I’ve just returned from Northern Ireland, having spent time in Belfast and took a tour around the provence to witness first hand the state of the politics there today.

Sure, the burnt-out cars of the Troubled-time are gone, I was able to walk where I chose, but the markers for the fault lines are clear for all to see. They hang from lamp-posts, from flagpoles attached to the front of houses and emblazoned on the end-walls of streets everywhere. I’m talking about Union Jacks and Ulster Unionist flags – and a significant number of Loyalist battle flags, too.

The UK media’s not too keen to talk about the flags. With investment money flowing in now, Belfast is thriving. An optimistic young city that’s a joy to spend time in. But within a mile of the centre, even around the corner from the majestic, globally recognised Queens University, teeming with it’s wonderful mix of accents and language from laughing foreign students, the symbols of sectarianism abound.

So why with all this new-found prosperity are the old sectarian feelings still so prevalent – why does the air have a sense of a unease, like a coiled spring or smoundering tinderbox?

Brexit – the fear of betrayal

Look beyond the Loyalist Crumlin and Shankill and you’ll come upon the Nationalist strongholds of The Falls. Forbidding steel gates stand ready to fall across the centre of the area in the event of unrest and ironically, they rest open against The Peace Wall. Its intention was noble but its now covered with political propaganda of the Marxist left, stoking the unrest and providing an insight into where the nationalist IRA, INLA, New IRA and Sinn Féin’s allegiances lie. Here you see Palestinian, Jihadist, Catalonian and Venezuelan images. The clear expression of “our republic” and talk of British occupation.

The Irish government in Dublin has long held links to the PLO and a few seconds research will reveal the extent of Sinn Féin’s long-held anti-semitism. Given that legacy, the murals should surprise no one.

On the Loyalist side of the gates, bold murals celebrate the historic British alliance and army connections, along with memorials to fallen Loyalist fighters. But I didn’t expect to see Israeli messages of solidarity for the Unionists, along with one in support of the Polish, recalling the contribution of the RAF’s Polish Squadron in the Second World War.

battlelines drawn anew?

Later that day, sipping my expresso back in the shabby-chiq cosmopolitan surroundings of the Cathedral Quarter, I reflected on what I’d seen. I imagined a land forfeited in the name of some ill-conceived accord with the EU that established a unified Ireland lazily justified by its majority Remain vote in the 2016 Referendum.

I remembered the IRA’s old alliance with Gaddafi’s Libya. Of course, that’s now gone. But something far more sinister has stepped in to fill that void. A pact between our more modern arab enemies.

I thought about a Marxist-driven land-grab by an army of criminals and terrorists armed by Hezbollah, Hamas or Iran, the spectre of roadside IED’s and suicide vests faced off by beleaguered Loyalists. What part might Israel play, could we see our very own Middle East-style conflict, a ferry or shuttle flight away. Just as the Troubles decided no winners, Ireland could become our new Afghanistan.

Whatever happens, we cannot – we dare not – betray this noble and loyal union. We can’t forget that these are proud British people, no matter what concessions the EU push us to accept in return for our own independence.

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presenting biomaterials, 2019 Material of the Year

Greater London, United Kingdom, 2019-09-02 – 

Every year, the London Design Fair showcases how innovative materials can be used in everyday things. Last year, it was recycled plastics, this year is the turn of biomaterials as Material of the Year.

Biomaterials or bio-based materials are often derived from agriculture. The products are harvested in an often complex yet sustainable process. The Fair is showing examples of work by four innovative environmental designers under the heading of Second Yield.

Jimmy MacDonald, the Fair’s Founder and Director explains: ‘The sheer volume of waste being repurposed and the potential volume these new materials can be used at, makes them extremely important and something we want to celebrate at the Fair.’

The Designers and inventors 

Fernando Laposse

Material: corn husks

Totomoxtle is a new veneer material made with the husks of local Mexican corn. A key part of traditional Mexican food, the local native corns range in colour, from wonderfully deep purples to soft yellow creams. Sadly, globalisation is threatening native varieties of Mexican corn. The only real hope of saving local species lies with Mexico’s indigenous people, who plant the corn in a traditional way. Working with the Tehuixtla community in the Mexican state of Puebla, Totomoxtle is helping local businesses and farmers to diversify to generate new income.

As a product and material designer, Fernando works between Mexico and London and has been engaged in this work since 2016. He takes the husks, often considered waste and transforms it into products that echoe the historic local culture, something that is key for him.

Chip[s] Board

Material: potato waste

Co-founded by Rowan Minkley and Rob Nicoll, Chip[s] Board is an innovative biomaterial company that turns food waste into high-value materials. McCain, the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products supports a number of sustainability projects is supplying Chip[s] Board with its raw materials. Chip[s] Board has several products using potato waste, including Parblex™ Plastics, a translucent pure or fibre reinforced bioplastics that can be used in fashion and interior design. Chip[s] Board has won several national and international grants and competitions and has attracted attention from global brands. The company is planning to scale up to be a provider of responsible alternatives, a step closer to replacing toxic polluting plastics.

Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven

Material: palm leaves

Based in the Netherlands, Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven is a product design studio with a difference: Tjeerd Veenhoven designs value chains, from initial production to the overall consumer experience. 

The areca palm tree of Southern India produces areca betel nuts used in Indian cuisine. The trees shed around 80 million square meters of beautiful, unused palm leaves every year. Tjeerd Veenhoven is putting the leaves to use. With just simple, natural ingredients and processes, he’s dried and permanently softened the brittle palm leaf, giving it a leather-like quality. Known as PalmLeather, this project began 2010 and has been growing ever since.

Tjeerd has set up several artisan factories in India, the Dominican Republic and Sri Lanka making various PalmLeather and derivative products, such as this unique PalmLeather interior rug using strips placed vertically, creating beautifully individual results.

High Society

Materials: hemp, tobacco and pomace

High Society was founded in 2015 by Johannes Kiniger and Giulia Farencena Casaro, located in the heart of the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy. The company compression-moulds plant-based lighting from post-industrial waste including hemp leftovers, pomace, the pulpy residue left after after wine production, and discarded leaves and stalks from tobacco cultivation. Each light sold supports anti-drug dependency initiatives, working with Forum Prävention in Bolzano, north-east Italy.

High Society produces three lamp variations, the Highlight Hemp pendant, usings industrial hemp leftovers, Highlight Wine pendant, using pomace and the Highlight Tobacco pendant, leaves and stalks discarded during Venezian tobacco cultivation. Each unique lamp variation has an added bio-based binder and a natural wax coating providing a shiny surface protecting the lamp from humidity. Minimal and elegant, the pendants are ideal for both commercial and residential use.

Information and images supplied by V2com

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I wonder how long it will be until the Rebel Alliance of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, Jo Swinson’s Libdems and Ian Ashford’s SNP realise the triple-irony of what they’ve done?

The first irony is that their grab for power has left them in voters minds with only a cigarette paper of difference between each of the three parties. The electorate won’t have a clear choice, leaving the alliance parties vulnerable in terms of vote share.

The second irony is the trick that brought them victory is the same trick that could destroy them. They exploited a weakened Tory party’s fragile majority for their power grab. If they ever get round to a general election, each party will have to stand and face the voters alone.

That exposes them to a populist swing in support of the bruised and mistreated Tories, along with a powerful push towards the full-fat leave policy of the Brexit Party. So with their “partners” standing against them, only a fifth of any voting share will be theirs. As we’ve seen, there is no policy daylight between any of them, leaving voters with no clear differentiator between the alliance parties. Plaid Cymru are the most exposed as Wales voted as a nation (53% – 47%) to leave the EU.

Crucially, voters have little reason to vote for this Rebel Alliance, given that they have made it perfectly clear they won’t honour voter’s wishes, so who would want to vote for any of them – who wants to see their vote ignored?

tactical voting

But the final irony is this. And it’s the key one. Should any of this evil trinity see the light, break free and try to differentiate themselves to crawl out of their cesspit of rancid coalition, the others will simply team up against them to bring them down. If it’s worked against the mighty Tory party, bringing down each other with the same tactics will be easy.

the Scottish perspective

And what of Scotland? The SNP will be up against a Conservative party that has its integrity intact. The SNP will have to break ranks with the LIbDems to gain share in its homeland and Labour will want to assert itself in Scotland. The LibDems will appeal to Remain-loving Scots who don’t want to break up the Union.

On that basis, it’s hard to see the SNP gaining any share – far more likely to see them losing ground.

The nuclear option this junta has deployed could contaminate British politics for a very long time. So don’t give up your day-job, comrades…

Savour your victory, you modern day politburo, you may find the damage you’ve done to British democracy could take a generation to heal – if ever.

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27% of smartphones have smashed glass at any one-time survey finds

We’ve all got the friend with a smashed smartphone – trying to view their phone screen in between shards of broken glass – and putting off the day when they must spend £100 to get it sorted.

The problem of smashed smartphone glass is worse than initially thought though.

A survey of 2,400 office workers with smartphones by workspace provider Offices.co.uk, has concluded that 27% of all workers handsets have some sort of smash to the screen, with 2% rendered totally unusable.

The Offices.co.uk phone screen survey concluded:

  • 65% had some sort of damage to the case or screen
  • 27% had what you might call “an officially damaged screen”
  • 5% were rendered “phone only” by smashed glass
  • 2% totally unusable

Office workers complained about phones being too delicate, with the new iPhone X model being bad because of glass right to the edge.

IT departments of those surveyed have added that they are having to add a protecting glass cover to all workers phones in order to keep damage to a minimum.

Richard an IT technician says: “we must have replaced glass on at least 100 iPhones last year, now we are fitting tempered glass on the front and plastic cases. People seem to drop them for fun”.

Jonathan Ratcliffe from Offices.co.uk adds, “it’s amazing how prone to damage these phones are, it seems the more expensive they are the worse the problem. You see phone screen repair shops all over cities now – it’s a huge problem”.

“With a quarter of smart phones damaged the business to be in is screen repairs it seems!”

Some of the Best Ways phones had been smashed:

  • Threw phone instead of a ball for the dog by accident – Kate, Chester
  • Phone slide off the car dashboard and out of the car window – Dave, London
  • Tripped up in the street – phone went flying in front of at least 50 people – Polly, Kent

Some of the Best temporary fixes to a smashed phone screen include:

  • Adding fun wallpaper with characters smashing the screen from within
  • Using kids plasters over the worst damage
  • Wrap in cling film

article contributed by Jonathan Ratcliffe at Offices.uk

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Komplete Kontrol at your fingertips

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m not a keyboard player. In fact, I’m not that good a guitarist, if truth be told. But I can get by and getting better by creating music with Apple’s Garageband on my iMac. And I’m discovering how my music sounds so much better, more complete, with other instruments around me. But playing along to backing tracks or even with Garageband’s well constructed samples is – well – a bit like karaoke.

What I want to do is be able to add those other orchestral voices myself. Add a little piano, maybe a Hammond, drums, bass, strings, synth. perhaps even some vocal samples. But here’s the thing. There’s no way I could play all that stuff – even assuming I could get those intruments into my little studio. What I could easily accomodate is the A49 Komplete Kontrol MIDI keyboard from Native Instruments.

This is a professional-standard keyboard that features 49 semi-weighted, touch responsive, high quality keys and two rotary expression wheels. It has no internal intelligence itself; you have to load software on your PC, MacBook or iMac and plug in a USB cable to drive it all. What you then get is more than your wildest musical dreams. You literally have a complete orchestra at your fingertips.

If you’re already a keyboard player, you’ll feel right at home instantly. The plugins are sampled from real instruments in proper studio sessions and are astonishingly convincing. They’re the company’s emerging NKS standard offerings. True HD and completely realistic.  I spent a lot of time as a roadie with a band that featured a Hammond and the Vintage Organs Hammond presets just blew me away. It even has a Leslie and great samples of valve amps and effects!

OK, but as I said, I’m no Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman or even Elton John. But this is where Native Instruments have nailed it. You can map the keyboard to play chords in whatever key you set. If you still need help, it will actually map all the black or white  keys so you can’t play an out-of-key note at all.

So what you have is an instrument any competent keyboard player can live with right away. For someone like me, the idea that you can spend an hour or so trying stuff then lay down a convincing track onto Garageband or a similar DAW is very appealing. If you’re feeling really lazy you can just go full bluff mode and map the can’t-play- it-wrong setting. Well, maybe not.

Given that even the most basic cheap and cheerful useful synth will set you back £400, with this, you get something a concert-hall-away better for £149. NI even throw in some presets – a lot of plugins – and then offer you a whacking discount on more for a huge discount on NI’s already insanely competitive prices.

The keyboard “dashboard” features a range of switches which become active depending on the preset you have selected. Selection is managed by a multi-action joystick-style control knob and there is a tiny, yet really useful display onboard to show what you selected.

The keyboard can control the record, stop, play and other functions of your computer’s DAW – I use Garageband but any Pro-Tools, Live or other DAW app will work just fine.

Apart from the USB lead, which powers the keyboard, you get a TRS-type expression/sustain pedal socket and a Kensington-type security point. As I said, its pretty well complete – or rather Komplete.

To give you an idea, just check out the video…

what about the quality?

I bet you’re thinking this is some Chinese start-up that you’ll never hear of again in a couple of years. And that’s where you’d be so wrong. Native Instruments is a professional German company.  They design all the hardware there, write the software and record all the samples. That must cost a lot of money. Of course, like the vast majority of manufacturers, they have the hardware built in China. But even that’s pure class.

The A49 site midway between the smaller A21 and the concert size A61. Each differ only in the number of keys, all the other features and controls are on each version.

I love this keyboard. It takes me to places I never dreamt I would go. I’m learning as well as making music. Try one. It will blow your mind.

Check out Native Instruments here…

 

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Way back when in the 80’s Japan was one of those bands that transcended genres. Not rock, punk or progessive. Certainly not pop. But there just wasn’t a category for thoughtful, complex, internationally influenced music. Who can forget Sylvian’s collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto on Forbidden Colours?

Japan, the band are long gone, but the individual members were talented enough to all stand on their own merits and offer their own style and value. David Sylvian has been the most prolific; I won’t bore you with his long discography – you can google that if you like, but this time I’m talking about Japan’s ex-drummer, Steve Jansen.

Jansen has released a couple of albums under his own name, but this is a new collaboration with a group of internationally renowned musicians in a new band called Exit North. While everyone contributes deeply to this fine piece of music, the notable player has to be Thomas Feiner. He has the most astonishingly expressive and powerful voice that I have ever heard.

Feiner first featured on Steve Jansen’s seminal triple album Slope.  His contribution on that was so powerful, his songs almost stood apart worthy of an album in themselves; even given the magnificent Playground Martyrs featuring former bandmate David Sylvian on vocals, which was a truly beautiful if dissapointingly short track.

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