Press "Enter" to skip to content

Finding Virtue Posts

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 6

BT – This Binary Universe

This album sounds like the gold record on Voyager sent back to earth from another civilisation. I’m sure purists won’t align this with other classic ambient works of the Eno strain, which is probably for the best. This Binary Universe is definitely electronic – it deals in sounds which aren’t familiar, but uses them casually, with a glitchiness, and rides slow waves throughout the few, long tracks. But it is caring, it is taughtly meandering, and its ambition is carefully softened by the new and unfamiliar instruments created and disposed of through the story.

I have long been a fan of BT (Brian Transeau), through his ambient and trance days, and then into more psychedelic hip-hoppiness, but I didn’t expect this. His previous music was tight, new, and complete – a bubbling vision of the future, but tethered to the 4/4 kick drum. Having created a baby girl – who stars emotionally in the final track, particularly in the video form which documents a static legacy of remembrance, way in advance of what we would hope – his work took a right-turn and somehow threw out music for the night: a star-gazing extravagance, highlighting the glories and not the gaps. Perhaps more than anything, I was impressed at his ability to switch from one successful mode to another; an about-face, a decision to say ‘now, this’, and to continue on with a different motivation. The rut isn’t as big as we may think it is.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 5

This isn’t an album, and it isn’t a song.  To me it is a hurricane landing on your soul.  The concert streamed below was part of the TED 2009 conference, where the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra from Venezuela ballooned Shostakovich’s 10th symphony to it’s very limits, and then casually took on Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2.  The conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, who is now practically a global hero for the perpetual and unnecessary resurrection of classical music, conjurs up such emotion and activity that it is hard to imagine how any other orchestra could have been motivated to perform in the past.  Many TED talks came together to change my life – I was in a hard place in 2008 and they gave me the food and wisdom to radically change direction, location, and perspective – but this concert, which appeared as the changes were bedding in, is the cement of it all.

If you can wake up in a house with little food, with little money, with little roof, with little health care or education, and then smile, pick up a violin and explode in such torrents of passion, energy, and happiness, then … well, I don’t know what to say.  It’s beyond my comprehension – it is a level above my intellect, it is the impossible beauty that comes from tension and purity, something the Western world knows but forgets.  I dare you not to feel your heart rumble rapturously during this performance.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 4

Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

The first listen is slightly discouraging.  Wailing vocals, ambiguous guitars and strings, and a rhythm section that sounds like it’s playing in a massive beer can.  But two days after, you remember a hint of it, and want to hear it again.  You return, and the apparent shoddiness turns out to be expression.  From thereon, we’re done.  A tumultuous, rooted, slightly abstract scenic view passed through what sounds like the passionate cries of a man on the crucifix, determined to embed the final statement  and make it so.  The whole album is a unit, but ‘Castaways’ and ‘Uniforms’ stand out as crippling forces of attention.  BBC Music conclude well:

Replete with moments of jubilance and tranquillity, cataclysm and contemplation, it feels like the successful culmination of everything the band have been aiming towards over their career to date. An assured, often fascinating and eminently listenable set, it’s less an album, more a bona fide artefact.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 3

The Kleptones – A Night At The Hip-Hopera

Effortless and deft.  Like anyone, you know parts of the original Queen album but don’t necessarily know it in its entirety, and as with many ‘old’ LPs, the production makes it sound a little alien.  Remastering is one thing, but what Eric has done with this is orders of magnitude further than remastering.  Even in five years, I can see that this will be regarded as childish and dated, but the whole mash-up of a suite of wonderful and quirky Queen songs with zeitgeist quotes (and pre-zeitgeist zeitgeist-premonitions) which relate to politics, freedom in music, corporatism and just plain weirdness makes for a wholly enjoyable 63 minutes.  The fact that it was wholly illegal to create and consume is another kick.  Andy Baio, who earned my respect (amongst many other reasons) for mirroring the album against various legal threats, called it a ‘a plunderphonic call to arms against bad copyright law.’ (  For the next generation without the context, it is twee squared by twee, a fragmentary moment of self-indulgence; in the time, it was a brave cicatrice on the music corporation, which never harmed the music – it amplified it.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 2

Green Day – American Idiot

At times I have said that I feel my 20s were somehow lost as a direct result of the Bush Administration.  I think that’s unfair as a statement across the breadth of life: hell, I fell in love, got married, bought a house, took some great jobs and visited some wonderful, life-changing places.  There is nothing in that I regret, and perhaps, somewhere, it was in part a direct reaction against Dubya.   If so, thanks.  But when I say ‘lost’, I mean a sense of direction, a sense of contribution, of community against individualism, of progress against protection, and of purposefulness and creation.  Bad events took place in any 200* year, but our strength is to know the greater good and carry on.  I don’t feel we had that until Bush left, and I think others agree: Green Day’s epic, operatic punk masterpiece is catchy, as complex as punk might ever get, political and discouraged, but more than anything else, inviting.  People relate to its themes, of isolation, of fragmentation, of the conflict of praising the hero atop a pointless prize.  They sing along with more gusto than you normally see at a concert – it is compelling to always go back, for despite being a pretty damning and destructive body of work, it reflected the world at the time, and to state that, loudly, and then rise above it, is an honest demonstration of virtue.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 1

Boy, this’ll be interesting.

This begins an attempt to suggest 10 to 15 albums released in the years 2000-2010 (inclusive) which are noted as amongst the best known to this author.  There will be no ranking, and as the process will be formative rather than summative, I don’t really know whether it’s going to look all that pretty at the end.

Album 1: 30 Seconds To Mars – This Is War

Terrible way to introduce myself to you, but: slick-haired stadium rock with the voices of hundreds of fans and Jared Leto?  Jared Leto? Well, I dunno, but it all combines to create a perfectly pitched, lose your head, don’t worry about the intricacies and intellectualism of music or lyric rumble through the jungle.  The use of the fans as the main voice throughout the album is compelling; most of the songs are powerful but gentle, and finely produced as ever when you involve Flood.  I have always opposed genres – there are only two: good, and bad – but I still feel a little guilty about liking this.  No, loving it.  One of the few bands where a note-perfect live performance would be worth the price of admission.


Decide whether you want money or satisfaction.

If you want satisfaction:

  • build something you care about
  • build something you don’t think works well elsewhere
  • prove to yourself it works well before spending any money beyond the minimum outlay
  • never chase funding
  • remember each returning user is proof of (moderate) success – you don’t need to count and quantify them

If you want money:

  • identify a product or service which receives public negative feedback
  • improve on it, but don’t go too far, otherwise you risk early revolution from competitors and won’t reap your rewards
  • market yourself effectively
  • then market your product effectively
  • take seed funding but don’t expect it to help you identify your business plan
  • wait
  • wait some more
  • if nothing seems to be happening, blow all the cash and start again (irresponsible? Remember, you’re in it for the money, and money has no value until it’s used)

If you want both:

  • move to California

    On Columnists

    Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. – Confucius

    The papers I read on Saturday are different to the papers I read on Sunday; on each day, I try to read media from two different parts of the political spectrum. I don’t do as well, wilfully, online, but at least the unpredictable provenance of information from blogs and Twitter increases the likelihood of an encounter with something beyond my comfort zone. We are often at our best when we approach things with an open mind – we learn more, as we’re more able to connect disparate dots in our mind than when we try to categorise everything into right/wrong, true/false clusters. This is harder than it seems -even with social networking enlarging the circles of information we’d usually encounter, this becomes circulate and self-serving: the same links circulate around the group, breeding similar rather than groundbreaking content creation, and reinforcing social silos. There is still a need to actively try to encounter new, unfamiliar, perhaps unnerving points of view.

    Columnists are not the answer to this. Columnists, and to some extent any op-ed piece, are intended to pad out the newspaper or magazine with witty or emotive insight that tangentially relates to the ‘real’ news, perhaps on the same day or a couple of days after. Some columnists write very well and can play a role in exposing bad practice (Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column is one example), but many fill their pages with groundless, vacous comment that nevertheless wields great power over the reader, slowly changing opinions and aligning the masses. This isn’t to say that columnists should be obliterated – they just need to evolve. If their opinions were backed up with justification, scientific or philosophical, then a column can form the bedrock of a fruitful conversation. If their opinions are revisited, revised or reversed when new information comes along, and if they are honest about their mistakes, we might begin to see a society which snipes less and commends more.

    The main reason for creating this website was a moment of introspection when I noticed I wasn’t speaking as optimistically or constructively as I perhaps used to, and that the throwaway snide remarks were building up into a bigger bundle of negativity, the impact of which would be much greater than the one-liners. I have no grand vision or theme here other than to try to explore the good. Not everything is zero-sum.

    The astute and cynical will note that this post fits the form of a columnist’s output well, and stinks of self-involved hypocrisy. Perhaps – but at the moment, this post serves as a signpost for the path we don’t want to travel down on this conversation; I’ll try to keep things on track.

    Data reporting: inner and outer joins

    First of all apologies for the styling mess, we are still decorating around here.

    I want to propose that nearly every management information report written should never contain an inner join. That is, it should always have a dominant entity and a series of subordinates. This flies in the face of database integrity: in theory your data integrity is watertight and you will always have perfectly matched joins. In practice, I haven’t seen this.

    Let’s backtrack.

    A simple database contains a Person table and an Orders table. The Person table contains a unique numeric identifier which we’ll use as the primary key. The Orders table contains a unique order identifier, and also the Person identifier used as the foreign key. When you’re running a website based on this database, you typically want to do two things:

    1) show the user who they are

    2) show the user what they’ve ordered

    Let’s also think about join types: an inner join will return records where the key (Person) exists in both the Person and the Orders table. It won’t show you records where PersonID exists in Person but not in orders, and it won’t show you records where PersonID exists in Orders but not in Person (rightly so – your database is broken if it does).

    In situation 1, you’re just probing the Person table for a given ID – simple enough and no joins involved. You might want to show them some information about the number of orders they’ve made, and that could be an interesting experience – we’ll come back to that.

    In situation 2, you’re listing the Order table for a given personID – also simple enough, you barely need the join at all but an inner join – selecting all records where the personID exists in both the Person and the Orders table – makes perfect sense. If there’s nothing to show, there’s nothing to show – the page is personal to you, so there’s just nothing to show. It’s not like you’re missing – you know you’re on the website and exist, so you just have no orders. The join is passively broken.

    Let’s play at management information though. Here you are never an individual, you’re always taking an overview and wanting to use your Person table as a critical measure of ranking performance. You now care about the combination of Person and Others, where it’s a many to many situation, not just the one Person to many (or none) Orders you had as a user.

    Say your Person table has 60,000 customers. 30,000 of these have placed one order (for this example, you get banned after your first order). If you make an inner join on these two, you’ll end up with 30,000 customers and a single order record for each. Great! We know… very little indeed. We’ve learned that of those people who have made an order, they’ve made an order within the rules of our market. (now OK, the one order thing is farsical but it’s to avoid the multiplication of records – you could easily replace the ‘one order’ with a sum of orders and get something more meaningful, but….)

    As someone looking at the overview, the most important thing to you is to see everything, even and especially when it has no subsequent impact. Your question is “what proportion of my customers are placing orders?” As an analyst, you can’t answer this with an inner join: an inner join will only ever give you the customers who have made orders, so it will always be 100%. That’s not useful.

    I believe an analyst should only ever use one type of join, and it should be a left or right join. Personally I’ve always gone with left outers, but I’m left handed – you might like rights. An outer join says ‘give me everything from the dominant table, and then whatever matches from the next’. The join is actively incomplete. As an analyst, you have to decide what your dominant entity is, and then always ensure there is subordination from there. That decision of the first dominant table is important, but in truth it’s usually pretty easy to work out – in many cases it’s a person, a company, or a machine. An inner join requires that there is data at the other end: the whole point of management information is to show where there are gaps, where there is non-engagement, so that you can work on it and improve so that your performance increases. Gradually those null foreign keys should become populated.

    Indeed, look at that as a base measure: the proportion of null foreign keys you have is a measure of how much work you have to do. It should never be zero, otherwise you haven’t found an uncaptured market yet; you should always have partially empty tables hanging off one another. It isn’t about data integrity – it’s about exposing possibilities. I worry when I see an inner join: it means something is possibly being excluded that I might care about. Like all the potential signed-up customers who’ve never ordered anything from me. Time for a ‘Hi, it’s been a while!’ email, perhaps?

    That’s my experience, anyway – I may be totally wrong about some of this, but that’s the way it’s worked out in practice. Your thoughts very appreciated.

    [admin note: migrated from FindingVirtue to Ixyl in April 2019]