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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!
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More of the Shame

There’s only one good part to not being able to have nice things. It’s that almost no one else can have nice things, either. So I was very schadenpleased to read an article today detailing how bad Google’s Instant Mix feature of their new music upload cloudhickey appears to be.

Not because I hate Google. I like Google. They search things for me and they made my phone and probably they’ve got all my passwords and copies of my house keys and they’re watching us. Right. Now.

(Hey, Google! Great to see you, buddy! Just saying nice things about how Big Brother-y you’re not. Hiya!)

But the thing is, I want to great lengths and no small expense — because I was forced to, basically — to obtain a system that makes playlists of my music that’s like other songs that I tell it about. It’s not Google’s tool — instead, it’s a different and very fancy system, with a sophisticated proprietary algorithm constantly analyzing and comparing my music catalog to deduce similarity based on a wide range of subtle musical factors.

It’s also an enormous steaming pile of goat scat.

Much like Instant Mix, from the looks of things, which gives me a certain measure of guilty pleasure in knowing that other people are as frustrated with their playlister as I am. Misery loves cacophony, as the audiophiles say.

(All right, fine. Nobody says that. But they totally should. Somebody write that one down. It’s a ‘keeper’.)

“Misery loves cacophony, as the audiophiles say.”

So how did I wind up with my very own wonky playlist wizard, my personal pea-brained Pandora impostor? It all started nearly two years ago, when the missus and I moved into our new condo…

>– wavy flashback lines –<

>– wavy flashback lines –<

>– wavy flashback lines –<

When we visited this place, we fell in love with it. And part of that hearty throbbing was due to the music the current owners were playing while we toured — from fancy in-wall speakers built into nearly every room in the joint. The folks before them had done a lot of work — and a fat lot of good most of those ‘updates’ did for us twenty years after the fact, when they were all aged and ‘to-dos’ again.

But the speakers were a revelation. With the music flowing from room to room, I could just imagine us there in the space, living our vastly-improved lives together. I’d make a romantic candlelight dinner which we’d eat in the dining room — no couch-munching for us! — while steeping in the strains of some lusty aria or acoustic crooner or whatever CD I thought might get me laid. I’d probably drop my fork or lose a chicken leg on the floor, and wander back to the kitchen, still listening to the music. We’d chase the dog down the hallway for stealing the bird, rush into the bathroom retching because I never learned how to cook a chicken properly, and collapse exhausted and nauseous and unsexified into bed — all the while hearing the music coming out of the walls.

It was like a dream.

(Only in the real dream, we eat KFC and they give us fourteen plastic sporks and the dog is locked in a kennel and nobody needs Maalox and maybe someone winds up getting chickeny finger grease on someone else’s underpants.

Clearly, I need more help here than just the new condo. But it was a start, damn you.)

So we bought the place, eventually moved in and expected the rest to be history. Only the rest wasn’t history. Instead, it was mockery — in the form of a funny-looking tangle of wires snaking from a hole in the corner of the dining room. And in the oh-so-very-silent speakers attached to one end of those wires, and waiting impatiently for fancy stereo equipment to be connected to the other.

Fine, said I. I’ve got my old hand-me-down Pioneer hi-fi I bought back in college — off an actual pioneer, probably, or perhaps a gold-rusher heading west. The wires shot me a thin little smile, as if to say, ‘You think you’re going to plug that nasty thing into me? Nuh-uh, mister. I don’t think so.

(Senior prom, all over again. At least back then, I got a limo ride for my troubles. This time, nothing — except a mild electrical shock. And not the good kind.)

Turns out, these were proprietary wires, and they’d only deign to lock circuits with a high-class component. From a specific company. A high-class company, known for their overwrought and expensive audio equipment, and maybe we should just hold off on looking at these wires until our eyeballs unbulge themselves after our first mortgage statement.

So we waited. And every day, the speakers mocked us with their silence. In the bathroom, they sneered. In the bedroom, they huffed. And in the kitchen — well, they mostly laughed at my sickly raw chicken, but they mocked. There was most definitely mocking.

Finally, we broke down and Christmas’ed a stereo to each other. The previous year’s model, but it ate a big chunk of the holiday budget. I think we exchanged cards — and maybe packs of Juicy Fruit — but that was about it, besides the stereo. Still — months after moving in, and staring at those useless speakers hanging mute in the walls, we finally filled our house with music. Just as we’d hoped all along. I sorted out the electronics, crammed those prissy little wires up where the subwoofer don’t shine, transferred all our music over, and we were all set. And the first thing we were itching to try was the fancy playlist feature we’d been told about at the store.

‘More of the Same’, we call it,” said our salesman. “Play any song, and the system will automagically find similar music in your library and develop a one hundred-song playlist, right there on the spot. Any musical soundscape you desire, right at your fingertips.

I asked if it was anything like Pandora — or if their fancy little music box also gave us access to Pandora.

With More of the Same,” he dripped, “you don’t NEED Pandora.

Well, that sounded nice. And — thanks to a fair bit of auditory adventurousness on our parts — we had the right library for variety. We’ve got old college rock, new college rock, hard rock, pop, heavy stuff, classical stuff, electronic stuff, jazzy stuff, traditional stuff, world music, funky stuff, and — lord help me, I’ve tried to fend it off — an Elvis Presley Christmas album. I don’t know where it came from, and my wife won’t let me drown it in bleach. So it’s on there, too.

Elvis, however, is not the problem. The problem, it turns out, is one CD worth of music by a band that I’m not a particular fan of — Limp Bizkit. I don’t despise them, but this album turns out to really not be my style. We’ve got nothing else in our collection like it. I bought it a while back for one song, which quickly got rather stale, and I never listened to much of the rest. I ripped it down to MP3s years ago, and forgot it was even in the collection.

Until we hooked up those speakers, and dealt with ‘More of the Same’. We now have — no exaggeration — over eight thousand songs loaded onto that infernal machine. All sorts of music, in genres all over the map. And it doesn’t matter what we play, artist or album or track:

ALL ROADS LEAD TO BIZKIT

Fire up a Beethoven piece — Limp Bizkit’s in the first dozen songs. Spin through an old Replacements set — next up, it’s BIzkit. Mike Doughty — Bizkit. Orbital — Bizkit. Harry Connick, Jr. covers classic songs from the annals of Broadway classics? BIZKIT, BIZKIT, BIZKIT.

The CD has maybe ten songs. Ten out of eight thousand, and I’m fairly embarrassed to own even one. But they’re roughly eighty percent of the music coming out of those speakers. I hear Fred Durst’s voice more than I hear my wife’s. And that is not conducive to happy-time dreamland sleep. Not one bit. It’s almost enough to drive a guy to Yuletide Elvis, just for a change of pace.

Almost.

Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to get music off that newfangled one-track gizmo, and I’ll purge the Bizkit right out from under its nose. Until then, I’m not so heartbroken to hear that this brand spanking new Google playlist service isn’t all its cracked up to be, either. Maybe someday they’ll get the technology right.

Until then, I guess it’s Bizkit as usual. These snarky speakers aren’t going to listen to themselves. Play it again, Fred.

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