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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA



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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Hello Discness, My Old Friend

(Sunday’s dose of Secondhand SCIENCE was transactinides, a series of elements like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If peanut butter was radioactive. And if jelly was shot onto the bread inside a laser beam. And the sandwich fell apart spontaneously in a matter of seconds.

Oh, it makes more sense over there. Just go read it. I’ll wait.)

It’s easy, in this era of instant Twitter-pating and same-day Amazon pizza delivery, to forget what life used to be like in the old days. Back when we couldn’t take tepid coffee megachain wifi for granted. When paying for fast food meant handling filthy paper money. Or renting a movie involved unplastering our keisters from the ass-dents on our couches.

Those were dark times, and best forgotten. But every once in a while they grab at us again, like scary clawing ghosts clutching at the souls of the living. With unclipped nails. And fangs. And dialup modems.

I know, right? Terrifying.

I thought I was beyond the grip of these haunting memories, that I’d surrounded myself with enough bandwidth and hardware and app-enabled magic to live the connected life without looking back. I order dinner through a website. I conjure transportation with my phone. My web browsers sync on six different devices with three operating systems, located in two different towns plus the current GPS location of my left pocket. I’m plugged in. Net-enabled. Short of ordering emergency Q-tips with Google Glass — because I live in the wrong area code, and DAMN YOU, SAN FRANCISCO — I’m fully optimized for speed, convenience and flexibility.

“I don’t want that. It sounds whiny and Canadian. Pass.”

Or so I thought. Then I found a new band I like. And those fangy ghosts got their teeth into me.

The problem, as usual, is me. First of all, I can’t just get into new music the way some normal person would — listening to the radio or checking out “what’s hot!!!1!eleventy!” on some music show or service. That’s way too easy.

Also, that might wind up exposing me to that bubonic Bieber thing people are always furrowing their brows about. I don’t want that. It sounds whiny and Canadian. Pass.

Instead, I got myself interested in a more obscure and oddball genre of music — upbeat modern songs with various ethnic influences, or “worldtronica”, if you don’t mind me porting your manteu. Homina.

It turns out there’s a bunch of this sort of music out there — but not so much of it by American groups, a fair amount of it not in English, and quite a lot of it pretty hard to find online.

(Well. Hard to find legally, anyway. I have no doubt that every bit of marketable music that’s ever been mused is in a torrent somewhere, waiting to be downloaded in bits from fourteen different servers like a catchy little jigsaw puzzle.

But I don’t go down that road. [If you feel like that sentence needs an “Any more.” tag… I’ll allow it.]

Frankly, I like getting the bands I like whatever of my money trickles back through the system to them. And since some of this music is fairly obscure, maybe mine is even a measurable chunk of the total. I mean, I don’t expect a thank-you card for downloading an album. But maybe I’m paying for a guitar pick.

[Or an ektare string, or a bodhran tipper. Seriously, some of these people play some cool shit.]

Also, pirating music leads to computer diseases, and takes up bandwidth. I don’t want to deal with the former, and I need the latter for ordering pizzas and streaming Fry and Laurie reruns. I’m tapped out.)

Long story short, I found a new-to-me band I like — Hungarian, if that makes a difference — and I really wanted to buy one of their older albums, from a decade ago. But it was never released here, not available on the music sites I frequent, and so far as I know never converted for sale in digital format. On every shopping site, I came up empty. So I went deep-digging.

Finally, I found a way to get it. On Amazon UK, one third-party seller had a copy to sell. But it wasn’t MP3s — the only way I’ve bought or listened to music in years — and it wasn’t available to download. So I entered my credit card number with my best British accent, and I bought an actual, honest-to-god compact disc, from some guy in England. Who sent it through the mail.

Be still, my twitching synapses. It’s like 1992, all over again.

And so, for two weeks these old, now-foreign sensations swept over me. Every day, I pored over the mail — not email, mind you, but physical, touch-it-and-read bills and catalogs and physical-mail-spam, whatever the hell that’s called — looking for the package.

When it finally arrived — finally!; in a world where Amazon Prime can’t help you, how do you find the strength to go on living? — it was, as advertised, an actual compact disc. Like a specter — sorry, it’s British, spectre — from the past, come to shake its rotting bony grooves at me. I dropped it into the DVD drive on my computer; even the slot it goes into has changed names since it died. And then I spent an hour remembering how the hell that fiddly bit on my music player software works to rip a CD.

There was a time — shut your peach-fuzzed ass up, whippersnappers — when I’d rip a CD every week. I still remember, many moons ago, when I went through the whole disc collection I’d amassed, converting one by one to MP3 format, before physical music media had completely bitten the big one. But this little round alien I’d just received from across the Atlantic didn’t even make sense any more. Does the software still do that? Would the drive even read it? And what do I do with the disc afterward? Toss it? Frame it? Use it as a coaster?

Eventually, I sorted everything out and managed to extract the tunes off the metal monster from abroad. But the whole experience — two weeks of waiting, touching actual media, renaming files manually — just reminded me of how far we’ve come, in just a few short years. How much easier and faster and streamlined and interconnected life has gotten. But mostly, how much I don’t want to go back. Give me speed and convenience any old time, preferably via touchscreen interface and delivered from the cloud.

Which makes this new music kick of mine a real dilemma. What happens the next time I decide I want some barely-available bit of tunage? I don’t know if I can go back to the “old ways” again. If it comes down to ripping CDs or giving in to the likes of Bieber, I don’t know what I’m going to do. But I’m starting to feel a fever. Yikes.

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Highlights
Me on Film 'n' Stage:
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Me on Science (silly):
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Me on Science (real):
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Favorite Posts:
30 Facts: Alton Brown
A Commute Dreary
A Hallmark Moment
Blue's Clues Explained
Eight Your 5-Hole?
El Classo de Espanol
Good News for Goofballs
Grammar, Charlie-Style
Grammar, Revisitated
How I Feel About Hippos
How I Feel About Pinatas
How I Feel About Pirates
Life Is Like...
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Wheel of Misfortune
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  09/06/04: Connection

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  #35: My Spring Break
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