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.

Last.fm: This was once known as AudioScrobbler.  I’ve been sending data about my music listening to them since 2003, and my Last.fm 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 Last.fm 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.

My wife’s new gold Retina Macbook was delivered today and here’s my initial thoughts from playing with it a bit.

  • It’s beautiful, but that’s expected at this point.
  • My 13″ Macbook Air looks pretty huge next to the Retina Macbook.
  • It only comes with the “wall wart” part of the typical Apple charger.  There’s no long cable included.
  • The USB-C connector is pretty small, smaller than I expected.  It’s very close in size and shape to lightning, which will probably cause some confusion.  It’s a nice looking connector for something that came out of the USB group.
  • The cable used for charging is the same connector on both ends, which is kinda neat.
  • As reviewers have pointed out, the keyboard is definitely weird.  That will take some getting used to.  I’m not a fan of the change to the arrow keys, which serves no purpose I can see but is interfering with my muscle memory.
  • The fake “click” of the trackpad generated by the internal motor is very convincing.  Regular people will not realize anything has changed.
  • It came with gold apple logo stickers in the box instead of white.  Are those new?


QuNeo was the first Kickstarter project I ever funded and I just got mine in the mail a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve only had a few hours to spend with it, but that’s been enough to get a feel for what it’s capable of and what it will do for my setup.

I play live laptop/keyboards/synths/drum machine in a rock-tronic band called Thrillouette in San Francisco.  The setup is primarily Ableton Live on a laptop with some midi controllers plugged into it for live control.  The controllers include a Softstep from Keith McMillen, the people who make the QuNeo, as well as an Akai MPD32.  The QuNeo is expected to replace the MPD32 so I’m going to do a quick comparison of the two.

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Hunter turned Animal Activist

A recent episode of the excellent tv show, 30 days, put a life-long hunter living with a family of vegan animal rights activists. The episode itself was pretty emotional as it shows some of the truly horrific things that are done to animals as part of the food-making process in our country. To get prices down as low as possible a system of factory farming has developed that completely removes the humanity from the treatment of the animals. They are treated just like machines designed entirely to produce food for humans, with no respect for their rights as living creatures. It’s really terrible and it’s now starting to have dramatic effects on the health of humans consuming the food as well.

I’m not an extremist when it comes to the issues of animal rights. I understand that people have the right to choose what they eat and don’t eat, and I support personal choice in that regard. I do wish that more people actually knew what sort of acts are being committed on a daily basis in the production of their food though, and tv shows like this episode of 30 days will hopefully make a bit of a difference there. I also think it should be illegal to treat farm animals the way they are treated by factory farms.

I also have some personal experience with hunting, and I support the rights of people to do that. I went to highschool in North Dakota and while there I went hunting with my dad and friends. I was (and am) a very bad hunter and I never actually killed anything (it’s hard!) but overall I think the experience was a good one for me. I would not go hunting now, but I don’t feel guilty for having done it. All of the hunters I interacted with back then were very respectful of both the animals and the land. A lot of emphasis was placed on avoiding needless suffering, and we always picked up our spent shells and any other trash. In North Dakota at the time, one hunter could only legally kill one deer per year with a gun, and one additional using a bow. The gun season is also very short (only a couple of weeks) and many hunters are not skilled enough to actually kill a deer in that amount of time. It’s a lot harder than you might think, even with a rifle. They’re quick! The bow season was a few months long and most of our time hunting was spent using a bow. I’m sure other places have different rules.

Overall, I think the key is respect. Animals are, of course, not all human, but humans are animals. We are part of a natural ecosystem and we should remember our place in it. That sounds obvious to me, but somehow it’s not obvious to everyone. If we are respectful of the rights of animals to live a healthy and natural life (I won’t go so far as to say ‘happy’!), we’ll also be producing more healthy and natural food from them and that can only be a good thing for us as humans.

Well, my attempt to post during the entire Thailand trip kinda fizzled so I’ll try to add some more details of the trip from memory. Here goes…

From Chiang Mai we headed back to the south, stopping for a night in Phuket and then on by boat to Koh Phi Phi. Phuket has a nice feel to it but my lasting impression is that there were a lot of very brown retirees there. I don’t know why that would be, but at least on Kata Beach where we were that’s how it was. The food at Mom Tri’s Boathouse was pretty tasty, too. Due to somewhat awkward trip scheduling we were in Phuket for a very brief night’s stay and then were up in the morning to make our way to Koh Phi Phi.

Cruise to Phi Phi

We started out on the front of the boat where we found some room but we quickly realized why it wasn’t crowded to begin with… large amounts of water regularly splashed over spraying everyone. Our particular spot was partially shielded so we made it longer than most but we too eventually made our way to the back of the boat where we could stay a bit more dry. It was still not dry, but much more so.

On the way to Phi Phi

As we approached Phi Phi we saw some pretty cool rocks jutting out of the water and the boat slowed to give everyone a chance to be tourists. It’s apparently also a god snorkeling spot and there were a lot of other boats around.

Rocks near Phi Phi

We arrived at the main dock in Phi Phi which was very hectic and crowded with tourists and touts trying to sell to tourists everywhere around. We found a water taxi and managed to get our luggage and all of us into it without getting too wet in the process. It requires wading into the water a bit to climb up the short ladder into the boat. The boat ride was about 30 minutes and took us around a pretty good portion of the island. The driver pulled up to the shore and the Zeavola staff came out to help with the bags.

Longtail Boats on Ko Phi Phi

Zeavola is a pretty fancy resort and it was a nice way to spend a couple of days on the beach. One slight oddity is they use salt water for the showers and the pool. It’s been desalinated but not completely and you never really feel completely clean there. I guess it’s about being one with the ocean or something, but I think Vida would have preferred to be one with the clean instead.

The beach there was delightfully free of crowds and most of the hassles that were part of the other beaches we went to in Thailand. From my shady spots I managed to read about half of a book in short time we were there.

Koh Phi Phi

After our resort stay on Koh Phi Phi, we headed on to Khao Sok.

We’re now in Ko Samui, a very popular beach destination in Thailand. From some descriptions we had read we were worried it would be totally overrun with tourists, but so far it’s not been bad at all. We’ve only had one day here so far and it was raining most of the day, though. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

This phase of the trip is sort of the ‘cool down’ like when you walk for awhile after running, and there will probably be more time to reflect on the trip. So, in that spirit… Thoughts on Chiang Mai.

After our three nights in Bangkok, we flew up north to Chiang Mai. A few people we had talked to were glad we were taking some time to see parts of Thailand other than the ever-popular beaches so I was pretty excited to experience it. We stayed at a pretty swanky hotel called D2Hotel with all modern decor and style. Chiang Mai has apparently been developing its tourism market very quickly over the past several years and newer hotels like D2 have come out of that. It’s pretty reasonably priced for how nice it is, too… a definite change from Bangkok. It’s also very centrally located right near the popular night market.

Chiang Mai

The Chiang Mai night market is centered around a large warehouse-like building with three levels of vendor booths selling all kinds of merchandise from cheap tourist junk to pretty nice cloth items to high-end antiques (though it’s very definitely slanted towards the former end). Additional smaller booths line the sidewalks for several blocks as well as some parking lot areas, too. It is a great place to pick up souvenirs, but most of the fun is just experiencing the energy of it all. It’s even more amazing when you think about the fact that they do it every single night. One morning we went walking down the sidewalk and noticed how much more open and wide the street felt without all the vendor carts… and then it made us start wondering what they do with all the carts at the end of night. It must take a lot of space to store them all!

On our first day in Chiang Mai Vida and Elise learned how to cook some classic Thai dishes with the Thai Farm Cooking School. Sage, Riley, and I came along to hang out and eat the food, too. It was the best Thai food we’ve had since we’ve been here!

Ingredients for Thai Soup

The next day we went to an elephant training camp for a quick elephant ride, and to see them paint a few pictures.

Painting Elephants

This is now our fourth full day in Thailand and Vida and I have taken over 500 photos already. We’ve had easy access to Internet but not much time to use it. The heat here is pretty draining on us so we mostly use our free time to rest. Gallant adventurers we are not… yet.

The bustling Chao Phraya river in Bangkok

We spent our first three nights at the historic Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, and it definitely met expectations. The service was very friendly and warm and the food was good, too. Somehow we got upgraded for free to deluxe river-view rooms which was certainly enjoyed. The Chao Phraya river that runs through Bangkok is pretty amazing and is a unique aspect of the city. There’s a steady stream all day long of ferries, river cruise boats, shuttle boats, tug boats pulling huge loads of who knows what, and the noisy water taxis. They crisscross paths frequently and it’s fun to watch them narrowly avoid collision time after time. At night, the river cruise boats are lit with colorful light scenes and decorations. The King’s 80th birthday is being celebrated and most of them seem to have something to do with that at the moment. On our first evening we went out on a river cruise dinner, and it was neat to seem them passing by. Many of Bangkok’s historic attractions along the river are nicely lit at night as well.

Chrao Phraya Express ferry

The roads of Bangkok are packed bumper to bumper with cars, tuk tuks, and scooters basically all the time so the frequent river ferries are a very nice way to get around, as well. The locals keep the boats pretty full and tourists squeeze to fill in the remaining gaps. Bangkok is definitely a city of hustle and bustle, and an amazing mix of old and new, side by side. The Skytrain public transit system is quite modern, clean, and efficient, for instance. We used it to we got around on our first day and it was downright pleasant compared to the next day’s combination of ferries and taxis.

Bangkok Skytrain

Bangkok’s air pollution is very noticeable, especially when stuck in traffic on the roads. It’s not quite as bad as my memories of Mumbai, but it is still a major problem for the city. It’s less noticeable up on the Skytrain, which is heavily used by everyone. I can only imagine what the traffic and air would be like without it.

While in Bangkok we visited the Jim Thompson house (this Jim Thompson guy was entirely unknown to me before coming here, but he’s all over the place…), the Grand palace with it’s Wot Phraw Kaew, Wot Arun across the river, and the Vimanmek Teak Mansion.

Who goes there?