Not Fade Away

Posted on 17th May 2008

The Cadbury Cricket Pavilion (as it is often referred to these days), is quite a grand building. It was originally opened in June 1902, and was a gift to the Bournville Cricket Club to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII, hence its other name of The Coronation Cricket Pavilion. The black & white photo shown here is taken from The Food of the Gods, by Brandon Head (available thanks to Project Gutenberg), although alas it doesn't recall when it was taken.

Earlier this year, Dan's team Callowbrook Swifts, played a match against Cadbury Athletic on the Sports Field, so I took the opportunity to take a few photos of the Pavilion as it is today. I assume it is still used by the Bournville Cricket Club, as they still hold cricket matches here during the summer months. One of many Bournville treasures.

File Under: birmingham / photography / sightseeing
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Head Down

Posted on 13th May 2008

Nine Inch Nails have done what many record labels would be absolutely terrified to do. Trent has given his latest album, The Slip, away for free. And not any old dubious quality download (like a another high profile band tried to do), but top quality MP3s, together with lossless FLAC and M4A files, and the WAV multitrack files to enable fans to make their own remixes. In fact fans haven't been slow in uploading their remixes to the remix.nin.com site either, several tracks off the new album are already there as well several hundred other mixes.

Trent has been quite prolific in recently with this being the fourth album in as many years. Okay so Ghosts was an experimental project, but it still counts. Of the 3 regular albums, he started to change tack slightly, and although the albums were still very much Nine Inch Nails, there was more of a whole album feel, rather than a collection of songs. This was never more so than on Yero Zero. It was only recently I discovered the Year Zero alternate reality game, which has been fascinating to read about. I knew there was a concept behind the album, but never realised the scale it had been conceived on. The NIN Wiki has lots of info if you're interested.

The Slip, however, goes back to the regular collection of songs. On first listen I wasn't completely bowled over, but did think it was worth playing again. The album is a grower, and after several repeated listens, there are a few tracks that I'm starting to think will be firm favourites in years to come. After listening to remix of Head Down, entitled Head Down (Further) if you can find it on the remix site, I relistened to the track and felt I'd opened hidden door. Hopefully it won't be too long for the tour to come to the UK, then I can make up for missing the two gigs they scheduled then cancelled in Birmingham and Wolverhampton, then rescheduled while I was in Vienna.

However, the biggest buzz about the current way Trent is doing business, is going to have a few people sitting up in the record industry, taking notes. The Slip, has been released completely free, with a Creative Commons license that allows you to play, listen and remix to your hearts content. Trent even states on the website "thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years - this one's on me", which is quite a bold statement. You will be able to buy a CD, and judging from the responses, most fans are likely to do just that. Even though you can get the album for free, it's more about being able to listen to the songs on whatever medium you chose, without any fear of the RIAA or similar. Trent no longer has a traditional record deal, and being much more clued into the technological revolution that has been happening for the last 10 years or more, and indeed has positively embraced it, understands probably better than most what his audience will give and take. There aren't many artists that are comfortable just giving their music away, in fact Prince is the only other person I can think of that would, seeing as he's already given away his last album, Planet Earth, as a free CD with The Mail on Sunday.

I don't think artists and record companies will be rushing to follow suit, but I do think more artists will be considering the benefit of having their fans play with their tracks to see what they can come up with. Nine Inch Nails though do have quite a creative fanbase, that many others must be envious of, and one that is very loyal, as Trent himself astutely notes. I'm enjoying listening to the Remix site, and can imagine an official remix album may well see a release a some point. But then again, that wouldn't be anything new for Nine Inch Nails.

File Under: internet / music / nin / review
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So Glad 2B Alive

Posted on 12th May 2008

Back in February we went to see Bleeding Hearts as The Adam & Eve in Digbeth, Birmingham. It was also Gel's 40th birthday, and a great gig to celebrate it. It was also great to see Paul Rogers at the gig too, who I hadn't seen since my days with Ark, in fact since 1994. There were quite a few old faces in the audience, as well as plenty of new ones too. The was a complete mixture of old and new songs, with more emphasis on the newer songs. I did mean to make a note of the setlist, but got complete caught up in taking photos.

The Adam & Eve is quite a small pub, though long, so although you can't necessarily see well at the back, you could definitely hear the band. In fact most of Digbeth could probably hear them, and undoubtly would have said they deserved all the encores asked of them. After the live album I was quite eager to see the band again, but unfortunately it ended up being a little longer than intended. Since The Adam & Eve gig, they've done a couple of German tours now, and are set up to do a few UK gigs around the Midlands, so hopefully we'll be catching up with them soon. Expect more photos then, and hopefully a setlist next time around.

File Under: birmingham / bleedinghearts / gigs / music / photography
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High Speed Dirt

Posted on 11th May 2008

Callowbrook Swifts had their last match today. Despite going ahead at 2-0 early in the match, they were drawing 3-3 at half time. But the heat took its toll and Hampton managed to score another 2 in the second half for a final score of 3-5. It could so easily have gone in Callowbrook's favour, as in one instance Dan led a great run down the left wing, crossing to Joel, who hit a lovely shot at goal, but hit the post and was caught by the goalkeeper. With several other attempts on goal, and a few corners, it wasn't a lack of trying on Callowbrook's part. It was a shame for Ross, as he did make several great saves, but Hampton got themselves into good positions and made it difficult for him to cover all angles.

There's a break for the summer now, although training still continues. There are also two new players starting with the team ready for the next season, so it'll be interesting to see how the team dynamics work with the new additions. Callowbrook, as they are at the moment, have come on leaps and bounds in the last 6 months, and they're still getting better. The previous two matches they won 4-2 and 4-0, so they've proved they can do it. 11 goals in the last 3 matches, not bad in anyone's book. I'm looking forward to the next season anyway :)

File Under: callowbrook / dandan / family / football
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Father Ruler King Computer

Posted on 11th May 2008

A few weeks ago I was approached by Talk Toshiba to review one of their laptops. As I had already been thinking about getting a new laptop for myself, and have previously liked the Toshiba laptops, I took them up on their offer. However, the Toshiba Qosmio G40 that arrived wasn't anything like what I was expecting. The problem with my expectations was that I was hoping to use it like a regular laptop. The Qosmio is a big beast both in its dimensions (440mm x 230mm x 45mm) and its weight (4.4 kg), and wouldn't fit in any laptop bag I had, or my rucksack. I came to the conclusion that looking at it as a laptop is perhaps misleading. Anyone using it as a portable computer, which is effectively what the term "laptop" is used to imply, is going to have problems. Using it as a replacement high-end desktop in the home or office, or as a media centre is more likely to get the best use out of the computer.

Before receiving the Qosmio for review, I investigated a few sites to get a feel for what the machine was about. The specifications on Toshiba's own site give the basics and an idea of the hardware inside, but I wanted to see what tests and trials it had been through, as I wouldn't be able to do any like for like comparison tests, but look at it more as a working machine. Several of the web pages I found referenced various games, including Quake 4, so I decided I would dust off my copies of Quake 3 Arena, Rollcage and Revolt, plus a few other racing games, to see how it faired. I also wanted to see how well it worked as a replacement development machine, and planned to install a LAMP stack and set up a local dynamic website. Lastly, or more acurately firstly, I wanted to see how it faired installing Linux on it. What follows is both my experience of these attempts and some further aesthetic observations.

On its arrival, aside from its size and weight, the first thing about the look of the machine was the keyboard half of the computer. The bottom half has a glaringly shiny white surface, with bright blue LEDs inlayed into the side controls, as well as along the front edge and back panel to illuminate what features (Caps Lock, Wifi, Bluetooth, etc) were active. When you first look at all the white and LEDs, I get the sense that its meant to look flashy and impressive, and it does until you start to use it. The LEDs end up being far too distracting, and while the edge and back panel illuminations are needed, the brightness isn't. My current laptop uses a lower light (and probably wattage) green LED, that can be easily ignored. The LEDs around the controls is purely cosmetic and becomes irritating.

The screen looks like it would be about 20" widescreen from the case size, but with the speakers inlayed either side, we get a 17" widescreen, which is still big compared to many laptops. I've been used to standard screens for so long, widescreen does still seem a bit odd, even though it is pretty much the standard these days, especially for watching movies and the like. The quality of the screen is fantastic, and if you don't want to buy a new HD ready TV, this is definitely a suitable alternative. Both for movies and games the quality was extremely impressive.

Looking at this machine for it's Media Centre qualities, the LEDs and the white keyboard top are a really bad idea. One of the first try outs for machine was to watch a DVD. The reflectiveness of the white and brightness of the LEDs meant we had to use a thick black cloth over it so we could watch the screen. I'm really surprised that Toshiba haven't had any feedback about this aspect, as it would seem to be an obvious flaw. Following recent announcements, the other aspect of the Media Centre sales point for the Qosmio, is no longer the selling point it could have been. It claims to be the first laptop to have a HD-DVD player built in. Thankfully it plays regular DVDs and CDs too, so it isn't completely redundant. I don't own any HD-DVD movies, but I'm sure they play wonderfully, as the quality of regular DVDs was great. One nice aspect about the Media Centre qualities, was that the laptop comes with a remote control. It was quite handy to sit back and watch DVDs and use the remote to click through the menus or adjust the volume without having to reach over and touch the laptop itself.

I did briefly try the 2MP onboard camera, which looked to be a pretty decent webcam. Despite only being 2MP, the quality looked great on screen, and I was surprised to see that the picture looked really crisp. I don't know anyone I would use this facility with, and never got to try it over a internet connection, so I have no idea what the refresh rate would be like, although these days with all the broadband rates increasing, it's likely to be pretty good. Plus that sort of thing is down to the connection not the laptop, so if you're looking for this sort of feature, then it's definitely a plus.

A big downer for me personally though, was that it come pre-installed with Windows Vista. I did ask whether I could install a Linux distro before I got the machine for review, as any laptop I buy now must be able to run Linux. I have both Ubuntu and Fedora disks, so I was eager to see how they faired. All Linxu distros seem to suffer installation problems with brand new laptops, so I was curious to see whether where an issues here or not. As there didn't seem to be any reports on the web I was hopeful. Unfortunately both Ubuntu and Fedora suffered with TTY issues. After searching on the web for specific issues with Linux on the Qosmio, I drew a blank and reluctantly gave up. Had it been my own laptop, I would have made more of an effort to find the problem, and possibly fix it. I suspect the nVidia graphics card, as they usually are the cause of many installation issues with Linux, but I was a little disappointed with Toshiba, as normally their machines are very good at installing Linux and just working. My old Toshiba Satellite is still going strong after nearly 10 years. However, the TTY issues leads me to think that the latest nVidia graphics card inside, hasn't currently got any working Linux drivers for it, and given time this may not be a problem.

Despite not having tried Vista personally, the changes I knew of and what I'd seen on other laptops hadn't impressed me, and now having tried it, I can't find anything about the OS particularly inspiring. In fact, I really hope I never have to suffer Vista again. Vista tries too hard to out think you, fails and ends up being irritating to the maximum. The Qosmio has a big silver volume control to the left of the keyboard. If you turn the volume down you would expect, like every other volume control on every other laptop I've ever used, that ALL noises would diminish in volume, and mute if I turned it far enough. However, Vista assumes that its own annoying pips and squeaks don't count. Finding how to turn off the pips and squeaks is annoying in itself, but I shouldn't have to jump through hoops to turn the volume down for anything. If I don't want noises, I don't want noises! Admittedly this is not a fault of the Qosmio, but hopefully Toshiba will put pressure on Microsoft to make their OS work correctly with their laptop and not be a nuisance. This was just one irriating feature that could be tied to the laptop, there were several others, and I would prefer to see Toshiba invest some time working with some of the Linux vendors and see about getting them to work out of the box on it too.

As I use all my laptops as development machines, I decided I would install a small dynamic website and see how easy it would be to both set up the website and make changes, running a LAMP stack (albeit without the L (Linux) and replace it with W for Windows). I downloaded the latest copies of Apache, MySQL and Perl for Windows, and I started get really irriated with the obstructions that Vista puts in your way. One of the first things I downloaded on getting the laptop was Firefox, so using that to download and and launch the installer, already pops up a clear warning. However, Vista additionally blocks you from running any application twice further. Like once wasn't enough, because like you're using Windows so you must be really stupid. Despite the user I was running as, and installing with, is the Administrator, Vista doesn't care and insists you are stupid and really don't know what you're doing and insists on getting confirmation twice that you aren't stupid and really do know what you're doing.

So I finally get Apache, MySQL and Perl installed. The next step is to fix the configuration files. Now Apache has changed since v1, and uses a main configuration file and then separate files for specific areas, one of which is the vhosts configuration. It makes it easier to keep logical sections separate. However, initial setup means you first have to play with 2 files. Vista again, despite being the Administrator user, thinks you are too stupid and locks you out of changing the file. The ONLY way to change the file is to save it to a temporary directory then drop down to the explorer (more of THAT in a moment) window and manually copy, jumping through the two pops asking whether you really aren't stupid. This included changing the /etc/hosts file to add a local domain! All this took over an hour to sort out, and I still wasn't finished. With every other laptop this takes about 10 minutes to set up. I gave up in the end as I had better things to do.

One aspect of using a Windows machine for development is that I use both Explorer (not IE) and the command line a lot. Some are surprised to learn I used the latter almost all the time. However, Vista has seen fit to hide these away. Anyone used to using a Windows machine, particularly a less experienced user, is going to have difficulty finding them, seeing as both were immediately available from the Start button. In fact the only thing about the Start button they have got right is that it is smaller and has changed to an icon. The start menu is radically different to any other, and ends up being confusing and irritating trying to figure out how to find what you want. I wasn't planning on Vista bashing, as this should be a review about the Toshiba Qosmio, but it really spoiled my experience of the laptop and meant I wasn't able to enjoy using the laptop as much I potentially could have. It's only served to ensure that any laptop I buy in the future must NEVER have Vista on it.

An aspect of any laptop produced these days is how it's builtin wireless hardware performs. I'm pleased to say the Qosmio's networking features worked without a hitch and really quite smoothly. I noted that the builtin Wifi automatically set itself to talk 804.11g, rather than the 'b' or 'a' variants that my other laptops seem to choose. The bluetooth detected my phone as soon as I enabled it on the phone too. Although as yet there isn't any bluetooth control features available, which would have been nice, but I guess that is something that is specific to the type of phone you have.

As mentioned earlier, I dusted off some of my PC games. Unfortunately, some didn't install due to requiring Windows 98. I found this a bit of a shame, as I suspect it was only some software detection that was stopping it running, not the actual game software. Quake 3 Arena, Rollcage and Hedz all installed fine and it was great to play them all again. I used my personal USB mouse, which justed worked (as it should do in this day and age) together with the keyboard and was very pleased to see the responsiveness of the games. having a larger screen and not being restricted to sitting at a confined computer desk, meant I could play on a large table and have room to move and perhaps more importantly not have to sit so close to the screen. Again the screen quality was fantastic, with both the vibrant colours standing out and the non-reflective element making it much easier to see everything that was happening in the game. The speed of the games was much more realistic, which I guess is more due to the Dual Core CPU in use, so that the game can run uninterrupted on one core and the OS and other processes running on the other. Quake was definutely a joy to play again and I'd forgotten how much fun Rollcage was. My very first desktop was bought for gaming, and online gaming in particular, and the Qosmio is a great upgrade for both now.

All in all I wouldn't recommend this as portable laptop. As a Media Centre or a high-end games machine, then it fairs much better. However, with a price tag of over £1,600, it doesn't come cheap. For me personally I wouldn't choose this machine for a new purchase. I don't play games like Quake often enough, and we already have a new HD Ready TV and DVD player, so it isn't really a must have, plus I really want something that is portable (can I use it on the bus) and can it run Linux (preferably Ubuntu or Debian). If you're a gamer and want to be able to set up round your friends house, or just don't want to have a bulky desktop taking up room in the house, or want something that is part computer/part DVD player, then the Qosmio would be a reasonable purchase. However, I would temper that with the fact you have to have Vista on it. I really hope Toshiba invest some effort getting other OSs working on the Qosmio or getting Microsft to write a decent OS, although I doubt either will happen soon, and suspect the latter is an impossibility.

If you're interested in reading more about the laptop, check out the official Toshiba Qosmio G40 page online.

File Under: computers / laptop / review / toshiba
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