Singularity

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Last Call for Last.fm

by on Mar.29, 2014, under Planet Sam, process, Writing

avatarI’ve been a long-term paying subscriber to Last.fm. Paying, mind. I include a link to my profile in any list of social media addresses. If you look down and to the right, you’ll find a widget showing what I have most recently listened to, a service provided by a Last.fm app.

Music is important to me for my writing. As a neuro-atypical synaesthete, for whom background noise can occasionally be physically distressing, music is an obligatory defence against the outside world when I’m trying to lose myself in a story, whether writing or reading. I listen to music when I’m training. I can’t imagine life without it. I spend more than I should on music – for the shapes, for the soundscapes, for the inspiration, for the motivation, for the rhythm, sometimes for the distraction – and I love discovering new artists. I used to be a heavy Pandora user. When that ceased being available in the UK, I switched to Last.fm, which offered a similar service.

Two days ago I received an email that said the service was changing.

From 28th April, our subscription radio streaming service will come to an end. This means subscriber radio will no longer work on any platform or device. We’re making this change to focus on improving scrobbling and recommendations, while continuing our goal of being your #onemusichome. Of course you’ll still be able to listen to all of your favourite stations on the new Last.fm Player, as well as listen to your favourite tracks with our recently launched on demand playback feature via Spotify.

If, like me, you’re not sure what that means, allow me to simplify.

The last.fm streaming service ceases to be from the 28th April. You will no longer be able to open the desktop app, turn on your favourite radio channel, and have it play for as long as you like with no ads. Instead, you will have to go to the website, where you can start your radio station, but it will stream videos from YouTube, complete with the adverts.

Even if you subscribe.

As a subscriber, you can get 30% discount in the forthcoming merchandise store (woot, I’m sure) and use tags to exert some illusion of control over your ad-filled youtube stream. And your avatar will say “subscriber”, so everyone knows you’re a sucker prepared to pay for a 30% discount on a lousy t-shirt.

Needless to say, I am cancelling my subscription.

I don’t know if there’s anything out there offering Last.fm’s comprehensive level of curation and discovery. They had one of the largest catalogues on the internet for streaming music and cross-platform availability. They had a range encompassing obscure industrial ambient and popular classical. I had prog rock, opera, trance, dance, electronica, baroque… I have yet to find a genre Last.fm has excluded, whether by act or omission.

Last.fm claim that they are going to focus on scrobbling, but I have no idea where they get the idea that anyone is going to pay for a service that merely records what one has been listening to recently. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun knowing how my musical habits are changing, but my musical habits are constantly changing. I don’t really need something to tell me that.

There are plenty of artists who have earned royalties because I discovered them on a streaming service. Artists I didn’t know, like Roly Porter (I now own his two most recent studio albums on CD); artists I knew and loved but whose catalogue included songs I hadn’t heard before, or hadn’t heard in a very long time. Streaming radio is a way for people who love music to discover new things to love, and people are willing to pay for things they love.

Yes, there will always be those who say why pay for something if it’s available for free, but they’re the hawks of Game Theory, and they’re outnumbered by those who want to reward the creator of something good. If we don’t reward our artists, they will stop making art. Most people with half a brain cell can comprehend that.

I have spent 6 years teaching Last.fm what I like, which is a considerable investment, and now starts the difficult quest for another streaming service, and the painful process of teaching it what I like.

Any recommendations?

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Bumper Stickers on Planet Sam

by on Sep.09, 2012, under Planet Sam

avatarI had one of those WTF moments the other day. This particular one happened in Tesco’s car park at Danestone and involved a bumper sticker on the rear offside wing of a shiny red Ka.

Furious Angel

As someone with a lifelong interest in things to be found outside the set of stuff most consider to comprise the rational world, this struck me as being, well, to paraphrase Pauli, not even wrong.

The first thing I think of when I hear the word ‘angel’ isn’t one of these:
Your stereotypical guardian angel

Nor is it any of these:

Anime Angel

David Boreanaz

Weeping Angel

In fact, when I hear the word “angel”, the first thing I think of is something like this:

Monty Python's Holy Beast

Now I don’t know if something like that can fly, but I’m pretty damn sure that if I saw one hovering behind me in my rear view mirror, I’d be putting my foot down. Or possibly screeching to a halt at the side of the road and running for it, in the hope it was the car it wanted rather than me.

The King James Version (not the album by Harvey Danger, do pay attention at the back), describes the Angel of Revelation as being:

…clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire

This sounds more like Katamari’s King of the Cosmos, and I can’t think of anyone I’d less like to have my back in the event of a road traffic accident.

Naaaaaa na na na na na na na

Have you played the racetrack level? In Drive mode?

Ezekiel has a bit to say about angels:

I looked, and I saw beside the cherubim four wheels, one beside each of the cherubim; the wheels sparkled like topaz. As for their appearance, the four of them looked alike; each was like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the cherubim faced; the wheels did not turn about as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction the head faced, without turning as they went. Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels. I heard the wheels being called ‘the whirling wheels’. Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.

Let’s be honest. That sounds more like a bad acid trip. If you had one of those following your car you’d be calling BUFORA, not feeling reassured about your personal safety.

For me one of the best depictions of angels is in the 1995 film the Prophecy, starring Christopher Walken and Elias Koteas. The film depicts them with a modern imagery, all wings and trenchcoats, but the characterisation is what I enjoyed.

“Did you ever notice how in the Bible, when ever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?” — Thomas Daggett

“I can lay you out and fill your mouth with your mother’s faeces, or we can talk.” — Lucifer

Let’s forget, for a moment, the arrogance of assuming that God’s messengers have nothing better to do than compensate for poor driving technique. If all that’s preventing someone speeding is the worry that a supernatural entity of indeterminate appearance — a six-winged sphinx, a semi-precious flying saucer with more eyes than a scallop, a burning bush or Christopher Walken with bad hair — can’t keep up, then that person does not belong behind the wheel of a moving car in a shared public space.

If that person is advising other people the most important reason for watching their speed is the concern that said supernatural sphinx/UFO/bush/Walken won’t be able to match the pace, then he or she probably shouldn’t be allowed out unless in the company of a responsible adult.

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Things they don’t tell you about triathlon

by on Nov.05, 2010, under Triathlon

avatarThere are 101 things they don’t tell you about how your life will be changed when you start doing triathlon. There’s that moment of heart-in-the-mouth trepidation when you sign up for your first race, not sure that you are fit enough or will ever be fit enough, and then a couple of months of frantic thrashing in the swimming pool and the training rides and remembering what it’s like to run because the only running you’ve done since you were a kid is running for the bus. We all get that. That’s expected.

Then there’s the sudden crazy spending on esoteric training kit followed rapidly by the loss of social life, the obsession about getting your shoes on faster than should be humanly possible, the endless tinkering with race nutrition; not to mention the slow descent into carbon fibre and neoprene and compression panelling.

They might not tell you about that up front but, if asked, people will nod sagely and agree and say it’s just part of doing triathlon.

What they don’t tell you is what happens if you post your race photos to flickr. What happens is that every so often you get an email from the flickr bots. The emails say things like:

[Flickr] lycrafetboy2000 added your photo “East Fife Tri 08 End…” as a favorite!

This one has always proved popular for all the wrong reasons

Initially there’s a sort of smug, self-congratulatory feeling that someone favourited a photo. Then your brain registers the username. Then you start to realise that it’s not the photography skills on display that has attracted the user’s attention. And it’s probably not an interest in the sport, either.

And, despite yourself, you find yourself clicking on the username, then following the link to his (it is ALWAYS a him) profile. Then, oh and then you discover that he’s a member of such groups as “My wife’s hairy front bottom” and “Girls in lycra” and “Spandex Fetishists Unite”.

And you feel faintly dirty and want to take a long, hot bath and scrub yourself clean.

A friend of mine suggested I block these users, or set all my photos to limited view. I don’t want to set my photos on limited view and blocking the users won’t stop new ones coming along (I said COMING). It’s not like they’re forcing me to watch them fapping to photos of me on my bike, after all.

The worst thing of all is that it’s not so much that I’m offended or bothered by the thought of sweaty men pleasuring themselves, grunting over an image of me on the screen. It’s just that… Well. So many of them are so indiscriminate.

I should stop looking at their profiles because then I wouldn’t know into what set I’d been placed in the “Total stranger on the internet finds these things fapworthy” category.

I really should. Just stop.

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Butthurt is as butthurt does

by on Aug.05, 2010, under Cycling, Rant, transport

avatarI feel it would be an opportune time to clear up some confusion evidently being experienced by a significant portion of road users. With my foot injury restricting me to cycle commuting for the past couple of months, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the unfortunate fact that not a lot has changed since the last time I made these comments. There are a few more cyclists running red lights in a manner I consider to be reckless and inconsiderate, but that might be a result of the urban environment, as their numbers are at least matched by those of drivers doing the same.

The thing is, it’s really not that hard.

  • Advanced Stop Lanes are for cyclists. That’s why they have a picture of a bike painted inside them. You can tell it’s a bicycle because it has two wheels and pedals. The red background is there to make them more visible. The solid white line around them is not there to give a clear outline for the man with the red paint to colour in: it is equivalent to any other solid white line at a traffic light. In other words, drivers are not permitted to cross while the light is red. This applies whether you are on a motorbike or in a car, bus or taxi. It also applies even if you are driving a shiny red BMW.
  • Nice work, hotshot

    Shiny silver isn't exempt either, funnily enough

    The presence of a garish criss-cross pattern of yellow on the road indicates what is technically known as a box junction. These are not difficult to use. All that is required is that you do not enter unless your exit is clear. This doesn’t mean sitting inside one because the car in front is half in and half out so it must be okay then. This applies even if you’re in a shiny black BMW.
  • A speed limit is the upper boundary of the permitted speed at which you are allowed to drive your car on the section of road to which that speed limit applies. The speed limit applies at all times of day and night and doesn’t have qualifying exceptions for vehicle type such as “unless you are in a white van, silver Saab, an Alfa Romeo or a BMW.” There is also no exception that says “the limit does not apply if you are overtaking a cyclist who is travelling at or more than the speed limit.” Nor does it cease to apply if you are late for work/picking up the kids/getting home in time for your favourite TV show. The only time the speed limit does not apply is if you are on a bicycle. If you want to travel faster than the speed limit, ride a bike. If you have good reason for exceeding the speed limit in your car, such as you are racing home because your children are being menaced by an angry lion, whilst on fire, you should probably have asked the police to attend on your behalf.
  • You would not overtake a car that was signalling right 5m before the junction and was in the process of pulling out: don’t overtake a cyclist doing the same thing. We’re not pigeons. We’re not street furniture. We’re not mere obstacles to be dodged at the last possible instant with the minimum amount of clearance. There’s a person on that bike, with a family and a life and an adrenaline gland that gets far more use than it really should because a significant portion of drivers out there can’t see past the edges of their own peer group. Don’t be one of those myopic elbow-polishers. It’s not big and it’s not clever and it’s not going to get you where you’re going any faster.
    Every time you overtake another vehicle you are increasing the risk for both of you. When it’s a bike the rider is not protected by three quarters of a metric tonne of steel and plastic and you don’t get to make that sort of risk alteration without due consideration. Squeezing past anywhere is A Very Bad Thing: doing it while the cyclist is attempting to turn right is an indication that you are a turd who deserves to have unpleasant things happen to your procreation equipment.
  • I do understand that some of you drivers out there have a queue fetish. I mean, it’s obvious. You can always tell: they’re the ones who go racing past at high revs when there’s a traffic jam about 50m ahead, where they’ll sit, marinating in their own impatient juices while the cyclist they’ve just cut up merrily cruises to the front of the line. Because you can do that on a bike. Bikes rock and they so rule.
    Still. Each to his own. Rule 34 and all that. If you get a kick out of being frustrated in a jam then that’s what floats your boat. I suppose it might be a form of masochism, like being tied up by a person you really fancy and teased for three hours before being sent home without so much as a lick. Just, if you’re going to jump in front so you can spend that bit of extra time in the jam, please try to be considerate about it and give the cyclist you’re overtaking plenty of room.
  • Cyclists are allowed to filter through traffic and they are allowed on the road. If this bothers you, please fill out the following butthurt report form and submit it by folding it into a paper aeroplane and throwing it from your nearest tall building. Santa Claus will intercept it and make sure it is delivered to the appropriate authority: i.e. your mum.
  • Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

    Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

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Bike:car

by on May.05, 2010, under Cycling

avatar One of the fine, upstanding members of the League of Gentlemen Cyclists found this image showing how many folded Bromptons can fit into a single car parking space:

Bromptons filling a car parking space

As a regular cycle commuter, not to mention all-round cycling obsessive, I am annoyed, quite a lot of the time, by the crass, proprietorial, territorial behaviour I witness from some drivers — not all of them, but a good proportion. The road tax accusation being a case in point. I think this image neatly illustrates why any form of taxation for cyclists is beyond ridiculous — not least because there are plenty of cars now that are not required to pay vehicle excise duty, and on the same basis requiring cyclists to pay tax for using their bikes on the road would be a level of insanity the likes of which even God has never seen.

Sorry. Came over a bit Stilgar there.

I was at a training course recently in which the frankly astonishing fact was presented that something like 33% of the copper found in the San Francisco Bay comes from cars; the brakes, to be precise. Our global dependency on the automobile has environmental, health and economic impacts far beyond the obvious. It’s not just about noise, traffic and the KSI stats.

Although, when you read that there has been a case in which a driver killed a cyclist and the judge said it wasn’t dangerous driving, even though he was on the opposite side of the road and doing 20mph more than the speed limit, you have to wonder whether the morons out there who act like driving a car is their unalienable right will ever get just how uneven the cost:benefit ratio really is.

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