Like day and night: passport renewal then and now

There are two renewals which I don’t look forward to. One is for my driver’s license, where I have to endure long slow-moving lines every three years. I hate falling in line. Who doesn’t, right? But what beat all the lines I queued up for in the four LTO offices I’ve had my license renewed in was the one in the old Department of Foreign Affairs compound more than four years ago. I was overdue to have my passport renewed. I dreaded the thought of it, but I needed my passport for an upcoming business trip to Australia. It was my first time to go overseas as a UPOU faculty and the person coordinating the thing was incessantly pestering me about it, which, as I look back, I am actually thankful for, by the way.

So, I forced myself to do it. I woke up early and took a drive, eventually making it outside one of the DFA building’s gates just before 7:00AM. I asked a security guard for directions and he directed me to the department’s covered basketball court. Much to my surprise (not to mention dismay), the court was packed with people and it took me a while to take care of all the documents and then actually find the end of the line. The queue was snaking across the court from end to end. I was finally able to join the queue outside the damn court. That took nearly three hours to go through. I spent another two hours inside the actual DFA building waiting in line. I haven’t forgotten how somebody puked in the waiting area and the rest of us had to smell it for half an hour before I mercifully made it to another stage of the application process. I finished the process just before lunchtime. Inhaling the smell of vomit notwithstanding, I still thought I came off lucky. Others don’t get through that fast. I just went  back to my car and thought to myself, god, I’m glad I won’t have to go through that again for another five years…

But yes, you guessed it. My five years were almost up.

Due to my ignorance back in 2009, I did not know that, as a government employee, I was actually eligible to avail of what is called the Courtesy Lane. Presumably, I would only have had to deal with a shorter and faster queue. The DFA also seemed to have significantly increased the speed and efficiency of the whole passport application process. They now have a nice online appointment system that allows you to choose from a number of offices. They even have one at SM Megamall.

I was told that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to set an appointment, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I chose the day and time and set my appointment online, anyway. I was tempted to try the Megamall branch. But with me not being sure that there is a Courtesy Lane there, I chose Office of Consular Affairs building along Aseana Ave for a 7:30AM appointment.

So, once again, I anxiously drive early in the morning, making it to the area just before 6:30AM.

The gates were already open and the lines were already accumulating. Did I mention I hate falling in line? After having my forms verified, I asked where the Courtesy Lane was. Upon showing my UMID as proof that I worked for the government, I was directed to another door. It was by the door on a nearby bench I waited for about half an hour, writing a blog (not this one) to bide the time. My group was ushered in Door 5 and to the second floor at around 7:15AM. I got my counter number at 7:25AM — #7001, the first among the regular group. Well, what do you know? The actual application process started five minutes early.

I felt pretty relaxed. Even though there were a few people ahead of me who were slowing the queue (I may had been the first among the regular group, but there were other groups ahead of us). It was still early, and I was having a seat in a sparsely occupied air-conditioned room. I even had the time to help out the lady ahead of me who lost one of her receipts (it slipped through her daughter’s things under a bench) and after her thanking me, consequently listened while she gently, but a bit too loudly reprimanded her daughter for being careless. I don’t think she actually paused from talking the whole time. You know how some mothers are… But that’s ok. The overall mood in the room was light. I saw other people in the queues helpful to each other. The people in the booths hardly smiled, but were otherwise polite.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s still a copier machine to accommodate those who didn’t come in prepared. And yes, there were those in front of me who had to make use of it, including the lady I mentioned. Me, I had all my documents in good order and photocopied. And so, everything went smoothly on my part.

By 8:15AM, I was already by Gate 4, the exit, leisurely thinking about where to eat breakfast instead of lunch. I was done in less than an hour and have no horror stories to tell. I’m sure there will be people out there who will beg to differ (like that whose story is recounted here), which would indicate there is still room for improvement. But from my own experience, along with everyone else I was with in the Courtesy Lane, I was very happy with how quick and painless the process was — a complete turnaround from my experience back in 2009.

I acknowledge the fact that I availed of a perk and may have gotten off easier than most people. But one thing I haven’t mentioned yet was that I first heard about the Courtesy Lane from my dad, who had his own passport renewed shortly after mine. He was both a senior citizen and government employee, so he was spotted easily and promptly sent to the Courtesy Lane, but it still took him well beyond an hour to finish. I also have been hearing and reading good things about how it’s pretty fast in other branches. Good feedback is actually easier to come by than bad ones, which by itself is remarkable. That is why I plan on having my passport renewed elsewhere and maybe even forego the Courtesy Lane in 2018. Or maybe I can accompany someone sooner just to see. But for now, it’s nice to see a government agency dramatically improving their service. I wish more of them did the same.

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MMS 173: Epilogue – First Trimester 2013-2014

As I wrap up my assessment of the final projects of my students this trimester, I can’t help but look back in what has been a roller coaster ride on my part. It ended up as a scramble to get the course in order the whole time. And I still screwed something up in the end. I wasn’t able to establish a system for submitting all these projects. They were coming from all over the place and easy to lose track of. With their own deadline only to think about, I don’t know if students realize how difficult it is on my end as well (not that it’s really their problem).

 

A class of 90 students for a course of this nature is cumbersome. It was a big point of contention for me, which I hope, with a formalized schedule of offering starting this year, won’t be happening again. Fortunately (or unfortunately for some people), not all of those students made it through the course. As I look at my class list right now, I have a mortality of just over 40%. Now, now now… before people who aren’t really in the know raise the red flags, sure, for a traditional classroom-based course (or subject, depending on where you went to school), that is alarming and cause enough for a teacher to be sat down by the dean for a heart to heart conversation at the very least. But for an online course, it is quite common, sadly enough. Not to wash my hands of anything, but in most cases, it really isn’t the teacher’s fault, and not mine in this case, as far as I can see. In any event, as unsavory as some people might see it, that drop in attendance really did help me in making the class more manageable. Still cumbersome, but manageable.

Losing a rather huge chunk, however, did not seem to have made the class lose its diversity and liveliness. And even though the latter somewhat dipped after a month or so, there remained an active core who, even at the time of this writing that’s two weeks past the end of the trimester, continues to check in with me and the course site. And mind you, it’s not just for the following up of their grades and submissions, but also for actual discussions even after I’ve graded them. That’s unprecedented for me. At a time when some of my colleagues lament how their course sites turn into a trimester-long monologue because of passive undergraduate students, here I am wondering when my students will finally call it a trimester and start preparing for the next one.

 

Going over the final projects was draining. Looking back, it’s probably one of the reasons why I encouraged students to work in groups — less work for me to assess. It took nearly two days to finish and it wasn’t a very deep evaluation, at that. Heh, chances are, scores would generally be lower than they are now, if I did that. I’m thinking about going through it again, now, actually.

 

Anyway, after two days and nearly two liters of coffee, I went through an array of project exhibiting a wide range of skill and exerted effort. While I feel a little bad that there are some that would have been better had they taken the time to consult with me, I am quite impressed at the sight of this lot. As you can see in the first picture, money was spent on presentation, and I can’t ignore that. I probably should offer to return it to them, as these projects probably mean so much more to them than it does to me.

While I’m pretty much over the class now, there are other things I realize I should not take for granted when it comes to class policies:

    1. Some students have a hard time following instructions. It gets worse for every detail I forget to include in the instructions.
    2. It doesn’t matter when you set it. Most students will submit them at or near the deadline, anyways.
    3. No matter how hard you try to prepare all sorts of considerations, there will always be a grey area between saying a definite yes or no.
    4. Finding the right balance between having a fricking bleeding heart and being a heartless bastard (with a slight bias towards the latter, preferrably) will be a never-ending quest for me.
    5. A certain amount of accountability on the part of students is a really good thing.
    6. Demanding commitment when it comes to attending face to face sessions is another good thing.
    7. I’m not sure if honesty is the best policy, period. But I do know it can do wonders in class. Compliments and higher grades would hold more meaning to students. On the other hand, overly sensitive students might regard not-so-positive critique as sledgehammers to their souls.

It’s also nice how taking in former students to volunteer as mentors in the class worked well. But I can also see how there’s still a lot of room for improvement in its implementation. I am thankful for Blaise, Misael and Winter being game with it. I owe these guys a drink, at the very least. Perhaps they can be part of the course again later. And maybe one or two of the standouts in the recent class will be interested to be part of this group as well.

And so, with this blog, I conclude Multimedia Studies 173 of the first trimester, AY 2013-2014. For some students, it will be their last encounter with me. Others will see me in one or two more courses. And for mortalities who want to graduate, let’s hope things will be better next time.

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A few music ideas

I haven’t really done much writing since finishing Pat Pattison’s Songwriting in Coursera. I guess I’ve been occupied with other pressing matters. Managing my photography course has been time-consuming. Another course of mine started earlier today. That’s going to take up some of my time, too. And when I do pick up the guitar, it’s to work on my assignments in the Introduction to Guitar course, also from Berklee College of Music via Coursera. It’s almost done, and it’s been an interesting experience. Even though it’s a beginner level course, it still managed to expose much of my weaknesses as a guitar player.

I also had to practice a song called Running To Stand Still. When thinking of U2’s The Joshua Tree album, for most people, it’s always about the first three or four tracks. I don’t even know if non-U2 fans have even heard of it, but Running To Stand Still is part of the album, and happens to be my dad’s favorite. It really is a well-written simple little song. I played it in UPOU Headquarters on his day of retirement and recognition of his professor emeritus status. I tried to slither out of my part in the programme to no avail. But I admit it was nice to share to the university what little common ground me and my dad have when it comes to music. And… it was nice to play a song and have the audience’s complete attention and get really complimented for it for a change.

Anyway, that song was not as simple to play as I thought and had to spend hours on it. And I still didn’t get to play it the way I really wanted. But the interesting thing about practicing for it was that I started plucking a simple passage that evolved into an idea:

It’s simple, but very emotional, as my songwriting classmates and online contacts remarked. I like emotional. I’m looking forward to wherever this idea takes me. I mean I’ve had quite a few guitar multi-effects units in my time. But I never really got into doing ambient guitar. That might change soon. This Line 6 POD HD500 is one heck of a device.

Another thing I’ve been spending a bit of time with is listening to the projects of my Songwriting classmates. One of them is Aseem, an Indian based in Greece (or at least I think he lives in Greece right now) who came up with a catchy song idea in our series of assignments in class.

He’s been talking about hitting a stone wall with this one. I’m thinking that’s a shame, since it really sounds promising. I’ll see if I can help him, but first, I have to figure out how to play the song. I think I’m almost done with that.

I think the song is almost complete. Aseem said he’s got the music laid out. Then again, I think there’s something else it needs. I can’t put a finger on it yet, though. Hopefully it’ll come to me. Or better yet, I hope it comes to him — it’s his song! Then I can just ask his permission to cover it when I go out and play.

But for now, I need to find the time and inspiration to finish these off and come up with real songs…

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pitchclip1

Review: Korg Pitchclip PC-1

Last month, I thought I lost my clip-on guitar tuner. And of course, like the rational person that I am, instead of exerting a little more effort to find it, I thought it would be better to go to the mall and get myself a new one. So, I went to the nearest Audiophile store to look for the Pitchclip. These things sell REALLY fast. The first time I saw one in the store, there was a huge pile on display. That pile didn’t last long and took a while before the stocks got replenished. I felt lucky to find one when I actually needed. And it was green!

It’s not hard to understand why these little things are popular. Korg has always been a trusted brand when it comes to reasonably priced musical instrument tuners. But when reasonably priced turns to crazy cheap (relative to the competition, at least), you potentially have a winning formula.

So I took my new green Pitchclip home and wasted no time testing it in one of my guitars. The excitement gradually faded when the thing started struggling to track certain strings. I mean, it’s not that bad, really. But I started to think if it was a good idea for Korg to risk a bit of a dip in their reputation here.

Tracking can get erratic at times.

Maybe a week after I bought the Pitchclip, I was surprised to find my old tuner buried deep in one of my backpack’s pockets. In hindsight, spending an extra 5 minutes to search that bag in the first place would have saved me 600 Pesos. But that would have been no fun, no? And it wouldn’t have made the ensuing comparison test possible. I can now determine if the Pitchclip is actually any better (or worse) than my older tuner.

The other tuner is a Musedo T-40C, which I bought nearly two years ago from Lyric for somewhere between 700-800 Pesos. I know nothing about the brand and have to keep reading the tuner’s label to remember the model. But I bought it because my first choice at the time, which was, surprise surprise, the Pitchclip, was unavailable. So, I went to another store to look for my second choice, the Snark SN-1/SN-2. They didn’t have it on stock either. So I was resigned to browsing through their display shelf and hope I saw something decent. It was there that I found the Musedo.

The Musedo T-40C has a rather fancy colored LCD display and can be set for tuning various instruments. The tuning modes don’t interest me much as the tuner is always set to chromatic. What I want to test the accuracy and tracking of my tuners. In the end, these are all that matter, really.

A few things struck me in this particular test. It is no longer apparent in the video as the strings were already in tune (well, for the most part, at least). But while you’re actually tuning, the Pitchclip is the one which has the most difficulty in tracking pitch, especially with the wounded strings (you can see it somewhat when I plucked the 6th string). Of course, one can say that it’s expected. But having those LED’s doing a Cylon impression is something I rarely see from my previous Korg tuners. The next thing that I noticed was that after it settles down, the Pitchclip is fairly consistent with the Pitchblack’s own readings. I can’t gauge actual accuracy, but both tuners do allude to the same ballpark area of sharpness or flatness. You’re certainly getting that Korg accuracy with the Pitchclip.

The Musedo T-40C doesn’t seem to be as sensitive as both Korg units. The reading also seems to lock in a certain range of whatever note is being tuned. Obviously, this could compromise accuracy. But I wonder if that is such a bad thing. If you look at the video clip, the readings are really close to each other. A hyper accurate tuner, at first glance, will always seem to be the best thing to have. But when the reality of your practical needs sets in, you start to think twice about it. That fancy strobe tuner is great of setting up your guitar. But for most purposes, personally, I’d rather spend 15 seconds for adequate tuning rather than 5 minutes for perfect tuning. Why bother? Pitch is never going to be perfect as you play up and down the fretboard, anyway.

I still like the Musedo a bit more and it will remain my go-to tuner. But after this test, I realized that the Pitchclip is actually better than I first thought. It held its own against its bigger brother, the Pitchblack. It takes longer to stabilize, but it gets there. When the green LED in the middle lights up, I can always trust the Korg Pitchclip.

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graphite

A pencil is for writing, not lubricating a guitar!

I admit it. I’d been peeved. One of the problems with a fairly large and high-traffic forum such as PhilMusic is that anything you write can easily get lost in the ocean of posts and topics found within. Sure, some people do have the sense to at least attempt a forum search before posting stuff. But one thing I have noticed is that sooner or later, just when you think that a certain topic has been beaten like a dead horse, someone is going to come along and ask the same question again… and again… and again. It gets more annoying when you actually pour your heart out in these particular discussions out of your desire to help. You suddenly have this unshakeable feeling that all your efforts mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.

So, instead of wallow in the misery of my perceived insignificance, I will instead take on guitar-related issues here in my own blogsite instead of doing it everyday in forums like I used to. At least here, whatever I write won’t get buried by nonsense. Well, with my nonsense, sure. But not that of other people. And I am not even ashamed to say that’s what ultimately counts.

(This is going to be a long one. So, if you have a short attention span, the important parts are highlighted in green.)

Take the case of the nut and keeping a guitar in tune. At some point, guitar players figure out that one of the main reasons why their guitar goes out of tune after a big bend or a whammy bar dive is because sometimes, the strings doesn’t totally revert to its original position. One of the critical areas is the nut, where it is not uncommon for strings to bind, even if it is properly slotted, and made of good material. That, ladies and gentlemen, is due to friction coming into play. The Floyd Rose system includes a locking nut so it wouldn’t have to deal with nut friction (I know, writing that phrase feels awkward, lol).

In reality, it is not possible to totally eliminate friction, but it can be reduced. For the guitar, an obvious solution is replacement, especially if you have some cheap plastic or a poorly prepped bone nut. There are the roller nuts, like the LSR and the Wilkinson, where you’ve got metal bearings that help the strings roll over the slots more smoothly as they move. Problem is, they’re a bit expensive and aren’t drop-in replacements. Some wood has to be shaved off the neck to fit a roller nut assembly. I’m sure some people wouldn’t be keen on that.

An alternative would be to have a standard-size nut, but made of material that’s more slippery than the old one, such as graphite and slipstone. In theory you’d still have more friction compared to a roller nut, but much less compared to plastic or bone. Another popular option would be the Graphtech TUSQ XL, an artificial material embedded with some proprietary lubricant. Graphtech, will of course claim superiority over other material. I can’t really confirm or deny that, but I do have them on two guitars.

graphtechGraphtech nut and string retainers on Spirit 3.

Now, for those who do not want to replacing anything in their guitars, there is the option of applying any of the number of lubricants available on the market. There’s the popular but ridiculously priced Big Bends Nut Sauce. I’ve also heard of people using stuff they get from the hardware store like WD-40 and lithium-based lubricants. I have personally settled with a small tub of Guitar Grease I got from Stewart-MacDonald some years ago.

All those are well and good, to varying degrees. But what has gotten me peeved enough to prompt me to write this blog is peoples’ insistence in using pencil lead. It’s bad enough to be a cheap ignorant bastard. I used to be one. But a cheap ignorant bastard spreading bad advice. That is horrible, no matter how well-meaning the intention.

But pencil is made of graphite, right?

Jeezus, I used to think so. But I started thinking that back in the mid 1990’s. My parents couldn’t afford the Encyclopedia Americana or Britannica that I always wanted when I was a kid. I didn’t even have a pirated copy of Microsoft Encarta. Worst of all, I didn’t have anyone to teach me the do’s and don’ts of maintaining a guitar. Nowadays, nearly everything you need to know is a Google search away. It is one of our greatest gifts in the 21st century so far, so for the love of God, make use of it!

The Wikipedia entry for pencil is that first result you will get from a typical Google search. Let’s check that out (good thing this is just a blog — I’d never get away with this in the academe). Let us consider the definition of graphite pencil contained therein.

These are the most common types of pencils, and are encased in wood. They are made of a mixture of clay and graphite and their darkness varies from light grey to black. Their composition allows for the smoothest strokes.

Yes, the common pencil has graphite, but the truth of the matter is that the core of your Mongols is mostly made of clay, which I am sure you will agree is not a lubricant. Sure, maybe there are still pencils out there using pure solid graphite. According to the same Wikipedia entry, such things are not encased in wood. How many people are using pencils like that?

Your pencil lead shavings do work for a time. The graphite does kick in. But it doesn’t take long before the lubrication wears off. By then you will find it necessary to put in more shavings between the nut slots and the strings. The lubrication wears off, but the clay (or charcoal) accumulates, leaving you with a nut full of gunk which is very difficult to clean up. And as long as all that gunk is there, not only will you have tuning issues worse than before, you lose a lot of sustain, as well.

It was unfortunate that it took me a long time before I stopped being a cheap ignorant bastard. My luthier, Jun Castro, is a close friend, almost like a brother to me. That is why this is not a scene you would witness between him and most of his other clients. But he took me by surprised when he suddenly snapped at me when he saw pencil residue on the bone nut on one of my guitars which he cut himself.

When I was 17, I thought I was so clever using a #1 Mongol (left) on my guitar. Stupid, stupid kid.
Nowadays, I use something more proper (right), if at all.

Wag na wag kang gagamit ng lapis! Eto pakinggan mo… (Don’t ever use pencil! Listen to this.)

Jun then proceeded to demonstrate how my guitar couldn’t stay in tune even with light whammy use and how the higher strings sounded dead. He had to file down the nut slots just to get the residue off. It wasn’t an ideal move as overdoing it by even just a bit could lead to enlarged slots. Worst case scenario was that he’d have to replace the nut. Luckily, that would eventually be unnecessary, at least for that day. I felt so stupid. Needless to say, it was the last time a pencil ever got near any of my guitar nuts. I promptly switched to Graphtechs and never looked back.

These days, there is simply no reason for guitar players to not do any background research on whatever they’re buying or doing for their instruments. Just because someone recommended you something he or she has been doing for years doesn’t make it good advice. If you want to remain a cheap bastard, that’s still ok (sort of). The least you can do is stop spreading ignorance and do more research. You’ll find that some people use lip gloss or similar substances. The important thing is for you to find a product that does not build residue and does not harm the guitar, particularly the fretboard, the strings and the nut itself. Then I’d say you’re good to go.

While I may sound condescending at times here, it is also still my goal to help whoever are willing to listen. And I hope I achieve that here, and in succeeding blog entries. So until then, thank you for reading, and I hope you learned something!

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fretboard

Cleaning the fretboard

It was time for a string change on my custom strat. I hadn’t done much cleaning on the fretboard for like a year either, so I went ahead and did that, too. But instead of the usual lemon oil wiping, I wanted to try something. In one of his youtube videos, Scott Grove asserted how unnecessary it is to use oils when cleaning unfinished fretboards. A damp cloth would do. I wanted to test this.

After polishing the frets, I dampened some cotton balls and wiped. It did get gunk off the wood and the frets. But I expected that. My question was whether or not water can get all of it. So, I got my trusty bottle of oil out of the drawer and put just a little bit (much less than I ever did) on some cotton and buffed away. Even more dirt came off the board.

fretboard

Cotton balls by cutaway — with water on the left and lemon oil on the right

Water does not get it all off. Now, do you really need to? Not all the time, at least as far as I am concerned. But if I ever use water, I’d feel safer following it up a little bit of oil, anyway. I doubt it’ll ever be much of a problem for Scott Grove, as he lives in Nevada and actually needs to use humidifiers for his guitars. But keep wood damp even for a short while in a warm humid area, like the entire Philippines, and you’re bound to grow all sorts of fungus fairly quick.

At least this is something I only need to do once in a while. So, it’s not much of a bother having to be more thorough.

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lenar-1

Review: Lenar Gigbag

Review: Lenar Gigbag Made to Order Gig Bags
Price: Varies

Made to order services for musical instrument bags and cases are aplenty, if you know where to look. I’ve seen and owned a few. They’re not the best make ever, but the bags serve their purpose well. The people who make these bags make a killing in supplying cheap but fairly reliable merchandise. But there are also those who dare ask for an added premium for their work, in exchange for a significantly higher level of quality – something they claim can hold its own against well-known ready-made and imported brands.

It’s been a few years since Lenar (formerly Bumbum) Gigbags started building a reputation over at the PhilMusic Forums. They got regularly showered by compliments from clients who seemed very happy with what they got. I’d always thought about ordering a bag to see the workmanship for myself. But I’d just end up changing my mind and buy a Gator bag or something. Once again, I found myself in the same quandary after buying a Line 6 POD HD500. I was told at the store that they didn’t have a Gator bag available that would be a good fit for the effects unit. A few days later, I was told that it actually wasn’t the case and they had just the thing. But this was only after I sent an inquiry to Lenar about having a bag custom made. The Gator was more expensive (around PHP2,500), but I’d have to wait for the Lenar (PHP2,000 including shipping with a two week waiting period). I live outside Manila, and since at the time I had no planned trips within the next two weeks, I figured this was a good time to go custom!

Fast forward to the day the bag arrived…

lenar-1

I wasn’t high on the available colors, so I stuck with the ever-popular black. I asked for his standard design following the dimensions of the HD500 – one main compartment and two side pockets. The bag itself is lined with a heavy duty nylon fabric that’s noticeably glossier than what I’m used to with Gators. I had never been particular with zippers. That was until I came into possession of two cheap semi-hard cases whose pull tabs broke off after only a handful of tugs. At least the sliders didn’t jam. Otherwise, I’d have been frantically ripping the case apart as this happened just before a very rare gig, but I digress. Needless to say, just seeing the sturdy-looking black zippers allayed any lingering concern of mine.

lenar-2

Flipping the bag over reveals a compartment for the shoulder straps (in case one wants to carry it as a backpack). It’s a nice touch, but the obsessive-compulsive might have an issue with it as the bag will not be able to lie completely flat on a floor or table.

lenar-3

What I am not a fan of, however, was the set of plastic boots. Of course, I probably should be happy that the bag has those (not all bag makers include them) whenever I lay it on the floor upright. But wide rubber skid pads would have provided a nicer touch.

lenar-4

Opening the bag reveals an interior lined with a thinner and softer light grey fabric covering the padding. It won’t scratch all but the flimsiest plastic, so it serves its purpose well. But I wished the bag had a plush-type interior instead. One thing I really like about the inside, however, is the internal flap for added protection. I was a little disappointed because the side pockets cannot fit a folder where I usually put chords and lyric sheets (not Lenar’s fault – the size of the bag was dictated by the HD500, after all). But with the flap, aside from providing additional padding, it also acts as a divider which provides more than enough space for my folder).

lenar-5

Another important thing to consider about this sort of bags is the fit. Bags not intended for any specific item, and even some custom made bags have varying degrees of allowances. For my order, I just specified what the bag was going to be for, and the HD500 fit snugly right in. Sometimes I do like more slack. But for this particular bag, a snug fit is ideal for me. The interior flap can also be fastened tightly in place for good measure. Very nice.

lenar-6

Overall, the only other thing I could think about picking on are the stray strands of thread sticking out of the seams, some of which you will clearly see in the pictures here. It’s not a deal breaker and I know that the case is the same in many other bags. But still, attention to this tiny detail does mean something.

I’ve seen so many glowing feedback on Lenar bags. But my point in bothering to write this review is to provide an honest perspective. I’ve already patronized them with my money. I don’t need to patronize them with empty compliments. Come on people, Lenar bags aren’t the best. I’ve certainly seen better stuff out there.

But…

Even they realize that’s not what they’re about. Even though they’re no Mono, you are going to be hard-pressed to find anything better for the money that you would spend for a Lenar Gigbag. In case that is not enough, you also have customization options otherwise not available in ready-made counterparts (like, when was the last time you saw after-market bags for a Flying V or an Explorer readily available?). And, you will enjoy the benefit of dealing with a proprietor who always seem to go put in the effort to keep their lines of communication open to their clients. Thank you, Arnel!

I love bags. I can probably rival my wife in that regard. But by no means am I an authority. While I do not know if my word carries any weight if I say that I heartily recommend getting a bag from Lenar to all musicians looking for reasonably priced well-made and rugged gig bags, one thing is for sure – I know for sure I will do just that whenever the need arises.

Lenar Gigbags on Facebook

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Mini-reviews: Wampler SLOstortion, Fender Mustang II, Joyo UD

I got to try out a few pieces of guitar gear this week and got some fairly interesting results.

1. Wampler SLOstortion

The worth of this distortion pedal is undeniable. Even though it looks pricey at first glance (around US$240 around the Web, and PHP10,700 from Jef at www.nelldenmusic.com), two things more than make up for it with its a) ridiculously wide range of tone and gain and b) independent clean boost circuit). I’ve actually had this pedal for more than four months now. But taming the mids has always been a challenge. It can sound messy, especially with the pedal in the Overdrive channel. I’ve always suspected that the inherent tone of my Vox AC30CC1 amplifier had a lot to do with it, but never bothered to investigate further, until now.

The first step was to test it intently with my small Roland MicroCube. With the amp model set to Brit Combo (the Vox emulation), it sounded pretty much the way it does with my bigger amp. Setting it to Black Panel (Fender Twin Reverb emulation) made a huge difference. Suddenly, the pedal sounded more focused even as you crank the gain.

Now, now… I know that some people might think that testing through an amp modeller for comparison is a horrible move. So, for the first time ever, I brought my guitar along with the SLOstortion to the Yupangco showroom to test it on an actual Fender tube amp (I was buying something anyway, so I wasn’t going to be shy about it, lol). Needless to say, the SLOstortion sounded awesome. It was actually difficult to make it sound bad (something I don’t say often). I wanted to take the amp home with me!

I suppose this is one of the reasons why some users at PhilMusic are starting to accuse the pedal of being full of hype with little substance, complaining about how dark and muddy it sounds. I’m guessing a lot of them are using British-voiced amps.

I’m not giving up on the SLOstortion+Vox combo just yet, but I’m definitely not going to let go of the pedal within the foreseeable future.

2. Fender Mustang II

I’ve been tempted to buy one (PHP12,950 at Yupangco/Perfect Pitch) for the past several months. I like the concept and its cost effectiveness. This week, I finally had the chance to test drive one. If I didn’t already have a Roland, I’d have bought it already. It sounds pretty good and there are more sounds you can work with than a Roland Cube. I wish I brought my laptop to test its USB connectivity (which isn’t available in competing brands and models). I seriously believe that the Mustang I and II are a great choice as a practice or jam amplifier. I just don’t know if the 40-watt II can convincingly keep up with a loud drummer. For that, one would probably need the Mustang III or IV.

3. Joyo California Sound and Ultimate Drive

Joyo has been making a name for itself all over the place. These things are pretty cheap. But they’re reportedly so good that a few so-called boutique builders have been caught rebadging them, rubbing off the Joyo markings from the circuit board and then selling them for like six times the original price.

I tried out the California Sound (PHP1,950 at Lazer Music) and thought it was pretty good — definitely built for high gain, but can be respectable even if you go to its lower registers. But the one I was really interested in was the Ultimate Drive (PHP1,800 at Lazer Music). It’s rumored to be a clone of the Fulltone OCD and the model that was reportedly rebadged by the boutique builders I mentioned about.

I used to own an OCD, so I already had certain presumptions regarding the sound. Those presumptions were seriously obliterated from the first strum with the pedal on. First of all, I thought it had a lot more gain than the OCD, or at least the sweep of the gain knob was very different. It also sounded brighter than I expected. Downside is that it gets a bit fizzy at higher gain settings. Yes, the Ultimate Drive is very much reminiscent of the OCD. But it should sound different enough to be its own pedal.

Good stuff across the board. It really is a great time to be a guitar gearhead now. Hopefully, I get the chance to try out some more of these from time to time.

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Broadening research perspectives through the Gaia Hypothesis

I’ve always found the concept of the Gaia Hypothesis fascinating since hearing about it more than ten years ago (yes, I’m a late bloomer). For the uninitiated, James Lovelock proposed that the Earth is actually a self-sustaining and self-regulating organism (a superorganism, if you will), made possible by its living inhabitants, or more specifically, their interaction with the planet’s non-living components. My rather simplistic explanation belies its actual complexity, which I will not even try to tackle here. Suffice to say that the Gaia Hypothesis offers a holistic, if not New Age-y way of looking at life on Earth.

What piqued my curiosity yesterday is whether or not one can apply this hypothesis on a smaller scale. Is it possible to achieve some sort of homeostasis within a living space to maintain the overall well-being of its occupants? Of course, a single living space can’t really be self-sustaining in a literal sense. But maybe it is possible that, through the establishment of meaningful relationships between biology and technology, one can be helped to maintain conducive living conditions with greater efficiency as opposed to relying solely on conventional amenities, such as active air conditioning and lighting. Furthermore, with a geophysiology on such a small scale, information and communication technology can perhaps augment cybernetic feedback between these components.
So, I guess what I am trying to ask myself now is, would it be possible for one to look at a living space, be it a house, a dormitory, a net café, an office or whatever, along with everything in it, as a single entity? Can it give us a deeper understanding with regards to sustainable design as opposed to traditional architecture and construction? I’m sure there are people out there who have gotten into this. I only wish more people (least of all me) knew about it.

This whole thing about green living spaces and well-being has for the most part occupied my mind ever since I arrived here in Europe. And as I near the end of my short residency here at FoAM, I can expect pretty much the same in the coming months, long after I make it back home in the Philippines. But at least for now, it is interesting to see this parallel which never even occurred to me until yesterday.

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Biomodd and new research ideas

While I don’t spend a lot of time with Angelo Vermeulen and Diego Maranan, being scattered across the world and all, these two are all but family to me. But the thing is, I always feel a certain initial level of inadequacy when working with them at the same time. I do not have the gift of spontaneity, or at least the ability to effectively communicate brilliant ideas and thoughts as quickly and naturally as they do. I start slowly, and then catch up near the end. Not the best way to go about things, I admit – but that’s how I always seem to do it and I’ve gotten by fine so far.

Biomodd had already been little more than a fond memory – two years since Biomodd[LBA2] and more than a year since [C]Biomodd. I sort of hinted at Angelo that I would love to be a part of other iterations, but I didn’t really expect anything to happen. I guess I should have realized that considering the pace Angelo has sustained for years, it would have been only a matter of time before he would present such an opportunity.

Biomodd[TUDelft3] has been given the go signal and both Diego and myself have been asked to fly to the Netherlands and participate. Now, that by itself has already filled me with both excitement and apprehension. It’s going to be a huge personal and professional experience. But to follow that up, we have also been encouraged to stay a while longer there (which I was planning on, anyway) and look into entering some sort of mini-residency to pursue our research ideas (which wasn’t exactly part of my plan).

Now, I have worked with Diego a number of times. But aside from a small conference paper, we have never done real research together, mainly because of different approaches and interests. So, the question I had the past few weeks was whether or not it was possible for us to bridge our respective fields and come up with something that still interests both of us. Our colleagues at UPOU know of him as an accomplished dancer. But it’s just a small part of his interests. Movement would be a more apt term (as my girlfriend would point out). I somehow related that to ergonomics. And what if we concerned ourselves to not just body motion, but that of the environment as well? I immediately thought of how such a consideration would give a more holistic approach in dealing with green living spaces – something I’ve been casually exploring recently. Diego liked the idea, and so did Angelo. We actually came up with our residency proposal in one sitting. I guess that resoundingly answered my question.

Even if this mini-residency doesn’t push through, I have already been presented a few good directions in terms of what I want to do with my career. And for that, all involved parties have my gratitude.

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