The Bunnies Have Been Busy

When I last checked up on them they'd just posted Night of the Living Dead. Now Reservoir Dogs, King Kong, Rocky, Superman and Casablanca are up. I still like their Alien the best, though.

The 30-Second Bunnies Theatre Library

Obviously, each movie is utterly spoiled, so don't watch one for a movie you haven't seen.


It Came from the Whitehouse

A while back there was a bit of a kerfuffle when NASA cancelled a number of its most exciting robotic missions to spend the money on manned missions. There was quite a lot of confusion, as some of the missions were apparently reinstated due to the outcry (one mission was cancelled without consulting the European partners who had already spent millions on it) and I guess I kind of assumed that they would never have really cancelled the mission to Europa, because that was just too exciting. Well, I found out a few days ago that I was wrong. No mission to Europa.

Louis D. Friedman, co-founder of the Planetary Society and executive director of that organisation, a scientist who worked on Mariner, Voyager, Magellan and "JPL's Mars program" (that last one pretty damn expansive), is guest-blogging over at the Planetary Society this week, and he has a thought-provoking post about what he believes is the thinking behind these attacks on space science. And you know, it is something to wonder about. No religious fundamentalist voters or oil industry backers to please here, so what's the deal?

Well, put down your drink lest you do a spit-take on reading this (emphasis mine):

In a little publicized speech last March, the President's science advisor, Dr. John Marburger, declared, "…we want to incorporate the Solar System in our [the U.S.] economic sphere…" and then went on say "The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.…It subordinates space exploration to the primary goals of scientific, security and economic interests." Whoa -- what happened to exploration? What are the American economic and security interests in human exploration of the Moon and Mars? What happened to "we came in peace for all mankind?"

There are quite a few active missions listed in my sidebar - unmanned explorers like those that got canned. 'We' are already on Mars, in the form of Spirit, Opportunity and half a dozen orbiters. With the exception of Voyager and Galileo, all the explorers in my sidebar were put into space over the past decade or so. Now the images and data that they produce is being put onto the internet, where anyone can read it, even liberal European atheists like yours truly. When I say 'we', I mean all of humankind. These are by-and-large American missions. Many have sizable European contributions, such as Cassini, others are all ESA, such as Mars/Venus Express, but without NASA I don't believe we would have this glut of robotic explorers. This is everything that is good about America - a nation leading the world in this field and taking the rest of us with it.

You know that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa is disillusioned with democracy and there's a whole government agency dedicated to restoring her faith in the system? Well, I think the Bush administration has something like that, but it works a little differently. "Quick!" they scream. "A liberal European isn't annoyed with something we're doing! BREAK IT BEFORE WE BECOME UNCLEAN!"

Right now, NASA is doing amazing things with robots in space. And Bush/Marburger wants his legacy to be to dismiss that success - that international success - in favour of conquering space in the name of America. Make that trying to conquer space. Louis quotes Marburger - Bush's science advisor remember - as saying "We go to the Moon and do these other things, for its oxygen." What the fuck is he smoking? As with so many things with the Bush administration, it's seemingly not just about being militant - it's about being militant as poorly planned as possible.


Okay... Right

These past few days I've been a little out of sorts. I did manage to write 3000 words of monsterlicious story for Sunday Scribblings, but I faltered at the final scene and seem to be faltering at almost everything else as well. I'm feeling rather shaky and tearful, but I don't really have any good reason to be. I wish I could express myself better than that. Let's just say that I've chickened out this week.

Anyway, to lighten the mood, here are two humorous lists of top ten reasons why Pluto should/should not be a planet, courtesy of the Planetary Society.

This one has a nice nugget of truth in it:

8. When my son asks "Why is Pluto a planet, but Ceres isn't?" I want a better answer than "Old people are afraid of change."
Joshua B, Seattle, WA

(Although its accuracy is questionable - Ceres was demoted from planethood long before Pluto was discovered.)

This is the most rational reason for keeping Pluto a planet that I've heard:

3. It annoys people who like tidy categories.
Dennis D, Baton Rouge, LA

And the number one reason it shouldn't be a planet?

1. It doesn't appear to be so inclined.
Lyford R, Ventura, CA

Lyford R, you should be locked up for that one.


Friday Frog Blogging

This frog is contemplating eating spam.

Oh No It Isn't!

Today the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided that Pluto will not be keeping its "planet" title. Instead, Pluto, as well as asteroid Ceres and the larger-than-Pluto 2003 UB313 are now classified as "dwarf planets." According to the IAU, a "planet" is rounded by self gravity and has cleared its orbital zone, a "dwarf planet" is rounded by self gravity but has NOT cleared its orbital zone, and "small solar system bodies" are not rounded by self gravity. Because Pluto is part of the Kuiper belt and Ceres is part of the asteroid belt, neither has "cleared" its neighborhood, so they don't qualify as planets.

From the Planetary Society blog: It's Official: Pluto is NOT a Planet.

As it turns out, the proposed resolution that made so much notice when it was presented to the public last week -- and which would have expanded the solar system to 12 planets -- passed, but it was a different draft of the document in that it added the third criteria of a planet having to clear its neighborhood around its orbit.

Also from the Planetary Society: Pluto Gets the Boot - Solar System Shrinks to 8 Planets.

They also seem to have updated their excellent article on 'the new solar system' to include a section at the bottom entitled, Eight is Enough:

Even though it deprives him of the honor of being the discoverer of a planet, Michael Brown [one of the discoverers of 2003 UB313] likes the IAU resolution. If aliens came upon the solar system, he suggested on his website, "they would quickly come to the conclusion that there are 8 major bodies orbiting the Sun." Isn't it time, he argues, that we did the same?

My gut feeling is that creating a new category of 'dwarf planets' is a very sensible way to divide things up. Of course, that's not to say that the given definition of a dwarf planet is especially solid. Bad Astronomer Phil Plait has some criticisms of it here.

Finally, in an article entitled What’s in a Name? Explore ALL Worlds, says The Planetary Society we read that:

In response, Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society commented:

"The classification doesn’t matter. Pluto -- and all solar system objects -- are mysterious and exciting new worlds that need to be explored and better understood. Anytime we visit a new world -- planet, moon, asteroid, comet, whatever -- we make exciting and surprising new discoveries about the evolution of our solar system and about our own planet."

Yes, my idol, and one of the founders of the Planetary Society, Carl Sagan described our solar system as having hundreds of worlds, and I like that definition best of all.


Me Me Me

Well, the spiders may have stolen my blog's 100th post, but this one is all about me. A Google search on 'Pacian' now lists Space Cat Rocket Ship as the fourth highest result. I'm finally above this guy, but below these scary people. I hope someone's told James Bond about the secretive Pacian Group! It also features the following sponsored link:

Find Pacian!
Buy Pacian on eBay

Sorry folks, but I'm not for sale!

Although when I click the link I am told:

Your search using pacian returned 0 results. This keyword has been replaced with pacman.



I Dream of Spiders

It's inevitable that I dream of spiders. I've usually forgotten this when it happens. The dreams are always different, except that there are always spiders above me, descending on almost invisible threads, weaving webs across my path. They are the worst kind of spiders, as far as I'm concerned: long shiny legs and furtive, silent movements.

I've always been frightened of spiders. I think in these dreams they represent fear itself. I often joke that I'm frightened of just about everything. The spiders silently set their traps around me, and I don't dare move, except in the most careful way. And yet if I stay still for too long, one will drop down on me from above anyway. I rarely reach a resolution in these dreams - just become more and more paralysed with fear, or work myself into an even worse position, before I ultimately wake.

Then I have to turn the light on to satisfy myself that there are no spiders in the room, and hide deep beneath the quilt before I can sleep again.


Sunday Scribblings: The Inner Life of Pets

I'm not sure what to make of what I wrote for this week's prompt at Sunday Scribblings, so I have even less idea what you'll make of it.

The following story is fictional (just so you know), but my (very real) cat does make a brief cameo appearance. And this time, there is a reward. I actually spend a lot of time trying to capture my cat's inner life on camera, because most of the time he just looks like a lazy ball of fluff. One of my favourite attempts is at the bottom of this story - but you'll have to read it first. I'll know if you don't...

Dawn of the Cats

I ignore Marlow when he first jumps on the bed. He uses me as a springboard to get on the windowsill, and then dive bombs back on me, but I’m too tired to move. Insistently, he begins to stalk up the bed. I feel his little paws pressing into the quilt alongside my body with as much force as his little fluffy body can muster. When he reaches my face and begins to lightly swipe at my nose, I open my eyes and sit up.

“Alright, alright,” I say groggily. “You want feeding, I take it?”

“Mao,” Marlow says, his big, liquid blue eyes peering up at me intently.

I swing my legs out of bed and get to my feet unsteadily, rubbing sleep from my eyes. I yawn. Dim sunlight is creeping into the room around the edges of the curtains. I don’t look at my alarm clock. It must be early because the usual whisper of traffic from the nearby main road is silent.

“You’re getting greedy in your old age,” I tell Marlow as he bounds down the stairs ahead of me. “And I need my beauty sleep. You’re lucky you’re so cute. I should just kick you off my bed instead of letting you abuse me like this.”

I reach the bottom of the stairs and the coarse hall carpet scratches feebly at the soles of my feet. Marlow sits on the doormat and scratches at the front door.

“Mraow,” Marlow says.

I sigh. “There’s a perfectly good cat flap in the back door. Why are you wasting my time like this?”

“Mew,” Marlow says.

“Fine. I’m up. Your very own personal door opener.”

I grab the door handle, turn it and fling the door open. Marlow races off into the lounge. I feel like a complete idiot, standing in an open doorway in my night clothes for no good reason. I look out. It‘s bright out, but no-one is around this early on a Saturday. The air is still. “Marlow! Have I done something to upset you?”

Leaving the door open, I wander into the lounge looking for my cat. I stop dead in my tracks at what I see.

Marlow is pulling something big and heavy from beneath the sofa. He grips it in his teeth and drags it over the carpet slowly and insistently. The object he’s pulling out looks for all the world like an assault rifle.

“What on Earth?”

I take a step forward, but Marlow gives me a fierce look. All of a sudden my cute little moggy is a tiger with his paw on the trigger of a lethal weapon.

I hold up my hands defensively. “Okay. My mistake. You want to play with the gun. Go ahead.”

“Mao,” Marlow says amicably.

I watch as he slowly drags the rifle across the carpet, out of the lounge, down the hall and out the front door. He has got it halfway down the front garden when a sudden gust of wind blows the door shut. I sit down on the sofa and stare into space for what must be a few minutes. Then I take a deep breath and look around.

The sofa cushion is still cold beneath me. The familiar smell of my house is in my nostrils. It is a morning like any other. I have not gone insane. I merely took longer to wake up than normal and a dream lingered on in my mind.

I get up and turn on the telly, sitting back down with the remote in my hand.

An important news story seems to be breaking. Journalists are gathered around an officious looking building, rushing towards an officious looking man. See? The world is going on as normal. No cats with assault weapons around.

As soon as the journalists reach the officious man they begin to bombard him with questions. One voice shouts above the rest: “What can you tell us about this situation, minister?”

“We are still gathering intelligence, however I can confirm that this morning’s emergency press release was quite correct and this is not a joke, although I am sure that you are all quite aware of that by now, as are an increasing number of people throughout the world.”

He places a strong emphasis on those last three words. Throughout the world. Bloody hell, what’s happening?

I press the channel changer.

Krishnan Guru-Murphy is looking at me seriously from the Channel 4 news studio. “-who has a special report for us from the region.”

A woman in a flak vest and helmet appears, the letters ‘TV’ emblazoned on her outfit. “Until last night this was a war-zone. Behind me you can see the burnt out shell of an armoured vehicle that was hit by several RPGs just six hours ago. And yet this morning peace prevails, after thousands of cats descended on the area, disarming all combatants without fatalities-”

I bash the remote frantically. That’s not real, that’s part of the dream. Let’s watch a TV channel that’s in the real world and not in my head, shall we?

A man, outside, wind ruffling his hair, a microphone in his face. “-to stay away from fish farms, cat food factories, pet shops, furniture shops, butcher shops, dairies and anywhere that you might find cat-nip. Other than that we are to continue with our everyday lives. The statement issued by the revolutionaries assures us that we will be allowed autonomy to the extent that we do not harm ourselves. In particular it stresses sustainable consumption of North Sea cod-”

I press the channel changer again. That’s quite enough of that. Madness!

A rather flustered woman in a long raincoat, ITN microphone glued to her lips as people run past her. “-soldiers laid down their weapons. Um…”

She looks off the screen and the camera is suddenly pointing at the cameraman’s shoes and some cracked tarmac. Someone can be heard faintly saying, “Miaow, mrraow meow.”

The camera lifts back up to the woman as she and the cameraman begin moving. The view swings as the cameraman tries to keep his camera pointed at the reporter while walking quickly backwards.

“I think,” she says, “I think we have to move now. I don’t think we’re allowed to film here right now.”

The camera swings down to show the cameraman’s shoes again and suddenly we’re in a newsroom, looking at an anchorman who is clearly not expecting to be on air. After floundering for a moment, he manages to come out with, “We’re getting many confusing reports on what’s happening right now. I think - yes, we’re going to Scotland now, where we have a special report from-”

I press the off button.

I grab my mobile from the nearby coffee table, knocking the TV guide and this week’s lottery ticket onto the floor. I call Melissa. I count the number of rings it takes her to answer. Seventeen.

“What?” she says rather grumpily. “I’m asleep.”

“I think I might be too.”


“Mel, am I dreaming?”

“No, you’re being an arsehole. You only do that when you’re awake.”

“Turn on your television.”


“Just do it. I can’t believe what I’m seeing.”

“Oh crap,” she says, acquiescing.

I hear the sounds of her fumbling around, knocking something over, and finally a tinny, authoritative voice. Michael Burke, I think.

Melissa says, “What the fuck?”

“Am I insane? Are you seeing the same thing I am?”

I hear her change the channel. Then again. And again.

“What the fuck?” she repeats. “Cats?”

And then the line goes dead. I try to call her back, but a recorded message tells me that the network is busy and to try again later. Probably a fluke I got through to her on the first try.

I turn the television back on.

We are looking at a podium surrounded by microphones. A cream Persian cat with grey markings is sitting on the podium wearing a little black beret and saying, “Maow, maow, maow, maow,” while camera flashes go off like strobe lights.

Someone in the news studio says, “Do we have any idea what he’s saying?”

I turn the television off again and get to my feet. So… Marlow is out there, with his assault rifle, taking over the world alongside all his feline brothers and sisters. Affecting revolution.

I wander to the front door and open it. A tabby cat is walking down the pavement wearing a black beret. I can see another, ginger one on the other side of the road trotting in the opposite direction. The nearest one looks at me with sharp green eyes and says, firmly, “Miaow.”

I smile politely and close the door.

I head back upstairs and turn on the computer, wanting to read the blogosphere’s reaction to events, or at the very least to play a game and take my mind off things. As I sit down, the windows begin to rattle. The rattling becomes more pronounced, developing into a low thrum and then a louder rumble. What’s happening now? The world is exploding. It’s all over. I throw my hands over my head instinctively.

No, wait, it’s a helicopter.

I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s flying low. And coming very close. I look out of the window, not daring to lift the net curtain lest I attract the attention of the patrolling tabby outside. I try to peer up as much as I can, but I can’t see anything. Surprising given that my bones are now rattling as much as the window pane. This must be what it’s like to watch Apocalypse Now in the cinema.

I can see it! The little ski things a helicopter has at the bottom. It’s hovering right over the road! It descends slowly, almost hesitantly. Each movement is small and often corrected. But eventually it is sitting in the middle of the road, its rotor blades slowing to a halt. Something hits the road with a loud, splintering impact - a wooden crate, breaking and spilling fish onto the road.

Marlow jumps down from the cockpit, grabs a fish in his mouth and then races towards my house and out of sight below. I hear him vault the side gate.

Curiosity gets the better of me. I lift the net curtain and gawp at the helicopter. It’s white and yellow, with police markings. I can’t see anyone in it, human or otherwise. Did Marlow really fly it by himself?

I hear the cat flap go.

I run downstairs to find Marlow sitting on the sofa with the fish in his paws, licking it and purring. He looks up at me as I walk in and I can’t help but scratch him behind the ears. His purring intensifies.

“I suppose you want me to cook that for you now?”


I take it from his claws and he swipes at it playfully as I lift it up. As I turn to take it to the kitchen, I kick something that is loose under the sofa. Various papers spill across the floor. Marlow looks down with mild disinterest, but I’m rather more fascinated myself.

The papers are covered in strange, printed characters unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s like someone made a written language out of scratch marks. There are drawings too - labelled maps, diagrams of vehicles and objects, pictures of fish and cat toys.

I look at Marlow. “You lot have certainly been getting up to things when we’ve not been paying attention, haven’t you?”

Marlow just purrs.

“You’re lucky I didn’t kick all this stuff out from under here before today. I wonder what I’d have made of it…”

“Mao,” Marlow says.

“No, you’re right. If it was as easy as kicking it out by accident, I’d have done it by now. You must have dislodged this when you got your gun out, right?”

Marlow isn’t interested. He leaps from the sofa and walks towards the kitchen, his tail in the air, glancing back at me every few steps.

“Right,” I say, following after him with the fish. “Of course. Priorities.”


I overslept today, in a bad way. I woke up at midday, feeling groggy as hell and more apt to puke than write. It's now after midnight and I'm finally working on my Scribble for Sunday.

Coming up with something this week has proven difficult, because whenever I consider the topic, all I can think about is how much I want to write about my lovely cat and all his quirks and foibles. A number of unsatisfactory potential stories cycled through my mind until I was finally struck by inspiration. I'm going to try and rattle off as much as I can right now and then sleep on it.

If this one is a little more strange than usual, you can thank my state of mind.


Friday Frog Blogging

This frog is in a shoe.

Tran-Neptunian-Objects, We Hardly Know Ye

Here are some real images of two of the little (relatively speaking) round things that it's all about. Of course, being so little and, except in the case of Ceres, so far away, we don't have the most detailed images of them. That should partially change once the New Horizons probe reaches Pluto and Charon in about... nine years, I think.


Source with more information.

Pluto, the troublemaker:

Source with more information.

Clicking on the following three images will take you to the relevant page at the IAU website, where you can read an explanation and download a huge version. All the depictions of the 'new' planets and 'potential' planets in these images are artists impressions since we generally have even less detailed images of them than of Ceres and Pluto above.

The new solar system, everything to scale in terms of size, so you get an idea of how everything measures up:

The new guys, compared to some inner solar system planet that I can't quite recognise:

Guess who's coming to dinner? No, it's not Sidney Poitier, it's Quaoar! Start taking bets as to which of these guys gets to be lucky planet thirteen:


Twelve and Set to Rise

Given that my favourite worlds in the solar system are Jupiter's Galilean moons, you won't be surprised to learn that I don't really put much stock in the idea that being called ‘a planet’ is a necessary condition of being worthy of attention. It’s always seemed strange to me that people are happy to memorise the names of the ‘nine planets’, but will give you a blank stare if you mention Titan or Europa - despite the fact that these are two of the most intriguing bodies in the solar system.

But what is a planet anyway? Well, the word 'planet' comes from the Greek planetes, meaning wanderer (it's also the name of an excellent Japanese science fiction comic), and it was a name given to those 'objects that moved in the sky with respect to the background of fixed stars', as the IAU press release I link to below puts it. Obviously, that's a seriously dodgy definition, given that we can now observe loads of objects that fit that description.

What it comes down to is the fact that the nine things that we call(ed) planets aren't the only interesting things in the solar system. They are a good way to define the solar system in a big stroke - here are the significant bodies, most of the rest of the stuff is either orbiting them or in the asteroid belt here or the Kuiper belt here. The reason that Pluto isn't relevant in this broad definition is that we now know it to be only one example of a large number of similarly sized objects in the outer reaches of the solar system (the aforemention Kuiper belt in fact) - possibly as many as millions.

This poses a bit of a problem. It seemed that either we would have to accept that there are an enormous number of planets, a number that we can expect to keep growing indefinitely, or we would have to exclude the interloper from the club. Given that the first option turns a 'planet' from something significant to something that is mostly found in the Kuiper Belt, and the second, as Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us gleefully, provokes squeals of horror from everyone under the age of twelve, it is perhaps not too surprising that the International Astronomical Union has attempted to take the middle road, as described in this press release:

If the definition is approved by the astronomers gathered 14-25 August 2006 at the IAU General Assembly in Prague, our Solar System will include 12 planets, with more to come: eight classical planets that dominate the system, three planets in a new and growing category of "plutons" - Pluto-like objects - and Ceres. Pluto remains a planet and is the prototype for the new category of "plutons."

The Planetary Society has an excellent news item on the history and reasoning behind this decision, which you can find here, and I highly recommend (with the power of the colour red) that you check it out if you want to be well informed on this subject.

Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, on the other hand, has an excellent criticism of the definition of a planet that the IAU is using:

The problem here is simple, really: we’re trying to wrap a scientific definition around a culturally-defined word that has no strict definition. Doing this will only lead to trouble. Why? For one thing, it’s divisive and silly. How does a definition help us at all? And how does it make things less confusing than they already are?


There has been a lot of controversy about this, mostly in the media and the public, since most astronomers don’t care all that much.

In a similar vein, Sean of Cosmic Variance reminds us that we are not doing anything more than coming up with a definition for a word:

We are not doing science, or learning anything about the universe here. We’re just making up a definition, and we’re doing so solely for our own convenience. There is no pre-existing Platonic nature of "planet-ness" located out there in the world, which we are trying to discover so that we may bring our nomenclature in line with it. We are not discovering anything new about nature, nor even bringing any reality into existence by our choices.

To an extent, I am ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I strongly felt that we should have just knocked Pluto back and set the number at eight. But on the other hand, I like the fact that this draws attention to all the other interesting bodies in the solar system. I wonder how many people had even heard of Ceres before now?


Failure by Ten Pages, Scurvy

I have a very odd metric for gauging how far I am into a book. 'Almost finished', as I thought I was with Aspidistra, on closer examination turned out to be equivalent to 'just over halfway'. Still, I read all evening, taking a break to watch Lost, and kept going until midnight. I stopped ten pages from the end because I wanted to be wide awake when reading the conclusion.

On reading the New Scientist of a couple of weeks back I found an interesting article on dietary supplements, in particular antioxidants:

The conclusion is becoming clear; whatever is behind the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, you cannot reproduce it by taking purified extracts or vitamin supplements.

Although there are plausible ways that these supplements might work, in clinical trials there's no evidence that they do anything, and some disputed evidence that they may actually be detrimental to your health.

For now, the advice is simple. "Stick to flavonoid-rich foods, red wine in moderation, tea, fruits and vegetables," says [biochemist Barry] Halliwell. "Don't start taking high-dose supplements or heavily fortified foods, until we know more."

Although I should add that the article (which isn't available free online) does make it clear that supplements do work where people have a deficiency in that substance. ie. Don't stop taking your vitamin C pills if you have scurvy.


Gone Readin'

I have not been reading nearly enough of late. Reading things that I hold in my hands that is, rather than things on this LCD screen before me. I am going to sit down now and I will not get up until I have finished Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying and the past two issues of New Scientist. If you do not hear from me again, assume that the task proved too strenuous...


Shield Me from the Weather with this Chart

How did it get so cold all of a sudden? But with the change of weather, Odeon seem to have finally changed their web page so you don't need Internet Explorer to access it. Of course there's some law against large businesses having simple html based sites, so it's all done by a dodgy flash doodad. It was nice just to have my local cinema bookmarked so I could see what was on. But no, I might actually spend some money there then...

Anyhoo, here's what I did to keep insanity at bay today - a The Shield chart showing what I think of each of the characters! They are rated in terms of how much they know about what's going on, and how much they make me go Boo! or Yay! I made this amazing homage by printing off pictures from the official website, cutting them out and sticking them to a piece of paper that I then wrote on and scanned. Go me!


A Story About Who Else It Can Still Be

This where I went with this week's prompt at Sunday Scribblings.

Invidious means ‘likely to cause offence’.

In all seriousness, I do rather hope that there are still many people that I can be - a writer, a soul mate, a father (perhaps), a person with confidence, a likable person even. But there is a story I must write, so I won’t dwell on this.

Although the following cautionary tale of identity theft is 100% true, the names of the innocent have been changed to protect the guilty.


When Sarah didn’t come home from work at her usual time, I knew that the monster Invidious must have stolen her identity, sucked it out through her ears with its suction hose. Now she was a person with no identity, a Nobody.

A Nobody was still a human being of sorts, they had two arms, two legs, two eyes, a nose. They had no mouth, for without an identity, what could there ever be to say? And they had no ears, for without an identity, why should they care what you say? With their soulless white eyes, Nobodies did not look at anyone, only at the inert objects around them, and even these they perceived only in the most instinctual terms. A house is a cuboid that one lives in. A tree a more complicated shape that one must walk around. Grass is a myriad of different, small shapes, but one does not walk on the grass, one walks on the path. A person is a shape like oneself, one has little to do with people, for why should one? And so on.

Nobodies were neither fat nor thin nor tall nor short nor - and this is the hard bit to understand - somewhere in between. They had blue skin, all of the same shade, and they all wore the same clothes, although you would never remember just what clothes they were, for they were entirely unmemorable and, of course, showed no personality. The Nobodies all worked for Invidious in its factory, for the whole length of the day. They went home to sleep and when they awoke they returned to the factory.

Most people were Nobodies by then. Sarah and I were the only people left on our street who were somebody. And then even Sarah was a Nobody. Just me left. At midnight that night, a Nobody came in through the door and lay down on our bed. It went to sleep and I knew that it had once been Sarah. I slept next to it. It slept on its back the whole night and did not move or snore. Sarah always snored and stole the blanket. I didn’t mind, in fact I missed it now. At the crack of dawn the Nobody got up and left the house again.

There was one chance, and I had to take it. Invidious took her identity, yes, but what did it do with it? I had to find it and free it, even if that only hastened the moment when my own identity would be taken.

I waited a whole day. The Nobody that used to be Sarah came back that night to sleep and when it got up the following morning I followed it to Invidious’ factory. The factory was bigger than it seemed from a distance. From our house it was only a crooked tower surrounded by fat chimneys that belched smoke into the forever clouded sky. Up close for the first time, I could see just how huge it really was, I could see the catwalks and pipes that wound around it like the muscles and nerves of a flayed corpse. Nobodies swarmed around it, great crowds of them bulging in through the immense front gates, then flowing around inside like ineffectual blood.

As I went in the gates, no-one stopped me. Of course, there was nobody there but Nobodies.

I was the first Somebody that I have ever heard of entering the factory. Finally I could learn what the Nobodies did inside. As I should have expected, they expended all their energy doing nothing at all, and they did it as hard as they could.

Over there some Nobodies were extracting water from steam, and steam from water. They worked a heater with a massive wheel that had to be turned to produce steam, and a cooler with splintering wooden levers that must be pushed back and forth to produce water.

Over here the Nobodies were removing the holes from doughnuts and placing them in plastic containers. The doughnuts were mouldy and crumbling to dust. Extracting the hole from a doughnut is a task that never ends. No matter how much hole you remove, there is always more. In the end the Nobodies must simply give up, as the doughnut broke apart, its hole triumphantly bloating to take up its entire breadth.

And in this place, by the elevator, the Nobodies were punching holes in ring-binders and placing them in other ring-binders, that they then punched holes in and placed in other ring-binders.

I entered the elevator, my hands trembling and sweaty. At the top of the buttons numbered for floors, (B to 362), there was a button labelled ‘I’. I pressed it, hoping to reach the secret, lofty den of Invidious itself.

The elevator lifted slowly and in rhythmic jolts (there were Nobodies on the roof of the factory pulling up the cable). But eventually I reached the top floor and stepped out into the windowless penthouse of Invidious.

Invidious was, apparently, a middle aged man with no hair and a double-chin, wearing swimming shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He looked at me, surprised. “Who are you?” he said.

I looked around. The walls of the room were layered with shelves, shelves of thick, transparent jars. Each jar held in it a thing. The things were all impossible to describe, and each one was different. Many of them seemed to be impossible, contradictory shapes. Some were light and see-through, others dark and deeply coloured. Some gave off a bright light, others shrunk into themselves, gathering all in one corner of their jar. I realised that I had only to find the jar that held Sarah’s identity and smash it.

I rolled my sleeve down, over my fingers, balled my hand into a fist and lunged at the nearest jar. It cracked with an ear-splitting sound and the nebulous thing inside gushed out as if under high pressure. It flew across the room, a blur, found a crack in the ceiling and forced itself out.

“What are you doing?” Sarah said sharply. I looked over my shoulder. She was standing where the middle aged man had been before. I almost smiled, but caught myself quickly. I saw the empty jar in her hands. She let it fall to the floor. Invidious had assumed Sarah’s identity, just as it had assumed the identity of that man before I came up.

“Is this what you do all day?” I asked. “Try on different identities like they were clothes, ignoring the fact that you took them from others who need them back, who need their identities more than air?”

She shrugged. Very much Sarah’s shrug. Why should I do the dusting? she might say with that shrug, when you do it so much more thoroughly and complain at my sloppiness? But Invidious had Nobodies to do its chores. It said, “Why not? How selfish of all of you to go around with your confidence and your strength and your happy lives, flaunting them to me, who had none. Now I have them all and you understand my position. Now that I have your identities, you want me to share them with you, ‘Oh it’s only fair!’ But when I was bankrupt, you gave nothing to me, as I squirmed in the mud, the last survivor of a million identical siblings. Now I treat you in the same way.”

It flashed Sarah’s angry smile at me. “Deal with it,” it said, as she had on occasion.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said. “You have an identity too, I’m sure, million siblings or not. Many would have been happy to help you with it, as I was helped with mine and Sarah with hers. If no-one had been happy to, then they should have been. But the fact that there is injustice doesn’t justify your horrors.”

I turned back to the rows of jars. Better not to smash, but merely to tip. I pushed the nearest jar to the edge of the shelf and then beyond. It fell silently for a fraction of a second, then shattered. As the liberated identity escaped I moved to the next jar and did the same.

Sarah’s beautiful brown eyes shed tears. Invidious sobbed Sarah’s sobs. “Don’t. Please, don’t.”

I walked along the shelves tipping jars onto the floor. They broke into splinters, releasing a miasma of individuality into the air. I was careful not to breathe any of it in. I was quite happy being me.

By the time I had smashed the last jar, the floor was carpeted with broken glass. Invidious sat on its knees - on Sarah’s knees, rather, hunched over, forlorn. “Now who will I be?” it whined.

“You can still be yourself,” I said. “Although I’d settle for you being anyone but Sarah.”

With a sigh Invidious breathed out Sarah’s identity, a little cloud full of rabbits and tennis balls and a fear of heights. The little puff raced up to the crack in the ceiling and escaped with a little squeak of joy.

The thing before me was now indeterminate and blue, a Nobody of sorts, although not a human one. But was it really a complete nobody? Wasn’t there a slightly sad look to its compound eyes? An almost imperceptible nervous trembling to its tentacles?

“I’m afraid,” it said. “No-one will like me. I’ll starve of love and waste away and die.”

I held out my hand. “You have me, at least. Sarah may like you too, if she can forgive you.”

Hesitantly it put a tentacle in my hand, flinched as I closed my fingers, as if it expected me to pinch. But then it seemed to almost look the tiniest part happy, and I noticed it turn a shade away from featureless blue and towards a kind of mottled green.

I led it towards the elevator. “You’ll find it’s not difficult at all,” I said, “to be a Somebody.”


I've scribbled my scribble for Sunday. I just need to sleep on it and then change it completely.

Now for a lark, the first five words that come to mind beginning with the letter 'A'...

-Anti-authoritarianism (This should count twice.)
-Arf (This is the noise that dogs make.)

This post was brought to you by the number 4 and the television show Sesame Street. Actually it was brought to you by beer, tiredness and Death in Vegas' Natja, whose lyrics, were there any, would go, "Zzzzz-dow-dow-(dow), Zzzzz-dow-dow-(dow)".



Tagged by Diddums.

10 years ago
I was twelve. In secondary school, probably very unhappy except when reading or playing computer games.

5 years ago
I was 17. In the sixth form, veering between very happy and very unhappy.

1 year ago
On my second year on my university course, which I pursued because I could do it without applying myself, and not because I like the direction it takes me in. Hooray!

5 songs I know all the words to
I avoid music with lyrics because they get in the way of the words in my own head. Still, a few lyrics sneak in. These are the five songs I am the most likely to think that I can sing along to, even if I usually do very badly at it.
  1. Angel - Massive Attack
  2. Do you realise? - The Flaming Lips
  3. Let Forever Be - The Chemical Brothers
  4. Out of Control - The Chemical Brothers
  5. Probably something by Death in Vegas

5 Snacks
  1. Hula Hoops
  2. Mini cheddars
  3. Salt and shake crisps
  4. Chocolate Orange bars
  5. Cherry tomatoes

5 things to I'd do with £100 million
  1. Buy a house
  2. Buy loads of DVDs and books
  3. Work out how much I'd need to keep in the bank to live off the interest
  4. Give the rest away to charity
  5. Put my feet up and read

5 places I'd run away to
  1. London
  2. Scotland
  3. New Zealand
  4. The sky
  5. The moons of Jupiter

5 things I'd never wear
'Never' is such a constrictive word.

5 favourite TV shows
  1. Mission: Impossible
  2. Spaced
  3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
  4. Cowboy Bebop
  5. Spongebob Squarepants

5 greatest joys
  1. Imagination
  2. Perceiving reality (never as simple as it sounds)
  3. The written word
  4. Lettuce in sandwiches
  5. CATS

5 favourite toys
  1. DVD Player
  2. Hole punch
  3. My beanie octopus
  4. Half Life 2
  5. Word processor

Five people I'm tagging
The only person I'm certain will read this is Disillusioned Kid, and he runs a political blog. So, I'm tagging YOU, anonymous reader. *points out of your computer screen*


I Would

I would die pretty quickly, though.

All Hail Forest Whittaker!

I have to say that I'm loving Forest Whittaker's presence on The Shield. I know everyone was crazy about Glenn Close when she played the captain in the last series, but although I think that Close is one of America's best actresses, to me she didn't stand out - she blended nicely into the cast. Admittedly a mark of her talent, but it made me wonder just why the critics seemed to think that it was so important and amazing.

Whittaker however, is not playing a role that should blend in. His Lieutenant Kavanagh is an outsider, someone viewing the characters from a distance, judging and manipulating them. He is also a man of many appearances, creepily affable when trying to win you over, insincerely diffident when cornered, and, beneath it all, hard and calculating. It also helps that the scriptwriters are always careful never to make any character completely likable or detestable. Although Kavanagh is from Internal Affairs, and is investigating an extremely corrupt police officer (chrome-topped anti-hero Vic Mackey), his motives and methods seem, in different respects, both honourable and suspect. This all adds up to an excellent chance for Whittaker to show off his wide acting range.

Of course, I can't recommend that you watch The Shield, if you don't already. What, to me, really makes it into great drama is that, compared to other police shows which strive to make traumatic and violent crimes more palatable, The Shield goes out of its way to make sure that what is horrible in real life, is horrible on the screen. Recently Mackey held a knife to the throat of a witness that Kavanagh was using against him. How often do we see women with knives at their throats on TV shows and movies? And how rarely is it actually as unpleasant to watch as this was? How often do we truly get a sense that, even if no actual violence occurs, the victim is still being put through a terrifying ordeal?

Great television. Difficult to watch.



According to my mother's 1968 edition of the Little Oxford Dictionary:

  • hawfinch - "grosbeak" (grosbeak is defined as a kind of small bird with a prominent beak)

  • keck - "to make sound as if about to vomit"

  • Levant - "the East Mediterranean region"

  • noways - says to look under 'no', but not actually defined

  • pluvial - "of or caused by rain"

There you go. Your homework is to use at least two of these words in everyday conversation. You will be graded on appropriateness and poise. My homework is to learn how to spell Mediterranean without having to use the spell checker.

A Story About Who Else He Might Have Been

This week's prompt at Sunday Scribblings is "Who else might I have been?" Which has naturally inspired a weird and silly story from me.

The first thing I should do is to link to this strangely relevant post by Neil deGrasse Tyson at the almighty Planetary Society Blog.

We all like reading and hearing about the challenges navigated by people who became successful in life, but in my experience, none of those stories comes close to what can be told by adults in entry-level positions -- challenges that draw from mental or physical disabilities, family disruptions, educational derailments, encounters with the justice system, or simple bad luck.

Now, onto the story. It's interesting how, after all the episodes of Law and Order I’ve seen, I still have no idea what it’s really like to be a police officer. Everything in the story below is made up, including the procedures of the imaginary police force in this imaginary world.

As I often like to do, I assembled many of the names in this story by opening an old dictionary to random pages and picking unusual words. Except for Alfred Finnegan. It doesn’t take any effort to come up with a name as ugly as that.

Finally, apologies are due to Edgar Allan Poe.


Sunrise casts an eerie red veil over the spires and peaked rooftops of the city. Car tyres thump rhythmically on the cobbled road, the drumbeat slowing as I park. A woman I don’t know walks up to me as I get out. She waits silently as I clip my ID to my jacket pocket and smirks. I’m used to that by now, I ignore her.

A couple of kids are kicking a football around across the road. One of them sees me and calls out, “Hey, Jonathan!” in a sing-song voice.

“Alfred!” I shout back. “My name is Alfred Finnegan, and I am a cop.”

Both the kids run off, laughing.

I turn to the woman. “Where’s DS Hawfinch?” I ask. I don’t bother to meet her eye, only take in the ID card clipped to her blouse.

She takes a few seconds to answer, an unpleasant smile on her face. “She’s in labour.”

“Really? It’s early isn’t it?”

She shrugs. “I’m DS Levant. I’m going to be working with you until she gets back.”

“Oh. No-one bothered to consult me in advance.” I offer a hand. “Nice to meet you.”

She shakes my hand limply. Her palm is cold and dry.

“What did you do to get this assignment?” I ask her.

She looks right at me. I can’t help but notice how striking her sharp brown eyes are. “I requested it,” she says carefully.

I sigh and put my hands in my pockets. I can’t say that I like this, nor where I see it going. “Oh. Well, that makes me highly suspicious, if you don’t mind my saying. But… whatever. We have a job to do. Let’s do it.”

She nods and leads me through a door flanked on either side by uniformed officers in stab vests.

“It’s a murder?” I ask.

She stops suddenly and I take just one step too close to her. I can feel her trying to intimidate me, although I have only the vaguest notion of why. “A great start,” she says, “for building trust between us, don’t you think?”

I don’t say anything. She waits just a little bit too long for me to answer, so I step past her and into a shadowed living room, fashioned in trendy, minimalist furnishings that utterly lack warmth. A woman lies on her front on the carpet in a pool of blood, surrounded by forensic scientists in white coveralls. One of them steps up to me carrying a large, clear plastic bag.

“The murder weapon,” he says.

“A golf club? Okay, take it back to the lab.” I turn to Levant. “This is going to be a tough one. I hate golf. Can’t stand it.”

She raises an eyebrow. “I’d like to imagine that you don’t much care for murdering people either.”

“Well, yes, but I’m used to putting myself in the shoes of a murderer by now.” I turn to a nearby uniformed officer. “Where is he?”

We’re directed out back, into the garden. The grass is neatly trimmed, as are the beds of exotic flowers. They might be beautiful in the daylight, but they are painted unwholesome colours beneath these pinkish clouds. Two more officers in stab vests are standing out here, keeping an eye on the man who sits in a lawn chair, wearing a shirt and tie and a very expensive pair of shoes.

As I approach, he looks at me with resignation. “I knew that you’d come,” he says. “Alfred Finnegan.”

I smile and pull up a lawn chair next to him. Levant stands on the grass beside us, her notebook open.

“What’s your name?” I ask the man.

“Noways Keck.”

“Noways Keck,” I repeat. “Interesting. Mr Keck, who’s the woman you killed with the golf club?”

“My wife. She- Her nose made this little noise as she breathed. All the nagging, the guilt trips, the shopping sprees, the other men, I could’ve coped with anything if she’d just stopped making that damn noise.”

“Uh-huh.” It’s always nice when they’re co-operative. Often they’ll open up to me, but it’s rarely this straightforward. I look at Levant. She’s writing it all down. That should be all we need for now. I just want to ask him some questions for myself. “You play golf?” I ask.

He looks a little surprised at the question. “Every weekend.”

“Wow. Me too. Who’d have thought we’d be so similar?”

He laughs weakly, and then the smile fades and he looks at me with a slightly frightened expression. “These people, they think I’m some sort of monster. But you don’t, do you? You understand that anyone could end up where I am. It’s just a matter of circumstance.”

I smile sympathetically, but shake my head. “Two years after I became a police officer, I had to kill someone to protect my own life. Well, I say that I ‘had to’, but really, I didn’t. I could choose to do nothing, to let them live, even though I knew with absolute certainty that they would kill me. Do you know what I did?”

He looks dumbstruck, offers no answer.

I’ve grown rather adept at telling this story. I don’t even have to think about it anymore, just proceed in a soft monotone. “Mr Keck, I did nothing. I couldn’t bring myself to kill another human being. My certainty that I was going to die turned out to be unfounded. A police marksman had him in his sights and did the deed for me. But I learnt then that I am not a killer. Different circumstances can lead us to different problems, even push us towards certain actions, but in the end, it is all up to you. To you and no-one else.”

Keck looks rather distressed. “But… but you’re me! If you and I had swapped places in that first instant, we’d have done exactly the same things!”

I shrug. “Maybe. Maybe not. We used to be the same person, that’s all we can say for sure. All that matters now is that you have your wife’s blood on your hands and her body on your carpet.” I stand and gesture to the two uniformed officers. “Take him to the station. Give him to the forensics guys first, though, if you haven’t already.”

As he is led out he fixes me with a fierce look. “You could’ve been me,” he says. “You could’ve been me!”

Levant steps up to my side. Too close again, but I resist the urge to step away from her. “He’s right, though,” she says, “surely.”

“We’re all responsible for our own actions. Whatever the circumstances. I was led down a path where everything was pushing me to kill someone. But I didn’t. And if I didn’t, he could certainly have bloody well divorced her.” I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay, there’s nothing but paperwork left for this one. I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble getting a conviction.”

Levant closes her notebook and tucks it away. “Don’t you have any sympathy for him?”

“I have sympathy for the wife.” I take a step forward, then stop and look back at her. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

She looks away sharply. “You’re just different. From what I expected.”

Great. Now I’m certain. I have to nip this in the bud quickly. “Look, I don’t know who he is, but you have to realise that he’s not me. Are we going to have a problem? Who is he?”

She bites her lip for a second, and then looks at me defiantly. “He was my husband.”

“Divorced or dead?” I ask bluntly.


I suppress an irritable laugh. “And so by requesting an assignment with me, you hope to, what?”

She shrugs. “It’s not you I’m interested in. It’s the ones you investigate.” She steps right up to me. I hold my ground. “I loved him so much. And you know what? Even after he hurt me so badly, I still love him. And it hurts like you wouldn’t believe.” She smiles breezily. “So I want to learn to hate him instead.”

“Right. I’m going to request that you be transferred.”

She smirks. “No-one else wants to work with you. I do. You won’t be able to get rid of me.”

I study her carefully. She’s beautiful, I have to admit. Not in any way that would get her on the cover of a glossy magazine, but in a way that seems to jibe with some personal preference of mine that extends back to the girls I crushed on in school. The sooner Hawfinch gets back, with her cynical jokes and half-moon reading glasses, the better.

“Okay,” I say with a sigh. “As long as you do your job, I don’t see what business of mine your feelings are. But I do like to imagine that maybe you’ll see we’re all different, even if we do look pretty similar.”

We start to walk back inside.

“Exactly identical, don’t you mean?” she says.

I stop and unfasten my tie and then begin to unbutton my shirt. Levant’s smirk upgrades itself to a sneer. I open my shirt just enough to show her my tattoo.

“What,” she says, “is that?”

“It’s an eagle. An individualist, unbound by gravity.”

“It’s supposed to impress me somehow?”

“Did your husband have one?”

“No, he wasn’t that dumb or crass.”

“Well there you go.”


“I came in someone else’s car,” she says. “So you’re stuck with me.”


I slide into the driver’s seat and she gets in next to me, grabbing the newspaper off the seat. “The Daily News? My husband hated this paper.”

“Me too. I get it to remind me why I do what I do.”

She reads the headline aloud. “Jonathans Out! Leading think tank recommends deporting majority of ‘Jonathans’ to protect the genetic future of the nation.”

I start the car and pull out into the road. “Read the rest. It’s very informative.”

“Eight years after physicist Jonathan Pluvial’s reckless teleportation experiment led to the creation of over a hundred thousand copies of himself, identical to the atomic level, we are all encouraged to believe that these clones have assimilated themselves into society as distinct individuals, bringing us many benefits. To argue otherwise is to be accused of Pluvialist discrimination.

“Yesterday, however, a leading think tank defied the climate of political correctness to argue that many if not most of the so-called ‘Jonathans’ should be deported to other countries. Their argument was not of the moral or religious kind that is so often denounced by the PC establishment, but instead a scientific and biological one. As increasing numbers of Jonathans marry and start families, the genetic diversity of the nation is threatened. Like a once proud royal family made weak through in-breeding, we must face up to this new challenge, or risk a rash of otherwise avoidable genetic diseases.

“Many who oppose the large concentration of Jonathans on other grounds are delighted with the report, saying that it is only the latest of many good reasons for such a policy. They also cite problems with integration, identity politics and crime.”

I snatch the paper from her hands as she finishes the last sentence and toss it onto the back seat. “You know something? Compared to the rest of the population, we’re actually ten thousand times less likely to commit a crime. I should know, I’m on the case for almost all of them. It’s easy to point to a bunch of convictions and show that all the criminals have the same face. But it’s cheap. And it’s wrong.”

I look at her hands as they sit in her lap. “You still wear your ring?” I ask.

She grasps the ring firmly in a balled fist and, with great difficulty, pulls it from her finger. I can’t help but wonder how long she was married to him. Then she lowers the window and throws the ring out. The wind snatches at her hair as we pick up speed, framing her face in an appealing halo of waving dark curls.

“I really want you to get a transfer,” I tell her again.

“Tough. I’m an unavoidable circumstance. How you react to me is up to you, isn’t that what you were saying?”

“It doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“I think you’re going to fall in love with me,” she says softly, pursing her lips.

“Whatever,” I say gruffly, trying to push the image of her cupid’s bow from my mind.


Back to Business as Usual

Okay, after a few of days where I wasn't feeling quite up to scratch, I'm back and ready to... do stuff. I have a plethora of things to post about, as usual, and I'll probably forget about half of them, as usual. My submission for this week's Sunday Scribblings is almost done. I wrote a story, printed it out and covered it in red words saying how rubbish it is and I must do better. Hopefully it should be up first thing tomorrow. I am sure that my legions of loyal fans are fit to explode with anticipation.

I only ask that they do it outside, or at least standing over a bucket.


Binge Reading

I like to refer to myself as a 'binge reader'. I'll go for a good couple of weeks without reading anything (except blogs and magazines), and then sit down and read a whole novel in a couple of days.

Here's what's on my heap o' books for consumption at the moment. Hopefully I should have read a couple over the next week or so...

  • Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - Haruki Murakami

  • The Complete Short Stories - Franz Kafka

  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying - George Orwell

  • Gray Horses - Hope Larson

  • And the final volume of Shin Takahashi's Saikano, which I've been putting off reading for months now due to his ability to make death and apocalypse feel so real (as well as the nicer things in life)...

In other news, I'm going book shopping tomorrow, for some reason.


Maternity Leave; Sun Dogs; Holiday to Jupiter

  • I love the way that the internet, in particular blogging, so often helps to remind us that we're all human - even astrophysicists. Emily Lakdawalla is taking a break from the Planetary Society Blog, to have a baby. In her stead, this exciting list of guest bloggers, including people who have played key roles in the Mars Rover, Cassini-Huygens, New Horizons and Stardust missions.

  • In one of her last posts before leaving, Emily posted these gorgeous images of Saturn's night side.

  • Here's something I didn't know about: ever heard of sun dogs or moon rings? Think carefully before clicking those links, if you do you won't be able to report them to the authorities as alien spacecraft and get your fifteen minutes of fame! (The part where you claim that they wanted to use you as breeding stock to repopulate their home planet is entirely optional, but surprisingly popular.)

  • Finally, although I consider my qualification in Computer Science to be somewhat shameful (it marks me as both unimaginative and socially inept, when I like to think that I am only the latter), I am rather proud of having some passing knowledge of artificial intelligence (in particular evolutionary computing).

    One important thing I've learnt is that computers are stupid. Seriously, don't trust them to do anything. A great example are the various programs used to try and figure out the content of web pages, often in order to create targeted advertising. Usually the results do nothing to attract your attention. At best they are silly ("Buy Dark Matter with free delivery over £20 at Tesco.") at worst they are offensive (I seem to recall something along the lines of a news story detailing a death being accompanied by an advert for what was responsible for it). In this case, however, while searching for books on Amazon, I seem to have come across something truly special!

    Jupiter Vacations
    Compare prices, read user reviews of hotels and search for travel deals to Jupiter.

    The link led to a spammy site full of links to holiday companies, including one selling trips to 'Jupiter, Saturn and Malta'. There are so many, I'm sure at least one of them must be genuine!