In which I conquer the cassette player

October 7, 2011 in Technology

We have a new car and it has an American radio. That wouldn't be a problem except that in Israel, FM stations broadcast on even-numbered spectrum intervals (like 97.8), but American radios can only pick up odd-numbered intervals. And even that wouldn't be a problem if I hadn't grown to really like Israeli radio stations (especially the aforementioned 97.8, "Radio Gimel").

So, the new car has prohibited me from listening to the radio. It's not the end of the world -- after all, I'm a tech geek with an iPhone. If anything, the radio was a digression from my usual habits. The only trouble is -- brace yourself -- the car doesn't have an aux port. There's no way to get sound from the iPhone to the car.

This is bad. Driving a car without music is like writing an analogy without .

The car does have a CD player -- but when was the last time you used a CD to play music? My computer doesn't even know what a CD is, except in the abstract virtual sense that it can access remote drives on the same wireless network that identify themselves as such.

And so we come to the cassette player. Yes, there's a cassette player. And, at wit's end, I acquired a cassette adaptor for my iPhone. I plugged it in, inserted the tape, and was rewarded with a clicking, grinding noise that was almost, but not quite, utterly unlike music. Something was wrong. I took the tape out, looked at it, tried turning the little wheels. I noticed they would only go one way with any ease; rotating them the other direction resulted in the clicking noise. I decided that the tape was jammed, damaged, or both and gave up on the whole project. I was resigned to spending the rest of my car rides in silence.

That all happened one week ago.

One good thing about silent driving: you get an awful lot of thinking done. And so it was that this morning I suddenly remembered that cassette tapes -- those antiquated relics of an analog era -- had two sides. And when you reached the end of one side, you turned it over and listened to the other. Or, if you had a really fancy tape player, you just told the machine to switch sides and it handled the complexities. In The Future, one hoped, the machine would even figure that out on its own! Most importantly, you could tell if you were at the end of a side when the tape refused to advance any further.

I immediately knew: I was at the end of the tape.

I can't easily describe what this revelation felt like. It was such a little, stupid thing, but it provided massive relief. It was exactly the same feeling as solving a difficult data analytics problem -- you turn the issue over and over in your mind, trying to understand how it works and the various causalities it represents, until finally you intuit the system. In this case, the experience was almost archaeological: I had conquered the antique. I had unlocked its mysteries.

I went back to the car. I found the "switch sides" button. And there was much rejoicing.

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