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20080705

Buggy software

Entry 873 posted in: 1. General Mish Mash


At the right side of the screen there is a link to the giveaway of the day website. The concept of this site is simple enough. For a day, and that day only, you can download a commercial software package and license it for free. The deal is: no upgrades, no support and in most cases no commercial utilisation of the program. What you get, so they promise, is a complete version with no trial version limitations.

Up till now I have only installed a couple of programs of the site, less than half a dozen in fact, as I only download programs when I need them. A minus of the system is that it is impossible to migrate the program from one pc to another or to re-install it after a crash (unless you have a mirror or if you have used an installation watchdog that can copy back all the hidden files and registry entries that were created during install). As others have remarked before on the forum: there is no point of downloading an all performing crash recovering program if the day that your pc really crashes you need to buy the software anyway in order to recuperate your data.

Another thing is that most software comes from dodgy companies, some of those can't even spell their menus right, who offer pretty useless utilities at exorbitant prices. Who needs a password generator at 29.95 bucks apiece anyway? The good thing however is that each giveaway of the day entry is largely commented by a horde of critical people who often point you towards freeware that does things better and has free updates.

A couple of weeks ago I was again tempted and I downloaded an English dictionary that would tremendously enhance my blogging skills. Alas, Typing Assistant only spelled in American English and not the Oxford variety of the language. And crazy enough it crashed several times in the most popular and widespread text editor around: Microsoft Word; switching once too often between programs resulted in a terrible messed up screen.

But to add insult to injury whenever I wanted to input an apostrophe - quite a commonly used sign in Shakespeare’s language I might add - the soft automatically replaced my typed letters with an unwanted entry from the dictionary:
here's was changed automatically into hereafter,
wont was distorted into wonderstruck; and
Ive miraculously transformed itself into interpretes.

I found out that the mistake was due to my exotic keyboard layout called azerty. The azerty keyboard, used in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and some parts of Switzerland has a top row that does not default to numbers. Top row numbers are only chosen with caps lock (or shift lock) on and when the caps lock is down the digits are not numbers but ampersand, hyphen, all those weird French letters with accents, brackets and so on. On my azerty keyboard (there are some different regional versions as well) the apostrophe is placed at position 4. To cut a long story short: although Typing Assistant rightly interpreted the 3 middle rows of my keyboard it failed to do so with the top row.

Because I still believed that the typing assistant had a valid function especially for non-native speakers I contacted the makers of the program. Although the giveaway number one rule says no support a reply came back sooner than I had expected.

It read.

We mainly target to English keyboard layout, because there are so many keyboard layout we can not research them each.

Free gift or not this answer does not entirely satisfy my soul.

In order to predict the right word this program needs to log the letter that has been triggered by a key and not the key itself (a mistake that was often made in dos days and that made games and programs quasi unusable for non qwerty users). In my opinion that is not a matter of a weird and exotic keyboard configuration but of bad programming. Period.


Some freeware typing assistants:
Let Me Type
PhraseExpress


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: GiveAway Of The Day 

Update (23rd of August 2008): The makers of Typing Assistant, Sumitsoft, have contacted me to test version 4.0 of their product. There were still a few bugs in that update but in two days time they came with a patch, taking care of all my Azerty-keyboard related problems and a free user license on top of it. Thanks guys.

20080712

F-Prot: Don't Panic!

Entry 880 posted in: 1. General Mish Mash


Dos were the days (F-Prot looks a bit more modern now) Last week’s entry was about buggy software. This week I wanted to post about the first of the most recent Orb reissues, 4 in total, but then disaster struck.

I have been sympathetic towards the anti-virus product F-Prot since my MS-DOS days. F-Prot has saved my day and my ass at least a couple of times. F-Prot was (at least the dos version) freeware and with some tweaking you could make it run as a real-time scanner on Windows 3.11, 95 and 98 as well. Shame on me!

The dos versions refused to work on XP though (due to the NTFS file system) so I was obliged, well not really obliged because I could have switched over to another one of the free AV tools, to buy some licenses. I’ve got 35 of those now. F-Prot is not only very reliable it is also very very cheap. One single license costs you about 20 Euro but 35 licenses will only amount to about 100 Euros, and that is still cheaper than some of the big shots in the AV world for one license alone.

F-Prot released version 6 of their product last year and were so thrilled with it that they announced that the previous version, number 3, something must have got wrong with their numbering, would be discontinued in June.

But disaster struck with Thursday’s update. Apparently that one automatically deleted the old - existing - version without replacing it with the new upgrade. Every PC had a dreadful red security center icon telling that the antivirus had been disabled. I don't know how many clients F-Prot has, that is not my goddamn business anyway, but they must all have felt as protected as swimming without a tampax.

While some forum aficionados were contemplating what had just happened (and proposed solutions and workarounds for the problem) the F-Prot management and programmers had suddenly disappeared from cyberworld, as if they had been annihilated by a passing convoy of Vogon warships.

About 8 hours after the first forum message signalling the problem an official message appeared. It read:

“We are experiencing a minor temporary malfunction in our update servers.”

This kind of infantile crisis communication was of course like swinging a red flag in front of a jumpy bull. As another forum member sarcastically remarked:

“I don't think this is a minor temporary problem. I think this is a Major Meltdown.”

Don't forget that thousands, ten-thousands, hundred-thousands of computers had suddenly no virus protection anymore (or so it seemed anyway).

The official reason why the F-Prot management apparently didn’t find it necessary to communicate about the problem was explained (a day later, again on the forum) as follows:

“The reason was not that we weren't taking the problem seriously, it's been our only concern for the last 48 hours or so. We just didn't want people to panic.”

So far for the official reaction of F-Prot that was published in large friendly letters.

I just think the F-Prot heads were panicking themselves and had to clean the shit out of their own pants first. By the way, their website doesn't mention anything at all about the would-be crash. For them, it is like it never happened. They should perhaps check if there are still dolphins swimming in the ocean.


The DOS versions of F-Prot can (apparently) still be downloaded and used. More info (and some utilities) can be found on the following addresses:
Download F-PROT Antivirus for DOS (official)
Claymania F-PROT for DOS page
Living with F-Prot for DOS Antivirus


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: True Story 

20080718

Apples and Oranges

Entry 884 posted in: 4. Orb Weavers


I want to be a little fishy... Pomme Fritz (aka The Orb's Little Album) (1994) was the second Orb cd I bought and it nearly made me lose my appetite for LX Paterson and his goofy friends. Although it was rather short I could never bear to listen to it in its entirety. The jewel box lay next to the player and for weeks I tried to digest it with the only result that I ejected the disk, mostly somewhere during the quite abominable We're Pastie To Be Grill You track.

In the end a cat with good taste peed on it so I finally found it was time to place the goddamn thing in between those other plastic do not open boxes that just gather dust in my cd collection. (If you really want to know it was in between Meatloaf’s Bad Out Of Hell and T’Pau’s China In Your Hand.)

But on the twelfth night of the twelfth month of the year 1999 I finally took a breath of fresh air, put the 'Little Album' in my cd player and listened to it in one go. Here is the (previously unpublished) report I wrote about that.


KARTOFFELN MIT SCHWEINEBRAT

It all starts in March 1994 when the Orb announces a new single: Pomme Fritz, to be part (with Valley and Plateau) of a new album that will be called Orbus Terranus. A few months later it is promoted as title track of The Orb's Little Album, little indeed, as this full cd has about the same length as their infamous single Blue Room.

Paterson explains in the press that they decided to reshape the single into an album to make it available for the fans. They don't want the same thing to happen as with Blue Room, labeled as a single and since long withdrawn from The Orb's back catalogue. Seems logical, but some paranoiacs believe that their new record label, Island, may have a hand in this. The adventurous days of the Island label are long gone and the record bozos are probably not happy with a group that continuously undermines long term record company management plans by issuing 40 minutes singles, albums for a day and a saucerful of very limited mixes for the small, but happy, few.

This doesn't mean it is a bad record. Is Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music bad? Not if you love the sound of dozen buzzing amplifiers, it is not. Is John and Yoko's Two Virgins crap? Not if you like the lurking game, with an ear against the wall, while your neighbours are having a go at the Kama Sutra inside the lid of a grand piano. Is Amon Düül's Minnelied a joke? Probably. (I bought mine for its cover alone).

Pomme Fritz has a nice picture as well, reminding me of the cover of the remastered Pink Floyd Relics cd, so once in a while I took it out to have a look at the strange machine.

Pink Floyd trivia. The LP version of Pink Floyd's Relics (1971) had a drawing by their drummer and once architectural student Nick Mason, representing a Pepperlandish machine. The most common cd version has a 3D model of this original drawing.

I DON'T LIKE FISH

I once mailed the superfluous statement to the quite lethargic alt.music.orb newsgroup that I never realised what a fine track Pomme Fritz (Meat'n Veg) really was until I heard it on the compilation album U.F.Off. Some Orb lover replied that Little Album wasn't that bad when listening to it on acid. I am not an acid man myself (and no other illegal drugs either, gentlemen of the FBI & CIA, whose Internet tracking machine that goes <ping> just went <ping> by detecting the word acid, <ping>, acid, <ping>, acid, <ping>, LOL) so tonight I planted myself as a Bombay potato in my couch with a glass of lethal, but legal, Italian Sambuca on the side and let the horror loose.

As I already stated, Pomme Fritz (Meat'n Veg) really is a nice track in the fine traditional Orbian mix between Kraftwerk and the Magic Roundabout. Somewhere near the end a voice promises us an electroshock therapy and that's what the rest of the record really is about, I guess. The only question is: how many electroshocks will it take to like the rest?

More Gills Less Fishcakes isn't that bad either if you take the Vickie Leandros Après Toi and sect leader annex mass killer Jim Jones samples for granted. Then it is time for the already cited We're Pastie To Be Grill You, seven minutes and fifteen seconds of the same sentence being repeated over and over again, in altered states, sometimes slowed down, sometimes accelerated, shaken, not stirred, run through a dozen of noise inducing filters. This is experiment for the sake of experiment and most of the time it sounds as if a Gregorian monk choir is singing inside a helium infested studio.

Emptying your mind and letting this track take possession of your brain is a trippy experience indeed, although not always a pleasant one.

As a matter of fact the sampled sentence does not really say We 're Pastie To Be Grill You but "We're happy to be with you" and Pink Floyd fans will probably compare it with the Roger Waters experiment on 1969's Ummagumma: Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict.

Pink Floyd trivia: Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict is basically a Roger Waters fun track using human voices and nature sounds playing at different speeds. The track may have been inspired by Ron Geesin who experimented with tape loops before and who asked Roger Waters to co-compose a soundtrack for the documentary movie The Body (1970). One track of their partnership, Our Song, used body noises to create music.

Bang'er'n Chips further elaborates on the electroshock sample, but can’t keep its promise "that you will be more relaxed than you've been in weeks". Alles Ist Schoen, German for "everything is beautiful", shows the composing skills of someone who will soon become a full time member of The Orb: Thomas Fehlmann. His musical roots are buried among the German minimalists whose repetitive electronically drones were very successful in the Seventies: Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Gerhard Froese and Kraftwerk.

To end the record there is a two minutes joke track called His Immortal Logness vaguely build around the tradition or German march music.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A JOKE?

That's about it.

For the first time in years I finally managed to get through the complete menu. And while I realized that Pomme Fritz (The Orb's Little Album) isn't really that catastrophic at all I put on Robert Wyatt's masterpiece Rock Bottom to console myself. With its backwards taped vocals, its shrieking trumpets, its repetitive and monotonous drones, this record must have sound as alienating in 1975 as Pomme Fritz did to me in 1994.

You maybe have found out by now that a culinary theme runs through the album, but most titles also hide a few puns. Pomme Fritz is, of course, linked to the French Pommes Frites (French fries) but Fritz, as we all know from televised black and white Saturday afternoon movies, is also a nickname for the Germans. The Orb's Little Album was, for a great deal, recorded and mixed in Berlin and most of the numbers have had input from Thomas Fehlmann and his band Sun Electric.

More Gills Less Fishcakes could be a possible Pink Floyd pun when reversing the reading order of the title (Gilmour?) and while I'm at it Fish Rising was one of Steve Hillage's solo albums (a long shot, I admit).

I already explained that We're Pastie To Be Grill You is a bastardization of the "We're happy to be with you" sample. I can't make anything decent from Bang'er'n Chips although the term chips is used as a synonym for French fries (I won't get into details about the bang'er'n bit that probably means the same as ummagumma).

Alles Ist Schoen (or schön in neat German) is the literary translation for 'everything is beautiful'.

His Immortal Logness could be, with some imagination, interpreted as a little dance performed by the last living species of a crusty old dinosaur, which lives, as we all know, in the lake of Loch Ness.

EN FRANÇAIS S'IL VOUS PLAIT

In 1994 I found an advertisement for Le Petit Album in a French magazine with French song titles. Those are:

English Title French Title
Pomme Fritz (Meat'n Veg) Viandes Et Legumes
More Gills Less Fishcakes Oeufs Farcies Aux Cèpes
We're Pastie To Be Grill You Crèpe Suzette
Bang'er'n Chips Beatrice Dalle Et Brigitte Bardot
Alles Ist Schoen Tout Est Beau
His Immortal Logness Bon Appetit

Some happen to be literary translations of the English titles, some are not. I never figured out if the album was indeed issued with these French titles in France, or not.

CONCLUSION

Is Pomme Fritz "little more than a meeting of disparate electronic doodles from an endless array of natural and synthesised sources without the benefit of any obvious musical landmark" as Peter Kane wrote in Q? It certainly isn't the album I would point starting Orb fans to buy first. Do Pink Floyd fans really listen to the studio disk of Ummagumma? Who has ever made it through Nick Mason's Grand Vizier's Garden Party?

FLOYDABILITY

In mind but not in music.


Pomme Fritz has recently been reissued in a remastered version, containing a second disk with the following rare or unreleased mixes: Sausage Tats Mit Gravy, Star Twister, Potato Fields of Electric Gliding Blue (extended version of Alles Ist Schoen), Eastern Hot Dogs in Gardens of Dub and Wrapped with Salt & Vinegar.

I don't think I will ever listen to it.


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: U.F.Orb 2007

20080725

Obscured by Fluffy Clouds

Entry 889 posted in: 4. Orb Weavers


Recently The Orb has been re-issuing some of their classic albums, richly enlarged with extra tracks and remixes. Past week I reviewed Pomme Fritz, not exactly their best album (one of their worst, I might add). Today I have a go at Orbus Terrarum. The following text comes from an attempt to write an Orb biography somewhere around the turn of the millennium and has not been published before. 8-)))


FAST FORWARD, HE CRIED

1994. The world is not even partially recovered from Pomme Fritz or another Orb-like project sees the day: FFWD. This stands for Fripp, Fehlmann, Weston and Duncan Robert Alex Paterson. Robert Fripp, in the early Seventies among the troglodytes of symphonic rock with his band King Crimson, and famous for his guitar and tape technique called frippertronics or frippotronics (this was before the sampling age), puts endless layers of guitar over monotonous krautrock based ambient-trance style rhythms from The Orb. The album manages to experiment a lot further than Pomme Fritz and is often described as annoying, irritating or both.

Originally the band was to be named ORBert (and the album: Hidden In Heaven), but later on the makers decided to drop The Orb flag and to use FFWD instead. It has been out of print for ages and one can only hope for Robert Fripp to re-issue it on his Discipline label. In the Nineties there have been rumours about a follow-up for FFWD (but without Kris Weston). Two tracks may have surfaced later. One on Cydonia (Terminus) and one on the Thomas Fehlmann's solo album 'one to three. Overflow; ninene/nd' (Friedrichstraβe). The 2003 Back To Mine compilation, an album with LX's favourite ambient tunes, includes the FFWD track Hempire.

Bad reviews and lousy selling figures for Pomme Fritz on one hand and differences of what to do with the next record causes Trash (Kris Weston) to leave the band. But the split may also have to do something with the bankruptcy of their management company Wau! Mr Modo, leaving the duo in debt. The subsidiary record company, Inter-Modo, and a recording studio near Battersea are bankrupt as well.

The Orb survived a barrage of legal wrangles, financial upsets and personnel changes to deliver their latest collection of Ambient musical adventures. Mark J. Prendergast gets the word from the group's founder, Alex Paterson. Prendergast, Mark J., Journey To The Centre Of The Orb, July 1995, hosted at: sound on sound.

LX Paterson is back on his own, but not for long. In 1995 the long awaited Orbus Terrarum is released (note the title change from Orbus Terranus to Orbus Terrarum).

This is a giant leap forwards for some, a journey further into ambient regression for others. The absent Kris Trash Weston is mentioned as author on all tracks but has lost his credits as producer. Alex Paterson, Andy Hughes and Thomas Fehlmann sign for that, and this trio will now be officially known as The Orb, aided by a new drummer Nick Burton and bassist Simon Phillips on a six months tour.

Orbus Terrarum: a further exploration of minimalist and repetitive rhythms

Valley starts the cd promising enough and this version surely is better than the live one. Plateau, on the other hand, has somewhat suffered from the (very long) studio treatment when compared with the Orb Live 93 rendition that was richly spiced with randomly thrown-away samples. The first two tracks have the same feel and structure as the cosmic sound paintings made by Klaus Schulze in the Seventies. When in the right, sleepy, thoughtless or transcendent mood these are very interesting to digest, otherwise, they may just sound long and monotonous.

Oxbow Lakes with its clash between Paterson's romantic piano and the nervous beat of the dance generation reminds the listener of the inventive pre-Island Orb. This is a great piece of Orb-music indeed and the first half hour has passed away rather agreeable...

Montagne D'Or (French for golden mountain) is not the exact translation of its German subtitle Der Gute Berg (the good mountain). It starts rather moody in an ambient kind of way before getting slightly more upbeat at the five minutes mark. Neither Steve Hillage, nor Robert Fripp are on the track but the presence of psychedelic distorted noises, played by B.J. Cole on a pedal steel guitar, surely reminds me of them. At 8'12" the track suddenly regresses into an Ozric Tentacles horror-show and one can only feel lucky because the track is nearly at its end.

Sweet White River Junction starts Orb-like enough, complete with excerpts from a self awareness tape, ever-present bubbling water sounds, some machine noises and an offside Kraftwerk beat. At nine minutes and counting it passes back at the start, contradicting the sample that promised that this tune would carry us deeper and deeper...

The past 5 tracks would have made a very ambient Orb album, not one of their best and a bit too monotonous for the heart beat pig meat generation, but a nice gentle effort indeed. But the album isn't over yet and some of the freakier stuff still has to come...

A rather intriguing repetitive tune shapes Occidental's main motive until The Orb gets enough of it. It is the starting point for unleashing a bunch of directionless sound effects that can easily compete with the weaker parts of Pomme Fritz. First Slug Dub seems to be a fun track like Sticky End (on U.F.Orb) or His Immortal Logness (on Pomme Fritz), built around a Billy Bobtail story, but soon after the start the joke starts to wear thin. These monotonous doodles can't keep the listener's full attention for long. Only the attentive Pink Floyd fan in me woke up when some seagull noises a la Echoes passed at 10'25". I had a drink, a very long piss, and hoped that the record would be over when I returned 5 minutes later... but unfortunately, it was still on the run...

CONCLUSION

Heavy Orb-fans find this album (together with Pomme Fritz and FFWD) the best thing LX has ever made. Personally I find the Pomme Fritz and Orbus Terranum years their weakest period, although each album has some fine moments (Oxbow Lakes is probably the best Orb track ever). One feels that no compromises were made to compose Terranum. I can surely appreciate their efforts but in minimal quantities only.


The 2008 version of Orbus Terranum contains an extra disk with the following rare or previously unreleased mixes:

Plateau (all hands on deck mix - 2am) – 15 minutes long remix, similar to the live version.
Slug Dub (dumpy dub)
Valley (mix 3 dubby)
White River Junction (zoom vinegar mix)
Oxbow Lakes (andy's space mix) – released before on the very limited Orbscure Trax promo album (1000 copies).
Peace Pudding (Occidental). Probably not an Occidental remix but an extended version of a (rather rare) Orb track from 1997 called 'Cocksville USA'.


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Apples and Oranges