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.

Posted in Testing & Software | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Record Reviews | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Testing & Software | Tagged | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Record Reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

First class 88 electro-diesel arrives in Britain

The first of Direct Rail Services class 88 electro-diesels has been delivered to the operator’s depot in Carlisle. The class 88 is the first 25kV AC electro-diesel to run in Britain, and like the DC class 73s from the 1960s is intended to be used as a electric locomotive with “last mile” capability enabling it to reach freight terminals off the electrified network. It’s now set to undergo an eight-week testing program.

As a tester I’d love to know more about the test programme. What’s involved in testing a new design of locomotive?

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Steve Hackett – In The Skeleton Gallery

A taster from the album “The Night Siren”, released in March.

Posted in Music News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Vivarail publish report on the Kenilworth fire

Vivarail have just published a full report on December’s fire at Kenilworth (pdf) during a test run of their class 230 DEMU. They identify the cause as a fuel leak, and note several design improvements that need to be made to avoid a repetition. The whole thing is an interesting read for anyone concerned with testing.

Having your train catch fire during what amounts to a full system test is a pretty serious failure by anyone’s standards, and it’s forced the abandonment of plans for a passenger trial this May. But despite the naysayers who seemed all too keen to dance on Vivarail’s grave, it’s a long way from terminating the project.

The concept of converting surplus trains from London Underground’s District Line into diesel trains by installing underfloor diesel generator sets to power the existing traction motors is a sound one. With running gear and motors dating from 2005 the trains have twenty years’ life left in them, and the conversions are far cheaper than new-build DMUs. There is some political resistance to “London’s hand-me-downs”, but something has got to replace the Pacers.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged | 1 Comment

Alan Reed’s Honey On The Razor’s Edge Pre-Order

Alan Reed RazorhoneyAlan Reed’s second solo album “Honey on the Razor’s Edge” is now available for pre-order from The Merch Desk

Alan’s second solo album picks up where the celtic sweep of his debut left off.  But this time there’s a harder -edged incisiveness more reminiscent of his work with Pallas.  The acoustic under-pinning of the last album takes a back seat behind driving guitars and exuberant keyboards.

Lyrically it’s angry and direct, covering everything from the frustrations of struggling and moribund relationships to the rise of the post-truth narcissist.

As well as vocals Alan provides guitars, basses, drum programming and bass pedals, with Mike Stobbie and Scott Higham returning on keys and drums respectively.

There are also contributions from Jeff Green (lead guitar), Lazuli’s Claude Leonetti (Leode) and Steve Hackett (HarmonicA)  Additional vocals come courtesy of Magenta’s Christina Booth, Harvest’s Monique Van Der Kolk and Weendo’s Laetitia Chaudemanche.

The album is released on March 14th

Posted in Music News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Blue and Grey in the late 1960s

British Rail, Rail Blue Part 1 the 1960s (New Version). from Lewisham Bill on Vimeo.

One for anyone interested in some late 1960s nostalgia, whether it’s the trains or the music that forms the soundtrack.

There’s a lot of great footage of the southern end of the electrified West Coast main line, the West of England main line and the Southern Region out of Waterloo, as well as a bit of the Eastern Region, and a very brief glimpse of Scotland. There are Westerns and Warships, Blue Pullmans, 4-CORs and Deltics.

But this is not just about the locomotives, but the coaches. What makes this one interesting from a railway modelling standpoint is that is that much of the time it shows the whole train. Because film was expensive, much 60s cine film focused on the locomotive and tended to stop after the first couple of coaches, which is frustrating if you’ve modelling the era and want to know something of the train formations. This one is different.

It’s from a time when blue and grey was beginning to dominate, many Mk1s still wore maroon, and the Mk2a was the newest carriage on the railway. There are some interesting oddities; look out for the remarkably clean Stanier BG at St. Pancras in the long-obsolete crimson livery, and the maroon Gresley buffet at Teignmouth.

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged | Leave a comment