Main

February 26, 2004

Six Days

ItĖs six days before the surgery. Six days.

I have a GPS system. I played with it last night. It was fun. It led me to my destinations and came up with new ones. ThatĖs what GPS does.

Six days.

I drink only liquids right now, just like I will after the surgery. It helps clear the system, helps prepare me for what happens next. Instant breakfasts, Cream of Wheat, soy milk, powdered milk.

Six days.

There is a current of excitement as I push to get everything done and tied up at work. Things are tense here anyhow, but this adds a rush.

Six days.

I am elated.

Six days.

I am terrified.

Six days.

Seriously. Terrified. I alternate between excitement and terror. This is insanity. That it turns out it is the best possible thing I can do doesnĖt change the mind-numbing weirdness of the prospect. They are going in, and they are disabling healthy tissues and altering healthy organs, to make me healthy. Astounding.

Six days.

I drink a lot of water right now too. 48-64 ounces a day, accomplished by drinking a couple of quart jugs of water, plus a good amount of crystal light and sugar free kool aid. I feel odd, like maybe IĖll drain away. Well, that is the idea, isnĖt it?

Six days.

I have waited for this for so long.

Six days.

One out of two hundred. That doesnĖt sound as comforting as half of one percent, does it? One out of two hundred. There were three hundred people in the information meetings I attended. One and a half of the people there, by the odds, wouldnĖt make it. One out of two hundred. I play the lottery on a regular basis, with absolute certainty that IĖll win. Those odds of winning Powerball, statistically, are 1 in 120,526,770. One out of two hundred.

Six days.

I met a woman when I went for my preadmission physical. I also learned that Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital uses a pneumatic tube delivery system. IsnĖt that the coolest thing? ItĖs like IĖm getting my surgery performed in 1930Ės New York. The womanĖs last name was Burns, just like mine, so she struck up a conversation with me. She was an attractive woman, with a nice figure. She was having some skin removed -- sheĖd had the gastric bypass in 2001, and was doing some followup. She lost 260 lbs. She looked fantastic and was cheerful.

Six days.

260 pounds would put me very close to goal weight. Very close. Astounding to consider. In the meantime, my legs and knees hurt a great deal. I canĖt take ibuprofin for a week before and six weeks after the surgery. ItĖs a blood thinner. Very dangerous. And tylenol... look, Tylenol means well, and always offers to participate and helps clean up after class, but itĖs just not knuckling down and performing, yĖknow?

Six days.

This is going to change my life. No matter what happens next, no one can ever claim I didnĖt try. I am making my leap of faith. I am stepping through today into tomorrow. I will walk. I will run. I will climb. I will learn to dance.

Six days.

I will learn to dance.

Six Days

ItĖs six days before the surgery. Six days.

I have a GPS system. I played with it last night. It was fun. It led me to my destinations and came up with new ones. ThatĖs what GPS does.

Six days.

I drink only liquids right now, just like I will after the surgery. It helps clear the system, helps prepare me for what happens next. Instant breakfasts, Cream of Wheat, soy milk, powdered milk.

Six days.

There is a current of excitement as I push to get everything done and tied up at work. Things are tense here anyhow, but this adds a rush.

Six days.

I am elated.

Six days.

I am terrified.

Six days.

Seriously. Terrified. I alternate between excitement and terror. This is insanity. That it turns out it is the best possible thing I can do doesnĖt change the mind-numbing weirdness of the prospect. They are going in, and they are disabling healthy tissues and altering healthy organs, to make me healthy. Astounding.

Six days.

I drink a lot of water right now too. 48-64 ounces a day, accomplished by drinking a couple of quart jugs of water, plus a good amount of crystal light and sugar free kool aid. I feel odd, like maybe IĖll drain away. Well, that is the idea, isnĖt it?

Six days.

I have waited for this for so long.

Six days.

One out of two hundred. That doesnĖt sound as comforting as half of one percent, does it? One out of two hundred. There were three hundred people in the information meetings I attended. One and a half of the people there, by the odds, wouldnĖt make it. One out of two hundred. I play the lottery on a regular basis, with absolute certainty that IĖll win. Those odds of winning Powerball, statistically, are 1 in 120,526,770. One out of two hundred.

Six days.

I met a woman when I went for my preadmission physical. I also learned that Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital uses a pneumatic tube delivery system. IsnĖt that the coolest thing? ItĖs like IĖm getting my surgery performed in 1930Ės New York. The womanĖs last name was Burns, just like mine, so she struck up a conversation with me. She was an attractive woman, with a nice figure. She was having some skin removed -- sheĖd had the gastric bypass in 2001, and was doing some followup. She lost 260 lbs. She looked fantastic and was cheerful.

Six days.

260 pounds would put me very close to goal weight. Very close. Astounding to consider. In the meantime, my legs and knees hurt a great deal. I canĖt take ibuprofin for a week before and six weeks after the surgery. ItĖs a blood thinner. Very dangerous. And tylenol... look, Tylenol means well, and always offers to participate and helps clean up after class, but itĖs just not knuckling down and performing, yĖknow?

Six days.

This is going to change my life. No matter what happens next, no one can ever claim I didnĖt try. I am making my leap of faith. I am stepping through today into tomorrow. I will walk. I will run. I will climb. I will learn to dance.

Six days.

I will learn to dance.

January 22, 2004

The Alchemy of the Slow Cooker

I used to say that I was culinarily impaired. "I need special ramps to use the toaster," I would say. That would get a chuckle, and then I'd tell the regretfully true story of how once I toasted a plate, while leaving the bread on the kitchen counter. This was when I was a teenager. The counter was orange. The plate was quite small. It was four in the morning, so perhaps there is some slack that can be had.

I don't tell those stories now. Instead, I have begun, slowly, to learn the arts arcane. The alchemy of the kitchen is rich and warm, and raw foods combine to make the most remarkable creations. Set free by the wild magic of approximation and experimentation, any two edible things can together make something new. New and often better than the components.


Last night I prepared for tonight's dinner. As with all good spells, it began with a cauldron. This one was black and ceramic, however, fitting in a metal sheath with a low and high setting. Crock. Pot. One fits within the other. Its scientific name is 'slow cooker,' but no matter what magicks I learn from Alton Brown and no matter what scientific names he ascribes to it, cooking is not science. Perhaps one day, for me, it will be art, but for now it is a craft. It is construction paper cut apart and pasted together with Elmer's, for my own pleasure. If I do it well, my mother may hang it on the refrigerator.

This is my best alchemy. It starts with chuck roast, steak cut so the muscle fibers are short. But that sits in the fridge. I need it to begin, but it is the last to be added to the slow cauldron.

Onion is first. It would be best to have fresh, they say, but onion's purpose in this pot is to change and almost vanish, to impart flavor to the broth and become texture without form. To make the parts that aren't meat all the grander. So I take the frozen chopped and slide some in. White crystal chunks of onion spread out over the black ceramic of the pot's bottom.

The first is potato. I have potatoes now. Real ones, that wait for peeling. But this was late and I was not prepared to play with knives, no matter how grand my Christmas knives are. So out come cans. A can of whole potatoes that turns out to have two tiny potatoes and one giant one, so I drain and dump within and, with freshly washed hands, I reach down and break the large one apart. Chunks of potato in my hands. I then add a second can, this time sliced, and there is potato enough. I do not need to touch the sliced potato with my hand.

I have carrots too, sitting in the bottom of my fridge, but pot roast is not a time for slicing. Tonight, when the dregs of one meal becomes the base of another, I will slice fresh potato and fresh carrot and add them, but for today, another can gives up orange goodness, mixing with the white of onion and the gold of potato. A blend of colors.

And then comes spice.


The modern alchemist has his own tools and accoutrements. Gone are the days of beaker and crucible, for the most part. Only the most arcane and well rounded enchanters use mortar and pestle. And for all too many, the open flame is disposed of in lieu of the glowing red electrical coil or the microwave.

The microwave itself is a wonderful, terrible device. It allows for the heating of food made elsewhere, the application of heat without cooking. For years, I 'cooked' with it, a panorama of premade meals and prepared things. The closest I came to cooking was pasta, and that rarely.

Then, I started making what I termed "Bachelor Casseroles." I learned a good method of making rice in the microwave, then added frozen vegetables, sometimes some kind of meat and some kind of sauce base -- golden cream of mushroom soup being the traditional -- mixed and microwaved again until hot. If there was cheese to be had, it would top it to make a crust. Not as good as a baked casserole, perhaps, but a casserole nonetheless, and with appropriate Mrs. Dash or Garlic or other simple spicing, something cooked. Something made. Something which, by virtue of its very randomness had never existed before in quite that form.

Then came the George Foreman Grill. This is a sandwich style grill, heating top and bottom at once, as no doubt you know. And sandwiches was its first result, of course. It took roast beef or turkey and cheese and vegetable and resulted in panini, the bread grilled flat and the foods combined. And the fear and surety of my non-cooking ability began to fade.

Then came the steamer. The steamer which turned eggs into perfectly hard cooked eggs, made a different quality of rice than the microwave, made vegetables glorious.

And then the Crock Pot. The Slow Cooker. Magical thing, that took ingredients and, unattended, made glorious things from them. And then I was cooking not just pot roast but stews and soups and dishes. Now I was truly cooking. Now the craft came easy, and fear was banished. Even a failed beef stew did not ruin it for me.

And make no doubt, I was learning new arts. Alton Brown and cooking shows and books and experimentation began to teach me the black sorcery of the kitchen. Oh, I was a hedge wizard at best, unsuitable for court and perhaps not able to call down rain, but I was learning which spices to use when, and what herbs were best on what vegetables, and how to coax what I wanted from my tools and -- if need be -- from my oven or stove.

Most recently, George Foreman brought his Rotisserie into my home. Now comes simple oven roasting. I am still learning this magic, but it goes well. Pork is now a glorious thing, and I have seen the black spice glaze of roast beef form before my eyes.

There are other tools -- a juicer, a bread maker, a cuisinart -- but these see little use, comparatively. For now. Given time, who can tell how often I might use this.

In the meantime, we have gained utensils. Good knives. A zester. A peeler. Spoons and ladles.

Slowly we learn.


For the spicing, I chose a bold blend. Old Bay, unknown to me until now but as familiar to Alton Brown as his beloved Kosher salt, made its first appearance. A pinch of said kosher salt -- a pinch more than my mother would use, but hardly much added sodium. Black pepper. Garlic powder. All over the potatoes and carrots and onions.

Then, the liquid. I usually use broth, but today beef consommé takes its place. A can of Campbell's, and then a can of water.

And then the meat comes out, and out of its package. It is deep red, somewhat marbled but not too badly. With this cut of meat, it looks almost like a too-thick steak, and perhaps that is apropos.

I start with the kosher salt again. Just the tiniest bit. Kosher salt is thick -- flakes and chunks, rather than grains -- and settles across the meat visibly. It is visceral. Then, I dust with garlic powder, then Old Bay, then Black Pepper. The same blend as before.

My hands freshly washed, I press the spice into the meat. Perhaps this is silly, but perhaps not. It connects me to the meat, to the food. I am part of this process. I am part of the cooking.

And then the meat is turned over, and the spicing is repeated. Both sides needed. Balance must be achieved. Both sides rubbed.

I lay the meat across the spiced vegetables and consommé, sitting atop it all. I add the lid, and lift the crock out of the pot, putting it in the fridge where it will lie in wait. I wash my hands of spice, and set a timer to remind me of dinner in the morning. I let it sit. I walk away.

Comes the dawn, just before seven, the timer will go off. At 6:58 I will lift the crock out, and set it in its chrome enclosure. I will turn the dial to 'low,' and I will again walk away. The magic, prepared hours before, will begin to flow. The alchemy will begin to occur.

By 7:40 the meat has changed color, and steam has collected on the top of the heavy glass lid. I leave it to work. All the day long, it will change and alter and percolate and cook. All the day long, it will become. And when I return home, sometime after five, its smell will have filled the apartment and the transformation will be near to complete. I will sit and chat with my cat, and then I will eat. Good food, made from base components. Hot and tasty and wholly unlike any other pot roast that came before or will come since. Gold from lead. Health from cans and packages.

Food.

I am no chef, but I can cook. I am no artist, but I have craft.

The remaining juices and consomme, blended together in the pot after I have eaten and packaged the leftover pot roast, will become the stock for beef stew. This will be where fresh carrots and potatoes are added, along with yet more frozen onions and some other frozen vegetables. This is where stew meat and flour will come to thicken and hearten. Thyme and cumin and basil and onion powder will join the spices already within. From this, food. Days worth of pot roast, days worth of stew.

And then? I have a yen to make Beef Bourgogne. I have all the ingredients. I have rice to serve it over, and two ways to cook it, not counting the stove.

Magic.

The Alchemy of the Slow Cooker

I used to say that I was culinarily impaired. "I need special ramps to use the toaster," I would say. That would get a chuckle, and then I'd tell the regretfully true story of how once I toasted a plate, while leaving the bread on the kitchen counter. This was when I was a teenager. The counter was orange. The plate was quite small. It was four in the morning, so perhaps there is some slack that can be had.

I don't tell those stories now. Instead, I have begun, slowly, to learn the arts arcane. The alchemy of the kitchen is rich and warm, and raw foods combine to make the most remarkable creations. Set free by the wild magic of approximation and experimentation, any two edible things can together make something new. New and often better than the components.


Last night I prepared for tonight's dinner. As with all good spells, it began with a cauldron. This one was black and ceramic, however, fitting in a metal sheath with a low and high setting. Crock. Pot. One fits within the other. Its scientific name is 'slow cooker,' but no matter what magicks I learn from Alton Brown and no matter what scientific names he ascribes to it, cooking is not science. Perhaps one day, for me, it will be art, but for now it is a craft. It is construction paper cut apart and pasted together with Elmer's, for my own pleasure. If I do it well, my mother may hang it on the refrigerator.

This is my best alchemy. It starts with chuck roast, steak cut so the muscle fibers are short. But that sits in the fridge. I need it to begin, but it is the last to be added to the slow cauldron.

Onion is first. It would be best to have fresh, they say, but onion's purpose in this pot is to change and almost vanish, to impart flavor to the broth and become texture without form. To make the parts that aren't meat all the grander. So I take the frozen chopped and slide some in. White crystal chunks of onion spread out over the black ceramic of the pot's bottom.

The first is potato. I have potatoes now. Real ones, that wait for peeling. But this was late and I was not prepared to play with knives, no matter how grand my Christmas knives are. So out come cans. A can of whole potatoes that turns out to have two tiny potatoes and one giant one, so I drain and dump within and, with freshly washed hands, I reach down and break the large one apart. Chunks of potato in my hands. I then add a second can, this time sliced, and there is potato enough. I do not need to touch the sliced potato with my hand.

I have carrots too, sitting in the bottom of my fridge, but pot roast is not a time for slicing. Tonight, when the dregs of one meal becomes the base of another, I will slice fresh potato and fresh carrot and add them, but for today, another can gives up orange goodness, mixing with the white of onion and the gold of potato. A blend of colors.

And then comes spice.


The modern alchemist has his own tools and accoutrements. Gone are the days of beaker and crucible, for the most part. Only the most arcane and well rounded enchanters use mortar and pestle. And for all too many, the open flame is disposed of in lieu of the glowing red electrical coil or the microwave.

The microwave itself is a wonderful, terrible device. It allows for the heating of food made elsewhere, the application of heat without cooking. For years, I 'cooked' with it, a panorama of premade meals and prepared things. The closest I came to cooking was pasta, and that rarely.

Then, I started making what I termed "Bachelor Casseroles." I learned a good method of making rice in the microwave, then added frozen vegetables, sometimes some kind of meat and some kind of sauce base -- golden cream of mushroom soup being the traditional -- mixed and microwaved again until hot. If there was cheese to be had, it would top it to make a crust. Not as good as a baked casserole, perhaps, but a casserole nonetheless, and with appropriate Mrs. Dash or Garlic or other simple spicing, something cooked. Something made. Something which, by virtue of its very randomness had never existed before in quite that form.

Then came the George Foreman Grill. This is a sandwich style grill, heating top and bottom at once, as no doubt you know. And sandwiches was its first result, of course. It took roast beef or turkey and cheese and vegetable and resulted in panini, the bread grilled flat and the foods combined. And the fear and surety of my non-cooking ability began to fade.

Then came the steamer. The steamer which turned eggs into perfectly hard cooked eggs, made a different quality of rice than the microwave, made vegetables glorious.

And then the Crock Pot. The Slow Cooker. Magical thing, that took ingredients and, unattended, made glorious things from them. And then I was cooking not just pot roast but stews and soups and dishes. Now I was truly cooking. Now the craft came easy, and fear was banished. Even a failed beef stew did not ruin it for me.

And make no doubt, I was learning new arts. Alton Brown and cooking shows and books and experimentation began to teach me the black sorcery of the kitchen. Oh, I was a hedge wizard at best, unsuitable for court and perhaps not able to call down rain, but I was learning which spices to use when, and what herbs were best on what vegetables, and how to coax what I wanted from my tools and -- if need be -- from my oven or stove.

Most recently, George Foreman brought his Rotisserie into my home. Now comes simple oven roasting. I am still learning this magic, but it goes well. Pork is now a glorious thing, and I have seen the black spice glaze of roast beef form before my eyes.

There are other tools -- a juicer, a bread maker, a cuisinart -- but these see little use, comparatively. For now. Given time, who can tell how often I might use this.

In the meantime, we have gained utensils. Good knives. A zester. A peeler. Spoons and ladles.

Slowly we learn.


For the spicing, I chose a bold blend. Old Bay, unknown to me until now but as familiar to Alton Brown as his beloved Kosher salt, made its first appearance. A pinch of said kosher salt -- a pinch more than my mother would use, but hardly much added sodium. Black pepper. Garlic powder. All over the potatoes and carrots and onions.

Then, the liquid. I usually use broth, but today beef consommé takes its place. A can of Campbell's, and then a can of water.

And then the meat comes out, and out of its package. It is deep red, somewhat marbled but not too badly. With this cut of meat, it looks almost like a too-thick steak, and perhaps that is apropos.

I start with the kosher salt again. Just the tiniest bit. Kosher salt is thick -- flakes and chunks, rather than grains -- and settles across the meat visibly. It is visceral. Then, I dust with garlic powder, then Old Bay, then Black Pepper. The same blend as before.

My hands freshly washed, I press the spice into the meat. Perhaps this is silly, but perhaps not. It connects me to the meat, to the food. I am part of this process. I am part of the cooking.

And then the meat is turned over, and the spicing is repeated. Both sides needed. Balance must be achieved. Both sides rubbed.

I lay the meat across the spiced vegetables and consommé, sitting atop it all. I add the lid, and lift the crock out of the pot, putting it in the fridge where it will lie in wait. I wash my hands of spice, and set a timer to remind me of dinner in the morning. I let it sit. I walk away.

Comes the dawn, just before seven, the timer will go off. At 6:58 I will lift the crock out, and set it in its chrome enclosure. I will turn the dial to 'low,' and I will again walk away. The magic, prepared hours before, will begin to flow. The alchemy will begin to occur.

By 7:40 the meat has changed color, and steam has collected on the top of the heavy glass lid. I leave it to work. All the day long, it will change and alter and percolate and cook. All the day long, it will become. And when I return home, sometime after five, its smell will have filled the apartment and the transformation will be near to complete. I will sit and chat with my cat, and then I will eat. Good food, made from base components. Hot and tasty and wholly unlike any other pot roast that came before or will come since. Gold from lead. Health from cans and packages.

Food.

I am no chef, but I can cook. I am no artist, but I have craft.

The remaining juices and consomme, blended together in the pot after I have eaten and packaged the leftover pot roast, will become the stock for beef stew. This will be where fresh carrots and potatoes are added, along with yet more frozen onions and some other frozen vegetables. This is where stew meat and flour will come to thicken and hearten. Thyme and cumin and basil and onion powder will join the spices already within. From this, food. Days worth of pot roast, days worth of stew.

And then? I have a yen to make Beef Bourgogne. I have all the ingredients. I have rice to serve it over, and two ways to cook it, not counting the stove.

Magic.

January 08, 2004

Playlists and Coffeemakers: Recapturing the Personal

It takes a good amount of time to come to terms with iTunes.

Our music collections have always been quasi-public affairs. We showed off our record collection to friends. We pointed with pride to the racks and racks of CDs we have. We kept huge boxes of tapes in the back seat of our cars, ready to be popped in at a moment's notice. We built careful mix tapes both for ourselves and for the people we liked. Having a large music collection showed good taste, good breeding, and an appreciation of the artistic. And when we managed to talk an attractive member of our preferred sex into our room, we had a huge range of mood music we could put on and hopefully help said person out of their underwear.

But, the problem with being quasi-public is... well, just anyone can end up seeing your music collection. The snotty girlfriend of your best friend can show up and snark about how much she hates the Bay City Rollers. The Music Geek Wannabe can snort when they see your prized collection of 45's, talking about how crap Foreigner was. So you shrink back, argue, or otherwise get put on the defensive. And the next time you look through your albums, you see that piece of music, make a face, and never listen to it again.

Do you have any idea how stupid that is? I mean, who gives a damn if you like Anne Murray? Well, besides Anne Murray herself. Is there anything as personal as what collections of sound you find appealing? Is there any reason what we like should be dictated by what other people like? I'm in my mid-thirties, not high school.

The worst I ever got with this comes from the mid-nineties, when I was living in Seattle with Bill, Dominic and T. While we were sitting around one day, I made some innocuous reference to Billy Joel.

"Oh, Christ," Dominic said. "I hate Billy Joel."

"Me too," Bill said. "Ugh."

Now, here I am. I'm an admitted geek. I'm living with geeks and nonconformists and men with Travolta hair. I'm (at that point) in my late twenties, and I'm an intelligent person.

"Oh Jesus," I thought to myself. "I didn't know Billy Joel sucked!" So I stopped listening to Billy Joel.

See, all three of my roommates at that time have musical tastes that appeal to me. They introduced me to hardcore Elvis Costello, to Bare Naked Ladies, to Kirsty Macall, to They Might Be Giants, to Bad Religion, to Oingo Boingo, to Stan Ridgway, to Tom Waits, to Warren Zevon, to the Jazz Butcher and that's just off the top of my head. About the only heavy music influences from my time in Seattle -- one of the music capitals of the world -- not from Bill or Dominic or T was jazz, and that's just because we had KPLU, which has to be the best jazz Public Radio station on Earth.

So, while I had always been a huge Billy Joel fan, I suddenly had doubts. And make no mistake, I was a huge fan. I went to his Bridge tour. I had all his albums. I listened to his greatest hits collection on shuffle.

Flash forward five years. I'm living in New Hampshire. I'm getting my CDs out of storage. I'm revisiting old favorites. I'm revelling a little. And I come across Glass Houses.

"Oh, that," I think. "Forget it. Billy Joel sucks."

Five years. Five years after an offhanded comment from a couple of guys who didn't like Billy Joel, and I was still marked. It was another year and a half before I started listening to him, and later still when I realized that what Bill and Dominic think of Billy Joel couldn't possibly matter less to my current life. Especially since I know almost all the friends I see on a regular basis like Billy Joel. Or love Billy Joel. Or want to bear children by Billy Joel.

(All right, I admit freely I think the 'Classical Composer William Joel' needs a good hearty punch to the stomach, but that has nothing to do with his music.)

Now... let's move to today. And to the iTunes Music Store.

Holy Mother Juggs and Speed.

Forget Kazaa and the original Napster and Grokster and all the rest. iTunes is phenomenal. You hear a song you like on TV, and one buck later it's yours. You remember an album you like, or a new one comes out, and ten bucks later you're listening to it. It's addictive and it's beautiful and it just plain works. iTunes is just plain fantastic.

And it's entirely personal.

No one is going to be walking through my apartment and chancing upon my iTunes playlist. If I walk into my office and see someone scrolling through something on my computer without asking, I'm going to make him wish he'd never been born. When it syncs to the iPod, it's syncing to my personal music machine, and no one else matters.

And one day, it hits you that you're free. You're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how unpopular they may be. Hell, you're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how popular they may be. Music Snobbery can no longer touch you.

So yes, I have reams of quirky, brilliant, indie and alternative music. Yes, I have collections of folks men in dark suits without ties, short haircuts and hornrimmed glasses will nod their approval on. Yes, I have music I can play at any party and not have anyone make a face.

But I also have Billy Joel. And some Pat Benatar. Hell, I have some Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond. I forgot how cool a song "I Am, I Said" is.

And I have "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé -- absolutely pop, absolutely currently popular, and no doubt hated as trash by most right thinking Music Geeks over the age of 30. But I like it, so I have it.

That's what iTunes has given us. That's what MP3s and AACs and OGGs have given us. That is the freedom we have. We have the power to create the soundtrack of our own lives, and the power to do it without censure from everyone around us. We can have the Beatles and the Monkees and the Flash Girls and Madness on the same playlist. We can indulge our love of blues and our love of cheesy 70's overproduced easy listening. We can listen to Sinatra and Tony Orlando and 50 Cent in a row, and it doesn't matter to anyone but you.

That's cool. That's power. That's just plain neat.


It's damnably cold right now. It was -3 plus 30-40 MPH winds this morning. Last night it was cold enough that they decided not to have the kids walk from their dorms to the academic building to study, lest they get flash-frostbitten. Winter has officially arrived in New Hampshire, in all its windtunnel glory.

I'm coping well enough with the cold. I have the coolest coffeemaker on Earth. It's a Keurig single cup, and it just. Plain. Works. You fill it with water every few days. You get a hankering for coffee. You put a cup down. You select what coffee you want (I'm big on Hazelnut or French Vanilla.) You drop the little tub -- still sealed -- inside. You push the button. Thirty seconds later you sip the hot, fresh, well perked, good cup of coffee. It just plain works.Keurig Coffeemaker

This is huge. This is major. This is tremendous. You have to understand -- I hate making a full pot of coffee. Not only can't I ever get the proportions quite right for what I want, I inevitably don't want more than one or two cups. This thing just makes what I want, and it makes it as good coffee. Every time.

The Catholic Church should look into the possible theological implications. I'm relatively certain the Keurig would count as one of the three miracles needed for canonization. I know, I know. I'm mister gadget. But aside from the Tivo, I don't know of a single gadget I've ever had that I use each and every day without fail. Except this one.

Every day.

I haven't had a caffeine headache in three months.

(Yes, I know. Long time readers want to know why I'm drinking coffee instead of tea. Tea is special. Tea is a ritual. Tea is a calming. Tea takes time and effort. Coffee is a caffeine delivery system. You see the distinction? Knew you would.)

So, in walking to school and trying hard not to freeze to death, having a full travel mug of hot coffee is an amazingly nice thing. In fact, the winter should be pretty good, all told.

Or so we hope.

Playlists and Coffeemakers: Recapturing the Personal

It takes a good amount of time to come to terms with iTunes.

Our music collections have always been quasi-public affairs. We showed off our record collection to friends. We pointed with pride to the racks and racks of CDs we have. We kept huge boxes of tapes in the back seat of our cars, ready to be popped in at a moment's notice. We built careful mix tapes both for ourselves and for the people we liked. Having a large music collection showed good taste, good breeding, and an appreciation of the artistic. And when we managed to talk an attractive member of our preferred sex into our room, we had a huge range of mood music we could put on and hopefully help said person out of their underwear.

But, the problem with being quasi-public is... well, just anyone can end up seeing your music collection. The snotty girlfriend of your best friend can show up and snark about how much she hates the Bay City Rollers. The Music Geek Wannabe can snort when they see your prized collection of 45's, talking about how crap Foreigner was. So you shrink back, argue, or otherwise get put on the defensive. And the next time you look through your albums, you see that piece of music, make a face, and never listen to it again.

Do you have any idea how stupid that is? I mean, who gives a damn if you like Anne Murray? Well, besides Anne Murray herself. Is there anything as personal as what collections of sound you find appealing? Is there any reason what we like should be dictated by what other people like? I'm in my mid-thirties, not high school.

The worst I ever got with this comes from the mid-nineties, when I was living in Seattle with Bill, Dominic and T. While we were sitting around one day, I made some innocuous reference to Billy Joel.

"Oh, Christ," Dominic said. "I hate Billy Joel."

"Me too," Bill said. "Ugh."

Now, here I am. I'm an admitted geek. I'm living with geeks and nonconformists and men with Travolta hair. I'm (at that point) in my late twenties, and I'm an intelligent person.

"Oh Jesus," I thought to myself. "I didn't know Billy Joel sucked!" So I stopped listening to Billy Joel.

See, all three of my roommates at that time have musical tastes that appeal to me. They introduced me to hardcore Elvis Costello, to Bare Naked Ladies, to Kirsty Macall, to They Might Be Giants, to Bad Religion, to Oingo Boingo, to Stan Ridgway, to Tom Waits, to Warren Zevon, to the Jazz Butcher and that's just off the top of my head. About the only heavy music influences from my time in Seattle -- one of the music capitals of the world -- not from Bill or Dominic or T was jazz, and that's just because we had KPLU, which has to be the best jazz Public Radio station on Earth.

So, while I had always been a huge Billy Joel fan, I suddenly had doubts. And make no mistake, I was a huge fan. I went to his Bridge tour. I had all his albums. I listened to his greatest hits collection on shuffle.

Flash forward five years. I'm living in New Hampshire. I'm getting my CDs out of storage. I'm revisiting old favorites. I'm revelling a little. And I come across Glass Houses.

"Oh, that," I think. "Forget it. Billy Joel sucks."

Five years. Five years after an offhanded comment from a couple of guys who didn't like Billy Joel, and I was still marked. It was another year and a half before I started listening to him, and later still when I realized that what Bill and Dominic think of Billy Joel couldn't possibly matter less to my current life. Especially since I know almost all the friends I see on a regular basis like Billy Joel. Or love Billy Joel. Or want to bear children by Billy Joel.

(All right, I admit freely I think the 'Classical Composer William Joel' needs a good hearty punch to the stomach, but that has nothing to do with his music.)

Now... let's move to today. And to the iTunes Music Store.

Holy Mother Juggs and Speed.

Forget Kazaa and the original Napster and Grokster and all the rest. iTunes is phenomenal. You hear a song you like on TV, and one buck later it's yours. You remember an album you like, or a new one comes out, and ten bucks later you're listening to it. It's addictive and it's beautiful and it just plain works. iTunes is just plain fantastic.

And it's entirely personal.

No one is going to be walking through my apartment and chancing upon my iTunes playlist. If I walk into my office and see someone scrolling through something on my computer without asking, I'm going to make him wish he'd never been born. When it syncs to the iPod, it's syncing to my personal music machine, and no one else matters.

And one day, it hits you that you're free. You're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how unpopular they may be. Hell, you're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how popular they may be. Music Snobbery can no longer touch you.

So yes, I have reams of quirky, brilliant, indie and alternative music. Yes, I have collections of folks men in dark suits without ties, short haircuts and hornrimmed glasses will nod their approval on. Yes, I have music I can play at any party and not have anyone make a face.

But I also have Billy Joel. And some Pat Benatar. Hell, I have some Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond. I forgot how cool a song "I Am, I Said" is.

And I have "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé -- absolutely pop, absolutely currently popular, and no doubt hated as trash by most right thinking Music Geeks over the age of 30. But I like it, so I have it.

That's what iTunes has given us. That's what MP3s and AACs and OGGs have given us. That is the freedom we have. We have the power to create the soundtrack of our own lives, and the power to do it without censure from everyone around us. We can have the Beatles and the Monkees and the Flash Girls and Madness on the same playlist. We can indulge our love of blues and our love of cheesy 70's overproduced easy listening. We can listen to Sinatra and Tony Orlando and 50 Cent in a row, and it doesn't matter to anyone but you.

That's cool. That's power. That's just plain neat.


It's damnably cold right now. It was -3 plus 30-40 MPH winds this morning. Last night it was cold enough that they decided not to have the kids walk from their dorms to the academic building to study, lest they get flash-frostbitten. Winter has officially arrived in New Hampshire, in all its windtunnel glory.

I'm coping well enough with the cold. I have the coolest coffeemaker on Earth. It's a Keurig single cup, and it just. Plain. Works. You fill it with water every few days. You get a hankering for coffee. You put a cup down. You select what coffee you want (I'm big on Hazelnut or French Vanilla.) You drop the little tub -- still sealed -- inside. You push the button. Thirty seconds later you sip the hot, fresh, well perked, good cup of coffee. It just plain works.Keurig Coffeemaker

This is huge. This is major. This is tremendous. You have to understand -- I hate making a full pot of coffee. Not only can't I ever get the proportions quite right for what I want, I inevitably don't want more than one or two cups. This thing just makes what I want, and it makes it as good coffee. Every time.

The Catholic Church should look into the possible theological implications. I'm relatively certain the Keurig would count as one of the three miracles needed for canonization. I know, I know. I'm mister gadget. But aside from the Tivo, I don't know of a single gadget I've ever had that I use each and every day without fail. Except this one.

Every day.

I haven't had a caffeine headache in three months.

(Yes, I know. Long time readers want to know why I'm drinking coffee instead of tea. Tea is special. Tea is a ritual. Tea is a calming. Tea takes time and effort. Coffee is a caffeine delivery system. You see the distinction? Knew you would.)

So, in walking to school and trying hard not to freeze to death, having a full travel mug of hot coffee is an amazingly nice thing. In fact, the winter should be pretty good, all told.

Or so we hope.