A lovely thing

A journalist once asked me what I would like my epitaph to be and I said I think I would like it to be, ‘He did very little harm’. And that’s not easy. Most people seem to me to do a great deal of harm. If I could be remembered as having done very little, that would suit me.

– Paul Eddington

Recently listening to…

Some semi-recent musical noticings in case you’re on the lookout at the moment. It’s all electronic stuff, or at least in that ballpark, sorry, because, you know…


Boards of Canada’s old track XYZ was added to Spotify a few months back. They played this when they appeared on John Peel eons back, but it didn’t make the accompanying release because, I think, there were sample clearance issues. Lovely bit of vintage BoC, and unusually uptempo for them.

Societas X Tape

Another bit ’o BoC: Societas X Tape was their radio mix for the Warp Records NTS Radio takeover back in June 2019. This is a beautifully hypnogogic and otherworldly mix. I’ve been contemplating doing a podcast/mix, probably on Mixcloud because I’d want to use other people’s tunes, and this would definitely be a reference point, as would Blue Jam.

Random playlists

Curated Spotify playlists seem to be where Spotify shines lately. Here are some good ones I’ve noticed:

  • Relax Your Mind is lovely laidback fare assembled by Coldcut
  • WXAXRXP was put together by user Robert Bernardin, assembled from Warp Record’s various WXAXRXP radio sessions releases over the years
  • This is Plaid, being Spotify’s official best of Plaid playlist should by all accounts be an uninspired collection assembled by an intern after an afternoon’s Googling (or so I cynically imagine). But the choices are inspired. This on shuffle is my go-to listening at the moment
  • Okay, so not a playlist but a live set, but Autechre’s AE_LIVE_DUBLIN_191214 set is something a little different for Spotify

And that’s it really. Is it me or do people not talk about music as much as they’re used to?

Pinboard linkroll

Hey! Turns out WordPress’s RSS widget works really nicely with Pinboard if you want to add a sidebar of recent links. Be sure to include descriptions if you want your own added descriptions to appear with the link. I’ve added a “Recently noticed” section to the sidebar, but perhaps I’ll blog proper summaries every once in a while for the RSS Massive. Anyway, just a little parp into the ether in case it helps somebody somewhere. Ta.

CVs of failure

Came across this a month or so back, and was quite taken with the idea: a CV of failures. A number of scientists have picked up on the idea of compiling a CV of career failures to highlight for others just how much rejection seems to come bundled up with a career as a scientist.

Princeton’s Johannes Haushofer caught some media attention with their CV of failures (a PDF link, I’m afraid), which includes unsuccessful applications for degree programs, fellowships and funding. There’s also a section on rejections for paper submissions to academic journals.

But Haushofer credits Melanie I. Stefan for the original idea, published in Nature. Here’s an extract:

For every hour I’ve spent working on a successful proposal, I’ve spent six hours working on ones that will be rejected. I don’t mind the extra work — after all, if I abhorred tedious tasks with low chances of success, I would not be in research.

Even so, this means that for every endorsement, there are about six challenges to my ability, my determination and my vision. I find this harder to swallow. Perhaps this is because I have generally succeeded so far. I did well at school and later at university, earned the PhD position of my dreams, and have published several papers. This is the story that my CV reveals.

But that is exactly the problem. My CV does not reflect the bulk of my academic efforts — it does not mention the exams I failed, my unsuccessful PhD or fellowship applications, or the papers never accepted for publication. At conferences, I talk about the one project that worked, not about the many that failed.

Excellent stuff. And here’s Stefan’s actual CV of failures (again, a PDF).

And now I’m furious with myself for not bookmarking the excellent example I first came across on the very frank and funny website of a scientist that deserves repeat visits. I’ll rack my brains and come back with a link if I can.

Anyway: it occurs to me the nearest equivalent for a freelance writer would be failed pitches. I suppose it carries the risk that someone better at pitching will pinch your ideas so maybe I won’t actually do it, but I can see value: my failed pitches outweigh my successful ones by an order of magnitude, I imagine. I’m sure some writers find more success, but maybe it would be reassuring to others, and particularly brand new freelancers, to air that in public. And it would certainly be useful to me to keep a record: I’m sure your professional professionals do that sort of thing, if privately.

Otherwise I think my litany of professional failings would be unwise to share. The examples scientists pick out are from systems which have failure built in, perhaps to the point that it isn’t even failure – not really. Runners up don’t win, but we don’t call them failures after all. But I suspect the professional failings of most of the rest of us are murkier, interpersonal messes that are best simply moved on from.

But I love the idea, and applaud the people have taken the time to put a CV of failures together. You can find more examples with a search engine, I’m sure.


Quiet web

Happy new year to you!

Things have been quiet here for a bit, you lucky devils! Christmas and all that. And, to be honest, the election.

Ah, the election. Politics aside, I found myself slipping into some old bad habits. Too much phone. Too much social media. Too much news.

On that score, I found myself creating a few home screen icons of websites to go to when I wanted to read something and didn’t want to check social media and news yet again (or, er, at all).

One was the articles section at hermitary.com, a lovely collection of writing on all things hermit. I must confess to a slightly eremitic bent, so these are right up my proverbial cul-de-sac.

The other page was Oliver Burkeman’s Guardian column, which I sort of interpret as a subversive attempt to make Eastern philosophy relevant to modern life.

On a side note, I’ve done a lot of reading on Eastern philosophy in the past few years, particular Taoism and Zen. For me, this column is much nearer the essence of that stuff than any number of so-called Zen blogs out there, which seem to me to be productivity blogs in disguise.

I don’t think you have to know much about zen to know it’s not about striving, and it always seems to be your modern Western Zen writers are trying very hard indeed.

And though I’ve fallen out of the habit of looking at it, Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, which you probably already know, but which never fails to delight.

Until I’m able to retire to a remote island, these are the sorts of things I like to read other than day-to-day news. And it’s not that I’m not interested in your social media offerings – it’s just that checking in once a day or so is plenty for me.

This was all meant as a preamble before a blog post about work, but that’ll do for now, I think.


Me me me me me

Because I’m properly freelancing (rather than longer-term contracting) again, I thought I’d better write a professional-sounding About page like what professional-sounding people have. I’m probably all the more in need of one as I binned my LinkedIn account because, well, I just couldn’t stand LinkedIn any more.

Anyway, this is all very embarrassing, and unless you have some interest in giving me money, I’d genuinely prefer it if you didn’t read it. Anyway I don’t want your money. You’re my friend. This is more for people that get here from a link I put in an email, the credulous idiots.

Honestly, I don’t know how people suspend the shame long enough to write one of these well. I splatted mine out in about two minutes, and mostly with my eyes shut. Actually, I’m even sorry I’ve made you read this post. I feel I ought to palm you off with another joke. Here it is: Why do cows moo? Because maa, mee and mii would sound stupid, and muu has a somewhat ambiguous pronunciation. Boomtish.

Tripod rescue: a true story

I knew something was up when J approached me with some fish on a stick. It was tinned mackerel on what appeared to be a fencing slat. “It’s under number 3’s shed.”

There was no doubt as to the identity of the it in question. About half an hour earlier, a neighbour had asked to have a look around our garden. About a fortnight before that he’d come to ask if we’d seen his cat – a cat with only three legs.

I’d wondered what had become of Tripod, as my inner monologue had taken to calling the cat, in the intervening period. I hoped that, had it met its end, it was a merciful one, rather than, say, being scared out of its wits by our pair of whippets and bolting under a hedge into the maw of a passing plough .

But it turns out he, for he he was, had set up camp under next door’s shed. The neighbour had been leaving food out for it, and it was being eaten. And he knew it was eaten by the cat and not rats or the village peacock because he’d come over all Chris Packham and set up some motion cameras in his garden to prove it.

Judging by the sound it made under the shed, Tripod was terrified. Who knows what trauma caused the loss of limb, but one had to feel for him, seeking retirement in these quiet, pastoral lands only to be housed with three small children, almost certainly rather too keen for feline entertainment. No wonder he’d escaped.

J enlisted my help to man one corner of the shed, should Tripod bolt for it. Between them, and in defiance of all conventional mathematics, J and Tripod’s owner somehow watched the other three. Partly by tempting Tripod out with the fishy stick, partly by encouraging him out with a pole and partly by stamping on the shed floor, we managed to sufficiently scare the shit out of Tripod to the point at which he did indeed make a run for it – it being absolutely anywhere else.

At this point, two things surprised me. One was the speed with which three-legged cats can move. I don’t know if Tripod is representative of all three-legged cats, but he moved fucking fast. I can only conclude either that three-legged cats are faster than four-legged cats, or cats that live with a 1:1 ratio of their own legs to cohabiting children are forced to be rather fleeter than others.

The other thing that surprised was that, while in exile, Tripod had clearly gained a detailed knowledge of the fences and hedges all along our row, and knew exactly where to gain ingress to the next garden. Mind you, the neighbour was just as spry. Every time I turned around he seemed to be in a different garden. I assume he was vaulting fences, but the evidence equally suggests that he was apparating. (He does own a cat, and all that.)

Clearly I had underestimated Tripod, so I slunk inside to mentally regroup. By this point he was three gardens along and his owner was lying unceremoniously under a tall coniferous hedge trying to retrieve him. By this point other neighbours had gathered. J came to retrieve me, took me to said garden and told me where to stand – blocking Tripod’s potential exit from the garden via the gate behind me. I felt a bit like I imagine Alec Stewart felt keeping wicket for England.

Success! Our neighbour had caught hold of Tripod, and was hugging him close to his chest. This was in spite of a flurry of dubious advice from another neighbour in the build-up, like “you’re going to have to be brutal with it.” The only problem now was that he was completely stuck, so low was the hedge he was under and so deep was the extent of his penetration.

J and I were forced to pull him out by his legs which was awkward because we were wedged in by a shed and lacked the necessary room to do this effectively. And it was awkward because we barely knew him.

When we pulled him out he looked like he’d been pulled through a hedge backwards, mainly because he’d been pulled through a hedge backwards. At this point he thanked us and took Tripod home, presumably to be locked in the cat dungeon he’s had two weeks to construct. (He seems quite handy.)

We offered the neighbour the rest of the tin of mackerel. Actually, we were offering it to Tripod, but we used the neighbour as an interpreter.

“Just pop it on his box,” the neighbour said. So we did. And that, friends, is the story of how we, in a very small way, helped in the rescue of a three-legged cat by pulling a man out of a hedge.