Sunday, September 28, 2014

That Obscure Object of Desire




For my readers who are musically inclined and especially those who gravitate towards electric guitars, here's something that might pique your interest. My pal, Shawn Demots, is a well-established luthier in the Seattle metro area and has been repairing, setting up and modifying guitars for many years. Now he's decided to start building his own instruments and recently I've had the pleasure playing one. This particular one, in fact.  It's gorgeous, plays beautifully and is totally bad-ass. Needless to say it has terrific tone. Basic specs are in the pics below.  So if you fancy a unique, hand crafted, "Heathen" guitar instead of the ubiquitous, mass marketed, big names, drop Shawn a line or give him a call  (his contact details are at the bottom of the post). 

The guitar has a 22 fret neck with a 24.75" scale length: its tones are warm but it is also capable of delivering lovely ringing sustained notes.

The instrument is fitted with Lollar Imperial Humbucker pickups: the neck pickup  is the "Peter Green" model which can be switched to be out of phase with the bridge pickup and gives a very distinctive tone.

The body is hand-carved mahogany and is finished with nitrocellulose: no tone killing polyurethane here!

The mahogany neck is set through rather than bolt on: the finger board is ebony, the tuners are top-of-the-line Schaller.

The instrument has a beautifully carved headstock and a bone nut. "Heathen": remember the name!

If you fancy one of these hand-made beauties you can contact Shawn at: shawn@northwestguitars.com
Alternatively you can phone him on +1-425-285-1960 (tell him I sent you).

Monday, September 22, 2014

Random Aircraft Photoblogging: Avro Lancasters


Is there anything better than the sound of Rolls-Royce Merlin engine at full chat? Well, yes, actually: try listening to eight of them simultaneously!  The Avro Lancaster was an advanced British heavy bomber that saw extensive service in WW2 and took part in the famous dam buster raids. Over 7300 were built yet only two air worthy examples remain,  a BI of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight  and a B X belonging to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. I snapped the two of them over RAF Duxford last week: not only did they look great but they sounded fabulous. I didn't capture any video footage but hopefully these pics will convey some of the deadly menace projected by these charismatic old warbirds.

I'm sure that observers on the Mohne dam must have been terrified by the sight of these monsters making a low level attack.
The profile of these iconic aircraft is quite unmistakable: the sight of these two together was awesome and I can't imagine the spectacle of a few squadrons massed for a strategic bombing mission.
Bomber command suffered very high losses during WW2: 44% of Lancasters  were lost in combat and 22743 aircrew left the UK on missions and did not return.
The sound of eight Rolls Royce Merlin engines (that's a total of 96 cylinders producing 8-10,000hp) is an aural delight without equal.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Management of Digital Music. Part 4: Summary and Recommendations


Full circle! If in doubt about your digital system you can't go wrong by adding a good old-fashioned, analogue, record player and buying a few LPs. The sounds is really great and they look fantastic.
The final episode in this rather drawn out series (sorry, but life gets in the way, sometimes) is a summary of the points I've been trying to make in Parts 1-3.  In the end the management of hi-fidelity digital music is not that complicated. Anyway I hope these ramblings have helped.  Links back to the first three parts are at the bottom of the page.

1. Copy music in the highest resolution format that you can. This is the cardinal rule! I suggest AIFF as it's not only lossless but the most generally compatible with different players, supports meta-data (such as track titles and album covers) and works with iTunes.

2. The corollary to Point 1 is:  avoid collecting low definition downloads in MP3 and related compressed formats: you'll hate it later on.

3. Don't use file sharing sites/torrents and the like. Not only are they illegal but you have no control of the file quality.

4. Remember that CDs, especially used ones, are absolute bargains and are of genuine high fidelity quality: they are currently the best way to acquire a collection of high definition digital music.

5. Put your music on a quality hard drive (preferably solid state) -once it's there it can easily be transferred to any other digital system. A dedicated system is best: you don't want to be carrying around your lifetime's collection of music on your everyday laptop! Oh, and don't forget to back it up!

6. Put a good quality DAC between your hard drive and a your amplifier.

7. Experiment with different music players (apps): they make a big difference and are evolving continuously.  Also remember that iTunes is not the only music app out there...

8. Purchase a good quality amp and speakers. You can get a lot of bang for the buck these days and you don't need a budget that looks like it would fund a NASA project.

9. Once you have your digital library you can connect it to your wi-fi network and use it as a Network Associated Storage (NAS) system and stream music throughout your home. However I suggest you Keep your hi-fi system separate from your TV (A/V systems introduce too many complications and compromises) and avoid bluetooth or wireless connected speakers (which can have quite badly degraded sound quality).

10. If in doubt, don't forget good old-fashioned, analogue, vinyl! Yes I'm talking about a record player and LPs.  The sound quality is quite brilliant and makes up for the lack of convenience involved with playing records. Besides they look seriously cool.


The other parts in this series can be found here:

Part 1 : The Good Old Days
Part 2 : Hardware
Part 3 : Music Files and Software

P.S. Since penning this piece I've run across this excellent article about digital music organization by Whitson Gordon and published in Lifehacker: it's well worth a read.

Captain Corelli's Island

Assos, Kefalonia. The village nestles on a little isthmus and the bay is overlooked by an ancient Venetian fort.

There's nowhere like Greece to lower the blood pressure. I've taken myself off to Captain Corelli's Island (Kefalonia) for a few days of R&R. Honestly I could easily extend this time to a few weeks, months or even years -such is the magic of this Ionian paradise. Here are a few pics for your perusal:

The Melissani cave known as "the cave of nymphs" in Greek mythology features an underground lake.

The roof caved in some 3000 years ago: the lake is part of an underground river that flows to the sea.

The Drogarati Caves are very different from those at Melissani.  This huge underground  cavern is full of stalemates and stalactites and is so big music concerts are held there.

Amazing stalactites in the Drogarati Cavern. Both stalagmites and stalactites are still forming and the caves are considered to be geologically 'living'.

Well, where did you think all that feta cheese came from...? Kefalonia has thousands of goats roaming freely over the island.

The moon seen through the balcony door of an abandoned house. Damage from the catastrophic earthquake of 1953 is still  very much in evidence.

I named this little fellow adopted me and I named him "Oedipuss" -it seemed like a fitting name for a Greek cat  seeking a parental figure.

A rainbow and a pot of gold at sea? Greece is so rich in mythology that anything is possible.

I could get used to this life. Drinking my morning coffee in this waterside cafe  is a  simple but rare delight.

P.S.  Archaeological artifacts are commonplace in Greece but the island holds some modern historical remnants of particular interest to me...I'll reveal all in a subsequent post but below is a teaser to pique your interest.
If any reader can tell me what this is I'll buy them a beverage of choice (and saying it's a ring off a compass is not enough!).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Random Aircraft Photoblogging: Meet the Fokkers

These Fokkers are most definitely not Messerchmitts! They are Dr. I dreidecker (triplanes) immortalized in the annals of aerial combat by Manfred von Richthofen and his Flying Circus. These particular aircraft are replicas and members of the Great War Team: I snapped them patrolling the skies over Cambridgeshire last weekend. Oh, and there's a musical connection  -one of the pilots is none other than Bruce Dickinson, the frontman of Iron Maiden.







Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dan Dare

Dad                       Dan Dare

One of my childhood heroes was the handsome, square-jawed, pipe-smoking, space pilot, Dan Dare.  I followed Frank Hampson's creation every week in The Eagle. In recent years I've become aware of the striking resemblance between Col. Dare and the handsome, square-jawed, pipe-smoking, scientist that was my Father.  Indeed the similarity is a bit disconcerting.

Happy 96th Birthday, Dad! I miss you and you are still my hero...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Bit too Late

Legal marijuana shop in Bellevue, WA. The state legalized the use of dope for personal consumption last year; Colorado did the same.
The small note on the window indicates that the shop will open for business at the end of September (originally it was August). Bugger! Some calming substances would have come in very useful as I prepared to skip town. A stressful process I can tell you.  I'll have to drop by on my next visit...

Joking aside, I never thought I'd live to the day when this stuff became legal.  Pay attention, UK!

Happy Tenth Anniversary!

Ten years ago I had only the vaguest notion about what a blog was. Then the term became Merriam-Webster's (and subsequently the BBC's)"word of the year" and I started to take notice and thought that it it was that important I should probably have one. Eventually I found my way to Blogger, which had just been purchased by the fledgling Google, and on this day in 2004 Mad Dogs and Englishmen was launched. Since then it's been an interesting ride and I hope it will continue for a long time to come. Thanks to everyone who's dropped by, especially those of you who've felt inclined to comment. It makes the process quite gratifying.

So a Happy Blogging Birthday/10th Anniversary to me!

Here's Noel Coward to entertain us with his immortal song:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jean-Luc Ponty

Ronnie Scott's club interior. Photo with permission from the management
Back in June I was fortunate to catch the incredible Jean-Luc Ponty and his equally incredible band at Ronnie Scott's Club, London. This man has pretty much single-handedly pioneered the violin in jazz-rock fusion. Unfortunately I couldn't get a vid clip so this older one (not from me) will have to suffice..