02 May 2011

Tales from the Coma Ward

The daily tears were replaced with weekly resolve and then months of sombre silence.  Now, an annual appointment and some wilting flowers is all that pushes my sleepless coma along.

The burn of the needle; her rank morning breath; their incredibly dull gossip... the things that frame my silent cries and puncture the darkness that endures.

Ten years ago I went insane.  It was the relentless ping of the heart machine that eventually did me in.  Now I just lie in the drool of my madness.

This set of 3 pieces is a response to Laura’s May Day Giveaway post on her Daily Dodo blog.  The challenge was to write a piece of fiction in no more than 30 words.

I wrote three pieces that shared a common theme.  The first paragraph ended up being my entry into her competition.

30 April 2011

Z is for Zap! You’re Dead.

There is one creature on this planet that I despise.  I would love to rid the world of it as it offers nothing of value other than being fodder for creatures higher up the food chain.

It is the deadliest creature known to man, and yet it can fit tightly inside the palm of your hand.  No, it’s not a spider or a very small tiger.  It’s a mosquito, and the death and misery it brings is unmatched by anything on this planet.

Malaria infects 250 million people per year – that’s over 4% of the entire human population!  One million of those infected every year die.  One in every five children that die in Africa, die from malaria.  That means every 30 seconds, a child dies from malaria.  And the female Anopheles mosquito is the carrier of this terrible parasite.

I am lucky to live in a city just below the malaria belt.  But that fact plays no role in tempering my hatred for these creatures.  They keep you awake while you are trying to sleep; they melt into the background while you are trying to track them; they hide against dark furniture while you try to stalk them; and they silently attack you while you sit peacefully enjoying a summer night on the patio.

I dislike insect repellents. They smell, asphyxiate you and leave your skin feeling dry and pasty. Over the years, I’ve dreamt up countless inventions to kill mosquitos, but I recently came across the most awesome mosquito destruction weaponry this world has ever seen.  I present to you… the mosquito racket of doom:


It’s a piece of perfectly-balanced Chinese engineering. The plastic handle creaks solidly in your palm.  The button of death a thumb’s twitch away.  The racket head, lashed with wires of instant death and primed to energise any mosquito into an instant flash of blue light and a toasty burning mist.

Nothing is more satisfying than, in the darkness of your room just as sleep is descending, reaching over to the side of the bed, picking up your trusty weapon, and waving it slowly in the air until you hear that beautiful snap and the room lights up momentarily in a blue blaze and silence returns once more.

Silence.  Peace.  Now I can sleep.  The A-Z challenge is over.

Z is for Zap! You’re Dead.

Y is for YouTube, Twitter and Other Internet Sensations

I would list these as the big Internet giants as of 2011.  I think I got their chronological order of inception correct:

Google and Amazon have been around since the 90’s, while Facebook exploded to 500 million users over a period of just 7 years.

When I heard about YouTube many years back, I thought no way was it going to be a hit.  Who wants to watch clips of rubbish home footage?  Well, I was horribly wrong there.

Then when I heard about Twitter, I thought no way was this site going to last.  I mean, who wants to post 160 character messages?  Strike 2.

As a budding internet entrepreneur, my track record for identifying great ideas isn’t looking too hot, but that doesn’t stop me from scanning the horizon for new and exciting companies.

The current darling of the social media clan of sites is FourSquare, a site that mixes social interaction with their users’ geographic location. Sounds to me like they are just jumping on the social bandwagon.  No way is that going to be a success!  :-)

Groupon, the discount coupon site, is the latest sensation that is taking the world by storm.  It’s officially the fastest growing company of all time.  I’m sure you’ve seen their adverts mushrooming up on every site you visit.  They are an amazing marketing success story.

I wonder what the next big internet sensation is going to be?  Will I have the foresight to see it coming this time...

28 April 2011

X is for X, My Favourite Letter and Number

Roman numeral X.  Arabic numeral one followed by a zero.  The mathematical sequence 1 0.  The number ten.  My favourite number.

The house that I was born in and raised in was number 10.  I lived there for 22 years before moving out to rent a series of flats.  Seven years ago I bought my first house.  By total coincidence, it too was number 10.

I’m a computer scientist and work with the binary number system on a daily basis because, well, that’s the number system computers understand .  Binary numbers are comprised of only 2 digits: zero and one.  This is in contrast to decimal numbers that are comprised of 10 digits: zero, one, two… all the way up to nine.  So again, the zero and one play a pivotal role in my life.

The number “10” in binary represents the number “2” in decimal (I’ll explain how to count in binary in some future post).  Two is also a great number.  Two is a couple.  Two is symmetrical.  A lot of life is arranged in twos: legs, arms, eyes, ears, kidneys, hemisphere’s of the brain.  Two is better than one.  There’s always a backup!

Of course, the letter “X” is also the coolest letter in the alphabet.  It’s mysterious and secret and sexy and it’s always used for cutting edge stuff, such as X-Factor and XBox and X-Men.  Throw an “X” after a dull name and it’s now cool.  Draw the “X” in italics and it’s cooler still.  :)

So when it came time to name our company, me and my partner settled on the name “ModX Software”.  “X” for all the reasons above, and “Mod”… well that’s a story for another day.

27 April 2011

W is for Winner of the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award

Tonight the winner was announced for the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award… and it was awarded to Lauren Beukes for her cross-genre cyberpunk, urban-fantasy novel Zoo City.

The exciting thing for me is that Lauren comes from my home country of South Africa.  I love hearing about South Africans that excel on the global stage.  Well done Lauren!

And in related news, at last night’s BFSA Awards in Birmingham UK, Joey HiFi (also a South African) received an award for Best Artwork for his black and white illustration used as the cover art for the UK-print of Zoo City.

Congrats to both South Africans!  You guys make us proud.

V is for Very Very Very Big

We live on this planet we call Earth and when we stare up into the night sky we see little pinpricks of light.  From our early childhood education we know that each of these little pinpricks is in fact a star, just like our very own sun.  And in a quiet moment we may reflect on this and wonder to ourselves how many stars are there actually in the universe?  This post should hopefully give an answer to that question in a format that you can can comprehend.

When you stand in your suburban garden on a clear moonless night and look up into the night sky with your naked eyes, you may be able to see a few hundred stars. Journey into the country away from the effects of the city lights and you would count maybe 2000 stars.  2000 – not such a big number.  If you count really fast, you could probably reach it in about 10 minutes.  2000 is a number we humans are pretty comfortable with.

So what’s the big deal with the number of stars then?  Well, the number of stars we can see with the naked eye is a rather small amount compared to the number of stars that are actually out there.

Before I tell you how many stars there are in the known universe, just take a guess.  A million? A billion?  A trillion?  The answer is big.  Very big.  Very very ginormously hugely massively big.  It’s so big, a person is not able to comprehend the vastness of it by just looking at the number; there are just too many zeros!

The number is: 150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.

Before I get into describing how big that number really is, I’d like to talk about another interesting fact about stars.  Stars don’t just float around randomly in the universe.  They are instead clumped together in large clusters.  These clusters are called galaxies.  Our very own galaxy is called The Milky Way.  There are about 500 billion galaxies in the universe with each galaxy containing on average about 300 billion stars.  We as humans think we understand a billion.  We know it’s a big number.  But how big is big?

Well, since this is a blog about writing, I thought it might be fun to try put it into terms that a bookworm would be able to understand.  So here goes.

Let’s start with a standard paperback novel.  It has about 350 pages, each with 300 words per page, giving a total of about 100,000 words.  As authors, we can understand the sweat that goes into generating 100,000 words, and as readers we understand the time taken to read such a novel.  It’s not a trivial number.

Now let’s imagine we are standing in front of a bookshelf in a library.  The bookshelf is quite large - 1.8 metres (6 feet) high and about 3 metres (10 feet) wide – and it contains five shelves.  Now imagine us packing all 5 shelves of this bookshelf with brand new crisp paperback novels.  After the packing, each shelf ends up with about 100 novels.

The architect has built the library to be long and thin – similar in shape to Manhattan Island – so we decide to create 2 long aisles down the length of the building with a bookshelf to the left and right of these two aisles, giving us 3 bookshelves in a row.

To save space we place a second bookshelf back-to-back with each of the bookshelves already assembled. We then repeat this arrangement down the length of building.  In the end we manage to squeeze in 20 rows of double-sided bookshelves  And then we fill all the bookshelves with our novels.

That’s a big library of books we have there.  But we aren’t done yet, because we’ve still got more books to pack.  So we build another 80 floors onto this building, and we fill each floor with the identical arrangement of bookshelves and pack them full of novels.

And we are finally done!

Now you arrive at the library.  You take the elevator to the 62nd floor.  You walk down the second aisle, skipping 15 set of bookshelves before making a right turn into the next row.  You move to the bottom shelf and scan across until you find the 87th book.  You take the book out, and thumb through to page 238.  You scan down to the 5th line and locate the 4th word in that line.  That word is “home”.

That single word “home” represents The Milky Way galaxy – all 300 billion stars in it!  Every individual word taken from every novel in that library represents it’s own unique galaxy in our universe.  A galaxy brim full of stars.

If you then wanted to catalog every star in the universe, you would need to build a brand new 50-story building for each and every word in every novel housed in that 80-story building.  That is 500 billion new libraries you’d need to build.  And once you’d done that, each individual word from all the books in all those libraries would then represent a single star in our universe.

And that is how big the universe it.  It is a fantastically huge place.

25 April 2011

U is for Universal Address

Should you like to write to me from anywhere within reality, here is where I can be contacted:

my name Grant Bruce Elliott 1 of 1 humans and 2 cats living at
my unit Number 10 1 of 30 in
my complex Fantasy Forest * 1 of 2 in
my street 3 Fictionary Grove * 1 of 19 in
my suburb Somerset Park 1 of 12 in
my town Umhlanga Rocks 1 of 32 in
my metro Etekwini 1 of 11 in
my province KwaZulu Natal 1 of 9 in
my country South Africa 1 of 195 on
my planet Earth 1 of 8 orbiting
my star The Sun 1 of 300,000,000,000 in
my galaxy The Milky Way 1 of 30 in
my galactic group The Local Group 1 of 100 in
my super cluster The Virgo Supercluster 1 of  30,000,000 ** in
my universe The Universe 1 of an unknown number in
my brane Our D-Brane 1 of an unknown number in
  The Bulk  

* My Complex and Street names may have been altered to protect my location from stalkers and US cruise missiles.

** My rough estimate based on another estimate that there are 80 billion galaxies in the Universe.