Monday, July 30, 2007

The calm before the storm

Seeing as how this is an election year in Norway (this Fall), I've been very surprised that there has been virtually no campaigning up until this point. The only major political headlines have been silly season stuff, excluding the donations to political parties-blurb I commented on in an earlier post. This headline also falls in the silly-season category: Charlotte B. Rennesand - an FrP politician from Rogaland - stated on Saturday that consciously giving birth to handicapped children is reprehensible and unneccessary. Predictably, she caught all kinds of crap for this statement, and rightly so, I might add. Today she laments having been criticized by complete strangers, often in the form of phone calls, and states that she was only providing the society with her personal view, which she is entitled to have. You can pretty much be as deluded as you want to be as long as you don't vehemently disturb your community, as evidenced by the fact that Lene Alexandra Øyen and Vendela Kirsebom haven't been chemically lobotomized yet. And sure; she's entitled to a personal opinion like everybody else. However; first of all there's a big difference between having an opinion about something and communicating this to as wide an audience as you can. Also, if you're a politician and a public figure and you sign your "work" with your name and official party affiliation two months before the election, there's reason to pause and think.

First, it should be obvious that you published this on behalf of your political party, and second, you're telling me that you didn't expect a statement like this to rise controversy just before an election? Of course, more PR-savvy FrP politicians have denounced the statement, but the fact that people like Rennesand and that bozo who recommended Norwegian men to get mail-order brides instead of bothering with Norwegian women have risen to the point where they have a say in Fremskrittspartiet ought to give some food for thought to the central governing body. Also, as a voter, it is quite disturbing to know that there is no filtering mechanism to weed out these people before they end up on a ballot where we're forced to choose between this specimen and some other whack job. What would be wrong with demanding an IQ test from our politicians?

Yeah yeah; I know - it's because it would be hard to sell advertisements in the political sections of newspapers and around large segments on TV if these are empty.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Better luck next time, Jimmy Olsen

Yesterday, Dagbladet reported that an increasing number of young men use or have tried anabolic stereoids. A study done by the University of Bergen shows that close to 10 000 boys/young men between the ages of 16 and 19 have tried anabolic stereoids. Here's the illustration the newspaper chose to show next to a story on anabolic stereoids:




Couple of things; the newspaper blurb did not cite the original study or provide the context, thus rendering the information absolutely useless. For example; 10 000 kids where? In Bergen, in one gym or world-wide? I think that makes a difference, being that 10 000 is a high number for one gym or one city, but nothing worldwide. What time perspective was the study done over? Did the study actually come up with 10 000 people who use or have used anabolic stereoids (kind of ties in with over how long the study was carried out and what geographical area was considered), or was it extrapolated from a small-scale study? As it stands now, it might as well have read "15 people drive red cars".

But the worst part of this piece of "journalism" is the illustration. The story is about anabolic stereoids, right? So wouldn't it be logical that the accompanying illustration had something to do with illegal performance-aiding supplements? You'd think so, but not the summer intern (I sincerely hope) who write this piece. The illustrations show two completely legal, over-the-counter sports supplements you can get at almost any health food store or gym. Granted, they're mostly snake oil (one being an extract from apple skin) and it's dubious whether they have any actual function, but they have nothing to do with anabolic stereoids. Thanks for creating even more stigma for people who actually buy supplements. This is right on par with a story a couple of years back wherein the reporter claimed that manufacturers put stereoids in their protein powders so that people think there is a link between protein intake and muscle growth. Kudos. 'Cause excluding the fact that the companies who sell protein powder actually have to report product tests to the government, it'd be fantastic business to put stereoids (orals, I presume) in protein powders which sell for ~300 NOK per kg. Yeahhhhhhh......

I respectfully decline the invitation to join your hallucination. Better luck next time, Jimmy Olsen.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Apocalypto

Our resident, Spanish speaking movie critique already reviewed Apocalypto, but I didn't want to revisit such an old thread, so I just make a new post. What made me want to watch this movie, is that fact that Mel "I'm not a racist" Gibson has gotten a lot of pepper for this movie, basically because the movie pictures the Maya Indians in a very racist way. More of that later.

First of all, I do agree with Wilhelm that the costumes (or lack of) are very good. The Indians look like they've lived in the jungle, not like glamour models with heavy makeup and a bikini. They speak something (real or not) which are not English with a heavy accent.

Second, I do consider this an action flick, not a semi-documentary or something. Thus, the rather unrealistic coincidences that the main character sees the first Spanish conquistadores, is saved by a moon eclipse and outruns a jaguar all within a day or two does not bother me that much.

Third, this is a very violent movie. Both graphical and psychological. Is all that blood splattering necessary? I don't think the movie would have gotten that much worse if Mr. Gibson has held back just a little, but I don't think it was too much. I had the stomach for it, and I guess most adults will too. But this is definitely not a children’s movie.

With this in mind, I thought it was good. Maybe not the most original story, but the movie had a good drive all the way trough. Really good characters, nice scenery. I give it thumbs up.

So, back to Mr. Gibson again. Is this movie racist? Well, there are archeological evidences that the Mayas did sacrifice humans, much in the way described in the movie. The blue paint, beheading and rolling down the temple stairs was thing I knew before I saw this movie. But since there are few (none?) written sources about the Mayas, I'm sure the movie makers had to make up a lot of the ritual. Sure, there are much more to say about the Mayas, and much more that are positive. However, this movie is way more historical accurate then the average Hollywood flick. My main beef with the movie is the opening quote "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it is destroyed from within". I really don't see how the movie explains the downfall of the Maya Indians. As said above, I see this as an action flick. With "home alone" chasing at the end, just as Wilhelm said in his review.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Guitar review: National Duolian



1935 National Duolian
So this is my vintage National Duolian, the cheapest of the vintage metalbodied Nationals, with a sales price starting at $32.50 in the 1930s. This example is grayish green duco, duco being the name of a thin painted finish with crystalline pattern which only came on the Duolians.

Features: 9
14 frets to the body, steel body, frosted duco, V-shaped basswood neck. 10" radiused unbound fretboard with bar frets. The classic, budget National in all it's glory. No binding, no etching, no engraving, no nothing. But it got all it needs, and I love the look of the plain Jane Duolians.

Action, Fit & Finish: 9
Man, does the old duco look good. Of all the National finishes, I love the red/yellow polychrome with stenciled sunset and the duco best. The heavy engraved, nickel plated can be a bit questionable in the taste department. And the green and greys are the best looking ones of all the ducos. However, the 1935 duco didn't adhere for sh*t, so it will rub off if not taken good care of.

This guitar has also been restored by the main man Marc Schoenberger, set up with slightly high action for slide playing. This does not mean banana neck with five inches of clearing between the frets and the strings. It's still playable up the neck, and it's still low enough to do bends up around the body joint. This setup allows me to dig in a bit more with the slide then the Style 0 previously reviewed. So string height is OK.

However, what is instantly noticeable when you pick up this guitar to play, and which might be unfamiliar for the average player, is the V-shaped neck. We're talking real, boat-shaped V here, not some soft hint of an edge around the first five frets. First time I touched this guitar, it felt really weird, now I'm not even aware of the shape. It's actually very comfortable, and the neck isn't among the fattest of vintage Nationals. Love this neck, even though it has some wear on it.

Sounds: 10
Although people in the know say that 12 fretters sound better then 14 fretters, I love the sound of my Duolian. It's just so responsive, even a soft touch on the treble stings produces a great tone. And this is a loud sucker: Playing seated, you really notice how the body vibrates. And that's frigging steel that vibrates! It may not be the most versatile guitar in the world (although it's not as limited as many people think), but it has THE sound that count. Many people believe that the Duolian is the greatest guitars ever built, especially slide guitarist, and tend to agree with them. In short: This is the dogs b*llocks.

Reliability/Durability: 10
70 years old, still all original (even the frets!) and has only been restored once. As long as the cone isn't crushed, this guitar will live another 70 years. What more can you ask for?

Overall rating (ranting?): 10
I admit it, a Duolian is probably my all-time dream guitar. I will never part with this one!

Summer rules!

It truly does. Today it rained a bit, so we took a break from painting our house and went downtown - just to hang out. We just strolled around looking at books, CD's and DVD's, and hung out in a coffee shop for a while. Also, we bought some totally rockin' strawberries and stuff at the market.

Before we rolled out, I'd been talking about how I was in the market for some new books to read this summer. I ended up buying 14 books, 12 of which were Penguin/Wordsworth classics on sale (ridiculously cheap - 21.70 NOK). Just to be all list-guy on you - here are the books.

  • Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
  • Rob Roy, by Sir Walter Scott
  • Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  • Nostromo, by Joseph Conrad
  • Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
  • Sons And Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
  • Tales Of Mystery And Imagination, by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Count Of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Picture Of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
  • Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift
  • Berlinerpoplene, by Anne B. Ragde (Norwegian)
  • Lords Of Chaos - The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground, by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind

Most of these books I've read before, but that's kinda irrelevant, isn't it. 'Cause no matter how many times you read, e.g. Treasure Island, it's still freakin' magic.

Cinco pelicula del muerte

Five movies, with "del muerte" thrown in for effect.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Third installment in the HP series. I was quite disappointed with this one, first because the "escape from evil relatives" bit was getting really old, really fast, and then because the prisoner, all hyped up to be all evil and stuff, was a nice guy, and yet again something was up with the "defence against the dark arts" teacher. The only bad guy here was the character (played by the dude who was the roadie in Rock Star) who had transformed/transmogrified/whatever himself into the form of a pet rat. No clear storyline, and an abrupt ending like they just suddenly all packed up and left the set, unlike the previous two movies.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Fourth installment in the HP saga. This one was in my opinion better than the Teletubbies from Azzbackwahds episode/movie. The only major downer was the half-hour of Harry Potter trying to get a prom date. Also; four times in a row something's up with the defense against the dark arts teacher. You'd think that at least one of the characters would suspect something. Also; for being a kick-ass legendary sorcerer, Albus Dumbledore sure sucks at selecting teachers.

Flags Of Our Fathers (2006)
The life stories of the men who raised the flah at the Battle of Iwo Jima during WWII, here shown from the American perspective. Very well-made, but I though too much of the movie was about the PR tour to raise cash for the war effort after the flag had been raised, and not enough about what lead up to the actual battle.

Letters From Iwo Jima
The flip side of the coin represented in Flags Of Our Fathers. In my opinion, this is the better of the two by far, although it does tend to drag on for too damn long. Powerful stories nevertheless.

The Good Shepherd (2006)
More or less the story of how CIA came to be. Matt Damon does a really good job here as always, and Angelina Jolie doesn't have a substantial enough role to screw stuff up, so her presence is tolerable. Really cool movie.

The fairytale of the little princess and the angels

So, the Norwegian princess and attention-junkie Märtha Louise is in the media again. You could expect that being married to the peacock-drawing, pamphlet-writing Ari Behn would give enough PR (all PR are good PR), but no. After Märtha resigned her royal title and started her own business reading fairytales, she has been in the median quite often. On a side note, she isn't very good at reading fairytales. The only thing she got going for her, is that she is a real life princess. Luckily, kids are easy to please...

However, this week she's come forward and explained that she talkes to angels, which has caused a bit of fuzz in the media (the news are slow this time of year), and in the Christian and alternative community. Personally, I think there is a thin line between talking to angles and hearing voices in your head. And if either starts commanding you to do stuff, be very cautious...

Update: For all your english/ pigeon speaking readers, here's an english version from BBC.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Another day, another gym

Changing any well-established habit is hard, and for me, changing gyms is a big deal. Today, we made the final decision to bail out of the one we've been using since May 2003, and had our first workout in the "new" gym. Anytime you change gyms, you've got to adjust to the different equipment, the varying angles of the benches and (typically) the lack of heavy dumbbells, but our first workout went surprisingly well.

When we joined our "old" gym, it was profiled as one of two hardcore gyms in the area, aimed at people competing in powerlifting, bodybuilding, strongman and fitness. About a year ago, they made a bunch of investments so as to market themselves more towards the "general fitness" population, which admittedly is where the money lies. The changes included a modification of the name (removing "bodybuilding" and changing the logo to something more generic and markedly less hardcore), adding more space to the gym, and including a spinning/aerobic room. I certainly don't blaim them for wanting a more stable client base than bodybuilders and Mariusz Pudzianowski-wannabes who spread chalk all over the gym and demand to listen to metal at high volumes, and I really like and respect the owners (hence I don't mention the name of the gym), but in my opinion the concept has a large flaw. The general fitness market is very hard to muscle in on, as you've got major-league players in place already wringing green from weekend-warriors, students, moms and dads trying to squeeze in the occasional workout, and the infernal cardio bunnies + "male" counterparts (more about them later). SATS, 3T (in Trøndelag), Friskis&Svettis, Elixia, and a bunch of other corporate affairs totally have this market cornered, and they have a well-established, proven concept. Being a minor player trying to move in on this market is beyond risky, as you don't have anything extra to offer, and you can't match the standard on equipment and general facilities. In my opinion, our former gym would've been better off targeting the market segment they appealed to in the first place.

Experiencing the changes first-hand was like watching a Norwegian Guido-equivalent invasion in real-time - you know what I'm talkin' about: spiky, gelled-up hair, wife-beaters or extremely tight tees, gold chains and other bling, invisible suitcases to make room for those imaginary lats, legendary tribal armband tattoos, brutal 25 cm-circumference arms, no legs ('cause only arms, shoulders and pecs are visible when they go clubbin') and the air of misguided confidence only two hours of MMA training and a "medium" Wanderlei Silva sweatshirt can give you. Of course, they're attention-starved, and roll at least deuce deep - so that they can scatter across the gym and shout slogans and "cool" phrases at each other in "Marco - Polo" fashion, thus maximizing attention/annoyance. If they're alone, they try to slam the weights as much as possible to make up for the loss of attention. Despite their need for invisible suitcases to uphold any illusion of muscle, they are often on gear - probably orals like Winnie or whichever veterinarian-grade D-bol-version they can get a hold of. Otherwise, their severe bouts of acne wouldn't be so well-coordinated with their growth spurts, yet somehow, the mass they gain disappears a few weeks after the acne clears up. In a main-stream fitness chain like SATS, this would not be tolerated, but in a half-way environment such as what our old gym became, this was becoming more and more prevalent.

The worst part was when they opened the spinning-room, 'cause when the step and spinning sessions are rockin', the guidos come a-knockin'. More specifically, the step and spinning rooms give them a pen in which to keep their girlfriends when they're not required to hover around them and compliment them on how big and strong they are when they cheat-curl the 20-kg dumbbells. As one would expect, the girlfriends are the kind of vacuous airheads who are likely to be impressed by the guidos - the platina-blond bimbos who show up in a gym with full-on make-up and push-up bras, deathly afraid of breaking a sweat as they prance around with the pink, air-filled plastic weights. Wonderful. It became increasingly clear to us that we had to look for alternative gyms.

Actually, there were other reasons as well. First, our old gym is quite a bit further away than the new one, so that means that switching gyms shortens the drive from ~15 km to ~4 km each way, which is good for the environment, saves moolah and time - muy excellente. Also, through our respective employers, we get special rates at our new gym - 3T, so the member's fee is significantly lower. The new gym has all the perks - squash courts (if one is so inclined), swimming pool, aerobics, pilates, yoga, spinning and whatnot. The weight training area is also good, with plenty of benches, machines and free weights. OK - they don't have heavy dumbbells, but according to the clerk, that's a conscious decision made to - essentially - keep the likes of me away. Still; I can work around it no problem. The air quality is excellent, there are enough treadmills, and get this - each treadmill, step machine and cycle has its own flatscreen tv. How cool is that.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Guitar review: Ibanez Jem 7v WH












Ibanez Jem 7v WH
THE Stevie Vai signature model. Purchased on the occasion on my getting tenure for 25 kNOK. I considered three other guitars - Fender YJM stratocaster (I'll buy that someday), the Ibanez JS 1200 (actually I'm glad I didn't get that one as the neck is too thick for my taste - quite a hefty C profile, actually), and a Jackson King V (alas - impossible to sit down with). I tried one of the "cheap" Steve Vai models (15 kNOK) back in 2000, and I totally loved the feel and playability. The second I tried this, it felt like I'd played it forever - fantastic instrument.


Features: 10
Jem Prestige neck (24 frets fo' sho'), alder body, Rosewood fingerboard with pearl and abalone vine inlays, Edge Pro bridge, H-S-H configuration with DiMarzio Evolution pickups, and gold hardware. Kind of the ultimate bling guitar with actual playability. The pickups provide an almost unheard of versatility, from country-like twang to super high-output metal. Body is a modified RG-shape, well-known for it's use in shred-style metal. As you'd expect from a Steve Vai guitar, you can work the whammy bar as much as you'd like without worrying about tuning stability, and harmonics are available at the touch of your right thumb (ok - that was a dumb joke, seeing as how you'd never get any AH's any other way). This is the same guitar as Mr. Vai uses onstage for most of his work, so it's to be expected that it's a top-of-the-line instrument. I really can't imagine what other features would be useful, so top score in this category. For me, the purchase of a Steve Vai signature - you bet your ass SIGNATURE - guitar was not some moronic notion that if I just bought the same instrument as Vai, I'd be able to play just like him. Rather; this guitar comes with all the features I appreciate, but with the added bonus that since it's mass-produced (still hand-made, but you know what I mean), I get all those features at a lower price than what I'd have to shell out for a custom model which essentially would be indistinguishable from this one. The only thing I'm not too crazy about is the position of the jack input - it kind of comes in the way of your right thigh when sitting, and bends the cable something fierce. But hey - that's nitpicking at best.


Sound: 10
Again - what'd you expect? The combination of top-of-the-line woods, hardware and pickups tends to give you just that. Great tonal variety, great sustain (considering that it's got a Floyd Rose), and just made for solos. Sure; it handles rhytm work well, but it's when playing solos - sweeps, left-hand freakouts, Michael Romeo-style tapping or whammy harmonics - that the Jem really shines. Since getting used to the Jem, it's become my primary workhorse for neoclassical lead work. The scalloped high (21-24) frets really help in bringing out those high-pitched vibrato phrasings. And of course; if you're into heavy trem abuse, I doubt you'll be able to find any better-suited guitar.


Action, Fit & Finish: 10
Wide and flat D-profile, very low, buzz-free action - just the way I likes it. Not to mention the fact that it's a really beautiful instrument. Even the monkey grip grows on ya, even though it looks weird at first.


Reliability/Durability: N/A
I've only had the guitar for little more than a year, so I haven't really gotten the chance to see how durable it is. However; tuning stability is the best I've ever experienced.

Overall rating: 10

More movies, yo

...starting off with..

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Seeing as how we haven't seen any of the Harry Potter movies before, we started out by renting the first one in the series. i must admit I was more than a tad sceptical, but we were pleasantly surprised. Nice introduction to how HP gets to join Hogwarth or whatever, good actors, and very well-made stuff. Cool.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
As good as the first one IMO, although by now I don't see the point of starting the movie with Harry barely escaping his evil uncle, aunt and lunchbox cousin. We get it - they're evil, selfish, stupid and out of shape. Besides, I don't see any motive whatsoever the family might have in preventing HP from going away - it's not like they want him there anyways, and the money was unknown HP inherited was unknown to them, so harping on some Dickensian evil is trite at this point, again IMO. Still a cool movie, and we're gonna see all of the now for sure.

The Marine (2006)
A WWE production, starring John "Word Life" Cena. I actually thought that this one might have decent mindless action-movie qualities, but alas, it sucked big time. Cena is actually very well suited for this type of movie, and SO much more believable as an ass-kicker than Affleck (Daredevil anyone?), that skinny twunt who played in Batman Begins (can't be bothered to look him up) or even worse, whichever gin-soaked, golf-playing, John Cleese-looking empty suit with slick hairdo is playing James Bond. Still; with 80% of what was supposed to be a storyline replaced by random explosions, and the other lead being Robert "Have you seen this boy" Patrick, it was pretty much doomed. No es bueno.

Music and Lyrics (2007)
Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore in a FANTASTIC feel-good movie. If you like Sleepless In Seattle, You've Got Mail, City Of Angels, The Wedding Singer, Notting Hill, The Terminal or It Could Happen To You, then you'll love this movie. And if not - then what the Hell is wrong with you? Crib too close to the microwave when you were a baby? Emotional development stunted and romantically bereft? Too caught up with monster truck rally and soccer to escape from a preconceived macho image? Anyway; unless you're an epic loser in all aspects of life, you'll love this movie.

Gridiron Gang (2006)
Football movie based on a true story starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The Rock is actually a quite capable actor, the story is good, and here he does not revert to his kicking-ass-and-taking-names, check yo' ass into the Smackdown motel, know your role and shut your mouth, WWE persona. If you like football movies like "Remember the Titans", or "Invincible", you'll probably like this one.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The joy of water damage

So apparently, the house I bought last year are full of flaws that the previous owners didn't notice (or didn't bother to do anything about), which are now making their full present. I'm obviously overdue on the next payment on my huge karma debt, for some reason. In January the main circuit went down, and blew up my TV, central vacuum cleaner, stove and ventilation with it. All of this was finally repaired last week (sans the new TV). So this week, it was the bathrooms turn to play tricks on me. There isn't much in this world that is more fun than the good old water damage. And, just as en extra bonus, old Karma found it amusing to lead the water out from the first floor bathroom and let it drip down from the ceiling in the ground floor living room. Yeah!

And of course, as iceing on the cake, every carpenter and plumber in the area are on holiday just now. Here are some snapshots of my search for the source of the leak. It's been a fun week.

I wonder what old Karma has up her sleeve for me next time. Fire? Ants? Burglars?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer holiday....

...at last. After a couple of days wherein otherwise small problems appeared disproportionally big, and where my patience was worn, we finally started our vacation today. As usual, it takes some time realizing that you don't have to go to work every day, so instead of sitting at home worrying if there's something we should've done, we went on a road trip to Åre, Sweden. Besides, the weather kind of sucked this morning, so it's not like we missed out on some ray-time.

Driving to either one of the closest towns across the border is like being part of a weird social experiment - the only Swedish-speaking people you're likely to meet are the ones working in the stores, restaurants, etc. The prevalent language in the aural landscape (God - how pretentious was that expression) is Norwegian - more specifically, trøndersk.

After the 2.5 hour drive and some hanging around/shopping, we were SO in the market for some grub. For some weird reason, the self-proclaimed town cafeteria closes shop at 3 PM, so we opted for the first restaurant we came across, which happened to be the "Madonna" in the so-called winter village of Åre (Åre of course being a very popular winter sport venue). When we entered the premises, I discovered to my great dismay that they professed to be an authentic "Italian" place, and thus only served pasta. In my experience with "authentic" Italian restaurants, all their dishes are the same - the only difference being the shape and size of the pasta, and if the sauce is tomato or cream-based. Consequently, it all tastes the same, and don't get me started about the "Italian" pizza - that sorry, crisp and thin piece of white bread with a minute splash of tomato sauce and cheese near the middle of the disc. Italians are the Mexicans of Europe. Invariably, after eating at an "authentic" Italian restaurant I'm hungry, miserable and I've got this nagging feeling of having been screwed with my pants on.

And of course; the dish I ended up with matched my previously described stereotype perfectly - A bunch of "little" pasta with a fat, creamy sauce, a few slices of really fatty chorizo or salami or what have you, and some olives thrown in for good measure. Considering that Italian food is all fat and carbs, they'll have mastered cold fusion and telepathy, and colonized Mars before their country produces a strength athlete who can break the 100 kg barrier on bench press - not assisted by AAS, Insulin and GH, that is. A 30-15-55 diet, it isn't. To conclude; if we ever travel to Italy on vacation, I'll make good and damned sure that the town we go to has a decent steak house. Or at the very least McDonalds. And that one can get a hold of imported (non-Italian, that is) wine - France, Spain, Australia, Chile, USA, even Austria - anywhere they produce a red wine which isn't just colored water with a splash of alcohol.

In summary - FINALLY it's vacation time!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Guitar review: National Style O


(Yeah, go ahead and sue me, Mark!)


National Style 0, 1930(or '31)
Rust bucket, scrap metal, sounds like a couple of skeletons f*cking in a dustbin. Ah, the compliments one receives for a National are endless. This is the basic Style O, which has become the most famous of all the models in the National line, mainly due to a single album cover...

This Style O is from 1930 or 1931 (S-series with a serial# in the mid 1000s), and are not completely original: New fretboard, new tailpiece, new biscuit and a great setup, including neck-set, by National repair wizard Marc Schoenberger. It also has a (bad) replating on the coverplate. This review is based on the guitar with all these modifications, as it sounded like a mix between sitar and banjo when I got it. (Not really, but it sounded cool to say that).

Features: 9
If features a bound, maple neck with 12 frets to the body, brass body with flat-cut F-holes and palm tree etchings, slotted headstock with a National decal. And since this is a Style O, it does have a standard 9.5" single cone. Six different versions of the Style O was produced between 1930 and 1941, the difference being the number of frets to the body (or body shape), headstock and pattern of the palm three etchings. This example is what is known as a Variation 2 in Bob Brozman's book.

Sound: 10
Of the metal bodied Nationals, you basically have two choices of metal: Brass or steel. The Style Os were brass bodied, this one being no exception. The brass body offers a more complex and a bit sweeter sound then the steel body. I feel that there might be a bit less bass response in brass and you'll have to dig in a bit to get the sweet sound out. The other main factor when it comes to sound is body size. When National changed from 12 to 14 fret to the body in 1934, they simply shortened the body with about two frets on the upper bout. The bigger bodied 12 fretters are known to have a fuller sound with more bass. But still, a National is very mid-range heavy, and this guitar is no exception.

And this is really not an all-round guitar. Nationals has a very distinct sound and a probably the loudest acoustic guitars every made (to my neighbors delight). This guitar is a slide machine and sounds best with heavy gauge strings and a thick, fat slide. But it also sounds good finger picked. What it doesn't do very well, is typical strumming. The guitar is just too resonant and unless you do it very controlled, it will just sound muddy.

Action, Fit&Finish: 8
Ok, this guitar is pretty worn, so I won't give it a full score. Although if I'll look this good when I'm 80 years old, I'd be pretty happy.

As for the action and playability: Oh man! After Marc Schoenberger set this one up, it plays like butter. Strings are low enough to be fretted smoothly, but can still be played with a slight (just need a delicate touch). This is the best playing guitar I have. And the neck is that round and thick, baseball bat kind of type, which I love. Set up with medium phosphor bronze strings, and I often replace the first string with a 015 or 016. It still plays good fretted, due to the excellent setup.

Reliability/Durability: 10
Nationals are built like tanks. With minimal maintenance, a National will outlive you. This Style O needed restoration due to neglect and really stupid homemade repairs. So durability is top score.

As for reliability, Nationals are known to buzz. Luckily, a singlecone like the Style O is better then a tricone. When I first got this guitar, I did a few repairs: Replace the cone, biscuit and nut, which made it playable (with a slide) and decent sounding. But I still got buzzing quite often. But again, after Marc Schoenberger did a proper restoration, the buzz problem is as good as gone. Just tune up and play, this guitar won't let you down. So reliability gets top score as well.


Overall Rating: 9
I love this guitar. It could have been in slightly better condition, and I do prefer a 14 fret neck for playability. Other then that, this guitar rocks!

Music and fun...

Since we are on the subject of funny music videos, here's one from the real life (Covent Garden in London, I think):

...one of the best songs...

....EVER. Check this out, yo. Normally I'm not a fan of country, but now I've got to check out Brad Paisley, 'cause this here rocks! Jason Alexander from Seinfeld is in there too..



Here are the lyrics - FANTASTIC stuff.

Brad Paisley - Online
I work down at the Pizza Pit
And I drive an Old Hyundai
I still live with my mom and dad
I'm 5 foot 3 and overweight
I'm a sci fi fanatic
A mild asthmatic
And I've never been to second base
But there's a whole 'nother me
That you need to see
Go check out MySpace

'Cause online I'm out in Hollywood
I'm 6 foot 5 and I look damn good
I drive a Maserati
I'm a black belt in karate
And I love a good glass of wine
It turns girls on that I'm mysterious
I tell them I don't want anything serious
'Cause even on a slow day
I could have a three-way
Chat with two women at one time
I'm so much cooler online
So much cooler online

When I get home I kiss my mom
And she fixes me a snack
And I head down to my basement bedroom
And fire up my Mac
In real life the only time I've ever been to L.A.
Is when I got the chance with the marching band
To play tuba in the Rose Parade

Online I live in Malibu
I pose for Calvin Klein, I've been in GQ
I'm single and I'm rich
And I've got a set of six-pack abs that would blow your mind
It turns girls on that I'm mysterious
I tell them that I don't nothin' serious
'Cause even on a slow day
I could have three-way
Chat with two women at one time
I'm so much cooler online
So much cooler online

When you got my kind of stats
It's hard to get a date
Let alone a real girlfriend
But I grow another foot and I lose a bunch of weight
Every time I log in

Online
I'm out in Hollywood
I'm 6 foot 5 and I look damn good
Even on a slow day
I could have a three-way
Chat with two women at one time
I'm so much cooler online
Yeah, I'm cooler online

Etc.

Monday, July 16, 2007

News from the Fender custom shop...

It seems that the Fender custom shop has let Ari Behn, pamphlet writer and royal gigolo, loose in their design department. Surely this is the guitar equivalent to his peacock porcelain collection. Enjoy, and start saving up for that special guitar...

(Wilhelm, I know you're looking into gifts buying from the peacock porcelain collection later this year. How 'bout adding this matching guitar? To quote mr. Behn: "I'm a peacock that spreads my feathers. Every day is a celebration, and I'm a jewel") ;-)

Edit: Asking price is only 5.995,00 USD.


Night of the Living Douche

How much of a douche is it possible to be? Double amputee Oscar Pistorius was recently DQ'ed in the British Grand Prix and accused by an IAAF official of essentially cheating because his prosthetic legs give him an advantage . The IAAF stooge claims that the prosthetic legs provide less air resistance than normal legs and thus he has an unfair advantage. Never mind that the dude has no calf muscles to push off with because - well - he's a double amputee right below his knees since he was 11 months old. Never mind that dude has the willpower, drive and testicular fortitude to take up sports in the first place, then excel in Paralympics (gold medals and world records in 2004) and now competing with non-disabled people.

So using their logic, doing a marathon in a wheelchair is cheating and way easier than running because you get to sit the entire time? The world of sports is filled with geniouses fo' sho.

As requested.........

HTC S710 Smartphone


Since my previous phone totally crapped out on me (see post Welcome to Loserville...population me), I've been looking for a replacement one step up in the hierarchy. I looked at several possible candidates, including Sony Ericsson W950i or whatever it's called, and ended up with the HTC S710, because I suddenly got obsessed with having a full keyboard and PDA-like qualities in my phone. Anders - since you requested it, here are my experiences 6 days after the purchase.

Price: Mucho
Even though I got a reasonable deal from renewing/changing my subscription and stuff, I still paid 2300 NOK, which is more than I ever thought I'd pay for a cell phone, and probably the most I'll ever pay for one. "Raw", it costs about 3890 NOK. Still; compared to the aforementioned Sony Ericsson W950i, it was downright cheap (five grand even). This time I even broke with my own principles and bought the "Idiot Insurance", knowing full and well that it was wasted money to the tune of 25 NOK/month until I cancel it.

Features: More than I'll probably ever use
Quad band, WLan, EDGE, 2 MP camera, Windows Mobile 6, plus I slam-dunked a 1 GB micro SD card in it on account of the internal memory being insufficient (or so they told me). I had one in my old phone that I never got to properly use anyways, so I lucked out. Yay me.

My experiences so far: S'all good
Seeing as how I've had the phone for less than a week, I haven't exactly tapped into all its potential, but at least I've come to understand and like the basics. Also; despite it being a Windows mobile, it hasn't locked up on me or deleted all my data yet, so I can only conclude that the nerds hired for the Windows Mobile division have thicker glasses, poorer posture, an even more non-existant social life ex silico, still don't have any lunch money, and attend more Sci-Fi conventions than the regular programming pointdexters they've got on payroll. I bet these guys are the ones that do all the assignments for the regular programmers at Microsoft in exchange for not getting beaten up - that's how computer-savvy I think they are (at least until my phone crashes and I change my opinion). And yeah; I do realize that someone with my profession referring to anyone as nerds is a serious case of "Pot, meet Kettle", but if you're reading a technical review about a cell phone (at least something that purports to be just that), then hook a brutha' up and check out the mirror, pal. End rant.

Back to the features and stuff. The sound quality is excellent, the screen is nice and clear, and the battery capacity is great compared to what I was used to with my Benq-Siemens (charge every other day). So far, the first charge-up has held for six days, which is SO much better than what I'm used to. The sliding keyboard-thingy works well beyond my anticipation, and I really like the fact that it has a regular, numeric keyboard up front as well, so you don't have to open it up, use some magical touch-screen whatever or program fifteen pages in VB to dial a phone number not on your contact list - you simply dial like a human being on a normal phone. Back to the sliding keyboard. The keys are big enough that you can use your thumbs without being a freakin' elf, and more importantly; they enable me to write text messages at reasonable speeds, as opposed to pressing 154 times on one button for the desired letter to appear, then waiting for five minutes should you want to use a double consonant, etc. And don't get me started on the use of the dictionaries that come with these things - Tx or Fx or whatever they're called. I never use them - I use far too much slang to use them straight out of the box, and I don't have the patience required to wait four months until the software automatically suggests something I might actually be prone to saying, like "Moreover", "y'all", "fo' shizzle", "oxygen thief" or "ya epic troglodyte".

The calendar is another useful feature for my use. I typically end up with some of my appointments in my day planner, some on my office calendar, some in the Mozilla calender, some on small pieces of paper in my wallet, and some that I just hope to remember. The reson being of course that I don't have any of the aforementioned tools, save for my memory, at hand constantly, but hopefully my new cell phone will fix that. At least it's very possible to do now, and the calendar function is straightforward and intuitive to use. It's also got Windows Media, so I can use it as an .mp3 - there'seven some accompanying software to trim mp3 files to whatever length you desire. I haven't tried that out yet, but it looks doable from the LOTR-sized manual. It's also got some basic Office features which i haven't tried, possibility for MSN, and quite good brwsing capabilities.

All in all I'm pleased with my HTC S710, and I hope it lasts way longer than my previous phone.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

So I went to see the fifth of the Potter flicks, as I’ve already invested a lot of time in the four first ones. And I have to admit, it does get rather difficult to remember which one is which, since the story behind each Potter movie is basically a variation of the same theme: Harry goes to Hogwart, where Voldemorts (the Darth Vader of Harry Potter films) helper plots against Harry, Harry plays some quidditch and finally there is a showdown with Voldemort and his posse that Harry wins with the help of his friends. The end.

So you really know what you get. However, the think I liked about the previous Potter films, was that it was very charming movies, with elements for both children and adults. And they had a very good plot, and the mystery to be solved gained momentum throughout the film, ending in a grand final (in form of a battle with a monster or Voldemort). Although The Order of The Phoenix was enjoyable, it had a darker mood then the previous ones and the plot lacked a bit of the direction that other ones had. But it does have Gary Oldman in it. As a good guy!

In short, if you've seen all the other Harry Potter movies, you can go see this one as well. If you haven't, I'll suggest you start with one of the others.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Five movies

....mostly from 2006.

Dreamgirls (2006)
I had my hopes up for "Dreamgirls", seeing as how I'm a sucker for movies based on musical careers. Alas, even though it started off pretty good, it totally failed to live up to my expectations. About 20 minutes in, the plot started to strongly resemble a black "Sound of Music", where everybody breaks out into impromptu musical numbers at the drop of a hat throughout. For magical reasons, whenever they rehearse songs with just a piano as backing, a full orchestra inevitably joins in by the first chorus, despite it being a mostly empty rehearsal room. Perhaps some of my dislike stems from the realization that R&B sounds exactly the same to me, so after over two and a half hours of allegedly different songs - which, had they not have been separated in time and by different costumes - would have appeared to play in a loop. I've heard that American Idol-finalist Jennifer Hudson have gotten rave reviews for her vocal performance in "Dreamgirls", based on her being able to scream louder than any of the other performers. Here's a tip; music is about two things - melody and dynamics. Singing at top volume all of the time whilst applying a vibrato almost a third across isn't indicative of skills at all. Try to hold a note every once and again, and don't equate volume to quality, ya epic Aretha-wannabe. On the plus side, Eddie Murphy does a great job, something I haven't seen since the late 80's. Curiously, the story describes something eerily similar to what happened to Beyonce Knowles as she manipulated away the rest of her band - All Saints or whatever. The rest of the girls in that band - managed by Beyonce's dad - were totally squeezed to the back of the line-up to make room for Queen B, and we all know what happened when the band split up. Beyonce - being the star, continued with the exact same music and made tons of money. Her former band mates, or whatever you'd like to call them, now work in the drive-through of some Chili's or Red, Hot&Blue in Georgia. Some people get the elevator, and some people get the shaft (not a Samuel El Jackson reference, by the way).

Blood Diamond (2006)
I'm starting to revise my opinion of DiCaprio, as he pulled off a good performance in this movie. Also, Djimon Hounsou did a fantasic performance as the poor fisherman who was robbed of his family in a militia raid. My only problem with the movie was that they stretched it out for too damn long, as they could've easily have cut out 40-45 minutes. The ending was really good, though, despite Arnold Vosloo's character dying.

Smokin' Aces (2007)
What the hell was this supposed to be? This was a bad ripoff of "Lucky Number Slevin" and "The Big Hit" - both infinitely better movies, I might add. First off, Ben Affleck is billed as one of the major casts in the movie, yet he dies after ten minutes, without any major scenes whatsoever. Andy Garcia, the other "big" name, has something like five minutes of facetime. They might as well have put DeNiros name on the marquee based on filming a random streetside encounter with him. Also, the "big finish" with Primo Sparazza and Freeman Heller being one and the same guy could be spotted by a blindfolded Ray Charles with the screen in another room. Seems like they just tried to slam everything in at once, like in the two previously mentioned movies - inbred redneck neo-nazis, big guns, militant cornrow barbies with a female Huggy Bear/Shaft-looking character, a scary mexican-like character, some slang-spewing stereotypes of various ethnicities and professions - it's been done. Nothing was original about this movie, and none of the performances were memorable. Next.

Apocalypto (2006)
Fascinating - both with respect to story, performances, set, costume, location - everything. Spectacular, and with the last 20 or so minutes being a jungle-set throwback to Home Alone. See it to find out what I'm rambling on about - it's well worth the time and dime.

Invincible (2006)
Disney-production of the true story of bartender and football (as opposed to soccer) fan Vince Papale trying out for the Pittsburgh Eagles and eventually making it - the quintessential underdog story. Mark Wahlberg pumped up from his usual ripped self to add some more water-weight in order to look like a 70's football player, and he succeeds. I'm a big fan of his anyways - after "The Big Hit" and "The Italian Job" and "Rock Star", he's proved himself in my book. And he doesn't disappoint in "Invincible" either - a really cool movie.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Unrequested fission surplus

In today's VG (Norwegian only, I'm afraid) a mayor candidate from the second biggest party, Fremskrittspartiet (which for some reason is bunched in with the so-called conservative parties) advices Norwegian men to get Asian wives. He further states that in contrast to egotistical, career-obsessed Norwegian women, Asian women are polite, modest, and value the traditional family structure. Dude goes even further, and states that kids today are nervous and overweight because of the equal rights movement. Norwegian women, Per Bjørnar Rødde claims, are prone to drinking, fighting and casual sex, are rude in traffic, and are more or less indistinguishable from men. The picture below shows Rødde and his Indonesian wife in an - according to him - ideal family.


The female leader of Fremskrittspartiet, Siv Jensen, does not wish to comment on his statement, and who can blaim her. I've got no particular love for Fremskrittspartiet, but I can't help feeling for Siv Jensen when one of their mayoral candidates - who even claims to be "relatively young and highly educated" - does something like this. EPIC meltdown (unrequested fission surplus, that is) from a loser who had to go to the other side of the world to find a woman who's willing to hang out with him. I bet he's the kind of "guy" who suspects that every woman who's ever turned him down (and barring his sister, if he has one, I suspect that's a woman for almost every attempt on his part) is a lesbian.

Still think that there should be no formal requirements for people wanting to hold an official position? Methinks a simple IQ test would've weeded this specimen out. I really wonder what he means by highly educated though - probably that he finished junior high school as the first one in his family before he turned 30. Damn oxygen thief.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reality TV concepts

With the genre growing ever staler, as even more European concepts are recycled stateside and vice versa, it's time to bring in da green with some rejuvenating ideas. While the following ideas might be in direct violation of a plethora of laws and international treaties, I think it would make for some pretty entertaining television.

Photoshop Idol
Real estate agents battle it out to see who is the best at taking a fire-damaged, ant-infested, leaking ground-level one-bedroom apartment and displaying it as a penthouse luxury apartment in the bruchures in the preliminary rounds. In the final heat, the contestants are to sell the apartment unseen, and whichever realtor gets the highest price, wins. In every episode, people are voted out, only to be picked up by the police on charges of fraud. The winner is put in the same room as whomever bought the apartment for half an hour.

Da Biggest Loser
In this reality concept, contestants are judged based on several factors - the ratio of how much their car is worth relative to their house (C/H), how much their car stereo and other accessories are worth relative to the value of the car itself (B/C), and whether or not they play golf (G = 1 V G = 0). Whichever participant gets the highest rating (Rating = C/H + B/C +G) is deemed Da Biggest Loser, and is forced to donate 25% of their earnings to a charity of the jury's choice.

Who Wants to be a Politician in Siberia
In this adaptation of a classic game show, politicians have to answer questions from their own political program as well as their opponent's. If the candidate answers all the questions correctly, he or she gets to be prime minister or a minister of their own choice. For each and every time the contestant dodges the question, claims that their party introduced the idea/concept back in 1856, tries to take personal credit for something he or she didn't do or blaims anything on their political counterparts, they get five years at labor camp in Siberia. Also, every broken promise from last election is rewarded with 25 meters of railroad tracks to be laid manually.

Fresh Off The Boat
Here, would-be inventors present their life's work/single biggest idea to a panel of cynical bean-counters who never had an idea of their own - ever. Promising ideas lead to continuation, with each promising candidate having to sign over the rights to their idea/product. In each successive episode, candidates have to improve the product and do marketing research on their own dime, and answer humiliating questions from the panel. For each episode, one participant is given the boot. The winner - and presumably the candidate with the most marketable product/concept - gets a plastic trophy, 1 percent of the revenue for the first fifteen minutes should the product sell, and a PhD from the School of Hard Knocks. Oh wait - this one already exists in Norway under a different name.........

Let's hear your ideas.

Addition: Big Comrade
Rich kids (i.e. kids with rich parents who take advantage of every perk available to them) who are self-proclaimed communists and proponents of a socialist revolution yet drive around in their dad's Mercedes and don't have jobs have to spend four months under conditions identical to those in Soviet under Stalin.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Guitar review: B.C. Rich Warlock NJ Neck-Thru series





B.C. Rich Warlock NJ Neck-Thru Series
Purchased at Guitar Center on Capitol Boulevard in Raleigh in January 2003 as an early 30th birthday present from my wife. 'Tis da bomb, and I fell for it the moment I picked it up and tried an arpeggio.

Features: 9
Mahogany (nato) body, neck-through construction for that infinite sustain, Widow headstock, chrome/die-cast hardware, rosewood fretboard (25 1/2" scale, Anders), 24 jumbo frets, locking nut, diamond inlays, Floyd Rose tremolo, two high-output B.C. Rich B.D.S.M. humbuckers, two independent volume and one tone control, plus a three-way toggle switch. And it's the blackest guitar you'll ever lay your eyes on. Guaran-damn-freakin-teed. With 24 frets and plenty sustain, it's possible to do speedy legato work as well as Michael Romeo-style tapping (I keep bringing that up, I know). This is a very specialized guitar, as opposed to e.g. the Ibanez S, so I've got to dock one point for the simple fact that it's very difficult to pull off an acceptable single-coil, twangy sound with it. Unbelievable guitar for recording and live performance - the offset "V" on the lower body provides perfect support when you put your right leg on a monitor (or a chair, whichever you've got handy) so as to reach those high notes for those climactic runs and sweeps. Plus, you get an instant metal-look.

Sound: 10
With the caveat that it's got a specialized sound - metal, that is, the sonic qualities in the Warlock are absolutely stellar. The neck-through construction provides enough sustain to offset the Floyd Rose (which is a real sustain-killer compared to a fixed bridge), and the pickups have enough gain to cut through any noise from even the staunchest ESP-wielding rhytm-guitarist. Rhytm being the stuff that comes between solos, of course, and the Warlock is hardwired for soloing. It's even possible to get a warm, violin-y sound from the neck pickup, and with the bridge pickup cranked up, one can conjure up al the harmonics your heart may desire. Combined with the Floyd Rose and locking nut, you can pull off Dime-style squeals like it's nobody's bidness.

In case you don't know how to pull off Dime-squeals Cemetary Gates-style, here's a quick 6-step primer. Disclaimer: Don't even think about attempting this with a standard trem bar (or even worse - a Bigsby) without a locking nut or with low-output single-coil pickups, as this will result in a) the neck being bent out of shape irreversibly, b) the trem being torn from the body, or c) all the strings breaking, subsequently screwing up the neck something fierce. Alright - let's get cracking. Step 1: Angle your whammy bar 180 degrees with respect to the neck. Step 2: Gently flick the string on which you want to sound the harmonic with your left hand, and (Step 3) dump the whammy bar until the strings are getting stuck to the pickups/flapping. Step 4: Release the whammy bar while simultaneously (Step 5) touching the desired harmonic/node with your left hand, and (Step 6) raise the pitch to the desired height using the whammy bar.

Back to the sound. The Warlock is meant for metal, and as such, you're up a creek without a paddle if you try playing jazz or country with it. As a matter of fact I suspect the guitar will stop working if you try playing blues, jazz or some other non-metal music. If you try laying the Warlock on your lap and pulling out a slide + thumb pick combo, I'm pretty sure the 'lock is gonna garrote you with the strings - that's how metal it is. So; in short - if strumming is your thing, go get yourself a Rickenbacker or a mexican-made Daisy Rock, ya big wuss. However, if you're into high-speed riffing, speedy runs and ionian/phrygian modes, then the Warlock might be something to check out.

Action, Fit&Finish: 10
Beautiful, black finish, and a comfortable C profile, which surprisingly enough works very well for high-speed fretboard antics. The action is very low, and really enables tapping and legato licks. The soft C profile actually helps for prolonged three-string ascending Yngwie-style arpeggios, so it's all good. Very high tuning stability, and of course the fabled Widow headstock.

Reliability/Durability: 6
When we moved back from NC, the Warlock was shipped in a container with the bulk of our belongings, and the long journey and large temperature variations kind of did a number on the neck (as in twisted the wood - no es bueno). Consequently, the neck has been adjusted twice since 2003, but it's still a bit off - irreversibly, I'm afraid. And here's where the neck-through construction becomes a liability, as you can forget about replacing the neck like you'd do with a bolt-on. Other than that, I'm extremely pleased with the paint job, hardware etc.

Overall Rating: 9

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My favorite TV series

Just to mix things up a little bit from the guitar theme, here are my favorite TV series (at the moment) in no particular order - series I like enough to purchase on DVD:

The West Wing
Totally fascinating show, awesome actors, great script, monster dialogue - basically the whole package. Perhaps my all-time favorite. Got all seven seasons on DVD.

The Simpsons
Hyooge fan - best animated show ever!

Gilmore Girls
From any basic description of this show, I'd never thought I'd stand to watch an episode, much less actually enjoy (almost) all the episodes. Another seven-seasoner, and we've bought all the six releases, waiting for the seventh to come out. Again, the dialogue is really what drives this series, plus the fact that they've got the world's frenchest (oh yeah? Well; it should've been a word) french guy represented here.

Fame
To pull a quote off of imdb: "Fame was the awesome full-length music video that came into your home once a week". The show has aged well, considering that it started in '82. Admittedly, the movie sucked, though. If you've ever, and I mean EVER, played in a band or considered a career in music (or presumably other forms of entertainment), you'll love Fame. Otherwise, it's just as well that you ended up pulling double shifts at IKEA, selling used Hyundais or time-share in Bulgaria, or trying to convince people to change their phone service, ya uninteresting, humourless, non-talented, low-brow, soccer-watching, beer-guzzling, golf-playing, frozen pizza-eating, epic charismatic black hole oxygen thief.

North and South
Great miniseries from 1985. Ever since living in the South, the civil war has fascinated me tremenduously, and this series is really cool.

Babylon 5
Best sci-fi series I've ever watched, and I like the fact that J. Michael Lots-of-consonants actually stuck to his vision of not exceeding his storyline (five seasons). Got them all on DVD, and SHUTTIE! Like you don't enjoy getting your geek on every now and then.

Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip
From the people who brought you The West Wing. Bradley Whitford and Matt Perry rock da hizzouse, yo. Alas, this dialogue-driven show supposedly only runs one season.

The Cosby Show
Very relaxing, and I loved watching it on Nick At Nite way back in NC. The series has aged really well, actually.

Cheers
Another Nick At Nite favorite.

The King of Queens
Kevin James is an old-school performer of physical comedy. His stand-up act is pure gold, I tells ya.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Transform this......

So we went to see Transformers this weekend. What can I say; I watched Transformers when I was a kid - Sky Channel every Saturday and Sunday morning. Sometimes, I can still watch the old cartoons, and they've actually stood the test of time pretty well all things considered. But this movie......

It's very well made, that's for sure - impressive special effects. However, what never seizes to amaze me is the total lack of proportion between special effects budget and the money the put into a) script and b) actors. Alright - this movie is based on cartoons, so nobody expects it to be an adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea or nothin', but the sad fact is that Transformers the movie - the animated piece from 1986, had a way better and more involved script stretched over 84 minutes. This one clocks in at almost two and a half hours, and has the same storyline complexity as a 20-minute regular Transformers cartoon. Why the hell do directors feel the need to stretch every damn movie to way over two hours, regardless of the story and genre? It's like the directors are whipping out their precious'es, trying to se who can stretch the script the furthest. And of course; noone, but noone does this better than Executive Director Steven Spielberg - the director's equivalent of Samuel L. Jackson. Given enough time and an unlimited budget, and I'm sure the Steven Spielberg's Director's Cut of Shine would be exactly like Coyote Ugly or House Party II.

Problem numero dos is that no money whatsoever was spent on actors, despite the unfortunate fact that Michael Bay and Steven "Dial 'S' for Suction" Spielberg have incorporated many scenes which under normal circumstances would require an interplay between actual actors. But not so in this case. Instead, the Douche Duo opted for a 50:50 Baywatch:Friday Night at the Apollo solution, wherein the actors were selected from a distinguished roster of nameless bimbo1 and 2 (previous acting experience includes "naked screaming girl in shower", "stripper #3", "fourth cheerleader from the left on second row" and "snotty daddy's girl"), Bernie Mac, extras and stage hands from the Bernie Mac show and Def Comedy Jam, generic pretty boys retrofitted with tight shirts and a month-long 750 mg/week of Winstrol V/Clenbuterol + sit-ups and bench presses routine for that "authentic" rugged soldier look, John Torturro and the actor's equivalent of a doggy bag - Jon Voight. The jewel among the actors is Anthony Anderson.

So would I recommend the movie to anyone? Like I said - it's very well-made, and if you're gonna see it, it makes sense to do so in a cinema. That being said, I've got a request for Steve-O: Dude; you've got tons of money, Oscars out the a$$ and recognition well beyond what you actually deserve - in short, you've had a great run. How about calling it a day, eh?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Guitar review: Takamine EF-261SBL





Takamine EF-261SBL
This guitar is an electro-acoustic flattop with cutaway, meaning that it has a built in piezo pickup under the bridge. Bought it new in ’98 (not sure ‘bout the year) from Hagstrøm musikk.

Features: 9
A small bodied electro-acoustic guitar with cutaway. It has a solid cedar top, laminate mahogany back and sides in black gloss finish with white and soundhole rosette and body binding. Mahogany neck with a rosewood fret board with medium sized nickel frets and no binding. It has a 1 9/16" nut and a two piece compensated saddle, both made of bone which isn't always the case in this price range. The electronics are an under the saddle pickup and a built in graph-EX preamp with the controls on the upper bout near the neck. The chrome endpin doubles as a jack socket, no strap pin on the neck side.

The body shape is what Takamine calls FXC, which means a small upper bout, narrow hip and a lower bout that has a full dreadnought width. A 25 3/8" scale length, nickel Gotoh tuners and silver Takamine logo. And six (count'em six) strings, which in my case is usually a standard set of 012s or 013s phosphor bronze, but I've tried as light as 010s.


Sound: 6
This is actually a difficult one. This guitar is really meant to be plugged in, and has a design that is optimized for that. And there is no secret that this has taken its toll on the acoustic sound. However, it still is an acoustic guitar, which means I should say something about the unplugged sound.

Unplugged the Takamine sounds a bit muted and little complex. It is a small body, so it one should expect a huge dreadnought sound with lots of bass. Still, the loss of tone is probably due to the construction rather then body shape. I've played smaller guitars then this that have a huge tone. I've read raving reviews of the unplugged sound of these Tak's, but those are from people with their ears up their @ss. Takamines are not built for pure acoustic tone.

But this guitar is designed to be plugged in and used as a stage guitar, in it's when it's plugged in this guitar shines. The bridge piezo and graph-EX preamp is as good as it gets (for a piezo, that is). The graph-EX has a three band equalizer and volume control for dialing in your tone.


Action, Fit&Finish: 10
It's manly black!

Action, Fit&Finish (serious): 7
There is nothing negative to say about the workmanship, the guitar looks solid and well built, both on the outside and inside. Tight fit on all parts and no glue residues anywhere. The finish has held up very well over the years, and there are only a few scratches after my abuse. However, the finish is a bit on the thick side, which is a bad thing for acoustic instruments.

I can't remember how the action was from the factory, but Hagstrøm did a great setup for me, so it's now low and buzz free. Maybe a tad on the low side for hard strumming or slide, but for flatpicking and fingerstyle it's good. The frets are very good, I like the size and feel of them, and the fret job is really superb. Smooth all the way down the neck, nice and even. And the cutaway gives extra reach at least up to the 17th fret.


Reliability/Durability: 9
I never played the Takamine live (living room strummer, anyone?), but it has survived several flights and I haven't done much maintenance other then changing the preamp battery and wipe it down with a rag once in a while. And it hasn't needed anything else, the neck is rock solid and frets still in pretty good shape (but then, I'm used to worn down guitars anyway). As stated above, the finish is still nice and shiny.


Overall Rating: 7
Really like the comfortable body shape, the frets and the plain look of this thing. One the negative side, it could have had a wider nut, thicker neck and a better unplugged sound.

Edit:
Until I figure out how to do this better, here are some MP3 samples on plugged vs unplugged sound of the Tak':
Plugged in.
Unplugged.
Some basic finger-picking, strumming and a taste of flat-picking in there. The tracks were recorded simultaneous.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Norwegian movie critics and American movies

Brita Møystad Engseth claims that Norwegian movie critics are overly sceptical towards Hollywood productions because they're quasi-intellectual morons and artist-wannabes (she might have phrased it slightly different, but the meaning remains). The piece is in Norwegian, but still...

I lost absolutely all respect for Engseth when she started hosting "Big Brother", but this is a long step towards redemption (like she cares).

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Guitar review: Ibanez S270



Ibanez S270

Purchased at Hagstrøm Musikk in Bergen in the Spring of 2000 for the majority of my teaching assistant salary. I was first fascinated by sheer look of the guitar - all-mahogany guitars are usually darker than this one. After discovering that it felt, played and sounded as great as it looked, I just had to have it, although I didn't admit it to myself at first. My wife - then girlfriend - had to convince me to buy the guitar, as she saw what I couldn't at the time - I really wanted that guitar. The asking price was 8500 NOK, but I ended up paying 6000 for it, because there is a small dent in the body somewhere. I wouldn't be able to tell you where that dent is today, so it's not exactly noticeable. Only days after I bought it, I discovered that Rhapsody guitarist Luca Turilli had a very similar one, and in recent years, Herman Li of Dragonforce uses one almost exclusively on record and onstage.

Features: 9
The Floyd Rose, string lock, H-S-H pickup combination and rosewood/mahogany combo pretty much makes this an extremely versatile guitar. With two more frets, this guitar would've had it all - both looks and features. Still; being able to reach that D and subsequently bending it a full note up to high E enables most songs, but still shuts the door on Michael Romeo-style tapping. Also; seeing as how it's nothing but a wooden body, a pickguard would've been very practical as far as preventing wear and tear (more on that later), but I suspect that'd screw up the looks. Fantastic guitar for both recording and live performance (although I've never used this guitar for gigging).

Sound: 10
There's almost nothing you can't do with this guitar sound-wise. Everything from a meaty scooped Mesa-Boogie style metal sound, via jazz and Knopfler to Yngwie and Satriani on the warm and violin-y side. The H-S-H and five-way selector gives you a tremenduous range of options, with the output responding extremely well to minor variations in guitar volume and tone settings. You don't have the extreme output of, say, a Dean Razorback, but I like to be able to play through an amp without needing a noise gate even for clean settings.

Action, Fit&Finish: 9
D-profile Wizard II neck and jumbo frets, set just right for legato and tapping without any string buzz - it's wonderful instrument. If you like to play fast, that is - I imagine it would suck for slide work, but then again: I don't care. The only inherent drawback is the fact that the body has a small indentation/groove from my pinky just below the single-coil. 'Cause that's where I anchor my hand, and I've played this one a LOT - it might even be visible in the pics.

Reliability/Durability: 9
Unlike the strat, my 'S has been tended to by professionals on several occasions. Transatlantic flights, simply having a Floyd Rose and whammy bar use puts a strain on a guitar that my strat hasn't experienced. Plus there's the aforementioned "pinky groove". Still - it's an absolutely beautiful instrument, and the body has kept it's hue for seven years.

Overall Rating: 9

EDIT: Some guitars just possess the ability to bring out artificial harmonics and squeals, and this is one of those. AH's are extremely simple to bring out with the 'S, even though it's not as well suited for Dime-style squeals.

Finally

SV's Øystein Djupedal admits that their plan for education sucks.

The first step is admitting that you've got a problem. Now fix it!

Capital donations and political parties

One of the candidates for the position of mayor is Oslo, Fabian Stang, has stated that political parties should not be allowed to accept donations, as this can easily be perceived as corruption, or at best as lobbyism. This statement is motivated by the controversy surrounding the close ties between the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) and the major worker's union (LO) as well as the capital flow towards the political branch. Stang, who is a conservative (Høyre) does not bring any accusations of corruption, but rather focuses on the fact that this practice doesn't exactly politician credibility, especially considering the upcoming election.

When I first saw this, I strongly agreed with Stang, but as I thought about it, it occurred to me that I was missing some vital information. My motivation for agreeing was the somewhat idealistic notion that it shouldn't be possible to buy political power, and that still stands. It's also a fact that the biggest party in Norway, Arbeiderpartiet, receives a lot of money from LO, in exchange for political influence. This is of course bad, but I'm not so naïve as to suggest that this doesn't occur in other parties. The important question here is whether there is a strong, positive correlation between the size of the donations and the electoral results (and resulting number of seats in the parlament) for each party. In other words - if we rank the size of the external donations to each party, how does that compare to the size (i.e. number of seats) of the parties? THAT would be extremely interesting to know, and seeing as how these are supposed to be public records, it shouldn't be a problem to perform such a study. If pooled over the last 20 or so years, this would be a great way to determine the effect of money spent on electoral results in Norway. If there is a strong correlation between money donations and electoral votes, money gifts should of course be prohibited. However; if the opposite is true, then there is no reason to interfere.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Guitar review: Customized Squier Stratocaster





Alright - since I re-read Rip Glitter's reviews for like the fiftieth time today, I thought I'd review my own guitars Harmony Central style. Hopefully, this will also trigger Anders to do someting similar, so I'm not left holding the bag here. Starting with my trusty

Customized Squier Stratocaster.
I bought this one in Molde in 1993 or 1994 after having played mostly Ibanez Roadstars and a Washburn of some kind. Contrary to what Anders believes, I did not buy this for the snazzy color. Rather, this one felt exactly right and sounded real good compared to the other guitars I tried. Can't remember how much I payed for it, though. Of course; I was heavily influenced by a certain Yngwie J. Malmsteen when I purchased this - and I still am to this day, some 14 years later. Consequently, I replaced the stock Fender pickups with DiMarzio HS-3's, for a more authentic 80's Yngwie sound.

Features: 6
This is a Stratocaster, so you know what you're getting feature-wise. 21 frets, classic tremolo, five-way switch for three single-coil pick-ups, bolt-on neck, volume and tone knobs - nothing fancy. The fact that there is no string lock or Floyd Rose-style whammy bar pretty much means that you can only use the bar sparingly for lowering the pitch - pretty much at your own peril unless you really enjoy re-tuning your guitar for every other whammy dive. The tuning stability can be significantly enhanced if you spring for a brass nut, but there's no way you'll be able to pull off any Vai-isms with this type of guitar. The fact that you've only got 21 frets available is kind of limiting, and soon you'll find yourself transposing notes or using lots of harmonics to achieve the tonal range you quite frankly need. Although Yngwie seems to do pretty well..

Sound: 8
This guitar is extremely versatile, and you can pull off everything from a really clean sound via country and blues to overdriven neoclassical rock/metal. The DiMarzio HS-3 pickups provide higher output and more hum cancelling than the stock single-coils, but that's really not noticeable unless you crank the gain. The bridge pick-up gives you the classic "I'll See The Light Tonight" sound, while the neck pickup is great for warmer types of soloing. I've played this one through many different amps ranging from Peavey Bandits, various Marshalls, Line6 Spider, Roland Chorus and even a Mesa/Boogie Nomad, and I've never had a problem conjuring up the classic Yngwie sound, while being able to pull off a decent Mark Knopfler or Ritchie Blacmore impression with only minor amp adjustments. In a live setting I've played everything from DDE (I was in a cover band and had to play requests, so SHUTTIE), Led Zeppelin and Dire Straits to Megadeth, a it's not as well although it's not as well suited for high-gain metal. However, if you want to get an authentic Dire Straits, Bon Jovi, Europe or Yngwie sound, this is the ticket.

Action, Fit & Finish: 6
The neck is a comfortable "C" profile, which allows for a comfortable grip during chords and bends, while still being flat enough for speedy runs and arpeggios. The action is higher than average, which is great for acoustic sound and for chord sustain, but limits legato runs, makes it harder to eliminate unwamted noise during string skipping and sweeping, and pretty much shuts the door on Michael Romeo-style tapping. As possibly evident from the images, I've caught all kinds of crap for the color scheme, but the fine folks at Fender have done an extremely good job with the paint - not a hint of wear or fading after some 14 years. Way impressive.

Reliability/Durability: 10
It's a tank! Great tuning stability (as long as you stay away from the whammy bar), the neck is extremely temperature resistant, and the hardware has the same response now as when I bought it. The fact that I hardly used a spare and that I've broken a grand total of three strings on this one speaks volumes. Still, the neck has been quite worn down by countless hours of playing - especially the frets. You can almost make out the A harmonic minor shapes all across the neck from the fretwear. Which is why it's semi-retired.

Overall Rating: 8

EDIT: The only guitar with more prominent natural harmonics than this I've played is the Fender YJM Stratocaster. Even unplugged, the NH's on the Squier are really prominent. Surely the high action is partly responsible

Monday, July 2, 2007

Die Hard Pirates

...so we saw two movies this weekend while in Oslo - the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the fourth "Die Hard".


Die Hard 4.0
Suprisingly good movie - on par with the first two in the series. Bruce Willis does a good job, the production is top dollar, they use a lot of stunts so as not to make the movie too CGI-heavy. Also, the movie's got Kevin Smith as a basement-dwelling living-with-his-mom computer nerd with screen name Warlock. I expected this movie to be a watered-down continuation of the third installment, but I was really positively surprised. So; the four Die Hard movies consist of three good ones, with a serious dip represented by the one in which Samuel L. Jackson has a part. Coincidence? I think not.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
This movie, however, suffers from two major flaws. One: it drags on for too damn long - way over two and a half hours. Two: Johnny Depp is not featured nearly as much as in the previous two, and for some unknown reason the producers opted to base a lot of the movie on Keira Knightley's and Orlando Bloom's acting abilities rather than to just have them as window dressing. What is interesting is that the remaining actors - including Depp and Geoffrey Rush - are propped with crooked teeth and imperfect skin, the two elves have white, shiny teeth, perfect hair with highlights and full-on make-up (yes; the arrow-elf also)despite spending their time either in prison or on a ship. Basically; even the dude who plays Davy Jones with that horrible Groundskeeper Willie accent is a much better actor. Also; the ending reeked of sequels to come.