Can I be a songwriter please?

I listened to Gillian Welch a lot this week, including her song One Little Song. It’s about song writing. I saw Declan Sinnott live and heard him sing a song about songwriting. And I heard a friend of mine playing some songs he’d written himself that were really, really good.

So why the fuck do I struggle so much with it?

When I listen to the likes of The The and Nick Cave, I’m moved to try. They make it sound so easy. And I feel like it could be.

There’s a big ball of pain and fear locked inside me. I used to talk it out when I was drinking, but that’s no longer an option. Probably just as well. Sometimes it went okay, but usually not.

Playing music helps to get the fear out, simply because it puts me in the present. That’s a place I’m seldom in.

My head was buzzing all over the map at the concert last night and not always to good places. I was left wondering at times what have I contributed to the universe lately? There’s so much music I want to learn, songs I want to sing and it just felt over fucking whelming, you know? I find myself thinking that if I could just master this, figure out that, I’d finally have arrived and my self expression would suddenly have a valid artistic outlet. But all that happens is that I get angry at life’s getting in the way and preventing me from following my path, and that’s just wrong. I know that.

By contrast, this morning, I found the tired-with-too-little-sleep me sitting on the bus thinking about how joyful I am that there’s so much out there for me to learn musically and that each half-hour of playing live or twenty minutes of watching a video about thirds and fifths is adding to the whole me. I’m hungry for it, but I still get down that there’s no creativity and that it’s all just copying. And do people really care?

The Tweet I posted earlier was what I was thinking as I stood at the bus stop.

I have to play music for my own enjoyment first and foremost. If others enjoy it too, so much the better.

Watching these fantastic musicians last night had me feeling down that I can’t play those licks or sound that good or write my own stuff and it’s really not like me to think that way. I often hear musicians’, after seeing an amazing player, saying things like ‘I might as well just quit’, but it usually inspires me to go and pick up my guitar and learn the fuck out of it. Maybe I was just tired and low last night.

So how does the sober me get the pain and, yes, sometimes the joy, OUT into words without being explicit about what’s really on my mind? I tried poetry a few months ago and it actually went well, much to my surprise. I started with some of the loose random words and sounds that are constantly in my head and lines just appeared fully formed. I’d heard that that can happen but never really understood. In fact it felt bloody great.

So maybe I’ve just got to sit down and fucking do it; take the headphones off for a bit and see what silence can bring; be alone with the cacophony in my little head and see if I can get some of the noise out into words. Maybe that will make the noise a wee bit quieter and I’ll stop hating the world so much.

Reality Music TV Shows and Online Betting

X-Factor panel

Three popular Reality TV Shows with an Online Betting System

Before, placing a bet on a team or an individual player was only done in sports matches. However, today, it would seem that reality TV shows now have a place in the betting industry as well.

Betting on reality TV contests are very much like wagering on sports events. Contestants who are fan favourites have the highest odds but with small payouts, while the “dark horses” will always have the highest pot. Through online bookers, people can now place bets and make money by predicting who will place first by the end of the show. Here are three of the most popular TV shows with an online betting platform:

X-Factor

X-Factor is one of the most popular reality TV shows in the US and UK. As such, it is only rational that a betting system for it was made. This year’s X-Factor, former prison officer Sam Bailey was the fan favourite and the odds were in her favour. In a news report by Betfair‘s Jack Houghton, Luke Friend was her strongest opposition with Nicholas McDonald out of the lead. In the end, it was Sam who won the completion and became the X-Factor 2013 champion.

The Voice

Last year, The Voice UK’s betting market was surprised when Leanne Mitchell bagged the first prize. Not a lot really expected Leanne to win, with the odds against her of only 7/1 during the final leg of the competition. Her toughest competitors during that time were Tyler James and Vince Kidd but due to her unexpected, spectacular performance, she was able to turn the tide and became The Voice’s champion last year.

Eurovision Song Contest

Eurovision is a huge contest in the UK region, being participated by the active member countries of the European Broadcasting Union. It is one of the longest-running shows in the world and one of the most watched non-sporting events. With viewers that range around 600 million internationally, it only makes sense that a betting platform was dedicated to it. This year, Denmark became the favourite of betting fans, followed by Norway, which came through second in the finals.

Ultimately, the online betting business on music programs will keep getting bigger in the future for two reasons. First, it offers an alternative to sports betting where people can not only enjoy TV shows as is but also make a little money from them. In addition, it also does well to the TV programs by advertising them freely online through news articles and betting results.

Lovely painting

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Pens

On my 21st birthday my mum bought me a nice Parker fountain pen. I don’t remember what it was or what happened to it. But I do recall that I found it scratchy and never used it much. As an object though, I still really liked it.

I’ve always cared about the pens I use. I favoured Parker ballpoint pens at university and used fine refills, but I also had some with medium. I am the sort of person who would spend fifteen minutes looking for one of those pens to sign a cheque when there are Bic and Staedtler ballpoints all over the house! When my grandfather died and we were going through his things, I found a Parker ballpoint in every suit jacket in his wardrobe. I still use these and have a quite a sentimental attachment to them.

Pen Addict Podcast

I started listening to the Pen Addict podcast around episode 50. I’ve no idea why it took me so long to get to it!

Now, it took me a year of listening to MacBreak Weekly before I bought my first Mac. It took me two episodes of the Pen Addict to get my first fountain pen, a TWSBI Diamond 580 with a fine nib from Cult Pens.

TWSBI Diamond 580

Not long after that, I bought a Pilot Capless decimo in violet on eBay and two bottles of ink from Cult Pens: bilberry and grape. Turns out that I think the ink colour should match the pen!

I have Pilot G2 pens and Zebra Sarasa gel pens. I don’t recall where I heard about them, but I like them. And, of course, it didn’t take many minutes of Pen Addict Podcast before I heard these pens mentioned.

It’s a strange thing. Pens have always been important to me, but I’ve never really gone deep. It’s strange because I have an obsessive nature and tend to go deep on whatever I’m into, sometimes to the exclusion of other things, which is why I’ve learned over the years to avoid things that are likely to capture my attention too fully (TV shows, video games being the obvious things I avoid).

It’s also strange because I don’t actually write that much! In the past couple of weeks, I’ve become a good pen friend with my friend in Luxembourg, whom I miss terribly and don’t keep in touch with nearly enough. Needless to say, she’s really pleased!

Shop

I have a small Post Office in a rural location in Scotland. I’ve been selling stationery since I started here five years ago. Gel pens sell reasonably well, but I’ve never really learned about them other than which ones sell and which ones don’t. So I’ve gone back to episode 1 of the Pen Addict podcast and plan to start stocking more pens and paper, including Moleskine notebooks.

I’ve always loved the staff picks in Waterstone’s book shop, particularly the handwritten reviews displayed on the shelves. So I’ve come up with the idea of handwriting testimonials of the different pens on brown luggage tags in the shop.

Whether this will work or not remains to be seen, but it’s worth a try and it’ll be fun for me to sell something that actually interests me. Experience tells me that things I like don’t sell well and things I don’t like do, but maybe it’ll be different where stationery is concerned!

Music gives me hope

I watched When Albums Ruled the World on the BBC last night and it was one of those documentaries that has stayed with me into the next day. It charts the rise of the album from the single and talks about some of the music that was made possible only by the LP. One of the ideas that stood out for me was that LP collections were like the working man’s art collection. It said so much about you.

I came of age around 1980 and, although I did have a few LPs on vinyl, I was much more of the cassette tape generation. I’ve had headphones on pretty much since the early 80s and I was pondering that just recently as I listened to music on my iPhone whilst out with the dogs. I had on my sound-isolation headphones and I felt like I had arrived; things can stop progressing now, because it just doesn’t get any better. No more tape hiss, no more tape jams!

Then came CDs and I bought them and bought them and bought them. I now have hundreds and hundreds of them in the attic, all ripped into a lossless format and filed away as needless physical media. Nobody can come to my house now and see who I am through my music collection unless they sit down at my computer, and that’s pretty unlikely. I pretty much exclusively buy music now on iTunes or the Amazon mp3 store, or I listen on Spotify. That change has come only in the last few years, since iTunes did away with DRM. And now we have iTunes Match, which I absolutely love!

As I watched the documentary, I found myself thinking of my two children and I was filled with such hope for the future. And that is what music has always given me: hope. I don’t know why; I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s the idea that my kids can do anything they choose to do. If they can find something they love and always get to do that, they can be much happier than I. They can consume, but they also need not fear creating. Maybe that’s it.

So I had the idea of sitting my kids down and listening to albums with them, but as I walked the dogs this morning I realised that that just wouldn’t work. I have to let them find their own music, which undoubtedly they will, just as I did, and what I listen to will perhaps influence their tastes a little, but they won’t realise it until they’re much older. What I should do is make sure I play more music in the house that I currently do. I spend so much time listening to podcasts and audiobooks that music seems to take a back seat. I’d like to change that. I’ll stick to shows with Merlin in them, because they’re so helpful, and ditch the rest. Yeah, that makes sense.

Walking the dogs

The highlight of these holidays has been getting out with the dogs in the dark of the night with the wind howling and the rain pouring.

Here’s the gear:

  • Keela Munro jacket (best jacket EVER)
  • Sprayway waterproof trousers
  • Brasher 3-season socks
  • Merrell waterproof walking shoes
  • Flat cap
  • JBL Beats with active sound isolation

I get my hood up, zip right up, and off we go!

Two nights ago I listened to Paul Heaton Presents… The 8th and it was fucking tremendous. The production is incredible and the content is as entertaining as a good movie. It’s huge!

These are the times when I get to think about life in a way that I can’t really do with audiobooks and podcasts. It’s a rare moment of joy that I feel through the day, when life is the hardest it has ever been and I’m so full of doubt about the decisions I’ve made. So I put on the music and wrap up, and I’m transported back to the centre again, whence all gets put into perspective and I can feel the love the family, the joy of playing music with friends, and I want to create, to write, to talk, to sing, to laugh. Then I see other people approaching and I do all I can to avoid them, so I guess it doesn’t change me that much. Ha ha.

Last night I couldn’t get the music right though. After enjoying The 8th so much, I thought I’d stick with the concept album and put on Tommy. It bored me, so I switched to The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, but that bored me too. ‘I know’, I thought. ‘Merlin likes Godspeed You! Black Emperor, so I’ll give that a spin.’ So I gave it a spin and didn’t enjoy it at all. By then, the rain was too heavy for me to get the iPhone out to change it. It reminded me a bit of Ride in the 90s, and I probably would have enjoyed it had I been in my 20s. Who knows. It was too much tension and not enough resolution for me, but I was stuck with it, so I persevered.

I won’t manage out tonight because I’m playing a gig again. 🙁

Friends and Family on my Birthday

I turned 41 yesterday and it was just about the best birthday I can remember.

The day before was a Saturday, which means a half-day for me at work. I closed, had lunch and then met Lorraine and the kids and a family friend and we headed off to the cinema to see Ice Age 4. Okay, so the film was rubbish, but the kids enjoyed it and I got to spend the afternoon with the family. From there it was home for a quick bite to eat and then I headed out with Freya to see a fantastic jazz trio, featuring Tim Kliphuis on violin. He was one of the best violinists I’ve ever seen. Phenomenal!

And then home to watch Glengarry Glen Ross!

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to persuade Lorraine to go hiking with me on the Sunday, but I had mentally prepared myself to accept what came my way. But, lo and behold, she agreed and we headed off the Glen Rosa and a walk all the way to the top of the Saddle. The walk was spectacular, but what the best thing about it was was getting to spend such a long time with my wife and no kids. Not to disrespect the kids you understand. They are kind of all right, I guess! But I don’t think I’ve spent that long with my wife without being too dog tired for much of a conversation since moving to Arran five years ago and probably a long time before that.

There’s a lot going on in our lives right now and it really gave us the chance to talk it through and come up with some options.

In the evening we ordered pizza from the Lamlash Bay, totally non paleo but I’d decided it was all right since it was my birthday, and it was all the better for being forbidden. We watched Alice in Wonderland with the pizza, which was highly enjoyable, oh so much better than Ice Age 4!

When the kids went to bed, I put on Amélie, which is undoubtedly still my all-time favourite movie! It’s just perfect. The colour balance, the lighting, the music, the content, the performances, the sound, EVERYTHING. I just don’t think it can be beaten. If I were a film, that’s the film I would be.

I got a lovely message today from my very best friend, Maria Cristina. I also got a The The concert program from Eeko. It inspired me to listen to Mind Bomb whilst cooking the tea on Friday night and it was an awesome experience. ‘Was our love too strong to kill, or was I just too weak to kill it?’ Ponder that!

After tea on Friday I spent a bunch of time watching Regina Spektor videos on YouTube and was moved to tears, quite literally. I felt so inspired and creative, and out on the hills it had me thinking about the link between nature and art and creativity and peace and serenity. All that. And it made me want to SHOUT OUT that I had the answer. I HAD IT.

Creativity

I just finished reading the free Read & Trust issue, where a bunch of writers wrote about creativity. It was, dare I say, inspiring!

The thing that jumped off the page at me was a quote from Ray Bradbury about risk that Shawn Blanc wrote:

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury

This jumped out at me today because I’ve been teetering on the edge of a cliff for a while now, but this morning made a phone call that pushed me over the edge.

This topic of fear is something that Merlin has covered extensively in Back to Work, particularly in relation to changing jobs. It’s definitely worth subscribing to B2W if you’re at all interested in what I suppose is referred to as ‘life hacks’.

But back to the creativity thing. It’s interesting that I should mention podcasts, because that’s what this post is ultimately about.

Both Shawn and Brett talked about giving the brain time to process information so that ideas can form themselves. Brett even goes so far as to suggest sleeping! Well, I wasn’t giving myself much time at all for that processing to happen. The reason for that was podcasts. I started listening to Security Now! and TWiT when they started, and from there I have only ever added new shows, never removed. That is until recently. And if I ever did manage to get through my podcast queue, I’d be straight into my Audible queue.

I had a thought in the shower that I seem only ever to have ideas in the shower. (See what I did there?) And although the reason for this is patently obvious, it never really dawned on me until quite recently: It’s the one part of the day when I take off my headphones!

So, about a month ago I made a rule. It was a very hard rule for me to enforce, I suppose because of my OCD nature. Some of these shows I’ve never missed an episode! But I did it, and nothing bad happened. They didn’t eat me!

So, what was the rule? Simple. Any podcast that’s over two hours long gets deleted straight away. No questions asked. I’ve missed a bunch of Hypercriticals, MacBreak Weeklys and TWiTs since I made that decision, but I did start getting some time back. Probably the most painful one was The Talk Show with Marco. I’d probably have enjoyed that, although I suspect it was all about the iPhone 5 so chances are that I’ve heard or read their views anyway.

So, I’ve been spending the time I got back listening to music again, something I just never seemed to have time for anymore. And d’you know what? I’ve been experiencing fleeting feelings of fulfilment and joy whilst out with the dogs when listening to music. I’ve been processing thoughts and generally feeling a whole lot happier. Standing on the beach looking out over Holy Island and listening to alt-J gave me an incredible feeling of joy and gave me back some perspective on some of the difficulties that life is throwing at me right now. And I’m finally using those expensive Beats headphones that I bought myself for my 40th birthday last year!

So, although I do enjoy the podcasts, I’m considering cutting back ever further. I’m not quite sure how I’ll do that just yet. I’d considered listening only to shows with Merlin in them, since they actually help me on a, dare I say, spiritual level. Brett’s Systematic has also helped me on some shows.

I could change the habit as well, something like podcasts in the kitchen or when fixing computers and music when out with the dogs. It’s a work in progress…

In terms of news though, I don’t watch TV news at all, nor do I read newspapers on or offline. The only news I consume is tech news, either via podcast or Websites. So I guess there’s a lot of redundancy there anyway.

I’m going to buy a couple more issues of Read & Trust magazine, because I enjoyed very much the free issue.

And if there ever is an episode of Back to Work or Roderick on the Line that goes over the two–hour mark, I’m guessing that I’ll keep them.

Hey, they’re my rules!

Lynda.com

I’ve just got a subscription to Lynda.com for training videos and am having a ball!

I’m going through Chris Orwig’s Lightroom 4 Develop Module tutorial right now. I ‘found’ his tutorials on Lightroom back when I first started using the app when it came out and it was really that that got me into photography more than anything else. I loved the app so much after I’d learned how to use it from Chris’s tutorials. Since then, I’ve upgraded to every version, but never gone back to the tutorials until now with Lightroom 4.

And, while I’ve got the subscription, I’m going through GarageBand and Adobe Audition as well. It’s a shame that there isn’t anything for GarageBand on iOS, but I’m guessing that the skills will be transferable to a large extent. Now I’m just waiting on the arrival of MIDI cables so I can get the MIDI keyboard controller up and running and I’ll start creating songs with Hamish for Tech Tuesdays.

Google two-factor authentication →

For those of you following on the recent password security buzz that’s been going around for the past couple days, Matt Cutts has a good FAQ on using the Google two-factor authentication.

Robert over at Gridwriter has posted a link to how to set up two-factor authentication for Google services. This is in the wake of Mat Honan’s being hacked and losing a bunch of data. Despite the fact that the hacking was not caused by a lack of two-factor authentication on Mat’s part, the Internet has woken up and started battening down the hatches.

I’ve gone through the process myself and it’s painful enough for me to feel like I’m actually doing something! I had to reauthenticate gmail on my phone, iPad and in Mail.app.

I’m going to set this up for my good lady as well, and my kids. It’s time for the Internet to sit up and take notice that, although we know what we should be doing, we very often can’t be bothered.

Oh, and to quote Marco of Instapaper[^1]:

Backing up is easy and cheap. Do it. Right now.


[^1] we don’t say dot com