Saturday, April 30, 2005

From the Minstrel's Closet: The Henry Ford of Musical Instruments

Just about anyone who has any familiarity with the rock, blues, country, or jazz genres of music knows the brand name Fender well. Even today, almost 60 years after inventor Leo Fender first began experimenting with ways to streamline electric guitar design, there are several models of Fender guitar, bass, and amplifier that are considered standards of the electric guitar/bass world. However, even among musicians, not many people can appreciate just how much of an influence Leo Fender had on contemporary music. That is why he is often referred to as the "Henry Ford of musical instruments". His many contributions include:

- the first mass-produced, solid-bodied, electric, Spanish-style guitar (the Broadcaster, later renamed the Telecaster, introduced in 1951)
- the first-ever electric bass (the Precision, also introduced in 1951)
- the first three-pickup guitar, which was also the first with a double-cutaway and a tremolo bar (the Stratocaster, introduced in 1954)
- the first "modern", high-powered amp (the Bassman, actually intended for bass but which came to be a standard among guitarists, introduced in 1958). (Incidentally, in the 60s a certain amp "hotrodder" in Britain named Jim Marshall once produced a special, souped-up version of the Bassman for Pete Townshend of The Who. Pete, being the arsewhoal he's well known to be, refused to use it, but Marshall's design was the genesis of what was to become the principal amp maker in the rock world to this day.)

In the mid 60s, ill health forced Leo Fender to sell his company to CBS (yes, the broadcasting company), who ran the firm (ragged) until the early 90s, when a consortium of employees and shareholders bought it out and put it back in the hands of people in the music business. Now Fender has seen something of a resurgence. Not only that, but it has grown to encompass several other historically important and influential guitar brands, such as Gretsch, Guild, and Tacoma.

All I know is that my home studio wouldn't be the same without my Yamaha Telecaster copy (okay, it's not a Fender, but it is a good copy of one) and my Stratocaster FR Custom (which Paul says isn't a real Strat, but oh, well). As for Jeff's recent album and our recent gig at the Canadian Embassy to promote it (see my Life in the Land of the Rising Sun blog, link at right), neither of them would have been the same without Paul's vintage Fender Deluxe amp and his Strat Classic.

My Line 6 POD guitar processor also includes emulations of a whole bunch of Fender amp models, each of which is unique, and all of which sound good.

Okay...'nuff yappin'. Time to put on some tunes!

'59 Fender Bassman

Here's what my Strat looks like, except mine is bone white:

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

From the Minstrel's (Dream) Closet - Uilleann Pipes

Okay, this time I'll talk about an instrument that I don't have. (Yes, there are still a few of those in existence.) Everyone is familiar with the Highland Bagpipes of Scotland (and if you aren't, someone should give you a Dutch rub). Well, believe it or not, there are many other kinds of traditional bagpipe in existence in the world. One of these, like the Highland Pipes, is of Celtic origin and native to the British Isles. This is the Uilleann Pipes of Ireland.

Like the Highland Pipes, the Uilleann (pronounced "ill-awn", Gaelic for "elbow") Pipes consist of a fingered chanter, or melody pipe, and a number of drone pipes, all of which produce their sound by means of reeds driven by air squeezed from a bag. There the resemblance ends, and I'm not just talking about their vastly different appearance. Unlike the Highland Pipes, the Uilleann Pipes are not inflated by blowing into them. Rather, they use a bellows, keeping the mouth and lungs completely free. Also, the drones on a full set of Uilleann Pipes include a complex set of regulator keys, controlled by the wrists, which allow the drones to be turned on and off and even switched to different pitches in the middle of a tune, allowing the player to accompany himself with full chords rather than just a single, constant drone tone.

Uilleann Pipes nearly became extinct at one point. At the beginning of the 1980s, there were only about twenty people worldwide that knew how to play them, the most famous of whom was probably Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains. The sudden explosion in popularity of Irish music in the 80s and 90s, helped by such artists as Enya and Clannad, brought the Uilleann Pipes into the spotlight, and now demand for the instrument is outstripping supply.

Despite their complexity, the Uilleann Pipes have several advantages over the Highland Pipes. For one thing, they aren't nearly so loud, making them much more suitable for indoor use, particularly in mixed ensembles. (The only mixed ensemble Highland Pipes work well with is a rock band. Yes, I have heard such a performance, and it was AWESOME! Those Highland Pipes can really pump out a lot of sound!) For another thing, the versatility and more subtle tone of Uilleann Pipes makes them capable of a broader range of musical expression.

They say that nearly all Uilleann Pipe players start out on the tinwhistle. Paddy Moloney did. I play tinwhistle, and I would love to be able to play Uilleann Pipes, too, but I think I can do without the expense and the wait required to get even a starter set. Oh, well. I'm just happy they didn't vanish into the mists of time like they almost did.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Another Potentially Useless Japanese Invention

Or maybe useful. We'll see.

A Japanese company has come up with a small device designed to detect eight different kinds of supernatural beings as well as determine whether they are malevolent or benign. It will hit store shelves in a couple of weeks.

I'd laugh except for the fact that my life thus far has been so full of weird, hard-to-explain-rationally events. Maybe I need one of these things.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Dangers of Social Law Enforcement

In this wonderfully safe, crime-free country, a man has been arrested for pushing a Buddhist priest off the platform at a train station and onto the tracks, fracturing the priest's skull:

He reportedly told police that he committed the crime because he had been enraged by Hiromi Takamoto, the priest of Haibaracho, Nara Prefecture, who failed to heed his warning not to place baggage on a tactile path for the blind. Takamoto suffered a fractured skull.

Wow. I wonder what would happen if people were so passionately eager to enforce handicapped parking?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Only in Eugene...

A man dressed like a professional and carried a briefcase, hung out in the hall where U of O's psychology department is located, and told people he was a psychology professor. He was able to form close, intimate relationships with a whole bunch of very trusting students.

The only problem was that he wasn't really a professor.

It took a year and a half before one of those clever Ducks finally figured out he was an imposter.

That's funny. I figured out that a lot of my so-called teachers in high school and at both colleges I attended were imposters almost from the outset!

Go, Ducks...

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Chinese Government Controls Population with Spam

In an attempt to rein in the spiraling cycle of increasingly-violent anti-Japan protests, the Chinese government has turned to a very modern solution: e-mail messages sent to all registered cell phone users in the country.

You have to hand it to the Chinese authorities. They are being innovative, resourceful, and mindful of modern trends. However, I have to wonder whether they are aware that most users of cell phones, particularly in China and neighboring countries (including Japan), have a tendency to get quickly inundated with spam. Most users, if they don't have some kind of spam-blocking service in place, deal with the problem by frequently changing their cell phone e-mail address...and deleting any mail not coming from a known source.

"An e-mail bulletin from the government? Oh, sure. Right. Every day. Last week it was Nigeria." (delete)

In other words, I really doubt all that many people actually got the message.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Mt. St. Helens Through the Years

For those of us that saw Mt. St. Helens before it blew up and remember well when it did, here is a cool site that offers a wonderful (and sometimes sad) trip through memory lane.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Meaning, Myth & Magic

Parabola is a magazine snabby and I picked up one day. We have several issues now and have decided to subscribe. The intro words from it's home page best describes it:

"PARABOLA is a quarterly journal, one of the pioneering publications on the subject of myth and tradition. Every issue explores one of the facets of human existence from the point of view of as many of the world's religious and spiritual traditions as possible, through the prism of story and symbol, myth, ritual, and sacred teachings. We offer contemporary essays and images as well as excerpts of wisdom from the great masters of years past. Past and present come together in the retellings of traditional religious, folk, and fairy tales from cultures both familiar and obscure. For us, the questions are as fascinating and thought-provoking as the answers, and we seek to open and sustain discussion of the oldest questions of all."

What is really nice is that the articles are no more than 4-5 pages long, (sometimes much shorter), so it's digestible and thought provoking at the same time. I have to admit when I was in college I had a choice of how to do the Survey of Western Civilization and I didn't choose the Philosophy route! (The choices were 1-straight out History, 2-the "Great Books" or Literature, 3-Philosophy or 4-Art History; guess which one I picked!).

The multiple perspectives provided center on a "Focus" or theme, the latest being AWAKENING. I invite you to visit and explore this wonderful resource for human religious experience (just click on the title bar).

Monday, April 11, 2005

Time for a Long Hiatus

There are many excuses. The Muse is not moving me towards writing blog entries. Work is busy. Life is busy. My lower back hurts from sitting in an office chair too much. Ladybug is working until late, so I have dinner duty and I don't like TV dinners, so I cook real food. Spring is creating too much beauty to stay indoors. Political partisans and intellectual property lawyers are creating an atmosphere that poisons free expression. I don't have the backing of a political party or a large corporation, so I am not going to stick my neck out to have it chopped off.

For better or worse, this blog is tied to my name and it creates legal and professional repercussions for myself and all who know me. If I try to protect privacy, I get accused of censorship and, quite frankly, I am tired of it. This weblog has strained several friendships and strengthened others. I think my favorite thing was to have met bloggers I don't know who came to visit and left comments. I know there are some kindred spirits up in Seattle and if I can ever break away on a Tuesday, maybe I will come say Hi at the pub. My least favorite was to be compared to Osama Bin Laden by people who know me that know better. Those are also colors that don't run or fade with time.

That isn't to say I am done with blogging, but I need a break. I've been doing this for 3 and a half years and it is time to do something better. Check the blog log on the right for great blogs and places to go.

Check back every so often because my mind changes all the time and Ladybug and The Moody Minstrel have their own times and ideas of what to post.

By the way, the winner of the Couple at Sunset Beach caption contest is Catfish Johnny Redbeard who came up with "Keep looking for the contact lens - we only have 10 minutes of light left."

(Moody does his own judging, but I would like to put in a good word for Vulgarius on the strange Japanese pic.)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A Moodier Snabulus Caption Contest

Snabulus is still resting at anchor, it seems. Allow me to join in the caption contest fun with this image from 1930s Japan:

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Snabulus Caption Contest

The winner of the Toyota robot caption contest is... Hugs O'Toole for "One small step for man, one giant leap f...what the (BLEEP)?"

Monday, April 04, 2005

Oops...Golly...I Guess I Plumb Forgot!

Your tax dollars at work...NOT!

It's a distant memory for most of the country, but President Bush's campaign swing through Southern Oregon is fresh for hotel owners still waiting to get paid nearly $19,000 for expenses incurred by the administration last fall.

Uh, hey, now look! Now, I realize that Oregon went blue in the last election, but come on! Deficit government spending shouldn't apply to hotel bills!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

And They Call This a "Safe Country"?

I guess the Japanese are taking lessons from the U.S. government.

Watch how you look at people when you stand in a taxi line at a train station in Tokyo. You might wind up being pre-emptively attacked.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Jack the Knife Exists!

Cousteau Sub Mimics Great White

The grandson of famous oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau believes the best way to learn about sharks is to become one.

Fabien Cousteau, inspired as a child by the comic book Red Rackham's Treasure, where the main character, Tintin, adventures underwater in a shark-shaped submarine, decided as an adult to build his own.

"It's the same thought process as Jane Goodall or Diane Fossey. You don't want to separate yourself from the animal. You want to be part of the animal's realm," Cousteau said.

Cousteau enlisted the services of renowned Hollywood design engineer and animatronics expert Eddie Paul to build a great white submarine.

Read the whole is pretty cool.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Face of The President and his Closest Genetic Cousin?

This is bloody hilarious!

Belgian police instructors made a training manual for recognizing and understanding facial expressions. It all starts with pictures of President Bush making various faces and, next to those, pictures of chimpanzees making identical expressions.

The funniest thing about it is that the police instructors that made the manual apparently didn't think they were being at all insulting. They thought it was all in good, clean fun. Unfortunately, the Belgian government apparently didn't agree.

Those amazing Belgians...