Thursday, January 3, 2013

Proper Care and Handling of CDs (Observation/Rant)

The Compact Disc ("CD") debuted in United States in 1983. Sometime around 1993, I was lucky enough to get my first CD player, a full-sized single-disc Sony, together with my first CD, Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Romances 1 & 2 (proudly purchased, on-sale, from the now defunct "Classical" Harmony House, in Royal Oak, Michigan). Having grown-up listening to records as often as tapes, I learned, at an early age, to not touch the surface of my media (gripping it from the edges instead), to always return the media I was not using to its case or sleeve, that extreme heat could warp my media (and to therefore keep my milk crate of records out of direct sunlight) and, lastly, that it was important to (as to not damage my father's expensive record player and to get the best sound-quality possible) keep my media clean. While CDs are much more durable (and CD players much more forgiving) than records, they were also so expensive (by the standards of a twelve year-old) that I treated them with equal care. I still have the above Beethoven CD and it still plays (although, I'll admit that it is not the best example in my music collection of a "well-used" CD). Sometime in 1994, I discovered grunge and electronic music, as well as the Columbia House/BMG direct marketing offer of "Ten CDs for the price of one!" Shortly thereafter, I started working to support my music habit and spending more time in record stores. My first few purchases in a used record store were enough to show me that that not everyone was taught to treat CDs with care. Similarly, during high school I loaned my copy of 311's eponymous album, Stone Temple Pilots "Purple", and Moby's "Everything Is Wrong" to various friends, and somehow, those are my only CDs that didn't survive the 90s unscathed. My initial reaction was to refuse to loan people CDs, unless and until I was able to first look at their CDs to determine if they knew how to properly treat them. Yeah, I was "that guy" and proper treatment of media is my pet peeve. Thankfully, the proliferation of the iPod (and more broadly, "digital media") has probably saved me from an early death due to heart disease.

Although CDs are now in their declining years, as of the date of this post, they are still readily available for check-out at my local public library. As there are fewer and fewer local record stores that contain "listening stations", I regularly go to the library just to flip through the racks and browse (an activity that Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and Pandora still haven't quite replicated). Usually, I end up checking-out a CD or ten. Why ten? Because, unfortunately, the habits of the general public are similar to those of my friends from high school, i.e. approximately 50% of the CDs I check-out are either scratched or dirty to the point that they will not play from start to finish with out skipping. Several library policies that pertain to this issue (e.g. Rules of Conduct, requiring that library property be treated with respect, a Municipal Code requiring cardholders to be responsible for the materials borrowed on their cards, a fee in the amount of the actual replacement cost of a destroyed item), but, to the best of my knowledge, they are rarely enforced and have done little to change people's behavior. When I bring damaged materials to the attention of library staff, they apologize, commiserate, and very politely explain that the library does not have the resources to review each item as it is returned (and therefore can't assign blame to the offending patron). Sometime, this explanation  is accompanied by a prolonged, disappointed, *sigh* (which may or may not come from yours truly).

So... in honor of the copy of Tool's "Opiate" that I checked-out yesterday, which I discovered had a thin layer of peanut butter and jelly stuck to the bottom, here is a primmer on the proper handling of CDs:
  1. Handle CDs by grasping the edge and center. Do not touch the surface of the CD and do not use it as a plate on which you make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  2. When not using a specific CD, return it to its jewel case or sleeve and place them vertically. Do not place the CD on the closest convenient flat surface or stack of several CDs on-top of one another.
  3. Store CDs in a cool, dark location. Do not leave CDs in direct sunlight or on the dashboard of your car (especially in southern Arizona, where the ambient air temperature regularly exceeds 100° F for several months of the year).
  4. If a CD has somehow become dirty, clean it with a clean, soft, fabric cloth, from the center of the disc, to the edge. Do not rub around the CD in circles, use window cleaners, or scrub the CD with steel wool. Also, if you do not own the CD, do not attempt to use scratch repairing products.
For more information than you probably thought existed on this subject, read this helpful guide from the Council on Library and Information Resources titled "Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists".

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Laptop is Dead. Long Live the Laptop! (Technology)

It's an inopportune time to purchase a new laptop. Unless, of course, you know exactly what you want and have the courage of your convictions. By that, I mean there currently exists an abundance of choice when it comes to portable computing devices, many of which sport new form factors, operating systems, and user interfaces. Almost as important, many of these new devices are designed to support (or, more cynically, are designed to be locked into) specific entertainment and application "ecosystems". The gadget geek side of me is thrilled, as this provides endless entertainment, in the form of tech news, rumors, reviews, and comparisons, as reported by AnandTech,  Engadget, gdgt, or The Verge. However, the pragmatist side of me knows my MacBook is three-years old, and, while I'm perfectly content to continue using it (especially with the recent upgrade to a 256GB Crucial m4 SSD), if I had to replace it today, I'd have a very difficult time deciding what to get. I initially began thinking about this issue a few months ago, when trying to decide whether to purchase a new laptop, and while I ultimately concluded an SSD upgrade for my old machine was the best choice for me, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at what was available before coming to that conclusion.

I first looked for the closest direct replacement for my aging MacBook (Late 2009), which is the MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2012). However, I've been less than thrilled with Apple and OS X in recent years, for various reasons, e.g. MacBook kernel panics that appear to result from Apple's Bluetooth device drivers conflicting with virtualization software, the skeuomorphic design elements introduced in OS X Lion, as well as the general iOS-ification of OS X, the push toward Apple-App-Store-approved signed software, but I digress. While most of my issues probably wouldn't be encountered by the typical user, let's just say that I was a Mac User when Apple was doomed, and, much to my chagrin, I am no loner an unpaid-Apple evangelist, preaching the virtues of owning a computer that "just works". These days, I spend most of my time using the operating system of the unwashed masses (i.e. Windows 7) and honestly, with how much of my computing experience now occurs in the web browser, the choice of operating system has become less significant. In light of the above, it didn't make sense for me to "pay the Apple tax" when buying a new computer, so I started to look at other options.

I was surprised to discover that no one was making a PC laptop that exactly met my standards. Every machine I considered seemed to require that I make compromises in some important aspect (e.g. display resolution, display quality, input device quality, battery life, etc.). I looked seriously a the Asus N series, Lenovo ThinkPad T series, and Samsung Series 7 machines, but didn't find any one compelling enough to purchase. Meanwhile, the iPad mini, new Kindle Fire HD tablets, Google Nexus tablets, Microsoft Surface,  and Windows 8 touchscreen laptops were released. After sifting through what felt like an endless number of slightly different products, instead of asking, "Which laptop should I get?" I found myself thinking, "Do I still need/want a laptop?". While I haven't spent enough time with Windows 8 to really know its virtues and pitfalls, it only took thirty minutes of "kicking the tires" at my local Microsoft Store to decide that I would only want to use Windows 8 on a device with a touchscreen. Further, I was able to determine that the first-generation Windows 8 touchscreen machines don't meet my exacting standards.

Notebooks and ultrabooks and tablets. Oh, my!

While I don't currently own an iPad (I could say tablet computer here... but I've already spent enough in the Apple App Store that I'm entrenched in the Apple ecosystem), this is not due to a lack of desire. I've thus far remained strong, telling myself that "really really wanting" an iPad isn't a good enough reason to buy one. I've been on the cusp of buying an iPad several times, however, until now, when I've reviewed my portable computing needs, I've found that a vast majority of what I want a portable computer to do, is either easily accomplished with my iPhone 4 or better accomplished with a full fledged computer. I ultimately decided that, lacking a compelling "traditional" Windows 7 laptop, and as the industry is clearly in transition, that it made the most sense to upgrade my MacBook. Also, while it's convenient to have a laptop available for lounging on the couch, traveling, and the occasional Torchlight II / Diablo III LAN party, I no longer need one.

The Laptop is Dead. Long live the laptop!