Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Some thoughts on music media

I am listening to an MP3 of Supertramp's "Classics" and remembering their concert up at Alpine Valley in the late 70s with Jessie and my brother Roger. One vivid memory is when the giant screen behind the band projected this image of a commuter train embarking out of its station and onto its route, sped up to match perfectly with the band vamping in the closing three minutes of "Crime of the Century." Of course, I'm aging myself. It was a simpler time: the vinyl album was like a photo taken to remind you of the vacation you'd gone on. It wasn't going to last forever. But neither does the memory unless you have something to prompt it out of the unkempt storage of infrequently exercised brain cells.

While I cannot claim the breadth of experience that my mother has, I have been through a lot of transitions in the technology of the artistic efforts of the musicians of the past century and more. We were at a few stores this weekend and couldn't find a CD of classical music let alone any selections from Christopher Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music. Why were we even in a store considering buying such outdated media as CDs? you may well ask. We didn't miss the train, folks, we hesitate for good reasons. How many times should we buy this particular piece of music? we ask in reply.

I jumped on the technology train and began recording my vinyl albums onto cassette tapes. (Yeah, I pretty much dodged 8-track after experiencing Roger's adaptation. He didn't invest too much in cartridges but it was the player in his car that really made him kick himself. My bad choice in failed technology avenues was Quadraphonic Recordings. And I really started with my 8th grade graduation gift of a small reel-to-reel tape recorder with a patch cord for a transistor radio!) I went after that practice with gusto, transcribing at least 200 albums to that format. And just like the way businesses adapt to the dukes and jabs of technology, I found stores that sold and traded "like new" albums, so I had a way to recycle my vinyl collection and build up a formidable collection of tapes.

Well, a fire in our apartment building did a pretty nasty job on the classic vinyls I had stored in the water-logged basement, while my cassettes survived. At least until it became clear that the CD was the Next Big Thing. (Let's not discuss the whole idea of it being an incorruptible or indestructible medium as originally pitched, nor about the pros and cons of the quality of the performance.) When it became clear that cassette players were joining reel-to-reel and 8-track players in museums, I jumped ship. I bought a converter plug for my computer and fully intended on transferring the tapes to CD. But that "spare time" in which I converted vinyl to cassette seemed to have disappeared. (Sure, I'll name names: Zach and Alex.) I deemed my time to be of sufficient worth that I would proceed to purchase CDs to replace the "classics" in my cassette collection.

The first problem in this transition: some of my favorite bands--Ozark Mountain Daredevils, for instance--were pre-CD and obscure. Procrastination, however, became my friend. Diligent searching discovered that the Daredevils had bought back their tapes and released their albums on CD. If all you can think of is "Jackie Blue," in regard to this wonderful country rock band, go to Spotify and look up "Beauty in the River," "Country Girl," and "Gypsy Forest" for the true, haunting melodies of an All-Time Under-Appreciated Band. Even more obscure than OMD, was a Chicago-based band called Wilderness Road, whose first of only two albums was "Wilderness Road," a western opera about a bounty man. You can find some of the songs in digital format but not all of them. I found the website of one of the band leaders and was able to get a limited edition CD that could be my most valued musical possession besides my guitars. What's particularly special about this is my cassette recording ends abruptly because the vinyl album had become so worn that it skipped at the end and the needle would lift off.

The second problem in this transition is cost: simply buying "Best of" albums handled a fair amount of purchasing songs for the second or third time around. "Jackie Blue," which I loathe, but is considered the peak of OMD's creativity would be on a Best of. I was very disappointed, for instance, in having "Let's Get Drunk and Screw" on a collection of Jimmie Buffet's best, while not seeing "It's My Job" or "Incommunicado." Obviously, I was not consulted when the compilation was made. Bruce Springsteen has a song similar to "It's My Job" that I have on a bootleg cassette that I cannot find on Spotify. (As far as that goes, look on the Blue Oyster Cult lists for songs from their "Imaginos" album, no longer in print in the US and the only BOC album not on CD. I made a special order of a Euro version of it, since I consider it among their best albums--the Bouchard brothers left the band, and I assume there's an Issue about rights to the songs. I've never heard them perform songs from "Imaginos" in concert.)

The fact that I've built up a sizable collection of CDs, enough so that I recycled the cases and put them all in large, unwieldy leather CD albums, I am up the creek in terms of doing some kind of recycling at Half-Price Books or the CD Recycle store. It so happens that spare time is opening up and I can ponder ripping the CDs ... for "archive purposes" and dispensing them to all of my mobile platforms. Now the problem becomes one of tracking down those outlier songs in MP3 format and adding them to the collection. Do I pay $1.29 each for the three songs not among those considered the Best from a particular band, and go ahead with $6.99 for the album and deal with redundancy or songs for which I don't particularly care?
It's an interesting dilemma.

At this stage in life, why bother? I've already mentioned Spotify, although my knowledge regarding the depth of the Spotify library grew from a year's subscription, the lowest fee-based setting. (It's the one that doesn't share out to mobile platforms or allow any downloading.) I have also found Pandora an excellent choice for listening on my tablet and when I want to explore the wild blue yonder of new music, I like Slacker's stations. All free and much like listening to radio, even with repetitious ads. When I can get fairly focused playlists for free, or very specific focus for a fee, why bother with the labor of ripping CD archives?

That gets into philosophy and that's a topic for my other personal journal as opposed to this, my professional journal, which looks at how I use tools. It's my blog; I make the distinctions.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Is there an App for Handling Ambivalence?

I've been wanting to write more about my Galaxy 3 Tab 7 but I wanted to provide screenshots and that seems to be a drawback. I have tried the various suggestions as well as read the comments about screen captures on Androids using the latest version of the OS. I am more likely to turn off my tab than capture a screen. This review will have to go without photos since it would be rather ironic to take pictures of the tab using my Windows Phone wouldn't it?

It has taken me longer than I'd like to admit to learn how to walk the Android tightrope on some key operations. A couple of months ago, I noticed I couldn't get my wifi to log into my home account after noticing it wouldn't log onto my work account. So I reset it and once it was running again, saw all of the downloaded apps were gone. I assumed there was some kind of backup going on. Google Play did acknowledge that I'd downloaded them but I had to re-install them. I'm feeling like Samsung has a deal with AT&T to try to get me to jump my data limit by forcing me to back up while unable to use wifi or to download everything again when it's restored. This is not a game I appreciate. I've learned to make sure when I'm in a Wifi environment that the tab is using Wifi or I restart it--I don't need to reset it, thank goodness. Sometimes a Widget won't respond and I just go, well, that was nice but it's not the end of my life.

Another annoying aspect was how my glasses thwarted it's Smart Screen application. If I'm reading an e-book, whether in Kindle or e-Pub mode, the screen goes dim or actually goes away. Kindle is a little more forgiving when I touch the screen to let it know I'm there, whereas e-Pub wants to start other functions. I turn off Smart Screen when I want to read, it got worse until I reset the display time to 30 minutes. I don't usually read longer than that at lunch or on the commute. Of course, now the screen will stay on longer than needed and could wear out the battery faster unless I turn it off.

So, I've become habituated to turning off the tab when I stop using it and to checking for the wifi icon to ensure it's on before doing anything that may require data. That's life with a tablet, I suppose. Those are two very big strikes against what otherwise has been a very useful alternative to my IQ-challenged Windows 7.1 smartphone. It goes without saying that reading books or viewing any app on a bigger screen is preferable to my phone. But I really am very interested in looking at a Nokia win8 phone with a bigger screen. Samsung seems very overrated to me. I'm looking forward to when I can drop the data line and just use the tablet when I am in a wifi situation.

The one failure that puts me off on future Samsung/Android purchases, however, is the inability of its Blue Tooth to play well with my SanteFe's bluetooth. Being able to access such a rich variety of media sources would be terrific. The car is 2010 and it connects very well with our older Samsung phones but I can't believe that newer BT wouldn't be able to reach back and work with our car. Unacceptable.

I have quite a few apps installed now, but very few I actually use that would score in favor of a Android v Windows 8 comparison since both OSs work with Pandora, Slacker, Netflix, YouTube and so on. What immediately comes to mind are the two Second Life apps, Lumiya and SLGo, that let me visit my virtual home on the road without lugging my laptop. The former has a very different interface that has kept me from using it more often. The latter involves either a subscription or pay-as-you-go service and I'm not sure I want to add that to my expenses.

Nothing is easy with apps. I have purchased movies and music through different stores, so of course, I can't access them from just one app, nor download them so I don't spend data to watch them. It's very likely true whether I have an Apple or Windows product, but there does seem to be a strange disconnect using Google apps in an Android environment that don't seem to want to play well together. This was not a Windows trait they needed to emulate.

I've let this post slide so long now, that I am going to post it rather than continue to polish and revise it as new things come up. I just can't get all that worked up about it.