Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Smiths - Middlesbrough Town Hall

The Queen is Dead Cover
20 years ago The Smiths played Middlesbrough Town hall. I didn't go because I wasn't really into the Smiths at the time. A fellow student who I fancied was going so I got a copy of "The Queen is Dead" to impress her.

Although this act of devotion failed to have its desired effect, it did introduce me to The Smiths, who I have followed devoutly ever since. In 1986, the band were at the top of their game, with The Queen is Dead destined to be classic album. Within a year or so, the band would split up after one more album and a clutch of singles.

The Queen is Dead is certainly the Smiths' best collection of songs but it sounds as if it was recorded in a cotton wool factory. I thought at the time that it was my dodgy WH Smiths C90 tape but it turns out that it was Johnny Marr's cloth ears that were to blame. To hear how it should have sounded, look out for "I know it's over" on Rank, "There is a light that never goes out" on Channel 4's The Tube and "Vicar in a Tutu" on Whistle Test on BBC2.

"There is a light that never goes out" has been covered many times, including versions by Neil Finn, The Divine Comedy and The Magic Numbers.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Radio 4

I'm a regular listener to BBC Radio 4 and am very keen on their "Listen Again" feature which allows you to pick most programmes and listen to them again later using Real Player. I'm currently listening to Driven by Oil, a documentary series by Tom Mangold which describes the World's reliance on oil and the way out for the future.

Apparently, you can now turn 1 tonne of dead turkeys into a barrel (42 gallons) of petrol. In Sweden, every petrol station in the country must serve Biofuel by 2010. Honda is promising a hydrogen fuel cell powered car within three years but, get this, they want you to recharge your fuel cells using a "Home Energy Station" that gets its hydrogen from natural gas!

I have these discussions with my brother whenever I see him. We reckon the answer is hydrogen powered cars where your Home Energy Station converts, wait for it, water into Hydrogen. It could be powered by electricity from the national grid or from a local wind turbine or solar cells. Is this too simple?

Until then, we have to make do with the rather rubbish Toyota Prius which acheives a staggeringly poor 60 miles per gallon because of the huge weight of its batteries. These batteries, like your mobile phone battery, lose capacity after a few years and need replacing at huge expense.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

The Science Museum

The Science Museum, London
I visited London this weekend and went to the Imperial War Museum, Hamleys and The Science Museum. They've got some serious gear in the Science Museum like trains, space rockets, aeroplanes and a Cray 1 supercomputer which I think looks fabulous. A computer so big, it has built in seats. They've also got a Foucault Pendulum. See some pictures here because I forgot to take my camera.

Cray 1 Supercomputer
I saw a safari film at the Science Museums's IMAX cinema in 3D. Then I had a lolly.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Internet Explorer is rubbish

Upgrade to Firefox 1.5!
Why do Windows users still use IE? I'm not really sure. I don't often get the pleasure of using Internet Explorer these days because I use Safari, Camino or Flock on a Mac, but when I do, it's a real eye-opener. It's slow, it's menus and settings are impenetrable, it complains at the smallest errors ("the page you are viewing contains secure and insecure items" - so what?), it has no tabs, it doesn't know what RSS feeds are, it doesn't comply with web standards and worst of all, the use of it leads to the installation of Spyware and Viruses.

As recently as this week, a serious browser flaw was uncovered that could lead to your PC being taken over by a remote user. This is serious stuff and is so easily avoided by installing Firefox. It's free. You could also try Flock, which is built on Firefox but does all sorts of cool Photobucket/Flickr/Blog things, or maybe Opera, although it isn't quite so free.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kate Moss: Silence is golden

Kate Moss in a car
International supermodel Kate Moss is to "design" clothes for Top Shop, or to lend her name to the process. I would suspect that she is unlikely to be polishing her needle and thread or cutting out cloth herself. BBC Breakfast News had an piece on this morning where they discussed whether this would be adverse publicity for Top Shop because of her drugs issues, in the process giving Top Shop the publicity they wanted.

The reason she keeps getting the big contracts is that
  1. She's still got it - looks, credibility, media-friendly
  2. The things that she puts her name to sell
  3. She almost never does interviews

Like the Queen Mother, almost no-one has ever heard her speak, the media can superimpose their own lifestory onto her without having to do much work. It's a good cheap story: Kate thinks Pete should kick the habit, Kate wants another baby, Kate joins the women's institute. You can create any Kate Moss story you like and she's unlikely to sue you because her job requires her to keep making headlines and she's never going to do an interview that refutes any of the stories.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The au pair story

Suicide Girls Logo
Over the summer, a friend of mine had an au pair staying with her to help with her children. The au pair, who we shall call "Claudette", was French, twenty years old and had a talent for singing and songwriting. Being a kindly soul, I offerred to record her music in my studio and she agreed. After two, three-hour sessions, the recording was complete and I spent several evenings post-producing and adding additional instrumentation. At the end of it I was pretty pleased with the results: half a dozen French acoustic songs.

Some weeks later, I Googled Claudette's name and found her blog on, which appears to be stylish, Myspace for girls with tatoos and piercings. Not only that, the members post partially clothed pictures of themselves and exchange comments.

In the words of Alan Partridge, "They're sex people!".


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Spooks is back

Keeley Hawes on Spooks
I've liked Spooks since it began. Everytime I watch it, it makes me think I'm a spy. The new series started on Sunday and began with a barn-storming double episode featuring an MI6 plot to overthrow the government. Luckily, Adam and the gang from MI5 were on hand to crush the coup.

When I last visited London, I took a ride on the London Duck, an amphibious tourist vehicle, and found it entered the Thames next to the MI6 building in Vauxhall, South London. I was hoping to run into Keeley Hawes but unfortunately her file is now closed.

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The Vagina Monologues

Last night I went to see The Vagina Monologues, a series of dramatised anecdotes about women talking about their vaginas. It was a thoroughly good show, only occasionally descending into cheap, Kathy Lette quips. I was one of only a handful of men in the audience, which made it feel like I had sneaked into the "period talk" at secondary school.

According to my dictionary, the word vagina derives from:

ORIGIN late 17th cent.: from Latin, literally ‘sheath, scabbard,’ which is also the source of the word vanilla.

Why the picture of hollywood start Lindsay Lohan? Because she's been in the news recently for revealing her 'scabbard' while getting off a boat and a taxi.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Pete Doherty is a nice boy

I like Pete Doherty. I saw him on Jonathan Ross and I was impressed by him. I think he's a nice boy who looks after his friends. I decided to investigate his music so I got the Libertines second album and I like it. I'm only two years too late. Just reading Pete Doherty's biography on Wikipedia makes you think he was destined to be a legend.

After his A-levels he moved to his grandmother's flat in London, where he said he felt 'destined' to be, and got a job filling graves in Willesden Cemetery, although most of his time was spent reading and writing while sitting on gravestones.

So I thought I'd capture the moment in Post-it note art.

Post-it Note Art #6 - Pete Doherty and Kate Moss

Post-it Note Art #6 - Pete Doherty and Kate Moss


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

iPod Shuffle steals the show

New iPod Shuffle - A Musical Bulldog clip
There was a big Apple press event yesterday which resulted in films being available for sale to be watched on your computer or iPod, redesigned iPods, iPod nanos, the prospect of a wireless device to allow your HD TV to view content from your computer and a new version of iTunes with a new interface.

But the best device of all is the new iPod Shuffle. It's a tiny bulldog clip that plays music. By abandoning the clumsy USB connect form-factor of most MP3 players, Apple have come up with a really useful design and it's only £55.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Subversion - Keep in control

A useful and free tool to keep your documents under control is Subversion. It works like this: imagine you are working on a directory of documents, say a website with a mixture of HTML, text and images. When you're finished (or at any point in the development), you can commit your directory tree to Subversion. This takes a snapshot of all the files in the tree. Some time later you make changes to some of the files e.g. change some of the text in a few of your webpages. You can now commit this changes into Subversion. Subversion only records the changes that have occurred between one version of a file and the next.

At any point, you can look back and see what changes you made, when and for what reason. You can restore any committed version of any of the files in the repository i.e. you can roll back to previous version. This is really useful for a single user but becomes invaluable when there is more than person doing edits to a group of files. In most cases, Subversion automatically merges in the changes without any manual intervention.

Subversion is available for all flavours of Unix, OS X and Windows. If you are using it from Windows then the TortoiseSVN program extends the Windows Explorer to view the Subversion status of files. Further reading here.

Subversion started as a replacement for CVS which was popular but crippled by its design. I have found Subversion to be completely reliable and much easier to administer than CVS.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

My Computers

I've owned (and had the use of) some weird and wonderful computers in my time. Here are just some of them.

BBC Micro Model B

My first computer was BBC Micro. I learned to program on this machine in BBC Basic. I wrote a game called Art Attack - it was excellent. It loaded its programs from cassette and had loads of ports for networking, expansion, analogue joysticks and a television for a monitor. It had 32k of RAM, which doubled as video memory.
BBC Micro


This early PC featured an 8MHz 286 processor and ran AutoCAD. It was the pride of the Computer-Aided-Design section of British Steel in around 1989.

Compaq Deskpro 386

I learned to program in C on this machine, using Microsoft Quick C for DOS. It cost around £5000 at the time.
Compaq Deskpro 386

Atari 1040STE

I had one of these at home to do music sequencing using Cubase. It had no hard drive and loaded its programs from 3.5" floppy disks. It too used a television as monitor, but had a dedicated Atari monitor for its high resolution mode.
Atari 1040 STE

Psion MC400

I bought one of these to do my Unverisity work on because they were selling them off because the product had flopped. It was like a Psion Series 3 organiser but with a full size keyboard and a large LCD screen. It was dead slow but fine for typing documents.
Psion MC-400

Psion Series 5

I got one of these for work and used to use it as an organiser, address book, word processor and spreadsheet, until I dropped it.
Psion Series 5

Shuttle PC

This build-it-yourself PC was a nice idea but really noisy. It was this machine that persueded me to stop using Windows. I installed Fedora Linux on it and spent hours trying to get the network card working.
Shuttle PC

Apple PowerBook G4

I switched from PC to a Mac so that I could run Unix software on a laptop with a nice user interface where everything works. It's quiet too. I'm typing on this one.
PowerBook G4

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DVDs are rubbish

I was a late adopter of DVD technology for several reasons:
  • The players were too expensive
  • The disks were too expensive
  • I resented buying films again
Market forces get you in the end. The price of DVD players fell below £25 so I bought one and was disapointed. The quality wasn't brilliant, the menus and extra features are rubbish, the navigation around the film is poor and they are still expensive. When you watch a perfectly legal DVD you are bombarded with a couple of minutes of logos, copyright warnings and anti-piracy films which you can't fast-forward.

I found that DVD rental is the answer, that way I don't need an expensive collection of DVDs and box sets. Now DVD is about to be replaced by either Sony's Blueray or Toshiba's HD DVD, or both. The quality of the image on these disks is akin to HDTV. What difference does this mean to us consumers? See the sample image I've created below from the Over the Hedge high definition trailer:
Comparison of DVD picture with HDTV
HDTV is clearly better than the quality being pedelled by current DVD so everyone will have to buy their collections all over again. Oh, and you'll need an £800 HD DVD player an £800 Blueray player and a £1200 flatscreen HDTV. You need one of each type of player because they are mutually incompatible and most films will only be available in one format or the other, not both. If you want to see your normal televison pictures in high definition you'll need a Sky-HD box (£299) and pay another ten pounds a month on top of your existing subscription and then you'll only get a small amount of real HD programmes.

If you go to one of the big electronics stores, such as Currys, to choose your new HDTV you'll find that they have a vast array of HD ready TVs in all shapes and sizes, most of which are showing fuzzy, stretched low definition pictures for some reason.

I think I'll wait until the players cost less than £25.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Train spotters

Today I took my son to visit the National Railway Museum in York. It's free to get in and has some big trains in it. I'm not a railway mentalist like some people, but travelling by train to a railway museum brings you into close proximity with the geniune trainspotting fruitcakes. There are men on trains making a note of train numbers as they pass, odd-looking grubby gentlemen exchanging notes at the remote ends of station platforms and grown adults drooling over model railway exhibits.

I was initially curious to see what these people got up to so I read around the subject a bit on Wikipedia and Google but quickly lost interest. They are a strange breed indeed. Learn the lingo here.


Monday, September 04, 2006

Been on holiday

I've been on holiday for a week and a bit to Brighton and Dives sur mer in Normandy, France. The pictures from the holiday can be viewed on Flickr:

Brighton Pier

When I was in Brighton I found this shop called Apeshop:
Apeshop Brighton
Could this be The Ape blog's official shop?

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