To summarize my last post: the compact disc is obsolete technology, I'm moving all my music online, but it's discouraging to think about all the times I've had to do this.
The other reason I hesitate with the task is the sheer labor of it. I recall just a couple of years ago when I got energized to preserve a lifetime of photographs in digital form. Energized for a month or two, until I realized that each of several thousand photos would require about three minutes or longer to scan, tweak, and store -- and working with old negatives or slides, the results would still be far from perfect.
I've done enough research to know that digitizing music is easier and quicker than film; I can probably get the job done in two or three months in my spare time.
But there remains the Sisyphean nature of the process. My music will now have been reborn at least four times in various formats. Each time looked like it would be the last. Digital music looks perfect now, but I'm sure that in ten or fifteen years or less, there will be something to replace it. Maybe in future, we'll have some little chip embedded in our brains at birth. Is updating even worth the effort, or should I just be happy with the radio?
Doesn't this whole process imply that a whole lot of modern living is no more than just keeping up with "stuff" that we own? And in that case, do we really own it, or does it own us? It's hard to deny that the material culture, usually interpreted in American society as progress that benefits us, at the same time also has its costs, both in money spent and in quality of life.
We each make our own judgment as to where we want to be on that scale. Certainly our affluent society pushes us toward the higher end - buy that 100-inch television, that new car, or that new house! And perhaps it's only as we age that we begin to consider more seriously the choices we have in that regard: Digitize your music collection but let the photos rot. Trade in your three-year-old car or keep it for a decade. What's important is to recognize we (most of us anyway) have such choices, and not to allow ourselves to be swept willy-nilly into the maelstrom of acquisition for its own sake.
I was impressed and surprised by the story of Kathrine Switzer as reported by the Washington Post yesterday. Switzer was the first woman to run officially in the Boston marathon. At the time there was no specific prohibition on female runners but none had actually tried it. Perversely, that run in Boston in 1967 caused a backlash ban on women in marathons, which wasn't overcome until 1972. Nevertheless, she effectively opened the sport for women, and helped make the marathon an Olympic sport.
I'm not a runner (not since my army boots wore out) and certainly never did marathons, so it came as a surprise to me to learn that women had ever not been permitted to run. (Pro football, maybe but running?) But when you think about it, that was the conventional thinking of the time: Women were "the weaker sex." And the attitude of the Boston marathon coordinator, Jock Semple, who tried to stop her when he discovered there was a woman in "his" race, was also typical.
Switzer, who is now in her 70s, had the last laugh. She has a wikipedia page; Semple does not.
It's been discovered that the uniforms the U.S. Olympic athletes will wear in London were all made in China. (By a guy named Ral-Fu Lo-rong, it seems.) Naturally, a lot of people have become exercised by this news. Indeed, as so many are already asking, "what were they [the USOC] thinking?"
One answer might be that they weren't thinking at all. In an environment where outsourcing of jobs is an almost daily matter of discussion in the media, and when a "made in America" movement has gained quite a lot of traction, to have made a conscious decision to buy Chinese for this patriotic flagship event is pretty blindingly stupid. Not to have considered where the clothing was manufactured is equally as dumb.
If the Committee was thinking, presumably they were focused on the bottom line: could China produce more cheaply? Perhaps they were blinded by the desire to get a "designer" involved. That would seem to have backfired -- these uniforms are really dorky looking, and should make our athletes a laughingstock at the opening ceremonies. But while we're talking about the designer - shouldn't Lauren have had the foresight to think about "made in America," even if the USOC didn't?
The USOC's blunder is just one of those things - it will blow over with no lasting effect. But its object lesson is that corporate types (for that in essence is what USOC folks are) can't be left isolated in their profit-oriented bubbles, they need adult supervision to do the right thing. Executives at Wells Fargo are learning that today, too.
About an hour ago I watched "I'll Have Another" win the Kentucky Derby on TV.
I'm no big horse racing fan (though some years back a friend and I did enjoy an occasional Friday-night drive from Kansas City to Ak-Sar-Ben track in Omaha, where we found that we could usually cover the costs of our trip and win a little bit besides). Nor did I really care which entrant in the crowded field of 20 would win. (I rooted for Creative Cause. I like grays.)
But there is a terrific, magical quality about the Derby. The long tradition, the excitement, the anticipation, the pageantry, the crowds ... all for an event that lasts only about three minutes. They do it year after year (and perhaps part of the secret is that unlike an NFL game, it's only once a year) but they bring it off, and it works.
That said, I would vote against having a dialog balloon saying "Yum" plastered over everything in sight. To me it suggests they're planning to eat some of the horses. OK, so it's the logo of "Yum Brands," the fast-food chain that includes Kentucky Fried Chicken (get the connection?), Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. They're taking over the world, but really, you Derby managers, you stepped over the line on commercialism this time, and it will destroy what you've got, it you let it.
Movie stars, recording artists, and others from the performing arts are constantly in the news with their efforts to influence Congress, voters, or charitable contributors. Recently it was the turn of some fairly second-tier actors like Alec Baldwin and Melina Kanakaredes (both of the wooden stump school of acting) to appear before Congress to argue for more funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
I wonder if anyone has ever analyzed the effectiveness of these intercessions. My guess is that when Congress is the audience, such gigs have almost zero effect on members' votes, but they do help put boring old Congress in the limelight for a half-day or so. The verdict is a little less certain when it's a matter of a star performing for the benefit of an individual politician - at a fundraiser, for example. There too, I suspect negligible practical effect, though I am sure there must be some voters whose minds can be swayed by the inference that favorite singer Sirenia Squawker likes John Whitebread for Congress. After all, why shouldn't a performer be just as influential in these matters as equally irrelevant pastors or tribal leaders?
No doubt performers' best chance at having impact is to connect his/her name, reputation, and bank account with a charitable or humanitarian cause. Not that they influence political action as such (though they do try) but they can attract attention and contributions to a cause that hasn't had much publicity. Most of our media quickly get bored with starving refugees, but a star's trip to visit those same refugees can refocus the spotlight for a day or two.
In all cases, it helps to keep in mind that the primary beneficiary of a performer's appearance for a "cause" is probably ... that performer.
In the ongoing boom of personal technology, the iPad and its various imitators has led the pack of late. The latest version is arriving in stores today. The trend to tablets is unmistakably clear and large.
Do tablets do anything a laptop or desktop computer can't do? No. They have the advantage in portability, but beyond that they do far less, IF you actually use your computer for things a computer is good at, you'll probably never embrace a tablet. I keep a half-dozen databases, I do some online publishing, I do my two blogs, I edit photos, I do bookkeeping and taxes for a small business and a charitable organization -- none of these would be particularly convenient to do on a tablet, even if it had the requisite memory and speed to run the programs involved. While I don't do much with graphics or design programs, I'm pretty sure artists, architects and others would also find tablets sadly wanting for these purposes.
But the question posed above is the wrong one to ask. Although tablets arose out of the concept of the home computer, they're not really computers, but mobile entertainment centers. (To put a retro twist on it, they are today's transistor radios, just as SUVs are today's station wagons.) Tablets are all about fun and games -- movies, music, photos, web surfing, e-books, shopping, and e-mail -- and that's probably what about 90% of users really want.
The genius of the iPad was in deconstructing the 1990s concept of home computers. Two decades ago, computers made the jump from offices to people's homes, largely based on the much-ballyhooed advantages of all the wonderful things they'd be able to do. Mostly, these were the same things the iPad now does (allowing for the inevitable advances in technology). The computer world is now being re-stacked into a consumer/consumption segment (increasingly, tablets) and a work/production segment.
I'm comfortable with that, so long as I can still get a desktop to do the things I need to do. On that score, Microsoft's new operating system (Windows 8), which by all accounts is focused on moving its software to giving the user a touch-screen, tablet-like experience, gives some cause for concern. The main issue I see is that the new OS won't allow you to keep more than two programs or "windows" open at once. This makes impossible my standard operating procedure, when I'm likely to have - and need - four or five things open.
So far Microsoft is getting high praise from techies for reinventing itself, and the trend away from proprietary software isn't new. Microsoft appears to have thrown in the towel to it, but I for one am tired of costly format, program, and interface changes and hope this latest one is a leap I can avoid until my dotage. If not, I suppose I'll find myself having to migrate to different OSs and software, maybe UNIX based.
We watched the Superbowl. That in itself is worth mentioning, since my wife and I otherwise have little interest in watching sports on TV. But a few years ago we decided to get in synch with the quintessentially American phenomenon by watching one; we decided on champagne and popcorn as the "fare," and actually found it was kind of fun to watch one game - supposedly the best one - a year. Years have gone by (that first one was so long ago it was in January, not February; and also was before people started to watch the 'bowl "for the commercials"); and we've changed the menu a little (now it's champagne, chips and guacamole) but we have kept that tradition ever since, gradually falling into the rut of a usually-boring game, a mediocre half-time show, and some occasionally humorous ads.
What struck me about the 46th iteration this year was that, in contrast to most recent years, the game itself was the attention-getter, with a close match between the Boston and New York that went right down to the wire. Those famous expensive commercials this year became the bore, demonstrating far less originality than in the past, as many of them stuck to the same old shticks - polar bears, bimbos, talking babies, and the like. The half-time show looked to be one of those things for which you "had to be there" - if you saw it in person you might get caught up in the moment, but watching at home, it's just a lot of noise and flashing lights; you can kind of watch the money being burned.
The other point I found interesting was the tendency for politics to creep in. Some saw politics in Clint Eastwood's message. I watched his soliloquy, and thought it might be political, probably because it was just a talking head; yet listening to it, I didn't detect anything overtly political. I've heard some reports that it was actually a commercial for Chrysler (?) but I never heard Chrysler mentioned, so I assume not. If Eastwood meant it to be political, he cleverly made it fuzzy enough that it might be taken as positive by either major party.
On the other hand, the mayors of New York and Boston did a joint appearance to brief their take on the second Amendment to the Constitution and its public-safety ramifications. That shouldn't be political, either, but it is these days, and I thought they made the most of the exposure. Will this camel's nose of liberal consciousness edge farther into the tent of NASCAR America, or will there be a move next year to ban overtly political messages? Curiously, I haven't seen anyone comment publicly on this spot. It's very possible it didn't even register with a lot of people.
Our peculiarly American, pollyannaish habit of celebrating October 31 by putting kids out in the streets at night to collect candy, rather than putting candles on real graves in memory of real dead, has caught on in other societies as well. Yet it seems in decline here in the land of its origin.
At my house, we had only five trick-or-treaters. That's not even the full complement of the kids who live on our block. Could it be that the kids are just avoiding old Mr. and Mrs. Tin Lizard, because we're grumpy, or give out really bad treats like Big Nate's dad in the comic strip (who hands out celery sticks and other health food)? I don't think so, because nearly everyone we encounter reports a similar downtrend in ToTs - only one at this house, only two at another place halfway across town, etc.
The Halloween experience is dying. Kids, I know, are going to mall parties that will help to commercialize Halloween and turn it into yet another buying opportunity; or to home parties that may be good social experiences, and that provide a safe, controlled environment with adult supervision. And that's just the problem. I was never much of a fan of dressing up in costume, but I still remember from the Halloweens of my childhood the thrill of getting out at night, in the dark, with just a handful of friends, or maybe as a tiny tot, with my older sister. That's the unique experience of Halloween - it's liberating, it's scary, it's when you face the big bad world (kind of) on your own. It's not supposed to be just another birthday party.
When will true trick-or-treating vanish altogether? I can't say, but the end seems near. Soon, folks will be lamenting the lost "true meaning of Halloween" just as they now bewail our ignorance of the "true meaning of Christmas."
The Iowa cornfield that was the location for the famous movie "Field of Dreams" (1989) has been sold. The new owners say they will preserve the 193-acre site's "baseball legacy" as a "special place," yet the fact remains that they plan to turn it into a commercial complex called "All-Star Ballpark Heaven." So, while they may preserve it, they will also develop it, changing its nature.
The news strikes me as sad. It's not a baseball story, even if it is being announced just as the World Series ends. It's just another tale in the panorama of man's continuing effort to leave no square inch of the globe untouched by his "improvements." The current owners, who've had the property since before the movie, began the process (with the willing help of the movie moguls); the new owners merely continue it.
We're always told that there is "plenty of land" in the United States. Yet overall, the process is inexorable, unless a plague or unexpected climatic cataclysm puts an end to human population growth. Already, much of the land that remains unexploited is in inhospitable areas - arid desert or steep mountains (we'll get to them eventually too). It's all very well to set aside national parks and wilderness areas (though in many we permit all sorts of un-wilderness-like activity, from mining to snowmobiling).
More pertinent, I think, is what land remains available for cultivation; as population growth continues unabated, food shortages and even more serious water shortages threaten increasingly large swathes of territory. Malthus could not have imagined the kind of population growth we now experience. He is often considered to have been "wrong" in his predictions, but perhaps he was far more prescient than anyone realized. How can a constantly decreasing supply of arable land continue to feed a constantly increasing supply of humans? Is a second "green revolution" in the offing? Experts say not.
Personally, I'm waiting for the news that a sports complex, a shopping center, or even a parking lot has been sold for "dedevelopment," and will be returned to its natural state.