Sunday, November 25, 2007

Joshua Tree at 20, plus a rant

Wanna feel old? It has been 20 years since U2 released their landmark album The Joshua Tree. That's right, 20 years! To commemorate the anniversary, the album has been remastered and reissued, and now includes a second disc with all of the B-sides from the original singles. Also included is "Wave of Sorrow," a song written during the Joshua sessions and recently completed for this set (Bono added the vocals to the existing music).

In case you just woke up from a two-decade-long coma, The Joshua Tree is one of THE classic rock albums of all time. Occasionally you'll even catch it topping a list of "Greatest albums of all time," though usually that slot is reserved for the Beates' Sgt. Pepper. So if you don't own the album, wipe the 20-year sand from your eyes, stretch those coma-tight muscles, and find your way down to Best Buy (don't bother looking around for a record store—they don't exist anymore) or hop onto iTunes and download the deluxe version for $16.99 (single disc version is $9.99).

Now that the plug is done, it's time for me to rant. U2 has long been my favorite band (besides the Beatles, who are in another league. Basically it's the Beatles, then everyone else. Oh, and Bjork is a close second behind U2). So, on to my complaint.

I own every U2 album, some of which I've even bought in multiple formats—CD, cassette, vinyl, download. I have their DVDs, their CD singles, I've bought concert tickets for more than twenty years, I've bought t-shirts, calendars, books. Everything. I've given them a lot of my hard-earned mooluh. A lot. And they've earned it by working hard, touring for every album, pushing themselves to do better; it would have been easy for them to just do Joshua Tree part 2, part 3, etc. But they are true artists—they're not Bon Jovi. They've experimented, expanded their sound, took some risks. And they haven't spent their (my) money foolishly, landing in rehab, or packing a gun like Puff Daddy. And we all know of Bono's humanitarian acts.

So. I wonder why I still can't buy the two new songs that were included on last year's "best of" collection U218. See, I already have the first 16 songs of that collection. Multiple times. All I want are the two new ones (the excellent "Window In the Skies" and the raucous collaboration with Green Day "The Saints Are Coming"). But if you go to iTunes and look it up, those songs are only available if you buy the whole 18-song package. Do I really need to spend $15.99 just to get two songs? I wrongly thought that when the album was released in Nov. 2006, that after some time they would make the two songs available individually. Here it is a year later and you still can't download those songs. Who is the greedy party here? Is it U2, or is it Apple? Why can't I spend my money to legally download these two songs?! I want to give U2 another $1.98 of my money, but I guess they don't want it.

This harkens back to the pre-Apple iTunes era when people were forced to illegally download songs because there was no alternative. Music fans were ahead of the curve then; the record companies had no clue what to do. They were still pumping out those CDs, spending money on printing, packaging, shipping, warehousing. But the people spoke and wanted to download! And idiots like Metallica complained and sued, instead of giving the people what they wanted. The people wanted to buy the music—just not in an outdated format. Then Apple came along to save the day, and get the money back into the hands of the artists. Everyone was happy.

But now I can't buy those two frigging songs that I want. So, I'm going old school. If anyone wants to send me those two songs as MP3s, please let me know. With all the money I've given U2 over the years, I won't feel guilty about a couple of freebies.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Re-Kindle Your Love of Reading

Amazon has just launched the Kindle, which seems to be the definitive electronic book reader (so far). It works on its own, too—you don't need a computer to download or sync with. How it works is through wireless connectivity (like a cell phone). You go to Amazon and download the book you want (more than 88,000 titles currently available), with the cost of new releases and best sellers just $9.99. More than books, the Kindle also lets you read newspapers, magazines, and blogs. You can also read Word documents and view pictures. It also has a built-in dictionary.

The Kindle seems poised to bury Sony's Reader. The Sony Reader must be attached to a computer for downloading, and is only available for the PC (sorry Mac users). Plus the Kindle has the advantage of linking directly to Amazon, the king of online book purchases. It holds over 200 titles, and Amazon claims the battery life last for over 1,000 page turns, with the recharge time just two hours.

I've only seen the Kindle online (watch the short demonstration video on the product page in the link above), and I like its many attributes, but one thing looks like it could still stand improvement. In the demo video, the page flip and scroll plastic buttons seem downright antiquated, especially with the touch screen flashiness of the Apple iPhone setting the standard on handheld devices. Maybe the Kindle's next model with incorporate a similar operating system. Oh, and how cool would it be if they added audio, so you could choose between reading and listening to a book?

The price is $399.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The day the mobile shredder came to town

There was a message on my answering machine when I got home from work Thursday night. "The mobile shredder is coming to Tuckahoe!" the recording said. "Between 10am-2pm in Depot Square." Holy crap. This was a dream come true. It was like hearing my favorite rock star was coming to town to play an intimate show at the local cafe, and I was chosen to attend.

Why was I so excited? Well, I had fallen far behind in my shredding. You know, all those personal documents with bank statements, credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc. that can't just be thrown in the trash anymore because there are criminals out there sifting through your garbage while you sleep at night. Turning trash bins over like raccoons. They're stealing your numbers, stealing your identity, jetting off to exotic places all on your dime. And they must be stopped!

I had a very small shredder, a one-sheet-at-a-time kind that died suddenly last year. I had a backlog by the time I got around to buying another one. This one was slightly larger, promised to do more than one sheet at a time, you could even shred a credit card if need be. Still, by then I had a plastic bag full of documents—with more flooding in on a daily basis. Feeding these statements in by hand was hopeless, endless, like Lucy trying futilely to wrap all those chocolates on the conveyer belt before they passed her by. I just couldn't keep up. And damned if I'd start eating them. I began to wish for a huge shredder I could dump the whole load into in one shot. The size of a woodchipper. Something industrial, like Hillary used to shred her Whitewater papers. A magical machine to remove the paper albatross from around my neck.

Then, I got the call.

I went though all of my papers then. I found new piles of mail I had forgotten about. By the time I was done I had a whole Trader Joe's brown shopping bag full of sensitive, identity-laden documents. But I had to wait till Sunday morning at ten o'clock for the big moment. I was like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning. And on top of it all I had to wait an extra hour, thanks to the clocks being turned back during the night.

Finally the moment I was waiting for arrived. It was a beautiful, sunny morning. I grabbed hold of the bag and walked down to Depot Square with an extra spring in my step. There, as promised, was the mobile shredder. What a sight to behold! I was one of the first people there, and only had to wait a minute before my papers were dumped in and shot back out into the bin, cross-cut and indecipherable. What a thrilling moment! What would have taken me months to do by hand was completed in seconds. My only regret was that I couldn't do the honor myself.

Afterward, I lingered because there was also a farmer's market. Cars began to pull in to the lot, happy people with boxes full of paper to shred. Everyone stood around to watch the results, to make sure their sensitive papers were obliterated. People laughing, smiling, relieved. People united in a single cause. The mobile shredder is a uniter, not a divider. What a thing, this mobile shredder!

Now I can do one of two things. Either work with a clean slate, stay on top of my personal documents, shred them as they come in. Or I can save up again, squirrel away my statements for the next time the mobile shredder comes to town. Either way I can't lose.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Understory by Pamela Erens

The Understory is a great debut novel from Pamela Erens (it was the winner of the Ironwood Press Fiction Prize). This is one of those books you just want to stay home from work to finish reading. The lead character is Jack Gorse, an unemployed loner whose daily routines (that border on OCD) give him a purpose in life. (In this sense the writing reminds me of the best of Magnus Mills, the way you as the reader slip into the character's mind and daily doings.) The routines, however, are upset when Jack is evicted from his apartment. Things begin to spiral out of control for him without these routines, and as he loses his grip on life, he grasps at the straws of an impossible/imagined relationship.