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iPod symbiosis

Posted by Steve on August 23, 2008

I am convinced that the iPod is the beginning of the end for mankind. We will evolve beyond this fragile, mortal shell and become something… More. Whether it be Borg like or not, I don’t know. Clearly though, something is going on. An empathic link between machine and flesh. There is no other explanation. (Okay, so there probably is, but for the sake of this piece, no, there isn’t.)

If you’re like me, you have a ton of music on your iPod, a lot of which you don’t always want to hear.
For example I have Daft Punk‘s “Discovery” on my iPod. Now I like some Daft Punk. However, quite often when it comes up I think “Oh God, not them again…” and skip forward. Same with many other artists. Even my beloved Nine Inch Nails, I will skip ahead, in many cases because the tracks just aren’t as good outside the context of the album.

I’d say in fact for every 3-5 tracks that pop up when I’m “Doing the Shuffle“, I quite often only wind up listening to one, maybe two. Then there are days that the iPod seems to show a startling empathy to the user, creating an almost symbiotic relationship. It knows what you want, what you need, and gives it to you. There are programs out there that can supposedly learn your mood and, when you tell it “I’m angry!” or whatever, it will tailor the music to fit your mood. However, I am unaware of any such technology that can do this WITHOUT being told whether you’re happy, sad, angry etc…

Today was one of those strange symbiotic days. While peeling some potatoes, doing some dishes and all sorts of other exciting stuff, the iPod was operating on a different level and delivered perfect song after perfect song. Now I have heard of people having their iPod play a song right after they think “I’ve not heard that in a while.” However I have never heard of the almost perfect shuffle selection. It was almost spooky in a way. Like the iPod knew exactly what songs were perfect. Not just on their own, but that went perfect together. Like it was no longer a simple iPod Touch. It had become a sentient DJ, sensing the needs of the listener.

It’s times like this that make me sit back and ponder the human/machine relationship. Science thinks it knows everything. It’s hard to believe in anything anymore. Yet there are moments such as these that make one wonder… Is there more going on than meets the eye? Or rather the ear?

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iTunes is like a pair of breasts

Posted by Steve on August 22, 2008

Wonderful, awesome to look at, fun to play with, but entirely not designed for the usage I have in mind.

Okay, so that’s a cheesy opening, but it allowed me to use the word “breasts” which will no doubt bring in some hits. And now I’ve used the word “breasts” for a second time (and now a third time referencing my second usage) I fully expect to be rolling in hits. Too bad I have no advertising.

I am a relatively recent convert to the world of iTunes. I always had cheap off-brand MP3 devices. iPod was paying for the name. Then Steve Jobs demoed the iPod Touch and I fell in love. The final straw was when my cheap Chinese knock-off fell a mere 3 inches to a soft floor and the screen broke.

I love my iPod Touch. Unlike most tech devices, which bore me after a while (Nintendo DS being just one example), my iPod Touch, I still love it as much as I did when I got it at Christmas last year. I moved over to using iTunes for my music when I knew I was getting the iPod for Christmas.

Now iTunes is great for organizing music. It’s turned my chaotic music collection into a sleek, sexy beast. However, until recently, I had never used the iTunes store. About 15 years ago I bought a meditation CD. Somehow it got damaged after many, many years of usage, and now goes mad about 10 minutes in. Hard to relax when your music sounds like it’s being mixed by a DJ off his head on acid. I had hunted high and low for MP3’s of said album, but had never been able to find any. I was somewhat astonished to discover the album on iTunes. To date, my sole purchase on iTunes was this album. All that music out there on the store, and the only thing I’ve bought is something I already owned.

I’ve taken to browsing the store quite a lot lately though. I have no interest in regular iTunes purchases. Mister Jobs can shove his DRM where the Sun doesn’t shine. iTunes Plus is where I’ve been playing, which brings me to the point of this post/mild rant.

I’ve found several awesome compilations I’d like. Now I can’t afford to go splurging on music as I’ve just gotten a new graphic card for my computer. There’s several games out soon that I want. (GTR Evolution, Spore, Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead) My entertainment budget isn’t that big. Basically I’m screwed. Now I don’t know anyone who’d be willing to throw down a big heap of generosity and gift me said albums, which is why I’m writing… Yes, I’m asking folk to gift me the albums!

Okay, so I’m not actually. Of course I wouldn’t refuse if anyone did, but that’s not really the point. The point is this: I have found several awesome compilations of 50 or so tracks, at $10 a pop, of stuff I’d really like. Terrific stuff! And the price is exceptionally good! It’s iTunes Plus, so it’s DRM free. The samples all sound great. I’ve already decided that when I get asked what I want for Christmas I’m going to say “iTunes gift card”. I figure that’ll be a fun way to spend Christmas Day. (Though I’ll probably wind up with $20 and that’ll be it…)

Here we reach the point. (FINALLY!) WHY, in the name of all that’s good and pure, does iTunes NOT HAVE A WISHLIST FEATURE? Now I’ve done some Googling, and you can apparently drag sample tracks into a playlist and create your own wishlist. I’m sorry, that’s idiotic. Given iTunes is the worlds biggest online music store, you’d think, by now, after so many years, the stupid bastards would have included a simple button to ADD STUFF TO A WISHLIST! It would be to their benefit to allow folk to set one up. I would guarantee they’d see a not insignificant increase in sales.

Instead I’ve had to spend the last 30 minutes trawling the store, trying to find one of the compilations I wanted. I couldn’t remember the title, so searched for an album I DID remember the title of from when I found it before, and then I had to keep randomly clicking the “Also bought” links that appeared until, eventually, the one I wanted popped up. Then I had to choose “mail to a friend” and MAIL MYSELF THE LINK!

For a company with such slick designs, such awesome artistic creations, running the biggest online music store on the planet, you’d think the stupid bastards would implement a feature Amazon has had for as long as I can remember.

Instead I have to now sit on these emails I’ve sent myself and try not to accidentally delete them before I can actually buy the albums in a few months time.

Nice work, Apple!

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“He did what?”

Posted by Steve on August 18, 2008

So despite being a crazy mad Nine Inch Nails fan for well over a decade now, my wife, who stood with me outside HMV for the midnight opening to buy “The Fragile” back in ’99, was seemingly unaware of Trent Reznor’s more mellow side. Nine Inch Nails are known for harsh, aggresive music, and that’s part of why I have loved the band for so long. However, Trent’s work is far more varied than that. My wife seemed surprised when I pointed out Johnny Cash had covered a NIN track. “Hurt“. (For the record I am also a fan of The Man in Black.)

So with that in mind, here’s a video to show that Reznor does have a softer side. This is one of the few songs (of any artist) that almost brings me to tears. I prefer the album version to be quite honest, but this is a great acoustic version. Certainly not what people would expect from a guy who performs under the name Nine Inch Nails. (Trivia: Trent is the core. The other band members have changed constantly over the years.)

WARNING: Song contains a couple of NSFW words. Listener discretion is advised.:)

Heck, if this surprises you, you should check out “Ghosts“. You would never believe it was Nine Inch Nails if you heard it out of context. (That link goes to the official player on the NIN website.)

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The things they say…

Posted by Steve on August 18, 2008

This past week or so I’ve been catching up with some old school friends. We’ve not had anything to do with each other in over 20 years. Or more than half our lives. That’s a disturbing thought right there. It’s been longer since I last saw them, then it was from leaving the womb until I last saw them. I feel old.

It’s been fun catching up. Especially as, much to my surprise, I am seemingly well remembered. I had largely expected to fade into obscurity in these peoples memories. Overwritten by more prominent personalities or events. I was, after all, a nobody. Forever stuck in what felt like the crushingly unpopular segment of the school populace. To be forgotten within mere moments of departure. Like removing your hand from a bowl of water. Within minutes, any evidence you had your hand there is gone. Not even a ripple.

More stunningly than that I seem to be, for the most part, FONDLY remembered! While I couldn’t get a girlfriend to save my life back then, I apparently made a lasting enough impression on some people, and that I suppose is the more important of those two things. One in particular, Wendy, seemed ecstatic to hear from me. She was always really nice to me, and I counted her as a friend, so it was great to find out she’d been trying to contact me. (Though I would still like to know how after 20 years she looks great, and I’ve lost most of my hair.)

Having left England some twelve years ago now, I had lost that vital connection to my past. I can’t drive past a particular house and think “Oh Julie used to live there”. I don’t see the personalities on TV that I grew up watching. (Though this is not always a bad thing.) In short it’s like being reborn as someone else. You’re so far away and so far removed from everything you knew, it can make you feel insular and detached. I have a family here in Canada, but they know nothing of my first 25 years, nor can I show them anything of it. (Except old school report cards which pretty much universally say “He’d be really good if he applied himself.”) The first 25 years are mine, and mine alone. It’s almost like prison in some ways. I had this life that nobody I’m with now knows about. Nobody to share memories with. Even simplistic ones like big TV events or whatever. Nobody I know here cares that England went out on penalties in the semi-final of Italia 90. Nobody here saw “Ghostwatch” on it’s original airing. Sports, TV, even music. Nobody here has any idea what I’m talking about. The fact that Frankie Goes to Hollywood had a Christmas number one means nothing to anyone here. (I really miss giving a damn about the top 40. That was practically my religion in my teenage years, following the charts.)

I’ve had friends, obviously, but if you want to see how good your friends really are, I highly recommend moving to another country so they actually have to put some effort in to stay in touch. I did just this by moving to Canada. It had the effect of decreasing my circle of friends to almost nothing as they slowly slipped away and stopped writing to me. In short, of the seven or so people I was friends with and stayed in touch with, a mere one was still writing to me four years later. (And even he’s dropped off the face of the Earth now.)

I can honestly say that right now, I have no friends in the real world. As in people I could call up right now (metaphorically speaking. It’s 1:15am right now) and hang out with. Oh sure, I have lots of friends online. People I can turn too if I need to talk or whatever, but in the real world? Nada. I can’t say it’s from lack of trying, because I don’t try anymore. Part of the problem of growing up in one country, and then moving to another is the huge cultural differences. Guys my age here, it seems most drink beer (I don’t drink) and talk about hockey. (I don’t watch hockey.) Moving to a different country hit the reset button for my real world Friends List so to speak, and I’ve never managed to fill any of the gaps back in again. All that history, just gone, because they were too damn lazy to put in the extra effort to stay in touch. (After all email is so hard to do…)

So to have people like Wendy clearly have fond memories of me is rather lovely. Sure, we change, but when they say you’re still funny etc… It’s reassuring to know that any problems you may have making friends, or the fact that you lack friends to start with, is not down to some crushing inability to be interesting. It’s down to circumstance. I don’t work. (Back problem means I’m stuck at home.) I don’t drink. I don’t get invited anywhere because I’m never in a position to be somewhere to GET invited. If I was religious, I’d probably have a church or something, but I am not religious. Used to be. Now I follow my own path, alone. In short, I have no avenue to meet people, and even if I did I am extraordinarily choosy, and would have a hard time making friends with someone who, for example, likes reggae, dismisses any film that isn’t in color or that has subtitles, or who thinks Rob Schneider is an unappreciated comedy genius.

Is 37 years old too old to make friends? I don’t know. My Dad didn’t meet his, for want of a better expression, best friend until they were in their 40’s. Neither of my parents had many friends when they were my age. Most likely because my alcholic, man-hungry mother would have tried to sleep with them. (That’s just a pet theory of mine. She slept with at least 3 family friends and that’s only the ones I know about. One of them, his wife was pregnant at the time. Classy broad my mother…) My Dad met his friend on CB radio.

That raises an interesting parallel. A social medium. The internet is like that, only on a global scale. I discovered today this nice lady I’ve been chattering with on Twitter, she lives a mere 90 minutes away from me. I had no idea. You chatted to someone on a CB radio, you knew they’re within 10-15 miles of you purely by the laws of physics. (Unless they were running boots. Ah, those were the days…) On the net, they could just be down the street, or more likely halfway around the world. The intimacy of communication is still there, but the closeness isn’t. Chances are if you have any circle of friends on the net, you will never meet most of them. It’s the ultimate in isolationist social contact. Communication for the hermit lifestyle. Friends from a distance.

This has kind of meandered off course somewhat from my original intent. However, let’s try and get it back to my main point. I have no friends! HAHA! No, the main point is this: It’s taken revisiting my mostly miserable school years to learn a valuable lesson. (“Tonight, on a very special “Blossom””) The relationships we form, even if they don’t last, form an indelible imprint in the sands of time. (Dear god, I am so sorry to wheel out such a cliche. I will flaggelate myself accordingly when I’m done. Sickbags are available at reception. For the cliche, not the flagellation. That will be a private affair.) Many people will see these footprints, and make their own as well. If you ever feel removed from your past. Disconnected in some fashion, whether it be through choice, an accident of design, or for whatever reason, always remember: You may not know it, but somewhere, despite clearly believing otherwise, you really did make a great impression on someone. Someone you didn’t expect. Maybe you made them laugh. Maybe you loved them. Maybe they loved you. One moment of compassion, one moment of kindness, one shared moment of hilarity, is all it will take for that imprint to last forever. When you’re at a low ebb like I have been lately, it’s heartening to think that somewhere, someone you once knew has been thinking about you. Somewhere, despite being firmly convinced that the opposite must be true, you had a positive effect on someone. Whether it be through laughter, love, friendship or countless other ways.

In short, you mattered to someone enough that over two decades later, they still think fondly of you.

I really can’t think of a greater compliment than that.

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Do The Shuffle: Volume 1

Posted by Steve on August 5, 2008

So here’s the gimmick. When I have no clue what to write, or just feel like writing, I’ll stick my iPod, iTunes, whatever on shuffle, and write about the next ten songs that come up. (Excluding random trance tracks. As much as I love trance, you’ve heard one, you’ve pretty much heard them all.)

UltravoxAll Stood Still: Why are Ultravox not spoken of in hushed, reverent tones? Midge Ure is a genius, and the band rocked. This is one of their good, but not epic songs. So much crap came out in the early to mid 80’s, and yet Ultravox are almost never given the credit they deserve.

Stan RidgwayRunning With The Carnival: Even less appreciated than Ultravox. A while back I saw Ridgway songs described as “a movie you’ve never seen”. That is the perfect description of his songs. Each one tells a vivid story, and it’s over in 3-5 minutes. Love, crime, observations… The man is a genius. And sadly he’s just remembered for “Camouflage” by most people.

ErasureA Little Respect: Erasure. Masters of the pop song. While we’ve just had Ridgway and his storytelling, we now have Erasure, and they’re wonderful pop creations. This song was used to great effect in an episode of Scrubs. Definitely one of the bands best. Almost without question, I loathed every Erasure song when I first heard it. (Exceptions: “Stop” and “I Love To Hate You“) Yet here I am today, and I love all of them, and still remember all the lyrics. That, my friends, is the sign an enduring pop song.

Faith No MoreMalpractice: I’ve always liked Faith No More. “Angel Dust” was the album where Mike Patton started to lose his mind, and was the last album before Jim Martin said “Screw this, I’m off!” What I find interesting is you can clearly hear the Patton influence on this album. Once Martin has left, Patton’s influence took over completely. I have never been able to decide if this is a good or a bad thing. On one side I love Patton’s “Mister Bungle” stuff, but then on “King for a Day” there’s some horrible stuff, but also some real gems. Regardless, I loved Faith No More, and “Angel Dust” remains one of my favourite albums of all time. This track, however, would rank as one of my least favourite on the album. (The best being “Be Aggressive”.)

OrbitalInput Output: “Look at us, we can mess with tape loops!” Two minutes of filler.

Rob ZombieLiving Dead Girl (Subliminal Seduction Mix): The “Hellbilly Deluxe” remix album has some good parts. This is not one of them.

Pink FloydOn The Run: Oh HELL yes! I was about four years old when this album came out. My parents bought it and I remember this being one of the first tracks I ever heard and absolutely adoring it. I liked the rest of the album too, but this track in particular, probably because it was pretty much vocal free, really stuck with me. Still holds up fantastically well now, over three decades later. Just magnificent stuff!

Aphex TwinIsopropanol: Most bands I’m into, I have some gateway drug. Whether it be exposure via radio, via a friend. There was usually some way in. Aphex Twin is a huge exception. To this day I have no idea just how I got into Aphex Twin. I do remember buying “Selected Ambient Works: Volume Two” because it sounded interesting on paper. However that is a huge leap from Aphex’s other work. This one of his more chaotic pieces. Awesome stuff!

EnyaLothlorien: Ah, Enya… I have a lot of her stuff, despite only really liking “Cursum Perficio” and “Book of Days”. She doesn’t sing a word on this. It’s mostly piano. The kind of thing I used to listen too¬† twenty years ago because I thought it made me look eclectic.

And finally…

QueenPrinces of the Universe: God I hate this song. I adore Queen. Always have, always will. I cried the day Freddie died. Never understood folk crying over Elvis until that day. Queen are easily the biggest influence on my musical taste. First album I ever bought was a Queen album. (“Greatest Hits”) First single I ever bought was Queen. (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) Now I loved “A Kind of Magic”, especially the tracks from “Highlander”. However, this is the weakest from the film. Then it was battered into my head EVERY BLOODY WEEK by the TV version as it was the theme music. Of course the TV version LEFT OUT THE BEST BIT, that being the Roger Taylor and Brian May epic twiddly bits in the middle!

So there we go, ten tracks, and not one from my favourite artist. Will they turn up next time?

I guess we’ll see.

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Asinine corporate slogans

Posted by Steve on July 26, 2008

This is not going to be pretty. I am in pain. I am cranky. I have a keyboard and I’m not afraid to use it. You have been warned.

So there I was merrily wending my way to the doctors. You see my thyroid is pretty much packed up and I’m being stuck with endless needles for blood tests and then visiting the doctor to be told my thyroid is still knackered, and here, have more medication. 75 minute bus ride for a 2 minute appointment. My doctor is great, but the effort to reward ratio could use some work.

So anyway, there I am, listening to my iPod, watching the world go by to a soundtrack of Tangerine Dream and Stan Ridgway (I’m so fucking eclectic! Worship my electic tastes and build statues in my honor!) on the bus, and we pass a downtown grocery store. Sobeys. In the window, in fact plastered all over the cocking thing is the phrase “Urban Fresh”. It’s not just Sobeys. Oh no, it’s so much more, it’s Sobeys Urban Fresh…

Okay, what does that even MEAN? That they grow their vegetables in a hobos pants perhaps? I don’t know. It just struck me as yet another suit driven, “idea shower” generated piece of nonsense. Those involved in it’s creation will be given a five minute head start, because I like to be sporting. before we dispatch the kill team.

I am sick of this endless buzzword corporate catchphrase society. Everything has got to be a commodity. A name. Everything needs a bloody catchphrase. You eat fast food, “I’m lovin’ it”, or perhaps “you want it your way”. As the day has worn on, this “Urban Fresh” thing has annoyed me more and more. It’s become like the centerpiece of this vast fucked up maelstrom of corporate sloganeering we see every bloody day. The world whirls around it, but it’s okay, because everything at the center is Urban Fucking Fresh.

Fuck you Sobeys for having a hand in the collapse of western civilization. (Though I am a whore for your Dagwood sandwiches.) And an especially hearty FUCK YOU to the third party company they no doubt contracted to come up with this two word chunk of IQ reducing stupidity. I mean really, forget I said it was a grocery store, what connotation do you take from the phrase? For me, it would be something like a mix CD of new R&B artists. (R&B… There’s another phrase that’s been utterly fucking bastardized by corporate assholes. Since when are ANY of the artists associated with that genre recording anything that could be remotely considered Rhythm and Blues? May the ghost of Muddy Waters skullfuck those responsible while they sleep.)

Slogans are supposed to stick in our head. Make us remember their association. The only association I make from phrases like “Urban Fresh” is that some jackass now thinks he’s the cock of the fucking walk because he came up with a great catchphrase that fits perfectly into the 21st century corporate driven world.

It’s short, punchy, and absolutely fucking meaningless.

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