The Progster

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A great weekend for Selkirk and Scotland fans

A very enjoyable double on Saturday. First we watched Selkirk beat the league leaders Dundee High School FP 32-25 at a very wet Philliphaugh park in Selkirk, then watched a gritty and nail biting 18-12 win for Scotland over England at Murrayfield in the clubhouse. Beers and cheers aplenty. And just to prove it, here is Jason White lifting the Calcutta Cup.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Spot The Difference ?

Now it shouldn't be too hard should it? A black slip-on shoe Vs a brown lace up one. I guess it depends on who and when. At 5am after several refreshements it seems to get more difficult. A certain Mr Robinson, after believing at 5am, that another beer is a good idea, and my mini-bar is the place to find one decides also that removing his shoes is also another of his bright ideas. All of these ideas are followed within about 10 nano-seconds by the sound of snoring from the very same Mr Robinson, who is eventually woken and dispatched off to his room.

Next morning, I find a pair of Brown lace-up shoes on the floor. Smiling widely, I call to find out how many pairs of shoes he has. Two he says, but can't find his Brown ones. Five minutes later, I get a call to ask me if I own a pair of black slip on shoes which have appeared in his bedroom as if by magic!

It all goes to show, never trust your eyesight at 5am, especially where so many beers are involved.


Back after a week in Barcelona, 4 at the 3GSMWC exhibition (mobile phones and network show) followed by a weekend with a friend and our wives.

After all the hype over pick pockets and general theft in the city, I've never been somewhere before where I viewed every passer buy as a potential thieving b. The general state of alert must have worked, given as far as I can tell I didn't lose anything while there.

We did see some potential pickpockets, but more of the non-subtle kind give one of our group the once over. Stopping to tie a loose shoelace at about 2am, two girls jumped out of the alleyway, breasts thrust forward, and while their 'victim' was in a state of shock, went through any pockets they could find. If you wish to experience this type of criminal activity, try the area of La Ramblas nearest the port. Unfortunately the two of us who were with this guy couldn't help him at all for laughing :O). Oh, and they didn't get anything on account of our 'put everything in your front trouser pockets' trick.

Maybe they just mistook our buddy for Prince Charles, like this girl in New Zealand last year.

Anyway lots of Cava, pulpo and general tapas later, interspersed with visits to La Sagrada Famillia (the oldest construction site in the world), Park Guell and Barcelona Cathedral (the largest scafold site in the world) it was time to get back to reality on Sunday.

More to come . . .

AIDA the reality - Molto Noioso

OK, I heard about how impressive AIDA was supposed to be, and with 500 performers involved in the production in Barcelona, it should have been doubly so, but, well, no . .

Well, if I'm really really honest, it was dire. I'm no opera buff, so that might have had something to do with it, but of 4 of us there, 3 had nodded off at leat once by the second aria. I was hopping it was a lullaby, to at least excuse some of the snoring. A combination of 1 or 2 people looking tiny in the middle of a massive stage about 1/4 mile away singing some rather dreary songs in an language I don't speak is hardly entertaining. Even the sight of several hundred people marching down the temple steps rather gingerly, and singing some more dreary songs en-masse did little to lift the occasion. A small group in the cheap seats stood, cheered and shouted "BRAVO!" at the top of their voices at one point. I think they must have seen this kind of reaction on TV somewhere. They only did it once . . . pity . . .

After 90 minutes, and the 'big finish' was reached with lots of static people on stage, and we grabbed our coats and headed for the exit (not the first I might add), only to quickly realise that it was only the interval. About another 100 or so people had the same idea of make-believe it was all over as we all headed for the metro back to town.
Well as they say, been there done that (at least for the first half anyway), didn't buy the T-Shirt, but unlikely to try it again.

BTW - Did I say it was very DULL ?

Anyway I've now learned a new phrase in Italian - Molto Noioso - which means Very Boring, so it wasn't a total waste.

Thanks to Jem Godfrey for finding the 'dull' pictures - see his excellent blog at:

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Testing the email link

Emailed from a mobile - Let's see if this works . . .

Well it did !!

Doesn't support pictures though :O(

Have I bored anyone recently with my picture of Singapore?

There must be a few who haven't heard the story of my early morning photo from Singapore. Taken in Boat Quay before the bum-boats (no really) started working about 7am one morning in August. It has now appeared in two 2006 calendars for Agilent Technologies customers. Maybe I should consider a career change.

Little things driving me nuts

Who would have though such a small device could drive someone crazy! I've been trying to set things up so that I can post to the blog while away from home. Sounds simple enough, but it seems the MMS link to doesn't work from the UK, or at least I can't get it to work.
So next thing is to see if email can be setup on my Samsung Z500. A quick sign up for Vodafone email, and enter all the settings, and bingo . . it doesn't work. Time for a chat with my mate Bob the phone geek. More to follow . . .

Monday, February 06, 2006

A tiny object of desire

For those serious photo shoots or holiday travel, I use a Canon 350D digital SLR (superb camera), but when travelling for work, or simply looking for something that is pocketable, my old Nikon 3100 is getting a bit old and by modern standards 'bulky', so it was time for a new addition to the Progster's camera collection. Enter the newly launched Casio Exlim S600. A 6MP camera with 3x optical zoom, anti shake technology, all in a package that is 13.7mm thin and the size of a playing card. Off to test drive it in Barcelona next week then and I'll report back on the results.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Was I Dreaming?

I can see it now, the Monday headlines will be proclaiming the revival of Scottish Rugby after a glorious victory over France this afternoon. I think it is a little early for that (give it another game or 2), but today, it was quite incredible that pretty much the same team who only won 1 match out of the last 2 years of 6 nations rugby could look so impressive against a French side already tipped to win the grand slam this year. With the score 13-3 at half time, and with a try in both halves from Sean Lamont, Scotland kept the defensive pressure on France to win 20-16.

Given the injury and suspension worries of Wales, and the good start by Italy against Ireland yesterday, it should make for a more interesting than normal 6 nations this year.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Ah Friday Night

Oh how I love Friday nights. The next work day seems so far away, and two whole days of carefree living ahead. Hardly seems like only a week since Dream Theater in Singapore, it seems like an age away. Probably something to do with the 19 hours journey back home crammed into a space you would get arrested for keeping the family pet in.

I very much enjoy the odd Bitter & Twisted from Harviestoun Brewery. A crowd of us visited the brewery when it was a a step up from a serious home brew outfit in the back of a barn in Dollar. Now, several years on, not only does it export a lot of beer, but the sad news of last week, it that it has been bought up by Caledonian brewery. At least it is a traditional brewery, based in Scotland, and not a major 'buy up every beer and only keep making the crap bland stuff' outift.

Harviestoun was started by Ken Brooker, who worked for Ford in Daggenham, and decided at the age of 40 he has half dead and needed to do something else with his life. Well 19 years, and some very nice beer later, the company just fetched £1M, and he is retiring. Not a bad career change.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Aida In Barcelona

Just found out that a massive production of Aida is on in Barcelona from the 16-19 February, when we happen to be there. When I say massive, I mean MASSIVE. Talking about 500 singers and dancers, with a 80 piece orchestra, 110 person choir on a 600 square meter stage, 10 meters high.

Now that's what I call MASSIVE.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Pinch and a Punch

An odd tradition, the origins of which I have no claim to know at all, but which involved pinching then punching the arm of an innocent passer by, saying the phrase . .

a pinch and a punch for the first of the month !

This is supposed to be done before midday on the first of any month, then after which the 'victim' cannot do the same back to you, and must find someone else to inflict this ancient ceremony upon.

My only advice, is choose carefully who you try this on for the first time . .

A Review of Dream Theater in Singapore

OK, I thought I'd start with a longish review of the last gig I went to.

Dream Theater - Singapore Indoor Arena
27th January 2006

What good fortune I had, when I found that a business trip of couple of weeks to Singapore co-incided with Dream Theater playing there as part of their 20th Anniversary tour, especially having missed the London gigs in October last year. Yeah, the one where they covered Dark Side of The Moon on the second night, I know. Most musical mates at work simply called me a "Lucky Ba$tard!"

Having convinced my work colleague Bob that at the age of 36, it was about time he went to his first ever gig, this was surely going to put an interesting angle on the gig.

With only one show being played in most countries on the Asian tour, most couldn't enjoy the second night classic album cover, where in Japan audiences were treated to all 4 sides of Deep Purple's Made In Japan!

The arena was setup for a 4,000 audience, which looked to be missing about 500-1,000 of those. The 8pm start already looked in doubt when the sound engineer in his Spock's Beard tour t-shirt kept running back and forth between the stage and the mixing area, making unnassuring shakes of his head. After a while some lights started to show behind the huge black curtain hiding the stage, as he typed away frantically on the lighting controller, while shouting down a walkie talkie. By 8:30, things were taking too long, and the crew pulled down the black curtain to let him see what was going on, the drum kit and keyboards having been hurriedly covered to try to keep some level of surprise.

We then watched every light get tested out one by one, in every possible position, until finally he gave a thumbs up at 8:55. Through all of this the crowd sat quietly, some whistling or clapping when each CD track ended in anticipation of getting things underway. If this were Europe of the US, I'm sure the slow handclaps and jeers would have been a lot more intimidating for the poor lighting guy.

As usual, the standard announcement about no photography, video etc during the show was made as the lights finally go down and the PA rises to the intro taken from the end of In The Name of God. This was followed by a display of more mobile phone screens than I've ever seen, all taking shots of the bands first ever appearance in Singapore. This is Asia, NOBODY goes anywhere without a mobile! Instantly every area headed forward as far as they could get, the top price ticket area (about £60) moved up to the stage, leaving about 80% of the seating area empty behind them. The dozen or so armed police and the general security let them go, concentrating on the barriers to the cheaper seats which were by now also crowded, making sure none of them got a free upgrade. But this is Singapore, the land of rules and fines, no spitting, no jaywalking, no leaving a public toilet unflushed, the fines for smuggling chewing gum having only recently been lifted, surely nobody there would even think about such a thing.

Eventually the band are set, and kick off into the heavy opener from Octavarium, The Root Of All Evil, and to coin an overused phrase, the crowd go wild. No really, they did. Through the first few songs it was clear that the lighting wasn't the only technical difficulty, as it took some time to tame the sound which was kind of muddy for want of a better description. It improved markedly, but the vocals and Bass never seemed to be quite as clear as they could have been throughout the night. Mike Portnoy's massive drum kit sounded crystal clear of course. Both John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess chose to tour Asia with smaller rigs than normal. John using only 2 4x12 speaker cabinets (also likely using the 2 Mesa Boogie Roadking amps used on the G3 tour in Japan), and no sign of the usual major effects rack either.

Jordan also leaving at home the new modular synth seen on the European tour (see above). With the new Korg Oasys replacing his usual Kurzweil master keyboard (not on a turnable this time), Jordan was also making good use of his new Continuum keyless controller, a kind of Moog ribbon controller on steroids, as used on the intro to Octavarium. You can view demos from Jordan and others at the Haken Audio site. Under the Continuum was the Fender pedal steel, again used on the intro to Octavarium.

The 90 minute or so first set went through a strong selection from most of the 8 studio releases, including Under A Glass Moon, Peruvian Skies, Strange DeJa Vu and About To Crash. Preuvian Skies bringing with it a a short acoustic guitar break of Wish You Were Here. This was no reserved Asian crowd, heads bopping in unison, especially to the more instantly accessible rockers of I Walk Beside You and Solitary Shell. At this point Bob's foot was tapping too, this was a good sign! The whole band were in great form, Petrucci and Myung both racing up and down their fretboards, even at one point indulging is a spot of double fretboard action where they fingered each others instruments while plucking their own (if you pardon my expression). The Classic Rock Society Best Of The Year Best Drummer award winner Mr Portnoy doing what only he can do, directing the audience while drumming standing up at times, tossing an endless number of sticks to the crowd, and playing catch with the one of the stage crew. At the break, the asessment of Mr. Bob . . "Quite Spectacular!". The delays to get the lighting fully setup before the start, paying off with an impressive display of synchronised lights.

After the break, the second set concentrated on the remainder of Octavarium, including my personal highlight, the title track, which I think is the best single track the band have recorded recorded to date, and much more traditional prog than a lot of their recent work, all 24 glorious minutes of it. We were treated to an extended opening with Jordan Rudess playing a seering opening guitar-like part on the Continuum, much more dramatic than the understated version on the album, followed up by the pedal steel guitar, with James LaBrie coming in to help out on the 'Wish You Were Here Pt 1' style chord pads. At this point as I'm basking in the sheer indlugance of the opening, Bob tells me it is going right through his head and likely to give him a headache! Maybe the effect of all those years of gigs have affected my hearing, or maybe they have just tuned then to appreciate it more. The entire piece was played flawlessly with some of the best solo work of the evening, rising to the wonderful anthemic end piece.

For the encore we got The Spirit Carries On, with some nice choral keyboard work from Mr Rudess, followed by Pull Me Under. Now call me old fashioned, but ballads call for matches, and the odd yell when they are left to burn too far down. Not here. The odd lighter, and the glow of several thousand mobile phone screens waving in the air, this time pointed toward the stage rather than photographing it. I guess you can't halt the progress of technology.

There is just something about DT, in terms of their sheer musical capabilities and prefectionism that is simply stunning. Just a pity that the sound let them down a little on this occasion.

Midnight strikes, it's all over and everyone turns back to normal, doning their usual cloak of reservedness, but most likely a little changed inside from witnessing a trully awesome display of musical power, finesse and mastery.

To whom it may concern . . .

Well here we go with a Blog type thingy. Feels like a diary that likely nobody will read, or therapy for the less than social, but if I can add something to another soul here then it is worthwhile.

I intend to use this to collect anecdotes from may various travels, snippets of music reviews, my favourite bands (generally progressive rock) and whatever takes my fancy. It's MY Blog after all . . .