Monthly Archives: May 2009

25 Albums – The Beloved – Happiness

Part of the 25 Albums project.

Straight away we come to an album which can’t really be seen as a fantastic all time critics choice classic. However, it was very successful at the time, and I played it to death. Yes, I had slightly longer hair. Yes, it was floppy and fringed. Shut up. Shut up.

It was 1990, and I was just finishing my A-Levels, not doing very well, and using the 10 points awarded for an A in General Studies to scrape into Manchester Polytechnic. History tells us that I was utterly unprepared. Still, the soundtrack was good. I copied this album tape-to-tape from a housemate, and from there it went on heavy rotation. I bought the CD just a couple of years ago after dumping all my tapes.

Around this time, many bands were getting themselves all mixed up in the “indie dance” maelstrom. This was one of those albums which represented the “dance” end of the indie dance spectrum. They had started out as jangly popsters, but presumably dropped some E’s and bought a drum machine. Let’s look at the tracklisting, shall we?


Fantastic start to an album. Orchestra tuning up, then the tune and drums, and then the list of interesting stuff you can’t resist trying to memorise and research. Jeffrey Archer? Really? Just because he’s a clever rhyme, I suspect. Straight away I found I could sing along, a common thread with this list of albums. For other songs listing cool stuff, see also REM (not in this list) and Pop Will Eat Itself (later in this list).

Your Love Takes Me Higher

Great tune. I think I actually managed to “perform” this in a kitchen in Leamington Spa, with Paul and his machines. Was it that? Anyway, a bit of a dancefloor stormer with some wah-wah guitar and acid squelches, and was that an orchestra hit? And yes, rhyming “higher” with “desire”. Q magazine would not approve. But then, Q magazine can fuck off. Rockist dickheads.

Time After Time

I think this is the best written song on the album. Girl trouble is the subject, of course, and of course, she sounds like trouble. I was always struck by the lyric,

And if I change to be the way you say you want me
I’ll only be the way I’ve always wanted to

Am I right, guys?

Don’t You Worry

I think I used to fast-forward past this one. Not particularly inspiring.

Scarlet Beautiful

Another danceable tune, with a simple little story about a femme fatale. Great fadeout, looping phrases, synth stabs (again), all sliding to a halt in time for…

The Sun Rising

This was the standout track for many people, mainly serious clubbers looking for a nice soft landing. The famous sample from O Euchari by Emily Van Evera (as also used by Orbital on the bit-too-long Belfast) gave it an ethereal arch over the deep and satisfying dum-dum-dum bassline and the skittering drums. Perfect, I guess, for when you’re in a field in Hampshire at 5.30am. Alright.

I Love You More

Pretty basic little happy love song, dreadful synth horn line in the middle 8, and there you are.

Wake Up Soon

A call to arms? Actually more like conflicting advice about, “[not] telling me that everything must have a reason”, followed by exhortations to, “find something to believe in”. Still, good track.

Up, Up and Away

No beautiful balloons here. The Beloved went on to mine this seam of “rising” imagery for quite some time, with some success. I like this one. Fun, singable lyrics, good groove, nice synth stabs. It almost feels like the end of the album, with the long fade, tune and beats resolving slowly. Like I said, this is an important album, not in the Pitchfork sense, but for me because of where I was and the memories, good and bad, that it inspires. I guess that will be be the case for most of this list, as I slowly crawl my way through it. With any luck my memories will hold out that long.


Ah now, this song. This was a very dreamy track that found it’s way onto a compilation tape I made around that time called “Nice”, which also featured various lovey-dovey songs and tunes. I was a late bloomer in terms of teh ladeez, but boy, did I ever want a girlfriend. I felt like Bernard Black:

“I’ve got to get a girlfriend, just for the summer, until this wears off. She’ll be a summery girl. She’ll have hair. She’ll have summery friends who know how to be outside. She’ll play tennis and wear dresses and have bare feet, and in the autumn, I’ll ditch her, because she’s my summer girl!”

But it was not to be. Not for a long time.

Catalina Birthday Express, April 2009

Cocktails on Catalina - click for the full setMy quest to visit every place associated with a Will Ferrell film continues. I live in San Diego (discovered by the Germans, who called it San Diago, apparently), and for Cassie’s birthday we went to Catalina, home of course to the f*ckin’ Catalina Wine Mixer.

I’d never heard of the place until seeing that movie, and I didn’t realise it was an island off the Californian coast. I assumed it was a nice exclusive place on the coast somewhere. It turns out to be a beautiful place, with just a couple of small towns, and the same seaside atmosphere as Mevagissey and Brixham (or Ventnor), but with Pacific cruise liners dropping by.

We took the catamaran Catalina Express ferry from Long Beach, which is a bit like San Diego, in that it has boats and bars. It took about a hour to get there, first cruising slowly past the Long Island docks where my shipped stuff arrived, then across the channel to Avalon, the main settlement on the island.

Cassie’s parents’ friends had offered us the use of their holiday home there, which was beyond generous. It’s a beautiful place up on the hill, complete with balconies, lovely kitchen and living space, and an electric golf cart to get around. There is a law which only allows a certain number of regular cars on the island, which means there is a waiting list to have one. So most people have a petrol or electric golf cart, which suffices for getting around the town, to the grocery store and so on. It was very welcome, because it’s quite a hilly place – as you’d expect from a rock rising out of the ocean. There were many different styles of cart – regular Yamaha and Club Car models, as well some amusing custom jobs. In addition to the golf carts were many scooters and mopeds, and I noticed there were no regular sedan/saloon cars, only pickup trucks and SUVs. I guess every vehicle has to really earn it’s keep, so no single-purpose stuff here.

The first afternoon on the island we just had a quick look round the house, then set off down the hill in the cart to find food. There are a few places along the main drag on the seafront, and it was lovely to relax on the dock with a drink and take in the bay. Because it was the off-season, things were pretty quiet, and it wasn’t the hottest weather either. It was beautiful though, no question. Click on the photo above for some photos on Flickr.

The second day we rode inland to the Wrigley Memorial Gardens, a horticultural attraction dedicated to William Wrigley Jr, the chewing gum magnate who was so instrumental in the development of the island. The memorial at it’s center, built by his widow, was a striking monolithic thing, with even more great views of the valley leading down to the bay. The garden was full of native and exotic plants, with the cacti catching my eye as usual. Catching my ear were a few woodpeckers, which you could see hopping up and down the palm trunks.

We also went for a tour of the Casino, which has a fascinating history of big band dances, and no gambling whatsoever, due to it being a casino by the original Italian, meaning “place of entertainment”. It had rich decor, innovative internal structure for the time (excuse the enthused engineer), and a huge dancehall above a grand old movie theatre, both still in use. It’s a real icon of the island, and a real landmark of the bay.

Later that evening we took a night-time semi-submersible boat ride out into Lover’s Cove, where the kelp forests cover the rocks. We sat in the belly of the boat, looking through the underwater windows, while the flood lights illuminated the nocturnal community. Spiny lobsters by the dozen, bright orange Garibaldi here and there, and even a couple of lumpy-looking horn sharks. On the way back they switched the floodlights off and you could see the tiny flashes of light as the boat disturbed the bioluminescent plankton. Apparently the hotels on the seafront use seawater to flush the toilets, and if you turn the bathroom light off you can see the flashing lights in the bowl. I’m sure cocktails could have the same effect.

Talking of which, Cassie had her birthday while we were over there, so we celebrated with goldfish bowls full of booze, followed by driving around in a golf cart while giggling.

Nautical Coincidence

I was helping Cassie clear out some stuff, including loads of old papers, and we found the paperwork for when she had her belongings shipped from London to Las Vegas via New York. I don’t know how much unlikely this is, or whether it is a perfectly reasonable coincidence, but her stuff was shipped London-New York in June 2005 on the exact same ship that carried mine London-Los Angeles in June 2008.

If it was the same route I would be less intrigued; they probably just go back and forth constantly. But in 2005 it just went across the Atlantic, whereas in 2008 it crossed the Pond and then nipped through the Panama Canal. What are the chances? Just an intriguing coincidence, or (anecdotal) evidence of a higher power with his/her/its hand at the controls?

Ubuntu On The EeePC, Part 5 – It’s Alive

See also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

With the recent release of Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope (the number means April 2009, and the name is an alphabetical progression – the last release was Intrepid Ibex, with Hardy Heron before it) I was able to grab the Netbook Remix version. This has a few extra bits and pieces to make working on a slower computer with a smaller screen more comfortable. My Asus EeePC fits this bill perfectly, it being a “child’s toy laptop for baby girls” according to Cassie, user of a creaking and lovingly browned Apple iBook G4.

My previous attempts to replace the OS on the netbook met with no success whatsoever. It seemed like there was a problem with the 4GB internal flash drive, which borked the install each time. I don’t know why I expected it to work this time. But it did! I downloaded the (frankly huge) IMG file, followed the clear and straighforward installation instructions, loaded the IMG onto my panda-shaped USB stick, and set it on it’s way. No errors on the drive, all fine. I restarted. Ubuntu loading screen!

One of the big sells for the Netbook Remix is the netbook launcher,  a configurable launcher program that fills the screen with a nice interface for your applications. But it seemed very slow on my box. Too slow to use, in fact. So on the advice of this page I switched it off and installed XFCE instead. That works nice and smoothly. Another good trick is the package maximus, which forces all windows to fill the screen. I like this, even when it blows up a small dialog with just ‘yes’ and ‘no’ buttons. With such a small screen, why bother showing 2 things at once? (This may well come back to bite me.)

To replace the launcher thing, I will install a keyboard launcher such as Launchy or Gnome-Do. I like to avoid the trackpad as much as possible, and plug in a mouse when I have to. Launchy is great on my desktop, and Mercury was fine on the original EeePC Xandros installation, but I want something more slick now, and I’m not tied down to the Xandros repositories any more.

I also removed OpenOffice because it’s quite a hefty suite, and this machine won’t be used for slide presentations, or databases. To replace Writer I installed Abiword, a much more lean but still high-functioning word processor which I can tap away on. To replace Calc I installed Gnumeric for the same reason. I don’t need to replace Impress, Draw or Base.

When I first tried it, the built-in webcam didn’t work, but a quick search told me to check the BIOS setting. I did and I found that it was disabled. I switched it on, tested it and it works fine with Cheese and Skype.

All looking good… then down to earth with a bump. When I tested the sound for Skype, I found that I couldn’t get the sound to work at all, not with music or video or anything. There are some bugs listed regarding this, so I’ll have to check those out later.

At least the damn thing boots into a usable interface now.

The Stupid, It Kills.

There’s lots of dangerous anti-science nonsense going around at the moment, with today’s highlight being that Oprah Winfrey, who controls the minds and opinions of millions of people, has made a deal with anti-vaccination loon Jenny McCarthy to shill her well-meaning but wrong ideas about vaccination and autism.

The Bad Astronomer is very disappointed, and he often uses this graphic to illustrate his feelings about an issue:

The Stupid, It Burns
I think a stronger message is required. Preventable diseases are on the rise around the world. Babies too young to be vaccinated are dying because the children around them have well-meaning but wrong parents who have been taken in by the propaganda mix of scare tactics and anecdote, and decided not to vaccinate their children.

The longer this goes on, the higher the death toll. The Stupid, It Kills.