Sunday, January 30, 2011


My current course in the MBA degree is marketing - we started eight weeks ago and I see that I haven't mentioned it once here. Originally I thought that marketing would be the course most foreign to my knowledge and to my orientation, but I have to admit that I have found the lectures both interesting and familiar at times. 

We are now approaching the twilight zone in which there are no more lectures in marketing, but another course starts prior to the marketing exam. I wrote about this last year, when organisational behaviour overlapped with economics. Actually this time, it's slightly different as we still have three more marketing lectures during February (the exam is in the first week of March) at the same time as there will be lectures in human resources.

We have finished almost all of the set material and are now beginning to prepare ourselves for the exam. As opposed to the exams in other subjects, the marketing exam is extremely unstructured: one has to write three essays of which only the first has a definite structure. So of course, we have been practicing this structure, trying to commit it to memory. The university's website gives past exams, complete with examiner's solution and good student's solution, and in all of the cases that I have checked, none of the answers to the first question have been in the strict format which has been drilled into us. 

This brings up the age old question: are we being taught the subject or are we being taught to pass an exam?

In order to practice, we divided ourselves into groups where each group has done two exercises. I was an enthusiastic participant in the meeting when we did the first exercise but decided to take a back seat for the second exercise and let the others do the work. Big mistake. When I saw the resulting document, I was fairly sure that several sections had been left out and so I decided to do the exercise on my own. This took about an hour - which is the upper limit of time in the exam, although as one gets better, the time is supposed to shorten - and required five pages of handwritten A4 paper. On Friday, the lecturer looked at several groups' answers and made comments; mine was the last to be looked at. After the lecturer looked through the pages, he asked who wrote it. I admitted to this, expecting to hear a list of necessary improvements; instead he said that the work was excellent and exactly what was needed. People in the class (from the other side of the class!) wanted to see my paper. All I have to do know is remember how to write the answers in the exam (the paper was written whilst referring to notes). 

Handwriting the answers is supposed to encourage muscle memory - it also prevents the lazy student from copy/pasting answers from other sources. No marks are given for these exercises - they exist solely for the purpose of helping the student revise.

We now have a week and a half without lectures, in which time we are supposed to go over the material a few times and complete another exercise. I'll try to do the exercise this time without referring so much to my notes.

Sumptuous Sunday 5

I thought that I would be adventurous this weekend and cook dishes which I have not cooked before.

For Friday night, I decided to cook 'butterflied chicken with orange'. I bought a fresh, whole chicken from the butcher on Thursday and asked the girl on the counter to chop the chicken in half. This process is called 'butterflying' the chicken as it makes the two halves look like a butterfly (so I am told). The idea behind this is that all parts of the chicken are cooked equally well, whereas when one roasts a whole chicken, the breasts get exposed to different temperatures than the legs. I marinaded the chicken halves in a mixture of jam, freshly pressed orange juice and olive oil overnight. On Friday afternoon, I placed the chicken halves in the cooking pan and poured the marinade over the halves. I chopped a peeled onion in half and placed the two halves flat face upwards. The chicken was cooked for an hour and a half at 170 degrees C; I turned the halves over after about an hour. 

None of us were particularly impressed by this dish. The onions caramelised nicely and even had tasted slightly of orange, but the marinade barely flavoured the chicken. My wife said that the meat did have a slight orange taste, but I couldn't detect it (not that this surprises me - my taste buds are not the strongest in the world). We agreed not to repeat this recipe.

While I was at the butcher's, I bought a packet of frozen salmon steaks, generously sized. I had bought similar slices in the past from the supermarket, but those were smaller and full of bones, so I never bought them again. I defrosted the salmon and placed three portions in the slow cooker on Saturday morning; the pieces were so large that they covered the entire base. I made a sauce of water, lemon juice, butter (!), salt and diced onions and poured this on the salmon; I cooked for three hours on low. The results were sublime! The salmon was cooked just right - not too hard and not too soft - and barely had any bones. Fortunately the packet held six steaks (I thought that there were only four) so there are enough pieces left over for a repeat performance.

The exclamation mark by the butter is because we very rarely ever have butter in the house. Kosher cooking means that butter cannot be used with any meat dishes, which almost completely rules out its use. But it's OK to cook fish with butter.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sumptuous Sunday 4

My daughter has been nagging me for some time to make chicken meat balls, so I did so on Friday. Here's the (approximate) recipe -
  • 500g minced chicken
  • 1 egg
  • half a small cauliflower
  • 100g bread crumbs
  • one tablespoon mayonnaise
  • one medium onion, diced
  • one medium carrot, diced
First, I diced the cauliflower into very small pieces then added a little water and cooked it in the microwave for 15 minutes. When the cauliflower had cooled somewhat, I added the mayonnaise and tried to mash it as much as possible. Then I added the rest of the ingredients and mixed them by hand. Out of the resulting mix, I formed balls and put them on a greased baking tray. I cooked the balls for 40 minutes at 170 degrees C.

I got the thumbs up from my daughter, a rare occurrence. Normally she finds something to criticise. 

If I were not cooking for my daughter, then I would have left out the carrot and added spices and celery leaves.

Along with the chicken balls, I served chicken breast. I cut up about 500g breast into small pieces and marinaded it with diced celery stalk, soy sauce and olive oil. About twenty minutes before we ate, I cut an onion into strips and fried them in the wok; when the onion strips started to brown, I added the chicken mixture and cooked that for another ten minutes. I don't like the soy sauce too much but the others don't complain.

Yesterday I cooked 'beer can chicken'. The result was not dissimilar to regular roast chicken, which requires virtually no preparation at all. It's difficult to see from the picture, but the chicken is 'standing up' by virtue of having a beer can stuffed into its cavity. The idea is that the inside of the chicken is bathed with steamy beer, keeping the chicken meat moist. I was not convinced, and so this is one recipe which I won't be trying again.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My guitars

Over the last 25 years I must have owned at least ten computers, whereas over 41 years I have owned only seven guitars. This probably says more about the rapid technical advances in the computer world than anything about guitars.

The first guitar which I owned was a typical Spanish nylon strung acoustic guitar which I bought second or third hand from a small shop on Christmas Steps, Bristol in 1970. I have a very dim memory of my mother bringing home an f-hole archtop guitar at around the same time, but there must have been something very wrong with it - probably the neck was warped and the action extremely high. After a while, someone gave me a battered steel string acoustic, so I bartered the nylon acoustic for a noname electric guitar. Suffice it to say, my first three guitars were dogs.

After leaving school and prior to going to Israel for a gap year, someone suggested that I buy a proper guitar. I was working as a temp in my father's office and earning a little money, so I could afford something. One evening I was strolling around the rather non-descript residential/small shop district where my parents lived when I chanced upon a guitar shop. I may not have been aware of this at the time, but now it seems a peculiar location for such a shop. Maybe the rents were cheap. Anyway, I saw hanging on a wall the most beautiful acoustic guitar that I had ever seen and vowed to buy it. I paid a deposit, but the shop wouldn't let me have the guitar until I paid the full price - somewhere around 25 GBP, if I remember correctly. This was in 1973, when pounds were pounds and before we had heard of the word 'inflation'.

I enjoyed that guitar over the years but had to retire it about ten years ago. It was nearly unplayable as the bridge had started to pull away from the body. I showed the guitar to a luthier but he said it was too late to correct the problem. The guitar is now hanging on the wall behind me as I write these lines. The fretboard is dull, the back and sides still look wonderful and the body is somewhere in-between, in terms of appearance.

In the spring of 1976, when my little rock group got underway, I bought a Gibson SG copy from a shop on the Kilburn High Road. I played this guitar for many years, whenever an electric was needed, but slowly my usage decreased. After all, I am an acoustic guitar player. There was also a problem with the bridge which was causing intonation problems; I had this corrected, but never really used the guitar after that. The guitar is lying under my bed, untouched for several years.

When I had to retire my venerable acoustic, I thought it time to buy a professional guitar which would last me until I would be unable to play, and so bought an Ovation Applause guitar. 

This is everything that I could want from a guitar and I am very happy with it. Its amplified sound is clear and the electronics are simple, which is a boon whenever I play in public (no more having to poke a microphone at the sound hole). The only real problem with the guitar is its back, which juts out asymmetrically, making the guitar difficult to hold when sitting down (and presumably when standing up). The late Trevor Lucas (Sandy Denny's husband, and one-time Fairporter) used to play an Ovation, and I have seen pictures of him playing the guitar with the neck pointing down to the ground. Mind you, he was very tall.

That's six guitars so far; what about the seventh? I'm glad you asked. As of two days ago, I am the proud owner of a Washburn HB30-TS semi-acoustic guitar (the TS stands for Tobacco Sunrise). For unknown reasons, it has always been one of my dreams to own a semi-acoustic, and my wife has been egging me to fulfill that dream (I never had a middle aged crisis). Unfortunately, the shop from which I bought the guitar had a minimal selection of semi-acoustics so to paraphrase Hamlet, "to buy or not to buy, that is the question."

The other semi-acoustic which they had was a semi-acoustic Telecaster copy (I can't find a picture at the moment, but something like the Asat classic custom semi-hollow); this guitar was lighter, had a narrow neck, had none of the aesthetic appeal of the Washburn and was twice as expensive!

I was slightly disappointed with the guitar's unplugged sound; I had naively assumed that a semi-acoustic would sound like an acoustic when not plugged in and like an electric when plugged in. Not true. So I had to buy an amplifier; I had prepared for this eventually and noticed that the shop sold various small Roland amplifiers. In the shop, I tried some of these Roland cubes as well as a small Marshall. I innocently asked about reverb, only to be told that the Marshall didn't have this effect, but the Roland did. Not only reverb but also chorus/flange/phase and delay; the amplifier can even run on batteries! I can see myself busking in the local train station with the semi-acoustic (or maybe the Ovation) plugged into this little amplifier (little in size, big in sound) which is running on batteries.

When I got home and started playing around with the amp, I discovered that there have been rapid improvements in solid state amplifiers similar to the technological advances of computers. There is one selector knob on the amp which allows one to choose one of seven amplifier types:
  1. acoustic - "a dynamic acoustic guitar sound using a standard electric guitar"
  2. JC clean - "a model of Roland's famous JC-120 Jazz Chorus amplifier"
  3. Black Panel - "modeled on the class Fender Twin Reverb amplifier"
  4. Brit Combo - "modeled on the VOX AC-40TB, the rock amplifier that created the Liverpool sound of the '60s"
  5. Classic stack - "modeled on the sound and response of a Marshall JMP1987"
  6. r-fier stack - "modeled on the MESA/Boogie Rectifier"
  7. Mic - "select this position when [a] microphone is connected.
There are huge differences in output between each of the various settings, but presumably the average player uses one setting on an almost permanent basic. I imagine that my permanent setting will be the Black Panel.

The amplifier even comes with a button which when pressed produces an A (440Hz) tone for tuning purposes; no more playing sharp or flat. Maybe this is common amongst modern amplifiers, but the Marshall didn't have it, nor did my original 25Watt (50W with an extension speaker) guitar amp which I bought in 1976. On the downside, the speaker is only 5" in diameter, as opposed to a more powerful 12" (no heavy bass sounds for this amp). Of course, the amp isn't meant for a gigging bassist in a rock group.

I imagine that my full enthusiasm for the amp as opposed to the luke-warm response to the guitar comes through. No doubt the guitar will grow on me as an instrument and not just a pretty piece of wood.

The guitar came with a soft case with very poor zippers - I broke one immediately when trying to open it. Fortunately, there are two length-wise zippers, so I can open and close with the other zipper (until I break that). One pocket on the bag held a cord so that I could plug the guitar into the amplifier; the zipper on this pocket doesn't work at all. Unfortunately I can't store the guitar in the hard case belonging to the SG copy - the Washburn's body is much wider than the SG (I think that it's even wider than the Ovation). The website of the shop from which I bought the guitar lists a suitable hard case for 625 NIS; I'll wait until I finish paying off the guitar before buying such a case.

The guitar was listed at just over 1,600NIS and the amplifier at around 700NIS, making a total cost of 2,300NIS (I think that I got a rounding small discount),  including 16% VAT; this works out at just under 400GBP (with the VAT).  Maybe a lot of money to satisfy a whim, but a good investment. The site which I linked to above gives a list price of $900 for the guitar, meaning that the price I paid was about 50% less! 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Copper socks 3

I have just been informed that one can now buy copper socks in Israel. This site is selling the socks for 60 shekels a pair which makes them somewhat cheaper than buying them from abroad (I originally wrote that a pair was costing about $10 + postage from America, which almost doubled the price).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mirror mirror on the wall

I look in the mirror
And what do I see?
A strange looking person
That cannot be me.
For I am much younger
And not nearly so fat
As that face in the mirror
I am looking at.
Oh, where are the mirrors
That I used to know
Like the ones which were
Made thirty years ago?
Now all things have changed
And I`m sure you`ll agree
Mirrors are not as good
As they used to be.
So never be concerned,
If wrinkles appear
For one thing I`ve learned
Which is very clear,
Should your complexion
Be less than perfection,
It is really the mirror
That needs correction!!

Edmund Burke, 1729 - 1797, Irish Philosopher.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ahead rings out

I'm listening at the moment to the remastered and extended version of Blodwyn Pig's debut album, 'Ahead rings out'; I bought the original vinyl record in April 1970 and the first cd pressing via Ebay several years ago (that version was a direct update of the original British record).

I first became aware of BP in late 1969, although I don't remember now how. I do recall that I saw them twice (or maybe three times) on late night BBC2 television shows and was impressed; these shows were probably the catalyst to seeing them live in mid-December 1969, when I was only 13 years and four months old.

I had the peculiar notion that records became cheaper several months after their release; it took several months for the penny to drop that this notion was false.

I was never one for the blues, and although BP's music is based somewhere on the blues, they played a strong updated modern blues, shot through with jazz and rock influences. I'm fairly sure that my thirteen year old ears didn't - and couldn't - appreciate the record then as much then as I do now. Taking it track by track -
  • It's only love - a straight-forward rocker, based on the 12 bar format. Mick Abrahams (guitar, vocal) wrote that he sang this like Elvis. One of the less liked tracks - but definitely strong. Features a double sax solo, showing that Jack Lancaster was doing the double sax thing before David Jackson of Van der Graaf Generator.
  • Dear Jill - BP unplugged. This is an acoustic blues, but the chord sequence is far from traditional. Beautiful soprano sax from Jack Lancaster. I used to play this song in the early 70s, but 'dropped it from my repertoire' as it sounded very repetitive without the sax.
  • Sing me a song that I know so well - this track was included on the famous 'Nice enough to eat' sampler LP. Even now, I find this track amazing: it's very choppy, being made out of several sections, but each of those sections seems to have been created sui genesis. It's still an exciting listen.
  • The modern alchemist - this instrumental was definitely played at the 12/69 concert. A fine piece of music, having its roots in jazz.
  • Up and coming - this song is the one most closely connected to the blues. I didn't like it then and I don't like it now.
  • Leave it with me - another instrumental, jazzy and somewhat similar to Jethro Tull of the same time. Of course, Abrahams left JT to found BP. This is ok, but not one of my favourite tracks. If I remember correctly, it features a rare bass solo by Andy Pyle.
  • The change song - this was my strong favourite of the time (also played in concert), featuring acoustic guitar (Abrahams) and violin (Lancaster). To my middle aged ears,  the introduction - in a mock cockney accent (well, I hope that it's mock!) - is totally embarrassing. The song itself is good, but not as wonderful as I used to think.
  • See my way - this song was not released on the original 'Ahead rings out' in Britain, although it was to be found on the American version. In Britain, we had to wait another year before it appeared on BP's second album, 'Getting to this'. This song was played at the 12/69 concert and I'd also seen it played on television. This has to be the ultimate BP track! The opening two verses can be classed as strong rock, but they're chordal as opposed to riffing. After the second verse, suddenly there's a peculiar instrumental section, followed from the guitar solo from outer space. This ends by climbing the scale in intervals of four semitones (basically a diminished chord, but not played as such), which transforms into a section for two saxophones playing what I've always thought as ancient Egyptian music. A quick snare hit, and back into the main tune. Abrahams writes that they spent a few days recording this,  especially the bit which sounds like Ravel's "Bolero". I'm sure that they worked hard on this, but there's nothing that sounds like the Bolero at all - I assume he means the 'Egyptian' part.
  • Ain't ya coming home, babe - a 6/8 rant leads into a 4/4 instrumental section. I haven't mentioned it before, but most of the instrumental parts tend to be 'free' - they're not played over chord sequences, but are more akin to the modal jazz of Miles Davis. Full marks to Andy Pyle for keeping the accompaniment interesting.
  • Sweet Caroline - this wasn't on the original album but was released as a single - the b side of 'Dear Jill'. I haven't heard this in years, for which there is a good reason: this is fairly undistinguished music.
  • Walk on water - Also a single release. Whilst this is based on a strong riff, it's also got some interesting instrumental parts. This song is comparable to 'Sing me a song' in its changing parts, although less good. That said, it was a very strong single in the wrong market, and I honestly would have preferred this to a few of the songs issued on the album.
  • Summer day - this is a classic throwaway b-side, with a slightly convoluted riff and changes based on the 12 bar blues. As opposed to the free instrumental sections on other songs, here the guitar solo is set against the standard chord sequence. I can live my life without hearing this again. 
  • Same old story - this was released as a single in March 1971 (I bought it in April); BP appeared on 'Top of the Pops' to promote it, when TOTP was briefly letting its hair down. An effervescent rocker in 5/4 time, this was another chunk of classic Pig. The single was released on the green Chrysalis label, as opposed to the pink Island of the other singles. If I were really sad, I would bring the vinyl singles with me to work, scan them and display them here. I wonder how much they are worth.
  • Slow down - this was released on the b-side of 'Same old story'. It was the only cover version that BP released, and as such doesn't do much for me. Elvis Abrahams returns as lead singer. This music is probably much more the private heritage of the band which is why is doesn't talk to me, coming from a different musical background (for me, music started with The Beatles).
  • Meanie Mornay - this is the only otherwise unreleased track on the album, and as such, completely new to me. I can't write anything about it because I can barely hear it (there's too much background noise). Presumably there are strong reasons why it was unreleased at the time, considering that 'Summer day' was released.
  • Backwash - this was a forty second interval of instrumental sandwiched between 'Change song' and 'Aint ya coming home'. I remember that Kenny Everett (weird and wild disk jockey) once ran a competition trying to find the shortest song ever released on record. I tried to phone the show and tell about this 'song' but could never get through. Just as well, as the forty seconds here pale against the twenty something seconds of Heron's "Sally Gooding".
Blodwyn Pig were my first musical love, but they broke up before leaving a lasting legacy. Shame.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sumptuous Sunday 3

I wasn't feeling too well last week - extreme lack of energy - so there isn't really much to write about. In order to keep the fingers moving, I'll give the weekend menu -
  • Friday night: meat balls (beef) cooked in oven, chicken breast/onion/potatoes cooked in wok
  • Saturday lunch: chicken drumsticks with prunes, rice and root beer, cooked in slow cooker
  • Saturday evening for rest of week: chicken breast and mixed fresh vegetables (onion, yellow pepper, red pepper, pumpkin, celery, cabbage, carrots, courgettes) cooked in wok
My wife also made clear vegetable soup and lentil soup on Friday afternoon, so the kitchen got a good workout. Now the fridge is full, and all we have to do is eat the food.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

I wrote several years ago about the eponymous 'Crosby, Stills and Nash' record, commenting "The production on this is strange to my way of thinking: whilst the guitars (especially in "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes") have careful spacial placing, the vocals (with one notable exception) are mixed together, dead in the middle, thus making it difficult to separate each singer's contribution."

Now I know why the production was as it was (well, that's not strictly true - I know how come the vocals are mixed together, but I don't know the real reason for doing so).

The answer can be found here:
After Stephen had recorded his acoustic guitar part, he, David and Graham were ready to sing, and for that I was ready. We had done all kinds of jingles in the little room at Heider’s, from the Anita Kerr singers to Jan and Dean, and so I just took the Neuman U67, opened it all the way around [ie. put it into omni mode], gave them three sets of headphones and went, ‘Sing!’ Singing into the one mic, they moved around a bit. They didn’t need any music; they were rehearsed, they knew the lyrics, and while harmonising with each other they were also in the process of amazing each other.
What I’d also learned to do by then was save what I thought was the good stuff, and with 16 tracks that was easy to do. So, through the course of that whole album I never played them what they had done; I only played them what they were doing. They were out there for a couple of hours, and when they finally came in to listen, I had three tracks of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ just about completely recorded. I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll play it all for them,’ so I turned up the guitar, spread out the three tracks and pushed ‘Play’, and they had no idea what was coming. They had three passes of the three of them and it was brilliant. They were so tight and so rehearsed "  (engineer Bill Halverson).

The most amazing thing about the track is that Stephen Stills "blew through seven-and-a-half minutes with all the time changes, all the pauses, all the everything in just one take, no edits, no nothing."