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…?

 

Just not feeling the love for Apple

It’s a few weeks in with the iMac. I love the Magic Trackpad and the way I can easily navigate in Safari and across multiple desktops. The synchronisation of Mail etc with my Google account is also doing what it should (mostly). However I’ve “got over” the fact it is a nice looking bit of kit, and it just sits on the desk much like any other computer would. The aesthetic was one of the main reasons for swapping from Windows PCs and I just feel a bit indifferent about it now.

As for the actual functionality, well quite frankly I just keep coming cross stuff that it doesn’t really do that well. Sure, it’s nice that the iLife suite is so well integrated and I can just drag a picture from iPhoto straight into an email, but that’s such a small inconsequential feature compared to the awful way my photos are now stored on my Mac. I realise I can change the way iPhoto imports pictures but then this is at the expense of simplicity. It seems that the Mac “it-just-works” model is fine and dandy if you’re happy with the way “it just works”, but if you’re not, you’re stuck with something hopelessly limiting.

Take the drag and drop from iPhoto to Mail. It only works from the – forgive me if I have the wrong terminology – Event (thumbnail) view. If I’ve opened up the image or I’m editing it I can no longer drag into Mail. Daft.

Don’t get me started on the ridiculous way iPhoto handles the image library. My wife and I both have a user account on the Mac. We both import photos into our Home directories. So far so good and quite slick with iPhoto, but this creates an iPhoto library for each of us. If I want to view pictures in her library or vice versa then it is nigh on impossible. I have been on innumerable forums about a solution and even spoken with Apple who could not help solve what I see as a fairly fundamental requirement of a “home computer.” Picasa handles this effortlessly.

[UPDATE] – Whilst doing some more comparisons with Picasa I noted that iPhoto now “owns” my photos and I cannot edit them in Picasa without first copying them. Even closing down iPhoto first gives me this problem. Talk about restrictive. Very poor.

I’ve also had issues with people not receiving emails and/or attachments that I’ve mailed from Mail. Another long call to Apple and the solution was “you could use another email client.” Astounding.

I do like the simplicity of the App Store for getting new programs and the Mac implementation of Windows Remote Desktop is neat too, so it’s not all bad. It’s just really not as good as I expected. I wish I’d bought a Windows PC and with the money I’d saved bought an iPad too. Ho hum…

This Apple tastes sour

For some years I wanted – desired – an Apple computer. I’ve never had any beef with Windows PCs. Without too much fuss or kerfuffle they’ve “just worked”. My last Windows PC  – an XP Home model – has only recently retired after getting on for 8 years good service (I say retired; it has actually found service at my Dad’s house, who was still running Windows 98!).

The problem with my Windows PC was not a problem with Windows. It was simply that the hardware never really looked anything other than utilitarian. I even experimented with custom cases to try and get somewhere close to that magic Apple look, but fell way short of getting a computer to look desirable.

Odd shaped Apples

That’s not to say I’ve always wanted an Apple. My Uncle – still an Apple fan – had a Mackintosh many moons ago. It just looked like an ugly little box with a ridiculously small screen and really didn’t excite.

The iMacs from the early part of this century then started to get my attention. I used to work at a magazine printers and we had a whole suite of them, but only for the creative team of course. That was the point of Apple, was it not? No chance of us mere office staff having such a cutting edge machine. Nope, Windows for us lot.

Looking back at those garish all-in-ones with the ridiculous circular mouse makes me suspect it was merely curiosity to know what they were all about rather than a desire to own one. Still, this is where the Mac versus Windows debate began for me.

Temptation

It wasn’t until the “angle poise” iMac came out that I really sat up and took notice. Here was a computer that looked the badger’s nadgers, to coin a phrase from my University days.

I confess I don’t quite love it as much as when it came out, but it’s still extraordinarily striking. It was at this point that I thought about changing allegiance from Mr Gates’ Windows to Jobs’ Apple, based solely on the design, the image, the desirability of a computer of all things. Sad perhaps, but true. But something stopped me…

How much?!

Apple computers were – are – stupidly expensive compared to a Windows PC. I understand why a like-for-like spec costs more for an Apple than a Windows machine. Sat in front of a new iMac typing this it is clear to see money has gone into making a mighty fine piece of kit. Until now I could never quite justify that extra cost.

Which brings me back to present day. Yes, I now have a brand new 21.5″ iMac. A fab year’s ownership of an iPhone 4 really made me think that if Apple’s computers were as good as their handsets then they must be worth paying a premium for.

The good…

It looks the business, it really does. I plumped for a Magic Trackpad which makes it a pleasure to browse and flick between web pages, photos and…anyway, I won’t go on about the good stuff because that’s pretty well documented elsewhere and much of it is true. What I will say is that the quality and implementation of the hardware is fantastic.

…and the bad

Sadly, the same can’t be said of the software. Maybe, once upon a time, Apples did “just work”. In my brief experience I’m gutted to report that simply isn’t the case. I bought into the concept – the marketing – spouted by Apple. I liked the idea of programs all being designed to work seamlessly with each other. I was sold on the promise of ease of use. I didn’t mind buying into the Apple way of working. The iPhone had impressed me, so the iMac would too, right?

I’m writing this after having spent an insufferable amount of time trying to resolve stuff that is simply not rocket science, so why can’t my Mac do it?

  • Not being able to forward attachments to a non-Apple computer
  • Not being able to have a shared iPhoto library that “just works”
  • Bug-free operation doing basic tasks like viewing my photos

I’ve been on countless forums and even resorted to calling the Apple support line – something I’ve never had to do with a PC. After one particularly lengthy call I did just about get a confession from the Apple staff that I may have stumbled upon a bug. He even suggested using another (non-Apple) piece of software. This is not what I bought into.

Early adopter?

Maybe I’m suffering from early adopter syndrome, having jumped into the deep end with OSX Lion which has not, to be fair, received universally good press. Maybe things will get better. I hope so, because the good stuff about my Apple experience is great. I may even witter on about it another time and another day. In the meantime it’s disappointing to say my first taste of the Apple has been a bit sour.

RIP Steve Povey

I only moved to Leek a few years ago, having previously lived for many many years up the road in Buxton (but across the border in Derbyshire). I remember being impressed by the local paper, the Leek Post & Times. It seemed to give off a sense of tight community in Leek that the Buxton local paper never quite managed. One of the names I saw time and time again in the Post & Times was Steve Povey.

Mr Povey was a tireless servant of Leek, sitting on more than one council and organising no end of local events. I say was because I read this week he has died at too early an age.

I didn’t know Steve at all, but it was clear he was a well liked and important character, contributing far more than what one might call normal civic duty. I felt a bit sad that such a good person, so central to my hometown, has checked out too soon.

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.

Blogs, blogging and the blogger

I remember many moons ago when the term “blogging” first came into general use. I’m not even sure what “general use” means in the world wide web, but I used to think that if I’d heard of something then it must be getting far too common to be cool. I could hear the virtual stampeding of Facebookers – or whatever the collective noun is – leaving Mr Zuckerberg’s sinking ship when I finally signed up a year or two ago.

Obviously Facebook was anything but a sinking ship, it was merely dropping down the crest of one wave to climb another very large one upon which it is sailing right now. Anyway, having taken so long to “get” Facebook (the key for me was smart phones, of which I will no doubt have something to say later…) I started to wonder about blogging.

Why does someone blog?

Who reads their blogs?

What is the point of blogging?

The fact I’m wittering on here means I’ve – to one extent or another – answered these puzzlers. Or, more to the point, I no longer care about why others blog, because I’ve come to realise I could quite enjoy it. OK, it’s very early days yet and I could be bored of this by the end of the week, but I have so many regular internal monologues on such a variety of topics that I thought it’d be strangely cathartic for me to get them written down. If I can share those thoughts with a mix of content to hopefully entertain and inform friends, family and beyond, then that’s got to be satisfying, right?

Once upon a time people wrote diaries and kept them under metaphorical and sometimes literal lock and key. N’ah! If someone cares to read my drivel, (dis)agree with my opinions and get some tiny bit of value or – perish the thought – enjoyment from my prose, then fab.

Dan