Sound of my Soul

You can tell a lot about a person based on their taste in music. Here's your chance to judge me. I sat down a couple of months ago and went through my albums. It was a struggle, but I came up with my 10 favorite discs of all time. These aren't necessarily my current 10 favorite, but over the years, these are the ones. I can't gurantee these will stay my top 10, and I know for sure there are dozens right behind them, but here they are anyway. I'm not going to get all misty about why each of these is a favorite, but some do have more meaning than others. I also don't intend any order here, just that these are the top 10.

* Moby - Everything is Wrong
* DJ Shadow - Endtroducing...
* Underworld - dubnobasswithmyheadman
* UNKLE - Psyence Fiction
* The Chemical Brothers - Exit Planet Dust
* DJ John Kelley - funkydesertbreaks2
* Fatboy Slim - On the Floor at the Boutique
* Stereo MC's - Connected
* The Prodigy - Music for the Jilted Generation

What does your soul sound like?

Pavlov's Dogs Do the Dew

Overcoming an addiction requires admitting you have a problem :)
I drink way too much soda, partly because it is free where I work. I don't know that I'll ever give it up completely, but I would like to cut back a bit.

I'm not sure how much I used to drink per day, but I do know how much I'm drinking now - 40oz. I've put myself on a "2 drink maximum" restriction. I decided to begin this limit along side the iTunes/Pepsi promotion. This gives me the opportunity to win back some of the money I am spending on the soda (it used to be free), and I also like to win free iTMS songs, even though I probably end up spending more anyway.

So far things are going well, and hopefully I'll be able to scale back to 20oz + 12 oz, then 12oz + 12oz and so on, but the funny thing is, I feel more addicted to the sugar water now more than ever. Maybe it is because I have added a quantity and a time frame to my pop drinking. Whatever it is, I find myself craving that "first dew" more than I used to.

Even weirder is the phenomenon of the dew tasting better if it had a free song on the cap. Those bottles that tell me to "Please Play Again" make me want to just drink water instead!


The Music Keeps Playing On and On

I love it when technology makes life easier. Let me give you an example. We hosted a poker night last night and everyone seemed to have a good time. I'm the sort that enjoys music playing in the background pretty much any time other than when I'm watching TV or asleep, so you know we had music at the party.

In the past, to keep the music going, I've used a CD changer, and even just a stack of CDs by the DVD player for easy access. Both of these solutions are less than ideal. The CD changer holds 300 discs, which is great, other than the guests at the party really only care to listen to about 10 discs in there. Combine that with slow disc changing times and you end up with pauses in the music, and stuff you didn't want to hear. Playing individual discs with a DVD/CD player is nice because you can limit it a little more, but you still have to come up with albums that everyone likes, or you have to spend time burning CDs ahead of time. There is also a terrible pause when the disc finishes and you haven't yet gotten up to start the next one. Of course, there is always radio, but then you get crappy commercials and you still have the problem of deciding on a station that satisfies everyone.

Last night, I tried whipping up a playlist with a little something for everyone and letting iTunes stream to my Airport Express. I think this worked well. It only took me 10 or 15 minutes to select enough tracks for an 8 hour playlist and I was ready. The music never stops (other than a couple of WiFi interference moments), I can easily include a wide variety of music, and folks can even check out the playlist to see what they heard that night. Try doing that with 300 discs on shuffle. You better sit close to the person that knows all of the music so they can hand write you a playlist as the tracks play.

Now certainly Apple isn't the only one offering a streaming audio box that you can hook up to your stereo, but I'll tell you what, it couldn't get much easier. The Airport Express is a small brick that plugs in to the back of my receiver, so I don't need any extra room for the component, and I don't have one more power cord. Once configured, iTunes lets me choose "Living Room" as the output source. I get to use all of my organization (ripping and playlists) that I've already applied for my iPod. It all just works!

BTW, anyone want to buy my 300 disc CD changer? I have no use for it anymore.


2 Bob Burnquist T-shirts Please

First off, I really don't play video games anymore, but this is pretty cool. You can now
buy pizza from within the EverQuest II video game. Apparently this is the first such linkage of the real world to a video game. I knew some folks in college that suffered from an EverCrack addiction. I gurantee they would have used this feature. They would have loved it even more if they could have typed /captain_and_coke. I can see this sort of thing becoming more popular.

I can see games like the Tony Hawk series letting you earn the virtual skate board decks in the game and at the same time allowing you to buy that same deck right from the game. When you complete the game, you could have the option of buying a limited edition t-shirt. Imagine how much money they could squeeze out of you.

Sports games could offer special edition collector cards. Maybe you could even get a 4"x6" glossy of the scoreboard displaying the whooping you just put on your buddy mailed to your house for $4.

And the ultimate. This would probably get me back in to playing video games. They could hook an online game to something like the iTMS. If you don't like the tracks in the game, you can import a whole new set, either from iTMS, or from your own library. You could even earn free tracks by completing different parts of the game. Of course the game will have ads built in on billboards and such, so you really don't get the track for free, you just earn it based on the count of ads the game has served to you. As much as I used to play the THPS series, I think I could own a stable of punk bands.

I'm aware that some games were starting to allow stuff like this 3 or 4 years ago. I even remember experimenting with the original Sims that would allow you to plug-in your own .mp3s to get played on the stereos in the game, but it was far too manual and they didn't get the chance to take my money for the convenience of having it built in to the game. This might have progressed since then because, like I said, I really don't play games anymore. This could be big.


Red Means Stop, and So Does 'X'

I'm colorblind and I run in to a lot of instances where information is conveyed by color. Occasionaly, there is additional information to help provide distinction (position of stop lights) but not always (multi-color charge LEDs). Stop lights could use a little bit more information. Most people wouldn't even think twice about it, but to some people the red and yellow and/or the red and green lights look very similar (they actually add blue to the green light to help with colorblindness). When I am unable to see the position of the light in the stack of 3, it is hard to tell yellow from red at a distance. This is worse at night as you can't see the housing of the light to distinguish position. Luckily, 4 way stops on country roads with blinking lights also include the familiar octagon stop sign.

I don't know for sure, but it seems like stop lights are round because the original light sources within them illuminated a circle well. As stoplights made of LEDs become more and more popular, it seems that we are given the opportunity to use shapes, in addition to color, to let people know whether they should stop or go.

I'm not proposing a huge change here, just suggesting that we add a simple shape within the round stoplight. The green light would include a dot. The yellow line would include a line. The red light would include an 'x'. These shapes could be made of white LEDs, or perhaps a void of light, resulting in a black shape. I wouldn't think this would cost much more, if any. You'd only need to use a different color LED, or leave it out completely. However, this minor change could add safety and clarity to a lot of people out there on the roads.

New iPods - Just Missed

Hey Apple, you just missed.

In an earlier post I said "Give me a 60 giger at .5 inches in height. Give it the features of the iPod photo and keep it under $500 and I'll be in line to upgrade my 3G."

You got real close with the new iPod photos. The 30GB model still needs to lose a little elevation (.63 to .50), and the 60GB doesn't appear to have changed (.75), so it is still getting struck by lightning when it is out hiking with the rest of the iPods. But the price, the price is nice.

Looks like the next gen might be what I'm looking for. Until then I'll continue to smile every time I turn on my 15GB 3G model.

I do like how Apple is systematically mowing down every complaint with the iPod line.
It's too big and costs too much. - Here, here's the iPod mini.
It's doesn't hold enough and it can't show photos. - Here, here's the iPod photo.
It costs too much and I don't have much music. - Here, here's the iPod shuffle (do not eat iPod shuffle).
It costs too much and the battery life sucks. - Here, here's a drop in price for the minis and the photos, and we're increasing the battery life.


I'm a loser baby

It seemed in the last iTunes/Pepsi promotion, I couldn't lose. Every cap I picked up was a winner and it was great. This time around, I'm not getting much love. Today, I finally won a song. I am now 1 for 8. That's loser numbers since the odds are 1 in 3. I realize I really don't have much to complain about yet, but this is definitely a different experience from the last time.

Now, honestly, the only reason I wanted to put this post up is so that I could use this Regis photo that I've been meaning to use for quite some time. Where did that photo come from you ask? Well, a couple of years (?) ago, ABC allowed you to play along with the "Who wants to be a millionaire" show. This was when it was still cool to watch that show :) Anyway, I would play online with this interactive client they had and they would put stills from the show in a window. One question involved the "loser sign" and Regis felt the need to act it out. The stills in the client were usually quite boring, but someone apparently had a sense of humor and put the cap of Regis making that sign in the display for about 20 seconds. I was lucky enough to grab a copy of it and it still makes me laugh every time I look at it.


Trust the DJ

Philips has some new MP3 players with a feature called "Like Music". This is a smart shuffle of sorts that will pick the next track based on the current one you are listening to. Apparently it bases these selections on tempo, instruments included, and the like.

This is interesting stuff. The art of being a DJ (dance and hip hop) is not only technical bits of being able to beat match and use consistent levels. It's also about choosing like songs and stringing them together to form a vibe. At the same time, good or bad, it's about keeping the latest tracks in your mixes.

I've always thought that the hardest part of all of that is keeping up on what's new and knowing the music well enough to be able to drop it in a set. Computers could certainly help with this right? They can tell me things like style of music, BPM, even the key of the music. Certainly this could all be meta-data that is hand assigned to files, but Philips is going a step farther and attempting some of the heavy lifting in software. How cool would it be to be able to mix an hour of music that you've never heard before? The tracks would be pre-selected by the software as close enough and then it would be up to you to make it sound good.

What if it even did the mixing and left you out completely?
Certainly this could never replace a real DJ could it? What if it could? What if it started by playing the songs in between singers at the local Karaoke bar? What if it was good enough for the middle school parties at the bowling alley and the roller skating arena? What if it became the sound of the hip restuarants and martini bars?

I'm sure it's all coming, but until then, this tech sounds great for keeping my Kilowatts & Vanek away from my Tidy Tracks.


iPod Tech Specs Analyzed

I like the color screens in the iPod photo, but once I saw one, I immediately thought, "wow, that's too big". Then I got to thinking, exactly how much bigger was it? Well, to figure that out, I dipped in to the Wayback Machine and compiled the following chart of iPod tech specs.

There are a few models left out, particularly the Windows flavors of the 2G models, but the major players are all there. The iPod photo is included in the data. Some may argue that this is a whole seperate member of the iPod family, but I believe that the distinction between photo and non-photo in the full size iPods will disappear in the next generation. The photo models do add some interesting data points in some data we'll get to later.

So, first we start with the weight over the generations. I liked the dip around the 3Gs, but I'm troubled by the rising weights again. Yes, I know the hard drives are getting much bigger, but I think this needs to turn around and focus on weight first and GB size second.

Next, let's look at the volumes over the generations. They haven't changed a whole lot, but again, the volumes are rising over the last few models.

Height is an obvious dimension difference in the iPod photos. Here are the heights.

Ahh, here's a good one. The following chart displays how much each GB of data storage weighs in the various iPods. This is the category where the latest models really kick.

Ok, now I'm going to give you a headache. The next two charts display the percent change in weight and volume. I didn't think the percent change vs. the original iPod was all that interesting. I was more concerned with how things are changing generation to generation. So, in the charts, the data point for a particular gen is in reference to the previous gen.

I also charted two sets of data. One set compares the smallest in one generation to the smallest in the next generation. The other compares the largest in one generation to the largest in the next generation. Since there was only 1 iPod at the start, it gives us a nice beginning with two pathes leading away from it.

I hope I don't have to explain this, but a 0% change means that nothing changed between those generations, a positive change means bigger, and a negative change means smaller.

You can see that the 3Gs gave us a nice dip in weight and that the photos are bricks.

The percent change volume chart shows that the 4G is where it's at if you want the smallest iPod, other than the shuffle of course.

To sum things up, I don't like the recent trends. I like that the iPods got more storage, but I don't like that they traded off weight and volume. I guess I'll take some comfort in the fact that battery life was improved as well, so I can't pin all of the extra on the hard drive changes.

It was nice to see that my 15GB 3G iPod fits in the sweet spot of quite a few categories. It's relatively thin, light, and has a decent amount of storage. However, the color screens in the photos really has me interested.

In the next generation iPods, I'd like to see the focus shift back to form factor and less on the raw storage. Give me a 60 giger at .5 inches in height. Give it the features of the iPod photo and keep it under $500 and I'll be in line to upgrade my 3G.


The clicker, the clicker, what what, the clicker

The future is near. My dream is slowing taking shape.

You may remember me complaining about remotes back in November. Well that wish got a whole lot closer to granted today. I've known about Salling Clicker for a long time, but I've never made the time to try it out. Today I happened to hit their site and saw a screenshot of a Palm Zire 72 running the software. Hmmm, I don't remember seeing that before. How did I miss that? I had a Zire 72 available to me, so I fired up the software and was blown away. This is incredible stuff.

* iTunes remote display - Yes, this is exactly what I need to work with a Mac mini. Leave the TV off and have the album art and time displays right in your hand.
* DVD player launching - This part needs a little help. I need to launch DVDs that are ripped on to an external hard drive. As of yet, the open VIDEO_TS command isn't available. It looks like it can be added, but for now I'll use the...
* Remote mouse - I couldn't believe it. You can control the mouse on the computer via the touchscreen on the palm.
* Put the computer to sleep - Time to test some Bluetooth wakeup scenarios
* You can even browse your iPhoto library directly on the palm without displaying any photos on screen. This is really cool. I can see this being popular around the holidays. Just pass around the "digital photo album" and never miss a step.

The problem now is finding a cheap handheld computer with Bluetooth. Add-on SD and CF cards are still more than you'd like them to be and the cheapest handheld with Bluetooth built-in might just be the Zire 72. It looks like the Zire 72 is still $300, so things need to get cheaper before many people can go that route, but I love the idea of buying a kick-ass "remote" and getting a free handheld computer out of the deal.

I do wish that Clicker was a bit more graphical but because it is meant to run on phones and other smaller devices, I can understand the menu flavored UI. Seeing Clicker work just might inspire me to get off my butt and write a similar piece of software to run on Pocket PCs.

Last thing. You did remember to configure your Mac mini with Bluetooth in it didn't you?


Stuporbowl Commercials

I'm watching the new XXX commercial and I kept waiting for the Engergizer bunny to march through. It didn't and now I'm left wondering if this is going to be the worst movie ever. The title is XXX - State of the Union? Are they serious? Ohh, and Ice Cube is the new XXX? I like Ice Cube in some movies, but I wonder if he is still pissed about his whip getting trashed in Are we there yet? (no, I haven't seen it) and now he wants to bust some heads.

Ohh, thank goodness, the Bud Light skydiving pilot commercial just offset the XXX one. Back to the game now.

Edit: I also enjoyed the m:robe commercials. The music in the first was unknown to me. Apparently it is "Pure Gold" by the Offcuts. I checked and couldn't find it on iTMS. The second is a track that has been one of my favorites for years. Les Rythmes Digitales - "Jaques Your Body". I annoyed Julie by running in to the other room and producing the LRD CD that was included with Revolution magazine in Sept. 2000. It has the cut as well as the incredible "What's Going On? (Jon Carter Mix)" by Mekon featuring Roxanne Shant. I can't comment on the m:robe, but the music is worth buying :)


I'm with Jason, the Mac mini skirt is squarely in the WTF category. I have an accessory for you, it's called a thermal dispursion, ornamental, computing mat. It comes in many colors and styles and is just the right size for your Mac mini. You can already find them in stores. Just go in to Pier 1 and ask for "place" mats. Don't be confused by the name, they are really the Mac mini super mats, there was just a mix-up in shipping.

I'll take this opportunity to again beg for useful Mac mini accessories. I'm digging the design of the LaCie F.A. Porsche external FireWire drives. I'd like to see them in bigger capacities and I'd like them to run off of the FireWire bus like the smaller drives do, but until then, how about a power supply/cord with takes offs for a couple of these drives and the Mac mini. That way I'll only need one plug and cord running to my Mac mini and assorted external drives.

I'd also like to see a redesigned power supply that reshapes the Mac mini power brick in to a "slice" that fits under the mini. I already have a power conditioner in my home theater rack so this would save me the trouble of hiding the brick since I won't be able to put it on the floor. They could even put a small, glowing Apple logo on it.

Finally, in the spirit of the Mitch Hedberg vending machine that dispenses vending machines, I want a Mac mini stakka. You can put it in classrooms so Jimmy can easily grab his machine on the way in to class :)


Home theater usability - still sucking

If you've ever put together a home theater, you know that it isn't simple. The sea of connectors, cable types, and menus for setup are plain silly. I was reminded of this, again, when setting up an HDTV tuner for my wife's parents. I didn't mind setting it up for them, but it was still way too hard. Let's recap what it took to hook up that damn thing.

- You have to know the difference between component inputs and HDTV component inputs and you have to know which kind your TV has.
- You have to know that component cables are better than s-video and composite.
- You have to know the difference between analog stereo audio and digital audio.
- You have to know the difference between coaxial and optical digital audio.
- You have to know which video setting you want to run, 480p, 1080i, other?
- You have to know how to tell the HD box how to output the video format you want.
- You have to know how to tell your TV what format the video is going to come in as.
- You have to know which input on your TV your HD is coming in at.
- You have to understand that not all content coming in over the HD tuner will be in HD.

The mind boggles.

Companies like Mitsubuishi are working to make this better with things like NetCommand and FireWire connections, but compared to the computer industry, things seem to be moving glacially slow.

Continuing my infatuation with all things Apple lately, I'd like to see an iChat AV style video selector on TVs.

When I turn on my TV, it can show me my cable. When I turn on my ReplayTV, it can push the cable to the left and add my Replay on the right. I can then run the Replay in the right screen or select it for full screen mode. Next up, I connect my digital camera or iPod photo (whoops, don't have one of those just yet) and it just automatically presents that to me for selection. Certainly you could configure the auto items off, but for the majority of people, when they plug in a new thing, they want to use that new thing.

I also hate the color screen that has replaced static on TVs. I prefer it to the static, but if the TV is smart enough to know there is no signal on that input, how about showing me the inputs that do have signals? I'm specifically thinking of when I finish watching a DVD. I turn the DVD player off and then get to stare at a blue screen while I find the TV remote to change the input. When the screen goes blue, it should switch back to the "iChat AV like" multi screen selector.

Lately I've been reading all of these sob stories about how the big consumer electronics companies are facing stiff competition from "no-name" asian electronics producers. Apparently Sony can't sell as many $6000 TVs as they'd like to when their are folks selling similar, but possibly lower quality sets, for lots less. If Sony and the other regulars wants to continue to command price premiums, let's see them continue to step things up with usability. I will pay extra for convenience, quality, and simple design. Take my money, please.


Unseen vs. Unheard

I buy a lot of music, many times purely on recommendation or knowledge of prior work. I buy music without ever hearing it. Some people think I'm crazy for doing this. "What if you don't like it?" they say? Well, I don't just randomly pick. I do choose, so I'm pretty sure I'll like it, or at least not hate it. The great thing is when I end up loving it. It's very satisfying to me to branch in to new music and find stuff I love to hear over and over.

The thing is, even though I'm the fool for buying music unheard, everyone goes and sees movies unseen. Sure, you get to see 30 seconds of it on TV, but I can listen to 30 seconds of music on iTMS too. Take a friend and see a movie and if you end up not liking it, you are out the $16 and have nothing to show for it. If I buy a CD and end up not liking it, I can get back at least a portion of that $16 by selling it.

My advice, go buy something slightly outside your comfort zone. You might just like it.


Bluetooth 2.0 is for iPods

Bluetooth logo I'm going to start a rumor, right here and now. There has been much speculation in the past about Bluetooth (or some other wireless technology) in the iPod. So far, we haven't seen anything. I think that Bluetooth 2.0 is going to change that.

In case you missed it, Apple just updated the PowerBook line and added Bluetooth 2.0. They even updated their Bluetooth page to reflect the introduction of 2.0. Apple is the first to have a Bluetooth 2.0 product that I'm aware of and that's a big deal.

One of the biggest grips folks have had (I'm not one of them - another post) with Bluetooth has been the speed. Bluetooth up to version 1.2 had a 1 Mbps theoretical, and roughly 723 kbps actual, possible, transfer speed. Whether or not you got near that number depended on lots of things, but we'll save that for another day. With 2.0, the spec has been upped to 3 Mbps. That's triple the speed for those still reaching for their calculators. Three times as much isn't spectacular, but it will help.

The files are huge dummy!
Yes, I realize that there still isn't a great amount of bandwidth when you are comparing against FireWire, but I did some quick real world testing. I used a bare bones 12" iBook which is the cheapest one you can buy right now, plus Bluetooth and WiFi. On the other end, I used a 2 year old Dell something-or-other running Microsoft's Bluetooth stack in XP SP2. The iBook was using built-in Bluetooth. The Dell used the Microsoft dongle that comes with their Wireless Desktop for Bluetooth.

I picked a song, and I even picked one you've probably heard of, U2's "Beautiful Day". This track was purchased from the iTMS and weighed in at 3.92 MB. I ran some transfers of that file both from the iBook to the Dell and vice versa. On average, I got transfer rates of about 43.5 KBps for transfer times of about a minute and a half. That isn't all that great, especially if you are going to transfer more than a few songs, but once we cut that in a third, we start to approach something usable.

Loading up a new album every so often would now be tolerable over Bluetooth. Even if you stick to wires for the music files, certainly you'd love Bluetooth for iSyncing your Address Book, calendar, and notes files. I know I would. Transferring those items would be, dare I say, fast!

The audio.
You might not know it, but Bluetooth can do more than crappy GSM audio. There are products now emerging that provide stereo audio over Bluetooth. I'm looking forward to ditching one more cable, especially that one to my headphones that knocks over my Mountain Dew all the time.

Finally, Apple is clearly leading the way with Bluetooth on the desktop. Their stack implementation is far better than any I have used, and if you know me, you know that means something. The fact that they already have a strong base in Bluetooth and now Bluetooth 2.0 means that a wireless iPod can't be all that far off. Even they think they are great. Check out these quotes from their Bluetooth page.

As the first company to certify a system supporting Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (enhanced data rate) specification with the Bluetooth Qualification Board, Apple continues to popularize Bluetooth technology.

Apple’s Bluetooth implementation is the latest in a series of bold strategic moves that have caused tectonic shifts in the computer industry — and greatly benefited customers.

The iPod has to evolve somehow. You can only go so long putting in bigger hard drives. Hopefully wireless connectivity via Bluetooth 2.0 will be part of the next generation. I can't wait.