Tag Archives: sonos

Moving Pictures and Life in Thirds

Rush’s “Moving Pictures” turns 35 this weekend, released February 12, 1981. While I had a passing interest in the trio before then, having heard “Spirit of the Radio” on New York and Philly FM stations with some regularity, it was “Limelight” and “Tom Sawyer”, played first on WYSP (Trenton) and then religiously on my own brand-new component stereo system that turned me into a lifelong Rush fan. It’s the only album that my sister and I both purchased (aside from some Partridge Family noise of the 1970s, but you get a hall pass for music you whine your parents into buying at a 7-11). It has one of the most visually pun-rich covers (on the front, men moving art, and the secondary pun of people moved by the moving art, on the back, the sight gag that the whole front shot was a moving picture set), which has infused recursive references into Rush tour interstitials for the ensuring 35 years. It’s nerd nirvana before you even drop the tone arm on the first track, the phased shifted, slightly spacey opening punch of “Tom Sawyer.” That was me, in every sense, in 1981.

"Moving Pictures" front cover (source: Wikipedia)

“Moving Pictures” front cover (source: Wikipedia)

Moving Pictures neatly divides my life into thirds reflected around the axis of my relationship with Rush: its release; their hiatus; and their semi-official retirement.

“Moving Pictures” is one of the few albums I can listen to end to end, finding something different each time, depending upon my mood and the context. The morning commute is enriched by “Camera Eye” as much as “Red Barchetta”. I find codon-inspired irony in using “YYZ” as an MTV-like soundtrack for EWR, SFO or FRA; it was the song that introduced me to 3-letter airport codes which have defined the vertices of my business graph since 1989. “Vital Signs” had an eerie video that I caught on Don Kirschner’s late night “Rock Concert” while home over some school break, and the “breaking sound” on YYZ is still one of the best recorded and appropriate effects in any rock song (it’s the sound of wind chimes being slapped against a wood table, not a brick thrown through a plate glass window as many of us believed). “Moving Pictures” was one of the first albums I bought after carefully weighing the opportunity cost of the $8 investment of my summer earnings (about three hours of after-tax pay, at that time), an anchor store to an album collection that expanded from under 100 to over 600 vinyl sleeves in about six years. Seeing Rush perform the whole album at Madison Square Garden, with my son and some friends in tow, was a life experience. Attempting to learn the bass lines to some of that music cements my position that it represents Geddy Lee at his technical and phrasing best, not just following the guitar lines but leading a wholly counterpoint melody that pulls the listener in all sorts of aural adventures.

First period: “Moving Pictures” makes me a rock and roll listener, for life.

The next 18 years are classic young adulthood: jobs, marriage, kids, multiple moves, the cultural void that comes from having young children, and then my insistence that our kids listen to “good music” rather than Barney or Raffi. Our kids were raised on a diet of classic rock before having an XM station made that a bit easier. Our daughter’s first “big concert” was seeing Santana in August 1995, the night Jerry Garcia died, an intense confluence of introducing a new generation to “my music” and also having a larger than life force in that music taken from us. It was the first time I had that feeling, and one that has become far too frequent in the last few years. For our son, his indoctrination came two years later, just a few months after his third birthday, when we caught the Holy Trinity at PNC Bank Arts Center. That show was one for the ages, opening with “Dreamline” (which Ben referred to as “We Are Young”, a reference to the chorus) and bookended by “Red Barchetta” and “Limelight” near the open with “Tom Sawyer” and “YYZ” at the close. It was as close to a perfect concert experience as you could get for a young fan, with liberal doses of songs he knew coupled with introductions to newer (or older) material that would become part of his musical heritage over the next 18 years.

Two months after that show, Rush went on hiatus as Neil Peart handled tragedies in his personal life. Second period: I graduate from technical adult to parenting adult, and the foundation of a father-son relationship is laid only to be quietly subdued again.

What “Moving Pictures” was for my formative music listening years, “Vapor Trails” was for Ben – a vivid, acoustically wonderful set of experiences. Four years into the last third of the current storyline, Rush returned to our lives, and we began a decade plus of ten concerts that took us from New Jersey to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas. If you look carefully along the left side of this arena photograph (framed in both of my offices), where the seats meet the floor, you’ll see us cheering, singing, punching the air along with “The Temples of Syrinx” from the Boston Garden show of October 2012, Ben’s freshman year at university, the song set to play again one generational octave lower. And then, with this year’s summer show in Las Vegas, just in time for my 53rd birthday, Rush implied their retirement from touring, and perhaps from music. And so we find ourselves back at the second intermission once again, a young adult and a middle-aged adult, wondering if there’s an extra stanza to come.

Never underestimate the power of music to forge lifelong connections, a sentiment proven by scientific research sponsored by Sonos and Apple (two major contributors to my music listening experience in the current frame), and replete with suggestions for finding the right musical accompaniment to your Valentine’s Day. For me, the final third has about a year to go — one filled with music, Rush references, puns, bass lessons, parenting, summer concert tours, and thinking in thirds, fourths and fifths.

2015 Gift Guide, Snowman Style

I’ve slightly edited my gift guide for 2015, based on availability, practicality, and functionality. It’s what to get for people who have things, or for whom gift giving is remarkably hard, or who have unique tastes, or if you just want to elicit the massive exhalation upon gift wrap deconstruction.

Jewelry For A Cause. It’s jewelry with a purpose, for a social movement, and it’s beautifully crafted. My favorite is the Caliber Collection, cuff links and bracelets made from bullet casings and destroyed guns taken off the streets, leaving the serial numbers as a bas-relief link between construction and destruction. Take the admonition to “beat swords into plowshares” and spur interesting conversation at work or a party. Be good and look good. (About $250).

Schneider iPro Lens Kit. This is now my “go to” for concerts and just walking around new cities. Wide-angle, telephoto and macro lenses in a single carrying “tube” that slips into your pocket easily. (Yes, someone at a Phish show asked me what kind of pipe that was, and when I said it was for my iPhone, he said “Cool, a pipe for your phone”). Even if you eschew the phone-wielding crowd at shows (a camp to which I’m gravitating), it’s nice to be able to capture some landscape shots outdoors with a simple snap-on to the phone. You can buy the case (in case you upgrade or in my situation, lose, your phone) and keep the same lenses, or just buy specific lenses: iPro Lens System Trio Kit for iPhone 6 For $200 it fits the intermediate point between a vanilla iPhone and a full-size DSLR body (Between $180 and $300).

Borrowlenses gift card. Let’s say the photo-nerd in your life won’t spring for that $5,000 piece of glass, but really wants to be able to get some high-quality shots on your next trip, or you want to use an extra wide aperature lens to shoot an event without having to invest the equivalent of 100 tickets in the process. Enter BorrowLenses, where you can rent a wide variety of photo gear for 3 days to a month. I’ve used this to get super telephoto lenses, or to audition gear before deciding what to buy (better to spend $180 on a weekend rental than be to annoyed with an $800 lens that isn’t quite as fast as you had hoped). Their gift certificates encourage experimentation, which is part of the fun of photography. You can now pick up your lenses at their retail locations in New York City and the San Francisco bay area, which saves on shipping and time. ($100 for something reasonable, but gift cards in any amount).

Kiva gift card. Kiva is a microlending site – you make interest-free loans, $25 (or more) at a time, to the unbanked populations around the world. Whether it’s buying supplies for a bodega in Tanzania, or funding engine repair for a driver in South America, the aggregation of those $25 credits into $800-$5,000 short-term loans makes a difference. It’s not charity; it’s a continuous (over the course of tens of months) cycle of re-investment in people. I’ve given Kiva gift cards to people who seem to “have everything” and the reaction is usually quite positive. If the recipient wants to cash out after making one loan, at least you’ve made an epsilon economic improvement wrapped around a gift card. ($25 minimum, and a nice gift).

Patreon. It’s easy to be a patron of the arts when you have millions laying around. If you have single dollars lounging electronically, direct them to people who are creating art and get a “behind the scenes” view of the process. For $5/month (on average), you get previews, interesting Q&A, and in some cases not-quite-public art. Create a PayPal account, fill it up with gift money, then direct your giftee to use it to support the arts. I’m a huge fan of Jeph Jacques and while I’ve purchased a variety of books and t-shirts from him, I’m kind of full up in those patterns. Supporting his Patreon gives me a bit more of my daily-Jeph-dosing including forays into music and other things that make his slightly left of center mind tick. ($60 is $5 a month for a year)

Sonos Play:1 or Play:3. I outfitted the house with all Sonos gear this summer, and removed about 80 pounds (seriously!) of speakers, amplifiers, cables and mess. We have a Play:1 in the kitchen, and I use a play of SONOS PLAY:3 Smart Speaker
in my office. Having music follow you around makes doing any sort of repetitive labor fun, whether it’s prep work in the kitchen or filing those expense reports with the four crumpled paper receipts from Taco Bell. Most important, it’s changed the way I listen to and discover music. I’m hearing subtle details I’ve missed before (that high-end percussive theme on “Promised Land:” glockenspiel!) and I’m able to create loudness from just about any source on the ‘net – radio, streaming services, or the whole family music library I’ve loaded onto a NAS drive in the basement. (About $200 for a single Play:1. $300 for a Play:3)

Live Music, Now. Give someone a StubHub gift certificate, so they can see the live music (or sporting event) of their choice. I’m noticing that the premium over face on most tickets on StubHub is retreating back to something resembling a fair spread, and in some cases no worse than the collection of insane fees you’d pay to Ticketmaster or Telecharge. (Any amount supports your favorite artists)

Live Music, Later. Very early in 2015 I started taking bass lessons after 30-plus years of wishing, thinking, procrastinating, and rationalizing my misunderstanding of the bass clef (old saxophone and clarinet players have this treble clef preference that took years to unwind). It’s one of the most fun things I’ve done. Find a studio that accepts adult students, and buy a month of lessons — it’s very important to find a teacher who likes the same music as your potential student, and whose styles mesh. In my case, a huge hat tip to Max at So I Heard Music in Millburn, who has taught me that so much of the music I love goes down in a minor key. (About $150 for a month)

Meaningful Reading. My go-to is something personalized and signed by John Scalzi for the sci-fi fan on your list, but recently reading through the middle-aged Facebook lamentations of a kindler, simpler Long Beach Island made me think of Tales from an Endless Summer: A Novel of the Beach (A Cormorant Book). I’m also promoting high school classmate James Campion’s Shout It Out Loud: The Story of Kiss’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon. (Under $20)

Strong Community Memberships. My personal new favorite is “Cash Or Trade,” a site that pairs fans sick of Ticketmaster fees and Stubhub market pricing to buy and sell tickets at face value. I’ve used it several times when my late spring Phish tour planning didn’t quite coincide with work or other obligations and I found myself needing to shuffle paper. A gold membership is $24 and is the best value for using the site, since you can get real time notification when new inventory arrives. Slightly more Phish-y and related is a donation to the Mockingbird Foundation, a non profit founded by Phish fans to support music education (see previous idea for music lessons; crowdsource this for someone you don’t know through Mbird). And finally, the Music Maker Foundation fights for the rights, recognition and remuneration of Southern musicians who have suffered poverty, poor contracts, and obscurity.

The Snowman 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

Based on the rousing success (about seven people read it and based on amazon.com click-through rates, at least ten products were viewed) of last year’s Holiday Gift Guide, I humbly present the emergent, annual (almost), carefully researched and field tested Snowman Guide to Getting Gifts For Geeks Who Seem To Have Everything, But Need Something To Ooooh About.

Jewelry For A Cause. It’s jewelry with a purpose, for a social movement, and it’s beautifully crafted. My favorite is the Caliber Collection, cuff links and bracelets made from bullet casings and destroyed guns taken off the streets, leaving the serial numbers intact. Take the admonition to “beat swords into plowshares” and spur interesting conversation at work or a party. The Talisman collection is much more accessible price-wise, and could be a fun gift for that poker player in your life; the “In Gratitude” collection supports women in Uganda. Be good and look good. (About $250).

Schneider iPro Lens Kit. This is now my “go to” for concerts and just walking around new cities. Wide-angle, telephoto and macro lenses in a single carrying “tube” that slips into your pocket easily. (Yes, someone at a Phish show asked me what kind of pipe that was, and when I said it was for my iPhone, he said “Cool, a pipe for your phone”). Even if you eschew the phone-wielding crowd at shows (a camp to which I’m gravitating), it’s nice to be able to capture some landscape shots outdoors with a simple snap-on to the phone. There’s an iPhone 5S version and an iPhone 5 version and it appears you can get the lenses individually with just the snap-on case as well. For $200 it fits the intermediate point between a vanilla iPhone and a full-size DSLR body (Between $180 and $200).

Next year the Turn-I-Kit will be added, once it’s available through some retail/online channels. I got mine through the Kickstarter campaign, and while it’s still a bit rough to use, it is quite cool dangling your iPhone off the back of a 200mm f/2.8 lens.

Borrowlenses gift card. Let’s say the photo-nerd in your life won’t spring for that $5,000 piece of glass, but really wants to be able to get some high-quality shots on your next trip. Enter BorrowLenses, where you can rent a wide variety of photo gear for 3 days to a month. I’ve used this to get super telephoto lenses, or to audition gear before deciding what to buy (better to spend $180 on a weekend rental than be to annoyed with an $800 lens that isn’t quite as fast as you had hoped). Their gift certificates encourage experimentation, which is part of the fun of photography. ($100 for something reasonable, but gift cards in any amount).

Kiva gift card. Kiva is a microlending site – you make interest-free loans, $25 (or more) at a time, to the unbanked populations around the world. Whether it’s buying supplies for a bodega in Tanzania, or funding engine repair for a driver in South America, the aggregation of those $25 credits into $800-$5,000 short-term loans makes a difference. It’s not charity; it’s a continuous (over the course of tens of months) cycle of re-investment in people. I’ve given Kiva gift cards to people who seem to “have everything” and the reaction is usually quite positive. If the recipient wants to cash out after making one loan, at least you’ve made an epsilon economic improvement wrapped around a gift card. ($25 minimum, and a nice gift).

Patreon. It’s easy to be a patron of the arts when you have millions laying around. If you have single dollars lounging electronically, direct them to people who are creating art and get a “behind the scenes” view of the process. For $5/month (on average), you get previews, interesting Q&A, and in some cases not-quite-public art. Create a PayPal account, fill it up with gift money, then direct your giftee to use it to support the arts. I’m a huge fan of Jeph Jacques and while I’ve purchased a variety of books and t-shirts from him, I’m kind of full up in those patterns. Supporting his Patreon gives me a bit more of my daily-Jeph-dosing including forays into music and other things that make his slightly left of center mind tick. ($60 is $5 a month for a year)

53 tablet pencil. How quaint – a pencil. Yet if you express yourself in the Stern 14.6 point font on whiteboards enough, you know sometimes it’s just easier to draw. Now draw on your iPad, and share the images, and you have a whiteboard to go where you do your best thinking (yes, even in that room). I’m loving my Pencil by FiftyThree Digital Stylus since it “feels” like a pencil and has a variety of brushes (pencil, marker, paint) that’s somewhere in between drawing with a mouse and using a Wacom tablet. (About $50-70 depending upon finish)

Sonos Play:1. I outfitted the house with all Sonos gear this summer, and removed about 80 pounds (seriously!) of speakers, amplifiers, cables and mess. We have a SONOS PLAY:1 in the kitchen, and it makes breaking down cauliflower fun (recommended: Springsteen’s “Darkness On The Edge of Town”, it’s perfect for anything in the cabbage family). Most important, it’s changed the way I listen to and discover music. I’m hearing subtle details I’ve missed before (that high-end percussive theme on “Promised Land:” glockenspiel!) and I’m able to create loudness from just about any source on the ‘net – radio, streaming services, or the whole family music library I’ve loaded onto a NAS drive in the basement. (About $200 for a single Play:1)

John Scalzi autographed books. I have waxed, fawned, and exhibited the full spectrum of fanboy behaviors when it comes to John Scalzi. In addition to being a superb science fiction writer, he captures the zeitgeist of life in this decade with aplomb and poise. Each year, Scalzi offers personalized books for the holidays. Support a great writer, and a local bookstore. ($20 and up)

Live Music, Now. Give someone a StubHub gift certificate, so they can see the live music (or sporting event) of their choice. I’m noticing that the premium over face on most tickets on StubHub is retreating back to something resembling a fair spread, and in some cases no worse than the collection of insane fees you’d pay to Ticketmaster or Telecharge. (Any amount supports your favorite artists)

Live Musc, Then. Gift a year-long membership to Concert Vault and the recipient can stream access to the entire Bill Graham Presents catalog of classic shows, along with $5 pricing on downloads of those shows. Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, Talking Heads, and a seasons’ worth of Yes shows — all in one place. Personally, for the prog rocker on your “nice” list (as opposed to “The Nice” on your rock list, or the nice on your Unix process, but I digress), the 12-10-74 Yes show is worth the entire subscription price. It’s one of the few recordings of the “Relayer” tour (now 40 — yes FORTY — years old) with Patrick Moraz on keyboards, and the “Sound Chaser” opening freaked out a lot of long time Yes fans. Now, of course, it’s classic, and for $40 you can relive the moment (stream it to your Sonos Play:1!)

Merging iTunes Libraries

I’m slowly unwiring the house, replacing all of my Apple Airport Express base stations, mid-range amplifiers, and bookshelf speakers with Sonos wireless speaker systems. The difference in sound is palpable and impressive; I have bass response formerly reserved for live shows in my home office. As with all engineering projects, however, each step forward brings a new set of challenges. First up: combine my three iTunes libraries (on two different Macs and an external drive) into one NAS drive so all Sonos players can see it.

The first and most obvious step is to take the largest of the libraries (on my external drive) and copy it to the NAS drive. Simple enough; took about three hours to get everything onto its new home. Now for the other two libraries, which contain both entirely new bands I’ve discovered since I first moved my iTunes library off-shore and new albums by artists that previously existed in my iTunes library. The problem: iTunes organizes your music by artist, so if you just do a brute-force copy (or drag and drop), you’ll overwrite existing directories (full of lots of music) with the more sparsely populated but newer directories for artists that exist in both places.

While there’s probably some option in MacOS Finder to say “merge directories of the same name, copy those that don’t exist on the target” I found it much easier to create a bash shell script (which I’ve stupidly called “merge.sh”) to do exactly that:

#! /bin/bash
source=$1
target=$2
cd "$source"
oldIFS=$IFS
IFS=$(echo -en "\n\b")
for f in $( ls ) ;
do
        if [ -d "$target/$f" ]; then
                echo Group $f exists, copying contents
                cp -R $source/$f/ $target/$f/ 
        else
                echo Group $f is new, copying directory
                cp -R $source/$f $target
        fi
done
IFS=$oldIFS

Usage is simple:
bash merge.sh "/User/stern/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Music" /Volumes/Music
where the first directory is your source (in this case, where iTunes keeps things you’ve imported or downloaded from the store) and the second is the target (where I mounted my NAS drive). It’s important to use quotes around the directory names with spaces in them. The script itself is pretty simple — it generates a list of directory names in the source, and then checks to see if they exist in the target. If so, it uses the trailing-/ and -R options to the Unix cp tool to do a “contents of directory” copy, effectively merging the two; otherwise it just copies the named directory to the target, creating a new directory. The only other tricky part: Many of your artist and album directories will include spaces in their names, and that makes parsing them into arguments hard. Changing the IFS (input field separator) solves the problem – it removes space as a field separator, so that directory names with embedded spaces are treated as a single argument.