Golly. Weeks at the moment seem to simultaneously flash past and take forever to wade through, like treacle.
I’ve forgotten what my actual job is at work, and have spent most of my time this week reacting to things.
First and foremost, we have a new boss. This has meant there is a lot to explain and pass on, which is normal in these situations. This has been turned up to eleven by the coronavirus situation meaning we are rapidly trying to establish what we can do from home, and also understand what elements of our work are business critical. Fortunately for us, not a lot of what we do has hard deadlines or endangers life or whatnot if it isn’t done in a timely fashion. Others are not so lucky in this regard.
It’s inevitable that we will be working from home for a time, and our job now is working out what can be done from home and what would require physical access to the office. When your new boss is trying to draw all this up whilst not actually knowing what everyone does… It’s hard work. It’s not unenjoyable, actually. But it is hard work. And it is distracting everyone from their day job.
I think that point is true for basically everyone, everywhere. In the whole world. Which is incredible to consider. There’s also a neat/insane duality to all our business continuity prep which essentially means ‘we can afford to slacken off our work because literally everyone else will be doing the same thing’. These are very unusual times.
Speaking of which, I’ve seen and read about some very sad scenes at supermarkets recently. I’ve not actually come across anything uncivil, although I’ve definitely heard reports. On my brief forays to the shops to get basically our usual groceries – where I’ve strategically tried to buy about 10% extra of most longlife stuff we tend to use – I’ve just seen heightened busy-ness, and empty shelves in some surprising categories and others less so.
At the big nearby supermarket, where loo rolls, hand san and painkillers have been missing (or missing, then re-stocked, then raided again) for a while now, this weekend I noticed some new sections were running low or in fact completely empty, like eggs. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find, on popping into a much smaller M&S very close by, that they were fully stocked on eggs, and in fact a number of the lines the big shop was out of. I guess it’s to do with a bigger shop encouraging people to bulk buy more, and come by car etc.
It’s just… all very strange. But it is for everyone. So it’s just the new normal? Which is very, very strange.
After opining recently that I wanted a neat automated way to see what albums of recent years I had merely streamed and not purchased, I spent a pretty straightforward few minutes paging through my last.fm library sorted into albums by play count for a given period. I started looking at months at a time, then went into whole years at a time, even going back as far as 2012 or so.
It was actually a very interesting process, and gave me the information I was after. I now have a list of thirty or so albums that I would happily pick up and add to my permanent music collection. I don’t exactly plan on popping out and spending £200-300 quid on CDs, but it’s nice to have a go-to list of stuff that I probably want for times when I’m out music shopping or if I’m browsing Bandcamp.
I actually was left scratching my head about where to buy some of this stuff. Partly “where do people buy digital music these days?” and partly “where is the most effective place to buy music in terms of benefit to the artist?” I think the answer to both in a number of cases is probably Bandcamp. Certainly I don’t intend to buy CDs secondhand from Amazon because in terms of benefit to the artist I may as well download it illegally. And I’m not bothered about owning the CD itself – if I can, say, throw a fiver at a band and get 320kbps+ or lossless digital files, I think that’s probably the sweet spot.
Secondary to all this, I found a bunch of albums I streamed several times that I genuinely didn’t remember listening to. I’ve created a Spotify playlist of these to wade through and see if they still appeal. The winners will go onto the ‘to-buy’ list.
Why am I doing all this? I don’t know. But I am getting familiar once again with the local music collection stored on a computer, and I like it. I think running a Spotify account alongside this is fine – it enables me to hear new music for free, and I actually get my Spotify subscription as a bonus to my mobile phone contract. Although the Android app can be quite slow and clunky (this may be a result of my legacy account having a decade of metadata attached to it), the Spotify service is very much worth having, and decent value even when directly paying for it. The arguments against it, from the artists’ perspective, are part of what’s pushing me to want to show my support in a different and more direct way.
I went for a run today, inspired by the BBC’s Sport Relief ‘Beat Beethoven’ gimmick. The basic idea is to stick on a new recording of Beethoven’s Fifth, which lasts about 34 minutes, and run 5k. I managed a run last weekend, and one in the week, but I love a gimmick to get me up and out – and this weekend has been particularly sedentary (thank goodness), so a kick up the bum to run down the road and back was welcome. The bonus was listening to a great performance of a piece of music I don’t think I’ve actually ever listened to in full. Well worth grabbing via BBC Sounds and sticking on if you need an excuse to pop out for a run.
Once again I found myself plundering the depths of someone’s blog and I can’t remember how I found the blog in the first place… But this week it was the blog of a chap named Andrew Roach, and I was drawn in partly by the aesthetic of his blog, and partly by the subjects he covers – he writes about old computers, and using old computers today to do the things he enjoys doing.
He also writes about digging around archive.org and similar places looking for music and films to enjoy anew. One particular post pointed me to a ton of old films on archive.org and wikimedia, and I grabbed a few that seemed to be decent high quality versions of films from the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s, and stuck them on Plex.
This weekend I checked out My Favorite Brunette, a Bob Hope parody/send-up of detective thrillers, which I really enjoyed. I’ve never seen a Bob Hope movie before, or really seen him in anything except… maybe a pastiche of him in an episode of the Simpsons?
While elements of the film felt as fated as you might expect for a film made in 1947, I found lots to love, included gags that felt more like they came from the likes of Airplane! or the Naked Gun series and sight gags, one-liners, looks-to-camera and other things that made the film feel pretty fresh. I recommend it!
A recent post/video from Dan Milnor reminded me that, many years ago, I owned a Fujifilm X10.
It was a camera I fetishised and definitely thought would be the answer to all my photographic gripes about the Canon dSLR I was getting tired of lugging around. The camera looked great – I got the leather case – and it seemed compact and would be something I’d enjoy taking around with me and using more than my old Canon.
In the end I only owned that X10 from January 2012 to August 2012. I took 4,000 pictures on it in that time. Initially it was a gorgeous thing. Looking at pictures of that camera even now, I get joy from the tactility of the knobs and dials. But the camera was just… Not all that nice to use.
For one thing, the viewfinder wasn’t great. Getting an SLR replacement with a viewfinder was essential to me. I was so attached to composing my shots through a viewfinder that I had to have one. But this one was just a sort of rangefinder-esque viewfinder where you’re looking through a hole near the lens, but not seeing exactly what the lens sees. It felt kind of removed from the process and I never got on with it. *
* Even while writing this, I managed to mis-remember that this camera had an early LCD viewfinder, but of course it did not, and this was a feature of more high-end cameras of this type at the time, and the technology continues to improve.
Furthermore, the lens felt weird to use. It had a good, adaptable zoom lens which rotated to extend. But it didn’t have (or if it did, the way to use it was very unnatural) manual focus. What I love about dSLRs is the way lenses feel on them – the rotation to zoom in and out on zooms, and the solidness of primes. And on both, when manual focus is necessary, it can feel so precise and so lovely. On the X10, despite metal construction and good moving parts, it just never felt nice to use.
And overall, despite some decent baked-in digital features like film effects and good video modes, it just felt too much on the ‘digital point and shoot’ end of things for me, and far too far away from the tactility of using a dSLR. Ten months after buying it I sold the X10 and re-bought a slightly more updated Canon dSLR. I still miss the look of the X10 though, and that leather case was gorgeous.
I took some great pictures with the X10, but nothing amazing. I possibly didn’t use the camera to its full potential but a lot of the time, the images that came out (as JPGs, to be fair) were a bit dull and not particularly exciting.
I still have that Canon today and it’s weird to think that makes it about eight years old now. (In the process of looking through pictures taken with the X10, I was reminded that my bike and my Kindle, both of which I still use, and sometimes almost daily, were also bought in August 2012. My bike rattles and creaks and could almost certainly do with an overhaul but I love it so very dearly. And my Kindle is one of the last (non-expensive) ones with page turn buttons. I can’t believe it still works as well as it does, and I am so worried about the day I will have to replace it for a touchscreen model.)
I guess the danger now is me looking at how far those Fuji compacts have come. And with the likes of Dan Milnor espousing their benefits, I may need to take a look with fresh eyes at the range and see if the gap between the X10 and dSLRs has closed somewhat in the meantime.