Guitar update

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I’d started learning to play the guitar. In a shocking development, I’ve been keeping this up – progress is slow, but I’m gradually getting better at the basic stuff of strumming in something approaching time, and changing chords without too much fumbling. My main focus is still the lessons to be found at Justin Guitar, but to keep things interesting, I’m having a play with Rocksmith 2014, which I’m using to practice single note playing – it’s quite useful in that it takes you through progressively more difficult pieces and offers lots of feedback[1]. And it works nicely on my MacBook Air.

Anyway, I told myself when I bought the starter guitar that if I kept it up, I’d let myself have a better instrument. Now there’s an insane variety of electric guitars on the market, abeit a somewhat restricted one for left-handed players, but based on the kind of sounds I like to listen to[2] and a personal preference for the way the thing looks, I was angling towards a Fender Stratocaster – the thing that my cheap guitar is an imitation of. And purely on looks, I wanted it with the maple fingerboard option. I don’t know why, but I’ve always preferred that look on a Strat. Now many years ago, the last time I tried to learn to play, I’d had a made in Mexico Strat in the colour Fender like to call Lake Placid Blue – a singularly pleasing metallic light blue, and I sort of assumed that when the time came, I’d be getting one of those again, only in left-handed form so I’d stand a better chance of, you know, playing the thing.

But I decided it would be sensible to do some research first. And so I read reviews, articles, forums, magazines and so on. And watched videos and listened to demos. And had a good thunk about the whole thing, in a remarkably similar way to how I went about buying my first proper camera, which I’m slightly alarmed to note was nearly eight years ago. Where did that time go, eh?

Anyway, after much thinking, ruminating and muttering to myself, I came to a conclusion that’s not all that different to the one I came to about cameras: if I’m going to do the upgrade thing, I’d better make sure I get something that I’ll be happy with for quite some time. And so the conclusion was that what I wanted was the actual proper American Standard Stratocaster. These are made in the US (as the name suggests) and have different pickups, which contribute to a sound that, from the demos I’d listened to, was altogether more pleasing to my ears[3]. The only downside was that Fender do not currently do the American Standard in Lake Placid Blue. But they do make it in a darker metallic blue which they like to call Mystic Blue. So that, I decided, was what I wanted.

And so, I started looking for suppliers. And found that all the usual online suspects either didn’t even list it, or had it down as “available to order”, which can mean anything from “it might be a couple of weeks” to “it might arrive one day”. No reflection on the companies involved – the left-hand market is a small proportion of the overall market, stock space is expensive and you really can’t keep everything on hand just in case some fussy Welsh left-handed bloke[4] decides he wants it.

Then I looked slightly further afield. I’d seen ads in the press for Thomann, a German online supplier. Well, I had a look at their English-language website, which lists a huge range of items, with real-time stock levels. Prices are shown in € with approximate conversion to £ shown (they charge your card in €, so the amount you pay depends on the bank, the time of day, the weather in Finland and probably other factors). Delivery charges are reasonably – €10 for orders under €200, free for anything expensive.

But, but, but, I said to myself. Yes, I know it’s an open market, and there wouldn’t be any taxes or duties to pay, but is it safe ordering things like this from forn parts? Back to the forums I went, and found lots of UK-based customers basically saying that Thormann are Rather Good and what’s more they have a dedicated support line for English speaking customers if there are any problems.

So, I did it. Order placed on Sunday, processed and dispatched on Monday. Estimated delivery, what with the four day weekend, was Tuesday 22 April. So quite naturally, it arrived on Thursday, when that nice Mr Aaron[5] took it away from the office and delivered it to me.

Thormann had put the Fender shipping box inside their own carton for maximum protection, so there was definitely no problem with its condition. Of course, being a slightly more expensive model, inside Fender’s cardboard box is a rigid case designed to survive airport baggage handlers, so there was absolutely definitely no problem with its condition.

I soon had it unpacked, tuned up and connected to my toys[6]. And oh. Wow. Really. Going through the same kit into the same headphones into the same ears, the difference in tone from the cheap guitar was abso-bloody-lutely phenomenal. And that’s without me being all that good at it yet.

And while both guitars share a remarkably similar body shape, the contours on the real Strat are altogether more comfortable. Moving up and down the neck feels smoother and easier, which is a Good Thing. And it well, looks beautiful. Here it is:

Blue Beauty

Blue Beauty

Camera: X-E2
Aperture: ƒ/4.5
Shutter speed: 1/60s
Focal length: 28.9mm
ISO: 4000
Taken: 19 April, 2014

And yes, that is a load of Doctor Who stuff behind it!


[1] That’s telling you how you’re getting on, not the thing Neil Young does a lot of with Crazy Horse
[2] Current listening: Eric Clapton. Frequent other listening includes a lot of Dire Straits. I’ve even been listening to the Shadows…
[3] Proper tests with the same equipment, same player, same settings
[4] ie me
[5] Hi Aaron   :wave:
[6] Another post about that to follow at some point

Weight and Stuff Report – 19 April 2014

Weight: 216.1 pounds (15 stone 6.1 pounds, 98 kg)
Steps taken: 13,178

As I suspected, yesterday’s weight was one of those temporary anomaly thingies.

I had the usual Frankie and Benny’s breakfast[1] and got the shopping done quite a lot earlier than last week, and decided to see about continuing that trip to the coast that the weather interrupted recently. I did that, saw what I went to see, then returned to Newcastle for a look around. I then went to the MetroCentre where I looked at some other things before walking over to Ikea for a bit of furniture research. And from there, I walked back to the MetroCentre and got a bus back to Newcastle and then came home. All this involved a lot of walking, as the step count shows.

Today’s photo is one I took when I got back to Newcastle:



Camera: X-E2
Aperture: ƒ/8
Shutter speed: 1/105s
Focal length: 55mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 19 April, 2014

[1] With free coffee, thanks to my loyalty card  :bouncy:

Weight and Stuff Report – 18 April 2014

Weight: 214.1 pounds (15 stone 4.1 pounds, 97.1 kg)
Steps taken: 1,616

Either the scale is having one of its little jokes, or I’m down again to another new low for the year.

Today being a bank holiday, I decided to have a quiet day in rather than go somewhere that would probably be crowded.

No new photos just yet, so here’s another one from that lovely day at the coast:

Lovely day

Lovely day

Camera: X100S
Aperture: ƒ/16
Shutter speed: 1/125s
Focal length: 23mm
ISO: 800
Taken: 12 April, 2014

Weight and Stuff Report – 17 April 2014

Weight: 216.2 pounds (15 stone 6.2 pounds, 98.1 kg)
Steps taken: 8,943

Down again today, so the overall trend is continuing…

I had today off – making an early start on the long Easter weekend, and why not? I did a wee bit of shopping this morning, popped into Newcastle to visit the bank, then deliver something to somebody and then went to the MetroCentre, where I totally failed to motivate myself to research furniture. So I came home after that, and here I am.

Today’s photo is another view of the model of Carlisle Cathedral, which shows how it would most likely have looked before a big chunk of it was destroyed in the Civil War…

Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle Cathedral

Camera: X-E2
Aperture: ƒ/4.5
Shutter speed: 1/600s
Focal length: 26.5mm
ISO: 800
Taken: 29 March, 2014

WordPress 3.9 is out now

This is a more significant upgrade than some, so watch out for plugins not playing nicely, old themes suffering borkage and random oddness that didn’t come up in the beta testing period. Backups are, as always, recommended.

The biggest visible change is an upgrade to the TinyMCE editor, which now allows images to be dropped directly into posts without having to go call up the “Add media” dialog first. Let’s see how it works:

Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle Cathedral

Camera: X-E2
Aperture: ƒ/4
Shutter speed: 1/600s
Focal length: 24.3mm
ISO: 800
Taken: 29 March, 2014

Well, that didn’t break. What happens is that dropping the image onto the post brings up the add media box (or “modal” as I think they like to call it), so it jsut saves a click, but that’s fine for my purposes.

Clicking the edit button on an inserted image (now a big pencil icon, nice) brings up a new fancier editing box, which looks promising.

I seem to have some invisible buttons on the editor toolbar, but that probably means I need to refresh the Ultimate TinyMCE plugin.

There will be an update for Ultimate TinyMCE soon…

Any other oddities will be reported here…

Weight and Stuff Report – 16 April 2014

Weight: 217.1 pounds (15 stone 7.1 pounds, 98.5 kg)
Steps taken: 4,198

Oh good, back down again today…

Today’s photo is a moderately edited JPG from the X100S. Apart from a slight adjustment to highlights, it’s been automagically verticalised[1] by Lightroom.

Bewick Court

Bewick Court

Camera: X100S
Aperture: ƒ/5.6
Shutter speed: 1/1700s
Focal length: 23mm
ISO: 800
Taken: 12 April, 2014

[1] What do you mean that’s not a word?

Weight and Stuff Report – 14 April 2014

Weight: Weight and Stuff Report - 14 April 2014
Steps taken: 4,292

As I expected, the low weights recorded at the weekend were some kind of temporary wossname. But I’m still lighter than I was until quite recently, so I’m not too concerned about that.

Today’s photo is of Queen Victoria, who really does not look like she’s even slightly amused:



Camera: X100S
Aperture: ƒ/4
Shutter speed: 1/2000s
Focal length: 23mm
ISO: 800
Taken: 12 April, 2014

WordPress 3.8.3 is out now

Just for a change, I wasn’t asleep when this one came out. It seems there was a bug in 3.8.2 that could lead to draft posts disappearing. Err, oops.

A maintenance release has been pushed out to fix that bug. The first I knew about it was an email from this very site telling me it had been upgraded, which is how this sort of thing is intended to be handled these days.

More information, should you want it, is available from the official source:

WordPress 3.8.3

Doctor Who – The Time of the Doctor Blu-ray

In an effort to keep the massive[1] Losing it audience as confused as I generally am, I’m moving right along with the next Doctor Who review.

The Christmas episode was always going to be a Big One. There was no way that Matt Smith would be going out with anything other than a bang, and there were plenty of those to be enjoyed here.

A message is being sent out from a planet. Sent to every point in time and space, and it’s a wee bit mysterious and troubling enough for just about everyone to come and investigate: Daleks, Cybermen Sontarans, and that’s just the ones who actually appear on screen. The Doctor is summoned by an old friend, Tasha Lem, who’s running things at the Papal Mainframe, which ties in with all those military church types we’ve been seeing over the last few years. It also ties in with the Silence. And the delightful Madame Kovarian (known and loved by all as “eyepatch lady”). Some people have specualted that Tasha is a reincarnation or some other aspect of River Song, but I’m not entirely convinced of that…

Anyway, the Doctor’s other friend Handles, who’s the severed head of a Cyberman, identifies the message as coming from Gallifrey. This is a bit odd, as (a) the planet quite obviously isn’t Gallifrey and (2) Gallifrey is off in another universe somewhere…

And on the planet, something disturbingly familiar has reappeared: that crack in the universe which is an opening to some other place, and in that place is Gallifrey. And when all the usual suspects realise that, they determine to prevent the Doctor answering that Question, because if he does reveal his actual name, the Time Lords will come back through the crack[3], at which point it’ll be Time War II, and that would be really Bad.

And so the Doctor has to stay on the planet, which is, of course, Trenzalore, in an earlier age than when he visited it in the Name of the Doctor. He stays to fight off all the aliens attempting to destroy it (and kill him, of course), and gets older and older. Clara missed most of the fun, due to the Tardis taking her home. Twice. And the Doctor revelals that he can no longer regenerate – add one for the War Doctor, and that makes twelve. And then add one for the time the tenth Doctor regenerated into himself in The Stolen Earth and you’ve got thirteen. That’s it, no more…

And much fun follows, with Clara once again coming to the rescue..

And so, finally, with the Daleks quite nicely seen off, and with the Doctor getting a new cycle of regenerations[4], he finally does just that…

Perhaps a little rushed in parts, but still lots of fun[5], and giving a nice lead-in for the next batch of episodes, which should be on in the autumn, and will, we’re told, be a continuous run of 13, without any of this split series stuff.

Extras on this one are a behind the scenes, another BBC America item called Tales from the TARDIS and a nicely done Farewell to Matt Smith. As with a lot of such things, there’s some overlap of content between the various extras, but not enough to be annoying.

Oh, and in addition to the usual extras, the package also includes the previous three Christmas specials – A Christmas Carol, The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe, and The Snowmen. I’m not sure why, as most of the target market will already have those epsiodes…

And now we wait to see how the Doctor’s new regeneration will affect him…

[1] Realtively[2]
[2] Relative to a very small thing, that is
[3] I probably need to watch that a few more times to work that one out…
[4] So we’re good for a few more years, then
[5] And probably very confusing to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention for the last nine years