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Posts in Category: Stuff

Everyone goes crazy over such and such and such

Monday 25th January 2016

I’ve been blogging – on and (mainly) off, in one place or another – since about 2004. In fact this very blog was started in 2007, so coming up for 9 years now(!). Reading through some of the early scribbles (and please don’t take that as a cue to trawl the archives, they’re awful), I see posts about religion, ramblings about motorsport, many many entries about procrastination, and song lyrics shoehorned in as blog titles.

So it’s still very me; at a basic level those are all things that I’d probably write about now. Sure, now I’m procrastinating on chartership reports instead of exam revision and the lyrics are from songs released in the last decade rather than the 60s, but the basic concept is pretty similar.

It’s still me, but not quite the same.

Reading through those old posts is a brilliant – if actually quite horrifying – experience. Seeing my thoughts from way back when, the general theme is “shit, I wrote that?!”. Call it the arrogance of youth or whatever; reading them with older eyes I just realise how I sounded. It also brings back a flood of memories. Of what was going on in my life when I wrote the blog, what I was feeling, and generally what got under my skin. I’m glad to say that those things have changed, at least.

I’m in the back half of my 20s now. Whilst in broad brush strokes I’m the same as ever, reading back those old blogs makes me realise that I’m a very different person. In terms of how I think and how I approach life, I’m just different. More comfortable with who I am, probably; and because of that more confident, less eager to prove myself. I have no idea if that translates into how other people see me; a lot of the people I see most often now are people I didn’t know back when I wrote this regularly, so they have no baseline for comparison.

None of this is to say that I think I’ve grown up to be amazing. I’m comfortable with who I am, but I acknowledge I can be a dick sometimes. The thing is that everyone is a dick sometimes; the trick is to ignore the people who act that way more often than not.

The odd thing is that I almost feel like I can pinpoint the time when I changed; a certain moment when a switch was flicked and I became comfortable with who I am. Which is almost certainly bullshit. People don’t work like that, we change gradually in response to many things.

I don’t apologise for not blogging. I try to write every now and then, get bored and then go do something more exciting. I won’t promise that I’ll try and write regularly or whatever because I can almost guarantee that won’t happen. Probably best to say that I’ll write whenever I feel I want to record something.

And on that note, I’m off to the pub. See ya in another year (or so)!

Posted In: RandomStuff Tagged: | 1 Comment

Separator

Sunday 27th February 2011

Here’s the last song from King of Limbs, the new Radiohead album.

Truly excellent stuff.

“It’s like I’m falling out of bed from a long and vivid dream,
Finally I’m free of all the weight I’ve been carrying.”

Posted In: MusicStuff Tagged: | No Comments

Wedding, Water, Waffle

Tuesday 9th November 2010

I think I mentioned in the last post that I went to a friend’s wedding a couple of weeks ago. In some ways, I find it quite odd seeing people my age married/buying property/with kids (delete as appropriate). Obviously I don’t knock anyone who wants to do that, but for myself it all seems so young to be doing those things. In some ways I’m not even sure if I want to get married, in some ways it seems pretty old fashioned, rooted in religious tradition.

Hmm. I guess it makes sense in a symbolic way, committing to someone and whatnot. Although one thing I don’t get is having a big ceremony for it. To me, it seems like quite an intimate and personal thing. So it seems odd to do that in front of assembled family and friends. Oh, sure, the reception is a nice idea (any excuse for a pissup), but a big ceremony? Perhaps not.

Except earlier I did think of one possible reason for it. Because I’ve only just got round to changing my friend’s name on my phone (my friend was the bride), and as I did that I thought “yeah, this is going to confuse me every time I want to text her”… But then, will it? Because there was a big ceremony. So perhaps the ceremony is just a really elaborate way of reminding people that they’re married, so if you want to contact the bride you’ll have to look under a different letter in your contacts.

But then, why not just not get married, thereby avoiding the issue? Actually, I think it’s pretty anachronistic that the woman takes her husband’s surname. The whole thing is, really, unless you change the ceremony (see the previous post).

All this being said, I am (perpetually) single. Which perhaps makes it easier to be cynical about these things. Who knows?

I realise that I’ve not really done a general update on here for a while. Most of my posts have been about Things Which Annoy Me (read: politics/news) or F1. Generally because those are the things I’ve wanted to write about. I’ve also got a bunch of things in my drafts folder which I got half way through and then never finished. One in particular was a lengthy essay about sustainable construction, which I may polish off at some point because it’s actually pretty interesting. But then I would say that…

So yeah, update. I’ve graduated from Cardiff, and I’m now studying a postgraduate course at Birmingham. I’ve decided that I wanted to specialise in one particular part of Civil Engineering, and so the course is all about water. When I say that to most people they sort of look at me blankly, but it covers a hell of a lot. From flow in open channels (i.e. rivers), flooding, to water supply. Which is all quite interesting. At the moment I’m working on a coursework about the sustainability of the water supply in the UK, which is a fascinating topic. Most people seem to assume that because it rains all the time, we have plenty of water to drink. That’s not quite true, and water stress is a real problem. For a summary, see this diagram. Note that the areas with the lowest availability are also the areas with the highest demand (i.e. the South East). Apparently they’ve started to use desalination plants to supply water in some of those areas, which is just phenomenal. As well as expensive and energy-intensive; which in itself is in short supply…

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that since privatisation in the early 90s, the water industry has actually gotten much better. Better quality of water (admittedly, partly driven by EU directive), and crucially more efficiently extracted, treated and delivered (the improvement in leakage is particularly impressive). The regulation that exists to drive all this, though, is pretty mind-boggling. There’s apparently a push to introduce real competition between providers (currently water companies have a monopoly on certain areas; Dŵr Cymru supplies Wales, Severn Trent the Midlands, Thames Water in/around London, etc), and to introduce more of a market. Which is pretty interesting. Turns out that this privatisation/market lark isn’t in conflict with environmentalism. People being greedy (i.e. water companies wanting to make money) doesn’t necessarily equate with wrecking the environment…

Anyway, I digress. This post is probably a bit meandering, but I just felt like writing something really. I was going to say something about the upcoming F1 finale as well, but I think I’ll save that for another post. I’m massively looking forward to it, even though I have the horrible feeling that Red Bull will somehow manage to pass the drivers’ title to the Alonso. Which is really phenomenal given the car advantage they’ve enjoyed this year; they should’ve at least managed to exclude everyone else a while ago. Just goes to show that even if you have the best car, you’ve still got to drive it. Sort of puts Button’s performance in the Brawn last year – which only had an advantage for about 4 or 5 races – into context for those who say his championship is devalued because of the car advantage. Bullshit.

Posted In: EngineeringMotorsportProcrastinationStuff Tagged: | 2 Comments

Having an Argument

Sunday 20th June 2010

This is something which really annoys me, which I’ve noticed relatively frequently recently, and I’m wondering whether it’s just me who feels like this.

Right. So I generally enjoy arguing about things. I like having an opinion on something – be it politics, religion, motorsport, whatever – and listening to the opinions of others and generally discussing them, whether we hold the same viewpoint or not. It’s a satisfying experience, because it makes me look at my own thoughts more closely, and it obviously opens my eyes to other perspectives. This sort of analysis either leads to me reinforcing my initial opinion, or changing my mind partially or even completely. Either way I enjoy this because it broadens the way I view that subject.

I like to think that I am fairly logical in forming opinions. Whether or not that is fair to say is for other people to judge, but I like to think that it is. I find that I don’t come to a conclusion about something until I really feel as if I know a decent amount about it. I’m probably extremely pedantic about finding facts or evidence to form (or indeed judge) an opinion.

When that comes to forming opinions about things like politics, then yes I suppose to an extent that there is a certain amount of philosophy which enters into the equation. Questions about what we want to do – how we want society to be – are fundamentally philosophical. There’s not really any evidence to support the idea of freedom being good, for instance, it’s simply a philosophy which we generally find pleasing. I reckon that if you look across the political spectrum there is probably a great deal of commonality about this underlying philosophy; the real differences come from the development of political theories for building a society which delivers this, and this arena of thought is much more open to evidence. These theories are inherently testable – we can implement them and see which best deliver what we want. And in the course of human history (and especially in the last 100 years), many of these different theories have been tested to destruction and studied. So we can probably state with some confidence at this point, which political theories are most effective for delivering certain types of society.

The world is a complex place. It seems a bit simple to point that out, but I think people gloss over it sometimes. There is very rarely an unambiguous completely correct solution to something. Maybe this is something that’s been drilled into me through my engineering education; any scheme or solution has pros and cons, and the role of the engineer is to study the specific needs and to work out the solution which best balances the pros and cons to meet those needs in the most successful way. Which in most cases is really the “least worst” solution, in that almost every solution to every engineering problem is a compromise and will have downsides. It’s raw problem-solving (which is why I enjoy it) and its a way of thinking which I think is applicable to more than just purely technical problems.

So to come back to politics, I obviously have a certain opinion about which political theory is best. And by best I obviously mean that by the standards of what I think society should be like – someone who has a fundamentally different idea of this is likely to form a different opinion to me. In Britain though, I think there is probably general agreement that we want a fundamentally free and fair society. I don’t think many people have massively differing ideas of what this means, even if they disagree about what the solution should be to deliver it.

By way of example, a significant part of what I would consider to be a good solution is the idea of economic liberalism. That is, free trade in free markets. Or for want of a better word: capitalism. Now is not the time to explain the reasoning behind this, but I would say that it’s better for society if things are done in this way; if goods and services are generally provided through the market (I’m very much an Orange Book-er). And of course, the reason why I have come to this conclusion is because the evidence seems to support this (and also because I think it’s a wonderfully elegant concept). But, note the use of the word “generally”. I recognise that there are certain things that the market cannot deliver, or at least cannot (on its own) deliver fairly. And for these things, yes, we need a state.

(I intend to go into the thinking behind this in another post, so for now please don’t comment just to argue about the last paragraph!)

This is an example of what I mean about things requiring relatively complex solutions. I don’t think that my opinions tend to be straightforward “this is best”; generally I think that I recognise that many solutions are imperfect. But I find that when I try to explain what I think, occasionally people just ignore much of this and instead take what I say to an over-simplistic extreme. For some people, if I try to explain the belief in free markets, they seem to automatically assume that I’m some anarcho-capitalist nutjob who thinks that the state should be dismantled. They don’t seem to understand the nuance of the argument. Indeed in some cases, people don’t even seem willing to understand it…

The question is: has anyone else had this experience? I’m wondering whether it’s my fault for not communicating clearly enough; but then I’ve expressed the same opinion to different people, and some seem to understand what I’m saying (even if they disagree), whereas others seem to almost caricature what I say and leap to a simplistic conclusion about what I mean without really understanding my argument. And actually, from looking at comments on the various politics-y blogs that I follow, it does seem to be a fairly common occurrence on some of them. But I just don’t get it.

Whatever, it frustrates me massively when people choose to disagree with something before they’ve bothered to properly understand the argument they’re disagreeing with. It’s supremely arrogant.

Posted In: PoliticsRantStuff Tagged: | 11 Comments

Romance

Sunday 14th February 2010

It’s a pretty interesting thing, really. When we romanticise something, it seems to me that we hardly ever think about that thing in the way it actually was (or is); we ignore the negative aspects and focus purely on the positive ones.

There’s a space on my bedroom wall at home which I’ve wanted to fill with a poster for some time, but I’ve never been able to decide which one. When I was at school, one of my German teachers clearly liked his motorsport, because all around his classroom were prints of vintage posters, mostly for the Le Mans 24 hour race. I love these sorts of images, because they all seem to capture the spirit of the era. Especially posters for the “classic” races – I think they resemble art more than they do advertising. Look at this poster for the 1961 24 hours of Le Mans, for instance – I think that image is wonderful. The drawing is stunning; you can almost hear the engine, smell the warm oil. Or this poster for the 1937 Monaco Grand Prix. Same thing – to me it perfectly sums up both Monaco, and the era.

Motorsport is amazingly romantic. I couldn’t tell you why, but it really is. I love that many of the circuits have been around for years, because the sense of history surrounding those events is really nice. There’s something special about a Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, something that an Abu Dhabi or Chinese Grand Prix can never have (not picking on those events for any particular reason).

Actually, if there’s something special about Spa, then somewhere like Le Mans is almost sacred. I absolutely adore everything about Le Mans. For the uninitiated, it’s a 24 hour race around an 8.5 mile long circuit, a lot of which is made up of normal roads. It’s been going for years at the same place, and there are some absolutely legendary stories about the race. It’s basically an entire F1 season packed into 24 hours, and I love it for that. I also love that it feels like a proper racing event – like the equivalent of a music festival for petrolheads. You go, set up a tent, drink lots of beer, watch lots of racing and have a jolly good time, and to me that is basically heaven. I’ve not been yet (money, time, exams…), but I will one year and I can’t bloody wait.

You see, I could carry on for ages talking about the wonders of places like Le Mans, Monaco, Monza, Silverstone, Hockenheim, Spa… But I’m romanticising. These places have always been – will always be – very dangerous. We specifically remember the amazing races and stories that happened at these places, and lots of people hark back to the good old days, but when we look back it can be very easy to forget the bad things. The 1955 Le Mans disaster, Stefan Bellof at Spa, Jim Clark at Hockenheim, Jochen Rindt at Monza – to name but a few examples.

I suppose there’s a lot to be said for passion, too. That is probably what carries people through the bad stuff. One of my favourite moments from F1 in 2009 was in the closing laps of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Jenson Button was 2nd, Lewis Hamilton 3rd and lapping quicker. A podium for McLaren at that time was a very good thing – it’d been a pretty bad year for them – but you could tell that Hamilton wanted that 2nd place and he was pushing as hard as he could for it. Too hard, because he span and crashed on the last lap.

I know people who said afterwards “oh he was stupid. He was on the podium anyway, he shouldn’t have been pushing so hard”, but that misses the point. It’s racing, and any racing driver that would’ve settled for 3rd in that situation really doesn’t deserve the name. I suppose that fundamentally, motorsport is very pure – more so than many sports. You have a certain distance to travel, and whoever does it quickest is the winner. It’s a lot purer than, say, football, which is a game that is basically composed of completely arbitrary rules. I think motorsport attracts a certain type of competitiveness, and I for one absolutely love that aspect of it. Yes, Hamilton at Monza could have backed off and ensured he got 3rd place. But why? He wants to win, to prove he’s better than the next guy. Taking the safe course is never going to achieve that.

It’s hard to convey the reasons I like racing to people who have never even seen a race, or any sort of competitive motorsport. One day, I intend to take all my friends who say they don’t like it to something like an F1 testing day, because I think seeing the cars “in the metal” is a really phenomenal thing. It’s hard to appreciate what they can do without having seen them – it really does amaze you. Actually it’s probably worth them seeing a proper race too, because I can’t think of a way to convey the atmosphere when 20-odd cars fly past you on the track, all of them trying to get ahead of the others. Anyone who doesn’t find that exciting is clinically dead. FACT!

Anyway. Romance. Passion. Idealism. They’re all really good things, but I guess that it’s important that they’re balanced by a decent dose of realism. Because really, that’s the only way that things can develop healthily.

When you saw that this post is called “romance”, published on this particular day, I bet you thought it was about something else? Suckers :-p

Posted In: MotorsportSleepStuff Tagged: | 10 Comments

When Your Money’s Gone And You’re Drunk As Hell – 2009 Part II

Friday 1st January 2010

Well I covered January to June in the previous post, so now I’m going to jump right into the second half of the year.

July
A continuation of the Garden State theme from June here… The soundtrack has 2 songs by The Shins, so I also Spotify’d their stuff. Wincing The Night Away is the only one of their albums on there (and it’s my favourite), and I think at some point I mentioned them to one of my housemates who promptly retrieved three of their albums from the wretched hive of scum and villainy that he lovingly refers to as his bedroom.

I said at the start of this entry that the music I mention would be stuff I listened to a lot or that I associate with certain memories, and this falls into both camps. Wincing the Night Away was pretty much constantly on in my car during July, because it was the perfect soundtrack to my summer. I remember driving with the windows open, enjoying the fresh air rushing into the car and singing along (really badly!) to the music as I drove. It seemed perfect to me for those summer evenings, when the air has that weird, charged, “summertime” feeling and it takes ages to get dark, and the sky at dusk looks stunning.

August
This was the month of V Festival, so theres quite a lot to mention. Obviously I saw a fair few bands and artists there – Oasis, The Killers, a bit of Athlete, Ocean Colour Scene, Bjorn Again (hahaha), Fatboy Slim, and so on. The standouts for me though were Lily Allen, Snow Patrol and – weirdly enough because I’m not actually a great fan of their music – Pendulum. Oddly enough though, the music that sticks in my memory for August is actually not someone I saw at V. There are two reasons this sticks in my mind; firstly that it’s a stunningly good album, and secondly because it reminds me of driving back to Cardiff after V. I stayed at home for a family meal before I left for Cardiff, so I don’t think I left home until about 11pm and it’s a 2 hour drive to Cardiff. I was incredibly weary and just wanted to get back, and I remember driving through the night whilst listening to this album. For some reason it was one of those really nice moments I get sometimes whilst driving. It wasn’t a particularly fun drive, but it was one of those moments of clarity where I find myself completely focussing on the moment and forgetting about anything else. I seem to readily associate music with driving. I suppose that makes sense; the music provides a soundtrack to the drive and when those two fit each other, it sticks in my memories.

Anyway, the album is For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver. I actually first heard of Bon Iver from the Glastonbury coverage on the BBC earlier in the year and I listened quite a bit in July, but I didn’t listen to the album properly for a while. If you haven’t heard it, go on Spotify now and listen to it because it’s an absolute treat. In my opinion, For Emma and Skinny Love in particular are songs which are absolutely perfect in every way. Yum.

And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind
And now all your love is wasted
And then who the hell was I?
And I’m breaking at the britches
And at the end of all your lines

September
Two choices this month. First, Radiohead. I’ve liked Radiohead for a while but I’d sort of forgotten about them, if that makes sense? I watched their set at Reading this year on iPlayer though and was blown away by how awesome they were. I ended up re-listening to OK Computer all the way through after that and I pretty much fell in love with it again. I travelled by train into Birmingham a few times to meet up with friends, and that album (as well as Kid A) kept me company as I travelled.

Second choice is Muse, mostly because thats when they released their new album. Which I thought was OK, but it also made me re-listen to some of their older work as well, and someone bought me a couple of their albums for my birthday. I vaguely remember ranting on Messenger about how good the earlier ones are to the person who bought them for me, whilst I was very drunk after a night drinking cider (which I don’t usually drink)…

October
At some point in October, one of my housemates recommended that I listen to the Stone Roses on Spotify. I did so and became slightly addicted. Actually I think we both were for a while, so it was funny coming out of my room listening to an album and hearing the same music coming out of his room…

This was the first month back at Uni since Spring 2008, so the memories are the typical student stuff. Lectures, work, socialising, sleep, lectures, work, socialising, sleep, lectures…. It stays like that until now really, so you can see why I’ve been so fed up of it. Pretty much all the people who took a year out to work feel the same, which I find fairly interesting. University is just boring!

November
We come to November and the first real mention of Formula 1! Jenson Button took the championship with a stunning drive at the Brazilian Grand Prix in the middle of October, and he was also on form at the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, on the first weekend in November. For the most part, the race wasn’t great. Hamilton looked imperious all weekend, but a problem with his brakes at the start of the race meant that, despite starting on pole, he didn’t manage to pull away in the manner that most people predicted. That meant that the race got more interesting for a while, because it was shaping up to be a good fight for the victory between him and Sebastian Vettel. Sadly, Lewis retired after his first stop (iirc) after his brake issues got worse. So mostly an average race, except for the last few laps. Webber and Button had a cracking battle for 2nd place – reminiscnant of the famous clash between Villeneuve and Arnoux at Dijon in 1979 – which made the last few laps of the 2009 F1 season pretty excing.

Anyway, BBC Sport ended their coverage with this montage of the season, which introduced me to Florence + The Machine. I listened to Lungs a fair bit after I heard that song on the F1 coverage, and I reckon it’s pretty good.

December
I think that I’ve partially covered this before, but there are a few extra things to add. Towards the start of the month, I discovered the latest Eels album, Hombre Lobo. I’ve liked Eels for a while, so I’m disappointed that it took me 6 months to listen to the latest album. Anyhow, it’s all pretty damn good, but I keep finding myself being drawn to the last 4 songs… The second thing is Mumford and Sons, and I listened  to their album a couple of weeks ago. One of my brothers needed to go to Cardiff for the day so I said I’d drive him down, which meant that I had a day down there with time to kill. I decided to look this album up on Spotify and I enjoyed it. I still enjoy it, although I realised the other day that the album is basically about religion, which sort of lets it down a bit in my book.

So there, some of the music I’ve listened to in 2009, and some of the memories that go along with that music. Mostly for my own entertainment, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist with some of the music mentioned here, but here’s the link for anyone who wants to listen.  With the exception of the last few months (because of Uni), 2009 has been pretty damn good. I’ve got 6 months of University to get through in 2010 and once it’s over I really have very little idea what I’m going to do with myself. I’m not sure where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing, which is both exciting and unnerving. A year of opportunity, hopefully.

Happy New Year :-)

Posted In: MusicStuff Tagged: | 2 Comments

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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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

I Can See That Change Was Just Too Hard For Us

Friday 27th November 2009

I’m going to talk about Coke for a bit. Bear with me, because there is a point. Apologies if anyone knows the background already.

In the 50s, Coke had over half of the market share. By the 80s, this had dropped to about a quarter, and Pepsi was beginning to outsell it. As a result, Coca-Cola decided to do some taste tests to see which drink people preferred. Pepsi was the most popular, with people saying that they preferred it because it was sweeter. Due to this, Coca-Cola decided to change the recipe of Coke to make it sweeter, and started to test new recipes in blind taste tests alongside “old” Coke and Pepsi. As a result of these tests the company came up with a recipe that was more popular than “old” Coke or Pepsi, and the decision was taken to use this new recipe for Coke.

Coca-Cola decided that rather than sell this as a new variety they would simply replace their current Coke with the new one. They also decided to announce the change and to publicise it (see this rather hilarious news report). Pepsi, by the way, took it as indication that they had won the Cola Wars (I shit you not), and gave every employee a day off work to celebrate.

This is a probably massive oversimplification of what happened, but basically the new recipe wasn’t a success. Despite the fact that most people did indeed prefer New Coke in a blind taste test, there was a massive backlash against the company which eventually led to the old recipe being reintroduced in less than 3 months (it was referred to on the floor of the Senate(!) as “a meaningful moment in U.S. history”). People didn’t like the idea of Coca-Cola, a drink which had (to their minds, at least) stayed constant for decades and decades, suddenly changing.

It’s easy to stick with the familiar. Easy and comfortable. But how do you know if your perception of something is changing your actual experience of it; how do you know if the idea of what Coke is, is changing your taste for it? And whats to say that you wouldn’t actually prefer New Coke if you tried to get used to it?

Of course, the Coke recipe has changed a bit over the years – even before New Coke. I think it’s even varied depending on the region where it’s going to be sold, so that it appeals more to the taste of people there. And the epitaph to the story is that after the original recipe for Coke was re-introduced, sales shot back up. So, was the attempt to introduce the new drink a massive flop, or a really masterful marketing campaign?

(btw, just thought I’d mention, Coke > Pepsi. Fact)

Posted In: SleepStuff Tagged: | 10 Comments