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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

January 30, 2004

It would happen...

Under a Labour government. It seems to me that of all the things a government can do, of all the damage they can do to our society and culture with poll taxes and repressive labour laws and underfunding public services, arseing around with the BBC is one of the worst.

Because no matter how much I disdain most of its output, and even its buying decisions, and no matter how symptomatic of "a certain tendency" Gilligan's loose-lipped reporting was, having a BBC is miles better than not having one. I've seen the alternatives, in the US, in Italy, in France, and I know which I prefer. To have an island free of advertising is a blessed thing. To have CBeebies for the kids to watch without (as I've said before) ads for cheap plastic crap coming on every five minutes; or to have Five Live with it's cheery mix of news and sport; or to have BBC News, which sometimes, at least, gets the balance right; these are all good things.

And if this weasel government arses it all up, in their obsession with news management and control, I'll never forgive the bastards.

Hutton, what an idiot. Sat there for all that time and did not once understand that the difference between a journalist on a story and the so-called truth is exactly the same as that between a police detective pursuing a suspect and the successful prosecution of the suspect in a court of law. Different standards apply. The journalist needs to be able to throw things out into the wind to see whose cover gets blown; the police need to throw accusations at people in order to get them to admit something. Hutton applied the "beyond reasonable doubt" truth test, and that's why he got it completely wrong.

Long term, this makes it more likely, as far as I can see, that the Conservatives will get back in at the next election. Nobody will be on the Labour party's side now.

Anolo Gay

Just obtained a new Meyer Anolon French skillet, which was quite expensive but looks nice.

I love good cookware. I love stuff that is "restaurant tested by professional chefs." As if.

You can tell you're not a teenager anymore when you get excited by kitchen equipment. Years ago, it was, I purchased some ICTC Cuisinox saucepans. They cost an absolute fortune (as you can see, they still do), but you get what you pay for. Purchased in 1986, but still going strong, and showing no signs of falling apart. The handles are usually the first to go, but these are as solid as ever. They've taken some knocks over the years, but to look at them you wouldn't think they were any older than 5 years.

I feel the same way about my Henckel knife drawer set. Incredibly sharp knives that I am regularly risking the tops of my fingers with, but which are the sheerest pleasure to use. My guitar playing hand, too, ooh.

Nother demo

First of all, I'd like to apologise for my abuse of the British people yesterday. I don't know what came over me.

I've been messing around at work with a few others, with a song one of the other guys wrote, and it's prompted me to want to collaborate on something of my own again, especially with Si on guitar.

A while ago, you may remember, I borrowed an Adrenalinn I just to see what it was like. Over the day or so I had it, I recorded a guitar/drum track of one of my oldies (1990/91 vintage), and I've been wanting to go back to it and do the song with some kind of Daniel Lanois-style influence.

The Adrenalinn is limited in that it only has a stereo out, so it's difficult (if not impossible) to record the drum machine output separately from the effected guitar. It's all of a piece anyway. So my idea would be to try to recreate the effect using pedals and plug-ins, so that we could record more dynamic and interesting drum/percussion tracks.

All that said, I recorded a whisper-quiet vocal track last night, fed it to a reverb and a delay. and bounced it to disk to demo to the others. I also filtered the delayed signal, so that only anything above 3kHz was coming through.

Delayed Sway

It's a bit bright sounding, and it's limited by having the same drum pattern all the way through it, and there's no bass or anything fancy on it. But it's quite nice I think.

January 29, 2004

It's perfectly simple

If you are going to shit your pants, England, every time we get a bit of snow, then why not just buy some fucking snow chains and keep them in your car? Put snow chains in your boot and you may never need them, but you won't have to panic everytime you see a white flake of frozen water falling from the sky, because you'll know you have snow chains.

Another thing you could do, you panic-buying weak-willed spastic, is put winter tyres on your car when it is, you know, winter. Instead of spending money on fags, booze, and shoes, why not get yourself an extra set of wheels, with snow tyres, that you can put on your car when you feel the first speck of rain in October? Hmmm?

And revving your engine really hard will not melt the snow but might make your car break down, shitbird.

And lorry drivers of Britain: if you don't know how to drive properly, get another job. If you really really need to be stupidly aggressive all the time, there may be an opening for a pub bouncer or two in Nottingham.

Abby Rode

Maura Tierney is my secret girlfriend.

I love her so very much.

We can never speak of this agan.


To distinguish myself from the scum, I put sea salt on my driveway when it is icy.

January 28, 2004

Due to the weather

I am afraid I have had to cancel my giving a shit about anything this evening.

I anticipate traffic chaos caused by Nottingham drivers skidding into trees whilst listening to news on the radio about snow elsewhere in the country.


B bought some software, some French software, some 30 quid french software.

Working as I do in the computer industry, I fully expected it to be rubbish, full of bugs, the usual story. It's genealogy software, so it involves inputting a fair few dates. One bug it had was that it didn't display said dates properly, rendering the month invisible.

This was such a gumption trap, no fault of hers, but it made B feel annoyed, and then depressed. She was in a rotten mood this morning, and I knew she was thinking about it. There's nothing worse than spending money on something and then discovering that it is shite.

I bought a pair of Dr Martens in France last summer, and the sole of one shoe cracked/split almost immediately. I'd have taken them back, but, you know, I bought them in France. So pissed off was I, especially as they were a combination of my two favourite shoes: desert boots and DMs.

I've downloaded a patch, a software patch, a French software patch, which will fix the problem, I hope. But it's strange to be reminded how regular people who aren't surrounded by their crapness every day can be surprised when computers/software doesn't work properly.

Logical Consistency, Irony, and the Coming Apocalypse*

Online people.

People in the flesh are one thing. Some are hard to like, but I've always been able, more or less, to muddle along with people, even if it means ripping the piss out of them constantly to stop them getting too up themselves. I consider it a public service.

Online people are harder, because their fundamental problem seems to be an inability to spot irony (a serious issue when it comes to dealing with me). So when you try to deflate their pomposity a bit, they completely miss the point of that and get even more pompous.

I often wonder about this, because irony in print is not a new thing. It used to be that you'd see it everywhere, and it was an emoticon-free space. JD Salinger didn't put smilies all over The Catcher in the Rye, now did he?

There was a classic thing run on the NME letters page once, a missive purporting to come from someone in the developing world, asking the question, "Where is Beatles Band?" It was not politically correct, but it was very funny, and written, so I believe, by one of the NME stalwarts, possibly Shaar Murray; one of those guys. In hilarious broken English, which we obviously love, and yet asking that poignant question, whatever happened to that great band who were so good and that everybody used to like (except snot-nosed Guardian journalists)? Where is Beatles Band?

But it wasn't smothered in smilies, and though there might have been the odd teenager who just didn't get it, it was ironically funny without having to add, NOT!!!! at the end of every sentence. This is something that could be said of that other 1970s-NME running joke, the "Er... it was a conceptual joke," joke. Which I still use, whenever I make a glaring mistake.

But kids today... I'm just a grumpy old man to them, clearly.

Going back to Salinger, I think there's a clue there. Because a lot of teenagers will read The Catcher in the Rye and not catch the irony, not hear the authorial voice, and only realise it's even there when they are much older. And I think the problem with innernet people is that they suffer from that arrested development. Techie-type people, which are still the majority of people on-line who, you know, post and contribute to fora and commenting features, generally come from a background of not having read enough books.

Which is such a snotty remark, but I will let it stand simply because the irony-challenged online community will find it so offensive. And that's just plain funny as far as I'm concerned. I have always loved, to the highest degree, making sweeping generalisations just because I know they will upset a certain kind of person.

A certain kind of person needs it spelt out; they need to feel you don't really mean something, or that you were mistaken in your facts and wouldn't have said it if you had known the truth. A certain kind of person clings to dogma and/or ideology and insists on absolute consistency. They love to look for holes in your argument, and point them out for you, as if you care.

As if you care.

And, honest, I really do not fucking care.

"You said A, but if you believe A then you can't possibly also believe B."

All of which is so flaming basic, that only somebody who stopped developing in their mind at the age of 13 could possibly say it. Are we being a Marxist today, petal? Or are we a Christian today? This kind of thought prison is just the kind of thing that should get blown out of your brain when you reach adulthood and realise that, for a start, everything you were taught at school is actually wrong. And then everything you learn for the next ten years also turns out to be wrong. And you eventually stumble onto the realisation that, in the words of Albert Goldman, nobody knows anything. And, yes, I know he was writing about Hollywood, but, see, I'm taking a specific statement and making a sweeping generalisation with it just to annoy you.

It's why it's called Hoses of the Holy, since you ask. Holy hoses, because a hose with holes in it leaks all over the place, like all my arguments, and Hoses of the Holy, because people do just get things wrong, all the time, all through their lives. The majority is always wrong, nobody uses spellcheckerrrrs, and anyway a spellchecker won't ever spot if you've used entirely the wrong word. Hoses/Houses, it's an easy mistake to make.

And this has always been my take on the innernet. It's mostly full of idiots mostly getting things mostly wrong most of the time. And I will resist to my dying breath the need to explain when I'm being ironic, or sarcastic (a subset of ironic) or just 'avin' a larf. One day the innernet will catch up with the 70s, and one day all the illiterate techies will piss off to play computer games and leave me alone.

(See, I'm doing it again.)

And the next person who writes to point out a logical consistency in something I've written, I'm going to say, Go back to Vulcan, Trekkie**.

Or just this: it was a conceptual joke.

* Ironic title
** And, yes, I know Trekkies would prefer to be called Trekkers or something, but they can fuck off too.

January 27, 2004

Prestige TV

Finally, finally, Channel 4 are showing some new episodes of NYPD Blue, which has been absent from the screen too long. The bad news is, they've relegated it to an even later time slot, as if Dennis Franz was no longer one of the best actors in the world.

Trying to not give me my cake and eat it too, NYPD, like many so-called "Prestige Dramas" is sponsored by the Renault Vel Satis, which is some kind of a car I believe. But if it was really a prestige drama, NYPD Blue wouldn't be on after midnight, it would be on a Monday night at 10 o clock, instead of the slightly insipid "Without a Trace" which is a button-pushing exercise in popular cop/fbi drama. Okay, but not worthy to sit at the feet of NYPD Blue. Rather than Renault, Channel 4 should have these still-great no-longer-regarded-as-great programmes sponsored by a bucket of shit.

Then there's be no confusion.

Anyway, it's good to have it back on, and the theme music feels like coming home.

Wilco docu

Saw a documentary on BBC 4 the other night (yes, I watched a programme on BBC 4, shock horror), about Wilco and the making of their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It was very good, compellingly watchable, like Let it Be, only without Yoko.

It was the usual story, pages torn from the Band in Crisis book of cliches. I was flicking through the channels as a prelude to switching off and going to bed, and it was on, and I thought I'd give it five minutes and ended up watching till the bittersweet midnight end.

Starts off, they're recording their record in their loft, being paid to do it by a record company (Reprise) that apparently trusts them so much that they don't need to hear any work-in-progress. It looks like the creative juices are flowing, but what else is going on? Oh yes, the singer, the egoist, obviously thinks he's the most important person on the planet, and he's a Tortured Artist, with his whingeing and his headaches and his puking. He goes off at one point to play some solo gigs with his guitar and harpmonica. What's this about?

So then the scene switches to the studio they booked for the mixing, and it's costing them, and they can't agree on anything. This is where you see the seams starting to come apart. The singer and the clever instrumentalist fellow have one of those blazing rows that isn't one. It's the George Harrison, "Whatever you want me to do I will do it," argument, as they fundamentally disagree on some aspect of mixing/segeuing into the next song. Singer wants it to just stop, instrumentalist thinks it sounds cool as a segue. It's one of those, "Oh, I thought you meant... no listen, I just want to explain, I thought you were saying..." arguments. Neither of them listening to the other, wanting to scream and rips strips of skin with fingernails.

You see the seeds of this at a gig rehearsal when they play through a song in a good rockin' way, and the singer is saying they shouldn't use two guitars on it, and the instrumentalist is saying he thought it sounded cool as it was.

Seeds of doom. Instrumentalist leaves band, record company rejects album. Instrumentalist claims he was squeezed out because he was getting too much attention. Singer says, it's a relief that he's gone, but ask him why he had to leave. Band tours as a 4-piece, record in hiatus, fans already know all the words. Sign with new record company, same parent company, the world and capitalism are stupid and wasteful. Conclude.

Halfway through watching I was almost seduced. People are always recommending Wilco to me, because they think they are "a bit country" and that therefore I must like them. But what they really mean is that they play songs, proper songs, with words and traditional structures. Except they were trying to do away with all that with YHF. (And except that in country they don't go in for all the rock-ist experimentation, they just let the song stand, or fall, on its own merits.)

So I will not, probably, buy the album, unless I see it for £4.99 or something. But I would watch the documentary again, because there aren't enough documentaries about musicians working on records and splitting up.

Top documentaries about bands making music whilst breaking up, a.k.a., the Film Of Our Demise

1. Let it Be
2. The Last Waltz
3. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

January 26, 2004

The more I think...

...about university tuition fees, the less sympathy I have for the embittered students. The MPs may rebel, but they clearly have too much sympathy with a group that could largely be described as middle-class fuckers.

There was a crappy phone in on 5Live late last night, and I was half-listening to a bit of it as I loaded the dishwasher. The two contributors I heard I dismissed their arguments completely. The problem for their cause is that, without these arguments, they don't have an argument.

Argument 1 is that we'll create a generation of 21-year-olds leaving University and unable to get a mortgage because they have a huge student loan to pay off first.

To which my response is, well, good. Because it might force a cultural change in this country, and make us more European in our outlook. In the UK, we have the concept of the "Property Ladder," and people see property, always and forever, as a way to make money, and as stepping stones to making more money. And a lot of good it does us. Not only is our housing ridiculously overpriced, but we are as a nation ridiculously overburdened with mortgage debt. And as any fule kno, you don't make any money at all unless you get out of the property market altogether, sell your house, and go live in a drain.

We don't have much decent rental stock, and people continually use the equity in their homes to get more debt, all of which makes the economy extremely dependent on interest rates, which will always make it difficult for us to join the Euro zone, even if it was in our best interests, because Europeans aren't as badly affected by high interest rates as us. It would be far, far better for us all if people rented property until they were in their 30s and could afford to take on a mortgage and responsibility. None of this getting married at 19, getting divorced at the age of 25, and fucking yourself up forever.

Argument number two runs along these lines. "I'm 17 and taking 'A' levels, and if they charge top-up fees, I will not be able to go to university."

To which I say, well, good. Because my experience of these 18-21 year olds who went to good schools and got good 'A' levels is that they're a bunch of idiots. Spoon-fed, oblivious, selfish, stupid, middle-class fuckbunnies. So you can't afford to go to University at 18, so what? Get a job.

People should be able to go to university at any stage of their life, for any reason they want. If that means going at 25, or 35, 65, or 95, I don't see a problem. The problem is with campuses and libraries and resources being sucked up by a bunch of teenagers who don't give a shit, don't know anything, and don't know what to do with themselves. Go away and block the pavements somewhere else.

I can see a future in which it suits employers to send people to university, part-time, to improve their work performance. Or where people save up for a few years and then go to university. Or where people keep working part time while they go through university, even if it takes them 7 years. None of this should be a barrier to success. In fact, if the government could do one thing, I'd suggest they take away the problem of underpaying National Insurance contributions through earning below the threshold in University years. This doesn't affect 18 year olds but is a problem for 21+ students.


Mr, the day the lottery I win, I ain't ever gonna ride in no used car again.

With these shattering words, Bruce Springsteen... only joking.

I grew up in a family where we were rich enough to have a car, but never rich enough to have a good car. My dad's long retired now, and on his own, and I think he just bought himself his first new or near-as-dammit new car.

The first family car I remember was something like a Zodiac or a Corsair, a big, old Ford, big enough to house the 8 of us. It didn't last long, and the next one was a Morris Traveller, the estate version of the Morris Minor, complete with Elizabethan wooden beams.

My greatest memory of that car was that it made me feel very, very, sick. There were so many of us that, when the whole family went out, two of us would have to ride in the boot. Given the opportunity of riding in the back seat, I would kneel on the cushion, pull the window open, and stick my head out into the breeze.

It was always breaking down. I remember once we were on holiday (Scarborough) and out for a drive in the hilly countryside. On one steep incline, everyone had to get out and walk while my dad drive it to the top of the hill. Another family holiday, after making it to the Norfolk Broads without too much engine trouble, we found that the boat we'd hired for the week was the aquatic equivalent of the Traveller. It too was always breaking down, and we seemed to spend more time waiting for someone to come fix the engine than we did moving around on the water.

After the Traveller era, the best car my dad ever had, a Singer Vogue Estate. It was an automatic, with luxury features (like a heater), and a front bench seat (red), so 6 people could actually sit in it, making trips in the boot less common.

But that was an old car when we got it, and it was succeeded by the worst car my dad ever had, a Hillman Minx. And not in a good way. If you search for Hillman Minx piccies on the innernet, you find a lot of the original, Mk I car, which looks like a nice old classic. But you find very few of the truly horrible Mk II, which had no redeeming features.

That car spent most of the time in our garage, not working. If we had it a year, it spend 9 months sitting in the garage occupying space.

Then I think my old man got yet another Morris Traveller, but that didn't last long. And finally, he got what he always wanted, which was a fairly new Ford (Orion), because by that time there was only one kid left living at home.

My own first car was a VW Beetle, 1972 vintage, in orange. It was a rusty pile of shite, but I loved it. I eventually bought a slightly better, newer Beetle, in yellow, and the orange one sat, neglected and unloved, outside my house for 6 months. Then I had an accident in the yellow one and decided to use the orange one again while it was being repaired. Sat in it, turned the key in the ignition... started first time.

Like the 200-year-old VW in Sleeper. Of course, the history of film would have been changed forever if it had been a Hillman Minx Woody found in the cave.

January 23, 2004

About this time of year...

I sing a little song...

(ooh ooh)
Sick and tired, you keep hangin' on me
You make me sad with your eyes
You're telling me lies...

I always hated that song, but I'll never forget it, because it reminds me of JS, my first teenage girlfriend. Or you could say, my 42nd girlfriend, because the relationship only lasted 40 seconds. Boom boom.

Anyway, that song was in the charts at the time, and she decided it was "our song," which made me want to pukevomit.

It happened at her birthday party. I was at the time obsessed with JB (and it took me the best part of a year to win her over, but I got her in the end). So I spent the whole party trying to cop off with JB, finding that my strategy of poking her in the arse with a cocktail stick (sans sausage) didn't work. So by the time JB got off with someone else, it was just me and JS.

It's been a helluva week, and I'm quite ready for winter to be over and the days to start getting longer, so I can get out on my bike for a while when I get home from work. The weather forecast is not looking good, so I expect I'll be sick and tired of February too.

A hectic week, we launched our new web site this week, and I've been dealing with the fallout from that, the bugs, the complaints, the abusive emails, the occasional friendly comment.

We got a complaint from a customer (a designer) who said the new site was HORRIBLE in capital letters. At worst, I'd say our new site is inoffensively neutral, which is what it's designed to be. We want people to buy stuff, not admire the design. Anyway, I went, out of interest, to visit this designer's site, and of course the first thing I saw was "Loading..." as the sucky Flash animation loaded. The whole site was done in poo coloured flash, as far as I could see.

And I thought to myself, no matter how HORRIBLE you think our web site is, at least it doesn't have any Flash on it. Because I fucking hate that stuff. Designers who use Flash should be put on a spaceship with all the telephone sanitation engineers (as in the hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) and sent off into the void.

Nice Bass

It's not often you'll hear my say that a bass looks nice, but these look like bass versions of the Telecaster Thinline, which is also a very nice guitar.

The Schecter basses are quite reasonably priced, too, in dorrar, but who knows what the GBP price would be. Not a hundred quid, that's for sure.

January 22, 2004


Had a Chris's Caff mushroom omelette for lunch, which I counted as 6 points. While we were waiting outside for it to arrive, we talked in a fun way about doing a spoof of the Belle de Jour page.

Because when everyone finds out it's being written by a fat, sweaty bloke with a combover and a string vest, it's going to be so disappointing.

Best idea so far is a version called "Pepe du Jour", being the diary of a young t**nage m@le pr*stitute on a Manchester housing estate. Entries would include the one about doing the Geography teacher for 10 quid and a B+; and the one about hanging around smelly toilets for hours on end waiting for middle-aged men to come looking for adventure.

A slow descent into drugs and crime and degradation would ensue, providing entertainment for one and all.

nice photo

at Steve's digicams, taken with a Nikon 5700, which is one of the more expensive models, or prosumer as they are sometimes called (I hate that, personally).

I've looked at Nikons before now, but though there's no denying the quality of the lenses and the photgraphs you can take with them, I find the camera controls a bit fiddly. Once everything goes electronic, there's a point at which you just can't be bothered to seek out some of the manual controls, so (if you're me) you tend to leave everything on auto. And if you're going to do that, you might as well buy a Canon or a Minolta as get a Nikon.

The new Leica model with "analogue" manual controls for exposure and even focus seems like the ideal solution, but it's going to cost over 1000 GBP.

January 21, 2004


My life is complete. Censored on the Guardian Online's weblog. I posted a comment, something about Pokey Pola, I can barely remember what it was. Oh yes, what if a major band recorded a song called "Coke Rots Your Teeth," would you be able to buy it through the Pokey Pola music store?

Anyway, they censored the post, which makes me very proud. As far as I'm concerned, I'm now on the same moral level as Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, and that bloke with the long hair and the beard. Jesus.

January 20, 2004

Track update update update

Here then is that finished tune I was talking about a few days ago: Explain This.

On the whole I'm pleased with it. The feel is there. I'm quite pleased with the sound of the new harpmonica, as it goes, and for once my Telecaster sounds OK (I think the Tonelab helps a lot). I had my usual nightmare trying to get the drums to sound good, but I've accepted that my lot is not to know how to do drums.

Drums are the only virtual instrument on this (Groove Agent midi output with Native Instruments Battery); everything else is for real. The vocal is one of my 8 o clock in the morning sit-down specials. I planned to re-record it, but thought it was probably OK as it was. So one take for that. The microphone I used was the same one I used for the acoustic guitar: Beyerdynamic Opus 53, which, believe it or not, is exactly the same as the MCE 530, (scroll down to see it) but cheaper, and silver instead of black.

It's on there as a percussion microphone, but like a lot of small diaphragm condensers, it can record almost anything, and is fairly flat and neutral in the way it records things.

Now We Are Six... er, 10... er, 14, was it?

Five Live are celebrating their 10th birthday this year, though I think of it as being older than that, dating back to the original Radio Five, which was, what? August 1990, I gather, which makes Radio Five/Five Live 14 this year.

With notable exceptions, I generally like 5 Live. It's got a good vibe, and it's a station whose style fits in with my life. I can turn it on, when I turn it on, and find something more or less listenable, unless it's that awful fishing programme.

I first tuned in when the station launched in 1990, found it diverting for a while, but not sufficiently different. Then in 1996, during the Atlanta Olympics, I finally tired of Radio 4 and tuned away from it forever.

As far as radios are concerned, I basically want one that gets 693 and 909, and that's it. I never, ever listen to anything else. Give or take Radio Caroline, I find music programming boil-inducing, and cannot stand DJ patter. Which is odd, because two of the presenters of 5 Live are former Radio 1 DJs, with Simon Mayo coming out on top.

What turned me off Radio 4, I hear you ask? I grew up on it, and even listened to the Archers, but (and this took a long time) I grew to despise Radio Fourland, with its arts programmes about arts that nobody cares about; and its religious programming; and it's women's hours; and its religious programmes; and Desert Island fucking Disks. Given how much I hated about it, it's just puzzling to me now that I ever listened to it at all. Oh, and afternoon plays about Northern Bloody Ireland *thunk*

My first experience of 5 Live was, appropriately, Jane Garvey trying to do a programme in a noisy Atlanta bar. Mainly clinking of glasses, but also a strong sense of a good personality and a classy broadcaster. I was hooked immediately. Garvey, with Peter Allen are 5 Live's A team, and it's a pleasure to drive home with them, not forgetting the lovely Jo.

To stop this turning into a love-in, I should mention that the two worst presenters on 5 Live are Anita Anand and Garry Richardson. Both suffer from that greatest of all sins in interviewing, not listening to the interviewee, and ploughing on with a question from the script that has just been answered. Garry Richardson is Alan Partridge. Anand is equally rude, giving the impression that not only did she not listen to the answer, but that she's not interested in the subject and wants to move quickly onto something that lets her speak. She's at her worst let loose with a phone in, because she always interrupts, cuts off, and drones onwards, because she's more interesting than anybody else in the world, ever.

Apart from the fishing programme, phone-ins always make me switch off, especially the morning one.

Suprising things to like are Johnny Vaughan's Fighting Talk, which can be hilarious, and Simon Mayo's afternoon show, which is usually interesting, on those rare occasions I get to hear it.

I do hope 5 Live gets over this anniversary rubbish soon, and just gets on with things.

January 19, 2004

Curse of 1000 years

Curses to the fraudsters of this world, who are making the internet a Bad Place, and a Difficult Place to do business.

The only response so far to my on-line for sale ad (for the Telecaster) has been from someone called Frank Warn, whose scam was not only preposterous but long winded, so that you were ready to poke your eyes out with hot pokers rather than read it through. As my friend Simon put it,

Even if that was genuine, you'd die of catalepsy by the time you read two-thirds of the way through the instructions for the transaction. I think he left out the step where you stand under the third tree on the right of the tradesman's entrance to Wollaton park, and facing the sun at 2pm on 31st March take six paces forward and dig a hole, in which you will find a casket of lead containing a hand written note with his Paypal number on it...

It was some crap about, oh I want to pay for it, but I haven't got any money, but someone owes me money. Could you cash their cheque and then send me the change, zzzzzzz. Frank, I can't be sure, but I think you're a shitbird.

The consumate con artist, Frank tried to get me to believe he was a genuine punter by being a bit of an arse in his 1st couple of emails, first asking what my rock-bottom price was, and then saying, why didn't you advertise at that price if you wanted to sell? Well, Frank, because I wanted to sell at the higher price. I expect he thought he was reeling me in. But then he blows it by agreeing to pay me a cool one thousand more than I asked for the guitar, because the pound sign in my email turned into a question mark, which he interpreted as a 1.

I curse you Frank, and I curse your family, your ancestors, your dog, and your dog's offspring, for the next thousand years.

Sock in it

Made my semi-annual visit to M & S for socks and stuff at the weekend, and had my semi-annual moan to the poor sap who served me. I buy with increasing resentment as I get older, because it's about 10 years since they made a decent sock. Whenever I hear or read about their financial troubles, I put it down to this one thing, but I'm a voice in the wilderness.

Lycra. Bollocks to it.

Since they started putting 1% elastane into their socks, they've been crap. They don't last as long, and they become uncomfortable after you've been wearing them for a few hours.

And then there's the colour problem. In the garish 80s, you used to be able to buy socks in many shades, from pastels to dayglo. I had a bit of a fetish, where I'd buy, say, a red tee shirt, and a matching pair of red socks. Or yellow and yellow. But regardless of my fetish, if I had a choice, I would never wear navy blue, grey, and the other dull colours (black excepted, for certain occasions). I would always buy something brighter, a red, or green, purple or yellow.

Problem is, everyone else puts Lycra in as well, and everyone else makes horrible colours. But worse, everyone else makes socks that don't fit properly too. Plus there are some shops I just won't go in.

It used to be that I'd regularly walk into M & S to browse, just because they did a reasonable range of good value t shirts and stuff, well made, and you could get comfortable cotton rich socks in a variety of colours. Naturally, you'd see things and buy them just because you happened to be there. But now I only go in when I'm desperate and barely bother to browse, because the clothes are ridiculously overpriced and usually horrible to look at, and the socks are rubbish.

There, in a nutshell, is your problem, Mr Marks and Mr Spencer.

January 16, 2004

Oh my goodness

Line 6 have announced an acoustic version of the Variax. You'd be forgiven for being sceptical. No sound samples yet, but this is an interesting feature: instant access to preset and custom altered tunings. Which means you could have a setting where it's tuned to an open E, say, for playing a bit of slide. And then return it to regular tuning for the next song/verse.

Guitar roadies all over the world will fear for their jobs.

And they haven't made the mistake of making it look shit, like the original Variax (now called the 500) did.


Well that's put me in a good mood. I just had a few minutes with the new versions of iPhoto and iMovie in iLife '04, and it's gratifying to note that both have hugely improved performance.

The scrolling in iPhoto will add years to my life. As soon as you have more than a very few photos in the old iPhoto, it crawls to an almost-stop and becomes almost unusable. This has the knock-on effect of making you reluctant to upload photos to the Mac, and the further effect of making you reluctant to take photos in the first place, because you know it'll be a pain to do anything with them other than look at them on the camera. So yay to Apple on that, and about time.

The "sepia" effect works well, too, if you like that sort of thing, plus photos are better organised, by default, and the new slide show feature is spot on. Whereas previously you just had a slide show with the option of a single piece of music, you now have novelty transitions (not that interested in those), can choose a whole playlist of music, and you can rate, rotate, and trash photos as you go through the show. Fantastic.

As for iMovie 4, it certainly launches quicker, and the other immediate benefit is that the so-called "Ken Burns Effect" (which in the UK should be called the Ken Morse Effect) is miles quicker. Choosing a photo with the KB effect used to be frustratingly, painfully, slow. Now, when you click "apply" it happens in (almost) a blink of an eye. I mean, that red progress bar just races across the clip, and there's no waiting. So a double yay to Apple on that, but please, what was iMovie 3 all about? Because it was rubbish from start to finish, so good riddance.

As for iDVD 4, I'm not installing it until I know it works. Took me about 8 months to get version 3 working properly (had to wait for an update while Apple seemingly were in denial of the problem). And GarageBand... I'll have a look at soon, but I'm in the midst of a pro tools project, so it won't be for a while.


I didn't quite believe it would, but Vocaloid (a virtual singer) actually sounds quite good. Absolutely perfect for creating backing vox. Only problem is, it's PC only. Curse Yamaha!

If companies had IQs, Yamaha's would be 15. Apple, on the other hand, are idiot savants, like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman.

January 15, 2004

Marine Boy, part 2

I've come across this much better Marine Boy site, which gives more info and has downloadable theme music too (a must-have). Apparently you can get the theme tune as a ringtone for those mobile phone things.

Oxygum... smell the future

track update update

Last night there was nothing on telly, so I spent an hour or two buggering up the tune I was talking about earlier in the week. I took the time to record the drums properly, on multiple tracks. I'm using Native Instruments Battery to convert the Groove Agent MIDI file to audio again, on the basis that nobody seems to like the GA sounds (although, maybe, I should stick to my guns and just use the GA output, because I don't mind it).

So I have two problems with drums. One, I've no innate ability or sense of rhythm, and don't know where to start, on my own, with creating drum tracks. I basically haven't got the patience to learn or to do it properly, because anything that takes longer than an hour, I'm going to be interrupted anyway. The other problem is I don't really know what I like, or why I like it, or how to get it.

People suggest you listen to records you like, and there's the rub. The records I like from the past tend to have the kind of drums you can hardly hear (60s, 70s classic rock) in comparison to the blam and blat you hear today. And I like the drums on a lot of country stuff, but you're comparing apples and oranges, because Nashville recordings are done in a particular way that I can't (don't know how) reproduce.

This is a particular issue with the snare sound, because people get very emotional about snares, and I don't. The snare drum on its own, in real life, sounds horrible to me, and it's only when it's recorded and processed that it sounds passable.

With this tune, I've ended up with a pattern I think is all right, but break it down into its elements, and it's not so good. The half-open hi-hat interferes with the snare and makes it sounds squishy, and the ride cymbal ends up also being overwhelmed by the hi-hat. I've basically got to go back and try again. I tend to record what I call "overheads" on a stereo pair, but I'm going to have to take the individual sounds out separately in order to get control over them.

All of which just reminds me why I had doing drums, and why I'm so bad at it. I struggle to make any individual sound right, and the prospects of getting the whole kit to work are remote.

So, as I suspicioned, the process of ruining the track has begun.


I haven't mentioned it before, because I really didn't imagine I'd be able to stick to it, but I've decided to stop speeding. This was a decision taken after the slightly depressing drive home after Xmas.

It's a small step. I don't normally go in for this sort of thing, but it does seem to me that a lot of the mean and nasty things in this life stem from the state of our roads. Because no matter how civilised we are in person, and no matter how right-on our political views, it's a universal truth that we act like total bastard ignorant twats when we're driving our cars.

Even the most anti-establishment, anti-capital, Ned Flanders, bearded hippy christian socialist is likely to turn into a psycho killer when he's behind the wheel. And I include myself. I know I get aggressive, angry, meanspirited and cruel when I'm driving.

I've been thinking about it for a while. because I might drop off CJ at school and smile and say hello to a variety of other adults. But then I might be driving behind or in front of those very same people 5 minutes later and I want to kill them, effectively.

Or I'll think about it as I'm crossing the road to go to the shop or Chris's Caff, and an oncoming motorist accelerates towards me. You know, you'll wait for a reasonable gap in the traffic, and start to cross the road, and the motorist will deliberately slam his foot down in order to close the gap quicker, threaten you, and what? Make you feel bad for trying to cross the road in front of him?

It's not as if it happens only once. It happens almost every working day. And I think, you do that to me, because I'm an adult male not of your tribe and you instinctively want to kill me. Would you also do it to my 6 year old daughter?

So I'm forcing myself to always, always, stay within the speed limit. And I'm letting people cross the road, and pull out at tricky junctions, even if I know they're only there because they took a rat run short cut. And sometimes I have to mutter something under my breath, because every day you see people behaving absolutely disgracefully. But I'm trying. And I haven't been late to work, and, as I said before, it's not as if I'm travelling to Mars.


I am extremely pleased to see that Google are now advertising el cheapo acoustic guitars at the top of the page. Much better than B+b M+nkh+use videos, or whatever it was before. I have to be careful what proper nouns I use in the future.

So, in the spirit of manipulating things:

Guitar, Fender, Gibson, Epiphone, Line6, Variax, guitar guitar guitar, chocolate.

Mmmmmmmmm... chocolate.

January 14, 2004

two takes

I hear friends complain that they never have enough time to make any music on their gear. This always interests me. For years I seemed to have more time than anyone else. I was able to reply to letters, at length, hit essay deadlines, and still watch too much TV and get through novels and books lickety split.

Then I had kids, and email took over from letters (a huge disappointment), and I got a proper job. But still. Given that I'm lucky to get half an hour in the morning to work on music, and and hour or so at the weekend if I'm lucky, I don't consider myself exactly blessed with time. Still, I suppose I have the ability to get down to something and not faff around too much. For me, this is the beauty of Pro Tools. Even in it's native, LE edition, it is pretty reliable.

So here's an update on
the tune I was talking about. This morning, I recorded a clean, more accurate, acoustic track (with a tuned guitar), and followed up with a new electric track.

I'm straight out of the two takes school, and think that anything after the second take sees a diminishing of inspiration. Obviously without ever having come close to the quality of one of Dylan's best. But still, I've always been able to live with the odd duff note and imperfection. I'm not even bothered about fine editing in Pro Tools. Life is too short for that kind of thing. This is particularly true in this case, because I'm trying to maintain the feel of the rough demo. Tomorrow, being Thursday, I won't be able to do anything, but come Friday, I'll maybe do the proper vocal, and then, possibly, a little bit of harpmonica.

Kodak Coda

The real turning of the page will be when Kodak decides it's not worth making film any more. Not making film cameras any more is an easy decision, when a digital camera can be had for a few pounds. I know of at least one (from a recogniseable brand) that can be bought in by resellers for about 15 notes. I'm not saying it's any good, but nor would a film camera at that price be.

So I'm reading The Poet at the moment, first published in 1996, and one of the main plot points turns on the fact that the perp has been using a digital camera and has to special-order another one. Except of course I'd been reading throughout on the assumption that it was a digital camera, because I hadn't looked to see when the book was published.

People (authors, filmmakers) keep doing it, but using "the latest technology" in a film or book is the surest way of ensuring that it will end up seeming quaint, silly even. And it's odd, but the best SF never suffers from this, because the real world never, quite, manages to "catch up" with the imagination of science fiction writers.

Anyway, apart from the quaint technology plot twist, The Poet suffers from having an extremely unsympathetic narrator. Connelly's Bosch novels are written in the 3rd person, but this 1st person narrator comes across as a weasel.

January 13, 2004

Unwatchable TV

Oh boy.

Of all the BBC digital channels, CBeebies is the only one we regularly have on. It's a boon, especially between 6 and 7 in the evening. The great thing about it is there are no adverts for Barbies and cheap plastic crap. As for the rest of it, I find both the lowbrow BBC3 "yoof" programming and the middlebrow BBC4 "culcha" programming equally offensive. BBC4 is basically TV for the kind of people who don't watch television. Don't, in fact, own a television.

I've only ever watched BBC3 for a few minutes. I saw a couple of presenters on some entertainment news prog. She was reading her autocue, and you could see his lips moving as he followed what she was reading.

Pure genius.

This is a strange connection (alert), but it always puts me in mind of Lou Reed's "Take No Prisoners". It's a great album featuring an artist at the peak of his powers in terms of haranguing journalists and reviewers and celebrity culture with vicious accuracy. The reviewer on the page who calls the performance sloppy is missing the mark by a long way. The band is so incredibly tight that they stay with Reed throughout, even when he stops in the middle of a line to carry on his tirade. Like when he starts to sing the line "Little Joe never once gave it away" in "Walk on the Wild Side." He says,

"Little Joe.... Little Joe was an idiot. I don't know if you know that. He couldn't even tie his shoelaces and dress..."

But my favourite bit is where he talks about some writer, known to the other writers in the front row (one of Lou's beefs is that the bastard reviewers get free tickets to his shows and free copies of his albums and then slag him off), who was involved in writing entries for an encyclopaedia. he calls her Tiny Malice, and he characterises her as saying things like, "What's a word gonna make this thing interesting?"

Which I guess you have to think about, but she's essentially saying that she needs to spice up a subject because she's not interested in it -- an indication that she's so stuck up her own arse that she can't imagine a world in which someone might just be interested in the subject.

And I was reminded of this watching the unwatchably offensive Channel 4 docu on the voice. Because they're supposedly doing a history of the most amazing human voices in history, people like Maria Callas, Bessie Smith, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday. But in order to "make it interesting" they have some nonentity called Beyonce doing a talking head, and play one of her videos over the closing credits.

Youth TV programmers. Dismemberment is too good for them.


I sat down at the weekend and forced myself to start working on a song. Just had to get over that initial hump, the getting-started hump. It's a song with only 3 chords, D, C9, and G.

I recorded a rough (very rough) acoustic guitar track to a click and started work.

The song is an old one, I wrote it in 1989, I think. I've changed a few lines and the middle 8, so it's fresh to me again. I always liked the song, because it's one of my 5-minute wonders. There are perhaps five or six songs over the years that I just sat down and wrote in a flood; they took barely more time to write than they take to play.

Which is no recommendation, as far as the world is concerned, but for myself they always feel special, more inspired. It was originally recorded on a Fostex 8-track reel to reel with just bass and a couple of acoustic guitar tracks, no drums (though you can hear some spillage of the click in my headphones on some quiet bits).

Anyway. I did some groove agent drums, which took most of Sunday afternoon. And Sunday evening, I picked up my bass and worked out a very simple bass line: the first one I've attempted to do myself properly, since getting the bass. I'm pretty pleased with it. It's mostly just the root note and the octave, with a ninth on the C9 and a couple of bars of something more fancy. It works, anyway. Again, it's there quite roughly, and I'll try to do a clean take later.

So this morning I recorded an 8 o clock guide vocal, so that I've got something to work around.

Now I've got a rough guitar track, a rough vocal, a rough bass line, and just a stereo track of drums, based on the Groove Agent MIDI file (I'll multitrack the drums later). But it has a really nice feel to it. In spite of its roughness, it sounds really good to my ears. I'm afraid that anything more I do to polish it will ruin it.

I intend to add another track of electric guitar, but the arrangement will then be essentially complete. There's some doubt in my mind as to whether to play some harmonica on the coda. I got one of my new Lee Oskars yesterday. It sounds all right, though nowhere near the instant gratification of the Marine Band it replaces. I wouldn't buy another on the strength of this first play.

I'll save a copy of the demo to compare with the finished article, and see if I do indeed ruin it.


It's my blood, apparently. I went for a check up yester, something I've been putting off for about 5 years. Last time I had my blood pressure taken, I had slightly high bp, which I put down to smoking, which I'd just given up.

But now I have it checked again, and it's a bit high, so I've got to take steps and I've got to go back in a month for another check. It explains the headaches. At least once a week I get an all-day pressure headache. A normal person might have gone to the doctor about this, but our local doctors were so crap I stopped going.

So I'm back counting points and attempting to lose some kgs.

Looks like the weekly fish chips and ginger beer is out of the window for a while. Where's that aspirin?

January 12, 2004

Wam, bam, thankyou NAMM

People keep asking me if I'm going to the NAMM show. Yeah, right. For a start, I'd not willingly fly anywhere for something as trivial as work. For another start, I'd rather take the money for the flight/hotel, hide at home for 3 or 4 days, then spend the cash on a guitar and some fake tan.

And for another start, these shows are ridiculous, noisy, dinosaur events, for about-to-be-extinct giant-sized lizards. I mean. There's the innernet, for another start, to get information from. And there's the fact that nothing announced at NAMM ships before August, so I'm not about to go get excited about it now.

It's not even as if you're going to see and hear anything useful, because the fraking noise will see your eardrums bleeding within the first half hour.

And no, I'm not going to Musikmesse, Frankfurt either. Nor Sounds Expo in London. I've had to do Sounds Expo twice as an exhibitor. I'd rather stay at home and watch the gag reel on the Interiors DVD.

Looking forward...

to A Mighty Wind. I watched the on-line trailer a month or so ago. Like a lot of their things, like a lot of "clever," improvised, comedies, you suspicion that it will be funnier in the telling and the recalling than in the watching, but bring it on.

"There had been abuse in my family... but it was... mostly musical in nature."


Went for a bike ride on Saturday, my first for over a month, due to my commitment to produce as much mucus as possible in December.

I feel like I'm back to square one in terms of fitness, and I've definitely put on some girth (which is as it should be, in winter), so I just did a 5 mile quickie. It was windy anyway, and more than anything I hate riding in strong wind.

But this was the first time I'd ridden in proper cycling gear (I bought some a couple of weeks ago). My history on this is that I never, ever, buy clothes made of anything other than natural fibres. But a friend who knows about these things told me I'd need to get some proper gear. So I got myself a thermal vest, some shorts, a shirt, and even a "Windstopper" headband, so I could protect my ears from the wind and still wear a helmet. I wore a fleece jumper to complete the ensemble. No way was I spending forty quid on some tarted up jacket as a top layer.

All in all, more than I'd ideally spend on a pile of nylon that will probably melt/shrink in the washing machine, but a whole new world of comfort and warmth on my bike. I resent the price of sports gear to the extent that this is the first I've ever purchased, since compulsory school uniform stuff. I'm most impressed with the thermal vest. The shorts also, obviously, cushion one's arse. I felt a little sound-isolated in the headband, but it was more effective than just wearing a hat instead of a helmet.

The odd thing about Decathlon clothing is the sizes. A French medium is a US Small. I'm an XL, in Decathlon terms, which tells you all you need to know about the size/shape of French manhood. Much as I'd love to be one of those "petit" guys in freshly pressed faded blue jeans, loafers, smartly ironed shirt, and jumper neatly tied over my shoulder... I'm a big hunk of English lard.


Watched A Guy Thing on DVD on Saturday night. I like Julia Stiles, she's in the best film of all time.

Funny thing really. How a film lke A Guy Thing, which is a mostly harmless, good fun, good situation comedy with a nice cast, gets slagged off so badly, while a major film with massive flaws, long, boring passages, and some awful acting, like the LOTR trilogy (see below, I'm not going into it again), gets a million percent.

Only thing wrong with A Guy Thing is what they let the preview audience do to it. They say on the extra features, oh, here's the original ending, but the preview audience didn't like it. Well, fuck them.

Preview audiences must be responsible for more bad films than any other factor. And of course the marketing monkeys who think that what a bunch of morons who have been let into a free film think matters.

January 09, 2004

On the subject of Tolkein

I didn't join in with any of that ridiculous voting rubbish the BBC went in for recently. Popularity contests, pah, is what I say. As my old mate Ibsen once wrote, the majority is always wrong.

Anyway, given the hype surrounding the films and the general inability of people to see beyond the end of their noses, *thunk*...

Sorry, fell asleep there for a minute. I'm not against LOTR you understand. I mean, I've read it more than once (2001 was the last time). But, when I do read it, boy do I skip ahead. I skip huge chunks of it. And I was glad that they'd skipped chunks of it when they made the film. Except I'd have skipped more. I don't think it needs to have been a 9 hour film. Either it should have been a 26 week (19 hour) television series, going into great detail and really building up the story and the characters (as in the original radio broadcast of 1981, which was excellent); or it should have been one 3-hour film, bish bash bosh. Does that sound heretical? It's a different revenue model, the TV series, but given that they could have sold it internationally; given the repeat value; given the huge audience; given the potential DVD sales, it would have worked.

But going back to the cinema for the last installment, when you know the last bit is a bit of a yawn, feels like a bit of a traipse. Maybe it's just me. At least on DVD you can fast forward through the battles, and the treebeard bits. And the emotional scenes between Sam and Frodo. And the slushy bits with Aragorn and Liv Tyler. All of it really.

Anyway, apart from the aforementioned Tim Powers, I hear you ask, who is a good fantasy writer?

But you wouldn't really be asking, because, let's face it, fantasy is the most popular genre of fiction there is. Consider the evidentiary evidence. There's Tolkein, there's Harry H Potter, there's Terry Pratchett, there's *thunk*.

But the problem with fantasy is that people get into the stories, the characters, the worlds, get all involved in it, without really caring much about the writing. David Eddings, for example, is a fucking horrible writer. You know, there are some writers who stick to a particular style, in every book they write, and if it's not right for you it just irritates the hell out of you. Fantasy is like that. You have to skip through Tolkein, because he just droned on too much. With The Silmarillion, you have to skip through the entire thing.

So it's all very subjective, and you stopped reading ten minutes ago, but my favourite sort of swords n sorcery series is that of Katharine Kerr. I think it's brilliant. She spans generations with the storyline, but manages to keep the same characters in it through reincarnation and magical means. Now this would make a fantastic long-running television series. You could do about seven years' worth. She also branches out occasionally and writes other stuff, also good, like Polar City Blues and Snare.


...I'm stalled at the moment. Actually I'm creatively stalled.

Things build up, in the back of my mind. I have it in mind, for example, to get hold of a copy of The FXPansion VST to RTAS Adapter, so that I can use VST plug-ins like Groove Agent in Pro Tools. Then I would no longer have to live with the instability and crappy interface of Cubase SX.

But I haven't got around to doing it yet, so instead of starting work on a track, using Cubase for Groove Agent, I'm just not doing anything. There are a couple of songs I want to record. One, written around 1989, I've changed a couple of the lines, and I want to give it another go.

Then there's the guitar question. I've put my Blue Flower Telecaster up for sale, and if it goes, and if it goes for a good price, I'm planning to buy a Variax. But in the meantime, I'm not doing anything much.

I wrote a new song the other day, when I was messing around with the Tele and the Vox Tonelab, but I don't think I'll ever record it properly. It was too easy, maybe, too well-worn in the chord sequence.

As for the St Guthlac Sur Mer prose, which begins, sort of, here, and fetches up on the beach, like a slightly rancid bit of seaweed, here.

That last bit is a summary, and I've written nothing since November. Obviously, I lost interest when they got back to the UK. So I don't really want them to be in the UK. On the other hand, I also think that I got Lucy and the narrator (has he got a name? I can't remember) together too soon, and I need to go back and start again, and have them meet only when they get to the reuinion. So, Tolkein-like*, I need to start over from the beginning.

And also, I know I get a little confused about names. I don't care too much about character, it's a failing, and I don't even care too much what people are called. Left to my own devices, writing for myself, I'd keep changing the names until I settled on something. So there's one character who starts off being called James and then becomes a Dave.

All names have associations, and it's difficult to be neutral about them, which is what I want to be.

Also also.

I need to go on a scouting trip. There are a couple of places I need to visit. One is Crowland, in South Lincs, which was Guthlac's base, the origin of his legend. And the other is a village on the coast called Fishtoft. I quote:

St Guthlac is portrayed in a window at Fishtoft church. He is holding a whip allegedly given to him by St Bartholomew. Legend has it that as long as he held the whip, Fishtoft would be free of rats and mice.

If you've been following the story, you'd think I'd known this all along. But this falls under the same category as unintentional hilarity. I happened upon Guthlac at random. I'd never heard of him, I don't know Lincolnshire very well, I've never been to Fishtoft.

Even stranger, I didn't find out about Fishtoft from the innernet. I found it in an old Reader's Digest book at my dad's house, Myths and Legends of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or something. Even more amazingly, if you look at this map you'll realise that we're talking about areas lost and reclaimed from the sea, because Fishtoft is on the Wash.

So it all fits perfectly.

But I'm not in the mood for it at the moment.

*According to one of the extra features docus on one of the Lord of the Rings DVDs, Tolkein started to write the novel 3 separate times, from the beginning.

January 08, 2004

Bunter of the Week

from the headline you'd think Microsoft were going to be targeting transvestites.

I know I'm wildly prejudiced, but somehow everything that comes out of Bill Gates' mouth sounds like shit to me. It's not just that he apes everything Steve Jobs says; it's not just that he always presents borrowed ideas as his own; it's that he's so clearly not remotely embarassed by this.

Which is his business secret of course. To blatantly steal, borrow, copy, and pretend that you didn't. To brazen it out. Like the way he so openly lied when MS was being investigated. A bare-faced, "I don't recall, I don't remember" in the same category as Bill Clinton's, "I did not have sexual intercourse with that woman."

If Bill Gates was English, he'd have played tennis up the park during Wimbledon fortnight without a blush. And he'd have said, "Wimbledon? What's that?" if you'd asked him about it.

I swear, I'd be using a manual typewriter and a cassette portastudio if Apple didn't exist.

Ho ho ho hum

A lot of you have written to ask, what is Xmas in France like then? The answer to this really depends on what you're used to. My experience is that, even in the UK, there are a huge number of different ways to celebrate the Solstice.

I grew up doing things this particular way: presents were round the tree for some time before Xmas, with the quantity building as the day got nearer. Nobody believed in Father Xmas, not really, and not as the person who was putting the presents under the tree. We did nothing special on Xmas eve, but put "stockings" (football socks) at the end of the bed. This is what "father xmas" would fill with stocking fillers, and this was the only bit we kids were allowed to open before anyone else got up.

So, as a kid, you'd get up at 5 or 6 o clock, find your stocking filled with small things, chocolate, satsumas, and nuts, and that would suffice until the rest of the family got up. Small things might include extra Hot Wheels cars for the Hot Wheels set you were about to get. Or one of those "make your own balloons" kits that they used to sell in Hamleys, or a game of Spillikins.

So anyway, then the rest of the family would slowly get up (there were a lot of us at home, I was number 6 of 7) and eventually we'd position ourselves round the xmas tree, and my dad would be in charge of handing out the presents. Then I'd say something funny, and everyone would laugh except my mum, who would throw a wobbler and disappear upstairs until she was persuaded down. Sometimes this would happen before the present giving, sometimes after.

Then we'd have the usual huge xmas lunch and play games or watch telly all afternoon, apart from the queen's speech, which we never had on. Around tea time would be the Big Film That Had Never Been Seen On TV Before, and in the evening the Morecambe and Wise Xmas Show. Late at night, a season of ghost stories or horror films, like the original Haunting.

New Year's Eve was always redeemed by the Old Grey Whistle Test Review of the Year, followed by a film. Those days are gone, and Jools Holland is a poor substitute. I can't stand the way he continually says "Ladies and Gentlemen." It's like watching The Good Old Days.

In later years, before I moved in with B 10 years ago, I tended to find myself alone on NYE, watching this.

So in France it's all different, obviously. Everything, and I mean everything, happens on Xmas Eve. Around 8 in the evening, Papy goes out to ring a bell and pretend that Pere Noel is outside somewhere. So we chase round the house with the kids trying to catch a glimpse, while someone else brings all the presents into the living room. Then there's a big free-for-all and everyone opens presents. After that we eat some hors d'oeuvres, while we wait for the Big Meal.

Oh boy.

The first time I did the Big Meal I couldn't believe it. The British xmas dinner I was used to consisted of everything you hated to eat piled on a plate followed by xmas pudding. In later years, as we grew more middle class and sophisticated, we might add to the pain by eating French Onion Soup first.

In France, naturellement, they do things proper, with proper courses in the proper order. You might not sit down to eat till 9.45, by which time I'm always ready for bed anyway. First course is usually pate de foie gras (duck rather than goose I think), which is pronounced "foy groy" if you are hilarious like me.

Then there'll be a seafood course. Langoustines (a big scary prawn), lobster (an even bigger scary prawn), crab (an oddly-shaped scary prawn), or just some other kind of bottom feeder. Alternatively, you could just go and eat your own shit from the toilet rather than everyone else's.

Then there'll be a big plate of some kind of salad, with hearts of palm and aspargus. I can never work out if it's supposed to be here, or whether it's been forgotten and just remembered.

Then you have the main meat course, which is usually lamb for us, with little spherical sauteed potatoes. We've had years where they tried to force feed us more meat, but we revolted. That's about the point I stop paying attention, because it's usually well after midnight by now (happy christmas, by the way). Then you have the Smelly Cheese Torture. Followed by an ice cream log, and a sponge cake log. Then someone will seriously suggest that you might want a bit of fruit. Then coffee. I always think it's wisest to drink coffee at three o clock in the morning.

And a waffer thin mint.

Xmas day proper is a non-event as far as we're concerned, but some married couples have to go through the whole thing again at the (other) in-laws.

Boxing day, as a concept, does not exist in France. Life returns to normal.

No mince pies, no xmas pudding, no fruit cake. Ho hum.


New work computer. Well, ish. I've had a G4 733 for a couple of years now, and we recently retired an 867 we'd been using as a file server. So now I've got an 867, which is not a lot quicker, but is noisier (mirror door G4s have notorious fan noise). So now I find it even harder to hear what people are saying to me.

But yay!

I seem to have saved a lot of time by successfully copying all my files and settings from my old G4, but that's only a provisional assessment, because I haven't tried to launch everything yet.


Every time Apple announce something, there are always a few (as illustrated by the comments on this Guardian weblog entry) who moan about the cost; and a few others who moan about the hardware requirements. It's always puzzled me why someone who last spent any money on Apple kit about 5 years ago should consider themselves entitled to a lifetime of free software upgrades from Apple.

I mean, do they understand the computer industry, even a little bit? Like it or not, software companies exist to sell software, so they continually release new versions to maintain a revenue stream. And hardware companies, believe it or not, like to sell new hardware.

Apple's suite of excellent consumer software, like iMovie, AppleWorks, iDVD, and iPhoto has always been meant as an incentive to buy new Macs. If I was Apple, and the moaners are lucky I'm not, I'd make new versions only available with new hardware. So if you want iMovie 4 or Garageband, buy a new Mac. Furthermore, I'd make the hardware requirements such that you had to have a newer Mac in order to run it.

But I'm not Apple, and Apple offer a compromise. You can buy new versions of this fantastic software for £39, or you can carry on using the older versions of the fantastic software. Yes, some of the older hardware won't be able to run Garageband or iPhoto 4 (with high speed scrolling etc), but on the whole we're talking about Macs that are over 3 years old. And even those of us with 18-month-old iMac G4s are surely going to struggle, trying to encode 2 hours worth of DVD footage in iDVD.

But that's the unfortunate nature of the computer industry. Software gets better, but in doing so takes advantage of the power of new hardware. And the G5 desktop range is seriously more powerful than anything that came before. Why should Apple cripple their software so as to appease people who haven't bought any new hardware from them for a few years? Why should they keep giving things away for free when the stuff is so good that many, many people are happy to pay for it?

If Apple were interested in having cheapskates as customers, they'd sell cheap computers wouldn't they?

January 07, 2004


My Marine Band Harmonica has developed a duff note (5th hole on the draw, so it sounds crap whatever you play - that's bang smack in the middle). This is since having my new harmonica holder, which probably introduces too much drool. You should know about the Marine Band that it was introduced in around 1896, and is the original sound of blues, folk, and country. But its design hasn't changed in all that time, and the reeds (pearwood?) inside get bolloxed up easily.

So I was wondering whether to just get a new one, or a Hohner Pro Harp (modular) or some other brand, or whether I could somehow clean up the Marine Band (because it sounds so lovely), and I came across this gem:

"MARINE BAND HARMONICA : The procedure you need to follow in this situation consists of five easy steps: Step 1. Carefully place the harmonica mouthpiece up on a hard surface that is relatively flat and stable. An anvil will do just fine. Step 2. Using a 1-pound hammer, bang the mouthpiece as hard as you can. You may need several blows to crush the entire harmonica properly. Be careful to hit it straight on, so that the harmonica does not jump away from the anvil before all work is done. Also take care to hit the flanged parts on both of the sides as well. Step 3. Wipe the shed with a good broom and throw all the pieces in the waste bin. Be sure to include the box the harmonica came in. If so desired this box can be smashed the same way the harmonica is, although stepping on it with a good shoe usually suffices.

Step 4. Go to your local music store and kill the manager and the person who sold you this hamonica. If the manager and salesperson are one and the same or either one of them is not present at that moment, kill a random bystander to vent off your frustration. Preferably the same hammer should be used for this. If not available any decent axe can be used, provided it is very blunt. Be sure to set fire to the store prior to leaving. Step 5. Go to a decent music store and buy yourself a real harmonica, i.e. one that uses innovative techniques that have come available in the 20th century, such as plastic for the comb and stainless steel or chromeplated brass for the covers. The Lee Oskar Major Diatonic or the HeringBlues 2020 meet these criteria."

garage me up

Apple have announced a bunch of new stuff, much of which is Q. exciting, if you like that sort of thing. A new, smaller, iPod, as predicted, which is 249 dorrar or 199 pound. Problem there being the comfort zone they always build in when dealing with exchange rates. If people would join the dots they'd realise that not being in the Euro is always going to make things like this a lot more expensive.

You add 10% to the US price when converting to Euros, in case the exchange rate goes squiffy. Then you add another 10% when converting from Euros to pounds, and you have the ridiculously high UK price. The problem for the consumer will be the choice between the new, dinky, 4GB (in shocking pink or similar), or the new, entry-level 15GB model, which is only about 35 GBP more expensive.

The other new bit from Apple is a new version of iLife, the suite of sort-of creative tools. It's good to see a much improved version of iPhoto, because it gets to be a bit of a dog when you have lots of photos (which you inevitably do, because it costs next to nothing to take as many as you want with a digicam). So they've apparently speeded it up, though it remains to be seen whether they've speeded it up on my computer in my house.

Then there's GarageBand, a music sequencer upon which Apple have worked their interface magicks. It doesn't matter that you've been able to get cheap/free music software since the year dot. What matters is that Apple have made it useable. With the notable exception of pro tools (which is not cheap, unless you count the old free version which doesn't work with OS X), music software is universally hard to use.

It either assumes you're entirely familiar with traditional music technology (like mixers, equalisers, compressors, etc), or it assumes you know one end of a MIDI lead from another and comprehend esoterica like velocity, duration, piano roll editors, quantising, groove quantising, and sound modules.

The genius of Apple is that they're able to get, from a group of programmers who have no conception of someone who doesn't understand that "basic" stuff (Emagic's software has a notoriously steep learning curve), a nice looking, user friendly, piece of software that anyone will be able to use inside 15 minutes.

They did it with iMovie, which I think is The Best Software Of All Time. They embarrassed digital camera manufacturers by pissing all over photo management/ basic editing packages. And, famously, revealed that the vendors of DVD authoring software (in Macworld writer David Fanning's words), were "having a laugh at our expense."

Sure, it'll still be an occasional nightmare getting all the 3rd party peripherals like keyboards and interfaces plugged in and working reliably... and it will open up a new world of pain in tech support, but wait and see: there are an awful lot of people in the world who can play a musical instrument but haven't (yet) thought about using their home computer for multitrack recording.

January 06, 2004


I don't like a writerly writer, you know the kind. I've really gone orf literature and hate to read anything literary. Even with my favourite genres, I really don't like that stuff some writers try to do with language.

Take science fiction. I like a rollicking good yarn, and I read for the plot, for the ideas, for the fun of it. But I never took to cyberpunk and the like, because I simply can't stand all the messing around with language, all the "this is how people will talk/think in the future."

It's like watching an American film, set in an American city, but dubbed into French. You can follow the plot, and understand quite a lot of what people are saying, but you have to work too hard and don't enjoy the experience.

Some things have merits beyond their status in a particular genre. They have interesting things to say, and if you pay attention you can find a lot to say about them. But if you come at me from the position that I've got to work hard to start with, I start resenting you immediately. I'll work when I want to work, when I think something is worth the work.

It's like books that start with several pages of italic text. I never enjoy that.

This is making me sound lazy and stupid, and perhaps I am, but it's not as if I'm not willing to give things a chance. For example, every year I buy Gardner Dozois' anthology of the Year's Best SF. This is sometimes a mixed bag. Dozois has good taste, but he's not infallible, and some years are just better than others. But often the whole point of short SF is that you don't know what's going on until near the end. So it's not as if I never do any work on a story to get into it. But make me work just for the sake of working, just because you fancy writing in a particular Newspeak style, good-bye.

I know it means I'm missing out on a huge chunk of stuff, but I'm as sure as anything that I'm not missing anything I'd enjoy. Any SF writer who gets featured in the Guardian regularly, for example, I'm sure I'd hate.

Over the years I've come upon a number of writers who have become firm favourites, and they always seem to be relatively obscure in this country. I don't know why this would be. It's not as if I set out to be a contrarian. Reading, primarily, for the plot, as I do, you'd think my tastes would be kind of mainstream, but examples like Michael Connelly, whose books you will find in W H Smiths/Waterstones are a rarity.

For a long time, one of my favourite writers has been Kate Wilhelm, whose books are always hard to get hold of in the UK. As you can see from her bibliography, not only is she prolific, she's a genre crosser. I would have first encountered her in the legendary Luton library SF section, but she's written more thrillers and legal procedurals in recent years. As far as her SF goes, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is a classic of the genre. She's particularly good at the post-apocalyptic novel, viz that, and Juniper Time among others. And she's good at combining suspense with SF ideas, as in Huysman's Pets. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is actually one of those formative novels, and I can't believe you haven't read it.

Not by coincidence, Wilhelm was married to Damon Knight, another excellent writer. Won't make the kind of headlines that Philip K Dick does, but then Dick's notoriety is more in the line of rock star/drugs than quality of writing. I find most of his famous stuff impenetrable. As for Damon Knight, The Man in the Tree is superb. It's about one of Knight's favourite themes, one that is currently quite fashionable: the idea of multiple universes (the multiverse), and having the ability to switch between them. I just read a Crichton (Timeline) based on the idea. But both Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm are always more concerned with the human impact of such ideas. So The Man in the Tree is about the tormented life of a man who discovers that, with a little mental twist, he can switch between universes, so that events which have happened, suddenly did not happen.

Finally, dear reader, I should mention the great Tim Powers, one-time winner of a Philip K Dick award, but a much better writer. Powers likes to uncannily combine fract and friction, populating fantasy plots with historical personages such as Byron and Shelley (or, more recently, Kim Philby). I have never read a bad Powers novel. It was his most recent, Declare, which set me off on my recent espionage jag. But frankly, Powers makes espionage more interesting by including elements of the supernatural. All the paranoia of the spy game, the wilderness of mirrors, and the vicious game playing of SMERSH and NKVD and OSS and the CIA makes so much more sense if they were also running scared of demons.

yeah, whatever

I sort of, kind of, agree with the thrust of this article about the iPod from the Guardian:

"It's just a gadget that appeals to men who want access to everything - all the indie schmindie stuff they think they should listen to, a rock critic's wishlist of songs. They think it offers limitless potential, but our lives need editing, or it ends up like digital TV - hundreds of channels and nothing to watch."

There are two things about the iPod that make me uneasy. First is the monomania of it, the sense that a personal player isolates the individual from the world. I've been as guilty as anyone of sitting on the bus with a CD or cassette player, but somehow the idea that you can bury yourself in an entire music collection and never emerge to change sides or switch disks, goes further. Sure, there are other ways of listening to iPods, through stereos, or in your car, but I wonder why you would. If you've got a choice between the full-fat song or the compressed, thinner-sounding version of it, I go for the full fat every time.

The other thing is the way the boosters are pushing it to be the Walkman of the 21st Century. Because I know it ain't gonna happen. Because once you've invented the personal stereo, different variations of it are just variations on the same theme. It's not a new thing in the world but a new way of doing the old thing.

Expect to hear more along those lines at the Macworld Expo later today (Steve Jobs stands up at 5pm UK time). There are rumours of a mini iPod, cheaper and smaller, so that more people will have them. As a reseller, I like the iPod because it's Apple's 400 UKP computer. But instead of selling a shitty 400 quid PC, Apple sell a deluxe 400 quid personal stereo. We may not have been selling quite the number they got through in central London during December, but we did do a fair few (360 actually, with another 380 or so related items, so a fair few).

Like most technology trends, it became a bit of a fad among the early adopters (why the Guardian writer kept banging on about adapters I don't know; it doesn't make any sense, for a start), but like all early adopter fads, once it becomes more mainstream, they'll make a fad of something else. It's an accelerated culture, and the iPod won't have the 20 years of the Walkman to take off. It'll inevitably be usurped more quickly than that. But come back in 20 years and tell me I was wrong.

Because they're boosting it as this huge phenomenon, as soon as it is usurped people will crow that Apple has failed, has lost it, and that just annoys me, in the same way that the BBC "Most Powerful" programme did, when it plumped for Bill Gates over Steve Jobs, just because Gates made more money.

Personally, I'm with Caroline Sullivan. You have to edit your life, and be more selective. Less is more. I have enough trouble, most of the time, selecting 6 CDs to go in my car autochanger.

word of the year

Thanks to Simon for this:

"Bunter - noun, a low or vulgar woman in the 18th and 19th centuries who makes a living from collecting dog faeces among other things in order to sell them on to the tanning industry . I propose we resurrect this term for sales people who try to sell you something rubbish or something that you don't want, i.e. a load of shit. Usage: "I went to Dixons to buy a fine new audio cassette player but got a bunter who tried to flog me extended warranty". Got it from the book of the series "Wonders of the Industrial World", in the chapter on the construction of the London sewers."

Not surprisingly, I could find a use for "bunter" every day of my working life. I can now reply to potential suppliers of products I don't want to buy with a single word.

January 05, 2004


I've been reading Berlin: The Downfall,1945 which I picked up under the misapprehension that it was another book about Berlin in 1945, not concerned with the fall so much as the aftermath. But then it would have been called Berlin: The Aftermath. Something like this, perhaps.

I think I was looking for something on espionage again, but The Downfall is a fascinating read, if disturbing.

I've also been reading a few Michael Connelly books, with more on their way. Great stuff. A little different, because his main detective character, Bosch, doesn't do wisecracks and sarcasm. Instead his line tends to be "Bosch said nothing." Because people then fill the silence.

Reading Connelly made me borrow Blood Work from Blockbuster at the weekend. I gather it's got a totally different ending from the book, but a good film with an interesting premise.