Blog Archive

15 February 2007

The Music is Back

Amongst my New Year’s resolutions this year, I was planning on playing my guitar more often and going to watch more live bands. As a knock-on effect of that, I’ve been trying to fill my iPod with some more recent music so that I’m not restricted to playing Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana tunes like I used to when I was 15 years old. Current favourites include The Feeling, The Kooks, Razorlight, The Fratellis, The Killers, Snow Patrol, Arctic Monkeys, Feeder, Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabian (to name just a few).

All this has made me realise just how many really good guitar-based bands and talented musicians are still out there and emerging all the time. It’s so much better than some of the crap that was in the charts around the turn of the millennium – it’s like real music has actually made a comeback! And that’s just the chart-topping signed bands...

I’ve also been trying to search MySpace for some unsigned bands to support. I’d not spent too much time looking before I came across Sheffield band The Gentlemen ( whose funky riffs, tight rhythm and pure professionalism has convinced me to go and see them live at Sheffield’s Plug when they play there on Saturday, 2nd March, 2007.

For the past couple of days, I’ve also been listening to Out of the Gray ( Maybe I’m slightly biased – because they’re from my hometown of Bolton and I went to Sixth Form with the lead singer’s sister – but I’m really drawn to their acoustic tones, passionate lyrics and Heather’s angelic-yet-husky vocals. So, I’ll be going to watch them too when they come to Under The Boardwalk in Sheffield on Friday, 20th April, 2007.

There must be literally hundreds more talented but unsigned or lesser-known local bands out there that need support and encouragement. Can anyone recommend any decent ones that I could catch playing in Sheffield?

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Sealing a bath with Evo-Stik Serious Stuff

Evo-Stik Serious Stuff All Purpose SealantSorry for this incredibly boring DIY-related post, but here’s a quick piece of valuable advice for anyone who’s having problems with a leaking bath or shower because the seal between the bath or shower tray and the wall isn’t doing its job. Try using Evo-Stik Serious Stuff All Purpose Sealant (definitely available from B&Q put probably also available at other good DIY stores too).

I’ve tried three or four different sealants, including something by Polycell which claimed to be flexible and waterproof. After applying the sealant, it was obvious that it was neither flexible nor waterproof; whenever water made contact, it started to dissolve allowed water to leak through into the kitchen. So far, none have lasted more than one or two days – except for Evo-Stik Serious Stuff All Purpose Sealant.

Evo-Stik Serious Stuff All Purpose Sealant is so serious that it comes in a mean-looking black cartridge rather than one of those pathetic white ones. It laughs in the face of water – even when you’re trying to wash it off your hands – and has managed to keep our kitchen dry for days and is showing no signs of dissolving or cracking... yet!

Sorted. Job’s a good ’un!

Update: 18 February 2007 (21:51)
I’ve now updated the image and changed all occurrences of Evo-Stik Serious Stuff to say Evo-Stik Serious Stuff All Purpose Sealant. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I was suggesting you should glue your bath to the wall using Evo-Stik Serious Stuff Adhesive!


6 February 2007

Google Apps to add Docs and Spreadsheets

As a follow-up to my previous post on Google Apps for Your Domain services, it looks like Google are going to add Google Docs & Spreadsheets to their offerings.

Again, using as the example domain, you can see that these login pages do not return the standard “Bad request / Unknown service name” error message. Instead, they display the old service names used for Google Docs & Spreadsheets:

Furthermore, BusinessWeek suggests that Google might start charging for this service soon. So if you were thinking about using it in the future, I’d recommend you sign up now while it’s still free to beta users.

[Hat tip to Digital Inspiration.]


Screwed by Digital Rights Management

Seriously. WTF is going on with the music industry these days? A few years ago I decided to ‘go straight’ and stop copying CDs from my mates and give up downloading music ‘for free’ from the Internet completely. I decided that if I wanted a CD, I would buy it. And I’ve been doing that successfully for quite a few years now. But then the digital age forced itself upon us...

Last year, I bought myself an 8GB iPod nano and ripped all my CDs to it – all of which were originals and legally mine. I actually don’t know whether ripping CDs like that is legal or not, and nor do I care, but it’s not immoral and that’s what counts (your honour).

For one of my Christmas presents, I got an iTunes Music Voucher to buy some tracks that are only available through iTunes. I purchased and downloaded them without any problems but was slightly peeved that I had to “authorise” my computer to play them. I figured that I could probably live with that though and burnt a copy to CD just in case I should ever wish to play the songs I’ve purchased on another player.

And that was my first experience of Digital Rights Management. It wasn’t too bad. I’d heard so many people moaning about it but really didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It seemed fair enough to me. Until tonight...

When I got my new phone in December, part of my contract gives me £5 worth of free downloads each month. The great thing about the 3 Music Store is that when you purchase and download tracks to your mobile, you can also download them to your PC at no extra cost. That’s good because I don’t want to listen to music on my mobile; I have an iPod for that purpose. The problem? The tracks you download to your PC are DRM-protected WMA files. From the 3 Music Store FAQ:

Is the service compatible with iPod?

No. However, you can transfer your 3MusicPlayer tracks to any mp3 player which supports WMA format. Some third party applications exist for converting WMAs to mp3s but these are not supported or endorsed by 3.

Just to confirm: even though I have just spent ninety-nine British pence sterling on one three-minute long music track (ignore the fact that it was actually free) they’re trying to tell me that I can’t play it on the device of my choice? No problem. I’ll just burn it to a CD and rip it into an unencrypted format so I can play it on my iPod. (Again, I don’t know whether that’s legal but it’s definitely not immoral... is it?)

Anyway, here’s where the music industry, the record companies, Microsoft, 3 and DRM all get together and screw me over. The first time I tried to burn the CD, it failed. I was trying to use some old blank CDs and figured I was trying to burn too fast. So I tried again at a slower speed. Still no luck. So I tried again in my other CD drive. That didn’t work either. Having finally found some better quality CDs, I thought I’d give it one more try with an old disc in the 2nd drive on the slowest speed possible. Surely that would work, right? Nope! Because I’m only allowed to try and burn the tracks to a CD three times!!!

What sort of craziness is that? Even though I legally purchased and downloaded that music, and was only trying to listen to it on my preferred music device, I am now only able to listen to it either through the crappy, tinny stereo speakers on my mobile phone or through my PC speakers. I honestly feel like I’ve been put into a virtual prison for a crime that I didn’t commit!

Tell me, is it really worth trying to play fair by supporting musicians through purchasing their music in this digital age when the record companies are punishing the innocent like this?

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4 February 2007

Artisan of Sheffield: Bistrot De Lux

Six years. That’s a long time. Think about what you were doing six years ago. Seems like a long time ago doesn’t it? Well, that’s how long Suzy and I have been going out with each other – and that’s obviously worth celebrating by going out and stuffing ourselves with some top-notch food!

Last year, we celebrated five years of togetherness by going to the excellent Supper Club (which has since changed owners but is apparently just as impressive). This year, I booked a table for two at Artisan of Sheffield on Sandygate Road in Crosspool, Sheffield.

If you’re from the area, you may know this place as being Thyme Restaurant. We’d both been to Thyme Cafe in Broomhill and thought it was great but had never managed to visit the restaurant. To be honest, I’d forgotten all about it until someone mentioned a few weeks ago that it had changed its name and was actually now known as two restaurants called Artisan and Catch. Catch describes itself as a “Modern & Lively Seafood Cafe” whereas Artisan is a “Bistrot De Lux” – and as much as we both love seafood, we decided to try out Artisan.

Artisan has some nice touches. Whilst perusing the menu, you can order some nibbles (like olives or nuts) or even a selection of oysters and a glass of champagne. We did neither and just enjoyed the complimentary bread selection instead, which included an odd one made with treacle. Not really my cup of tea but very nice nevertheless.

I don’t know too much about wine, but the wine list seemed pretty impressive and they even offered another list of cellar specials (which I can only assume would have been very expensive). We just settled for a South African Avondale Chenin Blanc.

Choosing anything else was tricky; I was totally spoilt for choice. Not being a fussy eater means that you always have a problem when it comes to deciding what to order from a decent menu. I quite literally couldn’t decide which starter I wanted. I had managed to narrow it down to either belly pork or a black and white pudding stack though, so I asked the waiter to recommend one. He said he’d just order one but not tell me which. Fine by me! When it arrived it was the belly pork, cooked perfectly so that it was really melt-in-the-mouth and came with a perfect strip of crackling. Suzy’s mussel soup (served with homemade garlic bread) tasted pretty good too.

For main course, I decided to choose something I’d probably never cook for myself; calves liver “bourgonnaise” (at least I think that’s what it said) served with bacon, shallots, some kind of vegetable parcel and mashed potato. Suzy ordered sea bass served with salt and pepper squid, razor clam, chorizo and chickpeas. Both were quite simply excellent.

We just about managed to squeeze in a dessert too; Suzy had an almond meringue with gingerbread ice-cream and toffee sauce (and some sort of cinnamon cream we think) and I had a trio of brûlées served with a Bakewell biscuit. Lovely.

This “chic restaurant inspired by New York and Paris” – shown here – is really well presented. (And those mirrors hung on the walls above each table at an angle let you have a nosy at what everyone else is eating!) The staff were all incredibly polite and offered a great service. The food was presented in some interesting ways and tasted amazing. The only bad thing? We were sat under a ceiling fan which helped to keep the room a nice temperature but meant my food was a little cold by the time I’d almost finished eating it. And the choice of music was sometimes a bit strange too – unless you think the Blues Brothers in the middle of easy-listening love songs is normal!

Anyway, the bill came to £77 for the two of us, which I think is very reasonable for such a good meal at quality establishment like this.

Artisan of Sheffield is highly recommended – and I can’t wait to try Catch!

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Teppanyaki at WasabiSabi

On the last Friday before New Year, we got together with a few friends and visited WasabiSabi on London Road, Sheffield for teppanyaki.

For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of going to a teppanyaki restaurant, it’s a Japanese restaurant where you all sit around an iron griddle where your chef cooks your food in front of you while providing some entertainment by juggling, setting things on fire and generally doing crazy things with his utensils!

To get a better idea of the setup, take a look at our photos and watch this video of our chef juggling eggs, catching one in his hat and then getting each of us to try and catch pieces of egg in our mouth:

There are six menus to choose from but you can all choose whichever you prefer. Most of us chose the 2nd most expensive menu from the list, which for £28.50 included:

Miso soup
Half Lobster tail
Breast of Chicken
Fillet steak
Egg fried rice
Wasabisabi pancake
Ice cream
Green tea or coffee

And that’s not a choice of main courses; you each get everything that’s shown! You can download the full menu from their website if you want to see the other options available.

I’ve heard people suggest that this place is a little expensive, but I think that £40 per head including plenty drinks and a 10% service charge is quite reasonable for a night of really good food and entertainment. (Our table was booked for 9:00 PM and we didn’t leave until gone midnight, so when you compare what you could spend on meal and a night in the pub, £40 isn’t bad at all.)

I’d definitely recommend trying teppanyaki at WasabiSabi for either a special occassion or any excuse you can think of! It’s probably best to book early as they only have three griddles, go in groups of six of more to fully appreciate the entertainment side of things and be prepared to share your griddle with others.

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