Author Archives: ken

Rendering Again!

nine_lives_1 These are historical batteries that I have subjected to a cylindrical scan and then rebuilt, using computer rendering techniques. The floor is the actual floor outside my apartment in Hubei, photographed and used as an surface colouring. There are few of these batteries in existence now, because they leak and corrode with age.

A Short Journey by Rail in Hubei

I have wanted to travel by train in China for a long time. I finally got my wish. When I came to China to start my new job, I was worried about taking the train because I had a lot of luggage. So my hosts from the school picked me up at the airport in Wuhan, it was a long night time car ride to Shiyan for all of us. Later,  it turned out, I had to have a medical examination in Wuhan, so it was arranged for me to go there and back by train.

My go-to contact at the school, a  local teacher at the school, was my guide for the trip. We found a taxi, and soon arrived in the railway station in Shiyan. The tickets had already been purchased, so we sat in the waiting area for a while and chatted. When the gates opened, there was quite a scramble, in spite of the fact that everyone has assigned seats! However, on the platform, passengers boarded the train smoothly and politely.

It was a beautiful, sleek, streamlined, white electric multiple unit train, two double ended sets coupled back to back. It’s known as the CRH. My first impression once aboard was that it was very similar to being aboard an airplane, but with much more leg room. It has the same fold down dinner trays and so on, but the luggage rack is open, rather than having doors. There are two seats on one side and three on the other. My seat was very comfortable. I rode in coach, and I think you can purchase a seat in a slightly more spacious and comfortable class.

Once we began to move, I felt the smoothness of the track. There are almost no detectable bumps to speak of, until almost 60 KPH is reached. For a lot of the trip, the train runs at about 155 KPH, and the 700 Km journey takes only about 4 hours. There is almost no noise from the track or engines, mostly you can just hear the whir of the air conditioning unit. The vibration and swaying of the train is so little, that you can comfortably walk around to stretch, visit the bathroom, or visit a view window if you have been deprived of a window seat.


Suburban scene

The Shiyan to Wuhan train travels through some very interesting countrysides and urban landscapes, so it is worthwhile to get a seat with a view. The area is full of large hills and small mountains, so there are plenty of tunnels and overpasses. While in a long tunnel, you will suddenly leap out into a small valley, sometimes inhabited and sometimes not. Due to the track speed, it is often gone again in the blink of an eye.

Woman on path

Woman jogs on country lane

Some things you can see are, traditional Chinese hillside graves, farmers tending plants and animals, stunning tree covered hills and valleys with tiny farm plots, several large rivers plied by large boats and barges, large bridges and overpasses and other projects under construction, views of large cities, many quaint track side buildings connected with railway operations, uniformed crossing guards and occasional observers, curious, or watching the trains with their children.


River overpass under construction

GFS Telecaster Kit is my first Home Brew Guitar

electric guitar

Home Brew Telecaster with Mini Humbucking Pickups

For a long time, I had been considering a way to incorporate mini humbucking pickups into my current favourite body shape, which is Telecaster. I also wanted to do some custom wood finishing – but I don’t have a wood working shop. So I started looking at precut, unfinished bodies and necks. I soon gravitated toward the GFS website, where i found a Telecaster body blank, cut for a Stratocaster style tremolo bridge, and routed for P90 pickups. I soon realized that GFS had all the other parts, including a neck, so I placed a huge order and waited patiently for the package to arrive. I was not disappointed, although, as with any custom kit, there were some rough edges and problems to solve. In order to fit the GFS mini humbuckers in the P90 routed holes, I used the black GFS pickup adapter mounts (also available in cream colour).

I started to sand the body, and thought about the finish. I decided to experiment, and used a thinned wash of artists acrylic – pthalocyanate blue, and a tiny bit of glitter (sparkle) acrylic to create a metallic look. The idea was to create a strong colour, but let the wood grain show through. This was the case, but I would use a slightly lighter colouration next time. Also, I will someday try multiple colours to give a “tie dye” look.

I heavily diluted the acrylic with water, and applied with a large cloth. I then wiped it quickly with clean water. Note: the body must be completely sanded smooth at that point, because further sanding will remove paint and expose streaks of wood. Because the water raises the grain a little, a fairly thick finish coat is required. So about 8 coats of polyurethane from a spray can were needed. I sanded with sandpaper on a flat sanding block in between some coats. After about a week of this work, it was starting to look nice.

While the finish coats were drying, I turned my attention to the neck. the nut was grotesquely high. It should have been replaced, but I filed down the grooves instead, to lower the strings there. I adjusted the truss rod to make the neck perfectly straight, and did what must be the world’s crudest fret dressing job, with a large flat file. I smoothed and crowned the frets with increasingly fine grades of sandpaper alone, since I have no tools for such work. I would never do it like that again, but it worked.

For wiring I chose a dead simple arrangement, single volume and selector switch with no tone controls. All the cavities are shielded with copper tape, properly soldered to the ground connection. All the electrical parts were available from GFS.

Finally, it was assembly day! Thanks to a lot of pre-fitting, everything went together fairly smoothly. The only real botch was that the tremolo rocker screw holes could not be aligned precisely enough. So, I had to secure the bridge in a fixed position. I don’t use the “whammy bar” in my playing, since none of my guitars have previously had one (or maybe I didn’t notice!). Really, I would rather have installed a Fender style fixed bridge, but it wasn’t possible because of the cutouts.

So! What’s it like? It’s awesome! The neck is perfect. I tried lowering the action – before any string buzz occurs, the snap is lost. It means the alignment is just perfect. I raised it up to where I like it, comparable with Fender factory string heights. The sound? Beautiful! The mini humbuckers are the best I now have, especially the neck pickup. It is the only guitar I have that sounds really good with only the neck pickup – perfect for jazz. The blue finish is absolutely stunning.

The Guitar that Started the Telecaster Devotion

Fender American Telecaster w/ Custom Humbucking Pickups

Fender American Telecaster w/ Custom Humbucking Pickups

It started when I sold my Gibson Les Paul. I found it a little heavy, just not quite right in my lap (I usually play sitting down, I’m a jazz player). The Gibson ES-345 was my cherished guitar for years, but I refurbished and sold it too, in the name of change. I never cared much for the line frequency hum associated with single coil pickups, so I had not ever seriously considered Strats or Teles. But I went to the store with an open mind, so ended up trying this guitar. It was love. The balance of the body on my lap is just perfect, and I like the extra width of the string spacing at the nut. Tempted by a modest discount, I bought it and began the humbucking conversion. Lifting the pick guard, I found cavities pre-routed for a humbucking at the neck, and a Strat single coil in the middle. So I outfitted it with a DiMarzio DP-384 Chopper at the bridge, a DiMarzio DP-411B Virtual T (neck) in the middle, and a Seymour Duncan SH-2 Jazz at the neck position. The three way selector switch has a trick, of my own invention. I found the neck only position sound too dull. So I arranged some wiring to switch in the bridge pickup when the neck is selected (position 1). A side effect is that all three pickups are selected in position 2. The cream coloured replacement pick guard is a Warmoth custom part.

Bacchus Telecaster Re-worked

Bacchus Telecaster Clone with Humbucking Pickup

Bacchus Telecaster Clone with Humbucking Pickup

This guitar was for sale at a great price at a Chengdu guitar store. I sold the single coil pickups to the store owner, who wanted them. I routed the body to accept a middle humbucker, and expanded the neck pickup rout to accept a future Strat pickup. This would almost make a “Nashville Tele”. It’s staying in China for now. The dimensions are not quite the same as Telecaster, so I couldn’t mix and match much. It’s a great neck, someone previously had carefully dressed the frets (not me). The new pickup is a Seymour Duncan JB SH-4. The old pickup holes have been filled with black electrical tape. No, not duct tape!

Essence of Kangaroo

I believe that I eat a good diet. However, I have bowed to pressure from various family members to supplement it with multi-vitamins. Expecting high prices, I set off to buy some in Harbin. I entered the drug store, and acted as nonchalant as possible. I always try to find my items before someone comes to attempt help, as that doesn’t always go well. To be unhelpful is unthinkable to a Chinese, and especially in a store. But my Chinese is extremely sketchy. I’m fine with most foods, and handle purchasing with no small measure of pride. Even when I can’t comprehend the price when I am blasted with it at supersonic velocity. I try to negotiate another attempt, but it is usually accomplished by turning the cash display towards me, or by punching into a calculator.

This store offered me no refuge. Within seconds, a kind lady was at my side at the vitamin shelf, which I had already located. Her speech was native, full bore. Hemming and hawing in broken Chinese, I waved at the bottles and attempted to communicate the concept of “multi”, with a word I think means “together”. She appeared mystified, I suppose she thought I was going to buy out the store, or something like that.

Aha! I found multi-vitamins! Oh, but what’s this? It’s for women. In retrospect,  I suppose that eating them wouldn’t raise my voice to a higher octave or anything like that, but I have years of proud Western male pride to overcome. So I waved it in front of here and said, “nan” (chinese for man). She nodded knowingly, and with great satisfaction, offered me a box from a lower shelf. It was none other than, “Essence of Kangaroo”.

Now, I consider myself both gifted and cursed, with a mind that can think, as we say, “out of the box”. Sometimes it is so quickly ambushed, or overwhelmed with dissonant concepts that it cannot really function. So please excuse me, that my first thought was simply, “What is the nutrient composition of kangaroos”? Such is the strength of my faith in older sales ladies in drug stores.

I quickly regained my composure (although I doubt that it appeared so on the outside), and said no, not that. At that moment, I found the men’s vitamins to the left of the women’s, and thanked the woman. She pointed me to the cash register. I paid the outrageous 95 yuan price, but was drawn back irresistably to the kangaroo medicine shelf. I confirmed the label. I hadn’t been dreaming.

Leaving the scene of this encounter, a series of questions formed in my mind. Foremost being, what does essence of kangaroo do to a person? Linking this to my request for a male gendered product, I supposed that the lady thought I needed an aphrodisiac or such “male performance enhancer”. I do have some gray hair. If it would add some bounce to my step, it couldn’t be bad.

Secondly, how is essence of kangaroo obtained? From which part, or from all parts? Are kangaroos likely to become an endangered species as a result of this prescription? It occurred to me that I might not even want to know the answer.

Third, and this is more philosophical. Are they entitled to use “essence” in this manner? The animal has such grace, at least as it is famously painted by the Australian aborigines. I have one such decoration, and noticed immediately the life force in it that was so well depicted. Wouldn’t it be false advertising to claim that a kangaroo’s “essence” is actually some fluid in its nostril, or somewhere? More believable with an ignoble animal such as a pig, whose essence must necessarily be laboriously located and refined to be believable.

The question must now be asked, how many kangaroos were consumed in the production of this medicine? It was a disturbingly large bottle.

Lastly, what other delightful essences are in stock there? I am going back soon to feast on my new found gallery of epic pharmaceutical wonders.

Harbin from above

Passenger train approaching West Railroad Station. Notice the coal piles

Passenger train approaching West Railroad Station. Notice the coal piles

From the 10th floor of Harbin University of Science and Technology

From the 10th floor of Harbin University of Science and Technology

Rail yard near Central Railway Station, downtown

Rail yard near Central Railway Station, downtown

Street vendors and restaurants at LeSong Plaza in Dong Li area of town

Street vendors and restaurants at LeSong Plaza in Dong Li area of town

Looking along Jiao Hua Jie towards the river near XidaZhi Jie

Looking along Jiao Hua Jie towards the river near XidaZhi Jie


DSCN0065I had to leave my Fender Telecaster in Canada, so I went down to the music area of Harbin to look for a guitar to play. I came home with a used Jay Turser semi-acoustic. It doesn’t seem much like the companies current offerings. This one charmed me with a smaller size body than a typical semi (such as Gibson ES-335). After a thorough cleaning and truss rod adjustment, it was ready to go. The neck needs the loving touch of a fine luthier, to really get the action down without a bit of buzzing. I think that’s why my first finger is now swollen, from trying to do heavy metal bar chords with the higher action. I’m taking a day or two off playing until that improves.


I am in Harbin, Heilongjiang province of China. I recently started working here, teaching English in a private school. I’ve been ridiculously busy taking training and getting used to the job. So I haven’t really had a chance to photograph. In fact, the good camera hasn’t even been out of the bag yet. I didn’t have room to bring my guitar, so I haven’t had any fun playing either. Just work and eat, sleep and do laundry.

Of course, I’ve been around the town a bit since I got here, and there is a lot to take in. It’s lucky that I’ve arrived in summer time, so I can explore more freely on foot. I’m sort of on the edge of downtown, so I haven’t spent much time in the core. I hope to be able to get some pictures up here soon.


I am a person of many interests, and I plan to show some of my ideas and projects on this site. I hope that others will find some interest or novelty in them. Welcome to my world.