Category Archives: Personal

Resolutions, 2013 edition

January 2012 seems impossibly far away now. Moving house will do that to you — a previous life feels distant and remote, despite the year flying by in a rush of travel, holidays and new projects.

The two biggest changes in my life are causally related. In June I handed back the keys to our life in Amsterdam and returned to a decidedly quieter life in our little Fenland village. Exchanging a bike ride through the Dutch parks for a packed commuter train (or an even more packed easyJet flight) has altered the rhythm of my days, as has moving from an open-plan office of 150 to an office of six. I have much greater freedom to focus now, whether that be on reading during my commute, or headphone-insulated work in my private corner of the office.

The other change is also work related. I’ve moved, albeit temporarily (allegedly) to work on improving usability and the tools we provide to our extranet users. After three years of working on the frontend website for Booking.com, having to think about an entirely different set of users and their very specific needs and issues has been great fun, and — as the only designer on the team — I’m enjoying the freedom to make use of more modern techniques and tools than was possible on the frontend.

 Resolutions, 2012: Let’s see what you could have done…

Exactly a year ago, I published my three New Year’s resolutions. It seems apposite to revisit them and assess my success or lack thereof.

Firstly, I planned to find a GTD solution that worked. I ended up using Nirvana for most of the year, but when they moved out of beta and started charging I renewed my search. I’m temporarily using Remember The Milk at the moment, but finding it very clunky. So much so, that I’m taking steps to fix the problem once and for all. More on that later.

Secondly, I wanted to create more stuff. Unfortunately this has been an unmitigated failure; I continued to take hardly any photos (Instagram doesn’t count), left several web app ideas barely started, and failed to do much more than start a couple of new blogs. Again, more on that later.

Lastly, I promised to stay fit. That, at least, I can apparently do; I ran two half-marathons in 2012, and intend to keep going in 2013. So, more on that later. Or, well, now.

Resolutions, 2013 edition

  1. More, but varied, fitness. Regular running is all well and good, but the scenery round here can get pretty repetitive. This year I’m going to try a change in tempo — cycling, weights and swimming are all relatively cheap and easy to take up for some variety in calorie burning.
  2. Finish what I started. Over the last year I started building a GTD app (with Django), then a lifestream app (with Kohana), and finally the GTD app again (this time with Laravel). This year I intend to actually get something into a releasable state.
  3. Read more, write more. I haven’t been reading as much as I could, and I could certainly stand to up the variety of my reading material. Equally, despite thirty posts on this blog and starting two new blogs in the latter half of the year (book/film reviews on This Reviewer’s Life and daily writing exercises on Ten Minutes of Prose), I’d like to maintain a regular output — including sharing more technical stuff. I’m still receiving emails asking for help with a tutorial I wrote in 2005, so at the very least that needs updating. And the technical blog at work could also do with some design input as well.

So, in summary, not a lot has changed. I’m feeling pretty ambivalent about 2013; there’s nothing big on the horizon, and things are fine. Here’s hoping they stay that way.

Reading List 2012

At the end of 2007 I published a list of all the books I had read that year. It was a fun exercise, so in 2008 and 2009 I did it again. And then, for some reason, I stopped. God knows what I was doing that was so fascinating in late December of 2010 and 2011, but apparently I couldn’t find an hour to sit down and bash out a shortish list and some poorly considered opinions on the year’s literature.

The upshot of Younger Me’s laziness is that I now have a list of three year’s worth of books but no clear way to figure out where 2012 started. Using a combination of Amazon receipt emails and trying to recollect whether I received a particular book as a birthday or Christmas gift, I think I’ve ended up with a fairly accurate list — not that anybody else really cares…

In previous years I split my reading list into fiction, non-fiction and fantasy. This year has skewed heavily towards fiction, but I may as well keep the same format for the sake of consistency.

Fiction

  • Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace)
  • For The Win (Cory Doctorow)
  • Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
  • Through The Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll)
  • Dracula (Bram Stoker)
  • Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
  • A Princess Of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs)
  • Herland (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
  • The Invisible Man (HG Wells)
  • The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury)
  • The Left Hand Of Darkness (Ursula K LeGuin)
  • Little Brother (Cory Doctorow)
  • Anno Dracula (Kim Newman)
  • The Stars My Destination (Alfred Bester)
  • Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (Robert A Heinlein)
  • Citizen Of The Galaxy (Robert A Heinlein)
  • Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (Philip K Dick)

Between July and October I took an online course from Coursera on Fantasy and Science Fiction, which required me to read a book every week and write a short essay on a relevant topic. That syllabus accounts for the middle section of my fiction consumption this year (from Alice’s Adventures… through to Doctorow), but also inspired me to seek out further reading within the genre; classics such as The Stars My Destination and (for some reason) the first Philip K Dick novel I’ve ever picked up.

The literature appreciation aspect of the course also inspired me to start a new reviews blog, where I’ve been posting reviews since late September; I’ve linked to any reviews of books in these lists.

Non-fiction

Tuva or Bust! is the story of Richard Feynman’s attempts to reach the geographic centre of Asia; I first read it as a teenager, and the memory has stayed with me for almost twenty years. I finally bought it again, and it’s still a great (if old-fashioned) read. Wil Wheaton’s memoir is also fantastic, one of those books where the hackneyed phrase “raw honesty” genuinely applies.

30 Years of Adventure was a Christmas present from my lovely wife; for anyone with fond memories of adolescent roleplaying, it’s a fascinating look at the creative and business developments behind an almost forty-year-old brand.

Fantasy

  • The Heroes (Joe Abercrombie)
  • The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)
  • The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • The Wandering Fire (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • The Darkest Road (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • A Song For Arbonne (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • Red Country (Joe Abercrombie)

I didn’t realise until making this list what a limited range of fantasy authors I had been reading this year. Abercrombie remains my favourite new author, although his latest book Red Country hasn’t immediately jumped to the top of my list of his work. And, as ever, I re-read a fair amount of Kay, even re-buying several books that were lost during last year’s house move.

What is best in (shelf) life?

Of the 31 books I’ve made it through this year, my favourite — the one that had me sitting up until late at night and reading first thing in the morning — was undoubtedly Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. Wil Wheaton’s book was also very good, and of course I’ll always recommend Joe Abercrombie or Guy Gavriel Kay to anyone with a taste for fantasy.

Sitting in the pile for next year, I have Douglas Coupland’s latest Player One, more LeGuin, Ed The Happy Clown and Peter Bagge comics, Alan Partridge and Stephen Fry autobiographies, several Hemingway novels, Don Quixote, Ulysses and, um, Plato.

I’m looking forward to it.

album covers

2012, My Year In Music

album covers Almost exactly one year ago, I sat down at this desk (albeit in a different country) to draw up a set of lists collating my listening habits for the previous twelvemonth. Looking back at that post, it’s fascinating how wildly my favourite artists (at least, measured by volume) change each year. Only two bands — Pixies and Arcade Fire — feature in both years’ lists, and 2011’s favourite The Afghan Whigs, played obsessively last year, barely made it into the top twenty.

2012 was the year of the fan-funded music revolution. Three of my top five albums were released through the PledgeMusic site, where fans can pledge money to fund the production of new music by bands that might otherwise struggle, and in return participate in a much closer relationship with the artists concerned as they follow the production of ‘their’ album. By the end of this month, Ginger Wildheart will have released six(!) full albums through this route; the triple album 555%, Hey! Hello! with Victoria Liedtke, and the heavy-as-hell Mutation double album.

Top 10 Artists listened to in 2012

  1. Ginger Wildheart
  2. The Wildhearts
  3. Metric
  4. Pixies
  5. Foo Fighters
  6. M83
  7. The New Pornographers
  8. Guns N’ Roses
  9. Jackdaw4
  10. Marillion / Arcade Fire

Aside from the various Wildhearts material (which accounted for more than five times as much as the next artist) my only really new discovery this year was Canadian indie-rockers Metric. After two tracks from their 2010 album Fantasies somehow made their way onto my Spotify ‘starred’ list, I gave them a proper listen, bought the CD, and highly recommend them to anyone.

Top 10 Albums listened to in 2012

  1. 555% – Ginger Wildheart
  2. Fantasies – Metric
  3. Dissectacide – Jackdaw4
  4. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
  5. Hey! Hello!
  6. Wasting Light – Foo Fighters
  7. Doolittle – The Pixies
  8. Living Things – Linkin Park
  9. Saturdays = Youth – M83
  10. The Lumineers – The Lumineers / Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – M83

555% was a triple album, but still — more than six times as many listens as the aforementioned Metric album isn’t bad. Again, it’s been an uninspired year for me; no new mainstream albums apart from Linkin Park at eighth and The Lumineers sneaking in at joint tenth, and two albums (Foo Fighters and Arcade Fire) appearing two years running. I must try to listen to some new music next year.

Track of the Year

Aside from a weekend away during which the kitten managed to play Sonic Youth’s 100% 619 times in row, my top ten tracks are unsurprisingly dominated by Ginger Wildheart’s 555% album. Top track, by a small margin, was ‘Lover, It’ll All Work Out’:

Aside from that, one track that got played rather a lot was Metric’s super-catchy ‘Help I’m Alive’:

With so many independently released albums this year, Spotify isn’t the best place to find them. However, I’ve collected what is there into a single playlist for easy exploration: 2012, My Year In Music.

Synaesthesia.js

Ever found yourself struggling to choose a colour scheme for a new project? Maybe you browse sites like Adobe’s Kuler or COLOURlovers; perhaps you find photographs that capture the mood of the site you’re trying to design; or maybe you click aimlessly on Photoshop’s colour-wheel until inspiration strikes.

Well, fear not – here’s another pointless and entirely arbitrary way to select those all-important tints and shades. Synaesthesia.js is my JavaScript solution for the inspiration-impaired.

How it works

The script converts whatever you type (discarding any non-alpha characters) into shiny hex colour codes, and shows you the result. The results update as you type, so you can try out creative new ways to spell.

How it actually works

  • Letters are matched to a hex code: A becomes 0, B becomes 1, C becomes 2, and so on through to Z (9, in case you were wondering).
  • From the resulting string of hex, each substring of six characters is used to create a colour block.
  • The colour blocks are appended to the target element, together with the hex code for easy copy-pasting into Photoshop or your text editor.

And that’s all there is to it! Have fun – the project is also on GitHub if you want to play with the code.

On Coursera – free online university courses

For the last ten weeks, I have been participating in what has come to be known as a MOOC: a Massively Open Online Course. Provided free by the University of Michigan, the course — Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World — was taught by their professor of English Language and Literature, Eric Rabkin, and consisted of ten weekly units. Each unit required the students to read a book or series of short stories, write a short essay designed to “enrich the reading of a fellow student,” and then grade the essays of four other anonymous peers. The syllabus ranged from children’s stories (Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Alice in Wonderland), through classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein, to 20th century science fiction by authors like Ray Bradbury and Ursula LeGuin.

Overall the course was a great experience; it’s been such a long time since I had to study for and then complete work to a set ‘homework’ schedule. I enjoyed the opportunity to exercise my brain and imagination in ways not usually relevant to my usual  day-to-day work, and the video lectures by the professor coupled with the extremely lively discussion forums expanded my appreciation and understanding of literature beyond what I had expected from the course.

Surprisingly for a free online course that awarded no credits or reward other than a PDF certificate, there was not an insignificant amount of plagiarism discovered in the submitted essays. I guess it’s hard for some people to fail at something, even if there is no real negative consequence. The professor expressed his surprise at the plagiarism too; hopefully it is an issue that the online provider, Coursera, will tackle as they continue to develop and refine their online study platform.

The anonymous peer review system also came in for a lot of criticism. With anonymity comes the freedom to do or say whatever you want without reprisal; many disappointed students reported blank or nonsense feedback, and inevitably there were also instances of insulting or mocking comments being submitted. Many also seemed to find it hard to accept honest feedback, choosing instead to vent in the discussion forums about how their reviewers were ‘obviously’ too dumb to understand what it was their essay was saying. Another aspect of fear of failure, perhaps, is the unwillingness to accept advice and correction.

Anyway, my marks were never below average; with a potential 6 points (3 for form and 3 for content) for each essay, I never scored below 4, and even managed two perfect sixes for my essays on HG Wells’s The Invisible Man and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. Some students were posting their essays online as they progressed through the course; I wonder what effect that will have on future iterations of this course, with so many highly relevant and easily copied sources of inspiration available?

I’ve now signed up for two further classes in 2013; The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color starts in February, and Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative is in July. It will be interesting to see how other courses in the system handle student participation and assessment, and whether the anonymous model can ever work at the scale at which these courses operate.

The New Ascetic

Wine glass and laptop on floor of empty apartment

In April of last year, we—that is, my wife and I, our three children, and (at that time) two cats—relocated to Amsterdam. And, in April of this year, we decided to move back to the UK.

One would think that an undertaking of this scale would take some time to plan; but, due to a cock-up on the part of the removal company and my wife’s mad packing skills, we managed to get it all done in less than a week. So now my wife, three children, and cat are back in the UK, together with all of our furniture and possessions. And I am still here.

For the last six weeks I have been living an altogether spartan lifestyle in an almost completely empty three-bedroomed apartment in Amsterdam. Life is pretty basic when all you have is a chair and a laptop. Wake up. Watch TV on laptop. Go to work. Come home. Make dinner. Sit in chair. Watch web series on laptop. Go to bed. Watch film on laptop. Repeat. As an experience though, it’s not been as bad as I thought it might turn out; I miss my wife and kids, of course, but the opportunity to watch or listen to whatever I want without interruption has not been unenjoyable. I’ve found myself watching a lot of short-form video, just long enough to eat a meal; the TED talks are a good length for this, although there are so many now that the gems can only be found through the “you should watch this” filter of friends’ recommendations. I’ve also enjoyed the various weekly Geek & Sundry podcasts that Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton and others produce on a regular basis. In particular I can recommend Susan Cain on The Power of Introverts, and Felicia Day playing Sega Bass Tournament is hilarious.

I’ve also taken the opportunity to fill in some of the blank spots in my film ‘to watch’ list that didn’t interest my wife: in the last few weeks I’ve watched Eyes Wide Shut, Tree of Life, Serenity and Showgirls, to name but a few. I also finally got around to watching Firefly and some of Dollhouse in one Whedon-powered week—sadly I ran out of free time before watching the entire Buffy series.

And now, I’m leaving too. Just a few last tasks to take care of. Apparently UPC—the Dutch cable TV and internet company—want their equipment back when you cancel a contract, so that’s one unexpected trip for tomorrow evening; and I’m still not completely sure I’ve cancelled everything I need to cancel, post-wise. One last chance when I come back next week for the final inspection with the landlord, then our ties are forever cut. Back to the Fens we go.

#SUGT – Stanford University’s Game Theory course

Several weeks ago I signed up to receive updates on an innovative new set of online study courses run by Stanford University. I’d all but forgotten about the course until today, when I received an email informing me that the online resources for the Game Theory course were now open for registration, and the first video available to watch.

I’ll be spending the weekend watching that video and playing the example games in the Game Theory Lab; for now, I’m boning up on mostly forgotten probability theory mathematics with the help of Wikipedia. I’m taking notes in my trusty moleskine, but I’ll also use this blog to record what I’m learning. Here is Wiki’s plainspeak rundown of the relevant terminology:

Consider an experiment that can produce a number of outcomes. The collection of all results is called the sample space of the experiment. The power set of the sample space is formed by considering all different collections of possible results. For example, rolling a die produces one of six possible results. One collection of possible results corresponds to getting an odd number. Thus, the subset {1,3,5} is an element of the power set of the sample space of die rolls. These collections are called events. In this case, {1,3,5} is the event that the die falls on some odd number. If the results that actually occur fall in a given event, that event is said to have occurred.

Probability is a way of assigning every “event” a value between zero and one, with the requirement that the event made up of all possible results (in our example, the event {1,2,3,4,5,6}) be assigned a value of one. To qualify as a probability distribution, the assignment of values must satisfy the requirement that if you look at a collection of mutually exclusive events (events that contain no common results, e.g., the events {1,6}, {3}, and {2,4} are all mutually exclusive), the probability that at least one of the events will occur is given by the sum of the probabilities of all the individual events.

The probability that any one of the events {1,6}, {3}, or {2,4} will occur is 5/6. This is the same as saying that the probability of event {1,2,3,4,6} is 5/6. This event encompasses the possibility of any number except five being rolled. The mutually exclusive event {5} has a probability of 1/6, and the event {1,2,3,4,5,6} has a probability of 1 – absolute certainty.

My GTD wishlist

I like Getting Things Done. I really do. But, ever since reading the book and subscribing to the philosophy, I’ve had trouble nailing down a process that entirely works for me.

At the core of Allen’s recommendations is this idea of a “trusted system” and it’s that aspect that I have struggled with. I’ve tried everything from plain text documents to the flavour-du-jour piece of software, but nothing has ever really felt quite right. I sat down and wrote a list of the features that I crave:

  • Access across multiple devices. I want to be able to pull up my projects and lists at home, at work, and when out and about on my phone.
  • If it’s a web application, it should also be able to work offline – I don’t want to be rendered impotent due to the internet going down.
  • It should do “proper” GTD, and not just be a fancy to-do list manager. That means regular reviews, tickler files, the whole works.
  • Capture should be possible through a variety of different means – at least email, but anything else is a bonus: voice, calendar, or integration with other apps such as Evernote.
  • The ability to function as a mini project management tool as well – somewhere to write notes, a scratchboard, lists of links and future plans other than in a list format.

Reviewing the options available, it’s extremely hard to find something that ticks all my boxes. Plain text (or even pen and paper) is a little tempting, but I’d much rather rely on some form of automated reminder system than my own memory. Wunderlist, which is what I’ve been using for the last few months, is okay but little more than a to-do list tool, lacking even a built-in way to manage contexts – and because of the flat structure, you can’t even create fake contexts as pseudo-projects, because each task can only live in one place. In fact, the only application I’ve really found that is explicitly a GTD enabler is Midnight Inbox, but every time I’ve attempted to use it it’s either been too fiddly and sensitive to setup in a way that works for me, or horribly buggy.

At the moment, my shortlist (and reservations) looks like this:

  • Nirvana: Web application with offline support and add-by-email, and reasonable note-taking and tagging facilities. Lacks full GTD features.
  • Midnight Inbox: Beautiful native application, sync-able with Dropbox, and a real GTD process. Has notes plus a “reference” filing area, and planned iPad and iPhone versions – but no Android! It also seems to have really stupid bugs every time I download a new version…
  • Firetask: Another lovely looking application, although again mostly a glorified to-do list. Costs money.
  • The Hit List: I was using this earlier in the year, and got on reasonably well with it – excellent notes area for every task, really well-integrated GTD aspects like adding contexts when entering tasks (but no actual GTD process). The main drawback with this one is no mobile access unless you use their iPhone app and pay a monthly fee.

Obviously the lack of a GTD process isn’t a real problem. Weekly reviews and filing is simply a set of habits I need to get into, and would not be all that hard to implement with some basic recurring tasks and folders in any of these applications.

One final option is of course to roll my own, a solution which of course comes with the freedom to add or leave out whatever features I like. I actually started putting together a GTD-meets-Scrum personal project management tool last year as an excuse to use Django, but it kind of stalled when I reached the limits of my Python programming abilities (or perhaps the limits of the book I was learning it from). I have to admit it’s tempting me again, although probably safely back in the reliable arms of PHP; building a simple to-do list manager would be an extremely fast exercise, then layering on functionality and features would be driven by my actual use of the setup on a daily basis. It might also prove a great opportunity to jump into some new tech, with things like offline and email-as-input method to figure out.

For now, I’m using Nirvana, despite the fuzzy border between contexts and tags they employ, and the weird addition of ‘Focus’ as a third meta-property of tasks and projects. But the more I think about it, the more making my own – and therefore controlling all my own data – sounds like the most attractive option.

New Year Revolutions

2011 was an odd year. I’ve been bouncing back and forth to my hometown for fifteen years, moving away then moving back in ever-decreasing circles, but until last year I’d always stayed in the UK. And yet, to claim that our move to Amsterdam in April was something of a big deal is put to shame by the similar stories told by so many other people in the city. Flying across the North Sea, even when accompanied by three small children and two cats, still seems small-scale when compared to relocating from India, New Zealand or Brazil.

Some things have been unexpectedly easy. Finding a school and getting the kids settled was probably our biggest worry, but they’re now virtually fluent (although curiously have not yet taken to conversing in their new ‘secret language’ at home). Signing on with a doctor was also a simple process, and – like the school – is just a few minutes away from our apartment.

Other things have not gone so smoothly. While we still have three children, we are down to just a single cat now; Tigger died in late summer, providing me with the first opportunity to try out my ‘telling the kids their beloved pet has died’ routine. They took it fairly well – it was at least thirty minutes before I heard: “Can we get a puppy?”

Living so close to the centre of a vibrant city is a balancing act at times. Both work and the city itself offer so many diversions and entertainments that it might be easy to feel one is missing out by staying home and early nights, but it’s also true that the best aspect of our move has been the greatly increased time I now have to spend with my wife and children. No more two-hour-a-day commutes and no more freelancing has translated into long walks in the nearby parks, trips into town and many more family moments; I think not having a car also contributes too, as the children have enjoyed both family cycle outings and solo trips on the tram.

The year ended with the most deranged New Year’s Eve we’ve ever experienced. The Dutch apparently have no words for such concepts as “health and safety” or “a safe distance,” and from our third-floor balcony we were treated to a deafening display as the neighbourhood set off as many explosives as they could find, mostly right outside our front door:

With Christmas and New Year falling on a weekend, I’ve only had a paltry nine days of unfocused, alcohol- and food-fuelled laziness; back to work tomorrow and time to think about some goals for the coming twelve months.

Further refining GTD

Over the last year I’ve tested many different GTD solutions or combinations of services, but the final result I’ve been living with for a few months, Wunderlist, still feels like settling for adequate when perfect is out there. A combination of occasional minor bugs (mostly sync-related), poor UI choices (task notes not easily accessible, no sub-lists), and just generally not using it at times when in theory it should be front-and-centre in my process leads me inexorably to the conclusion that my setup just isn’t working properly for me.

So, NYR #1, then:

Embark once more into the murky waters of GTD tools and techniques to find the perfect solution.

I should probably get around to finishing the damn book, too…

Be more creative, make more stuff

I have accumulated many gadgets and bits of software with which to be creative. Nothing which I’d be so arrogant as to call ‘semi-pro,’ but there are an embarrassing number of expensive toys gathering dust about the place. Like (it seems) virtually anyone daring to call themselves a web designer these days, I fancy myself a not entirely incompetent photographer, filmmaker or musician – and, possessing the tools to realise these pursuits, it seems wasteful to while away (all of) my free time bouncing between a handful of the same websites or killing dragons.

Of course, there are also plenty of opportunities to be more creative in my chosen field. I made a couple of abortive attempts to build semi-useful web apps last year; I’d like to either pick those up again, or perhaps some other new idea. The 12412 project is tempting, but personally I’d rather get good (or better) in one particular area than learn a little about a lot.

NYR #2:

Use the tools and skills I have to create something (or several things) new.

One project in particular that I hope to launch in January should stretch my writing muscle on a fairly regular basis, and of course I intend to keep posting here when the urge strikes. Who knows, I might even write something about the web one of these days.

Get fit Stay fit

I’m ending the year fitter than I’ve ever been (at least in adult life). I completed the marathon in October, and since then have explored new areas of the city each week while building up to a respectable distance once more.

So, while the rest of the world is setting goals to get themselves fit, my aim is simply to maintain my current and very enjoyable level of fitness. NYR #3:

Stay fit and keep running.

So…

So, no work-related resolutions, because who knows what this year will bring. I have the same problem filling in those “where do you see yourself in five years” questions on self-appraisal forms. At the moment, I’m happy, productive and relaxed – and I hope to be able to sustain this feeling well into 2012.

Album covers

2011, My Year In Music

Back at the junction of 2010 and 2011, for whatever reason, I neglected to record a retrospective of the previous year’s music-listening activity – or indeed, any sort of look back at the preceding twelve months. These gaps in recorded history niggle at me; like a lot of anally-retentive computer nerds I am an inveterate list-maker, and I like nothing more than drawing up information-rich lists of data to discover how my habits changed over the entirely arbitrary period of the past year.

All of the data here comes from last.fm, which has dutifully collected my scrobbled tracks from both work and home, iTunes and Spotify, since 2005. Most links are to Spotify.

 Top 10 Artists listened to in 2011

  1. Afghan Whigs
  2. Arcade Fire
  3. The Black Crowes
  4. The Gaslight Anthem
  5. Radiohead
  6. Daft Punk
  7. PJ Harvey
  8. The Beatles
  9. Foo Fighters
  10. Elbow/Pearl Jam/Bon Iver

This was the year that I discovered The Afghan Whigs. I already had a copy of their album Gentlemen, courtesy of Jeremy Keith during the big Pownce shutdown of a few years back, but this year I obtained first digital and then physical copies of the rest of their back catalogue, and they are now one of my favourite bands. Lead man Greg Dulli’s current work with The Twilight Singers and (with ex-Screaming Trees and QOTSA Mark Lanegan) The Gutter Twins also ticks a lot of my boxes.

The rest of the top ten comprises a few new album releases this year (Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, PJ Harvey, Foo Fighters) together with some perennial favourites.

Top 10 Albums listened to in 2011

  1. 1965 (The Afghan Whigs)
  2. The Suburbs (Arcade Fire)
  3. TRON: Legacy (Daft Punk)
  4. For Emma, Forever Ago (Bon Iver)
  5. Sigh No More (Mumford & Sons)
  6. Amorica (The Black Crowes)
  7. Wasting Light (Foo Fighters)
  8. The Seldom Seen Kid (Elbow)
  9. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel)
  10. Play (Moby)

1965 had almost twice as many plays as the next album on the list, and would have been even more if my stereo scrobbled CDs as well. I also really liked Arcade Fire’s third album and Foo Fighters’ latest, and re-acquired a couple of old favourites lost in house moves or Spring cleans over the years. In particular, The Black Crowes Amorica has had a lot of love; for me, it’s one of those albums that reminds you of a particular time in your life.

Foo Fighters and Daft Punk were the only albums actually released in 2011, and the TRON: Legacy soundtrack was actually my first ever MP3 purchase from Amazon, a process that should be simple but is immeasurably over-complicated by their insistence on using their own download software.

The rest of the top ten – Bon Iver, Mumford & Sons, Elbow – reflects the realities of living with someone who doesn’t share 90% of your taste in music; inoffensive modern folk dominates our mealtime or evening listening.

 Track of the year

It should be no surprise that the track I listened to the most over the last twelve months (twenty-three times according to last.fm) is from the #1 album and band. The Whigs’ final album was recorded in New Orleans and has a real loose, sultry feel to it – “Uptown Again” is the standout track for me:

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All of the albums above are available to listen for free on Spotify – I’ve collected them into a single playlist for easy exploration: 2011, My Year In Music.