The touch of Music

Vinyl records are more than just scratchy reproductions of sounds

I grew up in the world of cassettes and vinyl records where the only virtual alternative was the local AM/FM radio station. The logistics of consuming music in that way, was frankly tedious, expensive and fraught with danger; single bump could ruin a perfectly beautiful album.

Yet that is all we had. So when digital music arrived (hands up who went through the LimeWire/Napster period) it was more than a breath of fresh air. It was a revolution, allowing us to not worry about our car stereo chewing up the tape if we played it too often, or to play the track we wanted having to wade through a whole album of content just to get to track 7.

Limewire circa 2000

Yet, as I get older with over 20 years of digital music amassed, I wonder what I really have to pass onto the next generation. Will my son’s look up my old WinAmp (exactly!) playlists and fondly think of their father and his wild tastes? Of course not. Such memories will be lost forever. Spotify/YTMusic/Plex/iTunes playlists are for a moment, not a lasting legacy.

When my mother died a couple of years ago, I found myself a drift a little, like most sons do when they lose such a pivotal figure in their lives. As I was going through boxes, I discovered my old records that I collected as a teenager. In there was a couple of my mothers records and then it hit me. Here I was touching something that connected me with her – it wasn’t just an Elvis Presley album, it was the ACTUAL Elvis album mother would put on, while doing the ironing while we played around her feet. The sounds wasn’t a digital copy, but a result of the actual grooves in the physical format making the needle bounce up and down, reproducing the same sounds she enjoyed so often.

It was recreating a moment in time.

There was more. Records need housing. This packaging, there to secure the core offering, is donned with beautiful artwork, sometimes with notes, or lyrics all to make up an experience. The same experience that is recreated every time you slide out the vinyl record prior to spinning. It is here, I discovered some hidden gems. My mother, who at the time annoyed me she would graffiti my beautiful record, with the date and time.

Queen; A Night at the Opera – Gifted after passing my high school exams July 1998

Yet what my pimpled, testosteronal teenage self couldn’t fathom, was that my mother was creating a legacy for me.

Sitting there going through all my (and her) old records, I noticed all the little notes she left, some have faded forever lost, I finally realized the true value of this medium. Forget all the bullshit about superior fidelity, or richer/fuller sound. It was about packaging up an emotion and feeling that only music can bring someone, in a physical format that can be enjoyed for years to come. Something the digital format can never come close to delivering.

Ed Sheeran + Gifted Christmas 2020

For the first time, I fell in love with vinyl. 30 years ago it was a necessity, now it was emotional. Yet this new love affair was going to be more than just amassing a large collection. Oh no. Each album was going to be carefully curated and chosen based on the feelings it evoked.

When I add a vinyl to my collection, it isn’t a purchase. I see it more as a lease, a temporary hold if you will. I see it as capturing a moment, a sequence of emotions, to package up and pass onto the next generation. I want my sons to know, when they pick it up, that their old man enjoyed not only that song, but that ACTUAL song. Just as I did with my mother.

One Christmas, my son asked what I would like, and seeing how I was building up a collection, records would be an easy win for that year. While I supported this, I did hit him with a couple of conditions. I asked that he only buy a record that he knew that we both enjoyed, and secondly, he sign it personally with the date and the occasion. Upon receiving the gift, I said that I wasn’t taking ownership of it, merely holding onto it, to enjoy listening to it until such times I was no longer walking this planet and he would take it back under his stewardship.

I listen to music every day. Even in a video conference meeting, there will be music playing in the background, only loud enough I can hear. That is digital music.

Often though, I push the keyboard away, and go and make a point of spinning up some vinyl’s, taking the time and effort to truly switch off from the screen and allow myself to be immersed in the sound produced by that needle bouncing around the grooves. Reconnecting with memories and creating new ones along the way.

I love the physical tactile experience that playing records brings me, upon an evening, with a glass of single malt, just enjoying where the mood takes me.

My advice – get yourself a record player and start spinning up some memories.

BTW I make no apology for my Leonard Cohen records 😉

Stop it with .. “world famous”

The next phrase on my silly rant list is “world famous”. no clue what is trying to be sold to me here when I read such a lofty claim

As I continue my completely irrelevant rants at every day phrases that surround us, the next phrase that deserves more than a cursory taking to the wood shed over its complete lack of meaning, is the classic “world famous”.  This one is often seen frequenting food establishments (including food trucks) with such lofty claims that one of their particular dishes, is renowned world over.

Really?

To which world are we referring to here?  The actual world, aka Planet Earth, or just their own wee world of a few blocks?

When it comes to claiming “world famous” I would say only a few of the bigger retail brands can truly stand up.  How often have you seen a photo from some remote desert place, or shanty town, to still see a beat up ‘Coca Cola’ sign hanging somewhere.  Now that is world famous.

Maybe it is simply aspirational – the hope that if enough people come from all over, on a pilgrimage to eat at the alter they too will find the unique joy that such a dish will bring and take it on with them, proselytizing to all those they come in contact with just how good that pizza, hot dog, chili, whatever was.

Personally I am confused as to what I am to gleam from this bold claim.  What are you really trying to tell me?

We should maybe consider instead “locally known to be quite good”.   This is way more believable than laying claim that it is “world famous”, because someone from out of country happened to breeze in one day, eat a dish, and tweet about it.

Keep it real people.

Stop it with the .. “Unlimited”

Start of a new mini series of harmless rants focused around words/phrases that have crept into our lives that have lost their original punch.

Start of a new mini series of harmless rants focused around words/phrases that have crept into our lives that have lost their original punch, leaving us wondering what will they be replaced by when we actually need to express the emotion of the word/phrase in question.

The first one, that came up in a LinkedIn thread is the wonderful marketing word “unlimited”.  We all know it rarely means unlimited, as there is usually a little asterisk, pointing us to somewhere indicating there is indeed a limit.  Yet, we have come to accept it.

Give you an example, I have a Verizon “unlimited” data plan. Hurrah. Cancel that home Comcast cable as I can pull everything through my 4G antenna. Whoa there hos, not so quick. Read the fine print, and discover it is really limited, as it is full speed up to a given “reasonable usage” mark then you will be speed throttled. What is the point in seducing us with such a blatant lie in the first place? Already our relationship is off to a rocky start.

We see this everywhere around us.

Cloud computing is another one that slips into this marketing lie. With such phrases as “unlimited storage” or “unlimited compute”. Now, anyone with half a brain, that gives it more than a passing thought, knows this is completely impractical as no matter how much disk space there is available, some fool, some where, will be filling it up.

To some of the bigger cloud players credit, I have noticed a shift in tone, to phrases like “near unlimited like storage”. Like telling you a lie, but winking at the same time, hoping you forget the word “near”.

Where it popped up in LinkedIn was around a conversation about that wonderful HR benefit lie propagated by some companies in and around “unlimited vacation”. Makes absolutely no sense. Yet we take it, assume there is some fine print, and buy in to the myth.

Stop it.

Push back. Instead of saying “unlimited”, just say “a lot“, or even better be honest, and proclaim “probably more than you will ever need“. That will resonate way more and get us on the right start.

What “unlimited” phrase have you spotted that has had you rolling your eyes at?

Productive Time Management

This week I played with the Pomodoro time management technique to see if it would improve throughput. Results are encouraging.

My typical day can be classified into 3 buckets; client interactions, writing and project work (with includes coding). It is very easy to get distracted as the events of the day transpire naturally.

I usually keep all non-essential emails to the evening when I am at home, where I will respond when the stresses of the day are behind me. I enjoy that part of the time and I am disciplined to leave an email unread until times I am ready to action it.

This previous week though, I have tried something a little different, to see if productivity can be improved if I dedicate blocks of time to a given task. I have started out with one hour blocks.  Setting a timer in Google I then focus on a given bucket, awaiting for the obnoxious noise telling me times up.

This is commonly known as the Pomodoro technique, while I am not following its complete rule set, the spirit of it has been embraced.

Overall the experiment has worked very well, particularly when it comes to writing. I discovered I wrote a lot more with improved quality. I think I can put that down to the fact that I was given license to not only ignore everything else that may come in, but to also know that my writing time was fixed, so it wasn’t that I was looking at a document trying to find the words for the whole day.

As for project work, an hour is probably not quite long enough. I will play with time frames to see if that improves. There is work that you need to get your head into, an hour is just not enough time for some of the more complex problems you look to attack.

I will continue this experiment for a little longer, but early results are encouraging.

3 simple guidelines to protect our ever connected ‘smart’ device universe

As we become more beholden to companies to keep our smart devices functioning long after purchase date, I propose 3 guidelines to address this imbalance and risk.

Smart devices. They are everywhere. Even if you don’t read a single online article, a walk around your local BestBuy, Target or Walmart you can’t but help seeing the growing aisles of devices promising to make your life that little bit easier.

From thermostats, garage doors, security (?) cameras, door locks, bulbs, wall outlets, dimmer switches, drip-monitors to even smoke-alarms they are all vying for our attention in our Internet connected world. This is before we get to the countless consumer devices, like the swarm of voice activated plastic towers (yes, i am looking at you Amazon and Google), baby-monitors to pet-monitors (and one where you can play laser tag with your kitty while you are away). I could go on, but I think you get my point — everything is getting the Internet-Of-Things treatment.

smart-home-2769239_640

Back in the day, we bought a device, plugged it in, and it performed the duty it said on the box. No fuss no nonsense. No apps to install, no Wi-Fi to configure, no 3rd party service to sign-up to and blindly agree to the terms’n’conditions. No matter what happened to that company or to the network, the device would still do what it was meant to do. I still have the same music deck that I went to university with over 28 years ago. However, as I look around at the various devices I have been seduced into buying, I wonder if they will make it past the year, let alone generational.

We are increasingly relying on a whole ecosystem to stay alive for our devices to be useful. Alexa becomes an ornament when the Internet or Amazon is down. Nest is just a wall-light when Google has a problem. It is not limited to the company staying in profit, we also have to be nice to the company, just in-case they lock us out as a punishment (see the story of the Garadgetsmart locking out a poor reviewer from their own home).

What if a company changes direction? Your investment in all these gadgets are now at risk (Logitech has decided that Harmony Hub is no longer viable bricking a whole bunch of universal remotes).

I have my own personal story — I was locked out of my own home because Tesla put out a software upgrade and broke the garage opener functionality that I was relying on. Two weeks later it was all back to normal after a fix to fix the fix.

Every morning I wake up and if things are still working then it is a good morning — it could all change in a second as each device relies on power, network, service and reliable software. Way too many factors — it is amazing the bloody thing works at all.

binding-contract-948442_640

We need far more redundancy and stability in this ecosystem. We need confidence in the devices we are buying.

With that I am proposing are the following three guidelines for a consumer charter:

  1. Initial cost $0
    Hardware that relies on a back-end to function, should be free ($0) to purchase. Charge a small monthly subscription to cover all costs.
  2. Minimum 5 year life from date of purchase
    Full refund if the device stops performing it’s duty within 5 years due to a company changing direction. This should be backed by an insurance policy that the company takes out to cover in-case of insolvency.
  3. Open Platform
    Let devices be controlled by a 3rd party solution. Open up your API’s to allow alternatives to take over should you fail to do yours. Allow me to manage everything from one portal.

We need to get a handle on this. We are investing huge sums of money into an industry that is predicated on obsolescent and we’re being held hostage to the whims of a corporate entity whose only goal is to squeeze as much profit from us as possible.

Next time you are about to buy that smart device, read the small print, see what relationship you are entering into, the risk you are taking on and ask yourself if the brand you see before you will still be around in 2, 5, 10 years time.

Otherwise, you just might be buying a pretty piece of plastic art.

Update 5th Dec: Google have disabled YouTube on Amazon’s Alexa Show product.  YouTube on Alexa was a heavily marketed reason to purchase the voice-activated assistant.  Another area where the consumer has little to no recourse on the functionality disappearing from their product.  Imagine your microwave suddenly refusing to reheat your pizza because of a legal dispute.  This is our new world.

Couple of tricks to manage a Zero Inbox

A zero inbox is that wonderful feeling of knowing you’ve taken care of business. Discover a couple of wee tricks to make this easy to maintain.

We love our email.  Sure, new kids come along, fluttering their eye lids at us vying for our attention, promising to be the email killer.  Skype, Hangouts, Slack, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and many others have tried but email is still the killer app.

How we contextualize our email is a very personal thing.  We all have our own wee ways of handling, flagging, replying, archiving, storing of email.   Personally I am an advocate of the Zero Inbox philosophy – which is simple – keep the inbox as free of items as possible.   The feeling a zero inbox brings is that of knowing no one is waiting for you, or at least you have dealt with the immediate threat.

I use my Inbox as my unofficial/official to do list.  I have tried many a ToDo app, but every single one has failed to stick.  My email however, has been with me throughout and never failed me.

2017-11-08_09h25_55

While it can be difficult to maintain this state, there are a couple of states that will allow you to mentally park emails.   I have two types of emails that will stop me from removing them from the inbox upon reading;  emails I want to read later (articles, newsletters, digests) and emails that I have to actually do something.

To solve this I create two mail folders, each to manage the two given types of emails I receive.   The first one “__00_7days” is a folder that has a special sprinkling of pixie dust – it auto deletes emails over 7 days.  Majority of email services offer this folder level feature and most ‘Spam‘ folders are auto set to delete after 30 days by your mail administrator anyway.  If I don’t get to read something within 7 days then so what, at least it won’t pile up and make me feel guilty that I am falling behind.

The second folder, “__00_ToDo” has all my items that I need to do and is not auto-aging.  My email is literally my ToDo app.

Of course it is all a sleight of hand trick.  All I have done is to move items from the inbox and put them elsewhere.  Yes, but the difference is that I have mentally dealt with the email and taking action accordingly.  I can now relax and take pride in an empty inbox.

Sometimes, it is the small things that can make for a happy day.  For me, a zero inbox, is indeed a fine day.

 

p.s. when you come back from vacation and faced with a mountain of work email, SelectAll then Delete.  If it was meant to be, the email will find its way back to you.  Zero inbox.