Hey, Master DJ

As the parents of two perceptive and opinionated children, my wife and I grant a substantial amount of self-determination in their young lives. So when, on a lengthy road trip, our seven-year-old son asked to control the iPod, I saw no reason not to hand it to him. We stretched the cord as long as it could go, I handed over the iPod—a Classic model, with 17,000 songs on it—and he started exploring from the back seat.

The result, blasted into the car after a minute or two of silence: AC/DC’s “Caught with Your Pants Down.”

This track immediately became the soundtrack to our vacation. “Can I DJ?” followed by a big guitar riff and, roughly a minute later, lots of laughter at the chorus.

Our story would end here, with a smirk, were it not for our four-year-old, who, of course, also asked to DJ, and who, it should be noted, is a very good reader already. The first time he got ahold of the iPod, he clicked into albums, directly into Genesis’s “Abacab” (thanks, alphabetization!) and landed on “Keep It Dark.” Nice choice. He decided he liked the song and played it several times, not least because he knew how to find it.

His second track: “Rape Me.”

We’re thinking on the next road trip we’re going to have to bring the kids’ iPod with us.

An Apple Watch update

You haven’t mentioned your Apple Watch much since your tweetstorm on June 1.

Update: I’ve been wearing my stainless steel 42mm Apple Watch for seven weeks now.

Do you like it?

Yes, I do, very much.

How’s the battery life?

Better than my iPhone 5. I have a fairly sane amount of notifications coming into my watch: texts (via iMessage, Facebook and Twitter), calendar alerts, reminders from Due, and not much else. No email, news, stock quotes, or extraneous things that would interfere with my day.

As a result, I rarely use more than 40% of the battery in a day, and I routinely charge the watch every other night, not nightly. I’ve only had one day in this routine where I had to switch to reserve power. Of course, I did have one experience where something drained my mostly-full battery overnight, and I spent most of a work day without a phone, which felt kind of ridiculous. But then, it’s not unlike a quartz watch’s battery dying and your not noticing until after you’ve left the house wearing a watch stuck on 3:19.

What do you use it for?

A whole bunch of stuff, actually. Text messaging has been great, from the one-tap canned replies to the occasional voice recognition reply. I’m getting meeting alerts without having to dig into my watch or look at my laptop, and I enjoy checking (and dismissing) incoming messages by glancing at my wrist. I love how the Due app is set for the Watch; it reminds me of to-do list items daily. It’s just Bluetooth on a minimized screen, but each of these apps has worked beautifully. I’ve asked Siri a bunch of questions, although those are disappointing, because Siri usually prompts me to switch to my iPhone for the answer.

Not actually me.I also make the occasional call on it, which has worked well every single time, whether freeing my hands around the house or allowing me to answer the phone with minimal distraction while driving. The speaker is quiet but serviceable; the microphone has yet to prompt someone to ask me if I’m on my watch and not my phone. The Dick Tracy gimmick has proved to be useful, nerdy and delightful all at once.

And, a bit surprisingly, I’ve embraced the fitness tracking. I get annoyed at myself if I don’t meet my activity goals most days, which is a nice way to keep me on my feet and moving. (I also get annoyed at the stand-up reminders, which I may turn off.)

So you’re happy owning an Apple Watch?

Very much so. I was a bit ambivalent going in, as previously noted in this space; I didn’t quite see the point. Indeed, I got the watch in part to find that out.

What I wound up with is a great little gadget. It’s part fashion piece, part conversation topic, part functional tool, part toy. It has reduced the number of times I grab my phone over the course of a day, which is a victory. Frankly, I get a kick out of it.

So should I get one?

If you think it’ll be fun, then yes, particularly if you’re tired of peering at your iPhone all the time. Do you need one? Not yet, no. It’s not doing anything your phone (and, to be precise, your bluetooth headset and your FitBit) isn’t doing already. But it’s definitely an entertaining, high-quality product, and an amazing piece of human ingenuity.

Hey Mr. Conductor

While I was standing on a virtually empty subway platform at Houston Street at lunchtime a few weeks ago, an out-of-service train pulled into the station.

I was surprised when, rather than roll slowly through, the train made its routine stop, and the conductor of the out-of-service train launched into the usual station-stop routine. He opened his window; he pointed at the striped bar on the ceiling.

He then opened the two doors closest to his location, leaving the rest of the train shuttered and out of service. A handful of uniformed MTA employees were in the cars surrounding the conductor. The conductor announced the station per usual, seemingly for the benefit of his coworkers: downtown 1 to South Ferry, stanclearaclosindoors.

I was standing a directly in front of one of the open doors, a few feet from the conductor, and I gestured toward a uniformed man just inside the train.

“Training?” I asked.


The conductor closed the doors, looked deliberately up and down the platform, then watched, window open, as the train’s driver released the brakes.

Smiling, I gave the conductor a showy thumbs-up. Nice work, I wanted to express, good luck in your new career!

Instead, the conductor looked right past me. Didn’t even acknowledge my presence, despite my standing maybe five feet away, the only person in that area of the platform. Off he went to the next station on his training run, focused on his responsibilities like a racehorse wearing blinders.

I suppose the core job skills are taught right away. Even the unwritten ones.

Day 1 with an Apple Watch

I’m on Day Four wearing my Apple Watch, and I like it very much. I’m finding it useful, attractive, comfortable, interesting and fun.

Of course, my first day wearing it was something else entirely. And while reviewers intentionally give new products some breathing room, I thought I’d take a stab at quantifying the first impressions of a Watch wearer. This is a product with a learning curve—does it create impediments? Frustrated expectations? Or would it all be part of the fun?

So I live-tweeted my day getting used to the watch (to the chagrin of my friends on Facebook, where my tweets cross-post). I’m a few days removed from the experience, so they are presented below as-is. All in all, it was a very good first day.

Job hunt best practices

We’ve been doing a fair amount of hiring at the office of late, and my reputation as a stickler for detail has rapidly resurfaced. Colleagues are amused at how I’ll give my head of research a hard time for interviewing a candidate with a pair of typos in his or her resume and how I’m parsing the grammar on thank-you notes.

I stand by my practices, because the printed form says a lot about a person: attention to detail, communication skills, drive. The same holds true for the interviews I get to take, where I can spend more time gauging someone’s intellect, curiosity, and enthusiasm for the position (even though I think Seth Godin is onto something, and my interviews typically run 40 minutes).

So I was going to do a write-up on resume and interview best practices, and then I remembered that I did this already, way back in 2000. The tips contained therein are still accurate and sound. Well, maybe not the note about avoiding italics for fax machines, but the rest of it.

If you’re on the market, or will be soon, take a read:
How to Succeed at Getting Hired (and Lots of Ways Not To)
Good luck with your search!

Twenty years of tinnitus

March 22, 1995. That’s when my ears started ringing, give or take a day. It was just shy of my 22nd birthday, and I was a senior in college, sitting in a chair in my bedroom, doing homework, when I got one of those random high-pitched tones in my ear.

Except this time, instead of fading out after a few seconds, the tone didn’t leave.

After five or ten minutes I began freaking out. I played in rock bands; I went to a lot of shows; I blasted the car radio on my three-hour drives from home to school. I knew exactly what I was experiencing. I took out the pad I carried around for journaling and notes, turned to a blank page, and wrote to myself, in all caps:


Sadly, I was right. With a couple of random, fleeting exceptions, my tinnitus has persisted for twenty years now, an anniversary I’m pleased I didn’t remember last month.

Tinnitus is a disappointing thing to live with. I rarely go to live concerts anymore, and I can’t blast music very often, whether in a car, on a stereo or with headphones.

I’m That Guy wearing earplugs at social functions like weddings and bar mitzvahs. I cover my ears when the express train rumbles past and cringe when fire engines and ambulances race by. At night I can’t fall asleep without some ambient noise in the room.

That said, I’ve gotten used to my tinnitus. Protecting my ears has kept my hearing sharp—I test above average when I get my ears checked—and avoiding loud noises does minimize the ringing. And I stumbled into Earplanes a number of years ago and it’s made my air travel infinitely more comfortable. On par, I’m doing just fine, thanks.

Numerous Ideapad posts over the years have discussed my tinnitus in various forms; if you want to explore, I’d suggest reading “The ringing,” from February 2004, and proceeding into the archives from there.

A review of the watch-ness of the Apple Watch, by a longtime watch-wearer and Apple product user who got to play with the Watch for 10 minutes at an Apple Store today

I went to the Apple Store in Soho today mostly to check out the Watch from the perspective of a watch-wearer.

I’ve been buying first-generation Apple products since the 1990s, so buying the Watch is sort of a fait accompli for me. The product is apparently a personal one with a learning curve, so outside of toying with it for a minute, I didn’t try too hard to use it.

But that’s because this is a different kind of purchase—it’s fashion, it’s luxury, it’s apparel and accessories, it’s 30 different default combinations of Watch and Watch Sport sizes, colors and finishes. From that angle, it’s a far more complicated product to order than just picking the amount of memory for your iPhone, and choosing white, black or gold on the back.

Which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was asked to make an appointment to view the Watch with a specialist. The front of the Apple Store now resembles a Tourneau: lots of product quietly tucked away, available for sampling only when handled in a 1:1 customer interaction. There are plenty of watches on display for tinkering with the UI, but to try one on, one gets personal assistance—and security oversight.

It took Apple all of two minutes to get me to a specialist, who had gotten to the store at 4 a.m. and was understandably not in a real salesy mode. She let me play with every style of watch, though, and helpfully showed me how certain physical components worked. My impressions:

  • For anyone who thinks about fashion, it will be hard to buy the Sport over the Watch. The stainless steel looks, well, like stainless steel, polished to perfection and with the right heft for a watch of importance. The Sport is fine for casual and sport usage; it looks plenty nice on its own. But it’s a matter of context. The Sport won’t look quite right under a suit-sleeve or French cuff. I have long worn a watch for fashion purposes, and I’m going to be hard-pressed not to pay the extra $200 for the stainless.
  • There’s a substantial difference in the screen real estate, and thus areas for interaction, between the 38mm and 42mm models. As someone whose thumbs often miss the letter targets on the iPhone keyboard, I’m glad I can buy the larger one and have it fit my wrist.
  • I really love the basic sport band. The material looks and feels terrific. It’s soft and comfortable on the wrist, although clasping it will take some getting used to. I thought it looked nice enough to carry the watch face in style.
  • The leather bands didn’t do much for me. Mind you, I’m not really a leather-watch-strap guy, historically, so I didn’t expect them to.
  • The metal bands were really disappointing to me. The Milanese band, which I’ve long admired on Skagens, was thin and narrow, and I could almost see my wrist through the gaps in the mesh. The link bracelet, meanwhile, reminded me more of a $30 Casio than my Breitling, which is not the impression a thousand-dollar watch should give.

This last point is where Apple’s pivot is going to really have to accelerate in the coming year or two. The craftsmanship behind these accessories is obvious. However, it’s a technical attention to detail at work, and not yet an emotional one. I’d love to have a handsome link watch from Apple; perhaps I will wind up with one through a third-party watch band seller. In the process, though, I came away a little disappointed with the fashion side of the Apple Watch.

That said, the product is an exciting one; the screen is gorgeous, the tapping mechanism borders on cute, and the innovations to come in the next couple of years is too great to ignore. Check this space again come summer when I can report on what it’s like to own one.

Update: “Trying on the Apple Watch” mirrors my in-store experience pretty well and captures some of what I tweeted in the moment but missed in my write-up. Apple doesn’t know how to do personal, wearable luxury yet, and it’s going to be a little while before they get the rhythms just right. In the meantime, we’re stuck with non-functional watches and salespeople that lean toward geeky technical expertise rather than the emotional, tangible experience in which a watch purchase traditionally relies.

[tap, tap] check one two, check

Seems I’m blogging at a regular clip again. Those recipes didn’t do the trick, but getting worked up about music and writing about it has been rather invigorating.

The Ideapad has been publishing since 1998—sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes not for a month, but never dark, and always perpetually archived. Like the headstand anticipated a few weeks ago, there’s more to come. Thanks for reading.

Don’t look back, you can never look back

I casually tweeted that late one night in November, having caught the commercial on TV. The thought keeps coming back to me. Not only is it a parallel moment, it’s also a reflection of how the music industry has evolved in the three decades since “Boys of Summer” dominated charts and airwaves during the rise of classic rock.

Back then, music was more entrenched in defining societal moments. Henley, the former frontman of the Eagles, a band regularly dismissed as lightweight despite selling a hundred million albums, had begun forging a more thoughtful identity as a solo artist. From his first album, Henley reached #3 on Billboard’s singles chart with the song “Dirty Laundry,” a political commentary on negative advertising that still rings true today (and which remains catchy, if dated).

Henley’s social commentary began to mesh with introspection by 1984, when “Boys of Summer” was released. Coupled with a moody, award-winning music video, the song aimed to capture the nostalgia felt by the Baby Boomer generation as it first confronted aging. Henley, 36 years old when the song was written, had seen America grow from the postwar 1950s to the Reagan era.

“Boys of Summer,” besides being a pretty big hit—a top-five single in the U.S., anchoring an album that sold three million copies domestically, and a track still spun on classic rock radio stations—is memorable for its wistful lyrics, particularly this one:

Out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac
A little voice inside my head said,
‘Don’t look back. You can never look back.’

Henley, of course, is referring to the juxtaposition of cultures represented in this act: the counterculture and independent spirit of rock ‘n roll, a respected but decidedly fringe band and musical genre, a subculture defined by carefree living, illicit drugs and beat-up Volkswagen vans, unceremoniously showcased on the back of the preeminent American luxury vehicle. He thought his generation had sold out. The concept abhorred him; to this day, Henley doesn’t license his music, and actively combats its commercial use.

Fast forward to now. Josh Davis is 42, five years older than Henley was when “The Boys of Summer” was released. As a 24-year-old, Davis, recording under the moniker DJ Shadow, recorded “Endtroducing…,” a striking pastiche of sampled music that is widely regarded as one of the most innovative albums of the recorded music era.

Nearly 20 years on, “Endtroducing…” has sold fewer than 300,000 copies, making it a prototypically seminal work: revered, respected, imitated, yet still somewhat fringe. Not unlike the Grateful Dead in 1984, who, after 15 years of touring, were still something of a sideline in the rock pantheon, selling albums without mainstream exposure (that came a few years later, in 1987, when “Touch of Grey” became an unlikely pop hit).

Except life has changed a lot in thirty years. In 1984, the music industry had one of its boldface names singing on a hit song about the peculiar sight of an independent act getting co-opted by mainstream tastes. By contrast, in 2014, it’s the independent act that’s being co-opted—but willfully, for a payout, to sell perhaps the most mass-market automobile on the road, the Chevrolet Malibu.

The ad is still running, and every time it airs, it reinforces our comprehension of the era we’re in, while reminding us of the parallels to music history of the generation before.

I don’t begrudge DJ Shadow his income, and certainly, music consumption has reached a point where people are discovering songs and artists via TV commercials. (Also, “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” is a fantastic song, so it’s a nice 30 seconds.) But it couldn’t be further away from the ideals and disappointments Henley so powerfully noted a generation ago.

DJ memories

My post from yesterday on F&M has me thinking more about the radio station. I loved being at the studio, being on the air, hanging around with people on the air, finding new music and sharing it, toggling between records and CDs, trying to hit perfect transitions between songs, coming up with pithy things to say when the mic was live, looking out the huge picture window onto the quad while queueing up promo carts. I miss that environment terribly.

When I was a 24-year-old postgrad listening to Vin Scelsa late at night I considered volunteering at WFMU. But I had just moved into the city, and getting on the air would have meant committing to a 4 a.m. weeknight timeslot in New Jersey, and I didn’t have it in me to pay those dues. I’ve never really listened to podcasts, and as such I never got into making my own, so my dreams of being a radio personality are, for now, just a memory from my time in Lancaster. It was a blast.

Herewith, some anecdotes worth preserving in writing.

—I came to WFNM a highly skilled 18-year-old, having founded my high school radio station out of the TV studio senior year. The general manager of WFNM gave me a quick on-air test (only telling me after that we were live) and gave me a timeslot and an FCC broadcast license without having to go through training, which was apparently unprecedented, and that was fun. I made sure I had a lunchtime broadcast all four years of college, as WFNM was broadcast in the campus cafeteria, and I knew I’d be reaching my core audience each week. (Also, the news came on at noon, which I enjoyed, and on occasion I read the news, and once in awhile the AP news feed would break down—it was a dot-matrix printer directly connected to “the wire” back then—and I’d get to freestyle the news from my copy of the New York Times. I have a recording of one of those moments somewhere, it was great.)

—I was a first-semester freshman doing my radio show in the fall of 1991 when my friend Rich Schultz came into the room, said “listen to this” and played me “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I remember thinking it was good not great; Rich insisted it was going to be major. A few months later it revolutionized the music industry. College radio let me in on the secret ahead of the masses, which is exactly what it was meant to do.

The world doesn’t work quite like that anymore, which is a shame. But a liberal arts college is all about those shared moments. I cherish them and hope future generations have them, too.

—The radio station had a good old-fashioned music library, two closets filled floor to ceiling with records and CDs. I volunteered as a librarian and helped keep things organized and tracked. DJs could check out music as though it was a real library. Senior year, I watched a sophomore friend of mine, also on library duty, cavalierly pocket a few CDs for his permanent personal use despite my overtures and his own radio participation. It was a blunt introduction to how people like to behave when no one’s looking. Disappointingly, I believe he handed me a Rusted Root CD as he was taking for himself, and I took it. At least I still have it.

—In addition to the sheer joy of being on the air, I got a kick out of meeting a couple of bands in the studio, notably the guys from Live. They were from York, Pa., 20 minutes down the road, and WFNM helped break the band. When I met them it was before they released “Throwing Copper” and experienced a No. 1 record; they were your basic music dudes, cooler than us DJs, since they had a record deal, but pretty normal and nice, and roughly our age, too.

Still, I was a huge Live fan. I still have their autographs in my “Mental Jewelry” CD jewelbox (remember them?), along with ticket stubs (remember those?) from when I saw them at the Chameleon, their hometown club in Lancaster, as well as at CBGB (remember that?) before “Throwing Copper” came out, the night Ed Kowalczyk shushed me from the stage with a smile for calling out to them to play “Susquehanna” because it didn’t make it onto the album. This was all before their self-righteousness got the best of them and before Ed was offering to make you a video message for five hundred bucks, but oh well.

—For several semesters, I volunteered for the Saturday night, 1- to 3- a.m. timeslot. I did it with my friend Chris for a semester, then with our buddy Norm. We thought it would be an amazing chance to do whatever the heck we wanted on the air (and if we were too tired or having too much fun, the station would just shut down for the night, no biggie). I remember two things about this: one, that I only managed to make it into the booth two or three times, blowing off the rest of my weeks; and two, that Norm really, really loved it, and made the show his own. Which was awesome.

—I still have numerous cassette tapes of my shows, one of which I believe is in my car (which is old enough to still have a tape deck, but never mind that). They’re still fun to listen to. I should convert them to digital audio at some point before the tape degrades.