Archive for November 2004
The holiday is over, and it’s back to work tomorrow morning. After a trip to Dublin centre, for shoes, MIDI cables, pork pies and houmous, I have to conclude that Christmas is over too, at least for me. Now I just find the whole thing sad, over-commercialized, totally phoney, and it’s not even December yet. For the rest of the year, it’s almost nothing but work, most of it in a low-staff situation, firstly with other people on training, then the holiday season, when I have exactly one day off. Last year, well, I needed to take a break by early February, that’s how mad it was, and I won’t get to do much else over the season.
I won’t be going to the corporate party this year, since it looks to be identical to last year’s. No thanks, Before I left for my break I floated the idea of an “anti-corporate” party with everything that the corporate party won’t have, starting with a civilized atmosphere and good food. I wonder if anyone else ran with the idea, or will it be all up to me to arrange? I can do that, but I expect some committment from the others to the principle of having a good time. If someone says they’ll show up, and doesn’t, that’s a slap in the face that I won’t be keeping to myself. G’Night.
Ow, my poor feet… I should have checked the map before setting out this afternoon, then I wouldn’t have had to estimate my actual mileage, afterwards, at about eight miles or thirteen kilometres, most of it in a freezing north wind. I decided to carry on the full three-mile length of the South Pier of Dublin Harbour, past the Poolbeg power station, all the way to the lighthouse, just to see it for the first time. The way back, in the dark, along the narrow uneven pier, with sea on either side, was a little hair-raising. I can take it, but my walking shoes are about two years old and paper thin. Oh well, tomorrow is a good day to get reshod, before the last in the current Japanese classes.
Help! I’m pussywhipped!
“The man in today’s scenario not only knows how to listen, sympathize, look after a baby, and leave the seat down, but he can now add baking to his list of female-friendly skills. Yesterday he actually managed to bake a loaf of bread, an essential survival skill in this age of nanotechnology. Never mind that he didn’t knead the dough for long enough, so it almost totally failed to form a bread-like consistency. Never mind that he left the dough to rise for too long, so that it collapsed during baking. Next time, get a mixer with a dough hook, dude: the result can be called a noble failure, falling somewhere between bread and cake, like a light Irish soda bread without the dryness or the bicarbonate-of-soda taste, very edible and rather nice when served warm with corned beef and yoghurt mayonnaise.”
OK, enough of the third-person for one day. Half a loaf is better than no bread, and the remaining half will probably be gone by tonight, after I hit the deli for some pastrami or honey-roasted ham. Apart from the baking, trips to the bank and the centre of Dublin, I’ve spent the last couple of days pottering around, and this weekend I have the place to myself, since my flatmate is off home to Tipperary for a long weekend. Because Dublin centre is now so close to where I live, I’ve already made unnecessary trips, wondering what to do when I got there. There’s an experimental music gig on there later, just the kind of thing I’m in the mood for, and so what if it goes on till late? It’s not like I’ve been getting up early this week.
I found an old MP3 CD of mine while looking through my flatmate’s CD collection, so I have a real nostalgia trip going on while I’m typing this: Hunting High And Low by A-ha, the strange Norwegian pop stars who burst on to the scene with this album just over 20 years ago, starting with the infectious single Take On Me. The album was part of my general musical awakening during the mid 80′s, alongside 90125 by Yes, OMD’s Architecture And Morality, and others. I didn’t know much about synthesis then, but today I hear the Yamaha DX7 all over it, a instrument whose twentieth anniversary was celebrated last year, one as important to synthesis as the Fender Stratocaster was as a guitar.
A couple of years ago I wrote an essay on secure music, about my attitude towards music downloading, and last night on CNBC a music industry representative was asked why it was still so expensive – which it is, in my opinion. He tried to explain the pricing in terms of a shift away from albums back towards individual tracks. I’m not buying that, and I wrote a little more on the topic, enough to deserve a page of its own: see albums vs. singles.
A couple of very unproductive days later, much of it spent reading Teeth Of The Tiger by Tom Clancy. Now I’ve finished it, it’s clear that it’s only the first part of what will be a longer saga, involving Jack Ryan Jr., the son of the main character of most of Clancy’s previous books. In Executive Orders, Ryan Sr. had promulgated the Ryan Doctrine, which indicated that the enemies of the USA will not be safe anywhere in the world, and underlined that with a missile strike on an Iraqi cleric. Teeth Of The Tiger is the continuation of the same policy, but by other means entirely, in the form of a “black” organization operating without congressional or presidential oversight. Set up by Ryan Sr just before leaving office, its existence is unknown to the current president. They are party to the intelligence gathered by other agencies, and use that to fund their operations, but the downside is that they can not call on any other material resources.
If anything, the events of the past few years must seem liberating to an author like Clancy; it’s now a decade since he suggested that an airliner can become a weapon of mass destruction – you have to wonder just who was paying attention to the fictional ending to Debt Of Honor – but reality has since blown past many of his maddest ideas.. The Cold War is over, the enemies of the USA don’t play by any civilized rules, so the gloves are off. It’s not all gung-ho, however, and Teeth Of The Tiger is replete with philosophical musings on the legality and morality of the path followed by the new black organization. At one point Jack Jr. even has the sense to ask “what if I become like them?“, and doesn’t have a neat answer to that question. Does he finds out later? We’ll see.
My new place has a great view of the Lansdowne Road stadium – the grandstand, not the field – and there’s another big match on there today: Ireland vs. USA at Rugby. The crowds are gathering and littering the streets profusely, as they were last week, when people were giving out Fisherman’s Friends. I wish I’d known about that but, by the time I went past, there remained only thousands of little packets littering the streets in all directions, and the turbine-powered street-sweepers were deafening everyone in earshot. People!
So, today is just a chillout day, engaged in what you might call Multi-Slacking, i.e. doing multiple unproductive things at the same time. (Not to be confused with what Dilbert author Scott Adams calls “multi-shirking”, which is the failure to do many important things, all at the same time.) One is writing this blog, which is verging on the productive (in my humble opinion), but I’ve also been cooking fresh ravioli, and half-watching an American Chopper marathon on the Discovery Channel.
I’m a little ambivalent about the whole concept: it’s interesting to see these bikes being built, the way the whole can be much more than the some of its parts, but I was surprised to see how much Orange County Chopppers don’t do on the bikes. They buy in all the major components from specialist suppliers, often using them stock, and farm out the paint work. Then again, it is a commercial business, with paying customers, and they can’t take the time to get as skilled in those areas as the specialists are. They have become a major player in the local economy, cash filtering through them, from the rich clients down to parts suppliers, engine specialists, and pizza restaurants.
After the first series, however, the Teutul family have become celebrities, soap-ing up the inevitable arguments, and even get to build a bike for Jay Leno to be unveiled on The Tonight Show. It’s only a matter of time before they get tired of having cameras in their faces, as the Osbournes finally are – they announced, this week, that they are calling a halt to their “UnReality TV” show.
In-between episodes, we have commercials, of course. I’ve often felt that advertisers who spend lots of money on commercials are doing so because they can afford to, they are making huge profits. There are cases when advertisers need to take a risk to attract a market, but when I see saturation of the airwaves by a few big names, it’s clear that they are not competing with each other on price. I’ve moaned about advertisers, before, but the Discovery Channel seems to attact a different class of advertiser. Nickelodeon has its toy ads, MTV and similar channels are currently clogged with ringtone commercials, but DC is full of ads for financial services. Want a loan, but have a poor financial record? They will give you the money, but they will get their pound of flesh in return, in the form of high interest rates, or a foreclosure on your house. (If you’re not a homeowner, i.e. with substantial collateral, you needn’t apply.)
The Japanese work I put in on Sunday seems to have paid off, and I’m a lot happier with the verbs; boring as it sounds, it’s a critical part of the language training which has taken up most of the semester. It’s also showing up some limitation in our teacher’s methods, I have to say. For example, she’s treating verbs as a something to be memorized on their own, not taking advantage of common roots behind the words. This is the kind of thing that jumped out at me:
- 広い (hiroi) = wide, spacious (adjective)
- 広げる (hirogeru) = to widen, enlarge (verb)
- 広げる (hirosa) = extent, area (noun)
- 広場 (hiroba) = plaza (noun)
- 広く用いる (hirokumochiiru) = widely used (expression)
Makes sense, and something similar happens in English (wide, widen, width, widely), but Sensei was actually annoyed that I noticed it happening here too, and said “don’t do that”. Sorry, too late…
A fairly lazy Sunday, with a Quiche Lorraine in the oven, the Discovery Channel showing a series on rebuilding a Range Rover – piece-by-piece – and me tackling Japanese verbs, again. In class, we’re going at it in a piecemeal fashion over this semester, and so I’m taking the time today to lay out and categorize the major verb forms in a single spreadsheet page. Japanese for the Western Brain, a series of articles by Kim Allen, is a great help here, and includes an exhaustive list of verb conjugations that I’m turning into a Kanji + Hiragana table in Excel to print out and use in class. At the same time, I’m using what I’m learning to conjugate real verbs. Enough blog, back to work.
More fun from my website referer logs:
- Why did Guinness’ wheat beer, Brèo, fail in the marketplace? My opinion is: it wasn’t much good as a beer, a quality wheat beer like Erdinger is doing well enough today.
- I’m used to the repeated queries about the tallest actress in Hollywood, – some kind of cached query from AltaVista – but why are people asking me about the bra sizes of marathon runner Paula Radcliffe and Will & Grace star Debra Messing?
- Audrey Hepburn and Kirin Beer in the same query? WAV recordings of Jimmy Saville’s voice? Answers on a postcard, please.
- A search for “low-bandwidth sites” leads here? You bet, it’s stereoroid.com policy.
- No, I don’t know what costumes the Wildboyz wear, but I can tell you that your condoms will need to be x-rayed at the airport. If you keep them in your pocket, I suspect the foil will set the metal detector off. No, the foil will not hide anything from the x-ray machine.
- How the hell would I know whether Matt Le Blanc is circumcised? Ask Matt, or perhaps his Mom!
Today, on TV, I watched Two Funerals And … no, that’s it.
The first was that of Yasser Arafat, the former PLO terrorist and leader of the Palestinian people. After a politically-correct state sendoff from Cairo, nothing the about the actual ceremony was dignified. Crowds of people chanting and firing AK-47s into the air, all in veneration of someone who had done more to short-circuit Palestinian nationalism than any number of Israelis. Even Arafat’s grave is an expression of his hope for the destruction of Israel, his coffin is designed to be moved to Jerusalem after it becomes the capital of a unified Palestine. According to the Western calendar, Arafat died on the day commemorated variously as Veteran’s Day, Armistice Day or Rememberance Day: the anniversary of the end of World War I, when we think about those who went to war and didn’t come home. The end of the war? Well, one of them, we can hope.
The other was more dignifed, even though it ended with the playing of Teenage Kicks by The Undertones: John Peel’s life and work was celebrated in a fairly small ceremony attended by those he worked with and supported, including Feargal Sharkey, Undertones singer and writer of Peel’s favourite song. As someone who assisted in the creation of lasting works, he will be remembered more fondly, in England, than Arafat, who tried to justify terrorism and murder as the price it took to build his nation.
I’m still at work for a slightly odd reason I won’t go into much further, but it involves The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. No, really. I have the opportunity of listening to the whole radio series again, so I’m arranging that this evening.
The apartment move is complete, and we handed the keys over last night. Tuesday was a cleanup evening, and Monday was my Japanese class, which was actually shorter than usual, because one of the guys will miss the last three classes, the class won’t see him until next year. Our teacher is expecting a kid in about six weeks, though that didn’t stop her from taking a pint of Smithwicks – wonder what the baby made of that? (Gurgle.) I have to do a major revision of the course this weekend, I missed a lesson last week and the latest grammar points have not begun to settle in yet.
On top of all that, I’m expected to document my achievements for the last year at work: cases I’ve managed successfully, courses I’ve given, etcetera, for the annual “focal point review”. It used to be bi-annual, before the takeover, now we all have twice as much to do and remember each time. My achievements this year have been unremarkable, more about getting the job done without fuss. If that’s not good enough for Management, it’s their loss, I’m past caring what they think, in general.
Crumbs, Crivens, Crikey, and any other suitable pseudo-swearwords you can think of: I have way too much stuff, and my flatmate can say the same. It took us all Saturday morning to get it ready for shipping, but at least it all fit in the van we rented, barely, and survived the trip. The move is almost over, barring a trip to the old place tonight to pick up a final few things (after my Japanese class), another trip tomorrow for final cleaning (since I won’t have time tonight), and meeting the landlord on Wednesday to hand over the keys and collect our deposits.
The new place is looking fairly good, I have a much larger bedroom with my music and AV gear set up, even the Cable TV connection worked first time. The rest of the place is small, however, no place to unpack books and DVDs, so they’re still boxed up, and will likely remain so until I figure it out. I may have to do for my DVDs what I did for most of my CDs: ditch the plastic cases, keep only the discs and cover sheets. The exceptions in both cases are those DVDs in special packaging, of course. My large suitcase, which holds the other cases, is set to become part of my bedroom furniture, there is no space large enough for it. I’m seriously considering stacking bricks under my bed base, to offer me storage space under there.
The previous tenants didn’t do a very good job of cleaning the place, especially the bathroom, and there were some strange omissions in the furnishings: we had a TV, kettle, toaster, dual oven… but no draining trays, bath mats, or toilet brush. Don’t get me started on the washing machine, I’ve done what I could by cleaning out years of clogged soap from the powder tray and accumulated crap from the filter, including the shreds of someone’s lost credit card and several humungous bra underwires. (Ladies of all sexes: follow the laundry instructions on the box, will you? You ought to know what an underwire can do to the pump, and how much it costs to fix…)
My Kawai K5000S is probably the single most valuable object I own, thanks to its rarity, and it survived inside swathes of bubble-wrap inside its padded gig bag, and is now set up: I actually made a small start on a new piece last night, using Sonar as my main sequencer. With this move out of the way, and a week of no work or anything else coming up, I should be able to relax again. Yay!
Getting ready for the move to a new apartment this weekend, I spent the early evening boxing up my music gear, books and DVDs. I definitely have way too much stuff, but the virtual world hasn’t yet caught up with the real world, and these things are part of my life. I haven’t got to the CDs yet, but that part will be fairly straightforward by comparison. I’ve hired a “man with a van” for Saturday afternoon, and it will be a “dump and go” job: get the stuff over, in bin bags if necessary, then sort it all out later. Our new place is smaller than this one, though my own space there is bigger, and there are just two of us.
I have a week off coming up later this month, during which I expect to do as little as possible. Read books, play some more keyboard and guitar, cook, watch movies. I don’t know if the final extended part of Lord Of The Rings will be out by then, but it will be due, and I can always watch the first two parts in preparation for its release. I must be the only person on this planet who has not seen The Return Of The King yet, by choice: I’ve been a year behind all along, waiting for the extended DVD editions.
People who know me may be shocked by the following news: I’ve actually found myself smiling in recent months. It’s just not something I’m used to doing, and didn’t think it meant too much to not do it, but I have found it strange. Things are happening that are validating the ways I’ve tackled different problems, personal and professional. Some of it is pure schadenfreude, where I can say “I told you so”, but other questions are leading to positive results all round, with no losers. It’s good to know that I’m not going mad, neither am I disconnected from reality: it doesn’t get much more real than helping take care of a baby, as I was doing back in August, even if it was someone else’s.
Most importantly, I’m far better at dealing with stress and having a real life outside work. I’ve been accused of being blasé, just once, but that was missing the point totally: I simply don’t have the same concerns or priorities as some people, something I will not apologise for, and neither will I allow them to make their problems mine.
This, believe it or not, was the view from my hotel room last weekend, the seventh floor of the Ibis Excel, Royal Victoria Docks, London. As I was checking in, the girl behind the counter – really, she was about 16 – was asking an older staff member something like “we have a view left, shall I give him a view, would you like a view, sir?” She wasn’t kidding, either, and I soon had the camera balanced on a coffee cup, with long exposure set to go off after the timer, so my hands were off the camera as the shutter went. (Click for 1024×768 JPEG.)
I’m wondering about getting this one done as a poster, since I’ve remembered to keep the full-resolution version. The blue object in the foreground is one of the towers holding up the footbridge over the Docks, which has another marvellous view towards Canary Wharf, provided you aren’t discombobulated by puddle-jumpers on the glide path into London City Airport.
Last night’s Bill Nelson gig was excellent, with a full band set mixing his solo work with the Be Bop Deluxe years, a whole era of his that I’m not actually that familiar with. I only recognized one-and-a-half tracks; the half was Sister Seagull, featuring some guitar lines that Bill taught to Stuart Adamson while producing the Skids, but strongly reminded me of Stuart’s later Big Country work. The other song was Ships In The Night, which I clearly remember hearing as a kid, perhaps when it first came out, even. Is it possible for a song to arouse instant recognition after 20+ years? It was something of a hit single at the time.
After careful consideration, I held back on any major purchases, even the Alesis Micron synthesizer: I can make better use of the software I already own, actually, even if the hardware synth is more immediate. I needed some assistance to avoid buying a camera, however. On Sunday I walked by the Jessops main store on New Oxford Street, and they were having some kind of open day: a representative from Sigma was there, showing off their lenses and their current Digital SLR, the SD10. I investigated it a while ago, and still have some reservations about it, but one proved unfounded: it’s big, but not too big, and not as heavy as I’d been led to believe. With a fairly expensive telephoto lens attached, I could point it at anything near and far, and focusing was smooth and near-instant.
The Sigma rep was enthusiastic and happy to answer my strange questions, and I left him telling me “Jessops have a special SD10 package offer at the moment.” OK, so today I went back to Jessops to check out the offer, and get a price, since their catalogue shows the SD10 without prices. Their reponse? “We don’t sell the SD10.” OK, so much for Jessops, and more time for me to find the kind of bargain price that can get me over the one particular obstacle that nearly always keeps my wallet in my pocket: I don’t actually need the object in question!