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Posts from December 2009

In The Waiting Line – 2009 Part I

Thursday 31st December 2009

I thought I’d do a sort of “review of the year”, but I’ve decided to come at it from a slightly odd angle. I was bored the other night so started looking through my Last.fm profile, particularly the charts bit. It’s not completely accurate because there were periods when I didn’t have scrobbling set up properly and because obviously I don’t scrobble from the car or my mp3 player, but it still shows the trends from a good proportion of my listening, which I found quite interesting. The music I listen to sometimes reflects events or life at the time, so it’s quite a nice walk down memory lane in some respects. With that in mind, this is a review of the music I’ve listened to over the year, and why I’ve listened to it. It’s not necessarily all stuff that’s been released this year, just what I’ve listened to. I’ve tried to filter out some things, lke the bands that I listen to pretty much all the time anyway (Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan etc), so it’s mostly the stuff that I’ve “discovered” or really gotten into during the past 12 months.

Also I’ve not written about music for a while, so it makes a nice change.

For each month, I’m gonna pick an artist which I “associate” with it. It might be because I listened to them a lot, or because I have certain memories from that time which are related to a song or something. I’ll also sum up some of the other things I listened to, and more than likely I’ll go off on tangents at regular intervals because, well, why the hell not? I shall also use Spotify links throughout (or YouTube links if the song isn’t on Spotify), for anyone who wants to listen to the songs I’m referring to.

January
First month in and already I’m going to break my rules by picking two bands!

I basically had most of January off, so I filled some of the time by playing games. One that I played a lot was Darwinia, and as I was playing that I used to put music on in the background. A band that I particularly liked putting on whilst doing that is múm, an icelandic group. Their earlier stuff is pretty electronicy and fit really well with Darwinia, but I also listened a lot to Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy, their (at the time) newest album, which has a very different feel.

Funny story. For those who don’t know me, I’m fairly lax about getting my hair cut. My hair is blonde and curly, so when I’ve left it for a few months it turns into the most ridiculous looking afro you’ve ever seen. Actually there’s more than a passing resemblance to Art Garfunkel, and a year or so ago I went to see him at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham (he was very good btw). I was sat near the front and my hair was a reasonable length at the time. Anyway, during an instrumental part of one of the songs, he looked pretty much directly at me and started grinning. I dunno if he thought I was taking the piss with my hair or something, trying to imitate him. I wasn’t, I’m just really lazy, but there ya go. Was quite a weird moment really…

Anyway, at the end of January I bought the Simon and Garfunkel box set, and got pretty into that. I’d heard Bridge Over Troubled Water before, because I bought that album a while back, but it was the first time I properly listened to their other albums and I enjoyed them very much, so that’s my second January association.

February,
February was my first month working on-site, so was pretty exciting if more than a little daunting. The really big adjustment was living away from home during the week, although I was lucky in that one of my colleagues was staying in the same hotel as me so I at least had someone interesting to talk to over dinner and beers (paid for by the company!). During that time I think I read a review of Spotify on The Register during one of my lunch breaks, so I installed it to kill some time and see what it was all about. I quickly became addicted and one of the first artists I looked up was Bob Dylan (quite a bias on the week I installed Spotify!). OK so I know I said I wouldn’t include stuff that I listen to anyway, and I know I that even mentioned Bob Dylan, but back in the day Spotify had all of his back catalogue on there. If you’re not familiar with Bob Dylan, firstly whyever not?! And secondly, he has a massive back catalogue and it’s all pretty varied in sound. Some is awesome and some is, well, awful. SoI took the opportunity to listen to some of the stuff that I’d not heard before and found some absolutely great music there. Two things stick out in my memory. The first is I’m Not There (the one the film is named after), which I think is fantastic. I love the way it’s understated and sort of builds up gently, and I think that some of the lyrics are stunning:

Yes she’s gone like the rainbow that was shining yesterday
But now she’s home beside me, and I’d like her here to stay
She’s a lone forsaken beauty and it’s ‘Don’t trust anyone’
I wish I was beside her, but I’m not there I’m gone

The second thing to stick out was the album World Gone Wrong. It’s a bunch of covers of folk standards (recorded, I think, in his garage…) and I think it’s a vastly underrated album. I particularly love the title song.

March
So this was always going to happen at some point in this thing; I can’t think of anything in particular to say about March. This isn’t helped by the fact that my Last.fm history is patchy because I wasnt scrobbling all the time, but also I suppose it was the time when I was getting settled into work, still learning the ropes but gaining confidence, and generally getting stuck into the weekly cycle. Looking at Last.fm, there’s the occasional unusual thing but really nothing sticks in my mind as such, so I shall move swiftly on.

April
My choice for April is easy, although it’s a band that I first heard back in 2008: Death Cab for Cutie. Someone recommended them to me back then and I thought that they were OK, not bad but also not exactly brilliant. With the exception of I Will Possess Your Heart (I actually like the long intro), nothing really grabbed me that much. At some point I must’ve looked them up on Spotify (probably to listen to that song) and ended up listening to more and really enjoying it. I remember after what must’ve been a pretty tired day, lying on the bed in my hotel room listening to Narrow Stairs.  I remember the first few songs, then the next thing I knew I was listening to the album credits which are on Spotify for that album. Made me late for dinner! Anyway, I bought a couple of albums shortly after and I think I played them fairly regularly in the car through most of April, so there we go.

May
Yet another Spotify find! I’m a big fan of old blues and country recordings, and I was searching for a particular song, I Got Mine by Frank Stokes. I really like this song and there are lots of versions on Spotify, so I (accidentally, I think) listened to the version by Mississippi John Hurt, and instantly fell in love with it. This was whilst I was sat in a hotel room with plenty of time to kill, so I listened to some of his other music and really liked that too. It was May, the weather was starting to get better, it was coming towards the end of my time on a particular site. I have a really nice memory of chilling out listening to this music, killing time before going for another agreeable (and free) meal with a couple of pints with the other guy from work who stayed in the hotel, and of all being right with the world.

June
At the start of June, I saw Garden State for the first time. Actually I heard the soundtrack before I saw the film because one of my brothers put it on in the car on the way to Cardiff. This was during my “between-site” stage when I spent 2 weeks mostly working in Birmingham, but I went down to site in Cardiff for 2 days to do some preliminary setting-out. I remember the first day being boiling hot and the second day I sneezed a lot because they’d cut the grass at some point, which had the bonus effect of erasing a lot of the line marker I’d put down the day before. Someone really should’ve told the groundkeepers not to do that area, because a couple of weeks later we cut the grass rather more drastically by excavating it all. Nevermind eh? Anyway, the soundtrack to Garden State is very good and one of the songs on it is In The Waiting Line by Zero 7, which I became slightly addicted to. When I listened to some of their albums on Spotify I became even more addicted, before I finally bought a couple. I remember being bored rigid in the office in Birmingham, listening to that song over YouTube on my phone, whilst watching the text commentary on Friday practice for the British Grand Prix from the BBC website.

So, thats the first half of the year. Those first few months onsite seemed to last forever, but really it was only about four-and-a-bit months that I was there. I was always meant to be going somewhere else “soon”, so I guess the fact that I was constantly waiting for that exaggerated that feeling. I suppose looking back at this, I get the impression of being stuck into the grind, the same cycle over and over again. And I guess that was true (although certainly less so than at university!). But I did enjoy it and I learned a lot, which set me up nicely for the rest of the year…

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Things You Don’t Know About Me

Thursday 24th December 2009

Considering that Blogs are inherently personal things, it’s perhaps odd that I try to avoid writing anything too personal. Other people blog about life and love and things like that, but I couldn’t bring myself to write about myself like that on the Internet. The weird thing is that if I went to the pub with any of the people who comment here regularly, then I’d probably be more than happy to prattle on about that sort of stuff. I think it’s the fact that it’s available to anyone, whenever I write something there’s the nagging thought of “can this come back to bite me?” which stops me saying anything too obvious.

If you read my blog you can probably make certain inferences about me, and you’d possibly know certain things about me that people that I regularly see don’t know. I can’t think what, but I’m sure theres something. I think that the reasons why people read blogs is interesting. I’ve always tried to avoid posts which are too much about the daily grind because I think that people would find them boring, but then when I read other people’s blogs which are like that I almost always find them pretty interesting. I think people are just naturally nosy, so the opportunity so see a snapshot of someone elses life, even if you don’t know them, is pretty compulsive.

I find it interesting reading back through my old entries, here and elsewhere. Theres a lot of really subtle references to things which reflect where I was at that time. Or maybe they’re not subtle, but no-one commented on them at the time so I think I got away with it. Only a couple of people that read this would know what I’d be referring to anyway, so I suppose that helps.

It’s not as if I’m trying to be mysterious or anything like that. Really I don’t like talking about myself, and to a point I hate it when people talk about themselves too much. You know how some people always have loads of amusing anecdotes which they share at any opportunity? Well I don’t do that, I just don’t think to do it. I could probably think of a few, but really I can’t stand it when other people do that so I don’t do it myself. I also don’t talk about friends too much; my uni friends probably couldnt name three of my home friends, and vice versa, wherease I could probably do so for most of them. Bloody hell, my parents probably don’t know the names of most of my friends! It’s not that I’ve done that on purpose, I just don’t talk about them that much to people who don’t know them.

Drama annoys me. People who live their life constantly going from one crisis to the next really irritate me, because really they just want the attention. I’m not one for showing too much of what’s going on under the surface; I’d be surprised if even the people who are closest to me could tell when I’m feeling particularly down in the dumps (unless I’ve told them as much). So I guess that spills over into my blogging. When I started writing the intention was to keep it more “factual”; for my blog to be a place to write about my opinions and basically rant, but not a sort of “diary” thing. I think it’s gotten more personal over time, but I still wouldn’t feel comfortable with writing about my love life, for instance. Not that there’s anything at all to report on that front (other than the same depressing story as for the last way too long), but whatever.

Anyhow, I was going somewhere with this but I got distracted by Monty Python clips on YouTube. And now I’m tired, so sleep beckons…

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Climate Control

Monday 21st December 2009

I’ve said before here that I don’t know much about climate change. In fact what I said was “I don’t know whether it’s happening and really I don’t care, because it’s irrelevant”, which taken out of context says something which I didn’t intend to say, but ho hum.

Anyhow, I was reading up on the science behind climate change the other day. I was reading up on how human activity causes it, and it’s fairly interesting. It also gave me a fairly large headache, because I don’t really understand it. I understand the argument thats being made, but I don’t see how the evidence which is being presented supports that argument.

Before I continue, I’m not writing from a “boo climate change isnt happening” standpoint, because thats stupid. I just don’t understand the science. That could be (probably is) because I’m missing something, and that’s ok because I’m not a climatologist. I’m kinda hoping that by writing this, someone will write a comment which says “ah, but you’re forgetting this…” and it’ll suddenly make sense.

Ok. So looking at the data from ice cores or wherever for CO2 in the atmosphere and comparing it with the temperature of the Earth, does show a clear correlation. Historically, when there’s been an increase in the Earth’s temperature, the increase in CO2 levels comes after the temperature increase. Now this makes sense, because theres lots of CO2 stored in ice and water, so when the temperature goes up (due to, say, fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit), obviously CO2 is going to be released. And CO2 is a greenhouse gas, so clearly increased levels of CO2 help to warm the Earth’s surface, amplifying the temperature increase which has caused the extra CO2 to be released. Eventually the thing which caused the Earth to warm up in the first place stops having such an effect, so eventually the temperature of the Earth goes down again. As the temperature goes down more CO2 is dissolved in water and ice, so there’s less in the atmosphere. As I understand it, that’s the science which explains the relationship between CO2 and temperature, right upto mankind having any appreciable effect on either.

Ok, some facts which I think everyone will agree on.In the last 150-200 years, humans have put a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere. More CO2 in the atmosphere will help warm the Earth up. The Earth has warmed up – more than it has in the “recent” past – in the last  few hundred years.

However. We’re told that the current increase in the Earth’s temperature is entirely due to the increase in CO2 emissions. I don’t see where the evidence is which suggests that CO2 is such a large driver of the temperature of the Earth. If CO2 in the atmosphere plays as important a part in this as people claim it does, how come the Earth’s temperature has dropped in the past when CO2 levels were high? If a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere was that catastrophic, surely in the past when there were high levels of CO2, the temperature would have remained high once the original warming action was removed?

Why are we so sure that the current increase in temperature is purely down to CO2? Why have we ruled out the possibility that other – perhaps natural – phenomena are taking place, as they have done for thousands of years?

(Ego, perhaps?)

This isn’t to say that CO2 doesn’t play a role or that we should ignore what we’re putting into the air. If natural processes are responsible for some of the increase in temperature, then clearly we’re responsible for the rest of it. I just think that perhaps simply focussing on CO2 as the silver bullet is a really silly – maybe even dangerous – thing to do. As I’ve written before, the thing which really scares me is the fact that we’re running out of energy. Distracting ourselves with jollies to Copenhagen may make us feel like we’re doing something, but does it really solve the problem? Irrespective of whether the science is right, it annoys me that so many people have simplified the issue so much, to the point that they’re not even trying to solve the right problem. Stop CO2 emissions with sustainable fuels. Problems solved. As I said in the last post, that should be our Apollo…

In a comment on Callan’s blog, I likened Copenhagen to rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. That’s not true – it’s more trying to pump the water out to keep the ship from sinking. I mean it’ll work, albeit at great expense and inconvenience. But it doesn’t really solve the problem of the holes beneath the water, does it?

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The Second Best Thing About Christmas…

Friday 4th December 2009

…is that it’s the only time of the year where I feel it appropriate to listen to this. It seems wrong to listen to it during the summer, so it feels like a treat to listen to it in December (even though it’s not christmas yet and I don’t feel particularly christmassy)

I love winter songs. There are a few things that when I listen to them, it just feels like winter. That song is one example, and another would be Echoes by Pink Floyd (also an absolutely stunning song). When I hear Echoes it just reminds me for some reason of winter. Perhaps it’s just a really good song to listen to on another cold wet dreary day; very good distraction. Another really good example is the whole of “In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson.

On the other hand, “Wincing the Night Away” by the Shins and “The Long Goodbye” by The Essex Green are both summer albums, best enjoyed on a bright warm afternoon. Preferably whilst driving with all the windows open and singing along maniacally…

And no-one picked up on the Shins lyric in the last title btw? It’s because I wrote it in August and it was sat in my drafts since then (where it possibly should have remained…). I’d only just heard of them so I was mostly listening to them at the time.

I can’t wait to get to summer. Get rid of the crappy weather and the boredom of uni. I’m really bored at the moment. I feel stuck in a rut and it’s really, really frustrating. Ho hum.

And no-one showed us to the land
And no-one knows the wheres or why
But something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb towards the light

Theres a suggestion that Echoes was written to go along with the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I don’t know how true it is but I’ve watched them together and even if it’s accidental, it fits the film really well. The film/book is really good too and if you haven’t seen/read it, you should.

Science fiction doesn’t seem to be as popular as I think it should be. Or rather, the term is horrendously misused. Science fiction isn’t a catch-all term for “set in space”; it’s way more imaginitive than that. Sci-fi isn’t mere fantasy, it’s fiction that dares to say “what if?”. Stories that may seem fantastic or far-fetched but which at some level have a grounding in science. They’re way more imaginitive than fiction that just makes everything up because, at the edge of the reader’s mind is the idea of “someday, maybe not in my lifetime but someday, this could happen”. The idea of sending manned spacecraft to Jupiter or establising a permanent colony on the Moon is far-fetched, but why not aim for that?

The science fiction of men like Asimov and Clarke inspired a generation of scientists to go and aim for the impossible, and some of them did it. We landed on the moon in 1969, and then we went back a few times, and now we don’t do that any more. Why is that? Doesn’t it make you mad? (yeah, I’ve been watching Cosmos lately, so this rang very true. I’ve mostly been watching because of this, which is very good)

I wrote a post in September about crossroads (oh and there’s another absolutely awesome song, whichever version you take) and this is what I was kinda getting at. In the 60s, Mankind (well, America, but lets not split hairs) set a challenge to go to the Moon. British and French engineers were tacking an even bigger challenge in making the first supersonic passenger jet. The network that became the Internet was just starting to be created. Massive projects which, at first glance, were nigh on impossible. A generation of kids grew up being inspired by science, partly from science fiction, and went on to do amazing things. Why does this not happen today? Fewer and fewer people are choosing to study science, maths or engineering, and don’t you think that is maddeningly weird? Whatever the reason, I find it staggering that so few people are interested in those fields because, well, what on earth is more interesting than finding out how and why the universe works, or shaping it for the future?

The point I wanted to make in that post in September was that we’ve showed in that past that when a bunch of smart people try to solve a problem, they can do amazing things. The human race is facing possibly the biggest problem we’ve ever faced, and what are we doing? As far as I can see, very little. What we are doing makes rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic look like a brave and noble effort.

So anyway, I actually only meant to write about a sentence before going to bed to carry on reading a book. And I really didn’t intend to write about most of what I’ve written about, I just forgot to stop writing and let thoughts splurge into the text box. If only writing dissertations and project reports was so easy!

Oh, by the way, the best thing about christmas is christmas lunch. Best meal of the year. The third best thing (to finish off the podium) is probably Scrooge. I think it’s widely recognised as fact that it’s the only good musical ever written. Marley still scares me a little bit, even if he is Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s that little wave as he closes the door; I don’t care what you say it’s just spooky.

Posted In: EngineeringGeekMusicPoliticsRantSleepStuff Tagged: | 12 Comments