Things That Are Going Away… But Maybe Not

userpic=zombieAnd the process of cleaning out the links continues…. this collection brings together a number of stories about things that are going away… but then again:

  • Maui Potato Chips. As I’m on the island of Maui right now, let’s start with something that I’m craving, that used to be easy to find, but now is very difficult to find: The Original Maui Kettle Cook’d Potato Chips. When I was out here 30 years ago, they were everywhere (and you used to ship them back to the mainland). Today? You’re lucky to find a small bag for $7.99 in a few stores. They’ve been replaced by a knockoff chip from the state of Washington. Washington?!?!? But if you know where to look, they are still available. (but of course, I can’t eat them — I’m watching my weight and blood pressure 🙁 )
  • Renaissance Costumes. I’ve written before about how  the theatrical landscape in Southern California is changing due to the machinations of AEA. Many theatres have retrenched in various ways, and this is now starting to have ripple effects. AJS Costumes, a large theatrical and renaissance costumer, has started a GoFundMe to help them survive the ripple. As they write: “As you may or may not be aware, the live theater scene in Los Angeles has been going through an upheaval for the past several months.  Changes in the local 99-seat theater community are causing many theater companies to be very conservative in selecting their projects.  To avoid collapse, many theater companies are doing smaller productions, with less costume design needed, and fewer period plays. The rental business and costume design services of AJS Costumes has slowed to a trickle. This downturn has been sudden.  It has been unforeseen.  It has been devastating.   Despite this crisis, we are continuing to serve our clientele and assure you that all outstanding orders are being fulfilled.   But in order to survive, we must explore and secure new income options for our shop.”
  • Verizon Contract Plans. You may have heard that Verizon was getting rid of subsidized phone plans. That’s actually not true — it is only true for new customers. Old customers — as long as you keep renewing or have phones on the old plan — you can keep it.
  • iPod Classics. Well, they aren’t going away. You can even do as I’m thinking of doing and put in a SSD. But, alas, Apple is declaring them obsolete as of Labor Day. I’m sure you can still get them repaired, although some parts may be harder to get.

 

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Perhaps There’s Another Approach For More Space

userpic=ipodIf you’ve been reading my iPod posts for a while, you know that a growing concern of mine is what I will do when my iPod runs out of space. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I like owning (not leasing) my music, and having control of what I listen to when I want it. I like not being tethered to a data plan (or at least consuming it with music); I like being able to listen to all my music when I have no network connection. As background, I’m currently at 36308 songs taking 136 GB, plus podcasts, leaving about 12GB on my iPod Classic (7.5g, 160GB) free.

Previously, I had been exploring alternative high-capacity Digital Audio Players.  There were a number of leading contenders: Fiio, Astell and Kern, and iBasso being the primary ones. They all stored their data on microSD cards, but all had suboptimal user interfaces, could not handle smart playlists, and required use of different media managers.

About a week ago I began to ask myself: why go for a standalone player? After all, if the key aspect was storage of music on an SD card, I could likely find an Android phone that could take a card (iPhone have no external storage support). The most likely player looks to be Rocket Player. They also have a premium version. I’ve seen comments that it supports smart playlists, but who knows if they are compatible with iTunes smart playlists.  But it looks like there is a wide variety of players available (see also here). PlayerPro seemed like a possibility, but it looks like there are currently playlist problems. There’s also DoubleTwist, which has some interesting syncing capabilities with iTunes.

With music on Android, there would also be the question of how to manage it. The best solution is, surprisingly, iTunes (with an add-on called iSynchr that allows iTunes to talk to Android). Of course, this would have the question of how long iTunes would continue to work with the add-on. Doubletwist is also recommended, and presumably it works best with the DoubleTwist app. I haven’t seen any recent surveys, however, and most I’ve read indicate that iTunes with the iSynchr is still bettter. However, even using the phone, there is still the problem of battery life: playing music on the phone decreases the overall phone battery.

The best solution, of course, is to keep using the iPod. But, you say, iPods are no longer made and they max out at 160GB. Perhaps the stock ones do. There are adapters out there that permit a modder to replace the iPod hard disk with a SDXC flash card — supposedly up to 256GB. They could likely take the iPod to more storage (software permitting), if they do the full SDXC standard that goes to 2TB; however, cards larger than 256GB are not available yet. Yet.  Google News has also been pointing me to this article about turbocharging a classic with an SSD up to 1TB. This in someways is less expensive as one can use an mSATA SSD — where getting 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB is much less expensive. There is a fellow that sells the needed adapters; he has even made a 1TB iPod. His website has a whole batch of interesting posts about such mods, including tutorials and recommendations on drives to use. He even compares the different types of storage.

The one drawback to upgrading the iPod is: I’m a software guy, not a hardware guy. I wouldn’t be comfortable attempting to make the mod myself.  I’ve dropped email to three local iPod Repair shops: Northridge iRepair, Repair Stop Northridge, and uBreakIFix. Northridge iRepair responded quickly, noting that they had tried this with a personal iPod, and had been able to install it just fine — but it wouldn’t boot up. My guess is that they ran into a media problem — evidently, not all mSATA drives work, just as not all SDXC cards work. So hopefully they will try some more and get things working before it need it.  I’ll update this as more folks respond.

My plan forward at this point is to… wait. I’ve still got 12GB to fill — that should take about a year. When I get close, I’ll switch from synching all to just synching playlists, and make some music on the computer only. That may give me another 2GB of play, but hopefully it won’t require reloading the iPod when I make the change. I may also explore converting the older of the two iPod Classic (iPod Primero) to SSD — either a 256GB SDXC card (although if I want larger storage, if the interface works, all that means is getting a larger card) or a 512GB mSATA drive. It all depends on price and the success of the installer on working with particular media.

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I’ve Crossed The Line

userpic=white-ipodAs you probably know by now, I tend to write obsessively about my iPod Classic. Indeed, just a few days ago I did an in-depth post about Apple’s new iPods, how they are insufficient, and explored possible alternatives.  Well, I’ve crossed the line.

To understand what I mean, you need to understand that I try to listen to the almost 36,000 songs on my iPod evenly. This is why I obsess over smart playlists. Today, my playlist of songs listened to more than 10 times (17940) became longer than my playlist of songs listened to 10 times or less (17,902). That is the line I’ve crossed — I’m over half-way to having listened to all my music at least 10 times.

I think I’ll celebrate by adding more music.

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Space, The Final Frontier

2015 iPodsuserpic=ipod[Excuse the barrage of posts today — I’m finally catching up after a busy two weeks]

This week, Apple finally announced a refresh to the remaining members of the iPod line. The new refresh brings a faster processor, updated display, and multiple sizes. Commentators are going on and on about its benefits, and the major drawback discussed deals with its place in the new Apple streaming ecosystem.

Color me unimpressed.

Mind you, I seriously would have thought about getting one of these beasts had Apple deigned to increase the memory to 256GB, or at least made the memory a micro-SD card that was capable of taking the largest micro-SD card currently made (2TB).  But 128GB? That’s less memory than my current iPod Classic at 160GB (148.79GB capacity for music). I’d have to delete music just to fit on a 128GB memory. As it is, I’ve only got around 13GB free on my iPod Classic, and that will be going down in a week or so (Amazon order going in on Monday).

Folks, we’re seeing industry trying to push us back to the future. They’ve successfully convinced people that you can do everything in the cloud — computing, storage, etc. Us old timers realize that’s just a move back to time-sharing on a central computer — the way computing was done in the 1970s. Apple and the rest of the music industry is attempting to convince us that we don’t need to own our music, we can listen to whatever we want by streaming; in fact, if we don’t want to pick what we listen to, they’ll do it for us. Us old timers realize that’s just pushing us back to the AM/FM model, where you would hear DJs programming a playlist of tracks out of a station’s vast library. Any music you had wasn’t portable. That’s the model of music we had until cassettes hit the market in the 1970s.

I’m sorry, but I like to have my own computing power that I control. I like to own my music, and I love the freedom to listen to whatever I want, whenever I want, and most importantly, whereever I want without worry for data usage or streaming capabilities. I want a dedicated music player so that it does not consume my phone’s battery, and that tries to do one thing right instead of many things wrong. Most importantly, I want a dedicated music player that has room for all the music I currently own AND all the music I will purchase in my lifetime. Most players cannot handle that. [Oh, and it would be a plus if it worked with the iTunes ecosystem so that I could preserve my play counts and all my smart playlists.]

Currently, there are NO music players currently sold that do this. Sorry, updated iPods, but 128GB doesn’t cut it. I’m sticking with my 160GB iPod and its twin.

Still, with only 13GB left, I keep exploring replacements. Here are the likely contenders:

  • Fiio X5 2nd Generation. Fiio focuses on the sound quality, aiming at the high-def market. Me? I focus on the fact that it has 2 128GB microSD slots, giving a total capacity of 256GB. What I don’t know about the Fiio is whether it views the two cards as unified storage, or you have to pick where to store things. I also don’t know whether it can handle playlists (esp. smart playlists), or work with the iTunes ecosystem. The price is reasonable: $349 for the player; microSD cards extra (~$80 for 128GB).  According to one review, “Fiio is confident that there should be no issues handling larger capacity cards as they are released, so expansion options look good for the future.” However, the internal software usability seems markedly below that of the iPod Classic. [Edited to Add: It looks like there is software to help connect with iTunes for both the PC and MAC; the MAC software looks more polished. You can shuffle all music, but it looks like smart playlists are not supported and support for podcasts is unclear. Here’s the Fiio X5 Manual. Note also that the Fiio X3 2nd Generation is a possibility if they truly comply with the SDXC standard, and update the firmware to handle 256GB-2TB cards (such support would also make the Fiio X1 viable as well). Now, just imagine an X5 with 2x2TB cards. Wow!]
  • Astell and Kern. These are the high-end products from iRiver. The upper end (AK240, AK380) all have 256GB internal and support a 128GB card (the AK Jr is also a possibility if they up the SDXC card supported; however, it is only at 64GB onboard + 64GB Mini-SD). These have gotten good reviews; however, they require the user to determine what music is onboard and what music is on the card. I also don’t know a lot about the interface, but I suspect it is album oriented and not smart playlist oriented.
  • Sony 64GB Walkman. Although 64GB is in the title, it can also support a 128GB microSD card, giving 192GB. However, you have to indicate where music is stored, and I haven’t heard that much good about the user and software interfaces. However, at $299, the 64GB is much better than the $1200 128GB player. The $1200 player is overpriced (plus, once you visit the Sony site, adds for Sony start appearing everywhere).
  • Pono Player. $399 for a 64GB internal plus 128GB microSD. Pono got a lot of buzz when they started as a Kickstarter, but they seem to be being eclipsed by the competition both in form factor (they are Toblerone shaped, not deck-of-cards), and the interface. They have their own iTunes replacement called Ponoworld that appears reasonable; I’ve seen no mention of whether it can import from iTunes. It is also unknown whether Pono can be managed through MusicBee or other managers. Pono has gotten mixed reviews (Ars Technica, C|Net, Stereophile, Stereogum); the conclusion isn’t that the Pono is bad but rather that it isn’t significantly better than the others. I’ve seen some comparisons with the Fiio and AK, and the Pono does not eclipse the competition. The major advantage of the Pono, truthfully, is that the company is headquarted in the US. All the other players are Asian: Fiio is China, Astell and Kern is iRiver from Korea, iBasso is Korea, and Sony is Japan. If that is important to you, Pono may be the choice.
  • iBasso DX50. It looks like this product can support up to a 2TB microSD (i.e., it supports the full SDXC standard). The manual is here. Interface looks a bit rudimentary. Price is reasonable, but you need to add the card (still, having a single card is an advantage). It has gotten some good reviews.

None of these have good software for the computer side of the management interface. However, I’ve done some searching, and it looks like MusicBee is a great alternative (at least if you’re on Windows, as I am).  I’ve read a number of reviews and writeups (Lifehacker, GHacks, Softpedia, Wikipedia), and it looks like it can import from iTunes, build smart playlists, and synchronize to DAP (digital audio player) devices.

I looked at the Cowon X9, but it seems to only take a 64GB memory card, and have a maximum file limit of 12,000 songs — I have triple that. The Sansa Clip+ is also recommended, but doesn’t appear to have sufficient capacity, even when Rockboxed.

My conclusion at this point is… wait, and if I get closer to filling the iPod Classic, move more of the less popular music off the iPod (or only sync playlists). Moving it off does lose playcounts and ratings — I’ve done that for some music already that I hadn’t liked at all, or stand-up comedy I rarely listen to or do not plan to listen to any more (Bill Cosby, I’m looking at you. Thump. Thump.)

I really wish Apple would wise up, and come up with a 256GB iPod Touch. It’s not that I want the touch screen — I want the larger storage in the iTunes ecosystem. Hell, come up with an iPod Touch that takes a microSD card. But I fear Apple will never do this; large capacity devices go against their current market, which is streaming, not stored, music.

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Independence Weekend News Chum Stew

Observation StewIt’s been stewing on the stove for two weeks because I’ve been so busy. Let’s hope it is still tasty and flavor-right. Here’s your news chum stew for the last two weeks:

 

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Saturday News Chum: Lastpass, Food Waste, Celiacs, Music, and Sons

userpic=lougrantIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clear out the links. These are articles I found interesting during the week, but either didn’t have the time or the inclination to write about then:

  • The Lastpass Hack. One of the big security items last week was the hack of Password Manager “Lastpass” (which happens to be the password manager I use and recommend). There was word about how hashed Master Passwords may have been leaked, as well as password reminders. But as usual, Lastpass provided the best explanation on why and whether you should worry, and showed why people still don’t understand risk — In response to the question “Was my master password exposed?”, their response was:
    “No, LastPass never has access to your master password. We use encryption and hashing algorithms of the highest standard to protect user data. We hash both the username and master password on the user’s computer with 5,000 rounds of PBKDF2-SHA256, a password strengthening algorithm. That creates a key, on which we perform another round of hashing, to generate the master password authentication hash. That is sent to the LastPass server so that we can perform an authentication check as the user is logging in. We then take that value, and use a salt (a random string per user) and do another 100,000 rounds of hashing, and compare that to what is in our database. In layman’s terms: Cracking our algorithms is extremely difficult, even for the strongest of computers.” In other words, what may have been exposed was a deep one-way hash of an already deeply one-way hashed password. You’re really only at risk if they could guess your password, and that comes from a dumb password reminder. Still, they recommended changing your master password. I did so, and I changed it in the few other places I use it (none of which are web accessble; it is for similar non-web application vaults).
  • Going to Waste. We are an incredibly wasteful country. Two articles from NPR on that subject. The first deals with a grocery chain in Northern California, that has decided to sell “ugly produce” that would otherwise go to waste at deeply discounted prices. The second deals with a landfill of lettuce — salad tossed because it might not make it to market in time. In this time of drought, and considering the amount of water that goes into growing and raising food, we should work hard to make sure that all food, ugly or not, is put to good use. We have loads of families in need that could benefit from just-in-time delivery of fresh, but ugly, vegetables and similar food products.
  • The Celiac Cry. I’ve been pressing this point for a while, but this article expresses it really well: why the gluten free fad dieters are a bad thing for Celiacs. People think they know GF, but don’t do complete checking and poison those for home it really makes a difference.
  • Buying Music Is For Old People. This article really saddened me. It posited the notion that only old people buy music these days. The “younger generation” wants more and more variety, and they can get that by streaming their music from music services anywhere anytime. Of course, this is like AM radio of old, but we won’t tell them. The problem is that streaming doesn’t work everywhere, doesn’t cover all audiences, and tends to cost money (both subscriptions and data). It also puts what you listen to in the hands of the streaming services. No thank you. I’ll keep owning my music, making copies of my digital music as backups, and listening to it whenever and whereever I can.
  • Architecture in the West. Two architectural articles. The first deals with interesting undiscovered architecture in Tucson. The second deals with another product of the 50s to go away: first it was drive-ins, not it is bowling alleys. There aren’t many left in the valley; Mission Hills Bowl is now gone. Bowlers will miss it.
  • Sons!. My first live theatre that I saw on stage was the LACLO’s production of The Rothschilds, which I still love to this day. This week news came out that a revamped version is in the works.

 

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Saturday Stew: 10, 512, H20, 2, 0, and 0219

Observation StewWell, it’s late Saturday night, and I’m home from my first Fringe show. That writeup will be tomorrow morning — tonight, it’s time to clear out the links so we can make some news chum stew. Are you hungry yet?

  • Windows 10 is Coming. Quick, get a Dixie Cup. OK, so it’s an old joke and in bad taste. But we’re talking Windows here. Seriously, if you have a Windows 7 or Windows 8 system, you might see a new little icon so you can sign up to get the latest and greatest Windows when it is released on July 29. You’ll have a year to upgrade for free. So I’ve got a collection of articles that I found of interest on the upgrade. First and foremost, there are a number of features that will not work or will be removed when (if) you upgrade. Second, here’s an article on what to expect when the upgrade happens. Supposedly, you’ll need to do a clean install. What I haven’t seen yet is how well the upgrade process works for an in-place system, or seen a good list of what other older software will not work. My advice: You’ll have until July 2016 to request the upgrade. I’d suggest waiting a good two months and letting everyone else be the guinea pig.
  • Apple, are you listening? Having talked about Microsoft, let’s now talk about Apple. This week brought the news that Microdia will be selling a 512GB micro-SD card for around $1000 (and you can expect the price to go down as others start manufacturing, plus there are reminders that the extra-capacity SDXC format allows for up to 2TB cards. OK, Apple, here’s your challenge. Do you want to win back all the people that loved the iPod Classic for their music? Do you want to prevent these folks from migrating to any of the other large capacity players? Here’s a simple answer: sell an iPod Touch that can take a micro-SD card up to 2TB. Not only can folks store their music, they have room for loads of apps, and loads of photos (they will be grabbed by photographers). Think of all the money you can make backing that up to the cloud.
  • Water Water Everywhere. Here are three articles related to water. The first explores how to find the control room for the Bellagio fountains. There are loads of facts in the article; my favorite was the following: “The water they use for the fountains is a self-sustained source that used to be used for the old Dunes golf course before they took it down.”  I had read in another book on Vegas that Wynn bought the land for the Bellagio because it had its own springs. Speaking of piping water, when you hear Budweiser, what do you think of? I know, watered-down beer. Did you know in emergencies that AB doesn’t add the beer (of course, how would you know?). Seriously, those of us in LA know that AB canned water during the big earthquake. Well, with the recent damage in Texas, they switched to canning water as well. Lastly, I found a real good collection of stories at the Times on drought gardening.
  • A-One. A-Two. If you are security aware, you turn on two-factor authentication whereever you can. But how do you do it? Here’s an article with information on turning on two-factor authentication on over 100 sites. In particular, it links to a step-by-step guide to turning on two-factor authentication.
  • Illusions in the Air. Here’s an interesting (well, to me) discussion of Avatar Airlines, an airline that is too good to be true. Just like the recently panned (and rightfully so) Bitter Lemons Imperative (plus one, two, three), here’s an idea that might have sounded good on a surface read, but when you dig deeper, it is fraught with problems. This really goes to show why you need to think an idea out thoroughly before you put it on the net. [I didn’t earlier today, and learned my lesson]
  • A Burnin’ Issue. OK, Grammar Geeks. Here’s one for you (h/t Andrew D): Which unicode character should represent the apostrophe? The answer is easy to get wrong, as the Unicode committee did. They chose ’ (U+2019), which is RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK (as opposed to ‘ (single quote)), as opposed to ʼ (U+02BC), which is MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE. Why is this significant? The former creates a word boundary; the latter does not. Now you know why your capitalization routine changes it’s to It’S.

 

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Music Management Alternatives: Characterized by a Lack of Information

userpic=white-ipodYesterday, one of the big pieces of news out of the CES show was Sony’s announcement of a $1,200 MP3 player. In addition to all of the sonic high-quality stuff that really boost the price, what caught my eye was this: “The NW-ZX2 features 128GB of memory — and can be expanded to 256GB — and a battery that’s expected to last up to 60 hours.”. Details are scanty, but I’ll note that you can currently get a digital Walkman that has 64GB onboard and the capability to support a 128GB Micro-SD card (for a total of 192GB) for $299. I’m not sure who is going to pay an extra $900 for the additional 64GB.

However, this got me thinking about my previous post on large-storage iPod Classic replacements. I’ve noted before one of the key drawbacks about moving away from the iTunes/iPod universe is… well… iTunes itself. Just like your electronic relationship with your bank makes it harder to change banks, so too does long-term use of iTunes make it harder to move off of iTunes. Just consider the potential loss of play counts, ratings, smart playlists, and potentially carefully crafted album art. What you would want is a solution that allows you to preserve that additional information. I did some musing and research over lunch yesterday and today. There appear to be two potential winning approaches:

  1. Figure out a way to make iTunes work with a non-iPod device, such that it can not only copy music to the device, but bring play counts and ratings from the device back into iTunes.
  2. Figure out a way to move iTunes data into a non-iTunes music manager — one that can handle all the iTunes capabilities and synch information bidirectionally from the non-iPod device.

Looking into the first option, I’ve found mention of two different solutions: Notpod and iTunesFusion. It is hard to find detailed information on either, although C|Net has a good writeup on using Notpod. It appears that both of these make your non-Ipod device appear as a playlist (not as an iPod). In particular, from the Notpod description, it looks like it just copies over the music files that are on a particular playlist. There’s no interaction with the player’s OS to retrieve play counts and changes to ratings. Further, Notpod does not seem to support syncing multiple playists or smart playlists — in particular, making it so that you have smart playlists on your non-iPod device. iTunesFusion seems similar — its description talks about syncing playlists to the iPod. Neither of these products have extensive screenshots or manuals online that permit further investigation.

Looking into the second option, there are tons of non-iTunes music managers out there. Most of the pages discussing them, however, focus on using a non-iTunes manager with an Apple iDevice — I don’t care about that. I’m curious about products that permit importation of an existing iTunes database (songs, play counts, ratings, playlists) into their own format, and that then provide the syncing ability with non-Apple players. I found one called MediaMonkey that looks interesting, but I need to investigate this further.

So, I’m curious…. has anyone out there in Internet-Land experimented with non-iTunes managers, or syncing between iTunes and non-Apple players?

[ETA: Here’s an interesting analysis of the need for dedicated Media players. I generally agree, but he missed one additional niche: players with sufficient storage to hold an entire music collection. Such storage is found on the high end audio players, but those looking for storage don’t require the high end audio — they are just stuck with it (just as those, to use his analogy, who require film and not digital are either stuck with cheap disposables or high-end SLRs — the mid-market affordable film cameras are gone.)]

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