Me and Twitter

RETRORAM

A few people have noticed that I locked my account down and haven’t posted in a few weeks, more or less since the new year, and have asked me where I’ve been. Here’s the story.

I started using twitter a few years ago, around the time I left the UK for the Netherlands and started a new chapter in my life. Initially I had an account to share photos and news about my adventures out here, tied to a since-deleted blog providing more detail. Then, in May 2016, a year and a half later, I started to post as BitlandGaming, initially intending to join discussions and blog about the games I used to love in my youth.

Over time I came to be jaded with the community and my place within it. So many people discussing retro gaming in its many forms were parroting the same opinions, the same rhetoric day in and day out. There was no real discussion, no attempt to expand one’s viewpoint on what should be a quite interesting, exciting topic with many differing ideas and memories. It soon became my mission to stand against this mentality, shout out against the echo chamber, and so RetroRam was born. The roots of the name are simple enough, he was here to rally against the sheep and to challenge the status quo.

Of course there are those that don’t fall into this rather sweeping assessment. You know if this is about you. To those that tempered me, grounded me, and reminded me that people are, generally, decent – we’ve had some great chats, many laughs, and I thank you all.

Lately, though, the whole thing seems to have become somehow more toxic. Others have mentioned it, and I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment. For many years I’ve suffered with my anxiety and depression (yeah, I keep it mostly to myself), something for which RetroRam gave me an outlet. Sometimes, that means that I could be inadvertently contributing to that toxicity, the very thing I’d made it my mission to challenge. Other times, perhaps the toxicity was in my head. So I have taken a step back, at this point for most of a month.

And you know what, I’ve found my head clearer, my stress levels reduced, and as a rather pleasant side effect I’ve found myself getting out of the house a lot more, and rediscovering my connection to and love for the fascinating world around me, and, importantly, for myself.

I recommend to any of you – take a time out. Have a break from all this nonsense. Especially if you too are feeling jaded. Take a week, a fortnight, a month to yourself and let your mind rest. Then, when you’re ready, come back, refreshed.

I may be ready soon, or I may not.

RetroRam’s Top Albums of the Decade… Ever!

This has been a difficult list to curate. How should I rate an album worthy of being one of my favourites of the 2010s? I’ve come to the conclusion that this list should, more than anything else, refer to albums that have stood the test of time. Some albums are great the first few times, but eventually outstay their welcome (Slaves – Are You Satisfied comes to mind) – they don’t make this list.

What we have here is a list of albums that continue to impress to this day, up to ten full years since they were released. Albums I can listen to and not feel the need to leave it until later. Collections of songs that resonate with me, musically and lyrically, and that I suppose I would recommend to you , in the hope you’d feel similarly warm and fuzzy about them.

In no particular order:

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)

DAFTPUNK

I’ve mentioned this one before, and already suggested it may be one of the albums of the decade. I knew Daft Punk before this, but not really outside of the singles. When this came out I was, admittedly, drawn by the cover, and bought a copy. Love at first listen. Fine music, great grooves, and some of the best music production since Pink Floyd. Truly a sublime experience, though it can sometimes, like most albums since CDs became popular, seem a little overlong. When in the right mood though, this is a bona fide classic in my collection.

Blur – The Magic Whip (2015)

THEMAGICWHIP

Blur were amongst my favourite bands in the 1990s. I never subscribed to the whole Britpop thing, though many great bands came from the time. As for Blur vs Oasis… well, I bought the first three Oasis albums, and enjoyed them very much. Blur… I bought all of their albums. So they win. The Magic Whip was a surprise release for me, since I stopped reading music magazines a long time ago. I first knew of it when I stumbled upon a clip of one of the new singles from this album, with the record being released soon thereafter. Somehow Blur have managed to avoid sounding the same on any two albums, yet maintain a sound that is unmistakably theirs. After a long break, this trend continues here, songs showing an element of maturity that was hinted at with 13 and Think Tank. Delicious.

Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (2013)

LIKECLOCKWORK

This one took a while for me. I really didn’t get it at first. It was too slow, and I felt it lacked an edge that I’d enjoyed in the band’s earlier releases Rated R and Songs for the Deaf, which was the last of theirs I’d heard in 2013 when this came out. Over time though, I realised I had earworms of a couple of the songs, so I gave it another go. It soon grew on me, and I began to appreciate its place in the band’s discography, eventually it became my favourite of all their works.

Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones (2011)

ENGLANDKEEPMYBONES

When I saw Million Dead play in London in 2003, I had my eyes opened to a very exciting band. Several years ago I reminisced about that evening with the friend I’d gone with, who told me the singer, Frank Turner, had embarked on a solo career. Excited, I picked up a copy of this album – the most recent at the time. It immediately hit me. Outside of my usual comfort zone musically, it didn’t matter, the album drew me in with its stories about England, and introduced me to a new artist to love. I can enjoy this album any day, and it remains my favourite of his works.

Jamie Lenman – Muscle Memory (2013)

MUSCLEMEMORY

Two discs. The first stylistically similar to the previous album, though with a decidedly American flavour, the second a selection of metal music that, for me, doesn’t work. The true value is in disc one, with its acoustic guitars and banjos. Beautiful songs, with some fantastic vocal harmonies, there’s much to love. A great album for chilling out. If you found yourself enjoying the album, there is also a hidden track discovered by playing the final track of each disc at the same time… thankfully Jamie Lenman himself has done the work for you on his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTe6KxWbZOo – Have a listen and you’ll get a feel for both halves of the album.

Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud (2012)

EPICLOUD

All the cool kids go on about Devin Townsend like he’s some kind of god. I ignored them for years, because they sounded like the same folk who go on about Tool as if understanding their music makes them better than people who don’t. I know Townsend’s work with Strapping Young Lad back in the 90s, and was something of a fan, so in the end I clicked on a link that YouTube had recommended, with Devin Townsend playing Kingdom live on EMG TV (I highly recommend you look it up, it’s intense). Well, it was basically set at that first watching that I would seek out the album from which it came. And here we are. My limited knowledge of Strapping Young Lad could not prepare me for this. Honestly the only other artist who to my knowledge has so successfully layered so many musical tracks is… Enya. This is truly a thing of beauty, and worth listening to over and over.

Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere (2016)

TBEitbN

Another band I saw in London in 2003, they supported (and outclassed) Poison The Well, and gained a new fan. I wouldn’t call myself a big Thrice fan. I loved The Artist in the Ambulance (that came out around the time I saw them and influenced my playing and writing for a while), and was kind of half aware of their work between then and now, but it wasn’t until To Be Everywhere is to be Nowhere that I picked up another of their albums and gave it a chance. I’m very glad I did. A darker tone than their earlier albums, with a strained, gravelly vocal that’s clearly been well-used over the years, something of a stripped-back, lo-fi production… it all adds up to something quite exciting for a returning fan. I gifted this album to two other people the following Christmas, such was its impact on my year.

Richard Dawson – 2020 (2019)

2020

A friend (the same one I saw Thrice and Million Dead with) and I exchange an album each Christmas, something that represents the year for us, that we want to share. A couple of times recently, he’s given me an album that he feels reminds him of my own songwriting – this is one, Slaves’ Are You Satisfied was the other. I’d never heard of Richard Dawson before (like I said, I don’t follow the music press these days), and was warned that everyone else that he tried to play the album for was uninterested, but that I should give it a few times before I dismiss it. To say that this warning was unnecessary is an understatement – I fell hard for this from the very beginning, in an “I wish I’d made this” kind of way. As he’d sent it on vinyl, and I wasn’t in a position to sit down with it, I went for a ride around Amsterdam Forest, streaming the album. From the off I was enjoying the album, but when it came to song 4, Jogging, which starts with the line “lately I’ve been struggling with anxiety,” I knew I was going to enjoy this for a long time to come – I’ve been on a very long, difficult journey from anxiety myself, one which is only lately seeming to come to an end, with some help from said friend. Unconventional in his phrasing, with some interesting sections dotted throughout the song, there are some fantastic, rousing choruses, and plenty to make you think. I don’t often find it easy to get into an album just based on a recommendation, particularly from an artist I don’t know, but this could be my favourite album of the 2010s. Certainly, it’s one of them.

Thanks for reading my review of some of my favourite albums of the last decade. Hopefully it will inspire you to try something new in this new decade and, if not, inspire you to go back to some old favourites and enjoy them anew.

Nintendo Switch, 2 Years Later

I bought my Switch in September 2017, almost two years ago. I’ve played it a lot in that time, though it’s never been my favourite of the current generation. Here are some thoughts.

HARDWARE – I have to say, I am a little disappointed in the system itself. In the first few months of use I have had three Joycons replaced after the catch that locks them to the sides of the system failed, meaning they could come away with minimal effort, sometimes while I was playing in handheld mode. Nintendo seem to have solved that problem as it’s not occurred again since, so I suppose we can chalk that up to early teething troubles.

For the most part the system has functioned as expected, in handheld mode at least, never needing to be restarted to clear any strange glitches. Sometimes when docked though, the connection seems weak, and I have to remove and replace it in the dock to stop the display flickering as I play. This has happened on both of two docks I own.

Recently I purchased Super Mario Maker 2, which worked just fine until after I’d removed the cartridge. When I next went to play it, it threw up and error saying the cartridge could not be read. I returned it to the shop, who saw the same error when testing it on their own console, so the game was replaced. Sure enough the replacement worked fine, so I assumed I had received a faulty cartridge. That was until my New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe cartridge gave me the same error some months, and many hours of play, after purchase. It seems my cartridge slot may have developed a fault, and may be fatally damaging cartridges too!

I haven’t had any other problems with the console, though I’ve heard enough stories of bent consoles and docks scratching screens to suggest there are other problems.

Ignoring these potential hardware faults, the system seems well-designed (apart from the strange looseness to the Joycons), feels like a premium product in the hand, and the Joycons and Pro Controller are comfortable in use. I even enjoy using the Joycons in the separate grip, despite my large hands. The built-in screen is quite stunning, with great colours, no dead pixels, and a sufficiently sharp 720p resolution. “Tabletop mode” is somewhat pointless, requiring a perfectly level surface to protect the console from tipping over, and a less than ideal viewing angle, unless the table is at face height.

SOFTWARE – There are many, many great games on Nintendo Switch. For the most part I don’t care for the first-party titles. Super Mario Odyssey, Yoshi’s Crafted World and Breath of the Wild are amongst my least favourites of their respective series, and Pokemon Let’s Go, whilst a fun game in handheld mode, sucks balls when docked, as it forces you (unnecessarily) to use detached Joycons and suffer through terrible motion controls, when surely an external controller mimicking the handheld control scheme would be preferable.

The strongest part of the library is, for me, the indies. The screen on the console is, as mentioned, beautiful, and it’s a joy to take some of these games on the move. The most common time I play my Switch is when I’m on the road, with hours to pass tucked in various hotel rooms as I travel about. If it weren’t for the system’s status as a semi-handheld machine, though, I don’t think I’d buy many games for it at all, for one simple reason – they almost always cost more than they do on other current systems. Not only that, but when Nintendo do put the games on sale, the discounts are often weak compared to the alternative systems. Where Xbox or Playstation stores reduce game prices over time, and subsequent sales are based on those already lower prices, Nintendo seem to keep their games at full price, such that even on sale the games cost more than they do elsewhere. Even launch titles for the system, now two and a half years old, remain at the full retail price of €60 – including Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 (both also Wii U titles).

Still, Switch is a better system for travelling than 3DS, thanks to the larger screen, but still with a form factor that is comfortable to hold.

CONCLUSION – Overall I recommend Switch, especially if you get enjoyment from the first party titles, and if the portability is something you will truly make use of. If you’re careful about what games you buy, and when, it is definitely the best way to enjoy a lot of smaller indie games, and has one strong thing going for it – no achievement system. This alone has helped me enjoy the pure pleasure of video games for their own sake.

If it turns out mine has developed a fault in its cartridge slot, I will sell the cartridges that it has not broken, and keep it for the many downloaded titles I have. I shan’t replace it though, I could live without it. Perhaps if the promised new model lands and has solved the problems I’ve had, then it may be that I’ll replace it with that. Especially if it is sold, as I believe has been said, as a pure handheld console, perhaps smaller in size and without removable Joycons.

The main point on which the system stumbles for me is the pricing policies in the eShop. The games simply cost too much. Nintendo Tax, as it is sometimes known. If you don’t own any other system, this is less of a problem I suppose, but I do, so Switch is always the last system on which I consider a purchase, except when I fancy a game for my travels.

Review: Yedoo Friday Adult Scooter

You may know I have a young son – he just turned 3. One of our favourite father-son activities is to take his Scooter (a Micro Mini) to Amsterdam Forest where he’ll zip off along the path as fast as he can. Unfortunately that’s very fast, and occasionally leads to near misses… I started to take my skateboard (that I’d not used in 20 years) but even on that I can’t keep up with his scooter, which has wheels approximately 2 and a half times the diameter.

Which leads us to this review. I swallowed my pride (I don’t even know why I should be embarrassed to ride a scooter, but that’s a reflection of the society we’ve built) and bought myself an adult scooter – a Yedoo Friday to be precise. It cost €319,95 from stepshop.nl, with free next day delivery.

Here are my thoughts after a day of ownership.

Yedoofriday

As this was my first time seeking an adult scooter, I must admit I didn’t have much knowledge on the subject. Searching for “best adult scooters” led me to various lists of scooters more like my sons, with small, solid plastic/rubber wheels, folding frames and… a weight limit of usually 100kg. I’ll let you in a little secret – I weigh more than 100kg. About 40% more in fact. (Another reason for this purchase is to encourage some more exercise and less car use). Adjusting my search to “kick scooter for heavy adult” I started to find some more useful information, though much of it was very US-centric with products I couldn’t find locally, until I stumbled upon the brand Yedoo, based in Czech Republic. (English language) reviews of the brand are limited, but seemed favourable, and this particular model seemed to tick all the boxes – 16 inch wheels (smaller than BMX, and certainly less ostentatious than the 28″ wheels on the biggest models!), hand brakes (no more dragging my shoes on the floor to slow down), pneumatic tyres (for comfort on imperfect pavements), and most importantly a weight limit of 150kg – plenty!

The scooter arrived on Tuesday after ordering on Sunday (though 2 hours after the end of the prescribed time slot – something we’ve come to expect living where we do on the edge of the city), so thanks to stepshop.nl for speedy service.

Packaged in a box were the following:

The scooter frame, brakes and fork attached;

Handlebars and stem;

Two wheels;

Quick release systems for the wheels;

Extra strips of grip tape;

Instructions (including clear English language);

Some extras I’d ordered – a bell (essential in Amsterdam!), and some bolts for the rear wheel to replace the quick release.

A bonus bag of Auto Drop liquorice sweets – I love when businesses do this.

Following the instructions was simple enough for me, having had decades of experience looking after my own bikes. Someone with less experience may prefer to take the scooter to a bike shop to be built – all the parts will be familiar to them.

First the front wheel goes on, secured by the quick release system. Then the handlebar stem, the handlebars, then attaching the brake cables to the levers. Incidentally, they recommend you follow the standard European layout of front brake on the left, but as I’m British I’m used to having my front brake on the right, so I connected the cables accordingly.

Next the back wheel goes on. There are two positions to choose from, depending on your desired ride height of 7.5cm or 9.5cm. The higher setup is recommended for trail riding, the lower for level ground, where it will allow a more efficient push. I chose the lower setup as there are not too many paths that require high ground clearance around here.

Final setup includes adjusting the brakes – something that was very simple for the rear brake, but not so much the front. No fault of Yedoo, but the adjustment spring on one of the callipers would slip out of place when I tightened its screw, meaning my adjustment had no effect and the brake pad lay against the wheel rim. I solved this with a bit of good old-fashioned force, pushing the spring back behind the screw with a flathead screwdriver, and was set.

I also added a couple of the spare grip strips. Three were installed on the scooter, with two intermediate channels left empty, so I filled them. In my opinion you can’t have too much grip under your feet, especially when you live in a city such as Amsterdam where rain is never far away, and you intend to be travelling at speed.

Overall the build took an hour. Much of that time was due to moving slow in 33C heat, and solving the front brake issue. If I were to build another now, with the experience behind me, I think I could do it in about 30 minutes.

Onto riding it…. I waited until 10pm, the sun on its way over the horizon and the temperature falling to a balmy 29C, and set off to a path behind the end of our road that runs along a canal. Initially I felt slightly embarrassed as I passed pedestrians (again I don’t know why, but our society has decided scooters are for children, and adults shouldn’t dare have fun!) but that passed as I realised just how enjoyable my new hobby was going to be!

With the deck set at its lower height, kicking was easy. A familiar feeling coming from a skateboard, with the added stability that comes from holding the handlebars. The brakes are sharp, as V-brakes tend to be, and will take a bit of getting used to – bikes in Netherlands tend to have drum brakes, which are not nearly so sharp in use, and I tend to favour the front brake for quicker stopping – not so safe on this scooter. The scooter is also a lot lighter than my usual Bakfiets, which weighs 40kg, so tipping onto the front wheel is a lot easier if you’re not careful.

The whole thing is very light (7kg according to the official website) and I did find it lifting off the ground if I was pulling on the handlebars as I kicked, but a simple change of technique resolved that issue. It took 2-3 kicks to get up to speed, and then with both feet on the deck (my UK size 10 feet – US 11, EU 44 fit with one straight forward, and one turned sideways) it rolled for a long way. Far further than my skateboard, which requires almost constant kicking to keep rolling. This moves a lot faster than the skateboard too, as you’d expect on 16″ wheels. The bearings (also standard skateboard-style cartridges) are of a high quality and roll smooth and fast.

Tektro brake levers, callipers and pads are also good. As I said they are sharp, and stop the scooter quickly when required. Stepping off, or using your foot to stop is also easy in an emergency situation. The callipers have the usual adjustments, so you can set the brakes up easily to be how you want them.

The handlebars are fully adjustable in height and pitch, and you can change the angle of the brake levers and the contoured handgrips. My handlebars are set at their highest setting (marked on the stem) as I am quite tall (180cm, 6’1″) and like to ride in an upright position. Initially I set the handlebars leaning forward, which put me into a bit of a forward lean, which was comfortable for pushing along. It put my weight too much over the front wheel though, especially when braking, so I moved them into a more upright position (more or less in the position on the official photo seen at the top of this post) which has made the overall experience a lot more comfortable, and centred my weight over both wheels.

I have a couple of comments regarding the weight rating of 150kg. As I said at the start, I am 140kg, so well within the limit. The frame itself is strong, with solid welding, and whilst it flexes a little as I put my weight on it, it feels safe and I’m confident in its ability to carry me. I also intend to use it towards my weight loss goals, so in time this will be even less of a concern. The only concern I have is with the tyres. They are Kenda Kontact, 16 x 1.75″ (47-305) with a good, flat road tread, and an inflation range of 40-65psi. Due to my weight I tend to go straight for the maximum inflation, and in fact in this instance I have pushed the limit by pumping the wheels to 70psi. Still they compress a lot when I’m on it, especially the front wheel under braking, and the sidewalls flex. This leads to a loss of energy transfer when kicking, and a bit of wobbling when turning. I would have to declare that the tyres are the weak point in this scooter’s claimed 150kg load limit, and I will be looking to replace them soon, probably with Schwalbe Big Apples, which come in a 16″ size, and have proven to be absolutely brilliant on my 26″ touring bike and the Bakfiets. the Kendas will do the job for now though, and they roll well on pavement and on (level) grass.

There are a few accessories available. I bought a Yedoo branded bell, which is very inexpensive and functional. Also available are fenders (mudguards) which were out of stock, but I will purchase and install at a later date to keep my legs safe from spray on a wet road, and a kickstand which I didn’t even consider, but would certainly benefit from – so I will also be ordering that soon.

What I have is a good-looking scooter that is tremendous fun to ride, small enough to tuck in a corner of our house for storage, and with the quick release front wheel should fit in the back of our Mini Clubman. If it doesn’t, I will consider fitting the quick release to the rear wheel – I chose to bolt that wheel for security, so some yob doesn’t try to steal it; I can lock the scooter through the handlebars and front wheel if I need to park it somewhere.

I’ll revisit this review at a later date if longer-term use adjusts my opinion of any aspect, and I expect to write further posts about my experiences using a scooter about town. For now, it’s a highly-recommended product and a highly-recommended activity for those of you looking for a fun new mode of transport that you probably haven’t considered before.

Edit after further riding

So this issue with the over-flexible tyres… since I moved the handlebars into a more vertical position, which in turn moved my weight back away from the front wheel, the tyres are holding up much better. They still compress, but not beyond what I’d expect or want, and the overall ride is much smoother and more efficient! Hooray!

To discuss this further comment below or find me on Twitter @RetroRam.

Smells Like Shrink Wrap

Microsoft have announced their disc-less Xbox One S console, launching in a couple of weeks at an RRP (in the UK at least) of 20% less than the one with a disc drive. It appears to have upset a lot of people, who are, in some cases, inventing their own version of the truth to justify their anger at a product that no one is forcing them to buy. Here I’ll tackle a few of the common concerns that I’ve seen raised, with counter arguments in an attempt to balance things.

I would like to point out that I am no fanboy, I have no emotional attachment to the success of one brand or another, and indeed own/have owned every Xbox and PlayStation model, and everything Nintendo has released. So with that cleared up…

1. It’s too expensive – According to Xbox.com (a reasonable source for Xbox information I would posit) the UK RRP for the console will be £199. This sits against an RRP of £249 for the same console with a Blu-Ray drive. Which means they’re expecting £50 for the drive. That’s expensive. The RRP doesn’t necessarily reflect street price of course, and it’s likely both options are available for less money in the real world.

Some are quoting the second hand price of a One S and comparing it to the new price of this version. Wait until this one is available pre-owned, and you’ll have a fair, direct comparison. Others are playing g the RRP against the street price of the other – another indirect comparison.

Ultimately you’ll be able to buy an Xbox One S for a few quid more than a 3DS XL, which is pretty good.

2. A 1TB hard drive is way too small – It’s the same 1TB hard drive that’s in the standard Xbox One S, and will fit exactly the same number of games on it. All Discs on Xbox One (and PlayStation 4) must be fully installed to be played, and take up the same amount of space as the downloaded equivalent.

Additionally, you’re assuming that everyone who owns a console is a “gamer” who buys more games than they’ll ever find time to play. For many, a 1TB drive may well be impossible to fill. For the rest, USB drives are inexpensive (particularly compared to video games) and ultimately essential for larger collections, regardless of what’s inside the console.

One situation in which this may be a concern is in rural areas (thinking particularly of the USA) where internet is a luxury service (see point 4) – people there will be unable to delete and re-download their games as freely as those of us blessed with better internet. Those folk are still going to face difficulties with disc-based games that require multiple GigaBytes of patches, or online activation, and can overcome the concern with the same USB hard drive that we can all use.

3. If this is successful, the next Xbox won’t have a disc drive – I suspect it will. Whilst downloads represent over half of video game purchases, and have done for 5 years now, there is still a sizeable market for physical media. Whilst it’s falling, it’s not gone away to a point that new hardware won’t support it. That time will come. It’s inevitable. Between platform holders pushing for it and consumers embracing it, ultimately a form of digital content (more likely to be based on streaming than downloading) will become the norm in the next decade or two. It’s inevitable.

4. Some people have slow or limited internet – Some people don’t have electricity or clean drinking water. You’re not about to fix that concern, and the people you describe will find that this console is not for them. That’s ok, because they can buy the one with a disc drive. Or not. Free world and all that.

5. There’s a drive bay and eject button inside the case! – I hadn’t considered this until I saw it mentioned, and the subsequent outpouring of scorn, but now that I have it makes a lot of sense. The One S is a beautifully designed system and the disc-less version is a) the same console, without the disc drive and b) inside the same case, without the disc slot. I’d rather they didn’t spend money redesigning the internals of the case, to be passed on to the consumer, and I’m happy as a fan of design to see them maintain a constant look across the range.

6. PSP Go tried this and failed – Yes it did. A long, long time ago. Vita also “failed”, and that had a cartridge slot. A lot has changed in the world, with streaming media services such as Netflix and Spotify replacing physical media for a lot of people in those two arms of the entertainment industry. As much as “gamers” think otherwise, video games are ultimately fulfilling the same need as music and film, and the vast majority of the world’s people see them as just as disposable. According to chats with my local games shop, store credit vouchers and the like account for the majority of sales now, with physical media being secondary. This is fact, and is spreading, and will continue to spread.

Whilst it’s quite possible that this edition of Xbox One will fail – I’m certainly not about to say with conviction that it won’t – one thing I’ve noticed about Microsoft in this generation is their willingness to embrace change led by consumer habits. They led the charge in the previous generation to push people to accept downloading their games, and 14 years later we’re seeing a world with a whole generation of teenagers who grew up with that as their version of normal.

For every person who buys every collectors edition that comes out, pre-ordered for a day one purchase, who spends time every day on twitter to talk about games new and old, there are hundreds who play games who couldn’t give a shit about any of that. They’re the ones who keep the ball rolling (pun intended) for the FIFA series, who buy every Call of Duty game. Then a new sequel comes out, and they buy that and dispose of the previous one.

They’re the target market for this product. Not you obsessive sorts. Ultimately if you’re for some reason angry that a new, optional, version of a console is available, then it’s not been made for you. That goes double for those of you who “would never buy an Xbox anyway”.

7. The three games it comes with are on Game Pass – As are all Microsoft-published games, and a total of 200 games. So what. Stop clutching at straws to find a reason to hate this inconsequential object.

8. Xbox One SAD – Yeah… Xbox One S All-Digital…. someone dropped the ball on that one! At least it wasn’t called the Xbox One S Has 1 Terabyte, I suppose.

This wasn’t meant to be much more than a rant. I’m not particularly concerned either way about this New edition of the Xbox One. I’d definitely buy it and enjoy the £50 saving if my One S dies in the future. I am, however, somewhat triggered by a lot of what I’ve been reading on Twitter concerning it, and in particular the mental gymnastics that have been used to create reasons to hate an inanimate object that you could just, you know, not buy.

My Guitars

The main thing people that know me know about me is that I play guitar. I have done so since I was about 13, buying my first guitar in 1994, from a school friend called Lloyd Davies. I ended up taking the instrument a lot more seriously than a lot of my peers. I wasn’t necessarily better at it than many of them, but I was into it in a different way, happy to lose whole afternoons and weeks to practicing my favourite songs. Here is a list of all the guitars I ever owned. Because.

Photos to follow later. You know what a guitar looks like, surely.

Encore Stratocaster – The first. After trying my hand at various instruments – violin, trumpet, and piano – I’d been uninspired. I enjoyed the act of making music, but not on these instruments. Then one day my grandad said something that changed everything. “Your dad was always upset that you didn’t follow him in playing guitar.” Well, at this time of my life I was still quite into trying to impress my father, who’d left when I was ten. The idea fermented over the following weeks as I pestered my mum for a guitar. She was adamant, for reasons I’ll never understand, that I should start with an acoustic guitar. No mum, I want to play rock music. At the time I was heavily into Guns n Roses, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Sepultura, and Blur and Oasis were taking a lot of my time, so I needed an electric guitar.

It just happened that my friend Lloyd was also selling his Strat, and to cut a long story short I bought it, for around £100. It came with a hard case and a tiny Marshall amp and set me on a path I still follow.

The guitar itself was, frankly, a piece of shit. Starter guitars in the 1990s were not what they are now. This one was immensely heavy, had terrible pickups, and was not a joy to play. But I didn’t know that at the time, as I hadn’t played another. To me it was a thing of beauty. I ended up replacing it (as we’ll see in a moment), and donated it to a guy who fixed guitars up to give them to disadvantaged kids.

Gibson SG – The only real Gibson I ever owned, my dad gave me his old SG (and a Venom amplifier) on my 16th birthday. The only condition, he said, was that if I ever didn’t want it any more I was to return it to him, not sell it. It was wonderful. Cherry red, like 80% of SGs, this was a beautiful guitar. Fitted with a DiMarzio pickup in the bridge position, with a coil split switch wired in, it sounded perfect and helped me to realise my rockstar dreams – in front of my bedroom mirror at least.

It saw use in several gigs, all my early ones, and always got remarks from people who’d talk to me afterwards. Then my dad took it back, and I never saw it again.

Encore Acoustic Before I’d realised the Strat by the same company was a dog, I bought an acoustic guitar of the same brand. It too was a dog. But it was nice to play along to Oasis’ softer songs on the correct type of guitar. I remember the thicker strings would rub against each other by the tuning posts, such that it was impossible to perfectly tune the thing. It also sounded pretty harsh. But still, I enjoyed it for a while.

Epiphone Les Paul – Before the SG was gone, I bought the first nice guitar of my own. A Limited Edition Epiphone Les Paul, bought (and made) in 2000, in trans amber finish. It became known as the lesbian for reasons that made a lot more sense then than now. It remains my favourite of all my guitars, playing and sounding fantastic. It’s heavy (as Les Pauls tend to be), but once you get used to carrying the weight it is a pure joy. The frets are now worn, and to replace them costs silly money in Amsterdam so I’ll wait until I can take it elsewhere. Even after nineteen years of heavy use they’re not so worn as to make the instrument unplayable – I have newer guitars in worse shape.

This is the last possession I would sell, should it come to that.

Epiphone SG Gothic – Let’s be plain – I bought this for the matte black finish. It was also fairly inexpensive, so when I spotted it during one of my many browsing visits to the local guitar shop I had to have it. Unfortunately once the honeymoon period was over I was left with a guitar that didn’t sound too good, and that I wasn’t able to set up to a standard that matched my Les Paul, so it had to go. I did play a couple of “acoustic” sets with it (I only had that awful Encore acoustic guitar, so I used this instead) and it served its purpose before I sold it.

Epiphone Explorer Korina – Another Epiphone that I noticed hanging in the guitar shop one day. Similar enough to James Hetfield’s guitar, I had to have it, and I still do. I bought this one in 2004, and it is hanging right now next to my Les Paul. It got a lot of use in the mid-2000s, then when a new job (with shift work) ruined any serious band prospects it went unused for most of a decade, as its shape makes it not the easiest to sit down and jam. I did use it for one band rehearsal when I joined a new band in 2015, but the way it hangs made it uncomfortable for my ageing back. It’s a shame, because it sounds great, looks great, just isn’t comfortable for me any more. Still, I won’t sell it. It’s special.

John’s Bass – I was given a bass by the singer of my first ever band. He didn’t want it any more – he had little interest in the effort of getting good at it – so he passed it on to me. I didn’t care about bass at the time, so I passed it on again. The body of the bass had been sanded to bare wood, with flecks of paint remaining – the reason he gave me was that it was used by GWAR, and had been covered in nails (and blood). Whether or not this is true… it’s a fun story. Maybe I once owned a bass from GWAR.

Ibanez Acoustic – The money that I got for the Gothic SG paid for a new acoustic, in 2004, made by Ibanez. I bought it because it was the most expensive one in the shop that I could afford (I think it cost £220). It’s by no means a bad guitar, and with its slim body its easy to play, sounds ok, feels good to play. But lately I’ve been trying to record some songs with it and the sound is a bit harsh and hard to tame in post-processing, so it will be sidelined for something new when I find myself some funds. One that will likely be passed to my son when he’s old enough, and assuming he shows any interest.

Ibanez Jet King II – Eventually I acknowledged that to continue recording my songs I’d need a bass. Using an octave effect to lower my guitar signal wasn’t cutting it, and I was getting better at recording, so I bought the real deal. Because I had no serious intent to use the bass for anything but the most basic additions to my recordings I bought the cheapest bass in the shop, which happened to be this one because it was part of a clearance sale that reduced it below the price of the cheap, shitty basses. Its quite a decent instrument really, with a strong sound and non-standard looks. I don’t play it now, because I have much better options, but it sits in my cupboard waiting for me to fancy another go on it.

Dean Mustaine VMNT – This one was a 30th birthday present from myself to myself. I just fancied it, so ordered one online. The first time I’d ever bought a guitar without playing several options in the shop, but it worked out well. Totally different to anything I’d owned (or played) before, this is a proper Metal machine, as you might expect. A Dave Mustaine signature model, it bears the Rust in Peace album art across its front. When I ordered it I received a call a couple of days later telling me it wasn’t actually in stock and would take a couple of weeks to arrive from the distributor. Well, I wasn’t impressed. It wouldn’t be with me in time for my birthday! Happily for me, the guy on the phone accepted my suggestion that they drop the price from £1200 to £800 (the price of the next model down, that was in stock). Bargain. I like to play Metallica songs on it, just to imagine the idiots on the internet losing their minds.

Epiphone G-400 – Finally deciding it was time to replace my long-lost Gibson SG, and having had a lot of success with Epiphone guitars (ignoring that Gothic), I bought a new SG model of theirs. It was something of a moving present, arriving a few weeks before we left the UK for Amsterdam. It was used for almost every one of the 45 weekly songs I recorded in 2015, and remains my go to for a quick play at home, due to its light weight, comfortable play, and great sound (now that I upgraded the pick-ups!) Playing it proves to me how far cheap, asian-made guitars have come in the last two decades.

Fender Precision – A few months after I moved to Amsterdam I found the nerve to put myself out there and seek a band. It was only a few days before Harry called and told me that he wanted to meet me to discuss his plans. The first rehearsal with him and his friends I played guitar (see my Epiphone Explorer above), but it was clear from the start that his bassist wasn’t playing the same things we were, so he was asked not to come back. Without a bassist, I said I’d give it a go. Of course I felt I wanted something a bit nicer than my Ibanez Jet King II, and so I went browsing for something better, and came home with a Fender Precision. What a beast! A pivotal moment; I came to realise that after a couple of decades of being a guitarist, I’d been missing out on the absolute blast of being a bassist! It quickly took over from guitar for me, and until I started to put together my album a few months ago, bass was the only thing I was interested in. I got pretty good at it too, pretty quickly, to the point that I have been headhunted twice since, which is kinda cool.

Epiphone EB-0 – So the two year itch… that’s on average how long I’ve gone without buying a new guitar, and sure enough it came along again a year or so ago while I was browsing an online guitar shop. I didn’t really need anything, though I figured it would be wise to have a solid backup to my Precision should anything happen to it during a gig (not that I’ve gigged here yet, the bands never get that far!) I saw an EB-0 (an SG-styled bass) for only €220, so went to the physical shop to try it out. Within 3 minutes I knew it was the right choice for me. Like the equivalent electric guitar, it is lightweight, feels great in my hands, has a nice sound, and is well-put-together. And like its equivalent guitar, it’s my go to bass at home due to the comfort in use. It’s also a short-scale bass, with the neck and fret spacing feeling a lot closer to a guitar, making it easier to swap between the two. More proof that cheap guitars today are really worth considering.

Jackson Concert Minion – Another bass, and the last one that I bought, last summer. This one was more for a laugh than anything. I didn’t expect anything serious from it. 3/4 scale, it’s super easy to play, but super hard at the same time as the strings are looser than they should be, and it doesn’t like to stay in tune. The small headstock also houses full-sized tuning pegs, which means that they hit each other during each turn! Still, a fun thing and it’s the only instrument I keep downstairs with a small amp for when I fancy a quick go. Not terrible, but not particularly good. I may look at Jackson though for my next serious bass, as the overall quality is more than decent.

Epiphone Hummingbird – I don’t own this yet, but I’m going to look at it tomorrow. My love for Epiphone is real, and so now I’m in the market for a decent acoustic guitar they are the obvious choice for something with a good price and excellent build quality. The reviews for this one are universally excellent, and whilst I tend to take user reviews with a handful of salt (especially when they all use the same tired words and phrases that don’t really mean anything), there’s one available in the local shop for me to test out, so that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow!

Thanks for reading. Mine is a modest collection by many standards, though it does equate to one guitar every 1.8 years of playing, which is maybe a few too many! But what I’m left with today is a solid collection of fantastic instruments that make me smile, and really that’s what’s important.

New Album!

PayThePiper

You may know I’m quite into my music – creating it as well as listening to it. I’ve been playing guitar for some 25 years and writing songs for most of that time. Finally I got the nerve to publish an album, which can be found on Various streaming services, with more on the way. I’m also awaiting approval from iTunes for those who prefer to pay once and “own” it.

It’s unashamedly punk, and half the songs tackle social issues as I see them. The others just bounce along happily, giving my angry side a rest.

THIS LINK will give you a list of all the options, updated as the album is approved on new ones, so whatever your platform of choice (Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play, Deezer and others), you will be able to have a listen.

And I’d very much appreciate it.

Thanks 😀