Friday, May 05, 2023

Comic Cuts — 5 May 2023

The week seems to have flown by, thanks (no doubt) to the bank holiday on Monday, which we spent pottering around. We even did some gardening, which is something I don't expect to say as our gardening efforts are usually kept to the absolute minimum of stopping the plant life turning into triffids and taking over.

The problem is that, when we moved in, the garden was in a terrible state, overgrown and uncared for, even tho' we were assured that our landlady had been hiring a gardener to look after it. We left it as it was for a couple of years, not knowing how long we would be here. However, once we put down our own roots, we decided to attack the garden and see if we could get it sorted out to the point where it wouldn't need so much work. The first big job wasn't down to us as it involved cutting back some very large trees. The unkempt hedges were more our size, hacking back the ivy that was running rampant, and trying to push the overgrown plant-life back to the actual garden as it was spilling over into where the lawn should have been.

Cutting back the plants meant we uncovered what was basically a two-foot wide weed patch of green alkanet all around the lawn, and the pond where it merged with the ivy that clad the trees, blocked the gate and smothered the small shed at the bottom of the garden. Tearing that off revealed a hole in the fence that was allowing a badger (we think) to come into the garden and dig there were mystery holes appearing in what was left of the lawn one summer that we think was a badger. Getting the fence fixed solved the problem.

It didn't solve the weed patches. Last year I let them grow out because, y'know, rewilding, helping the bees and the butterflies. Unfortunately, it also meant we had to deal with nettle patches and spent a fortune on weed killer at the end of last summer.

This year we have a new plan, stuff the butterflies and bees (sorry, but it won't be for long), and dig out the weeds early and put down grass seed in the hope that we will be able to get the lawn back where it ought to be. Over the next couple of weekends, weather permitting, we will dig up more of the weeds and around the back of the pond scatter loads of wild flower seeds so that they (a) help keep down the weeds; (b) help the butterfly and bee populations, and (c) brighten up the garden, which hasn't really got much colour to it. We have some Spanish bluebells (which I'm told is an invasive species, and we ought to dig them up!), some grape hyacinths (more little bluey flowers) and some lilac.

Again, just the fact that I can name these plants will astonish my family because I find it impossible to remember plant names... because I have no interest in learning them. I can remember comic strips and their creators, and who wrote books under pseudonyms, and obscure science fiction novels, but point a finger at a plant and expect me to name it and you're going to be disappointed.

So we have some grass seed down and I'm keeping those areas well watered; in a couple of weeks I'm hoping that we've annihilated the weeds and we're watering wild flower seeds. I have a feeling this will take a couple of years to achieve, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will mean less work in the long run.

That's enough gardening. If someone would kindly develop an AI that could sort out the lawn, I'd sign up tomorrow. Talking of which, I had a play around with ChatGPT to make sure that my occasional work as an obituarist wasn't in danger of being taken off me by an algorithm. I generated a couple of Barry Humphries, who died recently, but the results were mixed. They might be the sort of thing you find in a local paper where you might get a 200-word outline of someone's life; it couldn't generate a piece substantial and factually detailed that a broadsheet would require. And there were factual errors.

That's the real worry... enough false information circulates as it is, but imagine an AI making a mistake that is then picked up by other AIs as they trawl the web for information. Before you know it, the error has been perpetuated so widely that trusted sources begin to repeat the same factual errors. I always had this problem with books of pseudonyms, which are prone to repeat errors because nobody points out in Book B why certain attributions in Book A have been excluded. So the next person comes along, copies all the information from Book B, adds anything that has been discovered since that title was published, and then adds back all the missing information from Book A, thinking that they are improving Book B. And so the cycle goes on, with wrong information dropped in some titles and returned to print in others. I can speak with some authority on this because I published a fanzine called Pseuds Corner many years ago where I tried to determine what attributions were safe and which were wrong. I got from A'Beckett to Cobb in four issues before my editorial and writing workload meant I couldn't continue.

One of the reasons I started on that madcap project was because a book of pseudonyms came out that credited me as the source of some weirdly wrong information caused by the author of the book misreading a list of author's names. There's no way that wrong information isn't going to make it into someone else's book of pen-names in the future unless every subsequent compiler goes back to the original source (a listing in a paperback fanzine). Eventually these things will become as accepted as the spelling of dilemna and helpful publishers will correct your work by reinserting a load of wrong information that you had spent ages carefully removing... which has also happened to me.

It hasn't been all gardening and algorithms. I'm getting the groundwork laid for the next couple of books for Dolmen, so I'll be spending time working on volumes of Mytek the Mighty and Kelly's Eye over the next few weeks. Of the upcoming thriller reprints, we now have four out of five of the texts finished. I have one pair of introductions written and another started. And I finally got a bunch of reviews written, which have been appearing over the past few days with one more to come this weekend, which will hopefully keep you entertained over the Coronation weekend.

Thursday (when I'm writing this) is Star Wars Day, so... may the fourth be with you. Back next week when we'll have a new King.

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