Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Resolution

I do have resolutions this New Year, but I'm not going to put them all in here for obvious reasons :-)

2008 has been a bit of a funny year. I've changed jobs for the first time in nearly a decade and taken up coaching in a sport for the first time in my life. They're both good things, btw.

I've watched the Sydney fireworks online, and they do look rather spectacular and made me wish I were in Sydney this New Year. We were there a few years ago for New Year, and I've just decided here and now that I want to be there again this time next year. That's one resolution I shall put in here...

I've also decided I need to read more. There are some beautiful books out there which I've never read, and I intend to change that. I shall try to read 50 books next year, at least!

The weather here in London is rather misty today, so I don't think there's much chance of spectacular views of fireworks this evening, but maybe it'll clear up as the evening wears on. At least it's not raining, which is something, I suppose.

Well that's it for this year - I just thought I should write something in here before the end of the year lest people think I'm dead. A little snooping has led me to realise that people do actually follow the link from Facebook and read this thing, so I promise to keep it updating with waffle throughout 2009.

See you on the other side... Have a good one...

Sunday, 28 December 2008

It's nice to relax

I am really rather enjoying a nice relaxing Christmas holiday. With the change in job and various other things, it's been quite a year this year, and so it's nice to be sitting at home not doing very much at all...

Yesterday, I took this photo from the garden at home of the night sky, which I thought I may share with you...


The thing about winter is that it may be cold, but it is rather photogenic!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Enlightenment

Last night, I was fortunate enough to witness an evening of utter enlightenment. And all in the name of atheism.

Jarvis Cocker even put an appearance to sing an old Pulp song and a Christmas song :-)

For me, though, the true highlight of the evening was the opportunity to hear Richard Dawkins talking. Despite finding "The God Delusion" a little bit hypocritical in being so preachy, some of his other books are well worth reading - for all those who are interested in learning about evolution.

I'd never seen Richard Dawkins speak before, and his prose, his language and his voice made listening to him a true pleasure.

Another highlight for me was Dara O'Briain shouting out to the audience "what's e to the i pi?" and being genuinely delighted at the number of people who immediately shouted "minus one" back at him.

The central theme of the evening was the beauty of the universe and a celebration of the things which make the world so wonderful - the intricacies of nature, the marvel that is human language and the fact that Katie Melua actually re-recorded a version of "Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing" to correct the bad physics in the original.

Of course, there was a serious undertone to some of the evening. If you want to read something truly shocking then start here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthias_Rath - and dig a little. This section was presented by Ben Goldacre and had the sub-text "why bullshit isn't harmless".

And to end the evening - Tim Minchin with a fantastic beat poem about the twaddle which is new-age alternative medicine.

I guess I'm staying into contraversial territory in here for probably the first time, so I intend to tread carefully. But it was good last night to hear so many people talking, some comically and some seriously, about just how wonderful a thing the universe is.

It was refreshing to be part of an audience who could listen to Richard Dawkins says that with the sheer number of planets in the universe, it's highly likely that intelligent life has evolved elsewhere without any sniggering.

I had been having a rather melacholic weekend, but in the taxi home last night I actually felt a sense of having been uplifted, and a sense of just how beautiful the universe actually is. There are some true marvels out there in the world and in the universe and the true excitement and wonder of science is in the fact that we don't know everything and never will - and the thrill of finding a new type of animal or a new type of star is something I shall never tire of reading of.

So - and I acknowledge the irony here - I do actually feel rather Christmassy now. In the sense of feeling happy and content and looking forward to enjoying some time of relaxation over the holidays.

Merry Christmas...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Alphabetical friends

If you're anything like me, then in this modern world of email and texting most of your friends will be reduced to single letters when signing (mostly electronic) communications.

I tend to sign most of my informal emails with "D." rather than writing "Dan" at the bottom of them.

But the problem is, I know too many people whose names begin with the same letter. J and M are particularly troublesome.

I've one friend for whom "M" became almost her official name. Even when referring to her in emails, we'd call her "M" rather than typing out her full name. But now I have a couple of other people who sign themselves "M" and it just doesn't feel right.

"J" is even more of a problem. My significant other signs things with a "J" but I also have other friends who sign things with a "J" too. When they do it on Christmas cards (for the single letter signing is not always limited to electronic media) it's obvious because I recognise the handwriting - and in the case of my significant other, the card is handed to me in person, of course. But when it's an email, there's no flourish or other artefact to tell me who sent the email. Of course, I could look at the email address at the moment, but there's the fun in that.

Some people pimp their mongrams with punctuation - " \\\J" or "D..." or "K**" or "Wxx" (I made most of those up by the way) - which gives it a little more individuality.

It's interesting to note the kinds of people who sign with a single letter, and those who sign with their full name.

For some people, it's a sign of informality and a friendly relationship to get an email signed with a single letter. For others it's a sign that they are using their Blackberry and can't be bothered to type more than is necessary. It's an interesting exercise, though - just scan your emails and see who signs with their full name and who signs with something a little less formal...

Oldy Foldy

There are some typing mistakes I can't help but make. I type fairly quickly, and so my fingers tend to be on auto-pilot most of the time. I think the word, and my hands do the rest without much interference from my brain.

However, this can lead to problems.

I have a friend called Michaela who I've known for many years. I've typed her name so often - it was her username on a messaging system we used to use at University besides anything else - that M I C H A E L A has become almost reflex when I type it. This causes problems with friends I have called Michael. When I start "M I C ... " the auto-pilot takes over, and before I can stop myself I've typed "Michaela" and headed onto the next word. It's certainly not the most embarrassing example, either.

I use the word "bugger" quite a lot. It's one of my favourite expletives. I like it because it sounds a little less extreme than some of the harsher options (which I shalln't repeat here). However, because I type "bugger" quite a lot when I want to use an expletive, it causes issues whenever I want to type "buffer" which is far too close for comfort on the keyboard. In my work, buffering is quite a common concept (stop sniggering at the back!), and so that has got me into trouble a few times over the years.

There are more common examples I have trouble with, too. I often type "the" when I mean "then" and more worryingly, I often type "now" and "not" interchangeably. There's a world of difference between "the application is now working" and "the application is not working". And it's very unlikely that anyone will ever developer a contextual checker to help me with this mistake.

T9 also gets me into trouble. "He" and "If" are often found in place of each other in my text messages. And "okey dokey" is so hard to type using t9 that I usually go for the T9-suggested "oldy foldy" instead. I rather like it - "oldy foldy" sounds rather sweet, doesn't it?

Monday, 15 December 2008

Inside Out

Over the past week or two, I've been experiencing the "Symbian Signed" process for the first time from outside of Symbian, and the process looks very different from the two sides. There's some interesting stuff about Symbian Signed (and interesting stuff in general) to be found in David Wood's blog at - http://www.dw2-0.com/

I won't go on at length here about the signing process, as David manages to talk about it with much more knowledge and eloquence than I could ever manage.

What's been interesting for me is to see how a process can look so different from the inside and from the outside.

There's an endless tension between the users of systems ("I wish the system would do this") and the owners of the system ("It can't, because...") and this isn't only true of signing processes, of course - it's true of almost any system you can think of - not just software.

Children of a certain age tend to go through a phase of asking "why?" as the response to everything you tell them.

"That's Daddy's car"
"Why?"
"Because he bought it"
"Why?"
"Because he liked it"
"Why?"
"Because it goes fast"
"Why?"
"Because it has a big engine"
"Why?"
"Because the car company put one in"
"Why?"
"Because they thought they could sell more cars that way"
"Why?"
"Because people like me would buy one"
"Why?"
"Because I liked it"

And around you go...

But annoying as this can be, a less childish and more productive version of the same questioning technique sometimes yields results, even in the world of work.

Think of the times when someone tells you that something doesn't work, or that they can't do something by the end of today, or that they won't be able to look at your issue until a week on Monday. A polite, and genuinely inquisitive, "why?" in those situations can get you to some useful information.

All too often people take things at face value, and again this applies across life. Plumbers will come into your house and tell you that they need to replace a part on your boiler, digging down a few levels by asking "why?" will quite often get you a greater understanding of what actually needs doing.

Answering the question "why?" is one of the hardest, and deepest questions to answer. But it's also an important one to answer in most things you do. "Why?" tends to provoke thought and get behind the "what?" "when?" and "who?" questions which don't describe something and don't attempt to get underneath and understand that something in more detail.

Attempting to answer the quesiton "why?" has been behind some of the greatest discoveries of all time. And the answers to the question "why?" are much more interesting than the answers to the question "what?"

Monday, 8 December 2008

It's nice to be in the one place

At risk of turning this blog a bit personal for an evening, I'd like to share a sense of stability I appear to have had overcome me in the past month.

In my previous job, I was travelling all the time. I seemed to spend half my life in airports and on planes and in hotels. It sounds glamourous, and I think for a time I actually found it quite exciting.

But with the new job, I'm spending a lot of time in London. All of my time in fact. And it's allowed me to settle into rather a nice routine of exercise, work and spending evenings at home.

It's amazing, but I'd never realised how unsettling all of that travel was until I stopped doing it. I have my weekly exercise regime worked out, and I can actually play badminton on set days every week (though Christmas is going to get in the way of that - but that I can cope with!)

I do actually have a smile on my face more often now that I'm not travelling as much. And I never thought I'd say this - but I don't care if I lose my premium level of BA Executive Club membership when it comes up for renewal.

It's nice to have done the jetset, "flying around the world" thing for a year or two - but right now, I'm quite happy to be spending some quality time in my own flat.

:)

Friday, 5 December 2008

Where not to save money - volume 1

In the current economic climate, everyone seems to be under a barrage of advice to tighten their belts. Whether that's companies announcing redundancies to cut their outgoings or whether it's people being told by the press not to spend any money. But there are some areas of life where you shouldn't cut back. Everyone will have their views on what you shouldn't cut back on - and here are mine.

Pens
To me, one of the most important things in life is writing with a decent pen. None of this Bic rubbish; a pen should have ink in it and have a nice smooth nib. Ideally the nib should be quite flexible, as I think that adds a nice "flick" to my writing style. Of course, you don't always want to be writing with a pen containing liquid ink (on planes or whilst sitting on your best sofa, for instance) in which case a decent rollerball will do. But no matter how hard the downturn bites, one should never resort to a pack of ten cheap biros from Tesco

Beds & Pillows
A bed is one of the most important things you can buy, and you shouldn't skimp on it - especially the mattress. Some of the mattresses you can buy for fifty quid in your local cheap furniture store will probably give you back problems so bad that you can't walk for several weeks. Whilst in the bedroom, so to speak, you shouldn't skimp on pillows either. Buy some nice goose feather and down pillows and you'll wonder how you ever slept on those polyester bags full of plastic...

TShirts
Buying cheap Tshirts is a false economy. They may look great when you first buy them, but after a couple of times through the washing machine, they'll be out of shape and hanging off you like a tent. Same goes for cheap underwear, which is arguably more important

Nice things
Somes flippant, but you shouldn't stop buying yourself nice things just because the economy isn't growing for a year or two. As long as you've got enough in the bank to give yourself a bit of a buffer, then it'll do you the world of good to spend a hundred quid on that shirt which you really like but can't quite convince yourself to buy. Just don't use your credit card to buy it, that's all ;-)

Food
Obviously, don't stop buying food as you'll die pretty quickly without it

And there ends today's lecture on basic economic theory ;-)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

I still can't bring myself to love the iPhone...

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that the iPhone is the worst phone you could buy with your money - but it may well be the most overrated phone there's ever been.

I think my problem with the iPhone is that it's not a very good phone. It's undoubedly a thing of beauty and the UI does indeed look very very sexy. But the word "phone" looms too large in the title for me to let it get away with being as lacking as it is in the phone department.

The inability to send picture messages would be seen as a major flaw in a phone from anyone else other than Apple these days. And remember the exclamations of joy when Steve Jobs announced that you could now send a text message to more than one person at once as if it were some great achievement in phone design.

Don't get me wrong - I do think that the iPhone is a great "thing" I just don't think it's a great phone. The iPod touch for instance, I absolutely love (except for the fact that you can't get it with more storage than 32Gb which would prevent me from putting my entire music collection on it and hence is stopping me from buying one) but that's because the iPod touch isn't trying to be anything else other than a music player.

Maybe my problem is in the marketing. If the iPhone had been called the iPodCall or iPodRingRing (or whatever - I'm not very good at making up names for things) then I wouldn't be so disappointed by it but it feels as though if Apple made the iCoffeeMachine which looks very sexy, makes average coffee but makes a wonderful cup of tea.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

It's harder than you'd think...

I'm the kind of person who love writing. I don't really care what it is I'm writing, but I like to be writing something.

So, I recently thought "why not have a go at writing a novel". Sounds, easy, doesn't it?

I've written songs and short stories before, so I thought it'd be an interesting diversion to fill in my time during the evenings - and give me an excuse to use the fountain pen which I got as a leaving present from my last job.

I'm sure to some people, writing comes naturally, and they simply "think of a story and write it down" but I find it harder than that. I wrote a rough draft of what how the plot will progress throughout the novel and last week I started the process of writing it out longhand. It's a really enjoyable process, but it's actually difficult to generate the quantity of good prose required to fill a novel.

I don't intend to ever publish the novel, of course. Maybe I will never even finish it. But I'm hoping that writing in a new way will help my songwriting to move in a slightly different direction, too.

Some of the greatest songs ever written are those which tell a story. And the true skill of some song-writers is the ability to tell a story in three or four verses of four lines each. Country music is probably the best place to find the real story songs.

There are some songs which have a point to make and then stick on that point. Imagine by John Lennon is a song like this. It may be a great song, but it doesn't tell a story. It makes a point, and makes the same point for the whole song. I'd never claim to have written any great songs - but all of the songs I've written make a single point and whilst there's a sense of adding depth to that point as the song progresses, there's no narrative advancing throughout the song.

Story songs are hard to write - four lines really isn't very much room in which to advance the narrative in a single verse - but (unless you're Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen) you only have three or four verses in which to make your point so you have to make every verse count.

I'm hoping that by going through the process of writing a novel - which will force me to think in terms of advancing the narrative and controlling the pace at which the story unfolds - will allow me to be able to write songs which tell stories.

Brrr!

It's quite cold in London at the moment, and I can't seem to find any gloves which fulfil both the purpose of keeping my hands warm, and that of allowing me to press the buttons on my mp3 player whilst walking to work.

I think the cold has gone to the heads of the great British public - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7759215.stm - for those who don't want to follow the link, the story is basically this: the BBC and the man involved have apologised after he exposed himself on live radio. Yes - that's right - he exposed himself on live radio - not TV where you can actually see things - but radio. There's not a lot you can say to that is there?

I can't quite believe it's December already. Nor can I believe the number of Christmas Trees which have sprung up in the windows around home. Though having said that, I have already written out all of my Christmas cards. My excuse is that the last posting day for foreign parts is coming up shortly, and I've a few cards I need to send to Australia :-)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

For vs. After

One of the things which irks me the most when reading articles online is the Americanism "named for".

For anyone reading this who thinks that "named for" is correct British English - it's not - correct British English is "named after".

To my mind "named for" means something else.

"Bob couldn't think of what to call his pet hamster, so thanks to his daughter, it was named for him"

To me (British) there's no way of telling what the hamster was called from that sentence - but to an American (or to a British person who's got it wrong) the hamster would be called "Bob".

Even worse that this is the, slightly rarer, turn of phrase "anagram for". I don't even think this one is correct US English - I think it should be "anagram of" wherever you are.

Anyway, rant over for tonight :-)

Monday, 24 November 2008

Snow? Call that snow?

It snowed yesterday – in case you didn’t notice. Well it did in London anyway; I woke up and looked out of the window to find the garden covered in snow.



The first time I saw substantial quantities of snow was in Stockholm, quite a few years ago. When I was growing up as a kid there was the odd flurry - even enough to build a snowman once or twice during my childhood – but real deep snow is something I first saw in Stockholm one February day.



For those who’ve never been, the weather in Stockholm is beautiful at various points throughout the year. The summer is amazing, and when the city is covered in snow it also looks pretty stunning – although I wouldn’t advise venturing out without a hat. But I hope I don’t offend too much of my Swedish friends when I say that the weather in November in Stockholm is really rather dismal. It’s not cold enough to snow and look picturesque and yet it’s wet enough to be raining almost all the time. If you imagine a grey, wet day with darkness falling not long after lunch and temperatures just cold enough to be uncomfortable to stay outside in, then you’ve pretty much got Stockholm’s November climate in your mind.



I think it’s the unpredictable nature of the British climate which makes us unprepared for any extremes of whether. You hear people who’ve spent time in Sydney complaining that houses in the UK generally aren’t air conditioned – through those of us from the UK would turn the argument around and say that it’s rare to find a house in Sydney with central heating. Of course, you don’t need central heating in Sydney that many times in a lifetime, whereas air conditioning would be nice in the UK most summers. But the point is that fitting every home with both air-conditioning and central heating would be expensive, and although I do know of houses with both – it’s fairly rare. So, it wouldn’t be economically viable to install both in every house so you go for the one which is most use – and though it does get hot here in the UK in the summer, it rarely gets VERY hot – and I’d argue, hopefully without much resistance, that there are more “cold” days than “hot” days per year here in the UK.



The UK lies at that annoying point in the world climate where it’s never really very hot nor very hold – it’s the product of being neither near a pole nor the equator and having a maritime climate, I guess. But I actually quite like it this way. I like the thrill of sometimes having to deal with a cold day in August, and the ability to sometimes be able to go for a country stroll on Christmas Day. The only thing I dislike about the UK is the quantity of rain. Now, I can already hear the cries of “you call that rain?”. I know that some countries have more rainfall, but the rain in the UK is like that in Stockholm in November. It’s cold and miserable and clings to you like it’s raining glue rather than raining water. It’s also unpredictable. In some places, you can set your watch by the nightly rains during the monsoon; not so in the UK. You can guess it’s probably going to rain, but the only guarantee is that it’ll happen at exactly the moment you decide to pop out to the shop without your waterproof coat on...



Or an umbrella – but don’t get me started on umbrellas...

Friday, 21 November 2008

The BNP

It's interesting to note that there are 3 people on the BNP membership list with the surname Black - I'm surprised they let them in ;-)

Expanding filler...

A return, today, to the subject of blogging. Well, in part at least. Over the past few days, I’ve drafted a few entries to go in here but decided not to post them because they were far too serious and – maybe more importantly – not actually very interesting.
Self-censorship is a very important thing, and it’s one of the hardest things to learn if you’re writing. I have recently started writing songs again – the change work situation for me means that I’m actually getting to spend time in the UK, and hence have the time to sit at the piano late evenings and twiddle – and one of the hardest things involved in that process is learning to cast away things which “don’t quite work”.
One of the down-sides to being the sort of person who buys albums rather than singles is that you’re stuck with having the “filler tracks” in your collection. This isn’t a problem when you are sifting through the library to find something to listen to – but when you’ve put a random selection of tracks onto your mp3 player for the walk to work and find that in some cruel twist of fate, your PC has randomly selected a load of album filler for you to wade your way through.
There are very few bands who are immune to the curse of album filler. I guess the pressure to get an album out and generate some sales for the record company can lead to the process of dumping the bad tracks being a luxury beyond means. The most commonly cited example of a band who typify the need for dumping bad tracks is Queen. Even the most ardent Queen fan would be hard-pushed to argue that the quality of the albums is anywhere near the quality of the singles. Of course, there are a few great songs on the albums which didn’t make it into hit singles (“Teo Torriate” springs to mind immediately) but there’s also a lot of dross too. In the case of Queen, you can’t argue that they weren’t capable of the two things needed to make a filler-less album..

a: the ability to write fantastic songs

b: the ability to know a fantastic song when you hear one

Another example, less commonly cited but still well-known enough to be worth mentioning, is the “Use Your Illusion” double-bill from Guns and Roses. There are some absolutely amazing songs spread across those two albums – but there’s equally a lot of dross. And this is a case where taking the contents of the two albums and picking enough great songs to fill one album would’ve made a much more impressive work.
So, I’ve waffled on about those bands who I think have fallen foul of the curse of the filler track – but are there any albums out there which I don’t think contain any filler? Of course there are. I don’t spot any filler on Ziggy Stardust, nor on Dark Side Of The Moon. It’d be hard to point at the filler on Wish You Were Here, or even on Automatic For The People.
Then, of course, there are albums which consist of nothing but filler – witness “The Id”, the second album from Macy Gray for a perfect example of that...

But, as someone who ocassionally writes songs, I know how hard it can be to dump something you've worked on for so long. I've written songs, spent hours and hours recording them, honing them - and unfortunately they're still crap songs - so they have to be dumped. It hurts every time, though.

Monday, 17 November 2008

I was wrong.

A postscript now that I've had time to think is that it's not possible to construct such a Sudoku. Well, the question itself is logically flawed.

I've stated that the puzzle must have a unique solution. But before you make the move and write in the number 1 in the particular location above, the puzzle (by definition thanks to the question) has multiple solutions.

Hence the question is flawed itself, and I am stupid.

Oops.

I wish I were better at playing chess...

I’m not bad at playing chess. But it’s one of those things I wish I were better at, but for which I don’t have the time (nor the motivation to make time) to work on in more detail. I used to play chess when I was younger, and wasn’t bad then – just as I’m not bad now. But for some reason, I have this notion in my mind that I should be better at playing chess than I am. I like to think as myself as the “kind of person who should be good at chess” so to be rather average when finding my way around the chess board feels rather unrewarding.



I feel the same way about Sudoku, as it happens. It’s the sort of thing which you’d think a Cambridge Maths Graduate should be able to do. But I’m not actually very good at them. I understand the logic behind solving a Sudoku but find its application rather boring, usually. When solving Sudoku, there are usually only a few types of logic needed to solve the puzzle. But I’ve never seen the fact that a Sudoku is supposed to have a unique solution used as a logical step in finding that solution. It would be, in theory, possible to construct a Sudoku puzzle where a number must be placed in a certain location in order to guarantee a unique solution; placing any other number there would lead to the solution not being unique, and hence must be incorrect.



At least I think it’s theoretically possible to construct such a puzzle. I’m not entirely sure...



Talking of things of which I’m not entirely sure – back to the subject of chess. I’ve never understand why it’s not possible to build a computer system which can beat any human opponent at chess. I don’t really understand the problem of getting computers to play chess in much detail, but I’d one day like to hear a simple explanation of why Garry Kasparov could manage to beat an enormously powerful computer at something like chess. Also, on a related note – I’d be interested to know whether it’d be possible to allow a computer to learn how to get better at chess over time. All algorithms for playing chess that I’ve read are non-adaptive (probably not the correct technical term) but I’d be interested to know whether there are any chess solving programs out there which can learn as they play.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

I think my ears may be a funny shape.

I've tried numerous in-ear earphones over the years, and none of them fit. Either they fall out as I'm walking along, or the clips are the wrong size for my ears, or some other such problem. It's very distressing as not only is it hard for me to listen to Terry Wogan on the walk to work of a morning; I'm also starting to think that my ears are somehow irregular.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

It's about time someone had the courage...

I'm not usually one to get political about such things, but it's about bloody time that someone had the courage to do this...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/hi/entertainment/newsid_7724000/7724426.stm

Freude, schöner Götterfunken

So, Barack Obama has won the US presidential election. I really tried to distance myself from the coverage of the campaign; the constant barrage was turning into overload as election day approached. However, I did wake up at around 5am and flicked on the TV just to see if the result was in yet. I turned on just in time to see Obama give his speech live from Chicago. Much as I’d tried to avoid the election I did actually feel quite an emotional sense of relief that he won.



Of course, one man can’t change the world. But Barack Obama is just what America, and the world, needs right now. A good friend of mine said at the weekend that Barack Obama gives Americans the chance to be proud of being American again – without the need to add “sorry about our president” as a post-script. There really does seem to be a tangible sense of optimism spreading out from the election result.



I think the first benefit of Obama having won is the fact that George W is effectively prevented from doing anything stupid for the remainder of his term of office!



The second benefit, of course, is that Sarah Palin (the scariest woman in the world – she is utterly terrifying!) will not get to inflict her ridiculous, right-wing nonsense on anyone for a while at least. If you’re interested in how scary she is, a quick Google of her political positions will (hopefully) scare the living daylights out of you. A little bit of Googling does reveal her true colours. Go on, have a read. It’ll give you nightmares.



Of course, I’m making an assumption that everyone reading this is a left-wing liberal. Well, given that readership of this blog is likely to be “me and me alone” I’m pretty safe in my assumption I think.



Whilst on the subject of politics (though I’d personally like to think that the question of whether to vote for Sarah Palin would be a question of ethics rather than politics) I do wish the papers would stop their “harbinger of doom” approach to the economic crisis. Yes, we know the economy is in negative growth (I refuse to use the “r” word, even though strictly that’s what negative growth is) but at the heart of the problems we’re seeing is a lack of confidence. A lack of confidence between banks (i.e. they won’t lend money to each other, just in case things go wrong in the few days it takes for the cheque to clear...) and a lack of confidence in consumers. The government in the UK (who I rarely defend) are spending a lot of money (that’s true, the papers have that bit right – though they’re not spending as much as the papers claim...) to try to get the economy moving again. I would suspect that most of the people behind the half-arsed attempts at economic journalism in the tabloids haven’t heard of Keynes – but I would suggest that they go and buy a book and do some reading.



Of course, Keynesian economic theory is just that – it’s a theory – and I’m nowhere near versed enough in economics to launch into a debate on the merits of a Keynesian approach to reversing a period negative growth (avoided it again!) but I’d be interested to read such a debate. But that’s not the point. The point is that Gordon Brown may not be a fantastic orator, or indeed a great Prime Minister, but he does know his way around an economics textbook, and whilst some eminent economists (Alan Greenspan, for instance) would probably disagree on the reliance upon Keynesian methods, the way the government is behaving is based on economic theory and isn’t just the willy-nilly writing of cheques that the tabloids seem to be describing it as.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

"Led Zep without Robert Plant" - an oxymoron surely?

So I read in the papers today that Led Zep are to go on tour, but without Robert Plant. But without Robert Plant it's not Led Zep is it?

Which brings me onto another of my favourite pet hates - Queen and Paul Rogers. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Brian May, Roger Taylor and even Paul Rogers. But if you put the three of them together, you do not get "Queen plus" anything. You get Brian May, Roger Taylor and Paul Rogers.

I've heard Brian May say online many times that he's not really interested in touring for the money. That's cool. And that he enjoys playing the old Queen songs - that is also cool. But if both of those things are true, then why not tour as "Brian May, Roger Taylor with Paul Rogers". You can still play the songs, but may not sell quite as many tickets. But if money isn't the reason, then surely that wouldn't matter to them.

In a way, I'm disappointed. At first, the idea of getting Paul Rogers to sing the songs was a novelty. It was good to hear the songs live, and to give Brian May and Roger Taylor the chance to perform with a singer in front of them. But now they've gone on to record a new album (which I've not bought). I do wish someone would take them to one side and say "enough is enough - stop using the Queen name now, please"

I had this discussion with a couple of friends last Saturday night. Black Sabbath without Ozzy is not Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden without Bruce Dickinson is not Iron Maiden. And Queen without Freddie Mercury is absolutely, definitely not Queen!

It's not that in all of these cases, the frontman is the only key member of the band (even with Queen I could argue that's true) but a great band is the sum of the parts. If you take one of those parts away, you don't have the band anymore. A band is not a musical in which the cast may change, but the roles don't. I great band is the coming together of great musicians. And if you take one of those musicians away (and replace them, perhaps) then you may end up with another great band - but it simply won't be the original!

Of course, this leads us nicely onto Pink Floyd. And this is where my argument starts to fall down. A potted history in case you've been living in a cave and never heard of Pink Floyd. The band forms - Roger Waters, Syd Barrett, Rick Wright and Nick Mason. Syd loses the plot a bit (one of the great tragedies of music!) and is gradually replaced by David Gilmour. They go on to record some stunning music in the 1970s. Then in the eighties Roger Waters gets a bit of a God complex and they all fall out. It ends up in court, and the outcome is that David Gilmour wins the right to carry on using the Pink Floyd name without Roger Waters being involved.

Now, at Live8, the "classic Floyd line-up" of Gilmour, Waters, Wright and Mason got back together. It was magical. It was fantastic. It put everyone else that day to shame. But was it actually Pink Floyd. In my mind it was. In my mind, the classic Floyd line-up is the Dark Side of the Moon line-up, and so yes - these guys really could call themselves Pink Floyd. But if you take my arguments from above, then you couldn't actually call this line-up Pink Floyd because it didn't have Syd.

So maybe there is room in my mind for bands to morph through various incarnations. And maybe this latest Queen "thing" is simply another incarnation. Maybe Paul Rogers is to Queen what David Gilmour is to Pink Floyd. (Yeah Right!) Or maybe not.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Ring Ring

I read today in the news that a train company here in the UK plans to coat the windows of trains in a special material which stops mobile signals being received inside the carriage.

I've never understood the fascination people have with describing mobile phones being used in public as "a nuisance". Why is someone talking into a phone any more annoying than two people talking to each other. If the problem were one of noise levels, I would think it should be only the half problem, surely?

I think the problem is more one of frustration at not hearing the other side of the conversation. I don't mean that flippantly; I actually mean it deadly seriously. I think the same thing happens when overhearing the conversation in a language we don't understand ourselves.

I'm not sure we necessarily get frustrated at not hearing the conversation; moreso I think we have an internal frustration that what we are hearing is "noise" rather than "human conversation".

The brain seems to have a natural desire to complete the conversation we can hear half of (or indeed to try translating the conversation in another language) so that we can rationalise what we are hearing. Next time you are sitting on a train and someone is on a mobile phone - try to stop yourself from attempting to piece together the conversation from the half of it you can hear; it's almost impossible!

Of course, there's no excuse for loud ringtones going off on trains. Especially when people seem to like to listen to the first chorus of whichever horrible pop song it is before they deign to answer the phone.'

Perhaps my strangest experience with a ring tone was in Beijing. Well just outside Beijing, actually, up the Great Wall of China at Jinshanling. I'd just walked up a seemingly enormous number of steps to the top of the mountain, and was enjoying the view of the world when I heard a tinny version of "That Don't Impress Me Much" drifting from the pocket of one of the Chinese schoolgirls also making the climb. It really wasn't what I expected to hear!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Spellchecker

I really should spellcheck things before I put them online. Although, the typo I can spot in the first line of the previous post would not have been caught by a spellchecker anyway.

Maybe I should leave the mistakes in as a way of checking if anyone is copying my work. I know that the phone book in the UK used to have fake numbers and names in, and if those fake numbers and names appeared in another directory, then the publishers of the phone book would know that the other people had copied the list from the phone book.

The same thing is often true with sheet music. There are generally a couple of deliberate mistakes per song which don't affect the accuracy of the music in any significant way, but do allow the publishers to uniquely identify their work.

So maybe I should do the same thing with this blog. I should inject a few deliberate mistakes into it so that if any of my wonderful and witty words (should I ever write anyone) appear elsewhere, I shall able to sue and make millions. Of course, it also means that every future mistake I make, I can claim was deliberate and a device to prevent copying of my work. Fantastic!

I'm curious about what's happening to Tower Bridge in London at the moment. One quarter of the bridge seems to be shrink-wrapped in plastic with a huge machine blowing stuff into the shrink-wrapped area. I think it's something to do with the paint on the bridge, probably. At least they've not painted a picture of the bridge onto the plastic.

You may think that's a random thing to say - but it isn't. There is a disturbing habit in the construction industry at the moment that when wrapping a building in scaffolding, one must attach a large drawing of the building to the outside of the scaffolding. One such example can be seen at The Monument in London at the moment.

Now, I can understand the disappointment of tourists who turn up to see something only to find it is covered in metal and plastic. But I'm not sure whether having a huge picture of said something stuck to the outside of the scaffolding will actually make up any ground with the tourists, or whether actually it'll make the experience worse for them.

One could argue that scaffolding with a picture on is prettier than scaffolding without. This is undoubtedly true. But I'm sure there are plenty of young artists out there who'd love to have their work exhibited in a public place like this. So why not get some artists to decorate the scaffolding rather than trying to pretend it's not there.

A few years ago, Selfridges in London was wrapped in scaffolding, and Sam Taylor Wood was commissioned (is that how you spell it, or is that the first of my deliberate mistakes?) to produce a photograph to adorn the building. She did, and it was fantastic! More of that please!

Talking of photographs, I must remember to get tickets to the Annie Liebowitz (if it's wrong, it's deliberate, OK?) exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery before it closes. Some of her images are quite stunning, and if you've not seen the portraits she did of the Queen, then I can heartily recommend that you Google for them and then go to the exhibition!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Blogging...

It's a funny old thing, blogging. Except it's not that told. Nor, generally, are blogs funny - especially those which are meant to be.

Anyway, in the past I've tried and failed to maintain a blog. Maybe some of you even read one of them. I doubt it. Noone did. But I guess that's the point with blogs isn't it? I'm not writing it for you to read, nor am I writing it for me to read. I'm writing it because I can.

So, as yet I have absolutely no idea what I shall put into my blog, but time will shape that, I'm sure.

On the internet, I think there's a choice to be made. You can either put a picture of yourself, some contact details and then write a blog. But if you choose to do this, you accept that anyone who knows you could potentially find your blog and read everything you've written. And "anyone" could include "grandmother" "family of your partner" or "the Queen" so one has to watch one's language, doesn't one?

Of course, the other option is to make up a false name, put up a photo you found of someone else claiming it to be yourself, then write anything you want, safe in the knowledge that noone will ever track you down. Of course they won't.

At this point, I feel I should acknowledge the fact that it's pefectly possible to do both of the above by having two online profiles. But the potential for typing into the wrong one is just too great to contemplate there, really.

Anyway, blogging, that's what I was talking about.

My life really isn't exciting. It's a pretty normal life which I lead mostly in London, but also fairly often outside London too. But I think even within a normal life, there are interesting things to be pulled out and looked at under the microscope of the blog. Whether of course I am adept enough at pulling out such things is an exercise for the reader, but I shall certainly try.

As you can see by now, I'm very much a "stream of consciousness" writer. That is a posh way of saying "I don't really have a plan, I just sit at the keyboard and type until I get bored". In the same way people who can't really paint can describe their work as "naïf" in the hope that people will think that the meaningless daub is actually the product of an artistic mind. Maybe if I describe this blog as "naïf" people will see it as art rather than twaddle. Maybe. Maybe not.

Welcome

Here I go again. Once more, I'm going to try to sustain a blog... Let's see how it goes...