Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Saturday, 19 February 2005

# 5:15 PM

reflections after shredding three months' junk mail

  • It's so nice not to have a sack of to-be-shredded paper at my feet anymore.
  • It's so lame to have to go to all that trouble. Took me a freaking hour to get rid of one sack of junk mail. (Why do I bother? Because I've had my identity almost-ripped-off once, and the city has people pick over the recycling by hand to remove non-recyclable stuff that's gotten miscategorized.)
  • But perhaps most important: My shredder is inadequate. It jams constantly. It cannot handle unopened mail, so I have to open every last piece of junk mail and feed it in one sheet at a time. And if there was anything even slightly sticky in there ... like the rubber cement that some of my favorite junk mailers seem to use to hold their envelopes together ... it jams. Same same anything with stretchy plastic on it, like a FedEx envelope.)
  • Moreover! Like so many consumer products in this age of "no user serviceable parts", there is no convenient way to clean the shredder assembly, despite the fact that the usual jam mode is for paper to get caught on the teeth and dragged around inside the housing. I have, once, in a fit of berserk frustration, disassembled the blighter. It took a good hour just to pry apart all the nested plastic snap-together clamshells to the point where I could get at the teeth to cleen them.
  • And what were they thinking making the inner housing out of bendy plastic? It should have been cold, unfeeling, rigid metal that did not allow paper to get dragged around inside.
  • Really, the crosscutting (the feature whereby the machine does not generate long strips of paper, easily pieced back together) should be implemented in a much more robust fashion. It's done with teeth that punch through the paper, but they haven't got anything opposing them other than the structural integrity of the paper, which is in the process of being destroyed. So they don't reliably cut the paper, and they snag on the paper too often. It should be, like, two interlocking checkerboard patterns on the cutting rollers, or something like that.

This rant brought to you by Mad Scientists for Better Household Appliance Design.

# 12:25 AM

So you ride yourselves over the fields, and
You make all your animal deals, and
Your wise men don't know how it feels
To be thick, as a brick.

So ends the extended project of the past several weeks, to listen to my entire music collection in ascending order of track length. The longest is of course Jethro Tull's forty-five-minute, one-song concept album Thick as a Brick. The next longest three tracks are all orchestral - a Tchaikovsky piece and two by Aaron Copland. After that we have a whole bunch of jazz, some other orchestral numbers, a mysterious probably-live 18-minute version of Where The Streets Have No Name (which normally clocks in at 5:38), and some of Pink Floyd's longer conceptual stuff (notably Shine On You Crazy Diamond). The longest piece of straight-up studio rock is Genesis' Domino, which is really two songs mashed together.

On the other end, eighteen of the shortest twenty tracks in my collection are individual segments of They Might Be Giants' Fingertips collage piece. All of these are shorter than 30 seconds. (The longest segment of Fingertips is just over a minute.) After that, we get lots of the interstitial spoken-word bits from Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle Earth (a concept heavy-metal album based directly on the Silmarillion. No, I am not making this up), a bunch of other humorous bits by TMBG, Moxy Fruvous, and similar personages, and a couple of electronica tracks by the Art of Noise. The shortest piece of straight-up studio rock (which is a nasty judgement call) appears to be the title track off Declaration by the Alarm.

The really interesting thing about this project has been the way it reveals the natural working lengths of various musicians. They Might Be Giants appear to be most comfortable at three minutes or shorter, as do other "humor rock" acts like Moxy Fruvous and Tom Lehrer. Interestingly, the Ramones and a handful of Queensrÿche tracks also show up down here, and some Beatles. The three-to-five minute range is the most diverse, with bands as far apart as Suzanne Vega, Rammstein, the Art of Noise, the Alarm, Paul Simon, and Garmarna all rubbing elbows. Up above five minutes, things thin out a bit (it should be mentioned that by track count, more than three-quarters of my music is shorter than five minutes). The bands that like to do complicated instrumental stuff - Brother, Alice in Chains, Counting Crows, Cats Laughing, U2 - are heavily represented up beyond five minutes, and there's lots of electronica (Art of Noise, Juno Reactor, etc) and jazz in the seven to nine minute slot.

Oh, and the band with the widest variance? Jethro Tull. The shortest track of theirs that I have is 1m09.