Culture Me Other


I’ve been putting all my music onto the computer. Which has been quite interesting. I’ve discovered I have an entire day’s worth of music which the computer classifies as Electronica/Dance (and I haven’t ripped all of it). Considering that, even to me, a lot of it sounds rather the same, I probably don’t need any more. Ever.

Currently playing: ‘Reniform Puls’, from an album called Draft 7.30 by Autechre.

But then the classification system is only erratically helpful. Charles Aznavour and Orchestra Super Mazembe may both be foreign – if you don’t happen to be French or Congolese – but that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to stuff them into the same pigeonhole. And why are two of the Kraftwerk albums classified under something other than ‘Electronica’? And by what conceivable definition can Jamiroquai be called ‘rock’?

Still, there’s endless potential here for entertaining geekiness, making up obscure playlists like ‘music to cry into your gin by’.


Reality. Sort of.

I’ve been watching The X Factor, and I was sure I’d met one of the contestants somewhere. University? A friend’s party? I spent some time trying to place her before resorting to Google – whereupon it turned out that she was in the first series of Pop Idol.

Television – almost like actually having friends.


oh to be a Tory, now October’s here

It must have been pretty dismal being a Conservative party activist over the past 12 years (apparently 1993 was the last time they had an approval rating of over about 30%). But what fun it must be to be at the party conference this week! Lots of opportunity to gossip, a feeling that for a moment the news spotlight is on you, that you have the opportunity to make a difference. It would almost be worth having to listen to Francis Maude and Theresa May telling you that you’re crap and outmoded.

Surely they need to pick a leader relatively untainted by the gloom of the past decade. Ken Clarke was the right choice in 1997, but it’s too late for him now. Ditto Rifkind. David Davis looks suspiciously like IDS Mk2 (in fact, wasn’t he nearly IDS Mk1?). So that leaves Fox and Cameron. Liam Fox has chosen to distinguish himself by dropping hints about leaving the EU, so he’s already made himself sound like just another rabidly inward-looking Tory. I haven’t really seen much of David Cameron yet, although he’s been getting some flattering buzz in the media over the past week. If nothing else – he’s new. They really need someone new.

Me Other

self portrait attempt #1

Well, I’ve made my first attempt at a self-portrait in Gimp. It was kind of fun – it’s been years since I tried doing any drawing/painting, computer or otherwise. The first thing you’ll notice about it is that it’s purple. That wasn’t what I started out intending to do – I was just playing around and wanted a midtone background so I could use both light and dark colours on it. Something like this:

[self-portait in purple, beige and black]

Anyway, I started adding colours for the hair and so on, and found I’d made it very difficult for myself to change the skin colour without fucking the whole thing up. There’s probably a cunning techy way of doing it involving replacing colours, but I didn’t find it. There’s also a brute force way of doing it – painting over the purple with another colour – but I couldn’t face it, today at least. I may use this as a starting point and try to rescue it later, but I think I’ll probably start again on a new version. I’m quite tempted to try a Rembrandt-esque approach – start with a very dark ground and build up the picture with lighter colours. Just to see what it’s like.

[self portrait with mauve skin]

Me Other

Old computers

I know there’s not much more boring than people going on about how much computers have changed. But having just bought a new computer, I’m in the mood to do it anyway. The very first computer we had in the house was my brother’s ZX81:

[picture of ZX81]

The ZX81 came with 1Kb of RAM. As a comparison, my current computer has 512Mb, so that’s approximately 500000 times more powerful. However, help was at hand if you needed to do more demanding tasks – we had a memory expansion pack for the ZX81 that boosted it to a heady 8Kb of memory. No hard disk, obviously – it used audio cassettes to store software.

Despite 3D Monster Maze, which seemed genuinely scary at the time (yeah, I know, it seems a bit pathetic now, but I was only about 8, and computers were still a brave new world for all of us) the appeal of the ZX81 was basically the idea of having a computer at home and learning how to do simple programming. The next computer, a Spectrum, actually had some quite good games. Relatively speaking. But then it did have a mighty 48K of memory, and a colour display. There’s a review from 1982 which you can read here that draws attention to its “powerful colour and sound commands”. As you can see, we were easily impressed in those days:

Anyway, my brother and I did eventually (1988, probably) buy a proper computer – an Apple Macintosh IIcx. We shelled out a bit extra to get 8Mb of RAM and the ability to display 256 colours; I can’t remember exactly what it came to, but it would have been three or four thousand pounds, so my new computer has 64 times as much memory for less than a third of the cost. Not even allowing for inflation. Those were the days when I was pretty excited by the very idea that you could store samples of sound on a computer, and we used to have all these little two or three second snatches of dialogue from Monty Python and 2001 and suchlike. The idea that one day you’d be able to store your entire music collection on your computer’s hard disk, let alone on a little thing like an iPod, would have astounded me. Or at least, even then it was pretty clear that things were moving quickly, so perhaps I wouldn’t have been astounded. Impressed, though. Still, even if I wasn’t able to edit movies on it, it was up to the job of running Freehand and Word and so on – all of which I naturally pirated from my school’s computing or design departments. In fact, I imagine we got a Mac in the first place because the schools we went to used them. Those were the days when Macs were much much nicer than PCs (which were referred to as ‘IBM compatible’ at the time, before Microsoft took over the world), because PCs still made you do everything through the command line.

Anyway. About the only relic I’ve got from that time is this self-portrait from 1989 (when I was 14), which I did on a piece of software called Digital Darkroom. I didn’t actually use DD for photo-editing; apart from anything else, I didn’t have a scanner and digital cameras hadn’t been invented. I just used it as a painting program. The picture is in black and white, not because of any aesthetic choice on my part but because with only 256 colours to play with, it was bloody difficult to work in colour. It seems to be slightly posterised – I’m sure it originally had more shades of grey – but I can no longer open the original file and this version is the only one I’ve got:


I may try to do a new self-portrait in Gimp; it would be a good way of getting a feel for the software. I’m not sure I’ve still got the knack of drawing with a mouse, but computers are so much more forgiving than, for example, paints.

One final thought – I appreciate that computers have come a long way since then, and I’m very much enjoying my lovely fast new machine, but is it really necessary that the built-in calculator is using 15Mb of memory? 15Mb? I used to run Word and Freehand together on a machine which only had a total of 8Mb.