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2009 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…

Compilation of 2008

Thursday 8 January 2009

And so we wheel out the picture of the best album of 2008 for one last time, as I bring you my Compilation of 2008 – a CD of (mostly) sheer joy which I have imposed on some of my less fortunate friends over Christmas. The order was chosen to mix them all nicely into one another (seriously) although the best is saved until last.

  • Ghosts by Laura Marling from Alas I Cannot Swim (03:01)
  • Perfect Symmetry by Keane from Perfect Symmetry (05:12)
  • Nylon Smile by Portishead from Third (03:20)
  • Le Temps Perdu by Carla Bruni from Comme Si De Rien N’Etait (02:46)
  • Tiger Mountain Peasant Song by Fleet Foxes from Fleet Foxes (03:29)
  • Human by The Killers from Day and Age (04:05)
  • Fat Old Sun by David Gilmour from Live In Gdansk (06:40)
  • Geraldine by Glasvegas from Glasvegas (03:45)
  • Viva La Vida by Coldplay from Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (04:01)
  • The Shock Of The Lightning by Oasis from Dig Out Your Soul (05:00)
  • One Day Like This by Elbow from The Seldom Seen Kid (06:34)
  • Time Tracks You Down by Swing Out Sister from Beautiful Mess (03:57)
  • The Promise by Girls Aloud from Out Of Control (04:04)
  • Ára bátur by Sigur Rós from Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (08:57)
  • Sorry by Karine Polwart from This Earthly Spell (04:18)
  • National Shite Day by Half Man Half Biscuit from CSI: Ambleside (06:24)

MacBook Pro power cable splits and frays

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Frayed MacBook power cable
The power cable on my MacBook Pro started to show a few problems after about six months. Firstly, the little charging light didn’t come on properly until you waggled the ‘MagSafe’ connector around a bit in its socket. Then, eventually, you could see the cable cover was beginning to come away from the plug, exposing the wire underneath. Not good, especially as I’d treated the power cord with as much care at the MacBook itself. A bit of research revealed that this has happened to loads of people, and apparently Apple did acknowledge the problem last year, although I can’t find any official reference to it now. With the MacBook about 10 months old, I took the power brick into the Apple Store in Cambridge and asked for a replacement, which was provided without question. So top marks for Apple on that one.
However, it’s all a terrible waste. There was nothing wrong with the power brick itself, but because the cable does not plug into the brick (it has a sealed connection), the whole assembly has to be replaced, just because one little bit of wire has frayed. And another thing: since the whole point of the MagSafe connector is that it can be yanked out of the laptop without bringing £1500-worth of electronics crashing to the floor, shouldn’t it be stronger than your average power cable?
Anyway, if it happens again, I don’t fancy trying to argue with Apple that although the MacBook is out of warranty, the power cable is a more recent replacement and therefore should still be in warranty. So I’m investing in this slightly expensive but decent insurance policy, a lump of plastic designed exactly to overcome Apple’s design flaw called the Mac MagSaver. The company promptly answered my query about shipping to Europe (they do, and there’s no extra charge), so they’re welcome to US$15 for the good service.
Talking of which, I was once again nearly a victim of Apple’s theoretically efficient but useless-in-practice system of having to book appointments at its Apple Stores. I knew if I just pitched up at the Apple Store with my dodgy power cable and asked for a replacement, they’d ask if I’d first booked an appointment at the bloody “Genius Bar”, otherwise it would be hard to discuss anything (can you imagine being asked if you’d booked an appointment if you took something back to any other shop?). So being organised, I went to the website to preannounce my arrival. There was no slot available for two days (jeez!) but hey-ho, I was prepared to wait. Then I was asked to predict my arrival in two days’ time to within 20 minutes. What do they think I am? So I had a guess, and said 9.20am.
Two days later, I walked into the store, admittedly just after half past nine, but not bad for two days’ notice. I strolled up to the Genius Bar, gave them my power brick with the dodgy cable, and showed the shop assistant the problem. She went into the back room to find someone to talk to me. With the door open, I could clearly hear her being told “look, the customer’s 13 minutes late for his appointment, we can’t see him now, that’s all there is to it”. The other customers waiting at the bar smiled at me or raised eyebrows knowingly. The assistant returned and said that unfortunately I’d missed my slot, so could I wait until the person being seen to had finished, and they’d try to fit me in? Well of course, if I go into any shop I expect to take my place behind whoever was in the queue first. What the hell was all that “13 minutes” stuff about?
When the woman in front of me had finished her discussion with the “Genius”, she turned to me as she was leaving and said “Good luck”. Which rather said it all. After that, the Apple Store people were very helpful and efficient. But what a ridiculous system. Apple products are great. But buy them from John Lewis, where you get conventional service from a conventional retailer, for the same price, and with a better guarantee.

Champion Larch Ditherers

Sunday 1 March 2009

110% Larch Dithering! Champion!110% Larch Dithering! Champion!
I’ve always loved anagrams, although my admiration for their possibilities reached its peak many years ago when my flatmate and I realised the best ever anagram of his name was “Bob Ganjashit”. In those days, you either did anagrams with Scrabble letters, a big piece of paper, or a program you could download for the BBC Micro which took ages and never came up with much. Now you can go online and get thousands of anagrams of anything in seconds. So after all these years, it’s time to generate a new list of anagrams of my own name, and choose a top 25, which are presented here in alphabetical order …although I so want to be known as Archdeacon “Shrimp” Hitler in future.

  • Archdeacon “Shrimp” Hitler
  • Armchair Dolphin Etchers
  • Catholic Shrimp Hardener
  • Champion Larch Ditherers
  • Charred Ophthalmic Resin
  • Chartered Philharmonics
  • Cherish Chart Palindrome
  • Childcare Orphan Hermits
  • Chlorinated Chimp Rasher
  • Hardline Seraphim Crotch
  • Harsh Antlered Microchip
  • Harsher Dental Microchip
  • Hashed Armpit Chronicler
  • Hermetic Porch Handrails
  • Hierarchical Depth Norms
  • Hornier Chimp Cathedrals
  • Horrid Chemical Panthers
  • Milder Rhino Catchphrase
  • Monarchical Third Sphere
  • Panoramic Child Thresher
  • Patrolman “Chi-Chi” Herders
  • Philanderer Thrash Comic
  • Pilchard Archeries Month
  • Prehistoric March Handle
  • Technical Shrimp Hoarder

One day I ought to do definitions of what all these exotic creations might be.

VAT, the Flat Rate scheme, AdWords, AdSense and confusion

Monday 9 March 2009

I’ve just spent far too long (as is always the way) trying to find out what I should be doing when it comes to accounting for VAT with my AdWords, Amazon affiliate marketing and AdSense activity. The confusion stems from two things: firstly, these services are supplied from other EU countries (with different VAT rates) or from outside the EU; and secondly, Google usually charges most UK advertisers Irish-rate VAT on their AdWords and apparently, if you’re a business (which you almost certainly are, if you’re using AdWords), they shouldn’t be charging you that VAT. All this leads to everyone I’ve spoken to not understanding how much money they should (or shouldn’t) have been paid to or from Google and HM Revenue and Customs. Spend an hour Googling various small business forums, and you’ll find totally contradictory advice, so it gets even worse.
So, to save you the effort I’ve been going through, here’s the best set of advice I’ve found on affiliate marketing and VAT. Huge respect to the authors, an affiliate marketing specialist accountancy service in Yorkshire, who appear to know a lot more than your average high street accountant.
From this document on Affiliate Marketing for those on Flat-Rate VAT, I’ve understood therefore that if you’re on flat-rate VAT, the following applies:
1. Amazon affiliate payments come from another EU country (Luxembourg) but are “out of the scope of UK VAT” and therefore not included in your flat rate turnover; 2. AdSense payments come from outside the EU (the USA) and are also out of the scope of UK VAT and therefore not included in your flat rate turnover; 3. AdWords expenditure is to another EU country (Ireland) but does not have to be included in your flat rate turnover (Section 6.4 of HMRC leaflet 733, updated March 2007).
So in summary, that means nothing has to go on your VAT return regarding Amazon affiliate income, AdSense income or AdWords expenditure. Their only relevance to VAT is that they might lift you over the threshold where you have to be registered for VAT, but if you’re already registered (and on the flat rate scheme), that’s not a factor.
Note this will not apply to you if you’re not registered for VAT, or if you are registered but aren’t on the flat rate scheme. And as ever, check with your own accountant or go through this with the National VAT Advice Service on 0845 010 9000 – if you call, ask for a reference number at the start of the call and ask that the advice they give you is recorded with your account.

4-20mA Aerospace Widgets news

Tuesday 10 March 2009

4-20mA Aerospace Widgets - often seen in aircraft, apparently
This post is a bit silly. Sorry. Apparently, the 4-20mA current loop standard is important in widgets for the aircraft market. At least, it is as far as this page about 4-20mA Aerospace Widgets is concerned. I made the page up just now, to show how companies can build an authority page on search engines for niche subjects they might be involved in. The page took me about 30 minutes to create, and even if it was a real subject, assuming I was knowledgeable about the subject, it shouldn’t have taken any longer. Anyway, let’s see how it does in Google, shall we? Here are links to the Wikipedia pages about 4-20mA, aerospace and widgets, just to help the whole thing along.

Tweeting from Portman Road

Saturday 21 March 2009

Well, four or five of us twittered from this afternoon’s riveting nil-nil thriller at Portman Road; the whole project is a little primitive at the moment, but I honestly believe that one day this sort of thing will be taken for granted. Over forty fans had signed up to follow the Twitter feed (presumably largely those not at the game!) and I’m sure that a few more kept an eye on the page.
Anyway, if you followed the Tweets, how was it for you? Useful? Not really adding much to information you could get elsewhere, such as the Ipswich World commentary, the BBC text updates or the TWTD messageboard? Or a lifeline? Do let us know below, because it’ll be useful feedback for those of us who contributed, and those who might like to join in at a later date. Be honest!

The Damned United

Friday 27 March 2009

The first of something like seven films scheduled for release in the next few weeks which I’ve been really looking forward to was The Damned United, which has been reviewed as that rarest of things, a good film about football. And it is: I really enjoyed it. What I find odd though is that several reviewers have said “it’s not about football, you don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy this film”, and I have to take that as being true, as the reviewers writing that really don’t seem to be football fans. But as far as I’m concerned, thie film is totally about football. All I could see were those league tables superimposed on the screen as Derby moved up the league, remembering Keegan and Bremner being sent off at Wembley, and wondering, as we all did, how England would have got on if Clough had been made manager. The film was, for me, 100% about football and 100% nostalgia. Clearly it’s worked on a quite different level for other people; apparently it’s a love story about two inseparable men – I even heard one girl saying, as we left the cinema, that she’d got quite tearful at the end. All I could think about was “thank goodness Clough and Taylor got back together again, or we’d never have had those great evenings when Forest won the European Cup”. So the moral of the story is: if you want to go and see a genuinely good film about football, which will be particularly resonant if you grew up in the seventies, you should go and see The Damned United – and the real bonus is that if you’ve got a significant other who isn’t into football, you can take them and apparently they’ll really enjoy it too. Although they’ll be watching a completely different film.

The Boat That Rocked

Friday 10 April 2009

Radio Caroline meant a lot to me as a teenager. Few people seem to remember that just as the radio station brought pop to the masses in the sixties when no legal station was broadcasting it, in the seventies it was the only radio station broadcasting rock music. It might have been the decade of Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis, but apart from Caroline, you wouldn’t have found any of their music on the air outside of two hours a week with Tommy Vance on Friday nights.
Caroline was also stationed offshore just out from our house in Harwich. It was too small to see on the horizon from my bedroom window, but I probably imagined I could. And when one stormy night the local lifeboat had to go out and rescue the crew, it was my Dad who (heroically) drew criticism for not arresting them when they came ashore. I must ask him more about that story. And the connections continued when, in the late eighties, a mate of mine from university (hi Steve!) went out to work there, and I could listen to him while commuting to work across London every day.
So yes, Radio Caroline means a lot to me.
Anyway, this film isn’t about Caroline, it’s about a totally different pirate radio station, called “Radio Rock” (mmm, right). And it’s all set back in the swinging sixties, not in the seventies. But I still felt a bit proprietorial about it. I needn’t have worried: it’s all just such absurdist fantasy that it bears very little relation to what things must have been like, both on the boat (the North Sea looked calmer than the Stour at Dedham) and as a listener (all those clips of groups of people gathered around transistor radios to listen to the Rolling Stones as if a war was being announced!).
So, bearing in mind that the film is just a bit of whimsy, was it any good? Well, the cast and script were great, and you’ll love it if you like films where you spend half the time thinking “Oh it’s him off such-and-such, isn’t it?” Kenneth Branagh was terrific, as was Emma Thompson, although she was criminally underused. Yet the film is a mess narratively – or at least, it wandered around far too much getting to where it ended up going. But it made me laugh several times, which I guess was the point. Just as with Richard Curtis’ last effort, Love Actually, there was a good story hidden in there which could have been expanded out to a great movie, but it was buried with loads of other stuff you just didn’t care about (in this case, the main character’s sexual exploits) or conversely were important but weren’t explored (his relationship with his Dad). It’s certainly not Four Weddings or Notting Hill, and although the sex and language weren’t crude, there was enough there that the film won’t become a Christmas TV staple either. But if it begins to explain the importance of pirate radio to a wider audience, it’ll achieve a lot more than most of the depressingly disposable stuff which tops the movie charts each week at the moment.

Peter Alliss – probably fatter than Pavarotti

Friday 10 April 2009

I cannot stand Peter Alliss, the golf commentator, who should have retired years ago. Just as Tiger Woods is about to sink a putt to win a tournament, you think he’s going to chip in: “Now, at this point I really should take the opportunity to pay tribute to dear old Mrs Tweed, the ladies’ fixtures secretary at Royal Sandwich, for her sterling work over 50 years” or something similarly eccentric. But tonight he excelled himself. He joined the commentary box, and his colleague rather oddly welcomed him as “the Pavarotti of golf”, to which Alliss replied: “Well that’s very kind of you, although he’s not in too good a shape at the moment, and I’m slightly less avoir du poids than him”.
I assume he was using this phrase to mean “I’m slightly less fat than he is”, which is unlikely, as most those of us inhabiting the planet Earth (unlike Alliss) probably realise that although indeed Pavarotti is “not in too good a shape at the moment” (as he’s very, very dead), the fact that he passed away 18 months ago probably means that Alliss would weigh in slightly heavier than the operatic maestro, should they choose to exhume him for comparison.
Only in golf, which is the last refuge of superannuated Tory bigots, would someone like Alliss continue to be accepted.

Looking for the best sit-down Chinese restaurant in Cambridge?

Friday 10 April 2009

I haven’t done a restaurant review for ages, but I was blown away by our meal at The Peking in Cambridge tonight, so I’ve dusted off my reviewer’s hat (not seen since the days of AdHoc and RealCity magazines) and put this one on LocalSecrets and Tripadvisor…
“In its old – rather downmarket – home in Burleigh Street, nobody seemed to believe that the Peking could be quite as good as it was claimed to be by fans. Now it’s moved to a new building opposite the new “Leisure Park”, and although it’s an unexpected choice of location, the new restaurant itself is a bright, modern affair which seems much more in keeping with the classy cooking. It’s only a few metres from Alimentum, another new upmarket Cambridge restaurant, so perhaps this may become the new foodie quarter of the city. It’s a shame the parking isn’t too brilliant (you’d probably be best using the Leisure Park NCP, first left down Cherry Hinton Road).
“Anyway, the food and service is what it’s all about, and there are no complaints from us here. The front-of-house manager (wife of the chef) is a wonderful character, and if you’re the sort of person who (like me) is happy to say: “What would you recommend?”, you’ll be guaranteed a good meal. The menu looks expensive if you’re used to £4.50 takeaway trays, but it’s not. Portions are very generously sized, and our meal of Dim Sum, followed by a main course each with rice, plus three Chinese beers and copious pots of China tea, was £50 for two plus a 10% service charge.
“Now that it’s at a nice, very clean, accessible venue, the Peking is without doubt our favourite Chinese restaurant in Cambridge (and we frequent many of them). You could drop in here for a casual meal, or you could impress guests for a more formal night out – either way I doubt you’d be disappointed.”

In The Loop – hilarious

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Just back from a preview screening of In The Loop, the movie extension to the fantastic The Thick Of It TV series, held at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge and with writer/director Armando Ianucci present for a Q+A with a sell-out audience.
If the laugh-out-loud count is a measure of a good comedy, this one coasts past the line after about 10 minutes. I can’t remember laughing so much at a movie for years, and I doubt I’ve ever laughed so much at sheer sweariness. Armando Ianucci said he was inspired to use comedy to point out the problems in modern politics by classics such as The Great Dictator and Dr Strangelove, and he certainly gets over his central premise, that major misguided decisions can be made as a result of a combination of minor, well-intentioned ones. Impressively, it’s never revealed which party is in power, who the Prime Minister is, and which country is being invaded, but obviously it shadows the invasion of Iraq. If you like intelligent comedy, whether you’ve seen The Thick Of It or not, you’ll love this.

All Aboard the MisGuided Bus at last!

Friday 17 April 2009

All aboard the MisGuided Bus
Well, the expensive potential white elephant which is the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway is running at least six months late (and with additional contractors being called in, that may be optimistic), so this week must have been a great relief to the Council. At last they were able to get a section open to demonstrate the system to overexcited councillors and then – today – a few busloads of members of the public. I was amongst those lucky competition winners, and here are some of the photos I took of the new buses, as well as a video shot from the back seat on the upper deck (as there was already one out of the front available on YouTube).
All aboard the MisGuided BusAll aboard the MisGuided BusAll aboard the MisGuided Bus
The buses are pretty standard types, with lots of executive class extras which I’m sure the schoolkids coming in from St Ives every morning will enjoy, such as leather seats, wifi connectivity and power points, as you can see. I’m sure the Guided Busway’s publicists will focus heavily on these amenities, but they’re nothing to do with the busway – the operator could choose to make these available on any bus on any route, if it decided they made commercial sense. I’m not sure why the Guided Busway passengers need this added incentive to take the bus, but they certainly won’t be complaining.
All aboard the MisGuided BusAll aboard the MisGuided Bus
The buses appear to have a biofuel option, which again is nothing to do with the Busway, although I’m sure it’ll be publicised heavily as part of the claims that the system has some sort of green credentials, despite covering Cambridgeshire with what I’ve read is over 100,000 tonnes of concrete. Other than that, the only outward difference between the vehicles and the normal Park + Ride buses is the little “guide wheel” poking out by the front wheel, which keeps the bus on the straight and narrow while the driver tries to remember not to use the steering wheel. There will be single-deckers running too.
Anyway, on to the trip itself, which was accompanied by one of the project managers, much to our relief, rather than some council PR vacuum. As I said, this demonstration was obviously organised as soon as it became possible, to show that at least some progress had been made (the whole system was scheduled to have been operating by now), but the thing is still a long way from completion. There are no finished bus stops (stations?) yet, and when we got to ask some questions, we got some intriguing answers. We were told that the chassis on the newly-delivered buses are not as straight as they ideally should be, and that it’s hoped they will “bed in” to meet the guideway’s requirements. Also, the guideway is to have some sort of surface put on it still, but the builders haven’t even been able to decide what that should be yet!
Here we go then, six minutes from Cambridge Regional College to the north-west of Histon:

Despite being as resolute in my opposition to the MisGuided Bus as I was when it was first suggested, I don’t want to let that colour my judgement of the efforts of the engineers who are bringing this giant experiment to life. They seem to have done a good job, and I’m sure they’ll see it through to a successful opening and eventual operation. But more than anyone, they’ll know that Cambridgeshire could have had so much more (i.e a railway), for a lot less money, if it hadn’t (yet again) been for the inadequacies of local democracy allowing one person’s misguided vanity project to somehow trample over public opinion and rational technical argument, and snowball into reality.
Note: We passed at least one cyclist balancing his way down the tracks (see below), using it as a shortcut. This won’t be necessary if and when the cycleway is completed, but with such easy access from the road, the prospect of herberts in stolen vehicles using the busway as a drag strip is quite frightening…All aboard the MisGuided Bus

Star Trek movie – great. Mainly.

Thursday 7 May 2009

(Minor spoilers only)
OK, here’s the thing which we thought was really clever about the new Star Trek movie. We all know the film is a “start all over again” effort, going back to the beginning of the Original Series. But the smart thing is that you quickly realise what they’ve done is to take (yet another) time travelling premise, where a character from the Star Trek we all know and love comes back in time to tell the new cast that they’re now in an alternate reality where everything he knew is going to be different. Very clever. So in this (and presumably subsequent) movies, we’re now seeing the characters we know and love in a new timeline. See what they did there?
Most of the characters are terrific, as they needed to be if they were to stand comparison to the originals. Although the new (young) Kirk doesn’t try to be Shatner (good decision), the new Spock is more Spock than the old one (extraordinarily so), and the guy who plays Bones quite brilliantly takes all the best characteristics of the original and does great things with them. And we loved Simon Pegg as Scotty, the comedy relief of the whole film.
But here’s the bit we didn’t like, because we just couldn’t explain it. Spock throws Kirk off the Enterprise, sending him down in some sort of escape capsule to a planet (“Delta Vega”) with a remote Federation base nearby, where presumably he’ll be safe. OK so far. He lands in a frozen icy wasteland. But then, bizarrely, he bumps into the time-travelling “Old Spock”, who just happened to be knocking around down there. And then they both meet Scotty, who happens to be about the only person in the universe who can get them back to Enterprise. WTF? Have they discovered Infinite Improbability Drive too? The only explanation I can offer is that “Old Spock” was marooned there by the baddie because it was the nearest planet to Vulcan, and he wanted “Old Spock” to see what happened to Vulcan; and Kirk ended up there because, well, Enterprise was leaving Vulcan when he was ejected from the ship. How they managed to bump into each other defeated us though; it can’t have been through chance.
Any theories would be gratefully received.
From “The script relies endlessly on coincidence and happenstance. In one scene young Kirk is marooned on a frozen planet. Chased by a succession of monsters (shades of going through the Core in Phantom Menace, but thankfully the only place where Star Trek compares to that film), he ends up in a random ice cave… where a Spock from a hundred years in the future happens to have taken refuge. Oh, and they find Scotty 14 miles away. Lucky! The whole movie is like that…”

Sky HD remote control and Yamaha YSP receiver

Sunday 10 May 2009

sky-hd-box This is one of those blog posts which is more for my future reference as it is for general interest, but hey, if you’ve found this on Google and it’s helpful, glad to have been of service. Firstly…
What I did when my Sky HD remote control stopped working
I’ve no idea why, but the standard remote for my Sky HD box just decided it wouldn’t work any more. It wasn’t the batteries, because the little status light flashed when I hit buttons. So I went off in search of a reset, and here’s the one recommended to me a few forum searches later: – Press [TV] – Hold [select] and [red button] together for around two seconds (until the red light blinks twice) – Press 9 9 9 (red light blinks once for a long time and then twice quickly)
That did it for me! But while I was at it, I decided to sort out the one button on the remote which had never worked: the volume control. This of course is because it needs to control a separate device, not the Sky HD box. Now, for some people it’ll be the telly which governs the sound. For me though, it’s a Yamaha YSP-1000 one-box amp/speaker unit. And here’s what you do.
How I got the Sky HD remote to control my Yamaha YSP 1000
– Turn on the Yamaha, and press the [TV] button on the Sky HD remote – Hold [select] and [0] (zero) buttons together (until the red light blinks twice) – Press 1 3 5 9
(red light blinks twice quickly) – Press the [left arrow button] – the Yamaha should go into standby – Press the [left arrow button] again to switch it back on – Press [TV] button – Hold [select] and [1] buttons together (until the red light blinks twice) – Press [Sky] key
Now the [vol] button operates the Yamaha, and the rest of the buttons operate the Sky HD box. Woo, and indeed hoo.
Thanks to the good folks on Digital Spy for all this info. Use the search facility there to find the answers to your own query – don’t ask me!

Apple Time Capsule – cheap at the price

Monday 11 May 2009

I won’t do a full review of my new Apple Time Capsule here because there are millions of reviews all over the place which you can read, but I want to address perhaps the only problem which most of the reviews bring up: the price.
All I’d say is: “Have you ever set up a wireless network at home …and do you put a cost on your time?”
I had a wireless network at home which allowed my laptop to go online, and the “router” also acted as a hub which connected my desktop Mac to the cable modem directly, and to my printer. Not that complex, although I remember spending hours setting it up a few years ago. For some people, I know “hours” reads “days”, much of it on the phone to people in India. The wireless router I’d bought was a Linksys WRT54G, which has been the “industry standard”, in all but name. To say the setup is geeky is an understatement. There are screens and screens of cryptic information about subnet masks and MAC numbers and goodness knows what. I wonder if anyone actually understands it all – certainly your average IT technician doesn’t. No normal human being should be expected to go near this stuff, and yet – even if you’re barely IT-literate – you’re expected to set all this up yourself. It’s the price you pay for cheap internet access.
Anyway, on Friday my internet access just stopped working. I plugged the laptop into the cable modem directly, and it was fine. The problem was the network, or the router. I started to diagnose things, with the help of some great forum threads I found. After two hours of unplugging, rebooting and typing in arcane commands to try to reset and restart the wireless router, I thought: “This is stupid. I’m self-employed. My work time is worth a minimum of £50 an hour to me. What am I doing?
I’d read that Apple’s wireless network system (the “Airport”) just worked. And we have an Apple Store a bus-ride away. Even allowing for Cambridge’s traffic, I was back at home in an hour or so. At the shop, they’d shown me the Time Capsule, which is the Airport with a hard drive built in for about another £80, making a total of £229 for the whole unit. I was sold, as I knew that Apple’s “Time Machine” is an excellent (install and forget) backup program, and it would apparently backup both my Macs to the Time Capsule over the network without me needing to do anything.
And guess what? The whole thing did indeed Just Work.
I plugged in my my cable modem, my Mac, my old PC and my printer. I ran Apple’s pretty-well-automatic setup program. And everything was working how I wanted it to. The Apple Time Capsule sits on my desk, distributing the internet around my computers, connecting them, and making automatic backups of my data. And I didn’t have to waste one more minute of my life on geeky stuff I don’t understand and have no wish to understand. End of story.

Morrissey at Cambridge Corn Exchange gig review

Sunday 17 May 2009

Morrissey is one of those acts (like Springsteen) who seems to have so many fans at each gig who follow him around the country that you feel a bit of an intruder if you’re happy to just see him once on the tour, like normal folk. Anyway, those who have seen him earlier on the current jaunt tell me that this was an exceptionally good gig, with Moz in fine voice – which was odd given that he’d had such serious “throat problems” earlier in the week. The Corn Exchange was packed, obviously, with most people in early for the pretty decent support act. Goodness knows how long those down the front had been there in order to get within touching distance of The Man.
We got 1 hour 25 minutes, which by Morrissey standards is something of an epic, and although that doesn’t seem much, for some reason you don’t feel short-changed and he never ran the risk of outstaying his welcome. It’s a terrible venue for acoustics, and most bands fail to overcome this, tonight being no exception. However, few people had come to appreciate the musicianship, they were there for the experience. But I thought the crowd were quite subdued – I’ve heard the Corn Exchange audience raise the roof before now, so it can happen.
There was some between-song banter – quite a lot by Morrisey standards I’m told – and one rather bizarre incident. He traditionally indulges in some chat with a woman in the audience called Julia, who runs a fan site and follows him everywhere, but this tour he’s actually been handing her the mike, for some reason. Now, she doesn’t have much to say (what would any of us say?), and it’s obviously starting to irritate some of the other regular fans – those around me certainly groaned. Indeed, some say Moz only does this because he knows how much it annoys people, and that presumably amuses him. Tonight, someone down the front near Julia obviously showed his displeasure with all this nonsense rather forcibly, and Moz went off on one, telling the guy if he didn’t like it he could leave, and eventually calling the guitarist over to shout some abuse at him too. The guy left, but it was all rather odd and unnecessary.
As for the set, we got a decent mix of Smiths stuff, Morrissey oldies and songs from the latest album, and I don’t think anyone will have been unhappy with it. I certainly wasn’t, although we had to wait until the single-song encore for my favourite song from the last few albums, First of the Gang to Die. I thought This Charming Man was almost too strong an opener – talk about a hard act to follow – but nobody was complaining! How Soon is Now, Ask and Girlfriend in a Coma provoked varying degrees of bliss in the audience, but one or two of the newer songs, particularly Black Cloud and the first single I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris, stand up well alongside them.
A thumbs up from me.
For more thoughts, read the fans’ discussions at And feel free to write your own thoughts below!

Cheap Wii MotionPlus? Looks like Amazon’s the place

Wednesday 20 May 2009

The £20 Wii Motion Plus Accessory is now being made available on pre-order from major retailers such as Amazon, which is also offering its “Pre-order Price Guarantee” (if the price decreases between the time you place your order and the release date, you’ll be charged the lower price). There’s going to be serious demand on this, because it’s almost a mandatory update for Wii owners – most new games will require the add-on device to work, it’s being predicted. UK launch date is 12 June 2009.

A Decimal Point

Saturday 23 May 2009

This just struck me as a curiosity, spotted in a display of football memorabilia in our village men’s hairdressers. For an FA Cup match in January 1971, Portsmouth were charging 90p for a ticket in the “Main Stand” (oh, the nostalgia for pre-sponsorship days, eh?). Presumably the match was a draw, because nine days later we have a replay at Highbury …for which Arsenal were asking 12s 6d for entry. Now, was decimal currency introduced slowly from the south coast northwards or something?
PS: I tried to find the “Decimal Five” programmes on YouTube, but no luck. Remember the jingle? I still have it in my head 38 years later. Apparently it was written and performed by The Scaffold. Anyway, as some compensation, here’s Tom Lehrer ordering us to go decimal without any delay:

GeekChart – more pointless fun

Saturday 23 May 2009

Cherryhintonblue’s Geek Chart
This is fun. GeekChart reckons it shows your activity on all sorts of social media sites in the form of a pie chart. I’m not quite sure about the accuracy of what it’s come up with for me, but it does say it gets more accurate over time, so we’ll see how it changes. I can see a lot of people putting this on their blogs in time though.
You can click on the chart to see stuff, and I have a public GeekChart page.

Most embarrassing Labour result of the day

Saturday 6 June 2009

I feel no comment is necessary.
(Official Result page)

Thriller at Elvyn Richards Hall Cabaret 1984

Saturday 13 June 2009

OK, I’ve finally transferred one of the oldest VHS home movies I have to my Mac, probably with only moments to spare before the tape crumbles into a pile of iron oxide. And it is… the “Thriller” sketch from the 1984 Christmas Cabaret at Elvyn Richards Hall, Loughborough University. That’s me in the pink dress. I was born for the role, darlings.

I’m going to make an attempt at remembering the whole cast, but it’s nearly 25 years ago, and there are a few names which seem to have got lost in the recesses of my memory. However, I hope one or two people who were also involved read this and can fill in the blanks. Email me or make use of the comments box.
Cast in order of appearance:
The MC was the Hall Chairman (I think), Andy Collicott [?] Guy with moon: Marek [surname?] Joan the Dining Hall Supervisor: Chris Rand Michael Jackson: Cliff [surname?] Rocco the Chef: Simon “SQ” Morris Dancers: Jane ElliottChris HunterKaren Peer +1 (boy – Mike?) Jackie HawkinsStan Elder
Vincent Price voiceover by Chris Hunter at Loughborough Campus Radio!
STOP PRESS – writing this inspired me to make some online investigations into Elvyn Richards Hall 2009-style, and to my shock, it appears to have moved into completely new buildings …and I suspect the old ones we knew and loved have been demolished! Bloody hell, ensuite bathrooms and everything! Check out the 360 view too. I don’t know where the new hall is – the university’s website maps need updating – but I’d be fascinated to know. And also what’s become of the old hall.
Thanks to my mate Paul from the great Stuart Darling for sorting me out with a shiny new VHS player, and a tip of the hat to the new Elgato Video Capture, which mean I now have no excuse for not going through that box of video tapes in the loft and putting all the highlights on DVD or online. More to follow

Jason Dozzell returns to Portman Road

Sunday 14 June 2009

The story so far: Having just got myself one of those gadgets which shoehorns video signals into a USB port, I’m now going through hundreds of dusty old VHS tapes gradually expiring in the attic. So far, the oldest full-length, otherwise unobtainable Town recording I’ve found is a Sky Sports “Super Sunday” from September 1993, where Spurs came to Portman Road and drew 2-2, thanks to a late equaliser from Jason Dozzell, who we’d just sold to them. Personally, I found the shots of the old North and Churchmans stands as interesting as anything – some good close-ups as they empty out at the end (Sky didn’t seem as quick to cut to the ads or the studio in those days). Anyway, here’s the last 10 minutes of the show, showing Jason’s goal and the post-match interview…

Dawn on the Telly!

Sunday 14 June 2009

Dawn appeared on a BBC East documentary in 2000, called “Carry On Nursing..?” – here’s her ninety seconds of fame.

Steven Wells RIP goes out with spooky Jacko reference

Friday 26 June 2009

Blimey. Some things really are too spooky for words. On Wednesday night we lost Steven Wells (“Swells”), a writer who entertained and inspired so many people (including me at a very impressionable age). It’s choking to read the final piece from any writer who knows it’s coming, but in Wells’ case, the final sentence of his final column turned out to be as shocking as anything he’d ever written. Twenty-four hours after publication, Michael Jackson was off to join him.

Michel Thomas Foundation Course in Spanish – 52% off!

Saturday 4 July 2009

If you’ve found a half-price offer on the Michel Thomas Foundation Course in Spanish, we can do even better than that: Amazon has it for less than half price! That’s £32.99, a 52% discount.
Click here for the relevant Amazon page for full details

Please note that the information above is correct at the time of writing but price and availability do sometimes change at Amazon.

Sandwich Toaster deals at Amazon UK

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Sorry, we were just talking about sandwich makers, toastie makers, Brevilles, whatever you like to call them, and we wished ours was still working. I was surprised there seem to be so many on the market, so here you go… help yourself to a Sandwich Toaster at Amazon. Click the picture below to see everything they’ve got available there at the moment.

Stage 2 gets under way

Thursday 30 July 2009

The Cambridge Folk Festival kicked off on Thursday with a terrific performance by Mumford & Sons. Blimey, if the rest of the weekend is this good it’ll be amazing. “Post Folk” at times, according to @fenlandgent

Why I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Well, here it is, my brand new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 camera, which has just arrived here at Cherry Hinton Blues Towers. It took me several weeks of research and indeed soul-searching to opt for this groundbreaking camera, and I thought I’d pass on the information which helped me choose one here. If you’d like to add any more helpful links, please use the comments below.
Firstly, why the soul-searching? Easy – it wasn’t a Canon or a Nikon. Every (and I mean every) decent photographer I know told me the only choice in an SLR is between these two. Even when I discovered that for the first time, genuinely high quality video recording has now become available in SLR – or equivalent – cameras, they told me to get Canon or Nikon’s early attempts at this, such as the Nikon D90 or, at the top end, the Canon EOS 5d Mk.II. Now, there are good reasons for this – I doubt Canon or Nikon have ever let anybody down – but most of my advisors didn’t even know of anything beyond these two brands, such is the position they hold in the photographic community. However, when I started to do my pre-purchase due diligence, I kept coming across the Panasonic GH1 – a camera which has torn up the SLR design rulebook and become a genuine alternative to the big two. It really has combined the best elements of a quality SLR, a compact camera like my Canon Powershot S3 IS, and an HD camcorder (of which Panasonic is one of the leading manufacturers).
And guess what? Many reviewers were plucking up the courage to say “this really is an extraordinary camera”. It may not be a Canon or a Nikon, but in its class, it has pushed the barrier way ahead of anything those two manufacturers have so far done. Check out what Mat Gallagher of What Digital Camera has to say:

Of course, when you go against the perceived wisdom and buy a product which has gone out on a limb, no matter how good it seems, there’s always that nagging voice in your head saying “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. But the credentials of the Panasonic GH1 seemed great to me, and having a camera which wasn’t a Canon or a Nikon doesn’t bother me. The things which did it for me were, in no particular order:
The tiny size: I’ve played with some of the monster Canon SLRs, and they certainly make you look professional. But are they really practical on domestic holidays and the like? For me, the dimensions of the Panasonic GH1 mean it can fit into a small camera bag, and not require a professional’s big case.
The stills capability: Nobody’s suggesting that Panasonic have come up with a camera which will blow away a £1000 Canon or Nikon, and certainly not an EOS 5d Mk.II. But the GH1 is a very competent camera which looks like it produces stills which are more than adequate for amateur hobby photography, and which are certainly up there with anything the big two can offer with a 14-140mm lens for under £1000. The stills camera element is basically the Panasonic G1 camera, of which the best review I’ve read is at The Luminous Landscape. There are many others, however.
The articulated LCD monitor: Professionals will tut, but if you’ve come from the world of compact cameras or camcorders, you’ll be much more likely to want to use the big rear LCD monitor quite frequently (I realise most pros wouldn’t be seen dead using anything other than the eyepiece viewfinder). And if you do use the LCD monitor, you’ll wonder how people get by with the fixed ones found on most SLRs. The GH1’s monitor swivels in every direction, so you can hold the camera above your head or at waist height and still see what’s going on – something compact camera and camcorder owners take for granted.
The video capability: This clearly is something else. What you’re getting here (and indeed in the Canon and Nikon video-capable SLRs) is a video device with a lens you wouldn’t get on a camcorder costing less than many thousands of pounds. Already people are using it for professional movies – watch this behind the scenes video of a promotional shoot for the GH1 here to see pros in action. Here’s the resulting video, although watch it at Vimeo in HD and blow it up to full-screen for the real effect:

Having played with the GH1, and decided it was the camera for me, I was well aware that the out-of-the-box kit would never be enough. I’ve owned SLRs in the past, and I’m quite aware of how expensive a hobby it can be. So here’s a list of everything I bought to accompany the camera, mainly on recommendations from people who know more than me!
Panasonic GH1 Accessories List
Memory Cards: That’s right, they don’t include even a small one with the camera, so I can imagine many buyers opening the box and being very disappointed that they can’t start shooting straight away. You need an SDHC Class 6 card – 8Mb should be plenty, and with costs being so low now, there’s not much point in buying anything smaller. I like the idea of a spare card too.
Spare Battery: Ouch, these aren’t cheap, because apparently the non-Panasonic “compatible” alternatives can be disabled and made useless by firmware updates in the future, so you need to get the real thing. The camera does come with a battery, but its lifetime before needing recharging isn’t supposed to be great.
Lens Filter: With the glass on the front of the camera accounting for about half of its cost, you really need something protective on the front. I was advised to get either a protective filter or a polarising filter or better still, both.
Camera Case: Once you’ve got everything together, only then go out (with all your kit) and buy a case which will take everything. That means the camera, the charger, the spare battery, and anything else you might want to keep with you when shooting. If and when I can afford more lenses for my GH1, I’ll buy a bigger bag, but I can’t see the point in having such a small camera and putting it in an oversize bag to allow for future purchases.
That’s it really. I’m sure I’ll be posting samples of the results from my GH1 here in the future, so do pop back. For further reading, here are some of the best reviews and discussions I’ve found to date:
The Luminous Landscape: If you want a peek at what the future of both still and video cameras might look like over the next few years, drop into your camera dealer and have look at the Panasonic Lumix GH1. To my mind it’s the first Combocam that “gets it”, delivering both image quality and functionality that don’t represent a considerable compromise on one side or the other.
PhotographyBLOG: If you’re looking for high-definition video in a DSLR format, then the Panasonic GH1 is easily your best choice. The ability to continuously auto-focus during recording simply isn’t offered by the likes of the Canon EOS 500D or Nikon D5000, which force the user to manually focus.
Digital Photography Review: The GH1 offers the same ease-of-use and solid image quality as its sister model G1. On top of that you get the best implementation of a HD video mode that we have yet seen on a large sensor camera.
Camera Labs: Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GH1 is the most complete and well-rounded hybrid camera we’ve tested. Both the stills and movie capabilities are very well thought-out and implemented, with few compromises to mention.

Learning to paint and take photos in France

Sunday 23 August 2009

Just back from a fantastic week at a fantastic holiday cooking school in France – except Mrs R and I didn’t avail ourselves of the opportunity to cook, but instead spent the week learning to paint (Dawn) and taking some intermediate-level photography classes (me) at the same venue.
It really is a great setup which Jim and Lucy Fisher have at Bombel, and I’d thoroughly recommend it. Situated in the heart of the Dordogne region, their converted farm and barns can accommodate something like 16 people who can be taking any combination of courses in cookery, painting or photography, making it a great opportunity for couples who have differing interests.
lunch<br />002
So, how does it all work? In our week, there were 12 guests, of which 3 were doing photography, 4 painting and 5 cooking. Each group has their own tutor for the five days. The “cooks” spend their days creating meals for everyone, and therein lies the greatest attraction of the whole setup – whatever you’re learning, you get to eat awesomely good lunches and evening meals, and it’s all inclusive.
The working day typically runs from 9am to 12.30 and 2pm to 4pm, although the cooks end up back in the kitchen around 7pm to serve up the evening meal. If you ever wanted to get an idea of what it must be like to work in a real restaurant, without quite the same responsibility, this is it. There’s a nice little swimming pool to relax in and by, at the end of the day.
painting-holiday<br />003
The photographers spend their week under the expert tutelage of David Quinn, who I thought was terrific fun to learn from, and the artists work with Gill Mitchell. The five days are spent in and around the course venue, which is fairly remote, although there’s a morning trip to the famous market at Sarlat la Canéda, which is a great opportunity for the cooks, artists and photographers.
photographic-holiday<br />004
The 5 day/6 night holiday is £695 (2009) which is something of a bargain when you consider the food is to a fantastic standard (I bet even if the cooks weren’t that good, Jim wouldn’t let anything mediocre out of his kitchens), the wine is included, and there’s little chance to spend any money during the week. As a result, for the two of us, the total outlay for the trip was about £1800, including flights and all spending money. When you think about what you might spend on most holidays, including holiday cash, £300/day for a couple is very competitive even disregarding the fact you’re getting a course thrown in!
Here are a small selection of the photos I took during the week. I’m an enthusiastic amateur, but a lot better enthusiastic amateur than I was a week ago!

Prefab Sprout – new album (September 2009)

Wednesday 2 September 2009

You can’t imagine how excited I was when I read the interview with Paddy MacAloon in Word magazine‘s latest issue. But perhaps not half as excited as I will be when I get my hands on the Prefab Sprout new album Let’s Change the World With Music in a few days’ time. I don’t trust any of the local stores to stock it, so I’m preordering it tonight – it’s about nine quid on both Amazon UK and Play. What makes the album so exciting is that it’s not new, it’s a previously-unreleased follow-up to the incredible Jordan: the Comeback from 1990. What did Paddy have in mind to follow up such a great album? We shall soon find out.

Natalie Williams at Alimentum, Cambridge

Friday 11 September 2009

OK, being at The Rock on Wednesday to see England thrash Croatia was a cracking evening out. But it turned out to be my second favourite night of the week, trailing a little way behind the quite superb meal we had at Alimentum‘s Jazz Club. The wonderful Natalie Williams was the attraction, but I have to say I was more than a little curious about how good a £29.50 three-course meal could be at such a well-regarded restaurant. We needn’t have worried, it was fabulous. Great (cold) tomato soup, gorgeous pork belly, and a chocolate bavarois to die for, as they say. Sure, you end up dropping the same amount again on wine, water, coffee and service, but even at sixty quid, it was a great deal. Let’s face it, I’ve often paid twenty quid to some inhospitable concert venue just to listen to a music act not nearly as good as Natalie Williams. And we got to have a chat with her.
Writing this post has made me nostalgic for being a Cambridge restaurant reviewer again. It’s been a few years now, and the magazines I wrote for have long gone! But Alimentum is right up there with my favourite eating venues in Cambridge, even without the jazz. If you thought great food in Cambridge started and ended with Midsummer House, do try it.
PS: Come on John, get the blog going again!

Documenting a clean install of OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

Sunday 13 September 2009

I’m one of those obsessives who likes to reformat his hard drive and reinstall everything from time to time. Even if it doesn’t speed the system up with Macs like it so obviously does with Windows, I just feel better knowing that my machine only has on it what I need to have. With major operating system revisions coming along every year or two, coupled with buying a new Mac every two or three years, I probably end up doing a fresh installation once a year.
I’ve done this so many times that I have a list of core applications with any installation notes/codes, which makes things a lot easier (a bit like having a packing list for holidays). However, this time I thought I’d document the whole process, with timings, for future reference.
0 hrs 00 min – Plug in the old hard drive containing the previous Mac backup from the previous clean install a year ago. Looks a bit dusty, I reckon I never had to refer back to it. Make a copy of the very old “Documents” folder there, from over a year ago, to DVD, just to be on the safe side.
0:10 – Copy my existing Mac internal drive contents to this external hard drive, using Carbon Copy Cloner. Now there’s a full restorable backup of the Mac, which can even be booted-from if necessary! This’ll take a couple of hours.
2:15 – Export iCal and Address Book data, not that you can’t restore it from a backup, but it does go in some funny places. Print off list of all applications from Applications folder. Tick off the essentials to be restored later (seems to be only about 30 out of nearly 120 apps on the current setup are actually ones I think I’ll want in the future!). Make note of any add-ons to applications, such as Firefox, and export settings from any which have them (Fetch preferences, for example). Separately backup old Keychains directory from [user] > Library > Keychains.
2:25 – Make one last check of external hard drive backup, and look trustingly at my normal DVD backups of important stuff.
2:30 – Stick in Snow Leopard DVD, click “install”, then follow the Apple clean install instructions: in the first pane of the installer, click Utilities, then click Restart; on restart, choose Utilities > Disk Utility, select your disk, click the Erase tab, select Mac OS Extended (Journaled), type a disk name, click Erase, then afterwards, choose Disk Utility > Quit Disk Utility and follow the reinstall instructions.
3:20 – Admire lovely clean install of Snow Leopard. Then update with Software Update.
3:25 – Restore old keychain from/to [user] > Library > Keychains. Before launching iTunes, copy back iTunes library folder (similar for iPhoto).
3:55 (it’s a big iTunes library!) – fire up iTunes and iPhoto to test restored libraries. Open iCal and Address Book and import from previous exports. Install iLife applications. Software Update everything. Restore iTunes Applescripts by copying them from Library>iTunes>Scripts to a similar folder.
4:25 – Install other applications identified on printed-off list as being required. Check latest versions on each.
5:50 – Done! And yes, I have to say, it does feel a lot slicker. That’s less than six hours start to finish, of which about two-and-a-bit were spent actually sitting in front of the Mac doing something. Definitely worth it. See you again next year.

Your AdWords Account Suspended Due To Repeated Site Quality Violations

Sunday 27 September 2009


Google seems to have decided it doesn’t want the money from many people using AdWords to drive traffic to thin affiliate sites, which it’s already been penalising out of its organic results for several years. The move became clear on Friday 25 September 2009, as noted here, when AdWords advertisers were sent the following abrupt message:
Your Google AdWords account has been suspended due to multiple submissions of poor quality landing pages. We are unable to revoke your account suspension, and we will not accept advertisements from you in the future.
Please note that our support team is unable to help you with this issue, and we ask that you do not contact them about this matter.

As I understand it, the result is that the account owners can still log into their accounts, but everything’s been stopped and there’s nothing which can be added.
Fortunately, I’ve never really tried this sort of stuff anything other than playfully, so it won’t affect me, but this must hurt a lot of people who aren’t exactly Google’s worst enemies. As a publisher, Google is quite within its rights to accept advertising from whoever it wishes, and in general, I’d applaud any publisher which is selective about who it’s prepared to do business with. However, I suspect that as is usual with Google, this latest move has probably been applied by some clumsy algorithm, also rejecting many advertisers whose material didn’t particularly detract from the user experience. Google has a track record of not being concerned about collateral damage from friendly fire.
In fact, on a number of occasions in the past, I’ve found that the AdWords > Affiliate Site > Vendor path has got me to the product I want to buy in two clicks, where the organic results were showing nothing and the vendor was nowhere to be seen in the AdWords column. Perhaps Google hopes the move will inspire the vendors to invest more in AdWords to make up for the loss of affiliate traffic, but I can’t believe many vendors have the resources in-house to put in the time and care identifying the opportunities which the affiliates do.
Some more reading, from the days before these messages went out, is here (by Dave Davis) and here (by Sugarrae).

Another “Eureka Moment”. Can they do this?

Sunday 4 October 2009

Curious news that The Times is about to launch a science magazine called Eureka. But hang on… there’s already a long-established, well-respected technology magazine called Eureka, published by Findlay Media. Whilst the subject matter may not be exactly the same, there sure as heck are many potential advertisers in common, so it could easily be argued that the two would be competitors.
Eureka (the long-established one) has impressively survived a meltdown in the trade press over the past ten years, which saw the demise of long-established titles such as Design Engineering and relatively short-lived newcomers such as What’s new in Design. What I’m sure it doesn’t need is this sort of confusion in the market.
Back in the early nineties, I remember someone else launching a publication called Eureka, aimed at kids if I recall correctly. Not sure what happened to it, but being on a rival magazine to the real Eureka at the time, we laughed. And there are others around the world too. But this new Eureka comes from the UK, and from a major publisher too. Aren’t there rules against this sort of thing? If there are none, what a trick we’ve all missed over the years, not producing our own publications with the same titles as rivals’, just as spoilers. What would happen if Findlay Media launched a newspaper called The Times?

Review: Monty Python at the Albert Hall: Not The Messiah

Friday 23 October 2009

Never has so much goodwill flowed from an audience to the performers. Really, Eric and the gang could have sat and read the papers and got a standing ovation. But fortunately, it was an evening to remember anyway. I don’t think anyone expected a sketch show, or even Spamalot, which was lucky, because “Not The Messiah” was virtually an operatic piece, with the full BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. However, straight-laced it was not. In fact, for much of the time it was very silly. Just as you’d expect.
Eric Idle, present on stage throughout, and John Du Prez, conducting, were obviously the main forces behind the show, but the other Pythons naturally stole the show in their bit parts, especially Michael Palin. And they were all having a ball.
Odd that such a landmark event really does appear to be a one-off. There’ll undoubtedly be a DVD to follow, but it won’t be a patch on seeing the whole ensemble. Python fans will be very glad to say “I was there”.
And yes, they did an encore. And yes, it was The Lumberjack Song. With full orchestral backing. And Carol exclaiming maybe for one last time: “And I thought you were so rugged!”

A little bit of artistic magic

Friday 30 October 2009

The extremely talented Wayne at Adeptise has done a nice splash page for us to promote The Discount Sorcerer, our new online shopping venture. The problem with sites like these is that they go in and out of favour with Google, so for times when ours is out of favour, we hope this splash page will pop up in the Google results. Let us hope so.
If you haven’t seen The Discount Sorcerer yet, it’s a site we’ve created which finds all the biggest discounts at Amazon UK through some IT magic, and presents them in a nice easy-to-use format for you to click straight through to. There’s also a really great weekly newsletter which summarises many of the great bargains we’ve unearthed. You can sign up for that on the home page of the site.

My 20 Favourite Albums of the Decade

Sunday 22 November 2009

The 2000s. Nothing really changed, did it? Well, yes, it did. I guess this was the decade where, like many people, I fell out of love with the album. That strange artificial construct of musicians having to release their new songs in batches of an hour’s worth at a time has lingered on well past its sell-by date, due to artists and labels alike totally failing to understand their market.
Thanks to iTunes, iPods, Spotify and shuffle play, none of which existed ten years ago, I rarely listen to albums now. So the artist decided to write a batch of songs, then went into the studio to record them all in one go, and decided to release them all in one “buy the whole lot or nothing” batch? What’s this got to do with me? It’s all so archaic. My favourite writers don’t say: “I’m producing new material, but I’m going to wait until I’ve written ten columns/articles/books and then make you buy the whole lot in one go”, do they?
We all know why the album came about – it was a technology and distribution issue from the 50s and 60s – but it’s only the death throes of the vinyl LP’s digital replacement, the CD (and an industry which can’t imagine any other way of working) that keeps the album going. Once the CD has finally died, I’d imagine we’ll see a lot more musicians releasing songs as and when they record them. They’re probably afraid that we’d only buy the good songs, and they’d no longer be able to force us to buy filler material, but if they were clever, we’d probably spend even more on their art. I can think of dozens of acts I’d consider “subscribing” to if they said that from now on they’re going to release a new song, say, each month …and I bet the subscription would be more than 79p an “issue”.
But enough of now and the next decade. What of the last? The time when “all the money was being used on the end of the century party preparations” still seems fresh in the memory, but when you remind yourself that in 1999 we were just being introduced to the DVD, hardly anybody had heard of Google, and the first iPod was nearly two years away …it seems like another age. Music, however, changes less with each passing decade. The biggest-selling albums in 2000 were from acts such as ‘N Sync, Eminem, Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child, none of which sound at all dated today. Think about the changes between the starts and ends of the sixties or seventies, in comparison.
Anyway, like most people, whenever I see a “best of” list, I immediately start compiling my own version, and at the moment the inevitable deluge of lists of the records of the decade is just starting, so my mind’s been wandering off in that direction in spare moments. This list in The Times set me off, although I certainly didn’t agree with it. Radiohead the best and third-best albums of the decade? I don’t think so.
Nobody cares what I think were the “best” albums of the decade though. Even I don’t. But my favourite albums? Now that’s worth recording for posterity. So I’ve worked out what they are, and like a little online advent calendar, I’m going to reveal them here throughout December. Several are about as far from cool as it’s possible to be. And no, there isn’t an Oasis album in sight.
My best albums of the decade start here…

Fix for Google Reader “You don’t have permission to view this feed”

Thursday 26 November 2009

Ever had this irritating message when you click “All Items”? Here’s the fix.
1. Add an “s” after “http” in the URL, so it reads: “https:// reader/ view/ #stream/ user%2 …etc…”
2. Er…
3. That’s it.
And that’s all for this public service announcement.

Albums of the Decade: No.20

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand

Albums of the Decade: No.19

Wednesday 2 December 2009

I Trawl The Megahertz

Albums of the Decade: No.18

Thursday 3 December 2009

My Secret Is My Silence

Albums of the Decade: No.17

Friday 4 December 2009

Somewhere Deep In The Night

Albums of the Decade: No.16

Saturday 5 December 2009

On An Island

Albums of the Decade: No.15

Sunday 6 December 2009


Albums of the Decade: No.14

Monday 7 December 2009


Albums of the Decade: No.13

Tuesday 8 December 2009


Albums of the Decade: No.12

Wednesday 9 December 2009


Albums of the Decade: No.11

Thursday 10 December 2009

Tales From Turnpike House

Albums of the Decade: No.10

Friday 11 December 2009

Viva La Vida

Albums of the Decade: No.9

Saturday 12 December 2009

Melody AM

Albums of the Decade: No.8

Sunday 13 December 2009

Trouble Over Bridgwater

Albums of the Decade: No.7

Monday 14 December 2009

Original Pirate Material

Albums of the Decade: No.6

Tuesday 15 December 2009


Albums of the Decade: No.5

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Hopes and Fears

Albums of the Decade: No.4

Thursday 17 December 2009


Albums of the Decade: No.3

Friday 18 December 2009

Back To Black

Albums of the Decade: No.2

Saturday 19 December 2009


Albums of the Decade: No.1

Sunday 20 December 2009

Achtung Bono

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