A Modern Music Discussion

My Wife: “Alexa, play Two Steps From Hell“.

Alexa: “I can’t find the song Two Steps From Hell in your library or Amazon music.”

Me: “That’s weird. Maybe Alexa didn’t hear you. Alexa, play Two Steps From Hell”.

Alexa: “I can’t find the song Two Steps From Hell in your library or Amazon music.”

Me: “What? I’ve been listening to Two Steps From Hell forever! That’s impossible – we own several of their albums.”

My Wife: “Maybe it’s not in Amazon Music?”

Me: “Hmm. I was sure I uploaded those albums to Amazon music. Apparently, we don’t own any music by Two Steps From Hell? We’ve been listening to it on Google Music for two years.”

My Wife: “Oh.”

Two weeks later, as I’m writing this blog post, I still have this nagging feeling that I own this music…someplace. So I check my music collection on my NAS and five several albums by Two Steps From Hell. I walk over to my Amazon Echo Dot.

Me: “Alexa, play albums by Two Steps From Hell”.

Alexa: “Playing your albums by Two Steps From Hell.”

<music starts playing>

Me: “I’m really glad I ordered a Google Home today”.

Alexa: “Go to hell.”

OK, so Alexa didn’t actually say that last part, but I’m sure she was thinking it. I started off as a huge, unabashed fanboy of Amazon’s Echo, but the lustre has worn off. My first Echo had a mysterious audio failure one month after the warranty expired; Alexa couldn’t verbalize any responses. I’d see the ring light up indicating she was responding, but no sound came out. A reboot would fix it for a while, but randomly she’d lose her voice again. Sounds like a firmware issue, right? Amazon tech support said no and that my Echo was faulty. They very graciously sent me a replacement – even though I was on month 13 of a 12 month warranty – and I sent the defective one back for a post-mortem.

I started off as a huge, unabashed fanboy of Amazon’s Echo, but the lustre has worn off. My first Echo had a mysterious audio failure one month after the warranty expired; Alexa couldn’t verbalize any responses. I’d see the ring light up indicating she was responding, but no sound came out. A reboot would fix it for a while, but randomly she’d lose her voice again. Sounds like a firmware issue, right? Amazon tech support said no and that my Echo was faulty. They very graciously sent me a replacement – even though I was on month 13 of a 12-month warranty – and I sent the defective one back for a post-mortem.

My Echo Dot was ordered March 17th, delivered May 20th, and made obsolete September 14th. That’s 182 day (6 months). Coming from the tech world, I know that technology marches ever onward. Products are always going to become obsolete. But six months between product releases? That’s slightly outrageous by any measure and as a customer, I feel burned by that.

The Echo Dot has a vastly inferior microphone system from my experience – since we moved the Echo upstairs and the Echo Dot became our kitchen-area voice assistant, and it’s not uncommon to hear my wife and son yelling at it. If there’s any ambient noise at all, the Echo Dot simply doesn’t respond. The full-sized Echo was amazing at hearing us no matter what was going on, but the Dot is quite terrible at it. I don’t think I have a defective product, as I had a few people on Twitter reporting the same problem.

Amazon’s Echo is generally great at what it does (music, shopping, home automation), but the deep learning and insanely huge data set that Google can draw upon gives them a tremendous advantage over what Amazon can offer. I’m keen to see if the Google Home I ordered is really as good as they made it seem in the keynote. We’ll see…

A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Four

The journey continues! By month four, I was starting to really get the hang of OS X, and most of my questions were more about “Why did they do that?” versus “How do I do that?”. I’m still no power user, but slowly the mysteries of OS X are unveiling themselves to me…

  • I am puzzled by what OS X does with videos and resolution. It looks like, in the case of video (because nobody like tiny videos), Apple will automatically double the playback size of a video; normal is a 2x zoom. This can cause some confusion if you’re working with videos – I’m not entirely convinced this was the right decision for Apple to make, but you can certainly play video at 2x size and have it look fairly good so there’s not a bit quality loss here visually.

1080p IMAGE

Above: the default size of a 1920 x 1080 JPEG as viewed with Lily View.

1080p TOO BIG

Above: the default size of the QuickTime player for a 1080p video.

1080p RIGHT SIZE

Above: the QuickTime video reduced in twice by two steps – close to proper size.

Continue reading A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Four

A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Three

I’ve slowed down taking notes on my “learning OS X” project – largely because I seem to have gotten over most of the rough edges – but I still have many notes to share from the intense first few months. Here’s what I was experiencing in month three.

OSX-microsoft-office-updates-suck

  • I’m not clear why/how, but the Microsoft Office updates for OS X are really terrible. The download takes forever – I’m on a 40mbps connection, but because there’s no speed indicator I’m not clear if the updates are gigantic or the update server just dishes up the bits slowly (hello Xbox Live!). The install progress also takes a while. The number of updates is fairly frequent (feels like almost weekly), and it’s a process that’s simply far too slow. Microsoft really needs to do better here. It would be great if updates for Office came through the App Store, but I imagine Microsoft has reasons for not using that delivery mechanism…

Continue reading A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Three

LeEco Leme Bluetooth Headphones Review

A friend of mine started working for LeEco a few months ago, so I’ve been introduced to this curiously-named, but wildly ambitious Chinese company who is entering the US market in various categories (mainly audio and TVs for now – Android bikes and electronic cars may come later). Oh, they also make smartphones. LeEco sells their products via LeMall, a site where their already-affordable products often go on “Flash Sale” for 50% off, meaning these Leme Bluetooth Headphones that are already cheap at $39.99 go for a simply-crazy $14.99 (which is what I paid for them). So how do they stack up? Here’s a quick review.

Continue reading LeEco Leme Bluetooth Headphones Review

The 4K Revolution is Big…Literally

Last year, after what felt like an eternity of waiting, Roku released an updated streaming media player: the Roku 4. I’d become a huge fan of Roku players, having owned three of them over the years. It was a big product for them – and for the consumer – look at the sheers size of it above compared to the Roku 3! The flagship feature it brought to the table was 4K playback, which made it one of the few mainstream streaming media boxes to offer it at the time.

What I wasn’t prepared for though was the sheer size, the fact that it had a fan (a mostly quiet one, thankfully), and the heat output. What’s surprising: I never used it to play any 4K content, yet it still seemed like the Roku 4 was being pushed hard. You’d think that the chips capable of playing 4K wouldn’t bat an eye at playing 1080p, right? The Roku 4, despite it’s amped-up hardware for 4K playback, didn’t have a much faster overall UI or channel launching speed. To be fair, I pre-ordered it and I’m sure Roku has optimized it with further updates.

I ended up returning the Roku 4, and until I get a 4K TV I’ll stick with my current combination of three Roku 3s, Fire TV, and an Apple TV. There’s no such thing as too many streaming devices, right? 😉

Three Reasons Why My iPad Can’t (Yet) Replace My Laptop

It’s become a common refrain for Apple to position iPads as being laptop replacements. It reached a fever pitch with the introduction of the really damn big iPad Pro last year. As much as I love my iPad – it’s my most-used personal computing device, more than my phone most days – and as impressive as my new 128 GB iPad Pro Jr. is (that’s what my friend Todd Ogasawara calls this model, Apple’s naming is silly), Apple is simply not allowing the iPad hardware, and iOS, to evolve to the point where it would seriously cannibalize sales of their laptops. Now I admit for some people who use their laptops for pure consumption, an iPad may in fact replace their laptop 80% of the time. I know my sister hardly touches her laptop any more once she bought an iPhone + iPad.

For me, there are three reasons why my iPad still can’t replace my laptop – and they aren’t what you might expect (such as not having an always-attached keyboard). Continue reading Three Reasons Why My iPad Can’t (Yet) Replace My Laptop

A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Two

I kind of fell off the posting wagon with this series of Mac updates, so this one has notes that date back to January/February. Still, I wanted to share them. 🙂

  • I had a two week break from using my iMac over the Christmas holidays, and I honestly missed it. Not in a “throw my Windows laptop against the wall because I want to be using OS X” kind of way, but using the actual hardware – the amazing screen, the huge trackpad, the fast performance – the reasons why I still very much enjoy using desktop computers and could never be 100% laptop-only.
  • I ran into a strange issue: I’d installed a trial version of an app called LilyView – it’s a stripped down, fast photo viewer that allows me to use the keyboard arrow keys to move through images in a folder. Something, inexplicably, the OS X Preview tool does not do. I liked the tool, so I bought it from the Apple App store. I ended up with two copies installed – neither one indicated it was the trial version. So I deleted both, re-installed the commercial one from the App store. It would be nice if there was some sort of app intelligence here.
  • Setting global preferences inside an app is kind of crazy, but apparently that’s what you need to do to change email clients. I found the setting in Mail where you specify which email client to use for mailto links, I changed it to Outlook 2016, I verify the change, I exit Mail, I click on a mailto link in Chrome, and Mail opens up instead of Outlook! I’m baffled. So I did some more research, and when I tried it again maybe 30 minutes later, it all worked. WHAT? It’s worked fine since making this change.
  • OS X is really inferior with what details it offers on Get Info. From Windows, I’m used to seeing pertinent information about media files. Resolution, audio bit rate, video bit rate, EXIF data for images, meta tags for music, etc. In Finder, I have the Preview pane turned on, and I see duration, sample rate, and bits per sample (weird terms Apple is using), but they’re all blank. Maybe it’s a network share limitation? Not sure why; data is data. In order to examine the metadata on my MP3 files I had to use my Windows 10 laptop to access it, then MediaMonkey to change it.
  • And speaking of Get Info, I selected a bunch of files, then Get Info, and was immediately assaulted by the Get Info window for each and every file. Yikes! How do you select a group of files and get info about them, say the total size?
  • I connected my HTC One to the USB hub and it wouldn’t show up as a device. The phone knew it was connected to a computer – I had various options for file transfer, charge-only, etc. – but despite various modes I put the phone in I never saw it in Finder. Not sure what magic pixie dust I need here to have it show up as a storage device…hmm. Looks like I needed to install Android File Transfer. I’m genuinely surprised by that!

Continue reading A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Two

DVDs: Resolution of the Past

image

The native resolution of a DVD (720×480) on the screen of a 5K iMac (5120×2880) is just plain funny. Even Blu-rays seem a bit puny in comparison to the insane number of pixels on this display. I was working with some photos recently and images from a smartphone, or cropped, look equally tiny. Especially from a lower-resolution front-facing camera. Viewing the world though a display this high-resolution distorts my perception of what “sufficient solution” even means…Apple really outdid themselves with this display, but sometimes I’ll check what something looks like on my “low res” 1080p laptop screen to get reality check. And to think that as of January 2016, 51% of users are viewing the web through 1366 x 768 or lower resolution screens. Whoa.

MobileViews Podcast: A Trip Down Mobile-Memory Lane

In early February, I was a guest on the MobileViews podcast with my old friends Todd Ogasawara and Jon Westfall. The photo above is of the first time I met Todd, back in September 1999 (he’s the one in the back peeking out). From left to right, we have Chris De Herrera, Craig Peacock, myself, Todd, and Frank McPherson. This photo was taken 17 years ago – that makes me feel pretty old!

At any rate, listen to the podcast to hear us talk about the history of Microsoft’s efforts in the mobile space (Windows CE, Pocket PC, Windows Phone, etc.), my tech blogging experience running Thoughts Media (and the site that started it all, Pocket PC Thoughts), a bit about my OS X experiences, my long and tormented journey with Apple products, and other assorted tech topics. Oh, and I also talk about the future of HTC, the stock market, and…drunk three year old children!?! 😉

“Too Many Minds”: How Consumer Electronics Companies Create Consumer Confusion

This is a re-publishing (with very slight updates) of an article I wrote for Digital Home Thoughts back in 2008. It’s just as true today as it was eight years ago.

There’s a scene in The Last Samurai where Tom Cruise’s character is learning the art of Japanese sword-fighting, and after getting soundly smacked around by his opponent for several minutes, one of the samurai says to him “Too many minds”. The idea is that he’s focusing on his opponent, his own stance, his sword, and the people watching – and that many “minds” is making him a less effective warrior. When I look at the digital camera industry (and many other consumer electronics categories, such as Synology’s insane product chaos) and the proliferation of same-brand point and shoot cameras, it’s hard not to see the similarities. Rapid release cycles – usually unwarranted in terms of actual improvement in features – coupled with out-of-control model proliferation and confusing model names leads to a “too many minds” scenario – and it’s usually the consumer the ends up losing out. Continue reading “Too Many Minds”: How Consumer Electronics Companies Create Consumer Confusion