Miscellaneous Blog

Odds and ends that don’t fit neatly into any other category.

A Wedding in Scotland

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When my brother asked me to be best nan at his wedding, the biggest challenge aside from remembering not to lose the rings was deciding what to say in the best man’s speech. It had include some stories the groom would recognise, but it couldn’t contain too many in-jokes and references that would go over the heads of most of other guests.

Anyway, after many revisions, and one or two anecdotes getting vetoed, this was what I said. It seemed to go down well.

I could tell spend the next ten minutes telling you all what a wonderful person Christopher is, but I am pretty sure all of you know that already. Katrina wouldn’t have agreed to marry him otherwise.

Being his elder brother I’ve known him all his life, which is more than he can say about me. That was even a sore point when we were little; events from before October 5th 1964 could not be talked about.

Let me share one story from when Christopher and I lived under the same roof.

This is about Saturday morning lie-ins.

Whenever I was still in bed for longer that Christopher thought was appropriate for a weekend, I would be rudely awoken by the sound of his record player turned up to Eleven. It was always the same record. It began with the words “Time for you medication”, followed by maniacal laughter, then a monstrous guitar riff.

When you get home, search for “Madhouse” by Anthrax on YouTube. That was my Saturday morning.

There were the occasional Saturdays when I was the first up, when my response to Anthrax was the “Furry alarm clock”. There is nothing quite like putting the cat under the duvet to get someone up in the morning.

So, if you ever find yourself repeatedly awoken by 1980s thrash metal at Far Too Early O’clock on a Saturday morning, you will have to get a cat. Though if you do, never, even confuse him with the cat. “Christopher get down off the table!” really doesn’t go down well.

Chris’ professional life has taken him to many different places, from Poland to Oxford and eventually Swansea, where it always rains. Well, it does whenever I go there. And all the time he had to brave the fierce pigs.

I suppose I had better explain the fierce pigs…

This goes right back to when our ages were still in single digits, I had read a book about wildlife, and it had mentioned wild boar were still found in some parts of Europe. This was just before a family camping holiday in Denmark, and I warned my five year old brother to watch out for the Fierce Pigs.

He spent the whole holiday in fear of the things.

Little did either of us know that Denmark was actually the only country in the whole of Europe that has no native wild boar. There are herds of them in Wales, and they’ve been known to take over entire towns in Poland.

Older brothers can be unintentionally cruel at times.

So, since Chris is a loyal Arsenal fan, I have to include an Arsenal joke…

“Why are Arsenal fans attracted to intelligent women?”
“Because opposites always attract”

Chris is a musician, who is no longer allowed to buy any more keyboards unless the new household also acquires a horse.

But he now has somebody else other than me to ask “Can you listen to this” for each new piece of music he’s recorded. He’s been asking me this since he led a band back in the 1980s who sounded like a cross between Magnum and Hawkwind. It’s just the same now he’s doing industrial metal trumpet and accordion duos.

If in doubt, just say “Oh, it’s deeply symbolic of man’s struggle against his social-political environment” or even “I like the way the bridge resolves the rising chromatic pattern”.

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New Look!

As you will probably have noticed, I’ve redesigned the front page of the site. Let me know what you think in the comments…

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The Guardian’s Marina Hyde thinks meetings should be banned for a month, as a way of improving productivity. I think she may be on to something here. But I wonder how much attitude towards meetings is an extrovert/intravert thing. Do extraverts ever understand how much introverts loathe meetings?

Posted on by Tim Hall | 1 Comment

This blog has had a new front page format for a couple of weeks now, long enough that almost all the content on the front page is more recent than the revamp. What do regular readers think of it? Is it an improvement? Let me know in the comments.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments

A Bit of a Makeover

I’m part way through giving this blog a bit of a style makeover, as you have probably noticed. I’ve introduced “asides”, which are those short one-paragraph posts that don’t have any headers and categories displayed on the blog pages.

The changes aren’t complete yet. One thing that still needs doing is to sort out the headers of the category pages – They’re really subject-specific sub-blogs, and I’m considering giving each one a different colour scheme to differentiate them further.

I’m also changing the front page so it’s no longer an all-category firehose but something more cut down and intended to lead people to the individual category sub blogs. Another thing in the pipeline might be to completely restyle some of the individual category pages, especially the record review and live review pages.

What does anyone think?

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A Question for Readers

This blog got it’s name because it covers a diverse range of different subjects – I neither want to force myself to blog about one and only one subject, nor deal with the overhead of maintaining half-a-dozen separate single-subject blogs, each of which gets updated once in a blue moon.

Since I can’t imagine anyone out there is really interested in every subject I write about, what I’ve done is subdivide it by the different subjects you see on the menu above, using WordPress’ category feature, and each category functions like a separate sub-blog. Several of them, like Music or Testing have their own unique header images to make it clearer which part of the site you’re in.

I’ve considered getting rid of the all-subject fire-hose view on the front page altogether, replacing it with a static introduction page, and encouraging readers to bookmark individual category pages instead.

So, before I make any more changes, I have a few questions for those of you who read this blog.

Which of the subjects on here are you interested in reading about? Do any of the other subjects make you less likely to read the blog on a regular basis?

How do you read the blog? Do you just keep checking back on a regular basis, use RSS feeds, or follow the links I post on social networks? Or are you one of the many who just stumbles on random pages as a result of Google searches?

Answers in the comments sections.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 10 Comments

Does Blogging Still Have A Future?

Has blogging had it’s day, or does it still have a place in the world of social networking?

Yesterday was not a typical day for this blog. I posted an opinionated and provocative rant that aimed a broadside at the cynicism of the record industry and the conservatism of some so-called progressive rock fans. It got picked up by a couple of very high-profile people on Facebook and Twitter, and my hit counter went through the roof.

But normally, when I’ve spent hours writing something like a detailed album review, the sort of readership I get is a fraction the number of people who’d read a pithy one-line status update on Facebook. Given my annual hosting bill for this site, sometimes I wonder if it’s an effective use of my time and money any more.

Social networking has already killed off all but the highest traffic web forums just as web forums killed most internet mailing lists before them. Is it now killing blogging as well?

Twitter has certainly killed off link blogging. There is no point maintaining a real-time stream of topical links using a blogging platform any more; Twitter just does that so much better. But for longer opinion pieces?

One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m often getting little in the way of discussion in the comments section, although I often get a lot of intelligent and civilised discussion on my Facebook page when I link to a blog post here. That might be down to my curating of an intelligent and civilised friends list, when I only accept requests from people I know and trust, and am not shy of defriending someone who turns out to be disruptive or offensive on a regular basis. Meanwhile my blog gets a disproportionate number of drive-by trolls like the “You are a moron” guy on my Wishbone Ash review. Maybe my Facebook friends are unwilling to expose their opinions outside Facebook’s walled garden. Maybe they find the drive-by trolls make the atmosphere too unpleasant. I don’t know.

The big weakness of blog comments is a lack of identity management, which is one thing social networks do well. I’ve often heard it said that anonymity is one of the causes of bad behaviour on the internet, and trolls will go away if only you force everyone to use their real names all the time. This is only half right; what’s actually needed is some form of trusted identity, for which your public posts across multiple sites are searchable. On high-traffic sites which allow that sort of thing it’s surprising how few of someone’s posts you need to read before you get quite a good picture of where they’re coming from. You can usually tell if they’re drive-by troublemakers, or people with a passion who occasionally let their enthusiasm get the better of them. Whether you use a real name or not, a strong online reputation does take a lot of effort to built.

I wonder if it’s possible to create some sort of decentralised equivalent of social network built around the RSS feeds of existing blogs with some kind of trusted identity management for commenters? Or is the march of the social networks unstoppable, and blogs need to find a way to exist in the cracks between then?

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Administrative Note

As you might have noticed, I’m experimenting with putting Google Adsense ads on this blog. At the moment I’ve just stuck a single ad in the right-hand sidebar, where it’s visible but not over-intrusive. I’m going to experiment with different positioning, and will probably be installing a WordPress plugin that stops adverts appearing to people who have previously left comments on the site. That way it will serve up ads to people who randomly come in from Google searching for Swiss Kettles without annoying the site’s regular readers.

Since this is my own Adsense account, and I’ve therefore got some control over what categories of adverts get displayed, I’ve blocked some of the more annoying and sleazy stuff. So hopefully we won’t be seeing those awful belly fat or white teeth ads, which are actually for glorified Ponzi schemes anyway.

Let me know if you do see anything offensive, inappropriate or sleazy.

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New Look

As you have probably noticed, I’ve given this blog a bit of a revamp, based on a far newer WordPress template. The header image reflects the music-centric focus of the site – if you don’t know who any of the performers are, I can tell you’re not a regular reader.

Navigation links are a bit of a work in progress at present – I’ve given record and concert reviews a higher profile by putting navigation links for them on the main menu.

The layout may yet see a few more tweaks.

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Administrative Note

I’ve just received a quarterly invoice from my web hosting provider. The amount of money I’m paying (you could buy quite a few CDs with that) ought to serve as a reminder to a few people as to the purpose of this site.

Recently I’ve had people take exception to things I’ve written, and I’ve even had it suggested that I can’t be trusted to write unmoderated on my own site because “I keep getting myself into trouble”. Nobody should be surprised that I take such suggestions, however well-meaning they claim to be, rather personally.

As long as I’m maintaining this site using my own time and money, absolutely nobody has the right to tell me what I can and can’t write on here. If you don’t like what I have to say, nobody is forcing you to read it. Same goes for my Twitter feed.

Comments, of course, are always welcome. I don’t mind if you disagree with me on the condition that you remain polite and civil in your replies. But if you’re just going to leave insults, don’t be surprised if I decide to delete your post or even ban you from the site. Again, the decision as to whether or not to moderate comments is mine and mine alone. It’s always a subjective judgement call whether to delete a borderline-acceptable comment or to allow it and follow up with a rebuttal.

I put a lot of time and effort into writing for this site; nothing I write on here is tossed together in five minutes, which is more than can be said for some of the more intemperate comments I occasionally get. Guess a comment beginning with the words “You are a moron” perhaps qualifies me to be a proper music critic?

Since reviews of albums and gigs are such a major part of this site, I always try to be honest as I can. Only artists with exceptionally thin skins should be unable to handle constructive criticism.  But when I know the artist personally I’ll always try to be positive as well. I write very much as a fan rather than affect the jaded cynicism of the stereotypical critic. And many band members have thanked me for reviews over the years.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Music | 6 Comments