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Monday, September 30, 2013

What You Can't Bank On

Don't get me started about banks.  Okay, I can't help myself.

Today I got a phone call and I answered because the caller ID was from my bank.  Not my local branch, but a main branch as I could tell from the phone number.

But it wasn't really from my bank, it was from a telemarketer who apparently had permission from my bank to call me and offer a new service.  That alone cheesed me off, but I listened anyway.

She went on to tell me that this new service was to protect my accounts against identity theft and described how my accounts and credit cards and credit rating could be compromised by identity thieves in many ways.  This new service is supposed to alert me if that happens and protect my accounts and credit cards.

I have no doubt that identity theft is a huge problem.  I would actually like to think that I could have some kind of solid protection against it.  But then she told me that the cost was $8.99 a month.  And that's what put me over the edge.  If this is such a concern for my bank, why do I have to pay for it?  I already pay through the nose for lots of things because I have a bank account and banks make billions of dollars a year from people like me.  So why should I have to pay more for something I would hope they would already have in place;  protection against identity theft?

I know identity theft exists because I've had friends who have experienced it, and it is a pain in the butt to resolve.  It is a certainly concern of mine, but to have the bank offer to protect my identity and then to ask me for more money to do it is just a slap in the face.

Okay, I'm mad right now.

Don't banks have an obligation to protect your money?  I mean, what is the reason you use a bank in the first place?  It is meant as a safe place to keep your money.  What other reason would there be to have bank vaults?  And now that banks have created websites where you can do transactions online, don't they have the same obligation?  I realize there are stupid people who sign up for things or give their personal information which compromises their accounts, and banks can't do much about stupid people.  But if I haven't done anything wrong, why should I pay $9 a month to make sure my accounts are safe?  Did they call me up to scare me so I'd sign up for it?

Oh boy, I'm really getting riled up now!

What this tells me is that the only thing you can bank on is that banks will spend a lot of time and effort to find alarmingly new ways to take more of your money.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Shoeless Jackson

Unlike my shoe-crazy daughters, I don't buy shoes very often.  In fact, I tend to pretty much live in the same shoes every day.  My excuse is that I go for a daily walk and I don't want to have to change shoes. The only time I wear different shoes is on a special occasion.  Like Christmas.

I've been wearing the same kind of white athletic shoes for at least twenty-five years.   I want to call them "runners" because that's what we called them in the 70's and of course, they've come a long way since then.  Some of them don't even look like "shoes", more like foot gear from Mars.  Something out of Star Trek.  You've seen them.

Mine have always been white.  I like the clean look of white shoes.  My most recent pair are at least two or three years old.  That's two or three years of almost daily wear, so they are not really white any more, but they are very comfortable.  My daughter's boyfriend's mother has exactly the same kind of shoe and swears by them like I do.  But realizing they were running out of time (ha, a pun there), a month or two ago I searched high and low to find another pair exactly the same to replace them.  But you know, shoes styles change as often as you change underwear.  Bad comparison, but that's all I could think of.

The other day I was out for my usual walk.  It had been a particularly wet day, with thunder showers and puddles galore, but I was in my comfortable runners and I didn't care.  And then I realized I had a soaker in my right shoe.  Arrgghh!!  I carried on with my soggy walk and when I got home, I looked at the sole of the offending shoe and realized it was half coming off.  I decided I needed to go out immediately and get myself a new pair.

Being the time of year when kids are getting back to school, I thought there would be lots of runners out there for me to choose from.  Well, there were, but they were not white.  They were neon colours;  neon pink, neon orange, neon green or a combination of all three colours and more, with all sorts of weird bits and pieces attached to them. And then, much to my delight, I found a pair of white ones.  They were on sale too, my lucky day!  So I excitedly had the sales lady check in the back for a pair in my size.

Nope.

I went from shoe store to shoe store in the mall and nowhere could I find what I was looking for. Not only that, but many of them were $150 a pair or more.  Ouch.  I briefly entertained the notion of a pair that were neon pink and black.  But I just couldn't do it.  As I was going from store to store, I started looking at other ladies walking around the mall and noticed what kind of shoes they were wearing.  My research on the subject brought me to a stunning conclusion:  the only women wearing white athletic shoes were at least my age or older.  Mostly older.  Crap.

I went home shoeless, and pondered my predicament.  I was either going to have to give in to a new style or wait until I could find what I was looking for, which didn't seem very hopeful.  I was forced to change out of my wet shoes and into a pair of leather shoes, which totally threw me. But I bravely carried on with my day in spite of my discomfort.

Yesterday I decided I had to go out and look yet again because leather shoes weren't going to do it for me, so I chose another mall further away.  I visited every shoe store in the mall with no luck and finally ended up in the only one I hadn't yet visited, a Foot Locker.  Much to my surprise, a customer, a lady about my age, was trying on a pair of those neon ones, and then another pair, and then another, all under the watchful eye of a young male employee.  I scanned the wall of single shoes.

Eureka!  They had a lovely pair of bright, white Nike's.  The only thing on them that wasn't white was a very pale blue Nike logo.  I could live with that. I grabbed the single shoe and patiently waited for the young man to be finished with the other customer.  She was taking a long time, which in turn gave me time to think.  Suddenly I felt really old, standing there with my bright white Nike shoe.  I sombrely put it back on the shelf.  Was I going to be the last person on the planet searching for bright, white athletic shoes, or was I going to finally come into the twenty-first century with my footwear?  I started to walk out of the store, depressed and defeated.

As I was leaving, there was a rack of newer model shoes just past the doorway.  I looked at them and saw a pair that I thought just maybe I could live with.  They were not neon, but they were black and grey.  Black would be a real departure.

But winter is coming.  No white after Labour Day, they say.

IJ



Moe found a use for the shoe box.  Beside her are my old, worn, sort-of-white runners.

Sniff.










To the right are my new athletic shoes.  At least they look like runners and not those strange Mars-like foot apparel.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Wrath of Auto-Tune

A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine who had a recording studio in Nashville was telling me a story about an experience he'd recently had in the studio. Every year, all of the smaller recording studios used to hold open houses on the same day, where artists and managers were invited to come and check out the facilities so they would potentially record their next project there. This guy told me that at one point during the day, several well-known country artists were sitting in a room in his recording facility, jamming together as a couple of them played guitar. What struck my friend at the time was that some of them could sing, and some of them really couldn't! He made a quip about how you could tell which ones needed Auto-Tune when they were recording and performing :-).

Some of you may have heard the word "Auto-Tune" before, but most, if not all of you have heard its effects if you listen to music. For those of you who don't recognize the word, Auto-Tune is a digital technology that corrects musical pitch. To simplify that, music producers use the software to "fix" the pitch of vocals or instruments so that they are perfect. Even the best singers can be slightly off pitch when they are recording or performing, so the software could save lots of time and effort by simply correcting it either while it is being sung, or afterwards in post-production.

The first time you might have heard Auto-Tune in its extreme was in Cher's hit song "Believe", recorded in 1998. It was used as an effect to make her voice sound robotic in a few places in the song's chorus, particularly on the line "do you believe in life after love?" If you remember that song, then you've heard Auto-Tune. But the fact is that Auto-Tune is used in pretty much every single pop song these days. Everything you hear in this genre has been "fixed" with Auto-Tune. In fact, if you go to a live performance, particularly pop or rock, rap or hip hop, Auto-Tune is used as part of the performance. At music awards shows, many "live" performances of songs are run through Auto-Tune. You don't hear the actual, raw, live voice of a performer.

You might think, well, what's wrong with perfect?

A few years back, there was a music awards show broadcast live on television where Taylor Swift did a live performance. She appeared to be one of the only performers who DIDN'T use Auto-Tune that evening. As a result, her voice was raw and real, and it was not pitch perfect. Immediately afterwards, social media came alive with comments like "Taylor Swift can't sing!" and other, more critical responses to her performance. At the time, I remember applauding her for her guts, but I think since then she has probably given in to the use of Auto-Tune in her performances.  The pressure to be perfect these days, has become too great.

From a performer viewpoint, anyone and their dog can "sing" now, and YouTube has had many, many videos with animals or public figures "singing" songs that they actually aren't, the creators using Auto-Tune and some fancy editing to create these videos.

But what has happened to listeners, particularly younger people, is that their ears are now conditioned to desire "perfect" sounds, and when they hear something that isn't, it's aurally offensive to them. Anything that is real and imperfect sounds like a mistake.  Not only that, but it becomes impossible to tell real talent from manufactured, certainly when it comes to recording.  And performers become so reliant on the software, they can't live without it.

There are, however, artists who refuse to use it and a campaign against Auto-Tune that is growing.  In a 2009 performance on the Grammy Awards, for example, Deathcab For Cutie wore blue ribbons to protest the use of Auto-Tune in the music industry.  Even some recording engineers and producers are now trying to wean artists off the thing in an attempt to bring "real" back into recordings and performances.

So what's wrong with perfect?  It makes everything sound the same.  Perfect pitch, perfect timing, perfect everything, creates perfect garbage.  And who needs more of that?  Let's keep it real!

IJ