bridging musical islands
Thursday, October 26 2006
The other day when I was in the Hannaford supermarket I heard an unusual music choice on the sound system. Usually Hannaford plays lite rock for its customers, and I guess it says something about me and my distance from youth that I usually like the music. The song that caught my attention, though, was one I only know from the deep-indy world of Indie Pop Rocks. It was "Chocolate" by Snow Patrol, a song that was in heavy rotation on my truck's CD player in the late winter of 2005. Like many songs on Indie Pop Rocks, the song is nothing if not radio-friendly, but I'd never expected to actually hear it issuing from anywhere other than my computer or the portable artifacts of my music collection. Interestingly, the version being played in the Hannaford was somewhat different from the one I was familiar with. Instead of the pronounced high hats currently fashionable in modern rock and Eurodance, the Hannaford version gave a higher mix to the wall-of-sound orchestration, making it sound simultaneously less disposable and more poignant. It was a such a good version that I tried to find it on the Gnutella network, but all I managed to find were deliberately-broken copies of the version I already know. The fact that broken copies of this song are so easy to find on Gnutella is an indication that it must have entered the world of radio airplay, irrelevant though that world may be.
I've been reading some of the stories online celebrating the five year anniversary of the iPod. The iPod, love or it or love something like it, it's become a huge cultural artifact. It's given people the ability to move about through the world with their entire music collections in tow, the inevitable culmination of the trend begun by the Sony Walkman, which provided the first tool for creating completely mobile auditory experiences.
But there is a problem with our vast personal music collections. It is far too easy to wallow in them in a state of auditory masturbation, listening only to the songs that push all the right buttons. Back in the day we had to accept whatever was on the radio, whatever we heard on the subway platform, or whatever our stupid sisters insisted on playing in the car. We had to have some flexibility and tolerance and inevitably we all absorbed a common musical culture. My father may not have ever come to love jazz, but he knew what it sounded like. For those of us who listen exclusively to our own music collections, that no longer happens. We've all become isolated with our music. Some people use their iPods so much that they have no idea what music Hannaford plays on its in-store sound system, let alone what is popular on the local "The River" radio station.
I try to break out of my musical ruts by listening to various alternative rock internet streams, but this doesn't expose me to music outside of that narrow genre. Usually when I find out about music from another genre, it's usually because Gretchen forces me to listen to it or I hear it on an internet stream that I'm listening to for its news content.
This morning, in an effort to escape my musical rut a little, I took Gretchen's MP3 player with me on the morning walk with the dogs. There's something about hearing music through headphones that gives it your rapt attention. Paired with the beautiful visuals of the trailside autumnal forest, just about any music would have dazzled. The circumstances gave me an open mind and I really listened to the early Michæl Jackson, the Hank Williams Sr., the Electric Light Orchestra, and most especially the Joni Mitchell. I'd never paid much attention to Joni's song "Free Man in Paris" before, but it's so beautiful and sad, and I didn't even mind Joni's singing style, which to my ear often sounds like a rapid-fire random sequence of notes in desperate want of formal timing. As for the Hank Williams, I'd really wanted to like it, but it just didn't have that certain something I want in my music, a certain something that repeatedly drives the young Michæl Jackson to, you know, shout.
I have a 12 volt Firestorm power drill that was given to me by Gretchens' parents back when all I did all day was work on this house. In the years since its two batteries have gradually died. A clip randomly failed on one of them, sending it plummeting from the roof down to the driveway; it didn't hit anybody, but it hasn't been the same since. So I've been on the lookout for a replacement. It's a PS130 PowerPack and it's a "Type 3" (whatever that means). Okay, I could have just bought one online, but I didn't look online, I looked in the local hardware stores. At Lowes there were no replacements for this particular Black and Decker battery pack, which gave me the suspicion that perhaps it had been discontinued in a bid to force customers to buy a whole new drill (in a world full of proprietary standards, such practices are all too common). But then I noticed that there was a 12 volt Dewalt battery pack almost identical to my Black and Decker one. Today I obtained one of these, but later I discovered that the match was not a perfect one. The Dewalt battery had a bead around the edge that was supposed to mate with the drill, while the old Black and Decker did not. This bead prevented the insertion of the battery into the drill. It turned out, though, that it didn't require much effort to modify the drill so that it would accept both Black and Decker and Dewalt batteries. All I had to do was grind away some orange plastic. Later I would discover that Dewalt is actually a brand owned by Black and Decker, one geared toward professionals and not casual weekend warriors. Evidently engineers have decided to make it so parts from one brand cannot be used in the other. This is another maddening result of a world where proprietary standards are used to pick out pockets. By the way, unlike, say, a Skil power drill, the shoplifting detector in a Dewalt battery pack resides entirely in the packaging, not in the equipment itself.
The Dewalt battery pack is, it claims, a "Type 1" battery. The existence of these types made me curious. What do they mean? Are they like plastic recycling types? I did some Google searches hoping to find the answer, but again, I came up empty handed. Is the promise of instant information at our fingertips slowly being snatched away?
This thought occurred to me later today when I was putting the finishing touches on the website server migration I'd begun yesterday. The default setting for the PHP parser on the new server demanded that PHP tags contain the word "php" after the less than and question mark ("<?php" as opposed to just "<?"). I always leave the letters "php" out of my PHP tags and I didn't want to have to change all the pages on the site. But I defy you to do a successful Google search for information about how to change this setting in PHP. There's no way to do a search for "<?php" because it contains weird characters. In fact, you can't even search PHP.net for it. In the end I had to wade through the output of a "<?echo phpinfo()?>" tag to find the proper parameter in the php.ini file. That parameter, by the way, is short_open_tag. I had to set it to "On."
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