The Great 2017 CD Listen-athon…

We have a lot of CDs at home. Not audiophile or former-HMV-employee level quantities, but enough to fill a number of good sized Ikea CD shelves. My wife and I combined our collections when we got married, and found very few overlapping albums. Still not sure whether that’s a good thing or not…

It struck me the other day, whilst searching for something specific to listen to in the car, that there were a lot of CDs that I haven’t listened to, either recently or at all. So, I’ve decided to listen to them all and write up my thoughts about them here.

Being the stickler I am, I’ve arranged our CDs into various sections; General Albums, “Best of” Compilations, Soundtracks, Christian Music, and Jazz. For the purposes of this exercise, I will be listening to the General Albums section of our collection, meaning I get to listen to artists I really like, such as R.E.M., Radiohead, and Weezer, along with others I don’t really know (Janelle Monae, Fugees), and even some I don’t currently like (Shed Seven, Take That) but may change my mind about during the course of this blog. The section is arranged in alphabetical order by artist/band, and chronologically by release date for each.

So, without further ado, I’ll kick things off with 65daysofstatic, and ‘No Man’s Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe‘…

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What’s with all the albums?

Those of you that follow me on Twitter may have noticed a daily tweet listing some seemingly random album titles. As I’ve been doing that for a while, I thought it was about time that I explained the idea behind it.

At work, we are fortunate enough to be allowed to have music on in the office, providing it’s not too loud, sweary, or death metally. Over time, we’ve worked out a system whereby we listen to the radio in the morning, and stream albums in the afternoon. From opening time till 1, we have BBC 6 Music on, but when Lauren Laverne finishes, it’s over to We7

For those of you unaware of We7, it’s a streaming service similar to Spotify, but without the need to install any software as it runs in your browser. For a small monthly subscription, we have access to thousands of albums that we can listen to in the office, or, as it’s my account, at home.

As such, way back in the mists of time, we decided that it would be a good idea to take full advantage of this and listen to as many complete discographies of as many artists / bands as possible, and share what we were listening to with our Twitter followers. We chose bands we knew well, some we liked but hadn’t really heard much of, and others that we really should listen to given their status. An early list can be found on our work blog, and includes The Temptations, Neil Diamond, Extreme, Simply Red, Miles Davis, and Alice Cooper.

Our current artist list looks like this;

Ozric Tentacles
The Black Crowes
Meat Loaf
Billy Joel
Graham Coxon
The Flaming Lips
Charles Mingus
Pearl Jam
Wire
The Doors
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Iron & Wine
Deep Purple
Elbow
The Civil Wars
Rush

We also have a “pending” list of artists, so that when we finish one discography, we can replace it with another.

Now, when I first posted the listening to our work Twitter account through Tweetdeck, I accidentally also posted it to my personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. The response was largely positive, so I’ve kept doing it! I’ve been told that people like reading what we’re listening to, and I like sharing it, so I’ll keep posting it, until I hear otherwise. Similarly, if you’ve got suggestions as to who we should listen to, please let me know!

So there you go. If you follow me on Twitter, or if you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’re treated to what we’re listening to in the office, all down to me forgetting to uncheck a couple of boxes on Tweetdeck three years ago…

Parenting Challenges – Part the second

As I post this, we have celebrated our son Will’s first birthday. It’s been an interesting first year of his life, for all concerned, so I thought I’d invite Becky to write some of this post, and we’ll share some of the advice / comments / tips / “helpful” words we’ve road-tested in the last twelve months, and how they went down…

  1. “Sleep when he sleeps.” Becky says; Easy! We did this quite well I reckon. I remember going to church about 3 weeks after he was born, very pleased that we managed 5 hours of uninturruped sleep in the night. A friend looked at me pityingly and said “Oh how I remember those days!” I thought we had done rather well. 1 year on though, we get sad if we have to wake before 6:30, because he is such a good sleeper.
  2. “Going back to work is hard.” Very true. I had the mandatory 2 weeks of paternity leave off, and going back after those weeks was a horrible thing. Not only was my body clock out of whack from 14 days of patchy sleep, but I now had to go back to my pre-baby routine, leaving Becky on her own with Will. Soon enough though, this became easier, as both Becky and Will were able to cope without me, but occasionally it would still be a bind, especially if Will was playing up, or Becky wasn’t feeling too well. One year on, we’re nicely settled in a routine, though some changes had to be made when Will became mobile…
  3. “Don’t read any parenting books” Becky says; I disliked this piece of advice; 3 days into having a small baby, and being a good, law abiding citizen, I wanted to do what I’m told, so I tried to find someone who could tell me what to do. I read a lot of books, but only one satisfied my desire to do what I’m told. That’s right folks! I’m a Gina Ford Mum! I love her straight-forward, no nonsense style of… dictatorship! However, I do just take on some of her advice. I’m not a robot. My advice about books is to read a few, and see if any of them resonate with you, and if they help you, not judge you.
  4. “Keep a muslin handy.” An invaluble piece of advice. At first, I baulked at the idea of having random bits of cloth lying around the house, but when the bodily fluids start appearing, often at speed, a handy bit of muslin is a blessing. Better that than the t-shirt you’re wearing.
  5. “Do whatever works for you.” Becky says; As a law abiding citizen, I hate this piece of advice, but in parenting there really is no right or wrong way of doing things… but get back to me when William is 2 and I may have changed my mind!
  6. “Be there.” I don’t think anyone every said this to me, but I’m putting it out there for all the expectant and new fathers that might be reading this. Just be there for your wife and child. Even if being there means a 2am run to the 24-hour supermarket to get nappies or formula, or letting your wife lie in on a weekend even after you’ve had an exhausting week at work. Being there means that your child has two full-time parents, not a full-time mum and evening-and-weekend dad, and your wife has the supporting partner she deserves.
  7. “Enjoy him while he’s so small.” Becky says; Looking back I should have tried to enjoy the first few months more but parenting is such a shock to the system I was just getting to grips with how my life was no longer in order, and how I no longer had much control over my day, time, energy, sleep etc. I was also convinced that I was not going to enjoy having a ‘baby’ that I did not allow myself to enjoy the good moments when they came. This time last year, there were lots of tears, from all of us, and 12 months on there is more laughter by far. This is good.
  8. “Don’t be precious.” We have a lot of “stuff” about the house. Will gets into that stuff. Will gets other stuff all over that stuff. We’ve protected or moved the essential stuff, but the other stuff is just stuff. Don’t worry about it. Otherwise all your child will hear for the first years of his/her life will be “no”, and that’s not a great way to start…
  9. Finally, Becky says; As for tips, the extrovert I am would advocate the many many baby and toddler groups there are out there. I get out as much as I can with Will and I am conviced that he is a friendly outgoing sociable lad because of it. He loves to be with people and chats up any girl / mum that comes his way. Toddler groups were my lifesaver and I would strongly recommend you get out and about to keep you sane!

Well, that’s about it for now! Here’s hoping that some of these are of help to you. Feel free to add any tips you’ve picked up in the comments, and let us know how you’ve been getting on!

Parenting Challenges – Part the first.

Our son Will is nearly 9 months old, and has brought the first really major difficulty for me as a parent.

Sleepless nights? Pah. I start really waking up at 10pm.

Nappies? Easy!

Feeding? He takes after his parents. He likes his food.

No, the challenge involves walking…

Walking...

Someone likes walking…

Not the helping him learn to walk, that’s just back strain and general exhaustion. It’s the changes around the house that are challenging, especially… gulp… re-organising our DVD collection.

We have hundreds of DVDs, which I have taken great pains to organise, all in alphabetical order. In one small bookcase, we have TV shows, followed by children’s TV shows, with a special shelf for 30 Rock, Seinfeld, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and The X-Files.

In the large bookcase sit our feature films, again, alphebetised. Following those are the few music and stand-up comedy DVDs we own, and the blu-rays.

Becky’s (very sensible and logical) plan is to move the small bookcase upstairs, then clear the bottom rows of the large bookcase out, and use them for Will’s toys. I approve of this plan, mostly so that I can get to the windows again without tripping over various plastic coloured “things”. However, how do I do it?

I have three options;

  1. Choose only the DVDs that will be watched frequently. Box up all the rest. Downside; what happens when I decide I’d like to watch Children of Men or Adaptation again?
  2. Choose the DVDs that both of us enjoy. Box up all the rest. Downside; all my favourites will get boxed up. Bye bye Blade Runner (all 5 versions), adieu Alien, so long Star Wars and ciao, um, Batman.
  3. Choose only the DVDs with suitable BBFC ratings for Will, U and eventually PG. Box up all the rest. Downside; both of the above (with the exception of U rated Star Wars).

Of these options, I believe number 3 to be the most sensible, parental and practical solution. When we want to watch something that isn’t U or PG, we’ll dig it out of the currently-unspecified-storage-solution once Will’s in bed.

Which option would you go for?

Why shuffle?

I’m going to start this blog post with a confession.

*deep breath*

My name is Martin, and I am a music snob.

That’s right. I’m a complete snob when it comes to music. If there’s something I hear and I don’t like, I will not like it, no matter the well-reasoned arguments.

If there’s an artist that I don’t like, even if they release the modern day equivalent of “Kind Of Blue”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Reckoning” and “OK Computer” combined, I still won’t like them.

Even if they pay me.

On the other hand, if an artist I do like releases something like “Around The Sun” or “Raditude”, I’ll forgive them and stay loyal, right up until the end.

Now that I’ve proved my snobbery, I can get to the point. All the titles above are known as “albums”; collections of between 10 – 20 tracks by an artist that can be, though not always, thematically linked.

Why then, “shuffle”?

Shuffle

The mark of the beast.

This seemingly innocuous symbol is everywhere. Look at the bottom left of iTunes, it’s there.

The idea of “shuffle” is to play your music collection in a random order, generated by whatever logarithm the programmers put in there to do so. It means that, with a suitable large collection of music, you can be listening to Blur’s “Song 2”, immediately followed by “The Sidewinder” by Lee Morgan, which is in turn followed by R.E.M.’s “Find the River” and the main theme from Star Wars.

At a social gathering (of which I have attended a number), this could be advantageous, certainly if, as with iTunes, you’re able to choose which tracks are ignored during the random skipping. Who needs a DJ carefully crafting an ebbing and flowing playlist, responding to the room, when you can have an arbitrarily selected running order produced by a piece of software? From your own music collection no less?

It’s on the personal players that this function annoys me, for two reasons.

1) If I want to listen to an album, I’ll listen to that album in the order the artist intended.

In the majority of album releases, the artist or band involved has gone through an often agonising process choosing the tracks to go on the album, discarding those that either don’t fit with the tone of the album, over-extend the running time, or haven’t worked quite as well as some of the other tracks. However, the result is a series of tunes, showcasing the artist / band at that moment, maybe telling a story through a multi-song narrative at the same time.

The album can then be released to the listening public, with the tracks in a artist / band-approved order where the listener can be taken on a continual musical journey. As the artist / band intended.

On the rare occasion where I’ve put an album on, and the shuffle function has been in play, I’ve found myself hitting the skip button to find the actual next track on the album, rather than the one that shuffle has thrown at me. It’s how I know the album, it’s how the artist / band wanted the album to be heard, and I’ll listen to it that way if it kills me.

2) Gaps.

On the last couple of mp3 players I’ve had, and on the one I have now in my phone, and in some of the software I use to listen to music, there are hardware / software issues that enforce a gap. between. each. track. (My current phone also includes a lovely “pop” noise between tracks, but therein lies a different story).

With a studio album, where songs stop and start, this can be a minor irritant. On studio albums where songs flow one into the other, it’s a nuisance. On live albums, it’s intolerable.

The only reason I can think of for having these gaps is to allow for the shuffle. The hardware / software seems to provides a gap to allow for time to find the next random track. There’s not much point to this if the next track to be played is the very next track on the album.

Obviously, this is conjecture, and, if you know better than I about the reasons behind this, feel free to either a) let me know, politely, that I’m wrong, or b) rant and rave about “this idiot that…” anywhere but in the comments below.

So, in conclusion, I hate shuffle. It takes away the pleasure of putting the effort into a playlist, it frustrates me when I can’t listen to the song I expect, and it seems to have even fouled up playing an album properly.

Don’t even get me started on the iPod Shuffle…

Why drive?

Like a large number of people, I have to drive to get to work. I live in Salford, and work in South Manchester, and any public transport route would involve a number of changes, and/or traveling into Central Manchester and out again, or on a really, really indirect bus route during rush hour.

So I drive.

A car, yesterday

Learning to drive was part of a deal with Becky. I learned to drive, she did her ABRSM Grade 5 Theory of Music exam. I’ve been driving for 8 years, she has yet to learn the bass clef. But that’s another story…

At times, I enjoy driving. When the traffic is clear, the sun is shining, and I have some good music in the CD player, it can be quite a pleasure.

Unfortunately, this a rare occasion.

Usually, I experience several things that, uh, drive me up the wall, including, but not limited to;

  • Audi / BMW / Mercedes / VW / Lexus drivers tailgating
  • Audi / BMW / Mercedes / VW / Lexus drivers with headlights on in broad daylight
  • Audi / BMW / Mercedes / VW / Lexus drivers changing lanes on the motorway without signalling
  • Audi / BMW / Mercedes / VW / Lexus drivers not signalling on roundabouts
  • Other drivers sat at 50mph in the middle lane of the motorway
  • Cyclists running red lights
  • Cyclists turning right immediately in front of me, without signalling
  • 4x4s

You get the idea.

When I see any of these things, the red mist descends. While I’m not one for confrontations, in the car, I become a screaming ball of rage. I assume that these reckless drivers have at least had the same driving lesson structure as I did, have looked at the same Highway Code as I did, and have the same basic devices (indicators, speedometer, lights that turn off…) as I do, but choose not to remember, adhere to or use them respectively.

I’m not bothered by being held up; I’m very rarely in such a hurry to get anywhere. I’m more concerned with the danger these drivers are putting themselves and others in.

Oh, and me.

So, if you’re an Audi / BMW / Mercedes / VW / Lexus driver, and you come across a navy blue Ford Focus on the road, like the one above, please bear this in mind. I’m only concerned for your welfare.

Books vs. eBooks

I love books.

To those of you that know me, this would come as no surprise. To those of you that have ever borrowed a book from me, this would come as even less of a surprise. (Don’t bend the spine, idiots!)

There is something special about a well designed object that, looked after properly, can be used again and again, and be handed on to future generations, as so many of my collection have been.

Why then, did I ask for, and receive, a Kindle for Christmas?

1) Space – Books take up room. We have 4 large bookcases and 3 small bookcases in the house. Of these, 1 of each are taken up with DVDs, CDs and Wii games. The rest are filled with books, and, sadly, the overwhelming majority are mine. (2 of the large and 1 of the small are entirely my books, the rest are a mix).

It’s got to the point on two of the large bookcases where books are double ranked; stacked in front of other books. If I were to receive or purchase a new book, I’d really struggle to find room for it, once I’d read it, and I’m sure Becky will thank me for not cluttering up her dining room with more stuff.

2) Availability – Once upon a time, I worked in the centre of Manchester. I’d think nothing of popping to one of the big bookshops or local independant bookshop in town at lunchtime (or even the further away WHSmiths if I was desperate) and buy a book, especially if I knew there was something new out by one of my favourite authors.

Now, I work in an industrial estate in Wythenshawe. My nearest WHSmiths is in the hospital, and is more suited to gossip magazines than literature. Yes, I can order online through Amazon or Waterstone’s*, but then I’d have a wait before I’d get to read my book, meaning I might have to read yesterday’s Daily Mail at lunchtime, or as they call it, today’s Metro.

3) Convenience – On my Kindle, within 24 hours of first turning it on, I had the complete works of Charles Dickens, the complete Sherlock Holmes, 2 Bibles (NIV & ESV for those wondering), and various free classics. I already own the complete Sherlock Holmes, in a paperback book that is the size of a breezeblock, and somewhat cumbersome. My Kindle fits in my work bag, leaving room for my lunch…

4) Samples – How do you know if you’re going to like a book? Read a sample! That’s all very well and good, if you’ve got time to sit in a bookshop, but I don’t. Two or three clicks on the Kindle, et voila! Like the sample? I can buy the book there and then, and have it in my sweaty palms before you could say “Happy World Book Day”. It beats the effort involved in going into Manchester on a Saturday

So there you have it. I love books. I also love my Kindle (and my wife, who bought it for me). I have books that I’ve been after for years, but haven’t got around to buying before. I have samples of books that have intrigued me, but I’ve not had the chance to look at in a shop.

I’ll still buy physical copies of books, providing they’re by Terry Pratchett, Henning Mankel or Stephen Lawhead, and I don’t fancy reading graphic novels or sheet music on a small screen, but, for the time being at least, you can consider me a Kindle convert.

Where do you stand on this?

*I’m keeping the apostrophe in, even if they aren’t.