Archive Page 2

Versions of Windows Movie Maker… on Win7

Windows-Live-Movie-Maker-Beta-Important-Update-Available[1] Opinions have differed over the years on the Windows Movie Maker line, but it’s a capable enough product.  You’re not going to be creating cutting-edge media with WMM, but for the cost (free), well… you get what you pay for.

There was some excitement when it was announced that Windows 7 would have access to an entirely new, refreshed version of Windows Movie Maker.  I say “have access to”, because the new version – Windows Live Movie Maker – would, instead, be a separate download – along with Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Writer, and a few other things.  Certainly leaving some of those *core* products out of Windows 7 wasn’t everyone’s favorite decision, but it keeps the OS slimmer & trimmer.  That’s a good thing.

Sadly, the new Windows Live Movie Maker is probably not the follow-up that most folks were hoping for.  While it does utilize the updated ribbon bar interface, which is nice, most of the improvements end there.  The ever-usable “timeline” view is gone, taking a “picture from a preview” is no longer offered, and the ability to manually “stretch” objects out to adjust the timing has been replaced with manually typing in values.  It’s too bad, too, because the updated Windows Movie Maker could’ve really hit it outta the park, but the more I use it, the more I find things that I cannot do that I used to be able to.

Thankfully, there is some good news. 

For starters, WMM 2.6 is available for download, and seems to work just fine on Vista or Windows 7 – both 32-bit and 64-bit.  Even better, the WMM version that was updated for Windows Vista (ver 6.0) works on Win7 as well, provided you download the proper version for your OS, and then run a simple batch file.  Version 6.0 (released with Vista) included new effects and transitions, support for hardware acceleration, and some newer file formats.  Also, the UI is a refreshed & improved version of the WMM 2.6 interface. 

Why offer both versions?  Well… the 6.0 version offered some hardware acceleration features that not every Vista machine supported.  For those users, the refreshed XP version of WMM was released as version 2.6.  Confused?  Don’t worry about it.  For most folks, the shipped Vista version (6.0) is the best of the bunch, so…

Let’s take a look at installing that.

First…

Second…

  • Extract the “Movie Maker” folder and copy it to your C:\Program Files directory.  (Note: for 64-bit users, the “C:\Program Files (x86)” folder will not be used in this case, since the 64-bit version of WMM is a true 64-bit application.)
  • Open the “Movie Maker” folder that you just extracted.
  • Right-click on the “reregdlls.bat” file and choose to “Run as administrator”.  Choose ‘yes’ when prompted and allow the batch file to run.  It should only take a moment.
  • Finally, left-click on the “moviemk.exe” file and drag it onto your Start button to “pin it to the Start Menu”.
  • Open the Start Menu, click on “Windows Movie Maker”, and go!

The "reregdlls" batch file will register some important DLL files

Right-click on the batch file and "run as administrator"

Left-click the "moviemk.exe" file and drag it to your Start button

Now you have a Windows Movie Maker link in your Start Menu!

Notes:

  • Although both versions of Windows Movie Maker (2.6 and 6.0) can function along side Windows Live Movie Maker just fine, it appears that the 2.6 and 6.0 versions stomp on each other somewhat.  I recommend that you choose just one of those versions to have running on your Win7 system – with 6.0 being the better of the two.
  • The 2.6 (XP) version works fine on Windows 7, but seems to have a few issues – either by design, or by running on an OS that it was not intended for.  For instance, the “collections” view won’t show your imported video files – those have to be selected directly.  Also, importing video files takes quite a while, and then breaks them into “chunks” rather than the whole video file.
  • The 6.0 (Vista) version is obviously not intended to be ripped from Vista, so your experience under Win7 may vary and/or be problematic.  Haven’t heard of any issues, though.

Windows Movie Maker 2.6 (Vista/Win7 refresh of the WMM XP version)

WMM 2.6 - the older interface WMM 2.6 running on Win7 64-bit

Windows Movie Maker 6.0 (Vista-released version, 32-bit or 64-bit)

WMM 6.0 - the refreshed interface WMM 6.0 running on Win7 64-bit

Windows Live Movie Maker (Downloadable for Windows 7)

Windows Live Movie Maker

Finally, a special thanks to this forum for pointing me in the right direction!

Hope you enjoy using Windows Movie Maker on Windows 7!

When Pigs Fly! (Day 7)

SteveJobs_KoolAid My view of Apple has long been one of the “Kool-Aid Factor”, with Steve Jobs selling you something that you neither needed nor necessarily wanted.  I’m convinced that Mr. Jobs would gladly saw off your leg and sell it back to you – at a profit to himself, naturally.  Some of that stems from my long-held anti-Apple bias, but also from what I’ve seen from him over the years – namely, not a whole lot other than a slave-driver mentality and a “be the best no matter what the cost” work ethic.  Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs is probably both neurotic and slightly genius, though he’s done wonders for Apple Computers.  No doubt about it.

Anyhow, enough of that.

So, it was just over a week ago that, after much sweat + toil + tears, I switched to an iPhone and blogged about the experience.  After a few more days, I blogged again.  It’s blog-a-mania!  Part of me wishes that I would’ve had nothing but hassles and problems with the iPhone.  (That’s the anti-Apple part of me, if you hadn’t figured it out.)  The other part of me just wanted to have a phone that I could be happy with, and the iPhone seems to have satisfied that, for the most part.  Honestly.  I don’t have a lot to complain about, and the complaints that I do have are pretty nitpicky.

IT’S ALL RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS

unicorn-rainbowThat heading is a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but my experience with the iPhone over this past week as been overwhelmingly positive.  It turns on when I want it to, checks my email, browses the web, takes pictures, connects to wifi, makes calls, ends calls, uses my Bluetooth headset (without hassle), and so forth. 

As well as those other things, it turns out that I’m “messing with my phone” less than I used to, and I mean that in a good way.  With my Android phone(s), for instance, I felt like I was constantly fiddling with things – settings, volume, killing apps, freeing memory, and so on.  I felt like I was doing more work than the phone was doing, which gets old quickly.  With the iPhone, though, I’ve really been more focused on what I *do* with the phone, rather than the phone itself.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DETRACTORS

Well, I guess I was one of the detractors, wasn’t I?  Truth be told, I rarely had anything bad to say about the iPhone itself.  My beef was (and has long been) with Apple as a company, and thus my unwillingness to use their products. 

Yeah, I heard that <snort> in the background.  The irony is thick.

There are a few things that folks have knocked the iPhone for over the years:  lack of  multi-tasking, closed ecosystem, no physical keyboard, uncustomizable, lack of “copy & paste”, dropped calls, battery life, no removable battery, lack of Flash support, and others.  Let’s hit on some of these issues.

  • Multi-Tasking:  So, the iPhone does NOT have true multi-tasking as we understand it.  If I’m watching a YouTube video, click the Home button, make a call, and then go back to the YouTube app, I’ll find that I’ve been bumped out of the video back to the select screen again.  The real question is this:  is that a problem?  Both Android and Windows Mobile (6.5 and earlier) have real multi-tasking, which is often touted as a “feature”.  In my experience with both platforms, though, it really ended up meaning that the user needed to work at keeping the apps killed or under control.  In fact, one oftaskiller[1] the first apps I would install on Android is “Taskiller”, with it set to ‘kill background apps’ – and this was just to keep the phone running reasonably snappy.  Sound familiar?  I’m basically trying to emulate what the iPhone does by default.

    When it really comes down to it, multi-tasking should be used in scenarios where it makes sense.  How many things can I really do at one time on my phone?  If I can do more than one thing, is it sensible to prefer that over snappy system response?  Personally, I don’t think so.  I’m also hearing that the upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series will “multi-task” similar to the iPhone.  They’re being pretty much worked over for making that choice too, but I think it’s the right one – at least for now.

  • Closed Ecosystem:  Yeah, the iPhone ecosystem is shut tighter than the Bill Gates’ estate.  Apple has always maintained strict control of their devices, and the iPhone is no different.  I wouldn’t expect this to change until Apple sees it really hurting their bottom line.  Until then, they get to call the shots on what people see, what people use, and (for the most part) how well it works.  I don’t agree with this standpoint, but I don’t disagree with it either.  It is what it is.
  • No Physical Keyboard:  Apple certainly chose this for aesthetic reasons, but the truth is that their virtual keyboard works great.  In fact, I can probably type faster on the iPhone keyboard than I could on my old T-Mobile Dash.  I’m annoyed when trying to access ‘symbols’ to type, but even that works out over time.
  • iPhoneSnoreUncustomizable:  Truth is, *every single iPhone* looks the same.  Sure,  it might have a funky case on the outside, or a wacky wallpaper on the unlock screen, but past that they are identical: a wall of colorful icons.  You can move the icons around, as I have, and even choose to have none on  your homescreen, but hardly anyone does that.  An iPhone looks like iPhone.  Is this an advantage?  Sure.  Apple knows what every iPhone user is going to have in front of them, so supporting it – both for the end-user *and* developer – is much easier.  The down side?  Well, it’s a bit boring.  In the Apple world, we would all have walls of icons, brushed metal status bars, and screens that suck into the trash can like a Ghostbusters gun.  I’d like to see Apple take their mastery of the UI world, and put it toward giving the end-user some real, creative control.  Now *that* would be amazing.
  • Cut & Paste:  This functionality was added with the release of iPhone OS 3.0.  It’s handy and all that, but (honestly) I rarely have a real need for it.  Glad to have it, but the world wouldn’t end if it wasn’t there.
  • Dropped Calls:  Mud has been slinging since day one on the issue of the iPhone dropping calls regularly.  Since my buddy Andy has seen about an 80% decrease in this behavior since jailbreaking and moving (back) to T-Mobile, I’m going to pin this issue primarily on AT&T and their bloated network.  That said, I *have* noticed that my iPhone drops signal more quickly than my previous phones, so there is something there that Apple should own as well.
  • Battery Life:  I’m calling this a relative non-issue.  With most options turned on by default – push email, wifi, Bluetooth – every phone I’ve used has had pretty poor battery life.  The iPhone has faired as well as, if not better, than the MyTouch3G.  Figure out what you *need* to have on, and then turn off the rest.  Dialing back the “push email” to check every hour or so will definitely help with battery life.  Do you really need to have email *instantly* sucked down to your phone when you’re working at your desk – in front of your primary email client — for 8 hours per day?  Yeah.  I thought not.
  • Lack of Removable Battery:  I hear that the next iPhone *might* have a user replaceable battery, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  In the meantime, the geniuses at Apple have to replace the battery for you – and at a significant cost.  That sucks.  Thankfully, the iPhone batteries appear to hold up pretty well, and most people I know go through phones so quickly it probably doesn’t even matter.
  • iphonewithflash[1] Lack of Abobe Flash Support
    Steve Jobs claims that adding Adobe Flash support would absolutely ruin the blemish-free iPhone experience – both in performance, and in battery life.  I call “lame”.  Let users choose to run Flash if they want.  Personally, I don’t really care.  I find *most* Flash-enabled websites to be obnoxious, but “choice” is nice.  You know, choice?

THAT’S ENOUGH FOR TODAY

Alright.  Let’s stop beating this worn-out piñata and call it a day, shall we? 

All in all, my iPhone experience has been very good so far.  Not perfect, mind you, but very good.  I’ll rant about some of those things in a few days.

Thanks for reading.

Making Win7 Even More Usable: Part 1 – Hibernate

Win7moreUsable_logo I haven’t exactly hidden my love for Windows 7.  Having used it for over a year now (including the “Beta” and “RC” versions), I’m pretty darned used to it… and it’s great! 

Now, I was also a fan of Vista – albeit through slightly gritted teeth.  You see, although I didn’t personally have a lot of issues with Windows Vista, I certainly ran across my fair share – especially in the work place, and especially with laptops.  Vista was a very capable operating system, but something was wrong with it.  I don’t know what it was, but it had some deep down issues that are hard to put my finger on.  I don’t normally advise folks to upgrade their operating system as a “fix” for anything, but I make an exception with upgrading to Windows 7.  I have quite literally seen issues *disappear* after wiping Vista out and installing Win7 – no other changes made.

I guess it is what it is.

So, I love Win7, right?  Yeah, I do.  I think it’s great, but it’s not perfect.  Funny thing is, most of the ways that I would change Windows 7 are done through simple tweaks, not major changes.  I thought I’d share those with the masses.

Here we go… my first item to “make Win7 even more usable”:

START USING HIBERNATE

hibernate00 Microsoft made a lot of headway in regards to power management with both Vista and Windows 7, but in my opinion they are rarely utilized as they ought to be. 

Case in point: Hibernation.

People often complain about the time it takes to start up and shut down their PC.  I agree.  Part of the issue is over-installing crapware onto your box, much of which starts itself up when the computer first boots.  Sadly, most people don’t know how to take care of that, and I’m not going to get into it here.  The other part of it, though, is that most folks are doing a full SHUT DOWN every single time they turn their computer off.  Microsoft hasn’t made this any easier, since it’s the default option – and most people I know can’t tell you the difference between Sleep, Hibernate, and Shut Down.

But I’m gonna.

  • Sleep – this mode puts your computer into a low-power state.  Your computer and operating system are still fully running, but in an unusable “groggy” state that uses much less battery/power.  Shaking the mouse, hitting the keyboard, or tapping the power button usually wakes the computer up again, and you’re ready to go back to work – typically within 5 seconds or so.  “Sleep” is the default state for laptops when you close the lid.  Most computers will move to “Hibernate” or “Shut Down” after being asleep for too long.
  • Hibernate – this mode takes the current state of your computer, writes it to the harddisk, and then shuts the computer off completely – typically  faster than a true “Shut Down”.  There is no battery or power being used when you “Hibernate”.  The system is completely off. 
    win7-boot-800x600[1]The biggest benefit, perhaps, comes when you turn the system back on again.  Instead of cycling through the normal Startup process – including services, start up apps, reinitializing devices, etc. – it simple reads from the hibernation file that was created when it was powered off.  This means that the bootup time is typically about 50% faster, and is ready to use when you login – meaning that the system isn’t still loading up services, startup apps, and whatever else when you login.  Getting to the login screen or desktop is all fine and dandy, but what really means something is the Startup-to-Usable-State boot time, and Hibernation is clearly faster in this regard – by quite a bit.  Otherwise, you will find no discernible difference when using Hibernate – just faster to boot up and shut down.  That’s good stuff.
  • Shut Down – most people are familiar with Shutting Down their computer, so I won’t belabor this one too much.  Basically, when you Shut Down your computer, services are stopped, all programs are closed, and the computer is turned off completely.  No battery or power is being used.  Starting up from a previous Shut Down state means that the OS starts up all services, loads Startup programs, and initializes the interface.  It can certainly take a while, and the Startup-to-Usable-State boot time can be quite long, especially if you have a lot of services and/or Startup programs.

Here’s the deal: each option has its purpose.  If you’re walking away from your computer for 15 minutes, especially a laptop running on (precious) battery power, then put it to Sleep.  Do you need to install some updates and turn the computer off, then choose the Shut Down option.  Otherwise, the Hibernate option is the best option for everything else – meaning 95% of the time you need to shut down your computer down for any length of time – be it for a few hours, overnight, or weeks at a time (hibernation files don’t wear out or expire).

Honestly, Microsoft should’ve made “Hibernate” the default option.  As it is, you typically have to run through a bunch of hoops to make it the standard option for powering down.

Here’s how to do that:

  • Check if the Hibernate option is available.  Click on the Start button, select the arrow to the right hibernate01of the Shut Down text, and then see if “Hibernate” is available in your menu of options.  If “yes”, then continue to the next step.  If “no”, check out this page to enable Hibernation.  For most laptops, the option should be there by default.  On desktop machines, however, it likely has to be enabled manually.  It’s worth the effort, though.
  • hibernate02Set “Hibernate” as the default Start Menu option.  Right-click on the taskbar and choose Properties.  Select the “Start Menu” (middle) tab.   Finally, choose “Hibernate” from the Power Button Action drop-down menu.  Hit OK when done.  Now the default option for powering down your computer will be “Hibernate”.  (Note that the “Shut Down” option is still possible by clicking the options arrow to the right of the “Hibernate” text.)
  • Power Button set to “Hibernate” (OPTIONAL).  Personally, I find it *most* handy to have the physical power button set to “Hibernate” as hibernate03 well – especially for a laptop computer.  On our laptop, for instance, the computer “Sleeps” when the lid is closed, and then “Hibernates” when asleep for a certain period of time – say 4 hours, or so.  Otherwise, when I’m done using the computer for the day, I hit the physical power button and close the lid.  The computer hibernates itself and powers off.  Nice.

    So, to do this you need to adjust thehibernate04 Power Options for Windows 7.  Click on the Start button, type “power” in the search field, and then select the Power Options icon when it’s found.   On the left-hand side, select the ‘Choose What The Power Buttons Do’ link.  Select the first drop-down box (“When I press the power button:”) and choose “Hibernate” from the options given.  Finally, hit the Save Changes button and you’re done.  Now hitting the physical power button will initiate the “Hibernate” sequence.hibernate05

    Another option (while you’re changing what the power buttons do) is to “Require a password” when you boot your system and/or resume from sleep.  Although a bit of a hassle to some, protecting your data is serious business, even if it means having to type in your password more often than you’d like.  “Password protection on wakeup” is highly recommended for all users.

WRAPPING UP PART 1

So, that’s all for the first post in this series.  Look for another addition to this guide in a week or so.

Thanks for reading.

When Pigs Fly! (Day 3)

poison_apple[1] Having switched over to an iPhone a few days ago, I thought it best to keep a running blog of how things are going: my likes, dislikes, surprises, frustrations, and so forth.  After all, this is a pretty big change for a guy like me 🙂

The reaction to my switchover has been, more or less, as I expected.  A few “traitor” remarks here and there, some “finally”-type sentiments, and the usual “I think you’ll enjoy it” comments that generally don’t seem to have any strings attached.  The biggest surprise (as far as comments are concerned) are those folks who haven’t said anything at all.  It makes me nervous.

For the most part, the experience so far has lacked much fanfare – and I mean that in a good way.  I had to jailbreak my phone (for use on T-Mobile), and that process was a bit more problematic than I’d expected, but that shouldn’t even factor into my thoughts on the iPhone platform.  I’m trying to keep those types of experiences entirely separate from the rest.

Without further ado, here is a quick run-down of my likes, dislikes, etc:

LIKES

  • Stability has been great.  No crashed apps (not that I’ve used tons) and no real issues to speak of.
  • Performance is snappy and consistent.  One of my grips with my Android phone(s) was the sluggishness that I would come across on a regular basis – whether swiping screens side-to-side, opening the browser, or using the maps app.  For that matter, everything could slow down from time to time, and it was aggravating.  Although I’ve seen a few screens on the iPhone chug for a brief moment, they are few and far between.  Even better, the built-in apps (phone, mail, browser, photos, etc.) typically open up immediately.  That’s nice to see.
  • Fairly intuitive.  This is an interesting line item, because Apple (and theIMG_0286 iPhone, specifically) is touted as being the creme de la creme of user interfaces.  While the interface has by and large been easy to navigate, there are a number of things that I wouldn’t call “intuitive”.  Once you know it, of course, it’s easy to use and remember, but they weren’t exactly easy to find.  Case in point: if in the email list view you swipe the right-hand side of an email message, you are prompted with a “delete” button.  Nice!  But I would’ve had NO idea that was there if I hadn’t seen someone else do it.  Also, that particular behavior works on other parts of the UI, but not everywhere.
  • Battery life is quite decent.  I had been on numerous occasions that the battery life was going to be a real sore spot with me, so I was expecting the worst.  I’ve learned to be pretty frugal with my mobile devices, so I did the same here.  3G is “off” (since I’m on T-Mobile), wifi is “off” by default (‘cause I rarely use it), and push email is “off” (I sync every hour).  I do leave bluetooth turned “on”, but I might change that if I find a decent homescreen toggle for that.  All in all, I usually have well over 50% battery by the end of the day, which is about what my Android phone gave me.
  • Fast camera!  The camera on the iPhone 3GS is pretty darned quick – especially compared to the dog-slow camera on the MyTouch 3G.  Fewer “blurry” shots and missed photos is a good thing.
  • Great virtual keyboard.  The iPhone virtual keyboard isn’t great, but it’sIMG_0287 better than just about every other one I’ve used.  On the Android devices, for instance, the stock virtual keyboard was nice looking and fairly responsive.  The HTC version of the virtual keyboard was a step up in many ways, but at the expense of occasional sluggishness.  The ability to hold down a letter and get an ALT character was really nice, though, and I miss that when I’m typing other characters – question marks, commas, etc..  Certainly room for improvement here, but the iPhone keyboard certainly gets the job done.
  • Stock apps are good.  Apple just had to nail this one, and I think they did.  The basic stuff — phone, mail, messaging, browser, etc. – is very well done.  Never particularly exciting, mind you, but it works and works well.
  • Take a screenshot.  With the iPhone, you can quickly hit the Power button and Home button at the same time to snap a photo of the current screen.  Very cool.
  • Double-tap Home for your ‘favorites’.  I don’t know if this is a stock setting or not, but the ability to double-tap the Home button to access my dialer ‘favorites’ is a super-nice touch.  More or less a speed dialer, which I absolutely have to have.  Nice work, Apple!
  • Proximity sensor.  My iPhone buddy, Andy, doesn’t even really think about this one anymore, because he’s been using an iPhone for so long.  Coming from Android, though, it is the bee’s knees!  Basically, the phone goes dark when I’m on a phone call and my face is against the phone.  Pull it away from my face and it lights up again.  Yes!  Not only is it majorly convenient, but it saves battery life and unnecessary phone press mishaps.  Every touchscreen phone should do this, but I have feeling that Apple owns the patent.

DISLIKES

  • I’m embarrassed.  You’d probably expect this from a long-time Apple hater, but I’m quite frankly embarrassed to have an iPhone.  I find myself trying to hide it when I can, or just leave it in my pocket.  It’s kinda like I just “came out of the closet”, except  that I didn’t.  The embarrassment factor will likely change over time.
  • Animations up the wazoo!  I like a nice visual cue in the form of anIMG_0284 animation as much as the next guy, but the iPhone is totally over the top, in my opinion.  Screens spring open, rotate, roll back, flip around, whizz, bang, and whatever else.  It’s a bit corny, if you ask me, especially the “trash” animations when you delete a photo.  Geeeeeeez.  Also, if you press and hold a home screen icon, you can move them around (fine), but why do they have to shake the whole time?  Crazy… and ugly.
  • Slippery sucker.  I won’t beat this one any longer, but the stock casing is just plain ol’ slippery – almost requiring a case of some sort, which I don’t like.  Apple should get over themselves and fix this.  It’s dangerous.
  • Not always consistent.  Again, from a company that is viewed as “writing the book” on great interfaces, I find some strange disconnects when using the iPhone.  For instance, the Maps app has a little folding corner in the lower-right.  What’s up with that?  Sure it’s neat, but there’s nothing else like it that I can find.  Why does the top bar (battery, time, etc.) have to look different depending upon where I’m at?
  • Some ugly default icons.  This is a personal preference item, of course,IMG_0285 but some of the stock homescreen icons are flat-out ugly.  In particular, the Photo app (sunflower) icon annoys me, as does the App Store icon.  Also, the Weather app icon really ought to show me the current temperature, rather than showing 73 degrees all of the time.
  • Screen is strange when turned off.  Let me explain, if I can.  I’ve never seen this on another mobile device, but the iPhone screen is almost naked when turned off.  It has a very gray/brown color, and I can clearly see the edges, which are a tad smaller than the screen frame.
  • Just another connector for the collection.  I would like to see some standardization with mobile devices and connectors.  Previous to the iPhone, nearly all of my personal mobile devices used a mini-USB connector.  My phone, our camera, bluetooth headset, and so on.  Now I’ve got yet another connector cluttering up my desk, and I find it unnecessary.  To be fair, the Zune has a proprietary connector too.  Why can’t they just standardize on one and stick with it?  Oh, well.
  • Buttons that are difficult to use.  I’ve used a number of mobile devices over the years, and the iPhone’s physical buttons/switches are among my least favorite – save for the “joggr bar” on the T-Mobile Dash (oh… my… word!).  The iPhone volume buttons are hard for me to find while I’m on a call, the “silent” switch is awkward (in my opinion), and the top ON/OFF switch is difficult to reach one-handed.  I’ve seen better implementations of all three.
  • Needs better volume/silent management.  To be fair, Android wasn’tIMG_0283 any better at this, but the iPhone has no way to automatically switch you in and out of “silent” mode.  Windows Mobile has had an “automatic” profile for years that would put your phone in silent mode whenever you were in a meeting (based upon your calendar events) and return to the normal ring mode when done.  I found a pay app called “Auto Silent” that can do this on the iPhone, but it should be built in.  The “Locale” app for Android takes it even further, but for $10 I’m guessing that a lot of folks will go without.  These types of features oughta be stock, if you ask me.
  • Tethered Jailbreak*.  This is specific to my firmware and hardware type, but it really sucks.  Basically, every time I reboot my phone, I have to connect it to my computer and run “blackra1n”.  Really lame, and slightly unnerving.

There you have it!  More to come in the days ahead…

When Pigs Fly! (The iPhone Experience: Day 1)

Don't do it... it's poisoned! JUST TELL US HOW YOU FEEL
Before we get going here, let me make something very clear:  I hate Apple.  I’ve hated them for years.  I hate seeing those cheap white ear buds in people’s ears.  I hate seeing that glowing piece of fruit on laptop lids.  I hate seeing people standing on the street corner petting their iPhone as if it brought some sort of pleasure (and maybe it does).  I hate iTunes.  I hate hearing the words “MacBook Pro”, “iPod” or “iMac”.  In fact, I’m beginning to hate any reference to a lowercase letter “i”.  I hate it when Apple is successful.  I hate seeing their billboards or tv commercials.  I hate seeing that purple, “spacey” default background in OSX.  I strongly dislike Steve Jobs (I try not to *hate* people) and generally think he’s a pompous egomaniac.  In fact, I generally view Apple Computers as a marketing powerhouse that bends nearly every word they say, and with little-to-no recourse.  Sometimes I wish the company would just go away, like they nearly did over a decade ago.

That’s how I feel.  Deal with it.

SOME HISTORY
Before you write me off as a complete freak of nature, though, let me explain some of my background with technology and computer companies.  You see, when I was still in grade school, my parents owned a small computer store in Anchorage, Alaska.  They sold IBM PCs, PC JRs, Vic 20s, and Commodore 64s.  Those were real computers.  I grew up using tape drives, dot matrix printers, BASIC, and DOS.  It was gritty, exclusive, and geeky.  I loved it.  Still, back in those days Apple Computer had a very strong foothold in the home and business markets.  Like most every other kid, I used them in school for programming, reports, playing Oregon Trail, and whatever else.  Apple and IBM lived in a 50/50 type of market, depending upon which year you were looking at.

Ahh, Windows 3.1 In the late 80s and early 90s, however, a little product called Microsoft Windows started to make some serious headway.  Neither technically superior nor particularly impressive, Windows began replacing DOS on PCs as the interface of choice.  Sure it wasn’t gritty and grubby like the command line stuff, but it was “PC”.  It seemed like the right thing to do, and so I stuck with it.

Shortly before I was married, the next big iteration of Windows – Windows 95 – sprung onto the scene.  More important than any technological advances was the market saturation.  Microsoft, not the PC market as a whole, had shifted the tide from a strong Apple influence to the Windows world.  In the years that would follow, Microsoft Windows would find itself with over 90% market share.  At that same time, I was getting into building, fixing, and selling computers for a living.  Shortly thereafter, I began work as a “systems administrator” and have been working in this same field ever since.  What types of computers have I been working on for most of these years?  Why Windows systems, of course – servers, desktops, laptops, phones, and so forth.  Microsoft has, in a matter of speaking, kept me employed for many years.

WHY, MAN?  WHYYYY?
I say all of this to somehow explain how and why I could’ve come to having such a hatred of Apple Computers and their products.  They have been a threat to my very livelihood, or at least that has been my perception.  As they’ve become more and more successful over this past decade, I’ve seen my relevance waning somewhat.  As with most threatening situations, the “fight or flight” response kicks in, and neither choice is especially pretty.  It certainly hasn’t been with me.

Not really how I feel... I guess I should’ve seen the signs several years ago.  My good friend and long-time PC buddy, Andy, decided to get a MacBook.  No warning, no discussion – he just bought it.  I actually found out from a mutual friend who told me, “Andy said not to tell Scott”.  For some strange reason, it was a blow to me.  I wasn’t angry at my friend, of course, but rather I felt threatened by the tide of users starting to reconsider Apple once again.  Not too long after, a co-worker purchased an iPhone with a similar caveat — “don’t tell Scott”.  This same sentence has been uttered probably half a dozen times.  Evidently, and without my even knowing it, I became the anti-Apple guy.  Rather than shrug it off, however, I dug in, squared my shoulders, and began to fight.  Here’s the deal with starting a fight, though: you gotta know what the victory, if it ever comes, will look like.  Otherwise, you just end up swinging your arms ad infinitem with no end in sight.

I’ve never been much of a fast learner.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END
A few weeks ago, after repeated frustration with my Android phone (MyTouch 3G… more on that in another posting), I decided that something had to give.  I had to get a phone that I could live with.  Unfortunately, my choices were fairly limited, seeing as how I *had to have* full Exchange sync support, ability to use the phone with T-Mobile, and a smattering of other “must have” and “would really like to have” requirements.  Then it dawned on me: perhaps I could start to tame this hatred of Apple by forcing myself to use their product.  Not only that, but the iPhone – aside from being an Apple product – fit nearly every criteria that I had for a workable phone solution.

I swallowed my pride and set out to get my hands on one.

Yesterday, March 15th, 2010, I received an iPhone 3GS (16GB).  Not my first Apple product, mind you, but the first that I’ve purposely intended to use – and to a great extent.  Also, the irony of me (ME… of all people!) using an iPhone has not been lost on my family, many of my friends, and especially my co-workers.  It’s both a complete non-event (cosmically speaking) and a radical quantum shift — all at the same time.

MOVING ON FROM HERE
So, here we are.  I have an iPhone.  I’m using it.  I make phone calls on it, browse the web, take pictures, and so forth.  I still don’t really like Apple, but maybe that’ll change.

That all-to-familiar unlock screenStrangely enough, I’m ok with myself and this decision.  That may seem like a dumb thing to say – it is a computer company, after all, and just some stupid technology – but you don’t know my brain.  It was a difficult decision to make, but I’m alright with it at this point.  Some of my PC/Windows-lovin’ buddies may call me a turncoat, but that’s ok.  I’m really not.  I will gladly toss this iPhone off of a tall bridge when the next Windows Phone Series devices come out – assuming that they’re as good as they look – but that may still be awhile.  I would also rather use Windows 7 than anything else.  I know my roots, and those are hard to dig up without some very considerable effort.  If some of those roots are as “angry” and “hate-filled” as my first paragraph of this post, however, then I’m happy to be rid Yeah...I covered the back with a picture of Ronald Reagan!  So sue me!!!of them.  Life is too short for those kinds of words and emotions.

Meanwhile, I’m going to be blogging about my experience with the iPhone – both the technology at hand (see what I did there?!) and the changes in me.  It’ll either be extremely exciting or excruciatingly boring.

Like you really have anything better to do than read my blog.

Now Playing: February 2010

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a “Now Playing” update.  Part of that is just laziness, of course, but also that two posts at the end of 2009 were especially demanding: “Top Music of the Decade” and “Top Music of 2009”.  Check those out, if you haven’t already.

Now… to the latest albums/artists that I’ve been listening to…

  • The Avett Brothers, “I And Love And You
    • I actually discovered this album at the end of last year, but didn’t get around to adding it to my Now Playing list.  In all honesty, it probably should’ve been on my “Top Music of 2009” list, but at that point I hadn’t given it enough of a listen.  It’s very good, though.  Really, really good, in fact.  If you’re a fan of a little twang, great melodies, and moving music, give this album a listen.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
  • Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
    • I had quite literally never heard of this artist until this past December – and then I was hit by them (meaning it was “recommended” to me) from several friends.  I wasn’t initially impressed, but it’s grown on me.  A LOT.  This is a fun band and a fun album.  Not exactly retro, but certainly pointed in that direction.  I seem to enjoy this album more and more with each listen, so it probably should’ve ended up on my “Top 2009” albums as well.  What’cha gonna do?!  Grab it.
  • The Standard, “Swimmer” and “Albatross
    • Hailing from Portland, OR, this is an incredibly moody band with a sound that tends to envelope you.  Very musical, and somewhat dark.  Both albums are great, but go with their latest, “Swimmer”, for a more immediate feel for their style.
  • David Bazan, “Curse Your Branches”
    • My personal “David Bazan” library pretty much started/stopped with “Hard To Find A Friend”, but this album has changed that.  The first few songs in particular are flat-out amazing, with the rest of the album dragging a bit (for me).  Still, great work from Mr. Bazan that really deserves a lot of praise.
  • Spoon, “Transference
    • The follow-up album to “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”, one of my “Top Music of the Decade” choices, was either going to one-up their last release, or fall short.  Commercially-speaking, this album falls short of the pop-minded hooks found in “Ga” and really hearkens back to earlier releases like “Gimme Fiction” or “Kill The Moonlight”.  What I mean is that this album is somewhat less approachable, and takes a bit longer to grow on you.  It’s almost as if Spoon was trying to shed some of their fair-weather fans.  Hard to say.  When it comes down to it, though, this album has some real gems for those willing to dig.
  • Fair, “Disappearing World
    • Several years in the making, the latest release from Fair has been hotly anticipated by many fans.  Quite honestly, it’s not entirely what I was expecting.  Whereas their first album bordered on dark and moody at times, this album is bent much more toward a vocal-driven, pop sound that might throw a few people at first.  It is *very* much the “Fair” sound, of course, but with a pep to it that is a different direction from the first album.  So far, it hasn’t been as “immediately accessible” to me, but some of my favorite albums have been that way.  That said, “sonically” this album is incredible – from the piano, to the drums, to the mixdown.  Amazing.
  • Manchester Orchestra, “I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child
    • I found their latest release, “Mean Everything To Nothing”, late last year, but never delved any further into their catalog.  Upon repeated suggestion from friends that I respect musically, I wandered my way into this album, which has grown on me considerably over the past couple of months.  Not so much a “rock your socks off” album, it really works well for those willing to put on a good pair of headphones and listen closely.  Not entirely sure about all of the lyrics, but there is a subtle genius to this album that is difficult to dismiss.
  • John Davis, “John Davis
    • Formerly (and now “currently”) of Superdrag fame, John Davis released this solo album back in 2005.  It’s taken me this long to grab a copy for myself and enjoy the genius here, of which there is plenty.  This is almost a modern day version of a Larry Norman album, for those familiar with his stuff:  too liberal for the conservatives, and too conservative for the liberals.  That usually means it’s just perfect, and this album nearly is.  Grab it!
  • The Broken West, “Now Or Heaven
    • Found via another Zune Marketplace rabbit trail, The Broken West is one of those bands that has seemed to completely fly under the radar.  It’s too bad, too, because “Now Or Heaven” is one of the best albums I’ve heard in quite awhile.  Not sure who to compare them too, other than a modern day Gin Blossoms – and I mean that in a good way.  Very talented, great vocal hooks, and likely to go over the head of most folks.  Definitely worth grabbing, though.

Until next time… thanks for reading.

My “Top Music of the Decade” List

(originally posted at Turn Off The Radio)

It’s really, really difficult to look back over the past 10 years and pick out a handful of albums that you would consider the “best”.  Picking out influential albums isn’t that hard, to be honest, but getting them into some sort of order is.  There’s also a tendency, perhaps, to give more weight to recent releases, since they’re more fresh in your memory.

Looking back over this past decade, I realized that this has been a very influential time for me, musically speaking.  It’s strange, because although I’ve been doing a lot less musically (personally) than the previous decade, my musical tastes have grown up in a number of ways – some of them quite surprising to me. 

The biggest change has definitely been my willingness to open up to new & different artists.  I owe much of this to “life’s crazy (and at times unfortunate) events”, as well as the guys in This Diminishing West, who stretched me musically.  More recently, my switch to subscription-based music (via Zune Pass) has blown my musical library wide open, which has really been a lot of fun.

All that said, I’ve attempted to list (with reasonable accuracy) my Top 15 Albums of the Decade.  A month earlier, this list may have looked a bit different.  A year earlier, it certainly would’ve, but what’re you gonna do.  It is what it is.

Hope you enjoy it.

______________________________________________________________
My Top 15 Albums | 2000 – 2009

41YT3CBMZRL._SL160_AA115_[1]

#15:  Muse, Absolution

I can thank the guys in This Diminishing West for showing me the door to Muse.  This is an absolutely awesome album, and I’m sincerely looking forward to seeing these guys (live!) in a few months.

51Kj-QzA-uL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#14:  16 Horsepower, Secret South

I’m guessing that this album didn’t make a lot of “top albums of the decade” lists, but it should have.  Moody.  Unique.  Lyrically incredible.  A band that deserved a lot more credit than it ever received.

51UM2ubTKfL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#13: Editors, An End Has A Start

My good friend Ken helped me discover Editors a few years ago with their album The Back Room.  Their follow-up album (and subsequent) tour was even better!  Definitely a top album of the decade for me.

61qoP90L7eL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#12: Switchfoot, The Beautiful Letdown

Talk about an album (and band!) that I never expected or wanted to like, but here they are.  Previous to this album, I didn’t want to touch these guys with a 10-foot pole, but something changed – with both them and me.  First, this album is far more mature than their previous releases.  In fact, it’s an incredible album.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I allowed myself to “like an artist that I didn’t want to like”.  The title track remains one of my faves.

412295T82WL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#11: The Fire Theft, The Fire Theft

Strangely enough, it was The Fire Theft that finally got me to appreciate Sunny Day Real Estate.  I wish they’d kept on as a band, though, ‘cause this album is awesome.

41W99CR2SGL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#10: Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American

It was somewhere around our recording sessions for The Waiting Room that I discovered Jimmy Eat World.  Late to the party, I know.  This album was, in my opinion, pulled off masterfully.  It’s rockin’, smart, and never cliche.

61EROeqAf-L._SL160_AA115_[1]
#9: Radiohead, In Rainbows

As I’ve mentioned before, I was really a late-comer to the Radiohead fan club.  Actually, I’m not sure I’m entirely a fan of theirs, but this album is incredible.  Yes, I’ve heard their previous albums.  Yes, those albums are good.  But, there is something about In Rainbows that captured my attenion.

61IPAfsjlIL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#8: Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

It was actually a local radio station that introduced me to Spoon.  Their track, The Underdog, received some significant airplay, but what really caught my ear was how much it sounded like Billy Joel on the vocals.  Almost jokingly, I decided to listen to the rest of the album… and I’m sincerely glad that I did.

41NNDAE0TKL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#7: Sunny Day Real Estate, The Rising Tide

Did I mention that I wasn’t really much of a Sunny Day fan?  In fact, to the hardcore & faithful fans, I’m still not.  In my opinion, though, this band got better with each album – culminating with the release of The Rising Tide.  Without a doubt, some of Jeremy’s best work.

51WBw0YZBTL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#6: Neko Case, Middle Cyclone

Here’s a case in point where a recent addition to my musical catalog could possibly be unfairly high on my “best of the decade” list, but I don’t think so.  This was not only my 2nd favorite album of 2009, it’s an absolute and immediate classic to me.  Fox Confessor Brings The Flood and Blacklisted are both equally incredible albums.

51sMDGXbcNL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#5: Silversun Pickups, Swoon

Also my pick for “favorite album of 2009”, Swoon is a truly wonderful album.  Is it better than Carnavas?  In my book, yes, but they’re both a triumph.  Looking forward to seeing these guys “live”!

514V%2BuhePsL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#4: Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine

Fiona’s previous release, When The Pawn…, was a tough act to follow, but I believe that Extraordinary Machine more than rose to the challenge – especially in regards to album continuity and “sonic wonderment”.  I just don’t seem to get tired of this album.

3158PH6MPZL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#3: Coldplay, X&Y

Here’s another band that I was late-to-the-game with:  Coldplay.  Although X&Y is panned as a “commercial sell-out” by some, I find this album to be incredible.  It’s not just the album, though, it was the motif around it – dark album artwork, mysterious, and slightly unapproachable.  It was the right album at the right time for these guys, and I find it truly enjoyable. 

61-voSY8QgL._SL500_SS110_[1]
#2: meWithoutYou, Brother, Sister (tie with Catch For Us The Foxes)

Not just one of my favorite albums of the decade, this is without a doubt one of my favorite bands of the past 10 years.  I found these guys right away, and fell in love with A>B Life, which failed to impress most people I showed it too.  I felt alone in my admiration, but I stuck to my guns.  Their follow-up release, Catch For Us The Foxes, was a smart departure from their first album, and a step in the right direction.  It challenged me, though, and I initially thought it was a bomb.  The same went for Brother, Sister, which took some listening to for me to thoroughly enjoy.  Finally, though, my love for this band won out.  These two albums are most definitely favorites of this decade.

51Xvu187vjL._SL500_AA280_[1]
#1: Over The Rhine, Ohio

My absolute favorite album of the decade… from Over The Rhine?  REALLY?  You know it.  Heck!  I’ve been listening to (and loving) Over The Rhine since 1993.  Although I know that Ohio was the album that nearly ripped them apart, the genius is unmistakable.  This is their very best work – heart & soul present in spades – with Drunkard’s Prayer a close second.  It’s beautiful, heart-wrenching, emotional, humorous, and entirely wonderful.  The fact that it’s a double-album only makes it that much better.  My personal favorite tracks are: Ohio, Suitcase, Show Me, and Changes Come.  So powerful…and my choice for the best album of the decade.

______________________________________________________________

There you have it, folks.  Many thanks to Alan P. for the challenge to dream up this list.  If you have the time, check out his faves of the decade.  We’re like musical twins separated at birth… mostly 🙂

2009… signing off.

Comcast puts up a fight

Actually, the funny thing is how little of a fight this was.

So, I found out last night that our $19.99/month Comcast High-Speed Internet was increasing to $42.99/month.  Yikes!  Double-the-cost for the same service.  No thank you.  I decided to ‘chat’ with Comcast and either “lower my cost” (most desirable), “lower my service”, or “change service altogether” (least desirable).  All that said, I was not going to pay almost $50/month, after taxes, for just my Internet connection.  That was not an option.

To that end, I started a ‘chat’ session with Comcast customer service to see what options I had.  I was fully expecting some wrangling back and forth.  Instead, here’s what actually happened (with names, etc. changed to protect the innocent):

=======================================================================
user Guest_ has entered room


Guest(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:40:56 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

Order Information
analyst ComcastDude007 has entered room

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:41:07 GMT-0800)>

Hello Guest_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. 
My name is ComcastDude007. 
Please give me one moment to review your information.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:41:10 GMT-0800)>

Hi! You can call me 007.
I hope you're doing great today!

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:41:10 GMT-0800)>

Do you have an ACTIVE Comcast account/service
in your new OR current address?


Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:41:25 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

Yes, we have an active account.

Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:41:34 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

Address is XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:41:50 GMT-0800)>

awe3

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:41:52 GMT-0800)>

My apologies for the typo.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:41:54 GMT-0800)>

Awesome! Thank you very much for your continued patronage and loyalty to us. We really appreciate it.


Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:42:08 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

thanks.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:42:07 GMT-0800)>

I understand that you are interested to order -Internet $19.99 for 6 months- Am I correct?


Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:42:27 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

Actually, I need to see about our current pricing.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:42:37 GMT-0800)>

You're most welcome!

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:42:38 GMT-0800 )>

Sure thing.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:42:40 GMT-0800)>

Please let me take care of that for you.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:42:59 GMT-0800)>

You may visit https://www.comcast.com/localization/Localize.cspx?Referer=/shop/buyflow2/products.cspx to check for our promotions as well

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:43:10 GMT-0800)>

To ensure integrity in your account, please verify your account number OR the last FOUR digits of your SSN.


Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:43:40 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

Actually, we are currently a Comcast customer.  I need to figure out what we're CURRENTLY paying for our service.  I think it just increased quite a bit.

Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:44:00 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

Last 4 of my SS are... XXXX

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:44:11 GMT-0800)>

Thank you for verifying.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:44:46 GMT-0800)>

Yes, your paying $54.95/mo but I can lower it to $19.99 for 6 months. Shall we go ahead?


Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:45:05 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

That would be *perfect*.  Yes, please!

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:45:22 GMT-0800)>

Sure thing.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:45:27 GMT-0800)>

Great news! I am proud to offer our next 
generation Triple Play with FREE HD! It 
includes cable, internet, and phone 
for just one low price. Get yourself and 
your family an entertainment-filled home now!

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:45:49 GMT-0800)>

Please wait one moment while I process your order/request.


Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:46:06 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

Thanks, 007 smile

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:46:36 GMT-0800)>

You're welcome, Guest

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:47:09 GMT-0800)>

Thank you for waiting.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:47:13 GMT-0800)>

Account: xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Order: 1000xxxxxxx
Succeeding Monthly Fee w/ tax and modem rent:$25.47

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:47:16 GMT-0800)>

Congratulations! You are all set.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:47:16 GMT-0800 )>

Before you go, have I resolved and answered 
your reason for chatting today in my end?


Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:47:40 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

Yep!  Everything resolved. Thanks again.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:47:56 GMT-0800)>

Great!

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:47:57 GMT-0800)>

Thank you.

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:47:58 GMT-0800)>

You're most welcome!

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:47:59 GMT-0800)>

It's a pleasure to serve our most valued customer
such as you. Hope to hear from you again soon!

ComcastDude007(Thu Dec 17 2009 13:48:01 GMT-0800)>

Have a good one. Cheers! smile


Guest_(Thu Dec 17 2009 10:48:03 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time))>

You too.

=======================================================================

What I find most humorous is that I never actually requested a reduced monthly price.  It was pretty obvious, I suppose, when I mentioned that our “current monthly bill had just increased quite a bit”, but after that the rep just gave in.  No fight necessary.

Perhaps the goal is to make the customer feel “in control”, which is fairly effective.  Whatever the deal, I like the fact that I’m getting our Comcast service for $19.99/month again.

Hmmm.  Maybe I should’ve requested that pricing for the next 12 months…

My “Top Music of 2009” Lists

Well, as 2009 rolls to a close, I thought it fitting to give a run-down of my ‘notable musical items of the year’.  For the most part, these albums/artists have all been found on my “Now Playing” posts throughout the year, but I’m also adding some other categories to keep it interesting.

Here we go…

____________________________________________
My Top 10 Albums of 2009

61XfZozztmL._SL160_AA115_[1] #10  Doves, Kingdom of Rust

This group was totally unknown to me before this year, but Kingdom of Rust was a *great* way to get to know them!  Fans of Radiohead & Muse, check it out.

 

 516cXjbc6tL._SL160_AA115_[1]
#9  |  The Decemberists, Hazards Of Love

A very well put-together ‘theme’ album that weaves an interesting story line.  Good music to “zone out” to.

 

 

51F0mKrQ9cL._SL160_AA115_[1] #8  |  Jeremy Enigk, OK Bear

Not as strong as ‘World Waits’, if you ask me, but a very good album nonetheless.  I hate the album cover.

 

 

51UvkmJCPQL._SL160_AA115_[1] #7  |  David Bazan, Curse Your Branches

If there’s one thing I love about David Bazan, it’s his brazen, bold honesty, and this album doesn’t disappoint.  Not everyone’s cup o’ tea, I’m sure, but really great stuff.

 

31UyE4JPN7L._SL160_AA115_[1] #6  |  U2, No Line On The Horizon

Although I’ve been listening to U2 for the past 25 years, I’ve never been a rabid fan.  That said, “No Line On The Horizon” features some incredible work.

 

31MuYSuVGhL._SL160_AA115_[1] #5  |  Metric, Fantasies

This is without a doubt the strongest commercial release for Metric.  This album is slick, catchy, and well-done.  Seemingly overlooked by many, but it’s worth your time.

 

 

51miWWfKK0L._SL160_AA115_[1] #4  |  Thad Cockrell, To Be Loved

Mr. Joey Sanchez (of Fair) let me know about this album, and I’m really glad he did.  Wonderful, old-timey folk worship that brings a tear to your eye.  So great.

 

61LmFcR9lcL._SL160_AA115_[1]#3  |  The Dear Hunter, Act III: Life And Death

I literally new *nothing* about this band until this past summer when my wife and I saw them open up for meWithoutYou.  Their live performance intrigued me, but this album has blown me away.  It’s strange, dynamic, catchy, and not at all what I expected.  It’s also really, really good.  Not sure who to compare them to, so just give it a listen!

 

51WBw0YZBTL._SL160_AA115_[1] #2  |  Neko Case, Middle Cyclone

Wow.  Where do I start?  First of all, this album should probably be a tie for first place this year, but I had to choose someone, so I did.  It grieves me slightly, though, because this is such a wonderful album – from the opening track, to the closing “noise” that could lull you to sleep.  I love the music, the melodies, the lyrics, and the (awesome) album cover.  Hoping to see Neko Case live sometime in 2010.

 

51sMDGXbcNL._SL160_AA115_[1] #1  |  Silversun Pickups, Swoon

Following up an incredible album such as “Carnavas” is typically too much for most bands.  Their next release is either lacking, boring, just “so-so”, or is just outright bad.  Not in this case, though.  “Swoon” is exactly what it needed to be.  It’s not an incredible departure from their last album, but it is evolutionary in every regard — songwriting, production quality, and continuity.  Without a doubt their best work to-date, and my pick for the best album of 2009.

____________________________________________
My Top Musical Finds of 2009

thumbnail[1] Neko Case

Yep.  You read that correctly: it’s not an album, it’s an artist.  Although I had heard her name before, I’d never listened to any of her stuff.  Upon recommendation from a friend of mine (thanks, Ken!), I picked up Middle Cyclone and gave it a listen.  I was blown away.  Not only is this album phenomenal, but so is her catalog of previous work:  Blacklisted, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, and her album Furnace Room Lullaby (released as ‘Neko Case & Her Boyfriends).  Truly a great find this year.

41ndY2-8eQL._SL500_SS110_[1] The Hourly Radio, History Will Never Hold Me

I’ve found some wonderful artists/albums via the ‘Related’ section of the Zune Marketplace – and The Hourly Radio is one of them.  Although they’ve since disbanded, they left behind some really great albums including ‘History Will Never Hold Me’.  Not sure how to describe their sound, but it’s somewhere around Sunny Day Real Estate, Jimmy Eat World, and who knows what.  Just check it out.

51dJ2F-jcwL._SL500_SS110_[1] The Working Title, About Face

Another rabbit trail lead me to this album, About Face.  How can I describe it?  Moody, powerful, poppy (at times) and just plain good.  Sadly, their latest release, Bone Island, is receiving fairly poor reviews, but this album is great… and most definitely one of my favorite finds for 2009.

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My Top Musical Disappointments of 2009

61KaJBMm6cL._SL500_SS110_[1]meWithoutYou, It’s All Crazy!  It’s All False!  It’s All A Dream, It’s Alright

Perhaps the stakes were just too high, but as one of my very favorites artists of the past decade, they seemed to do no wrong in my eyes.  As far as I was concerned, each album of theirs was better than the last.  All good things must come to an end, I guess, as their latest release, It’s All Crazy!…, just didn’t do it for me.  I enjoy most of the album, to be honest, but I have to confess my disappointment with it.  Quite simply, it’s not at all their strongest work.  There are, of course,  moments of (their typical) genius, but many more moments of feeling tired and repetitive.  I’m not sure if they’re planning on releasing any more albums, but I sincerely hope that they get back on the wagon.

51KY6jJycOL._SL500_SS110_[1]

Muse, The Resistance

Possibly another case of ‘setting the bar too high’, but the latest Muse release just kinda flopped for me.  It sounds like the same stuff rehashed, and it bums me out.  I’d like to see Muse enhance and grow their sound, but they haven’t.  There’s no doubt that this band is extraordinarily talented, but talented individuals don’t always make an incredible album.

51X9LgTrVzL._SL500_SS110_[1] MuteMath, Armistice

When MuteMath started recording this album, their goal was simple: “embarrass their last release”, or something like that.  Problem is, their last album was really good, and this one isn’t better.  It’s fine, but not great.  Another issue I have, though, is that one of their best tracks, Spotlight, was released several months earlier in support of the Twilight soundtrack, and thus was pretty worn out by the time the album was finally released.  Perhaps it’ll grow on me, but as it stands I tend to pass by it in my playlists.

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And there you have it, folks!  Hope you enjoyed my year in music.  As always, comments/questions are welcome 🙂

Now Playing: September 2009

Running behind on this one, so let me get right down to bid-ness…

  • MuteMath, “Armistice
    • Ever since discovering their very good self-titled album a few years back, I’ve been anxiously awaiting what a follow-up release from them would sound like – and now I know.  “Armistice” was described by the band as an album that would “embarrass the first record”.  A tall order, to be certain, and though a few songs are very good, the album is (as a whole) not particularly enticing to me.  I expected something a bit more “fresh”, or at least the last album amped up by a factor of "10”, but neither is true, in my opinion.
  • Arctic Monkeys, “Humbug
    • I’ve not really been a big fan of the Arctic Monkeys, but when a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of The Last Shadow Puppets – a side project – I thought I’d give them more of a listen.  I’m glad I did.  “Humbug” is a very good album, and starts off particularly well.  Their sound rarely deviates from itself very much, which may (or may not) be your thing, but there’s a lot here to enjoy.
  • Soulsavers, “Broken
    • I’m pretty much a sucker for anything Mark Lanegan related.  I like his solo stuff, Screaming Trees stuff (of course!), side projects, and whatever else.  A co-worker pointed out Soulsavers to me, which I was surprisingly unfamiliar with.  Very mellow stuff.  Dark, brooding, and so on.  To be honest, I’m not even through the entire album yet, but if “Bubblegum” or Lanegan’s solo stuff float your boat, you’ll probably enjoy Soulsavers too.
  • Katie Todd, “Changing Faces
    • Via a “Neko Case” station on Pandora, I stumbled across Katie Todd (or Katie Todd Band) and liked what I heard.  With some jazzy overtones and pop sensibilities, I would liken Katie Todd to artists such as Feist or K T Tunstall, both of whom I like.  Katie has a slightly unusual voice, though, which will either endear you to her style, or turn you away.  I’m diggin’ it.
  • Muse, “The Resistance
    • Another follow-up album that I was very much looking forward to.  Muse has an epic, “stadium rock” type sound that is somewhere between Radiohead and Queen.  To find out that this band is merely a trio almost boggles the mind – they are so incredibly talented.  All that said, “The Resistance” has failed to capture my attention.  It’s not bad, per se, but it doesn’t come across as anything new either.  More of the same, I suppose, which will be perfect for the hardcore Muse fans.
  • Gin Blossoms, “New Miserable Experience
    • Talk about digging up a relic, this album was released the same year that I graduated high school – back in 1992.  I remember my buddy, Troy, spinning this disc quite a bit, but I never latched on to it myself.  You know what, though?  This is a very good album.  Incredibly catchy tunes, good song writing, and it has really stood the test of time after 17 years!  The singer was clearly genius and troubled.  His addiction comes through loud and clear over the course of this album, but if you don’t let that weigh you down, this is really worth a look (or re-look, for those old fans).
  • Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, “Furnace Room Lullaby
    • I’ve been enjoying Neko Case’s music this year – especially her most recent release, “Middle Cyclone”.  “Furnace Room Lullaby” is an older album of hers, though – nearly a decade old now (2000).  While it is clearly Neko Case-styled music, it has more twang than her more recent stuff, so it took a bit longer to grow on me.  It’s a great album, though, with the title track being one of my favorites.
  • The Devil Makes Three, “Longjohns, Boots, And A Belt
    • One of my co-workers flipped this album my way a few years back.  If a bluegrass/rockabilly vibe is your thing, then check out The Devil Makes Three.  Very good stuff.