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January 11, 2002
Idea for story
Modern technology enables a pretty, unmarried scientist to recreate a dinosaur. (Should the scientist have long blonde hair? Maybe: but consult market research people.)
The dinosaur reaches adulthood quickly, and escapes from the scientist's lab to launch a career selling mobile phones. Having been abandoned by the creature, the scientist spends a great deal of time shampooing her hair. (I'm visualising something similar to the shower scene from Psycho, minus the stabbing.)
Left to his own devices, the dinosaur is amusingly bewildered by everything in the modern world, except mobile phones. In the tearstricken climax, the dinosaur dies from over-exposure to electromagnetic radiation, and the scientist arrives at the funeral with a new hairstyle.
Problems: character names. Rachel is fine for the scientist, but what do you call a dinosaur whose life starts with a technological miracle, progresses to teen comedy and ends with extinction?
April 11, 2002
Fair warning: there's more stuff here about notebook protectors. It's all part of a ridiculous bid to fend off Stig O. Walsh's lawyers. But at least the Threat of Impending Legal Doom has given me the incentive to come up with a shorter, more street friendly way of referrring to the standard variety of notebook protector: NoPro. (Though I'm still tossing up what the plural should be: NoPros, I guess, but NoProse is weirdly appealing, and I've also got the surprise move of putting the "s" at the start: SnoPro.)
Anyway. I wish to report a conceptual breakthrough, on the vitally important subject of tattoos and NoPros. Douglas Adams has a line somewhere about everything being connected. I've spent today redisovering the truth of this. A notebook protector is the modern equivalent of a detachable tattoo.
Wait, let me explain.
I've been carrying around a notebook for years. So has Stig. It's just the kind of thing that people like Stig and I do. Over time, notebooks tend to get dirty and scruffy. Over time, they also fall apart. As a result, valuable notes can and do get lost. Scattered to the wind, like ashes, dust, and Stig O. Walsh's legal team. The exact kind of thing which entirely defeats the point of keeping a notebook in the first place.
I've always known that notebooks fall apart, but until recently I never knew that anything could be done about it.
Enter Stig and his NoPro obsession. "Just think," he says, "your notebook will be protected. That's the nature of notebook protectors. That's what they do." Then he paused, and added the killer line of his already impressive sales pitch: "that's why they're called notebook protectors."
In a flash, my initial cynicism vanished. (Cynicism? Indifference?) I went to the Paddo Market, the only known source of NoPros, and got one.
The clouds parted. Sunlight came down. Dappled sunlight. Luminous, glittering sunlight. Triumphal music played, at least in my head, and I felt like a new religion had formed at my feet. I watched spellbound as it fluttered gracefully upwards, lovingly transforming every molecule of my body into a more caring, more noble, more sentient being.
And a few days later I realised that I'd also found a solution to my ongoing tattoo problem.
The ongoing tattoo problem?
I'm Libran. It's hard making decisions. The harder the decision, the longer it takes me to make up my mind. In 1979 I was offered the chance to see a movie with friends. I couldn't decide if I wanted to go, or what movie I wanted to see. And I'm still trying to work out what I should've done. To make it worse, all those friends entered normal society and got proper jobs, so now I've got the grief to deal with, along with the indecision. It's all hugely time consuming.
And I've been thinking about getting a tattoo for a long time. A looooooong time. 1979 marked another watershed in my career of indecision, as that was the year I first started thinking about whether I wanted a tattoo.
It's an issue that I've been thinking about now for twenty-three years.
To be honest, I haven't made much progress. At some point in my second decade of indecision, with no result in sight, I moved on to another question. What sort of tattoo would I get, if I decided to get one?
A few seconds later I was hit by a tidal wave of choices. Getting a tattoo turned out to be a simple yes/no. But deciding on the design of it could well take several thousand years, because there were an infinite number of choices.
So I began keeping a list of my design ideas. I filled notebook after notebook with them. This was before I got my NoPro, so many of my design ideas were scattered to the wind.
And when I was in London, at some point in 1998, I came up with the Tattoo Design To End All Tattoo Designs: an image of Rolf Harris, riding on a kangaroo and playing a wobbleboard.
One millisecond later
Reality hit. Hard. I had to admit that, if only for a fleeting moment, I had seriously considered the idea of permanently marking my skin with a cartoon of Rolf Harris. I immediately gave up on the idea of getting a tattoo, and checked myself in for counselling. The first thing the counsellor wanted to know was "why are you here?"
"Because I contemplated getting a Rolf Harris tattoo," I said.
There was an embarrassed pause. Then I asked, in a voice which couldn't hide my nervousness, "can you help me?"
"I'm not sure," said the counsellor, "but I'm certainly happy to try. That'll be a lot of money, thanks."
Three months went by, and my bank balance dwindled. And only after three months did the counsellor indicate that no help of any kind was available for people with Rolf Harris tattoos, whether real or still at the design stage.
My notebook entries at the time reflected an anger, a frustration, a sadness. At least I think they did. The weather was quite windy around then.
But a solution is now at hand.
Instead of getting a tattoo myself, I can tattoo my NoPro. As well as protecting my notebook (thanks for the tip, Stig!) it can also be my detachable tattoo. And if I don't like the design ... well, now we come to the crux of the issue. If I don't like the design, I can just get another NoPro. That's the real beauty of the idea. I did some research and discovered that it's much easier to get a new NoPro than a new skin.
I spent four years at a university learning how to do research like that. And this is the first time I've ever found a useful purpose for it. Those four years have suddenly added up to something marvellous. I don't think I've ever felt so clever, so satisfied, so complete. Twenty-three years of indecision has fallen away, and all I'm left with is the delightful tranquility of one incredible idea. I can't remember ever feeling so happy to be living in the modern world.
July 6, 2002
Idea for film script
Henry loves Jane. Jane loves Bob. Bob loves Trevor. Trevor loves his stamp collection. The stamp collection has no preference, and just sits there.
No one is particularly happy.
One stormy night, Henry runs amok. We see him at home, readying himself. He puts on his favourite music - the theme song from The Muppets - and repeatedly vows to "perforate" people. Carnage results. Henry, Jane, Bob and Trevor all wind up dead.
No one is particularly happy with this arrangement, either.
Inspector Subpotato arrives. He examines the sea of corpses. He examines the stamp collection. He examines his watch. He leaves. He has another sea of corpses to examine elsewhere, and is running late.
Inspector Subpotato has been on the force for twenty-two years. He once solved a case, but only by accident. He never understood how he did it. At the trial, when this became obvious, it led to a change in his professional life. His colleagues started to treat him differently. He received what he would later describe as "a premeditated campaign of smirking."
Meanwhile, the stamp collection sits on a shelf in Trevor's apartment. Unattended, unwatched, unloved.
The next stormy night, the stamp collection runs amok.
Potential problem: no car chases. Also, nothing happens in Scene 47. Actually, there is no Scene 47. So. Two potential problems: no car chases, and no Scene 47.
August 22, 2002
The fading art of Bubblebot subversion
When I was a child, my favourite pet was a small robot called a Bubblebot. It was about four inches tall, battery powered, and covered with fuzzy fur.
It was the first commercially available toy with inbuilt artificial intelligence. For many children, Bubblebots ushered in a new level of technology, and the world was a better place for it. The Bubblebot was a smart toy, but, as we shall see, it wasn't as smart as an inquisitive child.
Despite their shape, Bubblebots didn't come in a box. For reasons known only to MIT, who developed it, Bubblebots were delivered in a clear plastic tube. And there was a sticker on the tube which said "do not shake tube."
For most people this was an unnecessary warning. Of course they weren't going to shake the tube. The tube had a Bubblebot in it: a rare and precious thing. But for other people, the sticker was counter-productive. It just piqued their curiosity, and gave them an idea: what would happen if the tube was shaken?
History records that the first tube was shaken on a Tuesday morning. Two days later, by Thursday afternoon, more than a hundred thousand tubes had "shook," to use the catchphrase of the time. An epidemic was under way. For a time, tube shaking was more popular than breathing.
The result of all this tube activity was a great many confused Bubblebots. Shaking the tube rewired the Bubblebot's primitive behavioural circuits, and anarchy was a common result. The mania even produced a song: "Confuse All The Bubblebots." The video featured a small army of fuzzy toys, totally unable to sing in unison. For a time, it outsold The Chipmunks.
Most Bubblebots were first let loose on bedroom floors. A normal Bubblebot would walk around in a small circle, flapping its arms and repeatedly announcing "I'm a Bubblebot! I'm a Bubblebot!" But freshly shaken Bubblebots would demonstrate entirely unpredictable behaviour. Sometimes they'd arrive on the floor and immediately fall asleep. Sometimes they'd start dancing. Sometimes they'd hop around and smack their fuzzy head into hard pieces of furniture. Sometimes they'd catch fire. Sometimes they'd stand stock still, emit a high pitched whine, and melt into the carpet.
And sometimes, if all went well, there'd be another chance. The Bubblebot would go back into its tube, and be shaken again. With any luck, an entirely new behaviour would emerge. More entertainment. More wonder. More Bubblebot joy.
It was a magical time. There'd be the excitement of bringing the Bubblebot home, the gleeful menace of shaking its tube, and the joy of watching a small furry toy do things that its makers hadn't intended.
Those wonderful times have now gone, I'm sorry to say. Now there's nothing but tragic news on the Bubblebot front. Sure, they're still being made, and they're still being shipped in tubes. But the old warning sticker has been replaced. The new one says "for your convenience, Bubblebots now come preconfused."
When I first read those words, I felt as if lightning had torn me asunder. I was filled with dismay, with anguish, with disgust. I wanted to shake my fist at the sky and ask a higher power how the world had sunk this low.
I know I'm just one lonely voice, crying in the wilderness. But I just want to say: enough is enough. Let us shake our own tubes. Let us make our own fun.
And most importantly of all, let us confuse our own Bubblebots.
November 19, 2002
Here's a new story, set a few years into the future.
The front page of Scientific American. The headline story: "Rats out of favour." After decades of being the #1 research animal, scientists are no longer interested in experimenting on rats. A more ethical, caring kind of scientist has emerged. Society has changed, and scientists have changed alongside it. Emphasis has now been placed on developing supernatural powers, and rats are not deemed suitable. Instead, science turns its attention to chipmunks.
We see a few scenes of the early days of developing supernatural powers in chipmunks, and then years go by. The chipmunk future arrives.
We see a chipmunk floating across a forest, randomly setting trees on fire. We see another chipmunk teleport from New York City to Brazil. A third chipmunk transforms itself into a cascading waterfall of luminescent atoms, and then relaxes with a Rubik's Cube.
No one is surprised by any of this. Supernatural chipmunks have become the norm.
But into this world comes a new kind of chipmunk. A chipmunk with a brand new skill.
A chipmunk is born who can eat peanuts.
The other chipmunks start to gather. Some arrive in small spaceships. Some fly. Some just materialise on the spot. They come. Wherever they are, they come.
A hushed silence falls, broken only by the sound of peanuts being chewed.
We see a huddled, awed collection of chipmunks as they observe The One Who Can Eat Peanuts. As if in tribute, several chipmunks silently burst into flame.
Eventually tragedy strikes The One Who Can Eat Peanuts. Surrounded by its brethren, it dies young, of obesity.
The funeral is attended by the world's entire population of chipmunks, and all the undertakers are rats.
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