Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Still Love You, iPod, but I've Met Someone, and Their Name is Spotify...

As I've written on here a few times, I was very resistant to jump with both feet into the digital music age.  I grew up collecting and listening to music on vinyl, cassettes, and CDs. When mp3s first became popular when I was in college in the mid-to-late 1990s, I was wary but eventually had some (not many, but some) saved on my computer. However, ask my wife or anyone who knew me in the 1990s and they'll confirm that I had upwards of 1200+ CDs stacked on shelves all over my dorm room and later, my wife's and my home.  To me (and to most people), that was the normal way of consuming, storing, and listening to music. I had a Discman (and before that, a Walkman), a 50-CD Changer component stereo system, and a CD-changer in my car.  However, as time went on and we began to have kids, and kids have their own stuff...well, CDs not only became inconvenient to store, but carting around dozens of discs every time I wanted to listen to something in my car became a real pain.

In 2003, I bought my first mp3 player, a 60 GB Creative Jukebox...the thing looks HUGE now, but at the time I marveled at how small it was and how it could hold so many songs.  Eventually, it began to crap out and I purchased my first iPod, an 80 GB model, in 2005. A color screen that displayed album artwork, a TON of songs, and it fit right into my pocket.  I still listened to CDs in the car, but the iPod was a lifesaver for taking tunes to work, out on runs, or on vacations.  In July 2009, I accidentally dropped the iPod in a glass of water and completely killed it (don't was a freak thing at 4am when I was getting ready for work one morning). Since I didn't have the $300 laying around to buy a new one immediately, I signed up for a free account on Last.FM (back when it was still free) and listened to all of my music online through it when I was on my computer. What I liked about it was how there was (nearly) all of the music I wanted right at my fingertips and I didn't have to store any of it.

At Christmas 2009, I got my current iPod (pictured above), a 160 GB model. I've got it loaded with EVERYTHING I own on CD (and a bunch I don't have on CD) and it's up to 110 GB right now. I love it and used to use it all the time. But then, I met Spotify...

For those not in the know, Spotify is a streaming music service that started in Europe back in 2008. Through my UK friends, I had heard its virtues constantly extolled, but I remained uninterested, especially since it wasn't available in the US. When it finally came to the USA in July 2011, a British friend of mine sent me an invite and I signed up for a free account. Apart from the incessant and annoying ads, I really loved it. It's a free program you can download on any computer, you can make as many playlists as you want, and it's got nearly everything you'd want. Apart from my bootlegs or rarities (which I wouldn't expect on there anyway), the only bands I need to listen to that aren't on there are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Frank Zappa. The best thing about Spotify is that you can even listen to music you DON'T own on it. Through Spotify, I've rediscovered bands I used to love when I was younger (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots), explored bands I always meant to but didn't have the cash to (Talking Heads, Foo Fighters, Death Cab or Cutie, Pavement, Screaming Trees), and, in conjunction with Shazam, discovered new music by using Shazam to identify what I was hearing on the radio and then delving deeper on Spotify (Fitz & the Tantrums, Arctic Monkeys, Portugal the Man, The Kooks, Cage the Elephant, My Morning Jacket, to name but a few). 

Eventually I plumped for Spotify Premium ($9.99/month), which eliminates the ads, makes even MORE music available to you, and unleashes the iPhone app, where you can sync playlists and cache them to your phone so you can listen to them offline, not using any WiFi or 3G data. In essence, it's like having an iPod.

The consequence of all of this is I haven't used my iPod much since I've been on Spotify.  There are a few reasons for this. First, I *ALWAYS* have my iPhone on lives in my pocket, whereas my iPod needs to be brought from place to place. I know it sounds silly, but sometimes I forget the iPod and after several days of not using it, you tend to forget all about it since you're still able to listen to most of your music with your phone. Second, since Spotify doesn't work through iTunes, it's much quicker and easier to make your playlists. Don't get me wrong, I love iTunes...for managing and controlling your devices, it's a great program. But clicking and dragging in Spotify is MUCH easier and quicker.  Third, Spotify has just about everything I have on my iPod besides bootlegs (apart from The Beatles, Zeppelin, and Zappa, as I mentioned) *PLUS* stuff I don't own but want to listen to. I also get to listen to those one-hit wonder songs I dig, the songs I like that I'm too embarrassed to admit to liking, and compilation-type stuff like the Motown tracks I like, 80s music, etc. 

Now I'm obviously not going to ditch my iPod. It's a great device and still works great. It's excellent for storing EVERYTHING I own, and portable to use on car rides, plane rides, etc. And of course there are no restrictions on what I can listen to on it other than what I have put on it and taken off of it.

It has also got me thinking, though, about how I've evolved in my consumption and habits in listening to and collecting music. Gone are the days where I just *HAVE* to make a trip to my local record store every month to browse and buy new (or used) discs. Don't get me wrong, I still love my local record store (Bull Moose Records in but CDs take up so much space and need to be stored and with 4 kids in our house, space is at a premium!

So I've adopted the following routine now:

If it's a band that is one of my all-time favorite, absolute top-tier #1 bands (Blur, Beatles, Who, Dream Theater, Rush, etc..too many to mention) then I will definitely buy the physical CD release. These bands are ones I would need to take to a desert island, and they always have excellent album art and liner notes.

But, if it's a band that isn't in that category, then I'm not going to buy more CDs.

In fact, what I'm in the process of doing now is storing everything on my hard drive and selling off or trading in (for store credit and/or cash) the non-top-tier band CDs. It'll earn me some money, save mega space in my basement, and generally declutter my life. I'll still have that music on my hard drive and iPod, though.

As for new music, unless it's a top-tier band and I have to buy the CD, I'll either buy new releases on iTunes or stream them on Spotify.

And with iTunes Match being launched soon, it may get even cleaner and easier. This service will match whatever on your iTunes library (on your home computer) is available on the iTunes store and make it available in the cloud on all of your devices (iPod, iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC, etc) so you're entire library is just a click away in the iCloud. Amazing. Together with Spotify, that might seal the deal for me for good.

So yes, I've finally evolved from vinyl to cassette to CD to mp3 to iPod to streaming.

Who would've thought that even 5 years ago? I certainly wouldn't have!

The Dreaded Plateau!

I've hit it. After losing 102 lbs (so far), I've been stuck at 256 lbs for the last 2 1/2 weeks, fluctuating between 256 and 262. Yes, I've hit the dreaded and well-known weight-loss plateau.

The frustrating thing for me is that I haven't changed ANYTHING about what I'm doing, other than adding more mileage to my runs. I'm still eating what I want and tracking calories with Lose It...I'm under my daily calories every day. I drink lots of water and iced tea (and the occasional soda). I run every other day and have added some light weight-lifting on the in-between days. I know adding muscle mass can increase weight since muscle weighs more than fat, but the lifting I'm doing is light enough (more to strengthen and tone, not to bulk up) and I've only been doing it for the past 2 weeks. That seems, to me, awfully fast for it to already be causing an increase in muscle mass.

So what is it? Does anyone out there know? I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing because being in shape feels great and I enjoy doing it. But I'd really like to drop those last 20 lbs or so...

Any input from you readers is very welcome!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

iOS 5 Review

As promised, here's my review of Apple's iOS 5, released last Wednesday, October 12, for iPhone 3GS and 4, iPad and iPad 2, and iPod Touch (4th gen). With this release, Apple unified the iOS versions for all of their mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) as well as cross-integrating it with OS X Lion on the iMac platform to create a truly universal and seamless transition from desktop to mobile. It really is incredible when you get to use it in person daily, but that's perhaps for another, longer, more rambling post somewhere down the road...

For ease of reference, I'll mention I currently have an iPhone and iPad and I run these off my iMac. I have an iPod classic (160 GB) that doesn't run iOS so the update won't apply to or discuss that device.

After plugging my devices into the iMac on Wednesday, iTunes detected that a software update was available and asked if I wanted to update. I said yes and away it went. The entire process took about 75 minutes or so from start to finish.  After it was done, I unplugged the phone/iPad (from now on, when I say phone, it pertains to both devices, but I don't want to keep typing it all!) and turned it on. I was greeted with a screen that walked me through setting up the new iCloud service and WiFi syncing as well as some other improvements, which I'll discuss below.

So, what's new in iOS 5 and what do I think of each thing? And bear in mind, I've read online that Apple says there are over 200 new things/improvements in iOS 5, and I certainly don't know of them all, so I'll only list what I know and leave it to you readers to fill in the blanks in the comment section below.

-Notification Center: A simple swipe down from the top of the screen opens up the Notification Center, which, by default, has the weather and stock tickers. But in addition, it has the revamped...

-Notifications: The new notifications system is a HUGE improvement over the old one. Whereas annoying windows would pop up in the middle of your screen in a rather clunky fashion, now you can configure each app to give you notifications or not, and pop up in either a window in your screen or a banner at the top. When a notification pops up, you can either tap it to open up the notification center and read it, or ignore it and the banner will go away (but the notification is still in the notification center). Additionally, and this is one of my favorite aspects, you can have the notifications pop up on the lock screen if your phone is in standby. You can read the beginning of the alert and then, via a simple swipe of the icon, it'll open up right to whichever app it corresponds to. It's VERY cool and very convenient.

-Mail: There are a host of changes in mail, but for me the only one I've used so far, which I really like, is the ability to hold and drag email addresses when composing messages. I've read of lots of other new features, but so far I haven't used them yet.

-Dictionary: This is a little one, but now when you highlight a word, instead of just copy, cut, paste, or replace options, there's also a dictionary, which is pretty cool.

-Text Shortcuts: You can configure custom shortcuts for common words you type in order to circumvent the built-in AutoCorrect for certain words that it may not recognize.

-Tones and vibrations: You can now FINALLY customize your text and alert tones, in addition to ringtones. Also, you can customize vibration patterns for each caller (if you want to) for when it's in silent mode.

-iMessage: This is really cool. Starting now, *ANY* device running on iOS 5 can send free iMessage texts/photos etc between themselves without using your texting plan from whichever carrier you're on. And it's all done from within the same native Messaging app from before. The difference is that iMessages are now blue and white, while regular texts are green and white. It also tells you in the typing area before you begin writing whether you're writing an iMessage or a text. Additionally, iPads can now text other iPads or iPhones on iOS 5, *and* iMac's on OS X Lion can now text with iPhones (but not iPads yet). However, it's rumored that very soon, iMessage will be added to iChat so that it can then also text with iPads.

-Find my iPhone: A built in GPS app that can locate all of the devices attached to your Apple ID. For us, this is our iMac, iPad, and each of our iPhones. It's already come in handy...we were in the mall and my wife couldn't remember if she left her phone in the car or at home. A quick look on my phone showed me it was in the car, so she went out and grabbed it. Very cool. It also has options to send a ring so you can try to hear it if it's lost at home so you can find it, as well as a remote wipe. That way, if it gets stolen, you can wipe the phone remotely so none of your personal info is stolen along with it.

-Newsstand: A new built in app...basically it's for magazine subscriptions what iBooks is for eBooks. They're paid subscriptions, so we don't have any yet, but plan on perhaps getting some soon. The ones we're interested in (mainly parenting and family magazine) are cheap and new issues are delivered automatically, but you can still access older ones.

-WiFi Syncing: Finally, you can sync your iPhone or iPad to iTunes on your computer without having to be plugged into it. Additionally, you can still use the device while you're syncing...something you could never do before!

-Accessing Camera from lock screen: This is another cool feature. I can't tell you how many times I whipped my phone out of my pocket to take a cool picture, only to completely miss the opportunity because by the time I unlocked the phone, opened the camera app, and got ready to shoot, the moment was gone. Now, a simple double-tap of the lock screen opens up not only the volume/music controls (as it always has) but a camera button. Tap it and POW, you're ready to shoot a picture.

-Editing/organizing photos in built in Camera app: Now, with iOS 5, you can also edit your pictures (albeit not with a huge amount of features) in the Camera app. More importantly and exciting, at least for me, you can create new albums right on your phone and organize your pictures into them.

-Siri: This is only on iPhone 4S, which I don't have yet...the wife and I will be getting our upgrade to these in December/January, but from what I've read it sounds amazing. However, having never used it myself, I can't comment on it, but it's there in iOS 5!

-Split/undocked keyboard: This is an iPad-only feature, but if you don't feel like typing with two hands in the traditional keyboard manner (which, sometimes, I don't. If I'm sitting up, typing on the iPad is not a problem. If I'm laying on the couch holding it on either side, it's not an option), you can undock the keyboard and move it wherever on the screen you want. And then, you can split it, so half of the keyboard is on either side of the screen. You can then text with your thumbs like you would on your phone. Great for those nights slouching on the couch with your iPad. Another minor addition, for both iPhone and iPad, is the option to swipe the keyboard off the screen if it's blocking content so you can see everything on the screen.

-New Multi-Touch Gestures: Again, iPad-only, but some nice ones now. In addition to the usual Apple touch gestures, like pinch-expand/shrink and double-tap zoom, four-finger swipes, for instance, switch between apps. Very handy when multitasking, which I do a lot.

Overall, some of the changes are minor and subtle, and some are major. All, however, are really helpful and intuitive in their own way. I will say, as a matter of personal opinion (but one that seems to be shared by a HUGE host of people, judging by reviews and comments all over the Internet and in personal conversations with my friends and wife) that iOS 5 is the best OS out there for mobile devices, hands down.

I also just recently updated the OS on our iMac to OS X Lion, and so far I'm really enjoying the improvements and enhancements, but that's a MUCH larger OS and one I'm ill-equipped to write about, at least for the near future.

I'm sure I've missed some features...if I have, please let me know below in the comments! Also, let me know what you think in general about iOS 5, I'd love to discuss it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Miles and Miles and More Miles!

Last week I passed 200 miles run since I got back into running on Memorial Day weekend. After last night's run, I'm up to 220 miles right goal is to hit 400 by New Years...we'll see if I can do it! I think I'll be able to...I'm averaging ~5 miles/run right now, so it should take me a shorter amount of time to hit the next 200 than the first 200 (since, when I began running, I was barely doing 1.50 miles/run and had to slowly build up).

The most important thing is I'm feeling GREAT physically when I run...the difference is so noticeable. Whereas I used to struggle and labor through the run, even as recently as July/August, the last couple of months I feel so good and confident in how my body, heart, and lungs feel that I can just focus on trying to run faster and longer instead of just finishing. I never thought I'd get back to this point again, but I did and it feels great. 

400 miles, here I come!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

iOS 5 Has Landed...

I'll write a more detailed review in the coming days, but Apple released iOS 5 today for iPhones and iPads and I have to say, it's pretty incredible. I downloaded it onto my iPhone and I've loved playing around with it and discovering all of the new features and the improvements.

A more detailed review will be forthcoming...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

I'm not going to go into hero-worship mode here, because I don't like to deify other human beings, no matter how good they may be. We're all humans and we all have flaws, whether anyone knows about them or not...none of us are perfect. That being said, I was deeply saddened by the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs when I heard of it last night. Fittingly, I was looking at Twitter and Facebook on my iPhone when I saw the news.  The irony wasn't lost on me, especially as earlier in the day I spent time during my commute listening to music on my iPod, talking to my wife on my iPhone, and checking some stuff out at home on my iMac, including the stuff on eBay I'm selling so I can use the money to buy an iPad. But it goes beyond being a mere Apple fanboy...yes, I love their products. They're aesthetically pleasing and look great. They're very intuitive and simple to use but very powerful in what they can do. They're innovative and cutting edge but at the same time they don't waste effort reinventing the wheel. And, at their core, and the heart of Jobs' intent from the very first computer he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak built in the 1970s, they improve our lives and make them easier in their own little ways.

I won't get into the details of Jobs' life or the history of Apple...that's all very well documented and available all over the internet and in various books. But, beyond the great products and innovations that Jobs and his team at Apple have brought to us over the years, probably the biggest reason I'm such a fan of the guy is that his story is a great American story.  In a nutshell, this is a guy who dropped out of college, but had an interest in computers. He got together with Wozniak and, in his parents' garage, began building, marketing, and selling computers. Eventually they were able to found Apple as a proper company and by the mid-1980s had unleashed the wildly successful Apple II and Macintosh home computers, as well as the icon-based GUI  (graphical user interface) that is ubiquitous today and which Microsoft copied for their own successful Windows OS.  Of course, there were also a few failed computers systems offered up during this time. After being forced out of Apple in 1985, Jobs founded a new company, NeXt Computers. While not as successful, the innovations in their technology were brought back to Apple when Jobs returned in 1996/97 (where, along the way, he also co-founded Pixar and released Toy Story...not bad work for his time in the tech "wilderness" in exile, huh?). Once back, he unleashed vision in full force and, along with all of his colleagues at Apple, launched mammoth innovations such as the stand-alone iMac, iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. While doing so, he and Apple revolutionized how we purchase, listen to, and transport music, movies, TV, videos, pictures, etc and made these devices and the experiences with them fun and enjoyable. From personal experience, the iPod has changed my life since I bought my first one in 2006...I can carry around my entire (15,000+ songs) music collection in my pocket and listen to it anywhere. The iPhone has made it easier for me to stay connected and informed with my wife, family, friends, co-workers, and the world at large by being able to have a phone and computer in my pocket. The iPad replaces my laptop and allows me to use it for both personal and work purposes. And the iMac...after a lifetime of owning only Windows PCs (although I had used many Macs throughout the years), my wife and I got frustrated with our latest breaking-down PC and bought an iMac last year...I've been nothing but 100% pleased with it. It's so easy to use and I don't have to worry about crashes, software glitches, etc.  I turn it on and, just like all of my other Apple devices, IT JUST WORKS.

Looking at what I just wrote, this is perhaps Jobs' greatest triumph as the visionary and inventive mind (among MANY others throughout the year amongst his co-workers).  Apple has made products that have made life easier and more enjoyable, and in the true spirit of capitalist competition, they've responded to competition and simultaneously spurred it on amongst its competitors, so that, no matter whether you're a PC or Mac, an iPhone or Android, etc, we all win.

So, for me, while Apple and their products will leave a lasting legacy, I also admire the man who saw a problem, worked tirelessly and very hard for years from a young age (18!) and built the leading tech company in the world, not to mention, as of 2011, the most profitable company on the planet. And he did it from the ground up, literally out of his folks' garage, the old-fashioned American Way: through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. He wasn't afraid to fail or take risks, and he and Apple had many failures along the way (the Lisa, anyone? Apple III? Pippin? The Cube? The Motorola Rokr? I could go on and on...). But like in any endeavor, in order to be successful, you need to take risks, fail, and learn from them in order to eventually succeed. It's something I try to do every day of my life, and to me, that's the most inspirational thing about Jobs, his life, and his career.

I never met the guy, but I will miss him. America, and the world, need more people like him, a throwback to earlier days and visionaries like Edison, Ford, Gates, etc. I'm always trying to think of ways I could start a business or a product...I have lots of ideas (just ask my wife, I'm always bouncing them off of her!)...Steve will continue to be one of my idols in this regard.

I'm just glad he's at peace now and can rest easy with the legacy he's left, both physically in his company and products, and inspirationally in his story.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Losing and Gaining

 As you know if you've read this blog for a while, I've been in the process since May 2011 of losing weight I should have gotten rid of years ago by running, lifting, and eating healthier (read all about it HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). Well, with the loss of nearly 100 lbs (so far) and a smaller, fitter body has come the need for an entirely new wardrobe. That being said, I have been in the process of donating my old, "fat" clothes, and selling my really nice, too-big-for-me-now dress/work clothes. So far, I've made a fair amount of money on eBay doing so, and am in the process of liquidating the rest. I plan to reward myself (thanks to my wife who came up with the idea) with an iPad 2 using the money. So far, so as I've lost weight, I've gained cash!

Also, it's been a great excuse for me to clean out the closets and garage and sell off other stuff that's just sitting around and taking up space. The money made off of that stuff will go right into the bank account...again, losing clutter, gaining savings. You can't beat that!

So far, I've found a pair of sneakers potentially worth $300 (see HERE), and plan on selling off some collectible baseball cards I have, my old PlayStation 2 console and games, and other odds and ends that are wasting valuable space in our house.

First, I cleaned up my body and my habits, now I'm cleaning out my closet and our clutter, and at the end of it all, I hope to clean up (in the financial sense).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shoe Thing: Anyone Know Anything About These?

I bought these Converse All-Star Team Legends shoes in 1998, brand new at Red's Shoe Barn in Dover. They're Larry Bird signature versions, which, from what I've found online, are very rare as they were the final pair of shoes he endorsed and were only for sale in New England. I bought them brand new upon release in 1998 and in a size 13, even though my feet are size 15, because Bird was my favorite player growing up and I had to have them, plus they look wicked cool.

These were the only pair Red's had, if I remember correctly, and they were on display so when I bought them, there was no box. I never wore these...they were on a shelf in my room for a year and then sat in a box in my closet, and later my garage, until last month.

Does anyone know how many of these are around and what the value is? I'm thinking of selling...I'm still a diehard Celtics and Bird fan but these aren't doing me any good sitting in a closet and I could put the money towards something more practical (*cough* iPad 2, *cough*).

Any info would be much appreciated!

UPDATE: I just found out from a fellow who is an expert on such things over at that they're worth $200-300!! How cool is that?

Today's the day!

Today, Apple is going to announce the new iPhone, which many people are hoping will be a radically redesigned iPhone 5 but the rumors are pointing that it's more likely to be the iPhone 4S, which will be a really nicely souped up 4 with better display, processing speed, camera, and the crown jewel, the new version of iOS, iOS 5.  Apple is also releasing iOS 5 today for iPhone 4 and 3GS, so I'm really excited for that. My wife and I have 3GS's that are still going strong and are great phones, so I'll be able to use iOS 5 until we're eligible for an upgrade to the new iPhones in March.  It should work perfectly, since by March the hype will have subsided a bit so we should have no problem with stores being out of stock.

Obviously, if you're not an Apple fan geek like me, this post won't interest you in the least!

In any event, we'll know all of the details for sure by this afternoon...stay tuned!