Trees And Leaves

You may have noticed that I’m a bit obsessed by trees and leaves. Particularly at this time of year when, if you’re lucky, the sun beats down out of an icy blue sky and the colours of the leaves leap out. The rich reds, the stinging yellows, I love the rainbow of foliage this time of year.

If you’re a fan of vivid nature, click the pic above for some arboreal shots taken in Allestree and Oakwood.

Fifth Anniversary US Antiwar Protests

October 2007 Antiwar Protest

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in demonstrations against the war in Iraq in cities across the US.

Rallies took place in a dozen cities, with the biggest crowds gathering in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

They were timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of a vote by the US Senate to authorise the Iraq invasion.

Those taking part, who included relatives of servicemen fighting in Iraq, urged the US congress to cut off funding for the war.

An estimated 10,000 people joined a march in Chicago and in San Francisco there was an even greater turnout.
(Source: BBC News)

It’s pretty easy to be an antiwar protestor in the UK. Even though we are protesting against the actions of our government, we do so in a cultural background that’s far more left-wing than that of the US. Here, we don’t have the same level of ‘my country, right or wrong’ as that which seems the norm in America. Over there, simply to exercise your democratic right to protest can get you labelled as “un-American” by the neo-Nazis who control much of the media discourse.

So, my admiration goes out to all the thousands upon thousands of Americans who marched in these latest protests. Well done, all of you. It takes real courage to stand up for peace and freedom in a media culture so skewed towards war and profit, so biased against the voice of the people.

This is my fave bit from the article:

One of the national co-ordinators of the protests, Leslie Kielsen, told Reuters that the “half a trillion” dollars spent on the war was money that could have been used for education, social housing and to feed the hungry.
(Source: BBC News)

Democracy – ain’t it beautiful?

Why I Love My Stylophone

Guess what I bought today:

Yep! A STYLOPHONE!

It may not mean much to you but it’s a slice of my childhood. I wanted one for ages and, after much pestering, I got one when I was nine or maybe ten. I played and played that little box. I composed maudlin elegies and triumphal marches which, had they been preserved by sympathetic white-coated EMI engineers, would have made humanity weep, laugh and gnash its collective choppers in a wild-eyed funk. Alas, nothing remains of this output… only my memories…

Yes, I loved my Stylophone.

Unfortunately, I broke it.

This was in the phase of my life where I was taking everything apart but hadn’t quite figured out how to put it back together again. A year later, I took apart a transistor radio and actually managed to re-assemble it, none the worse apart from some suspicious scratches around the casing. Had I opened up my Stylophone at 11 or 12, it would have been fine. But I was a little too early and, yes, it was fucked.

Ever since then, a corner of my soul has missed my hornet-toned first electronic instrument. Imagine both how happy and sad I was to hear Stylophone all over Kraftwerk’s 1981 Computer World album. If I hadn’t broken mine, I could have played along! Waah!

The decades passed by… synths came and went. Always, part of me pined for a Stylophone. But I never bought one on Ebay or elsewhere because… well, I don’t know why, really. That seemed a bit too cold. Stylophones are warm, idiosyncratic beasts, their personalities as individual and unpredictable as the drift of their tuning. I didn’t want to just go and get one off Ebay.

I wanted one to find me.

Today, browsing round the current hobby-horse of apathetic, apolitical whingers, I went into a shop.

And there was a Stylophone.

Brand new.

In a box.

For fifteen quid.

How could I resist? There was a rainbow, rooted right in that shop. And at the end of the arch was my little electronic friend.

He’s been updated a bit – there’s now a swanky socket named ‘MP3,’ to which one attaches ones iPod. The sound of doing that is, of course, gratifyingly terrible. (But it’s still better than all you pesky kids playing music on your goddamn phone speakers. Where’s the bass? GET A GHETTOBLASTER! Suckas!)

I’ve been playing it all evening. It’s as magical as I remembered. The stuttering contacts, the glisses from white to black note (damn hard to perform on a normal keyboard), the honking, farty, wobbly loveliness of it all. It’s one of the best instruments I have ever played, it’s so expressive and very human.

I’ve recorded a little demo tune for you, so you may revel at its stentorian wonder. Here’s the Stylophone, all by itself:

Stylo 1

And here it is in a slightly more musical context:

Stylo 2

If you already own the best album ever made, the tune should be recognisable. If you don’t, check the ID3 tags.

I’m now tempted to do a whole tour only using my Stylophone. And maybe that mousemat that plays horrendously distorted drums. Watch out, Scandinavia!

I think I’m in love!

(Click here for a gallery of Stylopics!)

Rockboxing Your iPod

Rockbox

I was fed-up with my iPod.

It had been crashing a lot. And it refused to sync tunes to iTunes. Every now and then, it’d make clicky noises, those cockroach-type noises that, for me, signal the HD being on the way out.

So…

I thought ‘what the fuck’ and decided to hack it. After all, how much worse could I make it?

This cavalier attitude coupled with insomnia brought me to Rockbox:

Rockbox is an open source firmware for mp3 players, written from scratch. It runs on a wide range of players:

* Apple: 1st through 5.5th generation iPod, iPod Mini and 1st generation iPod Nano
(not the Shuffle, 2nd/3rd gen Nano, Classic or Touch)
* Archos: Jukebox 5000, 6000, Studio, Recorder, FM Recorder, Recorder V2 and Ondio
* Cowon: iAudio X5, X5V, X5L, M5 and M5L
* iriver: H100, H300 and H10 series
* SanDisk: Sansa c200, e200 and e200R series
* Toshiba: Gigabeat X and F series (not the S series)
* More players are in development

Why should you run Rockbox? Click here to find out.

Now, it should have been a relatively quick and easy process. There’s a great, simply-written guide that babys one through the whole business They even provide Mac and PC installers to do the grunt work. If you can click a button, you can install Rockbox.

However

I’m a bit thick. And I started doing the crossgrade (actually, it’s more accurate to say upgrade) far too late. So, a combination of stupid and sleepy lead me to having an iPod that, for a couple of hours, was a silent golem, waiting for ‘truth’ to be inscribed on its forehead. Or at least HD.

Then I worked out that I hadn’t set the volume destination properly so, while the installer had installed the initial booty thingy, it hadn’t installed any other essential files. At least, I think that was it…

Once I worked this out, Rockbox booted:

This as a tremendous moment of satisafaction. I was lambent with pride, even though I actually hadn’t done anything, really. I certainly hadn’t done any true, down-and-dirty hacking. Or coding.

Then I started exploring the swish themes:

Ooooh! And what about:

Awwww, how lovely is that? The little brown tape bit on the left goes along as the song plays! 🙂

Should you install Rockbox? I’d say ‘yes’ provided you agree with all of the following:

* You don’t mind the possibility of something going wrong (in which case, you use iTunes to do a restore)
* You like tinkering with things
* You don’t mind manually managing your songs, using drag-and-drop (no iTunes sync… not that I had it anyway)
* You don’t blame me if your iPod explodes or your hair catches fire
* You don’t email me asking where the any key is
* You don’t email me when it all goes tits-up
* You don’t email me

So, if you can confidently agree with all the above, have a go! I’m now enjoying crossfading, free games (Invadrox is brilliant!), lovely, lovely themes and the feeling of smugness at having successfully made an existing device loads more interesting.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what Rockbox is capable of so far but I’m already loving it and boring all my mates with it! 😀

Thorntons’ Treats

Amidst all the fake-lefty caterwauling and whining about the Westfield, the complainers seem to have missed one fact.

We now have a Thorntons Cafe!

Yes, THORNTONS! Yet another evil multinational megacorp, cackling and planning world choccy domination from… er… Alfreton. Derbyshire.

Can you not see how their perfidy is growing, homogenising the choc world?? Why, in only a mere 96 years, they’ve spread from their birthplace in Sheffield all the way to Westfield, Derby. That’s over forty miles!

And look what corporate toxins they throw in our faces:

It makes me SICK! I’m going to boycott the Westfield from now and instead go up the lovely, rustic end of town. You know, where Walkabout and Bet Fred are. It’s lovely round there, so charming and quaint!

But click here if you want to be nauseated by more Westfield mass culture! YOU CONSUMERIST SHEEP! BAAAAAA!

EDIT!

This just in from grumpy Mascot Fight bloke, Sean:

Oi!

not to be pedantic or anything, but in your thorntons rant you said they’d gone from sheffield to as far as derby. however, i would like to refer you to my comment in the last few weeks that thorntons ‘has been in newcastle for years. with a cafe!’

i now see this as PROOF, were it needed of their obvious ploy to takeover the world. with your help! 😉

and they’re in london! thats quite far, what you say, sir?

sean.

I say that Sean doesn’t understand lying for comic effect. I’m looking forward to his letters to Monty Python bemoaning the inaccuracy of their Camelot set…