April, the shortest month of the year (when it comes to blog posts)

April was a bad month. Let me make a list:

  • I bombed out on a relatively easy goal for Camp NaNoWriMo 2018
  • I had to visit the emergency room after two days of throbbing pain in my mouth
  • I had to visit the dentist due to the above and get a semi-tooth yoinked due to infection
  • I had to take antibiotics due to the above which have fun side effects like diahhrea
  • I barely ran at all due to weather, my suddenly sore knees and general ennui
  • I gained 1.1 pounds (I’m actually surprised it wasn’t more)
  • I felt like no progress was made in work-related matters (this may change)
  • I wrote almost no fiction at all
  • My one-post-per-day blog rule fell to dust (this is post #21 and I’m pretty sure I’m not cranking out nine more tonight)
  • Other stuff

There were also some good things and I am more hopeful for May. If nothing else the weather should be better.

Also I’m going to start the 21-day complaint-free challenge again. I feel like I went from being super-observant in watching what I was saying (ie. complaining) to just opening my mouth and spewing rants almost randomly. I need to get back on track and find my inner teddy bear.

The spring list

Things to do, things to suffer through, things that just happen. This is spring.

  • warmer weather, yay
  • allergy season, boo
  • bees are back. As long as they are not killer bees, yay
  • still kind of rainy, boo
  • but now the sun feels warm again, yay
  • it’s still light after dinner, yay
  • still dark early in the morning, boo. But it’s early in the morning, so not a big boo.
  • next season is summer, yay
  • Easter weekend has two stat holidays, yay
  • Easter eggs, yay

On balance, spring is a pretty good season.

The Obsolete List: 1964 Edition

Technology always marches forward, except for things like the Dark Ages and I guess World War III. But generally, it marches forward. The pace of change can sometimes be startling, while in other cases it feels like it’s taking a lot longer to progress for unspecified reasons (example: car technology has improved but not substantially changed at a mass production level in over a hundred years. The majority of vehicles are still fueled by gasoline that powers an internal combustion engine. Sure, whizzy electric cars and hybrids have gained, but they’ve yet to take over on a mass scale).

I was born in 1964, the same year a bunch of stuff happened. The Beatles were pretty popular. The American space program was in full swing and only five years away from a moon landing. And cars ran on gasoline that powered internal combustion engines.

But what technology over the past 50+ years has become obsolete or so little-used that it’s effectively obsolete? Most of it is stuff I grew up with. Do I yearn for any of this bygone technology? Let’s have a look at The Obsolete List and find out!

  • Rotary dial telephones. People often still refer to “dialing a number” but no one actually does it anymore. I remember back in Duncan you only had to dial the last five numbers instead of all seven and at the time it made dialing bearable, though you still hoped people had numbers like 222-1111. By the time the proliferation of phone numbers required you to enter all seven digits, plus the area code, we had moved on to push button phones and it was inconvenient but not the utter madness that it would have been on a rotary phone. Do I miss these devices? No. There is no nostalgia value in having to wait for a rotary dial to finish turning before you can enter the next number.
  • 8-track tapes. I’ve discussed these before and the short answer is no: digital music does everything an 8-track tape did, without all the weirdness of putting songs out of order, duplicating tracks, splitting them in two and not to mention the inevitable tape-eating that happened. These had one minor convenience over cassette tape, in that you didn’t have to flip the tape over (if you were one of those poor sods that didn’t have a tape deck that could play both sides automatically). Speaking of…
  • Side A and Side B. Okay, this isn’t technology, strictly speaking, it’s more about how albums were always split into two halves before the Compact Disc (see below) took over. While this allowed some bands to experiment by doing different things on each side, I think the benefit of having a single cohesive whole makes for better albums overall.
  • Cassette tapes. These are still around, so like vinyl, technically not dead, but it’s very much a niche product. While more compact than vinyl, durability was always iffy, with tapes unceremoniously unspooling and getting eaten in the tape deck. You also ended up with the degraded tape exhibiting a lot of pops, cracks and other un-musical sounds. May casette tapes rest in pieces, I say.
  • Floppy disks. No one in their right mind would miss these. Everything now is better. I still have a box of them dating back to the mid 90s. I wonder if they would be readable today? (I checked and you can get a USB floppy disk drive for $30. I’m not sure it’s worth $30 to find out.)
  • Compact Disc (CD). Officially introduced to the world in 1993, they became the dominant music format by the end of the decade. Now, with digital music and especially with the rise of streaming music, the CD is not dead but is on life support. It had a few advantages over vinyl: better audio quality (provided the recording was managed properly–vinyl aficionados will always argue that records offer a “warmer” sound than CD), a more, ahem, compact format, the ability to hold more music (about 75 minutes, where vinyl was pushing it at 48-50 minutes) and because the disc was read by a laser, you no longer had to worry about a needle scratching across your record when you bumped the player. Instead you had to worry about the laser blinding you. Do I miss CDs? Really, no. They were better than vinyl and tape, but ultimately they now look like more of a stopgap on the way to digital music. And they could still get scratched and have playback suffer. Plus the album art was hard to make out.
  • Compact Disc-Recordable (CD-R). These were discs you could record to (multiple times in the case of CD-RW) and they allowed for early mass backup/storage. But they were slow, prone to errors and clunky to use. DVD-Rs were not much better, just higher capacity. I do not miss these. As with floppy disks, everything now is better.
  • Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TVs and monitors. You know, the big, boxy things that you could warm your cat on and weighed between 50 and 1000 pounds. While the cats probably miss them–LCD monitors and TVs offer little room to accommodate sleeping felines–the only aspect I miss about CRT monitors is how blacks were much..blacker. This is offset today by OLED technology, but OLED hasn’t really percolated into widespread use, apart from some TVs, smartphones and laptops, because it’s still really expensive. I don’t miss the weight, energy cost, blurry text or industrial beige styling of most CRT monitors, though.
  • Digital watches. OK, these aren’t obsolete, but with watches now being more fashion statements than actual timepieces, who would still wear one? Anything a digital watch can do can be done better on a smartphone, or even a smartwatch. Still, I kind of miss that Casio I had back around 1978 or so. It could play 12 songs for no real reason and it was cool to set alarms. It felt like being in the future. As digital watches go, it wasn’t hideously ugly, either. At least that’s the way I remember it.
  • Mimeograph machines. I remember these from elementary school, circa 1971-1977. They produced weird purple text and the ink smelled strange and alien. Smudges abounded. It felt like 1850s technology that somehow lasted into the 1970s. I don’t miss them. I suspect teachers may have paid for the privilege of smashing these machines when photocopies and printers replaced them. Speaking of…
  • Dot matrix printers. These are still used in some places where multi-part forms are needed and the people there haven’t figured out how to load a tray with three different kinds of paper at once. They were noisy, slow, pretty bad at graphics, did I mention noisy, required ribbons you had to wind and worst of all, they would go haywire as soon as you turned your back to them. It was like they knew and waited to misfeed the paper. Again, I don’t miss these. Ink jet printers are better in all ways, save for ink drying out if not used for long periods of time, but that’s easily solved by getting a laser printer instead. Or just go paperless, like we were supposed to 40 years ago.
  • Microfiche. This was very cool in the early 80s. It’s been superseded by, well, computers, and the ability to digitize content. Back in the olden days you had to load a negative from, say, a newspaper, into a microfiche reader, then zoom in and pan around like you were using a microscope, except instead of bacteria, you were examining old news stories. I actually do kind of miss this. Looking back on the times I used them, it felt like I was doing real research and making real discoveries instead of just typing something into Google’s search box and getting 10 million results. The latter is still better, mind you.

More to come as I think of them.

My Top 10 Albums of 2017

Or “Why I don’t know anything about the current state of pop music.”

I apparently only bought seven albums this year. That may actually be higher than average compared to most album buyers, since the album format is either dead or dying (or just on a temporary downward trend if you’re feeling less doom and gloom about it).

The albums I bought fall into these categories:

  • Albums previously owned but purchased for the sake of having them in digital format: 1
  • Albums bought because a friend had them and I liked them and they were on sale: 2
  • Albums that were cheap and had at least one song I liked so I figured why not: 4
  • Albums I bought that were released in 2017: 0
  • Albums I bought that were released in the 21st century: 0
  • The year each of the seven albums were released:
    • 1976
    • 1978
    • 1982
    • 1983
    • 1984
    • 1986
    • 1992

So really, this was an exercise in 1980s nostalgia. Not surprising since that was the formative decade for my taste (or lack thereof) in music. The seven albums are:

  • Hotel California, The Eagles. I’ve heard the title track a billion times and somehow I am still not tired of it. The rest of the album holds up well given its age and Don Henley’s cynicism is just as appropriate–or moreso–in 2017.
  • The Cars, The Cars. The Cars! This album got played endlessly in Drawing and Painting class in junior high but I didn’t mind because it’s a crazy good pop confection.
  • Vacation, The Go-Go’s. Worth it for the title track, “He’s So Strange” and “Worlds Away.” Not quite as catchy as their first album but pretty close.
  • Eliminator, ZZ Top. For some reason I can never bring myself to listen to the whole album, just the singles that I’m familiar with like “Sharp-Dressed Man” and “Legs.” I have no buyer’s regret.
  • Welcome to the Pleasuredome, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. What an improbable success. A friend had this on that newfangled CD format and it’s a bizarre mix of covers, ersatz prog rock, dance music and ballads. Somehow it works, in no small part due to Holly Johnson’s commanding presence.
  • Crowded House, Crowded House. A lovely pop album with one of the most essential songs of the 80s, “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
  • Harvest Moon, Neil Young. The title track is a sweet ballad and the rest of the album is similarly soothing as Young gets quiet instead of weird or angry.

Maybe one of my resolutions for next year will be to buy an album released next year. Hey, it’s happened before! (Last time in 2014.)

If I had a million dollars

First, a million dollars wouldn’t go nearly as far as it once did. Heck, you couldn’t even buy a lot of fairly ordinary homes in Vancouver for a million dollars.

So let’s start with if I had ten million dollars. What would I do with my riches, assuming I hadn’t acquired the money by extorting a bunch of strangely wealthy orphans?

  • Buy a fairly ordinary home in Vancouver. That immediately takes care of about 10% of the windfall.
  • I suppose I’d get a car of some kind, something nice but not flashy. I’d have to get my driver’s license renewed, too.
  • Give a couple million to a few charities/good causes. I don’t have a list yet, I’d have to do some research.
  • Buy a 4K TV. honestly, I’d have to come into a lot of money unexpectedly before I could get past the  first world guilt of getting something I absolutely positively don’t need.
  • Give some money to my co-workers before quitting. Because I’d totally quit. The last two weeks would be glorious.
  • Give some money to family and friends–equal amounts, no favorites. No limits on what the money could be used for, as long as it was legal. If someone wants to spend thousands on Beanie Babies, who am I to deny them?
  • Stash away a bunch of money in some sort of interest-generating account or investment (one that is stable, not like “I’m investing in Bitcoin because it’s going to keep going up forever!”) so I always have something to fall back on.
  • Travel. I’m not sure where. Probably across Canada to start. The U.S. is out for the moment as it seems to be in a possibly never-ending downward spiral and I have no desire to deliberately feed any funds into its current government. Or “government” if you prefer. Also, Europe and other places overseas scare me because I hate flying and taking a cross-Atlantic cruise isn’t much better.
  • Buy Twitter and shut it down. I probably couldn’t do this with only $10 million, sadly, but a boy can dream.
  • Maybe buy some Beanie Babies. Just kidding. I’d probably buy giant novelty Rubik’s Cubes instead.
  • Get one of the high end Wacom Cintiq tablets just to see what the fuss is all about. I’d draw stick men and stick trees and somewhere a poor graphic artist would cry out in anguish at the travesty.
  • Buy some macadamia nuts. I love those things but I can’t buy them without thinking they’re some stupid luxury, like caviar or Rolls Royce cars. I wouldn’t buy a lot, though, because that guilt would reassert itself.
  • Probably write a lot more lists. This is not necessarily a positive thing, as you can see here.

Only one month until Christmas!

As of today, there is only one month until Christmas. This means:

  • only one more month of Christmas ads
  • only one more month of Christmas music
  • only one more month of eggnog and fruit cake
  • only ten months until the whole thing starts again. With the same fruit cake.

Notice that since I’m no longer complaining about anything ever again* I present the above as a list of positives. I look forward to seeing you again next year, fruit cake! (I really can’t remember the last time I actually ate fruit cake. Even still, I dimly recall it being horrible. I mean that in a very positive way.)

 

* I may or may not choose to redefine what constitutes complaining

To all the phones I’ve loved, er, owned before

Way back in the primitive days of 2008 I had something now known as a landline. This consisted of a telephone that was connected, via physical wires, to a dedicated telephone system that connected not just to my abode, but to pretty much all others, as well as businesses and even little structures known as phone booths. Any time of the day or night the landline meant I could pick up the receiver and hear the comforting drone of a dial tone, ready for me to punch in some numbers and get with the calling.

Today I have no such device. After getting my first cell phone in 2009 it grew increasingly obvious that I did not need two phones that did the same thing and especially two bills that did the same thing–expect me to hand over money willingly. And also especially considering my propensity to rarely call people or otherwise receive calls. Why pay two bills totaling $70? (This turned out to be a naive question now that we have companies like Telus trying to entice people into two year plans for a mere $95 per month.)

But never mind that, this is a list because I like lists and so here are the cell phones I’ve owned since 2009.

2009: The Year I Make Contact (with a cell phone)

Device: Samsung M320 (retail value: $40)
Fun Fact: Samsung has released 15 billion different cell phone models

My first cell phone was a Samsung M320, which sounds more like an airliner model than a cell phone, though to be fair, the phone could fly–briefly–if hurled with enough force.

I got this phone with my first mobile carrier, Virgin Mobile. When I eventually switched from Virgin to Telus, the customer support person at Virgin called me a “naughty boy” for switching. Things were different back then.

I actually still have this phone and on a lark connected it to USB and..it’s charging! Here it is in all its charging glory:

I still think having a red button labeled END is a bit ominous.

In terms of style this is my favorite phone, though it’s a mere “feature phone,” meaning it doesn’t have a fancy touch screen interface and all that jazz. While it’s not a smart phone, it’s not entirely dumb, either. It’s more of a dim phone. The best part is it flips open like a communicator on the original Star Trek. I confess to flipping it open multiple times and uttering, “Beam me up.” This was especially confusing to people when I did it while I was on a call with them. The phone had a low resolution color display, a Tetris demo that worked about as well as you’d expect, and had TALK and BACK buttons next to each other, which I’m sure was just a coincidence. It was neat to me in that whole “wow, you can actually take your phone with you anywhere” way, but in 2009 it was already obsolete thanks to a little phone introduced two years earlier you may have heard of. I moved on quickly to…

2010: I phone, You phone, We All iPhone

Device: iPhone 4
Fun Fact: Steve Jobs made out on stage with the iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC)

Here is a stock photo of an iPhone 4 from Apple’s support page because mine has probably been recycled into a transistor radio by now:

My iPhone 4 was black back when black was black and not space grey.

What convinced me to get my first iPhone was the Retina display. It really did look sharp. Steve was right! I downloaded bunches of apps that I promptly ignored, because apps were new and amazing. I kept a handful that were actually useful. Actually, I lie, I kept all of them because for the longest time I had no idea how to get rid of them. I was now ensconced in the iOS ecosystem, but it turned out that in 2010 that wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I wanted something…bigger.

2013: Bigger is Better (in theory)

Device: Samsung Galaxy S3
Fun fact: I spent more time moving icons around on screen than actually using this phone

Stock photo because my Galaxy S3 by all rights should have been shot into the sun (see below):

Now picture this phone going dead after a few hours of not doing anything at all. Grr.

Three years later (phone contracts were three years long in the olden days) I jumped ship to Android, or at least to Samsung’s version of it, dubbed TouchWiz, which reminds me too much of Cheese Whiz. What seduced me away from the iPhone was again the display–this time due to the Samsung Galaxy 3 offering an absurdly spacious (at the time) 4.7” display. I loved the larger screen. The phone was a little slippery to hold, though. Very slippery, really. It would squip out of my hand like a bar of soap. And to be honest, it felt pretty cheap and plasticky, pretty much the opposite of the classy iPhone 4. Also, it turned out the phone had a mysterious battery drain issue that could not be resolved. It would sit on the desk while I was at work, in sleep mode, and be drained before my shift ended. I spent oodles of time troubleshooting it, turning on power-save modes, disabling Wi-Fi, placing it in a pentagram on the floor and offering my first born. Nothing worked. It was the first time this fancy new technology let me down. Telus kindly allowed me to swap the S3 for any other phone they carried, up to the same value. This led to…

2013, Part 2: Back to the Fruit

Device: iPhone 5c
Fun Fact: This phone was an experiment of sorts for Apple. I loved it and so it was killed dead after one year.

So green. So groovy. Image courtesy of MacRumors.

By the fall of 2013 I had returned to the Apple fold by getting a funky green iPhone 5C. Design-wise, this is still my favorite phone. It also fit nicely in hand without needing a case. It wasn’t slippery like the S3 and the plastic looked nice, not cheap. The display was larger than the iPhone 4 at 4 inches, but still smaller than the S3. I didn’t mind, though, it was enough for me. I downloaded more apps and for a time was content, but eventually chafed at the 16 GB of storage. My music collection alone would come to surpass this. So my next phone was based on something other than the display or battery/reliability.

2014: Big and Not Really Beautiful

Device: iPhone 6
Fun Fact: I’m pretty sure Steve Jobs rolled over in his grave at the design

Space Grey: The new not very black

In late 2014 (like, a few days before the year ended) I got an iPhone 6 after nearly three months of searching for a store that had the model I wanted in stock–a 64 GB Space Grey. The iPhone 6 was the first “big” iPhone and was popular as all get-out. This had the same 4.7” display as the S3, and like the S3 it was also very thin and slippery to hold. I got a green silicone case for it, to make it look a bit like my beloved 5c and to keep it from shooting out of my hand. That case turned out to be a little too grippy, making it somewhat difficult to get the phone out of my pocket. I opted for a black leather case instead, since green leather cases were not available and would probably have been hideous, anyway. Speaking of hideous, I am 100% certain that Jobs would have barfed at the way-ugly antenna cutouts on the back of the phone (the Space Gray color made them a little harder to see, at least). I didn’t care about the looks, though, because with 64 GB of storage I was able to comfortably load all of my music on the phone, plus all the apps I’d never use.

Three years later and that same iPhone 6 is trucking along, albeit more sluggishly than before. I’m long past my two year contract so I’ve been eyeballing possible replacements and trying to decide what’s important to me now. Really, if the iPhone 6’s performance was still top-notch I wouldn’t even be looking at all. Since I have an Apple Watch I am more or less beholden to Apple (I rather like the watch) and where once Apple offered an iPhone and that was it, they now sell:

  • iPhone SE
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • And next month (November), the iPhone X (that’s 10, not the 24th letter of the alphabet)

Yes, Apple has gone from the simplicity of offering one phone model to octupling the choices. The Canadian prices range from $469 to $1319, or from the sublime to the ridiculous, if you prefer.

I have made no decision as of yet and so my cell phone story has reached a pause, for now. I’m finding it hard to imagine I could justify $1300+ (before tax) on a phone that doesn’t actually do impossible things, like shoot money at me or do the laundry, so the iPhone X is probably a no-go. Plus it’s all-new first generation technology and Apple is pretty good at borking that sort of thing. Better to wait a couple of versions, then get the second generation at a discount.

Or just buy a cheaper phone, because as I mentioned near the start of this, I have a propensity to rarely call people or otherwise receive calls, which makes a $1300 phone seem a little silly, even if it can recognize my face.

August 2017 big plans: Report Card

In this post I wrote up the big plans I had for this month. Here are the results!

  • get my learner’s license: NO
  • get my prescription updated for my glasses; get new glasses or at least new lenses: NO
  • clean up the junk in the living room: PARTLY YES (cleaned up some of it)
  • visit over on Vancouver Island: NO
  • go camping for a few days somewhere that isn’t on fire: NO
  • run 10K at least three times a week (starting in the second week): YES
  • write fiction for one hour each day: LOL NO
  • achieve world peace: PARTLY YES. I felt somewhat at peace during my vacation

GRADE: D+++

Not exactly a huge rate of success here. This is more of what scientists refer to as “a tiny smidgen.” As such, here are my big plans for September 2017:

LOL NO.

All the big plans for August 2017

In no order:

  • get my learner’s license
  • get my prescription updated for my glasses; get new glasses or at least new lenses
  • clean up the junk in the living room
  • visit over on Vancouver Island
  • go camping for a few days somewhere that isn’t on fire
  • run 10K at least three times a week (starting in the second week)
  • write fiction for one hour each day
  • achieve world peace

I’ve probably left a few out and some goals may be easier than others. For example, world peace may be more within reach than writing an hour of fiction every day. But who knows?

I will report back in a month with the exciting results.

Top five computer tech tips that will not work (usually)

  1. Yell at the computer until it functions properly
  2. Secretly exchange flaky computer with perfectly-working cubicle neighbor’s computer
  3. Shake computer vigorously
  4. Plug computer in and immerse in water to restore electrical charge (PS: please don’t try this)
  5. Turn it off and on

Bonus “risk getting punched in the face” tip:

6. Buy a Mac

10 Things That Will Make You a Writer

  1. Writing stuff
  2. Putting down “writer” as your occupation on forms. It’s practically legal.
  3. Wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. Or does this make you a college professor? I can never remember.
  4. Smoking a pipe (Harlan Ellison only)
  5. Paying someone else to write stuff under your name. This is actually legal.
  6. Building an amazing writing robot you can dictate your stories to
  7. Buying a nice pen set, especially if they’re fountain pens. And using them too, I suppose. For writing, that is, not, say, stabbing people. Unless you later write about it.
  8. Lists count as writing. Yes, they do.
  9. [Write something here. Ta-da, you’re a writer! This is different than Step 1 somehow.]
  10. Changing your legal name to A. Writer. This, as you may have surmised, is legal.

Some things I wish I’d learned when I was a miniature version of me

Or “if I had a time machine and could only change my own history, here are a few things I’d work on.”

  • learn to swim (without the tragicomic results that occurred when I attempted this as an adult)
  • learn a second language (without the tragicomic results that occurred when I attempted this as an adult)
  • learn a musical instrument (I kind of did this in school but my guitar-playing is close to my swimming, just without the risk of drowning)
  • learn sign language (because it would feel like using a secret code to people who don’t know it, plus it looks cool)
  • learn to be ambidextrous instead of mostly ambidextrous (just to make things generally easier)
  • learn to square dance (haha, no)
  • learn to overcome my addiction to making lists (who am I kidding?)