Monday, October 31, 2005

31 October 2005: Charts

Westlife hit number one with their new exciting hit "You raise me up".

I refer interested parties and Selah fans to the blog I wrote a few weeks ago. And no, they didn't even bother doing the second verse. My feelings have changed a little since writing that blog: at the time I wasn't sure what to think about Westlife hijacking the song for the mainstream market, now I get the impression they've made the song feel quite cheap and plastic. Particularly given the fact it's a song you can really belt out, and they choose not to. Ah well.

Meantime us Mountbatten/Zepler building residents need to head in to the uni at 10.30 today for a meeting where we'll be told the latest situation regarding the fire and the contingency plans in place. The antibiotics are starting to kick in, so I'll wrap up and head in, find out how bad it really is, and where we all go from here. Last media reports suggest half of Mountbatten is completely gone, but the admin section more-or-less survived intact, and Zepler is fine: AKT may have fared better than a lot of the other groups, some of whom will have lost everything.

Anyway, better shower up, pop another amoxycillin and head in.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

30 October 2005: Fire

Large boom early this morning. Woke me up, and I briefly wondered why there was a firework going off so early. The the antibiotics and painkillers kicked in again and took me back to sleep.

When I woke up again the radio, internet and phone calls began coming in with news. Big explosion and fire at the university. No casualties reported as yet, but there are twenty-two fire engines and over a hundred fire-workers at the scene as I write this. And the thing is this: it's our buildings. BBC Solent are reporting that the part of Mountbatten that fronts on to Salisbury Road, is totally gutted. The other part of Mountbatten, containing admin offices such as the nerve-centre of AKT, is under severe threat and Zepler (my haunt) would be next.

Reports are that lots of postgrads and researchers have already lost years of work. Not sure if mine, or that of AKT more widely, is included: there's probably a good chance the fire is being contained before it takes the rest of Mountbatten, but it's ongoing. Staff and students are said to be gathering at the scene, and I'd join them, except I've been in bed with infected glands, ears and tonsils for a while and feel dreadful. Maybe I'll feel up to heading down there later, and find out who's lost what. The only good side seems to be that very early Sunday morning is the best time for this to happen: very few people present.

Still, as the firefighters get it under control and things begin to become clearer, we'll continue to watch and see what's gone, what's left and where we all go from here. An unexpected turn for this AKTing Lark, and not a welcome one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

19 October 2005: Broader

As Wilma (the hurricane, not Mrs Flintstone) coils dramatically and seems to be preparing to smack into south-west Florida on the weekend, and as bird flu advances inexorably across eastern Europe, and as Saddam faces trial (at least until they adjourn) for murdering his own citizens, I found myself shocked by something a little less global in its range this morning.

I went to the student shop here on campus and found myself putting my purchased sandwich and ball of string (I need it to hang my chilies up to dry, ok?) into a black plastic bag that proudly displayed, in big white letters, "BULLDOG - Broadband from Cable & Wireless". I nearly dropped my purchases in shock and disgust. I mean, they were on the TV show 'Watchdog' just a few weeks ago, under fire from hundreds and hundreds of complaining viewers, and were questioned as to why they hired so many sales people yet had a vastly under-staffed support network. This meant that when a new customer signed up for their super-fast broadband service, and suddenly the phone stopped working, say, or the broadband speed was no faster than it had been before, they had no means of even logging the problems, let alone having anyone available to fix the problems. Followers of this blog will know exactly what I'm talking about. Bulldog responded, in front of a national television audience, that they weren't actively seeking new customers nor were they doing any kind of aggressive marketing campaign, instead they were ploughing their efforts into their support network and getting things fixed.

Which explains, presumably, why their web banners are over all the big ADSL sites and why they're spending money making plastic bags instead of getting our broadband up to the speed they promised me when I first signed up for their load-of-old-rubbish service. I will say this: the plastic bag does its job well, far better than their ADSL service. Perhaps they've found their niche?

But beyond that is the news that broadband will soon be brought to us by hot air balloon. No, not a joke, at least it's not the first of April: apparently its going to be better, and cheaper, than satellite broadband. Radio links on high-altitude balloons have already been shown by the University of York to give download speeds of 11Mbps (ten times our Bulldog speed, and that's when it hasn't lost the connection), and they think speeds of up to 120Mbps should be possible and commercially available within three to five years.

And that got me thinking: perhaps the plastic bag wasn't a bag at all, but a mini hot air balloon being trialled by Bulldog as part of their dodgy alternative. Fill it with the hot air from their sales reps, fit it with an old CB radio from the 1980s that keeps cutting out, and there you have it: Bulldog's vision of high-altitude broadband.

Which reminds me, whatever happened to that Ofcom investigation into Bulldog?

Update: within an hour of this blog appearing, The Register reports that Ofcom has cleared Bulldog on two conditions: firstly that they fulfil their pledge to improve customer services, and secondly that they give 'a material level of credit' to those who suffered the poor service. Also, any more spikes in complaints will result in a re-opening of the investigation. Maybe I should send the plastic bag to Ofcom as part of their evidence?

Monday, October 10, 2005

10 October 2005: Predictable

What I said.

And this year, it didn't even go to a fifth game. Braves blew a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning of game four and that, extra innings later, was that.

Glad I was in London and didn't actually see it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

3 October 2005: Selah

Last autumn it was Florida rather than Louisiana that got pounded by the hurricanes. Four hurricanes, one after another, pounded into the Sunshine State, three of them criss-crossing such that they all hit the Orlando area.

Regular readers will know I am a keen listener to Z88.3, a Christian music station based in Orlando but available worldwide over the web. During the hurricane onslaught, I found the Z to be quite compelling listening, particularly as they doubled-up the on-air presenter line-up and hunkered down in their reinforced building as the storms passed directly overhead and their generators just about kept the station on-air. And as the broadcasts continued, an oft-repeating song on the playlist was a hope-filled number called "You Raise Me Up". Written and originally recorded by Norwegian/Irish band 'Secret Garden', and most famously covered by Josh Groban, this version was recorded by Christian vocalists Selah. (Video available on Yahoo here.) The song combines the flavour of a negro spiritual with the feel of an Irish hymn, and it crescendos in a manner a little reminiscent of Bette Midler's version of 'Wind Beneath My Wings'. The lyrics are spiritual without being overtly agenda-pushing and as I listened again and again, I understood what this song would be meaning to those hidden away in hurricane shelters, listening to their transistor radios.

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas.
I am strong when I am on your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.

When you don't know if your home, family and entire life is about to be literally blown away in the wind, those words of supernatural oversight brought hope to many, regardless of their religious affiliations. So it's fair to say I became a fan of the song.

Then Rob told me about 'The X Factor'. I don't watch the show, but it seems to be Pop Idol by a different production company. Last week some kid was on there and auditioned by singing "You raise me up by Josh Groban". Not only did the judges (even Simon Cowell) say they all liked the song, but they even played Groban's version a little bit. This week, they did the same and played even more of the song. Rob began to get a little suspicious and launched on to Google to see what the judges were trying to do by pushing this song into the public eye. Did one of them perhaps have a hidden agenda?

Step forward Louis Walsh. Producer of some of the more bland bands on the marketing-rigged teenage pop scene, Walsh has a great deal to do with Boyzone spin-offs Westlife. And guess what their next big single release is going to be? That's right. You can here a clip of it on Westlife's official website and listen to how they can't - or don't seem to be interested in - hitting any of the high notes. No wonder The X Factor is giving the song a good plug right now. How much free advertising does Louis want?

And the funny thing is, when Rob told me about this last night, my reaction was silence, followed by the words: "I really don't know what to think about that." And I still don't. I think it's a good song, with a good message, and I'd like it to be in the public eye. But there's part of me that thinks, "not Westlife, please." And there's another part of me that says, "but that's my song from the hurricanes last year." And yes, that's selfishness, but without the element of hope-in-the-midst-of-hopelessness, this song just becomes another overly sentimental power-ballad. Selah's original recording was in part to raise money for African medical and hospital projects, and it became a beacon of hope in the hurricane strikes of last autumn. That was what made it a good song, as much as the song itself. Context provided the strength, and that brought the song meaning for me.

If it turns into the Christmas number one for Westlife I'll be happy for them, and for Secret Garden. But the whole thing seems a little too cheap and plastic for my liking, even by the standards of the British music industry today. I may be biased, but even without the hope context, Selah's vocal performance makes Westlife's sound like my dad after four shots of Laphroaig. They should just release Selah's version with Westlife miming.

Now, what are the odds on the Liberty X covering 'Voice Of Truth'?