Thursday, 15 September 2011

On Buying Cutlery...

Now heading into my sixth year as a university student I am more than aware that if one doesn't keep track of one's own cutlery then it is quite likely to go missing (and judging by the hygiene standards in the kitchens of my time, there is less probability that this has anything to do with theft than the possibility of my knives and spoons growing legs and walking out.) After a further recent utensil heist, I took it upon myself to go to the local department store to buy a new knife and fork.

Now, here's the problem...

I thought, while I was there, I'd start a new chapter in my culinary life and buy an entirely new kitchen set of cutlery and crockery to cater for all my self-catering needs. Alas, I was aghast to be informed by the ever-pleasant Boswell's staff that no such set exists! Well, that's OK I begrudgingly suppose, I'll just buy an all-encompassing set of cutlery... wait, what?! Those don't exist either?

Essentially all I'm asking for is for a pack containing a knife, a fork, a dessert spoon and maybe a teaspoon. (Perhaps a deluxe version could contain some extras like a paring knife, some chopsticks or a spork?) Anyway, selling cutlery in such a way seems to me to make inherently more sense than the only cutlery packs available which contain five forks or five knives or whatever. At least, then I would not be constrained to have parties for dinner comprising only multiples of 5 people!

What's the big deal here? Surely in Oxford, a city where a large proportion of the cutlery-buying population will be students, there exists a market for such complete packs of cutlery?

Suffice to say, I ended up buying a solitary knife and a solitary fork. I guess any guests I have will have to do with their fingers...

Monday, 17 August 2009

On Friends...

The epic is over. Let me explain...

Earlier this year, when I'd come back late afternoon from doing long days of genetics experiments in a laboratory, not knowing how long my university project would take to finish, I would come back to college and relax for a short while by seeing if there were any episodes of Friends on satellite channel E4 which I could watch to unwind and feel happy about the world again.

In fact, I'd used Friends for this purpose for a long time. I think I got into it when I was about 15, when I got hooked one Easter holiday from school. I'd watch T4 mornings on Channel 4 and they'd broadcast 2 episodes every day throughout the school holidays. In fact, I ended up watching the final ninth and tenth seasons when they were being broadcast for the first time in the UK on Friday evenings, so I'm very glad I caught it during its original run.

Further to this, I used to catch the first halves of episodes on weekdays before I'd have to leave to catch the train to go to high school when studying for my GCSEs and A-levels. These were good times.

However, going back to earlier this year, coming back from the lab one day, and finding myself catching the last 3 episodes of the final series, I thought I'd go back to my room and try to find the pilot online to see how much it had changed over the years. This made me realise that I'd only seen patchy collections of episodes, and although I may have seen runs of consecutive episodes, I wasn't watching it in such a way that I could best appreciate the humoir and storylines that I knew ran from the start to the end of the 10 series.

So I embarked on a quest to watch all 236 episodes in order online, which has lasted me almost 6 months to this day...

Friends has to be one of the best sitcoms ever, if only for its continually good standard over its ten-year run. Watching from the start in order really endears you to the characters and the plots in that you actually care about what happens to them more. That said, it is what it is, an enjoyable comedic story that gives you a good laugh. (Although it did almost start affecting my real life at one point when I nearly started renting a flat above a coffee shop!)

During this run I stopped myself from doing several other things I will do in the near future:
  1. Buy the Friends DVDs to watch them in a legit way. I will now at some point buy the complete collection (15th anniversary edition), so the makers will get their money back from my enjoyment...
  2. Complete the Sporcle quizzes on Friends episodes and Friends guest stars.
  3. Download the official Friends screensaver.
Oh by the way, watching long-running TV shows like this is very rewarding if done in moderation. But take my advice: at somepoint find some non-spoiler synopses and look for a pretty inconsequential episode in the middle of a series. Skip it. I say I watched all 236, but I've actually saved one from the fifth series which I will watch on a rainy day in the future and be grateful for experiencing one more episode for the first time. That will be a happy day...

Sunday, 16 August 2009

On 9.58...

So, having watched Usain Bolt on this day last year in the Beijing Olympics men's 100m final I was in awe as the apparently drug-free Bolt destroyed the competition to win with a world record time of 9.69 when he clearly wasn't concentrating over the last 20m and wasn't going flat out - the showman that he is. So you might say my reaction was a bit like this...

So today, it was another big occasion - the 100m final of the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, and watching his heats, I could feel that he might do something special in the final should he go flat out.


WTF?! That is like over a tenth off the current record! In an event where the record had never been broken by more than 0.05 seconds since digital timing started! And in a headwind too!

Scientists are always coming up with new models for how fast the human race can run 100m, i.e. the limits of human possibility. They started revising these models when Bolt ran 9.69 seconds; the may as well throw them out of the window now! Let's see what he can do in the 200m...

Sunday, 9 August 2009

On Purple...

It's nice to know that, even in the ever-changing world of the world wide web, some things stay relatively constant over time. It gives us a sense of security. It's also nice to know that, even in the ever-more-advanced world of the world wide web, some things are as technologically simple as they always used to be.

With this in mind, I bring to you a screenshot of the current page one is redirected to when visiting, as well as a link to the Wayback Machine's archive of the same website over the last 11+ years. Awesome!

Friday, 7 August 2009

On Chelsea Fans...

I wonder if there's any top division football club in the world where fewer fans filling the stadium each week actually come from the area the club is representing...

Kensington and Chelsea only has 159,000 residents and the team's football stadium isn't even in the same borough!

That is all.

What - were you expecting something more controversial?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

On The Count of Tuscany...

That is to say the last track off Dream Theater's new album Black Clouds and Silver Linings

I've been listening to this album a lot since I bought it a few weeks ago and it really gets better with repeated listens (even though the track they chose to be the single is probably the least good in my opinion.) It is in my own and indeed many fans' opinions their best album for a decade. I personally think The Count of Tuscany is their best track since the 45-minute titular epic from the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence album.

This track is just so balanced. It starts off with a really nice broken chord acoustic theme. In fact, the first chord is a minor 9th! After a wonderfully tasteful lead guitar solo this then leads up to a driving metal section where the vocals kick in. Granted, John Petrucci's lyrics are pretty appallingly bad, but the musical talent makes this not so much of an issue - I even don't mind the slightly unmelodic Mike Portnoy vocals on this track! You then get the obligatory technical wizardry section from all four instrumentalists before another tasteful guitar solo brings in a very, very chilled volume-swelled guitar section which conjured up memories of Pink Floyd and Yes - actually gives me goosebumps!

From there on starts the best ending to a prog epic I have ever heard, building up into a repeat of the opening solo and theme above some beautiful keyboard patch harmonies. I am so buzzed about the prospect of hopefully playing this one day with some friends at university.

Here is the first half of the track. But if you don't have time for an epic 19-minute prog song, just press play on the second half down below and appreciate it while it is on in the background! Also the comments for that video form one of the greatest threads ever...

Oh, and actually go and buy the album! It's a good time to get into Dream Theater!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

On Lazy Songwriting...

Another thing which consistently manages to grind my gears is lazy songwriting. As far as I can tell, this is divided onto two categories:
  1. Throwaway music deliberately written to sell records. Usually songs of this type re written my some kind of mogul like Pete Waterman, involve the same old chords rehashed into one of about three different orders, melodies repeated in descending sequences, and a cheerful and bubbly vocalist/group of vocalists whose image is probably better than their pre-autotuned voices.
  2. Rip-off music, made by people who don't have any original ideas or whose original ideas are musically worse than those songs of category 1. So they pilfer, copy, and/or blatantly steal ideas from previously recorded songs often with a well-worked formula for shifting records without giving any credit where it's due.
Now I suppose I don't have a problem with the concept of songs of category 1 per se. It's not like I buy most records of that ilk and if someone has the knack of writing hit records, I'm not one to begrudge them of making a shedload of money out of it.

Songs of category 2 are the ones I am really against. It just really is the laziest possible way to squeeze money out of the music business. The most annoying thing about it is that, so much of the time, these lazy songwriters get away with it because they have powerhouse legal teams.

Just to be absolutely clear about the sort of thing I really dislike, I'll take a moment to make clear what I think should be allowed:
  • Covers - which are required by law to give credit to their original songwriters so they aren't really an issue for me. Covers allow bands just starting out to get more well-known, especially if they release something which sticks very rigidly to the original whereby the band gets credit for their competent playing abilities, or if they release something which breathes fresh life into the song they are covering by approaching it in a totally different way which of course involves some degree of originality.
  • Sampling - Because it actually takes skill and originality to see the potential in just small clips of existing audio material and presenting it in a totally different context. Fatboy Slim and Timbaland have made an art form out of this, among others. Oh, and of course, where something is sampled, credit is once again legally due.
  • Classical Chord Sequences - Because some chord sequences are so entrenched in Western musicality that they will keep up coming up again and again whether people intend it to or not. (Also it would be impossible to police.) Examples include, the chord sequence of Pachelbel's Canon, (the use of which in popular music is lampooned excellently in this clip,) the classic cycle of fifths sequence used in hits such as I Will Survive, the twelve-bar blues sequence, and the chord sequence made popular by the Eagles' Hotel California.
I think that within these guidelines, songwriters have a responsibility of being aware when their songs are using exactly the same chord sequences or melodic ideas as another song and subsequently altering their material to avoid any conflict of interest. I'd have thought that any songwriters worth their salt wouldn;t want their material sounding the same as anybody else's anyway. I'm just a casual creator of music but I know if I'm composing and I think it sounds pretty similar to a piece of music I already know, I'll be so frustrated at myself that I have go back to change it into something that sounds deliberately less familiar. Actually, if it sounds like something else, that is OK. It's typically allowed to pay homage to something as long as no passages sound the same as that of which you are attempting to create a pastiche.

Some songwriters seem to have negated this responsibility. Whether or not they have broken the law is up to the courts to decide. I don't know who *cough* wrote Paris Hilton's "Stars Are Blind" but everything about it sounds awfully similar to UB40's "Kingston Town"...

And Cascada... how lazy are you for copying yourself ?!

I even think I spotted more lazy songwriting on the radio this week. Please compare Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" with French pop singer Alizée's single "Jen Ai Marre" from several years ago.

You heard that here first!