Posts Tagged 'I love my Mac and happily smoke the ApplePipe'

Why I’m looking forward to 2012: Or why a longtime Apple user still won’t be an early adopter

Let’s get this straight: my first adult computer purchase was an iMac Rev B back in 1998. I’m writing this on a black second-gen MacBook (soon to be replaced with a MacBook Pro). My 32GB iPhone 3GS goes everywhere I go, and I cannot travel without my 160GB iPod Classic. I smoke the ApplePipe in several different flavors, and I’m a daily user at that.

On the other hand, consider the specifics of what I use. I have never bought a first-generation Apple product. And, frankly, taking one look at the iPad’s unveiling this week, I am not persuaded to break my non-streak.

Look, no doubt about it, the iPad is pretty freakin’, well, pretty. It is the latest drop dead gorgeous design from the Cupertino boys, yet another Apple product where to see one with all of its smooth curves is to lust after one. The adaptation of the iPhone touchscreen interface to take advantage of a 9.7 inch screen looks stunning; that trick of using finger swipes to expand photo collections has me panting on my knees all by itself. Not only that, but if the printed newspaper is going to go the way of the Newton, then I want my digital version to look as nice and easy to read as the New York Times app demo did yesterday. That looks like something you can read with your coffee and eggs at the breakfast table.

I’m also daring iBooks to make a believer out of me. Let’s be honest — I love real books too much to be able to stomach spending a few hundred dollars on a Kindle; why would I want to spend a few hundred dollars on a dedicated device that doesn’t do the real thing as well as the real thing and has a smaller screen than the page size of the books I usually read? (There’s also the matter of wanting Isaac Asimov to be sorely wrong about the fate of print books he imagined for the Foundation series.) I’d have to get a Kindle DX to feel like I was reading a real book and not one I’d bought at the grocery store, and that still doesn’t solve my problem of compulsively wanting to underline and make copious notes in what I read. However, if the device in question is also the must-have subset of my portable music collection, movie collection, and a working productivity machine that’s even thinner and lighter than my laptop — well, that’s more than double the functionality of a dedicated e-book reader, and already with a reasonably-sized screen, for all of $10 more than the Kindle DX. Sounds like a no-brainer to me — if I’m going to put out that kind of dosh, it better do all of that.

(That said, looking at the screenshots of the iBooks interface, Delicious Library has got to be pissed right now. Probably not for the first time either, since their iPhone app still seems to be dead in the water.)

Yeahbut.

The truth is, as really and truly super-amazing-awesome all of that is, it doesn’t do anything that I’m just absolutely dying on the vine for it to do. There is not a category of device in my life into which it neatly fits; my MacBook took the place of my old Dell notebook, my iPhone replaced my cracked and cheap Samsung, and the utility of an iPod arose when I started traveling overseas. If the iPad is going to insinuate itself into my life (and not only do I grant that this may be inevitable, but I also sincerely hope that it is), I gotta have a reason. Right now, anyway, the iPad can’t replace all of those things wholesale without me giving up functionality. It can be a smaller version of my stuff (sorry, George Carlin), it can even be the version I curl up with next to a roaring fire while my wife looks on disapprovingly, but that’s all it can be as of yet — a version. Now, we may well be heading to the day when what we now think of as laptops are actually de facto desktops for all intents and purposes, and devices like the iPad become the portable working machine, but I just don’t think we’re there yet.

Besides which, I really can’t bring myself to be an early adopter of anything when it comes to teh gadgetz. 2000 was when I got my first DVD player. 2001 was when my wife and I first got cell phones. I just entered the Blu-Ray and HDTV market this last Christmas. I don’t have so much disposable income that my first thought when I see my wallet is, “Hey! What bleeding-edge device can I go out and buy today?” No, I’m one of those people who relies on the early adopters to work out the kinks for me, so that when the second, third, or fourth generation devices come along that I do buy, there are standards in place (I’m looking at you, high-def videodisc market), and there is a reasonable set of features for a reasonable price.

And make no mistake, the iPad is still missing some things. 1080p video for one, both on the screen and for output (my flatscreen HDTV has spoiled me in just over a month). A front-facing camera for videoconferencing (if not a second camera on the back). A built-in USB port, if not an HDMI port, and a SD slot.

All of these factors put together make me look at the iPad and — well, it’s not that I shrug, it’s just that I wipe off the drool after a few seconds and go back to trying to figure out which MacBook Pro I’m getting.

See, if I know Apple, they know all of this already, and they already have a detailed roll-out plan specifying which generation gets which feature. If the idea is that they have a particular price point in mind and they add features as it becomes feasible to do so within that price point or lower, then there’s no question in my mind that over the next two years or so the product will get to where it’s worth somebody like me buying it. To me, though, it’s not just a question of adding features, but also a matter of what kind of an app library is developed for the device. A couple of years’ worth of individual ingenuity with the SDK could well make the iPad a must-have for reasons I can’t presently predict.

All of this is to say, I expect that sometime in 2012, two things will happen, assuming the world doesn’t end. One, the third-generation iPad will be unveiled, and it will include a sufficient number of the features I enumerate here (the camera or cameras, plus 1080p video, will be the dealmakers for me), probably the second hardware refresh, and it will be at a price point that prompts me to launch the Apple Store app on my 1TB iPhone 6GZX and order one.

Second, rumors will start flowing about the new device secretly being worked on in the bowels of Apple. Maybe it’ll be the iPen you use on your iPad — who knows. I’ll be too busy curled up in front of the fire with my new iPad to care. End of the world or not, 2012 can’t come soon enough.

Hello from Athens — er, rather, “Γεια σας”: in which the author just learns to process the thought, “Hey! I’m in Greece!

(That’s pronounced “Ya sas” for those of you who can’t read Greek letters.)

I checked in online on Tuesday; I was flying Indianapolis to Newark, with a nonstop from Newark to Athens. I had a window seat, and the plane was empty enough that I had two empty seats between me and the aisle. I thought I’d probably only need to check one bag, but I indicated two just to be on the safe side — I had packed an empty carry-on suitcase in my big suitcase, both to keep myself from overpacking as well as to have a carry-on for side trips, and to give myself room to pack gifts on the way back. I had an empty duffel bag in which to pack overflow if it actually turned out the suitcase was over.

Wednesday morning, when I actually checked in at the airport, I was told that they were a bit concerned about me not having enough time in Newark to make my connection, but not to worry — they would reroute me through Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris if there was a problem. Still, everything looked good for the Indianapolis flight to be on time, so looked like everything would be all right. I wound up having to move a few things into the duffel bag after weighing the suitcase, and I checked both bags.

Saying goodbye to Flesh of My Flesh at the airport with me being the one taking off for the summer was very strange feeling. She’s gone away four summers in a row; now it was my turn to go off and have an international adventure and for her to stay home. How would this time be different, with our roles reversed? Ask me again in two months.

The plane boarded, we pushed off from the gate only slightly late, taxied off… and parked on the tarmac for an hour and fifteen minutes. Air Traffic Control had issued a new wheels-up time just as we closed up the plane for an hour and a half later, so there we sat. It was a tiny aircraft, and even with nobody in the seat next to me it was cramped. Air travel FAIL.

My flight to Athens was at 5:30pm; perhaps it would be delayed as well and it would be no big deal. Arriving in Newark at 5:26pm, the gate agent looked up my flight — “It’s still listed as on time,” she told me. “But who knows — you might still make it.” Of course, the gate for the Athens flight was all the way on the other side of the airport. Even with a shuttle bus, it took twenty minutes to get over there, by which time the flight was long gone. Air travel FAIL.

I was rebooked for the Paris connection; that meant waiting in Newark for another four hours, and it would also mean arriving in Athens at 4:30pm rather than 10:30am. Air travel FAIL.

Turned out I wasn’t alone; I met an IU undergrad named Alex Edwards who was on her way to participate in an archaeological dig on the island of Aevia, and for whom this was her first major international trip. “Well,” I said as we stood in line to get our flights rebooked, “the good news about this kind of rough start is that there’s someplace for the rest of the trip to go.”

The good people at the Archives of Traditional Music had gotten me a rather hefty iTunes gift card as a parting gift, so I decided to buy a pair of video glasses for my iPod and download some movies to watch on the flight to Paris. I bought Burn After Reading, Star Trek the Motion Picture, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Unfortunately, it turned out that, at the speed of the Boingo hotspot at Newark, it would take about three hours to download the movies, and by this point I had less than an hour. I’d have to finish downloading them once I got to Greece. Also, the goggles themselves would require charging overnight before I could use them. Finally, I discovered in horror that my iPod power/sync cable had managed to be left at home, so I had to buy one of those too. Wi-Fi FAIL; Inflight entertainment options FAIL; Richard packing FAIL.

The flight to Paris boarded late; it was also jam packed. I still had my window, but boy oh boy was I crammed right up against it for the duration of the trip. Flying Northwest I’ve become accustomed to international flights being noticeably better and more comfortable than domestic flights; this is not the case with Continental Airlines, it would seem — word to the wise. Rather than any additional legroom, with the couple sitting next to me I had exactly one inch short of enough room to extend my leg at all comfortably; as a result I had a bad cramp in my knee two hours into the flight about which I could do exactly nothing. A good number of people on that flight seemed to be there because they had missed another plane, and were all in the resulting absolutely sunny mood. Even when I went to the bathroom, within two minutes there were angry pounds on the door. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep. Air travel FAIL.

Flying in over Paris really is lovely, I will say that; the countryside is green and open and seems like a place I’d be very interested to explore. On the other hand, Charles de Gaulle Airport is nothing I really needed to see under the circumstances. The best thing I can say is that between getting a coffee and croissant and navigating through the barely-organized chaos that was boarding the flight to Athens, I got to use un petit peu of my French. I will also say that I got to see the humorous sight of a group of nuns going through security and having to take out laptops.

The Paris-to-Athens leg of the trip had me, once again, packed in with the rest of the sardines, meaning I didn’t sleep — or rather, I did sleep for a bit until the flight attendant dropped a can of tomato juice into my lap. Air travel FAIL. (That said, we did get real food on the Air France flight.)

Landing at Athens International Airport, I noticed with some amusement that I could see a very large IKEA from the air, with an Orthodox church at the end of the parking lot. Yep, I thought, this is Greece.

My big suitcase was the first bag off the conveyor belt; after twenty minutes, though, it became clear that the duffel bag hadn’t made it (and neither had any of Alex’s luggage). After another twenty minutes in line at customer service, I found out the bag was still in Newark (Air travel FAIL FAIL FAIL) and would be delivered to me the next day.

So it was that at long last, my friend Anna Pougas and her dad Giorgos found me, a bedraggled, sweaty, tired Anglo in a Panama hat, ultimately about seven hours later than originally planned. Nonetheless, when Giorgos asked if I wanted to see anything before we went home, I said yes, absolutely.

We walked around Porto-Rafti, a lovely bay with beaches and swimming, as well as old trenches from World War II. We also drove by the temple of Artemis where Iphigenia is said to have been buried, and then had very decent seafood in a restaurant by the harbor. Interestingly enough, there’s a music store in the area called “Ριχάρδος Μουσικός Οίκος” (Ριχάρδος being a Hellenicization of Richard — “Rihardhos”). If I had been sharp enough at the time, I would have taken a picture. Perhaps later.

By the way — if you ever plan on coming to Greece, be aware that the culture of driving is much different from what it is in the States. Chalk Athens up as another European city in which I would never want to drive (so far, that’s just about all of them in which I’ve travelled), and here it’s because drivers here are simply much more aggressive by custom. I suppose we could say that here the rules of the road really are guidelines at best. The other side of this is that, when you’re talking about people who have driven this way all their lives, it’s not really a problem — they know what they’re doing. For me, however, I think my inexperience with that kind of driving would just make me a hazard on the road.

When we got to the Pougas’ house in Halandri, I immediately jumped in the shower and subsequently collapsed in bed. Jet lag? What jet lag?

The next day I woke up around noon. After my bag was delivered, around 3pm, Anna and I walked into the downtown part of Halandri to see if I we could get my cell phone situation straightened out. (Side note: there are pomegranate and orange trees just growing in people’s yards and on the sidewalks.) I’m an AT&T customer so my phone — a Samsung SGH-A437 — is quad-band, and they had given me an unlock code so I could replace the SIM card overseas. We went into a Vodafone store, I unlocked the phone, put in the card they gave me, and… “Wrong card,” the phone’s display told me, even after entering the PIN for the card. I tried again. “Wrong card,” the phone’s display stubbornly repeated. “It’s difficult with Samsung phones,” they told me. Cell phone FAIL. Anna said that they had an old unused phone at home that I could use for the time being; ironically, it turned out to be the same Nokia phone that Megan has loathed for the last two years.

One thing I discovered really quickly: much like London, where Anglican churches are virtually around every corner, so it is here with Orthodox churches. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a church. It’s also clear that, in most instances, the churches were here first, and people built around them (with one case in particular being a remarkable demonstration of this, but I’ll get to that later). The central church in Halandri is St. Nicholas Church, and we attended Vespers there. There’s a lot of restoration of the frescoes going on inside; on the north wall are very bright icons which have clearly been cleaned up, and scaffolds are around indicating that work is being done. From the darkness hanging over a lot of the iconography, it’s apparent that a lot of work is needed — I don’t know if it’s particulate from incense or just what happens to egg tempera after a century or so.

It was a Friday evening, and much like the States, weekday services are clearly expected to have, er, light attendance — the priest did it entirely as a reader’s service, and I mean as a reader’s service. Nothing was sung at all except for the apolytikion for Pentecost — everything else was simply read, and quickly. We were out in less than half an hour.

We walked around afterwards — Anna showed me the new church which is being built in Halandri, St. George, which she said has been under construction all of her life (her brother was baptized in the basement, where they’ve held services up until a few years ago when the nave was finally ready) and for which Giorgos later said he remembered helping to dig the foundations as a boy. Only (“only,” I say as an American who worships presently in a church that’s just trying to figure out how to not look like an office building) the apse and dome are frescoed at this point, and the bell tower is still being finished; “That’s still a lot farther ahead than many churches in America,” I said.

After our little walking tour of Halandri, we headed back to the house to find Giorgos. We were meeting Anna’s brother, Stephen, and his girlfriend Liana to go out to a movie — and I mean out. As in outdoors. Drive-in without the cars. The movie? Well, it was Angels and Demons (Dan Brown FAIL), but never mind that now. Beyond the novelty of watching it in the open air with a concession stand where I could have ordered a martini if I had wanted one, it was also a useful exercise to listen to the English soundtrack while trying to follow along with the Greek subtitles.

Saturday, Anna and I decided to head into downtown Athens and attend Vespers at St. Irene, which is Lycourgos Angelopoulos’ church. (Gavin Shearer, this paragraph is for you.) Athens’ gradually expanding metro system is really nice; on the whole, I have to give a big thumbs-up to the public transportation system here, which seems to be very useful and quite economical. I’m paying 35 Euros for a monthly pass that gives me access to everything — buses, the metro, streetcars, even some of the regional rail I think — as opposed to the 30 pounds we paid apiece for the weekly Tube pass in London. As I said, the system is new (I think it opened in 2001) and thus is still expanding, so there is no metro station near where I’m staying (but there will be one a five minute walk away in a year or so!), but the buses also aren’t too bad. (And hey, the Athens metro even has its own version of “Mind the gap”.) As it is, we made it to Syndagma Station, in central Athens right by the National Gardens, without a whole heck of a lot of muss or fuss. Real cities have trains.

Here’s some useful advice about walking around downtown Athens: there is no such thing as a soft sell there. If you’re walking around the tourist-heavy areas, everybody will be trying to get you to come into their shop or sit down at one of their tables; if you go into a shop, they will do everything they can to get you to leave some of your money there. I was more-or-less prepared for this and only went into a shop because there was something specific I wanted (a little triptych in this case), and only discussed with the saleslady the exact item I was buying, no matter what else she tried putting in front of me. Interestingly enough, she assumed I was Russian; this is not the first time Greeks have jumped to this particular conclusion about me (such as when I visited the Greek cathedral in London a couple of years ago). I’m not sure what that’s all about, but never mind. “Ευχαριστώ, όχι” (Efharisto, ohi “Thank you, no”) coming from the lips of an Anglo raised more than a few eyebrows, and not all of them with respect; I got more than one snarky “Μιλάς καλά Ελληνικά!” (Milas kala Ellinika “You speak Greek well!”) After a couple of those I wanted to reply, “Όχι, δεν μιλώ καλά και το ξέρω!” (Ohi, dhen milo kala ke to xero “No, I don’t speak well and I know it!”)

We got much-needed coffee from Χατζή (“Chatzi’s”), and soon found a rather stark example of a church being there first and people building around it. Here is the chapel of the Holy Power of the Virgin, a chapel of the monastery of the Dormition at Pendeli. In the United States, obviously developers would do everything they could to buy and demolish the property; that they don’t do that here may lead to what look like awkward solutions, but they are definitely conversation starters.

Just a little further down is the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the cathedral of Athens. Services are not being held right now while renovations are happening, but it is still open to the public. Among other things, they have the relics of Patriarch St. Grigorios V (the icon over his reliquary even depicts him hanging in front of the Phanar) and Athenian St. Philothei.

By the way — even the phone booths here are with LEMON!

And how much do you have to love being able to stand on one street corner and see a centuries-old church (foreground), a centuries-old mosque (right), and the Acropolis (hill in background)?

After walking around a bit, we ate a late lunch at Thanasis, a souvlaki place a few blocks from the Cathedral. There I developed a new love: tirokaftiri. ‘Nuff said.

As might be expected, Vespers at St. Irene Church with Lycourgos Angelopoulos as the protopsaltis was a much different experience from the Friday night Vespers at St. Nicholas, to say the least. All I can say is that was the fullest Great Vespers I have ever experienced, in every sense of the word. The church is beautiful, it was celebrated reverently without a single thing cut (although, curiously, “Gladsome light” was read, not sung — as was the Nunc dimittis, for that matter, but I already knew that to be read in Byzantine practice), and it was sung by left and right Byzantine choirs. All told, it was about an hour and a half.

Observations about churches in Greece: all but one I’ve been in so far have a left/right choir setup in front of the iconostasis in the part of the church which would actually have the architectural term of “choir” — that is, between the altar (the iconostasis in this case) and the nave, with a rail in front of the nave. This has the positive effect, particularly when one sees how the two choirs interact with each other, the clergy, and the congregation during a service, of making the two choirs integral parts of the church architecture in a way that reflects the basic cruciform structure of the building. This also strongly emphasizes that the clergy, left choir, right choir, and congregation all have distinct roles in a given service, very much unlike how in many American churches the two choirs have been collapsed into one, which is then for all intents and purposes collapsed into the congregation.

This also has a couple of effects which no doubt many Americans would immediately find distasteful: it means that the altar is farther away from the congregation than it would be without the choir, and it also means that the congregation’s role, generally, does not involve singing — at least nowhere near as much as one finds in many American parishes. While acknowledging that I say this as a church musician who has the role of singing during services one way or the other, I would like to stress that, in context, these are not the Very Bad Things that some might already be thinking they are. When it is working, there is not only no confusion, but there is really no particular reason for the congregation to sing along. The choirs are leading the worship in a different way, and to a very real extent it would seem arrogant in this context for a member of the congregation to try to sing along — the piety of the congregation is largely silent and inwardly-focused, and these are people who would be scandalized by it going any other way. Seen thus in action, I would be hard-pressed to describe the members of the congregation as not participating — it is only that participation means something else than what we often mean as Westerners. It will perhaps be no surprise to find out that I think there’s something there we Americans learning to be Orthodox can draw from this manner of piety — certainly something more than we’ve convinced ourselves is worth taking from it.

The churches also all have galleries (i.e., upper levels in which to stand in the nave), there is a tendency (but by no means a rule) to have the women standing on the left and the men on the right, they all use amplification, they all have rows of chairs, and there’s a good bit of Western-style iconography in most of the older churches. I asked Anna about the chairs; she said that as long as she can remember, churches have had rows of chairs in Greece. (Notice I didn’t say “pews”.) I am curious to find out if this a recent, urban development, or if the simple truth is that, quite frankly, the churches I’ve been in so far have been populated mostly by people over sixty. Yes, it’s true; Orthodox Christianity in Greece seems to be pretty much the faith of the elderly. God bless their steadfastness, but somewhere along the way the faith didn’t get passed on to their children or grandchildren except in a handful of instances.

The poor also tend to congregate outside of churches here. This makes sense; the churches are in population centers, and there is reason to believe that people going into the churches might be willing to be instruments of charity. This is convicting to me, accustomed as I am to the local church being well away from the rest of the world and inaccessible to the poor and being culturally accustomed to ignoring the people we deem “panhandlers”. Can I go into a church and in good conscience worship the God-man who told me to clothe the naked and feed the hungry while ignoring those very people at the door? How do I know that they are truly in need? Do I have the right to judge? What do I do? I do what I can at any given moment, I suppose, whatever that is, make the Sign of the Cross, and pray I’ve done the right thing, whatever that is.

Sunday morning, we attended Divine Liturgy at a little church in downtown Athens, St. Nicholas (there are just a few of those in the area). It was quite different from St. Irene; it was very small — perhaps seventy or eighty people would fit in there total — small enough so that they didn’t have sufficient space for left and right choirs, nor the extended choir area in front of the iconostasis. There was a very different character of service here than I found at St. Irene; there were liberal cuts all over the place (during Orthros they jumped from the Gospel reading to “More honorable than the cherubim…”, the Great Doxology was trimmed down significantly, there were only two iterations of the Trisagion instead of three, only the Resurrectional apolytikion was sung followed by the kontakion and all the festal apolytikia were omitted, etc.), and while the choir was all men, they sang almost entirely four-part music. It was somewhat disconcerting; the sound approximated that of a barbershop ensemble singing Russian music in Greek. That said, they sang with as much gusto and enthusiasm as they could muster, and it was beautiful even if it left me scratching my head a bit. The priest did not question my coming up to the chalice at all, although I did not realize unil after I had received that, with no servers, it was up to me to hold the napkin to my chin. Richard taking Holy Communion FAIL (although, thankfully, knowing the ins and outs of local parish practice are not a general requirement for partaking so far as I know).

Following Liturgy, we went across the street to the Byzantine Museum. Reading their brochure, it said that students of non-EU universities who were doing Classical Studies or Fine Arts could get in for free with a student ID; I showed my ID at the door and was told I would have to pay because I was a non-EU student. Right, I explained, having anticipated the misunderstanding; your brochure says that’s fine, given my area of study (which I didn’t think was too much of a stretch of the truth). The woman’s brow furrowed and she picked up a Greek version of the brochure. Finally she nodded, but still had a confused look on her face. “I guess that’s what it says,” she told me, and waved me in. Glad I read the fine print more closely than she did.

The exhibit there is decidedly more modest than that at the Royal Academy of Arts back in February, but it had the advantage of not presenting it as “Look at how these crazy, backwards, superstitious Byzantines did things”. It is far more matter-of-fact with less editorializing. The exhibit guide was going at far more leisurely a pace at each section than I had patience for, however, so I worked my way through it on my own. Definitely worth the visit for the iconography portion; it’s also fun to see prosphora seals from Late Antiquity.

Lunch was in an Athenian suburb a little bit north of Halandri called Kifisia; for those of you with a point of reference in the Pacific Northwest, this would be the Attiki Bellevue. We went to a souvlaki place (“Dear Lord, thank you for our daily souvlaki,” Giorgos said) called Gourounakia Kifisias (“The Little Pigs of Kifisia”), and I once again swooned over my latest crush, tirokafteri. (Food here will be an entirely separate posting, as will, I think, travel tips for the heat sensitive.)

Back at home, I called Ioannis Arvanitis and set up a meeting for Monday; shortly thereafter, I started to fall asleep while e-mailing somebody, and I decided retreat was the wiser part of valor, particularly since the next day would be my first day of school.

More to come.

The slickest, smoothest sales job I have ever seen

Since fall of 2007, my wife has suffered with a Nokia 6126 as her cell phone. She has loathed that phone since the day she got it, and has counted down the minutes until the hardware upgrade cycle spun back around. For the last few months, I have heard nothing but, “I hate this piece of junk phone, and when I can replace it, I want the simplest, lowest-maintenance phone I can possibly find.”

Meanwhile, I decided a few months ago that I would probably get an iPhone this fall. Basically, I’m waiting for the next rev, the 3.0 firmware, and a lower-priced data plan. Also, since I can’t legitimately get a different SIM card for the iPhone, traveling with it in Greece seems like it would be rather needlessly complicated. I think I’d rather be abroad for two months with an old phone I don’t care about into which I can switch a new SIM rather than a new iPhone where I’m stuck with international data roaming charges. The whole time, whenever I’ve said I want an iPhone, Megan has just shaken her head, saying, “Never. It’s not for me.”

Thus it was that we found ourselves in the AT&T store last Thursday, with Megan telling the nice salesperson named Ryan, “I just want the cheapest phone you have that will let me make calls and send text messages.”

“Well,” he said, “have you considered the iPhone?”

I just sat back and watched, saying nothing. It seems that the iPhone answers its own question, and to actually see one is to fall in love. It took less than five minutes for her to be convinced, and then it was all over but picking out the accessories. As we left the store, she just looked at me and said, “Shut up.”

Now we just need to have her remember to set the “Push” setting to “Manually” when she visits me in Greece.

When things pay for themselves

In January of 2007, for reasons documented elsewhere, I made the switch to Mac. Well, it was sort of a switch back; the first computer I ever bought myself was a Rev B iMac back in 1998, then I bought a Dell notebook in 2003. I’ve been quite happy to smoke the ApplePipe, and will be content to do so for the foreseeable future.

That said, the one thing about my MacBook that has been frustrating has been how the plastic on the case cracks. It’s not a unique problem, unfortunately, and is a known design flaw. I’ll be getting one of the aluminum case MacBooks next time around, for sure.

On the other hand, AppleCare has made the problem go away twice now. The first time, since the nearest Apple Store is an hour and a half away, I sent it in; it took two and a half weeks to get it back, so I’m not likely to do that again. This time, I drove up to the Apple Store, dropped it off, and the next day had it back.

When I picked it up, I asked the customer service person, “Out of curiosity, how much would that repair have cost if I didn’t have AppleCare?”

“Around $200.”

AppleCare cost me about $180, as I recall; therefore, having this done twice, it has paid for itself and saved me another $220 (and keeps the machine in decent condition for when I sell it down the road). Just to be realistic, let’s go ahead and toss in $20 worth of gas — I’m still $200 better off than I would have been paying for the repairs out of pocket.

Many thanks to the good folks at the Keystone Crossing Apple Store in Indianapolis!

Anatomy of a home recording session

The two of you playing along at home may recall that in the last couple of months I’ve dropped a reference here and there to some developments about which I hope to be able to divulge more later. Well, we’re getting really close to me being able to actually say something — hopefully this week I’ll be able to say something concrete.

In the meantime, last night I recorded something related to one of these developments. I had been asked if I would be willing to read X and have it recorded so it could be used for a particular outcome Y, and I said sure, no problem. Great, came the response — are you able to record it yourself?

So, last night GarageBand and I started to get to know each other. (I have been an Audacity guy in the past, but for some reason Audacity stopped being able to export readable .mp3 audio for me, and I just haven’t gotten around to reinstalling to see if that fixes the problem.) I initially tried to record with the onboard mic on my MacBook, but the result was less-than-satisfying. Using my Sony ECM-MS907 microphone wound up being better, but then it became clear that I’d have even better results if I were able to mount it on something so that it would be closer to my mouth. The best mount I had on hand was — and this is just too glamorous for words — an empty Diet Pepsi can.

Having the makeshift studio setup in place, it took me about an hour and a half to record what I needed to record in a more-or-less satisfactory manner. Between this and other experiences recording in real recording studios, let me tell you that there’s nothing linear about it, it’s really quiltwork all around. Read this part, stop. Read that part, stop. Reread an earlier section to try to smooth out the flow into it from a different section, stop. Cut and paste this over there, snip out this second and a half pause here. Once everything was recorded and all of the pieces put together in a cohesive manner that simulated me sitting down and reading straight through from start to finish in a more-or-less (probably less) charming, personable manner, I then applied the “Male Radio Noisy” effect to try to clean up some of the fan and other ambient noise I was dealing with in my wife’s home office. I gave it a listen, and the result seemed to me to be more or less acceptable (I am making the assumption that the recipient will do some other things to it), so I exported it to an .mp3. I gave it a spin on my iPod to get a better sense of just how much noise was removed, and it was actually pretty good. I then sent an e-mail to my contact, saying, “Ready when you are.”

Eventually I should be able to tell you more about just what this is. In the meantime, I’ll say that reading your own words into a microphone in a way that’s interesting isn’t as easy as it may seem (and time will tell just how successful I actually was, if at all), and that if I were to have to do this kind of thing at home more often, I’d want to invest in some better equipment, at least. This would only happen if third parties were to ask me to (such as this particular case) — I can’t see myself independently and voluntarily venturing into something like podcasting at this stage of the game. There are just not enough hours in my life.

Various points of interest (or not)

George List was an emeritus faculty member for the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology here at IU. He retired in 1976, the year I was born, but still had an office and an assistant here. I first spoke to him over the phone in April, when I started working here at the Archives of Traditional Music; I met him for the first of three times in August. He was ninety-seven years old, he was frail, he was blind, he had been a widower for “seven long years” as he put it, and he had even outlived his son. Despite all of that, he was sharp as a tack, very active mentally, perfectly articulate. He was also clearly very lonely. He made a big impression on me the three times I got to meet him, perhaps more than I realize even now.

He passed away on Sunday, 28 September. It’s affected me this week a lot more than I thought it would — I even had a dream about him a couple of nights ago, although I don’t really remember much about it, beyond wanting to say goodbye in person and trying go back in time a couple of days by crossing the international date line. Aionia mneme.

Sometimes there are these fortuitous moments of synchronicity that tell you you were supposed to do something. Megan has been toying with the idea of getting an iPod for a little while, and I finally decided it was time to take the plunge and call it a late birthday present (my regular readers, both of them, may recall that I was in New York and she had just arrived in Germany on her birthday; I was so discombobulated that I didn’t remember to say “Happy birthday”, and she was so discombobulated that she didn’t notice). So we bought one of the new 120gb iPod Classics yesterday (it was $250; for reference, my 80gb Classic was $350 a year and a half ago), and after paying for it, the guy behind us in line, noticing we had bought a different pair of earbuds, asked us, “Hey, do you want the earbuds that come with that?”

We shrugged and said, “No, not really.”

“Can I buy them from you for $10?” He was about to spend $30 or some such on a replacement pair — seemed fair to us, and appeared to be one of those moments where the timing just worked out the way it was supposed to.

Of course, once we got home, we realized that we had also given him the USB cable. Oh well — keeps us humble.

Me, Bryn, and some guy at Jeff Fletcher's wedding, 12 September 2005A year ago today my friend Bryn Patrick Martin passed away from a bad reaction to painkillers. It was a stupid way to go and entirely preventable; I’m still mad at him. He was a constant, and I mean a constant, in my life between 1993 and 2003; this picture of him and me smoking cigars (can’t remember who the guy on the far left was) was taken the last time I saw him, 12 September 2003. His devilish smile (and overall countenance), obscene sense of humor, and most of all his fierce loyalty to the people about whom he cared remain very much missed. Aionia mneme.

I note among the stats for the last few days that for the first time ever I’ve received a hit off of a Google search for “Richard Barrett.” Exactly how this works I’m not sure, since last time I checked, I think it was the 15th page of results before this blog popped up, so the searcher in question must have been very persistent. Not that I care about my Google rank, exactly, but I do hope that people don’t see all of the matches on the first several pages for the white supremacist Richard Barrett and think that’s me. (If he had any idea who I was, he’d probably hope people didn’t get us confused, too.) If people want to think I’m the English composer or the motivational speaker, that’s probably okay. (Maybe not the R&B pioneer or the minor-league Depression-era Seattle baseball player, since they’re both dead.)

Still searching for the perfect blogging platform…

OK, here’s a brief rundown of what’s come before:

richardbarrett.blogspot.com continues to exist, alas unloved and unupdated as it is and will remain.

The Dell blog existed for a specific purpose; I still get the occasional e-mail and phone call, so it will stay up so that people have some kind of a road map of how somebody once managed to penetrate Dell’s corporate hierarchy, but I don’t plan on updating it regularly by any means, since I no longer spend any money with Dell at all.

The .Mac blog was fun, and everything that was posted there will stay posted there. Thing of it is, for much of what I was doing, iWeb is just plain unwieldy, and you just can’t do stuff with it that Blogger and WordPress can without a lot of extra work. Plus, text often winds up getting published as a graphic, so search engines won’t find things. There’s at least one posting from the .Mac blog where that’s a major problem (and it will probably find its way here in hopes that it solves that problem). I will probably still use it as a photo album–someday I’ll get the Oxford pictures up, I promise.

So, on the advice of a friend (hat tip to Anna Pougas on her patronal feast! Many years!), I’m giving WordPress a shot. I’m adding three words to the .Mac blog’s title so that I’ve got Latin, Greek, German AND Syriac all represented–why not, really? (And please don’t leave a bunch of comments explaining why not–it’s a lark. Deal with it.)

To explain:

Leitourgeia—Greek, noun, meaning “public work” (“work of the people” being another common understanding), as in “liturgy.”

kai—Greek, conjunction, meaning “and.”

Qurbana—Syriac, noun, meaning “offering” or “Eucharist.”

Contra—Latin, preposition, meaning “against,” as in Athanasius contra mundum, St. Athanasius of Alexandria having stood fast for the Orthodox Christian faith in the face of the Arian heresy.

den Zeitgeist—German, accusative singular, meaning “Spirit of the Age,” as in the chapter “Through Darkest Zeitgeistheim” in C. S. Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress, where the protagonist John faces the most horrible monster Lewis has ever depicted, the Spirit of the Age.

Also, Lewis wrote an introduction for an English-language edition of St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation.

So, we’ll try this for awhile, see what happens.


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