Friday, 27 March 2009

But Man Loved Darkness Rather Than Light

When I was a kid (shortly after the last ice-age) we used to have power-cuts. They were frequent enough for us to have an splendid looking oil-lamp, with a mantle, which would be brought out whenever we were suddenly plunged into darkness. And of course, we'd use candles or torches if we needed to go to the bathroom. I remember these power-cuts as being pretty good fun.

So, now I'm all grown up (allegedly) we have instituted "Power Cut Nights". We don't have them that often, and mostly in the Winter. We turn off the telly. We turn out the lights. We light candles and have a real fire - which is another thing I grew up with. And it feels good to do home-made family entertainment.

Sometimes we play games. Or just talk perhaps? We toast marshmallows over the candles, or teacakes over the fire. And I'm no musician, but I might try squeezing a tune or two from my Melodeon. (The boys are far better at music than me these days... so they really have something to contribute now.) And sometimes we could tell stories - either reading aloud from a book or maybe extemporised.

Anyway. This weekend is, apparently "Earth Hour", during which we are encouraged to turn off the lights for 1 hour from 8:30pm on Saturday 28th March. And I'd encourage you to do a powercut night too. Of course there's a serious point to all this, as described at; but please, don't forget to have fun.

Thursday, 26 March 2009


So What is this Folksonomy Thing?

Ok, so onto the Geeky subjects. For the last couple of years, I've become quite a fan of folksonomies. And yes, it is quite a cumbersome mouthful of syllables. (It's a portmanteau word derived from 'folk' and 'taxonomy' - meaning a system of categorising things by what people really call them.)

It's the idea behind 'tagging' as used on Flickr and (and yes, I like the old spelling of And ok, you can call it tagging if you want, but I like using long words just so long as I know what they mean.

So, a spade is a spade right? Yeah. You might call it a shovel, I guess. But you're probably out on your own if you want to call it a manual excavation device. The point is, it makes things easier to find, especially if you combine a couple of tags together.

Of course, such tagging systems do have some weaknesses: firstly of course, it demands that ordinary human beings put in the data. But people don't all share the same global terminology, let alone the same language. Even differences in spelling can cause some minor problems. But overall, the idea works pretty well... It makes it possible to find pictures on Flickr of (say) rusty red tractors - or whatever it is you're looking for.

So I've used Flickr, and then I got used to a similar system on for social bookmarking (in which you can also see how many other people have tagged a particular page, and even what tags they used.) - with the added advantage that you can get to the same set of bookmarks whether you're at home or in the office, or wherever.

But then, I got to thinking that it'd be pretty cool to be able to tag music too. And I even found a site that lets you add tags to music: It's quite likely you've seen it, maybe you use it too. And it does work. I really like the site. I like the recommendations. I also like the streaming - although I don't use that much. I like the social-networking side of it. I *really* like the way you can 'scrobble' all the music you play and it will build charts of what you like.


I think I'm alone in my use of tagging. Everyone else seems to tag music simply as 'Rock', 'Seen Live', 'Happy' and other similar stuff. Which is why I've had to start a personal crusade to tag everything I listen to "properly". (Well, what qualifies as 'properly' for me.) So, as well as genre, I tend to tag music by decade, musical-instruments used (one of the most important things to my way of thinking), perhaps time-signature or even country of origin or language.

After all, how else can I find that Hungarian Bluegrass Elvis-cover featuring Hurdy-Gurdy, Banjo and Tambourine?

The remaining problem, even with my solitary crusade, is that if I should try searching for music using such tags - all I find is stuff that I've tagged myself!

My crusade is possibly as nerdy as musical trainspotting.
But Im not downhearted. It's a labour of love.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Meeting Joe Strimmer

From the title, you might imagine that I lied about the name-dropping celebrity-chasing assertion I made in my last post. I certainly hope my blog doesn't turn into an exercise in shallowness of that kind. Nonetheless, the events of this week need to be addressed; specifically the Punks Not Dad gig at the Claude Hotel in Cardiff on Thursday.

When I first ran away from home at the tender age of 25, and moved to Cardiff, I quickly discovered what a fabulous live music scene there was in the city. I became fascinated by such fabulous bands as The Howling Sleepers, The Dostoyevskys, Railroad Bill, The Blue Horses, The Six-Sided Men - all based in Cardiff and mostly sadly defunct now. Many of these bands played at Cardiff's "Meltdown" - an organisation run by enthusiasts of live music and still going after over 20 years (albeit now monthly rather than weekly.) I went as often as I could - actually, I still do...

So, this Thursday, I found myself watching some old friends playing stupidly brilliant punk. Punks Not Dad sing wonderfully anarchic songs about sheds and lawnmowers and flat-packed furniture. The music is genuine punk: noisy, with brash chords and rough but humourous lyrics. They've successfully made the gap between teenage-angst and the anxieties of a 40-something seem like no gap at all. I'm sure some people wouldn't 'get it', the roughness might put some people off - but hey, it's punk! It's supposed to be this way! And yet, for some of us, perhaps their target audience - it really is nostalgic too, with a healthy dose of humour thrown in. If the music means anything to you at all, I'd recommend going to see them.

Of course, I managed to catch up with 'Joe Strimmer' too, I guess I've known him for 18 years or so now, and 'Sid Life Crisis' too for that matter. (I'd normally call them Chris and Dan, but hey...) And it seems there's been quite a bit of interest in their new venture recently, so I'd just like to wish them all the success they deserve.

On another, stranger, more random note, I also met another guy: Mark Ryan, who used to play with Adam and the Ants, way back. He was convinced that I ought to try doing some comedy, and you know, maybe I shall...

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Meeting Stan Lee

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet someone famous? (No, this isn't supposed to be some name-dropping celebrity-chasing blog-post.) I've scarcely met anyone of note. Or maybe I have, and completely failed to notice. In fact, that's reasonably likely; since I'm not very aware of fame or fortune; it's one of the many facets of my own bizarre naivete. Indeed, most of the people I think of as famous or noteworthy are:

1) Dead,
b) Famous for inventing or discovering something - NOT appearing on telly.

But there was this one time...

We had just been watching Spiderman 3 (I think) at the cinema in Cardiff. The film had just ended and we were walking out of the auditorium into the lobby area. It was reasonably late, and there weren't too many people around except for an old guy mopping the shiny floor. So he looks up at us and winks, saying "Great fim, huh?" as though he was personally proud of it. We agreed, of course and moments later it struck us... "Was that Stan Lee?" we asked each other. Of course, it couldn't be. Why would he be mopping a floor in Cardiff? But it DID look like him. And it was a situation just like the little cameos he has in all those superhero films.

Of course, it's not nearly as funny as seeing Dylan Moran in a second hand bookshop; but it was spooky. And what's more, we'll never really know; but we all remember it just the same way.