Archive for January, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship with my new iPod Touch

January 17, 2010

My new 32 GB iPod Touch certainly is a sexy, cute, thin, light-weight marvel, but it also makes some assumptions about how it will be used, assumptions that were not necessary for previous versions of the iPod.

I use my iPod 6 hours a day.  I often need to pause it or fast-forward through advertisements in 6-hour-long recordings, and have liked that I could do that without having to take the iPod out of my pocket.  At least with the older iPods.

What took a simple click with the older iPods now takes the following five steps: 1) pull the Touch out of my pocket; 2) orient it properly (it comes out of the pocket upside-down, due to Apple’s putting the headphone jack on the bottom of the iPod!); 3) find and press a button to wake it up; 4) find and slide the dingus that unlocks the iPod; and then 5) find and click on the pause button.  This is progress?

True, I could use the earphones that came with the Touch, but they do not fit my ears. You put them in and they just fall out.  Perhaps I am deformed.  Why anyone markets such devices is beyond me.  Anyway.  Those earphones come with a pause button, which is wonderful.  But they fall out of my ears.

In any event, if I want to fast-forward, I’m back having to perform those four annoying operations, what I’ve taken to calling the Four Step Program.

The bottom line is that the new iPod Touch user interface (UI) requires not only that you take the device out, but also that you be able to look at it.  As “clunky” as the older units might seem, you could operate them without having to take them out of your pocket, or look at them.

What Apple needs to do is provide 4 or 5 additional external buttons, and allow the user to assign functions to the buttons.  That way, I could get to my fast-forward without having to engage in the Four Step Program.

But even if I’m willing to get the Touch to wake up, the iTunes UI still leaves a lot of room for improvement.  On a third generation device.   How could that be?

Press and release the fast-forward button quickly, rather than pressing and holding, and you move on to the next song. If this was done in error, is there an Undo function?  Of course not.

The first entry in EVERY album is Shuffle.  Do I use Shuffle?  No.  Is there a way to disable it?  Of course not.

I could really use a back-up-10-seconds or a back-up-30-seconds button, or a similar function to go forward.  We have had this on TiVos for years.  Is this provided?  Of course not.

What is available is a huge blank space on the iTunes display.  Why not use that screen real estate for something useful?  I guess the graphic designers have won the war here.  Those of us who want to control music are the losers.

There is a slider to allow you to position yourself within the currently playing piece.  For 4 minute songs, it probably works well, but in 6 hour recordings, it jumps all over the place.  I had an inspiration: I would turn the iPod on its side, so that the slider would be much longer.  Is there a slider in this orientation.  Say it with me.  Of course not.

I’m old enough that the fonts used are too small for me to read comfortably.  Is there an option to change the font size?  Of course not.

Can I move the text, sliders, and images around on the screen, so that I can optimize the UI for my personal use?  Of course not.

I guilted Apple into sending me their in-ear earphones (list price of $80), for free.  They have the pause button, and they do fit in my ears, but the sound isolation with these earphones is almost non-existent.
Noise isolation is important, because if the earphones do not reduce external noise, you have to compensate by increasing the playback volume.  And that can damage your hearing.  And bass response is absent when the seal to your ear is not correct.  Needless to say, all of the Touch music is tinny.

The company that made the earphones that I’ve been using for years, Etymolic, has a new product that works with the Touch, provides noise isolation, and has a pause button. List price?  $175.  For a $300 iPod?  Which is the tail and which is the dog here?

This is my third iPod, and it only comes with one USB cord, unlike the older iPods that came with an A/C charger.  Do any of the older cords or chargers work with the Touch?  Of course not.  So, another $30 to replace the chargers.

The 32 GB Touch is advertised has having “voice control”.  It turns out that if you go through the Four Step Program and press the Home button for a long time, you can then say “Play Fred”, where Fred is a playlist.  This is not helpful or useful.  It is not helpful because of all of the fiddling you have to do to just get the Touch to wake up.  And it is not useful because you can only control one feature of this device.  Talk about a misleading feature name!

When I go to the Apple web site, for support, that is when the fun really starts.  They recommend that you upgrade to the latest software (for a device that I received only hours before?).  At a cost of $5.  I’m beginning to get annoyed.  Oh.  Wait. I’m already annoyed.

Then I try to find a way to send an email to someone at Apple.  This is not possible from their web site.  I think.  The Customer Support pages are complex and inter-linked in a way that makes you feel as if you’re trapped in a text-based game that was written by a bureaucrat.  Very annoying.

And don’t get me started about the “apps”.  The free apps are worth every penny you spend.  The spirit level app is amusing, but not compelling.  It’s sad that this is the best app I’ve found so far.

I use a voice recorder every day, but the reason I use it is that it is convenient.  I do not have the time to perform the Four Step Program every time I want to record a reminder.  By the time I’ve performed the Four Steps, I would have already finished making the recording on my dedicated voice recording device.  Now if Apple had a few more buttons on the Touch, and if I could associate apps and app buttons with those new buttons…  But such convenience is not important to Apple.

In any event, the Touch will not be replacing my voice recorder any time soon.

I am keeping this beast, but I promise to grumble each and every day I have to struggle with it.  It would not take much to convert this annoying gadget into something that was actually useful.  Somehow I doubt that Apple cares.

Jefferson Airplane

January 5, 2010

I had a chance to do a lot of driving this holiday season, and ended up listening to most of a double CD set that should have been called “The Best Of The Jefferson Airplane”.   Actually it is called “2400 Fulton Street”. They’ve not been around for decades (although they did evolve into the Jefferson Starship for a while before petering out).

I was amazed at Grace Slick’s vocals.  A few of the songs were riveting.  I kept trying to imagine her singing on stage.  Her voice is so clear, and at times so strident, penetrating.  I’m thinking of “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit”.

It also was a trip down memory lane, in the sense that the Airplane started before the Viet Nam War was was a huge political issue, but then things changed.  Towards the end of their tenure, their songs were very political, and it brought me back to that era.  An era where the “volunteers for America” “got to Revolution”.  I’d forgotten the fervor, the passion, the anger, the pain.

And it was interesting listening as their music became more and more complex.  They clearly were unwilling to just do the same thing over and over again.  Bizarre time signatures, complex interwoven vocals.

Try “Lather” and “Crown of Creation” and “Today”.  Or “Triad”.  Or “Eskimo Blue Day”: “the human name doesn’t mean shit to a tree”.  Quite the Green message, from a long time ago.

So, I got more out of my experience than I had bargained for.  If you grew up during that time, you might find listening to them to be surprising.

2009, a retrospective

January 2, 2010

Some of you have been kind enough to send me a newsletter for 2009, so I figure I should reciprocate in some fashion…

I managed to have three fleeting (2-3 month)  romances in 2009, which means that I had some good times, but also that I am alone at the moment.  Not much news there, I suppose.

Rodney couldn’t make it through last winter without requiring a colon-ectomy, which was a major investment, both in terms of money and emotional energy.  He managed to pop his stitches about 3 weeks after the surgery which resulted in just about the most horrific day in my life.  They patched him back together, and he was fine until this winter, when he began to feel badly again.  We did another surgery, but the results were no significant improvement.  At this point, we’re done with surgical interventions.  He howls a bit when he as to poop, but seems to be settling down and getting the job done, even if he is uncomfortable.  All in all, it has been a long and stressful trip.  He’s sitting on my lap, purring, as I type this, one arm sandbagged by his warm body.

I’ve done contract programming for about 25 years, and this summer, the company with which I’ve done most of my work was sold.  Luckily, it was sold to a company in … Burlington, Vermont!  After a four month stutter step, I was offered a job, and now I am working 9-5, 5 days a week.  The good news is that I am working out of my home, for the time being.  The bad news is that I’ve lost the freedom to which I had become accustomed.  I suppose that those of you who’ve had “real” jobs for the past tree decades are not particularly sympathetic.

The end of my “freedom” has also meant the end of most of my hare brained projects.  Ray and I tried to build a second tensegrity tower, this time using fishing line rather than rope, hoping that it would appear more magical with the struts not appearing to be attached to anything.  It was a great idea, but the tower collapsed due to one minor design flaw.  Maybe we’ll try again next year.

I’ve been a member of many web sites devoted to dating and meeting people, but found a real winner in http://www.meetup.com.  In the six months since I joined, I’ve made quite a few good friends, and how am assistant leader of two groups, and leader of another.  The “Art in Photography” group has been a lot of fun, as has the “Deep and Meaningful Discussion” group (which is not quite as pompous as you might imagine). We debate issues that are unresolvable, and have a great time just yapping.  The hiking group will do me quite a lot of good if I just keep attending the MeetUps.

I’ve sold almost all of my graphite guitars, which is good news.  A company in Korea has started selling some of the guitar parts that I was making, so I’m done with that.  Probably a good time to take a “real” job and get out of the shop.

I bought a new camera this year, when my old faithful Sony stopped being reliable.  The new Canon super zoom (Power Shot SX10 IS) is not perfect, but the price is reasonable, and I’ve taken quite a few good pictures with it.  I’ve found the large format digital prints that CostCo makes to be inexpensive and of quite good quality, so no need to buy an expensive large photo printer.

My mantis shrimp died this year, and I suppose I will get another one at some point, but I took the opportunity to reduce my active tank count from 3 to 2.  The room seemed much larger for a week after the change, but I can’t feel it any longer. The rest of The Livestock (Rodney and Oni, and Karma and Tiger) remain both wonderful and annoying, usually at almost the same moment.

I wish you all a happy 2010.  With the deaths of a number of friends this year, each year seems more precious than the last one.