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Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Man, But I Miss Knobs

avh-x2500bt_hero_large.jpgThe six-disc changer in my 4Runner’s console stereo dropped dead late last summer, after serving me well for eleven years. Considering the mechanical nightmare the damned thing was internally, I’m a little surprised it lasted as long as it did. So for about ten months now, I’ve been reduced to listening to the radio, in a town where radio is not a priority. (Irony, however, is a Colorado Springs delicacy: With just about every other town and county but Denver voting to ban legal marijuana, the home of Focus on the Family looks like it will soon be the highest city in the state.)

I haven’t listened to pop radio in the car for maybe 25 years, since I started recording mix tapes off vinyl. I expected to develop (however unintentionally) an appetite for recent pop music. Hey, it worked with Madonna in 1986. Not this time. I found one band worth investigating further (Owl City) and bought four, count em, four MP3s. A couple of Owl City tracks, Kelly Clarkson’s “Catch My Breath,” and Two Door Cinema Club’s moody song “Sun,” which I bought because it contains the word “drumlins.” Just that, based on ten months of mostly cringing and reaching for the volume knob.

Now I can’t even do that.

After punting for far too long, I went down to Car Toys earlier today and had them install one of these. It had a Bluetooth phone feature I wanted, since I don’t like manhandling a phone in the car. It plays MP3s from a thumb drive, and every MP3 I have that’s worth hearing will fit on a thumb drive. (Not a big one, either.) It looks for all the world like a smartphone held sideways, complete with the little four-square menu button. All it lacks is a volume control knob. It has a mute button, which will come in handy, just like it does when The Weather Channel plays that excruciating commercial about the poor woman who’s been falling on her kitchen floor and failing to get up since before they tore down the Berlin Wall. It has firmware to update, God help us, and…cripes, I wasn’t ready for this…a remote.

At the risk of sounding like an MP3 on autorepeat, well, all it lacks is a volume control knob.

I’ll get used to it. (I got used to Madonna in 1986, after all.) Mostly what I want out of it is hands-free phone calls and MP3 playback. I know why it doesn’t have a knob: Knobs take room on the panel that you could otherwise fill with icons. And a knob would add another 85.67 cents to the UMC. Besides, knobs are just so 1952.

Just like me.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

One Big Band-Aid

Where have I been? Healing. No, I didn’t break anything. (I did floss one of my crowns right out of my mouth last Saturday night. Note to self: Popcorn hulls don’t hide very hard. Back off on the shear force a little.) What I did is watch a number of people I’ve known for some time, including a few that I nontrivially care about, soil themselves hurling hatred at entire groups of people they’ve never met and pretty clearly know nothing about. It almost made me quit Facebook for awhile, though it’s a little unclear how one actually goes about quitting Facebook. (The account of a woman I knew in college is still there even though she died two years ago.)

Reading that stuff hurts. Am I nuts? Maybe. I value friendship, for one thing, and for another, tribal hatred is the first step toward genocide. Giggle if you want. Years of research into tribalism, psychology, history, and our killer ape origins suggests that it’s true. I would write more about it except that knowingly hurling yourself into depression is pretty much as dumb as it gets.

Furthermore, it stopped Ten Gentle Opportunities dead in its tracks, at least for the time being. Am I annoyed? You have no idea.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time in my big chair, reading things that have nothing to do with elections as a way of putting a sort of giant band-aid on my soul. It’s been a mixed bag. Some quick notes:

  • Train Wrecks by Robert C. Reed. (Superior Publishing Company, 1968.) If you need steampunk mayhem in a big way, find this on the used book sites. Virtually every way that locomotives and rolling stock can die are well-represented, including a few that you’ve probably never heard about. This might even be depressing if I didn’t like trains (and steam power) as much as I do. (It also made me damned glad I live in 2012 and travel in a Toyota.)
  • Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin. (Pantheon Books, 2010.) Still working on it, but what we have here is a collection of colorful anecdotes about the Mississippi from 1800-1863, when it was dredged for reliable river commerce. Pirates, floods, storms, and the New Madrid earthquake. I paid a buck online. Worth ten times that. (Maybe not twenty.)
  • Marry Him! by Lori Gottlieb. (Dutton, 2010.) Meh. Short, breezy read extending (a little) what I read in an article in The Atlantic some years back. Got it cheap in the B&N bargain bin, which suggests that it bombed. No surprise, given that the author is basically shouting “Attention princesses! We are currently experiencing a severe prince shortage. Please select an archduke or viscount while they are still available. Thank you.”
  • Electric Radio Magazine. Jack Smith K8ZOA sent me twelve years of this stunning little monthly, from 2000-2012, and I’ve been savoring them in my loose moments for several weeks. The focus is vintage ham radio gear, especially AM phone, which I would be doing more of if there were people close by to do it with. I still have a working Sixer, Twoer, 99er, and a G28, plus a couple of other things on the shelf that need work.

Carol and I spent some time in Chicago. Our niece Katie turns six next week and we bought her what my sister described as “an RC helicopter in a hamster ball.” It’s an Air Hog Heli-Cage, which has a pair of thin plastic hoops around it, like an equator and a prime meridian, which keep crashes from becoming too serious. Needless to say, in the hands of a not-quite-six pilot, the bands earned their keep. It was amazing how quickly both girls learned to fly it, including Julie, who’s only four. My brother-in-law Bill is even better, and landed the gadget on one of the blades of his livingroom ceiling fan. Wow.

Now, RC helicopters are fairly easy to describe. Not everything is. One evening, my older nephew Brian and his fiance Alexis twisted my arm into watching a YouTube video called “Gangnam Style.” Words fail me. Most of the song is in Korean, except for a peculiar Greek-American interjection, “Opa Gangnam Style!” plus “Hey Sexy Lady!” here and there to prove that computer audio is working correctly. I was impressed by the young Korean chap at about 1:50 who was dancing energetically in an actinic yellow leisure suit. I didn’t know you could lase polyester. Most boggling of all was the fact that the video has been downloaded 693,000,000 times, plus or minus a significant fraction of humanity. I caught myself wondering what it would be like if seven hundred million people had read Drumlin Circus. I would probably have a new minivan–and little or no trouble selling Ten Gentle Opportunities.

Anyway. I’m better now. I’ll have nothing more to say about the election except for one very peculiar thing, which I will take up as soon as I understand it a little better myself. Hint: There may be a stoner stampede into Colorado next year.

In the meantime, I have a pop song to eject from the inside of my head. Listen at your own risk. About all I can say is that it’s better than listening to politics on Facebook.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • I didn’t know this until the other day: The instrumental riff in ELP’s “Touch and Go” is not ultimately from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Variations on Greensleeves.” It’s a far older folk melody called “Lovely Joan,” and the song is about a girl who, when asked by some aristocratic lout to hand over her virginity in exchange for a ring and a roll in the hay, keeps her virginity and steals his horse instead. Much better deal.
  • Here’s a tool to see if your email was on one of the 400,000 accounts recently leaked from Yahoo.
  • One of the big downsides of the ASUS Transformer Prime is that the micro SD card pops out of its slot very easily. I found mine on the cushion of my reading chair the other day, and have no least clue how I managed that, apart from sitting there and looking at some weather maps. I’m evidently not the only one with this problem.
  • I haven’t been over to The Consumerist in some time, but when I tried to go there the other day, Google marked it as an attack site. There’s not much to go by in Google’s details page, but it looks like an ad vector. This is why I use AdBlock Plus. (I went there from Linux and nothing bad happened.) UPDATE: They fixed the problem. Lesson: Nobody’s immune. Use AdBlock Plus.
  • Be sure to watch for auroras tonight, as far south as (I hope!) Colorado. Look east just before dawn and you’ll catch Jupiter, Venus, and maybe the crescent Moon.
  • A ride-em Iron Trilobyte! Yee-hah!
  • From the Utterly Obscure But Brilliant Music Department: Hunt down “The Last Farewell” by the New Christy Minstrels, from their ambum Ramblin’ (1964.) Bone-chilling harmony on the ancient melody “O Waly, Waly.”
  • From the Found Quotes Department: “It is all but impossible to sit quietly by while someone is throwing salad plates.” –James Thurber