Monday, September 05, 2011

Microscope and Car

Wednesday 31st August

In the past I’ve often been prepared to take a look at something someone has written, and yet to have published, and make comments on it. I learnt quite a bit through this process during my ten years membership of a postal workshop and have always been prepared to give a bit back, but no more. Frankly, over the last ten years, very little of what has been sent to me, as a typescript or an email attachment, has been worth the effort, and some of it is quite appalling. So, as of now, I’ll only comment on published books, even though maybe only one in ten of them are worth the fulsome praise being sought.

For example, having just glanced at something that is allegedly going to be published, I abandoned it after the first page. In the first four-line paragraph there were two missing words, a spelling mistake and missing punctuation. The first page had over twenty similar errors I could actually put a red circle around. Other grammatical errors too numerous to detail warranted a red circle round the whole page. Really, if people can’t be bothered to sort out such basic stuff before sending it to me, I can’t be bothered to read it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself to be a paragon of virtue when it comes to the English language. As far as grammatical errors are concerned I can point at them but I don’t really know all the lingo to describe them. I learnt by the seat-of-my-pants from that day, when I was about fifteen, when I sat down at my Dad’s manual typewriter, hammered away two fingered for an hour, then had to stop and go ask my parents what a sentence was. However, this is all stuff that can be easily learnt elsewhere, from books, just like I learnt it.

Sunday 4th September
The dreaded lurgies have attacked again and I’m suffering something much like tonsillitis. Attempting to lay off the fags by chewing nicotine gum results in painful hiccups, I can’t swallow hot drinks and keep on waking in the night choking on phlegm. Wonderful.

Meanwhile we’ve been watching ‘Game of Thrones’ which has been excellent. I tried the first book of the series but gave up after a hundred or so pages, bored with the family stuff and ‘character building’, but after seeing this series I might well pick up the book again. There were notable snaffles or maybe hat tips in this: a fat inept guy called Sam as a companion to a hero (Gamgee anyone?); the girl who wants to fight like a boy and who, during a sword fighting lesson, decides she doesn’t want to practice and gets the lesson on fights not necessarily occurring when you want them (I think I first read that one in Dune and have come across it many times since); and of course horse lords and a dragon lady right from the pages of Tanith Lee. Definitely looking forward to the next series and I’ll be asking someone who has a house here (hello Ruth) which costumes she worked on!

Monday 5th September
One of the things I say when interviewers ask me about how I started writing is how, at a certain age, I chose not to be ‘a Jack of all trades and master of none’ by concentrating on just one of my many interests. I blame my parents with their house full of books, their varied interests, and the various subtle pushes I got from them. I got a chemistry set as many did, but I also got ‘extra’ chemicals from my Dad’s college, followed by some instruction in using chemical formulae many years before I saw them in school. I got fish tank, but instead of putting in water and fish I filled it with caterpillars, watched them turn to chrysalises and hatch out, looked the result up in an Observer book, before then moving on to water scorpions, caddis fly larvae and any other weird creature I found in the stream across the road. I got a microscope which only in later years I realized was a good one – cast iron body and multiple magnifications – and spend many happy hours with my eye glued to the lens. But all this is a round-about way of getting to my recent purchase.

I’m not an easy person to buy presents for, since there’s not much I want beside the odd packet of pants or socks. I can’t be bothered with many of the technological gadgets now available. I wouldn’t want an Android phone or a Blackberry because, thought I know I might have use for many of their functions, they aren’t enough to justify the expense nor the time expended in learning to use the damned things. I don’t really do toys. However, when I saw what was available in Lidl last week I knew straight away that it was a toy I wanted: a microscope with a USB connection so that images and video clips can be taken from it.

Of course, how often I play with this particular toy remains to be seen...

And another purchase this last week. When we arrived here it was necessary to buy a car as quickly as possible so as to avoid the large hire car costs. Stelios put us in contact with a guy from Motor Plan who was selling off some old ones and from him we bought a Renault Thalia. It had 42,000 kilometres on the clock, was a 1.4 saloon with plenty of boot space and has been ideal. Yes, there have been the usual problems what with bearings, joints and a belt (plus tensioner) needing to be replaced, but these are all expected. However, what has been very annoying is a sensor over the flywheel which, when it gets a speck of dirt on it, simply stops the car. The sensor can then be cleaned with a squirt of cleaning fluid in the right area, but more often than not it needs to be taken off to be cleaned.

We carried on with this car for four years, since cleaning the sensor is just a ten minute job. This last summer I haven’t had to touch it for five months and so, when offered a much newer car at a reasonable price I was indecisive. What made me decisive was driving Samantha and Dean back to Iraklion airport and having the car pack up right at the worst possible point, which was in the queue to traffic lights just outside Agios Nicholas. Perhaps this was my own fault in that if I'd cleaned it before the trip I'd have had no problem. The next day I looked at at the other car (a Kia Rio) and said yes.


robann said...

I'm not surprised at your frustration with the lack of care on written language and my own annoyance is with people's CVs. I don't claim to be an expert on the English language (I'm an engineer after all) but the mistakes I've seen are simply shocking. This is a two page document, that's supposed to represent you and get you jobs, but people don't bother even running a spell checker on it! Maybe I'm getting old but the problem is getting worse and you now see graduates using 'txt speak'. "This job wld be gr8" will not get you the job.

Chrish said...

Nice weels! did you manage to get S. and D. on the plane in time?

Phil M said...

I know what you mean about "Game of Thrones". TV series was excellent but I'm having difficulty reading it and, yes, I thought it very derivative as well.

As for the Clio, I'll never buy another one, mine had a fetish for braking clutch cables, usually at 5pm on a Friday.
I always thought you author types would be at the BM or Merc level by now!

Get well soon

Unknown said...

Two rules on buying cars -

1>Never buy French.

2>Never ever buy French.

If I'm asked about cars by friends the best rule of thumb for a trouble free life I can give them is buy German or Japanese. But the Koreans are coming on a lot.

My spelling is bad (typing worse) and grammar is getting better. I can strongly recommend the books going by the name of "The Good Word Guide". No idea what version they are up to. Full of all the silly questions you need answers to.

Unknown said...

Well, my car is French (Peugeot 106) and it's getting to 300.000 km with no big problems. Can't ask much more from a car, I'd say...

Huan said...

I have a 97 Toyota with 279000 miles on the original engine and clutch.
apart from normal wear and tear items nothing has gone wrong with it.
It will probably be illegal to drive because of EU regulations before it actually wears out.
I see the crazy EU stuff is still going on with motorcycles, they want to ban any bike from older than 7 years from urban areas!

Jay said...

I've found four very obvious spelling errors in The Depature so far. Pot, kettle and all that although I agree what passes for grammar these days has my high school English teacher spinning in her grave.

Leg-iron said...

I just direct people to if they want help with their writing. Especially if they want it for free. This does not apply to people I know, just to those random 'I read your book and I want to be a writer too' approaches.

My best response so far was 'You don't want to be a writer like me. You want to be like one of those writers who actually earns a living at it.'

Maybe I should send them to you ;)

However, I'm far more interested in that USB microscope. I've had my eye on that in Lidl too. Is it any good?

KRex said...

Having just read the fifth book in the Songs of Fire and Ice series, I am starting to despair! When is G R R Martin actually going to come to the point. Or am I just asking too much of books which would handily choke a mature Walrus? Just a little development of "Why..?" Perhaps that is one of the little items which fell by the wayside of his busy lifestyle. Underlying reason. Why Dragons now? Why the Cold Ones now?

Unknown said...

> I don’t consider myself to be a paragon of virtue
> when it comes to the English language.

Every time a "whilst" is used, somewhere a kitten is drowned.

Unknown said...

inre Game of Thrones comments: GRRM has completely forgotten how to write a good novel. You have to go back to his days before "Beauty and the Beast" to realize how brilliant he *used* to be. See: _Dying of the Light_ or _Fevre Dream_.

Neal Asher said...

By training I'm an engineer too, robann. That's no block to disliking bad English.

Yes, Chrish, we did, though they were sweating a little.

Phil M, even if I could afford such a car I wouldn't bother. Never been a car fetishist.

Olaf, there are many similar books out there. I've got a whole shelf of them but still screw up, which is good in a way because if I ever think I've nothing left to learn it's time to give up.

Nuno, no, you can't ask much more.

But Huan, you're killing the planet!

Jay, but were they all on the same page? Believe me, I don't make mistakes out of laziness.

Leg-Iron, yes, the microscope is great. I want to get some of those hollowed-out slides for dirty water so I can make a movie clip of the critters there. Incidentally, any luck with the tobacco?

KRex, maybe time to try Joe Abercrombie...

Unknown, they must use it a lot in Greece then.

I'm trying Game of Thrones again, but have my doubts now...

Dan said...

With the microscope, you don't actually need hollow-ground slides to observe wildlife in water; a normal slide with a ring painted on with nail varnish (three or four thin coats) will do just as well, with a cover slip on top.

If that USB microscope has a proper condenser for illumination, then put a patch-stop into the condenser tray and open the iris diaphragm right open; that'll give you dark-field illumination whereby the wildlife is bright against a dark background.

For finding things on a mostly-empty slide, use an old trick Dr Peter Evenette of Leeds Uni taught me; open the iris diaphragm wide open, and stick your little finger under it. This gives an imperfect impromptu dark-field illumination; not a patch on the proper thing, but pretty useful nonetheless. If you can get it, phase contrast is better yet than either dark-field or the above trick, but phase contrast microscopes are expensive. Rheinberg illumination (dark-red field, with bright blue surrounding ring) is a party-trick variation of dark-field which is only ever used to impress rubes.

Finally, there is one little party trick which has almost certainly not been done for over fifty years with a microscope: observing mitochondria with a light microscope. The reason is they're too small to see with visible light; you can just about do it with short-wavelength ultraviolet and UV-sensitive films (NOT naked eyes!), for a short period before the UV knocks the specimen to bits.

Leg-iron said...

Tobacco plants hit six feet high and I have leaves drying. Already tried a little 'in the rough' but the rest will wait until it's cured!

Next year I'll need longer support poles. Windy days here can knock the plants over (although on the day of the hurricane it was flat calm here).

Next on the 'control' list is booze so I'll be starting brewing next. This year the plum tree went crazy, so plum wine first. Maybe flavoured with tobacco flowers just to really twist the knife in that Righteous heart.

I just don't know how I'm going to mine my own salt...

I'm still trying to write that dystopia. Trouble is, the government is always one step ahead.

Neal Asher said...

Thanks for all the info, Dan, but I'm guessing Caroline won't thank you when I start raiding her make-up box!

Excellent, Leg-Iron, glad to hear the seeds did so well. Incidentally, why don't you start evaporating sea water?