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Something to chew

31 March 2007

Depeche Mode are great. I'm so into their music, I'll forgive them rhyming 'houses' with 'trousers'. But now singer Dave Gahan has announced he's opening a restaurant in New York named 'The Bitter Apple' after a track on his solo album. And I have to say the menu is the most unintentionally funny thing I've read in ages.

You probably have to know your Mode to get the most out of this, but morphing 'Dreaming of me' into 'Dreaming of meat' and 'A question of lust' into 'A quiche of lust' gives you an idea of what we're looking at here. Don't fret: if you're thirsty, you can sup on a Big Muff. That one's named after an early instrumental, which could feasibly have been called just about anything else, and which many wish had been.

There doesn't seem to be much for vegetarians though, so I'd recommend they add a dish called 'Just courgette enough'.

Disclaimer: I have checked we aren't into April already.


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Jean-Michel Jarre live in Lint, Belgium

29 March 2007

Jean-Michel JarreYesterday I was one of 128 lucky fans to witness a private showcase of Jean-Michel Jarre's new album 'Teo & Tea'. The event took place in a TV studio in Lint, about an hour's train ride from Brussels. Going out on the first Eurostar and returning on the last made for a long day, but it was fantastic. Docklands in '88 was the first concert I went to, and Zoolook and Rendez-Vous were the first albums I bought. I got Revolutions, Cousteau, Chronologie and Metamorphoses on the day of issue and they have soundtracked my life. I still dip into them all today.

I've seen JMJ three times in concert, but never like this. Usually it's a massive spectacular, or at least an arena gig. There were only a couple of hundred people at this gig and JMJ was able to get in among the crowd and really interact with them.

I had only heard the album twice before the show. It didn't strike me at first (I was probably too distracted trying to work out where Kontich station was), but it has a subtle beauty as well as some stomping rhythms. It's all the more special now that it reminds me of the gig. After seven relatively quiet years, it's good to have JMJ back.

We were allowed to take photos, provided no flash was used, which I thought was an enlightened attitude. I wonder whether bands are realising that the benefits of having their photos all over the internet and sustaining a buzz among fans far outweigh the risk that some might end up on unauthorised merchandise.

You can see my photos and review here. Please leave any feedback in the comments below.

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Six word stories

21 March 2007

Good writers are masters of brevity. They spot the dead wood and eliminate it. They make sure every word in every sentence is adding meaning.

But how short can a story be before it stops being a story? Hemingway wrote a six word tale that is poignant and has a beginning, middle and an end: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Wired has challenged today's writers to tell a story in six words. Some turned out to be little more than punchlines. Others seem like the start or end of a story, but not the whole thing. It's a difficult brief, and all the attempts are worth reading.

My favourites are 'Machine. Unexpectedly, I'd invented a time' by Alan Moore and 'From torched skyscrapers, men grew wings.' by Gregory Maguire. I also enjoyed 'The baby's blood type? Human, mostly.' by Orson Scott Card.

Read the Wired article for about 90 more.

Although I've technically reproduced three of Wired's stories in full above, I'm not expecting them to have a problem with this. I think those excerpts are fair use in the context of promoting the full article.

Also, it would be rather hypocritical for Wired to get upset given that earlier this month the site published three pages of Fox Interactive Media's trade secrets verbatim. In a story about Fox preparing a news portal for MySpace, Wired included two leaked screenshots and six slides from a presentation. Since these would be copyright of Fox and this story had no public interest defence, this seems an odd stance for a publishing business to take.


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Shaggy Blog Stories: Book for Comic Relief

17 March 2007

'Shaggy Blog Stories' is a book including the funniest posts from some of the best blogs in the UK. It was pulled together in a week by a team led by Mike at Troubled Diva, which is itself admirable, given he only took one day off work for the project in that time. Over half the cover price is going to Comic Relief. In the first 40 hours of being on sale, the book raised over £1234.

There have been books based on blogs before, but this one promises to be different because it's been created by a community (rather than a major publisher jumping on a popular blog), and it focuses on funny stuff. You can always scribble your comments in the margin.

It's published using Lulu, which is a print on demand company. That means your copy is lovingly printed when you order it and is then sent out to you. My copy's probably being queued up for printing now. Why not order one yourself?


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Inspiral Carpets and ear plugs

Last week I went to see the Inspiral Carpets at Shepherds Bush Empire. I've uploaded my photos today.

I was right down the front, which was hard work (it was a rough crowd) but worth it to feel so involved with the music. At one point Tom took my glasses off and put them on. The whole band looked like they were having a great time and the fans were really into it. If you don't already know, Carpets fans 'moo' between songs.

I've had a long relationship with the the music of the Inspirals, which goes right back to when I was at school. I first saw the band at Alexandra Palace, around the launch of The Beast Inside. I'll always have a soft spot for that album, so it was a treat to hear 'Sleep Well Tonight' last week. I saw the band in Norwich too, where my friend Mark, who introduced me to their music, was studying. We had recorded the then forthcoming single 'Dragging me Down' off the radio so we could familiarise ourselves with it before the show. I also saw the band at my own university and on the recent reunion tours, and at the launch party for the 'Cool As' compilation.

This tour was to promote the release of a new download-only album of b-sides and rarities, but the only concession to that in the setlist was the inclusion of 'Plane Crash'. The gig was the fan favourites, with a few surprises thrown in (including Cobra). I particularly enjoyed upbeat comeback single 'Come Back Tomorrow' as well.

This was the first gig I've been to since last May. I've had problems with my hearing lately, so for this show I was armed with earplugs. For the support acts, I wore the standard foam earplugs you can buy in any chemist (for about £2 for two pairs). They made a massive difference in cutting the volume of sound, and had tested well in my highly unscientific experiment trying out earplugs in front of my stereo. They did deaden the sound a bit though.

I also had some plastic earplugs which are made especially for concerts and clubbing, but which didn't seem to do anything at all when I tried them at home. When I tried them at the gig, I was surprised to find they were excellent. When I swapped the earplugs over, the dedicated concert ones had clearer sound and still dramatically cut the volume. It's possible I lost some of the music, or some parts might just have been mixed low. But it's the first gig I remember, where my ears weren't ringing the next day.

So, if you want to get some good earplugs for a concert, try the Elacin ER20-S which cost about £15. The manufacturers' website has a list of stockists. The RNID has created a website called Don't lose the music to help music fans to protect their hearing.

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Nintendo DS mini-site launched

04 March 2007

Nintendo browser boxYesterday I got the Nintendo Browser by Opera for my DS Lite (you need a different version if you've got non-lite DS). Using it, you can browse the web over a wi-fi connection.

It's not without its limitations - there's only so much you can do with a maximum screen width of about 230 pixels. But Opera provides a couple of different browsing modes to get around the limitations. One enables you to move a magnifier around the screen to view zoomed-in content on the top screen. The other linearises tables and other content for small screen rendering. You soon become adept at switching between the small screen rendering and overview modes, and at swapping the top and bottom screens over so you can use the touchscreen for zooming or clicking on links.

It's painfully slow to begin with - slower even than dial-up. But once you've adjusted your expectations and stop trying to go through gee-whizz graphics heavy sites, it's a great experience. The BBC News light site is particularly strong, and the accessible rail timetable works well too. Blogs are easy enough to surf, being mostly based on simple templates. Amazon.co.uk is a bit cluttered in SSR mode, but appears fully functional. You learn to filter out the navigation detritus and see through to the content.

Many sites fail, mostly sites using clever web 2.0 techniques to refresh within the page. You can't even log in at Blogger, and I was disappointed that tadalist and twitter didn't work. Those three would have been ideal mini-applications for a handheld.

That said, most straight Javascript does work. My simpler Javascript games worked just fine. Where sites have been designed to be accessible (which is, in any case, best practice and a legal requirement), they should work okay on the DS.

The Opera browser is an essential addition for anyone with a DS. It's worth sorting out a wi-fi connection for.

To learn more about designing for the platform, I've built a Nintendo DS microsite. You can access it at www.sean.co.uk/nds. It includes my top 10 games for the platform, and customised versions of my Hangman and Misfit games which I'm quite proud of getting working so smoothly. There's also a portal I've made providing quick access to Google, a dictionary, a cartoon and a handful of other sites. Let me know (in the comments) if there are any other sites that you'd like to see added to the portal, and that work well on the DS. And if you've got a DS and Opera, let me know your thoughts on the mini-site. When I get time, I'll write about what I've learned about designing for the platform.

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100+ bands I've seen live

01 March 2007

On a discussion list I'm on, a few people were trying to compile a list of 100 bands they've seen live. I gave it a go as well. It brought back great memories. I recommend it to anyone. If you've not seen 100 bands yet, start your list now anyway. It's a real brainache doing it decades later.

I'm lucky to have seen my favourite bands so many times: My Life Story about fifteen times, Inspirals eight times, Jesus Jones five times, Black/CV about five times, Tanita Tikaram four times, Kenickie about five times, Prince four times, Pink Floyd twice (plus Gilmour twice, and Waters), Jean-Michel Jarre three times and Depeche Mode four times.

My list of bands runs to 132 now, and since I'm working from memory and whatever CDs I've got here, I'm probably missing loads of support acts. There's one that had the happiest drummer in the world, who completely outclassed everyone else on the stage. Never knew the band name, but I can still picture his smiley face.

My first gig was Jarre in Docklands in 1989, which was 18 years ago now. That means I've seen a new band (ie, one I hadn't previously seen) on average every seven weeks for the last 18 years.

Here's the list in alphabetical order, running down the screen in columns.

  • ABC
  • Afro DZ Ak
  • Aimee Mann
  • Alanis Morissette
  • Animals
  • Art of Noise
  • Australian Pink Floyd
  • Babybird
  • Back in the Day
  • Bananarama
  • Beastie Boys
  • Belinda Carlisle
  • Belle and Sebastian
  • Ben Folds
  • Bend the Triangle
  • Beverley Knight
  • Bikini Beach Band
  • Billy Bragg
  • Billy Ocean
  • Black/Colin Vearncombe
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Bloc Party
  • Blockheads and Phill Jupitus
  • Blur
  • Bootleg Beatles
  • Buggles
  • Cake
  • Captain Sensible
  • Catatonia
  • Chaka Khan
  • Charlatans
  • Chas'n'Dave
  • China Crisis
  • China Drum
  • Christians
  • Chumbawamba
  • Clannad
  • Cliff Richard
  • Clint Boon Experience
  • Corinne Bailey Rae
  • Cranberries
  • Cranes
  • Crasdant
  • Credit to the Nation
  • Cure
  • Cutting Crew
  • Damian Rice
  • Dandy Warhols
  • Daniel O'Donnell
  • Dannii Minogue
  • Dan Shears Orchestra
  • David Bowie
  • David Devant and His Spirit Wife
  • David Gilmour
  • David Gray
  • Deerhoof
  • Depeche Mode
  • Dex Dexter
  • Diesel Park West
  • Dire Straits
  • Divine Comedy
  • Doctor and the Medics
  • Dollar
  • Dolly Rockers
  • Duran Duran
  • Earl Brutus
  • Eat
  • Echobelly
  • Eddi Reader
  • Elton John
  • Energy Orchard
  • Erasure
  • Eric Clapton
  • Eskimo Disco
  • Exile Inside
  • Family Go Town
  • The Fall
  • Fem2Fem
  • Five Floors Up
  • Florence and the Machine
  • Foam
  • Foo Fighters
  • Fosca
  • Frank and Walters
  • Frankie goes to Hollywood
  • Franz Ferdinand
  • Frazier Chorus
  • Fun Lovin Criminals
  • Gallagher & Lyle
  • Gary Clark
  • Gary Numan
  • Genesis
  • Gina G
  • Glen Matlock
  • Go West
  • Grace Jones
  • Gretschen Hofner
  • Grosvenor
  • Harrold Juana
  • Heaven 17
  • The High
  • Hothouse Flowers
  • Howard Jones
  • Huw & Tony Williams
  • IAMX
  • Inspiral Carpets
  • Jason Feddy
  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • Jesus Jones
  • Johnny Clegg
  • Kasabian
  • Kenickie
  • Kid Creole
  • Kim Wilde
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Larry Graham
  • Legendary Cuckoos
  • Liars Club
  • Lightning Seeds
  • Lily Allen
  • Lisa Stansfield
  • Lovers
  • Lush
  • Madonna
  • Manic Street Preachers
  • Mannfred Mann
  • Maroon 5
  • Martyn Joseph
  • Metallica
  • Mica Paris
  • Midge Ure
  • Mike Oldfield
  • Miles Hunt
  • Mission
  • Mitch Benn
  • MJ Hibbett
  • Mogwai
  • Moxy Fruvous
  • Mustard
  • My Life Story
  • Neil Finn
  • Nick Harper
  • Nick Heyward
  • Nik Kershaw
  • Noa
  • Noel Gallagher
  • Oasis
  • Orlando
  • Paul McCartney
  • Paolo Nutini
  • Paul Roberts (Stranglers)
  • Paul Weller
  • Paul Young
Rules of the list: I had to see them playing music, but appearances at festivals or in-store counted. I didn't count performances in musicals, which would add in Jason Donovan.

If you produce your own list, or want to know more about what any of these acts are like live, then leave a comment below.

UPDATE (20 July 2007): I've added in a recent gig by Glen Matlock, the bands I saw at Live Earth and a few bands I previously forgot about. I'll add bands to my list as I see or remember them. Check out Julie's list too and let me know in the comments if you write your own list and I'll link it here.

UPDATE (3 September 2009): Just added the acts from the Henley Rewind Festival, a fantastic bill of acts who made it big in the 80s but who can still cut it live today. I've been updating the list regularly with new acts and it now stands at 219 bands.


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