Monday, March 20, 2006

The Silence of the Desktop

It was just over 9 months ago that my company decreed that people could no longer play music out loud at the desks. Within a couple of weeks there was an implicit ban on headphone music at the desk, They had long since blocked any Net Radio stations, but a couple of incidents of customer visits marked by expletives heard streaming from one persons desk, and another of an important call missed because the person couldn't hear the rining above their headphones ... and the writing was on the wall.

That has changed much about my day ... I typically had music on, very softly and directed at my head so that even the person next to me could barely hear it early in the morning. It does have a negative morale impact, but I am dealing.

I have sporadically blogged for a bit now, but since I jst got a new laptop that will likely tail off as well. It is well known that corporations see blogging as a potential security threat, so many clamp down on sites like this. Previously I would encounter a 'warning', but with the new laptop and 'desktop image', it is now blocked. I used to enjoy working a few minutes here or there on a draft during the day, but that is gone.

So I don't know how much more I'll do ... we'll see.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

iPod Shuffle = Freedom!

I have had digital music on the go in MP3 form since I got the HP 430se PDA in 1998. It was the first PDA to have integrated MP3 capability, and since I had access to 'large' (32MB was large at that time!) compact flash cards, I was all set. Simply rip CD's to MP3 format using the very rudimentary MusicMatch Jukebox, transfer over the horribly slow 56k serial cable, and I was all set. It was far from ideal, but it all worked, and gave me wondeful flexibility in the music I carried with me. Gone were CD's and tapes littering my car, replaced with a single device I'd have with me anyway.

For some time after that I continued the 'MP3 on PDA' trend - in early 2000 I was using the new Pocket PC with a 256MB memory card (which cost almost as much as the PDA!) and later that year I had a 1GB IBM MicroDrive in a Jornada 720 HPC Pro. It was an amazing progression that kept putting more and more music at my disposal as I drove. By the summer of 2001 I had traded a Psion 5mx for an Archos Jukebox 6GB player, which had amazing storage but one of the worst interfaces I'd ever confronted. Still, the sheer amount of music it made possible was staggering. I had been slowly building my digital library - I have hundreds of CD's, but since I tend to use laptop computers disk space is always at a premium. I knew I wouldn't have the Archos for long, though, as I already had Apple Powerbooks as my secondary computers, and Apple had just announced it was entering the market with a MP3 player, and I decided I just had to have it! And so I did.

There were loads of compromises in the first iPod - the iTunes software was still immature, the interface of the iPod rudimentary, and the disk size was 5GB, which meant I had to decide between limiting my library to 5GB or manually managing what playlists were synchronized. On the good side, the auto-connect worked perfectly and the FireWire interface was stunningly fast - just a few minutes and the iPod was full.

I have largely kept up with the progressions of iPods, with the exception of the latest Nano and Video versions, and my wife has been along for the ride - she got my original, and more recently I bought her a 6GB Mini of her own. She is an addict and 'Pinky' is never far from her side. I currently have a 40GB 'Generation 4' iPod, and have kept my library limited to under 40GB so I never have to deal with manually adjusting my sync settings.

Along the way I have developed a listening style that is extraordinarily linear and structured - I have playlists by artist, and within those all music is chronologic and and ordered within CD. 'Mixed' playlists are for artists I only have a few songs from, or from general popular music collections we have at home. But even those are ordered - I have a playlist for 'Pop/Rock - 80's' which is chronologically listed by year and alphabetically listed within year.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the SPIE Conference on Microlithography in San Jose, and attending a Private Seminar on Metrology hosted by Hitachi. Besides being a wonderful technical meeting and a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues from all over the world, they also were raffling away 5 iPods. Every non-Hitachi person got a raffle ticket when they came in, and we were only told about the raffle half-way through, but not about what type or anything like that. So the raffle comes later in the evening, and *bam* I win one! Cool. It ends up being a 1GB iPod Shuffle. I had never had an interest in the shuffle, due to its' lack of a screen and puny capacity. How in the world was I supposed to manage my music that way?

But a funny thing happened a week or so ago - I decided to dump a couple of gigabytes of my favorite stuff on my Dell XPS and let iTunes auto-fill the Shuffle. I made further rules for myself - I would accept whatever song the Shuffle picked and listen to it all the way through. No forwarding or skipping songs, no rewinding to listen again unless there was a legitimate reason that caused me to miss the song. So the only buttons I'd push were the Play and Volume buttons. It was exciting and nerveracking for such a control-freak as myself to let it all go.

But it has been utterly exhilarating. I'm sure some are having a chuckle about this, but the freedom to *not* control things, while knowing that some piece of music I love will certainly be playing, is actually quite liberating. I never thought I'd care about this thing - I'm old and jaded from years of having the latest and greatest electronics. But this is changing my listening habits all over again - I can slip the Shuffle in my coat pocket, so it comes everywhere with me and I will play it even on a five minute trip to the store. Where I was listening to more random radio in my car since my company pretty well banned music at the desk and I lost track of my iPod's battery status, now I never listen to the radio ... which is a good thing. And the ability to listen to music without choosing it is wonderful ...

It is funny the little things that refresh an old habit - the iPod shuffle, something I would never have bought myself, has totally changed my listening and helped me fall in love again with some stuff I hadn't listened to in quite a while.

And just to prove that not a penny of marketing money is wasted on my younger son, last night as we were driving to his church choir practice, he asked mid-conversation "Dad, are you in a good mood tonight?" Why, I asked? Because the iPod Shuffle can guess your mood, and this isn't a happy song. (It was Albert Ayler's 'Spiritual Unity', which isn't unhappy but is definitely abstract expressionism) I said I was in a great mood, the song is actually a happy song about joining together with god. His reply was "Well, I guess your in a crazy mood then, because this is one crazy song ..."

Perhaps the Shuffle *can* tell my mood ...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Getting back to actually blogging!

I have been posting too many 'epics' lately and as a result have loads of 'drafts' that I can't finish for one reason or other. Time to get back to just posting stuff.