Archive for November, 2011

Albums of my life #1

16 November 2011 Leave a comment

Albums shape a lifelong love of music. My daughter has one favourite album that she plays almost non-stop.

And so it was for me when I was a teenager.

Back in those days, it was popular to tape your vinyl albums onto tape, and typically it was pick-and-mix as to what went onto each tape. A C-90 (I favoured the TDK ADX, but they did not appear until the nineties) would normally hold two albums (45 minutes on each side). I was lucky that Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” ( I really should sort out my Amazon associate links to earn from the dozens of viewers/readers I have) combined with Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” on the same tape. For one hot summer (and the following autumn, and sporadically afterwards,) this was my musical poison. I’m sure that I didn’t get these albums until the early eighties, as they were released in 1976 and 1977 respectively, but they ended up on the same tape, sometime in the early eighties.

For a young lad living in central Scotland, these were, to a great extent, the taste of something foreign, exotic, and unattainable. Thin Lizzy were big in the USA, and wrote of it. Songs like “The Boys are Back in Town” spoke of a freedom (I was not yet a teenager) that couldn’t even think about. Similarly, Meat Loaf sang about girls, getting to the fourth base, breathless nights, and so on, with a similar effect on me.

Musically, Bat Out of Hell is outstanding. Much of it is shaped by songwriter im Steinman’s piano and Todd Rundgren’s guitar, and the production allows them space to flourish and (especially in Rundgren’s case) show off. I’m pretty sure that no album of that time sounded like this one, it was a true ground breaker, and I’m also sue that they set a precedent of power-rock followed by power-ballad that is still emulated today, influencing bands such as Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Guns ‘n’ Roses.

Musically, the Thin Lizzy album was a revelation to me. I’d grown up on punk (distorted guitars) and then onto heavy metal (distorted guitars). It was strange to find the clean and intricate guitars of Gorham and Robertson counterposed with distorted riffs, clean reverb-tinged solos and (shock) space for the rest of the song to breathe. Songs like “Angel From the Coast” and “Romeo and the Loney Girl” show this. Of course, the Meat Loaf album also left space, but the piano is a semi-percusive instrument that tends to fill space, and, of course, requires a rhythm to drive it. And remember that I heard all this through the ears of a wannabe guitarist. Even today I realise that these albums, especially the Thin Lizzy one, remind me that there’s more than one way to make a great song, and subtlety is an important tool. I hope that the current production mores, where the sound is compressed to fill all space, resulting in *everything* sounding good, and yet leaving the listener tired after an hour or so, will pass, and we will once again learn to listen to a huge dynamic range and enjoy what the composers and producers intended us to hear, instead of mastering an album to compete with ever other “in your face” mix that abounds.

Both albums have their hits, of course, I’m not backing losers here, even though 30-35 years have passed. Two of Thin Lizzy’s most memorable songs, “The Boys are Back in Town” and “Cowboy Song”, plus, of course, the concert favourite “Emerald,” featuring duelling guitars are on this album. The trademark harmony guitars are in evidence, of course.

“Bat Out Of Hell” spawned singles too – in fact, according to Wikipedia, just about every track was a single, somewhere. Most did not make the top ten, as the singles were not radio-friendly (back in those days, at least, they were not radio freindly; I’m sure they helped to mold the consequent radio-friendly Bon Jovi/G’n’R/Starship type of radio-oriented rock that we get nowadays, and if released again, would all hit the charts hard).

When I listen to these albums now, I’m transported back to my carefree (in retrospect) youth, my easily excited early-teen stage. I can still recall the smells, sights and sounds of that first summer I spent with these albums, falling asleep to the cassettes waking up and switching them back on, and I am reminded of many other memories that are linked to that time – Tom Russel’s Rock Show on Radio Clyde, Tommy Vance on the Friday Rock Show, seeing great bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden, time spent with my friends in their houses, listening to music, driving around in their cars, and many, many more.

Categories: Uncategorized

Google+ spotted in the wild

16 November 2011 Leave a comment

When Google plus hit in typical Google beta-fashion, some people put up an “I’ve moved” profile picture on Facebook, and left, or so their status update said.

Everyone that I saw do this is still active on Facebook. The trouble is that they have 300 contacts on Facebook, 200 on LinkedIn, and ten on Google+. (Actual values may vary, contact your friends for details.)

Forgetting the personal/social point of view, from a fan/corporate point of view, there are lots of “follow us on Twitter” or “like our Facebook page” links on websites, but none that say “Join our circle on Google+.” Until, that is, today, when my favourite motor racing team, Force India (I’m not sure I should put the sponsor’s name in front of that) *tweeted*

Join our circle on Google+ to share even more…

This is the first time I’ve seen this in the wild. And the irony that they used another social media to inform us of their circle is not lost on me. I’m pretty sure that there will be no extra content for me, only extra work for the admins that run the team’s social media, as they now need to tweet, post on Facebook, possibly update blogs or websites, and now update Google+ as well. I’m not sure that Google+ is worth that effort at the moment.

The thing is, that I get overloaded with info. To me, there is no point in liking your Facebook page, if I get all your updates via RSS. And if I get your data from Facebook, I don’t need to see it in Google+.

One thing that really annoys me about messages from Google+ are that they don’t give a useful subject. Instead of saying “Alistair McDonald shared a post entitled ‘The red mist descends'” they just say “Alistair McDonald shared a post with you.” I’m NOT going to click that link, ‘cos I’m pretty sure if it was important, I’ll find out eventually. But, if the subject piqued my interest, then I might click. But clicking into a black hole – no way.

Another way I’m really going off Google is that now so many services require a unified email address/ID. I’ve stopped putting any information into YouTube (Favourites, subscribing to channels, etc.) because they want a Google ID. I already have one – well actually three – but I don’t want to join my email to my videos to my news page, maps page, or news alerts. (I know that Google can, and probably do, track my usage of these sites via cookies or embedded scripts, the point here is not privacy, but convenience for me. For example, I set my home location on to be a zoomed in shot of my home. But since I needed to “unify” my Google accounts, now when I visit or, my home page is *still* in the UK. If you are viewing a UK map, then your searches default to the UK – so you get Birmingham, West Midlands, not Birmingham, Alabama. That’s a good feature. BUT, if I’m visiting the French map site, why on earth would I want to start from the UK, where all my searches are crazily misinterpreted. So, to work around this, I end up first searching for Paris, or Luxembourg, so that Google maps displays the correct country so that my searches will work. [Google pay for bandwidth and processing power, I don’t, so I lose time and they lose money. ] )

Getting back to the subject of Google+, as I said before, they need to get some client apps out there – there are dozens of Twitter clients – and that means that they need to stop trying to be so controlling over data and APIs. Part of the problem is that they are playing catch-up, and many competing services (this is business, it makes money, and so there is a real competitiveness to it) are much more free with, and, remember, Google see the usage data it collects as the most important thing that they have.

Why not take part in a little experiment: inspect the cookies that the browser(s) you use have collected. Maybe even try to delete them and see (a) how many similar ones reappear without you visiting the sites mentioned, and (b) see just how many services you can use after a single login.

The red mist descends

15 November 2011 Leave a comment

So, the winter approaches, and suddenly drivers get a chance to use that button on their dashboard. It is *so* frustrating having a feature in their cars, and not being able to activate it whenever they like. And now, they have an excuse to use it, so they *do*.

I’m talking, of course, about the rear fog lamps. These uber-bright lamps are designed to pierce through fog, spray, and so those following you at an inappropriate speed can avoid striking you.

They are so bright that they can obscure brake lights, and I find that they draw the eye in a hypnotic way. This makes them actually rather dangerous. But many people who use them are unaware of this, and switch them on. leave them on, and forget them. The result is that their brake lights may be missed, or other vehicles near their own may be missed by other drivers, which is, of course, rater dangerous.

So, what’s the deal with these? When should you use them? When can you *not* use them?

I visited the UK government web site, which has this page on driving in adverse weather conditions taken from the latest Highway code, which every driver road user should read every few years, certainly when a new edition is published.

It says (and I love this because it says what you must not do:

236 You MUST NOT use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced (see Rule 226) as they dazzle other road users and can obscure your brake lights. You MUST switch them off when visibility improves.

And, for completeness,

226 You MUST use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced, generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres (328 feet). You may also use front or rear fog lights but you MUST switch them off when visibility improves (see Rule 236).

Hopefully the geeks can avoid the cyclic dependencies. But there you have it. If you can see 100 metres, then you should switch off your fog lights. A good rule for rear for lights is: If you can see the headlamps of the car behind you, then he can see your normal lights, and so you should switch off your fog lights. Of course, this suggests that you use your mirror quite a lot, and I’m perfectly sure not everyone does. . .

I have a lot to say on middle-lane hogging, which is at least as bad in Europe as it is in the UK. (In fact, on the M25/M20 to and from Dover, the European drivers are *worse* than the UK ones.) But I’ll save that for another day.

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