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Pay What Now?
Outro
Hearing the music
When to quit
I am not as other men
Tonight I was funny
Attack of the Drones
Notes on your set
Why Pissing off a Fellow Comedian was Fun
Can I Just Say That iPads are Lame

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Sunday, June 30

Keep It Brief

There isn't much time for blogging, as I'm on holiday and not meant to be writing. So this is the perfect time to write in praise of keeping it brief. In some ways Twitter has given the world a blessing in its requirement to be short and to the point. My view is that if you can express an opinion in a tweet, then you don't understand it. This is true for the headline, at least; nuances take more characters.

I had the misfortune to read some of a book by self-publisher, Nick Holland. His "The Girl on The Bus" is the perfect example of why too many words spoils the story. I found that I simply didn't give a shit about what he had to say next because I didn't reckon the time investment in reading his next sentence would pay off. I guess with a story you want texture, character and plot. Without these nutrients, even reading well formed sentences doesn't give you much in return.

When reading a text book, I find I don't want the author to wax lyrical. I want them to be crisp and to the point.

In terms of word count, I've bought some incredibly good value text books on Kindle recently. A couple of quid for hundreds of pages. Yet, I think I might have been better advised to pay a little more for a shorter book on the same subject. Time is not the most abundant resource I possess.

All that said, Twitter can be a very frustrating medium for explaining yourself. Too many times my thought process has resulted in something like this:

"I think the point I'm trying to make is more that... What? No more characters? Ah bugger it. Right. Scratch that... You're all tossers!"

Which may actually be my core argument sometimes.


Monday, June 17

In Praise of Queen

Queen earlier.
When the office murmur gets to a roar, and life seems a bit dull on a Monday morning, can I recommend throwing Queen onto the mp3 player, turning the volume up to 11 (that's out of 10, not 11%, in percent it would be 110) and blocking out the world.

It's a sort of modern-day witchcraft that makes it possible for the studio-work from 30 or so years ago to appear in one's ears at the press of a button and sound as good as ever (within the limits of one's ability to perceive hi-fi sound).

In the case of Queen, you have a band with a distinctive sound, yet a total lack of samey-ness in their music. In my case this morning, I've got "A Day At The Races" on. It's one of my favourite Queen albums. It starts with the riff-heavy "Tie Your Mother Down". When you want to drown out distractions, there's nothing greater than Brian May giving it some on his electric fireplace.

Sure, as a band they may well have played some dodgy gigs, and been either politically unsound, or unaware. I think one can divorce someone's artistic output from their politics/behaviour. In the same way, I'm pretty sure that Rolf Harris can drawn a nice picture.

That is all.

Friday, June 14

You Don't Have To Like Everyone

I've no problem who whoever
this guy is.
I've no idea who he is.
Comedy is a funny thing.

Obviously.

Given that making people laugh is a "jedi mind trick" it's no surprise that when it fails, audience members can react quite negatively to it. It's a bit like a magician trying to convince you that he can predict your card when you've just glimpsed the fact that the whole pack is the same. You can feel cheated. A comedian who doesn't make you laugh can be the world's worst charlatan.

Comedians are, in the main, more polarised and extreme audience members that non comedians. A comedian's judgement of another is most often emphatic. It comes from the illusion of knowledge about the art and craft. A comedian could say "Speaking as a comedian, I think that this other comedian clearly doesn't know what they're doing, in a way that I can determine because I am a master of the craft." I emphasise the word "could" there.

I don't think it's the right of a comedian to use their status as a comedian as somehow proof that their dislike of an act is somehow more justified than a non-comedian's admiration of an act. I say that, I'm pretty sure that I fall into this trap. I have no time for:

  • Lazy old-school drag-wearing character comics
  • Young boys whose idea of humour is to declare everyone a prick...
  • ... or who substitute good cheer and a haircut for material
  • ... or who have Daddy Issues and no talent
  • Old school "blue" comedians who substitute received bigotry for wit
  • Newbies who think that their formulaic dross, delivered without panache, is somehow deserving of a break
  • People who mistake their own ambition as proof that they're contributing to the art somehow
  • Anyone for whom their own hubris is invisible to them
  • Lazy musical comics
  • Lazy comics
  • Comedians who deliberately make an issue of things about their life that, by rights, shouldn't make us hate them
  • Comics with all style and no substance, selling old rope to idiots
  • The blacks
Except for the last one, which was my joke-item-at-the-end-of-the-list, you wanker!

So what do I do when I see someone having a go at a comedian I rather enjoy and admire? I can disagree with them. That's not altogether productive though. I found a solution. I simply dialled my mp3 player across to some recordings I have of this comedian and had a good laugh at their delightfully funny material.

If it makes me laugh, then I like it. My status as a comedian is irrelevant.

It doesn't have to make a particular someone else laugh for me to consider it worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 12

A Sneering Smearing Of Facts

I'm not a fan of Melanie Phillips. In some cases it's about difference of opinion and politics. In some cases the reason I don't like her comes down to the way she writes using weasel language to make her point. By carefully playing on the reader's feelings, she can have her cake and eat it by stating things that are generally factual and even making some reasonable points about temperance, underpinning the whole thing with an attitude that's the opposite.

Let's take a sample article from 2004, 6 years after Andrew Wakefield's now discredited paper was published suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The medical establishment, which is to be considered a massive team of evidence-based experts on the subject, were advocating the use of the combined MMR vaccine, rather than the lesser individual vaccines, based on an older and less effective vaccination technique.

Read her article here.

Now let's explore some phrases she used in the article to show how they play on emotion and fallacies.

Andrew Wakefield first published his explosive theory - suggests a feeling about the theory not that it was reproducible, correct, incorrect, just "explosive". Is that good explosive?

the government and the medical establishment have been determined to discredit him and thus destroy his research - paints him as a victim, whose work is being attacked unfairly. The phrase that they're determined makes it sound like a vendetta, rather than the sort of determination that you'd invest in, say, saving lives.

None of this proves MMR causes either bowel disease or autism; but it certainly indicates a cause for concern - a classic "having your cake and eating it" statement. In fact, there's no established causal link, but this intimates but there might be.

countless parents have said doctors not only failed to diagnose autism or bowel disease in their children but dismissed out of hand the parents' reports - a lot of individual parents claiming something doesn't make for evidence. This is the post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy - the parents decided that autism started after the jab, so the jab caused it. This cannot be proved by multiple anecdotes. The causal link needs to be established another way.

In any event, these studies do not prove MMR is safe. They say there is no proof it is not safe, a very different matter. This is reversal of the burden of proof. The clever thing about it is that it looks like the opposite. It's very true to say that a statement of "MMR is totally safe" puts the burden of proof on the asserter. However, the causal link with autism is in question, so the statement that "there's no proof that MMR causes autism" actually puts the burden of proof on those asserting that MMR causes autism, which on balance of evidence, it doesn't. So the statement from Ms Phillips sidesteps the angle she's coming from which is something like "ooh, there might be something dodgy about MMR".

Certainly, it is extremely worrying if parents are refusing to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps and rubella - it certainly is. Unfortunately, articles like this have a subtext of "MMR is unsafe, don't let it make your children autistic". A statement like this is almost a way of saying "well I didn't say don't vaccinate". The net result of the MMR scare, some of which was down to Wakefield and a lot of which was down to scaremongering from irresponsible reporters such as Phillips, resulted in a general feeling among the public that they shouldn't vaccinate. Doctors are still having to talk people into adopting the vaccination programme. There are outbreaks of the diseases. Herd immunity is lower than it should be. Those who are too young or too weak to be vaccinated have been unnecessarily put at risk.

the government refuse to allow the use of less worrying single jabs - since when does the efficacy of medicine get decided by "how worrying" something is? What does that even mean?

Phillips makes a good story out of the slandered doctor and the worried parents. The the facts are quite different. The doctor was acting without the checks and balances of good, ethical research. The link between the research and a class action to prove a link between the vaccine and autism was clearly an influence in the outcome. The fact that evidence-based medicine was put up against this bunch of logical fallacies and emotive arguments, shielded in a gloss of faux-concern is why I think Phillips should apologise to the families whose children were needlessly affected by the lack of immunity to these diseases.

Series 4

I got into Lost around the time of broadcast. I think it was mid series 1. At some point series 2 started to be broadcast and I ended up buying and digesting the series 1 box set, and then had to wait for series 2 to come out before I could watch it.

If you get into a show at series 1, you have a problem. You have to wait for it to be broadcast in real time. You can't go back very far to get a hit of the old episodes while you wait. In short, it's like the olden days where nobody owned video recordings that they had bought to watch. Rubbish.

I reckon it's about series 4 where you need to get into a show. If it's reached series 4, then it's probably a show that's good and popular enough to get into. It's also matured to some sort of golden age, so watching the latest episodes is really good. Then you can go back to the now-discounted box sets of the original series and start working forwards as well.

Perfect.

How many intelligent people does it take to change a lightbulb?

The lightbulb joke, originally a sneering racist American gag about Polish people, is a bit formulaic, but quite a neat way to get insight into the traits of a group or a situation.

So, how many intelligent people do you need to change a lightbulb?

It's the same as the answer to my own lightbulb joke:

Q. How many lightbulbs does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. One.

You only need one person to do a one-man job, especially if they're of average or above intelligence.

Now how about this. How many intelligent people operating under an enterprise-wide process does it take to change a lightbulb? The answer is, it can't be done.

Sadly, the presence of a process often means people are not empowered to act and feel disinclined to think. Clearly having no process is bad, but having a poorly understood, or an overblown process is a sure-fire route to nothing happening.

Edison wasn't following a process, thankfully.

Tuesday, June 11

To say I cried with laughter is an understatement

I was hanging onto my wife for dear life as we watched this video, sobbing with laughter.


Answer your goddamned emails you idiots

I like email as a means of communication. It allows you to express yourself in enough words to make sense. It's like a letter. It can be picked through by the recipient. It sits and waits for an answer, unlike the phone which needs answering right away. It can be sent and received from a vast multitude of connected devices. In summary, email is a great medium, and I've been doing something email like since about 1986 or so. 27 years of emailing.

When I first started work in IT, desktop email hadn't hit the company I was working for. I introduced it. Firstly, I introduced it in a stupid and crappy way. Then I introduced proper internet-facing desktop email - the sort of email I'd gotten used to when at University.

Nowadays, email is very prevalent. I think we can thank a few services for it. We have AOL to thank for spreading the internet a bit like a virus. Then there are the ISPs who did it properly. The advent of Blackberry and iPhone did the rest, and the copycats finished the job. Services like Hotmail really got people emailing, though Gmail is my mail cloud of choice.

None of this has anything to do with the title of this post.

If you're in business and you have a published email address... answer your goddamned emails. If you don't YOU ARE LOSING BUSINESS.

In the last month I've emailed:

  • An auto repair company
  • A car stereo fitter
  • A gentleman's outfitter
  • A dentist
None have bothered to reply. It's a good job I have clothes, teeth and a working car.

Anyone who cannot reply to an email within a couple of days doesn't deserve to be in business in these times of economic instability. I hope they go bankrupt and don't notice it right away because they didn't read the email telling them.

Who are we as a nation?

I wonder who we actually are. I consider myself a lifelong citizen of the UK, and something of a citizen of Europe. I don't consider Europe to be a uniform and shared culture, since it's clear that each country is very distinct and the differences in language, history, cuisine and way of life means that you can't just plug the people from one neighbourhood into an equivalent in another country. That's good, though. Diversity is the richness of life.

With diversity, though, comes... well... all sorts of shit.

This is where some right wing EDL types would have a go at muslims, or immigrants or other "threats to the British way of life".

This is where some right wing fundamentalist religious types would have a go at those they euphemistically describe as "having an alternative lifestyle".

This is where some people with some sort of authoritarian closed minded viewpoint have a go at people they think less deserving than they are.

That's not where I'm coming from.

I expect more of this country than I see reflected all around me. I operate in a real-world, blogosphere, facebookasphere and twittersphere (so many spheres) where people are generally liberal, articulate, thoughtful, erudite, rational, creative and ambitious. These qualities are not in equal measure in all people, but they are the qualities I hold dear. They're not all the qualities I hold dear, but I'm genuinely shocked when I start to realise how many people are missing vital quantities of these qualities.

I don't care your ethinicity, traditions or country of origin. I do care if you're bigoted, closed-minded, inane, drab, TV obsessed (Doctor Who excepted), sense-of-entitlement led, celebrity culture driven, trivial and thoughtless.

So when I hear people blethering on about their air-headed views, I start to see how the right-wingers feel. The right-wingers would like the country wiped clean of those people they don't like the look of. I'd like a few people wiped clean of their life-sucking notions. The only difference is that my views don't stretch to actually implementing this policy, though I'd happily enjoy it (though not seek it) to smash a few people from Twitter in the mouth, since they're clearly a danger to all around them.

So who are we as a nation? I think we're a bunch of idiots. I think we're the remnants of a colonial imperialist island who don't educate our children properly and fill their heads with drivel from the TV, a lot of which makes them see the world in dull beige colours.

If two people on Strictly Come Dancing, spinning around slightly, can cause a room to scream with joy, then this is truly a joy-deprived nation. We did it to ourselves. We made the banal more important than the deep. We strived for trinkets rather than meaning.

I say we.

Not everyone is like that. Let those who pride thought, creativity and nurturing keep the flag flying.

So long as it's not the St George flag or Union flag, both of which shout racism now more than they shout patriotism. Or maybe they shout jingoism.

Make your own flag.

Monday, June 10

Crying With Laughter

These videos make me cry with laughter.


Make that pitch - they can only say no

The whole of the lesson of this blog post is in the title. Here are some statements:

  • I could never be on TV/Radio/Stage/a public speaking medium
  • Noone would publish me
  • I could never meet that hero of mine
  • I could never get that job
  • Nobody would give me that opportunity
  • This person would not be interested in me
  • I could never achieve that
If you've never said one of the above things to yourself (delete the ones you'd never want for yourself), then I'd be very surprised. Here's a simple truism.

You will never achieve anything if you do not even try.

Obvious, isn't it. Of course people do try and they often meet with failure. So you end up with:

I tend to fail at these things, I'd be better off not putting myself through the rejection.

This is not a life slogan. It shouldn't be. In a lot of people's cases, it turns out to be how they end up behaving. Let's be honest, one's dreams are frequently out of reach, and there's no guarantee that you'll succeed if you try. There is a guarantee: you won't succeed if you don't try.

It's not about luck.

There might be lottery odds of you succeeding, but people win lotteries all the time. (Note, this doesn't mean you should enter lotteries, which are totally random and out of your control.)

So, do what it takes to find an entry point for your particular dream and follow it. Make proposals. Make that pitch. People who are successful have had to do it. If you want a success, you have to do it. You have to treat rebuttal as a natural by-product of trying, and you have to keep trying. I'm not a role model of this, but I've done maybe a little more than average of it.
  • A few weeks ago I put a pitch for a TV programme to a BBC producer - he said no, and gave good reasons. It was a fun process to pitch.
  • I've put book proposals to publishers - no results.
  • I've been on stage 1200+ times, some of which required me to ask promoters, nicely, if I could go on at their gigs
  • I'm generally successful in job interviews
I hate rejection, but I hate never trying more than I hate rejection.

My TV show won't get made. The next idea might...

Thursday, June 6

... Momentum

Comedian "Spider" from Manchester used to do a joke as follows:

Why did Princess Diana cross the road? [gleefully, with a sweep of the right hand] Momentum!

That's not the sort of joke I'd tell on stage, but it's been in my head a lot recently. I think it's because of the number of things I see around me which are happening for one reason alone - momentum.

I think it's important to challenge, question and explore the things that happen around you. Why is this the way it is? Because it just is? Is that really a good reason? Why are you doing what you're doing? Because you decided to? Ok, was your original decision sound? If not, why are you still doing it? Was your original decision sound at the time, but is now no longer relevant? If not, why are you still pursuing it?

I don't think that our targets in life should be like a long unsatisfying sex session with Magnus I've started so
Celebrities on the toilet.
I'll finish
 Magnusson.

This is why critical thinking is necessary. It goes against my earlier blog post about wanting a sense of closure. It's really hard to abandon something part way through. Yet it's also wrong to use momentum as a way of holding yourself and the people around you to ransom until something unnecessary or non-beneficial has been carried through to some sort of climax.

And that's that really.

As you were.



Tuesday, June 4

Yes and...

If I have learned anything from the last few years, it's the power of yes and no. Saying no is a very powerful thing to do, but it's dark magic. It stops things dead. In some situations that's what's required. In a disagreement it's the major instinct - say no - end of. Yet "no" doesn't really have an answer.

Him: I think we should go to France
Me: No
Him: Then I'm wrong.

That's not going to happen.

I'm not now going to suggest that when you disagree you should say yes.

Him: I think we should go to Sweden
Me: Yes
Him: Right, I'll get things organised.
Me: Shit... I don't want to go to Sweden

Pointless.

So perhaps there are two problems to solve. One: if we say no and cut someone dead, it ends the conversation somewhat and doesn't make them that willing to come up with another option. Two: if we can't say ABSOLUTELY YES, what can we say?

There's "yes... or"

Him: Let's buy a car
Me: Well, yes, or we could buy a van
Him: We could buy a van, perhaps an estate car would be big enough?
Me: Actually, an estate car would be slightly too small, but there are those vans which are also 4x4 trucks - how about that?
Him: Bingo!

Keeping a bad idea open while you discuss alternatives is probably a bit nicer. Nobody has to back down if you're "or"ing.

For more on this see Six Thinking Hats which illustrates how to avoid going around in circles arguing the toss, rather than coming up with something useful.

But none of the above is the powerful bit. Let's consider a different scenario. Let's consider something where the outcome isn't "being right" or "accepting something". Let's just consider a situation where we're going with the flow. Let's also imagine that we're trying to be creative. In this situation gainsaying another person, trying to be the winner, is the opposite of what you need to do. You should, instead, engage the other person using the power of yes, and add to what they're saying. If you feel they're going off course, steer them aside slightly and see where you end up.

Him: Why don't we record an album?
Me: Yes, and let's try to do it all in one day?
Him: Yes, and let's try to do each song all in one take?
Me: Yes, and let's each play two instruments in those songs.
Him: Yes, and let's share the instruments, so the combinations change.
Me: Yes, and let's sing harmonies.
Him: Yes, and let's have an a capella bit in each song while we swap instruments.
Me: Yes, and let's video the recording sessions, so you can see how silly it looks
Him: And the album cover could be a montage of us juggling instruments and equipment while trying to be quiet
Me: And let's call the album "Silent Juggling".


And so on.

So here's the challenge. Next time you're out, talk a bit of bollocks to someone, a nice bit of banter. Make someone's day a bit more interesting, by being a bit silly. If they bite, keep it going. Whatever they add, agree to it, encourage them to play along more and more. It's fun. If you can't do it with a stranger, at the very least ensure to do it with people you know and love. It's way more fun to say "yes and" and then see what turns up.

Silent Juggling!? Really?

Oh Tebbit!

I was lucky enough to receive a reply from Lord Tebbit to my letter from a few days ago. I say I was lucky. I think I am pleased he bothered to write back. I think that's a natural part of the democratic process. I didn't agree with his reply, and I doubt he's of a mind to enter into a flame war over what is likely his fixed opinion. I won't print his reply, partly because I don't know if it violates some code of ethics or confidentiality, and I don't want to find myself in the Tower of London owing to some antiquated law, the likes of which only Lords know about.

However, his terse reply can be reverse engineered from my reply to it.

Dear Lord Tebbit

Thank you for your reply. It didn't address the points in either my mail, or your own initial fallacious public comments.

I think it's accurate to say that some heterosexuals do not wish gay people to have the same right to marriage as they do. Historically many heterosexuals have contended that gay people should not have all sorts of rights, but over time these inequalities have been balanced out, bit by bit.

Speaking as a lay person, rather than a lobbyist, and as a heterosexually married man, not a campaigner for some right for myself, it's clear to me that nothing bad can come out of gay people being allowed to marry as my wife and I were married - in a civil ceremony. It's easy to wallow in rhetoric, but much more valiant to pursue fairness for all.

If you don't like the idea of gay people marrying, then it's your right to hold that opinion. Making up nonsense to justify it is not very helpful.

Best regards


Ashley Frieze

I realise I'm probably wasting my time. Still, it's good to make the leaders of the land realise that they're not dealing purely in their own personal view of black and white.

Monday, June 3

The Not-yet-lost Boy

This is not the boy in question
I was somewhat shaken up this lunchtime. It is said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Apparently this is disputedly attributed to Edmund Burke. I think this is a bit of an over-blown way of putting things, but I feel like it is true. How many times have you stood and watched a disaster happening, rather than attempting to avert it? How many times have you said "yes, but that's not my problem" or "what can I do about it?". What does it take for you to harden your heart concerning the unfolding events and just let them happen because they're someone else's problem?

To avoid any dramatic tension, I should point out that nobody was harmed in the making of this blog entry, nor did I have to done a cape, with my underpants on the outside of my trousers in order to rescue anyone from a burning building. However, I think I crossed a line. Not a bad line. I think I crossed a line from random adult into someone's dad.

There's another proverb that makes sense here, apparently it's african - it takes a community to raise a child. In other words, look out for the kiddies. I mean that in the sense of do something to help other parents and set a good example, not in the sense of that harpy Melanie Phillips and her chorus of won't someone think of the children, which is not an argument that proves anything.

This lunchtime I was walking into Bracknell past a couple where the bloke was swearing down his mobile phone and his girlfriend was listening to him. She had a hearing aid - so perhaps she was the perfect companion for this lout-mouthed Bracknellite. That said, he was being all posturing, as is common when you're defending the sod-all you have to your name, and they were quite pleasantly holding hands as they walked through the underpass. They overtook me. It wasn't a race.

A small boy, under the age of 6, overtook me too. If this was not a race, it was still an overtake-the-flat-bloke day. He ran through the underpass and turned right up the stairs the other side. I looked behind me to see who he was with. I couldn't see anyone obvious. I thought he might be with the loud couple, but they were oblivious. As the underpass is curved, I reasoned that whoever this kid was with had no clear line of sight of him. The kid was running on the high-road, above the path I was walking down. I imagined what dangers might lie in wait for him up there, and decided there were none, really, he was the other side of a safety rail.

I walked on. This is none of my business, and you can't accost a small boy in the street these days for fear of having your motives questioned.

I watched him though, because that's ok. Thirty nine year old men can watch little boys from paths with impunity. Hmmm... It doesn't sound good put like that, does it?

I reached the other side of the high road where the staircase comes back down. The kid had a choice - run further away from the main path or come back down. He came back down. I looked over my shoulder. Still no sign of an obvious parental figure for this youngster.

I had a choice to make. Do I wade into this situation? or do I leave it for nature to take its course.

I am an interfering sod at the best of times, and I really couldn't stop my fear of small boy in going missing situation. I called to him. I stood with my hands in my pockets and got him to explain where his parents were. He was with his grandfather. I asked him if he could see the grandfather anywhere near. He said he could. I couldn't. I must be getting so old that I can't see, and yet feel compelled to boss small children about. I kept the kid talking until he explained where his grandfather was and enabled me to see him. He was quite a way behind.

Now we've got a big fat man talking down to a small boy. It's quite a sight, and I was careful to have very reserved body language. I kept my hands in my pockets. An older man called to me to ask what was going on. He didn't seem worried. I think he was doing the you're not a paedophile are you? line of questioning. You know, just to be on the safe side.

I talked the kid into waiting for his grandfather when he refused to run back and find him. We waited until the grandfather arrived, I explained to the grandfather that the kid had decided to wait for him to catch up. He hadn't, but it gave the kid an out, and then I walked away, with a thank-you ringing in my ears.

I had a small melt-down. A micro-melt. That's what it's like when your kid runs off.

I will be buying ropes to keep my daughter within range.

That's not true.

Still, it was good practice for the "voice of command" that I'll need to perfect when my daughter decides she has ideas of her own.

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