Tuesday, February 27, 2007

the Tao without a gherkin on top is not the true Tao

Joke of the day: a Buddhist monk goes into a burger shop and says: "Make me one with everything."

Well I like it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

album of the day

Tales Of A Librarian: A Tori Amos Collection.

Tori Amos, eh? Phew. Slightly mental, records thoroughly marinated in oestrogen, freshly-expressed breast milk and various menstrual outpourings and covering such cheery subject matter as rape, incest and how men are generally, well, bastards. Or so the popular received wisdom goes. And it's not a million miles from the truth, to be fair.

This is a 2003 "best of" which summarises her career up to the point she parted company with her record label. It features remastered versions of most of her best-known stuff, as well as a couple of obscure B-sides and a couple of new songs. Tori Amos fans tend to be somewhat obsessive and opinionated and there was some disagreement over whether this was a representative compilation featuring her best work, or not. To the less monomaniacally devoted listener, though, this is a collection of some terrific songs, most of the best ones loaded towards the first half of the album, including the "proper" hits like Silent All These Years and Cornflake Girl. Plenty of spicy lyrics, particularly Silent All These Years ("So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts / What's so amazing about really deep thoughts / Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon / How's that thought for you?") and Winter, which appears on the surface to be about a young girl and her father's concern for her as she approaches adolescence ("When you gonna make up your mind / When you gonna love you as much as I do / When you gonna make up your mind / 'Cause things are gonna change so fast / All the white horses are still in bed"), but there's just the slightly queasy feeling that there might be something a bit less wholesome going on. Tremendously bonkers piano-bashing throughout as well.

The only false note is struck by the inclusion of the Armand van Helden remix of Professional Widow; a major hit single but not really a Tori Amos song in the incarnation included here, and slightly incongruous in this company. I suppose they had to put it in, though.

All powerfully intense stuff; you might want a quick blast of AC/DC or something afterwards, though, just to redress the hormonal balance a bit.

you do the math - no, wait, I've done it for you

Some months ago we were sitting around at work having a conversation about The National Lottery, probably bemoaning our failure to become millionaires the preceding weekend, again. My colleague Andy pointed out that the previous week had seen three numbers in the thirties (or the twenties, or forties, I can't remember) and christened this phenomenon "clumping", for want of a better word. Since then he's made our lives a constant misery by pointing out instances of "clumping" in each week's lottery numbers, as if this proves some sort of theory.

Strangely (or, in fact, clearly not) it's not a theory which has yet enabled him to predict the numbers before the draw is made - which is the only lottery-based trick worth doing - only to go "aha, clumping" afterwards, to everyone else's general annoyance.

All of which moved me to wonder what the probability of such an occurrence is. Clearly it's inevitable that one of the "decades" (as I'll call them from here on, even though one of them, the first one, 1-9, only contains nine numbers) will have at least two numbers drawn from it, as there are 6 numbers to be drawn, and only 5 decades. But what about three?

It's actually quite a complicated problem to state in mathematical terms; in addition, despite having a mathematics degree, I was always rubbish at probability calculations, which is why the Three Door Problem (known to the Americans as the Monty Hall problem, for reasons too tedious to go into here) still makes my brain hurt, even though I know the answer. My tip, if you're having trouble, is the same as tip 2 at the bottom of the page: imagine there are many many more doors and he opens all but one of them.

Anyway, I did what constipated mathematicians have done since time immemorial, i.e. sat down and worked it out with a pencil, boom boom. It pans out something like this:

Pick a random decade (a ten-number one for the moment). The probability of picking three numbers straight out of the hat/lottery machine/whatever which are from this decade is:

10/49 x 9/48 x 8/47 - i.e. once you've chosen the first one there are 48 balls left from which to choose one of the nine remaining numbers from your chosen decade, and so on and so forth. Let's call this number A.

But, of course, you don't have to pick the numbers straight away - you could pick a non-qualifying number in between. In fact you could end up not hitting the third number until the sixth ball. Better to deal with each of these cases individually. First, picking the third number as the fourth ball:

39/49 x 10/48 x 9/47 x 8/46 - i.e. one of the 39 non-qualifying numbers, then the three qualifying ones. The vital thing to realise here is that there's more than one way of doing this - the qualifying balls could be balls 1,2 and 4 or 1,3 and 4 or 2,3 and 4. Basically you need to ensure that the last qualifying ball is the last one you pick (i.e. it can't be 1,2 and 3 as we've already covered that one), and then it's just a case of picking 2 balls from 3 slots, which can be done in 3 ways. I won't list the combinations for 5 and 6 balls as it all gets a bit tedious; if you want to check my maths have a look around this area here. Let's call this number B.

Now, picking two qualifying and two non-qualifying balls, and then the third qualifying ball as the fifth ball (hopefully you're getting the idea by now):

39/49 x 38/48 x 10/47 x 9/46 x 8/45 - there are six different ways of doing this. Let's call this number C.

And finally picking the last qualifying ball as the sixth and last ball drawn:

39/49 x 38/48 x 37/47 x 10/46 x 9/45 x 8/44 - there are no less than ten different ways of doing this. Let's call this number D.

So, using the numbers above and the numbers of different combinations available, the probability of getting three numbers in our chosen decade is: A + 3B + 6C + 10D - I won't bore you with the intermediate working-out, but the answer comes to 0.09027 . Let's call this number E.

But of course that's the answer for a single decade (we're nearly there now, I promise!), and there are five of them. So the overall answer for any of the ten-number decades is just 4E, as there are four of them. As for the nine-number decade, you just have to substitute 9,8,7 for 10,9,8 in all the calculations above, which the more astute of you will spot just means the answer will be 7/10 of the value for the ten-number decades. So the overall figure, which we shall arbitrarily call P, is simply 4.7E, or, expressed as a percentage to two decimal places, which should be good enough for anyone (drum roll please):


By a strange but rather gratifying coincidence, Andy tells me three of the last seven main draws have featured "clumping". That would correspond to a probability of 42.86%, which is pretty damn close, particularly for such a small sample. QED. Quite Easily Done. Thank you and goodnight.

Friday, February 23, 2007

the last book I read

The Heather Blazing by Colm Tóibín.

This is one of a number of novels by Colm Tóibín set in and around the town of Enniscorthy in County Wexford (the author's real-life birthplace). The title is lifted from the song "Boolavogue" which commemorates events nearby which occurred during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. [The song link also features a plinky harpsichord-y rendition of the song, whether from a real harpsichord or computer-generated I have no idea.]

Basically it's the story of Eamon Redmond, a High Court judge, as he nears retirement and reflects upon his life. This reflection takes the form of a series of flashbacks, first to his teenage years and later to his early career as a barrister in Dublin. These experiences - the death of family members in his early years, and the obligation to be dispassionate and unemotional in the course of his work - contribute to his becoming a rather cold and detached character, unable to express or articulate strong emotions even to his wife and children. There is just the suggestion of some redemption, right at the end, as his daughter and grandson come to stay with him after his wife's death.

Herein lies the only problem, which is that all this makes it slightly difficult to empathise with the main character, as we don't get much of an insight into what makes him tick. That may be the point, of course - the style of the writing is very spare and stark, no words wasted on flowery descriptions; not quite Hemingway-esque, but not far off. It's probably not the book for you if you demand either a) cheery upliftingness or b) urgent, driving narrative. If you feel you must read one Tóibín before you die, I preferred The Blackwater Lightship. That's not to say I'm not recommending this one, I'm just trying to enable an informed choice.

One final word - I bought this edition (part of the Picador Thirty series), brand new, for the princely sum of one pound sterling in the excellent Fopp shop on Park Street. They have lots and lots of good stuff; you should go.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

told you!

This just in on MSN News: New Zealand fishermen catch Colossal Squid. That link is of the type that will either cease to work or point to a completely unconnected story before long, if so I'll try and update it with a proper one. Strange coincidence, though, isn't it? Or maybe not.....maybe this is it and they're building up numbers for a big squelchy revolution whereby they blind us by squirting us with ink and then nibble us to death with their pointy beaks.

Note that the quip about calamari being the size of tractor tyres seems to be obligatory in all squid-based articles now. This particular one doesn't mention them being piss-flavoured, but they would be, broadly speaking anyway, because giant squid use ammonia as a buoyancy mechanism (as they don't have swimbladders). Probably just a little bit tough and chewy as well, I would guess.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I've said it before and I'll say it again...

This is interesting: plans for the world's first purpose-built "eco-city" at Dongtan at the mouth of the Yangtze river in China. A model for future urban design and development, using the latest environmentally sound techniques for waste management, energy generation, transport, agriculture, etc. etc. All highly commendable, but could it happen here? You think about that for no more than a second or two before quite literally soiling yourself laughing.

The absurd debate over road traffic charging in this country highlights the nature of the problem: no-one is in any doubt over the need for our behaviour patterns to change to combat global warming, but no-one wants to be the one to have to make the sacrifice in terms of their own lifestyle. This is where a brave and principled government could step in and decide to impose legislation on a potentially unwilling population, i.e to say: this is what needs to be done, it's for your own good, you'll thank me for this when we're not all huddled around the last tree in existence in Antarctica in 70 years time. The trouble with this is twofold: firstly the timescale for seeing concrete evidence of any benefits from such a scheme is far greater than the period a government is elected for, and secondly the unwilling population you're imposing this enlightened and planet-saving legislation on also constitutes your electorate. So even if you could use your majority to force something like this through into law, you'd be more than likely to find yourself out on your ear at the next election. This is why, or so it could be argued (and to quote Kent Brockman), democracy simply doesn't work. Far-sighted and radical reform is difficult, if not impossible, when your short-term objective is always keeping the electorate happy enough not to vote you out in 4 or 5 years time. So maybe enlightened dictatorship is the answer. But who gets to choose who gets in? And what happens when they flip and start eating small children?

Then again if the electorate had a direct line to the government policy machine we'd have certain laws in place that I'd be mildly uncomfortable with: capital punishment would be back, as well as public stonings and burnings for suspected (or just alleged by the News Of The World) paedophiles, as well as pediatricians, podiatrists, people from Peterborough....for that reason I'm not sure the radical approach to policy formulation taken by French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal is a development to be welcomed, as it basically seems to be starting with a blank sheet of paper, corralling a few people into focus groups and getting them to fill in a few multiple choice forms, and then using the results to concoct an entire set of policies for the election campaign. Call me old-fashioned, but there was something quite reassuring about candidates who had some sort of definitely formed set of policies before the campaign started, rather than just airily waving their hands around and promising to wing it as they went along.

For all that (and the Royal campaign looks to be going through a bit of a rocky patch at the moment) we could be in a situation in a year or two where the leaders of three of the major nations of the world could be women: Ségolène Royal in France, Hillary Clinton in the USA and Angela Merkel in Germany. I personally suspect it won't happen (well, Angela Merkel is in already) as I strongly suspect that the Americans in particular won't be able to bring themselves to do it. I do think it would be an unequivocal Good Thing if it happened, though, just to shake up the status quo a bit. In particular if Hillary Clinton managed to get enough of the intellectual liberal vote out to get in it would be highly amusing to see the swathe of deaths in bible-belt middle America as people's heads imploded.

album of the day

Copper Blue by Sugar.

I never quite "got" Husker Du, despite owning a couple of their albums - I seem to have lost my copy of Candy Apple Grey, but I've still got Warehouse. And it's good (probably their best album, in fact, as well as being their last), but it's unforgivably weedily produced. There's no discernible bass, and the drums sound like Grant Hart is playing a selection of paper bags.

Husker Du imploded in 1988-ish and Bob Mould (who also has a blog - all the best people do, you know) released a couple of solo albums, Workbook (glum) and Black Sheets Of Rain (suicidal), before forming Sugar. This is their first album, from 1992, and probably the most satisfying album of Mould's career. All the elements you'd want are there: a much less gutless production job, a cracking set of songs, and Mould's uniquely ear-shredding guitar assault. Metaphors involving metal and glass seem to spring to mind when trying to desbribe it - someone chainsawing up tungsten pews in a glass cathedral? Someone crash-landing a glass aeroplane on an aluminium mountain? Two strontium minotaurs having sex in a crystal decanter shop? You get the idea.

What us old-fashioned vinyl-weaned types used to call Side 1 (The Act We Act through to Hoover Dam) is a succession of pop-metal nuggets, The Act We Act and Helpless being the pick of them - Side 2 (The Slim through to Man On The Moon) is a bit darker and heavier, both musically and in subject matter (apart from the jaunty, jangly minor hit single If I Can't Change Your Mind) - The Slim appears to be about losing a partner to AIDS, and Slick appears to be written from the point of view of someone convalescing after a car crash. All good cheery stuff, as is Fortune Teller, which is probably the best thing on the album. Another one for my inadvertent series Great Rock Albums Of The 1990's.

Sugar went on to follow this up with the mini-album Beaster which is much more hardcore and forbidding, though it does include JC Auto, which may just be the most thrilling rock song ever recorded, and then File Under Easy Listening which is fine, just not quite up to Copper Blue's standard. Then they split up.

Bizarre footnote #1: Bob Mould worked as a scriptwriter for WCW wrestling for a while - a strange career change for a chubby gay musician.
Bizarre footnote #2: Husker Du were from Minneapolis, as is Prince. Both artists released albums in 1987, Husker Du's Warehouse: Songs And Stories and Prince's Sign O'The Times. Both are long, sprawling double albums, neither carries the name of the album or artist on the front cover, and both feature garishly lit photo montages on the front featuring lots of dead flowers. Spooky!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

colossal squid calamari: like piss-flavoured tractor tyres

Giant cephalopod article of the day can be found on the BBC website. Fascinating in its own right, as the whole business of how big these big rubbery monsters actually get is a vexed one, and the source of much myth and speculation (the mythical kraken, squid wrestling sperm whales, Kirk Douglas fighting off great disembodied rubber tentacles being waved at him by the props guy, etc. etc.), and it raises the question of what else might be lurking down there, as yet undiscovered by man (remember the coelecanth and the megamouth shark), just waiting to rise up shrieking from its watery resting place and wreak its dank and soggy revenge on the land-dwellers. Maybe I've been reading too much H.P. Lovecraft.

Anyway, large cephalopods apparently come in two flavours: GIANT and COLOSSAL. I can't help feeling those responsible might have peaked a bit early with the naming - what if we find 2 or 3 species which are bigger (maximum size for both seems to be of the order of about 45 feet, including tentacles)? Once you've cashed in GARGANTUAN, what's left that's bigger? UNIMAGINABLY GARGANTUAN? BOWEL-LIQUEFYINGLY COLOSSALLY ENORMOUS? I look forward to finding out. I reckon there could be a Nobel Prize in it for me.

Anyway, getting to the point at last (everything between "fascinating in its own right" and here was just an aside): the BBC article comes with a classic layman's size guide to squids which I reproduce here. It's actually a bit misleading as it portrays the colossal squid as being appreciably bigger (50% or so, judging by the picture) then the giant one, whereas in fact the difference in size is no more than a metre or two. It's interesting in that it also perpetuates the practice of using the London Bus as the standard non-SI unit of length for comparison of medium-sized things, presumably as part of the same measurement system that uses the Football Pitch as a unit for comparison of large things. By my calculations (assuming the bus measurement here is correct, and a standardised 100-metre pitch) 1 FP = 12.5 LB, though of course the LB abbreviation conflicts with that used for the Imperial pound, so we might need to rethink that one. Ironically the London Bus portrayed when these measurements are used is invariably a Routemaster, which have now been withdrawn from all but a couple of "heritage" tourist routes in London. Then again it's no more ridiculous as a basis for measurements than a 39mm-high* lump of platinum-iridium alloy kept in a locked room somewhere near Paris.

* or 4.9 milliRoutemasters, if you prefer.

Monday, February 12, 2007

6 Nations - the story so far

I've seen most of the 6 games that have been played so far, and it's been the usual mix of up and down, light and shade, tears and laughter, etc. Here's my very brief country-by-country verdict on how things have gone so far:

England: 2 wins out of 2 is not to be sneezed at, though the unconvincing nature of the win over Italy will have taken the edge off the celebrations. The pack looks as massively formidable as ever, and the backs look, Jason Robinson aside, as lumpy and unimaginative as ever. Tindall will run all afternoon for you, but he needs to be surrounded by more imaginative players who can capitalise on the holes he punches in the defence. Lewsey, who I'm normally a big fan of, has been pretty anonymous so far, and I'm far from convinced by the Wilkinson/Farrell axis at outside-half and inside centre. Farrell has produced some neat passing out of the tackle but looks ponderous otherwise (he's a rugby league prop, after all) and hardly likely to break the defensive line. Wilkinson isn't and never will be a creative running and distributing outside-half, and that's OK given his invaluable skills elsewhere e.g. in defence and with the metronomic goal-kicking, but he needs someone with some creative nous outside him - England haven't had someone fulfilling that role since the massively underrated Will Greenwood retired. I fancy Ireland and France to beat them, but it'll be tough.

Ireland: Impressive against Wales, despite some questionable refereeing. Pretty impressive against France too, right up until Clerc snuck through for that try at the death. Ireland never seem entirely happy being favourites, so maybe the defeat will relax them a bit for their remaining games - the only tricky one of which looks like being against England. If they hold their nerve, and as long as O'Driscoll is back, they should win.

Scotland: Not at all good against England in week one; the 22-point margin flattered them a bit. Not much better than distinctly average against Wales, either, but against a dire Welsh performance that was more than good enough. Never less than awkward to play, especially at Murrayfield, especially if it rains, but they have nothing very threatening behind the scrum. And don't be fooled by the talk about Paterson having a better kicking percentage than Wilkinson; if you never score tries you never have to kick touchline conversions, which makes life a lot easier.

Wales: Not bad against Ireland, though the lack of penetration in the backs was a worry, but if a few refereeing decisions had gone the other way things could have been more interesting. Absolutely pitiful against Scotland, though - if there's one thing that you can guarantee against the Scots it's that if you haven't got your line-out sorted then Scott Murray will clean you out time and time again, and so it proved on Saturday. The answer to the obvious question, which is why are Wales so terrible compared with two years ago is in a few parts:

  • their strength in depth isn't as good as England or France or Ireland. They key to our Grand Slam triumph was the midfield pairing of Henson and Shanklin and the pace of Shane Williams on the wing. Neither Henson nor Williams have played at all yet, and Shanklin is easing his way back. Gareth Thomas adds a crucial bit of mongrel on the wing or at full-back as well, when he isn't banned.
  • confidence and luck. Wales played a high-risk form of rugby in 2005, and when it came off, as it did gloriously against Scotland and Ireland in particular, it was phenomenal. When they try to throw the ball around when confidence is low, or when the side is being chopped and changed so no-one's sure of their role, or at the expense of the basics like winning line-out ball or securing the ball on the floor at the breakdown, it can all get very ugly.
  • weather. It might seem mad, but I seem to remember all Wales' games in 2005 being played in reasonably dry and sunny conditions, which are obviously conducive to open running rugby. When it's pissing it down like it was at Murrayfield on Saturday a more "up the jumper" style may be more effective.

France: Just to blow my own trumpet, my tip for the Grand Slam before the start of the championship. They were excellent against Italy, and it's nice to see Laporte giving Chabal a run in the side, girl's hair and all. It looks as if they might have solved their half-back problem with Pierre Mignoni and David Skrela, who looks very good - in fact there are two things that worry me about him: one is that he's very slight and a really good opposition back row might make mincemeat of him, the other is that I remember his father Jean-Claude Skrela playing for France as part of the legendary back row of the late 1970's (Jean-Pierre Rives and Jean-Pierre Bastiat being the other two) which makes me feel very very old. They will be strengthened by having Aurelien Rougerie and particularly Damien Traille back eventually as well. Tricky game coming up against England, and to resurrect one of the oldest sporting cliches in the book, it very much depends on which French team turns up on the day. They should win, though.

Italy: Never in the game against France, but they could have caused England a lot more problems than they did if they'd played the aggressive game they played in the second half throughout, instead of constantly kicking possession away in the first half. Symptomatic of a lack of confidence, but if they take as much confidence out of the Twickenham game as they should they could cause some serious problems later in the championship, particularly for anyone who has to travel to Rome. Like Wales, for instance.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

an open letter to FirstBus

It takes a lot to get me all riled up and hot and bothered, but Bristol's bus transport providers FirstBus have managed it this week. The day-to-day unhelpfulness and surliness of the bus drivers in the face of the no doubt wearisome burden of a whole load of ordinary Joes trying to get to work and the occasional foreign student trying to get to college washes over you after a while; you just pop in the iPod and bury your head in the newspaper. Our trademark British politeness and acquiescence and reluctance to cause a scene helps the poor old passenger absorb a fair bit of abuse as well.

Those who know me well know that I'm a pretty placid and laid-back sort of bloke most of the time. The problem is that while I have a very long fuse, it is attached to a barrel of TNT the size of Belgium. So when I found myself having to physically prevent myself from SMASHING SOMEONE'S FACE IN this morning I felt that venting a bit of spleen might be a good and healthy thing to do. And then I thought: why inflict this just on the poor and innocent public? So the open letter I reproduce below has been sent to FirstBus themselves (contact them here if you have any complaints of your own), Venue and Reclaim The Buses, just to put the cat among the pigeons.

Dear Sir,

I work up near Aztec West, and habitually take the bus from one of the stops a short distance up the Gloucester Road from Zetland Road Junction - generally the 309/310 Dursley/Thornbury service, but occasionally the 73 or 75 if necessary.

I boarded the 8:50 310 service from Zetland Road Junction this Tuesday morning, February 4th. Generally I'm pretty conscientious about having the correct change, but on this particular occasion I only had a £10 note. On being presented with it the driver, who seemed to be of European extraction, attempted to explain to me in broken English that (despite having a half-full bus) he couldn't change my note (I was attempting to buy a £3.50 FirstDay ticket at the time), and that I should wait for a subsequent 73 service to see if they could provide change.

I explained, as politely as I could, that this was not an option as there was no guarantee when the next 73 service would turn up, and, in any case, the 73 takes around 50 minutes to make the journey from Zetland Road Junction to Aztec West while the 310 takes only around 25 minutes. After much shrugging from the driver I suggested that maybe he should give me a change ticket for the £6.50 he owed me. He agreed and we went on our way.

This morning, February 6th, I boarded the earlier 8:20 310 service from Zetland Road Junction, confidently brandishing my change ticket. As soon as I produced it the driver, exhibiting all the charm for which Bristol bus drivers are known, said “no, no, I don't want no change tickets”. Mildly surprised, I asked him what he meant. We don't accept them, he said, company policy. My mild surprise gradually turning to incredulity, I asked him to clarify – was he really saying that I could be issued a change ticket on a 310 service, but that I couldn't redeem the ticket on the same service a couple of days later? Apparently so. In order to redeem the ticket I would have to call in, in person, at Bristol Bus Station.

Now I seem to remember, not so long ago, a series of posters proudly proclaiming First's change ticket policy – displayed on most buses behind the driver's enclosure. “Passenger change tickets.....your right.....our pleasure” was the catchy slogan.

It's difficult to imagine what leverage the simple paying customer might have, given your effective monopoly over Bristol's bus services, but here are a couple of suggestions:

Except where it conflicts with your own stated regulations (not accepting £50 and £20 notes, for instance) it is your responsibility to provide change to passengers who can't provide the exact fare, or, failing that, to provide a workable alternative system (as the old change ticket regime was).

The current system, if it was explained to me correctly, is unworkable. It cannot be right to expect the passenger who, through no fault of their own, can't provide the exact fare, to make a separate trip to cash in a change ticket in the centre of Bristol, a round trip, for some, of several miles. It certainly cannot be right for drivers to issue change tickets without clearly explaining the elaborate redemption process which now exists.

If the current system is not as it was explained to me, then some urgent re-education of your drivers is required. While you're at it some very basic customer relations skills training might be in order as well. Bus passengers are not an inconvenience to be endured, tutted at and generally abused, they are in fact the lifeblood of your transport business without which it would cease to exist.

Yours faithfully, blah de blah, etc. Have some of that. It won't make a blind bit of difference, but I feel a bit better now, and that's the main thing.

album of the day

Where You Been by Dinosaur Jr.

Everyone whose formative years included the "grunge" scene of the early 1990's has their own robust opinions about the merits of the countless groups that got grouped under the one banner. My own personal opinion is that the movement threw up one unequivocal genius (Kurt Cobain of Nirvana), two truly great rock vocalists (Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees) and one truly great instrumentalist - J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.

Where You Been is their commercial and artistic apogee - released in 1993, which doesn't seem that long ago to me, until you consider that it was a time when a tune as brutal as Start Choppin' could be a top 20 hit in the UK singles chart. Then it suddenly seems like a very long time ago.

It's an album you'll know your opinion about within 20 seconds or so - the massive fuzzed guitar riff that opens Out There will either have you in a shut-eyed salivating air-guitar frenzy or covering your ears and reaching for the off switch. Apart from the strange plangent interlude of Not The Same it's all in pretty similar vein, Mascis pulling another guitar solo out of a hurricane of noise, with his reedy Neil-Young-on-Valium vocals buried somewhere in the middle. Out There, Start Choppin' and Get Me are the highlights. Play it loud.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Turkeys: dead. Matthews: alive!

I was holding forth confidently at the weekend about the avian flu outbreak in Norfolk; something along the lines of how Bernard Matthews Ltd. would be suffering, but Bernard Matthews himself wouldn't care too much, as he was dead. My confidence in making this statement was based on the clear recollection of reading his obituary in The Independent a few months ago.

It turns out, however, that he is alive and well (or as well as could be expected for a 77-year-old) and living in, well, possibly Norfolk, but more likely Barbados. And I don't suppose he eats very many Bernard Matthews Turkey Steaks either, in stark contrast to my student days when I used to live on them - and Birds Eye Potato Waffles (they're waffly versatile, after all). I suppose what I must have read was this article from December - not an obituary at all in fact, but an profile on the occasion of his receiving a gong from the Queen for services to (presumably) mincing up turkey eyelids, mixing them with pork fat, coating them in breadcrumbs, deep-frying them and feeding them to a nation's kids.

I wonder what the incubation period is for the human form of the H5N1 virus? I can see it now: Matthews inspects turkey production plant, breathes deeply, visits Buckingham Palace to receive award, breathes on Queen.....Queen comes down with bird flu! Remember: you read it here first.

Friday, February 02, 2007

album of the day

Rated R by Queens Of The Stone Age.

Not quite as good as its successors Songs For The Deaf and Lullabies To Paralyze, but still a powerfully bracing antidote to the Snowplays and Keane Patrols (or as Alan McGee memorably described them, "bedwetters' music") of this world. It's the usual mix of cracking psychedelic rock tunes (Feel Good Hit Of The Summer, Auto Pilot, Better Living Through Chemistry, Monsters In The Parasol, In The Fade), some less inspiring filler, and a couple of brief shouty ones where Nick Oliveri gets to sing (well, shout).

Rock and roll is, after all, as Neil Young once said, "the sound of revenge". Or, as Michael Stipe once said, "the sound of two oranges being nailed together". Make your own mind up.

read this post like your face is on fire

And the Meaningless Supposedly Motivational Psychobabble Of The Day Award goes to:

Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire. Yes folks, Rafe Esquith dispenses his folksy downhome unpretentious wisdom on how to inspire kids with a love of the great joys of learning and knowledge (and getting a Chinese burn off Psycho Watkins round the back of the science block).

The brief excerpt available here gives a flavour of the book - all you really need though is the immortal sentence:

From that moment, I resolved to always teach like my hair was on

If you didn't know otherwise you'd almost think this was some sort of elaborately conceived satire on the whole motivational book industry (is that split infinitive in the sentence I just quoted deliberate)?

If you liked this book then a) get some therapy, and b) why not try these:

Play Snooker Like Your Arse Is On Fire

Do Your Tax Return Like Your Arm Is Being Chewed Off By A Crocodile

Stack Shelves At Asda Like You've Got Inoperable Cataracts

and finally:

I Wouldn't Piss In Rafe Esquith's Mouth If His Teeth Were On Fire

What Sort Of A Name Is "Rafe Esquith" Anyway?

reasons to be fearful, and tearful

I've uploaded some more photos to the gallery, if you want them. These include:

  • Some photos from when Hazel and I went up to my Mum & Dad's place in early December. Things to note: a couple of dead things. Suggestions for what they might be gratefully received - my current thinking is that the corpse at the bottom of the picture might be a hare (or a very lanky - and slightly manky - rabbit) and that the skull might be a (smallish) badger. Apparently the ridge down the middle of the skull is a badgerine feature. The two creatures appear to have been dead for different amounts of time, so I don't think there was a cross-species life-or-death single combat situation, thrilling though it might have been to watch. We also encountered a dead sheep, but it was even less photogenic than the carnage depicted here, so I skipped photographing it.

  • The IPL ball from mid-December. My friend Andy very kindly invited me along as his guest as his wife was off on a separate Christmas jolly in Germany at the time. For those not in the know IPL are an IT company based in Bath - not wanting to plug the competition or anything, but to be fair they do lay on a Christmas ball every year with a FREE bar, which is nice.

  • Various pictures of parsnip-peeling and Christmas-pudding-igniting action from Christmas at Emma and Ray's place in Reading.

  • Photos from New Year - the majority taken in The Butler pub near Doug and Anna's flat in Reading on December 30th; the others in my flat in Bristol on New Year's Eve - except for the last one which was taken in the very exciting Giant's Cave in the Avon Gorge on New Year's Day. Things to note: the obligatory giant inflatable penguin (see right).

  • Stag do pictures (see a couple of posts back).

  • Pictures from our "training" walk around Cheddar Gorge a few weeks ago (see several more posts back).

  • Pictures from our partially successful trip to Dartmoor. Most of these are nicked from Andy's photo gallery, of the rest a few are Robin's and about 10 (all taken on day 1) are mine.