Monthly Archives: May 2009

Required Reading

Some people have suggested or recommended reading lists. I’ve done those before. Such lists are basically saying, “I liked these books. You might like them, too.”

Well, there are some books I am convinced every person must read. These books discuss, describe, and address extremely important social, economic, political, moral, philosophical, and moral issues. I personally accept the points these books make, as I believe they are accurate insights into what works in life, in human society. In my opinion, these books explain much of the “why” of the human experience.

Please note: these are not necessarily what I feel are the best-written books, or the most enjoyable books. These are the books that contain the best ideas, best expressed.  When one author has written more than one book, the titles are separated by commas.

The Truth, Nightwatch, Men at Arms, by Terry Pratchett

Cyteen, Hellburner, by C. J. Cherryh (although to fully appreciate these novels, you might have to read Heavy Time and Downbelow Station)

The Burning City, Lucifer’s Hammer, Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis

A Gift from Earth, by Larry Niven

Infinity Hold, by Barry Longyear (I just found out he wrote 2 more books in the series…)

Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

Bureaucracy, by James Q. Wilson

Sword Dancer, by Jennifer Roberson

Death of a Citizen, by Donald Hamilton

Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, by Richard Heuer, Jr.

Replay, by Ken Grimwood

The Cool War, by Frederick Pohl

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Two Faces of Tomorrow, by James P. Hogan

Capitalism and Freedom, by Milton Friedman

Cartoon Guide to Economics, by Douglas Michael

Who’s Afraid of Schrödinger’s Cat?, by Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar

Galveston, by Sean Stewart

The Depression Book, by Cheri Huber (I think this is the one…the one I remember had a plain black cover with just the words “The Depression Book” on the front. Current versions of this book have more text…but it seems like the same book. Worth reading even if you are never depressed)

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I love my Hamer USA ’90 Centaura and ’80 modified Special (and ’89 Peavey Vandenberg)

Centaura:

1) Beautiful appearance. I’ve gone in the room I’m keeping it just to look at it several times since it arrived on Friday

2) The trem stays in tune

3) Wonderfully versatile sounds, from single-coil quacks to bridge HB distorted metal

4) I feel like I can play faster/cleaner on the maple fretboard, even though the necks is slightly chunky (not a skinny shredder’s neck at all)

Special:

1) Awesome, beautiful, wonderful, amazing, full, rich tone

2) Trem stays in tune (I complained about extremely slight tuning problems earlier…but it improved after a few days. humidity change?)

3) The Kahler trem is excellent for bend/hold licks. Meaning: If I bend up the b-string, it doesn’t cause the e string to drop in pitch

4) The shorter scale makes a huge improvement in the feel of the action. Again, I feel like I can play faster/cleaner on this guitar than others (even though it has a rosewood fingerboard), but different than the Centaura.

5) Have I mentioned the awesome, beautiful, wonderful, amazing, full, rich tone?

I know this isn’t news. It isn’t important. It is probably not unique among Hamer players. But I couldn’t restrain myself from gushing. I could probably be happy with just these two guitars, along with the ’89 Vandy that I love cuz of its ebony fingerboard and the Kahler 2700 trem (because of its auto-latch AND string-through locking studs).

That realization creates some inner turmoil, because:

1) I have a Hamer Diablo I bought from SteveB that I haven’t even had time to get tuned up and fall in love with yet

2) I have a yellow/black granite Centaura that I may have to sell (worse cosmetic condition, no advantage in sound, repaired crack in headstock)…but I’m greedy and don’t want to let go of any USA Hamer

3) I still want to buy the Aztec Gold ’93 Hamer USA FM Special for my birthday, if possible (the seller hasn’t told me he canceled our agreement). But will it be different enough from the ’80 Special to be worth the cash? It will be more cosmetically beautiful, true, and it will have the fixed bridge…

4) What does this mean for my handful of remaining imports?

4a) I love the appearance, tone, trem, and fretboard of my Hamer Slammer Series Cali

4b) I love the boomers on my Korean import Cali

4c) I love the tone and fixed bridge with the 24 frets of my XC Cali

4d) I love the appearance, tone, and feel of my Amber Burst flamed XT SATF The little bit o’ cash I’d get for the remaining imports probably isn’t worth the hassle, plus the angst of getting rid of guitars I like so much.

The cash I’d get for the repaired Centaura would be nice, and would counter the cash I pay out for the FM Special.

The Diablo is beautiful, too, so I won’t have any regrets keeping it…if I don’t play it much, it just makes it that much easier to keep in near-pristine condition.

I’ll probably end up selling the granite/damaged Centaura, and the red Vandenberg (because it has the licensed Floyd Rose trem, as opposed the black Vandenberg I will keep that has the Kahler 2700 trem), but I’ll wait until I have played them all much more.

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Liberal Arts Colleges to Reduce Time to Get Degree

In an era when college students commonly take longer than four years to get a bachelor’s degree, some U.S. schools are looking anew at an old idea: slicing a year off their undergraduate programs to save families time and money.

That raises two questions.  Why was “four years” the standard, and why do they think they can suddenly reduce the number of years?

The four-year bachelor’s degree has been the model in the United States since the first universities began operating before the American Revolution. Four-year degrees were designed in large part to provide a broad-based education that teaches young people to analyze and think critically, considered vital preparation to participate in the civic life of American democracy.

I think I see.  Since colleges no longer bother to teach students to analyze or think critically, they don’t need four years.  I guess it takes just three years to indoctrinate students into liberal ideology.

The news item.

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Always Worth Reviewing

Media Malpractice.

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My Guitar Gear (non-Guitars)

Main amp:

Roland MicroCube – Great little amp.  It has several different amp models on it, so I can get modern metal, classic rock, British rock, jazz, and clean sounds.  The gain knob allows you to control the amount of distortion.  It has tremelo, reverb, and digital delay on one effects knob (so you can’t have both at the same time), and chorus, phase, and flange effects on the other effects knob.  It puts out great sound and tone…I’ve never used the volume all the way up.  The best thing about it is that it is slightly smaller than a car battery, far lighter, and runs 20+ hours on 6 AA batteries.  That makes it the perfect amp for portability.  You could easily take it with you backpacking, camping, traveling, etc.  Combined with a lightweight/compact travel guitar like the Ministar Rokstar, you could easily play guitar on top of a mountain like Tempest Mountain in Montana.

Zoom PS04 Portable 4-track – I haven’t used this yet, so I can’t say that much about it.  But I intend to use it to make some music when I’m on my upcoming year-long deployment to Iraq.  I’ll give reviews after I’ve used it a while.

Boss DR-5 – This being a Roland product, it should be pretty good.  Perhaps it is.  I did find it easy to make a short, simple composition.  But I haven’t taken the time to really learn its in and outs, and to this point, I find it inadequate for what I wanted, which was to be able to reproduce some of my favorite songs for sing-/play-along performance.  The problem is that even a simple song usually has more variations than this little device can handle, and entering each minor variation section means starting from scratch each time.  Due to that limitation, it probably would be more useful for composing rather than reproducing, but it seems that would limit your composition, too.  I’m hopeful I don’t run into the same frustrations when I use the PS04.  But having the buttons arranged and used like the first several frets of a 6-string guitar is innovative, intuitive, and useful, especially for bass parts.  It might be best to use this to make interesting chord progressions to practice your soloing.  For that reason, and because the inevitable obsolescence of electronic gadgets means I can only get about a third of what I paid for it, I’ll hold onto it and see about learning to use it when I get back from Iraq next year.

ART Tube Pre-amp: I got this as part of the bundle with the PS-04 above.  I bought the bundle for $100, and it included a professional microphone that I already sold for $60 or so.   Since the PS-04 usually sells for about $50 right now, it’s like I got this free!  Or, if I decide to sell it, it will be like getting the PS-04 free!  Yeah, I’m a cheap bastard, so what?  Anyway, I haven’t used this yet.  I may hold on to it, just in case someday I want to play live, or join/form a band or something.

Peavey Audition 110 – Decent amp.  I don’t use it much because the MicroCube is smaller, lighter, and more versatile, and at the indoor volumes I play at, there’s no advantage to the Peavey.  I might end up selling it at some point.

Crate amp –

Dunlop GCB CryBaby Wah pedal -I’ve just used this enough to know it works.  I haven’t had time to really get into it yet.  You may notice the “lack of time” theme.  Well, I haven’t been able to set up a music studio for myself, so every time I want to play, I have to get everything out and set it up, and then I have to put it all away when I’m done.  I just haven’t made the time for that.  So it is possible that in-depth experimentation with all these gadgets may have to wait until I retire.  It will definitely have to wait until I finish my Master’s degree…

Ibanez auto-wah pedal -I’ve never even used this once. Not enough time, yadda, yadda, yadda.  But, boy! Do I have plans for it!

Zoom 505II effects pedal – A great little effects pedal.  You can get just about any sound you can think of out of this.  There may be some combinations that aren’t possible due to being on the same channel, but I haven’t been picky enough to notice.  It sounds great for living room-level volume effects, but guitarists more experienced than me say that it starts to sound fake/tinny if you try to take it up to club levels, and so is inadequate for actual paying performances.  I dunno.  But then, I’ve already admitted I’m not that picky about timbre/tone.  If I ever get a paying gig, I’ll let you know how this sounds.  But to be honest, I’m not that much into funky guitar sounds.  I like some different distortion results, but for the most part, I like my guitar to sound like a guitar.  So if I ever end up getting famous from putting my stuff on YouTube (someday), I’d just as likely just be me, my guitar, and a Marshall stack.  The important part, to me, is the notes I play, and how my hands play them.

Pocket Rock-it – The linked item is basically the same as mine, except mine is white and has “Reverb” where that one says “pro”.  I’m not sure of all the differences, but basically, this is the ultimate in portability.  It is far less versatile than the MicroCube, of course, but it is much smaller and uses fewer batteries.  On the other hand, it goes directly into headphones, so it can’t be used for jamming with anyone else.  It has decent, but not great, sound.  Worth the money I paid for it, because I can use it in the same room as my wife when she is watching TV.

guitar cords: I use no-names.  I’ve never found a cord that makes any difference whatsoever in my guitars’ sound/tone.

Strings: I’m a cheap bastard, and I’ve never really noticed any difference in guitar sound/tone from the strings.  I think I might be somewhat timbre-deaf.  If a guitar makes the sound I want it to make, minor variations mean nothing to me.  And I’ve played on so many different guitars and gauges, I couldn’t tell you which one I prefer.  I can tell the difference between medium and ultra-light gauge, of course, but I don’t really have a preference.  Off-hand, I couldn’t tell you what any of my guitars have on them, and without thinking about it, I can’t really tell the difference between .09s and .10s.  It’s all the same to me, so I bought the cheapest stuff I could…I got 2 boxes of 10 sets of Alice electric strings for about $25 each on eBay…looks like they are .09s, but since I usually only replace strings when one breaks, I’m still using the strings that were on each guitar when they were shipped to me.  On some of the guitars I recently sold, I did use the Alice’s, and they did an acceptable job.  Like I said, I really don’t notice much difference in strings, so why pay a fortune for ’em?

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I’m a SuperStrat Guy, Now

Most of my guitars are superstrats, now:
Tobacco burst Hamer USA Centaura
Yellow/black Hamer USA Centaura
Transparent Red Hamer USA Diablo
Transparent Red Hamer Slammer Series Californian (import)
Black Hamer Californian Deluxe (import) w/ boomers
Red Hamer Californian CX series (import) fixed bridge
Black Peavey Vandenberg
Red Peavey Vandenberg

All of the above have 24 frets, with the exception of the trans red and black Californians, which have a slanted fretboard giving 27 frets on the high E string…

The rest of my guitars are:
Hamer XT SATF (import)
Hamer USA Special (after-market Kahler Pro trem)

The guitar I was supposed to get for my birthday (seller has family issues, we haven’t closed the deal):
1995 Hamer FM Special quilt in Aztec Gold

So, yeah: Counting the chicken that hasn’t hatched yet, I’ve got 11 guitars, 8 of ’em are shredders/superstrats.

Only 3 fixed bridges in the whole bunch! (although the black Peavey Vandenberg’s trem bridge can lock).

Pictures later.

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New Guitar Day: 1990 Hamer USA Centaura

Beautiful, beautiful guitar!  Great action.  A little bit of cigarette smoke smell, though. 😦

But all in all, it was a steal for $350 shipped!

(all pictures are thumbnails that can be clicked on to see a bigger picture)
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