Last week [sic], my boss scoffed at my iPhone SE and told me to get a bigger phone, so I picked up an iPhone 7 Plus just for work. Its 5.5″ screen creates a different productivity profile than my SE, and I’m excited to see how it plays out, as I’m now carrying both devices around the office. (The SE is still my main device, and retains my phone number and core suite of apps.)
But I also maxed out my 7 Plus with a 256 GB hard drive, and I’m testing whether I can finally bid a fond, loving farewell to my old iPod Classic.
While I enjoy streaming music services, I love having all my music ready for travel, impervious to drops in network connectivity. For years, the iPod Classic, with its hearty 160 gigabyte hard drive, has been my go-to device for the car, train, plane and hotel room, and allows me to drag around nearly 20,000 songs wherever I go. While the screen and clickwheel are in good shape, the battery is starting to give out, sacrificing some of its portability.
More importantly, I have a lengthy car commute these days, and my car’s touchscreen head unit does a terrible job navigating a music library of this size. I bought a bluetooth dongle instead, which has worked well, but now I’m constantly reconnecting and managing the battery life of two gadgets, three if you include my phone.
The 7 Plus should solve much of this. Its bluetooth will connect seamlessly in the car, as my SE already does; I’ll be able to use Siri, keeping my hands and eyes focused on driving; and the big hard drive ensures I have lots of runway to add more music. (I’d been considering an iPod Touch, but they never got past 128 GB, and I couldn’t bring myself to downsize.)
I’ve been joking about the goofy system profile of my new gadget all week: half a dozen work apps and eighteen thousand MP3s. I think I have a win-win on my hands, though. I’m looking forward to trying it out.
Drafted 2017/02/16 at 1:22 am. Published unedited. I still have the iPhone 7 Plus, and it’s still my main music hard drive, keeping up with my Apple Music library adds.
I am a voracious reader and always have been. As a kid, I read the Star-Ledger sports section every morning at breakfast; as a young adult, I read magazines while brushing my teeth; nowadays, it goes without saying that I’m constantly on my laptop and phone, reading.
My reading sources run the gamut, from newspapers to magazines to websites to RSS feeds of dozens of blogs to Twitter and its successors to fantasy baseball experts. The best writing leaves me both informed and entertained. I gravitate toward news and well-thought-out opinion pieces. I will read and devour most anything discussing rock music, New York City, pro sports, new cars, the entertainment industry, Apple, business strategy and current events.
What I haven’t read, in many years, is a novel. Or pretty much anything in book form.
It’s not for lack of trying. I bought The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and carried it on so many vacations across several years that it became a point of amusement for my children. (I think I’m on page 87.) Two years ago, I decided that the issue was the fiction angle, so I bought The Power Broker, and I’ve only managed the first 27 pages of that, which has made the travel bag a lot heavier with the same result.
I bought Moneyball, but never cracked it; my son has it right now. I thought about re-reading the classics, but I never get started. At one point my sister-in-law bought me a thoughtful Adam Gopnik compendium, and I thanked her, and never opened it. “But you’d absolutely love it!” she said, when it slipped out that I wasn’t reading it, which was probably true, but it was a book. “If you had given him the link to it in blog form,” my wife said, both needling and truthful, “he’d have read the whole thing.”
This summer, in my building’s community bookcase, someone left two Carl Hiaasen novels. I brought them upstairs and wound up taking the first one (Bad Monkey) on vacation last month, where it came to the beach a couple of times, instead of the usual Sunday New York Times Magazine. And that did the trick. I read maybe 75 pages on vacation, and the book was fun enough for me to keep going when I got home, and before I knew it I’d finished the book and whipped through its sequel, too.
Fiction! I’d finally gotten back into reading something that wasn’t designed to advance an angle or teach me something. Hiaasen is fairly light reading, but he’s good at telling a story, and the books kept me going. And, happily, reading the books didn’t detract from my other reading; it pulled me away from sitcom reruns and video games, making for a much more rewarding diversion.
The two Hiaasen novels are headed back to the basement for another neighbor to enjoy, and next up is my first book on Kindle, an Amor Towles novel that my wife says is fascinating. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Seriously: I love license plates. I think they’re endlessly interesting and amusing. Growing up, I played the license plate game for years on family vacations, looking for every U.S. state (Montana was my last). I got to know styles, variants, and updates for all of America, and the plates for eastern Canada, too. Growing up, I hated my local plates, so I tried to design my own (more on that later). I read—past and present tense—license plates as I go by, looking for catchy phrases and humor; I know by alphanumeric sequence which plates in my home state are the newest; I bristle at the new trend of defacing a plate to avoid tickets and tolls—in part on ethical grounds, and in part because it takes away some of my fun.
For better or worse, I have passed on this fixation to my younger son, who constantly tells me about what he sees, although he’s more about the logical order and less about finding words where there aren’t any. We do both enjoy a well done custom plate.
Anyway, Garrity’s post was about the recent history of PEI’s license plates, so let me discuss my own. I grew up in New Jersey, and when I was a little kid, they all looked like this:
They weren’t much to look at, but they get high functional marks, with their high contrast making them easy to read. (I recall at one point learning about how plates’ readability correlates to cops’ ability to recover stolen cars.)
Soon after I started paying attenion, the Jersey plates got redesigned. The state added a New Jersey silhouette to the profile, replacing the center dot, but they inverted the color scheme, and came up with this cringe-worthy style:
Apparently “blue and buff” is a thing to New Jersey, but it makes for an awful license plate. Readability certainly took a hit with this style. And the overall effect was just unattractive.
I had an Apple //c computer growing up, and around 1987 I went so far as to redesign the New Jersey license plate in Dazzle Draw. (Why I didn’t draw it freehand, I do not know.) I played up the Garden State angle, with a Jersey Tomato, and leveraged the Jersey Devil and the new hockey team’s color scheme, making a design with a white background and green-and-red visual elements. I sent two variations with a note to Governor Tom Kean’s office. I’m sure it looked pixelated and awful, but I bet it wasn’t any worse than the blue and buff license plate. The governor’s office did not respond.
By 1993, I had gotten a new car, and New Jersey had updated its license plates again, so mine looked like this:
Readability was back, and the design was both retro and modern with its color fade, but what was this design? We’re giving up on “buff and blue”? The nice state stamp in between the letters stuck around, but in an era when other states’ license plates were increasingly attractive and clever, Jersey got a plate that met outsiders’ low expectations. With minor tweaks, this design persists to present day, thirty years of uninspired license plates on the Garden State Parkway.
Meanwhile, New York was pulling ahead. My childhood memories of New York plates were of the color and then the Statue of Liberty, which were fine—not exciting, but somehow more stately, interesting and important than New Jersey. Like the state and its namesake city, New York’s license plates (like California’s) had some presence, and it suited them.
In 2001, New York redesigned its license plates to showcase more of the state, and they nailed it.
This plate brought lots of good elements together: the state outline divider, the slogan, and a collage of statewide geographic features across the top, from Niagara Falls to the Adirondacks to the Manhattan skyline. It was handsome, easy to read, interesting and memorable. A great license plate.
My car at the time was registered in New Jersey, so I missed having that license plate on my vehicle. By the time I got a new car, in 2015, New York had moved back to the orange-and-navy theme of the 1970s, ditching the geographic elements, which were beginning to seem fussy, in favor of a simple, clean layout.
This design was… fine. Easy to read, plays off the past, curved lines and fonts give it some style, the shade of orange matched the NYC taxicab fleet pretty well. I didn’t love it, but there was nothing to dislike, either.
The same cannot be said of the current New York plates, which adorn my car now. They are emblematic of much of the Andrew Cuomo administration: well-intentioned, earnest, but failing to stick the landing.
We are back to the previous geographic elements—all of them! Plus the Statue of Liberty returns, and now there’s a lighthouse, and some clouds. “Empire State” has been sacrificed for EXCELSIOR, which Cuomo loved to use, presented in an overly bold and blocky font, while the stripes atop the plate fall at an odd height and fail to tie the design together. The overall effect is amateurish. Kind of like something a middle school student would design at home, only this time it’s on every new license plate in the state.
Governor Kathy Hochul hasn’t expressed much concern over the current New York license plate, which is just three years old, but perhaps her successor will. Maybe we’ll get something inspired for the next decade. At least the current plates are easy to read. Excelsior.
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The concoction (circa 2001)
3 parts observation
2 parts introspection
1 part links
1 part creativity
1 part stinging wit
dash of sarcasm