Synaptik – The Incredible Machine

Lyric video from Norwich prog metallers SynaptiK for “The Incredible Machine”, taken from their second studio album “Justify & Reason”, released today.

There are some strobe effects towards the end of the video

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Doris Brendel show announces headline at The Borderline

Doris Brendel, who supported Wishbone Ash on an extensive tour last year, has announced a rare headline gig. It’s at The Borderline in London on Sunday, May 14th.

She is promising a steampunk-themed show, with lasers. Which is what we’ve come to expect from Doris Brendel’s live shows.

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The Cost of Being Creative

Zak Smith has a good post The Cost of Being Creative, The Cost of Lying on the state of the tabletop RPG hobby a few years ago, around the time I decided to shelve the game I was working on, at least in part because the environment had become too toxic for anyone without a very thick skin.

Seven years ago, when I first started to click and google my way into the online RPG community, here’s what I (like most people) saw:

1. Hundreds of people who were trying—often quaintly, sometimes dazzlingly, always earnestly and by-and-large without the huge professional benefit that a successful gamble on student loans had given me in the way of an expensive art education—to make some creative things.

2. Hundreds of people on messageboards and blog comments trying–by any means necessary and with no holds-barred or fact-checking–to make doing that as painful as possible

3. The more daring and interesting a thing was, the more aggressively thing #2 happened…and have no doubt: it worked. A great deal of middle-of-the-road stuff was being published while the best stuff languished on blogs or in obscure corners of still-obscurer forums.

When I started this blog, folks would write in, asking questions about which way to take their projects, always including “I want to_____ but I’m afraid people will say _____ “.

Read the whole thing. He gives plenty of examples, though he stops short of naming names. And if you’ve been told that Zak Smith is “one of the most toxic indivduals in the hobby”, go and read this post from Stacy Dellorfano which lays it out straight.

It’s a shame the grassroots tabletop gaming scene got this way, and I can remember when it happened. There are a lot of parallels with the dysfunctional nature of Science Fiction fandom, though there doesn’t seem to be a Requires Hate figure that everyone can single out as a scapegoat.

I really hope this madness never comes to music fandom, though clickbait thinkpieces titled “Alternative music genres are safe spaces for white people” give me every reason to fear the worst.

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Blue Öyster Cult to tour the UK in the Summer

After the success of the sold-out show at The Forum last July, Blue Öyster Cult return to Britain with five dates this summer.

  • Tuesday June 25 at Manchester Academy
  • Wednesday June 26 Newcastle Northumbria University SU
  • Friday June 28, 2017 Nottingham Roc
  • Saturday June 29, 2017 at Glasgow ABC
  • Saturday July 17 at the Stone Free Festival, Indigo at the O2, London

At Stone Free they will be headlining the afternoon show at Indigo, and will be playing a full length set. The evening headliner in the main O2 Arena is Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.

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What Plandampf Should Be Next?

Arriva class 150 at Blaenau Ffestiniog
How about replacing this with a steam train for a day or three?

After the success of the plandampf on the Settle and Carlisle line using 60103 “Tornado”, what other routes would be good candidates for something similar?

For the uninitiated, plandampf is a German word describing steam locomotives taking over regular scheduled services for a few days or a weekend rather than the more usual one-off special that doesn’t appear in the public timetable. It’s been a popular thing in Germany for many years.

Here are a few suggestions; since steam locomotives are restricted to 75mph on the main lines it rules out inter-city routes, much as we’d love to see a King running from Paddington to Plymouth instead of a High Speed Train.

The Conwy Valley line

This spectacularly scenic line is one of Wales’ best-kept secrets, the one surviving standard-gauge line to run into the mountainous heart of Snowdonia, and also connects with the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog railway. As an operationally self-contained line, it’s ideal, and the current timetable allows a single train to operate the entire service, though a second locomotive might be needed to speed up the turn-round at Llandudno. The passing loop at Llanrwst North would also allow two-train operation for a more intensive service.

The Central Wales line

This is much longer scenic trip from Swansea to Shrewsbury over a meandering route through the hills of mid-Wales that allegedly only survived the Beeching cuts because it ran through so many marginal parliamentary constituencies. It has the advantage that there’s a triangle to turn the locomotive at both ends of the line, so no tender-first running over the most scenic part of the route The one potential problem is the reversal at Llanelli, though top-and-tail working with a diesel for the short section between Swansea and Llanelli might be one solution here.

Par to Newquay

This is another of those scenic Cinderella lines that, like the Conwy Valley, is crying out for some heritage traction. Lack of any run-round facilities at the Newquay end means top-and-tail working will be necessary, but it will likely need two locomotives to keep to time on those grades in any case; back in the steam days holiday trains needed banking on the 1 in 37 up the Luxulyan valley. A train with a Castle or Hall at the front and a 52XX 2-8-0T at the back would something to see slogging up that grade.

The Greenford Loop

For something completely different, how about this short and self-contained shuttle from West Ealing to Greenford in west London? Rather than a day out behind a big main-line locomotive this is ideal for a Great Western auto-train and the recently-restored steam railcar. The line is double track, so there’s the opportunity have two trains running at the same time.

Over to you. What lines would you love to see taken over by heritage traction for a day or three?

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Talking Dolls are Privacy Risks?

Yet another reason why the so-called “Internet of Things” is a terrible idea. From BBC News

An official watchdog in Germany has told parents to destroy a talking doll called Cayla because its smart technology can reveal personal data.

The warning was issued by the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur), which oversees telecommunications.

Researchers say hackers can use an unsecure bluetooth device embedded in the toy to listen and talk to the child playing with it..

In the not-so-distant past something like this would have been a plot device in a science-fiction novel. Nowadays it’s the sort of thing that makes writers of near-future science fiction throw up their hands in despair.

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Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost LightSinger-songwriter Tim Bowness’ fourth solo album is an ambitious affair. It’s a concept album in which a fictitious 1970s classic rock musician reflects on his life and career, and covers themes of fame, ageing and the fear of being made irrelevant by younger and more vital acts. The album features an impressive supporting cast including Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin and The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord as well as guest appearance from Kit Watkins and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson.

The first two numbers, “Worlds of Yesterday” and the lengthy “Moonshot Manchild” set the overall mood, dreamy and elegiac, Tim Bowness’ sometimes understated vocals set amidst rich keyboard-led arrangements with swirling Mellotron playing a significant role, flute fluttering in and out of the mix, and violin adding yet more colour. “Kill the Pain that’s Killing You” with its squalling guitars and skittering percussion is a change of pace, one song on the album that rocks out. The nine-minute “You’ll be the Silence” is suitably epic without descending into instrumental bombast, while the short but darkly atmospheric title track oozes foreboding. The album closes with “Distant Summers”, a distillation of many of the album’s strengths, and featuring Ian Anderson’s evocative flute solo over a wash of Mellotron; none more prog.

The fictional discography of Jeff Harrison of Moonshot references the iconic artwork of “Dark Side of the Moon” and “In the Court of the Crimson King”, and these are echoed in the music as well along with the more contemporary sounds of Porcupine Tree and latter-day Marillion. But more than anything else the album draws heavily from the sonic palette of the second half of the 1970s, an Indian Summer of progressive rock when the genre was losing the Zeitgeist but nevertheless produced some classic albums that have stood the test of time. This record is Tim Bowness’ homage to that era, and it’s as much about the gorgeous layered arrangements as it is about his excellent songwriting. It’s also an album that works as a continuous piece rather than just a collection of songs. Tim Bowness has done an superb job at evoking the spirit of a past era whilst framing it in a contemporary context.

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GitLab’s Database Outage Postmortem

GitLab’s postmortem of the database outage of January 31 which resulted in significant loss of production data pulls no punches, and ought to be essential reading for anyone involved in software development. It has a lot in common with Vivarail’s report into the Kenilworth fire.

One element in the chain of events that led to the database crash raises eyebrows; an attempted hard-delete of the user account of a GitLab employee who had been maliciously flagged for abuse by a troll. It boggles the mind that a system would do such a thing without any human intervention. That’s either a serious coding error or some dangerously naive requirements analysis.

And this is especially damning.

Why was the backup procedure not tested on a regular basis? – Because there was no ownership, as a result nobody was responsible for testing this procedure.

When some important part of a complex system hasn’t been tested thorougly enough, it’s easy to blame the testers. But the blame usually lies higher up the project management chain.

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Eurostar Refurbishment

Eurostar RefurbThere’s an interesting photo-article in Wired UK showing the refurbishment of one of the twenty year old original Eurostar sets at their depot in Lille.

What the article fails to mention is that only a handful of the original sets will be receiving this treatment; the rest are going for scrap, replaced by new Siemens e320s. I can understand the logic for fleet replacement at this stage when the old trains contain a lot of dated technology and replacements result in increased operating efficiency. But I can’t think of a precedent, in Britain at least, for major mid-life refurbishment of just a minority of a fleet.

There is presumably a perfectly good reason for this, but I haven’t seen it expressed anywhere.

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Cyclocosmia – Immured

Cyclocosmia ImmuredFollowing their début album “Deadwood”, Cyclocosmia’s EP “Immured” consists of a single seventeen-minute song telling the story the story of a Roman Vestal Virgin sentenced to live burial for breaking her vows of chastity, and features Greek singer Aliki Katriou who was attracted to the project by its feminist themes. Aliki Katriou sings all the clean vocals, and shares the extreme metal vocals with Cyclocosmia mainman James Scott, demonstrating her versatility as a singer.

From the ethereal opening section with Aliki Katriou wordless chant-like vocal to the instrumental symphonic metal conclusion that repeats the same melody, “Immured” contains many twists and turns. Passages of full-on death metal give way to beautiful and highly melodic sections and back again, instrumental and vocal motifs and themes repeat across the record in differing forms. The result is a record that combines doom-metal dynamics with ghostly vocals that strongly fit the theme, and sounds quite unlike anything else.

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