Tag - gizmos

Addicted to #TheStupid

The photo atop this post is not offered as one of my Great Works of Art.

It’s just a moment that struck me while Ann and I were wandering around downtown Portland, Oregon on Monday.

The “pose” you see here is hardly unique to Portland, so this is certainly no commentary on the common preoccupation on staring at tiny screens.  You see that in Portland, you see that in Nashville, you see it everywhere: people staring at tiny screens.

But in this particular moment, I was struck by this thought:  We live now in an era when we have all of the recorded knowledge of mankind literally at our eyeballs and finger tips.  There are no unanswered questions.   We live in an invisible digital ocean of information, and we spend a good deal of our lives retrieving that information.

So how come we wind up with somebody like Donald Trump within striking distance of the presidency?

Enquiring minds want to know.  I wonder if I can Google that…

Why?

flanneryThis is strictly for the benefit of the few dozen people who actual subscribe to this blog/site.

You may have noticed starting last month that you now receive notifications from an email service called MailChimp whenever I’ve posted something new to this site. That was a conversion from the Feedburner RSS feed I’d been using previously.  I probably committed some kind of ethical transgression by subscribing you all to a mailing list without your explicit permission, but I figured you were subscribed already; I was just changing the means of distribution so didn’t think that would require another opt-in.

I hope that’s OK, and if not, the “unsubscribe” link should be pretty easy to find at the bottom of the emails. Conversely, if you’ve serendipitously found your way here by some other means and might want to follow along, use the signup form on the home page.

Since I made the switch to MailChimp, I have been making a fairly concerted effort to gather some thoughts and post some observations to this space about once a week.  I hope to continue doing that for the foreseeable future.

I have been keeping a fairly consistent journal for the past year or so.  To the extent that it’s a habit now, it started when Ann and I were in Scotland together in October 2012. It might have had something to do with the time difference between Tennessee and Scotland, or maybe it was the changes in latitude… Whatever it was, I started waking up before the sun rose and typing notes and observations – and the occasional complete sentence – into my laptop.

Before that, prior efforts at keeping a journal were done mostly longhand.   I thought I was doing something pure and simple writing with pen on paper.  When I started doing it on a computer instead, I discovered that I could much more readily keep up with my own thoughts.

And every once in a while whole thoughts emerge, as they started to do with some regularity over the past couple of months, starting with Dystopia Now back in mid-November.  I’ve adopted a model of sorts – about 800-1200 words, or 2-3 pages of typed text in a Pages document.  That’s about how many words you’ll find in your typical newspaper op-ed column.  It’s also – hopefully – a quantity that doesn’t unnecessarily tax our digitally-fragmented attention spans.

So I sit down several times a week and just start to type, and after I’ve been at it for a while, I start to get a grip on the lightning flashes that light up my brain during a typical day.  If I stay with it a little longer I will often arrive at what a writing coach I studied with back in the 90s called “the transformation line” — when suddenly out of all the errant thoughts and jibberish an actual point begins to emerge.

That’s when what Flannery O’Connor says in the quotation above becomes operative.  I write to figure out what I’m thinking. 

I’d like to think that somewhere amid all these snapping synapses there is the occasional unique and original observation.  I am quite certain that we are at a pivotal point in human evolution.  We are in the midst of a massive transition that is dictated by new technologies, and I don’t think we’ve really got a firm grasp on what these new technologies portend.  And I think about that a lot.

This new environment does not come with an operating manual – and even if it did, I doubt very many people would actually RTFM.  In the absence of a comprehensible overview, we tend to think of new things in old ways, wrap new technologies in old terminology, and try to do old things with new tools.  Until suddenly the lights go on – and we find ourselves in a cage of our own making.

It is probably a stretch to think that I have anything useful to add to the copious – and at times quite strident – dialog that is emblematic of this new environment.  I don’t really know if I’m adding any meaningful signal that might rise above the noise – but I’m going to try.

I’m doing it anyway, so I may as try to be coherent about it, right?

That’s why I’ve been posting these occasional missives, and why I hope to continue doing so with some degree of regularity in the new year ahead.

I seem to be thinking something, and by writing, I have a better chance of figuring out what exactly that is.

And with some degree of diligence and consistency, maybe I can shed some actual light – and unlock the cage before we lose the key.

– – – – – –

I posted the Flannery O’Connor quote to my Facebook page last night, I’m getting more comments and “Like”s there than I am here – but apparently the notion does resonate with others.

Also, a nod to Jeff Goins, who first posted the Flannery O’Connor quote on his blog.

 

iCloud: Yes, You Can Have Your Horseless Carriage…

And pretty new icons, too.

…but you still have to pull it with a horse.

Other than that, there really is a lot to like about all the announcements that Apple made yesterday, and they announced a lot.

First there is the new operating system,  OSX Lion, which brings some of the touch screen features of the iPhone and the iPad to the desktop.  Then there is iOS 5, the new operating system for all the iGizmos, which at the very least will finally allow you to sync them altogether without a cord.

And then there was the Big New Thing: iCloud, the remote storage service that unifies everything into a whole new, self-organizing, digital ecosystem.

It will take even the most dedicated observers some time to assess all the features in all this new software – much of which will not actually be released until next fall.   So there is plenty of time to sort it all out and start saving sheckels for our nifty new laptops, phones, and tablets.

But in one critical aspect, the new iCloud service is woefully lacking – and missing a grand opportunity to deliver music distribution to its inevitable destination. Read More

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…).

Is the iTunes+Lala.com Merger Destined for the iPad?

Last week CNET.com offered some thoughts about how the iPad will work as a music player.  I think they're on the right track with this item: 

IPad_music_small_270x190 

Cloud-based music service. Even if the iPad had wireless sync, the most affordable model has only 16GB of storage. This isn't enough for most music lovers' digital collections, especially if they're going to use the iPad for other functions like electronic books and photos. So how about taking that Lala acquisition and using it? Instead of having to load music onto the iPad itself, I could sync it from my computer to Lala's online music locker service, then stream it over the Web directly to my device. Bye-bye, storage limits. Best of all, every time I update my music collection, it's updated everywhere simultaneously. This is such a no-brainer I'd be stunned if Apple doesn't make it available shortly after the iPad launches.

via news.cnet.com

This seems pretty obvious to me. I wonder what sort of a fast-track the Lala team is on to incorporate its functions into the iPad version of iTunes.

One disadvantage of the impending iPad compared to, say, an actual MacBook is the absence of third-party multi-tasking. On the MacBook, that capability is essential for the "browser is my iPod" scenario because it requires Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil software to flip the audio signal from my browser to an Airport Express (or Apple TV) and then to my stereo.

Without multi-tasking, that scenario is not going to work with the iPad. But I can still use iTunes to connect to my Airport Express or Apple TV, since iTunes has audio export to other devices built right in. So what's missing is the ability to access my music collection from the iPad without needing to store the whole 60GB collection on the device itself.

I'm sure Apple knows this, and that's why the company acquired Lala.com. My entire music collection is already in Lala's cloud. I suspect it is only a matter of time before it shows up in my iPad's cloud as well.

A Celestial Jukebox in a Box: Sonos S5 System – And Still No Beatles

It's not exactly "Beatles… Abbey Road… Loud," but a new system offers some intriguing features, and excellent sound quality, even if it's a rather complicated system. David Pogue tries to figure out the Sonos S5: 

Sonos

The music sounds fantastic. Obviously, there’s not much sense of stereo-channel separation unless you have a very skinny head. But holy cow, the bass, the distinct instruments, the clarity — it’s all there. And with serious power. The higher volume settings are literally ear-splitting indoors. One S5 could fill a very large backyard with sound, and probably a school gym, without distortion or skipping.

This all sounds great, and it is great. But you hecklers in back are no doubt thinking: “Well, duh! Why not just buy a $95 AirPort Express pocket Wi-Fi base station, connect speakers to it and then control playback using Apple’s free Remote app on your iPhone/iPod Touch?”

This is true. That’s a wireless music system for a lot less money. There is, however, a caveat or five: the price doesn’t include speakers. That system doesn’t work when the computer is off or iTunes isn’t running. It doesn’t let you control the volume of each room. It doesn’t let you pipe different music to each room. It’s not nearly as easy to grab by the back-panel handle and carry out to the patio for a party. And the music sometimes drops out because it’s using Wi-Fi instead of Sonos’s much more reliable, stutter-free music signal.

via www.nytimes.com

The Sonos system has all kinds of digital sources, like your iTunes library, Rhapsody, Pandora, and Napster.  What's missing is (for me, anyway) is Lala.com.  

And while we're on the subject of the Beatles (we weren't really, but who's counting?) we'll take a minute to note that regardless of what system or technology you're using at home or on the road, you still can't deliver the Fab Four digitally by any means other than ripping your own CDs.  There are still not Beatles in iTunes, no Beatles on Pandora or (I assume) Rhapsody or Napster — there are no digital Beatles (something they have oddly in common with Garth Brooks).  

So we note with interest — and curiosity — that a website that thought it sell Beatles tunes online for 25-cents apiece has been shut down by a court in Los Angeles.  Apparently the purveyor believed he could alter the original recordings with "artistic touches based on a technique he pioneered called "psycho-acoustic simulation."

You really have to wonder what this guy was thinking.  The court wondered, too, and agreed with the attorneys who dismissed the whole ruse as "technobabble and doublespeak."  

I’m NOT The Only One: Passman Thinks Sub Services Are The Future, Too

I don't know if I've ever read Donald Passman's book, All You Need to Know About the Music Business.  I think I might have glanced through it when I first arrived in Nashville in 1994.  The whole business is in such a state of flux right now that trying to compile it all into a book strikes me as aiming a Howitzer at a moving target, but Passman has been re-issuing this book for almost 20 years now and I guess old habits die hard. 

In any event, I'm pleased to see that Mr. Passman thinks well of the future of subscriptions services as the ultimate form of digital music delivery, despite the speed bumps such services have encountered along the way: 

Q: Why do you think subscription-based services (such as Rhapsody) haven't really taken off? 

A: Passman: They're not convenient enough, they're not truly cross-platform. For me, the ultimate would be anytime-anywhere access to any music for one subscription. On my computer, in my car, on a connected device, whether it's an
iPod or something else, on an airplane when I don't have an Internet connection. Not just tied to one or two devices. I'm personally a believer in subscription services. People don't think twice about paying for cable, and when you stop paying it goes away. But with music, there's a kneejerk reaction because we're used to owning it.

via news.cnet.com

Which nicely echoes the point that I've been making all along: Besides the clunky interfaces, the biggest obstacle to more widespread acceptance for music subscriptions services is the persistence of the illusion of "ownership."   

Which, again, is why I'm one of the few who thinks the Google partnership with Lala such a potential game changer.  Yes, I know, Lala is not a flat-fee subscription service (yet?).  But the user interface works exceptionally well — is far superior to Rhapsody or the latest incarnation of Napster (from what I hear).  

So users will find Lala from its new links in Google music searches, discover its ease of use, and become enraptured with the virtually infinite quantities of music they can absorb when they don't have to "own" it to listen to it.  From there it's a short leap from Lala's current "nickel and dime" approach to "just let me pay a flat monthly fee and open the flood gates."

Add an iPhone app (presently in beta) to that scenario and it's pretty much "game over." 

Google Partnership Is Good News for Lala.com – and Music Fans

This should really come as a surprise to no one: 

Traffic has jumped dramatically at Lala.com since Google's October 28th partner announcement for its new enhanced music search results according to Alexa. iLike has also seen some gains

The linked article from Hypebot includes this chart from web-traffic monitor Alexa: 

…which shows that Lala's ranking has jumped from #10-15,000 to something closer to the top 1,000 or 2,000 websites (it's not exactly an easy chart to decipher).  

So even as Bob Lefsetz rails against the Lala model (and Taylor Swift, or whatever other pea has found its way under his mattress this morning), it's clear that the partnership with Google is going to provide a huge lift for Lala.com.

Now I have to agree with Bob, that once you become accustomed to "access to" instead of "ownership of" music over the web, that the "nickel-and-dime" model that Lala presently employs is pretty tedious.  And I still have no idea where my pennies go when when I authorize them.  

But that's pretty much beside the point for now.  The lift in Lala's ratings hints of the sea-change that is afoot in digital music distribution.  That chart means that thousands — hundreds of thousands, maybe millions — of people are beginning to discover the vast wealth of recorded music they can listen to online — if they can simply disabuse themselves of the idea that they need to "own" what they're listening to.  

The trade-off is just so obvious, I can't believe more people aren't rushing into it: instead of spending $10 or $15/mo to "own" one CD with maybe ten or twelve tracks, you spend the same month to have "access" to… fucking EVERYTHING! 

And by "everything" I don't mean just the indie-released, recorded in the bedroom, some-body-please-listen stuff that populates the vast wasteland at MySpace Music.  To the contrary, we're talking here about all the "popular," showing-up-on-the-radar stuff that you think you'd like to hear but maybe don't want to shell out $15 to buy. It's all out there now folks, and finding it is easier than ever thanks to Google's partnerhsip with Lala. 

I agree with Lefsetz that what's missing from Lala is the monthly, flat-fee subscription program, and I don't know if they will ever flip the switch on such a service.  Maybe there is something in their licensing arrangements that precludes that, I dunno. 

What I do know is that while services like Spotify and Mog can't quite get their act together in the U.S., Lala is forging ahead with its service, and demonstrating to vast new legions of potential users that the universe of access is, quite literally, infinitely more vast and rewarding than a private library of recordings.  

Turn Your Browser Into A “Celestial Jukebox” TODAY

While I was at the Americana Conference last week, I found myself explaining to a lot of people what I mean when I tell them my computer is my jukebox.  Maybe they think I’m talking about iTunes.  Or maybe they think I’m listening to all this music on the speakers in my MacBook.


Not hardly.  I’ve got access to a virtually infinite (as in, more than I can listen to in a lifetime) library of music, and I’m listening to it all in excellent fidelity on my stereo. Aside from the computer (in my case a MacBook or a MacPro) there are three essential components to this system:

Lala.com: I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record on this one (pun intended?).  But this is where it starts for me.  Unlike the

Lala

subscription services like Rhapsody or Napster, Lala sucks me in by letting me listen to whatever I want to one time for free.  After that, I purchase “access” to the tracks I want to hear again for a dime.

With Lala.com, the browser becomes your iPod, with one important difference.  Instead of “owning” a few thousand tracks, you get “access” to… a few million.  Just about anything you want to hear.

Airfoil3-mac96

Airfoil is really the secret sauce in this recipe.  Airfoil is a program that can take the audio output from any program on your computer — most notably in this case your browser — and send it over WiFi to an


Airport Express — an Apple gizmo which is a WiFi receiver with stereo audio output.

That’s all there is to it, and it works on either PCs or Macs.  The signal comes out of your browser, Airfoil sends it to the Airport, and then the sound comes out of your stereo.

And just like that, your stereo is transformed into the “Celestial Jukebox.”

With this configuration, the prophecy is about 3/4s fulfilled.  You can hear whatever you want, whenever you want to hear it — but you still have to be connected to some kind of broadband connection through a lap- or desk-top computer.

The only thing that’s missing is the mobile app that puts the capability in your car.  The apps exist, but so far they’re not available for the public.  But why wait?  Unless you’re one of the road warriors that you’re listening to you’re probably tethered to cable or DSL (forget dialup) most of the  day anyway.

So be the first on your block to set up your own Celestial Jukebox TODAY!