Bonkers Metal!

A couple of months ago I stumbled across the website of a Manowar-wannabe band Teräsbetoni.

Not Manowar

To compare them to Manowar is unfair, to be honest. Manowar are four warriors of Real Metal™, the true kings of the Kingdom of Steel. Teräsbetoni (I can’t even remember their name let alone pronounce it!) on the other hand are how Manowar might look if they were crossed with Orcs and left to fend for themselves in a prisoner of war camp for 12 months! (See photograph above.)

Their biography in English (the rest of the site is Finnish) is truly wonderful. It begins:

“Combining two of the world’s toughest elements that combust in heat in relatively the same manner results in a combination that is virtually impossible to break. Very similar to the mindset of a soldier!”


But my favourite quotation is taken from their first single called “Taivas lyö tulta”, which, believe it or not, sat at No.1 in the Finnish charts for three weeks!

“The call of metal may be too hard to handle for some, but not for those that are guided by the warrior instinct”

Bonkers! … utterly bonkers!!

Yes Man

I’m currently reading the new book, Yes Man, by my friend (and cult leader) Danny Wallace. It’s good. I’ll not spoil it for you.

Actually, given that I haven’t finished it yet, I guess, technically, I can’t spoil it too much. That would be a bit like me reading one of the Gospels and getting some way through it and saying “It’s really sad, the main hero dies.” Because those people who had read it all the way through would be looking at me with a look of ‘knowing’ on their faces, shaking their heads discretely and mouthing things like “Don’t listen to him!” and “Keep reading!”

Not that I’m saying that Danny is like Jesus. Oh, I feel like I’ve been here before.

Anyway, the one thing that I do take issue with, so far is this. On the cover there are two endorsements. One is by comedian Dom Joly. The other is by daytime TV host Richard Madeley.

Dom Joly says about the book, “Funny. Very, very funny.” Which is fair enough, overlooking the fact that Mr Joly is a friend of Mr Wallace, and so you might expect that he gives the book a glowing review. Dom Joly is a funny man, himself — his Trigger Happy TV series was at times side-splittingly hilarious — so you can trust Dom Joly’s opinion about what might be funny and what might not. A good recommendation, a fine endorsement.

Richard Madeley’s offering: that’s what I take issue with. “This book is a treat.” No! No!! This is a treat:

Mr Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes.

This is a treat:

Blackpool Rock

Whereas this is a work of comedy genius:

Yes Man by Danny Wallace.

Live 8: Edinburgh 50,000 The Final Push

My word, my feet hurt! I’m not sure about whether last night was part of The Long Walk to Justice but it was certainly part of The Long STAND to Justice. But, you know, if our being there and adding our voices and presence to that of millions of others does persuade the G8 leaders to write off the debt of world’s poorest people then I’m happy to hurt! But enough of my moans, what of the evening?

Last night was my debut visit to Murrayfield, but what better way to be introduced to Murrayfield than with a free ticket, standing on the pitch in front of the north stand, and Scotland didn’t lose!

Where we were at Live 8 Edinburgh
The arrow shows roughly where Jane and I were standing at Live 8 last night at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. (Photo: BBC News; arrow by me)

We parked ourselves as close to the stage as we could manage (see the photo above), standing in front of the stage ‘pier’ and in clear view of the right-hand video screen and waited for 70 minutes for the concert to begin. My brother Eddie and his wife Rebecca had seats in the east stand. We kept in touch during the night via hand signals and mobile phone messages.

The concert began with a giant curtain dropping to the ground on the ‘pier’ stage, while (I guess) 50,000 balloons were released revealing Lenny Henry resplendent in an all-black, leather kilt outfit, with the most incredible, horned sporran I’ve ever seen. Fantastic!

During the first hour or so of the concert there were 2 or 3 Beatles songs sung, “All You Need Is Love” by Jamie Cullum and Natasha Bedingfield, and “With A Little Help From Your Friends” by Wet Wet Wet. I began to wonder if I’d not turned up to a Live 8 concert but a fundraising event for Michael Jackson (who owns the rights to the Beatles’ back-catalogue and presumably gets a royalty each time a song is performed)!

My highlights:

  • The Proclaimers kicked off the show with, one of Scotland’s unofficial national anthems, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” which had the entire stadium bouncing and singing along.
  • 1 Giant Leap were a band that I’d never heard of before last night, but were, by far, my highlight of the night. Their music was eclectic, complex, intelligent and truly absorbing. A combination of African and Western rhythms and vocals, traditional instruments and modern. Wonderful, wonderful music.
  • Eddie Izzard playing piano while Midge Ure played guitar and sang an acoustic rendition of “Vienna”.
  • Lenny Henry’s comedy blues song, accompanied by a solo electric guitar. And guitarist.
  • Bob Geldof’s band performing “The Great Song of Indifference” and “Rat Trap”.
  • Wet Wet Wet – legends!
  • Bob Geldof’s speech.
  • The many passioned pleas to the G8 leaders to end poverty. All it will take is $50 billion — and given that the war on Iraq cost over $300 billion…!!

I did have some mischievous fun with the young people standing next to us.

Live 8 Presenter: “Ladies and gentlemen, Feeder!”
Me: “Who are Feeder?!”
Young person: “What?! What do you mean ‘who are Feeder?’ !!”
Me: “Are they like Motörhead?”
Young person: “NOOO!!”

When Ronan Keating came on stage, my brother Eddie later told me that he turned to his wife and said “At this moment, Gareth is at a Ronan Keating concert!” That gave him great amusement. I turned the young person beside me and said, “I do know who that is … he used to be in Backstreet Boys!” That gave me great amusement.

And what can I say about James Brown? Or ‘Jim Broon’, as I prefer to call him? The Godfather of Soul. Not much, my feet were hurting, my shoulders were hurting, my legs were hurting. I was hurting. When he asked the crowd, “Do you feel good?” I had to be honest and say, “No, Mr Brown, I don’t.” But he wasn’t interested in my petty complaints, seemingly the rest of the crowd did feel good and he agreed with them, and sang them a little song all about it; it transpired that he had also previously anticipated that he would be feeling good at this moment. I can’t help but feel that the situation was a little contrived. 😉

We walked home: The Long Walk to Bed. It was a great evening, so much energy, so much passion, such an eager desire to end this needless world poverty. Let’s just keep praying for the G8 leaders. We wait for Friday.

Opera 8

I’ve just downloaded and installed the latest version of the Opera web browser, Opera 8.01, and I have to say that I am very impressed with it.

Opera 8 screenshot

Fast, secure and standards-compliant

In fact, if I wasn’t so hooked on Mozilla Firefox I am certain that this could become my favourite browser. It is fast (loads much quicker than either IE or Firefox), it is secure (with only 4 security issues requiring patched, compared with 61/81 remaining for IE 6.x and 13/18 for Firefox, according to the latest report from Secunia), and it is reportedly the most standards-compliant browser on the market (something that I have long respected Opera for, and have always had a copy installed on my PC for website testing purposes).

Screen space

But that is not all. Opera 8 also offers an enormous amount of screen space — the most I’ve ever seen for a browser — to the rendering of pages, rather than to toolbars and menus. It is seriously quite impressive. And should my website of the moment not fit the generous 1210 x 887 pixels offered to render the page, the ‘Fit to window width (Ctrl+F11)’ feature will dispense of the annoying horizontal scroll bar and do exactly what it says it will: fit the page to my window size.

Screen estate is further saved by Opera 8’s handling of various default browsers features such as History and Bookmarks. If you click on the address bar a context menu drops down offering you three options: Home, Top 10, and Bookmarks. It’s quite clever and rather intuitive. If you really do miss the traditional placement of History and Bookmarks on the left then simply click the left-hand border of the Opera window (or press F4) and out they pop offering Bookmarks, Notes, Transfers, History and Links (which lists all the links, both internal and external, on your current page).

Tabbed browsing is supported by default, with each tab displaying the favicon, the page title and a useful [x] control to close the tab. New tabs are created either by clicking the New page button to the left of the tabs, or double-clicking on an empty space to the right of the tabs. And new tab pages open phenomenally quickly.

By default there is a Google search box to the right of the address bar. However, I can’t seen to customize this for regional options, instead of .com and the same for the Amazon option. For a Norwegian software company I’m disappointed at this US-centric default.


For users with accessibility issues Opera offers more than your average browser. Not only is the now-standard option of controlling text size with the mouse scroll-wheel supported (and it supports it better than IE/Win — of course!) but there is also now a voice option. This requires an additional 10MB download (which took seconds with my broadband connection) but impressively does not require an application reload or system reboot: it just downloads it, installs it, and gets on with the job.


A few immediate niggles with the voice options, however. First, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to instruct Opera which of my soundcards to use. I have two, an onboard NVIDIA nForce soundcard which I use for Skype and VoIP applications, and Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 which I use for everything else! It would have been nice to have been given the option of choosing which to use, as Opera appears to have automatically selected my Audigy 2, despite the fact that NVIDIA nForce is selected as the default for voice recording in Control Panel.

Second, in order to read a selected passage you have to press and hold down the Scroll Lock key before speaking into your mic. I wonder how easy this is for blind users. But more than that, unless you want Metal Mickey to read out the entire page when you enunciate the words “Opera speak!” in a slow, fake-American accent (which is about all I can do to get it to understand me) you first need to highlight the paragraph in question … remind me how non-sighted users are supposed to do that?!

Third, there doesn’t appear to be a way of preventing Opera from reading out loud every URL it encounters, or intelligently reading out the main URL only (eg ‘bbc dot com’). After the ‘aitch tee tee pee colon slash slash double-u double-u double-u dot …’ I’d actually forgotten the first part of the sentence!

Fourth, once it begins reading there’s no controlling it. It’s like visiting an elderly relative! What would have been nice would have been some more intuitive vocal navigation controls that controlled it while it was reading to you: next paragraph, next sentence. Instead the experience is rather start-stop.

However, that all said, while this appears, at the moment, to be little more than a gimmick for sighted-users this is definitely a step in the right direction towards more integrated accessibility support and is to be commended, and may actually be the first browser that I’ve used that supports the CSS2 aural styles statements.


Another interesting feature of Opera 8 is mouse gestures that lets you do frequently performed browse operations with small, quick mouse movements. That will no doubt become a favourite of players of the computer game Darwinia (you know who you are!).

Mail and RSS

Opera comes with a built-in mail client, and support for RSS Feeds. Incredible given that the installation file is only 3.6 MB. How do they manage to cram it all in?! The RSS feeder is basic, but very simple and usable. I haven’t tried the email client.


All in all, the more I’ve used this browser this morning, over the last hour, I’ve become more and more impressed with it. The voice commands have some way to go before becoming a truly usable alternative to typing, but I’m unlikely to use these anyway. Another minor niggle is that there is no reassuring animated graphic to tell me that the browser is doing anything. IE has a spinning planet, Firefox has a spinning disc of dots, Opera doesn’t have anything. When I click something, a form submit button, for example, I like to know that something has happened. The animated graphics are reassuring. With Opera I am left to faith alone that something is happening. When it comes to the internet faith alone might not be enough to reassure users.

What keeps me from switching from Mozilla Firefox to Opera 8 permanently, however, are two things: cost and flexibility. Firefox is free, Opera costs US $29 to register (which unlocks a couple of features including removing the ad banner at the top). If you have a previously registered copy of Opera 7 the registration key seems to work in version 8 — it did in mine. Firefox is also much more extendible with a plethora of extensions that add almost any feature that you could possibly hope for in a browser, written by an enormous community of enthusiasts. Opera, on the other hand, is limited to those features decided on by the Opera software engineers. That said, it is an impressive portfolio of features.

Opera 8 is going to remain on my desktop for a while, and I suspect I will also make room for it on my Quick Launch bar too. IE7 — due in Beta next month — has got an awful lot to compete with now.