Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Raving

Six years in the State of Qatar made me richer; made me fatter;
Killed my student overdraft and bought a Nissan from some guy.
Just as I got comfortable came some unexpected trouble:
Made redundant. At the double, found a new job in Dubai.
Said to Qatar, “That’s goodbye”
Sold my stuff. Away did fly.

Then the global downturn floored us. Thus I got my marching orders.
Off I went to Abu Dhabi in a tiny rental car
Where it seems they were desiring those ambitious; those aspiring
Engineers, and they were hiring. It was close, but no cigar,
And so I said my au revoir
And found myself back in Qatar.

Now here comes a huge bombshell: I’d walked into the Job From Hell.
There really wasn’t anything that I could do to fix the mess.
Yet my slippy-shouldered boss who didn’t really give a toss
Or care who he could double-cross, he drowned me under piles of stress.
My valedictory address
Might well have been an SOS.

Thus I left, and I was banned , such are the rules of that fair land.
I had to wait two years, and then agreed to six months’ self-torment.
My brain had clearly gone haywire. I went from frying pan to fire
Because, alas, it did transpire that nobody would give consent
To anything I could present.
Hence my insanity descent.

“Six months,” they said, and two years on I can escape. Yes’ I’ll be gone.
I tried, but I’m not good enough to cope with this benighted place.
My shackles struck, and my release must surely offer me some peace:
The stress and grief at least will cease; I’m really not a waste of space.
And I’m not leaving in disgrace,
But entering the marketplace.


Saturday, August 06, 2016

Synch or swim

I’ve been attempting to improve my playing by the traditional method: practice. For grins mainly, I’ve posted some of my attempts on YouTube under my human alias, with a mixture of recorders and EWI, along with the computer playing along.

The rather splendid MuseScore website carries what appears to be crowdsourced sheet music, and a free download to read and to write music manuscript, and then to arrange it for bagpipes and taiko drum if you like, although I’ve generally been sticking to flute and strings and rearranging for recorder of playing along.

Telemann’s Canonic Sonata No.1 Allegro, for example, has two flutes playing the same tune with Flute 2 exactly one bar (two beats) behind Flute 1. I turned off Flute 2 and played that part, with Flute 1 and the scrolling sheet music being handled by the computer. The sound was all picked up by the computer’s internal microphone and the webcam captured the video to prove that it was actually Muggins playing.

The other software I use is the free Audacity, which captures just the sound and records it on one channel. Subsequent recordings go on separate channels that can then be edited for volume and timing, and the whole thing mixed. Multi-part playing becomes possible.

My video editing software is the free version of Cyberlink Power Director, so I can, at least theoretically, cut video of my playing each track into a single video file.

That’s a lot of skills to learn: playing, reading music, video capture, audio capture, video editing, audio editing…

Now on to the technicalities of audio capture.

The computer’s internal microphone is appalling. It’s designed for basic voice capture so that Skype is possible. I tried an external hand-held microphone, but that’s simply not sensitive enough. Instrument-mounted mics are both expensive and Not Coming in Doha™. Any noise gets picked up while recording,which includes all the other tracks that are playing, plus the air conditioning, plus any random bleeps and pings if the computer reports any incoming messages, virus alerts, yadda yadda.

One possible solution is to follow the sheet music and play in silence, and have the computer pick up just the line being played. Synching multiple lines then becomes impossible because real rhythm tends to drift without some audio feedback. It does when I’m playing, and I’ve got a good enough sense of rhythm to play drums. A metronome gets picked up on the same audio track and can’t be removed. Another approach is to play along to the other parts, but to pipe these into an earpiece so that I can hear what I’m playing with one ear, hear what the computer’s playing with the other, watch the sheet music, and capture only my live instrument.

Theoretically plugging in an acoustic instrument can work with a flute mic that’ll only pick up what a wind instrument is producing without all the ambient noise. Expensive and Not Coming in Doha™(q.v.)

It’s all a little easier with the EWI. I can plug the output from that instrument directly into the computer as if it’s an external mic. When I play the synch track through the computer I can hear it, but the computer only records what is coming out of the EWI. But because nothing is easy, I can’t hear what I’m playing. So I have to plug the EWI into a separate speaker. I’ve got a Fender Mustang Mini practice amp, so I use that. It’s the one I use for playing when I’m not using headphones and am disinclined to show consideration to my neighbours.

The net result, once I’ve made separate clean audio recordings of each line and separately captured each as audio and video, I can mix the audio and then add that to the video tracks. I do need to get all the video playback speeds exactly right so that audio and video match, and this is proving a challenge. Perhaps I need to pay for better video editing software, or learn how to use the package I’ve got.

The other thing, which is actually pivotal to success, is learning how to play the bluddy instruments!


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Meanwhile, in Dunkrugerstan

The Minister of Rubber Stamps had previously told the Trusted Advisor that he was required to comply with the Old Rule Book. One part of the design required that a desirable minimum value of 55 be used, but an absolute minimum allowed value was 30.

So the Trusted Advisor's design generally used more than 55, and in one or two places where this was not possible, he used between 31 and 35.

And the Minister of Rubber Stamps was displeased. "You must use 55," he said. Use of 30 is not allowed."

"It is according to the Old Rule Book," advised the Trusted Advisor.

"Then," said the Minister of Rubber Stamps," You must submit a detailed report that explains why you have not exceeded 55. We will let you go down to 36, which is permitted by the New Rule Book, provided you submit a report that I may or may not approve, at my whim.

"Or you can tear down what you have built and apply to demolish the Grand Frommaj's new stables to make 55 fit."

The Trusted Advisor shook his head. "The New Rule Book says we can use 26."

The Minister went purple with rage. "Which part of 'You must use the Old Rule Book' do you not understand?"

"The part where compliance is now, after 19 years since publication, suddenly not acceptable."


Friday, July 22, 2016

These brambles are tasty

Lifted from Rentagoat
(yes, I know goats don't have top front teeth)
For no better reason than it just occurring to me that the long-running children's comedy show Rentaghost (BBC 1976-1984) is ripe for a pun, I made the connection with Conservation Grazing.

That is, using goats to remove invasive plant species rather than pumping chemicals over the plants and everything besides, attacking the plants with whirling blades of death, or killing everything in the vicinity with fire.

The thing is, a Company Song is missing. Until now. The song is sung by a choir of company employees. Well, the last line of the song.

Tune and original lyrics by Michael Staniforth, who also starred in Rentaghost.

If your garden is a shambles, just call Rent-A-Goat.
Are your ditches full of brambles? You need Rent-A-Goat.
We’ll eradicate your kudzu and remove invasive weeds;
It can be verified we don’t use herbicide, so just call Rent-A-Goat.

If your stately home’s a mess you should call Rent-A-Goat.
That poison ivy we’ll address because we’re Rent-A-Goat.
We are quiet while we’re working, and we don’t need gasoline.
We work without a fuss; you’ll barely notice us from Rent-A-Goat.

Have you tried a pesticide with side-effects you can’t abide?
Are you reliant upon high technology?
Perhaps you should take note that by contacting Rent-A-Goat
You can achieve it more environmentally.

There is a goatherd who will stay alert. That’s Rent-A-Goat
Who will ensure your orchids won’t be hurt. That’s Rent-A-Goat.
Now that your land is neat and tidy, recommend us to your friends.
We’ll conservation-graze and we work seven days at Rent-A-Goat.



Sunday, July 10, 2016

Out, out, damn spot!

I wasn't allowed to vote. I did not get a say in the my own destiny. I wasn't allowed to contribute to the opinion.

What has the EU ever done for us? Well, google the long list.

And Brexit? Made imports cheaper, right up to the point when the UK HAS TO IMPORT SOMETHING. At which juncture the advantage evaporates.

What Brexit has achived at least in the short term is to remove 10% of my retirement savings, and potentially jeopardise any and all plans to retire to Cyprus. Who knows if a former EU citizen will be allowed to establish residence?

So what was the referendum supposed to achieve really? Answer: initially to shut UKIP up, and to destabilise the UK government and remove David Cameron from office. Nobody in office ever seriously imagined that a vote to leave would ever happen, which is why the Brexiteers could write cheques that they couldn't possibly cash. £300M to the NHS? Nope. Stop immigration? Not as such. Mandatory deportation of anyone with a bit of a suntan? Ansolutely not, despite the wishes of the unsavoury extreme end of the patriotic spectrum.

And now we find that the likes of BoJo the Clown and Farage the Fascist have exposed themselves as seagulls.

Fly in, squawk a lot and flap about. Shit all over everything, and then fly away leaving some other poor muggins to clear up the mess. Thank you for nothing.

Huzzah, so Cameron has gone, or at least has handed in his notice. To be replaced by a reasonable, even-handed, benevolent and wise successor.

Meanwhile, in the real world...

Stand by for the UK going into recession or worse as a result of a worthless currency, jobs to disappear, more people on benefits, cuts to public services to pay for it all, and further cuts because of this positive feedback loop.

And nobody saw this coming? Only the Remainiac experts, and what do they know?

One final thought. 36% of the electorate voted for this. At least suicide is no longer a capital offence under English law.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Les Misérables

Yes, it's upside down. A distress signal.

Look down, look down don’t look them in the eye. 
We voted 'leave.' It’s time to say goodbye. 
The sun is hot. It’s June 2016 
And 52% of us are keen. 

I know we’re off. We’re floating in the sea; 
We’re rudderless and friendless, but we’re free! 
We’ve done no wrong; the EU is to blame 
And immigrants: we surely know their game.

"Now Prime Minister 246-10 
Your time is up and now you have to go. 
You know what that means?" 

'Yes! It means I’m free!'

"No! You’ll be replaced by Michael Gove 
Because of that tangled web you wove. 
You killed UK. You’ll

Go down in history." 

Look down look down. Don’t look me in the face. 
We’re sinking fast. We’re sinking without trace…


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Take a tip

The usual species of disclaimer: I am sure that there are plenty of Egyptians who do not drive in the manner described below, and as I’ve experienced similar in the Philippines and elsewhere, the problems are not limited to Egypt.

And the driving aside, I have a particular liking for Egyptology. Queen Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple, the Valley of the Kings, and ancient Karnak were all wonderful memorable experiences. I took loads of photos. The diving was also excellent, but at the time I didn’t own an underwater camera so my pictures were limited to a few around the hotel.

Way back in the late 1990s, for this is a yarn from þe olde days of yore, I was part of a group on two weeks’ holiday in Egypt. The first week we spent in Luxor for a week of temples and tombs. Then, having been generally pharaoed to exhaustion, we headed eastward towards Hurghada to enjoy the Red Sea Diving Experience.

I didn’t really notice the driving style in the transfer coach between Luxor airport and the hotel, not least because I quickly nodded off following a sleepless night and a problematic departure from London Heathrow that involved many hours of sitting around in the terminal.

However, when we went out to explore the town one evening, a weird and less than wonderful phenomenon became quickly apparent along the ill-illuminated streets:

All the bizarre men by the Nile 
They like to drive, for a lark, 
With headlights off (Oh, way oh!) 
So you can’t see them in the dark. 

Drive like an Egyptian. 

Almost every vehicle was trundling around with no lights on. Anyone who dared show a headlight was immediately vehemently flashed by oncoming drivers. The reason for this, I have subsequently been told by Egyptian colleagues, is that using the headlights flattens the battery. Clearly in Egypt the alternator, dynamo, or even magneto are optional extras. I've heard tell of cars hurtling across the desert roads at night running into the backs of slow-moving trucks, neither vehicle showing any lights.

But the true hairy scary wasn’t this; it was the journey west across the fertile Nile flood plain and then the desert from Luxor to Hurghada.

Following at least one incident in 1995 I think, when terrorists hijacked a tour bus and gunned down a load of foreign tourists in an apparent attempt to stem or more likely eliminate the inflow of foreign tourist dollarpounds, these trips now came with police escorts.

We assembled and found our allocated bus, and eventually about forty minibuses and coaches set off in convoy. At the front was a police Hilux with armed guards, at the rear was another, and there was a third in the middle of the convoy. By ‘armed guards’ I do not mean a couple of police officers with pistols. I mean a 50mm machine gun mounted on each truck and about four guys in fatigues and flak jackets, sporting automatic weapons.

So, with nowhere to go except Hurghada, and with everybody having to travel at the same speed as the police, the convoy threaded its way caravan-like across the Egyptian countryside, right? Wrong.

Every bus and coach driver engaged is a constant battle to get to the front, and every other driver closed up the gap to prevent it. About 260km of terror.

Particularly near the Nile, single carriageways are elevated on embankments to keep the roads dry when the Nile floods. So we have two lanes of traffic confined on top of an embankment by rickety-looking safety fences. And we also have coach drivers attempting overtakes.

A minibus pulls into the opposing lane and overtakes a coach. The coach driver accelerates. Meanwhile there’s an oncoming truck bearing down on us, yes US, and nobody has anywhere to go but through the barrier and into the date palm plantation. Our driver stomped on his brakes and inserted his vehicle back behind the coach. The truck roared past with its horn bellowing stentorian abuse. Then our driver tried it again.

At this point I spoke to the tour guide. “Are you going to tell him, or do I have to? Because I will be a lot less polite.”

Not that it made the tiniest scrap of difference. All forty drivers spent the next several hours in a competition to see who could drive closest to the police Hilux which, of course, still trundled along at a steady speed.

At last, at dear sweet last, we rolled into Hurghada. As is custom and practice, everyone in Egypt expects to receive a gratuity for doing absolutely anything at all. Our driver stood at the door of the bus with his hand out as we all dismounted. Nobody gave him anything.

Actually, not true. I was the only one to give our driver a tip, which was this: “If you don’t scare your passengers, they’re more likely to give you money.”


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