Saturday 30 August 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge

I have been nominated to do the Ice Bucket Challenge.
In preparation for this, I have filled a bucket with ice and water ... and the beer is cooling nicely.
I will drink the beer, and then replace it with some more.  I have no intention of pouring the contents of the bucket over my head.

And before you shout: "But it is for Charity, where is your generosity of spirit?", I should say that I already make regular donations to 2 Charities.  And I don't have to get wet or shiver to achieve this.

I understand that any charity must do all it can to generate donations.  The popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge has no doubt seen a rise in the in the coffers of Charities such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association, Motor Neurone Disease Association, MacMillan Cancer, WaterAid.  But to me, it now feels like an Internet version of the over-zealous, in-your-face Chuggers you see in High Streets.  Almost a case of "Donate or else".
You get nominated, and you do the deed, and you post the video evidence on Facebook like some Badge Of Honour saying "Look at me, I've done something for Charity" (the cynic in me says that sometimes they may even remember to send their donation as well).

Well, is that what giving to Charity is about?  Making some gesture so your friends and peers can see you for the soft-hearted philanthropist you are.
Or is it just the opportunity to participate in the worlds biggest Chain Letter?

Of course, if you say "No" then you will be accused of cold-heartedness, or simply being a wimp.  Well, bring on the cavalcade of pointing and accusing.
It's not so much that I am refusing to do the Challenge (which I suppose I am), more that I am refusing to tell the world whether I have donated to Charity (I know the answer to that question, you will have to decide for yourself).

In summary, Charity is important.  In many cases your chosen Charity will have a personal resonance.  If we are in a position of relative comfort and can spare time, money, goods or whatever to support that chosen Charity, then we should all do so without a moments hesitation.
There shouldn't be some reward or mutual back-slapping for doing so, merely the personal satisfaction that you have "done your bit" and helped those less fortunate than yourself.

The last part of the Challenge (post-drenching) is to nominate 3 further people from your family and close friends to so the same.

I, therefore, nominate everyone who reads this to give to a Charity of your choice - and then not tell anyone.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

CD - the end of Physical product, or a second chance?

The Compact Disc first hit the UK in early 1983 and was seen as a technological revolution.
AA whole album could be crammed onto a 5" silver disc, offering superior sound quality, no jumping or crackling, and would last forever.
Tomorrows World informed us we could cover the discs in marmalade, coffee, or any other food stuffs and they would still be playable (although if you spread dog sh*t over the disc it would invariably come out sounding like Bucks Fizz)
We now know none of the above to be absolutely true, but it din't stop us busily converting the music we already owned to this new format, creating a sales and income spike which, no doubt, kept a smile on the face of the the record companies.
Price wise, I recall that early CDs (I'm talking 1984/85 when I first properly noticed them on sale in mainstream record shops (ie not specialist retailers)) cost in the range £15 to £20 (or thereabouts) - effectively double the price of the same recording on vinyl.  And the playback equipment didn't come cheap either.

Over time, supply and demand principles, improving technology and a move by the record companies to phase out vinyl releases, saw the prices of CD players fall ("plummet" may be a truer term?).  There was also a fall in the sale price of CDs themselves, although this price reduction was not proportional.
For the sake of argument, lets say that a CD Player in 1983 would set you back £500, you can pick up a simple CD player now for less than £50 (or a 1000% reduction).
The discs on the other hand, have fallen from £20 to £10 (a 100% reduction).  Still a massive reduction, but not in the same league as the playback equipment.
How many other consumer commodities have maintained their price point (or even improved upon ii) in the last 30 years?

Presented with no further opportunity for re-selling us what we already own (except DAT or MiniDisc which never flew), record companies had to face reducing sales and further competition from MP3 files, downloading and splitting of album to single tracks.  Hence, the physical product is no longer king, and there is no large income stream as before from back catalogues.
So what was the solution?
First off, there isn't one - record companies need to adjust their business models away from recorded, physical product and expected ownership in perpetuity.

But ...
Many Record Companies have started to offer Vinyl versions of many flagship releases.  Yes, a Vinyl release - the very same format that most of these companies declared as a "dead duck" in the mid 90s and stopped producing them.  These releases usually sell for twice the price of the CD version, are offered in limited numbers, and are quickly snaffled up by fans, collectors, or (and there is no other way of putting this) shite-hawks who will immediately offer them for re-sale on ebay at vastly increased prices

Also in recent years, Companies like Sony and Rhino have been offering box set collections under the title 'Classic Album Selection', or 'The Original Album Series', or 'Original Album Classics', or another name involving similar words, but not necessarily in the same order.
And the bands involved are not confined to the "I Forgot about them" or "Where are they now" files.  There are some big names, as well as the smaller (more selective appeal?) bands

These packages contain 5 CDs packaged in a box with card replications of the original sleeves.  They are usually sequential releases from the start, the end, or the "golden period" of a bands career.
Yes you could buy a compilation, but many of the available compilations are either incomplete, cherry picked, or in some cases re-recordings of the originals (this is particularly prevalent with artists from the 60s/70s who no longer own the copyrights to their own material, and are just simply re-claiming what is theirs). And why buy a compilation when for the same money you could get 4 times as many tracks, a wider view of an artists output, and the (snobbish) satisfaction of owning either all, or a large part, of their recorded output.
(This is not a denouncement of Compilations - some offer 'a great way in' to an artist, but may also offer only a one-dimensional view.)

So this could now be the last scraping of the barrel - combine as much of an artists catalogue as is reasonable, and sell it off at a knockdown price.
And, the principle is working (at least with me anyway) - over the last couple of years I have bought (and enjoyed):
America, Doobie Brothers, Little Feat, Kevin Ayers, Echo & The Bunnymen, Jeff Beck, ZZ Top, Violent Femmes, 10000 Maniacs, Frankie Miller, and many more.
Acts where I knew maybe 1 or 2 tracks, and either a representative compilation wasn't available, or was an exorbitant price.  There will always be a great pleasure to be had from discovering new music, now I'm finding equal pleasure discovering new old music .

But what do you so when a band hasn't released enough albums to warrant a 5CD set?
In the case of my latest acquisition, The Sisters Of Mercy (who only released 3 proper albums in their lifetime ('First Last And Always', 'Floodland', 'Vision Thing'), the box set adds the two compilations released ('Some Girls Wander By Mistake' and 'A Slight Case Of Overbombing').
Ownership of this set means I now own just about everything (bar a number of B-Sides) recorded and released by the "none more dark" Goth-Rock band.
(cue a slew of comments from Sisters fans saying: "how dare you call them Goths!", "to call The Sisters 'Goth' entirely misses the subtle point of their existence" etc)

The Sisters Of Mercy - Temple Of Love:

Friday 15 August 2014

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

Well, actually I don't.  In fact I don't even own one.
Apart from the time my car was in a garage and I borrowed my brother bike to get down the road to pick it up (too tight to pay for bus fares or a taxi), I don't think I've ridden a bike since my last paper a couple of weeks before I started work.

And I don't think the latest announcement regarding the re-launch of the Raleigh Chopper is going to change that:
The Chopper Is Back and Its Never Been So Cool

"The Chopper is back"?
Personally, I don't think it ever went away.  I'm sure that for the last few years you have been able to buy one of these (without the genital crushing gear stick) from many emoporiums and various corners of the interweb.
Never mind, the fact is they are now available in Halfords - all yours for £250, and here it is:

Hang on, it doesn't look quite right to me.
Small wheel at front, big wheel at back - Check
"Iconic" handlebars - Check
Reflector in the back of the seat - Check
Derailleur gear mechanism - thats not right.  It may still be 3-speed, but the original was a chain gear insider the hub which meant when it broke it was stuck in third gear.
Long, lay back saddle - wheres that gone?,  How can you give your friend a lift anywhere (or friends (it was possible to get up to 4 people sitting on a Chopper *))
* don't type this into Google, you may not appreciate the images returned

"The Chopper is cool"?
Well, possibly.  In a sort of retro "remember the 70s, ahh Spangles, Flares, 3 day week" type way.
But I suppose it is now cool, because the media says so, and Halfords are now selling them.

But was it really as ubiquitous as the rose-tinted memories would have us believe?
When I was a kid, growing up on a housing estate there were about 20 or 30 of us all around the same age.  And the pecking order was decided on some pretty basic principles:
- how good at football you were
- which football team you supported
- how much pocket money you got
- the bike you rode

(bragging rights were also gained for how high you could wee up a wall, and how many times you could knock on the grumpy blokes door without getting caught)

Amongst this small clique, I can only recall 1 kid who had a Chopper.  Many of us started with a Tomohawk (the single gear, smaller version of the Chopper), but only one upgraded.  For this particular group, the "must have" cycle was the Grifter:

A big heavy lump of a bike, ideal for racing through mud, and not far removed in looks from a Trials Bike or Speedway machine.  
In comparison, the saddle was more comfortable, the wheels were (a) the same size and (b) chunkier hence making it much more stable when racing round the kids playground, and with the gear selector on the handlebars gear changes were quicker and smoother.  In short, the Chopper was just a bike for posers.
You can probably guess that I will not be joining the hordes of salivating sheep descending upon Halfords, to re-live a past that (potentially) never happened.  But if Raleigh were to re-launch the Grifter, then I might just ride a bike again.

Pink Floyd - Bike

(It was recently suggested to me that the cacophony at the end of the track reflects what was going on inside Syd Barrett's head at the time)

Friday 1 August 2014

It's All About The Size Of Your Wad

or so it would seem in the case of Bernie Eccleston.

Lawyers for Bernie Ecclestone say the Formula 1 boss is ready to pay a German bank 25 million euros ($34m; £20m) to settle a court case against him.
The 83-year-old went on trial in Munich in April, charged with bribery and incitement to breach of trust.
He is accused of paying a German banker 33 million euros to ensure a company he favoured could buy a stake in F1.
If found guilty, the F1 boss could face a 10-year jail term and the end of his decades-long dominance of motor racing.

So, a very rich man indulges in a bit of bribery and gets caught.
The case goes to court, and ordinarily a conviction would be expected followed by a lengthy jail term.
But wait?  Bernie is monied-up, so how about he just chucks a bit of dosh around and it will all go away.

Seems to me that if you have cash, then you can get away with just about anything.  Whereas, in the real world you just have to face the consequences of your actions.
Well, mucho respect to you Bernie for doing the right thing and trying to wriggle out of it by flashing the cash.  Top man.

Although, if you are the spitting image of Andy Warhol, you could always claim mistaken identity.