Saturday Night/Sunday Morning Fire Pit

  

I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of our backyard fire pit.  I like the zen of it, and the minute adjustments that make up tending a fire.  As I listen to my Empty Nest playlist and watch the fire consume logs and make them vanish into smoke and embers, I am struck by the beauty and violence and mystery of it.

I feel like I could sit out here and watch it for hours.

From a-Ha To ZZ Top

After months of painful work, my careful reconstruction of my failed iPod is coming to an end.  I started with a-Ha, worked my way through the Beach Boys and Beatles, through Elton John and Veruca Salt and Yo-yo Ma, compiling dozens of different playlists along the way, and have finally hit Zuilli Bailey and ZZ Top.  After that end-of-the-alphabet omega point, there are some random Japanese characters and numbers — .38 Special and the 5h Dimension figure prominently, for example  — but we’re basically done with the project.

What does it all mean?  I’m not sure, except for this:  there are a ridiculous number of talented musicians out there, and an even more ridiculous number of great songs,, and I desperately want to have them all.  What surprises me in my effort is that there is so much great music that I want to have on my iPod, just in case — and also how much fun it can be trying to organize it into playlists.  My musical tastes are broad, and if someone tells me I’m going to need to choose among the Beatles, the Temptations, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard, George Jones, John Coltrane, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, and countless other artists, I’m not going to be a happy camper.

Fortunately, the old iPod has sufficient storage capacity that I don’t have to make such choices.  I can winnow things down without cutting crucial things out — and that is a great luxury of the modern world.  We are lucky we live in times of such technological advances.

The iPod At Technology’s End

Earlier this month I went to the Apple store at Easton Town Center and bought a second iPod — now called an iPod classic — because I wanted a spare I could use in my car and at the office on weekends.  Little did I know that I was buying one of the last iPods to be sold in an Apple store.

IMG_3056This week, after Apple announced its rollout of two new iPhones and the Apple Watch, the iPod classic was removed from the Apple on-line storePopular Mechanics reports that the iPod classic has been removed from Apple stores, too.

The iPod was introduced in October 2001, which means it’s ridiculously ancient by modern technology standards.  Technostuds view it as a kind of quaint antique, with its buttons rather than a touch screen and its single-purpose design and its internal spinning hard drive storage unit.  Sales of iPods of all kinds have dropped off, from a high of more than 54 million in 2009 to less than 12 million in 2012.  Obviously, consumers are focused more on multi-purpose functionality and would rather have an iPod app on their smartphone than carry around multiple devices.

All of that’s true, of course, but I love my iPod anyway.  It may be outdated, but the iPod has a certain timeless quality to it.  iPod classic is a good name for it, too, because it is a classic, like a gleaming 1930s sedan or a gorgeous art deco building.  With its crisp lines and sleek appearance, the iPod is simply a beautiful device — in my view, much more attractive than an iPhone or other substitutes.  And I like tinkering with it, creating playlists and shifting songs from here to there.  I like the raw storage capacity that allows me to store 40,000 songs — 40,000 songs! — and listen to any one of them when I’m taking my morning walk.  I don’t care that it only performs that one function when it performs it so well, and in such a cool package.  I’ll use it, proudly and happily, until the spinning hard drive finally gives up the ghost.

I’m glad I bought one of the last iPods to be sold at an Apple store.  I’ll almost hate to take it out of the box.

Inadvertent IPod Wipeout

I am of the generation that views every electronic device with wary trepidation.  Raised during a time when computers crashed even more frequently than the healthcare.gov website, I firmly believe — despite the bland assurances of sons and IT nerds alike — that I can bring any system down with one false keystroke.

IMG_5424Saturday morning, it happened.  I had my iPod attached to the computer and was listening to music when I decided to remove the iPod.  It’s something I’ve done hundreds of times, but this time the outcome was different.  Suddenly a wavy line appeared on the screen, the mouse became unresponsive, and before I knew it the computer was telling me that did not recognize its old pal, my iPod.  When I removed the iPod, with sinking feeling, I found that all of my music and my carefully constructed playlists had been removed.  And, because I’ve been lazy about it, I don’t have any remotely current back-up on the computer itself.

So I went through the seven stages of reaction to technology disaster.  First, shock that my faithful iPod had deserted me, then denial that I could wreak such havoc with one inadvertent mouse click.  Next, I raged at the capricious electronic device gods for punishing me so grievously for one little mistake.  Then, false hope and bargaining.  Surely, the music still had to be on my iPod somewhere!   I’ll do a google search and find out how to retrieve it!  But google gave no answer, and when google gives no answer you are truly screwed.  My hope gone, I accepted responsibility for the disaster, then wrestled with the devastating realization that, although every other American under the age of 80 happily uses their iPod without incident, I am an idiot who can somehow evade all of the safety protections Apple has built into one of its signature products.

Those stages are behind me now, and I’ve moved, finally, to acceptance and hope.  I now welcome the chance to change things around, to shift the order of songs and maybe be a bit more selective in what goes on the iPod in the first place.  (The Telemann piece with the hunting horns probably will hit the cutting room floor this time.)  I’ll rebuild my iPod, with new and better playlists!  This time, I’ll back things up!  This time, I’ll do things the way Apple wants them done!

Oh, and I’ll be a bit more careful when removing my iPod from the computer.

Magic Of A Smile

On this morning’s walk I was listening to my iPod when The Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra came up on the playlist.  Without conscious thought, a big smile broke across my face as I listened to the silly lyrics — which are not exactly like poetry.  (“Abra, Abracadabra . . . I want to reach out and grab ya.“)

A stranger happened to be walking by in the opposite direction, and when he saw my grin he smiled right back.  His reaction, in turn, made my smile a bit wider.

Genuine smiles are contagious.  We all know that from personal experience, and scientific studies of the phenomenon prove its existence.  Whether it is due to the existence of “mirror neurons” in our brains, or social conditioning, or a combination of factors, humans are programmed to meet a smile with a smile.  And when we provoke that expression of delight, and see the face of a loved one turn sunny as a result of our comment or conduct, it is a wonderful thing.

I don’t know if Steve Miller anticipated all of this when he wrote Abracadabra — but he worked a little bit of magic on a New Albany walking path this morning.

Finally Finishing The Year-Long iPod Rebuilding Project

More than a year ago, my iPod unexpectedly died on me.  I didn’t have any of my iPod songs or playlists on iCloud, nor did I have my iPod playlists on iTunes.

This was a disaster of the first order, because I love to listen to music.  I crave music, and I had created playlists to suit my every mood.  Suddenly, all of my carefully crafted playlists were . . . gone.

After a solemn ceremony and reassurance from the Genius Bar that I truly was screwed, I bought a new iPod and decided to start all over — going through every song on my iTunes library, from A to Z.  I’ve been doing it for more than a year now.  Along the way I deleted songs that were duplicative, or songs that I didn’t like.  Those that remained were placed into new  playlists.  My progress was delayed when our old iMac also quit on me, but I kept at it.

Tonight, after more than a year of work, I finished culling the iTunes library and rebuilding the iPod.  I went through an original library of more than 15,000 songs and chopped it down to a mere 7716, starting with Take on Me by a-Ha and ending with Love Song by 311.  I’ve got baroque, and Motown, and holiday music, and Ashokan Farewell, and Sharp Dressed Man, and Jeff Beck’s Freeway Jam.  I’ve got it all in my little bit of metal magic that’s smaller than a pack of cigarettes, and I’m ready to face the world again.

I’ve still got work to do, adding new songs from time to time, tinkering with the playlists, and perhaps creating a few more that I might discuss in the future.  But tonight I’m done with my year-long project, and I feel like celebrating.  Time to unhook the iPod and listen to Derek and the Dominos’ Key to the Highway.

My Earbuds Are Duds

During an otherwise immensely enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday, the hang-over-the-ear earphones that I normally use with my iPod were borrowed and now are nowhere to be found.  So, I am relegated to using the “earbuds” that come as standard equipment with the iPod — and thus I feel both frustration and shame.

I experience frustration, because the Apple ear buds simply will not stay in my ears.  They may look cool and sleek, but with the slightest head movement or gentlest jostling, the earbuds will plop softly out of my ears.  The only way I can keep them in on the morning walk is to put on a ski cap that tightly binds them to my ears and then walk with head held stiffly, like I’m wearing an invisible neck brace.  It’s not a comfortable start to the day.

I feel shame, too, because I know that Apple makes only excellent, well-engineered devices.  Steve Jobs himself must have given these earbuds a thumbs-up.  Therefore, my inability to keep them in my ears must mean there is something defective about either the structure of my ears or my understanding of how to use the earbuds.  Perhaps the little flap on the forward part of my exterior ear — called the tragus, for those who haven’t memorized Gray’s anatomy — is embarrassingly undersized.  Maybe Steve Jobs’ ears had tragi the size of catcher’s mitts, ready to hold the earbuds snugly inside.  Or perhaps I’m using the devices improperly.  Maybe they go in upside down, or backwards — or maybe they aren’t intended for the ears at all, but were designed by Apple to be inserted into the nostrils and reach the inner ear through a more indirect route?

It’s time to help our retailers have a good holiday season and buy some new earphones.