Entries in list (17)


"These are a few of my favorite things" #7 - Venta Airwasher

Although we moved into our apartment more than two years ago, I finally finished setting up my office last month. And with winter just around the corner (i.e., low humidity), I've been looking into ways of humidifying the room so that I can keep some guitars out on stands without worrying about them getting too dry. The buidling is an old converted schoolhouse with radiators, and the humidity can get really low in the winter. I set up a small Holmes humidifier that we've had forever, but had been boxed up since a previous move about 10 years ago. It did the job, but it was way too loud for an office.

Based on some online recommendations, I picked up a Venta Airwasher LW25, which has a 2 gallon tank and is made for rooms up to 400 square feet. What I like about this unit is that (a) it doesn't need any replaceable wicks, (b) the tank can be easily filled (i.e., pour water directly into the unit), and (c) it's supposedly pretty easy to clean. And the best part is that it's really quiet. On the lowest fan setting, it's basically silent. At medium, it's no louder than the street traffic I can hear from my office (I haven't needed to turn it to the highest fan setting yet). So far, so good; it works like a charm, keeping my office at 45-55% humidity without any problem.

Update: On the coldest days during the winter, when it gets down in the 20s, I find that I still need to run the small, loud Holmes humidifier along with the Venta to get up to the 45-50% range. The Venta alone can keep things in the mid-30 to low-40% range, which is probably fine but I'm being extra careful. So I run the supplemental humidifier at night and when I'm not in the office, and turn it off when I'm working in that room. Although the Venta should be fine for the square-footage of the room, I forgot to account for the high ceilings; the total volume of air is more than the typical 400 square foot room.* I probably should have gone with the largest Venta rather than the medium size.

*Why do they sell humidifiers based on square footage of the room? It should be cubic feet.


"These are a few of my favorite things" #6 - Fujitsu Scansnap S1500M 

This is another odd one, considering that we ordered this scanner about 18 months and just finally hooked it up last week. But one-touch scanning to PDFs (or into Evernote) is great. It's playing a key role in a project I've been wanting to do for a while, which was just unveiled here on my website :-)

This is going to be great as I transition to a paperless existence.

Update: One of the best uses of this is to share words/chords to songs. When friends come over to play music and have a new song to share, in about 30 seconds I can have it scanned and emailed to everyone.


5 bearding curiosities on the interwebs


"If I ruled the world" #1 - Lancaster Ave.

I admit that I'd enjoy being a dictator. When I get promoted to the position, my first order of business will be to change the traffic patterns on Lancaster Ave., between Rosemont and Wynnewood PA, from two lanes of traffic each way to one lane in each direction. This would decrease car traffic and make drivers slow down, and with the recovered space, wide sidewalks and bike lanes could be created. Imagine Ardmore and Bryn Mawr with outdoor cafes, walkable downtowns, and appealing public spaces.


"These are a few of my favorite things" #5 - Prometheus Springs

A thrist-quenching beverage infused with capsaicin (i.e., hot peppers). What could be better?


"These are a few of my favorite things" #4 - Apple's iMessage app

This is an odd one to have on the list since I don't text very much and because I just upgraded to Mountain Lion a couple of months ago, but this is one of my new favorites. I love how when someone with an iPhone/iPad sends me a message, it pops up on my computer as well (and that I can send "text messages" to iPhones/iPads from my computer). More than half of the people I'd want to text with are on Apple mobile devices, so this is really convenient as a way for me to avoid texting from my phone!


"These are a few of my favorite things" #3 - AirPlay + Apple TV etc.

So this isn't one thing, but instead a system of interconnected gizmos:

At the heart of the system is the Apple TV, which can stream content from Netflix, Hulu, and dowload TV shows and movies from iTunes. But more importantly, it can receive content from your iPhone, iPad, and Mac (assuming that Mac is relatively new, running OS 10.8 "Mountain Lion") via Airplay and play it back on your TV. This means that anything that's on your Apple phone, tablet, or computer can be easily sent to a large display.* Also in the mix is my Denon receiver, which is also Airplay enabled, along with a series of Airport Express units connected to speakers in each room. So music from any of these devices can be piped directly into the stereo or any room in the house. Along with a big music library and Spotify subscription, this means you can listen to whatever you want, wherever you want.

*I can report that AirPlay is awesome for teaching (especially seminar classes) since you can project PDFs to the overhead projector in a classroom...


"These are a few of my favorite things" #2 - Drybox wallet

This is an odd choice for a "favorite thing" in that it has been replaced by the previous item in this series, but my last wallet was awesome too. These little dryboxes are meant for kyakers/boaters to keep their ID/cards dry, but they makes for a perfect little wallet for a few cards and bills. There's also the benefit of the lanyard, so that (a) if you have no pockets you can wear it around your neck or (b) if you're paranoid about being pick-pocketed you can strap it to your belt. This one will probably come back during the summer at some point. The only downside to these is that they only last about a year before the hinge breaks, but $10 a year isn't bad for a groovy wallet.


"These are a few of my favorite things" #1 - DODOcase iPhone wallet

In the spirit of good old American consumerism and materialism, I was planning on writing a post listing my "Top 10 Favorite Things" or something along those lines. But generating the list became overwhelming, so I figured I'd just do a series of short posts with individual items that I find indispensible whenever they popped into my head...So here goes #1:

The DODOcase iPhone Durables Wallet is a sleeve for your phone and wallet all in one. This has effectively combined two pockets full of stuff into one. A few cards and a couple of bills* slip into the side pockets (one on each side) and your phone goes in the middle. If they could figure out how to get my keys in there too, I'd be down to one thing to grab on my way out the door each day. Simple + functional + quality = awesome.

*This works well because I'm almost at the point where I don't use cash for anything these days. I can go weeks with the same $20 bill in my wallet.


Things I'm waiting (impatiently) for...

1. Summer vacation. That's a no-brainer.

2. A trip to Europe; either Barcelona or the UK. Unfortunately, that might not be the same as #1 above. We had a trip to London and Edinburgh planned a few summers ago, but at the last minute our flight got canceled due to the Icelandic volcano ash cloud. Come to think of it, put Iceland on the "to go" list too.

3. Fuji's forthcoming 10-24mm f/4 lens. The recently released 14mm f/2.8 is tempting, but I'd be willing to trade one stop for the zoom range of the 10-24mm, especially given the impressive high ISO performance of the X-Pro1. I'm moderately tempted by the 55-200mm lens that is also on the roadmap; I'm not sure how much it would get used, but I can imagine it would come in handy once in a while. The other planned lenses are interesting too (23mm f/1.4, 27mm f/2.8, and 56mm f/1.4 f/1.2), but I'm not sure if I'll have a need for any of them, and the 18-55mm zoom looks like a nice kit lens, but I'm not interested in it with the primes that I currently have. Update: broke down and got the 14mm and 55-200mm lenses, but still want the 10-24mm! Update 2: I'm committing to the Fuji X system for my primary shooting. I got the X-E1 with 18-55mm kit lens when it went on clearance, and along the way have picked up the 27mm, 56mm, and 10-24mm lenses.

4. The backordered GateKeeper straps from F-Stop, to enhance the flexibility of the Kenti pack that I just got. Update 1: still no GateKeepers, but I've added a Loka pack and found an alternative to the Gatekeepers that should suffice in the meantime. Update 2: Gatekeepers have landed. Still waiting on the rain cover for my Loka...It's been almost 6 months.

5. The next iPad ("iPad 5"). I somehow put a small crack on the screen of my iPad (not in the viewable area, but annoying nonetheless), and rather than pay to get it fixed, I'm waiting for the new model. Hopefully it's spring 2013, not fall. Update: The iPad Air was announced in October 2013. I'll be queuing up to get one, unless I decide to downsize to the new Retina Mini instead...


15 of 59 - The National Park checklist

With the addition of Pinnacles National Park in 2013, there are currently 59 National Parks in the United States; by my count I've visited at least 15* of them:

  • Acadia
  • Badlands
  • Glacier
  • Grand Canyon
  • Grand Teton
  • Haleakalā
  • Hawaii Volcanos
  • Kings Canyon
  • Lassen Volcanic
  • Mesa Verde
  • Redwood
  • Sequoia
  • Shenandoah
  • Yellowstone
  • Yosemite




I really need to get out more...I'm barely at 25%! An Alaska trip would help knock a bunch of these out.

*It's also possible that as a kid I visited Crater Lake, Olympic, and Rocky Mountain. I don't specifically remember, but these are likely suspects for family roadtrip vacations.


Guitar history - Graduate school

Last time I chronicled the guitars I started with through college. All of those are long gone, as are most that were acquired during graduate school (1996-2001). But this was an important time; along with furthering my education in psychology, this is really when I started to learn about what to look for in a good guitar and what I tend to like (e.g., mahogany). Student loans really helped with this part of my education! The fact that West Lafayette didn't have a good Martin dealer (and had an excellent Taylor dealer) very much shaped this stage.

  • Taylor 414K from 1997.Taylor 420R (1997; serial #970604026) - This came from Klaverenga Guitar & Piano in West Lafayette, where I first heard of Taylor. Sitka and rosewood. Sold it in 2001. Reflecting back on my progression through guitars, my feeling now is that Taylors are a great entry to acoustic guitars...They are very "sweet" sounding and accessible. As I got older I started to gravitate towards more complex-sounding guitars, but for me, it was a great way to get hooked on the acoustic guitar.

  • Taylor 414K (1997; serial #971030018) - A koa grand auditorium, limited from 1997. This is when I realized that there were other sized guitars than jumbos and dreadnoughts, and that I prefer 1-3/4" necks to 1-11/16". This one stayed around until 2006, give or take a couple of years, when I sold it on Craigslist.

  • Larrivée LS-05 (1995; serial #16903) - I used money from my first teaching gig to get this at Front Porch Music in Valparaiso, Indiana, in 1998. A nifty little classical-inspired steel-string guitar; ended up selling this at the Philly guitar show in 2005 or so.

  • Taylor 355 (1998; serial #9808xxxxx) - For some reason, I can't seem to be without a 12-string guitar, although admittedly, I rarely play it these days. I've been tempted to sell it, but I suspect I'd find myself wanting another 12 again in the future. This seems like a good one to keep around; a quality instrument, but without too much invested in it. Like the other Taylors, this one came from Klaverenga.

  • Tacoma Papoose P1 (1997; serial #5012) - A neat high-strung instrument with a factory-installed pickup. Bought in West Lafayette in 1999; sold on-line in 2006.

  • Taylor Baby - Mahogany top (1998; serial #981124xxx-x) - Thought I needed a travel guitar. Other than a couple of trips, this one has pretty much sat in its case.

Rickenbacker 360.

  • Rickenbacker 360 mapleglo (1999; serial #9929827) - I had wanted one of these for a long time. I had a picture of a blonde Rickenbacker 381 pinned to my wall in my dorm room at Grinnell, and when I got the Taylors my Guild seemed expendable, so I took a road trip to Elderly Music and traded it towards the 360. A beautiful guitar, although it made me realize a couple of things. First, I prefer larger necks, and the 1-5/8" neck was pretty small; second, I don't really play electric much. So I sold it (and actually made a bit of money) on Craigslist in 2010 or so. Used the money to buy an 85mm f/1.4D Nikon lens.

  • 1977 Taylor 915.Taylor 915 (1977; serial #37x....last digit missing due to a torn label when the neck was reset) - My first internet guitar purchase; I got this from a fellow in New Jersey in 1999...One of the first 400 guitars Taylor ever built...A maple jumbo with an uber-cool moustache bridge. Sold this on Craigslist in 2008 or so.

  • Larrivée Parlor Koa prototype (2000; serial #34226) - A limited run of parlors built in other woods (besides mahogany) for the NAMM show. Bought from Buffalo Brothers; sold on ebay in 2006 (and made some money on it!). A cool little guitar.

Guitar history - High school and college

I've been meaning to do a log of the guitars I've owned across the last 20+ years. This is a pretty daunting task if I try to tackle it all in one big list, so I'll break it up into chunks. To get the ball rolling, I'll start with high school and college (Cal Poly and Grinnell), which goes up to summer of 1996; later editions will cover other eras (split by academic markers: grad school, pre-tenure, post-tenure).

  • Fender Gemini II (mid-to-late-80s, I assume) - My first steel-string acoustic. I got this for Christmas in 1990 (I think...maybe the year before that?). Bought used from the music shop in Davis, CA. Sold it to a guy in the dorms at Cal Poly when I got the Landola jumbo (see below) in 1993.

Bad circa 1990 fashion with the Gemini II.

  • Fender Stratocaster (Lake Placid blue, maple neck, MIM, early-90s) - Christmas 1992; bought used at a (now forgotten) shop in San Luis Obispo. Consigned it at some point in graduate school in West Lafayette.


  • With the Landola jumbo, summer 1993.Landola jumbo...I don't remember the model number (early-90s) - Purchased new in spring 1993 at some shop in San Luis Obispo, Los Osos, or Morro Bay. I'm shocked how bad my memory is! An interesting jumbo guitar, made in Finland, with a solid spruce top and laminated birch back/sides, and matte finish. Landola went on to make a run of acoustic guitars for Peavey (the amp company). Sold it in West Lafayette. Never saw another Landola until the fall 2012 Philly guitar show, where I ran into a similar one. A nice guitar.
  • Cheap-o Aspen 12-string (unknown year) - I don't recall where this one came from. I assume I bought it off someone at Grinnell; $40 rings a bell. The bridge started to pull off and had it reglued by a guy in Marshalltown at least once. We ended up playing this as a six-string to keep the bridge from flying off; I think I handed this down to Wulfy.
  • Takamine N-1012 (early-90s) - My first decent 12-string; this one came used from the Guitar Foundation in Iowa City in late-1994 or early-1995...Solid cedar top with (laminated) mahogany back/sides. My buddy Dave and I played this one a lot; I had it until 1997 or 1998, when I sold it West Lafayette.

Dave with the Takamine N-1012 and Ben with the Landola jumbo.

  • Guild 12-string (can't recall the model or year, although I'm pretty sure it was a jumbo or mini-jumbo from the '70s...maybe a 212XL?) - If I recall correctly, I got this at Ye Olde Guitar Shoppe in Des Moines. What I remember more about YOGS is that's where I saw my first Martin...I remember that vividly: a 1989 D-16A (ash); that Martin was probably around $800, but it seemed like a million bucks. But I'm thankful for running in to it, as it put Martin on my radar screen. I think that Guild had some (neck?) issues, and I have no recollection what happened to it. I assume I sold it when I got the Guild D-40SB. I wish I would have paid more attention to this guitar; it was probably pretty nice!
  • Martin Backpacker (1995; serial #23,058) - This came from a shop in downtown Santa Rosa...I remember buying it when I was home for winter break in 1995. Sold it on craigslist once I moved to Pennsylvania (maybe 2005 or so?).
  • Guild D-40SB (1976; serial #158276) - My first venture into quality solid-wood American guitars; this likely started my affinity for sunburst guitars. I found it at the music shop in Grinnell for $500, which was a fortune for a college student in 1996. I maxed-out my credit card to buy it. A nice guitar...Build like a tank with a sweet sound, although it wasn't that loud. I traded this one at Elderly Music in Lansing towards the Rickenbacker 360 (to be described in the next edition).

The only picture I could find of the Guild D-40SB.

 Next up...Student loans in grad school = the start of guitar collecting.


Top 5 favorite guitar players

The video of Norman Blake I posted the other day has me thinking about my favorite guitarists. I'll just pick five for now, in no particular order:

1) Norman 

2) Mark Knopfler (best headband award)

3) Richard Thompson (best beret award)

4) Jimi Hendrix (best tracksuit award; headband runner-up)

5) David Rawlings


Top 5 things I miss

Disclaimer: This is a list of businesses I miss, not people etc.

1) Acoustic Roots: A great guitar shop that used to be in Bryn Mawr; my favorite place to stop after work and play some boutique and vintage instruments. It's a shame that it went out of business a couple of years ago. I don't understand how the Main Line can't support a high end guitar shop.

2) Dos Coyotes: Back when I lived in Davis during the summers when I was in college, I went there all the time. Unfornutately I don't get back to California very often these days, although I did get a chance to stop there in December. Still as good as I remember.

3) Togo's: The #27 sandwich (cucumbers/avocado); at least there's a Togo's near where my parents live, so I can go there when I'm visiting them.

4) The record/CD shops in Iowa City and San Luis Obispo: College was a music buying bonanza and those stores were the best. I hope they've survived the iTunes revolution.

5) Murder Burger (a.ka., Redrum Burger): So good they're to die for.

Note: Bruegger's Bagels would have made this list, but amazingly they put one in right next to campus a few years ago and now we live about 30 seconds from there. Maybe there is a god.


My bucket list

This has been a good year for new experiences. I learned how to develop and print film/photos in a darkroom, went ziplining in Maui and drove a rental car up the dirt road to the top of Mauna Kea, developed a new website on with some colleagues, and hand-built an acoustic guitar. So, what's left on my bucket list?


Top Jobs in an Alternate Universe

It's starting to sink in that I'm going to be a social psychology professor at a liberal arts college for the next 30 years (pending the performance of my retirement fund). Being on sabbatical this last year, after getting tenure, has allowed me to fantasize about what I'd be doing in an alternate universe. Of course, this list does not account for low pay, job (in)security, or physical danger...It's what I would want to do, not what would be practical/safe:

  • Documentary photographer or photojournalist. How amazing would it have been to be in Egypt this spring?
  • Photographer for professional cycling...You know, those guys that hang off the back of motorcycles zooming up and down the Alps with four cameras around their necks.
  • Graphic designer or web development, although then I'd be sitting in front of a computer even more than I do now, if that's even possible.
  • Luthier...I'm surprised how much I enjoyed the course I took at the Vermont School of Lutherie. I knew I'd like the class overall but didn't anticipate how much the actual work would suit me. Spending time carving braces and tap-tuning tops would be fantastic.
  • I admittedly have no experience in business, but running a shop specializing in vintage and boutique acoustic guitars would be a lot of fun. At least the part about hanging out with cool guitars would be fun; the running a business doesn't sound particularly appealing.
  • Design and constuction at Legoland. Enough said.
  • Be the guy to invent the next Facebook-like megahit, although I'd sell the startup once it was worth only 10 million and retire to travel, do photography, and build guitars.

The takehome message here is that I'm going to make a great retiree.