Beth Jeans Houghton, Work and Personal email, The Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker

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Beth Jeans Houghton

Beth Jeans HoughtonBeth Jeans Houghton has just released her debut album with her band ‘The Hooves of Destiny’. There’s every chance you haven’t heard of her. I first saw her at Swn in 2009 where she appeared in a tall white wig and had big problems getting her instruments to work. I instantly loved her music (which I’d not heard before) and was charmed by her Geordie stage banter. I’ve seen her several times since and each time she’s changed.

She started off being a new folk hero (the second time I saw her she was supporting Stornaway). Then for a while it felt like she might be the next Lady Gaga as she immersed herself into LA culture while recording the album and was rumoured to be dating Anthony Kiedis (from Red Hot Chili Peppers). Her album took a long time to come.

In December I saw her play a Christmas party gig. It wasn’t the best of crowds as a lot of people had come to see the, very different, Canadian band on before her. The gig worried me. Beth was, well, narky on stage and the new songs lacked the sparkle of the ones I knew.

And now her album is out. And I very much like it. But there’s a problem. I think she is going to sink without much of a trace. The few reviews I’ve read have been positive but they struggle to define what her music is — generally they’ve described her as folk. BBC 6 Music have supported her with sessions and interviews but outside of them I cannot see anyone else getting behind her.

I really wanted Beth to be the next big thing. She’s got the personality. If I’m honest I wanted this so I could say I saw her three years ago before she was famous. Oh well.

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Work and Personal email

Sparrow iPhoneNow I’m working for two different companies I have three email addresses to attend to during office hours (the third being my personal one). I prefer to use different email addresses as it keeps projects separate and I can avoid my work ones when I’m not on the clock.

This is easy on my laptop where I use the superb Sparrow mail app during working hours. It makes it easy to swap between any of my inboxes and one that amalgamates all my new mail.

This is less easy on my iPhone where the single mail app does an OK job at managing my different emails but it is on 24/7. This means I get alerted to new work emails at the weekend and my slight OCD means I cannot stand to see the little red number telling me I have unread emails. So, I have to open them.

What I need is a second email client on my iPhone. Apple used to say they would not approve apps which repeated functionality already on the phone — i.e. not allow other email clients. Happily they’ve relaxed this rule. Sadly the Google’s Gmail application isn’t great (yet).

The good news is Sparrow are working on an iPhone version. I hope it is good, I’m counting on it.

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The Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker

Bad mannequinIf you are looking for a geeky day out then visit the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. But if that is too far and you fancy a drive up the M11 then head to The Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker.

It is a decommissioned bunker that was originally built in the 50s as part of Britain’s air defences. Hidden underground it was home to one of those large maps you see in the movies with ladies pushing planes around while male commanders look on.

In the 60s it was upgraded to be an emergency regional government defence site. If south east England was hit by a nuclear bomb, key politicians and public servants would be locked inside to run the country. It was maintained for this purpose through to the 90s. Now it is back in the hands of the family who originally owned the land in the 50s and they’ve opened it to the public.

It is fabulous on many levels. It shows the level of planning for nuclear war, is packed full of outdated equipment and bad mannequins, and it illustrates the absurdity of the advice given to the public (you should hide in a cupboard boarded up with doors and mattresses for two weeks but, basically, you are going to die a horrible death).

The fact it is a family owned museum really shows through. While it is brilliant they have taken the time to open it to the public, you can see they lack the finer points of museum management. In particular there’s all the hand-written signs that bark commands at you, and “that means you”.

It is only £7 and for that you get a headset tour. Sadly they don’t let you take photos without a £5 permit (something many signs warn you about). It would have been a great advert if I’d been able share what I saw.


Music Magpie, Radio 1’s Specialist Takeover, Bitching about the railways

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Music Magpie

Sorting CDsI’ve started a big clear-out of my flat. In particular I want to get rid of the stuff that moved in with me 6+ years ago and has barely been touched since. That, sadly, includes my CD collection and a lot of DVDs. It’s a process that started last year when I made a tidy sum selling anything of value through Amazon Marketplace but I was still left with a few hundred discs.

So on New Year’s Day I started scanning my stuff into Music Magpie which, if you don’t know, is a company that buys used CDs, DVDs and games. They’ve been going a few years and it looks like they’ve got a well developed system. When I first used it a year ago you had to type each barcode in by hand. Now they have an app to scan them.

Most of my (popular) CDs and DVDs were only worth 30p but some were a few quid. I learnt last year that the ones they offer more than a pound for can be worth selling through Amazon (or PlayTrade) but if there’s a lot of other sellers or the disc is obscure they can take a long time to sell.

Discs and cases have to be in reasonable nick. This means they cannot have plugger promotional stickers on them. So I did have to do a fair bit of recasing (something my fingernails aren’t forgiving me for).

All was looking good with Music Magpie until the courier didn’t turn up to collect my CDs on Saturday.  A phone call to them got me an apology and a time specific collection with another courier on Wednesday. After that I’ll wait for them to be processed to see how much of the promised £120 I’ll get. Not bad for things that have been in the cupboard for years. It was still sad to see them go though.

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Radio 1 Specialist Takeover

Radio 1's New Music MonsterWith the exception of Chris Moyles when I wake up, the Scott Mills Daily podcast, and the occasional Huw Stephens weekend show I’ve stopped listening to Radio 1. However last week’s specialist takeover pulled me back. For five weekdays the daytime line-up was replaced by Zane Lowe, Annie Mac, Huw Stephens and Nick Grimshaw.

I’ve always believed the main reason to listen to daytime Radio 1 was for the entertaining presenters and creative ideas but not the music. That changed this week as the music programming was a spot-on mix of ‘new’ tracks, ‘specialist’ tracks that ‘crossed over’ last year and ‘classic’ tracks. (I put all those terms in quotes as their definition is up for debate.) If Radio 1 played music like this every day I’d be pulled back from the office choice of 6 Music.

Radio 1 have started trails and TV adverts saying “New Music – It’s Our Big Thing – All Day Every Day”. I really hope it is.

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Bitching about the railways

Railway companies aren’t lucky when it comes to PR. Every year they put their fares up and get a blasting in the press. The story gets at least two cycles: the announcement in the autumn and then in January when the rise happens. The second is made worse by the lack of other news for the press to cover. Two sets of public outrage so close together means people don’t stop raging between them.

I’m actually annoyed by this raging. I’m lucky enough not to suffer peak time travel anymore but I do know what it is like. I’m not saying our transport system is perfect but it is a lot better than it was. And that’s my first pet hate: people who complain they haven’t seen anything for their increased fares. London Underground has better trains and is more reliable than it was (admittedly this took the new Victoria Line trains a while to achieve). London Overground is finally fit for purpose. Trains in South London don’t fail me. I have no complaints about Virgin, First Great Western or East Coast.

I cannot say the same for National Express East Anglia though. Its trains are old and knackered. This led to a call to arms from Walthamstow blogger radiokate. The problem is NXEA are only a small part of the issue as this comment explains. In short NXEA have to use the trains they are given and run them on tracks they don’t control.

This is my second pet hate: people’s misplaced anger. It is the whole system that is screwed. Sadly that makes us all rather powerless.

What I want to see is the press use the fare increase news cycles to highlight the deep causes and campaign to change them. Don’t just report people being angry. We know that. It doesn’t change.

What I learnt aged 12, Alfred, Talking to people in the street

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What I learnt aged 12

Brain AreasLast week’s The American Life was a middle school special and was full of insights into the American tween. One fact that stayed with me is that kids go through a massive spurt of brain-growth at this time, peaking at 11 for girls and 12 for boys. At this point, brain cells battle it out and the most used survive – so if you did dance or gymnastics then the right hemisphere (which controls visual spatial skills) will dominate for life. An expert on the show said she can still remember all the ballet moves she learnt at that age.

When I was 12 I was writing computer programs in BASIC. I’m not a (well paid) programmer now because I discovered music and radio a few years later and gave it up. However over the past few weeks I’ve been hacking php and css on a WordPress blog. Despite knowing next to nothing about both I’ve found it easy to figure out and enjoyable to do. Now, WordPress php isn’t the most complicated of languages and I looked at lots of help forums but I do believe it was that grounding at age 12 that helped my 36 year old brain pick it up.

Sadly I didn’t do many interpersonal things aged 12 like socialise with a large group of friends or follow sport.

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AlfredI was flicking through the free apps on the Apple Desktop App Store the other day (flicking through app stores is like window shopping for me) and I came across Alfred.

Alfred, as the name might suggests, is a bit of butler for your Mac. Pressing alt+space brings up box where you type what you want. Unlike a butler it will not get you anything you want but what it does is very helpful.

Start typing the name of an application and it will find it and launch it (useful if like me your applications folder is full of free ones you’ve bought). Type ‘spell’ and an attempt at the spelling of a word and it will give you the correct one. Type a sum and it will work it out.

It will also search the web for you. For this you can define a shortcode so I just need to type ‘g’ and a term to search Google or ‘am’ and a product for Amazon.

Alfred is working on more features in a paid ‘powerpack’ version but I’m happy with my freebie.

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Talking to people in the street

I spent yesterday on a Lean Startup Workshop. As customer development is a key part of Lean we were given the task of going out onto the streets of London to ask real people what they thought of our business ideas.

As my group’s idea was something we thought students would use I had the bright idea of heading to the University of Westminster steps and talking to the smokers. I was particularly keen to do this as I didn’t want to stop people in the street. In a city of chuggers I thought people would hate us for stopping them.

The smoking students were great but the university security told us we couldn’t talk to their students on their property and made us move into the street.

Afterwards the other workshop groups commented on how happy most people were to talk to them. It turns out people on the streets of London are nice and helpful. One group went inside the British Museum to quiz visitors — security didn’t bother them.