No pressure!

Pressure gauge

It’s amazing the things that we get worked up about as human beings; we put so much energy into fretting about things that we have no control over, or which will never happen anyway. That said, that realisation was no comfort to me on Wednesday as I prepared to visit Ninewells Hospital in Dundee for my first renal clinic appointment since moving.

I was nervous. I was very nervous. Over the last few years my blood pressure has got higher and higher as I’ve got more and more stressed about life, the universe and everything. It didn’t help that I didn’t get on terribly well with my renal doctor. She’d shout at me and that really didn’t help me in the slightest.

In the end I wrote and complained and asked to see another doctor, and the consultant I saw was lovely, and listened and it made such a difference. However, my BP was still frighteningly high. Way back in February when I last visited the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for my sixth-monthly renal appointment my blood pressure was a massive 180/96.

My new consultant told me in no uncertain terms to change my job. “Your job is killing you,” she said, and wasn’t using that as a turn of phrase or a euphemistic expression, she really meant it.

And just as she had listened to me, I listened to her and did what she said. I secured this job at the University of St Andrews, and moved to Fife. And on Wednesday my blood pressure read 136/89. That’s almost normal!

Isn’t God good.

To err is Microsoft

This evening while uninstalling Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 I got this alert message:

Error message that says The following application should be closed ... but shows no applications!

Erm… which applications? Install?!

Later on I was pulling out my hair (what there is left of it) trying to work out why my Mozilla Firefox document icons had disappeared from all .html and .htm files.

Thanks to my friend James he found the solution on Bugzilla, which involved a bit of Windows Registry jiggery-pokery.

Turns out that it had something to do with a Microsoft Office-related entry messing with the Firefox settings for handling HTML files. Bah!

My new treble booster pedal sounds sweet!

Pete Cornish TB-83 Treble Boost guitar pedal
Pete Cornish TB-83 Treble Boost guitar pedal. Sadly I don’t have one of these, though.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved Brian May’s guitar tone. That unique combination of his fingers, his homemade guitar (the Red May Special, famously built by Brian and his dad Harold out of amongst other things an old oak fireplace and a blackboard), a wall of legendary Vox AC30 amplifiers, an old English sixpence as a pick, and a treble booster (TB) pedal.

While I have a TB built into the Vox Brian May Special (‘Deackie’) amp during the last season of Powerpoint (a monthly Christian youth event in Edinburgh) for some reason beyond my current understanding I was getting an earth loop-related buzz from the Vox TB. I wondered if using a separate, non-mains pedal might solve the problem.

However, the only problem there is that treble booster pedals are generally rather expensive. BOSS (who manufacture a fine range of very reasonably-priced and top-quality guitar effects pedals) don’t make one, and the best ones are hand-built by guitar effects gurus like Pete Cornish and Greg Fryer. The TB-83 from Pete Cornish, for example, costs £190.55, the TB-83 Extra (pictured above) weighs-in at £242.66; the Greg Fryer versions are comparable.

So it was with delight this week that I won an eBay auction for this guitar treble booster built into an Altoids traditional sweetie tin:

Treble booster built into an Altoids tin
My new handmade treble booster built into an Altoids tin.

From the outside it looks much like any other Altoids Tangerine Sours tin, except that on the side there are two 1/4″ jack inputs, and the ‘O’ in ‘ALTOIDS’ now has a small green LED poking through the tin lid.

There is no on/off switch, as such. This works like many other stomp boxes, including my Zoom 504II (acoustic pedal): it is powered on when a cable is plugged into it, and off where there is not. Quite simple, really.

Opening up the tin reveals the back-ends of the jack inputs, a small tangle of wires and a collection of resistors, capacitors, diodes and a potentiometer neatly affixed to a board. The electronics are insulated from the base of the tin by some cunningly placed white stickers, and the 9V battery is separated by a thin length of card.

It’s a genius idea, and not only does it sound great — the best bit is that I secured it for a bargin-tastic US$16.10 (GBP £8.85) plus P&P from the USA. It arrived this morning. I excitedly set up my Brian May guitar / Vox amp combination and plugged in the Altoids treble booster, and did a quick and dirty A/B comparison between it and the treble booster built into the Vox Brian May ‘Deackie’ amp.

I was delighted that it sounded great, although initially I was a little disappointed that the Altoids TB didn’t boost quite as much as the Vox … until I discovered the potentiometer hidden inside the Altoids tin and after giving it a little tweak with a screwdriver: perfect!

Next, I added my BOSS NS-2 Noise Suppressor to the equation, which cut out the hiss from my amp — I have the Gain, Volume and Master Volume all turned up to 10! As well the neighbours know!

I’m really looking forward to using it live now. But it has also fascinated me about how it works, and made me wonder: could I build my own? Now, where’s my Maplin catalogue?

Waiting for the Summer

Delirious? single cover for Wainting for the Summer

Was that it? Where has the summer gone? Have I slept through it, or has it not begun yet? The first thing I did this morning was switch on the heating and make myself a bowl of porridge (or ‘porage’).

I’m no meteorologist or geographer but I’m sure I remember from my school lessons that in the UK summer is the warm season that stretches gloriously from April/May to August/September. Is this yet another thing that the EU have changed the rules for and not told the rest of us? Or is it just because I live in Scotland?

Drive-by album scenes

Each morning as I drive the 10 miles or so to St Andrews I pass a scene that reminds me, every time without fail, of a Pink Floyd album cover. Can you guess which cover it is?

Pink Floyd cover for Animals shows Battersea Power Station

If you were thinking Animals, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. Battersea Power Station is in London, not on the B9131 between Anstruther and St Andrews. Maybe you were thinking of the Secret Bunker.

Pink Floyd cover for Dark Side of the Moon shows a prism

And it’s not Dark Side of the Moon, either. As lovely as it would be to live in the dark, vacuumous emptiness of space it would make my commute in the morning rather less practical. Not to mention the environmental hazard that that would cause with me blasting into space every evening. Round about tea time.

Do you give up? It is of course Atom Heart Mother.

Pink Floyd album cover for Atom Heart Mother showing a cow. In a field.

Pink Floyd’s weirdy-beardy album from 1970 — the year before I was born — Atom Heart Mother featuring a picture of a cow. In a field. Just like all the cows. In the fields. On the B9131 from Anstruther to St Andrews.

I love milk.