I’ve been living with a modest 8 mbps down Internet connection for a couple of weeks. It’s surprisingly limiting these days.


Value Beyond the Music

I pay for all of these music services: Rhapsody, Rdio, Spotify, SiriusXM.  The first three are more or less identical if you look at it as only paying for access to music, and Sirius is redundant if you connect your phone to your car.  So why would anyone pay for all of them?  Am I crazy?

I may be crazy, but I also listen to a lot of music.  When you listen to a lot of music, and especially a lot of new music, your primary musical challenge shifts from acquiring music to discovering music.  It’s now trivially easy to listen to just about any band or artist any time you want, but finding a continuous stream of great new music is still very hard.

To put it another way, the music itself is now a commodity.  You can find most music in a large number of places, legally and illegally, free and paid.  Services like Spotify and Rdio have tens of millions of songs, and when you add in BitTorrent it’s probably starting to approach the full collected recorded works of the human race.  The real value of a streaming music service then is helping you make sense of all of that.  The goal of every music service should be putting music you love (whether you know it yet or not) one tap/click away at any moment anywhere.  We’re not there yet, but it’s getting closer.

So, what’s the value beyond the music in the music service I pay for and use?

Rhapsody: I originally signed up for Rhapsody to use on my Sonos as they were the first music service available there.  It’s taken on the role of being the main family home jukebox.  We’ve been using it for a long time at this point and have a large library of favorites.  They also have a pretty good set of “Stations” (basically just curated playlists) that include nice ones like a variety of holiday music.  I’m considering dropping this subscription now because the stations/playlists of other services (such as Rdio) have largely caught up.

Rdio: A few years ago, when I decided I wanted a different music service for my own personal listening I tried out Spotify, Rdio, and MOG.  Rdio won me over with its approach to music discovery.  It’s asynchronous (more like Twitter, less like Facebook) and that works well for music recommendations.  Just because I’m “friends” with someone doesn’t mean I like their music choices.  Rdio is my primary personal listening tool now.

Spotify: Spotify is the clear leader in music streaming services, and is probably the closest to a music focused social network now.  They pioneered the free streaming plan and grew very quickly as a result.  I’ve always found their approach to music discovery and UI to be less appealing than Rdio so it’s not been my first choice.  Spotify’s huge reach and user base has made them into a platform that other music apps are now using as a shortcut to providing a music library.  Two new music recommendation apps (both unreleased) I’ve been testing use Spotify in this way.  Spotify has value as a general music streaming platform even if you don’t use its own player, and I expect that to continue to grow.

SiriusXM: The value of Sirius is mostly about convenience, but they do also have some unique valuable programming.  We pay for Sirius only because it’s in our cars and it’s less effort than connecting our phones.  Our 5 year old Audi doesn’t actually even make it very easy to get music streaming from an iPhone into the speakers, actually.  Sirius’s programming in genre-specific areas, such as Jazz, are pretty good too, if you’re not very well versed in those (like me).

I also additionally use some free services.

KCRW: The world’s best radio station, KCRW is an NPR college radio station out of Santa Monica.  I first started listening to it while in college in Southern California and have never stopped.  It’s listener-supported and I have donated in the past, but should donate more regularly.

Soundcloud: I have some of my own music on there for sharing with others, and this is probably the largest single repository of unreleased independent music and DJ mixes.  I don’t actually listen to soundcloud much now, but I think I should. This was once known as AudioScrobbler.  I’ve been sending data about my music listening to them since 2003, and my profile even shows what I’m listening to right now (John Tejada).  I think the music you have listened to in the past is the best indicator of what you’re likely to want to listen to in the future.  I like for finding bands similar to ones I already know, especially in less mainstream genres like punk rock.

Apple Music (and Beats 1): The launch of Apple Music is partially what got me thinking about this topic again.  They talk up their use of human curation rather than algorithms.  From what I can see on the outside, they are thinking about the music listening problem in a good way.  The service still hasn’t been super interesting to me, but the use of live DJs is an important move whether or not it is successful from a business perspective.  Apple’s family pricing of $15 for up to 6 people is also a big deal and is something I’m expecting to see other services try to copy.  The same thing would cost more like $45+ on other services today, if you actually need all 6.


Offline Shopping is Nice, Too.

I was out Christmas shopping this afternoon with all the people and the traffic and the hustle and bustle, and it wasn’t all bad.

I do nearly all of my shopping online, and I generally much prefer it.  The selection way later, you don’t have to worry about crowds of people, the ambience is as comfortable as my couch (since it often IS my couch).  You also have access to tons of reviews and other information so you can be pretty sure you’re getting what you want.

There’s another side to that too, though.  Having access to SO MUCH information can make me take so much longer to make my purchase decision that it probably wasn’t actually worth the effort.  It’s sometimes nice to just walk into a store and then walk out 20 minutes later with a working product.  It may not be perfect, but it’ll probably work well enough.  Nothing ever works perfectly no matter how much research you put into it anyway, and I may actually enjoy the thing more when I don’t know everything about it and all of its competitors.  Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss!

When you’re doing Christmas shopping specifically, it’s also really nice to know what gifts you have and which ones you don’t yet have.  There’s no anxious waiting for last minute deliveries and no fear of receiving something other than what you were expecting.  I’m not organized enough to do all of my shopping early enough to avoid those situations altogether, unfortunately.  Also, when I’m out in the crowds of Christmas shoppers is most when I feel that holiday spirit.  The hustle and bustle and the tired enthusiasm and cheer are just a part of the holiday for me.  I’m just a sucker like that!

I’ll still be doing most of my shopping online in the future, but today I was reminded that offline shopping can be nice, too.


iPhone as iPod

I’ve had an iPhone since the first day they came out but I had never used one regularly to listen to music until recently. Overall it’s nice but it’s not all roses.

What I like:
32 gigabytes is enough space to be really useful.

On-the-go Genius mixes are awesome! I thought it was a gimmick when they came out but it works great. I pick a song at semi-random in the morning and have similar music all the way to work and back, and it changes daily.

Listening to that genius mix while reading my day’s RSS feeds on Byline.

The little pop-up iPod control overlay is handy.

And what I don’t like so much:
It’s hard to change the volume by feel. I think I’d be happier if I was using headphones with the integrated controller. I’m going to get a set.

I’d prefer the headphone jack on the bottom so the button would be easier to reach in my pocket. As it is now I find myself having to flip the iPhone over a lot. Maybe I’m dumb, but I find it awkward. This comes up when I want to see what song is playing and the iPhone is in my jacket pocket.

I noticed that my complaints are both about the physicality of the device and not about the software at all. I guess I might prefer the headphone jack on the top when using the device as a phone so maybe it’s just hard to fill both roles.


Downloadable Mac OS X?

An interesting change in OS X Snow Leopard is how the installer works. In every previous version of Mac OS X you would boot your computer up using the installer disk and install from it that way. In Snow Leopard that’s not the case anymore. The installer runs directly from the mounted DVD, closes all of your applications and then installs a bunch of files for awhile before rebooting into the installer to finish the job.

That’s interesting because it means the DVD itself is not as central to the process. It is still used in Snow Leopard, but this is a step towards removing that dependency. If the process could be tweaked to boot the system from a specially crafted disk image file, you wouldn’t need the physical media anymore. Operating Systems will certainly be distributed as downloads at some point, but will it be as soon as Mac OS X 10.7?

As a side note, this new install method makes it easy to upgrade a Macbook Air to Snow Leopard. Once you share the DVD from another computer, you’re all set. The Remote Install Mac OS X utility doesn’t have to be running.

Update: I originally thought the install process didn’t boot from the DVD at all, but while doing an update on an iMac I saw that it does indeed! Whoops!


Sleep Little Baby

Maddox in the Dirt

Maddox has been having trouble sleeping at night if he is not very near Vida. It has pretty much always been this way with his daytime naps but it’s new for nighttime. It’s gotten so that he wakes up every hour or two pretty much all night long and will cry until Vida gets him back to sleep… For another hour or two. We end up giving in and bringing him into our bed in the wee hours every night where he will sleep for longer stretches.

Sleeping difficulties are common and part of being a parent, but it’s gotten to a point where we had to break the cycle or none of us were going to get a good night’s sleep again!  So, last night we decided Vida would refrain from going into his room to soothe him after first putting him to bed and I would try to get him to sleep myself.  We knew it would not be easy.

Maddox was very worked up and crying fiercely for over an hour with me going in to try to soothe him frequently.  Most of what I did had little effect at first but gradually he started to calm down a bit and would occasionally be quiet for a moment to listen to my off-key singing of made-up lullabies.  His crying didn’t stop completely for awhile, but it drifted into sobs with occasional whimpers and cries, and then eventually he did fall asleep in my arms with his head on my shoulder.

It was a ‘success’ in that I managed to get him to sleep, but it’s always hard to see your little one so upset.  It was a bit of an ordeal for both of us, and it made me feel even closer to him.  As I comforted my baby and tried to soothe his cries for his Mother, it made me also miss her even though I knew she was right in the other room.  His emotions just run right to his core and they pour out of him uncontrollably and you can’t help but feel them as well.


Growing Up with the Internet

The obvious has really hit me in the last few weeks… the Internet has changed everything.

We don’t have very many friends with babies near us geographically, but we do have friends with babies in other parts of the country. Email and Facebook have become Vida’s primary way of trading baby stories and tips, and it’s how she’s staying connected at 3am.

Similarly we get a lot of our baby info from websites like and when we probably would have relied almost entirely on books and advice from friends and family just 10 years ago.

And that’s only how it’s affecting our own lives. I can only imagine what it be like for Maddox as a kid of hyper-connected parents living in an urban setting. He’ll never know things any other way. Socializing through networked Nintendo DS games will feel as natural as trading scary stories under a blanket by flashlight. Social networks will be as familiar as the playground down the street, and long distance friends will live a lot farther away than just the next town over.

None of this is new information to me, and of course nothing will replace face to face friendships or swinging on monkey bars, but somehow thinking about this is different now. I guess maybe Maddox has changed everything, too!


Maddox, Meet Motorhead

Maddox, my first child and son, was born almost 6 days ago now. Just a day or two after he was born I was listening to Buzzsaw on Sirius in the car (we have a free trial that seems like it should have ended by now…) and when a Motorhead song came on I thought to myself, “I need to introduce Maddox to Motorhead. He can’t miss out on the awesomeness they are.” Then I started thinking I need to come up with a list of all the great things in life that Maddox simply can’t miss out on… And then I realized that would be entirely impossible. We’ll try to give Maddox the experiences to shape his life, but ultimately it’s his life and we can’t be there every moment of every day. Even if we could, he might find the corral itself more interesting than the pigs inside.

Anyway, there’s no way he’ll miss out on Motorhead, or Aphex Twin, or My Bloody Valentine, or ahi tuna, or the assorted works of David Lunch, or gummi cola bottles with the fizzy sugar on the outside, or driving at least halfway across the US, or the pacific coast highway at sunset, or house music in the desert at dawn, or …


I want better video games

I play video games and I have fun doing it, but I want them to be better.  I find myself getting bored of most games far before I get anywhere near completing them.  I see people talk about games having “a great story”, but I’ve never found any game’s story to be even as interesting as a mediocre movie, let alone a great movie or book.  The story has never been good enough to motivate me to churn through the tedium that every game inevitably throws at you to fill itself out.  I think that’s done by game developers because gamers always complain when a game is too short.  I’ve never found that to be a problem, though… I don’t finish any games, so in my opinion most of them are far too long!

Another problem with games today is ‘sequel-itis’.  Game makers are worse than the worst filmmakers about milking a successful ‘franchise’.  I loved Guitar Hero and played it for hours on end, and then I loved Guitar Hero 2 even more.. but I found myself playing Guitar Hero 3 mostly just to unlock all the songs.  I think Guitar Hero 3 is a superior game to its two predecessors, but the concept is already feeling tired to me.  Rock Band was so popular mostly because it took the next step and added an extra layer of group fun, and the ability to play drums and guitar is definitely pretty great.  Despite that, though, I found myself tiring of the game pretty quickly.  They keep releasing new for-pay songs you can download which should keep the game fresh, but I just find that I never really play it any more.  Rock Band IS a great party game, and playing it with a big group of people is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in front of a television, but it just doesn’t have the same appeal when I’m playing on my own.  The newness is gone, and without that there’s just not enough left to keep me interested.  Grand Theft Auto IV had the same problem for me.  It looked pretty, but I felt like I was just pretty much playing the same game I had burned myself out on several years earlier with Grand Theft Auto III.  Give me something new!

Here’s what I think would make games more fun for me…  Game studios should bring in the same level of writing talent as they do programming, design, voice, and graphics talent, and they should release games in smaller, lower-cost (both for them and for us), episode-like chunks.  The very best game developers should still be making full-length games of very high quality, but most game developers do not fall into that category.  Most game developers are really making TV-quality content while they’re trying to convince us it’s high-class film-quality content.  Game studios should also stop killing their best ideas by sequeling them to death.  That probably makes more money in the short-term but it’s just turning off many would-be gamers and ultimately restricting the development of the audience for the game industry.

I know I’m not the only one thinking this, and I think there’s already a movement towards my suggestions (as if anyone in the game industry really cares what I think, haha) so hope is not lost!  The smaller, cheaper, downloadable games on the Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation 3, and more recently the Wii are breathing new life into gaming.  The games are not all great (few of them are, actually), but they’re small enough in scope that a lot of new ideas are being put into them and some of them are worth paying for just for that.  The episodic concept is being put to the test with games like the Penny Arcade one, too.  I still didn’t finish that one, but I think I got probably 3/4 the way through it, which is something for me!

I bet the people making the games don’t really care too much about what I have to think, but I feel better to have that off my chest anyway.


Personal Audio Cloud

I want a personal audio cloud so I can have music surrounding me all the time.  People within 3 feet of me would also hear the music so we could listen together.  It wouldn’t emanate from me, but would just be around me in this cloud so my companions would hear it as the same volume as I do.  People farther away would not hear it at all so it wouldn’t bother them.  It would also have an option to let other people relay the cloud so anyone within 3 feet of them would also hear it.  That way a larger group of people could all hear the same music.  This would be awesome for things like bike riding in the city where you don’t want to wear headphones that obstruct your hearing.  It would also be awesome for hiking.