Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Shawn Mullins - Soul's Core

Like many, the first time I heard this chap was when he had a minor hit with a track off this album, "Lullaby". The song had a spoken verse and a sung chorus, and it was the voice that got you in both cases. Shawn must smoke a lot of cigarettes... That song is not entirely representative of the album... the other songs are sung straight, and most are of a quieter one-man-and-his-guitar nature.
The thing I guess I like is the sheer American-ness of it all. Not saying I like America that much, just the exotic nature of his voice and the lyrics.

He's telling a story of his life in the States, touring around, playing "coffee house gigs". It sounds so great and romantic, which I can imagine it isn't really, but stuck in the rainy UK that "travelling from town to town" sounds warm and exciting and just fun.

The voice though... hear him say "does the dishes"... every time I smile.
There's another minor hit on this album, "Shimmer", which is pretty noisy stuff for a folk-rock singer. But my favourite track is perhaps the quietest on the album, "Twin Rocks, Oregon". The lyrics are just great, and it's difficult to imagine the narrative of the song didn't really happen to him. It's genius.

Highly recommended, 9/10, you could buy it here.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Devendra Banhart - Niño Rojo

It must be great as an obscure artist to have one of your songs picked up and used in a national TV campaign. I've bought two albums recently because my Missus fancied them, having heard just a snatch on an advert. (The other one was Jose Gonzalez.)
    A song from this album "Little Yellow Spider" was featured in an Orange advert. I can't say it provoked me to go and find out who it was, but the Missus was probably correct to do so, and then she talked me into buying the album.

I've often found that the albums
you end up liking the best are initially quite hard to take. And the opposite. Again, that Jose Gonzalez album we bought, put it on and immediately loved it from start to end. Trouble is, a few weeks later it's gathering dust. I still like it, but it's appeal is fading fast. Not so with Devandra. First hearing, didn't like it at all... but it's starting to grow on me.

It's very hippy. In fact if you view the two videos that are included on the CD, you'll discover it's VERY hippy indeed. To me it sounds like Donovan impersonating Marc Bolan. It's very mellow. It rarely gets more complex than a solo voice and a guitar or two. None of this is meant as criticism, it works very well. There are some truly inspiring moments along the way, and a few you could live without. 45 minutes passes without too much trouble.

Thing is, I keep getting to the end and starting it again. I'll give it a week and get back to you. I'm expecting to be addicted by then, or alternatively thoroughly sick of it. But at the moment, I'd give it a thumbs up.

Recommended, 7/10, you could buy it here.

Surveys on DriveArchive

Every few months I conduct a survey on my DriveArchive site about motoring related issues.

Here are a few results from recent times:
Near where I live there are several stretches of road where they've dropped the speed limit from a very fair 40 down to a totally stupid 30. You can tell it's daft because (nearly) everyone semi-ignores the new limit, except when the old Bill is about, not because we're law breakers, but because it's plainly daft. You wonder who makes these changes, and why.If today's road tax was collected not by a yearly lump some but by a small percentage on the cost of fuel, wouldn't that be fairer? The more miles you do, the more you contribute to the upkeep of the roads, and if you're a low user, then you contribute less.
Question: There are signs for eveything these days. How about when a speed limit changes, they put up a large sign for a few months explaining themselves?Question:  Wouldn't it be fairer to collect road tax from the price of fuel rather than a yearly sum that everyone pays, regardless of annual mileage?
agree: 58.1%
don't care: 25.6%
disagree: 16.3%
agree: 77.5%
don't care: 3.9%
disagree: 18.6%

Speed cameras. They may be a right pain, but maybe they do sort of work. But the truly galling bit, surely, is where the fine money goes. It goes into the coffers of the coppers, and they spend it on... erm, well, who knows? So, wouldn't it be better if the cash generated from speeding offences went somewhere better?Is it not blindingly obvious (ho ho) that drivers should have regular eyesight tests to maintain their driving license? And that the interval between tests should decrease as age increases, until it's on a yearly basis? It wouldn't require a huge effort to turn up somewhere, read a distant numberplate and be allowed to continue driving. I see so many drivers who clearly cannot see where they're going.
Question: Would it improve the way you feel about the police generally if speeding fines went straight to, say, Children in Need?Question: Should there be a regular eyesight test to maintain your driving license?
agree: 52.8%
don't care: 16.7%
disagree: 30.6%
agree: 82.2%
don't care: 11.1%
disagree: 6.7%

Is it me, or is nearly every white van man and small lorry driver you see these days using his mobile phone as he speeds between jobs or deliveries? I was recently nearly run off the road by a lorry carrying a huge mobile home, where the driver was breezing along with just one hand on the wheel, one holding his phone.I'm not sure about the laws governing making a mess on public highways, but it seems to me that the you ought to be heavily prosecuted for making the surface of a road very slippy and dangerous. Yet in rural areas you are always coming across muddy bits of road which could be, and probably are, lethal - especially given a drop of rain.
Question: Would you like to see even more stringent rules on mobile phone use for people obviously conducting business in this way?Question: Maybe the police would be making driving safer by keeping an eye on road surface abuse rather than getting so picky about speed limits?
agree: 82.9%
don't care: 9.4%
disagree: 7.7%
agree: 66.7%
don't care: 23.3%
disagree: 10.0%

If you want to participate in a survey (no signing up required) then visit here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Beatles Discography

I love the Beatles. Always have, always will. I grew up with their music, and though it has become a cliché and must bore the pants off the youth of today, there has been nothing to touch them since.
    My Amazon based Beatles aStore might be of use to you.

It has links to Beatle books and CDs, DVDs and Videos.

I recently completed buying (well re-buying, replacing the old vinyl) all the Beatles albums. I can't imagine you'd be disappointed with any of them... whether you're young or old. You don't need me to tell you they're all classics, in one way or another. It's amazing how rough the early albums were, and how sophisticated and in some way 'heavy' the later stuff became.
To visit the store, click here,

and here is their discography, not completely comprehensive, just the UK album releases:

Probably not much of interest to anyone but me, but the above discography is XML, formatted using CSS, my first foray into this new world.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The New Vauxhall Astra

This article is "reprinted" from my DriveArchive site, to visit click here.

The Astra discussed here is a 1.7 CDTi. Now, I've never driven a turbo diesel before, and I was half looking forward to it, half not. I knew from diesel evangelists that it would be quick, and economical. But I also knew that it would sound like a tractor and wouldn't rev. In all respects I was proved correct, but I was surprised just how much these expectations were true.
When the turbo kicks in this thing flies. Despite having driven many sports cars, I cannot recall a car with so much poke from 40 to 70 MPH. My young son calls it 'silly speed' not being able to differentiate between speed and acceleration.

"Engage silly speed!" he shouts from the rear, and I put my foot down and you do feel that push in the back as the car pulls away.

But it does sound like a tractor at slow speeds. I had thought that maybe with all the technology that has no doubt gone into this engine, they might have been able to avoid that clatter, but no. I suppose you do get used to it, but driving slowly is not great fun for a driver who cares about these things, which I admit I do. Once you're up and running things naturally improve, but it's still a bit rough compared to a petrol.

The payoff therefore must be fuel economy? Well yes... so far the car has averaged 50 MPG. My previous car of a similar size managed 40, so it is a significant improvement, but not a massive one. Maybe I "engage silly speed" too often.

So, it accelerates well, but, and it's a big but, it's really hard to accelerate smoothly. From a standing start the turbo effect is hard to get used to. Nothing much happens, then it kicks in at a certain level of revs, you shoot forward, change gear and the whole thing slows up until that rev level is reached again. I admit I have not as yet mastered the art of keeping it 'on the plane' and achieving a lurch free journey. Drive it less aggressively and it's fine. Maybe I'm expecting too much.

The outside. Nothing to complain about there, it's a nice looking car. Somehow it looks like an Astra, but looks new too, which is good. It certainly looks better than the old Astra, and for me the new Focus manages the opposite compared with it's predecessor. The alloy wheels are a faff to clean, too many spokes.

The inside. It feels very, very solid. It's low on cup holders and places to keep "stuff", but the glove box is big and the dash quality is good. No rattles. The CD/radio is excellent, in fact this car has the loudest distortion free sound system I've ever experienced, put on "The Darkness" and go deaf.

The headlights, which on this particular car don't look-around-corners as on the adverts, don't seem that great on main beam. And they do look like a bunch of cheap plastic torches. The brakes are fantastic, disks all around with ABS, really good. Handling in normal circumstances is fine, I haven't thrashed it around a track, and it hasn't got low profile tyres, but for every day it's good.

The boot is ample, rear seat legroom is adequate. Seats are comfy, certainly a little firm at first and slightly slippery, but they have caused no problems on long journeys. Parking is easy, visibility is reasonable to the rear.

The handbook is appalling. It's so full of stuff about things you haven't got that it's of little use. Everywhere they tell you interesting features, but then you discover that you haven't got that option. As this car was already quite pricey I wonder just how much it could have cost if all the gubbins mentioned was actually installed.

Overall I like it, though I think I'd like a good big engined petrol version more, and I'd live with the inferior fuel consumption.

If I had over 20 grand to spend, the Astra Sport Hatch VXR 2.0i 16v Turbo would do just nicely...

This article is "reprinted" from my DriveArchive site, to visit click here.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

NCR Decision Mate V

The first Personal Computer I ever had the chance to use was a bit odd. I expect the vast majority of folk from that era, the late 70s, were exposed to the IBM PC. But I worked at a company who, quite unusually, had all NCR computer kit. And so when the first personal computers came along it was natural that we should get the NCR version of this new and exciting toy. (Back then NCR were quite big, I guess a lot of you would only know them for cash tills. IBM were the BIG cheeses of those times.)
    Here it is. 8-bit. Black and White. CP/M operating system. Huge great floppy disk drive, which held next to nothing on them. No graphics, just text.

I loved it.

It weighed about half a ton, being very solidly made of metal. It was a neat and tidy design. Things were (cliche alert) simpler back then.

The truly great bit of design was the way you extended the machine. Unlike PCs then (we called 'em "Micros", actually), and now come that, you didn't need to take the case off to add expansion cards. Oh no, nothing as crude as we are now used to.
No. Around the back of the machine were slots. Expansion cards were metal boxes, maybe the size of the fingers of your hand, which slid into the slots and engaged with the socket deep in the machine. Simple and effective. You could add memory, network adapters, all the usual stuff. How the system we have now won out I don't understand. Oh, yeah I do... these cartridges must have cost a fortune!

Does anyone have a working version of this beauty? I hope so, somewhere. Let me know, please.

And there was not a huge amount of software available. Especially games. But I was addicted to a text based platform game. Across the screen were various levels with ladders between, made up of ___ and H and | symbols. You were an O (I think) and using the cursor keys you climbed an jumped to the top of the screen. Simple, addictive. Anyone know what this game was called, and can I get a copy anywhere?

ahhhh... I'm so happy... recalling this game made me go and look on t'Internet, and eventually I found what I was looking for... the game was called Ladders, and some fine chap has ported it into Java, so experience my first PC gaming experience here.

Friday, February 9, 2007

PC Pro Coverdisks

I've been reading PC Pro magazine since the dawn of time, it feels like. If you subscribe it's cheap as chips, and is always a good read. (No, I don't work for them!)
Plus, it always comes with an interesting coverdisk, either a CD or more likely these days a DVD.

I'm pretty sure there's never been an issue that hasn't contained something worth at least evaluating, and frequently there have been amazingly good things, software I now use on a daily basis. (No, really, I don't work for them!)
Because I'm sad, I've taken to cataloguing the Full Product software on these covermounts, which generally are the most useful things on there. And now I've knocked up a web page for this info, which you might find useful. If there's anything you're after I guess their back-issue department might get it for you. (No... really... I don't...)

The site is here.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


I run a site called DriveArchive. Let me explain.

DriveArchive is a bit like FriendsReunited, only for cars. Or lorries, buses, motorbikes, any sort of vehicle you like, which has a numberplate.
It's free to use, you can go along and search for a vehicle without registering, so why not pop along and give it a go now... oh, but before you go...

Obviously the chances of you finding a particular vehicle are quite slim. There are a heck of a lot of vehicles in the database, but then in the real world there are a LOT of vehicles... but I guess FriendsReunited once had very few people on it, and look what happened there. What the site really needs is for YOU to add some data when you visit.

If you go and have a look for a particular vehicle (might be one you once had, might be one you own now) and it's not there (or especially if it is!) then please add a record for it... you know it makes sense!

Registration is free and easy, minimum details I need are a name and an email address, to enable me and hopefully other owners to reach you (though note that your email need NOT be visible on the site for this to happen.)

Try it, what the heck, go to DriveArchive now...

Friday, February 2, 2007

To Infinity and Beyond!

When I was a kid I used to think Americans were just great. They were the top bananas of the world. I couldn't have cared less that behind the scenes they were just as a big a bunch of dingbats as they are now, I just considered them THE people to be.

Why? Because of the Space Race. Which they won. Comfortably.

It was a two horse race. The Yanks vs. the Ruskies. We got all the anti communist propaganda, sure, but that didn't matter in the end, because the Americans actually did win. Their men stood on the Moon.
This picture of Buzz Aldrin was stuck on my bedroom wall for years.

To me it represents a massive achievement, and if you read about the landings in any depth, you'll discover it was a considerably more dangerous exercise even that it appeared at the time.

(I can heartily recommend Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth if you're interested.)

The thing was, the Yanks were doing it for no 'nasty' reason. It was all good. How you could fault them? Okay, it was a propaganda exercise on their big enemy, the Russians. But there was no (apparent) great military advantage to their quest. It was simply exploration, pushing the boundaries, seeing what could be achieved.

And they achieved it.
Seems to me their problem of late is that no-one seems to like 'em any more. Clearly the Muslim world have got a beef, and it doesn't much matter what it is, they have, and it would be tough to explain some of America's recent actions to their biggest fan without starting to feel a bit uncomfortable.

But say they were preparing to go to Mars. Just for the heck of it. Lots of media coverage, lots of excitement, lots of reasons to admire those Yanks. Young men sitting in bedrooms around the world, making models of the spaceships and glued to the telly-box, watching, fingers crossed, as the astronauts do their thing.

Preferable to them watching CNN and planning their next terrorist attack.

Give us all something to admire you for again. It worked before. It would work again.


If you happen to live on the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales UK (as do I) then, if you are a motorist, I hope you find another site of mine useful, AngleseyMotoring.

It's a very simple site, it contains links and contact details of many motoring related businesses and services on (or near) the Island.

There's a list of all the garage main dealers, and independents, as well as a host of service companies, and finally a lot of general motoring links, for example to traffic cameras and weather forecasts.

It's free to use, so try here, AngleseyMotoring.