18 November 2009

Rain and packing

The weather has been incredibly wet here lately, not at all the kind of weather you'd want for November... It's been raining and raining and raining and raining... There seems to be no end to it. How boring... The sky is covered in heavy, gray clouds, and it's always dark. I want either sunshine or snow, dammit! I'm sick of this rain!

In other news, I finally finished my album! It's called "The first dozen" and is now available for download. You can use the player on the right to listen to it, or go to my Rainhat website and download it for free, or buy it on my Bandcamp page. The next thing for me to do is to promote it and let the world know that it's there, so that as many people as possible hear it. If you like the music, tell a friend or download and share the music online!

I'm moving to Malmö soon, so I've started packing a bit. We got a bunch of cardboard boxes the other day and I'm trying to pack down all my stuff in them. The hardest part is to figure out where to start... I have lots of stuff, and it's kinda scattered all over the place, but I guess it will get done eventually. I can't wait to move...

21 October 2009

Online overload

I've been completely and utterly sick of computers and everything online lately, kind of like when you eat too much ice cream too often and just get sick of it and don't want to see another ice cream ever again. Not sure about the 'ever again' part in this case, but it's like I completely lost interest in everything online. I used to check the metrics for my websites at least once or twice every day, but now I just don't care enough to check more than once a week, if that. Seems pointless somehow, I know me checking the metrics isn't going to change anything anyway. I used to be fairly active in some online forums as well, but lately I just haven't seen anything worth commenting on. So I've been staying away from everything online, and doing more stuff offline instead.

I saw this thing on the news about a big blog award being given out. I couldn't believe my eyes... One of the people who was heralded as a likely winner of the award was this teenage girl, who in only 10 months had managed to gain 40 000 - 50 000 hits per day for her blog by writing about fashion and her colorful fingernails. It's an impressive feat, and well done and all, but seriously? Fingernails? I think another chunk of my faith in mankind just died. The most popular blog is not about science, ecology, society, or even religion, but fingernails? This planet is doomed...

I practised Yang style tai chi for a few years back when I had just started college. I did pretty well at it, I knew the Yang Cheng Fu style long form and practised regularly. Then school and stuff got in the way, and I never had time to go to the lessons anymore, so I quit the classes. Now it's been around 4 years since I practised, and I had forgotten a lot of it. Recently, I got interested in it again and decided to take it up again. With some help from Erle Montaigue's video tutorials on YouTube for remembering the moves, I'm back at it. Most of it is coming back quite quickly, I guess because I already learned the movements once before.

18 September 2009

My Etsy shop

I put some of the chainmaille stuff up for sale about two weeks ago on an auction website in Finland. It's a pretty small site, being available only in Finnish, so not surprisingly, nobody even looked at the items. Fortunately, the site is completely free to use.

I've heard some good things about Etsy, so I set up an account there a couple of days ago and put some stuff up for sale. If you liked the chainmaille rings I wrote about in my chain rings post, I suggest you go take a look at the stuff I have up. There are some rings, a bracelet and a necklace available. The address to my Etsy shop is:

http://squigglebird.etsy.com

If you like what you see but can't find a ring in your size, don't worry. I can make you any kind of ring you see there in whatever size you want. Just let me know.

12 September 2009

Riding the monkey

So, a couple of weeks ago Gin and I went to Finland to visit my grandparents. It was nice to see them again, it had been a couple of years since I had been there. They have a nice little red house next to a lake, far from everything. It's a very quiet and relaxing place to be. There's a big workshop where I spent a lot of time as a kid. I learned a lot about woodworking there, always building all kinds of stuff. I once made this little wooden submarine. It was hollow and had these little fins on the side that were angled slightly downward, and it had a little hook in the front so that I could tie a string to it and pull it behind a rowboat on the lake. The little fins would pull the sub down under water if I pulled it with the rowboat, and when I stopped it would float up to the surface again. Loads of fun if you're 10 years old. :)

My uncle is always building stuff too. He's good with cars and motors, and he always has a couple of more or less odd projects going on. He recently bought a monkey chopper motorbike. A monkey bike is like a motorbike, but tiny, like if you took a full size bike and just shrank everything on it down to a smaller size. There used to be these monkey mopeds that were quite popular for a while too. This monkey chopper that he bought now is not street legal, I'm actually not really sure what it's for, but it's hilarious to ride around the garden. It's like a real chopper bike with a fairly long front fork, a low seat and pretty fat back tire, but it's much smaller, so you look pretty ridiculous sitting on it. I have no idea what he's going to do with it.

01 September 2009

Chain rings

Due to popular demand, here are some pictures of some of the chainmaille rings and other stuff that I've made. I've been meaning to put these up for sale on eBay or something, but I haven't gotten my ass in gear yet.

This first one is a ring made out of titanium, bronze and silver. I made up the pattern and used three different metals as an experiment. I think I like the way it looks.

This is a bracelet made of titanium and steel. I found the pattern for this online, I think it's called Dragonback or something like that. It's a pretty dense weave, so the bracelet took forever to make and is quite heavy, even though it doesn't really look it. The chain is about ½ inch wide.

This third one is a ring made out of stainless steel. The chain is called half-persian 4-in-1, I think. It's not very difficult to make once you get the hang of it, but joining the ends to make it a ring is really tricky. It's a very dense chain, so you need pliers with very thin tips to pull it off. The engagement rings that Gin and I have are made out of this chain, but they are titanium on one edge and rose gold on the other.

Gin has started making rings and stuff too, and between us I think we have around 20 rings, and a couple of bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. It's fun stuff to make. :)

13 August 2009

Would you like to learn how to play the flute or the guitar?

I've been unemployed for a while now, and though I've been looking for jobs, there really aren't many that I would have a chance of getting. I'm working on my music with Rainhat, but though that will hopefully take off seriously pretty soon when my album is finished, it's not going to bring me much money anytime soon.

Then one day, in a discussion in a forum, a friend told me she was teaching someone how to play the guitar over Skype, and I went "Huh? Hey, that's a great idea!" I immediately started building a site for this purpose. I scraped together 8 bucks for a domain, installed another instance of self-hosted wordpress with the host I already had, and after a couple of seriously intense days in front of the computer, the site is all set up and I'm more than ready to start teaching anyone who wants to learn.

So, if you're interested in taking flute or guitar lessons, I suggest you go check out my site:

http://www.musicbywire.com

Thank you Melinda! :)

I also suggest you go check out Melinda's blog: Melindaville. It's awesome!

07 August 2009

Cooking pasta

I cooked today. I help Gin with cooking whenever she cooks and needs a hand of course, but I'm rarely the "main chef" who starts the thing and has the ideas. I used to cook a lot more, but I've been lazy so it hasn't happened all that often lately. Besides, Gin likes cooking, and she's an excellent chef, so I rarely need to. But today I felt inspired to do some cheffin', so I made tagliatielle with a creamy bacon and broccoli sauce. A pretty simple dish, and not the greatest thing I've ever made, but it was food so meh. Here's how I made it:
  1. Heat up water for the pasta.
  2. Chop garlic and one yellow onion to small pieces and fry them in a frying pan with some olive oil.
  3. Dice two tomatoes and about 2 cups of broccoli and add them to the frying pan.
  4. Chop up some bacon and throw it in as well.
  5. Chop up some sun-dried tomatoes in small pieces and add to the mix. I was going to do this, but my sun-dried tomatoes expired two months ago. Bummer.
  6. Let it cook until the liquid evaporates, stir every now and then so it doesn't burn.
  7. The water should be boiling by now, so throw in the tagliatielle.
  8. Pour about a pint of low-fat cooking cream over the stuff in the frying pan. I used the 4% fat kind.
  9. Add a dash or two of soy sauce and stir well.
  10. Add black pepper and salt until it tastes good.

That's it. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

We went shopping for some groceries today. I bought some reflective stickers and put them on my longboard. It looks pretty groovy, and I will be clearly visible in the dark as well now. Safety is never a bad idea. I also bought a badminton net for about $2 and played badminton with Gin in the garden when we got home. I suck at it, but it was fun. :)

31 July 2009

New website layout

I installed self-hosted Wordpress and put the entire Rainhat website on it, along with the Rainhat blog. It was a bit of a hassle, but now it's finally all done and I'm pretty happy with how it looks. The only function I wish wordpress would have is to be able to put up link and archive widgets on only certain pages, like only in the blog part and not on the static pages. The way it seems to be now is that if you put up a widget, it automatically appears on every page, unless you add separate sidebars only for the pages. But I'm not that great with coding, so I'm not even going to try.

We drove out to a forest and picked blueberries yesterday. The area looked like someone had already been there and cleared it of berries, but we managed to pick around 2 liters anyway. We decided that was enough and drove home and made a blueberry pie and Crème Anglaise. Fresh berries straight from the forest and into a pie. Delicious! :)

The neighbors seem to have stopped hammering, so I think I'm gonna try recording a bit.

25 July 2009

Intermediate stuff for complete beginners

I logged into my Twitter account yesterday and noticed that the amount of followers had suddenly dropped from 25 to 12, but now I can see all 12 in the list of followers. It makes more sense now. I guess the whole thing with the invisible followers was just a bug...?

This summer has been pretty crappy so far. It's been raining a lot lately, and it hasn't been very warm. Even in these parts of Sweden it should be more than +13 C in July... There was about one week of nice weather a couple of weeks ago, but the rest has been just rain. Bleh...

We have this tent-like thing in the garden. It's like a frame of metal tubes with a soft plastic shell over it. The roof and the corners are a flimsy kind of plastic and the actual walls are made of a very fine kind of net. The point of the whole thing is to be able to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air, while keeping the bugs out, and with a roof to keep you dry if it rains. Unfortunately, this thing was very cheap and the quality matches the price. The roof is leaking a bit and the shell is just a bit too small for the frame, so the mosquito net walls don't actually go all the way down to the ground. Now, I like rain, so last night I got this idea to go out into this tent thingy with a couple of candles and lanterns and just chill with a book while listening to the rain. When I got out there, I noticed that the place was just crawling with red beetles. Apparently they had found their way in under the walls and thought it was a good place to stay dry. There were hundreds of them. I went back inside the house and watched TV instead.

I finally figured out how to format links in different ways for different content boxes with CSS. I wanted the links in the main text box of my website to be red so you can see them. I also wanted the links to be black in another box, because red links just looked bad in it. But I couldn't figure out how to have both at the same time. After looking through a ridiculous amount of websites about CSS coding, I finally found one that explained this particular thing. Not surprisingly, it was quite easy to do. I just had to define each box I wanted to format as a different span class in the html and then define the format of the links in that class in the CSS code. Easy enough to do, once you know how.

With all the millions of tutorial sites out there, it's surprisingly hard to find a site that actually explains everything well and from the very start. Even on sites for beginners, most of them seem to either assume that you know stuff already and start with stuff that actually isn't so basic, or just leave important steps out, probably because they seem obvious to the writer. If you really, truly do not know anything whatsoever about the subject, those kind of sites are pretty useless.

16 July 2009

Artistic integrity, I guess

Heh, it seems I have gotten two new followers on twitter after my last post. So now I have 21 followers, but there's still only 7 followers visible in the list. Weirdness...

I'm getting bored out of my head with being at home all the time. I still haven't found a job, so I'm as broke as ever. Freakin' Swedish bureaucracy... I can't have any unemployment insurance either, because apparently the 2,5 years that I was working in Canada was too long to be abroad and it made me ineligible for it back here. So I haven't had any income at all in about 7 months now. Sucks @$$. On the bright side, I've had plenty of time to write and record music. I've recorded 8 out of 12 songs for my album. Lots of fun, but I'm not making any money off that yet either.

I have written around 45 songs lately, but in my opinion most of them are crap, so I don't want to use them for anything. Counting all the songs that I think might be good enough to perform, I have about 45 minutes worth of music. I will keep writing more songs until I have a full 60 minutes worth of songs I think are good enough. Then I will start looking for gigs. Maybe I'm being too picky, but I refuse to do a concert with songs that I don't like. If I don't like the songs, I feel they don't represent me, and so I don't want anyone to hear them. I'd rather wait until I have something I can be somewhat proud of than try to make money with something I would be ashamed of.

15 July 2009

Tweetin' and stuff

Twitter confuses me. I have an account where I post random stuff and updates about Rainhat. At the moment I have 19 followers, but when I click on the link to see who's following me, there are only 7 users in the list. For the seven that are visible, I can if so choose block them from following me. Not that I have any reason to do so, but theoretically I could. But what about the other 12 followers? If I for some reason wanted to block them, I couldn't, since I can't even see them. Doesn't make much sense to me. Also, how can the 12 not be in the list? I've never seen any option that would allow me to follow someone secretly. Do the 12 even exist at all? Who knows.

Anyway, feel free to follow me on Twitter if you like. My username is Rainhat.

I've been having fun with tweaking the layout of my other blog. I found some interesting websites with info on how to add a third column and such. All kinds of fun layout editing. After all the messing around with my website, I think I'm starting to kind of understand how html and css work. There's always more I could learn, of course, but I got it to do what I wanted, so I'm happy.

08 July 2009

Vampire mode

I'm very good at turning the days upside down, staying up all night and sleeping all day. Especially if I have no particular times to keep, which I don't right now, since I don't have a job. There just aren't very many of those buggers around. Me not having a driver's license doesn't seem to help either, since many job ads request those. Maybe I should finally get my butt in gear and get one... Only reason I don't have one yet is that I never really needed one. I always lived in places where I could get anywhere by bike, bus or train. The damn things are freakin' expensive here in Sweden too... Gah!

Oh, well. No job means lots of spare time, and I've spent pretty much all of it working on music, writing and recording songs. I'm not making any money on it (yet), but if I keep at it, maybe I will. I really need a new steel string acoustic guitar. The one I have is a no-name Epiphone copy of some kind that I bought in Hungary. It sounds like crap. But guitars are a bit expensive too, so it will just have to do for now.

01 July 2009

Rum and beer

It's incredibly hot right now. 30 degrees in the shade outside. Aaargh...

I went to the library a couple of days ago and borrowed some books. I found some books about working in the cultural field, with music, art, etc, how the taxes and such work. There was a book called "100 pages about bookkeeping for those who hate it", but so far that one was incredibly boring. It definitely doesn't make you like it any more. I also borrowed Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse five" and "The rum diary" by Hunter S. Thompson, but I didn't look at those yet.

We went to the liquor store the other day and bought a bunch of different kinds of beer, one can or bottle of each. I don't care much for the Swedish beers I've had before, so I wanted to try something new and see if there's anything I like.
Here's a short list of what we tried, along with completely subjective opinions about them:

Crocodile - It says on the can that it won a gold medal in the biggest European beer competition. There couldn't have been much competition going on... Not very impressive. Tastes ok, but is quite flat. Not much aftertaste at all.

Åbro sommaröl - This was a thorough disappointment. It didn't taste like anything at all. Seriously. Nothing at all. It was like carbonated water. No flavour whatsoever. Good if you don't care about the taste and just want to get severely drunk very quickly, I guess.

Sarek - This was slightly better, though not remarkable in any way. A pretty neutral, unoriginal light lager. Tastes like beer, not much else. No aftertaste at all.

Åbro sigill - An ecological beer. It was pretty decent, it has a bit more flavour than the average bland beer, but still nothing special. Bonus points for being ecological though.

Bellmann 6.0 - This one was pretty good. The best one out of the ones we tried so far.

Saku kuld - An Estonian beer. Not bad at all. It's quite mild, but without being tasteless. Quite ok, but pretty neutral.

Also: 4 cl of Captain Morgan spiced rum + 10 cl of Piña Colada mix + 15 cl of pineapple juice = a tasty and dangerously easy to drink mixture. Getsh you drrrunk quite eashily... (hic!)

22 June 2009

Back in business

Aah, the computer problem has been solved, so now I can finally start recording again. I wasn't quite happy with the guitar tracks on "It's all gone", so I re-recorded them and updated the song on my MySpace page and the website. Now there's also a shop up on the website in case anyone feels like buying the songs to show their support. So, what's left to do is figure out a way to get loads and loads of traffic to the website. As someone said about the music business:
"He who promotes the most, wins."
It's kinda true. Promotion might even be more important than the actual music.

I noticed that there was a typo in the link to the website in the link list on the right. Whoopsie! I fixed it now.

I've been carting and stacking some more firewood. It never seems to end. There's probably enough wood out there to heat up the house for several years. If the house was mine and I had some money, I would re-build the heating system in the house to make it way more efficient, toss up a few high-efficiency solar panels on the walls and put up a small wind turbine or two on the roof. Then I would sit back with a beer and never carry another stick. But alas, the house is not mine and I don't have any money. So back to the wood pile...

18 June 2009

Rainhat website is up!

Finally, after plenty of frustration over html and css coding, and my somewhat lacking skills with these, the official Rainhat website is online! Check it out!

http://www.rainhatmusic.com

I still haven't quite solved the problem with recording, but I'm working on it. After the midsummer holidays I should be able to start recording again quite soon. I have plenty of music left to record.

Midsummer is here. Fresh potatoes with pickled herring, partying and people picking flowers for midsummer poles all around, but the weather is still disappointingly chilly. It's mid-june and it's still only around 15 degrees C outside. Bah...

I've been helping my father carry firewood and stack it up in big piles for winter. There's loads of it. I had these white workman's gloves made of leather, and I've worn big holes in them. One could say that I've carried so much wood that I've worn a hole in a cow. There's this makeshift roof over the wood pile made of boards and a big tarp, but for some reason dad chose to make the roof only around 1,5 meters high, so you can't stand up straight under it while stacking the wood. And stacking it takes quite a bit of time... I think that could maybe have been planned a bit better. My back is killing me.

08 June 2009

New song, finally!

Now that I'm back home again, I have finally had the opportunity to record a bit. I finished one song, and it's now available on my MySpace page. Here's the address:

http://www.myspace.com/rainhat

The song is called "Falling out of love". Enjoy!

I'm going to record as much as I can, so hopefully I will have a new song up every 1 or 2 days for the next week or so at least. I have plenty of new material to record.

I know I just got back from the mediterranean, but still: The weather here in Sweden is freakin' cold. It's +11 outside right now. It's supposed to be a bit warmer than that in June even here. I hope it warms up a bit soon.

I went on a 7 km trip on longboard yesterday. I think I'm starting to get the hang of it now, but man was I tired afterwards... This whole exercise thing is something I haven't done in a while, unfortunately. I'm gonna have to do something about that.

31 May 2009

Language

Languages are funny things. Their main purpose is for people to communicate with each other, but there are all kinds of rules about the structure and spelling and such, which sometimes don't make much sense. Take English spelling, for example. The letter combination "gh" can be pronounced in different ways, like in "though" and "tough". There's a pretty well-known, and perfectly logical example showing how the word "ghoti" can be pronounced as "fish".
Languages evolve, so spelling standards change. I've been wondering... How would it be if you standardized English according to a kind of universal phonetic system, so that all the spellings for all the words were perfectly regular and intuitive? Here's an example. I shall write the rest of this post using such a phonetic system.

It mait seem streinch at ferst to riid text that is ritten laik this, but ai think yu mait get usd tu it after a wail. Inglish is such an irregulur langwich, the spelling of diffrunt werds siims almoust randum. Wudnt it bi sou much iisiur if spelling was purfektli lodjikul? It wud bi a pritti radikul breik from tradishuns, thou. It mait liid tu a lot ov konfjushun. Ivun well-noun things wud luk unfemiljur.

Hau match wud wud a wudchak chak if a wudchak wud chak wud?

Theur is alsou thu problum with ridgunul diffrunses in hau werds ar prunaunst. Yu wud hav to spell werds diffruntli depending on weur yu ar. Yu wud end ap with duzins of rittun langwiches ivun within thu seim kantri. That mait bi bad.

27 May 2009

Countdown

It's countdown time, and I'm counting down to a couple of different things right now.
I got the flight tickets home from Alicante; we're leaving this great place on June 5th. Time in Spain is coming to and end for now, and I must say I've had a great time! I'm still far from fluent in Spanish, but I understand it a whole lot better than when I came here, and I got some grammar books and stuff that should help me improve quite a lot even after I go home.

The second thing I'm counting down to is launching an effort to seriously become a self-sufficient musician. I've done a whole lot of research while I've been here, written a bunch of songs, and gotten a bunch of other useful things done. I've signed up with a couple of very handy online services and even made a website of my own, so I'm mostly set up and ready to go. There are just five things left to do when I get home:
  1. Find a good webhotel service and put my website up.
  2. Record the music I've written and put it on the website.
  3. Start marketing myself like mad, all the time, everywhere.
  4. Find gigs.
  5. Get noticed by all the big music sites, win a couple of grammys, and become incredibly popular, rich and famous.
Actually, there is a number 6 as well, and that is to lose weight after all the good food here in Spain, but since it doesn't really have all that much to do with becoming a musician, I didn't include it in the list. Also, I suspect number 5 might take some serious effort, if it happens at all, but I figure why not aim for the stars while I'm at it? If I miss, I might land on the tree tops, which would be fine with me too.

Launching an attempt at musicianship in this day and age is a pretty interesting endeavor. There is so much stuff you can do with the internet that you never could before, so it's not as much up to knowing all the right people and sucking up to record label managers anymore. I'm quite eager to see just how far I can get with just creative thinking and hard work. Now, only 9 more days and then I get to go at it full speed. Wish me luck!

23 May 2009

Bright orange

I bought myself a nice, bright orange suitcase to put stuff in.

We flew to Spain with Ryanair, and they have these silly rules for luggage. Each check-in suitcase can weigh a maximum of 15kg, as opposed to around 20-23kg with most other airlines. I didn't bring much stuff on the way here as one of the main purposes of the trip was to bring back some of our belongings to Sweden, and I wanted to be able to bring back as much as possible. My old suitcase was quite broken after having gotten lost between Canada and Sweden and getting quite banged up on the way somewhere, so I decided to not bring any suitcase at all and just buy a new one here instead. It's bright orange with lighter orange patterns, so it should be a great deal easier to recognize on the conveyor belts than my old one, which was plain black.

Spain is quite warm this time of year compared to Sweden. It's not really all that surprising, but I've noticed that it's very easy to get dehydrated here. Since it's on average quite a bit warmer, you sweat more than you think. It's easy to forget to drink more to make up for it.

Note to self: Drink more water.

Tomorrow morning we're leaving for Alicante! Woohoo!

21 May 2009

A new look

If you've read my blog before, you'll notice that I've updated the layout. I figured it was time for something new. I kinda like this look. It's a bit more fresh and lively than the old one.

I'm still in Salamanca, Spain, and I'm having a hard time not gaining weight because of all the delicious food my fiancee's grandmother cooks for us all the time. She's quite the lady. I sometimes can't find the clothes I was wearing before, or a towel or something, and I turn around only to find the things I was looking for washed, ironed and folded on the bed. Whoa! And then some more food. "Would you like some tortilla? How about a steak? Here, I cooked some baked fish, filled eggs, steamed potatoes and made a big salad. I had three minutes to spare, so I thought why not. Are you hungry?" I'm feeling quite spoiled here. The food is awesome!

We're going to Alicante on Saturday to visit some more of my fiancee's relatives. I'm looking forward to it. I've heard a lot about palm trees, swimming pools, and great mediterranean paellas. Oh boy. I'm gonna have to go on a serious diet when I get back home...

16 May 2009

Things that really annoy me, part MDCCXVIII

It's time for another installation of complaining about things that piss me off. Today, I find Charity Organizations That Aren't Serious especially irritating. Let me explain why.

During my second day of walking around in Madrid, I come around a corner, and I'm instantly more or less knocked over by a young girl, probably around 16 years old. She jumps at me with a pen and a pad with a paper that says something about an organization for deaf and mute children. She waves the pen at me and keeps repeating "you write, you write" in English, but with a kind of accent that tells me she probably doesn't hear very well. Mostly out of reflex I take the pen and she starts blowing kisses at me. She wants a signature for some cause or another? Oh well, sure, why not. I write my name on the paper. She points at the paper and keeps blowing kisses at me. Now the address. Hm. I'm not very fond of giving my address to random people on the street, so I write a very general and unspecific address. Zip code? I skip that part. Then she points to the last column. Amount donated. Aaah, I see. I'm supposed to give her money next. It all makes more sense now. I feel like I've been walked straight into an ambush, but I reach for my wallet anyway. I guess I can give her a few euros just to avoid looking like a complete ass. I don't have any coins, so I give her the smallest thing I have. A 5 euro bill. She takes the bill, then shakes her head and points at the last column. "No, no". She points at the last column again. I don't get it. "Hmm-hmm". I look at her blankly. She says "Five no good. You must give twenty."

Excuse me? I'm suddenly quite a bit angry. I give money to a complete stranger for no reason at all, and she has the audacity to tell me it's not enough and that I'm somehow required to give her more. I tell her no. She reaches for my wallet. I move it out of her reach. "You give twenty." I say no again. "I give change." She must have seen the 50 euro bill in my wallet and keeps trying to take it out herself. Now I'm starting to get pissed. I say no a bit more firmly. She repeats "Five no good, you give twenty."

I'm not going to give her 20 euros. I have no job and no income of any kind, and I'm running low on money myself. I'm not going to just hand over 20 euro to someone on the street. "You give 20." I tell her as clearly as I can: "No, I will not." She turns around on the spot and walks away with my 5 euros.

What an unbelievable bitch. I don't care if she's deaf and mute, that's the most disrespectful behaviour I've ever seen from someone who claims to be collecting money for a charity. Is she a volunteer or a thief? If someone gives money to your charity, you don't fuckin' start complaining about it not being enough, and you especially don't try to take money out of that person's wallet on your own. If 5 euros is no good, then fuckin' give me the 5 euros back. I was seriously tempted to go after her and demand to have my 5 back and threaten to call the police if she refused, but I decided to ignore it and walked off in the other direction instead.

Unbelievable. This is not the kind of behaviour anyone working for a charity should engage in. If anyone runs into two people in white t-shirts with blue prints claiming to work for a charity organization for deaf and mute children in Madrid, I strongly recommend that you refuse to give them any money. The way they behave, I seriously doubt that they're actually working for any charity organization.

15 May 2009

¡Madrid!

My dear fiancée had a job interview in London yesterday and was flying there from Madrid, so I thought "what an excellent opportunity to see Madrid". So we found ourselves a nice hotel close to the airport and went there one day early to do some looking around.

Madrid is a pretty big place with about 3,2 million people living in the city. There are subways and buses everywhere, so getting around is quite easy and not very expensive. I'm a fan of getting around on foot whenever I'm visiting a new place, though. You get to see much more of the place that way. After a nice meal we went to the Reina Sofia modern art museum and spent a good chunk of the first day there. It's an enormous museum with plenty of very interesting works of art. If you're planning on going there for the first time, I recommend reserving a whole day just for this. The place is huge, and if you really want to see everything (I mean really see everything), you're going to need a whole day. There are four floors in total, of which two are reserved for the permanent exhibitions and the other two for changing shows. It's a modern art museum, focusing on art from 1900 and onwards, and especially Spanish artists. There are quite a lot of paintings by Picasso and Dalí, Juan Gris, Joan Miró, Man Ray and many others. The building is more or less square and has a nice garden in the middle with some interesting sculptures. I liked Joan Miró's "lunar bird" which stands just outside the entrance to the garden.

If you know Picasso mostly from his paintings of very strangely shaped people or his cubist works, there is a very interesting painting to see here from his blue period. It's a portrait of a lady, painted mostly in shades of blue like all his blue period pieces, but otherwise a lot more realistic than his later paintings. There are many paintings by Salvador Dalí here as well. He's probably best known for his quite surreal paintings, melting clocks, elephants with extremely long and thin legs, etc. but at the museum you can also see some of his paintings from before he got into all that. There is among other things a beautiful portrait that looks like it could have been painted by a renaissance artist rather than the surreal Dalí.
The most famous piece of art at the museum is Picasso's Guernica, and it sure is a great piece of art in more than one way, not least in regards to its size. The painting, which depicts the Spanish civil war bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in 1937, is an enormous grayscale painting.

After the museum, we headed to the Tryp Diana hotel, where we had a reservation for a room. It's a pretty decent hotel very close to the airport, and quite cheap for a four star hotel. My bed was a bit weird, though. It was quite hard, and incredibly loud for some reason. Every time I moved, the bed made a loud creaking sound, kind of like an old door in desperate need of some oil for the hinges. Gin had the job interview the following day, so she left for the airport at around 5 in the morning. I stayed in Madrid to look around some more and the plan was to meet up at the airport the same night when she came back. I checked out of the hotel at around 10.30 and headed for the city center. I spent the day walking around, looking at impressive buildings and other cool stuff. There is a huge park in the middle of town, called "Parque de El Retiro". There are huge trees and some ponds and stuff, and a pretty cool building called the "palacio de cristal". It's a big glass building with a small pond and a water fall in front. The pond has fish in it, as well as various kinds of birds and small turtles. There was some kind of art installation going on inside the glass palace, with a couple of speakers playing something that sounded like tropical forest bird chirping and a human-sized stuffed panda hanging from the ceiling. A bit odd.

There are bars and small restaurants everywhere in Madrid. One quite typical food is "bocadillos de calamares", which is a smallish baguette-type bread with deep-fried octopus rings in it. Very tasty! Bars in general in Spain very often offer tapas with your drinks. It can be anything from a small piece of bread with ham on it to small sandwiches with various stuff on them, to pieces of tortilla or other types of food like squid or sausage. They're usually pretty cheap, around 1-2 euros, though some bars offer them for free. Another good word to know is "caña" (pronounced "cahn-ya"). This is a small glass of beer, usually for about 1-1,50 euro.

There are plenty of things to see in Madrid; the royal palace, the big cathedral of Almudena, tons of museums and fountains. After walking around for about 10 hours my feet were killing me, but fortunately it was about time to go to the airport. Getting to the airport is easy. The subway takes you straight to the terminals, so no problems there. Gin's flight was right on time, so we met up and headed home.

25 April 2009

Salamanca!

I am now in Salamanca, Spain, and I must say I'm enjoying every moment of it! The weather is hot and toasty, like the warmest summer days in Sweden, and the town and surroundings are beautiful! The architecture of the old buildings in Salamanca is quite interesting and very different from anything in Sweden. Many of the buildings are built with large bricks made from Villamayor sandstone. This is a unique kind of stone that comes from a quarry in the nearby village Villamayor, and the golden glow that this stone has in the sun has given Salamanca its nickname, La Ciudad Dorada - the golden city.
There are two old cathedrals in Salamanca. The new one, Catedral nueva, was built between 1509 and 1734, and the old cathedral was founded in the 12th century. The new cathedral is quite enormous, and very impressive on the inside. The style is an interesting mix of late Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
Salamanca is also home to the University of Salamanca, one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded by Alfonso IX of León in 1218 as a "General School". This foundation did not last and the university was refounded by Alfonso's son, King St. Ferdinand III in 1243. The university, which has about 36000 students, has a famous facade with detailed engravings, among other things a small frog hiding somewhere among the figures of the facade. According to popular legend, travelers who can spot the frog will come back to Salamanca.
The food here is great as well. One of the delicacies include "jamón ibérico", a special kind of salty cured ham made from black iberian pigs. The ham is salted and then dried for several weeks. After this, the meat is cured for 1 - 3 years, depending on the producer. There are many versions of jamón of varying degrees of seriousness and quality, based on how long the meat is cured and what the pigs ate before they were slaughtered. I tried both the jamón ibérico and one of the more generic jamón, and it's tasty stuff! Most bars have tapas, small plates of various types of food to be eaten like a snack. I especially like the "pulpo a la gallega", which is made from octopus, and "croquetas", which are small bundles of a thick bechamel sauce with small pieces of jamón, ham or tuna in them, covered in bread crumbs and egg and then deep-fried. Yummy! I was kinda hoping that Spanish food would be more healthy and wholesome than my regular slouch-around-at-home diet, but I'm afraid I won't be losing any weight anytime soon...

The language is fun to listen to. I don't speak very much Spanish yet, but many words are very similar to English words, so you can sometimes guess what they mean, though not well enough to be able to follow a conversation. People also tend to speak very fast, which adds to the challenge. Listening to a conversation, I'm able to recognize some words here and there but not enough to understand the meaning. It's weird, but Spanish feels kind of like you could *almost* understand the language if you listened closely enough, but it's just far enough beyond your reach to make it incomprehensible. This complete immersion in Spanish (you don't really hear anything else than Spanish here, everything on TV is dubbed to Spanish too) is a pretty efficient way to learn the language, I think. Between a dictionary, grammar book, frequent questioning of my fiancée for the meaning of words, and just listening to people, I think I have improved my Spanish a bit already.

18 April 2009

España

So the Pirate bay trial is over and the guys were found guilty and sentenced to 1 year in prison and $4,5 million in fines.
It's insane. If you kill someone in Sweden you might go to jail for a few years and maybe pay $20 000 in fines. Except if you're a cop. Then you can pretty much beat a person to a pulp with your stick in front of a video camera and still walk away a free man. Not too long ago during a riot, three cops were caught on video discussing in obviously racist terms how they wanted to castrate and hurt an immigrant, whom they called "the fucking monkey". The police investigated the matter and decided that there was nothing wrong with this, so the cops were allowed to keep working normally. But I digress.

If you put up a website where someone else posts a link to 9 copyrighted movies, you go to jail and have to pay more than 200 times the amount you would for murder in fines. It paints a nice picture of what the priorities of the Swedish legal system are, doesn't it? This trial had nothing to do with actual law and justice, but was yet another example of Sweden being the lapdog of whoever yells at them the loudest. The US looks at the Swedish government sternly, and *poof*, all of a sudden a CIA airplane lands in Sweden and the Swedish government shoves over a bunch of prisoners who are then taken away to be "questioned".

There was no real evidence of much of anything in this case. The prosecutors had to basically fill in the holes in their case by guessing and speculating. The four guys on trial have broken no law, since there has never been any laws against what they did. They did not share any copyrighted material themselves. According to the prosecutors, they were guilty because they provided a web service where people could link to copyrighted material, and the court pretty much ignored the defence and sided 100% with the prosecutor.

Now, think about that for a moment. It's their fault because they provided a site where people can link to copyrighted material? Doesn't Google do that too? And Youtube? And pretty much every single search engine and major website on the internet? Wouldn't that kinda make the entire internet illegal? What's next? Is the Swedish copyright lobby going to start dishing out lawsuits against the internet service providers because they provided people with the means to share things online? This whole trial is just so idiotic it makes my head hurt... It's another painfully obvious indication of the fact that the Swedish government has no interest in working in the best interests of its population, but rather for sucking up to whatever political or commercial organ that has the most money. Why the hell else would the government decide that its OK to introduce mass surveillance of the entire population? It does not benefit the people. It only benefits the companies that have something to gain from it, i.e. the copyright holders, who are now free to slap anyone they want with a lawsuit and basically force them to pay insane amounts of money with no interference from the law or anyone else.

"Pay us, or we will make you pay even more. You are guilty because we say so, and you'll have to prove yourself innocent to get out of this, which you can't because we have frozen your assets since we think you are guilty. So pay up, or else..."

A free country? Yeah, right... Not even the police has the authority to do this! But a company with copyright interests does! A corporation has more power than the police to bully people! Am I the only one who thinks this is so fucked up it's not even funny any more? This kind of stuff belongs in nihilistic sci-fi novels, not in a modern society that is supposed to be democratic!
If a person did this, rather than a corporation, it would be called extortion and organized crime. So thanks a lot, government, you incompetent cowards who not only allowed this to become possible, but actually made it reality. I can't think of anyone who deserves a 40 000 kr + /month salary less than you guys.

I'm leaving town for a while. Tomorrow morning Gin and I are going to Stockholm for a few days to see my brother and some other people. After that we fly to London for a day, and then on to Spain to meet Gin's family. I've never been to Spain, so I'm looking forward to it. I'm bringing my Spanish grammar book and dictionary, and I intend to improve my Spanish quite a bit while I'm there.

25 March 2009

Recycled pens

I went shopping today, got some groceries and stuff, and had a look in a book store just for fun. They had these "bottle 2 pen" pens, which are apparently made from recycled plastic bottles. The pen is made from a clear plastic and is supposed to be refillable. You just unscrew the tip and replace the ink cartridge inside the pen. But after a look around, I noticed that there are no ink cartridges for sale in the store. Not a single one of any kind. Seems very stupid to me. What is the point of a refillable pen, if you can't buy the stuff to refill it with? Instead of just buying the cartridge, you would have to buy a new pen with a fresh cartridge in it when this one runs dry. This creates more plastic waste. But I guess that's the whole point. If you don't sell cartridges, people would HAVE to buy a new pen, thereby spending more money, making the pen makers a bigger profit. It wouldn't surprise me a bit. In fact, companies do this on purpose all the time.

Did you know that a ridiculously large proportion of all the things you can buy, are ON PURPOSE made to be disposed of within six months? Have a look at this website: http://www.storyofstuff.com/ It's a pretty interesting 20 minute video that explains a lot of stuff about consumers and resources.

15 March 2009

Recovery

It is now 11 days since I had my tonsils removed, and while my throat hasn't healed completely quite yet, it's getting to be quite decent. I can eat more or less normal food, though not very spicy or salty stuff and I still avoid really coarse stuff that would scratch my throat too much. It doesn't hurt very much anymore either. The first day or two after the surgery were quite bad, but it was OK with the painkillers and only liquid food. Then after about 4 days it got a lot worse again.
Normally, if you cut yourself, the wound closes up and you get this brown scab on it that falls off after a while when the wound has healed enough under it. That doesn't happen inside your mouth. Instead of a brown, hard scab, you get this white layer of soft stuff that looks more like a thick layer of mold than anything else. It falls off after a while, but the tissue under it is still more or less an open wound and it can start bleeding again. After about 4 days, this white stuff gradually started to fall off, revealing the wounds from the surgery. To tell you the truth, that's when it started to hurt like a motherfucker. Anything I ate made my throat burn like it was being stabbed by a thousand needles. The painkillers took away most of the ache, but it did virtually nothing for the pain of swallowing something. For a day or two, I ate pretty much nothing more than popsicles. The ice made my throat a bit numb so I was able to swallow. Now, most of the white stuff is gone, so I'm guessing my throat will be all good and ready for anything in about a week.

I've taken a bigger interest in ecology and the environment lately. I saw this show on the Discovery channel, Discovery Project Earth, where scientists and clever people build various prototypes for things that might help clean up the atmosphere and the planet. Some of the ideas, even though they work, seem incredibly far fetched and not very practical, but some ideas actually seem quite cool. One of the episodes had this big contraption invented by a guy named David Keith. It filters carbon dioxide out of the air by using a sodium hydroxide solution. Seems good, but where are you going to put the CO2 after it's been captured? Filtering CO2 is not a bad idea, but wouldn't it be better to make factories and other sources stop putting so much out in the first place? There have been so-called rules imposed against large companies, etc. but they are ridiculously full of loopholes and most large initiatives seem kinda inefficient. Take the Kyoto protocol, for example. A country can just decide to not sign it and keep doing things the way they want. Then what? Norwegian gas platforms in the sea off the coast of Norway have hefty fines to pay if their output of CO2 is over a certain limit. So they invented clever ways to filter the CO2 out of the gas they are pumping up, and put it back where it came from so that their emissions are within limits. Seems to me that that's the way to go. Necessity is the mother of all invention, so why not impose a 5 year time limit, and then apply fines of such a ludicrous magnitude that it would be financial suicide for a company to not abide by the limits. They would simply HAVE to come up with similar ways of decreasing their emissions. Companies try to make money. That's what they do. So if they have to invent stuff in order to save money, they will come up with the necessary stuff in no time at all. They are plenty enough of smart people in the world to make it happen. The only thing missing is a good enough reason, and to keep repeating the same stuff about CO2 being bad for the environment and that it causes global warming that will make ice caps melt and cause loads of trouble in about 50 years or so is just not good enough. Stock holders are making money now. They don't care about trouble in 50 years from now, especially if it means paying money to change something now.

Making things environmentally friendly can be tricky on a large scale. Even wind power has its problems. Imagine replacing all the power plants in your country with nothing but big wind turbines. It's a renewable source of power, sure, but energy doesn't come from nothing. The turbines simply convert the energy in the wind into electric energy. And any energy that is turned into electricity is reduced from the energy in the wind. So if you have enough wind turbines, they will inevitably slow down the wind. What does that lead to? I have no clue, but there is bound to be some kind of meteorological consequence. Still, it's a whole lot better than coal power plants if you ask me.

But not everything about being environmentally friendly is problematic. There are plenty of ways you and any one person can help the planet. Recycle if you can, use low-energy light bulbs, re-use things instead of throwing them away, take the bike instead of driving your car, get an electric or hydrogen car instead of a gas guzzler (if you have the money for a new car) and many other things. I do all of the above, (except for buying the new car, I don't have a drivers license). It doesn't take any extra effort, so why not? I also like building things, so I'm going to build a small but simple CO2 scrubber myself. All I need is a small airpump from an aquarium, an empty 2 liter soda bottle, some water and some green, sludgy algae from the nearest creek or pond. It doesn't cost much, and it will convert CO2 into oxygen in a perfectly natural way. Algae are the most efficient organisms in the world for this kind of stuff. They convert CO2 into oxygen by the loads, way more than trees do. Only problem is that there isn't enough of it to keep up with all the coal power plants and cars in the world. Did you know that in the USA alone, there are about 600 coal plants? Each one burns about 1,4 million tons of coal and pumps out about 3,7 million tons of CO2 every single year. It would take quite a bit of algae to keep up with that.

05 March 2009

Sans golf balls

Ah, finally back home. I had my tonsils removed yesterday at the hospital. I was a bit tense before the operation, since I had never been operated for anything before. I was the first patient of the day, and the operation started at around 8 am. The surgeon was quite impressed with the size of my tonsils... I think the thing that surprised me the most was how fast I fell asleep from the anesthesia. They put a plastic tube into my hand for the IV, and gave me two injections through it. The first one made me quite dizzy, the whole room started spinning. Then the nurse told me she was going to inject something that would make me fall asleep, and about two seconds later I was out cold. Next thing I remember is waking up after the surgery, still quite dizzy. A nurse came to see me with a big wet rag and told me that she was going to clean up my face from all the blood. She literally mopped my entire face with the rag, which seemed kinda funny. Was the operation that messy? They injected me with some painkillers, and I spent the next 12 hours or so mostly sleeping. I had to stay at the hospital over night in case my throat started bleeding, but it didn't. When I was awake, it really started to hurt quite a lot, so I got some more painkillers.
I had expected it to hurt mostly at the back of my throat where the main portion of the tonsils were, but it was actually much worse further down my throat. Talking was really painful. Also, I had some pretty painful bruises and cuts around my mouth. They put this metal thing in your mouth to keep it open for the surgery, and it's apparently a bit brutal.
Gin and my mom came to visit me at the hospital and gave me a whole pile of magazines to read. I didn't really have much chance to read them, though. I spent most of the time asleep even after that. The doctor checked my throat today and I got to go home at around 11. I got some prescriptions for some painkillers, so right now I'm doing pretty good. I had read online that your voice might change a little after a surgery like this, but so far I can't really tell. My throat is all swollen and looks like a real mess, so I guess I'll find out once it heals a bit more.

Overall, trying to drink yesterday evening was quite horrible, but today it's a lot better. It still hurts a bit, especially when I swallow or try to talk, but not as much as I had expected. I've had colds worse than this, so I'm pleasantly surprised. A week more and I'll be singing opera arias again. :)

19 February 2009

Raptor visit

Today, as Gin and I were sitting in the living room, lazily watching TV, there was an incredible boom from the window right behind us. We nearly jumped out of our skins. When we looked outside, there was a very dizzy-looking bird hanging upside down from our porch, with wings all spread out and his head on the snow. It was a pretty big bird, a goshawk. No clue what he was trying to do, crashing into our living room window like that, but judging from the impact he would most likely have crashed through the glass had he been going any faster. He looked a bit funny hanging upside down from our porch, obviously quite stunned. Mom was standing on the porch, looking down on him from only about two feet away, but he didn't seem to care much. After about a minute he took off and flew up in a tree, about 5 meters away. He didn't seem to be going anywhere, so I took the opportunity to walk over and take some pictures. He was sitting about 4 meters up so the pictures are a bit from a frog perspective, but he looks like a fairly impressive bird anyway. He was obviously not hurt from the crash, and flew off after spending about half an hour in the tree. I noticed afterwards that he left a bird-shaped impression in the pile of snow next to the porch where he was hanging.

I got the date for surgery now. On march 4th, I'm getting rid of my tonsils. Good riddance, I say. I can't wait to get rid of them.

I caught a cold from my dad, who had it last week, so I've been coughing quite a lot and feeling kinda beat in general. Not that I really need one right now, but it's a good excuse to just sit on the couch and read a book. I don't really have much to do anyway. I'm still waiting for my last paycheck from the job I had in Canada. Apparently there was a "mixup" with the payments, so mine never got sent. I got a letter in the mail a couple of days ago saying that it was sent out on February 7th. But that was 12 days ago, and I still don't have the cheque... Given the level of organization at that place, I can't say I'm too surprised. It was by far the messiest place I ever worked on, and the only place I've worked at where the management seemed to have no interest whatsoever in listening to the ideas of the workers. But obviously, if the dozen or so people in the higher management don't have enough good ideas, the 300 or so "grunts" couldn't possibly have any brains to contribute anything with... The few times that the employees took the initiative to try to come up with suggestions on their own, the effort was greeted with outright hostility from the management. A healthy working environment? Right.

A few weeks before I left, my fiancée and I were offered work with the same company in starting up a new office. But without any raises or promotions, the management wanted us to do exactly what we were already doing (the positions we had already resigned from) and for a salary worth less money. They couldn't possibly offer us anything else, since we would have to show some good results and dedication towards the company first. Obviously, in the three years that we had already worked there (never mind that we had each been promoted twice in that time, and had worked there longer than most others in the localization department), we had done none of that? Sorry, but that's nothing short of insulting.

14 February 2009

Snip snip

Now that I'm back in Sweden again, my stage name seems a bit out of place. I originally picked a stage name because people generally can't pronounce my real name very well. But being in Sweden, I'm most likely going to be doing most of my performances in Sweden, so having a completely anglicized stage name just seems pretentious. So I renamed my MySpace page, and shall from now on be associated with the name "Rainhat" instead whenever I do a show. Not so much a pseudonym for myself personally, but more of a project name for my musical endeavours.

I've written some new music, and my fingers are really itching to record the stuff and put it up online, but unfortunately it seems I can't do that with any satisfactory result at the moment. First of all, I don't have access to the kind of instruments I would need. I bought myself an electric bass that I'm really happy with, but the guitar I have is really not something I want to use for a recording. It works, it's easy to play, but it just sounds bad. There is no life or body in the sound. I pluck a string, and the result is just a vibrating string. There is no resonance of any kind. It sounds... dead. Dead and flat and lifeless, as if I was playing a brick with strings. Of course, I could make do with what I have and use this guitar anyway, but I would do so quite grumpily.

The second obstacle, and the one that really stops me, is my throat. I've been having problems with my throat lately. I have always had large tonsils, ever since I was a kid. The doctors kept saying that it was perfectly normal, and that they would shrink as I got older. Well, I'm 28 now, and they haven't. In fact, they have only gotten larger and larger, and quite rapidly as of late. Now they are large enough to make it difficult for me to breathe when I sleep. I have apneas and wake up at night with a pulse of 180, gasping for air. They are literally the size of eggs. That also causes some problems with my voice. I can't articulate properly and I sound nasal and stuffy, kind of as if someone was constantly trying to choke me. Try it. Grab your throat just under your jaw. Now squeeze and press upwards at the same time. That's how I sound. I don't want to record any vocals as long as I sound like this. My throat also feels incredibly unpleasant. I'd do anything to get rid of this feeling right now.

I went to see a doctor at the local clinic when I started having trouble breathing. He sent me to the hospital with a rush order, so I went there and met an ear nose throat specialist. He was quite impressed with the size of my tonsils and decided that they need to be removed quite soon. I didn't get a set date for the surgery yet, so I'm waiting for more news on that.
Having your tonsils removed is a pretty minor surgery, but I've heard that it's incredibly painful. Gin's aunt said it was like swallowing needles every time she drank something for about a week and a half after the surgery. Oh, well. I'd rather swallow needles for a week or two than have a throat like this for the rest of my life.

09 February 2009

Downloading music

Did you know that if a musician gets signed with a major record label, he's basically signing himself into poverty unless he happens to hit it really big? Like Maroon5 or James Blunt big, at the very least. Prices vary depending on where you buy a CD, but let's say a regular CD is around $15.

A record company pays for the time spent in the studio to record a CD. This alone can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. All the costs involved in creating a finished CD are recoupable. This means that the record company will take that money back from the musician out of his royalties on the CD. An average level royalty for a beginning musician is somewhere around 12%.

Now, 12% out of $15 is $1,80. So if you sell 10000 CDs, the musician gets $18000, right? Nope. When vinyl records were sold, before the CD was invented, the record labels had to count on a part of the records breaking, thereby not getting them any income. So they would calculate royalties on only 90% of the total amount of CDs, regardless of how many were actually sold. They still do. Even though CDs and mp3s don't break. There is no justification for keeping this method, but they do anyway because they make more money with it. So 10000 CDs actually only gets the musician $16200.

Record companies have also decided that while it's ok to pay royalties to the musician for each CD, they don't want to pay royalties on the packaging. So a 25% packaging deduction is taken off the price of the CD before the royalties are calculated. So out of $15, the royalties are calculated on only 75% of the price, that is $11,25. So now, for 10000 CDs sold, the musician gets only $12150 for the royalties of 90% of the sales.

If the musician doesn't produce the record himself, but has an independent producer do that instead, (or even worse, a producer from the record company) he has to pay the producer out of his royalties, generally around 25% of his royalties. So then the musician only gets a 9% royalty instead of 12%. That means $9112,5 for 10000 CDs sold.

The record companies also have a 25% deduction called the R&D deduction. This is a research and development deduction that the companies take off, because it costs them money to research and develop new technologies for publishing the music. Like when the cassette tape was invented. Or the CD, or the minidisc, blue-ray, mp3, etc. Nevermind that most record labels never spent a penny on researching or developing any of these. Anyway, what remains is now $6834,375.

So, around $6834 for 10000 CDs sold is a pretty welcome income, isn't it? Selling 10000 CDs can't be that hard, and it's a start, right? Nope. Remember that all the costs involved in creating the CD are recoupable. What if the production costs added up to $150000? That means that when 10000 CDs have been sold, the record company has already earned $132000, but the musician is still 143166 dollars in debt to the record company. The musician gets about 68 cents in royalties per CD. So he has to sell enough CDs to cover the $150000. If we use this example, he has to sell 219491 CDs before he ever gets a single penny in profit. How many musicians sell 220000 copies of their first album? Not many.

And yet, this is all a bit simplified. In reality, the musician may get way less than shown in this example. The cost of recording the CD is not the only cost. How about another $150000 for a promotional video? How about mp3s? The royalty rate is often the same, even though there is zero breakage and zero packaging. So how can the artist afford a manager and a lawyer? Pfff...

The alternative is of course to do and finance everything yourself, to do it the indie way. But man, that takes some serious money. Overall the music industry is in many ways a disgusting business, and in severe need of transformation. And who wants to pay up to $30 for a CD, as you often would in Sweden? No wonder people are filesharing like mad. The record companies get mad and claim to be losing millions of dollars and compensate by raising the record prices even more, making them even harder to sell, making people download even more.

Business has always been based on the simple principle of demand and supply. The people want something, so you sell it to them. The people want something else, so you adapt to what they want and sell that instead. The record companies seem to be kind of stuck, trying to bully everyone into buying their CDs by any means necessary, even though people don't want to. People download copyrighted stuff. That's not going to change, no matter what you do and what laws you make. And trying to bully laws into place, like the EU parliament seems to be doing with the Medina report, is just nothing short of disgusting.

The big trial against the guys from The Pirate Bay is starting on February 16th. The EU parliament has this thing called the Medina report, which is basically a long wish list from the copyright people. It is a list of things that they suggest that the EU parliament make into law, applicable in all of Europe. Check out points 30 through 33. Does anyone other than me find this a bit insane? They are basically asking the EU parliament to DECIDE that the court of law should convict the Pirate Bay guys and find them guilty! What the hell kind of justice is that? Innocent until proven otherwise, my ass...

I'm a musician myself, and of course I want to make money off my music and be able to make a living with it, but not like this. Filesharing is here to stay, so we need to find a way that lets the musicians make money off of their music through filesharing. Not by letting multi-billion dollar companies violate all reason and justice, while basically robbing the musicians and making insane amounts of profit on the very expense of the musicians.

In Sweden alone there are somewhere between 600 000 and 1,2 million people who engage in filesharing. Rather than making up one stupid law after the other to try to criminalize these people, something else needs to be done. I mean, seriously... It just doesn't make sense to try to turn over 10% of your population into criminals! What are you going to do? Put them in jail? All 1,2 million of them? Come on...

According a recent study that I read about today, done in the Netherlands, about 25% of the Dutch population downloads stuff illegally. But at the same time, those same people make up 45% of the people buying the same stuff legally. By downloading stuff you get access to a million times more stuff than you ever would if you had to buy it all first. So you find more stuff that you like, and then you go buy that.

Record companies lose millions because of file sharing? Sorry, but I honestly don't believe that for a second. What better way is there for a band to get heard? A band lives off the fact that they are known. They spend hundreds of thousands on promotion and advertizing. There are bands that have based their entire success on getting the word out over the internet. The more people hear your music, the more people are going to buy your CD, buy tickets to your tour, buy your t-shirt, etc.

But copying something that is copyrighted is illegal, according to the law. The very same law that promotes libraries, where anyone can go and borrow a book and read it for free completely legally. If I go to the library, I can read Harry Potter, and J. K. Rowling doesn't get a penny. If I download the book online and read it, I am a criminal and J.K. Rowling could file a lawsuit against me.

What exactly is the difference, I wonder? Seems very fishy to me...

1984 again? 25 years later?

I moved from Sweden to Canada in June 2006 to work, and during my stay there I didn't really keep much track of what was happening in Sweden. Now that I'm back, I've found many disturbing things on disturbing levels. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark", as good ol' Bill put it. Very apt, except for the Denmark part. The thing that really bugs me is this:

Effective from January 1st this year, 2009, a department of the Swedish military can monitor and listen to or read all public and private communication that crosses the Swedish borders.

Since pretty much every signal from every kind of communication passes the Swedish borders at some point, (because the email servers are abroad, for example), this means that if a person in Sweden calls his buddy in Sweden or abroad on a cell phone, chats online, sends an email or a text message to someone, uses any kind of IP phone, or just a regular phone, the government can read or listen to every word unhindered. They do not need any suspicion of crime or just cause, they can listen in on all of it at any time they want. This law is called the FRA-law.
Sweden - kiss privacy good bye. It does not exist any more when it comes to communication.

The justification for all this is that the law gives the Swedish government a way to "detect and trace external threats". Well. If there was an external threat that was in any way interested in doing something to insignificant little Sweden, THEY WOULD NOT DISCUSS IT OVER THE PHONE! What kind of idiot terrorist would discuss his plans using Hotmail or a cell phone? Especially since this law is public knowledge, and any terrorist with half a brain would KNOW that someone is monitoring the call!

How many people and their phone calls would you have to listen to randomly before you stumble across a suspicious call? Way the hell too many!

The law as a deterrent? Does anyone actually believe that a person bent on carrying out some kind of bombing or whatever would just go "Oh, I guess we can't communicate secretly now. Better go home again..." because of this law? Seriously... I sure as hell don't.

This law is an atrocity and there is no valid reason to rob the Swedish population of their privacy in this way. I for one demand that it be revoked. If I call a friend, it's none of the Swedish government's damn business what we talk about.

I can't BELIEVE that this kind of law actually got passed. I simply cannot understand how anyone would want to be in favor of giving up their privacy this way? A common argument in favor seems to be the ever-so-popular "But if you have nothing to hide it doesn't matter if someone listens." or the variation "You are only against this because you have something to hide." It doesn't matter, eh? Let me tell you. If you had a person following you around all the time, listening to every word you said, not letting you make one single phone call in privacy, it would start bugging you really damn fast, whether you have something to hide or not! So what difference does it make if that person is there next to you, or listening through headphones somewhere else? It's the same damn thing.

In Sweden, a mailman can be fired or even go to jail for opening a letter addressed to someone else and reading it. But according to the law, the Swedish government can do that with any mail they want. Does this seem sensible? Hell no!

If you say something suspicious over the phone, you become a suspect and a potential threat to national security. If you do a search on the keyword "communism" or "al-qaida" on google, you are researching suspicious things and therefore suspicious yourself.

Has anyone read the book 1984? This is starting to sound freakishly much like the thought police. How much further can this be allowed to go?

During WW 2, the image and concept of the Swedish Tiger was created as a symbol for the vigilance campaign. The word "tiger" means "stays silent" in Swedish, and the idea was that all Swedish citizens should stay silent about anything that could be potentially harmful to a neutral Sweden, which at that time was surrounded by countries either at war or occupied by military troops. This concept seems to remain in a twisted way to this day. Swedes stay silent about everything. Sweden is the most taxed country in the world, and we're not really getting anything more for that tax money compared to other countries with lower taxes. Unemployment is rising, pensions are dropping, alarming numbers of cases are handed over to the bailiff because of unpaid debts.

Measured as a percentage of the GNP and compared to other countries within OECD, Sweden had a clear lead with 51,1% in 2005. As a comparison, the UK stood as number 12 with 37,2% the same year. Canada was number 17 with 33,5% and the US was number 22 with 26,8%.

Sweden has free health care. The US does not. Sure, our healthcare is free, but only if we pay 150 kr for the privilege of getting to see any kind of medical personnel in the first place.

So we are taxed out of our asses and our privacy is gradually stripped away in something that more and more resembles a big brother-state. How do the Swedish people respond to this? With silence. A big, fat, overwhelming lack of doing anything whatsoever. People whine about it at home, but nobody does anything to work against it. The Swedish silence prevails. On January 13th this year, a demonstration was arranged in Gothenburg agaist the FRA-law, the IPRED laws, the data storage directive and ACTA. The demonstration was arranged by 7 political parties and youth parties, as well as a network against the FRA-law. Gothenburg is the second biggest city in Sweden with over half a million people living in the city area. So how did the demonstration go? A whopping 200 people showed up. If that is the extent of people's commitment to actually want to do something about things, I think Sweden is really screwed.

We need to do something! We need to get off our asses and get involved! Join a political party and work against this, or at least vote for a party that is against this nonsense! Hand out flyers, write blog posts, send a letter to your government representative.

But! Remember to do it the right way. Violence and throwing rocks at politicians you don't like is never the right way. On the contrary, it'll just work against your idea.

13 January 2009

Projects

After borrowing some clothes and not really doing much, we got our luggage back about a week after we got here. As promised, they delivered everything right to our front door. Everything was in good shape; nothing was missing and nothing was broken, apart from a wheel that had fallen off one of my suitcases. No big deal, though. It was a pretty old and well-traveled suitcase, and I'm surprised it lasted this long.

I've always liked building things. Growing up, I spent every summer in a huge workshop at my grandparents' place, building all kinds of stuff and learning how to work with both wood and metal. During the 2,5 years I worked in Canada, I had no tools and no space where to work, so I couldn't build anything. It was actually one of the things I missed the most. So now that I'm back in Sweden, with access to a modest amount of tools and at least some space to work on, I got right back into it. I decided to build a longboard of my own. I read a bunch about it online and watched a crapload of videos on youtube of people who build their own boards with quite varying results. It seemed more than doable, so I got to it.

First, I got a nice sheet of 3 mm birch plywood and a bottle of wood glue. I made a plan and a template on paper, cut the plywood into 8 pieces and glued 4 layers together. Then I traced the template onto the plywood and cut and sanded out the final shape. I decided to make a drop-thru deck, which means that the metal trucks that hold the wheels go through a hole in the deck and are mounted with screws to the top of the deck, as opposed to a deck that is mounted on top of the trucks. A lower deck makes the ride more stable. The board is not that much lower on a drop-thru deck, but even an inch makes a difference.

Since I didn't really know how durable the birch plywood is, I decided to remove as little wood as possible for the hole, so I designed a template for a hole that will do just that and fit the trucks I have very snugly. The drawback is that I probably can't use any other trucks on this board than Randal 180's, but since those are good trucks, it's not really a problem. Besides, this is just a prototype anyway.

After cutting out the holes for the trucks, I attached the trucks and wheels so I could try getting on the board. Since I had no real idea about how durable the plywood is, I wanted to try standing on it to see if it'll hold my weight, or if it'll break right away. No sense in spending lots of hours finishing the board and making it look pretty, just to have it snap like a twig when I step on it. So holding on to the kitchen table for support, I very carefully stepped onto the board. It didn't break. Ok, so far so good. I carefully bounced on it a bit. It still didn't break, so I finally jumped up and down on it. No problem at all. The board is nice and flexy, actually quite perfect for my weight of 82 kg. It bends, but shows no sign of breaking. Excellent. Then to finish it. I sanded the surface and sprayed it with a clear lacquer, then spray painted two metallic black stripes on the back, and hand painted a logo on it. I decided to call the board "Pyry proto". Pyry is a finnish word that means "blizzard". There was actually a blizzard here when I started making it. Proto is just short for prototype. After a few more layers of clear lacquer, the board is all finished, and I must say I'm a bit proud of the result. I put some black and yellow grip tape on the top, and the board looks quite good, if I may say so myself. Now, if only the solid layer of ice that covers the streets here would melt so I could go out and try it for real...

For any longboard geeks out there: The deck is 120 cm long, has Randal RII 180 trucks and Abec 11 83mm 75a Flywheels.

Apart from making the board, it has been a couple of very nice and relaxing weeks of vacation at my parents place here in Sweden. Me and my fiancée Gin have thought a bit about what we're going to do next. The plan was to go to England and find something interesting to do there, but we came to the conclusion that staying in Sweden might be an option too. Gin has been studying Swedish while we've been here, and is actually advancing very quickly with it. I have no doubt it wouldn't take her long to be completely fluent at it, so finding a job in Sweden wouldn't be a problem for her. I guess we'll just have to look around and see where we find something interesting. To be honest, we haven't really been looking all that seriously for the last couple of weeks. It has been quite nice to just relax for a while. I had some vacation from work twice while I was in Canada, but both times I was completely swampted with stuff I had to get done, so it wasn't really vacation. I came back to work more tired than when I left.

We had a couple of interviews and offers for jobs earlier, but they seem to have flaked out. This one lady from a company in the UK wrote me and wanted a phone interview. We set up a time for it, but when the time came, she just didn't call and I heard nothing more from her. If that is the extent of their level of organization and courtesy I think I'd rather not work for that company, so I didn't pursue it any further either.

Maybe I should start making longboards? That could be quite fun... :)

The longboard I bought for christmas still hasn't arrived. It's been in the mail from Canada to Sweden for almost a month now. It's kinda funny that it took less time for me to build a new board from scratch than for a finished board to travel across the Atlantic.