Monday, October 10, 2005

North Atlantic Oscillation

Apparently Europe is in for something of a cold snap this winter due to something called a ‘North Atlantic Oscillation’. (If I was living in the US, I think this would be a great name for a band.)

This was described in The Times as:

“a low pressure system over Iceland and high pressure over the warm Azores islands in the sub-tropical Atlantic.”

The forecasted result will be blasts of bitterly cold air towards the UK. Apparently, when this occurred in 1940s, there was sea ice in the English Channel! This was the cold snap that froze Hitler’s armies in Russia.

Aside from a probable surge in scarf sales, the UK is reported as having merely 11 days of natural gas reserves, the lowest for 10 years. This would mean that businesses are likely to have to shut down on cold days! It seems improbably now, but who knows. It would be like missing school because it snowed too much and I can’t imagine many workers being too upset about that.

Of course, anyone having lived in UK will know that the merest wisp of snow can bring the infrastructure of the entire country to a grinding halt and inevitably prompt the Evening Standard newspaper to use totally unexpected headlines like “London in Grip of Ice Age’, or basically anything connecting freezing weather and the word ‘shock!’

However, anyone who has experienced a Czech winter knows what -20C feels like, and if you don’t have the right gloves you really can be in trouble.

So, I’ll be telling all my UK contacts that their ‘cold’ winter is really not that impressive, unless of course the Thames freezes over and then I’ll be over for ice skating next to the HMS Belfast!

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Axe Falls

The Spanish Archer has made a visit. (For those needing help with that one, 'El Bow', elbow...? Whatever)

A visibly flustered and apologetic office manageress sat in my office and told me the decision had been made to terminate my employement contract.

I think my relaxed non-reaction confused the poor lady - I'd been tipped off weeks ago and knew it was on the cards. An episode mid-July saw to that.

Still, it can't be easy knowing you have the dreadful task of telling an employee that 'we don't wanna see your sorry arse here no more', or words to that effect.

To add a little insult to the proceedings she then told me that I was being permanantly replaced by a more favoured candidate who, in fact, had left the firm in March becuase she couldn't take any more of their shit!

They are deliberately resisting giving me any reasons, which is nice.

So, I'll now be pouring over the details of a rather thin employment contract to see if i have a leg, or any other limb, to stand on. I'm pretty sure I don't, but no point going down without a fight if you can die with music.

So, another one to chalk up to experience and the future beckons once more.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Predictable War

I recall the live CNN broadcast of the US making its presentation before the UN, outlining the case for immediate military action against Iraq. I remarked to an empty room ‘they have no case!’.

At the time, it seemed clear the US government was predetermined to go in anyway, irrespective of any tangible evidence of real threats (none found before or since), with the actual objective of securing a strategic hold over the region’s oil reserves.

I made a few simple predictions of what I thought would ensue should the proposed military action take place, being:

(1) destabilize the Middle East

(2) provide a catalyst for a sharp rise in Islamic extremism

(3) provide the basis for a unification between Iraq and Iran (i.e. a struggle against a common enemy) and a springboard for renewed calls worldwide for an Islamic state

(4) increase in the likelihood of terrorist attacks domestically in the countries forming part of the coalition forces (Blair would try to dissuade us of any connection of course)

(5) civil war in Iraq

(6) military action will create more problems than it solves, and will leave an incalculable trail of human tragedy in its wake

(7) create long-lasting repercussions throughout the world for decades after the military action is ‘officially’ over.

Clearly, it only takes basic common sense to have made these predictions, and yet here we are.

And, of course, the monetary costs of this dreadfully myopic miscalculated invasion are, and will continue to be, mind-bendingly overwhelming. I’m using an historian’s quote here but it applies very well in that ‘there is nothing so ruinous as an overseas war’.

It is further shocking to imagine the positive uses to which those funds (taxpayers funds too) could have been better employed, particularly in the pursuit of serious medical research, hospice care, welfare easements, waste management (anyone seen the mountain of waste NYC produces per day?!), or even something much more environmentally responsible such as adopting the Kyoto Protocol, or funds for extensive research in sustainable alternative non-polluting energy resources.

I’ve no doubt the Bush administration will be rightfully detailed in history as the government that pursued a pointless and costly foreign campaign, compromised individual freedoms and safety, undermined the UN, and turned the world against America.

It’s astonishing, considering a population as vast as the USA, that Bush - a man with a demonstrably limited understanding of international affairs - is electorially selected as the ‘best man for the job’.

‘In God We Trust’, but for the moment the world has to contend with the jingoistic lunacy of Bush and his administration.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

3 meals from Anarchy

I recently re-watched an episode of Red Dwarf in which Rimmer and Lister are stranded on a frozen planet with ever dwindling supplies. Whilst they’re waiting to be rescued they have to wrestle with the dilemma of varous combustible sacrifices in order to keep a fire burning, like the only surviving copy of the complete works of Shakespeare.

Rimmer comments something to the effect that ‘any country is just 3 meals away from anarchy’. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina certainly seems to have given credence to that theory.

Aside from the literally awesome (in the original and non-Californian meaning of the word) images of destruction and human tragedy, it has been the speedy descent into (seemingly) rampant violence that I have found so astonishing and unnerving, with armed gangs shooting at their own police community, and carrying out other appalling atrocities.

This reaffirms to me how very fragile our ‘normal’ existence actually is.

In our modern lives we fully expect food to be in the shops, fuel to be at the filling station, medicines to be available, public transportation to be provided, garbage to be collected, and systems of communication to always be available (we know it’s hell if our ISP is doing maintenance, right…)

For instance, only last week I managed to fuse our entire house with the carelessly dangerous and rash act of unplugging an iron from a Czech power socket. Naturally, this resulted in a magnesium-bright blue flash followed by a total cessation of power throughout the homestead. This not only tripped the switches inside the house, but the main fuse out in the street!

Consequently, it struck me that without electricity we are, literally, ‘powerless’. My life simply cannot function without it – my whole studio (with the exception of an acoustic guitar) needs power, as do all our food preparation and storage facilities and the myriad of usual labour saving devices around the home.

I’m now considering starting a vegetable garden!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

H5N1 and the Australians

The Times ran a headline ‘Europe steps up attempt to halt lethal pandemic’, about efforts to prevent a potentially deadly bird flu pandemic this winter.

The H5N1 strain of avian flu has so far been found in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Mongolia, Malaysia and North Korea. More recently it has spread to Russia and Kazakhstan. Experts have been predicting that ducks and other birds will carry the virus southwestwards as they flee the autumn chill, heading across the Black Sea and southern Europe. Some 850,000 reach Britain later in the autumn every year, including the mallard and pochard ducks that are thought to have brought the disease from Asia to Russia.

When H5N1 has infected human beings it is exceptionally lethal — of 112 confirmed cases, 57 have died. There is no vaccine to prevent H5N1 infection in human beings, although there are drugs to treat the illness.

The concern is that this strain will mutate so that it can be easily passed on from one person to another — if this happens, the report says, “the result could be a pandemic as serious as the 1918-19 “Spanish flu” that killed between 20 million and 40 million people.”

(chicken nuggets anyone?)

I think the Australian’s might have the right approach:

“The Australian Government has plans to seal off the country from the world, closing air and sea ports, in the event of an Asian bird flu outbreak. Its contingency plan also calls for compulsory quarantine, closing schools, public transport and places of work.”

I know where I’d like to be in an outbreak.

Surf’s up, mate…

Monday, August 22, 2005

Belinda

Last Monday, having just left the office building bound for a solo lunch at the local MSG Emporium, I received a call on my mobile from Carla, an ex-work colleague at the insurance brokers where I used to work in the City of London. Her usually soft voice was unusually husky with bad news.

Our mutual colleague, Belinda, had had a heart attack on the weekend and died. Her husband, an ex-army medic, was unable to revive her. She was 34.

Belinda was, in most ways larger than life – it’s a cliché but true. She used to be a keen rugby player, and I reckon most of the men in that office would have declined a one-on-one as a test of their metal. You could easily imagine that she’d never been nervous of anyone. I know the same was not true in reverse!

She was also extremely professional in her work, and it was my expectation to see her at Board level.

A joyous person and her particularly raucous laugh will be greatly missed. She also had the ability to produce outrageous comments at the perfect moment, often prompting co-workers to saying ‘Oh, my God! I can’t believe what you just said.’ A good example would be a pre-Xmas team lunch where, in the context of the prevailing discussion, she flatly stated what she’d do to make her husband reach a speedier conclusion and how it apparently worked every time! She roared with laughter whilst the jaws of the ladies and gentlemen present hit the table. I think she enjoyed seeing how people reacted to her honesty. I’m smiling thinking about it.

We certainly shared each other’s technical respect as we had the same company training about 15 years ago. Even though I haven’t worked with her for the last 4 years, she was one of the few ex-colleagues that I actually kept in touch with from time-to-time.

I’m not a religious person, but I did send a prayer for Belinda. I will miss you.

Dr. Robert Moog

Bob Moog died on 21 August 2005.

For those who have an interest in music, his name and legacy is very well known.

For those not familiar with his name, he created synthesizers that altered the music world, from huge modular machines to probably the most famous synth of all time, the MiniMoog

Bob Moog was to synthesizers what Leo Fender was to guitars.

It’s a lasting testament to his designs that all of the instruments that he created (note: some have his name after he lost control of the original Moog company name) are still after 30 years some of the most desired instruments in their class. No doubt the prices will now increase even further, especially for the old modular units that he hand built.

I saw a few pictures only last week from a recent trade exhibition of a company still building modular synthesizers – they were proud to show that Robert Moog had taken the time to visit their stand and see what products they were producing, some of which were based on the famous Moog filter designs.

Many people will never have heard of him, but they will have heard what he did.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Entering the Blogasphere

Thanks to Monkey's Max, I decided it is about time to actually embrace the blog, so here we are!

No immediate plans as to the range of subjects, but no doubt it'll heavily feature music (synthesis and my quest for the perfect kick drum), Prague, England, the Cosmos in general, Zen, and watching my son growing up.

I'm sure it will all largely depend on how infused I am late at night, or how little work I'm doing in the office. I predict some morning re-edits if I got all saucer-eyed and dropped my guard the evening before.

As for the title of my blog, I've recently been trawling through my back catalogue of old 4-track cassettes, one of which one was labeled 'Richard's Orbit', so there we go. I'm all for completing the circle.

I did find another tape called 'Side Salad', so I think I made the right choice...