1 August 2006

new music month

August is New Music Month, at least for me. Over the last few weeks I've amassed what I hope will prove to be a fairly decent collection of new music. Now I just need to listen to it.

First of all, I joined eMusic.com with a 100-song free trial (email me and I'll give you the details - the regular one is only 25 songs). I was very methodical in my picks, making sure to have as close to that 100-song limit chosen before downloading a single track. eMusic gets a bad rap for not having many mainstream artists, but I was more than able to find albums I wanted and some that sounded intriguing*.

Before I mention the new artists I found, I was exceptionally pleased to see new releases from two groups I really like:

  • Comments of the inner chorus by Tunng. I was turned onto Tunng by an offhanded Warren Ellis blog mention, and have been hooked ever since, going as far as to track down their album as an English import. I didn't pay very much for it on eBay, but now I see that eMusic has it, as well as this new album I'd not known they'd released. Their music isn't for everybody, but I enjoy it thoroughly.
  • Last train to Mashville by A3. Well before gaining widespread popularity (and one-hit-wonderness) for the theme song to The Sopranos, A3 found their way into my collection from a discount bin. On their debut album they called their music "country acid house" and even that isn't broad enough a definition. Over the years they've put out a number of decent albums (including second-most-recent Power in the blood, available on the site though it is somewhat disappointing) but this one is a stripped-down, acoustic version of many of their hits, including a cover of John Prine's "Speed of the sound of loneliness" that sounds like a fair-to-middling country song they way they do it, but the fun's in knowing how they'd done it before. At least, for me.
  • Buildings and grounds by Papas fritas. Back in the days when I lived within broadcast distance of WLUW I listened to a lot of what most people would call "college radio" or perhaps "indie" while I drove to work and back. I'd hear something I'd like and write it down, hoping to look it up and hunt it down later. Many songs and groups I was able to find (for example, Belle and Sebastian) but many eluded me, including the song The way you walk by Papas fritas, which they would play at least once a week, seemingly to taunt me. I never saw the album on the shelves at the libraries, or used or new music stores, and I wasn't willing to shell out the cash to buy the rest of the disc, tracks-unheard. But now I have it, and access to their entire discography, thanks to eMusic. Now I only need to figure out if I still like their songs, I suppose.
  • Just like the fambly cat by Grandaddy. Grandaddy's another indie radio darling, though one that the libraries seem to buy. Here again is a new release I hadn't know about, and I doubt the library will pick it up anytime soon, my requests notwithstanding.

I didn't just pick up music from groups I recognized, but I'll write about the other tracks I downloaded once I've given them a few more spins.

* Pun intended.

6 July 2006

winning the battle, but losing the war

For a company that deals in communications, AT&T doesn't seem too interested in hooking me up.

Sure, sure I've got my local service, stripped down to its barest minimum (I don't even have CallerID anymore), but that's about the extent of what AT&T can offer me, except for more long distance calling plans than I could ever want or need.

I'm not interested in connecting myself beyond what I have now; I'm interested in what they should be able to do for my computer.

Every so often (i.e. twice a week) lately I've been receiving a flyer for what seems to be a good deal for DSL, under fifteen bucks a month. This sounds like a good deal to me, and I know that even the slowest DSL would be a ten or hundredfold improvement over the crappy dialup I've got now.

Yes, I still use a modem to dial into my internet service.

Some 80% (or more) of American households have broadband access, and I don't. I'm not holding out on principle, I just can't get reasonably priced highspeed internet, and I'm not willing to pay too much.

'Too much' being my only options: Cable from Time Warner, by way of the reseller Insight who, nearest I can tell, can count only the increased price as added-value. Time Warner doesn't service my neighborhood directly. Comcast doesn't know I exist, nor do any of the other smaller cable providers, except WOW! which wants me to give them three dollars a day before taxes, though for that I'd get cable TV and local phone service.

Surprisingly, ISDN is available, but not at the price a decades-old technology should cost now. I'd jump on the satellite internet bandwagon before I'd get my house wired with ISDN.

But those aren't the offers AT&T enticingly dangles in front of me twice a week. They're ostensibly offering me a DSL connection for less than I pay for my local phone service.

Except for one thing: it's not available in my neighborhood.

One of these days I intend to map out exactly the blacked out area outside the reach of their connection offices. Since they own the wires (or tubes, as some would say), and they haven't wired close enough to me, I can't get connected.

For the last three years I've been checking to see if they build an office close enough to me to finally cast off the shackles of bad dialup. For three years they've given me a runaround about not being able to share their expansion plans, and for three years they haven't expanded to include my neighborhood.

I don't live in the boonies, or anything like that. My house is well within the outerbelt of the city, and less than 15 miles from downtown. I've tried to explain this to the patient, but useless, people at AT&T to no avail.

Recently though I've gotten more fed up. I called them back and gave them an earful about constantly getting these stupid offers in the mail for a service they cannot provide me. I berated them for knowing where I live, what they can offer me, and sending me junk mail offers that I couldn't use if I tried.

They've got my address in a database, to know that I can't get DSL. Why don't they link that database to the junk mail system?

Could they really be so stupid as to not think that anybody in the city is outside their tentacled reach? Or do they just not care?

I told the specialist on the phone that I wanted to save them postage, but really, I just don't want to see the offers. She said I'd be removed from the mailing list, though this really does little to allay my annoyance.

This doesn't even count as a tiny victory. There's still nothing I can do to get connected - nobody in my neighborhood is sharing their overpriced access (I only know of one person with broadband, and I'd feel bad about saturating her connection with my gaming and downloads) and no free wireless is nearby. What does it take, in this day and age, to get a reasonable connection?

Other than suggesting their own overpriced dialup, AT&T gave me only one other option*: get everybody in my neighborhood to 'order' this access we can't get, to somehow show them that there is, in fact, an interest.

Too bad I need everybody's phone number to put in orders, and that's the one thing that I can't seem to find in the public records. What am I supposed to do, walk up to their doors and ask them in person? I can't even call them.

* They didn't suggest that I move, but I suppose that would be an option except that they really, really dropped the ball on even my stripped down local service the last time I moved.

30 April 2006

"without them life is so much simpler"

I've become a Pod person*.

For a long time I've wanted to own an iPod (to replace my 32MB mp3 player and the mp3-CD players thereafter) but not wanted to spend the cash Apple wanted for the little buggers. Even their knockoffs and competitors were pricier than I'd like, given that I wanted one with massive amounts of storage.

Well, now I have one and I didn't need to buy it or rob someone to get it. Through means I am not at leisure to discuss I now am the proud owner of a third-generation iPod, and have already begun filling it with the hundreds of discs I own and/or have ripped.

I don't think I'm using it the way Steve Jobs intended. Rather than using iTunes to buy downloads and organize my collection and synchronizing the player to the files on my hard drive, I'm using third-party software (haven't yet settled on one, or even found one I'd be willing to endorse) and using it as my primary storage for the music, with backups burned to data CDs.

After all, why do I need two large hard drives filled with the same music? It's inconvenient to load, but once I've got the music on the player that's the only place I need it to be. So this works for me.

I've even gone as far as replacing the battery myself. Before I replaced the battery I'd get maybe an hour from a full charge; now I get many times that. So even in a short amount of time I think I've come a long way. I have a ways to go, though. But it'll be fun learning to use it better, I think.

* The quote above comes from the movie Invasion of the body snatchers, though it concerns emotions, not portable music players. It seemed the most fitting.

9 March 2006

shortsighted outlook

If Microsoft Outlook (the second-newest version) is so advanced, why doesn't it have a simple image viewer built-in for attached photos? It understands images, since it renders them in the messages, but it farms out attachments to whatever the system uses for viewing images.

On other file types (PDFs, ZIP archives, Office files, etc) this makes sense*, but not on images. When I'm reading a message with seven photos attached, I want to be able to toggle back and forth between them without going back to the message window. My image viewer of choice (IrfanView) can only open one at a time, since they are dowloaded to the temporary directory when you load the image, not the message.

I cannot say exactly how much time and productivity I've lost over the years of using Outlook, but I'm certain it can be measured in minutes... sheer tens of minutes.

* Even then, I must but wonder why a program that can embed Microsoft Word as an editor (and probably a viewer) isn't smart enough to take a message that contains no text, only a .DOC attachment (or worse yet, PowerPoint) and save me a click or two by just displaying the attachment.

I mean, if you're gonna make an email program dumb enough to trust every file it gets, why not make it smart enough to make things easier?