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!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

On the Left!

I just took a political spectrum quiz on Facebook. Apparently, on a scale of left to right from -10 to +10, I am a moderate lefty at -4.7!

Stupid American scaling. I'd probably be virtually dead centre of the UK spectrum. It's just that the moderate right of America are so conservative compared to the moderate right of the UK it just shifts everything sideways... probably...

I'm still more likely to vote Conservative than Labour in the next general election anyway, even if I am a massive lefty. (Actually I'll almost certainly vote for the current Independent MP if he stands again as he lacks the sleaze and dishonour of most politicians.)

Actually this post was meant to be largely focused on something else...

I find it so annoying in the situation where I'm walking through an area with bodies/furniture/walls on both sides, someone's walking towards me, there's just enough room for us to pass without either of us breaking stride, but we're both approaching pretty centrally. What frustrates me is when that person then moves to their right as if to pass. But that's my right of way, surely?

This is the UK and we drive on the left and catch trains on the left platform. At middle school we were even told to walk on the left-hand side of the corridor! Why should people break with that unwritten rule as extended to everyday pedestrian dilemmas? We would then avoid the 5 second-long awkwardness where both people alternate sides until one person politely lets the other past.

Why, people, why?


Monday, 3 August 2009

On In-Jokes... Continued!

So there must be millions upon millions of in-jokes out there, only known to a select few. (I myself probably contribute towards around 1000 of these!) I find this in itself fascinating as it goes a long way to showing how subjective something like humour is, and yet there exist other breeds of humour which transcend contextual boundaries to be enjoyed by millions. Some things we find funny transcend even language and cultural boundaries.

Actually, a few things have crossed the boundary from being in-jokes to being well-known and appreciated by the wider public, things that in my opinion have made the world a sillier and altogether slightly better place...
  1. Lolcats

    Of all the image macros which usually originate somewhere like the Something Awful forums or YTMND, and are more often than not perpetuated ad nauseam on 4chan, lolcats are the most famous in the public domain (although not necessarily the funniest). Basically follow the pattern of about 0.01% of in-jokes on internet forums in that they are created by geeks with not much else to do with their time before being picked up by the masses for some kind of cutesy appeal. Still the humour in adding captions to the natural funny nature of cats' expressions has apparently been know since Victorian times, even though it didn't really become more mainstream until the popularisation of "I can has cheezburger?". The best formula for a lolcat is evidently improper use of the English language, a cat with a daft face or in a stupid position, and often a reference to popular culture.

  2. The Wilhelm Scream

    Which is a sound effect used in a lot of movies or cartoons when a character falls a great distance or in other similar scenarios. For a long time it held in-joke status among film sound deigners when one of their number took a tape labelled "man being eaten by alligator" from the little-known film Distant Drums, and started to incorporate the effect into the movies he was mixing, including notable George Lucas films such as Star Wars. As it has now been incorporated by geeky film crews into over 100 movies, awareness of the soundbite has increased, and it is now something that true film buffs keep an ear out for at in every new movie.

  3. Where the Hell is Matt?

    Three of my favourite videos on the world wide web have been contributed by former software developer Matt Harding who, bored of programming games where the object was to destroy the world, decided to travel around it to appreciate its beauty instead. Apparently, he was known among his peers for a silly dance he would perform at office parties. This led to him being prompted to perform this dance at the various locations he would visit while being filmed on video by one of his travelling buddies. The first video was a surprise internet hit, and led to a sponsorship agreement with gum company Stride for a second trip with an even more impressive backdrop. With so many responses asking him to go to various countries so they could join in, they decided to film a third video in which anybody would be able to join in dancing with Matt if they wanted to.

    The results are amazing. The joy on people's faces at doing something completely silly is evident for all to see. I defy you not to smile :-D

Sunday, 2 August 2009

On Anthropomorphic Food...

I don't know whether it's just me or whether it is just something about the human psyche, but whenever I eat food that takes on the appearance of something with a face, I always end up eating around the head/face and saving that part till last. It's almost as if I'm allowing it still to remain anthropomorphic, allowing it to experience its last seconds on Earth, until the last. possible. moment.

This actually sounds unbelievably stupid... especially given that I'm an avid meat-eater. Having said that, how many people do you know who eat a Lindt Bunny head first?

And could you bring yourself to eat a piece of cake that looked like this?!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

On Alanis Morissette...

From time to time I feel the urge to buy on CD what tend to be described as "classic" albums. Previous urges have led me to buy such history-making albums as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Dark Side of the Moon, and Nevermind.

This time, I decided to buy Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette.

So I've been sitting here in the study, checking my e-mails and catching up on my blogging while listening to the album all the way through, as is a requisite to truly appreciate a "classic" album. Needless to say, it is angst-ridden brilliance! I probably can't add anything that people haven;t said about this album before but I think the track You Oughta Know stands out as one of my favourite moments. The bitterness in Morissette's singing really comes through. That, coupled with guest appearances from Flea and Dave Navarro from RHCP fame on bass and guitar respectively, probably make it one of the best [breakup] songs ever!

While listening to it I looked up her discography and was surprised to find out that when she was 16, she was a dance-pop sensation in Canada! Never saw that one coming...

No. I didn't see Matt LeBlanc coming either...