Friday, March 16, 2007

electric demons

I've lived in a house with four other computer-owning, internet-surfing, morally bankrupt bitorrent types for close to two years now. We don't have a TV and so the internet is our primary source of news and entertainment (after the pub) we've grown rather dependent on it. A situation which unfortunately places us rather at the mercy of powers beyond our control.

The first of these is our ISP, Tiscali, whose only real contact with us is the occasional threatening letter we recieve for commiting the dreadful social faux-pas of actually taking advantage of their "unlimited downloads" tariff. Due to the Heath-Robinson, held-together-with-twine nature of broadband technology our line has always been unpredictable and considerably slower than it supposedly should be. Recently, however, it has been getting a whole world worse: it drops down to about 10kbs during peak times, rendering it completely unusable, and has a charming habit of completely cutting out for hours on end.

Complaining to Tiscali probably wouldn't make the situation a great deal better. As I understand it, the hardware and lines are generally the responsibility of BT and so Tiscali, in their capacity as profiteers who buy the bandwidth in big lumps and then flog it off at a markup, can't really do a great deal about our concerns about hardware (especially when our high usuage probably means that we aren't a profitable enterprise for them). We'll try anyway, but they'll probably just send us a form email about how it's not their problem, we can go swivel, etc.

The other thing our internet connection is at the mercy of is our very own electric maniac, our network router.

As far as I know computers are incapable of doing anything random; they cannot be creative or spiteful or obtuse of their own accord - HAL is still a fair way off. This knowledge makes the behaviour of our Routers (we've had more than one go crazy) even more inexplicable, because if they aren't motivated by a spiteful desire to confound us with random actions then they must have some supercomputer-level programs which allow them to accurately emulate this.

There's nothing like having a router which stubbornly refuses to accept the truth of its own existence, or the existence of a DSL line, or the existence of the computers around it. If it was just the wireless then it would make a little sense, but no, it's the wired connections as well, we've had routers which will actively deny any knowledge of the computer which is being used to adjust its settings.

The best bits are those occasions where, after giving up on the thing as dead in the wee small hours of the morning, you leave it doing the computer equivalent of wearing its pants on its head and shouting "I am Napoleon", only to wake up the next morning find it purring away happily as if nothing had happened.

I'm generally quite a calm man, it takes a great deal to make me angry - I've only been angry enough to bite the heads off puppies about twice in the last two years - but both of those occasions were caused by wireless routers. I think the antics of our old Belkin router in particular have probably done more to advance the moment of my inevitable fatbastard coronary than even the greasiest of pies.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

You can't spell Beard without Bear

In the last few weeks I’ve been writing essays, reading unpleasant amounts of excessively complex prose and generally concentrating on the things I’m supposed to. As a result of not being able to do anything other than work I’ve had lots of interesting ideas for things to write on here, things that would blow the mind of anyone who happens to read it, probably…

Due to the amazing memory wiping effects of free time, however, I’ve got nothing to say now – whatever great ideas I’ve had have dissolved into nothing, probably because they were nothing to begin with. As most of my writing is - I worry sometimes that someone might find this Blog and think me some sort of raving egotist, who thinks that these mindless ramblings might be interesting to someone. I only started writing this because my grammar and punctuation were so bad that my university papers usually came back covered in red ink. I figured that I needed to practice writing, and decided that the Blog format would force me to give more thought to my writing than I would if it was private - on account of a fear of looking stupid in public. I don’t actually expect anyone to read it, I don’t tell people I write it, and I don’t feel the need to tell anyone who does know of its existence when it’s updated. As far as I’m concerned people can read it if they want to but I’d not encourage them.


I was doing some futurethink today, spurred by a discussion with my housemates about what on earth are going to try and do with ourselves when this year ends, and I think I’ve figured out what it is that I’m really afraid of in life.

Obviously I’m afraid on the normal things, of being fat, poor and lonely (Er, actually now I think about it I’m kind of all three already – I mean that I’m afraid of being more so), but in my mind these worries are part of something deeper than such material concerns. They can be summed up with one sentence:

I’m afraid of being someone’s weird uncle.

You know, every family has one, there’s the rich one, the nice one… and the weird one. The one that lives with your grandparents sometimes when whatever relationship or business venture he’s in collapses. The one that gives you strange gifts at Christmas. The one that has never quite grown up.

My brother is a successful sensible person, my little sister is intelligent and reasonably sane (although that’s before Crown Woods – I think even I was sane before I went there) so that means that the odds on me, as a slightly eccentric man with sufficient facial hair to scare small children, being the weird uncle look rather discouraging.

Luckily my little sister is only 11 (which is waay too young, even at crown woods) and my brother and his other half are career types, so hopefully I’ll have plenty of time to sort myself out before I find myself face to face with a small child shouting

“aaaah don’t leave me with uncle Ben, he’s weird and he smells funny!”


Monday, March 05, 2007


OLP “benbass” MM2

Entered service 4th January 2003, Retired 28th February 2007

In the New Year of 2003 my brother and I got on the train up to central London, I had no beard, a fairly serious weight problem and a wallet filled with birthday money, borrowed money* and stuff I’d saved up. My intention was to visit Denmark Street - hallowed home of guitars, basses and all manner of general all-round coolth – and buy my first bass. This wasn’t my first trip, not by a long way, not even my first with the intention of actually buying something; I’d been playing my dad’s old bass for around 6 months but had decided that I wanted an instrument of my own, one that I could better play my favourite kind of music on.

I dread to think what I sounded like back then, not very good certainly, definitely pretty ignorant of the guitar arts – I essentially walked in, pointed at the black and white Musicman copy and said “I want that one,” with that odd combination of unpleasant arrogance and insecurity that marked my interactions with everyone back then**. Nowadays I’d try anything that looked interesting, examine each instrument like a judge at Crufts, haggle and quibble over prices and generally be one of those annoying nerds that you get in guitar shops, intimidating everyone else. But anyway, I got it home, and spent a long time playing it. Over the next few months it made me progress much faster, its considerably lower action and higher string tension improving my technique no end. My dad was distrusting of the single pickup arrangement, and its general lack of serious low-end thump, but I was happy.

Over the next two years strange modifications were made, pickups were added and changed, preamps installed and repairs attempted. It became a two pickup instrument, with a jazz pickup at the neck and a Bartolini active preamp. It sounded much better, even if the extra cavities made it look a bit worse. This is, however, where it becomes difficult for me to assess how many of its problems were a result of its cheap manufacture and how many were because of my attempts to improve it. I’m pretty sure, for example, that an attempt to sort out some proud frets in 2005 did more damage than it repaired, damage that I only managed to rectify a few months ago (and even then, not without consequences). I have no idea how good an instrument it was when it was new, because at the time I didn’t really know much about that kind of thing, it was easier to play than my dad’s bass, but that isn’t saying much. I think that it was flawed; the dodgy fret job was an attempt to fix a quite serious problem that was already there. I’ve been tweaking it and fiddling with it constantly since then and finally got it, I think, about as good an instrument as it could be about a month ago after an extensive amount of fretdressing, neckshimming and trussrodding.***

All this time it did me good service: it was played everyday for rarely less than an hour or two, often accompanied me to auditions gigs and rehearsals with no problems and generally acquitted itself admirably. It was there when first played with a band, there for the strange period when I played bass in a band that rehearsed in someone’s attic, I was playing with my band at my school leavers’ ceremony, and, finally, it has been there whilst I’ve been traipsing from fruitless rehearsal to fruitless rehearsal whilst at UKC.

On the 28th of March, I went into county music in Canterbury (not normally one of my favourite shops) and saw a newly set up second-hand Yamaha BB604 priced at £200. I played it, I liked it a lot; depressingly, considering I’d spent so much money on the benbass over the years, this thing surpassed it in just about every regard. I pondered and examined, chatted with the clerk and generally did all the things that I normally do. It passed all the tests, it was bought. It was good.

Thus ends the career of the benbass, it will now be retired, hopefully lent to someone who will play it as it’s really quite a good bass, certainly shitpiles better than most instruments people learn to play on. In the meantime, due to space restrictions it sits in its case in the corner of my room.


*Which I’m not sure if I’ve paid back…

**now I’m just unpleasantly arrogant.

*** I’ve been reading too much Joyce, sorry