Author Archives: Tim Hall

Cornbrook to Manchester Airport in two-and-a-half minutes

A driver’s eye view of the latest extension of the Manchester Metrolink network. It starts off along the long-established Altrincham line before crossing over to the re-used formation that once carried the Midland Railway main line out of Manchester Central towards London. We then branch off to the all-new formation with several street-running sections before terminating alongside the existing heavy rail terminus at Manchester Airport.

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Metallica: Oasis’ part in their downfall

Today’s Guardian Music Blog clickbait is Oasis: the band that changed our lives – by Lars Ulrich

It was Oasis and the Supersonic single. Thus began a long and very rewarding relationship with a sound, an approach and a way of looking at the world that has had a huge impact on me and helped shape who I am today … for whatever that’s worth.

Yes, you read that right. Lars Ulrich has claimed Oasis changed his life in the early 90s. Let’s take a closer look at the chronology, shall we?

1) Metallica produce the groundbreaking and seminal “Ride the Lightning“, “Master of Puppets” and The Black Album.

2) Lars hears Oasis and it changes his life

3) Metallica release “Load“, “Re-Load” and “St. Anger

So, as well as setting mainstream British guitar music back 20 years, can we also add ruining one of America’s most important metal bands to the Gallagher brothers’ charge sheet?

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New Red Jasper album on the way

Red Jasper’s new album “The Great and Secret Show”, is due in January 2015. Pre-order informaiton coming soon.

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The Web We Lost – And How To Rebuild It

A couple of posts from Anil Dash from 2014, first The Web We Lost, and then the folowup, Rebuilding the Web We Lost. Both are well worth a read.

It’s easy to overlook that way social giants such as Facebook and Twitter have given an online voice to millions who lacked the technical skills to create their own blog or configure an RSS reader. You could even argue that Facebook’s killer app was Edgerank, which solved the information overload problem that was the Achillees heel of RSS.

It’s difficult to predict what the web of five or ten years time might look like, but Im hoping Anil Dash’s optimism that the pendulum will swing away from closed propietary networks. If he’s right, new startups like ello.co aren’t part of the future, but more of the same.

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A question for those of you who are here primarily for the music posts. Do you prefer the magazine-style front page, or the old-school blog page? And why?

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#GamerGate – An Issue With Two Sides

This is an insightful piece in TechCrunch about the #GamerGate controversy

Two sides have emerged, which believe in completely different realities. If you are to listen to the extreme of one side, you will hear that gamers are reactionary right-wingers who excuse harassment. If you listen to the extreme of the other side, every critic of GamerGate is a brainwashed activist who thinks liking Hitman Absolution or GTAV makes you worse than Hitler.

Holding up the extremes of both sides is a great way to avoid dialogue. It’s politics – not, as Tadhg Kelly suggests, in the sense of liberals versus conservatives, but in the more fundamental sense of “my side” versus “your side.”

Though I don’t share the author’s libertarian politics, having seen these same culture wars play out across the tabletop RPG hobby and Science Fiction fandom over the past two or three years, it’s very difficult to disagree with anything he says.

This is an issue where I’m unwilling to take sides because I believe both sides are wrong, and both sides have embraced the mistaken idea that these culture wars are a zero-sum game.

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Ello, Goodbye

elloIs ello.co the first social network to jump the shark before it’s even out of beta?

Today has not been a good day for the fledgeling application. Their expansion coincided with a mass exodus from Facebook as a consequence of Facebook’s heavy-handed enforcement of their “real names” policy, and a flood of new users found a system that wasn’t ready for prime time. Simultaneously serious doubts have been raised about their potential business model.

First, the beta went live without any form of block or muting functionality, which ought to be a fundamental part of any social networking application, and guarantees it will turn toxic the moment the trolls turn up in any numbers. Which also makes it unsafe for anyone who’s concerned about being stalked or harassed online. They did have a lengthy and rather vague list of speech codes, some of which were themselves problematic, which combined with a lack of a block function gave the impression they wanted the sort of centralised top-down moderation typical for smaller community sites rather than the sort of decentralised user-level moderation that actually works for larger unfocussed networks. This might explain why knowledgeable and reliable people believed the hoax that ello were banning users referencing “#GamerGate” as “hate speech”.

Second, it’s another closed-source proprietary system with no API and no means of exporting the data you’ve been putting in to it. The world really doesn’t need yet another walled garden that retains complete control over your data and your connections. I still live in hope that the next generation of social networking will be an ecosystem of open source applications which no one corporation controls. I’m not holding my breath though.

Finally, the founders never revealed the fact that they were funded by venture capitalists, which suggests the promises of being ad-free and not selling user data may well not survive the exit strategy demanded by the VCs. Vague promises not to be evil seldom survive IPOs or sales.

At the moment, I don’t think ello.co is for me. There is a chance that it might take off. But at the moment at its best it’s value little more than an insurance policy against Twitter turning bad. I can’t see it becoming the Facebook killer it’s been touted to be. It’s more likely to fade away like app.net did.

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AOR Review Roundup

The contemporary AOR scene is a strange beast. While much of the progressive rock world at least makes an attempt to be something more than 70s revivalists and incorporate contemporary influences into their sounds, many, AOR acts seem content to repeat the same moves from the commercial hard rock of a generation ago, and make records that sound as though they could have been released in 1985. Still, it gives the impression of being a thriving scene complete with its own festival circuit.

These three new releases from Frontiers Records give a taste of what the current scene has to offer.

Vega - Stereo MessiahStereo Messiah“, the third album by British rockers Vega is a solid piece of work. With a shimmering production from John Mitchell of It Bites, it’s full of big choruses, spiralling guitar breaks and the occasional very 1980s keyboard sound. Frontman Nick Workman provides some classic high register AOR vocals, and Marcus Thurston’s guitar shredding always complements the songs, with a touch of Neal Schon in some of his solos. It does suffer a little from a lack of variety, with many songs sharing very similar tempos and structures; it’s not until the closing power-ballad “Tears Never Dry” that we get any real change of pace. But with tight playing and some strong songwriting, fans of the likes of Def Leppard or Journey should still find a lot to like about this record.

Dalton - Pit StopPit Stop” by Dalton is far less impressive. Dalton were an 80s hairspray band from Sweden who made a couple of albums and were then “killed off by grunge”. A generation later they’re trying to make a comeback. Unfortunately this album gives a clue as to why they might have failed the first time around. The opening song “Ready or Not” gets of the album off to bad start with some ugly sexist lyrics that should have stayed in the 80s, and the sound of a bunch of blokes who must be in their 50s singing adolescent-themed lyrics about girls and parties is not a pleasant one. Musically it’s very formulaic, and it’s all been done many times before by far better bands. Hair metal is a genre that hasn’t aged well, especially for a band who were also-rans in the first place.

Allen Lande The Great DivideThe Great Divide” by Allen/Lande can best be described as epic melodramatic cheese. But it’s high-quality cheese made with the very finest ingredients. Russell Allen and Jorn Lande are a pair of class acts as vocalists, with Jorn Lande in particular the nearest thing nowadays to the late Ronnie Dio. The songwriting and production is the work of Timo Tolkki, formerly of Finnish power-metallers Stratovarius, who also plays all the guitars, bass and keys.

The result is a record that’s completely over the top, whether it’s big riffs and choruses or epic power ballads. There are echoes of Dio and early Yngwie Malmsteem, though guitar histrionics are toned down to throw the spotlight on the vocals, and the whole thing has a huge, bombastic sound. With lyrics like “Lady Winter/Do you ever long for spring/When the birds begin to sing” you do wonder whether they’re trying to be profound or are just taking the piss, and there are a couple of moments that sound just a little too close to specific Dio songs for comfort. But while you know it’s all corny hokum, if you don’t try to take it too seriously it’s still a very entertaining listen.

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Chantel McGregor tour dates

Chantel McGregor Tour Poster

Blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Chantel McGregor will be on tour for much of October, November and December. If you haven’t seen her live before, she’s not to be missed.

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We The People: A game or a Poe?

It is very difficult to tell whether We the People Fight Tyranny Game is intended to be a serious board game, or whether the whole thing is an elaborate parody of the world view of the all-American wingnut.

It purports to be both a “fun game” and an educational tool about American history, liberry and tyranny.

This is a sample of one of the cards in the game, which gives a flavour:

Sockal Justice

That one card really does speak volumes.

The website is filled with boilerplate rightwing screeds, but gives very little away about the gameplay.  But it leaves the impression that the game is a cross between Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly, two of the very worst board games in all history.

So combne two games which put people off board games for life, then marinade the whole thing in heavy-handed ideological propaganda.

And you wonder why it looks like an elaborate parody.

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