Archive for the 'Anecdotal' Category

MY LIFEHACKS #3

4 March 2013

THIS IS ANOTHER PHOTOGRAPHY LIFEHACK.

At one time, life was simpler; there would be just one family camera, and it would take all the pictures of the children growing up, the holidays, the life events.

But now, things are considerably more complicated because we can take pictures with a range of devices. In our household at the moment, my daughter can take pictures with her pink camera, her phone, and her Nintendo DSi. My son has a blue camera, a DS, and an underwater camera.  We still have a family camera that takes videoclips as well as jpg files, and of course, we have smartphones, videocameras and probably more things if we really thought about it!

Each device labels each photograph and video file in an unhelpful way – something like 023456IMG.jpg – and we would rather not spend time renaming and tagging all this stuff – so what’s the best way to organise our data? What is the best way to manage photographs and video clips?

[Picture of irfanview logo]Well, for us, the answer is to use a free program called IRFANVIEW. This may be downloaded from irfanview.com.

Put a batch of pictures and clips in a folder, download and install irfanview, then select a picture (a *.jpg) in Windows Explorer – right click and select “Open with…” then pick irfanview.

When the picture opens in irfanview’s viewer, type in the letter “b” from the keyboard to do a batch rename. There is a special code that converts the filename into a date and timestamp, regardless of what device was used to take the picture or clip.

The code is:
$T(%Y%m%d_%H%M%S)
This is year, month, day, hours, minutes and seconds, it is very unlikely that two photographs would be taken at exactly the same time, so it is a great way to rename all your files from all your devices – it sorts them all chronologically, but the EXIF information (the data about the camera used etc) remains intact.

batchscreenshot

[Click on this image to enlarge for detail if required]

Simply “Add all” and let the batch run. All the files are renamed!  Simple.

[Picasa logo]

If tagging is important (hidden – but searchable – data about the location, who is in the photo, etc), then the long-term quickest way, I think, is to use Google’s picasa program. It’s free to use, download it from picasa.google.co.uk.

Once downloaded and installed, let it look through all your pictures. It will recognise human faces and offer them to you to tag. That is not as laborious as it sounds; it learns who the person is (somehow), so when you tag a face once, it looks through every picture you have to find and tag that person’s face wherever it finds it. Brilliant!

Of course, there will be times when it is not sure, so it will ask you to confirm that the face it thinks is someone is actually correct.

Now, once the program has done all that, it can display groupings. You can see a group of pictures containing a particular person. You can then select all of them and add that person’s name as a tag.  A proper image tag. A tag than can be uploaded to flikr or read by anyone’s device.

In Windows 7, you can tag pictures in Windows Explorer, so you can add a tag for a holiday batch or whatever you fancy.

CHOOSE LIFE

I like to get computers to do the work; I have a life.  That is what computers are supposed to be for, isn’t it?

I use irfanview to rename all my files chronologically and uniquely.  I use picasa to recognise people and group them for tagging.  I use a python flikr uploader script (see My Lifehack#2) to take the pain out of uploading loads of files to flikr.  I use flikr to organise, group into sets and collections, to share and to back-up all my stuff to the cloud.

It is all completely free of cost too. Free and easy. Takes no effort nor time once set up; the computer does all the hard work for you. And that’s how it should be; it lets you get on with more fun things in life. Enjoy!

§

Advertisements

MY LIFEHACKS #2

2 February 2013

WE JOINED FLIKR BACK IN 2005 JUST AFTER IT WAS ACQUIRED BY YAHOO!

[ logo Flickr wordmark.svg]My wife and I both enjoy photography – she studied it properly, and I have had a darkroom all my life. It has to be said that the darkroom got used less and less over the years as digital photography has increased.

In recent times, we’ve all changed. The world has changed.

  • Flikr has changed considerably; they offer a free terabyte of cloudspace for videos and photographs;
  • We all have mobile devices and wifi almost everywhere;
  • We have faster broadband;
  • We all want to share, but keep ownership rights and privacy controls (so instagram, facebook etc are no good);
  • We have loads of photos and videoclips of the children growing up that we need to back-up to somewhere safe;
  • Other members of the family have also been taking pictures and videos of their children, and more.

I recalled that my parents used to have a big cardboard box full of loose black-and-white photographs, small, square Polaroids, wallets with sets of pictures and nagatives in a flap-sleeve.  It was heaving with originals taken at countless birthdays, Hogmanays, holidays, Christmasses, Christenings and weddings. Where this box has gone, where these photographs are, I will never know.

I suppose many families have similar scenarios.  Someone gets the albums, and everyone else loses out.

In a photograph of two people, unless a copy is made, one person loses out.  This is why sites like flikr.com are so important – a picture uploaded there can be accessed by all the people in the picture anytime.  It can be downloaded and printed or saved as desired or required – or merely accessed on a device whenever and from wherever. This is a wonderful development to my mind.

The internet and computing in general is often annoying; there are  a lot of drawbacks, but when it all can help people, when it can enrich real lives, and record family history and events, then I am all for it.

Although I can’t see old pictures of myself and my family, I can certainly make sure that my children and my family can access every picture and videoclip ever taken of them by us from the moment they are born.

All anyone has to do is join flikr for free at flikr.com you can sign up or sign in with a facebook,  yahoo! mail or gmail account – it’s pretty easy.  Then upload some pictures and videoclips.  You can drag and drop to upload.

Then you can organise the pictures into sets.  You can rotate the pictures, and you get the picture converted into all sorts of sizes and from all sorts of formats.  You can even manipulate them online – remove red eye etc. It is very cool, and all free.

You can upload from phones and tablets and more besides.

UPLOADING – PROBLEMS AND SOLUTION

The biggest problem I found was uploading for the purposes of backing-up. Archiving thousands of pictures and clips was painful – the rate of upload, verification, conversion, and publishing was excrutiatingly slow – and often  would fail.  I got the official desktop uploader, but that was the same.  I tried a few other apps, and was about to either forget it or resign myself to uploading each video one by one over months… when I came across a program written in python that is wonderful.

This program not only uploads both pictures and videos, but it uses the folder path in Microsoft Windows to create folders in flikr. easy. It doesn’t care if the connection is slow, or if it you are disconnected; it carries on regardless and in the background. This is a game-changer, and really does make flikr a place you can upload an archive’s worth of files. I ran a little test first to get confidence, the feeling I got when I saw that it worked was something, let me tell ya. You have to edit an ini file – just tell it where the stuff is really. This is what it looks like when you open the file downloaded:

////start of code////

[DEFAULT]

#
# Location to scan for new images (no trailing \)
#
imagedir=d:\pictures <– I CHANGED THIS TO h:\photographs
#
#   File we keep the history of uploaded images in.
#
history_file=history

#visible 1, invisible 0
public= 0
friend = 1 <– I CHANGED THIS TO 0
family = 1

#set this to true if name of the auto generated flickr sets should be only name of the last sub folder e.g. Crete when folder is d:\testpictures\holidays\Crete\123img.jpg
only_sub_sets  = false <– I CHANGED THIS TO TRUE

#Start from scratch! If you want to delete first everything you have in your Flickr account then set this to true
#This is handy if you messed up your uploads before or just want to start from the begining.
#Once everything is deleted turn this feature off so you wont keep deleting your pics in your cron job!
#WARNING!!! IF SET TO true THIS WILL DELETE EVERYTHING (pictures and videos) FROM YOUR FLICKR ACCOUNT
#SO BE 100% SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
#NOTE: The tool will not start uploading pictures unless this is set to false in order to prevent delete-upload-delete-upload loops

remove_all_pics_first = false
////end of code////

That was pretty easy (you do not have to be a computer genius programmer or anything). Anyway, if you have thousands of files you want to upload and organise on flikr, you get this program from here: http://code.google.com/p/folders2flickr/wiki/Instructions

It’s all free of charge, and nothing bad can happen, so enjoy!

§

MY LIFEHACKS #1

5 January 2013

[Picture of Fisher Space Pen Silver Bullet]OVER 15 YEARS AGO, I got chatting with Paul Billington about design ideas and lifehacks, and he told me that he always carried with him a small pencil from Ikea, or one of those small pens from the bookies, and one of those small square Post-It Note pads.

This was genius to me.

I was so convinced that I immediately started this habit, and have thanked him ever since.

My pen is a Fisher Silver Bullet Space Pen – one that is small (94mm) but good quality; it doesn’t feel cheap. It’s always in my right side trouser pocket. Always. It has a great form factor or fiddle-with quality — that in itself is a bonus de-stress device.  This pen writes underwater, upside down and onto surfaces that are no good with ordinary everyday pens.

I don’t feel right without this pen, and I have lost a couple over the years. Those periods without having my pen on me are so weird – and very short due to my impatience to return to normality.

[Picture of 3in square Post It Note Pad]The partner  to the Silver Bullet is the square Post-it pad. Butternut is the colour apparently. These are brilliant, and the sticky section makes then far better than diaries or bound notepads like Filofaxes.  Brand new pads are too thick to carry around, so I usually pull off a thinner pack.

So what do I do with this pen and paper combo? — Well, really, the question is what would I do without them on me at all times. I have walked around, snagging jobs, scribbling notes and comments and sticking them right where the problem is. I have even decorated houses in Sweden by sticking notes about colours to paint walls, and other instructions.

In traffic incidents, I have left notes on windscreens. If I visit someone who is out, I leave a sticky message saying I called. Notes to neighbours, memos to the self. I take orders for drinks (and food) at bars and restaurants. Really, this is so useful – I’ve even scribbled “Out of Order” for things I come across, just to help the next guy along.

I developed a system at work for recording jobs and tasks allocated to people. These could be unstuck and repositioned to reflect urgency and priority.  I have used the wall behind my desk, and I have used an A4 sized notepad to stick in tasks, notes and messages – and rearrange them as I wish.

At home I carried on with this office notepad system, such that if I post a  note to remind me of a refund I am expecting (for example), I can unstick and carry it forward each day and onto each page until the matter is resolved. I don’t always throw them away – just score through to show they are resolved. I have notebooks full of them as a record.

My habit is to date the note at the top with a completed date on bottom. I have experimented with different coloured post-its in the office, but ended up with different coloured pens. It has helped me keep track of the schedules of my children and when bills are due. It is such a simple and easy way to get organised.

These days I use a lot of features and apps on my phone and other devices – but I still have to rely a lot on my pen and post it system.

Everyone knows I always have them on me, especially my children – who have always loved drawing little pictures when bored.

Everyday I thank Paul for this idea that really did change my life for the better.

§

GARY MOORE

28 December 2012

[Black and white photo of Gary Moore with Les Paul Guitar]I AM SLOW ON THE UPTAKE SOMETIMES.

I just discovered that Gary Moore is dead. It’s nearly Christmas 2012, and he died at the beginning of 2011, and I  have just found out. Why is this stuff not in the news instead of the same old economy, politics and Islamic nonsense every day?

This stuff matters.

Did I know Gary?  No, but I have seen him live in concert, and I have met him a few times over the years in “interesting” circumstances. This does not constitute “knowing” him as such, but it’s better than nothing at all, and it’s all I have.

Gary was the generation one-up from mine. He was slightly older. I guess it started with the Thin Lizzy thing. A lad in the year above me at school joined Thin Lizzy because of Gary’s sudden departure one day. Yep. This actually happened. The Planets aligned, and Brian Robertson just out of Eastwood High was thrust into fame and (hopefully) fortune replacing Gary Moore in Thin Lizzy. Brian was on the radio and everything — he even started speaking with an American accent.

Brian was a smashing blues and rock guitarist. Typical lead guitar stuff; good at poncing about, good at poses, apparently guzzling a bottle of whisky and smoking cigarettes (which were lighted and then wedged into the guitar’s headstock between the strings and the machine heads).

But Gary Moore was exceptional.

Because of Brian, we listened to Thin Lizzy — and so heard (and appreciated) Gary’s work). It was all cool, and then one day in a record shop basement in Bournemouth in July 1977, I heard Colisseum II.

It was blasted through the shop’s loudspeakers. I hovered about until I’d heard the entire album (Electric Savage) – I bought it and was amazed to find that the guitar was Gary Moore!

This was not rock, nor blues. This was Jazzy fusion stuff – and live (more or less). This band elevated Gary Moore from the ranks of pretty-good guitar soloists, to a guitar star.

[Embedded Videoclip from Youtube of ColisseumII – Inquisition]

Gary had a great voice too, and was fast on the solos, but I have always had a soft spot for his licks, his timing, phrasing and inventiveness set him apart. His musicality lifted him to another level.

I have a few of his albums, and would certainly have made an effort to see him live again.  I am sad to hear of his death, but sadder for having the feeling that he had in him the capacity for more brilliant music. His death really does mean we’re missing out.

§

BRUCE LEE

23 November 2012

B LeeBRUCE LEE DIED YOUNG and he died when I was young.

He undoubtedly left a legacy, and he had an influence on my own life.

First of all, you have to understand the 1970s as a period of renaissance, as probably the most creative burst in human history.  That is the context to consider Bruce Lee.  The period of time belonging to Arthur C Clarke, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jaco Pastorius, Muhammad Ali, and more. Check out the 1970s and be prepared to be amazed; it’s too big a thing to go into here and now.

Bruce Lee belonged to that era, and to the heroes who died young — such as Jimmy Dean, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

He popularised martial arts in the west – and this carries on to this day. The poses he struck, the noises he made still inform us today — from kids’ cartoons like Hong Kong Phooey, and films like The Karate Kid, to Richard Pryor’s antics in Stir Crazy.

He set the scene for the TV show, Kung Fu which everyone remembers for the pupil being called “Grasshopper”, and for Jackie Chan movies and Chuck Norris jokes.

Today, martial arts is simply part and parcel of culture.  It is perfectly normal to the point of parody. This is, I think, because of Bruce Lee.  Before Bruce Lee, crowds did not attack a single person in films. People did not kick, nor do acrobatics, during a fight.

Bruce Lee introduced flamboyant street skills into movie fight scenes. The swashbuckling sword fights of the past were as old hat as wrestling or boxing. The gangster or cowboy guns looked boring too.

Lee could fight, including the kicks, but he could also sneak about as a silent, shadowy figure (Ninja), he could run up walls and do acrobatic flips — like the street runners (parkour) and hip-hop street dancers. Bruce would use exotic weapons, and do extraordinary feats with whatever was to hand.

This was something to be admired by all men.  Lee was small and wiry, so it was all possible – or so it felt. The spiritual aspect tapped into the hippies and those with the hole left from leaving a main religion.  Through Bruce Lee, people were tending to their mental health as well as their physical heath.

I think he changed the world in a fundamental way, and that he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it all. Mind you I like the mystique and legends that have sprung up, and the fact that he died young (preserved) was not lost on me either.

He was the first celebrity, and one of the first people I had ever seen dead in a coffin — even if it was just a photograph. I took up martial arts and studied those ways for a while — and while I abandoned it all later, I do not regret anything, rather I am glad for it, and I appreciate what it did for me personally.

Martial arts and Bruce Lee were important in my development into manhood. I do believe that it has saved my life on more than one occasion, but that aside, it has been a positive influence on me in myriad ways. So I’d like to simply take the opportunity to thank Bruce Lee here. Thanks, Bruce.

§

FANNY

12 August 2012

LANGUAGE HAS ALWAYS INTERESTED ME. A little bit of etymology can be fun and fascinating, so I thought I would share a recent discovery here. When I was a young lad, I went into the city — and on the streets of Glasgow, I heard a full-grown man being called “a wee fanny” for the first time.

It is clearly derogatory to call someone a “fanny”; no-one wants to be a fanny (even though it is unclear exactly what it is). Add to that the distinction that, on occasion, a person might be said to be acting like a fanny.

I also remember reading Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” books, and sniggering because a character in the book was called “Aunt Fanny”. The fact that Fanny could be a person’s actual, real, Christian name was a source of great mirth to all youngsters. I recently discovered that the publishers of Blyton’s other books have replaced all the Fanny references with “Franny”!

Equally factual and funny is that North Americans call their bottoms “Fannies”. What’s all this “fanny business”?

It is is everyday common use, so I wondered where it came from — and I think I have found out where it all started: France.

The modern version of Pétanque originated in 1907 in La Ciotat, a town in the Provence region of the South of France. Petanque is a version of Boules; in Boules, players run and throw a ball, but in Pétanque, the ball is thrown from a stationary player.  It is an incredibly popular game, especially in France. The idea is for players to take turns to throw a metal ball from a distance. The winner is the boule measured as nearest the small wooden ball (cochonnet). Each score is tallied, and the first to reach 13 is the winner of the game.

[Poster of Pétanque fanny 13-nil]The legend is that, between the world wars, in France’s Savoy region, a waitress called Fanny at the Café de Grand-Lemps, was so kind-hearted that she would allow customers who had lost a game without scoring a single point to kiss her on the cheek as a consolation prize. One day the Mayor lost 13-0 and went to Fanny for the kiss on the cheek – but instead she spun round, whipped up her skirts, and offered the cheeks of her bottom!  The Mayor went ahead and kissed her bum cheeks, and ever since then this has been the tradition.

Because her name was Fanny, anyone losing a game without scoring a single point, was called a “Fanny”. Here’s an excerpt from wikipedia on the subject:

To fanny (mettre fanny in French)- To beat one’s opponents 13 to 0. The figure of a bare-bottomed lass named Fanny is ubiquitous in Provence wherever pétanque is played. It is traditional that when a player loses 13 to 0 it is said that “il est fanny” (he’s a fanny) or “il a fait fanny” (he made fanny), and that he has to kiss the bottom of a girl called Fanny. Since there is rarely an obliging Fanny’s behind handy, there is usually a substitute picture, woodcarving or pottery so that Fanny’s bottom is available. More often, the team which made “fanny” has to offer a beverage to the winning team (see the French popular expression “Fanny paie à boire !”).

To technical fanny – To beat one’s opponents by scoring 13 consecutive points without the opposition scoring anymore but having already scored. For example a team could score 12 points and the opposition could then score all 13 points and win the game with a technical fanny.

So if you get beat 13 – nil, you have to kiss a wooden bottom.  You are called “a fanny”, and as such, you have to buy a round of drinks for the winners/ everyone.

Suddenly, I understood better how the term is used as a light-hearted but derogatory term.  It’s a loser who’s lost big time.

I can see how North Americans would call buttocks, “Fannies” now — as well as references such as “ass-kissing”, “Kiss My Ass”, and desperately trying to find an “arse-covering solution” to a competitive situation one is losing. It’s not merely about losing, it’s the humiliation of scoring zero points.
LINKS:

§

DUDLEY J MORTON

26 July 2012

[Picture showing the statue of Liberty's feet and toes]Everyone knows the Statue of Liberty.  Most will know that it is actually French, and gifted to the USA. Many will know that the structural engineer was Gustav Eiffel, and the sculptor was Frederic Bartholdi.

A few may know that it was built in Paris between 1875 and 1884 as “Liberty Enlightening The World”, and was then dismantled and shipped to Liberty Island in New York Harbour where it was finally assembled.

However, I’d bet, though, that most people will not know about Miss Liberty’s toes. They are 32 times normal size, but apart from that, they are designed in a specific style – these are Classical feet, often referred to as Roman feet.

[Picture of museum statue foot]This is the style of foot found in statues of antiquity, and is the look considered to be the most beautiful. I studied fine arts, and have spend many happy hours in museums around the world.  I have visited the great cities of antiquity and enjoyed their sculptures.

In sketching these delightful things, I noticed that I myself had feet like these — classical feet, beautiful feet. Yes, I have always been happy with my feet — for that, and for the reason that they have never smelled, had fungal infections, hard skin, scars, blemishes, or anything but classical proportions and lovely baby-soft skin.

[Picture of roman statue toes]And yet I never gave my feet special attention, and certainly did not give them any thought or anything other than basic care. I have broken bones in my life, and my arches crashed. So Big Deal; I have flat-feet. So what? This is quite a common complaint, after all.

However, in recent years, as I have grown older, my feet have gradually begun to give me bother, and I have taken them to the GP surgery and hospital too. I often get compliments on them, but while they may be nice and classical, they hurt! I have had a silicon injection and tried insoles and what-not.

I looked into the matter. It seems that the problem is exactly that I have classical feet!

[sketch of Egyptian foot]Here’s the deal: If your big toe is longer than your other toes, then you have so-called “Egyptian Feet”. Now,  think this looks funny (and I always have) — even though my wife and children have this type of foot style.

I find it difficult to draw this kind of foot to be frank; it just looks wrong!

The second toe has to be the same or longer than the big toe for it to be considered classically beautiful like mine. Like the statues in Rome and Paris. Like this:

[sketch of Greek Foot] or [Sketch of Roman Foot]

I have recently discovered that a few experts have decided that the longer second toe, is more “Greek”, while the foot where the second toe is slightly longer or the same length as the big toe is more “Roman”. But I’ve always taken this non-Egyptian style as either “Roman” or “Classical”.  Either way, though, I have a “Roman foot”.

Further investigations unearthed the fact that Classical feet are hereditary, and that they cause the arches to collapse into flat feet, and are the root of foot pain, back pain, knee pain, hip pain, fibromyalgia, and arthritis.

The authority was Dr Dudley J Morton, who wrote the book (literally) on feet, conditions and surgery back in the 1920s. It seems that a long second toe (or, to put it better, a short big toe), even though it may be classical and beautiful, Roman or Greek, it is nevertheless a foot abnormality called “Morton’s Toe”. The treatment of which is a small easily-made and carefully aligned pad.

www.footcare4u.com – is a brilliant site, a long read, but excellent and worthwhile. I found this there:

“…In the first paragraph of the Reader’s Digest article [April 1939 issue], Morton wrote:

‘Aching, pain galled feet are among the commonest afflictions besetting mankind. Seven of ten persons suffer from foot alignment of varying severity ranging from the nagging discomfort of corns to total disability from broken down feet’

“Morton went on to say that then, as now, millions of dollars are spent annually on corrective shoes or other devices that are of questionable benefit in healing the foot.

“As always, he stated the two principal reasons for foot problems are the short first metatarsal bone and/or the hypermobility of the first metatarsal bone. He continued to explain how to treat these conditions by putting a pad or a platform under the first metatarsal bone.”

This is where my research got confusing.

According to wikipedia,  a pronated foot is one in which the heel bone angles inward and the arch tends to collapse and flatten in order to absorb shock when the heel hits the ground, and to assist in balance during mid-stance.

However, I think I rotate my heel outward, because my shoes show wear on the outside. To put it another way, I am more “bow-legged” than “knock-kneed”. As the opposite of pronation is supination, then I must have what they call underpronation/supination.

On the other hand, www.footcare4u.com – describes it quite differently; here, pronation is when the foot is a loose “bag of bones”, and once it has hit the ground, it locks by changing from pronation to supination to push off the ground before relaxing back to pronation again.

They say that if the foot hits the ground and doesn’t lock properly, pronation continues – and so this is called abnormal pronation or overpronation (there’s no underpronation)! When you try to push your weight off a bag-of-bones foot, you compensate however you can — causing all sorts of ailments and pains. Morton seems to have found that a short big toe is a toe that continues to move when it should not (hypermobility) — this is the continued (abnormal) pronation when your foot should be locked tight in supination for pushing off the ground. Morton’s patented toe pad corrects this hypermobility and gets your foot into supination at the proper time.

It is a seriously confusing issue. Either I believe wikipedia (that I have underpronation or supination), or that I have  a short big toe that  stops me getting to supination because I am in overpronation!

Which ever of these two opposite results, I must give thanks to my antecedents’ genes; I have classical Roman feet. There’s nothing I can do about it, but it has resulted in a LOT of pain over the years.

Now when I look at a statue’s feet, I wince for these poor souls, suffering the way I do everyday. No wonder Rome fell like so many arches in so many feet.

§

WILLIAM S BURROUGHS

26 June 2012

Burroughs“People often ask me if I have any words of advice for young people.
Well here are a few simple admonitions for young and old.

Never interfere in a boy-and-girl fight.

Beware of whores who say they don’t want money.
The hell they don’t.
What they mean is they want more money. Much more.

If you’re doing business with a religious son-of-a-bitch,
Get it in writing.
His word isn’t worth shit.
Not with the good lord telling him how to fuck you on the deal.

Avoid fuck-ups.
We all know the type.
Anything they have anything to do with,
No matter how good it sounds,
Turns into a disaster.

Do not offer sympathy to the mentally ill.
Tell them firmly:
I am not paid to listen to this drivel.
You are a terminal boob.

Now some of you may encounter the Devil’s Bargain,
If you get that far.

Any old soul is worth saving,
At least to a priest,
But not every soul is worth buying.
So you can take the offer as a compliment.
He tries the easy ones first.
You know like money,
All the money there is.
But who wants to be the richest guy in some cemetary?
Money won’t buy.
Not much left to spend it on, eh gramps?

Getting too old to cut the mustard.
Well time hits the hardest blows.
Especially below the belt.
How’s a young body grab you?
Like three card monte, like pea under the shell,
Now you see it, now you don’t.
Haven’t you forgotten something, gramps?
In order to feel something,
You’ve got to be there.
You have to be eighteen.
You’re not eighteen.
You are seventy-eight.
Old fool sold his soul for a strap-on.

Well they always try the easiest ones first.
How about an honorable bargain?
You always wanted to be a doctor,
Well now’s your chance.
Why don’t you become a great healer
And benefit humanity?
What’s wrong with that?
Just about everything.

Just about everything.
There are no honorable bargains
Involving exchange
Of qualitative merchandise
Like souls
For quantitative merchandise
Like time and money.

So piss off Satan
And don’t take me for dumber than I look.

An old junk pusher told me –
Watch whose money you pick up.”

— William S. Burroughs, Words of Advice for Young People

I enjoyed that the first time I read it way, way, back.  I had a friend who could quote Burroughs at length (which I admired), but who did so in a terrible mock-Burroughs accent (which I did not admire at all).

Graham (the friend in this matter), gave me a cassette tape of Burroughs’s. Actually, before he gave me the tape, he played the Mildred Pierce track and spoke over it, word-for-word, perfect inflection. I quite liked the jazzy stuff and took it anyway. Spare-Ass Annie and Other Tales has been a firm favourite ever since.

Yes, Burroughs is an acquired taste, Sardonic wit always is, but the effort is rewarding; he is different. That alone is something. He has his own mind, he speaks casually, yet it is clear that everything he says is considered, and much of his word choices are for shock or another effect to trigger a response, and reveal the reality of the situation.

In that Burroughs has been a BIG influence on me, unfortunately, however, I do not always get offered the same benefit of the doubt, and have often been accused of triteness and over-simplification — and even of being carelessly unfeeling. But then we live in a dumbed-down society, what can ya do?

I have found the lyrics to Mildred Pierce through the wonders of the search engine, here they are for your serious consideration, note the adjectives, the pace and rhythm, and the tone. I swear you can hear Burroughs’s voice even if you have never heard the track…

‘Mildred Pierce reporting:
I was there. I saw it. I saw women thrown down on Fifth Avenue and raped in their mink coats by blacks and whites and yellows while street urchins stripped the rings from their fingers. A young officer stood nearby. “Aren’t you going to do something?” I demanded.

He looked at me and yawned.

I found Colonel Bradshaw bivouacking at the Ritz. I told him bluntly what was going on. His eyes glinted shamelessly as he said, “Well, you have to take a broad general view of things.”

And that’s what I have been doing. Taking a broad general view of American troops raping and murdering helpless civilians while American officers stand around and yawn.

“Been at it a long time, lady. It’s the old army game from here to eternity.”

This license was dictated by considerations taken into account by prudent commanders throughout history. It pays to pay the boys off. Even the noble Brutus did it…

Points with his left hand in catatonic limestone.

“The town is yours soldiers brave.”

Tacitus describes a typical scene… “If a woman or a good looking boy fell into their hands they were torn to pieces in the struggle for possession and the survivors were left to cut each others’ throats.”

“Well, there’s no need to be that messy. Why waste a good-looking boy? Mother loving American Army run by old women, many of them religious, my God; hanging Amercian soldiers for raping and murdering civilians…”

Old Sarge bellows from here to eternity.

“WHAT THE BLOODY FUCKING HELL ARE CIVILIANS FOR?

SOLDIERS’ PAY.”‘

Burroughs is communicating beyond writing, and this is, to me, the perfect way to get it across.Both Mildred Pierce and Advice are on the Spare-Ass Annie and Other Tales album. Enjoy.

§

BEGGARING BELIEF

21 April 2012

[Picture of Shaman]Belief is such an interesting word. Everyone believes that two plus two equals four because that’s rational — yet the word is probably more often associated with the irrational.

I have always enjoyed reading philosophy, religion, and magic, and their historical contexts, so much so that my bookshelves groan under the strain. I was moving some books today and spotted my old copy of  “The Golden Bough” by  Sir James Frazer, and a flip through the pages brought back a lot of memories.

In my post on Cthulhu, I stated:

“But I am also a human, and brought up in a fabulous fantasy world of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. I am interested in the arts, and cannot deny there is something weird going on — it cannot merely be a collective, collaborative delusion entirely. …

“All I’m saying is that — rightly or wrongly — I have intuitive feelings, gut feelings, traits that reveal the irrational, illogical, and impulsive emotional over-rides.

“I respond to music, to paintings, to love, to food — in partaking, participating and creating. Hard to define, but nonetheless real to me.  Amongst these is the Cthulhu.”

I also mentioned that had been affected by the philosophy of mechanism, and this, together with my natural atheism, may well seem at odds with my talk of intuition, love, gut feelings and even the evil I call Cthulhu.

It’s not such a great paradox actually — at least not for me; I can live with it all. However I do get asked about this, so I’ll try to clear it up here.

[Picture of Red Ballet Shoes]I recall the revelation when reading The Golden Bough, back in my late teens, that things influence us and we influence things.  This is clearly true; we have relationships with everyday objects.  We put on shoes, the shoes change our feet  and our feet change the shoes. The shoes also wear the steps and floor as much as they wear out the shoes.

Wear and tear humanises and personalises things, and we can grow fond of items — have “favourites”.  People like to be surrounded by things that are familiar — but also because they embody some personal meaning. They are heirlooms.

[Picture of Guitar Signed by Elvis]Worth and value are tricky words when ascribed to things that have memories and meanings attached. In antiques and auction rooms, items gain considerably from provenance. Meaning doesn’t even have to be personal, for anything worn or owned by Elvis Presley, for example, is worth more just because of that fact.

Now, obviously, this is all airy-fairy rubbish. A guitar played by a dead rock star is still just a guitar, a watch passed down from father to son, is still just a watch. Yet it isn’t, somehow.

If you remove gods from religion, if you dismiss the afterlife and other such irrational beliefs, you are left with rituals.

I find this interesting; there is something in humans that needs ritual for the evidence of it is all over the world and throughout history.

I recall playing with my school friends, and a massive part of my childhood was about inventing and adapting games. We would play by the rules until it got easy or boring, then we would up the ante, until the rules were pretty elaborate. It was probably more about setting rules, defining boundaries, negotiation and dealing with consequences than merely playing games.

Society has rules, too, driving about is commonplace, but the rules and rituals are pretty complex when you think about it. We all know when to start work, what is expected of us, where the boundaries are, what we can and cannot do.

The Big Idea is about being able to repeat the process to get the same end. Reliability depends on doing it the same way every time to get the same result every time.

But this creates a new thing – the system, the process itself becomes a subject of study; the scientific method, and in the workplace even today, we try to refine workflow. We need to know what things  in the chain of events are the ones that matter, so then the procedures are analysed and imposed.

[Diagram of a machine]We are mechanised and do our part in the process. Method Statements and QA are about the stages and steps involved in carrying out a task to get a predictable result.

It’s not just at work either; we practice playing our musical instruments to get better and better in order to play the tune without mistakes. Playing a tune is a process of playing chords or notes one after the other to get the desired result. Sports science is all about refining training to get better results.

All this is so much a part of our lives that we have irrational and personal versions — from trinkets for good luck, to routines to get us to sleep at night.  Everyone has heard of being OCD and how comforting rituals and routines can be for certain groups. Religion has ceremonies and rituals, and I call all of these irrational because they are not analysed and improved, and they are not very good at reliably predicting or producing the desired result.

Voodoo dolls, rain-dancing, wedding vows, Christenings, Ramadan fasts, praying, healing, levitation, horoscopes, exorcisms, witch burning — and many, many more — have a role in culture and in history, yet are ostensibly bizarre and don’t actually work reliably, if at all.  It would seem that they are either used willingly as a comforting ritualistic belief, or else used by the unscrupulous to dominate the gullible for their own ends.

Throughout my life I have met people who have told me that they were healed at Lourdes, by prayer, by reiki, or that they can only play winning golf with that “special” club. I’ve heard miracle stories, and tales of people who can predict the future. And I cannot call any of them liars or delusional because the fact is that they are telling the truth. It’s just that the truth doesn’t prove anything; it could be a lucky break, coincidence, or random chance.

It is somehow very attractive to human beings to believe in a karma connection, to see the mystical and the wonderful. The German word, Geist, means more than ghost. There is the Poltergeist, the Geistlos, the Zeitgeist, the Weltgeist (see Hegel), Geisteskrank, and so on — including the Holy Spirit and Guardian Angels. My favourite is the ghost in the machine, I know well that you can build two machines, two cars, guitars, or whatever — in exactly the same way from the same parts, and they will not be the same at all. Once assembled, they get a life, a personality, and it is that geist with whom you have a relationship.

[Photograph of John Ruskin]I quite liked Ruskin’s idea of allowing artisans creative freedom, that their skill and love in making something could somehow be contained within the resulting artefact, and that a mass-produced (or machine produced) item was “soul-less”.

A lot of people throughout history have been called witches because they have done things that were actually good, kind and helpful for everyone. They didn’t merely pray, they used herbs or some routine that worked reliably, and as such it was neither religion nor science — so it had to be witchcraft.

Witchcraft and magic have religious aspects (irrational rituals, spells/prayers) but also scientific aspects (they can get repeatable results). All that science did was analyse the process and call it medicine.

I have always liked the fact that something is magic until it is understood, then it becomes science.

[Artist's impression of God]This is how I came to understand the term, “God”. In primitive cultures, if crops failed, they claimed it was because of God (or a god), if you do the trick of replacing the word “God” with “The Unknown”, then it is clear that the crops failed because of the unknown. In other words they have no idea why their crops failed, or why the rain didn’t come.

From this, it is clear that as knowledge increases, the less unknowns we have — and that means the less God. This is self-evidently true; we know God didn’t make the crops fail as soon as we know why they failed.

Just like something is magic until we understand it, something is unknown until it is known, and the more we know, the less we have a need to have an intervening God.

I do believe in love-at-first-sight, I do have relationships with buildings, furniture, clothes, and animals. I have gut feelings and intuition. I don’t know everything. I like routine, and have my ways of doing things. I cannot explain them all rationally… and I don’t want to either; part of being human (perhaps the most human part of being human) is irrationality.

This is my attempt to celebrate that aspect of our natures.

§

CTHULHU

18 March 2012

[Picture of Cthulhu "coming to get you"]Straight away, I will say that this is a strange one.

I have always pronounced Cthulhu as kloo loo (I don’t know why). However, I have recently heard that it has an “official pronunciation” of  kath who loo (which I think is weird, but anyway).

The Cthulhu is a nightmare creature. A monster, trapped and waiting to get us. It has a tentacled octopus head, a fish-scale body, wings, and is a sort of chimera — part human, dragon, and octopus. A grotesquely malevolent creature. Pure evil. A living gargoyle. An alien.

This THING is from the twisted imagination of HP Lovecraft, and it first appeared in a short story published in 1928, “The Call of Cthulhu”. The Cthulhu is imprisoned in an underwater city in the South Pacific called R’lyeh, and this is a source of constant anxiety for mankind at a subconscious level.

Lovecraft developed the character from this story thereafter, and it has been developed further after his death.

HP Lovecraft reckoned that human beings, with their limited faculties, would never be able to fully understand the universe — particularly as it was meaningless and purposeless, and that humans were unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Humans have a tendency to try to find meaning or purpose, and to put their existence as special , significant or central. This was my introduction to the philosophy of mechanism –  metaphysical doctrines known as universal mechanism and anthropic mechanism. I was 17 at the time, and the world was a pretty bleak place, with a disastrous outlook for the future.

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page had been reported to have bought a house in Loch Ness that was once owned by Aleister Crowley, and Crowley was considered the most evil man who ever lived. So there was all sorts of daft articles going about. Even Eric Clapton’s (or rather Derek & The Dominoes’) Layla was connected to Crowley (Leila Waddell). My sister was an avid reader and paperbacks by the likes of Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley were all around the house. The 70s was a great period of cross-cultivation in cultures, and everything was merging and overlapping at the time.

The science fiction genre spilled into heavy metal music, album covers and book jacket art bled onto biker’s jackets, tattoos and graffiti.  Fantasy novels depended on things like alternative realities, drug trip type experiences, life on alien worlds or set in the future or distant past. Crowley had created his own religion, so why not science fiction writer, L Ron Hubbard (Scientology)?

It was all a bit mind-blowing and overwhelming for me at times back then. I did not understand enough to have confidence in my beliefs to be thought-through cohesively, and although I was searching around for sense in this, I also searched for inspiration, entertainment and amusement.

Occasionally my searching would bring up something that didn’t “sit right”, something that I disliked instinctively. All of that, all of those things, for me, became embodied in the Cthulhu.

To see why, we have to go back to Crowley.

I read Lovecraft and Crowley in the same period of time. Crowley was interesting and amusing for a while — But I liked his concept of True Will for example. This resonated in me at the time. It basically means do what you want, what you really want. And while that sounds a bit like do anything you want, it doesn’t; it ties in your inner will with a destiny aspect — you have to do what you are gifted at or meant to do.  The trick is finding yourself so that you can live a superior moral life according to your True Will. It’s an attractive religious idea, well grounded in the catechism and conscience, but is the cornerstone of his own religion.

  • But then you find out that he was all a bit odd, mixed up in drugs and ritualistic homosexuality, secretive black magic societies, Freemasonry and more — all of which gathered inside me an anxiety and a dread — and that’s the Cthulhu.

Ever since, and throughout my life, when I have suffered really bizarre and dreadful nightmares, I think of the Cthulhu, and wonder if it is any closer to getting free from its shackles under the sea.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not and never have been a follower of The Beast 666, nor have I a real belief in any mythology, Greek, Roman, Norse, Tolkein or Lovecraft. I did get right into the philosophy of mechanism for a long time, and there remains much of that in me to this day.

But I am also a human, and brought up in a fabulous fantasy world of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. I am interested in the arts, and cannot deny there is something weird going on — it cannot merely be a collective, collaborative delusion entirely.  Perhaps it’s mood-changing chemicals in the brain?  These are weird and wonderful explorations for each of us to take. All I’m saying is that — rightly or wrongly — I have intuitive feelings, gut feelings, traits that reveal the irrational, illogical, and impulsive emotional over-rides.

I respond to music, to paintings, to love, to food — in partaking, participating and creating. Hard to define, but nonetheless real to me.  Amongst these is the Cthulhu.

The Cthulhu is real for me.  I once thought of it as a stomach ulcer in me, I even briefly thought it could be a cancer, but these notions were soon dismissed in favour of the Cthulhu being external to me.

It’s like a sixth sense. When I begin to feel anxious, I am reminded of the threat to my healthy, happy, state is out there — the Cthulhu is waiting, calling, screaming, plotting, scheming. It’s that feeling that someone’s out to get you — for no other reason than badness and pure evil, or immoral self-interest.

It doesn’t have to be directed to me, however. For example, if  I see a photograph of an electric chair or read about the holocaust, that dark churn in the pit of my stomach, that scare, the horror of evil and the sense of its power — that’s the Cthulhu. Dread Full.

§