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Folk Off! inaugural gig

After my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis in 1999 ate my fingers, I couldn’t play guitar any more, which pissed me off more than anything else about MS. But the songs kept coming to me, so about 4 years ago I taught myself to play (badly) again so I could write. Encouraged by a friend (thanks, Clara) and my daughter, I decided to do a gig, and last night was the night.

My old bassist from my punk band was meant to play second guitar, but he decided to break his arm and legs in a motorbike accident, so La Daughter taught herself to play guitar and learned my songs for her first ever gig, which makes me enormously proud. About five minutes after coming off stage, she was talking about out next gig, so Folk Off! are available for weddings and bamitzvahs.

Here are some abruptly-edited videos of the four original songs, written across 25 years and never gigged before. Trigger Warning: some guitar mistakes, from both of the players. (More tracks)

Gentle My Love

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
tonight we’ll admit no tomorrow.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
predict or recall no more sorrow.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
like the sound of the rain as it washes and cleans.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
like the murmur of sea that claims everything;

But if we were to ride on the surge of a wave
We would never sink or drown.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
Don’t hope for, or fear, all that follows.

Gentle my love, gentle my love;
tonight there will be no tomorrow.

Words / music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved

(Old demo.)

Kitty Fisher’s Locket

If Kitty Fisher gives you pictures Make sure that you frame them.
“Here’s one I drew, that man’s you; It’s of heaven when it’s raining.
There’s saint Peter in a mac, he’s got two wings on his back. Do you like it?”

If Kitty Fisher, seeking pleasure talks of making love with you.
Softly kiss her, speak in whispers, watch how she moves under you.
Hold her while she weeps when you both come.
Let the silence in to soothe her.

If Kitty Fisher gives you treasure keep it in your pocket.
Memories in filigree That’s Kitty Fisher’s locket.
“That’s me and my mother when I was a little girl.
Do you think I was pretty?

That’s me in a forest, another time, a different place.
Do you like me?”

Words / music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved

(old demo with female vocals, Original while-writing demo.)

Calling for the moon to come

When I told you I love you;
we were under the crescent moon.
You smiled; she was smiling above you,
I was scared to be ridiculous or tell you too soon.

Now I have to go; so do you –
It ’s still hard, though we both knew this would be so.
I ache for you; I know you’ll be fine
if I call the moon to watch on you & shine

I’m calling the moon;
I’m calling for the moon to come.
to lighten your load,
and brighten the road for you.

I’m calling the moon;
I’m calling for the moon to come;
where are you going?
where did you come to me from?

I’m calling the moon
I’m calling for the moon to come;
now I leave you here in the sun,
I’m calling the moon

I hope that she’ll guide you
You say that you must walk this path alone.
One day I hope I’ll walk beside you
but there are things that I must do now, and I have to be gone.

I’m calling the moon;
I’m calling for the moon to come.
to lighten your load,
and brighten the road in front of you

I’m calling the moon
I’m calling for the moon to come
at the end of your day,
to comfort you; illuminate your way.

I’m calling the moon
I’m calling for the moon to come
where are you going
where will you come to me from?

Words / music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved

(Unfinished demo)

Cinderella, not quite

Here we sit at the edge of the world
and there’s darkness behind us.

Here we wait at the turn of the date
for the new day to find us.

I was watching you, you were listening to
all of the words that were spoken.

You said “a joining of ways for a couple of days
deceives me my heart isn’t broken.

“Maybe I’ll give you love tomorrow;
I’ve got no love to give you today.
All of my love has been begged, stolen or borrowed.”

When you’re dressed up in your rags tonight
you’re Cinderella – not quite.

You were watching the valley below –
not hard to find, no glass slippers for you.

Choosing the language to make our “hello”;
not hard to find in your dust-covered shoes.

I was watching you, you were listening to
all of the words that were said.

You said “Now our paths cross, nothing is lost
if we both forget the lives we have led…

“Maybe I’ll give you love tomorrow;
I’ve got no love to give you today.
All of my love has been begged, stolen or borrowed.”

When you’re dressed up in your rags tonight
you’re Cinderella – not quite.

Words / music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved

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Bangkok recommendations

A friend asked me for Bangkok tips and tricks for his sister. I thought I may as well publish them here in case they’re useful to anyone else.

Cultural day trips

Grand Palace is a *must*. Need “respectable” clothing (no shorts, exposed shoulders or figure-hugging clothes. Or you have to queue to borrow other clothes & pay a deposit)

Wat Pho – with huge reclining Buddha. Close to grand palace.

Canal trip – at pier opposite grand palace you can get a long-tail boat up the quiet canals on the other side of the river. 20 mins, and you’re in the countryside surrounded by temples and coconut fields. Can be expensive on a tight budget (but you should always haggle for anything.) There’s a commuter boat (“express boat”) that goes up the Chao Phraya river. It’s 14 baht (about 35p). You can go as far as Nonthaburi, which takes about 30 mins, and is a very nice trip. Get out, poke around the market, then buy a ticket back.

The three above can all be packed in 1 (exhausting) day if you’re short on time.

If you’re there on a Sunday lunchtime, the 5* Shangri-La hotel has a buffet & tea dance. High society BKK ladies and their very camp Latin dance teachers do the fox trot while the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra play light classics, while you eat great Thai/ Western food next to the river and drink all the tea and coffee you can manage. Open to all, for under £20/ head.

Restaurants: there are many, many good restaurants in BKK. All street food is good; if a place has lots of customers, you can trust its quality. One of my faves is “Cabbages and condoms” – set up by Mr Meechai who basically stopped AIDS in its tracks in Thailand by encouraging condom use. It’s good, simple food at reasonable price, and proceeds go to family planning education for hill tribe people etc. http://www.pda.or.th/restaurant/ (“And remember, our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.”)

In restaurants, to signal for the bill, raise your hand, point your index finger downwards and draw a circle. The Thai word for bill is “checkbin”. It’s fine to hold up a bottle of beer and 2 fingers, for example, to ask for 2 more bottles of beer. “Not spicy” in Thai is “mai pet”. “spicy” is “pet”. If she doesn’t eat meat (nutter) I wrote How to eat vegan in Thailand.

Shopping – locals go to MBK, a giant shopping mall where you can buy practically anything from $4 t-shirts to giant teak furniture. It’s airconditioned, has great reasonable restaurants (try ‘Fuji’ for japanese food on floor 6, IIRC). Posh shopping can be done in Siam Square (next door) and its associated malls. Or, at weekends, go to Chatuchak market for a real Thai experience. Haggle. You get what you pay for.

Longer day trips: Kanchanaburi – Bridge over the river Kwai. You can stay overnight cheaply or negotiate a taxi to take you from BKK, drive you around and return you. Ayutthaya – a beautiful ancient capital full of old temples. The elephants parading through town at sunset as they return from working in the jungle is breahtakingly spectacular.

When in Thailand: all food is good; Thais are scrupulous about hygiene. Ice is edible, too – it’s bought from factories. Bottled water is cheap and trustworthy. Always, always make sure you have some next to your bed or you’ll dehydrate overnight. If your urine isn’t clear, drink more water. Salt in Sprite makes good rehydration fluid. You can clean teeth etc in tap water in BKK -= water is clean just heavily chlorinated.

Skytrain BKK is very good if she’s near a station.Lots of steps. Buy a stored value card.

Taxis are very cheap and *obliged* to use meter within BKK. If they won’t, simply get out. Many drivers don’t speak English; get a card with name of hotel written in Thai to show driver.

Tipping isn’t normal or required. I might leave loose change, eg if a bill was 490 baht, I’d leave the 10B change.

Smaller shops don’t take credit cards.

Avoid Koh Sarn Road; it’a full of gap-year entitled wankers getting drunk with fellow Westerners, in what they regard as a theme park staffed by yellow people.

Never, ever engage in conversations about the king, except to say how great he is. Generally, avoid politics or religion. Never touch someone’s head or point with your feet (or point your feet at anyone). If she has a partner, holding hands is the maximum public display of affection possible. Public kissing might as well be fucking and will shock people. Generally, displays of emotion are considered toddler behaviour.

I like to have a drink at http://www.bestrestaurantsbangkok.com/THE_DECK_BY_THE_RIVER.html at sunset to see the temple of the dawn glowing. Also Riva Surya hotel has a nice outside terrace for watching the river at happy hour.

If she wants to see sleaze, Nana Plaza / Soi Cowboy are racier, cheaper and less touristy than Pat Pong. The Thermae for late-night drinking surrounded by desperate hookers, rent boys, ladyboys and clients is great fun.

Wear factor 7 billion suncream *all the time*. It’s one of the hottest cities in the world, and this is the hottest time of the year: drink water, all the time (6 litres a day, minimum).

Unless you’re there for business, casual clothing is fine. (But reasonably modest; it’s a city not a beach.) Wear comfortable shoes; pavements are uneven and you have to walk up lots of steps to cross roads by footbridge.

oh: and generally, BKK is a very safe city. Certainly safer for women than lots of western cities. Just take reasonable care with valuables, money etc. I leave passport in hotel safe.

One weird trick to get online — designers hate it!

At the Google Progressive Web Apps afterparty last night, I had two very different conversations within five minutes of each other.

Conversation #1 went

Hey Bruce, lucky you weren’t at REDACTED conference last week. They were bad mouthing Opera! One speaker said, “Anyway, who cares about Opera Mini?”

In the time it took to drink another 5 bottles of free beer (two minutes), conversation #2 happened:

Oh Bruce, hi. We’ve just raised £100million in funding for our business in Asia, and 35% of our users are on Opera Mini.

What’s the difference? Well, for a start, one was apparently said by a European designer to a room full of European designers, in Europe. The second is the word “users”: the second conversation focussed on the fact that a technology is used by human beings, which is always, always the point.

Now, I don’t care about Opera Mini per se (I’m not its Product Manager). In the same way, I don’t care about walking sticks, wheelchairs, mobility scooters or guide dogs. But I care deeply about people who use enabling technologies — and Opera Mini is an enabling technology. It allows people on feature phones, low-powered smartphones, people in low-bandwidth areas, people with very small data plans, people who are roaming (you?) to connect to the web.

Sure, I get that Opera Mini can frustrate some designers and developers; your rounded corners, gradients and JavaScript-only APIs don’t work. But CSS isn’t content, and a progressively enhanced website will work (albeit more clunkily) with JavaScript throttled after 3 seconds. (I wrote Making websites that work well on Opera Mini if you want more information on how Mini works.)

I ran the stats today. Of more than 250 million Opera Mini users, 50% are on Android/iOS and 50% are on feature phones. The second group almost certainly have no choice in which browser to use to get a full web experience. That’s 125 million people that designer-on-stage doesn’t care about. People like Donald from Nigeria, people like Silma from Bangladesh. People.

The top territories for Opera Mini use are India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa. Because conversation #2 was about tangible stuff – millions of pounds, and numbers, let’s look at the economic growth of these nations full of interlopers to our WWW (Wealthy Western Web).

Country Population PPP Growth Rate
India 1,251,695,584 $6,300 7.3%
Indonesia 255,993,674 $11,300 4.7%
Bangladesh 168,957,745 $3,600 6.5%
Nigeria 181,562,056 $6,400 4%
South Africa 53,675,563 $13,400 1.4%

(PPP= Gross Domestic Product per Capita, figures from CIA World Fact Book)

Sure, those PPP numbers might be low compared with the home countries of designer-on-a-stage and audience, but how do the growth rates compare? These are dynamic, emerging markets. Who cared about China ten years ago?

If you don’t care about Opera Mini users in these areas, you can bet your competitors soon will.

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On Ad Blocking

At SynergyFest Mobile World Congress, I was asked a number of times whether Opera is looking at Ad Blockers and my general opinion of Ads. Here’s what I replied (with the BIG FAT DISCLAIMER that this is my personal opinion, and not that of Opera).

Firstly, yes; Opera is looking at Ad Blocking, and has been for quite a while (you’ll find lots of popular adblockers in our desktop extensions store). We know that Ads slow down the Web, and for many users, they’re expensive: the New York Times reported

Visiting the home page of Boston.com every day for a month would cost the equivalent of about $9.50 in data usage just for the ads.

Many Opera users in emerging economies pay much more of their income for web access than I do in the UK, and we want to make the web more affordable for those people.

(The fact that we’re looking at it shouldn’t be taken as a commitment to anything, by the way. We look at everything our consumers demand and our competitors implement, of course.)

But let’s talk about ads themselves. “Ads are evil” isn’t an mature argument; we need to be more nuanced than that.

For example, the other day I was reading a serious political article. Underneath it was a “related article” – just some clickbait nonsense about “The Best Breasts of 2015”, designed to sell advertising, and paginating excessively in order to maximise “hits” (whatever that means) and worsening the user experience. Now, I’ve got nothing against breasts (in fact, I’m at the age when I’m growing my own) but this is preposterous crap and deserves to die in a fire.

Later, I was reading a blog post about a band I like, and in it was a text ad, telling me that the band were playing near me the week later. I didn’t know that, so clicked through and bought a ticket – and the gig was very good.

Both were ads; one was stupid, the other was very useful. What’s the difference? To me, it was intrusiveness and (related to that) contextuality. An ad about a band next to an article about the band is highly contextual, and thus less intrusive. That it was a text ad, so light to download, made it less intrusive too, because it didn’t delay the page loading or make the screen reformat. Neither did it autoplay a heavy video, make noise or obscure the content.

So the challenge for Ad blocking is to block the crap and allow the good. I don’t know if anyone knows how to do that infallibly.

There’s also the question of revenues. We’ve been trained to expect “free” content on the web, and that’s largely paid for by ads. Before I joined Opera and became an Internet Tycoon/ over-promoted gobshite (delete as you see fit), I had a reasonably popular blog. (This very one! And still the same 2003 design!)

Because it was reasonably popular, I paid a fair amount of money for server costs etc. As sole breadwinner with two young children, those costs were a burden, so I ran ads which paid my hosting and bought me a few pints. I don’t know that I would have pulled the plug without those ads (I like the sound of my own voice too much) but other people in my situation might, and it would be a huge loss to the Web – and therefore to consumers – if independent content producers’ voices disappeared as a result of advertising revenues drying up.

So, Ad-blocking is a must, I think. But it needs to be done intelligently, and (probably) over a few iterations before we (Opera, and the wider web ecosystem) get it right. And if that encourages the advertising industry to do their work with less intrusive, bandwidth-hogging nonsense, and therefore more utility (to consumers and to their clients), we’ll all gain.

Update

Since I wrote this, Opera released a developer build of our desktop browser, with a built-in ad blocker that makes sites about 50% faster, and some 90% faster.

This led to good conversations about ads, publishers’ revenue and how the industry is changing: