Clint Smith @ TED

This. A spoken word piece by Clint Smith—How to raise a black son in America. Really powerful… Unconscious bias can be deadly. #BlackLivesMatter

NZ MTB: Getting my bike to NZ

First up, why take the bike at all? NZ is well setup for hire bikes, esp. around Rotorua, and I did consider this as an option. However, I’ve hired bikes twice in the past and have found them to be lacking (low quality and in lower states of repair than I’m comfortable with). I also have a reasonably high spec bike (a Specialized Epic Carbon Comp) and I wanted to take advantage of that. Especially as some good MTB mates, who are a lot fitter than I am, warned me about the climbs in NZ.

My trusty steed—Specialised Epic Carbon Comp

Lastly, I was planning on riding unfamiliar trails, and expecting to do a lot of climbing and spending a lot of time in the saddle (riding at least a couple of hours 7 out of the 10 days of the trip) so wanted something I could be confident on, that climbed well, and that I knew would be comfortable.

Speaking to the folks at PlanetBike while I was over there, they made that point that if you’re travelling to do MTB, take your bike. If you’re travelling to do holidays, and happen to want to do a ride or two while over there, hire. I think this is wise advice. I the end I’m glad I made the decision—having my own ride made the whole experience more enjoyable and I definitely benefited from taking my own ride.

Flight bag

Some time ago, I spotted my good friend Ashley had been using a flight bag for transporting his bike when travelling between Perth and Brisbane (and overseas). He recommended I check out the Evoc bike travel bag and after I’d checked out a few (positive) reviews, I managed to picked up a good deal through Wiggle (unfortunately it seems Wiggle aren’t currently stocking them).

I also estimated the combined weight of bike and bag to work out luggage costs etc. I used the old trick first weighing myself on a set of scales, then weighing myself holding the bike. I added this to the weight noted in the specs for the bike bag. It was close to the 23kg limit for standard luggage, so I was hopeful the specs weren’t out by too much. In the end, all packed the bike+bag came in 500g under the 23kg limit.

The bag was easy to assemble and quite robust. You have to disassemble parts of your bike—taking the wheels and pedals off, and releasing the handlebars from the stem—which took me a little while the first time around. But I was a lot quicker repacking the bike on my return.

My bike and luggage at the train station

This meant I chose to take some grease for screw threads and the like, and also a torque wrench (mine is very similar to this) as I was concerned about cracking the Thomson X4 stem. (I’d read reports/horror stories and wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake).

Even though the airline had indicated a $120 oversize luggage fee would apply, in the end I wasn’t charged that for either outbound or return flights. I’m not sure if that would be the case had I come in over the 23kg mark.

The wheels and well designed handles on the bag made it relatively easy to transport around trains, cabs and the airport.

Taking a bike through customs

Another good friend and regular MTB co-rider, Mark, had travelled with their bike recently and reminded me that you need to clean up any dirt and mud off your bike and shoes before travelling to clear customs.

So after my last ride before leaving I got out my Green Clean bike cleaner and bicycle brush and gave it a really thorough clean up. I took the opportunity also to do a degrease.

The Evoc bag made it really easy to show the wheels of the bike, which is mainly what the customs officers was interested in (these are packed to the side of the bag, and have their own access zips/pockets. (This design also provides additional protection to the frame.) The customs officer also wanted to check my shoes as well—and I realised after I got there I’d packed them at the bottom of my bag… Lesson learnt and on the return trip I made sure they were more accessible.

Bass inspiration (in unexpected places)

I was listening to some LPs the other night, and was reminded of some inspiring bass players that had a big influence on me as I was learning to play, especially through my teenage years. Some of them are quite well known amongst my musician friends (not just other bass players)—people like Flea, Jaco Pastorius, John Pattitucci—these are the players likely to end up on the cover of Bass Player magazine. But it struck me that some of these players are probably far less well known. So I thought I’d like to put forward a few of their names here, paying my respects to their influence and inspiration.

Guy Pratt

I first became aware of Guy’s playing on Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder tour. My friend Ashley and I used to watch this ad-nauseum when we came home from school (on good old fashioned VHS video). I was completely blown away by Guy’s playing—grooves, fills, attitude (see Guy’s dual vocal on Run Like Hell, for example)—loved it all. I recently re-listened to this album (on iTunes) and noticed just how well Guy holds the grooves together even in spots where the drums aren’t quite as great as I remembered them being! Really made that rhythm section work I think. The groove on Money was a great take on this 7/4 gem, really updating it to the time. And I can still (almost) sing along to Guy’s solo—the melodic sensibility to it was so strong, and made such an impression, that I can still remember the key phrasing years later.

As I dug deeper into Guy’s background I discovered he was also responsible for the bottom end on early albums from another of my favourite bands growing up—Icehouse. And also for a number of tracks on Madonna’s Like a Prayer. Listen to the title track from the second chorus—despite the synth-like effect on the bass sound there are some tell-tale Guy Pratt licks and fills in there suggesting that it’s his handiwork. Some great groove work as the mood shifts to a more gospel-inspired lines. (And proves you can find bass inspiration in some unlikely places!)

Curt Smith

Curt is one half of Tears for Fears, as well as a solo artist nowadays. While I got into Tears for Fears’ hit tracks when I was very young (I remember listening to my brother’s copy of Songs from the Big Chair in a hotel room in Hong Kong when he bought our family’s first CD player on holiday when I was about 10 years old), it was the bass playing on The Seeds of Love that really blew me away. I note that Pino Palladino is co-credited with bass playing duties on this album—but I have a live DVD where Curt plays pretty much every cut on the album with great confidence and skill. The phat grooves on tracks like Woman in Chains and Badman’s Song, or the sublime fills in Standing on the Corner of the Third World—gives me goosebumps thinking about them!

Nick Seymour

If you’re anything like me, you may not overtly notice Nick Seymour’s understated playing in Crowded House’s catalogue. But the minute you scratch beneath the surface it becomes apparent how integral his parts and playing are to the success of that band. The melodicism of Nick’s playing is just wonderful—there’s rarely a “straight” groove in amongst those songs, even when it would be easy to fall into one. There’s always a twist and a quirk, and the interplay with Neil Finn’s vocal melodies is always a delight.

Joe Creighton

Joe Creighton played bass for John Farnham for many years both in his touring and recording band. (Yes, I was a fan of John Farnham when I was younger…) I probably need to credit Joe as being a key inspiration in picking up the bass in the first place—I distinctly remember watching one of Farnham’s massive tours in the late 80s/early 90s and hearing Reasons come across the TV and seeing Joe on stage and thinking “That’s what I want to do!” (I have since, of course, worked out that it was David Hirschfelder who was responsible for that line, which is predominantly synth bass, but that’s by the by.) There’s some great playing on Farnham’s album (especially once he got beyond the synth-driven tracks). I had the pleasure of sitting in on a master class with Joe when I was at uni, and he was such a humble voice, wonderful musician and very generous with his knowledge from years of playing. So on a personal level, even just that one meeting had a big influence on me also.

Lloyd Swanton

I heard Lloyd’s playing for the first time on a late night ABC gig with Vince Jones. I don’t know the name of the show, where it was (I recall it being the Basement, but my memory ain’t all that great for such things). He pulled out a solo on one of the tracks that night that had me completely enthralled. Another of those moments where I thought “That’s what I want to do!”, though this time wanting to get more into upright bass playing (which I did a bit of at uni, but still have that same feeling “I want to do more of that…” but never seem to actually do). Lloyd was another person I got to see in a masterclass session at uni when he was touring with his band The Catholics. Another down-to-earth, very generous player. In hindsight, I think I aspired more to the ideal/idea of being a player like Lloyd, an ideal that I’d built up in my head—the mystique of that gig on ABC TV, the Basement etc. It did spur me to get a copy of It All Ends up in Tears (featuring Steve Hadley on bass) which included the track Jettison—which would have to be one of my top 5 favourite tracks of all time.

Pino Palladino

Pino Palladino has actually appeared on the cover of Bass Player, and is pretty well known in bass circles at least. But I feel it worth mentioning him because he’s not really a “household name”, as it were.

Pino is a leading session musician and probably appears on more tracks than I actually realise (including his surprising appearance on Nine Inch Nails’ latest, Hesitation Marks). But it was his wonderful fretless playing with Paul Young that first caught my ear. He’s also co-credited on The Seeds of Love by Tears for Fears, so there’s a very high likelihood that some of the passages I love from that album came via Pino’s hands.

I was a fretless player for many years—I had a fretless electric bass as my primary instrument through the latter part of high school and early university—so I was totally inspired by the lyricism of Pino’s playing and the interplay between the low-end melodies he put together in support of great vocalists.


Sting, of course, is probably a household name in many parts, but is mostly renowned as a vocalist and songwriter (perhaps his last few albums notwithstanding :\). Of course, as the bass player with the Police, he was also responsible for some of the most iconic basslines of the late 70s and 80s. From the reggae-inspired Walking on the Moon to the grounding rising chordal outline that introduced Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. It is this combination of bass in support of the song—in some cases it is the song—that was most influential on me. How a simple shift in the root note underneath a guitar part utterly transforms the mood and intent. I really dug this “driving from the back seat” approach.

Sting handed over bass playing duties to the ever capable Darryl Jones for his first two solo efforts, but picked up the instrument again for Soul Cages and beyond. To me, the standout album for his bass playing is Ten Summoners Tales where he paired up with the monstrous Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Check out their rock-solid interplay on the odd time signature Love is Stronger than Justice (The Munificent Seven) for just one example.

Paul McCartney

Another famous singer-songwriter, of course Paul McCartney was also an accomplished bass player. I can’t tell you one track that really inspired or influenced me directly. But the number of times someone has commented to me over the years that “You must really be into McCartney?”, in reference to the melodic aspects of my playing in particular, he has to have had a big influence. If only indirectly through all of the players he has inspired that in turn have inspired me. A common thread through all of the players above is a melodicism on the bass—this is no doubt a result of the effect McCartney’s playing has had on musicians across the decades since the Beatles first took off.

Where did Subaru’s design go?

Ang and I have been tossing around the idea of getting a new car soon. We’re not actively in the market, but enough so that I started to look around at what’s available at the moment.

I have a couple of friends that have (second hand) Subarus, so I thought I’d check out the current range, only to be very disappointed. There are a number of great looking Subaru’s out there, but the current range look terrible. They seem to have lost their way some time around 2006/2007.

The New XV holds a little bit of promise (provided you like orange — which I do), but apart from that, I have trouble telling the Forester, Outback and Tribeca apart, and they all look very ordinary — I’m not sure which market segment they were targeting exactly, but they seem to have missed the mark terribly. This is from the company that developed the WRX and Impreza, which are now just shadows of their former glory.

Contrast this with Mazda’s appealing KODO design language across the range. This is a wonderful example of how to translate a design and brand concept across a wide variety of products, to great effect I think. Most directly look at the Tribeca compared to the CX-7. Yes, they are probably very different cars, but I think are compatible in intent/market (certainly they come across that way to a lay-person like myself). The CX-7 is not the most attractive vehicle in the fleet, and given the form factor was probably very difficult to translate the KODO design to. But the CX-7 has so much more character than the Subaru.

So, if we do go ahead and get a new (for us) car, I think we’ll be skipping the Subarus and looking elsewhere. At best, we’ll keep our search to pre-2007 models. Much as I would love to go on those fab recommendations from friends, the lack of good design is just too much to skip over…

LiPo battery primer

One of the things I’ve had to learn afresh since getting the HPI Bullet is how to manage LiPo (Lithium Polymer) batteries. They are quite a different beast to the old NiCads I was used to.

I’d read a few things about having to condition the batteries and running them in, but it seemed the jury was out as to whether or not that was required. I even got conflicting advice from the store where I bought the car.

I was surprised to find that I was unable to find a “LiPo 101” that wasn’t RC plane-specific, so I wanted to document what I’ve learnt in case it’s of assistance to someone else who’s just starting out with their own LiPo powered RC car — more after the jump.


Best movies (in 2010)

In putting together my Top 5 album list it got me thinking about the few good movies that I came across this year.  When I was thinking back, there weren’t that many standouts to be honest, which perhaps is in part a reflection of fact I didn’t get to see as many movies as I would have liked this year.  But still, there were some noteworthy additions…

Avatar: the plot for this film was terrible, but just for the imagery and technological marvel alone it gets number one spot for me.  It was the only film that prompted repeat viewings (3 times — all in 3D, once at IMAX).  I don’t know that I want it on DVD as it was in part the immersion into James Cameron’s wonderful 3D world, at cinema scale, that really grabbed me.

Inception: this was such a wonderfully crafted film.  I loved the premise and it was excellently executed.  I’m a fan of Leonardo Di Caprio’s abilities, but despite excellent performances in the past few films I’ve seen him in (The Departed, Blood Diamond, Body of Lies, Shutter Island), his casting has left me a bit out of sorts — for some reason the characters just seemed to have been a misfit, this one included.  However, the strength of performance (across the cast), fantastic script and great execution (the visual effects are mostly very effective as a storytelling device, rather than for the sake of them) really made up for any such misgivings to land this in my top 5.

The King’s Speech: I admittedly only saw this film the other night (a day or two after the new year kicked in), but I figured it worth including in last years’ list as it was released then and I’d only missed it by a few days.  It was great to see a great character driven piece with exceptional performances by all of the headline actors.

The Hurt Locker: another one I was late to get to see (originally released in 2008), I finally got this out on DVD and had the opportunity to see what all the hype was about.  A tremendous film — terrifically shot to provide a real sense of being close to the action/character with great performances across the board, but especially by Jeremy Renner.

The Social Network: I want to preface this one by saying I didn’t actually want to go and see this film due to the subject matter being so close to my profession, but the hype around the director and screenwriter pushed me over the line, and I must admit it was an excellent film — but very much, in my mind, a work of fiction.  The dialogue was fast-paced and witty (though clearly not based in reality).  And for the filmmakers to turn such dry material into such a great piece of cinema deserves due credit.  However, I was left wondering at the end of the film how much was real and how much was “creative license”, especially after hearing on two separate occasions how far from reality Justin Timberlake’s entertaining portrayal of Sean Parker was.  I would also recommend reading Lawrence Lessig’s critique of the meta-story in the film also.

As with my music Top 5, I found myself with two “notable mentions” in this category also:

Tron Legacy: I want to love this film, but I’m not sure I can.  I will see whether it is a grower (I will watch it again on DVD).  I love that we get to continue the previous story which has become such a cult hit.  I loved the visuals.  But it felt a little too heavily derivative of The Matrix in many parts, and I felt it also suffered a little from the same problems of Star Wars Episode I — the plot filling in gaps between fast-paced, high-effects action sequences.  For whatever reason, though, it didn’t resonate with me as a classic.  I read Andy Carvin’s review on NPR and I agree with a lot of what he says as driving the success of the film at the box office.  However, Legacy fails to inspire the same creativity and action that he describes for a new generation, so I think in the long run it will remain relevant mostly for fans of the original.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: we got this out for laughs over the Christmas break (at the recommendation of my hairdresser of all things) and I can’t help but like the film.  It is ridiculous and fun.  It has a unique visual style that I find quite appealing.  It’s the sort of film I feel like I shouldn’t like, but I did.  Your mileage may vary. (Update: Scott Zoller Seitz’s take over at Slate was an interesting read…)

Initial impressions of the HPI Bullet 3.0 ST Flux

This post is a bit of a departure from the usual fair on this blog, but I wanted to document my experiences as there seems to be a dearth of information around about the radio control car I recently bought — the HPI Bullet 3.0 ST Flux.  My wife Ang took this great snap of it in action:

HPI Bullet 3.0 ST Flux on dirt

I haven’t had an RC car since I was a teenager (I had a Tamiya Frog which I’d modified pretty heavily by the time I’d finished with it, and an ill-fated Mugen Mercury) so I’ve spent a bit of time “re-learning” with regards to maintenance etc.

For this post I’m not going to go over what’s in the kit — there are some good reviews already around for that.  Instead, over the jump I go into more detail on the learnings I’ve made in use, perhaps providing some insight into what other owners might expect if they get a Bullet Flux themselves.


Long time, no write…

It’s been ages since I’ve written here. Combination of factors – partly because I’ve been busy with work and other things (more on that in a second), but also because I’ve not really had a clear idea what I wanted Synapse Chronicles to be.

A lot of my writing energy (and any spare time) has been going into the Zumio blog, particularly given the convergence of my personal and professional interests. Any small notes and pointers have ended up on my Delicious feed (and there have been issues with the Delicious re-publishing process I setup to get those on the blog) or Twitter. And with Fuzu now finished up, I’ve not really had much to talk about even on the music front.

Over the weekend, however, I realised that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and exploring – especially about my career direction – but I’ve really missed the opportunity to talk about it. I’ve felt compelled to write about only fully formed thoughts on the Zumio blog, and that mentality has carried over to here.

So, I’ve updated the tagline now to read “Thoughts loading… Processing…” to reboot my own conception of what this blog is about in the hope that small conceptual shift will loosen the writing process and allow me the mental space I need to write a bit more freely about what’s going on.

I’m certainly not promising anything, but let’s see how that goes…

Synapse sparks (19-Oct-2009 through 17-Nov-2009)

  • Nau Pop-Up Shop Is Serious About Sustainability – One of my fave sustainably-minded companies, Nau, opens its first retail store since it scaled back operations – and in typically high-sustainability style…
  • John Quiggen: Privatisation debunked – Economist John Quiggen debunks the Queensland Government's arguments for privatisation.
  • The Big Green Idea – The British Council have launched a $10,000 grant for a "big green idea".
  • Emissions trading: Auctioning permits vs giving them away – David Jeffery answers one of my questions about giving away permits to high-polluters as part of the emissions trading scheme. While it seems my hypothesis is incorrect about the lack of incentive for polluters to act, giving the permits away is still a bad thing…
  • Climate (and other) change – Awesome post by Duncan at Digital Eskimo for Blog Action Day – says everything that I wanted to so, just more eloquently…

These links come from my Delicious feed.

Synapse sparks (05-Oct-2009 through 15-Oct-2009)

These links come from my Delicious feed.