Monthly Archives for September 2008

Guitar Envy, continued…

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Last May, I described how I caved in to Guitar Envy and bought a cheap electro-acoustic nylon string job on eBay. Following that purchase, I had 60€ left on a PayPal account and thought I might buy myself a crappy electric guitar too, while I waited to treat myself to a decent instrument, some day.

Since then, I’d occasionally follow guitars on eBay, but nothing struck my fancy, or fit my budget.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I did something stupid. I went on a French guitar forum that I sometimes visit, and noticed they had a buy & sell forum.

So I foolishly stuck my nose in it, and came upon an ad for a guitar that immediately caught my eye and made me drool.

I had seen guitars from this make, but I didn’t know that particular model. It was a Danelectro Pro.

Danelectros have an interesting history. From The History of Danelectro (appropriately enough) :

The very first Danelectro guitars were built beginning in 1954. For many teen-agers, this was their first instrument. Brand new, the cheapest models cost as little as $69.00. Many were sold by Sears, under the label “Silvertone.” The most popular models came in a case with a built-in amplifier.

Today, that $69.00 guitar, unmodified, and in excellent condition could cost you $500.00 or more. Because they were so cheap, many Danelectros were thrown away, damaged or altered along the way.

Constructed simply of wood, vinyl, masonite and Formica, Danelectros used “lipstick tube” metal pick-ups that were literally purchased from a lipstick-tube manufacturer. The guitars were made simply, with no pearl adornments or expensive wood.

These guitars had and have quite a following, as evidenced by the celebrity pages form the same site.

[UPDATE! Howard Daniel left a note in the comments, pointing to "the most complete and accurate history of Danelectro and its pioneering founder, Nathan I. Daniel", his father! My sincere thanks.]

In recent years, reproductions of some of these early models have cropped up on the market. I had already noticed them, because I’m a sucker for the design of that era.

The guitar in the ad was one of those reproductions. At 150€, it was over twice my budget, but what the hell. I was still tempted. However, when I tried to post on the forum to say I was interested, I got a message saying my IP address was deemed “unknown” and as a spam-prevention measure, that meant I was unable to post to the forum!

I sent a message to the webmaster asking him to unblock my IP, and while I waited, went looking around the Web for more info on this guitar.

I found out more about the history and the current incarnations of these guitars, how they are really loved despite their humble hardware, and discovered that the model I coveted was a limited edition, out of stock in the US and only available in a couple of stores in Europe.

It also turned out that a new model could be had for 215€.

So after agonizing for a whole day, and watching countless bad YouTube videos of people using their Dano Pros, I caved and went ahead and bought it.

And it arrived…today… And I am NOT disappointed. I love the sound, the simple hardware controls, and the feel of the neck. Very playable. And I’m not into ejaculatory guitar solos at the top of the neck so the lack of real cutaway doesn’t bother me at all.

So if you’ve read this far, I will now reward your patience with a few pictures of this one-of a kind guitar (after the jump…)

Continue Reading →

29. September 2008 by sknob
Destination: Making Music | 7 comments

Misunderstood

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I’ve spoken at length on this blog about how my music tends to find a small core of enthusiastic fans, and irk a majority of others (and how these numbers seem to vary widely depending on geography).

Despite the fact that I don’t create super-weird avant-garde musique concrète, I’ve proposed some hypotheses to explain this phenomenon (my music sucks, surprise vs. predictability, etc.)

But I’ve just gone through two seemingly unrelated but telling episodes, that have made me revisit this existential question (I apologize for this narcissistic post, but hey, what are blogs for?)

First of all, this summer, I came to the aid of someone who is near and dear to me, who urgently needed a design for a website she was having developed.

While I’m not a real website designer, I believe I do have my moments. I first told her I couldn’t do it, but then came up with a basic idea, that I fleshed out, and that satisfied me on so many levels that I feel embarrassed by just how proud I was of the result. I thought it was a near-total success, both graphically, ergonomically, in terms of usability and clarity and fitness to the purpose and to the target demographics.

The developer, on the other hand, begged to differ. He was appalled, even horrified, and said that it was his duty as a professional to warn against using such a non-standard, off-putting, design.

The parallel with typical reactions to my music is obvious to me now. The design was, in my view, only slightly non standard, which was what gave it personality, among other ingredients. But the placement and usability of every element on every page was carefully thought out, and weighed in light of impatient and inexperienced end-users. There was virtually no doubt in my mind that the slightly non-standard aspects would improve usability, not worsen it.

In a different context, I had also previously done a quick photoshop collage for the near and dear person I was trying to help, in which I had stuck a crude banner+logo on a screen-shot of an existing, competing (and very bland) site.

She was stuck between a rock and a hard place (me and the developer), so I suggested she send this crude collage, and my new, snazzy, perfect design ;) to people familiar with the project to get their feedback. The result wasn’t even close. The crappy fake was preferred 10 to 1 over my sublime, haute-couture design ;) .

Now for the second recent revealing incident. Last weeks’ Geeks In Love episode was really a political cartoon in disguise, about the financial collapse and the MacPain campaign. As a lark, and given what I thought was a broader appeal than usual, I submitted the strip to Reddit’s “comics” feed. People then started to look at it and to “upvote” the strip. I got over 200 visits in a few hours, with the strip holding steady in the top 10 cartoons of the moment, but by the end of the day, at least as many people had “downvoted” (you can’t get negative points on Reddit). So once again, enough people disliked it enough to vote it down. They could ignore it and do nothing. But no. They had to express their displeasure in no uncertain terms (the political bias on Reddit is very much to the left, so I’m dismissing the possibility that I was voted down by outraged creationists or Palin supporters).

Once again, I was witnessing the same pattern. I thought I was proposing something of quality, with a wider appeal than usual, and was proven wrong.

So there you have it.

It doesn’t matter what I create: music, web designs, cartoons.
It doesn’t matter who I create for: myself or others.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s highbrow, lowbrow or commercial art or entertainment.
It doesn’t matter weather it is formally slightly unusual or completely familiar and standard.

The result is always the same. A few individuals rave about it, and large numbers of people are put off.

I’m amused and even a little proud, but also humbled to see that I seem to have an artistic sensibility that transcends the particular boundaries of different “art forms”.

It’s also obvious to me that there is nothing I can do about it.

Which in the end is a liberating feeling, even though it means that what I do, despite an audience beyond my wildest dreams, will never emerge from obscurity.

28. September 2008 by sknob
Destination: Drawings, Making Music, User Interface Design | Leave a comment

Remote Possibility: Canis Horribillis

Canis Horribillis is what happens when an early Remote Possibility song inspires lyrics by Icepac, goes through the hands of a few guest musicians, and gets real drums and a great mixdown by Harmsichord.

24. September 2008 by sknob
Destination: Songs | Leave a comment

1 mot, 1 chanson: Canapé

1 mot, 1 chanson has a new contributor.

My son Nicolas, 14, wrote the lyrics to Canapé, sang me the tune they should follow, and with great confidence and authority, told me what instruments and general vibe he wanted.

Then all I had to do was to follow his orders, which I did with great pleasure (and a little trepidation; would I be able to live up to his expectations?).

Nico seems happy with the result. I know I am.

So head on over to 1 mot, 1 chanson, listen to Canapé, and leave Nico your comments!

15. September 2008 by sknob
Destination: Making Music, Songs | Leave a comment

Satisfaction

Why do I draw the Geeks? Why do I (still occasionally) make music?

Vaste question.

I’m not going to philosophise on the intrinsic merits of art (hi or lo-brow) or anything like that. Not today. I’m going to stay much closer to the ground.

It ain’t easy to think up and draw one episode a week. If I did this for a living, and had to publish on a daily basis for instance, I would have to considerably widen the scope and especially the cast of the Geeks.

As it stands, the Geeks sometimes

I’m glad when on occasion, I get any of the above across in a way that satisfies me.

And that satisfaction usually happens, in my own eyes, when I’m pleased with the formal aspect of an episode: the narrative structure of a strip, the invisible stuff that is implied between two drawings, settling on some visual code (like the computers merging with the boxes), or the occasional quality of a drawing itself.

Like the last drawing in today’s episode.

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The three dimensionality suggested by the perspective of the arms of the glasses, the prominence of the nose, overhanging the iPhone, and the very slight curvature of the eye on the left, that suggests the three-dimensionality of the eyeball. Some of it is intended, some of it is sheer luck (hopefully guided by instinct).

That’s what keeps me going.

14. September 2008 by sknob
Destination: Drawings, Making Geeks In Love | Leave a comment

iPhone Tips

I’m enjoying version 2.0 of the iPhone OS, which ushered in the era of third party apps.

I spoke about a few early favorites in a previous post, to which I would add the following:

  • VisuaRadio & Liveradio, great Internet radio apps
  • Shazam & Midomi, magical apps that identify music that’s playing around you or that you hum yourself
  • PocketGuitar, unplayable but beautifully done, and cheap, so what the hell
  • Tris, great Tetris clone (removed from AppStore for legal reasons)
  • Sol Free, a great free Solitaire, and
  • Koi Pond, zen and gorgeous

And now for the Tips part of this post.

There’s a lot of crap on the AppStore, a few gems, and some clear trends (games, for instance).

But one of the most crowded categories is a surprising one: Tip Calculators.

As of this writing, there are about 25 of them on the AppStore.

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I have to wonder why anyone would download a free tip calculator, let alone pay for one.

For one thing, the iPhone comes with a regular calculator.

And despite being somewhat of a math retard, I have no trouble mentally calculating tips (in multiples of 5%, say).

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I guess a tip calculator is a simple project for a developer who wants to learn to code iPhone apps.

But do people actually try/buy/use their programs?! And if so, why?! To be sure they don’t over tip by a couple of cents?

The world is a decidedly strange place.

11. September 2008 by sknob
Destination: Geekiness, Surfin' | 2 comments

My US Election Post

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Not so long ago, I would have written about the US election, at length, repeatedly, foaming at the mouth.

These days, I just flag a few things that I run across in my Google Shared Items.

I feel vindicated in everything I’ve thought about the US, when I lived there in the 80′s and since then.

It isn’t worse, it isn’t better. It’s just that the crazy, ignorant, reality-allergic, creationist, fundamentalist, racist, obscurantist, hateful, fascist side of America used to be more discreet.

What’s changed, is that they can now speak openly, in the mainstream media, and not be laughed off the set.

If Obama is elected, I feel it will give coastal Americans (and 80% of the rest of the world, according to various polls) the illusion that the Bush years were an unfortunate aberration.

If McCain is elected, despite his repugnant running-mate and ignorant and selfish party base (and assuming the abstention rate is more or less what it always is), it will just go to show, once more, that:

  • a quarter of Americans are fascists, plain and simple,
  • a quarter of Americans are slightly to the left of Mussolini or Franco, because, well, you know, sometimes, those guys do go slightly overboard (although they do look dashing in that uniform),
  • and half of Americans are too busy jerking off to porn on the Internet or getting boob jobs or trying not to die, knee-deep in shit (while dreaming of the day they’ll be rich and famous), to care either way.

I’m not saying I’m neutral on the matter.

Obama will probably think twice before he nukes anyone, just in case it isn’t what Jesus would do.

06. September 2008 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Surfin' | Leave a comment