Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Guess I'm a PC

I started using iTunes recently (mostly because there are two official Frank Zappa albums that are only available through iTunes). I have been somewhat of a luddite about it - part of me likes purchasing physical media (even though CDs appear to be useless for archival purposes - some of my earliest purchases have already corroded). But in general, I like the idea, but the execution doesn't thrill me.

Now, I know there are thousands of people using and enjoying iTunes, so maybe I'm just too stupid to figure out how to solve the problems I ran into. So let me list them, and maybe someone out there can tell me what I'm doing wrong:
  • I can buy albums, and look at the albums in my music library. But if I want to burn a CD, I can't just select an album and burn it, I have to first move all the songs on that album to a playlist, and then burn that playlist to CD. Fine if I'm making a "mix tape", but it doesn't seem to have occurred to them that anyone might want to treat an "album" as a unit of music.
  • After burning, a little chime plays to let you know it's done. Unfortunately, if the burn was unsuccessful for any reason (as happens from time to time with CDs), the same chime plays. There is no error message or any other feedback to let you know the burn failed.
  • After burning successfully, the selection focus moves to the newly-created CD. When you eject the CD, selection focus returns to the Music library, not the playlist you just burned. It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that anyone might want to burn more than a single copy at a time.
  • There is a nice feature to print CD case inserts. But there are no customization options at all - you either print one of their preset formats, or shove it. Too bad if you wanted to do something like print an album name above the track list (see first point above).
  • The software doesn't recognize my (non-iPod) MP3 player at all, which means I have to manually convert all my songs to MP3 (since it doesn't play their proprietary format), and then manually move them to the player.
  • When you export songs to MP3, it puts them all in the same directory. By default, the list doesn't show file types (though it can be made to do so), so in the default configuration, every song you've converted is listed twice, with no indication of which is which.
  • After moving the MP3 files to the player, I don't care about having that format in my iTunes folder on my PC hard drive, so I delete them. The iTunes software can, if you tell it to, detect that some of the files it thought were there are now gone, but it isn't smart enough to just remove them from the list automatically, you have to select and delete them from the iTunes list by hand.
It's almost as if they've deliberately designed the software to be as inconvenient as possible for anyone who hasn't purchased one of their iPods. And more generally, it seems like everything is fine and works great as long as you stay inside the little box of things they want you to do, but you start running into problems as soon as you get outside that box. Keep in mind, too, that this list came out of using iTunes basically over only two weekends. And that has been my experience generally with Apple products. Thinking back over the years, it seems like every interaction with any Apple product I've ever had has been dissatisfying in one way or another. From the locked-down feeling from the ancient Macs I had to deal with one semester in college, to the way Quicktime just never really "fit" well into a Windows environment, to this latest bit with iTunes, none of it has ever really felt right to me.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Customer Satisfaction

So, like an idiot, a couple of weeks ago I went into my local GameStop and put in a preorder deposit on Dragon Age: Origins. At the time, no one bothered to ask whether I wanted the regular version or the Collector's Edition. When I went to pick it up, naturally all they had was the regular version, because only enough to cover the preorders were shipped to the store. As far as I can tell, this was also true of the regular version, since there were none out on the shelves.

And yet, somehow, the Best Buy not 200 yards down the street managed to have plenty of both versions on the shelf, available for anyone to just walk in off the street and purchase. So I did, and got my preorder deposit back from GameStop. Neither the poor clerk, nor the store manager standing next to him, even bothered to ask if there was anything they could do that would let me leave the store satisfied (not that there was, at that point).

Now, there are plenty of places to buy video games. Why in the world would I even want to set foot in GameStop ever again, when they clearly (A) aren't interested in selling new releases to walk-in customers; and (B) don't much seem to care about customer satisfaction in general? What does GameStop offer that I can't get anywhere else, with none of the aggravation? What kind of business strategy is this?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Upbeat Happy-Time Music

I'm finding lately that I am more and more impressed with musicians who can produce upbeat music. I think it has something to do with that Bart Simpson quote: "Depressing teenagers is like shooting fish in a barrel" - the sort of angsty-young-person vibe is too easy. Happy music takes some effort.

For example, this:

Or this (and yeah, I know, it the song of theirs you always hear). And to me, I can even hear some pain behind here, but transformed into a cry of joy at the world:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Can't Sleep, Robot Will Eat Me

Upcoming Military Robot Could Feed on Dead Bodies
A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies.

So, not just a man-eating robot, then, but a steam-powered man-eating robot?

Man, that's almost as cool as that billion-dollar dragon-shaped tank project they just cancelled.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Big Man Japan"

Holy crap, this movie sounds like the awesomest thing ever. The official synopsis:
A middle-aged slacker living in a rundown, graffiti-ridden slum, Daisato’s job involves being shocked by bolts of electricity that transform him into a stocky, stick-wielding giant several stories high who is entrusted with defending Japan from a host of bizarre monsters. But while his predecessors were national heroes, he is a pariah among the citizens he protects, who bitterly complain about the noise and destruction of property he causes. And Daisato has his own problems –an agent insistent on branding him with sponsor advertisements, an Alzheimer-afflicted grandfather who transforms into a giant in dirty underwear, and a family who is embarrassed by his often cowardly exploits. A wickedly deadpan spin on the giant Japanese superhero, BIG MAN JAPAN is an outrageous portrait of a pathetic but truly unique hero.

Official website/trailer
"The Strangling Monster" clip
The Stink Monster" clip

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Puzzle From Hell

Someone gave us this puzzle for Christmas. Now, before you read any further, follow that link. Looks like a perfectly ordinary puzzle, apart from the funky shape, right?

Here's what makes this particular puzzle a form of torture:
  • There is no indication whatsoever on the box that it is a shaped puzzle. Looking at the packaging, it appears to be an ordinary rectangular puzzle. It's hard to start by finding the edge pieces when the box art lies to you about what shape the edge actually is.
  • The pieces fit together very loosely. We semi-jokingly said that the easiest way to tell if two pieces were a fit was if they fell apart when you touched them. When it's all done, there is a full inch of play across the entire puzzle - you can squeeze the pieces together and stretch them apart by a full inch. I measured.
  • The title, "Snowy Trees", is a misnomer. It should be called "Snowy Tree", because whoever created the picture only bothered to paint one tree, and then used Photoshop to copy and paste that tree everywhere else. Oh, sure, he transformed some of them a little: One of them is squished down really squat and wide, another is stretched out tall and skinny; one is flipped to a mirror image of the rest of them. But it's the same goddamned tree, over and over.

We didn't let it beat us, though: