Archive for September, 2009

Sentient MP3 player – again

Monday, September 28th, 2009

On holiday, I brought my new little mp3 player with me, the one I bought to replace the one I landed on when I fell off my bike (crunch). It’s a Zen Stone Plus – a tiny little player, with 2Gb of memory, and an FM radio.

Unexpectedly, it took a complete fascination with one song (out of the maybe 200 or so on it), and decided to play it most days, in a very un-random way. I started to wonder what it was trying to tell me.

The song was “This land is your land”, by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (do give it a listen – here for example). The Dap Kings are the backing band Mark Ronson used for his Version album, backing the likes of Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse. This is them in their natural environment, with their usual lead singer. It’s very funky, and I do like it.

The song is clearly inspired by Woody Guthrie, with its message of a land to be shared by all. But I reckoned the bit that stood out most for me was the 4th verse:

One bright sunny morning
in the shadow of the steeple
down by the welfare office
I saw my people.
They stood hungry
and I stood wondering
If this land was made for you and me.

And in this verse, there was one word that stood out. The word “my”. The writer did not see “the people”, or “some people”, or “a crowd of people”. They saw “my people”. I think that one line challenges a lot of what is wrong with the world today.

Are the hungry in the welfare line my people?  Do I associate or identify with them? Or are they just “some people”, or “poor people”. We can give money to good causes for good reasons without giving ourselves.

So that’s what I think my MP3 player was challenging me with.

Or I could be reading too much into a poorly written pseudo-random playlist function.

But it’s worth thinking about.

Holiday Stuff – Cycling

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

I had a good holiday for cycling. One of the local bike hire shops was doing basic mountain bikes for 3 days for 25 Euros, which seemed like a good deal to me.

So on my first day with my bike, I cycled along the coastal path down to Papagayo, the beach at the left end of the resort. It was trickier than I expected, since I ran out of path, and then ran out of road and had to go cross-country. Then that got decidedly steep, so I ended up back-tracking my way back onto the road again, to make a longer but safer way down to the beach.

Once I got to the beach, I realised I didn’t actually have any beach stuff with me admired the view, then turning around and cycling off.

The next day, I cycled the coastal path in the opposite direction, to the other end of the resort, where the lighthouse was. My poor bike is almost invisible beside the lighthouse, but it is there, chained to the gate. That day I also cycled to the bottom of the local volcano, locked the bike to a gate, and then climbed the volcano. Maybe more on that some other day. It was a quite awesome volcano. Though I was quite surprised to find that my resort was equipped with a  volcano.

On the third and final day of my hire, I decided to push the boat out, and go for a proper cycle. I think it was probably about 30 or 40 kms, out of town, then along the coast, finishing up at El Golfo. Lanzarote is a volanic island, and it’s an amazing place to cycle through – parts of it are just so desolate – nothing but lifeless looking black rock for miles. I know that probably sounds quite dull, but it’s so unusual that it’s very interesting. Especially at the sea, where the black of the rock contrasts with the blue of the sea.

So, having enjoyed that cycle, I went back to the bike shop a few days later, and hired a road bike, to  do a bit more cycling. This is where the troubles began, naturally. The picture shows the nice Bianchi road bike just outside Puerto Del Carmen, which is a couple of resorts along from where I was staying. What you can’t tell from this picture is that the chain had come off twice by this point. It came off again before I stopped to look at it, and found that one of the links was coming apart. Fortunately, I found another bike place in Puerto Del Carmen, and he tried to fix the link so it looked less like it would come apart. But that didn’t work, and although I nearly made it home, the chain fell apart on me. Fortunately, I was only about 7 km from home by that point. Even better, when I rung the bike shop, they said they would come and pick me up. By pushing the seat down, I was able to Fred-Flinstone the bike another km or two (mostly downhill) by the time he picked me up. He said he’d never had anyone break a chain before. Worse still, he said he’d only put a new chain on the bike 2 weeks before. But it couldn’t possibly have been my fault!!

But anyway, I enjoyed my holiday cycling!


Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

I finished my first holiday book standing outside the airport waiting for a coach to take me to my resort.

It was Moonraker, by Ian Fleming, one of the original James Bond books, and in fact only the third in the series (though it was a much later movie).

I like James Bond books to take on holiday. They’re physically small and light, and psychologically not too heavy going. Because of our familiarity with the films, they’re often quite predictable, but not this one, where the film has almost nothing in common with the book. In this book, millionaire Sir Hugo Drax is building an independant nuclear deterrant for the UK, in the shape of the Moonraker rocket, thus cementing Britain’s place in world politics. But all is of course not quite as it seems, and James is sent to investigate.

In this day and age, the idea of Britain having a world-leading nuclear missile programme, seems preposterous, but of course Trident is still up for replacement, so you never know. The action takes place mainly in M’s gentlemens’ club in London, and at the Moonraker launch site in the south of England, so there’s not a lot of glamorous locations.

But I do like the plot, which is much more straightforward and reasonable than that of the film, involving a massively complex revenge rather than the extinction of the human race. I found it just predictable enough to make me feel clever, with action and some vintage charm. There’s also an unexpected twist at the end, which I rather liked.

Holiday Dilemmas

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I’ve been packing to go on holiday. Fabulous! But of course it always brings with it its own set of small problems. Like what to bring and what not to bring. I remember a debate between two male friends over whether they could really get by sharing a single hairdryer while away for a weekend. I like to think I’m not just as bad as that, but I have my own problems.

I did some book shopping in preparation for going, and can’t bring myself to leave any of my new books behind, since the last thing I want is to run out of books on holiday, and I don’t know which ones I’ll like most, as it’s a whole set of new authors. So I’ve got my books, some clothes (including ones suitable for eating in the hotel, which specifies long trousers for gentlemen), lots of power supplies and cables for laptop, ipod, camera, blah blah blah.

All of which pretty much fills my travelling rucksack.

But should I bring my cycling gloves and padded shorts? Currently, neither are in, because I don’t think I need them. I can cycle in ordinary shorts, and with bare hands. But I can’t help wondering…

I’ll let y’all know what I decide, and whether I regret it.