Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Brief thoughts on Spotify's business model

A couple of weeks ago, Spotify outed details of how they run their business.  The main gist of the story, especially as reported by some media outlets, is that they don't actually operate under a pay-per-play model, despite references to this sort of figure even in their own literature.

Before continuing onto my thoughts on their business model, I should make sure that anyone reading this knows what Spotify is (which I would expect most would).  The super simple version of the story is that Spotify allows you to play pretty much any song by any artist.  They offer a subscription version ($10 a month) that allows you to listen to anything in any order via the web or on any mobile device without advertisements.  The free version comes with ads, and limits listening to shuffle mode on mobile devices.  There's more to the story than that, but it will do for our purposes.

Under a pay-per-play model, Spotify would pay the rights holder (read: record company) some fixed amount for each time that a user played one of their songs.  The rights holder would then pay the artist some portion of the proceeds, depending on their contractual arrangement.  So more plays always equals more money.  Presumably, it would be up to Spotify to make sure that they are generating enough revenue from subscriptions and advertising to cover the cost of content as well as operations.  As I mentioned earlier, this is NOT how Spotify operates.

What Spotify actually does is pay rights holders approximately 70% (actual figure depends on regional contracts) of their gross revenue from subscriptions and advertising.  The breakdown for individual content owners depends on what proportion of total plays their music got.  This seems good for Spotify in that they're pretty much guaranteed to have money to cover operational costs, and if they get enough subscribers/advertisers they can make a healthy profit.

It may not be a great deal for artists, though, as they are essentially directly competing against each other for a slice of the same pie.  It is possible in this system for an artist to achieve a dramatic increase in plays from one month to the next but yet see decreased income in the second month due to the misfortune of some other artist or group of artists blowing up even bigger than them.  So this probably works out alright for more mainstream artists, but not so much for alternative/niche artists.  And remember that the artists usually (unless they're super huge) only see a tiny portion of that 70% cut that goes to the record label.

To be fair, Spotify argues that as they gain more and more users the cut that goes to record labels and artists will increase.  They provide anonymized numbers that indicate that even niche artists aren't doing so badly at current levels, and that they will be doing even better as the service grows.  However, I'm not sure how to reconcile this with some recent complaints by some established artists that services like Spotify are screwing over emerging artists.

So, basically, I don't really know that this post has a point, other than to briefly explain the situation - I don't know enough at this point to be for or against this business model vs per-pay-play or something else.  I will say, though, that I greatly enjoy being a user of Spotify-like services.  I personally have a subscription to Google Play Music All-Access, which is pretty much the same thing (though I'm getting it for $2/month cheaper since I signed up early).  At this point, I have no need to buy albums or acquire them through "other means" (since I think that a lot of albums are overpriced) any more.  This does mean, though, that I'm definitely contributing less money to artists than I used to, even though I'm actually consuming more (or at least a wider variety) of their content.  But the ones that I really like still get concert and merchandise money from me.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Musings on the state of TV

This post is inspired by this article from the Washington Post about a new proposed bill that would increase the access that online video services have to the programs currently provided on cable and satellite.  This comes on the heels of another bill proposed a few months ago that would require cable and satellite TV providers to give their customers the option to pick channels a la carte - i.e., individually, and not in a bundle.  These are relevant proposals as more and more Americans are "cutting the chord", or dropping their pay TV subscriptions, and using online services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

Being a member of the segment of the population that does not watch much TV (in fact, the only TV I seem to watch these days is Premier League soccer on NBC Sports), I would welcome increased content choice and access via online services.  However, I seem to have a philosophical objection to regulating this into being.

It seems to me that if a la carte channel selection is something that customers are increasingly clamoring for, then smart providers would realize this and begin providing such options in order to increase their share of the market.  Of course, we must consider that a cable/satellite company will likely make much more money off an individual customer subscribing to a bundle than choosing a few individual channels.  But at some point customers should start voting with their wallets, and drop the expensive bundles that they greatly under-utilize.  The question, then, is what customers have as an alternative.

I guess this is where increased access for online video services plays a part.  Ideally, the Youtubes and Netflixes and Amazons should be able to strike content deals that make sense for them and their customers without the government dictating the terms.  Here, I'm less sure whether such access would be possible without regulation - content providers probably have a financial incentive to keep the deal structures that are favored toward cable and satellite companies.  I would still like to believe that the market can work out that increased access is better business.

Another issue that comes up in this discussion is that of net neutrality.  If online video services are allowed access to content that is currently exclusively provided by cable and satellite companies, the cable companies (who also happen to be the major broadband Internet service providers) may have an incentive to reduce the quality of service for the online video providers.

So it seems that there are several factors that are currently tipped in favor of cable providers especially.  Ideally, I would love to see things like a la carte channel selection and online content access come into being due to market forces and without regulation.  But, similar to my feelings on municipal smoking bans, if it takes a bit of legislation to nudge things in that direction, I won't complain too loudly.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cut Copy @ The Pageant (11/11/2013)

  • Larry Gus, Kirin J Callinan; I missed both, and from the sounds of things I should not regret it.
  • Some old stuff, some new stuff, it was all in there...especially (what I would consider) the hits.
  • At first it looked pretty minimalist...but I was wrong.  Lots of lights...or at least they made ample use of the lights that they brought.  It went very well with the music.
  • Their performance was pretty much a 1.5 hour dance party...and it was mostly pretty great.  Plus the surprisingly thin crowd allowed room to get one's groove on.
  • The lead singer had just about the perfect amount of energy and animation.  You need plenty for this kind of music, but he never overplayed to the crowed.
  • I couldn't quite tell how much the drummer was contributing and how much was the backing track (of which there was no shortage).  He was pretty active the whole time, so it's possible that he was responsible for most of the beats.
  • On a similar note, the guitarist and bassist alternated from playing their instruments (including some percussion) on guitar-heavy songs to knob twiddling on electro-heavy ones.  Though there were a couple of songs somewhere in the middle where I wasn't sure if the guitar was actually adding much.
  • Did I mention that the light show was pretty great?
Rating: 4.4/5

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Tycho & Beacon @ Plush (11/6/13)

  • Most of the songs they played were off their debut full-length, but they played a couple of songs that I hadn't heard before - likely off their EPs, but perhaps new
  • My favorite song of theirs, "Split in Two", was missing
  • They used the same projection system that Tycho used later, but not a couple of the stage lights

  • There's not much of a performance when it comes to watching this band.  One guy twiddles a few knobs and pretends to be occupied, while the other mostly sings (but looks pretty good doing so).
  • But you can't argue against the music - this was the first time in a while that I've come to see the opener as well.

  • They threw in many songs from Dive, including my two faves back-to-back
  • They also played a few older songs (with which I was less familiar), and a couple of new ones from the forthcoming album (including my new favorite single, "Awake")
  • Like Beacon, they projected artistic video/imagery onto the stage and back screen throughout the show
  • Definitely more of a performance than watching Beacon - Scott (the real brains behind everything) plays a little guitar/synthesizer/knob-twiddling, while the other two play the guitar/bass and drums
  • They do a pretty good job with their live renditions

Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Animal Collective @ The Pageant (10/25/2013)

  • Deradoorian.  Not particularly fond.
  • Seemed like they mixed in stuff from a bunch of their albums.  Considering that I really only like (and am familiar with) their last two albums, despite having them all, I coulda done without some of it.  But my BIGGEST complaint is that they didn't play their best song - "My Girls".
  • Blow-up lighted semi-arch things with video projection the whole time.  Interesting.
  • Geologist wears a head lamp while performing.
  • Most of the song transitions/intros/outros were too long for my taste, especially the glitchy ones.
  • Their live sound doesn't quite match the studio magic.
    • The live version of "Brother Sport" is apparently a dance party.
    • I was literally dumbfounded when they closed the encore without having played "My Girls".
    Rating: 3.8/5

    Wednesday, October 02, 2013

    Sigur Rós @ Fox Theatre (10/1/2013)

    • Juliana Barwick is too mellow for my taste.  But she at least has a good voice.
    • Lots of songs from Kveikur, which was a good thing, since it's probably my second favorite album of theirs.  Three of my all time favorites from Takk... (their best album) - Glósóli, Hoppípolla, and Sæglópur.  None from Ágætis byrjun.  Track 1, and maybe Track 8, from ().  A couple from Valtari.  And one song - Festival (the closer) - from Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.
    • Jónsi really loves playing his guitar with a bow.
    • The crowd sat for most of the show, but stood up for the crescendo of a couple of songs.  It was a little awkward, especially when we all sat back down.  A couple of people tried to keep up the energy by standing and dancing toward the end.
    • The highlights were many.  The band (including the many backing musicians) is pretty good at replicating the studio sounds live.
    • They include all the extended outros from the songs in their live performance.  This could be viewed as a good or bad thing.
    • The Fox is a visually stunning place to see a show.  However, I feel like the acoustics messed with a couple of songs a tiny bit.
    Rating: 4.7/5

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    Mobile apps to make your (first world) life better

    Perhaps the last thing the Internet needs right now is another list of app recommendations - you can easily find more comprehensive lists with a simple web search.  But in case you want to get *my* take on things (this general topic has come up with a couple of my friends recently) or you don't keep up with sites like Lifehacker, I'll post some of the apps that I use to get things done.  These are geared toward Android (I'm currently rolling with the Nexus 4 and both generations of the Nexus 7), but most of these (or similar) can be found on iOS and perhaps Windows Phone.


    Google Authenticator - Free

    I set up two-factor authentication on all my accounts that support it, and pretty much everybody (except Twitter - which I don't actually have an account for, but their two-factor scheme is pretty novel) uses Time-based One-time Password (TOTP) for it.  Apps like Google Authenticator and Authy make managing your accounts with TOTP two-step verification super easy.  If you use long and distinct pseudorandom passwords (see KeePassDroid entry below) for your online accounts, then you're probably fine.  But two-factor authentication may (I'm less convinced than I used to be) add some extra protection that could put your mind at ease.

    AutomateIt - Free or $1.99

    Some would argue that Tasker is the premier mobile automation app, but it does not offer a free version.  AutomateIt is probably not as powerful, but the freemium model it uses makes it a bit more attractive.  For the uninitiated, these apps allow you to set up rules so that your phone performs certain actions when specific events occur.  For example, my favorite pair of rules use my phone's coarse location data (i.e., w/o even turning on GPS) to disable WiFi when I leave home and enable WiFi when I return.  This conserves battery power in both instances because WiFi is more efficient for data transfer than cellular when you're connected, but your phone wastes power by searching for WiFi networks when you're not around a network that you can connect to.

    There are battery management apps, e.g., Juice Defender, that provide/use more complex rules in this arena, but I prefer general automation apps because they provide benefits outside just power management.  Triggers can be include battery level, time, e-mail, SMS, NFC, GPS, bluetooth, WiFi, weather, and many others.  Actions can include notifications, changing settings, launching apps, and others.

    ES File Explorer - Free

    There are many apps that take advantage of the access that Android gives to the underlying file system, and this app is a prime example.  This app, however, is much more than a file explorer, as it includes a cloud storage client and an FTP client.  Another good alternative (which I tried ages ago, but chose this one over it) is ASTRO File Manager.

    Evernote - Free

    In case you've been living under a rock...  This is probably the most robust cross-platform note (and more) taking application out there.  It also integrates well with many other apps and services.

    Google+ Hangouts - Free

    There are other worthy video chat apps out there - some even cross-platform - but this one is cross-platform and offers group chats for free.

    HD Widgets - $1.99

    The main reason I installed this app was to get a lock screen weather widget that shows a multi-day forecast.  But then I ended up trashing the other widgets on my main home screen and using widgets from this app instead.  All of its widgets, whether on the lock screen or the home screen, are fully customizable with options ranging from time to weather to a veritable cornucopia of quick settings toggles.  While this app takes the cake in terms of customizable widgets, I've also read good things about Beautiful Widgets (available in free and pro versions).

    KeePassDroid - Free

    If you take online security seriously, you should use distinct pseudorandom passwords for each of your accounts that you care about.  This means that you either better have an amazing memory or you should use a password manager (and preferably one that can generate random passwords for you).  The idea with a password manager is that it encrypts and stores your various passwords, so you only have to remember one (hopefully very long and random) password.  You can then sync your encrypted password database among your various (some potentially mobile) devices, each with a program or app that can decrypt the database for you when you provide the appropriate password.  There's more to be said about password management, but that should suffice in this setting.

    I use KeePass because you can use it to do all this for free, though it requires a bit of setup.  There are easier options out there, such as LastPass and 1Password, but their services cost money.

    Mint - Free

    This is mostly a way for me to sneak in a recommendation for Mint - a free personal finance management service that you can use to get a holistic view of all your financial accounts.  Since I have all my bank accounts, credit cards, 401K, and real estate property hooked into it, I can easily determine my net worth and see how it changes over time.  You can also track your spending relative to budgets that you set, as well as set up savings goals.  It doesn't hurt that the mobile app is pretty fantastic as well.

    Google Play Music - Free, though All Access requires a subscription

    You can use it like iTunes Match, except for free, or like Spotify (in which case you pay a subscription fee).  I wouldn't recommend switching if you already use Spotify or Rdio, but it may be a better option if you haven't yet made a decision.

    Pocket Casts - $3.99

    Hands-down the best podcast management app out there.  But you pay a (relative) premium for that.  This app is the main enabler for me getting back into podcasts.

    ringPod - Free

    A simple and powerful ringtone editor - I used it to make ringtones and notifications from some of my favorite songs.  It's a simplified version of Ringtone Maker that doesn't require access to your contacts.  If you want to be able to set ringtones for contacts within the app itself, you can give that a shot.

    Shush! - Free

    If you're like me (or at least like I used to be), your phone is unintentionally on silent/vibrate most of the time because you often forget to turn the ringer back on after going somewhere that requires silencing it.  Fortunately, this app can hook into the Android system so that whenever you turn the ringer off (or put it on vibrate) it prompts you for a duration of time to keep the ringer off.  So sometime after you get out of that meeting, movie, or whatever, it will automatically turn your ringer back on, if you haven't already.

    Slice - Free

    Slice is a service that hooks into your mailbox to figure out when you've made online purchases.  It then extracts shipping information from your confirmation e-mails and the app can notify you when your packages are shipped and/or delivered.  The potential worry is that you are giving a third party access to your e-mail.  There are alternatives - Google Now can also hook into e-mails and give package notifications, but that works for GMail only.  Hotmail/Live/Outlook.com can offer quick access to tracking info from the shipment confirmation, but you must find/open that e-mail first.

    Slider Widget - Free

    This simple widget offers quick access to the various volume settings (ringtone, media, notification, alarm, system, voice call) in the Android OS without having to go hunt for them in various settings menus.  It also includes a slider for display brightness.  Not too fancy, but quite useful at times.

    SugarSync - Free, though some storage options cost money

    This is another case of me sneaking in a service recommendation.  There are quite a few quite good cloud storage options out there, and I've tried a good number of them (SkyDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, and others).  The two main reasons that I eventually settled on SugarSync (for now, at least) are:
    • The ability to sync arbitrary folders on your computer.  Most other cloud storage services only sync items in a certain folder in the filesystem.  For example, I have all my data on my PC on a separate hard drive from the OS.  In order to sync these files using the other services, I had to either use another program to sync the real data files with copies in the cloud sync folder, or use symbolic links in the cloud sync folder to the real data folders.  Each of these workarounds had its issues, though the latter was preferable to the former.
    • File versioning - SugarSync keeps the last 5 versions of synced files, in case you do something bad and need to restore an old version.  Dropbox keeps 30 days of history, which may be better or worse depending on the situation, but is at least pretty good.  SkyDrive only offers version history on Microsoft documents, but does include a recycle bin for deleted files.  Similarly, Google Drive only provides versioning for Google Docs.
    Despite these advantages, it may not be worth switching if you already use a cloud storage service that works for you.  It is also worth noting that all these cloud services provide pretty good mobile apps. 

    Tasks - Free or $0.99

    If you use the task functionality in Google Calendar and/or GMail, then this app is among the best mobile companions - its only essential function is providing a nice interface to Google's tasks.  Both versions offer the same functionality, but the free version is ad supported.  There is quite a bit of competition in this category, though - there are other, more full-featured, task management apps that also offer synchronization with Google: Any.do, Astrid, and GTasks are examples.  Honorable mention also goes to Calendar++, which provides an amazing interface that integrates Google's calendar and task functionality (basically, what the Google Calendar app *should* be) except for one fatal flaw - it destroys your battery life for some reason.

    TripIt - Free

    TripIt is a nifty travel organization service that works by having you forward your flight/hotel/car/event/etc confirmation e-mails to them.  It automatically organizes everything into an itinerary for you.  They also provide a nice mobile app.

    Wifi Analyzer - Free

    This is a handy tool for troubleshooting congested WiFi networks or helping configure WiFi networks to avoid interference with other nearby networks.  It shows graphs that indicate what channels nearby networks are using in addition to their signal strength.


    So there's my list.  If you have any feedback or suggestions, feel free to let me know via either comment or direct message.

    Friday, June 28, 2013

    Yeasayer @ Firebird (6/27/2013)

    • Reptar.  I missed them because I had a soccer double-header.
    • Most of their songs came from the last two albums, which I own, but they also threw in a couple from their first album and even one from a benefit CD.  And there might even have been a brand new one in there somewhere.  I generally enjoyed the songs that I wasn't familiar with.
    • The show was sold out, and with good reason.  They're definitely too big for the Firebird, but I'm not sure how much of The Pageant they would fill up.  They also had a pretty decent stage-level lighting rig, given the venue.
    • An air conditioning upgrade for Firebird would be greatly appreciated, especially for sold-out shows.
    • I probably would have enjoyed this show a bit more if my legs weren't super tired from playing two soccer games earlier in the evening.  Standing for extended periods is already hard on my legs and back to begin with.
    • They had alternate intros/beginnings for a couple of their songs.  I can't recall which ones at the moment, but I think "Henrietta" might have been one.  They threw me for a loop initially, but they weren't too bad.
    • I'm digging the dual lead singer thing that they have going on.  Plus the bassist is pretty good at harmonies too - so they were all singing pretty much the whole show, except for the drummer.
    Rating: 4.5/5

    Saturday, June 15, 2013

    Foals @ The Depot (6/3/2013)

    • Judy and I missed all of Blondefire but caught most of Surfer Blood's set.  I can't say that I enjoyed it very much, but I didn't want to kill myself either.  I did recognize "Swim" (or whatever it's called) when they played it.
    • They mixed in a good deal of stuff from all three of their albums, though back-loaded, as expected.  Surprisingly, they played a couple of the mellower cuts from "Holy Fire".  But I still haven't seen them play any of the last 3 - my favorites - from "Total Life Forever".
    • "Olympic Airways" was pretty great, as expected.  I was pleasantly surprised that they played "Milk and Black Spiders", and that they didn't ruin it for me...well, I could have done without the extended ending, but the rest of it was spot-on, with a couple of nice twists thrown in there. 
    • Oh, and Yannis crowd-surfed while playing guitar a couple of times (which I found a bit dangerous, as the crowd was not all that packed). 
    • I should also give props to the venue.  It has an elevated stage in front of an open center area with tables and seats around the perimeter, and more seating at the edges past the structural columns.  The slightly elevated bar area is in the back, where people enter, and there is also a balcony level.  It's kind of like Plush in St. Louis, but nicer.  All in all, it's a pretty nice setup for small-ish shows.
    Rating: 4.4/5

    Friday, May 17, 2013

    Conclusive proof that I'm a lazy soccer player

    I've only had my last pair of indoor soccer shoes for about 8 months, but I already busted a seam on the side of the left boot.  It's still playable (and I've been playing with it like that for a few weeks), but it's an excuse to buy some new ones.  This time, I went with the adidas Freefootball x-pro, pictured below.

    And since these are miCoach compatible, I went ahead and bought an adidas miCoach Speed Cell.  This is a little chip that fits in a slot under the insole of the left boot, and tracks your movement.  I played my first game with these shoes (and chip) tonight, and the results are in - see screenshot below, or go to this link.

    I apparently spend half the game either on the bench or not doing very much.  And I'm only running or sprinting a quarter of the time.  I covered about 1.6 miles over the course of the two 20-minute halves, with a max speed of 17.69 mph (which could probably get me under 5 seconds in a 40 yard dash).  I was playing with some aftereffects of a thigh bruise suffered 3 nights ago, so I hope to improve on that max speed in the future.

    Wednesday, May 01, 2013

    Deftones @ The Pageant (5/1/2013)


    • I arrived late and only caught half of the last song by Ghost in the Machine, which was unfortunate since I wanted to support them after meeting the wife of their lead singer (a friend of a friend) last week.  There was really no need, though, as the show was sold out, and plenty of people saw them play.

    • The first 3 songs were from Around the Fur, then they sampled from every album in their catalog.  They ended with the standard "Engine No. 9" and "7 Words".


    • Chino (who was pretty chatty that night) dedicated the first song of the encore to Chris Kelly of Kris Kross, who had died earlier in the night.  He also made a reference earlier in the night to having a rough couple of weeks since former bassist Chi Cheng's death.
    • Chino has been playing the guitar more and more.  He broke it out for 5 or 6 songs, with at least a couple being songs from the most recent album.

    • Despite Koi No Yokan being possibly my second favorite Deftones album, most of the new songs that they played mostly fell flat to me.  I also think that, despite their high energy onstage, they are a much better band musically in the studio than they are live.

    Rating: 4.1/5

    Wednesday, April 24, 2013

    The Besnard Lakes @ Firebird (4/23/13)

    • I missed all of Tone Rodents, but caught the last couple of songs by Suuns.  I wouldn't have minded seeing more of them.

    • The first several song were off the latest album, Until In Excess..., which I've only given a couple of listens thus far.  I was disappointed to only hear one song off ...the Roaring Night, my favorite of their 3 albums I've listened to.

    • They pulled out quite a few stops for a show at a small venue like Firebird.  In fact, they probably overdid it with the fog machine (the whole place was filled up with it).  But the pedal controlled lights were a decent addition.

    • Too bad the show only drew maybe 50 people, which is disappointing considering that they have put out a couple of Polaris Music Prize nominated albums.  I guess that's St. Louis on a Tuesday night, especially when you're an obscure indie band.
    • The two guitarists used their whammy bars way more than I can recall seeing at a concert before.  This makes sense when considering the music, but I never thought about it enough to realize that's what's going on.
    • Overall, I think I set my expectations to high for this show, as I was a bit disappointed when I walked out.  I think the setlist choices probably contributed the most to this.

    • I could have done without the seeming two minute intros to almost every song.  And they started pushing my patience with the jams, especially toward the end of the show.
    • Their harmonies, in which all four members participated at one time or another, are just about as good live as on record.

    Rating: 4.0/5

    Saturday, April 06, 2013

    Purity Ring @ Plush (4/6/2013)

    • Blue Hawaii.  I'm not sure if opening with another boy-girl duo (where the dude does the beats and the chick sings) is a good thing (because it's likely fans of the main act would also like them) or a bad thing (because it could be viewed as seeing the "same" act twice).

    • They played all the songs off their only album (not in order, of course) and a cover of "Grammy" by Soulja Boy (WTF?).  Though they did not have an encore, it was no surprise that Fineshrine was last.

    • "Performing" their style of music live mostly involves pushing buttons and twisting knobs, in addition to singing.  But Corin spiced it up with a homemade light bulb percussion kit.  They also had a light in a big drum that Megan banged a few times (each time making me worry that it would fall off its shaky stand).  Unfortunately, the light inside the drum stopped working toward a couple of songs before the end of the show.  Oh, and they used a lot of fog, which I think helped quite a bit with setting the mood.

    • I wouldn't say that their performance was spectacular or anything, especially considering what performing their style of music entails.  But their songs are just so good that it was a very enjoyable show.

    • When performing Grandloves live, Megan sings the vocal part that is sampled from Young Magic.

    Rating: 4.5/5

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    Peter Singer strikes again!

    Peter Singer is definitely among my top 5 living philosophers, though I have not actually read a whole book of his.  Many of his views on ethics are pretty similar to, and have shaped some of, my own.  In fact, an article of his that I read in one of my philosophy classes a few years ago planted the seed that (in combination with a few other things) led to me converting to a fully vegetarian diet a couple of months ago (after a couple of years of part-timing it).

    Now he's going on about charitable donations, and I feel compelled to pledge 1% of my income toward a worthwhile cause (a few of which he kindly points us toward).  I could attempt to give an explanation of why I think this is a good idea, but it's probably better just to watch the man himself talk about it (be warned that this video is ONE HOUR long, though you could probably get the gist of it within the first 15 minutes or so): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MewmfYq4Wrw.

    Despite my current advocacy of this idea (and impending pledge to contribute myself), I wouldn't say that I don't have concerns about actually seeing this through.  I think that Singer makes a solid argument for why anti-poverty programs are far more cost-effective than some of the charitable work being done domestically (though this should not be interpreted as me dismissing domestic charities as unworthy).  Still, I question whether "saving lives" without a systematic societal change simply prolongs the conditions that enable perpetual poverty and strife in some of these places.  I'll end the discussion there to avoid stating this concern as harshly as I have sometimes in the past.  For now I'll just concede and settle for saving lives.

    I've joined the ranks of the watchless...for now...

    Until about a couple of weeks ago, I had regularly worn a wristwatch since I was a kid.  Some would argue that (since I am right-handed) I wore my watches on the wrong (i.e., right) wrist...but still...

    I currently own 6 wristwatches, each of which I had been progressively wearing less and less.  A couple are sport watches, which I have no need for since I don't really go running or adventure traveling any more (or, actually, never really did).  A couple are of the stylish-but-marginally-functional variety that I mostly wore on weekends.  I got tired of replacing their batteries a year or two ago.  The remaining two were the stainless steel workhorses, one of which I typically had on my wrist 5 days a week.  Though the battery has been dead on one of them for a while, the other is still chugging along (except for when I try to use the backlight).

    Lately, though, I was almost daily taking the watch off at least briefly at work when it started to make typing a bit uncomfortable.  This is not something new, and has been an on-and-off occurrence for several years.  However, it seemed to be happening more often lately.  On top of the fact that the battery on my only remaining functional non-sport watch was showing signs of fading (re: the backlight issue).  And the fact that (for various reasons I won't get into at the moment) I hate the experience of getting my watch batteries replaced.  And, perhaps most importantly, the fact that cell phones have rendered the main function of a watch obsolete.  So one day at work a couple of weeks ago I decided that I was done with watches.  I took the watch off, put it in my coat pocket, and that was that.

    The one caveat to this story is that I have been eying the smartwatch industry for a while.  In fact, at one point last year I pledged the $100 (or whatever it was) that was required to receive a Pebble watch on Kickstarter.  But I later came to my senses and cancelled my pledge when they announced the first of a few delays.  I still think that smartwatches could be a neat idea, and (being a gadget guy) I'm likely to take a serious look at one once the industry matures a bit.  Chances are it won't be an iWatch, though.

    Saturday, March 09, 2013

    Muse @ Chaifetz Arena (3/8/2013)


    • Dead Sara...not a fan.

    • The setlist ranged from the first song on their first album all the way through their catalog.  As expected, it was back-loaded with songs off their most recent album, which I don't think is particularly good (but I appreciate a bit more after finding out that it is named after the second law of thermodynamics).  They included all the hits (I think - I'm actually not that huge a fan of their music), and a couple of my favorites of theirs.

    • This may be the main reason that I saw this show - Muse is known for their elaborate stage setup.  After seeing part of their show at a festival, I felt I should probably see a real headlining show of theirs.
    • As expected, their stage setup was visually stunning - one of the best I've seen.  They had screens all over the place (surrounding the stage, on the stage, and in motion overhead), lots of lights, lasers, and a boom camera that Matthew Bellamy played with a bit (at one point he had an extended close-up with the camera while his sunglasses displayed the song lyrics - pretty cool).  They also showed off a piano that came up out of the stage, a rotating platform for the drummer, and guitars with lights and Kaoss pads built in.
    • The stage also had a very clean feel to it.  There was a catwalk around the back, and a few places for the two non-stationary members to post up.

    • In addition to having great visuals, they were quite technically skilled with their instruments - they played their songs very cleanly.
    • An extra traveling musician was used for a few of the songs, notably while Matt was on the piano.

    • Did I mention that the visuals were amazing?

    Rating: 4.2/5

    Saturday, January 05, 2013

    Top Albums of 2012

    It's that time again - when I compile and publish my list of album rankings from the year just completed.  It seems to me that 2012 has made a good musical recovery from the down year that was 2011.  Or perhaps I have finally perfected my method of music discovery.

    As you may notice this time around, I have developed an affinity for indie/alternative music with significant electronic instrumentation (but for the most part not EDM) - this description probably applies to at least 7 of my top 10.  I also seem to like the boy-girl duos where the guy makes the music and the girl sings - see numbers 3-5 below.

    But enough with the analysis.  Here's my top 10 albums of 2012:

    1. Bear in Heaven - I Love You, It’s Cool
    2. Crystal Castles - (III)
    3. Purity Ring - Shrines
    4. Beach House - Bloom
    5. School of Seven Bells - Ghostory
    6. Young Magic - Melt
    7. Miike Snow - Happy To You
    8. White Rabbits - Milk Famous
    9. Yeasayer - Fragant World
    10. Alt-J - An Awesome Wave

    And here are some more (in order) that I considered noteworthy:

    Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
    Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror
    Apparatjik - Square Peg in a Round Hole
    Ultraista - Ultraista
    Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1
    Metric - Synthetica
    John Talabot - Fin
    Deftones - Koi No Yokan
    Cat Power - Sun
    The Life And Times - No One Loves You Like I Do
    Thenewno2 - Thefearofmissingout
    Theesatisfaction - Awe Naturale
    The Temper Trap - The Temper Trap
    Elbow - Dead in the Boot
    Frankie Rose - Interstellar
    Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
    MewithoutYou - Ten Stories
    Animal Collective - Centipede Hz

    If you have your own list of top albums of the year that you would like to share, or any thoughts regarding my list, feel free to leave a comment below.