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Tommy Emmanuel launches Pan-Canadian Tour · 16.05.14 by colin newell

Guitar picker Tommy Emmanuel

This week, my nephew William (an aspiring guitar player), and I (a guitar slinger since the mid-70’s) had the pleasure of seeing finger style guitar player Tommy Emmanuel – in person at the Mcpherson Playhouse in Victoria, B.C.

Arguably one of the hardest working solo acts in the business, Tommy has been touring for over 5 decades. Starting his career at age 4 in a family rich with musical heritage, Tommy was playing professionally by the age of 6 in a family band and by 10 years of age had already toured Australia.

With a Chet Atkins “Certified Guitar Player” title (and I know of no other players who have this accreditation…) and 2 Grammy nominations, Tommy’s 7 year stint of touring a minimum of 300 dates a year is truly breath taking and staggering. It is no wonder that his skill with the 6 string guitar borders on the unnatural and nearly impossible. His evening show, comprised of 2 1.5 hour sets, left everyone (particularly the musicians in the audience) staggered and, like me, elated and exhausted at the same time – witnessing the level of showmanship and raw focused talent.

As mentioned above, there is a major influence from Chet Atkins, who was clearly a leader in guitar playing technique from the 1940’s through executive production roles in the 70’s – and his influences (which are readily audible in Tommy Emmanuel’s style include Merle Travis, Django Reinhardt, George Barnes, Les Paul and Jerry Reed.) And in Tommy’s show, he displays all of these with perfection and aplomb. In fact, some of the delivery is so rapid fire that you often are not sure if Tommy is drawing on some historic influence or cooking it up on the fly and in the moment. Either way, it is guitar fireworks like you have never seen.

Being an acoustic and electric guitar player, with a (I think) modest level of accomplishment at an intermediate level, I felt like 1.5 hours of Tommy’s playing would be perfect for me — because I am there for the joy of the music and the learning. In fact, a guitar workshop (which he does frequently) would have been a better choice. Fact is, I am more of a technique technician than an actual performer – meaning I spend way more time hammering out technique than actual melodic playing. But for the fan of Tommy and his art, his show was engaging, long on humility and genuine engagement and light on the grandstanding typical of this level of artist. His sense of humor infused all but the most serious of tunes – and there were a few… and I will not spoil the surprise as this is, after all, tour date number one.

Not surprisingly, the McPherson theater was a full house – what was odd, however, was the age group of the audience – 65+. There were even 90 years young folk at the show and as many guitar players as I know, many were clearly absent. And upon additional investigation, I found that many of my guitar playing friends who worship Tommy’s skill set and live shows, discovered that the local show was not very well locally publicized. Even I kind of fell upon some tickets that my nephew had purchased months ago (that his guitar teacher had tipped him off to). And by the time I had clued in and checked the theater online ticket listings, there were only singles available. Which is not a problem for the artist, because the room was full. I guess in an ere of social media, when one wants to follow an artists tour, they need to subscribe to their feed – whether it is facebook, e-mail or twitter. Whatever works.

Anyway – for the rest of you Canadian guitar players out there that want to catch Tommy Emmanuel live, head over to the tour date page – His shows feature a lot of his original material, many of the cover tunes that he interprets oh so well, and some humor and story telling thrown in for good value. As I quipped to my nephew, “Everything I can play on the guitar, and I mean everything I know… Tommy can play in about 5 minutes at break neck speed…”

I have seen many, many YouTube videos featuring Tommy Emmanuel and his live performances are hotter than anything you can watch on a screen — if such a thing is possible.
So grab a ticket. And enjoy! And happy guitar playing!


Starbucks on the recruitment drive · 30.10.13 by colin newell

Starbucks Coffee Cup

Starbucks is dedicated to hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses in the next five years.

Organized in part by Starbucks board member and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Seattle coffee giant said it hopes to “enlist” the unique communication, leadership and problem-solving skills most veterans and their families already have.

Quoting a recent L.A. Times article, “The hiring effort, which would affect Starbucks’ U.S. stores, is also a reaction to the “exorbitantly high unemployment rate that military families and veterans face,” Starbucks Executive Community development officer Blair Taylor explained.

Starbucks will set up recruiting processes “specifically targeted at veterans,” he said. The chain is “just starting to track military hires,” he said.

Other major U.S. businesses, like Walmart, have recently made efforts to pull employees from the nation’s defense forces.

Starbucks will open five community stores at U.S. military bases over the next five years… much like Tim’s does in some of its Canadian bases abroad.

Fascinating stuff in light of the some of the many challenges veterans and their families face as they return to civilian life. Hats off to Starbucks.


Living in a wireless world - safe yes or no · 14.11.12 by colin newell


Smart Meters - good or bad.

In an era of great technological advance, the question always arises – how good are these advances, conveniences and marvels of technology for us… in general? You know, our health… mental and physical.

I, for one, am typing this blog entry on a Macbook Pro connected through a secure wireless network – and I know my router pretty well… I customized the settings – I have the power level at “medium” – most people are not aware that they can tweak their routers in a myriad of ways – and for me, setting the router output power to a level that works within your work space makes sense in a variety of ways; 1.) It is more secure if you keep your range within the confines of your home and 2.) It adds the minimum of wireless energy to existing orchestra or medley of wireless signals in your living space.

And so you know: I do not believe for a second that 1 device or the output of a handful of devices is going to harm you in any quickly identifiable way – the scientific evidence is not really there.

What I do question (actually I question a couple of different things about this topic area) is the immediate acceptance of any technology that is foisted upon us (or, ahem, introduced) without a sound fiscal or technical rationale for spending a small fortune on introducing the technology. And I know this is kind of late in the game but I heard recently that there have been some perfectly sound judicial decisions about the technology and some of the responses from some local media types is that the Tin foil hat wearers and those that suspect that their PIN Numbers or souls are being stolen by this technology need to relax or take a pill. Which, to me, is nothing more than cruel bullying – and are we not on that very subject of bullying a lot lately?

My point is – I respect anyone (smart or not so much) that questions stuff, any stuff – and even if their claims are a little off the wall, there is no reason to insult anyone.

So: More on where I am coming from. My actual area of expertise is electronics engineering technologist – and my main discipline is, guess what, telecommunications. So I know a little bit about wireless technology. So, let’s talk about wireless for a bit… and wireless radiation.

There are two types of radiation in nature: Ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. Examples of non-ionizing radiation include cell phones, routers, ham radios, walkie-talkies, radio and TV transmitters, hair dryers (yes, hair dryers) – virtually any electrical or electronic device that has “inductive” properties (has a motor), modern power supplies (like a wall wart for a laptop computer) – even computers themselves radiate a bit of energy on a broad range of frequencies.

Examples of ionizing radiation include X-ray machines, ultraviolet light, gamma radiation and all that neat stuff that nuclear weapons and processes throw off. The thing about ionizing radiation that is bad is: It can (and does) alter your DNA, cause cancer and/or birth defects. It is that simple. No one questions this.

Non-ionizing radiation and electro-magnetic radiation are being studied from many angles for their potential health effects. Here are some examples of what we know. High levels of microwave radiation from cell phones, cell phone towers, radio transmitters, high power routers and other transmitting devices raise your body temperature (when in proximity of the device)… raise it slightly. What the effects of this we are not clear on. Thing is, we have not been using this technology for very long – it is the product of modern living (as in the last 110 years or so…)

When you think about it for a minute, modern medicine is the last 100 years worth of advances. It was not that long ago in history that we discovered antibiotics, antihistamines, remarkable drugs for all kinds of things – even treatments for cancer that were non-existent only a few years ago. And humans have been roaming the planet for thousands and thousands of years – so, point is: A lot of what we are doing today is pretty darn new.

My bigger point: It was only a few years ago, that people would suggest that folks with Fibromyalgia were imagining their symptoms – was all in their heads. This condition is now accepted to be real.

I personally know people that swear that they are effected, in some way, by the presence of high tension power lines (you know the ones, the 300kv transmission lines that cross many rural areas.) There is no physiological reason why anyone should be impacted by the presence of AC power lines near their home – that we currently know of. But who knows what we might discover in the future. We are, after all, bio-electrical creatures… so, who knows right?

Back to the wireless stuff and the smart meters: If you have ever been to the symphony, you will notice that everything seems pretty quiet during the violin solo – and then the rest of the violins kick in and the other strings and then the percussion – My point: 1 or 2 wireless devices in your immediate area are likely not doing you any more harm than running a hair dryer near your noggin – and definitely less of an issue than using a cell phone for 1/2 hour a day. But the more devices that are around you, the higher the levels of energy – it is that simple… and remember this:

The level of energy you encounter from any device drops, in intensity, is at the inverse square of the distance – simply, at 2 feet away, the energy is 1/4 and at 4 feet away it is 1/16th etc. It drops off pretty quickly.

So: Are Smart meters harming anyone? Well. That depends. If one burps out a burst of wireless data every minute or so – more or less at the level of a cell phone and you have one in your home, chances are, it is competing with a bunch of other devices – and some of them are chattering even more frequently. And if you live in a condo or high rise and there are dozens or hundreds of units in your space, then there are hundreds of these device ejaculating bursts of 900+ Mhz energy almost continuously.
Good or bad, we do not currently know.

What I do know is that it is likely less healthy to stress out about it and raise your blood pressure about the possible effects of something that we do not completely understand. If the average person finds these technologies intolerable, then they should have the option of limiting their exposure – and for sure they should not be ridiculed in public or privately. I have been seeing a bit of this in the social media realm and it sickens me. The same person that would ridicule someone who objects to this technology or fears it or questions the wisdom of the investment is clearly the same kind of person who abhors the sight of a handicapped person, a child or adult with a learning disability or someone in a wheel chair… etc. I think my point is clear. Bullying anyone who fears something, legitimately or not does not deserve your pious judgement.
For now, I can sleep at night knowing that all this technology is likely not killing me (that I know of…) and yes, I am an expert on the subject.

if you cannot see the audio thing above, click here for the mp3.


Toshiba Netbook NB555D quick look · 19.12.11 by colin newell

The Toshiba Netbook model NB555DHaving acquiesced to pressure from my chief significant other (she) having grown tired of watching me hover over my Asus Eee PC 4G (and its 7” screen) like a microbiologist examining a specimen…

I finally departed mid-2007 and came into the modern times with a Toshiba Netbook model NB555D. In good time too – we have been hauling the little Asus around the World (well, back and forth to Hawaii to be exact) for many years now – running its native Fischer-Price style of Linux (Xandros if I am not mistaken…) and a handful of Live USB sticks with iterations of Ubuntu just to be safe.

I had just become fully comfortable manipulating the OS on this little sub-notebook sized unit (just installed “Leeenux” – a light duty version of Ubuntu even less bloated than Easy Peasy… The Asus Eee runs great, still does – and it will travel more – just not on the next Hawaii trip – coming up in a few weeks.

The search for a slightly better netbook was not a long one – managed to zero in on the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D fairly quickly. Simplified by the fact that I did not want another Asus (at least right away), did not want a Sony, and did not want anything running Android on a device that would be locked to that OS.

What I found kind of interesting and slightly annoying was the complete lack of any credible peer reviews of the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D – nothing. One 1 paragraph review and a you tube link. The rest were ads and zero content lazy shills with links to vendors – more of the net seems to be like that sadly.

Anyway – what of the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D? With a 10.1” LED back-lit screen and a decent size keyboard (for my large hands…) and an energy scrimping Ghz AMD processor – (superior video processing to its Intel brethren in another similar model number) – and an attractive blue shell (and an interesting finish…) I guess I was prepared to be happy from the moment of purchase.

That would not come immediately.

The Toshiba Netbook model NB555D ships with Windows 7 “starter” – but let’s call it what it is – Windows “stripped down” is more like it – but that is OK all things considered. And here is one reason why:
Windows 7 is a memory guzzler. The Toshiba Netbook model NB555D ships with 1Gb of DDR3 1066Mhz RAM – which is what the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D needs to be happy – leaving little left over for apps.

Out of the box, the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D is a slug until it gets through a series of software updates and software self optimization (A windows 7 feature – it actually “learns” some of your preferences and practices as you use it more…)
One of the first things I did was axe the “Norton Starter” that comes with it – I use AVG Free for virus protection but Microsoft Essentials (Free anti-virus) would have been a good choice too.

Next I loaded “CRAP Cleaner” – a great tool from (also free) and got into the start-up manager and pulled a bunch of useless utilities and “launch speeders” that accelerated the appearance of the “Login screen” from a miserable minute and a half to a respectable 50 seconds.

In a head to head with the 2007 Asus Eee 4G PC, the faster machine (the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D) actually lagged the Asus oldie in every instance.
Using Crap Cleaner really got things zipping – still slower than the much older Asus however. More on its performance after I upgrade to 2G of RAM (in a few days)… with more user comments and software tweak suggestions!

Comment [3]

The decline of the American small business empire part one · 27.10.11 by colin newell

Guitar necks are us...My buddy Chris, and I, sit over coffee most mornings at the University of Victoria’s Finnerty Express – it is my morning hang out. We are often in the company of retired or working Math professors, economists, technicians and even gardeners. There is always a lively discussion on topics as widely varied as politics, religion and events of the day.

Chris had a story recently that was too hard not to share. And it is all about the decline of customer service and small business in America (much of this could apply to Canada as well…) So here we go.

Chris and I are both aspiring musicians, both of us being active guitar players and singers. We actually performed recently in front of a lively crowd of around 100 people in one of the Grad student lounges on campus.

Chris likes to build and modify guitars – for most of us guitar types, the endless tweaking of our instrument is in our blood. In this particular instance, Chris was ordering a neck for one of his prized instruments, an old Fender Telecaster. He was ordering this new component from Seattle – and as it turned out, one weekend recently, he found himself in Seattle, not far from the factory that makes the parts that he was looking for.

So. Brilliant. He was in town and decided to head to the factory store and get his purchase directly. Over he goes. When he gets to the store, somewhere near Redmond Washington, he drives into the parking lot and walks up to the door. Looking in he can see a wall of instrument parts and the desired neck he seeks. There is a sign on the door. “Appointment only – showroom not open!”
Chris sees someone working in the store and beckons him to the locked door. A fellow comes over and open the door an inch. The guy points to the sign. Chris says, “I have come all the way from Victoria and would like to buy one of those necks… I have the cash in my pocket…” Store clerk: “We do not accept drop ins… you will need to call for an appointment…” Clerk hands him a card with the 1-800 number.
Chris backs away and phones the number.
You guessed it. The clerk in the store picks up the phone at the counter. I kid you not.
The clerk takes his information and comes back to the door.
Chris comes into the store and points to the neck he is interested in.
Clerk says: “We do not do direct store sales generally…” “You will have to place an order on the internet…”
Chris repeats, “I have cash in my pocket, I want that neck on the wall… and you have a shipping area in the back… can I pick it up there?”
“the shipping area is for couriers only… fedex, purolator, etc…” the clerk tosses out.

At the end of the exchange, Chris was several feet away from a guitar component that he was ready and willing to pay for on the spot – and was unable to because of a poorly operated business with completely and unflinchingly inept staff.

This is one reason while America is failing. They have lost touch with reality and the ability to do business.

Example two from the beleaguered Chris:
Chris recently bought an audio mixing board from a company in the U.S.
Over the internet.
Audio mixing boards: All of us musicians have one. We often use it to hook up multiple instruments and microphones in a studio or stage situation.
Chris needed a small mixer for performance scenarios. He found the one he was looking for at a decent price. Brand new. When he purchased it online, he took the option for “extended warranty and insurance coverage” — for virtually any situation; drop it off a cliff, it is covered. No worries.

Within a week, his mixer arrives. But it does not work properly.
He calls the help line for the equipment company that sold him the equipment.
Chris tells his story, “The gear arrived but it does not work… it is broken… there are several channels that are dead…”
“Not sure what we can do for you…” says the voice on the telephone…
Chris reminds them, “I bought warranty coverage for this piece of…”
“Ah, says the fellow on the help line…” “you are describing a pre-existing condition sir… it did not fail while it was in your possession! Your warranty coverage does not cover this!”

Say what?

I looked at the mixer for him – it was a simple take apart and I am a qualified technician. By the looks of it, it could not have worked even from the factory – it was defective in that there were cold solder joints and solder bridges from the factory. It never worked. It could never have worked. Shocking.

Anyway – 2 months on and Chris is still fighting via the phone and the internet to get his money back, a refund or something functional.

Another reason why America is in trouble…
Because small business and manufacturing have utterly lost their way.

This is the 1st chapter in what might become a small series in why we are falling down in the area of manufacturing and customer service in North America.


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