Friday, October 12, 2007

Brief Life Update No. 22: My MacBook, iPod and Me

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Okay. Two main reasons---or excuses, whichever you prefer---for my long absence from posting, both of which I'll go into in considerable detail.

First reason: a few weeks ago, I bit the bullet and decided to get myself a new computer. I've never been all that happy with the Gateway 400X that I've had for the past five years; it runs fine, and I can do basic stuff on it, but I basically rushed to purchase it without doing much research, and so I bought a computer with a 4 x 3 display that had an irritatingly loud cooling fan that got even noisier if you didn't use an air compressor and blow into it once in a while (so instead of a mere whir, it might buzz).

So I've been meaning to invest in a new computer, and I decided, thanks to a promotion Apple runs seemingly every year once college students are about to resume classes for the fall, to try a Mac. This time, I spent a few weeks mulling over my options. No, I probably didn't need a Mac, and since the Mac OS X is quite different from Windows XP (or Vista, which I haven't yet tried), maybe it'd be better to stick with what I'm used to. And yet I've heard so much about the supposed superiority of Macs to PCs from both friends and experts (mostly the ones at CNET) that sheer curiosity compelled me to give it a shot. Of course, Macs tend to be a little more expensive than other, Windows-based computers, even with the slight reduction that I would get because I was a college student at a participating university---so what kind of Mac would I get? Should I blow a lot of money on the MacBook Pro, which has the kind of bigger-size screen (either 15" or 17") that I'm used to on my old computer (and has a superior graphics capability, which I don't necessarily need right now)? Should I save a little money and deal with a smaller (13") screen by getting the regular MacBook? Or---a suggestion offered by my mother---should I get the regular desktop iMac, which is actually less money than a MacBook Pro? Just for the bigger (20" or 24") screen size?

I decided to go with the MacBook, and, with one exception---the fact that, after a free 30-day trial, I have to pay about $200 or $300 extra to get Microsoft Office on my MacBook---so far I'm happy with it. I find the smaller screen no big deal, and the fact that it's a glossy screen turns out to be not as big a problem as I initially thought: as long as the screen is bright enough and you're in a controlled-lighting environment, it provides barely any distractions at all. (My previous computer had a matte screen, as far as I could tell.) And, of course, it makes very little, if any, noise---it's as quiet as I've always wanted it. That may sound trivial, but after living with my noisy Gateway for four or five years, to me, it matters.

That's not all I got from Apple, though. Another part of this promotion was that, if you bought a computer, you could also get a free iPod---at least, free after a mail-in rebate of as much as $149. That, of course, put me in the range of an iPod nano (the old one, not the newer, fatter one); if I wanted a classic or regular iPod, it'd still cost me money, just $149 less. Still not a bad deal by any means.

Now, you must understand something: for the past few years, I have been semi-consciously resisting the iPod trend, only because I've always thought it was kind of silly to walk around outdoors wearing earbuds or headphones in general, as if one was consciously cutting oneself off from the sensations and sounds of the real world. Besides, I'm hardly the biggest music buff in the world---classical music (mostly Beethoven onwards), a few favorite rock bands (The Beatles; Talking Heads; Radiohead, although I generally fonder of their pre-Kid A music), and of course stray Asian pop stuff. That's pretty much it so far. So I figured, what would I need an iPod for?

Time to eat my words. I would never dare to walk around in Times Square with earbuds listening to music on my iPod, but otherwise my new blue iPod nano is my new favorite toy. I take it outside whenever I ride my bike around the neighborhood for about half an hour, and I always listen to it a little bit before going to sleep. I love the shuffle feature; I'm always eager to hear what weird combinations the iPod will come up with (say, Talking Heads' "Crosseyed and Painless" butting up against a movement from Holst's "The Planets" followed by an Anita Mui Cantopop ballad with an Ella Fitzgerald rendition of a Cole Porter song not too far behind? It's my idea of weird and wonderful).

But perhaps my new iPod nano is valuable for another reason: it has spurred me on to try to explore more music---just so I can have a nice variety to choose from when I try to shuffle the songs around. Right now, the selection on my iPod is pretty much dominated by the voices of John Lennon and David Byrne, which is undoubtedly fun but potentially boring down the road.

Maybe it's about time I get into Bob Dylan, in anticipation of that new Todd Haynes movie coming out soon...

Second reason, somewhat related to my first: for the most part, I think I'm digging my new part-time work schedule at the monitor desk at The Wall Street Journal, mostly for the time it gives me every night to do things like read (news and/or books), listen to music, and sometimes even write. In short, enough leisure time for me to feel like I'm expanding my mind somewhat and not falling strictly into some kind of "punch-in, punch-out" drudgery. So, since I started this new position at the Journal, I've been able to read the New York Times online for about an hour just about every day; finish reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road (wonderful) and Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men (not quite as amazing, but I'm still excited to see how the Coen Brothers translate McCarthy's punchy prose and general world-weariness to the screen in their upcoming movie version); and explore the sonic splendors of the Beatles (a relief after seeing various songs of theirs desecrated in Julie Taymor's near-campy Across the Universe) and Radiohead (in preparation for the pay-whatever-you-want mp3 release of their latest album In Rainbows).

Oddly enough, even as I'm reading and listening more, I'm not watching nearly as many movies-on-DVD as I used to. And even odder, I don't entirely find myself missing the DVD-watching habit either. I still watch 'em, just not as regularly as before.

Overall, can I say that I feel content at how things are going right now? I think so, even if, once in a while, that old thought creeps into my head as to whether I'm not thinking enough about all the stresses that are bound to come in my future: things like when I plan to find my own place, how I plan to afford an apartment or something, how I plan to get some kind of writing career off the ground, how to plan financially, etc. You know, adult stuff. I may be living in some kind of personal luxury now, but have I even glimpsed the real world yet? Am I prepared? Methinks probably not. And the thought---during the occasional times I reflect on it---is rather nervewracking.

Now back to my MacBook and my iPod...

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