A morning at the auction…

•Monday 6th October 2008 • Leave a Comment

…and possibly the best way to bag a cheap car.

I went to a car auction centre in Newport last Thursday .  While the cafe was impressive (think nice greasy spoon) it was fun having a look at the cars on offer… and if you’re not fussy about what you want, there’s bargains to be had.

Among other cars I could have bought a 5 year old Audi A3 for £2,400… nothing short of a steal at that price.  Or a 9 year old Ford Mondeo for £125… really cheap compared to buying from eBay, dealers or jut about everywhere else.

Interestingly it was mainly people in the motor trade buying, with a small handful of people shopping for a single car… though it takes some keeping up with the auctioneers: fast is a huge understatement, it took about 20 minutes to understand what they were saying (and for me to notice the screens with the current bid).

I didn’t buy anything but probably go again when it’s time to replace my car… sooner rather than later by the looks of it…

A quick update

•Sunday 28th September 2008 • Leave a Comment

Just realised it’s been nearly 5 months since I last wrote something…

I’ve got no plans to abandon this blog just yet!  But it’s been a busy few months, first having my finals for my degree and then going full flow into the Student Radio Association. Essentially that’s been taking up most of my time since June.

So what’s happened? I’ve been to Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Maidstone, though I’m not sure that getting no sleep the night before leaving Birmingham at 4:30 in the morning for a 3 hour drive was the best idea… regardless was an awesome weekend, especially having a pint backstage while the Kooks were on… and seeing Madonna.

I’ve also been to Stockholm: an awesome city and I’m sure I’ll return to Sweden in the near future.

As for the rest of my time… it’s essentially been busy with work for the Student Radio Association. Which is part of the reason I haven’t posted here for a while: I’ve been posting on my new blog, Developing Student Radio, about what I’ve been up to recently.

I’ve also moved out of my flat in Birmingham: having finished my degree and graduated, I’ve now moved home and will be staying here until I’m employed. I’m still amazed by how much stuff I’ve acquired in the last 2 years in my flat: and sorting it out has taken a while…

So it’s been a busy five months… hopefully I’ll be able to resume posting about the weird and random stuff that happens.

“Blocking” Facebook Chat

•Wednesday 23rd April 2008 • 1 Comment

Have to give kudos to WordPress for this one.

I’ve been getting far more page views than usual on this blog and it all seems to be about my last post, where I discussed Facebook Chat.  WordPress allows me to see what people are searching for and about 40% of people who have visited my blog today searched for “blocking Facebook Chat” or a variation of those words.

So…

Facebook Chat

Since I don’t (yet) have the ability to upload images, I’ve taken this one from CNet News. The image above shows Facebook Chat, as it appears in the bottom right corner of the browser window, just above the browser status bar (if you have it switched on). All you need to do is click on the “Go Offline” button to close down Chat.

This doesn’t remove it completely and will replace the chat bar with a small icon in the bottom right.  So it won’t block it completely, but it will prevent people from contacting you using Facebook Chat and is effective.

As for blocking individual people, I haven’t found a way of doing that yet… which may give you a reason to stick with Windows Live Messenger!

Facebook Chat…. the end for Windows Live Messenger?

•Sunday 20th April 2008 • 2 Comments

Perhaps a bit early to make such a big claim but it could be all change in the instant messaging market.

I know plenty of people who use instant messaging: Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger) being the app of choice.  But I do know one person who has never been convinced: me.

I used MSN Messenger a fair bit when I started university but I only used it to speak to 7 people tops.  I’ve since switched to making phone calls.

But there have been two recent announcements that could change that.

  1. Microsoft announcing the launch of Invite2Messenger, a simple website that allows people to add Facebook contacts (more contact lists will be added in the future) and invite them to use Windows Live Messenger.  Based on 2006 figures (the most recent I could find), Windows Live/MSN Messenger (WLM) has a 61% market share.  I would expect this to increase slightly but more importantly it will connect people who aren’t aware that their Facebook friends are available on IM, sending more web traffic to Microsoft.
  2. Just 11 days after I read about Microsoft’s announcement, Facebook countered with Facebook Chat.  This will integrate an IM client into the web browser and allow people to start conversations without launching a separate app: a big speed advantage.  But although officially announced on the Facebook Blog, it’s not yet available.

It’s difficult to decide who has the upper hand.

The Facebook app has clear advantages: it’s one less application that people need, assuming of course that they don’t already use WLM, AIM, Yahoo Messenger or another IM app: and Yahoo Messenger and WLM users can already add friends who use the other app.  Google Talk requires a Google account, something people probably won’t have unless they use Gmail: and how many people want to send instant messages when they are trying to send emails?  I remain unconvinced.

But Microsoft already has more than half of the IM market and will certainly gain new users: perhaps not many but enough to make a difference and while I doubt many people will switch from one IM client to another, if people are invited to use WLM it’s unlikely they will shop around to look at the alternatives.  And, in the short term at least, WLM is available to use in minutes, whereas Facebook Chat is still to launch.

So what’s the likely outcome?  It’s difficult to predict: Facebook isn’t used by everyone, far from it.  I’d expect it to make a difference but I think most people will stick with what they know.

As for me: well I have just 11 contacts on WLM and all of them have Facebook accounts.  I also dislike the huge amount of advertising on WLM, which I can’t completely block and isn’t even for things I’d spend money on: I can easily block all adverts when web browsing.  

I think the choice, for me at least, is pretty obvious…

Last minute Fratellis… and now that I’ve recovered from Sunday night….

•Tuesday 15th April 2008 • Leave a Comment

A chance look at the Birmingham Academy gig listings yesterday afternoon showed that the sold out Fratellis gig last night I’d forgotten about was no longer sold out…

It’s been a while since I’ve been to two gigs in as many days and the Fratellis had a lot to live up to (have a look at my previous post).  So what was it like?

I’ve come away a little disappointed.  I certainly wouldn’t call the Fratellis one of my favourite artists (as I would Portishead), neither would I have said that they were bad but they simply lacked the quality songs I was expecting.  The new album sounds disappointing as did some of the tracks from their debut.  Moreover, they didn’t sound better live: I would have got more listening to the record at the pub.

I should also say something about the crowd: there were plenty of people at the Academy who wouldn’t look out of place at a football match and some of the crowd singing wasn’t much better.  And that sums up the band all to well: some good singles but they’ll need to release a lot of material before they’ve got a really good live set, yet they seem to attract a huge following that I believe is a little undeserved.

Going back to Sunday, the crowd couldn’t have been much different.  Under 30s were definitely in the minority and there were plenty of older hippy people watching Portishead: not that there weren’t any older people at the Fratellis, but there was the usual mix of fashionistas and people who wouldn’t look out of place in Skins, a demographic in the minority on Sunday.

Perhaps I’m just getting old but I’m able to reinforce my opinion that most bands that have launched careers in the last few years simply aren’t as good yet are able to gain huge followings.  Admittedly being in the mosh pit for Chelsea Dagger was special but the final 4 minutes didn’t make up for what was a rather disappointing gig.

As for Portishead on Sunday…. well I can’t decide whether it is the best live performance I’ve seen but it’s certainly up there.

The crowd reaction was also rather telling… after every Portishead track, it felt as though the band were being given a standing ovation just for being there (not surprising being their first your in eleven years).  And last night?  Far more screaming but the applause didn’t last as long.  More notable was the number of people at the back who thought that talking through the entire set was fine, which really annoys me: surely the point of seeing live music is to actually listen to it?

Which also brings me back to Sunday: Portishead have a very different sound so this comparisson is a little unfair but during one of their quieter songs people weren’t afraid to show their distaste at people talking… made me feel like I was back in school as a five year old!

So was it worth it?  I suppose it was, especially for something so last minute (I bought my tickets at 4pm with the doors opening just 3 hours later) but only for the one time and I doubt I’l bother seeing the Fratellis live again, an opinion I hadn’t expected to reach.

All of this makes me wonder whether it’s worth seeing other newer bands like the Kooks, the Klaxons… from past experiences of Razorlight and the Killers, both are far better on record than they are live and I can now include the Fratellis in the same group.  Something tells me that my mass/mainstream gig days are somewhat numbered…

Portishead in Wolverhampton

•Sunday 13th April 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’ve just got home after seeing Portishead play at the Wolves Civic. To cut a long story short, it was quite simply one of the best gigs I’ve been to… if not the best ever: unsurprising for a band who haven’t done a tour of any kind for 11 years and have only played a handful of gigs in the last few years (as in one hand is enough to count them).

There was a good balance between new and old material, and considering that the new album (Third) is very different to their previous two albums, it still worked, even if it is perhaps a more mainstream sound (certainly within the Trip-Hop genre, Smoke City come to mind).

A slight disappointment was Wandering Star, certainly more emotional than the album version but the stripped down live version didn’t work for me. And I struggle to forgive the band not playing Strangers, my favourite track. But Cowboys (one of the few tracks from the 2nd album played), Glory Box, Numb, Roads and Sour Times more than made up for that, completely different live and simply astounding music to listen to.

Overall though it was nothing short of special and a band that I’d recommend to anyone if you get the chance to see them live… though I advise a few drinks before they take to the stage (at least enough to make you tipsy!).

Hopefully we won’t have to wait quite as long for the forth album!

THIRD Portishead album

•Saturday 5th April 2008 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a long time coming too… not quite so long a wait for me but even so it’s still been a long enough wait.

I first heard Portishead sometime around 2001 or 2002, through a car ad that featured one of their tracks (Numb from Dummy as it turned out).  Since then I’ve immersed myself in the genre of Trip-Hop and now own more than 35 hours worth of music that fits my loose definition of the genre…

But I always wondered whether there would be a third Portishead album, especially after I started a Trip-Hop radio show on BurnFM.com in 2005. In the three years I ran the show (under various names) there’s been at least one major release from the major exponents of the genre and I’ve managed to see most of the bands that define the genre of Trip-Hop: specifically Massive Attack, Zero 7 and Kosheen.

Back in 2005, Portishead announced that they were writing a third album, after countless forum postings suggesting it would happen. I tried (and failed) to get tickets for the Tsunami benefit concert in Bristol… but now I’ve got tickets to see them on April 13th in Wolverhampton.

As for the album… it’s released on April 28th, eleven years since their second album, the self-titled Portishead (I’m not counting the live CD from 1998) I’ve heard a few tracks, certainly a different sound but clearly based on the old foundations… can’t wait for next Sunday!