Saturday, 29 March 2014

Doll's Polyphony and In Search of the Distant Era

And now for something completely different, again. I have had a special love for Japanese Anime soundtracks. I suppose that's another thing I can blame my brother on. I had been a fan of anime's for some time but never really put much thought into the music that goes into it. Not until my brother got me into listening to the soundtrack to what I consider to be the best animation of all time, Akira. Mostly the soundtracks that are featured in Japanese animations tend be classical, symphonic music, sweeping and elegant. Down to Earth, yet flying across the heavens. Subtle, yet full of grandeur. Traditional whilst still retaining modern instrumentations like synthesisers. If there is one thing that makes Japanese anime soundtracks so great is how much international influence it incorporates but manages to sound so completely and utterly unique. One of the many many qualities a good Japanese Anime soundtrack also has is that there is always at least one song that sounds absolutely nothing like the others. There might be a J-Pop song, a  Mediterranean Jazz Lounge song, a song inspired by Enya, they will still sound impeccably composed and distinctly in place. There are so many composers, for example Akira Yamaoka and Yoko Kanno, to choose from, but I'll be mainly focusing on three.

Joe Hisaishi
Joe Hisaishi (Who's real name is Mamoru Fujisawa) has been actively composing since late 70's, early 80's. But his main claim to fame has been as the main composer for Studio Ghibli, which is an animation studio that everyone should know of and know about and watched at least 3 movies by them. He is possibly my favourite film composer going at the moment. His style is variable, he incorporates so many different ways of composing and playing that he nearly fits in every classical genre. Not only that, when he chooses to he can write even more contemporary tunes when needed for the film. Whether lounge, pop or rock. When in classical mode he seems to veer from the serene beauty of Vivaldi to the malevolence of Wagner into dark brooding sharpness of Holst. He does often throw in some experimental electronic sonic music as can be best heard on the Castle in the Sky soundtrack. It is nearly impossible to just choose one soundtrack by him because I honestly haven't heard a bad one. Most memorable soundtracks, in my mind, are probably "Princess Mononoke" and "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea". Though his work on "Spirited Away", "Porco Rosso" and "Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind" do also need to be mentioned. I personally first became aware of his musical prowess when I was watching "Porco Rosso" when he incorporated Mediterranean Lounge with his trademark symphonic prowess and created one of the best heroic soundtracks that I can remember. Throughout his career he's won plenty of awards deservedly so. He even got the honour of composing the soundtrack of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Generally when he releases albums outside soundtrack the focus tends to be on his piano playing with some orchestral flourishes added. I am pretty sure that whatever he would choose to do it would just sound perfect.

Kenji Kawai
Kenji Kawai. Though not quite as prolific as Joe Hisaishi, he has done some very high profile soundtracks. Most notable one being "Ghost in the Shell" and "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence". He is slightly more rhythm and rock'n'roll based than Joe Hisaishi, but he also incorporates a lot of traditional Japanese instrumentation and female choir singing. But for example in "Ghost in The Shell" after songs of brooding quietness we get treated to a wonderful J-Pop song called "See You Everyday", which does fit really well with the rest of the movie. Kenji apparently started in a Music Academy after dropping out of a nuclear engineering course. But he never finished that either, instead he decided to start a band with a few friends called MUSE. But that slowly disintegrated when they all got competent on their instruments. Kenji in the meantime decided to start writing music for commercials in his home studio. This did eventually pay out in the long run as he was encouraged and eventually hired to write music scores for anime's such as the aforementioned "Ghost in The Shell" and "Ranma 1/2". He doesn't just stick with writing soundtracks for anime's, he's also composed for Ringu, Ip Man and and Avalon.

Geinoh Yamashirogumi
Geinoh Yamashirogumi. Now I have to admit that for many years I actually thought that this was just a single person. I was wrong. It is actually, according to Wikipedia, a musical collective. Essentially it is a hobby club for people from all walks of life to just let their hair loose and have a little bit of fun without having to worry too much about the outside world. This group had started in the seventies, and the aim was to recreate folk music from around the world, using very traditional instruments but meshed with modern instrumentations and synthesisers. The common theme in most of the music they write is environmental and oneness with the Earth. They first came into prominence when they put out "Ecophony Rinne". After that they were asked to write the soundtrack for the best anime of all time, "Akira". This soundtrack is what really really turned my attention (Well thanks to my brother who couldn't stop recommending it) towards the rest of the Japanese anime soundtrack, but this one is still the best. But what is remarkable about the soundtrack is that none of the musicians saw a clip from the movie while they were composing for it, yet all of it fits so brilliantly with the mood of the movie. They haven't done a soundtrack since, which is a shame because I am sure that I am not the only one who wants to hear more, but they have kept on publishing albums on a non-regular basis the best being "Ecophony Gaia". But until they do another soundtrack enjoy this one in the meantime:

Friday, 14 March 2014

Don't worry, I've got this covered!

Now, apparently. This is my fortieth entry on this blog. This is not by any means the first blog I have written. I used to keep one called Judas Disciple and another called Mind of the Buddha. The former was in Icelandic and the latter in English. Both pretty much died because (A) I couldn't be asked any more and (B) Social Networks took over. I returned back to blogging for two reasons. (1) I enjoy writing (2) because I wanted to hone my writing skills. So the general idea here is just to write. Whatever I feel like, mostly as people have no doubt noticed is that I like to write about music. Do I think that my opinion matters to anyone? No not really, but I don't see why that should really matter either. Do I have anything to add to discussions that are heavily covered? Yes I do. It might not be read always because people have this conception of me that I only ever write about heavy metal music, which is not always true. Yes I do like heavy metal, and it does make up bulk of what I listen to, yes I've written about Queensryche, twice. I've written about Iron Maiden, twice. I've written about Sepultura, twice. I've written about Disillusion, twice. But I'd like to think that my taste is a bit more eclectic then that. The focus for this entry is again on music.  But this time it is in slightly different format. For some reason, and I can't really put my finger on why or when it started, I have always loved cover songs. Not sure what it is, but there is something so deliciously great about a well played cover song. But then again when there is something absolutely horrible when you hear a cover song done really really really badly. But then you hear some real corkers like Tori Amos doing Raining Blood by Slayer!

That is how a cover song should be done. The artist covering the song should make it their own, while still keeping a thread that just about hints at the original version. Like Nevermore doing Sound of Silence. I personally never really realized how dark those lyrics are until Warrel Dane sang them:

But they are not the focus of this blog. No the focus is on those bands that make it their business to make wacky cover songs, especially from Hard Rock/Heavy Metal. No I am not talking about something as generic as classically changed songs that has been done to death since Apocalyptica started doing their Metallica covers. No these are something else.

Hellsongs - Dirty Swedes
Hellsongs. These guys are from Sweden and have chosen to focus on doing lounge versions of famous heavy metal songs. They have consisted of three players, two of whom have stayed the entire time. The Keyboardist/vocalist Johan Bringhed and banjo/guitar/vocalist Kalle. They've had three female singers since their formation in 2004, My Engström-Renman. I've liked them since their first album 'Hymns in the Key of 666'. I've always enjoyed their rather exuberant and playful way that they convey so well through their songs like Symphony of Destruction, The Trooper and Seasons in the Abyss. I always feel that little bit happier whenever I've listened to them. The last album I listened to in full was 'Minor Misdemeanors' where you can enjoy summer and sunlight versions of Heaven Can Wait, Welcome to the Jungle and Youth Gone Wild. The main reason, besides their obvious enjoyment of playing, these song work is because these guys are amazing musicians.

 Since then they've added electric guitars and drums, which I'm a little skeptical of but since I haven't listened to it yet I'll reserve judgement. But in the meantime I'll just swing my hips to the one's I have heard.

Combo De La Muerta, is an Italian band who chosen to cover songs in sort of Latin-Jazz-Mexican way. Unfortunately it would seem that they've quit since they published their only album 'Tropical Steel' in 2008 but it is a corker of an album. Here you can enjoy Breaking the Law, Peace Sells and South of Heaven. They manage to make these songs fit into a very smoky atmosphere, these could be played during the festival in Rio or maybe during Dia De Muertas. These songs are one some level extremely sensual and do make you want to learn how to salsa. Or maybe eat some salsa, or guacamole with popplers. And again as with Hellsongs these songs work because these guys are amazing musicians and obviously love the songs that they are playing.

Van Canto
Van Canto are probably the strangest band on here. Playing something they've chosen to call Hero metal A Cappella. They hail form heartland of power metal that is Germany and have been playing since 2006. This band consists of 5 vocalists, and one drummer. 2 doing the actual vocals whereas the other three replace the guitars and bass. Majority of their work has actually been based on their own original music. But they've received the biggest attention when they've covered Metallica (So they've got similar history to Apocalyptica). They've done Battery and Master of Puppets. But they've also covered Fear of The Dark, Wishmaster, Kings of Metal and Final Countdown They're control of their larynx is amazing to behold, but the star of the show has to be Dennis Schunke who has to be one of the best vocalists I've heard in a long time, could easily be one of the best vocalists going at the moment. If you don't believe me just listen to Kings of Metal again. And like Apocalyptica it might have started out as just another pet project to have fun with, it has now snowballed into something slightly bigger and they are well worth a listen in their own right not just as a cover band.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Privatization is not the answer.

Well I found this old blog that I wrote for another old blog in 2009. I got my cousin to translate it into Icelandic for the very left-wing political website called Eggin. Which now unfortunately is defunct. Reading it back now with slightly older and slightly more educated eyes.


Capitalism has always been an idea that has fascinated me and horrified at the same time. Specially then it comes down to health-care. I come from a country that has mainly(All I think, but might be wrong) public health-care system, but I got drummed into my head by these Capitalist Yokels that a private health-care setting would be better run due to the fact that the owners would run it better as they would know where the money is coming from and going.

When I moved to Britain, I started working in a private Nursing Home. I am still getting over that experience. I just can't understand how people can make money out of elderly, mentally and physically ill people. I was led to believe that they would be better taken care of and that the staff would be better paid. But no on both accounts, staff get barely minimum wage. People don't usually work in healthcare for the money, but if your paying your staff pittance, then the care will reflect that. We're not talking big money, only enough to live on.

Plus these owners will try and save money on the most basic things. Food, staff training and get this heating! Instead they'll pay money for new wallpaper and carpets(In a fucking nursing home!!!) but that hoist that is provided and was bought second-hand and is missing a wheel has to do.

The care itself is horrible, and that's without considering that these people have lived through probably most horrific and era-changing times. Yet here they are, defecating themselves, eating food that a beggar would refuse and over-medicated as well.

Healthcare as far as I'm concerned should always be run by the local authority.

Healthcare is not a business. And you should never expect to make profit out of it, because if your making profit that means that someone is suffering which will set a whole row of dominoes falling. If a staff member calls in sick, that in return will put more pressure on rest of the staff. Which in turn will cause stress, that lowers the immune system, which in turn will cause more sickness. And in some cases these carers will be patients at the same healthcare system. And as such become more of a burden on society.

The most that healthcare should expect is to break even. The thing that councils and governments should bear in mind is that if they make sure that they run a good system, and managed to get a patient in and out in good condition, they can go to work sooner and hence pay taxes sooner. With happier healthy population, they might spend more money on other things, thus pay VAT! It's not exactly rocket-science but it does seem to bamboozle those accountants at City Hall who've got a way to personal relationship with their calculators, and who tend to think of people as statistics.

The day that people think that you should have to pay at a health-care setting to get a good treatment, is the day you stop being human.

And for those old folk it's the least they should expect from essentially building this country that we live in.

Good care shouldn't be optional, it should be mandatory.

Taken from Another Angry Voice 

Now. On the whole I still stand by this. With some slight modifications. The first placement I got as part of my Nursing studies was in a private nursing home. And it was lovely. The staff were nice and hard working, the management were (mostly) working towards providing the best care for their patients. But, it is also one of the more expensive nursing homes around. So there is that. Do I think that Private Healthcare companies are inherently evil? Well, no. But I do think they take their eye of what is important, and that is the patient, not the pocket.

I've worked in the NHS for 8 years now. And I've come to appreciate it very deeply. Hence when the ConDems came into power I was horrified but not surprised when plans to privatize it. In bits of course. And as far as I know it has pretty much already started in south of England, where corporations like Virgin Healthcare have taken over Primary Care and Children's Care. I don't think that people who work for these firms are evil, but at the end of the day it is being run as a business for profit. The biggest shocker though has been the idea of using a private firm to build a centralized data storage. Which is an idea that I fundamentally support but the execution of it has been shit. But this is something that Ben Goldacre writes about more elegantly then I could hope to do.

Do I think that the NHS is perfect? Well, no. Nothing is. But what I do know is that it is helluva lot better than most of the media would like to portray it. And sadly I don't think that people will realize what they've missed until it's gone, but then they won't be able to afford it.

While I do know that the NHS are going through some problems, privatization is not the answer to those problems.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Student Nurse Perspective: Computer Systems

In my time with the NHS I've had my chance to try and several computer systems that they use. So far I've worked or been on placement with four different NHS trusts. IT has been a hot issue in the UK mainly because it's expensive and is something that will take a long time to implement and has taken a long time to implement.

The main motivation for writing this blog is of course because Microsoft will stop supporting WinXP and Office 2003. And all the trusts I've worked with use WinXP. Admittedly one of them has finally started upgrading some computers to Win7, which is a major improvement on top of what they've already got.  But to be honest it's not the choice of OS that has annoyed me as much as the software they use. Specifically when that software is optimized for WinXP. Though it doesn't help when you have staff that refuse to move with the effing times.

The trusts I have been in have bought new computers with first Vista then Win 7 on a fairly regular basis, but always somehow insisted on backporting them into WinXP. Which just always blew my mind when I saw that. Still does in fact.

One of the biggest challenges in this day and age to the NHS is to do with finances and how to stay within budget. A fair chunk of that budget goes into IT. Nearly everything that is done now in hospitals is computerized. Though some wards insist on copying everything in paper, which is quite frankly a waste of money and a waste of nursing time.

So my suggestion is to use Open Source Software.  Fairly recently the GCHQ which serves as the IT security branch of the UK decided to look into the most secure Operating System and Linux (In the form of Ubuntu) rather comprehensively beat the competition.

After all buying new operating system is going to cost money. A lot of money. And in some cases they would have to buy new computers. But why bother with that? Why not instead go for a Linux based operating system. Currently Linux is everywhere. Don't believe me, look at your phone. If you are running a phone with Android, you are running a phone with Linux. Using Linux is not the venue of a computer nerd any more. In fact why not just stop using Microsoft products all together? Because the UK government are even thinking of replacing Word Document with Open Document. Again there are multiple programs for that the two most prominent ones being OpenOffice and LibreOffice. They wouldn't be the only ones who have done that. Munich have done it, quite successfully, they even went as far as to distribute a copy of Ubuntu to all of it's citizens in order to wean them of WinXP. Bristol did it. But of course Microsoft have tried crying foul. Leeds Teaching Hospitals decided to use open source software, mainly in form of patient records. And so far it seems to be working very well for them. If they can do it, then why can't other trusts? 

It is not something that hasn't been achieved before. Going from one operating system to another. The London Stock Exchange went from using Windows to using SUSELinux, with great success in 2008 after the Windows Servers crashed and cost them quite a bit of money. NASA uses Debian Linux for well, everything.  Google runs their own version of Ubuntu called Goobuntu. And so on and so forth. So it's not outside the realm of possibility to go from one system to another. So far I've mainly touched upon Ubuntu, but that is mainly because Ubuntu is the most used Linux distribution going. And Ubuntu also has a fairly sizeable company, called Canonical,  behind it that also deals with Servers and the like. The other thing that this ties with is there is already a medical version of it, called Ubuntu-Med. The good thing about this distro is the fact that it also uses KDE as a desktop environment. The big bonus being that it looks and feels very much like Windows does, so the adaptation time for newbies and "technophobes" would be minimal. The second distribution that would be good to look at is OpenSUSE-Medical, which is supported by another big company called Novell. That one also runs with KDE but the bigger advantage would be that Novell has more experience in assisting and supporting big organizations, for instance London Stock Exchange.  So any trust that decides to jump the shark and forge ahead with Open Source systems and tools, wouldn't be without assistance. And then there is Debian-Med, which is based on the rock-solid base of Debian Linux. The downside there is that there isn't a firm behind it in the same way as Ubuntu and OpenSUSE. But on the other hand if a Trust decides to go this route they can hire IT personnel and make it their own.

The DoH had set out a programme called 'NHS Connecting for Health', which was a very ambitious project and had a huge potential. But sadly suffered from mismanagement and ran way over-budget. Now, nearly every trust have got their own Medical IT System. The ones that I know of and have used are e-CPA, Lorenzo, PCIS and Emis.

Probably my biggest bugbear, and the inspiration of writing this, is that monster of a system Lorenzo. I think I have only met one person who actually likes it. But oh lord it is shit. Slow and cumbersome. It's like a blind drunk Cave-Troll of medical systems. And somehow it seems to be optimized for WinXP, which just makes that system even more shit. Not even worth fertilizing potato fields with. It doesn't really help when the DoH state that it isn't fit for purpose, yet we still have one trust that insists on using it.  Despite every other trust dumping it in favour of something different.

GNU Health is a system that was first developed in 2008, mainly for rural areas in South America, Africa and Far East Asia where cost certainly plays into it. And today it has developed into a fully fledged system in it's own right, the Jamaican Ministry of Health have decided to adopt it whole sale. The main features of it are:
  • Strong focus in family medicine and Primary Health Care
  • Major interest in Socio-economics (housing conditions, substance abuse, education...)
  • Diseases and Medical procedures standards (ICD-10 / ICD-10-PCS)
  • Prescription writing
  • Billing
  • Patient Genetic and Hereditary risks : Over 4200 genes related to diseases (NCBI / Genecards)
  • Epidemiological and other statistical reports
  • 100% paperless patient examination and history taking
  • Patient Administration (creation, evaluations / consultations, history ... )
  • Doctor Administration
  • Lab Administration
  • Medicine / Drugs information (vademécum)
  • Medical stock and supply chain management
  • Hospital Financial Administration
  • Designed with industry standards in mind
It's also cross-platform so if a trust decides to stick with Windows they could still dump whatever system they are using and still save money. What the trust can also do is modify whatever Operating System they choose and whatever medical system they use to suit their own practice.  GNU Health is by no means the only open source alternative, there are others and you can read about those here. Thankfully there is an open source and free alternatives to nearly everything, for example Medical Imaging. More software can be looked at and obtained from Medfloss.

This is a subject that I am fairly passionate about, and I don't understand why more NHS trusts haven't gone down this route especially in the light of tighter financial restrictions. What I do know is that there isn't enough awareness of this, and in most people's minds it doesn't matter to them what system is used. But if they can save money in the IT department yet have even more secure system in place then why not take the plunge? Especially with the support for WinXP going away. And if these trusts are still running computers with WinXP after the deadline I can assure you that there is going to be a major cock up somewhere as they've left their systems vulnerable to outside attacks, with many hackers patiently waiting. Or alternatively they could hire said hackers and put them to good use as evidenced by NHS Hackday

For an even more detail analysis there is this fantastic report done by Karopka, et al about using Free and Open Source Software in Health Care.