Smart Globes: The Conclusion

On Friday I was musing about what to do with the globes that I’d ordered for Blue Dot and feeling that there was some level of mischief that I hadn’t quite grasped. Fortunately, inspiration struck in the form of becoming curious about the fact that Blue Dot had moved to an entirely cashless payment system which relied on everyone wearing a band which had an NFC chip embedded in it.

I’m a huge dork when it comes to technology so I knew a bit about NFC and it’s older brother RFID. It was really interesting to see this technology being thrown in at the deep end and pushing people to adopt it. There was a lot of resistence and ultimately I think it wasn’t really explained properly, or early enough to allow people to adjust to the change.

Our Pale Blue Dot, but smarter.

That said, overall the tech worked *ok* although I saw at least four instances where payments couldn’t be made. Despite that though there wasn’t any big meltdown and people mostly adapted with grumbles. Festivals – especially festivals celebrating science and innovation – should be making bold choices like this and I wholeheartedly support the idea, but I hope lessons are learned on the application.

Anyway, it reminded me of NFC (simple explainer here for anyone who wants it) and I started to wonder about this in conjunction with the globes. One of the cool things about NFC is that it’s cheap as chips (lolz) and so I got a big long strip of NFC chips from eBay for about £8. They arrived the next day and so me and Frank discussed possibilities.

What we decided to do was try and Rick Roll random people in the audience. So we got our NFC chip and the ever-excellent app NFC Tools. Then we stuck one of the chips to the ball. We then wrote an instruction for the chip using NFC Tools. This makes it sound like coding is involved, it’s not. Take a look at the app and you’ll see how blinking easy it is. The instruction was – whenever someone reads this chip on their phone, open up YouTube and show them this classic:

We then wrote some instructions on the globes and took them along to the festival. Frank and his friends thwacked them into the crowd and then, contrary to the plan, ran and fetched them. I don’t think they wanted to let them go. So instead they just ran around telling people to hold their phone to the globe and laughing at them when it worked. It was amazing to see them engaging with the technology like they did. Children have such a low barrier to acceptance of new tech that they mostly bypass the “What? Huh?” stage and move onto the fun bit which is asking, “How can we use this to do weird and possibly dangerous stuff?”

It wasn’t perfect, the things I hadn’t anticipated were that so many people have older model phones, which don’t have NFC readers in their spec. What’s the deal people? Upgrade already! The other minor thwarting was that festivals have 20k people in a field all communicating with one mobile mast which is somewhere nearby melting down. Consequently, someone would activate the chip and it would open YouTube and then hang, as it waited for connection. At that point the reveal of the gag was slightly lost. However, as a proof of concept/bit of fun it definitely worked.

Plus it means that I’ve still got a strip of NFC chips to mess around with! I’ve got a few ideas already which range from the odd to the almost certainly illegal and in my experience that’s usually where ideas start to get interesting…

Sending Globes Around The World

In place of a Starter for Ten today I’m going to type up a stupid idea I had for Bluedot Festival and see if I can think it through. Feel free to add any thoughts.

So Bluedot is a festival that celebrates music, science and is all-round pretty darn cool. Best of all it’s more or less in our back garden, which means that we can cycle to it and *BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE BEST THING EVER*: not camp. Not ever. Never camp. I hate camping*.

So as a fun tribute to that I thought I’d get some beach balls to smack out into the crowds because that always passes a few minutes and given that it’s a festival that celebrates the “pale blue dot” that we live on (thanks Carl!) what better sort of beach ball to use than a globe one. So I’ve got one of these buggers coming today.

Tiny Atlas!

I then started thinking maybe it would be fun to write a message on the globe and encourage people to take it home and maybe keep them going rather than just becoming plastic waste. Fortunately, the world has been neatly organised that there’s plenty of boring blue spaces where I could write a message. I was thinking something like this:

Hi! Please keep this globe bouncing around the world. Take a selfie with it wherever it lands and hashtag it to #bouncingallovertheworld on Instagram.

I thought it might be a fun way for the children to learn a bit more about the world/social media. Of course it might end with the globe being binned (I made sure they were recyclable obviously, I’m not a monster), or someone sending nude photos to that hashtag but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What do you think? I feel like there’s a better idea just around the corner with a bit of a tweak…

*Super Danny Ward says it better than I can.

Starter for Ten – 17/07/19

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold. Suckage often occurs.


ANCHOR: “Just Shake, rattle and roll” makes it seem so easy, but is that all there is to the latest dance craze that’s sweeping the nation? We sent our Topeka correspondent Jonas Mirne to find out.

JONAS: Thanks Holroyd and welcome to the Carson Diner where we’ve all come out of the kitchen to rattle some pots and pans on the dance floor today as we learn about the dance craze that’s keeping the teens swinging until the early hours.

PRODUCER: Ok, we’re at VT – Mary, get Jonas some cover he’s looking slick.

JONAS: Don’t plaster it on Mary, it’s sweltering – can we get these fans switched on please?

PRODUCER: Sure thing. Hey! Can we get these fans on here? 15 seconds Jonas then we’re into the demo. Let’s get the teens in here.

JONAS: Thanks Mary.

PRODUCER: 5 seconds, positions.

JONAS: And if you’re thinking that you don’t know where to start with the high kicking, all energy dance moves that you see on the floor then we’ve got some of Carson Diner’s famous floor fillers to share their moves. What’s your name sugar?

TONYA: I’m Tonya, I’m 15 and I’m from Topeka!

JONAS: Ok, that’s great! And you hun?

KATHY: I’m Kathy, I’m 16 and I’m from Dallas Lake, although originally we were-

JONAS: That’s great – and I gather we’re going to get a bit of a demonstration now on how to do some of the spins and lifts that all the kids want to learn how to do – and so let’s bring on your partners. Ok kids, let’s shake, rattle and roll!

FX – Music starts

JONAS: So as you can see this style of dancing is all about keeping it high tempo – we’re not talking about fox trotting around the floor! And you can see Kathy there is being swung by her partner and she actually flies through his legs and slides out the other side – that’s called a double-hand slide. And Tonya here spins and her partner picks her up and literally lifts her by her waist up into the air and OH MOTHER OF MERCY!

PRODUCER: Back to the studio! Back to the studio! Cut to the stu-

ANCHOR: You’re watching KNBC, The Talk of Indiana, we’re going to a commercial break.

No Greater Authority Than My Wife

No greater authority than my wife told me the other day that people don’t want to read my Starter for Ten practice pieces. The cheek of it! The accurate, understandable cheek of it! I know she doesn’t read them herself because a) she’s too busy doing all the work that I don’t do because I’m an important writer and b) she never gets the references to my own writing that I pepper our conversations with.

ME: Huh, do you think Trump did pinch/punch/first of the month on Kim Jong Un, that’d be pretty funny, right?!
HER: Look, either help me change this tyre or sit in the car.

ME: Hee hee! Do you think Brett Anderson from Suede could be a hitman?
HER: What? I’m a bit busy here Shan! No darling, don’t shout – just put pressure on it and the bleeding should stop.

I thought to remind her of this spousal betrayal the other day when she was eating a packet of Peanut M&Ms. This is because those very comestibles were the literal (not literal) fruits (not fruits) of my labours on this blog. My good friend and loyal reader Yolander Yeo sent me a box of 24 packets as a “I suspect you might be starving through lack of income” present based on one of those very practice pieces that no one wants to read!

Do the M&M men know that they themselves are M&Ms, thus wanting to eat a bowl of M&Ms is cannibalism? Or are they the evolved form of the M&M? In which case it would still be like me eating a chimp, which is wrong and I wouldn’t do it.

True story about Yo. She’s not Ugandan or Chinese, she’s actually Glaswegian, the best designer there is and she’s been making my work look much better than it is for a long, long time. We worked together for 15 years before we ever actually met. Look at this picture, which was taken on the very night of our first meeting, and ask yourself if you’ve ever seen a worse case of hoverhand. I’m honestly the oddest person I’ve ever met. Thanks Yo. Sorry everyone.

I wasn’t touching Yo’s shoulder but I was firmly grasping Tom’s buttocks.

Em is, of course, right – the Starter For Ten posts are annoying, especially this morning’s which sucked donkey teeth, but then as I pointed out at the beginning, this here blog is almost certainly more for my benefit than yours. I did promise Em that I would try and write more about what I was doing which I’ve been a bit lax on lately so I’ll try and remedy that. To neatly close this narrative loop – Yo will actually be designing the front cover of Shut In, providing that I/you/others deem it worthy of publishing.

I’ve just started on the final section of the book and I’m now just eight seven (forgot I done wroted one today) chapters from the finish line. I still really like the story and I’ve grown to be very fond of Ben Stone (name shamelessly stolen from one of my favourite films) and if nothing else I want to know what happens to him. There is plenty of implausible and downright bad writing that needs to be excised, but as the mantra goes the first draft is all about getting it written, not get it right. Off to eat the delicious tea that my long-suffering wife has cooked for me. I hope it’s Peanut M&Ms.

Starter for Ten – 15/07/19

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold. Suckage often occurs.



The Furious Twelve (formerly The Dores) were the breakout act to make a name for themselves from the small ska scene in the Scottish city of Inverness. Centred around the club The Noise Hut, the scene was also home to bands like The Grave Roberts and Ian Wants It All. The Furious Twelve’s local reputation was secured through a series of house parties they threw which were chaotic but focused on the music.

The Twelve, as fans knew them, consisted of four members – Ian Roberts (who also briefly played in The Grave Roberts), brothers Tony and Ian Cowan and the one-woman horn section Carol Tobin. All of the band played at least three instruments, hence the origin of the name. Tobin was the driving force behind the band but thanks to the restrictive views of gender politics of the time she had to

Starter for Ten – 11/07/19

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold. Suckage often occurs.


Computer Keyboard Shortcuts I Want Right Now

Alt+Shift+t = my computer mouse urinates hot, sweet tea into my mug (NB – scientists will make this hygienic maybe?)

Screenlock+8 = A USB headstrap add-on drips moisture with electrolytes into my eyes after a user-defined period of staring at blank spaces on the wall.

Ctrl+b+Arrow That Points At Where I’m Sitting = I am emboldened to write from the heart

F11 – Military Jet Flypast

Insert+P+A+I+N = Whenever I accidentally hit Insert and it does that weird thing where you start writing over the text and you think you’re going insane it punches the person who invented the conventional “Insert” in the nuts/lady nuts.

Alt+Shift+P = my computer mouse defecates peanut M&Ms onto the desk.

(Also when I roll the mouse wheel I want it to purr.)

Ctrl+V+End – my book is automatically finished and I am happy with it but also oblivious to the fact that I didn’t write it.

F5 – The Gaviscon Fireman oozes out of my speaker, reforms and climbs into my mouth. He smiles and tips his helmet to me as he climbs my arm, leaving tiny calcium footprints on my sleeve. Oh god he’s in my mouth. I feel him moving, is this what he wants? Do I let him make this sacrifice just for my indigestion? Someone

Starter for Ten – 10/07/19

NELLIE: Give it a good wang!

TIM: Yes, go on Roger, wang it!

ROGER: Give me a second.

[ROGER loosens his shoulder muscles and then picks up the welly]

NELLIE: Aim for the hedge!

TIM: The moon!

NELLIE: Yes, the moon! Hit the moon!

ROGER: Right, hold on to your jumpers, here we go.

[ROGER picks up the welly and spins around like a hammer thrower. He spins and spins in place until dizzied he loosens the welly which smacks NELLIE incredibly hard in the face. NELLIE collapses.]

TIM: Roger! You dill!

ROGER: Oh gosh, Nellie! I’m so sorry!

[NELLIE moans feebly]

TIM: I say, she looks pretty rough. Get your handkerchief out.

ROGER: Right-oh. Here you go, mother shan’t be happy with the blood but have at it Nellie.

[TIM pinches NELLIE’s nose with the handkerchief.]

TIM: Come on old girl, you took quite a biff. Say something.

ROGER: Nellie?

TIM: Nellie?

[ROGER raises her arm, which limply falls back to her side.]

ROGER: I say.

TIM: Is she dead?

ROGER: I rather think so. You might as well take your handkerchief back.

TIM: Gosh. Poor Nellie. She didn’t deserve that. If you two hadn’t been pushing me to wang it to the moon, then maybe she’d still be alive.

ROGER: Steady on! We all wanted to practice for the welly wang, it was just an accident, Nellie would understand and what’s more she’d want you to compete on Sunday at the village party. She’d want you to win too.

TIM: Do you think?

ROGER: I do think. She can’t die in vain and if you didn’t win that Welly Wang trophy at the party then it would be a fete worse than death.

[The sun collapses in on itself].

Starter for Ten – 09/07/19

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold. Suckage often occurs.


The lance pierced the breastplate just below the heart and the knight fell with alacrity as the weapon broke his spine. It was swift and brutal enough to snap three feet of the lance off. A jet of blood pulsed several feet out of the hole, suggesting that some vital connection inside had been severed.

Body and Wretch waited until the victor had circled back to loom over his competitor’s prone form, wave at the crowds and then spur his mount away. They had to be quick, Cecil liked to keep the jousts punctual and a bored crowd was a dangerous crowd. They had all seen the master of ceremonies dragged onto the field to be beaten or savaged by hounds just to keep the audience amused. They raced out from under the stands and assessed the body.

The weight of the knight was obviously multiplied many times by his heavy battle armour. It really didn’t help that he was a deadweight either. However, for Wretch the real difficulty was that the lance had gone entirely through the knight and protruded by a foot on the back and two feet on the front. This meant dragging him would be akin to ploughing the field, which would see them beaten. He selected the mallet from his belt and Body lay on the floor and using both feet, rolled the knight onto his side so Wretch could access his back.

Body brought the mallet down onto the tip of the lance several times, until the laquered wood split and he was able to work the tip around in a circle and so break the piece off.

“Help…me…” the voice was liquid and quiet but loud enough for Body to look up from his position on the floor and see that it had emanated from the helmet of the knight on the floor. This wasn’t good. They had already been at their removal job for seven minutes and they had three left if they were to avoid the lash.


Body brought the mallet down on the side of the knight’s helmet from a height of about a metre. The metal crumpled in on itself and the sound of a scream was tinned within the helm. Wretch watched the body for a second, alert to any further noise. He jumped to his feet with relief when no further sounds were heard.

He grabbed one gloved hand and Wretch grabbed the other and they leaned backwards and started to heave as the herald flags of the next jousters were raised.

Starter for Ten – 08/07/19

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold. Suckage often occurs.


“I’d like to speak to the manager please,” the lady said.

The words dropped like turds onto the floor. Customers within earshot briefly paused and angled their heads so that they would be able to follow along. Battery displays near the checkout suddenly became fascinating.

“He’s going to tell you the same thing that I told you ma’am.”

“I don’t care young lady, I said I would like to speak to the manager.” The lady’s breath smelled of coffee and something I couldn’t place – sin maybe.

I knew there was no winning the argument so I pulled the store mic closer to my mouth and called Gary to checkout 4.

There were customers waiting behind the lady and other checkouts were open but they wanted to see how this played out. People love a bit of free drama.

Gary wandered over. Long legs, teeth buckled like broken spokes. When he saw the jut of the lady’s hip he correctly guessed that it was a TOAC. That’s a Twat Of A Customer if you’ve never worked retail – and if you’ve not, God bless you. He started a flop sweat as he came near that I could see was going to drip onto my conveyor.

“How do you do madam, I’m Gary, the deputy manager of the store, how do you do?”

Fucking Gary. He’d have lost an argument with a plate of cheeses.

“You’re the deputy manager? I asked to speak to the manager.”

Classic TOAC. She’d be writing down names in a second and asking for head office’s email.

“Well, I’m the highest ranking staff member in store. Our manager is not currently in store.”

“Where is he?” Wait up, check your privilege TOAC.

“Well, she – actually it’s a she – was a she rather – is dead.”

Such Great Heights

From that height you could barely see the people or the history – you could just see the geography and that felt more comforting. I finished my poo.

I might have mentioned this before but for an occupation that mostly involves sitting in a chair* it’s amazing how much vertigo I get when I’m attempting to write fiction. I think it’s because within the space of two sentences you can go from feeling a colossal, world-beating confidence to knowing nothing but the terror of the truly fraudulent. That’s the sort of 60-0 that pulls a few Gs.

Interestingly, I read an interview with the excellent David Nicholls who said that his terror of writing has never left him, even after significantly knocking it out of the park on a number of occasions (Starter for Ten aside, which I always felt was a bit puerile, and I like puerile). What a ridiculous profession for anyone to choose. I suppose it adds credence to the idea that writing is something you feel you have to do, rather than something you opt for.

I’ve had to grind out the work this week. I’ve had no energy maybe because of the heat and as the last vestiges of the anaesthetic and antibiotics work through my system. On Wednesday, I think the most I achieved was to look at a wall. On the rest of the days I still got chapters banked though and we now have another four chapters of Shut In done and dusted. Given that one of them includes the quotation I started this post with, there’s some evidence of the quality, or lack thereof. Still, as the recurring theme of David Nicholls, tweeted this very week:


Crack on.

Don’t whinge. You’re not going down the mine or into battle.

*fwiw I mostly write at a standing desk I cobbled together myself, here it is:

The white bowl on the right is a sound bowl. When you strike it with the little cushioned hammer it came with, it sounds out an F. You can also wear it on your head and beat it and experience washing your mind in F, although it’s slightly muffled by the fact that your head is in contact with the bowl. If you really wanted to do it properly you could get some of those anti-gravity boots and then bang the bowl and lower your head into it, without touching the sides.

I’m going to stop writing now.