Raging Against the World

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Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Joy of Sharing

I’ve neglected to mention Spotify before, but when a friend mentioned it to me earlier this year I decided to check it out… and BOY was I blown away.  You know how when you’re talking to someone online and you mention a piece of music to them and they say they’ve never heard of it? 

Usually you turn to Youtube, search down a link to the song you want and pass it along.  And 9 times out of 10 you get a poor-quality video or soundtrack, or horror of horrors, a video someone’s made themselves.  And it’s disappointing.  You say to them “Don’t watch the video, just listen to the music”, but you know they’re watching and not listening to the majesty of the tune and the lyrics.  Or it’s MONO.   That’s if you can find the song you want.  Or perhaps you find the song, but ohhh it’s a very poor alternative version to the one you like.  That’s presuming they don’t have a low bitrate and they have to wait for the whole video to load up first. 

Well Spotify is the future.  You search for a song, or artist or album track and click on whatever you get in the search options.  And it plays instantly.  In very good qualityThis is what the internet is for.  This is what we were promised back in the 90s.  The range of artists is HUGE, but not complete, yet…  The Beatles aren’t there, I can’t find my favourite band, Salad, but it’s only a matter of time before the record companies hammer out a deal with Spotify and all these are available.  Have patience, the choices already there are vast.  But Spotify doesn’t stop there, oh no. 

You can make playlists and link people to your playlists.  Excellent, you can spend hours making a virtual “mix tape” like we did back in our youth.  But instead of picking songs that’ll fit on a C90 you can have as many as you like.  Below I’ll link you to a 60-track 4hr playlist I made of the biggest hits of my childhood.  But that’s not all… 

Spotify have made shared playlists.  You can add tracks to a playlist and the person you’re sharing it with can add tracks too.  You can both add and delete to your heart’s content.  Anyone else you link it to can do the same.  You could have a gang of ten of you making a superamazing playlist.  At Christmas someone I know on Twitter made a Christmas playlist and asked us all to chip in with our songs!  But that’s not all… 

You can get it on your iPhone too.  Also Android and Symbian networks.  At present not all countries can use it, but this statement

I’m going to travel outside my profile country, can I use Spotify there?
If you are a free user you can log in abroad for up to 14 days. If you are traveling for a longer period, you might consider a Premium subscription. Premium users are licensed for unlimited travel. You would be able to enjoy Spotify, without ads, in any country…

means you probably can.  If not, you can bet it’s only a matter of time. 

a typical Spotify screen

But that’s not all.  It scrobbles to LastFM.  You can link people to a particular track, or an album or an artist.  Each album has a description and a review.  You could never look at McCartney II and not know it’s from 1980.  It’s simply a masterful resource. 

Oh, and it’s FREE.  you do get minimal advertising every now and then, but if you purchase the Premium version these go away. 

Here’s a link to one of my playlists.  Try it and let me know what you think.


Today’s mental spam #3

subject: Ng that if she went by the more regular way, she would have run the risk of dis 

go through the usual process of reasoning, and by it feel assured that the feet which were coming so softly and swiftly along were the same which she had heard leaving the room in like manner only a quarter of an hour before. Her father entered, and started back, almost upsetting some one behind him by his recoil, on seeing his daughter in her motionless attitude by the dead man. “My God, Ellinor! what has brought you here?”

he said, almost fiercely. But she answered as one stupefied, “I don’t know. Is he dead?” “Hush, hush, child; it cannot be helped.” She raised her eyes to the solemn, pitying, awe-stricken face behind her father’s–the countenance of Dixon. “Is he dead?” she asked of him. The man stepped forwards, respectfully pushing his master on one side as he did so. He bent down over the corpse, and looked, and listened and then reaching a candle off the table, he signed Mr. Wilkins to close the door. And Mr. Wilkins obeyed, and looked with an intensity of eagerness almost amounting to faintness on the experiment, and yet he could not hope. The flame was steady–steady and pitilessly unstirred, even when it was adjusted close to mouth and nostril; the head was raised up by one of Dixon’s stalwart arms, while he held the candle in the other hand. Ellinor fancied that there was some trembling on Dixon’s part,

I like Americans, but…

…please stop saying “across the pond” – it’s really irritating.

On your marks…

People from different countries don’t speak the same language. Every country has a second language, a common language. Historically the language is usually French, but times the rise of the internet has caused a modern phenomenon. There has been a shift, a seismic shift. Ignore the people who’ll tell you Chinese languages are the most common, that’s only in China and the smaller Asiatic countries nearby. Nowadays the most spoken language worldwide is English. However, the British cannot pat themselves on the back about the world finally coming to its senses, haha, oh no.

Because it is not English, but American English. Where the American foreign policy has failed, they have won the legacy of language. It is now common, no matter how saddening it is, for the young of Britain to utter such limited epithets of the American tongue as “awesome!” and “that sucks”. I have even heard people in their 30s “give props”. Oh dear. It’s here to stay I fear, and no amount of correction from pedants like me will stop the inaccuracies and unpoetic nature of the American language in the avalanche.

But where this trend really annoys is internet ratings. The British have always marked out of 10. The Americans, it seems, always mark out of 5. Now if you really want a limited structure of expressing your approval then the 5-star system is right for you. The British 7/10 or 3/10 is far more flexible. You can say “I really really like this” by giving 9/10, thus giving you wiggle room should anything better come along at a later date. This, you don’t get with 5/5. Unless you cheat.

People cheat a lot on the 5-star system and this is why it’s not workable for me. They’ll vote 4½ stars without any sense of irony. I heard someone reviewing a television story today as 2½ out of 5. It’s meaningless. 5/10 would be a far simpler mark, which even to those who aren’t good with maths (that’s right, Maths, not “math”) can see is clearly more simple.

So Blockbuster, Youtube and a myriad of other sites, you’re not for me. It is a sort of cultural pollution and I will obstinately continue to rank out of 10. And another thing: why not allow people to vote 0/10? The minimum 1 star is just silly.

EDIT: The podcast was Cadmium 2, otherwise a very good podcast. Also this week I heard another podcast (The Whovian Quest) give 8½ out of TEN! Madness.

Twit of the Week!

You know sometimes a remark taken out of context sounds completely mad.  However, this one makes me giggle.

“I would call down the flakes from the ether for that deal, but then I don’t think you’ve eaten your Christmas tree yet.”

It does make perfect sense in context, however.

The Book’s Bad. Very Bad.

I heard someone recommend the recent Sebastian Faulks’s James Bond book and decided that if they thought it was very good then I would probably like it too.  Apparently it has gone down well in the Bond circles.  I have heard people in the past refer to Sebastian Faulks in tones of admiration so I figured this was a good thing.

Rather in the same way in which people are referring to an upcoming Doctor Who episode written by Michael Moorcock, the respected sci-fi writer.

In the Doctor Who world there is a term “fanwank” which was coined by the late Craig Hinton.  It refers to written fiction by people so in love with the show that they want to express their knowledge and put a smile on the Doctor Who fans who are as obsessive as they are.  You might, for instance have a story where the 10th Doctor met a companion from a previous era and they would discuss how they defeated an evil monster and how it was a good thing that it had never  had a lethal death ray built in like the Daleks they fought in the 50th Century on Mount Megeshra on the planet Peladon, who were forming an alliance with the Ice Warriors and going to blow up the Earth in the past to stop humans from landing on Mars.

It is quite simply there to show off.  “Look what I’ve got them doing here!” the author virtually screams.

Devil May Care started promisingly with a minion in the underbelly of crime being offed by a contact in whatever criminal organisation they were in.  A good start, well written.  And then in Chapter 2 Bond made his entrance and oh boy, did the fanwank begin.

Bond casually compares someone to Drax (Moonraker) and LeChiffre (Casino Royale).  He travels from the South of France to Rome, not because he needs to, but for the author to show off how he understands the jet-setting continental lifestyle we come to expect from Bond.  There’s no point in it, but he does it anyway.  Bond ‘bumps into’ an attractive woman and, oh wow, her husband is conveniently away on business.  She invites Bond in for “a drink”.  And Bond, the serial womaniser who’d never turn down an easy lay says, “No Thank You”.

Bond says “No Thank You”.

That’s right.  The author is saying “Look at me!  Look what I’ve got Bond doing!  You didn’t expect that, did you? Ah-ha-ha, I am a very clever writer, bow down to me, I do the unexpected.  Yes, I am that good.”  Ohhhh god.

In chapter 3 Bond goes back to his home and there his housekeeper (maybe she’s in the proper books, I don’t know) has a conversation with him about The Rolling Stones and how they’ve just been arrested for drugs.  Yes, Bond is being clearly dated for us so we know when the story is supposed to be set.  It’s heavy-handed and clunks along awkwardly. 

Bond then goes to MI6 and has a conversation with Moneypenny where she tells him that M is into Yoga.  I’m not making this up.

"Mmm, I can't wait for my next Yoga session."

Bond goes in to see M and they have a chat about drugs and hippies and this “pop group” who’ve been arrested and urghrughrghgurgurghruhgruhghrughrug it’s just so awful.  M casually drops Scaramanga’s name in, just so that we can, yet again, understand that the author is aware of other stories and “Hey, see?  You remember those stories too, right?!!!

This is chapter 3 and still no sign of a plot.  M talks about the qualities of drugs and casually drops about 5 or 6 pharmaceutical companies’ names into conversation the way that you would normally.  You know those conversations we all have in the pub about Glaxo Smithkline and what Beechams are up to these days.  We all do it.  It’s just normal everyday conversation.  A briefing of utter madness and I’ve already lost respect for Sebastian Faulks, the Bond novelisation franchise and this book in particular.  I shall try to soldier on, but it’s lost all my enthusiasm.

Did you know there’s a new Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book, written long after the death of Douglas Adams, just to screw a few more millions out of, what is now, a franchise.  Do you think it’ll be worth reading?  My guess is, it won’t be.  But you can bet your bottom dollar that Zaphod Beeblebrox will have a ‘hoopy’ conversation with Arthur:  “Hey, remember when the mice wanted your brain?”.

Please, BBC. See sense.

Papal Shoes

Stewart Lee is one of the UK’s premier comedians, the most intelligent certainly, and I believe, the finest. He’s been in the public consciousness since 1994 where he performed weekly with his comedy double-act partner Richard Herring, in the tv series Fist of Fun

But he’s been around much longer, starting on radio in 1990 as one of the writers on the critically acclaimed On the Hour, which would later become The Day Today on the tellybox. 

Fist of Fun went on to have two successful series on BBC 2 before the show was cancelled. But in 1998 they were back with their masterpiece This Morning with Richard not Judy. This too ran for two series before another heartless, humourless BBC exec cancelled it. 

And then there were the lean years in the wilderness. Stewart gave up comedy for a few years and became an arts reviewer for newspapers.  Eventually he would be asked by his friend Richard Thomas to help write Jerry Springer, the Opera. This made him into a household name (when the BBC announced they would be screening a performance of the musical starring no less a man than David Soul) not for the performance itself, but for the mass hysteria of the rentamob religious maniacs who screamed it down and had many performances withdrawn by the venues.   

These misguided people succeeded in turning a fairly mediocre show into a thing of utmost evil which no sane person could disagree with. Or could they? Anyone who was aware of Monty Python’s Life of Brian will have seen such scenes before and must surely have been dismayed, as I was that history was repeating itself. What should have been a financial boost for Mr Lee turned into a large amount of debt. 

But in 2008 somehow the BBC remembered who he was and that he was funny and commissioned a new series for him. The results were impressive. Part stand-up, part sketches, Stewart Lee’s intelligence shone through.    

I went to see him in June this year on the bill with a lot of other comedians (including his former comedy partner, Richard Herring) perform a benefit gig in Hackney for the homeless.  The audience was full for the other acts, but when Stewart Lee came on suddenly there were a lot more people sitting in the aisles, on the stairs and standing at the back. This man is not underappreciated, people know his work and love him for it. 

Stewart Lee has carved out his own style where he relentlessly nags at a subject until he has destroyed it’s edifice, revealing the truth. His destruction of the Magners Pear Cider adverts is an experience not to be missed.    

He recently wrote in an article for the Financial Times that the success of the series has led to better venues for his stand-up and he could finally afford a mortgage for a two-bedroom house so that his son can now sleep in a separate room from his parents.     

When it became known on Twitter today that the BBC have not recommissioned his Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle for a second series (you can buy DVDs here) I was heartened to see that there is now a petition to convince the BBC of their folly. Again. When I saw it it was 429 signatures, an hour later it was 629. This is just the twitterverse, there must be many of you out there who are aware of his work and would love to see more. Please sign the petition, it might be pointless or it might do some good. Only time will tell. Tell your friends.    

Sign the Petition and when you’ve done that, go search Youtube for “Stewart Lee” – you won’t be disappointed.   Unless you actually like Miranda Hart’s new appalling sitcom… which has been recommissioned.


Note: this Lee and Herring site is a wonderful resource for the fans of these two comedians.

UPDATE: 9th February 2010 – Armando Iannucci has revealed on Twitter that a second series has been commissioned!  Huzzah!