technology

#984: 2 Terabytes of Road Trip

Cottage season starts today!  In celebration, we take a look at how packing music for a road trip has changed, even in just the last five years.

 

RECORD STORE TALES #984: 2 Terabytes of Road Trip

Because music goes so well with the road, I’ve written a huge chunk of stories on the subject.  Heck, we even made a list of Top 5 Road Trip Singalong scenes from movies.  What I have come to realize now is that the days of painstakingly selecting music for the road are over.  For good.  Never coming back.  And I’m fine with that.

Without music, driving is often a mind-numbing experience.  A good soundtrack alleviates a lot of the irritation.  As kids, we were fortunate enough to go to the cottage in the summer.  All we had to do was make it through a two hour drive in the back seat.  For entertainment, that required these three minimal things:

  1. A book/comic book to read.
  2. A Walkman with fresh batteries.
  3. Two hours of music (two cassette tapes).

Today, trying to read a book in the back seat of a car makes me road sick, and I don’t even own a Walkman anymore.  Fortunately, now I am also the driver.  That gives me access to the car stereo.  I don’t know what the rules are where you come from, but around these parts, it’s “driver picks the tunes”.  Aside from that one year that the speaker in the driver’s side door of my old Plymouth Sundance died, music has never sounded better in the car than when I’m behind the wheel.

With those years far behind me, I realize now that the biggest change to road tripping today is that I no longer spend hours choosing the music.  I just load it all on a 2T hard drive and plug it in.  As long as I own it and ripped it to the PC, then it comes with me everywhere.  Every song I ever loved (and many that I don’t!) are with me at all times.

Before the advent of this wonderful technology, I would spend many hours packing for trips.  Enough clothes plus some extra?  Check.  All the necessary toiletries?  Yes.  Reading material?  Of course.  Phone and charger?  Can’t forget that stuff.  But then I would spend an hour or more combing through my CD collection, picking all the music that would be with me for the next several days.  Albums and mix CDs would be packed in a little portable CD carrier that I had.  What you picked was what you had to listen to — no going back, so choose wisely!

The passengers, if any, would have to be considered.  I don’t purposely play bands that people hate.  But ultimately, I was choosing music to entertain myself, the driver.  What the others liked or tolerated was of secondary concern.  If Judas Priest had a new album out, damn right I would be packing the new Judas Priest.  Point being, I have spent many painstaking hours choosing music to bring on the road with me.  The limits were how many would fit in my CD carrier and whatever else I had to travel with.  I would have to add an hour to my prep time, just for the music.

The dawn of the USB drive made things a lot easier, but still, storage space was very limited.  And no matter how big the drives got, they were never big enough.  I was still spending hours copying and pasting albums to the drive.  Removing them when I realized I didn’t have room.  Having to pick and choose through the Deep Purple live albums so as not to overload the drive with Purple and give some other bands a chance.  Hours spent!

I don’t think I have ever properly appreciated the time that the 2T portable hard drive has given back to me.  That one huge step that every road trip required — gone completely.  More time to actually sit and enjoy my music!

#887: A Glimpse of the Future

RECORD STORE TALES #887: A Glimpse of the Future

Sometimes I like to imagine myself in my younger self’s shoes.  I think about me as a kid, sitting in the basement watching the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic.  There I am, staring intently, VCR remote grasped in hand, and set to “Record-Pause”.  Waiting for the new music video by Kiss to debut.  Hitting that un-pause button to get a good recording as soon as the video began.  Could I even have imagined the on-demand nature of YouTube?  No, but I like to imagine what I would have thought if I could have seen a glimpse of the future.

I always felt limited by technology, even though I was spoiled enough to have my own stereo, my own Walkman, and access to the family VCR (almost) whenever I wanted.  Though I had all this stuff, I couldn’t make it do what I wanted to do without some improvisation.  Making a mix tape, for example.  If I wanted a live song on a mix tape, I had to fade it in and out.  My dual tape deck couldn’t do that.  To do a fade, I plugged my Walkman, via a cable in the headphone jack, into the audio inputs of my ghetto blaster.  This was done with a Y-connector, and an RCA-to-3.5 mm adaptor cable.  Then I used the Walkman’s volume knob to fade the song in and out while the ghetto blaster recorded.  It took trial and error and the end recording usually sounded a little hot and crackly.  But I didn’t have anything better.

If that highschool kid playing with cables in his bedroom could only have imagined Audacity.  Instant fades, exactly as you want them.  Precise digital replication.  I would have lost my shit.  If you had given me Audacity as a kid, I might not have left my bedroom for a week…and not for the reasons a teen usually hides in his bedroom!

I worked long hours on mix tapes back in those days, mainly because you had to make them in real time.  And you had to keep it simple too.  Making the tape in the first place was the challenge; making it creatively was the icing.  But the end results were always…disappointing?  Underwhelming?  The second generation taped songs never sounded as good as the first.  You’d get a little noise, perhaps a pop, between tracks where you started and stopped your recording.  Little imperfections.  Maybe one track sounds a little slow, one a little fast.  Volume levels are inconsistent.  All stuff out of your control.

The amount of control I have today over what I create is astounding.  Even visually speaking.  I don’t make tape cover art anymore, but doing so was a painstaking process involving sharp pencils, rulers, erasers, and scissors.  Everything had to be handwritten and hand drawn.  Sometimes I might be able to get my dad to photocopy a cover at his work, but usually I had to make my own stuff.  I was very limited when it came to to making visuals.  Even taking a photograph, it took days or weeks to get your picture back.  You had to use the entire roll of film before getting it developed, of course.  Now you have a phone that’s a camera and a computer.

Now that’s something that young me definitely couldn’t have imagined:  our phones.  Even science fiction of the mid-80s didn’t have anything like the phones we have today.  Imagine what I could have made with that!  It took months and a lot of clunky equipment for Bob Schipper and I to make a single music video in 1989.  I can throw together a clip in minutes today, thanks to computers and phones and ubiquitous cameras that ensure I always have raw photos and videos waiting to be edited together.

Computers — now there’s a quantum leap that young me wouldn’t believe.  We had a family computer from a very early time, decked out with a dot matrix printer and a monochrome block of a monitor.  But it wasn’t connected to anything.  We didn’t have the instant access to information.  We couldn’t look up a band’s complete discography in a moment on Discogs, much less actually buy those rare items and have them shipped to the front door!  Can you imagine how much that would have blown my mind?  I had a few hundred bucks in the bank at that age.  Well, it would all have been gone if you had given me access to Discogs for an hour in 1986.  The ability to actually complete an artist’s music collection today, was something I just could not ever do as a kid.  Very few people could.

We did what we could with the resources at hand.  We’d save our pennies, and take the bus down to Sam the Record Man.  We’d look around for an hour and decide where we would best spend our dollars.  “Don’t go to Sam the Record Man and buy something you can get at the mall,” was the motto.  That would be a waste of time and bus money!

Bob Schipper made far more trips to Sam’s, usually via bike.  But if he acquired a rarity, it was always a given that I could tape it off him.  A lot of my first Maiden B-sides were just taped copies of records he found at Sam’s.

What I was doing in those early formative years was absorbing rock’s past.  Collecting the albums, discovering the bands, learning the member’s names through the magazines and interviews.  But what if I could have seen the future of all this?  What would I have thought of things like a six-man Iron Maiden lineup with three lead guitar players?  I think tunes like “The Wicker Man” would have blown me away as an evolution without losing what made Maiden great.

I wonder what I would have thought of the Kiss tour with the original members back in makeup?  I know I would have been disappointed that they never made a proper studio album together.  One thing I appreciated as a kid was that Kiss put out something new every year.  Today, Kiss only put out an album when there’s a solar eclipse on planet Jendell.  I think the success of that reunion tour would have made the younger me feel validated for my Kiss love, but I know I would have been unhappy about the lack of new material.  However, if I could have heard albums like Sonic Boom and Monster, I also know I’d have been happy that Kiss dropped the keyboards, brought Gene back to prominence, and had all four members singing.  That would have impressed me.

I’m still working on my time travel powers, and I’m also wary of doing anything that could change the future.  Since The Avengers: Endgame taught us that you can’t change your past’s future’s future (or something like that), I’m going to continue to work on the technology.  If I can show my past self some of these amazing technological advances, I might…I don’t know!  Buy first print Kiss LPs and keep them in the shrink wrap?  I haven’t fully through this through, but trust me — it’s going to be awesome.

#461: From Dial-Up to Light Speed

GETTING MORE TALE #461: From Dial-Up to Light Speed

My my, how technology has changed!  The last 20 years have been a blur.  Let me give you some examples from the Record Store days!

Back when I first began slinging the rock in 1994, we only had one phone line (with call waiting).  Our VISA/Mastercard machine ran on the same phone line.  You couldn’t ring through a credit card transaction if you were on a call.  If the call waiting went off while you were doing a transaction, it would be cut off and you’d have to start again!  In ‘95, we got a dedicated line for the VISA machine.  Customers often seemed interested in the sounds our VISA machine made when connecting.  That digital “handshake” sound reminded some customers of connecting to the internet.  Same basic technology!

In the late 90’s, we finally got the internet!  It was dial-up.  But some of the staff didn’t know how to use it.  One store manager, Joe “Big Nose”, thought that the only way to disconnect from the internet was to restart your computer!  On a bad day, it was so slow as to be useless.  I remember I had one poor girl trying to help out a really bitchy customer.  She was trying to look up some info online and it was taking forever.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “But my computer is running really slow.”  The customer kindly responded, “Well I’m running fast, so hurry up!”  It’s that kind of customer that wore me down – wore us all down, daily.  If you’re in that much of a hurry, maybe you shouldn’t be stopping to shop for music?

Technology also changed how we backed up our data.  Our computers held a complete inventory of our store’s stock, which changed daily.  This had to be backed up nightly in case we lost it all.  As discussed in Record Store Tales Part 187: Closing Time, in the early days the technology wasn’t up to snuff.  We began by backing up to 3 ¼” floppy.   Our data grew quickly and that was not sufficient for long.   We “upgraded” to a tape backup system.  At this time, tapes could hold about 2 gig.  What we gained in capacity, we lost in speed and reliability.   Staff that were closing the store were supposed to wait until the backup tape had finished before they left, but as our data continued to grow, it took longer and longer.  45 minutes to an hour later, it might be finished.  Obviously you can’t make a staff member stay that long unpaid, so nobody did.  Thankfully we never had any critical crashes that caused us to lose everything.

This was later fixed, by backing up to another computer’s hard drive instead of a tape.  This became fully automated, so staff wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.  Ultimately this was the only real long-term solution, although we did also experiment with zip discs.

Before we had our own website, some customers were dying to be able to browse our stock from home.  If they could do that, we wouldn’t have to take so many phone calls, searching for long lists of CDs one by one.  When we first opened the store that I managed in ‘96, one customer asked me, “ Can you print out your inventory for me?  It would really help me with my shopping!”  He lived out of town and wanted to take a list home and browse it.

The problem, as I tried to explain, was that any list I printed for him would be out of date too quickly to be useful.  “By the time this is done printing, which will take a few hours by the way, it’ll already be out of date.  Used stock goes fast, and most of the good titles, we only have one copy of at a time.  A list isn’t going to help you very much I’m afraid.”  Plus, it would take all day to print on an old dot matrix printer.  More than that, we didn’t even have a way to print an inventory list that didn’t show our own cost on it!  Can’t exactly be handing that out to every customer that walked in the door.  He was really insistent and I actually had to get the Boss Man involved to explain it to him!

Am I ever pleased that technology has caught up with the needs of the on-the-go music shopper!  A couple clicks on Amazon, CD Japan, or Discogs and the music you need will be delivered to your door in days.  It’s actually quite amazing how quickly you can get your music in the mail.  With Amazon, I typically get my order within a business day or two, and that’s with free shipping.  A CD from Japan takes a week.  I never even dreamed of a day when I could have virtually any Japanese release within a week.  To an old timer like me, it’s unbelievable.

What’s next for technology and music sales?

  1. A way to beam music straight into your brain?
  2. Amazon will be able to read my mind and pre-order albums that I want as soon as they’re up. Then they’ll ship them to me by drone!
  3. U2 will find a way to upload their next album onto every device you own, and even ones you don’t!

I for one welcome our new music overlords!

LIGHT SPEED

#378: “Kick it Kevin, do something Kevin!”

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#378: “Kick it Kevin, do something Kevin!”*

If you’re like me, then you absolutely hate it when a piece of your valued technology goes on the fritz.  It happens frequently enough.  Something stops working, and you try to get it functioning again.  For men at least, our first reaction is usually to give the malfunctioning piece of tech a good whack.  You might give it a swift kick, cross fingers, and sometimes that’s all it takes!  Kick it, and it’s suddenly back to life.  A loose connection, perhaps.  Or maybe there’s something mystical about the art of kicking something to make it work again.  Whatever the case may be, fixing one of our modern tech items by ourselves is becoming increasingly more difficult today.  Certainly, a kick rarely works anymore.  All of us will have to replace at least one tech item in our households this year.  Be it your audio device, stereo component, TV, gaming system, computer, or even just your microwave, everything we buy today has a built-in short-term lifespan.

When I was working at the Record Store, it seemed that at least two of our seven CD players were always broken at all times.  When the main store player broke, we’d swap it out with one of the customer listening station players.  Disc players don’t seem durable anymore.  Yet somehow I still own my mom’s original 5 disc CD changer from 1991 (a Sony about the size of a battleship), and it’s the most reliable player in my home.  It’s probably also the oldest piece of tech in the house.  That old Sony keeps on ticking, no kicking required.  Every once in a while it needs a good cleaning, but then it’s good to go once more.

Here’s another interesting fact about my Sony.  It’ll play anything.  Be it a DualDisc or an old cheap Canadian independent CD from the early 90’s, it can play it.  Neither my PC nor laptop will play those things without an annoying amount of artificial digital noise.  My 24 year old Sony will.

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That one CD player aside, everything else here seems to constantly be on the verge of collapse!  I had to buy a new blu-ray player last spring.  The old one refused to boot up anymore.  The original wasn’t a cheap player: I paid almost $500 for it, in 2010!  I was beyond upset when I had to replace it (with a $120 Samsung from Walmart) but the new player has all sorts of bells and whistles built in that the old one didn’t!  The ability to play Netflix, Youtube, or video files off a flash drive were all new to me when I bought it; the old player couldn’t do those things.  (I almost feel like I should have waited before making the switch to Blu.)

More than just the Blu-ray player, everything else here busts eventually.  Both Jen and I have owned Hipstreet brand mp3 players that broke within mere weeks.  I had to replace my car stereo two years ago (I drive a 2010).  Speaking of car stereos, two weekss ago my left door side speaker started cutting in and out!  The following week, it died altogether.  I gave it several good solid boot kicks, but it did not help and I had to have it fixed to the tune of $200.  A similar problem happened in my old Plymouth Sundance.  The left door speaker blew but the car was on its last legs and it wasn’t worth spending money on.  T-Rev came over one night to help me pry the door panel off; we were hoping it was just a wire that came loose.  We never figured it out, but we did damage the door panel in the process.  I never want to pry off another door panel.

Let’s not even talk about computers!  I’ve had to replace more power supplies, fans, cards, routers, monitors…hell, just last week, one of the ethernet ports on my router died.  No idea why, it’s just one of those things that happens, isn’t it?  The nice thing though, about being forced to replace something like that, is that you are almost certain to be upgrading every time.  Since the technology becomes fancier over the years, if you blow a hard drive you’ll most likely be replacing it with a bigger and faster one.

Faster, sleeker, tricked out…technology keeps getting more exciting, but more disposable.  When I was a kid, it didn’t seem that way.  Each family had a VCR…that was their VCR.  They didn’t go and buy a new and better one every two years.  Each kid had a ghetto blaster.  That was their ghetto blaster…it was expected to last many years.  If it broke, you fixed it or got it fixed.  That’s how it went.  Today, we go buy a new one, and pay a recyling fee to throw out the old.  Seems to me like it’s not the technology that’s broken, it’s this disposable culture we live in.

* The title refers to an on-stage meltdown by the band Extreme last year. Their own technology went sour and they were having sound issues all night. Nuno walked off stage…Pat walked off stage…leaving singer Gary Cherone and drummer Kevin Figueiredo up there trying to play “Get the Funk Out” by themselves. After Cherone begging “Kick it Kevin, do something Kevin!” the drummer too left the stage, leaving everyone in puzzlement.

VIDEO REVIEW: Blackberry Z10 smartphone

BlackBerry Z10

5/5 stars

Music by Kathryn Ladano, Dave Dubowski