about this blog

This blog documents my staying at home and writing (and the subsequent whatevers to that writing). It also serves as an online journal for friends and family. It is more-or-less guaranteed to be sans intérêt to most anyone else.



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Sending news to Mum and the world since last week

2004 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
Moving Pictures
Soul Music
Faust Eric
Small Gods
Carpe Jugulum
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
Lords and Ladies
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Guards! Guards!
Interesting Times
Equal Rites
The Last Continent
Wyrd Sisters
The Eighth Colour
The Light Fantastic
Dark Side of The Sun
Only You Can Save Mankind
Johnny and The Dead
The Discworld Companion (with S.Briggs)
- Terry Pratchett
A Child Across The Sky
The Wooden Sea
The Land of Laughs
From the Teeth of Angels
A Marriage of Sticks
- Jonathan Carroll
Northern Lights
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
I was a Rat!
Count Karlstein
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Shadow in the North
The Tiger in the Well
- Philip Pullman
Charmed Life
The Lives of Christopher Chant
Witch Week
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Magicians of Caprona
- Diana Wynne Jones
What a Carve Up!
The Rotter’s Club
A Touch of Love
The Dwarves of Death
The House of Sleep
- Jonathan Coe
The Empty Sleeve
The Sound of Coaches
Blewcoat Boy
- Leon Garfield
The River Styx Runs Upstream [Le styx coule à l’envers - Nouvelles]
- Dan Simmons
The Black Book
Set In Darkness
The Hanging Garden
Hide And Seek
Black And Blue
Bleeding Hearts (Jack Harvey)
Witch Hunt (Jack Harvey)
- Ian Rankin
The Wish List
Artemis Fowl [2]
- Eoin Colfer
Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K.Rowling
The Shining, Stephen King
Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctorov
Free for All, Peter Wayner
Desolation Point, Dan Brown
Darwinia, Robert Charles Wilson

2003’s reads can be found here.
Why you will buy a CD by Fredo Viola...

Fredo Viola is a musician working with electronics and his voice. As far as I know he is based in Woodstock, New York. I do know however that he makes great music. In order to make a living from that fact, he needs to sell disks. My entry today explains why you will go listen to one of his recordings, then go and buy a CD from him.

The reason that you will do this is threefold—this is great music that you will not regret listening to, and buying, and because he will be big.

The unsimple answer demands more explanations. And I will deal with them in the reverse order to above.

What is big?

Today, for example, U2 is big. They have media presence, they have my ears and your eyeballs. They have the dubious pleasure of strangely-coloured iPods being dedicated to them. They fill stadia around the world with folks willing to hand over hard-earned monies for the privilege of listening to the group play instruments and sing in front of scenery and displays that are larger than those that the Rolling Stones used during their worst years of excess. They sell records in a manner that make hot cakes look unpopular. They get to wear funny hats and sunglasses all day long, and no-one tells them to grow up and be serious. At least, not any more.

But in the end ‘big’ comes down to three very basic things: public recognition for their music, earning a decent living from that music, and the estime of their peers on both of those counts.

So, by that standard, in our household, Fredo Viola is pretty much already bigger than U2. As we own more of his disks [1 for Fredo, 0 for U2], have more of his tracks on my computer [13 versus 5], and listen to him more often. If you buy a CD from him, this will also become the case in your household, too. As more people give in and discover that they too are Fredo Viola fans, admit their addiction and buy the CD, the bigness will spread. You will have a double satisfaction in this. You can say: I knew him before; I knew hims before you did; I knew him before he was ‘big’. In fact, you can say: I didn’t wait for him to be ‘big’ to buy his disks. As a bonus, you can bask in the cool.

All the while enjoying the music.

And you will discover a great fact about art, and good music. It is that, unlike brand and product, unlike the packets on the shelves of your local supermarket, it is the fact that having more artists around makes everyone feel better and happier, and makes no-one poorer. In fact, the more different songs that are sung and heard, the richer our days and our ears become.

Why will you not regret listening to Fredo Viola’s records?
This is what I wrote about a track by Fredo:
   “The recent release of Brian Wilson’s famous ‘lost’ Smile album could only disappoint. After all this time, fans have recreated the songs, the sound, the harmonies of this mythical album, each in his own mind; comparing those dream moments with a ordinary plastic CD can only end in tears. And how can a musician play these songs today, all the while knowing their place, not only in the history of popular music, but also in the mental collapse of their creator; how can a musician today capture the lightness of tone, the freedom from care and worry, the feel of wind and sunshine in the hair—those emotions that bring Brian Wilson’s best music alive—when the player feels the responsability weighing on his shoulders.
   “Yet this is what I was thinking when I listened to Fredo Viola’s latest piece ‘Little Guy (Morgan Lyttner)’, downloaded from his site. Not that this pretends to ressemble ‘Smile’, but I do find that the feeling of lightness present in this work, the breaks in continuity that bring to mind Sixties’ musical experiments, and the tone of whimsy in the lyrics, all come together and provide glimpses of what ‘Smile’ could have been.
   “I see no point in hiding my continual admiration for Fredo Viola’s work, of which this is another excellent example: it is less quiet than ‘The Sad Song’, but it possesses the same sureness and mastery of the voice and in the arrangements. And, if you haven’t already gathered, a decidedly Sixties feel. Enjoy.” [Source, in French, here ].

As I mentioned above, the first track that I heard by Fredo Viola was called ‘The Sad Song’. I discovered this thanks to Neil Gaiman’s wonderful blog. And, in turn, everyone I have persuaded to listen to this reflexive, inspiring song has thanked me. And I’d like to ask them to thank Fredo by buying his disk. Not only will they find some great music, but they’ll be supporting a great artist, and thus encouraging him to make more.

And it is in that final point that things get interesting. For probably the first time in history we have a situation where it should be possible for artists like Fredo to make good, meaningful, sincere music without getting ignored or ripped off by the record companies [or both].

Normally, on a CD, the artist will get paid [eventually] between 12 and 14% of the sale price. If he is lucky.

Robert Fripp recently explained that in fact, for EMI in GB, artist royalties are calculated on a sale price of £10 per disk, when the disks themselves are sold for around £13.99; that royalties are only paid on 70% of sales, to cover breakage of disks[!!!, supposedly this part of the contract dates back to fragile 78 rpm records]; that, anyway, no royalties are paid until the artist has paid back the advance, and, of course, what was billed for the promotional video that the record company insists is made but billed to the artist. And of course, the record company retains the copyright in both the music, and the video.

Mr Fripp had a further disagreement with his record company, concerning the sale of digital rights. For a start, they were selling digital downloads without having the contractual right to do so. This is generally why the record companies are prosecuting users of file-sharing networks… Next, they said that this was not an important market, and so proposed a rate of a little over 10% on their share of sales. The articulate [and at this point, rather angry] Mr Fripp pointed out that the company had no production costs, no transport costs, no promotion costs, and so a rate of 75% for the artist better reflected real-life investments. Needless to say, they didn’t reach agreement. source and here the passages starting, “Q. One interviewer asked Trey Gunn: is Discipline a vanity label, or is it a real record company?”

If Fredo has no record company he has to pay his own recording, production, and promotion costs. He has to pay his own hosting and bandwidth, as this is digital work we are talking about, and with the sort of downloads he is getting, this can be expensive at times. Because, it should be noted, you the listener are under no obligation to buy anything. You can just go and download and listen, legally. And pay nothing. But if you do that… well, you should not complain tomorrow, if you only have U2 to listen to. Even if they are four very nice gentlemen.

In time I count that Fredo will find someone to whom he can subcontract production and mail order. Not a record company, but probably a musician’s collective of which there are more and more coming together. This would mean a little less work for him, and a little less monies. But he should still be getting more per disk sold than if he were fettered in the chains and clauses of a major record company. Which, in turn, means that he doesn’t have to sell as many records to make a decent—hopefully comfortable—living. This should give him room for manoeuvre: he needn’t be dependent on pleasing just one large public for a living. And, while I couldn’t vouch for Mr Viola personally, such a system—once generalised by the artists—is likely to throw up more, and just as beautiful, music.

Finally, you will buy a Fredo Viola CD because it is good music: moving, human, spiritual, uplifting. It is Music. And because you will enjoy it. And because it will make you feel good in more ways than one.

Go to this page to buy his record and see his wonderful video and here to download the music and mail him [aviola -(at)- aviola.com] to tell him to change his payment page and just let people pay by VISA card without opening a PayPal account. Tell him that he will get a lot more sales that way. And tell him I sent you.

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thoughts on having been fired

Today I started work on the documents to file with the French equivalent of an Industrial Tribunal. These will allow me to pursue the case of, what I believe is, unfair dismissal by my last employer. I say ‘I believe is’ rather than just plain ‘is’, as my views just count for so-many words in front of the court. I must prepare a case, and present material to backup my allegations. I think that I can prove my points inconclusively, but one shouldn’t skin one’s chickens before they’re hatched. Or whatever.

I have, I will admit, been putting this off. But why?

Probably for two reasons.

The most basic is that I needed to get this thing organised in my head from a rational point of view, to let the emotions cool out. The second is the same as before but stronger. Put simply, it hurt.

Now I might have the words ‘dumbo’ tattooed across my forehead, but even I could realise that my previous employers were—in my opinion—stupid, short-sighted, money-grabbing, lacking in most forms of social graces, incompetent, and generally disagreeable. However, I just took the point of view that I was there to do a job, and I might as well get on and do that to the best of my capacity. Which I did. And when I couldn’t do something in work time, I did it at home. I often compare Scripting to doing crosswords; it’s a form of problem solving… once the issue to be solved has hit you, it just gnaws at you, day and night, until you find a solution. For instance: I was told that what we called the spelling corrector on the search engine would be too complicated to implement. [In fact, it is not a spelling corrector, it is really more of a routine that proposes what it thinks you are looking for, based on the dictionary of available terms, all 30 000 of them, rather like Google does also with misspelled words.] I spent couple ot days researching directions, then it took a weekend to sort out initial code, and about two more weeks, part time, to finish coding, installing, and debugging. This is just one of a number of things that I did, mostly on my own time, and of which I am reasonably proud in a professional sense.

I don’t expect to be adored for what I do. Just a work of acknowledgement from time to time, and not being treated as an idiot, is a decent start. Work is not a charity, we’re paid to do it, and all that we do must have a clear cost benefit, or increase the bottom line. Unlike the in-house IT and software, the work I was doing on the website, not only improved matters, but it didn’t break down every two days. Clients said that the site had never been better, nor easier to use.

Each of us working in that company bought in about one million francs [about 150 000 euros] in turnover per year. My job, coding, isn’t on the selling edge, but the web site—that I was keeping running smoothly, and constantly streamlining and improving—bought in over 80% of the revenue on the French market. Foreign agents bought in about 40% of revenue, and I was dealing with them. I also, among other tasks, negotiated bringing in new pictures; in fact over a couple of months, I brought in from foreign suppliers more images than the home roster of about 40 photographers and illustrators usually supplied in one year. I did not commission, brief, select, edit, nor treat those images. That was other people’s work. But the images are the raw material that the agency needs to function, and to sell.

I didn’t expect a sinecure. I expected to work. I expected to continue doing a decent job that paid its way within the company.

And then I got fired.

There are two reasons you can get fired. You mess about the company, and you get fired with a blame on you; or, the company needs to save money, or redeploy forces…

Was I, then, blameless? I was not fired for any fault, but let us suppose for a moment that the employer preferred to fire me under false pretences to disguise a fault in order to not cause me prejudice. This seems far fetched, and it is suprising that it wasn’t mentioned at some point. In fact, during all the preliminary and obligatory pre-dismissal talks, it was the opposite: I was most embaressingly praised to the sky…

Not that we didn’t have disagreements, I will freely admit. I felt that it was not correct to be obliged to work on—what I believed was—unlicenced software, and if given the opportunity, I would say so. When other staff were charged with irresponsibly installing third-party software, or accusations of pirating copyrighted material were made [that were subsequently withdrawn amid great sucking in of air through teeth, and crossing of fingers, while explanations were given], I weighed in pointing out that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I did, at these times, always start by saying that I would prefer to make my statements in private and could I leave the meeting and continue the discussion on the subject with the management, later. They refused, so I had to point out this dumbness in front of other employees. The last straw came when they tried to put together an IT charter that would make the employees responsible for all and any software installed on the machines that the company provided, under threat of instant dismissal if illegal software was found. We are talking about software that was installed by in-house IT staff under orders of management. Much of which I suspected was illegal. Catch 22, please meet Kafka, Josef K., this is Catch…

I pointed out that on my machine not only had software been installed against my wishes, but the company was unable to show me any proof of purchase, or group/site licences, that corresponded to the applications. This is software that included Microsoft Office, Adobe PhotoShop, an internal messaging app called Quick PopUp—I also had questions about UltraEdit and Microsoft Access, but was not 100% sure about these. There was even more questionable material on the Mac that I had been given to use, probably including Quark XPress as the company copy had been given to an ex-employee a year of so back…

So I pointed out that this proposed charter would allow the employer to dismiss staff, over software that the employer had caused to be installed on the employees computer. Of course, under French workplace law you can’t refuse the work on illegal software, and there is no legal protection for whistle-blowing employees. Quite the opposite, it has even been ruled that whistle-blowing can be considered bringing the company into disrepute, and so justify dismissal!

I did what I considered appropriate. I tried to persuade in-house IT staff to audit installations and licences, to at least know what licences should be acquired in the near future; I tried to make other staff, and the employer, aware of their responsibilities, as well as point out the ridiculous aspects of the charter; I researched KeyServer software that would allow installing certain applications on all machines, but only permit the allotted number of copies to run as the best way of reconciling legality and convvenience; I researched and presented alternatives like OpenOffice, and legal cheap [or free] Runtimes for MS Access, that would remove the need to acquire licences.

But at no point was any of this mentioned when I was being fired.

I was initially told that the financial situation meant that I would be fired. OK, bad things happen. Except, we had previously been told that turnover had decreased. And for the second year running. When questioned, my employer admitted that the decrease in turnover was less this year than the year before [6% versus 8% if I remember rightly], but also that since January—this was in June—the situation had stabilised. I pointed out that turnover is not profit, and that in the two years while turnover had decreased, salary costs—the most important outlay for the company—had been halved. And that while the company had posted a small loss last year—the financial year was just ending, but results were not yet public—taking into account the effects of savings on wages and other economy measures, the company could be expected to be on the level again, and probably showing a profit. I was made aware that my remarks were not appreciated, but the financial aspect subsequently disappeared completely.

The next point was that the technological mutation that had made it necessary to employ me was now over, and that the company could no longer employ me fulltime. This somewhat surprised me, as I was busy working on the next version of the website, had published different discussion documents for new tools [including boolean searching, something customers had been asking for], and had a quite long ToDo list of small things that needed doing. Of course, I proposed that they keep me on part-time. This wasn’t appreciated either.

Under French workplace law, under certain circumstances, employees who have been recently dismissed have the right to be first in line for re-hiring. If they make this desire known to the [ex]employer. I did. I sent off the required letter in the week following my dismissal.

In the past, a company was only obliged to rehire someone under this legal disposition for exactly the same job. Tribunals have since widened the criteria, as it was too easy for the company to fire employees on a pretext, to vary the job description by a comma, and to rehire someone else. Now, the company must consider if the dismissed person’s aptitudes and suitability, even after retraining, make him or her a suitable candidate for the job. And if the answer is probably ‘yes’, to hire.

Needless to say that, since I have been fired, at least four people have been hired in different posts, including IT and export staff. Obviously I could not be considered apt for these last two as part of the necessary qualifications is being daughter or son-in-law of the company owner…

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my morning with cat

9:07—Sit down to read mail, blogs and other daily sites.

9:08—Tell cat to ‘bugger off’.

9:09—Stop cat from gnawing through power cable on computer [I’m sorely tempted to just let her gnaw, but I don’t have a spare…]

9:10—Jump into air as cat scrambles up my shins to reach lap, adding to already numerous long-red slash-marks on my lower limbs.

9:12—Use Google to find fascinating article about ‘removing claws from cats’. Without anesthetic. Read article out loud. The whole process sounds horrible. Look at cat, and smile in manner I hope is menacing.

9:14—Cat pretends to be deaf.

9:16—Jump into air as cat scrambles up my shins to reach lap. Again.

9:17—Throw cat on sofa.

9:19—Cat tries to catch her tail.

9:20—Cat tries to autopsy cushions on sofa.

9:21—Cat slides off sofa to floor.

9:22—Cat licks paws and pretends that it is perfectly in order of things to fall off sofa. Backwards. Walks away with tail in air.

9:23—Savagely attacks small ball with a bell in, that rings in an infuriating manner with each swipe.

9:24—Dingly ball hides under small table near all power and modem cables.

9:25—Cat engages in negotiations for surrender of ball, or at least to get it to come out into open and talk things over in a meaningful way.

9:26—Cat attacks another ball. This one is small and red, and doesn’t ring. She is creating a diversion to distract the dingly one.

9:27—Cat darts under small table in search of dingly ball. Pulls on power cords and modem cables.

9:28—Shout at cat.

9:29—Hiss at cat.

9:30—Swear at cat.

9:31—Look for something soft to throw at cat.

9:32—Look for something hard and extremely heavy to throw at cat.

9:33—Get up and put cat on sofa.

9:54—Do a last-minute read on today’s entry in music blog. Correct a mistake. Add a comma. Look around nervously as I haven’t heard the cat in about 10 minutes.

9:55—Rejoice inwardly and think that this spending-the-day-at-home-with-the-cat thing isn’t too bad after all.

9:58—Publish today’s entry on my music blog. Look up, and go for a coffee.

10:02—Flat seems remarkably quiet without cat scratching, biting at feet, jumping on table, pulling on wires. Start becoming suspicious.

10:04—Go to bathroom to prepare a wash for Kim’s things, find cat asleep in dirty linen basket.

10:06—Sort Kim’s clothes. Cat climbs into washing machine.

10:07—Remove cat from washing machine.

10:08—Remove cat from washing machine.

10:09—Remove cat from washing machine.

10:10—Remove cat from bathroom.

10:14—Start the washing programme. Look around for cat.

10:18—Find cat in the kitchen at the back of shelves.

10:20—Try to go to toilet. Without cat.

10:21—Put cat out of toilet again.

10:23 —Block the door to toilet with my foot, than I gradually slip the foot beyond the threshold, pushing cat, all the while slowly closing the door. Pull back foot at last minute, cat falls over. I pull foot back quickly, and shut the door before cat picks itself up.

10:24—Watch cat paw appearing under the toilet door.

10:25—Listen to the sound of cat scratching at the toilet door.

10:26—Flush toilet. Put down cover to stop cat from falling in the bowl, even though the toilet door is supposed to stay shut at all times. Gingerly open said door to avoid flattening cat hiding behind it.

10:27—See that there is no cat behind the toilet door. Don’t know whether i’m reassured or not.

10:28—Wash hands.

10:29—Because of wet soapy hands, try to use elbows to block cat and prevent it falling into wash basin.

10:30—Wonder why I’m bothering and invite cat to drown herself.

10:31—Cat jumps down to floor and sinks her claws in my shins as soon as I turn my back on her.

10:32—Dance a jig while rinsing hands to dissuade cat from approaching.

10:33—Reply to Ludivine’s mail to say ‘no news’. Suggest that she should start worrying about cat who will probably end up in the cupboard for the day if she goes on as she has been.

10:48—Cat pulls ADSL modem down on herself. Cat darts across floor in blind shock. Neither modem nor cat are damaged. Mores the shame for the latter.

10:50—Take cat in arms in an attempt to calm it down [and vary the places where it is scratching me].

10:51—After wandering around my shoulders the cat settles down in the crook of my arms with nose embedded in my armpit.

10:53—Cat purrs.

10:54—Purring gets louder, sort of like a cement mixer about 2 feet from your ears. Wonder about the size of cat. And new species of mutant amplified cats.

10:56—Cat farts.

10:56—Throw cat over onto sofa. Open window to air the room.

11:10—Ludivine replies that if attacks become too much I should put myself in cupboard. Doing so to cat constitutes cruelty to poor defenseless animals.

11:11—Explain the rules to cat. Say that this is purely a volunteer situation, but that the first person to say ‘mioaw’ spends the day in the cupboard.

11:12—Cat looks at me in beguiling manner. Attempts to pat my nose.

11:13—Explain the situation to cat again. Asking if it understands. Cat just looks at me.

11:14—Outwitted by cat when I make a ‘mioaw’ sound to explain what is expected of her.

11:15—Cat escorts me to cupboard.

11:16—Confirm that wi-fi connection works in cupboard, even if space is a little cramped.

11:17—Get a bit of work done.

12:14—Feel hungry.

12:15—Open fridge to get items for lunch. Cat climbs into fridge.

12:16—Entertain delicious thoughts about shutting the door and accidentally forgetting cat for… 15 minutes…

12:17—Shoo cat out of fridge.

12:18—Push cat off table.

12:19—Push cat off table.

12:20—Push cat off table.

12:21—When clawing gets too painful, push cat off lap.

12:22—Cat looks at me from stool with a stare that attempts to be pityful.

12:23—Push cat off table.

12:24—Push cat off table.

12:25—Try to avoid pouring ‘vla’ on cat. Inform cat that cats don’t eat ‘vla’, and that mioawing is no good.

12:26—Push cat off table.

12:27—Push cat off table.

12:30—Cat walks in feeding bowl.

12:32—Cat jumps up on table.

12:33—Wipe trail of cat food from the table.

12:35—Cat whines. This is not mioawing, this is the sort of noise the rat would make in a bad film for kids if the rat were really really evil. That sort of whine.

12:36—Cat flees away down corridor.

The afternonon ressembled the morning. Except the scratches were in different places…

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I think I should get out fast for Canada...

... and I’m not even American, nor in the States.

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