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Monday, January 28, 2008

Jill Sobule again! 

I was left a comment for my last posting on Jill that led me to her website where I bought some albums of hers that I have not yet heard. I also downloaded a recording of a concert she made last year in a place called Joe’s bar.Wonderful stuff. I wish she’d do something in London.

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I’ve been shopping… 

On Friday, I bought myself a new iPod Nano. I’ve had one for the last 2 years and been very happy with it. However, the screen needs to be replaced and I have too many CDs to fit into 4GB.

The new one is pretty much the same as the old one except that the device itself is a lot smaller, the screen is bigger, the interface slicker and the memory larger. That last was the important one although the other three were good too. Everything else works the same, even the headphones, the connection to my PC and iTunes.

The games, although I don’t plan to use them very often, are a lot better than on my first iPod. The best game on that was a rather clunky version of patience whereas the new one has a flash looking 3-D breakout game.

I had only three criticisms of the new iPod…

Firstly, the time setting insisted that London is on GMT + 1 even now in January. That is wrong. In fact, no country appears to have its time in GMT and time zones switch, like BC to AD, from GMT-1 to GMT+1 with nothing in between.

Secondly, the clicker (the iPod can make a click as it steps through a menu) was either on or off. My old iPod allowed me to have the clicker off, on through the loudspeaker or on through the earphones.

Thirdly, the hold switch, which prevents accidental adjustments to volume or track selection, has been inconveniently moved to the bottom of the device from the top. It’s also a lot more fiddly to use.

I’m glad to say that the first and second of these was fixed with the update the iPod received on its first sync with iTunes so good on Apple there. They were minor points but they were bugging me. I expect more of Apple.

The third one I have to put up with and will get used to the new switch in time.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jill Sobule 

When I toured New Zealand at the end of 1999, our guide, Rich, played some music to the tour group in the bus. One of the songs that caught all of our attentions had lyrics along the lines of "we'll shoot from the bushes ... make love in the bushes". Although Rich told us the names of the artists I never found them but the song stayed in my head enough for me to make enquiries every so often to be able to find it.

Then, some years later, instead of looking for the artists on the Internet, I looked for the lyrics and found Jill Sobule's Resistance Song. On the strength of that I bought her semi-compilation album I Never Learned to Swim and fell in love with her songs and her voice.

I love the utter depair in her voice for Houdini's Box, the fun of I Kissed a Girl and the craziness of Margaret and Heroes.

Just recently I bought the rest of her albums. My favourite song at the moment is Rainy Day Parade on the album Pink Pearl, a song that appears to be about depression and the odd effect that anti-depressants have. The song sounds really upbeat and cheerful but when you listen to the lyrics you realise that she has really messed up her life and is pinning all her hopes on her antidepressants:
My friends, they've all run away
But they'll come back again
And we'll have a celebration
Getting back on my medication
We'll have a rainy day parade


This is a theme she has used in another song, the title track of Happy Town:

I used to sit under a gloomy cloud of gray
And now the sun is out and my
whole world is beige


A close second favourite of mine is Jetpack on the Jill Sobule album, a song about dreaming for a better life:
And if I had a jetpack, I'd burst into your door
take you by the hand to the Jersey shore
and underneath the moonlight, you'd want me even more
cause, I'd have a jetpack


Her early album, Things Here are Different, has tracks on it that are reminiscent of an early Madonna and I have to confess that these are not among my favourites although flashes of the Jill that is to come dominate the album.

Ah, what do I know? I'm not a music reviewer. I know I like Jill's work though. Try it, you might like it too.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Christmas Shopping 

I usually wait until December until I start my Christmas shopping but this year I am going to be really really early. I already have my Christmas cards!

They were, of course, going to be the cards I sent out last year. I saw some really nice cards on the Internet and thought they’d make nice original cards to send out to friends and family. Trouble is that I would need to get them sent over from the States. Fine, I thought, it’s only November; the cards should arrive in plenty of time.

The confirmation email gave a delivery date of December 7th. Fine, I thought. Ages.

December 7th. No cards. 8th – no cards. 9th, 10th, 11th… They didn’t arrive by Christmas. So I contacted the company I ordered the cards from and told them about the no-show. They were extremely apologetic and said they would send some more.

The replacements arrived this week and that’s when I found out what happened. The cards arrived December 12th. However, they weren’t delivered here because there was a customs charge on the package. A little card was delivered in its place. That little card was put in our pigeonhole, already crammed to the gills with a colleague’s “filing”, rendering it invisible.

Last week I was told that there was a delivery note and went looking for it in the pigeonhole but when I got to my desk THERE WAS ANOTHER ONE! The one from the pigeonhole was the one for the parcel from December 12th. The one on my desk was the replacement.

I could do nothing about the earlier parcel as the post office only keep them for three weeks but I paid the custom’s charge on the latest parcel and received the cards today. Not only are these the most expensive Christmas cards I have ever bought but also the earliest. If you receive one in, ooh, about 11 months, feel very honoured.

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Virgin bloody media 

I rang VM today to ask when my phone line would be repaired. The guys that visited the other day did nothing but draw on the path and tell me a work crew would have to call but they haven't yet, hence the call.

The first operator I was connected with was in one of the overseas call centres. I had such difficulty making myself understood that in the end I hung up and called again. This policy of having overseas call centres is just hopeless. What is the point?

This makes me sound like an arch-racist but I don't think I am. When you have a problem it is essential that you speak to someone who understands what you are saying - all of what you are saying, not one word in seven, or one word in two or even 9 words out of ten.

I tried to explain that all I wanted was to find out when my phone line would be repaired. I wasn't asking if it could be repaired or that I wanted to find out if there was a problem with my phone lines. I already knew that there is a problem, what the problem is and how VM intend to fix it. All I needed to know when it would happen.

I did not need someone putting me on hold for minutes at a time while he asked his colleagues what I meant. Nor did I need someone needlessly try to re-diagnose the problem for me.

I hung up when he wanted to test the line. What would be the point of that? I'm at work for a start and the fault is intermittent. Sometimes it rings but with heavy interference and sometimes it's engaged.

When I spoke to someone in the UK, he actually understood, and listened and called me back to give me more details. I actually made a complaint about the overseas call centre. Not about the guy in person but about the policy. It's crap.

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No, it's lilac 

Today, I decided to wear what I think of as a purple shirt. I also decided to read the Metro on the way in to work where I read that today is National Fetish Day and that supporters of the day are encouraged to wear purple.

I read this on the train wearing my purple shirt. Luckily no-one asked me about fetishes. Or horses.

From now on, it's lilac.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Virgin Media 

Tomorrow I will be working from home so that I can be around while Virgin Media's cowboys repair my phone lines. According to the engineer who called a couple of week's back, the lines were probably damaged when my next door neighbour had a similar repair. I will remember to warn her in case her lines go again.

I have never been happy with the service I get from Virgin Media / NTL / Cable & Wireless / Nynex. They took ten weeks to get my TV, telephone and broadband set up when I moved house. They lost Sky One. And they will not correct the address for one of my neighbours.

I keep getting a bill for a Mrs L Sharr living at my address. Only she doesn't. She probably lives at number 38. Only Virgin Media will not change the address because of the Data Protection Act, something that is intended to stop information getting into the wrong hands.

I have called them. I have sent the bills back. I have tried to talk to Mrs L Sharr. I have posted the bills through her letter box. I have, on Virgin Media's advice, written to Virgin Media to ask them to stop.

And I still get her bill. As well as being frustrating, because they are forcing me to do something about this each month, it's also a concern. How do I know that this woman will not result in me getting a bad credit rating if she decides not to pay?

The only way I can see to get something done about this is to threaten to disconnect. That usually gets results.

However, they are such a bunch of arses, I might actually go ahead with it this time.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Opt-out donors 

I have one reservation about Gordon Brown's idea that organ donor schemes should be made opt-out rather than opt-in. It will, of course, mean that more organs are available for donation, which is a good thing.

However, currently people don't carry a donor card for two reasons: they don't want to donate OR they are not allowed to donate.

I am a gay man and I am therefore not even allowed to donate blood. I haven't looked into it but I guess that I am not allowed to donate organs either.

Presumably, I would be obliged to carry a do-not-donate card to make sure my gay organs are not used after my death or perhaps I would have to go on some register. There is my problem. This can be seen as a gay registration act.

I don't see that as a good thing, somehow.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Titanic again 

Yes, I know. I'm obsessed.

However, I wanted to write about the book that I had just finished reading, The Story of the Titanic As Told by Its Survivors, which contains eye-witness accounts from four of the survivors, Lawrence Beesley, a second-class passenger, Colonel Archibald Gracie, a first-class passenger, Commander Lightoller, the Titanic's Second Officer, and Harold Bride, Marconi Operator.

The book was fascinating although heavy going in places. However, I'm not going to review it here. I placed a very short review on my Virtual Bookshelf in Facebook so go there if you want to read it.

However, what struck me in all of the accounts, which I wanted to highlight here, was that each of them very carefully stressed how calm and orderly people were on the decks of the ship as it was sinking. There was no screaming, no panic, no running around and no jumping into the sea until right at the very end.

When the men were asked to put women and children first, they actually stood back and let them.

There is the argument that many people did not believe that the ship would sink until the water was lapping at their shoes but I was wondering how much of a product of its time was this behaviour? I doubt very much if people from 2007 put in the same situation would behave with nearly as much decorum.

Few people I know would remain that calm in the face of certain death. I'm not sure I could.

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