Sunday, September 23, 2012

How to play Pandora (or any music source) throughout your home using wireless speakers

There are of course fully integrated systems to accomplish this (such as Sonos or even getting your home hard-wired). The following is a much cheaper way to play music in any room wirelessly, plus full remote control via your mobile devices.

Disclaimer: we did this in our home over two years ago, so my recollection isn't perfect - please let me know about problems or missing steps and I'll update accordingly.

 Ingredients:
  1. Hardware
    1. Home Base Computer. Choose a laptop or desktop computer that will act as the home base for your music source. We use a MacMini as our dedicated home base.
    2. Wireless Speakers. Purchase a pair for each room/floor in which you want sound. We have several sets of AudioEngine A5 speakers ($399 a pair - link), which are truly excellent speakers specially designed to be combined with Airport Expresses (more on that below). But you can use any wireless speaker - we also use a pair of RocketFish speakers ($129 - link) for a bathroom.  (Note that the term "wireless speaker" means the speakers will connect to a wi-fi signal and therefore do not need to be hardwired to the source of the music - they will of course have a power cable and cables connecting one speaker to its pair.)
    3. AirPort Express Base Station. Purchase one ($99 - link). This is a wireless router and may replace your current wireless router (the router is the box that's connected to the modem provided by your cable company, eg. Comcast).
    4. AirPort Expresses: Purchase one for each set of speakers. These devices essentially create mini networks to extend your existing wireless network.  It appears that Apple discontinued these in anticipation of a new Airport Express Base Station, but I haven't seen a new release of the Expresses, which are still available on Amazon (used/refurbished, $60 or less - link).
  2. Applications
    1. Airfoil for Mac/Windows: You should download this application on your home base computer (free to try, $25 for license key, which you will need - link).  This program will allow you to select which application you'll stream the music or sound from (Pandora, Firefox, iTunes, etc.) and also let you turn the music on or off in a given room or adjust volume.
    2. LogMeIn for your computer: Download this application on your home base computer (link).  The desktop software is free and you'll have to create an account.  This software will allow you to view and control your home base computer from your mobile device.
    3. LogMeIn Ignition for your mobile device. Install LogMeIn Ignition (find it on the mobile app store on your phone) on the mobile device that you want to act as a remote control.  This mobile app costs $29.95, but you can download it for free on multiple devices (must be the same operating system) as long as you're using the same account on each device (eg., iPad, iPhone).  This app communicates with the desktop software to allow you to "screen share" from your mobile device - you will be required to jump through a few hoops to allow your mobile device to control this computer via the LogMeIn Ignition mobile app (such as generating and entering a pin).
    Total cost, assuming 3 sets of AudioEngine speakers: $1,530.95

Instructions:
  1. Set up the AirPort Express Base Station. This process assumes that you'll be replacing your existing wireless router with Apple's Base Station; there may be a way to add AirPort Expresses to a non-Apple wireless network, but we're Mac people and I just haven't done that (if you have, let me know!).  You'll be connecting the Base Station to your cable modem (the box your cable company provided) using an Ethernet cord - you should follow the set up instructions provided with the Base Station.  Again, this creates a wireless network around your whole home (which you may already have).
  2. Connect the speakers to AirPort Expresses. Set up your speakers in each room/floor of the house you desire. If you're using AudioEngine speakers, simply plug an AirPort Express into the back of the speaker and plug one end of the provided (short) black cable into the bottom of the AirPort Express and the other end into the "audio in" jack in the back of the speaker. If you're using a different wireless speaker, plug the AirPort Express into an outlet near the speaker, then connect the speaker's receiver (usually a separate device that you also plug into an outlet near the speakers) to the AirPort Express by plugging the appropriate cable into the jack at the bottom of the AirPort Express.  The light on the AirPort Expresses may be yellow until you accomplish step 3 below, at which point the light will turn green.  This step creates a connection between your speakers and the applicable AirPort Express.
  3. Connect the AirPort Expresses to your wireless network. If you're using a Base Station, this should be a snap - using AirPort Utility (an application provided with the Base Station), you'll be able to add each AirPort Express to your wireless network (assuming they don't connect automatically). Follow the instructions included with the AirPort Expresses. You will likely want to name each AirPort Express mini-network in a way that helps you remember where the speaker is located (eg, "Master Bedroom", "Office").  This step allows the AirPort Expresses (and by extension, the speakers) to talk to your wireless network.
  4. Connect your home base computer to your wireless network.  This is the computer that will be the source of all your music, so you'll want Pandora or iTunes on this computer (or whatever music source you desire). Confirm this computer is connected to the wireless network created by the Base Station (open up a browser window). Confirm your music source plays properly out of the internal speakers on this computer.  
  5. Airfoil.  You should have Airfoil installed on your home base computer.  Configure it properly as prompted - each of your AirPort Expresses should appear in a list in Airfoil, and the speaker symbol next to each one should be lit "blue" to indicate they are active (click the speaker icon next to each one if not).  From the drop-down menu at the bottom of the Airfoil interface, select the music source you wish to use - you'll first have to select "Other application..." and find Pandora (iTunes, etc.) from the list of applications.  Any program you add will be there the next time automatically.  
  6. Test the system.  At this point, you should be able to control the music from your home base computer and have it streamed throughout your house from each speaker set. If one or all speakers aren't playing music, confirm that (a) you've connected the speaker wires properly and the speaker is working independently of the system, (b) you've connected the speakers to the AirPort Expresses properly, (c) each AirPort Express appears in your AirPort Utility application as a functioning network, and the light on the AirPort Expresses is green, and (d) Airfoil is detecting each speaker network, each speaker is active within Airfoil, and you've selected and are playing the correct music source.  
  7. Adding remote control capabilities.  The LogMeIn desktop software should already be installed on your home base computer. Open the LogMeIn Ignition app that you've downloaded onto your mobile device. You should be able to select your home base computer and connect to it (this process can take a moment).  If it's functioning properly, you'll see the screen of your home base computer and the movement of your finger will move the mouse on the screen - this can be a bit tiny so you will likely want to zoom in using the magnifying (+) symbol on the menu bar on the bottom of the screen.  (Note that on a Mac, you can also connect to and control the home base computer using Screen Sharing.)  This will allow you to control whatever music source you're playing on the home computer as though you were sitting in front of it. 
Caveats and Tips:
  1. Once or twice a year, our wireless speakers develop "spottiness" - the signal periodically winks and sound stops streaming for a few moments. This happens more frequently with our non-AudioEngine wireless speakers.  Try making sure the receivers are near the speakers and the AirPort Express (for example, walls can block the wireless signals).  Other times the AirPort Express signals may be interrupted; it's rarely obvious what the cause is for either of these scenarios.
  2. I highly recommend paying the $36 per year for an ad-free Pandora subscription. You won't regret it. However, even with a paid subscription, if you let a station play for hours at a time, Pandora will ask you to confirm whether you're still listening.  Also, a song often gets cached by Pandora - when we wake up in the morning and play Pandora, it will often play a few minutes and then stop. Pandora will report a connection problem and you'll just have to prompt it to retry the connection. I deal with this by skipping to the next song when I open up Pandora in the morning; it will then immediately prompt me to retry the connection, saving me from having to do it in a few minutes.
  3. Remember that you can play any sound source using Airfoil - if you want to listen to the public stream on NPR or any public radio station via www.tunein.com, simply add/select your browser as the sound source.  

Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Review of MOG

MOG started out as a music blogging site, but it recently reinvented itself as a subscription-based music service. For $5 a month, you can stream full-length tracks (like imeem) and play internet radio (like Pandora). If you don't subscribe, you get 30-second previews. I relied on imeem (before it went MySpaced) for trying out albums before I bought them, and I've been a very heavy user of Pandora for internet radio ($36 a year). After several weeks on MOG, here's my review.

Pros:
- The radio function is solid. It has the variety slider like Slacker, allowing you to listen to a station of only one artist, or slide a bar and hear artists gradually more different. Because full-track streaming is an option, you can play an entire album or select a single song, on-demand, unlike Pandora.

- The catalog is pretty good. When I searched for electronica DJ Kaskade, MOG pulled up hard-to-find albums such as the San Francisco Sessions (at the time of this post, not available on iTunes or Amazon).

- You can save any track to a playlist or to your "library" (stored on MOG) for later access.

Cons:
- You can't save a "station" or add an artist to a station. For example, I have a station on Pandora that I started with Stan Getz and added other jazz artists too, like Miles Davis and Billy Holiday. When I want to hear Stan Getz with a little variety on MOG, I have to manually type in Stan Getz and slide the bar every time, and I can't add in Billie. Sometimes I just want to hit "play" and hear some jazz. Not an option.

- Sadly, like every internet radio station I've listened to, if you "thumbs up" a track on MOG, expect to hear it twice an hour. Be very cautious about thumbing songs.

- The interface is ugly and annoying. Your MOG player is a separate window (a skinny window). If it jams up and you refresh that window, you lose your artist and variety selection. If also pops open new windows and tabs all over the place, such as when you click on an artist name for more information.

- It logs out across computers. When I have MOG open on my home computer, and then I go to work and open it on my laptop, I have sign in at work, then come home and sign in at home. I leave Pandora open all over the place and just hit "play" when I arrive. If I do that on MOG, it will play the 30 second samples because I'm logged out. We should be able to authorize 3 or 5 computers.

To sum up: I'm definitely keeping my MOG subscription. I love sampling full-length songs and albums, and the radio is solid. But I'm keeping my Pandora subscription too. I have Pandora One waiting for me at home and on my phone, and I listen to MOG at work. MOG's still fresh and has some kinks to work out (and add a downloadable player and a mobile app), but it has the potential to replace my Pandora subscription.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's a Modern Girl to Do?

There's a certain cache behind having your full name as your Gmail address (firstnamelastname@gmail.com). It's evidence that you were an early adopter, and it's just eminently practical when you want to give someone your address. It also has a professional veneer.

Now I'm facing a modern-day conundrum: I'm getting married soon, and I'll have a new name - one that's already taken on Gmail. (I checked all the variations.) I've had my current Gmail address for years, and have signed up for many, many services and subscriptions with this email. Even if my new name was available, would it be worth the hassle to make the switch? Fortunately you can forward mail from one Gmail address to another (Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP).

The other option is to retain my current email address and change the name that appears when I send. But this will still be awkward when I provide my email to someone who meets me when I have my new name.

For other reasons - feminist, administrative ease - I've considered not changing my name at all. But the reality is I'm pretty excited about the Google anonymity of my new, very common name. And besides, I like the new name better!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Changing Habits: Kindle

I've been a Kindle owner for about a year and a half (I'm on the Kindle 2 now). A few observations about how my reading habits have changed:

* I read more. A lot more. I have 70 titles, which averages out to about 3.5 books a month. There's no lag time waiting to get the next book from the library or bookstore. As soon as I finish one book, I start the next within 24 hours.

* I've become a series snob. What I mean is that I prefer books that are part of a series, at least three but the more the better. The boundaries between one book and the next are almost non-existent. I barely notice the titles of books in a series, and after I read one I'll often buy the rest of the series all at once. Thereafter, I go from one to the next like they're all one book.

* I have little conception for how many pages a book has. Occasionally I'll notice the page count when I'm buying a book, but after that I might only notice that my percentage of completion is going quickly or slowly.

I'm happy with the device, but I do find myself wondering why I'm buying all these books (if I am indeed buying them). I'd rather pay Amazon a monthly fee, or pay much less to just rent a book, like a library. It's a big enough issue that if Amazon doesn't change it's tune, I could see myself moving to a device that does.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Home in the Clouds

There hasn't been much talk about it, but my favorite feature in the new iTunes is Home Sharing. Home Sharing lets you authorize up to 5 computers so they are connected in iTunes, letting you transfer songs between one computer and another. That's right - it lets you drag-and-drop songs between computers! A year ago, that would sound crazy. But the reality is, it's the same as authorizing one iPod for several systems, except now the street goes both ways. It's the same as Apple letting you burn up to 5 CDs of iTunes music (I use DRM-free Amazon MP3s myself).

This is a big deal for me because we have a Mac at home and I use a PC. Because my iPod is formatted to the PC, I often delay song downloads until I'm on my PC, so I can transfer them to my iPod. The Mac has very little music on it (Pandora instead), because I knew that if I wanted to transfer any music, I'd have to burn a CD, rip the CD onto my PC, then transfer those songs to my iPod. In one stroke, Apple has effectively put my music on a mini-cloud, my home cloud.

Now, if only my iPod would sync automatically, from my car, without having to be plugged in. If only all my music were on a cloud, that I never had to download...

- Sansserif

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Live Blogging Bandwidth 2009


Indeed, I say, Old Sport. This is a most dignified music conference, albeit lightly attended, but with the most respectable company in attendance at the University Club. After a brief meet-and-greet in the Library where we went round the room to discuss our most memorable experiences with an "album" (wikipedia), the conference is off to a smashing start. I decided not to mention my experience last year of receiving a leaked copy of the Black Keys' Attack and Release from a friend, but...alas, I digress.

So pour yourself a cognac and pull up a chair next to the fire. Bandwidth 2009 is about to begin.

Thursday

2pm - Balls of Steel

Unsurprisingly, women were noticeably absent from this panel. Larry Marcus, a VC with Walden Venture Capital, suggested that a better name would be "balls of glass" given the investment climate.

David Hymen, founder and CEO of MOG, just announced a $5 million round of funding for his company. Though he admitted to some trepidation when learning this week that iLike had been bought for $20 million by MySpace. "It was depressing to see that valuation for a company that had so much momentum," he said. "Exits have been tough," agrees Marcus. "At the end of the day, it's a question of love me or leave me. Either customers will pay for your service or they won't."

Mark Shedletsky, founder and CEO of BlueHaze, had this advice: "Avoid signing any contracts with a label." The consensus of the panel (much to the chagrin of one audience member) is that entrepreneurial start-ups can't afford to work with the Big Four because cost prohibitive licensing fees, seven-figure up front payouts, and annual minimums require too much start-up capital just to get off the ground.

3pm - By the Numbers

Corey Denis, VP of Marketing at reapandsow, jumped in with some hard data. The moral of the story is...marketing musicians is about telling a story.

What we have: listening habit data, traffic data, twitter data, facebook data, bit.ly data, blogger data, youtube data, data data data.

What we don't have: streaming music media data, all things MySpace, internet radio data.

"The point is," says Davis, "that with all this data, artist by artist, you can tell a different story." And she has some (anonymous) success stories to support her data.

So, let me tell my story: I'm in a band. We're really good. We aren't represented by an agent or a label, and we can't afford a publicist. Every week, iLike, ReverbNation, TuneCore and other analytics aggregators send me an email that says, basically, nobody is listening to your songs, nobody is buying your songs, and you don't have any concerts posted. Is that really the kind of useful data that's going to make the D.I.Y. promise of a "musicians middle class" a reality?

One telling bit of data was conspicuously absent from the discussion: sales.

4pm - Convo. with Bob Mould

Didn't make it. I chose instead to have a lager with the chaps in the pool room. Can you blame me? More enlightening conversation tomorrow...



Friday

The coffee's strong. The weather's warm. Totally wired, logged in, and ready for Bandwidth Day 2.



10am - Hindsight is 20/20

Ted Cohen of TAG Strategic set the tone right away: "How many of you have been to a panel I've moderated?" he asked. A smattering of hands. "And you came back?" he jibed.

First qusetion: "Compare and contrast a label licensing deal with a colonoscopy."

Tracing the modern music deal back to the early days of Shawn Fanning's Napster, the message of this panel is a simple one: the labels missed their last best chance to participate in the digital revolution a decade ago. Gerry Kearby of Neurotone remembered his days in the music industry this way: doing deals with the majors "was like talking with buggy whip manufacturers who were sure the automobile was not coming."

11am - Live Music 2.0



"Is live music replacing recorded music as the dominant platform?" asks Dave Rosenheim of JamBase. "The numbers support it."

In 2008, the live music business accounted for $7.2 billion in revenue. $1 billion came in the form of in venue sponsorship, and $500k in merch. Live music also appears to be recession resilient, and the industry is up a total of 140% since 2000.

By contrast, recorded music business is falling to $8 billion, down 40% from 2000. But is live music scalable? Ah, there's the rub.

1pm - Putting Artists Together With Fans

Back in the library for a discussion led by Gracenote VP of Product and Content Management, Stephen White...



(Apologies to jeddeth...I'm not in the main hall. But check out Digital Music News tomorrow, and you'll probably hear all.)

To what extent is the the job of the artist to personally reach out through social media, and to what extent does it rely upon user generated content? If reaching out to fans is the artist's exclusive responsibility, when is there time for creativity, and how to keep up with the myriad competing technologies out there? And if you leave it up to the fans, how do you control the quality of the content and monetize the pipeline?

The key may be in tracking and selling metadata that flows out of content consumption. "There's no limit to the amount of information that can be delivered in content metadata," says White. "Anything can be delivered, but there are standardized containers."

2pm - Business Pricing Models

Steve Grady, co-founder, president and COO for RoyaltyShare brings some depressing statistic statistics to bear on pricing models for music as a product. Currently, the $8 billion industry is crashing to zero.

**Speaking of crashing...due to an unfortunate and rather unexpected computer crash, the last two sessions went unblogged. In an imperfect technological world, sometimes you do just have to be there. Indeed, I say!!**

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Peeling Back the Layers

Augmented reality is here, and it doesn't even involve embedded microchips and VR goggles...yet.

Monday, May 18, 2009

MusicTech, The Third (sort of)

It's time for part 3 of the MusicTech trilogy, and it promises to be an exciting one. It's actually the fourth conference, but I must have missed one somewhere along the way. For those in the know, Part 1 and Part 2 were highly regarded by this blog for providing a refreshing dose of realism to discussions of the digital music landscape--the perfect remedy to last year's NARM conference in SF, which turned out to be more of a therapy session for CD enthusiasts.

First impressions: more panels, more sponsors, more schmoozability, and the impressive new addition of an elevator pitch event. The coffee is strong, and the day looks promising. More to come...



9:20am - Music in Audio Video Works

Regardless of your business model, everyone agrees that it takes a long time for artists to get paid online. Zahavah Levine, Chief Counsel for YouTube, still introduces herself as she did last year: she spends most of her time untangling the mess of licensing, rights management and DMCA compliance issues that are a result of YouTube's widespread popularity. Because the interests of various rights holders are so fragmented, and users are able to upload copyrighted material so easily, Levine's job keeps her very busy. And that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

"We have all these digital tools," says Josh Wattles of deviantART, who equates the computer to "the Swiss Army knife of copyright infringement." Even the most unsuspecting of online messages is subject to a number of complicated copyright logistics. With the newfound popularity of Twitter, for instance, Wattles explained that "Aston Kutcher owns all of his twits." I think he meant "tweets," but we got the message.

The lawsuit filed by EFF on behalf of a Pennsylvania mother who was sued by Universal Music Group is just one example of the pitfalls of a digital rights paradigm in which "fair use" is too narrowly defined. I mean, what kind of world do we live in if you can't upload silly baby videos on YouTube because the Super Bowl's on in the background? Isn't that why YouTube was created in the first place?

The problem is that with audio video recordings, there is a synchronization right, but no compulsory mechanical license. "If we want to license the millions of copyright owners on YouTube," says Levine, "we have to contact millions of publishers, and we don't know who they are." She suggests that a blanket license covering all of these copyright considerations would solve the problem, a perspective echoed by a number of panelists.

"Content is fragmented all over the place," says Iain Scholnick of ImageSpan. The company attempts to find a solution to this by automating the process of digital licensing. "Most content companies come into a kind of negative calculus, they hit a wall. The monetization doesn't add up."

"I wish there was a fix to this in sight," adds Levine. "But I think we're going to have to stick with this for the foreseeable future. Pots of money are being left on the table, because this is so complicated people can't pay out."

10:30am - Doing Deals



Cecily Mak of RealNetworks introduced the panel, who then introduced the single resounding theme of the session: Doing deals with the majors is difficult. Very, very difficult.

"There's progress in the types of deals that labels are willing to do," says Larry Kenswil of Loeb & Loeb. "But it's still major tooth surgery getting them to do it."

Leron Rodgers of Hewitt & Rogers believes that a surcharge for internet access to online music content will create a viable revenue stream for the majors that would counteract the effects of piracy. But will users pay $5 per month to ASCAP for free access to online libraries, just to avoid the unlikely event of a RIAA lawsuit? Rodgers claims that the financials do add up, and his Atlanta-based firm plans to release the numbers in an upcoming study.

In theory, I imagine such a plan would work. However, since if it were opt-in, what incentive is there to pay, as opposed to continuing P2P downloads for free? The threat of lawsuit would have to increase for the plan to have any teeth. And what if your favorite band (like the Beatles) refuses to provide any kind of blanket license? How many publishers have to be on board before the idea becomes viable?

Could the answer then be a compulsary payment for internet access? That might anger consumers who have no affinity for downloading free music. But tracking levels of music consumption per user would raise privacy issues. In any case, it's a thorny issue.

It would be great to see a plan that is widely accepted by consumers, coupled with a willingness of rights holders to accept a flat-fee license for all forms of music consumption. Is it likely? We'll have to tune into MusicTech '10 to see if the idea gets traction.

1pm - New Technologies Demonstrations

Shortly after the morning's welcoming remarks by MusicTech Executive Producer, Brian Zisk, we were given a demo of the web portal Zannel, which provides customized aggregation and syndication services. I tried it out (you can log in through Twitter) and found a user friendly platform for multimedia tweets integrated into a customized iPhone app. But it occurred to me that, perhaps, my band isn't quite interesting enough to have our own app. For the unknown artist, it seems rather presumptuous to be hyper-posting to fans (a.k.a. friends and family) with the expectation that someone is actually watching. Still, I like the aggregation of media that Zannel provides--and I'm a sucker for a cool app.

Welcoming us to the 1pm tech demo was moderator Meliza Solan, who introduced herself and launched suddenly into an unaccompanied rendition of the National Anthem. Not knowing exactly what to do, we stood and watched awkwardly while she sang. "Hoooome of the brave" still hung in the air when she downshifted into a breathless description of her Twitter app. Admittedly, I was too dazed to take notes on her pitch. But here's a summary of everything that followed:

LittleShoot - File sharing integrated in your web browser.
Adam Fisk gives us a demo, using a generic search term and scrolling through the results. "Let's go for 'Walking in the Sun.'" says Fisk. "No, that's an M4a. It's probably copyrighted." The crowd laughs. He continues to scroll. "Let's see. Hmm. No, that's copyrighted too."

SoundCloud - Collaboration tool and distribution channel for digital music.
The widget based distribution and sharing functions are targeted to artists, labels and distributors as a direct-to-fans integrated marketing solution.

drop.io - A tool for privately sharing files and collaborating in real time. Sound familiar? Content aggregators of one kind or another are emerging everywhere, and as an independent musician the prospect of sending all content through one portal sounds enticing. But how are these ideas going to overcome the licensing pitfalls without widespread adoption and monetization by the major labels?

An audience member finally asks: "Do you get a lot of uploaded content that is copyrighted?" It's the question we've all been wondering. "The answer--um, well, there are two answers--" says drop.io's Sam Lessin. "The first answer is, 'we don't know.'" Everyone chuckled knowingly as he went on to explain the arms length policy of his company, while at the same time expecting users to report P2P copyright infringements on their own. It remains to be seen if the RIAA will set their sights on these content aggregators, which seem to be newer and cooler versions of the Pirate Bay. I hope these business models can be legitimized. But it's still going to depend on licensing. Needless to say, there is a radically different tone between the attorneys downstairs and the idea people upstairs.

Band Metrics - Data analysis and aggrigation of massive amounts of data about bands. This back office application provides analytics through a dashboard interface. The demo went through the band metrics for Dave Matthews Band. I have to say, it's great that DMB can check their stats, but most unknown musicians don't want to be reminded in a hundred different ways that nobody's visited their myspace page for two weeks. If that weren't enough, each band's page gives them a "band strength" score that looks like a low credit rating, along with a thermostat reading of your "hotness." It looks like a useful tool if you're making it, but could be bad for self-esteem if not.

The Echo Nest - A music intelligence platform for user-generated reviews.
This music discovery tool works interactively with other web platforms such as Spotify to find music recommendations. It looks a lot like Pandora, without the website. Hopefully, it will arrive onshore in the near future, but the outlook is spotty.

2pm - Recording Studio of the Future

Digital or analog? Fader switch or mouse and keyboard? The panel is split on whether artists can be as creative inside of a computer screen as they are with an acoustic guitar. My belief, echoed by Justin Frankel of Cockos, is that computers are just another tool for creativity. But right now, the tactile purists dominate the conversation. I've always regarded a mouse pointer to be a perfectly adequate paintbrush, but I suspect that the tactile purists are also partial to the high margin hardware interfaces they're selling.

The question that's not being asked is how can the average musician afford any of this gear? I sat on my hands, not wanting to ask the question during the panel. But I'll ask it here: how about an open source model? It seems to be the third rail of the software industry. My thought is that a free, open source licensing relationship could have a profit sharing provision included so that if the musician wins, the software provider wins, too, with a percentage of revenues.

3:30pm - The Future of Music

...in 60 minutes or less.

"Context is king," says Terry McBride of Nettwerk Music Group, playing off the old Sumner Redstone quote. "What's going to happen in the next 18 months is going to change how music is consumed entirely. Cloud based servers will pull content down to your mobile device. That is your future. You can debate everything else you want to. It's moot. The kids are already going there. The music industry gets one more chance to get it right."

But how do artists get paid? Music licensing will have to change, for one thing, but will customers pay? And will the majors play ball?

Moderator Heather Rafter of RafterMarsh USA evoked a provocative quote from Davide Bowie's recent interview with the Times:

"Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity [...] So it's like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You'd better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that's really the only unique situation that's going to be left. It's terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn't matter if you think it's exciting or not; it's what's going to happen.''

4:45pm - Monetization: Idealism in Practice

Fred Von Lohmann of EFF supports blanket licensing as a path toward monetization, and the idea is finally gaining some traction with the mainstays of the industry. "At least the labels aren't calling us communists any more," Von Lohmann jokes. But the point is salient. Choruss, which recently received backing (in theory) by three major record labels, promises one such pathway to monetization.

As the day has progressed, more and more panelists have been mentioning that nebulous "musician's middle class," but discussion has been light on how the unknown artist actually arrives at such a utopian scenario as quitting the day job. Is there a viable DIY model for writing, rehearsing, recording, promoting and distributing music that truly levels the playing field for grassroots musicians? Clearly not.

For the unknown artist, the only monetization that matters is in winning the attention economy. The economics of finance and accounting will always favor the majors due to economies of scale. But attention is fractured, and those DIY artists who manage to pull the pieces together will be rewarded with wider and wider audiences. Attention alone is not going to pay the bills, but it seems to be the one and only ticket for the DIY artist to become a self-made entrepreneur.

Once the blanket licensing agreements happen sometime in the future, the starving artists who managed to scrape together 50,000 fans will find instant monetization of their attention economy credits. Is it enough to put the kids through college? Probably not. But we're all riding on the hope that we'll we be able to spend more time on music and less time tweeting.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Productive Procrastination

A recent study suggests that college-aged Facebook users get lower grades than everyone else. Conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, the study found that "Facebook user GPAs were in the 3.0 to 3.5 range on average, compared to 3.5 to 4.0 for non-users." Of course, this could simply mean that extreme narcissists feel they have better things to do than keep up with homework. Or perhaps all the other students are just outsourcing their homework to overseas professionals.

Thank goodness I've graduated already, so that Facebook and Twitter can satisfy my self-infatuation and improve my productivity on the job. According to the University of Melbourne, taking "short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet" gives the brain a chance to rest and leads to "a higher total net concentration for a days' work."

Could it possibly be that researchers are so interested in studying Facebook because it gives them a legitimate reason to check their friends' status updates?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Alert!

In addition to having admittedly brilliant products, part of what's led to Google's ubiquitousness is it's openness. What I mean by that is it's willingness to interface with other products in the same field.

For example, Google Calendar acts as the intermediary between all my other calendars, allowing all of them to peacefully coexist. At work we use Thunderbird as our email and calendar client (with the Lightning add-on). I feed my Google Calendar into the Thunderbird on my work computer and also onto my laptop Thunderbird, so I can have my calendar when I'm not at work. I have Google Sync on my phone, so my Google Calendar is on my device calender. When I'm on the go, I can add to or look at my work schedule.

This redundancy does have drawbacks, however. When I'm at work I use my laptop and my desktop and my phone. When a calendar alarm goes off, this is where I get notifications: 1) my phone, 2) my desktop Thunderbird, 3) my laptop Thunderbird, 4) my Google Calendar on my laptop, and last but not least, 5) I get a pop-up notification on Gmail if it's open. That's right - I get five cascading notifications of an event. (My phone is the first.)

It's a wonder I can get anything done on time!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Live Blogging Industry Noise - Noise Pop '09

After a less than impressive morning session with Keynote Speaker Fat Mike (NOFX, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes), the conference has been more noise than industry.



10am - Keynote Conversation with Fat Mike

Maybe I'm just not punk rock enough to get it, but if you say f*ck money, f*ck the internet, and f*ck your fans, why not go one step further and say f*ck it to labels, too? Fat Mike would like you to believe that his label, Fat Wreck Chords, serves as a filter for quality and provides a value add that unsigned bands crave and major labels can't replicate. However, from the perspective of an unknown musician, it's not clear to me why any label (major or indie) adds anything of value that can't be replicated by giving music away for free online. After all, what's the point in making $10 on little round plastic disks if the label is just going to take $9.99 anyway?

11am - The Next Big Thing

The panel asks why, if major labels are such dinosaurs, do they still seem so essential in breaking an artist?

According to Aaron Axelsen (Music Director, Live 105) encouraging listeners to discover new music is like getting a four year old to eat broccoli. "It's good for you," he says, "but you need to sandwich it between two pieces of cheddar cheese." While this perspective serves as an apt justification for his job description, it fails to acknowledge the consumption patterns of most online listening. CD sales are faltering precisely because music discovery is alive and well (and free) in the online sphere.

For now, it is advantageous to most music merchants to maintain the status quo. But what happens when the RIAA starts charging a performance license fee for terestrial radio plays? Perhaps then Live 105 will become the advocate for unknowns. The next big thing for the majors may turn out to be Chapter 11.



1pm - Industry Noise: Hot Topics in the Music Industry

Cory Brown of Absolutely Kosher Records says, "If nobody's paying for anything, it doesn't matter how many people are listening to your music." It should not be surprising that his business model relies upon the sales of those pesky round plastic disks. It's amazing how people talk about music as though it has always been a tangible product, until along came that evil internet that threatened everything. I'd like to remind them that throughout the entire course of human history up to the invention of the phonograph, all music was live music. It was only in the twentieth century that music became a product. We should not lament, therefore, that it has now become a commodity.

The price structure of old media is often defended on the grounds that the artist must get paid. This sounds nice, but when has the artist ever gotten paid? Short of going multi-platinum, it is the labels that have reaped most of the benefits of traditional music sales. Perhaps, it's not an either/or decision. Nancy Miller (Music Editor, Wired) proposes the idea of a "musical middle class," suggesting that internet distribution may lead to a path toward profitability for a number of musicians. If there is a path, it's thorny and largely uncharted. But I applaud the realism.

2pm - If Techies Ruled the World / If Artists Ruled the World

The subject of this panel was a hypothetical exercise exploring what would happen if reasonable people controlled the pipeline for the music industry. The answer? Musicians still wouldn't make much money, but it would be a lot more straightforward, and there would be a lot fewer middle men.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Doctor's Visit

When a technophile takes his computer to the hospital:

 
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Confessions of a Phone Hater, Part II

YouAreYou was long enamored of his iPhone, and now that he's come clean I have no choice but to fess up: I hate my BlackBerry Storm.

Here's why:
1. The Accelerometer . When I want the screen to flip, it doesn't flip. I flip it horizontal, I flip it back to vertical, finally I shake it. I hold it vertical. It doesn't flip. Also, when I don't want the screen to flip, it flips. This happens frequently when I'm holding it vertically and I rest it on a table. Then, it flips. Even when it does flip on command, it lags before it flips.

2. The lock button. I'm talking about the one on the top of the device, which isn't actually a button - it's a location that you press. Because there's a delay before the phone locks (and no accompanying noise or button-click), you're never sure whether it's locked or unlocked. Nothing happens, so you hit the lock location again - then it slyly unlocks and re-locks in succession.

3. GPS. If you use Google Maps on your Storm, you've seen this one before: "Your location within 1100 feet. GPS temporarily unavailable." I estimate that the GPS has worked 10% of my attempts to locate myself.

4. The camera. Almost unusable. The lag between the time you press the button and the time the camera takes a photograph - I counted three Mississippis. That is an embarrassing amount of time. Not to mention the color quality of the photo might as well be grayscale.

I've had several updates, and these problems still exist. I gave it a shot, and I'm not a happy or satisfied customer. But the reality is, at this point I couldn't stand a phone without a touchscreen. Using a little ball to navigate a screen? Intolerable.

When they unlock the iPhone, count me in; maybe YouAreYou will get the Storm.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

iGroan: The Definition of Modern Annoyance

def:
1 : to utter a deep moan indicitave of pain, grief, or annoyance in relation to an iPhone
2 : to make a harsh sound while waiting (in vain) for the 3G network to register

--

I thought I had dodged the bullet on many of the 3G connectivity issues that have plagued the release of the second generation iPhone. But then I went to Tahoe a couple weeks ago, and my signal dropped out completely. Given the terrain and my exceedingly low expectations of AT&T's service, I wasn't particularly surprised to be without mobile service for the weekend. But I did expect it to come back eventually.

I like to think that my 3G signal is still roaming the valley somewhere around Highway 50 East, trying to find it's way back to me. But recently, I've been forced to admit the truth:

The iPhone is a big, fat piece of crap.

There, I said it. Yes, I used to defend the technology from skeptical friends and snarky colleagues when they reported on one article or another listing all the flaws. No more. Sure, I used to sell the sex appeal of a hot techno-gadget to prospective buyers who were justifiably concerned about entering a two year contract with AT&T. But that was back when the phone actually worked. And apparently, I'm not the only one who has recently reached a boiling point. A new wave of lawsuits has emerged within the last two weeks accusing the company of false advertising and misleading claims about the phone's ability to, say, make phone calls.

It's easy to be mad at AT&T because, frankly, the company has been a PR disaster for the last twenty years. But it's hard to feel anything but betrayed by Apple's nonchalance about its defective hardware, not to mention somewhat wounded by its legal defense that no reasonable person would believe its iPhone 3G ads.

So I'm left with no choice. After making numerous calls (on a land line) to AT&T tech support, manually rebooting all network settings, and replacing the SIM card, I have no alternative but to march down to the Apple store, walk right up to that so-called "Genius Bar," and demand that they give me the shiny, new replacement phone they've promised me so that I can be blissfully ignorant all over again.

And when I have that gorgeous new phone in my hands, there's only one question about what to do with the old one.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's a Status Thing

The notion of privacy almost seems quaint in the hyper-connected world of social networks, and maintaining the right balance of exposure and anonymity is a tricky combination of art and science. A prudent Facebooker, for instance, will typically want to customize his or her privacy settings for news feeds in order to control what types of stories get published, particularly those relating to changes in relationship status.

Sansserif and I have blogged extensively on this in the past, discussing the varying degrees of seriousness of a particular relationship status, the pitfalls of publicly changing said status, and the sudden ripples that can occur from abrupt transitions between, say, "single" and "married." Indeed, cautionary tales abound on why taking the time to tweak a privacy setting or two is probably a good idea.

Such controls are good for everyday life, but what happens when you want to spread the word far and wide? Well...

...Sansserif and I recently announced our engagement. After telling our families and a handful of close friends, we decided we were ready to go Facebook Official about our big change in status. In our excitement, however, we neglected to make sure our privacy protections were turned off so that word would quickly travel to news feeds far and wide. It took a day of puzzling silence on the airwaves for us to realize our error, whereupon we changed status back to "in a relationship," turned the news feed announcements back on, and got Facebook Official all over again.

Curiously, all of the comments that flooded in after our second announcement appear only on my wall, which strikes me as somewhat old fashioned for a progressive social network like Facebook. I mean, just because we're getting married, does that really mean we have to forfeit our individual comment threads? It seems to be an obvious breach of Netiquette.

Despite the pitfalls of controlling the flow information in your news feed, maintaining an active stance on privacy is still a good idea, especially when the relationship waters run the other way. Consider, for instance, Prince Harry's breakup with longtime girlfriend Chelsy Davy, which only became official when the media discovered her change of Facebook status. Then there was the recent case of Burger King's "Whopper Sacrifice" campaign in which Facebook users were offered a free hamburger for publicly dumping ten of their friends (the program was axed after ending a mere 234,000 friendships).

All I know is that once Sansserif and I set an official wedding date, I'm going to make a pop-up reminder in our shared Google Calendar to change our privacy settings well in advance. After all, when it comes to announcing the big "M" on Facebook, you only get one chance to do it right!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Under the Hood

I've been using Google's browser Chrome for about two months now. I've been a religious Firefox user for several years, and at first I thought, "Firefox has everything I need, what can Chrome offer?" But curiosity got the better of me, and sure enough, about one month ago Chrome became my default laptop browser.

Here's what I like:
1. One box for searching and for entering URLs. (There are privacy implications of this, but I'll put those aside.)

2. It's streamlined. No menu screens as we know them, just tabs at the top of your screen.

3. And my number one favorite thing about it: it's fast. When I click the icon on my task bar, it loads almost instantly.

That final point was what pushed me over the edge with Firefox. Once I tasted Chrome's speed, I couldn't stand waiting several seconds for Firefox to boot up.

Here's what I don't like about Chrome:
1. I like to tweak my settings a lot, and Chrome just doesn't offer that many preferences.

2. No add-ons. Yes, Chrome does have an add-on store, but it's a mess. The organization is terrible and it's brimming with spam. I really, really miss my Firefox themes, Add-Block Plus, and IE Tab.

3. Compatibility. Needs work. For example, I was filling out a survey online and the formatting was a complete mess. Not so on Firefox. Another example: for whatever reason, I couldn't upload a photo for an eBay sale on Chrome, but it worked immediately with Firefox.

Conclusion: If you have simple browser needs, Chrome is the way to go. If you like playing around and can stand to wait, you gotta go Firefox.

At least until Chrome plays catch-up...

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Online Lactivism

I'm getting a jump on my new year's resolution to keep up with this blog with something from the truly bizarre category. Apparently, Facebook is banning photos of breastfeeding that contain "a fully exposed breast, as defined by showing the nipple or areola."

A protest of over 80,000 new mothers has been initiated by the Mothers International Lactation Campaign (MILC). You can click here to join their Facebook petition. But first, can someone please tell me: why would you post breastfeeding pictures in the first place?

I agree that breastfeeding is not obscene, but there are some aspects of my classmates' lives that are best left unseen!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stormy Weather

I was one of those technophilic Verizon customers who refused to switch to AT&T despite the almost insuppressible lure of the iPhone. So of course, I waited in line to get the Storm.

I had a traumatic first day with it (but I should mention it was also the day I found out I passed the CA bar). I've never owned a BlackBerry, so I had to get used to the BB thinking too - the logic behind navigating it. Also, I'm no stranger to the iPhone, (which YouAreYou has), and I had certain preconceptions and expectations as a result.

There was a lot of frustration that first day. The accelerometer often fails to flip the screen upon turning the device. There are often lags when you select things or open menus.

But after a bit, I've grown to appreciate my BB. I learned a million tricks off the BB forums and crackberry.com. These tricks are not documented anywhere officially - it's like getting infinite lives in Nintendo's Contra (A-B-A-B-up-down, etc., you remember!). They make using the device not only easier, it's also like knowing a secret code.

I was not the only one who wanted to return it that first day. David Pogue of the NY Times gave it a scathing review. Today he posted some messages in response to that post. Here's my response to that:

A lot of the complaints are actually due to ignorance about how to use the device. One user complains, for example, that there's no way to get to a contact by entering a letter. This is untrue - you just need to set your contacts list as the default view and it has a Find box. There are several other complaints that are a result of people not knowing the tricks and tips, like sliding your finger down to make the keyboard go away. Many of those complaints indicate the people had had the device for only several days or even hours - they just didn't take the time to learn it. That's a huge factor in the complaints about the press-screen: you have to get used to it. People had to get used to iPhone touch-screen typing too.

Unfortunately, this is all BB's fault: their device is not nearly as intuitive and dumb-person-accessible as the iPhone. Verizon customers looked at this as their iPhone, but it just isn't. It's still a BlackBerry, geared towards professionals. (I can cut-and-paste, edit Word and Excel docs, transfer files with Bluetooth, remove the battery, add more memory, take video, etc, none of which the iPhone can do.) Its inelegance will remind you of Microsoft Windows: smart but stodgy, powerful but buggy. (A friend of mine called it the Hillary to the iPhone/Obama.)

While I don't love the Storm, I do like it. I know most of the problems are bugs that will eventually get fixed. And this, after all, is the price you pay for being an early adopter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Squeaky Wheel

This is an older feedback adventure. I sent an email to the San Francisco parking and transit authority about a dangerous intersection near my law school. A few weeks later, I received this:

Thank you for your inquiry regarding the intersection of Fulton, Parker, and Shrader. We are pleased to inform you that this intersection has been included as part of a traffic signal upgrade project that will install pedestrian countdown signals and also modify the signal timing. As part of the signal timing change, we can also implement the “all red” signal timing phase that you mentioned in your e-mail.

We do not have a schedule yet on when the construction will begin at this intersection but it will most likely be later this summer or early Fall. Assuming no unforeseen delays, activation of the new countdown signals and revised timing should occur by the end of this year or early next year.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Squeaky Wheel

I'd like to introduce a new blogging segment here on Webbed Footprint. I'm calling it The Squeaky Wheel because these posts will be about successful feedback.

Here's my latest adventure. YouAreYou and I are recent converts to composting. Here in San Francisco we have one option for bags that are compostable, allowing you to throw you kitchen waste into them before transferring them to the large bin for pick-up. These are BioBags. Several things about these bags irked me, including: 1) they compost too fast, 2) they aren't tall enough, and 3) you have to pull out the whole roll to unravel one bag. So, I went on the company website and sent a Contact-Us email. Just a few days later, I got this response:

[Sansserif], Thank you for your feedback. If we put some elastic on the top of the bag, that would not biodegrade, defeating the purpose of the bag. There is a product called the "gripper" which is more or less a large rubber band to hold your bag in place. Our bags have a standard(ASTM D6400) that in order to comply with have to biodegrade within a specified time. Your best suggestion is the more user-friendly box. Why didn't we think of that? I will pass that along to the powers that be. Thank you for your support!


I'll let you know when it happens...

A friendly conversation with 22,250 Obama supporters

UPDATE: It seems somebody at Daily Kos got pretty upset at the email chain, raising questions about a "dirty trick" from the McCain campaign. Fortunately, the comment section came to the rescue (however bluntly).

---

Yesterday, I casually checked mail on my iPhone and did a double-take when the screen message reported that over 50 messages were being downloaded. After all, I'm pretty neurotic about checking my messages, and it had only been an hour or so since my last fix. What could possibly be spamming my inbox like this on a Saturday morning?

That's when I was introduced to "CANeighborhoodTeam5."

I watched the listserv name scroll across my screen 57 times before my phone buzzed to inform me that I had new messages. I punched open one of the messages and started reading:
"Okay, folks,

Please, take a deep breath and relax. Someone made a mistake in how they addressed the original email and that's why 20,000+ of us got it."
Some mistake, indeed! As it turned out, 56 of the 57 emails were "unsubscribe" requests that were inadvertently blasted to the entire listserv. As the thread progressed, the requests became increasingly urgent and sometimes angry: "Please remove me," gradually gave way to a chorus of "TAKE ME OFF OF YOUR STUPID LIST. I ALREADY VOTED FOR OBAMA, OKAY?"

The increased temperature of the responses prompted another wave of messages from helpful people (about 20 of them, to be exact) with detailed instructions on how to unsubscribe from the list, and specific requests to NOT reply all to the message, as it would only generate more spam for everyone. The problem is, the unsubscribe link was broken, provoking another wave of emails reporting on that latest development. "This is not some kind of nefarious spam tactic by McCain," one message promised. "It's just a little glitch, so don't let it affect your enthusiasm. VOTE!"

This did not stop the conspiracy theorists or angry "unsubscribe" requesters from furthering the breech of netiquette with more and more messages. As the day wore on, Sansserif and I took turns announcing the arrival of new messages. Our favorite:



Another responded:
"This is fun! Barack on!"
We concur. Barack on, everyone, and get out the vote!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Digi Art

Below is my first piece of Photoshop digital art, created from photos I took for the band Bloomsday Rising.

 
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Friday, September 19, 2008

Technological Leaps

I was amused and proud recently by a distinctly Gen Y moment on the part of my Gen X co-writer.

YouAreYou was trying to purchase some software, and the company wanted him to fax in the order form. After multiple attempts at trying to work the fax machine, he gave up in frustration, cursing it as an archaic form of communication.

He took a photo of the completed form with his iPhone and emailed it to the company. The order went through.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Anachronisms

 

Not too long ago, YouAreYou and I watched the sci-fi flick "Sunshine." It takes place in the future, and I chortled out loud when I saw this scene. My Kindle was on the coffee table in front of me; it amused me to no end thinking about people reading analog books on a spaceship in the year 2057.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

News Feed Head Fake

I was shocked to sign on to Facebook the other day and find that two of my friends from school were no longer in a relationship. I actually did a double-take and blinked dumbly at the screen as I re-read the words: "...ended their relationship."

Could it be? I thought. But they seemed to be so good for each other.

Well, today I got the full story:



It was just another news feed head fake. Granted, my friends must have changed their "in a relationship" status to "single" prior to correcting the error. But a moment's lapse in status is all it takes for Facebook to broadcast hot relationship gossip across seven continents.

So let this be a lesson to all you status changing readers out there...save your friends and family the emotional roller coaster and type carefully when you perform this highly sensitive operation! I'm torn between giving Facebook some direct feedback about this or simply penning a new entry into the Book of Netiquette, 9th Edition (revised). They should really do something about these head fakes, but then again it does make such good blog fodder!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Old and the New

YouAreYou decided to clean out his CD collection. We spend an afternoon recycling CDs he didn't want and the cases of all of them. We were both astounded by the amount of waste generated by CDs. The multitude of cracked and unhinged jewel cases made us curse the inventor of such an inferior product.

I couldn't resist taking a few shots while we listened to my iPod.

 
 
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Auto Uncheck

I was mighty pleased to stumble across a long-awaited solution to long-bemoaned Gmail feature: a contact auto-add checkbox. As I've whined about in previous posts, Gmail automatically adds an email address to your contacts if you email someone once or twice. This gets annoying, especially when mixed with the auto-add feature of Gchat.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but the long and short of it is that Gmail finally gives us the option of choosing not to auto-add. It still keeps a list of the contacts it wants to add in the "Suggested Contacts" groups, seen below on the left.

 
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Anatomy of an Addiction: Confessions of an iPhone 3G Early Adopter

**A Webbed Footprint Special Report**



Friday, July 11 – 5:00pm

After spending most of the day convincing myself that I was not going to succumb to the widespread iPhone mania, my willpower finally cracked. Before I knew what was happening, I told my roommate I’d be back in an hour and headed out the door. My plan was simple: I’d walk to the quiet, unassuming AT&T store nearby and avoid all the hoopla at the Apple stores in Union Square and the Marina. It was going to be brilliant. It was going to be mine, all mine.

I walked briskly. After six or seven blocks I wondered if I had passed the store, so I pulled out my first generation iPhone and waited for the EDGE network to load the map. As I stood and watched the spinning wheel grind its gears at 48 kilobytes per second, I thought about how much better my life would be when I could finally shave 5 to 12 seconds off the wait time for these darn pages to load. I barely noticed the Google map finally flicker to life. Yes, I thought. I’m on the right track.

Two blocks later, I strolled into the store with a swagger and walked right up to one of the many clerks wearing a black t-shirt that read: “It’s here…the iPhone 3G.”

“Can I help you?”

“Yes,” I said pointing to the young man’s chest. “I’d like one of those 3G’s, please.”

He laughed at me in the way one might laugh at a child who announces loudly to a room full of adults that he wants to be an astronaut when he grows up so that he can fly to Jupiter.

“Riiiight,” he said in his best attempt to not sound condescending. He might as well have patted me on the head. “Unfortunately, we’re all out of those today. But you can come back tomorrow and we’ll have some more.”

“How many more?”

“Well…” he said as his eyes grew distant. “I can’t say exactly, but it will be more than fifty and less than a hundred.”

His coyness irked me, but I managed to ask one final question under the guise of politeness: “What time do you open?”

“Ten o’clock,” he replied. “But I’d get here early because there’s probably going to be a line.”

I pretended to ignore him and turned for the door.

Saturday, July 12 – 9:47am

I had debated over cereal and coffee whether I would actually stand in line for it. In the shower later, I decided that I would just casually stroll by and see how crazy the scene was. And yet, as I grabbed my jacket and headed out the door I found myself announcing to the room, “I’m coming back with an iPhone.”

“You might want to bring a magazine or something,” my roommate suggested. “Just in case you have to wait in line.”

“That’s why I have this,” I said, waving my first generation iPhone at her.

Moments later I was out the door. Again, I walked briskly, but this time not out of enthusiasm. I really didn’t want to stand in line. To my way of thinking, being an early adopter of the iPhone should be like going out to a swanky party on Saturday night and looking good. See, I don’t care if you’re a model or an actor or just an average Shmoe --nobody wants to see all the work that goes into looking good. They just want to see the final product. With the iPhone, standing in line is the equivalent of plucking your eyebrows, picking the corns off your toes, exfoliating, trimming your nose hairs, wearing Crest white strips for an hour, and then finally sucking in your gut to squeeze into that pair of pants that used to fit back in the day when you were actually in shape. It takes all the magic out of it.

Instead, you want to give the impression that the beautiful black and silver microcomputer fell out of the sky and into your waiting hand. You want to pull it out of your pocket in a crowded room and say, “Oh, this old thing? Well, you know, Steve [Jobs] asked me to test drive it back when it was in Beta testing. I just decided not to upgrade to the 16GB model out of nostalgia.”

Suffice it to say, I was practically jogging by the time I got to Geary.

10:05am

Two blocks away, and though I couldn’t see the line, per se, I did detect an unusual gathering of people on the sidewalk ahead. I stopped to grab a copy of the Onion from the newsstand—not because I was in the mood for humorous news parody and social commentary, but so I could hide my face in case anyone I knew happened to pass by. I began to get the sickening feeling that I would be standing in line after all.

10:07am

Yes, it was quite a line. I started counting off in two’s as I passed by. Some had brought their own lawn chairs. Others drank coffee and chatted up their neighbors, while still others touched and tapped away at their first generation iPhones. There was something grotesque about this, kind of like playing fetch with Old Yeller before taking him behind the barn to put him down. I don’t know. It just bothered me.



10:10am

…78…80…82…84…86 people ahead of me in line. The words of the store clerk echoed in my mind. Being number 87 was precariously close to being one hundred, which was precariously close to being S.O.L. The worst part was being at the very end of the line. I can barely describe how relieved I was when 88 and 89 finally approached. But after only a few minutes, 88 muttered to 89 about how he heard they were only letting four people in the store at a time, and how it was taking half an hour to activate each phone. For a moment, I thought he was just trying to dishearten the rest of us so they could move ahead.

“Hell with it,” 89 said after a moment’s consideration. “Let’s get out of here.”

And so, to my dismay, I was at the end of the line again.

10:25am

I was halfway through my paper when a bright faced sales associate named Jeremy came out to greet those of us towards the end of the line. He offered us a one page stat sheet about the 3G touting its features and benefits—as though we’d really be standing in this line if we didn’t already have an inclination that it was the shiz-nit.

A new 88 and 89 have arrived with their daughter, 90, who is playing a never ending game of paper/rock/scissors with dear old dad (“one-two-three! Hahaha. one-two-three! Hahaha. one-two-three!”). Though it sounded like they could go all day, the mother finally said something about an appointment at 11:30, gathered up the daughter’s belongings, and grabbed her hand as they headed out of line.

“Okay, see you later,” 88 said.

The line shifted forward another two paces, and a new 89 and 90 took their place.

10:55am

Having emailed several updates to Sansserif with pictures of the line and my rants about the tribulations of an early adopter, I returned to reading my paper (though very slowly so that I wouldn’t finish too quickly). Jeremy has returned. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him silently counting the remaining crowd, and I breathed a sigh of relief when he passed by me. He stopped around 110 and announced the bad news. They’d have to come back tomorrow, or get on the waiting list for sometime next week.

“You mean, I made it?” 109 exclaimed as though she had won the lottery.

“It looks like it,” Jeremy said. There was something in his voice that I interpreted as being not very reassuring—a hesitancy, perhaps—but the woman nonetheless pumped her fist in a subdued and respectful ceremony of joy.

11:01am

Number 88 answering a call on his flip-up clamshell phone:

"Well, no, I'm still standing in line. Honey... Honey... There's only about ten people ahead of me. Well, Honey... Honey... Look, even if I leave right now, I won't make it by 11:30."

He closed his phone with a slow snap. No goodbye's, or love-you-too's were uttered. He stood perfectly still for a moment, and I could sense my linemates shifting their attention to him. 86 was peering out of the corner of her eyes. 91 and 92 stopped their conversation in mid-sentence and waited. A moment later, 88 sighed heavily and left the line, speedwalking down the sidewalk and around the corner.

The line shifted another pace behind me.

11:22am

After carefully examining the showtimes of movies I had no intention of seeing, I finally gave up on the paper and tucked it in my back pocket. I focused my attention now on peering through the window and sizing up the situation. All was very orderly, but the nervous energy was palpable.

Suddenly a car pulled up to the curb. Two curly haired kids jumped out, plopped a couple of quarters in the meter, and headed for the entrance. Jeremy extended his clipboard to stop them and gave them the bad news. I’m not sure if they had pretended not to notice the line outside the door or if, in their early adopter exuberance, the iPhone had given them tunnel vision to the point where they had zoned everything else out. It’s been known to do that from time to time.

Dejected, they returned to their car and drove off. Many of those who’d stood in line for over an hour shook their heads in amusement, and I began to understand full extent of my naiveté the day before. Theirs had already cost them fifty cents.

11:35am

Jeremy has returned with more bad news. There’s only four black 8GB iPhones left. Everyone else will have to settle for the white 16GB model. We began eyeing each other suspiciously. All was quiet until…



11:41am

I made my way to the counter and spoke with the very same clerk as before. I don’t know if he recognized me, but I wasn’t in the mood to make small talk. I dropped my fist generation iPhone on the counter and told him what I wanted. He asked for my digits and got the transfer account set up for me.

“And how many text messages would you like? You can have two hundred, fifteen hundred, or unlimited.”

“Text messages?” I wondered out loud why anyone would pay for unlimited text messages on a phone that sends emails, but then I told him to just sign me up for two hundred. We were wasting valuable time.

He went to the back room, and moments later came back with a little black box.

“You’re lucky,” he said waving it to me. “You got the last one.”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Feedback, Feedback

I'm very excited about a new change on Facebook. I discussed this problem previously here in December. Basically:
Facebook allows you to set the type of news you broadcast. I propose something more nuanced: we should be allowed to explain ourselves.


I just noticed that Facebook now lets you do just that! See below.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Great Wall

As Sansserif and others attend BarBri classes in preparation for the California bar, rumor has it that the Wall is near...as in, the kind of wall you hit when you study for twice as many hours as you sleep.

All this talk of walls got me thinking about Facebook again. Not that I wouldn't have anyway, mind you, but that's another story.

I've blogged before about some of the amusing exchanges displayed for all to see, but the most recent wall-to-wall experience beats them all.

It all started after my cousin announced to the world that she had gotten married simply by changing her status from "single" to "married" and waiting for the news feed to hit the airwaves. I looked at her profile's mini-feed that morning and saw that, in addition to having been "offered a pet Hottie" at 2:36am and changing her status message to announce that she was "going swimming" at 6:13am, she had also become "listed as married." Subsequently, I received an email from my uncle formally announcing that the event had taken place, and that a formal ceremony would occur next year in Mongolia. I'm not making this up.

So I figured it would be perfectly natural for me to congratulate her via wall posting and, facing the familiar impulse to be witty and/or sarcastic in the semi-public forum, I mentioned that I happen to visit Mongolia every other week or so, and I might make it by for the wedding. Little did I know this would set off a chain of wall post rumors and misunderstandings among her online friends, not unlike that game of "operator" we all played as kids. Here's a visual representation of the end result (the red line is the Great Wall of China):


Monday, June 30, 2008

Can't...fight...early...adopter...syndrome...

I'm trying, I swear.

Really, I am. I even wrote a post about how unimpressed I was with the second generation iPhone on AT&T's 3G network. Look, it's not my fault, okay? I've been diagnosed with early adopter syndrome.

I was doing just fine, you see, until my friend dropped his stupid phone into the ocean. When it became clear he'd need a replacement, he asked me if I knew when the next iPhone release was going to be. And that's when I relapsed.

See, the thing is, it doesn't even matter to me that I could care less about 90% of the new applications on the phone. Nor am I really affected by the advent of the 3G network, because I spend most of my time in a free wireless cloud anyway. But none of that matters.

I have to have it. Oh yes, I will be in Union Square on July 11, I can guarantee you that much. I'm not asking for your sympathy. Just please understand that it's hard for me to say "no."

And if you really want to know the truth, the hardest part was when Sansserif casually asked me when I was going to get the new phone, as if it were a matter of course that I'd eventually buy it. I mean, when you put it like that--it just seems so obvious. I have to accept who I am.

Unfortunately, it is by its very nature a contagious condition. Don't worry. I will keep myself in isolation while I play with my new smart phone. If you need to reach me, you know my number. Or just send me an email, or post a comment to this blog for that matter because I'll be checking on the connection speeds pretty regularly. Just please remember that it's hands free in California after July 1, so if I'm driving you may just want to text me and I'll ping you back.

So if the first step to recovery really is admitting that you have a problem, then let me proclaim far and wide: My name is Youareyou. And I am an early adopter.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My Kindle Feedback

For graduation I was ecstatic to receive the Amazon Kindle from a certain beloved friend. I've had it for about a month, so I'm finally ready to give my review. (Despite studying for the bar this summer, I've probably read my Kindle 5 days a week since I got it.)

Likes:

Wireless downloading. The e-books cost a few dollars less than the print versions. The Whispernet network is "free;" like a GPS navigator, you basically pay for it in the price of the device. Every book I've searched for, Amazon has available as an e-book. Getting a book immediately fulfills all my Gen-Y instant gratification needs. I'm reading a fantasy series by Robin Hobb at the moment, and it's delicious being able to download the next book instantly.

The scroll wheel selector. The scroll wheel controls the selector, which runs along a channel on the right side. It's a beautiful cluster of 4 giant, shiny silver pixels that bubble around in a circle when it's 'thinking.' I adore it.

Quality of the print. Brilliant. It gets clearer in bright light, which is fantastically eerie in this laptop-screen age. Personally I'm completely comfortable reading on my computer screen, but it's undeniably wonderful. I wish they would backlight it with a green glow for the darkness. Understandably, they were trying to make it as book-like as possible, but a backlight would be sweet.

Issues:
Buttons. Speaking of book-like, they erred with the page turning buttons. Like a real book, the Kindle has page turners (next page and previous page) along both edges of the device. I'm constantly bumping these buttons (which have a soft 'snick' type click) and accidentally turning the page. I'd like to see buttons that are inlaid, preferably with a sharp and definite click, and which don't extend the entire edge.

Relatedly, the space to actually hold the device while reading is very limited because of the page turners and keyboard. The page turners also contribute to a certain awkwardness in the device. It doesn't rest well in my hands because the edges are sharp and beveled, so that they press uncomfortably against the webbing between my thumb and pointer finger.

DRMS. The Kindle uses its own file format, which functions as a DRM system. The idea that such a system will last is laughable to me. That's what iTunes has, and it's gotten them into device/format wars and is easy to decode. E-books are in their infancy but I think that like MP3s, there will soon be a brisk market of free e-books. Until then the price will be high. It's like ringtones: absurdly priced now ($2.99 for a 30 second snippet of a song I already own?!), but when the markets mature they won't be able to charge that much.

You can also get subscriptions to blogs and newspapers, delivered automatically. That's nice, but I get those free online, so I don't feel a need to pay even 99 cents a month for them.

You can get a document sent to your Kindle in the Kindle format for 10 cents, which is ok, but really, I should be able to do that myself, for free. If Amazon were smart they'd launch a subscription model: pay X dollars a month to download X number of books, at varying levels.

What I love about the Kindle is the software, and most of what I dislike is about the physical aesthetics. Rather than make it a palatable crossover from a book, they should redesign it with the actual needs of a e-book reader in mind.

Other Comments:

The Kindle has "experimental" features, such as the ability to listen to music (in a continuous playlist, like a Shuffle) and a clumsy sort of internet access. I think they should abandon these projects. The audio feature might be OK for audio books, but personally if I want music or an audio book I'll use my iPod. (Speaking of which, only MP3s can be added, not iTunes' AAC format, which has led me to flirt, for the very first time, with other music player possibilities. But that's another post unto itself.)

While it would be awesome to check my email, it's definitely not practical to write an email on the Kindle. If you want a computer in your pocket, use your smart phone, which is made for those purposes. The Kindle's scroll wheel is extraordinarily ill-suited to browsing the internet (you can only select a line of type, not an individual word or link).

I think Amazon would do better to stop trying to make the Kindle satisfy every need, and focus on what the Kindle really is: a good read.


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