Thursday, September 18, 2014

Another guest post from Granddaughter #1 -- a moving tale

Younger Daughter and her husband Olaf are getting a little concerned that their nearly two year old child seems a little behind in verbal communication skills. The words are coming, though, and occasionally now they are strung together -- "hi dog!" -- "bye bye Gwee!" (where Gwee is any nearby grandparent). Part of their concern is rooted in the fact that their child is so tall -- she towers over some five year olds -- so one naturally expects more in terms of verbal ability. I can tell that the child gets frustrated sometimes by her lack of verbal skills, too. But her writing skills have not suffered. With the advent of cooler weather in Chicago, I've taken to wearing a coat again in the morning. I found this note in my pocket today....

As you know, Grampy, Mommy and Daddy have been taking me to all sorts of places lately.

I'm used to going places with Mommy and Daddy -- stores (I can count on Mom to get me something every time) or restaurants (the spicy fries at Five Guys kill me, but Mommy and Daddy like them). We've gone a couple of times to the Shedd Aquarium, which is like walking through Finding Nemo only without listening to Albert Brooks. But lately we're going more and more to empty houses.

I like empty houses.

Most of 'em have basements and they're empty, too. I can run around in them -- and I do. I sure can't do that in your basement, Grampy. I've heard you say that most of the stuff down there belongs to Mommy and Daddy but I'll bet you and Grammy have quite a bit of stuff down there, too. Are you hoarders?

Anyway, in some of the empty rooms at these houses, if you squeal just right, you get an echo! That's the best. I think the grownups really like when I do this: Every time I make an echo and they're talking, they usually quiet down right away.

Most of the rooms in these empty houses have doors you can open and close. Mommy or Daddy will grab me, sometimes, when I do this because they say I'm going to close the doors on my fingers. They're stifling my creativity. You really should have a talk with them about this.

It has occurred to me that Mommy and Daddy are looking for a new place to live. That's OK by me. I think it would be a lot of fun to have a new yard to play in and new rooms where I can open and close doors.

But, Grampy, I'm a little concerned... most of the places -- well, OK, all of the places -- they've seen are smaller than your house. We barely fit in our house as it is. How are we all going to fit in a house that's smaller still?

Lately, Mommy seems to keep coming back to this one house. You and Grammy and my other grandparents were all there on Sunday along with the nice blonde lady that always goes with Mommy and Daddy to the houses they look at. She must have a lot of houses.

I heard Mommy talking. She said one room was for her and Daddy and another would be for me. And there was a third room, near the kitchen, that Mommy said could be a family room. Is that where you and Grammy will go?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Curmudgeon struggles to master online music player

Over the last few days here at the Undisclosed Location I've been fiddling with Pandora, the online 'radio' station that allows users to pick what they want to hear. More or less. (I'll come back to that part.)

Now I realize that all the cool kids have played with Pandora and probably moved on to other, more hip and trendy, streaming services. Sometimes I feel like I'm becoming like the old ladies in the (very funny) Esurance commercials....

But, whatever. I haven't felt the need to try any of the online services because I have such a variety of music available to me on my iPod. Back in the days when I had disposable income, I disposed of quite a bit of it in record stores.

When vinyl was replaced by CDs, I dutifully bought CDs of many of the albums I'd cherished on LP. (Vinyl is hip again, by the way. One of my nieces posted a picture of her brand new turntable and her very first vinyl LP purchase on Facebook the other day.)

Of course, I couldn't replace everything. Some things weren't available on CD and, while I switched in mid-series from vinyl to CD on one Time-Life collection, that left a lot of stuff available to me only on vinyl. And as time went on I no longer had disposable income... so my collection became pretty static.

Even with 5,000 non-Christmas songs, repeats start to grate after awhile.

So while I struggled to catch up with my paperwork here (I've just finished another big project which is why posting has been so sporadic) I thought I'd try and experiment with this new-fangled Pandora thing.

My review is mixed. While the music library available to Pandora is extensive, it doesn't contain everything, and it offers "suggestions," not searches. I couldn't search for One Hit Wonders of the 60s, for example. I was craving that shock of recognition -- to hear something I hadn't heard since 1974 on WLS or WCFL -- and, after a week of fiddling, I never really found it.

There's also a lot of dreck on Pandora. Live cuts and alternate takes are generally not as good, and certainly not as familiar, as the definitive recorded performances.

I'm not sophisticated enough to speak about the jazz channels. I know what I like and that's enough for me. So I won't offer criticisms of my samplings of 'channels' in that area.

But I do presume to know a little about popular music in the 60s and 70s. I looked at the Pandora 70s channel... and it was snow white. Growing up in Chicago, our radio stations always played Motown records and Philly soul sounds and our own Chi-Lites; Earth, Wind and Fire; and Curtis Mayfield right along with the Stones, Eagles, or Creedence Clearwater. Listening to the mix as suggested would be like listening to a stereo with one speaker blown: Painfully incomplete.

I had decided to try Pandora after listening to it in the chair at the periodontist's office. Somebody there had set up a Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young channel and while it included various permutations of those four musicians, individually and in various combinations, it also included songs by artists that were arguably similar. I thought that was interesting.

So I tried my own hand at this later in the week. I set up a Steely Dan channel, but the station veered off course with Hall and Oates and Seals and Crofts and whatever. I tried to rescue it by pressing the 'add variety' button -- I added Traffic to the mix because I wanted to stress the jazzy side of Steely Dan. After several cuts from Cream and Blind Faith (Steve Winwood being connected to Eric Clapton, get it?), I started getting Beatles records.

I begin to think that the only way I'll get Steely Dan records is to ask for Beatles cuts.

But I'm probably just doing it wrong. I don't understand the algorithm. And I get a little bit closer to becoming the old lady smacking hard candy with a hammer on her kitchen table, thinking she's playing "Candy Crush"....

Monday, September 08, 2014

Curmudgeon believes he makes a helpful intervention, but goes unrewarded

Yesterday, the first Sunday after Labor Day, really was Grandparents' Day. I suppose I would have known that if I'd been keeping up with my long-neglected Blog of Days.

I knew that my wife's school was welcoming grandparents yesterday. Long Suffering Spouse had photocopying and laminating to get done in preparation for classes this week, but she'd already told me about the grandparents' open house and how she didn't want to be there during that.

The light bulb started to flicker a little bit during the early Sunday Mass. Long Suffering Spouse and I were joined, for this occasion, by Younger Daughter and Granddaughter #1. During the Prayers of the Faithful, an invocation was sought for all grandparents.

Anyway, we got home and Long Suffering Spouse and her daughter and her daughter's daughter set up camp in the living room, in the front of the house. I was in the den, at the back of the house, on the computer, reading the comics online. Olaf, who had not joined us for church, stumbled down the stairs in search of coffee.

"Today is Grandparents' Day," my wife told him. "Are you doing anything with your parents today? You should probably call."

We tease Olaf about being a troll sometimes -- he is Norwegian, you'll recall -- and often with good reason. This was one of those occasions. He responded to my wife's well-intended suggestion with an unpleasant diatribe that started being about Hallmark holidays and went downhill from there. Although they've been very generous with him, our son-in-law has a sometimes-prickly relationship with his parents.

I could feel the tension levels escalating in the living room. I knew for certain that my wife was getting angry.

Without budging from my chair, I decided to intervene.

"Wait a minute!" I bellowed. "It really is Grandparents' Day?"

My wife, at least momentarily diverted from hurling any immediate verbal daggers at Olaf, assured me that it was.

"So, do I get presents, or what?"

"What?" That was my wife, instantly exasperated with me.

"Where are my presents? If it's really Grandparents' Day, shouldn't I be getting some major swag at this point?"

"No!" my wife said, rather sharply, I thought. "You're not getting any presents."

"Well, then, I'm with Olaf on this. Doesn't sound like a real holiday to me. Are you sure I don't get presents?"

I didn't get any presents. But the crisis was past.