In which I do data journalism about Eurovision

Eurovision InfographicI did some actual proper data journalism for my employers at MSN on the Eurovision Song Contest. The main result of it all was this massive infographic about voting patterns and stuff, which is basically excellent – the below is an extra, UK-only add on that I did at the last minute…


Is the UK unfairly treated by the voting public of Eurovision? Is Britain hampered by simply having better taste than our European cousins? Or is it possible – just possible – that we actually perform badly because our songs just aren’t that good? Well, there’s a fairly simple way to test whether the UK’s Eurovision entries are unfairly overlooked by a European public who care more about regional politics than quality songs: look at whether or not the British public thought the songs were good enough to bother buying them.

If you do that over the past fifteen years (since phone voting was introduced to Eurovision), there’s quite a clear pattern that emerges: the UK’s performance in Eurovision does seem to track the songs’ performance in the UK charts. Rather than being treated unfairly by the Eurovision voters, we seem to broadly agree with them – when Europe thinks a song is an improvement on last year’s, more of us also buy it. And when we don’t bother shelling out our hard earned money for the track, the people of Europe can’t be bothered to vote for it either.

There are a couple of years where the trends diverge (1999 and 2007) and a stretch of years in the mid-2000s where all our Eurovision entries were reliable Top Twenty chart entries while underperforming in the contest – but whether you look at the number of points we get or our final ranking, the pattern mostly holds up.

And it’s worth noting that in the past 15 years, we’ve never had a Eurovision entry that made it higher than number 5 in the UK charts (Scooch in 2007 had that distinction), while poor Josh Dubovie in 2010 only limped into the chart at 179. Sweden’s winner last year, by contrast, was a huge number one hit all across Europe, and reached number 3 in the UK. The lesson’s fairly clear – the UK doesn’t really get a raw deal in Eurovision. If we want to do better with Europe’s voters, a good start is entering a song that we like.
Eurovision UK position

Eurovision UK points

Stop… Carry on.

Right, so – Spotify (the wonderful “universal jukebox” music streaming service, in case you didn’t know) recently pointed out on their blog that you could manually link to a specific moment in a song. Naturally, because I’m awkward like that, I decided the best use of this was to link to the pauses in songs where nothing’s happening. One quick call for suggestions over Twitter later, and here we are: a brief and incomplete sort-of playlist of The Best Pauses in Music History (version 1.0):

2:32 into Intergalactic by The Beastie Boys

0:12 into Monkey Wrench by the Foo Fighters
(suggested by @marshallstaxx)

1:21 into Novocaine For The Soul by Eels
(suggested by @qwghlm)

0:28 into Show Girl by The Auteurs
(suggested by @shanerichmond)

1:29 into Can’t Hardly Wait by The Replacements
(suggested by @shanerichmond)

4:42 into Invalid Litter Dept. by At The Drive In
(suggested by @outsidecontext)

2:09 into Summer In The City by The Lovin’ Spoonful
(can’t remember who suggested this, might have been someone in the office)

2:30 into All The Madmen by David Bowie
(suggested by @Dan_Griffiths)

0:57 into Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

There must of course be hundreds, thousands more (a few suggestions couldn’t be used because they weren’t on Spotify; a personal favourite, the pause at around 2:57 in Animal Lover by Suede, couldn’t be used because it’s actually too short to pin down to a specific second.) So – what are your suggestions? Drop them, with Spotify links if possible, in the comments…

The seismologist who wasn’t

So, all over the news today were reports like this:

An Italian scientist who predicted a serious earthquake in central Italy but was dismissed as a scaremonger said: “The authorities have these deaths on their conscience.”

Seismologist Gioacchino Giuliani had warned “a big one” was on the way and even toured the region in a van with loudspeakers warning people, as late as last week.

But he was reported to the police by authorities for “needlessly spreading panic” and also dismissed by L’Aquila’s mayor and other civic officials.

All very Roy Scheider facing off against complacent local bureaucrats in Jaws. It was being tweeted all over the place and burning up the social news sites for most of today. A great, rabble-rousing story about an underdog hero whose warnings were ignored. Every story referred to Giuliani as a seismologist and a scientist.

Italy’s Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica released the following press release this morning (this is a Google Translated version of the cached press release; their website, with the original, is currently down for some reason.)

Referring to press reports about the earthquake that struck last night, the Abruzzo region, the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica states:

1. Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica’s mission and purpose of the study of phenomena that occur in space and in the universe and not from earthquakes or other phenomena related to geophysics;

2nd Mr. Gioacchino Giampaolo Giuliani is a non-graduate technical assistant at the Institute of Space Physics Interplanetario of Turin, which is one of the twenty INAF structures;

3rd Mr. Giuliani is working as technical assistant at the National Laboratory of Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) for the Gran Sasso of IFSI-INAF, within the framework of cooperation in your multipartner LVD (Large Volume Detector) for the detection of neutrinos produced by gravitational stellar collapse;

4th the activities of Mr. Giuliani compared the alleged possibility of forecasting earthquakes are not a search INAF, but are conducted by Giuliani himself for personal purposes outside of the service for the institute.

It would appear Gioacchino Giuliani is not a seismologist; he does not even, it seems, have any academic science qualifications at all. He is a lab assistant at an astrophysics institute, and he does earthquake prediction as a hobby, using the notoriously vague and unproven radon method – his prediction was actually that an earthquake would hit a town fifty miles away a week earlier (the sort of details you need to actually be right about if you’re going to start evacuating places).

This story came, as far as I can tell, not from some tabloid, but from Reuters, who were the ones who inaccurately spread the description of him as a “seismologist”; even now, in their newly updated, toned-down story, published many hours after the INAF released their statement, they still call Giuliani a “scientist”, and inaccurately say that he works at the National Insitute of Physics (not Astrophysics, which would give you more of a clue that he’s maybe not a specialist). Reuters are a trusted voice; when they write a story, it spreads around the world. This is, quite frankly, shoddy work on their part.

The Thing List 2008: A Year In Non-Categorised Stuff

Thing List 08

As is now becoming tragically traditional, here’s my pigeonhole-breaking list of the best Things In General from the past 12 months. As is also traditional, it’s late. If you’re a regular reader, and remember the 2007 and 2005 lists, you’ll know the project by now: every year, the cruel hegemony of categorisation unfairly forces stuff into neat boxes. Iron Man was “a film”. Boing Boing Gadgets was “a blog”. The moment someone did something impressive in a sport was “a sporting moment”. This blog rejects such reductivist notions, and instead celebrates the innate thinginess of things, allowing – say – Will Wright’s Spore to go head-to-head with Billie Piper for the title of Best Budget Italian Restaurant.

So, without further ado, here are the 21 best things of 2008:

21. WALL-E
Made me cry, twice, on both legs of a flight to and from New York. I wasn’t the only one who cried, either: witness this awesome, awesome story from MetaFilter, which could have made this list all by itself. And will also make you cry.

20. Mars Phoenix
“Take care of that beautiful blue marble out there in space, our home planet. I’ll be keeping an eye from here. Space exploration FTW!” was the most moving piece of writing of the year. What I said here pretty much covers it.
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More shoes

The only sensible comment of the whole financial malarkey comes from 2004, by briefly shiny pop duo Johnny Boy (which I also posted in this) – and their single You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve:

I’m actually about to buy another pair of shoes online right now, in case anybody should think about absolving me of my hypocrisy.

On transparency & kerfuffles

So there’s been this internet brouhaha for the past few days, which isn’t of any real direct interest to you unless you have a reluctant but obsessive fondness for Blog Drama!!! (to which I plead guilty). But I think it does illuminate – or at least confuse in an interesting way – a lot of the problems that people are having adjusting to the still-newish world of mass online publishing, so I’m going to try teasing my thoughts out, as much to legitimise the many hours I wasted reading all the threads on this over the past couple of days as anything else. It’s a hugely overlong brain-dump, more about organising my own thoughts – obviously, I’d appreciate any comments you may have.

In brief, Boing Boing, one of the biggest blogs in the world, and a longstanding voice arguing for openness, honesty and user engagement in the public sphere, at some point decided to delete all their old posts that had linked to or mentioned Violet Blue, a generally tedious sexblogger of whom they had previously been rather fond. As is the way with the internet, somebody eventually noticed, it came to the attention of both Violet Blue herself, and tech gossip blog Valleywag. Things spiralled from there - a huge blog that regularly rails against censorship and secrecy had been caught ‘censoring’ their own site, and despite frequent enquiries from other bloggers and the media, they weren’t saying why. Rex from Fimoculous compared it to the deletion of post which had linked to him, which he speculated was because the BB crew found out he’d written a post slightly critical of them. It made the front page of the LA Times website. A MetaFilter discussion began, and quickly achieved some sort of insane critical mass.
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Seven songs

So – Praxis, god damn his withered soul, has infected me with the memespack:

“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.“

It’s been going around.

So, I have consulted the oracle (I remember at NotCon four years ago, listening to Richard Jones explaining Audioscrobbler. “Ha,” I mocked, completely missing the point, “so it notes down what you listen to, and after a while, it’s able to tell you what music you like. What’s the point of that?” Quite a lot of point, it turns out.) and had a think, and here’s my seven:
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Orchestral manoeuvres

In a continuation of my new resolution to do more with this little lump of internet, in a more Sore Eyesish quoty-blogging style, I was very fond of this from my favourite smart-writing-about-music blog,

It’s unfortunate that the orchestra is so rarely the forum for respected new music these days. Aside from a few operas and film scores, people who listen to “good music” are listening to small ensembles, whether those be wind quintets, jazz combos, or the Arcade Fire. And I think something has been lost in that. What gets forgotten in the orchestra’s image as exemplar of high art respectability is that orchestras are really fucking loud.

The New Yorker piece he’s spinning off from is also well worth a read. Alex Ross does seem to be widely acknowledged as basically the best thing ever, and I should probably set aside a significant portion of my life to read his book and his blog and everything. But I probably won’t get the time. Ah well.

Little cat’s feet

Briefly to note, in a stream of cultural consciousness: A few days ago, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of the long-running American political debate show The McLaughlin Group. Then Rex Sorgatz at Fimoculous wrote this post about this Esquire article about how it was actually excellent and not rubbish like all the others, which sort of piqued my interest. Now, a few days later, my absolute new favourite blog, clapclap, which I only found today via this MeFi thread about the Jeff Buckley essay which is currently in my linklog, wrote this post about a challenge that Fluxblog set hard-partying rocker Andrew W.K. – who I hadn’t heard anything about for about five years – which was to record a song based around this wildly bizarre bit of conversation from The McLaughlin Group, something which I might not have checked out of I hadn’t already had my interest prompted by the previous piece and blah blah blah.

All of which is merely a bit of context-setting build up so that hopefully, when I tell you to download this mp3 of Andrew W.K. singing a 47-second long song based on the transcript of a political debate show because it is BASICALLY GREAT, you won’t think I’m completely mad.

The Thing List 2007: A Year in Non-Categorised Stuff

Thing List 2007

After a hiatus last year, when I forgot to do it, here’s the 2007 instalment of this blog’s ongoing project to fight the crude pigeon-holing tendencies shown by other end-of-year lists. No longer shall Neon Bible be relegated to the “best albums” parade, just because it was, in fact, an album. If Gordon Ramsay’s refurbished gastropub in Limehouse wants to compete for Best Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, rather than best restaurant, then it is free to do so. We not not bracket, compartmentalise, or divide. We celebrate unity through diversity.

So, here you go – here are the 19 best things of 2007:

Cunt at Glastonbury

19. The Arcade Fire at Glastonbury
Was it such a borderline epiphanic experience in spite of the drug-addled hippy with a poor sense of personal space who kept on trying to walk through my back during the entire set – or was it, in part at least, because of him? No. It was nothing to do with him. But thankyou anyway, kind sir.

18. Tony Blair fucked off
And for a precious, golden few days, it seemed like good sense, quiet competence and a dignified sense of principle might be restored to our government. Of course, not so much. But it was nice while it lasted. A clear winner of Vegetarian Restaurant of the Year.

17. The finger-tapping, eye-staring thing that The Rock does in Southland Tales to indicate that he’s going mad which is a bit like someone doing a Stan Laurel impersonation except they’ve never actually seen footage of Stan Laurel and have in fact just read about him on Wikipedia

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