15,000 People Read About Rocks!

January 27, 2011
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I know this to be true because I have my Mars Rocks! blog open in another tab and I’m looking at the site views stat. All right, so it’s open in another tab and I had to look at the stat, then switch back to this tab to type this, I couldn’t look at them both at exactly the same time. I just thought I’d get that out there in case I get flamed by an elite, clandestine cult of pedants. You can never be too careful.

Click the image to be transported to a world of orange hues...

Yes, Mars Rocks! the humble witterings of two Martians seems to be doing rather well since its inception last May (2010). Interestingly, about a third of these views have taken place in the past month. Why’s that? Could it be that Christmas leaves folk eager for new cartoon content? No. Perhaps everyone made a resolution on New Year’s Day to read more Mars Rocks!? Doubtful.

I suspect the real reason is that I have been posting new cartoons on a nearly daily basis. Yep, many years ago, when Roy Castle would blow his horn and tell me that dedication was what I needed, I knew he was right… it just took 25 years to put it into practice.


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Macao – Board Game Review

January 26, 2011
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I have a friend who has an addiction to board and card games. This has the excellent benefit that I get to play them. So before I say anything more, I would like to thank Pete Freer for making this review possible…

There’s no point me being bashful with this review; I think Macao is a great game. I’ve only played it twice, but I didn’t win on either occasion, so I have none of that “I like it because I’m good at it” bias coursing through the pleasure centres of my brain.


Sail away, sail away... shut up Enya...


The premise of the game is simple – get more victory points than your fellow players. There are a number of ways of doing this, from sailing around the map selling wares, to generating gold to simply buy the points, to name a couple. But the driving component of the game is the collection of little coloured cubes, which act as a resource for doing nearly everything in the game. However, to get the most of these you have to plan to take them on a future turn, not your next turn, so there’s an element of forward planning in the game that builds a lot of anticipation and can see players streak ahead at surprising times. The cubes also take a while to sort out into piles of the same colour at the start of the game, a great job to give someone who can’t stop talking while you try to tell them the rules – I was given this job.


Resource cubes waiting to be harvested in future turns...


Part of the appeal of the game for me is the world – I love the romantic notion of sailing out of a far eastern port and plying the trade routes. This game helps to uphold my rose-tinted vision by not modelling things like scurvy or shipwreck while sailing the oceans. But it’s not just the fiction that’s the draw – the whole system is just the right level of complexity to mean your plans can be utterly demolished by another player, only for you to realise that there’s another opportunity you didn’t see and you can now exploit. Such realisations will make you want to do a little dance of personal glee.

The game lasts for a fixed number of turns, so it always weighs in at about 2 hours per game. The box has an age rating of 12 and up but I think you could start a kid on this at the age of 8, if you’re happy to help them out a little and give them some advice regarding planning for the future. That said, many adults will need some careful prodding on this point too, I know I did.

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Clean Bill Of Health

January 21, 2011
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I’m glad to announce that the doctor gave me a clean bill of health today. Of course, I had to have an extra blood test, at extra cost, just to be sure that I didn’t have Hepatitis C. I don’t know why they don’t just invent diseases to test me for – no Mr Brown, we can’t sign off your medical yet, we need to test you for Gulliblesnotinthedictionaryitis.

When you search for pants you'll be spoilt for choice...

This is, however, much better than the medical I had before coming out to New Zealand. On that occasion all my liver function numbers were so far out of range I had to stop drinking for ten days before getting tested again. Strangely, at a Christmas party, no one noticed that I was stone cold sober – I was as larey and belligerent as everyone else apparently. I will wear these facts as a badge of honour til my final breath. Yes, I am sad.

This time around I may have brought it on myself though: Part of the medical involves stripping down to your pants (the “under” variety) and lying down while the doctor twists your limbs about and hits you with a hammer. No wonder you have to pay. I forgot about the details of this part, otherwise I’d have worn tight fitting boxers, not the loose ones I had on. I know doctors have seen it all before, but they must get bored of those glimpses beyond the call of duty when they hoick your legs in the air.

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We Have Ignition

January 20, 2011
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If you find yourself in Wellington on the 8th of February then come along and see me talking at Ignite Wellington. The format of Ignite is simple – 20 slides on auto-advance, so the talk lasts for 5 minutes whether I want it to or not.

I'll use any excuse to feature a picture of a rocket...

I’ll be talking on the subject of allowing ideas to gestate over a protracted period of time, in the foundry of the mind’s back burner. No, I’m not talking about faffing about and not just getting on with it!

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That’s Some Good Grit

January 18, 2011
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Believe it or not, I do actually put some time and effort into what I write. I know I make it look like words slapped down willy nilly, but my scribblings are the prose equivalent of perfectly coiffed “just got out of bed” hair, that takes hours to get right.

So I was thinking that my writing style is a little bit pedestrian, too soft, lacking bite – the heart of a terrier but the teeth of a hen. To find some inspiration I checked Anthony Bourdain’s latest book (Medium Raw) out of the library, and began gleaning it for grit and pith.

Anthony Bourdain - Keeping up appearances...

A. A. Gill, a man who I am not afraid to describe as a tit, has a quote on the cover of Medium Raw describing it as “Elizabeth David written by Quentin Tarantino”. Two chapters in and I’m not really getting that vibe. Perhaps I lack the vision to see the comparison, or perhaps folk just write things like that in the hope of getting a quote on the book cover. Bourdain has a much snappier style than Tarantino – he’s as good, just entirely different, apart from the odd “fuck” here and there, but you can’t use swearing as the lynchpin in a similarity argument.

In fact, I don’t find Bourdain’s writing particularly cutting or outrageous either: Funny – yes, a little grumpy – yes, impressively ready to point and criticise – yes, although often in such a way that I’d be chuffed to be on the receiving end. Like a blade of truth cutting the common man’s sensibilities and morals to shreds? No, not really.

So, out of the book so far I’ve gotten some enjoyment, but no shift in style. I also have further affirmation of my aforementioned belief that A. A. Gill is a tit… oh, maybe Bourdain has had some influence.

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Disney Sparkle

January 17, 2011
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I was drifting along recently, as you do, on a river of my own reverie, plotting my future. Somewhere along the line I stumbled onto thoughts about my own company, and how big I would like it to be, and why the river metaphor had fallen prey to a drought so soon. My initial reaction was to keep this fantasy company small, with as high a profit margin per person as possible. This is the game developer in me talking – I’ve watched several games companies struggle with expansion over the years, and it rarely turns out pretty.

Then I scoffed (martial arts movie style, casting my illusionary beard to one side and overacting for all my worth) at myself and my puny ambitions. Did Walt Disney think like this? No he did not, he grabbed the animation bull by the horns and built an empire on the back of a mouse and some dwarfs. Granted, you can’t get away with such abuse of animals or people anymore, at least not openly, but I  figured modern practices would have only slowed the man down, not stopped him.

I’m not really comparing myself to Walt here, if only for the fact that I know precious little about and the man, other than he had a moustache, whereas I have sideburns, and his head is in a freezer somewhere, which only happens to me when I’m defrosting it. But I should take a leaf out of his big book of ambition, because if ideas are worth anything in this world, and everyone says they are just before they shoot them down, then I should be worth something.

Steeled for my new, bigger, future I took one last minute to ponder the name Disney. It’s a name full of sparkle, full of magic, full of fairy dust. Brown suggests… other things. But perhaps Disney only has the magic because of the ideas, and Brown too could glisten like diamonds…

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I Am The God Of Cat Medication

January 16, 2011
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If you read my post a few days ago you will already be aware of the fact that our cat is on medication for being turbo charged. This means giving her a pill twice a day. Anyone who has ever tried to medicate a cat will tell you that it’s not the easiest thing in the world. You can grab ’em, force their mouths open and chuck the tablet to the back of the throat, forcing them to swallow or choke, but they look at you with the eyes of a creature plotting your downfall afterwards.

So I tried the old “hide the pill in the food trick”. This never really worked in the past for me, the cat always having a special talent for eating around the tablet. But this week it had been going well, despite the food coming in chunks that weren’t really big enough to hide the tablet in. Alas, just as I was feeling it was all good, the cat stopped eating her food. A somewhat unilateral zero tolerance approach on her part – you won’t be getting called up for diplomatic duties with an attitude like that, I thought.

Then I had a brain wave: You can get cat treats, called Temptations, that our cat loves – it’s like kitty crack to her. Just the smell is enough to drive her crazy. So I got one of the pills and rubbed it all over with the one of these treats. Then I crumbled the treat into my palm, where I also placed the tablet. I then held out my palm. The cat sniffed and licked the tips of my fingers – she always does that at first, possibly because she’s stupid. Eventually she found the tasty morsels in my palm and gobbled up the entire contents, including the tablet!

This has worked three times now and I am feeling pretty pleased with myself. Life’s all about the small victories.

I expect dog owners are lacking empathy with this post; my experience of dogs is that they’ll eat anything, you could just put the pill in any old crap, literally, and it would be down in seconds. That said, I do know of a cat that ate a shoe lace – the shoe lace went missing one night and the next morning something was noticed hanging out from beneath the cat’s tail. The owner grabbed the lace, the cat ran, and the extraction was quick and cleansing. I don’t think the lace was re-united with its shoe though.

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Cheap As Steve Jobs

January 15, 2011

Ten billion is a big number, there’s no doubt about that and that’s how many downloads the Apple App Store will be hitting in the coming hours.

Trumpets set to fanfare, please.

Whoever is the recipient of the 1 Billionth App will receive a prize: a $10,000 voucher, to spend on iTunes… is that it?


Blankety Blank - great fun, but cheap as Steve Jobs...


Given that the money has to be ploughed back into the Apple machine, which is all fuel for their fire (even if they don’t get to take the lion’s share of the money back to their secret safe disguised as a mountain), I think this prize is a little stingy.

In fact, this prize is so stingy it reminds me of TV quiz shows in the UK, back when I was a kid. Way back in the day, independent TV had a cap on how much it could spend on prizes, and the BBC felt it unethical to dish out license payers money on anything so tawdry as something worth having.

The classic example of such miserly competitive entertainment was Blankety Blank, which never hid the poorness of what it had to offer, especially when presented by the excellent Les Dawson. He had this to say one week: “And for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t got an Argos Catalogue, here’s some of the rubbish you might be saddled with tonight.”

Come on Steve Jobs, don’t be like Blankety Blank, stick your hand in your pocket and offer up a proper prize, surely you can spare a yacht, or two.

And if you don’t I’m going to do every in my power (which I admit isn’t much) to get the phrase “Cheap as Steve Jobs” into popular parlance.

You have been warned!

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Call Me Jesus!

January 14, 2011
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Yes, call me Jesus! No, not because I can walk on water – although I did have a plank, just below the waterline, in my parent’s pond when I was a kid, and walking on that gave the illusion of hydro-trotting.

My bold claim refers more to the Jesusian skills with wood.

Yes, I have been doing some carpentry, although I doubt J would be too impressed with my penchant for Robertson head screws, rather than dovetail joints. Although I hope he would forgive me.


My mighty planter - featuring Turbo Le Chat for scale...


Using my moderate skills with a saw and screwdriver I have built a planter, for growing… er… plants. It took two and a half years and several friends humiliating me by building their planters first to make me get around to this job. Let’s see how long it takes to get some soil in there…

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Turbo Charged Cat

January 12, 2011
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T’other day I took the cat to the vet because, quite frankly, I couldn’t cope with her stinky breath anymore. I admit, this is partly my fault, vets have told me in the past that I should clean her teeth, but I have always come away with the feeling that I’d have more luck creating a working nuclear fusion power plant, or brokering peace in the middle east.

I’ve tried some stupid things with cats in the past, I once got a lead for one, which she dutifully wrestled to the ground. Tooth brushing, I figured would be along similar lines, more gnawing and biting than cleaning, like a dog with a bone. Speaking of dogs and bones, I should mention that my sister’s dog, back in the UK, found an ingenious solution for burying it’s bone in a frozen solid, snowbound garden – it went into the greenhouse instead.

So I slinked off to the vet, feeling the tooth decay was a much my fault as 16 years of age. Sure enough, the cat’s ninja death breath was down to some wicked decay. Good I thought, get that sorted out and she won’t smell and, when the inflammation is gone, she won’t drool her alien-esque (it burns my nostrils at any rate) all over me when she purrs.

Not so fast, said the vet. When giving the cat’s history I had mentioned her impressive appetite and high energy levels. This prompted some further examination and the discovery of a nodule in the thyroid gland. Let’s take a blood sample, said the vet. Although she was kind enough to tell me how much that would be before the needle went in. Also, it created the short lived but entertaining game of “Where’s the small patch the vet shaved off the fur to take the blood sample”.

Today the results were back in and sure enough, the cat’s ability to play with a twig for minutes and beg for food for hours is down to hyperthyroidinessosis, or something like that. In fact, her hormone level is a whacking six times higher than it should be! Although there are clearly some diminishing returns in the system, for she it not six times more active than even the most lethargic of cats. But it certainly explains why she chased off a much bigger cat the other day: New Zealand cats are about twice the size of her, although she is small, even by UK standards – a neighbour back there once asked if she was a kitten, which would have been a fair question, if they hadn’t known her for 7 years.

So now we have to give her tablets twice a day to bring back her catlike apathy. Once her teeth are sorted she’ll probably be treated with radioactive iodine to destroy her turbo powers. I hope you’re reading this Stan Lee, it’s comic book character gold!

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