Posted by chris on August 20, 2014
In January, I treated myself to a stick dulcimer from HiGuitarsUK.
A stick dulcimer, aka a Strum Stick or Strumstick, is a 3 stringed instrument, based on the mountain or Appalachian dulcimer, but made to be held and played like a guitar, rather than a lap instrument. They come in all different qualities and price ranges, but this was my birthday present to myself, so I went for a luthier-crafted high-end model, costing me 170 quid.
I’ve had a lot of pleasure out of it, and it’s turned into a minor obsession with me. So last week when I noticed a couple of other stick dulcimers on eBay, I decided to float a minimum bid. To my surprise, I got both.
So I am now the owner of 3 stick dulcimers, of varying quality. So I thought it would be a nice idea to compare them. These are the three instruments, from left to right: My birthday dulcimer from HiGuitarUK (£170); Smokey Mountain Dulcimer (£51); Strumstick by D G Clemson (£49).
Posted by chris on August 10, 2014
I’ve had a Tenori-On for a couple of years, now: the cheap “Orange” one, made of plastic; not the metal framed “White” version.
After an initial period when I couldn’t put it down, I soon found myself disappointed that the volume of the device was too low for any kind of performance without additional amplification. There was also the fact that the Orange version could only be powered from a mains adapter, lacking the White’s battery compartment. (I believe this was purely to justify the price difference between the White and Orange – aside from the cosmetics and the lack of battery power, the two are identical in function and sound).
But it was mainly the volume issue that did it for me – I found that even playing it at home, any attempt to play alongside other instruments just ended up being frustrating.
Recently, I had cause to unbox my Tenori-On to generate a quick and dirty music sequence, and it’s been on my desk all weekend. With a bit of googling, and delving deeper into the menus, I uncovered the following:
1) The “hardware volume” is set by default to 96 out of 127. I already knew this, and had set it to 127, and managed to make that setting stick.
2) The song layer volume is also set to 96 out of 127. I was aware of this, and knew how to change it, but it cannot be permanently set – when you switch the Tenori-On of, it will revert to 96. Also, setting it to 127, while making it louder, still wasn’t particularly loud.
3) However, as well as the song layer volume, each layer has its own individual volume, also set to 96 out of 127. As before, changes are not permanent. This bit, I didn’t realise.
4) All three volume controls are cumulative in effect. If you think about it, this means that the volume of a layer was – by default – set to 42% of maximum volume (96/127)x(96/127)x(96/127). (Yes, that is assuming a linear volume profile, but you get what I mean).
Setting all 3 volumes to 127 gives a clear beautiful sound that can be heard over a 12-string guitar, and is fine for acoustic performance. Obviously, having achieved a max volume, it is easy to tweak it downwards, as appropriate.
Furthermore, although setting (2) & (3) cannot be made permanent, I have learned a push and swipe menu combination at can set the thing to maximum with minimum effort, and without having to work through the menus.
So I have just ordered a 3rd party battery pack, for the princely sum of £3.50, which will finally make this into a useful portable tool. Others have done the same, and say they can get 6-8 hours play out of a set of 8 AA batteries. The pack will be velcro’d to the back – not pretty, but practical, and the pack can be removed when not in use.
I won’t be bringing this along to any music event soon, as I still have a lot to learn about how to use it creatively. But now I can actually hear it, I might play with it a bit more.
Posted by chris on July 1, 2014
I’ve just finished watching From Dusk Till Dawn, the TV series, on Netflix. I was a great fan of the original film (but not the sequel/prequel), so I couldn’t help but check out the series. However, I had severe misgivings, only tempered by the fact that Robert Rodriguez, the director of the film (and so many other wonderful things) had a directing credit on the series.
I have to say that I enjoyed it sufficiently to watch all 10 episodes. However, my misgivings were largely justified.
Big spoilers for both film and series follow.
Posted by chris on May 19, 2014
When something happens that you find irritating, it is even more irritating if, when you think about it, it shouldn’t really be irritating.
Yesterday, I needed to make a quick trip to B&Q, my local DIY store. While there, my eye was caught by some cheap printed canvases – the one I liked was filled with various (reduced-sizes) classic Marvel comic covers. I thought it might be ideal to decorate my office. I am more of a Marval man than DC, but they also had the *exact* equivalent of the DC comics; they were 20 quid each, and I decided they would look great side by side.
When I went to unwrap them at home, I saw the Marval one had the top crossbar broken – it had been held straight by the packaging, so I hadn’t noticed.
So today, I went back, receipt in hand, for a replacement. Which I got.
The irritation is that this the broken bits has obviously been an issue, as all of their stock of the Marval canvases are now no longer just cloth stretched over frame, but have a black plastic frame around them.
Which means my two canvases no longer match. That’s irritating
Posted by chris on February 11, 2014
On the subject of my car replacement, again; when it came to buying the new car, my easily-available savings fell short of the price by a couple of grand. I could have possibly put the difference on my credit card, but instead I decided to put it on a car finance agreement.
This has advantages and disadvantages: cheaper interest rates and penalty-free early payment, against a 200 quid admin charge upfront. However, it also gave me the statutory 14 days “no-reason-necessary” cooling off period, in which case, all I would pay was a flat-rate 77 pence a day interest, and no admin charge.
When I got the cheque for the insurance at the weekend, I thought that if it could clear in time, I could pay the credit off. But it was not going to happen. But then I read the agreement again. The cooling off period was 14 days – ending today; but it said I only had to pay it off within 30 days of cancelling – i.e. 30 days from today. The insurance will clear my bank in a few days, so I decided to go ahead.
Now, I felt a little guilty at this, that I was gaming the system; but I figured the finance company has bigger pockets than mine, so I made the call and I explained I wanted to exercise my legal right to cancel within 14 days.
“That expires today” said the customer service advisor.
“Yes,” I said, “Which means I can still cancel it, right?”
“Well, yes,” she said. “But only if you can give me immediate payment by credit card over the phone.” Very sure of herself, quite aggressive.
“Wait a moment. I am now reading from the form I signed. ‘You must repay the credit without delay, and no more than 30 days from the date of cancellation’. Is that not correct?”
“Errr…. yes, but I can take a payment by credit card now.”
“But I don’t have to give you the payment by credit card. If I post you a cheque, and allow an additional 77p per day for the time it takes you to receive it; and you get it within 30 days, then I have met the terms of the agreement, no?”
“OK, you will have a cheque by Monday.”
Strangely, I no longer feel at all guilty at having gamed the system; as they are obviously doing so themselves, and are relying on people not having read the actual terms of the agreement (and their legal rights).
Posted by chris on January 31, 2014
Very similar to my old car – same body shape and layout, same engine and semi-automatic gearbox. It does have the Modutop that I originally coveted, but didn’t get with my last car. This has non-opening glass panels in the roof, together with additional overhead storage compartments, and airconditioning vents for the rear seat passengers. Together with the airline-style seat trays, one might expect an air steward to appear halfway through the journey.
Posted by chris on January 24, 2014
Car is a write off, no question about it. However, all 3 cars involved are insured with the same insurer, and it looks like this may get the claim settled quickly. Also, reading through the paperwork of my original purchase, I discovered that they had thrown in GAP insurance cover, which should top up my insurance to the original purchase price.
Meanwhile, I have discovered that the showroom where I originally bought the car has a similar model, albeit with slightly better features, available as an ex-demo. Once I know that the insurance is going to pay, I plan to move on that; rather than wait for the payout, as it is too good a bargain to miss.
Posted by chris on January 20, 2014
So on Saturday, while visiting brother and sis-in-law in Chingford, we went up town to have a meal and see a show. We got back latish, and then stayed up for a while before going to bed.
At 2am, my brother heard a crash outside, and sis-in-law woke me up. A car had piled round the corner of my brother’s road (and the brow of a hill), lost control and went straight into the back of my car. Fortunately no-one was badly injured – merely seat belt bruising – but my car was shunted 8 feet, half way across the pavement, and into a neighbours car.
The guys involved were obviously shaken, but held their hands up and admitted it was their fault – not that there could be any question about that. No alcohol was involved, they were just going too fast.
Spent an hour out in the cold, clearing out assorted possessions from the car, while brother swept glass and plastic out of the road. Brother walked down to the local police station to report it, but they weren’t interested. Car was collected by 3am, and I was making calls this morning, before coming back by train and taxi. Brother thinks it is probably a write off, but we will wait to see.
Posted by chris on December 23, 2013
Back home with the holiday’s booze (both for home, and to take with me to friends).
After which, I belatedly look up whether I am actually allowed to drink with my new meds. Bottom line – I am ok, as long as I am sensible, so no real change there. It wouldn’t have been a disaster (after all, I am driving Christmas and Boxing Day, anyway); but I must admit, I would have resented having spent money on a really nice bottle of port, if I wasn’t going to be able to have a glass.
Posted by chris on December 12, 2013
I’ve written about Justin Sandercoe before, who has several hundred excellent guitar tutorials up on Youtube. To my delight, he has now started a series of ukulele lessons as well. And by the looks of things, he can really play the uke, too. So if you want some hints on strumming technique etc, tune in.
Posted by chris on November 23, 2013
I wrote in September about getting Multicast working, this being required for TV over IP channels.
Having proved it worked, I then forgot about it, as the only such channel I can currently get is Sky, which I am not interested in. I just wanted to ensure my kit could handle it should other channels come along in the future.
In the meantime, I hit another problem. My NetGear NAS also doubles as a DLNA server, enabling me to play video and music from my NAS to my bluray player, and therefore through my TV, and my music centre. I use it mainly for music – recent CDs I keep on shelves, but my older CDs are packed away, so if I don’t want to rummage, I have them available as MP3s. Recently I discovered it was no longer working, for video or MP3s. Neither my BluRay or my tablet could see the DLNA server, although my Windows desktop could.
After trying several things, without any success, I tried to cast my mind back tp the last time I could remember it working. Then I logged into my router, and turned off IMGP – the protocol behind Multicast. Suddenly DLNA started working again.
I can’t believe that IMGP is totally incompatible with DLNA – I think I would have read about it by now. So it must be something in my IMGP setup. For now, I am leaving it switched off, and will re-examine it when something interesting becomes available on TV over IP.
Posted by chris on November 7, 2013
I’ve now been using my WorkFit-S sit/stand desk for a couple of weeks, and it is going well.
Most of the publicity shots and videos show this kind of thing plumped in the middle of the desk – that doesn’t make any sense to me. I have mine as far to one side as I can manage, which leaves a good half of the desk available for non-computer tasks. Since the pictures I first took for Facebook, I have moved the device to the left side of my desk, which I prefer; I have also angled it slightly, so it doesn’t feel like it is just sticking out.When sitting, it is a very comfortabe position – the keyboard is actually below and in front of the desk, and it feels very natural. I seem to be leaning forward less, and I believe that even seated, I am in a better posture.
The transition to standing is easy – it is simply a matter of grabbing hold of the support and raising the whole thing. It is counterbalanced so no strength is needed. Mine came already adjusted for a standard monitor and laptop, and I didn’t need to change anything; but there is an adjustment screw that changes the balance. In addition to the whole thing moving, the monitor and laptop also have independent movement, which is useful for someone of my height.I am currently using a little windows app – which is from Varidesk, another standing desk manufacturer, and allows me to set reminders to stand/sit. I currently have this set to standing 10 minutes every hour, and intend to extend this, as I get used to standing. The app allows me to skip transitions or delay them, in case I am in the middle of something and don’t want to be interupted.
My working day consists of many different kinds of tasks, and I have found that some lend themselves to standing, and other don’t. I find that when I am coding, I always want to be sitting; standing is currently a distraction. However, a significant part of my job is using my company’s data mapper, which is more mouse-based – I’ve found that I quite like standing for this activity; also for dealing with email and – of course – phone calls. So I expect that when I get used to this, I will turn the timer off, and choose my position based on the task I am doing.
The downsides? Very few. Because this item clamps to the front of the desk, it moves your seating position back a bit. So folk in small offices or cubbyholes would need to check they have enough room behind them. There are other solutions – the WorkFit-A, which clips to the back of the desk on a big arm – but they don’t offer the low keyboard position when seated.
There is a slight wobble to the monitor when typing, as the whole thing is tied together with metal floating on counter-weights. This is something that will either bother you or not. I worried about it for a couple of days, and now I don’t even notice it. There is no answer for this, with a small gadget like this – the solution, of course, is to go the whole hog and buy a fully moving desk. I may consider this at some time in the future, when I move my home office; but for now, I am perfectly happy.
Of course, now I am using a standing desk, I am more aware of them in the media. I found this article particularly interesting, it seems like I have accidently stumbled into a “next big thing”.