Wednesday, January 16, 2008


It’s one of the big questions – can people ever be completely rational, or are we doomed to always knock on wood?*

Now most superstitions and habits can be chalked up to a simple, and understandable, desire to find a cause for events – you break a mirror and your wife leaves you, for example - you see cause and effect there because it’s easier than accepting that you’re a twat. This can also be seen when the cause and effect don’t quite seem to match – A mentally unstable nobody gets an urge -- a great man is shot dead – doesn’t fit right with people, the cause and effect seem disproportionate, so they flail around for something more fitting and substantial.

There is, however, an area of human oddness which I find less easy to explain: the widely held belief, often unconscious, that inanimate objects are in some way imbued with a kind of essence from their human user/owner.

There have been studies** in which a self-selecting group of people who considered themselves ‘very rational’ were offered something shiny and desirable (for the sake of argument it doesn’t matter what). When a volunteer was presented with something that they wanted, the assistant informed them that the shiny thing was previously owned by a notorious serial rapist/murderer. With a miniscule number of exceptions, they all turned it down. Even when the assistant explained that the shiny thing had been washed, sterilised, the volunteers weren’t interested. Even when they provided absolute assurance that it hadn’t been anywhere near any of the attacks, only a small minority of them actually accepted the stuff.

Now these are rational people, people who pride themselves on not trusting in the reality of things whose existence has not been empirically proven, and yet they refuse this thing that they want because of a previous owner, of which not a molecule remains – due to some kind of irrational fear.

For all my scorn, however, I knew when reading it that I would have done the same thing, and after a little thought this refusal doesn’t seem that irrational. Whilst the object is not physically tainted, it now has the status of a very unpleasant signifier. It becomes a trigger, of sorts, your brain would inevitably feel the need to remind you of its previous owner whenever you saw it, and then you’d recall the details of their actions – which would be unpleasant. So, for the sake of personal sanity the object is best avoided. Admittedly the reason doesn’t lie in the physical world, but it does make a sort of sense – it’s the same reason why people prize objects used at historical events it evokes memories and images. Coal is just coal, but coal from the titanic, well, people queue to see that.

Other things are less easily explained though. Like why the painting is more prized than the perfect reproduction or why many musicians get a kick out of using equipment with illustrious former owners. The latter example is probably one of the most strange; it seems to me to come down to people wanting to find some kind of physical remnant of a person’s intangible qualities.

Lastly there’s a little scenario I’ve been thinking about:

Say you have a paperweight, it’s pretty, it holds down the stuff on your desk when the window is open. It’s one of those things that you always take with you whenever you move offices, and you always get rather agitated when you can’t find it. Now say one day a policeman comes to your office and tells you that they want it for evidence, as they have reason to believe that someone used it to bludgeon someone to death.

You would be horrified. You would, most interestingly, be retroactively repulsed by the idea that you handled it, tossed it from hand to hand, and spent many bored hours watching the light bounce off it.



*Apologies for the rhetorical questions, they just came out and now I can’t be bothered to write something less pretentious.

**sorry to get your hopes up with the asterisk and everything, but I’m afraid I can’t find the original abstract – this footnote is just a dirty little tease.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Another computer games related post I'm afraid.

Ch-ch-check it.

looks like a fantastic way of getting around the fact that the view presented by 'first person perpective' games is actually more like the view you get from a narrow angle lens on a camera than the view a person sees. This system gives you the move more naturalistic range of vision, without the VR headsets that make everyone feel really sick.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I was watching a thing about a british music show, which reminded me of two things. One is how teeth gratingly annoying I find 1970's punks, which I'll probably explain at some point. The other was that the stranglers were really good.

JJ Burnel had fly skills.


Friday, January 04, 2008


I found this in my Gmail account when I was clearing out my 'drafts' folder earlier. I corrected some spelling mistakes, and Gmail autosaved the changes, so I don't know exactly how old this is. I'm pretty sure that it dates from about a year ago, when my copy of Word went mad, leaving me with no word processing software - hence it being written in Gmail. I decided to post it up because it's reasonably amusing, and saves me writing something new. I've just put a set of new strings on my bass, but they are elixirs*, as opposed to cheap rotosounds.

I've bought new strings.

This is a much bigger deal than it would first seem; it's not that these are some kind of amazing, life changing strings in themselves - just a standard set of Rotosounds made about ten miles from here, the cheap kind with no silk winding because I'm a poor student and the silk comes off when you boil them - but the knock on effect that they've had has cheered me up. I turn to my bass when I'm bored, frustrated, have some free minutes, have a song in my head, want to show off, feel that my fingerprints are getting a little too visible, want to jam, or just when I need to keep my hands busy to stop them from dismantling things when I'm watching films. In short, I play my bass a lot.

Recently I've been faced with a serious lack of life giving wonga, well, I say recently, it's more like since the start of the summer. It would be more accurate to say very recently, I've been suffering from a more acute than normal lack of money. This lack of money means that all my non-essential essentials have been dropped, so I've had to say goodbye to my budding alcoholism, my massive crack habit, and I've not bought any new bass strings in about 4 months. The result of these cutbacks is that I'm dangerously sober, my dealer is having to pawn his bling and my bass sounds rubbish.

Of these it has to be the rubbish sounding bass that makes me most sad, I'm used to bouts of extreme sobriety - I even managed to stay on the wagon for the first 17 years of my life - and personally I think that Scary Jimmy's bling was a little ostentatious anyway. When I have a bass that sounds nasty than I start to think it's me, and in the absence of any money for new strings or people worse than me I'm left only with my collection of Vic Wooten, Les Claypool and Flea recordings and rapidly decreasing self esteem. I sit around listen to their amazing sound and immaculate technique and want to sell my bass, make my amp into furniture and actually start taking my schoolwork seriously.

Perish the thought.

When I start to actually think about paying attention in seminars and doing something more than the bare minimum of reading and preparation I realise that it is time for new strings, or I might slip down that soapy slope towards a decent job and something approaching respectability. Today I cleaned my bass, made some repairs to the fretwork, lowered the action a bit and stuck on the new set of roto 100-40's. It makes me happy.

I was noodling aimlessly just now, sitting at my desk, with my bass on my lap. It is dark outside but I'd not bothered to draw the curtains so I was looking at my own reflection in the window, watching my hands moving around the fretboard. I had one of those strange detached moments, where you see something without the blinkers that familiarity puts up, like when you notice that a girl you've been hanging around with for a while is really pretty, or when you see a pattern form out of something that was previously obscure.

I sat there looking at my hands and thinking, "how on earth did I learn to do this?" I'm completely useless when it comes to pretty much anything that requires dexterity or control, I can't sew, I'm bloody useless at soldering and my airfix models were always awful when I was a kid, and yet, I can make my fingers dance in these amazing patterns without even having to think about it.


*they cost about the same as a big weekly shop, are coated in teflon, and make everything really wonderful. They're also made considerably more than 10 miles from here.