New Scientist

Posted on 20th May 2010

As mentioned in a recent post, Ark are back. They are currently putting the finishing touches to a new album, Wild Untamed Imaginings, which is now planned for a September 5th launch date. However, despite the band working on all the tracks for the album, there was one song that needed something a little extra. New Scientist has a school yard chant in the song, that in the original was handled by the band themselves. For the new recording they wanted to make it sound a little more convincing.

With all of us now having families, the idea was broached about have our kids do the backing vocals. Very quickly the idea of a Kids Chorus gained hold, and one sunny Sunday afternoon in late April we all (well apart from Tony and Tim) descended on John Jowitt's abode in Stourbridge, for an afternoon of recording. The kids were pointed at the garden and told to make friends, which they did with ease, almost as if they'd known each other for years, while the adults enjoyed food, drink and chatted about how long it had been since we'd all seen each other.

Midway through the afternoon, Mark and John prepped the mic and got all the kids together to record the chant. Originally they were going to do an indoor version and outdoor version, but the outdoor version went so well, we didn't need the other. The kids threw themselves into it and all had a lot of fun. After recording the chant, we let them loose on the garden again. However, unknown to any of the kids, Mark had left the microphone recording to take in some ambient sounds of the kids playing. Not quite sure whether they'll use any of it, but there'll be plenty to chose from :)

Pete, having missed playing with the Arkie Boys Football Club, tried to drum up enthusiam to form an adults versus kids football match. With John's house backing onto the Park, they decamped using trees, coats and jumpers for goal posts, with Pete, John and Mikey on one side and most of the kids on the other. My Dan was delight to score against the grown-ups, but in the end it was 4-1 to the Arkie Boys. A rematch has been suggested.

Click here for just a selection of photos from the afternoon. I'll be adding more to the Ark Appreciation Pages in the next few weeks.

File Under: ark / dan / ethne / music

All Over The World

Posted on 19th May 2010

Last year I went to 3 conferences, YAPC::NA, YAPC::Europe and LUGRadio Live. All very different in their own way, although all Open Source. Due to other projects, work and fanmily commitments, it has take quite a bit of time to review all the photos. After several months, I finally found some time to whittle them down to the selection I have uploaded here.

The first conference, YAPC::NA, took place in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. The team have been holding the Pittsburgh Perl Workshops for several years now, and by all accounts they had been very well received. With the YAPC set of conferences having started in Pittsburgh, at the Carnegie Mellon University where this conference also took place, the organisers were quite proud to promote a sort of home coming for the event. It was a good conference, though my first talk was somewhat problematic as we couldn't get a laptop to work with the projector. Thankfully my second talk went without a hitch. My thanks to confound for introducing me to 'xrandr', which solved all the problems I had getting Ubuntu talking to the projectors.

I also took the chance to visit the city of Pittsburgh and take a look around, with Abigail and myself taking an amphibious vehicle tour. The city has a lot of interesting places to see, and I'm glad I got to see the Heinz Building, the Stanley Theatre (where Bob Marley played his last ever gig), the venicular railways, and the site of the Three River Stadium (Yes, the car park! I'd seen a documentary about the building of Heinz Field and the demolishing of the Three River Stadium, so was even more intrigued to have a guided tour of the new stadium). If you're ever near the city, I recommend a visit, especially to see the flood levels of 1936 (the waters peaked at a rise of 46 feet above normal!).

The second conference, YAPC::Europe, was in Lisbon, Portugal. The conference itself was packed full of talks, though I think my lightning talk, which I'd been refining over the previous few months, generated the biggest reaction. Not surprising really, as it reminded people just how productive the Perl community was, particularly regarding CPAN.

I had originally thought about hiring a car and travelling along the Vasco da Gama Bridge (at 10.7 miles long, the longest road bridge in Europe), and do the circuit via the monument on the other side of the Tejo river, and back to Lisbon via the 25 de Abril Bridge (Lisbon's other bridge). I didn't in the end, but maybe I can save that for another time. Instead fellow'er Brian McCauley and myself walked around the city and took in some of the sights. When we got to the castle we managed to bump into a few other attendees (Paul Johnson, Aaron Crane and R Geffory Avery), who also had taken the advantage to do some sightseeing.

The last conference I attended was LUGRadio Live. For a number of reasons I didn't put forward a talk this year, but suggested JJ should give a talk instead. With the radio show no longer running, the conference had much more of a grassroots feel to it again. There ware some good talks, a couple of famous names, but mostly it felt like it was one big Linux User Group meeting, which to a degree it was, just a bit more global than your regular user group meeting ;) The conference was dubbed 'Back To Basic', but that really only applied to the extravagance. The quality of the conference was first rate. Being in Wolvehampton, just round the corner for me, I didn't take the opportunity to do any sightseeing, not that Wolverhampton is exactly the kind of place to do any sightseeing. As it happens I had taken Dan to the event, who loved it, especially building the lego models with all the other geeks. The following day was OggCamp, and although I would have liked to have attended, I had other commitments so had to pass. I think having the two events side by side though was a great idea, as it gives both events to feed off each other.

This year I'm currently only planning one conference, YAPC::Europe in Pisa, Italy. All being well I may get to see the tower, but as I'll be flying in and out just for the conference, I don't expect to see much more. I'm still undecided whether to submit a talk, as I'm trying to think of a suitable subject. I don't like repeating myself, but my two biggest profile Perl projects I've now covered for a couple of years (CPAN Testers and YAPC Surveys), so we'll see.

More photos to come, as I find time to get through the plethora of photos I've taken over the last year or so.

File Under: community / conference / lisbon / lugradio / opensource / perl / wolverhampton / yapc


Posted on 17th May 2010

Many aspire to be rock legends, but few rarely attain it. Ronnie James Dio was all that and more.

I was first introduced to Ronnie James Dio thanks to Tommy Vance on the BBC Radio One's Friday Night Rock Show. To begin with it was Rainbow, then shortly after Black Sabbath. Dio managed to pair himself with some great talent, and his writing, singing and performances were the greater for it.

I first saw him on stage with Black Sabbath in January 1982 at Stafford Bingley Halls. It was snowing and cold, but the band were on fire. My mates and I managed to get right down the front, and had an absolute blast. It was a great gig, but also a very eventful one. It was the gig that got stopped halfway through the song Black Sabbath, as dry ice had spurted out from underneath the drum riser and shot up Vinnie Appice's leg, giving him some nasty burns. After a short while they returned on stage, with Vinnie getting a huge cheers for carying on. When Ronnie left Black Sabbath and formed Dio, I managed to catch them on several tours during the 80s, and often went backstage to get my programme signed. Ronnie always waited until every fan who waited had got something signed. He'd happily chat with fans and get his photograph taken, and you always got the feeling he always appreciated the fans.

In 1992 I was with Ark at Rich Bitch Studios in Birmingham, where they were recording the Cover Me With Rain EP. Paul and Gel shot upstairs to tell us Sabbath were here. Unsurprising we all found excuses to head downstairs to get a drink or something to eat :) The guys were very relaxed and seemed very at ease to say hello.

In more recent years, I haven't seen that many gigs, and I even regretted not going to see Heaven & Hell and Dio's 'Holy Diver - Live' tour at the time. Thankfully I have some great memories of his live shows and he leaves behind some great songs and albums. I always wished I could have seen him perform with Rainbow backing the 70s, and oddly enough I was playing Tarot Woman to Dan on Saturday from Rainbow Rising, as I continued his education in classic rock ;)

Ronnie, you always were a star. R.I.P.

File Under: dio / music / people

Flag Day

Posted on 5th May 2010

In 1989 I was working with iQ on a short tour of the UK. The support for several dates came from a band called Ark. They came from the Black Country in the West Midlands, which happened to be a lot closer to me than London and Southampton, where iQ were primarily based. Although I would still help out iQ for a good while, with Ark being closer and doing more gigs, I came to be more and more involved with Ark.

After the iQ gigs, I kept in touch with Ark, and thanks to Danny Mayo, who happened to live in Hinckley, near where I was living at the time, got to quite a few gigs. The one that changed it for me though was a gig at The Royal Standard in Walthamstow, North East London. Anne Fox, who is iQ guitarist Mike Holmes' sister, invited me down to the gig with a few other friends of iQ. We all had a great time, and I was moved enough to want to buy the album they had for sale, Dreams Of Mr jones. I didn't have enough cash on me, but thankfully Anne lent me the money to buy it.

Upon getting home and finally listening to the album, I was impressed with the songs. Even after just the few gigs I'd seen of them, I was convinced this was a band that looked like they were going to go places. From the end of 1989, I started going to more and more gigs, helping to unload and load the gear, doing lights occasionally (where the venue had controllers), became occasional driver and generally became an official roadie for the band. I'm not sure when exactly I crossed over from just being an enthusiastic fan to a roadie, but I'm glad I did. Over the next 5 years we toured, recorded and had a blast. Well most of the time. It all ended in March 1995, and the band members went on to other things.

In 1998 I bought my first PC and got on the internet from home. I then began my first interest in website design, development and deployment. The first website I ever launched was the Ark Appreciation Pages. It's often said start with what you know, so I did. The site remained virtually unchanged for 12 years, and although content got added from time to time, in the last few years news and updates began to dwindle, despite having lots of archive material needing digitising to put online.

In 2009 the band got together in a pub and talked about a possible reunion gig. John Jowitt and Steve Harris had been talking about doing some of the old songs again, and put the idea to Tony Short and Pete Wheatley. To their delight all were very enthusiastic to playing Ark songs again. Rehearsals began, with new drummer Tim Churchman, and very quickly more than just a reunion gig was on the cards. A tour and an album were starting to become a reality. As such in January I started looking redesigning and relaunching the Ark Appreciation Pages. The old site was in desperate need of a makeover, and as it was the closest the band had to an official site, it needed a severe clean up to promote the new line-up.

Talking with the band, it transpired that they were planning to launch an official band site. A site that was firmly aimed at promoting the new line-up. With the Ark Appreciation Pages having so much archive material, it was much better placed to look at the band's whole career, and perhaps most importantly from a fan's perspective. The band have been very supportive of the site over the years, and they wanted it to continue, so my aim is to compliment the official site as much as possible.

On Monday 3rd May, the new website was launched with a new domain, ark . eology . org. I'm disappointed I hadn't thought of that domain before, as the old grango address has now found it's way onto many sites referencing the band. The domain name itself seems to fit well with the site itself too, allowing fans to dig a little deeper to uncover the history of the band. And with nearly 30 years of history to draw on, that could potentially be a lot of digging ;)

The new site is now a dynamic site, and as such is a better fit to update content on a more regular basis. Expect regular updates of photos, and hopefully each month at least one set of mp3s added to the site. As the band start to tour again, new live material will hopefully be uploaded too. I'm really pleased to be working with the band again, as they have been missed. The 5 years I spent touring with Ark, helped to shape my future and introduced me to Nicole. I have great memories of those days, and it will be wonderful to be able to see some of the old crowd again. We might all be a little older, have families and the like, but we now have a new generation to educate as to why Ark were such a great band. Please check out the new site, and let me know what you think. If you're a fan of the band too, and have any archive material you can share (photos, reviews, mp3s, scans of ticket stubs, magazine adverts and reviews), please get in touch.

Ark are back.

File Under: ark / music

Long Time Gone

Posted on 4th May 2010

It has been quite a few months since I last posted here. Quite a few events and projects have happened and held my attention since I last wrote in my blog. And I still have a backlog of photos and videos from last year to get through too!

I did wonder whether anyone might think that after talking about Why The Lucky Stiff in one of my last posts, that I had done the same. Well for those who follow my CPAN Testers work, will know that CPAN Testers 2.0 has been a rather major project that finally got properly underway in December 2009. It's nearing completion, and I'll cover some of the highlights in a future post. Although it's been my most consuming project over the last 6 months or so, it hasn't been my only one. As mentioned in another of my last posts, I'm writing a book about how to host a YAPC. Due to other projects taking a higher priority, this has taken somewhat of a backseat for the time being, but I do plan on getting a second draft together within the next few months. I have looked into self-publishing the book and I'm now planning to have it formerly submitted with an ISBN (the internation book numbers) and supplied via print-on-demand print runs.

Another project that has been ongoing alongside my CPAN Testers work, has been my website management system, Labyrinth. This has been the website application I have been developing since 2002, and although several other Perl web frameworks have now been developed since, to lesser and greater degrees, Labyrinth has had the disadvantage of only having 1 core developer for the past 8 years. It's not an application that will revolutionise web development and deployment, but it has very successfully worked for a number of websites I have developed over the years. After having been relatively stable for the past year or two, I'm now cleaning up the code so I can properly release it as open source. This is mostly so that anyone wishing to contribute to CPAN Testers, or the YAPC Surveys, will then have all the code available to them. If anyone wants to use it and help develop it further, that would be a welcome bonus, but realistically other web frameworks have gained so much mindshare that I'm not expecting Labyrinth to make much of a dent any more. Not that that is a problem, as Labyrinth has made deploying websites so much easier for me, that I'll just be glad to let people help on CPAN Testers and the YAPC Surveys.

Speaking of the YAPC Surveys, YAPC::NA 2010 and YAPC::Europe 2010 are fast approaching. These will be next projects to get up and running. Thankfully the code base just needs a few upgrades to the latest version of Labyrinth, and some work on skinning the CSS to match the respective YAPC sites. All being well this should only take a few days. Then I'll be looking to release this version of the code base for anyone wishing to run similar surveys for themselves. I've already had one interested party contact me regarding a conference in October, so hopefully the code will be suitable, and only the questions need adapting. We shall see.

My other major project this year, also began back in December 2009. As some readers are well aware, I am an ex-roadie. From 1989-1994 I was a drum tech, lighting engineer and driver for Ark, one of the best Black Country bands ever. Not that I'm biased or anything ;) Last year the band got together for some rehearsals and planned a few reunion gigs. With interest gaining, an album was also planned. So this year, the band began recording and booking gigs. As a consequence the Ark Appreciation Pages desperately needed a makeover. I'll write more about what happened next in another post. Ark are back, and Mikey and I are delighted to be able to be involved with the band once again.

That's just a few of the projects that have taken up my time over the last 6-8 months. There are several others that I hope to post about, with family, time and work permitting. Expect to hear a little more from me than you have so far this year.

File Under: ark / book / conference / labyrinth / opensource / perl / website / yapc

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