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Ukulele & All That Jazz - 

Think of it as evolution in action

Online gamer dies after 'marathon' session


Victims of the Drug War

A quote from Radley Balko at TheAgitator.com...

"How incredibly fucking sad if the idea of a 17-year-old kid getting gunned down in his own bed in the name of preventing people from getting high is no longer capable of making us angry. And how incredibly fucking scary."

Drug raids go wrong over and over again for a variety of reasons, most of them related to how the police set them up and carry them out. But every time some innocent gets gunned down by the cops the story is the same... "this rarely happens" and the end result is the same... a dead citizen and cops going unpunished.

Time to rethink this wasteful and useless "war" on drugs, don't you think?


Musical smorgasbord on the web

Gotta love these here intarwebs sometimes.

Where else can you hear a fellow in Eau Claire, Wisconsin playing ambient music on wooden flute and then a Russian cat playing old Russian folk tunes on a hurdy-gurdy (apparently the traditional "beggars instrument" where he's from) and then jump right to a pretty Japanese lady playing Finnish music on a kantele, a traditional Finnish instrument?

And all with only a few clicks worth of effort.


Does EMI finally "get it"?

Maybe Steve Jobs' recent speech had something to do with it -- or maybe not -- but now there's talk that EMI might be releasing mp3s without DRM.

For those of you who don't have such a personal investment in such topics as I, DRM is Digital Rights Management. It's the thing that keeps you from playing an mp3 you've paid for if you try to move it to another computer and, in some instances, even the wrong portable mp3 player. It's also sometimes known as "copy protection" and can be found on DVDs and videotapes.

Really, it's just another annoying thing that the major labels do to "fight piracy" that mainly just bugs the hell out of the honest users and does squat for ending the so called "piracy."

Apparently they've already tested this concept with several things in their catalog and the results have been positive as well as the "fan feedback has been very enthusiastic."

Well, duh!

Better minds than mine have been pointing out for some time now that if you give the consumer a reasonably easy and not too expensive legal download option, they'll take it. Legal downloads don't run the risk of virii and malware that some of the "pirate" downloads do, plus, assuming the track is available at all, it's easier to find what you're looking for from the legal services.

We'll have to wait and see if this is a sign of things to come or just a rumor. But it sure appears as a ray of sunshine in the otherwise dismal picture presented by the major labels, RIAA, et. al.


Woman on the wrong bus lost for 25 years

This story just twists my brain.

BANGKOK, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- A woman who boarded the wrong bus on an attempted shopping trip from Thailand to Malaysia has returned home after 25 years.

I read the headline and couldn't come up with a single plausible explanation so I simply had to go read the whole piece.

Did you have the same reaction?


Extreme Toilets of the World

And, from the comments of that same Clicked piece I mentioned in my last post comes Extreme Toilets of the World.

As an article this rates my newly created "Funnies" category but some of the single entries in it deserve the Just Plain Weird label.


How many social networking sites is too many?

Today Will Femia at Clicked posted a link to Jon Udell's article, Critical mass and social network fatigue. In the article Jon poses some questions that have been on my mind of late...

"How many networks can one person join? How many different identities can one person sanely manage? How many different tagging or photo-uploading or friending protocols can one person deal with?"

I'm on MySpace and I'm working it to the best of my limited ability and knowledge. ezFolk is using a software that in its recent iterations has a "Fans" component. Neither of these two sites subjects me to spam and, while I have MySpace on a time limit to produce results, I'm likely to stay with ezFolk -- for a variety of reasons -- as long as they're up and flying.

Early on I was convinced by a couple friends to sign up on Ringo so that I could view his or her pictures. I've never posted any there myself but I get a lot of trash mail every time they post.

I was looking for an old classmate (and good friend) that I'd lost track of and I foolishly used Reunion.com. Now I get 3 to 10 mailings a week from them, all aimed at getting me to pay for their "advanced" services.

Another friend keeps sending me announcements that he's posted a new YouTube video and they always include a "sign up as this person's friend" section.

Please! I probably already waste too much time trying to keep up with the web stuff I want to keep up with. I don't need nor want anymore.

Everybody is trying to jump on the "social networking" bandwagon, so much so that someone has just created a spoof site called Useless Account, where you sign up and the only thing it does is allow you to come in and edit your profile.

Mr. Udell suggests that login and profile stuff should be abstracted out and made common, i.e. you have your login info and profile info set up once and you decide how much to allow a given networking site access to. And instead of filling out yet another variation on a "member profile" form, you simply click on your common profile info and say "submit this."

Yes, that would make keeping up with a lot of different sites a lot easier, but my question is, why would you want to?

Do any of you readers belong to one or more sites like this? If so, which one(s) and how many do you think is too many to keep up with?


Honest NY cabbie

This story, about a cabbie returning a bag of jewels is very nice, but I'm wondering why it's newsworthy.

Is it a subtle slam on NY cabbies? Like, "my god, at least one of them is honest!"

Conversely, could it be something the NY tourist bureau wanted to spread? "Our cabbies really aren't like you see in the movies." When I drove cab here in Seattle (back around '84/'85) I returned a big wad of cash someone had dropped in my cab. Somewhere around $800 if I recall correctly. Did I get a national news story?


What I got was a ration of shit from the dispatcher (who'd gone out of his way to not state on the air what I was looking for) because neither he, nor many of the other cabbies who ranked on me about it, would've returned the cash.

Geez. The guy was on vacation here from some little town in Alaska. He was worried about the big city and had his money in his sock. When he went to pay me (and he tipped ok too) he accidentally pulled out a bunch of it and it dropped in the howlinhobbittwell in the back seat. Too dark back there to see it, he went into his hotel, almost immediately noticed it missing, and called the cab company I worked for.

And he "re-tipped" me (even more) when I drove back to the hotel and gave him his money. Had I found it later and had no idea who it belonged to that would have been a different matter.

Woohoo! Bonus!

But was $800 worth it to me to know I had ruined this poor guy's vacation? I don't think so. I'm not holding myself up as some paragon of virtue but I need to be able to face that guy in the mirror when I shave.

So good on Chowdhury Osman for his honesty but bad on our nation (or at least its media) for treating something like this as such a newsworthy notion.


The Nanny State marches on

Not satisfied with smoking and trans-fat, NY State Sen. Carl Kruger now wants to make it illegal to cross a street while using an iPod or cell phone.

He says three people in his Brooklyn district have been killed because they stepped out into traffic while distracted by these sort of devices. In true nanny stater fashion he believes that "government has an obligation to protect its citizenry," which is, of course, nanny state speak for "we know what's best for you so we're going to run every aspect of your life." He considers this situation to be a "major public safety crisis" and a "nationwide problem."

I'm real sorry that a certain number of people are too damn stupid to look before they step out into a busy street. I'm a bit smarter than that, thanks, and I sure don't need some government drone holding my hand while I cross the street.

So Senator Kruger, don't think of it as a crisis that needs addressing, just think of it as evolution in action.


An Apple a day

After 20 years of feuding, Apple Corps and Apple, Inc. have reached a settlement. It's about time, don't you think?

Now they need to work on getting the Beatles' catalog available for legal download.

Hopefully that won't take another 20 years.


Dominator soprano - Part 1

Dominator's first soprano ukuleleThis is the first soprano ukulele that Dominator has built. It is sitting here on my couch because Dom has generously allowed me to play with it for a bit and all he wants is feedback on it. It's been here for about a week now. (Click the pic for a popup with a larger view)

Don't get too jealous. I have to send it back.
In a while.
I've decided to write a small series about it rather than one big lump of a review. So this part is the quick impressions.


It's different in so many respects from my Glyph soprano but they're the same in the two most important factors, volume and tone. In fact, when you consider that this one has soprano gauge strings on it and the Glyph wears the heavier concert gauge, Dom's may have the edge in pure volume. I simply can't discern one being louder than the other, despite the gauge difference.

(EDIT: Dom has emailed me and said that those are concert gauges on the uke. howlinhobbitled me both visually and by feel... perhaps it's the string spacing doing it? In any event, the comments about the good volume stand.)

The tone is rich and full but not quite as "throaty" as the Glyph. (Sorry, that's the best word I have for it.) They're definitely two different voices but neither one sounds "better" than the other, just different.

At an inch and a half, the fingerboard is somewhat wider than I'm used to but is very comfortable and only took me a few minutes to adjust to.

Dom's headstock design has a slight bit of extra space between the nut and the tuners. With my broad paws I think I'm sometimes actually bumping the Glyph out of tune when I'm playing.

Visually it's beautiful (I'll publish more pics in later installments). Dom has kept the lines clean and not burdened it with too much bling. Just the MOP fret markers and headstock logo and a nice inlaid rosette around the soundhole.

More details in a couple days (and I hope a report of a "road test" from some open mike or another).

Yes. I am a tease. You'll get over it.


A nostalgic look at the ukulele

Thanks to Ukulelia I found this sweet reminiscence from Washingtonian.com, a web site about that other Washington.


Hot Sassparilla

Last night I trekked down the street to the Conor Byrne Pub in order to hear (and meet for the first time) Sassparilla, a Portland, OR band who are MySpace friends of mine. (Sassparilla's MySpace page)

The band consists of Sweet Pea on washboards, Marilee Hord on fiddle, Franco Frantz on Percussabass (more about this later), Pappy McDonald on harp, Augustus "Gus" Richmond on National Steel, banjo and vocals and Dr. Caffe on suitcase, snare and washboards.

Capsule Review:
They rock. Hard.
The Purcussabass is a washtub bass of the fixed neck variety. Franko moves up and down the neck fingering notes on the single string but instead of plucking the string he hits it with a snare brush. This brush is occasionally used to give a whack to the tub itself and also to a "cymbal" he has hanging nearby that is actually the lid from a small galvanized garbage can. Great sound! Franko also takes his turns on lead vocals.
Heh! Garbage can lid cymbal. I just love me some junk music!
Dr. Caffe stepped out from behind her "drum kit" at one point and played washboard with Sweet Pea. He joined her near the stage steps and then they danced through the crowd, keeping some pretty tasty boardwork going while doing so.

Dr. Caffe's drum kit consists of a snare, some brushes, some "hot rods" (which look something like a bundle of tempura skewers and are like halfway between brushes and drumsticks as far as sound goes), a couple of those big plastic utility pails, an old suitcase for a kickdrum and her washboard.

She would change the arrangement of the pieces between songs. Sometimes she'd be playing two of the buckets and her snare, sometimes it was the snare and accessible bits of the washboard (which was placed on top of one of the buckets). That last arrangement brought an actual cymbal into the mix but, in true jug band tradition, it was a rather cheap cymbal.

Did I mention that I just love me some junk music?
Pappy and Marilee handled their respective instruments in fashions that ranged from "pretty darn good" all the way up to "smokin'!" and Gus, along with his vocal duties, picked some fine rag and piedmont riffs on a couple different National Resonator guitars.

Not only were their individual skills sharp and their arrangements tight but they also had a show, they didn't just "get up and do some tunes." I'm way down with being entertaining.

After the show I introduced Gus and Pappy to my National Resonator uke, much to their delight. I also passed around some business cards to the band so we could stay in touch without necessarily going through MySpace.

There was some loose talk bandied about me coming to Portland and being part of one of their gigs. I may just have to remind them of that because that purely sounds like a good time to me.
Their calendar looks pretty busy at this time and stretches out til August and up and down the west coast. If you're anywhere near one of their gigs you owe it to yourself to go check 'em out!


Ubiquitous Ads

It's hard to imagine such a world, but if you look at this tennis match from 1980 you'll not see any onscreen advertising. None of those wall to wall "banner" ads, much less the digitized versions so that they can change the ads from the control booth.

In a bit more than a quarter century we've gone from no ads at all at such events to ads on every surface. I mean, every surface.

Man, I ran across some video the other day of a recent rodeo and the cowboys there had sponsor patches all over themselves. I don't watch rodeos so this might have been going on for a while but it sure seems to fly against the cowboy archetype. Is the "not a real cowboy" slur going to change to "all patches, no cattle?"

Mind you, I wouldn't mind acquiring a sponsor or two. And I love the pennies that accrue when somebody visiting my main site clicks on an ad.

But it just seems to be such overload that I can't see how they think it's doing any good. When there's 20 different sponsor patches on the cowboy's vest, how does one remember a specific brand?

If you're a racing fan or rodeo or whatever, try to name one patch that your hero was wearing last time you saw him. Logical guesses don't count (like, the Indy gal is probably wearing an STP patch... that sort of thing).

Learned folk tell you your sub-conscious mind sort of "keeps a running total" and it builds brand awareness, but I'm thinking that my sub-conscious has a lot more important things to keep track of. I think my little internal editor just trashes most of that input.

So you forget the details but remember just how annoying the overall picture was.

What do you think?

(Hat tip to Seth's Blog.)


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