Sometimes it Snows in April

Not just a Prince reference; it actually did snow on the hills around Edinburgh yesterday, although in our part of the city it was merely wet and freezing.

Speaking of El Symbol: Prince memories. The oral history of Purple Rain. Prince’s low-profile generosity to green causes.


The sugar conspiracy.

Five insane things we believe about money, thanks to movies and TV.

What would happen if we just gave people money? The long history of basic income proposals is enlightening; nobody ever talked about it in the late 1980s, when I first thought it seemed a good way to go.

George Monbiot on neoliberalism.

Only 15–20 years before widespread loss of ocean oxygen.

And I know I said I don’t normally link technical how-tos, but I’m going to again. If you accidentally crack the screen of your Kindle 3, these replacement instructions (as simplified in the comment from Dave, dated 06/15/2015) are the business. A new screen, battery and keyboard cost me around twenty quid on eBay, and following the steps wasn’t hard.

30 April 2016 · Comment · Weblog

This year’s string of pop deaths means that my music archives threaten to become nothing but obituaries; I still haven’t done my recap of last year’s listening (or the year before’s). But Tom Ewing has kept ploughing through 2001’s UK number ones, and even though I wasn’t paying much attention to pop that year I’ve commented on a few—reproduced here as a useful stop-gap during marking season.

Read More · 26 April 2016 · Music

Computer Blue

Ur Man's Eyes

Even though I was starting to get used to 2016 as the year that Death started getting his groove on (I AM A BLACK STAR), the news about Prince was a shock. He hit his stride just as I was first getting into pop and rock as a teenager, and was as big in Australia as he was anywhere in the 1980s. The single-LP version of 1999 (missing “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “D.S.M.R.”) got a lot of play in our house, and Purple Rain made just as strong an impression. In a fit of pop treachery I swapped my LP of the latter for a Big Country tape (je ne regrette rien), but before long rectified the situation by buying CDs of both. My favourite Prince track, though, wasn’t “1999”, “When Doves Cry” or “Darling Nikki”, great though they were, but an album cut that never makes the compilations, “Mountains” from Parade.

Somewhere around Graffiti Bridge I lost track of the purple one, as my ear turned to indie. The contractual wrangles and triple-album sets didn’t make full-price album purchases tempting, and Princely radio singles in the mid-’90s were few and far between. So although I’ve embarked on a second marathon listen to a late artist’s back catalogue in the space of a few months, I might hit a wall a dozen albums in. Pitchfork’s guide to his late-period picks could come in handy.

Those early albums, though: what a run. What other pop star so totally owned the Eighties? Not Bowie, who went off the boil after Let’s Dance. Michael Jackson only released two albums in the 1980s, and Madonna four. Prince released an album every year of the decade but one, including two double-LPs, and they’re almost all great; and he can be forgiven the gap in 1983 because he was making a movie (and did that again twice that decade, too).

It was the purplest of purple patches. Prince may not have been the tallest bloke, but the man was a giant.

24 April 2016 · Comment · People

Heaven and Hell

Oliver Burkeman: Scheduling is the best way to get creative work done.

The largest ever analysis of film dialogue by gender.

Beware the grinning emoji, my son! The teeth that bite, the renderings that mismatch!

I don’t normally link technical how-tos, but this was a godsend when attempting to install Slack on my iPhone 4: How to download and install apps on older versions of iOS (entirely legitimately).

How Internet mapping turned a remote farm into a digital hell. How the Internet turned a remote town into a digital heaven.

How humanity first killed the dodo, then lost it.

Marine heatwave in Tasmania puts species at risk.

Dolphins have a language. Surely we knew that thirty years ago?

Clive James: “I’ve got a lot done since my death”, but “still being alive is embarrassing”. He’s writing for The Observer again and just reviewed Game of Thrones in The New Yorker, which might even prompt me to start watching it. Plus he has a new verse book about Proust out this week.

The world’s first Pastafarian wedding.

Here are the times I am typically free to meet.

24 April 2016 · Comment · Weblog

Which Way Do Ya Wanta Go?

Last week I had an unexpected urge to revisit some of my earliest programming efforts. Unfortunately, they’re stored on ancient 5¼" floppies which would probably be unreadable, even if I had a 5¼" drive and a way of converting it to USB. Fortunately, at the time I wrote them I also printed out my collection of Apple II and BBC Micro BASIC programs using our school’s dot-matrix printers, and after rummaging through some old boxes was able to find those printouts again.

Read More · 5 April 2016 · Comment · Memory

Serious Business

Benin City, the medieval capital now lost without trace. 100 African cities destroyed by Europeans.

In the capital of Europe. Written before the bombings of last week, which once again reminded me in the worst possible fashion that I’ve visited too many sites of subsequent terrorism. New York, Paris, London... Brussels.

Three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates.

Nothing to apologize for.

Teachers sent packing because they earn too little.

Netflix generates more traffic than the entire Internet.

The Bribe Factory.

Global warming’s terrifying new chemistry. Current temperatures are shocking even to climate scientists. Longest coral bleaching event on record. West Antarctic ice sheet could melt rapidly. Carbon emissions haven’t been this high since the dinosaurs.

31 March 2016 · Comment · Weblog

Shabba Me Whiskers

Many of the world’s lakes are vanishing. Greenland’s feedback loop. February breaks global temperature records by even more than January did.

A route to carbon-negative cars.

“These people are you and me”: Richard Flanagan meets Syrian refugees.

The most radioactive towel in history.

Frequency delinquency. !?,;:--.

Andy Stanton’s cult humour for kids. His Mr Gum books are some of the funniest I’ve read, to my son or otherwise. Andy Stanton at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Brian Six.

The funniest hacker stock photos and (better) the funniest hacker stock photos 2.0.

A musical instrument made from a badger badger badger badger thereminnn thereminnnnnn.

Grenade in microwave! [Link already dead, sadly.]

17 March 2016 · Comment · Weblog

And in the End

A belated farewell to the late George Martin. Apart from his monumental work with the Beatles, which I could hardly begin to go into here without taking all week, I’ll always remember his work on one of my favourite comedy records, Peter Sellers’ 1959 album Songs for Swingin’ Sellers. The Fabs themselves were fans of Martin’s comedy productions, which helped bond them in the early days. On one Sellers track in particular, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”, Martin masterminded the Indian orchestral sounds that would come in handy on later Beatle tracks.

This sad event had happy consequences for Monday’s pub quiz. It meant that the bonus round was on the Fabs, and all those years of devouring Beatle biographies finally came in handy. Seventy loverly nicker.

17 March 2016 · Comment · People

Danger is Everywhere

The favourite temperature dataset of climate deniers just confirmed global warming.

“All we can do is hold our hearts”: my Mefi post on the breathtaking threat of the Mosul dam.

The man who made “the worst video game in history”.

An accurate predictor of whether someone supports Donald Trump.

Tip off.

The Snoopers’ Charter promises a surveillance state comparable only to China and Russia.

Why Facebook is depressing.


The Most Dangerous Writing App (via Mefi).

Read More · 3 March 2016 · Comment · Weblog

Carry On Keeping On

Back from Oz (last week), where I abandoned all pretence of keeping up a daily posting schedule. But still collected a few links.

A history of Japan.

An oral history of Deliverance.

Google can tell where a photo was taken using just pixels.

A village built for Fiji’s poor survived Cyclone Winston unscathed.

How America made Donald Trump unstoppable.

The boomer supremacy.


Austerity nostalgia.

An enormous musical marble machine.

“Wrong type of trees” in Europe increased global warming. Fossil fuel use must fall twice as fast as thought. Antarctica could be much more vulnerable to melting than we thought. Sea-level rise “could last twice as long as human history”.

Australia has a new climate.

2 March 2016 · Comment · Weblog

Hopped It

Tidbinbilla kangaroos, ACT, July 2015

Gunna visit the mob. Seeya.

10 February 2016 · Comment · Journal

Black Stars

Time for my personal verdict on David Bowie’s studio albums (and one or two honorary ones), after a month of re-listening, listening for the first time, and listening properly for the first time. Ratings are Rolling Stone-style, out of five stars. Anything given three stars or more I’d happily listen to again; four stars or more I’d listen to a lot. Two or two and a half, I’d listen to on a good day. I have no plans to listen to Tonight ever again, especially as its two decent songs are on Nothing Has Changed.

Read More · 7 February 2016 · 2 Comments · Music

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