Christmas books

With each succeeding Christmas, the number of presents diminishes, but the quality improves. This year I received two books. The first is “Vanished Kingdoms” by Norman Davies. There’s a good review in the Telegraph. This is the kind of book that wouldn’t translate very well to a kindle as it has quite a number of colour photos and it is a book that benefits from a skim before reading. It looks fascinating. At over 800 pages, it’s going to need a bit of time and I’m still only half way through “The Fabric of the Cosmos” by Brian Greene.

The second book I received was Chris Townsend’s “Scotland”. Again, I’ve only skimmed it so far, but it looks excellent. Andy Howell has written a comprehensive review on his blog. So far I’ve only dipped into it, but I’m impressed. There’s some lovely photos. I’ve identified all the tents except for the one on page 65 :)  . Seriously, it’s a very useful guide and pen picture to the Highlands. The layout is very clear. I’m looking forward to many hours of pleasurable browsing. I’m also looking forward the Chris’s next book “Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams” in 2012. If it’s the same standard as his books on his treks in Arizona and the Yukon, we’re in for a treat!

Renting music

When I was a teenager I bought records. I still miss the sleeves and the pride of ownership. I held out against owning a CD player for a long time. In the end, I relented. The only way I could match the quality of a record was to buy a top end Arcam transport and DAC. As CD players improved, I bought an AVI one box player. The next step was to buy an SACD player. SACD was a bit hit and miss. Some SACDs were superb, others indifferent. SACDs never really made the mainstream, though.

Then I progressed to a Denon player that would play every kind of disc from CDs through SACDs to DVDs, although I routed the digital feed through the DAC of my Lyngdorf amp for decoding CDs. The next step was to go network server based distributed through a Sonos wireless network. It took ages to rip about 700 odd CDs. I carried on buying and ripping CDs, though. All this time I owned the music.

This year I started subscribing to Napster. For £100 a year I could stream as much music as I wanted plus store tracks on three mobile devices to play offline. I was now renting music. However, I still bought some CDs as the 128k bit rate on Napster is a bit low for decent HiFi. It’s ideal for the rest of the family who are not so bothered but not quite good enough for me.

I was going to try Spotify as they stream most (though not all) at 320k. Unfortunately they require a Facebook account which I don’t have and don’t want. Along comes Deezer. For £5 a month, they stream at 320k. The difference between 320k and 128k is noticeable to my ears, but the step up to CD ripped FLAC files is subtle.

320k services are going kill the CD market. For most people the quality is more than adequate. Even for people like me with expensive HiFis, it’s pretty good. For me it’s a huge paradigm shift to rent music rather than buy it. The only downside to Deezer is the catalogue is more limited than Napster (and probably Spotify) and it has very little classical music. Other than that, it’s great and you don’t have to sell your soul to Facebook. Buying a CD is likely to be a rarity for me from now on.

Rohan Equator Shirt

OK, returning from our little diversion into economic policy, in common with many retailers, Rohan have been bombarding me with pre-Christmas offers. Looking through their offers, there was nothing that particularly appealed, but I spotted their Equator Shirt, which was still full price (£55). I’ve been looking for a lightweight shirt for a while and thought this fitted the bill so I ordered one.

I’ve been wearing it off and on for the past three weeks and really like it. The material feels like a very soft cotton (actually a mix of Supplex polyamide and CoolMax polyester). Although it the material is thin, it still feel quite substantial, which is odd given that it weighs just 168g (M). It also manages the trick of feeling both warm and cool at the same time.

Although it’s probably the lightest shirt I own, it has two decent sized zipped chest pockets and a natty microfibre lens cleaning cloth sewn into the hem. The styling is a neat compromise between technical and casual. Personally I like to have a shirt for hot sunny days rather than a conventional base layer. It looks like the Equator Shirt might be ideal. Judgement will have to wait until I’ve taken it on the trail and tested how it works when I’m sweaty and whether it is smell resistant. However, early impressions are favourable.