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Guitar shop bullying

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I went to Allans Music Store today in search of an acoustic guitar. My Cort was never that good anyway, and one of the tuning things at the top has broken off, and I can’t tune my D-string anymore. It’s heartbreaking. I’m aiming to spend around $AU1000, and found a beautiful Maton for about $AU1100. I was only playing it for a few minutes, while the (really helpful but very nervous and apparently new) salesguy had gone off to help someone else. There’s little more enjoyable than playing with instruments way more expensive than you’re used to, and I was have a great time. Until another salesguy came along with two electric guitars. He said to me, “Sorry, mate, but can you help me with something?”

I nodded eagerly, because I always feel vaguely guilty for sitting there and playing their instruments. “Trying to tell the difference between these two guitars.” He proceeded to plug one in, turn the amp up loud and shred. I was suitably impressed, and listened to him jack off one guitar before he did the same with the other. I told him which sound I preferred, and then he repeated the procedure a total of three times and kept looking at me. I had no idea what I was supposed to say or do. I told him as much, and he said “The clarity! On the first pick-up!” as I sat their silent, sadly rubbing my now-beloved and now-silent Maton.

I had no idea if he was trying to annoy me or genuinely asking me because he thought I’d help. Thankfully my sales attendant came back and asked if I needed any help. The shredding guy was like “Oh, sorry, Paul.” And then turned the amp up louder and continued to meedleey-meedley his way up and down what ever pentatonic-mixolydian-minor-diminished (yeah, what?) scale he was playing. Paul gave me a look and we both walked off to talk somewhere else quieter. I’m still confused by it, but I think maybe it was some form of sales guy bullying? Kinda surreal.

Anyway, Paul said he’d match any price I find, so hopefully I’ll get that beautiful guitar for $1000. Speaking of acoustic guitars, here are three awesome clips of Queens of the Stone Age playing live acoustic versions of their new songs. Hopefully worth watching even for non-fans.

Written by atroche

April 22, 2008 at 11:46 pm

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Political Compass

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It’s hard to quantify political beliefs, but of anything I’ve seen the Political Compass does a pretty good job. Eschewing the vague left-right paradigm, it adds a third dimension: authoritarian/libertarian. The test presents to you a large number of statements from six different categories and asks you to rate the extent to which you agree with them. Examples include “I’d always support my country, whether it was right or wrong” and “the rich are too highly taxed”. At the end, it generates a graph for you.

I first did the test about five years ago, and I was really surprised to see that I’ve since then moved further left and down – I really thought that I’d mellowed in a lot of leftist views. Maybe my ideas of it are different to the creators of the test (and I’m sure theirs are more correct seeing I’ve never really done any in-depth political science study.)

Anyway, here’s how I scored:

It’s further left and down than Gandhi and very close to Nelson Mandela.

They also have reference graphs (approximated, obviously) of the main candidates of the 2008 US Primaries and the Australian political parties. Depressingly, they’re generally all very far from the green quadrant – maybe this is because their scores are based on actions and not just beliefs. I’m sure mine would look a bit different if I had to make practical decisions everyday and not just hold ideals.

Written by atroche

April 21, 2008 at 11:06 am

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Ten Things You Should Know About LSD

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  1. If you enjoy orgasms, you might enjoy the effects of LSD or “acid”. Acid simulates the effects of serotonin, endorphins and many of the other chemicals in your brain that make you elated and pleasured. It increases the pathways between sensory areas in your brain, meaning you can sometimes quite literally see sounds or listen to the feelings your skin receives. Though it can’t be explained neurochemically, acid trippers often report feeling a mix of dreamy beneficence and sage-like wisdom – along with complete control of mental and physical faculties. In simple terms, it feels amazing, encourages thinking and makes you love everyone.
  2. LSD is non-toxic. Unlike alcohol, cigarettes and cannabis, LSD doesn’t damage your body. A drinking session is worse for your brain than concussion, and smoking will make you die early, but LSD will only leaving you feeling a little bit tired and worn out the next day. In fact, despite the widespread availability of acid in the 60s (when it was legal), there has never been a case of confirmed overdose. It’s a shame, then, that it has a street name as destructive and corrosive as acid.
  3. First synthesised in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman, LSD was ignored because it didn’t produce the response they were searching for in rats. Years later, when Hoffman absorbed a little bit through his skin, he felt “funny and slightly intoxicated”. The next day, he gave himself what he thought would be a small dose and rode his bike home. On the way, he believed that he was able to stop time and that Albert Einstein was running alongside him. Even though he was startled by what was happening, he’s said in various interviews that he had never felt better in his life. In his 1980 book on LSD, he describes it as “medicine for the soul”.
  4. Many drugs take a gram or two to be effective. Generally, tabs – little squares of blotter paper which have been soaked in LSD – contain only 100-200 millionths of a gram each. One tab is enough to send someone off on an intense trip of euphoria and hallucinations, lasting up to 12 hours. Due to its incredible potency, LSD is not something to be taken lightly: it’s usually an all-day (or all-night!) affair.
  5. Addiction is a destructive, overpowering and awful side effect of many drugs; illicit and otherwise. As it happens, LSD is physically non-addictive. Heroin and nicotine, for example, both hurt an addict until he satisfies his cravings. It doesn’t take long with those drugs before the user is truly dependent. LSD is as addictive as, say, the television – the only thing compelling you to do it again is that you want to, and not that you need to.
  6. Ironically, most of the scientific research done on LSD was sponsored by the US Army and the CIA in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Project “MKULTRA” was a decade-long attempt to find a drug which could act as a mind-control device, at one point receiving 8% of the CIA’s sizeable budget. One of the thousands of test subjects was Ken Kasey, author of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”. With his friends, Kasey stole large stores of acid and drove around the USA in a psychedelically coloured bus. They called themselves the “Merry Pranksters” and gave LSD to anyone who’d try it.
  7. Because it’s so potent, producing a huge quantity of doses requires only a small amount of chemicals. As such, LSD is cheap. If you measured it in the extent to how strongly it affects you, and how long it lasts for, there is nothing that compares in price. Unfortunately for Australians, most of our acid is manufactured overseas. However, a few friends could go on a very interesting journey (or “trip”, if you will) for the cost of a case of Coronas.
  8. Even though acid produces extreme euphoria, its astounding potency needs to be respected. It affects different people in different ways, and the environment and circumstances in which you do LSD shape how your trip will turn out – each one is unique. A bad trip can come about as the result of being in scary, ugly or angry situations – the love and acceptance you feel for those around you brings down mental barriers, which is both a blessing and a curse. You feel incredible empathy with other people, but it can be distressing to feel someone else’s pain and frustration.
  9. Ensure that you are doing LSD in a place where you’re comfortable, with people that you love (or at least like!) and who are happy. Music is a delight to listen to – make a playlist of your favourite songs, but also try to play some you wouldn’t normally listen to. Anything moving or colourful will attract your attention, try renting a book of art from the library or watching the iTunes visualiser while you listen to music. If you play an instrument or draw or paint, you’ll find your skills won’t leave you and it can be wonderful to play or create even simple things.
  10. Acid has had a big impact on pop culture because of what it can do for creativity. The Beatles were adamant advocates, and their song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” captures beautifully the dreamy, vibrant world of a trip. Paul McCartney in particular believed it “opened his eyes” and was humanity’s best chance of “ending famine, war and poverty”. Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World”, wrote two whole books on the subject of psychedelics and had his wife inject him with acid on his death bed. Other proponents range from Hunter S. Thompson to The Doors to Stephen Fry! Unlike, cocaine or heroin, LSD is a drug which celebrities don’t seem to regret taking.

Written by atroche

April 20, 2008 at 5:34 am

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Compulsory National Youth Service

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This if from an article I wrote for Farrago, I think it comes out in the last issue of the semester. Not sure if I really believe in what I’m saying, just wanted to explore the idea.


Many countries around the world call upon their young men and women to serve the country or the community when they come of age. In Israel, this means being in the Army for a few years, while in Denmark it could mean helping with disaster relief. Proponents of the system argue that it builds discipline and character and that it is a way of giving back to the society that has provided for you for nearly twenty years. Detractors argue that it’s a waste of effort in peacetime, or even go as far as to say it’s a way for the Government to brainwash future citizens. We’ve never had any non-wartime compulsory service in Australia, but perhaps it’s time we at least considered the benefits that such a system could bring.

Rather than just becoming recruits and learning how to shoot things, 18-year-olds could work for the emergency services, non-profit and charity organisations or fill Government-administered jobs in the education or public health sectors. The effects of this would be widespread and significant: increased general involvement in the community, experience and much-needed responsibility for the youth, a lessening of the financial burden on the Government (and hence taxpayers) and aid to the consistently marginalised sectors of society. Even if each 18-year-old only served for one year each, that’d be a consistent labour force of around 150,000 people. The imagination is the only limit to how this force could be put to use to solve the problems our society currently faces.

Charity and non-profit-organisations could make applications to the controlling body of the National Australia Youth Service (NAYS) and argue their case for how they’re helping the community. There are thousands of charities in Australia helping the poor, the sick or even the environment. They all have one thing in common, however: each is desperate for more hands on deck. It could be Red Cross asking for a staff of thousands of young men and women to help collect blood donations, maybe a foundation planting native trees in areas suffering from intense salinity or perhaps a tiny soup kitchen in Fitzroy which need helpers for the morning rush of homeless. The shortage of worthy work will never be an issue.

The allocation of young people to the required tasks will be based on their physical ability, high-school results, interests, prior experience and location. Also under consideration will be whether or not they need to be provided for while doing their work – or if their family can support them easily. Obviously, cases for exemption will be heard, but there aren’t many reasons why someone can’t help the community and some way. Penalties for refusing service will have to be strict to ensure the system isn’t just laughed at or ignored. The option given to 18-year-olds would be: spend a year helping your community or spend that same year in a jail cell. The Government could make sure that the tertiary educators allow everyone to defer their course selection for that same year. The system of National Youth Service has worked for many decades in South Korea, Singapore, Austria, Norway and many other countries around the world – there’s no reason why we couldn’t pull it off too.

Not to say that its implementation will be smooth or in any way easy. It can be expected that many kids with grand plans for the future (and their parents) will be outraged at the disruption. There might be protests or even some early resistors (who will presumably relent when they see the hungry look in their cellmate’s eyes) – but there’s always friction in the change of a system. It’s not that hard to plan a gap year, so many already do it. A far bigger problem will be ensuring that during the year the young adults put in effort and thought to what they’re doing. Poor attendance and shoddy work will be rewarded with a downward shift towards harder, more menial tasks. This will allow those who give it a real go to move upwards into more rewarding places. The final straw in extreme cases for not doing the job they’re supposed to could, again, be imprisonment. As for the costs in administering the system, these would surely be outweighed by the reduction in financial strain that will occur in Government sectors when primary school gardeners and hospital receptionists alike are working for free.

A commonly asked question will be “Why should I have to spend a year of my time helping others when I could be earning money or studying?” Basically, because the work you will do will improve the lives of those in your community more than you could possibly imagine, and in doing so broaden your horizons as you interact with elements of society with whom you have never had any real contact before. Working at high-responsibility jobs alongside people who didn’t go to your high school, are in a distant economic bracket or follow a different religion will help to bring down some of the very real barriers in the community – the barriers that lead to the ignorance about the growing homeless population on our streets or even to the Cronulla riots.

Our society is constantly becoming more selfish and insular at a time when we increasingly need to consider the problems in our society and how to fix them. A compulsory youth service scheme will force every generation to confront bigger issues than how they can get a job at KPMG in record time, or who is being eliminated from American Idol. The only reason problems like poverty, sickness and increasing carbon emissions are still prevalent is because of a disgusting (and sometimes wilful) ignorance. It is high-time that we consider stricter measures to ensure the next generation understands how the real world operates – and what needs to be done for our children to live in a fair, just and sustainable world.

Written by atroche

April 19, 2008 at 12:42 am

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Ross Noble

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Last night I went and saw Ross Noble at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which is the second time I’ve seen him live – third if you count spotting him at a cafe with my girlfriend. When I went to the show in 2006, I remember crying with laughter at his absurd humour. This time wasn’t as hilarious, but it was worth going to see – certainly in terms of value for money!

For those of you who haven’t seen him on TV or on YouTube, Ross interacts with the audience constantly. Unlike most comedians, it’s hard to tell what’s prepared and what’s improvised – much of the show is his making fun of audience members and building up ridiculous fabrications about them based on one or two of their seemingly innocuous comments. The way he manages to constantly relate what prepared stories he has back to the audience members builds up a large repertoire of in-jokes between himself and the crowd – it’s nice to know the person in front of you isn’t just acting from memory. Must be one of the reasons why he’s so popular.

However, by the middle of this mammoth two and a half hour show the imitations he does of the crowd (he only has a couple of different voices!) become repetitive: I was trying to telepathically will him to stop dragging out the stories with tangents and his own laugher. In all the time he was on stage, he didn’t much content – most of his comedy was in his manner and on-the-spot witticisms (which are both top-notch). This wouldn’t be a bad thing if it wasn’t for the length of the show. I would’ve enjoyed the night a lot more if he’d struck a better balance between the jokes he writes and the jokes he makes up – many of which are using the same formula again and again.

David O’Doherty, The Delusionists and Arj Barker are all on Saturday night, and I can’t wait.

Written by atroche

April 11, 2008 at 10:05 am

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