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We live in litigious times, so I should say that content reflects only my opinions!

Wednesday October 13 2004

I am a fierce Thane.

Not really, but I remembered the line from an old Freak Brothers comic (required reading if you even think you might be a scrote) and it's a far less boring opener than "I got really f*cking wet in town today". I did. Ark-building stuff.

Noise. I'm really pissed off with my technology. I see better stuff around, and it riles me. I read about the stuff other people use and think "neat". I soldier on with crap. Well, not crap exactly - just stuff that I wouldn't have bought in an ideal world. And the chief reason is noise. Next time I buy a computer it'll be fanless. PC or Mac, I don't care. Mac appeals because of style and space issues, and they crap on PCs when it comes to the OS. Gimme Linux with a beautiful interface, or whatever it is. It looks great and it's a manly substructure. Most of all, quite powerful Macs are quiet! My bloody PC sounds like an aircraft taking off, and that's with a "silent" power supply. Cheap Chinese rip-off shite I fear - I've moaned about it before. And with two fast hard drives in it as well it's just a noisy bastard. This annoys me more than you can possibly imagine.

The other noisy bastard of the palatial estate is the TiVo. It wasn't a noisy bastard when I got it, at least not for something that has a cooling fan and a hard drive permanently running. But it's become obtrusively noisy of late, as presumably the fan has worn and the hard drive has aged. No easy answer to this that doesn't involve buying new bits. And I'm not doing that. I'm retiring it when the drive fails for the following reasons:

It's a noisy bastard. Oh, I said that.

Watching all the stuff it grabs for me is a job. I'm mad, so it's a job. For you, no problem. For me, a bloody nuisance.

I have to pay a tenner a month for the subscription.

If I go back to VCRs - and I have three decent ones for historical reasons - I can see clear benefits:

I won't be arsed to tape much, and will therefore be freed from having to watch much.

I'll be able to enjoy my high-end audio gear without most of the ambient noise from the TiVo.

Anything I find so indispensable that I want to back it up to tape will already be on tape. Note to techies: mine is not a recent TiVo, and therefore I cannot stream from it to a PC or whatever. Not without more mountains of hardware and some kludging, at least.

All my friends have VCRs, and I approve of simple technology which allows circulation of cultural artifacts to a wide audience.The same reason that I keep a cassette deck around the place.

A load of clanking, whirring VCRs is cool. Elegant one-box solutions are not - really not. Did I mention the state of my head? Thought so.

So I'm enjoying the TiVo, now effectively a dead system in the UK, while it lasts. When it doesn't last I'll be back in the stone age, but without the irritating whining. From the unit, I mean - I'll still whine here so don't worry.

Right, buy me a silent computer someone before I go mad.

Oh, and a digital camera that's small and has good battery life and boots fast. Hahahaha (photography joke). Can't easily read the clock display on my crap Motorola phone either.

Did I mention that technology is getting to me of late?

Legal notice for those who follow technical and/or legal developments in the news: I may have given the impression that I "shared media" with friends in the above. Of course I don't. No, I mean we all sit around and read the covers of each other's DVDs and CDs and so on. I would never, ever even lend an album to someone or tape TV which they might conspire to watch. That would be so evil, that would be stealing. Hollywood would suffer terribly, and the Dark One would rule. How people would share their joy in the arts is completely incomprehensible to me! I mean, would you lend someone a book? Have a friend with no TV round to watch yours?? Play your albums in company???

This sharing is a terrible phenomenon, and will surely lead to social isolation, gay marriage and environmental catastrophe! I fully support industry conspiracy to boost sales and restrict what consumers can do with their own paid-for hardware.

Actually, there's nothing like a good book.

Posted at 6:07 pm by Jim Woods

Don't get fleeced

hanging around on the phone to call centres for hours. My kind of site.

Posted at 10:48 am by Jim Woods

Expedition to town

today, an epic journey of around half a mile which I tend to psych up for for weeks. Miniscule check to pay in, and unbelievably these days this still involves a physical trip to the very city centre. I used to be able to do this sort of thing at the Post Office, until the powers that be in their infinite wisdom shut all the f*cking things.

The use of f*cking, by the way, is not because I am squeamish about the swearing. Au contraire, I am a tremendous swearing proponent. It has to do with the vagaries of search engines, and my desire that this site not be inaccurately perceived. Really.

Posted at 10:29 am by Jim Woods

Tuesday October 12 2004

The things I used to do. And still do.

I was always pulling electrical stuff apart to figure it out, even when I was a little, little kid. In order to see what was in there? I did have a good look. To fix it? Not usually. Usually to leave it half-assembled, or half-disassembled if you're a pessimist. And thus to move on. This rapacious urge to penetrate the casings of defenceless electronica never really abated. I suffer from its aftershocks even now, and not only in the electrical sense.

One thing that made life really difficult for the nascent audio engineer, or little bastard who couldn't leave radios alone, was my parents; like many of their generation they regarded all such devices as almost holy. The transistor revolution of the sixties, which meant that instead of huge pieces of battleship-oak furniture containing a tonnage of brass gears and huge glowing valves there were suddenly gizmos which were small and black and really rather cheap and did more, largely passed our household by. In my home there was never to be a golden era of rash acquisition, radio-cassettes and little black and white televisions everywhere. My dad was emphatically not the kind of guy who'd return from a business trip abroad (of which he made many) with an early Walkman or digital watch; if he had, he wouldn't have tired of them in a few days and given them to me. No, for me it was a good education and a cricket bat. At least the bat was intended for me to play cricket with, following in a long line of family sporting paragons.

I sat and I simmered and I put my expensive education to very good use. I connived and wheeled and dealt and plotted. I would possess utterly all the electrical stuff my school friends had in abundance. Their feckless, consuming parents would by proxy become mine. I was no thief, but I did cultivate a reputation as a repairer of hifi and the like. This got me a ton of irreparable electronic junk, with which I was able to create my first shrine in my study. Because not everything was worth fixing, of course. Life was good. My friend Des actually did the repairs for the most part. He had what I didn't, after all. He knew what the f*ck he was doing around electricity. I only knew that everything in a decent amplifier should be about three times as big as necessary. If I could have got my soldering a bit better, I might have progressed further. Then again, read an electronics textbook. Thrilling stuff, eh?


Once I left school and had a few quid, I simply became interested in assembling hifi setups of my own. Constant up, down and side-grading. Lovely stuff. A very costly way to do your head in, if you're bored with drugs. At least I had a load of records, and enjoyed finding new things to listen to. I even played a few instruments a bit. Some poor sods I knew had it much worse than me, obsessed with hifi (all men were compelled to be in the late seventies and eighties) but really not very into music. They were forced to endure hours of ELO's "Out of the Blue", which they liked even less than the rest of us did, just so they could talk about the sound of their systems. They usually didn't have any other records. If they did, they had Genesis's "A Trick of the Tail". The horror, the horror.

Of course, all the equipment was shite. Forget what anyone tells you, there was very little hifi back then worth having. Japanese stuff was incredibly dire. It wasn't that the Japanese lacked the ability to produce stuff that sounded good, but rather that they just didn't want to. Or perhaps it sounded good to them. Accepted wisdom was that it sounded good to them, but not to us. I tend to the view that they thought that anything with good technical specifications and laboratory measurements would sound good. Of course the ears are the instrument with which one should judge these things, but that is an expensive and subjective method. When you were going to obsolete (yeah, it's probably not a verb) your models every six months anyway what was the point? Whatever, anything my friends and I could afford was pretty dire. I actually recall the first piece of Japanese audio gear I ever got my hands on which did sound good. A Rotel 820 amplifier. I liked it so much I kept with it and its offspring for ages. Imagine - an amp I could afford that sounded OK!!!

I stopped pulling things apart to make them sound better or to fix them. Now, ladies and gentleman, there was gear that sounded all right and, more often than not, worked. It seemed that the very heavens had smiled upon me. I would be able to get on with my life, sire offspring and perhaps contemplate a real job.

Pulling electrical things apart. Cruel fate had tricked me. Having a healthy working hifi was not to be the slayer of my demon. The demon had simply hidden down some psychic manhole in my head, biding his time. I thought he'd gone, and I was enjoying the ownership of my first electric guitar and small Marshall amp. Parental support for my musical efforts had extended to a second-hand classical guitar ("proper guitar" in parent speak) but I'd had to spring for an electric myself once I was working. There I was then, nineteen and with teeth and hair and an electric guitar. World, you were firmly in my sights.It was all going so well, and then another player I knew said "ever tried a DiMarzio Super Distortion pickup?". In a flash the demon sprung from the manhole, and I was f*cked for life.

Distortion was like ability, but much quicker to obtain. You cranked the gain, or nailed on a louder pickup or even active circuitry. And as long as you kept the speed up and stared the listeners down all was well. If I could have mounted a DiMarzio Super Distortion on my French horn I would have done. I bought books on pickups and wiring, I tried the lot. The sickness had returned big-time, never to leave. I could run - well, for a little while - but I couldn't hide. I was going to go through life with a load of guitar bits in boxes and every bloody hand tool except for the right one. The die was cast.

I've just spent all night trying to get an old electric guitar into fighting trim. Now, anyone rational would have looked over this brute and promptly given it a decent burial. Muggins, though, has to wrestle with it all night to reach the conclusion that a priest should be called for. Well, several nights in fact. After a while I forget and have another go. I shouldn't waste the time, but I do. This is because a lifetime of electrical vandalism, enthusiastic hedonism and bad judgement, combined with healthy misfortune and crap timing, have conspired to make me the owner of two shocking guitars and a mountain of debt. There is nothing in the old exchequer for a proper axe, and nor will there be for the foreseeable future. I'm stuck fighting a rearguard action against dysfunction in most of the equipment in my life, and I'm having to fight with the screwdriver rather than the wallet. Heroic, but crap.

If I didn't have twenty-five years of experience to draw upon I'd just toss all the junk and do without. But no, I am condemned to be a make-do-and-mender. My fatal flaw, my urge to have a go at the job myself, just won't quit. Never will I move on or give up. I will always tinker on. Everything electrical about me will be in flux, not satisfactory or unsatisfactory but simply a work in progress.

Soldering iron's warm. Time to go.

Posted at 7:37 am by Jim Woods

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