Baby Boomer Embraces Digital Age

Shamed by my kids who accuse me of being anti-technological and thus aging rapidly before their very eyes, I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the world of 21st century digital music. I know what Spotify is, am an avid user of Pandora and feel lost without my mp3 player or Smartphone as music sources.  It was not always this way. Some historical perspective is on order.

all about that bass

In high school I was the guy with the most records (albums and 45s) and a fast-growing collection of custom mix-tapes. In college I was the guy with the biggest speakers in the dorm windows and the electronic muscle to pump my (stuck in the late 70s to early 80s) musical taste into the quad.

stairway 45ttba

Mix tapes were a specialty and a road trip necessity; I was the only person I knew with two ultra-expensive cassette decks, for their (relatively effortless at the time) preparation. I owned a couple of thousand dollars worth of stereo equipment, when my friends had boom boxes and the like.


At summer camp I was the DJ (so to speak) for Saturday night dances, more often than not. My car stereo similarly was a source of (irrational) pride and expenditure. When Elvis Costello sang “Radio, Radio”, he was targeting me. The radio was my best friend, and often the only constant in my life that regularly warped out of orbit, from high school, to college, to graduate school with various far-flung summer experiences between.


I had, and for that matter still have, a decent collection of vinyl records reflecting my stereotypical late baby boomer tastes as well as obligatory albums one had to own for self-respect among one’s peers (e.g., Led Zeppelin IV).  Of course, records are prone to warping and scratching, and cassette tapes respond poorly to heat, humidity, long-term storage, age, etc. Of course, in the mid 1980s I was blissfully ignorant of age-related decline.  I, and my music, both were young and feeling invincible.


Even as I was denying changes in myself, technology changed. Video came along to kill the radio star. I eschewed MTV (other than Martha Quinn); I liked the music more before I knew what the artists looked like.

Times changed again. CDs came out and were more expensive than albums, could not be recorded onto (initially, anyway) and generally seemed like a giant conspiracy against my right to collect, listen to and play free or nearly-free music.  Yes, the sound and durability was better with CDs, but I was displeased at music industry “gotcha.”


However, with changes in my life (girls, and eventually a wife, house, after a while more, kids) I less could justify the continued investment both in music and the media with which to play it.  I found less time for music, except in the car.  Even there, I’d gravitate to news and sports.

sports radio

I came to joke how my musical taste become sort of a time marker for the day I graduated college; I came to be no longer familiar with the latest artists, sounds, trends, and that was OK. Just as Bruce Springsteen had grown up a decade before me, to my chagrin, ultimately I had grown up too.

I no longer could listen to some of the music of my youth.  Most Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin sounded like noise, though I still had a wistful place for Stairway to Heaven and its iconic role at Saturday night dances at camp.


Technology continued to change relentlessly.  When our company was young and I was about 40, a couple of 20-something employees were heavily into free music file-sharing software and programs that seemed tools of music piracy.


I prohibited their installation and use at the office, but a part of me looked at those guys and thought “I’d be just like that if I was in college or just coming out.”  Secretly I was jealous, and wistful for the years when I was the go-to music technology guy and owner of lots of ostensibly-free music.


Mp3 players and smartphones ushered in yet another technological revolution, as did various online musical services as diverse as life insurance options (rent, own, rent-to-own, etc.). Gradually I became an aficionado of subscription music services, most of all Pandora . However, the biggest shift in the music collecting and listening experience in the last 5 or so years has been this:  listening to music is much more a private experience than ever before.   Between my headphones at the gym or in the pool (music is the soundtrack of my workouts), the privacy of my car, or the closed doors of my office, when I listen to music, nearly 100% of the time it is only me listening.

donna summer

I now care not how others may judge my worthiness by the presence or absence of certain iconic songs or artists in my collection. I can crank up Donna Summer to my heart’s content and no one scoffs and tsks.  I can disdain and disown all manner of classic rock no matter how iconic and essential my peers may judge a given artist or album to be, and no one knows.  Jimi Hendrix may be an icon but to me he is un-listenable. Only with the help of my kids have I been exposed to some newer artists, of which a handful I’ve become quite the fan.  Listen to Bowling for Soup, the Neon Trees or One Republic sometime.

These days the large speakers no longer are in the windows, and the wattage of my receiver has given way to more sophisticated devices. Music is more of a personal experience and not so much a communal one. I relish my headphones for the gym, and my waterproof mp3 player for the pool. The music is for me and less for everyone else within earshot. They have their music and their incorrect tastes in songs and artists. Live and let live; I’m not going to change them and have given up trying.

As recently as a year ago, my amazing new headphones (light weight, washable, gym-worthy and amazingly tuneful) still are connected to my mp3 player when walking or working out. Just when that mp3 player decided that a $100 pocket-sized device as too good to be true and stopped working altogether, my Smartphone was fast being discovered as an entertainment device, already having been relied on to deliver me Orioles games on the radio anywhere. And now, music too, from the pocket of my gym shorts.


Whether or not this is the end of the technological musical odyssey remains to be seen, but where we are works for me.  I still have much of that old, massive equipment, but it collects dust and may not stand the test of time very well at all.  The difference is, that’s now okay, for all of my music fits in the palm of my hand and on my head.


Urban Hydrology and The Holly Tree

I’m the son of a residential realtor.  The whole time I was growing up, I swore I would have nothing to do with that challenging, low-paying and seemingly unethical occupation.  Without going into detail (have the applicable Statues of Limitations all run, since the 1970s?), considerable effort sometimes was undertaken in cosmetically masking major defects associated with homes offered for sale.  The most common type of defect, and sometimes the one easiest to mask, was the wet basement.
flooded house
When in years later my wife and I were shopping for our first home, I was apprehensive and wary about the possibility of inheriting a prior owner’s latent problem of wet basement nature or otherwise.  It is in seller’s self-interest to conceal latent defects and it is in the realtor’s self-interests to say (and not say) whatever was necessary to close the deal.  We came to purchase a raised rancher with an unfinished basement, set into a hill that descends to the rear.  I very carefully inspected the basement wall and floor, particularly on the upgrade side, reasoning that that was the point of its maximum burial and closest proximity to the water table. If there was wet basement, it would be along this wall or floor.

I saw none and the home has been ours since 1992.  More aptly stated, it is the bank’s and they allow us to live here.  Details. mop

For years and through all manner of storms large and small, the basement remained bone dry and we gradually came to perceive that we had ducked the bullet on this common homeowner malady.  Kids came and we finished the basement (carpeting, padding, drywall, etc.), doubling our living space.  The basement stayed dry but for the occasional laundry room mishap attributable to the stupidity of man (me).  Routing of water conditioner discharge line, dry rot of the washing machine supply lines, etc.  Nuisance-level problems that were annoying and frustrating, but nothing that we (now equipped with a big wet-dry vac, fan and room dehumidifier) could not handle if they happened occasionally.
snow pammysnow steve
The “Storm of the Century” left us dry, as did the twice-a-decade blizzard and Hurricane Isabel. Later that year, however, we were mystified and frustrated to see that a rain of average intensity had put 5-to-10 gallons of water onto our basement floor.  We learned that carpet padding is the perfectly transmissive aquifer and cannot be safely dried, and that the basement floor of our home is not level but is slightly tipped to the northeast.  The cost of this education was an insurance claim and the perspective that perhaps we had been wrong about the water-tightness of our home all along.
The hydrogeologist in me wrapped his head around this puzzle. The well-known principle of uniformitarianism teaches that the Present is the Key to the Past, and our past had no wet basement challenges of natural origin. Something had changed, but what?  All of a sudden, we were all kinds of rainwater susceptible in the basement.  The area of the basement wall/floor where it seemed to be coming in (remember we have drywall up and no longer can observe the walls directly short of a major demolition project) seemed directly beneath the front door area.  Standing outside the front door during a deluge revealed that rainwater was not staying in the rooftop guttering in that area but was over-topping the guttering the splashing directly onto the ground right past our threshold.

flood insuranceSo up on a stepladder I went in the next rainstorm,  to carefully inspect our roof-edge rain guttering near the front door.  Sure enough, I saw that the gutter was clogged with the debris from the large holly tree right nearby.  The gutter itself was full of water that was not draining through the clogged downspout. Water was over-topping this guttering, and cascading down the front of the house and saturating the ground immediately outside the foundation, in the exact area where inside we have the water susceptibility.  By hand I scooped out many dead leaves, all with razor-sharp edges and prickers.  Once I had enough of them out, a giant whoosh of water occurred and the guttering dutifully emptied into the downspout.

In the weeks that followed, we undertook a downspout outfall rerouting project courtesy of some corrugated piping bought from Home Depot.   We gradually gained the upper hand on this latent susceptibility, except that the holly tree was doing what hollies do – it was growing.  It towered ever-taller over the roof-line and seasonally and otherwise, generously shed leaves and other debris into the guttering.  Gutter clean-out projects became a regular part of home ownership and when we forgot or became distracted, we remained susceptible to wet basement issues, both small and not so small.


Something more drastic and permanent needed to be done.  So recently, armed with a handsaw, lopping shears and other gardening equipment, I undertook to give the holly a military haircut.  It is possessed of three parallel trunks, each at least 8 inches in diameter.  The one closest to the house now terminates 5 feet about the ground rather than fifteen. Time will tell if my immense sense of sweaty satisfaction is deserved or premature, but I’m cautiously optimistic.


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