Free Compliments

I can’t take a compliment

Tonight, Steve complimented me on twitter:

And I replied:

Which is true – he really is a super-great guy. But here’s the thing. When someone pays me a compliment, I have 2 conflicting immediate reactions:

  1. I joke it away, denying it, essentially.
  2. I respond immediately with a compliment of my own.

Both of these things feel like their diminishing the original sentiment. If I joke it away, perhaps with self-deprecation, then I’m not really letting that nice vibe linger in any way. I’m just swatting it away because I’m uncomfortable.

But if I just respond with one of my own, does that lessen both? Particularly if I don’t really mean it? or mean it as much? (This is sort of like automatically saying “I love you too” when someone says they love you – without considering your truth of that emotion there).

So – and let’s be clear. Steve is a swell guy. But I maybe, instead of responding immediately, should I have just said “thank you?” – which does two things itself:

  1. makes me uncomfortable, because apparently at some level I just don’t believe that this could be true.
  2. Makes me feel like I “owe” Steve a compliment at a later date.

What’s completely ridiculous is that when I compliment someone, I’m never (ok, rarely – I will admit I have done this on occasion) “fishing” for a return compliment. I try very hard to be genuine in my praise of others – I don’t do it often, and I want it to be meaningful when I do (see, above, why a knee-jerk response is not so good).

What is the proper etiquette to receive a compliment? In a way that makes both the complimenter & complimentee feel good? I think perhaps I should try just letting it linger a while. Acknowledge, thank the person, move on. Maybe blush & bat my eyelids shyly?

Who knows. This human interaction. It’s hard I tell ya!

Kellan Standing Tall

Raising an Emotionally-aware child

Kellan is most definitely in the throws of The Terrible Threes. I don’t know where this “terrible twos” business came from – because, for both my kids, age two was pretty wonderful. And speaking to other parents, two-year-olds are ok, but three-year-olds are hideous monsters who should all be locked up.

With Liam, I think Leah and I both thought that we were amazing parents because we never had any troubles – I’m not sure he ever had a time-out – maybe one or two, tops. And he was kind, and soft-spoken, and had great concentration. And hey, that’s totally because we’re awesome, right? No. It turns out, like we always thought, that Liam was an exceptional child. Kellan, whom I love dearly, is more like a textbook child. Those monthly “your child at this age” newsletters? yeah, he hits every one of those notes, both good and bad.

And right now, I have to say, is really hard. I’m sure that somewhere in the law is a rule that says murder most foul is completely justified after the 437,000th “why?” of the day, right? And along with the “why”s, there is a lot of yelling, shrieking, crying, laughing, running, babbling, talking, throwing, hitting, hugging, jumping, etc, etc, etc.

And these emotional outbursts are what are troubling me, and I’m not sure what is best to do.

  • I don’t want to teach my child to bottle up his emotions and not share what he’s feeling, BUT
  • I don’t want my child to scream and yell every time he’s angry AND
  • I don’t want my child to sob inconsolably every time he doesn’t get his way BUT
  • I do want my child to express his feelings AND
  • I do want to provide a safe, nurturing space for him to feel this feelings.

So. I do things like say “boys who yell don’t get what they want” and “I can’t understand you when you’re crying like that. Can you tell me with words what you want?” and “are you feeling sad/frustrated/angry/scared/etc?” and so on. And on one hand, I feel like this is good – because I’m trying to teach him to find other avenues to express his emotions, and give him the vocabulary to do this with. But on the other hand, every time I ask him to stop crying or yelling or whatever, or tell him that he doesn’t need to be scared, I worry that I’m just teaching him to be a stereotypical male who bottles up his emotions. And that if I say “dont’ X”, I’m invalidating his experience of feeling X, which, I really don’t want to do because it’s OK that he is feeling X – I just want to teach him to express that feeling more “appropriately”. And I quote that word because, really? more appropriately? Who am I to say what’s a more appropriate way? Because am I ever one of those males who doesn’t express emotion well. I’ve worked SO hard as an adult to be much more in tune with what I’m feeling, and how to express it because I didn’t know how as a child. And I want better for my kids. But…hard.

So, yeah – there’s no resolution to this post – mostly just a voicing of my concerns – putting out into the world what I’m feeling as a way of exploring it. Or, as Kellan might say “WHY is this hard? WHY don’t I know? WHY?”

Beer!

Improving Untappd’s rating system

I really like Untappd. It’s a great app, has lots of uses, and, for me, adds to my beer-consumption experience. The team behind it has done a great job, and I hope it keeps growing.

But there’s one part of the app that I dislike – which is odd, because it’s a core feature. & that’s the rating (& recommendation) system. I find it nearly useless. Currently, if you’re not familiar, it has a 5-bottlecap (Star) rating system. Which is common. But, looking at how I rate things, things fall into 4 zones for me (so out of 10 possible data-points (0, 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 5), I only really have 4 – which indicates a problem to me):

  • 0-1.5: I didn’t like it at all
  • 2-3: ok, not worth trying if you haven’t had it yourself.
  • 3-4: decent, forgettable
  • 4-5: excellent, will try to have it again.

Conversations with others have revealed that they have a similar grouping. Dave might have something more detailed, but he’s an outlier I suspect. And, watching over the past while, it feels like virtually every beer falls into a 3.5-4.5 category over time. Which thus makes ratings kind of useless.

Related to this: I have no idea how/why Untappd recommends the other beers it does (edit: in the “recommendations by style” that appears after a checkin). The rating I give a beer doesn’t seem to affect this at all – I assume there is a secret sauce beyond “beer is of a similar type”, but I don’t know. What I *do* know is that I don’t find the recommendations currently useful to me. When I’ve tried related beers based on either extremely high or extremely low ratings, there’s no consistency in the response. Aside on this: I wish I could “regionalize” the recommended beers, because it’s really hard to get most of the recommended beers I see here in BC.

So here’s my modest proposal for improving a rating system here. It has 2 parts. The big change is that beer ratings should be relative to each other.  So when I untap my beer, it’ll ask me “Is Brassneck Brewing’s Passive Aggressive IPA better or worse than Driftwood Brewing’s Fat Tug IPA?” & I’ll say yea or nay. This, combined with 100s of others answering similar questions will start to build an overall score for a beer. Likely a percentile score. But it will also build a large web of relative ratings of one beer to another.

This sort of natural-language question is great for humans. I can remember how much I enjoyed beerA, and can think about that relative to my current beerB. But I have a hard time giving an absolute rating to a beer. In part because my tastes change over time, where as a relative rating will more accurately reflect my changing tastes. Imagine if you drink the same beer 3-6 months later. Untappd could ask how I enjoyed it relative to the last time, which provides useful information.

With 1000s of users providing relative ratings, a particular scoring set will emerge, with much more granular ratings, resulting in fun stats like :95% of drinkers liked this beer. In the recommendation section, it can then use other relative ratings to suggest other beers to try. If I like my beer LESS than the comparison beer, show me other beers that are liked more than the comparison beer. Or vice versa. Because a negative rating should indicate I want something different than what I’m drinking, whereas a positive one should indicate that I want more of the same? or similarly rated?

I realize I’m way overthinking what’s a fun, app & pastime. But ratings of things are a hard nut to crack, and universally applicable anywhere anyone rates anything. And in a system where the subjects are inherently comparable (apples to apples), relative ratings and enjoyment-percentiles seems to be a good, human-and-machine-usable dataset.

Fireworks

Creating Focus

(n.b.: this was originally posted at Medium, due to a server issue here)

I, perhaps like a lot of creatives, need to create “the right space” to get things done. I’m easily distracted when I’m not focussed. When I’m easily distracted, I’m not terribly productive.

I suppose I should point out that you might not call me a creative?—?I’m a developer, a programmer, an engineer if you so choose?—?although, to me, writing code has always been an amazingly free, creative process.

I try hard to work a short week (my aim is to actually work 30-40 hrs every week, which, as any entrepreneur or small-business-owner will tell you, is an ambitious goal. I fail more often than I succeed. But that’s my aim). Because of this, I cannot afford to waste my productive time. But inherently, I’m a procrastinator?—?I like to put things off, I like to tool around.

I’ve been running a consultancy for 11 years, so I feel like I’m starting to figure this all out now. While these may not work for you (you’re not me, after all), I thought I’d share some of the things I do when I’m having a hard time concentrating.

First: why do I need to create focus? Because I want to exist, permanently, in the zone. I want the outside world to fade away, leaving only what’s in my head. I need to easily remember the comment I logged on line 1823 of one file, while editing code in several others. If I’m tracing a bug, I need to hold every step in memory. When I write code, I often don’t commit it to screen until the entire function/object/whatnot is already written in my head. I wrote papers in university the same way: Wander around for days with a slowly forming paper, then, in 1 sitting, write out the paper and hand it in (I have a comparative French Literature degree so there were a lot of papers).


So! focus! to the point?—?here’s some of my tricks to fine the zone when it’s elusive. The first step is preparing to concentrate. Do any or all of these. I find it often takes me all 3.

  1. Find the perfect song. I play music when I’m producing. I pause it when I’m not. I can judge how much concentration-time I got in a day by how many minutes of music I listened to. But to start, I need to start it right. This used to be done with my own library, but these days I use Rdio. It doesn’t matter what this is. Depending on mood, this’ll be any number of genres. I know it when I hear it. I’ll admit that I’ll spend easily 15 minutes doing this. But the payoff is worth it. Because that one song is all it takes. You want a song that transports you, that lifts you, that effects that important chemical change within you. Do NOT work while listening to this one song. But work as soon as it’s done. This is your Ready! Set! song. The ending of the song is your Go!
  2. Meditate. Seriously. I cannot stress how great this is. Close your door, close your eyes, put your headphones on (no sound), and focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Whatever you can to not exactly empty your mind, but to quiet or direct your mind. Of note, I’ll purposefully not think of what I’m about to do, but rather an end goal of the task during this. But the important part for me is to create a singular thought?—?really no matter what that thought is.
  3. Walk. I will often leave the office, circle the block, come back. It takes 5 minutes. But I leave anxious, troubled, over-excited, etc and return ready.Walk with purpose. I don’t amble on this walk, I stride, with purpose. Don’t talk to someone. Don’t hang out by the water cooler on the way in or out. This isn’t a social opportunity. In may ways, this is an isolatingopportunity.

Now I’m ready to work?—?but often still not sure that I’m ready to focus. Particularly if I’m working on something I’m not too thrilled about, so I do a couple of warm ups.

  1. Pick a Quick Task & Do It. My rule is that this needs to be something I can complete in under 30 minutes. I will often set a timer to ensure?—?at 30 minutes I have to stop no matter what. This can be anything that you can accomplish solo: read & respond to a particular message. Write those comments you’ve been putting off. Explain a query. Review performance stats. Pick the smallest, easiest bug off the top of the list and squash it. Read commits. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even need to be related to what you’re about to spend serious time on?—?you just want something to be a quick win that required some amount of focus. these are your warm-up pitches.
  2. Write out a sentence describing your success. “I rewrote a query that shaved 75% off of execution”. “I created a user object extension to describe customers” whatever. I personally like to write these in the past tense. I tend to use Notes.app on my iPhone to do this, but it doesn’t matter, really. But project your success. My only rule is that this is what I’m going to accomplish when I do start work. So the ambitiousness of the statement needs to relate to the time available to me. Don’t write “I rewrote facebook” if you’ve only got 3 hours.
  3. Tell your team how long you’re ‘going under’ for. If you work alone, likely not as relevant. But tell your co-workers, wife, kids, etc, that you need X time to not be disturbed.
  4. Go Silent. Turn of notifications. Turn of distractions. I: close Twitter. Close Messages. Close Skype. Close Adium. Turn my phone to airplane mode. Turn of notifications. Close all “fun” browser tabs. If I could, I’d close Slack, but that’s the deal I’ve made?—?that’s my emergency beacon.

Get to it!

It took me a while to compile the series of things I do over and over again to create focus, but these do the trick. I don’t always do all of this. But even on the worst days, I find that stepping through these really helps me find that focus that I need to do my best work. Many days, all it takes is choosing a song and finding my first task, and then blam, suddenly its fours later and I’ve got a shit-tonne done. Other days it takes all steps, & several iterations. But what’s awesome is that at most, I’ve “lost” 30-45 minutes, but created so much opportunity for creation.

Working | Playing

Rethinking “Workaholism”

Recently, Lauren wrote a really great piece on “The Balance Matrix” – a struggle many of us share, and something I’ve been working hard on my whole professional life. Reading it made me start to re-examine some of my childhood experience.

My parents were (are now really, despite being at least nominally semi-retired) workaholics – they worked, really, all the time. They got up early, went to work, came home, ate food, went back to work. I went to bed and still they’d work. They worked on weekends. They travelled for work. They worked when they travelled. Both my parents are phenomenally successful, and leaders in their respective fields – but boy did they ever work hard to get there.

At the back of our house was a sort of solarium, the sun room we called it. My dad, mostly, worked there. We had a glass-topped table and he would sit at, idly nibbling at the eraser of a yellow HB pencil or a gently pinching his lower lip between his thumb & fingers. He’d be hunched – either forwards, leaning over the table, or back, his right leg cross over his left. In either case, most of the time there’d be several piles of printed documents – journals, study results, his own data – spread over the table. To one side would be his dictaphone. But his focus was always on a lined yellow pad of paper. He’d furiously write away on that, turn a page. He never seemed to go back – he’d just write. I suspect he was constantly writing in his head prior. When he was satisfied, he’d dictate what he wanted to say and someone in the dictation pool at the hospital would later type it up. In more recent times, of course, much of  this would be replaced by his laptop. But not the yellow-lined pad of paper, nor the alternately leaning hunch.

My mother, by contrast, always hid herself away to work. Once my sister moved out, she took over her room and that became her office where she would while away the night, busy writing, researching, thinking, quietly muttering to herself. As a teenager, many a night would I carefully sneak home in the dead of night only to discover that my mum was still up working. Some of that may have been parental worry about her wayward young son, but she’d be up that late nights I was home too.

What’s curious is that although my father worked in a public spot, his work was much more mysterious to me than Mum’s – she would think out loud, talk about her work with us all – I suspect as much to help formulate her own thoughts as to share – while Dad was simply quietly efficient, back there in the sun room.

I swore, as I got older, that I would never be like them. I hated that they always worked, and I thought it a terrible life that I wanted nothing to do with. I loved the idea of indolent evenings spent with my family playing, sharing, living.

But a fun thing happened on the way to the coliseum….

I discovered that I have incredible work ethic – like my parents. I discovered that I too prefer to work in long, straight, deeply-focussed bouts – like my parents. I discovered that I too have immense ambition and drive to succeed – like my parents. I discovered that I too love what I do, and it’s not really work when you love it that much – like my parents.

But I still, even when I want to – try really hard to not bring work home, to not work evenings, to stop and truly experience my own children’s youth. And so I don’t work at home in the evenings. Liam, now in grade 3, is starting to have regular homework – somewhere between 30 & 60 minutes worth 3 days a week. And you know what? it’s a struggle to get him to do it. My sister, who shares many work traits with myself and my parents, doesn’t work at home either. And you know what? it’s a struggle for her to get her kids to do their homework. But, despite all my slacker tendencies at school (sat at the back, never took notes, etc), I always did my homework. It’s just what we did at home – we did our work.

And so, now, I look back at my parents long work hours and don’t just see workaholics chained to their desks. I see amazing parents who not only wanted to succeed, but wanted their children to succeed and modelled how to manage time, how to prioritize work – and most importantly, how to work. I see parents who showed their children how to have a career you love and children you love and work hard at both.

I don’t want to struggle to convince Liam to do his homework and whether he needs to do it – homework’s one of those stupid things that you have to do. But how fair is it, in his eyes, that he has to come home from a long, hard day at school and then do more work when both his parents are sitting on the couch, relaxing? He has no model to indicate that working at home is a normal part of life. And while yeah, I wish schools didn’t give homework and I doubt the utility of it, it happens. And so now, as we embark on this 8+year journey of nightly homework, I think back to how well my parents modelled getting stuff done at home and begin to think they weren’t, perhaps, just insane workaholics.

Perhaps, just maybe, they were teaching me something. And I could teach my children that too. And so, when my kids have homework, maybe I should have homework too. I’m a small business owner. There’s no shortage of things to do. I don’t want to spend my evening doing them, but then, Liam doesn’t want to spend his evening doing homework either. So maybe we should treat this as something of a team sport. We’re all in this together.

The Good Ol’ Hockey Game

Overtime Faceoff
Overtime at hockey

This season, I got 1/2 a season-ticket pack, thanks to Jen & Neil‘s absconding off to the UK. Which has been really great. I love the privilege of getting to see these guys live on a regular basis. Even Leah likes going, which is a total bonus. Excuses for extra nights out with here are good.

But as a result of watching more live hockey, I’ve had a couple of thoughts, triggered from ongoing thoughts about fights, injuries and concussions in sports (Maybe not all sports: but two that I love: hockey & football. But even Baseball seems to have similar issues).

I don’t like hockey fights, but I admit to being caught up in the moment at a game sometimes when a fight breaks out after a dirty hit on a star player. At a certain level, I completely understand the need to protect your star players in such a brutish way. But that enthusiasm fades in moments. And then I keep thinking about there’s lots of talk about how to “clean up” hockey (which, amazingly for modern sports, isn’t referring to drugs: it’s referring to dangerous plays & fights). So here’s my idea, harsh as they may be:

  1. Fights: as every telecast reminds viewers, the NHL owns the rights to that telecast. They could simply dictate the telecasts cannot show fights & that fights are not allowed to be used in sports-highlight packages. Would this end fights? Not immediately. But by removing them from mainstream view, it would lessen the “glory” of a fight. I suspect that there would be less fights. If getting into a fight guarantees that your not going to be on TV, every rookie tough guy would think twice: for many, it’s their only opportunity. Make hockey highlights about the play, not the extraneous stuff.
  2. Injuries: This one’s harsh. On any play where a major penalty is assessed AND there’s an injury on the play, the offending players is automatically suspended a minimum of 2 games. Regardless of time of year. In addition, if the victim is injured, and cannot play, the offending player cannot play again until the injured player returns to the ice. The suspension, however long it is starts at that point. There should likely be an upper-limit in the case of career ending injuries. Perhaps a full season, including playoffs. &, perhaps to prevent “gaming” this, by having a role-player be “injured” to keep an opposing team’s “star” off the ice, the evaluation of ready-to-play status needs to come from the NHL/NHLPA, not just the team.

Apps I want to exist

Here’s a couple of app/service ideas that I don’t know if they do exist (if they do, my google-fu failed me, that I think *should* exist. But I’m unlikely to write them in the next 2 months, so, please feel free!

  1. Sigfile-scanner: I want to be able to select/copy the signature of any email someone sends me and have it auto-scanned & filtered into a consumable vcard/contact info. This should work in Mac Mail, and in gMail on the web. Ideally it IDs at least name, phone, email, URL & street address, but extra stuff would be cool. I know there’s alot of variance in how this info is presented, but the info itself feels somewhat standard.
  2. Warranty-info-manager: I want a centralized service to maintain all my warranty info. For anything I buy. Ideally, all I should have to do is perhaps scan a barcode & enter a purchase date (default date should be when I scan it), maybe submit the serial No (or better yet – translate a picture of the serial no into text). It should then be able to retrieve all the relevant warranty info for that product – and tell me in plain english things like when it expires, if it’s renewable/extendable, contact #s/addresses, etc. This could likely be crowdsourced, API’d so that as other people add their products, the common info gets shared, or companies could easily submit their warranty info automatically. I should be able to get reminders about when things are expiring well in advance too. Bonus points for being able to store/auto-submit registration info for those things that require registration (although this gets into the hazy what’s too much information to store about a single person zone).

 

Broken

I’m not a terribly sentimental guy. The other shootings, those this year and years earlier have washed over me. I’ve been able to smugly shake my head at America. But this last one in Connecticut is different. I’m destroyed by it and I don’t know why.

Last night we went to a christmas part for Kellan’s daycare. When I got there, I pulled my little guy into a great big hug. He squealed, pulled away and went to play with some toys. I smiled, but didn’t feel better. When Leah and Liam arrived, I gave him a great big hug, longer, tighter than usual. But I didn’t feel better.

When we got home, I started to read twitter, the news. Usually in times of stress, my virtual community is a balm, because my shit isn’t everyone else’s. But reading twitter only made me cry. I don’t cry, as a rule. I thought maybe the news would be better. Information, for me, is a calming tool. Facts are impersonal. But there is no news, only conjecture & opinion and what facts there are too horrible to comprehend. 20,000 dead is a statistic. 2 dead is a tragedy. 27 dead  falls just beyond comprehension, but not so far as to be dehumanized.

Last night, I had terrible nightmares. I went back to that daycare party, but there was only bloodied, dead toddlers and screaming parents, not dancing and merriment. In my dreams, over and over I saw Liam lying on the ground, riddled with bullets. I saw my wife  bleeding & crying holding a limp & lifeless Kellan. Over and over.

I didn’t wake refreshed this morning. I don’t feel better. Everyone is still stuck on this. Those feeds that are stuck on this topic I can’t read because it’s too terrible, too close. Those people not talking about this seem out of touch and useless. I can’t move on yet – how can you?

And through it all, this low-level, but rising disgust at the discussions taking place about the role of guns, the cultural values of gun-ownership, and mental health. I’ve distilled my current thoughts to this:

If you believe it’s ok to own guns, you are culpable in this massacre.
If you don’t believe in free, easy access to mental healthcare, you are culpable in this massacre.

I don’t know if that will change. When I first wrote the above, I had it set as “morally culpable”. But that’s not quite what I feel. That gives your opinion a distance from this massacre that I think isn’t excusable. And those are harsh, extreme opinions that will likely temper over time. But you know what? There’s been dozens of other chances for the gun lobby to prove that ownership can prevent, or lessen the impact of these attacks. But where’s the story of the heroic gunmen who killed the assailant? What? there aren’t any? Fuck you and your rhetoric then. You shouldn’t pay for someone else’s mental illness? Health coverage shouldn’t be a right? How many of the last, oh, dozen mass-shooters in America were not mentally ill? How many were off medication because of difficulties in getting access? or paying for it? or simply the social stigma? Fuck you and your rhetoric then.

I hope this feeling goes away. I wish I felt angry, or sad. Those would feel like progress from where I sit right now. I have a weekend with my family ahead of me, a party to attend tonight. But I don’t know how to get through the day right now. I don’t know how I’ll stop my eyes from filling with tears today. I don’t know how to mend myself. I don’t know what it is about this story thousands of kilometres away that has so broken me, but it has.

 

 

The CD is 30

CD Shelving
CD Shelving by Tingy, on Flickr

For someone for whom music has always been central to my life, I was very late to the CD party. I grew up in a house where there was a communal stereo in the living room. First, custom built shelves of old bricks & boards, LPs stored underneath, a row of cassettes, then the amp & cassette deck. The record player held the place of privilege, alone atop the unit. My parents had a sizeable record collection: dozens of folk & singer-songwriter era records from their youth, along with an even larger, but to me, largely invisible classical collection. the LSO’s recording of Brahms was only an obstacle to find the Cat Stevens or the Beatles.

Upstairs, in their rooms, my much older siblings had their own music collections. MY brother had an even larger collection of LPs, stored in milk crates. His collection was largely contemporary, and for the era, pretty outside the mainstream. When he wasn’t home, or I thought I wouldn’t get caught, I would sneak up into his room and just gaze at the albums. Slip Diamond Dogs out of the sleeve, careful not to rip the paper liner, cringing as inevitably the corners would get folded. He had a small lint-brush kept atop the milk-crates that was to be used solely to clean his records. I cleaned so many records that I dare not actually play, hearing in my head the music held within them. My sister, to my memory, did not have records in her room. She had posters and cassettes, and it was all much scarier and I left it more or less alone. Teenage boys can be angry towards their little brothers. Teenage girls fiercely protective of their space are downright scary.

The CD already existed during all of this time – but it was a non-factor in my family’s life until it had been out for nearly a decade, around 1990 or so. Somewhen after my siblings left for university, when I was 12 or 13, our house was broken into. The record player, visible on its pedestal from the porch outside, was a victim of that burglary, along with any number of records from below. When the stereo system was replaced, my parents bought a CD player. My mother was a fan of the Concerto de Aranjuez, and that LP went missing during the robbery. For her birthday I bought my first ever CDs, 2 different renditions of the Rodrigo’s masterpiece, for my mother.

Even though there was a CD player in the house, I continued to buy tapes for myself for entirely practical reasons: When my brother left home I relocated my bedroom upstairs into what used to be his, and in that room I had a double-tape-teck-radio blaster. It was terrible, essentially monaural because the right-side speaker was constantly shorting out and I loved it. Late sunday nights I would stay up in bed, desperately hoping to keep the signal so I could listen, & record, the Grateful Dead Hour radio show. I bought 120-minute tapes so I could record the entire hour on 1 side of the cassette. I would carefully label each episode, and stored it in a pleather-covered cassette-holder briefcase. I would also endlessly make mixtapes. Some were themed (songs starting with the letter I, spelling the recipient’s name), some were educational (all songs produced by Rick Rubin), some were mercenary (I would give and sell and trade tapes to friends). But every single one of those tapes was made on my crappy double-cassette-deck, painstakingly lined up to optimize each side of the cassette. CDs just didn’t lend themselves to easy trading. They were artifacts of consumption, not catalysts for creation like cassettes were.

The first CD I bought for myself was (keeping with my love of the mix-tape & live music), a bootleg 3-cd set  of a live Led Zeppelin show from Montreux that sounded terrible, contained mistakes but I thought was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. I bought it at a market in Paris while I was on exchange there. I didn’t have a portable CD player with me in France. I didn’t have a CD player of my own at home, but I wanted that set.

It wasn’t until a year later that I got my first CD player, in 1994: for my birthday, my parents gave me a stereo amp. I hooked it up to the 4-ft speakers my brother had left behind nearly 5 years prior in my room. All it could do was play the radio. I was both thrilled, and crushed, that it sounded so good and I couldn’t play my music on it. But that christmas, 2 months later, came part 2: the double-cassette-deck component, and, a cd-player. It all came to university with me, including the way-too-large-for-my-dorm-room speakers, and I loved it. I had acquired a bunch of CDs & quality headphones that I bought second-hand from the owner of a nearby headshop. I still use those headphones today, but nothing else remains from that stereo. Not even the CDs.

For having started collecting CDs fairly late, I made up for it quickly. I bought dozens of magazines that came with sample-music CDs. It was a fantastic way to learn of European techno from Toronto, or music from the New York folk scene. Nearly every spare dollar I had went to buying music. When I moved in with Leah some 8 years later I owned just north of 1000 CDs. I spent hours re-arranging my CDs – if you’ve seen or read High Fidelity, you’ll recognize the obsessive levels of re-arranging I would do. It wasn’t until I realized that Leah didn’t understand how to browse my ordered by alphabetical by producer/songwriter that I gave up on all that & started grouping roughly by genre, then alphabetically. It’s amazing that less than 8 years after that, not only could I no longer arrange my albums by producer, I don’t even know who produced the vast majority of albums I own: it seemed so vitally important to know then, so trivial now.

In 1996 I started working at the student computer help desk at UBC. A manager there, named Jeffrey, had a SCSI CD burner. For work purposes, of course – legitimate duplication of software to hand out to UBC employees (trumpet winsock, anyone?). But late one evening he showed me that he could also duplicate CDs. Create an exact digital duplicate. No loss in fidelity like as what happened to my mixtapes. I was hooked. I couldn’t begin to afford to buy a new CD-R, but when UBC upgraded his machine, they let me buy his old CD-R for a couple hundred bucks. It was single-speed, but It. Was. Awesome. Everyone I knew and loved received a custom-made mixed CD for christmas that holiday. I printed my own album covers & liner notes on my brand-new bubble-jet printer. I asked my girlfriend of the time to hand-write on the discs because my handwriting is terrible.

I experimented with buying CDs, duplicating them and then returning them to stores, but I discovered that I missed the liner notes, so that only happened a few times. I also discovered that because there was no “skill” in making mix CDs that I didn’t enjoy it as much as making mix tapes. The fade-control, time-limits could all be effortlessly predicted through the software. I played with DJ mixes, but was terrible at it, and the software for making such things was very bare-bones back then.

I last bought a CD about 4 years ago. I started a project to digitize my CD collection, and now buy all my music digitally. I don’t miss the format at all. Well, that’s not entirely true. I miss the thrill of examining the packaging, reading the liner notes terribly. There is nothing quite like rushing home with a new purchase, peeling it out of the plastic wrapping, putting it on the stereo and lying there, headphones on to really hear the album, and browsing the liner notes. You can’t do that with digital music. There’s nothing to hold. When my toddler is old enough that I don’t have to worry about him breaking things, I’ll likely buy another turn-table and buy some favourites on vinyl, but not another CD.

It was a good run.

 

Ford Edge, a review

On our recent trip to Florida, we were upgraded from our requested car to a Ford Edge. This was nice, in that with 2 kids, carseats & a stroller, the extra room is always helpful, and that it is remarkably similar to our own car, a Toyota Highlander.

The 2 cars are more or less identical in size: the Edge’s wheelbase is 111.2″, the Highlander’s is 109.8″.  In length/width, the Edge is 184.2″/76″, whereas the Highlander is 188.4″/75.2″. That being said, the Edge feels less roomy inside – at least the driver’s seat feels less roomy – I didn’t sit anywhere else.

The place where the Edge truly shines is the dash/nav system, which uses the Sync tech. The display was clear, easy to see at a glance, provided clear information was very easy to control both with on-steering-wheel controls, and also voice. If we had hooked it up to some sort of internet-capable device, I suspect it would have been even nicer. By contrast, the Highlander’s nav system (nb: we don’t have the new Toyota “entune” system in ours), is really pretty terrible – the voice controls are unusable, the display is so low-res as to be  ugly, I can’t use it if I’m wearing sunglasses, and the audio controls are buried and hard to use. Despite how much better the Edge’s nav/dash system is, there was one clear problem: it seemed to get confused very easily if/as I switched audio sources from bluetooth to usb and back – it would list the wrong artist frequently and I’d lose the ability to control the audio from the steering wheel controls. The only fix I found was to turn off the audio, then reconnect.

This may be a minor thing, but the steering wheel itself was much  nicer in the Edge. It is slightly thicker, and felt much more comfortable in my hands. I also found it easier to adjust the tilt/height to be exactly where I wanted it.

Otherwise the interior was reasonable. The other noticeable interior differences have to do with finish – but I’m not sure there’s a fair comparison because I’m assuming the rental version is the most basic, whereas ours is somewhat kitted out. But! overall, there seemed to be a lot less attention to detail in the Edge: the door pulls felt cheap/flimsy, the cargo mat didn’t sit flush ever, the seatbelt buttons didn’t press smoothly, etc.

The mileage on the Edge was decent – we drove about 500 miles & had to fill up once – and was about 1/2 empty before filling it again to return to the rental place – I had been expecting to fill that more often. Our Highlander is a hybrid, so not a terribly fair comparison, but the Edge’s listed mileage is better than that the non-hybrid Highlander’s listed mileage.

The cars’ handling is very different – whereas our Highlander is best described as “smooth”, the Edge is definitely not – it felt really jumpy at low speeds (starting from stop, for example) and again, at high speeds (80+ mph), felt really shuddery to drive. Both have kick when you need it, but with the Edge, you can feel it moving up and down gears, whereas with the Highlander, its a much smoother transition – I don’t know if the hybrid-electric engine plays a part in that.

Given that both cars have more or less the same starting price ($28K), I’ll take the Highlander over the Edge every time, but, much like my old Ford Focus, Ford continues to impress me – not enough to lure me back to buying an American car, but maybe in a few years.

Looking for a place to happen