Category - gizmos

It’s the gizmos, stupid.

The State of the Celestial Jukebox: Part 2: The Dinosaurs Attack!

The only thing more stupid than the cloud locker scenario is the music industry’s gathering reaction to it.

Along with the news that Amazon has launched a cloud locker comes the not altogether surprising news that the megaliths of the music industry – the major labels, the PROs – are taking a dim view of the service.  Indeed, as reported in Tuesday’s NPR story and elsewhere,

The head of marketing for ASCAP worried that the Cloud Drive is simply a way to avoid having to pay songwriters and composers … as well as artists.

Music industry, meet ass.  Insert head.

If “the industry” had any foresight at all it would be embracing the cloud locker concept instead of condemning it, because cloud storage of an individual’s private music collection reinforces the “ownership” model of music delivery that now has nine toes in the grave.

The only potential upside I see in Amazon’s new service is the prospect that it will introduce more music fans to the possibilities of cloud-stored music.  One recent study demonstrates that the public level of awareness of the availability of streaming services like Rhapsody, Rdio, or MOG is generally very low.  But if something like Amazon’s locker catches on, its users will eventually realize the ultimate value in their new experience.  Eventually they will stop buying-and-storing and just start subscribing-and-streaming.

Connected users who have not already made the leap will discover that the bandwidth is adequate, the connections are generally pretty good, and that the ability to “access” a vast library of music is much more consistent with the desire to hear “whatever/whenever/wherever” than the private ownership of a very limited library of shiny plastic wafers or digital files, regardless of where they are stored.

By resisting the “cloud locker” service, the music industry has drawn its guns and unloaded both barrels right into its own nailed-down feet. Read More

The State of the Celestial Jukebox: Part 1: Amazon’s Music Locker is Stupid

Let me repeat that for those of you on drugs – or for those of you who still haven’t discovered streaming subscription music services.

Amazon’s music locker is stupid.

I know, everybody’s all excited because somehow Amazon is the first to market with a “music locker” service, beating Apple and Google to the punch.

But I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

I don’t see the advantage being able to store 1,000 songs (the approximate capacity of Amazon’s free service), when there are already services that store millions of songs “in the cloud” for me.

It’s like the year is ca. 1920: Horseless carriages are swarming over the landscape, and Amazon is first to market with an amazing new buggy whip.  Ooh, this one has a sparkly handle!

Good luck smacking the side of your Model-T with it.

Now, admittedly my music “consumption” (Spoiler alert: I hate that word, especially as it pertains to music.  Food I consume.  Music is still there after I’ve listened to it…) habits are pretty atypical.  Again, I seem to be there before the curve itself.

But these days, I am getting pretty durn near all the music I want right out of the cloud.  After sampling both Rdio and MOG last year, I settled on MOG and, given that it’s still pretty much a Model-T, I’m pretty happy with what the service offers.  I would say that 90% of the time, music that I want to hear is available, and I can listen to it at home, in my car, or at the office (oh, wait… I don’t have an office…)

Why would you care that you can store 1,000 songs in your own personal locker when there are now services that offer millions upon million of songs for roughly the cost of a single CD per month?

The argument for the locker seems to be, as expressed in this NPR piece, quoting Amazon VP Bill Carr:

I recently bought this album by Fitz and The Tantrums but I bought it on my work computer. But the minute I bought it I saved it to my cloud drive so it’s already available to me right here on my phone, I can click play and it will start playing.

I guess that’s a kinda slick feature, cloning a purchase from one device to another so that you have access to it from any location.  But that just makes me wonder, “why didn’t you purchase it on your phone in the first place?  You take that home with you, don’t you?”

So forget “the locker in the cloud.”  The future of music maybe be in the cloud, but the cloud is in your pocket.

Read More

“It’s The Chair, Stupid” Revisited

About a year ago, when the iPad had been announced but was not yet on sale, I offered up a post entitled “It’s The Chair, Stupid,” which attempted to illustrate that what makes the new gizmo so exciting is not its hardware or software, but how the combination of those elements produced a device that would be used in a new way.

The new "default position" for using a "computer"

Where the television is the “lean back” screen, and the computer (laptop or desktop) is the “lean forward” screen, the iPad introduces a third posture to the equation. It’s neither lean forward or lean back, it’s “are you sitting comfortably” — it’s the insertion of the entire digital universe into your favorite chair. Where you used to sit with book, a magazine, or a newspaper, you now sit with – literally – the entire world at the tip of your fingers.

So it’s a bit validating to see no less a digital-arts-and sciences authority than John Gruber of Daring Fireball pick up that “It’s The Chair…” meme, as he did in this post last week:

Take that chair. The on-stage demos of the iPad aren’t conducted at a table or a lectern. They’re conducted sitting in an armchair. That conveys something about the feel of the iPad before its screen is even turned on. Comfortable, emotional, simple, elegant. How it feels is the entirety of the iPad’s appeal.

Writing mostly about the introduction of the iPad 2, Gruber’s post goes into some considerable detail about how the iPad changes numerous games.  “The chair” is the symbolic encapsulation of all those games and all those changes.

Apple has whipped up a video that takes the meme even further.  It shows people using the iPad in countless ways.  But a lot of them involve chairs, and often very cushy chairs at that:

This Is What “The Cloud” Really Looks Like

It’s such a romantic notion, you know, this idea of  data stored in “the cloud.”  And such a colossal misnomer.

The terminology conjures up imagery of electrons gaily bouncing around in free space, creating fluffy pillows of digital vapor in the sky, sending data from the benign heavens into the gizmos on our desks, in our lap  and in our pockets like a gentle spring rain.

But guess what?  This is what “the cloud” really looks like:

Apple's Data Center in Maiden, NC

What you’re looking at here is an aerial photo of the massive “data center” in North Carolina that Apple, Inc. is getting ready to open sometime in the next few weeks.  As you can see, it is anything but a digital Nirvana.  It’s a fucking factory. Read More

The (Modern) Minstrel Wagon

Several of weeks ago, McShane Glover, a former colleague who works as a booking agent in the mid-Atlantic area, invited me to have lunch with one of her clients, Vicki Genfan.  I kinda remember Vicki from my exploits back in the previous millennium.  She played guitar for another former client, Dee Carstensen, and I rememeber Vicki as one of those fret-and-string-masters who makes me wonder why I bother to keep guitars around my own abode.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  Vicki has graciously agreed to let me offer up a  track from her double CD Up Close and Personal. Click the play button below to listen to “Atomic Reshuffle” via this player widget from Soundcloud:

(iGizmo users, sorry… the widget is Flash.  <*sigh*>)

As impressed as I am with Vicki’s virtuosity on guitar, I might have been even more impressed with her mode of transportation (OK, I’m exaggerating, there really is very little that is more impressive than Vicki Genfan playing guitar, least of all a mere means of transportation…).

Turns out Vicki is not the only genius/goddess in the family: her traveling partner is Tay Hoyle, a systems designer and engineer of equal vision and virtuosity, an artist in her own right in a different of medium.  For example, Tay was responsible for much of the interior design and engineering and actual wiring for the John Lennon Education Bus.

When I pulled into the parking lot of the strip Mall where I met Vicki and Tay for lunch, I pulled in right behind a yellow Dodge van, which turned out to be Tay and Vicki’s rolling home, studio, and stage, all rolled into one remarkably compact vehicle:

Tay and Vicki and the Yellow Minstrel Wagon

This one most impressive vehicle, and dare I say, the modern minstrel’s ultimate means of conveyance. Read More

The Beatles on iTunes – Yawn Yawn Yawn

Oh yeah, those guys.

About the best thing that can be said of the news that The Beatles are finally available on iTunes is that it kills a great joke.  I now have to stop saying that The Beatles are “a band so obscure that you cannot even find their music on iTunes.”

The irony — well, the first irony, really, of several — is that I have had The Beatles on my iPods (and thus in iTunes on my computers) for… oh, I dunno, how long has the iPod/iTunes complex been around?  Ten years now?

I’m not shy about confessing how those tunes got there:  back in 2001, in the last days of the original Napster, I snagged MP3 copies of the entire Beatles catalog and reassembed it, album by album and song by song, on a hard drive.  At the time I suspect I rationalized my acquisition with the knowledge that I already owned the entire collection in its original format: on vinyl LPs that I had purchased when they were first released — like 40+ years ago.   I guess I figured that having the collection in a now-obsolete format was just the penalty I had to endure for having been an early adopter, and that there was no harm in “format shifting” by means of new technology.

The other irony is that just a week ago, I actually PURCHASED — and  for  many actual dollars — the same catalog that I already owned both analog and digital.  I finally broke down and purchased “The Beatles Remastered” 16-disc box set, which has been available for over a year now. Read More

Jon Vezner has an App for That

Another video for your viewing pleasure:

Jon actually sent me this video himself a couple of days ago, and I found it clever and entertaining in a “novelty song” sorta way. But after reading this account in Music Row magazine, I think I’m even more intrigued with the the time, effort — and, no doubt, expense — that went into this particular effort.  Seems there were quite a few hands on this particular project:

The music video, created by filmmaker Louise Woehrie of Whirlygig Productions is inspired by Vezner’s wry humor and deadpan persona. Using a traveling minstrel theme, Woehrie joined forces with co-director/editor Chip Johnson and graphic designer Casey Burres to bring the tale to life as Vezner dons his troubador hat to comment and commiserate with fellow app addicts about life on the cutting tech trail.

I wonder what the budget was, and how it fits into a larger marketing plan.  I mean, where’s the “email for a download” function that would build Jon’s fan base (it’s not on his website) ?

I mean, it’s very clever, but it also seems to to exist in something of a vacuum, marketing wise.   What’s the plan, Jon?  How is this building your audience?  I’m sure there’s a method to your madness, clue me in?

Oh, and if you’re viewing the video on your computer, blow it up to full screen – the HD quality holds up VERY nicely.

Deep Thoughts: We’re All Looking for “Love Pellets”

Do you feel like… something is… just… not… quite… right… in the world?  OK, then, that’s at least two of us.  I suspect we are not alone.  It’s hard  to watch the news these days and  not wonder “whathefuck?” Maybe it’s always been that way.

Or maybe there is something fundamentally different about the world we live in today as opposed to the world we lived in, say, 15 or 20 years ago.  And maybe the  invisible undercurrents of that change is eroding our spirit in some insidious way…

I have been storing up a few articles, columns, news items, and blog posts over the past couple of weeks which, if I can add them up correctly (and coherently), offer together some insight into the confused hysteria which seems to be gnawing at the fabric of our daily existence.

The central thesis is: in the past 15 years, civilization has experienced technologically-driven dislocations the likes of which have not been seen for more than five centuries.  It’s no wonder we’re all feeling a bit… disoriented.

eBooks now outsell hardcovers

Want proof?  OK, start with the news that Amazon.com announced in July that the sale of eBooks for its Kindle platform now exceeds the sales of hardcover editions:

Book lovers mourning the demise of hardcover books with their heft and their musty smell need a reality check, said Mike Shatzkin [no relation], founder and chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, which advises book publishers on digital change. “This was a day that was going to come, a day that had to come,” he said. He predicts that within a decade, fewer than 25 percent of all books sold will be print versions.

That might be the news item that finally offers some kind of focus to what is happening to the world around us: what that story delivers is indisputable evidence that one of the pillars of modern civilization — books, for chrissakes, a foundation that has been in place for 500+ years – -is crumbling.  Don’t look now, dear Philistines, but Samson is at the gates and his hair is growing again…

It is no exaggeration when veteran ‘new media’ observer (and author of Burn Rate in 1999) Michael Wolff wonders “Can Books be Saved,” and imagines their role in a fully digital future:

Michael Wolff, "New Media" Sage

In other words, literature stops now. It becomes classical music. To the extent it exists, it is as inspirational historic artifact. Arguably, this has already been happening with the flight of readers to new technologies. My books become antiques (they lived for many years in an overheated West Side apartment and are, many of them, already quite brittle), mementos of not just my life but of another age. I wonder if my children will lug them around.

While I’m reading all this, I am watching my own behavior out here on the digital frontier, aided and abetted (or is burdened?) as I am with my Holy Trinity of Apple devices – my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone,  as I attempt to sort out precisely what role each device has in my daily routine.  There was even a period earlier this summer where my attempts to “organize” myself seemed futile, particularly since the iPad had entered the mix.  So I was feeling my own peculiar kind of dislocation when I came across this item invoking the old parable about frogs and boiling water:

Getting warm, Froggie

…most technology impacts us in imperceptible frog-boiling like ways.  We struggle to remember the days when we had to coordinate via calling friends from pay phones or having to have an atlas in our car in case we got lost.

Right.  See Clive Thompson’s article, (cited in yesterday’s post) where he talks about how we don’t even answer the phone unless the call was pre-arranged.  And the last two road trips I went on, we left the road-atlas at home and found our way via iPad and GPS.  But I digress…

And what is interesting to me is that as we post our videos on YouTube, record our lives on webcams, upload location updates on FourSquare, search for restaurants based on the wisdom of the crowd – society is slowly changing.

Which is more or less the point that I’d like to underscore here, with the further observations that a) society is changing in ways that are almost impossible to perceive and b) most people are not aware of the change, or the fundamental depth of it, because it is not just that the world is changing, but that the way that we perceive the world is changing too. Like the frog in water, we don’t really realize that the way we are absorbing the world has changed in fundamental ways.

Don't Tread On Me, Either

And some people, unable to recognize their own disorientation, are reacting  in — how shall we say — counter-productive ways.  As I’ve said before: “The ‘tea party’ wants the country back, alright.  Back in the 19th century…”

We not only feel dislocated, but even with all this connective technology at our disposal, we feel oddly disconnected.  So we flit from one device to another. We go from Facebook to Twitter to e-mail to the iPhone to the iPad, bouncing from gizmo to gizmo.  We tell the world where we are via Foursquare (or now Facebook Places)… why?  Do we think somebody is going to drop what they’re doing and join us for coffee?

Which brings me to the final link in this chain.

Those of you who know that I tend to “lean left” politically and culturally may be surprised to see me quoting Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speech writer who now writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal.  But I make no apologies for citing this passage from Ms. Noonan’s column of Saturday, Aug 21, and I hope the link to the entire column still works for you as well (since Rupert is putting all the WSJ stuff behind a subscription pay-wall, your results my vary…).

Peggy Noonan

She begins by observing that our gizmo devotion is “changing our posture.”  You’ve seen it yourself:

People who used to walk along the avenues of New York staring alertly ahead, or looking up, now walk along with their heads down, shoulders slumped, checking their email and text messages. They’re not watching where they’re going, and frequently bump into each other. I’m told this is called a BlackBerry jam.

And just what are we are all seeking in our foreign, dislocated, disconnected universe?

Everyone who constantly checks is looking for different things. They are looking for connection, information. They are attempting to alleviate anxiety: “If I know what’s going on I can master it.” They are making plans. But mostly, one way or another, I think they are looking for a love pellet. I thought of you. How are you? This will make you laugh. Don’t break this chain. FYI, because you’re part of the team, the endeavor, the group, my life. Meet your new nephew—here’s the sonogram. You will like this YouTube clip. You will like this joke. You are alive.

So keep that in mind, next time you find yourself compulsive looking to see if there’s anything new in the in-box.  The world is changing, that much is for certain, and maybe in ways that haven’t been witnessed for centuries.  There is no precedent to fall back on, no prior experience that is bright enough to illuminate the road ahead.  So all we really have to fall back on is who we are traveling with.

So take another look at your inbox.  See any “love pellets” ? They’re the only ones that really matter.  Hit “reply” to those first.

If Your Phone Doesn’t Ring – It’s Me

I posted this item to Facebook a week or so ago, occurs to me I should throw it up here.  Not that anybody who reads this isn’t already following me via Facebook but… just for the record.

The Treo 300

The Handspring Treo 300 -ca. 2004

I think I have had a love-hate relationship with my cell phone… well since I first got a cell phone in the year 1999 or thereabouts, but especially since I got my first smartphone – the Handspring (later Palm) Treo 300 – a couple of years later.  Once I could start receiving e-mail on a mobile device, I pretty much stopped making or taking phone calls from it.

And generally speaking, I am far more “e-mail compliant’ these days than I am reachable by phone.  I mean, the surest way to not hear back from me is to leave a message on my home answering machine – since there’s no way for me to make a record of that message on any other platform I monitor.  Leaving a message on my mobile is the second best way to not hear back from me.  But sending an e-mail is the absolute most certain way to get a response (eventually).

So I found it pretty interesting when WIRED columnist Clive Thompson recently commented on the demise of the mobile phone call:

We’re moving, in other words, toward a fascinating cultural transition: the death of the telephone call. This shift is particularly stark among the young. Some college students I know go days without talking into their smartphones at all. I was recently hanging out with a twentysomething entrepreneur who fumbled around for 30 seconds trying to find the option that actually let him dial someone.

I guess I just find it comforting when somebody suggests that some behavior pattern that my contemporaries might find “anti-social” is in fact entirely consistent with the way the youngsters are doing things nowadays (although it does make me wonder how much longer I can remain ahead of my time…).

The State of the Arts – In the Cloud and At Home

Since I started these blogs about a year ago, it has occurred to me on multiple occasions that if I was going to write about the Celestial Jukebox, then maybe I should undertake a serious survey of all the various services that lend themselves one way or another to that appellation.  Little did I know just how big the job that would have been – had I actually pursued it.  Now I know.

Thanks to a very comprehensive survey that has been conducted by the good digital folks at The Guardian, we can compare more than a dozen different streaming audio services, aka “music in the cloud:”

Click The Image to See the Whole Chart

It is interesting to note that this survey doesn’t even include the “internet radio” (an oxymoron if there ever was one) sites like Pandora, Slacker, last.fm, etc.  that offer “push” modeled delivery — i.e. you make one choice, and then the service decides what you hear after that. I’m actually rather surprised to discover that there are so many “pull”-modeled services, where everything is delivered entirely “on demand.”

Whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it… and now — thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and streaming service apps — pretty much, wherever you are.

Which brings me to a couple more items under this general heading…. Read More