This is my Dad. He died yesterday. I can’t begin to
describe what that means to me, so won’t try. But I want people to know
about him; to know that he was a good person and good father.
Dad was the most practical person in the world. “When I go,” he said,
“just put me in a cardboard box.” Today my brother and I had to choose
him a casket. The funeral director handed us a page with a list. They
started at twelve thousand dollars (metal, lots of gold) and worked their
way down to four thousand (solid wood). “Then if you flip that page over,”
she said, “you’ll see our particle board caskets.” They were one thousand
dollars. I laughed. I knew what Dad would be saying.
Still, I can’t put him in particle board. He’s getting a solid wooden one.
I love you, Dad.
Maybe it’s just me, but I found the following little story in my local
newspaper hilarious. If only I could write satire like this.
British pole dancer Donna Cleeve has been forced to quit her job
because she’s allergic to the metal pole. The 20-year-old from
Portsmouth developed a red rash after each show before she realised
nickel used in the poles was to blame. “It’s hard to look sexy
when your legs and body are inflamed. I tried to ignore it, but
in the end it wasn’t worth the pain,” she told London’s Sun.
She’s now given up her dancing and taken a job in sales.
We return now to some stories we were following earlier. Again.
Yes, see, from time to time I go back and write little follow-ups.
It gives a sense of continuity and closure. It does too.
My web traffic soared on the back of
of a Mary-Kate
and Ashley novel, partly because quite a few people liked it
but mostly because there are an awful lot of internet searches for
“mary-kate and ashley”. In fact, that phrase quickly became the #3 search
people used to get to my site, coming right after “jennifer
government” and “max barry”. (Alas,
berry” is #6.)
For a few days Google actually listed my site in its first page of
results for “mary-kate and ashley”, which, if I have this right,
makes me one of the world’s foremost Mary-Kate and Ashley experts.
This is awesome. Now if this novel-writing thing doesn’t work out,
I have something to fall back on.
In response to my
just left the room post, I received
an emphatic e-mail from a guy named Jason:
just fuck off with your boring egotistical ramblings… if you cant
reply to your email you can go fuck your self.. silly marketing c—t
pretending to care…
fucking stick to the marketing, you do it better than writing books
you have the time to write bullshit about 9/11 but not answer your emails…
wat the fuk?
There was more, but it became repetitive. I was surprised;
I hadn’t realized that visiting my web site was compulsory. Also, while
I am a long way behind on my e-mail, so is the Pope and people don’t
write him hate mail. Or at least not just about that.
And I was a little confused about the references to marketing.
I do what marketing better than writing books? Was he talking
about how I promote my novels, like on this web site? If so, wouldn’t
it be self-defeating to stop writing in order to concentrate on
promoting my writing?
I searched through my In Box in case there was a previous message
from Jason and found two. One was from a week ago, in response
to my True
Love & Drool post (I’m better now, thanks), and it said:
i know your a good writer and all, i did read your book.. but having a pissy
throat infection is not a good enough reason to not reply to my email. Maybe
your too important and your time is too valuable to deal with “readers”…
i maybe a low life, uneducated skum bag.. but at least im more enlightened
and “educated” than the people who have marketing degree’s and PHD’s and all
this truly meaningless “education”…
I was beginning to sense a theme. I opened up Jason’s original e-mail
and was surprised to see it was a mere 4 weeks old. For most people, sure, that’s a
long time to reply to an e-mail. But for me, that would be
lightning-fast. That’s why the page with my e-mail
address lets people know I’m running several months behind.
In light of that, I felt Jason was being a touch unreasonable.
But I also felt
guilty about my pile of unanswered e-mail, so I decided to reply to his
original question. Here it is:
Iv just started reading ur book, its great so far!
Im just interested in what made you see the light? ie. realise that
marketing is fundamentally evil… and turn towards a more satisfying and
Well, Jason, there were a few reasons. But partly it was so I could
reach out and touch people like you.
The commission investigating the September 11 attacks
released tape recordings of some of the conversations from that day.
Among them was one of the most powerful pieces of dialogue I’ve heard in
years. I have no jokes or political points to make here; I just want to
talk about the actual words.
The situation was this: within the last 50 minutes, two hijacked airlines
had struck the World Trade Center in New York, a third had crashed into
the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a fourth was being tracked. The
national Air Traffic Control System Command Center contacted the FAA
headquarters to suggest military jets be used to intercept this fourth
Many people have said that 9/11 felt like a Hollywood movie.
If it had been, the scene would have gone like this:
TRAFFIC CONTROL GUY
Do we want to think about scrambling
Way ahead of you.
PULL BACK to reveal out of man's office window,
two F-15s screaming off a runway.
Or, perhaps, this:
You guys need to scramble aircraft,
You don't run the FAA, Mr. Ryan. I do.
And I'm not spending twenty thousand
dollars in jet fuel just because you've
got a point to prove!
CLOSE UP on RYAN as his jaw clenches with
This is popcorn entertainment, escapism. There is nothing wrong with that;
I often enjoy a good dose. But what I love even more
are tiny moments of realistic human failing: when a person does something
unthinking, or gets confused. These are touching simply because they’re
real and recognizable. Humans make a lot of mistakes. Our lives are not scripted,
and if we could yell “cut” and do over every bit of our lives we weren’t happy with,
we’d all still be in our teens.
That’s why this little exchange is, for me, almost heart-breakingly tragic.
Air Traffic Control: “Do we want to think about, uh, scrambling aircraft?”
FAA: “God… I don’t know.”
Air Traffic Control: “That’s a decision somebody’s gonna have to make probably in the next 10 minutes.”
FAA: “Uh… you know, everybody just left the room.”
The other day I lost my internet connection. All the lights on
my cable modem turned off except one, the Receive light,
and it just blinked at me. I wasn’t worried because this has
happened before and each time it turned out to be a
general fault in my area: koalas chewing through the cables,
for example. Well, actually I’m just guessing there. It could have been
koalas. I never bothered to get into the specifics.
I called up Telstra, my ISP,
and after wading through layers of
“Press 2 if you want to express your frustration with automated
telephony systems,” I got a recorded message saying there was a
nationwide problem. I was invited to press 0 to speak to a human
about it, and since I wanted to know when it would be fixed, I took
them up on this.
Now, I knew this wouldn’t be easy as it sounded. Telstra has an excellent “Network Status”
web page that displays problems with its service; if you
visit this, you can see if there’s an area-wide outage at a
glance. But if you can’t visit this page—if, for example, you’re suffering
from the effects of an area-wide outage—you have to call them up, and
they refuse to tell you anything until you have exhaustively checked
your own computer. Their attitude seems to be that while they accept
it’s possible that there are koalas chewing on their cables, it’s
much more likely that koalas are chewing on your cables. Or have
crawled inside your computer. Or, I suppose, the problem is the result
of some more technical issue
unrelated to koalas. Anyway, at first I used to
have conversations like this:
Max: “My modem’s doing that blinking thing that means there’s a problem with your network, can you
tell me when it’ll be fixed?”
Tech: “First I need to confirm everything’s working at your end. Can you tell me what error message
you get when you try to connect?”
Max: “No, because I don’t use Telstra’s connection software. It kept crashing so I use the open
source replacement. But that’s not the problem; the problem is the modem doesn’t seem to be getting a
Tech: “Uhh… okay. Can you check that the cable connecting your modem to your computer is plugged
Max: “Well, I could, but whether it is or not, my modem’s still not getting a signal.”
Tech: “Can you check that cable?”
Max: “Hang on… I have to crawl under my desk… ow! What the… so that’s where my
favorite pen got to. Okay, yes, the cable is plugged in.”
Tech: “Can you check the cable from the modem is plugged securely into the wall?”
Max: “Fffffff…fine. I just have to move some furniture… urrrrrrghhhh! Arrrrrgh! Okay. Yes it is.”
Tech: “Okay.” (keyboard sounds) “There’s an outage in your area. It should be fixed by two o’clock.
Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Then I got smart. This time, when Andrea the tech support person came on the
line, I shamelessly lied. “I already
checked my cables before I rang, and they’re all plugged in.”
Andrea: “Okay, good. (keyboard sounds) There’s no outage in your area. What I’ll do is book a
technician to come out and look at your modem. Because you’re out of contract, you’ll be charged $66
plus $18 per 15 minutes. Is that all right?”
Max: “Uhhh… I thought there was a nation-wide problem. There was a recorded message just before I
Andrea: “No, I’m not aware of any nationwide problem.”
Max: “Well, that’s what the message said.”
Andrea: “I’m looking at the screen and there’s no outage. When your modem is blinking like that, it
usually means there’s a problem with the actual modem. So the technician may need to sell you a new
Max: “But every other time I’ve had this pattern of blinking lights, it’s been a fault with your
Andrea: “It’s more likely to be your modem.”
Max: “The Power light on, the Receive light blinking, everything else off?”
Andrea: “That’s right.”
Andrea: “Do you want me to book a technician?”
Max: “I think I’ll wait and see if it fixes itself.”
Andrea: “Okay. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Now, let’s pause to review the “facts” I received here. At first I thought there were only two:
- There is no outage
- My pattern of blinking lights suggests a fault with the modem
But later I realized Andrea had buried a third one in there as well,
and it was waiting to bite me.
The next day my modem still wasn’t working, so I called up again. Tech
support told me:
- There is an outage
- My pattern of blinking lights suggests a network fault
- It will be fixed by 1pm
This was a relief, because I didn’t want to shell out for a new modem.
It was also reasonably satisfying to confirm my suspicion that
Andrea had no frickin’ idea what she was talking about.
Sure enough, internet access was mine again after 1pm—but only
for a few hours. Then the modem started doing that blinking thing again.
I couldn’t bring myself to call Telstra again, so I decided to re-try
an earlier strategy: going to bed and hoping everything fixed itself
overnight. Alas, this proved unsuccessful. In the morning I sucked it
up and called Telstra again. Now tech support told me:
- There was an outage in my area yesterday, but that was fixed
- That pattern of blinking lights could mean anything
- A technician needs to come out to my house to see what the problem is
Then commenced a heated five minute argument about why a technician needed to come to my house. This came to
a halt when I finally articulated a key assumption: “… so I don’t see why I should have to pay for
a technician to confirm there’s a problem with your network.”
“Oh,” the tech said. “You don’t pay for a technician unless the problem is with your computer — like
if it’s got a virus and that’s why you can’t connect. Otherwise
there’s no charge.”
Thus, Andrea’s third and final piece of misinformation:
- If a technician comes out to see me, I get charged for it
The soonest a technician could visit was the next day. “I can book him in for between 7am and noon,”
tech support said.
“Okay, sure, any time in there is fine. Say, 9am?”
“No, I mean, that’s the booking time: between 7 and 12. We book in five-hour windows.”
Fortunately I don’t have a real job, so this didn’t require me arranging time off work. Instead I
merely had to postpone showering in case that was when the guy knocked, and, of course, he finally
dragged himself to my doorstop at 11:30am. He came upstairs, unplugged my
modem, and plugged in an
orange doohickey. It went KRRRRRSSSSSSSHHHHHH, like an old man
blowing his nose. The technician repeated the process at the
wall socket: same deal.
“Hmm,” he said, “When I drove up, I noticed a Telstra van on the corner, digging up the road. I
wonder if they’ve disconnected the amplifier.”
He wandered out the front door. I heard these blokes shouting to each other.
“Oi! Did you cut any
optical cables there?” “What?” “I said did you—” And so on. After a few minutes, the technician
wandered back. “Yeah, they’re doing some work. They reckon they’ll be finished
in about twelve hours.” With that he packed up his orange
doohickey and left.
This strikes me as an interesting, even innovative, business process. A
traditionalist like myself might come up with something like this:
- When a Telstra bloke unplugs part of the network, he records that fact in the system.
- If a customer calls up with connection problems, tech support checks whether any Telstra blokes
have unplugged things in that area.
Telstra, however, prefers:
- Telstra blokes arbitrarily unplug sections of network; wander off for hours or days.
- When customers call up unable to connect, tech support makes them check if their computer cables
are plugged in.
- Technician is booked for some vague time period in the future, during
is required to stay at home and avoid going to the bathroom.
- Technician drives to customer’s house, checks modem, wanders streets looking for any Telstra
blokes who might have unplugged things.
That must be why they’re Australia’s largest telecommunications company
and I’m a chump trying to make a living out of writing novels. That and
their koala expertise.
I’ve spent most of the last three and a half days at
my first ever science-fiction/fantasy/horror convention. I didn’t
know what to expect, so my first stop was the
“So This is Your First Convention” panel. This proved to be a little alarming,
as Danny, the Chairman, talked about the “6-2-1” rule: “Each day,
have at least 6 hours
of sleep, 2 meals, and 1 shower. Please, the shower is
particularly important. I can’t stress that enough.”
But I soon discovered that sweaty nerds dressed as Darth Vader were
actually thin on the ground. Instead, there were endless ranks of
spunky young women with arresting eye shadow. What’s more, they were
friendly, thus rectifying the single flaw I’ve always found with
spunky young women with arresting eye shadow in the past. Danny
was right: the convention felt like an intimate party for a
couple hundred people. Everyone was excited to be there and ready
to party down.
The convention’s centerpiece was the Maskobalo, a big costume party.
There I learned another important lesson: nobody respects the guys who
wear tails. “Furries,”
said Sarah, a blindingly blonde punk rocker wearing a SHOW US YOUR
RIFFS T-shirt. “See, some of them love animals a little too much.”
Actually, that’s not what she said. What she said terrified me to the depths
of my soul, and I had to bang my head against the floor until I could
no longer remember specifics.
My favorite part of the Maskobalo was the most realistic
seen—when it talked, even the lights on its head flashed—doing stand-up
Yesterday I went for a job interview. The woman said, “Do you have
any EX-PER-I-ENCE?” I told her, “Daleks have ruled the galaxy for THOU-SANDS—OF—YEARS!” She wrote: Some management experience.
Just before the Maskobalo, I got talking to Ian, who had read some of
my blogs. He said, “That one you did about drool, did you make
I was shocked. “You’re not suggesting I make up blog posts for comedic effect.”
This had sounded a lot less sarcastic in my head. Ian laughed. “Riiight.”
“No, no, I mean they’re all true. I don’t make anything up.”
I could tell Ian didn’t believe me. But I didn’t have time to argue;
the Maskobalo was starting and we had to go into the main hall, along
with a Dominatrix, a Knight, and a Cyberman, to watch a Dalek perform
I have a throat infection. This will come as no surprise to people who
know me well; developing throat infections is something of a
hobby of mine. In fact, given the amount of time I devote to it, it’s more like
unpaid part-time work. According to my parents, it’s because I have no
tonsils. The story goes like this: as a kid, I caught a cold or something
and the late 1970s were a dangerous time for tonsils; you only needed to
look at a doctor the wrong way and he’d be down your throat, grabbing for
them. My parents were unconvinced that I needed a tonsillectomy (“ectomy”
being Latin for “get those dangly things”), but they were hypnotized by
the gentle swirls of the doctor’s lava lamp and into surgery I went.
In a twist worthy of Marvel Comics, I emerged with an incredible super power:
the ability to transform any bodily affliction into a throat infection. It
works like this:
- Get food poisoning
- Develop throat infection
- Stub toe
- Develop throat infection
- Develop throat infection
- Develop much worse throat infection
During times of sickness, I also gain super powers of drool production, which
allow me to produce my own body volume in saliva. In fact, I’m pausing to spit
even as I write this. Sorry, that’s probably a little more insight into the
creative process than you really needed. But it really is amazing. If I could
bottle this stuff and sell it as some kind of industrial lubricant, I’d be rich.
Right now I can’t speak without breaking into a fit of coughing (followed by
spitting), so Jen is required to phrase all questions to me in a way that accepts
a yes or no answer. She’s pretty good about this, except, I discovered, when it’s
4AM and she has to get up for work in three hours. I thought I was being
terrific last night, keeping my coughing and spluttering down to an admirably
low level, but somehow Jen failed to appreciate this. At one point she glared
at me (I think—it was dark) and said, “Do you want me to go into the spare room?”
My answer was “no”—I mean, it wasn’t like she was disturbing
me—but I had a feeling the real question was, “Do you want
to go into the spare room before I brain you with a lamp?” Unable to
articulate this, I just lay there quietly. Then, slowly but surely, my
throat started to tickle. I fought against it, but finally it was too much and
I had to grab for the pack of Butter Menthols on my bedside table. In the
process I banged my lamp and knocked a book onto the floor, and in fact I
was still looking for those bloody Butter Menthols when Jen sprang
out of bed and announced she was relocating.
She didn’t hit me, either. I guess her question was for real after all. What
a girl. I was filled with love and appreciation; also saliva. I had