The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

For want of a Play All button in Apple Music

As has probably most everyone else, I’ve started my three-month Apple Music trial. I listened to about an hour’s worth of Beats 1 Radio on the first day, and found it basically forgettable. (All the “Beats 1 worldwide!” voiceovers during songs certainly didn’t help—but I figure they’re doing that to prevent people from recording the high quality stream.)

Anyway, I was most interested in the For You feature, as I wanted to discover music similar to what I liked, but that I may not have heard before. Using my iPhone, I went through the “tell us about your tastes” feature in Apple Music, then switched back to my Mac to look at the For You section in iTunes. There I found an assortment of playlists:

Some I wouldn’t like, some I would, and (most interesting to me), there were some that had stuff I hadn’t heard before. Unfortunately, this is where Apple lost me…

What I wanted to do, as I looked at this wide assortment of music, was just hit the Play button, and let iTunes navigate the entire selection. But I couldn’t, because iTunes’ playback buttons are all grayed out. Argh!

The only way to listen to these selections is one playlist at a time. But that’s not how I listen to music. I enjoy a broad selection of music across many genres, and very rarely do I listen solely to one artist, one album, or even one genre. Why? Because when I do, I wind up getting burned out on that artist, album, or genre, such that I don’t want to hear it again for a while.

Instead, I just play music, paying no attention to genre, artist, or album. And once I start iTunes playing, it’s typically playing all day without any interaction from me. But if I want to use Apple Music’s For Me, I’ll have to return to iTunes to pick new selections as each selection finishes. Honestly, for something that’s background as I work, that’s too much effort.

In the end, as much as I’d like to use the For Me feature in Apple Music, I just can’t see myself doing it unless Apple adds a Play All (random, of course) button. Please?

Cheap fireworks in slow-mo are oddly compelling

I’ll be out of town on the Fourth of July, so the kids and I did our little fireworks celebration last night. This being Oregon, we stuck to what we could legally buy, which basically means nothing that can fly or explode. For grins, I set up my iPhone on a tripod, and shot some of the fireworks in slow-mo mode. The result was much better than I was anticipating…

That’s about a minute’s worth of one of the larger fireworks. You can download that one (1280×720, 96MB), or if you want, download the full seven-minute version. Be aware: If you’re on a metered connection, the big version will set you back 671MB!

Trip Report: Chambers Bay for spectators

When I first heard—way back in 2011—that the US Open was coming to Chambers Bay golf course, located less than three hours from my home in Beaverton, Oregon, I knew I wanted to go. Having played the course (just once), I thought it’d be great fun to watch the pros play at the same place (though with a very different setup…and a very different skill set!)

After much planning and a year of waiting, we finally made the trek last Thursday. We arrived at the course at 7:00am, and didn’t leave until after 8:00pm. Overall, it was an amazing experience—heck, I even got to hold the actual trophy during a backstage tour of the TV production facilities. (That was an amazing experience, and well worth the $10/year cost to belong to the USGA, even ignoring all the good stuff they do for the game.)

But having been there for Thursday, I was quite content to return home for the final rounds this weekend, watching on the big screen in high def. Why? Because as amazing as Chambers Bay is to both visit and play (if you’re a golfer, it’s well worth its outrageous cost), it’s a terrible place to watch pro golfers play the game.

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The bizarre world of digital movie pricing

Recently DirecTV had a free HBO preview weekend; as we’re not subscribers, I set our DVR up to record a number of movies. One of those films was X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’d never seen any of the X-Men movies, and I really liked this one. So I decided to watch the other six films in the series, renting them on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

I was able to rent all movies except The Wolverine, which is only available as a purchase on either Amazon Video ($12.99) or Apple TV ($14.99). So I had to buy one movie, and rented the other five. In total, I paid $34.94—about $5.82 each—to watch six movies, including buying The Wolverine. That’s not outrageously expensive. (I paid an extra $2 to buy the iTunes version, as it’s a better viewing experience than Amazon Instant Video.)

But (excluding The Wolverine), that’s my cost to watch them just once. If I or anyone in my family wants to watch them in the future, we’ll have to pay again. If I want to own the movies, to make them free to watch any time, I could either buy them digitally or on Blu-Ray.

To buy all six movies on iTunes, I’d pay a whopping $89.94, as each is priced at $14.99. (You’d think the first three films, all being at least nine years old, would be cheaper…but you’d think wrong.) Over on Amazon Instant Video, it’d still cost $77.94 to buy the six movies on digital, as they’re $12.99 each.

Clearly, if digital is that expensive, then the Blu-Rays will be even more, right? After all, they have to be mastered, duplicated, boxed, sealed, and shipped to retailers. There are physical returns to worry about, and management of all the stuff in all of those steps…so these Blu-Rays are going to be incredibly costly, right? No, not right at all.

A quick trip to amazon.com leads to X-Men and The Wolverine Collection, which contains all six of the movies on Blu-Ray. And the cost for all six movies? Only $34.96, or exactly two cents more than I paid to to rent five and buy one in digital form!

(I found the exact same collection on walmart.com for the same price, too, so this isn’t some Amazon-only special pricing. And even at the full list price of $69.99, this collection is still cheaper than the digital versions.)

Even if I wanted to buy all six movies separately, the total cost for all six would be $73.78—still cheaper than either iTunes or Amazon Instant Video! (Most of this cost savings is because the older movies are indeed cheaper than the newer movies. And the newer movies are, in some cases, more than their digital counterparts.)

In a nutshell, I should have simply bought the six-disc collection and been done with it. (It’s also not too much work to rip them myself if there’s not a bundled digital copy, so I can watch on Apple TV, iPad, etc.)

I’d have spent all of two pennies more than what I did, and I’d own the actual movies, free to use when I like and how I like. Sometimes I really hate Hollywood.

A useless analysis of OS X release dates

Updated and republished for the OS X 10.10.3 Supplemental Update release; skip it unless you really really care about all the OS X releases. Originally published on November 14th, 2005.

Below the break is a table showing all major releases of OS X from the public beta through the latest public version, which is OS X 10.10.3 Supplemental Update as of April 16th, 2015. Note that this release marks the 87th release of OS X (counting major, minor, and released-then-yanked updates). Wow.

Note: Click the ⓘ symbol to read Apple’s release notes for a given update.

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The new scaled Retina MacBook

I stopped by the Apple Store today to look at the Apple Watch (summary: amazing tech, but it’s a watch, yawn) and the new ultralight MacBook, which is potentially much more interesting to me than a watch.

I spent some time typing (definitely less travel and firmer, but felt fine to me), and looking at the colors (silver—boring, gold—schlocky, space gray—omg perfect!). Speed for simple tasks seemed more than fine, though I’d hate to push it with Motion or Final Cut or anything like that. It’s definitely amazingly thin and light.

But the thing I really wanted to look at was the screen. This is a retina device, with a stated screen resolution of 2304×1440. On the MacBook Pro side of the fence, each of the stated pixel values is halved to get the effective ultra-sharp resolution you’ll see in the machine’s default mode. The 13″ rMBP’s 2560×1600 screen is effectively 1280×800 as shipped; the 15″ rMBP’s 2880×1800 gets you 1440×900. In both cases, each full-resolution dimension is halved to find the default usable screen resolution.

Given that the new MacBook’s screen is 2304×1440, I was expecting to see the display effectively at 1152×720. This is less than you get on an 11″ Air (1366×768), which is odd given the larger screen. I was curious how it would look. I should however, have read Jason’s reviewer’s notebook before heading to the store, as he points out that this isn’t the case.

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Improve the performance of your audio/video system

I take my audio and video very seriously; my audio/video room is built on a separate foundation from the rest of the house, the sub-floor is acoustically isolated from the foundation, and the walls and floor have been tuned for perfect response regardless of listening position. In short, I don’t mess around with my audio/video stuff.

But I always think there’s room for improvement, which is why I was so excited by the arrival of my long-backordered Chromatic Response Augmentation Panels, pictured at right.

These panels (a steal at only $229.95 per set of 25; I ordered an eight-pack) are simply incredible. How do they work, you may ask? You apply them to your audio and video cables, and the chemically-coated colors in the panels act on the electrons in the wiring, aligning them for fewer collisions and better flow rate.

Why should you want to reduce collisions and increase flow rate? After installation and 100 hours of continuous testing in my audio/video room, here’s why: They’re amazing! My audio playback was impressively better than before I installed the augmentation panels. The sound stage was broader yet more nuanced, stereo separation improved by 87%, and I noted a subtle but discernible reduction in noise below the 20Hz level. Incredible!

My 1977 master recording of Steve Fullerton and the Vienna Beach Orchestra performing Riccardo’s monumental 1771 symphony “En Periodico De Nada Fulleste” sounds better than I’ve ever heard it before.

My video playback was similarly improved: The blacks were blacker, the color palette was stunning in its breadth, and interlacing was basically gone. Watching the director’s cut of the seminal 1968 film “The Peacekeepers,” I was drawn into the movie like never before. It was almost like I was right there, demonstrating with everyone. Intense!

They may look like Sticky notes, but these augmentation panels have demonstrable real-world benefits in both the audio and video realms. Frankly, I’m blown away by these little panels of color!

When installing the panels, make sure you follow the instructions precisely—each type of cable requires a different repeating color sequence. Why? Because the types of electrons vary depending on source and destination, and the panels must be ordered properly to reflect these differences. For instance, here’s my RCA cable wrapped with the panels:

While RCA uses a YPGWB—Yellow Pink Green White Blue—repeating pattern (see note below), Toslink cables use BBWGPPY, HDMI cables are GGWBPYBG, speaker wire is GPWWBYYP, etc. It’s all explained in the 200-page installation instructions, which can be easily followed by anyone with a dual degree in physics and chemistry.

(Note: Because of their country of origin, the augmentation panels’ patterns go from right to left, not left to right. Make sure you get the directionality correct, or you’ll lose all the benefits of the panels.)

Note, too, that the panels must end 1/2″ from the end of the cable, so as to let the electrons slow a bit before reaching the termination point. Otherwise you’ll risk blowing out your equipment due to the high-speed electron collisions.

Anyway, if you’re the type that wants the best out of your audio/video system, I highly recommend the Chromatic Response Augmentation Panels; at only about $2,000 to do all my cable runs, it’s an amazing bargain. I’ve heard that the factory is making the stuff as fast as they can, but quantities are currently quite limited—so order your CRAP now before it’s all gone!

The all-in-one Apple Watch spreadsheet

Let me get this out of the way first: I am not a watch guy. I own a watch I use for running. I own a few dress watches that I used to put on when I had a big fancy business meeting to attend. But those haven’t seen the light of day in decades. So I have zero interest in owning an Apple Watch. (I might be interested if you could use one to replace the phone, but it’s clearly an accessory device.)

But I am fascinated by this new business Apple’s going into; the sheer number of products and prices is pretty amazing: By my count, Apple will be shipping 38 separate models of watches. There’s a gallery page at Apple’s site where you can page through all of the watches, and get the details on each specific model. You can also view the watches in the store, where you can find pricing info.

Update: Kirk McElhearn pointed me to Apple’s Watch Sizing Guide, which contains information on band lengths. I’ve added two columns (Band Sizes, Band Size Range) to reflect these values.

Both of these solutions, though, require lots of paging and scrolling to get all the details. I was curious as to how all the watches compared, so I pulled data from those sources and made one massive spreadsheet:

If you’d like to download the file and look at it in Excel (or Numbers or whatever), here it is. Feel free to share; I merely compiled the publicly-available data and don’t really care what you do with it (though leaving the attribution in place would be nice).

There are some interesting facts hidden in all that data:

  • The lightest watch isn’t any of the Watch Sport versions. Instead, it’s the Classic Buckle Apple Watch (56 grams), which is a full six grams lighter than the next-lightest watch.
  • The heaviest watch—at a whopping 125 grams—is the Apple Watch Stainless Steel link (42mm in either stainless or space black). That may not sound like much, but 125 grams is over four ounces, or to put it another way, it’s like wearing a quarter-pound hamburger on your wrist (weight before cooking, of course). It’s also 2.2x as heavy as the lightest watch.
  • Color adds weight: in the Watch Sport category, the bands’ weight varies by color. Black is 37g, then pink (42g), green (43g), blue (44g) and white (47g). So somewhat oddly, to go light, go with black.
  • Band size only changes weight by one gram (modern buckle) or three grams (leather loop).
  • In the Apple Watch family, you can’t get a 38mm leather loop, or a 42mm modern buckle. I have no idea why they restricted these choices; it seems odd.
  • In the Apple Watch Edition family, there’s no 38mm classic buckle, and no 42mm modern buckle. Again, this seems an odd restriction.
  • I don’t have any plans on keeping this current as Apple (inevitably) adds more watches to the mix, but it was interesting seeing all the “day one” models in one spot.

Use Intel’s Power Gadget to keep an eye on your CPU

If you’re the type who likes to keep an eye on your system, you may be familiar with tools such as Activity Montior’s CPU meters, or iStat Menus, which displays a ton of system info via its menubar icon. Neither of these tools, however, really show you what the CPU itself is up to—and that’s where an Intel-provided tool enters the scene.

The Intel® Power Gadget shows you exactly what your CPU is up to: how much power it’s using, what speed it’s running at, and its temperature. As seen in the image at right (click for larger), it graphs these three values over time.

The data you’re seeing there is from my 4GHz Retina iMac, and the screenshot was grabbed while it wasn’t doing much in particular. What really stands out to me is how often my 4GHz CPU is running at something closer to 3GHz; if the CPU isn’t being called on for its full power, I’m assuming it slows itself down to reduce power usage.

But as soon as you do something that demands the CPU’s full power, the napping stops. Here’s a brief movie I created showing the CPU tracking when I started ripping a Blu-Ray:

The machine is basically idle at first, then I start the rip after 15 seconds or so. As soon as the hard work starts, the power and temperature charts shoot upwards, and over time, the CPU speed pegs right around 4GHz; the naps are gone.

I’m not sure how much real-world use this tool has, but from a geeky perspective, it’s pretty cool being able to see exactly what your CPU is up to at any point in time. (You can even send the data to a log file, in case you really want to study power, speed, and temperature over an extended time period.)

My thoughts on Apple Watch upgradeability

Lots of people are talking about the possibility of an upgradeable Apple Watch.

In particular, the ultra-expensive Apple Watch Edition is the version that seems to inspire these conversations: Who’d pay $5,000 (or $10,000 or whatever) for a non-upgradeable high-end watch?

While this seems a fair question, I honestly don’t think upgradeability of hardware will be a major stumbling block for folks with this kind of money. Instead, they’ll be focused on two questions: Does the watch do what I want it to do now, and does it make the statement I want it to make? If they answer yes to both of those questions, then they’ll buy the watch.

A year from now, if Apple comes out with Apple Watch Edition 2 (gads, could that naming get any worse?), they’ll ask themselves the same two questions, and then either buy a new watch or keep the old watch. Remember that functionality will improve on the existing hardware, as Apple ships software updates over time, so it’s not like the watch will lose functionality as time passes.

Apple has never been in the “let us help you upgrade” business. They’re in the “let us help you buy a new device” business, and I don’t see their entry into the watch market changing that focus. If you want a new watch, they’ll sell you one. Perhaps, just perhaps, there will be a formal trade-in program for existing Apple Watch customers—but I think that’s all it would be, a simple trade-in credit when buying a new watch.

I just can’t envision “Apple Watch Specialists” at the various Apple stores, sitting around on benches, loupes on eyes, swapping out watch motherboards. That’s not Apple’s business, and it’s not a business I think they want to be in.

There is one minor exception to this: clearly there must be a relatively easy way to replace the battery on the watch; there’s just no way they’re going to require folks to mail in their watches for battery service. Perhaps the battery will even be a user-serviceable part…wait, what am I saying, this is Apple we’re talking about.

I believe the level of Apple-provided hardware upgradeability in the Apple Watch (all versions) will match that of the iPad or Mac lines: none. In theory, we’ll find out the answer in a few weeks when the Apple Watch is released. But in reality, Apple could take another year (or more) to figure out what to do for existing customers, as that’s not an issue they’ll need to address until the second generation Apple Watch is released.

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