Thursday, September 22, 2011

Out of the dust it came...

Hello one and all. Been a while, eh? So, umm, how’ve you been? I’ve honestly been meaning to catch up with you for ages, but... you know... stuff.

The thing is that work, life and all sorts of other stuff got in the way, and I didn’t feel like I had a great deal of import to say (that wasn’t able to be condensed into a rant on FaceBook...).

I’ve been trying to come up with a reason to start up the blog again and there’s a long-ish term project that just might suit. I’ve started building electric guitars.

Ages back, when I was at school, the chance arose in a technology class to build any project you wanted, using any combination of wood, metal, whatever. Armed with no information whatsoever, and using what I now know are the worst woods for “luthierie”, I set about building myself what I would now consider a metal axe. Pointy, daft and with as much planning behind it as a fling at a Vegas business conference, it vaguely looked the part, but was both a: unfinished and b: unutterably shit.

Now, of course, I’m an expert in simply everything, so I decided to revisit the idea. Slight correction: the internet has happened and, though there’s an ocean of utter garbage out there (homeopathy, 9/11 conspiracy theories, Republicans, nations not called England, etc.), there are also people who decide to collate useful information, share decades of experience and offer help to those of us who want to maybe attempt to do things properly.

The amount of guitars I own has held steady at around the 30 mark for the last ten years or so, with old ones exiting as new ones arrive. I always customise or tinker in some way with them, as there’s always room for improvement in some department or other. Even with Gibson Les Pauls, you purist bastards.

photo © 1998 Steve Gorospe

Though I love (and have given silly names to) many of my guitars, the ever-present spectre of GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome) looms large. So, I figured, with sites like the Luthier’s Corner forum on My Les Paul, I might want to give it a go and see if I could build, if not exactly the guitar I was after, something I’d still enjoy playing and - possibly more importantly - enjoy building.

I’ve been posting some pics up on FB, but will hopefully remember to document the whole thing and post pics here as it goes along. It’s going to be erratic as it has to fit in around work schedules and weather (I currently don’t have any shed/workshop space, so basic woodworking has to take place out in the open in the garden), but I’ll try to compile progress updates as I go.

I now have a decent Bosch router, capable of ripping holes in hands/arms/legs (though this has yet to happen, dear reader), as well as producing titanic levels of sawdust and shavings. My initial body blank was cut from a block of cedar which, after well over an hour of noisy routing, had me covered in deep orange shavings and dust, looking like I’d suffered from a fluffy and fast-moving alien fungal attack.

Other tools are to come from the luthier suppliers, Stewart-Macdonald in the US (whose catalogue is basically guitar-tool porn), but I’ll take some shots soon of the tool purchases so far. The first guitar I build will end up costing tons more than if I’d bought it in a store due to the investment in tools but (aside from the satisfaction of having built it myself), subsequent guitars will come in much, much cheaper and again, will be built to my personal specs. The initial build round will be a few Les Pauls, one a very standard ’59 replica, others with Floyd-Rose trem units and locking nuts. Then, once I (hopefully) get my woodworking chops in order, it’ll be onto the baritones and 7-strings...

We shall see. :-D

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Case Continues

Just to keep things current, here’s the latest on the Simon Singh case:

Legal Update BCA v Singh

Simon Singh announced today that he will continue the fight in his libel case with the British Chiropractic Association after his application to appeal the preliminary ruling was rejected last week. He has now has the option to try and overturn that decision at an oral appeal. If this fails his case will be tried on a meaning of a phrase he did not intend and is indefensible. This highlights the problem of narrow defences that, along with high costs and wide jurisdiction, make the English libel laws so restrictive to free speech.

Simon said today: “I can confirm today that I have applied for a hearing to ask the Court of Appeal to reconsider its recent denial of permission. A great deal has happened since my original article was published back in April 2008 and I suspect that the libel case will continue for many more months (or maybe years). While my case is ongoing, it continues to raise a whole series of arguably more important issues, particularly the appalling state of English libel laws. I am pleased that the Culture Secretary has agreed to meet with signatories of the Keep Libel Laws out of Science campaign statement to hear how the laws affect writers. We are also pursuing a meeting at the Ministry of Justice and with front benchers in other departments to lobby for a change in the law.”

Read Simon’s full statement and more about his next steps here.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


I’m posting this for a few reasons:

  1. I hate seeing people taken in by bullshit like chiropractic, osteopathy, crystals, reiki, homeopathy and other such flummery
  2. Simon Singh is still fighting his case against the British Chiropractic Association, due to a judge who, in my opinion, is a fucking retard
  3. Chiropractic contributed in no small measure to the rupturing of two of my intervertebral discs several years back which, thanks to the intervention of a brilliant team of proper medics at the National Hospital for Neurosurgery (headed by James Palmer), didn’t leave me permanently paralysed. Only lost some function in my left arm and both legs, ta.

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Grow the fuck up

For a measured view on the ridiculous pissing competition currently being played out in the Middle East:

(Gerald Kaufman, eh? Who’d have thought...)

Shooting people really doesn’t help. Hamas and the Israeli administration, if you’ve got any balls at all (which I frankly doubt), sit down and negotiate a deal. And don’t give me any of that “The other side refuse to negotiate” crap. Just get on with it, it’s what the people you represent put you in place for, not a load of macho posturing that gets people killed.

Reaching for a gun is the last resort of a coward.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Aiming all the way up to “average”

Not that any one show is or could be the paragon of all that is holy, good, refulgent and right with the world, but... WTF is happening to people’s standards?

Doctor Who really isn’t very good (sorry folks, repeatedly shouting that it is won’t change physical reality), Spooks has fallen teeth-first into the kerb, and there’s precious little entertainment on the box that isn’t a fluff-based product (Strictly, Britain Has NO Fucking Talent, Big Brother Evisceration Special, et al.). Now, I’m not terribly likely to complain about the fluff, as it isn’t competing against drama. At least not in my head, it isn’t - I can happily gawk at the delightfully bonkers Claudia Winkleman for hours on end, in much the same way as some people see no need to behead Davina McCall, I suppose. Any human who calls their budgerigar “Claudia Winkleman’s Budgie” is alright by me.

This is in no way an intimation that we are somehow facing the End Times™ of all TeeVee and that, hereafter, we shall all be reduced to staring vacantly at old broken televisions, flickering fires within, until the Terminators come to get us. Nope, the Beeb are making a good fist of costume drama in the shapely, toned and often pert and muscular Little Dorrit (please don’t bring up Lark Shite to Candelabra in my presence) and ITV, well, you never know, they might do something good soon... ;-)

Having known and worked with some truly excellent people at the BBC, I have to say that they aren’t in the majority. By a country light-year. Institutionalised arrogance, placing greater value on ‘executives’ (with all their endless fucking meetings and inability make decisions) than anyone who can actually do anything, a smugness of behaviour and an ingrained (and entirely unjustified) contempt of anyone working for an independent company have finally caused the lumbering behemoth to strip off and run straight at a wall made of piss-covered spikes. See GD’s excellent (and often poetic) post on, among other things, the ‘joys’ of sharing a nationality with some very misguided presenters.

With the controllers of the publicly-funded channels having been promoted to the levels of their incompetence from the verdant pasture of BBC executive-land, how is anything of any value likely to be commissioned? In fact, I posit that it’s unlikely that programmes of quality are even being searched for. The contracts I’ve had to deal with that have appeared from within the ‘hallowed halls’ are usually couched in terminally soporific drivel concerning ‘brand values’ and ‘market share’, featuring empty terminology: ‘aspirational’, ‘inclusive’, ‘synergistic’, and the deathless ‘beyond imagination’. In fact, a recent set of guidelines issued on behalf of the Beeb contained so many typos (‘routed’ instead of ‘rooted’, ‘banter’ instead of ‘barter’ and the smirk-worthy ‘colour caste’), technical inaccuracies (the assumption that HDV is the only type of HD on the market) and a general level of implied comprehension of the process that made it sound like it had partly been written in the 1950s. By someone who’d had a crack at their Home Trepanning Kit. Other instructions in it were comedically patronising (‘the BBC’s result will be better’ in a section about grading, for example).

The assumption that the best technical people in the world wouldn’t want to work as freelancers for ludicrous sums of money, but would prefer to spend their days being suffocated in beauracracy and nonsensical working practices is jaw-droppingly worrying.

Again, I return to my assertion that there are some terrific people working at the Beeb. Trouble is, I’d really love to see them spread their wings and fly, see what they’re capable of out in the real world where they can drop their shoulders and charge.

As a brief aside, and because it needs as many outings as possible, here is the absolutely honest truth about TV, courtesy of the incomparable Sir Charles of Brooker:

Ever since the BBC outsourced creativity and original thinking to the lowest bidder, I’m afraid that this is only likely to get worse. And the BBC will become known as the place that the talentless go to die.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Horizon, the BBC’s flagship science show, of which I have been an avid viewer since childhood, has just lost me.

A run of shows (which will presumably be narrated by the same person) has just started, with the theme of educating the next president of the US as to what science is, as well as how it can be best used as a tool to improve lives, reduce pollution, provide power and prevent catastrophes (or at least minimise their effects). Entitled The President’s Guide to Science, it aims, with the assistance of (among others) Richard Dawkins, Sir Paul Nurse, Michio Kaku and Richard L Garwin to highlight why ignoring science, cutting funding and somehow thinking that science has provided nothing for humanity is not exactly the way to go...

Let’s face it, US presidents since Kennedy are not entirely known for their loving embrace toward any science other than getting elected.

However, humorous mock-the-yanks reasoning aside, the show has become unwatchable due to one, seemingly minor, thing. The female narrator cannot pronounce the word “nuclear”. Yep, you guessed it, it’s coming out as that delightful noo-kyoo-lar mangling that seems to be prevalent in pockets of northern America these days.

Now, this sounds like a tiny and rather pedantic reason to stop watching a show (and it probably is, being honest). However, if the show is attempting (even in a wry, self-deprecating and ironic manner) to teach a Septic President how that complicated science thing works, an effort could have been made to get the narrator to fucking pronounce a simple word correctly. Especially one that comes up so often in the show. And even more as it’s one which doesn’t have British/US alternative spellings (I’m completely with the US on aluminum, by the way, it was first). What the holy fuck was the director doing when he/she should have been checking this during recording? Fuck quality control, eh?

An educational programme can’t educate when you get stuff wrong. You’re not talking about Ghost Hunter Extreme, Gillian McKeith’s pseudo-scientific diet-related crap, or even those right-wing creationist Politically Incorrect Guide to... books. This is supposed to be factual programme-making.

An apposite example, brought to you by our correspondent for Van Halen affairs:
Demanding M&Ms of a particular colour to be in their dressing-room as part of the contract with a venue for playing a show was nothing to do with fuelling egos (mighty though Diamond Dave’s evidently is). Instead, it was a canny little check that everything else on a lengthy contract had been done as promised. This would include all of the safety and fire regulations checks, along with security personnel requirements. Most of this would be checked out anyway by the manager on arrival, but the lack of the M&Ms would highlight that there might be other things missing that might be a lot more serious.
Back to reality: if a factual show about science can’t be bothered to get the narrator to pronounce a scientific word correctly, what else is wrong with it that no-one’s noticed?

You wouldn’t get this sort of crap on The Wire...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Because Will made me do it...

This is all Dixon’s fault...

Create Fake Magazine Covers with your own picture at

So it’s got nothing to do with my towering ego. No sir...

Caught by the fuzz

Got pulled over yesterday by the pigs...

Actually, it was my own fault, as I’d been driving a short distance with my phone next to my ear, and thoroughly deserved to be dragged from my car and beaten. Getting a new phone meant that I hadn’t sorted out the Bluetooth pairing of my little earpiece thingy, so when it rang in the car, I answered it. Cutting the conversation down to a minimum is all well and good, but I’m not sure we would have missed a shuttle launch or a cure for cancer had I waited until I got back home and returned the call.

Funnily enough, the hands-free kit is now well and truly sorted and that sort of thing won’t be happening again, m’lud. Lesson learned.

This all came to mind as a post, due to coming across a blog that concerns itself with how the UK is essentially a police-state and that we’re all going to be killed into oblivion in our beds by the British equivalent of the Stasi.

You see, I’m as rabid a supporter of chav-sterilisation as the next person, but I’m not all that sure we are living in the “End Times” (or whatever your local branch of the god-botherers are calling it). When confronted by the two cops in the car, I sheepishly got out, admitted I’d behaved like a twat and proceeded to talk to the guy about how great rear-wheel drive cars are for power-sliding round corners, while the WPC filled out my ‘don’t do it again’ form. Though disappointed that the description section of the form didn’t include words like ‘devastating’, ‘eye-wateringly rugged’ or ‘hysterically manly’, I have to say that the two of them were pleasant, courteous and respectful and never once did they patronise or attempt to intimidate me.

There was no expectation from them that I was likely to be any trouble, or that I might be involved in a plot to overthrow the government. In fact, we ended up talking about police procedurals and I recommended they take a look at The Wire.

You see, I’ve been pulled over by traffic cops in the US and, frankly, they scare the shit out of me. Everything about them screams I want to shoot you, please please please give me a reason to empty the clip into your head, motherfucker. There seems to be a presumption not only of guilt in relation to a traffic violation, but that you’re probably a chainsaw-wielding, anti-American terrorist who ought to go back wherever the fuck it was you came from...

This contrasts greatly with the former Sergeant Cam Woolley of Toronto, who I watched with great affection on Canadian TV (in a simply fantastic hat), explaining driving skills when in the vicinity of trucks that seemed blindingly obvious to me. But then I’m from Europe, where we all drive teeny-weeny cars, and are most likely a lot more ‘truck-aware’. The enormous things that were humming down the freeways in Canada were gargantuan in proportion, and by that I mean the family vehicles. I once briefly spotted a Smart car amidst the steel leviathans, and silently offered up a prayer for the driver - he seemed lost amidst the wheeled behemoths.

So, PC Healy and your companion from Hitchin police station, I salute you for your commendable dealings with a scruffy old git who ought to know better, and won’t do it again. ;-)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Technology news

Can those of the population who actually seriously think the Large Hadron Collider will create a black hole capable of destroying the planet/universe on Wednesday, please raise their hands?

It’ll make the cull much, much easier...

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Just a worthy note that today I received an email informing me that my fanboy-tastic Battlestar Galactica Cylon Toaster has been shipped via FedEx.
I am such an anorak... ;-)

PS. For those with a DIY bent, check this out!

A minor addendum:
  1. It looks significantly less ‘gun-metal’ than the publicity photo implies (ie. it’s just chrome)
  2. I forgot about needing a transformer to bring US electrical equipment out of the dark ages - ah well, I’ll pick one up soon and give it a blast

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tagged, like a treen in a disabled spaceship...

From the erudite and bold GD, comes the tag (furthered from the redoubtable Jason A) to:
List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now.
So, here goes:
  1. A World Without Heroes - Kiss (Music from The Elder)
    Try to pretend that they aren’t dressed in silly clown outfits and usually write fairly nondescript rock tunes that really don’t gel with their image when listening to this - it’s the crowning glory of an album that most Kiss fans loathe as it was a huge stretch away from all that. What a crying shame they weren’t able to carry on down this avenue a little more...
  2. The Pretender - Foo Fighters (Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace)
    How can you not like a tune that runs up to you, kicks you awake and then yells solidly at you for a few minutes, before running off grinning to do the same to someone else?
  3. Turn It Up - The Feeling (Join With Us)
    I suppose this lot are very much an “Electric Light Orchestra for the new millennium” or some other such rubbish. Good, uplifting pop with amazing complexity under the hood.
  4. Shine - Take That (Beautiful World)
    I never thought I’d take to a TT tune as much as I have with this one. More uplifting pop - hurrah!
  5. Secret Song - Homestar Runner (Strong Bad Sings and Other Type Hits)
    Buy this album, religiously go to the Homestar Runner site, and become as addicted as I...
  6. Billie Jean - Chris Cornell (Carry On)
    I’ve been a huge fan of Mister C since the Soundgarden days and he just keeps getting better and better. His “You know my name” opener for Casino Royale was also a killer. This improves no end on the original (there’s a school of thought that I subscribe to that states: if you don’t bring anything new to the table, don’t do a cover)
  7. Tom Traubert’s Blues - Tom Waits (Small Change)
    Anyone that can take Waltzing Matilda and make it a heartbreaking story of the decline of a Vietnam vet ought to get the moniker ‘genius’ in my book. This is such an excellent piece of work.
I believe that the next course of action is to tag another seven people to come up with their Secret Seven, so, umm, I’ll get onto working out who they are real soon now... ;-)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

We were on FIRE...

Last night, Twelfth Night (of whom I’m the junior member - ho ho) played a gig just south of London, back at a venue we’d played last year as a warm-up to the main show at The Albany Theatre (which will be out on DVD later this year - shameless plug).

Last November’s show at The Peel was booked primarily as a warm-up and shakedown for a band who hadn’t played at battle speed together in over two decades, with the addition of a keyboardist (me) who hadn’t played with any of them before. I’d invested, as a Mac user, in a Native Instruments KORE computer-based keyboard rig (see past posts) which I knew had the potential to fall over, yet I was keen to add a larger dimension to the sound and needed a pretty huge palette of options open to me. Well, it hasn’t really fallen over in a major way so far and is off to Barcelona with me next week for our headline slot at the Tiana progressive rock festival. Being honest, I was just pleased to have made it through last year’s Peel show without too many major cock-ups, so hadn’t really been able to pay much attention to actually performing in any real way.

The “main” gig, at The Albany Theatre in south London, was fabulous. Great lighting, projection of imagery that supported the themes of the songs, an amazing crew and a great theatre space made it a really good night. Except for Andy Revell, who had horrible technical troubles with his guitars that, though not really affecting the songs themselves, made for a nerve-wracking night for him.

With the end of year, and the news that the Tiana festival was a go, two additional gigs had been booked up. The first, last Friday, was organised by the Classic Rock Society and took place in Rotherham in Yorkshire. I’ll go into fuller detail of that show in a later post, as we ended up with a great guest onstage with us for a song and that deserves a better explanation than in the middle of this post. The second gig was last night’s Peel outing.

There’s a story told of Laurence Olivier in a theatre production during which the rest of the cast noticed that he’d taken flight and was suddenly on a level far, far above them. When wanting to congratulate him after the show, the rest of the cast were greeted by the closed and locked door of his dressing room, from which they could hear yelling, stamping and the sounds of furniture being thrown about. Eventually, Maggie Smith plucked up the courage to knock and was allowed in to find a scowling, enraged Olivier. Puzzled, she explained that the rest of the cast had been amazed by his performance and all wanted congratulate him. This produced more scowling. She then tentatively asked why, after having given such a fantastic performance, was he so furious?
“I know I was good! I just don’t know why!”
Last night at the Peel, this version of Twelfth Night finally played like a band. Not that we hadn’t played well enough together during rehearsals and the last three gigs, but this was where the wings finally unfurled, the afterburners kicked in, and we took off. Believe me, there were cock-ups from all corners (as there are at any gig, with the possible exception of Amy Winebar, whose entire career is a cock-up...), but no-one was thrown or wound up by them in any way. The music became more alive, ad-libs were thrown in that enhanced what we were doing (and that’s quite a toughie in a prog band) and the audience were with us all the way.

On many occasions, I could just look up to see Andy Revell actually (and I’d probably have to tell him what this actually means, as he has no idea how good he is) shredding on his guitar, with the most enormous grin on his face. Clive was positively soaking wet with sweat, Andy Sears was in fine voice and Brian, frankly, played the holy living shit out of the drums all night long. We tore through the set like a tearing thing through something that tears easily, and all came offstage elated and slightly bewildered at how bloody good it had been.

I wonder why? ;-)
PS. Thanks to my sister for the photo.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nano-thin patience

I’ve been talking through something with my brother that’s had me puzzled for a few years now. It seems that I have to somehow prove to certain people that I know what I’m doing and can do my job to a professional standard? Mulling it over with David brought up a couple of interesting traits in the people that seem to give me the most grief, the biggest one being a connection to “fandom”.

I’ll let Harlan take it from here (props to GD for alerting me)...

Now, before someone gets the wrong end of the stick here, I’ve nothing against genuine amateurs - those who are taking their early, faltering steps on the road to becoming, in some way, ‘professional’. What I do have a problem with is an attitude that reeks of ‘if you’re prepared to help me, you must be not very good at your job’ or, worse still ‘I’ve been on a course, so I know what I’m on about’. And don’t for a second think that I view myself as some kind of “know-everything” veteran, skilled in every martial art as well as being an undercover agent and celebrity pharmacist...

I don’t know where it comes from, but I’ve witnessed actors, directors and writers being buttonholed at conventions and told how to improve by ardent fans. Do these people, to paraphrase Bill Hicks, go to an Eric Clapton concert and start trying to give the man guitar lessons?

Hmm, I’m wondering whether a parallel between myself and Eric Clapton might seem just a teensy little bit, umm, preposterous... ;-)

Still, fuck that. If a professional needs to be told how to do something, they’ll usually ask. Otherwise, if they’re just getting on with it, it’s probably safe to assume that they may have a fairly good grasp of what they’re up to, no?

Which, circuitously, brings me back to the (as usual) fairly nebulous point I was making. A recent exchange of messages on Good Dog’s reply segment with Irascible Ian demonstrated that there are even amateur teachers, charging money for “documentary film-making courses” which are, it seems, clueless shit. Having people teaching film-making that don’t have the faintest idea of what they’re on about (and only half the gear the students needed to shoot footage) isn’t helping those of us that have a bit of an idea what we’re doing.

Fuckers like this are propagating lazy working practices, slack attitudes to work and building a culture of anti-professionalism amongst those that are attempting to break into this business. They are producing jumped-up runners from Channel 4 who believe that calling themselves film-makers (while not knowing what a white balance is, or the difference between region encoding and video standards) makes them the next Scorcese. If they’ve even heard of Scorcese. These are the same people who describe their PCs as having “two hundred gigs of memory” and should be hurt with un-earthed electrical appliances. Harrumph...

Example: On two documentary projects that are currently running through the pipes here, the chap we’re working with seriously thinks that scripting a show comes just before the edit. Not necessarily his fault if he doesn’t know any better, but where the fuck did he learn to think like that? And why, more worryingly, is he resistant to or suspicious of other ways of working?

And don’t get me started on the BBC’s working practices and guidelines...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fucking Ben Affleck

The joyously bonkers fake row between Jimmy Kimmel, Matt Damon, Sarah Silverman and now Ben Affleck has escalated once again.

And who wouldn’t be fucking Ben Affleck, with all those celebrity endorsements? I know I have...

It is to enjoy.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


It would seem, from my idle attempt to watch a small clip of someone called Suzanne executing what is apparently known as a “headbanger lift” from ITV’s Dancing on Ice, that I don’t have the computer setup they would like me to have.

It’s not got Windows Media Mangler 9 (actually it has, even though it’s a Mac), I’m not using Microshaft Internet Exploder 5.5 or above (nope, you got me there, I’m using something designed in the twenty-first century - Firefox) and, above all, it’s not running Windows (the very thought!)

Ahhh, pity. I was rather hoping to discover some footage of a large elevator filled with greasy rockers, with piped music by Anthrax, showing ‘Suzanne’ why her mother told her not to stay out late.

Dodged that bullet... ;-)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obsolete - absalom

After (bizarrely) coming into 2008 trailing what appears to be a small PROFIT (how the hell did that happen?), and with copious amounts of audio production and three new documentaries to produce, it began to dawn on me that the main workstation I’ve been using is running out of puff.

I wouldn’t mind so much if I was using some creaky old Dell heap that I’d got from PC World, but I’m talking about a 2.5GHz Dual G5 Mac, less than two years old. One of the big silver monoliths that they found on Mars, which I was assured I could use to take over the world... This thing was the first machine on which I could use Motion (which produced lots of ooh-ing and ahh-ing when viewing its preset templates), would generally tear through audio and video tasks in Nuendo and Final Cut Pro 5 respectively, and made working in Photoshop hilariously swift. Always used with two monitors (three when outputting to video), you felt that it wasn’t getting in the way of whatever arcane task you wanted to perform by simply hanging about.

In the run-up to the Twelfth Night gigs, when trying out Apple’s Logic Studio (more specifically the Main Stage component) versus the hardware/software combo of Kore/Komplete from Native Instruments, it became painfully obvious that Apple’s offering was asking way too much of the hardware. NI’s rig just about held it together, so was chosen by default to be the live setup. Even so, there were moments which, now I can hear the audio tracks in isolation, contain stuttering and dropouts where the two G5 processors were throwing their hands in the air and screaming “you want me to do what, you bastard?”.

The trouble is, when the G5 machine was new, Apple’s current shiny version of the operating system ate up a certain percentage of the power of the machine doing what it does (pretty pictures, little drop shadows on windows and things of that ilk). Updates and fixes come along (as they do with any operating system) which, erm, update and fix things. Then, before you know it, things seem just a little less responsive than they did on that first, glorious day when the machinery was kicked into life. This has hit many of my friends who made a change from Windows XP to Windows Vista - suddenly, what had originally been a pretty nippy machine felt like it was crawling through treacle just opening a window or displaying a list of files.

I like computer interface prettification, really I do. If the research teams at Palo Alto hadn’t come up with the basis of the interfaces we all now use, command-lines like DOS and UNIX would inspire much of the “take a gun to work/school and kill people” rage going on in the world. However, I’m damned sure that, given a choice between semi-transparent icons, bouncy little animations when opening files, visual representations of things that simply have to have a reflection underneath them or getting on and performing the task at hand, I really do need the task doing as quickly as possible.

Icons the size of housing estates, folders that sproing open and display little pictures of their contents, “cover flow” (ugh) and multiple “spaces” to enable me to keep making a mess of the desktop ad infinitum aren’t helping me in any really meaningful way to do what my computer is generally for - work. By that, I also mean some of the incredibly arcane little bits of utility software that seem to have incomprehensible interfaces designed by sadistic cryptographers...

Sadly, I know that the shiny, new 8-core thing that is now lurking under one of the desks here will be wheezing and struggling to do basic stuff in less than three years (and therefore getting in my way), at which point I’ll have to shell out for a new machine with a hundred processors and eleventy-billion gig of RAM that considers me obsolete. Hey ho, ’twas ever thus.

Enough with the window-dressing and bloat-ware already, I need to get some work done!

Monday, February 04, 2008


Taking a small break in blogging (because real life has, funnily enough, got things for me to do).

There’ll be another coffee/get-together/easy networking thing for those inclined on Thursday 21st of Feb at the Euston Novotel again. I’ll be there from around 3.30pm until late in the evening, so come along if you fancy an excuse to socialise. ;-)

Do pass on to those who anyone you want to drag along.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Porcelain is the surest plan

Some people have too much time on their hands. Many of those people produce “fan-films” or “fan-fiction” which is generally excruciating.

Sometimes though, the right kind of person ends up with too much time on their hands. Like a chappie who goes by the moniker of “Buffalax”. He takes obscure, dodgy old videos by groups performing in a language other than English and then, with a glorious disregard for what the lyrics might actually mean, adds subtitles that equate to what the lyrics sort of sound like. Check him out on Youtube, but here’s the one that got me hooked - the German pop ‘sensation’ Dschingis Khan’s Moskau from 1979.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Armies, up sleevies...

Good Dog raises some very good points here about the often atrocious quality of DVD sleeve artwork, often those for classic films that would originally have had superbly-executed promotional posters. Most of said poster artwork would have been portrait format, and therefore quite likely to be able to be “re-purposed” (as my lovely business-degree-type friends say) for the sleeve.

Why is this so often not the case? Are there copyright issues over the original poster artworks? In so many cases? Are there legions of drooling idiots who think they know what Photoshop is for (and might even pay for a legit copy of it one day...) who might starve if not given ‘work’ mangling screengrabs in order to produce shouty, hideous imagery for the benefit of, erm, their mates?

It has been suggested by the svelte and effervescent Lucy that Good Dog, I and several of his correspondents may be frankly too long in the tooth to appreciate what is now being offered and harking back to a ‘golden age’ where every scribble on a napkin was a Rembrandt (not exactly her words, by about a billion miles...). She may well have a point. I’m sure that, as always, many of what are now considered design classics in the film poster field were regarded with horror and opprobrium when they first saw the light of day, just as Fred Astaire’s famous (and probably apocryphal) assessment at the hands of an RKO screen-tester described him thus “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.”

Art is obviously subjective and a slippery fucker to pin down, especially in terms of defining whether it is ‘good’ or not. Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko and Henry Moore still divide people and provoke strong discourse on whether anything they produced at all is worthy of the term “art”. I’m sure that several thousand years ago there were druids passing through the Salisbury area that caught a glimpse of Stonehenge and cried “What the holy living fuck is that monstrosity?!”

Sadly, as with war, US chocolate and The Darkness, there is no equation that will definitively prove that something is unutterably crap. If there were, life would be more easily defined, yet almost definitely less colourful. The Eurovision Song Contest is a monument to cheesy awfulness, yet I’m almost OCD about watching it - quite possibly more for Terry Wogan and Ken Bruce’s delightfully bonkers commentary that never quite descends into abuse than for a tiny post-Soviet country’s attempt at a ‘pop’ tune. Strictly Come Dancing is eerily lacking in ‘art’, yet is a must-see for the Sluice household. Its awful North American spin-off, which just oozes far too much saccharine and is laden with too high a quota of “I’d like to thank God for this great opportunity”, makes most UK-residents distinctly uneasy and want to hit the contestants and dancers in the face with a tea-tray (let alone the presenters - where do they get these freaks from?).

Though there’s always a horribly murky middle ground in which the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of a piece of work constantly eludes one’s grasp, I’m sure that, if a benchmark has been previously set, then surely one should at least aim to exceed it or admit defeat? If not, then we’re likely to see a case of diminishing returns as Photoshop hackery takes over where art is supposed to be, training replaces education, TV becomes so self-referential (qv. Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach) that it ceases to be about anything other than itself, punctuation and grammar are abandoned in favour of txt-spk, and Shakespeare gets set to drum and bass/speed metal/techno/whatever.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Al-Jazeera proudly presents (in association with Dean Lerner)

(please note, I neither know nor care about the journalistic style of said media vomitorium - ta.)

I’m going to attempt to keep a sporadic log of the progress of the repairs and mix of two album projects I’ve got on the go: Airbridge’s Quiet Sky and the Twelfth Night Live at The Albany 2007 epic, which will also get a 5.1 surround mix for the DVD release. There’s also a potential third album to help a friend arrange, record and mix (more of which in the future).

Background to the albums:
Avid readers (are there such things?) will know that I was once in a progressive band called Lahost, wayyyy back when. Also in that band were members of the (by then) defunct Airbridge, notably Sean Godfrey on bass. As the years have stolen by, some of us have stayed in contact and this has meant that occasionally we get to do bits and pieces of music together or, at the very least, compare notes on what we might currently be doing. Also on the circuit at that time were a slew of other prog bands, some of which have fallen by the wayside (as did Lahost) though some continue to tour even now, notably IQ, Marillion, Pendragon among others.

During 2007, former Airbridge guitarist Lorenzo Bedini had been writing some new material with Sean Godfrey and they asked whether I’d be interested in helping them out with it in terms of production and mixing. I’ll go into detail about the technicalities of what is going with it in another post, but suffice to say that I said ‘yes’. This material was all recorded in Cubase on an old blue and white G3 mac and will be finished/polished/fiddled with in Nuendo on an eight-core monster Mac Pro. Yum.

Look back through older posts for my involvement with Twelfth Night. The November 2007 gig at the Albany Theatre was recorded as a multitrack Protools session, so that repairs/tweaks/mixing could be carried out in order to both release it as a double live CD and to do further surround mixing for DVD release, as the gig was filmed. Most of the ‘repairs’ that are being done are where old guitars had trouble staying in tune, people couldn’t clearly hear each other for timings, pedal switching noises are removed, and so forth. Also being removed (as if it never happened...) is the false start of the first encore, Take A Look, the intro of which went south in a major way. He he he, it’s good to be king... ;-)

TN’s stuff is being produced within the relatively new (to me) environment of Apple’s Logic Studio. I grew up in MIDI terms via Steinberg’s product line. Originally the Pro-24 sequencer on an Atari ST computer, followed by the first (and incredibly flaky) version of Cubase, I’ve been with them through all the subsequent iterations and eventually moved up to Nuendo during my migration Mac-wards, for its surround mixing and post capabilities. So, there’s a fluency there that I won’t have in Logic. I’m sure it can do all (if not more) than Nuendo can, but most of the struggles so far involve finding out how it does all the things I can find quickly in Nuendo. Nothing like learning new stuff though, eh?

Current states of play will follow in subsequent posts. Both projects should be quite interesting for me to work on, not least because both groups of people feature some pretty strong-willed characters with definite ideas of how things should be done (including me). We shall see how that all works out... ;-)

Friday, January 04, 2008

A bit nippy

For those of us in the UK that are currently grumbling about how bad the weather is, how we haven’t had a summer, that the Empire is finally falling, etc., take a gander at this salutary tale from the effervescent Jim Henshaw.


Not so bad in Britain, is it? Apart from the floods, obviously...