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Black Holes Space Game, by Paraglider. Free download.

Black Holes is a strategy game based on the behaviour of real black holes in Space. It's easy to learn but hard to play well. The idea is to create black holes in Space and to capture the stars that fall inside the event horizon. (See, it's even educational for the kids!)
I originally invented it as a board game, but then decided to program a demo version for the PC. The Demo plays quite well and can usually beat me at my own game! You can read more about it here, or just go for it by downloading the demo plus full instructions.
For anyone interested in such things, I wrote the demo in Quick Basic and compiled it as a DOS executable. Have fun, and let me know how you get on!

Once more, with feeling

When you change apartments, unless moving well up-market, the odds are that your new place will be better in those aspects that bugged you about the old place, but worse in aspects you never considered, until they force themselves on your attention.

My Muntazah apartment faced South-West, so it used to get very hot in the afternoon. It fronted a main road, with its attendant traffic noise, night and day. So, of course, my Bin Mahmoud apartment looks North-East, over a lo-rise roofscape, cool and silent.

Silent, that is, except when the people in the floor above have their AC running. Then, the drips from their window unit land squarely on the projecting box of my unit directly below, playing on its flat top plate like a child's tin drum. Inside, the noise is more akin to a demented metronome. The clicks start Largo about 45 beats per minute (con rubato of course - this is no mere drum machine), but soon settle into a gradual yet resolute accelerando: from Adagio, through Andante, to Allegro, where they seem to stabilise for a time, before the grand finale, Presto con fuoco as the drip tray discharges its overload in a spontaneous but short-lived natural siphon (isn't Fluid Dynamics wonderful?) This, of course, heralds a break in the performance while the watery maestros regroup, to start the reprise, Da Capo al Fine.

At least the drains work.

And the Winner is - "When I, Roger"

Most spam, as most bloggers or webmasters will confirm, is just that - spam. Junk mail with no redeeming features. Most, but not all. Occasionally a gem turns up. This wonderfully convoluted (but perfectly spelt) invocation to puchase pharmaceuticals is well worth a second reading:

The most skilfully situation dedicated to medical goods, here you are your notice most of the drugs that are now on the market. Also, you can occupy oneself with any responses to comprehend the discourse of pharmacies where you can occupy oneself with any responses to harmony your desired offshoot. Where the lowest prices on your desired consequence. Here is the report of the newest drugs, which no greater than plain on the market.
So the regardless on our web purlieus you wishes greet a doctor of your questions. All consultations are conducted anonymously and on touching it no one wishes cognizant of.


Yet, while I wouldn't presume to wish cognizant of, I'd have to give pride of place, this week at least, to Roger's plaintiff tale (with a happy ending):

When I, Roger, went on a vacation and it rained all day, it sucked pretty bad, so now I use (url removed) and they are the best.

What could Dame Edith Sitwell not have fashioned from such perfect raw material? When Sir Beelzebub, indeed.

The Disappearing Chinese Girls - where have all the flowers gone?

No, this isn't about China's one child policy and its scandalous but wholly predictable side-effect in respect of female babies. There's nothing new to say about that.
But nearer home, in Doha to be precise, rather older Chinese 'girls' have been disappearing for years, only to reappear briefly, prior to their final farewell. It's quite a tradition in fact, and equally unsurprising when the economics of the situation are understood. What happens is, they enter the country either on a visit visa or on an ostensibly legitimate but highly dubious business visa. Dubious because the job doesn't exist, and someone makes a great deal of money from the transaction. Then, when the time comes to leave or renew, the lady is off the radar - disappeared, in fact, to embark on a new career as an illegal immigrant. Of course, illegal in Qatar means unemployable; self employment is the only option, coupled with self-concealment, because discovery means arrest and deportment. The membership and ID scheme naturally denies them access to all bars and clubs, further increasing the difficulty of earning a living, unless they have already built a substantial client base or, the pinnacle of success, acquired the coveted status of girlfriend or fiancee with its attendant financial security.
For the less fortunate, inevitably there comes a time when they decide to go home. Of course there is no way to pass through the airport without a current visa and exit permit. Traditionally then, the girls would first send all their money home, by Western Union or similar, then turn themselves in at a police station, penniless, where they'd spend maybe a day and night in a cell, pending paperwork, before being repatriated with no right of return (unless with a different forged passport!)
But recently, the pattern has changed. The girls now seem to be detained in gaol for two or even three weeks before being sent home. There seems no point to this. They can't pay fines with no money in the country. They're not involved in any crime that could merit interrogation. So why detain them at the State's expense? Surely not as a punishment - that would be completely pointless. Also it would seem to be counterproductive. The old amnesty - turn yourself in and we'll send you home - makes it painless to leave. But faced with a few weeks in gaol, might it not be tempting to remain illegal until caught?
Another of life's mysteries.

Two pints of Aftershave and a packet of crisps please.

The guy who drove his forklift straight through the portacabin wall and the guy who was found outside the compound semi-conscious and coughing blood had this in common - both were blind drunk, on cheap aftershave. Subsequent inspection of the workers' quarters showed that most had a large bottle of the same cheap aftershave tucked away somewhere. All were of course confiscated on the spot, as if that were addressing the problem.
How about, instead, providing an affordable 'clubhouse' bar where the guys could have a beer or two after work? How about raising wages to the level where an occasional visit to a cheaper hotel bar is a reasonable prospect? Oh wait, we've closed all but four and five star outlets haven't we, and we're working on closing even the fours. Better still, how about allowing the workers to bring their families to Qatar? Of course, Qatar is not good for women and children, because of the grossly skewed male/female balance. But isn't that a 'problem' that presents its own solution?
In short, how about respecting the people who are building your bright new city?
Now back to the aftershave. Those of us who can afford our preferred tipple might look down on anyone who would raise a bottle of aftershave to his lips. But we'd do well to remember that all strong drink is an acquired taste. A child presented with whisky and aftershave would find both equally repugnant but might even favour the latter, for its nicer smell. (This is a thought experiment only, of course!) Remember too, that these guys are not the old-style western down-and-outs whose addiction has so degraded them that methylated spirits or even brasso is their final port of refuge. They are workers, though they might as well be slaves. What they do, they do from desperation. It is wholly avoidable, and that's the shame of it.

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