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Last update: May 2024

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The older I get, the more I realise that the only sensible response to an increasingly irrational world is to try and make nice things for people. And so I make music. Lots of it.

You can stream or buy my latest album Intermediary at Bandcamp, where you can also explore my extensive discography of older material.

Looking for social media? Here's my Facebook Artist Page and Instagram. You can also follow me on Mastodon.

CARRY THAT WEIGHT

It's a Bank Holiday Weekend this weekend, and I will be staying at home because that seems to be what I do these days. I'd like to say I'm feeling nicely chilled but I've got aches and pains all over and last night I had one anxiety dream after another (which mainly involved me sitting in a car I used to have and not being able to stop it before it ran into things). I've not felt up to doing very much, so I have done very little of anything other than reading books and watching live streams of my friends playing music. By contrast, ten years ago I was spending hours every day on my hands and knees in the conservatory finishing off tiling the floor. I don't think I could tackle anything that strenuous at present.

I suspect some of the aches and pains I have at the moment are because I have been playing this beast rather a lot over the past week:

This Means Warr

I've wanted a Warr guitar for a long time as a touchstyle instrument to keep my Chapman Stick company, and when one of my friends mentioned that he was thinking of selling his, I'm afraid I couldn't resist. And I'm absolutely delighted with it. It makes a fine controller for my Roland GR-55 guitar synthesizer and with active electronics driving Bartolini pickups, it has a very different timbre to the Stick. It's also tuned the Guitar Craft way, so it's Bb F C G D A C D from low to high with the low strings tuned in fifths, then a minor 3rd between strings 2 and 3 and a major 2nd between strings 1 and 2. It's not a tuning I've ever used before and it feels weird, but in a good, inspiring way. It means I can't just noodle with habitual patterns I've glommed on to from any other stringed instrument I play.

But the thing has a solid mahogany body with a walnut top, and it's very big (it has a 34-inch scale length) so it's quite ludicrously heavy. Ridiculously so, in fact. After a couple of days playing it with the standard guitar strap it came with, I was in agony (now I know why Trey Gunn has switched to playing his with it laid across his thighs) so I have replaced the fabric strap with an extra-wide, padded leather one. That has definitely eased the weight problem. But I'm still figuring out a workable playing position that feels right to me, and over the past week I've been experimenting with a range of orientations from upright (like I play the Stick) to almost horizontal (as one would play a normal guitar). I barely picked it up at all yesterday, because it felt like it would be sensible to give my shoulders a rest for a day or two.

As Trey says in that Guitar World interview, you need to be relaxed in order to get a good sound out of it and how you release a note is very important, particularly when you're using it to drive a guitar synth. You can't be sloppy about things at all because those pickups are very sensitive and extremely unforgiving.

I plan on having lots of fun with it during Fifty/Ninety this summer. There are only 38 days until the songwriting challenge gets under way once again and my fellow FAWMer (and master of guitar tone) @TomS has already told me that he expects great things from me and the Warr, so the pressure's on for me to sound like I know what I'm doing with it by election day...

TWENTY-NINE YEARS LATER

May 19th 1995 was a Friday. I can remember this, because it was the day I moved in to the house where I still live today. I've seen plenty of changes since then, and so has the house. The house is in better shape now than it has been for years, even if I can't say the same about me. The new paving has made an astonishing difference to the property's external appearance and I've been busy inside, too. Yesterday, I got round to painting the loft hatch and its surround that were installed a few months ago. Earlier in the week, I replaced the front doorbell, which had been hanging off the door frame for rather longer than I care to admit. I've made a start on bringing the back garden under control, although there's a lot of work left to do there. And I have plans...

The fascia boards and gutters will all be replaced at the end of the month. After that, I'm going to remodel the front garden and start to think about putting in a new kitchen and a new bathroom. But the house has already stopped looking like it's been abandoned for years and I've been pleasantly surprised by the improvement I've noticed in my mental health. Living somewhere that looks nice is good for you; who would have thought?

YOU ARE NOT THE CUSTOMER. YOU ARE THE PRODUCT

The company that introduced itself as "the replacement for e-mail" updated its privacy policy yesterday. Unless workspace admins opt out of the process (by sending Slack support an e-mail; and yes, read the first sentence of this blog entry again at this point and savour the irony), all workspace content including direct messages will be scraped and read by the company's new Large Language Model (LLM) in order to provide essential services such as (checks notes) "suggesting emoji reactions to messages".

Yes, really.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a company with access to a vast repository of supposedly private dialogue that they supposedly don't ever mine for data should eventually start mining it for data. Such conversations would be a goldmine for training LLMs to come across as being more natural (even if the only business use of emojis I've ever encountered is Musk's fondness for U+1F4A9, and that's not exactly an exemplar of erudite and cultured business acumen). It's disappointing, but the wave of outraged posts on social media largely miss the point that they're not Slack's customers; they're its product. The same also applies to most of the social media platforms that they're using to express their dissatisfaction with how Slack are running their business.

If you don't want someone else to take what you've made and do something with it that you might not be happy about, don't put it on the Internet in the first place. That sucks (and even then, it may not be enough to protect your intellectual property or indeed your privacy) but it's a sensible starting point. For everything else, assume that anything you post will be ripped off, co-opted, scraped, pirated, or otherwise abused.

Even so, I've already sent an opt-out email to Slack on behalf of the workspace I administer.

RISE AND FALL

Google just added a "web" filter for their search engine results, because apparently finding things on the Internet is not what they see their core business as being any more.

The rest of the world might disagree with them on that. Google's search results have been getting less and less useful over the past couple of years, but I think this latest change may end up being the moment when the company lost the last shred of its relevancy and began its slow but inevitable decline into obscurity. As Cory Doctorow would say, their enshittification is now complete. As for me, my default (and recommended) search engine these days is DuckDuckGo.

ROGER CORMAN (1926–2024)

His daughter has announced that the legendary film director and producer Roger Corman died last Tuesday at the grand old age of 98. I have a ridiculously large number of films which he either directed or produced in my disc collection. I have been examining his career recently because last month I picked up a (nicely discounted) box set of the sextet of adaptations of the Gothic tales of Edgar Allen Poe that he made with Vincent Price, restored and released by Arrow Films.

Mr Corman had an astonishing talent for spotting gifted kids who needed a break in the business, and giving it to them. The number of stars whose careers got a kick start that way is not just limited to Robert de Niro and Martin Scorsese but also includes William Shatner, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Nic Roeg, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, Sandra Bullock, Jack Nicholson, and many more. We quite literally would not have the movie business we have today without him. His passing leaves a big hole in Hollywood's landscape and his work (often derided as being low-brow, if not outright schlock) should be celebrated.

NOTHING DOING

Last night at midnight I checked the sky to see if we were going to get a repeat performance of Friday night's light show, but it was clouding over and while there might have been a faint green tinge to things lurking behind the clouds, it was difficult to make out because the Moon was still up and everything was washed out with moonlight.

After a few nights of very poor sleep this week (my scores have been in the low sixties instead of the ninety-plus I usually get) I was too tired to stay up any longer and see if conditions would change, so I went to bed. I slept through until ten o'clock this morning, so I think I made the right decision.

EXACTLY AS PREDICTED

Yesterday morning I was browsing the web while I waited for Tony and the guys to turn up with a cement mixer full of concrete and rebuild all the paving around the house. As I drank my coffee, I was reading about the latest big sunspot group on the Sun, AR3664, which is a mind-boggling fifteen times the size of the Earth. AR is an abbreviation of "Active Region" and AR3664 has certainly been living up to its name. It's extremely active at the moment and by yesterday morning it had already erupted multiple times with big, X-class solar flares. When I checked the SpaceWeatherLive website the biggest one they had listed was an X2.49. Sunspots appear and disappear in an eleven-year cycle and we're pretty much at the solar maximum at the moment, which means there was a good chance of seeing an aurora even though the time of year isn't great for watching the night sky because it stays light late into the evenings. The US's NOAA were predicting a G5-class solar storm, which is an extremely rare thing for them to do. In fact the last time they did this was back in 2003 and I enthusiastically blogged about the impressive series of X-class flares that were observed back then. Things looked very promising indeed, so I posted on Facebook with the comment "Not saying it's going to happen, but there's a pretty good chance of being able to see the aurora even at low latitudes over the next day or so."

At about half-past ten last night I went out to have a look to see if I could see anything. One of my neighbours was out having a look as well, but neither of us could spot anything that we thought was auroral so we went back indoors. But I didn't feel like going to bed, so I stayed up a while longer and just after 11pm I went back outside. Overhead I could faintly see something that looked like a wispy cloud running from North to South, but it had been a beautiful day with clear blue skies, so it seemed unlikely to be cloud cover. And that was when it occurred to me that the camera on my Google Pixel 7 Pro has a very spiffy "night sight" setting, so I pointed it at the wispy cloud (which was moving about in an interesting way) and pressed the shutter.

First Time EVER

Oh.

Over the next hour or so, the display faded in and out but each time it returned it had become a little bit brighter. By quarter to midnight it was easy to pick out the different colours, even with the naked eye. My phone revealed far more than that, though.

Red Sky At Night

The WhatsApp group for the street lit up as my neighbours started to hear about the light show, and a lot of their pictures were much better than mine!

The different colours that are visible occur at a surprisingly large range of altitudes. The most common, "traditional" bright green display is caused by oxygen atoms that are between 100 km and 300 km above the surface of the Earth. I was surprised that there was pretty much none of this to be seen here last night. Instead, we got a mix of red stuff (which is is caused by the excitation of oxygen atoms about 300 to 400 km up) and occasional blue and purple colours (caused by nitrogen atoms at an altitude of less than 100 km).

Look Up

The show continued until around half past twelve, when it quite rapidly faded from sight. By 1 am, even my phone's best efforts could barely pick anything out, so I came back indoors and called it a night.

But what a night it was!

Today I have been drinking lots of much-needed coffee while listening to an excellent and very appropriately named album by Ian Boddy. Several of my friends have been asking on Facebook if anyone was having problems with blindness or large ambulatory plants this morning (because my friends have very much the same sense of humour that I do; that's why we're friends) but I'm pleased to report that in the village, at least, there don't seem to be any Triffids about. Phew.

But things don't seem to be over just yet. AR3664 spat out another very big flare in the early hours of this morning (at X5.8, it's the biggest one its generated so far) so it's possible that we could be seeing more of the aurora in the next few days...

PARTY ON, DUDES

Since Thursday night I've attended six separate listening parties by musicians I follow on Bandcamp. I spent several hours enjoying lots of extremely good music whilst having an online chat with some very nice people who were doing the same thing. I've always felt that there is something very special about sitting down and playing a single album all the way through from start to finish while paying close attention to what's going on, and my experiences over the last week or so have very much confirmed that opinion.

Last night I held another listening party of my own (my second) and I'm delighted to report that it went even better than the first one did. In fact, I've been to physical gigs that didn't have the audience size I ended up with! I said last month that music can be a positive and sustaining influence in our lives, and the fact that I get to hang out with a whole bunch of people who clearly feel the same way is better than therapy for me. Particularly when it turns out that they like the sort of music that I make...

Because an unexpected (but very nice) bonus about last night was that it pushed my all-time sales on Bandcamp across the threshold of another one of their significant milestones, so I got one of their nice "power up" emails this morning. I hope you'll forgive me for saying so, but I'm feeling rather satisfied with myself today.

LANDSCAPING

The back garden looks like the aftermath of a tornado this morning. The house's front drive, the patio, and all the garden paths have been ripped up and the rubble taken away, and work on their replacements is well under way. The back lawn is mostly a sea of mud because of all the heavy rain we've had, but this morning the Sun has come out and the forecast for the next week is for things to clear up (and, even better, things are expected to warm up as well).

But the mayhem means that I've no new trail camera footage to share. All it can see at the moment is a large pile of foliage that's been cut down to make room for the new, larger patio.

I can already see how much of an improvement the work is going to make to the back garden. The laurel tree I planted a quarter of a century ago, which had grown to be over thirty feet high, has been cut down and the difference to the amount of light is remarkable. I'm really looking forward to everything being finished and being able to enjoy sitting out there in the summer.

BANDCAMP FRIDAY! BANDCAMP FRIDAY!

Once again Bandcamp waive their revenue share of sales made on their website today, and I have just bought a bunch of albums that I've had my eye (and ears) on for the past few weeks. It's becoming increasingly difficult for artists to make a living making music, and initiatives like Bandcamp Friday—which actually gives more money to musicians rather than eroding their income even further—are few and very far between, so I try to do my bit to help out not just because I love music, but also because I feel I have a responsibility to support a community which I consider myself to be a part of.

Because I also experience Bandcamp Friday from the other side of things, and I have a new album of my own out today. It's called Intermediary.

Intermediary

I'm not gonna lie; this album was hard work. I'm going through a phase where my ill-health is affecting my ability to create, and it sucks. I have been having difficulty sleeping, because the pain I'm in is pretty much constant at the moment. As a result, I found it much harder to put this album together than anything else I've made in the past six months or so. I kept listening to mixes and simply not hearing what I thought I'd just recorded. I kept going back to things and starting again. Not even my usual get-out-of-creative-jail dodge of swapping guitars was working for me. When I got the last track into a shape that I was happy with yesterday afternoon, my feelings were more of massive relief rather than satisfaction or pride in my work; I think that's a sign that I should take a break from the music-making for a while.

And yes, I know I've said this sort of thing before and I'm usually back in the studio enjoying doing stuff again within a week, but I think that I might take a longer break this time. I have a huge stack of books in my "to read" pile and I really ought to devote more time to reading some of them, for a start. I also have a bunch of CDs to listen to as well as a few DVDs and Blu-Rays I bought recently. And since I discovered that the solar panels on the house interfere with television reception because my aerial is inside the roof, I've barely watched any television at all since February; I will have to get an aerial fitted to the outside of the house at some point but to be honest it hasn't really felt like I've been missing out on anything important without it...

PREDICTABLE

"Having a trail cam will be great! I'll get to see all the interesting and unsuspected creatures that inhabit the neighbourhood!"

(Checks camera memory card.)

"Cat. Cat. Cat. Cat. Cat. Cat. Cat. Cat."

Busy Night

CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY

Goodness me, it's May. Last night the temperature dropped to 5°C (41°F) which is a slight improvement on last week, when it dropped to below freezing on a couple of nights. This morning I switched off the central heating system for the summer once again; we'll see if I need to blip it back on at all in the next couple of weeks...

But it was very wet overnight and that meant that this morning, when I checked the new trail camera which I blogged about yesterday, I was disappointed to find that it had only recorded one more video. When I played it back I discovered that it featured a very fat wood pigeon waddling across the lawn—not the sort of exotic event I was hoping for at all. Fatso hangs around the garden all day with the collared doves, hoovering up everything that the sparrows on the bird feeder discard as not being worthy of their time. He has a good life; and he's managed to evade the local cats so far, which cannot be said of several of the other members of his species in the past few years here.

I shouldn't be surprised that checking the camera has become a highlight of my mornings so quickly. Humans crave novelty, and the process of connecting to the camera's WiFi hotspot and browsing the file directory of its SD card feels as exciting as Christmas morning used to be when I was a kid. Each new 30-second clip brings its own rush of endorphins, particularly when it reveals something that I didn't expect to see. I'm hoping that as the weather warms up and the nights get milder, I'll see an increasing variety in the things that the camera records. Needless to say, the most entertaining novelties will be shared right here on the blog.

STILL AT IT

I'm still working on my latest album, which I'm planning to have ready to release on my Twitch live stream on Thursday night in advance of this month's Bandcamp Friday. So far I have 45 minutes of music ready but I think it needs another couple of tracks before I can call it done.

I'm having fun, though. And I've been listening to the music on several different systems and going back and tweaking the mix so that it sounds good on all of them. These days, I seem to have become much more picky about the finer qualities of a mix and I think my recordings reflect that increased attention to detail. In the process I've also discovered an entirely new dimension to enjoying other musicians' work. It's a win all round!

HAPPY BELTANE!

Yes, it's time to light fires and let your cattle out into their summer pastures once again.

As one does.