I was watching Denis Villeneuve's version of Dune again on Wednesday and when the battle sequence kicked off, my subwoofer was unable to cope. Every explosion became a brittle, flapping fart. The subwoofer was hastily turned off and disconnected from the rest of my system, which meant that the remainder of the film played out with a 7.0 soundtrack rather than the 7.1 I'm accustomed to.
That wasn't too big a deal, because even the rear surround speakers I have are classed as "large" by my amplifier, which means that they can handle a wide range of frequencies: the rears go down to 70 Hz, the fronts to 52 Hz.
And my amplifier knows this because it has a function built in to it that uses a special microphone to listen to test tones that it plays through each speaker in order to calibrate the room for the listener (you place the mic where your head would be when viewing films). The amplifier is smart enough to analyse each speaker's response and adjust the timing of each speaker's output so that the sound from every speaker arrives at your head in phase with the sound from all the others. The amp also analyses the resonant frequencies of the room in order to avoid setting up standing waves. This never ceases to amaze me, as it all happens as if by magic.
But good as my other speakers are, I could hear something missing. They don't quite have the floor-shaking abilities that a dedicated subwoofer has. That ".1" may only comprise a tenth of the audio signal that's sent to the rest of the speakers, but it's an important tenth.
When I disassembled the cabinet (because I'm a nerd, and I wanted to identify the fault) I discovered that the foam support for the 10-inch speaker cone, the part that couples it to the driver's chassis, was rotten. It had degraded to the point that it was beginning to turn into black goo; when placed under duress thanks to the Dolby Atmos audio I was feeding it, it had split, allowing the paper cone of the speaker to flap about free of its support. That meant that air could move through the split when the cone moved back and forth, easing the pressure that the speaker is intended to pump out into the room to give that distinctive bass "thump".
My first thought was that I was going to have to buy a whole new subwoofer, which would have burned through a fairly sizable proportion of my monthly budget these days. But then I had a poke around online, because it was a safe bet that other people had ended up in the same situation—I was betting that I wasn't the only one out there still running a 25-year-old piece of home audio equipment. And I was right; within a minute I'd found someone who had had the same problem with the exact same model that I have. Repairs were possible!
Being me, I pulled out the driver to investigate how practical it would be to attempt the cheapest option first: remove the decaying foam from around the speaker cone and then buy a replacement foam kit on eBay, which can be found for under a tenner. I got the foam off the speaker cone easily enough, but it was attached to the speaker chassis with a cardboard gasket, which was glued in place. The glue had fared way better than the foam over the more than two decades that the speaker's been in place, and it rapidly became clear that I'd be spending hours trying to get the gasket off in one piece and then cleaning up the chassis with the mess that would be left behind (and there were plenty of stories of folk doing this, with varying amounts of success.)
Working on the not unrealistic principle that I ought to factor in my own labour costs was one thing. But (as one of my friends on Twitter observed) there's also the problem that gluing a new surround in place is likely to change the Thiele-Small Parameters of the speaker. I'm sure Paradigm have a manufacturing rig that ensures the glue is evenly distributed around the edge of the cone, and will have a means of holding the surround in place while the glue cures. I don't.
And so, after hemming and hawing for a long time, I ordered one of the Fenton driver units mentioned in the first link above. It arrived today and I managed to install it in the cabinet with a surprisingly little amount of swearing and cursing. I've recalibrated the room and given it a thorough test drive with the very same Dolby Atmos soundtrack that had been too much for it on Wednesday, followed by the first couple of episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi (which dropped today) and I'm very happy with how things turned out.
I'm not a Windows fan. I have found myself becoming more and more frustrated with the operating system in recent weeks. For one thing, its calendar still thinks that the next bank holiday in England is on the last Monday in May and not the first Thursday and Friday in June (it's the Queen's platinum jubilee and we've been given an extra day off to celebrate.)
For another, the "powered by Edge" pop-up news feed and weather forecast that live next to the system tray are both under the impression that I live in Plymouth, even though I've entered my correct location in the settings that I thought applied to the app. Silly me, thinking that the little cog wheel in the app itself would offer any control over its decisions about what it's offering me. Bafflingly, this isn't linked to the ID that I used to log in to Windows. Instead, I have to create another Microsoft account so that they can store a further selection of personal information about me, and that isn't going to happen.
It doesn't matter how many times I delete topics that Windows has decided that I am interested in, either. I still get news items about football or popular celebrities I have never heard of (and Microsoft seem to have taken a page out of Twitter's playbook there, although I see that Twitter recently switched from an opt out assignment to a more sensible opt in one—although I had no idea who most of the people it was suggesting I should follow were.)
When Windows starts up, this machine refuses to display the captions explaining where the Spotlight image was taken, although if I'm really keen on finding out who the photographer was, I can press CTRL-ALT-DEL and lock the machine, at which point the captions appear correctly. And yes, I've tried all the solutions that are provided on Microsoft's help pages and a couple of third-party suggestions on how to fix this as well, but none of them worked.
It is hard not to draw the conclusion that MS have little or no idea what they're doing these days. Someone fairly high up in the company appears to think that we'll be cool with an OS that spams us with adverts. They are incorrect.
Microsoft's last helf-decent OS was Windows 7, and while it was by no means perfect, when I "upgraded" to Windows 10 I found myself regretting my decision almost instantly. And I still regret doing so. When I run Windows Update these days, I am solemnly informed that this computer can't run Windows 11. And you know what? I'm absolutely fine with that.
I have finally been given a hospital appointment. I hope that this means an improvement in my quality of life is on the way, because it's been pretty poor for the last few months.
Oddly enough, I got a fairly decent night's sleep last night. Perhaps it was because I was feeling slightly less pessimistic than I usually do as a result—or perhaps it was because I have switched from the winter 13.5 tog duvet to a much lighter summer one. Or perhaps it was because I have been applying plenty of Voltarol to my left ankle before I go to bed; it's been playing up recently. Believe me, my physical condition these days leaves much to be desired.
Mentally, I'm still very frazzled at the moment. I've decided that after Thursday night's Twitch stream I'm going to take a break for a couple of weeks and see if that recharges my batteries somewhat. I don't want to do shows where I'm not adding anything creatively to the discourse, and "content for the sake of content" is not the way I want to do things on my channel.
Apart from anything else, I've been feeling like I should be focussed on creativity at the expense of all else, and even though I love making music and I've had a very productive eighteen months or so, being "always on" is also a recipe for burnout. Let's not go there.
So I'm going to switch things around and do other stuff. Even though severing all ties with Amazon means that I've deleted my Goodreads account, I'm still reading a lot of books. The latest is Most Secret War by Professor R. V. Jones, which is full of some of the most outrageous tales I have ever read in a non-fiction book. I remember being fascinated by the BBC's television series which Professor Jones presented back in 1977. In fact I remember it vividly, and was intrigued by the fact that he wore two wristwatches. Little did I know at the time that a decade after the series was broadcast I would find myself working in an office inside the Mansion at Bletchley Park...
And I will try and update the blog more frequently. We're coming up on its 19th birthday!
It's Sunday lunchtime, and I'm sitting here typing away at the computer while the latest album from Joe Satriani, The Elephants of Mars is playing on the living room's surround system. It sounds good, and it's nice to hear Joe back pushing the boundaries of instrumental guitar music (my favourite album of his is still Engines of Creation, which seemed to be a step too far away from traditional rock music for most.) The new album features some outrageously great guitar tones and there's a wide variety of genres getting mashed together.
Given the date, I will be playing albums from Brian Eno and Mike Oldfield later, as they will both be celebrating their birthdays today.
Provided, that is, that they don't have to compete with a thunderstorm; the forecast for the rest of the day is somewhat unsettled. It's still spring, but there's already a lot of energy in the atmosphere (which is a physics way of saying that the temperature is rising.)
Summer this year looks like it's going to be a very warm one. My back lawn is already showing signs of drought. The Met Office's current long term weather forecast (a month ahead) suggests that conditions will be dry and temperatures will be "warm to very warm" for the early part of next month.
Further afield, things are already getting serious. In the Indian state of Jaipur, forecasters are warning that temperatures could hit 50 °C in the next few days. If the wet bulb temperature exceeds human body temperature, which is 37.5°C, sweating no longer cools the body down, leading to overheating, dehydration, and eventually death. Heatwaves kill people.
I'm seeing more frequent calls to halt the use of fossil fuels now because of their impact on the climate. But the people who are in a position to do something about the matter don't seem to be listening. The International Panel on Climate Change's report makes for alarming reading, but I suspect that it's not alarming enough. If you're not terrified by how things are likely to develop over the next eighty years, you haven't seen the same forecasts that I have. This, for starters. Worst-case scenarios from a few years ago are looking increasingly optimistic.
I'm definitely in a suboptimal frame of mind at the moment. I'm still finding it very difficult to sleep and I'm gradually moving from being in considerable discomfort to pain from the kidney stones and cyst. I feel pretty miserable, to be honest. I'm finding it difficult to focus on tasks and I've really not been feeling particularly creative this month. I haven't even managed to keep on top of things in the blog, which has seen my posting rate drop below once a week.
In a depressive episode like this, it's much too easy to just give up and let things slide. And I've definitely been doing that of late. But this week I forced myself to do the boring grown-up stuff like laundry or gardening. I have made significant progress on wresting the garden back from the semi-jungle state that it's been in for the last few years. But I suspect that I might have upset my kidneys by hoisting my green bin in and out of the back garden and wielding the big hedge trimmers with a little too much abandon.
Last night I eventually managed to drift off to sleep and not wake up again until nine o'clock in the morning. Either I was so exhausted from a week of dreadful nights, or I'm beginning to recover slightly. I hope that it's the latter.
As you can see from the change to the banner at the top of the page, I've released another album on Bandcamp. It dropped on Thursday, making it the second full-length album I've released in a week. I also have five tracks recorded for the album that will follow it. Since I finally got round to turning my back bedroom into a dedicated home recording studio, I have been determined to get as much use out of it as I possibly can and as a result the number of songs or instrumentals that I've recorded over the last decade or so is now in four figures. At some point in that time making music changed from being something that was nice to do into something that I can't imagine not doing. It has become my primary creative outlet and means of self-expression and to borrow a term from Abraham Maslow, it's how I achieve self-actualization these days.
And while it's not one of the reasons why I put my music on Bandcamp, it's immensely gratifying when people actually take the time to listen to what I'm doing—and even buy copies of my numerous EPs and singles or the twenty or so full-length albums I have in my ever-growing discography. It's very humbling to discover that what I do has value to other people. This week Bandcamp emailed me to let me know that I'd hit a big milestone in terms of dollar sales achieved since I first started releasing music there in 2013. It was completely unexpected and a very pleasant surprise. I'm not even close to the point where I can earn a living by making music yet, but I'm a lot farther along that road than I thought I would be at this point.
I've been in the studio again today, writing lyrics and updating music software (and downloading one or two new, free instruments that I can use to make new and interesting sounds with as well). The lesson that I've learned from all this is quite simply that you should never give up on your creative endeavours. You just have to keep plugging away. All that really matters is the enjoyment that can be found in making stuff. Anything else is a bonus.
The weather finally seems to be leaving winter behind. It's been taking its own sweet time over things; on one occasion last week the temperature in the back garden dropped down to just 3°C overnight. Even though the conservatory on the back of the house faces north, it warms up nicely in the sunshine and as of two days ago, I realised that I could stop wearing a fleece inside the house and still be comfortably warm. And so I've switched the central heating off for the summer, letting sunlight heat things up instead.
The medium-term plan for this place, such as it is, is to put solar panels on the roof and get rid of the gas boiler and gas hob, replacing them with electric versions. But that's for another day. Right now, I think I'm just going to enjoy the sunshine.
It's a Bank Holiday Weekend here in England, which means that most businesses will be closed tomorrow. Back when I was working full time I really used to savour days off like this, because it meant that I could catch up on sleep. Since I became ill and stopped working, I've realised that I spent most of my working life in a semi-permanent state of sleep deprivation.
I've been tracking how I sleep for the past four years (my watch is clever enough to provide a decent estimate of when I'm in each phase of sleep based on my heart rate and the amount of movement it detects) and I've seen a remarkable change in the amount of non-REM sleep that I've been getting every night now that I am able to choose what waking hours I keep. It has increased from around a fifth of the total sleep that I managed to get a night (and at around five hours of sleep a night, my totals were woefully short of where they should be) to very nearly half of it. Read books like Matthew Walker's Why We Sleep and you'll begin to understand why pushing ourselves to stay awake long after we should have gone to bed and waking up long before we should do can have such deleterious effects on our health. Alarm clocks can be really bad for you.
Non-REM sleep helps us to process the day's events and commit them to long-term memory; not getting enough of it is also linked to diseases such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Our brains do interesting things during Non-REM sleep. EEGs show features like spindles, which are not fully understood but which seem to be important in maintaining the brain's plasticity (our ability to learn new things). It's also thought that the flow of cerebrospinal fluid increases to flush away harmful byproducts of cognition that build up during the day such as beta amyloids. As you can see in that last link, beta amyloids are closely linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease.
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan both boasted that they could function on less than four hours' sleep a night. And famously, both of them went on to develop Alzheimer's disease (and from events that I saw on television back in the day, Ronnie was clearly suffering from the disease even during his first term as President).
Don't end up like Ronnie. Get more sleep. Start by having a lie-in tomorrow morning. That's what I'll be doing.