How To Do Computer Stuff: Part 153

Today was spent trying to install an operating system. This is my guide to installing Windows 98 :
* Search for a Windows 98 installation disk. Fail. Search again until you find one in a strange place.
* Find that you can't boot into the installation procecure - you need to install MS-DOS first, and call it from there
* Search for MS-DOS on a floppy disk. Fail. Search again until you find something similar, like a Windows ME boot disk.
* Discover that the disk is corrupted.
* Try booting up using PartitionMagic. Get an error message you've never seen before, and a crash. Do this several time just to make sure.
* Remember that your father has a computer running Windows 95. It's 200 MHz with 1GB, but he refuses to upgrade because he's seen the trouble upgrading can cause. He may have a point. Anyway, try to make a Win95 boot disk on his computer, with which to install Win98 on yours.
* Try to do it again with a different floppy disk.
* Run the Win95 boot disk on your computer. Discover that it won't. Probably because the floppy reader is rubbish.
* Replace the floppy reader. Find that the new one won't connect to the plug in your computer. Put the old one back.
* Install Windows 2000 out of desperation.
* Discover that it is possible to boot into the Win98 installation after all.
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EDIT: Part 153b
* Realise just how old Win98 is, and how little software runs on it. Plump for Windows ME instead.
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News headlines today:
Pope Still Not Dead. I couldn't help thinking of something in The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy. "The emperor is nearly dead, and has been for many centuries. This is because in his last moments, he was, much to his imperial annoyance, lock in a perpetual stasis field. The result of which is that power has moved a few rungs down the ladder."

The maneuvering behind the scenes at the Vatican must be absolutely frantic. All the factions bargaining and smearing, trying to get their figureheads in place to be elected when the old man finally dies.

World Doomed. A major report has been published on the environment. Greenhouse emissions, unreplacable natural resources, pollution. All the usual stuff, the usual multinationals saying it isn't a problem but they're taking care of it anyway, and the usual amnesia a week later.

Jacko Perv Trial. It's like David Blaine in a box, but even less interesting.

Apes and Music

Fascinating article here about Aquatic Ape theory. And some links here. I've heard vaguely about it before, but never researched it. It looks like a reasonable (but partial) explanation for some quirks in human biological design - bipedalism, hairlessness, secretion of sebum and such. As I'm going out with a naturalist, a professional second opinion shouldn't be difficult to find.
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Page 50 of C for Beginners, and I know how to print my name on the screen.
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Last week my bank screwed up. I'd asked them to transfer £50 from a full account to an empty account. Not difficlt. But they managed to transfer £50 from an account with £0 into one with £1000. I pointed this out to the manager this morning, and he was full of apology. He even said HSBC wouldn't be charging me for the error - I was a bit surprised at that. I expected to have to snarl and shout and be generally unpleasant.

Now I just have to deal with the OU's financial screw up. They have mislaid my standing order to pay their fees, and have elected to charge me 'interest' for my consequent late payment.
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I've resumed copying cassettes into mp3 format, and in doing so rediscovered Itchy Fingers - a saxophone quartet who veer wildly between smokey ballad jazz and something resembling what The Fall would sound like if they were a brass band. With occasional voiceovers from Stanley Unwin.
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EDIT: My phone isn't working, Blogger won't let me change the colour scheme of my blog, someone I don't think I know has sent me a text message asking me if I'm awake yet, and speaking of which, my odd sleeping patterns have caught up with me. It's nearly 2100, and an early night seems a good idea.

The A and B of C

I'm on page 2 of 'C for Beginners'. It was written in 1986, when I was 14 years old. At that time, I was a pretty good programmer in BASIC, but had never used COBOL or Pascal. C (not yet C++) had been the flavour of the month for the last year or so, and no one knew how long it would last. Certainly no one imagined it would be a major language two decades later.

However, for the last six months I've been toying with the idea of constructing my own VST instruments, and possibly effects. There's some very good free VSTs about, but the don't do exactly what I want.

I want, for instance, a multiple-band phaser or 'wah' device - up to five variable-width frequency bands, that are boosted with resonance, and which bounce between high and low frequency positions in various envelopes.

To make VSTs, I need the Steinberg VST SDK, plus a bit more knowledge about DSP. To use the SDK, which is freely available, I need to know about C. It's been years since I've done any serious programming, but I spent 14 years since the age of 10 being a pretty good programmer, and that should count for something.

Anyway. I'm on page 2.
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Page 24, and I'm being reintroduced to the data types I first met 12 years ago, while studying Ada. Along the way, there's been some trips down memory lane. References to BCPL, ALGOL and the ill fated MSX - promoted as the next big thing that wouldn't get outdated, and was gone within six months.

Tonight, I've recorded Billy Elliot, Legend of Earthsea (Part 2), Farscape episode 209 (which has the be the slashiest episode ever), and A Fish Called Wanda, which is a lot less rubbish than I recall. In a few minutes, I'll stick them on to reencode overnight, watch an episode or two of Babylon 5, drink some tea...and read some more about C.

I'm actually rather enjoying it. Twenty years after everyone else.

Oh what a lovely day for...

When I woke up this morning, I thought "Today is a day for disembowling a computer, shoving the bits into another computer, and fiddling around with them till they work."

Well, I didn't, but I should have done, because that's what happened.

Apart from that, reviews of 'Systematic Panic' have been mostly positive, though the comparisons to David Bowie and Pink Floyd must be about Nick's vocals. My music is more like Jean Michel Jarre via Joy Division.

I'm seriously tempted to do something for 'Man Date' for the next fight. Just because the title says 'camp, 70s disco, over the top, fun, and camp again' to me. I should give it a miss though - far too many other things to do, including canibalising more bloody computers. Some of which are even for me to use.

Last night (this morning) was spent watching Babylon 5 DivXes, drinking tea, and munching far too many chocoolate buscuits. Tonight (this morning) it will be different. In that I'm out of chocolate biscuits.

I can't afford to stop living with my parents. Which is lucky, because I've come to love living in a house with 8 working computers (plus four more in bits), endless technical challenges, and a great big pile of digital videos. If only I could share it with a boyfriend.

I'm the doctor. Run for your life

Doctor Who, Season 27, Episode 1. I expected to be disappointed, or even to hate it. Instead, I'm intrigued, and acutally quite impressed.

To reintroduce the autons as the bad guys. That's the kind of idea a fan would come up with - a hack who cared nothing for the series would have begun with a new, hitherto unheard of enemy. A dumb fan would have begun with the daleks, or maybe cybermen.

This isn't at all an attempt to recapture the feel of 'classic' who, and it's good that it's isn't. Nor is it one of those cretinous 'updatings' that killed the Battlestar Galactica 're-imagining' and made Paul Darrow walk out in disgust from the Blake's 7 miniseries.

I think this series will gain a following on it's own merits. Which means we'll be faced with two overlapping fandoms - old and new.

Synthetic Panic

'Systematic Panic' is submitted. Nick had a few last minutes suggestions, some of which I implemented.

It has the destinction of being the public debut of The K Twins.

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I've been thinking about a new kind of synthesiser. I don't know if anyone else has had the same idea. It might be called an Additing Morphing synth. It would work like this:

Take two waveforms, say a sawtooth and a triangle. These can be thought of as either a trace on an oscilloscope representing density in the transmissive medium, or as a histogram of sine waves.

Break the waveforms down by Fourier analysis into a histogram of (say) 128 frequency bands, throw away the original waveforms, and reconstruct approximations of the originals by Fourier synthesis - adding together sinewaves according to the amplitude of each band.

For any given band, it's amplitude will probably be different from the corresponding band for the other waveform. So, it should be possible to 'morph' between the two waveforms, one to the other and back again in a loop.

But, there is no reason why all the bands shoud morph at the same rate. If the rates are randomised, the result should be a constantly shifting sound, unpredictable and strange, but retaining the same fundamental harmonics.

Now, why stop at two waveforms? Why not morph between sawtooth, square, triangle, ramp and sine squared forms? And why use only these forms? Morphing between three different vocal 'ahhh' samples might make an intriguing choir.

The idea of morphing between two waveforms is not new. But I don't know of any attempt to make the componant frequencies morph at different rates.

To implement this as a VST, I'd have to do it in C++ and the VST SDK. Neither of which I was ever any good at.

Doctor, doctor

Have you noticed? The return Dr Who has got more media coverage than a dying pope, a royal marriage, and a war, all put together. And yes I will be watching it.

I've just spent most of the night burning CDRs. There was something of a backlog of DivXs clutting up one computer - 9 DSNs and 19 TNGs. Which makes nearly 20 hours of Star Trek. And while doing that, I listened to 80s disco music, and read Doctor Who slash stories on the internet. Gay stereotype? Me? What makes you think that?

There's also Fawlty Towers and Reggie Perrin recordings to be burned. When I can face them. Sleep might be a nice idea before that though.

On the one hand, I'm impatient for the new songfight titles. On the other, I need to give myself time to study. Nighty Night.

Time please

"Time. The word is meaningless, yet it is all that exists." - 'Einstein' in Farscape

This morning, one of my uncles wanted instruction over the phone on how to convert a corporate video in WMV format into a DVD. After explaing to him why no one in their right mind uses WMV, I let him borrow my FTP account to upload it. I'll fiddle around with various codecs and bits of freeware, and make a DVD for him.

Yesterday I picked up three second hand computer monitors. Today, my father's old monitor refused to switch on. So he's got a 'new' one twice as good, and I've got to go back to the warehouse again.

After one of my late breakfasts, I took to completed 'jobseeker' forms to the jobcentre, where I was kept waiting for 40 minutes, before being told I'd been given the wrong forms to fill out, and an appoitment to see the wrong person. After another 45 minutes or so, I had some different forms to take home.

This evening was taken up with an OU seminar in a stiflingly hot room. Possibly appropriate, as the subject was rocks and volcanos. If I hadn't done GCSE Geology all those years ago, I wouldn't have been able to follow it.

Nick didn't have time to rerecord his vocals for 'Systematic Panic', so he sent me the unprocessed vocal track from his demo version. I'll see if I have time to record some extra vocals - probably on the choruses. I may have to do that tommow morning, which is painfully close to the deadline.

On the one hand, it would be nice to have more time. On the other, it would be even better not to have to waste so much of it.

Gaining in my art

The sun is out / The sky is blue / and Nick has sent me / an email too...

It is indeed a nice sunny day, with sky that is probably blue behind the clouds, and Nick is back home recording some vocals for us. His sister's husband suffered a minor stroke - the kind of thing that takes years for the victim to recover from, and rearranges families at (so to speak) a stroke.

If you want to define an Act of God, think of a freak storm, meeting your cousin on a blind date, or a blood clot in the brain.
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There's two new old computers cluttering up the place. Two boxes, each with monitor, keyboard, mouse, and printer. And far too many cables. One will go to SM, or rather, I will canibalise his old computer and one of these new old computers to make another new but old computer out of old bits. And something similar for Paul T. And then the same again for JS. Payment from each: £35 plus all the gossip and tea I can stand.

Oh, and then I'll have to fix JM's printer again. GAH!

Why do I get more business now that I'm not in business anymore?
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Tomorrow I have some stupid forms to take back to the job centre, so it might be an idea to fill them in. And then I have a tutorial for the OU, so it might be an idea to read the relavent unit.

Waiting

I must be very out of condition. I used to be able to manage 2 hours cycling without much difficulty - now I can barely manage 20 minutes.

Neither H nor Nick have got back to me. Both have busy lives and can disappear for days at a time, but I'm feeling quite low, and a word from them would help.

My parents are up in London tonight, enjoying their retirement with a night of Chopin and Mozart. Being left alone means I can concentrate on whatever projects I feel moved to work on. But it also means there's no one to talk to, at just the time I could use some company.
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EDIT: H sent me a text message. He's going to spend easter with family, and suggests we meet up afterwards. Gah!

I've been reading about theories that link depression, obesity, and food allergies. Perhaps 'hypotheses' is a better word, because there's a lot of guesswork and speculation. It's an interesting possibility that people may be addicted to the very foods they're allergic to. Though I find it more plausible that people get fat and unhappy because their lives and food are both shit.

Nevertheless, the possibility that I can change my mood and my body by the same method of cutting out some commonly allergenic foods...is appealing. I eat far too much chocolate and not much fruit or vegetables - the typical techie with a desperately unhealthy diet.

Actually, breakfast today was two cups of tea and three chocolate biscuits. That, in itself, could do with changing.

Hey, maybe if I start tonight (that's tonight, not tomorrow morning) I'll be slimmer and less bloody depressed when I finally get to see H again.

Sound and the suburbs

My first experiment with equal temperament. I made a set of single cycle sawtooth samples, each at a frequency that was an integral multiple of the 440Hz root - one sample per scale note. I arranged them in Reason's sampler, and played some chords.

The sound was different, somehow clearer and crisper. Not gobsmackingly pure or unusual, but distinctive.

I need to find a way to make Reason or Sonar play in different temperaments, instead of constructing miniature synths like this. If that's not possible, there may be some VSTs that can manage it.
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I posted the OU assignment off, and wandered around the shops for an hour. Then sat on a bench with ambient music playing into my ears, reading in The Big Issue about hypocritical American attidudes to Islam, and hypocritical British attitudes to suicide. Both are on the rise - the phenomena and the hypocrisy.

I only mention this becase it was the best part of the day. I'm not sure it's a matter of feeling happy or sad - it's more of feeling content or frustrated. Sitting there, I felt content, unpressured, free to enjoy. I can't imagine a heaven of everlasting joy, but I can picture one of peace.

And music.
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Happy Birthday, Nick.

Musique Non-Stop

Last night's forum was a quiet success. I was a bit harsh when I said the speaker was a pompous buffoon - he's just rather...portentious. Which, given the subject matter of 'Murder by Assembly Line: Capitalism and the Holocaust', seems justified.

Two new people turned up - young sociology students who grasped the roots and contradictions of racism immidiately and firmly. Which is more than can be said for most sociologists. I think we'll be seeing them again.

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After that, I spent most of the night trying to work out the ratios involved in musical harmony. It gets complex, but boils down to this:

Imagine a vibrating string. Prevent one half (say the left half) vibrating, and the tone goes up by one octave. Seeing as we're concerned only with intevals less than one octave, we can ignore the right side of the string, which always vibrates. Of the right side, there are simple fractions describing how much of it does *not* vibrate.

Unison: 0
Minor 2nd: 1/24
Major 2nd: 1/8
Minor 3rd: 1/5
Major 3rd: 1/4
4th: 1/3
Diminished 5th: 2/5
5th: 1/2
Minor 6th: 3/5
Major 6th: 2/3
Minor 7th: 4/5
Major 7th: 7/8
Octave: 1

Three points. First, this is not the usual way of representing the ratios, but I find it clearer. Second, this describes the 'Just Temprement' system, which is not the system actually used in the modern world - we use an approximation called 'Equal Temprement'.

Third, other ratios are possible. There is no 3/4, which would go somewhere between the Major 6th and the Minor 7th. There is no Augmented 4th, which is slightly lower than the Diminished 5th. In fact there are many unused ratios in that range.

So why am I doing this? Well, it seems to me, that the practical problems involved in Just Temprement, which led to the adoption of Equal Temprement, do not apply to computer generated music. Just Temprement requires the complete retuning of the instrument for a key change - but a computer can calculate retunings in milliseconds.

Equal Temprement means that all keys are 'equally' out of tune. Now that the reasons for it's adoption can be circumvented, we can go back to the earlier system, and have perfectly in tune music, if we wish.

Metropolis

A quiet day, and nothing that I can tie in to a Kraftwerk album title.

I missed the demo. There were about 100,000 there, which in the newspapers should become a grudging 20,000. In my case I'd had less than half an hour's sleep, and was in no fit state to get to the coach, nevermind walk from Hyde Park shouting slogans.

I did manage to do some of the OU assignment. The mark will be rubbish, but I'm allowed to 'default' on one essay - exclude it from the final average - so this will have to be the one.

Yesterday I finished a backing track for 'Systematic Panic', and then decided I didn't like it. Today I came up with an alternative, and only then decided I didn't like it. But the first one may not be so bad. Sigh. It seems my muse allows me one decent period of inspiration per month, and this month it was 'Friend'.

Things to do:
* Get some bloody exercise before you hit 16 stone
* Do your bloody OU work before you have to rush for the deadline
* Have a proper bloody relationship
* Bloody well finish what you start

Kraftwerk 2

Kapitano's Law: No matter how busy you are, only sixty minutes out of each day will be useful. The rest of the time might be spent in activity, but that is movement, as opposed to achievement.

You might need to spend an hour traveling on a train so you can have a profitable ten minute conversation - the traveling is necessary to the conversation, but in itself is just marking time. Add to this time spent walking to the station, queing for a ticket, and waiting on the station, and it seems like a lot of investment for a small return. You might learn something interesting in a newspaper, but that is ten interesting seconds in 30 minutes of wading through dross.

The hour of usefulness might not be spent rushing around. You could be working out the solution to something that's puzzled you since childhood, or experiencing a brilliant piece of music for the first time.

This, erm, insight occured to me this morning as I was sitting in the jobcentre. I waited in a que for ten minutes, filled out a form, sat waiting for another hour, and was given another form to take away, fill out, and bring back next week.

There was one moment here that might be considered useful. It took five seconds and was an idea related to research I did the night before on musical modes. I don't think filling out a form with identical answers to an identical form filled out six months ago could be construed as useful.
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Nick has written a song for 'Systematic Panic', and sent me a demo. While he's off lending support in a family emergency, I'm struggling to write a backing for him to sing the final version over.

He's used some really wierd chords. And the strange thing is, I used exactly the same kind of chord structure years ago, before I knew you weren't suppose to. Use all the white notes starting on F - why not? Then transpose each note down five semitones, then up four. It's all tonic triads - first Lydian F, then Ionian C and E#. I think.

Most of today's useful minutes were spent, not writing music, but figuring out how to use certain Midi Control Codes so I could write a backing, which I then scrapped.
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Of course, it would be nice if *some* useful minutes were spent on Open University work. Seeing as I'm under pressure to attend a major anti-war demo in London tomorrow, which on the one hand is morally impeccable, and on the other takes up far too much time.

A bit like writing today's blog entry. Except for the moral bit.

Kraftwerk

As usual, I have given all my attention and time to my own projects, and left the work I'm supposed to be doing till the last moment. There's the first major assignment for the OU course due in on the 22nd, and I've only read parts of the coursebook. So, that now has priority.

Nick is writing a song for 'Systematic Panic', but I haven't heard back from him yet - about that or 'Friend'.

H texted me to say he got my messages, but couldn't respond because he was out of credit. Now he says he can't meet at the weekend, because he's on a short course in bloody Pembrookshire. He is a very busy man, and his reasons are allways plausible. I just can't help wondering if he's avoiding me.

I've been meaning to contact the jobcentre to find out exactly where the hell I stand - which category of 'jobseeker' I'm now in, and what they intend to do about it. If they decide what I really need an 'Intensive Jobsearch Programme' they can go fuck themselves. I don't have the time or the patience for 9 hours a day of that bullshit.

What else? About a year ago I taught myself the rudiments of chord theory. Now I'm trying to go beyond that. There are in principle 27 possible triads, but in practice only 8 of these are generally used. However, there can be up to 7 notes in a chord - any more and the extra notes would be in unison with the first 7, so wouldn't 'count'. Things get a bit complicated in the 4-7 range, with some notes shifting into unison or dischord when sharpened or flattened. Anyway, more on this when I have some of that 'time' stuff we used to have so much of.

'Last Temptation of Christ' is on tonight. Dreadfully dull film as I recall, but I'm recording it anyway. Compare and contrast: 'Last Temptation of Christ' - boring and controversial. 'The Passion of the Christ' - watchable and crap.

Man Machine

I have a complete first draft for 'Friend'. This is what it looks like at the moment:

Intro:
What you see
Is all there is to me
What you see
Is what you get for free
What you get
Is what you had at the outset
What you get
Is everything i regret

Verse 1:
I...have everything i need
Except a reason to live, and
I...have the money to buy
But no reason to try
You...say you've nothing to give
So there's nothing i can take, and
You...have no reason to care
And that's what we can share

Chorus:
I need a friend
I need a helping hand
I'm not looking for a one night stand
I need a break
I need time
I don't need you to be mine

Verse 2:
When...when i look at myself
I don't know who I am, and
Then...i go out in the night
For a dance and a fight
Sometimes...when I sit on my own
I wonder what went wrong
Sometimes...i just want it to end
That's when i need a friend

It'll need some rewriting, and restructuring. In the meantime, Nick and I are collabbing on 'Systematic Panic' for Songfight, and maybe on a sidefight. For the former, he does what he does best - writing and singing - and I get to do what I do best - composing and mastering.

SM's computer worked okay for a record breaking two weeks. I'm going to take a look at the blasted thing, to see if it can be upgraded with bits from one of the university's old Dell machines. Or rather, whether his RAM, hard disk and peripherals can be transplaneted into a Dell 450.

Electric Cafe

16 recently broadcast films, captured in MJPEG and lovingly rendered into DivX:
Dark City
In the Company of Men
Kids
Rain Man
Unbreakable
A Clockwork Orange
Bad Lieutenant
Evil Dead
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Idiots
Dude, Where's My Car?
Gohatto
Groundhog Day
Short Circuit
The Cheap Detective
Up Pompei!

And to come:
Crimes of Passion
Showgirls
The Last Temptation of Christ
Caberet
Doctor Who and the Daleks
...and various Man from Uncle films. And the Colombo series.

I can't remember the last time I watched an entire programme on television as it was broadcast. Almost everything I see is a recording. Odd how living in the future means living in the past.

The Mix

Four hours ago I sat down to finish the lyrics of the first K Twins song in ages - working title 'Friend'. Now, I have no further lyrics, but I do have a crashing, bleeping, squelching backing track for it.

If it sounds horrible tomorrow I shall scream.

And now that it's half past five in the morning, I shall get myself a cup of hot chocolate, climb into bed, and sleep till at least midday.

Autobahn

The Himalayan snow is melting. There's a giant hole in the ozone layer above Anarctica, and the atmosphere is full of the wrong kind of greenhouse gasses. The gulf stream is slowing down. The food chain is full of toxins.

We haven't forgotten Bhopal and Chernobyl either. AIDS in Africa, and TB in New York for christ's sake. Oh, and there's an asteroid on collision course with earth, but no one seems worried about that one. Maybe they're too busy being terrified of terrorists.

There doesn't seem much point in trying, does there? I give you a toast: To the future.

Computer World

Quite a productive day so far. I picked up 3 computers from the university's 'Redundant Equpiment Department', which is a warehouse with about a hundred Dell 450s in big stacks. It seems the university has finally decided to get some up to date equipment.

£90 for three old but functional computers, plus keyboards and mouses, and a monitor thrown in free. Not a bad deal. The keyboards must have bred on the way home - there's 4 of them now.

I've canibalised one to upgrade another, and the third to be sold at cost to JS - probably to be canibalised itself. Oh, and we could use a backup laser printer, so...probably back to the warehouse soon.

I'm living in a house with 11 computers.

Low to Heroes

I spent about 90 minutes on IRC with Nick. It cheered me up greatly - prattling about music, computers, television, the Da Vinci code and work. I really did feel like killing myself a few days ago - I probably wouldn't have done it, but I still felt like it. How strange that the difference between happiness and self destruction is time spent with a friend.

We're loosely set to collaborate on the next songfight - his lyrics and voice, my instruments and production. He is very sensibly trying to get back into the habit of sleeping at night. I on the other hand...am not very sensible.

There's a backlog of films to be DivXed on this computer, and another backlog of DivXed films to be burned to DVD on the laptop. Plus a third backlog of TV serials to be edited and burned on a third computer, and a load of recorded radio shows to be edited on the DAB computer. So I've made a start on the first two of these.

Tomorrow (later today) I've got some more computers to pick up second hand. Trust me, it will all make sense eventually.

I'm sort of tierd, but don't feel like sleeping. What I would really like to do is drink a cup of tea and watch a Babylon 5 recording or two. Seeing as I suppose I am unemployed again (as opposed to merely unoccupied), I may as well enjoy it.

The Low Symphony

Okay, I'm still here and it's the old one-day-at-a-time routine. And it's like wading through treacle. Tonight there's a forum on the industrial aspect of the holocaust. Interesting subject but I really don't want to go. It's depressing, and I happen to know the speaker - he's an expert but a pompous buffoon. H hasn't got back to me - I'll try to arrange a meetup by text message. Where's a good friend when you need one?
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EDIT:
I've just realised two things. First, the forum is next week, not tonight. Second, I'm starting to sound like Richard Geefe.

Geefe was a Chris Morris character in the early 90s. He wrote a series of articles in the Observer chronicling the countdown to his suicide. It was a spoof of journalists who write about their fights with serious disease and terminal illnesses. I definately don't want to sound like that. Though weblogs are almost by definition self absorbed. I'm tempted to delete the last few posts, but the other promise I made was not to delete anything I'd posted.

No Title 2

It helped, somewhat, just to write that down a few hours ago. To tell someone about it. I'm not exactly happy now, and there's still tomorrow to get through. But what I feel the need for now is a friend, not an escape. I might be able to cope with living in my own head, even if I can't cope with living in this world.

I've actually got half a song written about it now. With luck, I'll get it finished before I sleep tonight.

Nick? I almost deleted the previous entry - I didn't want to burden you with my emotional state. The song will be for you.

No Title

I did promise that I'd be honest. And I do try to keep any promise I make. Alrght, here goes.

I'm feeling suicidal. It's nothing new - I've lived with periodic bouts of dispair and suicidal thoughts for as long as I can remember. Usually it's in the late winter, and I've been through it enough times to know the signs and the pattern.

There's only been three occasions when I've actually tried to kill myself, and even then it was more an act of frustration that self destruction. If I really wanted to die, I think I would have been dead on the first attempt.

I'm very difficult to live with at the moment. Sometimes hypercritical of others and myself, sometimes slumped in a chair with no motive to do anything, sometimes driven by a sense of duty to fulful obligations. And sometimes there are odd hours of motivation when I can become absorbed in some task - like writing this entry.

In the past I've used antidepressants, psychotherapy and sex as treatment. I've used music and study to keep my mind occupied, to keep from drifting into a tearfully resentful state. But it's only intermittantly successful.

To die would be such an easy escape. From all the moral obligations that I can't jettison, from all the pointless pressures and frustrations. But just at the moment I can't do it - call it cowardice or self preservation or will to live or whatever you like.

Each time I rack my brains to find a way out of this state. It's been this way since probably before puberty, and each time I just somehow wade through it, dropping out of courses, losing friends, throwing away chances. There must be a way out. There must be some way out.

Taste in men

H reminds me of Stuart. Both highly intelligent men who has good humanitarian principles in their youth, which they compromised as they 'matured'.

Selling out doesn't make a good man bad, though it does make him less passionate. It's just something most good people do to remain sane.

The difference between the two is that Stuart didn't realise he'd ever sold out. He just drifted into thinking he could improve the world by being kind and friendly - in that overbearing way he had. Lifestyle politics, we call it.

H is perfectly aware that he's given up on the environmentalist causes of his earlier years, and he doesn't try to justify it on scientific or ethical grounds. He just stopped fighting because he didn't have the strength anymore. And because of that, I respect him a hell of a lot more than I respected Stuart.

I can't sell out my politics - though I deliberately don't write about them much in this blog. It's not because I'm especially strong or rightous - I'm not. I just couldn't live with myself if I gave up.

They share a social class, a gentle tactility, and a certain forced jocularity. Neither understood that I don't need them to laugh at my jokes.

Stuart was an alchoholic and an emotional fraud - he was a manipulator and a bully and living with him was the biggest mistake of my life. H is just...someone who's company I enjoy a lot, and who I really wish were here right now, so we could cuddle silently for minutes at a time.

Method/Madness

All the music I make comes from technical challenges. To use a muted strummed electric guitar, to make a track where the rhymical backbone is played on congas, to make a dub reggae track, to become familliar with this vocoder, to find out how to make that synth chord sound etc.

Sometimes I chose one or more tracks by other musicians, and the challenge is to use them as springboards - to produce something 'in the vein of' and 'inspired by' their finished product. The 'inspiration' track at the moment is Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

Here's an arbitrary challenge. There's two fims on tonight that I might watch - Tomorrow Never Dies and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Incorporate samples from one or both of these into the 'diamond' track.

I don't know what I'm going to do with this track. Maybe take two weeks over it, and submit it for next week's SongFight. Maybe make it a K Twins song - though I don't think it's within our 'vision'.

Ah well. Anything to avoid doing the actual work that I have to do.
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I spent 5 hours today with JS and his sickly computer. It now works a bit faster than before, but it's tricky to install antivirus software from a CD when the virus disables the CD drive.

However, we had breakfast at his favourite greasy spoon - best fry-up I've had in years - and took a stroll around the art gallery/museum/communuity centre/theatre where he works. With luck I'll be on the list of guest speakers at art forums in a month or so.

That computer is probably my final official work as selfemployed computer technician. The scheme finishes today, and I have absolutely no wish to continue on my own. I'm a bit sick of watching windows reinstall every few days.

The university are selling off their old 450MHz Pentiums for £30 each, and I've earmarked two to pick up on Monday. One is on behalf of JS. If I'm feeling especially greedy, I may pick up a monitor too.
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Dave Allen died today. I saw his comedy in the early 80s, and I remember people being genuinely outraged by it. Making fun of the catholic church, spoofing film cliches, and picking apart the claims of advertisers. At the time, I found it quite refreshing - I must have been all of 10 years old.

In the 90s, it all seemed quaint and harmless. Now it's probably shocking again.

Read and Write

Jasper Carrot once said that you know you're getting old when you walk out of a record shop with a stack of albums, and the whole lot cost you a fiver. Well, today I bought 4 CDs, and spent £4.99. Two of 80s synthpop, and two of 90s house.
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H is busy tonight - some open evening at the school where he teaches. I could do with his conversation and hugs about now. We might get to meet at the weekend.
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I've read a bit of the George Reisman material I found yesterday. He writes about precapitalist societies, by which he means societies that use money, and function mainly by trade, but don't have employers.

The idea is that workers produce commodities, which they sell for money. This money is not wages, because there are no employers to pay wages, so it must be profit. Reisman then identifies profit with the marxist notion of 'surplus value'. He claims that there is no money cost in production, therefore there are no overheads to offset the profit from 100%.

There's a few small problems here. First his description of what it means to be 'precapitalist' is one narrow possibility among many. He imagines workers producing what they can, selling it for cash, and using the money to buy what other workers have produced. He's describing a form of acephalous capitalism, where no worker actually consumes what they produce.

Second, he brushes aside the possibility that the concept of profit is a capitalist one, that cannot be grafted onto a precapitalist society.

Third, he's completely wrong to conflate Marx's 'surplus value' with his 'profit'. Marx's surplus value is the monetary value added to raw materials by being transformed into a commodity with has a use, and therefore a demand. It is (as I understand the term) a result of production, not selling.

Fourth, the idea that there can be a money society with no money costs for raw material is absurd.

There's 1140 pages of this stuff.
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As a teenager, it was my ambition to become a writer. I wrote a novella when I was 19 - all about growing up gay in 80s Britain, aliens from outer space, and the end of the world. Well, it was, in no partucular order. A teenage gay science fiction apocalyptic novel, called The Humana Project.

I showed it to a local published writer. She was impressed by it - I was rather pleased about that. I lost the files and the printouts sometime in my mid 20s - something I rather regret now.

There was a second novel which I only wrote two chapters of - an untitled murder mystery set on a mars colony. I've just found a printout of the first chapter - even though I know what happens next, when I read it I still want to know what happens next.

I got into a bad long term relationship when I was 24, and all aspirations to be an author got shelved. Shelved in the bin, that is. I've got no shortage of regrets, but this is a big one. I was quite a good writer - immature, but with ideas and a certain way with words.

The bad relationship eventually got me into a prison cell. In jail I put together a Babylon-5-type plot about political intrigue in a space station - yes, still the science fiction theme. That was eight years ago, and I've never had the courage to start work on it.

My problem

Depression always hits me this time of year. Small criticisms and failures take on looming proportions, injustice and stupidity press down. And I just want to crawl under the bedclothes and never come out again.

I don't know how many courses of study and projects I've abandoned because it's February or March and suddenly I can't cope. I know it's coming and I know it distorts my perceptions, but I've never found any way to bypass or minimize it.

So, I have some good frienships, a small que of young men who want to have pleasantly casual sex with me, a family who put up with a lot, no end of political causes to fight for, music to make and books to read. It's just that none of this will mean much in the coming weeks.

There must be a way to avoid it, or at least control it. But willpower, drugs, distraction, cruising, chocolate, and trying to find an all consuming hobby haven't worked so far.

Moozik

The university library sent me an invoice a week ago, for two books that I borrowed while in their employ. After being dumped for inconveniently succeeding when I was set up to fail, I wasn't in the mood to return them, so put them to one side to read later...and completely forgot about them.

Well, six months later, they noticed the loan on their records, and politely asked if I could either return the books or pay replacement costs - £15 each for volumes 1 and 2 of Introduction to Music Theory by Eric Taylor.

Seeing as it's an out-of-print standard work, and they have 5 or more other copies, and these remain unborrowed by other students - possibly because the university doesn't have a music department - and because I think they're very interesting...I've paid the 'replacement' costs. First books I've bought in years.
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The song is in, Nick likes it, I'm pleased with it, and now there's the wait for new titles. I need to work more on compression and EQ for vocals - at the moment I just apply one of Audition's standard vocal compressors, add a little reverb, and leave the frequency distribution alone.

I really ought to take a week off songfighting, to concentrate on other musical projects.
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Objectivism remains one of my favourite crank philosopies. I came across This site while surfing accounts of yet more splits and excommunications in the cult. Heavy stuff - like all defences of Capitalism it's really an attack on Marxism, and indeed vice versa. But it may be more than "The market hasn't solved the problems it created only because the governments haven't given it enough freedom."
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I've let the OU work slide. The first major assignment is due on March 22 - Nick's birthday, I think - and I need to get a move on.

SIng, scream, pant, munch

I have lyrics. I have a backing track. I have recording equipment and mastering software. I just can't sing. After three hours of trying I have a sore diaphram and no usable recording. So, stick last night's film on to encode, take a 3 hour break, eat something and try again later.

Not too much later - I'm capturing Texas Chainsaw Massacre at midnight :-). I once wrote a song which mentioned it, so it's about time I saw it.

There's so many good reasons to get fit. Feeling good, being able to move rapidly without panting, probably being able to sing better. And not being neurotic about one's appearance.

JS called. He's had the flu for the last few days, hence his disappearance. I should be looking at his computer and eating his curry on Friday. The fact that's he's a veteran soldier with blond hair has nothing to do with the subtitle of my song being Mein Blonde Soldatjunge. Well, not much.

Bicycle Thief

I have my bike back. I stole it back.

I was walking past the library where it was stolen on saturday, on impulse looking at the bicycles chained to the railings and lamppost, on the million-to-one chance that one of them would be mine. And one of them was. It was attatched with someone else's chain to the lamppost. Same markings, same attatchments, same pattern of rust, everything.

After some hesitation, I walked to the police station to ask what on earth I could do about it. It was a risk, leaving the bike behind - while I was gone, the 'new owner' might reappear and ride it away - but what could I do if the came back while I was there? "That's my bike you're unlocking. Please give it back to me"? I don't think so.

There was, of course, a queue at the police station counter. Eventually, I spoke to PC2299, who asked me if I'd reported the bike stolen. Of course I hadn't - there had seemed no point. And of course I'd never got around to noting the serial number or marking it in some unerasable way.

Essentially, I was told to get some bolt cutters, and take the bike back. Having now reported it stolen and filled out a form, I now had the legal right to contest any charge of theft the might be made if I was seen on CCTV taking it back.

I walked back the the library, intending to telephone my parents about finding some bolt cutters, if the bike was still chained to the lamppost. It wasn't. So, feeling dejected but not surprised, I started to walk home.

And there it was, leaning against a sandwich shop, unchained. I must have spent half a minute checking it over in disbelief - it was definitely mine. I hesitated, and hesitated some more. Then I jumped on and pedaled away as fast as I could. It even made the same cranking noise from the rusty chain.

There's a saying about two wrongs and a right. And I can't work out whether it applies. I don't think I've ever stolen anything before - hey, I'm a neurotic middle class white bloke in his 30s. I was reminded of a line in some old western movie - "The one thing a community of thieves can't tolerate is stealing".

Food, Interlood, and Improoved Mood.

I was supposed to work on JS's computer yesterday, but he never turned up, and still hasn't switched on his phone. Today, I did yet another re-install of Windows 2000 on SM's elderly 3rd hand system - it took 3 hours, mostly getting the USB ports to work for internet connection.

SM is broke, but a wonderful cook, and we sat down at 1600 to eat with two of his friends. His take on tagliatelli with cabonara was, like all his food, utterly sumptious and astoundingly high in fat. The two friends were Jaza - an Iraqi engineer who I think works as a hospital porter - and a lovely young slovenian fellow who's name I can never recall.

It was a very cheering experience to converse with people who actually understand politics through experience, instead of absorbing whatever idiocy is the current newspaper fashion. Living here in Portsmouth, where the lumpen proletariat are more lumpen than usual, it's easy to forget there are plenty of decent people around.

We spoke of the Russian mafia, the British conservative party, Kilroy-Silk, and (a particular favourite of SM and myself) Ayn Rand. And the Australian Temple of Set. Something else SM and I have in common is unsuccessful exercise regimes - according to his fancy high-tech bathroom scales, I have 44% body fat. Not ideal, as I should have about 22%.

Right. Now I just have to finish work on the backing music for Man Speaking German. I'm not sure there's time to make it as lavish as intended.

Intelligence

When we say that a person is intelligent, there's lots of vague and contradictory things we could mean. And when we say someone else is stupid, the same is true.

However there are, I think, two features of someone's psychological makeup that make them 'smart' or 'switched on'. And I think there are two corresponding features which make someone else 'dumb' or 'thick'. Everyday words are misleading when used as technical terms, but for convenience the words I'm using for the first two traits are Receptiveness and Skepticism, and for the second two, Arrogance and Gullibility.

Smart people do two things. They listen to ideas, and they think about them. They read, see and hear opinions, hyoptheses and reports - they display openness or Receptiveness. Then they critically evaluate this information, holding off acceptance or rejection until they've thought it over, and compared it with what they already believe and suspect. Then, they might accept the new information, perhaps modifying the old, or decide they don't know enough to decide. This is the proper meaning of Skepticm.

Stupid people display Arrogance - they just don't let much new information in. They display no curiosity about the world, let alone a sense of wonder - they are closed minded. On those occasions when new information gets in, it either gets uncritically accepted - slotted in next to other beliefs that may flatly contractict it - or uncritically rejected because some contradiction with prior belief is detected. 'Gullibility' only describes one side of this, but right now I can't think of a better word.

So, we have four features. Receptivity - an attitude of openness to new ideas, versus Arrogance - a hostility towards them. Skepticism - a carefulness about what is believed, versus Gullibility - a corresponding carelessness.

The question then arises, can these qualities be mixed up? Can a person be Receptive but Gullible? Yes, definitely they can. Consider the New Age mystic who packs their head with UFO abductions, CIA conspiracies, healing crystals, the Illuminati, pyramid power, lizard people etc etc. They are extremely receptive, but have no critical ability.

Could someone be Arrogant but Skeptical? Well yes, but their Arrogance means they have little information to be skeptical about. Someone who pours over theological manuscripts, analysing their content minutely, but never examining even the basic tennants of a different religion, might fall into this catagory.

There are two further remarks I'd like to make. The first is that these features of personality (which are only approximated by the labels that I've used for them) are the product of a person's life. Even Richard Dawkins would never claim there is a gene for blind acceptance of religion, or a genetic mutation that causes interest in the world around you. There is nothing innate or unchangable about these personality factors.

The second thing is that this model of human intelligence is obviously completely inapplicable to nonhumans. Chimpanzees, and indeed sheep, may have something that could be called 'Intelligence'. But human intelligence isn't simply 'animal intelligence but more of it', or 'animal intelligence but more complex'. Human intelligence is of a fundamentally different kind to other creatures.

Indeed, I think it's a bad idea to use the same word for the two. A gorilla might have 'intelligence' of some kind, but it doesn't have 'smarts'. It can't be 'sharp' or 'switched on' or 'brainy'. Humans can be incredibly stupid, but their stupidity is astrology, jingoism, celebrity worship, blaming gypsies for house prices, or joining the flat earth society.

Shite Nite

Not the best night in the world. H texted me, inviting me to the pub with his fellow students. With some misgivings, I went. They're a mixed bunch, including a musician who might collaborate with me sometime.

One called Mark sat down next to me. I've met his kind a million times - regards discussion as a game to be won with verbal tricks. He started spouting racist idiocy, and parried objections with meaningless distinctions and demands for definitions. And this man wants to be a teacher. Of psychology.

I was very upset by this character, and things weren't help when I found my bike had been stolen. H and I walked to the cinema, but sat for 90 minutes before the film, drinking and talking about happiness and selfishness, selling out and living with yourself when you've done it.

Then we watched Sideways. Perhaps it was my mood, but I found the film to be a tedious overlong collection of stock comic situations - without much actual comedy.

He walked me home. He hugged me outside my house, and just for a few seconds I felt like there was some point in going on.

Ich habe ein Kant

I've quite extensively rewritten Man Speaking German. I'll probably make some more minor changes, but this is (I think) more or less the final version. Translations from the German are in parentheses.

VERSE 1
Leiser Schatten in der schwarzen Nacht
(Silent shadow in the black night)
A few words and a friendship sparked
Ein Lieberslied
(A lovesong)

Erstmalig weg vom Haus, Er kann English klein
(First time away from home, he can speak english a little)
Soldatjunge, took him back to mine
(Soldierboy...)
Das ist ein Lieberslied
(This is a lovesong)

zuerst sprachen wir, dann Er kuessten Mich
(First we spoke, then he kissed me)
A few weeks together, we knew it would soon finish
Ein Lieberslied
(A lovesong)

Bald musste Er nach Heimat gehen
(Soon he had to go home)
Ich begriff but didn't want it to end
(I understood...)
Das ist ein Lieberslied
(This is a lovesong)

CHORUS
Die Schmerz verblassen mit Zeit
Liebe ist eine Sorte Verr├╝cktheit
Du bist weit weg doch
Ich denke an Sie noch
(Pain fades with time
Love is a kind of madness
You are far away but
I still think of you)

VERSE 2
Unsere Zeit zusammen, Ging es so schnel
(Our time together, it went so fast)
a brief time together, got to know you so well
Ein Lieberslied
(A lovesong)

Ist dieses ein Phantasie oder ein Alptraum?
(Is this a fantasy or a nightmare?)
ich muss ruhe halten, i must stay calm
(I must stay calm)
Das ist ein Lieberslied
(This is a lovesong)

Wir haben ein Geheimnis, ja
(We have a secret, yes)
you could be close but it seems so far
Ein Lieberslied
(A lovesong)

Wir habe froelich Gedaechtnis
(We have happy memories)
and i will always remember this
Das ist ein lieberslied
(This is a lovesong)

Ich Liebe Dich

I have a song. It's half in German (though maybe not grammatically correct german), and half in English. That is, each line is half and half. It took quite a lot of effort, but I'm not sure I even like the idea anymore of jumping between languages in the middle of a sentence.

Trotsky could do it in his notebooks, but he was writing dialectical analyses of substructural revolution, not wistful songs about Mein Blonde Soldatjunge. Anyway, I think of it as a sequel to Texas - seeing as they're both about love frustrated by geography.
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Paul T is back to his cheerfully talkative self - I'm pleased he's feeling better, I just wish he wouldn't spend half an hour on the phone telling me about it.

I should be seeing the film Sideways with H tonight. His choice, my treat. I've tried, but for some reason I can't write lyrics about this particular relationship. Perhaps that's because it's very comfortable - relationships without stormy emotions don't make good songs.

Other people's dreams

I just had a very long, and strangely realistic dream. There was a houseshare between 5 gay men in their 30s, and one emotionally fagile lesbian. I met one of the men by chance on a bus, got talking, and wound up in his room talking about music.

There was no sex in this dream, though there was plenty of friendly and supportive hugging.

I got to know each of the inhabitants in turn and in combination, in a series of episodes spread over 3 or 4 days. We talked, compared lives, and charted the progress of their attitudes toward me from uncirtainty to warmth.

Each person had a distinct face, frame, choice of clothes, and a seperate personality. The man I first met was about 30, with a stubble, black straight limp hair, a fondness for synthpop, and a laid back manner. The woman was underweight, articulate and talkative, and had difficulty trusting people.

The final conversation was with a man of 38, with a shock of curly orange hair, a fondness for bright sweaters, a slightly weathered face, and a tendendy to laugh and smile.

The whole dream was, literally, from my point of view, and it was me as I am now behind the eyes. But each of the people had their internal lives, and relationsips with each other just as complicated and ambigious and difficult to define as theirs with me.

I note this dream beacuse (a) it was so realistically complex and (b) because I felt at home in that place.

There's one other thing. They all told me their names, but I can't remember any of them.

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Yesterday was spent mostly with The Strict Machines, recording them practice, so they could hear it back later and evaluate their own performance and progress. Paul T seems to have crashed into a midlife crisis, having gone in a week from prolix, wildly enthusiastic, and unthinkingly egotistical, to taciturn, depressive and hyper-self-critical. While still being unthinkingly egotistical.

Fabio was his usual quietly smart and competent self, letting other people's conflicts and problems roll off him like water off a duck. He's actually a very good drummer.

We've all had the same (respective) cold for the last month. Anna managed so sing quite well despite having 'snot up to here'. She is out of sympathy with Paul's moods - I think she should find another band.

She's rather envious that I'm going out with someone. Which is odd, because she has a great relationship with James, her long term boyfriend. He's an absolute brick - steady, reliable, supportive, and just a bit dull. The trouble is...well, most of the songs she writes are about brief, highly charged relationships with women.

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Right. Today I have to finish the latest song for SongFight. I'm in Man Speaking German, on the grounds the competition will be less for that title. So, as it turns out, is Nick.

Screen

This morning on television:

The Nazis: A Warning from History (Part 3)
A series about how an urbane, tolerant culture known for science and the arts became a genocidal police state in just a few years. The title warns: It could happen again, just as easily, anywhere. Followed by

Torture: The Dirty Business
How the 'Special Retrival Unit' kidnaps 'terror suspects' and leaves them with U.S allies who torture them. Followed by

The Boys from Brazil
A daft thriller about a Nazi plot to clone Hitler. Followed by

Torture: The Guantanamo Guidebook
A prurient reality TV show thinly disguised as serious journalism. People who approve of Guantamo Bay are imprisoned, humiliated and tortured. TV Go Home may be dead, but it's satire has turned into prediction.

There is no such thing anymore as irony.

A little love. And a lot of other stuff

I've been in love just once. It was the most painful and ecstatic experiece of my life. And I don't have the strength to go through the same feelings again.

I just tried to write a song about it, but I couldn't. The words came easily enough, but something in me was shouting 'Don't go there'.

I'm not sure it's a good sign to cry when trying to write lyrics.
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There's plenty to take my mind off my own messed up emotions. The Strict Machines want to do a quick and dirty live EP, so tomorrow I'm lugging the laptop and microphones to the practice studio they're renting.

JS postponed our appointment for me to fix his computer till Saturday. His project to set up classes for amateur artists who want to know about art theory is now underway. He wants me to give my lecture on colour theory in a few weeks - which I'm happy to do.

I've set myself the modest goal of an hour's aerobic exercise per day. With my wierd sleeping pattern, the best time is between four and six in the morning, just before I go to bed.

I'm tweaking the lyrics and structure of my better songfight songs, so I can start rerecording them. There's plenty of hours in the day to do it, there's just not so many hours when I have the energy.

There is exactly one reason to make money from music. To buy new instruments and boxes. These people make me want to get rich, so I can give them my money, and make symphonies.

Pedal and Pant

Well, I got the song into songfight. The general tenor of the reviews so far is "Nicely produced, but the triphop groove doesn't fit with the rocky guitars, the singing doesn't fit with either, and the chorus is inaudible." Probably accurate. So far no one has accused me of glorifying terrorism or martyrdom.
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This morning I cycled for an hour with my eyes closed. Luckily the bike was stationary in the cellar. I'm finally trying to get fit (again). The advantages to being fit and active are many. H will stop needling me about being so unfit. Tom, the teenager who wants to meet and shag, will not be turned off. I will have to find a different reason to be insecure and shy. Oh, and I would stand less chance of a fatal heart attack at age 40.
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Oh bugger. I knew I'd forgotten something. There's another essay to write. And 200 pages to read in perparation. I haven't even looked at the questions yet. Just like being back at university.