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June 2013

Hugh Laurie: Didn't the Passion Rain

Monday, June 24, 2013 0

Being the ‘House M.D.’ fan I am, I have a tendency to admire the acting talents belonging to the leading man Mr Hugh Laurie.  But it’s not only his skills in pretending to be someone else that I have been envious of in the past though – it’s also his work within the  music scene that grabs my attention in a big way.

Throughout his career Laurie has been able to show flashes of his musical talents in his previous comedy shows (“A Bit of Fry and Laurie”), in “House” itself and even with his former band made up of acting celebrities, who go by the hilariously named “Banned from TV”.

After the final series of House wrapped though, Laurie’s attention turned to his love of American Jazz and Blues music and released his first album “Let Them Talk” to huge success.  The story of how his love of this New Orleans’ inspired music was accompanied with a documentary charting the history behind the music and his progress in producing the album.

This year Hugh has returned with a new album entitled “Didn’t It Rain”, along with another documentary, briefly featuring a sarcastic Stephen Fry, showing how he travelled back to America’s south to explain how his love of this music came to be and to track down his new band “The Copper Bottom Blues” in order to play gig on the “Queen Mary”.

After a long wait, last night I finally got the opportunity to see Hugh and his band play live.  Sat right on the front row, the gig was outstanding and the music certainly flowed with ease; every track sounding key perfect and full of life.  But whilst Hugh Laurie was the big name to attract the audiences to the show, make no mistake, this show was all about a big band playing together rather than one man’s obsession with “old music” as he referred to it throughout the night.

Performances by gospel and soul singer Sister Jean McClain (who really took a shine to pointing and waving to me and few others in the audience throughout the night), and the pitch perfect Gaby Moreno (who performed an outstanding version of “The Weed Smoker’s Dream” that I could listen to forever), were weaved throughout the show, interspersed by Laurie himself who played piano throughout. 

Despite the singers taking front of stage though, it was clear that this was a band performance; the singers taking every opportunity to throw the limelight onto the superb band, who played just about every instrument you could possibly think of through the show.  It was clear to all that this was all about entertainment through song and music than it was about Laurie or the characters in the band itself.

The celebration of the music was enjoyed by all in the audience for sure, but watching Hugh as the band played and the singers did their thing, his eyes clamped shut as he played, intensely listening to every last note, you simply knew that this was his moment and he was loving every last minute of it.  The passion for the music, from the band, flowing through him and directly into the pores of the audience members who clapped, danced and sang along, feeding from that positive energy.

It was a show that I hope I will forever remember and I one day hope to have the same level of passion for the music that Hugh clearly possesses….and if I never really achieve that, I will claim I did anyway, because, after all – everybody lies.



How I Use my Surface

Friday, June 21, 2013 0

One year ago I sat in complete and utter awe as a then-unknown to me Panos Panay graced my television screen, along with Steven Sinofsky and Steve Ballmer, to reveal a tablet device designed around productivity and having fun; that device I fell in love with that day was, of course, was the Microsoft Surface.
A Productivity Device for the Modern Day
The Surface was designed primarily as a productivity device, hence the inclusion of a keyboard with the device to allow users to work and create when the need to just ‘get stuff done’ is essential and unclip or fold back when the time for work is over and the play can begin.
Microsoft were obviously very aware of this “productivity paradigm” they were creating; so much so that they have started to produce videos of everyday Surface tablet users explaining to the audience exactly how they use their devices to create and produce.
My favourite of these videos thus far has been this one;

My Computer
So, in homage to these videos, let me quickly explain why I love my Surface device and exactly how I use it. 
My Surface Pro is my primary device, demoting my Sony Vaio laptop to my second choice, and I take it just about everywhere I go – to my work place, to my local Starbucks, to my parents’ house when I visit.  It is the device I can use for just about everything, where ever I am.
I use the device to keep up with current affairs via the Bing News application included with Windows 8 and when I feel like unwinding I can fire up the Fresh Paint app and colour in using the digitiser pen (it’s surprising just how relaxing and how much of a regression that app can cause when just colouring in digitally between the lines!)
But by far the main use for my Surface device is the combination use of both OneNote and SkyDrive.
Taking my Surface into meetings with me to draw and take notes directly on the screen and have those notes follow me across devices thanks to the SkyDrive synchronisation is simply a magical experience.  Being able to search through my notes and bring my own information straight to the front of mind, directly from my fingertips.
But what I really love about my Surface Pro and One Note most of all is being able to sit down with my boss and my associates in the work canteen, sit around a table with the Surface in the centre, talk through some ideas whilst scribbling and drawing directly onto the screen to create plans and refine designs of our latest IT projects and infrastructures.
It’s truly a collaborative and social device, as well as one that allows so much productivity.  I really do love my Surface.  Thank you Microsoft!

Why I Cancelled my Xbox One Pre-Order


Before finally entering my credit card details into the order page on Microsoft’s ordering page, I’d read all of the reviews, even tried it for myself and was convinced that it was the right thing to do.  I’d perused the negative comments and pondered the view points of the faceless names who had let their views be known on the subject – but I was determined, it seemed right, was a new dawn and the only way is forward…..so I ordered…..two!
Fast forward six months and the detractors have made their views heard and Redmond have listened, adapted…..the ‘Start’ button is back in Windows 8.1! 
The One        
After watching the launch event for the Xbox One, I was fired up – enough so to write a whole blog post all about its virtues and how this new console was a step in the right direction towards the modern and ‘one’ home entertainment system you would ever want to put under your television.  Even in my non-gaming life style, it had registered on my Richter and rocked my world.
Although I never drilled into the details in my previous post (although I did note the DRM checks and second hand games markets would blow over), I was quite enthralled by the prospect of finally completing the removal of my physical media (just like I have with CDs, DVDs and even books), in favour of downloaded content.
My pre-order was placed on Amazon for the “day one release” edition.  The very next day, Microsoft announced that they would be reversing their policies and that the DRM online, disc-less console was to return the PlayStation 4/Xbox 360 previous console generation practices of requiring game discs to be inserted into the drive.
I cancelled my order.
The question you’ll no doubt be asking now is, if I’m not a gamer then why would a change in policy regarding DRM downloaded games bother me so much?  The answer is simple and it was answered by Xboxes very own Don Mattricks when he said the following;
"Fortunately we have a product for people who aren't able to get some form of connectivity; it's called Xbox 360, if you have zero access to the Internet, that is an offline device."
I already own an Xbox 360, that I can get up from my sofa, dig through green boxes that clutter up my living room and insert the shiny disc into the drive, so what is the benefit of the One right now?  Improved graphics?  Live TV integration?  Skype?  I have a slim line PC, running Windows 8 and a webcam sat under my TV for those things.
The one thing that the Xbox One really had with downloaded games content was that it had the potential to flash up games in front of my face that I could purchase on a whim and enjoy playing straight away, dragging me into these storybook games and potentially holding my attention long enough to hooking me back onto gaming within the next generation.
Taking these things away by reverting back to the old methods doesn’t enhance the experience for me and it doesn’t draw me in for a ‘day one’ purchase.  I can now sit back and wait until next year before decided whether to purchase an upgraded console or not based on a draw to a future game release (read: Halo 5), and who knows by that time, perhaps the console will be offered in a more competitive bundle or at a slightly reduced rate.
It took me eight years to buy an Xbox 360, it could take another eight – or another console release – before I’m tempted to buy again.  Or perhaps, just perhaps, Microsoft will reverse their decision again, refine their product and just like Windows 8.1 bring back thing we want most of all.

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