Promises, Promises

Some studies have shown that making a promise reduces the willpower to keep it. Much like talking about your idea for a story makes it more difficult to start writing. That said, here's my New Year's Resolutions List of Things I Want to Do Or Do Better Starting At The Arbitrary Point Of The First Day Of Next Year (Namely Tomorrow As I'm Writing This).

  • Learn Python. In an earlier life, I knew a few programming languages - Pascal, Ada, BASIC, Cobol, and bits and pieces of C++, Z80 and 68000 code. Then around 1995 I realised I was more interested in philsophy and linguistics than SQL (Structured Query Language), JSP (Jackson Structured Programming), ISO (International Standards Organisation) and other TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).

    More than that, working with computers to solve problems was interesting, but working with computers to make a rich idiot richer was not. So I dropped out of Computer Science (which is not a science and isn't really about computers) and got some degrees in Cultural Theory (which isn't a theory and doesn't say much about culture). And I forgot how to program.

    Now though, knowing a programming language would be rather useful. Something stripped-down but powerful. Something easy to program and debug. And if possible, something named after a British Television comedy troupe.

  • Do an Album. The one I've spent the last year assembling a studio for, but have always found a way to avoid starting - usually by assembling a bit more studio.

    They say preparation is everything...but not when everything is preparation.

  • Do Some Writing. The stuff I've spent the last year having ideas for, but never quite got around to starting etc. etc.

  • Do Some Reading. That stuff...yeah.

  • Eat A Bit Better. I've recently discovered that it's exactly as easy to eat absurdly large amounts of healthy vegetables as it is to eat absurdly large amounts of fried chicken or chocolate biscuits. This is probably a step in the right direction.

  • Other Things. Explore another country, find a job I don't hate, find a way to tolerate how much more of an arsehole my father is becoming in his old age, get on with at least one of those youtube projects I've been putting off, stop pretending to not like Lady Gaga...and possibly develop enough of a life to have something to blog about.

"Things are often exactly what they seem"

- Norman Giddan

"A fundamentalist is no fun, too much damn, and not enough mental."

- Bart Ehrman

“Unable to do away with love, the Church found a way to decontaminate it by creating marriage."

- Charles Baudelaire

"I must go now and milk the swan."

- Jim Blashfield

"Imagination, like certain wild animals, cannot breed in captivity."

- George Orwell

Two Party State

One christmas weekend, two christmas parties, so what kind of christmas state am I in? The "Recovering from Christmas" state.

And it isn't actually christmas yet.

If there's one thing British people are obsessed with - apart from the changable British weather and the nebulous British identity, it's the British class system. When we're not denying it's existence, we're cataloging it's manifestations and stratifications.

And so, a working class christmas party followed by a middle class christmas party - providing much material for comparison.

The Blue Party
Blue is centuries-old slang for "slightly drunk". Some sources claim that "Blue Monday" originally didn't refer to feeling miserable on the first day of the working week, but to the day before Shrove Tuesday before Lent - where we got rid of out sinful alcohol by drinking it.

And much alcohol - beer, cider, and if we were feeling sophisticated, vodka - was disposed of at the workers' party. Whenever anyone passed out, the boys all got out their, erm, "boys", wiped them on the faces of their sleeping friends - photographing each other doing so and putting the result on facebook.

Which I didn't enjoy watching at all. Oh no not one little bit. I should have been straight - that way all the young men would have shown me their junk at every opportunity, daring me to suck it "for a laugh".

The only man who didn't do this was biologically female, though he identified as a man, was undergoing female-to-male reassignment therapy...and was in a long term monogamous relationship with a gay man. Who was therefore more-or-less uncle to his as-yet biologically female boyfriend's son.

Oh yes, did I mention that I'd never met any of these people before? My new FTM friend was a friend of a friend,  who invited me along after meeting in a pub because, well, I managed to not make idiotically judgemental pronouncements about being MTF.

And so, somewhere on facebook, there is a photo of my hand, gently cupping the manscaped scrotum of a surprised straight bloke, over a comatose, slightly drooling face. Which later kissed me. As a joke. Twice.

The Red Party
That's red as in socialist. My old socialist friends, dressed in their best clothes, doing their best to imitate the manners of the ruling class from a century before.

The alcohol here was mulled wine - red wine boiled with spices and fruit juices, served hot. The kind of alcoholic beverage you're expected to sip gently and enjoy - getting gradually slightly drunk is rather expected of one, though actually being drunk is a social gaffe.

In the blue party you drink to get drunk as quickly as possible, and then you drink more slowly to stay drunk for as long as possible. In the red party you drink to lose just a little of that British social awkwardness that we all claim to have and claim we need to lose because it's just so silly.

In the blue party everyone has a job - or two - but I have absolutely no idea what anyone did professionally. In the red party, the way to start a conversation is to ask what someone does for a living.

I'm not sure whether comparing jobs is a safe topic of conversation, or a substitute for conversation. But though I was dressed like a labourer, my profession as teacher was an entry visa to the polite chit-chat.

Mentioning things like, say, male-to-female gender reassignment therapy would have been met with embarassed babbling, covering horror. No, they're not horrified by the concept, just by the concept of talking about it.

The babbling would have been about how much we all support equal rights for everyone...unlike all those half-civilised foreigners who bring their woman-hating, racist ways to our island.

Odd that the blue people who use prejudiced language to jokingly(?) insult their friends(?) at every opportunity...are not the ones who think it's a moderate suggestion to close their country's borders.

In the blue party, music is constant - hours on end of punk powerchords on youtube, played through a sound system which is by far the most expensive thing in the house. In the red party, music is something debated, and something performed by the host on a piano.

In both parties politics and philosophy are discussed. The difference is that in the red party, noncommital opinions are exchanged. In the blue party we talk about heteronormativity, intersectionality, and the ethics of assuming a truth of a rape length and - astonishingly - presenting arguments to change each other's minds.

Oh, one more difference. British soap operas are all about poor people barely coping with improbably complex emotional entanglements. Christmas specials of British soap operas are thus about their catastrophic emotional breakdowns. Until now, I never thought they were realistic.

In the red house, the strongest emotion expressed was from the lady host, firmly asserting against all evidence that there was no more wine in the whole house, and that therefore Kapitano could absolutely not have a tenth glassful.

In the blue house, there was indeed no more alcohol because the lady host drank it all, and felt the need for consecutive conversations about how she somehow couldn't dump her no-good boyfriend, although she really really hated him.

And so, having completed my impromptu project of embedded anthropological observation...and slept off my hangover, I can enjoy a nice quiet christmas, without having to deal with any other people.

Happy Hannukah, Merry Kwanzaa, and a pleasantly uneventful Pastafarian Holiday to you all.

"Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about."

- Harry Frankfurt

"The original is unfaithful to the translation."

- Jorge Luis Borges

"A martyr's disciples suffer more than the martyr."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

"As long as you have some book you think important lying in front of you unread, you will never get down to writing."

- Frederich Engels

"Everyone gives themselves permission to behave absurdly when religion is mentioned."

- Christopher Hitchens

"I became a journalist so I wouldn't have to rely on the press for information."

- Christopher Hitchens

"There is a difference between being sexually free, and sexually equal."

- Danielle Crittenden

"Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power."

- Bertrand Russell

"Old age is always 15 years older than I am."

- Bernard Baruch

"They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance."

- Edmund Burke

"In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the bootmaker."

- Mikhail Bakunin

"One of the surest signs of the Philistine is his reverence for the superior tastes of those who put him down."

- Pauline Kael

"The British tradition is to be licentious in public and prudish in private."

- Peter Hitchens

"The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

"A writer's notebook is the best way to immortalise bad ideas."

- Stephen King

Letting Go

I have stayed in bad relationships because I hoped they would get better.

Several times they were about to end, but I found myself pleading for us to keep trying - while being dimly aware that it was never going to work, it was only making both of us miserable, and I was pleading to avoid what would make us happy.

I've helped several friends move out of the homes they grew up in. They didn't want to leave, but circumstances were forcing them, and it was quite an emotional wrench. But the moment they shut the door behind them for the final time, they became suddenly happy, as though a weight had been lifted at that moment.

My previous laptop became progressively more unreliable until one day it just wouldn't switch on. It was annoying, but there was no sadness. Then, after taking out the hard drive to later on retrieve the data, there was the moment where I had to throw the dead box away. Yes, I hesitated, and yes, I knew it was stupid. But a few minutes later, no regrets.

When was the last time you listened to a cassette tape? An hour ago I had several big boxes of them - some old favourites that I now have in much better quality as mp3s, some that I never really liked, and quite a few that I never got around to hearing. Some were legacies of those bad relationships - when we split up, we wound up with some of each other's possessions.

I'd been hanging onto them for about 20 years. Not having the heart to throw them out, justifying holding on to them on the grounds that they might be interesting to hear one day. Promising youself a nostalgic experience in the indeterminate future - that's slightly perverse.

Now all but a dozen are in a sack, destined for a landfill. Throwing out your old junk is painful, but only for a moment. You just need to get through that moment.

"There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it."

- George Bernard Shaw

"Behind every illusion there is a conjourer."

- The Fifth Doctor

"A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses; it is an idea that possesses the mind."

- Robert Bolton

"A belief is not true because it is useful."

- Henri Amiel

"You learn something every day - even if it's wrong."

- Robert M Price

"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue."

- George Orwell

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

- Douglas Adams

"It is not necessary for the public to know whether I am joking or whether I am serious, just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself."

- Salvador Dali

"You don't tell people to not do things they're aleady not doing."

- Robert M Price

"Appeasement is feeding a crocodile, hoping it will eat you last."

- Winston Churchill

Worldwide Conspiracy Frankenstein Computer God

Sentinel One Animated GIF Experiment. Hopefully you'll see the face with sparkling eyes and flashing computer lights, and not this text.
When my age was in single figures, I wanted to be this.

Or possibly be its slave.

Actually, in some confused way, both.

Childhood dreams stay with us.

"Folks are willing to trade truth for certainty."

- James White

"I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet."

- Maya Angelou

"I'll be your noise."

- Combichrist

"Integrity has no need of rules."

- Albert Camus

"It is impossible to live at peace with those we regard as damned."

- Jean-Jaques Rousseau

"Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit."

- Vince Lombardi

"It is very easy to deceive a man, and very hard to undeceive him."

- Pierre Bayle

"Memory, like liberty, is a fragile thing."

- Elizabeth Loftus

"You can’t force people out of their chains."

- Paul Myers

"You can't settle truth by a nose count."

- Francis Schaffer

Family (5)

I'm going to be an uncle.

More accurately, my brother is going to be a father.

More accurately still, his wife is pregnant.

Here we have two highly intelligent, extremely busy people, who agreed that they'd much rather have careers and a relationship than a marriage and a family - on the grounds that:

(1) There's no good reason to get married, not even purely financial.
(2) They have no silly romantic notions that marriage will make their relationship more "real".
(3) They have no silly romantic notions about making babies either.
(4) They know perfectly well that producing offspring would mess up their lives.
(5) There's no familial or social pressure to become parents.
(6) Neither feels the need to breed.

So what do they do? They have a romantic wedding, wait a sensible three and a half years...and breed.

I'm sure the baby will be adorable, and I'm sure they'll be excellent parents, and in 20 years time the baby will have become an admirable person largely free of hangups.

It's just a mystery to me why this has happened.

I, of course, would be an absolutely terrible parent. But students and young relatives tell me I make quite a good uncle.

"Much of what passes for reality is cowardice."

- Jordan Peterson

"Truth does not demand belief."

- Dan Barker

"Anything that substitutes for the truth may be preferred to the truth."

- Robert M Price

"What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?"

- Ursula Le Guin

"Intelligence is the ability to avoid doing work, yet getting the work done."

- Linus Torvalds

"One element of production has become surplus to requirement. Namely people."

- Eric Hobsbawm

"The cynic can be cynical about his cynicism, but the pietist cannot be cynical about his pietism."

- Robert M Price

"The strangeness of a notion does not count against it."

- Robert M Price

"'Everything is permitted' does not mean that nothing is forbidden."

- Albert Camus

"The greatest saints of the Church are those who despise women the most."

- Annie Besant

Family (4)

Your family are your first peer group.

Which is odd, as there's no such thing as a peer in a family. Everyone is defined by their place in a complex, broiling power structure, and by what they do to change or maintain that place. For someone to be your peer, you must regard each other as equals.

It's almost impossible to be friends with a family member, except by both trusting each other enough to maintain a truce. You have friends at school, and in after-school associations. You have friends at work, on internet forums, and in sporting societies. At home you have folks.

Church fellowships are more like families than clubs - but that's not surprising, as authority (not belief) is the foundation stone of religion. Which is why you can be a member of a church without even knowing it's doctrines, and if you're a dominant member, you can make the doctrines.

Political parties also are, to slightly misquote Marx, "Bands of hostile brothers". In my experience, university departments are the same, with enough nepotism, sycophancy, jealousy and back-stabbing to match any royal court.

If you want to know whether your association is a peer group or a family, look at who gets into sexual relationships with who, then why and how the relationships end.

So, if and when you grow up and leave your progenitors and siblings, you have a choice. Find a substitute family, or find something better than a family.

"Movies are so rarely great art that if we can't appreciate great trash, we've no reason to go."

- Pauline Kael

"Myth is what never was but always is."

- Joseph Campbell

"No society has been able to abolish human sadness."

- Eugene Ionesco

"Excellence makes people nervous."

- Shana Alexander

"Fundamentalists don't like the bible they've got."

- Clark Pinnock

"A little respect will take you a long way."

- Hugh Heffner

"A philosopher is a physician of the soul."

- Epicuras

"In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined."

- Thomas Szasz

"People who think in herds behave in herds."

- Christopher Hitchens

"The answers you seek will never be found at home."

- Jimmy Sommerville

Family (3)

TV + PC = PC
In the first half of the 20th century, families clustered around the radio. They bonded and spent their quality time sharing in weekly dramas, news and DJ banter.

In the second half, they did it around the TV.

Now, we've each got our own computers. We've also got netflix and tivo, which relagate TV broadcasts to a poor substitute.

With the exception of Dr Who premieres, I can't remember the last time I watched more than a few minutes of TV as it was being broadcast, or with someone else in the room.

For these premieres, I make weekly visits to a friend and we munch through nibbles watching Peter Capaldi's latest adventure...followed by whatever's on the friend's tivo box. Yes, the friend is gay too and we have zero sexual interest in each other and thus he's what gets called "family".

Tonight, I'm upstairs on my laptop, bingeing through episodes of a radio comedy series. My media player is set to playback at double tempo by default, so I can get through twice as much.

Yes, there's a work ethic for pleasure too.

My parents are downstairs. Father spends his retirement ploughing through every espionage serial we can find, plugged in through the headphones that are my early christmas present for him. In the next chair, in front of a different computer screen and through her own headphones, mother is watching 3 or 4 science documentaries in a row.

We sometimes eat together, and the conversation is usually about computers or what we've been watching on them.

"I think I went mad then."

- HP Lovecraft

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

- George Bernard Shaw

"Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem."

- John Galsworthy

"Some things have to be believed in order to be seen."

- Richard Seymour

"There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept."

- Ansel Adams

"Pop music today is something people hear while doing something or going somewhere more interesting."

- Mark Simpson

"You never see a sign saying 'Please don't spit on the ceiling'"

- David Scholer

"Contempt breeds arrogance."

- Ray Jasper

"Efficiency is intelligent laziness."

- David Dunham

"Where equality is undisputed, so also is subordination."

- George Bernard Shaw

Family (2)

When did my father turn into me?

Today, a man with an indian accent telephoned, claiming to be calling from "Microsoft in London".

He said our computer (or computers, or operating system, or internet, or network - he kept changing his mind) had been hacked (or infected) and that Intel (or Microsoft, or the ISP, or "Windows") had somehow detected this...and as a safety precaution they were about to shut down our computer (computers, system, network, operating system/s)...unless we gave him the Access Code to our computer. Which was also Windows. And the router.

So...our computers had signaled them but not us that we'd been hacked, and they had access to our computers to shut them down, but to prevent this they wanted our codes to give them access to our computers to prevent them doing it. Or something.

I used to enjoy leading phone scammers on with ambiguous or meaningless questions for a few minutes before telling them to fuck off. But an artist. He adopts the persona of a trusting but extremely pedantic old man - one who needs to be told everything in exquisite detail at least three times, while he writes it all down. Very slowly. With copious mishearings and misunderstandings. Before half an hour later saying he doesn't know about any access codes, and putting the phone down.

But our new friend from India London Microsoft/Intel/The Internet was persistent, calling back another five times. And going through the same rigmarole each time.

Dad eventually got tired of the scammer, passing the phone to mother - who has a degree in computing and decades of experience with networks. She spent ten minutes asking the man a lot of technical questions which he completely failed to understand, but tried to bluff his way through.

They let me take over for the final five minutes, in the guise of the local network administrator. I asked a few meaningless questions - "What is your personal identification code?", "Do you mean the XP registration or the Linux Serial Number?" - and getting confidently stated gibberish in response. Though I'm not sure what kind of personal identification code "687-43 Section B" might constitute.

I let my character have a psychotic break, and he screamed some obscenities down the line before hanging up.

Quality time with the family.

EDIT:  He later left a message on our answer-phone system, mumbling something about "motherfucker" and "bastard". Which I enjoyed more than is probably healthy.

EDIT: My uncle also received a call from a man with an Indian accent, from "Microsoft". He let the caller spend half an hour trying to explain why his copy of Windows was in imminent danger of locking him out, without ever quite explaining why...before mentioning that he used Linux, and hanging up.

"Being too accepted is not good for your art."

- David Cronenberg

"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman."

- Simone de Beauvoir

"A politician divides mankind into two classes: tools and enemies."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

"How is it we have so much information, but know so little?"

- Noam Chomsky

"Everything bad is good for you."

- Stephen Johnson

"Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement."

- Pauline Kael

"The consuming desire of most human beings is deliberately to place their entire life in the hands of some other person."

- Quentin Crisp

"Don't argue with a fool. The spectators can't tell the difference."

- Charles Nalin

"If you have nothing to express it is very much like thinking you have so much to express that you don’t know how to say it."

- Pauline Kael

"Man's memory is not as good as man's pen."

- James White

Family (1)

When did I turn into my father?

As a child, I had a varied diet. Not because of a cosmopolitan atmosphere in the home or a spirit of culinary adventure. Just because whatever was on special offer in the shops that day, father bought, and we ate.

I said it was a varied diet - I didn't say the food was good. I thought dad was a cheapskate with a palate of iron.

But now, wherever I am, I make a point of trying out whatever cheap local food is available, working through the selection in whatever combinations suggest themselves.

That's how I invented lemonade tea...made with ordinary Indian tea and a capful of lemonade concentrate. It also works with lime and kiwi fruit...but not orange squash.
It's how I came up spicy barbeque pasta with sardines. Or noodles with meatballs in tomato sauce. Digestive buscuits topped with peanut butter.

Or one one particularly unsuccessful occasion, a spanish omelette "loaf" made with frozen mixed vegetables, several slices of broken-up bread, salt and pepper, and a handful of herbs. Result: a heap of crumbs varying from undercooked to burnt.

So, I guess I've turned into an iron-palated cheapskate.

"Man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions."

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

"The human being is the story telling animal - the only animal which tells itself stories to understand what sort of creature it is."

- Salman Rushdie

"A rational mind needs regular maintenance."

- Scott Adams

"One has only has to stand still to become a radical."

- Alan Bennett

"Once you pick a side you lose the ability to reason."

- Scott Adams

"If you have to persuade yourself of something, you're already inclined to doubt it."

- Christoper Hitchens

"There are questions you can't ask if you don't have the tools to answer them."

- Brenda Milner

"Rewards and punishments are the lowest form of education."

- Chuang-tzu

"There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity."

- Johann Goethe

"A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world."

- Albert Camus

"Never cut what you can untie."

- Joseph Joubert

"Being on the edge isn't as safe, but the view is better."

- Ricky Gervais

"If you are the smartest person at where you work - quit."

- Paul Tyma

"There is no sinner like a young saint."

- Aphra Behn

"If you're going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise they'll kill you."

- Oscar Wilde

Look Back in August

A small personal landmark that went past unnoticed. My tenth blogiversary - at around 10pm on August 22nd, I'd been writing here for years in double digits.

Ten years ago....

  • I was dealing with the end of a hopeless relationship by getting pointlessly drunk and having lots of meaningless sex.

    This last weekend I got drunk with some old friends and afterwards decided to re-visit an old cruising ground, just to see if it still worked for me after all these years.

    And I had pleasantly meaningless sex with three strangers. One of who I kind-of almost fell for - we swapped phone numbers, but any thought of a relationship is, um, hopeless. Which is fortunate, because I only feel romantic when I'm drunk.

    That at least is different now.

  • I was teaching myself to sing, and trying to record some songs. But constantly getting sidetracked by technical issues.

    Today, having promised myself I'd start work on some music, I hit upon a way to synthesise a strummed guitar instead. And spent the day working on that.

  • I'd just finished a contract with an idiot employer.


  • I was running around with a band of socialists, despite severe misgivings about their theories, strategies, and indeed aims.

    Now, most of my non-net friends are disenchanted socialists.

  • I had vague ideas about being a science fiction writer.

    I have vague ideas about being a horror writer.

  • I was back living with my parents.

    Yes. But they don't seem to mind so much this time.

  • I couldn't figure out a snappy way to end a blogpost.

"People are not who they say but rather who their actions reveal them to be."

- Ziad Abdelnour

"Whatever we cannot easily understand we call God."

- Edward Abbey

"You need to be thought of to be ignored."

- Russell Peters

"The truth doesn't work for everybody."

- Robert M Price

"Arts degrees are awesome. They help you find meaning where there is none."

- Tim Minchin

The Crass Ceiling

I don't get many unwilling students.

I get students who party all night and don't have the energy to study all day - and that's fine. It's their youth to enjoy, their choice to make, their quota of daily strength to allot how they choose.

I'm all in favour of fun - in fact, I wish I'd had a lot more of it when I was a teenager. Getting drunk for the first time at 23, eating a block of marijuana resin at 28 - supplied by a friend who'd decided to give up...and falling hopelessly in love for the first time at 32 - that's my pattern, trying everything a decade after everyone else.

I do get students who want to learn english, but don't want to put in the hours practicing, so they never become fluent - that's okay too. I don't have the patience to get good at the guitar, or program properly in python, so I understand.

I get students who're only want to use english for one purpose - whether that's discussing ponies on facebook or (I kid you not) qualifying as a teacher of english. Kein Problem (german), La'isa Moshkila (arabic), No Hay Problema (spanish).

What I almost never get is students who aren't at all interested in the subject, and don't want to be enrolled in the first place. When I get them, it's because their pushy parents or pointy-haired bosses are making them take the course.

You can't force someone to be interested, you can't bribe them into it, and you can't rationally persuade them they ought to force themselves to work at it until magically it becomes interesting to them. Which is why, contra the preachings of certain managerial types, I don't try.

Teaching in the private sector, your job security is nonexistant and whether your employer is sensibly professional or a delusional nutjob is luck of the draw. But the job of teaching itself is bearable, because you actually are a teacher, not a glorified prison warder.

However, I do get two distinct types of student. Type A is happy to forumulate opinions, present them in clear sentences and discuss them openly. Type B is afraid to form any clear belief, really really doesn't want to put them into words, and is afraid to state them in case someone else disagrees.

Type A is known as "most of the boys". Type B is "most of the girls".

It's the conventional wisdom - and therefore probably wrong - that boys outperform girls academically until about 13, then girls overtake them. For all I know, that could be broadly true of physics and literature. But for language learning, the boys consistently outstrip the girls.

It's not for lack of raw ability - not that I think there really is such a thing. It's confidence. The attitude that there's no personal shame in making a mistake and being corrected, that if you don't understand the explanation you have the right to ask again, that one doesn't need to fit in and have fashionable opinions to be respected.

Among the boys, even the nerds are jocks. Among the girls, even the most forward are apologetic about it.

So what can I do about it? Not much. Simply because you can't force someone to be free, and you can't inject confidence by encouraging someone to invent their own there and then from nothing.

In talking about this with female teachers, they say the same, so I don't think it's just that I'm intimidatingly butch (ha!) or that female student connect better with female teachers.

The classroom is a rather artificial environment, so perhaps in the real world outside the boys become taciturn and the girls are the gossipy flirts. But I don't think so.

It seems that even though young women now want careers, independence, and not to be quiet housewives...they still habitually act as though they don't.

"Truths kept silent become poisonous."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

"Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

"If the world is crashing around your ears, you choice is future or no future."

- Eric Hobsbawm

"Patriotism is a disease."

- Albert Einstein

"The degree of one's emotion varies inversely with one's knowledge of the facts - the less you know the hotter you get."

- Bertrand Russell

Boys of Summer

They voted me "Best Teacher".

It's not difficult to be the students' favourite - you just have to be the one out of fifty temps on zero-hour contracts who's on their side and admits the obvious.

  • Yes, the timetable is wrong.
  • Yes, speaking and listening is more interesting and useful than reading and writing.
  • Yes, you do learn more vocabulary from watching kids TV than a textbook chapter on marriage ceremonies in outer mongolia.
  • Yes, you're supposed to spell country names like mongolia with a capital letter, but it's okay if you forget.
  • Yes, this exercise is incredibly boring and doesn't teach anything you'll ever need. So yes, we will abandon it - but mark it as "completed" in my pointless pile of paperwork that I have to fill out but no one will ever read.
  • Yes, the managers are idiots, and so are their rules, and yes, if we want a productive lesson, we have to find ways around them.
  • Yes, the school's very own custom-made textbook which I'm under strict instructions to follow is boring, unclear, irrelevant, badly thought out and often just plain wrong. Which is why we just have it open on the desk in case an idiot manager looks in.
  • Oh, and yes, that other teacher is a complete moron who fills out very neat paperwork but couldn't teach to save her life.
Well, I don't actually have to say that exactly. The students say it themselves on their official "feedback" forms. The bits of paper they fill out at the end of the course, where I ask them to *not* emphasise just how much they learned from the Dr Who transcripts we went through and the Dr Who videos I'm not supposed to show.

I got an email today from someone I taught two years ago - just to say she's taking a baccalaureate in biology.

You can never predict who'll stay in touch. But you can usually predict who'll make progress while you teach them and after they leave. The best speakers have the confidence to stand up and make mistakes, to accept correction...and to not mind that there is no single correct way to say things.

They're also the ones who aren't bored by grammar but also aren't really interested in it either. Which means the best speakers are the worst linguists. Which is why I'm such a lousy language student myself.

Most teachers have a particular view of what students are capable of. Specifically, that:

  • They can learn the base meanings of 10 words at a time, but can't handle simultaneously learning three meanings of one word.
  • They can learn a grammatical rule, but can't cope with there being more than one opinion about what the rule is.
  • Anything the teacher doesn't know how to explain, they can learn by a magical process called "osmosis".

I always learn from my students. The only reason I know about drifting and slenderman is a class of ten year olds told me. Usually what I learn though, is that my book about their language is wrong.

The german word for "bullshit" is..."bullshit". Not even "bulschitt".

And no one has said "Angenehm" on meeting someone for the first time in a century.
In seven years doing this, two students have figured out I'm gay - and both were called Alex. Alejandro, nerdy bespectacled spanish polyglot. One of those clearly advanced-level students who gets miscategorised as lower...and thus gets to be the unofficial teaching assistant.

When we did the dumb lesson on "What do you want to be when you grow up?", he wanted to be a pole dancer. Then changed his mind to "dandy".

He lent me his Jeanette Winterson novel...and I lent him my William Burroughs. He said he was "interested in androgeny and sexual ambiguity...but liked girls". Can you say that in your second language?

The other, from this last month: Alexander, big blond handsome german metrosexual. Straight but loved flirting with everyone - boy or girl, staff or student.

The kind of guy who will offer, in front of the whole class, to do anything - "Anything at all, mein Kapitano" - if only I give him an A-grade. Which he deserved anyway. And he knew it.

I've actually never been tempted to try it on with any student. The idea isn't repulsive - just as the idea of sex with a tree isn't repulsive, just a bit surreal with no attraction.

I guess I'm nonpedagogicosexual.

It's not quite over yet. There's a few classes still running for the next one or two weeks. After which I'm officially unemployed again...or officially emigrating for work again.

"Only a person of deep faith can afford the luxury of skepticism."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

"The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence."

- CS Lewis

"Whiners, if given power, become tyrants."

- Gary North

"Happiness is like an orgasm. If you think about it too much it goes away."

- Tim Minchin

"Tolerance is the result not of enlightenment, but of boredom."

- Quentin Crisp

Monsters from the Id

I am surrounded by idiots.

But everyone thinks that.

If you're an idiot, your definition of an idiot is anyone who disagrees with you. Seeing as that's pretty much everyone, they surrond you.

If you're not an idiot, your definition of an idiot is anyone who can't bear to think they might be wrong, misguided, or not respected. Seeing as that's pretty much everyone, they surround you.

The difference between an idiot and a fool is that a fool accepts all criticisms unquestioningly, while an idiot accepts none.

So if you're wondering whether you're an idiot, imagine someone calling you an idiot. If your response is to consider that they might be right, you know they're wrong.

But if you're wondering, you're already not an idiot, because idiots can't endure introspection - because that's a form of (self) criticism.

The result of educating an idiot is an educated idiot.

If you can list ten arguments against a belief which is important to you, you're educated. If they're all strawmen, you're still an idiot.

Idiocy is not a failure of intellect but of courage.

"Beware rhetorical questions. They tend to paper over whatever cracks are in the argument."

- Daniel Dennett

"It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

"The history of religion is a long attempt to reconcile old custom with new reason, to find a sound theory for an absurd practice."

- James Frazer

"Crime is contagious. If the government becomes the lawbreaker it breeds contempt for laws."

- Gore Vidal

"Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery."

- Fyodor Dostoevsky

Just Kill Me Now

According to my Death Clock I have five years to live.

I should probably hurry up and do something then.

Actually I often find myself thinking life is so banal, people so willfully stupid, and compensations so paltry...that I should just run a nice hot bath and cut my wrists.

Then I realise I'm contemplating suicide to avoid spending an hour on the phone to correct an administrative fuck-up that's delayed my wages. Again.

But I do have a blogpost prepared, just in case I decide to go through with it.

The last impulse to end it all was occasioned by an email from work last friday. It "invited" me to an "input session" where we would "workshop" "pedagogical strategies" to counter "issues" around "literacy". And another one the next day. Over the weekend.

Oh, and the invitation is compulsory.

So, I'm now going to count my blessings:
  • I'm having sex tonight
  • I'm in a place advanced enough that the only person who might possibly object to my having sex his girlfriend
  • Thanks to a week of packed lunches without chocolate, I'm actually losing weight
  • I'm in a place advanced enough thet malnutrition isn't a problem - and obesity is
  • There's a rather nice, reasonably priced tablet computer which I might get
  • I have the spare cash to do so
  • I have a job which is often interesting
  • I have a job
  • I may not have the cash for a home of my own, by I've got parents who must secretly quite like having me around - seeing as I can see no other reason for them letting me live with them
  • There is zero chance that the "input session" will be useful, but it gives me several hours travelling time in which to study something interesting
Clicking the Death Clock again gives a different random estimate.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to believe."

- Robert M Price

"If you can charm everyone it means you don't care about anyone."

- Christopher Hitchens

"Socialists don't believe in fun."

- George Orwell

"Some dance to remember, some dance to forget."

- The Eagles

"It isn't what people think that's important, but the reason they think what they think."

- Eugene Ionesco

Something Old, Something New

I have a new job. It's also an old job. I hate it already and I haven't even started it yet.

In 2011 I spent six weeks as a summer teacher for Cavendish. It was a standard piece-of-shit language school, complete with:

* Insane idiot manager at head office
* Nice but useless manager at local office, too weak-willed to resist the insane idiot
* Resources extending to one whiteboard marker if you were luckly
* Requisite teacher with alcohol problem
* Requisite nervous newbie teacher
* Requisite intellectual teacher who wants to have learned discussions about world music with the class
* Popular teacher with collection of Dr Who videos (me)

After five weeks the insane idiot manager finally realised her daily incoherent emails were being ignored. She fired the entire staff. And got sued for non-payment of wages.

Last friday, Cavendish phoned me, desperate for teachers. To start on monday. Urgently, and did I mention they're desperate? How desperate? Desperate enough to pay my travel costs.

Different branch, different town, different manager, same piece-of-shit school.

Today (sunday), four of us TEFLers sat for five hours in a boiling room, listening to an "induction" on the labyrinthine rules for:

* calling the class register
* assessing the students
* getting assessed by students
* filling out plans for the day's leeson
* filling out different plans for the week's lessons
* filling out forms for what actually happened in each lesson
* ...and which part of the whiteboard is officually approved-of by inspectors for writing the date on.

So, starting monday I wake up at 4am, take a two hour train journey, spend four hours in a classroom, take another two hour journey back, sleep, and use the remaining hours for real life - pretending to plan lessons that don't need planning.

The question is, can I tolerate boiling hot classrooms, students hungry and exhausted for ramadan, and filling out mountains of paperwork giving meaningless answers to absurd questions...for six weeks?

Well, the money's pretty good, I generally get on well with students, and all that train travelling gives me a chance to catch up on a small backlog of six hundred podcasts I've got saved.

Life is all about priorities.

"A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece."

- Ludwig Erhard

"No one is surprised to read of barbarity in a book from a barbarous age."

- Robert M Price

"The art-house audience accepts lack of clarity as complexity."

- Pauline Kael

"Would you be thankful to a person who cut you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?"

- Dan Barker

"A flag is a symbol and I leave that to the symbol-minded."

- George Carlin

Every Saturday for the next 30 weeks, five quotations to ponder. There's no unifying theme to each set, or to the overall collection - except that they seem to me insightful, provocative, perverse or interesting for any other reason. I've randomised the order, on the principle that two randomly chosen fragments of text can sometimes spark off each other in unexpected ways. Enjoy.
"Women have been forced to fear whilst men have been forced to dare."

- George Bernard Shaw

"Good judgment comes from experience, and experience - well, that comes from poor judgment."

- A.A. Milne

"When you invite a middle-aged moralist to address you, I must conclude that you have a taste for middle-aged moralising."

- CS Lewis

"Every religion begins as the delusion of one or two people."

- Robert M Price

"If you're told what's the same but see what’s different, or told what's different but see what’s the same, you’re a scientist."

- Neil Degrasee Tyson

My Idea of Fun

I've spent the last three months trying and completely failing to make any music.

I've tried out virtual synths, put together my own virtual synths and drums, experimented with effects and signal paths, come up with a few possible solutions to mixing problems - and found reasons why the solutions don't work.

What I can't do is write a chord sequence, lay down a bassline, or come up with a vocal melody.

And I think the reason for this is very simple: It's no fun anymore.

When I say "fun" I mean "taking pleasure in a process, regardless of any end product". Some people shop for fun - and when they get home, find they're stuck with this thing they've bought. Flirting can be fun, even if it's with someone you can't have at the end of the night.

Fun is important. If you're learning a language, then the prospect of getting some gratification as a result of using it in a year's time is just too distant. Anyone who's become fluent in a second language will tell you: You'll never get good unless you fall in love with the language. And love is it's own reward.

I've been learning about textual criticism techniques, applied to the bible. Why? Some people insist they know my intentions better than I do, telling me they know I want to join the embrace of a mother church. In fact, there's absolutely nothing I want to get out of it - I've just found that I enjoy studying it, and following the reasoning of its experts.

I'm a problem-solver. Figuring out how to do something is interesting. Doing it...isn't. Don't get me wrong - I'm certainly not an expert in making music, but I know that, for instance...

...a good compression curve for a vocal line involves noise gating between -36dB and -48dB, applying softknee of ratio between 2:1 and 4:1 up to about -12dB, and preserving transients by squashing the dynamics above that by at most 2:1.

And if you didn't understand any of that - or if you understood and fundamentally disagreed - nevermind, because that's not the point. The point is: figuring out the numbers is fun; making up a song to apply them to is just a chore.

So, how can I make it fun again?

Saying "Concentrate on the pleasure you'll get from the finished song" is to completely miss the point. Saying "Set artificial limits on yourself, and see how well you can overcome them" is better...but I'm doing that anyway, and it's not enough.

You may by now have figured out that (1) I don't have an answer, and (2) finding a way to recapture the problem-solving fun is itself problem-solving fun - otherwise I wouldn't still be trying to do it. So applying any solution I come up with may itself suffer from...being no fun.


Somewhere on his blog, Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) lists things he used to believe, sorted by how old he was when he realised they weren't true. Here's my version.

00: ?
01: ?
02: ?
03: Adults know that children can see them.
04: Once you understand there's no reason to be afraid, fear vanishes.
05: Talking to yourself means you're mad.
06: My teacher knows what she's talking about.
07: Violence achieves nothing.
08: People appreciate honesty.
09: Nobody wants to be an outsider.
10: People are basically decent.
11: You can't gain real understanding from books.
12: True friendship is unconditional.
13: People know why they believe what they believe.
14: People can be persuaded with simple facts.
15: Being able to spell correctly and use big words makes you intelligent.
16: The official rules are the real rules.
17: There are two sides to every story.
18: Elegant ideas are truer than ugly ones.
19: Everyone realises you can't trust the police.
20: Being a parent makes you competent to raise children.
21: Money doesn't make you happy.
22: It's possible to be apolitical.
23: Drug users are damaged victims.
24: Once you know what's right, doing it is easy.
25: Overweight people are ignorant about health.
26: If someone loves you, they respect you.
27: You can repair psychological damage with kindness.
28: Losing faith means gaining reason.
29: The young are rebellious and the old are conservative.
30: Doing something for a long time makes you good at it.
31: You can't love humanity without loving humans.
32: Respecting a person means respecting their beliefs.
33: Everyone grows up eventually.
34: Memory is accurate and willpower is strong.
35: Only love that lasts is genuine.
36: The purpose of schools is education.
37: Science is the search for truth.
38: It's impossible to be mistaken about you own beliefs
39: Ruthless people are sadists.
40: Pleasure is sinful.
41: Reason has a method and unreason has none.
42: Doing what you love means doing it well.

Old Time Religion

I've been reading the bible.

Well, mostly I've been reading about the bible.

Well, mostly I've been reading about the process which led to the complilation of the book whose name just means "The Books".

But here's a thought. When reading the new testament in the original (or is it?) greek, the question is usually: What does this word mean in this context, and how does it affect the general message?

When you look at the old testament in hebrew, it's more often: What should this word be, once you put in the vowels and decide where the word and sentence boundaries are?

If you look at the quran in arabic, the question is: Where are the words?

By analogy, here's something in english:

This is the house that jack built. It is a very fine house.
Take out the spaces and punctuation, and you've got something like the greek new testament situation:

Now take out the vowels, and we're in old testament terriatory:

And now, remember that ancient arabic had a highly ambiguous alphabet, where one symbol could refer to three or four consonants:

Your challenge Mr Phelps, should you chose to accept it, is to take this stream of consonants, and turn it into a grammatically correct set of one or more sentences. And they've got to match the theology of your ruling sect at the time.

Oh, and although you're not supposed to admit it, you know it was written in many dialects by many amenuenses, some of them barely literate, who inevitably made mistakes even if they weren't, and some of who weren't above a little creative fraud.

So it's no accident that large sections of the quran are gibberish, and the best interpreters can do is make almost-grammatical word-salad...and then try to interpret it as pointlessly convoluted metaphor. Actually, each clause is several dozen pointlessly convoluted metaphors, because you've got a lot of doctrine to justify, and not much text.

But our muslim friends do have one advantage: There's only one version of the quran. Somewhere between 650 and 700CE (depending who you ask), the caliph Uthman compiled all the surviving scriptural fragment which were politically useful to him...and had all the others destroyed.

Compare with the new testament situation, where we have between 5,500 and 5,800 hand-copied fragments. A few are complete copies, some are entire letters or gospels, and most are bits of scrolls with holes in them.

And no two copies of the same text exactly agree.

There are about 400,000 textual variations. 99% are spelling differnces, slight paraphrases...or in some cases entire missing sentences left out by sleepy scribes. Of the remainder, 99% constitute minor doctrinal variations. Which means a few constitute major doctrinal variations.

Things like: Is there one god, two, three or thirty? Was Jesus a flesh-and-blood man, or a holy hologram? Is he the adoped son of god, or a "real" one, whatever that might mean? Is there a hell? And if there is, can we be saved by faith alone or by good works? Can women preach?

Is the afterlife an eternity playing a harp on a cloud telling god how wonderful he is? Or is your soul put into cold storage (purgatory?) until the end of the world, after which you get a new, perfect physical body on a new, perfect earth? The book of revelation says the latter.

If you're a non-jew converting to christianity, do you need to avoid bacon sandwiches and mutilate your genitals? Speaking of which, would you be closer to god if you cut them off entirely? On the other hand, should you seek out every experience god has made available to you?

Is now a good time to mention that at least six of Paul's thirteen epistles are almost-definite forgeries?

Surely though, if you go back to the earliest versions, that should tell you what the original writers really said. Good luck. In the first 1000 years, there are about 300 fragments. In the first 200, a grand total of four. And in the first century...exactly zero.

Oh, and the earlier you go, the more variation there is. Apologists acknowledge this and like to claim the original inspired wording must be scattered among the variations because...actually they don't give a reason.

The odd thing is, all of this is mainstream in the world of biblical scholarship. Which is composed mainly of committed believers. So, before you start to study a subject, expect to find two things. First, everything the general public know is wrong. Second, an expert is someone who knows what's almost certainly not true, not someone who's absolutely confident what is.

Frapped with Gold

The Strict Machines. Possibly the world's only skatepunk/flamenco fusion band.

Together in the early noughties, they somehow found time in their busy schedule of acrimoniously splitting up and reforming to write an amazing number of songs...a very few of which they got around to recording.

Guess who held the microphone? And did the mixing, mastering, pressing, sleeve design etc. Yes, and today I stumbled on the second and final EP I did for them.

So here they are, The Stict Machines:


I've been experimenting with spoken-word recordings. This is me reading "The Thing in the Moonlight", by HP Lovecraft.

Thing 3: Big Boy

Yes, I'm still here.

It's just that I've spent the last two months failing to do a lot of things. Failing to find work, failing to get support from the government, failing to master video editing software, and failing to make any more music.

I succeeded in writing some short horror stories...that failed to horrify anyone.

And so...another failure....

Allow me to introduce: My boyfriend.

I do have friends-with-benefits (and indeed wives), but this is the one that lives with me. This is the one I can go to sleep next to. This is the one I don't mind kissing.

He's seven inches long, and made from two layers of high-quality silicone - a hard inner layer and a softer outer one for that "realistic fleshy" texture. His name's "Johnny", he's made by Vixskin,and I picked him up online - cut-price from Uberkinky.

You can clean him by soaking in bleach, or boiling in the kettle for two minutes - which gets him really hot and wet.

I'd been promising myself something like him for over a year, so yes, anticipation is always better than reality.

Like most boyfriends, he's a total dick. He's designed to feel like human skin, which he does...albeit human skin covered in raspberry jam and smelling slightly rubbery.

Oh yes, and he's too big for me.

I have two major orifices, and he's too wide to fit into either of them. Which is why most of the time, we're happy just to cuddle.

Thing 2: Magic Mike

You can have a professional recording studio in your laptop.

Actually, you can have a software version of the kind of luxury studio that would have cost millions 20 years ago. You can have compressors, EQs and reverb on every drum. De-essers, chorusing and saturation on each backing singer. For a few dozen pounds or dollars or euros, you can have a replica of an effects box that you heard on a hundred top 40 hits...but which only exists in ten studios because they only made ten of them.

So why do almost all the tracks made in bedrooms still sound crap? Well, two reasons. One, it's one thing to have great bits of kit - it's quite another to know how to use it to make great bits of music.

And two...some hardware can't be reincarnated as software. Like microphones. There's a reason why producers still spend absurd amounts of cash on a vibrating membrane in a metal cage with a fluffy coat. There's a reason there's so much voodoo and bullshit about how this brand of mic has a mysterious magical extra ingredient that the other one doesn't.

Even if they do all the recording onto a hard drive using Cubase or Sonar or Reason, any sounds that come from the real world have to go through a microphone, and all the clever software in the world can only do so much to compensate for a lousy signal.

High noise floor, low top end, 50Hz hum, hiss and crackle - all things which turn a vocal performance into a fuzzy mess. And not the funky kind of fuzzy rock'n'roll mess either.

This is my microphone.

Actually, I've got a dozen or so, but this is the one I use.

Yes, it's from a broken headset, and it's superglued onto the remains of a different broken headset.

And this is the mic from a second one, superglued onto another broken frame.

And this is Mark II of the first one, superglued onto...yes, a third one. If you see what I mean.

You see, some years ago I wandered into a computer shop on the off-chance they might have a decent microphone. What they had were big, hugely padded headsets for GBP10.

They refused to fit, they hurt my ears, they were too quiet, they were made of plastic with somewhat lower tensile strength than the cardboard packaging, and they fell apart in a month.

So I got another one, because the little microphone was bizarrely brilliant. The second headset didn't even last a week.

Some years later, I had a box of old headsets with rubbishy microphones, and a pair of good but rather silly-looking mics with no headsets. And a pair of scissors, and a tube of glue.

The result is either the Lovecraftian abomination of the audio consumer world, or the surprising alternative to spending a few hundred pounds that I don't have.

Thing 1: Pinky Piggy

Welcome to my new mini-series on "Things". In which I show you seven of my "Things", largely as an excuse to tell the stories behind them.

Today, my latest mascot.

My parents own a holiday bungalow. The idea was that they buy the home, rent it out, and live on the proceeds in their retirement. The reality needs constant maintenence and gets booked only a few weeks a year - which pays just enough to cover the maintenence.

The rest of the time, we've got a place to relax, eat, sleep, look at the scenery, watch TV, browse the internet and bicker. Yes, we can do all these things at home, on bigger TVs, with faster net connections and more comfortable beds, but...

...but well, there's two kinds of holidays. There's the kind where you do things you'd never do at home - rock climbing, swimming with dolphins, trawling the red light district etc. And there's the kind where you do what you'd do anyway, but away from the stress of it all. Escaping to a simpler, calmer world. I think this is meant to be the second kind.

Oh, it is pretty quiet and relaxing, because the bungalow is in a large estate of identical bungalows, all equally vacant most of the year.

It was built on a part of the coast which, according to experts paid to tell business people what they want to hear, wasn't slowly crumbling into the sea. So we get to sit on the porch, watching the cliff edge get imperceptibly closer as it, um, crumbles into the sea.

Last month, we took a car full of frozen food and excitable dogs to our retreat, with the plan to get hungry by walking the dogs, get sleepy by eating the food, and get rested by sleeping off both...before driving back for more food and more sleep. This is the English version of a day out.

So, with dogs muddied from their walk, and the nice new carpet muddied from the dogs, we started to cook the hamburgers. Then all the electricity shut off. We found the junction box, confirmed that some kind of safety cutoff had engaged...and disengaged it.

We started the hamburgers again. All the electricity shut off. Yes, there was definitely something wrong about the cooker. So we microwaved the burgers and phoned the letting agent.

Who agreed that yes, the cooker with the non-working timer, non-working mysterious unmarked dials, and badly working grill...probably wasn't working properly. And needed replacing.

So yesterday we again took the two hour journey to our three-star place of escape from the cares of the world, stopping off to manhandle a "new" second-hand cooker into the back of the car, manhandled it out again and into the bungalow, manhandled the old one into the car, and drove to the site of recycleing/disposal to manhandle it into the big steel box marked "Metal Appliances".

Whoever the man was, he was well handled that day.

But there, next to the "Metal Appliances" notice, adorable stuffed toy pig.

Mascot to the men who worked there, but they were happy to let me have it - and the pig (hur hur) - provided I promised to "feed him well".

Which I the dogs, who have been merrily fighting over their new toy ever since.

Tomorrow, another Thing.

Introspective Behavior, Please

To see yourself as others see you.

Or...through a glass darkly. their odd little sidelines from other projects shall you know them.

(Click to view the inside of my mind at full size)

Crimes of the Near Future

Coming Soon...

I've finished the songs.

Which is to say, I've

(1) Come up with backing tracks, and remixed them...quite a lot. Usually this involves changing one thing at a time until I realise the riff or sound I started with is the one which doesn't belong.

(2) Written a load of (pseudo)lyrics. Eroswings suggested I try doing scat singing - in fact that's more-or-less what I'd planned from the beginning. I come up with a basic vocal melody, and I've written a little program to generate nonsense words, which I can fit to it.

(3) Recorded them. This involves packing my laptop and a crappy old microphone to the garage, where I can make strange vocal noise without anyone overhearing and thinking I'm having a nervous breakdown in Farsi.

(4) Processed them within and inch of their lives. Now, the thing is, I'm a pretty terrible singer. On a good day, I can harmonise to a monotone - which is what I do in recording.

I then run the recording through a compressor, a gate, a denoiser and a pitch corrector - this last to wrench my wandering pitch to 110Hz, aka concert pitch A2. I can then use an offline pitch-shifter to move the pitch of individual syllables around, making a little melody.

Honestly, it would be easier to use a vocoder.

(5) The difficult bit. Arranged my vocals over the music, EQing them so everything's clear, and adding reverb, chorus, tape saturation and whatever effects seem like a good idea at the time.

(6) Taken my five - yes, five - songs, and mixed them into a continuous, er, mix.

Stage (7) will be: Upload the result to youtube.

I'm going to wait a few hours before (7). So I can listen with a fresh pair of ears, do any last minute tweaking, and not rush into deciding this is the final, finished product

After all that, I'm not entirely happy - I made a lot of mistakes, and hopefully learned from them. This EP (11 or 12 minutes) is a practice run, and I reckon I can do the next one much better.

So, at midnight on March 1st, as promised...


I have five pieces of backing music composed.

I have some lyrics (of a sort) to go over them.

I have the time and equipment to record and mix them.

Unfortunately I'm

(1) Very good at inventing distractions
(2) Dealing with a lot of bureaucratic shit
(3) Suffering from a six-week cold
(4) Thus unable to sing
(5) Far more nerishly excited by the prospect of redesigning my virtual studio for the fifth time in a month than actually using it
(6) Going through my annual period of depression, and
(7) Really, very good at inventing distractions

However, I'm hereby making a solomn promise to my blog that I'll start recording within the next 24 hours.

That's the trouble with having no god to be ashamed in front of, no social circle to be pressured by, and no neurotic need to make my parents proud. The only person pushing me is me.

And I'm not very pushy.


Two things we tend to believe about computers:
1) Every year they'll get faster, more powerful, and maybe even easier to use. The same for software.
2) Most people will be up to date.

Which is odd, because neither has been true for well over a decade. In fact, they may never have been true.

In the 1970s it was a rule of thumb that every year there would be a new generation of hardware on the market, and it would be ten times the speed of the previous year.

Estimating computation speed has never been an exact science. You can chose CPU-cycles, gigaflops, or MIPS as your yardstick, all giving different results. And in any case, two systems which run at the same speed for one task might have very different results for another.

But as a rule of thumb, it worked. Every year, add a zero to your chosen measure of speed.

In the 1990s, the rule was: Every year, speed doubles. And the unspoken implication was: Speed will continue to double for evermore.

Which in retrospect made no sense at all.

If you imagine a nation where every 30 years the population doubles, then to feed everyone you'd need the production of food to double in the same time.

But if it takes X amount of ingenuity to multiply food productivity by will take X times 2 ingenuity to multiply it by four. Which means every 30 years, you have to be twice as clever. And then twice again.

Like the Red Queen said, you have to run twice as fast just to stay where you are.

Even if you're dumb enough to think you can double scientific progress by doubling the number of scientists - or doubling their wages - it's still not sustainable.

In any case, the implicit assumption would be that scientific progress is a never-ending road, which itself assumes that the universe is infinitely malleable, if only we can get smart enough. Infinitely smart in fact - which I'm pretty sure is a meaningless phrase.

Odd how we can believe obviously false things just by not quite stating them explicitly. Clarity is the enemy of the ideologue.

The world of computing hit the brick wall of unmalleable reality around the year 2000. Unless someone found a way to increase the speed of light, or shrink atoms, electricity couldn't be made to flow faster through wires.

We got hyperthreading - a way to shoehorn two short instructions into the space of one long instruction.

We got the botched implementation of 64-bit processing, which had the big selling point that arithmetic with literally astronomical figures was now slightly easier.

And we got multiple cores - a tacit admission that CPUs couldn't be made faster...and the best we could do was run several in parallel, hoping that those tasks which didn't have to be run in sequence could run concurrently...and the results reintegrated by clever shuffling.

My 64-bit laptop has eight cores. Which is to say it has four hyperthreaded CPUs.

Which leaves only the problem that most software is still 32-bit, and most either can't handle multicore processing, or runs tasks that can't be split into several parallel streams.

The focus in computer development is now away from vainly trying to squeeze ever decreasing efficiencies out of silicon and copper.

The USB3 standard is ten times the speed of USB2.1 - but the new faster data streams still have to be funnelled through the same CPU.

Screens are wider - mine is 17.5 inches. Good for watching widescreen TV - in fact it's rather difficult to buy a small flatscreen plasma monitor for your PC. They can't make them much better, so the new notion of an upgrade is to make them bigger.

Mouses, MIDI keyboards and headsets can now be wireless. Which means you get the slight convenience that wires which occasionally got don't. And you can now sit on the other side of the room, listening to your MP3s through bluetooth.

Old, obsolete, slow processors are reincarnated in netbooks and iPhones - where you can do what you did 20 years ago, at the speed of 10 years ago, but mobile, and on a very small screen. And pay for the experience.

It's a similar story with software, and operating systems.

Windows 8 was essentially Windows 7 with a new interface. An incredibly annoying, hard to use, badly thought-out interface, marketed on the bizarre assumptions that (a) everyone had touchscreen technology, (b) everyone wanted to use touchscreen technology, and (c) using a touchscreen to operate software designed to use a mouse...was somehow better.

It also pointlessly rearranged the configuration options, on the grounds that moving around the items in your shelves is the next best thing to getting better items.

Windows 8.1 made the further advance of bringing back some of the useful features which 8 had taken out.

"Bloatware" is the name we give to small, useful programs which acquire large, useless extra features. The alternative to bloating is to repackage the same program with the exact same functions, but with snazzier graphics and call it an upgrade.

Which is probably why our second belief is false. People aren't up to date.

Why use MS Office 2014 when MS Office 2003 does everything you could possibly want? Actually, MS Office '97 was all you needed, and it almost never crashed - but it won't install on your new system.

Why use Reason 7 when Reason 5 runs without a freaking dongle, and everything Reason 7 can do that Reason 5 can't do anyway in Reaper?

More to the point, why install new versions of old Firefox plugins, knowing the new versions cause crashes with your other plugins?

I grudgingly moved from Windows XP to Windows 7, mainly becuase my new 8-core widescren laptop cannot run XP. The BIOS simply doesn't have the option to use the old IDE filing system - it can only use the admittedly better AHCI.

So I'm now running Windows 7 made up to look like XP.

Except half of my XP programs won't run under 7 - in spite of Microsoft's insistence that they can, in 7's "compatibility modes'.

Which means, for those XP programs which don't have a 7 replacement, I'm running them in a virtual machine.

And finally, being up to date is expensive. And most people haven't got much money.

Out of date software that people still use is called "legacy" software, and the dirty open secret is that pretty much everyone is a legacy user.

Like in Blade Runner, the future is old. In the future, we'll all live in the past.

FAWM 2014 Day 5

Five days of rain.

One change of bank account, one bureaucratic screw-up, five telephone calls to fix it, three assurances from three bureaucrats that it's all the fault of a different bureaucrat.

One rhinovirus, four types of pills, three days with a head full of cotton wool and a nose full of concrete.

One laptop virus, one complete reinstall of Windows.

Two backing tracks composed, no lyrics written.

One slight change of plan: I reckon I can do an EP in a month? Five songs?

FAWM 2014 Day 1

Things that can get in the way of your first day of composing:
  • Staying up till 4am the night before, watching consecutive episodes of "Castle" - even though you're coming to hate all the characters
  • Having a cold, a sore throat, and generally feeling a bit meh...when you wake up at midday
  • Headphones developing a dry joint and not working -
  • Realising the TR808-style drums you made yesterday are a bit rubbish -
  • Coming up with a backing track loosely inspired by Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough"...and then realising you've spent two hours making a bad pastiche of, um,  Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough".
Nevermind. As someone said, "An expert is someone who's made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field". So I'm several points closer to being an expert. Making mistakes is easy. Recognising them is easy for anyone who isn't an idiot. The hard part is not doing them again.