Archive for December, 2006

Canned Spam

As part of my zero tolerance on spam I’ve now started to publish a running total of the number of spam blog comments I’ve deleted, or canned as I like to call it, in the sidebar of my site. Considering this anti-spam system has only been in operation for a little over two weeks from the date of this posting its quite shocking to note that over 800 spam comments have already been caught by it. Just goes to show how much of a war spam really is and its one we need to win. Anyone who wants the code to add to their WordPress blog to publish how much spam they have canned then contact me.

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Santana on Vinyl

Home means many things but in my case the presence of a superb record player (A Rega Planar 3 for those in the know) is a great bonus. The other night saw me working my way through my Dad’s collection of vinyl and enjoying every second of it. There is something about the sound of a track on vinyl that you just can’t replicate, adding to that actually seeing it revolve as the sound fills the room is something very special.

An album that really caught my ear was Santana’s very first album. I must confess to never having heard it and to get the chance to listen to it at volume on vinyl was something really rather enjoyable. As the sound washed over me it increased my resolve to purchase a decent hi-fi system complete with turntable as soon as funds would allow it.

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Congratulations Peter

I’d just like to post up a few words of congratulation for Peter Ebdon who, on Sunday night, won the UK Snooker Chanpionship for the first time, becoming only the 9th person to have lifted both the UK and World Snooker titles. It was a cracking match against Stephen Hendry but in the end Peter got ahead by a few frames and Stephen lost his cue action a bit and the match was all over. It was great to watch on TV, its just a shame I couldn’t be there. Still, theres a lot of hope that I’ll be able to be at the Crucible in Sheffield to watch a large amount of the world championship live next year!

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Power Down

There has been a few bits going around on facebook about this but I thought I’d blog it just in case it might help raise awareness a bit more. Online petitions usually don’t make a large amount of difference but at the very least this one should get people thinking along the vein they should be.

Climate change is happening, like it or not, and if we don’t do something about it, we are going to slowly but surely change or maybe even destroy part of the world in which we live. Did you leave your TV on standby last night? Do you drive distances of less than a mile? Do you switch your lights off when you’re not in the room? What about short haul flights – do you take the train instead? We can all help out and if you’re not already its about time you did. By all means sign the power down petition, but make sure you do your bit as well.

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Bravo Drew

Glancing at facebook the other day I noticed that a number of my friends have started using the notes system like a blog. As a result I have added a number of the provided RSS feeds to my news reader.

Drew’s writings stood out from all the rest though, not only in that I could identify with much of it but in the quality of the work and thought that had clearly gone into each article. I especially like the article on Microsoft and the one concerning the attitude of people towards a degree in the school of comuting.

As a personal comment I’d like to say to those saying they do history to people when in fact they do computing simply to save face, shame on you. If you’re not proud of the degree you’ve chosen then don’t study it!

Back to Drews writings though, I encourage you to subscribe to the RSS feed and make comment where appropriate, its great stuff. Bravo Drew!

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Christmas feeling

Yes its really here, that festive feeling that has suddenly started to grip me over the last week or so. The end of term signifies not only the start of the Christmas vacation from univeristy but also the chance for me to enjoy all the little bits of Christmas that have suddenly started to spring up all over the place.

It would also appear that the festive spirit has had a notable impact on my ability to rattle off blogs. I’ve had quite possibly my largest break from it ever (apart from holidays where I’ve been abroad) so apologies to all who have been checking my site expectantly. I’ve had a couple of topics in mind to talk about and will be publishing them all this afternoon. The break has been nice but I’ve missed writing and I’m glad to be getting back to it.

While I haven’t been blogging of late I haven’t been idle, far from it. Saturday after the end of term I went into York with Heather and we did some sightseeing and a little shopping. We had tea in little Betty’s and wandered around the town which included looking in an interesting little shop called the Cat Gallery. Its quite amusing really as its full of products designed specifically for cats, and some are just ridiculous – take the £300 cat bed for example or perhaps the pottery cats that give you a fright everytime you set eyes on them. Some of those things really do belong in the shop I can tell you, anyone buying them needs their head testing.

In addition to random wanderings we took a trip up the minster to look out over York and nearly got blown off our feet once we were up there. Once we had completed our descent we headed back towards the centre of town but stumbled accross a lovely street market that I had forgotten they hosted there every year. There was mulled wine for sale, Christmas carols and some wonderful ice sculptures, my favorite of which I took a photo and show it below this posting.

After my return from York it was nose to the grindstone for the final push to get my coursework finished, and then the slight disaster detailed in an earlier blog about making my way home.

Despite all of the things that have been going on though its all been very festive. We’ve had quite a cold snap here in St. Albans and there are Christmas lights and trees all over the place, it really has a strong leaning towards the traditional Christmas – just the way I like it.

Penguin Ice Sculpture

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Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux LiveOn Friday night I was in York with James seeing Madeleine Peyroux play live at the Royal Opera house. Aside from the debacle that was not knowing exactly where the beautiful but tiny venue was situated it was an amazing evening. Madeleine has recently become quite popular and ever since she appeared at the North Sea Jazz festival her music has been getting more and more good reviews. In fact shes now so popular that her gigs sell out over a month in advance. This was the first concert I’ve had to get tickets from ebay for! It was worth it though because I missed her performance at North Sea and so was dying to see what her music was like in a live and vibrant setting such as York.

At the start of the concert we were treated to a very enjoyable support act, a jazz vocalist and pianist who I’m ashamed to say their names escape me. If anyone was there or knows who the support act was, please get in touch in comments because her music was very similar to that from Diana Krall – an artist I admire very much.

So after a short interval (during which we passed comment on how impossible it was sitting where we were with people getting up and down all the time like yo-yos) Madeleine Peyroux graced the stage with her presence causing a large round of applause from the crowd.

Her style is wonderfully varied, interspersing her songs with just the right amount of chit-chat to keep you informed but not bore you with details. Shes a great all round jazz singer with the ability to stir your soul with the softest and most inspiring melody and yet 5 minutes later have you tapping your foot to a rock influenced number straight off the electric guitar.

Her band are exteremly talented also, complementing her vocals and guitar work perfectly. I paid particular attention to the pianist who in addition to being an amazing musician at the grand was also a superb keyboard player and a dab hand on the hammond organ. As we all know, you can’t beat a bit of organ vibes to punctuate that typically blues piece.

As I’ve already said her sheer variety was very enjoyable to listen to, but she managed to top it all off in the encore by performing a perfect piece in French which I felt was one of the best songs of the night – clear, crisp, melodic and deeply beautiful it was the end to a perfect jazz concert.

All I can say really in conclusion is that the critics are not wrong when they say Madeleine has a beautiful voice, they’re not wrong when they say she sings with an awesome band and I’ve never felt more certain about a review conclusion when I say you certainly cannot afford to miss her live if you are a fan of vocal jazz.

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Taxi to nowhere

The stage is set; I’ve got all my coursework done, I’ve said goodbye to friends, I’ve packed my bags and I’ve gone onto campus to hand in the work, collect some marked work and return some library books that are due. The bags are in the hallway, all I need to do now is call a cab and get to the station in time for my 09:05 train – its now 08:10, just under an hour so it should be fine right….. well, no, actually, wrong.

I call my usual taxi firm and ask for a cab to my address. Expecting the usual friendly response and a cab within a couple of minutes I was astounded to hear their reply that they couldn’t get me a cab till 09:30! Not to be deterred I rummaged through the kitchen to find some more taxi firm cards. I started calling numbers. They were all the same; either engaged or couldn’t get me a cab for an hour or so. The sinking feeling started. There I was, all ready to go, everything timed to perfection and I was going to miss my train.

Most people expect this story to have a miraculous ending, it doesn’t. I missed the darn train and so as I write this on the station platform in Leeds I’ve had to fork out £40 for a same day ticket rather than the bargain fixed time only offering I had for 09:05. Still it gets me home at least but I’ve missed my Dad’s birthday lunch which was one of the main reasons for making the draconian effort. It never rains but it pours. Incidentally it was also chucking it down this morning so I got soaked on the way to and from campus. *sigh*

Heres hoping Christmas will bring the much needed rest and relaxation after such a last minute battle. On the plus side I got to say one last goodbye to Heather which I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise 🙂

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Congratulations Hannah

Huge congratulations go out to Hannah who recently got elected onto the Goodricke College JCRC at York University. It’s a fulfilling experience to sit on a college committee and I hope she enjoys working for Goodricke as much as I did for Halifax.

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Polar Bear

Polar BearI first discovered the jazz band Polar Bear entirely by accident while purchasing music to play and review on my old radio show on URY. The album in question was their second release, Held on the tips of fingers, and as soon as I heard it I realised how good they are as a band. You can imagine then my joy when I heard that they would be playing at the Wardrobe here in Leeds.

I wasn’t at all disappointed by their performance, in fact it was really rather amazing to the extent that the CDs just don’t do Polar Bear justice. The way they play on stage is very special, and the passion expressed in the music is clear. The band members conduct themselves with great humility which isn’t common amongst bands, even the jazz groups. Their music is quite varied and although every jazz fan will find something very familiar to the jazz scene in their sound, some of their songs fly in the face of this and are considerably darker and more interesting.

Apart from the conventional playing of their instruments the band employed some very interesting techniques to create some amazing haunting sounds on top of their playing. Just the simple act of blowing into a saxophone without producing any sound creates a wind like sound that seems to float above everything else and it really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It wasn’t just the special effects though but the sheer brilliance of the bands performance overall. Every piece from punchy jazz number to mysterious spooky melody was played wonderfully and really wowed the audience.

Without a doubt Polar Bear are a modern group, expressing jazz with a fair few modern techniques employed, but what is so startling is how well you feel connected to the roots of jazz while listening to their music. I feel it has a lot to do with the freedom of expression they demonstrate on stage coupled with the typically jazz sound on the sax and double bass.

Polar Bear have just recorded some new songs, some of which they had yet to name even when they played them at the gig, but it is hoped that a new album will be available in the new year. Until then though I still heartily recommend you go out in search of their music. My favorite album is Held on the tips of fingers but I also recently bought their first album, Dim Lit, which has some amazing music on it too. Polar Bear live are always worth going to see at a venue near you and from my perspective anyway you are sure to have a superb musical experience.

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