November 2005 | December 2005 | January 2006

December 31, 2005

Favorite music of 2005

Like a lot of people, I keep a list of Favorite songs on my iPod. At the moment it totals 97 songs. It's not literally every favorite in my collection. I've mainly added to the list when I've heard something I really like, so it's by no means definitive. And it is focused on more recent music, rather then everything in my collection.

I thought I'd finish the year with at least ONE "best of 2005" list based on this list. You have to do at least one Best Of at the end of the year, don't you? This one is less about songs that were literally released in 2005, but more about songs that I still really like at the end of 2005, or discovered in 2005.

So here are the 10 from that list that I like the most. If you're interested in the whole list it's here.

1. Love Me Like You by the Magic Numbers from the album Magic Numbers. I've seen the Magic Numbers live two times in the last year and a bit. They carry so much energy. Great pop.

2. Let Go by Frou Frou from the album Details. I think I found this one through last.FM before buying the whole album..

3. Naked As We Came by Iron & Wine from the album Our Endless Numbered Days. Really excellent band. This one was found through the Sub Pop podcast before I started buying complete albums.

4. Mr Brightside by the Killers from the album Hot Fuss. Awesome, awesome song. And band. Great performance at Live 8. The only one I actually saw.

5. Glenn Tipton by Sun Kil Moon from the album Ghosts of the Great Highway. Don't know where I found this album. This first track is haunting.

6. The Pioneers by Bloc Party from the album Silent Alarm. I think I had Bloc Party recommended to my by Ario at about the same time I found it on WebJay. Awesome band.

7. Feel Good inc. by Gorillaz from the album Demon Days. I'm late to the Gorillaz game, having never listened to the first album. I have now, but think this second album is quite a bit better.

8. Forever Never by Maerz from the album Wir Sind Hier (thanks to Ario for this one from one of his mixes. Full album is great, too. I'm confused whether they are called Marz or Maerz. I had more luck looking for their songs using Maerz.

9. Up All Night by Razorlight from the album Up All Night. Another Brit Rock track. I can't separate this band from the Killers, really. Same kind of sound (to me). The Killers just have the edge.

10. He’s Just Like Me by The Proclaimers from the album Born Innocent. I have a soft spot for the Proclaimers. I remember listening to them during art class at school in about '87. I love how Scottish they sound, how harmonic they are and how great their stories are.

Ah, who am I kidding? In compiling this top 10 I realised I haven't even got songs from some of my other favorite albums of the year into my Favorite songs list, let alone then on to this list. So, it's all highly unscientific and in a state of evolutions. Bands like the Editors, Wire Daisies, Syd Matters and so on should probably at least be competing, but they're not. Still, it's a list. And I got it in before the end of the year.
If you're interested, there's yet another list of albums I've bought recently on my wiki...

December 26, 2005

Cubees for Christmas

Shannon bought me all six Cubees. I blogged about my desire for these earlier this year. She has a good memory.

These are little block "animals" that play alone or sing in harmony. Sort of. If you can call a pig noise and a duck noise "harmony". They have been quite a conversation piece this holiday.

More photos of Maddie

OK, I do want to post about other things up here, and I will in a second, but couldn't resist a few more shots of Maddie.

Tired

First bath

First walk

Left holding the baby

Three of us

December 24, 2005

Too much luck

The National Lottery in the UK is quite amazing. Although it's basically a form of gambling, since 1994 it's raised 17 billion pounds (about 30 billion dollars), 28% of which is fed back to "good causes". These include a huge number of local projects, maintenance of the UKs heritage as well as funding some major new buildings.

I've always admired the lottery, taken advantage of the things it's helped to pay for and recognized what a positive impact it's had in the last decade on culture in Britain. So in July 2005 I "did my bit" and signed Shannon and I up on their website to play automatically every Saturday, with the funds drawn by direct debit from my bank. We've just left it alone knowing that we're at least contributing regularly.

Since then, though, we've won twice. Not huge amounts, but enough to make me feel like I'm not really contributing anything, but instead just milking the cash cow for everything it will give. Sorry.

December 23, 2005

Podcast that works for me

I've been messing around with listening to Podcasts now for about 6 months. They appeal to me because they are so fresh, but most of them don't really meet the "bite size" criteria that I think you need for media on the go. Most of the time I use my iPod to fill a short space in my day (the exception being when I go on longer "commutes" to Seattle). I think, from my limited exposure, that podcasts are best in small chunks that you can commit to listening through fully in one sitting. This isn't something I can do with a 30+ minute broadcast.

The podcast I've enjoyed the most so far is one that just focuses on releasing single tracks on a regular basis. It's been a great way to just "try out" new bands. It's from Sub Pop Records. Through their feed I've discovered some great bands, like Iron & Wine and Rogue Wave.

Next year a project called Creative Commons Three Sixty Five will be releasing one free track a day through their feed. I hope it will be as good.

Things about babies

Things I'm learning from the first few days of caring for Madeline:


  1. Kids poo comes in a range of colors, textures and odors.

  2. The stump of the umbilical cord doesn’t just shrink away, it drops off (glad someone warned me that’s coming…).

  3. It doesn’t really matter the size, pretty much everything will “fit” a baby.

  4. Lots of stuff about what breasts are REALLY for.

  5. Our baby likes head massages (as does Shannon).

  6. Watching a baby transmitter for signs of life (i.e. the smallest flicker of an LED) can make you paranoid.

  7. There are no “rules” for caring for your baby, only “things to try”.

  8. You can find someone’s personality in the smallest movement. Or even stillness.

  9. Even a big baby is really small.

  10. You can’t avoid being biased about how beautiful your own child is.

A few shots of Madeline

Please indulge a new father. I'm hoping my photography won't be ENTIRELY swamped by my new daughter, but I think I'm already deluding myself. We'll see.

Here are some shots of her first few days. Mostly in the hospital.

December 22, 2005

Shannon and Maddie

Here's Shannon less then an hour after the birth of our daughter, looking amazing.

Madeline Eleanor Banks

The end of our 9 month wait came on Monday, a day after our "due" date. Madeline Eleanor Banks was born at 8:40pm, UK time, weighing 9 lbs and 15 oz (4.51 kg) at a length of 22 inches (55 cm). Shannon is doing great and we're both very, very happy.

December 18, 2005

Jonathan Ive

This article in the Telegraph is pretty shallow and only includes about 3 paragraphs of actual quotes from Ive, but he is a real inspiration. As designer for Apple he’s produced some amazingly focused, gorgeous products. He’s modest and passionate, and clearly cares deeply about every curve, bulge, glow, and motion.

SNL nails it, for a change

When we lived in Seattle I used to groan when I switched channels and hit Saturday Night Live. They seem to have a “hit” rate (i.e. one that actually makes me laugh) of about 1 in 10, which is about 1/5th of what Seinfeld is capable of on a bad day. Add to that the fact that it’s so advertising heavy that you only seem to get one sketch between breaks. It feels like you get 4 sketches and a band per episode. Talk about stretching your material.

This sketch is the first one I’ve seen for a while which totally nails it, though. Maybe the fact that I’m in the technology industry makes it more appealing. But as a commentary on the pace of change and miniaturization of hi-tech, with some great observations of Steve Jobs’ mannerisms, it’s pretty awesome.

December 17, 2005

King Kong

Just got back from seeing Peter Jackson's King Kong. I'm a little disappointed, to be honest. It has some AMAZING sequences, watching CGI creatures fight, seeing the imaginary streets of New York tinged with snow and some genuinely emotional interaction between a 25 foot gorilla and its "love interest". Ultimately, though, I think Jackson got a little away with himself and was too generous (or selfish) with his editing. One of the side effects of being such an incredible director and having too much leeway with the final cut. 15 minutes of the boat scene and 15 minutes of the dinosaurs and other bits in the menagerie could have gone easily, I think. And maybe a few less chest beating sessions would have taken some of the pain out of my back from sitting too long. And the worst last line since Four Weddings and a Funeral left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

December 12, 2005

Environmental things at home

It’s great to see so much consensus, in a political sense, at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Montreal. The BBC’s headline says it all. “UN poised for new climate talks “. So they’ve agreed to talk about climate change. Or they've successfully talked about talking about it. Cynicism aside, it’s an amazing thing, really, to see any kind of agreement because of the diversity of countries, the diversity of level of development and the diversity of agenda that brings.

In the end, though, it really comes down to us. Individuals. The threat to a countries economy that major policy changes might bring mean that those changes are always slow coming. Political change is always going to be slow and cumbersome. So it’s you and me, really.

Shannon and I have started making some slow changes at home. It’s small stuff, but each step gives me a little buzz. I thought I’d outline a few of those changes, and list a few more that I slowly want to make.

Cars first. Fuel in the UK costs quite a bit more then in the US. Probably 3 or 4 times as much. So there’s a financial as well as environmental incentive to be efficient. We have two cars. One is an Estate/Station Wagon. One is a Smart Car. The Smart runs on regular petrol, but because it’s so light and the engine is so small it gets us a solid 50 miles to the gallon. The Audi A4 Avant is diesel, so even it gets 48 miles per gallon average. Diesels are amazing on fuel efficiency and they've totally lost their "smelly" reputation here in the UK. They now account for 50% of auto sales.. I noticed today that even an SUV like the Honda CR-V can get 42 mpg if it's a diesel.

Light bulbs are the next thing we've had a go at. I've been gradually replacing all the bulbs in the house with energy efficient (compact fluorescent) equivalents. These are pretty expensive, but last far longer then normal bulbs and use far less electricity. They're a little bulkier, and I've had trouble replacing a bulbs in a few light fittings that are a bit tight, but most of the lights we have on most regularly (including outside lights) are switched over now.

I've become a bit more conscious about switching electrical items off rather then leaving them on standby. This is actually pretty tough, both because there are certain devices (e.g. Media Centers and Sky+ devices) that HAVE to be on all the time and because there are some devices that you simply can't turn off easily. The Playstation 2 seems like the worst culprit for this, with no off switch. I have to pull the power cable to turn it off fully, which discourages me from actually using it. I manage to remember to turn the TV and DVD player off at night as part of my "going to bed" ritual.

Shannon and I have made quite a bit of effort with recycling. We do glass, paper and aluminum through our curbside (home) recycling service. Paper is a bit of a pain because Runnymede Council won't take envelopes or cardboard. Little steps. We take plastic bottles down to the supermarket, and I'm slowly making plans for a compost bin. We have plenty more that we throw out that I suspect we can gradually find a decent alternative to.

We've become very conscious, deliberately, of the number of times a day we're offered plastic bags when we shop. Even if you go to the supermarket and buy just one item it seems to easily end up in a plastic bag. I think people associate it with security, making it clear that the item hasn't been shoplifted. We've bought 3 reusable, tough bags from Sainsbury's, our local supermarket, and try and avoid disposable plastic bags like the plague. It's become sort of a game, and we'll often get weird looks from shop assistants when we say we don't want a bag. I think we probably save 2 or 3 bags a DAY just by saying know and carrying a few extra, loose things back to the car. We try and avoid bagging stuff in the vegetable sections, too, since you just end up with a bag within a bag.

That's sort of where we are now. I'll cover things we still want to change in a later post (although there are an infinite number of improvements you can make to your life if you keep trying).

December 08, 2005

PSP is a dreadful music player

wanna psp?

I've had a PSP now for a number of months. It's a great games machine with a dreadful lack of games. I still can't believe that this many months after release in the US the selection is still so awful. I wait in hope.

Its media capabilities have been played up quite a bit, and I bought a much needed 1Gb memory stick to make up for the 32Mb default, stuck a load of songs on it and have been carrying them around with me. But not really playing them. In my mind, the PSP barely qualifies as a decent music player because it lacks the one thing that's become standard in even the most basic MP3 devices - the ability to pick the songs to play based on the properties of the songs themselves. On the PSP you can't pick songs by album, by artist, by genre, or any of the other pieces of metadata you would expect. Instead, the system is based on folder, limited to two levels, with a list of songs that you cannot sort beyond the default, which I think is filename. I really think that's a little pathetic.

I've waited patiently as the firmwares upgrades have been released, expecting a fix, but instead we've got some really thin improvements. I've also waited patiently for the homebrew community to release a decent media manager, but instead they've stayed focused on visualizations and other things that just eat battery life.

To be honest, this is so basic I'm surprised not to have seen any fuss kicked up about it. Imaging the iPod experience if it was based only on a two level folder hierarchy, sorted by filename. It certainly would have hampered their carefully crafted, simple experience.

December 07, 2005

Cats

Cats

Sarah posted a few pictures of her recent visit to us in the UK. Here's Sidney and her "baby".

December 05, 2005

Rachel Whiteread @ Tate Modern

Rachel Whiteread @ Tate Modern #2

I've really admired the work of Rachel Whiteread, ever since my friend Matt and I took a late train out to Tower Hamlets to see House, a ghostly cast of the interior of a former terraced house. Reversed out electrical sockets, door and window surrounds and light switches really emphasized the sense of the formally occupied space, and the whole thing was made all the more poignant by the art works destruction a few weeks later.

Now, as part of the amazing set of installations at the Tate Modern that make up the Unilever Series, she’s installed thousands of casts of packing boxes, piled around like snowdrifts. It’s definitely not as intimate a piece of work as House, and it’s disappointing that, even with the thousands of boxes she was still not able to really fill the space, but walking around the maze, and finding new views of people and reflections is compelling.

Geocache #3. Log roll.

Geocache #3. Log roll.

Shannon and I have accidentally stumbled into a whole sub-culture centered around Geocaching.

A geocache is basically a container, hidden away somewhere, that contains at minimum a log page to sign. Often caches also contain things like small gifts that you can take and leave, disposable cameras to take pictures of yourself, and so on.

There are thousands of these worldwide (13 in Hyde Park in central London alone), and you use a GPS device to locate them. First, you go to a site like Geocaching.com, find a cache near you that you want to get to, stick the latitude and longitude into your GPS device and then go out searching.

GPS itself is not totally accurate. My device tends to get to within 30 feet of a location before you can no longer trust it. Which actually adds to the fun, since once you get to the place where the cache is supposed to be you still need to figure out exactly where it is. So far, we've found one under a log in the woods near us at Runnymede, one magnetically attached to a railing in the middle of Oxford, and one hidden under a rock next to a slug just off a footpath on Chobham Common.

So, it's a geeks activity on the surface, but really for us it's a great way to get out and hike with a purpose.