27 January 2010

There is no way this willl end well

today I learnt that Pope John Paul II practised self-flagellation, and is well on the way to sainthood.
I too practise self-flagellation, so you can all call me St Dr B.


20 January 2010

It has, you maybe aware, been snowing

This has caused much distress to the residents of this island. Coming as it did in winter, while it was cold. trains stopped (wrong type of snow apparently), cars stopped, buses took the ice route (bus tobogganing?), schools were closed (H and S), power went out (couldn't be fixed, H and S again).
All of which was amusing for those of us who thought the news reports we'd seen over the years were hyperbole. they weren't. The country really does go to hell at the hint of snow.

It appears my amusement isn't unique, as this link shows - from the principal  lecturer in English at De Montfort Uni. Wonderful stuff.


16 January 2010

aMSN, SVN, iTunes plugin

I suspect this post will be of no use what-so-ever for most of you, but hopefully those googling away for a similar problem may find it helpful.

I'm running the SVN release of aMSN on the Mac - a MSN client which looks pretty and works so much better than MSN for the Mac. The music plug-in hasn't worked very well either on the SVN version, or Snow Leopard, opinion is divided. I seem to recall it being fine on Snow Leopard, so figure it's the SVN.

There's a few things to try, on some SVN versions removing the Adobe Unit Types.osa file from \Library\Scripting Additions will fix the problem. This fixed things a few times for me.
If it doesn't, try pressing Apple+P while aMSN is the active App, this displays the Plugin Log. One thing I came across was a permissions error on the Music plugin within aMSN.
I fixed this by opening the contents of aMSN (Control + Click on aMSN app, and choose Show Package Contents - there's a sex ref in there, somewhere), going to the plugin directory and deleting the music plugin folder. I downloaded it again from the aMSN main homepage, dragged this version into the correct place.
Things started working again.The import Plugin may work, but that app doesn't seem to have been updated for sometime, play around :)

I've just put the Adobe Unit Types file back into place, and restarted aMSN, and it's dead again, so it does appear to require that file to be moved, and in my case the music plugin with correct permissions installed.


14 January 2010

Turtles! Tortoises! Extinction!

I like reptiles. Mainly I like their genetics. Cos that's just the way I roll. But they look cool too, and their relaxed approach to life strikes a chord.
Anyway, a paper just published in PLOS One on the Galapagos Tortoises has successfully identified some individuals from a previously presumed extinct population. Using DNA samples from extinct specimens, a sample of captive (both Galapagos captive and zoo captive) DNA was run and analysed using Bayesian assignment, with 9 animals identified as having genetics similar to the extinct species. There had been some cross-breeding, as you'd expect, but it looks good - 6 females and 3 males, and one of the males possessed the presumed extinct mtDNA - which is even better.

Normally I'd be grumbling about whether or not to bother saving them, but the Galapagos Islands offer a unique opportunity to do the conservation properly - indeed another critically endangered population (down to 15) has now repopulated the species by spawning 2000, and with evidence of on-island breeding. So in this case, it's definitely worth trying to recover this species - and it helps that the tortoises are iconic.

What's particularly cool about this paper is the use of extinct species to identify presumed extinct or cryptic species extant within captive populations. Scientists frequently use extinct species DNA to help align phylogenetic trees - and it's been bread and butter for morphologists for a long time - but usually it's with the resigned sigh of 'eh we won't be seeing that one again'. So in this case, huzzah to Adalgisa and her team (and yeah, I've met her a couple of times - she wouldn't give me her job tho)!!!


13 January 2010

I think I'll bus

As the papers and news have announced, the great UK thaw has started. For some of us. So everything was slushy yesterday, and this morning very icy. Exciting. to the point where I took the bus in to work - although there's a an amble to the bus-stop, and an amble from the bus-stop to work. Both of which caused a few dramatic moments.

To help my sanity I listened to Robert Calvert, most of Hawkwind and a goodly amount of UK characters (Viv Stanshall!!) perpetrating a space rock opera about the doomed Lockheed Starfighter flogged to Germany in the 60s... superb stuff. If freekin' nuts.

to improve sanity in my silver machine I switched to Can.

And if that doesn't brighten/break your day, buggered if I know what will.


8 January 2010

Ohhh fun times!

Yes I'm sure I should be doing more work on a nightmare spreadsheet, but it's doing my head in. So I'm blogging instead.
Excitement in the officebox today, my minion world order clinic has competition. Some student charity competition organised by Ernst and Young has prompted some 3rd year's to develop a business plan for providing the same service we do for free, but with the added twist of making students pay for it. Quirky. I met with them this morning to hear their proposal and explain that we did all that, but for free. They looked delightfully crestfallen. We are trying to come up with some alternative options for them, but part of me wants to say "bring it on mofo's". Two reasons for that: 1) it will cement my place and provide me with recognised power/budget to implement changes that I want quickly, rather than the glacial rate this place usually does and 2) I suspect my minions would like the challenge and the possibility of fun negative campaigning :D

I suspect responses here are going to revolve around two positions, either: we must work with the students and help them and no negative campaigning, or yes, competition would be healthy, let's do it - and a tacit agreement to aggressive marketing. Obviously I'm hoping for the latter. And I think I'm going to be in luck as we have a contract with a local company who provide hardware support for the clinic, meaning we have to support them. Heehee.
Bring it on.

I've moved on from best-of 2009 lists to funk music and now The Wire soundtrack on Spotify.
Back to the spreadsheet now.


General Stuff, Dropbox, and Spotify

Well it didn't snow last night, or at least not too much, it's been quite nice walking into work this week. Snow is much preferable to ice, less excitement in the vertical stakes. Wandered in the other day to Marillion's Seasons End, which is such a superb album. Ahh bliss.

I've just been moving a lot of my stuff (documents, photos etc) around, splitting them between google docs, and Dropbox. I like google docs, cos it's simple, but for storage of stuff I prefer dropbox. they give you 2gb free and you can pay for increased sizes - if anyone wants an invite let me know, cos I get an extra 250mb of storage if you click on a link from me :D
Google docs works well for simple stuff, but the biggest problem I've come across, is that date codes and stuff don't work well, no matter what country settings you have (I've tried, as has a minion). It also doesn't like some file types, and won't allow you to upload them - so it's not much use as a backup storage place.

Spotify is certainly a godsend, particularly with end of year best-of CD lists by everyone. Excellent way of spinning tracks to work out if I want the album or not. Listened to the xx earlier (thanks S2H) and now the Doves (thanks psychochicken), long list of stuff to get through today, I guess that means I'll end up getting work done!
For those not in the know, Spotify allows you to listen to albums over the 'net, or your smartphone, without buying them - although you have that option too. there's a few ads in the free version, but seems fine for what I use it for. Paid version is, by all accounts, excellent.

Love, B

Christopher Lee : ProgGod

found this on Undercover news:

The screen legend - who is best known for starring in several Hammer horror films, including his most famous role as Dracula in the movie of the same name - is bringing out the LP in March and admits he is very excited about the project.
The 87-year-old actor said: 'To my surprise and distinct pleasure I have found there is another string to my bow. My belief is that in March, when this comes out, it’s going to be sensational.
'It’s fascinating for me that at this stage in my life, people are beginning to look upon me as a metal singer.'
The 'symphonic metal' record is entitled 'Charlemagne: By The Sword And The Cross’ and is a concept album which focuses on the story of King Charlemagne, the First Holy Roman Emperor, who reigned in the 8th Century and 9th Century.

edited slightly.

7 January 2010

More linux geekery

It's a bit cold in the office today, works boiler blew up or died or something, and had to be relit this morning. So it's likely to stay cold for the next couple of days. I've even got a jersey on in the office, which is a first.

Have finished configuring my linux box now, the last bit of which was to get my drives mapping properly. Nothing very difficult, except I couldn't remember the commands :D

The internet came through nicely tho, initially mapping the drive using terminal was done following this website. And when that worked fine, I edited /etc/fstab so the drive was mapped automatically using:
 //server/share /mnt/udrive smbfs credentials=/etc/samba/cred-file,uid=USERNAME,gid=users 0 0
as I'd created a file in /etc/samba called cred-file with my username and password in the format:

This means I've got networked drives mapping, printing sorted, Pidgin configured, Skype running, and Evolution connecting using IMAP as there isn't an exchange client for 2007 yet.

It's all procrastination from the reading I'm supposed to be doing.

6 January 2010

Oooh nice outside

Admittedly chilly, but was a nice walk in this morning on reasonably deep snow. Pretty!

So now at work sipping coffee listening to Genesis 12" mix of Land of Confusion. I managed to flog off a CD on ebay which paid for a DVD and the Genesis Archives #2 set. And no, the CD I was selling wasn't very valuable. So, result.

Buying a coffee grinder has certainly improved my life. It's a sad reflection on me, and the UK midlands, but there ya are.
Oh snow pictures, any of the news pages should have some, but here's a few quick links: bbc; bbc england; Guardian.

ciao for now!

3 January 2010

The Almost-Theres, and the WTF were they thinking albums of 2009

Let’s skim over the almost made it into the top 10, but didn’t. 
Gazpacho - tick Tock (hey it’s really good, but no-where near as good as Night)
Wishing tree - ostara (it’s definitely a grower)
Pineapple thief - 3000 days (it’s a compilation, but is essential)
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott - A stranger here (legend returns, Joe Henry produces, perfection)
Dimmer - Degrees of existence (S2H nailed it by saying it lacks flow, it’s an album for the ipod generation)

Now let’s get bitchy.

Tilt - Million Dollar Wound
Steve Vantsis who co-wrote Fish’s 13th Star album left, leaving Fish without a composer who knew a decent hook, and could end a song, and Vantsis without a lyricist. Tilt annoutnced they would release EPs not albums. In their defence, it’s an attitude Bruce Springsteen should consider. But the album is crud. Some redemption in some songs, but an EPs worth? nah. Boring and lacking the vitality of 13th Star. Vocalists are boring, and the songs sound over-produced. Anyone who doubts me, send me an email and I’ll give you my copy.

Aside from MJ, it’s probably bad form to speak ill of the dead. The dead in this case being half of the sublime Alan Parsons Project (no choccy fish for guessing the other half). As the APP they created some stunning albums, and the recent remastering process simply confirmed that. While AParsons continued the band, even heading out for live tours (!), Woolfson wandered off to theatre and musicals - including Freudiana which I’ve blogged about before. 
Following the remasters, EW decided to complete some unfinished APP songs - something that could have been brilliant and exciting, but as it’s in the ‘how could you fuck it up’ section you’ll have guessed, wasn’t. There are some reasonable songs in there, but there’s no chance of them escaping thanks to the over-production which, I suspect, even Brian May would say ‘oohhh that’s a bit much’. To keep it English, this album is akin to English cooking, boil to buggery, boil some more. Serve. The vomit has more flavour.

Well the music press fell over themselves trying to fawn over Muse’s latest. Dickheads. It’s crap. And that’s from a reasonably hard-core fan who found them before Origin of Symmetry. 
Muse have always worn their influences pretty openly, Queen, Pet Shop Boys, classic rock, touch of prog, glam, Bowie etc. But on this one, it’s no-longer hints, it’s full on pastiche. The ‘Muse-ness’ has gone, replaced with a bad covers band. I’ve made it through the album 3-4 times, spending most of it going oh thats X, that’s X, that’s X done really badly. The symphonic suite, which I’d have thought would have caused the music press to diss Muse (but didn’t- WTF?), is ok, but nowhere near as special as it’s been made out to be. 
Bring back Muse. The slyly hat tipping tribute band. Not the OTT covers band.

Hard-core Marillion fan puts new album in the WTF category? Shock! Horror! Broadsheet scandal!!! Jeez it’s bad. The band, in absence of H’s desire to write more lyrics, decided to record some classic Marillion tunes in acoustic mode. So far, yeah OK, I can cope. Sadly their reimagings are dull, lifeless, and all end up sounding like the Beatles. But not in a good way. Songs are made, paradoxically, more complex and the life is sucked from them, like a whore making the last line count. 
I’ve played it three times, liked a few bits, saw the concert (shite!), and have relegated L=M, the album, somewhere near the bottom of my CD collection. 

Passionless, overly complex, dull. Words that critics frequently use to describe prog, in this case, I’m joining them.

Oohh another Marillion related album in the WTF category. Transatlantic are a special case tho, a prog-super group (Marillion, Dream Theater, ex-Spocks Beard, Flower Kings) who have released two albums, two live albums, then hibernated for 7 years until unleashing the Whirlwind on us. Thanks guys. 
As a band, they are over the top, progging it to levels prog shouldn’t be progged to, Spinal Tap’s 11 for prog. Progven.
I kinda like the first album as it’s so bonkers, the second is fun, the third appears to be taking themselves seriously. 
Do yourself a favour, watch X-Factor, it’ll hurt less.

Ahhh, now that feels better.

Top10 albums of 2009

This list is the definitive, objective 2009 list and anyone who disagrees has been shot, what with the revolution happening ‘n all. 
In keeping with previous years self-imposed rules, live albums were out (bye bye Len C, Tom W, Iron M) as were compilations (bye bye the superb Pineapple Thief 3000 days) and reissues (byebye King Crimson remasters, Red in particular was a revelation, and Elbow Asleep at the Wheel deluxe edition).

Generally 2009 saw a number of excellent releases and limiting the list to 10 (well ok, 11 but thats chauvinism coming through) was tricky, hence the bonus ones in the next post. 
I’ve tried to roughly order them, but really, aside from the top3 the rest are all just great albums. 

10= Family Cactus “Gone Howling” / Lawrence Arabia “Chant Darling”
The first of the NZ releases, I tried separating the two of them, but it proved too difficult so, in keeping with last years cop-out, let them both in. FC supported Okkervil River when I saw them in Wellington, and blew me away. Brilliant pairing of two stunning bands. Both quite similar, although FC are more guitar-americana than OR. There are similarities to their city-mates, Phoenix Foundation, and that can’t be a bad thing.
I really don’t know how to describe LA, it’s a beautiful, whimsical, quirky and sometimes upbeat album. It is very typical of NZ music, but for most of you that won’t help, so think Neil Finn addictive melodies but more quirky music to them (I’m not a big fan of the Finn’s so don’t like this description). The influences LA has had recently, including OR come through with, I felt, more time allowed for the songs to grow - you do need to listen to it to get hooked, but it is delightful reveal when it happens.

LA is currently touring the UK, definitely recommend seeing him.

9: The Decemberists - Hazards of Love I only heard this late in the year as reviews had been pretty damning. Well a brit-folk-prog-americana album shouldn’t work. As a genre, it’s one I’d avoid like the plague. Annoyingly this album has made it work. Damn them. Sure there’s Tull in there, there’s Beach Boys, there’s Enid, but over-all it’s so different, so catchy, so gorgeous, it transcends the influences (like how Muse used to).

8: Dredg - The pariah the parrot the delusion A band who have featured in my top10 previously, where I suspect I described them as pop/rock. They’ve gone more prog-pop on this one, and it’s a winner. It’s certainly not as accessible as their previous album, Catch Without Arms, but the hooks are there and I like it. Very guitar driven, but the main focus of the band is definitely the lyrics. Intelligent without being pretentious, and interesting without dominating - so not really typical prog ! Good comparison would be The Weakerthans. 

7: Porcupine Tree The Incident. The previous album caused division within the fans for being too metal or lyrically too immature, personally I liked it. This one is more a combination of recent material, as such there appears to be a bit of oohhh that’s from album XX. But it works, everyso often it’s good to consolidate, and PT have done very well with this. It is complex, multi-layered album, both sonically and lyrically, as you’d expect from PT. But it also has some killer hooks. And some tracks will not get out of your head, Drawing the Line in particular is stunning in surround sound. Based around a song-cycle (oh dear god, how prog is that) concerning a road accident (or incident) the album seems to explore more how people react to suffering. Perhaps the next album could explore similar themes but focus on bankers, should be quite upbeat...

6: Steve Hackett - Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth. I’d never listened to much Hackett outside of Genesis, so when Neil suggested we catch him at a festival, it seemed churlish to say no. And he blew us away. The new tracks he played were stunners and caused me to pick up some (well ok quite a few) albums from his website. The new album has been, so far, my favourite. It’s diverse, it’s interesting, and it’s a great combination of rock, prog, and a bunch of other influences. It seems more accessible than other albums of his, which I suspect is the rock influences coming through. The songs, although hitting the 5+ minute mark, don’t seem too long (common criticism of prog), suggesting SH knows how to let them breath without stretching them too far.

5: Mark Olson and Gary Louris - Ready for the flood. The legendary Jayhawks reunite for a this-is-not-a-jayhawks album. It’s rough and loose, and it works. Their voices work beautifully - the harmonies on this album are quite stunning. There is a danger in this type of music that it becomes too dull, too samey, but the variety and relaxed approach to delivery doesn’t allow this to happen - conjuring up dust-bowls with interesting dusty characters,  very much in the Dylan mode. 

4: The Enid - Arise and Shine Vol 1. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the Enid, but something about this album has hooked me bad. Symphonic-electronica? Yeah it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. As far as I can tell, it’s a website only purchase. But you do support the band directly and if the plaintive emails coming out of Enid land are anything to go by, they need it. So the album, well it’s symphonic, almost bombastically so in places, but there’s a very sympathetic electronica sitting underneath a lot of it. It’s lush, it sweeps you up, and it makes you lose yourself in the album, I can’t ask for more than that.

3: IQ - Frequency. I loved Seventh House but was largely bored by Dark Matter, which I felt lacked emotion and punch. No such complaints with Frequency, loved it from first listen. It’s more direct, it’s got hooks, and it’s got variety. Love it. Title track in particular is classic IQ without out-staying its welcome.

2: Rhian Sheehan - Standing in Silence. No vocals, ambient, film-ic, electronica, symphonic. This is the most complete of Rhian’s recordings. I’ve had the feeling that his previous albums have suffered from a lack of funds for production. Thankfully this wasn’t the case on this album. A film made to this music would have to include vast open spaces, for that’s how this album sounds. There’s a huge spacial quality to the album that just envelops the listener, imagine staring out on an Antarctic landscape, that’s this album. But just as the vastness threatens to overwhelm, small details are introduced. This should have been my #1 album. More kiwi music too!!

1: Dream Theater - Black Clouds and Silver Linings No I don’t know how this got to #1 either, but looking at the albums released in 2009 I kept coming back to this album. It’s everything you want from a DT album, rock, metal, prog, solos, but none sounds too over the top (certainly an achievement when Portnoy is involved). It’s got hooks and tunes in obscene levels, James sounds like he’s really having fun singing, and it works as a whole. Buy the 3 disc version, well it’s prog, of course there’s a 3CD version, the covers album includes a blinding version of tracks from my favourite Queen album, Queen II. Also quite partial to their cover of Crimson’s Larks Tongues in Aspic. 

Next up, also rans and WTF where they thinking...

Cooking with Bruce: mulled wine and muffins

I realise that most of you are desperately hanging out for my 'best-of 2009' blog, patience dear readers, it's on the way. I can reveal that Susan Boyle did not make the #1 position, but that's all I'm exposing now. 

Todays cooking with Bruce brings you a very tasty mulled wine recipe, culled from various websites, a cheeky norwegian, extensive tasting, and what I had in the kitchen. I also provide a use for the leftovers from mulling (is that a word? who knows, it is now) in the form of muffins - just for Bek. Not that she reads this. Oh well. 

1 bottle of red
3T madiera or port (this was 3s (ish) of tipping port into the pot)
1/2c brown sugar
1/3c raisins
2 sticks cinnamon
6 whole cloves
1 grapefruit peel
1/4c slivered almonds
1 bay leaf
grated nutmeg
1/4c vodka (or brandy, since I was low on vodka)

mix all but vodka, simmer 2-3 hours, just before serving add vodka. drink extensively. 

The problem with this recipe is that it leaves you with leftovers, raisins, almonds etc. Oh woe, whatever is to be done? Muffins. Muffins are to be done. I have no idea on the actual amounts of ingredients used.

50gm butter
1/2c brown sugar
cream those two and mix an egg in.
1.5c flour (possibly a mix of wholemeal and standard, but I had no wholemeal), some baking powder, raisins, almonds from the mulled wine, few spices. Add milk and mix to a dropping consistency, bake 15mins at 180C. Makes 4-6 depending on your manliness.


1 January 2010

I am sick to death of Fíng appeals on TV

Before anyone points it out, yes I could turn the TV off, but I was watching something.

UK TV appears dominated by pathetic annoying ads begging for money for some starving minions somewhere, I care not where. sadly for them when watching an ad my initial response was ''oh an ad for euthenasia international''. therefore during the few times i don't switch off during ads, i just start giggling. not exactly what they want, i guess.

I appear to be getting more bitter about the stupidity of dumb twats on tv. I sense this could lead to interesting blogs, huzzah for idiots. I guess.

B (ranty)