Saturday, March 11, 2017

1001 Albums Project

My winter walks provide plenty of time for music listening...
If you recall, I started my 1001 Albums project last year, in March. It is inspired by a reading of 1001 Albums you Must Read Before You Die. At the time, I was only 30 albums along. I can recall thinking that I might finish within a year (if I went all out). That didn't work out. I was on track, but I completely stalled out once summer was over. I have not done an exact count, but the lists below (which I finished in early September) comprise about 470 albums totaling approximately 350 hours of music.

Find it. Listen to it.
As you may imagine, it has been an intense and wonderful experience. Having something to share with my teenagers is enough all by itself, and it has been so much more than that. I sent Leora playlist #10 this week. Even though we text a few times a week and talk most weekends, it has been hard having her away at Mt. Allison. You may recall some of my emotional state. The 1001 albums project helps to maintain a thread of connection. While wrapping up listening to #9, she commented that she is experiencing disbelief that American Pie is the only song played on the radio from the 1971 album of the same name. I can't really say I disagree. Sifting through the best music of multiple generations makes me wonder just what it is we are looking for. Clearly one of those "journey before destination" kind of things.

Anwyn isn't listening through the entire list, but has really indulged in the list of personal favourites that I have been generating as I go through the book. We really share a love of killer guitar solos and hard rock lyrics. I think we both had trouble comprehending how Machine Head by
Deep Purple possibly contains the entirety of every great guitar riff... EVER ;) In addition, I don't think there is anything finer than screaming with Bowie, "F-I-I-I-I-VE YEARS..." or, trying to sing along with Plant as he screeches out the line from Black Dog, "move me like your doin' now." Sixteen... seventeen... eighteen... these were years I expected to struggle to connect to my kids. This project has helped to keep our awesome communication going and then some.

I have been working on a personal Reconciliation project (via edX) for the last 7 weeks. It wraps up on Tuesday and I hope to get back into this project at that time. Feel free to share your favourite albums of all time in the comments (as many as you care to input). I would love to give them a listen in between my other albums. Djaii has been throwing out some real gems on Facebook, from time to time.

If you have no interest in my process or joining in, you should stop HERE!
Near Chamberlain, SK -- Another unrelated photo as eye-candy...

Notes on The Playlists...

  • Discogs has several variations of the list. It was a very useful site for helping me hunt down tracks when the original album was not available, but some of the material could be found on collections.
  • Since I have a family subscription to Apple Music, these are all Apple playlists. If you have Apple Music on your computer or phone, the links will open the playlist there. If not, bon chance.
  • There are any number of things that are missing and/or inaccurate about my playlists. For instance, at the time I created the first half of my lists, Neil Young's music was not in Apple music--it is now, but I haven't updated the lists. If you want the full and unadulterated experience, you should definitely buy the book or check out a copy from the library.
The lists:
  1. 1001-albums-01-1955-1961
  2. 1001-albums-02-1962-1966
  3. 1001-albums-03-1966-1967
  4. 1001-albums-04-1967-1968
  5. 1001-albums-05-1968-1969
  6. 1001-albums-06-1969
  7. 1001-albums-07-1969
  8. 1001-albums-08-1969-70
  9. 1001-albums-09-1970-71
  10. 1001-albums-10-1971-72
  11. 1001-albums-11-1972
  12. 1001-albums-12-1972-1973
  13. 1001-albums-13-1973-1974-mostly
  14. 1001-albums-14-1974-1975
  15. 1001-albums-15-1975-1976
  16. 1001-albums-16-1976-1977
  17. 1001-albums-17-1977-1978
  18. 1001-albums-18-1978
  19. 1001-albums-19-1978-1979
  20. 1001-albums-20-1979
  21. 1001-albums-21-1980
  22. 1001-albums-22-1980-1981




Thursday, January 26, 2017

Apple AirPods: Little things that matter to me

Added some gears to reduce the "dental floss" effect. Doesn't help much, but I like it anyway :)
I've had my AirPods for nearly 3 weeks now. Like everyone else on the Tech-inter-sphere, I wanted to fire off a review the day I got them. They were so shiny and new. But, at the same time, I know the perils of doing that. First impressions are great but, when you have spent $250CAD, there is a tendency to want to immediately feel that you didn't waste your money... regardless of reality. So, I've let the newness sink in and the everyday experience surface.

I am not interested or motivated in you getting AirPods or any Apple product. I don't like to see people waste money on something they don't love, and I am invested in sharing my experience.

Much of the information is going to be useful to anyone who has trouble with wearing earbuds. Just remember that any comments that involve ease of set up, or use of voice controls tend to rely on the Apple ecosystem and likely won't work for Android users.

Backstory:

Aside from my abiding love of new technology, there was really only one real reason that I felt like risking my money on this device: Although I wear headphones a LOT in my day-to-day, I hate every pair of earbuds or in-ear headphones that I have ever owned. And yet, I am an eternal optimist. The reasons for my hatred are simple enough. Until this year, I have never owned a single pair of earbuds that would stay in without frequent adjustment, tamping down, or full on putting them back in when they fell out.

The first pair that stayed in with reasonable consistency have been my Jaybird X2s. A combination of ear 'fins' and memory foam ear inserts made them MUCH better than anything I had previously owned, though at the cost of being very fussy to put on. Once on, they still failed on my second serious and long-standing grievance: after prolonged wear, earbuds of all stripes hurt my tender ears. My ear canals eventually get red, sore, and feel like they are on fire.
Jaybird X2: Pretty Damn Good


AirPods:

Fit


White would have been better
Jaybird ear fins
When they arrived at the door, I ripped the box open, paired them in less than 10 seconds, and was outside for a run minutes later. Pretty great. They have never fallen out during any activity in my daily wear... ever. Two caveats: Ripping a t-shirt or sweater off without care, can cause the AirPods (or any earbuds) to come out, AND under conditions where I tried to get them to fall out, I succeeded only by doing kips or front handsprings. Running, skipping, dancing, head-banging, stair running, climbing, handstands, and cartwheels are all fine. If you are serious about parkour, I still think these could be for you, but you will want to get something to secure them. For just this purpose I tried the silicone ear-fins from my JB X2s and was shocked that they work! Also, since they are $4 for 2 pair with free shipping from China, I ordered these to test in high G-force situations.
$4 ear fins

Comfort

I have worn them repeatedly for 4-5 hours at a time and then sometimes for 3 hours more after a 15 minute top-up charge. They never feel uncomfortable. They often feel as though they are on the verge of coming out, but never do. In bed, I can lay on my front, back, or side. Lay on my hand or a pillow. I can wear them under a tight toque or ear-warmer. Comfort.

Sound

They are a loose fit (at least on me). As a consequence, I don't get thumpy bass or isolation from my environment. I happen to prefer that. I like to maintain an awareness of my surroundings. If you want to be all alone with your music, probably not for you. On the other hand, if you like to talk to a Starbucks Droid without taking your buds out... excellent.

Nice Tidbits


  • The AirPods case is small. So small, I don't mind (at all) carrying it in my pocket all day. I've seen a lot of other wireless charging cases for competitors earbuds. I can imagine them in the pocket of a parka, or in my backpack, but not in my pants pocket for any length of time. Never mind trying to sit down. 
  • I love how quickly I can put them on. They connect to my phone very reliably. I have had a couple of times where I have to wait several seconds for them to connect.
  • I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't like physical volume control. But, it's a sacrifice I can live with for all the other improvements. I have an AppleWatch, and I don't mind using it to change volume, or the physical buttons on my iPhone. When I am alone, which is most of the time when I am using the AirPods, I love using Siri to say "set the volume to 11" or "set the volume to half." However, using Siri to turn up or down the volume by one notch is mostly useless. 
  • The range is vastly better than any other bluetooth headphones I've ever used. I can leave them upstairs and range throughout my entire house, including the basement. There are a few paces on both floors of my 1000 square foot house where the signal begins to break up and does eventually drop.
  • Siri right my ear is awesome. I can speak quite quietly when invoking commands. Much quieter than any ordinary phone conversation.
  • Taking out an AirPod to stop

Irritations

  • Physical volume controls. I can handle this. Small sacrifice to have headphones that I want to leave in all the time instead of ones I want to leave at home.
  • Of the many hours that I have used them over the last 3 weeks, my music playback has stopped 3 or 4 times. Needed to pull out the phone and press play again?!? Not certain that this is because of the Pods, but it could be.
  • Battery pop-up display sometimes does not pop up. As much as 1/4 of the time. Not sure why and don't much care. Can still always check the battery through the more familiar battery monitors.
  • Although the connection is usually very strong, there are a few places I travel that suffer from some stuttering breakup. It seems to be the wifi problem that others have reported. If I lived in one of those 'noisy' spots, I'd be really annoyed. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lessons from a Younger Brother AND, as it turns out, Facebook


Being Musical
Facebook told me that I've been friends with James for 9 years, now. Wow! 9 years? What ever did I do with my life before Facebook's distinctly lacking AI could remind me of how long I've been friends with one of the most important people in my life?

I wouldn't bother watching the video (in fact you can't, as it disappeared from my feed today). I won't attempt, in this forum, to enumerate it's many shortcomings.

But, I do want to take the opportunity to say that my friendship with my brother, James, is now 40 years old. Happy Birthday.
First Summer -- Vincie, Jamie, Michael
Facebook doesn't know this, but I was allowed to hold him in my arms on the day he was born. Although it says James on his birth certificate, for the foreseeable future we would all called him Jamie. I can remember the pride I had, at the age of 5, to be entrusted with something so fragile and special.

It must have been about age 3 when his personality and musicality became apparent. He created the first of a lifetime of rhythmic games with his body and voice. He called it "Bee-ing." Sitting on an old, tensely coiled couch, Jamie would slam his head and back into the springs in, what I can only imagine was, the rhythm of his heart. Air was forcibly expelled through his tiny embouchure.

Being Tron: Opening Night of Tron-Legacy
"Bee-bee-bee-BEE...I-love-Mo-MEE... I-love-Da-DEE...be-be-be-BEE..."

It was the first of many things he taught me. We could sing together for hours.

Of course, my fascination with toddler Jamie soon gave way to mild curiosity, irritation and finally, disinterest. Teenage Mike had no use for a little kid. But, we were still brothers and played together frequently. My favourite was the Hard/Soft game. If Jamie ran up to me and punched me as hard as he could, I would return the most gentle tap possible. If he flicked me with his pinky, I would leave him writhing on the ground, rubbing his shoulder. Not sure what the lesson was, but it held some fascination for both of us.

We became close again as James became an adult and pursued his degree in Music Education at the U of S. Watching him play the clarinet as a child had been a chore, but no longer. Here was real talent and beauty. I think it was my first conscious experience of the power of time. When he came into the world, even though I was only 5 years old, I was better than him at everything. With a 5 year head start, I stayed better at most things for a long time. That the tiny baby I held in my arms, and played with, and punched, had become powerful and beautiful in his own right.

Now, I'm watching James begin to grow old. I've seen him both soar to great heights and suffer his greatest defeats. We have shared songs, chess, tennis, pirates, tunnels, juggling, climbing, cooking, handstands, magnets, and parenthood. Facebook doesn't really know about any of these things. Oh, perhaps a post... a picture or two, but not how they impact a person or their relationships.
Being in a Kayak is fun
This post started out as a rant against Facebook. The dumb algorithm that informed me that I had been friends with my brother for 9 years. But, as I've been writing this, I realize that I should really have been mad at myself. Facebook's algorithm knows how to count. Through page views and clicks, it knows I have a connection to James. It gave me an opportunity to share that with people. Yes, it was a sad attempt. But, what about my attempt? I'm the one who has spent my life with this person. Learned from and with this person. Facebooks pathetic effort to describe my relationship reminded me of the most important lessons James ever taught me. Facebook might sum it up with a meme: "Live, Laugh, Love," or something equally trite. I'm going to put it in language a little more personal:

Bee-bee-bee-bee... I-Love-Ja-MEE...

Be!
Being

Friday, December 09, 2016

Vancouver: Stolen Holiday -- Day 5

Day 5

Bloedel Conservatory roof
Can't let yesterday get me down. I got a fresh view of Canada's 3rd largest city and made a new acquaintance, should I ever find myself down and out. But, I've come to vancouver to lighten my spirits and I've only got one day left. I hear it is in the -30s (counting the windchill) back home. I feel in a tropical mood today.

I have postponed a trip to the Bloedel Conservatory so far, because I thought it would be a perfect activity for Wendy to do with me. I hadn't counted on how tired she would be, nor how early it would get dark. I was surprised that at this time of year the sun sets 30 minutes earlier than it does in Saskatoon. It makes up for it by rising an hour earlier. Damn daylight savings time.

The hike to the Bloedel is about 7.5km from downtown, but it is a interesting walk. I crossed the Cambie St. Bridge, right at the tail end of English Bay. Suddenly all of the tall buildings were gone and I was walking into brilliant sunshine. Up a long hill, through Mt. Pleasant and South Cambie and I was at the conservatory. It isn't terribly large, but they have many species of birds.
I had the foresight to stop by Leo's Camera Supply on the way. They didn't have the new camera body that I was looking for (Pentax K70) but they did have quite a selection of old, film era lenses. I found a 100-300mm beauty for $100 and you are the beneficiaries.
John, Paul, George, or Ringo?
The most difficult part of photographing them was the humidity. It was a long cold walk and the tropical climate inside the conservatory tested the limits of my cameras weather sealing. I had to sit for 45 minutes before wiping down my equipment was even feasible.

In my Google Photos album, there are many more bird photos, but I don't want to test your patience, so, if you are interested, you will have to go hunting for them.

Sooooo Cute!
 After jogging back downtown with all my gear, I felt it was time to stretch my legs. Wendy and I went for a walk in Stanley Park. I had hoped for something less traditional, but there you have it. At it turns out, lots of people do it because it is both easy and pretty spectacular.

In our many evening strolls, we passed by the adorable house-boat in the previous photo. I speculated on whether we could sell all of our possessions and move into something similar. Wendy pointed out that I can get seasick on most seaside docks. Oh well, Saskatchewan. Still stuck with me for a while.

Since I was busy taking pictures with my new lens, Wendy easily outpaced me. I had to text her to enable the posed shot below. I asked for "wistfully gazing into the distance." I think I got more "grudgingly counting the seconds until I can continue my walk."
It is said that "the look" can transcend the resolution limits of the human re
We passed by a television or movie crew. Many cameras, cables and light controlling paraphernalia were spread out on a small rise above the sea-wall. They were clearly waiting to capture the sunset with the vancouver skyline in the distance.

Skeptics would say that this Great Blue Heron was only waiting for a fish to swim past. Dreamers may believe me when I say that I think he, too, was waiting for the beauty of sky to sink spectacularly into darkness.
 And, wouldn't you know. So was I...