iPod, iSaw, iCompared

It’s 2019. I did not expect that I’d be struggling to buy an mp3 player.

My ipod classic shat the bed, and it’s gonna cost $450 to fix. It cost $350 to buy, so this seems like a big stretch. It’s probably the fourth ipod I’ve owned in the past 15 years. I use them all the time, 1-2 hours daily. I’m not kind to my electronic devices, and that’s clearly shown in the life expectancy of my gadgets. With an ipod, there was so much I didn’t need to think about. Since it was the market leader, the proof was on them to make a solid product that was easy to use. I didn’t love going through itunes, but it worked. Everything was categorised and simple to scroll through. I liked the tactile, physical nature of the product without touchscreen. I could operate it without looking. It sounded good, and was surprisingly robust. I could take it to the gym, and it weighed enough to not constantly bounce around. The UI was excellent, and while I didn’t use most of the features, I didn’t have to. It just worked.

With my ipod dead, I’ve had to do my research on figuring out what to buy next. For the past few months I’ve been using my phone. I hate it. It’s too bulky, and fits awkwardly in workout clothing pockets. I don’t have an online music subscription, primarily because my internet connection isn’t reliable. I want something with a huge storage capacity, so I can curate what I want on there, but also don’t have to worry about filling up any time soon. I’ve had so many issues with my ipod over the years, and it’d be kind of cool to have removable stuff so I don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Removable batteries, storage, etc. That way I can just get a new microSD card instead of having the whole unit repaired for hundreds of bucks. I want something sturdy and rugged, physical controls rather than touchscreen. I want a decent battery life of around 10-15 hours per charge. I want 200+ gigs of storage. I want a UI that’s functional, easy, categorises by artist, album and whatnot, taking ID3 tags into account. If I’m stuck with a file tree to navigate, that’d feel clunky and undesirable. I want a player that sounds good. I’ll most likely just be using mp3 320kbps. It’d be too much work to start getting FLAC by this point. Still, to my untrained ears 320kbps plus my M50x headphones should be good enough. Who knows, maybe I actually try buying a good pair of earbuds for active work like running or gym stuff. I don’t want apps, internet connectivity or wifi. I want something that runs as a self-contained unit, that just plays music and does it well. I’m sure that’s not too much to ask.

And yet, holy hell it’s a lot of work navigating the landscape. There are things like the Sandisk Clip that would be perfect if only it had expandable storage. The FiiO III Mark 2 looks like exactly what I want, but it only supports storage up to 120 gigs. The FiiO III Mark 3 doesn’t have the same weight or size as the Mark 2, which is disappointing. But at the same time it’s still an all tactile, non touchscreen unit, plus it handles larger expandable memory. The UI is apparently a little slow. The HIDIZ AP80 has so many features that I like. It can hold up to 1 TB of expandable storage. It’s a little smaller and dinky than I’d like though. Apparently the UI is functional, but it’s all touchscreen with tiny onscreen buttons. My fingers are not diminutive. Then there’s the Ibasso DX50, which looks like it mostly has everything I want. It’s a tactile unit with decent weight. It has up to 2TB expandable storage. The battery is user replaceable. But I can’t find any in Canadian stores. It’s gonna cost a mint to import from the USA. Apparently the software is a little sluggish, but if I can find one that works, maybe that’ll be the go. I spent hours last night looking up models, comparing specs, figuring out how one of these units would fit into my life. I even made an excel spreadsheet to help make my decision.

It’s almost enough to make me want to resurrect my dead ipod once more.

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Yeah, but a Trillion dollars is way cooler than a Billion

An unusual, possibly informative and likely boring entry today. It’s also probably riddled with factual inaccuracies. I had to do a short presentation at work, so I whipped this up in 40 or so minutes.

Here goes.

My hypothesis is that the future of broadcasting is going to greatly resemble the structure of cable in the early 90s. With all of these companies splitting their online content into exclusive services (Disney taking its content from Netflix, NBC taking back Friends and The Office, etc). My uneducated guess, is that larger companies will start creating “packages” of these services (maybe a Corus subscription comes bundled with Prime Video and Tidal or something).

Because of this, my guess is that people are going to find it too expensive and confusing to get all the content they want. Many will likely turn to other methods.

Today I’m gonna try and do a little ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5) on Torrenting.

Let’s jump back 20 years, because some of you are literal zygotes and might not remember this. Napster. Remember when Justin Timberlake told Jessie Eisenberg that a Billion dollars was cooler than a Million dollars in 2010’s The Social Network? That was one of the guys who made Napster.

Napster was peer to peer (P2P) software that allowed users to share mp3 files over the internet with other users. It was all searchable, and if you found someone who had the song you wanted, you could download it directly from them. It was amazing, revolutionized how music could be shared and sold. It was also a colossal breeding ground for copyright infringement.

Eventually this split into a bunch of copycat software. Morpheus, Kazaa, Bearshare, Limewire, etc etc etc. These programs let users download all manner of file types. Images, video, etc etc. Mostly, a lot of movies and TV shows. I downloaded a lot of anime. Because I was 14.

I want to state that P2P software and file serving are not illegal. The software can be used for very legitimate reasons. It mostly isn’t. It’s debatable whether or not most modern streaming and download services would exist without the advent of P2P software, because if there’s one thing these industries love, it’s locking people into the outdated status quo for profit. Why let people download an album for cheap, if they can charge $30 for a physical CD? In my day I bought a lot of $30 CDs.

Enter BitTorrent.

Programs like Napster, Limewire, etc all work around making files available through a specific client, and you download from the person who has that file. BitTorrent is a little different. With Torrenting (the verb for using this process), a file is split into a number of sections, so you can download from many many people simultaneously.

Reddit user Slukaj puts it this way:

Imagine you want a copy of a book. You get online and say “Hey, anyone have this book?”
A conventional download would be like one person saying “I’ve got that book. Let me give it to you.”, and then giving you the whole book.
A torrent is more like 200 people saying “Hey. We’ve each got pages of this book. Let us give you the pages and you can put the book together yourself.”

Torrent files work like little beacons. You download a torrent file of the content you want, and it says “hey all you people who have this file, I also want this file” then it downloads little bits from those people in a random order, and assembles them into a complete file you can use. Then you can in turn upload that file to other people who are looking for it. Quick, easy distribution.

My guess is that Torrenting is going to become more and more popular as the streaming service market diversifies into exclusive silos. It’s not definite by any means, but I think it’s worth knowing about. A quote:

According to Sandvine, distributors of the Global Internet Phenomena report, “Back in 2011, Sandvine stated that BitTorrent accounted for 52.01% of upstream traffic on fixed broadband networks in North America. By 2015, BitTorrent’s share of upstream traffic on these networks had dipped to 26.83 percent, largely thanks to the rise in quality, inexpensive streaming alternatives to piracy.

File-sharing accounts for 3 percent of global downstream and 22 percent of upstream traffic, with 97% of that traffic in turn being BitTorrent. While BitTorrent is often used to distribute ordinary files, it remains the choice du jour for those looking to distribute and trade copyrighted content online.”

Karl Bode: “The Rise of Netflix Competitors Has Pushed Consumers Back Toward Piracy” – Oct 2 2018

For reference, Netflix is 15% of the total downstream volume of traffic across the entire internet. BitTorrent is currently 1/5 of that.

A lot of people wanted to watch Game of Thrones. A lot of people did not have access to HBO Go or Crave. A lot of people found ways to watch Game of Thrones. There will be more GoT style tentpole shows, and these will be more expensive to access as they diversify across providers. There will very likely be a point of fatigue where consumers don’t want to pay for five different TV streaming services. My assumption is that they’ll have one or two, then find ways of acquiring content from the other ones.

I don’t think BitTorrent is an emerging technology, but I do think that until something else more efficient or accessible comes along, BitTorrent is going to become a re-emergent technology.

Well don’t feel like an HDMIdiot?

Today I took a long journey to get back to exactly where I was, but with a short HDMI cable.

My girlfriend and I had a lazy Sunday brunch at my dearest local brunchery, The Gem. I’ve gone on enough about The Gem and their comforting weirdness before. Today I had a chipped ham eggs Benedict, which was hard to imagine after the server so hesitantly uttered its name. She was surprised and perhaps a little frightened when I immediately latched onto the suggestion with fervour. I didn’t know what it was, but it was different. That was good enough for me. I’ll say this, I’ve never had ham so wet. It was like eating tinned tuna, but generally that’s a texture you want for tuna and not for ham. Liquid squish is not on my ham texture wish list. Still, I enjoyed the meal well enough. We sat out in the courtyard under shade. The sun streamed down. Our server offered us ice coffee instead of the regular, and hang out for a little bit to hear about my girlfriend’s recent gardening endeavours. Oh, and she introduced herself by name, which I’d never considered asking in my past year or so of regular Sunday brunches.

We left a little bloated, but otherwise peaceful. Then we saw a pile of stuff on someone’s lawn. There were gold and cream chairs, wine decanters still in their boxes. There was also a TV. The guy walked out from his house and I asked him if the TV worked. “Yeah, it does. I’m moving and I barely use it. It’s up for grabs.” I thought to my office, my 24 inch screen. I imagined how that would be at 32 inches. My mind prepared a montage of playing Magic, watching Twitch streams or HQ TV from the bed. Working from home with a larger monitor, making dual screening unnecessary. Porn, y’know? I grabbed it, and my girlfriend helped me scheme ways to make it happen. After a bit of searching, I resolved to get an HDMI cable and plug it in.

  • The Brick at the end of the block no longer sold HDMI cables. Just Monster Cables for $130. Considering a basic cable should be sub $10, that seemed excessive.
  • I took a bus to the horror of Dufferin Mall, where fluorescent lights sap your capacity for mental processing. Walmart seemed the first port of call.
  • Walmart were out of stock of everything but $30 cables. They had price tags for their cheaper ones ($5, $7), but nothing on the shelf. I asked a staff member, she was as unhelpful as she was clueless. Not her fault, but they don’t keep specifically trained tech staff. She said Best Buy in the mall might have them, but I should probably just get the $30 cable since they’d do the job. I didn’t.
  • The Best Buy no longer sold cables. It was a small mall store. Just phones and accessories, basically. They said to check out The Source.
  • The Source had $15 cables as their cheapest. I told the guy it was more I wanted to pay, was there anywhere else in the mall I could go? He suggested Dollarama, but also that I should jump ship to Bell Internet and boy oh boy, what a deal he had for me. I asked if it was for an HDMI cord, the thing I came in for? He said no, it was about internet, why would it be about an HDMI cord? I replied that I came in for an HDMI cord, why would he try to sell me internet? I thanked him for the Dollarama suggestion, then left.
  • I walked past an EB Games, and checked just in case. They had a refurbished cable for $12, or new ones for $20. I said it was above my desired price and I’d rather go to Dollarama. He lowered his voice and told me that was a good call, it’s the same thing for much cheaper.
  • I went into Dollarama. They had the cord I wanted, it was $4. I chalked it up as a success.

I brought the cable home. It didn’t work with my computer setup. Because my graphics card doesn’t have an HDMI port (or at least, seems to have some kind of mini HDMI port), I’d need some kind of converter between DVI and HDMI. I could order the cable from Amazon. My girlfriend checked the relative stats of my current monitor and the TV. The new TV was gonna be significantly lower resolution. I figured I’d just stay with the monitor I had after all.

But at least now I have an unnecessary, short HDMI cable to show for it.

You gotta know too, understand?

It’s really not that hard to learn stuff these days.

That doesn’t mean I’ve gotten better at it. HOLEEEEEY shit I’ve become increasingly lazy when it comes to acquiring knowledge. I was just talking about family Passover with someone and tried to trace my family connection to the meal. Pretty sure that it was the family of my second cousin once removed. Pretty sure, but not certain. Then today in my Reddit browsing, r/coolguides had a diagram about familial connections and their names, etc. I did not click. I thought about clicking, for sure. Then I clicked something else. Upon clicking something else I considered my decision. “It’s okay to admit you don’t know something, but if you have a chance to learn something at low cost, isn’t that just value added to your life?” I mused. I agreed with myself wholeheartedly, then continued to click links other than the useful one. “Y’know, I can go without knowing this today. If I really care a ton I can just look it up another day.” Learning is abundant and of low value, apparently. Or my faith in technology is all too high. If the Y2K bug has been waiting to strike in 2020, I’m all too fucked.

I think I’m from one of the last generations that grew up without The Internet. Kind of. I’m one foot in, with my first internet experiences occurring around age 10. So I learned hard skills before software. Half. I had computers as a kid, but I thought the sentence sounded too neat not to use. We grew up with a slow 80s IBM. I still loved it, as I did technology of any variety. It was kind of ideal, but I’m sure every generation thinks that. Our encyclopedia, Encarta, sure felt powerful at the time, and somewhat primed us for seeking online information. I mean, it probably would have if I wasn’t solely interested in playing games. I was so desperate to game, that I even played Mind Maze, Encarta’s in house trivia loosely disguised as fun. I thought it was gonna be Doom 2, but with knowledge. IDDQD did not work, so I got nowhere. I probably just went back to playing Star Control 2 without really knowing how that worked. Treasure Math Storm it was not.

As an adult I fully recognise how amazing learning is, and still there’s a bunch of horse to water reticence going on. With the overabundance of opportunity to pick up captivating info online, I have trouble more than half-arsing it. So I guess you could say that in terms of a burning desire to learn, I’m half-arson it. Dumb. Which it is, for me not to upskill in my leisure time. It’d be in my best interests to upskill, but my stubbornness makes it hard. If there’s not a direct line between knowledge and success, it’s a hard sell to push myself. That ain’t smart, true as it is. How about this? I’ll push myself to take in some knowledge by this time next week. Anyone want to check in and keep me accountable? It could be watching a documentary, picking up a new practical skill, going through a Lynda.com style tutorial. Anything that pushes me to gain knowledge. You have my word and best intentions, that I’ll come back next Wednesday with brand new brain food. Have we got a deal?

Knowledge shared is knowledge halved, or something.

The LAN before time

Remember how things mattered until they didn’t?

I used to be meticulous with my music curation. Okay, let’s take it down a peg. I used to Care A Lot about my iTunes metadata. I downloaded a ton of music and ripped all my CDs for the digital realm. Just years and years worth of stuff. It was all organised in a way to make hearing exactly what I wanted to hear as simple and efficient as possible. I’m sure this doesn’t make a ton of sense to all y’all, but when we used to torrent stuff or grab it from Napster/Morpheus/Kazaa/IRC or whatever, it often had weird characters, was misnamed, etc. It was a bunch of work. The number of times I’d download the same track, but with different names, was astounding. They even used to sometimes insert weird SFX into tracks as an odd form of copyright protection. Hell, I used to burn albums by downloading each individual track, then arranging them in order on a CD. It was the opposite of sophisticated. So I’d spend the time to get everything in order on my computer before porting it over to my iPod. End of story. Sorta.

I used to go to LAN parties (we’d all bring our desktop computers around to someone’s place, then spend the evening getting loaded up on caffeine, snacks and stay up all night gaming). The unspoken law of LAN parties is that while everyone was up, computers were for gaming. Inevitably we’d crash at some point, usually after sunrise. One of the exciting aspects of LAN parties was getting to leech content from each other. You could load up on anime, games, movies and music. Maybe it was that I got used to having limited space, needing to be conservative, etc. Or perhaps I was just a control freak. I would be discerning as to what I grabbed. When it came to shows, movies and music, I’d go through and only take what I thought I’d use. This wasn’t the case across the board. A bunch of people with massive hard drives would just take everything. They could, they had the luxury of not needing to care.

When it came to music, this always made me feel really uncomfortable. Why would you take everything? What if there was tons of stuff you weren’t into? I took a personal stake in it. I’d spent all this time curating my collection, making sure it was exactly how I wanted it. These people, however, would just absorb it into their own. Most of it would likely never even be heard. For them it was about having more data. For me it was about tailoring specific experiences. After all the work I put into it, I felt almost betrayed. They wouldn’t appreciate it like I did. Did I really want them to have it in that case? I never said anything, but it stewed up inside me something fierce. An unspoken grievance that stayed with me. It was weird.

These days, of course, streaming exists. Music is all free and accessible, with collections that are exponentially larger than mine. None of it matters. What a load of wasted energy.

I wonder if anyone wants to come over for a LAN party…

You all scream for Itube

At some point in the past six or so months our department started doing short presentations. I’m pretty fine with it. I like public speaking and there’s literally no pressure. It doesn’t matter. It’s invariably an attempt to get us to do research on the industry and maybe teach others? I dunno. I don’t really care. At the same time I’ve been pointed in the direction of looking at what Youtube Premium is doing. it’s kinda interesting.

First off, I looked into the Youtube Creative Academy. Youtube has lengthy tutorials and classes for burgeoning creators. They teach the type of content that gets views and suggest how to make your content more marketable. In a sense it’s taking what works and getting more of that. It’s stuff like people enjoy tutorials or relatable topics. Make your stuff relateable. Be consistent, target specific niche audiences, follow ideas that allow you to sustainably create more of the same, make it so people can jump in at any point. Trite as it sounds, it’s actually pretty good advice.

In one sense it’s restrictions breed creativity. Giving a pre-set series of rules that help creators think in a certain proven way. In other, it allows them to test those boundaries and find out what works. The question of whether or not it helps encourage more creative content is moot. What Youtube is doing is pretty risk free. It’s putting resources in the hands of hopeful creatives and letting them make content. If the content does well, it’s drawing more eyeballs towards their service and bringing in advertisers. Once it reaches a certain level, Youtube can offer Youtube Premium contracts to creators with a proven audience. The burden is on the creators to do what they can with what they have. Aside from initial instruction, they’ve created a self-sustaining framework.

Youtube Premium is the rebranding of what was known as Youtube Red. It’s $11.99 a month, gives you ad-free Youtube, offline downloads, background play (stuff doesn’t stop playing while you’re in other apps or you turn your screen off) Youtube Music and original content. At the moment their big stuff seems to be proven IP. They’ve got a Karate Kid spinoff Cobra Kai, a teen lit adaptation Impulse, and a Step Up TV show.

Youtube Premium has series orders involving big names and it’s not just super broad stuff. Weird City is a sci fi comedy anthology series (think a lighter Black Mirror) exec produced by Jordan Peele and Adam Bernstein (Fargo and much more), and a dark comedy about a water park employee rising to the top a pyramid scheme starring Kirsten Dunst. Projects starring Susan Sarandon, Will Smith and Robert Downey Jr are also in the pipeline. They have 50 original shows being released in 2019.

One of the advantages Youtube Premium has is bringing a cluster of services together under one roof. It’s handy for families like Netflix, but also extends to music service and on-the-go public transit content. Would you really need Netflix and Spotify if Youtube Music is included? Cutting the ads from Youtube is not negligible either. It’s bundled into a package that balances affordability and convenience. The advantage for Youtube with premium is it allows a bunch of their pillars to come together without solely relying on one. They don’t need to keep pumping money into cultivating new series, it’s value added.

It’s tricky though, because at the same time, people don’t like paying for things. If they can just keep using youtube and they already have Spotify/Netflix, it’s gonna be hard to get them to switch over. Quitting something you’ve already invested in is a hard sell. Will people get both Netflix and Youtube Premium? Would you? It seems like the goal is to tip the scales just enough to bring people over.

They’ve also launched Youtube TV, which could bring everything in house. It’s a monthly cost for all the ABC and Fox stable of channels, but totally unbundled from cable. It seems like I’m totally shilling here, but I’m genuinely interested in this service now. The OTT model makes a bunch of sense. Like Walmart trying to put local businesses out of order, the big bloated TV corporations are gonna have trouble competing with these global entities. I mean, I work at one, I’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while now. The big question, is it all sustainable? Netflix is burning money putting out original content. Will their subscriber base eventually justify it? Can they amortise this? I’m genuinely curious to see where it’s all going. From my perspective at least, the medium isn’t dying, it’s shifting.

Is it finally time for me to jump ship into podcasting professionally? I wish.

Taking the scenic root

Cabin in the Woods spoilers to follow. Though at this point if you haven’t seen it yet, that’s kind of on you.

I went to a party last night. While that sounds like a generic statement someone in their early 30s would toss out, it was pretty refreshing. I’ve been hermitting big time lately. A combination of lower energy levels and a widespread loss of mojo mean I’ve had trouble socialising. It’s a pity, ’cause getting pulled into meandering conversations with friends of friends is kind of my favourite thing. It’s how friends of friends become friends instead. It’s not simple every time, but occasionally I’ll walk into a party in a good mood and other partygoers will help bolster it. Do you ever feel like you’re on your game, charming, witty and making other people feel good about themselves? It’s the best. The conversations twist and turn and you find yourself walking away with a renewed perspective.

Last night the topic of Ten Years Ago came up. In case you’d forgotten, Ten Years Ago it wasn’t the 90s. Ten Years Ago we’d just gotten smartphones and the world was reeling. Opportunities opened up, the word “app” became common parlance. Social Media expanded, the world reaching new levels of online interactivity. Clickbait may have ruined the phrase, but smartphones changed everything. Remember going to the airport with paper tickets? Now many of us merely bring our phone. What if it died and you couldn’t get your tickets? Ten years later, the notion of our phones dying doesn’t factor in. We’d never be without a working phone. Are you nuts? People have an arsenal of backup phones now.

We started wondering what kinds of new technologies and services would be offered ten years from now. I thought about people paying for personal, artisan experiences and wondered if we’d cross past certain puritanical lines. What if, I thought, you could have tailored sexual experiences, directed by an auteur? Much like Cabin in the Woods (here be spoilers), you and your partner(s) could be placed in a controlled environment room. You’d tell the director what kind of feelings you were looking to engage with. They’d call the shots from a production suite. They’d pull in certain music or audio cues, like thunder and rain outside. Maybe wolves howling in the distant background. All kind of lighting effects, setting the mood. Raising or lowering the heat for the desired effect. Encouraging intimacy or even sinister atmosphere. Influencing the experience of the paying customer. I’m sure there’d be a host of celebrated directors across a range of genres. Avant garde mavericks creating strange experimental environments, or horror directors playing with status dynamics. Even sweet and tender scenes. Would certain genres become old hat quickly? Basic Bitch sessions that were no more than glorified painting by numbers? The wedding equivalent of a DJ set? Would certain individuals become sought after for their ability to warp reality and evoke desire? Could customers get over the idea of people watching them having sex enough to let loose?

I’ve got zero idea whether or not I’d like the service, but it’s interesting to think of. If it has the potential to give people encounters they couldn’t cultivate themselves, I don’t see the problem.

They could even have Wednesday specials for hump day.