Monday, 16 October 2017

De Niro, Pacino, Heat, The Red Pill and the Bachelor Way

A couple of weeks ago, Rollo wrote this, in passing, about Anthony Johnson, the organiser of the 21 Convention Conference.
Primarily it’s been his experience with what any guy with a peripheral Red Pill Lens would’ve seen as a high-functioning BPD woman who was his unofficial wife.
There. That’s it. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it for a long while now.

The Red Pill is this huge socio-political-cultural-evolutionary theory explaining to men with poor judgement that there are a whole lot of psychologically-troubled, unstable, and just plain nasty women around. Except it doesn't tell him he has bad judgement and that she is damaged goods. It tells him she is acting out “evolved behaviours”, for which she has as much personal responsibility as she does the colour of her eyes, that those behaviours are universal, will be triggered by weak ‘Beta' behaviour by her partner, and can be mitigated by Game, making himself his Own Mental Point of Origin, and an awareness of the social and evolutionary processes behind the behaviour. In the Red Pill, her damage and moral turpitude is the expression of evolved features, it's never a bug. So it isn’t damage and it isn’t being a lousy person, it’s just being a woman. Getting angry about it is silly, and men need to steer round, or adapt to, the features they don’t like. And there will always be features they won’t like.

There’s a much easier way of doing the same thing. Get a job, pay taxes, lift weights, have interests, eat right, don’t drink too much and don’t buy stuff you don’t need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like. In what spare time and with what spare energy you may have, run daygame to find attractive and available woman, and take whoever drops into your lap, if that happens to you. Have sex with her, entertain her, let her entertain you. When she starts in with the attitude, or stops being sexual and fun, or starts talking about marriage or moving in, and at some stage she will, make like James Bond in the DB5 and hit the eject button.

(The real Bond would have run over the hefty woman with the sub-machine-gun and got away: but the audiences wouldn’t have stood for it and the plot seemed to require him to be caught.)

Some PUA skills to help the pick-up, and a repertoire of entertaining stuff to do for the dates. There's no need for the theoretical burden of the Red Pill: that’s what the London Daygame Model is about. Nobody these days is going to ask you why you won't commit, unless they are running a guilt-trip or a shame game. Both of which you can shrug off, along with the person doing it.

However, this is not a popular choice. Watch this old familiar scene. Carefully.

McCauly and Hanna are totally different people. Hanna loves drama and conflict so much he’s on his third marriage, McCauley has nothing in his life he cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if he feels the heat coming round the corner. Hanna calls that "pretty vacant” and McCauley agrees, it is what it is. It’s the discipline. Most people would rather be on their third marriage, than be able to walk out on a 31-year old Amy Brenneman. For most people, the very stuff of life is involvement with other people, which can mean sharing and kindness, but just as much can include arguments, shouting matches, thrown plates, slammed doors, turned backs in bed, expulsion to the couch, burned or disposed meals, and all the other ways that people show their love for each other. For most people, sour is as life-confirming as sweet, and indeed may be even more so. Good times are hard to find, bad times are easy.

Most people just want to feel anything. Only a small percentage prefer emotional sobriety, solitude, the company of a good book and some music in the background. McCauley is emotionally-sober, but takes no nonsense and can be scary when it’s the effect he needs to make, just as he can be understanding of Shiherlis’ (Val Kilmer) attachment to his wife (“For me, the sun rises and sets with her”). That’s the difference between emotional sobriety and the pseudo-placidity of people who pretend to “rise above it”.

Most people are Hanna guys and gals. They need the Red Pill, because it helps them navigate relationships they are emotionally locked-in to. There is no point in telling them to walk away. They can’t. It would be some kind of spiritual death for them. They would find solitude uncomfortable.

I am, as you will have guessed, a McCauley kind of guy - but without the whole killing people thing. Most bachelors are McCauley’s. We can stand solitude and our own company, and the drama and noise, that the Hanna’s find to be the very stuff of living, is a distraction. The Red Pill is for Vincent Hanna, and the bachelor way is for me and McCauley.

And ne’er the twain shall meet nor understand each other.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

A Hard Brexit's A-Gonna Happen

A brief return to Brexit. I was heartened by the Danish Finance Minister telling the EU to get on with it and stop bitching about the divorce payment. A couple of days later I woke up and realised it’s not going to work out like that. A day or so ago, Donald Tusk confirmed as much when he denied that the EU was working on plans for a hard Brexit.

The problem is the EU’s legal imperialism: that for special trading terms, a country must surrender its legal sovereignty to the ECJ and ECHR, and allow the four freedoms. The Swiss gave up when the EU insisted on that. The British will not back down on legal sovereignty either. So that’s that. No agreement on special trade conditions is possible.

As for the payment, that will have to be a number based on a bill of goods that can be sold to Parliament. My guess is that Parliament will recognise it has to pay for some of Junker’s wine cellar, but won’t want to think it’s paying for all of it. It’s just possible the EU could be sensible about that, but not likely. This is why the payment is linked in the British negotiation with special trade terms, so that the EU only get any money if they give up the legal imperialism. That’s why the EU want to settle the bill before they talk about trade and therefore their legal imperialism. You gotta think the politicians kinda got that at the start.

Far more important for the EU is that any agreement is not hi-jacked by EU members, many of whom - especially by Ireland and Liechtenstein - have a lot of previous form at that. Barnier thinks it will take six months to achieve ratification, which means he’s expecting a lot of internal horse-trading. There’s even a chance that the horse-trading will - how surprising - require a last-minute and unwelcome change to what was agreed in autumn 2018. The idea being that everyone will be so tired that they will agree to anything to get shot of the thing.

If I can see that coming, I’m fairly sure people who do this for a living have as well.

That’s why, on March 29, 2019, there’s not going to be an all-encompassing agreement that covers trade, immigration, the role of the European Courts, the four freedoms, and Junker’s wine bill. The UK will leave Europe, possibly without paying a cent on the day, and be free at last from the European Courts.

Which is the exact desired outcome both sides want. It allows the EU to maintain its doctrine of legal imperialism, and the UK to achieve legal sovereignty. It prevents the last-minute horse-trading that nobody, in the EU or the UK, wants. It removes the need to have 27 countries agree on everything from cheese import quotas to how many Romanian builders can work in the UK at any given time.

Now you know this is what everyone wants, do their actions make more sense? They aren’t trying to reach an agreement. They are trying not to reach an agreement in a polite and constructive manner. The autumn 2018 deadline will pass, March 2019 will loom closer, everyone will realise that more talking time won’t do it, and March 29th will come and go. Not so much with a bang, but a whimper. The French will impose a bunch of spiteful bans and inconveniences in their national interest; and the EU will impose tactically another bunch of equally irritating bans and inconveniences. (The UK will not impose any spiteful or petty bans, because that’s how they make the EU look like a bunch of petty twats in the eyes of the world.)

It’s then possible for both sides to agree on individual issues without compromising general principles. The UK will agree to pay for pensions, the EU will lift some of its petty bans. The UK will agree to pay slightly inflated prices for participation in Europol and other individual pan-European institutions, and other petty bans will be lifted. Everyone will agree that this is terribly un-European, and just the sort of thing those perfidious Brits do, but after all, business must go on. For cosmetic purposes, the EU and the UK will start trade talks, expected to last at least twenty years, to avoid using WTO terms. (By the way, Canada doesn’t seem to have suffered for the last twenty years without a special deal with the EU, so WTO can’t be all bad.)

2019 will feel a little chaotic. there will be ‘administrative agreements’ and ‘temporary arrangements’ to prevent the paperwork stopping trade, and a switch to WTO tariffs (instead of EU tariffs). The small but irritating number of welfare scroungers and Euro-beggars will return to Europe – but some will stay on to be the subject of populist shock headlines in five years’ time. There will be a short hiccough in the supply of young people from Southern Europe and builders from Eastern Europe, until the word goes round that the UK is still open for business – and who really wants UK citizenship? Some medium-sized companies who thought that Brexit would ‘work’ will have hard times, but the large firms will be fine. It will turn out that all that manufacturing in China means that we were already really trading under WTO rules anyway.

Within five years, everyone in the EU will be fed up of being run by the German Finance Ministry, the Poles will refuse to accept more immigrants, and the EU Army, aka the Deutches Heer, will escort the refugees over the Polish border. Oh yeah. The first time as tragedy, the second as comedy.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Monty Hall - Stick or Switch? It Depends How Often You Can Play

The Monty Hall problem is back in the news, or at least the weekend edition of the Financial Times, again, I think because Monty Hall died recently. Here’s the problem:
You’re on a quiz show with a host, Monty. There are three cabinets A, B and C. In one cabinet is a car, and in the other two a goat. You get to nominate a door, and then Monty will open one of the other doors and ask you if you want to change your choice. What you know is that Monty never opens the door with the car in it. Never. Should you change your choice?
The answer, given by Marylin vos Savant, is that you should, as in two-thirds of the cases, you will win the car. When she gave that answer, the wrath of a zillion statisticians and mathematicians descended on her. Here’s her argument: there are three options (in order A, B, C)

  1. Car Goat Goat
  2. Goat Car Goat
  3. Goat Goat Car 
If you pick A, you lose by switching in option 1 and win in 2 and 3. Otherwise you win by switching in the other two options. Take the odds and switch. At least when you have the opportunity to play the game over and over.

What happens when you can only play once? Choose A and suppose that Monty opens door C to show a goat. Now you know there are only two options:

  1. Car Goat Goat
  2. Goat Car Goat
In this case, the odds are 50-50 for switching. Why? Because you don’t have third option of Goat-Goat-Car which would force Monty to open door B.

Play the game over and over, and switching will win more often. Play once, and it’s a flip of the coin, so you may as well switch, since the odds are the same. There’s a winning strategy for multiple plays, but not for a single play.

Damn that’s clever.

Statistics is not only hard, it also only applies when you can repeat the experiment.

What about all the other arguments, including one quoted on Wikipedia that says this;
By opening his door, Monty is saying to the contestant 'There are two doors you did not choose, and the probability that the prize is behind one of them is 2/3. I'll help you by using my knowledge of where the prize is to open one of those two doors to show you that it does not hide the prize. You can now take advantage of this additional information. Your choice of door A has a chance of 1 in 3 of being the winner. I have not changed that. But by eliminating door C, I have shown you that the probability that door B hides the prize is 2 in 3.’
Here’s the mistake: "the probability that the prize is behind one of them is ⅔” should read “the probability that the prize is behind one or other of them is ⅔”. No argument that tries to establish that switching always gives a 2:1 advantage can be right, because when you can only go once the odds are 50-50.

On a one-shot play, sticking is as good as switching.

And in the TV show, you only got one shot.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

John Martyn's Dusty - When You Have Food Poisoning And A Tune Keeps Running In Your Head

This was the first John Martyn song I heard, on a sampler album from, I think, Island. It had Traffic's Forty Thousand Headmen on it as well. Dusty is the first hint, I think, in his folk-music period, of the sublimity that would come out of nowhere on Bless The Weather. I'm going to write about that in another post. In the meantime, enjoy the first line - "Nico, two-headed Cuban giant / Is looking with all of his eyes" - and the rest of the song.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Retiring the Canon 1100D

Yet another ramble through a kit decision. My current camera stock consists of:

an iPhone SE
a Panasonic DMZ T-100
a Canon 1100D
an Olympus OM-10 film camera

and I have a Canon flatbed scanner and a Canon colour printer. This will matter a little further on in the discussion.

As you will have noticed, I take a lot of townscape photographs, and to look good, a townscape needs a minimum of perspective distortion. Take a snap at an angle with an iPhone or even the T-100 and it looks like you can't square up the lens. Which is one reason I went through the selection of perspective correction programs and chose DxO Perspective. I bought the 1100D a few years ago, and have not used it much. It's light but bulky, and while it does cityscapes well, it's a digital camera....

...and I wear glasses. If I take them off so Ican look through the viewer comfortably, the buttons and camera screen are a blur. If I keep them on, and look through the viewer, I'm darned if I can square up the camera properly. So if I want to adjust the f-stop I have to put the glasses on, then take them off to look through the viewer, then take them off... oh to heck with it. And no, I’m not using the screen: the whole point of a DLSR is the SLR viewer.

Plus the 1100D has a smaller chip. Which introduces perspective problems even if the lens is adjusted for that.

I had a final compare-and-contrast on the 1100D, OM-10 and T-100 the other evening, looking through viewfinders, screens, trying to adjust stuff and generally letting my short attention span hands make the decision. Which was...

...I want my full-frame back. The difference between looking through the 1100D viewer and the OM10 is, I swear the OM10 view has twice the area. The 50mm Zuiko lens has ZERO distortion, and my 28mm Zuiko lens has exactly the wide-angle distortion you need when you need it. (28mm is wide-angle, 15mm is fish-eye.) I can adjust the OM-10’s f-stop without taking the camera from my eye, or even as I'm lifting it up. I do need to wear glasses to see the view, but it feels easier to square up the lens. And yes, my thumb still has an effective wind-on-after-the-click reflex.

I could buy a full-frame digital. A reasonable consumer one only costs £1,800 with lens. Yep. Stop right there. Financial justifications needed. I could get every room in the house repainted for less. By people who know what they are doing.

A roll of 36 frames of Kodak ASA 200 colour film is around £3.50 if bought in bulk. Snappy Snaps will charge me £10 to develop and print on 4x6. (I'm not sure those prices have changed in about ten years or even more). That's around 130 reels of film to break even using a digital camera. I don't take 36 photographs a month at the moment - though I might if I loaded film. Film has a whole different psychology. That's 10 years to break even. In the meantime, I get to be old-school analogue cool and use a cameraI I like rather than one I need to re-read the manual when I want to adjust anything.

If I want to digitise stuff, I can scan the 6x4's. Or I could buy a film scanner, if I could find some reliable reviews, and just have the film developed.

Whatever I do, I’m retiring the 1100D. Not my best purchasing decision. I will go forth and buy some 35mm film and take the OM-10 for a walk and see how that works out.

The iPhone SE camera stays, as does the T-100. Each has its uses. Just not for cityscapes.

Monday, 25 September 2017

A Couple of Tunes

This is my favourite U2 song, simply because, well, pretty much everything

and I listened to the Paul Simon album on Tidal recently, and was surprised to find it was as good as I remembered, and sounded just as good the second time. This track has some of the best guitar playing Simon has done, and as for the electric guitar chording...

Oh, and you should use the Brave Browser. It's what browsing is supposed to be.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Richmond Old Deer Park / A316

Taken, so the metadata reminds me, on the 31st of August at 06:29. I like the ghostly white crane. Richmond is one of the most expensive places to live in the whole town, and it's right on the main flightpath. After a while, everyone just stops noticing.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Evaporating Arguments

More than a few times recently, I've started a piece set off by something, fired up by someone's claims and a need to explain why they are wrong, misguided or could look at it another way. I get about three hundrd words in, and the momentum dissipates. The latest was set off by the idea of "bullshit jobs" put about by a pasty-faced, soft-shellled shitlib Professor of Anthropology at the LSE, who turns out to know very little about the real world and even less about the interplay of his own ideals, government and jobs created by the need to prove conformity to government legislation which however imperfectly captures social policies the likes of soft-shell Professor Graebner would like to see implemented.

It's surprisingly hard work to discover and then explain the the false assumptions and ignorance under someone else's lousy ideas. And I'm not being paid to do this. So what happens is that I get to the point where I realise that the ideas I'm arguing against are based on assumptions that are so wrong I would actually need to explain them, and at that point, I give up.

Rollo over at The Rational Male does valuable work. But his feminine-primary society, while a useful heuristic for men starting off on their Red Pill journey, is not useful to those of us who started at the finishing point, and who are capitalists in practice and Marxists in theory. (Best combination by far.) I can't argue with his ideas anymore: he's using them to do something different to the things I want to do. There's no point in criticising a chisel because it's not a Phillips-head screwdriver.

By contrast, my long screed on Modes was as much an excuse to set out ideas that have been rattling around my head for a while. I'm not going to repeat it. And neither for that matter would I ever bother explaining to someone why contemporary music played by graduates of jazz schools has a small audience: if their ears can't tell them why, my words surely won't.

I don't discuss the finer points of the Big Book or the Ten Steps. It's not that there's no point, but that each recovering alcoholic must find an understanding that works for them. I can talk about how I did a particular Step, or how I deal with something in daily life, but the other person has to find something that works for them. What I say may or may not be useful.

The point of discussing an idea is not to convince the other person, nor to convince any bystanders. It's to test out one's own ideas on the subject by comparison and contrast. When the other ideas are just plain dumb, as Graebner's are, or are intended to instil a mindset, as many of Rollo's are, then there's nothing to test against.

As for the EU-bought-and-paid-for mainstream media, and politics divided into those on the right side of history and those without a clue, move along, there's as little to see as an Apple product announcement.

I need to find a new playground.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Monday, 11 September 2017

Why Do People Hate Jazz?

I was prompted to discuss this by a rambling but interesting post by Rick Beato. Prima facie he’s wrong. Lots of people like jazz, and everyone likes Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Google “North Sea Jazz Festival” and see how big the crowds are. That’s not what he’s talking about: he’s wondering why the contemporary audience for music made by graduates of jazz schools is so small.

To get this discussion started, I'm going to suggest that we take

Miles Davis
John Coltrane
Charles Mingus
Charlie Parker
Duke Ellington
Count Basie
Cannonball Adderly
Cecil Taylor
Thelonius Monk
Keith Jarrett

and remove them from the discussion. History has established that these are musicians to match the great virtuoso-composers of musical history. Expecting a graduate of jazz college to do what John Coltrane did, or to show the musical judgement of Miles Davis, is like expecting a graduate of a music academy to play with the originality and taste of Liszt or Bach. It’s just silly to expect that.

So, here’s Sonny Stitt.

Here’s some more that’s so hip, the world’s going to turn black and white, and you’re going to be transported to Manhattan..

Sonny Clarke. And if you want something a little more funky, try this…

Moanin’ by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and the two Sonny’s, are from the Golden Age of Chamber Jazz, when it was the chosen music of white men who wanted to show they were hip, unconventional, tolerant, out-there and generally not square. Chamber Jazz was, for just under twenty years, the music of private white cultural dissent. Teenagers irritated their parents with it the way they've been using rap to do for the last forty years. Golden Age chamber jazz had been music for cities, cellar nightclubs, and two a.m. walks back to the third-floor cold-water walk-up. It was the soundtrack, often, to the life its listeners wanted to live.

Then stuff like this started to happen…


…and it got a little harder to follow all the new young players. And just in time, along came the Beatles, Bob Dylan, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. Jazz suddenly sounded bland, or it sounded horribly dissonant and self-consciously weird. The hot white girls definitely went for rock and pop. Aside from anything else, they could dance to it. The world changed as well: the lives that many white people wanted to live changed, being more West Coast than East Coast, and the lives that other people actually lived got worse. They needed something simpler, less polished and more direct, and after a few years of Funkaparlidelicment, rap and hip-hop came along to provide the soundtrack to those lives, and parent-baiting music for white boys.

The West Coast sensibility began to attract the men who had previously played Golden Age jazz. The West Cost sensibility is slick, smooth, emphasising technical accomplishment rather than feeling, less bluesy (who could really have the blues in California?) and there was a steady demand for soundtrack music for movies and TV series. Out of this came "smooth jazz", "jazz-funk" and other "hyphen-jazz" genres. Some of the old guard carried on, especially once they started to receive grants and teaching positions, but their audiences were getting older. And smaller.

Hyphen-jazz is dangerously close to elevator music. It took a Joe Zawinul, or Becker and Fagin, to keep the music sharp. Jazz had ceased to be a mood, a style and an attitude, and had become a C maj sus 7 dim 4 chord, musical “sophistication” for the sake of being clever. Becker and Fagin were in fact ultimately nostalgic for the Golden Age, a nostalgia Fagin's Nightfly project expressed so well.

Very little hyphen-jazz has anything to do with the Blues. It's my contention that all great music shares in the Blues, from Bach chorales and Byrd Masses to the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue. The only great composer who is blues-free is Mozart. The Blues is there in Mahler, Wagner and even some Stockhausen. I don't mean you will hear runs that could have come from B B King, or repeated opening lines complaining about how the singer's magic ring has been stolen. I mean listen to the sensibility. There's a sadness built right into the best music, however joyful and triumphant it might be in the finale.

There's no Blues in Dave Grusin's Mountain Dance

, which is a

a very pretty tune I like a lot. But it's not jazz.

So where did the jazz audience go? Did the music abandon the audience? Did the audience give up trying to follow the musicians?

People want to dance. When a form of music becomes un-danceable - and you can dance to Snarky Puppy as much as you can to Ascension, that is, not at all - it’s going to lose its main audience and leave behind a bunch of aficionados, for whom it will be a soundtrack for their lives, if not everyday, then for a few intense moments of private emotion. And when the music won’t do that, or when the nature and setting of the emotions no longer fits the music, then even the True Faithful will leave it behind.

And sure as heck the replacement, the dry, Blues-free, swing-free, chord-scale dominated Euro-jazz and big band whatever-it-is music, is the soundtrack to nobody’s life. To what life is this Wayne Shorter track a soundtrack?

It’s from his Rachel Z collaboration High Life. What emotions are there in this pleasant but bland piece by Rachel Z...

...which is riddled with Bruce Hornsby stylings, at least to my ear.

Though this Snarky Puppy piece

would, if I was seventeen, be great get-my-day-started music to play on the way to college.

I’m not claiming that nobody identifies with any of the music produced by people who went to jazz school. The Snarky's have a large and enthusiastic following. Personally I wish their guitarist had never heard John Scofield, but they all play like that now.

I’m explaining why those jazz school graduates don’t have many people at their concerts, and their CD’s don’t sell.

It’s way past time we should abandon the idea that “jazz” still exists. Calling what is played now under the name of “jazz” is as lazy as calling Wagner “classical” music. Wagner was a Romantic. Mozart was a classical, and Bach was a Baroque, composer. I don’t know what to call what gets played now, but I do know it has nothing to do with Cal Tjader.

And it sure as heck has nothing to do with this…


Monday, 4 September 2017

June - August 2017 Review

Remember those pull-ups I was crowing about? June started with a visit to my osteopath. I had problems with my right shoulder and arm from doing pull-ups while being heavy. I had one visit to my sports masseur and another to the osteo before June was out. Those pull-ups did more damage than I thought.

Actually, while that visit was Friday, June really started when I fainted at the gym the next morning. Doing pulley-rows. half-way through the second set, I got that light-headed feeling that says “head between knees now”, which I started to do, and the next thing I remember I was sound asleep wondering how I got home. Then I woke up, and saw that I was in the gym, thought that was part of the dream, and then realised that it wasn’t, and that I must have passed out. I had not hurt anything - it’s a short trip from the pulley-row seat to the industrial carpet floor - but the gym had called an ambulance. The paramedics took ECGs, pulses, blood sugar and asked all the right questions. Fainting is taken very seriously, because while it probably means “not enough to eat”, it might mean all sorts of serious conditions. They took me off to University College Hospital, where I was whisked straight into a room, someone took some blood for testing, and then I was ignored for a couple of hours. Only by telling a nurse I was going to leave, did I get a young lady doctor, who asked even more sensible questions, made sure everything moved, prodded my abs and declared them “nice and soft” (!!!! my abs are like rock, but I think she meant, “not tight like a drum”), and sent me on my way. Following that I had lunch at Carluccio’s in Bloomsbury Square and went to the movies.

I took the next day off, because after you faint, you will have a few days where you’re not sure you might not do it again. It takes a little while to regain confidence in yourself.

I found a decorator for the flaking paint in my kitchen, he diagnosed a leaking cistern, and the plumber he suggested confirmed it. So towards the end of June, Pat the Plumber came in, hammered away and did things with pipes, to remove my old free-standing toilet and hidden cistern, and temporarily install the floor-stander I bought to replace it. July started with me taking all the old crud from my bathroom to the re-built tip at Spacewaye. Ah, what life is made of! The pipe into the cistern had been leaking slightly every time I flushed. Leaking stopped, the walls and floor could dry out, and everyone re-convened at the end of July to tile in the bathroom, and scrape away bad plaster, make good and paint the kitchen. Then Pat the Plumber came back and put the cistern on. Did I mention I was flushing with water from a bowl for a month? Always something new in my life.

Remember that week in July when the weather was crap? Yep. That was the week I took off.

July ended with the death of my nephew’s father. It turned out I was the sole remaining executor of his Will. So there were back-and-forths with the solicitor who held the will, while I assembled and had certified various documents to send so they could send me the Will. I handed that over to my nephew’s solicitor, who has acted for our family for a long time, and renounced my Executorship. This leaves my nephew in charge, which is how everyone wants it.

At some point in mid-July, I got a summer cold and had a day off to recover. I spent the next three weeks with a lingering cough, that culminated in a Thursday when I had really bad coughing and felt feverish and weak, and rarely for me, bailed at work. I saw my GP that Monday, who prescribed a week’ worth of amoxycillin. I took those, the cough went and I felt a little more perky than I had for a while. Some things do just work.

I saw War Machine, at the Curzon Bloomsbury, Baby Driver at the Curzon Soho, and Dunkirk at the local Cineworld. On DVD, I went through S1 of The Returned, Fog and Crimes and Billions S1.

Paco Pena passed through Sadlers Wells, and I saw him on the Saturday matinee, after lunch at Caravan in Exmouth Market.

I started my free month subscription to Tidal Premium. Not complaining yet. The difference in quality between the BBC Radio 3 digital broadcast of Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Tidal stream of the Academy of St Martin's version was night and day. The classical music seems thin on the ground, but I don’t see Naxos licensing its catalogue to Jay-Z when they have a site of their own.

I had to replace the fridge, since mine was making high-pitched hums every time it switched on. Replacing under-counter fridges 50cm wide is dead simple, because there’s practically no choice. Go into Curries, buy The Fridge, and pray it gets delivered without drama.

As for reading, in June, I got seriously bogged down in Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning, which is currently on hold. Releasing myself from that, I read Milo Yiannoplous’ Dangerous; Peter Plagen’s book about Bruce Nauman,The True Artist; Fumio Saski’s Goodbye Things; Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever; Fernanda Torres’ The End; Brian Christian and Tom Griffith’s Algorithms to Live By; John Kenneday Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces; Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The History of A Town; Warren Ellis’ Trees 1 and 2; the second book of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman; Virginie Despentes’ Vernon Subutex 1; and also re-read Taleb’s Anti-Fragile.

(Don’t bother with A Confederacy of Dunces, do bother with The History of A Town. Trees is imaginative but sadly marred by SJW ideology - you would not think this is the man who wrote Transmetropolitan. Torres’ novel is a good read, but the exact opposite of what the blurb says: it’s a bunch of female-centered fantasies about men with options who nevertheless commit to flawed women. The Algorithms book actually proves that you can’t live by algorithms, but saying so would spoil the fun. The point of developing simplified algorithms is to highlight the complexities of the real world. Anti-Fragile was better the second time around, but yes, it is rambling and self-indulgent. Despentes’ novel could only be published in France and only written by a French woman. No Anglo would have the nerve.)

Sis and I had supper at the Providores on Marylebone High Street in June, and at The Shed in Notting HIll in July, and our annual trip up the Kingsland Road to Tay Do. I had a post-gym Saturday breakfast at the Ivy Market Grill in Covent Garden, and at the Hoxton Hotel in Holborn another weekend, and lunch at The Test Kitchen in Soho during one rainy week off.

At the end of June I started going to the gym on Saturday morning and Sunday late afternoon. I’m liking doing that, and it makes a pleasant start and end to the weekend.

I have not described the endless silliness with Talk-Talk I had throughout July. Suffice to say that I have new copper into my house, have dumped their modem and use mine, even though I made them send me a replacement just because they should do. I’ll leave that for another rant.

Now I put it all together, it doesn’t seem so bad. But I kept feeling I wasn’t doing anything.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Musical Modes for Practical Guitarists

Recently I watched a number of You Tubes explaining the various modes of a scale. This one set me off.

 I’m going to be the first to say that Mr Beato is a better composer, guitarist, music theorist and probably all-round human being than I am. Just so we get that clear. I'm just not sure that it’s helpful to call anything, well, I can’t write it, so I’ll show you the screen

It’s the one at the bottom, that minor seven diminished flat-3 Locrian double-flat 3rd, double-flat 7th. No. This is madness. Let's start over.

A musical key is a bunch of notes, in no special order. Once you insist on an order, in which each note is higher than then one before it, until you get to the note an octave higher than you started, you have a scale. So the notes {C, F, E, D, G, B, A} are the notes of the key of C, and when played in the order make up the scale of C major.

The order that generates the familiar do-ray-me (tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone) sequence of intervals is called the “Major” scale and the (Western tradition) default order to play the notes of that key.

What happens if we take the same notes and play them in a different ascending order? Say ? Try it, and play the sequence at mid-tempo. What you’ll notice is that the last interval - C to D - seems to want to reach out for something more. It doesn’t resolve and land you ‘home’. It sits there waiting for you to do something more. That’s how I feel, anyway.

Now play A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A. That should sound dramatic and dark, but also the A sounds like ‘home’, though a darker home than sunny C. This is because this sequence is a Natural Minor sequence.

It makes a difference which notes we start and end on. Even though the notes are the same. That’s the basis of the idea of modes. However, instead of being sensible, and doing this:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C : C Major / C in the Ionian mode
D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D : C in the Dorian mode
E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E : C in the Phrygian mode
F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F : C in the Lydian mode
G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G: C in the Mixolydian mode
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A: C Natural Minor / C in the Aolian mode

We have this mess:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C : C Major / C Ionian
D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D : D Dorian
E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E : E Phrygian
F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F : F Lydian
G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G: G Mixolydian
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A: A Natural Minor / A Aolian

In the first list we focus on the key, and the mode tells us in what order to play the notes. In the second list, we focus on the starting note, assume that we would play the major key on that note, and issue instructions about how to modify that major key. In the first reading, "play in the Lydian mode" means "treat the fourth of the key as the home note". In the second reading, it means "play in the major key corresponding to the fourth of the original key, and oh yes, sharpen the fourth of that new key".

I know which one I'll go with. And the composers and choristers of early Church music, where modes originated, agree with me. That's how they thought of, and used, modes. There were no "keys" in the 12th Century. Modes live in a simpler musical world.

The academic approach is the source of the lunacy in which a guitarist, faced with a sequence of Fmaj, Gmaj and Cmaj chords, is told solemnly that they need to play in F Lydian, G Mixolydian and C Ionian. Which means they need to play in F but remember to sharpen the fourth, G but flatten the seventh, and then plain old C.

Or they could just play in the key of C over all the chords, which is what they are actually doing.

One of the first, and still the best use of modes in jazz, is Flamenco Sketches

from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue C Ionian (natural major scale) (notes of C, starting on C) A♭ Mixolydian (Major with a minor 7th) (notes of D♭ starting on A♭) B♭ Ionian (notes of B♭) G Harmonic Minor over D Phrygian Dominant (alternates over bass notes D and E♭) (notes of B♭) G Dorian (notes of F)

The single most dramatic moment in everyone’s solos is the change from B♭ Ionian to D Phrygian. SAME NOTES! We only hear the difference because the soloists play the mode at the start of each change so that our ear gets attuned to what’s going on. As for the second change, it’s Miles’ standby C - D♭ trick (aka “shift up a semitone”, which is easy on the guitar, but I suspect rather more tricky on the saxophone) disguised by starting on A♭ instead of just sliding up the fretboard one step while carrying on.

To repeat, I'm not claiming that the academic approach is wrong. I'm claiming that it's horribly confusing, carries way too much overhead, and that in practice, I bet even the best players translate "E Dorian" to "D-major+E home note" rather than "E major flat 3 flat 7."

I know music theorists are rolling their eyes, huffing and preparing to tell me I will never work as a real musician, and that any pupil of theirs who can't figure out what notes to play instantly on being given the instruction "C Aolian, sharp 1, sharp 4, sharp 5" should have their guitar taken from them. 

It would still be easier to tell them to play in the key of C and make the chords sound good.

Monday, 28 August 2017

How I Intend To Spend My Weekday Evenings

One of the reasons I felt bad about June and July was that I felt I was wasting a lot of time, or rather, I was doing X when I thought I should have been doing Y. Looked at one way, an employed single person feeling that they aren’t being productive enough is silly, especially when I do all my own shopping, cooking, washing and cleaning.

From 05:30 to around 18:30 my life belongs to work, commuting, cooking and other prep-work. Make that 20:00 if it’s a gym day. Since I go to bed around 21:30, where I read until I fall asleep, that gives me about three hours, or ninety minutes, in which to squander time. Let’s not forget that I’m reading for around an hour a day on trains.

What should I do in that time? Gardening, in the summer; more reading; learn to read music (again) on the guitar; watch a couple of episodes of a box set; (insert whatever project you’ve been thinking of here). What do I do? Watch You Tube videos, read blogs, doodle some ideas on what is widely suspected to be an unsolvable mathematical problem, play guitar for a while, and, you know, all the other ways a man passes time. Except drinking. I don’t do that.

What I did do before my social circle moved elsewhere, was go out for a drink with a couple of the lads, or maybe to the movies, or I’d watch television, or maybe a video from Blockbusters. Look carefully, and some of those things can’t be done with a 21:30 bedtime. Except the video.

But sometimes I get to the end of the day, and I’m frazzled. I don’t have the energy to undertake any more organised activity requiring engaged, structured attention, or the ability to remember what the character dynamics are between the central characters. (This is why I can watch Elementary or even Californication like eating candy, because there are two central characters, and two supporting characters, and I know they all like and respect each other. But I still have to be in the mood.)

So those hours somehow vanish. And while I don’t feel bad, I can think “I should have gone to that 18:15 movie at the local cinema” or “why didn’t I curl up with the headphones and listen to (insert name of any 19-th century symphonic composer except Brahms here) (insert number, usually between 1 and 9) Symphony properly.

I have many theories about this, of which the one I probably believe is plain old moral weakness, and all the others are rationalisations. Let’s go with lacking a plan, and moral weakness.

So here we go: Every day on arriving home, I will shower and change immediately - unless I’m going to hit the garden or I did all that at the gym.
Once a week I will watch a movie - either at the local Cineworld, or a streaming art movie, or even in the West End
Once a week, probably gym night, I will watch a box set episode or two.
Once a week, I will listen, on headphones, to one of the many symphonies or concertos I have on CD Once a week, I will have a couple of hours listening to new music on Tidal
(Reading can accompany listening to music, or vice-versa.)
Friday night is for shopping, washing and reading to musical accompaniment
Blog posts fit in with all this.
And at some point I have an evening meal to make
A sudden attack of binge watching a really good series counts as any of the above
Polishing shoes, ironing or other such counts as well.

If I do this, I will not allow myself to feel that my time has gone wasted.

I will not watch random You Tube videos, nor will I follow links on my regular websites.

If in doubt I will have an early night.

Or fold scarves.

Weekends are kinda the same, but with added gardening and maybe visits to Kingston on other shopping destinations if absolutely unavoidable.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Magazines You Can Only Buy In Soho Bookshops (1)

There are a handful of newsagents in Soho that stock all sorts of offbeat magazines. For quite a while back before everything was on the net, I would buy one or two just because. The only magazine I buy and read regularly now is Art Monthly. I kept many of these offbeats for quite a while, and recently decided to clear them out. But first I took photographs of the front covers. This is the first batch.

Links to those still going:

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Nice People Play The National Lottery

Single Mum of Colour? Check.
Gay Latin Male? Check.
Sturdy White Working Mother of Two? Check
Daddy of Colour with Princess Daughter? Check.
White Diamond Geezer Family Man? Check.
Athletic Single Middle-Aged White Devoted Daughter? Check.
Gay White Social Worker? Check.
Retired White Devoted Daughter? Check.

The Missing Demographics?

1) Straight Professional White Men
2) Twenty-Something Girls

This feels research-driven. The National Lottery asked people who they had helped, or thought they would help, with the money they won or might win. The research subjects duly gave Right Answers, and the agency devised this campaign, as much as an attempt to position the Lottery as for Nice People who will spend the money on Good Causes, and not just for people desperate to get out of debt, and who shouldn’t be gambling in the first place. The people in this poster are all nice. Nice people play the Lottery. Well, that's what they want you to believe.

The Devoted Daughters are a surprise. I wouldn’t have guessed they were a sizeable segment.

Why no Straight White Men? One theory is that the Liberal Elites who run advertising are part of a plot to marginalise Straight White Men and to privilege women and minorities. The real reason is the research says middle-class white men don’t go near the Lottery. That’s why there are no white professional men in the picture: wasted communication resource.

Here's another reading. Straight White Men can provide for their families without the Lottery. The Lottery is for women and minorities who are underpaid: because gender pay gap and discrimination. So maybe in a way this poster is affirming the Liberal Elite frame after all.

Why no 20-something girls? Because 20-something girls are not about family, and the Liberal Elites don't want them to be about family. That's one suggestion, but the real reason is, I bet, that 20-something girls don't play the lottery either. Because deep down, 20-something girls know that the Lottery is for women and minorities who can't command a decent salary.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Goals and Systems

Scott Adams, who is way richer and smarter than me, has a saying: goals are for losers, systems are for winners. It's been taken up by a few folk recently. It sounds plausible, especially when Adams explains it, but there's another half to the story.

Goals and systems go together. The goal gives the system a purpose, the system makes the goal achievable. Goals without systems are fantasies; systems without goals are futile. Olympic competitors have a goal (“do my best in the race on the day”) which is carefully not about winning medals, and a system of training, dieting, sleeping, and for all anyone knows, motivational movies, to help them achieve that goal. Oh. The medal thing? Well, if their best gets them one, with the accompanying sponsorship and advertising deals, that’s a bonus. It’s not what they are doing it for.

At the very top levels, as I’ve written before, it’s all about the process, not about the prizes.

Someone who says they have a goal, but doesn’t work a system to get there, doesn’t have a goal. They have an idle dream. Someone who says “My goal is to run the London Marathon in under three hours next year” when they can barely run for the bus now, is not “setting themselves a goal”. They are fantasising. Or just being silly. We nod along with it because we’re polite. We don’t really think they have a goal.

There are three kinds of goals: goals that bring prizes, like winning an award, getting a promotion or a raise, or bedding the blonde; goals that don't have prizes, like benching 100kg, visiting Paris, or bedding the blonde; and states, like being fit and healthy, being informed about the arts, or writing for a living. And let’s distinguish these from tasks which are closed-end activities with a well-defined result that you wouldn't do unless you had to.

Being an author is a state-goal; writing a best-seller is a prize-goal, and cleaning the shed to write in, is a task.

A state-goal needs maintenance: after a while the maintenance becomes the goal. I “go to the gym”, I don’t “aim to get muscled-up”.

We can win prizes by sheer dumb luck alone, as in a Lottery, but mostly prizes are won by talent and effort, and the sheer dumb luck of someone deciding to award you a prize. You’re not in control of whether you win a prize. You are, mostly, in control of whether you can work at something every day. At this exact moment of post-modern capitalism, winning any prize takes a lot of work, and hence requires the temperament, wider life-style and sacrifices to do that work. You want that promotion to the grade above the crab-basket? Put in the hours, put in the work, learn the self-management, self-presentation and social skills. As for what you have to do to win an Olympic Gold… Prizes worth having require a lot of work.

A handful of Prizes put one into a Pantheon: Nobel Prize winners, Fields Medallists, Wimbledon and Formula One champions, all have the same relaxed confidence that musicians who had played with Miles Davis had or have. The glow of the unquestionable elite.

At the other end are the non-prize goals: whether these are rewarding depends on your state of mind. One man might be thrilled with his trip up to the observation deck of the Shard, while another, in the middle of a potentially nasty re-organisation at work, might wonder what he is doing there. One man may bench 100kg and glow inwardly at having proved something to himself: another might add another 5kgs the next time.

Therapists and psychologists see a lot of people who don't get a feeling of satisfaction from whatever they do. Those therapists conclude that everyone feels that way, and pronounce goals of any kind to be inherently unsatisfying and meaningless. As opposed to True Love, and Family, and Intimacy, and Being Accepted, and all that stuff.

Someone who thinks that getting some gee-gaw, attaining some goal or winning some prize will change them are, of course, being silly. It’s not the prize that changes them: it’s the process of getting the prize. It’s the changes in character, confidence and emotional state needed to be at the prize-winning level, that are the real benefit of the prize. Not the money, celebrity and appearance in the Honours List. Although the money, celebrity and gong are worth having.

Regular people are puzzled by those of us who have state-goals. Why do I want to be fit and in shape? As if it must be for another purpose, such as impressing girls or playing a sport, the purpose of which is, of course, to win a prize. Regular people understand prizes, but not states. Unless that state is "happiness". Whatever that means to them.

Successful people, by contrast, have systems and goals, the goals are states of which the system is an important part, and the state offers a chance of winning prizes (promotions, investment returns, sex with pretty girls, money) as well. Elite athletics is an endless stream of competitions: competing is a state, and every now and then, they get to stand on the rostrum and bag some sponsorship or advertising. Writing is a state, and if the writer is lucky, he gets a best-seller.

The really unfortunate people are those who work systems that don't put them in a desired state and don't offer the chance of winning prizes.

They’re called “employees”.

Yep. That would be me.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Good and Bad Subscriptions

Finally, in this five-part series that just grew like Topsy, let's look at how subscriptions such as Prime work.

First, let’s explain how an honest subscription offer works. At one end is the Financial Times: you can subscribe to it at the same cost as you would pay over the counter, but they offer delivery. If you want online services, you pay for those as well. Very few products can get away with a zero per cent discount, and the FT is one of them.

Then there’s the Cineworld Unlimited card. It’s £210 a year for the basic card, which gets you a regular seat for as many movies as you want, plus discounts on hot dogs, ice cream and popcorn. Given that a ticket costs around £11 now, you’re in profit at the twentieth film. So you need to see two films a month. Every month. If I was in my twenties, I could do that. Now? I doubt they show a film a month I want to see. My guess is that most Unlimited card holders see between fifteen and twenty-five films a year - not counting repeats and the Bollywood audience. Those discounts on the ice cream? I bet they make us buy more. This sort of offer makes money two ways: first, the films left unseen, the people who see fewer than breakeven; and second, that people take Unlimited as a way of seeing more films. They go from, say, ten to, say, twenty.

Then there are magazine subscriptions. Men’s Health offers eleven issues for £33 against a counter cost of £43.89, and that includes delivery. That’s a 25% discount. I bet their research tells them that the the majority of readers buy it between four and nine times a year, and that very few buy it more than that. Marginal costs of production are fairly small - it will be printed in Eastern Europe or China - so the calculation is about the increased revenue from sales plus the increased revenue from advertisers. The math isn’t hard to do, but get it wrong and the publisher loses money.

All of these are honest models. The subscribing customer gets what they would have got over the counter, usually delivered and at a discount to the counter price. The company gets greater sales, and in the case of the Unlimited-style offers, more revenue per customer.

Now let’s talk about Prime and Netflix. How does something get onto Prime? An Amazon buyer is talking with one of the networks. They are going over the autumn releases, and quibbling about discounts for Amazon. Then the buyer says something like “We could ease the discount a little if you could give us something for Prime”. That’s ‘give’ as in beer. Gratis. So the network throws in a handful of straight-to-DVD duds and kids stuff. That’s what appears in the Prime program. For stuff that needs delivery, the "free delivery” comes out of the manufacturer’s end: maybe Amazon promises to optimise where it appears in return. Or whatever else. Netflix does the same. You didn’t think you would get the good stuff free when it still sells in DVD discount stores for £5? Did you?

Ah. But what about House of Cards? Or Orange is the New Black? Sure, great value if you bail out after a month of binge-watching. Doesn’t make the rest of their catalogue any less bargain-basement. With the Netflix / Prime type of subscription service you are not getting the good stuff at a reduced rate, as you are with the magazine or Unlimited type of offer. You’re getting the stuff that studios and networks are willing to let go for free. Or may be promoting.

Monday, 7 August 2017

TV and Movie Streaming

Moving on to TV and Movies, let’s talk about subscription services. The final post in this series is about that Prime and other subscription services work and why. Let’s just say that Prime Video looks like the bargain shelves in Blockbusters. I don’t get The Long Goodbye for free, and I have to stump up for MUBI to watch Two or Three Things I Know About Her. It looks like I can watch all the kids movies I want. So let’s just toss Amazon in the bin.

You know how Amazon is really J C Penny on steroids? The streaming services - Apple, Netflix, Amazon - are Blockbusters on steroids. That’s why looking at what they offer always reminds me of walking round Blockbusters, or Fopp in Covent Garden, with the difference that Fopp has, and Blockbusters had, art movies. Blockbusters worked because some people were prepared to wait a while to see the latest movies, but mostly because all of us would watch something that was cheap to rent and looked “okay” but that we would not splash out a full-price cinema visit to see. Streaming services make money because of those grim Sunday afternoons when you’re bored and will watch anything. Amazon’s in the bin because Prime doesn’t actually apply to any movies I want, and do you notice how hard it is to find out what Netflix actually has to offer, and if any of the films or programs have an additional charge? So did I. Let’s give Netflix a pass. If you like it, you pay for it.

I'm going to stick with cut-price box sets from Fopp.

It’s Curzon Home Cinema I really want. I’ve ranted about their crazy commercial decisions before, but hey, let’s rub it in. When it started, they used the browser and I could plug an HDMI cable to my laptop and watch on my TV. Then they revamped the service, and now the Curzon app does not support any form of output re-direction. No Air Play. No Lightning to HDMI for the TV. Who the heck wants to watch a film on an iPad? Even Amazon’s iOS app supports Air Play! Ah, but wait. Curzon has an app for the Apple TV. That’s £139. Since I’m a Curzon member, £139 is about 10-12 movies depending on when I go. And it costs to rent the movies, so breakeven is way down the line. And they all come out on DVD anyway, and eventually for about £5-£10. This is not looking good for Curzon Home Cinema. I’ll just watch the movies when they come out instead. (Note: this is only because I work in central London. If you’re outside the M25 in a town with no council-sponsored art house, then it’s a bargain.)

So if I'm going to get an art-movie subscription, I’ll get MUBI instead. Ya na na ya na. (In this case, it’s the commitment to watch at least one art movie a month that’s the stumbling-block.)

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Music Streaming for Cheapies

Enough about hardware and software. Onto music streaming.

The cheapie option would be to use a free service. I did that for about twenty minutes a couple of years ago when I tried Spotify or Rdio or one of those. Ads are annoying on actual radio, which is why I listen to the BBC and Chill, and no less annoying on a streaming service. So I’m paying.

I really liked 8Tracks. I can still use it, though since they went public and got copyright religion, in the UK it plays via You Tube. And only when I’m running the You Tube site on my Mac. I like it because I could click in a random playlist that suited my mood and hear music from acts I would never otherwise hear about. Most of the time it was pleasant wallpaper, which was exactly what I wanted, and every now and then something would jump out at me, and I would buy the CD. That’s what I want. So I’ll listen to that over the Dragonfly and headphones now and then.

And before we talk about sound quality, can I just say “Royal Albert Hall”? Possibly the most famous music venue in the world, because of the Proms, and its acoustics are, well, blurry is a good word. Nearly all the Prom concerts are pretty much sold out.

Radio One streams over DAB at 128 kps, and the World Service at 64 kps. Your telephone land-line gives you 64 kps (56 kps in the USA). Radio Three is broadcast between 160-192 kps. So anyone offering 320 kps is offering twice the quality of radio. Next up is streaming CD-quality FLAC files, and that’s going make you glad you have unlimited downloads. A WAV file at 1411 kps takes about 11 MB/min and FLAC compresses between 50%-60%, so  Beethoven’s Ninth, which is around 75 minutes long, is around 412 MB of music data. Signalling overhead and some re-transmission may add up to 30%, so allow another 125MB for a total of 637MB. At 320kps for the music, that’s 178MB, and at 96kps for the music, it’s 53MB. Watch the quality setting when you’re streaming on your mobile data plan.   

Pricing. For all the providers, the basic service, at 320 kps, is £9.99 / month. CD-quality streaming is £19.99 / month. You don’t decide of a price is low or high by looking at the competition. You decide by looking at the generic alternatives. Radio, for instance, is free but has irritating ads and talking heads. Not a good comparison. I buy about 3-4 CDs a month, usually classical, not usually new releases, sometimes a box set of (say) Mozart symphonies. Let’s say I spend £40 a month on CDs. Not all of those will get played a lot afterwards. Some are purely experimental - what does this modern composer sound like? Very occasionally I will hear something in Fopp and be immediately stricken - SOHN’s first CD was like that. A new full-price classical CD is about £15. I very rarely buy those. To look at £20 / month as “twice the price of Spotify” is to miss the point. It’s “two spec CD’s I may never play again”. It’s also about the price of a ticket in the stalls of St John’s Smith Square to hear the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Tidal and Qozum’s £19.99 / month for CD-quality is a well-judged price. I suspect that I will buy fewer, or better targeted, classical and / or jazz CD’s, because I’ll be experimenting over the streaming service. I’ll happily stream 320 kps at £9.99 / month over my home broadband connection.

So now, which service? I want one with good playlists. And a decent list. And I’d prefer to avoid the reputational issues of Spotify. Also, the cool kids at work voted 2:1 in favour of Spotify over Apple Music. So. That's Millennials. This leaves leaves Apple Music, Tidal and Qozum.

The audiophile subscription service of choice, so good that it’s integrated into Roon, is Tidal. I’m tempted to say that if it’s good enough for Roon, it’s probably good enough for me. It pays artists more, and I doubt it’s making Jay-Z richer right now. So that’s my choice. Tidal Premium. Via the iDevice and the Dragonfly. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Cataloguing Your Music For Cheapies

Why did I go through all this? I listen to music in two circumstances: when travelling, and at home. At home, I have a Marantz 6003 amplifier and CD6005 CD player with B&W 686’s - and that sounds as good as my ears can hear in my far-from-perfect listening circumstances. I buy and play CDs, and I'm happy doing that.

When travelling I play “train music” over the iPhone through Bose QC20’s. I rarely listen to train music in the house. Train music gets downloaded into iTunes where it rotates through a playlist called ‘iPhone’, which is updated every time I plug the phone into the computer. Train music has a finite life, and I have backups of it on a NAS. That’s why I looked for a way of streaming NAS files: it was a completeness thing.

Occasionally I want some random variety in my listening. So I was interested in streaming from You Tube / 8Tracks with decent quality but without a lot of cost. That’s an added-value thing. That lead me down the rabbit-hole. And it is.

I found out that a lot of serious audiophiles have all their music ripped to a NAS and play it back through a library + music catalogue program running on a computer attached to a high-quality DAC hooked into the hi-fi amplifier. I know: you can feel a flow chart coming on. A suitable authority in this is Hans Beekhuyzen.

Summarising his excellent videos… The preferred audiophile hardware set-up is a Mac Mini - and not the cheap one - and an iDevice to run the library’s remote-control app. Audiophiles are likely to have an iDevice or two already, so this set-up is a lot cheaper than buying a MacBook Pro. (Beekhuyzen makes a good point about the volatility from time to time and market to market of the actual boards and chips used in Wintel computers of the same name. Only Apple are consistent.)

The top-end library- players are JRiver, Audirvana 3 and Roon. These have remote control apps for iDevices, and there are generic remote control apps for OS X (the Mac Mini) if you want to stream from Spotify, Tidal and other services.

All this will cost around £1,000 including the software, and more for Roon. Roon is for the 1% of music freaks. The annual subscription is £120. It looks fabulous. It has the names of all the sound engineers who worked on the record, and the names of the receptionists on duty at the studio during the recordings. If, like the Hans Beekhuyzen, you too have 500 SACDs, this is what you want, and you won't bat an eyelid at the cost.

I like music, but I'm not nerdy about it. I can recognise most major 1950's jazz musicians by ear, and identify the major composers by style within five bars, and of course my head is full of pop-culture junk from my youth, but I'm not a music nerd. I don't have four different versions of The Planets - because I have the best one, which is by Von Karajan and the Berlin Phil. I have two versions of the Bach Cello suites: Tortellier and Yo-Yo Ma. That's it. For me, the additional spending on a fancy library isn't worth it. And I need to be careful of the bottomless pit that is getting all the catalogue details right.

I have a Mac, and Apple want you to use iTunes, and iTunes really, really wants to store all the music in the Media folder next to the library.itl file. So much so that the default setting when you do File-> Add to Library is to copy all the files to that Media folder. It really is inexcusable of Apple to make wasteful copying the default. I use iTunes to manage the travelling music and the iPhone: those files live on the laptop because iTunes is happy that way.

There are not many free / cheap music cataloguing (1) programs for OS X, and a fair few of those come from Linux. This is what Clementine looks like:

Not as pretty as iTunes. Let alone the Top Three. And I couldn't find any setting to increase the size of those thumbnails.

So I created a second iTunes “library” using alt-Click-on-iTunes-Icon, turned off the “use up lots of valuable SSD space with duplicate copies of stuff on you NAS” option, and then File-> Added To Library. iTunes created a nice catalogue of what’s on my NAS for me. However…

iTunes seems to have limited write permissions for files on a NAS. OS X defaults to a protocol called AFP to connect to a NAS, and AFP seems to limit your ability to do even simple file management operations. Connect to the same NAS as an SMB (Samba) server and you get the permissions you need. I suspect iTunes uses the AFP protocol. So it won’t modify file metadata and album art if the file is on a NAS. Yep, this was one of those I-learned-more-than-I-ever-wanted-know exercises.

There’s a free program called Kid3 that will handle metadata editing of file on a NAS. It looks basic, but it does the business. Once you’ve edited the metadata in Kid3, you have to close Kid3 to release the files, delete the original entry in the iTunes catalogue and repeat File->Add to Library. The new metadata and album art will appear in iTunes.

However, in a fine demonstration of the utter irrationality of consumer thinking, since I've just avoided spending up to £1,000 on kit I don't need, I can treat myself to some kit I might want. Or some more CDs. Or a music subscription. Cue next post.

(1) Libraries have books. Catalogues are databases that provide details of a book and a pointer to its location in the library. What we really want is a music catalogue program, which is what the Big 3 seem to be. If you don’t want iTunes to make space-hogging copies, turn off the “copy music into the iTunes Media folder when adding to library” option. It’s hidden on the Advanced Tab in options.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Streaming Near CD-Quality Internet and NAS Music for Cheapies

I have streamed music on You Tube to my hi-fi via the headphone socket of my ASUS netbook (which I have now retired) but never really liked the sound, and the ASUS was horribly slow loading You Tube pages. I started to look at various options to improve this, and then it hit me. Because, you know, I’m really smart and quick and down with modern technology.

I already have a high-quality device that will stream music from all sorts of sources. In fact I have two. The iPhone and iPad. All the streaming services have apps: Netflix, Amazon, You Tube, Google Play, Spotify, Beats, Apple Music… And there's an app called File Manager to play music stored on a NAS or a computer.

There’s only one upgrade I need, which is to put a decent DAC between the iDevice and the amplifier. The entry-level hi-fi DAC seems to be the £89 Dragonfly Black, attached via the £40 Apple Lightning Camera Adapter, which lets you power the phone and DAC from the transformer. I ordered those from Amazon, collected it from Doddle, took it home, plugged it all in, and…. instant hi-fi happiness.

As far as my slightly tired ears are concerned.

The final piece of the cheapie jigsaw is an app that streams music from a NAS or other computers. That’s File Manager Pro for iOS: the Pro upgrade gives you access to more than one device. File Manager Pro lets your iDevice access NAS and computers (it spotted my NAS, but you may need to set up others devices by IP address), and it gives you a simple Explorer interface to navigate round the files. Click the first music file in a directory and it will be cached and start playing. File Manager is smart enough to recognise that you probably want to play the other music files it can find in that directory and carries on caching and playing. Viola! NAS streaming.

You can now stream anything an iDevice can play from any computer on your network, plus music from any music streaming service that provides an iDevice app. You’re getting close-to-CD quality via the Dragonfly.

Is that it? This is where it gets embarrassing. My CD player has a USB port on the front. I’ve always thought it was for USB drives, and would be looking for files, and go off in a huff when it couldn’t find any. But hey, try anything once. I plugged in the Lightning-to-USB cable, navigated to a music folder with File Explorer and pressed play. Guess what? it works. My CD player is even better than the Dragonfly. As, to be fair, I would expect from the mid-range Marantz CD 6005. However, the Dragonfly is going to improve my listening when I’m streaming but not using the hi-fi. Like when I’m sitting in the garden. And you may not have a CD player with streaming USB input, so you should still get the Dragonfly.

For £130 if you have a recent generation smartphone, or £309 if you don't, you can stream near-CD quality music to your hi-fi from all those internet services, and you can stream any music you have on NAS or computers as well.

Yes. Almost. And certainly for less than £130, assuming you have an iDevice.

What’s missing is the library-style interface. That's for the next post.

PS: In case you have been rolling your eyes and being like "Dude, just use iTunes on your computer", here's why you're missing the point. The quality of output signal from a Mac headphone socket is not good enough: it's muffled and you will quite quickly get tired hearing it over a hi-fi. You still need the hi-fi DAC. Second, who said you had a computer? Third, even if you do, do you really want five or ten metres of USB 3 cable between you using your computer on the sofa and the DAC on a shelf? Also, that's about £60 of cable. That you are never going to use for anything else.

There are no high-quality DACs that can be streamed to from a computer over wif-if or ethernet. What does are media devices like the Apple TV or the WD TV. Take one look at the price and you know the DAC isn't going to be hi-if quality.

I know there are Internet Radios. The user interface is horrible. The upgrade path is, what upgrade path? Be serious.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Revising My Computer Security

A few weeks ago one of our in-house digital security people gave a presentation. He was not singing the usual tunes and had some interesting things to say, so I looked again at my security and privacy arrangements.

The public discussion about privacy is about keeping the prying eyes of the government and advertisers away from what you're up to. That's because no-one wants to say that the privacy you really need is from your wife, children, extended family, friends, and housemates. That doesn't sound sharey-carey-trusting-loving, but until the day the last person who likes to embarrass their mates is swinging from a tree, we're going to need that privacy.

I'm a single-occupancy household, so I don't need to lock my computers against my fellow trusted dwellers. On the other hand, I take two devices, the phone and the iPad, out with me most days, so those should have security enabled.

Also, I should do my bit to maintain herd immunity. Herd immunity happens when a high enough proportion of a group of animals has immunity from a disease that it can't spread. Maintaining herd immunity is why mothers who refuse to get MMR jabs for their darling ones are not exercising personal choice, but being irresponsible. If the word goes round the amateur villain chat boards that they have to steal twenty phones to find one that has no security and can be exploited, they will decide the odds aren't worth it.

For a long time I didn't do my part. There was nothing on any device I took out of the house that could be used to steal from me. Then along came PayPal, banking apps, Apple Pay and password managers.

I lock my work laptop every time I step away from my desk, and that's in a reasonably secure corporate environment. However, that's what my employer insists I do, and there are folk whose job it is to wander around spotting unlocked, unattended computers: it's part of my job, and I'm being paid to do it.

But then, I don't mind being locked out of my work thoughts. I do mind about being locked out of my personal thoughts. If that makes sense.

Anyway, as a result of the guru's advice, I made a few changes.

Apparently, advertisers put all sorts of tracking gizmos and other crapware on our machines. Some of it for people who have postcodes in Kaliningrad. I want to avoid that, so I put Adblock Plus on both my iOS devices, which improved the browsing experience as well. I have it on all my laptop browsers already.

I put my serious passwords into LastPass and have that on the devices I use to run my life. Caveat: LastPass doesn't sign you out after N minutes of inactivity. Signing out is manual. This is a mistake on their part. If you don't sign out, anyone who can get into your phone has access to the password manager that's still open because you forgot to sign out. As soon as you put a password manager on a device, you must activate the physical access security on that device. And sign out of the password manager anyway.

So I trained my phone to recognise my thumbprint, giving me a HTF (Do They Do That) moment. Folklore says it can tell if the Mafia cut off your finger and are using that. I'd like to know how that's done.

The guru has F-Secure on his phone. I met Mikko Hypponen, on a flight to Helsinki back in the day. He's a great ambassador for his company, but I still don't like active scanners. I use the default Windows Defender and the default Windows or OS X firewalls. I don't run McAffee, Norton or F-Secure. On iOS there's no point because of the way iOS sandboxes apps. On Windows or OS X, scanners are an operational overhead with little benefit. I read somewhere that the pros don't do use any. Instead they practice safe computing:
Don't visit dodgy websites, ignore any website that tells you your computer has viruses or your files are corrupt, and anybody who wants your passwords. Don't open e-mails from people or companies you don't know, and only download from the original supplier. Here I will tell you nothing have to do on sites which English not best used.
I clean out browsing history, caches and other stuff with CC Cleaner on Windows, and Clean My Mac for OS X. Cache cleaners for iOS are still lacking in functionality.

Just because I've cleared the cache or deleted the file, doesn't mean it's gone. Deleting is one thing, shredding is another. Here's the thing: file shredding and free / slack space wiping works on conventional hard drives (HDDs) but is iffy, if not discouraged on modern SSDs. It's not even clear what 'secure delete' in means on an SSD. There are encrypted drives that use a key which gets wiped, and unless the NSA or the Chinese are after you, guessing at the key is going to be computationally unfeasible. Most SSDs are not encrypted.

If you want to store large amounts of personal or private data, do it on a conventional hard drive. The you can shred-and-wipe, and it's gone. As soon as an SSD gets involved, you can't be sure the data won't still be there.

On Windows I use CC Cleaner to shred files in the Wastebin after deletion. Every now and then, I over-write the spare space on the drive as well. A three-pass wipe will do fine. The disk recovery people can work wonders with a physically damaged drive. The stuff they have works at bit-level. If you have, however, written random bits all over the drive, all they will get back are random bits. And no, on a modern 2.5-inch multi-gigabyte drive, all those tricks invented in the 1980's don't work.

My work laptop encrypts my Documents folder, but leaves the rest alone, which is sensible. On my personal computers, I'm not so sure. I might forget the password.

Encrypted files on personal computers are a red rag to anyone who wants to pick a fight. Encrypted files will be assumed to be the worst thing the person finding them wants them to be. Why else you you encrypt the stuff if it wasn't stolen company data / classified government documents / illegally-downloaded movies / whatever. Anyway, unless you are a journalist, very rich or have high-profile lawyers, you can be compelled to de-crypt it all by US Immigration, the Police, an Anton Pillar order, your wife, anyone with a gun... you get the idea.

(It occurs to me that the most secure personal laptop is one of those Lenovos or Dells that only corporates buy, dressed up with a corporate logon and two layers of passwords. Create at least two other user profiles and fill them with encrypted junk, suggesting that you are the third person to be using this computer. Make sure none of the software is within two releases of the latest version. Put on an old VT terminal emulator, McAffee, and make IE9 the default browser. Add a sticky label declaring that the Asset ID is BG788453TD, remove one of the keys (say Z) on the keyboard, and everybody will assume you work for a large financial services company and this is your work computer.)

While we're talking about encryptions, the guru suggested using Signal to communicate, or WhatsApp, which uses the Signal protocols. Use any end-to-end encrypted communication, as long as it is well-known. The quickest way to get GCHQ interested in you is to use fancy e-mail encryption, or a program known only to people who have attended Black Hat more than twice. I have WhatsApp, use the regular message app on the iPhone, and have a totally boring life.

All this stuff is free, by the way.