Thursday, June 22, 2006

Domestic Digitisation Discussion: Dull

There's more than one kind of digital switchover. We all know about the one a few years from now when people throughout the land become bewildered that the telly in the spare room doesn't seem to work any more, or that the video can't record BBC3 when they're watching More4 at the same time.

The digital switchover that occupies me more than this is more personal. I still have a number of music cassettes, vinyl LPs, and VHS video cassettes. I am keen to be shot of these, because unlike their replacements, they deteriorate on each playback, can be copied no faster than they take to play, and incur a quality loss every time they're copied. Ugh.

I have a toolkit of strategies:
  1. The David Mellor Paradox. Music lover and Tory philanderer once announced that he owned a titanic volume of CDs. Some wag did his sums and realised that Mellor would be unlikely to be able to listen to them all again in his lifetime. So, I initially assessed my analogue AV collection with the blunt question "Am I ever going to watch or listen to this thing again?". The answer might be "No" because it was gret the first time, but the return on a repeat would be so diminuitive as to make it pointless. It might be "No" because, for example even though I intend to watch "Brazil" several more times before I die, I will be unlikely to do so on 4:3 VHS. And I can always rent it from Screenselect. About half my AV collection made its way to friends, charity shops, or landfill after the ruthless application of this criterion.
  2. Stimulate the economy. If I can buy a CD of a vinyl album, or a DVD of a video tape, then I will. Most of the stuff I like is deeply unfashionable, and available through Amazon resellers.
  3. Ethical juggling. We're in a morally grey area here, but it's quite a dark grey and becomes more so under honest scrutiny. If I've already paid to own something on VHS or vinyl, why not just download via Bittorent a replacement that I can burn to DVD or CD, and recycle the original? Well, because I'm denying revenue to the people who reissued the material on DVD or CD and made the file sharing possible. But I still do it.
  4. Fan power. This is better. I have a significant collection of live recordings of my favourite bands on cassette. Most if these recordings have been remastered for CD and made available as losslessly compressed archives over file sharing systems. I am acquiring quite a few recordings I never had on cassette in the first place, but apart from that it gets me nearer the goal of a less cluttered life.

Anyway, I've been at all this for about a year now, and it's going pretty well. This weekend I will take the plunge and actually chuck out live casssettes I've replaced. 90% of the vinyl has already gone.

Friday, June 16, 2006

MP3 Secrets of the Well-Off and Tedious


After a day of stomach cramps and cold symptoms on Tuesday, I seem to have recovered. I hope to get some gardening done this weekend. There's been a very welcome flurry of garden pride among our neighbours, and due to the tessellated nature of our plot, there are many Joneses to keep up with.

While I'm trowelling and pruning, I'll be listening to my generic MP3 player. As I work my way through the wonderful output of Big Finish Productions, rather than listening to serials serially, I like to interleave them. For example, an episode of Doctor Who, followed by an episode of Sapphire and Steel, followed by an episode of The Tomorrow People. This would be a real fag to click between manually, as well as being quite dangerous if attempted while exercising or cycling, so I rename the tracks of the serials so that they play in a round-robin fashion. This itself, can be a bit of a fag, so last night I knocked up a quite Perl program to do it automatically. I just type "interleave DoctorWho SapphireandSteel TomorrowPeople" and it interleaves them faster than a Vegas croupier, into a combined folder called "Sandwhich". Although why a Vegas croupier should have any particular aptitude for renaming MP3 files is a mystery to me.

My current Sandwich is Doctor Who: Real Time, Sapphire and Steel: All Fall Down, and The Tomorrow People: A Plague of Dreams.

While I'm culturally enumerating, I'll also add that my attempt to watch every Hartnell episode has reached "The Death of Doctor Who", I'd reading "The Feast of the Drowned", and Boards of Canada's new EP is getting a daily play.

There, I feel better having unburdened myself of all those secrets. Have a good weekend.

Monday, June 12, 2006

More Boasting About Running


What's hot, smelly, and runny? The Edinburgh Marathon in June! DYSWIDT?

I participated in my first marathon on Sunday. Not, you understand, the Full Monty, having only only previously competed to 10km. No, this was the Relay Marathon, whereby five us us, affiliated, more or less, with my employer covered the 26.2 miles between us. I took the lion's share, the intial 12.4km (7.7 miles) from the Marathon start in Princes Street to Victoria Park in Leith. Charitable rounding means I can say, I've now run a couple of Quarter Marathons (my previous 10km runs) and a Third Marathon (the relay).

After the Great Edinburgh Run last month I was a bit more crippled than I'd been expecting, so in the interim I concentrated on strengthening my quadriceps and hamstrings with various instruments of torture at the gym, as well as confining my training to indoor work on the treadmill. Purists may scoff, but the hammering my leg joints take from outdoor training (see the blog for my first 10k), just isn't worth it, and the treadmill is just as good at building up my muscles and cardiovascular system, especially as I keep it set to punitive gradients, so that on the day of a race, whenever I'm not actually going uphill, I get a bonus.

The challenges on the day were:
  • Congestion. I took the first leg of the relay, and we set off just 5 minutes after the main marathon, so the field was packed. I always start modestly quite near the back, but even so, it was harder work than normal to find a path through the other runners. I got my usual confidence boost from gradually overtaking throughout the race.
  • The sun. At 8 o'clock, shamelessly performing some recently-adopted hatha yoga asanas in Princes Street gardens, there was a light cloud cover that made the sun, which had already been up for 4 hours passable. About 40 minutes later, the clouds cleared, and I felt the sun's rays starting to scorch into my thinning hairline. It was the hottest run I've ever done - there's no way I'd have gone out to train in that temperature.

Nevertheless, there are some highlights I'll always remember:

  • Turning the corner from Princes Street into Lothian Road, rising gently up towards Tollcross, and seeing the road completely full of runners.
  • The beautiful quiet as we crossed the Meadows.
  • Arriving in Leith, to warm applause from the onlookers.
  • Overtaking a man in a Rhino suit and seeing from his number that he was doing the full marathon.
  • Realising that Edinburgh is far more beautiful in the morning than late at night.
  • Beating my forecast time by three minutes: I came in at 1:02 instead of 1:05. Which means I ran this at an average of 12kph, actually faster than the 11.76kph in which I did the shorter Great Edinburgh Run in easier conditions!

Afterwards, I had my first Mocha in over a month, in fact a Mocha Bianca (made with nutritionally worthless white chocolate), and waffles with maple syrup and ice cream. This all with a clear conscience, too, because after a run, wisdom has it that dumping a load of refined glucose into your blood stream prevents your body from devouring your muscles.

Two women in my life made it all easier - Susan from work, our team captain, who coped with all the logistics, and Helen from home, my wife who was there to give me a rousing send off and a nourishing round of applause as I came in. She is fab.

24 hours later, the quad and hamstring exercises seem to have paid off, because I can walk without wincing, with the only real injury being light sunburn, and I made it down to the gym for a swim before work this morning.

So, I've done two Quarter Marathons, a (nearly) Third Marathon, and the next challenge is a Half Marathon, specifically, the Glasgow Half Marathon in September. This will take a bit more training. You can see where this is going. As I peeled off from the full marathon runners into Victoria Park yesterday, I was awed with respect for them as they carried on to do what we'd just done a further two and bit times, with the sun rising higher, along with the temperature. I'm determined to follow them sooner or later.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Having a Lodger

For the past few months, we have had a lodger, my wife's brother. He's exactly the same age as me, and does exactly the same sort of work - IT prostitution for large financial clients. In fact, at the moment, the same large financial client. Opportunities at home were a bit sparse, so he took up a contract with Regal Bond of Scotia, and I had my arm twisted in the now familiar spouse-lock into inviting him into our home while he's working up here in Scotland.

I was a bit put out by the idea at first. After three years, I had only just acclimatised to sharing a home with another person, and even then, with regular fairly lively negociation about, say, where to store cooking matches, or what the optimum settings on the washing machine are. But I'm very fond of brother-in-law. Like father-in-law, he seemed to accept me as the bloke in Helen's life overnight, and we have a very matter-of-fact, almost mute fraternity.

The main sacrifice was our spare bedroom, or as I'd come to think of it "drying room, and meditative retreat", which is now a terrifying batchelor pad, strewn with programming manuals and technological wonders, entwined with USB cables. Because the great thing about brother-in-law is that rather than spending his evenings on the sofa, changing the channels on my bloody telly, eating strange food and farting, he retreats to his hermitage and gets all his entertainment by WLAN and broadband. So on the day he arrived, I gave him a spare set of keys, and took his wireless MAC addresses, and off he went. It's as simple as that.

Better yet, he eats what's put in front of him (to eat, obviously, not absolutely everything), offers to make cups of tea every hour, and dresses so radically differently from me that our washing never gets mixed up. Furthermore, because he eats what we eat, when we eat it, it's no harder to cook for three than for two, and we have the bonus of a third party to enliven mealtimes.

Are there any drawbacks? Well, the Waltons/Boswells style roundtable of the day's events over dinner seems to take a lot longer, and my own slot is cut down to one third of a mealtime, so I have less opportunity to talk about myself. And I can't wonder around the house naked and scratching my dangly bits at all hours of the night. Helen does not espcially see the latter as a drawback. Or the former, if I'm honest.

I think I could cope with this indefinitely. At this rate, we'll be starting a commune soon.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Look! It's Still Moving! Quick!

I'm having a quiet day today, so I thought I'd update this. It appears to have been some time since I blogged, since which everyone I know has taken up the form. I can't claim any influence. Just in case it's another 18 months since I get round to posting, here are the headlines

  • I no longer drink alcohol: my last drink was on January 8 2005
  • Helen and I have been married for two years
  • I still work as an IT consultant in Edinburgh, almost exclusively for a large financial group

I visited my family this weekend, and my father was enquiring about my pastimes. He seemed oddly unnerved that all I do is work and house-husbanding. I haven't done anything creative at a keyboard (either with letters or with notes) for about 18 months. I am far more a creature of routine and habit than ever before. If there's a guiding principle, it's "Do fewer things, better". I'm succeeding at the first part of this admirably.

If I manage to maintain this blog, then future topics might include:

  • Coffee
  • Yoga
  • Life laundering
  • Memoirs by broadcasters
  • Ethical living 1: Liberation from petrol
  • Ethical living 2: Why you don't need to fly
  • Having a lodger
  • On reaching 40
  • Radio 4 in the 21st Century

You can't bloody wait, can you? Eh?