Don't feed the swans

It's been quite the hiatus.

I've moved careers, location and a few notches on my belt since I last posted (all in a positive direction for me), but I'm now in a stable(ish) place and keen to try and get back to writing regularly. With the imminent end of the pandemic lockdown here in the UK it finally feels like there might be something to write about!

I'm currently working my notice in my main job and brushing up my portfolio and I want part of that to be some writing around the tech I use. Expect some stuff about PHP and Laravel, with a focus on testing and thinking about how to use the tools to make something beautiful and stable.

There will be film reviews – first post-lockdown cinema trip is booked for a week Friday to see Nomadland.

There will be noisy music reviews – first post-lockdown gig is booked to see Conan at the Star and Garter on June 25th.

I am trying to settle on a fair and useful online music service at the moment. The problem is in trying to find a service that is subscription-based, has a big catalogue, but is not unfairly skewed to shoveling all of the money at the handful of acts that get big numbers of plays.

When I used to play in bands, my main concern was that people could hear us. I used to annoy my bandmates by giving our demos away for free and encouraging people to tape them from teach other. I didn't really care if we made money as long as we broke even and people listened to us, I was happy. I still feel like this, and I like to think most of the bands that I really want to listen to feel the same. If you're in it primarily to make money then you are a business person, not an artist, and I'm only interested in people who consider what they're doing to be art rather than product. If you can manage to make money and keep integrity then that's awesome, but that's a pretty exclusive club.

My main concern is that where money is being made, I want it to go to the artists with as little taken out as possible. I don't mind paying for music and try to buy as much as my budget will allow, but I also think its detrimental to bands if you can only hear them when you've paid for an album. The author Cory Doctorow once said his biggest enemy was obscurity, not piracy and I think that holds equally well for music as books. The problem is that the best catalogues are in the hands of the worst players, so how do you square getting bands to have the exposure they want while not lining the pockets of people who don't care about the art?

The list below is not (in the slightest) exhaustive, but is my take on where things stand for me at the moment. In decreasing order of acceptability (and with a gulf a mile wide between numbers 2 and 3):

  1. Buy direct The best route for me if I'm buying to keep – try and find the place I can buy direct from the band so they get to keep all the money. I tend to download in the highest quality I can and then convert to .ogg format to store on all my devices. Best of all, go and see them live and buy CDs direct from them there. This relies on me having much deeper pockets than I've got if I want to try lots of new music though...

  2. Bandcamp An excellent site that has a very broad and deep range of music. Has the feel of an indie record store where you might stumble across some real gems among the racks, and has a very good model for purchasing music. Main sticking point is that there are not that many 'successful' commercial acts on there.

  3. Apple Music A tricky call for me, given the terrible business practise, software freedom and tax payment track record of Apple. They do get a couple of things right – privacy of their users and the sheer usability of their devices/OS – but it's hard to give them money knowing that they're still, at heart, a big and greedy corporation who Just Don't Care.

  4. Google Play I've been an on-off subscriber to this for a while and I do like the size of their catalogue, but I'm cutting my Google account in the new year so will be leaving this behind for good. Their recommendations are patchy – if you follow the 'related artists' lists you do tend to end up in a fairly tightly ring-fenced group after a while – but they do put some really good playlists in front of me that help me to find new music outside of my library. I also like the fact that you have to pay to access as there's no taint of advertising and its clearer how the revenue and re-attribution work. I think I would love it were it not in the hands of an exploitative and relentless advertising machine.

  5. Spotify Not a bad service and, in general, a pretty good recommendation engine for finding new stuff. They do seem to have a pretty shitty payment scheme for artists though and I don't like the free tier model at all. When I last looked most people used the free tier and, given that this brings in money to Spotify via advertising, I struggle to see how any of that money ends up with the artists.

  6. Amazon No. Amazon is a blight on society that is abusing its near-monopoly in so many markets. They don't pay their tax, they treat their workers like shit and they use their size to terrorise providers into giving them even more power.

  7. YouTube A very popular place to get music, but an absolute shit-show in terms of fairness, control and attribution. Not to mention the humanity-offending comments.

We've had a phenomenal fall of snow in the last 12 hours. We woke up to a winter wonderland of a back garden, and it's kept on going throughout the day to leave a pretty heavy coat that looks like it's going to be frozen in place over night. My cold has shaken itself off over the weekend, but I've been house-bound again today as a result of the snow and am starting to feel the cabin fever.

One of the things I've found to occupy my time is to install Manjaro Linux on my main laptop – first to try i3 as a window manager, but then adding in KDE Plasma desktop to have a tinker with as well. First impressions of both were: i3 is pretty cool, very bare bones and customisable but overall probably not a daily driver; KDE is tons better than it used to be and is very likely to remain as my home desktop for a while. It's hugely configurable – which is a breath of freash air after the restrictive approach that GNOME has taken in recent years – and has a nice suite of out-of-the-box apps that make it immediately useful if you're not much of a tinkerer. KMail is a good mail client and setting up the whole Kontact suite to sync up with my Nextcloud details was very quick and easy. As long as you kan konquer any kriticisms of every bloody app starting with a 'K', it's definitely worth giving it a spin.

More to come in a week or so when I've had some time to settle in and get used to it.

I've been hit by a sudden and unexpected cold and have been off work today, feeling sorry for myself and watching old Stewart Lee shows and horror movies. One of these was 'Berberian Sound Studio', which I'm not really sure how I feel about just yet.

Spoilers ahead BTW.

It's been on my to-watch list for a while as it has Toby Jones in, and I'm quite a fan of his – particularly his stellar turn as Lance in the criminally underwatched BBC4 show 'Detectorists'. He is great in this, but the real star turn is the creators love of the process of making films. They are clearly in love with the a certain style and a lot of the time the film feels like a tribute or a satire on that; I'm not sure they ever really decided which it was. There's lots of close-ups on peoples eyes, lots of fetishistic high-def close-ups of the corpses of the vegetables used to provide the sound effects to the (seemingly) outrageous bloodfest on screen. We never see any of the film that's being dubbed, but it's clear that it's a sensationalist flick rather than the high art that the director seems to think it is.

Toby Jones character is very interesting. Adrift in a country that he can't understand, culturally or linguistically, unable to claim his expenses back from the clearly inept and bankrupt company, and drifting ever further into a blurred world between the reality and fantasy of the job/film. He starts to see himself in the rushes, cuts of a documentary he's been working on at home creeping in, and ultimately footage coming round of his entry into the studio at the start of the film. It all gets a little child-running-down-a-hillat this point – clearly alive and exciting, but seemingly unable to control where it's going or how messy the end of the sprint will be.

The first half an hour is really enjoyable, a bit slow, but interesting and dark. The second half hour threatens to deliver on that, but the third seems to lose interest in itself a bit and it all tails off rather. I think this may be more to do with where I thought the film was going to go rather than any failing on the film's part, but it needed more investment from me than I could give. That said, I did really enjoy the hour and a half I spent watching it and will definitely come back to this one again when I have less of a headcold fug hanging over me. Whether it will be better or worse for that remains to be seen...

I came down this morning to a living room floor busy with feathers. This year has been quiet on bird casualties and I thought that Tom – our oldest and most bird-hostile cat – had finally passed his hunting days. Not so.

The bird was still alive though, and emerged to take flight when I fired the hoover on to clean up, bringing Tom out to have another go at finishing the job off. I quickly opened the back door and, fishing net in hand, I jumped up on the chair and got hold of the bird on the main light shade. A quick journey through the house before it realised what was going on, I got the bird through the door and released it to fly away. Unfortunately, an underpowered first flight only got it to the wall and it landed about 5 feet away from where Tom had taken up position to watch the affair. He inched forward and had to be manhandled away before he could take another swing. The bird took the opportunity to flap again and found its strength, disappearing up to the roof of the house to rest and recuperate out of harms way.

A fairly distressing start to the day for all concerned, but an interesting one as well. The bird was a juvenile blackbird, clearly not from the spring/summer brood – is this the fruit of a very early start to next years breeding, or an incredibly late finish to this year?