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Today so far...

BAU-01-Cover- Revised Script Banned Across the Universe Episode 2, for  -  and now sent to Kev Levell for him to work his artist's magic

- Reviewed the audio files for Banned Across the Universe Episode 1. Mr Luker sounds like a grumpy Peter Falk! (Here's the cover to this latest audio comic I'm working on for ROK Comics)

- Reviewed colour for Team MOBILE Issue 4 by Blee. Looking fantastic!

On February 15th sunspot 1158 exploded blasting a huge coronal mass ejection (CME) in our direction.

This huge cloud of charged particles is due to reach Earth tonight, February 16th and tomorrow, February 17th which will result in increased auroral activity.

This is the largest flare to erupt from the sun in four years and due to its size it may be possible to view spectacular displays of aurora so keep an eye out over the next two days for auroral activity towards the north or the south if you happen to be in the southern hemisphere.

(With thanks to Pascal Desmond)

This weekend, campaign group 38 Degrees clubbed together to pay for an opinion poll which showed that 85 per cent of people are in favour of England's forests staying in public hands for future generations.

In Lancashire, where I live, over 60 per cent of Lancashire's woodland is found in the districts of the Ribble Valley and the Lancaster area - and the Forestry Commission owns just 2000 hectares of the 14,000 ha total for the county.

(Lancashire County Council has a page here about woodland in the county which makes depressing reading, although the number of initiatives to develop and expand it also listed are encouraging.)

80 per cent of England's woodland is already in private hands. Surely it's not too much to expect the Forestry Commission's holdings to remain public? (Less, of course, the 15% that has already been sold off since the 1980s).

I don't feel it's right that one generation should decide to prevent the next from enjoying our public woodlands, and I am not convinced that assurances that public access will remain, even after the sell off, can be trusted.

I urge anyone reading this to fight to keep public access to forests as it is, and to protect the diverse wildlife of English forests...

• Email your MP and ask them to vote to Save Our Forests: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/tell-your-mp-to-save-our-forests

Can't figure out why I'm watching Primeval

So: Primeval. It's now shot in Ireland. The fourth season has got a 70s Who vibe in terms of some good shock moments.

(Let's hope the season won't end in an Invasion of the Dinosaurs rehash... Not because IotD was bad, apart from many of the effects, but because it's been done).

The bad news is that a crack team of dino hunters now seem to have inexplicably lost most of their labour force (Tory cuts?) and the series has lost its continuity editor judging from tonigjt's episode.

So why am I still watching? Partly because I still optimistically beleive it will get better - and some of it is great Saturday night TV fun.

I think I'm just a sucker for dinos eating camper vans... and annoying teenagers...

In Review: The Wolf Age by James Enge

The Wolf Age by James EngeThe Book: 'Spear-age, sword-age: shields are shattered. Wind-age, wolf-age: before the world founders no man will show mercy to another.'

Wuruyaaria: city of werewolves, whose raiders range over the dying Northlands, capturing human beings for slaves or meat. Wuruyaaria: where a lone immortal maker wages a secret war against the Strange Gods of the Coranians. Wuruyaaria: a democracy where some are more equal than others, and a faction of outcast werewolves is determined to change the balance of power in a long, bloody election year.

Their plans are laid; the challenges known; the risks accepted. But all schemes will shatter in the clash between two threats few had foreseen and none had fully understood: a monster from the north on a mission to poison the world, and a stranger from the south named Morlock Ambrosius.

The Review: It’s frustrating for me that Pyr Books aren’t very well distributed in the UK. They have some great authors, particularly James Enge, whose latest fantasy, The Wolf Age came out late last year, and is knockout. (If you haven’t read any of his work, you might want to hold off on buying this novel and check out Blood of Ambrose, the first Morlock story, which was released in 2009 - although it isn't vital as there are few ongoing story threads).Read more...Collapse )
Just downloaded this comic app for my iPhone, Ligeia the Vampire...

I've been a fan of artist Rodrigo Diaz Ricci's work for several years and happily promoted his vampire character, Ligeia, when it featured elsewhere. I'm so glad the strip - 40 episodes in all of vampire, zombie and wartime menace - are now on iPhone.

Read more...Collapse )Mobile GospelRead more...Collapse )Madd ScienceRead more...Collapse )

The Times Paywall: Success or Failure

The Guardian reports this morning that The Times is claiming 105,000 online 'sales' since it introduced a paywall for the daily newspaper. These figures are from News International themselves and as one commentator on the Guardian report notes, even these figures suggest all is not well with the experiment (and, apparently it's hated by many staff)...

Allowing for "some duplication" in the totals, The Guardian says the company is therefore laying claim to "close to 200,000" digital users. IN comparison, The Guardian, which is free, claims some 25,000,000 unique users.

Read more...Collapse )

All together, now...

Yeah, right. Comprehensive Spending Review? Big words for Big Cuts. Period.

Coalition Cuts: We're all in this together. Yeah, right...
Figures: www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/m06.pdf. There are 20 millionaires in the cabinet (not that I'm anti being a millionaire but don't pretend you have a freaking clue what it's like to be on a low income...) The figures above do not include George Osborne’s perfectly legal but, in my opinion, morally reprehensible“tax avoidance” activities reported by Dispatches on Channel 4 in October 2010.
Have you been clobbered by large-letter handling fees, the result for many of "Postage in Proportion", introduced on 21 August 2006?  I hadn't, until this week. It seems I've been lucky. PiP changed the way Royal Mail charges for letters and packets to take account of the size, thickness and weight of the item to be posted (their official advice is here) - but four years on, it continues to confuse...

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to express my concern at the inconsistency in the way 'postage unpaid' fees are being charged.

Over the past few weeks I have received several A5 envelopes with no more than four sheets of folded A4 in them from various locations around the UK. Because I keep envelopes, I know all of these were sent with either a second class or first class stamp on them, depending on the level of urgency decided by the sender.

This morning I collected another A5 envelope from my local Sorting Office, only to find an 'unpaid deficient postage' charge of 10p had been placed on the envelope, together with a 'handling fee' of £1.

While I realize the Post Office is in dire straits (the result, I feel, of government mishandling of the service over many years), surely a £1 service charge on a 10p underpayment is a trifle over the top?

Please can you also explain why this A5 envelope is any different from others? It fits through my letter box with ease, so it cannot be the case that it is over sized. If this letter was underpaid, but has a first class stamp, why were others not subject to this 'fine'?

Is it because it came from Scotland? Is there now an unspoken tax on letters from north of the border we have not been informed of, on the grounds that they want to be a different country? If that was the case, then a fine would have been levied on a similar envelope from Ireland, which had a similar level of postage and is largely a different country.

I gather there have been numerous complaints about changes the Royal Mail and the Post Office have made to the way charges for posting were changed. I had not experienced them until now but I find myself flabbergasted not only by the inconsistency in the way these 'fines' are being decided but also the monstrous £1 'handling fee'.

I look forward to some explanation for this outrageous charge. While I prefer to see the Royal Mail in state hands, supported by the taxpayer, I prefer not to be bailing you out through such an extortionate manner.


Some interesting web links for other Grumpy Old Men (and Women)

• Royal Mail 'size rules' were introduced in 2006. The Guardian reported in 2008 that the Royal Mail claimed it didn't actually keep track of how many surcharges were being levied (no wonder their accounts are in such a mess).

• In an article entitled "Second Class Service" The Daily Gripe claimed the changes to the cost of posting some letters and parcels would rise by more than 50% under changes to Royal Mail's pricing structure when PiP was introduced in 2006. The Royal Mail claimed it was not expecting to make any extra revenue from the new structure and said reforms were needed because lightweight mail that is bulky costs more to transport, sort, handle and deliver than regular-sized items.

Royal Mail bosses charge for mail just 1mm over size limit
Daily Record, 20 December 2008: Scrooge Royal Mail bosses are raking in tens of thousands of pounds by demanding "ransom" payments for Christmas cards they claim are too big. (Insiders claimed the cash-strapped Royal Mail were cracking down this Christmas, with "revenue protection teams" patrolling sorting offices to weed out all the cards that are too big.)

Mugged by the Royal Mail
Tory Radio Blog 4th August 2008 (no wonder they want to privatize the service - in my view, a bit of an extreme reaction)

How the International Handling Charge of £8 for goods delivered from outside is legal
Money Saving Expert forum thread

A Day in the Life of your Postie
Advice from a postman on how best not to get charged 'service handling fees' etc... There's also some useful guidelines on the pitfalls of using the post here on the Consumer Focus web site (which now runs Postwatch), including how to decide whether or not your letter is classified as a ‘large’ letter

· You can contact Postwatch (www.postwatch.co.uk) by writing to FREEPOST POSTWATCH or by phoning 08456 013265. 

Postwatch notes that Consumer Focus’s 2009 omnibus survey revealed that 55 per cent of consumers had received a 'Sorry you were out' card from a postman while they were at home to receive the item during the 12 months prior to the survey. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) reported that this had happened at least three times. If the postman had the time to wait (which they don't, and this is assuming they even knocked, which I'm sorry to say, sometimes they don't), then maybe there wouldn't be so many 'handling charges' being levied?

Postwatch was supposed to be investigating the number of 'handling fees' levied after PiP was introduced, but I'm buggered if I can find their report. Their web site search is a bit pants, frankly.

SciFi Art Now book blog plug

Unabashed plug: my first book, SciFi Art Now, is out next month (19th October in the US according to my publisher). Yes, as if I wasn't doing enough already.

The book's format didn't allow for much copy, so I'm running interviews with some of the artists featured on a blog: http://scifiartnow.blogspot.com/

SciFi Art Now is a book collecting some of the best in contemporary science fiction art by a wide range of creators. The book includes an introduction by the legendary Chris Foss and will be published in the UK and US.

A full list of artists featured, together with links to their web sites, appears on the blog.

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