Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ben Linus reads a nursery rhyme

This is for the Lost people.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Today on twitter

Monday, April 20, 2009

Today on twitter

  • 19:59 In Stavanger, eating £20 pizza and drinking £6 beer. At least the wifi is free... #

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Uncomfortable plot summaries

Wasn't the F1 Grand Prix today good, and han't the start to the season been refreshing? It's great to see the order shaken up a bit and some unexpected names duelling it out at the front. The entitled likes of Ferrari deserve to have their pomposity pricked, even if we all know that it will all sort itself back to normal by the end of the season... Anyway, if like me you are having a quiet afternoon, this mega-list of uncomfortable plot summaries is an excellent way to waste some time. Spot on; some of my favourites are:

BATMAN: Wealthy man assaults the mentally ill.
BILLY ELLIOT: Union worker turns back on strikers for personal gain.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: Deranged pedophile big-business industrialist tortures and mutilates young children.
DONNIE DARKO: Hallucinating teen crushed by airplane engine.
GHOSTBUSTERS: Unemployed college professors destroy hotel with nuclear weapons.
KING KONG: Endangered animal stolen, shot.
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST: Disruptive mental patients treated.
STAR TREK: Over-sexed officer routinely places crew in danger.
STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE: Religious extremist terrorists destroy government installation, killing thousands.
THE GOLDEN COMPASS: Critique of Catholicism upstaged by polar bear fight.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD: Kidnapper commits murder several times.
TOP GUN: Pilot routinely endangers Air Traffic Controllers.

Oops, I only intended to C+P a couple, but there are so many good ones...

And if you want to waste even more time, how about an exhaustive list of common misconceptions?. This is the kind of stuff that Wikipedia was made for. Napoleon was not short, snapping your knuckles does not cause arthritis, water looks blue because it is blue, Inuit do not have a lot of words for snow, and toilet waste is not dumped from aircraft during flight.

That'll do for today. I am off to Norway tomorrow for a few days of work. I will fly to Bergen first but am spending all 4 nights in lovely Stavanger. It's a compact city, is pretty, hospitable, and very pleasant when the sun shines. Which is about as often as in Aberdeen. I like going there with work because, like everywhere in Scandinavia, it is cripplingly expensive for a non-local to exist there without bankruptcy. They must get paid a fortune. Not sure what the internet access will be like, but they are very modern there so I expect it in my hotel room. This means that you may get the joy of some blather from me. Hurrah!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In Rainbows

I often mention music that I'm listening to when posting on here, and it is usually first thoughts on some release or another. I have never come back to anything once I've had a chance to mull over it. Well today I was listening to In Rainbows by Radiohead, and decided to break the habit.

I have made no secret of the fact that I think Radiohead are the greatest currently recording band in the world. Almost 15 years ago (!) I was pulled in by The Bends and from then on it was a joy to follow the path of progression laid out by OK Computer, Kid A, and Amnesiac. I loved them for the constantly evolving sound, the integration of new directions, and most importantly the world-class songwriting. Hail To The Thief was the first miss-step, in my mind, as it felt like they were almost treading water for the first time. That's not to say that there weren't a few class moments: come on, it's a Radiohead Album...

After a 4-year break came In Rainbows. Yes, it's the one that you could download from their website and pay whatever you wanted, including nothing. At the time it gathered a tremendous amount of coverage and generated serious debate on the future of the music industry, all of which threatened to overshadow the fact that there was actually an album being released. Looking back through the retrospectoscope, it was in fact a genius piece of marketing that gave them a load of money from downloads, thwarted the torrents, and priceless free advertising for the physical release. Which promptly went to number one in the UK and the US, selling a load of copies. Hooray! The industry is not dead!

Was it worth the wait and hype? Short answer: oh yes. Longer answer: ohhhhhhhh yes. This has become my favourite Radiohead album. Previously I had loved both OK Computer and Kid A, the former for any number of reasons which anyone who has heard it will know, and the latter for its almost shocking integration of "modern" music. In Rainbows eclipses both by taking the mood, aesthetic, feel, and attitude of OK Computer whilst retaining some of the innovations of Kid A and Amnesiac. Thom Yorke's Eraser album mitigated the need for too much of the down-tempo electronic songs; this is a rock band rocking. This is Radiohead, not Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood, and a laptop. I love this album, and it has become indispensable, slotting into my group of "best albums ever". If I could only take a handful of albums with me to a desert island, this would be one of the first on the list.

I'm not going to do a track-by-track review, but I will highlight a breathtaking sequence of 4 songs in the middle of the album: Nude, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, All I Need, and Faust Arp. This is a run of songs at least equal to the current champion of Sloop John B, God Only Knows, and I Know There's An Answer (from Pet Sounds). Nude kicks it off: this is Radiohead at their best, a haunting and beautiful song about extramarital affairs, wailed out by Thom Yorke over a penetrating bass-line. That song would be the highlight of the album, were it not followed by Weird Fishes/Arpeggi. I'll be honest here: I wasn't sure about this one on the first few listens, and didn't get why Niall was saying that this was the heart of the album. Boy, was I wrong, and I have no idea why it took a few listens to click. I have come to the conclusion that this is Radiohead's best song, and therefore by definition one of the greatest songs ever. It's difficult to do it justice by description: dueling guitars, angsty lyrics, amazing percussion and a shift of tone at the end. The build towards the middle of the song is exhilarating, the song is amazing. Just listen:


I know, Radiohead are marmite (like Bjork) but bands such as Coldplay, Keane, Athlete and the like must feel foolish when they hear music as good as that. How can you follow it up on an album? By a complete change of style, to All I Need. Both cold and heartfelt, this sounds like it could have been produced by Boards Of Canada, has arrestingly direct lyrics, and builds to a stunning and chaotic conclusion. Finishing off the quartet of songs is Faust Arp, a lovely 2-minute ballad that they would simply not have put on previous albums. Wonderful stuff.


So, In Rainbows: I like it. A lot. A quick scan of the internet seems to show that most other people did as well. This should be in your music collection.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Today on twitter

  • 18:01 Bored #

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Want to waste 2 hours?

Then click on this. Make sure your sound is on, and enjoy.

For some sample "tunes", try here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dis n dat

Hey hey, peeps. It's been a quiet weekend for me here, a little boring if truth be told. This does not lead to good blog fodder... It's chocolate bunny weekend, but Aberdeen does not follow the English bank holidays so it is our holiday next weekend. It's been an excellent couple of weekends for my friends, with one baby born, another confirmed to be on the way, and an engagement announced. You know who you are, so proper congratulations to you all.

Easter weekend had 2 much-hyped sci-fi TV events: Doctor Who and Red Dwarf. Who was, as usual, excellent Nice set-up at the end for the final Tennant episodes at the end of the year. Red Dwarf, on the other hand, has disappointed so far. I wasn't expecting very much, to be honest, but it has managed to under-deliver. A comedy without laughs is never a good thing. Actually, that's not quite true: there has been one laugh per episode so far, with the photo enhancement gag very well done. Pretty much everything else didn't work. The plot is weak (stolen from the League of Gentlemen film!), the writing poor, and the actors certainly look their age. The last episode, on tonight, is going to have to be very good indeed to rescue the mess.

The Somalian piracy stories have been big news recently, with a high-profile rescue just tonight. This article from the Independent is a fascinating read, comparing current events to olde piracy and suggesting that there may be a more complex story here, and that the pirates may not be the simple "evil guys" that they are being painted as.

Quick product review: Pepsi Raw. This is a new drink from Pepsi following the heartening recent trend for "real" ingredients in processed food. Sainsbury's have priced it temptingly cheaply, and tempt me they did. This drink is a big step up from the equally "natural" Red Bull Cola, which I was not too big a fan of. Pepsi Raw tastes nice: different but similar to the mainstream brands, with a very pleasant syrupy-liquorice finish. I'll certainly buy more.

Finally, Royksopp have a new album out. On first listen Im pretty impressed. They have moved back towards the sound of the first album, whilst maintaining the shiny production values of the second. I like. Here's the fun video for the lead single:

Thursday, April 09, 2009

"Musical" dog

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Today on twitter

  • 11:21 I think I'm becoming addicted to zombo.com. I find it soothing to have it on in the background whilst I'm on the net. #

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Megapost

Happy Sunday, peeps. Today I'm going to post a heap of links that I have accumulated recently and have started to clog up my bookmarks bar. Old-skool Swish!

First up is ZOMBO. I only came upon it this week, but apparently it's been on the go for over 10 years. Zombo is now one of my favorite sites on the internet. I won't spoil it, just turn your sound on and enjoy. See how long it hypnotises you for, and if you can resist leaving it on in the background for hours.

Shatner sings Rocketman. This guy is a proper genius.


An amazing ultra-high-resolution panorama of London.

Daft Punk soundboard
. Copy the Kanye West song and have literally minutes of fun.

Type in a location of your choice and select the weapon (from nukes to asteroids) to see how large the area of devastation is. Conclusion: man-made weapons have nothing on extraterrestrial objects.

Ooookkaaayyy...


This is excellent: Star Wars retold by someone who has never seen it.



Random recipe generator. Very funny, and it's easy to just sit there hitting refresh to get more.

Weird examples of mass hysteria. It's a proper scientific concept and really freaky.

Enough time has gone by so that anyone who wants to see The Happening already has. That was a stinker of a film, which I would describe as the worst I'd ever seen at the cinema if it wasn't for the fact that it was (unintentionally) fucking hilarious. Plus Babel exists. Anyway, this spoiler-filled review is bang-on, funny, and well worth a read. I urge you to see the film if you get a chance: it is the most inept piece of mainstream film-making that I have ever seen.

Finally, one of my heroes, Charlie Brooker, sums up nightclubs exactly right.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The soul of a city?

In my recent Middle Eastern post, I said that I didn't feel that I had got to the "heart" of Abu Dhabi. I'm fortunate enough to get to do a fair amount of traveling, and one of the main pleasures of visiting a new place is "getting it", of finding the soul of the city. Some places, however, have eluded me in the one or more times that I have visited them. Many of them, like Los Angeles, obviously had an edge but I didn't have enough time to find it; for others there doesn't seem to be anything there. The Middle East has been a hotbed of these types of cities: Dubai and Abu Dhabi, no matter how flashy, just don't have "it"; Khobar and Dammam in Saudi Arabia have a hollow feel to them. But why?

The starting point to answering that is to work out what I mean by "it" or the soul of a city. For some cities, like London, New York, and Paris, you don't really need to explain anything: just being in these places you feel like you are in the centre of the world, that you are surrounded by people, history, culture, and promise. Many cities assert themselves by virtue of historic landmarks or districts, such as Istanbul, Cairo, Berlin, Brussels, Cologne, and Edinburgh. Others assault your senses with crowds of people, sights, sounds, and smells: amongst these are Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, San Francisco, and Bangkok. Finally, some bowl you over by virtue of geographic or architectural setting, such as Torshavn, Stavanger, Bergen, and Portland. All of the places that I have liked over the years have fallen into at least one of these categories. Aberdeen, for example, gets its soul from the architecture, the buildings, and the history that they bring with them. In most areas of the city centre the streets are made up of buildings at least 100 years old, with some 500 or more years old. This adds a "weight" to the place, for me. The interesting thing about this subject is that there will be loads of different opinions on what give the city its soul: for Aberdeen you could put up a good argument for it being the students, the night-life, the geographical setting, the oil industry, or others that I can't even think of. No matter what you think, many cities have many aspects which many people think make them great.

But what of those that don't? I'm sure that plenty of places have got their "X factor" but that the people who miss it didn't make the effort or have the capacity to see it. Riga, Singapore, Los Angeles and Caracas are places that I know have some sort of edge to them, but I just couldn't find it. This leaves those cities that I just can't see having a "heart", like the Middle Eastern ones mentioned above, as well as other places such as Houston. The logical conclusion seems to be that they just don't have it.

What they don't have is those things that the others do: people, history, culture. The reason that the Middle East in particular has never grabbed me must be that the cities are just so young. Not much more than a century ago, these places were basically villages or small towns. What was there longer ago has basically been completely removed to make way for the modern settlements. So no architectural history, but the people can make up for that, surely? In places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, 75% or more of the population are pretty recent immigrants, brought in to construct the rapidly-expanding cities or to service their needs. There is no real cultural history, no shared identity. So that's it, it boils down to history in one way or another, and none of these cities have it. I'd add Houston into that bracket, too: basically a sprawling urban mess in the middle of a desert. The people are great there, but is that because of Texas or Houston?

Some of the cities that I have classified as "soulless" are trying to create that history by building extravagant skyscrapers, sporting arenas, cultural centres, and hotels. The interesting question here is whether the history will "stick". Dubai feels like someone has taken 50 different packets of skyscraper seeds, mixed them in a bucket, then randomly scattered them over a city-sized area. There is no cohesion or uniform local style, nothing distinctive to give the city an identity. Lots of big buildings does not a great city make (see, in my opinion, Singapore). The bigger question is whether history is being created anywhere. Time will be the only judge of that, but I'm sure that things such as the Petronas Towers, Ground Zero, The Gherkin, and the Bullet Train will all be great cultural artefacts of our time. Those "empty" cities are screwing it up by building a splendid house on plasticine foundations.

You can sometimes just tell when a city is going to be good or bad. I'd rather go to, and would have a more interesting time in, Baghdad than go back to Dubai.

Newspaper cover

I have a lieu day off work today, so I've had time to save the PDF of my picture on the front page sent to me by the Record as a JPG and stick it on Flickr. Here it is below, and you can click on the pic to go to the Flickr page for some more info. The original picture that they used is here. Neat, eh? Record PM Scotland cover

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Today on twitter

  • 19:02 Another Bond helicopter crash. Thankfully not my father this time either, but it doesn't look good for those on board. It's a dangerous job. #