the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

Leadership Election 2019

I avoid politics on the blog mostly, but leadership elections are an indulgence I can't deny myself.

It's been 3 very short, or very long years since the last Tory leadership election (take your pick). Back then, all ra ra and blue rosettes on the coffin lid. Now, Theresa May, bereft of authority, respect, and most of all, a Withdrawal Agreement.

The papers say she's now trying to rush spending commitments and legislation through parliament to establish her "legacy", which strikes me as rather optimistic and not just a little misguided. A bit like her Brexit strategy, come to think of it. The poor aunty's only legacy is likely to be "Botched Brexit" and "WORST PRIME MINISTER EVAR". These days, Gordon Brown goes to bed every night with a smile. Worst. Evar.

A sad way to end a career, but while I have some empathy for her on a human level, my overriding sense is just, as they say in Afrikaans, jy wou mos. It didn't take a genius to see that this particular stint of Prime Ministery was going to be a poisoned chalice, but she took the thing anyway and drank loooong and bloody hard from it.

And so again, a Leadership Election. People are caught up in the tribalism and spectacle of it all, but really, this is still just politicians being politicians: that poisoned chalice is still there, whispering "driiiiink meeee, driiiiink meeeee", and while poor old Tezza slinks back to her crypt, a shadow of her former cadaverous self, the greedy buggers have all still lined up for a swig.

Things are different this time around, though. Whereas the previous affair seemed to be over before it started, the new one seems to be dragging on forever. And whereas the previous one saw Boris' campaign end up like one of those rancid mushroomy things in horror movies which go 'pssssh' and deflate when you prod them, this time around he's played it just right, and he's firm favourite to become the next Leader of HM's Goverment.

In fact, with a couple of weeks to go, I think most of the country are now just sitting around thinking "can he get to the end without cocking it up entirely?" Given it's Boris, nobody would bet on it.

{2019.07.07 20:55}

TCO v4

I started writing up a little post in which I indulged in some first-rate navel-gazing about blogging and how my blog is 16 years old and how things have changed and how I blog less and less and have come close to shutting the whole thing down a few times but don't because this and that and etc etc etc.

But who needs that? Suffice it to say that while I blog far less frequently than I used to, I do want to keep my blog, but felt it was time to make a few changes.

The main and most obvious change is that my blog (and tech blog) now live at my personal site, colinpretorius.org. For over a decade, my blog's been at thecorneroffice.org and my personal site had a single page saying "there nothing here, my blog's over there though". Ten years ago, it was sort of cool, a nice touch for my blog to have its own domain name. Ten years on, my blog is quieter, and I had a hankering to consolidate things, so I have.

I felt slightly guilty about breaking links to the handful of posts which are linked to from elsewhere, and still get traffic, but those are easily dealt with. I may flog off thecorneroffice.org domain one day, but for now it just redirects to here.

The second thing that's changed is how it looks. What actually happened is that I changed the blog's stylesheet to be mobile-friendly for the first time, and in doing so, I couldn't resist tweaking a few other thing as well.

... and with that done, The Corner Office can now continuing ticking over with minimal attention from myself and reader(s) for a while longer.

{2019.06.12 22:14}

Maggie

Overhead in the local Tesco, a mother to her adult son.

Yeah, you have to flush a couple of times because Maggie (something) (something)

It's possible that if I'd heard the rest, this blog post would never have happened.

{2019.05.06 07:57}

Wisdom

The children, overheard:

It's OK to be jealous, as long as it doesn't ruin your day, or anyone else's

{2019.02.09 14:07}

Snow Report 2019 II

The threatened month-end Beast from the East turned out to be a bit more snow falling this week, on and off. We had perhaps 1 or 2 cm overnight on Friday, but it didn't stick around for long.

Oddly enough, I noticed today that there was more unmelted snow on one side of our suburb than the other, which suggests some microclimate effects I'd not been aware of. Sadly we live in the melted snow part. On the upside, maybe that means lower gas bills.

{2019.02.02 14:10}

Snow Report 2019

You might call it my own personal way of tracking the onset of global warming, but I've written about snow since we moved the UK a long time ago.

A few snowflakes fell one night in December and melted on hitting the ground. I could've blogged about that; I didn't, and not being bothered to write about half-hearted snowflakes accomplishing nothing is in keeping with tradition too.

Then, apparently, we had more snow last night. Only I didn't get to see it, because I'm battling an epic case of man flu and was fast asleep through the whole thing. There was nothing on the ground this morning, just a thick layer of ice on top of the car.

There are rumours that there'll be more Beasts from the East this year, but until it happens, it's best not to get one's hopes up.

{2019.01.23 18:34}

Great Minds

I was browsing a furniture website and every second page I loaded pestered me with a splash screen asking if I wanted to register for their newsletter.

After about the eleventh time I got the same pop-up, and closed it, I gave in. I typed in an email address. Truth be told though, it wasn't really my email address. My name isn't bugger and I have no association with off.com.

I was not expecting the website to come back with:

Welcome back! Looks like you've already signed up for our newsletter with this address.

{2018.11.03 20:32}

Things I Learned Today

I started ripping Linton Kwesi Johnson's Tings an' Times last night. The CD has not weathered well, with reported errors on every track, and EAC's been at it for nearly 24 hours, and still has 2 tracks to go. It's an odd-looking gold-coloured disc, and I wonder if that has something to do with it. I started listening to the ripped flacs to see if they'd come out OK, and remarkably, despite all the reported errors and taking hours to copy each track, they sound absolutely fine.

This is one of those CDs I haven't listened to in very many years, and it's a genre I've had absolutely no other interest in, ever. But I bought it in the early 90's while at university, because the opening track, Story, got some air time on the late night shows on Radio 5, and I fell in love with it, especially the plaintive violin solo.

I digress. So what did I learn?

Looking at the liner notes, I saw that the violin was played by Johnny T, who it turns out is an accomplished session musician and composer, and also does voice overs for British TV. Discogs.com says his real name is JT Rawlinson though some think he's John Taylor. His website mentions his pop career started out with The Specials, though Wikipedia doesn't mention him. Youtube suggests he also played with 80s ska band called The Trojans, whom he doesn't mention. They don't have a Wikipedia page, but did well in Japan, and were led by Gaz Mayall, son of 60s blues icon John Mayall, and who after 30 years still runs a regular live music club night in Soho.

I'm not a huge ska fan, but I think I'll be listening to the Trojans for the rest of the night.

(As another odd memory, I always associate the Tings and Times CD with Nandos. As students we'd just discovered Nandos takeaways and we'd trek up Louis Botha Avenue, past an old drive-in restaurant, to what was, I presume, one of the first Nandos restaurants in Joburg. I see the brown-wrapping-paper album cover, similar to the paper bags Nandos was sold in, and I remember myself and friends listening to the CD in my res room while eating half-chickens and chips.)

{2018.08.18 20:08}

Ripping CDs (Again)

About 13 and a half years ago, I started ripping my CDs. The majority of them were ripped to mp3s, not a lossless format like flac. I'm not an audiophile or anything and I'd never pretend to be able to hear the difference, but it always bothered me that my digital copies were 'lossy'. Irrational perhaps, but I paid for every bit on that CD dammit, and I want a perfect copy of it.

At the time, I wrote

The downside is that I'll probably want to redo all of this again some time (when terabyte disks come standard with new PCs), but I'll just treat that as another chance to amble down memory lane in the future :-)

Back in 2005, a terabyte of disk space was a fairly expensive proposition, certainly more than I could afford, especially being on one of my glorious 'sabbaticals'. Also, how much more to buy another terabyte's worth of disks to back everything up? Now we're up to multiple terabyte disks, and at the time I'd have hardly believed it would one day be dirt cheap to back up a terabyte's worth of data to online storage, let alone have the bandwidth to get it all up there and back again in in a hurry if you need it. But here we are, so I'm re-ripping all our CDs, to flacs, so my digital copies are as good as they'll ever get.

The main reason I started though, is that I want to reclaim shelf space. I'm ripping the CDs, and soon I'll be bagging all the disks, liners and booklets into storage boxes, and sending the mountain of jewel cases to the dump (assuming the local charity shop which takes almost everything isn't crazy enough to take them).

This time around I've gone with EAC for the ripping and encoding. The old cddb/freedb metadata lookups have been replaced by MusicBrainz, which is an incredibly detailed online database and an archivist's dream but a personal productivity nightmare (crowdsourced and volunteer-driven, nit-picky down to bar codes and catalogue numbers; I have tons of SA and/or rare pressings of CDs which aren't listed on the database. I feel morally obliged to add the details, but when do I find the time? Who can live with this kind of guilt?)

One interesting (or perhaps depressing) fact: when I ripped the CDs the first time around, I put all the mp3s into a "to listen" folder, and only moved an album out of there once I'd listened to it to make sure it sounded OK. Looking back at the "to listen" folder, about half of all the music I owned in 2005, I've never listened to since.

So one might ask why bother at all about making copies of music I never listen to, especially given how much more music I have 13 years later. And it would be a reasonable question, but the answer is simple: there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who'd cart their old CDs off to the charity shop instead of just the jewel cases, and those who just won't. I've long since made peace with being one of the latter. Saying goodbye to the jewel cases will be hard enough. But at least we'll have space for more books.

{2018.08.16 21:10}

Classical Music

I've recently started listening to more classical music, especially piano works. I don't think I've bought any classical CDs since the 90s and I'd forgotten the hazards of doing so.

If you've bought a lot of classical music, you probably know what I mean. Sooner or later you'll start talking to an Enthusiast. You may casually declare an intention to acquire Beethoven's 5th Symphony, say. But then will come that glint in the Enthusiast's eye, and you'll get asked the question you hadn't thought needed asking: "which one?" And you sort of know that "the one with violins...?" isn't the kind of answer you ought to be giving.

Thus may you get your gentle introduction to buying classical music. You will learn that one does not simply march into a CD store and buy a copy of Beethoven's 5th. There are all sorts of things to decide along the way. Darned thing's been recorded hundreds of times. Which conductor? Which orchestra? Which performance? And symphonies are easy. If it's a concerto you're after, there's the biggest complication of all - which soloist? Where and when?

And the truth is, performances really can sound very different. It's a personal thing, but choosing a 'good' performance is worth doing. Some of the best versions are going to be completely different listening experiences compared to a half-arsed rendition by the Dullsville Philharmonic on some exotic-sounding budget record label. Although sometimes the LSO recording from '97 might actually be quite crap, and the Dullsville Philharmonic might have been spectacularly on form, and they're an excellent choice assuming you're not too much of a snob.

Which to choose? In the olden days you'd either just not bother and get the cheapest version on the shelves or the one with the most interesting cover but knowing deep down that you're possibly Missing Out, or rely on word of mouth (the Enthusiast will probably have given you a pointers, and at the store something might trigger a memory about von Karajan invariably being a safe bet), or read recommendations from the thick and well-thumbed CD book that was always plonked down somewhere in the classical section of your local CD store, and maybe go through the unholy schlep of listening to a few versions in-store, which was usually such a hassle with queues and surly assistants and broken headphones that Missing Out didn't seem like such a bad option after all.

Now, the world has changed. Now, there's Spotify and YouTube. On the up side, you can actually sample the various recordings and decide which one you like most. On the down side, your choice is no longer just one of a few versions in stock on the shelves, it's closer to dozens. And it's no longer just recordings. You've also got all the live performances, and there are many, many more of them.

Like Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos? You're more spoiled for choice than ever, but if you're prone to getting caught up in things, you can go down a rabbit hole and not come out for months.

{2018.07.01 08:01}

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