Thursday, December 31, 2015

What the Death of Rdio Has Taught Me

Most people have never heard of Rdio, let alone  lament the fact that it no longer exists (save in the fond memories of its loyal ex-users). I briefly used Spotify years ago, until an infuriating run-around with their customer service over everyone's inability to use our American Express cards as forms of payment. Then, in the shiny Spotify forums, I saw the first mention of Rdio. And I jumped at an alternative to this terribly managed platform. And I never looked back. Until Pandora bought Rdio and shut it down almost immediately.

Why did I love Rdio over other music serivices? Because of the way I personally listen to music. I wonder if it is because I am a child of the Napster generation (and a literal child of parents who had a good vinyl collection). I collected music.

When I moved to Austin for college, I moved from dial-up, to a T1 line that ran to our dorm. I do not know how to explain to "youths" (said in my best Schmidt voice) today how big of a jump that is. I went from downloading a few songs overnight, to entire albums in minutes. And so, my music library grew.

Soon bands like Metallica started really cracking down on illegal music downloaders, iTunes came around, and I was well into my CS education. I realized I needed to pay for my music. Just because I couldn't see something (or be seen stealing it) didn't mean I shouldn't pay for it. Hard work went into music and software. People's lives went into music and software. And so, my music library *legally* grew.

By the end of college, I was accustomed to having a hefty hard drive full of music to call upon. My more ambitious friends had music servers. I carefully curated my music collection and burned new CDs to my library and imported them into iTunes. I eventually moved in with my now husband, who has turned into an Apple addict. We have an AppleTV, so I could easily stream my music to it from my laptop. He acquired a few AirPlay and Bluetooth speakers over his tenure at Apartment Therapy, so no matter where I was in our house, I could listen to *my* music.

By the 2010's music streaming was becoming the new norm. Data plans were cheap, and Spotify (which had launched in 2008) began to take over the music scene. I wanted to try it out, so I did, and was met with the experience I'd mentioned before, and quickly went to Rdio. Rdio worked okay (and let me use my AmEx card). Over the years, it got better and better, and I really loved its interface.

What I didn't realize is that Rdio also worked in the way that I was used to listening to music. I "favorited" particular albums, and they were now in my music library. I was essentially leasing them. Whenever I wanted to listen to a song, or an album, or an artist, I did just that. I could even, just as with my iTunes library shuffle everything I'd "favorited." I started favoring artists, so that any time a new album landed in Rdio, it was automatically in my favorites, and new music from my favorite artists would, much to my delight, appear in my rotation. If I didn't like an artist enough to favorite their entire body of work, I could favorite just one album. But mostly, I favorited artists.

I subscribe to satellite radio as well, so between friends, living in Austin, and my favorite XM channels (Jenny Eliscu, I love your show), I discovered new music and added it to my favorites. I could call up my music from anywhere, at any time. And from any computer I happened to be sitting at. It was pretty glorious (with a few minor pain points*).

Then, Rdio died (RIP). I tried all kinds of other things so I wouldn't have to switch to the company that had made me so angry those years ago. I begrudgingly signed up for Spotify's Premium service again (because, even though I hate giving them my money, I hate commercials more). I added all my favorites from Rdio to my Spotify account. Then I looked for the "Play library" feature, or something similar. Then I learned that with Spotify, you have to just shuffle an artist, or an album, or worse, play a playlist they've created for you. For those of you who don't know me well, I mostly loathe all new (new = post-1980) "popular" music. And what are playlists going to push? You guessed it. I want to listen to *my* music. Not just one band a time.

This may be fine for a lot of people, but I listen to music at work -- to boost my mood, to drown out the incredibly loud people around me, and to focus.  I don't want to listen to a playlist with a crappy song in it that I have to stop and skip STAT. (Yes, I like the Dixie Chicks and Willie Nelson, and one or two Taylor Swift songs, but I do NOT NOT NOT like almost all other country music.) I don't want to shuffle one artist for an hour, then think about which one I want to shuffle next. I just want to loop through all the music I already know I like and leave it on auto-pilot (aka shuffle) so that I can get some uninterrupted work done. Or jam out on my road trip when I'm just feeling like some old familiar music.

I'm now realizing that those years of paying for Rdio in which I leased music may have been better served by my buying a new album every month instead.  Since music has always played such a big part of my life, I'm feeling rather lost.

I've learned that, for the most part, the solution to my problem is to add all albums I'd like to listen to by favorite artists to my Library, then I can shuffle my library. This, in my opinion, is too much work to do something that Rdio made so simple. And it doesn't get new albums added.

I've actually cancelled my Spotify service and gone back to listening to my iTunes library. Hello Tool (and my angry adolescence)! I've missed you.

What I've learned is that streaming music is a bad investment. Not even an investment. Artists are already complaining that they don't get paid enough from it.

I've also learned that good DJs are worth more than good algorithms.

The solution seems to be buying albums on iTunes (or Google Play) and letting Apple keep them safe for me. One can see similar issues arising should Apple ever kill iTunes as we know it.

Doing a little math for logic's sake, I currently have 90 favorite artists in Spotify. If I bought one album from each at $10, I'd be looking at $900. No bad, considering that I've probably already got at least one album from one of each of my favorites between the CDs in the closet and my iTunes library.

For the past three years of Rdio usage, I spent $10/month, which comes out to $360. If I could recoup that $360, would I plop it down in the Apple Music store? Is leasing music worth the convenience?


*Pain points: No Tool, among other bands. Also, a lot of the music I had on my computer was never going to end up on any streaming music service. For a long time, the Chieftans weren't online, IIRC.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Wearable Dilemma

Everyone loves gadgets. This isn't a techie thing. Maybe I love gadgets a little more because I love to quantify things. I love graphs. And my Fitbit has introduced me to the world of the Quantified Self. I can never go back.

However, my Fitbit has, once again, fallen apart. This has prompted me to write yet another blog saga about finding the perfect wearable.

I ordered my very first Fitbit Flex in February of 2014 as part of my employer's health rebate program (which I do not love, but that's another story). The next two years have been a love-hate relationship with my Fitbit. Here's the bullet-point version of that:

  • Feb 2014: First Fitbit (Flex) 
  • May: Losing Flex because of stretched holes in band closure. Fitbit replaced band.
  • October: Rubber band separates from screen. Fitbit replaced band.
  • January 2015: No longer charges reliably. Fitbit replaced with new Flex (all components).
  • February: Sold new Flex, and instead bought Charge through work program.
  • April: Back comes unglued (despite screws). I Super Glue to fix.
  • May: Repeat above.
  • October: Rubber begins to peel at junction with screen.
  • November: Rubber beings to bubble under screen on top, and the glue continues to break down.
  • December: Top portion of bracelet's rubber is no longer glued to plastic band underneath. I finally email Fitbit and ask for a replacement.

So, the Dilemma:

I'm really tired of replacing & repairing Fitbits. I love that they keep sending me new ones, but the quality has started me looking at different devices. And once you start looking, you start seeing other things you like. And I'm also realizing how much I miss my pretty black ceramic Skagen watch. This Fitbit is ugly, and I can't wear it to a nice dinner. But I don't want to lose my steps! If you don't have a step tracking device, you have no idea how traumatic it is to lose steps.

I saw an add for the Misfit Shine 2, but as I said in my blog post about that, everyone is losing theirs. No way, Jose. Also, I later realized how much I love having, not just call notifications, but caller ID. I get a LOT of wrong numbers for some reason.

Last week while Christmas shopping, I ran across the Pebble Time Round. It seemed to fit all my requirements:
  • Pretty
  • Small & thin
  • Changeable bands (can work out using a non-leather one)
  • Caller ID
  • Text notifications
  • Tells time
  • Tracks steps & sleep
That's all I've decided I really want. A heartreate monitor would be nice, but, just a bonus.

The more I looked at the Pebble's OS, the more sad I was. It seems to be a really smart OS, but it looks like it's designed for toddlers.

I just can't.

There are other wearables out there that look amazing, though.

Why they won't work for me:

Samsung Gear S2
No iOS support. I'm not so in love with Apple as much as not really excited about being tied to a particular ecosystem.
And also, it's bigger than my wrist. I physically can't.

Moto 360
Out, because I currently have an iPhone and wouldn't pay that much for something I can't use all the features of.
Also, it's pretty huge. I want to say I would be okay with something that's the same height as my wrist since it's pretty, but it would just look silly. It's double the size of my little Skagen watch.

Withings Activité
Gorgeous app.
No call notifications.
$400 unless I want a black one.

Apple Watch
It's a rectangle. That's my big beef with this thing. It's small, which is a HUGE plus, but it's an ugly, ugly rectangle.
Also, vendor-lockin. But I already have an iPhone.
Also also, the bands are, of course, expensive.

A common negative among all these is that they're expensive. None of these is a watch that will last my lifetime. They're gadgets that will quickly go out of style -- so a hefty price-tag for features (like a multitude of apps, GPS,  fast processors, etc.) that I don't want just isn't worth it to me.

This post that I ran across while making sure I hadn't missed anything I would seriously consider gives me hope that an answer is coming in 2016.

Half Marathon #2 Results

The race was December the 4th, so almost a month ago! I had been doing pretty well (faster than expected, and no knee issues) during my training, so I decided to push it a little and run with a pace group. I wanted to finish around 2:00, so that's the pace group I picked. I figured I would try, and if it was too hard, it would be easy enough to back off and finish slower. Why not?

On race day, I got there super early and it was super cold. I didn't have gloves so I kept my hands in my pockets as much as I could. Brr! Luckily it had been a cold November leading up to the race.

When it was race time, I headed toward my corral, but it was so crowded it took me a while to finally push my way though. I found the pace group just as the race was starting, and we all crossed the start line. The pace felt faster than I thought it should, but my Nike+ app confirmed that we'd finished the first mile right at our expected 9:04. Actually, it was 9:03. Pretty good pacer!

After a couple of miles, though, my knee started to hurt. I was hoping that it would warm up and stop, but it didn't. So, for the rest of the race, my knee hurt. Pretty annoying, since it hadn't given me any issues over the past 8 weeks.

Since this race was a "Rock 'n' Roll" race, there was music at almost every point along the way. There were some good local bands and some loud speaker systems. I totally sang along with some of the tunes, like Gimme Three Steps.

At one point, I ran around the corner as was greeted by a giant inflatable Brooks rocker wielding a guitar, and wish I had a picture. He was a fun surprise. I found one:

Via @Andrew_Carlson on Twitter.

There were lots of cheerers. I think half the student body of Trinity University came out to cheer and brought their giant foam tiger paws for high fives.

My favorite were two women (employees?) standing out front of an old bank building downtown. One of them was smoking a cigarette, and they were both yelling, "Run!! We got MONEY on y'all!" Hi-larious.

The course itself was supposed to pass the Alamo and some other cool spots, but sadly, there were so many people I was trying not to run into or trip over, I didn't see much of it. I missed the Alamo, which I confirmed by watching the course video the race put together:

Cute video, but not a true depiction of the race with four people merrily jogging along.

In the end, I pushed through the knee pain and left my pace group behind for the last few miles. I was pretty proud of myself, and of course am planning my next half already. Something smaller I'm thinking.

Of course I have to give a shout-out to Chris for going with me this weekend. He dropped me off at 6:30 and found me once along the course for some motivation. He was also at the finish line cheering, which makes a girl feel special. (Aaaawww!)

Here are screen-grabs of the cute stats the RNR website puts together for you:

Not at all humble brag: that's a top 25% finish. :D