And another thing

Image result for this is fine memeFeeling a bit grumpy about various things at the moment, so I want to set things down just to be clear, when this whole shithouse burns down, that I was not on board.

Our culture has been dumbed down over the past 25 years due to a number of factors.

Because the internet was, inevitably, first adopted by tech nerds, the culture of the internet exists within the narrow comfort zones of said nerds*. So the humble comic book, which was in the past the acquired taste of a narrow coterie of reluctant readers, has come to have an outsized influence on modern life – in the film industry, especially, and increasingly on television.

These narratives are repetitive, derivative and witless. The debates around representation in these narratives, increasingly a part of every day discourse, are still debates about texts which are repetitive, derivative and witless. Black Panther may be lauded for its representation of people of colour, but it’s still a stupid movie based on a stupid comic book. Wonder Woman may have a woman in a lead role, but it’s still a stupid (overlong) movie based on a comic book. All of these movies, every single one of them, are bloated, loud and dull, wallpaper for the mind. So stuff gets smashed up, so what?

And these debates about representation? They were a creation of the narrow white bread world of these shitty properties in the first place.

And because these early adopters of the internet, 25 and more years ago, were of a certain age, and because their cultural and personal development was arrested when they got interested in “computer stuff”, they were obsessed with Star Wars. If you were ten years old in 1977, the year of that film’s release, you were at college when the first personal computer revolution started, and primed to get onto the pre-WWW internet by the time you graduated. And you have continued to bore the rest of us with your Star Wars obsession ever since. Let’s be clear: every single second of the interminable Star Wars franchise is as dumb as and has all the charm of a septic tank full of turds.

Watch another film, for fucksake.

Harry Potter? Read a different fucking book.

Lego? You’re too old for toys: grow up. And only idiots call it legos.

Everything wrought by this generation is loud and stupid and colourful. Video games. A whole industry devoted to creating landfill in the form of obsolete consoles and plastic packaging. A whole generation lost to stupid, simplistic narratives. And what do we get at the end of it? Trump. Brexit. Simplistic narratives.

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*I almost wrote geeks, because the implication of nerd is that there is some intelligence behind the obsessiveness, whereas a geek doesn’t even have that going for them; but I must be feeling charitable.

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Dead Sea Me

I think of my eczema less as a skin condition and more as an alien parasite that has somehow invaded my system, and which I get to chase around my body as it retreats from the steroid creams but never quite goes away.

At the beginning of the summer holiday, I decided to give up on the gluten-free and dairy-free diet, which was expensive and also ineffective. Although my eczema had cleared up (ish) for a while when I went gluten-free, it returned with a vengeance, and then hung around stubbornly.

So I went off to France for the summer and drank beer and ate bread and generally lived it up in the land of a thousand cheeses.

Interestingly, and just as it did the year before, my eczema cleared up a lot over the summer holiday. So what’s the recipe? Sun, sea, and sand? I had a week-long beach holiday both years, so it might be a factor. Also, our neighbours who let us use their pool use salt rather than chlorine.

Anyway, returning to work in September, the eczema returned, and proved stubborn even in the face of the strong steroid cream that the doctor is paranoid about prescribing. I also use a variety of moisturisers, aloe vera gel, anti-histamine pills, and even Vaseline to try to keep it at bay.

Recently, I purchased a small pot of this stuff, which contains, among other ingredients, manuka honey, coconut oil, aloe vera, and shea butter. It’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to cream blending, and cost a small fortune for a 100ml pot. Needless to say, it didn’t work, and didn’t last long. One star

So then I decided to recreate some of the experience of that beach holiday in the home. I purchased some Dr Salts Dead Sea bath salts. I have to be careful with the water temperature (too hot, and it flares up the itching), but even after two or three goes, the eczema is nowhere near as bad as it was a week ago.

Which brings me to my latest hopeful purchase: Dr Organic Dead Sea Mineral Skin Lotion, which is more reasonably priced than Honeyskin, and might help to supplement the bath salts. Because maybe, just maybe, alien parasites are afraid of salt. It’s like something out of The Day of the Triffids.

Running iOS 12 on an actual iPhone 6

Image result for treacleMy iPhone 6 (Plus) is coming on four years old, and I’m eyeing that coral-coloured  X🅁  with real interest as October 19 approaches. But, at the same time, I’ve brazenly updated my 4-year old Mac to Mojave and the 6 Plus to iOS 12, on the promise that this was a “performance” update designed to give older hardware a new lease of life. iOS 12 was backwards-compatible to the 5S, so I’m one generation ahead on that.

I doubt that many of the tech journalists writing about this stuff are really still using the 6 generation phone as their everyday phone. So what is it really like in practice?

More performance?

Not noticeably. I mean, games like Pocket Run Pool and Flip Flop Solitaire still take ages to load. Overcast, my podcast app of choice, is still a bit laggy, and (most damningly), the keyboard when you’re typing in the Safari address bar works e   x    t    r    e   m    e   l     y slowly, making the letters you type appear several seconds after you type them.

I’m hoping today’s 12.1 update will address that particular issue, but the best I can say about iOS 12 is that my phone is more or less the same after updating as it was before. Give or take the keyboard lag. As for the much vaunted Shortcuts, I still can’t see much use for it, and when I do try a pre-programmed Shortcut recipe, it works so unbelievably slowly that I’d have been better off doing it manually. I mean, invoking the play-a-particular-Playlist takes about 20 seconds to work, when it works.

So it is time for a new phone. The camera always seems to have Vaseline smeared on the lens, and it has been a considerable time since I was able to hear a phone call on it without invoking the speaker or plugging in a set of earbuds.

Still, I think four years is pretty good. The original battery is still at 85% of its original capacity, and it still looks okay. My heart is set on the orange X🅁, so whatever happens, if supply is constrained, I’ll be waiting.

I return from education blogging exile to post a little thing about work

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See what I’m doing here? Yes, in this metaphor I am the exorcist

It’s surely only a matter of time before a senior politician at last joins the final dot in education policy and realises that our collective obsession with GCSE results is misplaced, and that in a world in which compulsory training or education till 18 is established, we should be obsessing on A Level results instead.

The measures introduced by Gove (Progress 8, the English Bacc, all that nonsense) focus on GCSEs. Every September, teachers return to school to learn the big news about how this year’s GCSE results stack up, locally and nationally. Sure, A Level results are mentioned, but 90% of the stress and pressure in schools is still focused on the latest Year 11 cohort and their outcomes.

And yet, we only require them to have five good passes at GCSE to qualify for 6th form. Also, they can often qualify to take an A Level in a subject with a grade 4 or 5. Sure, the government is still bashing schools over the head with GCSE statistics, but the reality of the world is that a student will be able to start an apprenticeship with 4s in English and Maths and not much more; or a college course with similar results. As far as I can see, nobody out there in real life is demanding eleven or twelve good GCSE passes, or even eight or nine.

Apart from everything else he wrought, the absolute worst achievement of Gove was the introduction of the new grades 1-9 at GCSE, with students achieving an 8 now made to feel like failures because it’s not a 9. And yet: 7, 8, 9: doesn’t matter. Any of those is going to get you to the next step. I’ll go further: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9: all the same, as far as qualifying for most of the next steps.

Are universities looking at GCSE results? Possibly, when deciding on what offers to make; but the other new reality is that many universities appear to be filling their courses on a first-come first-served basis. Gotta get those £9,250 fees, gotta pay for those new buildings. Anyway, there are a lot of universities, and just because a few of them self-appoint as élite institutions (step forward, so-called Russell Group) doesn’t mean they’re the best places to go for most people. I love pointing out that Jony Ive went to Newcastle Poly. Nobody really knows what is going to be the making of them. Universities are like William Goldman’s Hollywood in that respect: nobody knows.

As a teacher, I’m the equivalent of a priest who doesn’t really believe in supernatural beings or miracles. (In this metaphor, the Russell Group are supernatural beings.) I absolutely want to teach students about life, and empathy, and art and beauty, to impart to them some of the things I’ve found it useful or interesting or simply joyful to know. But I also want them to stop worrying about numbers. Because nobody knows. And I’m not here to help someone along the way to becoming the next Theresa May or Boris Johnson or – supernatural beings forbid – Michael Gove.

Returning to my initial point, then, it can surely be just around the corner, that moment when an Education Secretary realises that the stick they ought to be beating schools with is the A Level stick. More to the point, when are parents going to start looking up A Level results when deciding where to point their sharp elbows? The Guardian is on the case.

Tom Petty – An American Treasure

There’s a story they tell about Tom Petty breaking his hand in frustration during the recording of the track “Rebels” on the Heartbreakers’ album Southern Accents. Continually comparing their recording with his original demo, Petty left the studio after their latest attempt and punched the wall. This story is a lesson for perfectionists everywhere, because the truth was that there was nothing wrong with their latest take. Eventually the problem was “fixed” by replacing the organic human drums with a drum machine.

Well, it was the 80s.

I never really liked Southern Accents, because it sounded like it was made in the 80s. As much as I love Springsteen, I listen to Born in the USA and Tunnel of Love with gritted teeth (ears?) because record production in the 80s was a shitshow. The perfect storm of novel new studio toys and the dreaded click track. The grid. I mean, I’ve seen them do “Don’t Come Around Here No More” with a live drummer, so I blame bloody Dave Stewart for the drum machine nonsense.

My personal theory is that people had been whispering in Tom Petty’s ear since 1979 that Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch wasn’t very good, or at least not very subtle. Step forward, Jimmy Iovine. I don’t think Petty himself believed that, but I can see how it might have been easy to blame Stan rather than, say, the drugs when things weren’t going well in the studio. So when it came to recording his first solo album, Full Moon Fever, Petty used a session drummer. And then again on Wildflowers, after which Stan was out, replaced by Wildflowers session guy Steve Ferrone.

I can imagine that Stan was the kind of guy who wants to go on partying when everyone else wants to go to bed. Or wants to go on partying when everyone else wants to start looking after themselves and heads to rehab.

Anyway, this collection. You get to hear “Rebels” before it was ruined, which is nice, though not “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, which I’ve realised I can’t watch these days without crying.

The conceit here is that this is a journey through Tom Petty’s career not including the long established live set standards, the familiar signposts of “American Girl” and “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Free Fallin’”, “Learning to Fly” etc. This isn’t even as-selected-by-Tom-himself outtakes, because that was the 1995 boxed set Playback. Instead, this feels like a last trawl through the archives by his friends and family — those who, unhampered by Petty’s perfectionism, can say, here, this stuff is worth a listen.

In other words, don’t start here if you’re new to Tom Petty.

You get to hear the version just-before-they-nailed-it of many songs, versions perhaps with slightly less push, or sometimes with just a little bit more air and swing. Or you hear a live version which uses a different approach than they eventually settled on; or just outtakes which for whatever reason didn’t make the final release.

Over four hours and ten minutes, you hear Petty and his group evolve from that ebullient and prickly bar band of the late 70s to the sardonic and bewhiskered elder statesmen of latter days. Available in two versions, Deluxe and non-, I’d say that the 26 track non-Deluxe would probably suffice for most.

Top 25 Playlist (Part 3: 8–1)

Here’s the final part of my Top 25 most played tracks in my current iTunes library. I suspect my oldest daughter is responsible for #3 being where it is! But the joint number ones are between them my theme song.

Part 1 of this entry is here. Part 2 is here.

8. Girl Crush – Little Big Town (79)

7. Leavin’ in Your Eyes – Little Big Town (80)

6. Rock Me On the Water – Keb’ Mo’ (81)

4= She’s My Kind of Rain – Tim McGraw (82)

4= Engine to Turn – Tift Merritt (82)

3. Baggage Claim – Miranda Lambert (89)

1= The Pretender – Jackson Browne (100)

1= Running on Empty – Bob Schneider (100)

Top 25 Playlist (Part 2: 16 – 9)

Here’s part 2 of my Top 25 Most Played tracks in my current iTunes library.

Part 1 of this entry is here. Part 3 is here.

16. Night Moves – Bob Seger (71)

15. I Won’t Dance – Sinatra (Nelson Riddle) (72)

14. I Won’t Dance – Sinatra/Basie (Neil Hefti) (73)

11= Portland, Maine – Tim McGraw (74)

11= Wayward and Weary – Tift Merritt (74)

11= That’s Where It’s At – Sam Cooke (74)

10. Sober – Little Big Town (76)

9. Come Fly With Me – Sinatra/Basie live at The Sands (77)