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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

February 28, 2006

I thought I might like it, but I don't

In my life I've possibly bought half a dozen albums that were in the charts at the time that I bought them. For me, it usually pays to wait - decades - to see if something is worth having. It's got to have that timeless quality. And I never, ever, buy something that's advertised on telly. Does anyone remember the time before albums were regularly advertised? I do. It was quite a thing when someone had the idea of doing it, and they realised that it added several zeros to the weekly sales figures. Ker-ching.

But I was taken with KT Tunstall's interviews in the Brit Award aftermath, the fact that she's been rejected by just about every single record company because she was considered to be "the wrong side of 25," I was enjoying her success, and I thought, go on then, I'll buy your record.

Thought my wife would probably like it, even if I didn't.

It's okay, I suppose, but it doesn't sound as fresh as I hoped. It sounds like that kind of thing, if you know what I mean. Slickly produced to sound like all the others of this ilk. It's not unpleasant, but I don't think I'd have been missing much. Anyway, she doesn't need my endorsement.

Someone said to me once that the Norah Jones album (I think it was) was cleverly produced so as to appeal to as wide a range of tastes as possible, and this is the same. For people who like folky singer songwriter stuff, jazzy stuff, bluesy stuff, rock, that kind of thing. There's a lot of compression on the vocals, which makes them sound very "modern", and there's loads of compression on everything else as well, so it does sound like a whole host of modern music. The opening track even sounds like one of those piano-type logo bands, I don't know which one. I'd say Coldplay, but I dunno, because they all sound the same to me.

Her voice isn't bad, but I think she's got a bit of a vocal tic, she does a lot of blue notes, and if you're listening from another room, you just get this impression of slightly out of tune whining going on.

Could get to be as annoying as Sheryl Crow, which is another in my wife's collection.

February 27, 2006

The Real Morons

If ever there was proof that in the bankrupt world of British TV, originality, creativity and intelligence are in short supply, you only need look at tonight's schedule.

8.30 pm BBC3: The Real Hustle - Real-life con-artists carry out scams on members of the public

9.00 pm Channel 4: The Real Dad's Army - factual series reveals how defending Britain became an altogether more serious business

9.00 Channel 5: The Real Rain Man - profile of the inspiration behind the film

Coming soon: The Real George and Mildred; The Real Mary Poppins; The Real Real Story; The Real The Real World; The Real The Real McCoy; The Real Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator; and a revisionist history of the Home Guard in World War 2: The Real The Real Dad's Army.


I've got some very sharp things in my kitchen. My Henckel knives are fantastically sharp, but even the humble Super-U potato peeler has quite an edge to it. As such, I'm always hacking bits off my fingers when I'm in a hurry. I once sliced quite a lot of the end of one of my fingers off. I'm well stocked with those blood-stopping plasters. There's sometimes quite a lot of, you know, meat, in my veggie stir-fries (only joking, vegetarian guests).

I probably shouldn't be let loose in my own kitchen.

This weekend, I sliced through a nail, about a quarter of the way down my left index finger, with the potato peeler - so it was cut at an angle. I broke the skin slightly, but it was mainly the nail, with the fear that it would come off completely and painfully pull away from the skin. I put a plaster on it to stop me catching it on things, but it was no good, because I couldn't play guitar.

So I took it off and tried painting nail varnish over the cut to strengthen it (my wife only had some in a fetching pink). But that didn't work because I caught it on the sheet getting into bed last night and the broken edge got jammed into the soft and sensitive part of my finger, the bit that the nail usually protects. Such pain from such a tiny thing!

I'm going to have to bit the bullet today and cut it completely off. I'm such a wimp. But, you know, on that model of the human body based on nerves and senses, the index finger is the size of a club, innit?

February 25, 2006

New Secret Girlfriend #642

Just watching Tarzan on Sky 3 and probably wouldn't bother if it were not for the radiant but unfortunately named Sarah Wayne Callies (shouldn't that be Waynetta?), who plays Jane, er, a cop.

She's also the nice doctor in Prison Break, which I missed last week - and she's the only thing worth watching in that, too.

Anyway, I love her, but don't tell anyone about it.

Everything - full mix

Took me a few days to do this; probably because I did something else in between. Difficult chords can be offputting - translating a G#M7 to a keyboard was not easy for me.

Smooth at the beginning, with some dirty guitar at the end, I found this quite tricky to mix. In the end, the lead sounds quiet to me, but I've erred on the side of caution, because I think my ears were tired.

Here's an alternative download link, for those castpost-not-working moments, or if you want it to keep. Castpost say they're adding more servers, so it might pick up!

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February 24, 2006

Is it just me, or...?

Prof. Robert Winston

Earl Hickey

Mystery track

"See if you can guess which one it is."

This'll cheer you up. Just me, messing around.

February 23, 2006

To Pea or Not to Pea?

Burning question of the day. I'm cooking paella tonight. But it won't be as big as this one, because the local cookshop only had a 33cm pan!

Food colouring, anyone?

Paella and risotto: two sides of the same Southern European coin, I'd say. My wife loves paella, because of the way her mum does it. There's always at least one big Paella Night when we visit in the summer. She uses a pan so big that she cooks it outside over an open fire rather than on her gas hob, and she includes prawns, chicken, rabbit, and pigeon. Doing! Really country living (and why can't I spell pigeon?).

I prefer a nice risotto myself, the creamier the better, and I don't really care what kind. It's labour intensive to cook either of these things, but the results are always worth it.

But what about peas? Peas are fairly standard in a paella, and you also see them frequently in risotto. My mum never did a risotto without peas, although hers weren't really what you'd call proper risotto. Me? I don't mind a pea in a paella (oo er), but I dislike them in risotto.

(A lot of you will think I thought of the headline to this before I thought of what to write about, but you would be wrong!)

Dignity and Bollocks


All the Chinese competitor had to do on her final jump, really, was land on her feet. Xin Xin Guo led after the first round with a score of 103.17, and was the last to jump. It was so very funny to see the look on the eventual (Swiss) winner's face when Guo landed so badly. Trying not to look to gleeful. Of course, being Swiss, she had a (German) word for what she was feeling.

But this isn't really a sport, because there are judges, so it's all completely random and bollocks. Some judge the take-off, others the form in the air, and two judge the landing. The landing marks are out of 3. They're averaged and then added to the average to give a total landing score out of 9.

So you score 103 on your first jump, by landing well. Your second jump is just as good, but you land on your face. So you lose a maximum of nine points, right? So her score might have been as low as 90 or, say, 94 at the highest. But she scored 71.68, somehow being penalised around 30 points for sliding down on the slope on her face. That can't be right, can it?

February 22, 2006

Lady of the Lake

Surface, while it's still better than Invasion is showing signs of network interference and panic.

You can often see the writing on the wall for a programme when there's a voiceover glommed onto the beginning, explaining everything to the latecomers, which is what happened in Surface this week. Shame, because I've been enjoying it in all its tongue-in-cheek glory.

ITV2, also, are panicking, having moved it from Monday at 9, they're now showing it Saturday teatime with a repeat on Tuesday evening. One of the big probs with the Freeview channels is that the schedule is even more irrational than the mainstream ones. Still, I haven't missed any.

Another sign of the writing on the wall is the sudden plot-twist and exit of major characters. I may be doing Surface a disservice, but there was a whiff of "major rewrite" about the deaths of two scientists in last week's episode, and even the ET sub-plot has drawn to an end.

Another obvious change was the emphasis given this week to the - *ahem* - cleavage of leading lady Lake Bell. She's clearly been cast for her intelligent-looking face (and, hey, she's a brunette), but no man could have failed to notice that she's very well-made. This week, though, they pulled out all the stops and put her breasts front and centre in almost every scene. So much so, that I'm afraid I lost track of what was happening and might have to watch it again. There was one very exciting bit where she stripped off to her underwear and rubbed grease on her body, but I can't remember what happened next, so may watch it again. Perhaps slow motion will help me keep track of the plot...

Fly on the wall report...

"So, here's what I'm thinking, Ruud. The flag..."


"The flag of the nation is, you know..."

"Red, white and blue."

"Correct, so I'm thinking, we could do something different this time and have some kind of modern design in, you know..."

"Red, white and blue?"

"Yah. Or, what do you think?"

"Possibly just one of the colours, for more impact?"

"Like white?"

"Not for more impact. I'm thinking possibly the blue. Or the red."

"As in, 'Red Hot...'?"

"Okay, maybe not. Or, what's the opposite of white? Black? How about that? Would look great against the ice."

"Yah. Or, you know what?"


"How about orange?"



"No, why didn't I think of that? Orange. It's obvious. Perfect."

"Brilliant! I'll let the guys know."


(The Dutch Olympic officials discuss the choice of colour scheme for their bobsleigh. Tomorrow: what colour should the speed skaters wear?)

Long, Long, Long

I recently bought Judas Unchained by British SF writer Peter F. Hamilton. You understand, this is not because I particularly like Hamilton's work, but because I'd already read Pandora's Star, and needed to know the outcome.

Unfortunately, I had poor recollection of Pandora's Star, so I'm having to re-read that before I crack on with Judas Unchained.

Hamilton, I'm afraid, is exactly the sort of writer who gives Science Fiction a bad name. His books are almost universally HUGE. Pandora's Star has about 9 million pages, and is actually painful to hold for any length of time. I'm suffering from several different repetitive strain injuries.

The biggest problem with these HUGE books is the problem of a meandering plot and seventy gazillion different characters (it's the sort of book that lists the characters at the front - as if that helps - except it doesn't bother to list all of them). Ultimately, this comes across as a bunch of different novellas (or short novels), set in the same future history, chopped up and loosely linked together.

One plot concerns the discovery of a force field which seems to have enveloped a star system; another concerns the activities of a terrorist/resistance group; another concerns a 40-year old unsolved murder; another the search for an elusive group of aliens; and so on. There is a great deal of background information about the society in which all these characters live (600 planets in a Commonwealth linked together by wormhole technology; people more or less immortal, thanks to physical regeneration, memory stores, and emergency re-lifing using clones).

The problem is the narrative technique. We get a few pages of each plot thread, in turn. Sometimes characters pass each other in corridors, but this is not the same as having proper interaction. Within each thread, the cast of characters is relatively small, and some characters do cross over, but not much, and not often. It's all very standard as far as page-turning fiction goes, but the problem is that given the SIZE of the book, it becomes a chore to read it, rather than a pleasure.

In the end, I don't think this would be adversely affected by publishing it as a sequence of novellas, set in the same future history, with some crossover characters, and each new story shedding light on the ones before, until it reaches some kind of - oh, there's a sequel - climax.

So that's the technique. The other major problem is that Hamilton isn't really very good. You want to support him, you do, because he's English, and his books have an English tone of voice, and it's nice to read of a future that takes accounts of cultures and nations other than the United States. But he has a tin ear for dialogue, and all the sprawling, dull, details are just not worth it. Some of the characters are entirely superfluous.

For example, he has the inventors of wormhole technology as a Jobs-Wozniak type pair. The Woz character is some kind of reclusive loner hippy, whereas the Jobs character is ruthlessly ambitious and corporate. Except he doesn't really do much, so we don't really need him in the book. The Woz/Ozzie character is more interesting, but please: does he have to talk like one of the characters from Dude, Where's My Car?

It's bewildering to me that bad writers like this get such success. You see his books in shops, in libraries, and clearly his publishers don't attempt to edit them down to a reasonable length. And yet someone like Karen Traviss, also British, who writes excellent stories with believable characters, with more interesting ideas in about a third as many pages, can't get her work published in the UK - although she can in the huge talent pool of the USA, and even France.

British publishing industry? Fucking shite.

which beatle are you?

i'm macca.

February 21, 2006

Walking Shoes - link to Ourmedia file

I previously embedded a Quicktime player into this post, but the problem with QuickTime, as opposed to the Flash thing that Castpost uses, is that QuickTime loads whether you press play or not, whereas Castpost waits till you click Play.

*Sigh.* So, because I care about YOUR bandwidth, I'm turning this into a regular link to the file, which surveys have shown means that hardly anyone bothers to listen to it (there is method in the Castpost madness).

Walking Shoes

Aerial Adjustment

The winter Olympics are much better than the summer games, simply because there seem to be many more opportunities for spectacular crashes. As a boy, I always loved the bobsleigh, because it was so truly exciting when they flipped over.

Even so, I bet there are people out there (you know who you are) who would consider a helmet optional for such events, and would probably only don one under pressure from friends or family.

Yesterday, I was watching the slightly ridiculous Aerials, in which crazy people ski down a slope, shoot up a ramp, and then perform somersaults and twists in the air before landing - mostly - upon their arses, risking broken legs, tailbones, backs, necks - you name it.

Like many winter sportspeople, these guys are all fashion victims, and most of them were wearing glasses rather than goggles. As anyone who wears glasses full-time knows, a small impact on your spectacles can be painful - on the bridge of the nose, perhaps, or over the ears, where they hook over. I can't imagine how painful and dangerous it is to be wearing Oakley specs when you land on your face.

Minority sports commentary is the home of the super-bland buffoon, the guy who feels the need to be saying, anything, in order to fill dead air. Worthy of Colemanballs was the commentary on the replay of a spectacularly bad landing. The competitor landed first on his backside, then flipped forward and landed on his face, sliding face-first down the slope with legs and skis akimbo. On about the 3rd replay, the commentator said, "Well, he came out of that with dignity."

What? Landing on your face in front of x- million tv viewers and a live audience and sliding out-of-control on your face to the bottom of the slope is dignified now? That's like saying I look dignified on a dance-floor.

February 20, 2006

Walking Shoes (2006 Version)

This is my latest effort (you can tell I'm not working at the moment), a re-recording of a track I first wrote and recorded two or three years ago. I always thought the original sounded a bit muddy - it had been messed about with too much.

I've learned a lot since then, too. So this is the 2006 version, which comes out at exactly 3 minutes, which is good going. Some of my others are even longer.

If Castpost is too slow for you, you can download the MP3 from here.

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Not as popular as Rod

So the Stones played Rio. This story made me think of that bit in the Rutles, where Ron McNasty claims that he hadn't meant to say that the Rutles were bigger than God, but that they were bigger than Rod, who was still labouring in relative obscurity in the mid-60s.

When Rod played Rio, the audience was over 3 million, supposedly. The Stones only managed half that. And - clincher - I heard a snippet of the Stones' concert, and there were - of course - completely crap, as they always are. I bet Rod managed moderately successful chicken-in-a-basket versions of his hits in Rio, whereas the Stones all sound like they're playing 3 or 4 different songs simultaneously.

February 19, 2006

Cover version: Stray Paper

This is my small tribute to Tift Merritt - a cover of her song "Stray Paper" (from the album Tambourine). Don't let my half-assed attempt put you off Ms Merritt.

Roy came round and played bass and also his Gretsch through a phaser.

Since uploading the first time, I've added some slide guitar.

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Southern Born, by the grace of... well, my mum and dad I suppose

I received my final payslip and P45* the other day. In spite of my advanced years, this is really only the 3rd P45 I've received, to the best of my recollection, even though I handled millions of them in my 9 years with the Revenue. Feels strange to open an envelope on a cold winter morning and see the last few years of your life reduced to a green and white government form.

I've lived in Buckinghamshire now (or Buckinghamshite, as I always seem to type it first time), for over 18 months, but my period of "gardening leave" has been the longest time I've spent here - all my regular holidays were in France. I'm actually beginning to feel like I live here, at last, instead of in my car. I'd lived in Nottingham, on and off, for 10 years full time (with 3 years part-time before that), but always reluctantly, always wishing I could get South of Waterford Gap again. For 18 months I commuted, and the Gap mocked me every day, twice a day.

Roy came round yesterday, and we did some music-making and talking. I've known Roy 14/15 years, and in that time he's steadfastly believed that I was only joking about the kind of music I like, so he was a bit taken aback looking through my CD collection in its wallet.

I was also gratified to send him home with a CD full of Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Marshall Tucker Band. He got in his car and put a CD in the slot, turned on his ignition and Jessica (aka BBC Top Gear theme) started up. Hilarious.

My own car sits on the drive, a little punchy, three years old with 6 years of miles, in need of a wash. The oddest thing about my new life is that I've been a stranger to the petrol pump, whereas I used to have to put in £50-worth of diesel every four days. I'll forget how to do it, I think.


*P45 is a Pink Slip, in US terminology

February 15, 2006

Avignon (2006 version)

When I've been working on a mix, I always punish myself by listening to the end result in the crappy speakers built into the iMac. Not only are they too small to be any use, but the genius Apple designers pointed them in the wrong direction - downwards. So the sound bounces off my cork work surface before heading off around the room.

My rationale is that if I can get it to sound ok on the iMac speakers, it should sound okay on anything, but who am I kidding?

Needless to say, this is my 4th attempt at mixing this, my second attempt at my second attempt at a song I first wrote and recorded a couple of years ago. Back then, it was mostly acoustic sounds, but I've gone off that version since.

I found it quite a challenge to mix, because I threw so much in, but I think it's all right-ish.

If Castpost is slow for you (and it was fine just now for me), drop me a line at mcmrbt [at] gmail [dot] com if you want me to mail you the MP3 direct.

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Just talk among yourselves...

Trying to upload something to Castpost. Slow isn't the word. I thought I'd died at one point, what with time standing still.

Doesn't augur well for download experiences, but we must persevere.

Meanwhile, what about that smoking ban? In order to give up smoking, I had to give up - more or less - going to the pub. That was 10 years ago. Come next year, I might be able to walk into a pub again and not crave a cigarette. On the other hand, will pubs then be full of orally-fixated individuals who no longer have anything to do with their hands? I smell a pub snack boom coming on. Quick, buy some shares in Walkers...

Keep talking among yourselves... I just realised I uploaded the wrong flaming file. Oh, the humanity!


If I could go back over my blog life and undo one thing, it would be the little joke I made about the person who came to holyhoses, having asked Google the question, "What does a turnip look like?" I posted a link to a picture of a carrot, saying, "it looks like this."

Just recently, it seems as if that flaming link to a flaming carrot picture is our biggest referrer from Google, in spite of the fact that I removed said link because it was broken anyway.

But back to that original question: what does a turnip look like? I mean! Of all the things you might look to Google for, this seems somewhat bizarre. But people do ask and tell Google the strangest things. Something that always makes me smile is when someone is clearly searching for some authority to back up a prejudice.

For example, one of our visitors today was searching for "photoshop bloatware." In other words, having decided that Adobe Photoshop is bloatware, he/she went looking on the web for someone who shared that opinion. To what end, I know not. It's as if people are afraid of having their own opinions, of being somehow different from the herd, but that couldn't be, could it?

For what it's worth Photoshop doesn't fit my definition of bloatware, simply because it makes it easy to take away or switch off the bits you don't need. If you think the filter menu is stuffed full of crappy 80s-style effects, you can jolly well go into the plug-ins folder and remove them. You can remove all the colour profiles you don't need, and strip the 'Shop down to its bones. The same is true of Acrobat, by the way, though you wouldn't know it when you fist launch it. Later iterations of Acrobat have been desperately slow to load, but you can in fact switch off a lot of crappy stuff, leaving a PDF viewer that launches in the blink of an eye. And the key thing that makes Photoshop not bloatware is that, if it's too much application for you, you can use Elements, or iPhoto - software that doesn't have the features you don't need.

No, save your definition of bloatware for the software that just won't let you turn stuff off, won't let you rid yourself of features you have no use for, and yet which you are forced to use in order to conform with the herd. While you can get rid of the annoying Assistant in MS Word, and you can spend a day trying to get it to behave, it's too fucking hard to train it properly. How many times have you received a document from someone that was formatted to US Letter, in spite of the fact that no sensible human ever uses this size paper? Have you ever experienced that thing where you forward-delete something, and it changes the font, size, and style for the whole of the previous paragraph? I still have no earthly idea why it does that.

the blood donor

on monday i gave blood. like the many acts of charity i perform throughout the year, it's one of those things i don't like to talk about. i give blood, i save lives, that's all there is too it, get over it. there's no need to make a fuss etc etc. i get more out of the deal than i put in, in any case: a cup of tea, a packet of crisps, some biscuits, and best of all i use it as a salve to my conscience. no matter what other shitty things i do, i can always tell myself, "it's ok, i'm not so bad, i give blood."

wonder if hitler was a blood donor.


The BBC is linking up with one of those distributed computing experiments, this one on climate change.

Clearly fearing that Apple computers would produce uncomfortable results - they can't handle the truth - they've excluded Mac users from the project. So you can't trust the results, sorry.

February 13, 2006

That eBay thing - new sitcom

You'll have seen this doing the rounds, probably. It came to my attention over on PooterGeek. Anyway, you may have seen it, but if not, don't go to bed tonight without reading the Member Profile for mr_bo11ox on eBay - in particular his "Feedback left for others."

I was crying with laughter last night, reading some of them, and I missed the beginning of Miss Marple as a result. It just makes me so happy that someone has livened up a dull corner of our crappy little world like this.

I have a couple of personal favourites, some of which are listed by the Pooter. One made me think Simon might like it: "Item never received. Apart from that, perfect transaction."

And there's something of the comedy genius about:


or these:

  • Sporadic shelling and sniper fire near sellers home did not delay transaction A+


  • “Like a circle in a spiral…..like an egg on Rod Hull’s face…” etc. GREAT SELLER

  • A++ USA SELLA. However I'm giving a 'protest neg' over illegal US-led Iraq war.

  • "Is this guy a good seller?" IS J-LO A TALENTLESS BAGGY-4RSED WAILING BINT? YES!

  • Reply by mac.er: just some guys,didn't know anything about DVD.COPY? mate,no copy on ebay,be wise


  • At only 250g, easily one of the lightest sellers on the bay. GOOD WORK

  • Item quite literally CAME THROUGH MY LETTERBOX shortly after payment.

I could go on, but look for yourself.

February 12, 2006

Meteor Shower - full mix

I've always loved that story about "Instant Karma," the whole thing about it being written, recorded, mastered to disc and in the shops within a week. Probably not true, sadly.

This is, though. Here's a song I wrote at the end of last week.

I recorded it on Saturday, but it all went horribly wrong, so I started from scratch again on Sunday and re-did it with a new arrangement. Or, I should say, an arrangement. It's a long way from what I was originally thinking of, but when I'm playing my guitar through Roy's amp, I always want everything to sound one way.

Taking a step back from that, I probably prefer the more refined end result. Usual health warnings about connection speed from Castpost at certain times of the day apply. Use the RSS feed to download the track directly. It's about 3.4MB.

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February 10, 2006

Smart Amazon Recommendation?

Is this a record?

Following my bulk-purchase of the Kristine Kathryn Rusch "Retrieval Artist" series, Amazon kindly recommended that I purchyase City of Pearl by British writer Karen Travis. (Don't read that top reader review, because it's full of bleedin' spoilers!)

And, believe it or not, it's great, and I'm dead chuffed.

Like the Retrieval Artist novels, City of Pearl is set in the future (23rd century), and it involves religion and awkward relations with alien cultures and the things you are - and aren't - allowed to do on a planet not your own.

A group of Christian colonists have set off to Cavanagh's star, sending a single message back to Earth: don't follow. It's assumed they've been lost, but then Shan Frankland is appointed to lead a small expeditionary force on a 150-year round trip... to do what?

The key plot device here is that Frankland is confidentially briefed using smart drugs that only release information into her head piecemeal, so she actually doesn't know her mission, just that she freely agreed to it. She spends her time with things "on the tip of her tongue", as it were, the information just not within reach of her conscious mind.

She leads a group of seven Royal Marines, seven scientists, and one journalist to a beautiful almost-Earthlike planet (less oxygen, higher gravity, longer seasons), where she finds a group of humans living an idyllic pastoral life - but dwelling underground. It turns out they're only barely tolerated by the guardians of the planet, who are quite willing to erase whole cities in order to preserve the planet's ecology.

There's lots of good stuff here about the inability of humans to think of "lower" life-forms as "people," even if they're quite intelligent. And stuff about signs and messages misread, misunderstood, or not even recognised as messages.

All science fiction is about the time in which it is written, whether or not it's set in the future, and it's clear that the post-2001 SF about the fate of a standard set of - problematic term : Western - values in the face of peoples who see the world through quite different filters (the metaphor here is of aliens who can see colours in what we see as clear glass) is very interesting indeed.

Crumpet News

Which crumpets are the best?

Marcel Proust writes:

For a long time I would get up early and eat Saino's crumpets, the bog-standard kind. I lived in a simple world, in which choice was the preserve of the rich, and ordinary folk were happy with what they got.

Then Sainsbury's introduced their "Taste The Difference" range, and these crumpets were fat and moist, with a taste reminiscent of the home-made kind. The ordinary crumpets now seemed dry and thin, with an unpleasant texture. I even started to believe that Sainsbury's had deliberately made them worse.

So when the "Taste the Difference" shelf was empty, I started to look elsewhere for my crumpets, and tried the Warburton's. Revelation! Not only better than bog-standard, these were actually better than the "Taste The Difference", which now - obviously - tasted like they had too much bicarb in them.

So now: what do you do when the Warburton's aren't available? I tried the Kingsmill. They come in a good pack that protects them and keeps them slightly fresher, once opened. But they go too far. They're too fat, tending to get trapped in the toaster, and while they look like they ought to be good, they're bland and stodgy.

Warburton's win, then. Incidentally, in our toaster, you have to cook the crumpets twice - on the highest setting - to toast them adequately. Shouldn't toaster makers have a Crumpet setting? After all, crumpets pre-date toast by a couple of centuries.*

*Made up fact.

February 09, 2006

Secret Girlfriend #193

In other news, that nice Amy Acker was in Supernatural this week. Oooh. She was the geeky one called Fred in Angel. I'd quite forgotten just how lovely she was, especially when thrashing about in the bath, fighting some vengeful ghosty thing.

Free Speech

Via Pootergeek and some other places: over at b3ta.com. Will make you laugh and cry.

February 08, 2006


I smell of smoke.

Had a little bonfire in the gas barbecue tonight. Doubtless I'll forget about the pile of ash in there and have to clean it out properly next time I want to cook some red squirrel steaks.

I was burning paper items. Might have looked suspicious on a long lens photo shot, but it was all quite innocent. Cleaning out my desk this morning, I found a carrier bag full of old credit card and utility bills that I was supposed to have shredded when we moved house.

I got about halfway through it, but the office shredder was so flaky and useless, I never got around to the rest. Typical for our office, they tried to get away with a domestic shredder, which could only cope with a couple of bits of paper at a time. They went through about 3 of those before they got a proper one.

So I brought the bag back home and had a little catharsis-by-fire. Even though it was my own stuff I was burning, it still felt like closing the book on something. Maybe, finally, the old address - maybe something more.

I've always been a bit of a fire-bug. Loved it when my old man had a bonfire in the garden. I had an excellent elastic-band-powered balsa wood plane when I was younger. It was a big one, with about 60cm wingspan. But I couldn't resist aiming it at a fire, because I wanted to see it go down in flames.

I could have been an arsonist, but I chose another career. So I guess we can add failed arsonist to my list of other failures.

Shouting Fire

Among the many justifications I've heard over the past few days for curtailing the freedom of speech and freedom of the press is the old one that goes, "You can't be allowed to shout, 'Fire!' in a crowded room."

This is, of course, complete crap.

The idea originally comes from a US Supreme Court decision, which rubber-stamped the oppression of anti-war protesters during the 1914-18 war. The case was Schenck v. U.S. (1919). Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, wrote: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic."

Except, these were anti-war protesters, and there was a war on.

In other words, they were shouting. 'Fire!' because there was, in fact, a fire.

So, when religionists attack our liberty - when we want to put on an opera, or a play, or print a cartoon - we should fight back. Stamp out the fire, before it gets out of control.

Techno Foods

Very interesting article in the Guardian today on the techno-food industry: smart milk and eggs, drinks with stuff in:
'What the food industry is doing is taking out the wonderful nutrients nature provides in the right combinations and sticking some of them into expensive products and pills and selling them back to us. You shouldn't need all this stuff if you are eating lots of fresh, plant-based foods.'"


to, mostly listening

1. various brian jonestown massacre. ever since i saw the film dig! i've been curious about this lot. i've picked up a few albums and i'm glad i did. servo off the album give it back! is a bit of a fave rave.
2. the life pursuit - belle & sebastian b&s have got their knockers and it's true that they tend towards the sick-making end of cute on occasions, but there are some "cracking tunes" on this one, in particular we are the sleepyheads.
3. arctic monkeys lp it's always nice to be into something that no-one else knows about. there are two or three songs on this where everything fits together perfectly, and a couple where the music doesn't quite match up to the singing. the singer's got a great voice and they record it well, it's right in your face. he's got the knack of writing clever lyrics without hardly ever appearing smart-arse, and that's not an easy thing to do. can't knock it really. nobody can, but i sense that they want to. and they will, eventually.

carry on commuting

it can't be a good thing, imagining myself jumping up and down on the heads of certain of my fellow passengers, stomping until there is no head left, just blood and gristle.

February 07, 2006

Uncharacteristically Quiet

You'd think it's the weekend, what with it being so quiet round here.

In my case, blame sleepless nights, involuntary career events on the horizon, and a general feeling of, what the fuck?

Normal service will be resumed. Eventually.

February 06, 2006

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Buried Deep (Retrieval Artist Novels, No. 4)

For the 4th of the Retrieval Artist space Opera Mysteries Kristine Kathryn Rusch returns to the initial premise of the series, which is the convoluted and difficult legal system that surrounds human-alien relations.

The Disty are an alien race who are horrified by death, to the point where any contact with a dead body is considered a contamination that needs to be cleansed by ritual. They have hundreds of rituals, depending on circumstance. Any ground where a body is discovered is unclean, and those involved in the discovery need to be cleansed by ritual, too.

Depending on how close the unclean person is to the dead person, the ritual can be more or less invasive and destructive. If no family member can be found, the ritual is essentially the same as a death penalty.

Worst of all, the Disty have occupied Mars (a brilliant stroke by Rusch - all other Mars colonies I've ever read about were created by humans, and the idea that a planet in our own solar system can be under a completely alien system of government gives you the same chills you'd get if people in our society really could be [legally] executed for drawing cartoons.), which means that they live in close proximity to humans, who must tie themselves in knots in order to avoid contravening Disty law.

When humans fall foul of the Disty, the only realistic option is to disappear - witness protection (or Rushdie) style - to avoid the inevitable violent end.

Buried Deep opens with the discovery of a dead body, which - to the aliens' horror - appears to have been buried underneath a Disty housing settlement for at least 30 years. The human female's lost family need to be found for the cleansing ritual, or else the other humans involved (police, pathologist, anthropologist) will face a fate worse than (and including) death.

Unfortunately, the woman was not what she seemed, and finding her family looks to be an impossible task. Things go from bad to worse when a further 100 mummified human bodies are found in the same area.

This parable of extreme cultural relativism is at heart a mystery that needs to be solved, both to reveal an unwritten history (how did 100 bodies end up there?) and - perhaps - save the unwitting humans who stumbled upon a serious problem in the course of doing their jobs. Like all the best SF, it throws the world in which we live into a sharp perspective, exaggerating our own difficulties in rubbing along with religionist nutters of various persuasions to page-turning effect.

James May on... expensive bikes

On top form as ever, James May lays into your bespoke bike:
This is the first thing that bothers me. Carbon fibre has become so hackneyed that people are making briefcases out of it, and for no other reason than that they can. It's nothing more than high-tech tinsel, and for a leading car maker to produce a perfectly conventional bike from an exotic material is a bit like Hotpoint launching a titanium mangle."


Yesterday was the day of Didi's dance class show, in which the various age-group classes ponce around to various chart hits, dressed in inappropriate costumes and wearing inappropriate make-up.

There was also some red-faced bloke (looked like he came straight from the Farmer's Market) singing karaoke-style; a brass band; and a schoolboy rock band.

Didi has been taking dance lessons for well over a year now, and she can be a nice little mover. It was hilarious last summer, when we attended a christening do in France, and - early in the proceedings - someone put on some kind of French folk CD. Didi stood on her own on the dance floor and started doing Riverdance-style moves, so accurately that I assumed she'd been learning it in her classes.

Not so, however. It seems she invented it for herself.

In all three of her numbers in the two-hour show, Didi was a complete anarchist, standing up when the others were kneeling, kneeling when they were standing up, running around on the stage out of formation, and generally having a whale of a time. Thing is, I strongly suspect she could have achieved all this without the dance lessons.

She was funny, though.

Also funny was the school rock band, for all kinds of reasons. The singer was clearly terrified, and terrible. He sang a flat monotone throughout, which might not have been so obvious if they hadn't been singing (the G 'n' R version of) Knocking on Heaven's Door and Sweet Child o' Mine. I empathised, because it is scary being the singer. Especially when you know you're not up to it.

Which was part of the fun, because it's always been the case - in Darkest Beds and Bucks - that the only kind of music that anybody likes is RORCKKKK!, complete with leather jackets, spots, and long hair.

The lead guitarist, playing a red SG, had some pretty good chops, but his sound was truly the most horrible guitar sound I've ever heard, like six dyspeptic bumblebees trapped in a jar. I suspect it may have been close to the original Slash sound, but still. Nobody should ever buy a Laney amp.

Perhaps the funniest thing of all was that they had different bass players for each of the two songs they did. Competition for places in the band was clearly hot, but usually nobody wants to play bass.

February 04, 2006

St Remy - full mix

Here's a full mix of St. Rémy. Drums, bass, electric, acoustic, organ, vocal. Just needs a bit of Simon magick lead guitar to finish it off, I reckon.

I haven't done all the editing tweaks I might do, but I quite like the feel as it is. Best played loud.

The St. Rémy of the title is of course St. Rémy de Provence.

The usual health warning about connection speed to castpost during office hours applies therefore. Honestly, it works brilliant at the weekend! (If you want to download the track, you can do so here.)

Powered by Castpost

February 03, 2006

This weekend's demo

I have plans to work on this one over the weekend, though there's a lot on, so I might not be able to do as much as last weekend.

It being impossible to log on to Castpost at the moment (that didn't last long, did it?) I've posted St Remy at Ourmedia. It's a 128 kbps MP3 -just voice and acoustic guitar.

I still need to work on the middle bit, but I'm counting on a last-minute inspirations.

Lashes of reverb on this demo, innit? Initially "St. Remy" was what I was singing in the absence of other thoughts, but somehow it's glued itself into the song, so that's what it's called.

Madeleine Moment

Last night, I had a dream about Linda Riley.

I dreamt that she was living very nearby, and I spotted her when I found a couple of self-portraits she'd done. I can't remember if they were 3-dimensional, done in pottery, or 2D paintings that looked like pottery. The portraits were side-by-side, both recognisably her, each slightly different. One showed her face slightly rounder than I remember; one slightly narrower.

They were outside a small cottage, representing a cottage industry, a business that sold that sort of thing.

I waited outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. It never occurred to me to go inside - the entrance was at the rear. When she emerged, I saw that it was indeed her. She got into a small car - like the Fiesta she used to drive - and set off on the country roads. I assumed she was going home.

Although she was in a car, I followed on foot, and managed to stay close enough to her that I never lost sight. Such is the magic of dreaming. She set off up a hill, made several turns, and arrived in a fortified hilltop village - like one or two I've seen in Provence. She crossed a bridge in the car and drove through cobbled streets until she reached what I assumed was home.

Still, I didn't speak to her, but now I thought I knew where she lived. Suddenly, I knew a lot more about her. That she wasn't married, that she was still living under the name Linda Riley, that she'd aged gracefully, her black hair only slightly grey.

It was time to make my way home. I just had to retrace my steps through the fortified village, find the bridge, and head downhill on the country roads. Only I got lost in the village, taking wrong turn after wrong turn, until I had completely lost my way.

I retraced my steps to the village square, and thought I knew the mistake I'd made, and I was about to set off again when I woke up.

Ranchero Software: MarsEdit 1.1

Mac Loving Safari Monkeys who don't get a full set of editing tools in their browser for the likes of Blogger might be interested in MarsEdit, which is a blog entry editor that makes it easy to format text with a set of standard or custom HTML tags (you can add shortcuts, for example, for those you use frequently 0 like lists!). It gives you a live preview, if you want, and allows you to blog what's on your top browser window using a script, among other things.

Adding links is easy (copy the URL from your browser and then choose "Add Link" from the MarsEdit popup).

Follow the link to get a 30-day trial of the software. I've been finding it quite useful.

Millennial Hysteria

It's a common misconception that it occupies a short space of time, as the calendar ticks over from 999 to 1000, say. In fact, millennial hysteria both creeps up and lingers on.

Religionists howling about an opera; religionists screaming about cartoons; religionists trying (again) to get Creationism on the science curriculum; religionists setting themselves on fire, blowing themselves up; armies marching across deserts.

In other news, the Alliance of Short Angry Cowboys is protesting at the portrayal of cultural hero Yosemite Sam in Warner Brothers cartoons.

A footnote of history:
c. 1000
Hungary and Scandinavia converted to Christianity. Viking raider Leif Eriksson discovers North America, calls it Vinland. Beowulf, Old English epic.
c. 1008
Murasaki Shikibu finishes The Tale of Genji, the world's first novel.
Muslims destroy Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Final separation between Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman) churches.
Seljuk Turks, Asian nomads, move west, capture Baghdad, Armenia (1064), Syria, and Palestine (1075).
William of Normandy invades England, defeats last Saxon king, Harold II, at Battle of Hastings, crowned William I of England (“the Conqueror”).

February 02, 2006


But mainly ew. The Register has some story about some religionist on-line sex emporium.

The problem I have with sex emporia in general is that they're not... very... sexy. Are they? It's all a bit Abigail's Party and Swingers on the Barratt housing estate. Bob and Thelma from The Likely Lads getting it on with George and Mildred.

There was a couple who worked in the tax office when I was there. They were desperately unattractive and uninteresting (made for each other), and they used to talk very loudly about how they went on naturist holidays.

Can you imagine if The Good Life had been about Tom and Barbara getting it on with Jerry and Margo? A result for Jerry, mind you.

Beatles Blog

Just as Marie has discovered that her true blog vocation is to discuss toilet brushes, I think it's clear from the level of interest and lovely, always welcome, comments, that this blog is destined to be the Beatles blog.

This has a certain elegant symmetry, since I was completely obsessed with The Beatles during my teenage years, to the point of having enormous black and white portraits of them painted (by my sis) on my bedroom wall (you could see Lennon's face from way up on the Downs). I'll have to look out a photo of it, one of these days.

Simon has some catching up to do, because he's never heard of The Beatles. He lived in the Soviet Union when he was a boy.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Rafael is pondering the question of the ultimate, single, favourite Beatles song.

How Will You Live?

If you were to win the £125 million Euromillions jackpot, how would you live? This is silly money. I was talking to my sister about it the other day, and I said something about having a crash pad in London so you wouldn't have to worry about late trains etc. on nights out, and would have somewhere to park your Prius. She said, "But I wouldn't want to buy a place in London."

I said, "You'd have a hundred million pounds. A million pound property in London, no matter how little you used it, would cost you some of the interest you'd earn each year."

But when I ask myself how I really would want to live, I come to a very simple image. In my ideal life, I'd get up in the morning, have a cup of tea, and just go down to the beach for a wander, to see what had washed up in the night. I'd be like Fulton Mackay in Local Hero. It's the beach-combing life for me.

On my beach, I'd have a little hollowed out bit surrounded by stones for my driftwood fires, and I'd have a whale skeleton covered in oilskin or whatever to use for a little shelter. I'd grow my hair so it could flutter in the sea breeze, and I'd have a big tin of biscuits and a can of peaches.

while we're beatling

do we really have to wait for macca to snuff it before we get to see this film again?

The Singles

In the everlasting debate about the Beatles' albums, it's easy to forget the singles. I'm talking in particular about the extra value singles the Beatles released in the UK, which were not included on the companion album. Talk about the hardest-working band in show business!

The full list of singles is a bewildering hotch-potch of official release, cash-in, and exploitation, so I'm just going to focus on 10 Parlophone/Apple releases that include non-album tracks. Proper singles, in other words. You could argue for the inclusion of some others - like the different versions of Let it Be and Get back on the singles compared the the albumens. But 10 is a round number, so I'll stick with that.

In ranked order then (duh, this is supposed to be an ordered list:

  1. I Feel Fine/She's A Woman

  2. Hey Jude/Revolution

  3. We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper

  4. Paperback Writer/Rain

  5. Lady Madonna/The Inner Light

  6. Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever

  7. I Want To Hold Your Hand/This Boy

  8. The Ballad Of John And Yoko/Old Brown Shoe

  9. She Loves You/I'll Get You

  10. From Me To You/Thank You Girl

The Amway Moment

Have you ever been in a friendship that ended abruptly because it reached the Amway Moment?

I remember one of my sisters had some very close friends who suddenly became Moonie-like Amway distributors. Instead of coming round to chat about life and the universe, they focused entirely on trying to sign her up to the Amway dream of household cleaning products that were somehow magically superior to those you could buy in Sainsbury's.*

Now Amway are still in business and have found some legal loophole that allows them to argue that they're not a pyramid selling scheme, but the effect - when you're on the receiving end of the sales pitch - is the same.

Now I've been guilty of being a bit of a Mac Moonie in the past, but my master plan to get all my friends and relatives on the Apple platform had their best interests at heart, and didn't involve them buying more Apple kit than they needed in order to sell it on to others.

The Amway Moment signals the end of the friendship. Like the moment in a Roadrunner cartoon when Wile E. Coyote sees the Roadrunner as a dressed and roasted bird, fresh from the oven and begging to be consumed, your former friend sees you as a potential customer, a mark. Their eyes become ££ signs (or $$ or ¥¥).


*On the subject of Sainsbury's, have you been lately? A year on from when they claimed to have made things cheaper, they really are cheaper now. I can safely shop in Saino's and not spend £40 more than I would have in Tesco. It's a more pleasant shopping experience, too, because people haven't cottoned on, so it's still pretty quiet in there - though not as quiet (or plush) as Waitrose.

February 01, 2006

Arrange in order

Lisa and Anna's posts on the NME 100 album list prompts me to ponder the following.

Anna and Rob Buckley are in dispute as to the correct ordering of Sgt Pepper an Revolver (the correct answer is... I don't need to say, do I?). So I think it's time for us to arrange the original Beatles albums in their correct ranked order.

Here's my attempt:

1. beatles for sale
2. help!
3. rubber soul
4. abbey road
5. white album
6. let it be
7. ...at the hollywood bowl
8. revolver
9. sgt pepper
10. a hard day's night
11. please please me
12. with the beatles
13. magical mystery tour
14. yellow submarine

Revolver fans will be shocked, I know. It looks like I don't like it, but I do. I just like others more. In the end, I don't rate it as highly because I think it's hamstrung by some poor inclusions, but kudos is due because "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" were issued as a single, when anybody else would have needed to put them on the album, too.

Blimey! Smell the Future

CNN Money has an interesting article arguing that Apple has already won the battle for the digital living room.

Pundits do love making themselves hostages to fortune, don't they? But read on and you'll come upon this little snippet (emphasis added):

"Talk to Jeff Zucker, the new CEO of NBC/Universal. In an interview with Newsweek he said that iTunes had generated $2.5 million in download revenues just in the last three months. He also said it was helping him decide what to air. Because of the unexpected popularity of one show, 'The Office,' on iTunes, TV viewership shot up and it won a coveted Thursday night prime time slot."

That could mean - in the future - no more audience research by set-top box (well, I'm aggrieved that nobody ever asked me what I watch), no more focus group programming. The vast potential download audience will tell them - in real numbers - what really works, and what does not. It could make the ruthless cut-throat world of programme scheduling even worse, or it could turn it into a kind of science. The likes of Firefly might stand a chance in this brave new world.

In related news, I was reading in the Radio Times how the Who Do You Think You Are genealogy programme gets over 5 million viewers for BBC2 - extremely high for that channel. Which is more people than watch Celeb Big Bruv on the other side.

Give people the opportunity to vote with their mouse button on iTunes, and TV might get (even) better.

Public Surface Announcement.

Apart from Life on Mars, Monday night telly means Surface on ITV2 (which I originally typed as suarfce, fact fans), which is a kind of muted-fanfare version of Channel 4's high-profile Invasion.

But you know what? After 4 or 5 Invasions, and 3 or 4 Surfaces (I can't count, I'm too stupid), I reckon Surface is better, much better.

While neither of them break new ground, Invasion seems so much more pedestrian, in it's pod-people way. Not much happens, and only the creepy Sheriff Carpettile is very interesting.

In Surface loads happens, and while it's packed full of Spielberg rip-off moments (like zooming out whilst tracking in with the camera), they're good moments, and you can play spot-the-Spielberg reference, too. Surface is thus filled with strong visual images and real tension, as well as laugh-out-loud funny moments (like the dog getting eaten, as happened this week). It's X-Files knowingness makes it pleasurable as well. Big sister calls her little brother "Frodo," for example, because he's the spit of Elijah Wood. It's that kind of attention to detail that makes it stand out.

I'm still watching Invasion, but it's Surface that I really look forward to.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Extremes

The second in the Retrieval Artist series of novels, Extremes is a classic police procedural science fiction hybrid, with action that takes place, 24-style, over just one day.

As a failed writer (among many other failures), I find it interesting to see Rusch's narrative technique. She moves rapidly between three main points of view (Flint, the Retrieval Artist, De Ricci, the cop, and Oliviari, a Tracker posing as a medic), picking up each strand of narrative, not after the elision of some time, but where she left off. There isn't time, in other words, for one character to learn the full details of what another knows, and so all three of them reach their own conclusions based on their own portion of the evidence.

The crime in question is a murder during a - preposterous - extreme sport event on the Moon. Unbelievable, you'd think, if you didn't already know the hilariously stupid risks people already take on Earth in order to entertain themselves. Of course people will try equally stupid things on the Moon.

So, police procedural, but what does SF add to the mix? The setting, obviously, plays a key role. One of the great details of Rusch's Retrieval Artist future is that people inhabit domed communities on the Moon, which turns out to be not very glamorous. The air recycling is inefficient, so it can get stuffy; the community has expanded haphazardly over a length of time, so there are old/new bits, crappy building materials, low quality synthesised foods, and so on. Crucially, in a domed community living on recycled air, the release of a deadly virus has a particular impact.

This creative use of the setting extends into the 3rd in the series, Consequences, in which an assassin doctors a crime scene by reprogramming the cleaning robots. First of all they suck up the blood and brains; then the killer re-arranges the bodies, and the robots spew it all out again in a pattern to match the new arrangement. Genius. How would Gil Grissom cope with that?

Things to do in 1973

Over at The Guardian's Organ Grinder blog, there's a bit of a discussion about Life on Mars which has kind of morphed into a "things to do in 1973" thing.

My own suggestion was just to stick a small amount of money in a savings account, so that it would be worth however many times more in 2006 - without worrying about the ups and downs of the stock market and house prices. Someone else suggests buying a house - forgetting that this would be as hard on 1973 police pay as it would be on 2006 police pay.

David Bishop suggests, among other things:

"See the Ziggy Stardust tour.
Outlaw knit shirts.
Form the Sex Pistols.
Create a science fiction comic and call it 2000 AD..."

I think I'd write a gushing newspaper column about an up-and-coming rock star called Bruce Springsteen - which would lead me to eventually becoming his manager. I would then convince him to "go country."*

(If you're old enough) Would you find yourself and give yourself some strong advice? And would you listen? I'm sure I wouldn't listen. But I'd strongly advise myself to forget all the arty farty stuff about wanting to be a writer and learn to do something useful, like how to install a bidet.**

*This is, of course. a joke.
**This is also a joke.***
***And this.

Praise her

Thanks be to Lisa for this - literally - awesome site which features illustrated bible verses.

Thanks, too, go to young Tony Blair, who forgot to turn up to vote, which means that it's still legal to laugh at religionists.

This particular illustration will cause you to wet your pants.

Is it April 1st already?

Heard on the news last night that the London Planetarium is closing in favour of a display of celebrities from owners Tussaud's. Peter Allen was interviewing a school teacher, who was explaining that for kids who live in light-polluted cities, it was always an amazing experience to see what the sky should look like. It made me want to cry.

How about this for the name of one of the managers?
"Diane Moon of the London Planetarium said the new London Auditorium would be transformed into a show which would 'get into the heart of celebrity'.

But well-known astronomer Sir Paul Gambaccini said the decision was 'most regrettable'."

(I may have edited that quote just a little bit, for accuracy.)

Listening Matters

I just swapped all the CDs over in the car, and my memory of what I've been listening to is fading fast...

1. Home made compo.

2. Home made Shelby Lynne compo - her first 3 post-reinvention albums

3. Miranda Lambert - Kerosene. This is much less annoying once you get past the first few tracks. I think my first several listens, I focused solely on the first four songs, and switched off for the rest of the record. It gets a qualified "quite good," though it wouldn't do her any harm to finish school before making another one.

4. Deana Carter - The story of my life. This self-produced effort sort of sounds like her (excellent) previous outing, "I"m Just a Girl," but somehow the strength-in-depth isn't there.

5. CD of my own demos - because my car system is one of very few alternative listening environments I have to hone my (poor) mix skills

6. Chely Wright - Metropolitan Hotel. Chely - the Bridget Jones of country music - grows on me ( (you'll need sunglasses to view the site). I can't really fathom why this is called Metropolitan Hotel, but it's a strong set, and her voice is fantastic. The slide and lead guitar on "South Side of Lonesome" alone is worth the price of admission. I can't think of anyone whose voice has quite the same richness of tone, and her technique is unique and unmistakable. You're going to fall into two camps on the lyrics to the songs on this. On the one hand, she has a strong personal vision, so that if you're in tune with her choices, you're well on your weepy way. She wrote 8 of the 12 on here, which is somewhat unusual in her part of the market. It's very commercial-sounding, very well produced, and yet her songs are intensely personal. If you find songs about failed/awkward relationships, mother-daughter problems, being lonely and single, feeling left behind, people drowning in rivers, etc. a tad difficult, you'll be squirming along to the (largely rock) beat. And she might push you over the edge with the one about the bumper sticker on her SUV. You have been warned. (Pictured above with diamond geezer Vince Gill.)