It’s helpful to know your neighbor’s commands for the dog

As I was sitting in my chair, I had on the noise cancelling headphones.  Playing into my ears was some “Uplifting Trance” from an Armin van Buuren set.   Just like on this video…

In fact I’ll do one better – here’s the video that I am listening to now.

Yes, folks I listen to a lot of trance, and Armin van Buuren is probably my favorite DJ currently.  He’s helped me skate 21,000 miles keeping the tempo up.  That beat is right about the speed that I hit the pavement with each roller blade when I’m up to speed.

The music is playing in my headphones, and while they’re cheap, they’re effective.  $3 for headphones that were better than the Sony ones that are really quite good.   Noise cancelling headphones at this level will get rid of most of the background drone, mute the random noise in the environment some, and really make it difficult to hold a conversation while music is playing.

Just ask Kevin.

In fact, I find that I listen to music much softer now that I have these headphones simply because I don’t need to drive the sound louder than Wilton Drive, I-95, and Federal Highway in the distance, and the parrot accompaniment is missing since it just isn’t loud enough to get an Oscar Singalong.

Puttering through my tasks I see someone walk past the front window on the street.  Hi, Jack!  It’s my neighbor.  He keeps going not knowing he’s being seen, and I go back to my routine.

About five minutes later it starts.  Bark.  Bark, bark.  BARK! WOO WOO WOO!

Up goes Armin’s music a little louder.  BARK BARK BARK!

I think we’ve got a bored dog BARK!

That’s the problem with outdoor pets.  They would prefer to be with you.  No matter what you’re doing they’re entertained.  When you leave, the little mental stimulation you give them is gone as well. 

Needless to say I’m against outdoor dogs in an urban or suburban environment.

At this point, 30 minutes later, after having listened to “You Belong To Me” singing over the dog, I decided it was time for another one of my talents.

Mimicry.

I’ve gotten very good at being a mimic, both human voices and other sounds.

Walking to the bedroom window that is closest to the porch where the dog likes to be, I open it slightly.  BARKBARKBARKBARK! 

NO!

BUSTER NO!

(pause) BARKBARK!

NO! BUSTER NO!

Having dropped my voice a register in a passing imitation of the owner, the dog is confused but…

BARK! WOOWOOWOO!

BUSTER!  SHUSH!

(silence)

I’ll have to mention this to Jack.  He’s really a very nice guy and I don’t think he knows this is going on.  Plus I bet he’d be amused at my off-key imitation of him saying SHUSH!

I guess Buster got tired of barking and assumes Jack’s over here.

Noise Canceling Headphones or Isolation Booth, You Choose

A while back, one of my “finds” was a pair of headphones.  When the List Price was 120, the “refurb” price was originally 60, and you can find them for 16 it’s worth buying.   Especially since money is tight and I spend most of my day with headphones on and music in the background.

I picked up a pair of Sony MDR-NC7 headphones, put in the battery, flipped the switch and was immediately impressed.  Noise Canceling was not perfect but for $16 they didn’t have to be.  Then I plugged in to the MP3 Player and noticed that I didn’t have to run the volume quite as high to get the same effect.  Yes, a pair of noise canceling headphones can actually save your hearing.

For a while, I would walk around the house with the music off because the effect nulled out droning noises like the computers or the air handling units and I was transported from the Noisy Quirky Island of Wilton Manors to the inside of a library.  Once the novelty wore off, I took them for granted and used them like any other pair.  

Not outdoors, because if you were trying to cross the road, you may end up being road pizza.  Just enough silencing to be dangerous.

About two weeks ago, I was given someone’s old iPhone 3GS.   Since I don’t have ATT or a Data Plan on my cell phone contract, I use the thing like an iPod Touch.   It watches my professional email account, plays music, and allows me to do limited surfing.  Sure, all of that can be done on the laptop, but this slips in my pocket and I can listen to music too pretty much all day if I need to.

That would be one of the drawbacks.   I caught myself listening to this iPhone all day and didn’t realize that the iPod applet had a nasty habit of resetting the volume.  I haven’t gotten a good idea where it does the reset or why but I’m watching now.  All the sudden its volume slider is “in the middle” where someone at Apple decided it should be and not at 15% where I wanted it, and I’m listening to Armin van Buuren’s dreamy trance music a bit louder than I’d prefer.

No, not that “Hey Get Off My Lawn and Turn Down That Noise” kind of volume, but more of a “you are enveloped in A State Of Trance and you can’t hear a bloody thing” kind of volume. 

When the washer sounded off it’s beeper, I didn’t hear it.
When the phone rang, twice, in an hour this morning, I didn’t hear it.

Only Armin. 

Or at least until I slipped off the headphones slightly bending over to pick up my cargo shorts after using “The Facilities” and I heard the phone in the other room sing out that I had a message.

Hmmm…. Not one but two I had missed… in 30 minutes.  OOPS!

Ok, I’ll be more careful.  The music’s back on, I’ve got on Armin van Buuren again and it’s down where I like it, around 15%.

Gees, Mom was right!  I really should turn that damn thing down!

Anyway, the headphones are highly recommended.  You can find a pair for around $16 as a refurb, and if you pay more than $20 come here so I can tell you how you messed up.  The iPhone you’ll have to get on your own.  Since it’s locked to ATT (at least this one is) when they swallow up my T-Mo, I’ll be able to use it there.  For now, it’s a pretty good little iPod even if I am forced to use that horrendous iTunes.

Personally, I think iTunes should die a horrible death and I want to do a Dr Johnny Fever with a baseball bat on the source code of that piece of crap, but hey, WKRP in Cincinatti aside, it gets the job done.   Badly.

Sirius XM changes channel lineup and still is annoying

This morning, having a bit of a writer’s block, I ended up surfing Google Trends for top searches. 

Obviously Osama bin Laden was still at the top as well as being somewhere in the ocean.
There were the lingering searches for the Royal Wedding in the UK.
After that, Sirius XM showed up.

I was a little surprised too, but I remembered they shuffled their channels today. 

Those who have their radios would have gone through the channel reload where you are presented with a count up to 100 percent while you have silence and wonder if it will work.   It has always worked.  On the other hand you get to reprogram your presets and hope you can find your favorite channels.

That’s the problem.  I can’t.  They deleted “The Strobe” which was one of the original reasons why I bothered with Sirius in the first place.  I’ve listened since B.H.  – Before Howard Stern.  I’ve listened to Howard Stern occasionally, he is at times simply an amazing entertainer and I am hard pressed to think of anyone who is better an interviewer with pop culture icons.  

I can take or leave the shock, but the interviews are fascinating as well as his crew on the air.

On the other hand Sirius XM has a love hate relationship with dance and electronic music.  The Strobe started out as a disco only channel.  Rigidly programmed, there was almost never anything newer than 1980 and almost never anything played that was older than 1974.  That would be the sweet spot for the Disco Era.  However it was fairly tight on the play list and limited for the most part to the more popular music of that era.  Growing up in Philly you either were into rock, or you were into disco and you usually were heavily into it.  It was an amazing city for music.   The problem was that Sirius left out a lot of the other formats that would play from time to time on the disco stations of the era.  There used to be a lot of overlap with RnB.  There would be some Funk.  That sort of thing.

Later when they did their first channel shuffle, they dropped The Strobe but after complaints it came back.  Then they messed with the format.   They included some of the “late disco era” music of the early 80s, and even stretched the station into the mid 90s dance tracks that were so popular in the Northeast of the US for a while.  It did get better but still no RnB, but that was off on it’s own channel and at least we had The Strobe back.

Lately it seemed like The Strobe got stale.  I found myself surfing online and when I needed a Disco Fix and ended up with Diva Radio.  Much better breadth of music on that web only station.   There were actually tracks that I hadn’t heard and I’ve listened to some very obscure music. 

On the other hand, I’m not strictly listening to “Ghost Radio”.  While I do listen to “40s on 4” for a fix of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman when I need it, typically when I listen to Sirius, the radio is tuned to two different channels.  Area which is Trance, has drifted to being more progressive and there’s a lot more chaff thrown in.  The king of chaff is BPM.  I have BPM on right at this moment.  I rarely like it because it’s the old “Hot Hits” format – dance tracks, short versions, and DJs and Bumpers yelling at you between the tracks. 

In this era of the iPod and Internet Radio, that Chaff is what drives people away from broadcast radio.  Sirius seems to be embracing the chaff.   The DJs on BPM are even more annoying because they’re always sounding like they just had four or five shots of Cafe Cubano and are yelling things at you to the point of being almost overmodulated.

The worst DJs on Sirius are on BPM.  You have “Geronimo” who every time I hear I want to jump out of an airplane or better yet watch him jump out without a parachute.   There is also the stomach churningly bad Tim Bauman who sounds like he’s a Pimp Wannabe from a bad movie from the early 80s. 

The best thing they can do with BPM is to go back to the way it was Before Howard and play music.  Forget the bumpers, they’re unneeded and we have a display of what we’re listening to.   The DJs have GOT to go.    Just play music.  There was a twin channel to BPM back at that time which was almost the same music, but No DJ Chatter at all.   You don’t have to listen to Tim Baumans wretched rap about “The Gurrrrls” or Geronimo’s confusion about Relaxing and Exciting BPM.

Hey Geronimo What Does THAT mean?  Did you bump your head on the desk this morning?

If a Dance Channel is meant to reflect a club, their programming managers need to actually go into a club and listen.   The DJs Don’t Talk Over Every Song! 

“Electric Area” is better but not perfect.   They’ve been getting bumpers played over the tracks, and the shows that are played on Electric Area are basically the same thing I get when I surf Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, DJ Shah, Markus Shultz or any of the other Euro DJ websites.  There’s a little chatter, but nowhere near as much as BPM – maybe an announcement every 30 minutes or so.  The reason for that is that Sirius has been playing the DJ’s web tracks directly.  Better than the Progressive and Electro that has slipped in over the last few years.  They’re basically two different formats -Trance and Electro – similar music like RnB and Disco, but not fully interchangeable and while you can mix in some for variety, they are probably best on their own channels.

As for my once again gone The Strobe channel, they said they’d put it on as an Internet Only Stream.  It wasn’t there when I went looking for it at 10AM today.  If I have to make sure I have a way to play Disco, I won’t go to Sirius.  There are many better sites that play more variety – and that is something that can be said generically about any of the Sirius channels.   Loosen the playlists.  Your music is too repetitive.

When it comes time for me to finally get a new car, I won’t activate the Sirius radio.  One reason is that I already have a “Permanent Subscription” which was a big mistake, I know.  The other is that there are just way too many ways to get good music on the car radio these days.  My complaining probably won’t have an effect, but I’ll just end up with an iPhone with a data plan surfing http://www.di.fm and playing the Trance Channel there, or if I need disco back in my head there’s always Diva Radio.   

I guess it’s the promise they made is great for some but they fell short.   Their program directors could do better.  Lets just grade them a “C Minus”.  After all, just like FM Radio, Sirius is good for Classical and News.  The music formats just aren’t there.  If you love Elvis or Sinatra you will be happy.

No wonder why I had to blow dust off the top of the Sirius Radio this morning!

Rollerblading on Schuylkill River Trail Review

Looking at this picture, its not a very pretty scene is it.   To me that is a view of fun.  What you’re looking at is a section of the Schuylkill River Trail in Conshohocken PA.   

This trail runs roughly from the Art Museum in Center City Philadelphia at the Rocky Steps for 22 miles out through Conshohocken, Norristown, and Valley Forge to the Perkiomen Creek Trail in Montgomery County, PA.   I skated that trail for about 10 years, and a total of over 20,000 miles to date.   

The trail is continuous through the length and is a jewel for the region.   I was fortunate enough to be close enough to skate a segment of it whenever I wished.  No cars, few intersections to worry about, very few bad spots with gravel.   This was 22 miles of Black Ice.   There were a few rough spots where there was a sharp incline or a curve, and one hill in particular that was at a railroad style incline for about a mile.  That was my definition of fun, skating down that over 15 miles per hour with some Armin van Buuren “A State of Trance” podcast DJ set running on the head phones on a clear crisp day with little wind.

One of the days when I get back to Philadelphia, my plans are to drive back to my old parking area and skate this section again.   The trails here are nowhere near as long and comprehensive as this.   The best one I’ve found in Broward County was at Pompano Airpark and that one is only a 5 mile loop.  Every time I get a chance to speak with someone in command of a Parks and Recreation budget I put my two cents in for a “multipurpose asphalt paved trail of a minimum length of a mile”.   Why not?  It’s worth your life here to try to cross the street on foot let alone on Rollerblades 8 or 10 wheels.