Saturday, January 04, 2014

Albums of 2013

Here is my ranked list of albums I have got in 2013.

Editors - The Weight of Your Love
Although I got this album in the last year, I don't think I know it well enough to rank it yet.

17.  Keston Cobbler's Club - One, For Words
I saw these guys supporting To Kill a King.  They were really fun live, but their album is quite boring.  The music gains a huge amount when played live.

16.  Cathy Burton - Source of Every Hour
Meh.  S'ok.  Not much more to say.

15.  Treacherous Orchestra - Origins
Very different, quite entertaining.  Hard to listen to a whole album though, it's pretty intense.

14.  Rend Collective Experiment - Homemade Worship by Handmade People
Some ok stuff, some really good stuff.  The style isn't really my thing though.

13.  Lifehouse - Almeria
It's fine, but not much more.  Lifehouse's first two albums were incredible.  The next four were fine, but far less impressive.

12.  One Sonic Society - Forever Reign
Good, especially the title track.  I should keep following this band.

11.  Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
I bought this out of curiosity.  It is Oasis-y, but I like that.  Decent album.

10.  Matt Redman - Your Grace Finds Me
Not one of his best, but still fairly good.  Even a weak album from Matt is better than most other worship albums.

9.  The Killers - Battle Born
Strong.  Some great tunes.

7=.  To Kill a King - Cannibals with Cutlery
This band has real quality.  Some excellent songs on here.  Deep stuff.

7=.  Switchfoot - Oh, Gravity
I got five Switchfoot albums at the start of this year, and the weakest of them is in joint 7th place.  Ths is an excellent band, an this is a very good album.

5=.  Bastille - Bad Blood
Surprisingly mainstream for me.  This album doesn't really have a weakness.

5=.  Switchfoot - Nothing is Sound
More good quality music.  Simple as.

4.  Switchfoot - The Beautiful Letdown
A bit of a leap, I think, from the previous 2 Switchfoot albums, to the next 3.  This is a mint album.

2=.  Switchfoot - Vice Verses
This really has been Switchfoot's year.

2=.  Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal
I really like this album.  And it doesn't decline in the second half.

1.  Switchfoot - Hello Hurricane
To be honest, all five Switchfoot albums on this list are very good.  The order could change on another day, but Hello Hurricane currently tops the list.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Films of 2013

For a couple of years, I have ranked every film I have watched that year and written a bottom to top list here at the end of the year.  this year will be similar, though only the top 9 will actually be ranked.  Below that, things will be more merged.

Do not watch this film

Films I wished I had never watched:
Shame.  "It has Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in", I thought, "it must be great".  It wasn't.  It was awful.  A slow-moving string of sex scenes.  One of the worst films I've seen, ever.  Mulligan is great, as is Fassbender.  But they were wasting their time.

Films I watched but they weren't that good:
Lion King 3.  The story of the Lion King from Timon and Pumbaa's point of view.  Vaguely entertaining at times.  At least it was only about 70 minutes long.

Terminator.  Mindless action, slow moving and uninteresting plot, classic loopholes involving time travel.

The Tourist.  Entertaining but, if I remember correctly (I can't remember it that well), completely unconvincing in the final third.

Mulan.  It's ok.  Fairly standard Disney animated film, with all the features and flaws you'd expect.

Tangled.  Similar, though slightly more interesting than Mulan.

Blade.  Some cool stuff, but mostly just quite silly and over the top.

The Nativity.  Kind of funny, kind of moving, but mainly just exasperating and incredulity-invoking.

The Great Gatsby.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan need to choose better films to act in.  Had the fatal flaw of not actually having an interesting plot

Films that were reasonable:
3:10 to Yuma.  Christian Bale was the attraction.  This was a reasonable film.  I have nothing against it, just nothing much to write home about either.

The Greatest.  Carey Mulligan was the attraction.  This was a reasonable film.  I have nothing against it, just nothing much to write home about either.

Promising but disappointing
The Adjustment Bureau.  Nice idea.  Gripping and exciting.  Horrible, awful ending, and very poor explanations of what is going on.

Jarhead.  Better than most war films I've watched, probably because there wasn't a huge amount of war in it.  Having said that, I wouldn't bother watching it again.

Saving Mr Banks.  Fun but unsatisfying - not enough about the creation of Marry Poppins as a character, and not enough links between the two main plotlines.

Decent films, places 10-6:
10.  Goodfellas.  It's decent, not not as good as all the Top 100 lists make out.  Lacks a driving narrative.

9.  The Kingdom.  Quite interesting, kept my attention very well.  I enjoyed this film.

8.  Contraband.  Not much more than a standard action/heist film, but it does that well.

7.  Brassed Off.  Simple film, but very well done.

6.  Gravity.  Very tense, very exciting.

Top quality, the top five, the ones I'd really recommend:
5.  Monsters University.  An excellent film in it's own right, very entertaining.  Brilliant references to both university life and Monsters Inc.  One of the very best Pixar films.

3=.  This is England.  Full on intense.  Brutal and real.  Excellent acting all round.

3=.  Catching Fire.  Quality, just like the first film.  Everything the first one did well, this one matched.  The one main weakness was the rushed ending.  If they can avoid screwing up the transition from one final book into two films, and stay faithful to the book, this will be an excellent trilogy.

1=.  Les Mis.  You have to be a special film to reach top spot, even joint top spot, when there's a Middle Earth film in the list.  Les Mis was superb.  Fuller review here.

1=.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  By no means perfect.  Major flaws.  But the good stuff is so good, and the adaptation is so difficult, that even with it's problems, it's still an excellent film.  More discussion here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Soundtrack of 2013

Here is my list of songs that I've been listening to a lot this year.

Bastille - Pompeii

I discovered Bastille while watching the video to Choices by To Kill a King (see below), investigated them on Youtube, liked them and bought the album.  I then discovered that Pompeii had just been released as a single and was at number 2 in the charts.  This was the most mainstream I have ever felt.

Bastille - Weight of Living, Pt. 1

I love the understatedness of this.  A much smaller, simpler song than a lot of Bastille's stuff.  The middle eight is just lovely.

Live - They stood up for love

A much older song.  If it wasn't for Run to the Water, this would be my favourite Live song.  Epic music and deep lyrics.  Live have genuine quality.

One Sonic Society - Forever Reign

We've sung this in church a bit this year.  The lyrics, while simple, are very good, and the melody is one of the best I've ever heard in a worship song.

Of Monsters and Men - Little Talks

I know, I know - I'm not normally this 'in touch'.  To be fair, I didn't discover this song through the charts or the radio - I heard a different OMAM song on the tv and proceeded to buy the album.  Little Talks appeals to the ska-lover in me.  Playing the chorus with just brass first time, with that incredibly catchy riff, an then adding in vocals second time round - that is genius.

Of Monsters and Men - Lakehouse

Of Monsters and Men's album fulfils one of my requirements of a great album - it has a strong final third.  Two of the three tracks from the album that are on this list are tracks 11 (this one) and 12 (see next).  I'm not sure why I like this one so much.  It's something about how big they go in the chorus I think.

Of Monsters and Men - Yellow Light

This sounds like Sigur Ros on one of their good days.  That is reason enough to like it.

Rend Collective Experiment - Build your Kingdom here

I'm not a massive fan of the new pop-folk craze but I can deal with it in small doses.  The lyrics and violin/trumpet solo are excellent enough that I love this song.

Switchfoot - Awakening

I know it's a bit idiot-punky.  But it does it well enough that I'll forgive that.  I unashamedly enjoy this song, at least partly for the cheeky 5/4 bar at 3.10-3.12.  Sneeky but effective.

Switchfoot - Faust, Midas and Myself

Switchfoot happened to me this year.  I've tried them before several times and not bee that impressed.  This time it clicked.  This song is here because it's just different.  Interesting.  And because of 3.47-4.07.

Switchfoot - The Shadow proves the Sunshine

I chose this song because it's one of their more chilled, quieter songs.  Hard to put my finger on exactly what I like, but, like may of their songs, it just sounds great.

Switchfoot - Twenty-Four

Epic.  "You're raising the dead in me" and "I am the second man" - brilliant lyrics.  And the outro - wow.  This song gives me goosebumps.

Switchfoot - The War Inside

It's between this and Twenty-Four for my favourite Switchfoot song at the moment.  This song, like They Stood up for Love (above) just stinks of absolute, all-round quality.

To Kill a King - Cold Skin

TKAK are a special band.  You should investigate them.  I like lots of things about this song, you can listen to it yourself.  I particularly enjoy ow much the guitar sounds like it belongs in a Libertines song.

To Kill a King - Choices

You see how lovely this performance is?  How it's so 'community-y'?  That's how it is when they do it live too.  They get the support acts on stage to perform with them and it ends with the whole gig singing 'ooh-ooh-ooh'.  Lovely song.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Review

I have seen the second Hobbit film twice.  Here are my thoughts so far, in a semi-structured order.
  • Martin Freeman is still excellent.  I feel this needs emphasising, otherwise it will be overlooked.  He is currently the stand-out feature of these films.  The way he portrays Bilbo is...I want to say perfect.  I can't think of anything wrong with it.  He is incredible.
  • The whole Beorn sequence, so memorable from the book, was very nicely adapted and really well done.  However, it felt short and rushed.  More time could have been spent developing Beorn's character, especially as he will return later, and also the dwarves characters (more on this later).
  • The references to LOTR, such as Jackson's cameo at the start and the line about athelas being a weed, are still making me smile.
  • Tauriel's inclusion was fine.  I don't care if she wasn't mentioned in the book.  There would have been elves like her, in her role within the community.  There's nothing wrong with putting her character in to help develop the story.
  • Linked in with this, I was in favour of having the orcs continue to hunt the dwarves.  I wasn't sure about this at first, but I think it keeps the pace of the story going, and it will link in nicely with Azong's return in film 3.
  • The Tauriel/Legolas romance was understandable but needed to be done properly or not at all.  I felt it was not developed sufficiently to carry weight.  Instead, time was given to the Tauriel/Kili relationship.  Now this was a farce.  No way this would have happened.  Tauriel wouldn't have got into that sort of conversation with a dwarven prisoner.  Dwarves and elves are still at loggerheads at this point in the story.  And the sheer number of times she saved his life started to annoy me.
  • The barrels sequence was good, but over the top.  It was fun, but took it all too far.  Legolas' dwarf surf?  Bombur's barrel bounce?  They're clearly trying to make these films 'entertaining' by throwing in ludicrous stunts, forgetting that stunts and effects aren't that impressive these days, now that you can put anything on screen and make it look realistic.  Impressive filming nowadays is about clever adaptation, a gripping story and engaging characters.
  • The Dol Guldur scenes were great.  Gandalf vs Sauron, awesome.
  • Laketown looked absolutely perfect.  Wonderful design.
  • There wasn't enough development of the Master of Laketown.  In fact, there wasn't enough development of the characters in general, but particularly of the Master.  I wanted more backstory about his rule over the town.
  • Smaug looked brilliant.  He was brilliant all round - the voice, the design, the animation, everything.  Lots of people have said this, but it's still true.
  • The Bilbo/Smaug scene was brilliant  Possibly even as good as riddles in the dark.  The tension was incredible.
  • I'm not convinced by the decision to leave 4 dwarves in Laketown.  It feels like it was only done to promote the Kili/Tauriel thing.  It did give the end of the film a kind of double-focus - the Lonely Mountain and Laketown - and allowed intercutting between them.  But my jury is still out on this one.
  • I think there was too much fighting in Laketown.  As I said above, I'm fine with the continuing orc-chase, but the fighting in Laketown got a bit ridiculous.  It was over-emphasised at the very least.  Yes, it provided a good second climax to the Smaug action (see above point) but I guess it felt unbalanced.
  • Dwarves vs Smaug.  Ludicrous.  Ridiculous.  Unnecessary.  Unconvincing.  As 'Mithril' from said, "what made me cry out upon leaving the theatre 'I want a do-over' was the Indiana ones escapade that they were taken on.  Not only was it completely outrageous but it was confusing and unbelievable.  Start the forges?  What?  Melt millions of gallons of gold in minutes?  What?  Stand on the nose of Smaug 'Oh, greatest of calamities' and not get eaten?  WHAT!!?!?!?!????!"  Quite.  It was a farce.  And what was the deal with the massive gold statue at the end?  Was that there from the past?  Did they just make it?  Was it explosives that blew it up?  What made it melt?  A flipping joke.
  • Ed Sheeran's closing song was good.  Not on the level of the Rings credit songs, but still good.  I enjoyed it.
  • The music was, overall, less noticeable than in Rings or An Unexpected Journey.  I'm not sure why.  Fewer new themes perhaps?
  • Most of the dwarf characters were still undeveloped.  Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Kili and Bofur excepted.  Bombur still hasn't had a line.  It was about 5 hours into the trilogy before we found out Fili is heir to the throne.  Too much time is spent on foolish 'action' sequences and not enough on character and story.  The way they have made them all look unique is outstanding, but this has not been replicated in terms of character development.
  • Smaug should have died.  They ended the film in the wrong place.  Instead of the disastrous action scenes inside the mountain, and the mostly unnecessary elves vs orcs in Laketown, they should have had Smaug attack Laketown as he does in the book.  It would have been a wonderful set piece, and would have eliminated the issue of having the dwarves split up.
  • Alternatively, cut some of the stupid action, including the Lonely Mountain fiasco, and spend more time on characters (including Beorn and the Master).  The problem with this would be the lack of a conventional climax to film 2.
  • These hobbit films, despite their problems, are the most impressive adaptation I have come across.  To adapt a children's book into a catch-all film, link it pretty seamlessly to a previously made epic and very popular film trilogy, and draw in multiple other Middle-Earth storylines like dwarven history and the rise of Sauron, is truly remarkable.
  • There were several glaring continuity errors.  The most obvious was how Bombur destroyed his barrel and then jumped back into it, seemingly as good as new.  Two others that annoyed me were the spontaneous appearance of a horse in Laketown, which until that point appeared to contain no horses, just in time for Legolas to ride it; and how the gold in the Lonely mountain was conveniently melt-able when the dwarves needed it to be, but didn't melt at all when Smaug breathed fire on it.
I don't really know what to write in summary.  It's a great film.  Some of it is jaw-droppingly good (e.g. Smaug, Dol Guldur, Beorn, Freeman).  Some of it is overly ridiculous (Kili/Tauriel, Dwarves vs Smaug).  It's still the greatest adaptation I have seen, and because of the difficulty of the adptation, my criticisms should be taken with a pinch of salt - especially as this is the notoriously difficult middle film.  Bring on part 3.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Harry Potter and Myers-Briggs

Recently, there were a few suggestions on the internet about which Harry Potter characters were which of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types.  Here, I will analyse three of these, plus on suggested by a friend of mine.  You will need knowledge of both the Harry Potter series and Myers-Briggs in order to understand.  I will assume such knowledge.
The difficult thing with Myers-Briggs is that the combination of the four letters can give unexpected personalities.  For example, I am INTJ.  Looking at the N/S spectrum in isolation, I am slightly more S than N.  However, when looking at the personality as a whole, I am INTJ rather than ISTJ.  This also happens with Harry Potter characters.  Therefore I shall analyse both the individual letters assigned to a character, and the overall personality description, before giving my own suggestions for personality-character matches based on individual letters and then overall personalities.

For reference, here are the descriptions of the 16 personality types.

The most popular internet suggestion, together with my comments, was as follows:

ISTJ: Snape.  Not a bad choice, but Snape fits INTJ better.  He’s not that fussed about order and organising his life.
ISFJ: Neville.  Partially correct, but I’m not convinced he’s a J.  Lupin fits this better
INFJ: Lupin.  Material possessions?  Really?  DD is far better for this one.
INTJ: Malfoy.  Snape is INTJ.  However, Malfoy is close.  I get the impression he could be one when he grows up.
ISTP: Harry.  Not really.  He doesn’t analyse lots of information, he tends to act more on impulse.  Probably an F, not a T.  Hermione is closer to this, though I don’t think she’s quite here.
ISFP: Hagrid.  I think Hagrid might be a marginal E.
INFP: Luna.  She fits pretty well here.  I.  N.  F.  P.  All seem to fit.
INTP: Hermione.  She is clearly a J and almost certainly a T.  She’s more of an ISTJ.
ESTP: Ginny.  Pretty good.  We don’t actually have loads of info on Ginny but she could  fit here.
ESFP: Twins.  Pretty good match.
ENFP: Ron.  Good again.  Twins and Ron are quite similar.  Maybe they could swap types.
ENTP: Sirius.  Yes.  Though the twins could fit here too.  Or maybe Sirius is an I?
ESTJ: McGonagall.  Possibly, but she’s not extreme enough to fit here.  Moody is the one for here.
ESFJ: Lily.  She might well fit here, but why choose her when Molly is a mor major character and definitely fits?
ENFJ: Dumbledore.  DD is an I.  End of.
ENTJ: James.  Maybe.  We don’t know that much about James, but this might be right.

The second suggestion:

ISTJ: Hermione.  Yes.
ISFJ: Cho.  Yes, but Lupin more so, and he’s a more major character so we can be more certain about him
INFJ: DD.  Yes.
INTJ: Snape.  Yes.  A good start!  But these first 4 are the easiest ones.
ISTP: Hooch.  Maybe.  She’s very minor though.  This is the hardest personality type to fit with a character.
ISFP: Harry.  Harry is actually quite hard to place.  He is FP for certain.  But he seems quite happy with conflict so I don’t think he fits here.
INFP: Luna.  Same as last time.  A good fit.
INTP: Neville.  No!  Where did this idea come from?
ESTP: Sirius.  Maybe.  He seems to fit in a few EP places.
ESFP: Ron.  Could be this, or the next one.  As could the twins.
ENFP: Tonks.  Maybe – but twins/Ron are more major and fit at least as well here.
ENTP: Twins.  I think they are Fs.  Sirius fits better here.
ESTJ: McGonagall.  As above, Moody is here.
ESFJ: Molly.  Yes.
ENFJ: Fudge.  Possibly.  He might be ENFJ gone wrong.  But I don’t think so really.
ENTJ: Lucius.  Maybe but, like James, we don’t know much about him.

The third attempt, by a friend of mine.  She left some blank if she saw no clear fit.

ISTJ: Hermione. Yes.
ISFJ: Lupin.  Yes.
INFJ: DD.  Yes.
INTJ: Snape.  Yes.
ISFP: Harry.  He seems to fit the letters, but he doesn’t fit the avoiding conflict bit in the description.
INFP: Luna.  She ends up here a lot.  She certainly fits the letters.  Idealistic?  Catalysts for implementing ideas?  I’m not sure.
ESTP: Sirius.  See comments above.
ESFP: Ron.  See above.
ENFP: Tonks.  Ditto.
ENTP: Twins.  Ditto again.
ESFJ: Molly.  Yes.
ENTJ: Ginny.  Maybe.  She’s hard to place.  Definitely E, but other than that it’s unclear.

And the fourth attempt:

ISTJ: Hermione.  Yes.
ISFJ: Hagrid.  No.  He’s not accurate or painstaking, in general.  He’s quite oblivious to others.
INFJ: DD.  Yes.
INTJ: Snape.  Yes.
ISTP: Hooch.  See above.
ISFP: Harry.  See above.
INFP:  Lupin.  He fits here to an extent, but is batter as ISFJ.
INTP:  Voldemort.  Interesting.  And also good.  Very good.
ESTP:  Malfoy.  Er, no!  Flexible and tolerant?  I think not.  And he’s an I.
ESFP:  Ron.  See above.
ENFP:  Twins.  Ditto.
ENTP:  Sirius.  Ditto, yawn.
ESTJ:  Percy.  Good.  He fits the letters.  I like him here.
ESFJ:  Molly.  Yes.
ENFJ:  Maxime.  Possibly, but she’s a minor character.  That’s not a no though.
ENTJ:  McGonagall.  Maybe.  She’s a hard one to place, seems to fit in a few slots.

Finally, here are my suggestions.  Preceded by some caveats:
1.       The four scales (I/E, N/S, T/F, J/P) are scales – not absolutes.  One can be a slight E or a massive E, for example.  But when a person is labelled with four letters, the extent of their letters is not shown.  The only way to accurately represent this would be on a 4-dimensional graph.  In short, this system is limited.
2.       I am an INTJ.  However, I am more S than N.  But overall, I am more INTJ than ISTJ.  This happens with other people as well, especially if they are only marginally on one side of the scale.  Therefore I have produced two sets of personality-character matches below.  The first is based on the four individual letters, in isolation, without regarding the personality descriptions.  The second is based purely on the descriptions, without considering the individual letters.
3.       ISTP was a really hard one to match to a character.  It’s certainly not Harry, as in one internet suggestion.  The others either left it blank or went for Hooch – but there is very little information on her.  She’s only really in one scene in the whole saga, other than refereeing quidditch matches.  In fact, it was only as a came to write what comes below, after analysing this all for several hours, that I belatedly realised who fits it.
4.       It is hard to differentiate between the twins, because they are almost always together and doing the same things.  George is obviously a little more considerate than Fred, but that’s about it.

Firstly, based on the individual letters.  Sometimes more than one character seems to fit.

ISTJ: Hermione, Draco
ISFJ: Neville, McGonagall
INFJ: Dumbledore
INTJ: Snape
ISTP: Arthur
ISFP: Lupin, Harry
INFP: Luna, Hagrid
INTP: Voldemort
ESTP: Twins
ESFP: Fudge
ENTP: Ginny, Sirius
ESTJ: Moody
ESFJ: Molly
ENFJ: Bella
ENTJ: Scrimgeour, Percy, Umbridge

And now, purely based on the descriptions.  Bold sections are phrases or words that particularly fit the suggested character.  Italics is where the match is weak.

ISTJ: Hermione.  Quiet, serious, earn success by thoroughness and dependability. Practical, matter-of-fact, realistic, and responsible. Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions. Take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized – their work, their home, their life. Value traditions and loyalty.
ISFJ: Lupin.  Quiet, friendly, responsible, and conscientious. Committed and steady in meeting their obligations. Thorough, painstaking, and accurate. Loyal, considerate, notice and remember specifics about people who are important to them, concerned with how others feel. Strive to create an orderly and harmonious environment at work and at home.
INFJ: Dumbledore.  Seek meaning and connection in ideas, relationships, and material possessions. Want to understand what motivates people and are insightful about others. Conscientious and committed to their firm values. Develop a clear vision about how best to serve the common good. Organized and decisive in implementing their vision.
INTJ: Snape.  Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.
ISTP: Arthur.  Tolerant and flexible, quiet observers until a problem appears, then act quickly to find workable solutions. Analyze what makes things work and readily get through large amounts of data to isolate the core of practical problems. Interested in cause and effect, organize facts using logical principles, value efficiency.
ISFP: Neville.  Quiet, friendly, sensitive, and kind. Enjoy the present moment, what’s going on around them. Like to have their own space and to work within their own time frame. Loyal and committed to their values and to people who are important to them. Dislike disagreements and conflicts, do not force their opinions or values on others.
INFP: Harry.  Idealistic, loyal to their values and to people who are important to them. Want an external life that is congruent with their values. Curious, quick to see possibilities, can be catalysts for implementing ideas. Seek to understand people and to help them fulfill their potential. Adaptable, flexible, and accepting unless a value is threatened.
INTP: Voldemort.  Seek to develop logical explanations for everything that interests them. Theoretical and abstract, interested more in ideas than in social interaction. Quiet, contained, flexible, and adaptable. Have unusual ability to focus in depth to solve problems in their area of interest. Skeptical, sometimes critical, always analytical.
ESTP: Twins.  Flexible and tolerant, they take a pragmatic approach focused on immediate results. Theories and conceptual explanations bore them – they want to act energetically to solve the problem. Focus on the here-and-now, spontaneous, enjoy each moment that they can be active with others. Enjoy material comforts and style. Learn best through doing.
ESFP: Ron.  Outgoing, friendly, and accepting. Exuberant lovers of life, people, and material comforts. Enjoy working with others to make things happen. Bring common sense and a realistic approach to their work, and make work fun. Flexible and spontaneous, adapt readily to new people and environments. Learn best by trying a new skill with other people.
ENFP: Hagrid.  Warmly enthusiastic and imaginative. See life as full of possibilities. Make connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceed based on the patterns they see. Want a lot of affirmation from others, and readily give appreciation and support. Spontaneous and flexible, often rely on their ability to improvise and their verbal fluency.
ENTP: Sirius.  Quick, ingenious, stimulating, alert, and outspoken. Resourceful in solving new and challenging problems. Adept at generating conceptual possibilities and then analyzing them strategically. Good at reading other people. Bored by routine, will seldom do the same thing the same way, apt to turn to one new interest after another.
ESTJ: Moody.  Practical, realistic, matter-of-fact. Decisive, quickly move to implement decisions. Organize projects and people to get things done, focus on getting results in the most efficient way possible. Take care of routine details. Have a clear set of logical standards, systematically follow them and want others to also. Forceful in implementing their plans.
ESFJ: Molly.  Warmhearted, conscientious, and cooperative. Want harmony in their environment, work with determination to establish it. Like to work with others to complete tasks accurately and on time. Loyal, follow through even in small matters. Notice what others need in their day-by-day lives and try to provide it. Want to be appreciated for who they are and for what they contribute.
ENFJ: Ginny.  Warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.
ENTJ: Scrimgeour.  Frank, decisive, assume leadership readily. Quickly see illogical and inefficient procedures and policies, develop and implement comprehensive systems to solve organizational problems. Enjoy long-term planning and goal setting. Usually well informed, well read, enjoy expanding their knowledge and passing it on to others. Forceful in presenting their ideas.

So there you go.  Some characters fit really well, Like Snape, Hermione, Sirius, Moody and Molly.  Others are weaker, like Hagrid and Ginny.  Some people fit different types under the two systems.  But I reckon that my effort is more accurate and more conclusive than the previous four.  Which is why I bothered to post it, I suppose.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

2 issues with education

Rant time.
I have a lot of issues with teaching, Ofsted, Gove etc.  Here are just two of the more major ones.

Number One.

Back in the day, teaching was very different from how it is now.  The teacher would stand at the front and either dictate or write on a blackboard.  The class would copy the notes down in silence, then learn them by heart and regurgitate them in an exam.  Memory was rewarded.  It was flawed, but there was a kind of logic to it.  The idea was to move knowledge from the teacher's head into that of the pupils, and the test assessed how well the pupils had absorbed the knowledge.

These days, teaching is almost unrecognisable.  There are discussions, role plays, projects, posters, experiments, games.  There is coursework (for now).  It's a more difficult way of teaching, but it's a more effective way of teaching.  Understanding, rather than memory, is the key.  There are still tests, but there is also coursework - project-style assignments completed over a few weeks, with access to notes, books, the internet, and teacher guidance.  The sort of thing that might be required in an actual job.  This reminds me of a tweet I saw a few months ago:

"Today at work I memorised huge quantities of facts and then regurgitated them with pen & paper over 3 hours. #Saidnoone #courseworkmatters"

Exams used to be focused on the task of 'spew-everything-you-know-about-this-topic-onto-your-exam-paper'.  Interestingly, most university courses seem to operate this style of exam.  The assessment style of recent years includes exams, but exams that go at least some way to assessing understanding as well as knowledge.  It also includes coursework, which assesses understanding of a topic and also skills such as communication and time-management.  This is a better method of assessment, and is also more suited to the more modern, interactive, learner-centered teaching style.

TANGENT: I originally wrote the above paragraph as one hideously complicated sentence.  I thought I'd keep it in here in case you want to read it and marvel at it's sub-clauses:
The assessment style of recent years, which includes exams - but exams that go at least some way to assessing understanding as well as knowledge, rather than the older-style (and, interestingly, university-style) exams focused on the task of 'spew-everything-you-know-about-this-topic-onto-your-exam-paper' - but also coursework, which assesses understanding of a topic and also skills such as communication and a better one, and is also more suited to the more modern, interactive, learner-centered teaching style.

But my main point is not that things are better today than they used to be.  My main point is about whether the assessment is suited to the teaching.  In yesteryear, the assessment ('spewing') kind of matched the teaching (dictation).  Then both changed, and the assessment, with the inclusion of coursework, matched the interactive teaching.  And the plan for the future?  Make teaching more and more interactive, fun, learner-centred, insert-jargon-here, but move assessment back to the traditional method of learning and regurgitating facts.  These two styles do not match.  Traditional teaching and traditional exams, while flawed, do match each other in their flawedness.  Modern teaching and modern exams also kind of match.  Making the teaching more modern and the exams more traditional makes no sense.  This is not about which method is better, it's that the future proposals surrounding assessment of pupils in this country, before they are mad, over-demanding, out-of-touch, are simply illogical.

Number Two

I recently saw a news article about how nurses and midwives will face three-yearly checks, basically to make sure they're doing a good job.  Doctors have a similar system.  Okay, fair enough.  But this got me thinking about doctors and nurses would be assessed.  Observations?  Interviews?  Maybe they should be assessed on whether the patient they are caring for lives or dies.  Yes, that would be good.  If the patient lives, the doctor is a good doctor.  If the patient dies, the doctor is clearly not up to scratch and should at least be monitored closely, and possibly removed from his or her job.

Clearly madness.  A doctor should not be judged by whether the patient lives or dies, because such things are only partly in the doctors control.  Some patients, no matter what treatment they are given, are sadly going to die sooner or later.  In fact, we all die eventually.

What does this have to do with teaching?  Let me explain from the perspective of my school.  But first, some context.  When teachers and schools are inspected or observed - by Ofsted, or the local authority, or just other teachers, they are graded on a scale: 1 (outstanding), 2 (good), 3 (used to be 'satisfactory' but is now 'requires improvement'), and 4 (inadequate).  A lesson can be judged as any of these four levels, and the school as a whole can also be given a level.

Last year in my school, all teachers were observed as part of performance management, and also in other contexts.  78% of lessons were judged as good or outstanding.  Not bad.  So, you'd think that the school as a whole would probably be good or outstanding, yes?  No.  Because, if the exam results are level 3, nothing else can be graded above a three.  So a school could be observed by Ofsted, who might grade every single lesson and teacher, and every other aspect of the school, as outstanding, but if their results 'require improvement', then the school will get a level 3.  And how are the results levelled?  In absolute terms.  Not compared to pupils' levels upon entry to the school, not in terms of progress, but simply by the number of pupils who get the 'magic' 5A*-C grades, including English and Maths.

So, regardless of who the pupils are, what their skills were when they arrived from primary school, what special needs or disabilities they have, how academic they are...they, their teachers and their school are judged on how many grades they get.  It's the equivalent of judging a doctor solely on whether the patient lives or dies.  Schools are judged by something over which they have limited control.  Teachers can make a difference to the grades that a pupil achieves, but probably not as much difference as parents can make, and certainly not as much difference as the pupil themselves can make.  It is, again, illogical, to judge teachers and schools by something over which they have such limited control.

End of rant.  For now.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Random random mix

Recently I made a new playlist, which I've copied onto two CDs.  The idea behind the playlist is to mostly include songs which are the only songs I tend to listen to by a particular artist - either because I only have one of their songs, usually from a compilation album, or because there is just one song much better than the rest.  There is also some allowance for songs that are particularly ranbdom.  This sort of playlist is known as a 'random random mix', and it allows me to listen to a wide variety of songs that I like, without wading through lots of inferior songs by the artists.  I chose enough songs to fill two CDs, then randomized the order.  Here is the resultant track listing.  I haven't listened to it yet but I'm intrigued by some of the combinations and sequences that have appeared.

CD 1
Lift It - Worldwide Message Tribe
Pinball Wizard - The Who
Afterthought - The Yearning
Smother+Evil=Hurt - The Kissaway Trail
Last Train - Lostprophets
Waverley Steps - Roddy Woomble
Be Prepared - Disney
Lifted - The Lighthouse Family
I'm Blue -Eiffel 65
Pictures of Matchstick Men - Status Quo
Pass it on - The Coral
New World - Tobymac
Feel Good Inc. - Gorillaz
Bitter - This is Freedom
Now We Are Free - Lisa Gerrard
Hocus Pocus - Focus
Boulevard of Broken Dream - Green Day
Sonnet - The Verve
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots - The Flaming Lips

CD 2
Stan - Eminem/Dido
Summer Presto - Vivaldi
Don't Speak - No Doubt
Layla - Derek and the Dominoes
BBC Grandstand theme - London Theatre Orchestra
All Star - Smash Mouth
Dancing in the Moonlight - Toploader
Smells like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
How you remind me - Nickelback
No Resistance - The Last Spectacular
Chop Suey - System of a Down
Smooth Criminal - Alien Ant Farm
Parklife - Blur
Start of the Summer - YFriday
Tribute - Tenacious D
Adiemus - Karl Jenkins
Til the End - Haven
Hospital - Canterbury

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Muse Moments

This is part three of what is, so far, a 3-part process.
I couple of months ago I was listening to Map of the Problematique by Muse.  There is a moment in this song (at 2.18) that I love, and I texted my friend Joe Williams, as follows "When listened to at the appropriate volume, 2.18 in Map of the Problematique is the greatest moment in any Muse song.  Discuss."  That was part one.
Joe soon listened to his whole Muse collection and came up with a shortlist of 13 moments that should be considered.  He didn't include anything from the latest album (The 2nd Law) because he didn't know it well enough.  That was part two.
Now I have ranked these 13 moments, as follows.  (Are you beginning to realise why Joe and I get on so well?)

13.  Cave 4.06
12.  Hysteria 0.21
11.  Unnatural Selection 6.26
10.  Bliss 3.07
9.  Resistance 3.43
8.  Citizen Erased 1.26
7.  Muscle Museum 3.41
6.  City of Delusion 2.55
5.  Stockholm Syndrome 2.37
4.  Starlight 3.25
3.  New Born 4.45
2.  Time is Running Out 1.46
1.  Map of the Problematique 2.18

As you can see, I still believe 2.18 in Map of the Problematique to be the greatest.  It's simply enormous.  It scares me a little bit.  You can listen to it here (it's actually at 2.22 in this video).
Interestingly, as I listened to these songs, I found that in some cases, these weren't even my favourite moments in the songs.  For example, I rate 1.37 in New Born more highly than 4.45.  I rate 2.44 in Stockhom Syndrome more highly than 2.37.  I rate 1.30 in Muscle Museum higher than 3.41.  Citizen Erased has several moments (3.16, 3.49, 4.11) at least on a par with 1.26.  1.42 in Unnatural Selection is up there with 6.26.  2.45 in Hysteria could challenge 0.21.
However, these were the 13 moments that were provided, so these are the ones I have ranked.

Reaction to Katie Hopkins

Recently, Katie Hopkins was slated on social media for her comments made in this video.

I have two main things to say.

Contrary to 90% of the population, I can see where she is coming from.  As a teacher, I know or have known thousands of kids.  Most people probably know up to a hundred.  There are names that I, as a teacher, am wary of.  If I see a list of names, there may be some that make me think 'I need to watch that kid'.  My wariness may turn out to be completely misplaced, but there are some names that tend to be more troublesome than others.  Of course, all kids are individuals, but it is nevertheless a fact that there are certain names that are more likely to be trouble than other names.
In fact, surnames can be even more significant.  Sometimes surnames can indicate a child's likely background and therefore what they might be like.
This is not to say that I would treat kids with such names any differently in practice (I wouldn't stop my child from being friends with someone just because of their name) but, as far as I can tell, from a relatively large sample of teenagers, there are some names that tend to cause more trouble than others.  There are, of course, exceptions - this is a generalisation at best.  I disagree with Katie Hopkins' decision to stop her children being friends with kids with certain names, but her decision is, at least, based on generalisations that are true.

My second point is that we all judge kids (and adults) in ways that we shouldn't.  By their names, their clothes, their accent, vocabulary, address, friends, car, house etc.  The people who are so angry with Katie Hopkins for making assumptions about people based on their names should have a look at the assumptions they themselves make about people based on these things.

There you go.  Shoot me down if you want.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

2 further thoughts on tennis

I posted a couple of thoughts on tennis after Wimbledon 2011.  Here are two more thoughts.

  1. I am not a fan of the winning celebration where players fall on their back on the court.  It doesn't look natural.  It looks like they do it because they've seen other players do it and copy them.  Nadal might have been the first to do it, I'm not sure.  But it looks like an unnatural movement, it looks fake.
  2. This year I started supporting Radwanska, after the Brits had been knocked out, because I like the way she makes shots and relies more than technique than physique.  This is something I've been pondering for a while.  I think it's why I tended to support Federer over Nadal.  I am not such of a fan of players who seem to rely slightly more on physique, because it is a more generic ability, which can be applied to sport in general, whereas technique is more sport-specific.  This is not to say that Nadal has poor technique or that Federer and Radwanska are unfit or weak.  It is simply to say that I appreciate the technique that is specific to a sport more than the physique that is more general.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Musical unsung heroes

These are the unsung heroes of my music collection.  They all form an integral part of my music, but none of them get much of a mention from me.  Some because the bands aren't one of my favourite bands in general, some because they do not feature any of my contenders for greatest song ever, some because I've simply never mentioned them in a blog post.
There are some bands, and some albums, that get a lot of 'screentime' from me.  These do not, so here they are.

Doves - The Last Broadcast
Feeder - Pushing the Senses
Red Hot Chili Peppers - By the Way
Sixpence None the Richer - Divine Discontent
Stoney - The Scene and the Unseen
Temper Trap - Conditions

If you get a chance, listen to these albums.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Luis Suarez, and related thoughts

Luis Suarez has been in the headlines a lot this week.  He has recently been banned by the FA for ten games, for biting an opponent in a match last week.  He was previously banned for seven games in 2010 for biting, while at his former club Ajax.
There are several point to make in reaction to this.

1.       Biting is not appropriate on any sports field.  In football, it is classed as violent conduct, warranting a red card and at least a three-match ban.
2.       Players sent off for violent conduct are often banned for more than three games by the FA.  Di Canio was banned for 11 games for pushing a referee in 1998.  Prutton was banned for 10 games for the same offence in 2005.  Thatcher got 8 games for elbowing Mendes in 2006.  In most non-sporting professions, such offences would warrant a sacking.  Why not in football?
3.       This is the longest ban a player has been given for violent conduct against another player in England.  The only longer bans are for acts against referees, fans, or for drug offences.  The exception is Joey Barton’s 12-game ban, but that was for two counts of violent conduct rather than one.  Why has this offence been given a significantly longer ban than many other counts of violent conduct?  What is inherently worse about biting than stamping, spitting or headbutting?
4.       Jermaine Defoe bit an opponent in 2006 and was given no ban because the referee saw the incident, and FIFA have a policy that means that players cannot be retrospectively punished by football associations if the referee has already ‘dealt’ with the incident.  This policy is understandable, because they want to empower the referees.  The policy is also laughable because the best way to empower referees is with a system of TV replays and challenges, a system that shows no signs of becoming available.  Referees should be able to use replays like in rugby, for incidents such as infringements in the penalty area or when players are accused of something like biting.  Team captains should be allowed, say, two challenges per half, like in tennis, to challenge decisions like dives and offsides.  I have made this argument so many times, I am getting sick of it.
5.       There are two issues here – that of retrospective punishment, and that of the length of Suarez’s ban.  Much of the discussion over the ban has been to do with consistency.  Why ten games, where similar incidents have warranted fewer?  Is biting an opponent worse than racist language but not as bad as pushing a referee?  Is this a longer ban because it is the second time he has bitten an opponent?  If so, why has this not been clarified?
6.       The bottom line is that Suarez should be banned, but he should be banned in a way consistent with other similar incidents.  On a related note, the way games are refereed needs to change, and has needed to change for a while now.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Standing ovations

I have never given a standing ovation.  Yes, I've stood and clapped people.  But only in situations where I was already standing (like a gig) or needed to stand to see, because everyone else was standing (like a football match), or because I'm asked to (like a wedding).  I've never stood to applaud someone because I thought what they had done was worth it.  I've come close a few times, but I've never been so jaw-droppingly overwhelmed that I feel the need to acknowledge it with a standing ovation.
Maybe I'm overly harsh.  I probably am.  I certainly have very high expectations.  I thought the other day that the one time I would probably have given a standing ovation, I never got the chance.  If there had been a chance to stand and applaud Colin and Margy Stephenson, the couple who led the youth camp Hebron, to recognise what they had given to teenagers and adults over twenty years, I think I might have.  The chance never arose, so I remain a standing ovation virgin.  For now.

Martin Smith

I saw Martin Smith (former lead singer of Delirious) perform with his band last week.  The gig confirmed my theory that he is the best frontman I have ever seen.
Some of the reasons for this are:

  • He seems to really enjoy performing live.  He has a good time on stage.  This makes him really good to watch.  I'm sure many other people also enjoy performing, but it doesn't show as clearly.
  • He engages with the crowd like no-one else.  He doesn't just talk to the crowd, he converses with them.  He shakes hands, makes jokes, stands on shoulders, takes song requests.  It's like watching your mate play a gig in the local pub.
  • He makes great use of his body when performing.  Many frontmen will just stand there and sing (think Liam Gallagher).  Martin Smith will jump, dance, kneel, crouch etc.
  • He is creative with his music.  The other day, he sang History Maker, though a different version without the classic bass/synth intro (creative), but then he sang God is Smiling over the top of it (more creativity).  Some of the times he does this, I'm sure it is planned.  Sometimes, I'm sure it is spontaneous.

I really have seen no-one else like him.  He is the best at what he does.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Albums by year

This morning, I was challenged to investigate the years in which various of my albums had been released, and rank the years according to how strong the albums from each year are.

I listed 151 of my albums which I know best, assuming that these were generally my favourite albums (simply because I know them the best).  The release dates of the albums ranged from 1981 right through to 2013.
I wrote lists of the albums released each year.  Given that these are my favourite albums, I made the assumption that the year with the most albums would be the greatest year.  This resulted in a draw between 2002 and 2005.  Of course, this assumption is not a valid one - it could be that all of 2002's albums are stronger than any of those from 2005, for example.  Having glanced quickly at the two years, I would suggest that 2002 is slightly stronger.

Another method would be to assign each album an score and give each year a total score.  Or an average score.  This method would take more time than I have, but I can make estimates.  I estimate that, using the 'total' method, 2002 and 2005 still lead, mainly because they each have 16 albums contributing to their totals, while the next closest year, 2003, only has 11.  Using the 'average' method, a kind of indicator of the 'concentration of quality' of a year, I estimate that 1994, 2000, 2006 and 2007 would all feature highly.  1994 only has on album on the list - Definitely Maybe (Oasis).  2000 has A day without rain (Enya), All that you can't leave behind (U2), Glo (Delirious), Hybrid Theory (Linkin Park), No name face (Lifehouse), Parachutes (Coldplay) and The Father's Song (Matt Redman) - I know, right, what a year!  (Interestingly, when I just typed The Father's Song, I mis-typed it as The Father's Snog...).  2006 features Beautiful News (Matt Redman) (not the strongest start, but wait for it), Black holes and revelations (Muse), Harmonies for the haunted (Stellastarr*), Sam's Town (Killers) and Stadium Arcadium (RHCP).  2007 includes A weekend in the city (Bloc Party), An end has a start (Editors), Beyond the Neighbourhood (Athlete), Cities (Anberlin), Holding nothing back (Tim Hughes) (what a first five!), Make another world (Idlewild), The altar and the door (Casting Crowns), The Kissaway Trail (The Kissaway Trail), The scene and the unseen (Stoney), Who we are (Lifehouse).

Three points in summary:

  1. There is a lot of good music from a lot of good years.
  2. I like music.
  3. I am still a geek, and that doesn't look like changing any time soon.