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Reassessing

I never cared that much for Joe Cocker’s highly-rated cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” but I just saw it on BBC Four’s … Sings the Beatles, a programme whose title tells you exactly what it’s about.

And… hell, yeah: it’s really good. Apparently Steve Winwood and Jimmy Page are on the recording. But we won’t hold that against it.1 Sometimes all you need is the passage of time; sometimes it’s just about the mood you’re in. But it’s often worth giving things another chance.2

Now it’s on Petula Clark’s weird-arse version of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” during which the caption tells us that Petula is Britain’s best-selling ever female artist. I’m guessing this was made before Adele.


  1. What? The Punk Wars never ended. 

  2. I guess. But how far do you go? Napoleon Dynamite? I think not. 

Footnotes Revisited

Having looked again over yesterday’s piece, I’ve had a slight change of heart.

As I’m sure you noticed, I made a comment in the footnote to the effect that I thought that my misremembering of Neuromancer‘s famous opening line was better than the actual one. I no longer think that’s the case.

Gibson obviously knew what he was doing. “The sky above the port” is more euphonious than my “over the port.”

Glad we got that sorted out.

Under the Television Skies

In The Colour of Television Jack Deighton questions the worth of the famous opening line of William Gibson’s Neuromancer:

The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.1

Jack questions its meaning, and describes it as “an author, straining, unsuccessfully, for effect.” I commented:

[D]on’t take it so literally. It was obviously meant to mean “the screen of a television set,” but writing’s all about deleting unnecessary words, as Orwell told us.

I always took it to mean a stormy grey sky. Not literally speckled like an old telly on a channel where there was only static, but that was certainly what he was going for. Imagine that roiling, churning, grey-black-white melange, converted into a sky of a similar colour palette.

It’s so evocative, so memorable, it’s almost poetry.

Plus there’s The Doors connection:

I also always took it as reference to the Doors’ song “My Eyes Have Seen You,” that goes, “… under the television sky! Television sky!”

Lyrics sites — and my ears, this evening — say it’s actually plural: “television skies!” But that doesn’t make any difference.

Anyway, I’ve always loved it — that opening, in particular. I mean, I’m fond of the book, but don’t go back to it that often; but the opening is unforgettable.2

In having a look around before writing this, I discovered that there’s an extract on Gibson’s site, which reminds me that its all that good. Reading that extract, what think of most is the beats, or Hunter S Thompson.

And interestingly it isn’t done with the sky after the first line:

you couldn’t see the lights of Tokyo for the glare of the television sky

and:

By day, the bars down Ninsei were shuttered and featureless, the neon dead, the holograms inert, waiting, under the poisoned silver sky.

Which last point suggests that Jack’s over-literal concern about the meaning of the opening might have an answer: maybe the sky was literally that staticy colour of an old TV between channels. If so, I don’t think we ever got a reason for it. But it’s implied there has been at least one war in the not-too-distant past of the novel.

Opening lines are so important. To my mind Gibson’s is up there on that bright, cold day in April, just around Barstow on the edge of the desert, with an exploding grandmother.

But to each their own, of course.


  1. I always remember it as “… over the port…”, which frankly I think is better. 

  2. Even if I misremember it, as described previously. 

Tory MP Claims Astrology Could Help the NHS

This should be enough to disbar someone from public life for good: Astrology could help take pressure off NHS doctors, claims Conservative MP — The Guardian. Though I notice the article is two years old. It just came to my attention via Facebook one of Twitter’s occasional emails.

David Tredinnick said astrology, along with complementary medicine, could take pressure off NHS doctors, but acknowledged that any attempt to spend taxpayers’ money on consulting the stars would cause “a huge row”.

Getting his defence in early, he goes on to say that his likely critics (he names Brian Cox specifically):

“… are also ignorant, because they never study the subject and just say that it is all to do with what appears in the newspapers, which it is not, and they are deeply prejudiced, and racially prejudiced, which is troubling.”

Nice tactic: he knows he’s talking bullshit, so accuses people of racism. Last time I checked, astrology wasn’t a race.

Nor was stupidity.

And in the unlikely event that anyone reading this thinks I’m just being reflexively mean and as bad as the critics he fears, here’s a considered scientific opinion. The only possible known way the positions of the planets and stars at our birth could affect us is by gravity. And while gravity does travel all through the universe, it is very, very weak — the weakest of the fundamental forces. Just look at how hard it was to measure gravitational waves. We were only able to do that in the last year, and it took colliding black holes to make enough of a splash for us to measure.

Is it possible that heavenly bodies affect us in some other, as yet unknown way? Yes. And here’s what science says about that: show us how, and we’ll study it. Demonstrate the mechanism by which this influence happens, and we’ll write down the equations that govern it and learn all about it. We’ll have to throw out all existing models of physics, but if you bring the evidence, that’s what we’ll do.

That’s science.

Memorials

The Quietus reports on a crowdfunding proposal to build a memorial to David Bowie in Brixton. I like the look of it, but they’re going to have to go some to make the required £990,000 in 21 days, given that they’re only at £45,000 now.

In other news, the new series of Broadchurch started tonight. Strong start, powerful stuff. But it now seems weirdly old-fashioned to have to wait a week to see the next episode.

Oscar Action

Went to see Hidden Figures tonight. I absolutely loved it. It’s a feelgood movie about space, computers1 and civil rights. What’s not to like?

And yesterday we saw Moonlight, which is strange and interesting, and while I enjoyed it, I don’t think I got as much out of it as some did. But I spent a couple of hours this morning reading reviews of it, whch I don’t do with every film, so there’s that.

And a couple of weeks ago we saw La La Land. Which is a bit of pointless froth, but is fun enough.

Anyway, that means that on the day before the Oscars I’ve seen three of the nominated films. I don’t think this has ever happened before.

In fact I might never have seen that many Oscar-nominated films in any year at all.


  1. Original and modern meanings. 

More Network Nonsense

More trouble with the home network today. We had a smart electricity meter installed a few days ago. Though without the “smart” part, because they couldn’t get a good enough signal down in our basement. You’d think they’d have considered that possibility in designing them, since that’s the kind of place where a lot of people’s meters are. Anyway, I think it was interfering with our powerline connection.

We have a BT HomeHub as our main router and connection out to the fibre. But the wifi was a bit crap up at the top of house. So about a year back I got a couple of powerline connectors and used them to extend the 5GHz network upstairs, using another router that we had accidentally acquired as the other access point.

It worked fine, until just the other day. The first symptom was that the Sonos app couldn’t connect to the speaker. I did some diagnosis, and everything was just weird. We could mostly connect to the outside world without any trouble, but I couldn’t connect to the HomeHub’s web interface by name. Nor, I think, by IP address. And then in one of my experiments I tried a slightly different IP address (one that shouldn’t have existed on our network), and I found myself at… a Sky box.

Now you know my dislike for that bunch. There’s no way I’d let their networking hardware on my LAN, any more than I’d subscribe to their channels. and in any case, just, what?

I wondered if our network could somehow have got crossed with one of the neighbours’. But it seemed so improbable. The neighbouring network would need to be using the same SSID, at the very least.

As you’d imagine, I started taking components out to try to isolate the problem. With just the BT HomeHub in place, things were back to normal. But as soon as I began adding parts, everything went weird.

Eventually I concluded — guessed, really — that the smart meter might be using powerline itself. We’re supposed to get a screen-based device for monitoring usage, and maybe that communicates with the meter over powerline. And the meter could have an embedded sky router? That seems unlikely, but maybe Sky have the contract to do the phoning home for EDF.

Anyway, since the root of the problem seemed to be at least partly to do with IP address conflicts, I decided to factory-reset everything and rebuild with a different IP address range (I’ve never used 172.16.0.0 before). Along with a new wifi SSID and password.

And so far so good. But I’m having trouble getting the second router to route properly via the first, so upstairs is going to be problematic till I can solve that.

All this is doing, of course, is making me wish that we could get Eeros in the UK. A self-configuring mesh network is exactly what we need, and not all this jerry-rigged nonsense.

Mac Wishing

Those times when you’re typing a document at work on a shonky Windows 7 machine, and longing for your Mac, where you’d have professional text-handling tools, like Marked for previewing Markdown.

Not that you can’t preview, as long as you’ve got a decent text editor such as Sublime Text (well, specifically Sublime). But things are just so much easier with Mac tools.

And I speak as one who has never had the opportunity to use the Mac professionally. I’ve used Windows machines at works since about 1993, and before that green-screen 5250 terminals.

One of these days, though.

Wifi Blues

I didn’t write a post tonight because I spent most of the evening struggling with wifi configuration. And the less said about that, the better.

“Ping” Pong

When the original Unix designers (or, as it turns out, Mike Muuss) chose ping as the name for the command for checking the status of a network host, it was a moment of inspired genius. The word is almost onomatopoeic in its appropriateness.

But nowadays people are pinging each other all over the place: emails, IMs, even phone calls are “pinged” at each other. “I’ll ping you an email,” they say.

The purist in me cringes a little each time I hear it. But it shouldn’t. The word that was so apposite for those early savants is just as suitable today: it communicates a needed concept. And English, of course, is a living, thriving language. So let people get on with it

Just don’t expect me to use it myself.