Canis fidelis verum vox

So there’s this puppy, and it likes to chase cars.

Not just any car, mind you, this puppy goes after certain black cars and occasionally silver cars too. It has no interest in other colours because pink or green cars cannot be taken seriously — but also because dogs are colour blind. The puppy is informed; it learns what is desirable from the adverts and reviews it sees in the newspapers laying on the floor while it is being house trained, and because it observes the adult dogs in the neighbourhood chasing after similar cars.

However, our puppy never quite manages to catch up because cars are fast.

As the puppy grows up it gradually gets side tracked by other interests and new chew toys. Pussies, too, become an instinctive pursuit. Still, our dog looks up and occasionally gives chase when it sees a flashy black car go by — but loses interest after a few metres.

“Nah, another time,” it thinks to itself, “every dog has its day.”

One sunny day our dog was basking in the front yard as a particularly flashy black car cruises by. The dog gives chase. The car slows down. The dog catches up. The car comes to a stop. The driver hops out, leaving the engine running, to drop off something at a neighbour’s house.

Yes, the dog has finally caught a car!

So now what? Seriously… what’s a dog to do with a car?

Oh, this dog knows. It jumps in the seat, closes the door, and drives off. The dog is happy.

Would you download a car? (Screengrab via Ford@YouTube)

Or is it? After a few spins around the block the dog returns the car and runs home. It is not fulfilled. It wants more. A bug has bitten. The dog wants a better car.

That dog is me. I finally “caught my car”.

But the real chase has only just begun: after several years of collecting components and a similar number of weekends of woodwork later, last December I finally completed the Hi‑Fi rack I’ve been wanting since what feels like an eternity.

It’s a sturdy wooden rack with framed glass doors, six shelves filled with Hi‑Fi components, a drawer for loose accessories, a space for vinyl records and a nice beechwood top upon which rests a turntable. It’s a Sony.

All in all it’s a decent construction and has already been shuffled around twice because loudspeaker placement is tantamount. Room acoustics are everything. I’m already mentally designing a new one. And I want just got bigger speakers. I need a new room.

Yamaha gave way to Elac (image found on tumblr.com)

As for the components? They’re everything that I always thought I wanted as a youngster — and more. Three cassette decks is more than I’d use on a regular basis, and none of them is a Nakamichi. The Denon deck is a placeholder for a DCC and/or DAT player. Although I have two others in my arsenal, the Sony turntable will do until there’s a decent Kenwood or similar resting next to it — because yes, this rack’s built for two.

Oh yeah, the bug’s bitten. Hello, Shibata. I want bigger, better, more!

The chase is better than the catch. It’ll never end.

It began with the first music player I had as a 10-year old, a Toshiba radio/tape unit such as this one:

Gotta start somewhere, right? (image found on sbazar.cz)

It didn’t take long to discover what the “record” button does. For years I listened to the radio with one finger hovering over it, and that’s how I filled dozens of tapes with clunky mono recordings off AM radio. In the early eighties I also went through a range of cheap Chinese Walkman knock-offs — but at least those were in stereo. Queen’s “Greatest Hits” was among the first pre-recorded cassettes I ever purchased and still have.

Sometime around 1985 the family finally got a music system with the unflattering brand name of “Funiki” and with which I eagerly copied records onto tape.

Home taping is killing music by making you spend your money on blanks (photo by unknown family member)

It’s the familiar story of millions of teenagers who grew up in the eighties.

Cassettes were the medium of my youth, and I had control over their content and their design. I also started buying my own records, “The Power Station 33⅓” being the first one.

The Toshiba unit eventually gave way to a Goldstar stereo radio/tape unit but it wasn’t until 1989 that I could splash out on a Sharp bookshelf unit. A year later it was joined by the first true Hi-Fi component: A CD player by JVC.

Now this was the dog’s bollocks!

The compact disc thus became the medium for albums worth “owning”. I completely abandoned records and spent a good deal of cash (re)buying my favourite albums on CD while cassettes remained useful for random tunes and occasional mixes.

Barely a decade later CDs themselves had become recordable, and then the internet/MP3 threw everything out the window again. The media landscape changed completely. Music editing/collecting is done via computer, mix tapes give way to mix CD-Rs.

Years pass. People age. Music systems come and go. None of them is a proper component Hi-Fi because time had become a scarce commodity where most listening is done during long, daily commutes. At one point, the car audio system was actually the best I had – and as good as I needed. There simply was no point in a separate tower of components. Practicality had trumped quality.

For a long time, compact discs and DVDs were all the physical media I spent money on. In fact, during the mid-noughties I was on a weird buzz to collect CD-singles. Even my humble record collection had found its way back home while far larger amounts of records, tapes and CDs kept coming my way for free, and my Philips and Sony FH-series bookshelf units are quite adequate for discovering the sounds they safeguard.

For background music, there’s a dedicated laptop (since upgraded too) with my stash of ripped MP3 files. Occasionally I stream podcasts or techno mixes. People now tell Alexa which Sonos speaker to stream their Spotify or Qobuz playlists to. Cars have SD-card readers instead of CD players. Technology has certainly moved on.

Meanwhile, our dog sits in the front yard and watches the young pups go by with their smartphones and their silly little earbuds. Convenience had trumped quality.

He also notices that some of them have taken to buying new music on new records and new cassettes. He is pleased to see retro technology getting rediscovered, recycled and appreciated for all its analogue pops and warbles and flaws.

Grommit does his best Nipper impression (image via HMV/Aardman)

Just don’t bother trying to sell this dog old tricks in new packaging.

Cambridge Audio integrated amplifier (image via Cambridge Audio)

He’s sniffing out a different range of toys along the line of this or that or maybe this. Technology has shifted. It’s time to build something else.

Passion is an expensive pursuit.

Hover for image credits.

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The legacy of Lou Ottens

As has been widely reported in the media, Lodewijk (Lou) Frederik Ottens, the Dutch inventor of the Compact Cassette as well as the Compact Disc died last month.

He passed away on the 6th of March 2021 at the age of 94. At least he got to C90!

Lou Ottens in 2007 for an interview with De Ingenieur (image via WikiCommons)

Truth be told, Mr. Ottens didn’t really single-handedly “invent” the compact cassette; he was in charge of a team of Philips engineers in Hasselt, Belgium who wanted to develop a portable tape recorder / dictation device and the associated tape cartridges for the home consumer. This was achieved by simplifying, miniaturising and re-imagining several existing concepts and products. It was in mono.

Little could he know what legacy his personal frustration with open-reel tapes would leave.

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Revision: 2020

2020 was a year of infamy.

Corona, corona, corona and more corona peppered with travel bans, lockdowns, quarantine, curfew, face masks and social distancing… urgh, 2020 was a reviled year! Aren’t we all excited and happy now that it’s over?

Bullshit! The fat lady has yet to sing.

2020 will probably go down as the year of SARS-CoV-2 but sorry, we’re still in the middle of the very same pandemic. We still have a stretch to go — as the lack of regular New Year’s celebrations have shown.

Don’t hold your breath. The year you think you’re remembering ain’t quite done yet.

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Webris, netsam and the demise of Flash

Webris and Netsam are the names of two internet companies. This is not about them.

Instead, “webris and netsam” is a term I use to describe material and debris left over by internet-related tasks — you know, the kind of stuff you download during a specific project and hold on to in case you might need it later or because it’s too good to delete.

Then you either forget about it, never use it, or standards have changed.

Here, for instance, is a bunch of clip art and icon packs that I rediscovered in my “web design” folder. The oldest file is dated 1998, and the smallest of these 32px .GIF files is 453 bytes in size. These sizes were appropriate for current displays — twenty years ago!

A collection of 32px web-friendly icons and clip art

Back then designers cared about loading times or file sizes because nobody in their right mind would force a site’s visitor to download a huge photo only to display it as a small thumbnail due to the hosting and bandwidth constraints of the time. Conversely, excessive HTTP file requests on account of each of the multiple little icon files was to be avoided — hence image maps, and now CSS and Font Awesome. Things have progressed.

A collection of site-specific icons and logos

Then there are icon sets designed for providing attractive links to social media sites.

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Offline, online, offline, online

Hi! How’re you doing?

I’m fine. Thanks for asking. I’m better now.

No sooner had the ink of the previous post dried did the blog go offline for a day — at least that’s what the alert message said. A day later it came back, and then it went down again for three days.

All I know is that my hosting company were working on something on the back end because I had two hosting “products” at the time — one of which was a promotional goodie that went bad and took on a life of its own. I didn’t want it, I cancelled the trial.

That was in August. And that was just the beginning my troubles.

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Meta blogging

This blog, in its present form managed via WordPress, is ten years old this year.

According to popular blogger Anil Dash, one of 15 Lessons from 15 Years of Blogging is that “Meta-writing about a blog is generally super boring.”

And he might be right.

Any housekeeping writing about how it’s been a while since you’ve written, or how you changed some obscure part of your blog, doesn’t tend to age very well and is seldom particularly compelling in retrospect. The exception are genres like technical or design blogs, where the meta is part of the message. But certainly the world doesn’t need any more “sorry I haven’t written in a while” posts.

Yet this is exactly what I’m going to ramble on about now.

When this blog (in its current incarnation) was launched, the web was quite different.

It was all about written content, with a few pictures added for fun and demonstration. Bloggers wrote about this, that, their hobbies and life in general, with no real regard about whether their words were read and with even less interest in becoming self-important influencers with huge hero images. Web pages were static, had a fixed width (or none at all), and text had a set size (or relied on browser defaults). Images were kept small because of bandwidth and loading time considerations.

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Civil unrest may be the second wave

The coronavirus crisis is far from over.

While some people are relieved that they’re able to return to work, I have returned to working from home after a symbolic three-week stint at the company office.

Considering my current tasks, working hours and the risk that remains, it’s just plain stupid to do anything but work from home. Most any facility or service I need is either online or has re-opened. Some never closed, and I’ve not been close to running out of pasta or toilet paper either.

I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m also far too frugal to voluntarily pump time, money and exhaust fumes into unnecessary commuting rushes or conferences that can just as effectively be held online. This should be “the new normal”.

The unwashed masses, though, are dissatisfied.

#BLM FTW!! (photo by BP Miller / Unsplash)

Americans have taken to the streets wearing no masks and total disregard for social distancing in order to protest against racial injustice and police brutality by rioting, looting and destroying the property of innocent civilians. Even in The Hague this past Sunday peaceful protests against coronavirus clampdown regulations turned ugly. A scant few hours earlier, hundreds of drunken and unruly youths trashed the Stuttgart city centre following a routine drug check on Saturday night.

The vandalism as well as an unprecedented degree of violence targeted at police has been plastered all over social media. Every copycat kid wants to be the next Twitter whistleblower or TikTok star to launch an entire hashtag.

What may be worth observing is that a disproportionate amount of the arrested have migrant roots, not unlike those hundreds of factory workers recently infected with COVID-19 across German meatpacking plants: they’re cheap labour from Eastern Europe.

The district of Gütersloh, the site of the largest facility, is the current coronavirus hotspot and has gone back into lockdown. As a result, citizens are enraged: they may have to cancel their precious vacation plans!

Oh yeah, slavery and racism are alive and well in 2020 — albeit in different guises.

Society has a long way to go.

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