watching civilisation crumble

Waiter Rant: The Stink
When I first heard about the smell which has been permeating New York, I knew it had to be a local factory, because Edinburgh also has similar issues, or at least it did when I visited. There it's the process from the whiskey local distillery and though I can imagine it must irritate if you have to live with it all of the time, as a tourist it was just another element which made that an unforgettable week.

Grooveshark: Listen to Free Music
I was really interested in this until I read the first paragraph of their 'About Us' page: "Music compels all of us--individually, in our own way. It fills our moments, our cars, our movies, and our thoughts. Grooveshark started with one question: how could we be enriched by changing the way we find and listen to music?" For some reason, on reading that, I thought of Simon Bates, the Our Tune music, and the next paragraph beginning: "Then Spotify entered our lives..."

Librarian quarantines books
It's like we're watching civilisation crumble in slow motion.

Carmina Burana: alternative lyrics
"Old Spice ... for old aged pensioners..."

Where have all the good women gone?
Useful analysis of what's gone wrong with the portrayal of women in romantic comedy. Best bit: when Kira shows When Harry Met Sally to a youngling (who wasn't even born when it was released, ouch) and she gets it; that film works because we're presented with two characters as complex as you might find in a drama within the context of a rom-com. That doesn't happen any more, everything is in broad stokes, which is why that genre seems so inferior these days. Proof that films were better in t'olden days.

The Guardian: 1000 novels everyone must read: Readers recommend
When The Guardian's original list was published, I was deeply unimpressed to see that it included precisely nothing from shared universes or tie-in fiction, considering how important they are to the genre. These reader suggestions do nothing to redress the balance. These books are not without literary value and deserve to be highlighted in a wider arena. How about it?

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
What looks like the full text of the book available online. All musical life is here. Currently listening to "The Best of the Classic Years" by King Sunny Ade which has a rich acoustic sound.

The Best of LIFE: Married actors Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth pretending to...
You'll just have to click and find out. But it's not something you see every day.

Five barriers to journalists using Twitter
Not that relevant to me (yet!) but I do know that most of my favourite journalists use Twitter (now!) which must mean something...

The Spotify Playlist



Variations on the theme of Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Notoriously, no soundtrack album was released for one of the best films of the 1980s. At a time when theme songs were topping the charts, director John Hughes didn't believe that anyone would actually want to buy such an eclectic selection of music. About fifty percent of the tracks are on Spotify, though that mostly seems to be because only about fifty percent of the music has ever been released on CD. So find above what is available along with some ill-advised substitutions, cover versions, songs by the same band or none of the above. Save Ferris!

Like tea bags. But with coffee.

Beverages I don't remember the first time I drank a cup of coffee. I remember my first beer -- a Budweiser at the Leeds Jazz Festival in 1995. I still have the bottle. But coffee -- I must have been very young. I do know it's only in the past decade I've been drinking black, desperate for that kick which I know will jump start my system for another couple of hours.

These days, I drink more coffee than alcohol and since like wine there are a seemingly infinite number of ways in which it can taste, too little coffee, too much water and you've either got a damn fine cup or black/dark brown hot water. Even in Starbucks I don't think I've ever had two mugs of coffee that taste the same. I like that.

Some don't. Some want to have the same coffee experience over and over again, and I understand why. Sometimes you don't want to surprises, you want something you can rely on. That's why machine manufacturers pour so much energy into creating a machine that will produce that perfect coffee experience over and over again and hire George Clooney to be their prophet. And why there are such a thing as coffee bags. Like tea bags. But with coffee.

I quite like instant coffee, so this isn't really a problem for me, but I know many connoisseurs deplore the somewhat unsubtle taste of you get from granules and I'd imagine may still clamouring for a convenient way of enjoying filter without having to deal with washing anything more than a mug and spoon afterwards. This is designed for them.

I've wanted to try coffee bags for a while but didn't want to buy a box full in case they turned out to be a wrongen and didn't see the point if I them had to simply empty the bags into a filter machine after all. Recently, Lyons were giving away samples at their website so finally I've had my chance. Here's the silver pocket it came in:

Coffee Bag Packaging

I snip off the top and inside there's this:

Coffee Bag

You can't tell from this photo but the coffee bag is about twice a large as a tea bag. You need more coffee than tea to fill a cup it seems. But it is roughly the same design. I miss corners.

Pop it in the mug, add the water as directed:

Coffee Bag Brewing

Problem: It's not entirely clear how big the cup/mug should be (not all are created equal) and how much water to use. I decide to only half fill the mug. Yes, that is what it looks like, and no it wasn't stolen. Earlier in the decade, Starbucks actually sold their corporate china instead of the fancy designs you get these days. I wish I'd bought more than two, it's the perfect size usually. The instructions recommend that the bag should sit for three to five minutes. I leave it just slightly longer, because I like my coffee very strong.

Stir. Stir some more. The coffee, looks like coffee. A little bit cloudy. Squeeze and lift out the bag:

Used Coffee Bag

I can't believe how well lit that photograph is.

Half A Cup of Black Coffee

Half a mug of coffee.

Flavour? I did get the kick, but unfortunately, that's all. The bag probably contains a relatively mild blend, but this brew has the taste which happens when I've put too little of the stuff into a filter machine, weak and a bit soapy, with the flavour of the water coating my tastebuds more than whatever the rest of the solution is.

Which could mean that I've put too much water in, scorched the contents of the bag somehow, this just doesn't work as a concept, or it's just not strong enough for my tastes. It's a bit of a disappointment. One of those occasions when you really do only get a result which reflects the work you've put into it. Nothing comes from nothing.

But they've been on sale for a few years now and the sales must be high enough to make them worthwhile. Even the most innovative products are removed from sale if they're not flying from the shelves. Someone must like them. Perhaps hotels buy them.

Personally, I'll be sticking with my cheap Argos filter machine and the chaos of not knowing what comes next. It might not be terribly convenient, but at least you end up with something that tastes like coffee. Sorry Lyons.

10/01/2012 I recently noticed Amazon UK are now selling something which might well be these coffee bags. As an experiment I've added a couple of links below to see how being an Amazon associate works and how much of a cut they'll send through to me if anyone buys one. I've never tried this before so we'll see:

Lyons Coffee Break Coffee Bags Bulk Buy (150 bags)

Lyons Coffee Break Coffee Bags 125 g (Pack of 4)

Lyons Gourmet Italian Coffee Bags Bulk Buy (150 bags)

Lyons Italian Coffee Bags 125 g (Pack of 4)

several dozen haircuts

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (Abridged)
Seven seasons in three minutes and twenty seconds underscored by the William Tell Overture. Once I've finished rewatching FRIENDS (only eight and a half seasons several dozen haircuts to go) I know now where I'll be spending some time.

After a two-year impasse, National Gallery and Tate renew agreement on historical boundaries
Bless. This reminds me of the Steptoe and Son episode where they drew a line down the middle of the flat and then realised that someone might need to use the toilet.

Watch as TV ends
400 local TV stations in the US turned off their analog signal last night, so many in facet that a performance artist in Orlando decided to make an event of it by pulling some televisions together, gathered some friends and made a party of it. This'll be what's happening in Granadaland in the not too distant future.

Firefox Add-ons: Spotify Search
Adds a search option to the right click menu so that you can search spotify from any page. Wow.

BBC News Radar
Refreshes with items other parts of the website cannot reach.

Liveblog: Brits 2009
No Rock and Roll Fun covers the festival of music I missed due to watching Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima. On the basis of this I think I made the better choice. Sounds ghastly: "Fearne has got Jamies Oliver and Cullum backstage. "Duffy won't win best British Male" snorts Cullum - a gag Alison Moyet first did back when this was part of Nationwide."

David Harewood to join BBC1's Robin Hood as Friar Tuck
So not Matt Lucas then. Really, an excellent choice with the show once again not going anywhere near traditional expectations. Must get around to watching the second series...

Tube Photo of the Week
Whenever I visit London, I always seem to get on with fellow passengers with my well timed pleases and thank-yous and apologies. Perhaps I've just been lucky.

jobs will be saved

Commerce There she goes, there she goes again. Zavvi is finally leaving the high street with the remaining stores either closed or sold off to HMV or Head Entertainment, a business jointly run by former Zavvi chief executive Simon Douglas.

That's who's bought the Liverpool One shop which as Christopher Brown notes means that staff jobs will be saved and stops a big empty property appearing at Liverpool One so soon after its launch.

The shop won't be trading as Zavvi though, so the hunt is on for a new name. Hopefully they'll go with 'Head Entertainment', if only for the innuendo value, something sorely missing since the loss of 'Virgin Megastore'. Or is that just how my mind works?

religious debate

Science The posting of a cheap copy of The Origin of the Species sparks religious debate at Hot UK Deals: "this site is becoming more and more sacrilegious every day, and quite frankly I'm disgusted."

yet another post about Spotify

Music Sorry. But if this blog has been about anything over the years, it has been about my obsessions and I'm very obsessed at the moment, so here's yet another post about Spotify. Wanting to get the most from the application, I've been reading the blog. The whole blog. As well as being able to follow the development of the software from update to update (did you know you can link to tracks?) there's all kinds of information about getting the most from the software and in greater detail than the faq. Here are some of the things I've discovered:

Searching Spotify
Searching is mentioned in the faq, and there is a link to this post, but I'd somehow missed this. Essentially its searching the metadata of the original files, by year, genre, artist, words in title and what have you. If I have a criticism, it's that it's a bit unwieldly. 'year:2009' already yields over thirty-five thousand tracks all in no particular order. Perhaps an additional future feature would be search results rationalised to appear as they do on the artist pages in release date order. Also, the thorny problem of rubbish classical music support presents itself, since 'classical' doesn't have a genre tag of its own and is labelled with the date of recording, not the date of composition -- so no discovering the state of music in 1599.

Here be ads
Written when the software was still in closed beta, here's a post asking people if they actual want adverts: "We have started testing ads in Spotify for a group of interested beta testers. If you want to be a part of the test, please let us know and we’ll get you some ads." Um no. That said, it's the the suggestions of these people making the sacrifice which probably led to them being so unobtrusive. More on the process here.

How hard can music metadata be?
On the subject of metadata, here's an interesting discussion by a Spotify programmer (I think) of how well the various music sellers and players deal with an Aphex Twins track which seems designed to screw things up.

My Spotify tattoo
I wonder how she felt when they changed their corporate logo. Side discussion -- isn't the new one so much better?

Spotify scrobbles
It certainly does, though this post also has a link to a rather good Greasemonkey script. One of the criticisms of Spotify is that it doesn't have great suggestion power yet, certainly not as clever as Last.FM. What this does is add a small icon next to tracks and artists at Last.FM which once clicked searches Spotify for references which can then be played. I've already 'discovered' Jewel Kilcher soundalike Anna Nalick, since it was on my main recommendation page, though I'm yet not sure if that's a good thing. But really this is amazing and useful and amazingly useful and a good place to stop.

have you seen the prices?

TV The Tachyon TV Three (John, Damon and Neil) have been at the Doctor Who Gallifrey One convention over the weekend (lucky sods). Here's Damon's review:
"I believe I attended a grand total of 3 panels - one of which I was a panel member at - out of dozens. But that didn't matter one bit. The schedule itself was simply amazing - with several things going on at once it meant that you didn't need to hear the same anecdote for the 945th time when you could pop off to hear how best to approach making a Azal costume from discarded Taco Bell serviettes and dried Yak poo."
Despite everything, I've never been to a convention. I've not been one for 'the scene', but I know this is something I'm going to have to do at least once. Some day. But as Damon says, have you seen the prices? Do I care that much?

a milestone

About Here's a milestone worth noting. This blog reached 300,000 visits a couple of days ago and 400,000 page views. Wow etc.

a goal orientated sense of purpose

Life I’ve followed the coverage of the £120m in bonus which are being paid to staff of Lloyds and the subsequent share drop with increasing annoyance. It seems to have died down again this morning, but the way it was often reported, as some kind of indiscretion at a time of financial crisis has often missed the point, or buried it somewhere half way through the article. This piece from The Telegraph is typical.

Having worked for Royal Bank of Scotland in their credit card call centre (it was where I was going during all of commuter life and tales posts between 2001 and 2002), I knew immediately what this bonus was – it’s the performance related pay at the close of a financial year. At the credit card centre, we had targets. Our average call length had to be below a certain duration, our work (wrap) time after each call couldn’t be too long and our ‘idle’ time – for personal business couldn’t be more than I think fifteen minutes a day, unless we could give a very good reason.

Our performance was monitored daily, weekly and monthly across the year and if it kept within the limits we would receive a bonus, which was also index linked to how well the bank as a whole was doing. The bank was doing quite well then, and the relative bonus reflected that. Perhaps, it could be argued, that since we were being paid already, this was simply an additional bung to keep us in line. But rather, given that this was often quite repetitive work, it was actually a way of constructing a goal orientated sense of purpose for us.

These bonuses, far from rewarding failure, are actually rewarding success. It’s not the fault of staff on a branch level that these banks are falling over. They’re still working their socks off to reach these targets, in other words working for the bank as best they can, and these days, against insurmountable odds. I’d imagine they probably deserve them even more in these times of financial crisis since they’re facing a public who don’t see them as individuals but as much a part of the machine which is dealing with their money as the bricks and worn carpets in the branches and offices.

I know the words ‘banks’ and ‘bonuses’ together make for a good story, but please can we not turn it into something it’s not?

This has been your plea for tolerance for the day.

one of the best album's you might not have heard

Music Spotify updated again last night and added what is I think one of the best album's you might not have heard:



Boy For You -- Astrid Williamson

I bought the album during a visit to the Edinburgh Festival in 1998. There seemed to be a big release push -- huge advertising in the independent record shops -- but no one I've spoken to since who knows anything about music seems to have heard of her at least in the UK. The sound is somewhat in the area of early Tori Amos, but with more rock influences, perhaps even some Fleetwood Mac and Carole King, I've never been able to quite put my finger on it. I'd be very interested to hear what you think.

In other news, deal signed with NAXOS, which means that pretty much any classical music you can think of will be available in excellent recordings. Wow.

My review of Woody's new film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Elsewhere My review of Woody's new film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, has been posted at Liverpool Confidential.

It's the first film in ages that I've wanted to watch again not long after I've seen it. The dvd is already on pre-order.

The Spotify Playlist



Now That's What I Call Music

Bit of a fudge, sorry. No sign of Men Without Hats, Tracey Ullman or surprisingly the Madness track. Suggs and co only appear in a couple of compilations, none of their albums are included. The Wikipedia has a full track listing.

call myself a film fan

Film I have an confession to make. I didn't watch the Baftas on television last week. I know, call myself a film fan. But I have an uneasy relationship with these awards ceremonies at the best of times. It's hardly ever the best film, because the best film is never nominated. The actors and actresses never come off as anything but smug. The proper craftsmen are always shunted around and not given enough 'thanking time' even though they do most of the work. The presenters generally generate nothing but nervous laughter from the audience unless they're Stephen Fry.

Sometimes I find all of this charming and revel in the sheer ghastliness of it all but last week I wasn't in the mood. Plus I hadn't seen most of the films and didn't fancy having to mute the sound every five minutes so that nothing was spoiled. Much better to viceriouslty soak up the atmosphere of the event from the post-ceremony reports like this charming one from Andrew Collins, who was covering the show for Bafta itself interviewing the winners. He's not seen the tv coverage either -- though having actually been there, he's probably got an excuse. The full set of his interviews are here.