Archive for January 2010

A Music Lover’s Dream

January 26, 2010

Some of you may have thought about digitizing your music collection.  You can do that quite easily by importing CD’s to your iTunes library.  And even digitizing old LP’s and 45 RPM records is a lot easier than you think.

I have done all of that and I recently discovered a fabulous tool that makes listening to music a dream come true.  It’s a gadget called the Squeezebox Duet.  This is a device that lets you play your music wirelessly from your computer.  It comes with a small receiver that plugs into your stereo system with standard audio cables.  The other piece is a handheld controller that works like an iPod.  Only it’s a whole lot better!

First of all, let me tell you that the Squeezebox Duet is on sale at Amazon.com for only $299, which is almost one-third off the list price, plus no sales tax and free shipping.   I got mine about a week ago, and I’m still marveling over all the things it can do.

Imagine you are sitting on the couch, reading a magazine or the newspaper.  You want to put on some music.  In the old days, you would have walked over to a shelf full of CD’s and rummaged through them to try to find something.  Or, before that you would have picked out a stack of LP’s, dusted them off, and put them on the record player.

With the Squeezebox, here’s how cool it gets.  You grab the controller and scroll through the Artist list.  Pick out and album and hit the Play button.  It starts instantly.  Then, you decide what you want to play next.  Pick out another album and hit the Plus button.  Boom, you’ve just added a second album to your Now Playing List.  It’s that simple.  Now just relax and enjoy the music.  The sound quality is superb, much better than you get from an iPod dock.

Let’s say you are planning a party and you want some good music to entertain your friends.  Before they arrive, you can quickly pick out a few hours worth of fun music, to be played in whatever order you want.  Let’s say you want a mixture of Jazz and Pop.  And you want the songs to be shuffled at random.  Just go to the Genres menu and check off Jazz and Pop.  Then hit Random Mix, Songs, and Play.  That’s all there is to it.

The device offers just about every flexible option you can think of.  It’s like having an electronic jukebox at your fingertips.  All of your iTunes playlists are available.  And you can create your own playlists from the controller.  If you pick out a group of songs, albums, or a combination of both, and you decide to save that set as a new playlist, you can do that with just a few clicks.  And of course you can play every song by a single artist if you wish, right from the Artist menu.

And if that isn’t cool enough, you get free access to dozens of Internet radio stations.  You can punch them up just as easily and control the music in amazing ways.  All of your local radio stations are there, plus every style you can think of over Internet radio.  Last night I was listening to Slacker Radio.  I had already saved it to my Favorites menu, so it was easy to find.  But after a couple of good songs, they played one I didn’t like.  So, just for the heck of it, I tried hitting the Skip button.  Believe it or not, it jumped to another song instantly!

Yes, there are even apps for the Squeezebox.  On their website, you can select from a number of free apps that give you radio stations that you can customize to suit your style.   And there are apps that give you an interesting array of daily and weekly podcasts.

So, you need not be stuck in front of a computer or music player to control your music.  Nor do you have to get up and go to the iPod dock and change selections.  It’s all right there at your fingertips.  And, if you hear a song that you don’t recognize, just grab the controller and read the title and artist name, even from a local radio station.  And did I forget to mention?  If you like a song, the Amazon.com MP3 store is only a couple of clicks away.  Like I said, the Squeezebox is a music lover’s dream.

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My First Art Award

January 16, 2010

Since I am new to blogging and Facebook, I’d like to let everyone know about the award that I won in the fall.  At the Austin-Lima, Peru “Art Across the Americas” show, I won the People’s Choice Award.  It was a nice surprise!  Here is the piece that won.

"Cactus Flower" 12 X 12 On Canvas, Gallery Wrapped, $225

How “Thistles” Came About

January 16, 2010

Thanks to my friends who complimented me on this art piece.  I just entered it into the competition for the “For the Love of Art” show at Austin Art Space Gallery.  I had the subject in mind when I took the shot, but I did not know until much later just how I would approach the composition.

Here’s the original next to the final piece.   Notice the effect of the background in the final piece.  I had no idea of its eventual impact when I first took the photo.

"Thistles"

From a Mission in Ventura

January 15, 2010

I haven’t been to Ventura in over a year, but here is another piece that Debbi helped me rediscover.  It was a larger scene, but these thistle-like plants are what caught my eye, so I cropped in on them.

"Thistles"

Rediscovering Ventura Harbor

January 15, 2010

Earlier this week, Debbi Smith Rourke, my artist friend came over so we could begin to plan our next big challenge.  We are working on a collaboration, so I will just leave you with that hint for now.  (See the link to Debbi’s blog in the lower right column).

So, while we were working together, she helped me rediscover some things in my photo library.  This is one we’re both kind of excited about.  It hasn’t been printed yet, but I definitely plan to display it in an upcoming show.

“Ventura Harbor”

Where Will the Digital Signposts Lead?

January 15, 2010

I got a lot of nice comments on my writings about the big changes from the last decade to the new one we have entered.  So, I decided to do a followup.  If technology is leading us in all of these changes, where are we headed and how will we adapt?

1.  The Implications of a Wireless World

In the big personal computer revolution, we could do things that we never imagined. Like printing in sophisticated ways right from home, chatting around the world, and sending pictures and other things attached to electronic mail.  But we had to be sitting at a plugged in computer to do those things.  Now the portable devices are taking over.  Eventually, the Internet will be with us everywhere we go.  It can be now on laptops, but with a high monthly fee.

When the prices come down and the devices become more portable, such as the new tablets coming out this year, a lot of things will change.  We will stop thinking of the Internet as a unique “place.”  It will be with us all the time, just like a purse, wallet, or wristwatch.  New generations will never know what it’s like not to be connected.

Let’s step back and think about the most immediate form of communication that we used to have – the land line telephone.  The next step after that was snail mail and even the telegram.  And if we wanted the latest news, we would look for a newspaper, or turn on the radio or TV.  In the digital age, all of those things are with us everywhere we go.  But there are still some fractures in the way we access this stuff.

People who have dropped their land line telephones have to remember to carry their cell phones around the house.  The old convenience of extension phones goes away.  When you want to watch a movie or a TV show, you need to track down which remote to use, the DVR one, the TV one, the DVD player one, or whatever.  And this process is played out in whatever room you happen to be in.

What will probably change all that is the disappearance of the physical computer, as we know it today.  Homes will probably have a central box where the guts of a computer are kept.  Sort of like the metal enclosure where your TV cables are set up, or the circuit breaker box in your house.  The guts of a computer will probably be about the size of a paperback book, if not smaller.

Everything that “connects” to the computer will do so wirelessly.  Portable devices will be cheap enough that you could have one in each room for convenience.  You should be able to point one of them at a any screen in any room and use it as  a remote to watch TV, movies, or browse the latest pictures from your camera.  And if you get a phone call, just tap the device and answer the call.

These devices, much like an iPhone, will be used in stores to scan things you buy, and in the car to look up where you are, using GPS.  A lot of these things are already happening, but what will change is the merging of all the complicated ways that we do it now.   It will rapidly reach the point where every device does just about everything in the same simple way,   There won’t be the distinction between a cell phone account, an Internet account, and a cable account.  Cable TV will almost certainly go away, as will anything else that relies on wires or cables.  It will all be done “online” and wirelessly.  Eventually, we won’t even notice whether or not we are online, because we will be there all the time.  This convergence of devices and “always online” state of things will be made possible by citywide wireless services, based on Wimax and other similar competing technologies.   Austin is just now getting one called Clearwire, but I’d advise checking the customer reviews before signing up.

2. What Will Happen to Online Media?

When newspapers, magazines, and printed materials went online in the early 90’s, we all got used to it.  Mostly because the established brands were portable enough to just move to the new medium.  The same publishers were in charge, so there was a logical structure in place to lead the change.  However, the profits are not as high as anticipated and the publishers are in a quandary. The profits from the print editions are fading away as those operations go away.  And they are hoping that new tablet devices will open a new paid subscription market.  But, will people be willing to pay for something they are used to getting for free?   Nobody knows yet how that situation will play out.

Music is an even more complicated story.  The old model of the record labels calling the shots did not adapt well to digital distribution, and the industry is still in a state of disarray.  There is plenty of music available online, from iTunes, Amazon.com, and other sources.  But who’s in charge of marketing and promotion?   And where do the music buyers get exposed to the new music?

There are plenty of scattered websites offering new music.  But old models die hard.  Just like it’s difficult for the music industry to give up CD’s, the movie industry is struggling to adapt to streaming music.  A Netflix movie played over the Internet looks just as good on a big screen TV as a high definition DVD or cable TV signal.  So, both CD’s and DVD’s will probably become obsolete.  Imagine the cost savings of never having to manufacture, package, or distribute those anymore.  Hopefully, we consumers will be exposed to many more choices at a much lower cost.  The biggest challenge, especially for musicians, will be to organize some sort of popular system to replace traditional radio.  An early example of that is the Pandora style radio software, where you create your own stations by selecting your favorite artists or genres of music.  But the so-called “Killer App” for music that replaces all the traditional marketing, promotion, and distribution has not come about yet.  That industry is still lost on the digital highway.

3. Taking Wireless to the Next Level

Today, wireless is primarily used to deliver content from the Internet to your computer or handheld device.  The next step, which is getting close to happening, is wireless communication between devices.  Bluetooth does that, but only at short distances.  When wireless expands to connect devices, you won’t have to use cables to set up printers, hard drives, scanners, etc.  And people will be able to share information just be pointing a device at their friend’s device and tapping, swiping, or jiggling the device.  An iPhone app called “Bump” can do some of that already.

And by the way, batteries will be charged automatically.  The technology to charge them over the air is already on its way to development.

4. The New World of Interactive Video

When you throw cameras into the mix, it really gets interesting.  With high speed video conferencing, the home user can have lots of fun.  You should be able to whip out an iPod on a vacation and show your family back home a live video of the white cliffs of Dover.  They’ll be watching it live on their HD TV.

A logical extension of that idea involves face to face contact.  People in large numbers have not taken up the use of video phone technology.  It can be done on computers quite easily with cameras that come built-in.  But I can think of one scenario that might make it more appealing.  Right now, if you sit on the couch with your laptop and play Scrabble through the Google website, iGoogle, you can see and talk to the person you are playing with.

But your opponent’s face is in a little box on the screen and it may show up at a weird angle in crummy light.  The ideal situation would be a full screen Scrabble board, with a formatted image of the person you are playing with, sitting on the other side of the game board.  On the screen, you would see them sitting in a chair, facing you, with the game board on a table.  That would look a lot more natural.  Perhaps what we need is some software to upload some pictures of our friends, so that simulated, realistic images of them could be put into the game playing “scene.”  Then the computer camera would pick up the live facial expressions and eye contact, making it appear like you were in the same room playing together.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that type of real world simulation to allow people to interact in natural ways in lots of situations.  Beyond playing games, people in different cities could go shopping together at virtual stores, and check out what each other is wearing.  The computer would have stored images of you.  So, if you clicked on an outfit in a store, you and whoever you were shopping with would see a live simulation of you wearing it.  Or you could both take a walk along a Hawaiian beach and have a nice chat.

All of these thoughts leave me with one final question.  How long will it be before we’ll be able to substitute our own selves for the lead role in a movie?  I wouldn’t mind watching a good Sandra Bullock movie with me in the male lead!

New Changes for the New Decade

January 15, 2010

As we enter the new decade, it’s mind-boggling to think of some of the longtime traditional aspects of our lives that will be changing forever.  Whether these changes are good or bad depends in part on how we adapt to them.  But, ready or not, here they come!

1. The Post Office.  Get ready to imagine a world without the post office.  They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term.  Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive.  Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.

2. The Check.  Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018.  It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks.  Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check.  This plays right into the death of the post office.  If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business.

3. The Newspaper.  The younger generation simply doesn’t read the newspaper.  They certainly don’t subscribe to a daily delivered print edition.  That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man.  As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it.  The rise in mobile internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance.  They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services.

4. The Book.  You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages.  I said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes.  I wanted my hard copy CD.  But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music.  The same thing will happen with books.  You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy.  And the price is less than half that of a real book.  And think of the convenience!  Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can’t wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you’re holding a gadget instead of a book.

5. The Land Line Telephone.  Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don’t need it anymore.  Most people keep it simply because they’ve always had it.  But you are paying double charges for that extra service.  All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes.

6. Music.  This is one of the saddest parts of the change story.  The music industry is dying a slow death.  Not just because of illegal downloading.  It’s the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it.   Greed and corruption is the problem.  The record labels and the radio conglomerates simply self-destructed.  Over 40% of the music purchased today is “catalog items,” meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with.  Older established artists.  This is also true on the live concert circuit.  To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, “Appetite for Self-Destruction” by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, “Before the Music Dies.”

7. Television.  Revenues to the networks are down dramatically.  Not just because of the economy.  People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers.  And they’re playing games and doing lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV.  Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than the lowest common denominator.  Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds.  I say good riddance to most of it.  It’s time for the cable companies to be put out of our misery.  Let the people choose what they want to watch online and through Netflix.

7. The “Things” That You Own.  Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future.  They may simply reside in “the cloud.”  Today your computer has a hard drive, where you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents.  Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be.  But all of that is changing.  Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest “cloud services.”  That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system.  So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet.  If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud.  If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud.  And you may pay a monthly subscription fee to the cloud provider.

In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or handheld device.  That’s the good news.  But, will you actually own any of this “stuff” or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big “Poof?”  Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical?  It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.

8. Privacy.  If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy.  That’s gone.  It’s been gone for a long time anyway.  There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone.  But you can be sure that 24/7 “They” know who your are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View.  If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits.  And “They” will try to get you to buy something else.  Again and again.

Welcome to the new decade!