Cloud-based Music Services, Personal Workflow, and the Purpose of Human Existence

Posted in non-fiction on June 18th, 2011 by duriel

I’ve been a big fan of Grooveshark ever since a friend introduced me to it last year. However in recent months three big contenders have appeared, all of whom would like my full patronage of their service only. Amazon, Google, and Apple have arrived, and I am now forced to consider whether it is ultimately convenient to go all-in with one of these, or to spread my music around and try to remember what is stored where. Incidentally, that last one is hardly the obstacle it might seem. At the time of this writing, by my count, I have no less than six physical devices used for music storage, and four cloud-based music storage options. This of course does not count my “legacy” physical media, CDs and USB drives and external hard drives.

It’s a rather complex system, and I don’t doubt that Steve Jobs meant what he said at the most recent WWDC – that managing this is “driving us crazy.” I beg to differ, though – it is not driving me crazy at all.

I have scores of DVDs and Blu-rays, hundreds of volumes of manga, and thousands of books scattered all over my apartment. I have a filing cabinet (a real one, with real physical folders!) full of research material, notes, articles, and personal miscellanea. I have marginalia in a great many of my books, and notes referencing them in as many more. I have multiple domains with associated hosting, passwords, and databases. Contacts, accounts, twitter friends, applications to manage them for daily use and to back them up.

I’m sorry, but there is absolutely no way, ever, that there will be some magical solution to unify all that chaos. To be fair, only a small portion of it is unique to a digital lifestyle – much of the information management would be similarly difficult without any computers at all. The thing is, it’s not a new problem. And in many ways it’s not a problem at all.

Just about the only thing humans are any damned good at is pattern recognition. It defines us, from scientific inquiry to conspiracy theory to seeing Christ in a piece of burnt toast. Our advanced spatial reasoning and recall is tied to this pattern recognition – we can recall the general way in which to arrive at a restaurant a thousand miles away without remembering street names. We can find the one index card we’re looking for in a huge desktop disaster. We can remember virtually anything we’ve learned through long chains of recall and association, one to the other to the answer. We are built to manage information efficiently, and we do.

Remembering where a particular mp3 can be found is no great challenge, even with tens of thousands of files. The same is true of a note pertaining to some line in a lengthy poetic work – the times when we remember such things seemingly without effort are truly remarkable, and they outnumber the failures to an incredible degree.

This of course is not meant to suggest that we should make no effort to organize things, or that we derive joy solely from disordered, poorly organized information. On the contrary, proper organization is essential to managing data and maintaining the all-important associative links that allow us to remember the things that are important to us. Making these things organized, building our own patterns, is a good thing and we enjoy doing it.

It is not, though, something that will be delivered unto us by one or another of the corporations and services above. There is nothing wrong with promising (and delivering) seamless and simple experiences to a consumer, but I believe that the “problem” was strongly overstated at the WWDC. I already have music in Google Music Beta, a few tracks in Amazon’s Cloud Player, and I still primarily use Grooveshark for streaming. I have no doubt that I’ll be trying out Apple’s offering when it is available, as well. I don’t plan to settle for one over the other, and I don’t believe that any of these services is going to make my life any “easier,” even if I were to choose only one.

I don’t want my life to be “easier.” If I did, I certainly would not spend my time worrying about which tracks to keep locally downloaded on my iPhone as opposed to maintained in the cloud, or which albums to purchase from Amazon instead of iTunes. None of that is simple, and none of it contributes to a quiet, contemplative life. I love the complexity of my technological devices, the scattershot storage, the multiply redundant backups, different file architectures, operating systems, game consoles, dev libraries. I could no more call them a headache than I could a chess problem or a difficult passage in translation.

It’s all part of the game, you see. The pledge to keep everything in sync is not evil, but it is both an empty promise and a false dilemma.

We humans, thinking, organizing creatures, shine like gold on the sea of chaos. We don’t always make the disorder, but our essential purpose is to understand it and use it to our advantage. If it wasn’t fun, I don’t imagine we’d be very good at it, and if we were not good at it, we would likely be dust already.

Links of interest:

PCMag’s excellent article on the three big new cloud music services.
Daily Beast article on the iCloud offering
Nyan Cat
Synaptic Plasticity

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Cr-48 3G streaming road trip results!

Posted in non-fiction on March 19th, 2011 by duriel

*This was originally posted 27 February, 2011.

Now that I am back home in Austin, here are the results of my 3G music streaming test on the Cr-48. Is it possible to stream music all the way for a road trip? The short answer is “mostly yes.” Streaming via Grooveshark was totally painless with two exceptions, which I detail below. On the whole, though, it was entirely successful. With my Dollfie Dream Excellen as copilot, the trip went well. I even got free coffee from a kind attendant in Cove, TX!

I started out in Lafayette, LA. My initial test before starting is here. >2Mb is not terrible, and the ping is good enough for my purposes on the road. I set up my unlimited day pass for the Cr-48’s Verizon 3G, and off I went – 7:19PM 26 February. I kept my eye on the buffer indicator in Grooveshark as I went (attention on the road, of course) and found that it was doing perfectly well. So well in fact that I had time to get annoyed by the forty minutes of traffic between myself and the interstate.

Once I got onto I-10 at about 8:00PM, I almost forgot about the streaming. I found no lag between tracks and no issues with skipping, even as I went through the quiet areas between Lafayette and Lake Charles. As I entered Texas, I had high hopes – if Elton, LA had no issues, I would certainly be able to make Beaumont.

Sadly, it was not to be. About ten miles into Texas, Grooveshark started skipping. I gave it about fifteen miles before I switched the preferences over to the “lower qualiy audio” streaming, which corrected the issue. But wow – I-10 TX mile 859 – my ping came back with 898ms. Not good, Verizon!

Once I hit Beaumont, I switched back over to the regular quality streaming, and things continued much as before. I listened to a lot of JAM Project last night ^^ Anyway, Houston was solid all the way through Katy, and as I neared the exit for TX Hwy 71, I began to wonder whether the other issue was just an isolated incident. Once on 71, I had no issues, really, until about seven miles outside of Bastrop County, where the same perfomance issue recurred. I switched over to low-quality, kept streaming, and then switched back without issue once I entered Bastrop proper. After that, no issues – Austin’s 3G coverage is pretty solid in my experience so far.

Upon arriving home, I checked the time – 1:48AM. Chromed Bird advised me that I had 407 unread tweets (!) and I was at 16% battery – it was 100% when I left. So almost seven hours of constant streaming and music playing, and the device was still good to go.

Conclusions? This experience has told me that with a better variable bitrate selection, even my mother could stream music on the road without significant issue. Verizon’s coverage was quite remarkable – I expected to have to put Grooveshark in “low-quality” mode much earlier. Plus, I had not even signed out of my account on the Cr-48 in about five days before I started, so once again its stability really has impressed me.

Grooveshark, Verizon, and Google get a pretty solid rating from me here. Perhaps on my next trip I’ll try youtube the whole way!

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3G testing the Cr-48 – Road trip

Posted in non-fiction on March 19th, 2011 by duriel

*This was originally posted 25 February, 2011.

Part of the difficulty for me in writing about the Google Cr-48 is separating out its truly unique features from the ones which are available in other devices. For example, 3G is prevalent for smartphone users – how is the experience different on this notebook? As a test of my personal usage, I am driving from Louisiana to Austin, TX (~6hours or so) along the I-10 corridor, using Grooveshark on 3G the whole way. I’m going to begin with standard quality streaming and enable the lower-quality version if I need to. In addition, I will stop and log my location periodically with speed tests. This should give me a feel for a live Internet streaming experience with this device, and also will let me test its performance with resumes.

Using a mobile device for music streaming is nothing groundbreaking, but it is something I’ve had an interest in trying for quite some time. I have of course used a laptop as mp3 player for this particular purpose, but doing it while relying on an Internet connection should be interesting. Interstate travel is universally uninteresting, so hopefully this will give me something to do as I make my way back for work^^

I expect that the battery life will be up to the task, even with constant 3G streaming. I’ve gotten up to 10.2 hours as my personal best so far. The biggest obstacle will be an auto-shutoff, I think, but we’ll see how that plays out in practice as I skip around on Grooveshark ^^ I’ll play it safe, of course, and an occasional tap on the new tab key should keep it awake. I don’t want to have my Cr-48 wrecked on the highway after all!

I’m excited to see how well it performs, and I’ll post the results. For anyone who’s interested, check out my last.fm profile.

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