Buzzword Books - unusual, intriguing, intelligent, perceptive

Here, you'll find musings from our authors and staff. We don't promise daily updates. Just posts worth your time.

Monday, 7 October 2019


Award-winning story writer Clinton Smith already has three collections on Buzzword but most of them were written and published years ago. Now, he's returned to the genre with a vengeance.

Grim Fairy Tales for Adults is a blast. Stories extraordinary and bizarre written to  amuse and intrigue... Cautionary tales for the modern predicament? Some are timeless. But all are fun. And Smith's riant, mordant take on life will keep you entertained and intrigued.

In Tattoo, a young girl tattooed by Picasso becomes an art-collector's obsession.

In Smart Move, a Duke whose neighbours are a famous rock band, discovers the perfect way to silence them.

In Hannigan, a young man who falls in love with an elderly woman never suspects why they're so compatible.

In Deep Water, the inhabitants of a residential cruise ship become the only life left on the planet.

In Elephant, a magician that can make anything instantly disappear requires his new assistant to murder someone to ensure she doesn't give away his methods.

In Genie, a 10,000 year old sprite, weary of arranging sexual trysts and murders, tries to retire from the world. But is landed with one last assignment.

In Metal Fatigue, when metal everywhere begins to degrade, a con escapes from prison. Only to find himself stymied when he tries to recover his stash...

And so it goes... Twelve absorbing shock and awe tales. (32,000 words) Price just $1.99.

Click HERE for more info.

Saturday, 24 August 2019


From that redoubtable poet, David Farnsworth - two idylls on his home town...

Translucent Light III

Something about this winter is different.
Showers come in slate-coloured clouds;
unexpectedly. Snow seems as far away
as ever.
I'm sitting at the kitchen table looking
out the window, where even the smallest
bird is met with rejoicing. On the roof
a family of magpies warble.
I'm not booked into Ballarat Health
Services for at least a few weeks.
The staff give a collective sigh of relief.
The kitchen is littered with photos of
the dead. No wonder I have few friends.
Most of them are dead.
Keeping Up Appearances is important.
Today I was showered by the sixth different person in three weeks. How can they bear it?. The house has been cleaned by A. She helps me peg the washing on the line. I don't think it's in her job description.
I have cooked Corned Beef for lunch with onions and carrots. Can I get away with putting the greens in a saucepan with the potatoes and pumpkin?
I need the small saucepan to cook the
mustard sauce. Is it the sugar
I like? A tap drips - noisily. Who has
the time or energy to turn it off?
Tomorrow is Maryborough. It gets me
out of the kitchen. Plenty of friends
there. And the soup isn't half-bad

Ballarat 01/08/19

Translucent Light IV

A spattering of rain, blown from the west attacks the lake. The water is dark grey.
In the restaurant, perched over the lake, a black-suited waitress mops up pools of water under my feet. 'It's not my doing!"
I mumble. She smiles. It's been a wet winter.
A score of water hens nibble the grass by the shore. On the nature strip over road an ungainly swan finds nourishment, its beak be-spattered with grass. I'd clean its beak, but it would bite me. To get here I hope it used the Pedestrian Crossing.
Maybe it flew? The sun has emerged
and the many sunrooms in the neighbouring Nursing Home remain empty. Nazareth House is up-market. I can only dream of being able to afford it. The rain returns.
The far side of the lake disappears
into cloud. Nearby elms display their
buds. The trees have bulked up.
Before this rain, the lake was full.
Now the excess water hurtles down-
hill, to the excitement of the
Yarrowee Creek.

Ballarat 17th August, 2019

For more Farnsworth, click this link.

Sunday, 28 July 2019


John Alexandra, author of The Wisdom of Being, doesn't say that what we do is meaningless, but brings an entirely different aspect to the question.


You are a respected chef. You work long hours at high intensity and suffer from the volatile temperament and high blood pressure this entails. 

Or you are a business factotum, fighting deadlines while competing with others who want your job. In this burn up and spit out environment, you're holding your own, but just.

Or you're an academic, cushioned against life, but in a tenure that's low-paid and uncertain. The others in your department are bitchy and panned your last publication. 

Does what you do matter?

To you, at least, it does.

But in a few years, you'll be gone. No one will care or know you existed and your life and work will be as inconsequential as dust. 

There's a far greater problem.

You don't exist now!

To come at this from a different angle—it doesn't matter what you do. It matters how you do it.

But even that doesn't convey it.

What matters—let us say—is if you are there in the midst of the process of doing it. (I can guarantee you're not.)

An example:
I am sawing wood with a handsaw. My head is full of thoughts, not about what I am doing but about the woman I'm going to see tonight. Then about the thing I'm making. Then what I have in the fridge to eat. And the emotions kick in, too. I'm bored with the sawing. My arm is getting tired... In fact, I'm in a constant mechanical daydream, doing anything but attending to the job. And even if I were more careful—tried to keep to the pencilled line, put less effort into the thrusting and let the weight of the saw do the work—became a better workman—it would still be automatic.

Because where am I in all this? 

I don't exist.

We live our lives like this. We never do one thing well—that is to say, wholeheartedly, with the whole of us—but live in our daydreams, resentments and regrets.

We never do anything. 

We are done.

We're simply a series of chaotic reactions. A process.

In other words, we never exist in our manifestations.

Even that is not stated clearly enough.

We need to live behind them.

Is there, somewhere, a small part of me that could do this?

If there were, and I could remember it, in the midst of all my activities, of everything, of every setback and so-called success, it would utterly transform me and my life. And even the lives of others.

But I can't.

The only possibility would be to find an anchor. Something in me that could anchor me.
Again, such a task is impossible. Because I'd forget it every moment. But if I'm serious enough to find a way out of the prison of myself—that won't deter me.

Ready to attempt the impossible? Ready to begin?

Baby steps first. Be aware of your posture. That is to say, be mindful of it. Don't think 'be aware of the posture'. That's not it. And don't try to alter the posture to something more acceptable. Don't change anything. That's not the exercise either.

Be aware of the position of the head sitting on the spine. The position of the arms and legs. Not externally aware of them but from inside in a wordless watching way. Are you trying it?
Now, whatever you do, stay with that. 

Of course, you'll forget every moment—which shows you exactly where you are. Unable to resist the outward distraction for more than seconds.

I'm asking you to be in two places at once. 

Put most of your attention on the posture and let the rest go on more or less automatically.
Try it with small repetitive tasks first—sweeping the floor or raking leaves. Not while driving or using machinery. You don't have enough attention yet for that.

Try that honestly, consistently, and you'll begin to understand the joy of not being caught by your life. The advantage of remaining behind everything you do and everything life can throw at you. 

If you get that far, you're already at the threshold of something. 

When you have thoroughly tried this task over weeks and understand the advantage of it, I suggest you read The Wisdom of Being

(And if you are still interested in this inquiry—if it desperately matters to you— you may then, and only then, write to me at



Saturday, 29 June 2019


Jack Cross's new novel, Level 28, is set in the year 3010. It's a remarkable book—the digital age equivalent of Orwell's 1984—but with far greater scientific, psychological and philosophical insight. Unlike most books in the dystopian genre, it ends on a note of great hope. Despite the desecration of the planet—something with us now—it suggests an optimistic outcome in an area almost never grasped or suspected. We interviewed the author at his home in Sydney.

Buzzword: Many people today despair of the death of spaceship earth. Clearly, the planet is in trouble—possibly dying. And in Level 28 you fast-forward us to the penultimate stage of that death. Several levels of eugenically streamed human slaves service a semi-immortal elite of just eighty people—all living deep underground to avoid the nuclear winter and radiation caused by successive wars. 

 Cross: Yes, it’s the analogy of the ant. Or, more accurately, of blind termites. A community adapted to service the queen. In this case, the queen is represented by eighty elders who, through medical advances, now live over 300 years. But the humanoids serving them are restricted to 30 years or less. The original title of the book was Twelve-score Years and Ten.

Buzzword: And these surviving humans and their slaves are helped by intelligent and semi-intelligent robots. As I read it, there are only a thousand 'organics' left, while the 'inorganics' number in the thousands. And the reason for this is that humans have worked out that they're essentially destructive. So the fewer of them, the better.

Cross: Yes. As one elder puts it, 'We can't be cured. Only culled.' After centuries of conflict which have desecrated the planet, they've finally understood that no adaptation can curb their atrocities—that diminishing themselves is the only way to limit the damage. There is nothing speculative in this book. It's simply a logical progression to the point where not only civilization but humanity ends.

Buzzword: And that end is brought about by the continuation of the war. In this case, by the advanced non-organics in the Russian bunker raiding the Free Alliance bunker for human technicians.

Cross: Yes. In the Russian camp, all humans have died out. Only their robots are left. And the robots realise that they need organic input or they'll inevitably degrade.

Buzzword: This is one of the most telling aspects of the book. Can we go into it a little?

Cross: The logic is simple. Humans are profoundly imperfect but have one advantage—limited entropy. Negative entropy it's sometimes called. By taking in food and air, we stall our dissolution for a time. But even self-replicating AI units cannot do this. They're machines and must eventually fail. Again, humans have created AI. But human intelligence is flawed. Therefore, the code running the robots is flawed. Therefore, the software of even self-replicating AI units will inevitably become corrupted. And they cannot fix this by themselves. They rely on the fickle fallible human for the patch. Without this, even their perfect logic is useless.

Buzzword: Then there's yet another factor in the mix. The Neuros. Could we explore that?

Cross: Some of the more fanatical elders have transitioned to what used to be called Cyborgs—a CNS or central nervous system supported by a mechanical body. So they're effectively brains only. Their sensory and emotional functions are gone. But, because they're no longer affected by lust or emotion, they consider themselves superior and insist that all the elders transition. This provokes a backlash because most of the elders are too sensible to allow themselves to be diminished by two thirds.

Buzzword: Which brings us closer to the theme of the book—the difference between knowledge and being.

Cross: Yes. The entire, methodically conceived scenario is just a proscenium to dramatize this aspect.

Buzzword: Which is introduced by the astonishing character of Erva, from the Culture Control Department. She doesn't appear till later in the book. But, to my mind, completely transforms it. She's tiny, self-deprecating, the Curator of Historical Archives. Yet she's formidable, autonomous—terrifying in her objectivity.

Cross: Yes, nothing disturbs her because she has transcended her ego to the extent that she remains objective despite outward events. And, as such, she has nothing to protect.

Buzzword: She introduces an entirely new aspect which goes beyond hope.

Cross: Conventional hope is always problematical because it's predicated on time and events. It's mostly a projection of the past combined with daydreams. In other words, it's an emotionalized thought. And thought, of course is in time.

Buzzword: Can you explain that more?

Cross: The present moment is faster than thought. To exist now, we need to be entirely here. The discursive thoughts, the brain's rigmarole must stop. Which induces an entirely new function of the mind—attention. This, in turn, can wake up the sensation of the body and can even attract a third aspect—which we could tentatively call objective feeling. The correct use of the mind is attention. Not thought. Just seeing what is. It's a profoundly complex and simple discipline that I can't 'learn' because progression, accumulation is in time. It requires an inner stop. All must cease, go into abeyance. NOW.

Buzzword: So hope is dead?

Cross: Conventional hope shuts us off. But objective hope is still possible. Because at that level of greater intensity, paradox becomes the template of truth. When my little precious 'me'—is abandoned, ceases to be—then real hope appears. Hope that's indomitable. Profound.

Buzzword: You've lost me.

Cross: It's like saying, when time vanishes there is only 'isness'. Being. When my little 'I' ceases to be, I at last have the freedom to become.

Buzzword: Well Erva obviously understands that. Because, at the end of the book, despite the imminent death of everyone, she is unconcerned. Can you explain?

Cross: There are two aspects. The outer one first. The planet, suns, galaxies, universe are a vast living system—alive. To use a more conventional image, Great Nature provides for everything, creation and dissolution. Nature also conducts experiments. Humanity is the latest. We aren't perfect, like all other animals but a transitional form that has been given limited free choice so that we have the potential to evolve. But if that evolution happens on too small a scale, or is not even attempted, the experiment will be discarded. In other words, everything is in balance and foreseen. So, objectively, there is nothing to concern ourselves about.

Buzzword: Has humanity failed?

Cross: Probably. Do we see a growth of ethics, perspective, insight? No. Just increasing violence, slavery, exploitation and greed. For a long time we've turned in circles. Now, everything is going down the scale.

Buzzword: So where is the hope?

Cross: There's also the inner aspect. Civilizations may crumble and humanity disappear, but the individual, if he lives now, in the moment, lives in a kind of solid time. A kind of greater reality that, in turn, calls forth great hope. In that place, we are indestructible. But the only way to get there is to throw everything down at the door. Or the door won't open. Once we are psychologically 'nothing'—we join the cosmos. We are free.

Buzzword: You've lost me again. But I can definitely feel the hope in the last chapter of the book. While I don't want to pre-empt the story, may I interpolate here, the final lines?

Cross: Okay.

Buzzword: Mark1, the young protagonist has just begun to learn a little of this new wisdom. But not enough to insulate himself from his coming death. Yet Erva treats his plight with humour—apparently from the greater hope you talk about.

They sat unspeaking for some time, bathed in energy. Finally, she said, 'Enough.'
      As they walked back into the hall he asked her, 'What about the others here?'
     'What about them?'
     'Why did you save them?'
     'Why not?'
     'But we'll all be dead soon.'
     'I know.'
     'So why?'
    'Why anything?'
     It was answer he'd got from the Preceptor, but said in a way that brought understanding. Nothing mattered to this woman. She did what was needed, that was all. Everything fed her. Nothing disturbed her. She played with life—deftly, impartially—secure in a more inclusive place.
     He felt on the fringe of learning how to live but knew, in a handful of hour-slots, he'd be dead.
     And realized he'd wasted his life.
     He sobbed.
     She looked through him and smiled. 'That's exactly what you need to feel. Well done.' 
Then she committed the terminal, irrevocable sin.
     She laughed.
     Her delightful trill came loudly, clearly, echoed through the high vault. 'At least now,' she called to everyone, 'we can laugh.'
     The beaten units looked up. Some smiled.
     She laughed again.
     It was infectious. Others joined in.
     From relief? From the enormity of it all? Because they at last had the freedom to do it?
     She poked him in the ribs. Then he was laughing, too.
     The combined laugh grew.
     'We're not beaten yet,' someone called.
     'We are,' she called back. 'And we're not.'
     'We'll go down fighting,' another cried.
     'Not with a whimper or bang. But a laugh.'
     Soon the great space was filled with energy. But not the energy of despair. The laugh became a roar that rolled like a wave around the hall.

It seems to indicate that nothing matters.

Cross: Nothing and everything does if I'm here now. If I can somehow find the door to Being, everything takes its place—goes back into perspective. I truly live then. When I am nothing in the right way, then nothing can touch me. He who has nothing has nothing to fear. Because he has nothing to lose. He's lost everything to gain everything. He's nowhere and everywhere in the same moment. He is. And is not. The paradox again. The mind can never understand it because the taste of Being requires pure attention—mindless awareness. The correct use of the mind is simple awareness. 'Awake, for ye know not the time nor the hour.'

Buzzword: So somewhere, there's great hope?

Cross: Of course. As Marcel Duchamp put it, 'There is no solution. Because there is no problem.'

Buzzword: So the prevailing universal angst about the desecration of the planet is pointless?

Cross: Not entirely. We need to cultivate our own gardens. But with a measure of objectivity. Never to get caught. The zealot is completely identified. He's become a process and the blind process is the problem. Belief in progress is a myth. Nothing can be achieved on that level. Creation begins with stopping everything. In other words, with passive awareness. Perhaps the greatest thing we can do is cease all our 'doing' and just be. To remain apart. As Lau Tzu said, 'The way to do is to be.' The primary step before expansion is withdrawal. Otherwise it all goes wrong.

Buzzword: A great deal to think about there.

Cross: (Laughs).

You can find more on Level 28 here on Buzzword.

Saturday, 15 June 2019


Martin Jensen, author of How to Get What you Want, makes a plea for a large paper garbage bag. He says it will make the maker a motza.


Supermarkets in Australia have now stopped providing plastic bags—to reduce plastic waste in the oceans—a fine ecological initiative. 

But will it make a difference?

We used the bags for bin liners. Now we're forced to buy them from the stores. In other words, nothing has changed. Except that stores don't have to provide them free.

To strike a real blow for the environment, we need large paper bags that fit kitchen bins. A company that provides them will clean up. But no one has done it yet. 

Why not?

Meanwhile, I've discovered a solution that addresses two pressing issues—the demise of the daily rag and the ecology.

I almost never buy a newspaper. I get all my information from the radio and occasional glances at free papers provided gratis in local caf├ęs. But I have begun to buy The Australian once a week. It costs peanuts and is the last of the broadsheets.

And a broadsheet is what I need.

I fold a page in two, then make a paper hat. Then I tuck the edges of the hat in slightly, invert it, and it fits the kitchen bin.

That's all I wish to tell you, really. 

Go—and do thou likewise.

You can find How to Get What You Want here.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

A Favourite Place

Globe-trotting poet, David Farnsworth, author of Middle Kingdom, expands on a trip to Mt Bogong, in Victoria, Australia.

If I could be magically transplanted to a place, now, just at this moment, it would be Mt Bogong, the highest mountain in Victoria. The weather there today should be fine but cool. 

I would be wearing my warm clothes. Nowadays, the climb is well beyond me. Come to think of it, it's been beyond me for years. 


The walk begins at Mountain Creek, near Tawonga. You park the car, collect your pack, fill containers from the pristine waters and walk through the creek six times. You keep your eyes peeled for snakes.

You begin the climb up the Staircase Spur. The mountain gums are enormous, Many stumps from the past survive. The summer wildflowers would have gone by now as the mountain prepares for winter. You rest on the occasional fallen tree, keeping a look-out for leeches.

You are surrounded by bush. Finally after about three hours, you emerge into a clearing on a flat step. There is a cattleman's hut, Bivouac Hut, in poor repair and a water tank on the side of the building. You lie on the cropped grass and have lunch, followed by a short sleep. Camp fires were banned 20 years ago.

The next part of the walk is rockier and requires care. You do not see animals. Few birds. At the lower levels, sixty years ago, there were lyre birds, but they fell victim to feral cats and dogs. 

Finally you emerge from the dense forests which by now have morphed into scrub and alpine gums. How beautiful the bark of alpine gums is! Vistas open before your eyes. You can see all the way to New South Wales. Indeed to the east you could draw a line for 50 kilometres and not find a human being.

The gullies are very steep. On one walk a student's sleeping bag fell off his pack and plunged 1000 meters. We left it there. I seem to remember I gave him my sleeping bag for the night.
In the old days you would find herds of Hereford cattle grazing on the summer grasses. They are now banned. The cattlemen from the valleys below would collect them before the first heavy snows ... or if you like about now. I remember seeing a beast that had been missed in the collection and in the spring it had grown a thick coat of hair. Or the time I took my dog up the mountain and he rounded up a hundred beasts and stampeded them across the top of the mountain. (Dogs are banned too, now.)

Now small streams cross the path, including just off the track, a small spring. What delicious water. The spaghnum moss is everywhere. Once on the upper slopes I came across a group of Field Naturalists. Of course now, you can take a horse ride across the mountain and camp overnight. But it wouldn't be the same would it?

Just ahead is the remains of Summit Hut, close by the top. You pass a plaque to three walkers who didn't make the shelter of the hut. This was in 1945. They were 200 meters short. Maybe some 20 years ago some mad Greenies burnt down several huts, including this hut. Some have since been re-built. Lower down their acts included rocks suspended by fishing line to smash windscreens and palings with nails hidden in creek crossings. Lovely people.

You walk to the cairn which indicates the top of the mountain and enjoy 360 o views over surrounding valleys and mountains, Mts Buffalo and Feathertop and the Cobberas. On a good day you can Mt Kosciusko.

You follow the snow poles and head left, past Hell Gap, so called because of the high winds and follow an old cattle track. Alpine vegetation, when driven over, takes 20 years to rejuvenate. Once in a heavy fog at the top, you had to look for the snow poles. You had little perception of your direction or whether you were going up hill or down.

From here to Cleve Cole Hut it's all down hill, a drop of 500 meters. The hut was named after a couple of walkers from the 40's who died. There was no hut then. It's a comfortable three-roomed hut. There is  a long drop toilet. If you leave the door open, you have uninterrupted views for miles.

Me?  I camp in my usual spot 300 meters to the east of the hut near a creek, Camp Creek.
Crows occupy a neighbouring snow gum. You put up your small tent, unpack, cook a fillet steak and open a bottle of wine, unwrap a glass and relax. You need a small, spirit stove these days. It's a lucky day. We have the mountain to ourselves. I always walk on a full moon. It makes going to the toilet at night easier. The moon shining through the cloth of the tent is magical. The creek ripples all night on its way down hill to Big River.

In the morning.  I wash in the creek.  So different. So cold. So refreshing. Is this self-sufficiency?

Reluctantly I pack and re-trace my steps. I feel to good. I am so tired, but manage to drive  back to civilization.


You can read about Middle Kingdom on Buzzword. 

Monday, 25 March 2019


Gina Stoner, author of Talks With Al, tells it like it is.

Your head is cluttered by random, repetitive thoughts. Your body is habitually tense. Your emotions are not under your control. You are self-indulgent and depend on others for attention. You envy and fawn on those more attractive or successful than you and patronise or disparage those who aren't. You fear your fellow man and are crushed by every sour look or slight.

In short, you are identified with everything inside and outside you. There is nothing to stand apart. Your famous personality is simply a series of conditioned reactions. You are a function. A puppet. Everything pulls your strings.

And, of course, you protest that you are not like that at all. You are a very important person with a family, house, bank balance and significant occupation—not to mention score of acquaintances and friends. Another reaction—because your ego is offended.

Ego is a self-defence mechanism. And precisely why you are the things above.

So, are you resigned to living and dying in this morass?

The real question is: What do you want?

Because until you are tired of it all, you haven't begun to stir in your sleep.

If you truly wish to be different, it's tough going. You need to abandon yourself. Your opinion of yourself and others.  Your wants desires, requirements, resentments. Your ambitions, hopes, hates, loves, attachments. Your fondness for your possessions, position, comforts, routines, satisfactions.   

You need to die to most of your psychology. In fact, to consume yourself.  'Death before resurrection.' What does this imply?

Requirement Number One: Relax from thoughts.

First, you need to stop thinking because associative thoughts are in time. And for this transition you need to step out of time—even space. Because only there can you observe. Krishnamurti called it, 'freedom from the known'.

'Could you be content, sir,' he said to someone once, 'to  simply
be nothing?' 

Can you abandon everything you know—except the fact that you exist?  Become nothing. No one. A creature only physiologically alive.

Because a person who is nothing has nothing to lose—or fear.


The correct use of the mind is attention, not thought. Attention is the antithesis of thinking. To be wordlessly attentive -just to watch - uses a different part of the mind.

Requirement Number Two: Become aware of your energy.

This begins by sensing the body—the parts of it first. Begin with the hands or the face. Can you sense them as if from inside? Move to the limbs in turn, then belly, chest, head—the whole body. This is a long study and to establish it fully can take years.

Then, eventually, to become aware of the energy in the body. Not in the usual way but as if you were enveloped in an atmosphere or cloud. Allowing the attention to touch the life in you. Visualisation, by the way. is far more immediate and legitimate than thought.

To be aware of posture, movement, breath, even that you blink. Aware of the sensation of your skin as if you were in a shower or warm bath. But not by doing anything. Simply by letting all things drop. This is a matter of a few breaths, but also takes a lifetime to establish.

Requirement Number Three: Die.

Even more demanding. Can you come to a place in yourself where you, as an entity, cease to exist? Because you can only truly begin to be, to inhabit your life, when you're not there at all. This means to return to your unknown, unnamed core where you are totally empty of self. As the Diamond Sutra says: 'O musho ju ni sho go shin' (Let nowhere abide and generate the Mind.) Can you respect that, attend to it, serve it?

When you can manage that—when you cease to exist—you are.

Everywhere and nowhere.

Totally vulnerable and impregnable.

Nothing and all.

You take your rightful place in the cosmos. 

You are immutable.

But even to touch the Unmanifest for an instant is not enough.

Because then every moment is a challenge. You need to remember with each breath or you become ordinary again, forget what you are potentially here for. Your life
again reverts to mere existence.

Requirement Number Four: Live in two worlds at once.

Can you live with this blessing in the midst of your mundane life—changing nothing, telling no one, manifesting exactly as before? Life within life. As Jacob Boehme put it: 'To have both the eye of time and the eye of eternity open together.'

Fantastically difficult as all simple things are.

To summarise the journey, here is Ansari of Herat:

'When thou hast learned to lose thyself, thou will reach the Beloved. There is no other secret to be revealed and more than this is not known to me.'

Oh, and one other thing. Only total sincerity will do. You must be longing, burning to take this path—willing to throw everything down at the door. Otherwise, it will not open. It is not your time.

 You can find Talks With Al on Buzzword.

Thursday, 21 February 2019


Our 81-year-old amateur Webmaster and IT boffin tells the twisted tale of how he put Buzzword Books on the web from a standing start.

 When I was 45 and doing up a beach house I became increasingly annoyed to see ten-year-old grommets surfing all day while I slaved. They had to get there on their bikes and busses from far away but I lived right on the beach for God's sake! So why the hell couldn't I do it, too? So, I bought a second-hand board and taught myself to surf. 

Twenty-five-years later, I felt the same about the IT revolution. How dare eighteen-year-old nerds have all the expertise and fun.

I was 70, long retired, and knew nothing about computers except the rudiments of Word for Windows. But I was a Gemini and communication was my thing. Dammit, why couldn't I learn to build a website, too?

So I enrolled at a U3A session for wrinklies where another antiquated retiree with a data base background (we'll call him Fred) ran a basic ten week course on building bog-simple websites.

Fred announced to the ten bewildered geriatrics who fronted the first session that he'd tried all the free website editing programs and settled on Page Breeze—a rudimentary HTML program that even prunes over 70 could eventually understand. We didn't have a clue what he was talking about or what a website editor was. As for HTML...! Speak English!

Week after week, we grappled with complexities. Most packed it in—made apologies or just never came back. By week six we were down to five confused souls.  By week ten we were three. But I stuck it out to the end.

Fred showed us how to upload our rudimentary sites on Google for nix. The catch? We were saddled with indecipherable, unfindable URLs. I then asked him about commercial servers.
After much web-trolling, I settled on GoDaddy, a US based outfit. This introduced a new level of complexity. Getting a half decent URL. Learning their programs. Making a site map and much more. 

But I ended up with a multiple page site on the web with a reasonable landing page and all possible hyperlinks plus a contact page and even a PayPal facility for purchases. Of course, it looked tame because I didn't have the skills to refine it. 

Then I realised that to make it more professional meant learning CSS. Fred's course was too basic to cover CSS but I increased my knowledge of it slowly with reference to tech sites such as the ever useful Stack Overflow

About this time, friends were asking if I could make them sites for their projects. I developed a site for one and taught her to manage it, hauling her into the 21st century. She is now an accomplished webmistress. I constructed a second for another which she is still using today. 

About this time, I bought the book that, finally, simply and definitively, explained things exactly as they are—that indomitable website-building bible, John Duckett's  HTML & CSS (Wiley & Sons). It transformed my knowledge of the craft and is still there to consult each time I forget a particular code or get confused.

I continued using Page Breeze until Win 7 came out. It didn't work well with it and I realized I had to upgrade. I wanted a split screen that showed design and coding with the ability to work on both together, like Dreamweaver—which I tried but found complex and clunky. About then, I stumbled on Imagination Web—an obsolescent Microsoft program you can now download free. It was remarkable. It took a while to learn but had everything I could possibly want in a form even I could understand.

Meanwhile, iPads and smartphones had become the popular access to the web. And Google announced that they would downgrade all websites that didn't automatically adapt to the new screen sizes. By then, my clunky CSS was too rudimentary to cope.

So I needed to dump my old methods entirely and develop adaptable sites. After much trolling of the web I settled on two free adaptable formats that I could adjust to suit my needs. These were supplied, of course, with boilerplate CSS that I barely had to tweak.

Format one is now used for Format two, far more elaborate, accommodates  I've also used it to revamp Clint Smith's old clunky site,

In the process, there were many traps for this doddering newbie. For instance, if you don't remove the width and height codes of pics, they will elongate in mobile displays. 

Now, eleven years after that first cold plunge at U3A, I can manage two half-decent sites and I'm still a little bemused to find that I can do it at all!

Mind you, the learning curve has been vertical. But it keeps me off the streets.

Monday, 4 February 2019


Martin Jensen, author of How to Keep Fit Without Exercise and How to Get What You Want, opens his ancient joke notebook and treats you to the best.
I don't know about you but I have a small battered long out of date diary in which I've jotted down my favourite jokes. Most are old classics but I still find them a hoot.

For instance:

"What's old and hangs out your underpants?"
"Your mother."
Even though the clothes prop and copper stick are no more, this one still resonates because the innocent answer makes it timeless.

Then there are the "doctor, doctor" farting jokes—old as the hills but still droll:

"Doctor, doctor. I'm can't stop farting."
"Look, I'm very busy. Take these suppositories and see me week."
The patient survives the week, goes back. "Doctor, doctor, I'm still farting all the time."
"Didn't you take the suppositories I gave you?"
"Yes, but for all the good they did me I may as well have shoved them up my arse."

And this one:

"Doctor, doctor, I'm farting all the time but the funny thing is, I can't hear it or smell it."
"Look, I'm very busy. Take these pills and see me in a week."
The patient survives the week, goes back. "Doctor, doctor, I'm still farting all the time but the funny thing is, I can hear it now."
"So we've fixed your ears. Now we'll start on your nose."

Then the geriatric joke:

The old couple in the nursing home get married. On their wedding night, as he's going at her hammer and tongs, she cries out: "Wilfred, don't be so violent. I have acute angina."
He says, "I'm glad to hear that 'cause your tits are bloody awful."

The religious joke:

Christ, dying on the cross, calls down to Peter. "Peter! Peter!"
"Yes Lord, I hear you. Yes."
"Peter! Peter!"
"Yes Lord, I'm down here. I can hear you."
"Peter! Peter!"
"Yes Lord, I'm here. I can hear you. Your last words, Lord. I can hear you."
"Yes Lord? Your last words, Lord. Yes. Yes...."
"Peter! I can see your place from up here."

Then, the dog jokes:

Two drunks stagger out of the pub and see a dog licking his balls.
One says: "Wish I could do that."
The other says, "I guess you can. But you'd better pat him first."

Then the bar jokes:

A duck walks into a bar, flutters up on the counter, says, "Got any bread?"
Bartender says, "No."
Duck says, "Got any bread?"
"Got any bread?"
"No bread. This is a bar. No bread, right?"
Duck says, "Got any bread?"
Bartender says, 'Look if you ask that again, I'll bloody nail your beak to the bar."
"Got any nails?"
"No. This is a bar. No nails, right?"
"Got any bread?"

Next, the entirely crass riddles:

"Why did the pervert cross the road?"
"Because he was stuck in the chicken."

Contrast this with this utterly innocent one from a kiddie's joke book:

"Why do little ducklings walk softly?"
The reply (in a suitably pitiful voice), "Because they can't walk hardly."

Funny. I must be a sook, but I like that one most of all. 

You can find Martin's books on Buzzword.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019


John Alexandra, author of The Wisdom of Being, asks some unsettling questions about our place in the universe.

Why does anything exist?

This question, posed by Heidegger, produces a fundamental shift in thought. Before asking it, we are entirely caught up in the mundane process of living. We feel no astonishment that we and the world around us exist. We live in a miracle and consider it ordinary.

Our complacency is stunning. We see ourselves as the central pivot of the earth, the conquerors of nature. We also believe that the human mind is the most complex construction in the universe. It never occurs to us that we are not Nature's master but part of it.  That our species, like others, will inevitably become extinct and that our insignificance is profound.

We have been here for no more than a second in the lifespan of the planet. A planet, by the way, that is less than a speck in the abyss of time circling a third rate star in a universe incalculably vast. Even our sun has no more significance than a grain of sand on a ninety mile beach. On this scale the entire history of humanity is imperceptibly brief.

As for you and me, we are nothing. Our size and lifespan are so pitiful that objectively we don't exist. Yet our smugness is matched only by our monumental hubris. Once, perhaps, we had a sense of awe. It is now almost exclusively limited to astronomers.

We are clearly not destined to enjoy ourselves. Life is nasty, brutish and short—with just enough satisfaction included to prevent us from opening our veins. So what is our function? Just to survive and, if possible, to prosper? To get and spend? As rich people say, 'He who dies with the most toys wins.'

Nature has a function and we are part of it. Which part? We are not entirely an animal and certainly not an enlightened being. We are in fact, a transitional form, with only the potential to evolve. And that evolution must be conscious. That is why we are flawed. Without the ability to cock up, no conscious evolution would be possible because the effort must be voluntary.

So, within limits, we have choice. But as most of us function at the level of animals the potential is rarely approached and so Nature is obliged to compensate by increasing our birth-rate, our lust for conflict and by multiplying natural disasters. In this way, it gets the raw energy from humanity it needs. Either way, we are used. Impartial Nature is not our friend. We are a component of it—its tool.

But back to the subject. Why is there anything? Why not just a void? Perhaps both states exist but our limited mind sees only one. Even the Buddhists assert that form is emptiness, emptiness form—that everything issues from nothing and ultimately returns to it.

We use terms like 'god' or 'infinity' to express what our minds cannot grasp. We pretend to understand the universe but don't even understand ourselves.

We cannot conceive an infinite universe. And a finite one is equally impossible. How can space come to an end? Because then what is beyond or outside it?

And if we postulate an intelligence or god behind creation, where did it come from? A succession of other gods? If so, how did the original one appear? Or is the insensate inchoate causeless and endless? An equally impossible conjecture. A god that was and ever shall be—world without end?  Incredible. Impossible. Utterly beyond sane logic.

Did all of this come from nothing? Impossible.

Or has it always been here? Impossible.

As we cannot fathom the vastness around us we cling to our theories, those of us who think at all, because there is one thing we dare not admit.

That our minds are too limited to comprehend reality. 

So where does that leave us? That is, those of us who stir for a moment in our habitual state of waking sleep?

With a question we cannot answer.

In this incomprehensible immensity, what am I here for?

And what am I?

You can check out The Wisdom of Being here.