It’s almost a year since I last posted. A great deal has happened since that last post, most notably the death of my father. Trying to put the experience into words is beyond me, which is probably why there has been no posts. There are four draft posts in the dashboard, but I couldn’t finish them. So, in a fit of new-year optimism, I’m trying to write things again. Keeping a long way away from personal stuff is this new blog about RISC-V, and this review for Lowes which was in response to an experience that really got on my tits.
On the plus-side of 2022, I managed to start working at a new job that is stimulating, enjoyable, and doesn’t involve dealing with odious-bastard clients. I have learned from experience that when working closely with other people, it’s healthy to be able to have a level of frankness that can iron over disagreements and promote harmony – even if it initially causes upset. Far worse is to let bad feeling brew under the covers and get infected with pent-up frustration; eventually someone will explode and, by then, the damage to the project and the relationships could already be done. Unfortunately, when one of your close work-mates is a representative of the client, you can’t have that level of frankness. So, I’m glad to be out of a couple of messy situations and back to a healthy environment. It’s quite disturbing to discover how tightly my mental health seems to be entwined with the details of my day job.
To kick off the new year, here is a list of media I’ve enjoyed recently:
- Slow Horses
- Under the Skin
- You (series one)
- Mark Steel’s What the fuck is going on?
- Alexei Sayle’s Imaginary Sandwich Bar
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
- The Interpreter
- The Double (not that one)
- Electric Dreams (not that one)
- Bad Sisters
Happy new year.
Recent events have been messy. The general thrust is that I’ve resigned from a rather awesome company to rejoin another company that feels like a strange kind of home. Some other thonks from this week:
- When you walk a cute dog, people tend to be much nicer to you; it’s much easier to get a “good morning” from someone when they’re appreciating your mutt.
- Getting out of the house every day, even just to help a dumb animal move its bowels so that you can pick it up, adds a surprising amount of positivity to the day.
- In his book “Bullshit Jobs“, David Graeber describes work as a sort of involuntary S&M relationship with your boss; the difference being that there is no safeword beyond “I quit”. Over the years I’ve noticed that there is an addictive quality to this safeword: be warned.
- The Cardiacs were one of the most extraordinary and wonderful bands that ever existed. RIP Tim.
- Amazon parrots are extremely good companions, and seem to share a great sense of humour.
- The cold is better than the heat, especially if you can snuggle up in a warm bed at night.
- The Internet has proven that access to information doesn’t guarantee global enlightenment.
The 40 minute cutoff for Zoom meetings should be the feature you pay for. The human concentration limit in a meeting/lecture scenario is around 40 minutes, so when you get booted out, it really is for everyone’s benefit. Another feature I’d like to see is a time limit based on how much of a twat you are. It could use AI to work, out on a scale, how irritating and worthless everyone is, and then boot them out one by one in order.
In case you weren’t aware, Millennials and Generation-Z (hereinafter referred to as “da yut”), on the whole, do not feel comfortable using doorbells, door knockers, and telephones. And before you feel the urge to point out that getting one of them to let go of their mobile for a split second is like prizing a thing out of a very tight thing, the fact that we still call them “mobile phones” is an anachronism; da yut do not make telephone calls with them.
To da yut, the smartphone is the gateway to their real lives. I’m not going to try to go on about the whole nature of reality and virtual reality because there are entire university departments dedicated to that stuff, and I haven’t got a clue. But one thing I have noticed is that their attitude to phone calls and doorbells is based on a simple and logical difference between them and us: they prefer asynchronous communication. We never had the choice.
To da yut, a phone call is rude and annoying. Someone has the audacity to interrupt whatever you are doing and demand attention, right there and then, because it’s convenient for them! And I tend to agree – why would you interrupt someone, unless it was an absolutely dire emergency? If it’s not critical, why would you not just send a message instead? That way, when they have time and are less distracted, they can deal with it.
So, why do we put up with it? Well, because it’s all we had, and we grew up thinking it was normal. It’s the same reason we feel like music should come on plastic discs and that people phoning radio stations to make requests is a reasonable thing to do. We’re just set in our ways.
Confronted with a the closed front-door of a friend, da yut are far more likely to text the occupant than do something aggressive like ring a bell. Why alert the entire house to your presence when it’s just your friend you want to see?
Yesterday, I spied through the window someone standing by my front door. I realised my phone was on silent and that this must be the Go-Puff delivery driver, so I opened the door and there was a young lad, furiously texting me on his phone.
“I still don’t feel comfortable just going up and knocking on people’s doors.” he said. “I’d be like ‘why are you hitting my house?'”
And he surely has a point.
Before the extraordinary heat, currently affecting the North West, makes its way to the Best Coast, it’s worth describing how nice things have been here. Last week revived all of the “joie de vivre” that we imagined we had before the pandemic: two lovely summer evenings in pub gardens, followed by a family meal in an impossibly picturesque country house, impossibly in Langhorne. Drinking in beautiful summer weather, in lovely surroundings, with lovely friends, has been a distanct memory, but last week it all came true. Thanks to the PHS popup beer-garden, and the wonderful Union Tap House, both in Manayunk.
People have different connections to music. Some like it, some just aren’t interested, and some others deeply feel part of the sound, which can result in goose-bumps [goose-pimples], frisson, and obsessive looping of audio fragments in the brain, whether awake or asleep. There’s no doubt that I fall into the last category, which means that earworms are more than just an irritation; they can absolutely overtake my consciousness and interfere with the normal functions of a tedious life. There are two main categories:
- Earworms I can identify, and may even know the words to.
- Earworms I can’t identify.
Category 1 are an annoyance, but they’re easily replaced by listening to other category 1 earworms that aren’t as sticky.
Category 2 are a far greater problem and can really interfere with the normal functioning of life. They’re also quite fascinating because it’s not clear how they work or why they can invade your consciousness when you can’t even identify them. If you know the tune, and even some of the words, how is it possible that you don’t know what it is? Has anyone ever managed to implement this situation in a neural network? I doubt it.
So, the other night I had a category 2 earworm in my head and it was interfering with my concentration and slowly overtaking my entire brain. There was a jingly introduction, a sad voice, probably in 3/4 time, and a feeling that the whole song moved from the little jangly thing into something big and pleasing. That’s way too vague to identify. But it would not leave me alone. It felt so familiar but also so alien. Why did it feel alien? How could it be so familiar but so distant?
So I killed it off by repeatedly listening to one of my favourite addictive earworms, made powerful by strong childhood associations and the fact that I knew the words. [“Bad Guys” from Bugsy Malone if you’re interested]. Problem solved.
The next morning, in the shower, the jangly, 3/4, tragedy returned. I had to get it – but how do you trick your brain into giving away associations? OK, it wasn’t the style of music I normally listen to, so it was probably something I came across or was shared with me. It was also well grounded in my memory so I can’t have recently discovered it; I’ve no idea how I knew that, but that was the only clue I was given. The last time I was subjected to a whole bunch of music I didn’t know was while I was working at Mediaguide (now, sadly, defunct), so it was probably one of the bands I was introduced to there. I went through the ones I remembered, and narrowed it down to a few artists that could fit the bill. But even with that shortlist it would have been a heap of music to wade through – and that would have been a last resort.
There was one band in the list that I had also been listening to a lot recently, but as music to work to. I couldn’t name any of their songs or even hum them – they just worked well as coding music. My memory of the music was not like this jangly sad thing… but maybe it was an odd track.
So, I fired up Amazon Music on the telly, and searched for “Here We Go Magic” (for it was they) and found the album that I’d been introduced to seven years ago. There’s no way it was at the start of the album…so I flipped to the last track and played it.
Boom! Jingly 3/4 sadness and beauty. Somehow there was a part of my brain that knew this, and was desperate to hear it – but it seemed unable to communicate it with the rest of me. Why does it work like that?
[The song is “Everything’s Big”, and the rest of the album is great, and worthy of more than background music.]
This was a fortunate, pleasing and baffling experience for me. It’s not normally that easy. If you find yourself in this situation here are some tools for identifying a song:
- midomi lets you find songs by humming them. I’ve not had a lot of luck with this TBH
- musipedia helps you find a song by melody. Either play on a keyboard, tap out the rhythm or whistling.
- watzatsong has actual humans who can help you identify music. In fact they have successfully helped me identify a tune in the past.
Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the American obsession with “good” and “bad”. It seems to be accepted by all strata that there is such a thing as a good person and a bad person.
There are apparently good cops as well as bad cops. Good protesters as well as bad protesters. Good clerics and bad clerics. There are probably good bank-robbers and bad bank-robbers too. If only there was a simple hand-held test that would show if someone was good or bad – life would be so much easier.
On one occasion, while entering the States during a short period working for a pen-testing company, the immigration officer asked what I did for a living. On learning I was a “cyber-security professional” he said “ah, keeping the bad guys at bay?”
It was absolutely bewildering to me. He really thought it was about bad guys: evil people trying to hurt the good people, purely because bad guys want bad things to happen. No middle ground there.
Then I noticed how many times I hear people on the news – the fucking news – invoke the notion of “bad guys”. Because they’re the problem really aren’t they? Why don’t we just put all the bad guys in prison? Wouldn’t that solve all of society’s problems if we simply outlawed bad-guyism? If we did that, then all that would be left are the good guys. And they’re good!
It’s like living in a really crap cowboy film.