Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains

Another quick app idea – this time it’s a game.

You are a zombie.

You are one of many, roaming around a simple post-apocalyptic environment, stumbling after lone human survivors.

In this first phase, the game is simply – find human, catch human, eat human. You are hungry, and they are the only source of food.

Of course, your zombie pals are all just as hungry as you. At first you will probably only be able to snag a body part at a time.

  • If you eat a lower limb, your movement speed increases slightly.
  • If you chow down on torso, your hit points increase slightly.
  • If you eat an upper limb, your clawing attacks do more damage to the living.
  • The real prize, of course, is the brain. Eat one of those, and your intelligence increases slightly.

The first three just make you more more affective generally. The fourth slowly unlocks new abilities.

At first, you’ll just be able to figure our basic stuff, like how to open doors. As you level up, you’ll be able to operate simple machinery. Maybe even a gun. You’ll also start having the power to order other zombies around. There will be a variety of units, from basic walkers to big brutes and – of course – zombie dogs, or zogs.

As you progress, the threats you encounter are more serious. Humans band together, and have weapons. Booby traps. Vehicles.

Your mindless urge to feast on living flesh has become something different. A calculating desire to wipe out humanity forever.

Lay siege to improvised forts. Order units of zombie soldiers around a battlefield. You are the horde in this horde mode. Get high scores, compare them with those of your friends, yadda yadda.

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Perfect Timing

Here is an idea for an app that struck me on the walk to work this morning.

What if you could guarantee a playlist that lasted the perfect amount of time, door to door, without fiddling around with your music for ages?

  1. Fire up the Perfect Timing app, and tell it that you’re about to start your walk to work, or school, or wherever. Start the timer.
  2. When you get there, stop the timer. You can play whatever music you like during this process, this is just calibration.
  3. You can move onto the playlist phase immediately, but the more you time the journey the more accurate it’ll be overall.
  4. Once you give it the all-clear, the app searches your music, cross-checks against the time of the journey (say, 15m 32s) and fills that duration as neatly as possible in a custom playlist
  5. It tries to order them in a sensible way based on genre, but…
  6. It also allows you to drag and drop them into any order you like
  7. If you have enough songs, it creates multiple lists based on genre or artist
  8. It will shuffle these playlists until/unless you pick one, or pick an order for them
  9. ???
  10. Profit
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Elemental Combinations

More fiction!

Now, I’m aware how juvenile and cheesy this will sound. I’m not making excuses – I am genuinely proud of everything you’re about to read, because it’s mine. It might be cliche-ridden nonsense, it might have been done a thousand times before, but this specific version is mine. And that’s enough.

Last time, I spoke briefly about my fascination for the classic elements. Here’s a little #tomfact for you – I am midly OCD about the order in which they are written. It’s always, always earth, air, fire, then water. No other order is acceptable. Ever. I don’t know why. I guess that’s the first order in which I saw them? But then why did the least flexible part of my brain take over at that point? Who knows.

A twist. Everyone needs a twist.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, a fairly standard medieval fantasy world where magic exists. A rare few are born with the ability to wield either Earth, Air, Fire or Water magic. Just one.

One of the lovely things about the elements is that you can unpack them into so many different tropes. The good, the bad, and the ugly – it’s all in there if you want to look for it.

Earth is all about the physical world. It’s about flesh and stone and root and moss. It’s about solidity and endurance, but also transformation and augmentation.

stormy sky


Air is fast, flighty. It’s a whisper and a roar. It’s unpredictable, constantly shifting, but also the spark of life – as established in the creation myth.

Fire is soothing warmth and destructive rage. Beautiful, violent, devouring, purifying.

Water is deep, thoughtful, calm, but can explode with sudden savagery. It’s a drop of dew. It’s the vast, unknowable ocean.

You can imagine each one can be used flexibly. A warmage flinging fireballs, or a priest cauterising wounds and creating campfires. That kind of thing.

Mages stick to their own kind. They absolutely do not mingle. Not with their ‘neighbours’ (i.e. a Fire is next to Air and Earth), and under no circumstances whatsoever with their nemesis. Earth and Air, Fire and Water.

The rules are set, and they are simple. Then, they are broken.

Two mages of differing elements (for the sake of argument let’s say Fire and Earth) fall in love. Have a child.

The child has power too, but it’s not Fire, and it’s not Earth, it”s a combination of the two. It manifests in an entirely new way.

Another child is born. Another. Another. Soon enough there is a second generation of mages, wielding strange new powers in four new elements.

Fire + Earth = Blood

Volcanoes. Lava. The blood of the earth. These scarlet warriors are judge, jury and executioner. Ruthless moral arbiters who, when wounded, can conjure disturbing bladed weapons from their own red hot blood. Cut them and they only get stronger.

Fire + Air = Star

Uncanny. Unearthly. Strange glowing metal from meteorites forged into impossibly sharp weapons and lightweight yet impervious armour. Inescapably ‘other’, floating through the night sky looking for signs that will unravel the mysteries of the future.

Air + Water = Storm

Weather. The soothing caress of a light summer rain on an upturned face, or the unrivalled destructive power of the splitting sky – whirlwinds, jagged lightning, shards of ice slamming to the ground. Also, of course mist, fog, and illusion. Medieval life depends heavily on the whims of weather.

Water + Earth = Death

Rot. Decay. Disease. Swarming insects and slithering reptiles. Dark glass bottles full of thick green fluids. Assassins. Necromancers. They say they merely seek to pierce the veil of the beyond to learn the truth, but to do so they have to walk in deep, deep shadow.

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Creation Myth

Well, posting a little bit of fiction worked. More random people found me than ever before. Interesting.

Let’s try another bit, see what happens.

I am fascinated by the classic four elements. This is hardly a surprise. Early attempts at rational, scientific thought suggested that they were irreducible building blocks of reality. Of course the Greek version is a bit different to the Chinese, and so on. Sometimes a fifth is added. Sometimes they are defined differently (hot/cold, dry/wet, sharp/blunt, subtle/dense, mobile/immobile etc.).

From the Wikipedia page.

A thousand fictional universes have gone to this particular alchemical well for inspiration over the decades and centuries. Books, films, TV shows, computer games, comics, you know it. Naturally, each want to put their own twist on the recipe.

I am no different. At one point, years ago, I thought it would be fun to have a go at creating an elemental system myself. So, this is the creation myth I came up with. Something that would explain and justify four elemental powers, and the birth of the first mortal creatures.

Four elementals surveyed their empty universe, bored.

They decided to create life. Something they could observe, nurture, shape, and – most importantly – terrify into utter loyalty.

Earth was the first to step forward. He fashioned a body from clay, and set it down on the dusty ground.

The elementals watched, and waited, but this body had no animating spirit, and was nothing more than a statue.

Air knew exactly what to do. He leaned forward, placed his shimmering lips onto those of the statue, and blew a single life-giving breath into its stolid frame.

The statue lived, and was a statue no more! It’s chest rose and fell. It shuffled in place. But it was still a dull creature, with no wit or wisdom to speak of.

Water had a solution. With grace and delicacy she placed a single drop of pure water into the head of the creature, giving it a mind.

It turned its heavy head, looking at the elementals and the world around it. There was a pause.

Much to the horror of the gathered spirits, the creature began to rip and tear at everything in sight. The sombre hills. The ground beneath its lumpen feet. The thick clay of its own body. All with a curious, calm blankness.

With a start, Fire leapt forward and placed an ember into the chest of the poor, damaged creature.

The final gift – a soul. A conscience.

All four pieces of the puzzle were present. It walked, talked, lived and breathed. It dreamed and planned and wondered and built and mourned and wept and rejoiced and. It lived. It died.

It would not be the last.

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Stationary

I e-mailed this to myself on 22nd August 2004, over a decade ago. At the time, I was incredibly pleased with it. I remember thinking that it was the best thing I had ever written. You be the judge.

Oh, and apparently I thought it should be filmed.

“My name is Jonah, and I am neither alive nor dead: I exist. I awake, wash, walk, work, return, eat, sleep. Over and over. I watch films that reflect off my blank eyes. I read books that sit awkwardly on my mind like a pile of coins. Rich treasure that slides and tumbles off into nothingness. I talk at people who talk at me.”

(Succession of shots that match the images – quick cuts of waking up in the morning, brushing teeth, walking to work, standing robotically at a till, walking back, spooning food into mouth etc. Extreme close-up of unblinking eye with flickering image reflected there. A finished book tossed onto a pile. A conversation where clearly neither is listening to the other.)

“Let me tell you about my job. I work in a stationery shop. I sell pads of paper. Pens. Pencils. Typewriters. Fresh ink. They will become shopping lists, notes scribbled to a neighbour, love letters, suicide notes, novels. I sell oil paints, watercolours, greasy crayons and crumbly charcoal. Great works of art in their rawest, purest form; untouched by the artist. The moment a pencil touches a blank piece of paper, the pencil is no longer perfectly sharp, and the paper is no longer perfectly clean. All art is degradation.”

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Cooking

When it comes to my home life, I don’t have many… what should I call them… corrective influences.

Aside from one 18-month period, I have spent the last twenty years living alone. And if not strictly alone, then in a shared house where I saw the other folk infrequently – usually a cheerful but brief exchange once a week in the kitchen, while I pretend I know their name.

I don’t have to take anyone else into consideration. I don’t have to think outside my own needs, my own preferences, my own whims.

Food is a really good example. If I don’t organise dinner in some way, shape, or form, I don’t eat. I’m not trying to paint this as a unique or unbearable burden, but it has led me down a strange path.

Basically, I never, ever leave my gastronomic comfort zone.

Sure, I *could* buy a jar of olives. I know I don’t like them – in fact they are historically one of the worst things I have ever put in my mouth – but I could *try*.

I do not. Because, from my perspective, the cost (weeks and maybe months of forcing myself to eat something that tastes like it died in a welly) does not warrant the benefit (I guess I can order that pizza with the olives on it now).

The result is that I do whatever I please, each evening. I’m sitting here at 19:09 in pyjama trousers, eating a stir fry that only includes ingredients I definitely like, including scrambled egg (fantastic) and KP honey roast peanuts (amazing).

That’s right, KP. Like the ones you get at a pub. I’m aware those probably aren’t the kind of peanuts I should be using, but who is going to complain? Not me. I ate some snacks before dinner, because… who’s going to stop me?

After dinner I’ll probably eat some chocolate and play computer games all night. That’s my life.

No corrective measures.

I have seen friends of mine, in the past, talking to their girlfriends. There’s quite often a little edge to the exchange. Nothing unpleasant at all, nothing hostile, but little tuts and misunderstandings and disapprovals. Microscopic, really. “Oh honestly. Did you use the ladle?” “What ladle?” “The one I bought? I did tell you about the ladle, I know I did.” “I honestly don’t think you- we have a ladle now? When did this happen?” etc.

Minor though it is, it sets my teeth on edge, because I never live in that world. Co-operation, compromise, it’s alien to me. Domestically, at least.

I wonder how much of a difference it makes.

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Randomly Accessed Memories III

I was young. Probably not even a teenager yet. It was summer, and I was refilling an ice tray in the kitchen sink. I was being clever about it. Through experimentation and observation, I had come to realise that there’s no point carefully dripping water into each separate pocket – just blast the water and wave it underneath, top it up a little, and voila. Sorted, in no time flat.

My sister saw me, and was confused. “Why are you doing it like that? You don’t get it properly full.” Oh, sister mine. How naive you are. And yet… It turned out that she, too, had experimented. Had observed. Had concluded with a swift nod of certainty that the ‘blast off’ method was hopelessly wasteful, and that the only way to be sure was to fill every pocket, one by one.

Two people repeated precisely the same action, with the same goal, and came to two completely different conclusions. Blew my mind.

We didn’t have this ice cube tray. It was the eighties. It’s cool, though, right? HAHA. COOL.

Bit older now. Maybe even eighteen? It’s possible, I forget. My Dad, sister and I are on a train as part of a journey to Brussels to visit one of my father’s three sisters. We’re chatting, it’s all very mundane, then I pop into the toilet. I’m faced with my reflection, and horror surges through my body like ice water. My face. Oh god, my face. I have unutterably hideous, scraggly hair all over my chin and cheeks. What? How? WHEN?!

My family. They’ve been talking to me! Looking right at my face! They saw… this… and didn’t say anything? It’s beyond belief.

I went back into the carriage, transformed from man to monster. I slumped and shrunk and cowered as subtly as I could, trying to hide the lower half of my face. Every moment that passed was an eternity. I simply couldn’t understand how they could act like nothing had changed, nothing was different.

Don’t look at me. DON’T LOOK AT ME.

I met a Suicide Girl on a work trip at one point. Actually, I met a few of them, but I really hit it off with one in particular. So much so that we spent a bit of extra time together, went for lunch, that kind of thing. It was lovely. She’s ridiculously pretty, of course, as is probably self-evident, but also interesting and nerdy and funny and seemed to genuinely like me. Obviously I had a crush on her. Obviously.

I tried to keep something going even when I returned home to the UK, which was of course damned to failure, but… I tried nonetheless. At one point, I had a sort of quick conversation with my brain.

“Huh. She looks a hell of a lot like that actress from thingy. Evil ex-boyfriends. Edgar Rice.”

“Silly brain, you’re getting Edgar Wright mixed up with Edgar Rice Burroughs.”

“Oh.”

“Do you mean Scott Pilgrim?”

“Exactly. The blue-haired girl from that.”

“Actually, you know what? You’re right. Spitting image. Not coincidental, I suppose, both of them are extremely good-looking in a professional capacity. But still – not just a passing similarity, but genuinely uncanny.”

“You should tell her.”

“Really?”

“Of course! She’ll be flattered! It’s not like you’re comparing her to Miss Piggy! Right now every nerd in the world is salivating over Mary Elizabeth Winstead.”

I mentioned it to her. She hated the comparison. Hated it.

We don’t talk any more. I don’t think it’s for that reason. Well, not just that reason.

I do, as it happens, yes.

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