Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Good Riddance Larry King

It's amazing that the collective IQ of American TV viewers is so low that people like Larry King and Baba Wawa managed to stay on the air for more than a week.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Sad State of Sci-Fi

Whether you read books or watch movies and TV shows, one thing that's apparent is how ridiculously hard it is to find any sci-fi that's even halfway worth paying attention to. Let's face it, there have only been a small handful of novels that have been worth reading in the past 50 years anyway, but sci-fi use to stand out from the pack before then. Arthur C Clarke and Ray Bradbury did some wonderful things in the 50s. Clarke's The City and the Stars is still the best sci-fi novel I've ever read. Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein were doing their best work in the 50s too. Before them you had H.G. Wells and Jules Verne among others. I was just recently turned on to Walter Miller who had two great novels in the 50s to early 60s. Clarke also did some outstanding work in the 60s and into the 70s, but he's one of the few. I just started reading Orson Scott Card and really like his Ender series so far, so we have at least one good sci-fi writer who's still active. There are some good fantasy writers like Susanna Clarke, but I would never lump fantasy in with sci-fi the way booksellers do nowadays.

There were some very good sci-fi movies in the 60s and 70s. Close Encounters of the Third Kind as probably the best of them, but I don't want to talk about sci-fi movies so much. I haven't seen a good one in a few years anyway, so it's currently in the same situation as movies and books.

Until this week, I hadn't watched any episodes of The X-Files since the show went off the air. I had forgotten just how good this show was. I don't believe in life on other planets or much by way of paranormal activities, but this show was done in such an intelligent way that it makes most of the scenarios seem believable, and it does it with as much science as possible, and that is what sci-fi is supposed to do. It's very sad when you look at how bad sci-fi has been on TV ever since. Fringe, Heroes, Stargate-SG1, and especially The Event all seem silly by comparison and appear to have been written for a very immature audience. But even the old classics—The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and One Step Beyond—couldn't hold a candle to Mulder and Scully. That was a special show. Lost was more of a fantasy show, but it wouldn't bother me if people referred to it as sci-fi. It was great in its own way, but it was what's commonly referred to as a "character driven show" which is usually an excuse for being unbelievable. In this case it worked, but I can't think of a single other show (or at least one for adults) where it has. Fantasy almost has to be character driven though. No one of any intelligence would waste time on a book or show about unbelievable subjects like vampires and werewolves unless there was an attractiveness to the characters. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton were the kings of character driven fantasy. Sci-fi doesn't need it though. With sci-fi it's all about what happens. The characters are seldom memorable. Isn't it odd that throughout the entire 2001 Space Odyssey series (wonderful as it was) the only character anyone can generally remember from it is a monotoned talking computer? Mulder and Scully had very low keyed personalities which would never drive a show in and of themselves. But the show wasn't about them or anyone else in particular. It was about what happens. It was about odd events in people's lives and not the people so much. Mostly it was about the mysterious. It's the mysterious that makes life interesting. Character driven stories are great for children because they're still developing their personalities and are dependant on the personalities of others as role models to grow into. That's enough to satisfy their young minds. Adults need something more though. It's curiosity that keeps us growing. If only there were more good stories to peak it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's Devo on Aspirin!

Everybody's heard the old surf tune "Pipeline", but have you ever actually seen the Chantays play it? And on Lawrence Welk yet! This is a hoot. Dig the fancy footwork.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Terriers" Has Been Canceled

Just to let the faithful few know, it's official. The best show on TV has been canceled after just one season. Figures though. Is there anybody, any TV network owners, anyone in Hollyweird that's satisfied with making a living instead of a killing? Is there some crime in California law that says you can't just produce really great shows that make a decent living for yourselves and actually be respected by normal humans with an IQ in the upper half of the population? Must you throw away all things good and esteemed if they make just a little less money for you than something moronic that sells a few more sponsored products? FX Network—you're pathetic.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sony Vegas Contrast Problem

I mentioned in a previous post that I've been trying out Vegas for video editing and have been pondering switching to it from Adobe Premiere. There are some things I really like about using Vegas to edit with. In some ways the GUI is much more sensible. But one big drawback with Vegas is that it has a contrast problem. The video preview window is simply lacking in contrast, and I'm not the first person to notice it. I did some googling and found a few posts on the net where other people have noticed this going back at least three years. Surely someone must have notified Sony about this by now. Why haven't they fixed it after all this time? That's the type of thing that just infuriates me. Any program can have a bug, and all of them do at some point. What separates the good software companies from the bad is how quickly they offer a patch to fix it. Sony loses some serious points over this one.

How on earth are you supposed to do basic video editing things like color correction when the contrast is off? Here's an example of how bad it is. The tree on the left is a screen capture from the preview window in Vegas. The tree on the right is from Magix Movie Edit Pro (and it looks the same there as it does in any other editor or Windows Media Player).

I must have close to 15 or 20 programs that use a video preview window for various things, and every one of them looks the same except for Vegas. Switching between programs becomes a real pain if I have to change the contrast on my monitor every time I enter and leave Vegas. It simply makes the software unusable. On to something else....

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sony HVR-V1U Low Light Test

This Sony camcorder has a low light rating of 4-lux. That's not particularly good; however, Sony is well-known for having gain circuits that are outstanding and produce very little noise. I have found this to be true. For the test, I shot some footage at night here in my little bedroom studio using nothing but a small Bescor 50-watt LED light attached to the shoe with the cam on a tripod about 6-feet away.
It's a cold shoe, but the light runs off its own batteries. This is just about the largest light you'll ever see attached to a camcorder shoe, but 50-watts is still very little light. It's good for doing outdoor nighttime interviews in a pinch, but that's about it. I traded a small mixer to a guy on Ebay for it.
The light wouldn't scoot all the way back on the shoe though without bumping into the microphone, so I had to get an adapter (also made by Bescor) to lift it up higher. Chances are I'll end up using the adapter more than the light because it's also good for mounting an LCD monitor and getting it up out of the way in the same fashion.

The footage was shot in 1080P at 24A with cinema tones. Here are a couple of stills. You can click on them to enlarge (like most of the photos in my blogs), but keep in mind that these are full-frame HD, so they're very large, but nice.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Bishop's Wife

Looking for a good Christmas holiday movie? The Christmas Story, It's A Wonderful Life, Scrooge, Miracle on 34th Street—those have been the big Christmas movies traditionally. Try The Bishop's Wife. I don't know why this movie hasn't been as popular as those others. It stars Cary Grant as an angel trying to help out a Bishop and his wife over the holidays. A great movie! Now playing at Hulu.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Getting Rid of Oxidation From Windows

Have you ever seen a dirty window that wouldn't come clean no matter how much you scrubbed? Chances are you have metal screens and oxidation. We used to call it screen burn years ago. It's where rain makes those screens rust (which is why metal screens always look brown and dirty), and then that rust gets carried to the windows where it more or less rusts to the windows and becomes a part of them.

I've always used some special mail-order chemicals to get it off, but I recently tried something on a lark that works really well on removing rust from windows. Believe it ot not, it's brake dust remover. It won't get rid of hard water deposits, but it sure cuts through oxidation. You might have to scrub a bit with a light duty scouring pad, but it'll work just fine.

File under: "The Buckaroo's Helpful Hint of the Day."

Monday, November 22, 2010

What You Should Know About Going to Windows 7/64-bit

Since everyone will undoubtedly go to a 64-bit platform eventually, I thought I'd let you in on what to expect. Everyone's biggest worry is whether their older 32-bit programs will get the kiss of death. My experience has been that some will work on a 64-bit OS just fine. Others will work if you run them in XP Mode (you have to right click on a program and choose to run it as administrator). A few others won't work at all, although I'm told that they may if you're using the Professional version of Windows 7. That enables you to download the free "Virtual Machine" app from MS. It basically does something along the lines of partitioning part of your hard drive as XP 32-bit, and then installs those troublesome programs to that partition. Sounds like quite a hassle to me, so I haven't done this. Also, if you have the Home edition of W-7, I'm sure there must be some 3rd party software that will do what virtual machine does except with your Home edition.

Most of my older programs run fine. Believe it or not, I had trouble with Word 2000, but I still had a copy of Word 97, and that actually runs okay. My old version of Premiere 6.5 wouldn't install, but I wanted to go to another NLE anyway. The drivers for my nearly ten year old scanner wouldn't install either. Scanners are cheap though, so I just bought a new one. If you're an old hand at making and uploading web pages, you'll be happy to know that the ancient, venerable WS_FTP95 LE still works like a champ.

All in all it hasn't been too bad. It's like learning to swim. You just have to jump in and start splashing. You'll get where you're going eventually. There's gonna be some cost involved, but what are you going to do? Things change. I made my last machine build last over seven years. I can't complain. I got my money's worth.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Old Pics of My Pop

I got some nice old photos from various people in the family after my dad passed away last July. I have a great fondness for old black & white photographs. There's just something special that was captured in those days that's impossible to replicate today.

This first one is special to me. I just got it a few weeks ago and had never seen a picture of my dad with his dad when both were adults. Grandma is here too. We don't know who the baby is. Dad had seven older brothers, so I have a ton of cousins, and the baby could be any of them.
The next two are of my dad, his next oldest brother Vernal, and grandpa. The first is from 1938.
This one must have been around 1945 or thereabouts. Grandpa was a real good trumpet player. You can see he's carrying his case here, and it looks like they have bibles and are on their way to church.
This next one is grandpa during WW1.
Pop as a baby.
Pop as a boy in a flower patch.
Pop with his aunt Mable (He was much closer to her than his mother). Isn't this a great picture? 
This is a really great period photo too of Dad and Grandma.
Me, sis, mom, and dad.
Here's dad with his brothers Vernal, Ted, and Harry, my cousin Dave wearing his police cap, and I'm in back.

1952 Illinois State Jaycees Baseball Champs (East St. Louis)

I'm putting this post up for posterity sake just in case there are other people from East St. Louis back in the day looking for pictures of this tremendous baseball team. As near as I can tell this was in 1952, but it could be a year off one way or the other. My dad, Charlie Seper, was on this team. He's the one sitting on the right sporting a mustache and catcher's kneepads. He was 17 at the time, and his batting average was 667. He was offered a contract with the Dodgers but turned them down saying, "I play for fun, not for money."

Dad told me that everybody on this team was a great player, and others were offered professional contracts as well, but all turned them down. (Baseball didn't pay much in those days, and it was more common to turn down contract offers than it was to take them). These guys were so good that they won every game on the way to state by no less than seven runs and won the state final by ten runs. They then went on to play the Missouri champs at the Cardinals Sportsmen's Park in St. Louis and thoroughly trounced them. Stan Musial and several other Cardinal players came out to watch the game. Dad only played one inning in the game as a pitcher. He threw the ball so hard that nobody could catch him without dropping the ball, so the coach's answer was to take out the pitcher…. Yeah, dad was ticked. :-)

If you know someone on this team or have any recollections of them, please leave a note.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sony HRV-V1U Test Shots at 24A

Here are a couple of stills pulled from HDV footage I shot with the new cam last week. I shot the footage in 24A which is 24 progressive frames per second ala film speed plus using cinema mode. This mode saturates the tape in such a way that it mimics film fairly well. I think the shots are a little soft (as in not sharply focussed), but you really have to work at focussing with HDV, and I just shot this on automatic. And no, I don't own either of these homes. My income would only allow rental of a mouse hole in such places. I really like this cam.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Me and My Cam

Okay, it ain't "Me and My Gal", but I still think there's a song in there somewhere. I finally moved into the realm of High Definition this year both in buying my first HDTV and now a pro quality HDV camcorder. I got it used from a guy who barely used it for less than half the price of a new one. I could probably sell it on Ebay tomorrow for a good profit. I've been strongly considering trying to do a full-scale documentary on the works of CS Lewis. I've just re-read the space trilogy, the Narnia tales, and Till We Have Faces in preparation. Now I've got a cam that's fit for doing interviews, so that's a good thing. It'll also shoot in 1080/24P for a pretty decent film-look if I want to do something dramatic.

Work, Work, Work

I don't mean to be so quiet as of late, but work is really hectic this time of year, and I've been helping my nephew and sister with some remodeling after work and weekends, so I'm too bushed to do much of anything but lay in front of the TV when I get home lately.

Speaking of TV, have you seen the new Tom Selleck (can you believe he's 65 now?) TV series called "Blue Bloods?" He plays a police commissioner in NY with two sons that are cops (a third was killed on duty) along with a daughter who's a prosecuting attorney.
His aging father (a former commissioner) lives with him too. After just a handful of shows I'm already prepared to say that it may be the best cop show ever when all is said and done. And a big part of that I must say is because Donnie Wahlberg plays the best TV cop I've ever seen. He seems born for the role. It's also a show that truly relishes family. Every episode seems to end with the family all together eating supper, including spouses and grandkids. They're a Catholic family, and saying grace is still an honored tradition among others. You've really got to see this one. If you miss it on TV, CBS has been posting the shows online.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Watch Terriers or Else!

The or else is that, if they don't get more viewers, we won't be watching them at all. The show is in danger of being cancelled at the moment.

If you don't yet know about Terriers, just let me say that it's the most clever and witty dramatic show on TV right now, yet at the same time it's down to earth and gritty (in a good way). It's about a pair of pretty regular good ole boy types, Hank and Britt, who start a private investigation firm called "terriers." Hank is an ex-cop who did some things that got him booted from the force, and Britt is an ex-crook who's determined not to go back down that road. They're both broke, living job to job while working out of Hank's beat-up old pickup truck. In fact, you might say they're broke and broken. Hank's recently divorced and we see him struggle with his ex getting remarried. Britt decides he wants to marry his girlfriend, but she's suddenly getting a wild streak. And into the mix comes Hank's brilliant, but disturbed, sister recently escaped from a mental hospital and hiding in Hank's attic until he finds out about her.

It's a strangely intriguing show on many levels. Just reading that last paragraph, you probably are thinking it's pretty bland. What makes it work is the dialog and underlying feel of things. I've never watched a show in which I felt so much like I was actually inside the character's heads. The chemistry between Hank and Britt is great, and that's undoubtedly due to the fact that Michael Raymond-James and Donal Logue are best pals in real life. And there's plenty of offbeat literary referrences, which seems kind of bizarre coming from these two guys, at least one of which we know never attended a day of college.

It's on the FX network. You can also catch it on Hulu.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Now I'll Really Have to Stop Judging Books by Their Covers

There are two actors I've seen for several years, but just this week found out some things about their personal lives and history that just floored me.

First up is... well how bout I let you try and guess who this singer is. If you don't already know, I'm confident you'll never guess:

His name is Ken Curtis. You'll probably recognize him best in this next video sporting a scraggly beard and dressed in the attire you know him best in:

Yep, that's the feller who played Festus Haggen for over a decade on Gunsmoke. Turns out he was a singer and actor long before Gunsmoke. He even took over Frank Sinatra's old job singing with Tommy Dorsey's band for a while. He was also the son-in-law of John Ford and had small roles in many of his best films. If you look close you'll see him sometimes singing in them too. He was a member of a famous western group called The Sons Of The Pioneers. Here he is singing lead with them in Ford's movie--The Rio Grand--with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara:

That was fun! Would you have ever thought.... Let's do one more. I bet you've seen this face in a bunch of old TV shows and B-movies but didn't know the name that went with it:

That's William Smith. Don't worry if you don't know the name. I guarantee you've seen his work. He did a string of motorcycle films in the 60/70s. Before that he was known for playing Joe Riley on Laredo. Actually, he's been acting in films since he was eight. (He was born in 1933, so you do the math). In real life he was a sports fanatic and body builder. He was a terrific amateur boxer (he only lost one fight), and held the Air Force Weightlifting Championship. He also won the 200 pound arm-wrestling championship of the world several times over.

With the notable exception of Laredo, he almost always played a bad guy and did a bunch of fight scenes, some of them quite famous. You may remember the one between him and Clint Eastwood in Any Which Way You Can. His most well-known one was probably with Nick Nolte in Rich Man, Poor Man:

Unfortunately I couldn't find any video of it, but I did find a few stills from what I (and apparently a few others) consider to be his portrayal of the best bad guy character of all-time, and that was in the role of Jude Bonner on a special 2-hour episode of Gunsmoke entitled "Hostage". If you watched Gunsmoke, then you probably remember this episode as the one where Miss Kitty gets kidnapped, raped, shot in the back, and left for dead because Marshall Dillon wouldn't turn over Bonner's younger brother who was sentenced to be hanged after being found guilty of murder. The show ended with Marshall Dillon taking off his badge (the only time he ever did) and going after Bonner with the strict intention of killing him. The fistfight between Dillon and Bonner (Smith) was probably the best fight scene ever in a western. Dillon nearly tossed a boulder on Bonner's head at the end, but his streak of decency brought him to his senses, and he relented from killing him. It was truly a great, maybe the greatest, episode in the annals of TV Westerns.

Well, if you're like me and used to seeing William Smith in almost nothing but tough guy roles, usually playing a rather doltish sort (often a downright idiot), then you're going to be as surprised as I was to find that this guy went to Syracuse; was fluent in English, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, French, and German; taught Russian at UCLA; and was a Russian Intercept Interrogator during the Korean War who flew secret ferret missions over Russia. He had both CIA and NSA clearance. Turns out this guy is like a freakin' genius....

Sometimes you just never know about people.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?"

That's the name of the new documentary that's out now about Nilsson. I've been waiting a long time for this. It was actually shot a few years ago but I guess was held up for monetary reasons. (It's cheap to make a documentary but expensive to distribute it). As far as I'm concerned there were many good singers during the last century but only three great ones--Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, and Harry Nilsson. he was a darn good writer too.

Finishing up on "Till We Have Faces"

I've been re-reading the old CS Lewis classic lately and should finish it in a day or two. There are some places where the writing seems a bit clumsy to me this time. Certain phrases he uses that don't read particularly well or that sound a bit corny. And I must say that I've always felt that the second book the queen writes seems a little outlandish, and I find myself thinking she couldn't have been so wrong about things in the first book. Her second youngest sister really is a selfish trouble maker. Lewis wrote her that way, and now he wants us to believe the queen was just terribly confused. But her sister did taunt her and say terrible things to her. There's no mistaking that. She truly did mistreat her queen-sister. I tend to believe now that Lewis wrote the queen's second book almost on a lark--that he changed direction from something else he had originally planned, and so, the queen's two books don't always make sense when comparing them. At least it's my only explanation. I still like the story very much. But I now consider Perelandra to be his masterpiece of fiction. I don't think there's a word in it I would change.

Tomorrow I will try to put into thought the kinds of things I like to see in writing, and why these things work for me. Of course I'll also exemplify things I don't like. I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

So I Rebuilt My Computer Today

Okay, it's 12:48 AM, so I guess I should say I rebuilt it yesterday. Anyhow, it's always a great joy to do a major undertaking like this and have everything actually work when you put it back together. I did have one scary moment. After installing Windows 7, I got to the registration page, and after filling everything out including the key #, I got a message saying that my software was out of date. At first I thought maybe I needed to reset the clock/year in BIOS, but then it suggested that I go online and try to register it there, but wouldn't you know that W7 couldn't detect a modem or a driver for one. I use AT&T DSL along with a D-link N 300 so my laptop can go wireless. I figured Windows would have a driver for the ethernet connection. It didn't. Strange. Fortunately the utility disc that came with the new MOBO had the driver on there, so after installing it I was able to get online, and W7 somehow did the registration automatically. Funny that just a few minutes earlier it was flashing a message saying my copy of W7 "may be illegal." I don't really know what that was about.

I just bought a new Antec case a couple of years ago, so I re-used that and also kept my DVD burner which is only a year old. So I basically got a new MOBO, CPU, HDD, RAM, and the new pro version of Windows 7 64-bit. Oh, and I kept my Firewire card because there's no FW on the new MOBO. My new laptop didn't come with any FW either. I guess it really is on the way out, and USB has won the war. The FW built-in to most MOBOs is junk anyway most of the time. The only thing I really use it for is transferring MiniDV footage.

For those interested in the details, I use a microATX case because it fits perfectly under my desk and I don't need a lot of slots. I went with an ASUS M4A88T-M/USB3 MOBO. It looks to be a great one (ASUS makes some of the best), and comes with some terrific overclocking tools. I hate to use the term "overclock" because no one really overclocks anything anymore. You never push anything past its prescribed limits. They should really call it re-clocking. I'm continuing my love affair with AMD chips and used one of their best quad cores--the Phenom II X4 965. It's rated at 3.4GHz, but I've been... umm-umm... re-clocking it to nearly 3.9 with no problems at all. I can't wait to get my audio and video programs running on this tomorrow since they're smart enough to know how to take advantage of all four cores. I also went with one of G-Skill's 8G Ripjaws RAM sets. This machine ought to smoke!

And hard drives... man I can't believe we're seeing 2-terabyte units out now. That's an amazing amount of space. And some are running at 10000rpm! I went with just a 1-TB Western Digital unit at 7200rpm. You can get them fairly cheap, and it's still a lot of space.

I'm thinking of switching from Adobe Premiere to Sony Vegas for video editing. I'll probably be blogging about that soon. I would love to get away from the evil giant. Adobe is a longtime funder of the Planned Parenthood baby killers and is on just about every abortion watchlist out there. I also can't stand one of their video personnel.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Juan Williams Was Railroaded

Unless you're a hermit (a hermit with a web connection if you're reading this) you've undoubtedly heard by now that National Public Radio recently fired Juan Williams for making the following comment on a FOX News program: "But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

How does one get fired for expressing his apprehension about being on an airplane with people who are dressed like Muslims? It was people dressed exactly like that who brought down four planes in one day causing the worst single day civilian air disaster in American history. Other Muslims have attempted the same stunt several times since then only to have been stopped by quick thinking people, all of whom (thankfully) were keeping a leery eye out for... you know... people dressed like that.

Alicia Shepard, world's worst excuse for an Ombudsman at NPR, wrote in her online column:

One reason he was fired, according to Vivian Schiller, NPR’s CEO, is that the company felt he wasn’t performing the role of a news analyst:

“News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts, and that’s what’s happened in this situation,” said Schiller in an email to NPR member stations, some of which are upset about Williams' firing.

“As you all well know," she continued, "we offer views of all kinds on your air every day, but those views are expressed by those we interview – not our reporters and analysts.”
Miss Shepard agrees with this and says the firing of Williams was justified.

There are many things wrong with this position. Williams was a commentator in his roll at FOX News. Commentators are paid to have opinions. NPR should know; they have 37 commentators issuing just as many controversial opinions on a broad range of subjects. A week doesn't go by in which Terry Gross doesn't say something controversial and inflammatory. In 2006 Frank Deford said of Barry Bonds, "...Bud Selig should announce today that if and when Bonds passes Babe Ruth's old record of 714 home runs and Aaron's 755, baseball will offer no congratulations, participate in no ceremony. If the Giant franchise had any honor, it would do the same." The trouble is that Bonds hadn't been convicted of anything yet! This fact did nothing to dissuade Deford's opinion on the subject. I believe Bonds took steroids. I have no problem with Deford having his say about it. Williams is nervous to be on the same plane with people dressed in Muslim garb. Williams is right to be nervous. But when's Mr. Deford's firing?

Nina Totenberg once said about General Jerry Boykin's views of Islam and the war on terrorism, "I hope he's not long for this world." Is that an example of NPR's ethical guidelines? I ask you, was the remark Williams made even half as controversial as hers? Miss Totenberg still has a job.

Miss Shepard in a rather arrogant manner wrote about the "balanced news analyst on NPR." She went on to mention the "collision of values: NPR's values emphasizing fact-based, objective journalism versus...notably Fox News, to promote only one side of the ideological spectrum."

Aside from the uppity attitude, I find her outlook very weak and thoughtless. I'm no fan of Fox News, but NPR fairs no better. NPR has very few conservative commentators at all. Fox News is certainly conservative leaning, but they have several liberal commentators: Alan Colmes, Greta Van Susteren, Mara Liasson, Kristen Powers, Susan Estrich, Pat Caddell, Mort Kondrache, Bob Beckel to name a few they've had over the years. And did I fail to mention Juan Williams himself? Sure he's more of what we might call a centrist, but he's still much more liberal than he is conservative.

Juan Williams displayed common sense when he said he was nervous being on a plane with people who dressed like, or identified themselves as being, Muslim. Most of us feel the same way. It has nothing to do with racism or hate and everything to do with a desire to live a long and healthy life.

NPR should have immediately fired Nina Totenberg for her remarks about General Boykin. It should now consider firing its CEO, Vivian Schiller, along with their Ombudsman—Alicia Shepard, both of whom are among the worst decision makers a news organization could possibly have if it's their goal to have an intelligent, unbiased news station. And they should give back the 1.8 billion dollars donated by liberal kingpin—George Soros if they want intelligent listeners to believe them when they refer to their craft as "objective journalism" that does not "promote only one side of the ideological spectrum." "Balanced news" on NPR might just be the biggest oxymoron since "summer snow."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rebuilding the Perfect Telecaster

I bought a 1995 made in Mexico Telecaster last year. The guy who had it before me relic'ed it. If you're not a guitar player then you may be unfamiliar with the term. Relic'ing is when you take a newer guitar and try to make it look like a really worn old one. It's become such a popular thing to do that Fender started making their own relic'ed guitars a few years back under the moniker of "Road Worn." Personally, I don't much care for the practice. I mean, I love to see an old guitar that's really been played to death and looks like it. All those scratches and missing paint chips are just part of the love. An old guitar that still looks new... well to me that's a guitar that ain't been loved enough. But to take a new guitar and try to fake an old look... that's phony love. That's Anna Nicole Smith love. I just don't dig it. The aging process should happen naturally.

The guy who relic'ed mine did a fairly good job in several respects. He got carried away though and managed to knock out a couple of pretty sizable wood chips from the body. (You can click on most of the photos in this post to enlarge them). I just hated that! And there was no way to satisfactorily cover those missing hunks of wood. Fender makes a really nice replica of their old 1952 Telecaster in the original butterscotch color. I love the look of those guitars for the most part—at least the color scheme.

They're expensive though at $1600 (street price). And there are some things I definitely don't like about them. Fender used flathead screws on the pickguard and other parts during that year, and they really stick out like a sore thumb. The 52 tele also had a more curved fretboard than later years, and I don't care for that either. They also had pickups that were very so-so compared to some of the more modern pups you can get. In fact, there's no single year for teles during the 50s (or since) that had every feature I like. Each year had something to offer and something to take away. So... I decided it was time to build my own and get exactly what I was after.

I really liked the neck on this Mexican made tele I had, so I decided to keep it. I would have to make some changes on it, but it wasn't a big problem. I first unbolted the neck, then took off all the hardware, and finally stripped the finish off the body. I was very disappointed to find that the poly finish had seeped so far into the wood grain that it would be impossible to sand it all out. This left me with only two options. 1) Paint the guitar. 2) Get a different body. Well I wanted a 50s butterscotch stain, so I sure wasn't gonna paint it. I began scouring the net for deals on tele bodies—both new and used. I found a really good deal on a new one that was listed as having a "warm butterscotch" color. The picture they showed of it looked a tad dark compared to a real 50s tele, but it was darn close. But when it showed up in the mail it was this color:

Now I ask you, does that look anything like the butterscotch Fender? Man, the one they sent me was way darker. Brown even. Well... at least the price was right, and it seemed very well made. It also looked very nice even if it wasn't really the color I wanted. So I decided to keep it. The old Mexican made body was alder. The new one is made from swamp ash just like the early 50s teles. And no, it sounds no different whatsoever. Almost all of a solid body guitar's sound comes from a combination of the pickups, bridge, and neck (actually the density of the neck effects the tone much more than the wood type). The body hardly vibrates at all and simply has very little effect on things. Both bodies weigh around 5Lbs.

Fortunately, the guy who had the guitar before had already swapped out the saddles for the older 3-barrel brass ones I like so much. They produce a thicker, bluesier tone than the old steel saddles. And the newer style saddles Fender makes are pathetically wimpy sounding. I rubbed them down with some Brasso, and they shined up pretty good. I had to buy a new vintage style bridge plate though (and yes, it says Fender Patent Applied For on it just like the old ones) along with new volume/tone knobs and a control plate. You'll notice here one big departure from original tele stock and that's the pickup selector switch. I never could stand the ones Fender made and have swapped them out for a standard Gibson style on every tele I've ever owned. Fender makes great guitars, but their selector switches leave a lot to be desired.

I ordered a control plate that only had holes drilled for the two small screws at each end that secure it to the guitar body. I drilled out the holes for the tone, volume, and selector switches myself so I could put them in the order I wanted and have the correct size hole for the Gibson switch. So now I have the volume in front, the tone behind it, and the switch at the back. This makes manipulating the volume and tone controls much easier while I'm playing.

I found an original 50s style bakelite black pickguard on Ebay really cheap from a guy who makes them himself. It has only five screw holes just like the old teles did. It also has no holes for mounting the front pickup like newer teles do, so you have to mount the pup to the body. This looks much better and cleaner to me than having screws all over the place they way new teles do.

I found a used, but new looking, set of Texas Special pups on Craigslist for a fair price and installed the front one. (As far as I'm concerned there are no better sounding pickups made for a tele). I wanted to install the rear one too, but the brass plate on the bottom of it was a little too big to fit through the hole they routed for this body. I could have routed it out some more but decided not to. The guy I got my old tele from had some after market pups in it. The front one was a dog, but the rear had a lot of bite. There's no writing or numbers on it, so I have no idea who it's made by, but I've gotten a lot of compliments on it. Anyhow, it fit the hole (just barely), so I kept it. (I was probably going to end up going with that pup anyhow, but I would have at least liked to have heard what the Texas Special rear pup sounded like in there)! I kept the old pots. I'm not sure if they're original or not, but they work fine and are the electrical values I wanted. I also like the more modern tone circuit fender started using in the 60s. The 50s circuit gave you a typical rear pickup when the selector switch was in the rear, but when you moved it to the center position you didn't get the combination of the front and rear pickups together like teles made after 1960 or so do. You instead got the front pickup. Then in the front position you got the front pickup with a capacitor in the circuit that took out some of the highs leaving you the sound of the front pup with the tone control rolled back. They did this because jazz was so in vogue at the time. Almost nobody liked this pickup configuration though, and even by the mid 50s people had started rewiring teles to get the typical front-middle-rear type of switch action we know today. I kept things modern in that regard.

I bought some new string ferrules too, but they were too big for the pre-drilled holes in the body. I ended up drilling out the holes a bit to make them fit. Then I put on a set of strap locks and a shiny new neck plate, and the body was done. Now on to the neck.

Unfortunately, I never thought to take a photo of the old Fender logo that was on the headstock. Aside from the fact that it said Made in Mexico on it, for the last several decades Fender has placed the logo further up toward the top of the peg head. They also switched from the circular string retainer to the butterfly shaped one in the late 50s. I much prefer the early 50s peg head look and decided to replicate it. I was going to try and design a logo myself in Flash, but after searching the net I found somebody selling a 50s replica. (You can make your own since it's your guitar, but Fender doesn't like it when people make copies of their designs and then sell them to others, so they threaten legal action whenever they find someone online selling these copies. As a result, dealers only keep websites up for a short period, and then change their name and move on, so it's hard to find these logos sometimes. You have to hit the net at just the right time. Anyhow, I didn't have any reservations about buying one since it was for my personal guitar. It's not like I'm planning to sell this guitar to somebody and represent it as being an original 50s Telecaster)! You can find replicas of Fender's original circular string tree all over the net, so that was no problem. And in case you're wondering, Fender licenses manufacturers to make replicas of their hardware. It's just the logos they don't want people to make in order to sell.

I didn't mess with the back of the neck at all. It looked good enough to suit me. The fretboard did have some very grungy looking spots though, so I sanded it down here and there when I sanded the peg head. You'll notice that the old string tree left a hole. When I put the new circular one on I wanted to place it exactly where fender did in the old days, and that was further up the peg head a bit. So I had to fill the hole with some wood filler. After I refinished the peg head, that wood filler would stand out, but fortunately the new logo would be placed right over that old hole, so you'd never know it was there.

Fender tinted their necks with an amber shellac during the 50s, so they were a little darker and a bit reddish compared to later necks. I found an amber shellac called Bull's Eye at Lowes that's made by Zinsser.

It looks to me like an absolutely perfect match for Fender's old shellac, and I'm really happy with the way it came out. By the way, the logo Fender uses is a water-slide type. What you'll want to do when applying these is to apply one or two coats of shellac to the peg head first. After it dries, lightly sand it with very fine steel wool. Then put your decal on. After the decal dries you can add as many more coats of shellac as you need. This way the decal gets placed between coats of shellac and doesn't come off. It also makes the edges of the logo harder to see than they would have been if you placed the logo on the bare wood. I should also mention that the frets were getting pretty old on this neck, so I had it refretted by a luthier friend in St. Louis. I've done refrets before but didn't feel like messing with it. He didn't do the best job in the world though, and I still spent a couple of hours filing down rough ends. Obviously I did this before I began any finishing work on the neck. I applied some of the amber shellac all over the front of the neck after roughing things up a bit. There was no real need to take off all the old finish because it was so worn anyhow. It worked out pretty well I thought. The only other problem I had with the guitar was that the holes in the new body didn't align with the holes in the heel of the neck. I was able to just drill out some new holes in the heel, so it came out okay.

I also kept the original tuning machines instead of opting for a vintage set. From the front you can hardly tell the difference, and it's just not a big deal to me. As long as they say Fender on them it's all good.

Well, I finally have the tele I always wanted at less than a third the price of a 52 reissue. And what's more, it's got every good feature any tele ever had, and none of the bad stuff.

If Fender would just put out a tele that looks like the 52, but with Phillips screws, Texas Special pups, a modern tone circuit, a Gibson style toggle switch, a modern C-shape neck with a flatter radius (oh, and maybe slightly wider at the nut) they'd finally have the perfect tele. In the meantime, you'll have to roll your own.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Internet TV Revolution

Unless you've been hiding in a cave (that is, unless you're over thirty and your children think you're practically dead) then you know what this post is about already. The rest of you are late to the party. Better late than never … unless you're Hell-bound, in which case it's better never than ever.

I've been watching more TV shows and movies on the internet during the past two years than I have on my television. Cable and satellite TV are ridiculously priced anymore. But if you have a high speed internet connection, who needs them? There's more to watch for free on the internet than you could ever desire. Well, I shouldn't say for free. But if you already have the internet connection for other reasons, then watching TV on it is free ... sort of. Or have I hit my head on a nail again?

What you say? Who wants to sit behind a desk to watch movies? You don't have to anymore! There's this thing called an HDMI cable son. (There are other ways to do this, but HDMI seems the best and most versatile to me). If you have a good laptop (you really need a dual core with each core running at 2.0 or better and 3 or 4 gigs of RAM) that has an HDMI output, along with a TV that has an HDMI input, you can keep your laptop on the coffee table and watch internet TV from the comfort of your couch or recliner. If you haven't tried this yet, let me say that it looks and sound terrific! Even Hulu shows that stream at 480p look nearly as good as over-the-air 1080i broadcasts. if you were sitting in my living room and I didn't tell you we were watching streaming internet TV, you would think we were watching a Hi-Def DVD. I'm a big Hulu fan. They have a ton of shows and movies to watch for free. And then there's Fancast too. And nearly every major TV network has a streaming website. Did you miss your favorite show last night? No problem. Watch it online whenever you want (although there's usually a time limit).

When you run an HDMI out to your TV, you're basically just using your TV for a computer monitor. You'll probably have to configure an HDMI audio output on your soundcard's option menu, but otherwise that's all there is to it. When I watch a movie shot in 16x9 from Hulu at full screen, it fills every inch of my HDTV just like any other television broadcast.

Both my laptop and television are only a week old. I'll tell you why I bought the gear that I did so that others can get an idea of what to look for in a laptop and the new breed of televisions that are out.

First let me say that retailers are getting ready for Christmas, so you'll be seeing closeouts and clearance specials left and right the next couple of months. The new laptops and desktop computers that will be coming out aren't really much better than what we've had the past three years or so now. About the only thing that's changed is the inclusion of USB-3.0 which is capable of sending information faster than the older 2.0 and 1.0 before it. Of course it's backward compatible with your older USB devices. Also, if you look around a bit you can find a computer that's being closed out that still will have USB-3.0 since it's already been out nearly a year.

I bought an HP G42-230US laptop on clearance at OfficeMax for $500. Hewitt Packard computers have had a bad rep the past few years, but they've made a real effort to clean up their act lately, and I think it's safe to say that they make a pretty good machine again now. I'll be building a new desktop machine in the coming week, but unfortunately, there's really no way to build your own laptop, so let me tell you some things to look for if you go shopping for one.

If you look at a place like Best Buy or Wal-Mart, you'll find that the display information never tells you what you really need to know when making a purchase. Actually, this is true no mater where you go in the brick and mortar world. So, if you want to buy from one of those stores go window shopping first, take a pencil and notepad in with you, and write down the model numbers of all the computer's that seem to have most of the features you want Then research them online to find out the complete specifications. Newegg.com is a great place to look up a computer's specs, but if you can't find it there just go to Google and paste in the model number along with the word "specifications", and you can find the specs for just about anything.

Some things to look for:

CPU - It's important to know its speed and the number of cores it has. Speed is more important than the number of cores. Very few applications can use more than two cores as of this writing. You won't find many laptops that come with more than two cores in brick and mortar stores anyway. Some high end video and multitrack audio apps like Adobe Premier and Audition can take advantage of four cores, and I suppose there are certain apps such as those aimed at 3D animators and architects that can also. Your typical office type software would have no use for anything more than two though. If you're like most people and you just want to do word processing; surf the web; email; and watch streaming movies in Hi-Def, two cores is all you need. And a dual core CPU which has a speed of 3.3GHz is gonna be way faster than a quad core CPU with a speed of only 2.1GHz. Now editing video with Premiere Pro may actually render video faster with that quad core even though it has a slower speed because it splits up the work among all the cores, so the software is intelligent enough to know how to take advantage of all the cores. Most of your software simply won't though. One day in the future all software will know what to do with large multiple core CPUs, but that day is still quite a ways off. So keep that in mind. More cores is not necessarily better.

Hard Drive - HDs generally come in two varieties: 5400rpm and 7200rpm models. I'm not going to get into Raid arrays and all that because it's not important to very many people. They're all gonna be Serial ATA (SATA) anymore too, so don't worry about the drive type so much either. Ide drives are pretty much a thing of the past now. Most HDs come with a disc capacity of at least 320GB these days. That's plenty more than most people will ever use. If you do a lot of Hi-Def movie editing with your camcorder, then more drive space is of course better. Also, 7200rpm drives are much better suited to video editing and multitrack audio recording. In fact, many of those apps require a 7200rpm drive. Most other apps won't need the extra speed. A 7200rpm drive will boot up Windows faster and will save and retrieve files faster, but unless you're doing video and audio editing you probably won't need a drive faster than 5400rpm. If you look at computers in stores you'll find that, while they advertise the drive's storage capacity, they almost never tell you what speed the drive runs at. Newegg and Google are your friends here.

RAM - It's almost all DDR3 anymore, so don't worry so much about the type. Just make sure your new computer comes with no less than 3GB and 4GB is preferable. Most people won't use more than that unless they're video/audio guys like me. If you want to use 8GB or more of RAM though, then look at the specs to see how much RAM the MOBO can support and how many RAM slots it has.

Graphics Card - Do you need a dedicated graphics card? Or will the one built into the motherboard (MOBO) be good enough? The ones that come built-in have come a long way the past few years and will suit most people including video editors. The dedicated plug-in cards are really aimed at the gamers who play 3D games. If you edit video then you may want to make sure the card you use can do split screen video across two monitors. (Some guys like to have the timeline tracks and tools on one monitor and the video in another etc.). The split screen thing is something you'll worry about with a desktop computer though. Few people do anything like that with a laptop. Bottom line, for 98% of laptop users, the video built into the MOBO will be plenty good enough.

DVD Player - Almost all computers come with a decent DVD player/burner these days. Make sure it's at least: 8X DVD±R/RW with Double Layer Support. Of course if you want to watch or burn Blu-ray Hi-Def DVDs then you'll want to make sure the DVD has that feature available too. If you don't have a Blu-ray DVD set-top player for your TV, but your laptop does have one, you can always watch Blu-ray movies from your laptop's DVD drive on your TV. Cool eh?

Wireless Router - Okay, this isn't a computer feature, but if you want to use your laptop with your TV in the living room, then you'll probably want to go with a wireless signal for you laptop. If you haven't done this before, let me say that I never had any use for a wireless signal before either until this past week, so it was new for me too, and it was very easy to get up and running. You just need to purchase a wireless router (I have a D-Link N 300 and it works great) and plug it into your modem. Then you'll have to run some software into any computer that you want to have a wireless signal. For most of us that will just be our laptops. Piece of cake. Now you can take your laptop all around the house and stay connected to the web.


On to the new world of wide screen TVs.

I was very reluctant to switch over to widescreen. I hate to spend money. So sue me. But if I wanted to watch streaming internet shows from the comfort of my couch, I was going to need a new TV with an HDMI Input. It's essential your TV has one of these.

LED/LCD/Plasma - Which one to choose? I'm new to this stuff myself, so I'll just tell you what I've learned during the past couple of weeks. If you want a larger screen somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 inches or bigger, then plasma has traditionally been the way to go. This is starting to change though. If you go TV shopping nowadays you'll find that the new breed of LCD screened TVs look just as good in larger sizes for the most part. Plasma screens don't last as long as LCD screens either, so that's something to consider. Plasma screens tend to look better from extreme angles, and have much better contrast (meaning dark areas of a movie will have more detail). The new kid on the block is the LED screened TV which is basically just an LCD screen that uses LED backlighting instead of fluorescent. About a year ago LED screens cost quite a bit more that LCDs. They've dropped down pretty close in price now however. Most of the LED screens you'll see aren't as bright as LCD screens. Actually, this is because the showrooms don't have them adjusted for a bright picture. The backlight of an LED screen is fully adjustable so that the picture can look equally good in either dark or bright rooms. LED screens use less electricity and are a little cheaper to operate. They also can deliver quite a bit more contrast than LCDs and can nearly rival plasmas in this regard. They also look good at extreme angles—also comparable to plasmas. The bottom line though is that most plasmas, LED, and LCD TVs are starting to look quite a bit alike.

I went with an LG LED model. LG makes great TVs by all accounts. Sony is another really good brand, but you'll pay a bit more for both of these. My entertainment center can only hold a TV with a screen size of 27" tops, so the TV didn't cost me an arm and a leg no matter which model I went with.

USB Video Input - This is something you may or may not want to worry about. Mine has one, but who knows if I'll ever use it. I'm told that in the future we may see the demise of DVDs and instead will get movies on small USB drives (kind of like a thumb drive) that will plug into this input. They may never catch on though. There are other uses for this input, but nothing I know much about.

1080p or 780p? - In my opinion the decision on which of these to get will depend almost entirely on the size of your TV screen. There's absolutely no point in having 1080p on a smaller screen like my 26". It simply won't look any better. On a big 60" screen you'll notice more detail at 1080p whereas the 720p picture begins to breakup a bit. I wouldn't worry about 1080p until you get past 40" screen size.

Internet Connection Speed - Think you need the fastest connection available to watch streaming movies without hiccups and dropped frames? Nope. I mean, you have to have a digital connection sure, but almost everyone does these days. But you don't need a really high grade of DSL or cable to do this. I have ATT's lowest speed of DSL, and stream things perfectly. People that complain about having a fast connection but still have choppy video and buffering problems are usually using older computers without enough processing power. The AMD Turion II Dual-Core P520(2.3GHz) in my HP laptop streams perfectly. So I would say to get something along the lines of my processing power or higher. This is about as much processing power (maybe as high as 2.8GHz) as you'll find in most laptops. Once you get over 3.0GHz CPU speeds, laptop CPUs are prone to overheat. At any rate, a fast CPU is what's important. My internet connection speed is typically only around 1.3Mbps. So a 1Mbps connection is all you need.

That's about it. Maybe it's time you got yourself a new TV and laptop for Christmas. I needed a new laptop anyway. The TV was just icing on the cake.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Whimsy Woo Woo

Finally, I get a blog to just goof off with and not have to rack my brain about. Seems like old times. I studied computer repair at a local community college just for fun during the late 80s and got my first web connection in the late 90s. I started with AOL like a lot of people and then quickly switched to Prodigy. I remember putting up my first website at Prodigy. It was just fun nonsense in those days, and I kinda miss it. It just seems that everything I’ve done the past few years has been so darn serious. I thought this blog might help regain that spirit of newness the internet had back then. It’s not a secret, but I sure as hell ain’t using my real name with it. Not that I’ve got anything to be ashamed of. This just makes me feel like I’m being reborn. A brand new slate. Tabula Rasa baby!

A Man of Moostery

I’m no mystic and don’t think I’d wanna be one. I was driving past this road one day though near my old girlfriend’s house and couldn’t resist the photo op. This was taken in 2006 I believe. Am I a man of mystery or what? Maybe I should say man of moostery.