Saturday, 30 July 2011

Yes: Fly From Here

I'm in a minority, albeit far from unique within the Yes fan base, in being already aware of - in fact, for decades very familiar with - the musical sapling at the centre of this new Yes album. That was due to my extensive collection of live bootleg CDs of the band, at one point containing several thousand discs.

The Horn/Downes penned demo We Can Fly From Here was played at a total of 67 shows on the 1980 Drama tour of North America and Europe. I owned recordings of 32 of these performances.

Despite its live coverage, the song was never included on a studio album. Not even on the 2004 Rhino release of Drama, expanded though that was from 6 to 16 tracks, with the inclusion of much bonus material, some less worthy. Though it did have an official live release in 2005, on the Rhino live box set The Word Is Live, it wasn't until this most recent blinding roundabout of personnel changes, ending in the reunion of core Yes men Chris, Steve and Alan, with the song's original writers, that a studio release became a possibility. And actually, much more than that.

Old School Prog

To say that I disapproved of the replacement, in 1980, of angelic but abstract singer/lyricist Jon Anderson, and classically trained keyboard maestro Rick Wakeman, by those two Age Of Plastic Buggles Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, would be completely to misapply the moderate and perfectly serviceable concept of disapproval. In fact, I suffered a complete breakdown of rationality, an implosion of incredulity, which sounded a little like this: What? The! Fuck?!

Looking back, I knew nothing about record production, and so missed the fact that a lot of the best and my favourite 80s pop - Propaganda, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (with Steve Howe on guitars!), Art Of Noise, Lisa Stansfield, Simple Minds - all was Trevor Horn produced.

Fly From Here

The main, 25 minute, 6 part epic (including the now obligatory Overture) is not at all bombastic, quite the opposite; for the most part it canters and trots a few simple themes which weave around themselves, or around light relief at one stage reminiscent of Zappa's Tink Walks Amok. All the same, and following in the tradition of their peerless Close To The Edge, which grew out of a single melodic idea by Steve Howe, it is unmistakably an old school Yes reworking of seed material, by way of thematic contributions from all band members, into a thing of epic scale.

It also shares a lot more than just structural outline and scale with its 1973 predecessor. Simplicity for one thing, in both its wondrously plain but beautiful musical motifs, and its simplistic lyrics. I get up, I get down has become a static descriptive thread about an abandoned airfield. Then too there's variety of texture, with its Madman at the Screens diversion, or the madly sauntering, Howe-penned Bumpy Ride. And it all ends, of course, with the equally obligatory Reprise.

This analysis of the title piece is borne out during the 18½ minute "Making Of" DVD, which came free with my copy. Everyone interviewed attests to the same narrative of frictionless collaboration and inclusiveness. Production god Trevor Horn tellingly emphasises, "I didn't want anything programmed," shaking and lowering his head as if discarding too heavy, unpleasant baggage; "I wanted it to sound more like the band sounded in the 70s, necessarily, than the band sounded in the 80s." Steve Howe cements the account: "It would be an illusion to say: Ah! This record sounds like the 70s. But the thing might be, there might be a concept in our new album, Fly From Here, that does carry a lot of that 70s... but it's not about copying the sound, it's really about just thinking in that way."

By turns anthemic, acoustic, inspirational, soft, rocking, and diverting, the album's centrepiece is an unconditional melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and organisational success. As for the remaining tracks...

The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be

A love song with melodic hooks and an irresistible message. Uncomplicated pop, flavoured with the soft rock sensibility of Downes' and Howe's Asia work.

Life on a Film Set

Another Buggles written reworking. Starts off slow and acoustic, then switched midstream to a fiesta dance, eleven to the bar. Nice cross-cutting solo guitar work from Steve. Yes!

Hour of Need

The Japanese release has an extended version of this song, a ballad written by Steve Howe. I'll withhold my verdict until I manage to get hold of that, as it's reputed to be a great improvement on this little three minute ditty.


This is my favourite Steve Howe solo work, out of the entire canon comprising his own solo releases and those acoustic spots with Yes. Many long time fellow Yes fans have already disagreed with me on this, but I hear the richest ever concatenation of varied guitar styles, the most accurate fretboard and pick fingering, and melodies mostly sweet, only occasionally and at the very end, minor and sinister.

Into the Storm

A strong finish, again featuring some great solo work by Steve, who appears to have gone all out for quality over number of notes this time.


Fly From Here is a great little album with a clearly retro sensibility. One I felt inspired and obliged to write about at length. One that deserves a chance of commercial success, however unlikely that might be for almost any artist today, least of all a 40+ year old progressive rock outfit. The overall sound can be summed up by saying you can hear all the instruments, something unfashionable given recent fads for production munge*, compression and clipping. Also something at which the previous album, 2001's Magnification (Yes! From ten years ago!) spectacularly failed - at least if you ask Steve Howe.

Fittingly, the cover artwork is a superb Roger Dean original in something of a career-spanning amalgam of styles, started in 1970, and left unfinished until now.

*My own term. Fortuitously, I now discover its usage in computer security, specifically password creation, where it means Modify Until Not Guessed Easily. Well, that is precisely what I mean by munge in the context of musical production: modified until there's nought but a thick beige soup, whose ingredients can no longer even be guessed. Except maybe for mechanically recovered broiler chicken.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Happy Birthday (2) To Me

Little Bloggie's 2nd Birthday

Cool, so I've been blogging here for two whole years! Time for another bit of metaspection.

Most of what I have to say about that is just to repeat last year's birthday message. The targets for the blog have remained the same: two posts per week, half the posts technical in nature, half nontechnical. Oh, and half the technical ones security related. Those targets continue to be met - the technical and security quotas comfortably, and the overall to within about 10%.

How successful has the endeavour been to date? Just as last year, the technical articles have continued to prove the less popular, and the security related ones, less so again. This echoes a typical Facebook experience, where comments on world affairs of any importance get ignored, while random posts about toasted cheese or mismatched shoes attract dozens of comments...

The blog's popularity, according to Google Analytics, has risen slowly but steadily to around 300 unique visitors per month. At this low level, comment spam remains almost nonexistent. I've only ever had to delete two comments in that category. Speaking of Google Analytics, can you see the point where my post about Sony's PS3 Linux crimes got linked at NeoGAF?

Our design, development and test departments have now had one Day O' Security presentation, or rather two identical half-presentations, that went quite well overall. Though it remains to be seen at the forthcoming Game O' Cards, as well as the promised Son O' Day O' Security: Clowns and Dancing Girls, how many colleagues have retained their new knowledge of CIA and STRIDE!

On a negative note, I've just lost my protégé, which probably seems a bit careless. Kind of a dev-elopement, you could say. Too soon to know for certain whether my mentoring on the fascinating realm of computer security testing drove him to his extreme of plank-walking despair, or enabled some shimmering new empire-building opportunity in the arena of inhouse penetration testing. Either way, our own security team having just been binarated (by analogy with decimated), I'd best go start recruiting once more. We're going to need a bigger budget...

Happy 2nd birthday, little bloggie.


Happy Birthday To Me

Photo credit: Abdulrahman Bin Slmah CC licensed

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Attack Type Update

Popularity Upheaval

Imperva's just published web application attack report (3.46MB PDF) contains something of a surprise. For some time now, it's been the case that XSS (cross-site scripting) attacks were the most popular, having overtaken SQL injection. Not any more. They have been edged out, at least where implicated in application attacks, by a narrow margin of 37% to 36% (SQLi remaining at 23%), by new kid Directory Traversal.

The Four Main Attack Types
(from Imperva’s Web Application Attack Report Edition #1 - July 2011)

What is it? Essentially finding a way to pass-through the sequence of characters that represents the command “traverse upward to the parent directory”, into one of the vulnerable application's file APIs. Such a vulnerability can be present because of either insufficient security validation, or else insufficient sanitising of a user-provided input selecting a particular file name or path. The result of a Directory Traversal attack is exposure to the attacker, of the contents of files and folders not intended to be thus accessible.

Obviously the severity of the attack depends upon the nature of the exposed material. Favourite targets include such particularly sensitive files content as users' personal account information, system metadata, and so on. The technique itself of course is not new, only its paramount popularity.

Imperva Web Application Attack Report Edition #1 (July 2011):

Sunday, 17 July 2011

John And Linda's Big French Adventure II

Wednesday 29 June

As is becoming commonplace immediately prior to a holiday in France, our religiously serviced and meticulously maintained Civic develops sudden and spontaneous maladies out of le bleu. This year it's a grinding sound from one of the wheels during forward motion, and a cacophanous monotone whining buzz when reversing. Both seem related to the offside rear disc brake (offside when it's in the UK, that is). Incidentally, why do we even have a phrase like "rear disc brake"? Surely that alone indicates a bug, a fatal and fundamental flaw in your design. Like "pilot light", or, dunno, maybe "exploding nipple ring". Give me rear drums, or give me... erm... well, multiple handbrakes, I suppose.

Thursday 30 June

Car Guy Noel says we're good to go, despite sounding like angle grinders driving, or a lovelorn wookie in reverse; repairs are necessary, but can't be organised with zero notice. I could fix it myself, assuming of course that brake pads haven't been replaced by multicore proprietary silicon since last I looked in there. But I'm bound by the same time constraints as Noel, vis-a-vis obtaining any necessary replacement parts. Either way, they'll have to await our return in une Quinzaine or so.

My heart's not in my work, and I've finished doing anything nearly productive by about 6:20pm. Still a good hour and a bit in credit, but not the 7pm finish I'd promised my long suffering colleagues. What can I say, there's nothing left in the tank guys, I feel as guilty as a newborn lamb. Off to collect Linda, get home, start packing.

7pm: collect Linda, go home, make dinner (sausages!), eat dinner (yuk.), collapse into bed too knackered to pack. Luckily, Linda's already got most of it done: like, from about a month ago.

Friday 1 July

7am: bounce out of bed and pack the car; finally depart about 12. Yes, seriously. What's the rush? All we have to do is reach Portsmouth sometime today. At 4pm there's a rumble in my psychic powers. I turn on the car radio, search MW for 5 live, and we're just in time to catch the first few points of Murray v Nadal. Andy wins the first set! Then loses pretty much every remaining point in the match.

Car continues to grind and buzz. Thanks to a 2 hour gridlock near Brum, we don't hit Victory until after 10pm. Unload suitcases into the Hilsea Travelodge, where the brasserie is already closed. Damn, that would have been ace, sitting outside on a night like this, getting wired into some big steak. Instead we're forced to chow down on local chip shop fare: sausages again (puke).

Besides the apologetic and mildly despairing "Smile" notice, there's a mysterious second door in our Travelodge bedroom. Solid varnished darkwood, it has no handle, and no keyhole. We try prising it open by squeezing our fingers into the frame gap. There is no movement. We settle down to a somewhat wary rest, fully expecting it to admit a headless intruder at some point during the night. When it does finally burst open at 4am, admitting an eight foot wall of torrenting blood, Linda sleeps through it all, apparently remembering nothing about it in the morning.

Now playing: Queen - Absolute Greatest... which reminds me, here's one I wrote earlier! For Harry Hill: Careful, Freddie! You've already broken two of those! What more do you want? Freddie Mercury: I want to break free...

samedi 2 juilliet

Travelodges have no phones, so the 6 o'clock alarm is a polite knock on the door, simultaneous with both of our mobiles going quite loopy. But we're already up, half washed, two-thirds dressed, three-quarters way to the ferry port by then. No worries, plenty time! With a full English breakfast at the self-service on board the beautiful MV Normandy (big fat 6-hour cruise ferries each way this year, none of that Express crossing nonsense), we wave goodbye to the last of our sterling.

We're On A Boat!

Exploring the extent of our freedom above deck, soon we decide it's a little breezy up here, and go visiting the various shops on board. Before long we take up a comfy table in the bar, silently participating in the quiz being run by entertainments crew. Can't believe that not a single entrant identified the voice of Groucho Marx - what on earth are we coming to? Oh shut up, Mr Grumpy.

A couple of hours later we realise France can be seen approaching, so we're back out on deck devouring its coastline with eyes and cameras. Next, in no time we're back in our cars; then it's an (almost) error-free afternoon drive to Paimpol, confidently following nothing but the intermediate road signs via St Malo, Dinard, and St Brieuc. The contrast with last year's refugee landing and midnight random drive now seems like chalk and, well, anti-chalk.

Resolved to buy some local bread, cheese and Bordeaux to mark our arrival, we are lucky enough to reach Paimpol's Carriefour just before its 8pm closing. As we wait in the checkout queue, Linda tells me she's noticed our landlord M. Koffe standing in another line. When I investigate I'm unconvinced it's the right guy, and return to tell her this. Didn't you ask if it was him? Well no, curiously not; call me a big fat feartie, but I decided not to approach some random Frenchman with the salutation "Monsieur Koffe!" on the sole basis that he was black...

It's about two minutes after closing time when Linda tries to get someone to show her where to find un adaptateur. That person's insincerity, unhelpfulness and feigned ignorance are a blot on the whole nation's image and reputation! Luckily this will be our last cause for complaint about the locals this year.


Departing for Ploubazlanec, I'm suddenly aware that we were supposed to phone ahead if arriving after 8pm local time, and of course when we get to the gîte at 8:15 there's no sign of life. Linda asks if I'm going to go round to see the neighbour, Emily, who was keyholder last year. And this part is true, and Linda is my witness: for no reason I can discern or imagine, I tell her, "Sure, but I don't think she'll be there. I think there might just be a man, doing some work upstairs in her house." She looks at me a little askance, and I don't blame her.

There's a note with two telephone numbers on the door, but we can't get through on either; a recorded French voice just keeps telling us, Orange. Blablah, blablah, blablah. The note says in English, "We are at Paimpol with friends," and so we go back there, thinking the problem might be nothing more than poor mobile reception; perhaps we can just pick up the key from them in town. But none of that is the case. I do however succeed in leaving a message on their home answering service, the longest French monologue I've ever attempted or achieved in my life, ending with "Au secours! C'est tout! Au revoir! A très bientôt!" But their home being in Nantes, 250 kilometres away, I don't expect much to come of that.

We return to Ploubazlanec looking for our Plan B. I take a walk round to Emily's house and ring the bell, but she's not there. Instead, a disembodied male voice from behind and above me demands, "Qui est là?"

"Où êtes-vous?" I ask, looking and turning around in a circle. I move into the middle of the driveway and there, poking out of a high attic window, I spot a rather distinguished looking, grey haired and bespectacled gentleman, holding a hammer.

Il Arrive!

I manage to explain our plight in broken French phrases, ending with my animated headshaking impression of the recorded voice, Orange. Blablah, blablah, blablah. "Etes-vous anglais?" - "Nous sommes écossaise" - "Attendre là," he offers, chuckling "C'est une distinction très importante!" and disappearing. I do a little jig, waiting for him to reappear in the doorway. Which he does. With a phone! Now we're communicating. I pass him the note from the door and he phones M. Koffe, announcing after a minute's conversation, "Il arrive!" - "Fantastique!" I opine, thanking him très beaucoup...

Returning to Linda, I tell her how my odd little prediction has just come true. She makes one of her own: there will be a bottle of cider in the fridge. Naturally enough, once M. & Mme Koffe arrive, full of welcomes and apologies, allow us in, waive the deposit, and then depart, this prediction too proves correct.

dimanche 3 juilliet

Just look at all that beautiful Breton countryside! After croissants, raspberry jam and coffee, Linda can't wait to walk the 100m or so downhill to la plage. I stay behind, clean up in the kitchen and try to get my mobile working by swapping SIMs and topping up. Once that's done I test it by phoning Linda, and my goodness gracious me, wasn't it just as well that I did! The poor wee darling is stranded on the margin, with sunstroke and unsocked heels and toes blistered from her brand new holiday shoes. I ride gladly to the rescue.

Her iPod now charging nicely, my clever wife arranges for lunch alfresco - or should that be en plein air? - under the parasol, with gourmet pork and Camembert. All this from last night's leftovers! Even the Diet Coke tastes ten times better here. After yesterday's early rise, six hour cruise, four hour drive and access crisis, today's theme is a day of rest. I start reading my holiday book, The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, a thousand-page hardback edition I'd bought some weeks earlier and saved for Brittany. Later we venture to our favourite restaurant for our favourite Sunday dinners - moules à la crème, and filet de bœuf à la béarnaise. Now we're really here!

lundi 4 juilliet

Early morning trip to la boulangerie for bread, strawberry jam, etc. Get the maps out. Plan an excursion. Go to the seaside!

Evening meal: Président Camembert on baguette, with duck, pork, salad, etc. Check one box on my holiday list. That just leaves "barbecue"...

mardi 5 juilliet

Merde! J'ai oublié mes médicaments!

(to be continued)

Friday, 1 July 2011

Tweets - June 2011