Apple Music – A Fresh Look

With the shifting allegiances in streaming music, I found myself re-enabling my Apple Music subscription. There are some benefits, and some less desirable aspects.

This is relevant as I again ponder the mix of music that I have in my collection, as well as the convenience of streaming. In the following post, I lay out the pro’s and con’s of Apple’s Music subscription plan. $9.99 a month, it is in the ballpark of the offers, between Amazon and Spotify. All three of them also offer family plans for the same price (alas, my Wife isn’t interested in sharing a plan.) Continue reading →

Souring on the Apple Ecosystem

Along the recent grumbling and the pending cancellation of my Apple Music subscription, a wider topic is how the Apple Ecosystem has become less an asset and more of a liability in the world of Apple. At one time, the bundling of great applications, like Garage Band, iPhoto, iTunes, and iMovie was a huge benefit for those who bought Mac computers. These applications just worked, were plenty useful, and very usable for even tyro computer users. Just compare early versions of iTunes, and the homeless-abortion that is the “Windows Media Player” and you got a pretty clear picture.

Throughout the ’aughts, this was true, especially iPhoto, where when you got your first (or second, or third…) digital camera, you just plugged it in and like magic the iPhotos application would load, import your images, and give you ample opportunties to do minor tweaks, and management of your library. Continue reading →

A first brush with Time Machine

As a long time Apple user, (one could say fanatic) I have just used TimeMachine as a set-it-and-forget-it technology. Buy a big external disk, plug it in, and point TimeMachine at it, and let it do its magic.

Once, I had deleted a file, and I recovered it, pretty painlessly, but apart from that one incident, it has been in the background.

Until recently.

New iMac for Barbara

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Bad times – iPhone died

When you wake up in the morning and see that your iPhone is giving you a “No SIM detected” error, you know it is going to be a bad day.

My iPhone 5s is well aged, but it has performed quite well for almost 2.5 years. I was hoping to get another year out of it, but alas, it decided to give up the ghost.

It worked well, but the “No SIM” error was a harbinger of doom. It is not an uncommon problem in this version, and the last time, the “trick” of turning on and off Airplane mode worked to snap it out of its doldrums. Alas, this time, no such luck.

The next step was to head to the AT&T store and try a known good SIM card, so at 10:00 AM, I was off to the local retailer (about a 5 minute drive.)

No dice. Continue reading →

Some Apple Grumbling

After yesterday’s post, and one a few weeks back about the aging of my laptop, and how battery life seems to be on the wane, I had a bit of a love-hate thing going with my trusty MacBook Air.

When I got it, I easily (and I mean really easily) got 12+ hours of normal use on a charge. Often a few days between needing to hook it to the charger.

But with Yosemite, the full disk encryption seemed to take a toll. Still for the added security, I was satisfied. Then El Capitan came, and battery life turned to absolute shit. 4 hours on a charge, watching the battery percentage drop like a late 1960’s Chrysler Newport wagon’s gas gauge on the freeway was no fun.

However, from opening the activity monitor, I noticed that there were two services that were sucking YUUUUUGE amounts of CPU cycles and battery.

Googling them lead me to an odd culprit. If you are syncing your contacts with Google Apps accounts (and I was), that often these two services would run rampant, and soak your battery. Disabling the sync from Google Apps, and boom, I am back to a reasonable run rate.

2 hours of use, writing blogs, and the like, and I am still at 93%. Not bad for a laptop nearing 3 years old.

Not sure if this is an apple problem, or a google problem, but at least I got my battery life back.

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Apple Photos – it sucks big tool

Like many Apple users, when I bought a digital camera in 2003, I naturally gravitated to using the bundled iPhoto. It worked well, and my original camera, a Canon Sureshot 2.1 megapixel camera, integrated with it well. We took a couple of international vacations, and iPhoto was a useful tool for managing the photos.

Of course, I upgraded from that original digital camera to a DSLR, and started shooting in RAW format. iPhoto worked well until 2008 or so, but at about 40,000 images it really started to collapse under the weight of managing the photos.

At that time, I bought a copy of Apple’s professional photo organization tool, Aperture. In its second version, it was quite good. It picked up the old iPhoto libraries and albums, it worked well. Its organization capabilities were vastly superior, and it worked well for me. Additionally, it had some great tool for minor processing of the images, fixing blemishes (i.e. sensor dirt on my EOS-20D), and filters/adjustments. Not quite Photoshop, but for a duffer like me, it was very useful.

Fast forward to 2012, and the beginning of merging with the iPhone/iOS world. The version 3 upgrade brought this thing called the Photostream. Captured by your iPhone, it created an “album” of your off the cuff photos. It was good in concept, but in practice it really sucked. Suddenly my library was cluttered with all these “Photostream 201x October (or whatever month)”. The first few months, it was OK, but 3 years later, I can assure you it sucks to have these small automatically created albums. I can’t find shit, nothing is organized, and in general it is a disaster.

In 2014, Apple announced that Aperture was going the way of the Dodo, and never will be improved, or even updated for new OS versions. Boo. I took that as a trigger to look for a replacement, focusing on Adobe Lightroom.

Fast forward to today, and Apple has completely deprecated Aperture. You are forced to move to Photos, their new iCloud linked solution.

So, being the good Apple acolyte, I made the transition.

The good:

  • The photostream is dead. Thank fucking God, someone at Apple put a bullet in that feature.
  • All your photos are online, and sync’d with all your devices/computers. You have the option to have reduced resolution images on your devices, instead of 12megabyte RAW images. So I have my entire collection on my iPhone, and it doesn’t swamp my storage.
  • Editing the metadata is a bit streamlined. But the truth is, I am not ever going to go back and manage my 60K images one by one. Not gonna happen, regardless of how streamlined it is.

The Bad:

  • You pretty much need to buy additional iCloud storage. So now I have paid storage on Dropbox, Google Drive, and now iCloud. A wee bit of overkill.
  • It doesn’t do anything with all the fucking “Photostream” albums. That homeless abortion is still crawling up your leg. There is money to be made for some entrepreneur to create an app that will coalesce these albums, and allow you to deadhead through them, categorizing and sorting. So that people like me can stop obsessing about this cluster fuck.
  • It has these giant buckets called “iPhoto Events”. That is where it dumps all the iPhoto albums you defined. So you are constantly navigating among lame folders. Yes, I could re-arrange them, but I have hundreds. What a pain.
  • Much of the image modification/tweaking you could do under Aperture is gone. Simple controls, optimized for internet/social media sharing. Lame. Tres lame. I would even say completely, full retard.

Alas, my main photo organization tool will be Adobe Lightroom. It is just a better workflow. Fortunately, Adobe realizes that a lot of serious amateurs and pros who used Aperture will be switching, and have built into the latest version(s) of Lightroom the ability to go import all the Aperture libraries.

I can understand why Apple did this. The pro applications aren’t major drivers for them, and convergence between the iOS devices and the OS-X devices makes for a better experience.

Fortunately, we have some options.

Spotify – It’s Over

Apple Music has won my latest battle for my ears. As is often the case, Apple isn’t first to market (or even second), but when they do get to market, they have the best service, most polished interface, and it “just works“. After only 3 weeks of my 3 month trial, it is time to dump Spotify.

Dear Spotify,

I know this may be hard to take, but it is time to move on from your service. It isn’t you, it’s me. Wait, who am I kidding, it is you and the shortcomings you have. I can’t blame you, as I am sure that some of it is due to your agreements with the rights’ holders. But regardless, it is time to say “goodbye“.

I remember when Spotify came to the US, and I eagerly got in the early access list. The thought of access to a huge library of music, with the ability to sample as much as I wanted whenever I wanted. At the time, the only other option were the Internet Radio stations, and while I liked Pandora, I found that it took endless grooming of their stations to match my tastes.

With your service, I could create as many playlists with just the music I wanted. No limit on how often I could listen to the same songs. It was like having my library wherever I went.

I jumped at the chance to pay for the service, never once questioning the $10 a month. The Spotify app for my iPhone was a great way to take my tunes with me.

There were some second guesses along the way. Google’s Play music service when they launched the “All Access” subscription was briefly a contender. They had good coverage of genre’s in my taste in their library. Plus they had the benefit of having my entire music library uploaded. But alas, their streaming performance, uh, what is the term? Yes, “it sucked donkey balls“. Skips, pauses, and general shitty-ness. Even when they released a Chrome extension to better integrate it, it sucked.

So I returned to Spotify after flirting with the $2 a month cheaper Google All Access service.

I was satisfied, but there were still some issues. Your curated playlists for classic rock, and hard rock were stale. Worse yet, had some odd selections (note: in no universe does the Foo Fighters qualify as “Classic Rock”) Listening for hours each day, you quickly hear your “radio” stations repeat tracks. Yeah, I get that they are just a play list with some randomness tossed in, but I buy my music and listen to my library to not have the top 40 bullshit crammed down my throat.

The final nail in the coffin was the launch of Apple’s new streaming service. I am about 3 weeks into my 3 months free trial, but I already know that it will be the one that I keep. There are lots of reasons, but off the top of my head I have noticed:

  • The curated playlists are great. It is like they can read my mind, when I am trying to put together a mix CD. Doesn’t matter the genre, Heavy Metal, Classic Rock, Guitar Heros, Jazz, Blues, they nail it.
  • The “For You” Suggested listenings. Like when I was a Pandora user, if you painstakingly groom your stations, their algorithms pick some awesome tunes. The “For You” selections are a few suggested playlists rolled out and refreshed daily. Each day, there are some great things to listen to, playlists that are 70 – 90 minutes long. Last Wednesday, it offered up Deep Tracks of Yes. 90 minutes of outstanding music.
  • I have access to my entire library. Minor point, (or maybe it is major) but my entire collection of music is in the Apple cloud, so if I feel like digging up an ancient Yngwie Malmsteen track from his first album, it is there. So even where Spotify had holes (like for the longest time with AC/DC, or still with Paul Gilbert) I can just call it up.
  • User experience. A lot of people bag on iTunes. Hell, on Windows, I will concede that it blows chunks. However, the last two major revisions Apple has done a lot to improve the usability, and reduce the clutter. As a product manager, I know that iterative releases, and the tendency to glom shit into the main application is hard to battle, so clearly iTunes had become a multi-headed hydra. But it is getting a lot better.

While I could afford to keep two streaming services going, I am not going to lie, I haven’t fired up Spotify in over 2 weeks. It has already lost the battle.

From the outside looking in, I am not even sure that I could offer advice as to how to improve the service to beat Apple’s Music. I suspect that you will have a valid market position for the people who loathe Apple and all things it releases. But will that be enough to keep you close enough to profitable? Time will tell, but my bet is that Spotify will try mightily, but fail to grow to be consistently profitable.

Cursing Apple – trying to lose data

My old MacBook Pro has seen better days. For far too long it has been my “main” home computer. All my photos, music and videos were stored there. However, with iTunes Match (and now the new streaming service), and the moving of all my photos out from under Aperture to Photos (grrrr) and more importantly, to Adobe Lightroom, there isn’t much need for a massive system anymore.

Starting in OS-X 10.8, Apple made available the possibility of making a fusion drive, a blend of SSD and spinning disk storage. As this laptop has both a traditional disk, and an SSD, I have long wanted to do it. However, it would be majorly disruptive, so I held off.

Now that much of the content serving has moved off local storage and armed with a fresh, complete time machine backup, I decided to take the plunge.

What I was unprepared for was how difficult it would be to accomplish.

Step 1 – create the Core Storage filesystem

This was not trivial. Partly my fault, I had the second drive set for all the user data, and it automounted on boot. Back in early 2012, this was the best way to setup a SSD/Spinning disk combo. It required some CLI hoo-doo, but once done, it rocked.

However, it made this step difficult.

I first copied the boot disk to an external (thanks to the wonderful Carbon Copy Cloner, software that is easy to use, and creates a bootable copy.

Alas, this wasn’t so easy. Yes, I created a bootable copy, and was able to boot from it, but it still automounted the spinning disk, so I was unable to setup the new Core Storage spanned disk.

I tried to re-install OS-X from the recovery partition. This failed too.

Turns out that Apple does a really good job of preventing you from losing data from a dumb mistake. If there is a valid file system, with files on it, the installer goes to heroic efforts to not lose that data.

Admirable, and helpful for most unsophisticated users, but maddening to me, who actually DID want to blow that data away.

grrrr

I ended up “installing” OS-X on an external, booting from that external, and then using diskutil to wipe both drives.

Even that wasn’t easy. I had to delete partitions, recreate them, and delete them again to get it setup.

nothing is easy

Creating the spanned core storage “disk” (aka Fusion drive) was trivial, and done from the terminal.

Making and partitioning it was about a 5 minute process. After dinking around, making two carbon copies, reinstalling the OS twice, and finally getting to a point to install on my new fusion drive. Total time: 1.5 days (ok, I did bike, and do some other things while I was waiting for cloning and installs to complete)

I now have a MacBook Pro, running 10.10.4 with a 256G SSD/750G spinning disk Fusion drive, and not much else on it. I will out it through its paces, but it is just a backup computer now.

Summary

I have been a hard-core Apple fan for a long time now, but this was a rather frustrating process. In the Windows world, it is truly trivial and easy to wipe out your drive and start from fresh. I have done it at least 100 times. since the early 1990’s (yeah, I am an old fart)

Apple makes that difficult to accomplish. Probably with good reason, as most people would be screaming at the Genius Bar if they had made it too easy to lose all your data. So they take a “preserve the status quo at all costs” approach. Commendable. Maddening too.

I stumbled around, and because I was more familiar with how to accomplish this task in Windows (wipe and reinstall) I had more difficulty than I should have. C’est la Vie.

Initial Thoughts – Mac OS X 10 – Yosemite

I have been using the latest OS on my MacBook Air for about a week now, and in general I really like it. Not Earth shaking, but solid, and the improvements really add up to a better experience all around.

The UI – briefly

The first thing that you notice is the flat visuals. Bowing to the contemporary design trends, the windows, the visuals, and all the other decorations are devoid of shading, gradients, or any other visual eye candy. Naturally all the skeuomorphic bits are long gone. Neither good nor bad.

Of course, with it comes a new typeface for the UI, Helvetica Neue replacing the long time OS-X typeface Lucida Grande. Unlike a lot of geeks on Slashdot who wailed like they were having their hands lopped off, I don’t really mind. In fact, with such a large change of the UI, it would seem de rigueur to go all the way.

Of course, these changes alter the look and feel to better mimic the experience on iOS 8. So it is not a surprise that many of the changes are to applications that will help unify the experience.

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The Mac Book Air – One Year In

Last July, I splurged and bought me a Macbook Air. The product line was refreshed, and brought faster, more energy sipping processors. I had been using a monster MacBook Pro (still have it) 15″ that was loaded. Max memory, SSD boot/spinning rust extension disc, and the high resolution screen. But lugging it around was tiring.

The factor that tilted me in favor of the air was the lightness, and the battery life. Purported to be 10+ hours (I regularly get 12 or more hours on a charge), was the key point. I was honestly considering a chromebook (the google one with the retina level display), that was about 3/4 the price, but when I went to see it at the local Best Buy, I was underwhelmed.

How has it held up to a year of daily use? Quite well. It is my main home PC. I write on it, I do some light web development, and of course consumption of media. It is comfortable to use, and even when there is 10% of battery left, it isn’t a mad dash to find an outlet to charge it up (once my 15″ MBP hits 15% you get really nervous). I have taken many trips with it, so I can say that it holds up well to the rigors of travel, and it is a joy to use even on a cramped fold out table on a typical airplane seat (nb: I am a million miler on United, so I get complimentary economy plus seating).

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