Author Archives: Tim Hall

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.

Posted in Music News | Tagged | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Travel & Transport | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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