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2008 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…


Kevin’s a lucky man

Tuesday 8 January 2008

mel.jpg
Wow. Just back from the wedding of my God-daughter Mel in Canada. To say she looked pretty would be an understatement. A really nice service and a good send-off for Kevin and Mel in the evening. Of course I wish them all my love and best wishes for the future together.

How to broadcast an event live on the web

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Screenshot from Ustream.tv
So, my God-daughter called me a few months before her wedding in Canada to ask: “Would it be possible to broadcast the wedding live on the internet for the family back in the UK?” And my answer was: “Er… I’ll find out”. Which led me into the fledgling world of live event streaming on the internet. After a short while Googling for appropriate services, I decided the most usable was Ustream.tv, which, incredibly, was also free to use. I set myself up with an account, and made my first broadcast, using my Mac’s built-in camera. It worked fine! I rang up a friend and got him to “tune in” to me waving at the screen, and all seemed well. So far, nothing different from using Instant Messenger or Skype Video, of course, but the difference was that there could have been any number of people watching on their browsers, not just my single correspondent. Following that success, I just needed to do a few more things. Firstly – of course – I had to check that the church had a broadband internet connection, which I could connect to from a laptop on the big day.
The laptop would, in turn, be connected to a video camera. Assured that all the technology was in place, I set up my own web page with the broadcast from my Ustream.tv account embedded in it. This wasn’t strictly necessary (I could have just given people the Ustream.tv page for my account), but it gave me a nice URL on my own web site to direct people towards. Fortunately there was a wedding rehearsal the day before the marriage ceremony, so I could test everything out. It worked really nicely, and we watched our efforts over the web live on a separate PC. On the big day itself, we had a few minutes of panic in trying to recreate the settings on the laptop to receive the video input, but we went live with a few minutes to spare, and the whole exercise was a huge success. At its peak, the broadcast had 78 viewers (the Ustream.tv page shows you how many people are watching), and by remembering to press the “record broadcast” button, we made an archive copy of our video stream for people to visit in the future. In fact, I later went and embedded this into a special web page on my own site which serves as a nice record (you may wish to ignore the first four minutes!). A final feature offered by Ustream.tv was taken up enthusiastically by viewers – a “live chat” service. With this, a chatroom is opened alongside the broadcast, which is really great for the viewers to comment on what’s going on. As you can see on my archive page, many of them had a lot of fun with this.
So, in summary, here’s what you need to do if you’d like to broadcast your own video over the internet.

  • Get yourself a video camera and laptop which plug together easily. If you’re borrowing or buying a laptop, Macbooks are far easier for this than Windows PCs.
  • Set up an account with Ustream.tv
  • Broadcast yourself to your Ustream.tv account in the comfort of your own home
  • Get someone else to watch your broadcast, live (that’ll force you to find out the URL to quote to people!)
  • Work out how you’re going to get broadband internet access at the venue
  • Take the video camera and laptop to the venue, connect to the net, and repeat your test broadcast
  • Tell the world the time and the URL of the broadcast
  • Cross your fingers that it all works on the day. Don’t forget to click “record” as well as just “broadcast” to make an archive copy of your video stream.

Modern Pop Is Rubbish

Friday 11 January 2008

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So Stuart Maconie reckons the golden age of pop is now, does he? Well, I see his point, but for the first time in many years – perhaps ever – I just haven’t been able to put together a top ten albums of the year, because I can’t find ten I like. My initial conclusion from that is, naturally, that I’ve just become a grumpy old reactionary, but it’s equally possible that 2007 was just rubbish for new recorded music. I went to the best list of lists of top albums of the year and found very little decent stuff which I’d forgotten about. Sure, it was nice to have Bruce back with the E Street Band, but I wasn’t that inspired by the albums you could have written into these lists before they were released, such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. Even Hvarf/Heim by Sigur Ros, which did enthuse me, wasn’t their best. Lots of the published top albums lists come from American sources, who are lucky enough to get to include releases like Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black because they got that a year later than we did. Otherwise, the outstanding feature of the lists was their eclectic nature – hardly any album got on more than a small handful of them. Consequently, the proportion of the recommended releases which I actually heard was smaller than ever, probably, and not because I spent any less on new music. I should put a word in for Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Out Of The Woods by Tracey Thorn and Awkward Annie by Kate Rusby, all of which improved my year. But just to make a point, my album of 2007 is the remastered reissue of Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout, one of the finest albums of all time, and allowed in here because it was accompanied by a CD of all-new acoustic versions which are quite sublime.

First Amongst Last Tracks

Thursday 24 January 2008

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So Rock Dad alerted me to the Guardian Unlimited debate on the best final tracks on albums. And once you’ve started thinking about that sort of thing, you have to see it through. Obviously.
Now, we’re not talking here about looking at the list of your 100 favourite songs of all time and marking which ones happen to be the final track on an album. That would be silly. We’re talking about the tracks which bring an album to a fitting climax, leaving you thinking “Wow!” and perhaps feeling much better disposed towards the body of work than you might have done otherwise. Perhaps they might inspire you to simply let the album play through for a second (or third, or tenth) time when you really should have got on with something else. So many albums start off with the best songs and gradually tail off, after all. And nowadays lots of them “finish”, only to reprise with umpteen “bonus” tracks of questionable quality. So I’m disregarding that sort of rubbish.
I’m also disallowing albums where the final track is the bulk of the album, and the rest is filler (I’m thinking mainly of prog rock stuff where side 2 of the vinyl version is a single epic).
OK then, here we go. Fifteen tracks which lifted an album right through the playoffs into an automatic promotion spot. In alphabetical band order only!

  • A Day In The Life – The Beatles (from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
  • Play Dead – Björk (from Debut) Play
  • Jungleland – Bruce Springsteen (from Born To Run) Play
  • Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia) – The Flaming Lips (from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots) Play
  • Afterglow – Genesis (from Wind and Wuthering) Play
  • Tour Jacket With Detachable Sleeves – Half Man Half Biscuit (from Some Call It Godcore)
  • Tenement Symphony VI: My Hand Over My Heart – Marc Almond (from Tenement Symphony)
  • Knights Of Cydonia – Muse (from Black Holes and Revelations) Play
  • Champagne Supernova – Oasis (from What’s The Story) Morning Glory?) Play
  • Tomorrow Never Knows – Phil Collins (from Face Value) Play
  • Brain Damage/Eclipse – Pink Floyd (from Dark Side Of The Moon)
  • I Hope You Meet Again – The Saw Doctors (from If This Is Rock And Roll, I Want My Old Job Back)
  • Meat Is Murder – The Smiths (from Meat Is Murder) Play
  • Empty Cans – The Streets (from A Grand Don’t Come For Free) Play
  • Walls Come Tumbling Down!* – The Style Council (from Our Favourite Shop) Play

* The CD version added Shout To The Top. It’d still make it, even with that change.

Sunday Times spellchecker replaces Mitt Romney with a more roomy candidate

Sunday 27 January 2008

Sunday Times cutting - Mitt Roomy - oopsClick to enlarge
Leafing through this morning’s Sunday Times, I thought for a moment that US presidential candidate Mitt Romney had a new nickname of “Roomy”, which I hadn’t heard before. But it would appear to be that in a tempestuous late night battle at the newspaper, a plucky little Spellchecker had taken on the might of the subs desk and slipped in a classic while they weren’t looking. “Romney? Do you mean Roomy?” it sneakily asked. “Replace All”, they happily clicked. “What, 28 times?”, asked the Spellchecker, nervously…

Stephen Bywater says the c-word: video

Friday 1 February 2008

To say that I’m underwhelmed by my team, Ipswich, signing Stephen Bywater for the rest of the season is an understatement. As I wrote in a letter to Ipswich CEO Derek Bowden yesterday: I did not ever believe we would consider taking on a player who – at our own ground – had gestured to one of our players to come off and fight him in the tunnel (and who I understand was rightly questioned by police for this). A player who is a bit of an internet star for interrupting an on-pitch TV interview with moronic shouting into the microphone. And above all, a player who is now notorious for thinking it is acceptable to spell out the c-word in a TV interview. All this in the last year alone. These players exist. We have to live with it. But I don’t want them at my club, where I’m trying to teach my young son to look on our team as heroes.
Various types of supporters won’t object to this guy: those who believe all sins are forgiven once a player puts on their own club’s strip; those who don’t care how a player behaves as long as he’s a good footballer; and those who actually approve of loutish behaviour. I’m none of these, and I’m really sounding like an old fart. But here you go: Stephen Bywater spells out the word “cunt” on live TV, seemingly thinking that makes it OK.

And if that isn’t enough, here he is again, eloquently interrupting an interview with one of his team-mates:

Finally, here’s Bywater again, after he and Alex Bruce had both been sent off for a coming-together, rushing after Bruce as he heads for the tunnel and offering to continue it inside:

What a nice man. Here’s my report on that match against Derby last season, by the way.

As Opposed To “Quite Fast”?

Friday 15 February 2008

plasters.jpg

Namechecked in the Eurostar Ebbsfleet advert!

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Eurostar Ebbsfleet United newspaper advert
Yay. CherryHintonBlu (damn those 15-character name tag limits!) featured in the newspaper ads taken out by Eurostar today to celebrate the takeover of Ebbsfleet United. It will of course be more than interesting to see how this ambitious project works out, but so far so good, I think; the existing ‘Fleet supporters don’t seem to have been too alienated by it all, and the team’s doing well enough to sustain people’s interest at this crucial stage.
Find out all about Ebbsfleet United, MyFootballClub and how to join here. Get on board and say you were there from the start.

First news on Cambridge Folk Festival 2008

Wednesday 27 February 2008

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They always manage to keep the lineup at the Cambridge Folk Festival pretty well guarded secret, at least until the day the whole lineup is unveiled. But in the last few years one or two acts have “accidentally” included Cambridge when listing their summer tours. This year we find Billy Bragg letting the cat out of the bag, with a mention that he’s playing on the Friday solo, and on the Saturday as part of The Imagined Village. I thought Billy Bragg last played at the Cambridge Folk Festival about three years ago, but on checking the past lineups I discover it was, incredibly, back in 2002 (the year we all now remember as being Joe Strummer’s last performance). Headlining the warmup night on the small stage, Bragg was at his most entertaining, and I can’t wait to see him again. Until I saw The Imagined Village on Later with Jools Holland a couple of weeks ago I didn’t know anything about them, but it was a drop-yer-bacon-sarnie moment when they appeared – like Under One Sky last year, it was almost like having half of the Cambridge Folk Festival on stage together. Brilliant!
Stop Press: Full Lineup now announced

More taxpayer-funded misGuided Bus PR puffery

Thursday 28 February 2008


Cambridgeshire County Council has made a couple of expensive-looking videos to promote the Cambridge to St Ives misGuided Bus – it would appear that a substantial portion of the staggering £100M+ budget for this huge white elephant has gone the way of PR firms, as seems to be standard practice nowadays. As soon as they posted the videos on YouTube, as if by magic, someone stumbled upon them and commented favourably (“I think the guided busway looks fantastic and should at long last offer a real incentive for people to leave their cars at home”). What a stroke of luck for the Council! I assume that person was a random member of the public who just happens to have made their first YouTube comments that day, hasn’t made any YouTube comments elsewhere since, and just happens to write in the style of a PR person.
They say we get the Council we deserve. I must have been a very bad boy at some time.

Some of the images we use to indicate our commitment to “green”

Saturday 15 March 2008

beyond-petrol.gif
Someone’s going to get an interesting letter in the post on Monday morning. The Beyond Petrol site is a pixel-perfect spoof of the BP site, which falls just far enough the right side of silliness to make you take a second glance to check that it really is a spoof. Old and new communication techniques are permitting oil companies to communicate “green” while delivering the same huge value to stockholders, declares the front page. Those who are expecting the normal corporate PR snoozarama might not take in what spoof statements like that actually mean. Great stuff.

Nintendo Wii Fit: review and UK pre order

Sunday 16 March 2008

Nintendo Wii Fit screenshot
The UK arrival of the Nintendo Wii Fit has been set for late April is here, and almost everywhere has sold out. If you find someone who’s got one, buy it straight away, as any new allocations will go in minutes. Don’t wait for discounts (why would anyone give them?) but despite the demand, do not be ripped off either. The normal price is £69.99 in the UK, or $89.99 MSRP in the USA. Be suspicious of anyone charging over the odds. It’s your money.
Here are links to the Wii Fit page at some of the biggest online retailers. Best of luck.
Wii Fit at Amazon UK Wii Fit at Play.com Wii Fit at Toys R Us UK
NEWWii Fit at Amazon USA
Meanwhile, if you want some early thoughts on the Wii Fit, here’s the Wii Fit review from The Times, and here’s a good piece from MTV about the engineering of the Wii Fit and the Balance Board and here’s another background article on the Wii Fit from Nintendo itself.
Personally, I can’t wait. My young son and I already spend a few minutes at the end of each day doing “calf-stretching” exercises, as we seem to have hereditary shortened calf muscle problems, and this simple task makes us both a lot more flexible (and less restless at night). So just as a replacement from the boring task of standing on an angled board, Wii Fit should be worth getting. I think it’ll be a lot of fun too though. Over a million sales in Japan can’t all be wrong.

UPDATE – our Wii Fit arrived today and it’s obsessively fun. Of course you can do some (most?) of the exercises without any of this equipment, but actually, it brings a whole new dimension to some of them. Take the “yoga” exercises, for example. A yoga teacher can look at you and make a fairly good assessment of your balance, but standing on the Wii Fit Board, the Wii can measure your balance far more precisely. And it does – there’s no hiding place! The jogging exercise doesn’t even use the Board – you put the Wiimote in your pocket and it records your movement like a pedometer. This is truly an imaginative and well-thought-out piece of kit.
Here’s a great Wii Fit review from someone who really didn’t want to like it!

Yay! CSI: Ambleside!

Wednesday 19 March 2008

half-man-half-bsicuit-csi-ambleside-cd-cover.jpg
Fantastic news – the new Half Man Half Biscuit album is on the way (end April) now out, and it’s called CSI: Ambleside. They did a couple of new songs – On the ‘Roids and Bad Losers at Yahoo Chess – on the BBC Radio Merseyside session last September. I’ll get the lyrics to these on my Half Man Half Biscuit site in the next day or two. UPDATE: All CSI:Ambleside lyrics now present and correct
Meanwhile, here are some linkies:
Order CSI:Ambleside at the Probe Plus Store Order CSI:Ambleside at Amazon UK Order CSI:Ambleside at Play.com
Half Man Half Biscuit at eMusic Half Man Half Biscuit at the iTunes Music Store
Here’s the first CSI: Ambleside review out in the wild so far (thanks Jeremy)

Cult of Apple? Cult of Freebies, more like.

Thursday 27 March 2008


The wife told me it would be chaos, but I wanted to go down and see the new “Grand Arcade” shopping precinct in Cambridge which opened fully today. When I got there, it was busy, but not chaotic, except for one thing: a massive queue snaking down back into the old Lion Yard precinct next door. There were hundreds of people, young and old. What were they queueing for? Entrance to the new Apple Store, it turned out.
Now, I know Apple stuff is trendy and all that, but these people didn’t look like the sort that were about to drop £1500 on a MacBook Pro. I asked a few at the back what they were queueing for. Now, this is far too small a sample to be a scientific poll, but here are the answers I got: [1] “I’m not sure, there are a lot of people in the queue, so I hope it’s good”; [2] “They’re giving away free T-shirts”; and [3] “They’re giving away free T-shirts”.
The queue was about half an hour long. For a free T-shirt (or worse, just for something unknown which they hoped would be good). Blimey. There’s a lesson to every retailer. Mind you, being applauded in by the Apple Store staff evangelists was an amusing, if slightly alarming, experience.
Anyway, I filmed the sheep (above) and returned later when the queue had, not surprisingly, disappeared. The Apple Store was packed, and I’m sure they did plenty of business, even though you could buy the iPhone in the O2 Store 100m away, iPods in John Lewis 50m away, and Macs at Cancom, 500m away, all in much less frantic surroundings. It’s just like a miniature version of the Apple Store in Regent Street, the only other one I’ve ever visited, so like that store, it’ll be permanently busy with foreign students checking their Hotmail for free. In fact, come the summer, I suspect the queues will be back. Do they actually know how many thousands of overseas students we get in Cambridge every July and August?
The Grand Arcade is very nice, by the way, although it’s “grand” in terms of “plush”, rather than “grand” with a French pronunciation, because they ain’t ever gonna squeeze a large shopping mall in the centre of this city.

Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite going cheap

Thursday 24 April 2008

I wouldn’t like to be in the book trade these days. Competitive? You bet. Anyway, I suppose it’s to the benefit of book buyers. Gordon Ramsay’s new book, Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite, has already been marked down from £20 to £10 at Amazon UK. It’ll be at your door almost as soon as you can work out what to do with the tenner you’ve saved. Full details on the Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite offer here.
Timed to coincide with Ramsay’s usual high profile London Marathon appearance, Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite attempts to shame us all into healthier and fitter lives with a set of recipes which will make you feel a lot better about yourself. Taken from the third series of The F Word, the book has the usual mix of stuff you’ll probably want to try, stuff you won’t, and stuff you’ll never get round to sourcing all the right ingredients for at the same time. But it’ll look as good on your shelf as all the other telly chef books, and anyone receiving this as a present will probably be quite happy. You didn’t really want a full review, did you?

Some statistics about Ipswich Town’s season

Tuesday 6 May 2008


Finding myself having to do some Excel work today, and looking for some more interesting stats to distract me, I pasted in the Championship tables since the new tiering began 16 seasons ago (1992), so I could have some fun with unusual ratios and the SORT function in general.
We have, of course, been in the Championship for 11 of those 16 seasons.
Anyway, here’s some stuff concerning the 2007/2008 season.
Home Wins: Our 15 home wins this season has been bettered on 25 occasions, including three times by ourselves (we won 17 home games three years ago). But…
Home Defeats: Our single home defeat is only the 11th time that feat has been achieved (nobody’s ever gone undefeated at home). But we’re the first club to manage just one defeat at home and still finish outside the top four (half of the other ten ended up champions).
Home Points: 52 home points is good (joint 21st best ever) but lagging the 54 we managed three years ago and well behind the 60 achieved by Sunderland in 1998/9, Man City in 2001/2 and Reading in 2005/6.
Home Goals: Our 44 goals scored at home was good, but nothing special (joint 40th best ever, and a total we’ve beaten ourselves on five occasions, including 2002/3, 2003/4 and 2004/5 – ah, remember the BFJ years?). However, our 14 goals conceded at home was the joint 11th best by anyone ever, beating our previous best, the 1999/2000 promotion season, by 1. Our home goal difference of +30 was also comfortably our best ever, although a way off the +44 achieved by Man City in the season mentioned earlier.
Away Wins: Curiously, a team has had as few away wins as our 3 before and finished even higher (Sheff Utd, 6th in 1997/8). Three away wins is, unsurprisingly though, our lowest total ever. It’s worth noting that our second lowest total, 5, was last season, suggesting that an inability to perform on the road might be a bit of a Magilton thing.
Away Defeats: Similarly, it’s worth recording that we’ve only once before had 12 defeats away …and that was last season.
Away Goals: Our 21 goals scored was comfortably our worst ever – we managed 24 and 25 in the past two seasons, even though we finished in the bottom half of the table then. Our 42 goals conceded was also comfortably our worst ever: we only let in 30 last season and 34 the season before. Not surprisngly then, the away goal difference of -21 is also a stinker: only twice before has a top-half team managed such a bad figure (Notts Co in 1993/4 and Stockport in 1997/8).
Now we get onto the even more obscure stuff!
Our home points to away points ratio of 3.059 has only been bettered on five occasions, and always by teams finishing down the bottom. The difference in our home points and away points of 35 has only been equalled once before, by Reading in 1996/7 – they finished 18th.
Our home goals scored to away goals scored ratio (2.095) was our highest ever; our away goals conceded to home goals conceded ratio (3.0) was the second highest by anyone, ever: only Portsmouth in 1992/3 (4.1) can top that, which they did by conceding just 9 at home.
The ratio of goals scored to goals conceded used to be called the “goal average” in the good old days. Our home goal average this season was 3.143, comfortably our best ever, and only beaten on twelve occasions (that Protsmouth season again). No prizes for predicting that our away goal average (0.50) was our worst ever: although plenty of teams have done worse, only three have ever done so and still finished in the top half (Tranmere, extraordinarily, finished 5th in 1994/5 despite scoring just 16 away while conceding 35.
Now, let’s see how Jim Magilton is doing.
If we were going to compare our three most recent managers, it’s probably fair to select this season (Jim’s second) and compare it to Burley’s 1995/6 and Royle’s 2003/4 campaigns, which were both their first full seasons, having each had half a season’s warm-up.
So how do they compare? Here are the headline figures:

    • Burley 1995/6 – 7th (69 points)

 

    • Royle 2003/4 –
      5th (73 points)

 

    • Magilton 2007/8 – 8th (69 points)

 

Chalk one up to BFJ then. It’s the home-versus-away stats which really distinguish them though. All three teams scored a similar number of goals at home (Burley 45, Royle 49, Magilton 44) but the goals conceded at home this season has been the real anomaly (Burley 30, Royle 36, Magilton 14). Away, this season is the odd one out more terms of goals scored (Burley 34, Royle 35, Magilton 21) than conceded (Burley 39, Royle 36, Magilton 42).
So whilst all three sides are comparable in terms of overall performance, Jim’s comparison season is distinguished by an extraordinary home defence and an appalling away strike-rate.
Looking at the overall records of their seasons in charge, Royle’s first three seasons are 1, 2 and 3 in the goals scored table, which is what we probably remember the era for most, but Burley’s average of 73 goals a season isn’t far behind Royle’s 76, and well ahead of Magilton’s 65. Burley also had the best defence by far (averaging 47 goals conceded) compared to Magilton’s 58 and Royle’s 65. The reason Royle’s teams didn’t sweep all before them was probably that the defence was nearly as inept as the attack was lethal, but Magilton’s defensive record is, sadly, closer to Royle’s than Burley’s. The average goal differences read Burley +27, Royle +11, Magilton +7.
When it comes to points, Burley had the most successful era by far, averaging 80 points per season over his 5 seasons. Royle averaged 71, a figure pulled down by a poor final season, but Magilton has managed to average just 66.

Ebbsfleet Utd’s Big Day Out ends happily

Saturday 10 May 2008


What a great day for Ebbsfleet United, and yah-boo sucks (oh yes, my arguments are cultured) to over-opinionated, under-informed fools like Martin Samuel in The Times, who just took the easy option and stuck the boot into My Football Club without stopping to think that perhaps – just perhaps – these 29,000 souls who’ve invested real money into a real football team might be proper football supporters, not kids having a laugh.
The huge Ebbsfleet following at Wembley today was as real as it comes, and included many thousands of new supporters from all over the world joining the army from Kent. The powerful developments at this club which are being driven by the MyFC project are going to have a positive impact throughout football in the long run. So it might not change the game, but it’s another small and solid step away from the direction in which the game is being dragged.
Commiserations to Torquay, whose season has ended in such disappointment, but someone had to lose for those of us in red to have had such a good time. You may not believe in fate, but what were the chances of Ebbsfleet United getting to Wembley for the first time in the club’s long history (never mind winning), so soon after 29,000 real supporters took over? This thing is going to be really exciting, and today will go down as a remarkable start. Worth the £35 subscription fee on its own? You bet.

As many questions as answers, probably

Tuesday 27 May 2008


After I submitted a statistical analysis of Town’s season to Those Were The Days a week or two back, the good folks there have been badgering me for more, and I have to admit I couldn’t resist. Anyway, if you want to read all five I’ve now done, here they are: Boring Boring Ipswich Did We Punch Above Our Weight This Season? Did We Blow it All Mid-Season? Tough Acts To Follow For Magilton? …and the one which kicked it all off: 2007/08: How Does it Compare?

Harry Potter and the Big Coincidence

Wednesday 28 May 2008

So, I finished reading the last Harry Potter book to Alex tonight. Two or three years’ worth of bedtimes, and astonishing to think, I’ve read all seven books out loud. Stephen Fry, eat your heart out. Alex can’t even remember that far back, when he was just four years old and in Reception class, so effectively he’s never known a bedtime without Harry Potter being read to him. I don’t know how we’re going to fill the void!
The incredible thing was, today we went up to London. By train. From Cambridge to Kings Cross. So naturally we went to take a look at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters. On the very same day that we finished the Harry Potter series. How about that for a coincidence?
I’ve enjoyed the books. I can’t say I kept up with every last character and detail, and I was confused as to how Neville got the sword of Gryffindor at the end (did Griphook put it back in the Sorting Hat or something?). I also thought Voldemort went without much of a fight – or at least with an uncharacteristic number of fundamental fighting mistakes. I can’t wait for the last two – no, three, apparently – Harry Potter films. Not least of which because he seems to spend most of the last two books under the Invisibility Cloak, which is going to be rather hard to film.

My music: I really don’t know what to say

Sunday 22 June 2008


Look, some of my best friends are gay, etc etc…
So I tried out this little app called iTunes Statistician (found via the Tunequest blog) and it tells you what the most listened-to artists are in your iTunes library. Not that it would be difficult in my case, for ‘t’would be Half Man Half Biscuit, naturally.
Except not.
OK, look, it takes confidence in your heterosexuality to be able to publish the chart above. And I can explain, really I can, that amongst our family’s increasing fleet of iPods, one plays poptastic stuff for hours on end down in the kitchen – and when I plug it into the Mac to update, it increments the play count here on iTunes. So that explains four of the top five (and actually also Lee Ritenour, from our “dinner party” playlist. Mmm, nice).
Then again, whilst the last few gigs I’ve attended have been respectable enough to discuss down the pub, I see the next two lots of tickets on my pinboard are Girls Aloud and Kylie. “It was the missus made me do it!”, he screamed, as the style police dragged him away…

SEOClass Edinburgh

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Edinburgh SEO Class Ninja
Interesting couple of days in Edinburgh at Jim Boykin’s SEOClass with contrasting presentations from the likes of Lyndon Antcliff, Ammon Johns from Fresh Egg, Brian Turner from Britecorp, Shaun Anderson from Hobo, the extremely entertaining Quadszilla from seoblackhat.com, and of course Jim himself.
As ever with these events, the presenters seemed to be learning as much as the delegates, but even so, I’d like to thank Jim and the presenters for their efforts, given that it was a very small class, which was offered as much as anything in support of Jim’s brilliant Internet Marketing Ninjas subscription service. Veterans of this type of conference know that the standards of presentation are going to vary hugely (and they did) but that some of the hidden golden nuggets are often in the most unexpected presentations (and they were). I’m off to trawl through my notes – there are quite a lot of arrows and asterisks to decipher.
Stop Press: Nice writeup on Internet Business

QD – where I buy my flat caps

Wednesday 2 July 2008


Yeah yeah, it’ll probably turn out to be some sort of viral advertising, although somehow I doubt it was dreamed up by Tendring District Council. But whatever, it’s well funny, innit?

Hot new album alert

Wednesday 2 July 2008


Thanks to Aether Everywhere (and StumbleUpon) for this brilliant game. Generate your own random album (it’s up to you to decide what the musical genre might be).
1 – Choose a name for your band from the random page which comes up here
2 – Choose an album title by selecting the final random quote on this page (you may prefer to select just the last four words of the quote)
3 – Get your album cover from the third picture on this page
And there’s your album. That’s mine above, that is.

Friends Provident Trophy Final 2008 tickets and details

Saturday 5 July 2008

Cricket eh? The final balls had hardly been bowled in the Friends Provident Trophy semi-finals than people were probably hitting the net to find out about tickets and details for the final. I was one of them, but boy was it hard work. So with any luck, this quick blog post will clear up what you need to know about the 2008 Kent vs Essex Friends Provident Trophy final.
Firstly, where and when is it? The Friends Provident Trophy Final is at Lords on Saturday 16 August 2008 at 10:30.
Now, how do I get tickets? I believe Lords cricket ground has a capacity of just 28,000, so tickets for a final between two sides as popular (and close to London) as Essex and Kent will be like gold dust. Tickets are not on sale there directly at the time of writing. There’ll be a few ticket sales outlets, but Seatwave may be worth a shot. Hopefully the good people there will put an ad on this page to take you straight to the right place. But hey, I’ll take Friends Provident Trophy Final tickets from wherever I can get them. Best of luck, everyone!

Keywords: Cricket, Friends Provident Trophy Final 2008, Essex, Kent

Acer Aspire One – Sunday Times recommended

Sunday 13 July 2008


The Sunday Times today featured a review of the new generation of “solid-state” notebook PCs, which are faster and more reliable than traditional hard drive-toting laptops. Below I’ve tracked down the models they’ve reviewed, and given you links to the product information pages at Amazon UK.
BEST BUYAcer Aspire One
This great little machine is released on 11 August, but order it today as demand is bound to be massive. Why? Because not only does it tick all the boxes, but it’s just £220 (even less than the Sunday Times review model!). For just carrying around, accessing the web and email, and writing documents, it’s state-of-the-art. And a fetching shade of blue. Note that the other Acer Aspire One models at Amazon UK are conventional hard drive models.» Details of the Aspire One A110-Ab Netbook (Sapphire Blue) at Amazon UK
Also ReviewedApple MacBook Air (not currently in stock at Amazon) ASUS – eeePC 701 4G black (UK version) Lenovo ThinkPad X300 6478Elonex ONEt (not currently in stock at Amazon)

Whale watching in Victoria

Thursday 7 August 2008


Another (partial) triumph for TripAdvisor: just back from a fabulous whale-watching trip from Victoria BC (where we’re on holiday), and the company we chose (from seemingly dozens) must surely be the best whale watching tour operator in the area. We shortlisted Eagle Wing Tours from the literature at Tourist Information, and then were delighted to find they were ranked top on TripAdvisor. Simply the coolest boats around, and great people. I gave them a nice review to add to the pile. And yes, I did take the shot above – although I missed what would have been a better one, when two killer whales jumped out of the water together, because I’d put my camera away, not wanting to miss seeing what was going on through my own eyes. It was the right thing to do – sorry you can’t see the image from my memory.

GB Olympics Medals Totals

Wednesday 13 August 2008

This is simply one of those things which I was curious about, and found it tricky to find online. Eventually I did. So I present the data here in the hope that it might save you an equally long search.

YearVenueGoldSilverBronzeTotalPosition
1948London31462312th
1952Helsinki1281118th
1956Melbourne6711248th
1960Rome26122012th
1964Tokyo41221810th
1968Mexico City5531310th
1972Munich4591812th
1976Montreal3551313th
1980Moscow579219th
1984Los Angeles510223711th
1988Seoul51092412th
1992Barcelona53122013th
1996Atlanta1861536th
2000Sydney111072810th
2004Athens9912309th

I suspect that Great Britain’s Olympic medals totals – and position overall in the table – are lower than most people think, or seem to remember. We’ve rarely crept into the top ten since World War 2, and don’t forget our results were probably exaggerated in the Olympic Games which had boycotts, which were 1980 and 1984 to the best of my memory. In fact, GB’s performance at the last two Olympics have been exceptional, and they’re shaping up to be just as good in Beijing in 2008. Just because we don’t have a couple of superstar middle distance runners any more, doesn’t mean we don’t sit at the top table. We do.
(Mind you, as has been pointed out, the sports where we excel, such as rowing, sailing, equestrianism, cycling etc., all have one thing in common: they’re the sports where you sit on your backside. How very British)
UPDATE: Day Ten of the Beijing Olympics, and just in case it never gets any better than this, here’s today’s medal table. You read it right: that’s third. Yes, THIRD.

One month away…

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Insider Programme sales page
Well, I’m one month away from the kickoff date for my new venture, Business Marketing Online, and we open sales for the first product, the Business Marketing Online Insider Programme, next week (8 September). I’ll be blogging its progress here – we have no subscribers yet (because we haven’t started sales, duh) but a lot of interest, and I hope to pick up the first few clients from that go-ahead bunch of people who’ve been keeping in touch over the summer. It was even suggested that I make an introductory video, which I did, and here it is – yours truly talks about how to improve your business website.

Google Analytics integration with Adsense data

Thursday 4 September 2008

Google Adsense integrates with Google Analytics
Several blogs have picked up on a post which appeared on a blog called The GoogleCache a couple of weeks ago, detailing the author’s experience with a new facility to integrate Google Analytics with Adsense. Oddly, the post disappeared, but you can still get it by subscribing to the site’s RSS feed. In case you can’t, here’s what the “Google Adsense->Analytics Beta” is going to offer.
There’s a new option in the Content Tab of Google Analytics which leads you to the new data. Firstly, there’s a whole bunch of stuff for management reporting, including Adsense Revenue per 1000 Visits, Adsense Ads Clicked, Adsense Ads Clicked per Visit, Adsense CTR, Adsense eCPM, Adsense Ad Units Viewed, Adsense Unit Impressions per Visit, Adsense Page Impressions, and Adsense Page Impressions per Visit.
More interesting is a list of your pages getting Adsense page impressions which can be sorted by Revenue, Ads Clicked, Impressions, CTR and eCPM. Now you’re able to see the best-performing pages on your site, which means you can really focus your optimisation efforts. Then you can start drilling down to look at the data for individual pages. You can see the pages with the best-paying ads (how I’d like to have had that in my previous job!) and the ones with the best click through rates. Then start to look at the pages amongst these which got good direct search traffic, and see if there’s an opportunity to work on the SEO for those pages. Amazing for sites with thousands of pages and huge long-tail search traffic.

Philips Warm Intimate Massager review

Saturday 6 September 2008

Philips Warm Initimate Massager photo

The Times seemed to get something of a scoop with its review of the Philips Warm Intimate Massager. Apparently it’s going to be on sale in Boots and Selfridges, which is nice, but I doubt that many people will be brave enough to buy them there – instead they’ll all flock to Amazon. Here’s the product page for the Philips HF8410/00 Warm Intimate Massager at Amazon UK.
According to the Times report, the Philips Warm Intimate Massager is a “gently vibrating device to help couples get in the mood”, aimed at “established couples who are put off by smutty presentation of the existing range of massage devices”. The report is the best link I can give you at the moment, but I’ll add more here as soon as there are reviews elsewhere.
[Update] First video Warm Intimate Massager review from Shiny Shiny – shame about the bad lighting at the venue, but it gets the message over: Also, here’s the link for Boots.com.

Dr Who: What Are You Doing Here?

Saturday 27 September 2008


Surely the greatest labour of love to ever find its way onto YouTube. I watched for eight minutes with jaw slowly dropping lower to the floor. It takes three minutes just to get through the old black and white Doctor Who incarnations. Of course, Jon Pertwee turns it into “What the blazes are you doing here?”
Watch in awestruck admiration. Thanks to b3ta for the heads-up.

Your complete Half Man Half Biscuit information solutions provider

Thursday 23 October 2008

Pam Ayres: 'Orses
A good day. The guy who owned the halfmanhalfbiscuit.co.uk domain didn’t seem to be using it, and the registration ran out in July. So I’ve spent the 94 days’ grace period since then desperately hoping he wouldn’t change his mind and re-register it. He didn’t. Woo! Now I own it. If the band want it at any time, they’re welcome, but until then, I’ll use it to link to The Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics Project here.

Business cards to get you noticed

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Business Cards
I was describing my new(-ish) business cards to someone today, and it occurred to me I’d never put them on public display, nor had I credited the inspirations behind them. So here goes. Thanks to Guy Kawasaki’s blog for the original idea, and thanks to Wendy at Adeptise for the great execution. The company logo looks a little low-key, but it’s actually spot varnished in real life.

Our favourite Chinese takeaway in Cambridge

Sunday 9 November 2008

There, I’ve said it. The best Chinese takeaway in Cambridge is The Mermaid at the very far end of Chesterton High Street (I think it’s called Green End Road by then). We’ve tried most of them, and although we enjoy eating at the likes of Charlie Chan, The Ugly Duckling and the Peking, there are times when only a takeaway will do. It’s a shame that they don’t do home deliveries, because we have to hack across town and brave the badlands of Chesterton to get there, but it would be worth the trip just for the fantastic, massive, sweet and sour chicken balls. Do try it.

Mini Coyote Speed Camera Detector

Tuesday 11 November 2008

The Mini Coyote Speed Camera Detector (which was written about in The Times) is now available from Amazon UK for £199.
Click on the link below to go directly to the correct page at Amazon where you can read more and where you can buy the mini speed camera detector.
COYOTE – Coyote Mini Speed Camera Detector
Please note that the information above is correct at the time of writing but price and availability do sometimes change at Amazon.
UPDATE: See important note below.

Engineering articles from the 1990s

Thursday 27 November 2008

TechArchive screenshot
For ages I’ve been sitting on loads of great engineering articles written in the late nineties, and at last I’ve got around to putting them onto the interweb. They were produced by various engineering suppliers for general publication. I know a few will have appeared in print, but most of them have never been published online, to the best of my knowledge. You’ll find them at Chris Rand’s TechArchive – I’ve no commercial motivation or anything, I just think it’s interesting to see some of the stuff which was going around ten years ago or more. As I got through what I’ve got, I’ll upload more, so keep checking back to the site to see what’s new. Or old, I guess.

Say it with Tommy. Or Ben.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Sayitmessages.com screenshot
The more I think about this, the more I think it’s a great idea. Say It is a excellently-designed (technically and aesthetically) site with a really fun product too – what’s not to like? The site allows you to send a professionally-recorded poem or song to someone, and to have their name inserted into it as appropriate too. Sounds corny? Yep. Does it work? Oh yes. I sent a song to the missus and watched as she played it – and her expression went from “huh?” slowly to “aaaahhh…” (in a good way) in 20 seconds. It’s brilliant, and compared to the money people readily burn on ringtones, not bad value either. The next best thing to sending Tommy Blaize or Ben Mills round personally.

Best live band in the world

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Saw Doctors Live
If there’s a better live band in the world than the Saw Doctors, I’d travel a long, long way to see them. I’ve seen great bands with fanatical local following (Ezio etc) and great bands with fanatical worldwide following (Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, etc) but I’ve never seen a band make a crowd as happy as the Saw Doctors do. The last time I got as excited as I did at tonight’s Saw Doctors gig was probably a couple of years ago – the last time I saw them. They make you so happy you almost want to cry. Honestly, if you said I had only two hours to live and could spend it any way I wanted, this would be the way I’d choose to go out.
PS: And although they didn’t play it tonight, I’d like I hope we’ll meet again played at my funeral one day.

Best of 2008. No arguments.

Sunday 21 December 2008

half-man-half-bsicuit-csi-ambleside-cd-cover.jpg
My cultural highlights of the year were probably the Saw Doctors at Cambridge, Roger Waters at the O2, Kylie (aw, bless) at the O2, Simon Day at Cambridge, Happy Go Lucky, Iron Man, Juno, There Will Be Blood, all of the great medal-winning performances at the Olympics, Ebbsfleet United winning at Wembley, England beating Croatia, Holland at the European Championships, the Wimbledon final, the end of the last Grand Prix of the season, Essex beating Kent to win the FP Trophy final at Lord’s, Cricinfo’s County Championship Fantasy Cricket, Gavin and Stacey, Outnumbered, The Apprentice, Little Dorrit (except the rubbish ending), Danny Baker on 6-0-6, Kermode and Mayo on Five Live, the TWTD Naked Football podcast, Stephen Fry’s podcasts, PhotoshopDisasters.com, b3ta, Lifehacker.com, The Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics Project, The Internet Now In Handy Book Form!, Word magazine, Christian Wolmar’s Fire and Steam, John O’Farrell’s An Utterly Impartial History of Britain – Or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge, Half Man Half Biscuit’s CSI:Ambleside, Sigur Rós’s Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust and the fantastic The Promise single from Girls Aloud. Make of that what you will. Alex has just reminded me how brilliant Wall-E was too, but Dawn will never convince me that either Sex and the City or Mamma Mia! were any good, sorry.

2nd Gen iPod Nano Red gets red hot

Monday 22 December 2008

Very hot 2nd Generation iPod Nano
Two electronic gadget failures on the same day, and in both cases the solution was online. I’ll blog about my Sky+ HD box showing “FAILED” recordings in a moment, but first, my second generation red iPod Nano from early 2007, which this morning showed a “Sad Mac” icon, something I hadn’t seen on an Apple product since an old Quadra 840AV back in the 90s. I assumed it would need some sort of hard reset, but the normal reboot (press the menu and select buttons together for 6 seconds) wasn’t working, so I thought it was probably discharged, and not even recharging via the usual USB connection to my iMac. Acting on some advice online, I tried recharging using a mains-connected dock, and although I got the Sad Mac when I plugged it in, I just left it for a bit.
Fortunately I didn’t leave it for too long, because I’m impatient and wanted to reset it. When I returned after an hour, the iPod was red hot to the touch and I almost burned myself. Gingerly unplugging the mains dock, I let the iPod cool and then removed it, before heading back to the web to Google this new turn of events. And wouldn’t you know it, there seems to be a rare but documented fault with 2G iPod Nanos bursting into flames because of faulty batteries. Whether this is my problem or not, I’m not sure, but I knew that having an Apple Store here in Cambridge would turn out to be useful one day. I’m off down there when I get a spare hour, and will report back below.
UPDATE (1): “Do you have an appointment at the Genius Bar, Sir?” “No, I have a faulty iPod which I’d like to talk to you about.” “Ah, sorry, you’ll need an appointment, would you like to book an appointment on this computer?” “Er, not really. Would the appointment be like, er, now? “Well, if you book in, it’ll tell you” “Can’t you just ask one of your colleagues if they’re free?” “Look, just type your name and details here Sir …thank you… and… sorry, there’s nobody free until next week” “What do you mean? If I’d bought this from John Lewis I wouldn’t be asked to come back next week by a bloody iMac” “Look, I tell you what, I’ll see if I can interrupt one of my colleagues in the back room and maybe they can take a look” (A couple of minutes later) “Hello again Sir, well, this is not a unit corresponding to the serial numbers of those with reported problems, so I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do, as it’s out of warranty” “OK, but can it be fixed?” “That’s not something we can do. But I can give you the number of AppleCare, here we go. They might help.” Moral of the story so far: buy Apple products, because they’re great, but buy them from a retailer which cares about its customers, not the manufacturer direct…

Sky HD box shows FAILED a lot, and broken picture

Monday 22 December 2008

Sky HD box internals (thanks to Satcure)
My second gadget-related failure of the weekend was my Sky HD box, which had spent the last two days showing a couple of problems: scheduled recordings were showing “FAILED” even though their transmission time hadn’t been reached yet; and the picture was breaking up, but oddly only on certain channels. Of course, nobody buys Sky’s expensive warranties, and they charge £65 to come and take a look, so as ever with these things, it’s off to Google. This was a hard one to track down, because it’s difficult to describe the problems in the same way as everyone else, but it turns out that loads (and I mean loads) of people are having the same problem. It’s caused by some cheap capacitors in the Sky HD box power supply unit failing: this apparently leads to interference with specific channels, and the clock racing ahead into the future, so that recordings appear to have failed even though the time to record them hasn’t actually happened yet.
Here is a long discussion about Sky HD and Sky+ power supply failures and here is another one about the same subject of Sky HD recording and picture blocking failures. However, you may wish to jump straight to the solutions, which come from a company called Satcure in Telford, which is behind the first discussion forum above.

    1. If you’re a dab hand with a soldering iron, read the notes and for £10.95 buy a capacitor upgrade kit from Satcure and replace the offending components with some decent ones;

 

    1. If you’re OK with a screwdriver and some fiddly stuff, extract your power supply unit and send it back to Satcure to replace the offending components with some decent ones for £32.95;

 

  1. Find a local repairer who is familiar with the problem (don’t just go to any old TV shop) – there’s a list here – I guess this’ll cost at least £50, but get a quote based on the information above;
  2. Buy a new Sky HD box – £199 (see the small print there);

I opted for the second option, using these great notes here. It only took 5 minutes to remove the power supply, although I’ve always been someone who takes electronic stuff to bits, so the operation didn’t hold any fear. It took longer to package it all up safely, and longer still to walk down to the post office and queue up to post it. Fortunately we have our old Sky+ box from pre-HD days, so that’s now resumed service in the lounge. I’ll report back on Satcure’s service.

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