Dr Jan’s Tune of the Week

Just in case you’re missing it, I’m publishing details of my Tune of the Week over on my Tips From The Top blog.

I started in May, when the theme for the month was Eric Coates. June featured TV and Radio theme tunes, whilst July is dedicated to building songs.

Each featured tune can be played on the embedded YouTube video, although not many of them have any visuals to speak of. Generally there is also a link to the Amazon MP3 download shop, where you can buy the tune for your continued personal audio pleasure.

Every Tuesday a new tune arrives – generally I write the posts in advance and get WordPress to publish them on a defined schedule using the magic of technology :-)

Richard Allinson

Whilst Chris Evans was away on Monday and Tuesday, Richard Allinson was presenting the Radio 2 Breakfast Show instead.

Richard Allinson is the smoothest man on radio. By quite a large margin. I first heard him on the radio way back in the mists of time when I was at college and he was broadcasting on Capital Radio.

Richard has completely mastered the art of speaking over the start of records but stopping just before the vocals start. This really isn’t easy to do, especially if you don’t want to sound rushed or particularly langorous. One would imagine that he has a number of trusty stopwatches in the studio to make this kind of thing possible.

On the Breakfast Show recently the record which was playing just before the pips (and the news at the top of the hour) finished just before the final pip. After the pips he said something like ‘I thought that was going to be close!’. Like he hadn’t measured everything exactly before hand, like the total professional he is.

I love Richard Allinson for his dedication to his profession, for learning how to do it properly, and for having a gorgeously smooth voice too.

All in all a very worthy ‘back-up breakfast show presenter’. So much better than Richard Madeley that I’m really sorry I sullied this post with the name. I’m embarassed to mention the two Richards in the same breath.

Chris Evans, when ever you are away in future, please ensure that Richard Allinson stands in for you. He’s easily the best replacement we’ve had so far.

Linux Skype Client (Beta) 2.2.0.35

I have discovered a nifty feature of the Linux Skype client, and a minor annoyance too. Which shows you can’t have everything (where would you put it?).

UPDATE: I’ve discovered another nifty feature – it kerns your text automatically as you type – see the UPDATE section below for more details.

First the niftyness. When using the instant messaging chat feature, if you notice that you’ve mis-typed something in your most recent message you can use a classic UNIX substitution command on the next line and the original line will be modified! For example, if I had typed

And now for something completely different; a man with two buttocks...

and then realised my error I could type on the next line

s/two/three/

and Skype will update the text in the first line, as if you had typed it correctly in the first place.

Speaking to colleagues, it looks like this feature only works in the Linux client, Windows clients don’t seem to understand :-)

So, that’s vair kewl. What isn’t so cool is the fact that the About screen (apart from being hard to find in the first place due to the non-standard design of the Skype window) is some sort of pseudo-window which can’t be moved or anything else – if you click on it, it disappears.

Software engineers (or, dare I say it, User Experience engineers) please stop inventing ‘cute’ new ways for me to interact with your windows. I like a nice, predictable, familiar set of windows because I know how to work them. There’s a really good reason why most applications have a menu bar starting with File and ending with Help. Because that’s where I (and the entire rest of the world) expect them to be. By all means be cute and fancy within your application’s windows, but don’t muck about with the framework. You’ll just upset users with your unexpected behaviour (or, even worse, undiscoverable behavior). What is cute the first time quickly becomes a source of friction when using your application. The fact that I had to spend a few seconds poking around the Skype window just to find out how to display the version number, rather than a simple and frictionless (because it’s how everything else does it) ‘Help|About’ is inexcusable. Computers are supposed to save me time, not frustrate me by making me learn a different way to do a standard thing just becuase someone thought it would be ‘cute’ or ‘cool’.

Gosh, when I started writing this post I thought it was mainly going to be about the cool substitution feature with a tiny mention of the odd user interface. I’m obviously far more upset about that than I thought :-)

UPDATE: I’ve just noticed that it’s also doing proper kerning as you type! Look at this section of the chat client where I’m typing a message, notice the way the letters all fit together so neatly. Now that is cool.

The Linux Skype Client Kerning

Automatic kerning as you type.

Nokia N8 MAC Address

If you need to find the MAC address for your Nokia N8 (so you could add it to your home wi-fi security settings for example):

From the home screen touch on ‘Call’, then on the keypad enter

*#62209526#

or, using the letters because they are easier to remember:

*#MAC WLAN#

Sorted :-)

Beethoven’s 8th Symphony

Yesterday I was working from home (because of a cold) and the music player was set to random. Up popped Beethoven’s 8th. I haven’t listened to it for ages, so it was a treat to hear it again.

The Executive Summary is ‘jolly and short’. The total track time for all four movements is 27’6″ (just under half an hour). Most of the last minute of the last track is the ending! By comparison, the 9th symphony has 5 movements and lasts for 69’26” (nearly an hour and 10 minutes).

It’s almost like Beethoven dashed off the 8th so he could spend some serious time with the 9th :-)

Toothpaste

When I bought replacement heads for my electric toothbrush recently, they came with a free sample of new Oral-B toothpaste.

I rather like the toothpaste – it tastes of root beer. For anyone not old enough to have tasted root beer way back when McDonald’s used to sell it (along with “McDonald’s Cola” – remember that?), it tastes like Germolene smells. Which is surprisingly nice :-)

So, I decided to buy some next time I needed toothpaste. Until I discovered that whilst Waitrose own brand toothpaste is £1 for a tube, the Oral-B stuff is £3.25!

It doesn’t matter how good it tastes if it’s well over 3 times more expensive! Let’s just hope the Waitrose toothpaste tastes OK :-)

Afternoon Tea at The Runnymede Hotel

Ruth and I were lucky enough to share an afternoon tea at the Runnymede Hotel with Chris, Alex and Linda last Bank Holiday Monday.

The Runnymede is conveniently located very close to junction 13 on the M25 motorway, near Egham. I understand from friends that the spa facilities are extensive and quite marvellous :-)

We had pre-booked a table for tea and were seated in the lounge, overlooking the Thames river. Although it was a sunny day, there was quite a stiff breeze, and there were some comical moments watching passers-by coping with the wind.

The tea was excellent and plentiful – we were completely unable to finish the cakes! It was also good value (certainly compared to London venues) at £17 for tea, or £23 for tea with a glass of champagne.

Building Songs

UPDATE: All of July’s Tunes of the Week are Building Songs: http://www.dr-jan.com/tips/2012/07/

I’ve come to the realisation that most of my favourite tunes are building songs.

Not so much manufacturing tunes, or even self-assembling songs, but songs which build from a small beginning to a huge finish. To a greater or lesser extent they all start softly and keep building and building to some kind of climactic resolution.

Here are some examples. The links go to the Amazon MP3 store, where most of the tracks can be had for 89p each. Bargain!

‘Biding my time’ by Pink Floyd on Relics.

Probably the best example in the list. It starts off as a very sedate and genteel arrangement with just a guitar and a voice, but it soon starts adding instruments and volume until by the end it’s a stonking great big tune with almost a whole orchestra joining in. I love it! Biding My Time (1996 Digital Remaster)

‘One of these days’ by Pink Floyd on Meddle.

An excellent tune to play loud, although be warned, it does build in volume :-) The distorted voice in the middle actually says ‘One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces’. So that’s nice. One Of These Days (1992 Digital Remaster)

‘On the run’ by Pink Floyd on The Dark Side of the Moon.

Can you see a pattern here? Pink Floyd feature rather prominently on this list. As Nick Mason said, “We discovered that rather than starting loud and staying the same volume all the way through like everyone else, we could be radical and start softly and build up to get a much more interesting track.” Or something like that, anyway – it’s probably in his autobiography somewhere if you’re keen. The Dark Side of the Moon is my all-time favourite album. Everything about it is fabulous, including the legendary album cover. On The Run

‘This is tomorrow’ by Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music on the Ultimate Collection.

This is my favourite track on this album, although having said that, the entire album is pretty megalicious and also includes Avalon, Angel Eyes, Dance Away and Tokyo Joe. There’s only one naff track which is ‘Help me’. Yes, I even like ‘He’ll have to go’, despite the fact that Bryan sings part of it an octave higher than it should be. This Is Tomorrow

‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by The Rolling Stones on Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (disc 2).

My favourite Rolling Stones track. It may be more famous for the backing track, which basically consists of the phrase ‘woo-woo’ sung over and over. Another excellent album (especially disc 2 which is so good all the way through that it’s almost always in the multi-changer in the car). Sympathy For The Devil

‘You can’t always get what you want’ by The Rolling Stones on Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (disc 2).

More classic Stonage from the same disc. It starts with what sounds like an acapello male-voice choir and builds from there to in to a huge tune, complete with choir. You Can’t Always Get What You Want

‘The Beat Goes On’ by Buddy Rich.

Just an excellent tune from start to finish. The Beat Goes On (Live)

‘Marcia Funebre’

The second movement of Beethoven’s third symphony, about 7 minutes in (it depends on the tempo used – on one recording I have, the good stuff starts at about 7 minutes, but on another it’s at about 7 minutes and 20 seconds). Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 -“Eroica” – 2. Marcia funebre (Adagio assai)

The exception which proves the rule is the ‘Theme from Shaft’ (Theme From Shaft),
which starts small and builds very well, but which completely fails to arrive at any satisfactory resolution. It just sort of fizzles out rather lamely at the end. Of course, what it should do is end up having a spectacular finish.

I’m sure there are many others which I’ve forgotten or don’t know about. What are your favourite Building Songs?

Wherein Copenhagen is Unexpectedly Exciting, but The Journey Home Is Decidedly Not

Today I’ve been working in Copenhagen, Denmark. I like Copenhagen (and Denmark for that matter). In my limited experience, Denmark is just a bit more grown up and civilised than almost anywhere else. Sweden shares the honours, but as that is the limit of my experience of Scandinavia, I suspect there may be other worthy contenders I haven’t yet visited.

After a very pleasant luncheon, I found my self having to back-out a software update which had proved to be troublesome. With my departure to the airport for the flight home imminent, and in combination with some moderately frantic phone conversations with the development and support team, this was the main source of excitement for the day.

Fortunately, one of the people I was visiting was able to drive me to the airport, and equally fortunately Copenhagen airport is very close to the city.

So I arrived in time for the flight back to Heathrow. Just about. After some minor trauma with security having to unpack my bag and re-scan everything.

The aircraft was a baby Airbus (ah, my itinerary tells me it was an A320, so medium rather than baby – OK, baby plus), and it was fully booked. Once everyone was safely on board we were told that there was a problem with the aircraft (although it was nothing which affected flight safety), and the maintenance crew had to perform a certain procedure which would take about 20 minutes to complete. During this procedure they also had to shut down the main power systems so we would be ‘in the dark’ with just emergency lighting for about 5 minutes. Anyone unhappy with this was invited to wait inside the terminal for the duration of the power outage. I didn’t see anyone leave the aircraft, so I assume everyone was OK.

In the event, the emergency lighting was almost bright enough to read by, so no real hardship. Towards the end of the maintenance procedure it seems that a tool being used broke, and the engineers had to send for another one before they could complete everything.

Eventually we took off for LHR Terminal 5. During the approach to Heathrow we had to circle once before we were able to land. It was a smooth landing and we were soon approaching T5.

Because of the extreme lateness of departure, several passengers were unable to make their connections at Heathrow – at least 4 flights were announced as being missed. However there were 36 passengers on board hoping to connect with the flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.

In order to assist those passengers, the gate was changed from the normal one in the main building (A gates) to a gate on the first satellite building (B gates) where the Johannesburg flight was waiting. A good idea, but for the fact that when we approached the appropriate B gate the parking assistance system had not been activated. So we had to wait for someone to come and turn it on (I think it’s a bit like the reversing parking sensors you get on posh cars, there’s something to tell you how close you’re getting and when you should stop, only going forwards not backwards in this case :-)

Eventually we parked, only to discover that the jetway was inoperable, so we had to wait for a set of steps to be found and deployed so we could actually get off the plane.

When we did get off, I saw 3 members of BA staff waiting with ‘Johannesburg’ signs at the top of the ramp (as had been advised on the plane), so they were definitely making a big effort to get those 36 people to the Jo’burg flight.

I’m pleased to say that although I was later than I’d said I would be back to the Business Parking, I wasn’t charged any extra. I’m guessing I was within some kind of grace period, which was nice :-)

So, a longer than expected journey. Thank goodness I had my noise-reducing headphones, my Kindle and the latest issue of Wired to keep me amused :-)

Kudos to British Airways for keeping everyone well informed and trying their best in difficult circumstances.

Citroën C5 Saves The Day

Yesterday whilst driving to work I had to perform a full-blown emergency stop. Another driver pulled out just in front of me when I was doing maybe 40-50 m.p.h.

I slammed the brakes on. As my speed decreased I felt the ABS anti-lock braking system operate (the brake pedal pulses under your foot). I stopped before I reached the other car.

I’m extremely pleased that my car has a number of technology features which helped in this case. The most important is Emergency Brake Assist (EBA). From the Wikipedia:

“Research conducted in 1992 at the Mercedes-Benz driving simulator in Berlin revealed that more than 90% of drivers fail to brake with enough force in emergency situations.”

It seems that most people just apply ‘more than the usual amount’ of pressure on the brake pedal, rather than ‘as much as possible’.

The EBA system monitors the acceleration of the brake pedal, and when the pedal is suddenly pressed swings in to action by applying the maximum amount of brake force.

This will eventually activate the ABS, as the front wheels loose grip, depending on the state of the road surface and the amount of friction available.

As well as this, the hazard warning lights are automatically switched on to warn any following traffic that the car has slowed dramatically.

I’m really pleased that my car has so much hidden technology. Even though it may never be used throughout the lifetime of the car, it’s massively reassuring to know it’s there when you need it.