I’ve Become a Pod People

I love music! I love my MP3s. I used to love MTV, but that’s another story…

And I love taking my tunes with me. So, my faithful, if not glamorous, old Frontier Labs NexII MP3 player & I had been longtime companions. We’ve been together on trips, at work, occassionally at the gym, & on many, many walks. But the old guy was showing his years — the battery compartment was finicky at best, it stopped recognizing any CF memory card other than one specific 128MB Sandisk, and became prone to random shut-offs over the past 3-4 months.

More than once last year, Dede had suggested buying me a new MP3 player for my birthday — and Christmas too! But I was miserly & stubborn, insisting that my NexII could hold on a bit longer. And it’s worth mentioning that the NexII was actually hers to begin with, so I’ve gotta credit her for getting me into an MP3 player in the first place. Well, this year I finally gave in to temptation and asked for a new player for my birthday.

I had my mind set on one, the oddly-named MobiBLU DAH-1550i, which is a 1GB player available only via Walmart.com. I liked the idea that I could drag & drop files to the player (just as I had with my NexII) without having to learn some new interface or abandon Windows Media Player that I’ve grown very comfy with. But the MobiBLU’s capacity is a bit limited and I couldn’t help feeling that I should aim a little higher since I had waited this long and would probably have the player for years to come.

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve liked the looks of the iPods all along. And that the iPod is an industry standard and has all sorts of accessories available for it definitely appealed to both of us. Oh sure, I made sarcastic little remarks about all those mindless Apple zealots who bought into Steve Jobs’ dastardly world domination master plan like rodents following the Pied Piper to the river.

Steve Jobs and the iPod - World domination is at hand!

But secretly, I coveted those sexy little MP3 players with their iconic click-wheel interface, glossy casing, & rounded corners. Earlier this year I had an chance to try Amberly’s iPod Mini and boy, that really hooked me. But the one thing that kept stopping me just short of jumping on the bandwagon was iTunes. I’d read/heard/seen enough to know that iTunes would force me to relinquish control over my music and play the game the Apple way. With iTunes, I’d have to learn a new interface and accept that placing music on the iPod meant moving not copying files to and fro. Nope, there seemed to be too much baggage that I didn’t want to deal with, so the iPod was just not for me.

But despite my resistance, Apple’s sneaky & infectious advertising was working – those cute little iPods kept calling out to me. It’s a best-seller. Websites heap praise upon praise upon the iPod family. TV & print media say that the cool people all have iPods. So who was I to question the iPod? But still there was that darned iTunes…

Dede suggested that there might be some 3rd party software to load music on the iPod without iTunes. Sure enough, while nosing around on Dennis Lloyd’s iLounge.com website recently, I came across some info on a nifty program called Anapod Explorer from Red Chair Software that promised to allow me to retain control of my music, with an iPod, but without iTunes.

All the glory of the iPod but none of the baggage of iTunes? Oh yeah, you betcha… I caved. Dede gave me an awesome early birthday gift — a shiny green 4GB iPod Mini — just in time to take on vacation a couple of weeks ago.   Awesome!   Simply awesome!

A green iPod Mini - it's all good!

So, yup, I’m a pod people now. Steve Jobs is my master. Resistance was indeed futile. The magical little green gem sounds great! When you hear people talk about the intuitive and effortless interface, well, it’s true — the touch-sensitive click-wheel really is that easy to operate. And Anapod Explorer works like a charm, allowing me to move my MP3s to & fro as I please!

Of course, once you’ve been assimilated and have become a pod people, well, you’ve just gotta go find more pod people to hang out with. And there are lots of really good websites out there with iPod info, tricks, tips, & accessory reviews! For example:


iPod Hacks

iPod Garage

iPoditude – The iPod Blog

I should mention that iTunes isn’t all bad – in fact, lots of people really like it and Apple updates it often. If you’re not already well-versed and comfy with another piece of software (like Windows Media Player or MusicMatch) then iTunes can be a great tool for playing and managing your digital music collection. However, I’ll also caution you that iTunes gives you the opportunity to purchase music from the Internet – but the music you download at a little under a buck apiece is not in MP3 format and, as I noted in my Digital Music Project blog post back in February, Apple’s AAC music files are encrypted with copy protection. You don’t buy DRM-enabled music — you rent it! So, be sure to consider that before you pay to download music.

So, what are you waiting for? Fall in line, become a pod people, and enjoy some awesome tunes!

Happy Birthday, MP3!!

Newborns wearing headphones listen to classical music in a hospital maternity ward in Kosice, eastern Slovakia to help them adapt better to life after birth.  Photo Copyright: Frantisek Ivan

On July 14th, the name "MP3" celebrates its tenth anniversary!!   On this day back in 1995, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen, Germany decided upon the filename extension ".MP3" for their new audio coding technology.   Soon MP3 became the generally accepted acronym for the ISO standard IS 11172-3 "MPEG Audio Layer 3" designed to greatly reduce the amount of data (10:1 compression is common) required to represent audio, yet still sound like a faithful reproduction of the original uncompressed audio to most listeners.

As mentioned in my Digital Music Project blog post back in February, we’re big fans of digital music, so happy birthday, MP3.   Rock on!

Awesome Homemade Loverboy Video

Loverboy concert ticket stubOkay, I admit it… I’m on the leading edge of “Gen-X” generation and thus, I cut my teeth on late ’70s & ’80s rock. Among others, I have an unnatural love for the Canadian rock band Loverboy.

So I was totally blown away by Shawn Barrester’s tribute to Loverboy’s classic song, Working for the Weekend. This homemade video is better than half of the videos I ever saw on MTV during the ’80s. You’ll be rockin’ & rollin’ out of your chair laughing! Enjoy!!

iPod Tattoos for Amberly

We received a new challenge from Glenda’s daughter Amberly who lives in Brady. She recently purchased an iPod Mini and a package of HP Printable Tattoos for the iPod. Amberly didn’t like any of the pre-made templates available on the HP Tattoo Wizard website, so she wanted to create her own. But this is no easy task!!! The design website doesn’t allow you to manipulate your graphic very much once it is uploaded and, with the hole cutouts for the iPod screen and wheel, well, there’s just not that much space for a graphic. So, Amberly mailed us the package of tattoos along with a wish list of what she wanted on them. Well, my frustration level with using their website for creating these custom tattoos was met quickly.

I did a Google search for a better template for designing these tattoos so I wouldn’t have to use the HP site. I finally found some info by Tony Williams at O’Reilly Digital Media. Unfortunately, his instructions were for using Adobe Photoshop for the design and I don’t have this software or know how to use it. However, I found this link at his site for getting a PDF template of the tattoo. I took the PDF and exported to a JPG file so I could use it in any graphic program (I use Microsoft Digital Image Pro from SoftwareKeep Canada). From there I was able to make it a transparent tattoo template so I could layer my custom graphics behind the template and manipulate them until they looked the way I wanted. After the layout was correct, I deleted the template layer and saved the graphic as a JPG that could then be uploaded to the HP Tattoo Wizard site and make the skin. This was a LOT of work but it made things much easier than only using the tools provided on the HP Tattoo design wizard site.

Below are the printed iPod Tattoos that I did for Amberly using our Epson Stylus Photo R200 printer. The iPod Tattoos are Alice Cooper, Joan Jett, AC/DC, and Jimi Hendrix-themed… Everything that a growing rocker needs!!

Custom iPod Tattoos for Amberly

Amberly doing her Joan Jett impersonation.  Rock on!!

Digital Music Project

I embarked upon a fairly ambitious project about three weeks ago and have just completed. I’ve ripped – or encoded – all of our audio CDs to MP3 format files. In all, our music collection of around 350 CDs ended up being about 7200 files using about 26GB of hard drive space. And I’ve still got a few hundred loose MP3 files scattered across a dozen or so backup disks that have yet to be imported.

Having all of our music available in MP3 format offers several advantages but primarily this was to make use of our TiVo’s ability to pull MP3 music from my PC thru our wireless network to the nice surround sound system in the living room. And this also makes it easy to scoop up fresh tunes for my old reliable NexII MP3 player that I take on walks or onto Dede’s Dell Axim PocketPC that’s always with her.

So, why MP3 format? There are other formats, like Windows Media Player’s WMA or the iPod’s AAC, that feature better compression (resulting in slightly smaller files with no decrease in audio quality) but they suffer from compatability issues. MP3 files can be played on nearly any kind of PC or handheld device (and even some cell phones!) whereas these other formats are far more limiting and selective. Those are the formats, by the way, that you’ll get if you join one of the digital music services that allow you to purchase music downloads, like Napster, MSN Music, Wal-Mart, or iTunes. I urge you to avoid those services due to one major drawback: DRM.

DRM, or “Digital Rights Management,” is a form of copy protection from the record labels. DRM-enabled music files feature restrictions that allow record companies to securely and legally sell you music without having to worry that you might freely share that music with others. DRM is designed to assure compensation for the copyright holders (writers, musicians, record labels, etc.) but really only straightjackets you, a well-meaning, law-abiding music fan by placing tight limits on how many times you can make a copy of a song (between different computers, mobile devices, or MP3 players) or burn music you’ve purchased to CD. This is important so let me state that again…

     You don’t buy music with those services – you rent it.

Given that, it starts to make sense why lots of people use illegal file sharing programs like KaZaa or LimeWire for downloading music files because these programs provide music in the convenient and ever-compatible MP3 format that contain none of the tight restrictions of purchased music downloads. So, why not just turn to file sharing sites to get all of your music? The biggest reason not to do so is the tremendous security risks – crippling spyware and malicious virus attacks – that are all too common side-effects of using these services on your PC. These security nightmares can grind your PC to a halt in a matter of minutes, causing problems typically only fully remedied by scrubbing and rebuilding the entire thing. Ugh!

Also, with these illegal music downloads, you have no assurances of the quality of the music or that the file even contains the song that the filename suggests. Often, downloading from file sharing sites is like Forrest Gump’s box of choc’lates – “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Lastly, downloading from these sites is essentially stealing music. Though it may be unlikely, there’s a certainly very real potential for legal fallout when engaging in this sort of shady stuff. Legally purchasing music avoids potential legal pitfalls and, perhaps most importantly, it helps to support your favorite musicians so they can keep making tunes that you enjoy.

With that in mind, I urge you to continue buying your music on traditional CDs. Then you can make backup copies of those CDs for the car or rip ’em to MP3 format to use on your PC and mobile gadgets. This way, you’re protecting your music investment while “doing the right thing.”

By the way, you can head over to CNet’s Music Center Glossary to learn more. Relax, the confusing tangle of digital music terminology can confound even the best of us.

So what are your thoughts on the whole digital music thing? Leave us a comment!

SoCal Sound

Temps have hit 70-80° everyday for the last couple of weeks so we’ve been leaving most of our windows open night & day. Then a coupla days ago, Dede said aloud exactly what I had been thinking – this feels very SoCal. Nice.

So yesterday found me jonesin’ for some appropriate tunes and my home-brewed Sugar Ray mix disc fit the mood perfectly. Dede can’t get past Mark McGrath’s off-stage personality, so she pans the band entirely. But to me, their sound is almost as much SoCal now as Beach Boys were. Yeah, yeah, their last CD sorta tanked, but listen to some of their slightly older stuff like “Someday,” “Every Morning,” “When It’s Over,” and “Under The Sun” and tell me you can’t picture surfer dudes, beach babes, Ray Bans, & flip-flops.

I think I just caught a whiff of Coppertone…

The Future of Music

CBC News posted an article that’s an interesting read with some thought-provoking questions about what the music of the future will sound like. Dan Brown ponders, “Will the way that people access music have an effect on the content of that music?”

I forsee the Internet bringing an ever-increasingly diverse sound into the mainstream because it makes available artists, styles, and even means of making music from a global palette to even the most remote corners of countries where musical experimentation breeds. Whereas an aspiring kid growing up in the rural South might have been predestined to a blues or country-oriented style before, now there’s a potential for his style to be more heavily influenced by the sounds from a New Zealand Maori tribe. Consider how Middle Eastern musical influences have worked their way into mainstream pop in the past 2-3 years…