Rattling through the best albums of the 90s: 100 down to 80

After finishing Rolling Stone magazine’s top 20 albums of the 90s, I decided to extend my challenge to the full 100 and have been working through from 100 to 80:

#100 – Moby – Everything is Wrong: I didn’t mind Play but this is just a big mess. Interesting for 1995 though? Yes. I’m surprised how jungly Moby got at times. 6/10

#99 – Luna – Penthouse: I can’t remember a lot of this but I do recall rather enjoying it. A nice change from most of the other 90s albums I’ve listened to here. I plan to come back to this one. 7/10

#98 – Buena Vista Social Club – Self Titled: Ry Cooder + Cuban musicians = lots of authentic, well played music. Not to my tastes but fine. 6/10

#97 – The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs: This is hard going, though the songs are interesting. Three hours of disposable songs on the same topic. I decided I was only giving 74 minutes (the length of a CD) to each album so I’m not listening to all three hours of this. Did it have some good songs though? Yes. Interesting concept. 6/10

#96 – Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Volume II: Fine. There’s not a lot here. It’s ambient. 6/10

#95 – Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York: Always enjoyable to hear a different take on Nirvana’s songs by the band themselves. They actually made the songs better in some cases and didn’t just play them in the usual style but acoustically. 8/10

#94 – Billy Bragg and Wilco – Mermaid Avenue: Nothing jumped out at me here but it was proficiently done. Not exciting. 6/10

#93 – Air – Moon Safari: A fantastically atmospheric album. This album is like floating on technicolor clouds in a warm blanket. It’s French, it’s a bit tacky, and it’s beautifully twee. 8/10

#92 – The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin: I’ve never felt like the Lips were the band for me but I really enjoyed this. I’ll definitely be coming back to this album. 8/10

#91 – The Pixies – Bossanova: Not for me. Trite. 5/10

#90 – Aaliyah – One In A Million: I had to hunt this down on YouTube as it’s not on Spotify. It’s pretty good and has some neat sampling. I’ve never been familiar with the late Aaliyah’s music but she clearly had a lot of promise. 7/10

#89 – Tom Petty – Into the Great Wide Open: Fine. It sounds like the Traveling Wilbury’s take two. 6/10

#88 – R Kelly – R Kelly: You can’t help but view this through the modern lens of R Kelly but even despite that, this is a slick piece of work and hugely influenced by the Isley Brothers. 7/10

#87 – De La Soul – De La Soul is Dead: I was a bit distracted while listening to this but it was fine. I need to listen to it again. This is another one that isn’t on Spotify. Why? Because they only ever cleared the samples for vinyl and cassette. 6/10

#86 – Yo La Tengo, ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One’: Sounds like a slightly dreamy, shoegazy, less emotionally charged or cerebral Radiohead. I liked it, although it’s hard to point to any high points. 7/10

#85 – Pulp – A Different Class: This is a Britpop classic that I’d never listened to in full. It’s as good as I’d have expected, although it does sound rather dated by modern standards. 7/10

#84 – Marilyn Manson – Antichrist Superstar: I’d always avoided Manson because he looked like a blowhard and.. it seems I was wise to. This album is absolutely dire and painful to listen to. I did find his use of text to speech interesting though especially as it predated Ok Computer by a year. 2/10

#83 – Fiona Apple – Tidal: Genius. Long been one of my favourite albums, though it’s not even her best. 9/10

#82 – The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’: A metal, rock, pop rock, shoegaze, and prog rock masterpiece in so many ways. Let down solely by Corgan’s slightly grating voice. 9/10

#81 – Bjork – Post: Bjork is a genius but her music always makes me feel depressed. It has a huge dose of Nordic melancholy and detachment. This is Bjork at her best, though. 7/10

#80 – The Breeders – Last Splash: Not done this one yet, will fill it in later. X/10

Finished the top 20 albums of the 1990s (according to Rolling Stone magazine)

So I’m working my way through Rolling Stone’s top 100 albums of the 90s as a sort of challenge and as an attempt to flesh out my knowledge of 90s music. I decided to start with the top 20 only and I’ve finally completed it.

Entries 20 down to 6 are covered in earlier posts on this blog, but I finished off by listening to the top 5:

#5 – Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: I like Lauryn Hill and what she stands for and I really wanted to like this album. It was OK. There are obviously great singles like Everything is Everything and Doo Wop, but the rest is pretty much the same. It’s good, but doesn’t really grab me. 6/10

#4 – U2 – Achtung Baby: I hate U2. I dislike Bono and there’s just something about them that annoys me. So I wasn’t looking forward this album. But it was OK! Am I going to listen to it again? Probably not. 5/10

#3 – Radiohead – OK Computer: I saved this album for last because I’d already listened to it twice this year and it’s perhaps my favorite album ever. It’s a swirling bubbling cauldron of ennui, frustration, boredom, with occasional flashes of warmth and optimism, and it only seems to get better with age. If I had any complaint it’s that the album feels less cohesive towards the end. Lucky, Electioneering, and The Tourist are my least favorite tracks. 9/10

#2 – Dr. Dre – The Chronic: I listen to a lot of hiphop and while this is a fine album, I think you kinda had to be there for this to have a huge impact. It’s entertaining and it’s well put together but it’s not particularly outstanding by modern standards IMHO. 7/10

#1 – Nirvana – Nevermind: This is another one of those you had to be there type albums, but it does stand up against the modern descendants of grunge and of alternative rock in general. What always impressed me about Nevermind was how even though the songs sound totally throwaway and ridiculous on the surface, they have a way of getting stuck in your head and improve with age. If I were to pick one album to define the 90s, this wouldn’t be it, but if some aliens turned up and just wanted to rock out, Nevermind is the 90s album I’d be giving them. 8/10

So to sum up the top 20 albums in reverse order of the x/10 score I gave them:

9/10: Radiohead – OK Computer (#3)
8/10: Nirvana – Nevermind (#1)
8/10: Pearl Jam – Ten (#6)
8/10: Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (#10)
8/10: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (#19)
7/10: Nirvana – In Utero (#7)
7/10: Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (#13)
7/10: Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville (#20)
7/10: Dr. Dre – The Chronic (#2)
7/10: Notorious BIG – Ready to Die (#8)
7/10: Beck – Odelay (#9)
7/10: Snoop Dogg – Doggystyle (#14)
6/10: Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (#5)
6/10: Tom Petty – Wildflowers (#12)
6/10: Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (#15)
6/10: REM – Automatic for the People (#18)
5/10: U2 – Achtung Baby (#4)
5/10: Jay Z – Reasonable Doubt (#17)
4/10: Outkast – Aquemini (#11)
4/10: Metallica – Metallica (#16)

My GeoGuessr Obsession

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been obsessed by GeoGuessr, an online game where you are dumped in random locations and courtesy of Google Street View you have to establish where you are and place a pin on a map in the right location. To get the full number of points, your pin has to be very accurate (on a UK only map, you have to be within 15 metres!)

After seeing a well known geographical YouTuber called GeoWizard get a ten minute perfect UK run, I thought.. I could do that. So I did. Here’s one of his runs:

I started out just over a week ago and did it in fifteen minutes or so, then twelve, then I really struggled to get the perfect scores. I could get within 50 metres or so but just not in the right place to get the full 5000 points for each go.

But practice makes perfect and after several nights of effort.. I got a 8:33!

I’m not anywhere near as charismatic, talkative, or good looking as Mr. GeoWizard but I nonetheless recorded my run as proof using the wonderful OBS:

To cut a long story short, I kept going and going and have made it to 6 minutes 8 seconds:

And then I actually got sub 6 minutes, but haven’t bothered to upload the video as I want to see if I can beat five.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been obsessed with lately. No doubt I won’t play it again after a week or two.

October 11-12, 2020

Two reasonably uneventful days though I did get to spend a lot of time with my youngest daughter as either my wife was busy was various things or running older children here and there. I tested her on lots of vocabulary, played shadow puppets, and let her loose on my podcasting setup and lots of fun was had by all.

The state of the Twitter verification process continues to grate on me. There are some fantastic people in the industry who deserve or need the mark due to identity issues they’re running into, and then there are businesses with under 100 followers who get identified because, I assume, their boss used to run J Crew..?

Played Geoguessr quite a lot and have decided I want to try and beat some records (specifically Geowizard’s attempts to get perfect UK scores). My best UK round so far was about 8:35 but with 24990 points, just short of the perfect 25000. I think it’s doable but using a mouse on the family PC is killing my right hand so I might need to find a more ergonomic solution.

Invested another £500 into Bitcoin now that Coinbase have finally “reviewed” my account. I don’t hold much Bitcoin at all, but I’m keen to diversify given how the world seems to be shaping up.

Received Softwar (below) today and am looking forward to receiving it. Where some people love true crime, I like stories about the tech industry. Some may argue they are the same genre.

Only one “top 100 albums of the 90s” listened to this weekend:

#6 – Pearl Jam – Ten: Fantastic album and always a joy to listen to. If I had to pick out one flaw it’s just how reverby it is. It sounds like they played it live in an aircraft hangar. The songs are great though and PJ always makes a nice tonic to the rest of the grunge space.

Dinner on Sunday was pork steaks and peas, cooked by yours truly. Dinner on Monday was fried vegetable rice and burgers.

October 10, 2020

Finally got the first comments submitted to this blog and.. they’re spam by bots. Oh well! If you fancy leaving a real comment, feel free.

Today I had much of the day to myself as the family went to Mrs C’s parents for dinner and due to the “Rule of Six” I get to stay at home. I used this time getting a few chapters into Introduction to Algorithms by Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest and Stein, a somewhat intimidating textbook aimed at computer science students, and something that has sat in my library for years.

I’m trying to broaden my horizons somewhat more lately and while I have read quite a few academic papers in my time, I’ve never really slugged through a textbook of this size in the CS space due to all the mathematics I’d need to pick up.

To be honest, I needn’t have worried so much. Despite being a famously long textbook, Algorithms doesn’t just dump you into a land of mathematical equations and symbols but explains most of what it’s trying to say in plain English first. Luckily the first few chapters have mostly covered things I’m already familiar with:

  • The basics of algorithm efficiency
  • Loop invariants
  • Insertion sort and proving the correctness of an implementation
  • Analyzing the run-time of an algorithm
  • Calculating worst case and average case running times
  • Considering the growth of running time in terms of asymptotes
  • Incremental vs divide-and-conquer algorithms
  • Recurrence (not a concept I had considered academically before, but basically the idea of recursive complexity)
  • O(n) vs Ω(n) vs Θ(n) – was familiar with the first but filling in the gaps was useful here. O provides an asymptotic upper bound, Ω the lower, and Θ is for more generally referring to non-asymptotic running time which lies, beyond some point, between two constants, such as k1 and k2 here:

I’ve paused at chapter 4 where we begin to analyze a maximum-subarray problem as all of the above was more than enough for an afternoon.

Later in the evening I read Bite Size Python by April Speight which I received a few days ago. It’s very much a beginner-focused book and really to people of a younger age at that. Despite knowing most of what was in it, it was fun to browse and work through and I think it’ll be a good introduction to Python for many. I might do a video review going into a little more depth sometime. Furthermore, it’s fantastic to see a programming book by a Black author and I think this is worth supporting as the more voices we have in the programming space, the better things can be.

I also did some experimentation with https://www.nearlyfreespeech.net/ – a host that’s been around offering “pay as you go” hosting since 2002. It’s an unusual host in many ways but if you want to put up a basic Web page somewhere for cheap, its feature set is compelling. I’m using it to explore the ideas of running “serverless” functions in a more primative cgi-bin style environment than modern serverless environments tend to be. Partly as a joke, but.. there may be mileage in it.

October 9, 2020

Friday is my busiest day of the week so I had a lot of newsletters to prepare and get out of the door. It was extra busy because my editorial second in command was having the week off so I had to do a bit more than usual and double check everything myself. Luckily, I survived, and while I still had a bit of a sore head from the migraine (see the previous entry) things generally went OK. Was I glad when the work was over? Heck yes.

The top 100 albums of the 90s challenge continued, and I listened to:

#9 – Beck – Odelay: I’m a Beck fan but Odelay has never really interested me so I was looking forward to actually listening to the entire thing. I enjoyed it but it still isn’t one of my favourite Beck albums. Odelay is a little scatterbrained and all over the place like Beck has all these ideas he wants to get out but has no cohesive way to stitch them together. I like albums that flow and Odelay doesn’t. 7/10

#8 – The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die: I think everyone of a certain age has some familiarity with Biggie. He’s a bit of an unusual character and I’m not entirely convinced that someone who had to sing non-stop about getting laid in the back of limousines was actually getting much at all, but his character is big and bold across every track he’s on. There are a lot of tracks on here with great samples and that just have a neat vibe to them. The only downside is it’s a bit long and gets tiring by the end. 7/10

#7 – Nirvana – In Utero: I’m super familiar with Nevermind but In Utero is an album filled with tracks I know but which I haven’t listened to as an album before. I liked it. I can’t think of a lot to say about it really, but if Nirvana is even vaguely appealing to you, this album is totally fine. 7/10

A solid run all in all with no serious weak spots, but I’m really excited to do number 6 next as it’s Ten by Pearl Jam which is a fantastic album I’m certainly familiar with.

October 8, 2020

Today I had a new experience, an ocular migraine! I had a weird fuzzy point in my vision which made it hard to focus on text so I took a break, and over the course of about twenty minutes a weird jagged shape filled with animated pop art basically grew larger and larger and then faded away. Someone on Twitter sent me a work of art that looks somewhat like what I experienced:

It wasn’t an entirely positive experience but it turned out to be interesting at least although I don’t fancy having any more. I’m unsure what could have triggered it. I ate some unusual Spanish meat at lunchtime and I’m trying a new regime for my ADHD but other than that..

The album challenge I mentioned yesterday continues apace with a few more insights:

#13 – Beastie Boys – Ill Communication: I love the Beastie Boys but have neglected a lot of their back catalogue so I enjoyed this one a lot and will come back to it again. There’s a lot more variety on here than I was expecting. 7/10

#12 – Tom Petty – Wildflowers: I’m only aware of Petty through his work with Jeff Lynne and the Traveling Wilburys, but this album was totally fine to listen to. Not a lot stood out but it was more varied and interesting than I had imagined going in. 6/10

#11 – Outkast – Aquemini: A surprising low point in the listening so far. I’m familiar with Outkast’s later stuff but this album was flat out boring. Only a couple of tracks stood out but I didn’t enjoy this one at all. 4/10

#10 – Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: Fantastic. It starts off sounding a bit like the lost brother of Weezer’s Pinkerton but wanders through some fun territory without any pretence and it’s not very long so I enjoyed it a lot. 8/10

Dinner was a sort of Irish beef stew with colcannon, a word I’d never heard of before, but it was really nice.

October 6-7, 2020

I’m a big fan of albums, so I’ve decided to listen to all of Rolling Stone magazine’s top 100 albums of the 90s. The list isn’t without controversy but is reasonably sound to me. I’ve started with going from 20 down to 1, and over these two days have listened to:

#20 – Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville: Was only mildly aware of this one before and really enjoyed it. Sounds a bit like a more indie Sheryl Crow album. 7/10.

#19 – Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik: I always joke about the RHCP as sounding the same on all of their songs. They have such great energy but I was expecting this early album of theirs to be a bit on the rough side.. and it wasn’t. Genuinely enjoyable as a lukewarm fan of theirs. 8/10.

#18 – R.E.M. – Automatic for the People: REM are one of those bands I like to say are one of my least favorite bands, but this is only really true of big, mainstream bands. I just don’t like Stipe’s voice. But there’s something to be said for the atmosphere REM manages to evoke sometimes. Even if I don’t really like their songs individually, listening to an album leads to some sing-along moments and they do build up a nice mood nonetheless. 6/10.

#17 – Jay Z – Reasonable Doubt: I thought I was going to really enjoy this as I like a lot of what Jay Z has done in the past twenty years and.. it was OK but it didn’t really grab me at all. 5/10.

#16 – Metallica – Metallica: Also known as the Black Album I was familiar with a lot of the material here from being a huge fan of Metallica’s S&M (live orchestral) album. I just can’t get along with this rough, pared down ultra compressed noise though. I listen to metal or metal-inspired music but there’s something about old school Metallica that doesn’t click for me. 4/10.

#15 – Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road: I was unfamiliar with this artist’s music entirely, although the name rang a bell. I can’t really remember any mindblowing moments on this rootsy alternative country rock album but it was fine as background music. Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions did this sort of thing a lot better, but doesn’t even make it onto the top 100 list from RS.

#14 – Snoop Dogg – Doggystyle: I knew what I was in for here and had listened to much of this before. It remains as bouncy, irreverent and outright ridiculous as it ever has, but you’re never going to have a bad time on a Snoop album.

Seven albums over 2 days isn’t bad going. Three work weeks could get me through the entire 100 at this rate.

My notes as to what else I did on these two days have gone AWOL, so I shall end there.

On Wednesday I had a gluten and dairy free sweet potato curry out of the freezer for tea. On Tuesday I was sat in a car park for an hour waiting for my daughter to do a dance lesson and ate a terrible cold “ready to eat” pack of barbecue chicken legs that tasted of exactly nothing. I did have an apple for lunch though, so let’s hope that balances it out.

October 5, 2020

I have no idea what happened yesterday so I’m going to skip that!

Today I got up at 9am, had porridge for breakfast, and began what is a typically slow Monday as my wife goes out cycling for hours with her cycling club, so I work on and off as well as entertain/feed/protect child three who’s two years old.

Mrs C got home at about 12.30pm and a conversation quickly reminded that I was meant to have vacated my personal office at the business park by the end of last week. Oops. So I rushed round there and moved half a ton of furniture and belongings to one of our other offices while masked up and sweating like a pig ?

The rest of the day has been rather pedestrian. I re-read The Old New Thing, a book about design decisions made in Microsoft Windows over the years, and turned the more interesting parts into this Twitter thread. I’m thinking of doing this with more books in future so that I can remember what was in them and what I actually found useful. Maybe I could even do them as blog posts on here.

Dinner was sausages, mash and beans. I’m now about to attempt today’s Geoguessr Daily Challenge, my current daily obsession. I came 11th in one run over the weekend (out of about 3000 entries) so it’s nice to actually be good at something for once! There are clearly quite a few cheaters on there though because you can’t get every point to within 2 metres playing naturally..

October 1-3, 2020

Yes, I’m declaring diary bankruptcy with this group update ? Luckily, not a lot has happened beyond the usual work. Wednesdays through Fridays are my busiest days of the week as that’s when our newsletters actually get edited and sent so these days don’t lend themselves to quiet reflection.

Autumn has truly begun in the UK and I’ve had to bring up the 3KW space heater to my home office for occasional use. You’re boiling within 10 minutes so it doesn’t take long. The reason I need it is because my daughter sat on the radiator during lockdown and tore it off the wall. This hasn’t yet been fixed because you have to chase plumbers for ages to do things, even if they’re good ones (maybe even especially if they’re good?)

We’ve finally got a date for the demolition of our conservatory which is, well, attempting to demolish itself already. The outer wall is slipping ever further away from the actual house and the thing will surely collapse on its own within weeks, but we’ll see if it survives to the November 30th demolition. Sadly we won’t be getting our new extension until early next year now, despite being promised it before Christmas, but it is what it is and it’s not like we’ll be likely to have a big Christmas dinner this year anyway.

Mrs C has been giving away lots of children’s toys and similar things on the local “Freely Given” Facebook group. This has resulted in lots of 30 and 40-something aged women turning up at the house which made me wonder if anyone has ever given away things on these groups as a way to meet new people in town. It certainly seems to be a quick way to get a crowd round ?

A fully gutted pigeon carcass turned up on the lawn today so I was dispatched to sort it out. This was the easier job of Friday though as I then discovered the main sink drain from the kitchen had blocked and was overflowing. Lots of chemicals later and I finally got things moving again. The only downside is all the fish in the local river are now likely to have three eyes and would probably be safer if they were in Chernobyl.

Spent much of Friday evening and Saturday morning watching music videos with my middle daughter. Music videos are a particular interest of mine and I’ve got over 1000 in a YouTube playlist. I’ve been into them ever since I saw my very first ones, Money for Nothing by Dire Straits and Leave Me Alone by Michael Jackson in the 80s. I forget which was first but they both really stuck with me until I got to watch music videos regularly on MTV in the 90s.

I can’t remember what I ate on Thursday but on Friday evening I made my own dinner as Mrs C went out with a friend. I made potato waffles with melted cheese and bacon. Very healthy.

September 29 and 30, 2020

Playing catch up with the diary again. I feel like I need to put life on hold to actually have a chance to do a good diary. Oh, the irony!

The cat diarrhoea situation seems to have come to an end so they were both allowed out all of Tuesday and Wednesday with no further incidents to reports so far. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

On Tuesday my third daughter shined the bright flashlight on my iPad through her finger and it got me thinking if you could buy a flashlight bright enough to shine through your entire hand. It turns out that YouTube always has a good answer to “has anyone been stupid enough to do this?” and I found a Russian guy who has a 1,000,000 lumen torch. He didn’t shine it through his hand, but he managed to set fire to newspaper just by shining the torch at it, which perhaps explains why shining it through your hand might, well, be a hot idea.

On Wednesday I got into the autumnal mood by shutting all of the blinds in my home office and enjoying some subtle artificial light and the dulcet tones of 90s drum’n’bass. It’s not the sort of thing I’m usually listening to, but it felt right. I actually got some programming done for once – hurrah!

I ended Wednesday by taking part in a virtual event run by Microsoft called Create: Serverless where I chaired a panel (along with Jeremy Daly and Simona Cotin) talking about what serverless means, as a concept.

Tea on Tuesday was a gluten free pie. Tea on Wednesday was sausages.