Tuesday, 6 October 2015

https availability on this blog

Whilst this might seem to be a few years late I've just enabled https support on this blog.   This means if any of you so desire you can read this blog via https://guitarsandlife.blogspot.co.uk now meaning it will be encrypted and provides you the following benefits...

"HTTPS is a cornerstone of internet security as it provides several important benefits: it makes it harder for bad actors to steal information or track the activities of blog authors and visitors, it helps check that visitors open the correct website and aren’t being redirected to a malicious location, and it helps detect if a bad actor tries to change any data sent from Blogger to a blog visitor." from http://buzz.blogger.com/2015/09/https-support-coming-to-blogspot.html

Price of books on Kindle

So ... a little rant.

I've had a Kindle for about 4 or 5 years now.  I like the convenience of it.  I can carry a whole bookshelf of books around with me, it's easy to read where ever etc.  My son uses one too - for him, he has dyslexia, the best thing is being able to alter fonts and spacing as it really helps him read.   Good old Amazon lured us all in and we shelled out for these things.  I've actually been considering an update to a newer one as I've not get a paper white etc. I've one of the original ones with the darker unlit screen.  But probably no more.

Increasingly I've noticed that prices of, particularly first edition hardbacks are increasing.  Now I accept some of that, access to it early etc.  But recently a new phenomenon ... Look at Bernard Cornwell's new Hardback, Warriors of the Storm, or Robert Galbraith's (JK Rowling) next book.  Yes... both are MORE expensive on Kindle.   But I'm not buying the book, only a licence to access it on certain devices, I can't resell it or pass it on to my descendants if I die as the licence is with me only.  Also how is an ebook more expensive to produce than a paper book?  It clearly isn't - so this is simply profitmongering.

I may go back to owning the books.  To be honest not something I'm adverse to - all my text books I buy in paper copy as I can't flip back forward in electronic form as easily or make scribbly notes in the margins that matter to me as easily.  I know others do, I've tried, but for me the process doesn't work.

PS - I just did some more quick research on this.  Basically over the last year publishers have been re-negotiating their content deals with Amazon, seems they were unhappy with the discount Amazon was applying to e-books and have insisted that they now set the price.  This is in line of something an author recently told me when I questioned the price of an e-book release of theirs.  Interestingly though I wonder how much they will see people now dissuaded from early purchase of books?  Back in the day when I bought real books I only rarely bought hardback first editions and I'm beginning to think similarly in this situation.  I'll at least wait for the paperback to come out ... hmmm... then WHSmith/Waterstones Buy one get one half price etc. deals look attractive.  I do wonder if publishers will over time lose out since remember if I buy a physical book I'm more likely to pass that on to someone rather than simply recommend and therefore they sell even less...   hmmm

Monday, 5 October 2015

Book Reviews

Some latest book reviews...

The Girl In the Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz

Part four in the Millenium series which started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Of course the biggest issue here is that Stieg Larsson who wrote the original trilogy died in 2004.  So David Lagercrantz has been drafted in by the Larsson estate to write the new edition.  Firstly, a more interesting book may actually be the machinations between Stieg's partner, Eva Gabrielsson, and his family over what he had planned for the rest of the series and also where his inheritance should have gone.  Eva and Stieg were not married and there was no witnessed will leaving her anything so it went to his brother and father.   Enough of the soap opera in the background though...  the book?

Well... sadly it is long long way from as well written as Larsson's books.  Much of the background is given through long sections of dialogue and it is just stilted and not as "on the edge of your seat" as Larsson's original series was.  In the end the development of the storyline from after the completion of the first trilogy is quiet good in someways but where as the original series I thought was simply stunning this isn't.  You can see the obvious plot lines developing and the characters are not developed at all - if anything the characters are regressed in this book as they aren't investigated at all by the author.   I don't envy anyone trying to write this book but sadly it was more a miss than a hit which is such a shame.

One Thumb horizontal I'm afraid ... I wish I could have given it more

The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton

Set in 17th century Amsterdam when Dutch traders were some of the richest on the planet this is a terrific book.  You are following young Nella, who has been married to a rich older merchant, Johannes, and is moving to Amsterdam at the start of the book.  From there the story takes on some bizarre twists.  Johannes has a domineering and controlling sister who seems to have no love at all, two interesting servant who have secrets and keep them too, he seems not interested in what Nella had expected her new husband to want from her etc.  He presents her with a doll's house which mirrors the house and it's occupants.  Nella finds a miniaturist who can help stock it for her but that takes on odd connotations too as new models are delivered not what she ordered.  A great storyline unfolds and you move with the characters through it - there is a whole undercurrent of questioning what is love and what moves from love to hate so easily at times.

Thoroughly recommended - a terrific read.

Two Thumbs up on the FTUBRS*

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb down,
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Intonating an A Style Mandolin

Any long term readers will remember I acquired via the lovely Mrs F a mandolin a Christmas or so back.

Now I get the thing out from time to time to play along on.  But I noticed that it wasn't brilliantly in tune as you moved up the neck.  A quick check showed it was not intonated at the 12th fret.

I checked it out using a decent tuner (my Boss TU-15) I figured out that the fretted notes were about 3-4 cents too sharp.  Meaning the bridge needed moving back away from the nut end.  Now an A style mandolin has a floating bridge - see the picture.  So moving it should be possible but how to do this?

Here is the method I used.

1. Mark the location of the front of the bridge on treble and bass sides with masking tape.  I put two bits of tape up against the bridge so I knew where it had sat originally.
2. Remove all the strings.
3. The bridge can now be moved/removed.  I tried to polish up the top as there has been some colour staining/marking from where the bridge was - I had limited success and didn't want to go into any major hassles I've left that.
4. String up one of the top E and one of the bottom G strings - essentially the two outer most strings.
5. Ensure bridge was a few millimetre back from where it had been previously.  Through trial and error I then got the bridge as close as I could to spot on with my trusty tuner.
6. Taped the bridge down with more masking tape to stop it moving.
8. Completed restringing and tuned up.

Result?   Much better it is much more in tune with itself now.  I'd researched this method online before trying it out and it seems the best way to get a floating bridge in the best place - I'd use it again with an archtop guitar if needed

You can see the amount I moved it back in this picture where the mark left by it's original position on the bass side is notable.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

This is one of the many reasons why I'm glad we have the NHS

I remember being in the USA when the Obamacare debates all kicked off.  I remember listening aghast as some commentator on some show made the outrageous and completely incorrect statement that if the USA was to go with Obamacare then a UK NHS style system would surely follow.  He then stated that women were giving birth on the sidewalks because the UK system was in such a mess.  Lies.  I can't argue our NHS needs improvements, more funding etc. but it sure ain't like that.

Today though this story has been getting a lot of airplay on newsites etc.  To quickly summarise.  A USA pharamaceutical company with the rights to a drug originally discovered by Burroughs Wellcome which became eventually part of the now GSK empire was recently taken over but a new company led by an ex hedge fund manager.  The drug is used to treat HIV patients (and others) and is acknowledged by the World Health Organisation as one it's "essential medicines".  The new company saw a market to exploit and have restricted access to the routes to buy the drug in the USA and raised the price from $13.50 to $750.00 - a 5000% rise.  

Now why am I glad we have the NHS in the UK then?  Because we have that state monopoly (with very few exceptions) the price for any drug is firstly not born by the patient we all pay our contribution at a fixed £8.20 an item no matter of the actual cost, assuming you aren't on one of the many exceptions that means you don't pay at all or you pay the annual one off charge if you are a person who needs a lot of repeat prescriptions.  Also in Wales prescriptions are free - yes USA friends you did read that right - you get to see your doctor for free and the drugs he prescribes for free too if you live in the dragon country. 

Secondly - I've just checked on the British National Formulary (BNF); which is the list of all drugs that can be prescribed within the NHS system - this is the thing that determines essentially if a drug is available at all really in the UK as there is little point being approved if you aren't on the BNF as no NHS doctor can prescribe that drug.  And the vast majority of prescriptions are obviously within the NHS system.  So then Daraprim (the drug in question) is quoted on there as being currently £13.00 for a 30 tab pack.  That is what the agreed price is between the government and the manufacturer in the UK... so ... they can't hike the price up as the govt essentially fix the market. 

Lastly - given that this is an old drug there is no patent outstanding on it - I'm assuming that anyway.  So ... calling all Indian/Chinese entrepreneurs - you have a perfect opportunity here.  Quickly figure out how to produce this drug and even if you are above the $1 a dose it is claimed it costs the current manufacture as long as you can get it to the USA and all approved etc. as long as you can substantially undercut this $750 you'll surely clean up...   Isn't that how an open market should operate?   I'd rather it was wasn't profiting so much and gambling with people's health.

CD Review - Joe Satriani Shockwave Supernova

I forgot to include this one in my recent round-up of latest CD purchases....

Whilst there are a plethora of hugely talented guitarists out there who produce great instrumental music there are few that break through from just a niche market dominated by other guitarists who are there to be dazzled by the skill rather than the tunes and fewer still who maintain a long term career from it.   Jeff Beck is one obvious example who has continued to forge a path where each release seems to get more plaudits than the last.  Steve Vai - maybe is in this illustrious group with Al Di Meola in there too maybe.   But without a doubt one for who there is no argument is Joe Satriani - since his sophomore release of Surfing with the Alien in the 80s Joe has continued to produce great albums.  I'll be honest for me he did lose his way - or at least not go in a direction I totally bought into for a while but his last 5 releases since 2006's Super Colossal have placed Joe firmly at the top of the tree.  Shockwave Supernova is a continuation from that maintaining the momentum in that this is clearly a Joe S album from the first riff in the opening title track.  There is new stunning playing throughout and a hint at times to the more stripped out relaxed Chickenfoot material he has produced with Mr Hagar et al in recent years like on Crazy Joey which then has one of the best "tapped" passages you'll hear anywhere.  Several great tracks but the stand out for me is Keep on Movin'.  From a great piano intro Joe plays a catchy riff via a cocked wah wah - indeed the break down and wah solo on this remind me of the aforementioned Jeff Beck greatly and I mean that in a hugely complimentary way not in an accusation of plagiarism since as the track develops over some great support playing from the band this is as near to jazz rock (or whatever cross over you want to name it) as Joe has ever got and it sounds flipping brilliant.  Other tracks worthy or note include the exquisite On Peregrine Wings pounded along after a crashing start by a stonking riff this is almost the defining track of his career to date for me with a searing and soaring lead part that nods back to the Extremist and Surfing albums.

Finally - I read an interview where Joe says the album is a concept about the "other persona" he adopts when he heads to the stage since being a "shy retiring" type he needs to play a part to be the rock God on stage people pay to see.  He tried through these tunes to take that persona the more showman side of him into the studio.  I can attest to that shining through on tracks like On Peregrine Wings.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

CD Reviews - Joanne Shaw Taylor, Steven Wilson and Thunder

Ok - so after a brief delve into the very murky waters of politics... anyone still here who is interested in music?

A quick round up of recent CDs I've bought.

Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Dirty Truth

Just to set the record straight in case the politician posts are still causing the mud rakers to sling insults at any of my posts - I used to work with her Dad.  Not closely but we were in the same company for a few months together and discussed music, work and football in the Directors suite at Arsenal's ground on some company do once I remember.

This is a terrific album.  I've been listening to Joanne for ages on Spotify and had her CDs on my wish list but never got around to buying one.  This was just there screaming at me when I was in an old fashioned record shop in Maidstone.  If you've never listened this is as good a place to start as any - I'd say she is the best blues/rock singer guitarist in the UK at the moment... of either gender.  She has a terrific Jopin/Jess Stone type voice and her guitar playing goes from Albert Collins through Gary Moore to Bonnamassa with country rock thrown in and some funk to.  She is a really complete player.   Stand out tracks... hmmm - a lot actually.  Ok the starter Mud Honey is a great rocker track Tried, Tested and True is a great bluesy ballad and that is followed by another rocker proving great guitar riffs can still be written in Outlaw Angel which just smells of Gary Moore as it kicks off.   If you like Joe B, Gary Moore etc. you should give this a  serious listen.

Steven Wilson - Hand Cannot Erase

I bought this after a friend of mine went on and on about it being a work of genius.  It is very good.  It is prog rock at it's best - flawless execution throughout, stunning musicianship and a concept album to boot!  However the concept it dark.  Very dark.  Based around the sad story of Joyce Carol Vincent who was a young lady who died in London in late 2003 however her body was not discovered in her London flat until 2 years later.  She'd become estranged from her family and friends and was not employed and was so isolated in a city of 8 million people that noone noticed she wasn't about. 

So what do I think of it?  Hmmm... I can't help but compare to other artists/albums throughout.  This doesn't mean it is bad, it isn't and the playing is faultless but from the kick off 3 Years Older my head is screaming "oh yes like Rush around Hemispheres."  Sadly for me there is too much of that so whilst a good work, flawlessly played it doesn't inspire like others.  As I said at the start my friend would walk over coals to get this and she waxes lyrically repeatedly about how she can barely listen to anything else currently.   I've yet to tell her it's good but not quiet the full cigar yet....  I can see her look of consternation already!

Thunder - Wonder Days

Another impulse buy in a record store.  I bought their first two albums on cassette - children asked your grandparents LOL!.   Laughing of Judgement Day is still one of favourite albums in the "classic rock" genre.  Now many years later in 2009 I dragged my son into the hot and sweaty tent at Sonisphere late one night to see Thunder's very ever last live performance.  They were ok that night - not brilliant and there was clearly some taught emotion in the band notably Danny Bowes.  However the buggers reformed did some festivals... support tour and now a new album!  However this is one the best since the early ones in my humble opinion.  The kick off title track is immense.  An emotional vocal performance which has always set Danny apart in my view - when he means the song he sings is.  A great sing along chorus etc.  This sets the scene and we are rocking along as good as any classic UFO, AC/DC, Uriah Heep anyday.  Ok this'll never make someone go "That's new and different" but then it doesn't set out to this is Thunder doing what Thunder have done brilliant for years play belting rock n roll.  It is a shame they've never quite broken out of the slightly underground feel of following but I still think many who like Kiss, Aerosmith etc. in the USA would do well to stick this in their MP3 player and hit the interstate on their Harley.   A mandolin even makes a well deserved appearance on the lighter holding aloft ballad "The Rain". Only one duff track the closer I Love the Weekend should have stayed on the cutting room floor... but apart from that very worthy listening.