Enjoying the hell out of iTunes Radio

iTunes Radio is a rev­e­la­tion to me. Not that I didn’t know what it was going to be like, I mean, intel­lec­tu­al­ly. I’ve used Pan­do­ra, after all. But Pan­do­ra was annoy­ing, brows­er-based, finicky, and I nev­er used it very long. When I first tried iTunes Radio yes­ter­day, while try­ing to write, I picked some of their pre-pro­grammed “sta­tions” and was all, meh. Their “iTunes Top 100: Alter­na­tive” has too much Killers in it. Which is to say, any Killers is too much. My taste is def­i­nite­ly Alt, but I like my alt more eclec­tic than that. And that Fall­out Boy song (Alone Togeth­er) sounds like Rihan­na in drag.

But today I made my own “sta­tion” based on a song in heavy rota­tion in our house, Lit­tle Brass Bear by Rachel Goodrich.

And it turns out, basi­cal­ly, that iTunes Radio is like Genius, but with the entire iTunes cat­a­log as your library. Which is freak­ing awe­some.

Of course, it also turns out that iTunes Radio is just like Pan­do­ra, Rdio, etc., but with­out the has­sle of using some­thing added on to my ecosys­tem. I am, as stat­ed else­where, ful­ly entrenched in the Apple ecosys­tem, and in here I am as hap­py as a bug that is snug in a rug.

My playlist so far:

Jay­may (one of my favorite songs, Gray or Blue!)
Woody Guthrie
Matthew and the Atlas
Kimya Daw­son
Lang­horne Slim
Thao
Lau­ra Veirs
Lind­sey Ray
The Col­or­ful Qui­et
Malv­ina Reynolds
Lucy Wain­wricht Roche (dang there are a lot of Wain­wrights, no?)
Cast Spells
Rachel Goodrich

I’ve heard of… six of those artists. I own one of the songs I have heard so far. New music! Which is what makes this so awe­some.

I’ve only just begun to write

Some of you may already know that I quit my job a cou­ple of weeks ago. Some of you may even know that I also quit my career at the same time. I’ve been work­ing in High­er Edu­ca­tion web devel­op­ment or tech­nol­o­gy since I took my first part-time job at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa in 1996. That’s sev­en­teen years of web devel­op­ment work at three dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tions. It is a lot of time put into a career to flush it all away now.

But I have.

What are you doing instead?

I am going to write.

Um, okay. What are you going to write?

Well, that’s the ques­tion, isn’t it? When I start­ed, or rather, before I start­ed, my glib answer was that I’d write any­thing any­one want­ed to pay me for. That felt like the answer I was sup­posed to give, the answer that made this leap off the cliff at least some­what sen­si­ble. “Sure,” I said/thought, “I’ll write any­thing as long as it pays. Tech­ni­cal writ­ing, spec writ­ing, social media, what­ev­er.” Peo­ple who knew even less than I do about the writ­ing busi­ness would take that as a com­fort. I did for a while, until I fig­ured out I was fool­ing myself.

As it turns out, I don’t want to write just any­thing. I don’t want to do tech­ni­cal writ­ing. I don’t want to write web arti­cle-ads for pen­nies “just to get your name out there.” I don’t want to do PR. Is this because I’m only two weeks into it, and I’m still flushed with the promise of a Writ­ing Career? Will I be beat­en down by the end, will­ing to write ad copy for the local FREE Rental Mag­a­zine? I prob­a­bly am unrea­son­ably chip­per about it, I’ll admit.

But for now, I want to write three things. I want to write opin­ion arti­cles (hey, that’s what a blog is for, huz­zah!), I want to write fea­ture arti­cles, and I want to write sci­ence-fic­tion and/or fan­ta­sy and/or fic­tion. Basi­cal­ly, I want to write sto­ries.

What makes you think you can make it as a writer?

I know the road to becom­ing a writer is lit­tered with the car­cass­es of oth­ers’ attempt­ed careers. I know that “starv­ing artist” is a stereo­type for a rea­son. My moth­er once told me that she believed that peo­ple are artists or writ­ers because they can­not help it. They can­not stop writ­ing. They can’t not write.

That’s not me. I am lazy, unpro­duc­tive and eas­i­ly dis­tract­ed.

But my moth­er also raised me with an excess of con­fi­dence, and I do think I am a good writer. I think I can, is the answer, I guess.

How can you afford it?

Well, I can’t, frankly. The wife and I sat down and worked out a bud­get that would keep our stan­dard of liv­ing rough­ly where it is, at least where our kids are con­cerned. So we kept after school activ­i­ties and enrich­ment stuff, but killed TV. We save on child care but not on health care. We’re not eat­ing out (ever, it seems) and we’re watch­ing our spend­ing like hawks (lazy, eas­i­ly dis­tract­ed hawks). And even so we’re in the red. That is, we’re bud­get­ed to be in the red. That’s not good.

So I have picked up a small time gig doing some social media writ­ing, and that is help­ing us close the gap. But what I real­ly need is to write, so I can sell, so I can write some more.

How long before you come to your sens­es?

I’m telling peo­ple that I’m giv­ing it a year. Some stuff hap­pens in a year that will make it much hard­er to do this, if I’m not mak­ing any mon­ey yet. Or, you know, if it looks like I won’t be bring­ing in any mon­ey any time soon, some­day. If it turns out that I am a ter­ri­ble writer.

Okay. So how is it going?

So far it is going okay. I’ve been at it for two weeks now, full time. The first week was tak­en up with a meet­ing and time spent on the social media gig. Ramp­ing up on that took longer than I had thought it would. I also had some issues keep­ing my not-writ­ing bound­aries firm that first week. Then last week I kind of lost it a lit­tle, in terms of my focus. Focus is an issue for me, as it has always been. If I’m into some­thing, it is easy to lose myself in it, be pro­duc­tive and cre­ative and awe­some. If I’m not, it can be a dis­tinct chal­lenge to make any head­way (my sis­ter will remem­ber a leg­endary bout with frac­tions in the sixth grade…).

Last week, I had too much on my plate, or thought I did. And as a result I drift­ed. This week, I’m much more focused. The chal­lenge will be to main­tain that every day, every morn­ing.

I’ll keep you in the loop on how it’s going.

So, is that it?

Yup. I’m also going to read. I’m told that read­ing is the best way to lubri­cate the writ­ing. I hope to walk the dog on occa­sion, and I’ll be here when the kids get home from school. But I am try­ing my best to keep the not-writ­ing away from the Writing’s time.

Edit: How I “watched” the Apple announcement

Edit: So, I end­ed up watch­ing via Engad­get most of the time, and when they had hic­cups, I went over to Ars Tech­ni­ca. Good job guys.


Hey folks, I am plan­ning on “watch­ing” the Apple announce­ment (iPhone 5S, 5C, iOS 7, maybe some iPads, ever so maybe a TV-relat­ed announce­ment that might just be new soft­ware) today at 10 am Pacif­ic (noon, where I am). Here’s how.

Last time I had the great­est suc­cess with Engadget’s live feed. It has lots of fea­tures, appears to be home­grown (or at least unique) and worked well dur­ing this past WWDC Keynote. If you’re only going to do one feed, do this one:

Engadget’s Live Feed

If you are like me, and you want to swap between sev­er­al feeds of almost the same cov­er­age with slight­ly dif­fer­ent snark, you might also try the fol­low­ing links:

The Verge
Ars Tech­ni­ca
TechCrunch
AppleIn­sid­er

What else is out there? Well, if you like pre­ten­tious hair and live video (of peo­ple talk­ing about the reveal, not of the reveal itself) you can’t do bet­ter (or worse) than C|Net’s ad-dri­ven pre-show page. Oy. Then, there are the lud­dites. AllTh­ingsD seems to be doing a straight up refresh-and-read approach, and Jim Dalrymple’s The Loop is proud­ly pro­claim­ing their refresh for new sys­tem to be “old school.” I’m on the fence about Slashgear’s approach (they are new to me in live blog­ging) and MacWorld’s cook­ie-cut­ter ven­dor-prod­uct-live-blog­ging-plat­form.

Thinking about talking about churching

A strange thing has hap­pened to me.

Ever since join­ing our hip­py-go-lib­er­al UU church, I find myself men­tion­ing it in casu­al con­ver­sa­tion. For forty-odd years I haven’t ever talked about church, except when asked, and then only to indi­cate that no, I don’t real­ly attend any church.

But since join­ing SMUUCh, I find myself talk­ing about church. I’m not entire­ly sure why. I don’t bring it up out of the blue. Usu­al­ly it’s some­thing rel­e­vant to the con­ver­sa­tion, like about heck­ling Rep. Yoder at the 4th of July parade, or about the sto­ry the min­is­ter told at din­ner with age-alike church folk. Once or maybe twice I have crowed about some­thing the church does, like about their com­ing of age pro­gram (like Con­fir­ma­tion, except hip­py-go-lib­er­al). But usu­al­ly it’s just about some­thing I heard on Sun­day, or some­thing the church did, or some­thing they might do.

And it feels weird to hear myself say­ing, “At church the oth­er day,” or “My church is going to…” But good, too. I like talk­ing about it. I don’t feel I need to hide that I go, or what it is they espouse. I used to dread con­ver­sa­tions about church, I guess because I felt I had to play down my beliefs. My lack of belief? My cer­tain­ty that humans can achieve spir­i­tu­al great­ness with­out a Guid­ing Hand. I didn’t want to get into it. But being a mem­ber of a church, a big church with lots of mem­bers, it lends legit­i­ma­cy to my beliefs. It makes me want to talk about how awe­some they are.

Which leads me to rec­og­nize that I could come across a lit­tle smug (my church is bet­ter than your church!). But most­ly I think I am just proud to be a mem­ber of this inclu­sive lit­tle denom­i­na­tion that thinks like I do and makes me want to be bet­ter than I am.

It’s crazy, but I think this must be how oth­er peo­ple feel about their church, right?

Huh.

Part of a com­mu­ni­ty they are proud of, and want every­one to know about?

Makes me think I should, at the very least, respect peo­ple of oth­er reli­gions, despite my dis­agree­ment with their atti­tudes about race, gen­der, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or whether I am going to Hell.

Every­one deserves respect. Even when my church is bet­ter than theirs. :)

Zoey’s new life

It’s been a bit over a week now since Mason died. In that time, our oth­er dog, Zoey, has gone from con­va­les­cent nurse to full-fledged com­pan­ion ani­mal. We got her four years ago to hang with Mason, to make his old age a lit­tle bet­ter. We did not expect him to live near­ly as long as he did, and as a result, Zoey’s life was maybe not as good as it could have been. She was always with Mason, and when he couldn’t go any­where (the park on a hot day, with the fam­i­ly on vaca­tion, camp­ing) then she couldn’t go, either.

Since Mason died, her life has got­ten bet­ter. In this last week she’s gone with us in the car on errands, been to the dri­ve-in movies with us, and gone on long ram­bling walks. I’m pret­ty sure she miss­es him, too, but she seems to be doing okay.

Here’s a pic­ture of her (the best pic­ture I think I’ve tak­en of her) in the back of the mini­van at the dri­ve-in.

Zoey at the drive-in

Zoey at the dri­ve-in

Mason, 1998–2013

Mason, our Stan­dard Poo­dle, died Fri­day night. We got him from his breed­er when he was ten months old, and he was our dog until he died, just one month shy of his fif­teenth birth­day.

Dur­ing his long life he sur­vived inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease, a par­a­lyzed lar­ynx, can­cer and a cou­ple bouts with pneu­mo­nia. We were pret­ty sure this last round of pneu­mo­nia would do him in, he’d lost an alarm­ing amount of weight, and showed lit­tle inter­est in his food. It took him a long month to show signs of recov­ery.

Iron­i­cal­ly, it was his renewed inter­est in food that killed him. Fri­day night he grew increas­ing­ly uncom­fort­able and unset­tled. By mid­night, it was clear some­thing was wrong, and we sus­pect­ed bloat, a con­di­tion in large breed dogs where exces­sive gas caus­es the intestines to twist and tight­en, trap­ping the gas and caus­ing expan­sion of the bel­ly and ribcage. It requires imme­di­ate surgery to cor­rect.

I took him to the emer­gency vet­eri­nar­i­an, and they con­firmed the con­di­tion. We chose not to put him through the surgery and the long recov­ery, an ordeal he would not like­ly have sur­vived, and which would have extend­ed his help­less­ness, pain, and mis­ery.

They gave him a seda­tive for the pain, and I got to vis­it with him for a lit­tle while. He couldn’t lift his head, but his eyes were open, and his tail wagged a lit­tle. I’d always imag­ined whis­per­ing to him in his last moments that he was good dog, but he’d lost most of his hear­ing the last few years, so I rubbed his ears instead, which is what Poo­dles love best. I cried a lot, and wor­ried that I was upset­ting him, so I asked the doc­tor in to end it. I was there when he died, I caressed him, and I cried some more. After it was over the doc­tor told me I could stay as long as I liked, but Mason wasn’t in there any­more, so I took his col­lar and went home to my fam­i­ly, to grieve with them. That was 2:00 am Sat­ur­day morn­ing.

He spent his whole life with us, and fif­teen years is a long time for a big dog to live. He came to us as a crazy, ener­getic pup­py, always run­ning and chas­ing, hunt­ing bun­nies and squir­rels. He nev­er caught one, but not for lack of try­ing. His favorite game was chase, usu­al­ly start­ed as an attempt to get him to play fetch, trans­formed by his pref­er­ence for keep-away. He got so excit­ed when peo­ple came to vis­it, we had to train him to put a toy in his mouth so he wouldn’t nip. I don’t think I noticed when he got old enough that he stopped doing that, and it stopped being a prob­lem. It just did. He nev­er suf­fered sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety, but when we were home he liked being near us. He’d fol­low us around the house, set­tling where we set­tled, even after he’d grown old enough that stairs were more than an incon­ve­nience to him. In the last months, we would car­ry him down to be with us while we watched TV, then car­ry him back up. Bloat may have done the deed, but old age is what killed him.

It seems like he’s been with us for every­thing that’s been sig­nif­i­cant in our lives. He was our first child. He was there when our first son demot­ed him back to dog. And he was still there when our sec­ond son demot­ed him even fur­ther, and when our sec­ond dog put him in his place. He lived in every house we owned. He went camp­ing and canoe­ing with us. He vis­it­ed grand­par­ents and friends, from Min­neapo­lis to Wichi­ta. He was in a fam­i­ly reunion pho­to four gen­er­a­tions deep. He was our fam­i­ly before we had a fam­i­ly. And he was part of our fam­i­ly when we did.

I loved him.

He was a good dog, even if he couldn’t hear me say so.

He can run and play and chase like he used to now, in our hearts and minds.

No dilemma, Apple is a hardware company

John Gru­ber of Dar­ing Fire­ball points to this arti­cle at the WSJ: Apple Has an Iden­ti­ty Cri­sis: Is It a Hard­ware Com­pa­ny or a Soft­ware Firm? Gru­ber notes that this dichoto­my has been true every one of Apple’s 37 years.

But I beg to dif­fer. There is no dilem­ma. This has nev­er been true. Back when I used to write about Apple, twen­ty years ago, and today, it is quite clear: Every­thing Apple does is about sell­ing hard­ware. You can set your watch, your rumor mill, and your stock options by this.

If they don’t think it will fur­ther hard­ware sales, they won’t do it.

iTunes Match Airport Wall Wart

Delight­ful name, no?

I would like Apple to build a wall wart1 that con­nects to my iTunes Match account (nee, my iCloud account) to stream music.

It should be very much like an Air­port Express, being wall-wartish, and hav­ing an audio out option, but it should be pur­pose built to con­nect to my music in my Apple ecosys­tem. I would set it up via my Apple i(OS)X device, con­nect to my WiFi, log in to iCloud, save my cre­den­tials, and it would be ready to go.

This mag­ic wart would then let me lis­ten to my music, via iTunes Match, with­out a com­put­er or a copy of iTunes run­ning. I wouldn’t have to plug my iPhone in any­where, or use minutes/battery to stream music. I wouldn’t have to “Start iTunes, Hon­ey, so we can lis­ten to music.” I could still use Remote (or iTunes on OSX?) to skip, pick a playlist, etc.

How sweet would that be?

Real­ly sweet.

Bonus, it would be ready for iRa­dio, or what­ev­er Apple calls their even­tu­al stream­ing music ser­vice.

Yes, I know this is very spe­cif­ic to the Apple ecosys­tem. And it would be fab if Apple would let you con­nect it to Pandora/Rdio/Spotify/whatnot, but Apple would nev­er do that. On the oth­er side, Apple would nev­er allow a third par­ty wall wart to con­nect to iTunes Match, so. I am, in my cir­cum­stances, stuck with Apple. I can live with that.

But I can’t live with­out this thing. Build it, Apple!


  1. wall wart (n): elec­tron­ic nub­bin with plug prongs on the back that you plug into the wall where it sits like a par­a­sitic lump, doing “some­thing.” 

NRA: Shoot the bad guys for double points!

There is so much to say about today’s NRA state­ment in rela­tion to the Sandy Hook shoot­ing. But let us start with this. The NRA blames the shoot­ing on a cul­ture of vio­lence. They call out video games (spe­cif­ic ones, I guess you know who your friends are now!), media, the gov­ern­ment. It’s actu­al­ly a pret­ty com­pre­hen­sive (if slight) overview of the com­plex prob­lems of child­hood and games and tele­vi­sion and men­tal health and the econ­o­my. I’d say bra­vo for rec­og­niz­ing that the issue is shades of grey upon shades of grey. Except…

Iron­i­cal­ly, their answer is to present the fix to society’s ills as a video game:

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Wayne LaPierre, NRA Lob­by­ist

Bad guys. And good guys. Shoot the bad guys to save the chil­dren.

Well, I have some black and white rhetoric for you, too, Mr. LaPierre.

What is safer than a good guy in a school with a loaded firearm? No firearms. Not for good guys. Not for bad guys. Leave the firearms to the pro­fes­sion­als who need them.