Interesting Lineup

Interesting generation-spanning lineup at the British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park: Green Day headlining, with the lower-on-the-bill bands including The Damned and The Stranglers. Interesting questions of seniority there.

They should really get Stiff Little Fingers as well, for the full High Fidelity vibe.

Some Town

There’s a new podcast out from the makers of Serial. Seems like it’s going to be very interesting.

It’s called S-Town, which stands for “shit town,” but I guess they don’t want to put a swear in the title. They don’t bleep anything out in the show, though.

It’s about a guy from rural Alabama who contacts reporter Brian Reed to tell him about the corruption in his town. Supposedly the Sheriff’s department is so corrupt that a few years ago a son of a rich family murdered someone, and it was so thoroughly covered up that there’s no trace of it. That’s what John says, anyway.

Eventually Reed starts to look into it, and the story begins. I’m only an episode and a half in and it’s pretty compelling so far. There are seven episodes in total, and, Netflix-style, they’re all available now. Well worth a listen, I’d say.

The Night Before

I couldn’t let this night pass without acknowledging that tomorrow will be the start of us losing something great. In years to come the names of Cameron, May, Farage, Gove, etc, will be reviled, of course, but that doesn’t help us now. It doesn’t help us prevent the slide into the abyss of small-minded, inward-looking ugliness that I fear we are headed for.

I don’t want to see these islands turning into the nightmare archipelago that they could if we let the insane clowns in government lead us into a cesspit of deregulation, rejection of human rights, and economic disaster.

I reject all that. I choose optimism.

I choose to believe that most people are basically decent and want the best for everyone, even if a small minority of them made a bad choice in voting, guided by liars.

I choose to believe that there is such a thing as progress in society, in culture. It isn’t constant and it isn’t guaranteed, but its arc does bend towards justice.

I choose to believe that the forces of backwardness — the racists, the misogynists, the homophobes, and everyone who condemns their fellow humans for what they are, what they believe, how they live or who they love — that those people will be washed up by the tides of history, left flapping on the shores of the future, and waste away.

Tomorrow we will still be in the European Union, but no longer of it. Brexit can still be stopped, but if it isn’t, if it goes ahead at full crashing speed the way the Tories seem to want: I choose to believe that we can still be the open-minded, welcoming society that I know we are.

And one day, Europe, we’ll come back.

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. []