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Bad Zune News

March 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Zune HD

R.I.P. Zune

Today is a sad day for me, and as it turns out, probably not a huge number of others. While watching the latest Windows Weekly (yes, I am a nerd), I heard it finally confirmed. The Zune is no more. You can still get them, but there will not be another Zune. That’s the news coming out of Microsoft, allegedly internally yet still denied publicly. Bloomberg is reporting this as well, and I wish I could say they’re probably wrong, but they most likely are not. This really is sad, because although Apple’s offerings do offer some advantages, my own Zune experience has been overwhelmingly positive in the long run. This little cheap baby (39.95!! refurb!!) has been to hell and back, and still runs beautifully. In fact, it even has a huge crack in the screen. Still works perfectly, still looks good and still sounds fantastic with my headphones of choice. (while in fact, my headphones simply didn’t sound as good on an iPod Nano I tried a while back) I also grew to love the interface with some small caveats. First, the podcast integration was a little wonky, and I missed some of the things my previous players had, such as “most played” and “rarely heard” automatic playlists.

It’s even more frustrating because if they would give it more time, and perhaps just a tiny, teensy-weensy price drop, even if it’s a short lived one, along with more major media ads pointing out it’s advantages (Zune Pass is fantastic, and while not free is as close to a true Spotify as you’ll get while waiting for the popular streaming all-you-can-eat service to come to the US, at 14.95 a month WITH 10 monthly free mp3 downloads you can keep included in the price), it has a chance at a chunk of the market share. Apple WILL dominate for the foreseeable future, especially with the prices being so reasonable while continuing to innovate. You just cannot deny that the iPod touch is a whopper of a deal for what you get now. But not everyone wants to plop down OVER 100 bucks for an mp3 player(for an 8g Nano, even refurbs are about 129.00). And for around 60, they want a screen and if possible more than 2 gb ( although the shuffle is 44.99 at 2gb) . There’s no doubt that if you want the Apple … experience?… the price of entry is much lower than it ever has been.

It’s all a matter of personal tastes, no matter how much Apple-Trekkers will try to tell you differently, but after trying the iTunes and iPod interfaces, I prefer the Zune software and interface by a huge degree. Something just feels right about it all. It will be missed. We’re losing it far too soon. Perhaps they will simply offer a windows phone that can be purchased at a reasonable price that is simply a Zune HD with added features like a camera for stills and videos. I just hope that if this is the way they go they do not lose the HD radio. Sure, there’s not a lot of good programming out there in HD Radio, but it’s going to be around for a while and the offerings will improve with time. (especially as College and Indie/Non-Commercial radio jumps on) Time will tell. I hope this isn’t the last we see of the Zune brand, as long as the Zune software comes along with it and is improved.

However, sadly, I have lost a certain amount of trust with this move and I will soon be the proud owner of an iPod Touch. I just can’t invest in a player that, even discounted to 150 bucks or so (The price for a 16gb Zune HD is now about 164 bucks, and is sure to drop now), will not be improved/developed for, will not be supported and delivers a service I love that may just go “poof” in the near future after that investment of time and money. No thanks. I’d rather spend the 15 bucks a month at iTunes on apps and tracks, or maybe even skip part of that and buy some wi-fi hot-spot access. Besides, have you seen the display on that thing? The retina display is wondrous! I’m sure some people will snatch up those cheap Zune HDs when the price drops and they clear them out finally, but I’m bypassing it and jumping finally into the cult of Apple. Now I must procure the employment to support my new habit. That IPad 2 is lookin’ mighty fine, and why bother getting one of those without a Macbook Air to go with it?  So I must be going now.

Goodbye Zune, we hardly knew ye.

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This article and Image: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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Top 15 Podcasts to prevent Geek Withdrawal

August 12, 2010 5 comments

If it wasn’t clear before just how much of a geek I really am, you’ll be convinced now.  Although I do listen to more music than your average person, I also like to do other things of a slightly more geeky nature such as building my own computers, building speaker enclosures and various other things I could only classify as occasional hobbies. I’m even giving programming a try now(LOL..well..).  Since I’ve been keeping very busy lately, I need a way to keep up with areas of technology and geekdom. My way is by listening to podcasts. Most of them from Leo Laporte’s TWIT network, with areas of interest varying as widely as Law, audio production, general technology and movies/tv shows. Here are my top 15 (yes.. 15.. and I listen to more than 15 a week on the job) podcasts, ending with my favorite so far. So start laughing at me now as I present to you…

My Top 15 Favorite Podcasts, what they cover and why I love them:

15. Tell ’em Steve-Dave – This one keeps getting better and better. Not very geeky, except for the occasional comics talk. But funny.

14. This Week in Google – This isn’t just about Google. It covers “the cloud” and “cloud services/computing”. Great podcast with great, knowledgeable hosts.

13. net@night – Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur chatting about what’s going on in these Internets we keep hearing about.

12. This Week in Computer Hardware – Yeah, I know. But this is one serious show.  And I like to keep up with what’s going on. It’s important to me. Stop poking me with that stick. Seriously. I’ll tell.

11. Inside Home Recording – Just what it sounds like it’s about. A show about home recording. Hardware reviews, tips, tricks, discussion.

10. This Week In Law (TWIL) – This covers law with an emphasis on law that relates to technology and the Internet. As even Leo has said, it can be hard to have a truly rousing conversation with lawyers because they tend to word their opinions almost TOO carefully. And although this can be a bit dry from time to time, I guarantee you will not find a more entertaining law-related podcast. This is as good and as exciting as it gets.

09. Windows Weekly – The interplay between Leo and host Paul Thurrott can be VERY entertaining, with Leo in a way being an Apple guy and Paul obviously (and I’m saying this very generally) being a Windows/PC guy.

08. NSFW – Yeah, not really a tech show. But it’s funny and it’s ON a tech network. Wish they’d come up with a name that was a little more original(similarly named podcast in the early days of podcasting existed long before them,but the vetting process must have been pretty fast). Still, very funny show with great guests. But Cuba. In spite of the name, it is pretty safe for work. Unless you work in a church.

07. Tummelvision – Not on the TWIT Network anymore, sadly. I’ve written about it previously on this blog, which you can read HERE.

06. Cinefantastique Podcast(s) – The best genre movie podcasts out there. Wonderful geeks with a lot of serious knowledge.

05. Tech News Today – A daily (Mon-Fri) show hosted by Tom Merritt, Becky Worley, Sarah Lane and many guest co-hosts. Short, sweet, to the point and covering the daily tech related news.

04. Smodcast – Ever since Kevin Smith started smoking out, this show has become a weekly source of great comedy entertainment. And not because he’s become stupid or something. Because he’s become more relaxed, funnier and in a lot of ways actually sharper. This is not the common result of a pot habit, kids.

03. Radio Free Burrito – This is writer/actor Wil Wheaton’s podcast. Not reliably monthly, but almost always worth the wait. This guy is the real thing. Real geek.Real writer.Real actor. In that order, in fact. I just wish he’d do it more often. It’s a fantastic podcast full of surprises. Shut up, Wesley(haters)! But really… 3 months without a show? No pressure.. just… bummer.

02. FLOSS Weekly – This podcast focuses on Free and Open Source software. It can get DEEPLY geeky at times, but that’s why I love it. It’s willing to go there.  A great service to the open source community. And a great show.

(midi trigger pad roll please)

01. TWIT – The granddaddy of all tech podcasts. Hosted by Leo Laporte, former host and co-host of The Screen Savers and Call For Help on the old Tech TV. His various guest co-hosts are the who’s who of the tech world and this is a fantastic show with great discussions. Sometimes even heated ones. This show can make me pump my fist in the air in agreement OR make me want to throw my Zune out of the car window. But it’s never boring. At least not for me. But then again you have to consider that I’m The Guy that pumps his fists in the air when listening to a tech podcast. So.. there ya go.

Enjoy. And stop laughing at me, I can’t hear it anyway. 😉

Why I Love my Zune (and why it’s tough love)

April 3, 2010 5 comments

Zune with Packaging

The Zune with packaging.

A while back, I was looking for a new mp3 player with a budget of around 200 bucks. I found myself at the local Fry’s Electronics, browsing around when I glanced at their print ad for the week displayed. There on it was a Zune (only 4 gigs, but still..) for 39.95 WITH a free docking station thingee for free thrown in. Well, I kept my extra cash and went for it, in spite of my concerns over Microsoft products. Now, I do not usually review hardware, so bear with me. I just felt so strongly about the positives and negatives about this product, I felt I would be able to help others who are searching for mp3 players and do not trust the usual resources for reviews. And no, it’s not the latest and greatest. Matter of fact, this particular Zune has been around for a long time in electronics hardware terms. Not everyone can afford the latest and greatest. This review is for those people. So if you’re the kind of person who probably already has an iPad on pre-order, this might be a waste of your time.

First, the positives. Why? Because I think they outweigh the negatives.

I love the way it feels in my hand. It doesn’t feel unbalanced or fragile. Matter of fact, it is anything but fragile. I’ve dropped it hard on concrete from a good height so many times I’ve lost count. Each time I’ve expected to pick it up and find its glass front cracked and it’s display wonky. Never happened.

I like the way it looks. In spite of all the design-worship associated with Apple products, I personally find them well designed, but a bit out of time. They always seem , to me, to resemble something out of a 70s catalog geared toward pot or coke-head bachelors living in a studio apartment and driving a van with a waterbed in the back. The kind of guy that had a perm, owned more than one mirror with the Coke-A-Cola logo on it and dated a girl who was 17 when he was 31. That white plastic, “this is what WE think the future will look like”, sterile look. You can love it all you want, but I’ve grown to find it more cheesy over the years. This thing is sleek, black and functional. Simple. It feels balanced in every way.

I like the software! The software runs well on XP, which shocked me. I expected it to feel bloated, slow and more restrictive than it turned out to be. The interface for the player and the sync software are both intuitive, simple yet flexible. On the player, it’s pretty slick. I have yet to run into problems like crashes, weird behavior or road blocks of any significance. Not so with the Creative player/software I’d used in the past. That stuff was bloated, crashed often and in spite of it being fairly customizable, not very intuitive or visually interesting. In one case, I found out much later that in spite of its “expansion port” for SD cards, you could not make a playlist or even play tracks from BOTH the internal memory AND the SD card. You had to actually take the card out to access songs on the internal memory. One or the other, not both. Fail. There’s no expansion on my Zune, but I prefer that to having it be half-assed.

The battery life is unreal. I’ve never run out of battery life, months in. It appears to charge via USB from half to full in about 10 minutes or less. Most of the time, I get enough of a charge for a 4 to 5 hour night of listening by just plugging it in and syncing. It then sits on the USB port for maybe 5 minutes, tops. About once a week I let it stay plugged in for a few hours to get a full charge.  The rest of the time, it gets close to being drained, but never gives me any kind of alert saying it’s close to dead. Then when I turn it back on, it appears to have a quarter charge again. This may be different for someone who does not sync daily. I do. So that may make a difference.

If you can find it for a price similar to the one I snagged it for, it’s a damned good deal for a durable, reliable little workhorse of a player.

Now, the negatives.

NO EQ! How did they manage to make such a high quality little player and not include SOME kind of rudimentary EQ?? Anyone familiar with how headphones can vary in quality and especially “colour” can tell you how important an EQ can be for a portable player. (more on the “deal” with headphones in another article) There isn’t even a “bass-treble” control. Major oversight. In spite of this, the player sounds fantastic on a decent set of ‘phones. Perhaps this is something that was fixed with a firmware or software update. Perhaps. Which leads us to the next issue…

I cannot, after several attempts, reboots, firewall re-sets and full permissions, get this thing to update software OR even let me sign in with an account. That’s right. I’d love to try out the Zune Pass. But for some reason they do not like my PC or ISP.. or something. So I guess they just do not want my money. So in spite of being able to connect to several wireless networks with the player itself, I have no account to sign in with. This, for me, is a minor issue since that was not something I had in mind when purchasing a player in the first place. So it’s not a huge loss for me, but it’s a bit of a loss for them. Zune pass looks like a good deal, I’d love to try it and can even imagine keeping it. Each time I try, it says it failed and to “try again later”. I have. It still fails.

Another small issue has to do with Various Artists collections (such as the various playlist torrents). No matter HOW the tags are written, it sees each track as a separate ALBUM by that artist. So, to hear.. say.. Blalock’s Indie Rock Playlist for April, 2010, I cannot just select it as an album (even if the album artist is various artists OR Blalock’s etc etc OR even the album name is Blalock’s etc etc) and listen. Nope. I have to make a custom Zune playlist to listen to it and only it. Pain.In.Ass. I make those all the time anyway, so it’s not a huge complaint. It just feels like something that could be easily fixed.

The last and maybe least of the negatives is the deal with podcasts and audio-books.  If I had an account and could connect the player or the Zune software to any kind of Internet, I could just subscribe to podcast RSS feeds and grab stuff that way. Instead, I have a folder I drop individual podcasts into. It works great! ….

..as long as the ID tags were written correctly , identifying its “genre” as “Podcast”. Harumph. So, in many cases, especially if the podcaster is trying to be cute and funny by calling the genre of his or her show “poetry” or “dog whistles”, I have to hand-edit the ID tags to correctly read “podcast” with every show I download. Not a huge deal, I’m used to fixing that stuff. But it can be a pain in the ass if I’m trying to load up the latest TWIT show with a genre tag of “tech news” instead of “podcast” (hello!! I think we know it’s tech news! get it right! it’s a PODCAST! ok, not really mad..sorry) when I have 5 minutes to leave for work. Same goes for audio-books. Those things are hugely popular and very well-known. People love them. Why is it I have to screw with the tags and call them “podcast”s in order for them to sync??

These may seem like large negatives, but most of that has to do with the fact that I complain well. It IS a great player for the price. And I will be buying a Zune HD when I get the chance. I just hope by then, some of these small but obvious issues will be ironed out a bit. I mean, I’m cool with editing ID tags forever as long as I can have an EQ. The iPod may be elegant to some, and honestly the software IS slick. But if you’re a Windows user, iTunes is a bloated, slow, pain in the ass that crashes more often than Windows ME ever did. And show me a 4 gig iPod for 39.95 with a docking station and a gorgeous color display. I could find one using Google product search for 49.00 , but it was a refurb with no docking station(Nano, 3rd gen). The Zune is a great deal.

That’s my 2.5 cents.

Image Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/penmachine/2681955214/in/set-72157606246514414/

Creative Commons – Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic

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Tummelvision – Netcast-Podcast Review

March 21, 2010 3 comments

Tummelvision

always seems to get the best of me

I stumbled onto Tummelvision by accident one day popping in on the TWIT chatroom and live stream on a Thursday, as I often do randomly. The people in that chatroom, by the way, have to be the nicest large chatroom group of people I’ve ever encountered. Helpful, friendly, welcoming, not kick-ban-happy, knowledgeable, diverse and just generally smart and funny. A little rare, if you ask me. But enough about them for now, as great as they are. This Tummelvision show was a real shock of a discovery. The hosts (Deborah Schultz,Heather Gold,Kevin Marks) and guests were amazing, sharp people with the gift of gab. So there I was in the chatroom commenting on the subject being discussed when out of no-where, I hear my nickname mentioned on the show itself. Wow! Quick ego-injection aside, this show was not only keeping track of the chatroom, they were interacting with it! After a short time, I became aware that if they didn’t interact with the chatroom/community, it would have been near hypocrisy. See, the show is about community, in a way. And community-building.

.It’s about a little more than just being the “life of the party”. In this context it can be more about community-building, even if the community is temporary or brief.  Or consider perhaps just connection-making. Was there someone who introduced Jobs to Wozniak? Or maybe just placed them in the same room?And will history record that person’s name? Probably not. But Tummelvision could make a go of ensuring the next person who makes that kind of momentous connection at least gets a mention here and there, if not some deserved credit.

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tummler

  1. An employee – usually male** – of a Catskill Mountains resort charged with the duty of entertaining guests throughout the day by providing any number of services, from comedian to master of ceremonies.
  2. A lively, puckish man.

In this time of “Social Media Gurus”, which are as common as fleas, only more annoying, intrusive and difficult to get rid of*,  it could be easy to group these people with the self-proclaimed gurus. (not that there is another kind of guru, if you’re really honest with yourself and others***) This could not be further from the truth in this case. These people actually have knowledge and information of value to share, AND actually share it weekly on their show. The hosts have experience and demonstrate their abilities each week, with proof visible in the chatroom itself and how it’s integrated with the show. It’s not a tease, a come-on or a half-baked scam. This is the real deal.

Now, any time you start to talk about technique or rules, methods or sciences when it comes to social interaction, you will meet with a lot of resistance/distrust. Why? Well, you probably already sense why a bit on your own. But no matter how rules-based or technique-based social interactions (that are a success) are, we’d all like to feel as though it’s all natural and instinctual. Applying technique immediately brings to mind, for some, a feeling of disingenuousness or even plain deception. But when we approach social interaction with that kind of almost dogma-like attitude, we’re kind of lying to ourselves. It may feel natural, but in reality we have our very own internalized techniques and rules. We’re just so used to applying them internally, they feel natural. They are in fact as much or as little based on nature than what this show talks about every week. And if you can get past this initial prejudice, the show has a lot to offer anyone, whether you’re a professional tummler or just a casual one throwing a party for friends. And who knows, maybe the next Jobs and Woz are coming to your little party because you thought to yourself.. hey.. “these guys should meet!”. Except this time, you can put a name to what you’ve done (although I must note Tummeling is more than just introductions, from my beginner’s exposure to the world of Tummelers) and maybe take some credit for it.

Bottom line? This is a great, fun show to watch or watch and interact with. And learn from.

You can catch the show Thursdays live HERE on the TWIT live network as well as archived HERE. And, well, get Tummeling!

(also.. Leo.. get this show on the network officially as part of the main line-up. it’s a winner)

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***There are two kinds of guru. One proclaims himself as one and has at least one respected follower. The other is self-proclaimed with few if any followers. The difference between the two is negligible except for the respect tossed in the direction of the first because of the reputation of his follower(s). Both usually claim to have secret knowledge and rarely deliver anything of non-obvious value. Both are, as noted, self-proclaimed and typically have no accomplishments beyond their self-proclamation as gurus. All of the above, it would seem, love Twitter and treat it as a “whoever dies with the most followers wins” game. One step away from garden-variety spammer.

**Surprising, eh?

*And “itchy”

Definition of Tummler from Wiktionary

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/perfectance/4311873377/

Creative Commons – Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

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