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Machine Shrink

Entry 1622

so that's how the inside of a computer looks like... History repeats itself just like the chicken at the zoo that perpetually wanted to pick some breadcrumbs lying inside the monkey cage but got hit each time on the head by a vigilant monkey carrying a stick.

Examining the Wintermute Engine for one of my soon-not-to-be Unfinished Projects I fell upon the games section and instead of downloading the editor itself I ended with Mental Repairs Inc. on my harddisk.

Mental Repairs, Inc. is a small 2.5D point'n'click adventure following Henrik Liaw, machine psychiatrist. His job is to repair electronic devices that are depressed or have gone bananas by giving them therapy, counselling, guidance or – in the true tradition of point’n click – by solving some riddles and handing over some goods one has picked up from another place.

Point’n click games go a long way but have been forgotten a bit by all these 3D, real-time, first person shooting extravaganzas that are, in my personal opinion of course, plain boring. My first shooter was the original Wolfenstein 3D (1992) that I played several times from A to Z (I even found the secret Pacman level). The game was obviously forbidden in Germany where the ‘don’t mention the war’-credo has been put into federal law. Wolfenstein is set in a Nazi-castle, the guards are SS-officers, the walls are adorned with swastikas and one of the final bosses is mister Adolf H. himself. (A de-nazified version was made for the American and German markets where they had shaved Hitler’s moustache and the attack dogs had been replaced by mutant rats. It made the programmers quip that apparently, for American censors, it was morally acceptable to shoot people, but not dogs.)

About a year later came of course Doom (1993) but I put it fast aside as it made me feel seasick. At the same time I was also an admirer of William Shatner’s TekWar novels and when a computer game came out I jumped on it as the proverbial chicken in the zoo (see above) but that game was ‘one of the worst licensed games ever seen’. Of course the TekWar novels are also pretty bad, so bad actually, that they have become quite cult.

But back to the Mental Repairs Inc point’n click game. Although made by an ‘amateur’ named Renzo Thönen it is actually better than some commercial games of its kind. Of course it is rather short (only half a dozen of rooms and situations) and you can play all levels in less than 30 minutes. The puzzles are pretty straightforward, quite logical and not too complex, other than in Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic where some actions to be followed were so weird and arbitrary (and on top of that, incoherently programmed) that you simply had to buy the hint book in order to get any further. Hidden inside Douglas Adams was, next to a gifted writer who seldom came out, also a shrewd entrepreneur almost like an Italian second-hand car dealer, although his Digital Village company didn’t survive the dotcom crash despite the fact that it had devised a rather witty Wikipedia avant-la-lettre (read the funny H2G2 entry for Belgium). But even Wikipedia has got into serious financial troubles nowadays, so we can’t really blame DNA for that.

I haven’t been mentioning Douglas Adams’s name for the sake of mentioning his name alone. The Mental Repairs world is basically a Hitchhiker’s world where machines have their own disturbed mind. The copy machine has lost its coloured view on the world, the coffee dispenser is depressed because everyone kicks it and the elevator has got a split personality, one up, the other down. The idea of elevators only wanting to go up has been explored before in the Hitchhiker’s novels by the way, so we’ll call that a friendly nod from one universe to another.

I quite liked the warped humour in the game and the hero’s somewhat cynical comments, but that is because I am that kind of guy. The adventure takes a twist, like good adventures do, at the end but in order to make it comprehensible there is a rather lengthy explanation needed that takes, with my limited amount of patience, somewhat too long as it just adds extra ballast. Also Starship Titanic lacked in that department, where the main computer kept on babbling for about five minutes once you had activated it, so Mental Repairs is in good company.

All in all a very nice and enjoyable game (with excellent 3 D graphics, objects and persons, BTW) and, like I said, well worth the 30 minutes it takes to play. I saw that Thönen’s Hulub website also offers a second, slightly older, point’n click game, Murder In A Wheel. It mimics deliberately the Day Of The Tentacle style and has won an AGS award in 2007. I think I’ll download and play that as well because I simply can’t resist a game where the main plot is about who murdered the house hamster.

My next Unfinished Project will have to wait a little bit longer, I guess.

Other point'n click games reviewed on this site:
Nomen Est Omen (Starship Titanic)
Tentacle Day (Day of the Tentacle)
East Side Story 
Walking Through The Valley Of Eden Sandbox of God walkthrough, compatible with version 1.52


It's life, Eoin, but not as we know it...

Entry 1613

You are in this city, that isn't your own but that you visit once or twice a year, and you know this nice little resto where they serve an excellent spaghetti carbonara. Let's have a spaghetti carbonara you hear yourself say and you stroll towards the square where the bistrot is located. The house is still there but instead of Il case di Vitollino (or something similar as you have a problem remembering the exact positions of vowels in Italian names) the place has now been called The Bull's Bollocks.

When you enter the restaurant the walls no longer depict frescos from past Italian pastimes, including wrong anatomical representations of fishermen and their fishes, but stuffed goat heads and other satanic paradigms. But the menu, probably out of habit, still has spaghetti carbonara and so that is what you are heading for.

The meal arrives and you start eating, as you are very hungry, which is why you entered the restaurant at the first place. The bites go in smoothly and it is only after a while that you remark a foul aftertaste in your mouth. The taste grows with every chew until you are so disgusted that you slide the plate apart swallowing down the bad taste with the cheap Chianti that was probably left over by the previous owner.

You pay, say that the food was delicious out of politeness and hastily leave the place.

The city will never be the same again.

The above tale allegorically recounts what I felt on page 134 of the sixth part of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, originally written by Douglas Adams, and now continued by Eoin Colfer. I quit reading the book and turned the volume of my iPod a bit higher. Tomorrow's just another day.

My conclusion was, so you fast-paced readers do not have to delve deeper in this post, that And Another Thing was like going to a tribute band gig but that deep down inside you wished you had listened to the greatest hits cd instead.

Now for some fine-tuning.

Douglas Adams was of course victim of his own overnight H2G2 success. We all know that he started writing a radio series that became a major cult hit (isn’t that a contradiction?) and from then on the guide would guide his life.

The first two books were a more or less accurate rendition of the radio series (omitting, for copyright reasons, the two episodes that had been devised by John Lloyd). In the third novel Adams recycled a Dr. Who script that had never made it to the screen and although the result was rather messy its many anecdotes only added to the legend.

By then Douglas Adams was larger than life, the universe and everything and people, wearing digital watches and thinking they were very important, just started to wave blank checks in front of him.

Waving with blank checks in front of him had a certain effect on DNA as well (it has to be said, even Adams’s cool initials had market value). In one of the biographies (Hitchhiker, by M.J. Simpson, page 233) the story is told how Target Books wanted Adams to novelize his three Dr. Who scripts presenting him the usual fee of 600£, not fully realizing that the author would only reluctantly start his Mac word processor after an advancement of one million pounds – per book.

The fourth novel in the increasing inaccurately named H2G2 trilogy, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, isn’t generally nominated by the fans but it is by far and large the most personal of the Hitchhiker saga. Douglas Adams and his alter ego Arthur Dent are in love and the whole world has the right to know it. Only in the last chapters the focus is shifted from the Earth to the Universe and in one of his darkest passages Adams kills off one of the most liked personae of the series. No wonder that some fans were outraged, and Douglas also felt that some parts of the book didn’t come out as he had expected. This was probably because number 4 had been written in a rush, DNA had passed several deadlines for the novel and in the end the editor simply hijacked Adams and stayed with him in a hotel room until the novel was finished (this is a true story). The result was that some parts had better been edited out or rewritten entirely. Despite its weaker parts, Fish is my all time H2G2 favorite; the flying love scenes and the cookie incident are the best things Adams ever wrote.

The fifth tome of the original series more or less pretends its predecessor didn’t happen. Fenchurch, Arthur Dent’s love of his life, has been literally vaporized in hyperspace and Arthur suddenly gets the message from Tricia McMillan that he is the father of her child, Random.

When the uncontrollable girl flees to the Earth she doesn’t realize that the planet she lands on is located in an alternate universe. Arthur Dent traces her back and lands on (the duplicate) Earth as well. The whole scheme is a plan by the Vogons who want, once and for all, get rid of all earthlings and all the parallel instances of our planet.

The book ends in a nightclub where Random Dent, Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect and two different instances of Trillian are waiting for the imminent destruction of the planet.

Douglas Adams had told in the past that the fifth book wasn’t going to be the last because he was a bit annoyed as well with its bleak tone. The final book should be a bit more upbeat, he promised, but then he did of course the utterly stupid thing of dying.

Of course Adams is entirely to blame for that. If he had consulted the Hitchiker’s Guide he would have known that sport and middle-aged men match together as Vogon and poetry.

In a controversial study, Physical Exercise (2006), biologist Midas Dekkers has written about the bad consequences of sport and how the ‘exercise is good for you’-cult has infiltrated the (medical) world.

All those hours spent in gyms and sport clubs are a complete waste of time; they will not make your life any better or longer. In fact, sport causes injuries and heart attacks and is therefore likely to shorten your life, is his well-defined opinion.

Adams is not the only victim of that. When my landlord had a heart attack he was obliged by the hospital to attend post-cardiac-arrest-gym sessions twice a week, to prolong his life.

You already guessed it. The first time he ran two rounds around the hospital he dropped dead on the Red Cross spot. Probably this is an easy and ingenious way to lower the Belgian state health insurance costs. The good thing is I could buy the house I lived in for a very cheap price after that, so long live sports.

But this post has been going on too long and I haven’t said a decent word yet about Eoin Colfer’s And Another Thing.

Of course I read further on a few days after I had put the book aside. All in all the book is not that bad and in one occasion, in casu the planetary cheese battle, quite cheeky and hilarious. This is the one time I really laughed out loud.

All over the work there are guide entrances, printed in italics. I know DNA liked to put these as well, but sometimes it feels a bit forced and overdone as if Colfer had to be reminded that it was time to use a Douglas-trick again.

Someone at the DNA newsgroup said that he found the book was not that bad either, but he felt that the characters were out of character sometimes, meaning that they are no longer Adams’s characters but those of Eoin Colfer, which is quite natural, but also rather frustrating.

I liked it. I didn't love it.
I did giggle aloud several times.
I found myself feeling mildly repulsed by some of the character changes on the odd occasion (the occasional utterance seemed jarringly out of character for example -
"$Character wouldn't use that > phrase!").
Generally the positive outweighed the negative.
The Wordsmith, 31 Oct 2009 07:42:08 GMT.

To be honest, the book quite puzzled me and from time to time I was going through these mixed emotions ranging from ‘this is so brilliantly close to H2G2’ to ‘what the heck (not to use that other word that can be easily replaced by Belgium) he is writing about now’.

The comparison with a musical tribute band is not that far fetched, I realize now. Those bands try to be as close to the original as possible, but they aren’t, and will never be. You catch their shows from time to time, but they are easily forgotten afterwards.

Colfer doesn’t do a bad job but I fear I would never have read this without the H2G2 logo even if he continues adding in messages that are directly destined at me:

You look gorgeous in that sweater, Felix. There is no way anyone is going to call you a freak and throw you in a dumple composter. (p. 237)

I feel this review is rather unsatisfactory, perhaps these are slightly better:

And Another Thing… a review @ Thorx.
A Totally Improbable Review @ Wired.
Douglas Adams is re-born in Eoin Colfer's masterful prose, says Euan Ferguson @ The Guardian.
My dog apparently thought the book might be delicious @ Mazerlodge.
And another thing @ Lloyd Gilbert.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in these as well: The Restaurant At The End Of The Typewriter 



Entry 1609

It has been the most wonderful week. After I had read a favourable review of Douglas Coupland’s Generation A in the newspaper I bought me the book and I am in the middle of reading that one now. The story is put in a future not so very far from now where bees have disappeared altogether and the weather is constantly playing tricks on the population, like suburban smog.

When 5 persons around the world get stung they are immediately abducted by special services into a research centre that reminds the reader of the white room where David Bowman encountered himself. The quintet is repeatedly injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected (borrowed from Alice's Restaurant © Arlo Guthrie).

When apparently nothing common between them is found they are put back into the world where they have troubles coping with their instant Youtube superstar status. They all meet for the first time, because their stay at the research centre was in splendid isolation, on a distant island where the last beehive was ever found and that is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

The island has turned in a Mad Max environment with murders being committed on a daily base. The five get the assignment to tell stories to each other, like the people in the Decameron, because that might be a way to find out why the bees exactly choose them…

This week the new Orb album also landed on my desk. It is called Baghdad Batteries and was a pleasant surprise. It isn’t a masterpiece but I found it pretty cool that they have returned to their ambient roots. It is pleasantly soothing.

If anybody ever reads this shit it might be good to know that a couple of months ago I had some eye injections that made me exactly feel as if someone was sticking a needle through my eye. This week I had some tests to see if these injections had really worked or if they had just been a weird Dr. Caligari experiment.

First I was summoned by one of the most ravishing women I have ever seen, she made me read cards that went like DEFPOTEC but all I could think of was that she could defpotec me all night long. A while later, still in a happy mood, I was reading Generation A by the way, I went to the picture man who was going to take pictures.

I had to roll up my sleeve and I was injected with a yellow contrast fluid. The nurse warned me that I might look yellow; well not look yellow, but that everything I would look at would appear yellowish.

Wow! All of a sudden I was feeling like Neil, the hippie, on a sunny day, humming Daydream Believer, although in my case, and I kid you not, a rather popular Coldplay tune was ringing through my head.

Once home I had to take a leak, and my urine was fluorescently yellow as if I had eaten a six-pack of Stabilo Boss marker-pens. If they could make this thing in orange and pink it would be a great hit on summer festivals around the world, I thought. Let’s all do a rainbow pee.

And today I also purchased me – what is officially titled –


The book is written by Eoin Colfer, with a name like that you become either a science fiction writer or an Irish folk dancer, I guess, but Eoin didn’t take the easy way out. But the book will have to wait until I finish Generation A.

I’m yellowy pissed anyway that for the first time in history a hitchhiker book actually appears on the day that it was promised to appear. At least they could’ve said on the twelfth of October that it had all been a joke and that - to celebrate and honour Mr. Douglas Adams - the book would appear in another timeframe.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in these as well:
General Mish Mash: Babylon By Bus 
DNA: Kopfgeburten 
Orb Weavers: Pink Dreams 



Entry 991

Wicker Ass This week, sad week, brought me scattered thoughts, feelings and sensations. Let me empty my cerebral scrapbook first before I continue with the subject of the day. Activate cynical mood warning…


Three weeks ago a Belgian soldier was killed in Lebanon attempting to dismantle an Israeli bomb. He was posthumously decorated and the big shots praised him for his bravery. Strange enough nobody from the Belgian government had the guts to convene the Israeli ambassador and to officially demand for an explanation what the fuck these bombs were doing there and how on Earth they were going to indemnify the Blue Helmets, the family of the deceased soldier and last but not least the hundreds of innocent victims who have been mutilated and killed and will still be mutilated and killed for years after the initial conflict has taken place.

Whenever a believer of the true Zion faith discovers a swastika on a wall a mind-boggling tidal wave of complaints hits the media. One of the silliest moments of an anti-Semite counter reaction took place decades ago when the Belgian-Israeli Weekly accused Albert Uderzo to be racist because he had caricatured a Jew in Asterix and the Black Gold.

Don’t get me wrong. The Jewish people have suffered a lot, especially in the last century, and I’m not here to minimise or contradict the Holocaust or anti-Semitism. But I don’t like the fact that these historical barbarisms are still used today as a scapegoat to defend military actions against civilians. Just make the following headbirth: what do you think the international reaction would be if a Blue Helmet was be killed in Afghanistan by a Taliban cluster bomb? Catch my drift?

I needed to get this off my chest.


Some silly people bombard my mailboxes with funny PowerPoint presentations, funny jokes, funny movies and the odd portion of pornographic material. Depending on the mood I’m in I just delete the crap (with exception of the pornographic material, I confess) and nod very friendly when I meet the senders, mostly at the local pub, when they feel it necessary to loudly analyse what they send me a couple of days before.

This one nearly made me piss my pants: Statue of St George falls and gets beheaded in a church.

But it also made place for another headbirth. Why do I find this Christian blasphemous act rather funny and the bombing of the Afghan Buddhas of Bamyan not?


A second movie that cracked me up involves a hidden camera prank that turns bad. A moron with a bucketful of paint decorates a parked car and is promptly attacked by its owner. When the nose bleeding actor explains that the scene was set up for the general amusement of the tv glotzing community this isn’t appreciated by the victim, quite the contrary. The man doesn't feel invited to laugh in front of the camera and kicks the prankster a bit more. I sincerely hope the authorities gave the mental bloke a medal instead of a fine. But at the same time a little silly bird keeps on fluttering in my head.

Time for a headbirth. What if the beating was a scenario driven thing as well? These days it is so hard to trust television.


My Live In Gdansk cd/dvd/goodies box arrived yesterday and although I pissed on the concept a couple of weeks ago the situation has somewhat changed since then. Rick Wright, the quietest of the brothers Floyd, is no longer among us and thus this 5 double disc is more or less his musical testament. Friday evening I watched Echoes on disc 3 and cried a bit, alone in front of the computer screen. Thank God my webcam is broken or it would’ve been a hidden camera item all over the world. (Now on YouTube: grown man cries in front of a Pink Floyd song.) The close ups of Ricks Wright’s fingers floating forever and ever over the keyboard keys only strengthened me in my belief that the man was a fucking genius. The last track on the DVD is the obligatory Comfy Numb. Rick sings the parts that are normally done by Roger Waters. Justice is done.

This reminds me of the unchecked fact that somebody, EMI probably, waved a bucketful of dollars in front of the Floyd politely informing if they were interested in doing a sequel to Dark Side of The Moon. Apparently they all said no.

Headbirth: although Roger Waters did sing about a surrogate band in the Eighties he apparently doesn’t realise that the Floyd songs he does on his live shows sound more like a tribute band than anything else.


What is it with these sequels and remakes anyway? Those who know me know I am a bit a fan of the original The Wicker Man, a cult horror movie from the early Seventies. The protagonist is a 30 years virgin policeman, not even a wanker, who gets lured to an island where Christopher Lee, dressed like Neil the hippie from The Young Ones, is a pagan high priest. Although the women on the island have the tendency to dance naked in the daylight, dance naked in the moonlight and even dance naked when there is no distinctive source of light present, singing Scottish folksongs, the copper refuses to get involved. When the town’s main hottie, played by Britt Ekland, juggles her bare buttocks in front of him, he still refuses to spill his seed on the ground and thus he is exactly the right spicy man to be sacrificed to their sun god.

Recently I came across the American remake with Nicolas Cage. Frankly, I don’t like the guy and in this movie Cage proves once again that he is not a method actor but merely uses screaming as a method. Somebody should explain him that modern movie sets have hi-tech microphones that can record sweet whispers as well.

HB: Why do people make remakes and sequels if they already know for sure that the result will be worse than the original? Is this some kind of a postmodernism thing?


Part 5 was a mere intermezzo, because the real message is here: Eoin Colfer, his name reveals that he probably has been living on The Wicker Man island for too long, has been commissioned by Penguin books and the Adams family to write the sixth sequel of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy trilogy. The book will be titled And Another Thing and will resuscitate Arthur Dent, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect. I’m not sure about Marvin, the paranoid android, as he did the decent thing of dying in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish, but we can’t be too sure with all these parallel universes floating around, can we?

Kopfgeburten. Should I be happy or should I be sad with this news? I’m not sure and I don’t really care.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Ringmaster  


The Restaurant At The End Of The Typewriter

Entry 778

But keptin, I can't fire up her engine as well! Douglas Adams (DNA) obviously was one of those persons who graduated summa cum laude at the William Shatner Star Trek Unfinished Projects University. An explanation may be needed here.

In the seventies several attempts were made to resuscitate Star Trek at the movie theatres. Three scripts were made for what laughingly was called Star Trek II: The God Thing, by Gene ‘thank god for miniskirts’ Rodenberry; The Planet of the Titans, Kirk going mad and thinking he’s a Greek god – I kid you not!; and an unnamed blood sucking reptiles take over planet Earth story by Harlan Ellison that would have saved Brazil’s rubber production for the production of lizard suits alone. Every time someone uttered Star Trek and movie in one sentence hordes of lawyers, agents and cocaine delivery boys were summoned and gigantesque sums of money were handed over to the actors of the original series, who were begged not to take any other movie role for the time being. (This is valid proof of the fact that movie people are a bunch of ass-eating monkeys; you must be one sick person to even think that anyone wanted to cast the Star Trek actors for another project.)

After these three aborted attempts there were talks for a new TV series called Phase II. Business as usual: the actors got paid - nothing got produced. But the good thing (probably good is not the right adjective here) was that the pilot from the Phase II series grew into that horrific monster called Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ST:TMP). (Also here the choice of the adjective wasn’t really appropriate: the picture did a lot of things but moving wasn’t actually one of those.) Although ST:TMP contained a lot of miniskirts it was rather disappointing and the tagline that this was the most expensive SF movie ever was only true because the production company had added all previous cost of all aborted projects inside ST:TMP’s budget.

Douglas Adams also was one of those people who were extremely busy producing nothing and getting huge amounts of money for it. To quote Steve Meretzky, co-author of the Hitchhiker Infocom game: “Douglas certainly raised procrastination to an art form.” In 1983 DNA signed a contract with Infocom for 6 (six) text-adventure computer games based on his Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (H2G2) books. The first in the series came out in 1984 and sold a staggering 400 000 copies. But problems arose when Infocom politely reminded Adams that is was about time to think of parts 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 of the series. DNA who, according to his own terms, suffered from sequelitis, came with another idea. Infocom didn’t want to kill the goose with the golden eggs and reluctantly agreed to produce Bureaucracy. When that game came out in 1987, already a couple of years overdue, it sold a mere 40 000 copies. Days of text-adventure games were over. (I stole most of the above from M.J Simpson’s biography: Hitchhiker.)

Although attempts were made to create a second Hitchhiker Infocom game Restaurant At The End Of The Universe it was generally believed that the game never left the development stage. But a few weeks ago, so after more than 20 years, it was announced that a playable prototype does exist.

The full story (it is very long, you are warned!) can be read at the Waxy blog. It is also interesting to browse through the comments as well. These contain contributions, explanations and alternative timelines from Infocom people such as Steve Meretzky (H2G2), Tim Anderson (Bureaucracy), Marc Blank (Infocom VP and creator of Zork) and Michael Bywater (Bureaucracy).

The playable prototype has been published on the web and can be tested at the following URL (Java5 needed): Milliways.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: The Abandon Earth Kit aka How To Leave The Planet 


So Long

Entry 361

I am rereading Douglas Adams' So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish for the umpteenth time now. I know volume four in the trilogy of five isn't considered his best by many fans. It is a rather thin novel and was written at gunpoint. Douglas Adams was a master in procrastination (and making a load of money out of that) and after a while Pan Books were so desperate that they released a promotion kit without actually having a book. Inside the promotion kit a prayer could be found: "Please God grant to Douglas Adams the gift of inspiration (...) so that he can deliver the manuscript in time."

As god (all of them) and Douglas were never on speaking terms the prayer didn't help a lot. In the end there was nothing else left to do to isolate Douglas in a posh hotel suite with a guard before the door and force him to write a book in 2 weeks time. Two whole weeks. Nobody really knew what the story was going to be about but artists at both sides of the Atlantic had already been summoned months before to create the cover image: the English cover (by Gary Day Ellison) showed a dinosaur morphing into a walrus, the American jacket had some jumping dolphins. To quote biographer Neil Gaiman in his Don't Panic book: "There are no dolphins in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish but there are more dolphins than there are walruses or dinosaurs."

Douglas Adams wasn't really keen in writing yet another hitchhiker novel. At one point in the novel he even tells the "regular followers of the doings of Arthur Dent' to mind their own business (and stop harassing the author). To those readers who are expecting more goofiness and less love story he has the message to "skip on to the last chapter which is a good bit and has Marvin in it'. But Marvin, the paranoid android, only has an appointment with death, as if Douglas Adams wanted to say: see what happens if you keep on asking for my regular characters?

After the tin man has died the novel ends, leaving the reader in quiet desperation. Douglas Adams makes it fairly clear that he is fed up with hitchhiker as well: "There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind." It makes me think of Ian Fleming whose James Bond character (in the original novels) matures from a one-sided government killing machine to a person of flesh and blood, questioning the politics of the British Empire concerning Cuba and refusing to kill a spy in The Living Daylights.


So long is in many ways a tender love story, and its construction - which is very episodic - is full of little scenes that are almost self-contained and that show off Douglas' talent as a sketch writer. (Nick Webb in Wish You Were Here, p. 199-200.)

Quite right. Nearly every page contains some near-to-perfection sentences, thoughts or ideas. Take page one for instance:

This planet (Earth, note by FA) has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

You can't get more perfect than that, if you ask me. The first 150 pages of the novel are a treat and contain the cookie incident, then Douglas (still trapped in his hotel room, remember) and his vicious gatekeeper from hell suddenly realised that they needed to end the book because it was Friday, five minutes before five.

In the last 15 pages of the book, obviously written in a hurry, the following happens:

  • a giant flying saucer lands
  • Ford Prefect visits Arthur Dent (and Fenchurch, the girl, not the railway station)
  • they board the flying saucer
  • they arrive at the land of Sevorbeupstry (a little tired from the journey)
  • they meet Marvin who is now 37 times older than the Universe
  • they read God's Final Message
  • Marvin dies
  • They rent a scooter from a guy with green wings

The book ends with an epilogue (making that the 42nd chapter) in which Blart Versenwald III designs a "remarkable new breed of super-fly that could (...) figure out how to fly through the open half of a half-open window'.

Basically this post started as an introduction to tetradecahedrons but it grew rapidly into a monster. I also wanted to add something else about Ian Fleming and his James Bond character but I have forgotten what.

You'll have to tune in next year, I guess, to read the next part...;

The Cookie Incident (back to text)

For a description of this urban myth please consult: Snopes.

For Douglas Adams' comment on this subject, please consult: The Cookie Incident.

And a short movie on the same theme: The Cookie Thief.


Popular science books are fun

Entry 323

I've got one called On The Road To Infinity from Dr. A.E. Wallenquist, published by the Bosscha Space Observatory Lembang (Java) in 1934. It is still written in the old school Dutch spelling from De Vries and Te Winkel (1864) so it is even tricky for Dutch speaking people to read (the modern Dutch spelling rules were made in 1946 but it took to 1954 before the new spelling was made official). But Mr. Wallenquist, who was an astronomer, was perhaps too much of a scholar to write gobbledygook so the book isn't as nonsensical as one could expect after 70 years.

I've tried to look up several popular science authors from a few decades ago on the web. The Belgian Jos Van Limbergen, who wrote a dozen book club bestsellers, is even unknown on Dutch Wikipedia. Only some antiquarian sites that have copies of his books mention this author.

Does anybody care for I.S. Shklovskii who wrote Universe, Life, Mind in 1962? This Soviet astrophysicist had to introduce mild communist propaganda and some blatant American criticism in his book in order to see it published. Nevertheless when Carl Sagan received a copy of the book he was so thrilled by it that he asked Iosif Samuilovich if he could translate it into English. Sagan added some of his own comments, sometimes disagreeing with Shklovskii, to the original text, deleted some of the propaganda (but mentioned why and where he did that) and in 1966 the book was presented to the American public under the title: Intelligent Life in the Universe. Sagan and Shklovskii truly believed, or at least suggested, that aliens had already visited Earth. Thus was the political situation in those days that the authors could not meet and had to communicate solely by writing. Shklovskii once commented to Sagan: "The probability of our meeting is unlikely to be smaller than the probability of a visit to the Earth by an extraterrestrial cosmonaut".

Propaganda wasn't always a Soviet thing of course. Jos Van Limbergen's 1961 Conquest of the Moon (Dutch: Verovering van de Maan) contains several anti-communist attacks. The fact that the Russian spacecraft Lunik 2, the first object ever to land (i.e. crash) on the moon, contained a Soviet flag is named a 'chauvinist sin' done by communist 'pub philosophers'. But one has to confess; even today Russians have the flair to plant their flag on undiscovered territory just to call it their own, n'est-ce pas?

Probably the book that has influenced me the most is Adrian Berry's The Next Ten Thousand Years. Now here was a man who separated the science from the fiction. Published in 1973 it deals with matters as Dyson Spheres, Von Neumann self-replicating machines (Battlestar Galactica anyone?) and gives a simple DIY introduction to Einstein's special relativity theory. I took the book out of my library today - it was slowly hibernating between Brian W. Aldiss' Billion Year Spree and James Michener's Space - and it literally broke into pieces when I opened it. Out fell a sheet I once made containing the different ratios for Einstein's mass vs. speed formula

( 1      v 2  ) 
    c 2

So this was the kind of thing I did when I was young, beautiful and a pimpled virgin. One thing struck me though; in 1973 Berry did not write a single word about quantum mechanics, string theory or the 11 dimensions we currently live in.

I experienced nearly the same enthusiasm this week when I read Michael Hanlon's The Science Of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. At first I feared it would be another one of those rip-off books, genre The Anthology at the End of the Universe, where a sly editor with Vogon blood running through his veins has invited so-called ‘leading SF authors' to say something witty about Douglas Adams. After you have read all pieces, you are frankly impressed by two of them, annoyed by at least six, and the dozen other are already forgotten.

But The Science Of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is other shit. One of the reviews at the back of the book reads: "An excellent book exploring fundamentally serious matters in a most entertaining way. Rather a shame that many might ignore it because they think it's about the 'Guide'!" And for once a blurb couldn't be more accurate.

Chapter 9 deals with teleportation, and as both Captain James T. Kirk and Arthur Dent have this way of transport in common I dived into the local Bermuda triangle that contains my library and found The Physics Of Star Trek, a book written in 1995 by Lawrence M. Krauss with a foreword by Stephen Hawking (that book is amongst the few that are recommended on Adrian Berry’s website by the way).

According to Mr. Krauss a human being contains about 1 x 10^28 atoms.
According to Mr. Hanlon it is about 7 x 10^27 atoms.
The difference is a tiny 3 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 atoms and an explanation for that could lie in the fact that James Tiberius Kirk is wee bit fatter than Arthur Dent.

Both books come to the same conclusion. There is a huge ethical problem when it comes to teleportation: is the person that has been teleported the same or is it an identical copy? To quote Michael Hanlon: teleportation kills its subject and creates an impostor. Luckily, so concludes Lawrence M. Krauss, it will never be possible to teleport a human as loading the data into a buffer would take slightly longer than the Universe itself. But, adds Michael Hanlon, teleportation of, lets say, a microbe will be done before the end of this century. Already a few years ago atoms have been successfully teleported in different laboratories over the world. Before the next decade is over attempts will be made to teleport several thousands particles in one go.

Add to this the news that parallel universes may well exist, that time travel is no longer a theoretical possibility and that there is a spooky Tiplerian Omega Point where we will all be god it is no wonder that the one and only Guide has these big reassuring letters printed on its cover: Don't Panic.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Gentle Ghosts


The Abandon Earth Kit aka How To Leave The Planet

Entry 307

quatordecahedron Don't panic!

This 'Unfinished Project' of mine has finally been, euh, finished. It contains a text from Douglas Adams that he once wrote for a shoe company. A Belgium shoe company! Although written in Flash it isn't flashy at all. You are warned.

How To Leave The Planet

Update February 2009:

How To Leave The Planet is one of Douglas Adams’s most obscure texts. Obscure as in rare. None of the regular biographies mention it and only Neil Gaiman in his not-quite-a-biography-but-very-close-to-it Don’t Panic publishes the text and gives some explanation about it.

According to Gaiman the text was first published under the title The Abandon Earth Kit. Printed on a fourteen-sided carton box it was a marketing gift for a shoe company called Athleisure. Neil Gaiman names the object a quatordecahedron, an non existing travesty of a word depicting an object with fourteen sides also known as a thekadessaragon, a tetrahaidecahedron or, more simply, a tetradecahedron.

Quator DIY Later on parts of the text were recycled by Adams, one of his favourite pastimes, and appeared in The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. Later later on he recycled other or the same parts again and used these in the introduction for a reprint of his trilogy. Twice.

Although there is a very active and anoraky Adams community on the web there is no trace of The Abandon Earth Kit whatsoever and the web fails to produce a picture of an original. Also nobody ever seems to have heard about the Athleisure shoe company that passed the shoe event horizon one day and disappeared completely.

So sometimes I just wonder if this all isn’t just a hoax, loosely based upon a real text from Adams.

Easter Egg.

For those that have found the update of this post: a little present.

I am not entirely happy with the Flash version of The Abandon Earth Kit, especially the red arrow that urges you to go on is a bit tacky, but although I still have my original SwishMax files I seem to have lost most of the resources it needs to render the Flash file (mostly fonts, as a matter of fact).

When I made it, in 2007, I inserted an Easter Egg, that as far as I am aware has never been found by anyone. So I better explain how to get there.

The Easter Egg can be found after the third chapter of the movie, titled Where You Shoud Be Heading. The red arrow will urge you to press dice number 4. Once you have clicked the fourth dice a yellow box appears. While the yellow box is on the screen, press dice number 2. When the box is gone so is your chance to activate the Easter Egg.

4. 2. Got it? A very fast special effect that took me more time to make than the entire movie itself will flash on the screen.

(Quatuordecahedron model made by Frank MB.)

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Nomen Est Omen: Starship Titanic


Nomen Est Omen: Starship Titanic

Entry 300

Having read the Douglas Adams novel  that was actually written by Terry Jones, from Monty Python fame, I found that it was about time to titillate my visual sensor systems and to play the game that listens to the same title: Starship Titanic.

I remember the game well, around the year 2000 it was lying in heaps in the sales bin of a local CD shop, that also happened to sell some software and videos of girls in various stadia of nakedness, and perhaps due to the fact that nobody knew what this shop was actually selling it went bankrupt after a while. Therefore, I never had the chance to buy the Starship Titanic box, which apparently contained some 3D-glasses that do not come handy at all in playing the game.

Lucky for me I could take a space-cab to the nearest parallel universe were time stood still at 1998 and where I could get hold of one of those goodies. I realize this may not be all together legal at this mirror side of ZZ 9 plural Z alpha but who cares. The day some person or thing will bring the box out again, I will buy it, paying with real zilch, promised.

So after installing the game and browsing the net to find that particular Cinepak codec to make the game run under Window XP Service Pack 2, I placed myself in front of my flatscreen and pressed the Starship Titanic icon. The game is strange, so strange it took me two ctrl-alt-del sessions to understand that this was how the game was supposed to start. I was quite baffled by the touchdown of the ship and the movie that followed it. So I prepared for a strange, interesting and hilarious adventure...

Meatloaf once vociferously expressed that 'two out of three ain't bad', but in this case I can't totally agree. Although the game promises to have a graphical interface it really is just an upgraded text adventure with some simple click and point interaction. The screen doesn't give you the first person free movement environment as promised (although the Wolfenstein 3D engine was invented seven years before that, in 1991) but consists of a multitude of slides with hotpoint triggers and a visual effect to imitate some action from one view to another. These visual effects have been programmed into 446 AVI files, so there is really a lot to watch, but it starts getting tedious after a while anyway as 'moving around' inside a room isn't always as simple and easy as it looks. In order to solve a puzzle, some objects lying on the floor have to be taken but due to the fact that the right slide has to be triggered before this can be done this becomes a rather frustrating experience. The same goes for finding the right elevator, the right corridor, the right room... (That click and point games don't need to be boring was already proven by Lucasarts in 1993 with Days of the Tentacle: Tentacle Day.)

Douglas Adams was a storyteller and the Starship Titanic novel proves there was an - albeit rather flimsy - story to tell. That story gets completely lost in the game. It starts promising enough with the introduction by the doorbot after the ship has demolished your house (again an AVI movie), but after that you are on your own... Early in the game you find a dead body and it is left to your imagination to find out who this is, who has killed him and why, why he is carrying these goodies, etc... An attempt is made when you find the logins and passwords of the mailboxes of the dead guy, but reading through a dozen of 'mails' is a typical text adventure solution and not apt for a graphical game. (The Starfleet Academy adventure from 1995 featured 'live' video-messages from Captain James T. Kirk, Captain Hikaru Sulu and Chekov to help you through your missions.)

Nearly at the end of the game you have to resuscitate the ship's main computer, called Titania, and this robotic creature gabbers nearly for five minutes without the possibility to shut her up. While she is explaining what has happened to the ship and who may be responsible for all this and why she thinks you should take the helm and lead us back to Earth in order to find that Leovinus fellow back who has probably jumped off the ship while it crash-landed the only thing you can think of is that it was a big mistake to wake her up to begin with.

Douglas Adams himself can be seen two times in the game, once as the enthusiast author ordering us to hurry up with the game (a237.avi), the second time as Leovinus (a113.avi) in something that can be defined as being the most boring epilogue for a game ever. It's the description of the game in a nutshell, I can only deduct that somewhere during the development of the software the creators must have lost the interest (or the money).

It's a pity, because the conversation engine that can handle more than 5000 situations and contains, apparently, 10000+ sentences is a real treat. Ask about The Beatles, about Monty Python, about Douglas Adams, 42, Life, the Universe and Everything, the maximum air velocity of an unladen swallow and you'll get some very daft answers.

Forget the game - just keep talking to the bots, that is were the fun is...

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: This Satanic Trip 


This Satanic Trip

Entry 298

OK, I admit. I am in my Douglas Adams period. During those periods all that I touch, all that I see, all that I taste, and all I feel circles around DNA. However, you have to admit, the man was a genius. But also a shrewd entrepreneur.

He made Hitchhiker radio shows (on the air, on vinyl, on CD and even on DVD), books, comics, a computer game, a television show, a (rather bad) movie, and even a towel. The man did not only look like one but was also a mogul of good taste. He even played on stage with Pink Floyd. For his birthday. Just like that. What you gonna do for your birthday? Oh, I think I will jam a bit with Pink Floyd in a room with 30,000 spectators. Should be fun.

Of course it was a fine designed master plan. Nearly every sidestep in one of his novels can be extrapolated into a new adventure. And thus the novel Life, the Universe and Everything, whose title was, by the way, taken out of one of his other books, contained a sentence that become the plot for yet another one, other than the first other, if you can still follow me on this trip through Adams's parallel paradise.

Starship Titanic, or fully titled, Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic, was not written by DNA, but was commissioned by him to a parrot, not a dead parrot of course, but a living one. Terry Jones, who used to be a full Monty Python in his glory days, did the deed.

So far for the introduction. Now for the book. What could be better then to quote a bit?

"Yarktak, Edembop, Raguliten, Desembo, Luntparger, Forzab, Kakit, Zimwiddy, Duterprat, Kazitinker-Rigipitil, Purzenhakken, Roofcleetop, Spanglowiddin, Buke-Hammadorf, Bunzlywotter, Brudelhampon, Harzimwodl, Unctimpoter, Golholiwol, Dinseynewt, Tidoloft, Cossimiwip, Onecrocodil, Erklehammerdrat, Inchbewigglit, Samiliftodft, Buke-Willinujit..."

You may have guessed it; it is full of aliens. Some of them even have sex with an Earth specimen, and that goes a bit like this: "It sounded as if they might have been playing polo, or doing a bit of water-skiing all mixed in with some pretty serious weight-lifting. "

Not bad at all.

The best part of the book is saved till the end. It is a picture. Of the author. Sitting in front of his bookcase. Laptop on his lap. Naked.

By the way: Starship Titanic is also a computer game. Not a towel... yet...

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Gentle Ghosts