Thursday, December 29, 2005

What I did on my Christmas vacation

Readership is still light, but I feel like I'm overdue to post something. So, in keeping with the relaxed mood of the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, I offer you … What I did on my Christmas vacation.

I should start by admitting that I didn't do what I had planned to do, which was to read a 900-page theology tome by one of my favourite scholars. I know, that isn't your idea of a vacation activity, but I often read theology to relax. (Even late at night when I'm very tired, which may explain why I have some strange convictions.)

I got distracted by something of lesser significance. For some while, I've wanted to learn how to take music recorded in an analog format (on an audio cassette or vinyl LP) and convert it into digital information. Since my primary Christmas present was an iPod Mini (thank you very much, Mary P.!), I decided it was time to figure this process out.

Remember, I'm from a generation that didn't grow up with computers. In my high school, kids one year behind me had courses in how to use a computer. I missed it by one year … but actually, I didn't miss much. Some of you will find it absolutely incredible, but those kids learned to punch holes in pieces of cardboard:  that was how they fed program information into the computers!

(Go ahead, laugh at the inferior technology. As late as the 1980s, Russian cosmonauts were using that kind of computer, or something only marginally superior to it, to run their space program. They managed to build a space station with that technology. That and lots of duct tape, of course.)

I own Roxio software, and I use it to burn CDs. I was vaguely aware that it could also convert a signal from analog to digital, but I hadn't the foggiest notion how to achieve it. And the stumbling block was something ridiculously simple.

I understood that, somehow, I needed to feed the analog sound into the computer, but I didn't know how to do it. I had read that you must feed the signal directly into the computer's sound card. But I had this vague, unexamined notion that it required a special attachment.

During Christmas vacation, I turned to the fount of all computer wisdom:  Mary P.'s sixteen-year-old son, who is extraordinarily knowledgable even by the standards of his generation. He immediately pointed to a little hole in the back of the computer: "You plug the cable in there," he informed me.


The harder part was figuring out how to use the "Sound Editor" function in Roxio, because the instructions were utterly useless. I had to resort to a process of trial and error. But hey! — that's how men prefer to use technology anyway! Instruction manuals are for scrawny little girls, not for powerful grown men. Figuring it out was good for my ego, after the humiliation of not knowing about the "line in" hole in the back of our computer.

Three hours later, Mary P. asked me how the project was coming along. I triumphantly informed her that I had converted three entire songs from analog to digital — one per hour! This was a major turn on for her, let me assure you. Women find geeks sexy, however much they protest to the contrary.

I spent most of Monday and Tuesday converting even more songs to digital. For example, I had Sting's Nothing Like the Sun on audio cassette. I had Paul Simon's Graceland on audio cassette, too. (Graceland still holds up as an outstanding achievement, by the way; I recommend it very highly.)

Even more fun awaited me:  the Canadian Dedication Suite, performed live by Hugh Fraser and the Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation. This is a live recording of a concert I attended this past summer at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival. The Suite was specially commissioned to celebrate the Jazz Festival's 25th anniversary. It was rebroadcast on a local FM station about a week later, and I recorded it. And now — ladies, try to restrain your ardor — I have converted it to a digital file and transferred it to my iPod.

In the best bootleg tradition, I had considered offering you a sample track, but the file is too big to upload to If you're curious, I can e-mail it to you. (The Canadian Dedication Suite isn't available on disc.)

It consists of two parts. The first 2:30 consists of the histrionics of the female vocalist. Shades of Yoko Ono / didgeridoo / Janis Joplin. (What?! You've never heard a vocalist mimic a didgeridoo before? Well, then, you haven't really lived, have you?!)

In the second part, the vocalist (I regret that I do not know her name) demonstrates that she can also sing, when VEJI launches into a great blues composition, "The Mother of Us All".

Alas, all good vacations must come to an end. Wednesday I was back at work, although "work" is an exaggeration; not much is happening in the office.

And actually, only the first part of my vacation is over. My kids are off school for another week, and I'll be taking them to visit my parents and two of my two sisters. Christmas Part B, as it were.

But it will be more hectic than the quiet days I enjoyed earlier this week, converting analog data into digital. Ooh, I feel so potent!

copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz


At 10:13 PM, December 29, 2005, Blogger Sadie Lou said...

I LOVE Paul Simon's Graceland. My favorite song is Diamond's on the Soles of Her Shoes. Sounds like you had a great Christmas...

At 10:21 PM, December 29, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

Ana...ooOoo...log to [gasp] digital??
quiver and sigh...

Enough with the potency, though, if you please. There are quite enough children around here as it is.

At 4:27 AM, December 30, 2005, Blogger McSwain said...

Have a fun Christmas part B!!! I was thinking today that I'd like to get an ipod, but I'm afraid I couldn't figure it out. My six-year-old could probably show me! Back in the day when I was in school, you had to go up to the local technical school and take FORTRAN class if you wanted to learn anything about computers. Seems so long ago... how things have changed. Of course then we used to listen to things called albums instead of ipods.

At 2:56 AM, December 31, 2005, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

I have no idea what you're talking about to be honest, but it sounds terribly clever:-)

I'm a little younger than you, so when I was at school, they were just starting to teach real computer science - well some basic programming on old BBC B's anyway. Or that's what the boys learned. If girls took Computer Science as a subject, they learned to type. On a typewriter!


Happy New Year to you & yours.

At 3:06 AM, December 31, 2005, Blogger 49erDweet said...

Is that the odor of newly created testosterone being generated in a certain residential neighborhood in Ottawa that I detect?

Watch it, Q! Mary P. has spoken!

At 1:52 PM, December 31, 2005, Blogger Lynne said...

Do any of us do what we are suppose to do on our vacations? Sounds like you had fun though.
I had no idea you could covert your tapes to digital. I took the easy way out and just purchased The Replacements from the itunes store. :)

Have a Happy New Year!

At 3:43 PM, January 01, 2006, Blogger LoryKC said...

I love Paul Simon!
I had no idea you could convert tapes to digital...
actually, though you've been kind enough to explain, I know I still couldn't manage it.
Luckily for me, most of my collection is available for download somewhere on the web! ; )
Happy New Year/Merry Christmas (Part B)/Happy 2006!

At 11:19 AM, January 02, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Sadie Lou:
I love the title track, Graceland; it's a lyric that "speaks" to a divorced father like myself. Musically, Diamonds is outstanding. Ladysmith Black Mambazo (sp?) adds a whole other dimension to the disc.

• Mary P.:
Is this what they call "cyber sex"?

• Cheryl:
Albums and FORTRAN, yes — you and I must be of approximately the same vintage.

I'm sure you can manage an iPod … but I suspect you know that.

• Mrs. Aginoth:
The technology is terribly clever … I'm not so sure about me.

I took typing class in high school for several years. Not surprisingly, I was the only guy in the class … which was one good reason for taking it.

• 49er:
I agree with Mary P. that we've already got plenty of children underfoot. I enjoy the daycare, because I get to interact with the toddlers and occasionally hold a baby. But I'm glad they don't stay past 5:00 p.m.!

• Lynne and Lory:
I've replaced many beloved LPs with CDs, but I still have a few things lying around that I've never replaced. Mostly because I've never had a CD player in the car, just a tape deck. (My "current" car is a 1991 model!) But now I play my iPod through the car stereo — hence the need to convert entirely to digital.

At 12:08 AM, January 04, 2006, Blogger Carolyn said...

Yes, women DO find geeks sexy (my man is a computational biologist/geneticist...doesn't get much more geeky than that), and I am shocked that you are now carrying an ipod from "the man". Ok, a little jealous...but you'll recall all my dramatic research, which led me to my Creative Zen (I recently bought a zen micro for the gym). Seriously, congrats on the mp3 player.

This was the first year I divided my holidays (Thanksgiving w/his family...Christmas with mine). It was nothing like trying to cram everything into four families...which happens with divorce...but it was certainly a change.

Glad to back into the swing of things...Happy New Year!

At 6:56 PM, January 05, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, Carolyn. I knew I'd hear from you about my choice of an iPod!

It's true, having to take a second family into account changes the dynamics of the holidays. I'm glad it went smoothly — sometimes loved ones aren't too understanding when you're not available on their preferred date.


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