Monday, May 31, 2004


A bloated stomach not only makes me feel like I am waddling about like a duck but also prevents me from comfortably rolling about in bed. What did I eat or drink that did it this time? The glass of cider? Cucumber & tomato sandwiches? The salsiccia sausage - seems like the most likely candidate but that was six hours ago. Maybe I will burp soon.

Education not Money

I don't have a lot of money but I do have a lot of education. Not just the formal stuff, my biology degrees. Those are very useful and have allowed me to take a current job that is almost unbelievable in its gentleness compared to the vicissitudes that others suffer, even as some bring home large salaries in the belief that will somehow compensate for the daily misery. Others don't even have that luxury. But I really mean the self-education, the reading of almost anything, listening to thousands of recordings of different music, exploring whatever interest takes my fancy.

And the great irony is that the best of that type of education occured while I was unemployed, with no money at all to speak of. Time and public libraries were instead plentiful - and much appreciated to this day. And I learned thrift during those days - a practical lesson that has never left me and one I relish for the colossal freedom it has given me.

That is why I find myself at sea when I run into people for whom education is merely a means to making money. It's a philosophy that runs so counter to my personal set of values. I find it very hard to move beyond that, and consequently I am sure I am prone to be over-dismissive of perfectly fine people who just happen to look at life differently. Oh well!

Erik Satie's Nocturnes

Erik Satie composed his six Nocturnes late in his life, during a period of melancholy, and a sad autumnal flavor permeates them all. They have a different feel from the contemplative Gymnopedies and other earlier pieces, although they are cut from very much the same mold of composition. They are very beautiful.

Never Got Used To Memorial Day

Perhaps that is because I grew up in England where Remembrance Sunday - Poppy Day - is the day of national mourning for dead. Instead in England we have a Bank Holiday today that is free of any gloomy association. Furthermore, Poppy Day, with its deliberate reference to battlefields of the Western Front during World War One, casts a different spell. WWI defined mass death for Great Britain. WWII killed a very large number of Britons but nothing approaching the wholesale slaughter of the Great War. Here WWI is almost a footnote compared to the Civil War, WWII, and Vietnam - the three American conflicts dominant in print and public awareness. Not surprising that these dominate - these were American wars, with WWII given an uniquely American flavor by Pearl Harbor and the war against Japan.

My own empathies lie with WWI - it was there that I lost three great uncles, and where my grandfather flew with the RFC. On Poppy Day, I will feel the full weight.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The Mysteries Of Musical Taste or Why Stairway To Heaven?

Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, millions perhaps, believe Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" to be the greatest rock song ever recorded. Maybe even the greatest song ever.

I don't find it so, but that's really beside the point here. What I am more interested in is what is it about that particular song that is so universally appealing. I first heard it myself when I was 16, on the original album shortly after its release, and I really liked it then for two very clear reasons. First was the dynamic build-up over the repeated verse structure from an acoustic folk melody to a very well-recorded and loud rock climax. And secondly the melody itself, although a simple folk-derived chord sequence, was attractive. But even then I thought the lyrics seemed clumsy and unimaginative, an impression that has radically deepened as I learned more about literature and poetry. Nonetheless, they are no more embarassing than much popular doggerel, so it is not hard to see their appeal.

But clearly this combination - and one cannot deny that it is aided by a powerful and impressive performance by the band - resonated very deeply with many people. In a way, I wish it still did with me, but I cannot listen to it today without cringing at the words. Certainly overplaying destroyed much of any residual magic the tune held for me - even today the song is ubiquitous on radio stations. Other people must be immune to this form of innoculation - and I envy them for it.

But I suspect the real reason for its popularity is that it is one of a small subset of rock recordings that have become part of the bedrock of knowledge for most people. My own interest in music expanded vastly from when I first heard 'Stairway To Heaven', and a lot of more of obscure and interesting music came my way. This led to comparisons that did not cast the song in a favorable light in my ears, and my path moved away. Not so for many others, and the fact that almost everyone is going to hear 'Stairway To Heaven' sooner or later will guarantee its continued dominance.

The Wonder That Is Aldi

When I lived in England I used to buy wine at Sainsbury's. Own brand - exquisite and often unusual European wines - that were extremely enjoyable and very reasonably priced. Just as well as I was on the dole most of that time. But it gave me my own wine buying rationale - good wines at low prices that steer well clear of fashion, and a strong dislike of a certain kind of wine snob.

Now Aldi has introduced its own line of wine, and, of course, being Aldi the price is rock bottom. But they are very good - and one could easily pay 50% to 100% more in a conventional grocery store or wine merchant. There's fine claret, and an exquisite Pino Grigio that in my opinion is the best of the lot, and a lot nicer than many more fashionable wines I have drunk at wine bars, dinner parties and restaurants. I have yet to try the latest addition, an Australian chiraz, but I have a bottle waiting to be opened. And as I do most my grocery shopping at Aldi, it is a treat to find these sitting there, displayed, as with all Aldi products, the minimum of glitz and hype.

Sunday Morning

Remains one of my favorite songs, the very first Velvet Underground track I ever heard after buying the first LP - gatefold sleeve no less - from the long gone Head Sounds (amazed I remembered that name), the hippy record shop in Guildford. This was before the band obtained its ubiquitous stellar reputation, and I distinctly remember the store clerk handling it with disdain as he slipped it into the bag. Amazing how 'hip' record shop staff are all the same - arrogant, opinionated, obsessive - no wonder I wanted to work as one when I was younger!

Anyway, this Sunday morning is cloudly and quiet and moving very slowly which is just how it should be.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Another Marvelous Day

There is a good reason why I wrote 'contented' as my description. My life really is extremely enjoyable. Today was an entertaining mix of preventing my son and two friends of his going haywire plus watching the Granada TV adaptation of "Mapp & Lucia" on DVD - First Series. No ads, you see. I last saw that program in 1986 or 1987, in a very different life setting from today, and remembered certain choice parts, but not much more. It was a treat to watch Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan sparring in a game of upper middle class English manners, and it was as funny as I remembered. That is not always true!

This Is A Procrastinator's Delight

I should be getting dressed and going down to Aldi - one of the seven retail wonders of the world - to get some generic Gatorade, generic potato crisps and other child friendly sundries to fortify a small gathering my son is putting together this afternoon. But am I? No. Just sitting here, still in my bath towel, with a cup of tea and tap, tap, tapping on the laptop.

I Thought I Had Something To Say

Thought of it in the bath, too - one place where I will not access a computer. That's right, I remember now. Two days in and I'm already losing active interest in this medium. Only my residual compulsiveness is pushing me forward. Trouble is, there is nothing I'm writing here that does not serve perfectly well as a thought in my mind. Except perhaps Capt. Brown's joystick settings which I would have a hard time remembering. Even so, I could access those elsewhere. I can't claim any originality - in a world full of billions of people, even allowing for what I regard as my own unique vision, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, who think and do almost exactly as I do. Do I want to meet these people? No - why? I'll keep my ego intact.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Captain Eric Brown's FB stick settings

Pitch 0, 1, 3, 7, 9, 14, 18, 23, 27, 33
Roll 0, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 12, 17
Yaw 0, 0, 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 11, 14, 16

Seem amazingly unresponsive compared to the defaults but will have to try them out when I get home.


Too much of it. Ruining my PCR experiment. I shall have to clean it up - another phenol/chloroform and ethanol precipitation. What a pain. Too much SDS in my lysis buffer, I fear. Shall have to remake that too. Oh well!

Lost Art

I was looking forward to seeing - eventually - a good part of the Art that was lost in the London warehouse fire a couple of days ago. Now I never will except in photographs, and that is not the same thing. A deep and upsetting loss.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

I Don't Watch T.V.

I can't stand the ads anymore. They tug and jerk, compelling you buy, buy, buy, envy this and yearn for that. Same goes for radio. Even the commercial-free stations have become poisoned. At least my son is working his way through my collection of Dr. Who video recordings - I can creep down and watch over his shoulder. Funny how Internet ads don't bother me at all - except the video ones. Movement and sound - that's what I can't stand.

Are the minutiae of life really that interesting?

In truth, no. But they can be compelling to the writer. When I was an active diarist many years ago, my entries always started with what music I was playing at the time. Somehow, just recording that seemed to be essence of what I was and felt at that particular time. Seems strange now.

Music offered a good shelter - a safety blanket that worked the emotions without treading on dangerous ground.

Water in the basement

Not too much, but the carpet is sodden. Another downpour, been happening all week. Flickering lights, rolling banging thunder, the roar of torrential rain. I'm tired.

The New York Times Made Me Do It

Couldn't be left out, could I? No.