I love brass band music. Not quite as much as Metal, but there are certain pieces that really create an emotional response that Metal cannot normally get anywhere near. One of these pieces is the incredibly descriptive music within Fraternity, a test piece (composed by Thierre Deleruyelle) that stirs the emotions like few others.
It’s a thematic tone poem based around the story of a mining disaster and is a modern masterpiece. Many brass band test pieces composed over the last ten to fifteen years attempt to create a technical obstacle course fraught with difficult notes and time changes. Sometimes (but not always) these pieces sacrifice musicality for showmanship, and while entertaining and impressive they can be a bit difficult to feel. Fraternity delivers emotion in abundance, while also being fiendishly difficult to play; the quiet playing in the final couple of movements is so exposed (and hauntingly beautiful).
It’s probably my favourite brass band music of recent times. Have a listen of the incredible Eikanger band delivering an almost flawless version of it:
2018 finished in style for us with a two week trip to visit my family in Toronto. I’ve always loved this city and have visited six times now: mostly because my sister, nieces and mum live there these days, but also because it’s a fabulously vibrant city.
It’s fair to say that it is a little chilly at this time of year, but we had sufficiently thick clothing to ensure we kept our nesh British meat suits from freezing up. Us Brits are just not prepared for the levels of cold frequently available in this part of the world, and even though I am a Yorkshireman with a supposedly genetic predisposition for coat avoidance I found the temperatures below acceptable levels.
My sister kept telling me it was mild for the time of year too. It didn’t feel mild to me!
Still, we had a fantastic time with family. My mum and step-dad did a great job of looking after us and Ruby particularly enjoyed her time with her cousins. Toronto is great for free sporting activities and there are numerous outdoor ice rinks around the city – all free to use. Canadians love their ice hockey and they actively encourage everyone to skate. My eldest niece spent a lot of time guiding Ruby around the local rink, quite possibly her favourite activity this holiday.
I do miss my sister in particular. She’s spent 15 years out in Toronto and while we can FaceTime it’s not quite the same as spending quality time together. I’ve been a bit rubbish at keeping touch using any medium in recent years, so perhaps 2019 might be the year that I use some of the awesome communication tools available to Internetkind to send some love over the pond. Jo has set up my Mum with Google Hangouts so we can chat whenever we want to (timezones and wifi availability permitting).
I do intend to talk more to my loved ones this year. I am not a chatty person but I do want to spend time with friends and family. It takes very little effort to do so too, especially with the tools available on our phones. No excuses: more chat this year. Promise!
In the meantime here are some photos from our trip. This is not a small number of images because there was so much to see and do! I’ve not included any photos of my Toronto family for privacy purposes, but I did occasionally take some photos of actual people. Honest.
It is 2019 already. So soon after 2018 too. These years are following on from each other more quickly each year.
Last year was a pretty traumatic time for the folks of planet Earth, with a huge amount of drama around. The political sphere was particularly turbulent with Trump and Brexit providing a whole load of stuff for folks to get upset about.
2018 was a pretty decent year for me and my family though, with a few (private) exceptions. If I spent a bit more time blogging I could have written about it here: on this very blog.
I didn’t, though, because my blogging muscles have been weak over the last few years. I’ve attempted to kick-start my blogging again on occasion, always with abject failure. New Year is the normal time to start a resolution to blog every day, or just ‘write more’. Well, resolutions don’t stick for me, so rather than set any particular goals I’m going to see if I can just start writing a little bit more. I like writing. I just need to start.
So, here it is – my first post of 2019. I might see if I can blog every day. If I don’t, then I don’t – I’m not going to kick myself for failing. If I’ve got nothing interesting to say, or have no time to say it, then I won’t. I do intend to write more about testing – my main work focus – and also about Agile software development. I spend a lot of time reading about both of these things so I think it will help me to better understand how I work.
I also intend to write more about systems thinking. An online friend has started collecting together some like-minded systems thinkers for collaboration purposes and it has been a long time since I’ve seriously looked at my old Open University studies. I really need to delve back into that again! Perhaps that will give me something to write about every now and again.
Whatever happens I am sure I will at least share some amusing GIFs or some brass band YouTube videos here and there. You have been warned!
Enjoy the year. It’ll be 365 days long and will contain challenges, joy, tears, laughter, boredom and excitement. There’ll be angriness over something really petty, jokes about inappropriate stuff and we’ll all get together over something unexpected. Nobody can properly predict what will happen this year, so whatever does happen do have a good one where you can. I know I will be.
I have recently installed a new iOS image editing app called Apollo: Immersive Illumination. It enables you to add in extra lighting onto your photos using the depth information that Apple creates in Portrait mode images.
It’s a remarkably simple concept but is a little fiddly to get right. You can add multiple light sources onto different areas of the image. The software knows from the depth information which parts of the image will be lit by this new sources and adjusts the highlights and shadows accordingly.
You can create some very dramatic variations of your existing images using it. Here are a couple of examples I’ve done recently:
I’ve inserted some Flickr images here but used the ‘large’ size direct URL using the normal image embed, rather than the Flickr embed itself. Let’s see if these images correctly align.
Gutenberg is here and I have no idea how some of the new features work, so let’s see what they look like when you add them to a post. This first block of text is the default block – a paragraph. It shows text nicely and you just need to press return to create a new one. There are various formatting options, including font size, drop cap (show the first letter large), colour settings and some custom styles (including block quotes and some interesting colour-based options).
For instance, this is a paragraph block that is using a ‘Red message’ custom style. I literally have no idea what this will look like until I click on ‘Preview’.
Oh, nice. How about a ‘Right block’ custom style. Will this show up as a right-aligned block or will my current theme find some normal way of displaying it?
This is a ‘Blockquote’ paragraph with some text in it that I just typed with my fingers. Normally this would be a quote from another website or something I overheard, but I cannot be bothered finding additional content at this particular time.
That was fun, wasn’t it? Let’s set this font size to ‘Medium’ and then look at some other kinds of blocks below. I have no idea why this is appearing to the right of the blockquote – perhaps this is a bug with the theme I am using. No, wait, I see what it is doing – it allows for a pull-quote to be inserted as a left aligned block within some other text.
This is an ‘In-line image’ block that seems to allow some text to be inserted. It looks rubbish from editor. The image itself is one that my ‘Magic Post Thumbnail’ plugin has scraped Flickr for use as a featured image. Interesting! Note that this also looks rubbish in the preview, but I’m going to leave this like it is for future reference.
Here is a list
This is using the ‘Advanced Gutenberg’ plugin blocks that allow for improved features over the default Gutenberg blocks.
I’m not sure I’d use this much
I’ve included a right-aligned in-line image above. I’m hoping that it’ll be wrapped in some text in some fashion. Let’s see!
Ah, balls. I’m not doing that correctly. Let’s insert an image using the normal image embed. I’m going to right align it and see how the text sorts it out:
Looks like I can actually type text to the left of this normal image block. This is more useful and easier to use than the previous type. I guess I’ll keep using this for the time being.
Note that I’m currently trying to make the content wrapper in this theme much more narrow, but I am struggling with the CSS. I can investigate the various selectors using the Chrome dev tools but every time I try to narrow the content area it also narrows the header – which I don’t want. I don’t quite know enough about CSS to properly change the entire look of the theme, and while I do like this theme (Online Blog – free version) very much I am prone to keep trying new ones. Frequently.
Here’s an image carousel. There are different ways of configuring this.
I like how you can change the layout easily of the image carousel, plus add background colours and rounded corners. You can set the images to automatically slide, change the speed they do so and other lovely effects. Nice!
OK, that’ll do for now. I’ll try a few more elements out when I’ve actually got some content to show.
Just trying out the YouTube embed feature with this Agile-based bit of Christmas fun. You’re welcome.
*edit* OK, so the formatting of this post is even worse than the one for the earlier Flickr one. Am disappointed. I’m assuming that the 2019 WordPress theme is just a bit rubbish with some of these embeds. I’m going back to the Co-blocks theme for a while.
Do please be mindful that my theme may change quite a few times before I settle on something suitable
OK, so who’s idea was it to release the new version of WordPress this close to Christmas? WordPress 5.0 is the first major change in the blogging tool for what seems decades. They’ve introduced a new post editing tool called Gutenberg that completely changes how you compile your site content, removing the need for many plugins. It’s been a painful, much delayed birth; but is it worth it?
I’ve been testing the Gutenberg editing method as a plugin for a while. Gutenberg uses ‘blocks’ to containerise your content. Theoretically this will make it easier for site users to create more interesting, varied posts without using some fancy-dan plugins. It’s taken some getting used to and it is still quite buggy, but I really rather like it. Using blocks just seems to make a lot of sense.
I am not happy with some elements yet. Let’s have a quick look at the Flickr embed. I’m going to be inserting some below so that you can see what they look like. Here’s a nice image from my Flickr:
I’ve inserted that as a Flickr embed and aligned it centrally. As you can tell from the displayed image it is most certainly not aligned correctly. I’ve tried this with a few themes and it never gets it right. It also neglects to show the best size possible when showing wide image. Here’s an example that is shown as a ‘wide width’ image of a panoramic photo I took in the Lakes:
Well, that doesn’t look right does it? This is supposed to extend beyond the text on either side and it just does not work – on any theme I’ve tried. At least the caption has attempted to align correctly. I’ve had more success with images hosted within my WordPress installation but this should work a lot better than it does.
I would love a Flickr embed that not only grabs the best quality image available but also the meta data available with the image. I’d like it to automatically show the image title along with the creative commons data. I don’t think this is especially difficult, but I am not a developer and have no idea how to do this myself. I’ve tried googling for folks with a similar need but come up with nothing. Does anyone else care about this issue? Maybe it’s just me. I’m still mad that Flickr removed the capability to post to your WordPress installation from Flickr itself.
Maybe Smugmug will bring that back? I’m not holding my breath.
Anyway, I am going to be posting a few more things this month to try out some of these new features. The Flickr deficiencies are frustrating but only a minor irritant. Changing the whole post editing experience is a big gamble for WordPress. There are a lot of pissed off people that do not like the new way, and I guess they can continue as things were with the new Classic editor plugin if they wish. I like new things and I am encouraged to blog more frequently as a result of these changes.
I have been a Flickr user for what seems decades. I joined at some point in 2005 (an age ago in Internet terms). Flickr was the only decent place to store your photos at the time, head and shoulders above the competition. There was a thriving community, great tools and a generous free option.
The community side of it was the highlight for me. I became a member of my local Flickr group – Flickr Nottingham – and enjoyed sharing my images and ideas with my friends there. I learned a huge amount about photography from there, along with another (now defunct) group called Take a Class With Dave & Dave. These groups helped me develop my skills as a photographer better than reading about it in books. Flickr was such a core part of my Internet use that I became a proud Pro member for quite a number of years.
Here are a couple of examples of my early photographic efforts. The first is one of earliest photos taken with my Canon 400D dSLR – a misty image from Attenborough Nature reserve:
The next was a special image project based on a Lichtenstein painting. I spent quite a lot of time editing this in the GIMP. I’m thinking there are much easier tools for achieving this effect now, but I was particularly pleased with how this one came out:
Both of these photos were produced during the Flickr glory days. The second was created back in 2007, so well over ten years ago now. I can’t remember putting so much effort into a single image since!
Sadly, as Flickr became more popular it couldn’t keep up with the increasing demands of its users, not of the rapidly developing advances in Internet usage. The likes of Instagram and Tumbr (and most likely Facebook) took away most of the community aspects and Flickr seemed to slowly get less relevant. The takeover by Yahoo was the final straw for many users, and while Yahoo tried to tempt in new users by offering a whole terrabyte of storage for free users, this just resulted in a rapid increase in pornographers and spammers. Not a great look.
I stopped paying for the Pro account around that time. It was still good value, but without the community aspect working there was no point at all in keeping a pro account, not with all that free storage. I still liked Flickr – I think it’s still the best way to share albums of images with friends and family – but there were limited reasons for me actually wanting to pay for it. The passing of ownership to Oath (who I detest!) was the sign that Flickr was almost certainly going to die a slow but inevitable death.
There was a ray of hope recently when SmugMug announced their acquisition of Flickr. Their own offering is lovely, and while it wouldn’t work for me (I’ve already embedded hundreds of images from Flickr into this blog – changing those would be a nightmare) I was pleased to see that a company focussed on a photography business would be taking over the reins. Their recent announcement about changes to the free accounts didn’t quite come over so cheerfully though:
Many of today’s announcements are unequivocally positive things: a new, simplified login with any email you prefer; improvements to the Pro account; and additional partner perks. The changes to our Free accounts are significant, and I’d like to explain why these changes are necessary and why we’re confident they’re the right path forward for Flickr. Beginning January 8, 2019, Free accounts will be limited to 1,000 photos and videos. If you need unlimited storage, you’ll need to upgrade to Flickr Pro.
Well, I have over 15,000 images on Flickr and this announcement means that I have a choice to make: upgrade to Pro or stop using Flickr. I’m fairly sure that a free account is now useless to me; I can’t easily reduce my images to 1,000 and while my old images wouldn’t (probably!) be deleted (they’re all published under a creative commons licence) I wouldn’t be able to add any new ones in.
So, what do I do? The new price of a Pro account is double to previous amount, so it is $49.99 for a year. While that is twice what I used to pay I have to say that this does seem to be good value. Compare that to similar storage with Google Photos or other services. While I like Google Photos it is much less flexible than Flickr for use in a WordPress blog; plus with the demise of Google+ there are virtually no community features.
There is an introductory 30% Pro up until the end of November, so I shall be waiting until later in the month and then paying for Pro. I like what SmugMug are saying about Flickr improvements, though I am sure that they have upset a large number of old users with the changes. I do think that these are very good business decisions for a photo site to survive, so for the next year I am going to support them. I’ll see how it goes from there.
Flickr has been one of my most loved online resources, and even when it stopped being a place to visit daily I still liked what it offered. SmugMug seem to be the ideal company to improve Flickr, so I am going to put my money where my mouth is. Let’s hope that Flickr can get back to being the place to host your photos!
My friend Mike is always coming up with systems thinking ideas. There are a huge number of modelling methods available to us, and this is one of Mike’s more recent ventures into learning new things: Wardley Maps.
These are a great way of identifying product strategy, if you’re into that sort of thing; but they’re also useful for identifying ideas, future problems and for challenging your own misconceptions about the stuff you’re building.
Have a read!
The world is changing fast, and some of the organisations doing the changing have insights that the rest don’t. Visualisation of information allows people to point at a model outside of their head, ask better questions and make better decisions. Wardley Maps are a great way to visualise what happens to provide value to someone […]
Jo and I have some incredible friends. I’ve been very, very lucky over the years to have met some of the nicest people around, whether during my RAF days or through banding; I seem to mix with the best kinds of people. I’m not particularly extrovert, and while I sometimes find talking to people I don’t know difficult I do warm up and can be sociable. It takes me time to make friends, but when I do they are the best ones.
Jo, on the other hand, has a knack of making loads of friends; she has an impressive list of utterly wonderful people that she counts as friends. She is chatty and friendly, but primarily full of love for other people. I’ve never known anyone like her, nor will I ever fully appreciate the size of her heart. Its depths seem endless and it allows her to become close friends with a wide range of folks.
One of these friends, Jane, is a bit like Jo but Irish. She is the loveliest woman, has a young family and a wonderful singing voice. She also has a mobile home on the Dingle Peninsula that she has very kindly allowed us to stay in for two weeks! How generous is that?
Jane is just the loveliest person you could meet. She also has an extended family of utterly gorgeous Irish folk. I don’t think I have ever met such a collection of funny, characterful people in my life. There are some good genes in there!
We were looked after by some of these relatives and we had a fantastic time. The weather was acceptable on the most part, and we even had a few days of sunshine – a rare event in Ireland I am told (though not this summer). We were in the sea every day and loved every moment of our stay.
So, my mammoth listen-through of Metal Hammer’s top 100 albums of 2017 begins. My ears have been subjected to 2,275 different artists, according to Last.fm, but I have not heard of any of the first ten bands. Embarrassing. Still, this is the point of doing this, so here we go. Who is at number 100?
100: Hey Colossus, The Guillotine (Rocket Recordings)
Well, we’re starting off with a band I have never heard of, nor listened to previously. This is a good thing! I love hearing new bands, and looking down the list there are quite a few entries for bands that have never assaulted my ears before.
The first few bars of Honest to God provide a hint of the music to come – some psychedelic guitar twangs, interesting chords and a sound that, for me, arrives straight from the 1980s. It’s a perverse 80s, though, mixed in with a massive side of sludge. It is always interesting, even though I’m not immediately taken with the vocalist Paul Sykes; his voice lacks range and warmth, but fits perfectly with the thick soup provided by the rest of the band.
Hey Colossus are variously described as ‘sludge’, ‘noise rock’, ‘stoner metal’ and ‘sludge metal’, and while these all fit they only go some way to describe the overall sound they make. They remind me of a doomy variation of some of the alternative rock bands from the 80s, and while this appeals to me rather a lot the overall approach isn’t very exciting.
There are some good tunes going on and much to admire, but I do wish it’d get its skates on and provide a bit of drama and variation to the general lack of pace. The music has plenty of impact though, and it is lyrically excellent. It is one of those albums that, perhaps, isn’t going to fully engage my enjoyment circuits. It’s me, not them – I just prefer other stuff.
If you like slow, psychedelic, sludge metal with an 80’s depressed singer then this is for you. 6/10 for me, though.
You can listen to the whole thing on this little widget if you fancy:
99: Rebirth of Nefast, Tabernaculum (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
Ooooh, some Black Metal. Now, I love a bit of extreme metal now and again, but Black Metal is a genre that generally takes me a bit longer to get into. I love the snarling and dark, fetid lyrics but there’s something about the whole style that makes it a bit more difficult to get into.
I’m not very familiar at all with Rebirth of Nefast at all. Well, they are a band I have never heard a peep from before, so hunted around on Apple Music to find Tabernaculum to listen to. It wasn’t there, nor on Spotify! Oh dear, how to listen to this recording without forking out for it (I have zero budget for this project). I found that someone had uploaded it to YouTube, so had a listen there.
It starts out in very mysterious style, with some atmospheric percussion and effects on 11+ minute opener ‘The Lifting of the Veil’. It takes its time to get going, incorporating creepy violin and voices before the first explosion of noise hits; and what an entry! I nearly had an accident in my trouser area at the 1’36s mark when a small crescendo suddenly leads to a huge vocal and guitar entry. The song continues to plod along for a while before some of the usual incomprehensible Black Metal vocals arrive. This song is probably a bit over long, but repeated listens reveals extra detail formerly overlooked. I like the variations in volume and mood, the adventurous composition and general creepiness of the song. The best bits are the quiet, moody parts while I feel less excited about the full-on Black Metal parts.
The opener is very good, and the rest of the album generally meets the same level too. I wasn’t a massive fan on my first listen, though I was encouraged enough to give it a few more goes. It’s a proper grower, and while some parts don’t always do it for me there’s enough good stuff going on that I’m very much interested in hearing their other work.
A solid 7/10 from me. Have a listen to it (legitimately) here:
Woah! What do we have here? Now here is something that gets my feet stamping and my head nodding. Another band I’ve heard nothing about, in a genre I am entirely unfamiliar with: stonercore.
What is stonercore? Well, it seems to be one of those sub-genres that pop up every now and again that actually make sense. Norway’s Bokassa provide an album chock full of solid punk tunes, have a vocalist straight from the hardcore school but then mix it all up with crushing stoner-style guitars. These riffs are consistently huge, straying into thrash territory frequently and I absolutely love it.
The album starts off with a subdued acoustic intro on ‘Impending Doom’ before those massive guitars lurch in, slowly building up to a riff of gigantic proportions. This leads into the first song proper ‘Last Night (Was a Proper Massacre)’ which has a catchy riff and tune and has me wanting to jump around like a loon.
The rest of the album continues in a similar vein. Short, catchy songs with attitude, big riffs and lots of shouting. The last track ‘Immortal Space Pirate (The Stoner Anthem)’ is an absolute monster. It may well be the song of the year for me too, it is that good. It’s a much longer song at over 7 minutes and plays more to the stoner crowd than the rest of the punk tunes on the album. It’s slower but catchy as hell, feeling almost like Metallica covering someone else, until the lyrics start and you hear some Scandinavian hair metal influences. Think Backyard Babies doing stoner metal. An outstanding way to finish an album – go and buy it.
A top quality 9/10 from me. Listen to it on this widget:
Forgotten Tomb are supposedly a ‘depressive black metal‘ band. This is a genre I am entirely unfamiliar with, and – if I’m being honest – have some concerns with. I’ve been lucky enough to have avoided any mental health issues myself and bands that focus on such things aren’t high on my agenda. However, one listen of this album shattered any preconceptions I may have had, and I found myself enjoying ‘We Owe You Nothing’ very much indeed.
It seems that earlier Forgotten Tomb albums were very much topically about depression and suicide, but recent ones are more about nihilism and negativity. In fact, album opener ‘We Owe You Nothing’ sounds rather cheerful and not at all very Black Metal. This song is almost bluesy in style, with a catchy riff and a decent swagger. In fact, the whole album seems to have more of a sludgy, groove feel to it rather than anything black metal.
I rather quite like it. Most of the songs could have been trimmed a little, but I have enjoyed the doomy approach throughout, the riffs are always big and heavy and the vocals varies (and often terrifying in their death metal intensity).
This album was a pleasant surprise. Without really jumping out as a favourite of the year this is still an album I am likely to come back to again. It’s big and bold, a little doomy, a lot sludgy and occasionally groovy.
OK, so I haven’t ever heard of any of these first five bands. I may have read something about them in Metal Hammer – or elsewhere online – but I haven’t remembered anything about them. This little project is introducing a whole load of new (to me) bands that I otherwise wouldn’t spend any time listening to.
Implore are a band that I’d probably scroll past on Apple Music. The Subjugate cover looks very much like your generic Black Metal style, but the music contained within is surprisingly different. It’s a punk-infused variation on Grindcore that batters you around the ears with extreme force. It’s not within my normal listening habits, but it’s this kind of band that I am glad I am starting to hear more.
It’s only 34 minutes long in total, and they squeeze 14 mostly rapid tracks onto its length. It is at its best when the band ease off a bit from the angryness – such as ‘Patterns to Follow’ which is a veritable marathon at nearly four whole minutes – but most tracks rattle on at pace with much shouting and some impressively accurate drumming. The band are clearly angry at lots of things, but I haven’t looked up the lyrics so don’t actually know exactly what irks them.
It all gets a bit samey and I do wish there were more tracks with variations in pace, and the hardcore-esq vocals are just relentlessly harsh. I guess this is the Grindcore way, and while I rather like most of this album it all gets a bit too in-your-face after one listen. Pretty good though – I’ll be looking to the follow-up.
I don’t drink Coke very often, but when I do I make sure it is fully leaded, none of those sugar-free versions. I’ve tried diet drinks. They are always disappointing. I don’t know why, but none of the ingredients they use to replace the sugar in these drinks tastes even remotely acceptable to my palette. They are just little cans of marginal disappointment. Pepsi or Coke? I don’t care – I like them both.