Year: 2014

November 27, 2014
A few weeks back, I spent a very pleasant Sunday afternoon attending a Harmony Singing Workshop at Bishop Grosseteste University, in Lincoln. The workshop had been arranged by my friend Annie, and apart from her, her husband, Tim, and their daughter; it was going to be a roomful of strangers, so I admit to some nervousness. A big room too – something like 80+ people attended.

The workshop was given by Faith Watson, and she was brilliant, immediately putting us all at our ease.

November 25, 2014
I use Amazon a lot – for Kindle books, for CDs and DVDs, for gadgets; and sometimes even for unexpected stuff like really excellent flour from Welsh watermills. But lately I have been thinking that Amazon isn’t so deserving of my business; from its employment practices to its well-documented tax avoidance.

Margaret Hodge, MP and chair of the public accounts committee, makes a good case that consumer action forced Starbucks to pay tax in UK, and that the same kind of action could force Amazon’s hand.

November 23, 2014
When I first got my original (shop-bought) YouView box, I thought it was pretty brilliant, but the there was the inevitable complaints how it didn’t have stuff like YouTube, NetFlix and LoveFilm. YouView’s answer to this was that they were open to new content partners, but at the end of the day, writing the app was down to the content provider, not them. This didn’t seem unreasonable to me, but didn’t stop the bickering.

Since then, a number of new content partners have appeared, most of which I’m not particularly interested in – Sky, NowTV (which I think is another permutation of Sky), UKTV, Dave etc. But this month, NetFlix has made a welcome appearance. The app is slick, and miles better (in appearance and perfomance) than the app I have been using on my BluRay; so I’ll be watching it on the YouView box from now on.

November 17, 2014
Something like 8 years ago, I bought an AXL ThinAmp DSP10 – a portable battery-powered amplifier. At the time I was making a lot of use of my guitar-synth; which works, of course, if you can plug it into something. As most of the places I played (filk and non-filk) were predominantly acoustic venues, I thought this would do the trick.

Indeed it did, and for a couple of years, I loved it. While not a patch on my Trace Acoustic amp (naturally), it had the advantage that it was lighter than a laptop, didn’t need mains power, and didn’t look like an amp – which meant I didn’t get snooty looks from the true acoustic people. And it did have 10Watts, although I don’t ever think I played it at full volume.

November 3, 2014
The weekend before last, I noticed something strange about my Nexus 10 tablet. The centre of the screen looked grubby. I’d actually noticed this a little a few weeks before, but had assumed it was the light, or some fingermarks on the surface.

But no, the centre part of the screen, in an irregular blot about 3 inches wide, was actually slightly green, and not as sharp as the rest of the screen. Opening a blank page of white, this could be seen quite clearly; and it was nothing on the surface, this was in the screen itself.

October 15, 2014
The following is based on what I have learned while trying to cope with unsolicited telephone calls. I have done my best to make it accurate, but I am not a lawyer or expert in this field. If you are aware of any glaring errors in this article, please let me know.

I am plagued with unsolicited phone calls. Sometimes I think I get too angry about them, some friends say I should just ignore them; but when you receive more unwanted sales and marketing phone calls than actual valid calls from friends, family and organisations you want to hear from, you know something is wrong.

September 12, 2014
Returning to my “cheapest” stick dulcimer, I had a surprise tonight. As long as I have played guitar I have used standard-style hard plastic picks, either in light or medium – although I sometimes use extra light on the 12-string.

When I got my first stick dulcimer, I didn’t like the sound with my standard picks; the sound was too clicky and harsh. After some reading, I took some advice and bought some extra-light nylon picks. These are much softer and flexible – they aren’t that brilliant with my guitars, but sound ace with the stick. I’ve been using them with the sticks ever since, and have just bought some more.

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).

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).

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.

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.

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.