Remembrance and remembering

Originally posted on mandycollinswriter:

In the last couple of weeks I’ve attended two funerals: one was of someone I knew very well; one not so well, and at both I’ve wondered whether it would be particularly ghoulish to write eulogies for my parents now, while they are still very much alive.

People are often outraged to hear that newspapers already have obituaries written in the event of certain prominent people dying – Nelson Mandela comes to mind. Or that television stations have news teams and ready-made tribute documentaries that just need updating, for example. But of course, it’s simple pragmatism – they can’t afford to be scrambling for words or footage when he dies.

And I feel the same way about my parents. I don’t want to be penning a tribute to people I love when I’m blinded by grief and overwhelmed by the long list of practicalities that the death of a loved…

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The sordid tale of how I was censored by Straight Pride UK

Originally posted on Oliver Hotham:

Straight-Pride

A few weeks ago, when thinking of interesting things I could write for this blog, I remembered a weird organisation that gathered some attention on the internet a month or two ago.

The organisation is called Straight Pride UK. It’s a strange group which believes that the tide of Gay rights has gone too far, and that now heterosexuals have become the oppressed minority. Essentially their philosophy  is spun from the same reactionary cloth as “Men’s Rights activists”  -  the notion that, having essentially run Western society for most its existence, progressive demands that Christian white straight males share some of their total grasp on power is somehow a removal of their rights.

Anyway, I wrote to Straight Pride asking that they answer some questions. Stipulating that I was “a freelance journalist”, I sent them some questions, about what they do and what they believe.

About a week later…

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console.log(“Learning to code”)

Miles Hayler:

Always great to hear someone planning for the future AND living the dream!

Originally posted on nuedd:

Go back one year and I’d just quit my job, sold everything and set off travelling – I’m still doing it now – go back a little further and you’ll spot me sitting at the dinner table starting out on the first few lessons on Codecademy’sCode Year‘ program, a years worth of online lessons aimed at taking the most un-savvy internet user into the realms of JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Ruby and Python. Fast forward a year and the dust has gathered on the lesson’s I’d started and I’m no nearer to completing it.

It’s a familiar story. Many just like me have started off full of high hopes and false promises that within a year we’d all be churning out some of the best website and smartphone apps the world has ever seen, but what we didn’t factor in was life. Life gets in the way

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The West Will Rise Again – Thank You Efrim!

At the end of March, I was chatting to friends about music and A Silver Mt. Zion came up, so I thought I’d quickly Google them up. What did I see, but a new EP. A new US/Canada tour exclusive EP. Nightmare. And so I rolled my sleeves up and got emailing.

I started off by emailing Constellation (also home to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think and Tindersticks), A Silver Mt. Zion’s label, who informed me that the band were releasing the EP through Efrim’s just formed label Ruined City Birdsong Combos.

I emailed about 10 websites who had reviewed the record to see if they would be happy to sell the copy they reviewed. All of the websites who got back to me said the same thing – they’d downloaded the vinyl rip that was doing the rounds and used that for their review,

I lastly had a thought and emailed the band themselves through the link on their website and, in just 20 minutes, who should email me back but Efrim himself:

hey there miles,

yes and yes, we have some left.
would be happy to oblige, but payment would have to be through paypal (apologies).
also, would need yr. address for a shipping quote.

thanks,
efrim/mt. zion

How’s that for a score? A few more emails later (plus shipping time) I received a well wrapped 7″.

The first thing any ardent fans will notice (I sure did), is the very familiar scrawl on the envelope. It’s evidently Efrim who does almost all the writing on the SMZ artwork. I found it quite bizarre to see my name and address written like this (complete with crossed i’s and fullstops)!

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

(Fight The Good Fight by the way – had to look that one up!)

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

I’ve found there are very few images besides the cover on the internet, and with the artwork being such an important part of any SMZ release, I’ve decided I’ll pop some photos and scans up before I go into the music! Enjoy!

The West Will Rise Again front cover

The West Will Rise Again front cover

The West Will Rise Again back cover

The West Will Rise Again back cover

The West Will Rise Again

The West Will Rise Again

To be continued…

 

Nvidia GTX 690 & 670

About 2 weeks ago Nvidia updated it’s Facebook page with an image of a the unnamed graphics card and the teaser “IT’S COMING”:

Nvidia "IT'S COMING" Campaign. Image taken from http://www.facebook.com/NVIDIAGeForce

Nvidia “IT’S COMING” Campaign. Image taken from http://www.facebook.com/NVIDIAGeForce

A week later we found out what “it” was. A GTX 690 - essentially 2 GTX 680 GPUs and their RAM on a single PCB. I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised by this. At the time the GTX 680s were hard enough to find due to GPU shortages (supposedly due to manufacturing difficulties with TSMC,) so to try to put two in one graphics cards seemed a crazy move. On top of this, The real money in graphics cards is made through the bulk sales of cheaper “mainstream” cards rather than the smaller sales of top end cards. The real kicker in the announcement though was that the GTX 660Ti wouldn’t be arriving until H2. I assumed this meant all the lower cards would be late too…

Just one week later, came the graphics card I was waiting for – GTX 670. The GTX 680 is a great card, but is too expensive to justify. The GTX 670, whilst still a high-end card, is some £100GBP/$150AUD cheaper. On to the hardware.

GTX 690 is easy to summarise. As I said before, it’s essentially 2 GTX 680s on one PCB. The GPUs on this board are clocked a little lower but could still boost to clock speeds higher than the 680′s base clock under the right conditions. The card reaches around 95% of the performance of a pair of GTX 680s in SLI, whilst consuming far less power, generating less noise and less heat. Heat. Herein lies the weakness of most dual GPU cards – a centrally mounted fan exhausts the heat from one GPU out the rear of the case, but exhausts the heat from the second into the PC case, where it will end up raising temperatures of other components. The card costs a similar amount to a pair of GTX 680s so this would be a great route to go if you were planning on diving straight in with two GTX 680s.

GTX 670 is based on a cut down GTX 680 GPU. In my post on the GTX 680 I questioned how Nvidia was planning on scaling it’s GK104, and now we know:

GK104 in GTX 670. Image by Nvidia

GK104 in GTX 670. Image by Nvidia

Rather than cutting out a GPC, Nvidia has disabled a SMX within one of the GPCs. This means a reduction in stream processors of 12.5% (1344 rather than 1536). On top of this the GPU runs 9% slower (915MHz rather than 1006MHz). Rather surprisingly, this graphics card only runs 5-10% slower than the GTX 680, this is due to the aggressive GPU boost settings which can boost the clock speed by 18% rather than the GTX 680′s 10%.

In the GTX 670, we have a card that is about 25% cheaper than the GTX 680, but only 5-10% slower. Sounds like a bargain to me and will likely make it’s way into my next PC.

Buying a Bike!

I currently live in Sydney, Australia. Sydney has a great rail network, and buses are frequent and cover pretty much the whole city. In 7 weeks time I will be moving to Leamington Spa, UK. Leamington has a railway station, and there are buses. Basically, public transport is not an ideal way of getting around, due to frequency and coverage. I won’t be able to afford a car when I get there, not until I get a job at any rate.

I’m going to buy a bike. I love riding bikes and have been riding for as long as I can remember. The main thing I use at the gym is the spin bike.

Buying a new bike puts me in a bigger dilemma than many people would find themselves when in my situation, and here’s why…

Over the years I have ridden all variety of bikes. In my early teens I was really into mountain biking, I had a custom black Saracen X-Ile. At times it was set up for dirt jumping, not unlike this…

A Saracen X-Ile set up for Dirt Jumping

A Saracen X-Ile set up for Dirt Jumping

At times it was set up for Trials riding.

A Saracen X-Ile set up for Trials

A Saracen X-Ile set up for Trials

I rode a 24″ wheeled Felt Clutch BMX/cruiser for a time…

Felt 24" Cruiser/BMX

Felt 24″ Cruiser/BMX

On top of this I also had a huge Harley Davidson style 3G Funtime

3G Funtime Chopper

3G Funtime Chopper

…and a tiny Onza Mini-Bike.

Onza Mini-Bike (poor quality old photo)

Onza Mini-Bike (poor quality old photo)

Quite the variety, I’m sure you’ll agree. The time has now come for me to get a new bike though. But what should I go for?

This bike will not be used for any sort of off-road riding, and certainly not trials or jumping, since I have a loose fragment of bone in my right knee which is due for removal in an arthroscapy. I will be using the bike for fitness (time to finally lose the beer belly?) and for transport so it needs to be something reliable and efficient. I’m thinking about getting a singlespeed…

A singlespeed?

That’s right. A singlespeed. I’ve thought they look pretty cool since long before they became popular with the city-folk hipsters and the like. These things are cheap, they (typically) run on skinny tyres (great for efficiency) and are super-reliable (the part on most bikes I’ve had that has caused the most problems, is the gearing system, whether derailleur or internal hub gears). Another little bonus isthe many many colours they are available in, with some companies (such as Australia’s Mojo Bikes) which allow you to totally personalise them colour-wise. Further that that, I might try to find one second hand and in need of restoration. I think that would make a sweet project! I’d even be happy with making a “frankenbike” out of mismatched parts.

What do you think?

War and Peace

This week Australia and New Zealand commemorated ANZAC Day*. As part of this event, the Gallipoli Art Prize is given out to the artwork that a panel of judges feel best depicts the spirit of the Gallipoli Campaign, as expressed in the Club’s creed of  “…loyalty, respect, love of country, courage and comradeship….”.

Watching various TV clips with artist who were sent to, or chose to go to, warzones in order to document something so horrific got me humming to myself. The tune I was humming was Kevin Carter by Manic Street Preachers.

Kevin Carter was a photographer who documented the apartheid in South Africa and much of the starvation throughout Africa. He’s most famous for his Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a starving child with a vulture in the background, seemingly just waiting for the girl to die.

Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize winning photograph

Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize winning photograph
Author & Copyright Owner: Kevin Carter

He committed suicide at the age of 33, his suicide note reading:

“I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.”

You can read more about Kevin Carter in this Wikipedia article.

You can’t help but wonder how many people in this position suffer these sorts of psychological effects. I can’t imagine the feeling of being so helpless surrounded by such terrible things. We should never forget the men who gave their lives, or the men who documented it.

Kevin Carter features on the Manic Street Preachers‘ album Everything Must Go which is available on Spotify.

*For those who don’t know, ANZAC day was originally created to commemorate soldiers of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli during WWI. These days it more broadly commemorates all who fought and died for their country.

Music Genres

As you saw, a few weeks ago I listened to You Bred Raptors? I was expecting Post-Rock but received something I wouldn’t describe as post-rock. Looking into them I have seen genres as varying as Alternative and Post-Folk.

So, what’s in a genre?

Has anyone else noticed the number of music genres has exploded in the last 15 years or so? I remember when Rock music could only be split into a few sub-genres, such as indie, metal, rock’n’roll, punk. these days there are some fairly obtuse genres. Technical Death Metal? Rock In Opposition? Crustgrind?

You just need to look at some of the descriptions to know how out of hand it seems to be getting:

Metalcore is a fusion genre that combines extreme metal with hardcore punk, and at the same time draws on groove metal. Like grindcore, metalcore can feature breakdowns as well as intense passages conducive to moshing. In the mid-1990s, some metalcore groups began to take inspiration from developments in grindcore. For example, mathcore groups such as Dillinger Escape PlanSome Girls, and Daughters. These groups also include elements of post-hardcore. By late 2000s, deathcore bands described themselves as grindcore. In addition to metalcore some early screamo groups, like Circle Takes the Square and Orchid, have been associated with grindcore by some commentators.

Yep. That’s a lot of different genres. Are they really needed? I’m undecided.

Sure, it’s great to know exactly what sort of music to keep an eye out for, but I think things are out of hand. I’m a big Post-Rock listener. I love Silver Mt Zion, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

I think Post-Rock is a very undecided genre. While a lot of it is fairly quiet, thoughtful, atmospheric music (think Sigur Rós [who themselves eschew the tag of Post-Rock in favour of Slow Motion Rock] or Explosions in the Sky)

There is also some much heavier stuff (check out Maybeshewill and You Slut!)

And even some that goes well into the realms of electronic music (65daysofstatic and M83).

Should these very different styles come under different genres? Potentially. But something else worth keeping in mind is that a lot of the time multiple genres will be applied to a band. Math Rock is a genre often applied in conjunction with another, and implies the use of unusual and/or changing time signatures. By describing a band as Post-Rock and Math Rock, of the 6 we discussed earlier, we now have closer to 3. We can also split them them by calling some of them Post-Rock and Instrumental.

How else could music be categorised though? Tempo? Instrument set? Country of origin? None of these, even when used in combinations, are going to cut it. Although the current genre system seems a bit vague at times and over-specific at others, I don’t think there is a better alternative short of the well defined nesting of existing genres. More hassle than it’s worth.

There is one other alternative, and it’s one that would never work in a record shop. Crowdsourced data on similar artists. Anyone who knows me well will know that I’m an avid last.fm user (just look down the right hand panel of my blog and you can see the last 10 tracks I’ve listened to of my 83,000+ total). Last.fm tracks all the music that you listen to, and with its 21million (in 2008) users, it has enough data to accurately guess which artists are similar. This isn’t really a filing system and hence would never work physically, but it’s a great system nonetheless. Worth its own post in the future.

So, that’s about it. I guess we’re stuck with what we’ve got. We have to lump music in with a genre which it probably doesn’t fit. The only plus to this is that you’ll just have to listen to more music in trying to find new bands you’ll like!

Have fun with all that listening ahead!

All artists featured in this post are on Spotify:

Silver Mt Zion
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Sigur Rós
Explosions in the Sky
Maybeshewill
You Slut!
65daysofstatic
M83

An Open Letter to Spotify From an Android User.

UPDATE: Spotify have released a preview for their next Spotify version which looks like a major overhaul. Hit up this blog post for more!

Dear Spotify

I have been using Spotify Premium for something like 4 years now. I love Spotify, I think it’s one of the best things ever, but why do you not care about your Android users? It’s not just me that’s annoyed with the Spotify Android app – just look at the reviews on Google Play:

Spotify on Google Play

Spotify on Google Play

That’s a lot of 1 star ratings! And there are a lot of people with similar complaints to me and we’re all being ignored.

The majority of the problems I have are as follows:

  • Your app is INCREDIBLY unresponsive. It’s hardly pushing the CPU, GPU, or network connection when you first open it and want to choose some music, so why does it take up to 20 seconds of being totally unresponsive before you can even scroll down the first screen?
  • Playlist management is awful. It’s complicated enough to manage your playlists in your app, but if you choose to attempt it, you get 17 seconds of music before the app restarts itself. This includes starring a track. This is just unacceptable.
  • Why can you only long-press tracks/albums in the search results or a playlist? I want to do it within an album listing, surely that’s not asking too much?
  • Local music. If people plan on putting more than a few tracks from your PC onto your phone to play within your app, they’d best be prepared to have no options about how they’re listed, and which order they play in. No album or artist listings here, just a long list of tracks.
  • Offline tracks (as synced through your app, not local music) get lost if you have to reinstall. I keep my offline files on the SD card, they’re still there, why are you rebuilding them?
  • It takes an absolute age to sync offline tracks. And I mean ages. Your app makes the chosen tracks available offline as they’re played, or you can sync over wi-fi. Doing it over wi-fi is really no quicker than listening to a whole playlist though.
  • Where’s the rotation support?
  • Why will it often reach the end of a track and not move on to the next?
  • …and what’s that buzzing noise between every track? Oh, and also every time the connection drops.
  • Why does my phone on occasion restart? It doesn’t do this very often, but it’s always when your app is either playing or shortly after it’s finished while it’s still loaded.

For me though, the biggest kicker is that you are off doing other things. For example, our iOS friends recently got the SpotON radio app; and just last week you introduced the “Play Button” allowing for the embedding of tracks into webpages. If you have time to create these other things, how about setting some time aside to fix an already introduced app?

You might be excused if this was a new app and had only been out a few months, but this app has been around (and has had very few updates) since 2009.

Please get it sorted. A lot of us are getting very fed up.

Yours faithfully

Miles (Android user)

Do You Work for Free?

Just read this insightful piece on musicians being treated as hobbyists rather than professionals who need to put bread on the table. They(/we?) are often asked to play for free as they are promoting themselves. WTF?

Do You Work for Free?.

It’s a very valid point and applies to a select few other industries too. Case in point journalists – there are too many publications out there looking for free articles under the guise of promotion.

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