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A Bolt from the Darkness

General handyman skills are a dying art.

By Thomas Anderson  |  August 27, 2018

Tuesday night, June 12, we sat calmly, or almost, as we watched Fox News recounting the highlights of the day. Typically for June in Florida, nature's light show was proceeding apace, accompanied by booms, rattles, and rumbles.

In a flash – literally – we were plunged briefly into darkness. It was only a moment until our eyes adjusted, and revealed a stuttering flame to the right in the living room. The lights returned quickly, but the flame remained.

We arose stumbling over our feet, pulled the plug on the power amplifier to the right, and looked leftward at the column of smoke rising from the left channel power amplifier. Pulling power from the left channel, the only electronic apparatus that still showed any sign of life was the TV monitor above the center channel speaker.


"Well, it can't be too bad after all I have done to protect the electronics in this house against lightning damage."

A close examination of the audio system revealed that  the AV processor, the heart of the whole system, had given up the ghost, along with three power amplifiers. That was the bad news.

But the REALLY bad news was the fact that the two front speakers, the most expensive components of the entire system, had also been blown.

In case you, dear reader, are mystified about this description, in plain English - our home theater system had been struck by lightning, and the most critical pieces of it were now scrap metal. We were not happy about this.

Most of the components that had been destroyed were relatively old (2002), but part of the philosophy of buying high-end electronic gear is that it will not need to be replaced for a very long time. That philosophy works fine until the components concerned are struck by lightning.

The speakers, although their appearance had been slowly going downhill, sounded exactly as they had when they came out of the box. I had always regarded them as something other than beautiful, but the sound was superb – the best we had ever heard in our half-century of owning increasingly better audio equipment, or at least, that we could even hope to own. They are Bowers and Wilkins 802s, a legendary sound in audio aficionado circles.

B+W 802s: Okay, they ain't pretty.

There was a good bit of hesitation over reporting this loss to the insurance company. We spent a few years after hurricane Wilma working as an inspector of insurance claims, and the kind of information that is upturned during one of these proctological exams is one of the features of modern life that is best not to contemplate. In the end though, call the insurance company is what we did.

And, they sent an investigator. This investigator, though, was an electrical engineer who was all business. He  inventoried the entire system, even components that were not affected by the lightning strike. He took copious notes of all the circumstances surrounding the 'loss' and was very tight-lipped about monetary matters. His conduct was right out of the manual. We got along fine.

He informed me that he would complete his report before noon. I was flabbergasted – sometimes my reports would sit on my desk for a week before I could render them complete. That was on Monday, July 2. And on Monday, July 11, I had the check.

Shopping for new speakers had commenced very soon after the lightning had struck, and, to my horror, the price of my beloved 802s had trebled. A lot has happened in the speaker world in the last 16 years.

Hence the quandary: there was absolutely no way to afford the new model of the 802. The next series down, the 600, is what we'd traded in for the 802s, and we had no desire for a downgrade.

But, B+W, in all its wisdom, provided a solution. They had developed a new line of speakers: the 700 series. These are the same height as the 802s, but are less than half the price that I paid for the 802s originally, and the showroom performance is commensurate with the age induced hearing loss (probably augmented by decades of high-level listening to rock 'n' roll) that I have been experiencing.

Here it is in August, and the installers from Best Buy left about three hours ago. I have put the system through its paces and am  pretty pleased with the sound. And they are an enormous improvement in looks.

The sound absolutely can hold a candle to the 802s – though it isn't quite as good, I am willing to bet that no one but me will know that. The price of the installation was a hard swallow – like Alanis Morrissette's "Jagged Little Pill" – but I was able to beat some of the price out of the cost of the speakers plus the new amplifier that I needed. All-in-all, not a bad bargain for a pair of excellent speakers and a great sounding amp.

The installation cost was unanticipated - I have never paid before for performance of tasks that I always performed myself. I am competent in most all areas of electronics installation, and I could be sure that all got done properly. Additionally, it was a matter of pride to tear into the delivery boxes exposing the incredible contents for the first time. That installation was a task which nearly every competent high-end audio person performed himself. 

There was that thrill, and the accompanying pleasure of listening after all the hassle of putting this and that together in the right order and in the right place. A wholesome pride ensued. It was a matter that I would always regard as a minor accomplishment.

But, this system delivery was different. The salesman assessed my physical condition (ancient), made a tactful but firm recommendation about installation, gave me a couple of discounts, and I responded by swallowing that pill, jags and all. I asked about the new service being offered, and got a good impression of what had been the purpose of Best Buy acquiring the new company, Magnolia, which had been a separate high-end audio chain.

My salesman described the transition that Magnolia had made and the services they were now offering. As we talked, I realized: this was yet another manifestation of millennial ineptitude. Everything must be arranged perfectly by someone else; no effort from them personally must ever be required. They must have all their little whims satisfied so that they may remain tranquilly unaware of the effort being expended by others on their behalf.

Many have made observations about "special snowflakes," sometimes defined as people who have come  of age in 2010 and later. A self-parodying article from last year will help describe the group. They are so tied up in their own selves that they have no concept that the concerns of the entire rest of humanity are different from their own.

Those people are not unlike a group who is only slightly older than they are: the millennials. Much has been written about millennials, and there is a lot of misunderstanding; the age group and the forces that dwelt upon them as they were growing up made them slightly different from all preceding generations: they reached legal maturity with an iPhone in one hand and a list of entitlements in the other.

In a recent survey, 50% said that their plans for a new job was for it to last three years or less. This is a defining characteristic of millennials and it sets them apart from previous generations more definitively than anything else. They seem to have been affected more than previous generations by events occurring during their lifetimes that have led them to their characteristic apartness and narcissism.

Just one example: according to the Wall Street Journal, 31 July, 2018, there has been a decline of nearly 30% in young people entering the construction industry since the last housing boom in 2005. Traditionally, young people who wanted to make fairly good money without getting a college degree frequently went into construction of one type or another. From that article:

While there’s no single reason why younger folks are losing interest in a job that is generally well-paid and doesn’t require a college education, their indifference is exacerbating a labor shortage that has meant fewer homes being built and rising prices, possibly for years to come.

There is no mystery. We have been slouching toward this for a long time, and this decade has put the finishing touches on a prevailing attitude of young people around the entire country. The attitude expresses itself in the generational attitudes: there just is no need to be inconvenienced.

I'm surmising here, but that really does seem to be the mental stance of the children (including some numerical adults) of today. We used to assume that 18 was an age of responsibility, but all indications tend to point to the fact that this is no longer the case. It isn't just that people that age are afraid of hard work: they are also afraid of assuming any kind of obligation, they are afraid of responsibility of any kind, and they would prefer to stay in the womb.

And so they are. They are lemming-like flocking away from any kind of involvement with any physical distress that characterizes the transition to adulthood. They are keeping their "safe spaces" of refuge from the mental torment of having to deal with life. This generation has become known as the "Snowflake" generation for their avoidance of all things stressful.

But this phenomenon is more than we are used to having to deal with in our adolescent population. We know from Greek legends that people growing up have caused generational problems. Adolescence has always been an awkward and rancorous part of human life, leading to such tragedies as were typical enough across cultures that the plots of traditional literature in many languages utilized it as a common theme.

That common theme was centered on maturation and the stresses that were placed upon all the people around those who were in the process; 21st century adolescents have both the traditional problems of their age, and the new problems brought on by the raging development of technology.

As a society, we brought this on ourselves. We are waiting with bated breath to see the outcome: Do people become former snowflakes? When does this happen? How does this happen?

And, what do we have to do to make it happen?