Tousle-headed girl


Some of Fiona’s favourite phrases right now:

  • I’ll do it!
  • Mess! (After wiping her snotty nose on your shoulder)
  • Story please!
  • Stop it!
  • Nona good guy. Alex good guy. Mama good guy. Dada good guy.
  • Yah-voo (“love you”)

HOWTO: Keep the mould from your marmalade

(I owe Kenny Harris big for this one.)

I love marmalade, but I love it in phases: I’ll go for months without being the right mood for it, and then BAM I’ll have a late-evening craving for a slice of toast, dripping in butter and smothered in Chivers Olde English. Until last year, I’d go to the cupboard, grab the aged jar from behind the little-used condiments, only to have my desires thwarted by layers of semi-sentient fungus.

Fortunately, there is a very simple way of making your marmalade last longer: don’t let it come into contact with any oily substance, i.e. butter (or margarine). I have no idea why this works; I’m just delighted it does. Use a separate knife or spoon to extract your marmalade instead of the one you buttered your toast with, and your marmalade will stay mould-free for months.

I don’t know if this works the same for jam. Jam doesn’t last long enough in our household to provide an adequate experimental baseline.

Shocked by Jellyfish

I had a profoundly strange musical experience the other day. For a month or so, I’ve been feeling tired of my music collection, and I haven’t known what to try next. Nothing has reached out and grabbed me by the ears, but at the weekend I remembered that I’ve been meaning to check out some Jellyfish.

The reason for that is that a lot of musical threads I’ve picked up recently can be traced back to this band. To start with, there was Bleu, who I saw in support of Toad The Wet Sprocket back in 2003. I absolutely loved his album Redhead. One of the songs on the album, “Could be worse”, was co-written by Andy Sturmer, and I think that Bleu has co-operated with Sturmer on a few other projects as well. Andy Sturmer was the drummer and lead singer for Jellyfish.

Bleu has also worked with Puffy AmiYumi, who also work closely with Sturmer, and whose album Nice has been recommended to me at various points.

Back in February, Keith passed me Jason Falkner’s CD, Presents Author Unknown, which I liked quite a bit. Jason Falkner was Jellyfish’s guitarist.

Then, in April, Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad The Wet Sprocket, see above) released his excellent new CD Winter Pays For Summer, on which he is supported on several tracks by–guess who–Andy Sturmer.

So, hoping that they would break me out of my musical ennui, on Monday evening I finally downloaded their album Bellybutton from 1990. (They only put out two albums, the other one is Spilt Milk from 1993)

I skipped through the first two tracks, thinking, hmm, yeah, that’s okay. But I pulled up short on the third song: “The King Is Half Undressed”. The opening guitar riff sent a shiver up my spine. I recognized it. Then the drums came in, and the vocals, and the sense of familiarity grew even stronger. When the chorus burst out, I was in full-body goosebumps mode. Not only did I know the song, but it a favourite from many years ago. In fact, I’m almost certain I have it sitting on an old cassette tape in a box in our garage.

And yet I’d completely failed to recognize the band name “Jellyfish”. Weird. I’m usually pretty good about remembering music and artists, and around 1990 I was at a very impressionable age (first/second year of Uni) and a lot of the music I was listening to was laying down strong permanent associations. But also: from what I can find by looking around the web, Jellyfish made virtually no imact on the British music scene. So how did I know that song?

It gets even more interesting. It turns out that “The King Is Half Undressed” is not the only song I know from the album. I didn’t have time to listen to any more of it on Monday evening, but when I was in the car with Scott on Tuesday, we listening to the whole thing, and I knew three other tracks: “That Is Why”, “I Wanna Stay Home”, and “Baby’s Coming Back”.

But…how? Without any transatlantic success on their part, the only thing I can think of is that they must have been getting a lot of airplay when I spent the summer of 1991 in California. The station I listened to most was KFOG, and I reckon that Jellyfish’s music would have been right up their street at that time. But on the other hand, I bought a lot of (second-hand) CDs that summer (yay Amoeba!), and if I’d heard four tracks I really liked by an artist I hadn’t come across before, I’m sure I would have picked up their CD. But I didn’t.

I’m confused and disoriented. The music is tapping into a deep visceral pool of recognition, but I can’t make any conscious, intellectual connection with even actually hearing it or being aware of it before. It’s like a kind of amnesia. I’m feeling the same kind of cognitive dissonance as I did when I temporarily lost all muscle memory of how to tie a necktie. There’s just something wrong in my head.

(As for whether I like the rest of the album, well, it’s so-so. Apart from the four songs I noted above, I don’t think there’s anything on there that is likely to make my permanent playlist.)

iTunes ratings

If you look at the ratings for my quick reviews, you’ll see that each star rating has a descriptive label associated with it. For example, a two-star rating is “Disappointing”, three stars is “Solid and enjoyable”, and four stars is “Recommended”. I use these extra descriptions as guidelines for myself when I’m assigning a rating, to try and keep ratings consistent over time. I have a tendency to be over-generous with ratings, and I need a way to keep myself grounded.

I realized this morning, though, that I don’t have a similar set of descriptions for the star ratings I give to music in my iTunes library. I’ve just been dishing out stars because of what the music feels like at the time, without giving much thought to why it ends up with a particular rating. With only five choices (1-5 stars, no in-betweens), you’d think that the options would be limited enough to eliminate most grey areas, but now that become aware of what I’m doing, it feels haphazard. I’m not a compulsive categorizer, but it feels nice to have some kind of a system for when I do want to rate things. So here are my new definitions for assigning music ratings:

  • 5 stars : An absolute favourite song, that I like listening to again and again. Must have this available on the iPod at all times.
  • 4 stars : An good song that I like listening to both in an album context, on its own, and mixed in with other playlists.
  • 3 stars : I’ll usually only listen to this song when I’m listening to the whole album it appears on.
  • 2 stars : I’ll usually skip this song if it comes up while I’m playing an album.
  • 1 star : I could live a happy and fulfilling life without ever hearing this song again.

(Note that “no stars” means “not rated yet” rather than “worst song in the world EVER”. The ones that are so bad just get removed from the library.)

Do you have a consistent way of rating music?

New Apple gear

  • New iMac, with built-in iSight camera, media centre features, and a remote control. Yum.
  • iTunes 6, with video store. Buy music videos, films, and TV shows–presumably all at an iPod-appropriate resolution (320 x 240). (Can it rip DVDs, though, is the big question? I’m in the process of installing now to find out…) Whatever–yum.
  • New iPods WITH VIDEO. 30GB and 60GB models. YUM YUM YUM.

new iPod with video

I’ve had my Mac Mini for a month now, and I’m liking it enough to say that I could definitely see myself buying another Mac in the future. But the iPod video? HOLY CRAP I WANT ONE NOW.

(Probably not, though, with my birthday and Christmas not too far away. Hi, Abi! I love you honey!)

Updates 12 Oct at 20:57 :

  • It looks like the UK iTunes Music Store is lagging somewhat behind the US one…the selection of music videos on offer for purchase is slim, and there appear to be no TV shows on offer–yet.
  • Music videos also appear to be more expensive in the UK vis-a-vis the American store, as compared to music tracks. (£1.89 / $1.99 for a music video as opposed to £0.79 / $0.99 for a song.)
  • You need Quicktime 7.0.3 to play purchased tracks, but Apple hasn’t made this available from their Software Update site yet. (It’s there now.)
  • I can’t see any option to rip DVD movies directly into iTunes, and thence onto the iPod. (Maybe this will be available with QT 7.0.3? Or will you need something like Quicktime Pro to do the encoding? Hmm. Seems like they’re missing an integration trick here.)