Friday, September 29, 2006

The song from that weird VW advert

A quick shout out for Commercial Breaks and Beats which bills itself as 'The UK Television Advert Music Database' and passes the Ronseal test by doing exactly what it says on the tin. With 2,329 ads currently in its database and the option to browse by Artist, Song Title, Company or Chronologically its a neat little resource. More importantly, it put me out of my musical misery yesterday by informing me that the song from the new Volkswagen Eos advert (the one with the oversize coffee pot and wind chimes that starts "I woke up dreaming, I was asleep...") is 'The Men in White Coats' by The Dallas Guild. According to their MySpace page (which offers four of their tracks as streams) they're still recording songs for their first album. In the meantime, you can buy an 320Kbps MP3 of 'The Men in White Coats' for a bargainous 79p from TuneTribe. Nice.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Strange but true: the scariest film of the year is now on general release and it has a Universal certificate. That's because we live in a world where a catastrophic and irreversible change in the planet's ecosystem is deemed less disturbing than Janet Jackson's nipple. Still, if it means more people will get to see An Inconvenient Truth then it gets my vote. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to show this to your kids (it's their future after all) and then have to answer the commonsense questions they are likely to ask as in response, such as "so why aren't we doing anything about it, daddy?"

For the uninitiated, the film is essentially a celluloid rendering of an Al Gore Keynote presentation (stay with me people) on the consequences of global warming. That such a unlikely premise has spawned such a compelling movie is testament not only to the hitherto well-hidden charisma of Mr Gore but also to the potency of the message itself. The facts really do speak for themselves. The term "must see" is applied way too liberally to movies in my opinion, but in this instance it might just be true - your future really may depend on it...

Monday, September 11, 2006 launched

A quick but shameless plug for my latest web venture,, which went live yesterday. The site enables you to upload a portrait photo of your choosing which will then be transformed by our highly skilled in-house artist (ok, me) into a one-of-a-kind pop art portrait, framed (or not, if you prefer) and delivered direct to your door. I guess its aimed mainly at the gift market in a 'what do you get the person who's got everything?' kind of a way (my first order was a wedding present for a couple getting married in China). Please check it out and link to it if you think it's any cop as I don't think the marketing budget's going to stretch to those full-page national press ads after all...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Relaunched Virgin Radio site

The Virgin Radio website has relaunched with a much cleaner Web 2.0 look. Gone is the rather oppressive red, blue and yellow colour scheme in favour of a white-with-pastel-gradient-fills design which is infinitely more inviting. Gone too are the fiddly DHTML drop-down menus and the global nav options have been reduced from seven to a more manageable five. Navigation through the rest of the site is also now much tidier with a contextual left-hand nav for each of the main areas.

The homepage now features a main promo with an image loop and five associated text links. Alongside is a similarly proportion animated ad (for iPod + iTunes at the time of writing), beneath are three 'latest' lists (music videos, sessions and interviews and playlist additions), no doubt intended to give the impression of a dynamically updated site.

The 'on-air now' section has been given more space to breathe at the top of the page, with a decent sized image of the presenter which shrinks to make space for a banner ad when you navigate away from the homepage.

Lower down the homepage are promos for the latest competitions, Virgin Radio podcasts and the news, sport and entertainment area. There is also a submission form for the user-sourced music news area (currently down) which I posted about last month, while it was still in beta. The main News area is comprised entirely of syndicated feeds - Sky provides the News and Sport headlines whilst The Sun is entrusted with the latest Showbiz goss. It's a whole section of the website which effectively runs itself.

Interestingly, Movies has been promoted to the global navigation, with a focus on celebrity interviews and details of major new releases (although they're looks to be a problem with the data feed as they're currently all blank).

The DJ/Shows area pretty much does what it says on the tin. One nice feature is the dynamically updating schedule, which greys out programmes in the past and highlights the show currently on air.

Unexpectedly, it is the Music area of the site that proves to be something of a let down. The Complete artist A-Z is surely in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act with just one artist listed under 'A' (Aerosmith) and most entries offering only a photo, a one sentence trivia nugget, a link to the artist's official website and a discography provided by Amazon. As a station which sells itself on music, it seems like a missed opportunity to not have a richer offering in this area, perhaps encompassing contributions from users. Some particularly Virgin-friendly artists (e.g. James Blunt, Keane, Paolo Nutini) do have a 'Fan forum' or the option of voting to create one, but it feels slightly tokenistic in view of the current climate of very impressive user-generated content sites.

One redeeming feature in the Music area is the Song search - a simple but rather splendid feature, whereby you can query the now playing database by time and day to find out what that track was that you couldn't identify. The Charts area is also pleasantly diverting if you're of a Nick Hornby persuasion, where you can discover that You're Beautiful by James Blunt really did come tenth in Virgin Radio's Top 500 Songs of All Time.

One unexpected treat was the About Us area, which is linked to from the site footer and features a nice Digital Media section which introduces the team and shows the evolution of the site since it launched in "1996-ish". It also reveals that the whole site was built in-house by just six people, which is pretty bloody impressive.

Inevitably there are still one or two bugs which need ironing out (if you're reading James, the Search box on the homepage isn't working and Dominic Johnson's Football Blog appear to have gone AWOL). Nevertheless, its an attractive site and a quantum leap on from the previous site not only in terms of design and user experience but also in its greater integration with the wider web (the adoption of wikipedia-style icons for linking to external sites is a particularly nice touch). All in all, a very nice job - well done guys!