I surrender

I blogged a couple of times about my fight with Apple, and in particular iPhoto. I just could not get it set up to work the way I wanted, which I didn’t think was particularly specialist and “out there” and indeed worked fine for me with other software such as Google’s Picasa. In the meantime I read of a variety of other Apple users’ experiences and noted a recurring theme: “Don’t fight the Apple way”. In recent weeks I’ve taken this advice on board a bit more and tried to fit into the Apple “eco-system” rather than try and tweak it to my needs. Irritating as it was to give up in this way, the results are so far promising.

iPhoto was the biggest irritant in my Apple experience. Ignoring the niggly bugs and occasional hanging, there was the big issue of being unable to easily and reliably share photo libraries across the user accounts of my wife and I. This was a showstopper for me and the only thing stopping me reverting back to Picasa was the effort involved in re-organising my photos from the iPhoto mess into meaningful folders. This is because iPhoto’s default settings mean photos are imported into a proprietary folder structure based on date and are almost unnavigable without iPhoto. I could go on about this but that would miss the point of this post. What is relevant is that my lack of action meant that I had a load of photos on my iPhone that I didn’t want to import just in case I ended up going back to Picasa.

Last night I decided enough was enough and just got on with importing my iPhone pictures into iPhoto, probably prompted by the near disaster of dropping my iPhone above a brick hearth and only just catching it before the crash. I’d worry about Picasa another day.

Frankly it was a revelation. It’s not like I’d not done this before, but I was reminded how beautifully simple it was to import, organise and edit. OK, so the facial recognition is a bit weak but otherwise iPhoto was on this occasion a real pleasure to use. I wanted to organise my photos. I was enjoying it for a change.

Does it still grate me that the underlying folder structure is going to be a real pain to migrate if and when I want to move away from “The Apple Way?” No doubt. Does it pain me to give up on the idea of a shared photo library? Absolutely. Am I overall a happier Apple user for conceding on these points and going with the Apple flow?

Honestly?

Yes.

 

Independent retailers must try harder

There’s talk up and down the country about town centres dying. Many many people have written about this so I’m not going to add too much more. I do have a grumble though. I enjoy shopping in my home town – Leek – because it still has a good selection of independent retailers bucking the trend against chain store and internet domination. Why oh why then do they not do themselves a favour and provide the good service that we want and expect?

I don’t mind paying a bit extra or having a smaller product range provided I get the service seemingly only possible from a small business owner. It’s their livelihood and they (should) care about looking after customers. Today I went in two independents, both of which were too busy on their computers to even say hello. Come on, give me a reason to spend money in your shop, not a reason to turn to Amazon and co!

On a positive note, the lady in Mr Simm’s Olde Sweet Shop was superb, helping my 3 and 5 year olds spend their few precious pence. Well done, THAT’S the service that will keep me spending in my high street.

Too much music, too many formats

I’ve been discovering a whole load of new music recently. Some of this is thanks to friends sharing their musical loves on Facebook, some is down to endless exposure to iTunes and the rest is down to the countless blogs/social media/websites/video channels that I come across day-in-day-out whilst sat in front of a computer. This is great and I’ll put up some of the stuff I’ve found later, but there’s just too much choice of format.

Back in the day *ahem* I was a vinyl fan. I remember the first album I ever bought was The Kids From Fame. I think it was a fiver from Woolworths and must have been the best part of 30 years ago. £5 for an album of 10 tracks, 30 years ago. Shocking value compared to the MP3 albums you can nearly-instantly download for a similar price today.

Or is it? The problem with music downloads is that whilst they are cheap compared with vinyl, cassette and CD prices of years ago, they don’t stack up so well against CD prices today. When CDs first came out – 30 years ago? – I’m sure they were the best part of £15 or so. Now you can get new releases for well under a tenner. So when I want a new album, I can buy the download for not a lot less than the CD and – unbelievably – sometimes more.

Why should I complain? Provided you have the space to store them, CDs are undoubtedly better value since irrespective of the better quality (that many of us won’t notice on our smartphones and MP3 players) they are physical, tangible things with nice artwork…and you can rip them to MP3 anyway. Why don’t I just buy CDs and shut up?

Well, I am now an impatient man. If I hear a great track on the internet, I want to buy it there and then. I don’t want to go to the shops or wait for Amazon to deliver it. Short attention span and no patience, you see? It’s not my fault, the internet made me this way. I used to be better, honest.

Even worse is how convenient iTunes is. I can be lying in bed browsing the iTunes store for music, give it a listen and buy it really rather too effortlessly. Moments later the music is on my phone ready for my greedy ears. Again, why am I complaining? Well, iTunes sells its music in AAC format with DRM. The long and the short of it is that I am limited to how many devices I can play the music on. Unlike CD players which will play anything classed as a CD, “MP3 players” are not all alike. Whilst Apple’s players will play MP3, not all MP3 players will play Apple’s AAC. “Yawn! Boring”. Maybe, but the point is that Apple charge more than most for music downloads with less versatility of when and where you can play them.

So, I end up browsing on iTunes to find music I like only to go to Amazon to find it on MP3 cheaper and then to prevaricate for days over whether I should pay more for the CD anyway. This is supposed to be fun.

The big issue is this is not really a big issue. It’s actually symptomatic of the convenience-age we live in where we want what WE want and we want it the way WE want it and moan about it when we can’t have it. To think Steve Jobs said “customers don’t know what they want”. Ha! Whatever.

Too much choice. Too many inconsequential things to worry about. Time to worry about something worthwhile…?

 

Insurance renewals. Oh joy!

There’s a few things in life – OK, more than a few – that irritate me. Sneaky ways to extort more money from my bank account are pretty near the top of the pile (don’t get me started on booking fees) and insurance companies deploy some of the most despicable tactics.

I know I should shop around for the best insurance deal and much as I hate doing it I begrudgingly accept it is all part and parcel of saving some money. That’s a good thing, right? It’s a pain filling all those forms in but I just grin and bear it.

Anyway, to cut a long rant short, my house insurance renewal was due the other day. Tempted as I was to just accept the new premium I did persuade myself to go through the motions on Go Compare. I’m with M & S because they have unlimited buildings and contents cover and also they’re pretty good at covering (expensive) cycles. Up they popped on Go Compare – not the cheapest but in the right ball park – but at a considerably lower price than my renewal. Apples and apples I thought, so I picked up the phone to check it was like for like cover with my current policy. After a bit of tweaking of excesses – with an admittedly very helpful girl – we had a fair comparison. Now this is where it gets silly and I get both delighted and highly irritated…

The new quote was 40% cheaper – like for like – than my current policy. 40%. 40%! Not 4%, not 14%, but FORTY PERCENT.

Happy Dan is pleased to report they did a price match so I saved a couple of hundred quid. Annoyed Dan just cannot comprehend the kick in the balls that insurance companies give you as a so-called reward for loyalty. Look, I am quite happy with my house insurance and I’m quite happy to stay with them year-on-year so long as they give me a fair price. Here’s a message to them:

  • Do NOT try and fleece me by putting my premiums up to almost double what a new customer would get
  • Do NOT think you’re doing me a favour by price matching to YOUR OWN PRICES. You should be apologising for attempting such duplicitous tactics to extort money
  • Do NOT think that I’ve forgotten that you’re just as bad Mr Breakdown Cover
There’s a lesson here. There’s no such thing as being rewarded for customer loyalty. I’ll rephrase that: Existing customers beware. You will be taken advantage of if you are a quiet and trouble-free customer. I find that a bit sad.