Friday, July 31, 2009

Chemical Brothers - "One too many mornings"

Friday tune is this great old chillout classic by the Chemical brothers (before they went uncontrollably big-beat).

It won't win any fans in the underground techno purist category, but who cares - great atmosphere, and every single sound is perfect... plus it's perfectly arranged. Amazing 7am vibes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nationalise the banks!

It's pretty obvious at this point that the banking system worldwide is in a vast mess, and (despite what they may tell you), it's not looking any rosier for the near future.

The "green shoots" in the US seem to constitute a speculative stock market run due to the massive multiple stimulus actions (paid for by the taxpayer), which have underpinned a bounce (of the dead cat variety?) in the market which isn't based on any fundamental health in the economy. In other words, when this stock market bounce runs out of steam and investors (realising that there are no sound fundamentals) run for the exits again, hold on tight.

We've heard many times that the banks are "too big to fail" - that they are of such systematic importance to society as a whole, that they simply cannot be allowed to go bankrupt - and that this systematic importance is the reason that we (the taxpayers) have to underpin the banks balance sheet when push comes to shove. Now, I can accept the premise that the banks are so important that they cannot be allowed to fail, and therefore, that we as a society may have to support them, financially if necessary.

What I cannot understand is - if we as taxpayers accept there is a need to support a crucial industry such as banking with our own money when the going is tough for them, then why would we allow our interest in the banks to be sold for a moderate profit when the banks return to health, and leave the serious money to be made by corporate interests when the banks are back to printing money off our backs as we struggle to repay our own private debts to them?

In other words - if the banks are of such societal importance, why are they not permanently nationalised? This way, when times are tough, we back the banks. When times are good, the profits from banking would benefit all of society, not just shareholders and vastly overpaid board members. I guess the answer is in the italics.

If we are going to socialise the risk, can we at least socialise the profit too?


The other thought that occurred to me recently was that it is very odd that when there is a balance-sheet crisis in the health industry (the industry that keeps us alive), it requires either new work practices, more efficiencies, less/more management, or best of all, more privatisation.

Contrast this with when there is a balance-sheet crisis in the banking industry (the industry that keeps us in debt), - this type of crisis requires a eye-bogglingly vast bailout with your own money (and your children, and your grand children's money) to ensure its continued survival in its present form.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jordi Forniés - "Tír na nÓg" (land of eternal youth)

Dublin people - you will need to be quick to catch this, but I highly recommend you do go and have a look.

Jordi Forniés is exhibiting again in Dublin, for the briefest of times, and his stuff is really great.

Mixed media paintings, with a variety of materials (canvas, paint, latex, plastic, concrete, gold leaf, you name it!) used in ways which makes the paintings amazingly physical and three-dimensional.

I bought a "Jordi" last year, and ever since it has formed the inspirational backdrop to my work in the music studio. Highly worth it, and much more compelling in the flesh than you would imagine, even if you're not an art person (and I'm not, really).

The latest exhibition, "Tír na nÓg" (which translates as "Land of eternal youth") runs in Filmbase, Curved Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, from July 26th to July 30th.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Primal Scream - "Come Together"

The tune for Friday - Primal Scream at the peak of their powers, getting worked over by Andrew Weatherall at the peak of his powers. This is brilliant.

"Today on this program you will hear, Gospel, and rythym and blues, and jazz - all those are just labels - we know that music is music..."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Kemp Folds!

Does the internet get any better, stupider, and more pointless than Kemp Folds?

(Answers: yes, yes, yes)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The evolution of a Ryanair fare

Thinking about a flight in Europe? Why not choose Ryanair, the self-appointed "low-fares airline"?

Now the thing is, Ryanair was cheap - you could get genuinely rock-bottom fares, reasonable service (well, it was good enough!), it ran to time, check-in bags were free, and so on. Well things have changed - and with the airline industry in turmoil, and Ryanair cutting routes and grounding planes this year, it does somehow seem that they are pushing passengers to squeeze the last bit of margin out that they can, and see how far they can go before they strangle the golden goose.

I decided to have a look for a return flight from Dublin to Edinburgh recently, and see how it stacked up.

So first step - give lots of notice - so I chose October, a clear 3 months away. Secondly, shop around for a cheap day, and a cheap fare. And I got them - going out on a Friday, and back on a Sunday no less!

So what is the fare? €9.99 each way. €19.98 total - beautiful!

Well... not quite. You see, I forgot that that does not include "taxes and fees". It turns out that "Taxes and Fees" amount to €33.37 on the way out, and €30.65 on the way back! Hold on - that means my €19.98 fare is now €84?

If only.

Here's the breakdown of the extra taxes and fees for both directions:

And nicely summarised:

Ok, I see the Taxes/Fees (whatever they are - I'll come back to that). But €94? Where did the extra €10 come from?

That would be the Ryanair web check in scam. A bit of history needed here...

On Ryanair flights originally you checked in at an airport checkin desk, like a normal flying human. Then, they brought in the amazing web check in, so that you could print your own boarding pass, thus not needing to check in at the desk at all. Major staff cost-saving for Ryanair! So, to thank the passenger for checking in online and saving the airline money, they gave you a saving (or rather they penalised the normal check in passenger), by making it free to check in online, but introducing a charge for a normal desk check in.

Well, fair enough - a bit mean, but you have the choice. Well not any more - they have just done away with the check in desks altogether. So the vast majority of passengers now have to check in online. Ok, but online check in is free so that's not so bad, right? Wrong - because now that you have no choice, Ryanair charge you €5 per-flight to check in online.

So having saved the staff costs (that means reduced hours or lost jobs to me and you) involved in a check in desk, and bribed you to help them do so by incentivising you to do online check in, Ryanair are now going to stick it to you by charging you €5 per flight, per person, for the privilege of printing your own boarding pass. Brilliant.

While we're on this little scam, here's another thing - the ticket price is €9.99. If I have to online check in, and I have to pay the €5 for my own time and effort in doing it, why is the €5 check in fee not built in to the ticket price? This is the last straw for me with Ryanair - the stage where deliberate opacity becomes outright deception. The €5 is a known, predictable cost, and effectively a non-tax, non-optional part of my ticket price - so it should be built in to the ticket price, so I can see immediately what I'm actually paying.

Next, you'll notice in the above summary of charges image, that there's a little blue link next to the "Taxes/Fees" line item, so that you can get details [sic] on what the taxes and fees are. Me being the curious sort, I clicked on it - and here is the genius explanation of the taxes and fees that go to make up the €33.37 on the outbound flight:

So, for those that are curious about how the €33.37 Taxes and Fees break down, this should forever answer all your questions. €27.38 of that "Taxes and Fees" total is... Tax and Fees. I'm not sure it could be more of a deliberate non-explanation if it tried. Either Ryanair have mislabeled the window, and €27.38 is pure tax - OR they are deliberately or otherwise concealing the fees details from the customer.

As for the €5.99 "Insurance/Wheelchair Levy/Aviation Insurance", I have a couple questions - firstly, why are two types of Insurance listed, and secondly, if this is a constant cost, why is it not included in the basic ticket price?

Anyway, with my €19.98 ticket running at €94, it's time to get this thing booked before I choose "Priority Boarding" or something stupid.

So - it's on to baggage and Insurance (hold on - haven't I been charged for two types of insurance already?). Anyway:
Trying to keep costs down, I decide to check in no bag, and take no travel insurance. (Incidentally, a single check in bag would be €10 each way, catapulting my ticket to €114). As for the travel insurance, it no longer selects travel insurance by default, but it does make you select from a drop down list, with "No Travel Insurance Required" buried in the middle. Maybe ok for younger types like me, but the no-insurance option should really be the default - for an older person trying to book a flight, what are the chances of them inadvertently purchasing and paying for travel insurance they don't need?

Ok, so we are done - time to check out. The checkout section is ready to go, showing our €94 total:

So I choose to pay by Visa...

And it's suddenly €104. Another extra €10. And the explanation for this, would be what exactly?

Oh - it's a handling fee. One of those handling fees that only applies to a Visa transaction (although there are lower fees for bank debit cards etc). The thing that I cannot figure out, is this: if it's a charge for going through Visa, then how come this charge is applied once for every person, for every flight? For instance, if I buy a return for two people, I'm charged four Visa handling charges!

Are Ryanair so inefficient that they process my card two separate times to get the payment for a return flight? (I checked my statement, no they are not - they are simply charge you two Visa handling fees, for one Visa transaction)

Anyway, flight booked, and I can only be glad that I started out with the cheap €9.99 fare.

Because even with no check-in bags, online check-in only, no travel insurance, and no priority boarding, a €19.98 ticket is equal to a €104 charge when you fly with Ryanair the "Low Fares [sic] Airline"

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pink Floyd - "Shine on you crazy diamond"

Tune for this Friday is the Floyd. They had a massive influence on me musically when I was growing up. I remember my first album I ever purchased was Dark Side of the Moon - on cassette. (Has anyone listened closely to a cassette recently? Do you have any idea how good it sounds compared to MP3?) When I finally folded and got a CD player, it was also the first album I got on CD. Even today, some of the stuff on that album still blows me away. And after hundreds of listens, yes, the alarms going off still makes me jump three feet in the air!

Another epic album Pink Floyd released was a live album titled "Delicate Sound of Thunder". There's something about the production on this that just draws you in - it's so three-dimensional and shimmery, you kind of feel yourself sucked into a sphere of noise.

From Delicate Sound of Thunder, here's "Shine on you crazy diamond" live at Knebworth. It's worth opening in a new youtube window and clicking on the HQ button, as the stereo audio makes a vast difference.

Check also "On the Turning Away" from the same album - the levels are bit jumpy in this live version, but the song is another classic, and dissapointingly still relevant.

Is it only a dream that there'll be no more turning away?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Learning to surf part 1 - Santa Cruz surf school

I’m not sure what started my surfing bug, but most likely, it was the succession of January work trips to California. Every year, I would be across to Los Angeles with work for the NAMM tradeshow, and most years I would end up spending a couple of days up in Scotts Valley where my company was based. As luck would have it, Scotts Valley is five miles up the road from Santa Cruz, and staying in Santa Cruz it can only be so long before you stumble across the surf.

On the trip out to LA in 2005, I ended up bagging a nice Canon camera at Samy’s Camera in Santa Ana – highly recommended if you are looking for a camera in Southern California. A year later I was back in CA, and in Santa Cruz alone one cool and sunny winter Sunday I decided to take the camera down to the shoreline and take some snaps. As fate would have it my walking trip coincided with a decent swell, and what was to be a curious photo-expedition turned in to a 5 hour odyssey along the Santa Cruz shoreline.

Starting at the point at the mouth of the San Lorenzo river, I sat up on the point for a long time and watched these beautiful tubing waves erupting off the point, while surfers paddled around (and sometimes through) the waves to get out behind them, and then came sliding back in on the next waves coming through. I’m not sure I had ever seen surfing in person before, and it was completely transfixing.

After a long time up on the point, I started the walk across to the other side of town, to West Cliff above the world-famous “Steamer Lane” surf spot, and it was here where the swell was really hitting. I spend another 2/3 hours on the cliffs, watching and shooting pictures, and one of the pick of the bunch is this pic – a nice meaty “Middle Peak” wave coming through, with some surfers paddling out to give some sense of scale. It turned in to to one of my favourite pictures I’ve ever taken – the offshore wind driving the spray backwards off the top of the wave, the lip, suspended and about to crack down like a jackhammer, all three surfers paddling out having turned to watch the wave do its stuff…

After that afternoon, I couldn't put the idea down. Life being what it is, it took the full year until I got back to Santa Cruz in 2007 for me to take solid action, and book myself in for a surfing lesson. The people who were unlucky enough to have to take me out my first day, were the utterly brilliant Santa Cruz Surf School. It was pretty quiet – another couple were supposed to be having a lesson as well, but they cancelled, so it was just me – and so the guy from the school (who was several years younger and vastly fitter than me) had the unenviable task of trying to get me on my feet.

The day in question (and from consulting the calendar, it was probably Sunday 21st January 2007) was, typically, nearly completely swell-free. On walking down to the beach, the guy from the school expressed some surprise that it would be that flat in January. The normal beginners surfing spot – Cowell’s beach had hardly even a ripple. I was determined to do it though, so he agreed to take me out to “Indicators” (the most protected and least intimidating part of the Steamer Lane surf corridor), which was catching a tiny bit of swell and did have some small waves rolling through occasionally. Unfortunately, that meant 4-5 minutes of paddling the surfboard across the bay in front of Cowells – which as an absolute beginner, was crucifying on the arms. Nevertheless, I did get there in the end, and managed despite myself, to paddle for and stand up on a wave as it rolled in. I guess I stood up for about 3 or 4 seconds, which was hailed (somewhat generously perhaps) as a great achievement for a rank beginner on their first time out. It was the only time I stood up in over an hour of attempts, but if I wasn’t completely taken with surfing before, the amazing magic-carpet feeling of gliding in pushed by the wave was more than enough to do it.

The paddle back in to the beach, however, was nearly fatal - I was so tired by this point that I could hardly lift an arm, let alone paddle a 9-foot board through the water. In any case, after the longest time, with the surf school guy watching me carefully the whole way in, I did get back in to the beach.

Notwithstanding the fact that my arms ached so badly I couldn’t cross them without being in agony the next 2 days, I was hooked...

Friday, July 10, 2009

U2 - "Red Hill Mining Town"

I'm off for the weekend - West Cork, which means pints of Murphys, hopefully some surf (MSW seems to think so), and the main point of the trip - collecting the wedding album. It'll also be the puppy's first ever trip to West Cork, which should be interesting!

So, in tribute to the collapse of the Irish economy, the implosion of the house market, and the crippling debt burden that we have taken on (and anyone who thinks there are green shoots coming, either wake up and smell the coffee, or close your eyes so you don't see what the dollar is going to do in the next few years) - here is the tune for Friday.

Another album, another moment of genius. Apart from those of us who have serious paid-for assets behind us or are very cash-rich, we're all in Red Hill Mining Town now...

Friday, July 03, 2009

Cajmere - "Preacherman" (Relief Records)

Posting a tune for Friday (the awesome Benji Candelario, for those of you who missed out) seemed like the thing to do last week, so I decided I'd have a go at a tune for Friday, every Friday. Sort of like a Friday institution, that will last at least as long as it takes me to get tired of doing it. Which may be next week.

So, this long standing institution continues into its epic second week today with the tune for Friday: Preacherman.

Back in the 90s, when the clubbing house music world was ruled by cleanly produced European "techhouse" and the nth wave of Detroit styled techno, it seemed like house had forgotten its spiritual home of Chicago. Then from out of the blue, the jamming vocal label Cajual Records and it's heavier trackier brother Relief records erupted on to the scene from Illinois. Like a breath of fresh air, Cajual and Relief sprayed boxy, tracky disposable party records across a scene heavy on shoe-gazing and short on partying.

Here's one of the all-time classics that emerged - party animal (later to become hardcore Christian) and Cajual/Relief label owner Cajmere (aka Curtis Jones), with the monsterous Preacherman. Defying every possible rule of how to make a record, it's a furious and ultimately screaming religious rant layed across 8 minutes of punishing jackhammer distorted house drums. These meter-bursting drums would go on to become a feature of Cajual and particularly Relief releases, and while they sounded odd and off at first, it only took a couple of times hearing them on a big PA to realise what was what. Apart from that, all there is in Preacherman is a single synth noise that plays the same note in triplets across the beat the entire way through the track, getting slowly bent further and further out into FM synthesis psychosis as the fury of the preacher rises and falls.

Insane, powerful, unique, and unstoppable on a big system. Is it nearly time to ditch the new Berlin minimal sound, and get back to some old-school Chicago jack-tracks?

A kiss ain't enough!