Category Archives: Entertainment

On the joys of a local

It’s been a while since I had a pub that I would consider to be a local, even in Oxford I existed as a vagrant between a number of venues that I liked, dependent on budget, day of week and proximity to home.

Gateshead, or at least the part I live in, is full of pubs.  None of them I wish to frequent.  It’s not a matter of being a snob, I would happily drink in any of them providing they served anything other than lager and John Smith’s.  I have drunk in a number of my geographical locals, mainly the ones with pool tables, but spent more time in the local snooker club than anywhere else.

It’s a bit more conducive to go drinking in Newcastle where it’s not hard to find a pub with real ales to drink.  The normal Friday night haunt for many years has been Bodega, a beautiful pub that always has a decent selection of well kept beers.  It’s part of the Sir John Fitzgerald’s chain, which has a number of venues across the North East, and hasn’t neglected the fact that it’s customers might like something other than a fizzy lager once in a while.

Recently however we have switched our allegiances to another SJF pub, the fantastic Bacchus – more centrally located than Bodega, but with a wider selection of beers.  They also do a semi-regular event where they invite a brewery to come along on a Sunday to showcase a range of real ales from their catalogue with a matching course of food.  These have grown from 4 courses with 4 pints to a more sedate 8 courses and 8 half pints run over about 4 or 5 hours on a Sunday afternoon.  They have also picked up the CAMRA ‘Tyneside Pub of the Year’ award two years running.  Attending these events and spending an increasing amount of time in the pub means we’ve become quite well acquainted with the pub manager Andy.

The last two of these events at Bacchus have been from the amazing ‘one-man and his wife’ Yorkshire Dales Brewery and last weekend there was an event from the Highland Brewing Company.  We had tickets for this, and admittedly they are not cheap and of a very limited number, but we were unable to attend.  It was the Newcastle Beer and Cider Festival recently and we had studiously avoided the Highland brewery beers on the grounds we knew we were going to be trying them the following weekend.  How wrong we were.

On Tuesday I had an email from Andy saying they had missed us at the event, and whilst they could not offer us a refund, offered us a free lunch at the pub.   Consequently yesterday we spent the afternoon at the pub with a free Sunday roast, dessert, and a completely free run of the bar.  I don’t think we abused their hospitality too much, but I wonder how many other establishments would have made this kind of offer?  Fortunately there was still a selection of Highland beers on, and we still got to pick up our complimentary half pint porter glass (and bottle of delicious 9% porter).  Happy customers indeed.

It might not be the most local of locals for me, but if you’re in Newcastle sometime, Bacchus comes very highly recommended.  Great beer selection (and yes they cater for you lager lovers too), good whisky selection, good food, great staff and a policy of looking after their customers.

You can find Bacchus here

A random sampling of podcasts

I guess deep down that I actually quite like statistics, which is useful as I tend to have to deal with them daily.  A number of podcasts crossed my radar recently that all coincided on the topics of statistics, and more specifically the topics of randomness, probability and their relation to statistics.

The first one is Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time” (actually as I write this I realise that these are more radio show than podcast but.. nevermind.  Media convergence etc. etc.).  The programme focuses on ‘the history of ideas’ and the recent Probability – heads or tails? was an excellent introduction to the show for me.  Followed up with a subsequent episode about Lysenko, this has already established itself firmly in my listening schedule.

I was also surprised recently to come across More or Less, a programme which delves into the numbers behind the statistics that we come across every day.  It’s lighthearted and easy going (and unfortunately not currently on air) and is kind of a Freakonomics style look at things.  Very interesting though.

The most recent discovery however was Material World presented by Quentin Cooper.  I’d kind of veered away from pop-sci podcasts (well podcasts in general – I no longer follow the Science, Nature and New Scientist ones), but a section on probability in the most recent episode (largely following the same themes as the Bragg piece) did feature the most amazingly clear explanation of the Monty Hall Problem that I have ever heard, and if the quality is maintained in future episodes as I listen I will be very happy indeed.

Oh the pain..

Mario Kart Wii UK release date: 11 April

Date dispatched to me via Royal Mail: 9th April

Date delivered: 10th April

First day back at work after illness: 10th April

Time of Mario Karts delivery: 11.50am

Chances that my letterbox were big enough to recieve it with stupid Wii Wheel in: 0

ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

BLOC Weekender 2008

Well a week after the event and I feel fully recuperated from several nights of sleep deprivation, beer guzzling, techno grooving and non-dieting.

For those of you who don’t know BLOC is a relatively new annual 3 day dance weekender, mainly focusing on the techno end of the musical scale. No place for knob twiddling introspection (a la ATP), this is 3 days (and basically non-stop) eclectic, hard, danceable music purveyed by some legendary names.

ATP before Christmas was fun, but Aphex Twin was the notable highlight apart from Portishead, so I don’t think its a terrible surprise that I enjoyed this event a lot more. In fact it was greatly reminsicent of the original ATP I went to in 2003 that was curated by Autechre.

Saw too many people to name them all so I guess a quick run down of the highlights and disappointments is due. I thoroughly enjoyed the reformed Red Snapper on the first night, but was left a little cold by Amon Tobin later in the evening. I’m not sure if they put him on in the wrong slot, or he was just playing the wrong tunes, but given how much I like his work it was a little disappointing. I was having fun at the Underground Resistance gig too, despite some of my companions being less than charitable about them – I do admit that there was a little anachronism about it however. I really enjoyed my introduction to two back to back acts on the Saturday – both Sleeparchive and Monolake pushed all the right buttons for me. Of the other ‘big’ names (i.e. ones I have previously heard of ;)) Dave Clarke put on a blinding set (again possibly against expectations of my friends who had been disappointed with him at Sonar previously). Radioactive Man was similiarly excellent. The biggest disappointment was probably the Dexorcist who managed to play a great selection of tunes really badly – I don’t know what went wrong, but he was probably relieved that the fire alarm went off in the middle of the set. I had left at that point, and would have loved to have seen how many people continued dancing on the dancefloor to the sound of the alarms, blissfully unaware of what was happening.

The two acts I enjoyed most were probably the Wee DJ’s (the fact that he is neither small – nor are there more than one of them – makes me smile). The fact that the Avionix Records folks were well acquainted with him meant that I was not going to miss his set – and I’m really glad I didn’t. I think he got the best reception I saw in the smaller venue over that weekend. I finished up the weekend before the last act played (knowing full well I had to get up at 8am on Monday ;)) so the last act I saw was Phuture 303 which completely blew my mind at some point early on Monday morning. I’d just forgotten how much fun it could be to bounce around with 2,500 other people to an astonishing selection of tunes.

BLOC – very well done – the sound systems were great (probably helped by the fact at least one was a Funktion 1), the act selection was great, the punters were great. The bouncers were cool, the chalet was brilliant. Even well enough equipped for the non vegans in our group to sit down Sunday evening to a full lamb roast and a couple of bottles of good red wine. Not sure how many other people did that on Sunday, but the look on James face (who popped in just before we dished up) was priceless.

No hestitation in saying I will be back again next year, hopefully with the same great bunch of people, to do it all over again!

Gutted

On January 14, 2008, Perpetual Entertainment announced that it is no longer developing Star Trek Online. The license for the game and all of its assets except for the code have been transferred to an undisclosed Bay Area development studio. [2][3]. On January 18th, all STO developers were laid off by P2 Entertainment. [1] Without the code, whoever takes over Star Trek Online will be faced with a lot of work to complete the project, which means that fans may have longer to wait for a completed Star Trek Online.

from Wikipedia

Dammit, the one MMORPG I was actually excited about as well :(

Your trusted friend in Science

“Look at me still talking when there’s science to do
When I look out there it makes me glad I’m not you
I’ve experiments to run, there is research to be done
On the people who are still alive”

Yes, I’ve just finished Portal after probably 5 hours of play or so. I have to say it’s not the hardest puzzler I’ve ever come across, but I wonder if that was part of the point? The end credits are wonderful, reason enough to play the game through. After 19 test chambers, I was feeling quite a lot of animosity towards GLadOS, although I could have happily endured more test chambers in order to get the payoff. I suspect I will be doing the advanced maps as well in the near future.

Or maybe I will just finish off Mario Galaxy instead (or any one of the half dozen unfinished games I have laying around!)

On lack of updates/ATP

I know updates are a bit thin on the ground these days – work is pretty hectic in the run up to Christmas (rather than slowing down like it used to be when I was a proper scientist!) and it hasn’t been helped by my laptop blowing up, our Condor central manager blowing up, our RAID array on the HP cluster blowing up (followed by the head node on the cluster blowing up, followed by another node on the cluster blowing up). Oh yes another machine blew up as well and took out a KVM and shut one of our racks down when the UPS failed to kick in. I just hope that given this particularly woeful state of hardware failure, for once everything might run smoothly whilst I am away for Christmas (which I realise is laughably wishful thinking).

It also wasn’t helped that I escaped the hardware hara-kiri in order to transport myself to All Tomorrow’s Parties: Nightmare Before Christmas, a 3 day music festival curated (in this instance) by Portishead. However it was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made to go. 6 days away from work, no pressures, excellent music and good company. I went with Chris Gibbons, one of my extended ‘Edinburgh family’ even though I never met him when I lived there – but we have a suite of mutual friends. Honestly, I spent 18 months in Edinburgh and wherever I go the network of friends that I made there haunts me still :)

ATP was weird – we’d both been to the Autechre ATP in 2003 which was a full on technodancathon at Camber Sands. The Minehead venue seemed bigger in comparison – 2 enclosed stages, and one Pavillion stage (mind you this tent had buildings inside it) and the music varied from experimental knob twiddling electronica, to hip hop to trip hop to doom metal. Avoiding most of the latter the real highlights were Portishead (first gig in 10 years, quite possibly the best gig I have ever been to), Aphex Twin (so good we saw him twice!) and GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan who gave a full performance of Liquid Swords. Other acts of note were Boris – an amusingly heavy rocking Japanese group (and believe me that’s saying something given my generalised loathing of J-pop and J-rock), Francoiz Breut (amazing voice, great set, looked like she was off her face), Oneida with their ‘wall of sound’ apocalyptic metal/techno and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame.

We didn’t get to see Ladytron (removed from the bill at some point in the run up but I never noticed, which was a real shame), Seasick Steve (clashed with Portishead), Polar Bear (queue apathy kicked in in favour of either pizza or wine, I can’t remember).

Disappointments – well the Madlib Medicine Show could have been better. The DJ was fantastic, but Madlib was peddling hip-hop that could best be described as ‘weak’. The Horrors were awful, just rubbish. I don’t understand why they were ever music press darlings. If you’re going to play 80’s metal and your only USP is that you dress like Robert Smith (and yet in the programme blurb bang on about how edgy you are and how many riots your gigs cause) you’d better be really good. Dear Horrors, you are not.  Team Brick appeared to be a man howling into a microphone and sampling/distorting the results.  To call this music really would be stretching the point, in fact it was the musical equivalent of going to an avant garde poetry recital and quite frankly just about as much fun.

Anyway we sat around drinking a number of fine bottles of red wine, eating at Pizza Hut and Burger King, going bowling, playing pool, running through the ‘The House of the Dead” series of zombie splattering light gun arcade games and embarassing ourselves on the DDR machines in between gigs. It felt like a proper weekend away and I cannot recommend ATP festivals highly enough. Next up is BLOC 2008, which I suspect will be a little bit less sedate…

Scrabulous@Facebook

I’m starting to wonder if I’m going to keep the Scrabulous application in Facebook.  Whilst a couple of weeks ago this was running fine in Firefox under Feisty it is definitely no longer the case for me.  I would like to say it was fine under Windows and OS X where at least it has been playable, but tonight I can’t even get my games to view no matter what I’m using (whilst I’m carefully avoiding the unnecessarily contrived Long Way Down on the BBC).  I would upgrade to Gutsy except for the fact my replacement machine is currently en route from Dell, and I can’t be bothered to reconfigure things which are probably going to end up cannibalised on behalf of Microbase in a weeks time ;)  I just want it fixed though!  I’ve never been a big Scrabble player and being schooled by colleagues and friends in actually playing the game (rather than my naive approach of just getting rid of the letters) is rather enjoyable.  Maybe a couple of physical boards would be a good addition to the offices ;)