2007 Notebook

From the late 90s I blogged frequently with various random observations and things I wanted to record. Pre-2003 material seems to have been lost on various early web platforms, and this sort of stuff went over to Twitter eventually, but I’ve gathered together the shorter WordPress blog posts in these annual roundups…

The 2006 Music Anthology

Saturday 6 January 2007

Bugger. I returned from a new year break to a CD in the post from the infuriatingly efficient Peter Swanson with his selection of best tracks of the year, so naturally I had to drop everything (bags, small children, etc) to get my own one put together. I decided to choose my favourite new albums of 2006 and then include a track from each, so that means no standalone singles (and therefore no Touch the Sky by Kanye West). More importantly though, I had to leave off anything Peter had included on his CD, otherwise the list below would have included the albums from The Arctic Monkeys, Seth Lakeman and (possibly) Neil Diamond.
So here goes with my albums of the year!
Although the original cast recording was probably released in 2005, the show only opened in the UK this year, and so Monty Python’s Spamalot sneaks into the list (and would probably be the first soundtrack ever to do so, even if I’d been doing this list for 20 years). I loved the show. Another soundtrack is Love, the music from the Las Vegas show which is a sort of mashup of Beatles stuff. Doesn’t improve on the originals, but it’s terrific to hear alternative mixes of classics from a production team which obviously cares. To my shame, I went to Vegas in October and didn’t think to book to see the show.
Looking at the critics’ roundups of the year, Joanna Newsom’s Ys is well in there. Given the reviews, I just had to buy it and listen to it a lot, but as yet, I can’t see quite what the fuss is all about, although it is good. Plenty of other female vocalists got a look-in as usual though, including Amy Winehouse (and while we’re at it, how did I take so long to pick up on her earlier album? Never mind, gig tickets are booked for February) and Lily Allen, whose Alright Still was a joy (and contained the best lyric of the year in “There was a little old lady, who was walkin down the road, she was struggling with bags from Tesco; there were people from the city havin’ lunch in the park, I believe that it’s called al fresco”).
On the Folk front, the Cambridge Folk Festival was another good one and I’ve sneaked in a couple of tracks from EmmyLou Harris and Nickelback Nickel Creek, which aren’t of course strictly from a 2006 album, other than my own compilation of highlights. Roddy Woomble of Idlewild’s My Secret is my Silence was arguably my favourite album of all this year, and it was a special moment to see him “busking” songs from it at Cambridge.
Nouvelle Vague just about successfully showed their earlier album of “lounge” reinterpretations of eighties new wave classics wasn’t a one-off novelty, with the Band A’Part follow-up. You have to hear it to believe it. Morrissey’s May gig was an interesting experience, and naturally I’ve included Ringleader of the Tormentors in my 2006 selection. Other stalwarts from even earlier decades making the grade include Neil Young (Living with War) and David Gilmour with On an Island. Check out Dave performing Arnold Layne with David Bowie as a tribute to Syd Barrett.
Bands more from the noughties whose albums impressed this year were Keane, The Feeling, The Killers, Fratellis and Muse. Most of these were pretty widely approved critically, so I can’t claim to have discovered an obscurity in that lot! But hey, some years you go waaaay left-field, and others you find your taste firmly in the mainstream. This was probably one of those years. Now I’m off to listen carefully to Mr Swanson’s more intriguing choices.

The Appliances of, er, Sciences

Sunday 21 January 2007

appliances.jpgView from the utility room door
Allan the kitchen fitter (another top man!) has had a pretty good week. OK, it’s mainly been spent opening boxes and discarding packaging, then discovering the wrong kitchen units have been sent, but in between he’s got the bulk of the carcasses in, and subsequently most of the appliances. So we now have a working dishwasher, sink, fridge and main oven. Apparently the hobs will work too, although with no worktop , we haven’t had the nerve to try them, balanced on pieces of wood. The combi oven hasn’t arrived yet, but apparently it needs a degree in computer programming, so we might need the extra time. Tony has been a real trooper getting all the electrics in, and only has a few lights to finish, and to help me with the sound system (those remaining holes in the ceiling!).
By the way, I started a Bryant Victoria House owners discussion board this week.

Habitat web site: the worst retail site ever?

Thursday 25 January 2007

It’s at <http://www.habitat.net>www.habitat.net and it’s the most frustrating pile of poo I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to use, ever. First you’re presented with this screen of small print, asking you to install “Flash” (which I’ve already got, thanks):
After reading the small print, you have to guess that the next thing to do is to click “United Kingdom” at the bottom, which takes you on to a page where things scroll up, down and around, and irritating jingly noises play. From there things improve: you can at least search for things sensibly, but try going “back” in your browser to the last product you were looking at, and you’re dumped back to the page above instead. Nice. Some of the stuff doesn’t even work: I clicked on “Art on Demand” and got this useful screen:
In the spirit of constructive criticism, I thought I’d use the feedback form to let them know (as if they didn’t already) that their site was the worst site ever. That’s the Worst. Site. Ever. Brilliantly, I had to fill in my full name, address and other contact details just to send them a comment. And when I’d done that, I just got another blank comment screen. Had my comment been sent? There was no way they were going to let me know, that’s for sure.
I know a short cut to find stuff! Like most people, if I want to find “widgets” at “XYZ shop”, I just go to Google and type in “widgets XYZ shop”. Doesn’t everyone? Guess what? It doesn’t work for Habitat’s site. Try searching for “Habitat kitchens” at Google and see what you get.
I bet they paid a fortune for all that nonsense too.
Addendum: I’m not alone. This critique puts it more eloquently than I did. “Now, how can a (plainly very expensive) website end up in such a state? How can a team of plainly very skilled designers and engineers produce something so deliberately bad? The answer is simple – they don’t care.”

How to make a web site for your small business

Monday 29 January 2007

Before You Launch that Local Small Business Website is the best concise guide to the stuff you need to consider before creating a web site for your small business. I mention it here because it deserves wider exposure than just being in my bookmarks.

One of those seminal father-son things I guess

Friday 9 February 2007

Yes, it snowed. I’m sure it used to snow every year when I was little. Or maybe I just imagined it. Anyway, it doesn’t snow every year now. So when it does, sod the work, it’s wellies on, and out the front for some real father-son bonding. Neighbour David lent us a magnificent German snow-shovel, and we cleared the cul-de-sac of snow making the most solid, overengineered snowman since snowmen were first overengineered. Our target: for our creation to be bigger than Alex. Mission accomplished! Yep, it took three hours, and Alex was so cold by the end of it he couldn’t feel his hands, but of course it was worth it. Even if he’d started to droop by teatime and his head fell off overnight. The snowman that is, not Alex.

Blimey. A Letter Bomber.

Monday 19 February 2007

Hey, it’s not as if Cherry Hinton isn’t in the news all the time. Already in 2007 we’ve popped up loads of times on Google News:
Police act on residents’ crime concerns (16 Feb 2007)
Liability claims trip up council’s budget (12 Feb 2007)
and the fantastic OAP, 84 found ill on street (5 Feb 2007)
…and these are just from this month. OK, I’ll admit the headline count did increase a bit once Google News had decided the Cambridge Evening News was a reliable news source (shurely shome mishtake? – Ed). But today it’s all gone off!
Yes, we have a national news story on our hands. Blimey. They arrested one of our esteemed local residents on suspicion of him having sent letter bombs round the country in Jiffy bags. I spent all morning hanging around the High Street hoping to be voxpopped by Sky News or someone, but not a reporter in sight. Why not? What’s wrong with us? We had the Trojan Wars here, you know. Anyway, a hundred and sixty something links from Google News for “Cherry Hinton” this morning means we’re on the map now. So there. I wonder what the Cambridge Evening News will make of it? Letter Bombers? Where’s It All Going To End? That’s What We Want To Know!

The Beard will be no more.

Wednesday 14 March 2007

This is Laurence Marchini. I’ve known him for many years. He’s always had a beard. In fact, I suspect his Mum would confirm he was born with it. And on Saturday it’s coming off, for charidee. I am completely gobsmacked. Anyway, in case there’s any danger of him wimping out, you can encourage him to do it here. Now we just have to get Andy Pye to follow suit.
Postscript: You can see the edited Laurence on the Electronicstalk home page.

It’s not in Google yet.

Thursday 15 March 2007

Interesting example today of the way people use the web. Last week I set up a web site for my mother-in-law’s shop. It’s just a page, it’s quite accessible, although – naturally – it’s not in Google yet. However, my mother-in-law has been insistent she can’t see it, although she says her sister can! She asked a couple of customers to have a look (and she swears she gave them the right URL) and they said they couldn’t get it either.
Any clues as to why this might have been? It’s been long enough for the URL to disseminate around the web.
Here’s the answer, which I’ve only just discovered. Four people, with different backgrounds, and on different machines …and three of them were just typing the URL into Google, just as they presumably always do with directly-typed URLs.
I’ll add that to my “fascinating ways in which normal people use the internet” file, which already contains the time when I watched my fairly web-savvy teenage niece type a few letters of a search term into the Google toolbar search box, wait for the drop-down box of suggested search terms to appear, and when her full search term didn’t appear in that drop down, announce “it’s not on Google”.
PS: Oddly, it’s appeared in Google this morning!

What happens in Vegas

Monday 2 April 2007

Just got back from a great week’s holiday in Las Vegas. There’ll be separate posts on some of the people and places, but for now, here are the three things we heard or saw which made us chuckle the most: 1. “Are you 55 years old or better?” 2. “We apologise for showing you footage of someone smoking, but this is a live news feed from Iran” 3. “Italian food so authentic you’d swear you were in New York”
Also, this was fantastic: “After the break, the answer to the question everyone is asking – just who is the mystery guy spotted on the shoulder of Lindsey Lohan?”robbie_and_mystery_blonde.jpg (Cries from all Brits watching: “It’s Robbie Williams, you dipstick, and who the **** is Lindsey Lohan anyway?”)

Spamalot in Las Vegas – review

Monday 2 April 2007

Spamalot Wynn Las Vegas
So after seeing Spamalot in London during the preview week last autumn (unintentionally: I just booked tickets online, not realising it wouldn’t even have “opened” when we went), guess what happened this month? We went on holiday to Las Vegas only to discover it was preview week for the latest “permanent” venue for the show – the “Grail Theater” (sic) at the Wynn hotel. Of course we pitched straight in for tickets, if only so I could say (and how nerdish is this?) I must have been one of the first people in the world to have seen the London and Las Vegas productions.
The main difference is that the production seems to have been shortened a little, to a straight 90-minute run-through with no intermission. There aren’t too many any obvious “edits” – I’ve just been going through the Broadway cast recording and I can’t remember hearing “All for One” or “Run Away”, but I may be wrong. In addition, there were two scenes which I also think were cut. Firstly, they just seem to give up on the shrubbery idea (I’m sure they found one in the London performance) and decide to put on a musical to appease the Knights of Ni. Secondly, there was no slapstick scene with the guards looking after Herbert (“stay here and don’t let him leave”) – Lancelot just piles in and kills them. Also, the gag at the beginning going round the map of Britain pointing out where there’s plague (i.e everywhere) was omitted.
The theatre is really nice, with some impressive Python displays in the foyer – you certainly get the impression they plan to be there for the duration. The performance is entirely in an English accent (well, apart from the taunting French, of course) and is very well done in that respect, with the exception of Herbert’s Dad’s Yorkshire which was a little, er, undefinable in origin. The cast are perhaps more uniformly competent than the London one we saw, which allowed lesser characters like Patsy to shine. But there was no stand-out like Hannah Waddingham‘s Lady of the Lake in London. Mind you, the “little and large” combination of Tim Curry and Hannah Waddingham was sadly missed in terms of staging impact.
Did I laugh, despite it being the second time I’d seen Spamalot? You bet. Did Mrs R enjoy it, not having seen it before, and not particularly liking Monty Python? Yes, she did. A really good night out, and a production which looks very much at home in Vegas.

Liza Minelli in Vegas: oh the glamour, darlings

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Short of an Elvis comeback, what could be more Vegas than seeing Liza Minelli? To be honest, we assumed the tickets would all have been sold, but wandering down to Tickets2Nite on the strip at 10.30am – when it opened – we were amazed to find they not only had a few tickets for that night, but they were half price too! The AmEx was out in a flash. And what a great show (at the soon-to-be converted Luxor theater). Sure, she’s a, er, veteran, and it was easy to feel slightly concerned for her during her occasionally alarmingly breathless anecdotes between songs. She turned the stage over to support acts on a couple of occasions to give her a break. But what a singer! One of the campest audiences I’ve ever been in simply adored the glamour of it all (of course Siegfried and Roy were there, and were introduced to the audience). We adored it too.

All you need is Love

Thursday 5 April 2007

A lot of people, including me, got very excited about the Beatles’ Love CD when it came out. Wow: a remixed, remastered Stars-on-45 Fab Four Mash-Up overseen by Sir George – how exciting was that prospect? Sadly, the product didn’t live up to the expectation. But when you see the show, you realise why. Because then you see the Love CD for what it is – simply a soundtrack to a show. And in that context, it fits the bill perfectly. A Cirque du Soleil performance needs a swirling, fast-changing, continuous soundtrack, and that’s exactly what Giles Martin has created, using The Beatles’ music. Listened to in your living room, it’s the equivalent of listening to 90 minutes of Motty on Match of the Day with the picture off.
So what of the show? It’s an extraordinary spectacle, made even better by being performed in a state-of-the-art, purpose-built theatre with speakers in your headrests and so much moving scenery you get the impression that the whole building’s going to transform itself into something alien any second. For much of the show, you simply don’t know where to look. If you rate this sort of thing simply on the number of times you say “wow!”, it gets five stars without any question. It surpassed our already high expectations with ease, and would make a trip to Vegas worthwhile on its own. Fantastic.

Business Class, direct from London Stansted to Las Vegas: it does exist!

Monday 9 April 2007

I’ve got to the point where I could cry every time I hear friends say they’ve just paid five hundred quid or (much) more each for the privilege of hiking all the way out to Heathrow airport and flying cattle class to the States. There’s an airline called Maxjet which flies non-stop (yes!), from Stansted (yes!), as business class only (yes!) at fares closer to economy levels (yes!). Their publicity, however, is so terrible that I’ve only ever come across one other person who’d even heard of them.
Maxjet flies from Stansted to New York, Washington and Las Vegas. The Las Vegas flights are non-stop too! Most other airlines going to Vegas force you to change somewhere rotten, making a long 11-hour flight into an unspeakably long one. Now, Dawn and I just flew to Vegas with Maxjet for about five hundred quid each. Admittedly, it was a special offer, but they have lots of those. I just looked up some alternatives which we could have taken, and admittedly we could have shaved a bit off that. But this is what we’d have got: 1. A trip to Heathrow (no thanks!) 2. Economy class 3. Less than ideal departure and arrival times 4. Longer flights, involving a change at Chicago, Houston, Washington or wherever
With Maxjet, we just had to pop down to Stansted (so much more civilised). We got ushered through security, into a lovely first-class lounge. The flight departed at 1pm (even more civilised), went straight to Vegas and oh – did I mention? – was business class throughout. So the seats folded flat for sleeping, the service was exemplary, and – you get the drift. To me, that lot was worth a small fortune. And indeed, other airlines do charge a small fortune for business class. I’ve flown with Maxjet four times now, and have never been on a full flight. Astonishing.
So has Maxjet got a non-existent publicity budget or is it just spending it very badly? I’ve no idea. Everyone we bore with this information (usually various friends who, like us, probably only visit the States every few years) says “I wish we’d known…” Maybe it’s all very web 2.0 – keep it a absolute secret and hope people like me start to spread the word virally and cheaply. I suspect not though. They could just stick a leaflet through every door in the Cambridge area and fill up most of their flights, so much do people round here prefer Stansted.

The Ipswich Town website: cost effectively maximising income and reach, of course

Friday 20 April 2007

Fans on our mailing list were discussing the awfulness of our own (and most other football clubs’) websites. But “Premium TV provides proprietary ‘end to end’ solutions that enable content owners to cost effectively maximise income and reach through the creation and distribution of multi-platform digital products”, it says here. And who can argue with that? (By the way, net nerds will love to visit the PremiumTV site or their new www.chelseafc.com site to see a real blast from the past – a Netscape favicon).
I suspect it’s not so much how much Ipswich Town receives, but more likely how much the club saves by not having to pay for it. An online presence is still seen by most businesses as a necessary evil rather than the fantastic opportunity it is, and I bet the club handed the web site over to PremiumTV more to save the money they were paying to local website company AWS than to receive the PremiumTV income. The same happened almost everywhere, as you can see with the drop-down at http://www.premiumtv.co.uk/page/Clients
Unfortunately almost every professional football club feels it’s above utilising the astonishing skill set in its own fan base, and there’s obviously nobody at our club (or most others) who knows enough about the internet to set up an internal web site management operation, so the job will always go outside. And with finances as they are, it’ll go to the lowest (and probably least interested) bidder, which is exactly what’s happened.
With an ex-advertising guy as our CEO, I’d always hoped we’d see the potential of online publicity (and how to exploit it) better than other clubs, but I was wrong. So people go to www.twtd.co.uk rather than the club site for the news and the chat, and to www.prideofanglia.com for the history, stats and trivia. And we all know where the best video is.
The ITFC site in years gone by: (yes, the internet archive is very slow!)
1997 – still run by fans… …as the history explains
2001 – …still run by the club
2001/2002 – we’re too big for that now… …so we’ll get it done by a Proper Company
2003 – oh sod it, let’s just look like everyone else (yawn)

Motorola Surfboard SB3100 cable modem not up to 10Mb speed

Tuesday 24 April 2007

With heavy heart, I’m about to say goodbye to my first, and extremely long-serving, cable modem. I can’t find a birth date for it, but I must have had it the best part of ten years, during which time Cambridge Cable/ntl/Virgin Media have increased speeds from “not that much faster than your old dialup modem, but hey, it’s always on!” to an impressive 10Mb. The trouble is, I’ve never got 10Mb, and I’ve been convinced that it’s the trusty old Surfboard which is not up to the task. Rare comments on newsgroups tend to agree, but ntl’s tech support didn’t, despite numerous phone calls. They reckoned this… …was about the best anyone could expect from a 10Mb connection – although I could tell they didn’t really know what they were talking about, and just wanted to get rid of me. However, in one of those curious moments when all the celestial bodies come into alignment, this weekend I simultaneously had problems with the TV (billing) as well as telephone (non-working voicemail), so when I chucked in the broadband speed issue, I’d scored a hat-trick and Virgin Media’s customer service upgraded me to a senior person who seemed god-like in his ability to Get Things Done. Not only that, but he could hold an intelligent, sympathetic and unscripted conversation. He’d even heard of a Motorola Surfboard SB3100 cable modem! However, he claimed to have one at home and said that it was OK for 10Mb, and indeed it would even be OK for the forthcoming 20Mb which he was on the trial for. Nevertheless (and this is the impressive bit), he still went away to consult someone or something, and came back with the news that I was right, the SB3100 wasn’t up to 10Mb speed – he guessed that his one must have been a later series. He added that in ten years, he couldn’t remember anyone ever having asked for a cable modem upgrade before, so apologised for the way my request had been dealt with. Amazing. Give this man a rise. So a few days later, I have a new, tiny, Virgin Media-branded cable modem, and here’s what I’m getting. Not bad huh?

Ipswich Town FC: the unofficial season review

Tuesday 8 May 2007

Quite a confusing season, really. A transformation of the management and first team, but disappointingly few signs of progress. I think everyone has a better feeling about the current setup than a year ago, but the facts are that at 14th, we finished just one place higher than last year, with six more points, a performance which had rightly led to Royle’s exit. And even the obvious excuse that it takes a while for a big change to take effect doesn’t really hold water if you consider we were higher (11th) after the first third of this season, and the same position as we ended up (14th) after two-thirds. So there was little progress over the season in terms of the table. But equally, the optimist in me says that W7 D2 L3 in the last 12 games is an 88-points-a-season rate, which would have put us up there with Sunderland.
So how has Jim’s first season been characterised? I think he knew what he didn’t want as much as what he did want, and cleared the space accordingly, which is why we had so many loanees (such as Noble, Walton and Macken) filling in key positions for long periods. But the only other player who actually put in an appearance this season and is now off the books is Nicky Forster. There were presumably therefore quite a few squad players who weren’t considered good enough, but not released either, so I think we can expect a number of departures this summer.
What other differences do the stats show over the Royle era? We had a much better goal difference than last season (+5 compared to -13) but that was largely due to the pathetic 28 goals scored at home returning to a more respectable 40. If the Royle years were characterised by a dreadful defence, then this season’s 59 goals conceded is a little better than last season’s 66 but worse than the previous season’s 56. So not much progress there.
Then there’s the disciplinary record, which was appalling. Six red cards and 94 yellows meant that only West Brom’s astonishing nine reds kept us from an unwanted table-topping. Yet we weren’t a dirty side at all, so perhaps the conclusion (once you’ve discounted unlikely refereeing conspiracies) is that we were an indisciplined, stupid side. And that rather goes against the perception that Magilton has focused on bringing in, and promoting, more intelligent players. If, for example, you have any criticism of Alex Bruce as a centre half, it might be that he’s not hard enough. Yet twelve yellows and two reds don’t back that up on paper. Once again, it’s all a bit confusing.
So let’s look at the players. We started with two decent young keepers, Supple perhaps having the edge, but Jim eventually settled on Price as number one, and he had a pretty decent season. Neither are probably as good as Richard Wright was at that stage, but they’re good enough, and talking of Wrighty, it may well be that after all the opportunity Price has been given, we’re going to have to let him go now anyway. But it would most likely have been the same if Supple had been the first choice – in fact, they might both have wanted to leave if Jim now brings in a more experienced keeper.
The defence has, of course, had a major overhaul. We finished the Royle era with a changing lineup at the back, but the most common selection being Wilnis, Naylor, De Vos and Barron. Now it’s most likely Wright, Bruce, De Vos and Harding. That seems a big improvement to me, although we still seem to give away far too many silly goals. Both full-backs have failings, but they’re the most promising pair we’ve had for years (although the competition isn’t exactly great at this club).
The midfield is just as much Jim’s, as you might expect. No complaints in any respect about Legwinski, who he brought in, or Garvan and Williams, who he’s brought on. Jim has been extremely loyal to the two wingers, who have had every opportunity to prove themselves, but I’m not sure either have made the grade: Peters is a hard-working crowd-pleaser who’s progressed really encouragingly, but just can’t deliver; and Roberts started well, but really has seemed out of his depth in the second half of the season.
Up front, Jim has never got it right. Lee has been even more infuriatingly inconsistent as last season; the experiment of playing him with a similar player (Macken) was a disaster, but he’s failed to gel with Clarke, Haynes, Jeffers or Walters. There must be a message there. On the other hand, he was our top scorer by miles. Walters looks as promising as anyone Jim has brought in, and Jeffers is classy (then again, so was Marcus Bent).
Out of interest, I reported on just about half of the league games this season, and my average ratings for the first half of the season (for players who I rated 5 or more times) were: Roberts: 7.0 Williams: 6.8 Legwinski: 6.7 Harding: 6.3 Noble: 6.1 De Vos: 6.1 Lee: 6.0 Walton: 5.8 Price: 5.7 Richards: 5.6 Bruce: 5.5 Naylor: 5.1 Macken: 5.0 Wilnis: 4.6
In the second half of the season, things changed considerably! Fab had an Indian Summer, but I obviously got very frustrated with Lee and Roberts: Legwinski: 6.8 Walters: 6.8 Wilnis: 6.8 Garvan: 6.8 Peters: 6.7 De Vos: 6.3 Bruce: 6.0 Wright: 5.8 Harding: 5.7 Price: 5.6 Roberts: 5.4 Lee: 5.3
Overall, though, my players of the season on ratings alone were Legwinski: 6.7 Williams: 6.7 Garvan: 6.6
Where do we go from here? Can we hang on to Garvan? Even Magilton? Could we cope without them? Where should Jim spend the money he’s got? What about if we got a big windfall from Darren Bent moving on, or a new investor? What do we expect from the team next year?

Children’s faces and dogs’ faeces

Monday 14 May 2007

Sometimes you read a blog post or newspaper column and it chimes so precisely with your own thoughts that you do a double-take. Did I write that under a pseudonym and then forget about the whole affair in a bout of curiously selective amnesia? Anyway, that’s how I felt when I read this item by Martin Newland about dogs. He eventually spoils the item by grouping pet-lovers with those who want to save endangered species, but otherwise, it’s spot on. I bet by now the piece has got dozens of online comments saying things like “I love my dogs, because they would never write anything as nasty as this about humans”.

Smarter smart playlists

Wednesday 16 May 2007

OK, I think I’ve got my best ever smart playlist worked out for general day-to-day listening. What I want is to hear stuff I haven’t listened to for a long time, or stuff I’ve recently added, but not podcasts or really long tracks. So I’ve set up two smart playlists: “Unplayed for ages” features anything under 15 minutes long which hasn’t been played for six months; and “New” features anything (except podcasts) added in the last month and listened to 5 times or less. Then I’ve set up a third smart playlist – the one I listen to – which selects songs either in “Unplayed for ages” or “New”. So I get a varied choice of 2100 songs out of 7700 in my library, and rarely find myself wanting to “skip” a track because I’m thinking “oh not this again”.

Loopallu here I come

Thursday 7 June 2007

Woo! The lovely Jackie, my favourite Highland Girlie, has got us tickets for Loopallu 2007
Saw Doctors! Yay!
Loopallu. See what they did there? Good grief, it sure is a long way north though.

When something’s just not important enough…

Friday 8 June 2007

So… what are the thought processes you go through – perhaps subconsciously – in making a decision to do something? It was something I was thinking about today when I realised I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for the new gym routine I’d been given than I had for the one I’d been doing for the last few months. So much so that I was sure I’d end up simply not going down any more.
I reckon the decision has four parts to the equation: the importance of the outcome of something; the enjoyment gained from it; the effort involved; and the expense. If the need plus enjoyment is greater than the effort plus expense, you do it. Now, in the comparison between my old and new gym routines, the effort and expense remained the same. The importance had probably risen slightly (my old gym routine needed improving to be effective); but the enjoyment had dropped considerably (it was far too complicated, and difficult to do whilst listening to podcasts). It’s fair to say that the enjoyment was already negative, as I can’t say I’d choose the gym over, say, the pub – but it had become far more negative. And that had tipped the equation such that the importance of going to the gym and doing the routine was outweighed by the cost, effort and lack of enjoyment.
There’s probably a science to all this. Perhaps you can even measure these things in SI units. But I came up with it myself, regardless.

And another thing that annoys me…

Saturday 9 June 2007

This could become quite a long series as I get to be a progressively grumpier old man, but Another Thing That Annoys Me is the tendency of newspaper columnists and other London-based media dahlings to prefix every main London road with “the”. As in “the Finchley Road”, “the Edgware Road”, “the Holloway Road”, etc.
Hey, it instantly makes you sound like one of the natives, dunnit?
Well, no, actually, it makes you sound like a twat. I guess someone in Victorian London who used those roads regularly to get to Finchley, Edgware, Holloway, etc. might have referred to them like that, but as in “the road which leads to Finchley”. And in that sense they’d probably also refer to “the Stratford road” etc., and I don’t think there’s a road called that in East London.
And what’s “The King’s Road” all about then? Tossers.

Hands-on Review: Panasonic SD-255 breadmaker – Beat the supermarkets’ cash extraction strategies

Monday 11 June 2007

So how can owning a breadmaker actually save you significant amounts of, er, bread? Easy. Quoting from my own Panasonic SD-255 breadmaker review (highly recommended, by the way):
Several times a month, a certain member of our household will look at the empty bread bin in the morning and declare: “we’re out of bread – I’ll pop into the supermarket on the way home tonight”. By that evening, the bread bin does indeed have fresh content – but alongside are two or three carrier bags full of the stuff which supermarkets are so clever at getting you to buy when you pop in for something totally unrelated. Hang on: you went to buy a loaf of bread and spent twenty quid while you were there? Seems ridiculous, but we all know how it happens.
The moral of the story? Get a breadmaker, and cut down on those trips to the supermarket with their subsequent opportunities for temptation. Read the review

Effective banner ad design

Wednesday 13 June 2007

I just posted this to a private newsgroup in answer to a question, but it’s worth repeating more widely. Here are six ways to make your online banner advertising better value for money!
[1] Context is everything; the closer you can match the ad content to that of the page it’s on, the better.
[2] Never overestimate the reader. A significant percentage will not realise that if you click on the banner, it’ll take them somewhere interesting. The days of “click here…” are most certainly *not* over.
[3] There is such a thing as “banner blindness“, despite what the online ad salesmen tell you – people tend instinctively to look away from them; however, this does not mean banner advertising doesn’t work, as the print salesmen (at the other extreme) will claim. Instead, you have to realise that if the advert is graphical, you’ve got to get your message in very quickly. Not a problem if your message has a branding element, as you can get your company name and product in instantly from the start.
[4] Do not underestimate simple ads. Those Google AdWords ads can (and do) get five times the click-through rate of most all-singing, all-dancing Flash creations. If there’s no real branding element to your campaign, and you want to generate traffic to your site, why not create your own text-only ads?
[5] Unless your banners are purely corporate branding, ensure they click through to a page on your site relevant to the message. If it’s at all possible, have them click through to a special landing page you’ve made up; indeed, every ad should be created to work with a partner landing page. If the advert asks the question, the clickthrough page *must* give the answer, instantly.
[6] Experiment, experiment, experiment. When booking a campaign, why not book two different types of ads (e.g graphical vs text) to run at random for a while, so you can see what works best for that site’s audience? If each has their own landing page, you can easily measure clickthroughs (and subsequent conversions) yourself.


Friday 15 June 2007

Do not edit this page

Educate the voters back to the polling booths

Wednesday 20 June 2007

Gordon Brown is reported to be looking for Big Ideas as he becomes PM. Here’s one he can have for free. It’s long amazed me that although I’m not involved in politics, I seem to know far more about it than almost anyone I come into regular contact with.
That’s not a reflection on what I know, it’s a reflection on what most people don’t know. I live in an educated, affluent area, yet when I voted in the last council election, late in the day, it looked to me on the list like I was only about the second or third person from my road to vote. Why couldn’t all my eloquent, intelligent neighbours be bothered?
The reason? Ignorance. In recent weeks, I’ve dropped a few enquiries into conversation with my neighbours to see what these people know about local politics. Remember, these are smart folks. Some reckoned Cambridge still has a Labour MP; a few could even name her, but most at least knew that he was a she. Unfortunately, they’d missed the fact that Cambridge had thrown out Anne Campbell and returned a Lib Dem at the last election.
Even more unfortunately, none of them knew that we’re not in the Cambridge constituency at all, and that we haven’t had a Labour or Lib Dem MP in our lifetimes.
If nobody knows who they’re voting for or against, what incentive is there to vote? At least most people thought they had an idea about what party our MP was from. I doubt anyone (except the neighbour who canvasses for one of the parties) knows what parties our ward returns in the council elections, or what the makeup of the council is.
But there’s no need for this. Why can’t national and local government do one simple thing before every election? And that is to deliver to every voter a simple card – it could be part of the notice of election paper – which tells them something about the type of election, who is standing, and what the results were last time. Quite straightforward stuff (I’d like to see a one-paragraph manifesto from each candidate too, but let’s not ask for miracles). After reading that, I confidently predict the number of people who’ll go and exercise their right to vote will rise dramatically.

Imagine a film of your life soundtracked by an iPod

Wednesday 27 June 2007

It’s one of those games which you have to have a go at, once someone’s mentioned it. Imagine a film of your life, with various scenes. Stick your iPod on shuffle (for your whole record collection, no cheating), and you get a track for each scene. I’ve seen one or two where the music is so astonishingly appropriate you begin to smell something fishy. Anyway, no such luck with mine. Here it is:
Opening Credits:Sleepless & Tooting – Rachel Goswell (OK, good start, I can just about imagine the credits rolling to this: “Home-Made Films presents… A Chequebook Production… Directed by Terry Gilliam… Chris Rand’s Life Story” although it might have been better in the next slot. But at 3 mins 0 sec the titles wouldn’t overstay their welcome)
Waking Up:Fame – David Bowie (“Is it any wonder you are too cool to fool?” – well, I suppose you could play it over the “gelling your hair in front of the mirror” scene)
First Day At School:Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life – Monty Python (Bizarre. And it’s the Spamalot version too: “This is a total bloody disaster”. Nope, I can’t relate this song to the slot at all, even if Gilliam was in the director’s chair)
Falling In Love:Fool’s Overture – Supertramp (Ah, a ten-and-a-half minute love scene. Starts promisingly with lots of classical piano, but I’m unsure how the angry crowd sound effects and Churchillian speeches fit in. I can see people leaving the cinema in baffled amusement by this time)
Fight Song:America Is Not The World – Morrissey (Well, I’m not sure if there’d be a fight song in my life story, but if there were, hey, why not take on the whole of American culture? “You can shove your hamburger” indeed!)
Breaking Up:5 More Minutes – Mull Historical Society (“5 more minutes instead, to say what I nearly said” – I guess this sort of works. Possibly)
Prom:Love Like Laughter – Beth Orton (“Some of the worst songs get righted on three chords” – not sure it’d be the best night out ever, to be honest)
Life:Hamburg Song – Keane (“I don’t wanna be adored/Don’t wanna be first in line/Or make myself heard/I’d like to bring a little light/To shine a light on your life/To make you feel loved” – OK, I’ll take that)
Mental Breakdown:Irresistible Bliss – Chris Botti (Ah yes, some classic smooth dinner jazz. This film is getting very silly indeed. Only a few scenes to retrieve it from getting “the most inappropriate soundtrack ever” award, methinks)
Driving:Touch Too Much – Hayseed Dixie (And the award goes to… Although I suppose it does have the line “this damn woman’s gonna drive me insane”)
Flashback:No Direction – Simply Red (The award is confirmed, methinks. Not even “In this dreary life, with no direction/What this cause says about my life” can put it off)
Getting Back Together:No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed – Yes (“Why must we wait until the morning light/To wake up and be” – sorry, almost given up the struggle here)
Wedding:With Goth On Our Side – Half Man Half Biscuit (Might not be a CofE ceremony, this one: “Now my left index finger/Is nine inches long/It’s hovering over/A world that’s gone wrong/Ask me to Prestatyn/And that’s what I’ll do/And we’ll all die together/And Dylan can sue”)
Birth of Child:Mate Of The Bloke (Who Set Up the PA) – Half Man Half Biscuit (Wow: “I found myself being sued/By the firm More O’Ferrall/I’d sprayed a grafitto/On to one of their hoardings/It was for Monsters of Rock/And I sprayed: in church hall if wet” – how could this be any more relevant to the birth of a child? All together now: “I’m lost without an inside pocket”. I’ve gone mad, by the way.)
Final Battle:Watermelon Man – Mongo Santamaria (A sort of choreographed final battle on the beach in Rio. Or something)
Death Scene:Pulcherrima Rosa – Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble (Then right at the end, with the cinema emptied, sheer genius. Seven minutes of mournful choral dirge totally in keeping with a death scene. Think the music in the background as everyone shuffles past the Pope’s coffin. Wow)
Funeral Song:Under The Ivy – Kate Bush (Well, at least it’s a long way from being a party anthem: very sedately appropriate. “Go into the garden/Go under the ivy/Go under the leaves with me/Go right to the rose/Go right to the white rose/I’ll be waiting for you”)
End Credits:Desire As – Prefab Sprout (A song so magnificent it’d make everyone sit there and watch the credits, it’s true, if only anyone was left in the cinema. “I’ve got six things on my mind/You’re no longer one of them)
All in all? Didn’t work. Fun though.

Pitching for the lucrative tourist market

Saturday 30 June 2007

picadilly_circus_pic.jpgClick on photo for larger-scale image
This photo in The Times today caught my eye. No, not the people coming out of the tube station at Piccadilly Circus. But what’s showing on the massive animated advertising hoarding in the background. Can anyone explain it? Sadly, the blokes with the mobile tat stalls in the area only seem to have knockoff Man Utd, Chelsea and Brazil shirts, so if this curious piece of publicity inspired anyone to change their allegiance to the Tractor Boys, sadly there was no chance of it translating into an impulse merchandise buy.

Exclusive: the iPhone Shuffle

Monday 2 July 2007

No, only kidding. I don’t believe for one moment that I’m the first person in the world to think of this, and I really can’t be bothered to search Technorati to see how many people got there first, but I want a shuffle feature on my iPhone when I get one, eventually. So it rings random mates just for a laugh. Or perhaps even sends random texts to random mates. That’s what I want.

Best piano for a child…

Tuesday 3 July 2007

Continuing my series of useful articles about everything I buy, here’s a review of our new Yamaha PSR-E303 keyboard. Well, not so much a review (I’m hardly a musician) but more a summary of the research we did before buying it – in other words, what is the best “piano” to buy for your child? Search the web and it’s full of articles from piano salesmen and would-be concert pianists stating quite clearly that you absolutely must buy a real piano for your children, or you’re neglecting them terribly. These people obviously live in a world of unfeasibly large houses and unlimited funds. This one’s for the rest of us.

Spinal Tap at Live Earth: all the links

Monday 9 July 2007

Well, I managed to muck up my Sky+ recording of the Tap at Live Earth because I didn’t notice the Beeb cunningly change the channel they were broadcasting the event on halfway through. But hey, the web comes to the rescue, so here’s an MTV interview with the band before their performance (which is made so much better by the fact that it segues straight into Geri Halliwell and other poptastic stars all being really serious about global warming); then on YouTube (“Hello Wimbledon!”), performances of Stonehenge and new song Hotter than Hell, and separately, Big Bottom …with every bass player at the event joining them on stage. I wondered how they were going to turn it up to eleven this time. Finally a not very good and rather chaotic interview with Edith Bowman. Better Quality Links: at the official site, the songs are shown in better quality, although you get a 30 second advert first: StonehengeWarmer than HellBig Bottom

Woo. Of course the iPhone had to go in the blender.

Wednesday 11 July 2007

Of course, Willitblend? is one of the best examples ever of a corporate blog, and a company using the web to sell its product. And of coursethey’ve “done” the iPhone and probably got a gazillion hits out of it too. And the presenter is a laugh, even if he’s not exactly the great Dr John P Kilcoyne of Brainiac Science Abuse.

Oliver Fisher lights up Loch Lomond for me

Sunday 15 July 2007

Great fun at the Scottish Open for a couple of days, where we decided to follow fellow Essex boy Oliver Fisher, just 18 years old. What a great tournament to do so: Oliver finished a very creditable joint 19th, worth nearly twenty-five grand, his biggest ever payday, and a great result so early in his first full season as a pro on the European Tour. He really looks to have the temperament to make a top class player, putting in some incredibly consistent rounds and showing no signs of visible distraction as he bangs it down the centre of fairway after fairway. Nice to meet his Mum, sister and coach too (his Dad caddies for him). This is one player to look out for over the next few years; remember where you read it first.
Talking of which, if you’re the sort of person who can persuade Ladbroke’s to give you odds on someone winning an event in ten years’ time, you could do a lot worse than ask them about Oscar Sharpe, who I’m told is a proverbial child prodigy. I may be referring back to this post about 2015…

Cambridge Folk Festival – Thursday night

Friday 27 July 2007

The heavens opened in the afternoon, so – unfortunately – whatever happens now, this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival is going to require wellies. Oh well. Arrived just as Seasick Steve was getting under way, to widespread enjoyment; I couldn’t tell a great blues player from a merely good one, but I really enjoyed his set like everyone around me. Good start. Kris Drever followed, but was a little low-key and downbeat for such a short evening’s music – he’s got other appearances to come, which I suspect will show him off better. And finally the showstopping Alabama 3 “Unplugged”, who were one of those acts you get scattered throughout every festival that have that elusive quality of presence. Great fun, and they obviously had a lot of fans there, judging by the well-supported singalongs. A fine start to the weekend!

Cambridge Folk Festival 2007

Monday 30 July 2007

I dunno why, but the morning after, back into normal work routine, it always seems like the festival was a lifetime ago. Yet one glance out of the window shows people still packing up their tents. Hope the park isn’t in an irreparable mess. Last time it rained a lot, the grass took 9 months to get back into its usual immaculate condition. But the weather this time wasn’t nearly as bad as then – it seems we had an incredible escape, with just a few showers. Overall, I think I’d give this year’s event a fairly low mark, maybe 4 or 5 out of 10. The lineup wasn’t as stellar as it has been in the past, but that would have been OK, if they’d got the right people in the right spots. They often didn’t. Having three (good) bands on the warm-up night making their only appearance of the whole festival was just odd. On Friday night, which needs to build up steadily to a great climax, Steve Earle brought the whole thing down with a dour solo set which subsequently needed a miraculous recovery from The Waterboys. Yet I’d have listed to Steve Earle like that for as long as he played, if it had been earlier in the day. The first two days were plagued with sound and instrument problems, which were usually overcome with good humour, although as John McCusker said as the Under One Sky set crashed around him halfway through: “I might appear happy, but inside I’m crying”. There were also periods on Saturday and Sunday when there didn’t seem to be anyone I was too fussed about hearing, something I don’t remember too much in the past. Still, Kate Rusby did the best set I can ever remember from her – we do love her so at Cambridge, don’t we? Under One Sky was a great idea, and immaculately executed at its best; odd though to have people of the calibre of Roddy Woomble at the festival for just two songs. Toumani Diabaté did the best set of African music I can remember at Cambridge, and to break the set for five minutes to explain the workings of the kora might have seemed risky, but worked a treat. Oysterband, Show of Hands, Sharon Shannon and Shooglenifty were all as good as we’d hoped, and Bellowhead brought proceedings to a tremendous close in the small tent. Unexpected “find” of the festival this year was the charming duo of Haugaard and Hoirup, who judged the festival to a tee with their laid-back attitude and humour. More like this next year please! Lots of great stuff on the Radio Two website.

Simpsons Avatar: Web App of the Week

Wednesday 1 August 2007

Thanks to The Simpsons Movie website for the chance to create my own character, Simpsons-stylee. Truly great movie, everything I’d hoped it would be and more. Despite being well over four times the length of a normal 21-minute episode, it didn’t outstay its welcome at all, and indeed, I could easily have watched more. Hard to pick out the highlights, but like many other people, I loved the bit where, hearing about their imminent doom, the church congregation all rushes out to Moe’s Bar next door, whilst the occupants of the bar all empty out and run to the church. Genius.
Then there’s the brief but wonderful bit of animation (which features in one of the trailers) where Smithers, standing behind Mr Burns, tries to mime to Apu that he’s saying the wrong thing by appealing to Mr Burns’ conscience. It’s so simple, but I fell about. Movie of the summer. And my 6-year-old loved it too.
Go on, try the character-making thing. You know you want to.

Mitre Championship Video

Wednesday 8 August 2007

This is great fun, a new promo from Mitre for their championship footballs, featuring loads of Championship players spoofing other footy virals and taking the piss out of themselves. It might as well have been called “Play Me On Constant Rotation On Soccer AM”. Starts off with the mighty Danny Haynes not quite being Ronaldinho! Isn’t it strange how your brain automatically interprets these things with your own bias though? I thought: “That was quite clever of Danny to have done that”, but when it came on to the Norwich segment, I immediately thought “Ha ha, nobody wants Huckerby”, and on the Colyoo part, “Ha ha, they have to practice in the street ‘cos they haven’t got a proper ground”. I really need to get a life.
Ian Holloway, as ever, is great value.

Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics

Thursday 9 August 2007

A project for less pressured times, methinks, but there really is a dearth of well-transcribed HMHB lyrics online. Anyway, I saw this transcription of Breaking News today, and helped finish it off for the author. Lots of references explained at the brilliant HMHB website of course, but I wonder how long it’d take to transcribe the whole canon?

A man likes milk, now he owns a million cows

Monday 20 August 2007

Scary. Last Wednesday night I noticed the Was (Not Was) album Out Come the Freaks on eMusic – an album I adored 20 years ago, and have probably not listened to in 15 years. It considerably lightened up an early-morning train journey to London, where I was meeting long-time business partner Andy, amongst others. I arrived in the office humming the title track, and was in a good mood for the morning. I mentioned the album to someone as I was walking into the meeting, but not to Andy.
Fast forward to this morning, and an email comes in from Andy: “Interesting day yesterday. Met up with some … distant relatives [including] Don Was, the legendary record producer and bassist with Was Not Was…”

Danny Baker’s All-Day Breakfast Show

Monday 20 August 2007

Danny Baker, a long-time hero, looks like he may be the person who makes the breakthrough for podcasting with the first non-niche show I know of that’s independent of a traditional broadcaster but makes enough money to stand on its own feet. He tells the story of how it came about in these interviews here: Part One | Part Two
Fascinating stuff, and Dan remains as amiable as ever. I really enjoy the show, and will be happy to join the ranks of subscribers when they start to charge for it, real soon now. But I do have some issues with it. When the show began, in a series of pilot broadcasts, Danny definitely “got it”, perhaps because of his claimed ignorance of the whole online scene. He realised that nobody was listening as he broadcast, and that every listener would be listening in the future. He even made the concept sound a bit spooky. I think he thought it through, although probably didn’t take that train of thought to its conclusion, which was that some people would always join in from the beginning of the series, and that for any given show, people might be listening to it years, not just hours down the line. I’ve not heard a correspondent on the show yet who’s said: “Has anyone already mentioned this in the 15 shows between where I’ve got up to and today’s show that I’m speaking on (or my email’s being read out on)?”
When the show began, Danny was careful not to keep talking about times and dates, an approach which is central to keeping a podcast fresh. But he’s let this slip, and now it’s “Hi everyone, it’s Thursday lunchtime”, or “We’ll be back on Monday”. No it isn’t, and no you won’t, Dan. Well, not for us. As a listener, I don’t want to be reminded that I’m listening to a recording. I can – and will – make the programme seem live in my mind, as long as you don’t keep reminding me that I’m three weeks behind (which is what I am, currently, and guess what? It doesn’t matter). Similarly, while references to current events are unavoidable, there’s no point in drawing attention to them, or plugging them, and the show has done well on this point so far. But if one-off guests (like the great Peter Serafinowicz) ever start to become commonplace, the show needs to remember that plugging stuff which will be in the past for an ever-increasing number of listeners (think about it) is pointless, and indeed annoying.
What I’d like to hear are references to future events (e.g predictions) which many listeners will hear after the event. Now that would be entertaining.


Thursday 23 August 2007

Got there at last. The new Wemberlee, that is. After seeing the last club game at the old stadium, my favourite neighbour got me a ticket for, er, the second England game at the new one. And it really is a good venue. What’s more, the criticism I have heard (mainly about the price of the catering) seemed a little exaggerated. Shame about the result.

Colchester Golf Club

Thursday 6 September 2007

My brother Tony is a member of Colchester Golf Club, a nice Essex golf course. This blog entry is really just to demonstrate anchor text. But there are some unintentionally amusing videos of golf swings there.

Music download services compared: a Mac user writes

Sunday 9 September 2007

There is intelligent life out there beyond the iTunes music store, you know. Over the past few months I’ve used two other music download services, mainly because for all its good points, the iTunes music store sells all its music with some godawful “copy protection” system which keeps nagging you about “authorised machines” and once – when I tried to load my music library onto a new Mac – even told me I was no longer allowed to play songs I’d paid out 79p a track for (which in many cases is more expensive than an old-school CD is!).
So here are my thoughts on three music download services, from the point of view of a Mac user (although for that you could probably read “anyone without Windows XP” …and that includes you, Windows Vista users!).
The iTunes Music Store On the plus side, everything you could want, as soon as it’s released. Really easy to use, working perfectly even if you haven’t got a Windows XP PC (in fact, and not surprisingly, seems even better on Macs than Windows). On the minus side, strange anti-copying stuff (“DRM”) is built into the tracks, and the UK prices are 60% more than the US ones, which is a complete ripoff. Quality is good. More recently, some higher quality tracks have been added without the copy-protection stuff (hooray!) but the prices can then go well above the cost of buying the CD – and can anyone tell me why you’d download stuff if it’s not cheaper than buying a CD, with its perfect sound quality and nice packaging?
Wippit Seems to be a nice friendly site, based in the UK, with an interesting subscription model. A reasonable selection of music to download, including a lot of (mainly obscure) stuff for free if you’re a £50/year subscriber. However, the speed of response of the site is appalling, and
there’s no download manager software for non-Windows-XP users, so you have to download tracks one at a time – and when I say one at a time, I mean it: you can’t click on the next one until the one before has downloaded at a tortoise-like pace. A 10-track album is currently taking me about an hour to download on a 10Mb cable connection. I could have driven down to Tesco and bought the CD in 10 minutes. I’m not even going to go any further. If it wasn’t for the fact that a subscription is a cheaper way of getting Danny Baker’s All Day Breakfast Show podcast, I’d have politely requested my money back. Avoid.
emusic Eclectic selection of music – plenty of non-mainstream stuff which I’ve been happy to explore and download – at about a third of the price of the iTunes music store. Good therefore for completing the more obscure corners of your collection, such as jazz, folk and new age. Comes with a download manager for Macs, so downloading the stuff to your desktop is easy, and then you just have to drag it into iTunes, which is OK. Quality is acceptable (MP3) but no more. Worth subscribing to if you like the look of the music on offer.
If anyone comes up with a service which has the usability of the iTunes music store, top quality (lossless) files and prices which undercut buying CDs, I’ll willingly drop hundreds of pounds a year on it, I suspect. In the meantime, buying CDs is still – irritatingly – the best choice for me. One click at Amazon or wherever, drag the CD into iTunes when it arrives, and you even get a ready-made backup disc with professionally printed artwork. So it’s old school – but what is there not to like?

The Perils of Procrastination

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Half Man Half Biscuit CD spines
I’ve been meaning to do a “Top Ten Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics” blog entry for, well, years. And I’ve never got round to it. Unfortunately, other people have done it, so if I ever do, I’ll just end up looking like the exploiter of second-hand ideas which I probably am. Maybe I should get on with starting the Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics project, in which I aim to publish the lyrics of every HMHB song, ever. That’s an idea I’ve been mulling over for ages. And it wouldn’t take long, would it?
(Update: I’ve done it)

Led Zeppelin in Scotland?

Monday 24 September 2007

Yeah, I know, sounds unlikely, doesn’t it? But there was a lot of buzz at Loopallu about a new festival next year in the Highlands, called Otterfest 08, and maybe it was a bit of Chinese Whispering, but I heard “Led Zeppelin” mentioned in passing. Probably just a rumour, but watch the Otterfest 08 web site in case there’s any news. It looks a bit amateur, but I imagine Woodstock did too.

The (Best) Little Fest in the West

Thursday 27 September 2007

So, on the first day at Loopallu I was talking to a (pleasantly drunk) member of the entourage of the Glenrothes-based band Sergeant, who was getting over just how long it had taken them all to get up to Ullapool. He asked if I was local. “No, I’ve come up from Cambridge”, I replied. I wasn’t showing off – it sounded rather daft to have travelled all that way for this “little fest in the West”, actually. But it was a great couple of days. Of course, the Saw Doctors were brilliant – they always are – and were unsurprisingly the highlight of the weekend for me. You’d have expected the other headliners, Franz Ferdinand, to also be a cut above the rest, and indeed they were, in the tradition of “bigger name” bands who have the ability to effortlessly take a festival up a notch. The “finds” of the festival for me were Sergeant and The Family Mahone. I always think a festival is good if you can find one new band you like each day, and Loopallu didn’t disappoint. (Big) Top work!

Radiohead In Rainbows. In 1997.

Thursday 11 October 2007

OK, so I was intrigued by the fact that Radiohead decided to distribute their new album online and via a “pay what you want to” method. Not only was I intrigued, I was also very supportive of the idea. So although not a massive fan, I thought I’d buy it.
Downside number one: where do you get the new Radiohead album from? Every news story I read said it was available from the Radiohead web site. Sloppy journalism. It’s not. It’s available from its own site. No problem with that, except try as I might, I couldn’t find a link from the official site to the one with the album. In the end, I found the link on some fan blog. What were they thinking of?
Then came the download. Lovely “store”, I have to say. Easy payment, easy download once you’ve done so. But hang on… a 48.8Mb zip file? I didn’t expect AIFF or even Apple Lossless Format, but what on earth is the quality going to be like? Once the download had completed (I suppose on the plus side, the uber-compression meant this was about 5 seconds after it began), I could inspect the files. And the news wasn’t good. 160kb/sec bit rate MP3. That’s right, 160kbps. What is this, 1997? So In Rainbows now sits proudly (ahem) in my iTunes library as by far the worst-quality 10 tracks out of the 8,613 there. If they’d told me that before I paid for the thing, I’d still have paid, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much. I doubt they’d have been able to get away with putting such poor quality on a conventional CD without at least labelling the case with a warning. It’s a shame they feel they can do it with a download.
And where’s the blinkin’ In Rainbows cover art then? Again, no warning about the absence of that. Unsurprisingly, people have begun to make their own.
Music’s good though.

Radiohead trounce allcomers on Last.fm

Monday 15 October 2007

I think it’s a fairly safe generalisation to make that the millions of people signed up to Last.fm conform to a certain stereotype, in terms of musical tastes. In fact, the main surprise to me is the semi-permanent position of The Beatles at number one. Radiohead are usually in the top three or four bands, but naturally with a new album out last week, I expected them to challenge the fab four’s supremacy. I didn’t expect this (above). That’s a lot of people listening to a new album, especially one released in such an unconventional format. My calculator also suggests that the average Last.fm listener who listened to Radiohead last week played an average 28 tracks from the band, which – given the long tail of listeners on permanent iTunes library shuffle mode who will have only played one or two old tracks – means that a lot of people played the new album many, many times over. This guy listened to 1,994 Radiohead tracks in a week. And the fact that the number of plays of each track seems to be the album in order suggests that people are listening to it exactly in the order it was presented (everyone has to bail out of a listening sometime).

How to convert email to RSS for your phone

Friday 19 October 2007

I came up with a neat workaround this week which might interest those of you who like to get news on your mobile phones, or would like to if it was easier. There’s no chance this is an original idea, but I was pleased with myself, nevertheless.
Many new phones (such as my recently-acquired Sony Ericsson W880i) have a neat RSS reader which is a great way of getting information on a cellphone. Despite manufacturers’ claims, web access on mobiles is clunky, so if it’s a chore checking the same website regularly for information on a PC, it’s so fiddly to be out of the question on a mobile. Email alerts are OK, but unless you’re a Crackberry user whose entire email life runs on your mobile, you’ll probably not want to scroll through loads of emails just to find out something from a particular news source. Finally, there are text alerts, but these are just horrible – they’re limited, often expensive, and come in when the sender decides, rather than when you want to read them.
The way forward then is to have simple access to various RSS news feeds, and mobiles like the W880i make this really slick. A couple of keypad clicks and I can read the latest BBC news feed, or BBC football feed, or anything really. But what about news sources which don’t come as RSS feeds? I’m in several email-only discussion groups, for example, which I’d love to have laid out neatly in RSS style. I also receive several email newsletters which again, I’d like to read at leisure on my mobile without having to access my email.
Here’s the beautifully elegant solution. Create a free blog at somewhere like Blogger – one which allows you to post to the blog by email. This will automatically create an RSS feed. Then anything you email to that blog will appear in the RSS feed. So if you’re in an email discussion group, add the blog posting address as a member of the group. If you want an email newsletter to be included in the feed, just subscribe to the newsletter with the blog posting address. If any of that proves difficult, you can, alternatively, set up a mail rule in your PC email program to just forward the relevant emails to the blog. That would introduce a delay, but that might not be critical for you.
Perhaps the neatest aspect of this is that you can combine several information sources or discussion groups into one feed.

I Useta Lover 2007-style

Thursday 25 October 2007

The ever-wonderful Saw Doctors have re-released “I Useta Lover” for a charity and to accompany it, they’ve shot a video on the streets of Galway. It is just about the most Irish thing I’ve ever seen. Brilliant.

Web 1. Everything Else 0.

Tuesday 30 October 2007

There was a time when you had to wait for weeks to get a decent review of a new product. Broadcast media has never stepped up to the plate, and only dead trees would do. It may have taken ten years or more for the internet to find a business model which could support in-depth analysis to accompany its immediacy, but there’s no doubt we’re here now. Case in point: the launch of Apple’s new OS X release, Leopard. The software is launched on the Friday, and by the weekend I want to see a decent review. And by that, I mean something unpatronising written by a genuine techie, not something written by a Sunday paper columnist for my Mum’s benefit. As an average potential customer, I now know the likely sources, and go to them directly, without even thinking of Googling “OS X Leopard review” (which by the way, suggests your first port of call is an outdated year-old hatchet job from a Windows site – d’oh!). That I now ignore the Google option is in itself worthy of discussion. And indeed I find what I want, already there, on Ars Technica.
Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: the Ars Technica review by John Siracusa, is what I want, when I want it, and means I’ll never bother to buy a Mac mag to see whether I should upgrade or not. Big deal, you may say, Chris uses a bookmark to read an article. But I think there’s a story in there.
(By the way, the “icon” above – and OS X icons are more like photos nowadays – is the one in Leopard for a generic Windows PC, and it’s rather amusing. Yes, it is the blue screen of death. On a monitor I had in 1998, if I’m not mistaken).

The true cost of that OS X Leopard Upgrade

Friday 2 November 2007

Let’s get things straight from the start. I upgraded to Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) this week, it was painless, and it’s a worthwhile upgrade (even if some of the interface changes are “insane”). At £79.98 from Amazon UK, it’s not unreasonable, especially as there hasn’t been an OS update for so long. And it comes in the freakiest holographic box I’ve ever seen.
But the cost doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Firstly, there’s a great new automatic backup feature called Time Machine – but that needs an external hard drive to work properly (well, it is a backup system). Now, many people already have external hard drives, but chances are that even if you do, you’ll probably think this is the opportunity to invest in a new, bigger one. I bet your existing one has all sorts of data on it which you can’t delete or archive, leaving precious little space – certainly not the hundreds of GB which Time Machine is going to need eventually.
So add to the cost of Leopard the cost of a new external hard drive. I bought a Western Digital 500GB My Book PRO and that set me back another £99.94 – more than the cost of Leopard.
And there’s more. Much more, actually. Because although most software developers have had Leopard long enough to ensure their latest releases work with Leopard, the chances are that old software versions don’t. And who’s got the latest version of everything? Not me.
Any pre-CS3 version of Adobe Photoshop? No, it simply won’t work. Not even CS2 …and certainly not my version 7.0. Any pre-CS3 version of Adobe Illustrator? Sorry (and I have the CS release too!). Quark Xpress? Officially, my version 6.5 is not supported, but it seems OK – but I wouldn’t bank on its stability. Even good old Toast needs to be the latest version 8. In the end I decided I couldn’t update everything, and reluctantly decided that I’d live without my rarely-used Illustrator from now on. I’d take a chance with Quark Xpress 6.52 on Leopard. But still, that’s £162.98 for Photoshop CS3 and £69.98 for Toast 8.
Grand total to date: £412.38 (that’s over US$800) and I’m still worried that I might have to fork out another mind-boggling £316.98 (well over $600) on an Quark Xpress 7 upgrade. Sure, I’ll get the latest and greatest versions, and I’m sure I’ll find some new features in them which I can make use of. But I didn’t expect the cost of Leopard to be quite this much. Be warned.

They won’t thank their parents

Sunday 4 November 2007

I always wonder if I was given a very mainstream name (Christopher was the most common boys’ name in the early sixties) because my father was given a daft one and, I suspect, always resented his parents for it. So here then are 15 names which were given to more UK boys in 2006 than Andrew, Christopher, David, John or Robert. Poor kids.
Jake Tyler Connor Harrison Kyle Brandon Reece Mason Kai Logan Riley Harley Jayden Kian Bailey

Discount Booze at The Local. For selected tramps.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Bad product branding always cheers up a dull day for me. There are all sorts of reasons why a product or business might launch or re-brand itself amusingly awfully, but the most obvious ones seem to be: [1] A terrible idea sometimes gets right through the marketing department and out the other side, perhaps through a case of Emperor’s New Clothes or something; [2] A graphic designer from the planet Zog is employed with an open brief, once again thanks to a clueless marketing department; [3] A parent company, probably from another country or continent, decides that what works ten thousand miles away (or in Germany) is quite suitable for a totally different culture, and imposes some sort of “global standard” branding.
Here’s a wonderful example of at least two of those in action.
In our village, the off-licence used to be a Victoria Wine. Now, you may be unaware of this, but most of the UK’s off-licence chains, past and present, are all owned by the same group. These include Victoria Wine, Threshers, Wine Rack, Unwins, etc etc. The group has been sold, merged, and resold several times already this decade. In 2004, they launched a new store brand, called “The Local”. Here’s a car crash waiting to happen. Who calls an off-licence “The Local” except a few tramps? Worse, they let some trendy designer replace the conventional store front with a giant slab of yellow and a tiny speech bubble saying “The Local”. So presumably the target market is now tramps with very good eyesight. I think the idea of “The Local” was that they were trying to say the stores are more than just an off-licence. And it’s true: ours also sells crisps.
Anyway, I see that our store at least has given up all pretence of trendy design. In the huge yellow gaps either side of the speech bubble, it now says “DISCOUNT” and “BOOZE”. This isn’t just lowest-common-denominator rebranding, it’s lowest-common-denominator rebranding with giant (cheap) knobs on. It’s so awful it’s brilliant. However, it’s also so awfully done that I wonder if this is a rebranding at all. Could it be that the management of our village “The Local” (see, it just doesn’t work) have taken matters into their own hands as a protest against the terrible graphic design they’ve had to put up with for the past couple of years? The lettering is bad enough that it could be a desperate, one-off job. But then again, from the people who thought the tiny speech bubble was a good idea, who knows? Perhaps they see a gap in the market for an alcoholic version of the cheap “closing down sale” stores which seem to thrive everywhere.

The case of the disappearing login items

Friday 9 November 2007

I’ve always had a problem that login items disappear under OS X, and it hasn’t gone away with OS X 10.5 Leopard. I’ll add something to the list in the conventional manner, and about 50% of the time, when I next startup the Mac, the application fails to do so – and on investigation, has disappeared from the list.
So here’s my home-made solution. Take all the applications out of the login items list and replace them with an “Automator” script. You can then put this in the login items and with any luck it’ll stay there; it did for me. You can also add some nice pauses between each, so the Mac doesn’t go mental trying to open everything together.
If you’ve never used Automator before, it’s really easy. Open it up (it’s in “Applications”), and drag over the “actions” you need, which are “Launch Application” and “Pause”. Drag over as many as you like, you can rearrange them quite easily. Set each “Launch Application” to the application you want to open at startup, and set each “Pause” to a suitable delay, just about long enough for the application to launch happily (see above). Then save what you’ve done, making sure you choose “Application” under “File Format”, so the thing runs when started, rather than opens up for editing.
Then add the Automator script you’ve just created to your login items, and remove any applications you’ve featured in the script.

Born to Jump

Friday 9 November 2007

I’m always amused when Google’s AdWords ads go wrong. They’re supposed to be “contextual”, assessing the search query and matching the right ads to it. My amusement at coming straight in at number one in the Google search results for “discount booze for tramps” (following a blog post about an off-licence yesterday) turned to even greater amusement to see a column of AdWords ads about trampolines. My first thought was that maybe the word “tramps” confused Google because they don’t use the term in the USA. But tramps like us, baby we were born to run. So clearly they do, at least in New Jersey. Perhaps these trampoline advertisers have all chosen “tramps” as a keyword. Or maybe there’s a big market in exercise equipment for the homeless at the moment.

Importing to WordPress from a text file

Monday 19 November 2007

I had a website of football reports which was managed by a homebrew flat-file database, and it really needed dragging into the 21st century and being managed by WordPress, or something like that. But how to transfer the hundreds of entries, with all their dates and categories? It turned out to be surprisingly easy, assuming you can export from your database in a specific, user-defined format.
Wordpress has a whole list of import filters (see the “Manage” tab), each dedicated to a specific format. One of these is “RSS”, which takes an RSS feed and converts it into WordPress posts. That’s the one you need. Here’s the procedure:
1. Create your WordPress blog, which – when new – should have one sample entry.
2. Export this to RSS, using Manage > Export. This will give you a “WordPress RSS format” file, which gives you the template you’ve now got to recreate from your old database. If the database can’t be set up to export a file which looks like that, consider exporting it however you can and using some intelligent search-and-replace procedures to add in all the extra material required.
3. Import your file to WordPress using Manage > Import! I’d try it with just a couple of entries until you get it right, because if it’s wrong, you’ll have to delete what you’ve added, and mass-deletion of entries in WordPress is a real chore.
One notable exception which I discovered is that categories do not transfer if you just copy the exported RSS file you’re using as a template. For some reason, in the sample template file, the post category gets surrounded by “CDATA”, like this: <category><![CDATA[my category name]]></category> If you recreate that in your database export file, the categories get ignored. But remove the CDATA part, and everything is fine! The category entries in your file should simply look like this: <category><my category name></category>
Anyway, here’s my new WordPress-powered football reports blog! The 150 or so entries up to 10 November 2007 were all imported from my old FoxPro database.

In-car phonograms – the next big thing?

Wednesday 21 November 2007

I’ve just had a demo and an extended test drive in a Lexus RX400h. Very nice, and I’d certainly like one. But why is such a technically advanced car let down by such an antiquated audio system? The dealer kept telling me all about how the “Mark Levinson” label meant audio quality of the highest standard, but he was reduced to mumbling excuses when I asked where the DAB radio was. For goodness’ sake, it’s 2007, surely we shouldn’t have to listen to BBC Radio Five Live on medium wave in a car which costs more than my first house? Quite ordinary in-car audio manufacturers seem able to make complete digital radio/CD units for well under a hundred quid. I wouldn’t mind if it was an optional upgrade, but it isn’t.
Optional upgrades, however, do include the generous offer of a cradle to plug your iPod into, for an amount considerably in excess of the cost of the iPod itself. I gather connections like this come as standard in some cars which would almost fit into the boot of the RX400h. I’d expect top-end audio manufacturers to have moved on by now and offer slot-in iPod systems as an option. Now that I would pay two hundred quid for, if they existed.
It got worse. As I pulled down the lever into “drive”, a previously-obscured slot was revealed. It couldn’t be, could it? Yes, it was! A cassette player! In 2007! Now, don’t get me wrong, I grew up with TDK and Maxell. But that was twenty years ago. I think I still have a box of tapes somewhere in the loft, but I doubt my home cassette deck, pensioned off in the nineties, would still record new tapes. Even now, I can’t stop giggling about this.
Am I some sort of bleeding-edge audio nut? I don’t think so. I just want to listen to BBC Radio Five Live in decent quality, and play stuff off my iPod without paying through the nose for the privilege. The dealer fetched details of the 2008 RX400h – perhaps my wishes would be granted. Er, no. I get a nice blue “hybrid” badge if I wait for the new model though.

Bruce Springsteen European Tour 2007 Setlist

Thursday 22 November 2007

…well, not quite, because at the time of writing, it hasn’t started yet. But Bruce has just finished playing the couple of dozen gigs in the first North American leg of his “Magic” Tour, and – renowned as he is for varying the set list from night to night – there’s a definite pattern in what the band has been playing.
In most gigs there have been 23 songs, and in each slot there’s a song which has been played significantly more times than any other. So after having a look at some of the meticulously compiled set list resources such as this one, I present the statistically most likely set list for the forthcoming gigs, including the one at the O2 in London where I’ll be on the last night of the European leg, 19 December.
Radio Nowhere No Surrender Lonesome Day Gypsy Biker Magic Reason to Believe Night She’s the One Livin’ in the Future The Promised Land Town Called Heartbreak Backstreets Working on the Highway Devil’s Arcade The Rising Last to Die Long Walk Home Badlands Girls in Their Summer Clothes Thundercrack Born to Run Dancing in the Dark American Land
The interesting thing is, he didn’t play this exact list once during the North American gigs. The closest he got was the second night in LA, where “Candy’s Room” replaced “Night” above. Apparently most shows have been shorter than the marathons of previous years, but that’s due as much to a lack of between-song banter, introducing the musicians and jamming as it is to a reduced song count.
Anyway, statistics be damned, when we see Bruce, the set list is going to be different again, that’s for sure.

Blade Runner: “The Final Cut” at the cinema

Monday 26 November 2007

If you’re reading this before 2 December 2007, you still have a chance to see Blade Runner – The Final Cut on the big screen at one of a tiny number of cinemas such as the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge. Forget the fact that it’s a whole new version of one of the most influential films ever made. The real importance of this is that you may never again get the chance to see any version of this movie on the big screen again. And whether you remember it from the first or second time out, or have it on DVD, or are yet to witness its brilliance at all, you’ll be kicking yourself if you could have caught it at the cinema, and didn’t.
So what is it like? Bear in mind that it’s my favourite film of all time, and I’ve even slogged my way through Future Noir: The Making of “Blade Runner”, so I can be counted as a fan, albeit not an obsessive. I’m not really that bothered about the changes to the film, especially the relatively minor differences between this version and the 1992 “Director’s Cut”. I just came out of the cinema thinking “wow – what an experience”. It’s tremendous. A science fiction film made twenty-five years ago has no right to look contemporary in 2007, but it still does. Only some amusingly lo-tech visuals on various computer and instrumentation screens dotted around the film spoil it. That and adverts everywhere for companies which might have seemed in 1982 like ones which would dominate the commercial landscape in 2019, but didn’t make it anywhere like that far: Pan Am, Atari, TWA, etc. Otherwise it’s fabulously stylish and often quite believable.
Most importantly, the film has been restored beautifully and looks great, and sounds even better (oh, that music!).
Some links
Short but good review of Blade Runner – The Final Cut from SciFi.com which summarises some of the changes and makes the best observation of all, that this version simply flows better.
Decent Blade Runner – The Final Cut review from Empire magazine which points out something else which struck me on this viewing: that the detail in the film is quite astonishing.
More Blade Runner – The Final Cut reviews than you can shake a stick at, as ever, from Rotten Tomatoes.
Review of Blade Runner – The Final Cut from the New York Times which quotes director Ridley Scott as confirming that Deckard is himself a replicant.
Oh Dear:
Terrible review of Blade Runner – The Final Cut from The Times by a guy who seems to have either missed the second version of the film, or just read the press pack (as some commenters have observed). Here’s a second attempt by the same bloke after interviewing some people and realising how daft his first effort was.
It’s not the same, but better than nothing:
Buy Blade Runner: The Final Cut (5-Disc Ultimate Collectors’ Edition Tin) at Amazon UK. Yes, every version and every extra they can think of does seem a bit excessive, but it’s only a few pounds more than the plain version.

Spice Girls asking for trouble

Saturday 1 December 2007

So my tickets for The Spice Girls arrived today (yeah yeah, I’ve heard it all). Now, I realise that the postal system works largely on trust – we really do have to trust that the vast quantity of mail is delivered as expected, by honest people and all that. But as I understand it, tickets for The Spice Girls have been in some demand. So WTF are the promoters doing sending out the tickets in window envelopes with all those mugs showing through to the outside world? At Christmas time too, when the Royal Mail is presumably full of seasonal workers who can get up to no end of mischief and then disappear back into obscurity. Presumably to start selling the tickets on eBay which they, er, found at work.

The Best Singles Ever.

Thursday 6 December 2007

All time top tens are something which really get under your skin: once you’ve started thinking about it, you have to follow it through. So when someone at work asked us all to come up with our top tens, I had to do it, of course. After a couple of weeks of leaving it on the back burner, here’s a selection which I can guarantee nobody else in the world would come up with. Naturally it’ll be different by the time you read this. These things always are.
10. RACING IN THE STREET – Bruce Springsteen Definitely the live version which Broooce played at Crystal Palace a few years back and which I was privileged to see played. Given over to the most magnificent piano solo for the second half of the song. Yes, my ticket for Bruce at the O2 next week is here and firmly pinned to my “don’t lose it” board.
9. FREDERICK – Patti Smith She played at The Junction here in Cambridge last month – a rock legend performing just up the road from me – and I foolishly chose to go the football instead. Fortunately (for me) she didn’t play this gorgeous ode to her late husband, guitar legend Fred “Sonic” Smith of MC5.
8. “HEROES” – David Bowie For some reason the version of this I always remember the most was the one at Live Aid with keyboard wizard Thomas Dolby providing gunshot sound effects to the “bullets flew above our heads” line.
7. WHEN LOVE BREAKS DOWN – Prefab Sprout Possibly my favourite band of all time, and hard to pick just one song, so let’s just go for the one which never lets you down. Recently covered by Lisa Stansfield, noteworthy because Paddy wrote an extra verse for her (quite reasonable) version, apparently. And of course the man himself has done a terrific acoustic version this year as well.
6. DOCTOR WU – Steely Dan A narrowly-beaten contender for the “favourite band” crown, and again, a hard act to choose a masterpiece from. As with most of the band’s material, I’ve no idea what it’s all about, but oh, that piano line in the middle sends shivers down my spine.
5. AFTERGLOW – Genesis The one where, during the live shows, they used to turn on all the searchlights halfway through, so the audience roar drowns out the song. That sort of thing used to be impressive, kids. Four minutes fourteen seconds which summarise everything good about Genesis and make the rest of the band’s catalogue redundant. I challenge you not to air-drum along with this.
4. BLADE RUNNER – END TITLES – Vangelis Just because it completely recalls the Best Film Of All Time whenever I hear it. Great home-made YouTube video too.
3. TO WIN JUST ONCE – The Saw Doctors Best Live Band in the World. Ever. And this is the one which brings a lump to my throat whenever I hear it:
To win just once against the odds
And once be smiled on by the Gods
To race with speed along the track
To break the tape and not look back
To never have considered losing
As if to win is by your choosing
Bare your soul for all to find
An honest heart and an open mind. Ah, you probably have to be there. And I have. About ten times now. Woo! Mobile phone video, but I picked this because it gives you a good idea of how the audience do this song for them.
2. MOMENTS IN LOVE – The Art Of Noise Played at Madonna’s first wedding, used in movie soundtracks, a number of advertisements, and remixed, covered, and sampled by other artists for years. And still utterly extraordinary. Live performance video has Trevor Horn on bass! Paul Morley prancing around! Fan-blinkin-tastic.
1. HAVE YOU EVER HAD IT BLUE? – The Style Council One of those songs which you have to restrict the number of times which you play it, in case it should ever lose anything by repetition. Originally a political song about the YTS, Weller gave it a new set of (somewhat slushier) lyrics and, more importantly, jazz producer/arranger Gil Evans added a startlingly brilliant brass-led arrangement for the otherwise unremarkable movie “Absolute Beginners”. The result is an absolute masterpiece of pop music.

10 Things About The Spice Girls’ London Gig

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Spice Girls with children on stage

  • They brought all their kiddies on stage at the end. Well, Mel C didn’t, obviously, because she doesn’t have any. Although she does have a Lexus RX400h because she was on the telly with Vicki B-H. And Geri didn’t have her kids either, I think. But Emma and Mel B had tiny ones with big green ear defenders. And Mel B had a larger one too. And Victoria had three famous ones, in “Posh” T-shirts. The smallest one cried.
  • That Mel B, blimey, she’s been working out. How do they get to look that fit after just having had a baby?
  • The sound at the O2 is absolutely terrible. I’ve never been to a gig where there’s audibly so much electronic wizardry working on the sound, but even that couldn’t compensate. If you didn’t know the songs so well, it would have been awful.
  • That Emma, blimey, she doesn’t get any less cute, does she?
  • They might all be at each others’ throats, in a competitive way, but they still have a good sense of humour. Whereas the four who’ve made a go at solo musical careers all got a solo number from their solo back catalogue, Victoria just did a walk down the catwalk in big sunglasses. Amusingly.
  • That Mel C, blimey, she looked from all the pre-gig publicity photos like she’s easily scrubbed up the best of the lot of ’em, didn’t she?. But no matter if Roberto Cavalli’s designed them, a tracksuit’s a tracksuit, and you looked a bit chavvy on the night, love. Sorry.
  • Fantastic staging and production throughout the gig. The Award for Best Use Of Hydraulic Lifting Gear goes to whoever designed it all (no, not to Victoria’s bra manufacturer)
  • That Geri, blimey, she’s still got it, eh? Never been much of a Ginger Spice man, meself, but talk about a late surge up the table. Gawdblessyermaam, and no mistake.
  • Mel C could always sing the best, and carried the whole band. Nothing’s changed there, except Mel B’s shouting has become a lot more tuneful and it’s now a two-girl show. Emma can’t compete in a group format, but does some nice stuff on her own. If Geri ever had it, she’s lost it now. And Victoria never could sing, and still can’t, but they know that, and hardly give her a chance. Although whenever she opened her mouth, the entire venue erupted in screaming (the adoring type, not the horror type) which was kind of creepy. Why?
  • That Victoria, blimey, she’s a strange looking creation, isn’t she? Like two lollipops sellotaped together with a head on top. Not attractive at all, yet strangely you can’t take your eyes off her.

I enjoyed it. (Photos)

What’s happened to the Danny Baker podcasts?

Thursday 20 December 2007

Danny Baker (click to visit original BBC source)
It promised so much, but ended up a right mess. Danny Baker and friends’ All Day Breakfast Show podcast and the fantastic Baker and Kelly football show, revived this autumn as a podcast, appear to have been killed off. The concept was where many people believed podcasting has been heading from the outset: it could have transformed radio, and indeed, I believe it still will – if not Danny, someone else will start to make this thing work widely. Producing a radio programme needn’t be an expensive business, and if you have a big enough audience paying a few pennies each per show, in theory you should be able to make a lot more money from selling your own podcast direct than any broadcaster is likely to pay you (unless you’re Jonathan Ross, with your mystifying hold over the BBC). But it would seem that’s still just theory. Anyway, Danny tried it, but he ran into all sorts of problems. There was an unexplained one soon after the All Day Breakfast Show finished its free promotional run – the host Wippit certainly had a lot of problems delivering the downloads and was roundly slated by many subscribers online, but there was never a real explanation given as to why many people who paid fifty quid for the year then didn’t get any
product for many weeks. The show came back in October, with three shows a week (rather than the hoped-for five) and all seemed well. But it turned out that behind the scenes the presenter and the host company had different views as to how this whole deal was going to work out, and what they’d actually agreed to. And in the end, this week, Danny announced that he wasn’t going to continue. The All Day Breakfast Show group on Facebook has 273 members and represents the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of fans signed up as the show’s Elite Premium Guard (including me, somewhere in there as the tricky left winger). I think the Baker and Kelly football podcast had potentially even wider appeal, believe it or not: the show was being discussed widely on football websites and had inspired merchandise and all sorts of fun. Somebody is going to make paid-for podcasting work, just as many more musicians are going to earn a living selling direct online. It will happen. In the meantime, I just hope there’s another blog entry coming up here soon saying that Danny Baker is trying again, because these were great shows and we’ll miss them. Particularly as they’d tantalisingly promised us the return of Joanne this week on Baker and Kelly. I am gutted. Perhaps we ought to have a whip-round here and see if we can come up with enough cash between us to pay for the lads to do one more show. I’d be the first to put my hand in my pocket. If the web can buy Ebbsfleet for life, I’m sure it can buy the two Dannys for one more hour. There’s a better essay than this about the Danny Baker situation here.