Monday, 19 July 2010

Pretentious! Overblown! Self-indulgent!

Truth in advertising. I love prog rock. Which is frequently, as in the title, pretentious, overblown and self-indulgent. And most of the time that is fine with me. ELP, Yes, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator (cue fans of at least two of those bands saying they were never prog). Great! Can't get enough!
So at the weekend I went along to the doubledotbash in Reading. Lots of people I had never heard of, ranging from a guitar and drum noise duo (it's more fun for you than anyone else, guys) to the wonderful The Hand (acoustic, thus labelled "folk", but they are not really). Francois and the Atlas Mountains - solo Frenchman doing electronics, guitar and trumpet (!). First couple of songs not so sure, but he definitely grew on me.
Then there was Max Tundra. Pretentious! Overblown! Self-indulgent! And crap. Max, dear boy, sampling Keith Emerson does not give you his talent. You went on for too long, you were far too pleased with yourself and your undoubted instrumental and vocal abilities. I got the impression there was some good stuff fighting desperately to get out, but it was drowned in the smoothie maker of everything else going on.If you throw everything in, it doesn't sound more clever, it just gets to be monotonous, a bit like when you played with plasticine as a kid and what you ended up with was always that brown stuff when you mixed all the colours together.
Maybe what you need is a damn good editor / producer.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Linda Perhacs - Parallelograms

I read about Linda Perhacs in the Rough Guide book "The Best Music You've Never Heard" (which turned out to be true for only about a third of the artists in the book, but then I do have, umm, an interesting taste in music). The mention there was intriguing, so I sought her out and heard a few tracks online. If you are looking for comparisons, the closest you would get would be Joni Mitchell or perhaps Tori Amos, but those are misleading. Linda is a true original. Her music is soothing and thought-provoking, relaxing and challenging, sometimes by turns and sometimes at the same time. I defy anyone not to have the melody for Chimacum Rain stuck in their heads after just one listen. And Parallelograms is like a mathematical hug (I know what I mean - you'll just have to listen to find out).
Ah, what the heck, just buy it. If you don't love it, I guarantee you will find someone that does. And that person will be (no false modesty here) very special.

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Monday, 19 April 2010

Why do Freeview PVRs have such awful interfaces

For over three years I have been using a Topfield 5800 Freeview PVR. The great thing about the Topfield is that it has a programming interface and encourages people to create add-ons. Many of these are improvements of the user interface as the basic interface is painful. Even setting a timer is not simple and you need several button presses to get to subtitles. This machine started to give problems a couple of weeks ago, probably power supply problem (known issue with these) but work has got in the way of checking.

Because we love the MyStuff interface (an add-on for the Topfield), we wanted another Toppy, so we ordered a Topfield 5810 (current model) from John Lewis. Unfortunately, that lasted about two days before it refused to do anything. Literally, all I could do was go to system settings and do a service search or factory reset.

So SWMBO said: let's just get the Which? best buy. That would be a Humax PVR9300T. Used it for no more than a couple of hours and she then said: can we get another Topfield, this interface is horrible. Of course, this wasn't helped by the Hummy losing a recording of Foyle's War - it seems if you Chase Play, it only holds for a limited time and then forgets that you were recording. So I am now waiting for the delivery from

Now, we did check out several PVRs in reviews, and they all, without exception, have user interfaces that were, and there is no polite way to say this DESIGNED BY PROGRAMMERS. There, I said it. Only the person who wrote them could love them. They are uniformly, diabolically, awful. Even the much liked Sky+ box is pretty grim (but we don't have Sky, so no point going there).

So why is the MyStuff interface so good? Clearly, the developer is extremely good, it is remarkably reliable with few bugs. But far more important, it has been thought out with a view to what people want to do with a PVR. Want to record a program while you are watching it? Press the Record button. Want to record a program from the guide? Press the record button. Want to edit the details of a timer? Go to the timers screen and (can you guess?) press the record button. Of course, it does far more than that, like a way of using the series data on Freeview to minimise the chance of clashes (it looks for alternates even across multiple channels). I can see 11 channels at a time, and as many hours as I want (of course, what you can physically see is limited by text size, but you can at least see six hours).

And there are other things, like smart programs that save the EPG to disc (so you don't have to wait half an hour for it to populate after turn on), programs that make using subtitles really easy - most Freeview boxes don't let you swap to text if you have subtitles on and vice versa, you can on the Topfield.

The real problems with all this on the Topfield are that (i) it should be set up with a decent interface anyway and (ii) most people don't know about these add-ons.

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