The Social Downsides to Veganism

Posted in Veganism with tags , on April 13, 2013 by kokairu

It’s been over a year and a half since I threw in the towel and gave up several aspects of my lifestyle and diet: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, silk, leather, wool, and I became much stricter with my choice of cosmetic brands. My last entry to this effect covers my reasons and I can’t say that they’ve changed much – my motivation has become a little more emotive than before, but the rationale remains the same: reduce consumption, reduce demand. Demand reduced, less animal lives streamlined unnecessarily for the overall human population’s diet and lifestyle.

In this time, I have only become more assured of my choices. I feel good, I’m really pleased with my figure, and I’ve really grown to love the vegan recipes I’ve learned. At odd times I’d like it all to be a tad more convenient, but it’s really not too bad at all – there is always something you can cook quickly and easily, with items available in a corner shop, and besides which, the forward planning allows me to ensure I’m getting all the nutrition I need, and helps me save money too. Do I miss any non-vegan foods? Enh, maybe brie.

The biggest challenge, BY FAR, is the social aspects of the lifestyle. When I first started trying out veganism, people were very curious and I really enjoyed the discussions about it. However, my closest friends and family are now accustomed to it and I detect hints of frustration now and then; I think they may’ve expected this venture to be a little more temporary. That’s not to mention frustration at them on my part too, I’ll be honest; the more passionate I feel about animal rights, the less tolerance I have of their continuing to eat animal products, particularly meat. And, in the case of people I’m explaining the concept to for the first time, the conversation is extremely tiring; they always ask the same questions, i.e. “What do you miss the most?” and “What if you kept your own chickens?” I really wish it was socially acceptable to give people URLs in real life and answer simply with, “read my fucking blog.”

It really goes to show how big a role food plays, both culturally and socially. The social aspects are a given: the modern lifestyle in the western world involves popping into almost any establishment at any time to enjoy a wide range of food and drink. If you’re a vegetarian, this will frequently involve simply selecting the one cheese-endowed option on the menu. If you’re a strict vegetarian, you might have to opt for spirits rather than wine. And if you’re a vegan, it will inevitably come down to a mundane novelty-free food like jacket potato and baked beans, or maybe even just a bowl of boiled rice (this actually happened to someone I know). In the latter scenario, one does tend to miss out on the mutual bonding over delicious food. Yep, you’ve managed to spend time with your friends over food and drink whilst sticking to your guns, but the feeling of isolation is inevitable. You stick out like a sore thumb, doing nothing to promote the many benefits of the vegan diet.

Of course, the mere refusal to part-take in eating many foods that are so readily accepted and consumed in our culture, and remain quiet in conversations regarding how amazing bacon is, can create unwanted tension, too. Being vegan, even if the topic is never discussed, makes some very bold statements – you are conscientiously objecting to some very “normal” aspects of western life. It’s no wonder that some omnivores can get very defensive, even when never provoked. In turn, veg*ans can become known as smug, self-righteous and obnoxious, in responding to that defensiveness. As I touched on earlier, I now have some emotional investment in my choices. I’ve watched the slaughterhouse videos, and I’ve worked directly with rescued farm animals with horrendous backstories. So it’s not even the non-veggies being ridiculous in the first place – I DO feel quite disgusted by the idea of meat now, as well as dairy and eggs (albeit to a lesser extent). And I really wish I didn’t, because I don’t want to push away my friends and family. It’s quite conflicting, as you can imagine.

To get around this, you might suggest to your friends to try a vegetarian or vegan place next time. Problem fixed, right? Omnivores can eat vegan food, and these places inevitably cater well for other dietary requirements, such as gluten-free. Unfortunately, this doesn’t tend to go down well with meat eaters; if you’re lucky enough that you’re not with “if it’s not meat then it’s not food” company, I think visits to places like this can trigger a defensive mechanism in omnivores. After all, they’re in a place where they might feel like they’re in the “outgroup”, to speak in social psychological terms, as a non-vegan in a veggie establishment. Their ingroup identity, as a non-veggie, is very salient as a result. They might be open minded and accept that meat doesn’t have to be in everything, but why should they be forced to not have the usual choices? What is all this strange food? It’s up to her if she wants to make life awkward for herself, why inflict it upon others? This is a bit of a presumption, but these are the experiences I’ve had thus far. Furthermore, I used to be exactly like this. I remember meeting a girl in a youth hostel in Madrid back in 2006, who dragged me and my friend to a vegetarian place, not stating it was all-veggie until we were in there. I felt incredibly indignant about it. If you don’t identify as a vegan, then “vegan food” is not for you to eat. This notion is supported by a great number of food retailers, who are frequently reluctant to label their food as “suitable for vegans” (even though it most definitely is), because it might “put people off.”

Since giving up animal products, I often have to remind myself of this mentality, but it is hard – surely if one is not a vegan they can still eat and enjoy vegan food? Don’t they realise that by not eating meat, and by extension, dairy and eggs, even in just one sitting, they are making choices beneficial to animals, their health, and the environment? But this is just it – if they fully took on board your reasons for living the way that you do, then they would most likely be making the same choices all round. And that’s not to say “they just don’t realise how right I am” (which I acknowledge this entry is dangerously close to implying). I’m perfectly open to the fact that my choices may be based on a worse picture of the farming industry than it actually is – I even HOPE this is the case. I’d love to be wrong. This is where a lot of veg*ans fail miserably – I’ve read numerous times comments such as “eating meat is not a personal choice”. As much as there is some grounding to this, it is an utterly ridiculous notion and does veganism more harm than good. Of course it’s a personal choice – eating meat is well practised in our culture and is completely legal. The minute you tell someone it’s not, are they going to throw up their hands and say, “oh sorry, you’re completely right” or ignore you and defriend you on Facebook later? Both might seem extreme outcomes, but I would place money on the latter.

As well as the therapeutic nature in ranting about these unforeseen drawbacks of veganism, I’d like to think this entry might open one’s mind to the “other side of the fence,” whichever end it is you sit on. Omnivores: you might want to consider that consuming less animal products could be a beneficial thing, understanding that as consumers we are the ones that hold the power to change practices when it comes to animal welfare. You could perhaps give vegan food a go, even if you don’t identify as one. It’s still food. Vegans: respect the choices of others. Not everyone holds animal welfare in the same regard, and whilst you might not personally agree, some “animal h8ers” might still be very caring and compassionate people, putting other humans before themselves and applying morality in all aspects of their lives. It’s a different perspective, and it’s not necessarily wrong. I personally care a lot less about people and I’d thank you not to judge me for it.

I really hope these issues will be a thing of the past one day. I don’t think a world will exist where we all hold hands and sing, with soya beans growing where the cattle once grazed. However, veganism (as a diet, at least) will hopefully become prominent enough for restaurants to cater for it (properly), and veg*ism is perceived as something as normal as disliking the taste of Marmite – you won’t be seen as some sort of outcast for it. In turn, whilst meat will still be on the menu, vegan options will be so prominent in our culture that even omnivores will opt for it – not necessarily for ethical reasons – but because it’s great food, valid in its own right.

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New Site Launched!

Posted in UltraStar on October 1, 2012 by kokairu

Hello!

Sorry for the lack of UltraStar/Vocaluxe updates people. The good news is that they have now all been updated and improved on my new site: UltraGuide.net. I’ve also added a few new sections on Error Management, Playlists, and Song Creation.

Enjoy, and keep warm!

UltraStar Update: Vocaluxe (Beta)

Posted in UltraStar with tags , , on February 27, 2012 by kokairu

“Vocaluxe,” an entirely new take on open source karaoke software, has now been released in beta status. I’ve just been excitedly playing around with it, and though it is not very stable yet (it crashed a couple of times on me), it’s a glimpse into the future for all fans of UltraStar.

Song files for UltraStar will still work for Vocaluxe, so you can see for yourself how it compares:

http://sourceforge.net/projects/vocaluxe/

I particularly like how you can set up profiles (including pictures) for all potential players. I never really bothered entering player names before, but I can see it being a lot easier to switch between names when new people step up to take the ultimate singing challenge. This means that the high scores will now mean something!

Vocaluxe also supports duet mode, which is definitely one of the better later additions to UltraStar. I’m glad it lives on!

On the downside, there’s no Party mode yet (and I do love my Party mode!). However, there’s nothing to say that this won’t be added at a later point.

I’m also a bit dubious about some of the graphics – there doesn’t seem to be a way to change how the text lights up during game play for one. I liked the way it used to lift up or enlarge in UltraStar Deluxe – it made it a lot easier for those with eyesight problems to see it properly. At the moment, it just changes colour.

Moreover, the song selection screen isn’t quite as snazzy as it was in UltraStar. But the last two points are nit picky – they don’t exactly affect the gameplay itself much. Plus, I’m aware that a few people are working extremely hard on this – asking for no money in return – so it’s not at all within my right to moan about it. I am eagerly awaiting the first proper release!

 

Why I’ve Adopted Veganism

Posted in Veganism with tags , , , , on November 25, 2011 by kokairu

A few months ago, I was discussing veal production with my extended family. The minor details of this conversation are fairly irrelevant (well, I hope they are, as I can’t remember them). The key aspect was when my older sister commented that the cheese industry and the veal industry are heavily interlinked (in short, for enough milk to be produced for cheese, many calves must be produced that have no other role to fulfil).

At the time, I was eating a largely vegetarian diet (I like the taste of meat, but as my partner is a vegetarian, I was naturally eating less of it), having adopted full vegetarianism a handful of times in the past. I had eventually developed the philosophy that there is no problem in consuming meat, as long as the animal(s) in question did not suffer prior to their death(s). I was drawn to free range meat in particular, but this dietary restriction was easy to ignore when I wanted to purchase something with ease from the small corner shop or eat out at a restaurant. After listening to my sister’s comment, it quickly spurred an entirely different take on my dietary choices.

I began to consider the implications of an interlinked meat and dairy industry. It’s not just the revelation that cheese is related to the slaughter of “cute wickle calves,” as anyone who knows me will be aware that one of my biggest gripes is upholding a strong moral code when it comes to cute animals but disregarding that mentality when it comes to those that are less pleasing on the eye. I just suddenly realised that to support one means to support the other; I began to understand the mentality of the vegan lifestyle that had been lost on me in the past.

In the weeks following this conversation, I did a number of things. On my next trip to the supermarket, I sought out foods that were free from animal products. I’d not decided anything for definite (and a part of me assumed that, even if I did adopt a vegan lifestyle, I’d give up sooner or later), but I was curious. Passing through the various aisles with my trolley containing fruit, vegetables, corn cakes and soya milk, my mind was put into motion again. So much cheese. Milk. Chocolate. Eggs. Chicken pieces. Pepperami. Meat feast pizzas. Cakes. All packaged up and ready to eat for our convenience. All these and so much more involve animal products… and in just one supermarket. How on earth could these things be so readily available to us without entailing a streamline that disregards the welfare of the lives that either are or produce these foods?

I also started to research meat, egg and dairy production in more depth. I watched as much of the documentary “Earthlings” as I could stomach. The image of pigs being kept in disgustingly overcrowded conditions and cows being hung upside down while their throats were cut (flailing in mad panic in the process), before the film cut to the more familiar and aesthetically pleasing image of a selection of packaged meat products on a few supermarket shelves, served to reinforce my earlier assumptions. I didn’t want to turn a blind eye to the stories behind these products anymore.

Yes, the horrible accounts of animal welfare that I referenced in this time would’ve used the most gruesome material possible. However, I do feel that there is little way of knowing exactly where your food comes from, especially when you buy from a supermarket (which is, really, the only place most of us can afford to shop at). When it comes to animal products, they have the added implication of intense suffering – and in turn, your purchase of those products serves to increase demand for that suffering. It is the latest point that embodies the core reason for my decision to go vegan: in reducing demand for food and drink that includes animal products, there will be less need to supply those products. In turn, less animals will undergo intense suffering, and in needing to keep less life stock, conditions for animals bred for their milk, eggs or meat could improve greatly. I am confident that my choices entail clear goals.

I do not uphold that we should all live on plant-based diets. However, if more people could sacrifice the norms of western meals (i.e. meat dishes, with a token cheese option for the vegetarians) in their food choices, it could lead to a better world for animal welfare. Do I wish, then, to promote veganism to others? Yes, of course I do. I’d like to think that this blog entry has covered that much. I do not, however, plan on pressurising my friends verbally on the matter. What good would it do anyway? It’s got to be your own choice, I’d hate it if people blindly followed my lead (the thought is unlikely and somewhat amusing).

So, a few months on, I suppose I am a vegan now. That is, I strive to live in this world without using animal products; I am not yet there completely, and may never be. Animal products are everywhere, and in some cases, I am not able to avoid using them. Or at least, if I were to take it to that extreme, I may as well go and live in a cave in the mountains somewhere, or kill myself to remove one more life that’s sucking the resources on this Earth dry. Forgive me when I say that I won’t be doing either of those things.

Wherever an alternative is available, however, I plan to seek it. This includes many toiletries (such as shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste), clothing (leather, wool, and silk are no no’s), and any product containing honey. Even where the animal product is a minute detail on the ingredients list, I will avoid the overall product. I actually think that, in some ways, it’s more important to boycott these foods than the more “obvious” things like cheddar cheese and standard mayonnaise. I say this because, where the ingredient is subtle, there is no pressure on the company to remove that ingredient, or investigate a more ethical source for it. For example, most wine is not vegan, or even vegetarian for that matter, which I never realised before recently. From a purely economical perspective, the wine maker may as well use the cheapest eggs available for the fermentation process; the consumer market that deliberately buys free range eggs over caged eggs will most likely be unaware that eggs were even involved in the wine’s production. There is no need for the wine maker to slap a ‘made using free range eggs’ note on the label at all; it would probably put a lot of people off, in fact.

Believe it or not, this is only a nutshell of my thoughts and feelings on the whole matter, but I think it covers the basics. There are a number of themes surrounding the questions that I’m usually asked, and most of these haven’t been covered here (with the exception of “Why?”). I shall summarise them in a list:

So, what WILL you eat?

One of the great things about veganism is that you get to discover a world of food possibilities that break the mould of your standard fish and chips. I naturally do have to prepare most of my own food now, but in doing so, I can pretty much whip up many standard meals with alternatives to meat, egg and dairy products. Quorn products are off the cards, as they contain egg, but Mrs Linda McCartney offers vegan alternatives, and I have discovered the world of Frys and Redwood foods, which are both stocked in Holland and Barrett. Redwood, in particular, offers some Gourmet chicken-style pieces that are to die for: the meatiest meat substitute there ever was. A lot of people nitpick this and say that it’s pointless to be a vegetarian and yet try to find meaty-tasting products, but if you’re abstaining for ethical reasons, you do like the taste of meat, and you’ve grown up with meat as a standard part of most meals, I don’t think that argument really stands.

Other alternatives for standard ingredients include egg-free pasta, soya milk (no, really, if you buy the unsweetened kind, it actually tastes like dairy milk), rice milk, vegan pesto, and egg-free mayonnaise. The aforementioned are all found quite easily.

The world of tofu is another that I’ve dipped into lately. It’s a great food: it offers a completely blank slate to work with, and it absorbs any flavour thrown at it. It can also be cooked in so many different ways to achieve different textures. This morning, for example, I had scrambled tofu on toast. Sounds disgusting? Well, it has the texture of egg and can be flavoured with whatever you like… and it didn’t come from a hen’s backside, either.

Sadly, eating out is somewhat challenging. But there are ways around it – restaurants are used to catering for a whole manner of dietary requirements, and are usually willing to provide what they can. Grabbing food on-the-go is near on impossible, but I just need to be organised and make food in advance. This saves money, too.

How will you get your <insert nutritional element of meat and/or dairy here>?

Many people wrongly assume that veganism isn’t healthy, and that you’re cutting out essential vitamins and minerals from your diet. Whilst it’s an understandable misassumption, this one does annoy me a bit. We’ve had it drummed into us that red meat contains iron, milk contains calcium, and egg contains protein. This does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that these foods are the only sources of these compounds. Calcium is found in a number of plant-based foods, including almonds, cabbage, tofu and oranges, and is supplemented in most soya milks for good measure anyway. Iron is found in beans and lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and flaxseed. Protein is found in anything living, but is especially prominent in plant-based milks, tofu, rice, nuts, seed, and whole grains.

Funnily enough, the two trickiest components to acquire from natural plant-based sources are rarely brought up in normal conversation. These include vitamins D and B12, which would normally be found in abundance in the foods that I’m electing to cut out. Vitamin D is, of course, acquired from sunlight via the skin anyway – something that, I’m told, is easier for me because I am about as pasty as they come before hitting ginger territory. Vitamin B12 is found in nutritional yeast flakes. And, low and behold, they are both added to most soya milks anyway.

Vegans do, on average, live longer than non-vegans, but that’s probably more to do with the fact that they plan their diets more thoroughly.

Won’t you miss <cheese/cakes/smoked salmon/whatever>?

Every now and then, I get a craving for something that I can’t have. But what I miss the most, I think, is convenience. Yeah, a quarter pounder with cheese would be delicious right now, but mainly because I could grab it quickly from a fast food outlet in passing. If I were to head home first, get the Frys veggie burgers out of the freezer, cook them, and add some dairy-free cheese alternative to the top before serving, I’ve almost got the real deal anyway – it’s just not nearly as greasy!

I’ve also (unintentionally) conditioned myself to associate animal products with an image of what may have gone on to get that food to where it is, be it on a plate or on the shelf. Earthlings will do that to you – and it’s significantly less appetising after that notion.

What about free range products/local produce?

When it comes to supermarket foods, I’m sceptical about what “free range” means. Regarding chickens, for example, “free range” does not automatically mean “well kept.” They often have their beaks cut to stop them pecking one another, as the conditions can still be overcrowded. With eggs, “free range” only guarantees that the hen was “free range” at the time that the egg was laid. What will happen to the chicken when its “egg-laying days” are over (at approximately 2 years old, well below the expected natural lifespan of a hen)? It could easily then be kept in the same old harsh conditions to later be killed for meat. You just can’t know, which relates to the first couple of paragraphs in this article – the inseparable link between meat produce and dairy/egg produce.

Regarding locally produced eggs, where you may see for yourself that the hens are kept in good conditions by the lady down the road, I may be tempted at a later point. I also may choose to keep hens myself one day – not for their produce, but because I think they’re lovely pets. Hens do lay eggs on a regular basis, with or without a cockerel present. It’s almost like helping yourself to a natural bi-product – they would not be used for anything otherwise.

There are, however, still counter-arguments. From having kept chickens before, I am aware that they uphold some concept of what an egg is. After all, they lay several in the same place before sitting on them. I remember when one of them laid her first egg, and she spent ages trying to cover it up with straw. You could therefore argue that we don’t have a “right” to their eggs. I don’t uphold this one firmly, however, as they don’t seem to show distress when you take the eggs away. I also don’t like projecting human emotions onto animals, because it’s clear that they see the world differently to us.

There’s also the point that the African Jungle Fowl, from which our domestic chickens descend, lay half the eggs in a year that domestic hens do. This is because the latter has been bred extensively to lay as often as it does – not a particularly fair outcome, considering that laying an egg certainly looks uncomfortable at best. It’s a similar case with wool – domestic sheep only need to be sheered because they’ve been bred to grow their coats to that alarming an extent. In the wild, they would malt like other furry or feathery creatures.

Do I offend you if I still choose to consume animal products?

Not at all, as long as you respect my choices. That’s not to say that I want you to go out of your way for me – I will always be happy to provide my own food, either before or during social gatherings. Restaurant choices are easy – we’ll just go to Pizza Express, and I’ll order my cheeseless vegetarian pizza!

 

So, now you know. I may update and add to this article at later points as I see fit.

UltraStar: Creating a Song List

Posted in UltraStar on September 6, 2011 by kokairu

Please note: my UltraStar guides now have their own dedicated website on UltraGuide.net. An updated version of this article can be found here

Wow, it’s been a while since I got around to doing more UltraStar guides. There are only a few things left to cover: acquiring cover art for songs quickly and easily, song creation, and creating a song list. As you can see from the title, I am going with the latter today; in my experience, it can be an incredibly useful to have a printed list of songs when playing UltraStar with your friends. What’s more, there is one invaluable tool that makes it very easy for you: UltraStar Manager, which I mentioned briefly in an earlier post, is good for many things, such as Playlist creation and .txt file organisation. It is available to download on the link below:

http://sourceforge.net/projects/uman/files/uman/1.8.x/uman-1.8.0-win32-setup.exe/download

To get started, download and install this tool if you haven’t already. You should then specify the various directories that it requests on its first start up: the main UltraStar folder (usually C:\Program Files\UltraStar Deluxe by default), the playlist directory (usually C:\Program Files\UltraStar Deluxe\Playlists by default), and the song directory (usually C:\Program Files\UltraStar Deluxe\Songs by default). Depending on how many songs you have, it may then take a while to load up.

Once this is done, you will see a list of your songs arranged by folder. The best thing to do with this program is to play around with it, though be warned: there are a few options that will edit all of your songs automatically, such as correcting the capitalisation of the song titles.

To get started on the Song List, click on the ‘Extras’ tab and then the far left option, ‘Create Report.’

You should then select all of the fields that you want included in your Song List: ‘Artist’ and ‘Title’ are a given and pretty much the only ones you’ll need, but it’s up to you if you want to include something extra, such as ‘Edition’ (to help identify songs that have been taken from SingStar) or ‘Video file exists?’ (if having a background video might be important to you or other players). Do remember, though, that this list will most likely be printed off on a portrait orientation, and it therefore might not be viable to have too many fields.

Once you’re happy with the selection of fields, there are two options to click on. For those that want to get the job done quickly, click on ‘HTML Report.’ For those that are more perfectionist, and have Microsoft Access installed on their PC, go with ‘Text Report.’

For those that went with HTML Report, choose a place you want to save it, and the file will open, listing all of your songs. There you go. Just need to print that off now. The main disadvantage here, though, is that there’s no ‘fine tuning’ what’s been produced – you can’t add or remove songs from that list manually, nor can you apply the tricks that you will see with the other option below. But, as I say, it’s cheap and cheerful, and it serves its purpose.

The other option, then, is to click on ‘Text Report’ instead. Choose a place to save it, then click ‘save.’ In its current form, it may seem pretty useless, but rest assured that file contains everything it needs for the likes of Excel and Access to understand it. Some of you may be familiar with fixed width .txt files; in which case, you can skip some of the next few steps.

First of all, close UltraStar Manager and open Microsoft Access. My screen shots are from Office 2010, though hopefully they will help with an older version even if the two methods vary slightly.

Once you’ve opened Microsoft Access, create a new database and then click on the tab ‘External Data.’ After this, click on the ‘Text file’ option as demonstrated below:

In the pop up box, specify the text file that you want to import (the one that you saved using UltraStar Manager), leave the first option selected, and then click ‘next.’

On the next screen, leave ‘fixed width’ selected, and then click ‘next’ again.

The next part is a little bit fiddly, but it’s not too hard to get your head around. Access is now giving you the option of selecting where each column stops and starts (you can simply click where you want the columns to separate). There’s a lot of stuff there that you don’t need, though – the best thing is to isolate those bits into separate columns and make sure that ‘Artist’ and ‘Title’ only have the relevant text in them. This can be achieved by clicking just before the text for ‘Artist’ starts, and right before the ‘|’ part starts, as demonstrated below. Do the same for ‘title’, and remember to scroll right the way along to the side to cut off the ‘|’ part on the far right, as demonstrated in the second image.

You also have some dud rows here, but that can be sorted out at a later point. When you’re happy that you’ve successfully separated the columns (though if you do it wrong, you can go back and try again), click ‘next.’

The next screen gives you the option of naming the columns. As only two of these interest us, make sure that Field2 is named ‘Artist’ and Field4 is named ‘Title.’ This can be achieved by physically clicking on the respective columns and labelling them in the ‘Field Name’ box.

On the next screen, select ‘No primary key’ and then click ‘next.’

Change the name of your report if you wish, and then click ‘Finish’ followed by ‘Close.’

As you will see when you go to open the newly created table (found on the left hand side of the screen), the format is a little bit of a mess, but it’s starting to look more like a proper list:

The next step is to open the table’s design view, by right clicking on the table as below:

You then just need to click on the irrelevant fields (i.e. those not titled) by right clicking on the appropriate rows and selecting ‘delete.’ You should just be left with the following:

Double click on the table on the left hand side to view the table normally (save changes when prompted), and it should look something like this:

Much better now! Just need to sort out those bothersome rows at the top. Easily done – simply select them both, right click, and select ‘Delete Record.’

We’re done with Microsoft Access now. You just need to select all the records in the table by clicking on the square in the top left hand side (to the left of the ‘Artist’ tile), and then right click on any record and select ‘copy.’ You should then open Microsoft Excel and paste the records into the new spreadsheet. Rearrange the columns in a manner that fits across a sheet of A4 paper with a portrait orientation.

As it’s your songbook, there are several different ways in which you might want to order your song list. I’ve noticed when I’ve been to karaoke nights that song books are traditionally printed arranged by the title of the song, rather than the artist. To arrange this, select column B, go to the ‘data’ tab, and click on the A-Z icon. Make sure you select ‘expand the selection’ on the next screen.

For the rest of this example, however, I will be showing screenshots sorted ascending by artist (the default setting), as that’s my preferred way of doing it. When sorting it this way, however, there is a little trick for counteracting the “The” problem, i.e. band names that start with the word “The,” such as The Beatles or The Cardigans. I for one am used to my iPod automatically disregarding this word, making finding the artist I want much simpler. We can have it this way, too – it requires sticking a formula in column C. Select cell C2 and paste the following mumbo-jumbo into it:

=IF(LEFT(A2,3)=”The”,MID(A2,5,20),A2)

Then copy this formula down to the bottom (hovering over the bottom right hand side of the icon until a little ‘+’ appears, and then double clicking, is the fastest way to do this).

This will return the same value as that in column A, except if the first word is “The,” in which case, it will simply return the remainder of the Artist name, e.g. “Beatles” or “Cardigans.” We can then order the list by column C in a similar way as described above. Once you’ve done this, you can delete the details in this column as they’re no longer required.

The next step is to make sure that the column headings are reprinted on each page for easy viewing. To do this, click on the page layout tab, and then click ‘Print Titles.’

In the ‘rows to repeat at top’ box, enter $1:$1, or select row 1 manually.

The next step is optional, depending on whether you would like to have file dividers in your song book or not, as in the picture below:

You will need to set realistic page breaks wherever you want the text to separate, e.g. between A and B, C and D, S and T-Z, etc. This can be achieved by clicking on the ‘View’ tab, and then selecting ‘Page break preview.’ You then just need to drag the markers until it separates the rows appropriately.

You may now want to double check through the print preview that everything fits nicely across a portrait page of A4.

I think that’s just about everything – make sure you get permission from whoever pays the printer ink bills before printing this beast off!

Here’s one I made earlier:

UltraStar: An Alternative Guide

Posted in UltraStar on July 19, 2011 by kokairu

I uncovered this website the other day via USDB and thought that some readers may find it a useful alternative to my guide – Chriso has written an entire PDF, and has covered things I haven’t managed to get around to yet. It also seems to be phrased very nicely:

http://test.chrisonline.biz/?page_id=910

The Simpsons on Reflection Part V: Seasons 3-5

Posted in The Simpsons on April 5, 2011 by kokairu

Apologies for the lack of updates lately! It’s been a fair while!

So, the entry that is long overdue on this blog is the next update on my Simpsons marathon. This is still going ahead and I am still very much enjoying it – I just have very little to review about the latest seasons in the run (3, 4, & 5) other than just how brilliant they are. Moreover, series 3 has been shown a lot over the past year or so on Channel 4, and series 4 makes it into my regular rotation anyway, so I have already observed the jokes from a more adult perspective.

For many people, Season 3 is where “The Simpsons” really begins. I disagree – I think Season 1 is more than worth a watch (even if it’s not truly established itself yet), and the show is more than recognisable somewhere in the middle of Season 2. Still, it contains no bad episodes (Season 2 did have a couple of weaker editions) at all, and as a result, it marks the beginning of the golden age. I really do think Season 4 will always be my favourite, though. The show began to use its supportive cast more, and to great effect, without merely assuming that a simple catch phrase would suffice for humour. Marge vs The Monorail remains a firm favourite of mine, though it only just avoids being outclassed by Last Exit to Springfield. The latter just hits the jokes so hard and fast, you need to pause it to get your breath back. Burns’s mistaking of Homer as a clever and dynamic new head of the union is superb use of dramatic irony, and it doesn’t just end with Homer being found out and making a mockery of himself – a route that most sitcoms would opt for – Burns realises that he was mistaken all too late, with Homer doing his… what would you call it? A “celebratory, vocal floor dance?”

“The Front” is another that stood out to me like never before – maybe, because of the Godawful Oscars episode that I watched only shortly afterwards – but the writers did exercise their talents so well in their comfort zone, i.e. writing about writing cartoons. Some of the best jokes in this one went over my head when I was younger; “… actually, I did my thesis in life experience…” Perfect on so many levels.

Season 5, after several years’ absence from my regular rotation, is a little more unusual. Sadly, this is the first time where I start to worry about the quality of the programme: there are some bland episodes, such as Bart Gets an Elephant, Homer and Apu, and Bart Get Famous (ironically, the most entertaining part of this episode is the Box Factory). With the latter especially, I may be losing marks for context again. Perhaps, at the time, the episode was successfully poking fun at the show’s excessive notoriety, and Krusty’s ridiculous attempts to cash in on Bart’s 5 minutes of fame may have been funnier at the time. But such parodies have been done-to-death in the many years since that episode aired, and I couldn’t look beyond that fact. I also noticed that the jokes just don’t come as thick and fast as this season’s predecessors. There are longer pauses between interactions and obvious time killing segments (Sideshow Bob’s rakes notwithstanding…).

It’s not a massive deal, really – we can give the show a break, I’d never say that it was truly on the decline at this stage – but in light of later episodes, it just couldn’t escape my attention. In a similar vein, Homer’s slightly more inane antics were probably passable at the time (as a 13-year-old I’dve said so, anyway), but it feels necessary to mention that we may already be seeing traces of his Jerkass ways. He’s still the same bumbling, well-intended father, but his antics are less down-to-earth and more obnoxious in parts. His tone is becoming a little louder, and I started to see him as Grimey may have done. The examples are small, mainly revolving around his elevated tone and volume, but the best example I can recollect is his hysterical laughter in Treehouse of Horror IV, in regard to the portrait of dogs playing poker. It pains me to critique the golden age in this way, but my retrospective view of it can’t be undone. On a more positive note, I paid special attention to the animation in Season 5 after reading a very interesting article on Dead Homer Society about its imaginative use in ‘Homer Goes to College.’ Parts of it are very wacky, but in a very good way – it’s deliberate, unlike the very early animation style. The Simpsons is a cartoon, so why not make the most of it? I found it very mesmerising and, in places, a perfect asset to the visual humour.

I’m going to have so much more to say about the later episodes, but how long will I last before I crack?