Mixed Up Tape

Cassette TapeBy now, you’re probably well aware of that vinyl albums have continued to sell (and gain popularity) even in this post-MP3, streaming music era. But a new report from FastCompany titled Music’s Weird Cassette Tape Revival Is Paying Off, recently noted that there’s been an odd resurgence in sales of cassette tape-based music in the past year. In the article, John Paul Titlow is quick to attempt to dispel the notion that the renewed interest in this fossil is simply analog hipsterism, citing that the format offers very real, practical benefits for budding artists as well as being embracing anew by well-established artists.

But I’m just as quick to call BS on this. I believe it is all about hipsterism.

Ok, ok, vinyl, I sorta get. Many audiophiles have long favored LPs over other formats, arguing that vinyl albums boast more warmth or a “rounder” sound due to the inclusion of super- and sub-frequencies that may be more perceived than actually heard. I suspect that most of those die-hard vinyl fans are really clinging to the format for mostly non-qualitative reasons. Nostalgia. Tactility. The cover art. Especially for us digital immigrants, LP music imparts more of a “wholeness” to it because it is concrete thing — you can feel, care for, and respectfully handle a vinyl album. There’s something to be said for the physicality of placing a record on the turntable and setting the needle — listening to an LP evoked a connection to your music that I’m not sure you can get with digital, regardless of how enjoyable the actual content is.

Mark Browm suggested that the revived interest in vinyl has more to do with the absence of DRM than anything else. But the motivation for studios to make the effort to encrypt their music has almost entirely waned, especially with streaming becoming the main way so many people get their music now. Once a very hot button issue, music “ownership” is no longer something most listeners even think about.

And really, digital media bests vinyl recordings soundly (rimshot!) by any objective criteria, including dynamic range, frequency response, noise floor, and channel separation, to name a few. Certainly, cassette tapes never even approached the audio quality of vinyl, much less digital music.

One undeniably cool thing about cassettes was making mixtapes. I remember fondly my first “boombox” portable player that had dual cassettes! Recording a mixtape required considerable effort, a lot of forethought, and a dash of skill. I made boatloads of mixtapes — often with accompanying custom J-cards for the cassette box — and it was a very personal thing. A mixtape was a labor of love. And because of the sequential nature of cassettes, the listener was all but forced to listen to your custom music compilation in the order that you intended.

In the post-cassette years, I burned CD versions of mixtapes. (Yeah, the term “mixdisc” does exist, but it never caught on.) Most of my CDs featured carefully-affixed custom labels (‘cuz scrawling across the disc with a Sharpie was just plain lazy) and the artwork of my home-brewed discs rivaled commercially-produced CDs. Certainly, the mixdisc offered the opportunity for lots more artwork, both on the media itself and the jewel case inner and front inserts. And with a physical disc, while there was less assurance that the listener would do so, it was still fairly likely that your carefully-selected anthology would be experienced in the intended sequence at least once.

However, in the MP3 era, this all went right out the window. Sure, you could still compile an assortment of files for your friends, but it lacked the same creative punch that a carefully-curated mixtape had. And with purely digital music, there’s nothing to force or even encourage the listener to play the tracks in any prescribed order. Gone too is any physical vestiges of music — digital music isn’t a thing, but more of an abstract concept.

So, FastCompany’s article posits that mixtapes are a viable way for up and coming musicians to cheaply produce small batches of their albums. But I insist that creating a CD is easier, less expensive, and the resulting product is far more accessible — how long has it been since you owned a car or home stereo equipped with a cassette player? Or maybe you’re still lovingly clinging to your circa-1979 Sony WalkMan?

For that matter, who among us still has a DiscMan?


So, I’m sticking with “hipsterism” as the key motivator for those stuck on tape.

What do you think?

Route With The Old, In With The New

ASUS router on fireOur ASUS RT-AC66U router played out last Friday evening around 10:30. Dede was using her iPad to surf while we were watching TV and the signal went dead. When I checked the router, it had no power so I disconnected it, moved the wall wart to another outlet, and still nada. Rinse, repeat. No go. Just dead. It might’ve made sense for the router to have given up the ghost a coupla nights before when we had a fierce lightning storm and multiple power losses. But no, it gave out on a quiet Friday night.

Some of you will remember that I had sung high praises of the ASUS when I bought it nearly 3 years ago because it was fast, had better Wi-Fi range (altho we still ended up adding an Amped High Power Wi-Fi Range Extender about a year ago which dramatically increased the Wi-Fi range), and perhaps most cool, the ASUS router also functioned as a DLNA media server that allowed us to stream photos, music, and video files stored on a USB hard drive plugged into the router to devices throughout the house—like our Sony Blu-ray player connected to the main TV. With this, we were able to cobble together something akin to our own home version of Netflix, albeit without the snazzy menus.

All was well until a firmware update from ASUS broke things about 8 months ago. The Seagate USB hard drive would no longer mount and so couldn’t be accessed by the router’s media server function. I could still use the drive as a quasi-NAS to store files without fail, but could no longer stream content from it. I tried 2 other USB hard drives with the same net effect. From the comments I found on various forums, this was a common affliction that many ASUS router owners had recently begun suffering from.

So, with the ASUS down, I wasted no time heading back to my old standby, The Wirecutter to find out what I should replace the dead router with. And following a hasty trip to Best Buy early Saturday morning, I returned home with a shiny new Netgear R6400. Not only was it quick to setup, with most of the configuration being wizard-driven and easy to understand, but the attached USB drive was easy to share as a network storage device—and we have a DLNA media server once again!

Pruning Palms, Not Fingers

Hardly seems possible that it’s already been over 5 years since we cut down the oak tree in the back yard that was causing so many problems with the pool. But recently I went to battle with another tree back there—this time the Washington Palm in the opposite corner.

I had long since neglected the palm because I had no idea how to prune such a foreign creature. And the viral trumpet vine that’s perpetually laying siege to the flowerbed below had crept up the fence and lept over to the tree. While this made for a attractive mix, red trumpet flowers dangling between the fronds, the vines woven in and among the palm made the prospect of pruning the tree all that much more daunting.

But fed up, armed with good advice from Dave I., and with much more audacity than aptitude, I propped up the ladder, gloved up, and went to war:

Before
The palm tree before battle

After
The palm tree after battle

When the dust settled and after more than 2 dumpster-loads of debris, I not only cleared out all of the invasive vines, but also removed all of the dead palm fronds that were weighing the tree down. In the weeks since, the tree has responded with lots of new growth and appears to be more healthy than ever before!

Look At That Escargot!

car design sketch

Dogleg. Rocker panel. Tumblehome. Daylight opening. Strake. Mohican Line.

Do these terms bring to mind something in your garage? Well, they should! They’re automotive design terms that describe just a few of the styling cues that make your car look the way it does.

I’m far from your typical car guy—horsepower has always been less interesting to me than form & function—but I’ve long since been fascinated with the design choices, compromises, and risks that automobile creators take that ultimately shape (and continually reshape) what we perceive as appealing. It’s amazing how easily automakers can tweak their designs to visually imply capabilities or imbue their creations with certain assumed characteristics:

  • Want a muscle car? Oversize the rear fender flares like the beefy haunches of an animal, emphasize the front wheel arches, and add sculpted swage lines to suggest bulging, sinewy biceps. Also lower the front to again emphasize the hips and reduce the metal-to-glass ratio.
  • Want to make a car seem nimble? Shift the cab forward (increasing visibility and shortening the hood), radically reduce the rear overhang, set the chassis higher on the suspension, and black out the turnunders so it appears perched for attack. An arched beltline also suggests sprightliness and affords a taller DLO without it seeming like, well, a greenhouse.
  • Want a robust and sturdy vehicle? Increase ground clearance, carve out chunky, squarish bumpers, scale up the fenders, and use an imposing, monolithic grill & fascia to communicate ruggedness. Also, be sure to use wheels that borrow heavily from industrial themes wrapped in large knobby rubber. Wheels and wheelarches pulled out from the body sides help imply aggression. Here too, you’ll want to reduce the height of the greenhouse so there’s a higher metal-to-glass ratio.
  • Want a ride that seems lightning quick? Slide the cabin backwards, sharpen the rake (the windshield angle), emphasize the swag and beltlines, and hug the body to the ground. Adding scoops and gills, even if non-functional, implies that this beast runs so hot you have to make extra efforts to draw in cooling air. A spoiler, even if little more than an integral bump off the trunk lid, suggests sportscar-like performance.

Mind you, all of this is largely irrespective of the underlying mechanics. The design of the vehicle makes subliminal “claims” that you subconsciously associate with that car—regardless of whether it’s true or not. These design “tricks” work even if the car in question is, for example, neither fast or agile—used effectively, overall stance and sharply contoured bodylines connote movement, or dynamism, even when the car is sitting still.

Now sure, form does generally follow function and automakers do usually try to back up the implied “claims” that their highly-sculpted exteriors make with complementary powertain, suspension, etc., but for many buyers, aesthetics remain the key draw. And automobile designers have an exhaustive toolkit to tweak those aesthetics to wordlessly convey volumes.

Does the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor rev you up even though it’s simply 8″ of added muscular fiberglass and a chunky grill rework? Do the subtle waves in the sides of the Mazda 5 do anything for you? What’re your favorite automotive styling cues? Or maybe you have some distinct car design peeves? Did the 2015 Mustang break too many ties to its visual heritage to still live up to the name? Does the squashed roofline of the 2014 Volkswagen New Beetle destroy the iconic shape for you? Leave a comment and share car designs that you love or hate!

Who’s Your (Go) Daddy?

Go Daddy logo

After far too long on our old, kinda inept and no longer competitively-priced web hosting company, we finally took the nerve-wracking leap over to a new web hosting company… Yup, we’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and moved this blog to Go Daddy!

So far, I’m supremely happy with the helpful, knowledgeable, and very patient phone support reps and the ease with which I was able to migrate the site and our email accounts over!

New Car Fever

I’ve had the bug for awhile, but when Dede’s Honda-CRV (a.k.a. “Rocket“) was totaled last year and we replaced it with a zippy Mazda CX-5 (a.k.a. “Rojo”)…

2014 Mazda CX-5

Dede’s 2014 Mazda CX-5 a.k.a. “Rojo”

That’s when my new car fever started to become chronic!

I’d had my Honda Element since ’03 and it was still working fine. But it had always been really basic, devoid of all of the nice features that more modern cars have, and was also downright anemic on horsepower. With all of the comforts, electronic gadgetry goodness, and zoom zoom of Rojo, my ride seemed all that much more dated.

'03 Honda Element

Rob’s “Ellie” – ’03 Honda Element EX

My new car fever stayed in remission for a few more months but it sure didn’t help when Rich & Benie upgraded to a snazzy new Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Turbo. Lots of others were getting new cool rides too… Trey & Rob M. got hot new sports cars. A super clean used Highlander was an overdue upgrade for Clems & Sophie. Ryan & Daniel both got new cars? Yep! See the trend?

Plus, a host of small problems was starting to plague the Element, including the an A/C compressor on the fritz (projected to be a very costly fix) and some flaky electrical issue that was either draining the batter or causing it not to charge properly. I had looked at lots of different options but on Dede’s urging & Georgina’s seconding, I decided to test drive a Jeep Wrangler.

Sure enough, I really liked the Jeep’s elevated and upright seating position, the nimble handling, and lots of oompfh to spare. As much as I had loved my Element for the past 11+ years, I grudgingly but unceremoniously just… let it go. Now I’m a Jeep owner! It’s a 2014 Wrangler Sport S 4X4 in Flame Red loaded with 4-wheel drive, Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth phone pairing, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, removable front roof panels and top. And of course, 2 front-mounted tow hooks because, well, you never know…

About the only key thing it doesn’t have yet is a name—and I’m working on that!

2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Rob’s new 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport

There are a few accessories that I’m itching for, including a dead pedal and trailer hitch—to make use of the folding trailer that Liam & I built last year! The vast array of parts, add-ons, and other sundries for the Wrangler “JK” (a.k.a. Third Generation) is almost overwhelming! Just look at the almost-endless assortment of goodies at these sites:

Quadratec – Parts & accessories for Jeep Wrangler, CJ & Cherokee
Mountain Off-Road Enterprises
4Wheel Drive Hardware

What’s more, the Wrangler platform seems expressly built for bolting on or otherwise adding after-market stuff so even a mechanically-challenged guy like me can handle lots of upgrades. There’s also a massive online community of Wrangler owners who post tips, tricks, stories, how-to instructions, and photos galore at forum sites like these:

WranglerForum
JeepForum
JK-Forum



Tip:   By the way, as I was settling in with the new ride, I was reminded of the classic Car Talk instructions for adjusting side mirrors that I heard years ago. Car mirrors are something that you usually just set and rarely change, so follow Tom & Ray Magliozzi’s advice to set ’em right to begin with and reduce your car’s blind spots!

Port-A Party

A couple of years ago we went to the Corpus Christi / Port Aransas area for an extended weekend with Glenda and her son Slaydn. We had a chance to repeat that trip last week and once again had a terrific time splashing in the ocean, spending time with friends, and getting our fill of seafood! This time, we were also joined by Georgina a.k.a. “GiGi” and her boys Nolan and Blake.

We stayed at the posh Port Royal and the boys loved the water slides that were at the end of the elaborate set of 5 interconnecting pools. Glenda even worked up the courage to zip down the twisty water slide tubes!

Of course, we had to eat at The Crazy Cajun for the Cajun boil!

Thanks to advice from Dave I., we all went out on a 4-hour bay fishing charter and had a fun time reeling in Gafftop catfish. What’s more, the bay dolphins sensed that Dede was about the fishing boat and came along for a few visits. And our catch was promptly cleaned then we took the fillets right over to Kody’s to have them fried up with trimmings just minutes off the boat. The fish was terrific!

We also had a great time at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi. We got to touch Sting Rays and watch a dolphin show from a unique underwater perspective.

Later, we enjoyed a special viewing of The Lego Movie from poolside at the Port Royal. Adults watched from the patio areas while the kids floated in swim rings during the whole show.

Click on the boardwalk photo below to see pictures from our vacation!

Liam on the beach

Mapping Monopoly

monopoly_carAs much as the classic game Monopoly was a perennial favorite at family gatherings when I was a kid (and I look forward to the day when my son is old enough to start learning to play) I have to admit that I never gave even a moment’s thought to the properties arranged around the board. They were just abstract things that you needed to own plenty of if you wanted a chance at winning the game.

I suppose that way down deep, I might’ve had some vague notion that the Monopoly squares were named after actual locations but I never had any notion of where that was or what those locations might really look like. Well sure enough, the properties up for grabs in the game are indeed named after real locales in and around Atlantic City, New Jersey and Nick Carr at Scouting NY recently paid a visit to those sites represented on the Monopoly board and showcased the images from his trip.

Now that I’ve seen some of the real locations that correspond with the places on the board, it gives the game a little different perspective on those deeds you buy and leverage in the game. Knowing about the Absecon Light lighthouse makes Vermont Avenue that much more appealing. And here’s a glimpse of the real version of the highly-coveted Park Place:

The real Park Place from Monopoly

Does seeing the real locations that the Monopoly properties are based on give the game a different feel for you? Does this make you wanna dust off the old classic and play it again?

Know When To Fold ‘Em

When we began car-shopping recently to replace Dede’s Honda CR-V, I suppose it was only natural that I’d catch the new car fever too, even though there’s nothing wrong with my trusty Element aside from it being 10+ yrs old and lacking in all of the techno-goodies, conveniences, and creature comforts of the cool new vehicles.

It was while I was half-looking for a suitable replacement, however, that I was very inspired by the EcoModder “Buy a Trailer Instead of a Pickup Truck” thread that I just stumbled upon. The argument that a trailer (and hitch) added to an existing car can give you almost all the functionality of a truck without the lower fuel efficiency—or hefty new car payments—really appealed to me. Even as much as this seemed like a great idea, I had all but dismissed the whole thing as impractical since I don’t have any space to park a trailer. But then several pages deep into the thread, I read a comment about the Haul Master Folding Trailer at Harbor Freight and I was hooked!

So the next thing I knew, I was at Harbor Freight:

Haul Master Folding Trailer - Boxes Loaded

Loaded up at Harbor Freight

Who would’ve guessed that a couple of unassuming (but heavy) boxes would hold an entire trailer?!

Haul Master Folding Trailer boxes unloaded

Boxes unloaded into the garage

Liam and I set about getting the pieces unboxed…

Haul Master Folding Trailer unboxed

Parts staged and ready to go

Then we started putting the puzzle together:

Haul Master Folding Trailer assembly

Assembling the trailer

It went together fairly quickly with Liam manning the power tools!

Haul Master Folding Trailer assembled

Liam rocks the cordless driver!

Once it was all assembled, I called in favors from Pete for bearing lube and Fred for some wiring assistance and it was ready for the decking. Ironically tho, I needed the trailer to get the plywood home! So with the help of a very overworked but friendly guy at the U-Haul store, I added an inexpensive Class 3 (chosen for size and flexibility more than weight capacity) hidden trailer hitch to my Element. Then I hitched up the trailer for its maiden voyage:

Haul Master Folding Trailer hitched up

Hitched and ready for the maiden voyage

After I primed & waterproofed the plywood with truck bed liner paint and attached, the trailer was complete:

Haul Master Folding Trailer completed

Decked out and finshed!

Perhaps the coolest thing is that once the trailer is folded (made much easier thanks to Corky’s clever how-to “rope trick” video), it only occupies an unobtrusive sliver of space in the front of the Element in our garage:

Haul Master Folding Trailer stored in the garage

Folded and stored in front of the Element

Once I started Googling around about this folding trailer, I discovered there are quite a few forums dedicated to building and customizing (sometimes extensively) these for a limitless array of uses:

And there’s tons of cool stuff to accessorize the trailer at Harbor Freight and RedTrailers.com.



Of course, the whole time we were working on this, Kenny Rogers’ “Gambler” was the song that stuck in my head. But Dede’s theme song for this project was different—she kept singing that line “Trailers for sale or rent…” While I’m confident that what was going thru her mind was the classic Roger Miller version, I really dig Josh Turner & Randy Travis’s rendition of “King of the Road”.

Under the Gun

gun wordcloud

I’ve had a host of diverse, sometimes-conflicting thoughts about guns swirling around in my brain for some time but the recent shootings in Colorado & Wisconsin have kicked that into overdrive:

 

  • My late Father-In-Law learned to shoot a rifle (a simple .22 that he kept all of his life) as a child and used that rifle to hunt for small animals and birds. He knew how to clean and make the most of what he killed. It was often the only means with which his very poor rural family could add meat to their dinner plates. His rifle was, in a very literal sense, a necessary survival tool. But the time when guns were commonly needed and used as tools is long since gone. Guns now only serve to kill or destroy things.

 

  • There’s such rampant careless, neglectful gun ownership now that very few Americans really have to fear criminals. No, instead we have more to fear from our law-abiding neighbors. You know, the ones who have an unsecured, loaded .45 on their nightstand. Kids who take guns to school or playgrounds didn’t score those in a seedy back alley deal with some shady lowlife; children get guns right out of their parents’ bedroom or den!

 

  • Yes, I know of highly-skilled marksmen, for whom shooting handguns is a serious sport and their skill & accuracy are things of great pride. But by and large, I don’t believe most handgun owners fall into that category. Instead, I suspect that the vast majority of handgun owners would cite the need for possessing those weapons as “self-protection.”

 

  • If we’ve learned nothing else from the George Zimmerman case this year, it’s that while we may applaud the idea of “Dirty Harry” style vigilantism where some swift, finite—and preferably painful—street justice is doled out, our society doesn’t have the stomach for it. Sure, Zimmerman may still be alive because he took action and shot Trayvon Martin, but the event has undoubtedly destroyed his life and those of his entire family permanently. I wonder how many concealed carry zealots who fantasize about putting a hole in some would-be burglar are even remotely prepared for—or have ever even truly considered—the incalculable emotional, financial, and legal toll that their handguns could cost them and their families?

 

  • I believe there’s a strong case to be made that outlawing handguns would ultimately make us more safe, not less because of the lack of ease in concealing and spontaneously wielding a rifle. Wouldn’t the basic form factor—the size & shape of a rifle versus a handgun—make random, unplanned violence and/or accidental shootings (by legal gun owners) much less likely? Maybe it’s time that handguns be restricted to only military, police, or other civic groups charged with protecting their communities or country…

 

  • What does it say about our society when we don’t bat an eye at the prospect of restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter children’s cough medicines yet people march in the streets at the very mention of gun control?

 

  • 2nd Amendment supporters usually go berserk over the notion of limiting what they can possess, yet hardware such as sawed-off shotguns, fully-automatic firearms, rocket launchers, bazookas, and countless other “dangerous weapons” are already illegal to own. Why do they bristle so about new gun controls yet at the same time, calmly accept and willfully comply with those other restrictions?

 

  • Gun-rights groups argue that handgun prohibition would prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves, but I have to wonder what percentage of handgun owners have ever—even once—fired their firearms for the sake of protecting themselves or their families. Perhaps it’s more the idea of self-protection rather than any actual need for said, that drives gun supporters. But wouldn’t the far greater accuracy that most rifles provide or the greater sheer destructive force of a shotgun make either of these a far better choice for self-protection? If you’re going to claim to own a gun for protection, why wouldn’t you opt for the most effective tool for that task?

 

  • If we cannot tolerate the idea of placing any limits on guns themselves, why not at least place strong restrictions on the sales of large quantities of ammunition, large capacity magazines, and tactical assault gear to civilians?

 

  • And finally, I read a quote from Austin American-Statesman this past weekend that really summed up how short-sighted gun control opponents are being: “While [control] measures might not prevent the next Aurora, they would make it hard for the shooter to […] kill so many people in such a short period of time. The alternative—to continue to shrug off America’s outsize gun violence as an inevitable risk in a free society—is helplessness.”

 

What’s your take on this? Do you believe outlawing handguns could reduce senseless gun-related violence? Is there some compelling reason why citizens should be able to purchase tactical gear like body armor? Is it possible to put in place some limits without voiding our 2nd Amendment right?