Sunday, 28 August 2011

Shoot-out at the Ignorance Saloon

Right I will  from time to time be putting some of my short stories up on here. This is one that I wrote a while back but have just finished polishing up.


Science's horse was acting skittish, which was unsurprising given that the rocky terrain was certainly hiding at least a few nasty critters. Science reached down a smoothly patted the creature on the side of the neck. “Whoa, there.” Her voice was soft and calming. “There's no need to worry.” Science sat back. The horse turned it's head to the side so it's right eye was fixed on it's rider. “Fine there are reasons to be concerned but from an entirely statistical point of view they are unlikely.” The horse seemed to take this as a satisfactory response and continue picking it's way through the rocks with caution.

Science turned her piercing blue eyes back to the horizon, she wasn't expecting any trouble but that didn't mean it wasn't coming. It had been a long ride from Knowledge and Ignorance was still a few hours away. It didn't help that the track between the two was overgrown to the point of non-existence. It also didn't help that she didn't want to be here, she'd had to leave the deputies in charge of the town and she knew that without her keeping a firm hand on the reigns back there it would be hard for Common and Sense to keep things straight. But this was personal and if the news she'd heard was true then she had to ride to Ignorance, and ride as hard and fast as she could. Unfortunately as fast as she could ride was turning out to not be tremendously fast and now the earth was rotating her away from the sun. The path was becoming a bit clearer up ahead and Science could make out the faint glow of Ignorances dim lights towards the horizon. As the horse made it's way towards the clearer region of the path, she started to pick up some speed and her mind flashed back to two days ago in her office.


Science shifted lazily in her sleep, unfortunately this made her fall out of her chair. As she collided with the floor she pulled herself up from behind her desk, she stood about five foot five with olive skin and long black hair. She was just straightening herself out when she looked up to see a man standing in the doorway.

“You the sheriff?” the man asked, Science squinted at him but the sunlight shining in from behind him made it impossible to get a good look at his facial features

“What made you form that hypothesis?” Science asked still trying to piece together exactly who she was talking to, the man had girth that much she could be certain of. Whether this was the result of being wealthy enough to be well fed, a slow metabolism or a genetic predisposition was another matter entirely, Science never jumped to conclusions. As her pupils closed to adjust to the lighting conditions she was able to make out the burning ember of a cigarette in the man's mouth. “Please don't smoke that in here... there's incredibly strong evidence to link the smoking of tobacco products to lung cancer”

The man dropped his cigarette on the floor and brought his foot down on it with a twist that ground the embers into the sturdy timbers of the floor. “Well this is the sheriff's office and that gold star on your jacket would add further weight to my theorem” The man replied.

“Well you've got me bang to rights.” Science replied

“I've got some information that may be of value to you.” The mysterious stranger replied.

“What sort of value?” Science asked her curiosity peeked.

“The sort that would be beneficial to both of us,” the stranger replied, “seems that a certain outlaw that I know you've got a hankering to take down has set up shop in the town of Ignorance, you familiar with it?”

“If I was the gambling type, I'd wager that you already know I am, Mister.” Science responded, Ignorance was a lawless kind of town about two days ride from Knowledge, she'd been dealing with rustlers and snake oil merchants out of that town for the best part of her career.

“Well it seems that the locals in that region have a new employer. A man going by the name of Superstition.” The stranger responded. No sooner had he finished talking than Science grabbed her guns from the hook behind her desk and headed for the door. “So you're interested then.”

“Interested? Sir, I don't know who you are but if you don't step out of that doorway right now and let me leave I'll put more holes in you than it's medically advisable to have.” Science looked to her guns and when she looked up the stranger was gone.

She'd ran over to the saloon to grab her deputies and leave them a few simple instructions, and the general store for some key supplies and she'd been on the road to Ignorance within the hour.


It seemed like it had been much longer than two days ago, but in actuality she'd been travelling at speed so time had been going a little slower for her, from a relativistic stand point. She was approaching the borders of the ramshackle pile of lawlessness that was Ignorance. Science rounded the post office and found herself on what passed for a main street out in the sticks. At the opposite end of the street stood the Saloon the noise that carried towards her on the wind sounded like a brawl had crashed into a party. The street contained the usual, a livery, a general store, a gun smith a black smith a doctor's and an undertaker's, Science had yet to visit a town that didn't contain these items but the size of the undertaker's and the number of coffins out front seemed to indicate a predilection towards violence in the area. She hitched her horse outside the post office and walked slowly and deliberately down the street.

As she approached the saloon she reached down and cocked the hammers on her revolvers. She reached the doors and as was about to head inside when she had to stop to allow a fight to pass by. Two toothless prospectors fell down the steps Science had just climbed and proceeded to continue brawling on the dusty floor. From muffled things they were saying it seemed they arguing about voodoo versus prayer as a road to riches. Science ignored this and stepped inside. As she pushed open the doors, in a startling break from narrative convention, everything carried on exactly as it had before. The pianist in the back of the room near the stairs was playing a song that a few people around him were lending lyrics to. Science had never heard the song before but it seemed to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of irony. She stepped towards the bar and pulled out a bar stool.

“What can a get you, Missy?” The old timer behind the bar asked.
“A glass of purified dihydrogen monoxide.” Science replied, the old timer looked at her blankly. “Purified water.” She clarified.

“Purified, ye' say, 'fraid we don't carry that.” The old timer responded. “Don't really see the point of it myself”

“Of course” Science muttered under her breath “What have you got that's in a sealed bottle and doesn't have alcohol in it?”

“Well we've got a few bottle's of Dr Thaxton's Curative Remedy, some o' the regulars like it with they're whiskey.” Replied the old timer.

“I'll take a bottle of that” Science replied as the bottle was passed to her she glance at the label which promised it would cure the common cold, back-ache, muscle spasms, ugliness, cancer HIV, AIDS and pregnancy. While she didn't believe any of this it did taste refreshing. “I'm also after some information.”

“What sort of information is that young miss?” The old timer asked

“I'm looking for a man named Superstition” Science replied

The old timers face dropped and he froze for a second, then with surprising speed he was face to face with Science. “Now why does a pretty young thing like you want to get involved with a man like that.”

“We're old acquaintances” Science replied

“Well I'd stay clear of him, ye' hear. No good comes of messing with that man.” the old timer muttered.

“Why not?” Science inquired

“Folks round here say that he's in league with the devil.” The old timer replied. “His skin's bullet proof and hard as iron he can summon flame from nowhere and you'll never see a luckier sonna bitch at the poker table... I'd quit smirking if I were you young miss.”

Science reached up and grabbed the old timer by the back of the head and pulled him closer to her “Just tell me where he is.” Science replied as she slid back her duster to reveal her glistening pistols.

“Well he should be at the poker table outback.” The old timer replied pointing to the a door at the other end of the bar.

“Thank you kindly, sir.” When Science stepped away from the bar two dollars were sitting underneath her now empty bottle. The old timer snatched the money and shuffled through the door behind the bar and went down to the cellar he knew trouble when he saw it and he'd seen it in that young ladies eyes.

As Science pushed the door open it let out an very loud squeak and everyone at the table turned to face her with the exception of a black wide brimmed hat which only juddered slightly. Science pulled out her pistol and pointed it right at the hat.

“Hello, Science” The hat said as everyone else in the room scrambled to the exit.

“Hello, Superstition” Science said staring into the mirror on the other side of the room. Superstition had gotten older, since she'd last seen him, and it showed, he was still immaculately well kept in his black hat, black suit and black bow-tie. His face was pinched and he had a few wrinkles and his hair was grey but it was still the same man she'd chased out of Knowledge all those years ago. “You're a brave man showing your face in my neck of the woods.”

“Well where else would I go?” He replied his voice as smooth as silk.

“Well that's an interesting point. Where have you been?” Science asked as she circled round, not for one second taking her gun off of the man in black, and pulled up a now empty chair.

“Lots of places, I worked my trade up in Education for a while, pulled a few years over in Guesswork as well. Always a place for someone who knows how to put on a show.” As he said this he held out his hands to the show he was unarmed.

“I hear you've got a few new tricks up your sleeve since we last met.” Science waved the gun at his forearms as she said this. Superstition reached towards left forearm with his right hand and rolled his sleeve up to reveal an metal device that seemed to hold six or seven cards on a folding spring. “Real classy.” Science muttered and the man in black shot her an evil look. “Lose it.” Superstition undid the buckle holding the device on and threw it across the table. “Other arm.” Superstition placed his left hand on his right arm. There was a whirring sound, Science rolled backwards off of the chair just as the flames licked over her head. She stood up in time to see the door to the saloon swing shut, in seconds she was out the door with a both a pistol in each hand. Superstition was already at the other door and the crowd in the saloon itself had scattered to either side leaving a clear path down the middle of the room. Science ran across the room straight to the door. At the last second she jinked sideways and dived through the window just as a hail of bullets hit the doorway.

She hit the ground, rolled through the shower of broken glass and was upright as Superstition started to swing his gun towards her. Science let out a flurry of bullets straight into Superstition's chest. The effect was statistically insignificant, the bullets ricocheted as if they'd struck iron one of the bullets grazed Science's face leaving a long red groove on the side of her face. Superstition cackled.

“Didn't you know I'm bullet-proof!” He yelled at the sky like a lunatic. He brought up both his guns to point towards the law-woman. She darted sideways and dived into the metal horse trough by the hitching post just as the bullets flew all around her. She held he guns above her to keep them out of the water as she felt more bullets thud into the side of the trough. Science stayed still her mind working faster than it had done for years.

“Two guns, six bullets in each, twelve in total, six hit the door, four flew past me as I dived in here and two just hit the outside of this trough.” Science rose from the water like a tidal wave both guns pointed at the man in black who had used her thinking time to reload and was bring his guns up to shoot. Science new she had one shot at this, she dropped the gun from her left hand and grabbed the remaining pistol with both hands. Steadied her line of sight, breathed out slowly and squeezed the trigger. The bullet was airborne for less than a heart beat but it was a long heartbeat and Science imagined she could almost see the bullet fly. As the bullet collided with Superstition's right forearm a metallic smash was heard and suddenly his arm burst into flames, as the flames spread up his arms he fought to extinguish the blaze, which spread to the rest of his jacket. A crowd had gathered at the door of the saloon and watched as Superstition pulled off his jacket to reveal two metal plates one front one back held in place on his upper body by a series of leather straps. Superstition swung his guns up towards Science who by now was standing right next to him with a gun pointed directly at his head.

“Don't even think about giving me an excuse.” Science said as the water dripped down her forming a puddle on the floor. Superstition paused for a moment and dropped the guns, he stood up straight and looked Science straight in the eye.

“You gonna kill me sheriff?” He asked with a hint of laughter in his voice.

“No” Science dropped her gun and before Superstition could even think about moving Science's fist collided with his jaw. “I'm going to show you for what you are.”


Within minutes Superstition was hog-tied naked to back of Science's horse and Science was ready to leave. Stripping the trickster had led to discovery of several other mechanisms and tricks all of which the law-woman had gathered into one bag that she was now fastening to her horse. The townsfolk had dispersed as soon as they'd gathered most of them muttering about upsetting Superstitions army of ghosts or what not. Science wasn't concerned, these people chose to live out here in away from the enlightenment of civilisation as long as they stayed here they could think whatever they wanted. With her captive and his bag of tricks securely fastened Science climbed on her horse pulled out and in another break with tradition rode of into the night.

Science built the Academy, superstition the inquisition”
Robert Green Ingersoll 1833-1899

Science is the law-man of ignorance”
Unknown Metaphysical Westerner

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Are we first?

Are we alone in the universe? It's a big question. Actually it's the biggest question. Far too for anyone to pretend they have the answer, however it is entirely possible to answer a slightly different but almost equally fascinating question. Are we first? By which I mean is it likely, given the incredibly young age of the universe, that we are the first intelligent species to arise? Again it's impossible to be definite but there is some interesting number crunching to be done on the subject.

I wish I had a blackboard.

The human body, and indeed the bodies of all complicated life on earth, are made up of a handful of basic elements. Oxygen is the most common representing a massive 65% of your mass, next is Carbon clocking in at 18%. Hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, makes up 10%, most of it combined with Oxygen in the form of water. Nitrogen then contributes 3%. Calcium a key component of your skeletal structure only adds up to 1.5% of who you are. Phosphorus, the key to the amino acids that make up your DNA, only represent 1%. Potassium comes in at 0.35% and then Sulphur comes in at 0.25%. Now it is worth noting at this point that of the eight elements I've just mentioned only, Carbon, Oxygen, Sulphur, Hydrogen, Nitrogen and Phosphorus are actually required for basic life to form. That's 99.1% of your body right there. The remaining 0.8% is made up of Sodium, Magnesium, Copper, Zinc, Selenium, Molybdenum, Fluorine, Chlorine, Iodine, Manganese, Cobalt, Iron, Lithium, Strontium, Aluminium, Silicon, Lead, Vanadium, Arsenic, Bromine. All in all 28 elements are required to create a human being. Now we're not trying to make a human being but I suppose we can assume that any other intelligent beings we might one-day meet will be at least as complicated. Now they may not use the same elements as us but they'll definitely need the six basics to get of the ground so lets start with those.

Hydrogen: There's a reason this reactive little bugger is the biggest game in town, and it all comes down to simplicity. Hydrogen consists of just one proton and one electron. Now the basic building blocks of atoms are called baryons and they came into existence within 3 minutes of the creation of the universe. Now it did admittedly take about 300,000 years for the universe to settle down enough for electrons to get added to the party. So Hydrogen's been floating around since shortly after floating and around were invented.

Carbon, Oxygen and Nitrogen: Now these elements are created as a result of fusion which takes place at the hearts of stars. Specifically in the hearts of Red Giant Stars however the elements are only released when the star transforms into a White Dwarf Star. Stars first started to form around 300 million years after the Big Bang.

Phosphorus and Sulphur: These are among the heavier and more complex elements that the universe can create, requiring as a birth place the heart of a super-giant, basically a star that had a large enough mass to survive past the white dwarf stage, about 8 times the size of our sun. The production of these elements happens after the Carbon fusing stage.

The first stars that formed in our universe were formed in the middle of a vast sea of hydrogen. The second they gained critical mass would have led to massive growth. Stars can have lifespan ranging from a few million years to a over a trillion years. While it's impossible to know the what exactly the happened to those first stars it is safe to assume some were of the burned bright and quickly. So all the elements needed to create life were around within roughly 300 million years of the Big Bang.

Life needs a home though, so we need to work out the availability of planets. Now I'm not going to waste time in this article with the Goldilocks Zone theory, because the earliest planets were either in it or the weren't and I'm talking about the possible rather than the possibly not. Studies of the red-shifts of incredibly distant stars have revealed that the same first generation of stars that gave us the elements for life, also created the conditions for the first solar abundances, the stuff planets form out of. It's estimated that planets could've shown up as early as the first billion years of the universes existence.

So lets template our own planet on to the top of one of these early ones shall we the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old and life, in it's most basic form arose here around 4 billion years ago. So basic life could've been up and running on a distant rock around a billion years after the Big Bang or 12.7 billion years ago. Now it then took another 8 billion years for us to arise. So lets say that based on that timetable of evolution there could be life of an equal intelligence to our own 8.7 billion years ago. Would they have by now traversed the cosmos, ascended to new heights or plotted a course towards destruction? I don't know but there has been time for them to utterly dwarf us in every possible way.
I'm well aware that the chances of life evolving are slim, we've struggled through multiple extinction level events on Earth and there's no way of knowing if we are lucky or unlucky, but it does throw open the possibility that the universe out there is teeming with life, and that's a very beautiful possibility indeed.
"Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying."
- Arthur C Clarke

Eddie <never enjoyed research so much in my life>

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Why I don't need G/god/s

I'll freely admit that one of my favourite past-times is arguing with creationists. Don't get me wrong I'm not one of these who actively seeks out those of faith to mock and destroy, but should someone feel the need to opine that "Science doesn't know everything", I do feel an overwhelming urge to point out that according to the scorecard it's kicking the crap out of superstition. This, however, isn't that post. This post is about why I don't need religion or faith.

Pictured: Science
Not Pictured: Prayer

You see there is something of an assumption among the faithful that those of us who have come to the conclusion that there is no-one upstairs live small and miserable existences. Nothing could be further from the truth. I still clearly remember the very moment when I saw the light, or rather the complete lack thereof. I'd spent my childhood being raised as a good little catholic boy, before you ask, No, this isn't going to be one of those stories. I was even an altar boy at one stage, and like many raised in such a way this turned, over time, into a deep and seething hatred of the Catholic Church. You see, not having the part of my brain chemistry that allows spirituality to unlock happiness, and being deeply unhappy at the time I arrived at the fairly logical conclusion that God didn't like me. 

In fairness he's omniscient so he knew I'd post this image.
So maybe I get were he was coming from.

As you can imagine to a ten year old this is a bit of a shock to the system. It also didn't fit in anyway with the loving God I'd been taught about. Logic dictated that the Catholic Church was entirely wrong about this god chap. What followed was about five years of study of many different faiths, stealing bits and pieces of other religions as I found them to try and build a clearer image of God, one that fitted with the world I observed. Eventually, at about the age of fifteen, I discovered that the pagan religion was alive and thriving. This made sense to me many gods related to each other, a working species, a working eco-system and the simple fact that it didn't require me to believe that the gods cared about me. But it did have the option of winning their favour.
Swan-fucking is just one of the available options

Now religion is an inherently social delusion and I was an inherently anti-social teenager, or more accurately my friends were. So over time the lack of positive reinforcement and a belief system that didn't require my involvement on any level but allowed me to quietly enjoy the magic of the world around me, the entire idea slowly started to loosen it's grip. Then one day I was in a field near where I grew up laying in the sun and holding up a leaf. 

A leaf.

Now you're probably thinking, "I know what a leaf looks like, dumbass", well screw you leaves are awesome. They are beautiful outstanding pieces of near flawless evolutionary engineering, They have developed over millions of years. Ferns were  some of the first life forms to evolve  on land and since then the forests of this little green and blue rock have been an arms-race leading to these delicate little power stations. All of this hit me as I was looking at this leaf and I realised that without a designer it was all the more beautiful than I had ever realised before. There were a million and one repercussions to this one simple thought. If there was no-one up there then the world made sense or rather it didn't have to. Every little niggle and doubt through out my life made melted away. Everything that hadn't added-up was OK because adding up wasn't what the universe was for.

Which is why the popularity of lolcats will forever baffle me

Now this post is titled "Why I don't need G/god/s" and so far all I've covered is why I don't have one. So here I'm going to run through what I get out of my scientific outlook that offers get from faith.

An Origin: It is a key truth of humanity that we thirst for knowledge of our past, it's why people research family trees, it's why people seek out absent parents and it's why we, as a species, care about our shared history. Every major faith has it's own origin story, my favourite being the Norse.

Eat that Genesis

Now Science doesn't have every answer, to quote Dara O'Brien "Science doesn't know everything, if it did it'd stop." but one of the amazing things is does know is that since the Big Bang no matter has been created. In fact that's such a core scientific fact that if it weren't true the universe itself couldn't exist. Everyone of the billions and billions of particles in your body is on a journey from the beginning of time to it's end and you are just a stopping point along the way. In fact if you by into certain interpretations of physics you were predetermined from the very instant the universe exploded into life. Seriously look at your right hand, everything you are looking at was born 13.75 billion years ago. The elements these particles make were forged in the death of stars. So if your in love with someone just remember it's taken the particles that make you and them 13.75 billion to find each other again.

That doesn't mean it'll work out though

Morality: Let's leave aside the fact that most of the world's major religions have been responsible for untold evil. I don't believe in anything beyond the every day. Once you remove the concept of eternity, be it an eternity of pleasure or pain. All that you have left is the now, causing someone harm, be it physically, emotionally or spiritually (I use the term spirit to refer to someone's inner core, I will also use 'soul' from time to time as convenient term, no-one has create atheist words for the essence of a person) is the worst thing someone can do because this is all there is. To quote Angel "If nothing that we do matters, then all that matters is what we do"

Moral Philosopher

Immortality: Well this is where Science will let me down isn't it. Well surprisingly, no, it doesn't.  You see when people refer to heaven they don't mean what they think they mean. You see living as a conciousness forever means that you will inevitably exhaust all possibilities, infinite times. Infinity is just another word for boredom. It only makes sense that eventually the only way to experience anything of interest would be to merge with another conciousness. So you're not really living forever so much as extending your influence. Well if at any point in your entire life you've interacted with anything you've already achieved that. Just by existing you've become part of the great spiralling pattern of life. You making a sandwich earlier, by the mechanisms of chaos theory, leads to the greatest novel of all time being written in the year 2246. Everything you have ever said or done has altered the universe enough to render your existence key to every event of the future. Your influence will last as long as the human race does.

The mere existence of David Hasselhoff leads indirectly 
to the 2568 Galactic Peace Treaty... Good work Dave.

Finally as you may have guessed from the images shown if I need fun and interesting morality tales science has provided me with access to tons of them

Eddie <my internet search history looks pretty weird right now>

Monday, 8 August 2011

Well here I was casting about for some inspiration as to what to write for my first post, of many hopefully, when London exploded. Now I'm not going to pretend for one moment to an expert on the socio-economic factors leading to this kind of event... although since the Cold War ended human beings in this country have been just another resource. Now, now Eddie, take a deep breath I'm certain someone's already working on the book and eventually they'll be interviewed on the Daily Show and you can pretend to have read it and have some idea what occurred. No this is not going to be another of those border-line retarded monologues of which you are already oh so tired, no instead I'm going to talk about my personal experience of today,

It started at 1600 hours there were only two of us in the office today, myself and Magda, the lovely polish lady who deals with the admin, in the office. The phone rang... I picked it up... it's kind of my job to do that sort of thing. "Jewson Stratford, Eddie speaking how can I help." "Eddie, Mark" That means that it was Mark, my boss, on the phone, I'm certain that there's supposed to be a hello in there somewhere but I'm in no position to quibble the niceties of telephonic etiquette. "Hello, Mark" I reply. "Look I'm in the Leytonstone branch and the high streets closing up early... the looters are heading this way, I think that they are much more likely to end up in Stratford." I nodded in reply... then I remembered I was on the phone "Uh-huh" seemed like a safe non-committal option... this conversation might lead to me going home early and I was determined not fuck it up. "Look I need you to batten down the hatches move anything valuable out of sight that kind of thing... understand".

Understand... I more than understood, I've trained for moments like this my entire life. If there's one thing you need to know about me it's that I'm fairly into Zombie Movies... and by extension Zombie Defence Plans (ZDPs). I sleep with weapons close to the bed. So I leapt from my chair, slammed down the phone, stopped myself just before the phone reached the hook, pulled the phone to my ear and explained to Mark that I understood, slammed the phone down again. It was time for action. Now the ZDP I have for work wouldn't fit here I wouldn't be employed if I carried out major modifications to the building. I grabbed Cliff the yard-man and got him to bring the forklift.

Step 1, Concealment. First off we have in full cage of Calor Gas bottles in view from the street I get Cliff to take it into the warehouse whilst I get some tarpaulins out. You see we sell bricks... bricks are a great aid to you average looter, the more prepared bring a tool or two with them but most of them have to simply wing-it. So a few tarps and a bit of climbing later and the exact nature of our stock is obscured, at first glance at least.

Step 2, Perimeter. The Yard has to gates one front one back. Both are securely locked. But that won't help if they have a car. So I get cliff on the forks to position to pallets of tarmac and a bag of sand behind the front gate. To packs of concrete blocks and a bag of gravel protect the rear.

Step3, Fortification. All the entrances to the building have metal shutters but I get a lorry behind one in the warehouse and the two forklifts behind the other.

Building Protected: Check.
Left Work Early: Check.
Best Hour of Work Ever: Check

Will all this be enough to stop the chaos invading my workplace? Will all my planning mean I still have to work tomorrow? Will the Joker ever be stopped? The answers to all these questions and more will be revealed in my next blog, same bat-time same bat-channel

Eddie. <I really don't want to work tomorrow>