Category Archives: Reviews

The ubiquitous reviews category – food, books, music, whatever.

A Flamenco Night

Towards the end of last month, Matt Hernandez dropped me an e-mail enquiring whether I’d be interested in showing up at Cox’s Yard for an evening of flamenco/celtic fusion, featuring the Street Shepherd Band with Ana Garcia, and supported by Katie Dove-Dixon.

I knew I was on call, but said that I’d like to show up, so Matt kindly guest-listed me in.  With my new phone on hand, I decided a few days ago that I could probably make it, so long as I checked my SMS every 15 minutes or so (and it turned out that 3G signal in Stratford is about non-existent).

Set off with plenty of time to spare, which turned out to be a good idea, as Google’s map was utterly wrong about where Cox’s Yard was.  While pondering the map, I happened to look up, and what do I see but “Cox’s Yard” staring back at me from a building cat-a-corner from where I was.  A quick circuit of the one-way system that is the entrance to Stratford, and I was parked across the river.  Meandered across the bridge, over to the Yard, and hung around waiting for the gig to start.

A really nice part about this performance was that the Yard had limited the seating to roughly 90 people, despite having a capacity of 220+ for the main stage. Small tables had been laid out, with a few chairs and a candle per table.  With the lights turned down, it made a very cosy, intimate atmosphere for listening to some fantastic music.  Katie opened the night, with a new song (America), and then continued with a few of her works that I’d heard before at the GW Festival (including Tongues, Bus Stop and Other Places).  My impression was that she’s still a bit nervous in front of a crowd (even a small one), but it didn’t detract from her performance at all.

After Katie finished, Matt introduced the Street Shepherd Band, who launched right into some wonderful music, including a piece that (paraphrased) ‘should never be played outside of a gypsy wedding; seeing as I’ve been playing it for nearly 20 years, that probably explains a lot of things!’. One of the more unique pieces they played had hints of Miles Davis in it – certainly different, but in a good way.  For the second set, Ana Garcia provided the dance for the flamenco, and I was blown away by the energy she brought to the performance.  I am, unfortunately, no expert on flamenco, but I can certainly believe that she’s one of (if not the) top flamenco performers in England.

I now have a standing invitation from Matt to any of the events he’s organising, an invitation that I intend to take up as often as I can.  The photo work was fairly hard without a flash (I enquired ahead of time whether flash or flashless was preferred), and some of the lighting played havoc with the D80′s sensor, but all in all it was an excellent session.  Rolled home around 11 P.M., after pausing to get a long-exposure shot from the bridge out over the river; trying to capture the mist and the swans.

A Most Excellent evening.

Amy MacDonald

Every now and then, I wander up to Sainsbury’s supermarket during my lunch hour; usually accompanying Mike and Jason (two gents I work with).  Mike has a habit of picking up one CD or DVD every week, and one day it rubbed off on me, and I picked up Amy MacDonald‘s This Is The Life on Mike’s recommendation.

Put simply, I love her voice, and I love the album.  It’s full of acoustic guitar work, and her voice and songs belie her age.

Comparing print shops

I finally have the sample prints from Jessops/Snapfish, Photobox, Kodak and BonusPrint.

Of those four print companies, I can observe the following:

  • Kodak and Bonusprint got the greyscale/black and white photo correct
  • Photobox and Snapfish added a green tint to the black and white photos
  • Photobox’s prints are horribly fuzzy
  • Kodak generates a less green-saturated photo than the other three, but may not be an accurate green
  • Due to the above, the Kodak print skin-tones are warmer

I still don’t have a calibrated monitor, so some of the colour distortion can be attributed to the fact that what I’m seeing isn’t necessarily right according to sRGB. The softness/blur applied to the Photobox photos rules out their service for me – I supplied them with very high quality JPEGs (which is probably an oxymoron), with all the appropriate sharpening/blurring applied.

On the plus side for Bonusprint, their Windows client accepts TIF files, which means the JPEG compression artifacts won’t be present in any photos I submit as TIF. However, compared to the default Kodak prints, the green saturation is definitely higher, possibly too high. I scanned in sample images from all four print shops, and comparing a single spot between Kodak and Bonusprint, I get (RGB) 117,127,70 from the Bonusprint print, while the Kodak print says 87,108,73 for the same location.

Decisions, decisions.

Nikon SB-600

Given that I have been designated the official photographer for my grandfather’s 80th birthday bash (a small gathering of family and friends in the middle of Dartmoor), I decided it was in my best interest to shell out on a flash other than the one built in to the D80. I looked at the Nikon offerings for a few days, and eventually settled on the Nikon SB-600. It’s placed between the SB-400 and SB-800 Speedlights, but appears to be a good compromise of features for the money (and getting it quite a few £ below retail certainly swayed my decision).

I’ve been shooting some test shots tonight with it, and I’m starting to wonder how I ever managed without an off-body flash. The flexibility that it’ll give me is incredible – I just need a dim room and some test subjects to get my flash-work down pat. I’ve also worked out how to get the D80 to act as a commander unit when the 600 is sitting on a stand, which is great – my initial trials made me think that it wouldn’t work. I’ll need to build a diffuser for the on-board flash, but that’s actually remarkably easy, I’ve already got a spare white film canister from Jessops (just walked in and asked if they had any :).

Of course, this means that I now have another item to pack in my camera bag, along with a spare set of rechargeable triple-A batteries, but it’ll be worth it. I think the only other items I want now are a good tripod, and perhaps a 50/1.4 or 50/1.8 prime. Oh, and having seen this, an eyecup for the D80 might not be a bad idea either, given I wear glasses. It’s also time to start reading the Strobist blog a lot more. One more link – I love the second comment on this photo, made by the owner of the camera; he’s got a good point, I never use anything other than MASP either (with a slight hit of Auto when I just don’t care).

I lied, one more.

New rig.

The new beast of a workstation arrived (in parts) at 7:45 this morning. I’m now typing up this posting using the new beast, and watching Windows Update install 77 updates. Amazingly, there were no more updates after a reboot.

Regarding the assembly of the beast, I’m very impressed with the level of documentation that came with it, and the way various accessories were packaged up. Firstly, the monitor – 22″ LCD made by LG. It arrived in 3 component pieces – the panel, the base and the riser. Slot the riser over the mating on the panel, then over the mating on the base, job done.

Secondly, the Corsair HX520 power supply. The box was properly solid, and contained some very nice foam padding around the actual PSU, a booklet in multiple languages on how to install it, a set of zipties for neatening up the inside of the PC, and a velcro’d pouch with all of the modular cables in it. The pouch made me go ‘oooh’. Sad huh? There’s a good selection of cables in the pouch, including 2 PCI-e power cables, and a dedicated fan only splitter.

Next up, the retail Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and heatsink/fan. Not much to say, other than the fan is nice and quiet, and since when were the pins on the motherboard and not on the CPU?

(And the rain pours down. I hope I’m not in a flood plain.)

I ended up picking the Gigabyte P35C-DS3R motherboard, complete with two RAID controllers, 8 SATA ports, an e-SATA connector (which will be handy if I decide to splurge on a Thecus 2050 later on), and a dirty big heatsink on the chipset. All of the cabling for the drives etc was nicely packaged in individual bags, so getting one set of cables out didn’t mean spilling the lot. The only thing missing was a good number of #6×32 screws – I had to dig into my bag of screws that I’ve accumulated over the years to find some.

The video card was a bit of a surprise – I was expecting it to be a bit bigger (it’s an 8600, rather than an 8800), and was a bit boggled when I couldn’t find a PCI-e power socket on it. I guess the 8600 doesn’t need one. It’s also passively cooled, and seems to be quite happy in the case. I also never realised how large a passive heatsink for a two-slot card can be :)

Finally, the Silverstone TJ04B case. It was well worth the money spent on it, given the decent amount of room, 4 hard drive bays, two 3.5″ external bays and four 5.25″ external bays. It also came with two 120mm fans pre-installed, though they’re dumb fans, so no RPM control. The gloss black finish on the sides is very nice, and I can see fingerprints showing on it already, so I think it needs a bit of a wipe down. The drive slots use sliding catches, so no screwdriver required to perform the install. Just slide the catch back (and apply a bit of force to make it life the metal prongs), slip in the drive and slide the catch forwards. Done.

I’m still installing all the software I need (such as EVE!), but it looks like this will be a very nice machine. Hopefully it will last me several years at least.  The only thing I think I need to get now is a decent USB keyboard.  This PCline (PC World cheapie) is misbehaving.

On music, DRM and Megan Palmer

I’ve been looking around recently for places I can get music that won’t line the pockets of the RIAA with more cash. I disagree with the strong-arm tactics of the RIAA, its stance that all music sharing is illegal, and I really dislike DRM. So, that promptly rules out the Apple iTunes store, and any of the major record-label stores. I’d also like to find more music than the crap that mainstream radio stations and labels push. Enter two stores so far, Zunior.com and eMusic.com. eMusic have recently opened a virtual storefront in the UK, and I’ve heard that they carry independent labels and artists, and a bit of older mainstream music.

I signed up for the eMusic trial – 25 downloads, gratis, no DRM, no restrictions of any type. A bit of browsing, and I found some music I liked. *click*. A bit more browsing and I converted my trial subscription to a paid one (£9 for 40 tracks), and started a small downloading spree which included some absolutely classic Bob Marley live tracks.

Forget Me Not Album Cover

On with the subject of this post. I’ve been listening to the 30 second samples of a Megan Palmer album, Forget Me Not, and thoroughly enjoying it.So far, my favourite tracks are Portland, Tomorrow’s, Lemonade, and Angelo. In fact, I’ve enjoyed the samples enough that I’ve clicked the download all button and grabbed the entire album. Oh yes, this album isn’t even out yet.To give Zunior a bit more love – they’re a Canadian store, with pure independent releases, and given the exchange rate of $1 CAD being 47p GBP, there’s a good chance I’ll be downloading some music from there as well. Both Zunior and eMusic carry the Nettwerk Records label, and I’m finding some really nice music on that label.