Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Grandpa Project, v1.0

A few weeks back I was mulling over what kind of surprise I could give me 92 year old grandpa. To make the matter trickier, he's effectively blind from macular degeneration. And then it hit me: music. Who doesn't love music? And there's no doubt, it can have amazing effects on us. I dashed off a quick e-mail to Shira with my half baked plan: I'd add a whole bunch of songs to an Apple iPod, box it, a pair of headphones and some basic instructions for an aid to follow, and ship it to my Grandpa. Once unpacked, all he'd have to do is put headphones on and hit play. VoilĂ ! My Grandpa would be rocking out to tunes that I'd selected. To my surprise, Shira responded that she thought it was a good idea--an extremely rare occurrence when it comes to my hair brained schemes.

My plan was to keep this little project as simple as possible. I chose an iPod shuffle for a number of reasons. First off, without an LCD screen, it's essentially designed to be used without sight. Second of all, the iTunes integration means that I could trivially buy and install a playlist. Finally, there's something novel about my 92 year old grandpa sporting an iPod. Shira picked up a 1GB iPod shuffle on eBay for cheap, and I purchased a comfortable and cheap set of over the hear headphones. The hardware turned out to be easy enough.

Then came picking out music. This got tricky in a hurry. I'm hardly a music guru, and I wanted to give him some music that I thought he'd like as well as some music I enjoy. Most importantly, I wanted to avoid analysis paralysis. I didn't want to get stuck trying to make the perfect playlist, only to never get around to making anything. In the end I decided on a simple strategy: pick two songs from each of the following categories: classical, 40's music, country, rock, pop and electronic. Where possible, I picked drinking songs. With the exception of the 40's music, which I had no strong affinity, I wanted to pick songs that I relish listing to.

Here's what I arrived at:

  • Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) by Frank Sinatra
  • I'll Be Seeing You (1944 Single) by Billie Holiday
  • If I Were a Rich Man by John Williams
  • William Tell Overture by London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), Act 3: Duettino - Sull'aria (The Shawshank Redemption - 1994) by Sofia National Opera Orchestra, Victoria Anderson & Ivan Marinov
  • Alcohol by Brad Paisley
  • Friends In Low Places by Brooks Stars Garth
  • Run by Collective Soul
  • All I Want Is You by U2
  • I'm Sexy and I Know It by DJ K.O.
  • Born This Way by Lady GaGa
  • Clarity (feat. Foxes) by Zedd
  • Fine Without You (feat. Jennifer Rene) by Armin van Buuren

For the very first track, I created an audio introduction. You can listen to it here. It serves as pretty solid proof that I'm not quitting my day job to be the next Ira Glass.

I packed up the setup and sent it off. A few days later, I got an excited call from my Grandpa. He hadn't yet listened to the music, but was very much looking forward to giving it a try.

And yesterday I received another phone call, the verdict was in: he was absolutely elated with the music, the iPod and the sentiment.

The project was a success, and I can tell I'm going to have to think of a clever ways to get him more music. I'm also considering sharing some audio snippets from our travels. I can't show him photos of where we've been, but I can share the experience through sound.

You can find the instructions I put together explaining how to hook up the iPod here. Feel free to grab, customize and put them to work for yourself.

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