Scoville Units Unite

15 Aug

Change the Record

Given I have finally started making a go of sorting my music collection out I was thinking about why I like vinyl so much. This may be appear disjointed a bit as no matter how I try to construct it, going forward in time, backwards or listing format by format it is all so interconnected that something feels out of place, or tries to reference something before or after it. For that I do apologise in advance.

The 80s

Growing up in the 80s I remember my parents and most people whose home I visited having this kind of stereo set up.

Normally a single unit, or with a turntable on it. Analogue dials, the ability to play records, cassette tapes or tune into the AM or FM radio. Your TV station had 4 channels (that alone probably ages me well). Your remote control was asking my sisters or I to change it. We’d press down one channel and that would pop out the button for the previous one. VHS and Betamax weren’t a thing yet. People bought different weekly magazines with TV listings as there was no red button to check. Teletext and Ceefax were the closest thing you had to the internet we know now. And no one had cable (Telewest etc), or Satellite TV yet (neither Sky, BSB nor BSkyB). You hooked up your home computer – Speccy, Commodore or Amstrad up through an RF cable to probably a 14″ portable TV. Or maybe even a Master System later on. I also remember an aunt having a small 10-12″ Black and White telly as their bedroom telly.

I say all this just to put in context that looking back 30 years it really was a different way we interacted with entertainment.

And that stereo set up, next to or under it were little storage boxes for cassettes and underneath was normally a row of records. These would no doubt follow a sort of bell curve with the bulk being from when your parents were teenagers->having first job and then tailing off to having the occasional new one there. Probably some 45s kicking about too. Usually with some terrible one hit wonder (I seem to remember Joe Dolce Shaddap You Face being in my parents collection).

Later I remember CDs coming along, and the one uncle who had a substantial collection of them also having LaserDiscs in his cool home set up. A whole wall of separate media items, amps, tuners, players of various sorts and catalogued videos and the like.

I seem to have memories of owning a really small portable radio with a CD player on top, and it being rubbish. A portable cassette player and then later the awful portable CD players.

The 90s

At college I managed to get a hi-fi system with separate components.

This kind of thing. Amp, graphic equalizer, Radio, Tape deck and turntable with big powerful speakers, I bought a CD player to go alongside it. This was the ideal set up. At the time the shops were full of single plastic shelled units – if your CD player broke, then good luck you had to go out and replace everything. My current set up uses still uses that same graphic equalizer. I set it up with my TV on a desk with speakers either side. My PC next and the stereo on a unit alongside. With Playstation etc plugged into TV. I also had the Playstation and PC hooked up to go through the stereo. Every Sunday afternoon I would tear down the stereo, clean it all and reassemble taking care to untangle the cable mess that had inevitably appeared.

My music collection was growing with both CDs and records, the occasional tape if it was the only thing I could find a particular album or single on.

We had heard of this new thing called MP3. This was great. WAV files were huge and my hard drives were 4.3GB then 20GB. You had to rip a CD as WAV, which would normally rip at 1 or 2X speed. Then you had to drop the individual file into another program which converted to MP3. You chose 64bit or maybe 128, but never higher as the files were too big. Later you may buy some CD-Rs at about a pound each, and a failure rate of about 1 in 5. You’d then burn about 10 albums as MP3s to a CD at 4x speed. I say this in so much detail so you can put in context downloading an album off a site like bandcamp today where you select the format and download it faster than it took to eject and insert the CD-R.

Hopefully I have now contextualised the different formats I grew up with enough to debate the merits of each of them alongside my memories and interactions with them. I have experienced all of them on great and terrible set ups.


Cassettes had always been a bit rubbish. The memories of tapes being chewed up or the tape becoming dirty. The switching of sides, fast forwarding and the click at the end. The occasionally badly designed album where about half a side was wasted so you had to sit for ages skipping to the end to swap. The jamming mechanisms. The only merit I ever saw was the use for saving programs from the C64 and Speccy. I think my strongest memory of a tape is Dek sitting with some cover tape from a Speccy mag and fast-forwarding through a stereo to a program that was the fifth one on it of 7. The learned audio cues and wasted mental energy we must have had. As well as the time spent! Having to spend 10minutes loading a game, losing and then reloading again. The utility of the format was clearly great but the single way to interact with it makes it feel awkward.

No matter what set up I heard cassettes through, from car stereos, to home stereos, portable players or whatever the sound quality was always terrible. As it leads into the next section, the artwork was almost universally awful, small reproductions of the larger versions used in other formats. Normally the folds at the corners and the thicker plastic there interfered with reading tracklists and so on. Not a great experience.


Trawling Grouchos and Record Fairs, as well as the occasional trip through to a store in Cockburn Street in Edinburgh which stocked hip hop imports was how I acquired records. I used to go through all of Grouchos vinyl about once every six months. Ah those mornings with no classes at College were great. This was in the Overgate Store era (roughly bottom of escalator near loos in current building?). So a bit less stock than they currently have. Vinyl was how you found DJ promos of hip hop singles or older punk records which weren’t really around. Basically anything pre-90s that hadn’t been popular enough to be reissued on CD at the time or possibly even still has not been.

I always loved the massive artwork and huge liner notes normally with the full lyrics. How else do you learn the real lyrics to songs pre-internet? I remember picking up Rap Is Really Changing by Mucho Macho which I had never heard of, as it was 50p or a pound and just had an awesome graffiti piece on the front. It’s actually pretty good and I’m glad I took that chance on it.

At the time, records were becoming scarcer. People were ditching collections after upgrading to CDs. High Street shops were shrinking space or removing it altogether. I remember Virgin having a wall of it. It dwindling down to 2 metres of storage and then up to 4 before I left. All of it by then singles, with the very occasional album. The 7″ was reduced to a part of a 3 disc set alongside 2 CD singles in an effort to mask the dying singles market. Bands would occasionally have 7s on their stalls when touring but barely ever 12s. Why hump around boxes of them in the back of the van when you can store 5 times as many CDs in the same space?

Even at the time I found this disappointing. I don’t think it was even because of memories of records as a kid. I think I had two 7″ flexi discs, one from the He-Man fan club. It was because a format I had grown to love was seemingly going away. I had heard lot’s of people complain about the quality of the format, how CD was better because it was digital. I don’t know what they were talking about. Vinyl played on a bad stereo sounded bad. Uncared for vinyl sounds bad with scratching, popping and hissing. Skipping tracks or being stuck on a track even. But vinyl on a good stereo sounded better than CDs on a bad stereo. I rarely noticed the difference between the two on my good set up.

There was just something about playing vinyl though. I have heard people describe it as like a Japanese Tea Ceremony. You take that giant piece of artwork and remove a record from it. Remove the inner sleeve and spin via the edges to locate the correct side. Place on the turntable and grab a cleaning cloth to wipe it. Place the needle at exactly the spot on exactly the track you want to listen to and sit back to hear it. Once it finishes you pick up the record and flip to the other side and repeat. Just the way you interact with it feels like a level above the crudeness of a cassette where you press a button and the reel moves, with all you see changing is the spool rotating.

This physical interaction with the medium, directly at the location where sound is stored on it is what allowed the birth of hip hop. The fascinating documentary Hip-Hop Evolution has some of the pioneers demonstrating how the created the sounds and techniques which enabled hip hop to be created. It would not have been possible if CD or cassettes were the only formats available.


As someone who grew up as a teenager in the 90s, CDs should really have been my bag. I should be writing this about how great they are and it sucks that digital audio is replacing them.

But CDs were kind of similar to cassettes, in that your immediate impression when picking it up and looking at it is the artwork is a miniaturised version of the proper artwork which was on the record. I think the main saving grace of a CD album was the booklet was usually thick with loads of photos and the lyrics included etc. The disc itself always looked great, if bland. This modern piece of technology which is smooth on each side, at first glance appears an upgrade on a record with its physical grooves you can see with the naked eye instead of a microscope.

The CD single is what generally clued you in to the flimsiness of the CD. Generally being in a very thin, easy to break plastic case, with a thin booklet with tiny writing on the spine, or in a flimsy cardboard sleeve. It definitely appeared to be a cheap downgrade on the 7″.

When I first bought CD singles, it was things like Busta Rhymes – It’s A Party which was 99p and contained 6 tracks. Just a couple of years later, the CD single was £2.99 or even £3.99 and had 3 tracks. Maybe a video of the single if you were lucky. That would generally need you to install some horrible software like RealPlayer or Quicktime though. This, amazingly led to a drop in single sales, so you now got CD1 and CD2, each containing the title track and 2 B-sides, remixes, live tracks or other album tracks. So now you could be paying £8 for 5 tracks when three years earlier you paid £1 for 6. This might highlight one of the overlasting negative impressions of the CD single. Not of the format itself, but of the marketing and promotion of the format.

The Album? Instead of the 8 or £9 I had seen when I started buying music, it was £15 or £16. For people interested in pop music they would be getting the 2 songs good enough to be singles and 8-10 filler tracks. The industry, understandably started to die. Why? The musos cried! It must be online piracy. No other possible explanation for it. The ability to download a single track over the course of an hour was the only reason people could have stopped buying the product we are trying to sell.

There was a bonus to the ability to rip CDs to MP3s at now quicker speed. People would do so then sell their albums on the day of release for £5-6. You could quickly build a larger collection of nearly new items.

During this period CD promo singles were a thing. Normally in weird or different packaging, sometimes with different tracks to the released versions. I collected loads of these for 50p-£1. There are a couple of artists – like Fun Lovin Criminals, where I had pretty much all their singles on vinyl, CD and as a promo of some form.

But there were a number of problems with CDs. The first was that yes, when you get a brand new one and play it it could sound great. But over time, dirt, scratches etc would accumulate and the disc would be trashed. There is another similar issue which I thankfully haven’t encountered called CD Rot. This is where a chemical reaction inside the disc caused the data layer to deteriorate and become unreadable. The promise of the perfect medium to replace the poor vinyl had not been realised.

There was another more serious problem though and is the one which led to the misconception of CDs being a superior format full stop. When records were being mastered for being released on vinyl the audio experts involved would place the tracks in a particular order due to the closer tracks as you got to the centre of the record. No such care was taken with CDs. As the data was all 1s and 0s it was irrelevent. This on the face of it seems great as the artist can present their work in whatever way they intended. But albums would be mastered without taking that care, and then pressed onto vinyl. Leading to horrible audio quality on the vinyl release. So someone comparing the two would, unsurprisingly, wrongly conclude that CD sounded better.

The audio engineers took advantage of another feature too. Those all in one plastic units which I disliked. They generally came with giant subwoofers as part of the speakers because for pop and dance music it would be cool to play the music as loud and with as much bass as possible. This led to what became known as the loudness wars. The illustration on the article shows it perfectly. Originally a track had the volume changing as the song continued. Due to digitally remastering it it’s essentially a block of noise. The sound quality was awful.

The record execs looked at the plummeting sales and again realised the only possible reason was piracy. Not the shit product they were presenting to the public.

Digital music

Seeing their falling sales, and trying and failing to stop online piracy the music industry for on board. Firstly with things like iTunes. The ability to download AAC files which at the time only played on Apple devices didn’t really appeal. Eventually the iPod became to dominate the market, beating superior products like the superior iRiver which could play MP3s or the even better iAudio which could also play FLAC.

Skipping over needless boring details, eventually we got to today where bandcamp provides you with a range of formats and you can throw up a track for free or provide a download with your CD too.

This in itself was a gamechanger. If you bought vinyl you were stuck with a physical medium. With a CD you could also rip to an audio file to archive, back up or play on another device.

The ability to include download codes with physical releases changed things again. My bandcamp collection is almost 200 releases. Some I have bought online, some were free and others came with physical releases. No more did you have to sit down and decided to buy a release on a format and pick CD so you could have digitial audio too. Vinyl started to have a resurgence. This has pros and cons. One of the cons is the backlog at the small number of manufacturing plants. Some bands resorted to releasing cassette versions of their material rather than wait months in an order queue to have it pressed. The tape comes with a download code.

There’s also what I normally call the Phoebe Potential issue. This is from an episode of Friends where Phoebe becomes upset that trees are being chipped so aren’t fulfilling their Christmas Tree Potential. People are buying records and never playing them – just downloading the music or displaying the artwork. Now admittedly I do that with the very small number of casette releases I have bought in recent years but that is because it means I no longer need that tape deck component and wouldn’t enjoy listening through it anyway.

I’m currently archiving all my CDs as MP3s. I can’t be bothered with the extra space needed for FLAC or similar formats. But the MP3s are 320kbs VBR rather than the poor quality 128 ones I used to have. After that the majority of the CDs can be packed away in boxes in a cupboard. Their small storage size helps with that.

As for my vinyl. Although it’s possible to set up equipment to record as MP3s, I haven’t decided to do that yet, although I may. That would also give me the excuse to put it away in a cupboard. Given the vast majority of recent releases aren’t boring black vinyl but bright and colourful and as I described how I enjoy the physical interaction with the medium, I don’t really want to do that. Instead they are on display, in a series of cabinets underneath my stereo. Just as they were in every house I visited as I grew up.

27 Jun

Reread: The Singer and the Sea – Winter of the World Part 5

The Singer and the Sea is the fifth book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan and the second part of a 2 book arc.

See reviews of

Book 5 is a sequel to Castle in the Wind, set a few years later. Olvar and Gille have moved south to Saldenborg. You hear snippets of what Kunrad has been doing in cleaning up the salt marshes.

A trading ship arrives in town, setting the flavour of the story. By warning them of corsairs as they come in, Gille is rewarded with a kantel, a type of musical instrument, which he can tell has power. A hidden sheet within reveals the secret of making suitable strings for it rather than the rubbish ones it has been equipped with. It turns out to have been manufactured by the legendary Vayde.

Having been annoyed at the local merchants and the guildmasters and the like, they try to secure funds to run a trading expedition to the south. Gille is still his old womanising self, and is distracted by a mysterious woman on the beach. She turns out to be a minor power – Saithana. She assists him to find some sunken gold which wins him a bet to get support for their expedition.

Some goods-laden tradeships head south and encounter a small boat lost at sea with a number of dead and one barely living person in it. With some of the northerners speaking a similar dialect they manage to communicate enough to find out his story. This starts off the main adventure. The boat was carrying refugees fleeing the from the Ekwesh in the west.

Having had books focusing on metalworking, this is an interesting turn to have details of seafaring spread throughout. They sail west and encounter a group of westerners as well as marauding followers of the Ice. Gille has further encounters with a number of the powers, including Niarad and Ilmarinen who discusses having living as Vayde.

This book has far less about smithing in it, and a lot more theology and worldbuilding. It fleshes out some of the history discussed later chronologically in the first three books. I would probably have to re-read those again to catch all the references. One is mention of Vayde having perished in the saltmarshes – when Elof finds his corpse millenia later.

I find it hard to judge this book: as a novel it isn’t that great, as a fantasy novel it’s decent, as a part of the series fleshing out the world it’s good, but compared to the rest of the books I have re-read so far it falls short for enjoyability. It was read in small bursts over the course of 2 months, whilst I rarely found a reason to read something else ahead of the first book in the series which may illustrate how much it falls short.

27 May

Thinking the Unthinkable

For the first time in my life I am considering giving a vote to the Labour Party.

If you don’t understand the reason this is unthinkable then you have probably never discussed politics with me. Ever.

Why exclude Labour before?

Growing up, my local council was Labour run, then later run by them and the Liberal Democrats, then later still propped up by the Tories too. During that period Labour closed my school whilst I was at it.

They say merged. When you transfer the pupils and staff from one building to another one and rename it, you have closed one school and renamed another. The school they tried to move us to? Kirkton – now Baldragon. Kirkton was closer to my house than Rockwell. If I wanted to go to Kirkton I would have went there in the first place.

I chose instead to go to College. We now had a Labour government at Westminster. Labour removed the grant and brought in student loans. Then they introduced tuition fees.

So leaving aside the rest of their awful policies during this period and after, every step of my education the Labour Party shat on me. This was when their election tagline was Education, Education, Education.

I had been indifferent to them before but grew to loathe the snivelling right-wing Tory shitebags who had taken over the Labour Party.

That they had purged left elements from their party and ditched Social Democracy just compounded this.

From the excellent Political Compass you can see the ideological shift of the UK parties over recent times. Even from this overview you can see previously you had a liberal left, liberal right, authoritarian right party making up the three main parties. The shift towards neoliberalism resulted in 3 authoritarian right wing parties. This is not healthy for a democracy.

Labour were notorious for corruption and nepotism throughout councils but the election victory of Thatcher’s ideological heir Tony Blair in 1997 in a landslide caused another shift. Previously the chameleonic shysters who would join the Tories to get involved in politics for a job started to shift to Labour too. Their MPs started to be a group of people who had previously been employed as lawyers or MP researchers rather than a more representative milieu. A new job path opened up -> university to study politics, MP research assistant, MP. You get a bunch of party hacks elected with no experience of the real world living in a tiny party bubble.

Why consider Labour now?

Previously I had written off Labour as the left forces within it had been expelled or marginalised. The implosion left space for other socialist groups to grow. And they did for a time. Unfortunately the moving of the centre from the centre to the far right has made it much more difficult for progressives.

I had written them off as right-wing neo-liberal warmongers, absolute enemies of the working class, with a minority of left voices within it. As I came to accept that this has changed, that some aspects of their leadership and certainly huge numbers of their membership had returned to the left, I had to re-evaluate my view of them. I am not, and have never been tribalist, or politically sectarian. I always attempt to take a nuanced position based on considering and understanding as much as I can about something. When the Labour right tried repeatedly to stab Corbyn in the back, including during his acceptance speech as leader, I dismissed the necessity of this re-evaluation. This was based on the assumption that he would not stay long and would be ousted soon, allowing Labour to stay where they were and not shift politically.

So what actually changed?

Previously you would see polls showing massive support for renationalising the railways and opposing privatising Royal Mail and it would be written off. The Momentum group gaining support behind Corbyn has helped push these ideas back into the mainstream. When these stats are discussed at least it’s in the context of and why isn’t in transitioning to support for Corbyn in the actual press.

The abandonment of the left ground by Labour left a vaccuum which was for a time occupied by other socialist groups, in Scotland by posturing of the SNP and in other areas with immiseration and reaction. In former Labour heartlands in the North of England support started to drift towards fascists like BNP and later to UKIP. The shambles of Brexit has led to UKIPs support collapse, and unsurprisingly moved towards to Tories instead.

Scottish Labour are utterly terrible. Kezia Dugdale is the worst leader they have had in a while. And in the past few years that has included Johann Lamont, Jim Murphy and Iain Gray. Their politics have consisted of constantly talking about independence and condemning everyone else for being obsessed with the issue. I can’t find the exact numbers, but one vote which sums them up was on apprenticeships. The SNP wanted to create X new apprentices. Labour wanted to create X + Y apprentices. Labour MPSs then voted against the creation of X new apprentices as it wasn’t enough. How utterly pathetic. They can’t even be reformists properly.

The Blair years have left them decimated as their membership plummeted. The last figures I saw showed they had less members in total than the Trade Unionist group of the SNP.

In this election, they appear to be standing a Corbyn supporter in my ward. I don’t know much about his politics, but given the previous candidates in this ward were Jim McGovern and Ernie Ross, anything is frankly an improvement.

In short, as much as I dislike various positions taken by Labour in general and Scottish Labour in particular, Corbyn staying on as leader after this election with increased support and/or seats would strengthen all left forces in these islands, not just the left of the Labour party. Magical Christmas land would obviously be the right wing elements (sorry centre-left I keep forgetting their own definition, contrary to their real position) finally fucking the fuck off to either obscurity, their corporate paymasters or the type of right wing Hayekian parties their politics belong in.

What about the alternatives

In the last election for this constituency I spoiled my ballot and had been preparing to do the same again this time. Given the arguments I outlined above I had to re-evaluate.

No other left candidates

At previous elections I have had the option to vote for Scottish Socialist Party and TUSC (2010 and election excitement). Before I could vote there were also Scottish Socialist Alliance and Communist candidates.

Looking at the history of the seat, before the SNP won it, it was always held by Labour. Before it’s creation there was a 2seat constituency of Dundee. Which is weird to look at. It was held by Labour and before that in the 30s it was held by a Liberal and a Unionist (racist anti-catholic bigots who later formed the Tory party in Scotland). What is very weird is an election in 1868. Dundee elected 2 Liberals. They had a choice of 4 Liberals. Makes you wonder when you see some parties talk about Scotland being a 1 party state because they lost to the SNP…


You’re having a laugh aren’t you? I think the only possibility of me ever voting for them is if there are 2 candidates standing and the other is a fascist. Even then I would probably have to consider whether a vote is better than spoiling the ballot.

Similar to the LibDems, they also change their candidates more frequently than May changes her position on issues, or indeed, their candidates when they find out who said a particular quote.

This time round their candidate is from that well known area of Dundee: East Craigs Edinburgh. So a carpet bagger then. You’d think they’d stand one of their new councillors from Dundee and then have a council by-election should they succeed. Or at least have picked one of their candidates who stood at the council election.

They also seem to have a fundamental problem with honesty. I have queried but have had no response on the origin and design of this graph-shaped-object. I say that as it is clearly not a graph. The axes have no relation to the figures being used. This is generally a strategy by the Lib Dems to try and claim they can win when they then end up in 4th/5th place.

I also queried where the figures originated to break down in this bizarre graphic. The figures are Scotland wide, not broken down to this constituency. I’m pretty sceptical of a growth from 14.9% to 33% for the Tories in Scotland at the general election. This would be their highest vote share at a general election in Scotland since 1970 (or 1974 depending on rounding of that poll) which certainly seems fanciful. The poll data I could find only broke down what % of the people intending to vote for a party had voted for them at 2 previous elections and the last 2 referenda. Without breaking down and weighting this stuff properly you can’t tell how representative a sample this actually is.

1997 was the last time they reached 10% in Dundee West, so although they are likely to gain more than 2015s 8.6% they have zero chance of winning here. I think the likelihood of them reaching 33% is pretty close to zero too.

Although to be fair, you’d think I would want to vote for them. My mum was awarded Severe Disability Living Allowance for life in the early 90s. She spent years being seriously ill and was disabled. Thanks to David pig fucker Camerons government however she is miraculously no longer disabled. Cunts. Utter cunts.


There is an independent standing: Sean Dobson. I am generally pretty wary of independent candidates. This one appears to be a Brexiter. Standing to make sure Brexit happens. So essentially someone who supports Brexit but can’t find a place in UKIP, which sets up all sorts of flags.

Liberal Democrats

Aside from them essentially being opportunistic Tories willing to sell out their principles for a slim glimpse of power, they’re generally pretty terrible. It’s also strange how their most well known, and arguably most popular member is never put forward for the seat. It’s not helped by them changing their candidate every time there is an election.

I generally also refer to them as the Liberal Democrats as there are plenty of examples of them being neither. Given they are currently led by someone who doesn’t think he should have to answer about his position on homosexuality and abortion you can see the are struggling with the first of those. I mean even if he opposes them both surely both the Liberal and liberal position is to say you oppose it but don’t care if others do it and won’t vote for restrictions in those areas.


I’m not a fan of the SNP and although they clearly have some social democratic policies and are socially liberal on a number of issues, they are on economic policies trying not to rock the boat at all. Wary of in any way getting criticised from the right.

In recent years I was happy to see them replace Labour in a number of places as, like the argument for being happy about Corbyn, it pushed the political discourse to the left.

I do think they have sabotaged their flagship policy of independence somewhat. The Yes campaign gained so much ground and worked as well as it did because it was a broad based campaign comprising of numerous organisations and groups. After the defeat the SNP hoovered up huge numbers of activists from that movement. This may be great for the SNP in the short term but is extremely damaging for any future independence campaign. It will be completely dominated by the SNP and SNP members. The Yes campaign was able to argue that it wasn’t about supporting or opposing the SNP, but now that won’t be the case. Not that you can really blame the SNP for this, what are they gonna do – refuse membership to large numbers of applicants? But they don’t seem to be addressing this issue at all.

In the last parliamentary term the SNP have of course provided the best opposition to the Tory government. This is generally due to their discipline combined with the Parliamentary Labour Party spending most of their time stabbing Corbyn in the back. But it is their discipline which is one of the main factors driving me away from them. Corbyn was rightly criticised for the three line whip over Brexit, which I think was definitely a mistake. The SNP though essentially have a 3 line whip on every issue. As much as I dislike the Blairites in the Labour Party, at least members of that party are capable of having a debate about issues. The SNP 2015 conference passed a motion stating no MPs shall

publicly criticise a group decision, policy or another member of the group

Which is pretty anti-democratic. Alongside that, the biggest criticism of the political system by those alienated from it is that they are all the same meaning that some suited Barrister could be a member of the Tories, Lib Dems or Labour spouting the same position and you may not be able to tell which party they are a member of. That criticism won’t be abated by having a bunch of MPs in one party who are all the same. If my SNP MP was swapped with any other would it make a difference? They will still vote exactly the same on every issue and never make any criticism, however mild of their parties position on anything no matter how important or not.

Speaking of democracy, they produced a White Paper for the independence referendum which stated a load of things they could do after independence. Some of the things included hold a constitutional convention. Abandoning this idea is a mistake on 2 levels. Firstly it would allow the discussion to develop and throw up arguments all the time to take on counter ideas of Federalism and Home Rule. Secondly it would move the discussion on constitutional issues outside of the tedious realm of parliament and into the hands of the people. Both allowing people to take part in this discussion and also neutering the Unionists ability to criticise the SNP for bogging down Holyrood in discussion on the constitution.

Arguments for voting a different way

What if it lets the Tories in?

I am not convinced that the Tories can win Dundee West. The only thing even close to suggesting that is that they claim to have 33% Scotland wide, a claim I consider fanciful.

What about independence? The Labour manifesto opposes it

This is generally from a line of reasoning that then concludes so vote SNP. In 2016 the SNP stood on a manifesto with criteria laid out to justify pursuing a future independence referendum. The Tories also said that pro-Independence MSPs making a majority of the seats in Holyrood would be a mandate. The SNP won that election and alongside the Greens make up a majority of the seats. Brexit happened so the criteria has been met and the mandate is therefore there already for an independence referendum. You have to ignore that fact to even consider the need to win a new mandate as justification.

If we do that, in 2017 council elections took place. The councils have no relevance to independence at all. The Conservatives, at this time in Goverment, and before U-Turning to call this General Election declared that in Scotland it was an election about having a referendum in Scotland. Their election leaflets only mentioned independence, and nothing else to do with any area any council has any influence at all in. The SNP won that election. So even on that shaky ground declared by the Conservatives, the SNP then won a mandate a second time.

So what is the criteria this time? In 2015 the SNP won 56 seats, after securing 50% of the votes – 1,454,436 in total.

So for them to have a mandate this time (the third) do they need to win exactly that amount or greater in all three?

What if they dropped from 56 to 55 – no mandate?
From 50% to 49.9% of the vote – no mandate?
From 1,454,436 to 1,454,435 votes – no mandate?
What if they go from 56 seats to 55 but get an extra 100,000 votes – no mandate?

I’m not prepared to hold my nose and vote SNP at every election in perpetuity on such shaky shit arguments. If you are gonna claim that there are a set of additional milestones for the SNP to reach for there to be a mandate on a future referendum, then lay them out. That goes for those for and against independence who claim there is no mandate.

What about Trident?

The fight against the obscene, illegal to use, and completely immoral Trident system is best won at Holyrood. Corbyn himself opposes Trident renewal but the Tory shitbags in the PLP support it. Voting against more anti-Trident MPs in Labour will result in more pro-Trident Tories getting in. The influence of the SNP on the matter is sadly completely irrelevant at Westminster currently. The best outcomes I can see are a Labour majority or a Labour minority supported by the SNP. In that case, the issue can be part of their negotiations. If you are in a constituency held right now by the SNP and where the Labour candidate is on the right wing of the party and supports the renewal of Trident then that is a different situation from the one I am facing.


Given the balance of arguments for and against the variety of options I think the best option in Dundee West is to vote Labour at this election. A sentence I never thought I would write, and wasn’t prepared to write even 2 years ago. That doesn’t mean that you should come to the same conclusion in whatever constituency you are in in Scotland. If you are in East Renfrewshire and had Blair McDougall as your candidate, or Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) I would not advocate you vote for Labour. But then, I’m not advocating a vote for any other party in general in any other seat either.

But more importantly I think people should take the same approach I did – sit down to consider your personal beliefs and values, look at the candidates that are standing in your seat. Then work out who is the best person to advocate progressive values. In some seats you will have the opportunity to vote for a Socialist candidate. In others the best may be a Social Democrat, or a Green. In others there may be a sitting Conservative, or the threat of a surge by a UKIP or far right candidate, there a vote for someone like a Liberal etc may be the best way to fend them off.

A discussion on the merits of voting can be for another day, I just think that going to the voting booth is a hard-fought for right which we should all use, even if it’s to spoil the ballot. I certainly don’t think that’s the extent of what peoples political activity or engagement with candidates or elected representatives should be. Go out, try to remove this evil and corrupt government, and try to get as many left, socialist, socialist democratic and progressive voices in parliament in the process.

I am also open to being convinced of a different position for this constituency at this election. The election is in 12 days. No doubt this will prompt some discussion with my friends.

02 May

Reread: The Castle of the Winds – Winter of the World Part 4

The Castle of the Winds is the fourth book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan and the first part of a 2 book arc.

See reviews of

After a short break I picked up again re-reading the Winter of the World series. Book 4 (and 5 and i think 6 too) is a prequel to the original trilogy. Returning after a 10 year break Rohan returns to the world just a few generations after Vayde had arrived in the West.

This books protagonists are Kunrad, a mastersmith and his two apprentices Olvar and Gille. The two apprentices really just play a minor support role throughout the book which is unfortunate given than book 5 follows their adventures a few years later (spoiler, they don’t die in this one).

Kunrad is an interesting character and the entire book is about his growth and change. Unfortunately the balance is a bit skewed into discussing him, leaving everyone else as barely fleshed out at all.

The book starts in Athalby, in the north east and shows the mastersmith working on a piece of armour with the help of his two apprentices. The town and area are gradually explored as well as the forthcoming fair. Merthian, a southern Lord arrives at this fair, becomes obsessed with the armour being made by Kunrad and robs him of it. Kunrad chases after them, first going north to the ice and then south.

The chase is interesting, showing the politics of the time as they come upon towns robbed by Merthian too and try to get aid. Eventually ending up in the marshlands having been captured by corsairs. This is where there is a lull in the book. They are imprisoned and forced to smith (sounds familiar from previous books). Then using their skill manage to escape. Whilst still fleeing they encounter a party on the road comprising of Princess Alais Kermorvan and her guards. They help fend off the pursuing corsairs. They carry on together to the nearest Lords castle (the castle in the winds) and Kunrad is again, captured and being told he has to smith for his captor. The recycling of plot lines from previous books and even chapters does not work for me.

To leave out further spoilers Alais is from the family of royalty from Kerys we encountered in the earlier trilogy although I can’t remember if the characters from this book were named in that trilogy – given Kunrad starts work on the Great Causeway it’s possible they were but the significance was not known at the time.

One section I found amusing was that towards their last scenes in the book the Princess Alais just wants to go home to the house she grew up in which had a lemon tree in the garden. Given this came out 2 years after A Game of Thrones and the Appendix also describes the world as these realms of Ice and fire this has to be a deliberate nod?

17 Mar

Once In A Lifetime

Over the past week there has been a great uptick in the number of people complaining about something being “once in a lifetime”. This has confused me as I thought I understood what that phrase meant.

The root of the issue is that during the run up to #indyref, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond described the referendum as once in a lifetime/generation. Their upset is that this means it should only happen once in a lifetime/generation.

I have always understood the meaning to be:

A once-in-a-lifetime experience or opportunity is very special because you will probably only have it once:
A tour of Australia is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

see also:

(of a chance or experience) unlikely to occur more than once in a person’s life.
‘being part of the Commonwealth Games has been a once in a lifetime experience’

These sources both explain it as something likely to happen once in your lifetime. This article about Haleys Comet quotes an astronomer saying that seeing it is a once in a lifetime event.
No doubt the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party will be campaigning for the comet not to return should some of their membership have been born before 1986 and still be alive in 2061. Which, given the average age of their membership is highly likely to be most of them. Or the majority. Or the largest grouping. All numerical descriptions they also have problems with.

14 Mar

Save Ends

I bought a collection of music from the label Black Numbers as part of the ACLU fundraiser. Working through the music and hearing some awesome stuff including Fucko, I then hit Save Ends – Hug Your Friends.

The contrasting dual vocals immediately reminded me of Rainer Maria. One of my favourite bands, who I first heard weeks before they split.

I grabbed their other EPs and tried to find their album Warm Hearts, Cold Hands. Discogs was a bust, all the sellers were in the US so charging a fortune for postage. I hunted around and couldn’t find any distros etc having it. Eventually a copy was spied on eBay for cheapness in the UK.

I had listened to the EPs, but decided to hold off on the album until it arrived, which was pretty damn difficult.

Punkorama 30 starts with a cool riff repeated and a decent instrumental section.

Cause we have got all these good friends
We lead fortunate lives
Wouldn’t change what I’ve got

And that’s how the album carries on with every track being a banger.

I knew nothing about the band until I heard the EP, on a search I found this interview with their guitarist which mentions their origin – they all played Dungeons and Dragons together.

21 Dec

2016 In Music

2016 has been an absolute stonker of a year for music.


The Fun Lovin’ Criminals were in Glasgow for their 20th Anniversary Tour. I couldn’t resist getting tickets to my favourite live band. They also released a Come Find Yourself – 20th Anniversary Edition on vinyl which may or may not be sitting in my cabinets. They were incredible as usual.

Also on a nostalgia trip were Kerbdog, who recently reformed and have been touring their old work and a few new songs. Great live, with top quality banter about their top 37 hits etc. Great support from Elk Gang.

The Smith Street Band were touring and didn’t make it to Dundee this time. Another trip to Weegieville to see these guys play.

Book Yer Ane Fest X proved to be best weekend of the year again. Make That A Take consistently knock it out of the park with this event and their season ticket deal. This year you got BYAF, a bunch of other gigs and 8 Releases for £100. I made sure to grab mine for next year, get one whilst they are available. This years fest included 3 days of events across 4 venues including a comedy set and a film showing. Every year the breadth of material increases.

New Releases

New Releases from this year included a bunch of stuff from unknown/small bands as well as some big hitters.

Tim Loud – What Am I? enjoyable folk punk.
Yndi Halda – Under Summer the welcome return of a band who released one of my favourite albums ever: Enjoy Eternal Bliss
The Murderburgers – The 12 Habits Of Highly Defective People top weegie punks return with their bazillionth line up with their best album yet.
Lachance – Sunrise fantastic emo record. Unfortunately, it was undermined by the next release.
Stöj Snak – Screamersongwriter was released a week or after Lachance, and instantly went on repeat. Back in June I queried if it was album of the year. I think it was.
Green Day – Revolution Radio was a surprise release, helping you forget the previous stinkers they spewed out. Inherint nostalgia says it can’t be as good as Insonmiac/Nimrod/Dookie era, but anyone else releasing it would have blown you away.
Billy Liar, Paper Rifles – Refugee Survival Trust Benefit Split Single great split by 2 great guys for a great cause. Get it bought.
Frightened Rabbit – Painting Of A Panic Attack – can’t say I’ve listened to it enough to praise or not, enjoyable as always though.
Elk Gang – Hours Pass available on tape and the cd (with bonus tracks). Really good.
Clearer The Sky – Held In Merciful Light brilliant record, and brilliant live at BYAF too.
The Burnt Tapes – Besides grand punks.
Sink Alaska – Battle Lines From Better Times melodic punk offshoot from Beauty School Droupouts
Paper Rifles – And Then Came The Tourists after managing to acquire a full band they just got better.
American Football – American Football. After a 17 year wait they returned with a second album.
Chris T-T – 9 Green Songs brilliant folk and spoken poetry work.

I also got the new album by Hollie McNish but haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet. She is amazing though so I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

I’ve also spent a bit of time sorting out my music collection, but that might follow in a future post.

01 Dec

What You Shouldn’t Ask A DJ

After seeing a couple of funny things DJs have been asked style posts I thought I would compile a list of a few belters. No apologies for forgetting exact quotes or munging quotes from Tired and emotional people to make it more coherent or compressing multiple very similar incidents into one. I was originally intending to do a list containing cool things which happened too but those are nowhere near as interesting or funny.

1. At a night playing funk/soul/hip hop etc.

Punter: “Can you play some Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Scooby Snacks”.
Me: “Yeah sure, was gonna be putting on in a few songs anyway.”
*whilst Scooby Snacks is playing*
Punter: “When are you playing my request?”
Me: “It’s on right now”
Punter: “What’s this?”

2. At a night playing funk/soul/hip hop etc.

*playing some song with funk in the title*

Punter: “Why are you playing this?”
Me: “Because it was a request and it’s a funk night”
Punter: “But this is a metal club”
Me: “No, this is an alternative club”
Punter: “No, it’s a metal club and has always been a metal club and only plays metal. I used to come 10 years ago when it was only metal”
Me: “You mean back when it had Industrial, Dance and Punk nights too? It was never just a metal night”.
Punter: “Well I came all the way from Arbroath and you should play only metal”
Me: “That will be tomorrow, when it’s the metal night”.
Punter: “But it’s always the metal night here” Loop to start.

3. At a night playing funk/soul/hip hop etc.

Punter: *usual whining about it only ever being metal in this club*
Me: “Sorry, this is the 4 times a year soul night. All the metal you want tomorrow, or we can chuck on something from _wide variety list of genres_”
Punter: “well I came for metal, so what are you going to do for me”
Me: “Well if listen to probably any music in the world which isn’t metal it will probably fit in somewhere. What else do you like?”
Punter: “You should do something for me, I only want to hear metal”
Me: “What I can do is recommend the metal night tomorrow, or alternatively request something not metal…”

4. Punter: “Can you play X song?”
Me: “sorry I don’t have it, I have these 3 other albums by them?”
Punter: “You played it last week”
Me: “I wasn’t DJing last week, someone else may have had it and played it but I don’t”
Punter: “But you played it last week”

5. Punter: “Can you play X song”
Me: “sure, in about 20 minutes we have similar stuff queued so will play alongside songs Y and Z”.
*plays song at time estimated after Y and Z*
*10 minutes afterwards
Punter: “Can you play X song”
Me: “I already did”
Punter: “Well I’ve been outside for the last half hour crying so can you play it again?”
Me: “no…”

6A. *plays new song by X band*
Punter: “can you play X band?”
Me: “I already did – the last song”
Punter: “No not the new stuff, I don’t know that, _the old overplayed song_”
Me: “….”

6B. The next weekend, someone else.
*plays old song by X band as requested the week before”
Punter: “why are you playing this song, you always play it, play the new song”
Me: *daggers*

Week 1 *play popular song 1 by band X to a full dance-floor*
Week 4 *play popular song 2 by band X to a full dance-floor”
Week 8 *play popular song 1 by band X to a full dance-floor”
Punter: “Why are you playing this, you play this every week”
Me: “I didn’t play it last time I was on as I’d played it the last time I was on before then which was 2 months ago”
Punter: “But you play this every week so you should play song 2 to mix it up”
Me: *daggers*

Finish night with huge pile of request slips after leaving loads out on tables etc. Managed to play at least 1 song from every list.
Facebook notification at end of weekend: “Review of club: 1/5 no one ever plays any requests”

Punter1 who is friendly and dances all night: every other week for months: “Can you play some industrial”
Me: “sorry it’s a bit late, if you’d asked earlier I would, also if you give me a couple of tracks and I can put those one”
Punter1 then has injury so can’t dance but still comes out every other night for weeks.
Punter1 returns, early and asks for industrial
Me: “of course” *throws on 2 songs* then continue with punk for rest of the night.
Facebook notification at end of night from Punter2: “Review of club: 1/5 all I heard was Drum and Bass, if I wanted to hear that I’d go to local pop club”

8. At punk night:
Punter: “Can you play Metallica*”
Me: “No sorry, I don’t have any”
Punter: “but you have to play them, they are great”
Me: “I neither like them or their music, so don’t have any. I prefer Napster”.
Punter: “but you should listen to them they are the best band in the world ever”.

*see also fanboys, and it’s always boys, of any band.

9. At punk night.
*week after Pantera singer shouts “white power” on stage and gives Nazi salutes*
Punter in Pantera shirt: “Can you play Pantera”
Me: “Not gonna be happening at a punk night, especially this week”
Punter: “why not?”

10a. Punter: “please play X song so that this girl will have sex with me”
Me: “not seeing any reason to convince _me_”…

10b. After a long week at work, with co-DJ who has had a long stressful work too. Both of whom were up at around 7, working til 5, then will be working from 10:30ish to about 3. So each getting home 21 hours after waking up after working about 13 hours.

Punter from 10a: “Can you play *big list of stuff*”
Me: “We’ll try and play some of that, but not X and Y which we played already”
Punter: “But I have a very stressful, important, well paid job so you should do it for me”
Us: “…”
Punter: “But my work is really important which is why I’m paid so well for it so now is the time I get to have fun”
Us: “…”
Punter: “I’ll buy you a drink”
Me: “I’m cool man” *points to drink* “that will do me til we close”
Punter: “please play X song so my girlfriend will have sex with me”.
Me: *clicks that this is the same guy from before but unsurprisingly different girl*
I tell story of 10a to other DJ and we laugh, he then repeatedly comes up and requests stuff and generally being a pain in the ass.
It’s the end of the night so we start playing some of the more popular songs, floor fillers etc
Punter then keeps coming to the booth to pester us over various stuff, verging between complaining we suck to offering us money and alcohol to play music so his girlfriend will have sex with him. He also returns with cans of energy drinks for us just as we are winding down to the end of the night…
Punter: “Can you not play some real punk”
Me: “That’s not a discussion that makes anyone come out looking good”
Punter: “Ah see you don’t like real proper punk, only pop music, like this”
Me: *glancing down at the Kaospilot (Norwegian hardcore band) t-shirt I’m wearing, whose music I played as first song*
Me: “er, so what do you think is the real punk music we should be playing as the last 5 songs before we close”
Punter: *names totally niche punk bands whose requests being played are normally met with an empty dance-floor*
Me: “whilst we have a full dance-floor?”
Punter: “of course, if they like real punk music they will love it”
Us: *waves of loathing emanating*
Me: “Tell you what, at the end of this punk night we will play the most punk song we can find”
Punter: “awesome”
Punter: *continues to pester us*
Final song: Something by Taylor Swift
Punter: “wtf!!”
Everyone else in the club: *dancing and over-spilling the floor onto the surrounding area*
Punters Girlfriend: *going nuts on the dance-floor*
Us: “what’s more punk than playing this at a punk night”
Punters Girlfriend: *drags him onto floor*

11. Punter: “Hey man, know where I can get some drugs?”
Me: “sorry man, not the kinda club for that”
Punter: “But do you know anyone I can go speak to?”
Me: “That guy can maybe sort you out then”
Me: *points to barman having a night off who is quite near a member of security*

12a. Punter: “pestering for Korn”
Me to DJ2: “I like Korn but we just played some heavier stuff like 10 minutes ago and don’t wanna play more now that we are playing _ska or something_”
DJ2: *queues up Korn vs Skrillex mashup.

12b. Same except Korn: Shoots and Ladders

13. Punter: “Can you play Nickelback?”
Me: “never”

14. Punter: “Can you play Halo by Soil?
Me: “I don’t have it. Deliberately”
Punter: “But it’s always on”
Me: “Yes, I’ve heard it every metal night I’ve ever been at for 15 years”

See also the “why don’t you play something new?” punters.

15. Someone has just face-planted on the not-huge dance-floor whilst holding a glass. Looks like they have lost some teeth and possibly broken their nose. Throw the lights on and call for security to get first aid. Once they are helped by paramedics someone starts clearing the dance-floor of the glass, alcohol and blood now on it etc. When they hurt themselves we were due to close in 20minutes. There is now about 7minutes before close.

Punter: “So are you starting again?”
Me: “Someone is still cleaning the blood on the dance-floor up from where that lass fell”
Punter: “yeah but we can dance around it”

10 Aug

Star Trek Deep Space 9: Season One

I never really liked Star Trek: The Original Series. A pile of the films were bad too. There I said it.

As a kid in the 80s I did however love Star Trek: The Next Generation. I tried to re-watch Season 1 again a few years ago and remembered it having a few stinkers. I can’t remember why I never really got into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but I think I only started watching it around Season 4 or so when Worf joined the crew. At that point I thought it was great. I did then watch Star Trek: Voyager. Which again had a pile of stinkers but some really cool concepts.

One thing I didn’t do though was go back and watch the rest of DS9. I had intended to watch TNG/DS9/Voyager in order at some point. Netflix scooping them all up has made it possible. I figured though, that as I had already seen the others I’d start with DS9. That way if it was removed before I finished all 3 series it wouldn’t be so bad.

So I dumped my comic backlog aside and started watching DS9 Season One. It was a mixed bag and there are definitely some great elements to it, but some of the bad is really really bad. I’ll try to give a short overview of each episode and what I liked/disliked about each as well as links to the excellent Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki.

The background to the show is that the Cardassians have been an occupying force on the planet Bajor. They also controlled a space station nearby called Terok Nor which was originally built by Bajoran slave labourers. After 50 years of occupation they withdraw leaving the station behind. Over the period of occupation Bajoran freedom fighters/terrorists (depending which side you are on) fought back against the Cardassians. Starfleet has sent a delegation to run the station to keep the peace among the transition to a new free Bajor. The hope obviously being that Bajor will join the Federation.

First view of Deep Space 9

First view of Deep Space 9

Unlike previous exploration series of Star Trek this one is set in a fixed location with small expeditions out. Focusing on geopolitics and long story arcs it really is very different and ground breaking. It definitely follows previous shows in tackling social issues especially tackling religion and spirituality, albeit some clumsily and also highlights other issues in troubling ways which aren’t really addressed. But I’ll come to that later.

I’m starting to write this whilst half way through season 2 with only fleeting knowledge of later events so I’ll try to discuss things with the knowledge of the show as you are watching it. I expect to fail and be ignorant of how important things are later.

Episode 1/2: Emissary

The new commander of the station Benjamin Sisko arrives alongside his son Jake. His wife had died previously in the battle at Wold 359 so there is tension with Jean Luc Picard with the Enterprise involved. This allows O’Brien, Keiko and their daughter Molly to transfer. This hand off from the still continuing TNG show helps introduce audiences to already known characters.

O'Brien, Ben and Jake step onto the station

O’Brien, Ben and Jake step onto the station

On the station in this episode are a number of new characters, some fully fleshed out characters of their race who had previously been in an episode or 2 of previous shows. Major Kira is a former Bajoran rebel now liaison to the provisional government with the station. Odo is a shapeshifter of unknown origin, in charge of security. Quark runs a gambling den and bar alongside his brother Rom and nephew Nog. Jadzia Dax is a Trill symbiont, who has known Ben Sisko in her previous host. Changing hosts over the years allows her to comment on what it was like being a man chasing women in a previous life etc. This clearly makes some characters uncomfortable but seems natural to her and to some others. Doctor Julian Bashir is the least likable character of the show. Being a total sleazeball and consistently sexually harrassing female crew members is the main driver for this as well as being a smug condescending dick. Garak is a Cardassian on the station who is merely a simple tailor running a clothing shop. These form the main body of the senior crew for the show and recurring characters given A or B plots.

Kai Opaka is a spiritual leader of Bajor and provides the hook to the story plot as well as introducing the prophets and Bajoran religion. One issue I’ve always had with Star Trek is that it’s great that it highlights diversity amongst species encountered but not within species encountered. So although there are exceptions and I remember things changing later in DS9 for example, you can pretty much take for granted that all Ferengi are obsessed with profit, all Klingons love fighting, all Vulcans are introverted logicians, all Bajorans are of the same religion etc.

In discussion of the Bajoran religion, Ben finds out they have Orbs which appear in space and provide visions. on further investigation they discover they all originated in the same rough area of space. As explorers they go to this location and discover a wormhole. Travelling through and back they realise they have found the first ever stable wormhole in the Star Trek universe which allows travel 70,000 light years to the Gamma Quadrant and back. The opportunity for exploration and commerce as well as making Bajor a now major strategic point for this radically change the expectations of all on the station.

Following up more on the Bajoran religion they go inside the wormhole and communicate with the entities the Bajorans refer to as prophets. They declare Ben to be their emissary which from here on will have a massive effect on his relationship with the Bajorans and Cardassians.

This is all from the first 2 episodes but serves to highlight the total shift away from the Monster of the Week formula of previous Trek outings.

Episode 3: Past Prologue

Tahna, a Bajoran, arrives on the station and tests Major Kiras loyalties when it is suspected he is plotting against the Federation. From his point of view the Cardassians have been replaced by the Federation and must be opposed too. Cardassians and Klingons are also on the station with the Klingons involved in smuggling bomb parts to Tahna to blow up the wormhole. His plot doesn’t really make sense. The Federation take over the station in alliance with Bajor. The wormhole is then discovered. He thinks that if the wormhole is destroyed then the Federations motivation for staying will be nullified. I suspect the outline for the series had the wormhole already existing or something and the writers got confused as this makes no sense at all.

In the end he is caught and Ben offers the choice between arrest by the Federation and Bajorans or being handed over to the Cardassians where he will likely be tortured and killed. Whether he would follow through with such an act is unknown.

Episode 4: A Man Alone

An episode which opens with Bashir clumsily hitting on Dax and doesn’t really improve. The plot can be summarised as Man tries to frame Odo for the murder of his own clone. No idea what the writers were on. The only highlights are Jake and Nog starting to become friends and Keiko starting up her school on the station.

Hands where we can see them Bashir

Hands where we can see them Bashir

Episode 5: Babel

The episode has a rubbish McGuffin, but the story around it is not terrible. People start suffering from Aphasia and fail to communicate with each other. In a show with universal translators where first contact with a new species is flawless, communicators and computers all interfacing each other it’s interesting to see everyone being thrown out of their depth.

Episode 6: Captive Pursuit

The episode opens with an argument between Quark and Sarda, a Dabo girl. Quark had hidden a clause in her contract saying she has to have sex with him. I think at this point every episode had shown Bashir sexually harassing a colleague and now Quark. No repercussions or even acknowledgement of any of it until now.

I Am Tosk

I Am Tosk

The station has first contact with a species from the Gamma Quadrant, a Tosk. It turns out that they are genetically bred for and only exist to be sought by a group called the Hunters. Maybe they were a terrible prototype for the Hirogen. O’Brien has sympathy for the Tosk and helps him to escape the Hunters. For the first 2 races to be encountered from the Gamma Quadrant they were both a bit rubbish and I don’t think they recur.

Episode 7: Q-Less

The episode opens with Bashir hitting on some poor woman and then Vash, a character who briefly appeared in Next Generation shows up. In the background of the scene is everyone’s most annoying recurring character: Q. Vash and Q had been seen going off to explore the galaxy. Vash wants to leave him but Q the narcissistic possessive arsehole won’t let her go. There’s a McGuffin plot and snore. Terrible episode made worse by Q being in it. They could have cut him out and still had basically the same shit story. I have to admit, at about this point I almost gave up on the show on the watch through.

Episode 8: Dax

Dax and Bashir are working together. As they finish for the night Dax wishes to retire for the night. Serial harraser Bashir tries to get her to agree to let him walk her home. For fuck sake, will someone neuter this sex pest. Dax is kidnapped by people who are arresting her.

She is charged with murder due to a crime committed by a previous incarnation of Dax. The story is actually really good. It lets you learn a lot about the Trill, how they change with each new host/symbiont pairing. It’s all about the self and uniqueness of each pairing and whether one can be tried for crimes of another. It’s exactly the kind of episode I remembered liking from the later episodes I saw – exploring philosophy, morality and the rights of an individual.

Episode 9: The Passenger

Bashir is possessed by a dying alien and spends a chunk of the episode acting woodenly and putting on a crap voice. I’m really not selling this show by this point, but stick with it, it gets better :(.

Episode 10: Move Along Home

A delegation of Wadi arrive on the station from the Gamma Quadrant. The third race from there we meet, to never meet again because they are pants. They trick Quark into transporting some of the senior staff into a game and he has to play the game and help them escape. Taking risks by gambling and escewing greater profits where necessary. It’s good in that it helps flesh out Quark as an interesting character who sometimes puts the needs of others first. The Wadi are shit with a crap catchphrase they keep repeating in an annoying loud voice whilst banging sticks together.

Mullets and bad henna tattoos are in this season

Mullets and bad henna tattoos are in this season

Look writers, you know when you were told you could create completely new races from a new quadrant of the galaxy, is this the best you could come up with, or were you trying to create a contrast with some of the great ones we meet later? I seem to recall the same thing happening in the early days of Voyager. And lets be honest, in the middle and late days too.

Episode 11: The Nagus

Grand Nagus Zek, the leader of the Ferengi has arrived to save the season! Brilliant character with more personality than every new race we have met so far. Zek dies and Quark replaces him as Grand Nagus. He tries to transition to his new position of power. One interesting funeral rite you find out is that Ferengi sell the remains of their dead. With certificates of authenticity obviously. Quark has to deal with people scheming to double cross and kill him, including Rom. Eventually we find out Zek isn’t really dead, he was just wanting to see if his successor was up to the job or not. A Chekovs gun (not that one) is left with you realising Quark is going to be key to Ferengi interests in the Gamma quadrant. Yay for the abandonment of bad plots and the laying down of story arcs.

Episode 12: Vortex

Someone called Croden kills a plot enabling character. Upon arrest by Odo he says he recognises him as a Changeling from the Gamma Quadrant. This is the first time we have heard of any possible origin for Odo so his interest is piqued. He shows him evidence of this knowledge by way of a token which behaves in the same way he does and is capable of morphing shape. When hearing he would be taken home where he faced execution, he tries to convince Odo to travel to the planet where he found the pendant instead. Odo although curious can’t agree because of justice etc.

On the way home they are attacked by the twin of plot enablining dead character. Croden convinces Odo now to flee into the area where the pendant was found. When they arrive on a small planetoid he rushes off leaving Odo behind. Odo catches up and it is shown that he is really after a stasis chamber where his daughter is. On his planet a criminals family are killed and he managed to rescue her. Odo takes pity and allows the two of them to take refuge on a Vulcan ship and is prepared to lie about his death. It shows Odo is not a mindless cop only caring about justice in the legal sense, but in the moral sense too and also has empathy for other outcasts. He also strays into moral relativism by not recognising another worlds notion of justice as justice.

Episode 13: Battle Lines

Great episode with the Kai Opaka visiting the station and wishing to travel through the wormhole. She, Ben and Kira travel through and end up stranded on a prison planet. Here life meaning life is an understatement. Nano-bots keep reviving the 2 sides of a civil war who have been dumped here every time they die. They continue to exist as a warning to others. Kai Opaka dies and is revived here. When they investigate they find out that once this has happened it’s like Royston Vasey – you’ll never leave. She is happy to stay and explore her Pagh because religion and stuff.

Episode 14: The Storyteller

A disappointing dip in the show where we get a Bashir and O’Brien bonding story. They end up in some bizarro region of Bajor where O’Brien becomes the white saviour of a cargo cult. Jake and Nog meet a girl their age. It’s bad.

Episode 15: Progress

I don’t know if great episodes like this appear so because they normally have a bad one next to them. The A-plot is Kira trying to convince an elderly Bajoran and his family to leave the moon they live on so that industrial works can take place. He refuses as it’s his home and is willing to resist to do so. He is a great character for a one-off appearance and helps navigate scenes and conversations around so Kira sees her own struggle against the Cardassians as an analogy to his situation.

Leave? I just finished a new cess pit.

Leave? I just finished a new cess pit.

The B-plot is also great, Jake and Nog try to trade widgets for other types of widgets in an effort to make Latinum. Jake appears to be the better businessman of the two which is also amusing.

Episode 16: If Wishes Were Horses

What was I saying about good episodes appearing better because of crap ones being around them? It’s terrible prosthetics time as a bunch of characters from peoples imagination appear starting with Rumpelstiltskin. Bashir had an active imagination too. Oh yeah it’s Dax, in love with him. And described by the real Dax as really is submissive, isn’t she?. Oh well it’s all japes. Bad episode is bad.

Episode 17: The Forsaken

Lwaxana Troi appears on the station amongst a delegation. When she discovers Odo she wants to add him to her bucket list having never encountered his species before. He’s take aback as he is private and doesn’t value relationships above friendships. It’s as annoying as Bashir as she tries to manoeuvre to let them spend time together. There’s some bad CGI of fire and nothing much else happens in this bad episode. Oh come on series, surely you can end on a high having given us 1 good episode out of the last 4.

Episode 18: Dramatis Personae

Thanks for delivering on my pleas you writers of 20 years ago. The crew start to not act themselves and split into factions with plots and counter-plots. An airborne McGuffin is causing them to see conflict and conspiracy everywhere. The kind of episode that really works in a stationary location where everyone can easily get cabin fever.

Episode 19: Duet

Aamin Marritza, a Cardassian, arrives on the station with the symptoms of an illness he could only have contracted if he was involved in slave labour camps for Bajorans. As they investigate his story you start to really get a picture of the way the Cardassian military works to fake, delete and cover up data with plots and sub-plots and cover stories for cover stories. Major Kira has to wrestle with her immediate need for justice and the need to find evidence to back up events. Brilliant episode made better with great characterisation by Aamin.

Episode 20: In the Hands of the Prophets

Secularism is explored with some religious groups from Bajor unhappy that Bajoran religion is being taught as philosophy and not fact in the DS9 school. Vedek Winn is the main antagonist and becomes a recurring character helping to show the different religious schism on Bajor. Eventually they result to terrorism and bomb a school unhappy that their magic sky fairies aren’t given enough respect. Especially as she speaks to them through a magic box whearas Ben has only met them and been conferred the title emissary by them.

Down with this reality based education

Down with this reality based education


So a bit of a mixed bag. Loads of new characters and races introduced. Some as 1-dimensional, some as fully fleshed out. Some great exploration of philosophy and sci-fi analogies of real life situations. A set up of the conflicting planets around the station and the complexities of their societies. Much, much better than the previous formula of just monster or McGuffin of the week. A Ferengi or Klingon ship approaches, go get the racial stereotype trope manual out so that this captain is as interchangeable as another etc. As I finish this I’m part way into season 3 and can’t believe that some of those people and ideas that DS9 is best known for haven’t even been mentioned yet, never mind made an appearance.

The character of Bashir really is a downer for the show and I’m glad that they tone him down a lot in future episodes. I think I’m more annoyed that you never even see him get a slap and I can’t remember anyone ever complaining about his behaviour. Meanwhile every time Quark is greedy it’s shown as a bad thing. All thieves and troublemakers are shaken down for their morality by Odo. The reaction to Sisko contemplating handing someone over to be tortured to death is definitely flagged as being wrong.

Some episodes were total stinkers, but sadly it reflects on Star Trek poorly that I think there are probably less of those than there were in season 1 of Voyager or Next Generation.

If you’ve never watched DS9 before but are familiar with the Star Trek universe I’d definitely give it a shot. If you’ve never seen Star Trek I’d say to watch Next Generation and then pick this up at the appropriate time. If you aren’t a fan of Star Trek or science fiction then I’d question why?

Science fiction is best when, and the best science fiction does hold a mirror up to our world. By setting the Original Series 300 years in the future they were able to show Russian and American crew-mates at the height of the Cold War and TVs first interracial kiss. Deep Space 9 is showing you a planet recovering from decades of fighting off an invading army, where one side refers to the fighters as terrorists and the other as freedom fighters, after the end of the first Intifada.

CGI ages it and some of the technological ideas seem dated, but that’s because they were looking to the future as well as influencing it. Ok we don’t have warp drives or transporters. We do have tiny mobile devices providing instant communication. Siri let’s us ask the computer a question and it’s speech recognition can attempt to parse it and dictate an answer back. Padds they carry for data are a clear influence on the IPad and 3D printing is the very first step towards replicator technology. There’s clearly a difference watching a science fiction show in the present and watching one from 20 years ago, but how amazing that some of the things in this show which did appear to be science fiction are now real, or very close becoming real?

03 Jul

Reread: The Hammer Of The Sun – Winter of the World Part 3

The Hammer Of The Sun is the third book in a 6 book series by Michael Scott Rohan and the final part of the first 3 book arc.

See reviews of

Hammer Of The Sun

It was with some trepidation I started book 3. My memory of it was of it not being as good as the previous 2 and there being a horrifying passage which annoyed me and others I know who had read the books.

It has a very strange open. There’s a large time skip and the introduction informs you that Elof, who spent 2 books chasing a minor Power called Kara was trying to control her to stop her potentially leaving. His paranoia and fear fill the first chapter.

In book 1, one of his apprentice pieces was in his ignorance intended to allow Louhi, the evil ice-worshipping Power to control Kara. He then spends the start of book 3 intending to make a pair of unremovable anklets to force her to stay. In addition to this he also coerces her to hand over her magic-cloak which allows her to change form and fly away from him. So he therefore emotionally blackmails her to stop her best immediate chance of freedom and then creates something to completely control her.

I have no idea what was going on in Michael Scott Rohans life to influence or inspire these events in the book but it’s pretty horrible and a total departure from the tone of the previous books.

There has been an ongoing seasonal effort to migrate people from the Western edge of the continent to the Eastern to escape the Ekwesh. On one of the trips to the West to transport people, Elof tries to put his anklets on Kara. She, as a Power, knows that there is magic in the anklets and what they do, becomes enraged, and rightfully fucks the fuck off, leaving him greeting and ashamed for being a complete dick. It’s just so strange how his character changes from someone who lives essentially as a monk for decades dedicated to rescuing the woman he is in love with to becoming a controlling monster. The character was previously the hero of the series and now can’t be rooted for in this book.

Elof gets permission to sail east, across the not Atlantic Ocean to try and find her, again, and make amends/win her back and Roc joins him for the voyage. The continent in the East is where their ancestors arrived from so this is essentially a re-hash of book 2 – voyage east to find civilisation and find Kara.

After a harrowing voyage across the sea, they are shocked to find Ekwesh here too! Ekwesh who had originally attacked the West Coast of not California from Siberia – so they essentially inhabit from Western Europe to Siberia. The map in this book shows Spain and western Europe with a small river which goes from the Straits of Gibraltar to Greece. There is a gate/dam between Spain and North Africa and the entire basin has a few hundred feet less water – reflecting the water stored in ice during this Ice Age. upon landing they are separated and Elof is captured by the Ekwesh and taken to the gate where Louhi lives.

Roc is rescued by Duerghar (dwarves) left when their kin went West millenia ago. When Elof escapes they meet up and move to the East. Along the way it becomes apparent that these are evil and they manage to steal the Helm and retreat into a hidden mountain stronghold. Elof and Roc continue east in an effort to reach Kerys (not Athens?), the ancient city where their ancestors left from in the long past. On their journey they meet sailors who take them to the city.

I’ll try not to spoil too many of the details (and in 470 pages plus appendix there are many). But it turns out that the King of the realm is a psychotic arsehole. He decides that Roc and Elof would make fine thralls. He orders his men to sever Elofs hamstrings. Unfortunately he does so with the sword Elof reforged, which has twice, through magic, let him heal wounds from it immediately. He starts to recover the wound (yes I realise this all sounds mental, but it’s a fantasy novel with dragons, dwarves and gods in it…). Mad King Nithaid, has Elofs legs stabbed again and the anklets inserted into the wound, through the bone and then closed shut. The magic anklets which can’t be re-opened and will then stop the wound ever healing and leaving him completely limp.

It is at this point that the novel has been known to be launched across the room.

Made up Ramsay Bolton torture from Game of Thrones and Saw may have dulled people to events like this. This happens about 220 pages into a 470 page book though, when you have previously read 2 books about these characters and are pretty deeply invested in them, and have seen Powers step in to help them in previous books. There is of course some irony in that the anklets had been intended to bind someone else under his control.

Having understood the quality of magesmith before him, Nithaid exiles Elof and Roc to an island off the city coast where they are kept as slaves to produce weapons and armour to defeat the Ice.

I’ll not spoil the book end, or where it goes from here, even if it is 28 years old. There are many things hinted at in previous books that are sewn up and lots of threads come back together. One thing which does rankle though is the last you hear of the duergar in the East is after they steal the Helm and then there is reference to the helm in other stories. They are never encountered again. One other minor criticism of the book is the chapter index at the start – the titles really give away some major plot points including the ending of the book.

The story concludes and there is also detail of what happened to the major characters after the story end to give closure which is something I appreciate in novels, maybe because of Lord of the Rings.

I’ll carry on reading book 4-6 now, but for anyone interested in these, they have just been re-released again recently, are available on Kindle, and the older paperbacks can be found for a penny each (plus postage) online.

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