Rosa String Works

This is YouTube Luthiers as entertainment part 2.

“The Rosa String Works Channel is primarily concerned with building, repairing, and customizing stringed musical instruments.”

This channel appears to be primarily about repairing and making stringed musical instruments, mostly guitars and mandolins. Here are some of the videos I’ve been watching over the last month:

I had never seen a guitar like this before, it is fascinating to see how the Fender Resophonic works. The bridge drives a lightweight spun aluminium cone, which acts like a loudspeaker cone within the body of the instrument. I guessed why the bridge is in two parts immediately, see if you can guess why.

This video involves servicing and repairing a double neck combination 12 string and 6 string guitar, that cost $160 but was made with what would be several thousands of dollars worth of inlay work. The client also wanted pickups added so that it can be played through an amp. Is it the basket case it at first appears to be? Or is it a credible instrument? An absolutely mental guitar that can’t help but appeal.

Mental triple neck bass

It’s the acoustic guitar equivalent of Chris Squire’s Triple-neck Wal Bass.

A hundred year old Gibson L3, that looks like it has had a hard life and some slightly botched repairs, gets fixed up and has a new pick guard fabricated.

This one is an interesting balance between preserving the original instrument, meeting the clients various demands and doing a decent job. There was a lot of work here including replacing an undersized modern plastic nut with one created from deer antler. With all these Rosa String works videos the skill care and attention to detail is impressive.

Luthiers as Entertainment 1

If I’m bored and want to chill out sit back and not do anything much, I’ve taken to watching people make things on youtube. There’s something particularly rewarding about watching a skilled craftsman making something amazing out of raw materials.

I came across this video “Full Building of a Custom Goodall Guitar”

The Goodall guitar is built using a combination of skilled craftsmanship, traditional materials, and judicious use of high tech machinery.

In contrast “Documental de la construcción artesanal de las guitarras Francisco Bros.” shows the construction of a traditional hand built flamenco guitar. Very little modern tooling here, just traditional tools and techniques. Particularly impressive is the use of string rather than dozens of clamps to hold the glued components of the guitar.

 

Self Invested Pension Plan

I have a small pension scheme that was started some time ago, the payments were stopped after 10 years or so and I can’t recall why, or if it was even my decision to cancel them (I can’t recall ever stopping the direct debit). The projected returns from that scheme are not great, and the charges were high and not transparent. So I decided that the best solution was to run my own Self Invested Pension Plan (SIPP) account. So I will be in charge of my own money.

I already had a share trading account which cost £90 per year, to add a SIPP was about another £100 per year, and the trading credits from the £90 fee can also be used for trades in the SIPP. So that means the charges amount to a fraction of the charges I would be paying in a pension plan. It also means that I’m in control of the investment decisions rather than some faceless partially accountable team.

I’ve found that saving into a pension is very tax efficient because tax isn’t paid on money that goes into your pension. If money is paid in directly from my employment, it gets paid in before it is subjected to Income tax and National Insurance. Money paid in out-of-pocket by me gets the income tax credited back into the pension account but not the National Insurance. So its best wherever possible to have pension contributions paid from your employer directly from your gross pay, rather than making the payments yourself.

Pensions are a tax efficient way to save. The upside of the SIPP is the relatively low cost. The potential downside is that the investment decisions sit with me, so if I screw that up, I compromise the amount the pension will eventually pay when I retire. I’ll post some more about how I address that potential downside another day.

The Original Star Wars Audio Drama

I found out that there was a Star Wars audio drama, produced by NPR. Rather than a copy of the film it was around a 6 hour audio drama, so there’s a lot more detailed story in there.

I wondered if it was somewhere I could listen to it. A little Googling (should that really be capitalised if I’m using it as a verb) and I found that it is possible to get a custom podcast feed that will deliver episodes as a podcast feed.

You too can get the whole drama as a podcast by copying the feed address from this page “https://fourble.co.uk/podcast/starwarstheoriginalradiodrama” into your pod-catcher.

It used to be possible to watch an ASCII version of Star Wars Episode IV via telnet towel.blinkenlights.nl

These days telnet clients have mostly been deprecated so if you want to see ASCII Star Wars without installing old telnet clients you can do so at https://www.asciimation.co.nz/

Early Computer Memory

Back in the days when a computer filled a room, or in some cases several rooms, computer memory was very different from modern semiconductor memory. In the 1940’s and 50’s it was a massive engineering challenge to be able to store and recall the information that early computers could operate with. Each solution had their own technical challenges and relative advantages. Here are a few:

  1. The magnetic drum, the principle for which was actually patented back in 1932, consisted of a rotating drum with a series of magnetic strips each of which had a head to write and read the magnetic state of that strip.
  2. Mercury delay line memory. Tubes full of mercury take a time to pass vibrations from one end to the other as sound propagates slowly through the dense liquid. Pulses of binary data were input at one end, and read at the other. The output was amplified and sent back to the input so that the compression waves of data were circulated repeatedly through the mercury, to ‘hold’ the information.
  3. For small amounts of relatively fast to access memory, banks of radio style vacuum tubes were used, this was incredibly expensive to implement and did not scale to large amounts of storage, reliability of the valves was also an issue.
  4. The Williams-Kilburn tube was a type of cathode ray tube, using the same technology as early television tubes to store the binary data as points of light in the phosphor on the tube.

With the invention of magnetic core memory and early transistors, these earlier forms of memory were displaced. The magnetic drum, being both robust and practical, evolved into magnetic disks, which were then miniaturised to become the disk drives we are familiar with today. Magnetic storage is now increasingly displaced by semiconductor memory storage devices, the currently reigning technology being flash drives such as the little ssd cards that fit in phones and media players. It will be interesting to see what will displace them.

 

Twenty Thousand Hertz

20k.org imageThe Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast is billed as “The stories behind the world’s most recognisable sounds“. It publishes a new episode every two weeks, featuring sounds that are part of the audio scenery of our lives. Now 53 episodes in, this latest episode features the genesis and evolution of the Microsoft Xbox startup sound. Recent episodes cover topics such as The Theramin, Classic Cartoon Sound Effects, Sonic Branding, and Misophonia.

The 20 to 30 minute episodes are well researched, well presented and leave the listener informed, satisfied and a little more aware of the soundscape of your life. For instance the episodes on the Amen Break of the Wilhelm Scream reveal two sounds that have been woven into our experience of music and film. The Wilhelm Scream episode had me nodding along a saying ‘oh yea’ to all those instances of the scream in things that I recognise. Listen to this episode and you will become a Wilhelm scream spotter too.

You can find the podcast feed at their website https://www.20k.org/.

Goodby to [ ! Not Secure ]

If visiting this blog in recent days with an up to date Chrome browser, you would have been warned that it is not secure. Thats because there was no security certificate installed and so the encrypted version of the HTTP protocol, HTTPS, was not available.https url image

That’s sorted now with a Let’s-Encrypt certificate installation and a forced HTTPS redirect, making communication with the blog website more secure. I had missed upgrading this blog when I upgraded other services I use.

You might think, “So what it’s only a blog, I’m not putting in any of my passwords, personal details or credit card numbers”.

It does matter though. Websites that have been corrupted by internet bad guys is one way that computer viruses are spread. If communication with the website is not secured by HTTPS, there is a good chance that the admin and in this case blog posting to that website is also in clear text. That leaves open the opportunity for a bad actor to capture the credentials, get into the site admin and plant malware. This is now much less likely for this blog.

All web sites should now be secured with a certificate, if they are not they are vulnerable and potentially make you vulnerable if visiting them. With the free certificates from Let’s Encrypt project and the scripts they provide to keep them automatically updated, there’s really no excuse not to run a site with HTTPS.

 

The conditioner conspiracy

Marketing works by convincing people that they need the thing you are selling. It’s just as effective with something people don’t really need as with something they genuinely do need. Take for instance ‘Conditioner’ for your washing. Conditioner comprises gloopy long chain molecules that adhere to the fibres in the clothes, they also act as a substrate to bind volatile chemicals (perfume) to them.

So you wash your clothes to get them clean, the machine rinses out the residues of the washing powder to ensure that the clothes are clean and then you add conditioner; more chemicals that are not able to be rinsed off. They also don’t rinse off all the rubber and plastic components in the washing machine since they are designed to stick to fibres which are chemical similar to the plastic. The conditioner that’s left hanging around in the washing machine acts as a substrate for growing mould, reducing the useful life of your washing machine. Mould spores in the washing machine and hence your washing can’t be healthy for you either.

Conditioner is advertised as making you towels bouncier and softer and more perfumed. It does that by sticking to the fibres. It also has the side effect of making the towels less absorbent and less effective at drying you. Since the washing powder was perfumed the extra perfume in the conditioner is redundant.

Conditioner is an unnecessary pollutant with little to no useful purpose and a whole bunch of negative impacts including adverse impacts on the environment.

But the advertising has convinced almost everyone that it’s a necessity.

Podcast Evolution – from the bedroom to the boardroom

I’ve been listening to podcasts now since 2006, when I won an iPod Nano and had to find something useful to do with it.

The early podcasts I listened to were from podcast-pioneers who were getting to grips with this new medium. There were a disproportionate number of very niche tech and music podcasts. Production values were largely not a thing, and the tools available to record audio were not as readily available as now. Better sound quality was derived using makeshift bedroom closet recording studios using copious blankets to cut out hash reverberation, traffic noises and the neighbours dog.  Nonetheless there were some remarkably entertaining and informative and well-produced podcasts.

Most of these early podcasts have pod-faded as peoples lives moved on and other interests and imperatives took precedence. However some persisted and have changed the course of peoples lives. For instance Scott Sigler’s pioneering audiobook podcast launched his career as a New York Times best selling author, and lead to the creation of Empty Set Entertainment with his publishing partner A Kovaks. Tony Smith created the StarShipSofa podcast with his mate Ciaran O’carroll, then later with the community of authors, narrators, contributors and listeners he inspired, built it up to be the Hugo Award winning podcast it remains to this day.

Podcasting was seen by many to be the democratisation of audio media, anyone could make a podcast about anything they wished without being dependent upon ‘big media’ to make themselves heard.

Although it is as easy as ever to make a podcast (easier than 10 years ago) an increasing proportion are from commercial enterprises. Conventional media are podcasting to retain and grow their audience, or promote their services. Podcast advertising, whilst still not able to provide a substantial enough income to support a small independent podcast, appears to have become a viable enough source of income to support organised podcast networks bringing together seasoned radio producers with new talent.

There are several notable podcast media companies that have appeared, from the venerable Twit network of tech podcasts headed up by Leo Laporte, to newer companies such as Wondery.

Wondery Inc are definitely a case of the podcast organisation with a ‘boardroom’ feel. According to their blurb they are “a network of storytellers and the fastest-growing podcast company in the world”. They were venture capital funded by a Series A seed round that raised $5M in March 2018. I’ve recently subscribed to two of their podcasts; ‘Business Wars’ and ‘Legal Wars’. The production values are high and the writing/journalism is excellent. They are obviously attempting to fund themselves through advertising (but my pod-player has a 30 second skip forward button, so I’m OK with that).

Podcasting has changed, however there are still gems, some of them more polished versions of early podcasts, some slick shiny new ones and some new rough gems where people are trying out that podcast thing. Many of the original podcasters have moved on to new or additional shows. It looks like podcasts are here to stay, not fading away as some one feared, and I’m no longer stuck with just Radio 4 as my spoken word media outlook on the world.

Girl in Space

Girl in Space (cover art)

I really enjoy podcast science fiction. I came across Girl in Space about a year ago soon after it started in September 2017.

“Abandoned on a dying ship in the farthest reaches of known space, a young scientist fights for survival (and patience with the on-board A.I.). Who is she? No one knows. But a lot of dangerous entities really want to find out…”

This is a sci-fi mystery thriller: Who is X? Why is she abandoned in space with a slightly psychotic ship A.I. called Charlotte? What happened to Charlotte to make her/it this way? Also what is Rha and why is the tie between it and X? Who are Caldwell enterprises?

Girl in Space is produced as a full cast audio drama narrated via X’s audio diary. The production values are excellent for a non-commercial podcast and features a talented cast.

“If you’re a fan of Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Star Trek, Star WarsMass Effect, or books such as the Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman or Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, you may enjoy Girl In Space.”

You can find the podcast feed on the https://www.girlinspacepodcast.com site.