I’m Tired

I’m tired. So tired. Here’s what I’m tired of:

  • I’m tired of Trump. I’m tired of dealing with his hate and intolerance, especially of anyone who holds a different view, or didn’t vote for him..
  • I’m tired of the Trump followers — and the Trump haters — who feel that screaming at each other or that making fun of each other will accomplish anything. It might make you feel better in the moment, but it won’t change any minds. It could even do harm, cementing the view of intolerance of the one doing the screaming. Just shut up, and use your energy to actually change the situation. Yes, this goes for both sides.
  • I’m tired of memes. Taking an arbitrary quote, pasting it on top of a picture from a completely different time, and spreading it around the world is meaningless. The picture is out of context and often intentionally misleading. The quote is often out of context. It is, to use an overused term, fake. I want real news, with real context.
  • I’m tired of Whataboutism. If an action is wrong, it is wrong no matter which side of the political spectrum is doing it. Just because “the other side did it” doesn’t make it right. Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t make it right. Going along with that, however, is understanding the context of the action. Just because sound bites or memes make something seem similar that doesn’t mean the context is the same, or that they are actually similar.
  • I’m tired of oversimplification. The political world is intensely complicated. Things that seem the same may be completely different, depending on context. Social media pushes us to oversimplify for sound bites, tweets, or memes. Resist the urge to do so, and actually study and understand the differences.
  • I’m tired of people seeing other people as a single, one word label. Life is complicated. People are complicated. Rarely can a person’s views be summed up in one word. Note, however, that if you insist on seeing me as a single label; the same may be true.
  • I’m tired of people calling each other names, like we were children in a schoolyard making fun of someone’s big ears. Grow up. How someone looks or dresses or even how they speak makes not one whit of a difference. It is their actions and behavior — what they do and what they say — that matter.
  • I’m tried of Trump: what he does, what he says, how he views as acceptable behavior that was unacceptable before the election (and vice-verse), how he oversimplifies, how he views people as labels, and his calling people names.

I’m also getting fearful:

  • I’m fearful of the hatred that this President has encouraged to come to the surface. Hatred based on origin. Hatred based on skin color. Hatred based on orientation. Hatred based on religion. Hatred based on political orientation. Enough already. This country has had enough hatred over its history. It was shameful then, and it is shameful now. It is time to accept others, in the spirit of freedom that this nation was built upon.
  • I’m fearful of the hatred that hasn’t come to the surface, and what it will do.
  • I’m fearful of the growing anger in this nation.
  • I’m fearful of the fear of the immigrant. I’m not, however, fearful of the immigrant, because almost all are good hardworking people, looking for a better life for their family, safety and security, and to be a part of this great nation. The percentage that are not is quite small, and is likely smaller than the percentage of citizens that wish others harm.
  • I’m fearful that the exhaustion that is setting in from this President will lead people to give up, and not fight to bring this nation back to its ideals of fairness and justice and equality for all. It is easier, after all, to give into the mob and not fight for what is right.

Most of all, I fear that society is getting a collective case of PTSD, although I don’t know how much “Post-” there is. There is certainly a traumatic stress disorder that is growing with every day of the continued partisanship and hatred, and the continued attack on our senses and sensibilities. Recovery for society — once we eventually move past the mishegos — will be slow and painful.

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When you get the urge to lash out and scream, to share a meme, or to do any of this, ask yourself the simple question: Am I just doing it to make me feel better? Will it change any minds to help my position? If you are only doing it for yourself, and it won’t advance your cause, don’t do it. Take that energy and redirect it into something that would actually make a difference: fundraising, getting out the vote, and so on. Just imagine how much more good work the non-profits you support could do if you donated the price of a cup of coffee each time you got angry reading something, or wanted to lash out.

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Life in the Classroom

What is the purpose of school? An article today from NPR on the fading away of “Home Ec” classes, combined with another article about LA Unified establishing the goal of preparing every grad for CSU or UC, got me thinking: Should we be preparing students for college, or for life? I think both, m’self.

When I was back in Junior High (and yes, we called it that), there were still shop classes for boys — wood, metalworking, electrical, drafting — and home ec — sewing, cooking — for girls. By the time I was in high school, the classes were still there but mixed sexes, plus there was auto shop and photography. We also had courses available in Driver Education and what was called “Health”, but it was really Sex Ed and teaching you what drugs were on the street.

Today that has changed, and there appear to be courses called life skills, but based on the NPR article, I’m not sure they are teaching the right stuff, however. I believe, that by the time you get out of high school, you should know the following life skills:

  • Basic cooking
  • Basic clothing repairs and sewing
  • Basic electrical and plumbing
  • Basic wall repair and painting
  • Basic car repair
  • Basic financial skills: balancing a checkbook, what a loan is, how interest works, what impacts your credit score, what insurance is and how it works
  • Basic legal skills: how to read a loan contract, how to read a rental contract
  • Basic driver education

In general, you should come out of high school with sufficient skills to “adult” on your own. But that’s not enough.

I agree that schools should prepare you for college. That doesn’t mean you should go, but they should not preclude the option beforehand. This goes well beyond the academic course prerequisites that UC or CSU require. It also includes “collegeing” skills — which are appropriate even for those going the vocational route. These include:

  • How to manage your time
  • How to write papers with convincing arguments
  • How to get up and speak and present findings
  • How to think critically, examine issues critically, and argue issues.
  • How to navigate the academic process: not only financial, but exploring the wide variety of post-high school education options

We’re just now seeing the impact of a generation that cannot critically think. It occupies an office that is neither rectilinear nor circular, but something that has two focii.

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Breaking Up is Hard To Do

The news today is filled with discussions around a proposition that will be on the November ballot. Quoting the LA Times:

If a majority of voters who cast ballots agree, a long and contentious process would begin for three separate states to take the place of California, with one primarily centered around Los Angeles and the other two divvying up the counties to the north and south. Completion of the radical plan — far from certain, given its many hurdles at judicial, state and federal levels — would make history. […] Northern California would consist of 40 counties stretching from Oregon south to Santa Cruz County, then east to Merced and Mariposa counties. Southern California would begin with Madera County in the Central Valley and then wind its way along the existing state’s eastern and southern spine, comprising 12 counties and ultimately curving up the Pacific coast to grab San Diego and Orange counties. Los Angeles County would anchor the six counties that retained the name California, a state that would extend northward along the coast to Monterey County.

Of course, this proposal will never go all the way: it has to pass Congress at the national level, and they would be loath to create something that might topple the balance of power in either the House or Senate. That’s why neither Puerto Rico nor DC have achieved statehood: they’d come in a strongly Democratic. But there are so many other problems with this proposal. One can easily see why the last successful state split was West Virginia, during the Civil War, in an era where there wasn’t much state level infrastructure.

But splitting California would have so many problems:

  • What would be the state postal code? After all, both NC and SC are taken. CN and CS and CA?
  • You think the state bureaucracy is bad now? Splitting means duplicating and recreating all of the government bureaucracy: Three governors, Three Lt. Governors, Three of every executive, Duplications of staffs and such. Where does the money to pay for all of that come from?
  • How will you divide infrastructure and infrastructure maintenance, especially when Caltrans districts straddle and cross state lines?
  • Think about all costs associated with resignage. Almost every sign on state highways would need to be replaced if they referenced the state name or used the state highway shield.
  • What do you do about funding of multiyear infrastructure improvement projects? How do you split the bonded indebtedness of projects that straddle state lines?
  • How do you handle water, especially when all of the major urban areas are importing their water from new California states?
  • How do we divide the costs of prisons, when they aren’t evenly distributed across the new states?
  • Think about the mess this creates for Cal State and UC, as they now become multiple systems? How would USC react to there being another USC (and note that both SCU and CSU are also taken)? How will UNC react to their being another UNC (and note that both NCU and CNU are also both taken)?

Most importantly, would I have to do the Californias Highway Pages?

Seriously, if you want to break up a state, break up Texas. They already have the Congressional approval to do so. Malcolm Gladwell of the Revisionist History podcast has a great episode on the subject; even the Texas Law Review cites it. Hint: No matter how you do it, the Republicans will lose, and lose big.

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Yerushalyim Shel Shalom

Yesterday, the US officially moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It has brought up a number of discussions, so I thought I would share my thoughts this morning before I start the day. I refer people to my statement of core values from a few days ago.

Why was the embassy moved? Ostensibly, it was in recognition of Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capitol, but as that had been on the table for a long time before, it wasn’t the real reason. The timing behind it being done now was to please Trump’s evangelical base: it fulfills a biblical prophesy that supports Covenent Theology and hastens the end of days. If you read my core values, you know my thoughts on that: I think it is presumptuous for humans to take the place of God and to do things to fulfill prophecies of a particular religion. Let God fulfill God’s prophecies in God’s time.

I saw others seeing yesterday as a “dark day for the US” because no Democratic Congresscritters attended. Given the Congress normally doesn’t attend embassy openings, I’m glad they didn’t waste the money. In the long run, who attended the ceremony won’t matter one bit. Unless is it the catalyzing action for a war, even moving the embassy won’t matter 100 years down the road. All that is significant is US support for Israel, through monetary support and military and trade alliances. For some segments of Judaism, moving the embassy is vitally important (again, often for prophetic reasons). For most American Jews, however, it is more problematic. It is likely good that it is in Jerusalem, but the timing is problematic. Right now, there was loads of violence and death as protests erupted; and unsurprisingly, the Israeli government may have responded in a way that hurt their image. Did the Israeli government overreact? Probably, but I don’t always agree with what the Israeli government does, nor do I have to. I do predict there will be chaos over this for a while, but eventually things will settle back to the normal level of hatred between the parties. After all, it’s just an embassy. In fact, one article I read noted an interesting side effect: It might lead to the opening of an embassy for the Palestinians, also in Jerusalem, which they consider as their capitol.

Finding peace in the region is a difficult goal, and it ultimately depends on the parties agreeing to compromise with each other — and that means formally recognizing each other. Palestinians must recognize that Israel must be allowed to exist in peace in some form; that to achieve their nation means not wiping Israel from the map. Israel must agree that that Palestinians have the rights to some land and some level of reparations, and that how their government has been treating them has been wrong. Both are hard recognitions to make. Trump may stumble into a solution (just has he has in Korea), not through any particular action other than pandering to his base and being batshit crazy and having a much more personal style. Being crazy and focusing on personal relations is normal operations in the Middle East, and I’ve at least one article suggesting the Palestinians work with Trump. Consider that his pulling out of the deal with Iran has not only given Iran the power to look like a good guy by staying in the pact with the Europeans, but has put fear into the Saudis and gotten them talking … to Israel. Who knows what will happen because of the unpredictability of Trump, and the fear of the unpredictable may push parties together. If in the long term the balance of powers shifts in the Middle East so that the US’s power is diminished, well, at least the US is taking care of itself, right? After all, that’s worked with China and Russia? Right? Bueller? Bueller?

However, the point of this is that the opening ceremony for the embassy in Jerusalem is noise in the larger geopolitical issues. It may seem a big deal now, but it will be overshadowed by other things quickly. Despite evangelicals seeing it as important and the fulfillment of prophecy, it ultimately is at most a sentence in a history book (if indeed there are history books — the world is coming to an end, right?).

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Art, Artists, and Accusations in the #MeToo Era

The conviction this week of Bill Cosby brings, once again, the distinction between art and artist to the fore. Whereas it might be possible to look the other way for an artist that had problematic behavior at the level of “only unsubstantiated accusation” or a single incident once way in the past, Cosby’s history makes it clear that he was abusing from his first stand-up days, and throughout his film and TV career. It raises the question of how we view his media output in the light of this. For some, Cosby has made his media work a betrayal of the values that it conveyed. But for others? Does his behavior make his standup less funny? I grew up thinking his album “Wonderfulness” was one of the best, with routines like “Tonsils” and “Chicken Heart” memorized. There was none of his abusive behavior in those stories. Indeed, throughout much of his early standup, shows like “I Spy” and his various TV series (The Bill Cosby Show in the 1960s, Cosby, etc.) were mostly wholesome entertainment. How is that tainted by the abhorrent behavior of the artist? Or to put it bluntly: You’ve got the LPs, the CDs, the DVDs of those performances, although paid for. He makes no money whether you view them anymore. So what do you do with them? Is listening to them betrayal of your values or support of his behavior?

This, in essence, is the broader question of how we separate the art from the artist. It would be wonderful if all of our artist were good people (same for our politicians). If we enjoy their work, we want the artist to be good. But people are complicated, and art is complicated, and complicated people produce art with complications. Do we abandon the artistic output of people like Woody Allan, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski? Do we not listen to bands where the rock stars slept with underage groupies? Do we delay doing so until the artist is dead, or will no longer make money from us that they can use towards abuse?

It’s not an easy question.

Complicating this is the fact that in having abusive sexual behavior, the victim is not the only one who is screwed. Think of all the other innocent actors on Bill Cosby shows, who are now not earning residuals because of Cosby’s behavior.  Think of the media companies that no longer make money, the writers that no longer get exposure. The people for whom their association with Cosby is now a stain on their resume. They didn’t ask for this. In penalizing the man, we hurt a larger community. [By the way, in saying this, I want to make clear that I don’t support his behavior or think we should look the other way. I’m only noting that his behavior hurts a far wider circle.]

It also raises the question of how we view art and artistic output in the #MeToo (and post-#MeToo era). Cosby has raised the question of good art from badly-behaving artists. But there’s also the question of the #MeToo lens. I’ve noted how our new environment has made me look at shows I watch and see differently — both for the good and bad. Some shows, like Steel Pier, resonate more post-#MeToo. Others are painful to watch because of the stereotypes they perpetuate or implicit privilege they capture (How To Succeed is an example of this, but far from the only one — perhaps Gone With The Wind is the best example). What do we do with this art, and how do we handle and reinterpret it. Do we need to explicitly express the historic context to enjoy it. Do we hide it away, embarrassed? Does art transform from good to bad because of its message?

Just as with people, art is complicated. Would there be simple answers?

I certainly don’t have them. But I see the conflict, I see the lens. I recognize the bad behavior of the artists, and (at least for some time) may set aside the artistic output. But I remain conflicted? What should I think when a song from Beyond the Sea with Keven Spacey comes on the iPod? To that end, what do I think about when I hear great music from artists that abused women? No easy answers.

I’m open to your thoughts. How are you dealing with the question of art and artists, in the post #MeToo era?

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In Which He Resembles a Broken Clock .. in Space

As you have probably figured out by now, I’m not a big fan of President Trump. I could easily list the reasons, but there is insufficient space in this post. But the President is like a broken clock, which does tell the right time occasionally. His recent “space force” proposal is almost one of those times, and doesn’t deserve the beatings that comedians are giving it. They are portraying the notion like Star Fleet, imaging battles in space and fights against space aliens. But that’s not what he is proposing.

This Vox article explains things very well. Think about how our military is structured. Originally, there was the Army and the Navy. Then battles began to be fought by naval groups on the ground, and a new organization was spun off: the Marine Corps. Aircraft were developed, and originally they were managed within the Army. But the segment grew to a point where it was working with Army, Navy, and Marines, and needed to be its own service. In 1947 (IIRC), the Air Force was spun off as its own service.

Now consider space. Our national dependence on space has grown: from GPS services to communications to imagery, it is vital to warfighting and defense. Space is primarily run by the Air Force, through the Space and Missile Command. SMC acquires space assets (satellites, launch systems, ground support) and provides the military and civilian support to operate these systems. There are also Army and Navy Space systems, and groups from other services that use space assets. Space is an increasingly contested area, both from commercial use, as well as other nations either putting assets in orbit, or attempting to attack or impede assets in orbit.

Trump’s call recognizes that. What he is suggesting is a new service, either at the Department level … or more likely analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy. This would give increased visibility to Space and Space assets, especially as the Air Force has to balance funding between aircraft and spacecraft. On the surface, the idea makes sense. When you look at it closer, it doesn’t — not because Space isn’t important, but because Space isn’t yet at the point where it requires a duplicative bureaucracy and all the extra costs and paperwork that would come with an additional corps or service. As with the Cyber battlespace, it can be addressed best at the Command level, utilizing structures currently existing within the USAF and other national security agencies.

[ETA: My friend Miriam, over on FB, commented with a good explanation of some of the problems that exist currently, that a proposal such as this might address: “The problem is that the Air Force is doing a terrible job of meeting the space-related needs of warfighters. We have satellites on orbit for decades before warfighters can use some of their capabilities. And that is largely because the AF won’t fund capabilities that are needed primarily by the Army (GPS M-code) or Navy (comm on the move, various weather capabilities).” Having an organization that can focus funding specifically on space, and can better balance the needs of the entire user base, is beneficial. The question is what is the right way to do this without overburdening the bureaucracy, which can mushroom quickly in the military.]

So, in short, not as silly an idea as it seems on the surface, but one we don’t really need yet. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

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These Boots are Made for Walking

A lot of energy is being spent by folks blathering on about how students shouldn’t have walked out, they should have walked over, or in general, not walked at all. My thoughts? I have absolutely no problem with students — of any age — peaceably protesting about any political interest that is of concern to them. It teaches civic involvement; it teaches that one can stand up to the government when one believes differently; it teaches that one voice can start a change, and many voices can bring about change; it teaches our youth the value of political involvement. As for missing school, more time is wasted on pep rallies and similar school spirit idiocies that teach nothing than an hour of protest.

I’m a child of the 1960s. I remember the days when students across high school and college campuses stood up to protest the Vietnam War, because it was their lives that were being used as cannon fodder by the government. They brought about a change in attitude towards the war, they changed society. I remember the days when students across campuses protested for civil rights and equal treatment for minorities, when student idealism brought societal change that benefited everyone.

It was protest that started with walking out.

Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done walked a mile or two.
Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done all shoes can do.

They walked with Rosa to the front of the bus;
They walked with Martin when he prayed for us.
They walked with me and they walked with you;
They done all shoes can do.

There are those who say students should walk over instead of walking out. Those who say the bullies should make nice with the bullied, and that will solve all the problems. Although that’s a nice theory, it is full of holes (perhaps .44). Those who have been bullied know, once bullying has started, the bully can’t make nice and the problem will go away. The distrust and the hatred has been sown. Bullying must be stopped before it starts. Further, it is an example of blaming the victim, of saying it was the bully who does the shooting. It is an example of diversion of the discussion away from gun regulation. It is an example of black and white thinking: if you walk over and make nice, everyone will forget about the problem with guns and we don’t need to do anything about them. Nothing says you can’t do both: address bullying in schools, and improve regulation of guns. Nothing says you can’t make schools more secure and safe, and regulate guns. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

[ETA: For those who haven’t seen my thoughts on the issue: Here’s how I think the problem of school violence should be addressed, and it isn’t the arming of teachers, which is a bad idea.]

The children will lead us on this issue, because they are the ones bearing the brunt of this violence. It is their lives, and they are taking control of them. They are saying never again. They are saying not here. They are saying that we need to keep guns out of schools — be they in the hands of students, visitors, or teachers. They are saying we increase restrictions on the most dangerous and deadly guns: make them harder to obtain, make those who own them legally more responsible for securing them, and going after those who have them legally. They are telling the gun lobby that their lives are more important than the lobby’s profits or the politicians they own.

They are walking to make a statement.

Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done walked a mile or two.
Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done all shoes can do.

They’ve been up the mountain where the trees don’t grow,
Been ‘cross the desert where they never seen snow.
Been so tired that they can’t hardly go,
But they’re good enough to get us to glory.

It’s left shoe, right shoe, don’t know the size.
Shoes on the ground and eyes on the prize.
They’ve been to the river and they’ve been baptized,
And they’re good enough to get us to glory.

(Lyric credit: “Your shoes, My Shoes”, Tom Paxton, 1998)

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Updates from the Pod People World

The following are some news items that have caught my eye over the past few weeks regarding the iPod, the larger iPod ecosystem, and the world of digital music:

  • Are Dedicated Music Players Useless? In today’s world of multifunction devices, such as your smartphone, is the dedicated MP3 player useless? The answer is a resounding “No!”, as this article shows. In addition to the 10 ways in the article, there are some even more important reasons. Dedicated MP3 players don’t use streaming bandwidth, and can be used in places where you have no Internet. They are also not visually based, so you can often operate them without looking. Being more narrow function, they are also usable in situations where phones are not (for example, MP3 players are not treated the same as phones with respect to moving vehicles). Lastly, if you upgrade storage, you can often have a much larger music library with you than you can even with services like the Amazon cloud or iTunes match, especially if you come in with a lot of preexisting music.
  • Upgrading an iPod. Stories about how one can upgrade a later generation (5G or later) iPod classic to use solid state memory come around periodically. The most recent iteration was The Verge and the Circuit Breaker Podcast having an article how to do so. However, they made one major error: they indicated you get the boards and supplies through eBay. Nonsense! I’ve had three iPods updated, and a 4th will eventually be upgraded as well, and in all cases I went straight to the source: the iFlash Adaptor site. I’ve used their iFlash Dual card for all three of my iPod Classics. They also have a useful blog with advice on batteries and memory cards. If you’re local to LA, I’ve found a good person to install the card, if you’re not a hardware person (and I’m not). Drop me an email or a comment and I’ll get you in touch with the person I used.
  • Digital vs. Physical Music . In the days before there was an iTunes store, how was digital audio and video shared? The answer is: via Usenet, and it was this new style of digital sharing — across a forum originally intended for textual messages — that led Usenet to its slow death, while spurring on the growth of the web and online music and video stores. Meanwhile, we’re seeing the death of the physical form for digitized media — CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays — in favor of streaming. This is a very bad trend, and we must all work to support physical media. There are a number of reasons. First, the physical media made available many rare shows and albums that were saved from obscurity. It also preserved additional information, such as directors cuts, audio tracks, bonus tracks, commentary. Those aren’t present for streaming media, and there is no assurance that rare material will be available for streaming. It is also much easier, with only streamed media, for the media content owner to make the content unavailable. You also can’t easily share streamed media with friends. It is a bad move for the consumer.
  • End of the Headphone Jack. The simple 3.5mm audio jack. It has been around for over 50 years, coming in with the transistor radio, replacing the large headphone jack. It is now starting to disappear, and we should mourn (if not protest) its demise. There are many advantages to this format. Being analog, it is not subject to restricted digital format or digital rights management. It works across all vendors, and you don’t need different products for different devices. Its analog signal is also adaptable, being used for not only sound but any electrical signal such as a card reader, health monitors, and such. By moving to proprietary digital connectors (as they did with streaming), vendors are tying you to using their product, and their enforcement of accessibility to your music. They are creating waste and making obsolete numerous devices, which often go to landfills.
  • Music Management Software. Those who use an iPod or Apple device have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. Often you must use it, but it could be so much better. Here’s a review of 7 iTunes alternatives. The problem is that none of them are iTunes replacements: it is unclear if they handle accumulated metadata, such as the number of plays; it is unclear if they can communicate with older Apple devices (such as the iPod Classic); and it is unclear if they support Smart Playlists. Often, these replacements aren’t too intelligent: they don’t understand synchronization, and they presume album-oriented play. That’s great for a college student with perhaps 50 albums; its bad when you have over 2000 albums and over 42000 songs.
  • Wither iTunes? Of course, the issue with iTunes may be forced. Apple has the ability to make your device obsolete. Just ask the people with first-generation Apple TVs, who are being disconnected from iTunes. Just ask those who use iTunes on Windows XP or Vista. Just ask those hoping to purchase iTunes LPs with additional album content. All have had, or will have, support discontinued by Apple. This is a big worry for me: Why does Apple have any reason to continue to support the ability to synchronize with discontinued iPods, such as the iPod Classic. It is one reason I will not buy an iPhone (requires the latest iTunes), and one reason why I haven’t upgraded from iTunes 11. I still worry that, one day, iTunes 11 will not work on Windows 10, or will no longer support podcasts. At that point, will I be forced to Rockbox, if it still exists? Their iPod Classic ports aren’t stable. Will I need to find a new media player, such as the Fiio Players? What will that mean for my metadata and smart playlists.

We’re going to a world where we may not have physical LPs or CDs for our music. As we age, what will guarantee we’ll be able to bring our music with us? Are we destined to copy our music from server to server (I hope you remembered that backup), or paying companies indefinitely to store it in the cloud? And when that cloud or drive goes “poof”, how will historians discover our music? Analog is essentially forever (or as long as the media lasts), but digital is remarkably ephemeral. Enjoy your music while you have it, for tomorrow it will be gone.

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