My Music DNA: The FM Years

Until I wrote My Music DNA:  The AM Era I never thought about how my life has been one long experiment with technology.  We like to think personal technology started with personal computers, or for some people, the iPod, iPhone or iPad, but now that I contemplate the topic, I realize The Gadget Age started in the 19th century with photography, then the phonograph, movie camera and radio.  Before gadgets if you wanted to hear music you had to go where the musicians were performing.  If you wanted to see Paris you had to go to France.

Gadgets bring the world to us, whether it’s voice, music, images or movies.  To a degree, books and paintings are proto-gadgets, they bring distant words and images to us created by people, but gadgets bring snapshots of reality, whether it’s images (photography), voice and music  (phonograph, radio) or movies (film and television).  A personal computer or iPad are dazzling devices because not only can they bring us voice, music, images and movies, they can process these media like a word processer processes words.

Although FM radio was patented in 1933, first broadcasts weren’t made until 1939, and stereo not added until the late 1950s, I didn’t get my first FM radio until 1968.  FM radio took a long time to catch on.  If you look at the Fidelity Potential Index Table you will see how sound recordings have evolved since the invention of the wax cylinder.  FM music has more fidelity than the 78 and 45, but not as much as the LP.  I had already started buying 45s and LPs before I got my first FM radio.  My first FM radio came in a small console stereo I bought in 1968 from the Columbia Record Club, when I was 16.  It was my first installment plan purchase.  I don’t have a photo of my first console stereo, but it looked something like this.

console-stereo2

Working as paperboy, cutting lawns, babysitting, and eventually as a bagboy didn’t not pay enough to buy all the music I wanted to hear, so my FM radio was a magical piece of technology.  AM radio was all about hit singles, whereas FM was about albums.  FM radio took me out of the teeny-bopper tunes and introduced me to a more mature level of album oriented music.

Among the albums I discovered back in 1968 on my FM radio was Truth by Jeff Beck, which I immediately bought.  I was transitioning from AM radio to FM and I discovered new groups like Cream,  Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, Steve Miller, Grateful Dead, etc.  I also got into the albums of artists I had discovered on the AM airwaves like The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Mamas and The Pappas.

I remember friends coming over in 1968 to hear the FM radio for the first time and being blown away – it was that different from AM.

My FM years didn’t last long, from 1968-1972.  It was transitional technology.  FM brought me a wide range of music from around the world, but it was a broadcast technology.  I started buying LPs in the AM era, and by 1970 I had about 300 albums, but they were never enough.  FM radio was my music news and how I discovered new music until I couldn’t handle the disc jockeys.  At first, back in the 1960s, FM was considered underground music, but FM took over the hit parade as more people got FM receivers.  At a certain point disc jockeys became so annoying I gave up FM and AM radio.

In 1969 I started getting my music news from The Rolling Stone magazine.  For a brief while in the late 70s and early 80s I returned to FM to listen to WEVL, a volunteer radio station where music fans hosted music shows rather than professional disc jockeys.  But for the most part I gave up radio listening in the 1970s.  I became a album buying addict, buying over a thousand LPs before I switched to buying CDs in the 1980s, and I went on to buy 1,500 CDs before I phased into streaming music in recent years.

AM radio showcased top hits that were played frequently.  AM hits of the 1960s provide the core music that Baby Boomers share.  On any given day you could hear about 40-60 different songs.

FM radio offered a far larger range of music and styles until it was hijacked by the Top 40 format and became zany entertainment for automobile drivers.  In the early days of FM if you tried hard enough you could hear 100-200 different songs in a day.

Buying LPs offered the choice of thousands of albums at better stores.  And LPs allowed fans to own music, another kind of enabling technology.

With Internet shopping, collectors could buy a million CDs if they could afford it – then the MP3 revolution hit, and collectors could steal those million albums if they had the time, bandwidth and lack of ethics.  Now with steaming music anyone can have easy access to over a million albums, or about 15-20 million songs for $9.99 a month.

iTunes and iPod reinvented the hit singles and almost killed the album.  Streaming music is like combining FM and owning LPs with renting music, and it promotes the album.

FM radio still exists, as does AM radio and even LPs, but they are waning technologies that have been supplanted by the Internet.  FM radio was a stepping stone technology that expanded the world of music over AM.  FM radio is now a trailing technology – it fits a niche market, and has many competitors like Sirius Radio, a paid service, or Pandora Radio, free and paid, that offers music from a very wide selection of albums, and is a far superior to broadcast technology.  Broadcast radio itself is a waning technology, even with HD Radio.

Streaming music offers the greatest selection and control – with instant access to most of the albums in print.

Strangely enough, it’s very hard for me to remember FM songs that I loved because of listening to the radio, versus songs from the same time period that I bought on LPs.  The way I’ve discovered how to tell the difference is to listen to Play Cofi Jukebox at tropicalglen.com by the years below.  The songs I loved but never bought are songs I can give thanks to FM radio technology.  What’s surprising is just how many of those songs there were.  Just click on a link and listen.  How many of the songs did you buy, and how many are part of your memories because you listened to FM radio?

19681969197019711972

It’s strange to think that young people today may never have listened to an AM or FM radio, or bought a LP or CD.  But I wonder, just what kind of technologies will supplant streaming music?  Combining streaming music with a smartphone is about as close to thinking of a song and hearing it instantly telepathically as one can get.  Will they ever invent brain transceivers that stimulate the neurons directly, and just bypass the ears?  It’s just amazing to think of all the technological change in one lifetime.

But you know what?  There’s one constant that doesn’t change.  That’s listening to music.

JWH – 2/21/12

Living in the Cloud: A File Structure for Life

I’ve been messing with microcomputers since 1979, but it wasn’t until the mid-90s that I realized I was creating data I didn’t ever want to lose.  By the mid-00s with digital music, video and photography it’s obvious to everyone that we had invisible possessions we’d want to keep for life.  This presents a number of problems.  How long can I preserve photos like this of my great grandparents?

1920s - Dad's father on right - with parents and brothers - cropped

File Formats

My first efforts of writing fiction was on a Commodore 64 – and even if I had any of its floppies, I couldn’t read the discs, nor would I have a word processing program to read the files.  When I got a PC I bought Word Perfect, but that was many PCs ago, and I’ve since converted those files to Word.  If I live to be 100 (1951) will I still be able to read those files?  If by a miracle I do live a century I’m pretty sure I’ll be a sentimental old slob who cries over his ancient snapshots.  Will I be able to find the ones I want and still view them?  Is it .jpg forever?  I’ve been buying audiobooks from Audible.com since 2002, will I still have my audiobook library to play in 2051?  Or all the Kindle books I’m buying now?

Standard file formats are critical to long-term preservation of data.  How long will Amazon maintain the DRM copy protection on my Kindle books and Audible audiobooks?

Data Migration

I’ve lost count how many computers I’ve own after eleven.  Every time I get a new computer I need to move all my files over and that’s a pain.  I’m always making a new folder and throwing stuff in it, so the number of files I’m saving constantly grows, and every few years I try to clean things out and it’s a big job.  Usually when I get a new computer I just copy everything in My Documents to the new My Documents folder.  But what if I got a Mac?  Or what if in 2022 they come out with some far out new computer system?

File Organization

If you start with one folder, and organize your digital life into sub-folders, what is the best structure?  I sure wished that iTunes hadn’t put ripped audio books into My Music years ago, because that’s causing problems moving my music to the cloud.   Is there a way to plan for future snafus?

Is there an optimal structure that will stand the test of time.  By structure, I mean folder organization.

\Jim Harris

\Audio Books

\Data

\Ebooks

\Mind Maps

\Music

\Numbers

\PDF

\Photos

\Words

\Essays

\Fiction

\Videos

Let’s imagine a future where we have federally regulated data banks like we have money banks and we can trust them implicitly.  In this future, data bank replicates our data in layers of backups, that for anything short of Armageddon, will be completely secure.  Should we put all our data in one place?  In the above chart I could remove \Music because I have my music stored at Google, Amazon and Apple.  I could also remove \Photos because of Picasaweb.  I could also remove \Audio Books and \Ebooks because of Amazon.

Because we don’t have data banks and because my cloud storage is limited at Dropbox and SkyDrive, I will let those other companies maintain my media files.  But if we did have trustworthy data banks, I’d probably want all my content in one location, which means precise organization is important if I’m collecting files for life.

Data Inheritance

There is another thing to consider – what happens when we die?  When our parents die we inherit their papers, books, records, photos and so on.  Won’t we do the same things with digital files?  When I die I want my file structure copied over to my wife’s data bank, and if I wanted, I’d like to give copies to all interested relatives and friends too.  Having a well organize file structure would make it easier for people to go through my digital processions.

Cloud of the Future

Someday we will have data banks.  We might even have laws that require our data to be saved for historians.  Can you imagine scholars from 2782 AD trying to research our times?  I saw a wonderful show on Nova last night, “Mysteries of a Masterpiece” about art historians working to validate a work of art as Leonardo da Vinci.  The scientists had lots of physical artifacts to examine.  If our world goes digital, what will future researchers have to figure out how we lived?

Moving to the cloud is the first step towards this future where we have data banks and preserving digital data for all time.

JWH – 1/26/12

Living the in Cloud: Dropbox and Evernote

If you access the internet from only one device this article won’t mean much to you, so I won’t mind if you go read something more interesting.

However, if you own a computer and a tablet, or a computer, smartphone and tablet, then reading about Evernote and Dropbox might be worth a few minutes of your time.  If you’re like me and juggle a lot of devices then learning to squirrel your digital crap all over the cloud becomes more vital.  At home I have both a Windows and Linux desktop, at work I have Windows, Linux and Mac desktops, and between the two locations I have an iPod touch and iPad 2.

What a pain it is to think of something you want and realize you left it in your other computer.  Moving to the cloud is in its early stages, so 100% tried and true solutions are in the future.  As society evolves towards the day when internet access has five nines of uptime, 99.999%, then we can develop a new paradigm of trusting our files to the cloud, and that will be the difference between life before personal computers and life after them.

dropboxevernote

Although I’d like to be a cyborg and meld my brain with silicon I’m not quite there yet, but I do think of the Internet as my auxiliary brain and that presents some problems.  Before the Internet going to work meant leaving my main auxiliary brain at home – how inconvenient.   Sure, someone invented the laptop and it was a good idea at the time, but it was only a stopgap solution.  After we got smartphones and tablets it became pretty obvious trying to sync all our crap between every device we owned was a losing battle.  The solution was to put all digital kipple in one location and then let all the machines, big and small, fetch what we needed from that primary storage.

What this means is the cloud is our new auxiliary memory and the machine we use is less important.  The old fanboy battle between PC versus Mac becomes silly.  If I can read my docs, listen to my music and look at my photos from any device, does it matter how big or small it is, or who made it, or even who owns it?  Instant access is what counts.  Memories are best served fast.

When the cloud becomes our digital memory deciding how to organize memories becomes significant.  I’m playing with two tools, Dropbox and Evernote.  Both are free to use with an introductory amount of cloud space, but fill up your cloud attic, and you’ll have to pay for more space for your white elephants.  That’s cool, but I haven’t committed to either one yet because I’m still evaluating how they store my memories.  I’ll probably buy into both, but I haven’t decided.

Dropbox is like having a hard drive in the cloud.  You create folders and store whatever kind of files you want.  It’s very computer centric.   When you join you get 2gb of free space.  If you convince a friend to join they give you another 250mb of space.  If you get enough friends to join you can get up to 8gb of free space, but after that you rent larger blocks of space.  By the way, if you join from this link I’ll earn some extra space.

Evernote is different, it’s database centric.  Evernote is a free-form database where you leave notes, either ones you type, or ones you email via a smartphone, or clip from the web, or cut and paste from your own computer documents.  You can even embed PDF files.  If you spend $45 a year, upgrading to the Premium version, gets you more memory processing features and more storage space.

The neat thing about Evernote is being able to search your collection of notes.  Since I’m getting old and the access speed on my biological memory has become erratic, untrustworthy and slow, having cloud base memory with search is nifty indeed.  Because Evernote is a free-form database, throw your data in any old way, it doesn’t matter, and let search find it for you.  You can be as sloppy or neat as your personality.

Both programs install as programs on your computers, work from web apps, or install as apps on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.

I can access Evernote and Dropbox from my PC, Mac, Linux, iPad, and iPod touch.  If I think of something I want to remember, or read something I want to remember, I can choose to remember it the old way, or I can memorize it in my auxiliary memory.

JWH – 1/24/12

I’ve Been Living Under a Rock–So Who are the Kardashians?

I’ve been living under a rock, or so it would seem, because until today when I looked up Kardashians on Wikipedia I really didn’t know who they were.  For weeks I’ve been hearing the word Kardashians and wondered if they were a band. 

Friday at work, I overheard three students arguing about the K named people.   When two left, I asked the remaining young woman, and she smiled and kindly explained they were people who were paid to be famous.  “Umm…  They do that now?” I wasn’t so clueless that I hadn’t notice tabloids exclaiming gossipy stories about K named women at the checkout.  Something about an expensive wedding and a marriage gone bad in 72 days.

Today I looked up the name Kardashian on Wikipedia and found out about their television show.  Even when I had cable I never watched E!.  I really don’t need to know any more about the Kardashians than I do now, and would not recognize one if I saw one.

This amuses me and I chuckle at my own cluelessness.  To the young, knowledge of the famous is a sanity check.  Not knowing the glitterati often gets me a sneer or sarcasm, that tells me I’m out of touch with reality and implying I’m over that famous hill.  I turned 60 last year, and I can’t name the young people who are currently famous as movie stars, TV stars, sport stars, and I would stay rock stars, but is rock is even famous anymore?  I’m just now memorizing Kate Winslet’s name and I saw Titanic twice at the theaters – for the shipwreck.

My pop culture education grades took a nose dive when I gave up cable TV and quit reading TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly.  I do read The Rolling Stone on my iPad, so I know a few new groups, but I had to buy two Arcade Fire albums before I could remember their damn name, and I still can’t remember any of their dang song titles.  Starting in my late 40s, and all through my 50s, I’ve been losing the ability to remember nouns – so maybe that’s why I lost interest in pop culture.  Following the famous requires noun memorization.

I know who Kay Francis and Robert Montgomery were, and I doubt millions of young people do – so there!  Who is clueless now?

Luckily, forgetting doesn’t hurt.  Oh, it’s annoying when I struggle to recall a name I used to know, but it doesn’t hurt.  And it’s not even embarrassing at work when young people make fun of me for not knowing the people they worship.  I remember being 13 and baffled by parents, aunts, uncles and teachers that reveal their low IQ by not knowing The Byrds and Robert Heinlein.

The 21st century is so passé, the 19th century is where it’s at.  My new idols are Anthony Trollope, Louise May Alcott, John Singer Sargent, Edith Wharton, Charles Darwin, … so back under my rock.

JWH – 1/16/12

How to Organize and Store Photographs???

I have stacks of photo albums, boxes of loose photos, pictures framed on the walls and standing around as knickknacks, gigabytes of digital photos, photos stuck in books, pics left in drawers and stuck to the refrigerator, and who knows where else.  And like most people, if my house burned down I think I would morn the photos the most.  I have family photos going back 90 years.

Not only that, I have many sets of digital photos because I keep backing them up to multiple devices.  This might sound good, but I no longer know which set is the master set, and I’m not sure if any one set of digital photos is a complete set.  I put Picasa on my computer and it found zillions of photos on two internal drives and one external, but so far I haven’t found out how to use it to organize my photo collection.  I also have three more external hard drives that I used with my last four computers that also have caches of photographs.

And if my house burned down or got blown away by a tornado, all my digital copies wouldn’t help me because they are all at the house.  Sensible people scan all their photos and then back them up to online backup sites.  I was doing that until Mozy wanted to quadruple my yearly fee and I had to cancel my account.  So I’m thinking of new ways to get a handle on my photo collection that keeps multiplying like Tribbles.

However, it’s an enormous task and I’m big fat lazy person.  When I wrote the title of this post it wasn’t because I was offering authoritative answers, but because I’m looking for advice.  I want to spend some time here and think about the best way to solve this problem and hopeful get some useful suggestions.

I’ve been researching fireproof boxes and safes but I don’t know if that’s the answer.  Common fireproof boxes and safes aren’t suitable for photographs and negatives.  Most professional photographers recommend media safes, which are expensive.  Some people recommend bank safety deposit boxes, but other people don’t recommend them because even they aren’t completely trustworthy.  In other words there is no real guarantee of protecting your photographs, just various levels of precaution.

We’re living in a digital age so I’m going to go with digital protection.  I love my old photos that look old, but they look old because they are deteriorating from fading and discoloring.  I figure the oldest of the photos I might put in a fireproof box or get a safety deposit box, but the first thing I want to do is get them all scanned and copies given to my relatives.

The biggest problem I see facing digitizing my photo collection is how to organize the files.  What good is thousands of pictures with cryptic names filed away in a confusion of folder names?  I have lots of folders that say things like Washington trip (but there were two) and Snow Days (of which there were many).

When my mother died we had a slideshow at her funeral that I prepared.  Putting it together made me realize that I think organizing pictures by people might be a good organizing principle.  It was fun trying to find all the photos I could of my mother and then ordering them chronologically.  That’s very hard to do when people don’t write dates and locations on the back of  the pictures, but with detective work and the memory of many it can be done.

But this solution isn’t perfect because most photos have more than one person in them.  My solution to this was to repeat photos in each folder.  For instance I have a folder for my mother Virginia Little Harris and my dad George Delaney Harris.  Now I could have made another folder for Mom and Dad together, but it seemed redundant because if you look at each of their folders you see all their together photographs.

My first solution was to make folders for all of our photos which would be a massive collection:

  • 2 folders – couple
  • 4 folders – parents
  • 8 folders – grandparents
  • 32 folders – great grandparents
  • Many folders for aunts and uncles, and great variations
  • Many many folders for cousins of various generations
  • Many folders for friends
  • Many folders for pets
  • Many folders for houses
  • Vacations

I then decided we should divide the work and keep our families separate and each person would have a genealogy of photos:

  • Top Level Person
  • Spouses
  • Parents
  • Aunts and Uncles
  • Cousins
  • Grandparents
  • Great Grandparents
  • Friends
  • Pets
  • Objects (houses, cars, schools, etc.)
  • Vacations

So for my household we’d have two main collections:

/photos/jim/subfolders

/photos/susan/subfolders

That’s pretty manageable, and it divides up the work, and we can easily separate out folders to give away to our individual relatives.

The next step is ordering the photos within a folder.  Personal I like order them by year.  I’m very time oriented.  I like seeing pictures of people from when they were born till they die.  But to do this you have to name the photos by year, like “1928-04 Dad and great grandfather” or “1940s – xxx” or “1957g – xxxx.”   I use g for guess.  I’d love to know exactly when a photo was taken so I could prefix it with YEAR-MO-DA, but that seldom happens.

Of course this scheme fails miserably if you’re an art photographer and take pictures of everything under the sun.  Hell, how does a photographer of nude women organize their files?  Where’s that photo of the brunette with a emerald stud in her navel?  But hell, I can’t worry about such mind bending problems since my task is to organize family photos.

My mother put most of her photos in albums that have begun eating the photos, so my first step was to convert all these albums to archival quality albums.  That took days, but the process was personally transformative.  Looking at family photos for days on end conjured up endless forgotten memories.  This was a rather philosophical experience.  Each photo triggered a memory, or emotion, or a thought about a dead person or people I haven’t seen in years – and I looked at hundreds of them and that had impact.  The whole experience also instilled a desire to know my family better, but also made me wonder about that old saying, “blood is thicker than water.”  Blood ties me to so many people I never knew or know little, so just how important is my genetic connections?

When I was in my twenties I decided I didn’t want to be the kind of person that looked backwards, so I threw all my photos and mementos away.  And even though I had been into photography enough  to have a darkroom, I stopped taking pictures.  And for many years I didn’t own a camera.  And I’ve known other people that don’t like taking photos.  They want to just experience the moment without always trying to record it.  Now that I’m older I realize that isn’t a good plan.  Memory is a piss poor way to recall the past.  Living in the now means only having the now.  I’m older, and naturally looking backwards, and I have very few clues to help me see how things unfolded.  Luckily, other people took photographs, and my wife remembers much better than I do.

Organizing photographs has also become organizing memories, which leads to philosophical observations.  Life is very short and fleeting when all you can find of your past is a 25-30 images of yourself taken over 59 years of life.  One thing that’s amusing is I spend a lot of time on this blog remember when I first started reading science fiction, so I tried to find a photo from 1964 when I discovered the books of Robert A. Heinlein that have remained so memorable to me.  Here’s one that might be from that time, and a recent photo.  It’s hard to believe that so much of my mental kid world from 1964 is still surviving in the old bald head of the 2011 me.  By the way, my big fat head is blocking the view of the 12 Heinlein YA novels I ordered directly from Charles Scribners in 1967, that I first read in 1964 and bought with my first paycheck when I got a job at 16.

jim-001Jim-58

JWH – 3/16/11

The Burden and Responsibilities of Family Photos

When people die their children usually go through the deceased possessions and divvy up the family mementos which usually include photographs the dying person has collected in their lifetime.  My wife and I have the photographs from her family and my family.  And when people in your family know you have the family photos they tend to send you the odd photo in their collection that would mean something to you from their family.  Awhile back my cousin Alana sent me some pictures she had inherited from my grandmother when she died.  I had not heard from my father’s side of the family in decades, so we had a lot of catching up to do.

One of the photographs is four grown sons and their father and mother.  One of the sons is my father’s father, or my paternal grandfather that I never knew.  I never knew my maternal grandfather either.  All I ever knew about family history was was from my two grandmothers.  So this photograph introduced me to my grandfather, and great grandfather and grandmother, as well as three great uncles I never remembered even mentioned by anyone.  I wonder about their families.  Is there anyone like me with a copy of this photo wondering about the other three brothers?

1920s - Dad's father on right - with parents and brothers - cropped

My grandfather was named George Wallis Harris.  I’m James Wallace Harris, so somehow the spelling got changed, or the spelling from the genealogy was wrong about my grandfather.  He married Helen Imogene Delaney, and my dad was called George Delaney Harris.  I almost was James Delaney Harris.  My father’s father was the man on the right.  His brothers were from the left, Jan, Charlie and Carl.  My grandfather was born in 1897 and my grandmother in 1898.

The older couple in front of the sons are my great grandparents George General Harris, born 1872, and Minnie Maude Maynard, born 1871.  All I know about these people is they lived in Nebraska.  My father was born in Nebraska in 1920, but moved to Miami as a small child.  I can remember him telling me stories about visiting Nebraska, and how the farmers would get together to kill jack rabbits by walking side by side down the fields to flush them out.

I think my great grandparents worked a farm, but I don’t know. Only two of them bothered to dress up for the photo. I can’t tell if my great grandmother’s dress was dirty or is the smudges part of the photo or the copy of the photo.

I found one other photo among my mother’s photos that I think is of my great grandfather and my father and his younger brother Jack.  I don’t have any photos of their younger brother Bob at all.

1929q Jack Grandfather Dad - I guess

When I say owning the families photos are a burden or responsibility it’s because I have pieces of history, and maybe the only known copies that are evidence to people’s lives in the past.  I uploaded this photo to the web so my cousins could have it, and maybe convince my nephews to take interest.  Since Susan and I have no children I’m not sure where our photo collection will go when we die.  I assume we’ll give everything to our nephews and nieces.  We should give them copies now before something happens.

If our photos were to be burned up in a fire or destroyed in a flood, all these unique views of the past would be gone.  So I’m thinking I should put in the extra effort to preserve them.  It’s a shame there isn’t some kind of national historical photo registry.  There might be people alive today that could tell me more stories about these people.

All I know is my grandfather and grandmother, who is from Indiana, moved from Nebraska to Miami in the 1920s, but I don’t know how early.  I do know they were there by 1928 because I have this photo labeled “George Jr. and Jack Harris 1928, Coronado Apts. N.E. 17th Terrace.”  I had heard stories of them talking about the great Miami hurricane of 1926, but I don’t know if they there then or not.  My sister says my grandfather was referred to as a barefoot mailman, but that was something that started in the 1890s and I don’t think they were there that early.  Uncle Jack was born in Nebraska in 1924, so I assume they came to Miami between 1924 and 1928.

1928 Jack and Dad Coronado Apts

My father died when I was 19.  He always worked two and three jobs and was never home except to sleep, so I don’t remember talking to him much.  He was in the Air Force and we moved around a lot.  But we mostly lived around Miami, and when we were there I’d see my grandmother Helen Delaney Harris, whom I called Ma.  She mostly talked about growing up in Indiana.  I only have a few photos of her, the earliest of which is a newspaper clipping.  She’s third from the left on the top row wearing some god awful bow or flower on her head.

Helen Delaney Harris - school girl

I only remember a few stories about Ma even though I used to stay with her.  She managed apartments when I was growing up and sometimes my parents would leave me with her.  The apartments were always ones where old people lived and I’d hear a lot of stories about the old days, including meeting an old lady who had been on the Titanic.  I wished cheap video cameras had existed back in the 1950s and 1960s so I could have recorded these memories.  That’s the thing, all we have now are the photographs.  The stories pretty much went in one ear and out the other.  I wished I could have saved them.  Here’s the best photo I have of Ma.

1957-04 Dad's Mom Helen Delaney Harris

I do remember stories about her teaching in a one room school house, and that during the war she drove trucks and chauffeured officers as a staff driver.  She had lots of old friends and loved to collect figurines of dogs.  That’s not a lot to remember is it?  That’s why these photos are so important.  They are my only real evidence of the past.  I’m like that guy in that movie Memento trying to figure out life with only short term memories.  I have another photo of Ma.  When my mother got tuberculosis and went to stay in a sanatorium up north at Valley Forge, and my father was stationed in Canada, Ma took care of my sister Becky and I for several months.  This photo is from that time.

1959 - Jim Helen Becky

She looks so old there, but was just 61.  I’m turning 60 this year.  This photo was taking in Hollywood, Florida around 1958-59.  The house there is one of my favorites of childhood but I have no photographs of what it looked like on the inside.  I’d give anything if my parents had taken more photos.  I’m not sure who took the photo here, but I think it was taken to send to my mother in the hospital.  Those were our Easter outfits that year, and my snappy white hat blew out of the car window coming back from church.  Would I remember that without this photo?

I really don’t remember much about my father.  I don’t have many photos of him either.  Here’s one I like taken when he graduated high school.

1939-05 - Dad at Homestead FL

He’s a little younger in this photo than I was when he died in 1970.  I was 19.  I know very little about his teenage years, but I do know he hated my teenage years.  I had long hair, did drugs and was against the Vietnam war.  His dream for me was to go to the Air Force Academy.  I don’t know what his dreams for himself were.  Years ago I found a clipping from the Miami Herald that mentioned he and some of his classmates working on a project for the paper.  He told me he delivered telegrams for Western Union to make money in high school.  In 1942 he joined the Army and ended up a drill sergeant out in Arizona.  Somehow he started in the Army but ended in the Air Force.  I don’t know if he was ever in the Army Air Corps.  Maybe these uniforms can reveal that.  For all I know he could have been in the Army during the war and got out and then joined the Air Force.

1945-01 Dad in Arizona

1944-04 SSgt George D

1945 Dad

1949g -Mom and Dad

1952 - Mom Me Dad 2

The last photo with me and my mom from 1952.  The one before that was with my mom, before I was born, when they lived in Puerto Rico, probably round 1949.  I think that was the happiest time of their marriage.  For the first six years of their marriage they were told they couldn’t have children.  I do know Becky and I were a handful.

I can only find one later photo of my dad, an accidental photo, taken in 1969.  He’s profiled by the light, shining on his bald head.

1969 - Last photo of Dad

I have a few more photos from when he in high school and in the service, but these few here are pretty much all the evidence I have of my dad’s existence. When my sister and I die, and these photos are given to my nephews, this is all they will know about their maternal grandfather.  Maybe I can convince them to read this blog.  (Nick and Mack, if you want want copies of all the photographs just let me know.)

That’s the thing, what kind of past would we have without photos to remind us?  I have a responsibility to preserve the evidence that I have, but I don’t know how long people will care.   We believe people continue to exist as long as other people remember them.  That’s an interesting obligation.

If you keep the family photos you become the family historian, and a detective.  I really wasn’t prepared for this job.  Instead of inheriting all the pictures when the last member of the previous generation dies, children should each be given a copy of the family photos when they are little and encouraged to talk to the people in the photos when they are still living.  Probably good families do this, but we were wild active kids who couldn’t sit still.  We were hyperactive before they invented the word.

Like I said, Susan and I never had kids, so who will remember us?  And I probably don’t have many more photos of myself than I do of my dad.  I wished we were a family that liked to take pictures.  I wished we had taken one good photo of every family member each year.  I wished we had taken photos of all our pets.  I wished we had taken photos of all my friends and classmates.  I wished we had taken photos of all my houses, schools and neighborhoods.  I even wished we had photos of all our cars.

Hell, I didn’t know I’d get old some day and be tested on this stuff.  And I certainly didn’t know it would be my own desires that would be doing the testing.  I wish I had been forewarned that I would someday be the family historian and keeper of memories.

For my next project I’m going to research how to properly find, repair, store, and maintain old photographs.

JWH – 3/6/11

Outlook Tasks v. Remember the Milk v. ToodleDo

I’ve always have a million things I want to do, but not the discipline for getting things done.  I tend to get distracted by reading, surfing the web, watching television or listening to music.  All my life I’ve made to-do lists on note cards, backs of envelopes, post-it notes, Moleskine notebooks and even emails.  I’ll make up a good list of things to accomplish and then do a couple items and then loose the list and not think about it.

Taking the time to concentrate on what I want to do is good, but following through is hard.

Keeping a to-do list is like trying to make New Year’s resolutions every day, and that ain’t natural.  On the other hand, I do have a lot of tasks I want to get done.  On most days I struggle to remember my to-do list in my head.  I go to sleep at night thinking about things do to and I tell myself to try and remember just two things.  Some days I do and some days I don’t.  Like last night, I thought to myself I should take an old bottle of pills for my back to work so I’d have some there.  I actually remembered to do that.  I was also going to post a comment on Amazon about some t-shirts I bought that promised generous length but warn others that the extra length disappeared after one washing.  I forgot that one.

At work I started putting my work to-dos in Outlook Tasks.  I’ve tried that before but would forget they were there.  But this time I set a reminder date and they pop up like calendar reminders.  That was a key lesson – using reminders.  One cool thing I discovered about Outlook was the ability to organize tasks into folders, so I can separate various work and home to-dos into separate groups.

The first thing I do in the morning, well after taking a pee and giving the cats some crunchies, is to read my email.  I’ve tried emailing to-do lists, but they get pushed down by all the other email.  Since I’m always in Outlook I figured I should try to make use of its built in to-do list Tasks feature.  Outlook is always running in the background at home or work, but I never developed the addiction to Tasks.

Tasks don’t show up as part my my Exchange client on my iPad touch.  That means I don’t see my To Do lists away from the computer.  I do carry my iPod touch with me everywhere because I’m addicted to listening to audio books and playing Words With Friends.  I needed a To Do App that would be my vital third reason to carry the iPod touch. 

So I started looking for something more.  What I wanted was something that would work on every computer and on my iPod touch, or any future smart phone I might buy.  It turns out there’s lots of companies selling To Do List software that meets my requirements.  Along the way I encountered the Getting Things Done philosophy.  Here’s a pretty extensive list of To Do programs that use the GTD concepts.  Here’s another site I found, 50+ Online To Do List Managers.

43 Folders even has a section on “Getting started with ‘Getting Things Done’” that convinced me to order the David Allen book, which is more complicated than just keeping lists.  But I still needed a program for lists.  I looked at many.  I had heard of Remember the Milk which I signed up for the free account.  It looked slick and promised to work with all kinds of other programs and mobile devices, but I just didn’t find the online interface intuitive. 

I also signed up for the free account at Toodledo.  The program is far less slick but I could immediately work it, and it’s interface reminded me of LibraryThing, another online program I love.  I played with the free version Toodledo for awhile, bought the $2.99 App for my iPod touch, and then paid for the Pro version ($14.95/year).  It’s nice to study my To Do list when I’m away from my desks at home and work, plus the more I used Toodledo the more I liked it.  I’m already getting more things done.  Now I need to study the Getting Things Done philosophy and integrate it into my life.

I’m learning things like putting deadlines on my To Do items.  I never did that before, but once I started the impulse to get items off my list increased.  Toodledo allows me to send emails to the program and it will automatically add items to my list of things to do.  This is convenient because I have email open all day long.  The key to using To Do lists is to look at them frequently and to add items as soon as you think of them. 

I’m combining this endeavor with a concurrent task of getting rid of as much stuff as I can.  We’re getting rid of furniture, old clothes, sentimental junk, books, DVDs, etc.  I’m converting a four drawer file cabinet to three small plastic folder boxes which I’ll keep in a closet I’ve cleaned out.

I don’t know yet if Toodledo is perfect for me.  Outlook Tasks has some great integrated features with its calendar and email functions, and even Remember the Milk has many features to integrate with other apps.  What I’m learning is one program can’t stand alone.  If a new version of the Exchange client for iOS shows up offering Tasks I could go back to Outlook – but I actually like the simple interface of Doodledo over Outlook Tasks interface.

I wished I would get up very early, bathe, do yoga and then light some incense like a monk, and meditate on my To Do lists for twenty minutes.  I need to develop my priorities and learn to understand the differences between tasks, goals and ambitions.

JWH – 3/2/11