Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Local bike shops

Yeah, yeah, yeah - I know you can buy anything you want online. But for people with limited mechanical ability and/or limited time a good local bike shop is essential. Personally I'd rather spend time racking up the kilometres than turning the air blue whilst trying (and failing) to service my bike. Experts are experts for a reason.

So, with that in mind, I write to extol the virtues of my local bike servicing emporium, "Monkey Wrench Cycles" in Hackett, ACT.

I've had bikes serviced at places all over Canberra and there's no doubt that here in the National Capital we are spoiled for choice.

Without naming names, here are some reasons that I didn't go back to a range of places...

  • one place has a reputation for swapping out high quality parts for el cheapo ones prior to selling bikes
  • one place had a "mechanic" who told me I needed a new rear cassette. My bike was 5 weeks old.
  • another bike shop put my mountain bike back together with the headset spacers removed because it "looked cooler"
  • the same bike shop were meant to service my bike, true my rear wheel and throw on a new rear tyre. They washed my bike and not much else. It was oh so shiny but not in a state to be ridden
So, a couple of years ago now when Monkey Wrench opened next to my favourite coffee shop I was rather excited. Even more exciting was that it was an establishment that didn't sell bikes, they just serviced. And service they do. My mountain bike has had a lot of love there and they have been marvels at keeping my trusty Cervelo on the road for far longer than its natural lifespan!

There's no up-sell, no time wasting, just good honest work and loads of conversations about bikes. They fixed my bike on the spot one day when I rolled in from a long ride having snapped a derailleur cable. And on Sunday they spotted me and my Cervelo at the coffee shop and did a fix that I had booked in for Wednesday to make life easier for me.

Plenty of my friends will tell you similar tales.

So, if you're anywhere even near Hackett and your bike needs love then take it to Stan and Joel at Monkey Wrench. Don't tell them I sent you though as I'm sure that even the thought of my Cervelo makes them break out in a cold sweat. 

DJ Rob

Friday, September 12, 2014

Song of the Week #315

Apparently free stuff is only OK when you get to choose what you get for free.

The Saints - Know Your Product - http://youtu.be/h9M3b9lh-7s

Irish rock legends U2 and their mates at Apple put a copy of their new album, "Songs of Innocence", into every single iTunes library. You get to choose whether or not you download or listen to it. This isn't some unknown garage band folks, this is U2. And just in case you're wondering, yes, the physical version of the album on CD comes out in around a month.

This only happened on Tuesday and the internet furore has been hilarious. It ranges from, "how dare Apple or U2 just give me an album" to "oh my, I can't work out how to delete it" and then there's me. It's free, it's a solid album and that's about it. Are Apple going to suddenly give away hundreds of albums I don't want? I don't think so. The financial arrangement with Mr Vox et. al. must be rather large for a start. Who can afford that?

The Beatles - Can't Buy Me Love - http://youtu.be/tq1RKSTQqfQ

I've been spinning the album non-stop since I got it last night. It sounds like U2 and I like it. I haven't had time to delve into the lyrics and won't have for a while. I'm a bit sick of the whole, "I like their old stuff" commentary. I do too. But bands move on, it's what they do. Go ahead, listen to your well-worn copy of "Boy", "War" or "The Joshua Tree" and remind yourself what U2 were up to before 1988. For me, "Rattle & Hum" was the album I like the most. It combined my love for American music with what at the time was modern day rock. But I've grown as well. I hated "Achtung Baby" but went back fairly recently and rediscovered it. U2 don't have dud albums, they just have a fairly large and diverse back catalogue that all has its merits.

U2 - Van Diemen's Land - http://youtu.be/HXxefgAlrag

Just finally, track one on "Songs of Innocence" is (I think) about the first time Bono heard The Ramones and what it meant to him. That's pretty cool. It'd be rather neat for some kid to hear U2 for the first time as a result of their link with Apple and then for them to discover the rest of their body of work. What'd be even nicer would be if kids, or anyone for that matter, could afford a U2 concert ticket. But that's a topic for another day.

U2 - The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) - http://youtu.be/jyyyyzEgXpg

The Ramones - Sheena is a Punk Rocker - http://youtu.be/_Tr7lKx7_ws

I wrote something about Smartwatches this week. You can read it here if you are interested in. I'm also wondering if there is anyone else getting fed up with the move for mobile phones to keep getting bigger? I found my old Nokia N95 recently whilst cleaning up to move house. It was a seriously cool phone and I can't believe how small it is!

It would be remiss of me not to mention the wonderful achievement of my former triathlon coach Ben Gathercole. He's been appointed as Team Director for the Brumbies Super Rugby Team. Congratulations! Of course, Ben is a former Olympic and Commonwealth Games Coach as well. Coaching me is hardly a claim to fame!

You may remember that one of my all-time favourite bands are Canberra's "Armoured Angel". Whilst they are no more, I maintain that they remain one of the best heavy bands ever...in the world. DJ DJ and I travelled far and wide to see them play. To that end we'll be heading to the ANU Bar on September 20th to see former Armoured Angel drummer and vocalist, Joel, play in a new band. There's one track I can find on YouTube and it sounds excellent. More like a mix of Kyuss, Ghost and Black Sabbath than the full on grinding aural assault that was Armoured Angel but that's OK. Come along if you're in Canberra.

Witchskull - Spyres - http://youtu.be/819FaJxMCTk

Scotland goes to the polls in less than a week to decide on whether or not independence from the rest of the UK is a good thing. Whilst the result will be rather interesting, for Scots as well as the rest of the UK, one statistic made me sit up and take notice. 97% of eligible Scots have registered to vote. Wow! In a country where voting is voluntary that is massive. Of course, that doesn't mean that they'll all show up on the day but the signs are good. In comparison, the 2011 Scottish Parliament election had a voter turnout of just over 50%.

The Proclaimers - What Do You Do? - http://youtu.be/dXs7JYw4BP4

The challenge for Scots is balancing the emotional want to be truly independent against economic reality. Like most elections, deciding who's version of the truth is real is quite difficult. Being Australian, but born in Scotland I do have a view. But I don't get to vote (and I shouldn't) so I'll keep it to myself. I do think though that it'd be great to see Australia as a republic in my lifetime.

I suppose it's big news, we sold our house, but for the four of us it's the end of a bit of a nightmare. I won't bore you with details but it was a very long and drawn out period of time leading up to exchange. But, the money has been paid now and we're almost ready to move. The only downside about moving, other than the actual physical act, is that our new place (about 750m from our current abode) is in a part of the suburb that does not have access to the NBN. That's fast internet for you foreigners. We'll be going back to the dark ages of ADSL but I'm sure we'll cope ha, ha!

Joe Jackson - Got The Time - http://youtu.be/XTIPCc1nKYQ

Angus thinks we're getting pay TV as well. Fortunately the price has just been halved so he might get his way sometime. Probably not in time to watch Jens Voigt go for the hour cycling distance world record on Eurosport but in time to be bored by far too much cricket. I'm sure that Angus thinks he'll be in 24/7 sports heaven.

Madness - Our House - http://youtu.be/mDt4sPkxZ2U

Usually I wouldn't recommend that you avoid a movie, album or TV show. That's because I am firmly of the belief that it's different strokes for different folks. Personally I can't stand the X-Factor but I know some people love all that nonsense. But I'm going to make an exception. The movie "Hotel Grand Budapest". It's truly one of the worst things I've ever had the misfortune to watch. It's not funny, not clever and not at all engaging. I did last about 30 minutes before I choofed off to do the ironing because that was a better option. What a waste of time. Actually, you know what? You should watch it. Maybe someone out there can explain its appeal. I can't stand Adam Sandler films but I understand why some people do. I love Star Wars but I accept that, foolishly, not everyone does. I can even accept that DJ Hopper enjoyed my former worst rated movie ever, "Tulpan". But I'm stumped with "Hotel Grand Budapest".

That'll do. Have a great weekend.

DJ Rob

"Don't you remember what it's like to lose control
Put on my jacket before you get too old
Let's rock and roll..." - Judas Priest - Parental Guidance, 1986

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Smartwatches?

I like watches. In fact I like them a lot. I've still got the first watch I ever had. We lived in Singapore before I started school and a family friend was a Timex engineer. So I have some kind of prototype. It still works and I probably got it in about 1974.

These days I only have 8 watches that I wear day to day. Oh, and one more if you count the GPS training watch. I don't count it as you couldn't wear it all day.

The idea of a smartwatch appeals to me. But so far the execution by all major players has me holding onto my money. They either look clunky, don't do much, are full of glitches, have poor battery life, aren't waterproof or a combination of those.

I must admit that I waited patiently, hoping that the Apple Watch would be the answer. After all, I quite like my iPhone and a seamless link would be good.

It seems that it isn't to be - yet. To be fair, I'd be unlikely to buy version 1 of anything Apple releases but there are other reasons.

Here's what I think a smartwatch should provide:

  • notifications for email / text messages / social networking (customisable of course)
  • it should be waterproof - duh!
  • it shouldn't look like you've strapped a matchbox to your wrist
  • its own GPS so that you can track your run / ride / swim / walk if that's your thing
  • bluetooth connection
  • cordless charging
  • a battery that lasts at least a whole day - you need to be able to wear it as a normal watch
  • ability to control basic phone functions (answer/reject calls if your'e wearing a headset or going hands free, volume up and down, next music track)
As I said, there are a few out there that almost make the grade...but not quite yet.

DJ Rob
PS: today I'm wearing the annoying Seiko Automatic watch. Annoying because it keeps stopping. Last week I thought it was 3pm and it was home time!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Song of the Week #314

My new office is interesting. Not the inside, it's just another office. I'm not saying that it isn't well appointed but it's the surrounds I want to talk about. Out the window and across the road is a huge, brand new government office complex. It's empty. From what I can gather, the sneaky peeky folks who will eventually occupy it aren't moving in anytime soon. Until then I think they should at least let people use the outside car parking! There are plenty of workers dressed in high-vis doing any number of activities inside and out though. Or are they in disguise?! Maybe I should stand out the front with binoculars and see what happens...

The Fugs - CIA Man - http://youtu.be/hW9cCWm53H4

Next door is a building site. There is a massive hole in the ground that about a million concrete trucks a day roll up to to deposit their loads. It's noisy but amusing to watch every now and then. If there was a TV reality show called Canberra's worst reversing then filming it from my window would ensure more than one series.

James Reyne - Some People - http://youtu.be/qYD-2a1Vykc

In terms of this week's listening I've been checking out some live music podcasts. Both NPR and KEXP radio have excellent archives of just about all types of music. There's also a song of the day which is worth subscribing to. I'll admit that I was a bit predictable in my initial choices with Steve Earle live at the Newport Folk Festival, Jason Isbell live in the studio and Billy Bragg also at Newport getting an airing. But there really is so much on offer that you'd never get bored. Podcasts are easy to use on any kind of device and you can save them to listen to later offline if you like. One cool feature is that if you subscribe to something like song of the day it can be set to delete after listening to save your storage (if that's an issue).

Weird Al Yankovic - You Don't Love Me Anymore (live at KEXP) - http://youtu.be/RVvcGurG6dk

I also listened to Paul Kelly from a couple of years ago. He was on his A-Z concert tour and was just finishing up in the USA. What I liked, apart from Dan Kelly's tasteful guitar work, was that Paul chose songs that related to Seattle (where he was). It was a thoughtful few songs that finished with one of Chief's faves, "How To Make Gravy". A classic Christmas song that Paul tells us is about prison and doesn't have a chorus! Look for it sometime.

Paul and Dan Kelly - Dumb Things (live on a tram) - http://youtu.be/B5oQv2F8Ia8

In a few rather frantic moments (never sell your house folks, it sucks) I turned to some classic comedy to ease the pain. I'm sure most of you, with a little effort, will be able to decipher Max Boyce's Welsh accent. He's funny, screamingly funny. I like the way his voice has an almost sing song quality to it. He never fails to lighten the mood. Ah, memories from car trips as a wee boy!

Max Boyce - The Incredible Plan - http://youtu.be/hEjGFQ7-23g

Thanks to the magic of TV on demand (thank you ABC, my tax dollars doing something worthwhile) I've been watching the series ANZAC Girls which is about Army Nurses in WWI. I missed the first few episodes so streaming (legally) is great. The show, while a little bit soap opera once in a while, is really well made. You get a good feeling for what they went through and achieved. If you're at all interested in history you'll like this show. Personally I get bored very quickly with history (I failed first year History at university because it was interminably dull) but this show, which is essentially true stories dramatised, flows well and remains engaging. I enjoyed the banter from the Australians and New Zealanders as their Imperial bosses gave them a hard time. It reminded me of the Bodyline TV series where the Australian cricket Captain Bill Woodfull, talking to his players about England's Douglas Jardine, asks, "which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?"

The Pogues - And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda - http://youtu.be/cZqN1glz4JY

You might've read about the comments Henry Rollins made about the death Robin Williams. If you did and we disappointed in him, like me, then his response to the criticism was pretty good. As DJ Fatboy said to me anyone can run off at the mouth but being big enough to admit you're wrong is what's important.

I read an article this morning about "Team Australia". Leaving aside the unfortunate mental picture of Prime Minister Abbott as a South Park style character, the piece had some really good points about who should be Australian and what it means. You can read the article here. Personally I think that this is a pretty good place to live. Nowhere's perfect but our issues seem relatively small compared to plenty of other countries. My favourite bit of the article is that Team Australia is about what unites us, not what divides us. Worth thinking about.

Lenny Kravitz - Mr Cab Driver - http://youtu.be/Lq6rEPBN7aA

That'll do. Have a great weekend.

DJ Rob

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Song of the Week #313

Reissues aren't particularly unusual these days. Once in a while they are even worth buying. But too often it just seems to be a case of "pump up the bass and overall volume and the punters will buy anything".

MARRS - Pump Up The Volume - http://youtu.be/w9gOQgfPW4Y

Then there's the conundrum that faces me quite regularly. How many versions of an album do I really need? If it was good the first time around then is an "upgrade" really necessary. And is it really an upgrade?

Some re-issue packages are lovingly packaged with a million extra versions of songs including demos, live versions and alternate takes. For the true fan that can be a lot of fun and can justify some of the price hikes. But the same album, with no extras with a digital remaster isn't really that exciting I don't think. As DJ Guz pointed out via an article he sent me, 70's recording engineers DID know what they were doing and the bands generally had to approve the mix prior to release. So if you're listening on vinyl why bother? I can understand that early CD releases weren't great in terms of quality but even then, for most people listening in the car, on headphones or their home theatre system they will hear precious little difference.

I hear you asking yourself, "what got him started on re-issues again?" Well, it's Iron Maiden. They are a great band that I love but they are huge fans of a re-release. The latest offering (coming in October) are vinyl re-issues of their 80's catalogue. We're talking about 8 albums and 19 7" singles. That's a lot. All on heavyweight 180g black vinyl and re-cut from the original analogue master tapes.

I have these albums. All on CD, some on tape, some on vinyl too. And in the case of some I have alternate vinyl versions too. So am I excited about this release? Yes, and I am a SUCKER. I won't buy the singles, even though the artwork makes it almost worth it, but if they've done a good job of transferring from master to vinyl then there's a couple I'm keen on. But wait, there's an impressive box to put them all in...oh dear, there goes my money!

Iron Maiden - The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner - http://youtu.be/Z7aq8fz36Bs

J Mascis released a solo album four days ago. Whether it's in the shops here yet remains to be seen. He has a seriously credible resume from being in Dinosaur Jr and this solo album seems to have polarised reviewers and listeners alike. The few tracks I've heard are really very good I think. J has a particular vocal sound that you're going to like or not (it reminds me of Cobain in quiet moments). If you're thinking that you like the overdriven whoosh guitar sounds of Dinosaur Jr then this might not be for you as it's mainly acoustic stuff. But I thought it sounded really fresh, light and very listenable. I'll buy it.

J Mascis - Wide Awake - http://youtu.be/D4ea-11BUbA

Staying with the acoustic theme for a minute, this is a very recent release as well. I'll be seriously impressed if anyone out there can let me know who did this song originally (without using a search engine or phoning a friend!) - any takers? This version is just stellar. The real accent, the relaxed instrumentation and just the groove.

Robyn Hitchcock - The Ghost In You - http://youtu.be/52DUrv1gCUw

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers have a new album, "Hypnotic Eye". My few spins of this LP indicate that, like all Tom's stuff, that you get quality, radio friendly rock full of hooks and a hint of glitter. "Forgotten Man" opens with a wonderfully shimmering electric guitar and whilst it doesn't sound particularly different to anything else he's put out the toe tapping and head nodding are almost impossible to avoid.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Forgotten Man - http://youtu.be/du1afxe74VE

That's enough for another week. I've got a bike to ride. And a new one on order! Woo hoo!

DJ Rob

"...I'm on the hard grind..." - Rhinobucket (1994)


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Song of the Week #312

This week the World Wide Woozle is coming to you live and not so exclusive from Surfers Paradise.  It's a paradise if you like rain. Foolishly I thought I could get all this done on the iPad without trialling it at home. Bear with me.

H sent me a link to an article about whether or not albums are dead. The upshot of that quick read was that the jury is out. In my opinion singles and compilation albums are a quick fix, a sugar hit, something without any lasting effect. Albums are something to immerse yourself in and to give time to grow. Singles and compiles are the equivalent of 20/20 cricket. The crowd loves it, TV adores it and people have a good time. But, the players (musicians) tolerate it and it has no real credibility or lasting effect. Singles are for the jukebox and maybe your workout iPod playlist but albums have substance. Well that's my opinion.

What I'll do this week is play 5 tracks from albums that I think are worthy of your listening time...start to finish, over and over. By the way, these don't have to be thematic long players rather a solid group of cohesive tracks.

First is Queensrÿche's "Operation : Mindcrime". This one does have a story all the way but other than that it is musically and lyrically strong and frankly it sounds great. Metal's magnum opus?

Queensrÿche' - I don't believe in love - http://youtu.be/2c3g6tTYoxM

Staying with harder rock I really can't go past Ozzy's "Blizzard of Ozz". The full review I mentioned last week is still coming but the LP has fantastic guitar work and Ozzy singing up an energetic storm. No filler on this one.

Ozzy Osbourne - Steal Away The Night - http://youtu.be/4PdcW8jadCU

Jason Isbell is my new favourite songwriter. You may have noticed. His recent album "Southeastern" has catchy tunes with unexpectedly deep lyrical content and, my favourite, tasty guitars! The album works really well from front to back and I never want to skip a track or to press stop! It's one I'll be getting on vinyl.

Jason Isbell - Flying Over Water - http://youtu.be/hsa_Fwn2xJA

This may shock you if you're new to my ramblings but I'm a Kylie fan. Her "Impossible Princess" album sealed it for me. Sure she has some very, very catchy tunes but this record with its rock and pop sensibilities is a real treat.

Kylie - Some Kind Of Bliss -  http://youtu.be/tuB9RRSja9o

Finally something a little older.  The artists originally known as Tom and Jerry had some great LPs but this one, which my parents had and I taped more than once, is brilliant. The voices, the clarity of sound and yeah, the songs. "Sounds of Silence" was their second LP.

Simon and Garfunkel  - I Am A Rock - http://youtu.be/My9I8q-iJCI

Sorry this is a bit brief. Next time I'll use a real keyboard. D'oh!

DJ Rob

"...another gig my ears bleed..."  - Motörhead - We Are The Road Crew - http://youtu.be/H71VEV1c_XE

Friday, August 15, 2014

Song of the Week #311

Well; as of a couple of hours ago I'm officially "between jobs"! I cycled down the hill away from work this afternoon looking forward to a new challenge but knowing that there are a lot of people I'll miss. I will admit that I won't regret not having to make the climb UP the hill to work each morning. No matter which way you go there's always a climb to Grammar!

Alice Cooper - School's Out (live 2014) - http://youtu.be/NzEpLErIDCw

I've got a few days before I start in my new job. I've been jokingly telling people that those days are for the "three c's"; cycling, coffee and corporate wardrobe. That's not far wrong. The weather looks like it might be against me in terms of getting a lot of kilometres in but we'll see...

The Kinks - Dedicated Follower Of Fashion - http://youtu.be/KXaO3zgaf5Q

Black Flag - Black Coffee - http://youtu.be/i4odD2Bg1_0

I should have time to make serious inroads into replacing my bike as well. All I can say is watch this space!

Pink Floyd - Money - http://youtu.be/-0kcet4aPpQ

Not much more to say this week as I must admit I'm a bit wiped out.

Here's three songs to listen to. They are all different and speak to me in different ways. Let me know sometime what you think.

Green Day - She's A Rebel - http://youtu.be/eOv5fF7maFY

Ike & Tina Turner - Baby Get It On - http://youtu.be/_skplba3wOg

The Pogues - Sally MacLennane - http://youtu.be/sh5gtGk9XZ8

Have a good weekend and cross your fingers that someone buys our house!

Oh, and look out on the blog during the week for a track by track commentary of one of my favourite albums of all time, "Blizzard of Ozz".

DJ Rob

"...when you really need it the most,
rock 'n' roll dreams come true..." - Jim Steinman