Saturday 27 September 2008

I would have liked to have had a beer with Paul Newman

A picture isn't needed here. Newman was one of three actors that captured "cool" when I was growing up in the 1970s; Robert Redford and Steve McQueen were the other two, but Newman was my favourite. The faraway eyes and rebel streak made him very compelling to watch. I must have seen "Cool Hand Luke" a dozen times. I was three years old when it was released in 1967, but the movie seem to play back-to-back on television in the late 70s and I never got sick of the hard-boiled egg eating challenge. Newman just cut it as a wilful, independent spirit. His "Mendacity, mendacity" speech, where he railed against his father in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), was another memorable film moment. The film caught the inter-generational tensions of the late 50s and 60s and still resonates with family life today.

Quotes attributed to Newman are worth a read: Paul Newman: In his own words. All poker players know this one (below) but might be surprised it is one of Newman's.

"If you're playing a poker game and you look around the table and can't tell who the sucker is, it's you!"

Friday 19 September 2008

Would you Credit Crunch that?!

It's only Thursday and this week we have experienced the Lehman Brothers collapse, the AIG shore-up and the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB. Lehman Brothers workers left Canary Wharf on Monday with their desks emptied into cardboard boxes. It's been a whirlwind of a week.

But developments on a far smaller scale have been distracting me. I've have been monitoring the credit crunch and it's micro effect on the local economy for some months and small things keep on catching my eye. I walk past a pie and mash shop on the Bethnal Green Road most days on my way to work and in July there was a small, apologetic note in the window that read something like this: "With regret the price of pie and mash will have to go up to £2 on Monday because our suppliers have increased their prices". I meant to snap it with my mobile's camera but I was a bit self-conscious. (The owners might have thought I was from a rival PnM shop or just an arty-type studying East London anthropology and eating habits). The note's honesty struck me. Here was a food outlet that knew its clientele. Wholesale food price hikes were unavoidably being passed onto the punter but with a graceful, and regretful, warning.

Meanwhile just up the road - in fact on the Roman Road - a cash machine that dispenses £5 notes was allegedly being installed. I haven't checked it out yet, but the local free newspaper ran the story and described the decision to install the machines as a response to the gloomier economic conditions and the need for people to access smaller amounts of cash. It seems slightly mad when you think about it. Why bother? And yet, when you start to look at your own spending habits - or saving habits - a cash machine that gives you the fiver option seems like a good idea...

"...I just need a bag of chips (£1.70) and a sausage (£1), I'm covered on the drink front - 2 cans of London Pride in the fridge at home. What's this? A cash machine that only dispenses fivers? Just the ticket. I'll have £2.30 change to buy a loaf tomorrow, make some sandwiches for lunch and skipp the caff..."

Who needs excess cash when the aim of the frugal game is to underspend on your monthly budget and have some shrapnel at the end of the month? Let's have cash machines that dispense pounds and pence! Let's march arm in arm down the street and demand a CASHFLOW REVOLUTION! Yeah!

Monday 8 September 2008

PHP? I'd rather be listening to the Esbjörn Svensson Trio

I've been sitting at the computer grindstone over the last few evenings, battling with blogs and the technology that lies behind them and drawn a blank. PHP? It's not for me. I can barely get my head round entry level HTML. Anyway...

...I let - what a wonderfully simple hyperlink, by the way - drive me on, as I play with coding that is going to eventually raise up its head and spit me in the eye. This magical radio station supplies a fantastic range of music to the ears of unrevenged, low-level, techy nerds such as myself (see my previous entry Rediscovering Music with I know I am being hard on myself but when you come to the realisation 21 years after you discovered computers and signed-up for a COBOL programming course (which you sensibly abondoned), that you ain't got what it takes, then it's time to take stock. Just as well I'm a Producer-Director-Writer in the creative world of Video Production and all this computer stuff is just a hobby. (Hobby? Obsession, more like). Where was I? Ah yes, music...

...Well, in a way I blame for driving me on in my hopeless pursuit. Can I sue an internet radio station for keeping me focussed on the unconquerable tasks in front of me? Probably not. So there I was trying to get my head round how to customise a template in Wordpress by jigging with it's CSS, when through my headphones comes the sounds of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. Yes! I can get this code to do my bidding, I think (re-energised by the "jazz piano" tagged music). I'll hack it and crack it and blow its house in! I'm sitting up straight in my seat, leaning over my computer with authority, trying not to bang the keys in a smart-arsey, syncopated way to the intricate rhythms of the music, because it is, after all, 2am in the morning and I might wake the kids up. The track is called "Eighty-Eight Days in My Veins" and to date it has only been played 301 times on (20:52 08/09/2008). What a discovery! The piano and double bass melody took me on a journey, a trip dare I say, where I was slaying PHP coding snakes and dragons all around me...

..the need for sleep eventually kicked in. The taste of defeat still slushes around my palette but my ears have received all the benefits of great tagging and my brain is slowly working out the potential benefits of getting out more.


What a shock to read in Friday's Guardian, an inspiring article by Jamie Cullum about the band's leader, Esbjörn Svensson, who died in a scuba-diving accident in June. This is a band I would have turned off the computer for and driven miles to see. If you hurry you can download MP3s of "Tide of Trepidation" and "The Well-Wisher" for free.

Slogan of the day:
Don't let great contemporary jazz piano music trick you into thinking that you have slewn the coding demons that are really only sleeping when you should be.

05 Sept 2008 - Jamie Cullum's article - Farewell to a maverick.

16 June 2008 - John Fordham's article - Jazz pianist Esbjörn Svensson killed in scuba accident.

Some good photos of EST live by Manuel Cristaldi on Flickr - Esbjörn Svensson Trio photos.