Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Apple's bitch

Ah, music; It can have a very powerful effect on people, but only when timed right (try humming the Star Wars cantina theme at a funeral). I own a very large music library but having it shuffled certainly throws off my mojo. I rely in tools such as smart and pre-made playlists, carefully setting id tags such as Genre, Mood, BPM and closely watching play and skip counts to make sure listening is a satisfying experience. About half of my library is composed of songs I don’t really love but I keep for the sake of variety and because I like to hoard stuff (among other uses). This is why I’m so picky when it comes to using the right player, both at home and abroad.

About 4 years ago I didn’t really have much of a “library”. Half of my songs I kept in the “My music” folder (Windows XP) and the other one at the office. I was lucky back then to be allowed to play music at work. They had a very strict IT policy, but it was perfectly OK to bring audio CDS, eventually one of my superiors suggested I rip them into Windows Media Player when he saw me swapping disks. I remember One day I had WMP scan the entire building’s network for music. I found the entire Green Day collection! I used to take the bus so I got a portable CD player that also played data CDs for the trip.

Eventually I got tired of burning disks and got myself an iPod. Being the underprivileged cheapskate that I am, I got the 512Mb shuffle. At the time it was a cheap alternative, and although there were other players that did more for less, I just didn’t trust the other brands. I installed iTunes with the CD that came bundled-in and decided to allow iTunes to manage my music library.

I switched jobs and I learned the joys of Peer to Peer file sharing. It wasn’t long at all before the library became pretty big and I decided to have iTunes “consolidate tracks” and have it completely manage all my music. I started playing with smart playlists which slowly had me become very anal when it came to have all my tracks organized; I needed to have the right genre, year, track number, artist and it had to be accurately rated, specially with downloaded music. It was all legal, if you’re wondering; Free-to share music and whatnot. Yeah.

One day the shuffle just broke. I went to unplug it and half of it remained plugged in. I had no way to disassemble it or anything. I went a couple of years without portable music (except for the occasional burnt CD) until I started researching MP3 players that were not Apple brand. Long story short, I went through several players, all with all sorts of neat features iPods never had, for a fraction of the price.

Just one issue: iTunes only syncs with iPods. The horror. I had fallen in Apple’s trap. I had to manually copy the files and when I did it didn’t really make a difference in the library. I figured the problem was the software and went looking for alternatives. WMP? Yuck! The interface is ugly, it sorts the music wrong, and they mess up the “artist“and “album artist”, erratically turning them into “artist” and “contributing artist”. I tried a couple more but they were all missing one or two key features. Most recently I tried Songbird, after reading it promised to be the ultimate iTunes killer. Well, this bird needs to grow feathers before it can learn to fly. It was (and is) a bloody mess. So sad, really, because had it worked, it would do everything iTunes did, then some, then sync to my non iPod player.

Last week I was trying to sync it and I was in a hurry to an appointment. It kept freezing up and saying it was full. I was so frustrated I yanked it off the USB port and hurled it at a wall. Poor Sansa c250 went to music player heaven. Why was I so frustrated? Was it the software? The hardware? No. It was because just then I realized I had been Apple’s little bitch for all these years. I had spent countless hours trying to figure out a way to break free, all for naught. There I was on square one.

I broke my piggy bank, took it to the Coinstar and bought a last-generation shuffle. It truly is a wonderful thing. With a built-in speech function, it doesn’t really need a screen, and also, it can now play playlists. It’s so tiny you forget you’re wearing it, and it’s just… so fucking cute! Have you noticed how apple products always look so awesome, and how they always make the previous generation look like crap?

Here I am listening to my new baby as I type. The circle is closed, for now. I can stop researching players… I can finally enjoy music. I am such a crack whore. There is just one thing. These earbuds… they are evil! They are ergonomically sized and shaped to fit the average African elephant (sorry Asian elephants, your ears are too small). I get a headache from wearing the suckers, but I have to if I want to be able to use any features the player has, because the controls are set ON the cable! Whose idea was that? I can use my old noise isolating earbuds just fine, but I can’t do anything but listen. I can get an adapter for about $15, or I could buy the apple-branded alternative for about $90. Almost twice the cost of the player (with earbuds). Genius. Evil genius. I’d smash the iPod against the wall, but it’s so cute…

Monday, March 8, 2010

What Google knows about me

As the dust clouds left by the Great Google Buzz Snafu of 2010 (an actual historic event) fades and the hate posts from blogs across the world begin to diminish I stumbled upon an ad banner that made me want to write about Google too.

Now, before I continue, a few points must be made clear:

  1. I love Google
  2. I do not wish to have my Gmail, Blogger, YouTube, Picasa, Reader, Wish list, Google Docs or Google Calendar deleted
  3. I would die of any of these are deleted
  4. I do not think Google is an evil corporation trying to take over the world
  5. If at any point Google decides to take its rightful place as ruler of humanity I will not join the imminent rebellion
  6. I love Google

At first I thought I’d stay clear of this trend of criticizing Google after the Buzz screw-up, then I thought I’d join in, then I got distracted and forgot about it. If you were not following, what happened was that Google decided to add an entire social network to every Gmail account, and to incorporate the use of every other Google product to this system. If you ask me, it was a very clever idea. The only problem is the way it was implemented. Suddenly everybody had a Buzz account, their friends were selected for them, and lots of information about them shared with these new “friends”. Lots of people went berserk over how, suddenly, because they send a lot of emails to their boss, Google decided their boss wanted to know what they’d been watching on Google Reader. I’d flipped out too if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t email a lot of people. Well, in the end Google realized their mistake, apologized, and fixed it.

Right after this incident, lots of upset users started venting their views on Google’s apparent information monopoly. This is because how Buzz exposed a lot of information about ourselves that many thought was unrelated. Suddenly people realized how much they’ve told Google about themselves throughout all these years. Many panicked, and the truth is that it is a little scary.

Google knows who you email and what you’ve sent them. Google knows what you search for on the internet, and how much you like what you like. Google knows what you do for a living and what you do for fun. Google knows all of your ailments (like when you searched “explosive diarrhea”) and exactly what kind of porn you like best. Google knows you.

My question is: What’s wrong with that? Hey, if Google’s going to post an ad banner (which is what pays for all those free websites you visit) at least it posts something relevant! Google also uses this knowledge to fine-tune your search results. It’s all really awesome. What if it knows what kind of video games I like? That just makes it easier to me to search for video games!

Second, you have to realize, Google is an it, not a he, she or a them. It’s a computerized system. Sure, it’s run by people, but don’t expect to have a human being on the other side of your monitor furiously writing your deepest secrets on a scratch pad. That’s just silly. It’s also silly to assume that Google gives a damn about your darkest secrets. It’s not like the company’s CEO occasionally prints your statistics and shows them to his friends to have a good laugh. It’s not like these statistics can even be printed in a readable format.

There are only two things you should worry about. I shall discuss them even when they are already covered by common sense:

The first is the risk of this data being hacked. Hey, it can happen! Just make sure not to share vital information over the internet, not just Google. Never share your password nor make it anything obvious (and if it’s by any chance “12345” please slap yourself). Follow basic Internet security guidelines and the possibility of your stuff being broken into roughly the same of your house being broken into, you know, where you keep all that delicate information.

The second is mistakes like the implementation of Buzz. To prevent this, well, don’t post anything on the Internet that you would not say in public and adhere to the “nothing nice to say” policy. If you REALLY need to remain anonymous, create separate accounts for those uses and do not use your real name.

See, it’s all common sense, like I said. You can’t expect the Internet to be perfect, after all, its run by humans.

After much deliberation I have linked my actual name to this “201d” persona. Simply put: I may not have much to show, but I have nothing to hide. I am aware a Google search for my real name can lead to thinks I have posted as 201d, and vice versa. I don’t really care.

All this is only to present a setting to the real issue of my post: Why does Google think I’m gay? If Google is supposed to show only relevant ads, why do I only get ads for Gay dating services? Honestly, guys, do I look gay? I promise I will never wear those pants again, it was laundry day and I had nothing else to wear, I swear. Is it maybe because my daughters had been searching for Jonas Brothers pictures without me logging off? If so, so help me God, they’ll be grounded for life, I tell ya.

I just hope the Google Bot crawls trough this page and reads this:

I am a heterosexual male currently married to a heterosexual female. I am not interested in dating, period. I have been feeding you information for over a decade now, and I honestly expected you to get this one bit of information right. Please fix it.
Thanks for reading.