The weirder sort of blog

Chris's Blog Archive: August 2021

Another month, another wobble—but instead of the previous "death spiral" vibe I was experiencing earlier in the year, these days I'm getting more of a feeling that these days, it's more a case of "two steps forward, one step back." I can live with that. And during August not only did I keep myself occupied with music, I even did some consultancy work. That definitely improved my mood!

I'm still releasing albums on Bandcamp as pay-what-you-want deals, (and that continues to include free, because I know times are still hard for a lot of people right now.) The latest is a collection of music written during July 2021 for the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge. It's called Threat Detector. It contains over an hour of music by me, as I explored another wide selection of genres. I hope you'll find something that you like in the fourteen tracks it contains.

My most recent commercial album Oneiric Tulpas is available on Bandcamp! You can also check it out on Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Tidal and all your other favourite streaming services. My previous album Beyond is also on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal and the rest as well.

My earlier albums Generator and Fort are also available at Bandcamp, together with a large collection of other music from me.


England, Wales, and Northern Ireland get a day off today (my friends in Scotland don't, and have to wait until November 30th to catch up.) As is normal for this particular holiday, the weather's being pretty nondescript. Although it's stayed dry, there's a thick overcast with a noticeable breeze from the east. This seems to have put off people from driving down the M5 for the day and the roads looked surprisingly clear when I checked just now.

The weather over the past week has settled in to a pattern of dry but largely cloudy days and noticeably cooler nights (the temperature even dropped down to single figures overnight here a couple of days ago.) It's thanks to a phenomenon called an omega block, which forms when the jet stream can't push an area of high pressure out of the way as it normally does. Once a blocking pattern forms, it can sit in place for months. As the Met Office explains in the link above, this pattern is what caused the UK's exceptional long hot summer of 1976 and the notorious winter of 1963. It's also what caused the recent exceptionally high temperatures in North America.

The Met Office are currently predicting that the current blocking high won't start to break down until next weekend. Once it finally shifts out of the way, the jet stream is likely to start throwing the remains of late-season tropical storms at us so expect the weather for early September to be pretty rubbish.


Let's be honest here: holding a music festival and packing more than 50,000 people closely together in the middle of a pandemic was a bloody stupid idea, wasn't it? Now it looks like the Boardmasters festival has spawned a new variant of the disease, and it's spreading even more rapidly than the delta variant does.

This is why we can't have nice things. We knew beforehand that Covid can still be spread by vaccinated people, because they can still catch the disease (and while you might expect common sense to prevail, the reality is that mild symptoms—even a positive test result—are likely to be dismissed as nothing to worry about, because humans are frequently selfish idiots and anyway that's what humans do when they've paid good money for tickets and they've got a music festival to go to, innit?) We also knew beforehand that Boris's favoured strategy of not doing anything (no surprises there) and just letting the population achieve herd immunity was described by no less an authority than the World Health Organization as scientifically problematic and unethical even if it was deemed likely to be successful. But we also knew that the strategy won't work. In fact, we know that Boris's ambition of achieving herd immunity with Covid has been described as mythical by someone with a lot more competence as an epidemiologist than our chump in chief. But most importantly, we know that when lots of people get infected there's more chance for a mutation of the virus (and take a look at this timeline of its different strains; it mutates a lot) to pop up which is a lot better at being transmitted to gain a sufficiently large foothold in the population that will enable it to roar off out of control once again.

It looks rather like the Boardmasters festival allowed the virus to do just that. If so, this is extremely bad news.


I've been back making music, so I must be feeling a bit better. As of yesterday afternoon, I've got 46 songs uploaded to my profile on the Fifty/Ninety website.

That leaves me just four songs away from my target of fifty, and it's still August.


I really should learn to keep my trap shut when I make claims, like the one I made in the post immediately below, that my health is ticking over without causing too many problems.

The pain that I've been experiencing since I wrote that blog post has been almost as bad as it was at the onset of my current bout of ill health two years ago, but it's been centred on the kidney with the cyst in it rather than the one with the stone in. It's been so debilitating that even getting out of bed has been a challenge, and each time I move I've been getting stabbing pains down the whole of my right side. I have, it seems, turned into a mirror image of Marvin the Paranoid Android. After writing two absolutely miserable songs over the course of the last weekend I've given up attempting to make any music at all until matters improve and I can produce happier material.

This morning there finally seems to be some improvement. I'm not going to tempt fate by saying any more than that.


Given that I'm pretty much retired, you'd be inclined to think that I would be updating the blog more frequently than I've managed lately. But the truth is that I've ended up doing proper work work for much of the last couple of weeks, and that has resulted in a significant shift in my activities each day. There has been much reading, and taking of notes.

I've been enjoying getting back into the routine of proper cognitive work, analysing and evaluating concepts in what is for me a new domain of knowledge. And it's been extremely gratifying to discover that my brain hasn't atrophied to the point that it can no longer function in that sort of context.

Best of all, though, is the fact that this is paid work. Hooray for managing to keep the wolf from the door for a little longer!


I'm ticking over, more or less. The mild fitness regime which I've been following really seems to have started having an effect; my kidneys don't hurt as much as they did, but this is due in no small part to the fact that I now just generally ache all over. But that's just peanuts to the main benefit that I have discovered this week...

My watch has an ECG built into it. It tracks my heart rate every few minutes, whether I'm awake or asleep, and this has revealed that my resting heart rate has dropped by 3 bpm in the last three months. I was absolutely astonished (and very pleased) by this. Still am.

This served to confirm my gut feeling (ha!) that I am in a much better state than I was this time last year (and far, far better than I was two years ago). I hope this improving trend continues...


It's my birthday today. And I'm feeling every one of my 61 years today. Yesterday I finally got round to getting the ladder out and cutting back the Virginia Creeper on the house, which had reached the gutters and was making its way on to the roof. The mild regime of weights I've been following lately definitely paid off—I noticed that as soon as I picked up the ladder and realised I'd done so one-handed. I spent a further couple of hours trying to tame the state of the back garden, then called it quits for the day and headed back inside for a breather. But I still felt in good enough shape to take a stroll around the back lanes of the village in the evening before chilling out in the garden with a can of lager, sitting in my new camping chair and watching for early Perseid meteors. I didn't see any, but I spotted one rather slow satellite in a polar orbit that was still visible well after midnight (and both of those facts mean that it was therefore very high up indeed.)

All that exercise gave me a much-needed kick of endorphins, but they took their time wearing off. And as they did so, I realised that I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I took some painkillers before heading off to bed, but I can't say they had much of an effect. I barely managed to get any sleep at all (my watch reckoned I was asleep for four and a half hours, but I'm pretty sure it was exaggerating.) By half past six this morning I'd concluded that I wasn't going to get any further sleep so I abandoned bed in preference for a large mug of coffee. I'm hobbling around the house like an old man today. Waving a ladder around yesterday certainly gave some of my more neglected muscle groups a decent workout, and they are letting me know about it every time I stand up.

So I'm spending a quiet birthday on my own at home, doing a few batches of laundry and not an awful lot else.


Marvel's latest television series went live on Disney+ today (which I'm choosing to view as a nice sort-of-present from the MCU.)

What If... embraces the multiverse aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a big way, examining alternate timelines where a seemingly insignificant decision by a familiar character gradually cascades into a very different series of events that still cleverly echo the original timeline that we're familiar with from the slew of films that have been released over the past decade or so.

No spoilers here, but the first episode features Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper as Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, and they clearly had a whale of a time. As you'd expect, the animation is top quality stuff and all the characters are instantly recognisable. Their voices are, too; most—but not quite all—of the actors from the live action films return to reprise their roles. I'm going to have a lot of fun watching the rest of the series if the first episode is anything to go by.


After bemoaning my inability to get a good night's sleep yesterday, I ended up polishing off most of a bottle of Pinot Noir during the evening and then lay in the bath reading until the water went cold. Then I took a couple of long release ibuprofen tablets and went to bed a couple of hours earlier than I've been managing recently.

I was asleep in less than ten minutes. And I slept for over eleven hours.

And it was good-quality sleep, too; more than forty per cent of it was NREM sleep. And that fascinates me, because alcohol stops me from getting much NREM sleep. I drink much less than I used to because of this. It's a known side effect of booze, and that's a very strong argument for not just moderating your alcohol intake, but cutting it out altogether (trust me on this: I've seen the end result of decades of heavy drinking in my father's mental decline, and if you saw what it's done to him, you'd be laying off the booze too.)

Over the past month or so, my sleep patterns have changed dramatically. I might still be waking up feeling knackered, but from getting less than thirty per cent of NREM sleep on most nights, I'm now regularly seeing more than forty per cent. On Monday night I managed a fifty-fifty split for the first time since I started tracking my sleep more than three years ago. I was staggered when I ran the app on my phone to see the results. According to the app, that's the sort of figure I should be getting every night. I'm hoping that this means that I am finally starting to recover from the burnout which I ended up with in my last job. Back then, I pushed myself much too hard, thinking that I still had a young man's resilience and that all it took to bounce back was to catch up on sleep at the weekends. This was, of course, bullshit. The fact that it's taken me nearly two and a half years to regain even the most basic level of mental equilibrium is ample evidence of that. I'm by no means out of the woods yet, either. My continuing problems with flashbacks and related issues such as those chronicled in my blog post yesterday show that I've got a long way to go before I reach anything resembling a full recovery.

But things are finally beginning to move in the right direction, which gives me hope.

But then again...


The weather this summer has been unusually chaotic. Yesterday, the forecast for today and Monday here was for thunderstorms. I just checked the Met Office site and the forecast has now switched to frequent, light showers. Yesterday the presenter on the TV weather forecast talked about how the short-term forecast was currently changing with every run they made of their computer models; not just from hour to hour, but from minute to minute (and after uploading the first version of this post to my site, I checked again: a thunderstorm is now predicted for 8 am tomorrow morning.) The more energy there is in the atmosphere, the more unpredictable things get. And that energy takes the form of heat.

2021 is beginning to look like the year that the climate reached tipping point. Quite frankly, if you aren't utterly terrified by the direction things are moving in right now, you haven't been paying sufficient attention to the news. Climate change gets mentioned every day now, and none of it's good. Greece is currently on fire; a new study published this week suggests that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC) which gives us the Gulf Stream is shutting down; and another wave of heatwaves on America's Eastern and Western coasts looks like it will arrive next week as a new heat dome builds over the continent.

Meanwhile, our government lies about taking climate change seriously. In reality, their attitude is still "business as usual" and they are doing the exact opposite. The hypocrisy of Alok Sharma talking about us reaching the "last chance" to take action on climate change whilst simultaneously backing plans for the fossil fuel industry to develop new oil and gas fields is utterly appalling. I will leave it up to you to ponder what could possibly be motivating him to behave like this—in the face of overwhelming evidence for the existential risk that climate change poses to us all—but recent news items suggest that the fossil fuel industry has absolutely no qualms about prioritising their profits over absolutely everything else on the planet. They're not even interested in a discussion about the problem, as Shell's recent gagging of London's Science Museum shows.

We're doomed, aren't we?


My Internet connection—fast though it is—has very noticeably decreased in speed since the heady days when the village first got Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) as its distribution service back in 2014. But for the past week or so I've noticed that my upload and download speeds have mysteriously returned to the values I got back then. And I don't mean that they're within 5 Mbps of my initial speeds; they are exactly the values that I was getting on the day the cabinets came into use.

Speedtest results: 69.3 Mbps down, 17.3 Mbps up

I suspect that a major factor causing the decrease in speed over the past seven years (and how on Earth can the blog entry I just linked to be that old?) is a significant increase in the village's population during that time; several large housing estates have been developed here in the past few years (and the majority of them were built on green field sites, which is a crying shame, but that's a discussion for another day.) Have BT expanded the capacity of the local exchange? I can't find a source of data online that will tell me if they have, but it seems a reasonable assumption to make.

I've already been taking full advantage of the situation. Spitfire Audio released an update to their Abbey Road ONE orchestral foundations plugin earlier this week, and the update files totalled more than 3 Gigabytes. The download completed in the time it took me to make a cup of tea.


I'm exhausted. Yesterday's blog entry predicted that I'd be back in the HFO studio, writing and recording another song for the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge, and that was what I did; I now have 29 songs listed on my profile page there. But I ended up taking a nap for an hour or so first just so that I would have enough energy to do things like thinking hard.

My bedtime routine continues to feature bouts of despair, interspersed with sudden and intense PTSD flashbacks, and waves of anger over the complacency, incompetence and corruption that are rife in the present political situation. Last night was particularly bad and I was still awake at 2:30 am this morning. I'm also in quite a bit of pain at the moment and my decision to lay off the painkillers for a bit and just tough it out is not working particularly well, so I may have to revisit that decision tonight.

Sucks to be me, right? Well, not really. During the day I'm better placed to realise what a privileged life I have. Things could be an awful lot worse for me than they are and I'm very aware that millions of people are not as fortunate as me. I just wish my increasingly decrepit body would acknowledge the fact and stop complaining so much.


Bandcamp have resumed their practice of waiving their fees for transactions on the first Friday of the month as part of their initiative called Bandcamp Friday which they introduced during lockdown as a way of supporting musicians, so I have taken the opportunity to release another album today (because of course I have).

Threat Detector

I've chosen what I consider to be the fourteen strongest tracks that I wrote last month for the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge, and that ended up being slightly more than an hour and two minutes' worth of music. As before, I'm making the album available as a "pay what you want" release, and that includes free. As I said at the top of the page, I hope you'll give it a listen!

The fact that I've been making these albums available for free also means that buying my entire discography at Bandcamp has become an increasingly good deal, because the price for grabbing everything I've released there doesn't go up when I add another album! And when I look at my discography laid out on a single web page like that, it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, because it really brings home how much of a body of work I've built up in recent years. There are over a dozen full-length albums in the collection, as well as lots of singles and a couple of EPs.

I never thought I'd see myself typing "I've released over a dozen albums" as a passing comment, but there we are.


After spending a few days doing non-music related stuff, I think that it's about time I got around to making some more songs, so that's the plan for the rest of the afternoon. The temperature in the studio during the day has dropped to a much more reasonable 24°C over the past week. I can deal with that a lot better than I can when it gets above 30°C in there...


After zooming to the half-way point on the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge over the last month, I'm taking things easy today. To be honest, I don't think I'm up to doing anything particularly challenging at the moment as the brain fog has descended once again and even my habitual double-shot latté this morning hasn't lifted it at all. I kept waking up last night. I had the windows open, and that meant that the slightest sound made me jump. So right now I feel exhausted and drained and I'm in quite a bit of pain. I'm sore, and I'm tired.

That seems to have become my default state and it's beginning to really get me down.


Of course, as I'm a nerd, I can't just kick back and relax because there is always something to tinker with. So I've just installed version 12.4 of the Netbeans Integrated Development Environment, or IDE. This is free programming and web development software provided by Apache, and I have been using it to keep my website maintained for years—I was using it even before I gave the site its CSS facelift.

So much for the IDE's update engine notifying me that a new build was available, though; I've been using version 12.2 since February and yesterday it was still insisting that "Your IDE is up to date!" The installer is still as clunky as ever and it still can't be bothered to read my previous netbeans.conf file to migrate the tweaks I've made to the interface to make it usable on 4K monitors. Fortunately I remembered that the last time I did this, I made a careful note of what I needed to do to get things up and running. But the fact that the installer does not detect that my system uses high-resolution displays is deplorable. It's not like 4K monitors are a niche demographic these days but when the IDE ran for the first time just now, it did so with text that bordered on the microscopic. It looks like version 12.5 will be released in a couple of weeks, so I'll make sure I install it directly rather than waiting for the update engine to do its thing, as the tweaks that I need to make will still be fresh in my mind.

The IDE's annoyances are still there, though; once autocomplete kicks in on your code you have to explicitly turn it off again. And I was rather alarmed to read that this version has not been tested as thoroughly as earlier releases so it might not be as stable. But free is free, so I will stick with it in the hope that with version 13 I might actually see some more concrete improvements to usability.