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Sunday, 28 February 2010

Wasted Lives?

A beach vlog.
Recorded before the death of my mother in law.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Rollercoaster Rides Again

Life moves in mysterious ways.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


I mentioned in another recent Blog Post a podcast that i'd listened to from The Word Magazine. In that blog i said that i had more to say about what arose within that podcast.

One of the topics discussed was the use of recording studios & how techniques had changed.
This got me thinking about how modern studio techniques had, in some ways, taken some of the soul out of the music recorded there.

It was said in the podcast that, no studio recording since the early 1980's need ever be out of time. Because of the invention of the "click track". All recordings before that time had relied on either the drummer, or a metronome. Or, just the natural abilities of the musicians.
And since the 1990's, no vocal need ever be out of tune. Because of the invention of the dreaded "autotune".
Whilst these are both advances in recording studio techniques & help produce "perfect" recordings. I do feel that this can be a backward step, in some ways.

It makes me wonder that if we'd had these tools years ago. Would we ever have had such distinctive vocalists as Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash etc etc (just add your own choice here...)
Whilst they might not be great vocalists. They are very distinctive, unique & original ones & their music just would not sound the same without them.
These days, everything has to be done just right. Especially in these times of American Idol & X-Factor.

I don't have a problem with well produced music. But, not at the expense of soul, ambience & originality.

Another aspect i've thought of is of those great tracks, from my past, that are not perfect. Recordings that i remember & that stand out, because they are not quite perfect.

Here are a few examples & please don't blame me for ruining the way that you will listen to these particular songs in the future!

1) Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound Of Silence
Sometimes, the whole backing track seems slightly out of time with the vocals.
2) The Who - Baba O'Riley
Just listen to Keith Moon's drums when he comes in. He has to slow himself down!
3) Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone
Towards the end of the song, the rhythm guitar seems out of time & very messy.
4) Meatloaf - Dead Ringer For Love
Just listen to the mess the drummer makes of his drum fill part way through (ok, so i used to be a drummer & might notice this more than others)

I know that there are other examples & if you have any of your own, please share them. The only trouble is that you will never hear those songs in quite the same way ever again.
You have been warned.

I guess the whole point of this post is that even mistakes, or slight imperfections, needn't be bad.
Perfection isn't everything.
Sometimes, those slight errors & mistakes can make the music, or any piece of art for that matter, just that little bit more special than it already was. Even in a blog post maybe?

Would the world really be a better place with a perfect version of "Like A Rolling Stone", or "The Sound Of Silence"? I don't think so.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Abbey Road

Here i was sitting down to write a blog post all about the record company EMI trying to sell the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. When i happened upon this item on the BBC News website.

All i can say to that is - Phew!

When i first saw the news reports the other day, suggesting that the studios were up for sale, i was horrfied. As i suspect many other music lovers were.
We have lost so many heritage sites over the years, in the UK & this would have been one site too far. I'm not just referring to sites of musical interest either. We have lost many historical sites, from all ages of history. Sites, that once they have gone, can never be brought back.

I can still remember going to Liverpool, in the late 1970's & finding out that the original site of The Cavern Club was now a car park! As Joni Mitchell sang in her song "Big Yellow Taxi", "You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone"
How true & prophetic those words have come to be.

When you realise the vast musical history & all of the great musicians, from across the years, that have passed through the doors of Abbey Road Studios. It really makes you think what we might have lost, had those studios been sold.

Although Abbey Road Studios are most famous for the recordings of The Beatles & were immortalised by the Abbey Road album. Abbey Road Studios have played host to many great musicians, including Sir Edward Elgar, Pink Floyd & Radiohead, amongst many, many others.

Because of The Beatles & also because of THAT album cover, the studios themselves have become a tourist attraction. Who could not resist walking across what is probably the most famous zebra crossing in the world?

Personally, i have never visited Abbey Road & have never walked across that crossing.
At least i now may well get the chance to do so.

The UK Government has now announced that Abbey Road Studios are going to be given "Listed Building" status. Which is great news.
More details here: BBC News
It seems that people are now starting to realise the importance of this piece of British musical heritage.

Once More Into the Breach.

Some evenings just don't go quite as you expect them to, do they?
Yesterday evening, was one such evening.

Together with my wife & some friends, i went to a quiz night. This was organised by & took place at, St Michael's Hospice, very close to my home.
I have quite possibly mentioned St Michael's Hospice before, either in blogs, or vlogs. As with any Hospice, or charity, they are always in need of more money. So, i am only too happy to try & help them out when i can. Last night was a great opportunity to do just that.

The evening started off fairly normally. Although the person leading the quiz was having some difficulty being heard & asking the questions. It then became apparent as to why this was.
Unknown to the vast majority of the people present, the poor man was in the process of suffering a mild stroke! Thankfully, his wife & daughter were there with him & started to realise what was happening.
An ambulance was called & he was treated by the paramedics, before being taken off to hospital.

Thankfully, it appears that he was not to badly affected by this stroke & was even able to apologise on his way out (Why do people always feel the need to apologise, even when they have no need to do so?)

In the UK in recent months, we have had a Government tv & poster campaign showing people how to recognise the early warning signs that somebody is suffering a stroke. Even if that person is yourself.
After all, as the campaign states, every second can count in a situation like this. The quicker that the stroke symptoms are recognised, the quicker that that person can be treated & possibly saved.

The campaign uses the acronym F.A.S.T. Which means:
F - Face
A - Arms
S - Speech
T - Time

One of the things that struck me about this whole episode, was that as soon as the people on our table were aware of what had actually happened, we all started talking about the F.A.S.T campaign.
So, regardless of what some people might think about these Goverment campaigns. They do work.
People become aware & digest the campaign messages without really realising it.
That might sound a little scary & i can see why. But, in this instance, i'm willing to go along with it.
If a Government campaign helps to save just one life. It's been well worth it, in my opinion.

Anyway, to get back to the reason for the title of this blog......

As you can imagine, this incident left us all in a bit of a quandary. We were now left with no quizmaster & also without most of the people who were running the quiz. Which also involved the provision of a mid quiz meal.

Thankfully, the quizmaster had left all of his questions & answers behind.
At first, the one remaining lady tried to run the quiz herself. But, it was soon obvious to us all, that she couldn't be expected to do everything herself.
So, i volunteered my services & ended up being the quizmaster for the rest of the evening. Something that i've never done before. And to be quite honest, i thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The rest of the evening went very well, even though i say so myself. The lady was then able to arrange the food & the raffle, whilst i went into "arranging" mode & ran the rest of the quiz.
Although, i have no problem with doing this sort of thing, the hardest part for me was trying to get my head around the questions. Some of which were a little obscure & also trying to put my own personality into the way i asked the questions themselves.
I always find it easier to say things my way & never find it that easy to read out others words. That is especially true when it comes to questions. We all tend to ask questions in our own style. Whether we realise that, or not.

For me, this is yet another example of my experience with vlogging helping me in new situations & giving me the confidence to take on those new situations. Something i may well not have done, in my pre-vlogging days.

So, how did my team do in the quiz? Well, they came last!
I like to think that this is because i wasn't there to help them. But, who knows?
All i know is that i had a good evening. Even though it wasn't quite the evening that i'd anticipated.
We all helped raise some much needed money for a very worthy local charity & i've now added the skill of quizmaster to my ever growing CV (Or, resume, for all you Americans out there)

I just hope that the next quiz night i attend, isn't quite so eventful.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Get Your Facts Right!

I recently made a YouTube video called Shock! Horror! all about newspapers & TV news shows using videos, mainly to sensationalise the news & yes, it was a bit of a rant.
Well, here's another one....

Tonight, my local tv news show did an item which contained facts which i know full well are incorrect.

Without going into too much detail. The story concerned a young girl who had recently had life saving heart surgery & had then needed to use a special machine to keep her alive, while she recovered. Thankfully, the little girl is fine & making a full recovery.

During this news item, they referred to this piece of equipment/machine as if it were a fairly new piece of technology & that this young girl was one of the first to ever use it in the UK & at the hospital concerned, Guys & St Thomas' Hospital in London.

The piece of equipment is an ECMO machine. For the uninitiated, this stands for Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation. The machine is very similar to a heart bypass machine. But, one that can be used for longer periods, allowing the patients heart to rest & recover from the ordeal of surgery.
Just do a Google search for "ECMO" & you get plenty of useful results.
This is one of the best ones: GOSH

ECMO machines have been used in the UK since 1992. They were first used at Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London. So, it's hardly new technology is it?

I know what you're thinking. "How does he know so much about this subject"
Well, in 1994 my daughter used an ECMO machine herself & in Guys Hospital too.
In fact, she was the first person to ever use an ECMO machine at Guys Hospital.
The staff at Guys had never used one before & actually had to borrow equipment from other hospitals to build one. Including Great Ormond Street. I remember one doctor coming all the way down from Leicester with some of the equipment & staying to help set it up & make sure that it all worked correctly.
It all seemed a bit of a Heath Robinson affair at the time. But, it worked & it helped save my daughters life.

My daughter was born with her Pulmonary Artery & her Aorta connected to her heart the wrong way round, amongst other issues. This condition is know as Transposition Of The Great Arteries, or TGA & requires major open heart surgery to correct it.
This is exactly the same condition that the young girl in tonights tv news programme had.
Thankfully, like the young girl featured, my daughter has made a full recovery & is now a happy & healthy 15 year old teenager.

OK, so i have had personal experience & so knew about this condition & about the ECMO machine itself. But, it only took me a few clicks of a mouse to find plenty of information about the subject & enough information to know that the facts they used in their news story were incorrect.

In these days of widespread Internet access, i don't think anyone can be excused for not checking their "facts". Especially not a BBC news show.

So, is this another case of lazy journalism? Possibly....

My other theory is that this is could be another effect of getting the viewers to suggest stories for the programme. Something i wrote about in my last blog post: Ask The Audience

I have contacted the news programme & have pointed out their error. I'll let you know if i hear anything back from them.
I will not be holding my breath though.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Ask The Audience.

One of the highlights of my week, is listening to the latest podcast from The Word Magazine A magazine which i can heartedly recommend to any serious music lover & a publication that i have probably mentioned before & will, quite possibly mention again at some time.
Podcasts, generally, are one of those things that the Internet was just made for. Especially when they are done well. Which is precisely the case here

But, this week the Word Podcast was even more special than usual, for me anyway. Because, in it they actually gave me a name check & answered a question which had i sent into them.
The podcast was mainly about recording studios & my question was along the lines of, "Does the use of Autotune mean the end of "real" vocalists". (By the way, my question is about 10 minutes before the end)

I actually intend to write another blog post around aspects of the podcast discussion about recording studios & the question that i asked.

But, the other aspect i wanted to mention, was the way that everybody these days seems to be after our opinion. Whether it be a radio show, a tv programme, or in this case, a monthly magazine. They all want input from their readers, viewers & listeners.

In the case of The Word, they use their Twitter feed to ask for questions, as do many others. Usually just before they are about to record the podcast.
But, i've lost count of the amount of times i've been asked, as a viewer or listener, to contact somebody to give my opinion about something they are discussing, or to vote on a hot topic.
I suppose this is just a natural progression from the old fashioned way of contacting a studio, by telephone?

Maybe it's just a case of the media, in its many forms, getting to grips with social media & the Internet generally? After all, it must be a great deal easier getting an email, or a text message, than having to actually answer a phone call. And the ways that people can contact, or get involved these days are growing in number all the time.

I know that many tv programmes, radio shows, magazines, newspapers & even the presenters themselves, have their own Facebook pages, Twitter feeds etc.

So, i guess the question is, does this really matter?

Some might see this as lazy journalism, or cheap programming. After all, these people are getting the general public to provide some of their content for them & at no real cost.
But, there again, it can also be seen as true public service broadcasting. Getting the public involved is exactly what some people like to see.
Also, getting your audience involved in the show, or programme, will probably make that audience more loyal. It almost becomes "their programme. They are far more likely to watch, listen, or read & be enthusiastic about your product, if they feel involved in some way.

Personally, i see no real problem with this & i can actually envisage this public involvement becoming more widespread. In fact i've already seen examples & ideas for this.
Maybe that's the topic for another day?

There is nothing quite like having your name & question being used on your favourite podcast.
As long as that potential thrill remains, people will always want to get involved.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Easy Money.

Today i made one of those phone calls that you don't get to make very often. A phone call that makes you a lot of money.
Okay, so the money was originally mine to start with. I just didn't realise that i was owed it.
Maybe i should just get on & tell the story?....

In the mail today, i received my latest electricity & gas bills. I get both utilities from the same company. I just happen to find it easier that way.

I have changed my provider on a number of occasions, as we can do in the UK & actually went over to this provider, a while ago, because a lot of their power comes from renewable sources.
Anyway, whilst studying the individual bills i noticed that the company actually owed me money, on both bills. Obviously i had overpaid them. Mainly due to the fact that i pay by direct debit. Once again, i just find it easier that way & you do generally get a small discount for paying that way.

On the electricity bill i was over £500 in credit & on the gas bill i was over £360 in credit! Yes, that amounts to over £850 that i had paid to this energy company, that i didn't need to.
I must admit that i had noticed on previous bills that i was in credit. But, i didn't realise it was by that much. Either that, or i just hadn't got around to ringing up the company & sorting out the over payment.

Well, this time i was straight on the phone to sort it all out. First off i checked that i had the correct meter readings, just in case of any error.
As it happens, the lady on the other end of the phone could not have been nicer & more accomodating. Well, i guess she should have been as it was my money i was asking for.
After checking that all the figures were correct & adjusting for the slight difference in the meter readings, i was still well in the black.

To cut a long story short(ish) I ended up getting the energy company to pay £700 (approx $1,000) back into my bank account. Money that i had overpaid & was therefore owed. I also got them to reduce my direct debit payments by over £60 per month.
I may still be overpaying slightly. But, i decided to keep it that way. For the moment at least. I can always adjust it again in the future & maybe get another bank payment as well.

As i mentioned in an earlier blog post. I have recently booked a return flight to the USA & this money will go a long way to ensuring that i have a really good time, whilst i'm there.

And all because i bothered to make a simple phone call.

I suppose the moral of this story is. Check those bills that come through the door, a little more closely in future.
Who knows. You may be owed some money as well.
If so, maybe i'll see you at Heathrow in April?

Monday, 8 February 2010

What's In A Word?

I just caught a small part of a TV programme on the BBC. Seven Ages Of Britain
In it, that well respected broadcaster, David Dimbleby was talking about a crown once worn by a past British monarch.
Talking about the crown, he said something along the lines of, "This crown is an object of indescribable beauty".
So, what did he do next? Yes, he went on to describe the crown in detail.

Now, if such an experienced broadcaster as David Dimbleby falls into this trap, what hope is there for the rest of us?
This is just one of those misuses of words that you seem to hear all of the time these days. They probably go unnoticed by most people. But, sometimes, like this example, they stick out like a sore thumb.

I'm not for one moment, pretending that i'm not guilty of some of these misuses myself. I can hardly claim to be an expert on the English language either. But, i'm sure these examples are becoming more frequent.

Another word, very often misused, is "literally". How often do you hear somebody say something like, "i was literally scared out of my skin"? Oh, really?...

These are just two examples that spring to mind. But, i know there are plenty of others.

Can you think of any?

My brain is literally exploding thinking about all of this!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Every Picture Tells A Story, Don't It?

This morning i happened to listen to a radio programme, on Radio 4, all about the cover art for Led Zeppelin's 1973 album, "Houses Of The Holy"
 Cover Story - Houses Of The Holy.

Anyone who has ever seen the cover of that album, especially the original vinyl version, will probably remember it & if not, here is a reminder:

Pretty distinctive isn't it?

The programme was about one of the young children, who featured on the album cover. Despite there being several images on the cover, there were actually only two children. A brother & sister.

I must admit, i always thought, as did my wife, that the children on the cover were actually Robert Plant's. The singer with Led Zeppelin.
That is obviously not the case. The two children concerned were in fact models, who were used to appearing in adverts.

Well, the premise for the programme was that the boy in the photo, Stefan Gates, was somehow disturbed by that image. He saw it as almost apocalyptic, with the naked children climbing over the rocks, towards a strange orange sky.

Throughout the programme, both my wife & i kept looking at each other with an increasing sense of incredulity. It was very obvious, to us at least, that Stefan was making far too much of his "fears".
He was concerned about the child nudity, the disturbing vision that the cover art suggested & a feeling that he & his sister had been somehow exploited to produce the image.

He interviewed his mother, sister, the photographer & a respected Rock Music critic. All of whom seemed to think that he was making far too much of this. His sister even said as much.
The programme concluded with Stefan making a strange kind of pilgramage back to the Giants Causeway, in Ireland, where the famous photograph was taken.
Whilst there, it turned out that he had never actually heard the "Houses Of The Holy" album! WTF?

So, what's the point of this blog you ask?
Well, two points actually.

The first being that this, to my wife & i at least, was just an excuse to make a radio programme & possibly get some kind of attention from it. After all, i had never heard of Stefan Gates before today & i consider myself to be a big Led Zeppelin fan.
If he was really that disturbed about this whole episode, why did he have to go on national radio & make a big song & dance about it all? And make himself look a bit of an idiot in the process.
I have many ideas for possible radio programmes. Maybe i should submit them to the BBC?

My other point is that this is yet another case of somebody making a mountain out of a molehill.
Stefan spent the whole programme, reading far too much into what the real meaning of the album cover was & therefore worrying about it
Even the original photographer told him that it didn't really mean anyting. In common with many more album covers & especially those made by the "Hipgnosis" group, who actually designed this cover.
Hipgnosis are also famous for designing many Pink Floyd album covers.
Maybe Stefan can tell me what they're all about? I've been trying for nearly 30 years & haven't figured it out yet!

Art is so often misunderstood & so much, that often isn't really there, is read into it.
Apart from being misleading, that could also end up being dangerous.

Well, that's it, rant over.

There's just time for me to tell you that "Houses Of The Holy" is actually one of my favourite Led Zeppelin albums &, in my humble opinion, a very much under-rated album too.
OK, so it does have a couple of their worst songs on there. But, the rest are all crackers.

Guess what i'm listening to whilst writing this?

Family, Friends & Reunions.

YouTube video.
Talking about more recent experiences.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Points Mean Prizes?

I'll admit that i've always been more than a little cynical about, so called, "Loyalty Schemes".
For a lot of people, they are usually thought of as just a sneaky way of supermarkets etc monitoring & watching what you buy in their stores.

You only have to look at the promotional vouchers that they send you periodically, through the post, to realise that they have an awful lot of information about your spending habits.
It really is quite frightening, when you start to think about it.

You're giving away all of that information, quite freely & all for the promise of some money off vouchers, or coupons. If somebody was to stop you in the street, or come to your door & ask you about the contents of your shopping basket, would you tell them quite so happily?

So, i guess the question we need to ask is, "Is it really worth giving away all of this information? And what rewards are we gettting in return?"

I remember years ago, my parents collecting Green Shield Stamps. Remember them?
They would be given away, when purchasing certain items, or in certain stores (I think!)
You then stuck the stamps in specially provided books. The idea being to fill up & then save the completed books. You could then exchange these books of stamps for specific items. Which were displayed in special Green Shield Stamp catalogues.

Aah, those were the days.
When nobody was really that bothered about what you were buying & when you were just being rewarded for buying certain goods. Nobody was trying to build up a huge database of what their customers were buying. And your innocent little shopping basket was not being used as a secret market research tool.

I have no doubt that some of these Loyalty Schemes are a lot better, than others. I know for a fact that i get far more from some, than from others.

From a purely personal point of views. I think i do fairly well from the schemes that i use.
I'll admit, that i don't use, or sign up, for very many of these schemes. That is partly because of that cynical nature of mine that i mentioned earlier. I don't really want too many people having too much information stored about me.

I realise that this is probably a very naive pont of view. Because my personal information is, more than likely, currently stored on computers all over the world.
Still, i suppose i can kid myself that this isn't the case?

But, i do feel that i have been "rewarded" pretty well by one of the schemes that i'm signed up to. Albeit, by using it smartly.

As a family, we usually do our shopping at Tesco & as anyone who regularly shops there will know, they have their own loyalty scheme, Tesco Clubcard Points.
Like most people, i suspect, when we first signed up for Clubcard Points, we just got the money off vouchers & were quite happy with that. After all, they are giving you money off vouchers for doing the shopping that you would do anyway. How can you lose?

I then realised that i could have the Clubcard Points transfered straight into my Airmiles account. Yet another Loyalty Scheme. but, one that has the potential to get you free flights.

Well, since making that switch, i have "earned" two free flights to the USA & also a cheap weekend for all the family to New York City. That's some kind of reward for doing your weekly shopping!

In 2008, i got a free return flight, with British Airways, to Chicago & i have just booked another free return flight. This time to Los Angeles, also with British Airways.

And, no, there isn't a catch. In fact, the 'deal" has got better over the years. In the past, you had to pay taxes for the flights. But, now there are no taxes to pay & it is all so much simpler.

I know this all sounds like a bit of an advert for Tesco & Airmiles. But, really the point i'm trying to make is that, if you play the Loyalty Scheme game correctly, it can be used to your advantage.

And, all you have to do is go out and buy your weekly shopping.

Have a nice flight.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Rollercoaster Slows Down.

New YouTube video & hopefully, the final part of a series of videos about my Father.

Funerals, Fathers & finality.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010