iOS 8

September 18th, 2014

It’s here, the next software update for Apple’s mobile world. iOS 8 is now available for iPhone 4S or newer and reports are rolling in. There’s nothing revolutionary in there, mostly just catching up to Android of course: finally users can choose a different keyboard! On an iPhone 5 or higher it seems to be working fine, although there are many reports of crashing apps and funny stuff going on, but that’s to be expected. It’s worse than any update before though, and it’ll only get worse. This is what happened to Apple before and what led to OS9, the abomination. It’s funny how quickly people forget, but maybe it is because there were so few people left in the Fruity camp at that point; fact is that the last OS before the slate was wiped clean was truly awful.

You see, Microsoft might be geeky, not very exciting, but it thinks ahead, it lays the groundwork while thinking of things it can’t even imagine. It builds foundations that hold up, which is why I can STILL run applications from 15 years ago! Apple on the other hand has amazingly little foresight, with a track record of making the wrong decisions: they bet the house on the G4/G5 chip, until they had to admit that Intel was the future, resulting in breaking compatibility for everyone going forward. We can talk about proprietary stuff they Fruit has given the world for hours….

So now we’re at the 8th iteration of iOS and we’re starting to see the jury rigged methods showing up. Look at sharing for instance: in its never-ending quest to control everything its users do, the iPhone never got a proper file system. What one is allowed to do is very strictly managed and because of that for the longest time you couldn’t play an MP3 that someone emailed to you! All the while iPhoners get chanting how easy the system was! Android from the beginning let you see your device for what it is: another drive. You can hook it up through USB and drag and drop. Now Apple has implemented “Extensibility” a new framework to allow the things that Google had given us from the beginning. As I predict we will find out, it will lead to problems as its complexity grows. This is what happens when you Mickey Mouse extra stuff onto an insufficient foundation. Efficiency goes down, and at some point it becomes unfixable.

Which brings us to the iPhone 4S again: in a typical move for Apple, you can actually install iOS 8 on it, and of course once you do you can’t go back to 7. The problem is that it doesn’t work very well, to the point where some find unusable.  As a matter of fact, I’ve watched many of my friends’ iPhones lag and stutter like crazy for the last couple of years, while everyone keeps singing their praise, even on iOS 7. If nothing else, this new version is designed for higher resolution screens and instead of just properly scaling will leave 3.5″ users with ridiculous situations. Some would say it’s deliberate on Apple’s end, to gently force people to upgrade. At the same time, look at Windows Phone running on devices with less hardware than the 4S perfectly smoothly! Even Android Kit-Kat can work on phones from that era, and with Google Now voice recogntion and all the other new stuff that Apple leaves off older devices. Efficiency FTW!

Background Music

September 18th, 2014

You know all that funny/weird/shitty/derivative music you hear in the background while you’re watching yet another sucker embarrassing him- or herself on a ‘reality’ TV show? It almost certainly came from what is called a ‘music library'; the kind stuffed full of music no one cares about, not even the people who made it, carefully indexed to maximize the efficiency with which it can be used to set just the right tone for the happenings. The names of the pieces are hilarious: “Argue now” or “Deciding the loser”……

For a while, there was pretty good money to be made for a composer who placed his stuff on TV shows, but of course the market was much smaller. If you had a tune in an ABC program, you were definitely gonna be paid handsomely, multiple times too when reruns aired. The checks were high enough for it to be worth it to compose something specifically for the show. But these days, if for nothing else but the ever increasing amount of channels and the resulting fragmentation of audiences, payouts have shrunken and shrunken and when you realize what that 30 seconds in the the background of Real Wives of Neverneverland 13 really pays, it’s going to be impossible to get custom tunes. That’s where libraries come in!

Some of them contain the years and years of mindless compositions from sweat shops that have sprung up, others are repositories for independent music makers. There are a few online shops, but it seems that here in L.A. it’s a pretty small group of people that control the whole process, at least for the big brands. I know a few ex musicians that went the route and some have made a LOT of money. I’ve been invited many times to participate in the process, but I have a very hard time with it. I guess I don’t like money enough, but composing without pushing the limit to me is sacrilege. It damages my artistic soul; so many around here will literally try to copy successful library music, which already was without artistic merit! And then they complain that they can’t make a living because too many people are doing it!

To me it’s all part of the overall downfall of commercial art. In the golden days of Television, it did successfully combine making big money with true art, precisely because it was so new and wide open that it took pioneers, crazy creative people. Now that it’s an established medium, and the bean counters have taken over the reins, in my rarely to be humble opinion, it’s in trouble. Of course there are still creative things on network TV, but they are few and far between. The late-night talk shows have become an unwatchable mess which even the enormous talents of guys like Fallon can’t save. Sitcoms have become beyond predictable and the music on them a disgrace. The real progress is at HBO and Showtime, and even sometimes at some smaller cable channels. Breaking Bad is such an example: a brilliant show that exists despite the restrictions imposed by commerce and the lowest common denominator that results from advertisers providing the money.

In the end, it’s up to the people themselves, the consumers. The principle of a free market working depends on folks choosing correctly, as in what’s best for them. As much as I am for democracy, we cannot dismiss the fact that we are herd animals and as such unable to truly choose more than a leader, the alpha we choose to follow. This is why some still talk about Steve Jobs, our savior. It led to large groups of people, self-declared ignorami when it comes to computer, making recommendations as to which type to buy! It led to people carrying iPhones trumpeting the occupy movement! The irony is jarring.

In the end, I’m lucky to be able to live frugally. I don’t have kids or a wife, and am only responsible for myself. My mother instilled a healthy confidence in me, so I don’t need fancy stuff to feel good, all while retaining the ability for appreciating the finer things in life. I don’t need to create music I don’t want and that’s a luxury. At the same time, my choices in life have a lot to do with it too, and every time I hear someone with a $700 phone say she doesn’t have time, it makes me realize that people often don’t make the right choices for themselves.

Buh bye!

September 15th, 2014

Time Warner Cable no more! I did, I handed over my preposterous little “Digital Adaptors” today (they would have cost me $160 to keep……ouch!) and with that my obligations to the dreaded company are over. As a matter of fact, they owe me money now, for half of month’s service I paid for when I cancelled. It’s Monday and over 100 degrees in the San Fernando Valley today, so I figured it’d be a good time to be in the air conditioning while I wait for my turn. And guess what: there was a wait!

The Yelp listing on the location in Van Nuys closest to me has some seriously low ratings! There aren’t many places out there with a 1.5 rating (out of 5) but this one’s pretty special; writes Jean M: “Oh. My. God. This is literally as bad as the dmv. I have been sitting here for 45 minutes. There is a room FULL of people right now. This is miserable. They are on number 89. My number is 36. There is a very good chance I could die here.”

It really is wild in there! I pulled number 73, the next one called was 8! Americans aren’t known for being particularly patient and it showed. All in all it took me about 90 minutes, but I saw all kinds of stuff…..people arguing with the customer service reps, asking for a manager who was always “in a meeting”…….veins popping out of legs so fat they seemed to belong to a different species…..kids running around…… people dropping half the cable boxes from the tower they’re carrying in…..wow! There it is……..71….72……….73! I give the obviously agitated woman my bill, here come the dreaded devices….she spits out a receipt and that’s it. I’m free!

As I watch the poor folks in this stupid place I think of how much they’re paying Time Warner to feed their addiction to Television. The “broadcast basic” package I had was the lowest priced thing available; many of my friends pay close to $100 a month to these guys! Time Warner committed to paying 8.35 BILLION dollars for the exclusive rights to broadcasting LA Dodger games for the next 25 years! This city has less than 4 million inhabitants, so that’s more than $2000 per person. How’s that even possible?

The wild thing is that the only channels out of the pathetic selection that I was paying $24 per month for that I might actually watch once in a while still DO work without the digital adapter, and in HD too. It’s basically the ones that are broadcast over the air, the local affiliates of the big networks. I’m not sure if they will physically disconnect my cable now so that even those will disappear, but I think they made the whole digital encryption move in order to not have to mess with physical connections anymore and allow themselves to control people’s access by administering the boxes remotely. Regardless, I’m going to look into getting a good antenna, because over-the-air channels are very high quality these days, and completely free. Funny how old is new again…..

Fogless

September 14th, 2014

For years and years I had dreamed of a mirror to use in the shower for shaving my head! The problem of course is condensation and the resulting ‘fogging’ of the damn thing. Over time I tried a few different models, and even some coating that was supposed to keep any mirror free, but nothing worked. But then, there it was:

The Fogless Shower Mirror with Squeegee by ToiletTree Products. Guaranteed Not to Fog, Designed Not to Fall. #1 Selling and Ranked by Amazon Customers. (Silver)”

foglessI mean, look at that guy! He knows it, this damn thing works! It does its magic very simply: behind the reflective surface, there is a compartment for water, which you fill up straight from the shower. Because it’s now the same temperature as the rest of the shower: no more condensation! I’ve had it for a few weeks now and it’s awesome. It comes with a squeegee and silicone adhesive to mount it on the wall. There’s even a model with built-in LED lighting for shaving in the dark……

For-profit edumacation

September 13th, 2014

I heard a crazy statistic the other day: the advertising budget of for-profit schools in the US is twice as high as the combined payroll for all their teachers! Of course we must take everything with a grain of salt and I’m in the process of researching in order to find specific studies, but I do have personal experience with such a place of ‘education’ and it was quite bizarre. The land from which I came has some of the best education in the world and when my brother ordered the catalog from Musician’s Institute in Hollywood back in the early 1990s I didn’t realize what commerce can do to a school!

It all looked so fantastic in the full color, glossy, thick paper brochure: the best teacher, actual working musicians with connections to the industry, a referral service to place students in actual paying jobs…… Boy, they must only admit the most promising students from all that apply, I thought…….”I’m not ready!”…postponed sending in my audition tape by a year…..my mom took out a loan to finance the big trip….this is gonna be epic!

Much to my surprise, when I showed up half the students were not only absolute beginners; they had very little talent to begin with! It became very clear immediately that the ‘audition’ was complete nonsense! The only qualification for acceptance was a fat enough bank account! Welcome to America I guess! Well, at least we get taught by some of the finest musicians in the world, although some of the best ones from the catalog were on tour most of the year. I was looking forward to getting my ass kicked, if somewhat curious as to how they were going to ‘test’ a group so diverse in its abilities. Well, that too became obvious quite quickly: by lowering the bar SO low that everybody passes, all the time! You see, failing someone might cause him or her to leave the school and thus lower the profit margins. The whole system leads not to schooling at all! There’s information there, but it’s more of a library kind of thing: it’s up to you to learn.

Now fast forward 20 years and the situation is much more dire; people are spending a fortune on many of these places, with epic promises of ‘guaranteed’ job placement that never comes through, or ‘degrees’ that basically aren’t worth more than the paper they’re printed on. It’s proof that the free market that so many these days feel is the great powerful bringer of efficiency and value does not always benefit the common man. In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of thing that a government by the people for the people is best suited for running. Graduation rates in for-profit schools in the US is something like 25%, where public schools are north of 50%. There are endless examples of why it’s not working, but we’re continuing full steam ahead anyway…..

Is this not another reason to realize we’re collectively screwing ourselves by being too susceptible to advertising? It’s the same thing as with politics: whomever gets seen on TV the most wins! So many celebrate Apple for fleecing us, for being brilliant marketers, telling us what we want or need. How about we get some control over our weak side! I think we have to, or we’ll turn into a pathetic weak, gullible shadow of the human race which overcame all that it did.

Da FB

September 11th, 2014

I have to admit: I was quite wrong about Facebook and its stock. Fact is, it’s done much much better than I expected and so far no one has really challenged the social network, not even Google+. Today the stock is priced at $77 and change, or actually more than double the IPO price two years ago! Not that people seem happier with its service though….I guess I don’t get it….will there be a true contender soon? Or are we just screwed, forever under the spell of Zuckerberg and his crappy software and commercial exploitation?

The Planets – An HD Odyssey

September 11th, 2014

Thanks to Dave Karasony, he and I got to go to a special night at the Hollywood Bowl two days ago: The Planets – An HD Odyssey it was called and none other than Peter Erskine was to be the special guest, performing a piece specifically written for him and orchestra, in this case house band The Los Angeles Philharmonic. After a very quick and efficient parking process, we had a little picnic and it was time to get to our seats. Great to have connections, because we were directed to the best I’ve ever been in, in the ‘boxes’ with the fancy people! An enormous screen hung above the musicians promised “spectacular” footage that was to accompany the performance of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”, but remained unused during the opener.

I have to say, Erskine was wonderful and the way he was grooving with the Phil something you don’t get to see often! There was one funny part where the poor percussionists were trying to keep up with a deluge of notes which may be normal for a Bonguero in a Salsa band, but seemed to present some unexpected difficulties for them; they looked so incredibly un-cool and un-groovy, but by the end, when the constant rhythms made way for bursts of syncopated 16ths they got the hang of it and finished strongly! The interplay between the basses and Peter were right on and overall the piece written by Mark Anthony Turnage was quite nice. Very, very inspiring to see and hear so many people playing together; the sound was excellent too, only helped by our perfect location in the theater, right below the mixing position.

Alright, time for an intermission and then the main feature, a piece written more than a hundred years ago. No more Erskine, but they added an Organ, an extra set of Timpani, Bass oboe and a Euphonium. The orchestra was wonderful, incredible really. I don’t listen to Classical music much and know very little about it, but I do know what it takes to get groups of musicians to play together and they were stellar, which brings us to the video and the question that kept popping up in my head: “Why?” I realize that we’re living in times of showbiz , but this went WAY too far. The damn screen was SO big and bright that even with my eyes closed I could see it. I understand that Britney Spears needs moving pictures to distract us from the fact that she can’t sing, but the L.A. Phil? Is this what they need to do to get people in the seats? Some of the footage, the real stuff, was pretty cool, but way too much of it was computer generated and added nothing. I felt like I was in a Sports Bar, with screens ‘yelling’ at me, distracting me from my drink, company and whatever else was the actual reason for my visit. WTF….

Well, after all was said and done, I did have a great time. The Bowl is just awesome, and everything around it so well run you forget you’re in Los Angeles. The sound was awesome, parking was painless, the crowd unsurprisingly well-behaved. Might have to do this a little more often!

 

Shark Part Deux

September 9th, 2014

So here they are: a couple of new iPhones and THE Watch! All the rumors turned out to be true, just about exactly, which makes all that security seem even more silly, doesn’t it? So let’s sum up what we have for the iPhone 6:

~720P screen (1334×750) at 4.7″, 1810mAh battery, mono speaker, no waterproofing, 1GB RAM, NFC, 8MP camera without OIS, 16GB storage……..but wait, it’s thinner and faster!

I’ve been reading the forums and not many are impressed, not even the typical fanbois. After convincing themselves for so many years that big phones are not the answer, now they will have to get the 5.5″ model to (iPhone 6 Plus! Really? What a name for the coolest company in the world….) to even get a 1080P screen, and that’ll be a 16GB one for north of $800. Just wait and see how many problems iOS 8 is going to have, with all these different resolutions it must support and all the new added features. Just like the epic mess that was OS9, it’s Apple’s lack of foresight combined with arrogance that makes it paint itself into a corner. The most amazing thing is that by not even offering an updated 4″ device, basically Apple is admitting their insistence on calling bigger phones ergonomically bad was a mistake!

So let’s talk about the iPhone 6 Plus. At 158mmx77mm it’s larger than the LG G3’s 146×74 with a far lower resolution screen too! It’ll still only have 1GB of RAM although it does add OIS.  The G3 does 2160P video, where Apple’s flagship maxes out at 1080P and it is not even available yet while LG’s has been for sale since June. Mind you, specs aren’t everything and I have this discussion ALL the time with people, but if you’re claiming to be innovative, you can’t be behind! My strategy is to deliberately buy below the latest and greatest and spend 1/3 of the money! My Moto G was $200 shipped last May and is technically not even that far behind the iPhone 6 in features: 720P 4.5″ screen, 1GB of RAM, quad core CPU…..ouch……

And then there’s the watch, no the Watch. First off, you need an iPhone to use it! It’s not even available yet, and other manufacturers have other stuff out that trumps it already. Some Android based ones have built in GPS, so you can do all that fitness tracking without needing to bring another device. To me Apple’s timepiece looks like something my grandpa would wear, not the slick device one would expect from the Big Fruit. Of course it has yet another proprietary charging connector, which means bringing multiple cables. Also, word on the street is that battery life will be quite disappointing and the fact that it wasn’t mentioned at all in the presentation doesn’t bode well. Does anyone really want another device that needs to be charged every night?

Well, my prediction is that the Watch will bomb, pretty much like all the others. As far as the iPhone goes: there are many, many people out there afraid to leave the Order Of The Fruit but envious of Androiders with their beautiful big screens, and a large number will upgrade. But, when they realize that the simple “it just works” days are over, and they see all the other fun stuff they’re missing out on, it will become harder and harder to keep drinking the Kool-Aid. I know, I know, I’ve been saying it for years, but I always forget how short-sighted people are; seen this coming for a long time!

 

Windows Phone 8.1

September 7th, 2014

A couple of days ago I decided update my HTC 8X to Windows Phone 8.1 and I must say I’m impressed! It’s finally up to par with iOS and Android in its basic functionality and actually ahead in some ways. The built-in voice assistant named Cortana (Halo anyone?) actually works really well and supports some things that Siri doesn’t. We get a pull-down notification shade like Apple stole from Google with access to quick toggles for stuff like brightness and rotation lock (FINALLY!) and general improvements to the browser. The App store is still behind the two competitors’ but there’s plenty of stuff there.

One killer new feature is “Wifi Sense”; it’ll automatically log you into open hotspots even if they require the type of password-less login like you see in many places. For instance, the Starbucks I’m currently in has just a page that pops up requiring you to tap on a button in order to get connected. This will now happen automatically! You can even configure a (fake) phone number or email address that can be filled in if necessary! I have to say, it’s pretty awesome, especially if you’re on a limited data plan.

Combine this with the fact that Windows Phone runs amazingly smoothly even on low end hardware, and there’s a recipe for success if I ever saw one. You can buy a full featured modern smartphone for $100 now, instead of the $650 that an iPhone or fancy Samsung will set you back!

Traffic Jam Pilot

September 7th, 2014

That’s what some are calling it, an auto-pilot mode for your car during that dreaded stop-and-go commute! And believe me, it’s coming quicker than you might think! GM is set to introduce a Cadillac in 2016 that has what they’re calling “Super Cruise”, a partially autonomous system that will allow you to take your hands off the wheel and even your feet off the pedals and drive itself. Also, these cars will communicate with compatible others about road conditions, accidents and other things that might affect your drive.

Now imagine not needing any pedals or steering wheels, or any manual controls period with the rate of advancement in voice control. You could put a comfortable bed in a car and treat it like a sleeper train! The final step is a driverless system like Uber and all of a sudden you really don’t need to own a car at all; just summon the exact type of vehicle you need, when you need it, and never worry about parking or repairs ever again. Works for me!