Why I Only Buy Vinyl (and Don’t Buy Many E-Books)

In 1982 I bought my first LP: Echo and the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles.  In 1986, I recorded the vinyl to tape so that I could listen to it in my car.  In college (1990), I bought the same album on CD.  In 2002 I converted that CD to MP3 and I am listening to it on an iPod as I write this article.

Six months ago I bought Crocodiles again on lala.com for pennies north of a dollar because I didn’t have my iPod with me.  I didn’t “own” that copy, I had “rights” to listen to it while on Lala’s site.  When the site closed down recently, my rights evaporated with very little recourse.

Today, I have reverted to buying all of my music on vinyl because inside the sleeve of each new album is a little card with a URL and a code that I can use to download a high-quality, DRM-free, MP3 copy.  (In one case, Beck’s Modern Guilt,  I found that the digitized copy was of the vinyl itself… clicks, pops, and all.)  This is a brilliant scheme!  I get the music I want to hear in the formats I prefer (the best sounding and the most convenient).  Though I pay a premium for it (albums cost about $20 each), I’m still happy.

Books (and their e-book counterparts) do not yet follow this model, so I will not be buying a lot of e-books this year.  It has been noted (by people more astute than I) that printed book has excellent battery life, is portable, and has very high resolution.  Not only that, books are transferrable.  Most of the books I’ve bought recently have come from Strand or Powell’s (used book sources) or, even more likely, have been gifted by friends or relatives.

Recently, my sister-in-law sent me a used copy of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, which I have been enjoying greatly.  Because I have an iPad, I visited Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle storefronts to see if I could get a digital copy of the book (there are times when I haven’t had the book with me, but wanted to read it).  However, for $9 I was loath to buy license a copy of the book that I wouldn’t be able to pass on to someone else when I’m done.

This is the crux of my problem with e-readers and online music services.  Though they provide convenience and instant gratification (books and music can be bought directly from the device in an instant), the content is thereafter locked to the device.  The DRM, in effect, allows me to buy, consume, delete, but little else.

So, until I can buy a paper copy book that comes with an epub version that I can download and put on my iPad, I’ll rummage through free book bins on my neighbors’ stoops, accept hand-me-downs from literary relatives, occasionally plunk down at the local retailer, and less-frequently buy overpriced, DRM-free epubs from the likes of ebooks.com.

How Can Brown Screw You?

I had to ship some boots back to New Hampshire this evening. I visited the local UPS Store in Park Slope and the gentlemen there helped me out. However, they charge a whopping $1.25 to tape closed a 6″ box. For the average 100m roll of 3M packing tape, that’s about $750. C’mon, Brown, give the tape away!

Sandisk Cruder

Do not buy a Sandisk Cruzer. First of all, I use a Mac, so the U3 “technology” was useless to me and even gummed up my system a bit. I was able to remove that firmware and get the USB drive working properly. That said, it was never terribly stable (it would disconnect intermittently when the computer woke up) and the power consumption of the bright blue internal LED made it unusable in some keyboard low-power hubs (like the mac alum keyboard, see rant below). The final straw came recently when it failed to be recognized on most of my computers. This drive has been so unreliable that I’m going back to my trusty old Kingston 256MB key. I’ll carry less around, but I know it’ll be there when I need it.

Mac’s Aluminum Keyboard: not so great

File under: rant. I’m using Apple’s new slimline aluminum “chicklet” keyboard to post this message. I’ve had it for a while and I like it a lot. It has a USB hub that’s built into the underside at the edges, but the ports will only power devices that draw 100mA or less (a typical mouse). An iPod or a USB flash drive won’t work unless the keyboard is plugged into a new iMac (which I don’t own). The old keyboards’ USB hubs have all worked (for every iPod or thumb drive I’ve ever owned). This is pretty shoddy… Apple shouldn’t have let the new wired keyboard out the door with this limitation.

Leap Into Leopard?

I’ve been using OSX “Leopard” for some time now. My review: meh. There are some things that run faster and I like the data detector. The UI “improvements” are actually downgrades in most cases: e.g file icons try to “preview” even at 32 pixels on the desktop so any useful information, like the application with which the file will open (preview? acrobat?) is lost and the missing dock in ical makes editing events a many-click process. There are stability issues in some applications (Safari, which never crashed under 10.4, has crashed repeatedly in the last month). What drives me most insane are little quirks like: all of my calendar events disappear (sometimes to reappear) when I add a new item (an apple-z/undo takes care of the situation, but then I have to edit the event again). My favorite: in the window bar of mail.app (or when I’m in exposé and I mouse over mail, see picture) the program informs me that I have 4.3 BILLION messages in my inbox. Now that’s a lot of email!

Etymotic ER-6 Review

M got me these Etymotic ER-6 headphones about a year ago. I’ve been using them during my daily hour-long MTA commute ever since. They sound great. That is, if you don’t mind the “ear plug” design and if you can ignore the noise that is transmitted directly to your cranium when you walk or when you touch the cable. Despite these formidable cons, I really do like these earbuds and I don’t know how anyone can use those shoddy, wide-open earphones that come standard with popular MP3 players in noisy environments (except for while running or if they need something with which to block a drain).

This morning I was stranded standing next to a far-too-hip, iPhone-toting kid with sculpted sideburns and spiky hair who had his cheap white earbuds spewing Hot97 rips jammed up to “13”. The tinny, dentist-drill treble and flapping-in-the-wind bass were enough to drive me to plug my ears with the ER-6es and turn In Rainbows up to “4”. 

This is a plea to my fellow New Yorkers: if you’re going to splash out $400 for an ipod, please drop another $70 (or even $30 for altec lansing branded etymotics) on a decent set of plugs so that the noise stays in your own head and deafens you rather than those around you. (Thank you).


M drove the car into Manhattan twice last weekend. On the way back from her second trip the car wouldn’t start; it would turn over, catch, rev, and die, but it wouldn’t stay running. Eventually we realized that the little “immobilizer” icon on the dashboard remained flashing after the car died, which indicated that the anti-theft device had kicked in and we’d have to tow the car. After some late-afternoon calls, dead cell phone batteries, and inevitable wrangling with AAA, the car was towed to Cobble Hill Super Service (I was unhappy last time I had service done there, but it was the only place I could find that would take it). The owner/manager assured me that they could fix the immobilizer on Monday, if in fact that was the problem. FIne. So he called me on Monday and informed me that the alternator was dead to the tune of $700 (he also told me that I need new struts and my battery is leaking). However, he was unable to get the car started… even when he strapped in a new battery. That sounded fishy to me so after he had bullied me into authorizing the repair I called him back and asked a couple more questions (me: “how do you know the alternator’s bad if it wouldn’t start?”, he: “I’ve got computers that tell me” etc). I was in touch with some mechanics I know and they said it sounded funny too, so I called him back and cancelled the service… “Fine,” he said, “I wouldn’t work on your car anyway… are you questioning my diagnosis? Fine! Take it to the dealership and pay THEM to change your alternator. Come down here and tow your car away…” etc, etc. So I took half a day off work and went down there. It turns out that Cobble Hill Shell — of all people — is the outfit who AAA has called to tow my car! They cancelled the tow and procrastinated for nearly three hours while I stood on Atlantic in the cold. Finally after a dozen calls to AAA and an eventual death-defying, 55-MPH ride down 4th Ave in Brooklyn, we narrowly made it before the VW dealership in Bay Ridge closed. The folks there took a look at it today and chalked it up to a weak battery. They reset the immobilizer, reprogrammed the keys and we were on our way. It wasn’t an inexpensive “repair” from VW, but they did the job right: no threats and no bullying. I will never go back to Cobble Hill Shell/Super Service and I recommend you don’t either!
UPDATE: here’s some crazy documentation on the VW TDI immobilizer system… I especially like the emergency override feature (from chittychittybangbang on tdiforum).
UPDATE: the car’s been running fine this week.

PSFC – Make Ups Before You Start

I did my first shift at the Park Slope Food Co-op tonight. I’m doing data entry for “make up” shifts. The filing and database system is quirky to say the least, but it seems to work. So now I’m only on alert for not having paid my dues. During my first shopping trip I offered to pay it but the cashier (with fist to chest) said, “don’t ever pay your dues, dude! Fight the man”. But, aren’t I “the man” if I’m a member of the co-op?

Write a Letter – It Helps

My latest corporate crusade was against AT&T/Cingular: I tried to upgrade M’s and my phones. We’re on a family plan so the hyper-incetivized offers from Amazon do not apply (the small print indicates that if you try to upgrade any part of a family talk plan they’ll charge you full price for the handset retroactively). I called and emailed customer service over a dozen times and was getting nowhere. (However, prior to all my calls I had dropped a letter in the mailbox to Kansas City laying out my position: upstanding customer, wants free phones, will take refurbs). Just when I was ready to give up and buy phones from eBay or CL or take one of the crappy free phones, Kansas City came through and offered me the phones I wanted. The math works out like this: paper + mailbox = stuff gets done. (I haven’t received the phones yet, but I’m hopefully optimistic).

Progressive Pain

Progressive is living up to their name. The insurance company hasn’t assessed liability after a week, so I went down to the 78th precinct today and got a copy of the police report, which I scanned and emailed to one of the representatives. Since there were several cars involved in the accident, there are three reps and each of them is pointing his/her finger at another colleague — it’s impossible to know who’s responsible for dealing with my claim. What a pain.