Friday, July 20, 2012

55: Brothers

I watched his body fall, and he, helpless, flailed uselessly into the canyon. For the first several meters, his eyes begged mine for a reason, but we both understood why this was happening. I could still smell the burning fat and flesh, feel the deep shame of rejection...

From behind, someone called to me: “Cain?”
* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. XL. Tell a story in exactly fifty-five words. Go see G-Man.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Love Letter

The love letter fell from her fingers onto an open newspaper. She bent forward in her chair and heaved a deep, broken sob, her entire world shrinking into this one, singular moment. Ink wet with tears, the signature on the letter ran together with the author’s printed name on the newsprint beneath, among the obituaries.
* * * * *
FFF-55 Vol. XXXIX? Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man. Inspired by, and loosely dedicated to, Kevin, whomever he may be. "Now there's no love as true as the love that dies untold." --Robbie Robertson/Rick Danko/The Band, It Makes No Difference. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0 Review (Audiophilia III)

As previously written, I recently bought myself a new media player: the Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0, model YP-G70. Overall, I'm pretty happy with this device. Before buying it, I saw it had hundreds of user ratings above 4.5 out of 5, so I read the 1's and 2's to see what the naysayers were complaining about. Most of those are in regard to a bug that quickly causes the device to either shut down or freak out, which hasn't happened on mine and seems to have been quickly corrected by users after a return and replacement at the retailer.

Here are the things *I* have to complain about:

1. Don't spare the juice! For the life of me I don't know what Samsung believes is a decent amount of battery power. True, I do have my screen timeout set at max (10 minutes), but I want to see what it's doing even if I don't touch anything for a little while. If I played music all day at work or in the car, I'd have almost no battery left. This being my first such device, I will assume this is just a case of me having unreasonable expectations. However, it would be nice if Samsung let me choose to have the screen never time out when the device was being charged.

2. Where are the accessories? I can't really be angry about this: weeks before buying anything, I'd looked for some case, holder, car adaptor, flippy wallet thing, or any version of the dozens of other cool accessories available for the several Samsung phones that are out there, and found next to nothing. I was surprised to see, in the store when I bought the 5.0, a snap on case (made, coincidentally, by a company headquartered almost in my own zip code), but that turned out to be a fluke. Not even this local company makes anything else for the 5.0. The closest we as consumers get is to find a comparably-sized (Samsung) device and see if it'll work. I haven't had the time yet to go on this quest, and I'll be very stingy with my money when it comes time to buy anything. With the exception of grossly overpriced screen protectors, even the aftermarket choices are almost nonexistent, unless I want to pay $20+ for something made overseas that I haven't had a chance to test fit or feel. Seriously, Samsung, at least offer us a wrist strap or something. What I'd really like to see are accessories similar to those for the Galaxy Note smartphone, which is just a tad bigger than the 5.0.

3. Proprietary micro-USB connector. This outright pisses me off. If I'd known about this before I bought the 5.0, it might have been a deal breaker, or at least made me more careful how I handled the cable supplied with the device. While other micro-USB cables fit just fine, they don't do anything--can't charge or transfer data. It's almost like somebody suggested a proprietary connector in a board meeting, but somebody else (correctly) pointed out that stuff like that doesn't fly with consumers, so they all put their heads together and decided to make it look like a common micro-USB connector, but not work like one. Bastards.

4. Home screen won't rotate. This is sort of trivial, but missed details greatly agitate me. Considering the image I found to put at the top of this post, I'm sure this must be a case of me doing something wrong.

Aside from these things, which can all be worked around in one way or another, I've found everything I read about the 5.0 to be true. All in all, I really dig it. I have yet to become very comfortable with the Android OS, so I'm sure there are lots of cool things and probably a few uncool ones, too, yet to discover. The Google Play app market is easy to use and has plenty of (honestly, too many) choices in both free and paid-for apps, not only big products like popular games but tools to do weird, specialized tasks, as well as alternatives to standard apps in case you don't like the looks of what you already get. So long as the quality is (stays) good, and nothing bad happens like [deleted so as not to jynx myself], I look forward to dozens of months of enjoyment with my fancy new music media player. 

Now if I could only beat the AI in the free chess game I downloaded, life would be great.

A Reminder

Just a reminder: I'm not writing this for you or anyone else. It's for me. I know I drone on and on about the most boring things ever. Even when I speak, I can see people's eyes cloud up after about 30 seconds. I know I speak slowly and over-deliberately. I use parenthetical phrases. I interject and interrupt myself. I get lost in subtopics knowing full well my listener has no need of the context but imagining that for some reason they may want it. I back up and correct myself.

I understand how you could get bored listening, or, in this case, reading. Just move along. This blog is my little laboratory  notebook in which I keep track of my thoughts and wonderings. Occasionally I've written a thing or two that others seemed interested in. Twice, I've actually posted something because I'd wished it was out there when I needed some advice. Here is a third instance of that last phenomenon, with a mess of preceding thoughts in two parts. I've taken the liberty to separate out the boring parts from the stuff I mean to actually be helpful.

Also see my original Disclaimer. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Audiophilia, Part II

My love affair with music has manifested itself materially through the evolution of my media players. As aforementioned, my earliest 'device' was a boombox hanging by wire from the heater vent of my '78 Buick Century. It was awesome not only because it played cassette tapes and the radio, but because I could take it in and out of the car. (I'll be the first to admit my standards were low back then.) Ever since, I've had lots of things that play music that I've been inordinately attached to because I must--must--be able to play certain songs at certain moments, or be ready to listen to this artist or that album whenever a particular mood strikes.

As far as real music players go, I've owned three so far:

1. Motorola m500 
This little thing thrilled me. It was compact, cute, and tough. It was easy to use and smart: this MP3 player was probably the very first reason I ever had to appreciate USB, and at the time 5 megabytes was more than enough to hold every ripped, downloaded, and generated song/sound file I had. I used it for more than two years, even well after all my friends started buying iPods for large multiples of what I paid. I mourned its loss when it finally quit like a tired mule, and I'll always consider it one of the best purchases I've ever made.

2. Zune 8, (Microsoft, third generation)
After the demise of my m500, I was at a loss. I had no desire to buy an iPod, mostly because I had no desire to let iTunes hijack my computer or my music collection. Plus, what I was seeing is that my friends who bought the cool new iPods were mostly being abandoned by Apple as the cooler, newer iPods were released. I didn't want in on that, so I turned to my next best untrusted option: The Evil Empire, Microsoft.

I know I should have considered alternatives, but I was a bit taken with the sleek look of the Zune, and considering my budget, I knew I couldn't afford to make a bad choice for a good reason. Everything about the Zune was sexy. After I finally spent months saving like a teenager, I bought one: red--sexy, I told you!

It took me a couple weeks to get the hang of. It was nowhere near as easy as the m500, and I bought it at the height of the DRM movement, so not only did it not like the only two songs I'd ever bought online, it questioned my authority to load and play songs I'd ripped years ago from CDs I'd owned even longer. It also wanted me to become part of some social network I'd eventually have to pay for monthly access to. The final straws were that it wouldn't let me use part of its 8MB capacity for mass storage and the proprietary software it wanted to use to transfer music files.

Frankly, it pissed me off, but by this time I'd spent my money and was going to make the best of it. After all, rated strictly as a music player, it worked well, and the sexiness of it wasn't lost in the menus and the touchpad control. So long as all I had to do was charge it, I didn't have to mess around with the software much, and that was enough. Sadly, very shortly after the warranty ended, the screen backlight went out. I could still use it if I held it directly in bright sunlight, but really that was it. My already bruised sense of value purchased was shot to hell.

2.5 Cell Phones
Storing and playing music on basic cell phones is easy and... basic. The only one of these worth mentioning is the LG Cosmos Touch. Though marketed to teens, it's a cool little phone and was ideal for use both as a phone and (basic) music player. But I lost it, and had to go back to my Env3, which doesn't even have a standard-sized headphone jack. Boo.

3. Galaxy Player 5.0 (Samsung YP-G70)
This is my most recent acquisition and my real cherry-popping entry into the world of digital devices. In the years since I bought my old m500, the Western world has exploded with Android and iPhone, 3G/4G networks, and data packages that amount to the payments I'll end up making on my teenage son's braces. The term "MP3 player" has almost become obsolete, and considering everything current media players can do, it's absurd to refer to modern, even low-end, devices with the term.

I decided I needed a new music player months before I actually put down the payola. When I started the shopping process, I looked online of course, and got in my head that I could spend a third what I'd paid for previous devices and get more than twice the music player. When I actually walked into a store to try and play with the myriad of products available, I got even more confused. But I also fell in love.

First let me say I was shocked at the price range: I went shopping for a simple touch-screen MP3 player, some of which are out there for as little as $30 or $40. I was expecting something not much more complicated than my three year old GPS. Then I learned about touch screens and started messing around with the fancier devices. Considering these things are just smart phones that don't make calls, the higher price makes sense, and considering Android devices are direct competition for iPhones and high-end tablets (which are even beginning to include souped-up e-readers like the Kindle Fire), the drive to maximize functionality also makes sense.

When I started messing around with the Galaxy Players in the store, I was fairly amazed. (I realize that makes me a bona fide tech noob, but after a certain accumulation of ignorance, it becomes quaint, and therefore excusable...or so I tell myself.) So I decided to get one, eventually, not only because I'd gone way too long without being able to carry my music around with me (basic cell phone music playing in the interim notwithstanding), but because it was a perfect excuse to enjoy all the cool stuff my friends were doing with their phones without paying through the nose for data.

To insure myself against another Zune debacle, I didn't use my own money, so it took me a while to get to walking into a store to buy anything. I spent this time reading reviews and going into more stores to touch and play. During this time, I learned the Galaxy Player 4.2 was coming out, and considered it instead, especially given its size. In the end, however, when I had my VISA gift cards in-hand, and spotted a package deal that included a case and charger, I took the shot and made the buy.

A note on the purchase: I had many options when buying. Unlike Apple's devices, Samsung's prices aren't fixed at every store and website. I chose to buy locally rather than online, and I chose to buy from a store that actually put their products out for customers to try out. Some of the players I looked at online were front runners, even more than the Samsung, but there was no way I was paying money for something until I could touch it and mess around with the menus.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Audiophilia, Part I

I am a music lover. I might even qualify as an audiophile if I understood the classical importance of the hardware necessary to optimize sound. It's a fact that I was born between the analog and digital ages, so my appreciation of music is an amalgam of my very early years sitting around while my mom listened to her favorite albums, my own childhood discovery and exploration of music, and the modern explosion of both availability and portability of musical formats.

As a result, I've been experimenting with ways to have my favorite music with me ever since I got my first cassette recorder. Like most folks my age, I made my first mix tapes by holding the recorder near radio speakers, trying to time the beginning and end of the song just right while keeping everything steady enough not to get those brushing sounds in the recording. Later I owned a dual cassette deck and that was a comparative wet dream. My first car was thirteen years older than me when I bought it, and didn't even have an FM receiver (or an eight-track tape player--I missed that era completely), so I rigged a harness for my boombox with a wire hanger and bought lots of D batteries. I was one of the first people I knew to own a cassette adaptor--both the wired kind that plugs into a headphone jack and the wireless kind that broadcasts a tiny FM signal to which you can tune your car radio--and one of the first things I did after buying my current vehicle was research and purchase an auxiliary input cable.

With the invention of digital music, my world became nearly complete. Remarkably, I never got into Napster or other file sharing methods, but I surely was ripping not only my own CDs to my computer, but those from every friend who would let me borrow them. The fact that libraries loan out music and other audio CDs for free is a testament to human kindness. And then of all magical things, my computer would let me create playlists of all those songs and burn them to a new CD. It's the ultimate mix-tape: all the songs, no ambient noise to ruin the song, and no signal degradation due to making copies of copies ad infinitum. (Seriously, if all the young'ns who grew up with this CD-burning mix-tape method knew the arduous steps such a task used to require, it would make all those when-I-was-your-age stories of "going uphill both ways barefoot in the snow" sound like a cakewalk.) I'm still very fond of this practice; I'll honestly never lose my attachment to physical media, regardless of how advanced we get in the digital age. (Plus, even if you could download liner notes, who would? And would the file include the smell of a freshly open jewel case, or the feel of carefully unfolding the paper for the very first time? I think not...)

Because of my constant desire to keep my favorite tunes nearby, I have watched with childish glee as music services such as Pandora and Spotify have become more mainstream and user friendly. I'm still using the free versions of both of these, with almost no desire (or need*) to upgrade to paid versions, and I have yet to try other, less popular (though certainly mainstream) services like iHeartRadio and Grooveshark. What I love about these services is that they are available almost anywhere (especially with Wi-Fi hotspots and smartphone apps) and that the artists get paid when we music consumers use them, which, after all, was the big deal when Lars took down Napster.

(Discussion on how the music-entertainment business treats/pays artists, especially since the explosion of digital distribution, will not ensue here; perhaps another time, since there's surely plenty to shout about.)

Friday, July 6, 2012


I remember hearing the song for the first time. I was in the car, as usual, and I felt helpless in my inability to not only stop and savour every note and lyric, but to write the tiny bit of information I'd held in my brain from the DJ's remark before playing the track, knowing I was sure to have forgotten too much for the memory to be useful by the time I had a chance to write anything.