The Thrill of Music Hunting

Streaming music services are wonderful. With Apple Music, I can listen to pretty much any music I want anytime I want to hear, no matter where I happen to be. As a kid, this was a science-fictional dream. And yet, there was something about the thrill of the hunt for a particular song that is now a thing of the past.

I was thinking about this when it occurred to me that my kids will likely not experience that particular thrill. I can recall listening to the radio—the radio!—as a boy in New England. On Saturday mornings I’d tune in to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40.” This was my equivalent of going hunting.

Instead of a shotgun, I was armed with a two-tape deck AM/FM radio. Instead of a blind, I’d sit in my bedroom, with the warm sunlight filtering in my windows. For ammunition, I had a well-worn cassette tapes, ones that had been used over and over again, until their cases were rickety. Instead of a gunsight, I’d tune my radio to 92 PRO FM, Providence. There, I’d listen to the countdown with my fingers on the Record trigger, ready and waiting to capture my favorite songs of the day on tape so that I could listen to them whenever I wanted.

This was not an easy thing to do. The timing had to be just right. Sometimes, the DJ would talk over the beginning of the song, or the end of the song would fade out too early. Sometimes, the transition between songs wasn’t clean, or there would be a commercial first, and you had to anticipate when it would be over. If my memory serves me correctly, you had press both the Record and Play buttons simultaneously. It could take several attempts before I got a clean version of the song on tape.

I might bag three or four songs a week this way. Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil,” Christopher Cross’s “Sailing,” the Beatles, “Hey Jude.” The latter my brother and I would play over and over again. We thought the song was hilarious. It is one of the few songs that I played so much that I can no longer stand to listen to it.

Those rough recordings were the raw kills. They still needed to be cleaned. Doing that required the second tape deck. I scratch out the order in which I wanted to record the songs. Then, I’d put the original radio recording tape in the first tape deck, and a clean fresh tape in the second deck. With lots of Fast-Fowards and Rewinds, I’d get things set perfectly for each song, and then record onto the clean tape in the order I wanted. It could take hours to do it cleanly.

In the end, I had a tape of all of my favorite songs of the day. I could play it over and over again—but I couldn’t take it with me. I don’t recall having a tape player in my parent’s car. And I don’t think I had a portable tape player. The Sony Walkman was in its infancy.

Today, I go to iTunes, and type in “Bruce Springsteen” and then click on “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and instantly the music begins to play. I can take it wherever I go. And it is wonderful. But so was that hunt. And I’m kind of sad that my kids will miss out on the thrill that I got from hunting down the music I loved.

WordPress Anniversary and Blog Stats

Recently, I received a notification from WordPress, alerting me that I’d just had my 8th anniversary with the service. It’s true. I recall moving my blog from LiveJournal to WordPress in the months before the Little Man was born. I decided to look at some of the stats for the blog, both before, and after its conversion to WordPress. Here is what I found.

  1. There is a total of 6,170 posts going back to November 2005.
  2. Those posts add up to 2.3 million words. That’s the equivalent of 23 standard-length novels.
  3. I moved to WordPress in January 2009. Since then, I’ve written 3,066 posts totaling 1.5 million words.
  4. If you do the math, the average length of a post here is just under 400 words.
  5. It takes me about 20 minutes to write a 500 word post. If you do that math (and I hesitate to do this), you’d find I’ve spent somewhere around 64 days in the last 11+ years doing nothing but writing blog posts.

Since I was looking at these stats, it seemed like I should take a look at what the most popular posts of all time have been on this blog. Here, then, are the top 10 most popular (by views) posts on the blog:

  1. Going Paperless
  2. 5 Tips for Getting the Most out of a FitBit Flex
  3. Main home page
  4. Going iPad, Part 2 of 5: Writing on the iPad with Scrivener and SimpleNote
  5. FitBit Experiment: Measuring Battery Life from Low to Empty
  6. Three More Tips for FitBit Flex Users
  7. Going Paperless: How I Simplified My Notebook Organization in Evernote (Part 1)
  8. Does a FitBit Accurately Track Your Steps if You Walk with Your Hands in Your Pockets?
  9. My Shared Templates Notebook for Evernote
  10. Going Paperless: Tips for Organizing Your Digital Filing Cabinet

Many of these posts have several hundred thousand views. Some of them are what SEO experts call “evergreen” posts—posts that are useful for long periods of time. This wasn’t intentional. My SEO abilities are limited, and my interest in SEO is nonexistent. Still, it surprises me to see that some posts I’ve written have staying power.

For instance, back in 2014, when I was reading a 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill, I wrote a post called “The Death of Marigold Churchill.” It was a post about how moved and sad I was when learning of the death of the Churchill’s young daughter. Now, one-off posts like that usually get just a couple hundred views. But this one was different. It has accumulated over 14,000 views. To this day, people still come to it. I can’t explain why.

The blog has had its ups and downs. It’s best year, 2014, saw more than 1.3 million views. It is down substantially from that, but I am still having fun, and love the kind of writing I am doing for the blog, even if not as many people are reading it.

On February 13, 2013, the blog saw the most views it ever had on a single day: 14,047. That was the day that I was featured on Lifehacker’s “How I Work” series. All told, there have been about a dozen days where the views have surpassed 10,000.

These days, though I have a lot of fun writing for the blog, I often worry I get repetitive on some topics. I wrote a lot about going paperless, and a lot about quantified self. You may have noticed I’ve been steering away from these topics recently. I want to avoid being repetitive as much as possible. With more than 6,100 posts, however, there are plenty of subjects that I have beaten to death over the years.

Including posts on my blog stats.

Lazy Bones

I am not lazy by nature. When I was much younger, I was lazier than I am now. Even so, I suspect that there are few people who would consider me lazy.

On a typical workday, I am up by 5:30 am. I’m in the office by 6:15 am. By 3 pm, I’ve put in a full day’s work. I eat my lunch before noon, and spend my lunch hour walking. I head home from work, help the kids with their homework, and then wrap up whatever work I’ve got leftover. We have dinner, and then it’s time to get the kids ready for bed.

I try to write when I find time. I can write a 500 word blog post in twenty minutes. Sometimes I find the time to write more than one. Often our evenings are packed with activities: swim lessons, dance classes, baseball practice, Cub Scouts den meetings.

Any “down” time I have I tend to fill with some activity. When I walk, I listen to audiobooks. Doing chore, I listen to audiobooks. When I get into bed at night, I will sometimes watch whatever Kelly has on TV, but more often than not, I read.

If I were to inventory every moment of my day, I’d say that I could account for each one, and that each one I was doing something relatively productive. I rarely go to bed at night thinking, gee, I could have packed more into the day.

This weekend was different. This weekend, I was deliberately lazy. We all were. Maybe it was the cold weather. Maybe it was the snow we had. Whatever the reason, I was incredibly lazy this weekend, and it felt great.

We slept in past 7 am on both Saturday and Sunday. Basketball was canceled due to the snow, so my Saturday morning was suddenly clear. The kids both had birthday parties to attend. I think that is when I decided I’d be lazy.

I watched TV all day. I put a fire in the fireplace, and sat in front of the big TV in the family room and watched television. I watched a few movies. Toward the end of the day, me and the Little Miss watched the original Star Wars together. It was the first time she’d watched the whole thing. When it was over, I asked how she liked it. “I loved it,” she said.

Today, I was equally lazy. We watched The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. In the evening, we watched The Force Awakens. When Darth Vader revealed to Luke that he was his father, the Little Miss sat in front of the TV, her jaw hanging open in surprise, her eyes big. “No. Way!” she said.

Just about everything I had on my to-do list for the weekend is still there on the to-do list. It remains undone. But I’m okay with that. I don’t have lazy days often, but this one was well worth it.

Tomorrow, after 4-1/2 months off, Kelly goes back to work, and the baby starts at daycare. We needed this weekend, and I’m glad for a change that we could be lazy.

Remote Control

I was sitting in the living room the other day, asking Alexa to play various music. “Alexa, play the Born To Run album by Bruce Springsteen,” I said. Alexa played the album. “Alexa, play Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan,” I asked. Alexa played the album. Later, I said, “Alex, what’s happening in the news?” and Alexa gave me a “flash briefing” that was perfectly adequate.

Sitting there, I marveled at how far we’d come in the four decades since I was a child. Not even the Jetsons could talk to their house. I can ask Alexa to turn the heat up in the house, and Alexa will talk to the Nest we have installed and turn up the heat. To play music, I had to find the record I wanted to play, and put it on the record player.

There is so much we can do these days with automated technology that the stuff that we can’t do—but should be able to do easily—boggles my mind. Take television remote control for example.

The TV remote should be a thing of the past. Like the rotary phone, television remotes should be found only in museums. At the mention of the word “remote” my kids should give me a curious look and ask, “What’s that, Daddy?” Instead, they know very well what a TV remote is. We tend to have two or three of them per TV.

So much useless tech gets invented these days. It’s almost as if inventors are short on ideas. And yet, the television remote is a perfect example of a niche ripe for innovation. Remotes should be a thing of the past. Why I still need a remote device to control my television, or BluRay player is beyond my comprehension. There should be a universal device, like Alexa, that allows me to control and manage all of my entertainment systems with simple voice commands.

  • “Turn on the TV…” and the TV goes on.
  • “Play ‘Fixer Upper’,” and the system searches for the show, either live or on an app I have installed like Netflix or the HGTV app, and plays the episode.
  • “Mute the television.”
  • “Turn on the BluRay.”
  • “Switch to the Yankee game.”
  • “Pause the game. Unpause the game.”
  • “Skip the commercial.”
  • “Play ‘Star Wars.’”

So far, I haven’t seen a single system that can do all of this. The kids got an Xbox for Christmas. The cable box plays through the Xbox and Cortana appears to allow me to do some of these things. But Cortana does not seem nearly as adept at recognizing my commands as Alexa does. I can tell Cortana to mute the TV, or to find a show to watch, or pause the TV. But, so far, I can’t figure out how to tell Cortana to turn on the BluRay device.

It is clear that there are devices that easily interpret what we say (Alexa), and there are other devices that easily integrate with our TV’s (Xbox). But there are none that fully take over and improve upon the job of our needless surplus of remote controls.

I look forward to the day when remote control devices are a thing of the past. I’ll walk into the family room, and simply ask Alexa (or its equivalent), “Is there anything good on right now?”

It will reply, “I’m afraid not,” and I’ll head back to my computer to write.

What’s In Your Wish List?

There are 29 items in my Audible wish list. I thought I’d share what is on the list to give a sense of the kinds of things I’m interested in reading1 lately. Here, then, is my Audible wish list:

  • Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounds
  • The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow
  • So, Anyway… by John Cleese
  • FDR by Jean Edward Smith
  • Sinatra: The Chairman2 by James Kaplan
  • Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
  • Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
  • Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
  • Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy
  • The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
  • Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands
  • What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
  • The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow
  • The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
  • Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough
  • A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety by Jimmy Carter
  • The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 by John Toland
  • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
  • The Journals of Lewis and Clark edited by William R. Lighton
  • Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King
  • Blaze: A Novel by Stephen King
  • Marco Polo by Laurence Bergreen
  • The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
  • Where the Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
  • The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predication Fail—but Some Don’t by Nate Silver
  • Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose
  • 1776 by David McCullough
  • The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible by Simon Winchester
  • Magic Time by W. P. Kinsella

What’s in your wish list?


  1. Always this caveat when referring to audiobooks.
  2. I already own the first volume, Frank: The Voice.

New Year’s Writing Resolution for 2017

My inbox contained an email message from Amazon with the subject line: “What is your New Year’s writing resolution for 2017?” I thought I’d answer that question here.

Over the years my writing has gone through an evolution that has been hard for me to characterize until recently. It occurred to me what I was seeing in my writing when I looked at my kids. Our youngest is just four months old. She is smiling, laughing, grabbing at things, making sounds, experimenting with the world around her. She can’t do much more than that at this point, but she is doing her best to expand her horizons.

Our older daughter is in Kindergarten, finding her interests. She likes writing, and is constantly asking us to spell out words for her so that she can make cards and tickets to shows for us. She creates elaborate stories with her toys. It is fascinating to listen to the detail and emotion in these stories when she’d not aware I’m there.

Our son’s new favorite expression is “I have a question.” He’s always asking things. He is curious about the world, voraciously curious.

What my writing has been doing over the years—what has been so hard for me to characterize in the past—is growing up. Just like my kids. My writing started out like my four-month old. There wasn’t much to it. I was just making sounds, and occasionally, cracking a smile. I kept at it, was persistent, and it got better. I found something (science fiction) and pursued it with the single-mindedness that my oldest daughter pursues her own attempts at writing.

I sold stories. I sold articles. More than anything else this gave me confidence in my writing. I no longer needed the single-mindedness I had for science fiction stories (although I will always be grateful to science fiction for what it has brought me). I could branch out. Like my oldest, I could start to ask a lot of questions. Could I write about this subject or that one? Could I write about what I felt like writing about without worrying much about whether it sold or not? Could I write for the sheer joy writing brings me?

That is where I am today, and I suppose if I had any New Year’s writing resolution for 2017, it is to write what I want to write for the sheer joy of it. I no longer struggle with the motivation to write. The 825 consecutive day writing streak I held from February 2013 – October 2015 gave me all the confidence and training I needed to be able to write on command.

If it isn’t obvious, writing here on this blog brings me the greatest among of joy and pleasure of all of the writing I do, and I suspect it will continue to be the center of my writing in 2017. There is no way to measure a goal like that. Visits to the site, page views, click-throughs, these things aren’t measures of enjoyment. I’ve been trying to focus less on the metrics of the blog, and more on the writing that I do for it. Maybe that is another New Year’s writing resolution: don’t worry about the stats, just keep writing the best posts I can possibly write, and enjoy it while it lasts.

Have You Seen My Patience?

Lost: one set of patience. Was lightly worn, but last seen in ragged tatters. Characterized by long, relaxing sighs, and silent, knowing smiles. Responds to the name, “Daddy, are we there yet?”

*

I am not sure when, exactly, I lost my patience. In my mind, I always thought I was a patient person. Some of this was deliberately crafted. I’d seen impatience in people and it turned me off. So I learned to relax and go with the flow. Waiting for a table in a restaurant wasn’t a big deal. Sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office meant time to catch up on some reading.

Today, my patience with restaurants is mostly intact. My patience for other things wore thin, then evaporated. Little things that the kids do can push me over the edge sometimes. “Did you hear what your mom just said?” I’ll say, snapping at them.

Having to call tech support tries my patience. Phone trees in general try my patience. But calling tech support really gets me. Having worked in IT for half my life, I generally know what I am doing. I don’t want to have to go through a laundry list of things first, I just want to get my problem solved.

I get impatient when other people are late. This didn’t use to bother me. But I get into my head. I think, I managed to get here on time. I managed to plan ahead. Why can’t everyone else? What makes it worse is when the late arrivers come without apologies for being late. Or with poor excuses.

Meetings that drag on wear at my patience. One of the worst thing ever to happen was for Outlook to default its meetings to one hour. I try to schedule my meetings for 15 minutes, and keep them to less than that if I can manage it. Web meetings and video conferences take a big bite out of my patience. They never start on time and rarely run smoothly.

I can’t drive around a parking lot looking for a space. I’d prefer to pick the farthest spot away and walk.

Waiting for my computer to boot up—all of 10 seconds or so—can make me impatient. The self checkout lines at grocery stores make me impatient.

Maybe it’s the age of instant gratification we live in. If I want music, I have it in seconds. A TV show? A few more seconds. I can buy something from Amazon in the morning, and have it in my hands later that same day. I can barely remember those days in the late 1990s when I’d order a book from Powell’s and it would take a week or more to arrive at my house.

*

If you happen to find my patience, approach it carefully. It startles easily these days. But please return it quickly. I can’t wait much longer.

The Other Side of the Road

The rural landscapes of Interstate driving fascinate me. They are so different from the local, traffic-choked highways that we drive on a daily basis. Driving home from Florida, I watched scene after scene of these rural landscapes roll by at 70 mph.

I saw a lonely ranch house beside a frontage road. There were no other homes in sight. Behind the house was a massive field scattered with farm equipment. Did the house belong to the farm? What was it like living the old Tom Petty line: with a freeway running through the yard?

There are countless junkyards at the sides of the Interstate. At speed I couldn’t make out much detail, but as these places, with their rickety-looking structures blurred by, I wondered what treasure might be found among the junk.

Perhaps the surest sign of a dead, or dying town on the Interstate is an abandoned gas station. The windows are boarded up, the pavement looks like it has been through an earthquake, cracks worming their way in all directions. The fuel pumps are long gone, but occasionally the sign remains with prices from another age: Unleaded gas: $1.49.

Billboards sprout up among the trees and rubble of the rural roads. It fascinates me that in the southern states—North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia—many of these billboards advertise adult stores. Signs for Adam & Eve and the Lion’s Den stand side-by-side with billboards quoting Biblical verse. One billboard in particular caught my eye. At the bottom, barely legible, the sign read: THIS LAND FOR RENT OR LEASE. CALL NUMBER ABOVE. The main sign—the part “above”—was blank. There was no number to call, or if there was, it had been weathered away long ago.

We passed great swaths of forests, and also places where it seemed entire forests had been leveled. On the east side of the road, somewhere in southern Virginia, I saw what seemed to be acres of tree stumps. It was gray and rainy, and the scene looked like a page out of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.

There is a strange phenomenon I experience when driving on the Interstate. When driving south, I feel like I am driving south. It looks like I am driving south. When driving north, I feel like I am driving north. It feels different from driving south. I can make a mental adjustment and for a while, it will seem like I am driving south. In both directions I am driving on the right side of the road. So why do they seem different?

And while we are on the subject, why is the weather always great when we leave for vacation, steadily improving to fantastic along the way; and why is the weather always crummy on the way home. It never fails to rain. We return to gloom and cold.

Also, after being away for three weeks, we returned to a home without heat. The heat should be fixed tomorrow, but it makes for a cold night.

The Best Book I Read in 2016: Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen

Not long ago I listed my 5 best reads of 2016. I wrote that post back on December 14. There is always a danger that in the two remaining weeks of the year, I’ll end up reading a book that should have made the list. That happened this year. After I wrote that post, I started reading Bruce Springsteen’s new memoir Born to Run. Turns out, it was the best book I read in 2016.

Until reading the book, I was a fair-weather Springsteen fan. I enjoyed his hits, but didn’t dive deep into his music. His memoir proved to be an awakening for me in a number of respects.

First, it made me want to listen carefully to all of Springsteen’s music, something I will approach diligently in the coming year.

Second, it stirred something within me that I never suspected. It made me want to be a musician. Ever since playing the recorder in Mrs. Davis’s seventh grade music class, I thought myself completely inept at musical instruments. The feeling became so ingrained in my psyche that I took it for fact without ever exploring the evidence. Maybe I was just lazy in seventh grade. Maybe I didn’t care much. Springsteen, writing about music, and in particular, rock and guitar, made me wonder if it wasn’t something that I might actually be able to learn. It wouldn’t be something I’d plan to make a living doing. But ever since reading the book, a fire has been burning in me to try to learn to play an instrument.

Third, if I ever decide to write a memoir, I’ll take Springsteen’s Born to Run as a model. I’ve read quite a few memoirs over the years. Not only is Born to Run the best book I read in 2016, it has to rank among the best autobiography writing I’ve read.

I listened to the audiobook version of Born to Run. Bruce Springsteen read his own book, and that gave added weight to the story. Before I read the book, my picture of Springsteen was of the bandana wearing, muscle-shirt wearing, raspy-voice singing rocker. But he is an amazing writer, not just a song writer, but a writer of prose. His openness and honesty are a breath of fresh air. More than that, his humility and self-deprecation take him from superstar to regular guy in a way that lets you—the reader—experience the joy he takes from doing what he loves.

His humility in particular struck me. A quick search for “Bruce Springsteen” will lead to his nickname—The Boss—almost instantly. But not once in the entire book did Bruce Springsteen refer to himself as The Boss. I don’t think the phrase was used in the book at all in reference to himself.

Through his book, Bruce Springsteen wrote about music in a way that I could understand and appreciate. Music has always seemed complicated to me, but he made it fascinating. The list of things to listen to—Springsteen’s own music, as well as music by others that he mentioned as influences—grew quickly.

It is always difficult to find another book to read after reading a book as good as Born to Run. This time it wasn’t hard. I have started re-reading the book immediately after having finished it. It is that good.

Books to Read in 2017

With the new year at hand, I’ve started to think about the books I want to read in 2017. As with any list of books that I want to read, it is based on my mood and interest at the time I create the list. Reading is like a scavenger hunt for me. One book will lead unexpectedly to another. (Case in point: Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run has led me to Guitar: An American Life by Tim Brookes.) I have an idea of what I want to read, but sometimes things get put on the back burner in favor of something more immediately relevant.

With that caveat in mind, here is a list of books that I’d like to read this year. They are in no particular order.

  • Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. Yes, I just finished reading it. And I am in the process of reading it again. I can’t think of another time when I finished a book and immediately started reading it again. It was that good.
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher. I’d been planning on reading this anyway, but obviously, it has moved up on the list. We’re planning on listening to the audiobook on our drive back home from Florida.
  • Bing Crosby: The Early Years by Gary Giddins. I’ve read this book before, but there is a rumor that the second volume will be coming out later in 2017, and so I am reading it again in the hope that the second volume will show up this year.
  • Assignment in Hell: The War Against Nazi Germany With Correspondents Walter Cronkite, Andy Rooney, A.J. Libeling, Homer Bigart, and Hal Boyle by Timothy M. Gay. World War II and journalism is one of those intersections that pushes my buttons.
  • Guitar: An American Life by Tim Brookes. See above.
  • Tune-In: The Beatles: All These Years by Mark Lewisohn. I am not a huge Beatles fan, but I enjoyed Bruce Springsteen’s memoir so much that I need more rock and roll history. This is the first of 3 definitive volumes.
  • FDR by Jean Edward Smith. I read Smith’s excellent biography of Dwight Eisenhower, and wanted to give this one a try based on the merits of that one.
  • Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan. Outside of his singing, I know very little about Frank Sinatra. This is volume one of a 2-volume biography that looks to be pretty good.
  • Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan. Volume 2
  • An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 – 1963 by Robert Dallek. I’ve never read a Kennedy biography. It’s about time to correct that omission.
  • Reagan: The Life by H. W. Brands. I’ve enjoyed several of Brands’ presidential biographies. As someone who grew up in the 80s (I was 8 in 1980), Reagan’s biography seems particularly apt.

I’ll discover other books along the way, and some of these will get shunted aside (temporarily) for those. But I think this is a good reflection of my reading interests at the dawn of 2017.

Why Go To the Movies?

Why go to the movies? I took the Little Man to see Rogue One last week1 and outside of the movie itself, the experience is not compelling. Consider this pitch:

  • We construct a large multiplex theater in which six, eight, or ten movies can be screened at the same time.
  • We offer all kinds of expensive concessions, the smallest of which will be a 64 ounce bag of popcorn buttered with something that isn’t even butter.
  • We preface the movie with 25 minutes of coming attractions, trailers which, by large, in their 90 second incarnations are far better than the movies they promote.
  • We provide assigned seating so that you don’t have to stress out about finding a seat once you arrive at the theater.
  • We install lavish seats that allow you to recline so that you can easily sleep through the boring parts of the movie you’ve come to see.
  • We have 3-D screenings complete with 3-D glasses so that the 3-D effects distract you from any flaws in the films.
  • To pay for all of this, we charge excessively high rates for tickets and concessions, knowing that you’ll pay because your impatient.
  • Oh, and also, we’ll show you the movie.

One might argue that better movies are being made than ever before, but the movie-going experience has been on a downward spiral for a very long time now. The pitch notwithstanding, I am hard-pressed to think of a reason for the continued existence of movie theaters. Why not just release the movies directly to streaming media? There are plenty of advantages to this:

  • You don’t have to find a parking spot.
  • You don’t have to sit through 20 minutes of previews you don’t care about.
  • You don’t have to pay for overpriced concessions.
  • You don’t have to worry about rowdy audiences.
  • You are blessedly free from the 3-D debacle.
  • You can pause the movie if you have to run to the restroom.

Movies are released in theaters first, presumably, because in a theater, it is one ticket per person. This helps with the box office receipts. If I watch the movie at home, well, Kelly can watch it too, and so can the kids, and all for the price of the download, which is probably something less than what four movie tickets would cost.

Going to the movies used to be an event. People would get dressed up. It was a special thing. Now, it seems, it has become a necessary means to seeing a movie as soon as it is released. But as far as I can tell, there is no other advantage to movie theaters today than being able to see the movie sooner, rather than later.

I get to the movies about once a year because of this, and I do so reluctantly. I wish that going to the movies was a real experience the way that it once was. I wish that we still had drive-ins. It was at a drive-in theater in New Jersey that I first saw Star Wars in 1977. That was an experience.

These days, I consider movie theaters little more than a place to go if you want an early preview of the movie. The real thing, when it comes out, can be viewed more easily, less expensively, and much more comfortably in your living room.


  1. We loved it.

New Year’s Resolution of a Newly Minted Middle-Ager

When did it become so hard to tie my shoes? If there is any question as to whether or not middle age has arrived, one sure sign is the increasing difficulty of bending down to tie ones shoes. To paraphrase Bing Crosby’s banter in “Moonlight Bay,” there’s a little more in the middle, and that is enough to make bending down to reach my shoes harder than it used to be.

Even the sound of tying my shoes has changed. A preface has been added to the story. Where there was once the whisper of the laces as they do their knot-forming dance, that dance is preceded by a loud, uncomfortable grunt.

Muscles that were once lean and flexible seem shortened and tight. Sitting on a low chair is the best place for me to tie my shoes. At home, I prefer the two steps that lead to a short landing before the stairs take a ninety degree turn and head up. On those two steps, I am close enough to my shoelaces where muscles and middle play little havoc over me.

I was thinking about my shoelaces difficulties lately because I’d noticed my shoes coming untied far more often than they used to. It was strange. My shoelaces rarely came untied in the four decades I’ve been tying them myself. So why would they start to come untied all of a sudden? It was a mystery, and it bothered me. I’d lay awake some nights, reviewing the day in my head, and wondering what the heck could be going on with my laces that would unravel them so easily? What had changed? What was I doing differently?

Eventually, I hit upon the answer. The laces were coming untied because I’d stopped double-knotting them they way I have for as far back as I can remember. Why had I stopped double-knotting them? I knew the answer, and was embarrassed to admit it: not quite laziness, but it was just too darn hard to bend over myself and stretch myself for any more time than it takes to tie the shoes in a simple knot. The few seconds added by a double knot was too much.

When my mom first made me this thing to practice tying my shoelaces into knots when I was a just a young kid, I never imagined that it would be anything other than routine. I can tie my shoes in the dark! And yet, though I hate to admit it, I look for opportunities to avoid tying my shoes.

In our house, we generally take our shoes off when we come inside. I’ve resisted this when I know I’m going to have to put my shoes on again. One and done is the way I fly these days when it comes to tying my shoes. I suspect Kelly thinks I am either forgetful or lazy, and she is infinitely patient with me wandering around the house in my shoes.

Forget the way you see yourself in the mirror in the morning, or in photographs posted on social media. Forget the jabs from friends and family chorusing what Bing Crosby sang all those years ago. If you want a wakeup call to the state of your overall well-being, look no further than your shoelaces, and how easy—or hard—they are for you reach when you go to tie them.

If I said that in 2017, I am going to try to get to the point where I am no longer uncomfortable tying my own shoes, would that seem like a reasonable, practical New Year’s resolution?