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Posts from May 2008

Sultans of Strings

Saturday 31st May 2008

I wanted to reply to comments from the last post, but it’s probably gonna get quite long so I thought I’d just write a new post. Most of this is aimed at Andy’s comment…

Something I want to get entirely clear (and probably wasn’t clear in the post) is that I think the Killers’ cover of the song is – on the whole – ok. Passable. Not bad. Note that I avoided any jokes about them “killing” it (despite the obvious temptation). Okay so the guitarist simply can’t play the part, and the tone is awful, but whatever. It sounds OK. But…

Juliet when we made love you used to cry
You said I love you like the stars above, I’ll love you till I die
Theres a place for us, you know the movie song
When you gonna realise it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet ?

So it’s clearly a love song. And to my mind a love song should have some sort of element of passion to it. If you listen to a good one (like the original version of Romeo and Juliet, or Buckley’s version of Hallelujah, or Love Sick by Dylan), that comes in spades. When Knopfler sings the lines I’ve quoted, you can hear the heartbreak in his voice. I don’t get that feeling from The Killers’ version. They’re just going through the motions, which makes the whole exercise pointless. Music is about emotions, about conveying a feeling and telling a story, and a song (or performance) which fails to do that isn’t worth listening to.

So “how fucking dare anyone cover it who doesn’t fully understand the subtle nuance” is half right, I guess. It’s a nuance, but not a subtle one. A love song which is devoid of emotion just seems to defeat the point, and that’s why it’s bad.

It’s not purism by the way. There’s a cover of the same song by The Indigo Girls, and I think it’s absolutely brilliant. They’ve taken the song and performed it in their own way, which is surely the point of a cover? Think of Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower, or Buckley’s Hallelujah; they take other people’s songs and make them their own, and arguably make them better by doing so. But this is straying from the point… What I’m trying to say is that it’s not “how dare anyone cover this!?”, it’s more a case of “meh”.

I disagree with the point about “The guy even says at the start of the video that they won’t do it justice, but that it’s worth doing if they get a Killers fan to listen to Mark Knopfler. They’re on your side, for crying out loud” as well. My main gripe wasn’t that they didn’t perform the song that well – I didn’t like them beforehand, and I remain justified after having heard them do it. My main gripe stems from the comment about “I’m amazed that they’re from England”. If he’d heard any of their songs, he’d know they plainly are from England. A lot of the songs even mention places in England, for fuck’s sake! It just sounds cynical. “Oh, they’re popular, let’s play that…”. Maybe I’m being cynical; maybe someone else in the band wanted to play it, and he’s just going along with it. I don’t know, and perhaps I’m being harsh, but it just irked me.

I also didn’t call them “complete wankers with no skill at all”. I called them “talentless no-ones”, which I should probably take back; they have a talent for writing relatively mediocre poppy songs with a strong chorus, which is popular because of the whole club thing, and bring little new or interesting in terms of musicality. Hey, if you like that sort of thing, fine; I’m not saying it’s wrong for people to like them (as I’ve said before, people want different things from music). I just happen to have a penchant well played, well written, interesting music, so The Killers don’t particularly float my boat. It’s not that I’m a purist (well, maybe a little), it’s just that they’re really bloody dull!

Re: “wanky bullshit”, well you just can’t say that. I doubt you even know most of the people I listen to (without looking at Last.fm), and of those you know I listen to, how much have you listened to? Very little, I’d wager. Even if you have heard it, still can’t call it “wanky bullshit”. Well, you can, but you’d be wrong :-p

Re: Hendrix is best… That’s slightly more complicated. He really was great, and anyone who disagrees is a fool or a liar. This story particularly amuses me. But… As I said up the page, music is about emotions; about storytelling. So yes, Hendrix was a fantastic performer, and definitely a great technical guitarist, but Knopfler is my favourite purely because of the way he uses a guitar to convey feelings. To quote the great Douglas Adams:

“Mark Knopfler has an extraordinary ability to make a Schecter Custom Stratocaster hoot and sing like angels on a Saturday night, exhausted from being good all week and needing a stiff beer”

QFT.

Also, that list has Kurt Cobain at number 12, David Gilmour at 82, and Nick Drake nowhere to be seen. It was clearly compiled by idiots.

Anyway, now you see why I didn’t want to write this via phone… I’m probably gonna write some other stuff relating to this week when I’m less tired, but for now I think sleep would be a good idea.

Oh, re: Monaco… I had a few things I wanted to not hear about while I was away: the race, who left the Apprentice, and the Lost finale. I found out the part of the result of the first when someone told me, and the rest when I looked it up afterwards. And then some people were watching The Apprentice on iPlayer the other day whilst I was playing cards with some people, and I kinda caught the end of it. Oops. I’m gonna watch Lost unspoiled tomorrow though, which is good.

The GP result is kinda annoying. I’m in a fantasy league with some people here, where you pick teams & drivers and get points depending on how well you’re doing. I did have a pretty clear lead, but it’s gone down to something like 4 points now because most of my teams did badly. Ho hum. I look forward to watching the recording on Sunday, anyway –  sounds like a pretty damn good race (despite it being the dullest part of your weekend, Flix :-p).

Posted In: MusicRant Tagged: | 4 Comments

All I Do Is Keep The Beat

Sunday 25th May 2008

I think I’ve mentioned before (on a comment elsewhere, iirc) that I have a certain amount of distaste for The Killers. This cover of “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits is (mainly) why.

Ok, it’s not bad. But then it’s an amazingly good song (better than the inoffensive trite they usually play…), so they’d have to be fools to completely cock it up. That said, the guitarist is blatently struggling to play his part (and the tone of his guitar is awful. Awful!), and his solo at the end is just laughable, but y’know… The guy singing kinda fails to convey any sense of emotion as well. It sounds like he’s trying really hard to sound cool, rather than trying to tell the story within the song.

So it won’t go down in history as The Best Cover Ever, but anyone who hasnt heard the original (most of The Killers’ fanbase, I imagine) would probably think it’s ok. But I have heard the original, and it’s one of my favourite songs ever. So the Killers’ lacklustre effort really shows them up for the talentless no-ones they are. For comparison, this is the way Mark Knopfler, who wrote the song, performs it live. Take note of the decent singing (when you write good lyrics, you don’t need to try to sound cool), the excellent guitar playing (best guitarist ever), and the band just generally being awesome. Also, take note of the tone of the guitar being much nicer on this version. But then he has a Resonator (a National from the 1930s, iirc. And apparently a bitch to play), and they’re pretty fucking awesome.

That said, the performance isn’t what irritated me when I first heard it (to be honest, it just makes me laugh). It’s the little interview at the start:

“I’m amazed that they’re from England, y’know? To me, all the songs sound like they’re from the deserts of Australia. You don’t imagine the clouds of England hanging over their songs, it’s just not there…”

Wrong. Just wrong! That quote really just says that they know nothing about the band, that they’re not really that into the music, and just… Suffice it to say, it really annoys me. Knopfler has a way of writing songs which really tell a story, and the fact that they’ve misunderstood his music that drastically is just contemptious. If they were a proper band, who cared about music, then they wouldn’t say such a thing…

Basically, all this is a roundabout way of saying: I went with one of my brothers to see Mark Knopfler play in Cardiff the other night, and he was bloody brilliant. But then, I’ve seen him before and he was brilliant then, so it wasn’t exactly unexpected.

What was unexpected was another band we saw on the same night. We went to a jazz bar in Cardiff after the gig (which is bloody good, if expensive – £2.95 for a pint of Guinness!), and saw some random band play there. Didn’t really know what to expect, but they were actually really bloody good. After that gig, there sadly wasn’t any more live music to go see, so we ordered another couple of pints and talked about girls…

Anyway, two great gigs in one night. Can’t beat that!

(Yes, another post starting with the letter A. I would try to find another lyric which doesn’t start with that, but…)

Posted In: MusicRant Tagged: | 6 Comments

The Thing About Watches Is That They’re Timeless

Sunday 18th May 2008

According to my Mum, in any case. Made me lol for quite a while after she said that to me on the phone earlier today.

Anyway, exams are almost over! I’ve almost certainly failed Friday’s though. The paper generally was troubling, but about 5 minutes before the end I realised that I’d done a fairly important part of the first question wrong. The question was basically work out the reactions for this (apologies for quality of drawing):

Arch Question

Working out the vertical reactions is easy, so I got that bit fine (frankly I deserve to be shot if I cocked that bit up, it’s AS-level stuff). But for the horizontal reaction, I got H=P. Which is just wrong, however way you look at it. I’d assumed my mistake was just an algebraic one (cancelling something by accident, or whatever). To work out the force, you assume the horizontal displacement at the supports is zero, and then you equate that with the partial derivative of the strain energy with respect to the force. You get a nice equation, do some whizzy maths stuff, and the force (hopefully!) drops out. One of the terms in the equation is the partial derivative of the moment with respect to force (H, in this case). My error, realised just before the end of the exam, was to differentiate wrt x…

Of course, getting that bit wrong meant that my answers for the next bits are wrong too.

For the first time in my exam-taking career, I was suitably pissed off that I wrote a note by the side of the mistake. “I realised with about 5 mins before the end of the exam that I should’ve differentiated wrt H, not x. This probably explains the silly answer on the next page…”

Bugger.

In other news… I think I’ve expressed my displeasure before with the fact that I’m gonna miss the Monaco Grand Prix next weekend, due to a field course. I’ve just come across this, which just annoys me even more. It’s one of the worst races of the season (because apparently it’s hard to overtake cars on a bumpy, twisty, narrow road at 150+mph…), but as a spectacle it’s fantastic, and it’s actually one of my favourites. Fast cars on essentially normal roads is not a sensible idea, for any sane person anyway, and watching the drivers there is just mind-bending:

In the wet, it’s something else. I’m gonna get Mum to record it at home, but that means avoiding news for a week (and no-one texting me the result…). Utterly annoying.

Posted In: MotorsportRandomStuff Tagged: | 10 Comments

Amusement

Friday 9th May 2008

I was just reading a report of lecture given the other week. It says that the lecturer is an expert “in the area of child abuse”, and that this is “one that not many people specialise in”.

Well you’d hope not, really.

Posted In: Random | 4 Comments

Avoiding Work

Friday 9th May 2008

I went down to the library today to get some stuff done. Today’s topic was Structural Analysis and Solid Mechanics in general, and energy methods and matrix stiffness analysis in particular.

Matrix stiffness analysis is a way for working out the forces and displacement of an element using its stiffness, and it’s pretty much a bitch to do. You have a bunch of stuff and this big scary matrix, and it’s just annoying. When we were being taught the module, the lecturer barely had a clue how to do it himself. In fact, when he did example questions up on the board I seem to remember him getting it spectacularly wrong several times. I’m pretty sure there was the odd question he just couldn’t do, as well.

Apparently someone went to see him the other day with a question from a past exam, and he couldn’t do it. Basically, we’re screwed. I’m just hoping a question on fatigue comes up, because it’s a lot easier (20 marks for manipulating some logs? Yes please!)

Whilst I was in the library, I was sat across from a couple of third-year girls and once they saw what I was doing they started to remember the nightmare… Apparently the second year is actually harder than the third in some respects, which is weird. Didn’t really get much work done for a while once we started chatting (until someone asked us to be quiet. In the library? Crazy talk!), but did get some handy hints for the third year, with regards picking projects and modules and stuff like that.

Working in the library; all well and good, until you reach a critical mass of procrastination. Once you start talking to people, it’s hard to go back to work…

Not that I’ll remember the handy hints, anyway, cos I’ve just been offered a job. As of September I’m gonna be doing proper engineeringy stuff, in the real world, for money. Just need to pass the exams first, and preferably well enough to let me continue with the MEng course.

Ah crap.

Posted In: ProcrastinationRandom | 8 Comments

Avoiding Boredom

Wednesday 7th May 2008

So I’m trying to revise something, and need to go through some powerpoint slides, from some lectures. I don’t have the printed notes, so I got the file from Blackboard. It has animations and stuff, so I googled a way to strip them all out in one.

I came across this instead, and it amused me. I’m half tempted to send it to a handful of lecturers because they could really benefit from it. Especially the one who takes this module.

Last year, we had to give a presentation as part of one of our modules, and it was this lecturer who marked mine. This lecturer just dumps everything he says on the slides, and reads from that. Making him largely irrelevant. He criticised my presentation because there wasnt much written on some of the slides…

Death by Powerpoint. I really wish more people knew how to present properly. They just use it because it’s there, it doesnt actually add anything to their talk. If anything it detracts, because you just read the screen instead. Another bugbear: handouts that are just slide printouts. That’s just laziness.

I’m meant to be revising accountancy (well, more vision than revision). I’d rather be outside in the sun. Sigh.

Posted In: ProcrastinationRandom | 9 Comments

A Parrot With Tourette’s

Tuesday 6th May 2008

So, elections last week. Stuff happened, Labour lost out massively, and the Tories did well. Blah blah blah.

These were the first elections that I’ve not voted in (that I’ve had the chance to vote in). Reasons are basically that I couldn’t be bothered to sort out postal votes and all that jazz, or to re-register in Cardiff. Reasons for why I couldn’t be bothered follow shortly.

Anyone with whom I have talked about politics will say that I’m generally right-wing Tory scum. That’s true insofar as I’ve historically voted for the Conservatives. But that probably says more about the other parties than it does the Tories.

My beliefs are a mix of left and right, I suppose, and come to think of it I guess most people could say that. I think government should be small, but at the same time I’m fairly convinced that privatisation isn’t always a good idea. In theory, privatisation should result in lots of companies competing to provide the best service at the lowest price. In reality, there seems to be an ethos of saving money by not investing, and not transferring the saving to the customer. Looking at the rail and telecoms systems (for instance), I think they’d be in a much better state if they were still nationalised (to be fair, I think historically they’ve been fairly mismanaged, so they weren’t in the best state when they were privatised. But if that’s the case, they shouldn’t have been privatised). Similarly speaking, the BBC is a shining example of what you get when you have a large organisation that is devoted to providing a service. Because it doesnt have to return a profit, it can afford to invest in new technologies, even if they might not work. I read a thing a while back about the evolution of the BBC web services since the web was in its infancy, and it’s really staggering.

Broadly speaking, I think that anything which provides an important service to the nation (so transport, health, education, telecoms, gas, water, electricity, etc) should be run by the government.

I also think economic intervention is usually pretty damn stupid. The congestion charge in London is a fantastic example. Yes, it reduced traffic for a while, but it’s now above the level that it was when the charge was introduced. Yes, it’s less than it would be if it wasn’t introduced, but the fact that road usage in London is still increasing is a sign that it’s a poor solution. All the charge does is push poorer people off the road – people who can afford the charge still pay it. I love the irony, that such a left-wing policy is so inherently unfair.

What I’m trying to say is that economically, I’m right wing. Socially, I’m fairly liberal. I don’t really know what you’d classify me (what is it with our endless need to classify? Why can’t people just be?), probably Libertarian.

Anyway, after the waffling preamble we start to approach the nub of this post. If you wish to comment on anything, comment on what follows. I don’t want an argument on political beliefs, because theres no point and because I’ve only briefly put forward a subset of mine. I think what I think, and you think what you think. In my experience theres little chance either of us are going to change our minds, so lets not try. (That, and I’m right :-p)

The reason I couldn’t be bothered to vote this time around is that I’m fairly disgruntled with the whole political system at the moment. It seems to me that the people most likely to win an election (or put themselves forward in the first place) are not the people most suited to governance. Politics is about image above all, and frankly it’s ridiculous.

Example. When someone makes a mistake, everyone immediately calls for his or her resignation. Surely this is wrong? If you’ve made a mistake, you learn from that mistake and are better suited to do the job. Ok if it’s an absolutely massive mistake, fair enough. But for most things, just let them stay.

Ooh, another example! From motorsport, but it works nonetheless. Max Mosley is the president of the FIA, which is the body which governs a lot of motorsport internationally as well as being responsible for lots of road car stuff. I think the Euro NCAP tests is an FIA thing, for instance. Anyway, a while back the News of the World published a video of him having an orgy with 5 hookers, which had some pretty extreme elements (BDSM, to be precise). They claim that it was a Nazi orgy, because he spoke some German (he says one of the hookers was German), and.. well the family name is hardly untarnished…

The Nazi bit is probably not true (and I continue under the assumption that this is proved. If it is true, you can appreciate how the situation will change), but nevertheless he may end up losing his job over it. These sorts of activities are pretty untenable in certain countries, and so Mosley would be unable to work in those places, making his position fairly untenable. Is it right for someone to lose their job over something completely unrelated to it? Of course not, but so important is a good image that as soon as it is tarnished, it’s impossible to continue doing the job (that said, this is something Mosley seems to dispute…).

Nah, Mosley should go because he’s plain bad at his job, not because he likes to spend the odd afternoon being whipped by 5 prozzies. By the way, the man is 68, so he clearly has stamina for his age…

Other things… The cabinet confuses me. Surely the people in charge of the NHS, or education, or whatver, should be experts in those particular fields, not politicians whose first objective is the furthering of their own career. I know they’re advised by experts, but even so…

The system is generally good, I think. The idea of an elected House of Commons being overlooked by a House of Lords is just genius, and it’s probably the best system we could hope for. The problem at the moment is that the wrong people are running the system.

I was going to finish this by saying it needs changing, but having thought about it more, it doesnt. So I finish with a question: does government shape society, or is government shaped by society? Is our vain, vacuous, hopeless government simply a reflection of the people it governs?

My answer: Big Brother. Sigh.

Posted In: Rant | 7 Comments

A Revelation: Smarter than a Caveman!

Friday 2nd May 2008

So I’ve spent the last few hours working on, alternately, design and maths coursework.

Design coursework doesn’t confuse me at all. I’ve got little bits here and there to tidy up, a report to write, and a drawing to print, and then it’s Done.

Maths does. I’ve just got back from the IT room after spending since about half 9 trying to get a bit of Matlab code to work, which is meant to solve the Heat Equation using an implicit finite difference method. I’ve got it working with an explicit method, and that’s all hunky dory, but adapting that code for the implicit method is just confusing. It’s only giving a solution on one row of the matrix; that row being the inital value being fed into the script! The rest of the matrix is just zero, which is less than useful.

At one point I commented out about half of the code, to work out what those lines were meant to be doing. No change, whatsoever. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Pretty much all of us in the IT room were trying to crack that thing (well, actually most had given up by the time I left), and all of us had the same problem. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.

Basically, this is a lesson to not dick about with code if you only have a vague idea what it’s meant to do, and have what can be generously described as a “limited” knowledge of the language…

I guess its the same sort of result you’d get if you gave a car to a caveman and told him to make it go. He wouldn’t even know what the damn thing is meant to do, let alone how to make it do it. I imagine he’d just look at it, and maybe bash it with a stick, and then eventually get bored and walk off.

That said, I’ve worked out what my code is meant to do, and I kind of know how to do it, but just not enough to actually make Matlab do it. So I’m officially smarter than a Caveman!

Not saying much though, is it?

Anyway, I should go finish stuff! I’m probably not gonna sleep tonight. It’s gonna take me a couple of hours to finish design, then ages to finish maths, and then tomorrow morning I’ve got to meet the other members of my group for design to finish some stuff off and hand it in, so there’s probably no point sleeping, even if I get chance.

Actually, I’m looking forward to that meeting. One of them left me alone, logged on to his uni user account earlier (cos i needed to do battle with the Demon Plotter of Death, and AutoCAD doesnt seem to like to work on my user account. Bizarre, I know). Changed his desktop to say “NASCAR is for gays” (yeah, a form of motorsport I don’t like!), put a nice pink colour scheme on all the windows, and so on. Amused me highly. It’s not big, it’s not clever, and it’s probably highly immature (oh god, that word again…), but who cares?

Posted In: ProcrastinationRandomSleepStuff | 9 Comments

Anniversaries

Thursday 1st May 2008

There’s not much to this post. It’s 14 years since Ayrton Senna died, and 14 years + 1 day since Roland Ratzenberger died.

:-(

There were some pretty scary-looking accidents last weekend, in ALMS and F1, and happily no injuries. Good to know that motorsport is getting safer. Shame it took so long, though.

Posted In: Motorsport | No Comments