Archive for February, 2008


Myron Cope (January 23, 1929 – February 27, 2008)

He was a Pittsburgh icon and he was my neighbor for a few years in high school.  Pittsburgh will be worse off without him, but at least he left a lot of good memories.


What to do about music on tape and LP

Yesterday I bought “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull from the iTunes store using a gift card I got for Christmas. The obnoxious part of this is that I already own the album, albeit on cassette. As a matter of fact, I own a lot of music on cassette. I don’t think I got a CD player until around 1994, so the music I bought up to that point was mostly on cassette or vinyl.

In any case, the 1990’s were a great time for record companies. In addition to all the new music they were selling, they were selling lots of CDs because people were migrating their music collections from cassette and LP to CD. Part of the difficulty the music industry has had in the last few years is that they had gotten used to extra revenue from people re-buying music they already owned in order to migrate to CD. However, for most people, this migration is now complete and record companies’ revenues have fallen dramatically. Furthermore, while people are now migrating their CDs to MP3, that can be done without buying the music again (though the RIAA has argued that ripping a CD and adding it to your iTunes library does not qualify as fair use.)

I think I’ve added most of the CDs I own to my iTunes library, but there’s still a lot of music I own that is much more difficult to import. Some of it I have already bought in digital form from eMusic (Pavement, Superchunk, Pixies), which wasn’t too painful since it only cost me like $0.30/track. However, not all of the music I own on cassette and LP is available from eMusic. If I want to add this music to my computer-based digital collection I have the following options, roughly in order of potential illegality (least to most):

  1. Re-buy the music from iTunes or Amazon (or elsewhere). (This is the most unquestionably legal approach, though some tracks are not available in digital form (eg. b-sides of singles released only on vinyl)).
  2. Convert the tapes and records into MP3s by one of the following methods. (I haven’t heard anything about the RIAA taking issue with this practice. That does not mean, however, that they view it as acceptable. Most likely, it is unacceptable to them but they have not attacked it explicitly since it is seen as low-threat and the sound quality would be somewhat degraded.)
    1. Connect a standard cassette player or record player to the sound card of my computer, import the music as .wav files and convert to MP3. This wouldn’t cost anything but it would be very labor-intensive and tedious.
    2. Buy products specially-designed to import music from cassette or LP, like a cassette deck that fits in a 5.25″ drive bay in your computer or a USB turntable. These make the process less painful, but they’re like $100 each. I could buy a lot of albums in MP3 format for $200. As mentioned before, however, some of the music I have on LP or cassette may not be available as MP3s from any online store.
  3. Re-buy the music on brand-new CDs and import the music into my digital library. (The RIAA would love it if I bought the CDs. However, they’d be less enthusiastic about me ripping them and adding them to my computer’s music library. In their eyes, I should buy the album on CD and MP3.)
  4. Re-buy the music on used CDs and import the music into my digital library. (Used CDs are/have been a point of contention for the RIAA, in addition to the act of ripping. If I were to subsequently sell the CD and keep the MP3s, the legality of this approach would have just gone down some more.)
  5. Borrow my friends’ CD copies of your music and rip them into my collection. (The RIAA would definitely take issue with this, though they’re unlikely to find out about it. While in some senses it might seem like this is justified, there is something about this that makes me uncomfortable. I think it has to do with the quality issue. When I buy a cassette, I buy the music subject to the quality constraints of the format. I don’t feel that I am entitled to a copy of the album at a better quality just because I have paid for the music in a format that offers inferior quality (and is also cheaper).)
  6. Download MP3s of the music you already own via P2P file-sharing. (This is likely to get you in trouble with the RIAA. I would be reluctant to do anything that might attract their ire. Even if you’re guilty of nothing, simply being accused will cost you money. Also, the argument from #5 applies here – having bought a song in some format doesn’t necessarily entitle me to a free copy of the song in any format.)

There aren’t a lot of particularly attractive options in the above list. I object to re-buying things I already own. However, it is undoubtedly the most convenient option, which is why I have done it. Fortunately for me, my taste in music changed substantially toward the end of my cassette years, so much of the music I own on cassette is of little interest to me now.

What about you? Do you have a lot of music on cassette or LP? If so, what have you done about it? Do you still listen to it in its native format or have you converted it to digital? Let me know how you’ve solved this problem. Also, if you disagree with my analysis above, let me know where you stand on these issues.


Rediscovering old favorites…

… is fun. Yesterday I listened to Man, or Astroman? – one of my favorite bands from my high school years. Right now I’m listening to Superchunk, which was also a high school favorite.

Speaking of songs from high school, I was shocked the other day to hear a song from the 6ths as the background for a TV commercial. The song (“Here in my heart” from Wasps’ Nests) is from an obscure album (it’s not available from the iTunes store) by an obscure “artist” – actually a side project (among many) of Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields fame. Anyway, it came out in 1995, right in the heart of my high school years. Ah, the memories.

And, yes, I am deliberately using ellipses in the title/beginning of all of today’s posts.


Remembering to send in rebates…

… is a pain. Fortunately, I just remembered about the rebate on the power supply I bought about 2 weeks ago. I filled out the form and got all the stuff together. Now, I just need to make a couple of photocopies and I can send it off. Hello $30. Or, perhaps, I should say, “$30, nice to see you again in my wallet.”


Right now…

… I wish I owned Guitar Hero. After a long day at work and my viewing of Air Guitar Nation last weekend, I am primed for some 5-button guitar action.


Air Guitar Nation

Last Saturday night, Heather and I were flipping through the channels looking for something decent to watch.  I had just finished watching the end of something like “Top 100 One Hit Wonders” on VH1 and they said that the next show would be a documentary called “Air Guitar Nation”.  It looked pretty entertaining, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I’m glad I did: it was hilarious.  The basic synopsis is this: in 2002 two American guys find out about the World Air Guitar Championships held in Finland so they go – not as competitors – only observers.  They are struck by the fact that there are no Americans in the competition, so they resolve to organize championship events in the US in order to send a US champion to the world championship the following year.  I don’t want to give much more than that away because the story is really good.  Anyway, if you’ve ever pretended to perform a guitar solo in your bedroom, this documentary is for you.

The documentary is out on DVD, so you can get it on Netflix or something.  Or, if you want to watch it for free, it’ll be on VH1 at 1PM tomorrow (Feb. 13th), so set up your Tivo.  The trailer (which I think doesn’t really do it justice) is here.


Things you don’t learn in German class

I was just going through some old papers of mine and I found a little scrap of paper in amongst all the other papers with 4 German words written on it. I’m not quite sure what I had in mind when I wrote them down, but they are a few of my favorite German words, so I thought I would write about them here. I first heard them while I lived in Germany and I came to like them and be very amused by them. I think when you learn words like this in a non-native tongue, you start to see the personality of the language and really enjoy speaking it. Anyway, without further ado:

  1. Zack!” (Interjection) This was used often by my coworkers as a sort of onomatopoeia when something happened quickly or unexpectedly, not unlike “Boom!” My German dictionary translates it as “just like that” or “before you knew it”, but “Zack!” is much succinct and expressive, so I like it much better.
  2. Ratzfatz” (Adverb) This word is used to denote that something is or should be done quickly. I like the fact that its two syllables rhyme.
  3. Schwuppdiwupp!” (also just “Schwupp”) (interjection) This is similar to “Zack!”, although it carries with it more of sense of the unexpected or out of control. So, while I could say “… and then I punched him in the face. Zack!”, “Schwuppdiwupp” would not be appropriate here. Instead, it could be used like this: “I stepped out the door and schwuppdiwupp, I was on the ground thanks to the ice on the step.”
  4. Dingsbums” (noun) This roughly means “thingamajiggy” or “doodad”. It’s a word you use when you can’t think of the correct name for something. This word is becoming less popular in polite society because of the “bums” part, which is reminiscent of the verb “bumsen” which literally means “to bump”, but which has become a vulgar slang word for sex. In order to get past this problem, people often use “Dingsda” instead.

Fellow German speakers, what are you favorite German words?


Unusual modes of transportation

Since I can remember, I’ve been interested in antiquated or unique modes of transportation. Generally, my exposure to such transportation has come as a result of traveling to some new place where said transportation is or had been used.

Upon moving to Pittsburgh, I became interested in the inclines, which are technically known as funiculars. These are basically railways that go up the side of a mountain at a steep angle. Not to be confused with cog railways, funiculars are drawn by cables and generally include two cars which counter-balance one another, one going up while the other goes down. There are two left in Pittsburgh: the Monongahela Incline and the Duquesne Incline, both of which are on the south shore of the Monongahela River and take passengers from river level up to the top of Mt. Washington, a bluff on the south side of the city. While there are only 2 left today, 19 inclines have called Pittsburgh home over the years. Furthermore, though my exposure to inclines has been limited to those in Pittsburgh, there are inclines all over the world, including all continents except Antarctica.

Another form of transportation that captured my imagination during a trip is the system of canals in England. Obviously, I had seen boats and rivers before, but I was fascinated by the man-made features of the canals that enabled them to negotiate difficult terrain. During our trip to England, I saw plenty of locks in person and read about other interesting parts of canals elsewhere, including canal tunnels, navigable aqueducts, boat lifts, canal inclined planes, and marine railways. A number of years later, during my year in Germany, I saw a boat lift in person: the Henrichenburg Boat Lift on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Shortly thereafter, I decided that when I retired, I would build an elaborate model of the British countryside, including railroads and canals, with particular emphasis on including the interesting features listed above. I’m less committed to this plan now than I was at the time, so we’ll just have to see if this works out or not. I’ll let you know in 40 years or so.

A third form of transportation to which I was introduced during a trip is what might be called a cable car or aerial tramway. During a trip to Germany with my parents in 2000, we rode up to the top of the Zugspitze in a cable car. The Zugspitze is interesting because it’s right on the border between Germany and Austria and you can actually go back and forth between Germany and Austria on the observation deck at the top. Not only that, getting to the top involves taking a cable car or a cog railway, so it offers two unique transportation options. While the cable car was interesting, it didn’t really capture my imagination in the same way as the canals or even the inclines had. Perhaps this is due to it being more modern and not seeming to belong to a different era.

The last form of transportation to which I was exposed on a trip involves much shorter range transport than the others. The year I lived in Germany I got to take a tour of the WDR studios in Cologne. In their main building, they had a crazy elevator-type contraption called a paternoster. Basically, it’s like an elevator with no doors that never stops. There are two shafts side by side and a series of cars on a continuous loop travel up one shaft and then down the other. This means that you simply step in on one floor and step out when you reach your desired destination. If it’s not clear what I’m talking about, check here. These really fascinated me for a while because they’re unique, very efficient, belong to an earlier era and are disappearing. Right now, there aren’t many of these left in existence and those that survive seem to be getting phased out as buildings are renovated or demolished, since they’re more dangerous than normal elevators and they’re not handicapped-accessible.

The 4 modes of transportation mentioned above fall into two categories for me: those that I have used and those that I have not. I have been in inclines in Pittsburgh and I rode a cable car in Austria. However, I have never been on a canal boat, much less on a boat while it went through a lock or some other interesting canal feature. In addition, I have never been on a paternoster. I hope that I’ll get the chance to take both of these modes of transportation in the not-too-distant future.  If I do, I’ll let you know.


Toilet Woes

Yesterday around 7pm, Heather mentioned that our toilet was running and that it had started running at about 5pm or so. She said that jiggling the handle did nothing, so I looked into it further. What did I find? This:


Yes, that’s the float that was formerly attached to the water shutoff valve in our toilet tank – before the rod connecting the float to the valve snapped in half.  Obviously, years spent in a moist environment took their toll and it rusted into oblivion.  The bottom of the tank was covered in little rust flakes and not-so-little rust shards.So, we called the maintenance people (this is why I love renting) and someone came over like 3 hours later.  He showed up with only an adjustable wrench.  Obviously, that was not going to fix our problem.  So, he had to go back to their supply shop (which is on the other end of campus) and get a float valve assembly.  About an hour later he came back with the assembly and installed it.  During installation, however, he accidentally broke one of the also horribly rusted bolts securing the tank to the bowl.  So, he had to go back to the shop to get new bolts.  By this point, it was after midnight and the situation was becoming tiresome.

After returning with new bolts, he got the tank bolted onto the bowl, packed up his stuff and left.  I then went to put the lid back on the tank – but it didn’t fit!  The tank was now a little too close to the wall for the lid to fit on properly.  Since it was late, I decided to call it a night and worry about it in the morning.

This morning, I loosened the bolts and put a shim in between the tank and the wall in order to create enough space between them to allow the tank lid to fit on properly.  Shims are one of the most useful things ever invented.  Anyway, after an initially funny problem and a bunch of little problems along the way, we finally have our toilet problems resolved.



Super Tuesday Apparel

I don’t generally wear black t-shirts; however, if I did, I’d be tempted to get this one:


February 2008

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