Living in the Future

Old Sounds by Erin Wade

As technology advances, one of the things that I find I struggle with is this:

What does one do with the old technology?

This isn’t a new problem - rather, it’s a familiar one when one looks at things that have become functionally obsolete. Old computers are an issue for many in the first world. Who among us hasn’t come to the point where we have an older desktop or laptop computer that works perfectly well in terms of what it was originally designed to do, but has since been replaced with something newer; that replacement either because the newer device does something - has a feature, or runs newer software - that the older one does not, or simply because we wanted something new and shiny. Some companies actually offer a trade-in program for such devices, but even then, many of us still end up with one or more sad devices sitting in a drawer or on a shelf.

For myself, the recurring concern is an old stereo system. This is a setup that I spent several years on, acquiring the components, purchasing one item and then selling it in an effort to trade up to the next. Ultimately, I ended up with the following components:

For the kids out there, a cassette deck was a device that played cassette tapes. These were things that we used to contain large amounts of the music we wanted (as opposed to what a record label wanted to give us) before recordable CD’s came along. And CD’s were things that held music before we all got MP3 players. Oh, and MP3 players were things your parents listened to before we all just had the music on our phones. Phones were a different thing then too, by the way. Look, they were dark times, and we all lived like savages - let’s not bring it up again...

I’d explain the turntable, but vinyl records are, inexplicably, a thing again, so no need there.

Back when this setup it was originally assembled, speaking of CD’s, this setup also had an Onkyo 5-disk changer (I was fond of Onkyo equipment), but it was apparently mechanically more fragile than the other devices, and so it went to the great maker. But the rest of the equipment soldiers on, stalwart in its readiness to produce great sounds.

But it hasn’t produced sounds in several years.

For a long while it was part of the central sound system that was hooked up to our television, DVD player, and media pc (remember those? Kids, this was a thing... you know what, never mind - google it if you want to know), along with an aux hookup for an iPod. But then a couple of things happened. First, one of the speakers began to fail; and second, my father-in-law got a new sound system for his tv, and wanted to find a new home for his old one - a Panasonic surround-sound setup. It physically fit better into our entertainment center and offered much smaller speakers than the Advents (which I love, but which have always been a decorative thorn in MLW’s side).

So I had the speakers repaired (of course) and moved it all up to my office, planning to hook it up eventually to listen to music while I work. I figured I could hook up an Apple TV to it to allow me to stream to from an iPhone or iPad over airplay, and I’ve even purchased a converter to do this (the Apple TV’s digital audio output not being compatible with the analog inputs on the Onkyo receiver).

But eventually is a non-specific time frame. And wait-time allows for other discoveries.

One discovers while waiting, for example, that one can get a set of Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones for a fairly reasonable price. One can pair those headphones with one’s iPad almost effortlessly, and listen to whatever one wants with no one else complaining about the choice or the volume. And one can use those headphones everywhere in the house, not just in the office. And that, when one does this, one does not have to struggle to figure out where to place the speakers, nor does one have to spend time running speaker wire and sorting out how to hide it (I lack the math skills, and more importantly the will, to accurately calculate the amount of my life spent on that particular activity). And now I realize that speaker wire, also, is a thing the kids will need to google...

Now, I typically embrace new technology. And, in most respects, virtually everything about the advances that replace my old setup is better. I realize audiophiles will clear their throats to utter "well, actually" in preparation for discussing audio quality over Bluetooth, but probably their nurses will wheel them off before they can finish their sentence. The reality is that it’s generally good enough, and the rest of it is so much better. The four devices I have in my list above are effectively replaced by two - an iPhone (or iPad, or whatever) and headphones or a speaker. There are no wires to run, they are much smaller, and they can move with you from place to place.

So why am I pining over this now archaic setup? I suspect that a part of it has to do with the amount of time, effort, and energy that went into constructing it in the first place. For those of us of a certain age and inclination, putting together your audio setup was a fetish-level activity. It was important to have the right speakers, and the right equipment to drive them. Assembling the "rightness" was a scholarly activity, involving pre-internet research. This meant poring over audio magazines and the Crutchfield’s catalog in order to ensure it was all... correct. Ultimately this would give one a setup that pumped the music through the speakers loudly, but without distortion, so that you (and your family, and your neighbors, and maybe the people in the next town) could enjoy it properly.

Properly. Dammit.

And yet, here I am, myself, listening to my music on a set of Bluedio Hurricane headphones that I purchased for less than $30 on Amazon, when I should be setting up that audio system and listening to it that way.

Shouldn’t I?

Apple Music by Erin Wade

I’ve always loved music, and over the years the overwhelming majority of my listening time has been, by necessity, done in the car. Still, over the past decade my listening has become far more heavily weighted towards audiobooks and podcasts, and away from music.

Part of the difficulty is in discovery of new material. Terrestrial radio, with its ratio of something like 12 ads per each song has truly sucked for a very long time. I’ve never gotten into satellite radio - it’s always seemed a bit of a gimmick oriented towards selling higher end features on cars - and while I’ve enjoyed Pandora quite a bit, one has to take care to “like” the right songs on a given station, or your Jethro Tull station will soon be full of hip hop (which I like, but it’s not what I’m looking for when I click on the one-legged flautist). So, often, I just ended up listening to my own collection of music. That represents a fair amount of variety, but like a lot of people my age I stopped collecting new material in earnest more than a decade ago.

But in the past week I’ve listened to more music - and more unfamiliar music than I have in month prior. The reason: the release of the new Apple Music service on June 30, 2015.

There are several new features to Apple Music, most of which are detailed in many, many other locations. Beats Radio, Apple’s live, DJ operated music feed, has gotten a great deal of attention, at least in my Twitter feed. I gave it a try, but that lasted a grand total of about three minutes for me.

The feature I am loving is the For You area. Here, based upon what you both initially indicate are your artist presences, and upon the songs you “favorite” (with a heart), you are given both album and playlist recommendations. And these, so far, have been delightful. Playlists are themed along multiple different lines - some are mix of familiar material with completely unfamiliar artists or songs blended in for discovery: Rock Hits 1977 includes much of what you would expect (Carry on my Wayward Son and Paradise by the Dashboard Light are featured), but also includes a song by UFO, a relatively obscure British heavy metal band. For a Prog Rock fan like myself it offers up playlists such as The Best of British Prog 1973–1975, which is full of bands I’ve never heard of, like the Strawbs, and Caravan, and Nektar. I don’t love them all, to be sure, but I like a lot of them and I’m hearing things that I would never have encountered before.

The other type of playlist that I’m truly enjoying are the introduction to and deep cut playlists. I’ve played the Intro to Rush playlist several times - it’s given me an opportunity to listen to a healthy cross section of music by a band I’ve always been curious about, but unwilling to take the dive to purchase any given album, being unsure whether I’d enjoy it. It’s looking like I’m pretty much gonna dig some Rush.

One of the other features of Apple Music is the fact that you can save things that you like into your own library - including these playlists.

It’s not that there aren’t clunkers in the mix - Apple has access to my music library, so it should know that I don’t really require an Intro to Jethro Tull Playlist; and a foray into a deep cuts playlist on The Police has only shown me that I don’t really love The Police (though isn’t that why we explore, what we want to know?). But overall, Apple Music has me listening to far more music - and discovering far more new music - than I have in years.

Moving On... by Erin Wade

Last night I finally watched Looper.

I say "finally" not because this is a movie I've been waiting to see since its release. I say it not because I've had friends waiting for me to get to it so that we can talk about it. I say it because this movie has been sitting in its little Netflix sleeve on the top shelf of my entertainment center for months.

MLW and I had started to watch it back when it first arrived. I made it about halfway through the movie before consciousness betrayed me. This is no commentary on the movie, mind you. Rather, it's a simple artifact of early waking hours and long days - I have trouble staying awake even for movies and TV shows I dearly love.

So, even though I fell asleep during it, the movie seemed interesting. I held on to it, waiting for an opportunity to finish it. And besides, I've been waiting to finish listening to the episode of The Incomparable that discusses this movie along with 12 Monkeys and Primer[^1]. Unfortunately, the nature of the movie - it's an intricate time-travel story where details happening in different time lines affect what you are seeing on-screen - meant that I couldn't just play it in the background while doing other things. It had to be watched.

I finally had that opportunity last night. I was able to start the movie early enough that I would stay awake during it, and made it all the way through. And when I finished, it occurred to me to check and see how long I'd had it.

That was, perhaps, unwise.

According to Netflix, Looper first arrived at my home on July 31st, 2014. This means that it has been sitting on my shelf for over six months. The 1-DVD-at-a-time plan that we have through Netflix costs $8 per month.

So: the pleasure of holding on to Looper for all of that time effectively cost me over $48.

I did enjoy Looper. I did not, however, derive $48 worth of enjoyment from it. I could have purchased it for far less (it's $3.99 to rent, $12.99 to buy on iTunes).

And this led me to do some thinking. Probably a decade or so ago now we dropped cable in favor of a Netflix subscription. A young child and a busy schedule just made the DVD plan a much more sensible option for us. But now, as streaming video options have emerged and become pretty good, the DVD's have become less relevant. At one time we got five DVD's at a time, but had pulled that back to just one a month in favor of streaming; and, in fact, had considered just dropping the DVD plan in its entirety, but there were a handful of TV shows and movies (like Looper) that weren't available on Netflix Streaming. So we kept it for the short term, figuring on dropping it after working through that short list.

None of this is Netflix's fault, incidentally. Their service has performed just as designed. They sent me a movie, and allowed me to keep it for as long as I wanted. I could have watched it dozens - perhaps hundreds - of times in the time between delivery and return. It's my own darn fault that I've shelled out so much coin to see a movie once (with my eyes open at least).

Regardless, it is simply the case that the DVD plan doesn't make sense for us any longer. After double-checking to make sure that the handful of remaining items on my cue were available somewhere via streaming or download, I cancelled the DVD plan[^2]. It's time to move on.

[^1]: I can heartily and happily recommend both Twelve Monkeys and Looper (both of which happen to star Bruce Willis, incidentally). Primer can easily be skipped by all but the most die-hard time-travel movie buffs. On top of being a low-budget exercise with poor production values (to the degree that the actors are often difficult to hear), Primer has the additional charm of being paced slowly, with long periods of seemingly little to no action.

[^2]: An upside here for us is that we have managed to entirely skip the Blu-Ray generation of media.

[^2]: An upside here for us is that we have managed to entirely skip the Blu-Ray generation of media.

Perspective by Erin Wade

It was a little while before I realized the power was out this morning.

It wasn't a surprise, really. The storm that was rolling through provided a convincing combination of wind and rain, which I'd chosen to ride out by reading portions of Sloane Crossley's I was Told There'd be Cake on my iPad. I suspect the noise level the rain and wind made against the ancient windows of my old house kept me from noticing that the window AC unit in my home office was no longer operating.

Power outages happen everywhere, but the effects are different depending upon the location. When you live in a town or city, as anywhere else, it means no television and only battery operated radios. And everywhere one should avoid opening the refrigerator unless absolutely necessary. Out here in the country it means all of those things, but it also means no water, as the well pump is operated electrically.

This requires a retardation of one's natural muscle operational patterns each time one uses the bathroom.

It's also fascinating - and a little silly - how one's mind can fail to fully grasp the reality of the situation. This morning I went for my second cup of coffee, thankful that the pot was still hot even though the coffee maker's hotplate was no longer functioning, and hopeful that it would still be warm for cup #3. If it wasn't, I reasoned, it was really no big deal - I'd just warm it up in the microwave...

I grew up out here - literally a mile across the field. When I was little a power outage meant that anything electric or electronic for entertainment was out (except for the aforementioned battery powered radios). Today I failed to initially register the outage because I was distracted by the book on my iPad, and now I'm writing this post on the same device. I'll post it after writing using the internet connection through my battery powered MiFi.

It does put things in perspective when the biggest concerns one faces following a storm are cold coffee and managing not to jiggle the flush handle on the toilet.

Living in the Future by Erin Wade

As my friend Doc is fond of mentioning, we have reached a point technologically where it often seems that we are living in the very future that we were so often promised in science fiction movies and popular science magazines. I am a little disappointed that I don't have a flying car in my driveway, but in so very many other ways we are already there.
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