Category Archives: tech

Apple’s newly redesigned Music app is a band aid on a much larger problem

My first article on Medium:

Apple announced yesterday at WWDC that they are redesigning the Apple Music app, “from the ground up.” While it is much needed it isn’t enough.

Apple’s Music app was a mess and was in need of a redesign. It looks like they had too many Cooks in the kitchen, pun intended. It feels to me like the creatives were handcuffed by what their executives wanted. They need to make a music app for the music lover and I think this will be a step closer but still many steps away.

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Pandora Media may be exploring a sale as shares fall

http://www.bloomberg.com/gadfly/articles/2016-02-11/pandora-sale-talks-reflect-a-botched-business

“The Internet radio service surged as much as 14.8 percent Thursday on news of a potential sale before giving up much of the gains after hours in response to disappointing earnings. Even with some expectations of a potential deal now reflected in the stock price, the shares closed roughly 77 percent below their record high, meaning shareholders don’t expect the $1.9 billion company to fetch anything close to a knockout premium.”

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Spotify – Discover Weekly playlist and music discovery

There is a recent article written by Ben Popper on The Verge about Spotify’s new Discover Weekly feature. These are my thoughts.

I realize my listening tastes and habits are not only unique to me but fall into a very small percentage of listeners who almost obsessively seeks out up-and-coming artists and dives into the second level of albums. Especially considering I’m older than most listeners who are willing to give new artists a shot. I’m usually one of a few people older than 35 at shows with 100 people in attendance, for artists on their first tour, who often times eventually come back a couple years later and sells out 2000 seat venues.

I really like Discover Weekly and think someone should’ve done it a decade earlier. Perhaps most listeners wouldn’t use it, and that could be part of the reason for not implementing it, but at least give me the option to enable it. If it’s worth a damn then I’ll continue to use it. These music companies have plenty of data to make it successful and it’s a shame that most fail to capitalize on that data. (Apple Music anyone?)

After reading in this article how Spotify creates Discover Weekly it seems like common sense. Maybe they didn’t have the data or resources until recently to implement it successfully. Who knows? (EchoNest acquisition) That may sound pompous but it’s out of frustration with Apple, and other services, producing products that have been mostly treading water for years.

Another related thought. It irks me that many artists are in multiple bands yet there is no easy and automated way to keep track of it all. Take Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade for example. His projects are all quite good (Handsome Furs, Divine Fits, Operators) however I need to follow him elsewhere or continually spend time and energy researching his status to see what else he’s doing. There is no reason that these services can’t automatically tell me when a singer/songwriter/guitarist/artist I like has released something under another name. I’m sure the musicians themselves would welcome this and this info exists online. (Allmusic and Wiki)

Spotify can add a little ‘info’ window or overlay telling me this type of stuff.

“We suggested this song to you because the singer in this band is also in this other band which you’ve indicated you like”, etc.

Just one of many ideas I’d like to see them implement. See the end of my post about Apple Music when it was released:

There are still many things I’d like to see Apple Music do that absolutely no one is doing. There is a lot of room to grow music recommendations as a feature, make the experience educational and engaging. Also incorporate it more with social and geo location.

This is exactly the kind of stuff I’ve been looking for since probably 2005.

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Apple Music, this is the savior?

Today Apple released their new Apple Music application and streaming music service, which includes a redesigned Music app for iOS and iTunes for desktops. It also includes a new live radio called Beats 1.

Apple is supposed to be the epitome of design. Simultaneously making something simple and intuitive yet engaging at the same time. After playing with the new Apple Music app, I’m left doubting that I’ll make the switch to Apple Music from Spotify. Spotify isn’t all that special either but Apple hasn’t capitalized on their strengths to surpass Spotify’s weaknesses.

Continue reading Apple Music, this is the savior?

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iPhone 6 camera lens flare

The iPhone 5 had issues with lens flare. Many photos that had a bright sun in it managed to almost always blow the sun out into a purple mess. Apple’s response? Move the camera.

Now that the iPhone 6 is out I was curious how it handled similar shooting situations. Tonight I went for a run at Crissy Field towards the Golden Gate Bridge and took some photos when I reached the Warming Hut pier.

Lens flare is better but it’s still there and prominent enough that you may have to alter your shooting angle or do some post processing to remove it. There was always a small green dot in the frame that moved around depending on where the sun was. (See the videos below)

I took a photo with 3 different photo apps to confirm that it was something inherent with the camera and not something that the software was doing.

I used Apple’s default camera app ‘Camera’, Camera+, and Manual (Custom exposure camera). Here are the results:

Apple ‘Camera’ app:
iPhone 6 - Camera app

Apple ‘Camera’ app (HDR):
iPhone 6 - Camera app HDR

Manual (Custom exposure camera) app:
iPhone 6 - Manual app

Camera+ app:
iPhone 6 - Camera+ app

I also shot a short video and you can follow the green dot as the sun moves across the frame.

I’m not surprised that the phone does this and I think it mostly handles bright light well for such a small camera but it’s something to keep in mind.

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ETrade password security, or lack of

etrade babyEvery week we read about different security breaches, like this week’s one where Russian hackers have amassed over a billion passwords.

A Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion user name and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses, security researchers say.

Thinking that it was time to change some passwords on various accounts that I use, I discovered something that I find quite alarming.

ETrade’s password policy, or lack of.

They only allow letters and numbers.

They don’t allow punctuation.

They don’t allow special characters.

They don’t recognize the difference between uppercase and lowercase characters.

ETrade password policy

The SANS Institute’s recommendation for a strong password is the following:

Contain at least three of the five following character classes:

    Lower case characters
    Upper case characters
    Numbers
    Punctuation
    “Special” characters (e.g. @#$%^&*()_+|~-=\`{}[]:”;’<>/ etc)

ETrade only allows three of the five, and really only checks for two. If your password is “PasSworD123”, ETrade will accept “password123”.

ETrade’s response to this is to use the free two-factor authentication that they offer. While this is indeed helpful, I feel that it’s rather misleading and a bit deceitful to not alert their customers that their password really isn’t as secure as one might believe. Nowhere do they mention that your password isn’t checked for case sensitivity.

They should also do a much better job of promoting the two-factor authentication. The main login screen doesn’t mention it at all.

ETrade isn’t the only company with a poor password policy. Charles Schwab secretly truncates passwords down to 8 characters and also doesn’t care if your entered password is case accurate.

For now your best choice is to use the free two-factor authentication. Beware though that you can easily enable this with ETrade and they don’t really give you ANY instructions on how to use it. It’s not hard but it’s different and not intuitive.

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Display “Now Playing” info on your Desktop with GeekTool

I listen to Seattle’s KEXP streaming radio fairly regularly and even when I’m not I like to know what they’re playing. I use GeekTool to display KEXP’s “Now Playing” song on my Mac Desktop.

curl -silent 'http://kexp.org/playlist/miniplaylist' | perl -l -0777 -ne 'print $1 if /<title.*?>\s*(.*?)\s*<\/title/si' | perl -MHTML::Entities -le 'while(<>) {print decode_entities($_);}'

For Spotify, I have this script:

DATA=$(osascript -e 'tell application "System Events"
set myList to (name of every process)
end tell
if myList contains "Spotify" then
tell application "Spotify"
if player state is stopped then
set output to ""
else
set trackname to name of current track
set artistname to artist of current track
set albumname to album of current track
if player state is playing then
set output to trackname & " | " & artistname & " | " & albumname
else if player state is paused then
set output to ""
end if
end if
end tell
else
set output to ""
end if')
echo $DATA | awk -F new_line '{print $1}'
echo $DATA | awk -F new_line '{print $2}'

There are a few places within the code where you can customize what appears if Spotify is paused or stopped. I have those set to be empty. (“”)

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‘Stereo’, an iTunes music player replacement app for album art fans

Stereo is a new music player from Appothecary.

stereo-app-iconStereo is currently at version 0.3.1 and is offered at “an introductory price” of $1.99, down from $3.99.

It’s designed to be a simple iTunes music player replacement designed to put importance on album covers. The interface is barebones and puts the album covers front and center. There are two modes, “detailed album art”, which shows larger album covers but fewer artist, and a “more artist” mode, which displays the albums much smaller in order to fit more artists on the screen.

It’s a fullscreen app that you navigate by either scrolling or by typing the artist name.

Detailed Album Art mode with The National selected

Stereo iTunes Music Player - detailed album art


More Artists mode, with Autolux selected

Stereo iTunes Music Player - more artist


Stereo iTunes music player app


Above is the album detail window where it shows you track info about the selected album.

It’s not at version 1.0 yet and has its share of bugs and quirks. It doesn’t always draw the album art, which requires either changing the view mode or scrolling. You can simply type an artist name and it’ll jump to that artist alphabetically. This is sometimes enough to force it to update album art. If an artist has more than six albums, it can be hard to tell without trying to scroll within the artist popup window.

It’s an interesting and simplistic approach. While it’s not designed to be a full-time replacement, at times I miss seeing song ratings and having access to other info like year released or song lyrics. With the current issues and with it not being at version 1.0 it seems over priced at $1.99. I don’t see it being worth a $3.99 unless there are some fantastic surprises to come, and I can’t imagine what those would be. $.99 or $1.99 seems fair compared to other apps.

You can check out Stereo here…

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