A Good Hart

Being all alone in the house is the freedom to eat poached eggs on toast at four in the morning. Even if it's really at three because the clocks went back at midnight.

It is also the freedom to sleep at 0600, wake up at 1400, and eat poached eggs on toast again for breakfast.
The parents and dogs are back, equally exhausted from runs on the beach and encounters with enormous labradors.

At the time, I was attempting to hand-edit spaghetti HTML code for Simon M's ebay business. The wholesaler provides ready-written code for ebay sellers, but some is not applicable, some gives prices (in dollars) we want to change, and some is just OTT rubbish.

His first sale is...to me! Seeing as no one's bid yet for his ebay stuff, I bought a bottle of Chrysin. With free delivery to my pocket.

As I understand it, the male body normally converts some of it's tesosterone to estrogen - a process called aromatisation - which stimulates the pituitary to reduce testosterone production, which means there's less testosterone aroud to be aromatised, so less stimulation to the pituitary to reduce testosterone production, which means testosterone levels rise etc. It's a feedback-based thermostat system. Chrysin reduces aromatisation, raising average testosterone levels.

That's the idea, but tests on rats find it to have no effect on estrogen levels. So perhaps the state of current knowledge is: It probably doesn't work, but no on knows why.
I'm told this is the hottest final week in October since records began. Certainly it's a surprise to see people on the street in shorts and teeshirts when it's almost November.

The local newspaper reassures us that unusually intense rainfall and unusually high temperatures are not unusual in Autumn. Which if nothing else tells you something about journalists.

It also says December will be much colder than normal.
Goodhart's Law. Named after it's proposer Charles Goodhart, an economist who worked for Margarat Thatcher's project of Moneterist economic planning.

The project was an attempt to eliminate the patterns of boom and bust, seesawing inflation and unemployment, and unpredictable growth in capitalism.

There were two obvious problems. First, that a planned capitalist economy is a contradiction in terms. Second, that Milton Friedman's equations of Moneterism don't add up.

Which may be why an attempt to stop inflation by reducing the money supply led to increased unemployment and inflation. And, amazingly, more money in the system.

Anyway, the law states that when an indicator gets used as a target, it ceases to be an indicator. The law's applicability goes far beyond economics.

Exam results are an indicator of educational quality in a school. So the school sets targets for exam results, and in doing so educates students to pass exams rather than understand the subject. Result: exam result no longer indicate education quality - the former rises and the latter falls.

Arrests and convictions are two indicators (incomplete and misleading in isolation) of success in law enforcement. So police get arrest quotas and the courts feel pressured to convict more. Result: pointless arrests, and overcrowded prisons full of innocent people.

It works under state capitalism too. Soviet furniture manufacturers measured their productivity by the amount of raw materials used. So, not having the option over overproduction, they used more and more raw materials to make bigger and bigger furniture, which then wouldn't fit into people's rooms.

Goodhart's Law makes sense of a lot of cultural history. If I'd known about it while getting degrees in Cultural Theory, it might have been less puzzling.

Home Alone 2

My parents are spending Sunday (from midnight) on the Isle of Wight with the dogs. As minor landlords, they own three extra properties which they rent out to students and families taking weekend breaks. And they maintain that they barely break even doing it - which is I suppose not completely implausibe, given the highly seasonal renting pattern.

Anyway, the little holiday cottage on the Isle of Wight is vacant, so they're spending 36 hours there. Leaving me alone to 'mind the shop' (or 'hold the fort').

So I'm holding a wild party with lots of drugs and sex as soon as they leave. Oh alright, no I'm not. I did think of phoning up an old friend with an invitation along the lines of "My folks are away tonight, do you fancy coming over for a shag?" But I think I'd perfer to be alone on this occasion. Just don't tell anyone - I have a reputation as a sex fiend to maintain.
I got Paul T's internet connection working just fine. Unfortunately - as you know, there is always an 'unfortunately' - the account is in the name of his grandmother, who's just died, and whose bank account no longer exists.

We might sort something out, but he's in an "I'm sick of technology and can't face the hassle' mood.

We've got a provisional plan of working on our 'instrumental synthpop and guitars' EP. I come up with backing tracks, he improvises over them for a weeek or two till he's got songs, then suggests minor modifications, and we record.

The only real criterea are that it should be upbeat, and not sound like Strict Machines.

It's been years since I worked like that - more-or-less finishing the backing before even thinking about the lead parts.

Most synth-and-guitar tracks wind up like Bjorn Lynne - technically impressive but cheesy. These...probably won't.
I can't fit into my size 36W jeans. Waaaah! I feel like pigging out on chocolate to feel better, but suspect - just a vague feeling, you understand - that it wouldn't help. It wouldn't adress the nub of the problem, somehow.

Well, I've got the whole night to kill. And an hour of cardiovascular exercise always passes the time.

Is This a Game or is It Real?

How to prepare your laptop for a jam session the following day:

1) Find that Reason is not, as you thought, installed. And that both partitions are full of stuff that needs to be cleared off, but backed up first. Four DVD-Rs of it.
2) Try to burn a DVD-RW. Fail. Try twice more with the same result.
3) Try to format the DVD-RW on the laptop. Find that it won't. Try to format it on a different computer. Succeed.
4) Try to burn to the formatted DVD-RW. Find that the laptop still can't.
5) Grudgingly decide to use four DVD-Rs. It takes roughly an hour per disc.
6) Delete the files from the hard drive. Dig around the piles of CDRs, in search of the latest Reason. Install.
7) Test the speakers at 0600. Remember they'll need to be good and loud to be heard over the guitar.
8) Try desperately to get some sleep, because the jam starts at 1200.

As I write, It's 0430 and I'm nearly at (6).
Dino has learned to climb stairs. But only when no one's looking.

Also, as mother and I have independantly discovered, he doesn't 'get' singing. If you sing to him, he gets puzzled and unnerved.
I'll have to look at OpenOffice for Christina C's computer (thanks to Nick for the recommendation). I may end up using it on my own.
While burning those DVD-Rs, I'm reading PDF excerpts from books on politics and history that I came across while researching Herman Kahn.

Kahn was a big wheel in the RAND Corporation and founder of the Hudson Institute - both American early think tanks concerned with the cold war 'balance of terror', and with using game theory to work out strategies for a possible nuclear war.

He was a phenomenally bright man, with an IQ reckoned at 200 or 220 and a head teeming with ideas. Some plausible (that the Russians weren't stupid monsters, that nuclear war was possible), some a bit daft (that there could be a winner, and life afterwards would be bearable), and some completely barking (that game theory could win it by modelling the Soviet mindset). In fact, a normal person, but writ very large.

Intriguing site. Though appalingly catalogued - perhaps it's a replacement for the photocopied handouts usually given to students in lectures.
Reading on, I'm reintroducing myself to game theory, starting with the famous Prisoner's Dilemma. If taken literally, it should be impossible to buy a bar of chocolate in a shop, because the customer will shoplift, and the assistant will refuse sale for fear the money may be counterfeit.

In fact, the well known 'system of trust' in banking institutions couldn't exist. And the IPD extensions of revoked and restored trust don't help.

Speaking vaguely of which, three ebay fraudsters were jailed today for conning small amounts from hundreds of bidders.

If a stranger walked up to you in a shop and said they'd undercut the shop's prices by sending you the item in a week if you paid cash now, would you trust them?

Maybe greed creates gullibility, but only for small gains. The 'Nigerian' email is still a failure, and it promises wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

Like a Dog

Christina C wants MS Office replacing with MS Works, because it crashes less often on her old PC. Fair enough - my emoluement will be the usual vegetarian meal, endless cups of tea, and eccentric company.

Last time I was there, I was attempting get Matthew the youngest son out from under the coffee table (what?) when Buster, the family's elderly dog, decided to relive his frisky youth. I've never had a Great Dane attempt to mate with me before.

Matthew let of a squeal of delight and started shouting "GBS! GBS!". It took us a few minutes to get the nine-year-old to tell us what it meant. Gay Bum Sex. Yep.

I'll find time sometime next week - hopefully Hailey will have had her baby by then. And Buster will be asleep.
Simon M and I do not actually live together. It's just that every time his burgeoning ebay business needs technical help - which can be two or three times a week - I'm the I.T department.

The plan is: Spend two hours setting up auctions for bodybuilding pills (Creatine and Krysin, I think), then explore the mysteries of cooking, and watch The Wicker Man - a film which offends everyone who believes in religious tolerance.
Paul T on Saturday. Composing instrumental techno and guitar tracks. I'm supposed to have come up with some basslines and beats.
Is this clever? As a way of translating endnote references in articles into their HTML equivalents. Make a macro that does the following:

(1) Cut the currently highlighted text
(2) write <a href="#
(3) paste the cut text (presumably a number)
(4) write >[
(5) paste the number again
(6) write ]</a>

When you find a footnote number, select it, and press the assigned function key, turning (say) 36 into <a href="#36">[36]</a> in one keystroke.

Something similar for bold, italic, blockquote sections, subheadings and the endnotes themselves. It took me two days trying out various systems of macros to come up with it. I think it's quite neat.
Pestalozzi have sent me their christmas catalogue. Asking me to fund their charity by buying their kitchy christmas cards. Included is their Village News magazine, full of breezy reader's-digest-type articles, and pictures of happy smiling youngsters from many nations in their national dress.

It's all a bit spooky. The way they spell Village with a capital V, the insistance on Harmony and Tolerance, the way everyone is smiling, the complete lack of content in the articles.

Where am I?
In The Village.
What do you want?
Multicultural paradise, westernised diversity and a strange kind of officious blandness.
Gareth E consulted me last night about his ferociously philosophical PHd on the notion of Play, and it's relation to unalienated labour.

Taking his cue from the aphorism that Sport is alienated adult Play, he's trying to reconstruct the unalienated form from clues found in artistic expression, displacement activity, experiences of joy and hobbies.

I'm thinking about 'Dark Play' - bullying, self harm, and fighting.

No one seems to have gone down this precise road before, but there's a lot of parallel routes and intersections with other disiplines.

Post Interruptus

It seems the 'comments' option on the blog had got turned off somehow. Presumably I was just careless changing settings when I turned word-verification on. It should be back from this post on.

Prisoners of Childhood

Tomorrow morning, probably before I'm awake, some electrical items will be thrown into skips at a recycling point.

The Cheetah MK5 Midi Keyboard, bought for me by my mother in 1983 when I was 11. Five octaves of unweighted half-size keys, a pitch-bend wheel and a single button for adjusting octaves, channels and things. Powered by a 9V adaptor, with a serial DIN midi-out socket.

This controller keyboard was marketed to owners of the ZX Spectrum who wanted to play it's beeper with a real piano keyboard. Amazingly, it still works - except for the pitch wheel sending random signals and the power socket being loose.

No fancy velocity sense or aftertouch of course, and no sliders that can be patched into softsynth parameters on your PC - unlike the shiny silver keyboard leaning against my bedroom wall.

There's no real reason to keep the MK5 - it's functional but obsolete, taking up space, and a sentimental reminder of a childhood that I hated, except when making music.

The same goes for the Tascam 244 4-track cassette portastudio. £400 second-hand in 1990, from the same man who sold me the Kawai R50 drum machine - currently used by Sion R's band when practicing without a drummer.

I'm holding on to the other 4-track. With 8 inputs it can still function as a mixing desk for piping a fully mic-ed up drumkit into a stereo track on a modern, digital 8-track recorder.

There's other items - a mono cassette player supposedly designed for loading games into computers. I really did sit for five minutes and watch flashing primary colours on a TV screen connected to a Spectrum, waiting for a game to load from cassette. I remember wondering what computers of the future would be capable of, whether it might be possible to link several computers together somehow over large distances, and play games with other users.

The television I played the games on. Bought cheap and second-hand from an electrical repair shop that did a nice sideline in items whose owners hadn't collected them after six months. The shop shared premises with a software design company where I got my first job at age 15. Writing a program in BASIC to control a robot arm on a BBC Model B.

My very first music playing system - the size of three shoeboxes end-to-end, with double cassette deck and FM radio. Inspired by the house and sample-based music breaking through in 1985-86, I recorded snippets of tracks from one deck to the other, mixing and rearranging.

Other accoutrements and symbols of the past wait to be discarded. Twenty years worth of mindmaps, lecture notes and photocopies sit in binbags. The cassette 'master tapes' of a dozen home-made albums - the surviving ones now cleaned up mixed down to CD. There's hundreds of videotapes, slowly decomposing in cardboad boxes, and never mind all the novels and textbooks dealing with programming systems not used in years. VMS, C, QL BASIC, Utah COBOL, even Ada circa 1990.

I wouldn't want those years back. Patronised for being young, bullied for being queer, hated for being smart, and not understanding why. There's only one thing I miss - the sense of being a pioneer.

John, Paul, George and Ri-

A quick update because I'm knackered...

Three of John M's articles (two short one long) scanned, OCRed, hand converted to HTML and Proofed. With each stage taking longer than the one before. Four hours continious work last night for one thirty five page article - the minor classic of the British left What is the Real Marxist Tradition?. Four more shorter pieces awaiting my loving hand conversion to HTML. It may be tedious, but the result is files literally half the size and very easy to deciper and edit.

Dinner and routine computer maintence with Simon M this evening. It's never occured to me that you can boil pasta in milk with herbs - the result looks a bit like tapioca, but tastes lovely and rich. More culinary discovery and computer assistance on Thursday. He's setting up a business as middleman selling 'Nutritional Supplements' (pills and powders for muscle building) on ebay.

Strict Machines have two projects in early stages - an unplugged album (possibly full length) and an electronic EP (instrumental or nearly so). Which at least shows the band's versitility. So I get to be what Paul T calls the "Three and a halfth member".

I Know What I Did Last Summer

This is the month for doing all the domestic things I haven't got around to doing for the last few years.

Tidying the bedroom, scanning the stories I wrote between 18 and 22 (I found two more), sorting out the boxes of paper, converting more cassettes to mp3 etc.

I made a video diary of the day I went to Hastings to see Nick C's band. The tapes have been sitting in a box for months, waiting to be digitised or transferred to VHS. Now that's done, I can keep the promise I made to myself to wait one year after the event before watching them.
Another promise I made was last week, to spend this evening showing Sion R how to mix and master on a computer. I had completely forgotten the arrangement, and just as I was thinking how nice an evening nap would be, my phone started beeping to remind me.

Sion's new computer is rather impressive - flat screen, 1024MB RAM, three-point-something GHz and 350GB HD(!). I partitioned it into something more managable, and gave him quick run-through on multitracking, automated pan and volume, in-line effects, dynamics compression and mixing down.

We ate far too much chinese takeaway with his wife Michelle, and sat feeling bloated listening to each other's back catalogue. They much enjoyed my songfight work, though they said my singing style is sometimes "mad".
I photocopied five books on speedreading in about 1997. The irony is I did it partly because I didn't have time to read them. Well, now they're getting converted to PDF, and the other irony is it's much more difficult to speedread from a screen than a page.

Cleaning out my Closet

I spent most of last night listening to Ladytron and old Radio 4 comedy serials, while digitising photocopies of books about artificial languages. Back in the early 90s, the only reliable way to copy a book was with a photocopier - or a professional transcription typist if you could afford one. So, when I borrowed rare books from libraries, I took the (somewhat) cheaper option.

Interlingua is done, Volapuk is in progress, and I'll do Eurolengo when I find the box it's in. There's also Esperanto (obviously), and at least one natural language - Swahili.

Two hundred pages of formatted text in a half-megabyte PDF. Equivalent to thirty seconds of mp3 music, three seconds of divx video, or one ten thousanth of a Windows 2000 installation. Amazing, really.

When scanners became faster and higher quality in the late 90s, I used them to make digital photocopies, in TIFF or PNG form. There's some CDs in front of me containing twelve books on politics and philosophy.

You may not believe me, but I always knew something like the current technology would come along eventually, and I could turn my clunky copies into something much better. The same way I knew all those albums I put together using 8-bit samples and taped TV snippets were preliminary work for something years down the line.

All you need is inhuman patience and lots (and lots) of storage space.

The new scanner arrived today - an OpticBook 3600, for a reduced one hundred and sixty something pounds. It's taken us all day to figure out how to make it work. So I get the old scanner in my room. That's the old Cannon scanner, not the old HP one or the newish HP one or the ancient one without a logo.
The Strict Machines are continuing their roll towards domination of the local music scene, tonight amplified through my microphones. I was too exhausted to go and see them this time, but they're asking for some future performances to be recorded, and we're looking at recording a full length album of 'unplugged' work.
It seems that in a moment of madness I agreed to attend some godawful conference next Sunday. The is one thing scarier than a large room full of socialists disagreeing. A thousand socialists who all agree with each other.
It's rained each day for the last six. The wind has blown just like it's supposed to in Autumn - judging by the speed of the clouds it's blowing very hard at high altitudes, But the air is still warm, as though it were still summer.

Scan Man

"You're thirty five years old, Mister Vale. Why are you such a derelict? Such a piece of human junk? The answer's simple. You're a scanner, but you don't realise it. That has been the source of all your agony. But I will show you now that it can be a source of great power."
- Lines from the film Scanners, directed by David Cronenberg

At two'o'clock in the morning on Thursday, I had a small brainwave - one of those sideways but in-retrospect-obvious ideas had by computer programmers, philosophy students, and habitual problem solvers. And I've been all three.

If my OCR software has trouble recoginising superscript numbers, use the training function to teach it what they look like. But where can I find a document to train it with? A page containing a hundred or so examples of superscript numerals embedded in normal text? Simple. I make one in a wordprocessor. Print it out at different common sizes and fonts, then scan it at various slightly skewed orientations.

So that's what I spent the early hours of the morning and the late hours of the afternoon doing. In between, sleeping, signing on, and completing the sleep.

I want to give it some more training before re-OCRing the articles. But before that, there's some short stories (and the odd novel) that I wrote fifteen years ago. There's also a dozen books (mostly on languages or linguistics) that I've had in photocopy form for about the same amount of time.

Digitise them, and finally get to throw away the mountains of paper. What once took up tens of boxes, reduced to a few CDs.

Oh, and just in case you think I'm not a serious, hardcore scanning and oCR freak, mother and I are splitting the cost of a brand new fancy scanner designed for books.

The idea is to make digital copies of our somewhat unwieldy library of textbooks, Open University courses and trashy novels for our own use, and ditch the originals, possibly making back some of the cost by flogging them on ebay.
Two hours later, and 26 of 28 short stories scanned. Only one was so abysmally awful I decided to just bin it, and one was printed on thermal paper (remember thermal printers?), which has degraded too much to OCR.
I haven't been looking at the newspapers lately. I hear fragments. 80,000 deaths so far from the Indian earthquake, and maybe another 40,000 to come. The public have charity fatigue and the governments don't feel pressured to donate. There's a new wonderdrug to treat breast cancer, the Yorkshire Ripper is back in fashion, and The Tory leadership election is a choice between Davis (Hague clone) and Cameron (Blair clone).

It's a Type of Car, Apparantly


My mobile phone is my alarm clock. It's supposed to wake me up with loud annoying beeps in the morning. Nowadays though, it wakes me up with a loud annoying ringtone from someone with computer problems.

On Monday it was dear old Max. With words to the effect of "The printer's buggered again and I can't send emails and I need to print stuff out and send some important things over the net by today at the latest so please come and make everything alright."

So I bicycled up to see him, and fixed the printer using my secret magical method of turning it off...and then back on again. The email problem was hotmail's stupid verification system. That's where they make your hotmail inaccessible at random intervals, requiring you to log on to their site and enter a reactivation code to get access back.

However, this led to something more interesting. A few months ago, John M and I discussed the possibility of making his published work availaible on a website. He's written five books and a shedload of articles over the last thirty years, mostly now out of print but still relavant.

So, seeing as his books were there, I borrowed one, and spent the evening messing around with OCR software. It's been nearly a decade since I tried to use OCR seriously, and wasn't terribly impressed at the time - 99% accuracy sounds good, until you realise it means labourious proofreading to find the one out of every hundred letters that are wrong. And it took you longer to scan a page than to read it.

Things have improved a lot. After two hours experimentaion, I produced a near-perfect PDF of a two hundred page book in ninety minutes.
Strict Machines had a gig arranged at Portsmouth's latest music venue, uninspiringly named "The Front Room". They were headlining, with two support bands. But then one of the other bands dropped out, then so did the other one, then the gig was cancelled by the management because it would be pointless having just one band onstage, then one of the support acts de-cancelled, so there was just one band onstage.

They were bloody awful too. Instrumental blues-rock without the soul of blues or the drive of rock. Good musical ideas, just performed like a finger exercise.
Back up to the cluttered living space of John and Max, to discuss getting John's thirty-year back catalogue of articles and books into cyberspace. A lot of his more influential articles are already there, but it's a tiny selection and scattered.

The Marxist Internet Archive has an extremely large collection of theoretical writings, including some by rather insignificant thinkers. But nothing there from John, who's been an influential figure on the British left for as long as I've been alive.

We found about twenty periodicals containing stuff he's written, and I carried it back home in a taxi driven by a charming young Turkish man (married of course, hah!) who left the sun of Istanbul to drive through the rain in Portsmouth.


Scanning and OCR are the easy bits. Proofreading and correcting will drive any normal man to drink. The superscript footnote references tend to be OCRed as commas - because they're small and in the right place. And as converting a two-column scan into a single column HTML page, with correct formatting, it ought to be easy. It's so easy I'm seriously considering saving the whole thing as plain text and hand coding the HTML to format it.

At least that way the HTM files won't be several times the size they need to be - as they are in Word or Dreamweaver. I have an instinctive dislike of bloatware and almost always code HTML by hand in the original oldschool editor - Windows Notepad.

Anyway, I now have about twenty articles on political philosophy OCRed, ranging from 4000 words to 25000. Maybe proofing and correcting is a good way to get more familliar with their content?
Paul T's grandmother is buried tomorrow. Or more likely cremated, I don't know. He didn't invite me to the funeral, but did invite me to the gig the day after. He wants to borrow a microphone.

While he's reading out the speech (which is much too long, of course), I will be signing on. No, I didn't remember it this time - I've just been reminded.
Love to be dancing
At the disco
Where you buy your

- Goldfrapp, "Ride A White Horse"

What kind of deranged songwriting is that? And what the hell is a winniebago anyway? Is it the kind of item commonly purchasable from a discoteque?

We're All Doomed

This evening, a forum on the political aspects of the New Orleans disaster. The speaker cancelled with hours to spare having put her back out. The replacement speaker couldn't get out of London because of a body on the line. Half the usual atendees couldn't come for one reason or another, so there were 11 of us in the room.

So actually we had a very good improptu discussion, with myself as nominal chair, asking slightly dumb questions when the discussion flagged, so someone could jump in and provide the answer. This is my technique of stimulating debate.
Of those who couldn't come, Paul T was simply exhausted after a day being painfully polite to family members.

Ivy - his grandmother - said in her life and her will that she wanted a simple (cheap) secular funeral, with donations to charity instead of wreaths and flowers. The family take this to mean a grand christian funeral with lots of flowers. Because although they didn't speak with her for years at a time, they know what she really wanted.
A quick flick through the virtual papers...

Terrorist groups are giving practical help in Pakistan to recruit members from the grateful. Translation: Nationalist groups who opposed the government and were consequently banned using the standards excuse "links to Al-Qaida" are doing their bit.

The Times has one story about how high court judges are still sexist (duh). Nearby a story about a Su Duku champion, marvelling at the fact that she is female. While The Observer pretends there is a debate over whether men can be friends with women without wanting sex.

In Iraq, the Sunni (the bad guys) have failed to veto the new constitution which gives power to the Shia (the good guys). Blair and Rice promise to "sort out" Iran (prevent it getting nuclear weapons), where the Shia are the bad guys and in control. Meanwhile Blair wants to replace Trident missiles with something more modern.

A future Tory leader may have taken "drugs" as an oxford student. This is vitally important because political leaders must be models of moral probity, otherwise the public might not trust them. Apparantly.

Up to 750,000 Britons could die from Bird Flu in the winter of 2006. Questions about who is most at risk, how transmissible is it between humans, how effective are vaccines and treatments, and how rapidly does the virus mutate don't seem to be answered anywhere.

Big Old Mess

There are between 200 and 300 CDs in this bedroom. A dozen are commercial music discs, the others various forms of data - mp3, DivXes of TV programmes and films, raw footage taken for my MA film, scans of entire books, system backups, wordprocessed short stories, sound samples, a video diary I kept for a few months, files for music tracks I've made or mixed, and most of all, software.

It's got to the state where I can't find anything without a half hour search, during which I will find something that I needed but failed to find the previous week. So, time to rationalise, be ruthless, and tidy up the bedroom while I'm about it.

Once upon a time, there was filing system, but there's always more categories than boxes, and there's always more tasks than time. Some discs contain mixed data, much is duplicated, and most is redundant. Except that I never know what will suddenly be useful in six months.

So I have to ask myself: Do I want to keep the video diary that chronicles six months of my life when I ran an art gallery and my mother almost died from a tumour? Most of what I said into the camera was tedious and sometimes pretentious.

Just how meticulously can I sort through 75 discs of software, most of which won't work properly, is no longer useful, or has been superceeded?

There's 30 discs of specially shot video fragments which two years ago I wove into a satirical film - how many might be useful in a future video project?

You know, I think it might be more than 300.
Okay, I've started putting the video fragments onto DVD, and in the process discovered some mp3s and documents that I'd completely forgotten about. I must have put them on the CDRs because they were floating around on the hard disk, the CDR had some unused space, and backing store was expensive and not-to-be-wasted at the time. This would have been back in 2001.

Roll Over George Smiley


In the late afternoon, I sit down to work on the Big Yankee Fan track for SongFight. Half an hour later I get a call from Simon M, saying he's trying to put a pack of DVDs on ebay but is getting confused.

So I say I'll come over within the hour. And then I get a call from John M, who needs a decent wordprocessor installing on his computer, which is mostly working since I last fixed it. I say I'll call round when I'm finished with Simon.

So, I drink four cups of tea with Simon, taking him through the submission process and knocking up an advertising blurb between us. And then cycle off to see John, stopping off at Paul T's house to drop off some CDs I copied for him.

Only to find he's feeling down and in need of a distraction, because his grandmother - who he cared for until a few months ago - had died the night before in a nursing home. So I functioned as distraction, got fed, and talked about music and philosophy for 90 minutes, over another three cups of tea.

He now needs a lodger, I could use a place to live that isn't my parent's house, and he's my friend. Unfortunately, I'd go stark staring mad if I had to see him every day.

Arriving at John's house, I let myself in through the back door, to find him fast asleep on the sofa in front of the television. I'm seeing that quite a lot lately - he's not getting nearly enough sleep, so when he does get some, it happens suddenly, and rarely in bed.

I let him snooze while I install MS Word. Max comes downstairs and tells me "I'm extremely stoned, because I've got a lot of work to do. The printer isn't working at all. Can you sort that out?"

The work of which he speaks is for a performance of the play The Investigation, which he's directing. Max is a very laid back director. As in horizontal.

It takes two hours to find, download and install the printer drivers, but it works perfectly afterwards. Meanwhile John wakes up and we talk about politics until three in the morning. And drink tea.

I cycle home, watch another four episodes of House (one cup per episode), and go to bed.


I've finished Big Yankee Fan - with two days to spare. This is unprecedented for me, as I usually work on a track to within hours of the submission deadline.

Probably because I didn't have to write lyrics this time - I came up with a dub reggae backing, and cut up five minutes from the Johnathan Neale seminar as vocals.

I expect a hostile response from certain songfighters, on the grounds that (a) it's not a proper song because there's no singing (b) the musical style is weird and beyond their comprehension and (c) the politics doesn't cast the American response to hurricane Katrina in a glorious light.
MI6 now has a website. Beginning with the ever so slightly ironic words "Welcome to the official website of the Secret Intelligence Service".

There's a rather nice glossary. Agent - "A covert human intelligence source". Humint - "Human intelligence or intelligence derived from human sources". Source - "Any source of information or intelligence. An agent may be a source but a source is not automatically an agent". The FAQ assures us that they're not really like James Bond.

The site also tells you how to apply for a job with them, warning that you shouldn't tell anyone you've done it, unless they're a "close partner". SO you can tell your wife you're a spy, but not your mother.

There's a search engine too. Here's the number of hits I got for carefully selected keywords:

Burgess: 0
Blunt: 0
Bond: 1
Love: 0
Mansfield: 7
Homosexual: 0
Russia: 0
Communist: 1
Terrorism: 4
According to The Times, Al-Qaida has stopped being a 'franchise', 'tendency' or 'banner' and gone back to being a real global organisation run by Osama bin Laden. But only long enough for the second in command (Ayman al-Zawahiri) to warn the head of Iraq division (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) to stop killing shias, because it's bad for publicity.

David Blunkett has had sex, again. And the women has told the press, again.

Robert Fisk has published a book (titled The Great War for Civilisation) about the current situation in Iraq. He says in 30 years of war reporting, he's never seen such a level of destruction, but that most of the country - including most of Baghdad - is controlled by the resistance. The occupying armies don't patrol the streets - they sit in their barracks for days or weeks, occasionally speeding out in tanks and jeeps, guns firing constantly to scare off anyone who might attack them, completing the assigned operation as quickly as possible, before rushing back to the safety of the barracks.

The Independent gave it's version of the book's contents: "Most of Iraq is in a state of anarchy, with insurgents controlling parts of Baghdad" and "Fisk...painted a picture of deepening chaos and misery in Iraq"

Pakistan is no longer in the headlines, but reports are divided between stories of hopeless suffering caused by lack of food and medical supplies, and stories about greedy looters with no respect for private property.

Oh, and Tony Blair has criticised Iran for interfering in the affairs of a foreign country, namely Iraq. Duh.


My network connection has been down for most of the last three days. So I'm saving up blog entries.
I've been trying to copy some old VHS recordings (mine and Simon M's) to digital format, but the sound on the captures keeps shifting or drifting out of sync with the video. I get the same effect digitising to DivX and MJPEG - probably a matter of so much information being lost through compression to VHS and then tape decay.

Audio and video are separate streams, and different bits of the two streams are dropped in different places. Result: bad sound and bad video badly sychronised. And of course it's worse with Long Play recordings.

Capturing to MPEG2 might help, but editing out adverts and unwanted stuff would be an absolute pig.
Okay. tried MPEG2. Didn't work. Can't think of anything else to try so give up.

The Munch Bunch


A restrained 40-something (or is it early 50-something?) birthday lunch with Simon M. Scrupulously healthy stir-fry with prawns, followed by not-exactly-healthy ice-cream, chocolate, red wine and champaigne.

On the way home, another guilty few bars of chocolate from the smiling Iraqi man in the all-night shop, another box of fried chicken and chips from the smiling Turkish man in Ken's Fried Chicken, another three episodes of House...


...another afternoon with Simon M, this time helping him set up his first ever ebay auction. At some point, I'll have to teach him how to use the digital camera, tranfer the images, crop and mapipulate them, and upload. When both of us have the strength. This time, I did it myself. Which means I may end up doing it for the next item or so.

Anyway, I now have my TV back, and nowhere to put it, because the bedroom is unfeasibly cluttered with stuff. It's not junk, it's materiel.

And I must put some of it on ebay myself soon. I might get £10 for a £100 USB soundblaster box that proved to be completely and utterly useless. How much for theology textbooks that managed to get dogeared while never actually being read?
Exchange of emails with H. He's unspeakably busy at the moment, but will keep in touch when he can.
The earthquake in Pakistan. On Saturday the death toll was "up to 1000", yesterday it was "up to 19,000", and today it's "up to 40,000". And that's before disease, famine and drought kick in.

My god, it's unimaginable. The scale of it is quite literally beyond imagination. It's difficult enough to think of 50 deaths without each individual dissolving into a large amorphous mass, but tens of thousands?

Blessings to Count

I feel like I'm just about to have a bad cold. You know the feeling, before the symptoms kick in fully, there's one or two days of mild headaches, vagueness of thought, general tierdness, oversleeping and odd muscle aches. Well I've had that for a month, and it's getting very slowly worse.

Though partly to blame might be today's breakfast. There is definitely an art to poaching eggs in the kettle, and I haven't mastered it yet.

The second half of the daylight hours were spent drinking tea, eating (excellent) cold pizza, and listening to Paul T's ruminations on the contradictions in middle class consciousness.

I'm introducing myself the Epoxies 2nd album, Goldfrapp's third, and a band completely new to me - Ladytron. Very synth rock retro - Blondie and Georgio Moroder, via Kraftwerk and DJ Shadow. Great stuff.
Oh yes, todays newspapers.

* A 7.6 earthquake in India, Pakistan and Afganistan. Very scarce info.

* Most broadsheets have decided to adopt a 'nuanced' view of Bush's statement that god told him to invade Iraq.

* The prez has started preaching 'energy austerity'. To the public, obviously, not big business. Global warming is the consumer's fault for being greedy.

* The effect is slightly undercut by congress passing a bill offering financial incentives to build oil refineries, and lessening environmental legislation about their construction and operation.

* On to the trivial news. Boy George and Robbie Williams take cocaine. So do supermodels and the journalists who write shocked articles about them doing it.

There's also a scientific report showing humans are genetically programmed to hoard possessions (except when they're not), and Bill Clinton is being rubbished in print yet again for having sex (but not for being corrupt). Maybe I should try American papers.
There's still good things in life. Watching three consecutive episodes of House at four in the morning, sex-obsessed synthpop, a little bundle of affectionate puppy-shaped madness, http://www.crank.net, caramel chocolate bars, Oliver Postgate, living in a dreary town that's suddenly once again full of cute students.

"The battery is 1.5V; It is full, and with the use time adding, the power display will be decrease"


My wake up call didn't happen, so I slept blissfully on till midday. Then found my MP3 player had arrived.

The manual is lovingly translated from Chinese to English via Martian, and the player looks like a miniature red penknife - complete with belt clip.

It's slow to respond to button pushing, so navigating and changing parameters can be tiresome. But it's nice and loud, and I can get roughly 7 hours high quality MP3s on it. I've been blasting my ears with The Epoxies and Joy Division.
I never remember when I'm due to sign on. Every second thursday, it comes as a complete surprise that I have an appointment at the jobcentre to share bafflement with my advisor that there still aren't any jobs around.
Excellent seminar in the evening on climate change with Johnathan Neale, which I filmed and will summarise when I have the strength.


I've taken to skimming newspapers on the web. In the news today:

* President Bush says God told him to invade the middle east. To drive out evil, bring peace and American values to all. Because Islam wants to invade the world, and force everyone to be muslim. Funny that.

* Nestle have launched a brand of Fair Trade Coffee. To give them ethical credibility. Because one of their hundreds of pruducts is less opressive than the others. They're a bit late - Fair Trade was recognised as largely fraudulent (or at best tokenistic) years ago.

* It will soon be a crime to not report suspicions of "extremism" and "indications of terrorism" to the police. It was once estimated that in stalinist albania, one in five of the population were police informers. But I don't recall it being a crime to not inform enough.

* The creationism debate is back yet again, but of course only in America. Barbarous tyranical nations with evil ideologies grasp evolution without difficulty.

You read statistics about American beliefs - 40% don't want evolution taught in schools, 20% think the sun goes round the earth, 70% believe Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 and 80% think the CIA is hiding evidence of extraterrestrials. But I wonder where all these stupid Americans are. I've met plenty of Americans on the internet or in person, and they've been reasonable, informed, and decently mistrustful of their government.

Maybe they've got polls showing Brits are paranoid about BSE, love Tony Blair and think a measles vaccine causes autism.
Everyone's timetables are in constant flux at the moment, but the current plan for the weekend is: Spend Saturday afternoon with Paul T, checking his modem and computer, then ensuring the children of record compay executives starve by copying CDs neither of us would know about if it weren't for the other. And then get fed by him.

Then spend Sunday afternoon with Simon M, celebrating his birthday by surfing the net for daft conspiracy theories, watching a charming and even dafter movie obtained from Ebay...and then getting fed by him.

The Impossibility of Sleep in the Mind of Someone Waking

Oh lord, it's 0600. I'm due to wake up at 0700. Then trapse around Portsmouth pushing election leaflets through letterboxes, then fix a modem problem, then film a seminar on global warming.

I think I may contrive to oversleep slightly.


Woke up at midday, and cycled (rather painfully) to Maplin to get a USB PCI card for Simon M. Seeing as he's broke, and I owe him £10, my repayment for the £30 card was the loan of two porn DVDs.

Believe it or not, the card worked perfectly first time. So now he can continue to spend money he doesn't have on fat-loss and muscle-building supplements from Ebay.

According to his high-tech bathroom scales, around one third of my bodyweight is fat. 10-15% is desirable, so 31% is not terribly good. He gave a lot of good advice about diet and exercise - including one very useful tip to computer-bound snackers like me: keep a bowl of fruit next to the computer.

He's still got my TV, but I now have the laptop back.
Karma involves cycles and things balancing out, right? Well, my bike gets stolen, I buy another one, and an abandoned bike turns up in middle of the road. Father asks around and keeps it in the garage for a month before mentioning it to me.

Not exactly balanced, but certainly cyclic. And I now have a spare bicycle.
Not quite in the same vein, but: My parent's digital camera (£300 and very cool) is not economically repairable after it started taking only black pictures. And I've got my camcorder (£650 three years ago and hopelessly out of date) taking stills again.

We think the bank of light-sensitive capacitors in the camera has become disconnected or burned out. And I just found the 'Format Memory Stick' option on the camcorder.

They've bought a new, even cooler camera now.
A sudden cloud of committments means I can't reasonably finish the 'Boundaries' song this week.

Wednesday: RESPECT meeting in the evening. Not an important one, but I need to speak with John M about slide digitisation and Sion R about co-producing his album.

Thursday: Leafleting with Lee S for the local elections in the morning, trying to fix Paul T's net connection in the afternoon, and going to a seminar from the great Johnathan Neale in the evening.

Saturday: Lunch and television retrival with Simon M. Probably with one of his deeply crap but camply enjoyable movies.

Christina C thinks he and I should 'get together', presumably on the grounds that we're both gay, so must be compatable. Exactly why a bisexual woman with three boyfriends (who have their own girlfriends and indeed boyfriends) should think this, I'm not sure.

Still the Wabbit

I spent most of Sunday with hiccups. Five bouts of them, that came from nowhere and disappeared in their own time, regardless of whatever breath-holding measures I tried to get rid of them.

Now it's Monday, and I've spent most of it with a headache. But no hiccups. Yet.
Paul T called to say his internet connection still wasn't working in spite of getting a new cable and he was sick of things not working.

Then he called again to spend ten minutes moaning about having to spend ten minutes in a customer queue listening to a voice saying the same thing over an over again, before being told they couldn't identify the problem.

I told him I didn't know why he wasn't getting connected. First time as tradgedy, second as farce, comrade.

Anyway, I called the techical helpline (with no queue), and ascertained there was 'a problem on the line', to be fixed by BT in the next 24 hours.
Oh drat. I knew I'd forgotten something. Simon M's internet connection.
I'm just not feeling well enough to compose, let alone sing. Still got the wabbit.
John M has hundreds of slides for his lectures, and an urgent need to digitise them before the university phases out slide projectors completely. I've pointed him towards a print shop which can do the job, but if they're too expensive, I'll do it myself.

I'll also have to teach him how to use Powerpoint. Which means learning it myself - something I've always avoided.

I've never yet seen a powerpoint presentation that added to what the speaker was saying. In fact, usually the speaker just reads out the bullet points they've just projected. Pretentious and pointless in one handy package.

What Have I Got in My Pocket?

Did I mention I'd lost my wallet? Well I've found it again, and it's lovely and clean, thanks to having gone through the washing machine twice.

Having no cash was an extremely effective way to avoid the temptation to buy emormous blocks of chocolate. Unfortunately....
My N-Pod MP3 player has a 40BG hard disk and a rechargable lithium battery that lasts six hours. Plus an FM radio and text viewer. It also has extremely buggy firmware and absolutely no support from distributor or maunfacturer.

At unpredictable intervals, it starts to play MP3s silently, though the radio still works. Occasionally, it just freezes during bootup. The cure seems to be to poke a pin into the 'Reset' hole in the base, hold for 10 seconds, and switch on. Several times until the unit works properly.

For £128, it would be an excellent unit if it worked properly. As it is, given the bugs and quiet playback, I feel slightly cheated.

I've bought a 'backup' MP3 player from Ebay. Lower specs - 1GB drive and runs for 2-3 hours from a AAA battery, and at £50 (including postage etc) it's not one of those fabled Ebay bargins.
I'm copying the 'Play It Today' piano tutorial cassettes to digital form. The course seems well thought out, but the presentation and 'real music exercises' are embarassingly cheesy.

A plummy voice-over artiste teaching me how to play like Richard Clayderman. How to play with perfect posture, impeccable timing, and all the passion of stale water.
Without too much pain, I got Paul T's computer set up for internet action. Or as he puts it 'North Korean Lesbian Action'. Sadly, the sapphist ladies of communist Korea are not currently available to him, because he has no cable that (a) is long enough to reach the phone socket and (b) actually works.

Once we have a new five metre RJ11 cable, we'll see what other impediments to all-girl digital fantasy arise.
I seem to have almost no lung capacity. Cycling fairly gently for ten minutes leaves me completely winded and in pain.

I'm not muscularly weak, or lacking in muscle endurance. It's just the aerobic side of exercise that defeats me.


See if you can spot the recurring pattern.

Thursday: Eight hours of night with Christina C and her computer, trying to fix her internet access. The initial and eventual diagnoses were that she needs a new modem.

Friday: Five hours to fix John M's internet access. I eventually wiped the hard disk and reinstalled everything. When I left at 0215, with John quietly snoozing on the couch in front of the TV, it seemed to be working okay.

Today is Saturday. Paul T's modem has arrived, and the evening will be spent setting up his net access.

The plan for Monday is to get a new USB card for Simon M. So he can plug his modem into it and surf the net.

It's 0315, I'm exhausted and sick of computers. Each day I promised myself I'd work on the latest song, and each day I got a phone call from someone with a crap computer who needs the net for their work.