Archive for September, 2006

Jazz society at Leeds

Something I noticed quite distinctly last academic year here at the university of Leeds was the lack of a jazz and blues society of any description. I resolved to do something about this but until recently hadn’t managed to set the ball rolling.

Today was an important mile-stone to seriously making good jazz and blues connections a reality on camus though when I met a jazz enthusiast by the name of Andy who had spoken to a number of music based societies in the societies fair and found that a lot of people had been asking about a jazz and or blues society of some description. After having a lengthy discussion about the wonders of jazz exploration with Andy it certainly seems like we should be able to pull something together in the not too distant future.

Combine this with the fact that a friend of Sheena’s also seems to be up for helping to start a jazz and blues society, things are looking up in a big way. A website will be going up this weekend and I’m going to try and get some plans of some description finalised. We will need 20 initial members to get the society off the ground, so once I publish a link to the new website I would appreciate it if you could e-mail it to any of your friends at Leeds who you think might be into jazz so we can get jazz and blues in Leeds off to a flying start!

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Linux install fest

To encourage new computing students at Leeds to adopt the wonderful operating system that is, CompSoc will be running a Linux install-fest on the 3rd of October. This is basically where all students who want Linux on their machines or want to learn more about it and why they should want it on their machines can come along with their PCs and have it installed for them and be shown how to use and maintain their installation. The local Linux users group will be there too, allowing people to sign up for membership and there will also be a few talks going on from a number of studnets about using Linux and how it can improve your computing experience.

I will be putting myself forward to give a talk so all interested computing students who want to come along and hear me talk about using Linux for beginners and a few tweaks and tips for existing and advanced users that you probably didn’t know about, come along. At the very least it will be a chance to chat with other Linux users and enthusiasts and of course grab a few beers afterwards.

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New students

Yesterday saw the arrival of new students to the school of computing and with that the responsibility for myself and a selection of others in the school to show them around, make them feel at home and get them started on the computing ladder that is Linux. The two groups I got assigned to were a pleasure to meet and all seemed to be very keen on things and clued up about the course and the freshers week assignments given to them. I’m meeting them later this week to check how they are getting on and if they need help with anything. It feels good to be able to give people a helping hand in a new environment.

Unfortunately I’m going to have to end the post on a bit of a downer though. A friend who is also helping out had a little problem with someone in their group, and its a really stupid thing, but I was just so amazed to hear about it that I just have to post something. Everyone helping was supposed to give their mobile phone number and e-mail address out to everyone in their group(s) so that they had a point of contact for the first week or so in case they had any problems with anything. One un-named girl however got it into her head that accepting the phone number from my friend, despite it having been given to everyone else in her group, implied he was “giving her his number” in “that way” and refused to take it, and indeed was fairly shirty to him for the rest of the group meeting.

To me this is the height of immaturity and if it continues is certainly not going to get her anywhere at uni. If you are soon to go to uni or have just started my advice is to leave the child back at your old school gates and grow up a bit. After all you’ve only got 3 years until you’re in the work place and if you think your collegues and employers will take that kind of crap you’ve got another thing coming. Not to mention of course the chances of getting any help from those around you when you most need it being severely diminished.

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Art installation & day out

As a few noticed in my calendar I went to an art exhibition yesterday, while not far from Bradford it was in fact located in the Castle Museum in Keighley. We took the train out to the town and due to a slighly late arrival at the station on our part proceeded almost straight away to the exhibition, although not too quickly that we couldn’t pose for photos in front of a genuine steam train at Keighly station and grab a bite to eat.

The art installation was a piece by Shaeron Caton-Rose called Mirror on the theme of mermaids and their failed wish for happiness. It centred on the story of the little mermaid and how she changed herself to be something she wasn’t believing it would make her happy when in fact it brought her nothing but pain. The theme is very apt when considered in the context of modern society where we are continuoulsy made to feel like we should be a different person. You can read a description and explanation from the artist on her website as well as a couple of photos. I took a few of my own too and you can see those here.

It’s quite strange how much the piece draws you in. On the face of it you would think you could see it in about 5 minutes and that would be it, but the more you look at it, the more you see right there in front of you. Before long we were telling each other what we thought we could deduce from the work, and analysing the plays on the light and how it made you feel. It was a visually stunning piece and certainly brought out feelings and ideas in your mind you wouldn’t have expected. I’m not going to encourage you to go and see it because it is a bit out of the way, but for me it was really worth it and the fact we were there for nearly two hours without even noticing the time speaks volumes.

After the exhibition we took a quick look round the museum where the installation is located and marvelled at some ancient techniques of making pottery as well as some superb stained glass windows and descriptions of their design and restoration. In fact we ended up staying so long that we nearly got locked in at closing time!

We decided that as we had a day rider on the Skipton bus route that we would head out there, have a look around and get the train back to Leeds from the station there. We ended up taking a lovely walk along the canal in Skipton and taking in some of the views. We came accross a traditional old manually operated swing road bridge to allow boats to pass through the canal where the road was too low, and while I was explaining how it worked we struck upon the idea of a canal holiday for a group of us. We figured we would discuss nearer holiday time, but what with the canal right through Leeds it seemed an great idea.

Time was getting on so we stopped for a meal in the town and had quite possibly the best chinese food I’ve ever tasted. The portions were huge, the service was great and the prices were very reasonable. If you ever find yourself in the Skipton area, the chinese restaurant on the station road is the one to go to.

Enjoying our meal unfortunately meant we missed our train back to Leeds and so had to get a taxi, which wasn’t so bad between the 3 of us, but certainly didn’t come as cheap as the train would have done! It didn’t spoil the day out though and we all agreed it had been superb fun. Claire and I resolved to go walking and on similar days out more regularly as living in Leeds can sometimes make you forget how much fun getting out of the city really can be.

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Uplighter madness

You know the students are back in Leeds when…… you see a group of people in the middle of the night making haste away from campus towards Hyde park carrying two 8 foot tall uplighters and waving them at passers by. We all know that student houses can be short of a few of lifes little comforts, but most do have light fittings. It certainly makes a change from seeing people steal traffic cones anyway!

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Troy Andrews & Dennis Rollins

Being back in Leeds for the rest of the year almost can only mean one thing for me; its time to get back to the Wardrobe jazz club! I went along with Dave Falcus on Monday night to catch a load of some great Trombone playing from Troy and his band with special guest Dennis Rollins.

Their style was wonderfully funky with a really deep jazz feel to it all. From the first note you really felt involved in the music. Troy and his band played a few opening numbers to get the crowd in the mood and did a superb trumpet solo that had everyone cheering afterwards. Dennis joined the group on the stage and they both played “against each other” each coming up with a more amazing set of notes than the last, a thrill to watch (see photo below).

I first saw Dennis Rollings with his own band, Bad Bone and Co and it was a great experience to see him this time with another band. Not having to lead the group almost seem to make him relax more which really brought out a superb performance on stage although his playing was excellent as ever.

What was most interesting about the gig was to watch two trombone players together. Its fairly rare in the jazz scene to have a trombonist lead the band, but to have two playing together is a rare thing indeed, but most certainly sounds superb. One of the highlights of the evening was near the end where the band got together in the middle of the stage in what I can only describe as a huddle and when they went back to their positions they each had each others instruments. Amazingly it would have been difficult to tell they had done this if you had just walked in for the first time; clearly all are very tallented musicians with an ability to lend their hand to almost any instrument.

As usual when it gets a bit funky at the wardrobe, the dancfloor was full for most of the night and all in all it was a great way for me to get reaquainted with my favorite club in Leeds! Unfortunately, being from New orleans, Troy and his band don’t often play in the UK but if you do get a chance to see him live I would most certainly recommend it, especially if you already enjoy listening to Dennis Rollins and Bad Bone and Co. You can find a biography of Troy Andrews, links to buy his cds and samples of his music on his website. A rarity for me, I also took some viewable photos at this gig, you can check them out here.

Dennis Rollins and Troy Andrews live at the wardrobe

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Art Exhibition and Day Out

Art Exhibition and Day Out

A few photo momentos of a great day out with Claire and Phillippa to an art exhibition in Keighley and a bit of a walk in Skipton afterwards

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Owen loses blog

One of the key developers of WordPress has lost his blog due to a catastrophic RAID array failure. Owen Winkler, author of Asymptomatic has posted a temporary message saying that all his blog postings have been lost because his backups were stored on the same array. You can read about the specifics on his temporary home page. Its sad to see someone lose precious content, especially a blog because they do almost become a part of you as an individual, but even more sad to see someone losing a blog because their backups were not on an entirely separate system.

I can’t stress this enough folks; if you have content you don’t want to lose, make sure you have at least one backup on a machine or medium that has nothing what-so-ever to do with the machine that normally holds the content, preferably in a different location. If you run your own site and use cPanel, please use my backup utility. It’s quick, painless, automated and FREE. It will also mean pain is restricted to just a few hours downtime in the event of catastrophic server failure. It sounds so simple, but people just don’t think until it happens to them.

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Timetable for 2006/2007 announced

Yes, I know, I’m publishing Leeds school of computing stuff on my public blog, but hey, enough people from the school read my site to make it worth doing. The timetable (provisonal, but unlikely to change much apart from room numbers) is now available on SIS. It looks like Wednesdays is free from scheduled contact time and that Monday and Tuesday have late starts. Less could be said for Thursday and Friday which both have lectures (yes, actual lectures not tutorials) starting at 9am. Not a problem for me but I can see some people finding making those a little difficult 😉

I guess the whole reason I posted this really was to say how much I’m looking forward to the new term. I’ve just had a browse through the lists of course content for the first semester and there is some really interesting stuff coming up for me over the next 3 months. Combine that with living with and near lots of good friends, it looks set to be a great laugh. See you all next week!

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eMusic on test

Anyone who has been keeping up with the technology news of late will have spotted that a legal music download service offering DRM free MP3 files for a flat subscription each month has been launched (BBC article here). Being a Linux user, this is the only kind of download service I could possibly use, so I took it upon myself to investigate their catalogue, music files and their download methods and give some kind of review as to if its a step in the right direction or not.

Firstly I decided that I wouldn’t sign up for the free trial; the website provides open access to browse the catalogue and listen to clips of all the music, so I figured that a glance at the subscription packages would give me enough of an indicator combined with that lot without surrendering my personal details which are required even for a trial.

My general impression of the music on offer was good. I’m a jazz fan myself and I found a wide range of jazz I knew about and a lot more I didn’t, much of it proving interesting to sample, and a fair few tracks making me wish I’d taken out the trial. There were notable holes in the catalogue though, especially for some of the more recent releases and more modern music in general. I’d definitely say it is a great place to discover new music and grab some legal copies of it, but if you are going in search of something specific, you may be disappointed.

Interface wise, the site is easy to use and cross-browser compatable. There isn’t over-use of javascript, and the default colours are easy on the eye. I mention this as browsing through and reading about music is important to me and so if you couldn’t bear to spend more than 5 minutes on the site due to design it would be a problem. Thankfully this isn’t the case and you become immersed in the music on offer, not distracted by bad layout.

The eventual method of downloading tracks (I discovered this by reading the help files, which I might mention here are simple but complete) is by client side software (software you download for the non techies). Initially this concerned me as a Linux user but a Linux client is provided and indeed there are a number of completely open source clients out there which work very nicely and put your mind at ease in the software department. Windows and Mac software is of course available as a matter of course.

From all user accounts downloads are fast and without congestion, although I couldn’t check this for myself. Sample tracks play in MP3 format at 128kbps and are 30 seconds long. There is also an option to download a .m3u playlist of all the sample clips on an album for easy listening in a player of your choice, something that sites like amazon cd shop lacks and is a nice touch. Full tracks are encoded at 192kbps VBR. This should be fine for most music, but some notable exceptions may be mainly vocal performances and classical pieces. I favor at least 256kbps for these types of tracks, but you can’t have it all and with a library of over 1 million tracks, there has to be storage to think of. Still, I do think they should deliberately encode classical tracks at a higher bitrate; when I rip my own classical music at high and lower rates I can tell the difference.

Costs for the service range from 40 songs a month for £8.99 to 90 songs a month for £14.99. As a 10 track album can cost me over £14.99 in a high street record store I consider this exceptionally good value as the files you get are unprotected and you can do everything with them you would be able to do with MP3s obtained by ripping a CD. If you wish to exceed the limit on your account you can either upgrade or for a one off time (or if you are already on the max plan) you can buy extra “burst” credits, the price of which seems to be hidden in the members only account area. I wouldn’t imagine this would be too pricey though. The only slight downside is that track allowences don’t carry over into the next month, which while isn’t a big issue means if you are into getting whole albums you may have to get half the album in one month and the rest in the next just to make sure you don’t lose out on the credits. Not a huge problem, but having half an album for a few days would annoy me – I’d rather wait and get all of it at once, but in this case that causes you to lose out.

Overall I think eMusic marks the beginning of something I have always said is the future of music online; a subscription based service with generous track number limits, DRM free music and reasonable prices making significant savings on CDs. We’re not there yet, but this venture certainly makes the first step on the road.

If you want to check out eMusic, you can do so at your leisure by visiting their catalogue

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