Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Schedule my review posts

Twenty-nine metal CDs

Twenty-nine metal CDs

In June 2012 I replied to a post on a local Freecycle mailing list offering “hundreds of metal CDs”. When I got them home I’d been very kindly given around 195 (give or take a few). I’ve been more or less reviewing one CD a week ever since on my 195 metal CDs blog.

Some weeks are easier than others for finding the time to write a review. For albums that I particularly like I sometimes cheekily listen to it for a further week before scribbling down my thoughts.

I’ve been blogging now for well over ten years, so why has it only just occurred to me to get at least one week ahead of myself and review an album at least a week or two in advance?!

That would clearly take the pressure off. I could write the review whenever I wanted and schedule it for the appropriate Monday. As you can see from this image I plan my reviews well in advance using Trello:

Trello list showing what's coming up

So that’s what I’ve done this afternoon. I had a run of albums by Italian black/gothic metal band Opera IX scheduled for the next few weeks so I’ve just grouped them and reviewed them in chronological order this afternoon.

It will be interesting to see what difference this makes in terms of finding the time to review the albums and how much I enjoy them given that the pressure has been relieved a little.

Playmobil City Life airport security check-in

Playmobil City Life airport security check-in

Playmobil City Life airport security check-in

This evening I’ve been laughing so much at this review of the Playmobil security checkpoint on Amazon.

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said “that’s the worst security ever!”. But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.

The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillance society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighbourhood Surveillance System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu Ghraib Interrogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I think about this toy.

As I write the Playmobil City Life Airport Security Check In, “with conveyor belt to screen luggage and metal detector”, is currently available on Amazon UK for only £437.71.

My albums of 2013

Montage of album covers

This review is a few days late, due to a nasty chest infection that’s been plaguing me from before Christmas.

If I thought that 2012 was a frugal one in terms of album-buying, 2013 was even more so with only 12 albums or EPs added to my collection (and of those 3 were gifted to me).

Much of my music listening during 2013 was focused on my 195 metal CDs project: I acquired 195 CDs via Freecycle and I’ve been trying to review a CD each week.

10. Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman—Accidentally (On Purpose)

Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman—Accidentally (On Purpose) (2013)

Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman—Accidentally (On Purpose) (2013)

www.stevelawson.net

This is an album that I have been guilty of not listening to enough this past year. I suspect it’s because this is music that deserves space and time. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric album that immediately makes me feel as though I have been transported to an enormous enclosed space, somewhere peaceful like a cathedral or the Tate Modern.

This has been a year of increasingly feeling pressured and busier. What might be interesting would be to see if playing this more over the next few months might give me the sense of space that it offers me each time I do listen to it.

Listen and buy on Bandcamp.

9. JJ Hrubovocak—Death Metal Christmas

JJ Hrubovcak—Death Metal Christmas (2013)

JJ Hrubovcak—Death Metal Christmas (2013)

http://deathmetalchristmas.bandcamp.com/album/death-metal-christmas

I reviewed this album on my 195 metal CDs blog. This was my conclusion:

This is clearly a death metal album first and foremost, and a Christmas-themed one second. It is beautifully played, produced, and mixed. If you like death metal then you will love this and will have something to put on over the Christmas break to counter the endless repeats of Slade, Jona Lewie and Cliff Richard.

I gave the album a solid 98%.

8. Metallica—Dehaan at Orion Music, Detriot, MI

Dehaan (Metallica)—Orion Music, Detriot, MI (2013)

Dehaan (Metallica)—Orion Music, Detriot, MI (2013)

livemetallica.com

On 8 June 2013 played a surprise gig at their own Orion Music + More festival in Detroit, MI under the name Dehaan. (Dane DeHaan played the lead character in Metallica’s 2012 film Through The Never.)

2013 marked thirty years of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All (1983) album. This live recording (available to buy and download from livemetallica.com) is said album played live from start to finish. It’s solid, it’s tight, it’s just as exciting as the original.

You can watch the full gig in HD on YouTube:

7. Amplifier—Echo Street

Amplifier—Echo Street (2013)

Amplifier—Echo Street (2013)

www.amplifiertheband.com

As I’ve no doubt mentioned on this blog before, I first stumbled on Amplifier when they supported Melissa auf der Maur back in 2004, I think. Having decided to avoid the support band we wandered in on the final two or three songs of their set and I loved them, and I’ve bought everything they’ve brought out since.

Echo Street is a gentle, melodic album in the prog genre, but not in a clichéd, ‘muso’ way. I actually think that I prefer this to their critically acclaimed 2010 album The Octopus. It still doesn’t have the excitement and energy of their debut album, though, which for me remains my favourite in their back catalogue.

An honourable mention should also be given to their Sunriders EP, also released in 2013.

6. Ancient VVisdom—Deathlike

Ancient VVisdom—Deathlike (2013)

Ancient VVisdom—Deathlike (2013)

http://ancient-vvisdom.bandcamp.com/

While the lyrics and song themes are a bit too satanic for my liking, I do love the music which might best be described as gothic doom acoustic black-metal.

Having learned to play the guitar on a cheap nylon acoustic guitar—learning mostly rock and metal songs—this album really appeals to me. I love the interplay of electric and acoustic guitars.

This is quite a gentle, melodic album but with quite a dark, melancholic feel to it.

Definitely a band to keep an eye out for.

5. Stone Sour—House of Gold & Bones, Part 2

Stone Sour—House of Gold & Bones, Part 2 (2013)

Stone Sour—House of Gold & Bones, Part 2 (2013)

www.stonesour.com

I’m sure when I review House of Gold & Bones, Part 1 last year I said that I still needed to read through the lyrics to figure out the story behind the album. Unfortunately, that is still the case… and so I’ve now also got this album to read through too. One day… maybe…

What can I say? I love Stone Sour: heavy, melodic, delicate, powerful. What’s not to like, and Splitknot buddies Corey Taylor’s voice and Jim Root’s guitar playing are exquisite.

I’ve not listened to this album enough. It certainly deserves it.

4. Newsted—Metal EP

Newsted—Metal  EP (2013)

Newsted—Metal EP (2013)

http://newstedheavymetal.com

When I saw that Jason Newsted (formerly of Flotsam & Jetsam, Metallica, Echobrain, and Voivod) had a new EP out I was keen but a little apprehensive. I have owned a few of Newsted’s Chophouse Records offerings in the past (IR8 vs Sexoturica and the two Papa Wheelie albums) and I found them quite… rough and unstructured.

But this EP is brilliant. It’s heavy, it’s melodic, the production is fabulous, and Jason’s vocals have never sounded so good.

The only problem is that this EP is just too short. Which leads me nicely on to…

3. Newsted—Heavy Metal

Newsted—Heavy Metal (2013)

Newsted—Heavy Metal (2013)

http://newstedheavymetal.com

When I saw that Jason Newsted (formerly of Flotsam & Jetsam, Metallica, Echobrain, and Voivod) had a new full-length album out I was really excited. His previous EP Metal was fabulous!

Eleven tracks of full-on metal. Newsted is clearly going for a modern take on old school metal with elements of the early days of thrash circa 1983/84. A few of the tracks have leanings towards Metallica’s debut Kill ‘Em All.

I’d love to see Newsted playing this live, and I look forward to hearing more.

Review

2. Fish—A Feast of Consequences

Fish—A Feast of Consequences (2013)

Fish—A Feast of Consequences (2013)

http://fishheadsclub.com

It’s been six years since Fish’s last solo album 13th Star (2007) and he’s certainly returned with a really strong collection of songs, his tenth solo album since leaving Marillion in 1988.

Nestled in the middle of the album is his “High Wood Suite”, which is a sensitive, dare I say beautiful, collection of five songs about the first world war, a war in which both his grandfathers fought.

I bought the deluxe edition which includes a 100-page book, 24-bit FLAC digital download and a ‘making of…’ DVD, which has some touching footage of Fish visiting the locations in France where his grandfathers fought nearly 100 years ago.

A beautiful album. Welcome back Fish!

1. Steven Wilson—The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)

Steven Wilson—The Raven Refused To Sing (2013)

Steven Wilson—The Raven Refused To Sing (2013)

http://stevenwilsonhq.com

I’ve been a fan of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree for quite a few years now, and I was keenly awaiting the release of this album, particularly having heard how strong his collaboration with Mikael Åkerfeldt had been in 2012 with Storm Corrosion.

I wasn’t disappointed.

This album has quite a retro 60s/70s feel to it. It’s rock, it’s prog, it’s beautiful and melodic and in places captivating. No more so, I think, than his song “The Watchmaker” which I found myself playing over and over again. It’s a song which is heart-breaking in its beauty and fragility.

An obvious next step, having loved everything I’ve heard of his so far, would be to complete my collection of his music. But… have you seen how much he’s put out?! If I do this review next year will need to be called “My favourite Steve Wilson albums that I listened to in 2014″…

Planning Study 2.1

Back in April 2010 (was it really that long ago?) I wrote a post called Planning Study 2.0 showing how I was using a free online application called Floorplanner to work out whether it was feasible to move my study  from the former garage upstairs into bedroom four.

Then we discovered that we were expecting Isaac and those plans were put on hold. Bedroom four was to become Isaac’s room and my study would need to remain in the “garage room”.

Fast forward a couple of years and it became clear to us that Isaac was going to need a larger room. So Jane and I dusted down our plans and we decided to sacrifice the guest bedroom to move Isaac into, then the study would move into Isaac’s old room, and finally the garage room would become a second living room/lounge with the option of a sofa bed or inflatable double-mattress on the floor.

Initial plan — study 2.0

This was my initial plan from April 2010.

Proposed floor plan of relocated study

Initial floor plan of relocated study

Revised plan — study 2.1

My revised plan of Summer 2012, rotated 90° right.

Plan of study

Final plan

And so during the last couple of months we’ve slowly moved things around. Isaac moved rooms first of all, and then the study steadily moved upstairs. Bookcases and books first, then the filing cabinet and Ikea Poäng chair, and finally my desk (which I had to completely dismantle to get out through the former garage’s sliding door and back in through the front door).

So, here are the 3D renderings from Floorplan to compare with photographs of how the actual room looks.

Looking south

Floor plan of study shown in 3D

Floor plan of study shown in 3D (looking south)

My study, showing from left to right: filing cabinet, desk and bookcase

My study, showing from left to right: filing cabinet, desk and bookcase

Looking west

Plan of study, shown in 3D

Floor plan of study shown in 3D (looking west)

My study, looking towards the window, with chair and bookcases

My study, looking towards the window, with chair and bookcases

Conclusion

Floorplanner has been a really useful tool. As I said in my initial review, the free account is limited to only one plan (although you can join rooms together to create, for example, a whole floor) but that has been enough for our requirements.

We are now beginning to use it to plan what to do with the old study (the “garage room”). How can we fit in a sofa or two, and still make it comfortable for guests to sleep in? I’ll report back once we’ve worked it out.

This page is in Czech

20111110-quickbooks

I was reading through the latest PC Pro email newsletter which included a review of QuickBooks Pro 2012, accountancy software.

I clicked on the link, started to read the review, realised that accountancy software really isn’t that interesting so checked out the pictures instead.

Google Chrome confidently told me that “this page is in Czech…”

Surely, if it’s accountancy software that should be: this page is in cheque…! (That’s ‘check’—as in bank check—for our American readers.)

B’boom! Tsh!

Radiohead – Lotus Flower

In Rainbows

When Radiohead‘s last album In Rainbows came out on 10 October 2007 I downloaded it, listened to it and…well, I really didn’t get it.

It sat in my MP3 folder for a couple of years, occasionally getting an airing, even playing it two or three times back-to-back to try to get inside it and each time putting it away again disappointed.

A couple of weeks ago Radiohead announced the immanent release of their new album  The King of Limbs. So I dutifully rolled out their back catalogue in preparation.

Suddenly In Rainbows made sense. Like a jigsaw falling into place.

What a revelation! An epiphany!

The King of Limbs

I downloaded The King of Limbs last night having listened to an interview with Andy Kershaw and Alex Poots (director of the Manchester International Festival) on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

The article was entitled “is Radiohead’s new album ‘a grower’?” and introduced the topic with “the band Radiohead has come under criticism after some critics claimed its eighth album, The King of Limbs, which was released this month, was ‘impenetrable’. Others have said the album needs time to grow on the listener.”

Andy Kershaw, who admitted not having listened to it, slated it; I thought unjustifiably.

On my first listen I loved it.

I find it neither impenetrable nor ‘a grower’. For me it was an immediate connection with the music. It’s not The Bends, it’s not OK Computer, it’s not Kid A but it is definitely Radiohead and I can see me listening to this album for quite some time to come.

Review from The Telegraph

I read a few reviews after I’d listened to the album a couple of times. This is my favourite paragraph from Neil McCormick’s review in The Telegraph:

It is reliably unorthodox, a new sonic adventure for the restless Oxford quintet, but, despite its boldness and weirdness, it is easy on the ear, with a mellifluous melodiousness and gentle sonic palette that doesn’t demand huge leaps of faith. Percussive, groovy, spacious, ethereal and melodic, this is late night Radiohead, a stoned, somnambulistic wander through the urban wastelands shared by such post-Dubstep adventurers as Burial and James Blake. Taking the tender intimacy of Radiohead classics like No Surprises and Fake Plastic Trees and cross fertilising them with elements of world music, jazz and ambient, the result is the kind of chill out music that keeps you awake. Highly strung and instinctively contrary, but also deeply harmonically musical, Radiohead somehow finds a space between the sinister and the beautiful, the tense and the meditative. They remain masters of musical dichotomy.

Amazon Kindle 3G – initial impressions

O2 Xda Zest phone sitting on top of an Amazon Kindle 3

O2 Xda Zest phone sitting on top of an Amazon Kindle 3

On Tuesday my Amazon Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi arrived. And there was much rejoicing.

Why I bought a Kindle

For a few years now I’ve wanted an eBook reader to make my growing collection of geeky books in PDF more portable.

I have a laptop, but it’s not terribly practical with its brightly glowing screen and its fan-assisted knee warmer.  And as any reader of Jakob Nielsen will be able to tell you: reading on computer screens is tiring and about 25% slower than reading from paper.

My Psion Series 5mx has a PDF reader but it’s not being developed now and so doesn’t support the latest version of PDF files.  My Windows Mobile phone does support the latest formats, but the screen is so small that it makes reading PDFs cumbersome with all the scrolling that’s required.

So I wanted something in between a laptop and a PDA, that would support PDFs and wouldn’t put too big a dent in my wallet.  The new Amazon Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi seemed to promise all of that, so I pre-ordered one.  It arrived two days ago.

Initial reaction

When I unpacked the Kindle I tried to peel away the cellophane instruction that was telling me what I should do next (plug it in!), until I discovered that it wasn’t a stick-on film it was the screen itself.

Of course! The Kindle doesn’t need power to maintain an image on the screen, it just needs power to change the image.  Genius! and a perfect introduction to the quality of the E Ink technology.

Cover

Close-up of how the Kindle is secured to the leather cover

Close-up of how the Kindle is secured to the leather cover

The first thing I did was fix it into the chocolate brown Kindle leather cover that I also bought.  I decided not to pay £20 extra for the one with the built-in light as I rarely have to read in the dark, what with us having electric lighting in the house and everything.

The Kindle feels great in your hands; the slightly rubberised feel to its casing makes you feel confident that you’re not going to drop it easily.  Once the Kindle is secured into the case it just feels great, like you’re reading a classic, leather-bound book.  It’s a very tactile experience.

First use

I plugged it in, switched it on and very quickly got to grips with the basic functionality: selecting a book and navigating through the pages.

It feels quite intuitive and I love the feel of the qwerty keyboard: the keys are quite rough like very fine sandpaper which I guess makes them easier to use than similar-sized smooth keys on which your fingers might more easily slide off.

Clarity

I can’t compare the Kindle 3 with earlier models to judge whether it does offer “50% better contrast than any other e-reader” or “crisper, darker fonts”.  But what I can say is that it just looks great.  And everyone I’ve shown it to today has commented on both the clarity of the text and how easy it is to read, even when held at strange angles and from a distance.

Connection to PC

Of course, what I really wanted to do was check out how my PDFs would render on the Kindle.

The power cable comprises a USB cable (it looks like USB A to Micro-B) that plugs into a … well, a plug.  Unhook the plug and you have yourself a USB cable.  It took seconds for Windows 7 to recognise the Kindle as an external drive.

Screenshot of Kindle folders on a Windows 7 machine

Screenshot of Kindle folders

The Kindle contains four directories:

  1. \.active-content-data
  2. \audible
  3. \documents
  4. \music

I dragged and dropped about 300 MB of PDF files into the \documents directory, ejected the Kindle from Windows and lo-and-behold! there they were.

Collections

eBooks can be organised into what the Kindle calls collections, which is like organising your files into folders or directories on your PC; books can be assigned to more than one collection. This makes it easier to find your books, and cuts down the clutter on the home screen.

Screenshot of my Kindle home screen

Screenshot of my Kindle home screen

Once organised into collections you can still view a list of all your books by title, author or most recent.

Reading eBooks

While most of my books are in PDF, I have a few eBooks in either .Mobipocket or Amazon’s proprietary .AZW format (which is based on the Mobipocket standard) which allows the text to be resized. There are eight possible sizes ranging from tiny (30 lines per page) to enormous (5 lines per page).

Showing viewing options on the Kindle 3 while reading an eBook

Showing viewing options on the Kindle 3 while reading an eBook

With eBooks the typeface (regular serif, condensed serif or sans-serif), line spacing (small, medium large) and words per line (fewest, fewer, default) can be adjusted, and text-to-speech can be turned on enabling the Kindle to read out loud the text on the page, either through the built-in speakers or via the headphone socket.

I spent about 30-45 minutes sitting reading an eBook the other day and it felt really natural.  It really is the quality of the screen that makes all the difference: it really does look like ink printed on light grey paper.

Navigation through the pages is via the forward and back arrows on both the left- and right-hand side of the Kindle; although once secured into the leather cover left-handed users I imagine would have to bend the cover back on itself (the kind of action that is drilled into you from an early age that you should never do with a paperback), or remove it from the cover altogether … or, I guess, use the buttons on the right-hand side of the Kindle.

Reading PDFs

Thankfully reading PDFs was just as easy as reading standard eBooks.

Of course, the whole point of PDFs is that the author can determine how they look and that they will retain their design regardless of the device they are being viewed on.  This means that the viewing options are reduced to just zoom, screen contrast and screen rotation.

Screenshot of PDF reading options on the Kindle 3

Screenshot of PDF reading options on the Kindle 3

Depending on the size of the text I’ve found that reading some books with the fit-to-screen option and a 90° rotation is best. Depending on the size of the original page, the navigation keys will then shift your view from the top to the bottom of the page before moving on to the next page.  It really is very impressive.

I just wish that there was a keyboard shortcut for rotating the screen.  On the Kindle 1, I’ve read, it is Alt + R, but on the Kindle 3 this inserts a number ‘4’ into the search box.

No support for PDF bookmarks

Here’s my biggest niggle with the Kindle, though, when using it to read PDF documents: it doesn’t appear to have support for PDF bookmarks.  This seems to me to be a huge failing, as it is often the way that I navigate around large PDF documents when viewing them on my PC.

I hope that Amazon address this in a future update.

Crashes

And speaking of failings: my Kindle has crashed about 5 or 6 times since I received it, and it has rebooted itself once.  I’m hoping that the latter was a software update, I’m currently on version 3.0 (515460094).  eBookvine wrote about the freezes and crashes yesterday.  Mine have happened while browsing the Web and viewing long, complicated PDF documents.

[Update: I upgraded to the latest OS and that solved the crash problem.]

I do wish manufacturers would include instructions on how to soft- and hard-reset their devices. On the Kindle 3 you hold in the power switch for 7 seconds to reboot it, and for 15 seconds to reboot (soft reset) it.

For a hard reset you need to hold the power switch for 20 seconds, release it and then hold the Home button while the Kindle is rebooting.  A screen appears asking you to type “RESET” into an input box which starts the factory reset.

It’s inconvenient, but it’s not enough to put me off using it.

Shortcut keys

A few shortcut keys I’ve found useful:

  • Alt + Shift + G
    Takes a screenshot (think of ‘g’ for ‘grab screenshot’)
  • Alt + Shift + M
    Play Minesweeper (press G within the game to play GoMoku)
  • Alt + Home
    Open the Amazon Kindle Store
  • Alt + Q, Alt + W, Alt + E, etc.
    Pressing Alt and the top row of keys will produce numbers 1-9 and then 0.
  • Alt + G
    Screen refresh
  • Alt + B
    While reading a book you can toggle user-created bookmarks
  • Menu
    Pressing Menu on the Home screen will show you both the time and available memory.