Mechanical music

My wife happened upon this YouTube video today and I was just blown away by how creative it was.

Wintergatan is a Swedish folktronica band that have spent the last two years ago building a giant music box out of wood, metal and LEGO that uses steel marbles to play instruments including a bass guitar, vibraphone and drums.

I have watched this several times, in awe at how each marble is lifted into place and rhythmically fired towards an instrument to hit the right note at the right time. So creative.

A common sense approach to prosecutions

You’d be hard pushed to deny that there’s an issue with America’s justice system. Prisons are overloaded with young, petty, minority offenders and it’s costing us a lot of money. John Oliver has made a few videos now highlighting various issues within the system:

Don’t skydive for charity

On a recent episode of QI, Stephen Fry made a very interesting point that should have you rethinking doing a skydive for charity.

A study found that over the course of 5 years, 174 people injured themselves doing a skydive for charity. The total cost to the NHS from these injuries was £600,000 or about £3,450 per person. The average amount of money raised per person was just £30 so for each pound raised, it cost the NHS £13.75 (includes money raised by people who didn’t hurt themselves).

To add insult to injury, most of the skydives (70%) were raising money for services provided by the NHS, so as well-meaning as people may be, the skydives actually cost the NHS money instead of raising funds for it.

So, the moral of the story? Don’t do a skydive for charity.

Wait But Why – inside the minds of procrastinators

I’ve been reading Wait But Why for a while now ever since stumbling upon Tim’s excruciatingly-long dissertation on how cars came to run on fossil fuels and despite the best efforts of the oil industry, electric cars can and will prevail.

What is Wait But Why I hear you ask? It’s a website by a guy called Tim Urban who is an extreme procrastinator, like I can be. When something intrigues him, he researches it until he’s read all there is to read about that subject. Then he digests and regurgitates that information for us to consume.

When did the news stop becoming the news?

A couple of years ago, the building that I work in installed televisions at the elevator landings. I’ve no idea why, but I guess they figure that people want to be constantly bombarded with news and media and the 15 seconds that we spend waiting for the lift is a perfect opportunity to cram in some utterly important information.

I never watch or consume American news. I very quickly grew tired of the talking heads, strongly biased views, selective withholding of stories and hype that became so overwhelming. Instead, both because I consider them to be (far) more neutral, reasonable and factual, and because I had an interest in continuing to follow British news after moving to the States, I rely heavily on the BBC for my news.

The thing that irks me the most about American news is that it’s just not news. To me, news is a factual, neutral reporting of events that are of importance to society. What most of us now know as news has devolved into highly-pointed delivery of largely irrelevant stories which have been spun into hyper-dramatic segments that don’t particularly focus on what happened and what its implications are, but rather create situations, possibilities, hypotheticals and outright lies that draw in the drama-hungry American audience.

A realisation that’ll make you feel old in a heartbeat

Are you ready to feel really old?

I was born in 1985. As I was growing up, the music of the 80s was fairly current, 70s was a bit dated, but music from the 60s was really old. The 50s and earlier was prehistoric and I’m not sure that I really heard too much music that predates the 60s.

Thinking about this is somewhat bizarre because in reality, the 60s were as recent as just 16 years prior to my birth, but that segues nicely into my next point.

It’s time for paid maternity/paternity leave in America

I’ve written many posts on this subject (e.g. The sad state of maternity leave in the States) because I’m very passionate about it, but I just saw another great TED talk which drives the point home some more.

Maternity/paternity leave is not something that we should be thankful for. It’s a fundamental need for new parents to bond with their children and recover from birth. It promotes the wellbeing of mother and child, reduces post-natal depression and gives mothers the support they need to make it through the early days of raising a child and be able to choose whether or not to have another child without being forced to stop at 1 because they had such a horrendous experience or because it cost them so much to do the only thing they could to spend a little time with their newborn child: take unpaid leave.

As highlighted in the talk, there are 9 countries in the world that have no national requirement for paid maternity leave. The first 8 have a combined population of 8 million and include countries like Papua New Guinea, Suriname and the Marshall Islands. The 9th is the United States with a population of 320 million. How the United States can continue to claim that it would be such a burden on employers or the state is beyond me. Literally everyone else has done it: stop hiding behind this bullshit America and give new mothers the paid leave they need.

Social services suck, but we can fix them AND save money

This TED talk from an entrepreneurial front-line social worker in the UK gives a very considered and honest discussion of how the modern welfare state was created (in 1940s Britain) and how it simply isn’t a model for today.

Rather than just bash the system, as we all love to do, Hilary Cottam has come up with a radical new approach to social services in which resources are spent directly on helping people rather than on a system which manages said people. In fact, by spending far less, she’s been able to make significant positive changes in the lives of many people in South London who are all now helping one another.

Privilege is invisible to those who have it

In a recent TED talk by Michael Kimmel he talks about how he came to see the world from the point of view of minorities such as women or black people. In a discussion with some of his peers he came to the conclusion that

Privilege is invisible to those who have it

He was talking about how as a white middle-class man, he was about as privileged as he could be, but he didn’t see the world that way because he saw how opportunities were being provided to women and racial minorities all around him. The experience of women and black people was different however, who still saw the world around them as it oppressed them.

Comparing films to their respective book

Creating films from books is nothing new. Since the dawn of cinema, screenwriters have taken the success of literature and used that to create cinematic masterpieces. One of the earliest films I can think of – Gone With The Wind (1939) – was adapted from a book that was published 3 years prior.

However, films are not books. They are materially different media and to make a point of comparing a film to its literary genesis is pointless. If you’re a fan of literature – creating characters in your mind and taking artistic license to join the dots in the story – then by all means continue to do so, but to expect the same experience from a film is foolish.