The Thrill of Organization

I think you could plausibly argue that the Ipod is one of the greatest inventions of the last 25 years. Obviously, it allows you to select and store the music — or movies, or TV shows — that you like the best. But I think an even more interesting attribute of the Ipod is that it allows you to organize the music however you want. This allows people’s Ipods to be uniquely individualized. Even if people had precisely the same music on their Ipods, the way in which they organized the music would still say a lot about them.

When the kids got me an Ipod, and I realized that you can make playlists, I also realized that the organizational aspect would be as much fun as the initial selection of the music. When you think about it, you can organize music in countless different ways. You can categorize songs by the decade when they were recorded or the decade when you first listened to them. Or, you can classify them by genre, like jazz and classical. Or, you can organize them by subject matter, or how they sound, or where you might hear them. Or, if you really wanted to, you could have a playlist that consisted only of songs that had the word “blue” in the title.

I’ve used all of these approaches (except for the “blue” one); I’ve got playlists called “2 a.m.,” “101 w. 8th,” “dreamtime,” and “political songs,” among others. I’ve also discovered that my initial preconceptions about how I would use the Ipod have been wrong. I am a big Beatles fan, and my first playlist was of Beatles songs. To my surprise, it has turned out to be one of the least played playlists. It is much more entertaining to build playlists where meaningful choices are involved, and where you can, after a time, review the playlist, move songs on, and move songs off. A playlist that consists of only songs by one group — even if the music is as undeniably excellent as the Beatles catalog — is just not as interesting as one where you can put two radically different sounds from radically different musical acts back to back. As a result, I’ve decided that the Beatles playlist is going to hit the cutting room floor, and the songs are going to be moved to other playlists where “Hey Jude,” say, can be followed by Goldfrapp’s “Beautiful.” And then, in a few months, I’ll shuffle them again.

Warming Trends

The weather has turned significantly warmer the last two days. Whereas for several weeks we had a period of temperatures that, for the most part, stayed below 20 degrees, yesterday we saw the 50s and already this morning it feels like the 40s. Snow and ice are melting, and bits of green are coloring the landscape.

When we were kids, we loved the winter weather. It was cold in Akron, and we got lots of snow. Our free time was spent sledding, skating, building snow forts, having snowball fights, avoiding the neighborhood bully who was likely to put snow and ice down your snowsuit, and then getting warmed up with hot chocolate and those little marshmallows. But, we looked forward to warmer weather for at least one reason — breakfast cereal.

The rule in our household was simple and immutable: if the weather was cold, you had to eat hot cereal for breakfast. When the outside thermometer fell below 32 degrees, the fun cereals were put away and the boring, weirdly named cereals moved front and center. Instead of Sugar Frosted Flakes or Sugar Pops (and yes, in those days cereal manufacturers were not troubled by the sugar content of their offerings), we got Quakers Oatmeal, or Cocoa Wheats, or Cream of Wheat. Those choices, at least, were palatable when you spooned enough sugar or brown sugar into the mix. The truly groan-inducing choices, on the other hand, were Maypo and Malt-o-Meal. Maple flavoring only works on syrup. (If you don’t believe me, eat a maple-flavored Bun, and look carefully for maple-flavored entrees the next time you go to a fine restaurant.) And Malt-O-Meal had the worst consistency of any cereal ever — granular, yet mushy, and seemingly designed to get caught between teeth or in braces.

Malt-O-Meal was a troubling choice for another reason. The Malt-O-Meal mascot was a bird that followed the kids around after they’d had their healthy, warm breakfast on a cold winter morning, much as the ghostly Cream of Wheat bowl did, too. Our mother convinced us, that in addition to protecting us from frostbite, the Malt-O-Meal bird also would report to Santa on every one of our transgressions. If we misbehaved, she would pretend that the Malt-O-Meal bird had seen us from a nearby window and was now flying off to turn us in to Santa. So, in addition to being the mascot of a crappy, flavorless, disturbingly consistencied breakfast cereal, the Malt-O-Meal bird was a fink.