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.