Dancing round the kitchen to Taylor Swift

1989A while ago, Jason Kottke wrote a brief blog post in which he argued that, whereas Facebook is like your hometown, Twitter is like moving to New York:

For a certain type of person, changing oneself might be one of the best ways of feeling free and in control of one’s own destiny. And in the social media world, Twitter feels like continually moving to NYC without knowing anyone whereas Facebook feels like you’re living in your hometown and hanging with everyone you went to high school with.

I immediately thought of this post when I heard the opening track of Taylor Swift’s new record*, 1989, which sees her leave the yoke of Country radio behind and come out – hard – as a pop artist. It won’t have escaped your attention that 1989 was the year Ms Swift was born, and the message is clear: this is a rebirth. She’s confident enough to leave all vestiges of her previous life behind. The ALL CAPS digital booklet is a way of shouting this loud from the rooftops.

WELCOME TO nEW YoRK / IT’S BEEN WAITING FOR You / WELCOME TO NEW YOrK / WELCOME TO NEW YORK / WELCOME TO NEW YORK

I thought about other artists I admire who moved to New York as a kind of artistic statement. Chely Wright, who came out in 2010, and released a fairly non-Country album, Lifted off the Ground. Tift Merritt, whose career was hamstrung by being labelled as a Country artist in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. Rosanne Cash, who perhaps needed to escape Nashville and being mentioned in the same breath… for her own reasons. Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, I’m sure there are more.

In the ‘foreword’, Taylor Swift writes,

I WROTE ABOUT MOVING TO THE LOUDEST AND BRIGHTEST CITY IN THE WORLD, THE CITY I HAD ALWAYS BEEN OVERWHELMED BY…UNTIL NOW. I THINK YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU WANT IN ORDER TO TAKE ON NEW YORK AND ALL ITS BLARING TRUTH.

I’d previously resigned myself to not buying 1989. I thought her last album, Red, was very good, but having read that she was going 100% pop, I figured I’d be so far beyond the target market that there would be nothing on it for me to like. Then I heard the single “Shake It Off”, laughed aloud at her antics in the accompanying video, and immediately pre-ordered 1989. Not the Deluxe edition, I’m not that far gone.

While Red had its share of drum loops and pop songs, it was interspersed with more singer-songwriterly fare, songs that seemed written in a traditional guitar-and-pen (or piano-and-pen) way. 1989 seems to be more completely constructed around loops. I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anybody who has been paying attention. The record label seem to be turning it into a major statement, but that’s probably because they’re a lot less comfortable with this move than Ms Swift’s fans will be. Red didn’t survive two years on my iPod/iPhone playlist, and I don’t expect this will, either. Which is not to say that 1989 isn’t superb in its own way. “Welcome to New York,” “Out of the Woods”, “Shake It Off,” “I Wish You Would”, “How You Get the Girl” – all dangerously earwormy.

Here’s what I like about this version of Taylor Swift. However much of it is marketing, the message she’s sending to her young (and old) fans is that you can be happy without being welded to a man. You can say fuck you to the horribly sexist world of Country radio in the way Miranda Lambert did (by swearing all over the record you know they wouldn’t play anyway), or like this: by just not giving them anything that sounds remotely like Country or singer-songwriter. I’d like to think there’s an army of Taylor Swifts out there, ready to throw off those possessive boyfriend arms around their shoulders and move to New York and have some fun.

She finishes the album on a telling note:

RAIN CAME POuRInG dOWN WheN I WAS DrOWNING

THAT’s WHeN I COUlD fINALLY BREATHE BY MORNING
GONE WaS ANY TRACE OF YOU
I THINK I AM FINALLY CLEAn

*iTunes calls it a Playlist. The words “album”, “LP”, “record” etc. seem to be leaving the vocabulary.

Yosemite Slam

Yosemite_SamHaving learned nothing the last time I upgraded my operating system without waiting for the .01 update, I just went ahead and installed Yosemite.

I’ve never been a big fan of the looks of OS X, I still miss the classic Mac OS with its cute personality and customisable features. I’ve been reading John Siracusa’s long review, and he’s not the only critic to refer to the good old days of Mac Extensions and the way you could switch them on and off. Remember Conflict Catcher? Ah…

I learned to become a power user by reading books like The Macintosh Bible and the monthly Mac magazines. I learned to switch off menu blinking to save processor cycles, to turn off extensions that did nothing because no applications supported them (hello, QuickDraw GX) and to allocate blocks of memory to programmes to make them run better. And remember RAM disks? Zapping the PRAM? Man, I miss those days.

OS X has always looked too garish, and yet the toned-down Graphite theme seems too dull. I’ve never liked the lozenges in the top left of the window, and I hate the fact that I’ve not been able to turn off or delete shit that I don’t use.

I quite understand why the OS has become less accessible to power users: it’s in the name of making it more accessible to non-power users, and turning the computer into an appliance. In principle, I approve of this noble goal. In reality, I want access to the file system, the system folders, and I want to know where my stuff is.

iCloud Drive is a step forward, inasmuch as it allows me to see files in a folder structure. On the other hand, I’m not supposed to know where the iCloud Drive folder itself resides. My system comes with a ton of fonts that I hate and will never use, but while Font Book allows me to turn (some of) them on and off, I’m not supposed to just delve into the System and fucking delete them forever.

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 08.25.15

The new icons are flat and dull. The use of Helvetica as a system font is an insult to my aesthetic sensibilities. The toolbar icons in most apps are dreadful. Tiny little diagrams surrounded by acres of white space. I know the whole thing is supposed to look better on a retina display, but I have a retina display, and it still looks dreadful. Why is so much space given over to white? Or grey? Why not have a bigger T to add a text box and no white space at all? Fucking zen master fucking Jony Ive has gone too far. Look at that Shape icon. A tiny green square in a much bigger white rectangle.  If I switched to the icon-only view, would a new user even be able to guess what clicking there would do? Or the difference between adding a text box and bringing up the Fonts window? What’s the difference between T and A? One’s a tit and one’s an ass, and the person responsible for this design is both.

I like the idea of Continuity, though in reality I’m unlikely to use it much. I like to create Keynote files on my MacBook and I really hate doing so on either an iPad or an iPhone. I still don’t rate the iPad for productivity, and I still hate typing on my iPhone, even though it’s the biggest one you can get. So I’m an old stuck-in-the-mud and Apple can replace me with hundreds of others who don’t object. But still, I feel the need to record my objection. I’ve been hatin’ on the OS X since 2001 and nothing in Yosemite is changing my mind. In fact, it’s actually worse.

That retina iMac though.

What’s on NowTV?

MI9Ec14Back in April, I bought a NowTV box and a 6-month entertainment pass. I was wondering at the time whether I’d want to continue the experiment beyond 6 months, but here we are in October, and I can say it’s a categorical yes.

In fact, I love my NowTV so much I barely watch TV through any other service. It’s a great example of unbundling and why it might be the future of TV. Instead of paying over £20 per month for a basic satellite package, which inevitably includes loads of channels you would never watch, NowTV gives you a smaller selection that has plenty of good stuff to watch, for a much lower price. £6.99 per month is the post-offer price, which I wouldn’t be prepared to pay if the service hadn’t also been fairly glitch-free and reliable. So you don’t record anything, but everything is available on demand, on your TV, your laptop, your iPad, or your iPhone.

The family ploughed through Game of Thrones fairly sharpish, and then watched season 4 as it was broadcast. That was worth the first £35 I paid. At the same time, we watched all of the episodes of Mad Men that we hadn’t seen (i.e. since it moved from BBC2 to Sky). We watched Season 5 of Modern Family and a whole bunch of other stuff, such as The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, and Girls (season 1).

I’ve tried a whole load of other shows, not all of which were worth pursuing. For example, Ray Donovan did nothing for me, and Enlightened seemed like a bit of a clone of The Big C, which I grew tired of before the end.

So what have I been watching lately?

  1. Number one on my list has to be The Newsroom, the Aaron Sorkin scripted television news fantasy starring Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer. So it tanked, and it has been cancelled (with just six episodes to come in a truncated Season 3) and I can see why, but I confess I love that fast-talking screwball comedy script style and I absolutely loved losing myself in the fantasy of what TV news could be. I also have a giant soft spot for Olivia Munn. I might watch The Newsroom again from the beginning. The day I realised I’d watched the last one of Season 2 was a dark one indeed.
  2. A surprising hit with both myself and the kids was the surprisingly funny Adam Buxton’s Bug. Watching interesting music videos and then reading out the genuine YouTube comments in funny voices doesn’t sound like it ought to work, but it is hilarious.
  3. The Leftovers has recently started, and you get to be an episode ahead on NowTV. It is complete nonsense, of course, and being from the team that brought us Lost will inevitably end in disappointment, but for now I tolerate it.
  4. Veep – watched in the wrong order (Season 1, followed by Season 3, now Season 2), but still funny at times. And it has Elaine in it, so…
  5. The Blacklist. Has now appeared as a Boxed Set, with Season 2 ongoing. It’s part of the new brutalism, which I’ll be writing more about at some point. I’d watched a couple of episodes from the middle of the season before, but watching from the beginning was better. It’s pretty good, though can be horribly violent.
  6. Unforgettable. A kind of Mentalist clone with Poppy Montgomery (from Without a Trace) as a woman who is unable to forget anything. Apart, natch, from the murder of her own sister, or something. It’s bearable.
  7. Perception. Another Mentalist (or Castle?) clone, with him out of Will and Grace, and her out of The OC, and her out of She’s All That. Yes, Rachael Lee Cook is the main reason to watch this show about an FBI consultant who suffers from schizophrenia and is ‘helped’ in solving crimes by his hallucinations. It’s moderately entertaining.
  8. Forever is very new. It’s an, um, Mentalist/Sherlock/Castle clone about a doctor who is both immortal and accident prone. He teams up with a cop to solve crimes and gets killed a lot. I’ll watch it as long as they don’t become a couple.
  9. The Last Ship. Another new series, produced by Michael Bay, it’s a preposterously stupid show about the last US Navy ship in a world brought to its knees by a virus.
  10. Legends. Sean Bean plays an FBI agent who lives his cover so deeply that he seems to have forgotten who he really is. Also appearing: her out of Heroes. Another new brutalist show featuring graphic violence.
  11. The Alternative Comedy Experience. Proper standup in a small venue, some of which is brilliant, some of which is… not. Curated by Stewart Lee, who interviews some of the comedians about their craft.
  12. The Tyrant. New show about a fictional Middle East country, its dictator, and his westernised brother. Kind of soapy, but a bit different.
  13. Justified. A boxed set and the new Season 5. I’ve been a big advocate of Justified over the past few years, but I’m less into this. It’s all a bit repetitive and samey. Seems to have fewer interesting female characters this time around, too. So I’m in one of those I’ll watch anything else moods with it.

Not bothering with: boxed sets of 24, Prison Break, Lost, The West Wing, Without a Trace, Scandal, etc.. There really is quite a lot to choose from.

My iPhone 6 Plus experience

BzCWpsYIcAEKn9OI’ve had my new iPhone 6 Plus a few days now, and I’m sure my experience is far from unique, but what the what.

I ordered online, and I ordered the black/grey in 64GB, which from what I’ve been reading seems like a fairly typical choice. Apple have been mean with the entry-level 16GB. After two phones with 16GB I knew it wouldn’t be enough for another two years, so I was thinking in terms of 32GB. But the new middle of the range is 64GB, which means the entry level ought to be 32. As for the 8GB included with the bottom of the range 5c, that’s just malicious. No way is a phone with that amount of memory going to be useful as anything other than a glorified iPod that can make and take calls.

My delivery date was estimated at around 20th October, but I was fully expecting Apple to under-promise and over-deliver, and so it proved. My phone arrived last Friday. It had a 3/4 charge and was up and running within an hour, following a connection to iTunes on a Mac and a restore from backup. This is a far quicker method than restoring from iCloud.

Immediate impression was that it was indeed huge, and it’s surprising how quickly the iPhone 5 starts looking dinky in comparison. In connection with the 5, it was passed to eldest daughter, and we took her old SIM (from her iPhone 4) into the Three store to have it chopped down in size. Amazingly, this worked, and the only upsetting aspect of that was the long wait in the shop, which was packed and had no clear queuing or waiting system. There is nothing more guaranteed to upset the British sensibility than no queue. What are we, animals?

My hope with the 6 Plus was to reduce the amount of stuff I carry and to have a device that was comfortable and convenient for reading. I’ve been in the habit of taking a laptop and an iPad and my iPhone to work with me. Unlike most teachers, that’s all I carry: so no huge bag full of planners, and binders and other stuff, but I still thought my bag was too heavy. So the iPad has been staying at home (or adopted by daughter as laptop replacement) and I’ve been getting by with the iPhone. So far so good.

The screen seems incredibly bright and sharp, and I’ve got no concerns about the 3x magnification scaled down to the 1080 resolution. Everything looks sharp and clean and you wouldn’t know anything about the image scaling going on in the software if you didn’t listen to loads of tech podcasts*.

It’s quite pleasant to read on, which I do mostly at night in bed. On the other hand, my posture is so bad that I do have some issues. These are mainly to do with the differences between iBooks and the Kindle app. Perhaps because of all their near-monopoly power, Amazon are shit at writing software. iBooks allows you to do two important things. One is to turn off justification. Once you notice the rivers of white/black down your screen caused by justification, you can’t not notice them. So I prefer to have it off. But Kindle app doesn’t let you do that. It’s a puzzle as great as the one about the shitty shift key on the iOS keyboard. The second important thing that iBooks allows is for you to tap either side of the screen to move on a page. This is very useful when you’re in bed and you’re holding the phone one-handed. I’m more comfortable holding my phone in my left hand, for some reason. With Kindle app I have to achieve a more awkward swiping motion, instead of a simple tap.

I have not made much use of the much-vaunted camera, with its image stabilisation. Partly because I haven’t had much opportunity to take photos, but also because I’m afraid the size of the phone makes it feel unwieldy. It doesn’t feel as naturally camera-like in the hand as the 4 or the 5. It feels almost as awkward as taking photos with the iPad, which I’m aware a lot of people do. We’ll see what happens when I’m in a more relaxed environment than work.

The 6 Plus isn’t too heavy, but I have bought a silicon case for it because I did feel like I was going to drop it every time I pulled it out of a pocket. When I do the ol’ scan and shop, I find it more awkward to hold to consult the shopping list whilst also holding the scanner. I don’t like having the case, but it does feel less slippery. Ironically, it’s harder to slide into a jacket pocket with the silicone case on it. I’m waiting for the Quadlock case to become available.

*I have, incidentally, gone Full Podcast with my listening habits. This means I’ve given up on live radio altogether. It means I don’t get enraged by Today on Radio 4, but it also means I miss out on PM because there isn’t a podcast of that programme. I do still listen to some BBC output, but through my subscriptions rather than tuning in. I’m subscribing to 32 podcasts at the moment, which means there is almost always something to listen to, and the range and variety of what I hear has extended. Getting a bit bored of all the SquareSpace sponsorship messages, though.

Dial I for Interview

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 17.46.31I went for a job interview. I need to be discrete, so apologise in advance for lack of specificity.

A while ago, changes started to happen at work that left me feeling unhappy. There were no easy solutions. I was placed in a situation where the best option was to simply walk away, and I spent the summer going over things. I could just carry on as I am, but I’ve been feeling undervalued, even insulted, and I think that self-respect demands that I do something about it.

You don’t necessarily want to be doing something like this in the heat of the moment. At the same time, you feel so pissed off that you do actually want to leave a mark. Thinking about moving on, it occurred to me that if I was ever going to go to a different school, I ought to do it soon, while I’ve still got the energy to dive into something completely new.

So much so vague. I’m a teacher, I’m pretty good at my thing, but I think I’m currently being led by someone who is both dishonest and, I suspect, greedy.

One of the problems of the teaching profession is that most opportunities for career advancement take you away from the classroom. As someone who enjoys the challenge and variety of teaching, and who thrives on building relationships with students, I don’t want to go into a management role that would see my teaching hours reduced. A second problem with teaching is that the application and interview process tends to favour those who have the trendiest ideas. So you end up with a self-selecting management class who are suckers for a fad, and who are rarely, if ever, called to account when their trendy teaching fad is exposed as bollocks.

*cough*VAKlearningstyles*cough*

*cough*braingym*cough*

Anyhoo, what I’m saying is, you can get so far in the classroom, and then the money reaches an upper limit. As a classroom teacher, you look comparatively expensive (e.g. when compared to a 20-something Newly Qualified Teacher). On the other hand, if you apply for Head of Faculty or Department roles, you find yourself in the position of having to make excuses all the time, because of the continual demands of management to look good for OFSTED or in comparison with other local schools. The market in education that has been introduced by recent governments (plural) has set schools against each other, against academies, against so-called free schools, against FE colleges, and so on. People are put under the same kind of pressure you’d expect as the CEO of a major company. Actually, they’re just department heads in a standard secondary school, and they’re not paid enough for this shit.

So when I decided to apply for jobs, I was bearing in mind that, if I apply for a leadership role, I’d get sucked into that bullshit. On the other hand, if I applied as a classroom teacher, I’d look old and expensive.

I sent off an application. It was for a place in London. I figured it was an outlier. As a total change from what I’ve been doing, it could hardly be more extreme. I was quite excited by the idea of working in London, whilst at the same time being very aware of how horrible commuting can be. I looked at my current salary, added the cost of a season ticket, and train station parking, and had a figure in mind.

This seemed unlikely, but still, I thought I’d have a look. I’ve only ever interviewed for one teaching job, and there were no other candidates. I thought I needed the practice, and it would do me good to get out there.

(As to the reaction at my current place of employment… more below.)

I got the day off, and I travelled down on the train. I walked from Oxford Circus, just to get an idea of the distance (I had the time). This was a mistake, because of course arriving at an interview after a 40 minute brisk walk in your best suit leaves you too warm by far. You want to be arriving by tube and strolling the last few metres at an easy pace. I was early, which is my biggest character flaw: always being early is something about myself that I really dislike.

I started with a practice lesson. It was shorter than the ones I usually deliver, but it seemed to go well. The interviewers were impressed with the way the students seemed to immediately click with me. The interview itself seemed short, and there weren’t many questions. This made me think that perhaps they’d decided I wasn’t right for them. In hindsight, I realise they were more concerned with selling themselves to me, having made an almost instant decision to offer me the job.

They called as I was walking back to the station. But the money on offer was a long way short of what I need. Which was a shame.

As to the reaction in my current school. People who know me don’t really want me to leave, but mostly understand why I want to go. I suspect, without anything being said, that the management would be happy to see me go. That’s a whole other topic, but it’s what I believe. I think if there was any sense they wanted me to stay, there have been plenty of opportunities to say so.

Which leaves the students. Unless you hate all your classes, there is never a good time to leave. You’re always going to be abandoning a bunch of students who just started a course, and another bunch who you’ve been teaching a while, and who are approaching the end. I flatter myself that many of my students would be unhappy to see me leave. Some might even feel betrayed. This wouldn’t necessarily be true of all teachers, but I know that a lot of my students name my subject(s) as their favourite, so the impact would be quite high.

But there it is. I am pissed off, and I am angry, but this isn’t simple revenge. As I said, I’d probably be playing into management’s hands by leaving – it would suit them fine. No, I need to leave because I’m just hating the job at the moment, and I need a change of scene, and to change the record that’s spinning in my head.

Et U too?

Bono-crowdThe kind of mainstream music acts who appear at the end of Apple events are always contemptible, never anybody I’d personally have in the house. The list includes Coldplay, Tony Bennett, Randy Newman, Jack Johnson and Norah Jones.

U2 have now been added to the list. This particular tax haven rock band have form when it comes to highly irritating and intrusive marketing tactics. They have no shame. Back when they took over the BBC for a weekend, there were many complaints that a public service broadcaster should not be lending itself to the commercial promotion of an album.

This latest tactic is the most intrusive yet. Some people have reacted rather sniffily to the anger which many iTunes customers expressed when an unwanted U2 album turned up in their iTunes. Peter Cohen at iMore wrote,

If you fall into that camp, let me speak very plainly: I have no sympathy for you. I have trouble thinking of a more self-indulgent, “first world problem” than saying “I hate this free new album I’ve been given.”

Dismissing such complaints as ‘first world problems’ is like your parents telling you to eat the over-boiled cabbage because ‘people in Africa are starving’. It’s an easy way to dismiss what are genuine concerns about the way a powerful corporation used its power to push unwanted content at its customers. If you know me, you know I love Apple, but this was intrusive, and an unacceptable violation. It’s no more acceptable than the NSA/GCHQ reading your emails, or some shitbird scammer infecting your hard drive with malware.

For some of us, you see, U2 is exactly as bad as fucking malware. Years ago, Sony got into hot water by having their audio CDs install a root kit on the hard drives of people who ripped purchased CDs for portable listening. The software was designed to prevent illegal copying, and was included on millions of CDs. The problem was, Sony didn’t ask, and gained access to parts of users’ systems that they had no business in.

The U2 album is software that was installed on millions of computers without permission.

As to the band themselves, they clearly resort to such tactics because they’re irrelevant and know it. If they can persuade some ignoramus at the BBC to sign off on a massive publicity beano, they’re laughing. Nobody else is going to give them the time of day. Except, oh, Apple. Apple, give or take the latest versions of iMovie, make brilliant technology and software. But they’ve got a tin ear when it comes to music. They go safe, they go mainstream.

But here’s the thing about ‘mainstream’ in 2014. Mainstream music still exists, but the people who don’t like it now have a platform to complain. And they will, as is their right, complain. It’s not a ‘first world problem’. It’s a fundamental human right to say, loud and clear, I fucking hate U2 so much that when you put them on my hard drive without asking me, it felt like a personal insult and a violation of my privacy. Also, there’s something wrong with anyone who doesn’t hate Bono.

So fuck off with that.

By the way, I do not have automatic downloads switched on for anything. It’s the only way to be sure.

The red trousers, a poem

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 13.08.23You see them everywhere, and yet only a fool would wear them, the red trousers.

Retired Telegraph readers with white hair, trailing their wives around the supermarket might wear them, the red trousers.

I don’t think anybody ever pays full price for them, the red trousers.

Because they always end up in the sale, don’t they, the red trousers?