The last couple of mornings there has been ice on the conservatory roof. It's May tomorrow. Shouldn't we have moved into spring by now? At least those April showers have arrived; yesterday I sat at the studio desk and watched some impressive cumulus clouds forming to the north. The recent dry spell came to a close with occasional bursts of rain, and it rained again this morning for about twenty minutes or so. The Sun is trying to come out again at the moment.
I've still got the central heating set to come on in the mornings and the evenings, but I'm rather hoping that it won't be long before I can switch it off again for the summer.
All right, I got interrupted by a phone call at the beginning of the stream (I've edited that bit out here) but last night's show had lots of new music and sounds in it, which makes me happy.
YouTube's latest checking algorithm threw a wobbly when I uploaded this show, though. It claimed that I was using a blues instrumental called Fish Eye Blues in the section of the show where I played my track "Old Habits" (presumably because it's a I-IV-V blues progression—the contested track is an instrumental blues shuffle with someone noodling guitar over the top of it. My song is in straight 4/4 and is considerably faster. Oh, and it's a song, not an instrumental.) I've therefore contested the claim as groundless in a rather forthright manner, because unless the copyright holder is going to lay claim to every song featuring a standard blues progression (and they've been kicking around a lot longer than Fish Eye Blues) it is so obviously groundless, but we'll see what happens. The world is mad enough these days that I will not be surprised at all if my objection gets rejected. The algorithm knows best, after all.
I've been enjoying the music I've made in the past couple of weeks, so I'm hoping I can continue the current productive streak for a while longer. With all the new sounds that I can make with the Zoom G6, I suspect that will probably involve a lot of guitar playing...
This month I've been taking part in a songwriting challenge (yes I know, I am a creature of predictable habits) called 50/90: The Prequel. It's an ad-hoc affair run by a few die-hard FAWMers over on Facebook. It doesn't have a dedicated website so the focus is more on doing the writing than listening and commenting. The name comes from the challenge goal of writing fifty songs in the 90 days from April 4th to July 3rd, before starting the "proper" challenge of Fifty/Ninety which gets under way the following day (setting you the target of writing a further fifty songs in the 90 days between July 4th and October 1st).
So I'm supposed to write 100 songs in 180 days. For the Prequel I must admit that I haven't been pushing myself to write as hard or as fast as I do during FAWM or Fifty/Ninety proper. Instead I've been polishing and rewriting what I'm producing until I'm happy with it. This is a very different approach to the "FAWM it and move on" ethos that we're encouraged to follow during the other challenges. By rights, my productivity should have dropped through the floor as a result. And yet, after a happy twenty minutes creating a countdown calendar for the challenge in Libre Office Calc just now (have I mentioned recently that I'm a massive nerd?) I discover that with 65 days left to run, I'm only two songs behind schedule—which was a surprise, as I thought I was much further behind than that. And I am (in my humble opinion) doing good work at the moment. As usual, I will release an album of all of this month's efforts in time for Bandcamp Friday next week and let the music out into the wider world for other people to listen to.
A new release of Native Instruments' flagship sampling engine Kontakt dropped yesterday and thanks to the boost in speed I'm getting out of my WiFi network, I was able to download and install the half-gigabyte update in less than two minutes. I was already very happy with the difference the new network adaptor and router have made, but that sort of thing emphasises how much of an improvement I'm seeing in upload and download speeds.
And as the TV can now connect to the router via 802.11ac, I've noticed quite a boost when I watch streaming services, too. YouTube immediately streams in 4K if the resolution is available.
I'll be putting my upload speeds to the test once again this evening, when I stream my regular show on Twitch. Tonight's show is the fiftieth Thursday night stream I've done and I'm hoping that the rock-solid network connection that I had for Sunday's show will continue. Join me at 19:30 BST to find out!
Today's been a day of sifting through bits of kit from a variety of computers, both old and new. The old TP-Link network card from the studio PC has been installed in the PC downstairs—not because I need to use it to connect wirelessly to the Internet (the PC is already connected via an Ethernet cable) but simply because I'm a massive nerd, and I like monitoring the local WiFi environment. I took out the PC's FireWire card to make room for the WiFi adaptor and the FireWire card (which has one type A connector and two type Bs) will be fitted into the studio PC when the need to use it arises. This will principally be to transfer ancient video files from an old Panasonic MiniDV camcorder that I dusted off recently. Not only have I found a software utility that will do this under Windows 10, I even found the original cable that connects the camcorder to a suitable FireWire port. In fact after delving through my collection of ancient PC components which are all neatly stored away in plastic containers, I discovered that I still have two of the right cables. But as if that wan't enough to make me feel very self-satisfied and smug today, I can also report resounding success on the networking front.
For probably the first time ever I am now getting the same sort of upload and download speeds over a wifi connection upstairs as I get downstairs from running an Ethernet cable directly in to the router: As I commented yesterday, I originally saw no improvement when I fitted the new network card. After I posted yesterday's blog, I found myself thinking, "You know what? That can't be right..." so I opened up Device Manager and had a look through the card's properties. What had happened was that even though the new card can run a 5GHz connection the installer defaults to the old-school 2.6GHz standard. And there are a lot of 2.6GHz networks around here (if you're running Windows 10 and you want to see what your own wireless environment is like, I recommend Matt Hafner's excellent free WiFi Analyser as a helpful way of establishing which channels are clearest for you.) I found a 5GHz channel that nobody else around here is using (only one household nearby has changed the 5GHz channel away from its default of 36), and set the new card to use that. As the connection now has WiFi 6 devices at both ends, the improvement was immediate, and substantial:
And the splitter cable worked a treat. My studio PC is now successfully Bluetooth-enabled.
I was fairly optimistic that the stream quality on Sunday would be better than Thursday's show, but it was still a relief when Mel and David reported from Belgium that there was no buffering happening at all. And Twitch Inspector agreed with them, as you can see here.
Compare that with the stats I got last Thursday, where although my peak upload speed was actually higher than it was last night, the stream seriously crashed and burned:
I'm not going to jinx things by saying that this has fixed my streaming problems, because I still don't know whether or not the problems last Thursday were being caused by my streaming setup, by other equipment in the house (looks suspiciously at the big Sony TV on the wall) or faults in the external network (i.e. the Internet at large.) If the faults do return, I'm going to be almost certain that they're not my fault.
I'd also installed the latest version of StreamFX for OBS Studio just before the show. I switched my main camera view to use the updated colour grading filter provided by StreamFX instead of OBS's internal colour correction tool. It made quite a difference, I think. The HFO Cam feed looked brighter to me and the colour saturation is much better.
But now I have a brand-new WiFi 6 router to install, which I'm hoping will give me another improvement in performance. Keep your fingers crossed that it goes smoothly...
And half an hour later I'm back on the air with a much faster wireless network. Streaming services on the TV look noticeably sharper and I suspect the frame rate on some of them has ramped up. I also have a tiny increase in download speeds from my ISP, so I'm very happy.
I finally got to the supermarket on Friday, and I discovered to my relief that my normal route there is open once again (roadworks had closed the road just west of North Nibley since the middle of February). But just doing something as trivial as going shopping has left me feeling completely wiped out. Even doing the cooking feels like a mammoth undertaking at the moment.
And yet my watch tells me that I had a really good night's sleep last night. It awarded me a sleep score of 92 and informs me that I spent 45% of my night in restorative, deep, non-REM sleep.
I just wish I felt like it...
The new wifi network card arrived on time and has already been fitted in the studio. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's computing, home audio, or guitar gear: whenever I've decided to replace an existing component to incorporate new technology, the process has never been easy—and if it ever is, it's a rare occurrence. It almost always results in a cascade of further purchases to remedy problems caused by the initial upgrade showing up deficiencies in the rest of my gear. And that was the case yesterday: I discovered that although the new network card has Bluetooth functionality, to enable it I needed to plug a tiny interface cable (there was one in the box, at least) from the card into a suitable 9-pin USB2 port on the Monolith's motherboard.
Except I'd already used both of the available USB2 ports on the board (I've made a number of additions to the system since I bought it) and there was nowhere left to plug it in.
After a bit of grumbling I went online to see if there was a possible way out by fitting a splitter cable. The USB standard allows a system to handle up to 128 connected devices and I already run things like keyboards or USB hubs that allow you to daisy-chain multiple devices off one socket on the PC, so I figured that someone should be making an internal splitter that I could buy and fit without overloading the motherboard. And hey—if I can do it with my guitar effects chain, I should be able to do the same with something as simple as USB, right?
And it turned out there is indeed such a thing, so I ordered one. If all goes according to plan, it should arrive later today. Then I can start using Bluetooth components in my studio setup. Of which I have exactly none, of course. It's the principle of the thing that's the issue here, not the execution.
But sadly I can't say I've seen a vast improvement in connection speeds on my streaming setup with the new card. It's frustrating—all the more so as I just did a speed test with the machine I have here in the dining room, which has an Ethernet cable connecting it to the router. The difference in upload speed (which is the important factor when it comes to streaming) is depressing: downstairs I see nearly ten times the data rate that I can get over wifi when I'm upstairs. I know that I said in my last blog entry that I didn't plan on replacing my router at any time soon, but the lack of any noticeable benefit from the new wifi card got me thinking about just how out-of-date my router might be. When I checked to see when I bought it, I was staggered to find out that it will be nine years old next month!
It's lasted twice as long as any other modem or router I've owned, and it's been extremely reliable. It still is; for the money I spent on it, I should damn well hope so! But the highest protocol that it supports is 802.11n, which came out in 2007. Most of the connected devices that I have in the house these days are at least at the 802.11ac standard which replaced 802.11n back in 2014. With the new standard there was a huge increase in the theoretical maximum data rate that wireless links could support, rising from 450 mb/s to 1300 Mb/s. But you need a device that supports the higher speeds on both ends of the connection or you won't see the benefit. And I'm sure you're now wondering what the latest standard is; I just checked and it's 802.11ax-2021, also known as WiFi 6, which came out this year. The wireless card which I just installed in the studio PC supports this standard.
One important aspect of the new technology is that it was designed to support scenarios in a household like having more than one connected device using streaming services at the same time. And when I read that, I started wondering about my television, because I have a Sony TV that likes to switch itself on at random intervals to connect to the Internet. It does so even though I have its "automatic software update" function disabled. I know that the TV regularly comes out of standby because every time it does it, the ARC connection to my amplifier becomes active, my Yamaha amp switches on with an audible set of clicks that are instantly recognisable and even though there's no picture on the TV, the Yamaha's display lights up to indicate that it's receiving a signal from it. This behaviour is also a problem when I'm using the amp with audio sources rather than the TV (because when it happens, the amp automatically switches to the new input) and I cannot find any way of stopping it other than disabling ARC functions (which I don't want to do) or switching the TV's power supply off at the wall socket. I have to do this if I want to listen to a CD without the TV interrupting playback.
The thought that occurred to me was that maybe the TV has been hogging bandwidth while I stream? It connects wirelessly to my router, after all. I checked this morning to make sure that the automatic software update function on the TV was still disabled, and it was; as a result, I ended up installing an update that had appeared since the last time I checked. But this evening, before I do my Sunday night Write Another Song show on Switch I will make sure that the TV has been switched off at the wall.
Even if this stops the network instability issues that I've been having, I've changed my mind since Friday. I think that it's time to replace the router after all. I've ordered one that includes all the latest technology including WiFi 6, so we'll see if that makes a difference. It should improve the data rate to my television for watching streaming services, but I'm hoping that it will also improve the stability of my outgoing live streams. I will be keeping my fingers crossed that what I think should happen actually turns out to be the case.
Yesterday started out all right; I had coffee and toast for breakfast. Things started to go wrong when I tried unlocking the car to head out to the supermarket and discovered that once again, its battery was so drained that it couldn't do anything other than set its alarm off. It's been well over a week since I last used the car, and the nights have been very cold recently, but I must admit I felt somewhat peeved to find out that I couldn't go anywhere today because the Lexus's battery doesn't appear to be able to hold charge for more than six or seven days. So I was reduced to having beans on toast for tea. Cancelling my trip to the shops also meant that the voucher which I was planning on using at the supermarket to get 1200 extra Nectar points has now expired. This left me feeling rather peeved; I'm trying to keep a more positive frame of mind these days but things like that really don't help. My natural state appears destined to be old and grumpy, it seems.
In the evening, my studio PC's wifi card appears to have given up the ghost as the system pretty much dropped off the Internet after about 90 minutes. It's a very old card (the current incarnation of my studio PC inherited it from its predecessor and given that the adapter is a model that was first released in 2010, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that it's a relic of the Dell PC I used in the studio before that, which means that it could have been in use for ten years or more.) By the time I gave up and called things to a halt, my stream's frame rate had dropped into single figures.
It's a shame, because I'd got plenty of cool stuff to show people. I did manage to broadcast the review of my spiffy new Zoom G6 effects pedal, although like most of the other reviewers that I've seen talking about it, I wasn't impressed with the sounds that it comes loaded with. I could do better than that—in fact I already have done.
So I've ordered a new wifi card, and I'll be getting one that has a substantial heat sink on it in case the issue was caused by the old card overheating rather than simple old age (with the number of hard discs I've crammed into the system, things are a tad cosy in there and airflow through the case will suffer as a result.) I have also selected a replacement which has larger antennas on it. I don't expect to improve my stream throughput to any noticeable degree, but I will be happy to be proved wrong. There is a lot of new wireless technology around these days, but I won't be able to take advantage of that fact until I have to replace my router (which supports protocols up to 802.11n and no more) and I don't plan on doing that any time soon.
I was going to type "because my current one works just fine," but that would just be tempting fate, and I've done that enough this week as it is...
Okay, I've been doing these things for nearly a year so I've got a fair way through the ten thousand hours or so that Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers reckoned you need to achieve mastery in something; Gladwell's assertion was based on research conducted by Anders Ericsson and his colleagues, although—as always with these things—I think you'll find that things might be a little bit more complicated than that. But last night's show was one of my better ones, I thought. Editing it down this morning I thought that even if I have a way to go until I could be described as slick, at least I finally appear to be leaving the badlands of "utterly shambolic" behind me. That's my not-so-humble opinion, anyway; you can of course judge for yourself:
Everything looks way, way better than it did when I started broadcasting from under the bed last spring.
I have an upgraded studio (and you wouldn't believe how much of a difference that has made, not only to the production quality of the music I'm making, but also to my confidence on camera.) And speaking of cameras, I have a much better, multiple-camera setup these days. I broadcast in Full HD, which was not the case a year ago. I now have proper lights and everything! I tweaked the lights yesterday so that instead of alternating colours from left to right, there's now a simple fifty-fifty split of orange on the left and teal on the right. Watching the footage of last night's show this morning, I reckon that the room looks much better that way, so I'm going to leave things like that. For a while, at least. Until I get bored with the look.
One thing that can be relied upon to give my mood a lift (something that I have been needing recently) is to clean the house. I know that housework is probably the furthest thing from your mind if (like me) you suffer from depression, but forcing yourself to do even a small chore like sorting out paper for recycling, doing the ironing, or clearing away the stacks of crap that accumulate on furniture and then giving the furniture a polish, can be a powerful mood lifter. I got to the "I really have to do something about the state of this room" stage on Saturday afternoon and I have been tackling the mess in stages, an hour or two at a time. There has been much throwing out of stuff. I vacuumed. Today, things in here don't feel like they're getting on top of me quite as much, the house is beginning to look a little less like a crazy person lives here, and I'm feeling slightly better as a result.
Believe me, this all took rather more effort than a normal person would need to expend. It was worth it. But after today's clearing-up session (I have managed a whole two hours today) I think I might need a nice cup of tea and a sit down. And quite possibly some cake, too.
Seriously. TGIF. This week feels like it's lasted twice as long as they normally do. My mojo meter has been reading "E" since last weekend, and it's been very difficult to muster up energy to do pretty much anything. And yet, somehow, I not only managed to stream for more than two hours last night, I also had three new pieces of music to share with everybody:
Today I've just been chilling out. Took things slowly, hence the lateness of today's blog. And the laid-back vibe is likely to be continued over the weekend, because why not?
Perhaps because I consumed more coffee than I usually do over the weekend, I've had a half-decent couple of days. Although the temptation to just stay in bed and hide under the duvet is still there, I've found it easier to overcome it, get up, and get on with Doing Stuff.
I streamed for two and a half hours or so on Saturday afternoon. I voted on the running order of tracks for a compilation album that I'll be appearing on (more on that once it gets released). I cooked proper food rather than relying on ready meals for sustenance. I did some housework, and a bunch of laundry. I read books. I watched some TV (I am very much enjoying The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and took great delight in watching John Walker getting his ass handed to him in one of the fight scenes in the latest episode; "They weren't even supersoldiers," he whines when the fracas subsides.) And I slept better than I've been doing recently, and that makes a big difference.
I'm not going to jinx matters by claiming that I've turned a corner, because I've done that before here on the blog in recent months and a few weeks later I found myself back where I started. But the days are noticeably getting longer, even if recent hard frosts (it was back to -3°C in the back garden here last night) have postponed the advent of hayfever season for a while. Some of the summer migrants have already arrived in the area (the chiffchaffs were calling from the woods behing the car park at Sainsbury's when I went shopping) and it feels like winter is receding. That always lifts my mood.
I have more light in the studio for my streaming activities, too. I picked up another twin pack of LED panels for the studio and had them up and running on Sunday night's show. As I said in last Friday's blog, I appeared to be sitting in the dark for Thursday's show. I eventually figured out that I'd set the panel at the back on the right to a darker shade of blue that looked dramatic but which didn't really provide much by way of illumination, so I've set it back to how it was. And the new panels are clamped to my monitor arms and aimed at the walls to either side of my desk to provide a subtle wash of colour without being too bright or overloading the camera sensors. I think the results look pretty good.
The show went well, but I've edited a lot of the side discussions out of this week's episode. Not because there was anything that I wasn't happy about having on record, more because I want to try and focus the Sunday shows more strongly on the creative act. So the show is very much concerned with getting your mojo working and using it to come up with a new song. And that's exactly what I did in the closing section of the show. It's a rough sketch, yes—I've already rewritten the lyrics and I'll be working on the song some more over the next few days—but it showed me that I can do this on demand in front of the cameras, and that provided a welcome boost to my self-esteem.
If you don't know what a loadmaster is, they're the person who figures out how much extra weight an aircraft will be carrying when all the passengers, cargo, and fuel are on board. Loadmasters have to make sure that the aircraft is able to take off from its current location while it's carrying that much extra weight because MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight) decreases as air density gets lower; that happens as the temperature and altitude increase and if you're above MTOW and the air at the airfield isn't dense enough—or if you're "hot and high" in loadmaster parlance, your aircraft's wings won't be able to generate enough lift to keep it in the air, no matter how long a runway you've got.
Loadmasters also have to arrange things so that the aircraft's centre of gravity is not shifted too far away from where it is when it's empty, because that would make it difficult to control. Getting your load calculations wrong can have terrible consequences. They were very likely a contributing factor to the crash of an Air France Concorde in Paris, twenty-one years ago. I helped develop a loadmaster training programme for the RAF back in the day, which is why I know a little bit about the role and its responsibilities.
Today's tale of an IT outsourcing screw-up where an aircraft ended up being 1200 kg heavier than the aircrew expected because the coders writing the loading software had assumed that any passenger with the title "Miss" was a child rather than an adult (because that was the convention in the country where they worked) could quite easily have been a horror story.
Not having a clued-up human being in the loop for systems like this might save money, but if the IT systems that replaced those expensive people aren't up to scratch, there might be unforeseen consequences. Tui were fortunate to get away with it in this case and the aircraft's operating capabilities were not exceeded.
And that is a great argument for building machines that exceed their design tolerances by a generous margin if ever I read one.
And that might have to be the title of my next album. Aside from the fact that I appear to be sitting in the dark, just look at the state of me yesterday evening:
I'm feeling pretty shattered this week and at a low ebb once again. And oh boy, can't you tell? I'd spent the day cleaning the conservatory and doing the supermarket run to stock up on supplies, and by the evening I was toast. After I signed off, all I had left in the tank were fumes. I'm in quite a lot of pain at the moment and to be honest I'm not feeling particularly resilient.
But @stupidukguy's wonderful comment that my streams were the reason that he'd started making music again made me feel great. That's my goal when I do these live streams: I want other people to experience the kick that I get out of writing and recording music. Even when I look like I'm dead on my feet, I know that if I can still create music, it will keep me going.
Somebody looked at the long-term effects on mental health of patients who became seriously ill with Covid-19 and discovered that many of them were subsequently diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric condition, the most common being anxiety.
If you've never been seriously ill, that probably comes as a surprise to you. In that case, let me also tell you that water is wet, and bears do indeed...
Seriously, though. This is news to people? As a child I was less than robust and had multiple stays in hospital. Several of those stays lasted for several weeks. I had to undergo major surgery more than once, and I still have flashbacks of coming out of a general anaesthetic while I was still on the operating table as a small child and it's only been in the last couple of years that I finally realised that flashbacks like that are a classic symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. As far as I'm concerned, if you've ever been that ill and you've come out of it without suffering lasting damage to your mental health, you're a seriously unusual person.
I haven't read the study, but it immediately occurred to me that the chance of assessing an adequately large control group that was taken from a representative sample of the population must be vanishingly small, because the authors were looking at cases of Covid-19 in the US. Healthcare is grotesquely expensive in the United States and many people suffering from PTSD or other psychiatric or neurological conditions literally cannot afford to get a diagnosis, so the prevalence of such conditions may be—who are we kidding; is almost certainly—much higher than the figures seen by medical practitioners.
And if that supposition is true (as I suspect it is), no further indictment of privatised healthcare should be necessary. Putting profits before health to the degree that a significant portion of the population is seriously ill and not getting treatment is a truly monstrous thing to do.
Yesterday my brain nearly exploded with delight. Why?
Because of this Tweet.
The teaser for Picard season 2 makes it clear that John de Lancie will be returning as my favourite character from the Star Trek Universe, the omnipotent and mischievous Q. He said a few years ago that he had become too old to revisit playing the character, but clearly that was before he met Lola and the technology that is available to film makers these days. I can't wait to see the new season of the show.
The temperature here for the last couple of nights has dropped to -5°C and all the lovely blossom on my magnolia has turned into a brown, shrivelled mess. The weather forecast that I mentioned a few days ago was spot-on: yesterday the weather here ranged from blue skies and brilliant sunshine to sleet, then more sunshine, then hail, and finally snow.
Weather forecasters love the word "changeable" at this time of year because, as happened here yesterday, if you don't like what the weather's like right now just wait an hour or two and you'll get something completely different. Why is this?
It's to do with the fact that we just had the equinox, when the Sun is directly above the equator at noon and we get equal hours of light and day. We get more sunlight, and it's coming from higher overhead; this starts to warm the northern hemisphere in the spring and when the reverse happens in the autumn, the northern hemisphere cools again. That warming and cooling shifts the jet stream, which gets pushed south during the winter by the cold, dense mass of air that forms above the north pole. As the jet stream moves north at this time of year in the northern hemisphere, atmospheric conditions become more unstable. More instability happens around the autumn equinox, when the jet stream starts to be pushed south again. And in both cases, we get days here like yesterday.
I recently set up my Withings watch to give me phone notifications, and now when I get a message on FB Messenger, my phone transmits the message to my watch which vibrates and scrolls the message across its display.
I wouldn't consider myself to be a smart watch kind of guy and I'm not normally impressed by phone technology, but this does seem to be a rather impressive technological feat, particularly as my phone and watch are made by different manufacturers. It almost makes up for us not having flying cars yet.
I recently discovered the delights of stir-frying udon noodles as a fast and slightly heathier source of carbohydrates to chips or roast potatoes, but yesterday when I'd finished doing the washing up, I took a look at the cooker hood in the kitchen and recoiled in disgust: the paper filter behind the vent was soaked in grease. At that point it occurred to me that it hadn't been replaced for a while. More than a while, in fact; it's probably a few years since I last fitted a new filter. I was so horrified by the state of the thing that I dismantled the whole assembly then and there. Fortunately the last time I replaced the filter I bought a double pack of the things so I had a replacement filter handy. The greasy one was rapidly consigned to the bin. Out came the step ladder, and I set to with the spray bleach. I even removed the light bulbs in the cooker hood and gave them a buff up and I was amazed how much brighter they were afterwards. Once I'd sprayed kitchen cleaner everywhere I also ended up cleaning the hob, and the oven, and the kitchen floor. The next thing I knew it was three hours later and I'd given the entire kitchen a thorough deep clean.
This morning I noticed that the kitchen actually smells noticeably cleaner.
I know that spending three hours on my feet and climbing up and down a step ladder over and over again was good exercise, but I was very sore when I went to bed last night. I didn't sleep particularly well, either. I am really looking forward to getting my kidneys fixed because from the feel of things they are clearly not in great shape right now.
I've been uploading my live streams to YouTube for forty-six weeks now, and over the last few months I've noticed that the amount of time it takes the platform to "process" one of my uploads is getting longer and longer. It doesn't seem to make a difference if the video is twenty minutes long or a couple of hours; while the upload itself happens reasonably quickly (I get fairly decent speeds here in the village) the subsequent stage (which I'm assuming renders the video out in multiple resolutions and checks whether or not I've infringed somebody else's copyright in the show) can take longer to complete than watching the video itself would do. I'm fastidious about other people's copyright to the point of psychosis, so that's not gonna happen, but I get the point of them needing to check.
As I sit here thinking about the ramifications of the process, I'm wondering what the energy costs of all these checks and balances are. I suspect that they will be non-trivial. YouTube don't release data on their energy usage either, and that really makes me think that each video has a non-trivial energy footprint.
And that has me asking myself the very awkward question, "when do we get to the point where all of these cat videos become environmentally unsustainable?"
I suspect the answer will be "Sooner than you think."
...I keep plugging away. Here's last night's show, which now has a new name and theme tune even if I haven't shot the opening titles yet. It's time for the Write Another Song show, ladles and germs:
I read recently that you shouldn't start doing the gardening until the ground temperature rises above 10°C (50°F), as doing so earlier will expose a lot of the helpful bugs and other organisms that shelter in the soil over winter to any late-season frosts and kill them. Here in the South West of England the ambient temperature has been warming up nicely, but the nights are still chilly and the ground is nowhere near that warm just yet. It's a good excuse not to touch the garden for a few more days, I know—but illness forced me to leave the garden untouched for much of last year and it rather got away from me. I don't want to repeat that this year.
But I turned on the TV to catch the weather forecast last night and was rather surprised to hear the word "snow" being mentioned. Last night the temperature in the back garden plummeted to -3°C, which was significantly colder than it's been for a fortnight or so. The forecast here for the next few days is for overnight frosts and showers of sleet, so it looks like I will be postponing cutting the lawn for at least another week. Shame.
Fifty/Ninety: The Prequel gets under way today and I spent a few minutes before breakfast this morning writing lyrics for the first of (hopefully) a hundred songs that I'll be writing in the next 180 days.
This afternoon I'll be back upstairs turning those words into music. It doesn't matter how many times I record a song, the process always feels like magic.
With any luck, I'll have something ready to share with you on tonight's live stream on Twitch. As promised on Thursday's show, I have come up with a new title for my Sunday night streams, so tune in at 21:00 BST to find out what it is!
It's nearly time for another creative challenge. Fifty/Ninety: The Prequel starts on Sunday, and as you'll see from last night's live stream, I'm already geared up and ready for the starting gun.
Over the past year or so I've noticed that the blog has taken on a marked tendency to be profoundly introspective. Which is a polite way of saying that it's been mostly about me, my health, and the things that I've been up to. I realised yesterday that the reason for this is that my thoughts and frustrations about the wider world have a different outlet these days: rather than write a grumpy blog post about things that are happening out there in the world at large, I've been writing grumpy songs about them instead. And once I've done that, I've said what I wanted to say and moved on (which is why songwriting has turned out to be really beneficial for my mental health, folks.)
And the grumpiness has to take a back seat, I know. As I said on the show last night, the world sucks enough as it is. I need to be more upbeat in my writing, both here and in my music. That could make the songwriting challenge I'm going to be doing for the next six months far more of a, er, challenge than I'd planned.
But that's a good thing.
Sure, the practice of pulling stunts like the BBC's spaghetti harvest film was funny in the naive, innocent days of the 1950s, but that film was funny principally because back then the BBC was a paragon of truth and integrity. The idea that the BBC would broadcast a report that was fictitious was not only shocking, it was unheard of. You've only got to watch a few recent episodes of Question Time to realise just how far things have deteriorated since then. And now that Facebook and other social media networks have been weaponized and fake news is an everyday existential threat rather than an amusing diversion once a year, the day of the April Fools' Joke is dead. They're just not funny any more.
They're even less funny when, as in VW's case, they're made by clueless PR shills who want to show how creative they are. Because—as we saw this week—they couldn't even get the date right. What turned out to be far worse for them was that, once the joke got out, they had a choice between admitting that the joke had failed and accepting a certain amount of ridicule, or doubling down on the whole thing and insisting that it was all true, even though it wasn't. Clearly, someone's ego made the decision and decided that lying about the company's strategy was the preferable course of action: they sent out the same story again the following day. Lying is never a good look from a public relations perspective; being caught doing it in the global media is a disaster of spectacular proportions and industry regulators are already muttering darkly that something may have to be done to teach VW a lesson. Don't let your company be the next VW, kids. It's not big and it's really not clever.
After Bob Rickard climbed to the roof of FT HQ a couple of days ago and lit the scanner signal once again, I've spent a fair few happy hours scanning some of my old copies of the Fortean Times for his archival project. Every issue is being scanned and the text will be fed into an OCR program to turn it all into searchable files that can be indexed and data-ised. The issues I'm archiving are from the tail end of 2005, and it really does feel like they're from a different world. It's actually rather shocking.
Back in 2005 nobody had heard of QAnon, or fake news. The FT's monthly column on conspiracy theories had yet to appear. Instead, there are endearing photo stories about (for example) pigs taking part in sporting events. The hot topics revolved around fringe science rather than anti-science. Flat Earthers were seen as an amusing bunch of eccentrics rather than a threat to rationalism or clear thinking, and Facebook (est. 2004) had yet to become the global cesspit of disinformation and radicalisation that it is today. Back then, Nazis were people that got punched and thrown out of airships in movies rather than appearing on chat shows and driving government policy.
There are reports and letters about the tornado that struck Birmingham in July (I was on holiday in Spain at the time, and missed all of the excitement). There are adverts for the first ever tour of Jeff Wayne's stage production of The War Of The Worlds with performances from a real Justin Hayward and a virtual Richard Burton. Back then, Netflix was a DVD rental company, and DVDs were the platform of choice for consuming media (Joss Whedon's TV shows Buffy and Angel figure prominently). And there were an awful lot of adverts for video games, most of which I couldn't remember at all.
They were happier, more innocent times. Leafing through the pages really brought home just how much the world has changed since then. Few of those changes have been for the better.
When it comes to examples of folk not applying critical thinking skills, I've been spoilt for choice this week. Apparently I shouldn't believe the theory that the classic Socorro flying saucer landing case in New Mexico in the 1960s was a hoax perpetrated by students getting their own back on a police officer who had been unpopular when he worked as a security guard at New Mexico Technical University, because of who "revealed" the evidence, and the hypothesis that it was a craft piloted by extraterrestrials was just as unproven (and, by inference, just as valid.)
Just let that sink in for a moment.
Yup. That's what I thought, too.