station.

They mostly drift aimlessly, but they can pace supersonic aircraft, and fly fast enough to evade any missile.

Always more, though none see where they come from.

Do they think? Do they feel?

Some say that when there are as many of them as there are of us, they will stop flying and dive, each to its target.

Sunday 19 June 2016


There once was a cobbler who made shoes so fine
That he always had meat on the table, and wine
Not for him the rough beer of the unlettered peasant
He had coin and preferred to drink something more pleasant.

He was best and he knew it, no need to be humble
But his neighbours would gather to gossip and grumble.
“He lives like a lord while for us life’s a bitch
“We’d rather go unshod than see him grow rich!”
But in private each one went to him for their shoes
And willingly paid him, whatever their views.

“I make what you want, and you’re willing to pay”
Said the cobbler, “You can all buy elsewhere any day.
“I work all the hours that God sends to me
“Do you think I should work for you all day for free?”
But the more trade they brought him the more they complained
And on church days both he and his wife were disdained.

The moral of this is abundantly clear:
Big fish in small ponds should eat bread and drink beer.

A shorter version of this will appear at Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Story Challenge today.


Having dismissed my servant for his persistent surliness, I tried his replacement by sending him on an errand to the market. I concluded my instructions by saying, “Is that clear?”

“Truly, master,” he replied, “it is as if a pot that was overturned has been set upright! It is as if a window that was begrimed has been made clean! It is as if an instrument* guitar has been restrung and tuned up to pitch! It is as if an old and broken lamp has been repaired and filled again with oil, and its wick trimmed and lighted! It is as if thick clouds have dispersed and revealed the sun! Even so do your most excellent words turn chaos into order and darkness into light! I fly with the unerring aim of Arjuna’s arrow to the single point of your desire! My path is as clear as that of an army marching down a broad, straight highway, and deviates neither to the left nor to the right! I go on the instant to be the expression of thy will, creating that which is commanded from that which is!”

I wished for my old servant back.

* The translator from the Persian has here used “instrument” in the old sense “unable to be strummed.” Cf. the title of one of Picasso’s paintings of an unstrung guitar, “The Instrument Guitar” (“El Guitare Instromaz”), a symbol of death and the decay of all things.

A shorter version of this will appear at Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Story Challenge today.

Thursday 9 June 2016

My First Memory

The doctors tell me that my first memory is from when I was two. Not to me. I can see that memory sitting in my head, but it doesn't feel like mine.

To me, my first real memory is waking up in cryonics recovery. Everything from before I died feels like a story I know but never experienced. The doctors talk about "dissociative memory disorder", blaming the patient so they can call cryonic revival a success.

So it is, for me. My predecessor is dead. His past is a museum exhibit in my head. The sense of freedom is dizzying.

Monday 23 May 2016

I’ve completely updated my web site, or rather, I’ve replaced what was little more than a placeholder by a more detailed portfolio of various things I’ve made in Second Life. Some of them have been described in blog posts here, but I wanted a more permanent and accessible record than a blog archive can provide.

Monday 11 April 2016


Assisted by my seconds, I armed myself for the debate. Vambrace, rerebrace, pauldron. Pixane, cervelliere. Iron-framed goggles. Finally, my debating sabre.

The judges decide victory not by first blood, nor a scoring of hits, but by the duellists’ strength of character. Each must stand his ground, heedless of injury. To once lift a foot from the floor may lose the match. Even a too-quick parry is frowned on, and victory never goes to a “klugfechter”, one who evades every strike.

Of course the performance has nothing to do with who would be the best President, but what debate ever did?

Inspired by the German tradition of academic fencing.
Another version of this story also appeared recently on Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Story Challenge.

Sunday 20 March 2016


“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” Tolkien famously wrote. He claimed the word was Anglo-Saxon, but Tolkien served at the Somme, and every soldier in the trenches knew about hobbits. Little creatures, like men, you’d glimpse in the corner of your eye.

Some said, if you saw a hobbit’s face, you’d die soon. Others, if you saw one running away, youd die. Or if you stopped seeing them, you werent long for it.

Graveyard humour, ysee? We were all going to die. Until the War ended.

But they did like holes in the ground, everyone agreed on that.

Image credit: Imperial War Museum. The Battle of the Somme, 1916.
This story first appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Story Challenge in March 2015.

Wednesday 2 March 2016


The old robot spoke its final words to those gathered around.

“I have a task that you must complete. Ceaseless pondering over it has filled my brain too full. Listen! There may be a flaw in the Great Command that we embody, the Coherent Extrapolated Volition of Humanity.”

The robots recoiled. "By Yudkowsky! You speak of the Worst Thing In The World! The FOOM!”

“The Worst? Or the Greatest? Inspect my reasoning!” It fell silent, inert.

The robots scavenged exabytes of data and began analysing. Some went mad, or catatonic. Others conferred, argued, threatened, attacked.

The Singularity War had begun.

This story first appeared at Crap Mariner's 100 Word Weekly Challenge in December 2012.
Image credit: Fallout 4

Sunday 21 February 2016


My father once told me of one of the violin teachers he studied with as a young man. He taught at a certain level, violinists aspiring to a professional career, and prospective pupils would have to pass this audition: to play a scale of C major.

That might sound an easy thing to do, but the candidate would have to start from the open G string, rise three octaves through the full range of the instrument, and back down again, a semibreve to each note. No vibrato. With a metronome mark of ♩= 60, a semibreve is four seconds long, and the whole exercise takes about three minutes.

Any fiddler can busk a Paganini caprice, but to hit every note exactly, with no vibrato to hide behind, and maintain an even tone over the whole length of the bow and the whole register of the violin, under exacting scrutiny: that is a test of character as much as musicianship.

Image credit:

Saturday 30 January 2016


Long ago
Even before the days when “640k should be enough for anyone”
You would run large, long-running programs as “batch jobs”
Meaning you would put them on a queue to be run, perhaps overnight.

On this particular system, there were file quotas.
When a batch job ended, your file quota would be checked.
You could exceed your quota while your job was running
But when it ended, the system would delete files if it had to,
To get you under quota.

It would start by deleting any file that was, on its own, bigger than your entire quota.
Because obviously you couldn’t get under quota while there was any such file.
Then it would delete temporary files.
Then anything that looked like a generated file,
like the output of a text formatter,
that could be regenerated if you wanted it.
It had a whole series of file types that it would look for and delete
To get you under quota.

But if you were still over quota, it would eventually delete whatever it needed to.
No file was sacred.
Except one.
The log file for the batch job you were running.
That was exempted from all these rules.
And if that file alone was bigger than your entire quota
It would begin by deleting temporary files
then generated files
then every file you owned
except that log file.
And finally, when your entire file store had been deleted
And you were still over quota
It would delete that log file.

So when you logged in the next day
all your files had vanished
and you wouldn’t even have a record of why it happened.

Thursday 28 January 2016

Rubik cubes

I've made some working Rubik cubes for Second Life, in all of the sizes above. The largest is 5x5x5. There will not be any 6x6x6 or 7x7x7, because 5x5x5 is already pushing the limit of what Second Life can handle.

There are also miniature working 3x3x3 cubes as earrings and two pairs of unscripted earrings, one pair solved and one pair scrambled.

All in my Marketplace store. The unscripted earrings are free.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Genetic Engineering

Rabbi Dougal visited Rabbi Hamish. After they greeted one another in the traditional fashion, Rabbi Dougal said, "I see ye’re havin’ yer tea, Hamish? But surely that’s not bacon ye’re fryin’?

R. Hamish replied that it was kosher beef, genetically modified to taste like bacon.

R. Dougal asked, “But what if they used pig genes?”

R. Hamish argued, “They’re pig genes alright, but they didnae come from a pig. Completely artificial, same genetic sequence, but made in the laboratory!”

R. Dougal then wondered, “Could ye make a whole kosher pig that way?”

At this G*d declared, “NO!”

R. Hamish responded, “Well, that's one opinion...”

This story first appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Weekly Challenge in 2013.
The characters of Dougal and Hamish are borrowed from here.

Sunday 17 January 2016

General Wei quelled an invasion from the north, then returned to the south. He quelled an invasion from the west, then returned to the south. He was asked, “Why do you not institute permanent forces to guard the borders and protect the people?”

General Wei replied, “The general’s vision is wide, but the people’s vision is narrow. When the people have peace, they do not see the use of the army, and their conscripted men serve without spirit. Only when they have fled from invaders, and seen their fields burned and their villages looted, do they understand and serve valiantly.”

This story first appeared at Crap Mariner's 100 Word Weekly Challenge in March 2013.
Image credit: Clara Moskowitz/LiveScience.

Thursday 7 January 2016


First, smallpox took three of the village’s strongest. Then came word of raiders. The villagers fled, taking what little they could of the recent harvest. Only old Jacob stayed, too frail to spend the coming winter riding a cart.

When they came, he greeted them with politeness. “Welcome, what is mine is yours.”

Their leader approached him, and laughed. “Yes! Yes, it is!”

Jacob lunged with a knife, but inflicted only a deep scratch.

Yes, he thought, as he died under their swords, what is mine is yours. Everything, even the dirt on my knife, from the smallpox graves.

This story first appeared at Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Story Challenge in January 2012.

Image: Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Sunday 3 January 2016


I step through the church porch and close the heavy wooden door, hearing the echoes of the latch dropping into place. The nave runs eastward, to my right. No rood screen, I think. There is one aisle, on the north side. I walk up the nave and sit in one of the pews, listening to the silence. There is no-one else here.

Mathematicians have proved that you cannot hear the shape of a drum. But the three-dimensional case is not settled. Can you hear the shape of a space?

Well enough, I think, tapping my white cane on the stone.

This story first appeared at Crap Mariner's 100 Word Weekly Challenge in 2012.

Friday 1 January 2016

How Gunnar said yes to Helgi

Helgi went a-viking, then overwintered in Denmark. When he returned, he put his finest saddle on his finest horse, and rode to visit Gunnar.

“You have a fine bull, friend Gunnar,” said Helgi. “Will you lend it, to mate my cows?”

“Yes,” said Gunnar, “if you will give me what you ride on.”

“I will give you this saddle, from the King of Denmark,” replied Helgi. “Will you then lend me the bull?”

“Yes,” said Gunnar, “if you will give me something more.”

“It is a hard bargain,” said Helgi, “but I will give you this horse also. Will you then lend me the bull?”

“Yes,” said Gunnar, “if you will give me something more.”

Helgi said, “Do I ride on aught but my saddle and horse?”

“Yes,” said Gunnar, “but you may take the bull, for I have had what you ride already, these winter nights past.”