Singles

I was thinking about the loss of singles. Not individual tracks released individually: that still happens, of course; perhaps more than ever. But back in the days of actual, physical singles — 45 rpm records, or even CD singles later — you didn’t just get an individual track.

I’m here to celebrate — and maybe mourn the loss of — the B-side.

When you bought a single you usually knew what the main song was going to be, because you had heard it on the radio, or at least read a review. Or you might just know and trust the artist’s work, and believe that the chosen track would be worth your 75p.1

But there was always the promise that there would be something good on the other side, too.

Often, of course, the B-side track was really “B” quality, or lower. It was genuinely just filler. Which was always a shame. I remember flipping Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army,” to find out what “My Funny Valentine” was like. I hated it, and never listened to it again. Though as (in other versions) it’s something of a jazz classic, it’s possible that I’d like it more now.

The Members’ classic “The Sound of the Suburbs” was backed by something called “Handling the Big Jets,” which always sounded slightly rude to us2 and I think was an instrumental.

But for every one of those you could get a “Jail Guitar Doors,”3 or a “The Prisoner.”4 Or almost any Beatles single.

Then there were double A-sides, wherein both sides were supposed to be worthy of being playlisted. They always felt like slightly better value for your hard-earned pocket money.

And when CD singles came along they usually had three tracks, raising them arguably into the EP category.

But now, tracks are realised for streaming or download, completely on their own. It’s very sad, and I’m sure they must feel lonely. Plus if you’re buying the download and you want what would have been the B-side, you have to pay for each individual track.

I was going to say, as well, that if you search for single on your streaming service of choice, you only get one track. But I found out the other day that’s not quite true. I wanted to listen to “Elephant Stone,” by the Stone Roses; and in fact the B-side, “The Hardest Thing In the World” was listed too. Its “Album” tag was given as “Elephant Stone — Single (2009)”.

Which apart from the wrong date (and ok, it could’ve been a reissue5) is not a bad example of misused metadata. Or maybe just misnamed: not every gathering or carrier of a group of songs or musical pieces is an “album”.

Or maybe that’s just a change of meaning: what we used to call a single or an EP is now just a very short album.


  1. Only 50p, in fact, when I first bought them. []
  2. We were schoolboys. []
  3. The B-side of “Clash City Rockers,” of course. []
  4. B-side of “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.” What, you think I’m not going to talk about Clash singles? []
  5. But how you should give the date for reissues is a whole nother conversation []

Publishers and Sinners

Borrowing that title from (what used to be) a regular section in Dave Langford’s Ansible newsletter.

The publishing sin in question, though, is quite astonishingly egregious, if the story is true. And I have no reason to doubt it.

There’s a book called Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. I read a review of it a year or so back and thought it sounded really interesting. But I didn’t get round to trying to get it at the time.

Something reminded me of it recently, and I tracked it down, at least to the publisher’s site that I linked to there. But I wanted to buy a copy on Kindle, and Amazon had no sign of it. This is relatively rare nowadays. Especially in SF, surely.

I tried again a couple of times, but to no avail. There are a few chapters available on the Tor website; and they were one of the first major publishers to really push ebooks without DRM, so you’d expect something there, but no.

I think you can get a Nook copy at the site above, but Nook? I mean, come on.

Anyway, eventually I duckducked in the modern style, which is to say I just typed the question: “why is ‘too like the lightning’ not available on kindle”.

I was led to a Reddit AMA with the author, wherein she said this:

That [making the book available on the UK Kindle store] can only happen if a UK publisher decides to publish it. Unfortunately UK publishers rarely publish female SF authors; a lot of them feel strongly that only male SF authors are likely to sell. If you want it to come out in the UK Kindle store, the best option is to write a quick e-mail to a couple of your favorite UK SP publishers to tell them you’re eager for these books — hearing from readers makes a big difference when publishers are considering picking up an author for localization.

Emphasis mine. If this is true — and again, I have no reason to doubt her word — I am beyond horrified that such an attitude can be prevalent at UK publishers. In 2017.

Obviously what I want to do now is to buy a physical copy, here in the UK. It’s listed on Amazon UK, but it’s not clear whether it’s an import from the US, or what. (Also very strange is the author’s credit in that entry: “Assistant Professor of History Ada Palmer.” It even makes it into the URL.)

As well as blatant sexism, this is an example of the ridiculous regionalism that publishers still try to force onto the internet age. Also film and TV companies. Luckily Apple stopped the music business doing that.

Bits don’t see borders. And neither should we. But that’s very much another conversation.

Actually, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to see if I can order it from my local bookshop. Support your local, as well fight sexism in a small way.

Demo

Sadly, I couldn’t make it to the anti-Brexit/pro-Europe demo today. I had a work thing that ended up taking most of the day. But I was there in spirit.

Last night was Comic Relief, which included Red Nose Day Actually. I thought the speech by Hugh Grant’s prime minister character was amazingly relevant to the times. Obviously that was intended, generally; but specifically it had resonance with London’s reaction to the Westminster terrorist attack.

Also about that, Mitch Benn has written a song called “London’s Had Worse,” in which he sings of our resilience and the attacker’s crapness. Not his best song, but no bad.

Podcast Ads and Pricing

Podcast adverts are the least offensive of all types of advertising. Because even though they’re in your ears, they’re not in your face.

I’m talking, here, about the sponsorship kind, wherein the podcast host reads some ad copy in their own voice. Sometimes copy supplied by the company, sometimes their own words. Sometimes they just read plainly, sometimes it’s more entertaining.

But it’s always relevant and vetted. I’m more likely to look at the product or service mentioned in a podcast that I listen to regularly than any that’s advertised on a website. Especially if the website uses a popup.

And if you don’t want to listen to the sponsor’s message, podcast players make it vey easy to skip forward.1

One organisation that has been sponsoring a lot lately is Away Travel. They make a range of modern, four-wheel, hardshell suitcases. Their carry-on versions have the innovation of including a battery and a couple of USB ports, so you can charge your phone, iPad, etc, while you’re at the airport.2

They seem like they make a pretty good product. But the strange thing is that the podcast hosts all stress how inexpensive the cases are. But they’re not. The biggest one is nearly £300. John Lewis sells a similar Samsonite model for £179, for example.

It’s possible that the Away one is tougher, of course. Impossible to tell without seeing them side by side. But I don’t think Away should be trying to sell themselves on cheapness when they’re significantly more expensive than a high-end brand. Embrace the expense; go for the luxury market. Or something.

It works for Apple.


  1. Unless you’re using AirPods, I guess. []
  2. Or elsewhere, obviously. But airports, with the long time you spend waiting around in them, are notorious burners of batteries. []

Laptop Ban Stranger Than I Thought

Today’s Washington Post WorldView newsletter throws more light, a lot of shade, and a lot more confusion onto the ban I linked to last night, on taking laptops and tablets in hand luggage from certain airports.

First, I didn’t realise that the list of affected airports is different between the UK and the US. Second, for the US, it is just a small set of airports, not all airports in the affected countries. The UK takes the broader approach — but for a different set of countries.

The most interesting point to my mind is that this may all be Trump trying to help American businesses:

When pressed by reporters, officials in both countries said the measures were not a response to a specific threat, but rather the result of intelligence assessments that concluded groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are seeking new methods to sow terror in the skies, possibly through hidden bombs in electronic equipment.

And later:

Farrell and Newman suggested Tuesday’s order is an example of the Trump administration “weaponizing interdependence” — using its leverage in a world where American airports are key “nodes” in global air travel to weaken competitors. My colleague Max Bearak detailed how this could be a part of Trump’s wider protectionist agenda. In February, President Trump met with executives of U.S. airlines and pledged that he would help them compete against foreign carriers that receive subsidies from their home governments.

“A lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league,” said Trump at that meeting. “I’ve heard that complaint from different people in this room. Probably about one hour after I got elected, I was inundated with calls from your industry and many other industries, because it’s a very unfair situation.”

So unfair. But if that’s what’s behind it, what the hell does our glorious leader get out of going along with a slightly modified version of it? It’s certainly not to protect British airlines, as they (unlike American airlines) are affected by the ban. Maybe my “lapdog” dig was exactly right. For years Tony Blair was referred too as George W Bush’s poodle. Maybe Theresa May is adopting the same role for Trump. Which is a horrifying thought.

Another WaPo article contradicts all that, though, suggesting that the whole thing might be based on some credible concerns:

The U.S. restrictions were prompted by a growing concern within the government that terrorists who have long sought to develop hard-to-detect bombs hidden inside electronic devices may have put renewed effort into that work, according to people familiar with the matter

But it asks the question and fails to get a satisfactory answer, “Why not ban all electronics on flights, then?”

People familiar with the discussions said the restrictions were designed to defeat the particular type of threat that is of greatest concern: the possibility that terrorists could smuggle explosives inside electronics and manually detonate them once on a plane.

Even if that makes sense (after all, its not like a computer in the hold is (or could hide) some kind of timing device): why just from a strange subset of airports, even in the countries of concern?

And if it’s all based on a real threat, why the US/UK difference?

They also raise the real concern that journalists, activists, and just ordinary citizens, will be separated from their personal information, leaving it under the control of unknown people.

Buckle up, folks, this ride is only going to get stranger and more unpleasant.

Stupid Fawning Lapdog Government Apes the US Again

UK flight ban on electronic devices announced - BBC News(BBC News)
Laptops and tablets will not be allowed on some inbound routes from the Middle East and North Africa.

Our glorious leaders have seen fit to copy Trump and his cronies with banning laptops and tablets on planes — from certain countries. The only possible reason for this madness is to punish people for coming from (or visiting) those countries.

Worse, though: such a ban is only going to:

  1. make things even more confusing and complex at airport security, and
  2. get extended until it covers all flights, everywhere. You wait and see.

Holding Pattern

I’ve been working on a more substantial piece about music and gigs and nostalgia and my gig-going plans for the year, but it’s getting long, and possibly out of hand. So I’m going to delay it till later.

Consider this a placeholder.

And so it’s got some content of value, let me just draw your attention to the National March to Parliament next Saturday, 25th March. Meet from 11:00 in Park Lane.

I don’t know if it can do any good, but if you believe, as I do, that Brexit must be stopped, then you should try to be there.

Reading Materials

You’re probably wondering what’s happened to my books posts. Surely I must have read something since January (and I thought I’d posted about two books this year, but apparently not).

Thing is, after the Twin Peaks book, I started something rather large. I’m over 200 pages in, which means I’m about one-sixth of the way through it.

It is Alan Moore’s Jerusalem: a monster hardback with tiny print. I picked it up when I went to see him interviewed by Stewart Lee, back in November. I could have got either the hardback or a slipcased three-volume paperback version. Almost as soon as I started reading I wished I’d gone for the latter, because it’s so damn heavy to hold.

So it’ll take me quite a while till I’m ready to write about it. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, though.