Skip to main content

Craig Pilcher

Toddler Media Diet

1 min read

The little man is starting to have strong opinions about what we play and read and listen to and watch. And while I have been able to steer his tastes in the past, he has started making his own picks too.

Sometimes I can steer those as well; he likes the newest Thor and Spider-Man movies, and we got him a 12-inch tall Hulk action figure that he treats like a baby doll.

Sometimes he misses big. He found and made us watch a Netflix show that appears to be just a GoPro mounted on the front of a passenger train through Norway. It is 7 hours long.

But his most recent pick is a winner. It’s called Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, and it is basically a French CG mix of Sailor Moon and Spider-Man. It has the odd rhythm of a dubbed show, and he loves the repetitious transformation sequences. I appreciate a show like this being given some production value, and we can’t wait to start season 2 which dropped this week.

Craig Pilcher

Craig Pilcher

Craig Pilcher

Down With America's Kid-Competition Complex

1 min read

I was at a parent's night at my kid's school a couple of years ago—one of those things where you go to the school at night to meet the kid's teacher and eat a cookie and listen as the teacher tells you all the shit they do in class every day, and then you nod your head in approval. "Ah, yes....

Down With America's Kid-Competition Complex
from Pocket via IFTTT

Craig Pilcher

Cable questions

2 min read

Dear Jim (my NSA angel),

My cable company is attempting to buy their closest competitor. I know you and Comcast are bros on the DL, but your love is quite transparent to the public. Anyways, was this your idea? Vertical integration of data harvesting, now covering 37 of the top 40 markets in America. Solid strategy. I try to avoid conspiracy theories, but a surveillance state combined with this sounds like some Illuminati1 shit.

Speaking of TV, how have you liked the new season of House of Cards so far2? Some solid digital espionage going on in the first few episodes, but through the FBI/Secret Service? Come on, we both know who the real 1337 h4XX0rs are.

So, listen, if any packages come to the house, could you put them inside the screen door for me? I don't get home until the evening, and I would prefer they weren't covered in snow. Also, weather machine? Is that a thing yet? Please get someone on that ASAP.

Thanks,
Craig


  1. Who is head of the Illuminati these days? Is it Beyonce? It is, isn't it? Your secret is safe with me. Ooh, is it Tupac? 

  2. You haven't answered yet, so I assume you can see my TV ok. 

Craig Pilcher

Streaming Music Throwdown

6 min read

I have been experimenting with the various streaming music offerings, since it is the future of music consumption.1 Due diligence seems to be the only way to differentiate these rapidly-changing and -improving services, so here we go. Time for another table post.

ServiceGoogle All-AccessRdioSpotifyPandora
Price/month $10 $10 (decreases for multiple accounts) $10 $3
Import ability Upload (available for free) Matches2 Matches N/A
Radio recommendations Seemingly random Ok & adjustable Sparing Repetitive
Last.fm integration Third party3 Yes Yes Third party
Ads on free version No Yes Yes Yes, lots
Desktop No Basically a browser window Yes No

Current champ

Google's music app is pretty great, and when the All-Access part was released it seemed like the perfect complement to complete the service. In my opinion it is no longer doing what the All-Access part is meant to do - helping me discover new music. I guess in the most basic sense, I have heard some songs on there that I had not heard before (not memorable enough for me to bookmark them or add them to a playlist though).

The major feature of Google Music is that you can upload your own library of songs, but people forget that this is not part of the paid service; you can do this for free. Paying just adds the ability to play songs that you did not upload, and roll them into its sub par4 radio stations. Regardless of whether I keep the All-Access service, the music locker facet is invaluable and the best implementation I have seen.

Dark horse

Spotify is probably the biggest player in this space right now (I admit I did not give it a lot of credit on the first draft of this post), but it seems like a mess. I still cannot figure out how to add songs to my library without putting them in a playlist. This must come from years of managing a large library, but I do not want to organize my collection this way. Their radio offering seemed just OK - I tried it again for this first time in months (my starred playlist station) and hit the same 2 albums 5 out of the first 6 plays (The Suburbs and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but still).5

Also-ran

Pandora is kind of in a different boat, but I have used it several times over the past year. The algorithmic muscle of Pandora is great but the idea has yet to be fully realized. The fact that it can only pull from a library of 900k tracks6 limits its usefulness as a recommendation engine. The ads are a bit frequent, but not quite enough to warrant paying.

And the winner is...

Rdio seems like the front runner to me. It has many of the same top-flight features as the other two services, but with a little more attention to detail. The design is fantastic, and the organization is much more straight forward than Spotify. It feels much more social within the service than GMusic, but hitching to a Facebook account is optional rather than mandatory7. The radio recommendations can be adjusted between "familiar" and "adventurous," depending on what you feel like listening to.

There is one feature Rdio has that GMusic and Spotify definitely do not: the queue syncs between devices. This means when you start listening on another device, you are on the same song in your playlist or station. This detail by itself is nearly enough reason to switch.8 You can also mark items for download to your mobile device from the web player, which I know Google can't do.

The only gripe I have seen about Rdio is that it does not advertise its bitrate. Spotify and Google stream at 320 kbps on wi-fi, and Pandora is something like 160 kbps unless you buy a subscription. My argument is that if I hear something that I like but is low quality (on terrestrial radio or over a cellular connection), I am going to purchase it in a high quality format (CD, FLAC, vinyl - audio quality is a rabbit hole in itself). Things that are in a low bit-rate that I don't need to hear again are not a problem. Moot point.

So there are my thousand-plus-word thoughts on the state of streaming music (Beats Music not included, because it is too new). TL;DR: Google Play's best feature does not require the paid version, and Rdio is the intuitive, good-looking underdog with a can't-lose attitude that wins my pick for best streaming music service available.


  1. The second footnote of this link mentions Plex, and while they have a media server, it doesn't support some basic music player functions, like playlists. I am sure this will be remedied in the future, but until then it is behind all the rest of the services listed here. 
  2. Matching with Rdio requires WMP or iTunes, which sucks because I actively avoid both. I don't think Spotify is as strict on sources. 
  3. This basically means no for Android. The only last.fm scrobblers I have tried read from the system audio player, which then catches all the podcasts I listen to as well. It would get the job done, but it is also really annoying. 
  4. The quality of the radio is a function of the feedback you give it, and only gets better over time. It did get better, but the quality definitely plateaued much sooner than I would have liked. This could be a function of what I listened to on the service, but Rdio and Pandora are both still improving their suggestions in my opinion, with roughly the same amount of feedback. 
  5. It does not help that their web player seems to be blocked at my place of employment. Desktop player is (or was) fine, but I have never successfully started their web player.  
  6. The largest library for comparison belongs to Spotify, which has over 20 million tracks. Google and Rdio are not far behind. 
  7. The best social analogy I have heard is Spotify : Facebook :: Rdio : Twitter. Yes, I have lots of friends on Facebook, but there are few that share my music taste. 
  8. Last.fm integration is more that enough reason to switch, with this kind of history

Craig Pilcher

The Year of the Blog (specifically, mine)

5 min read

My new year’s resolution for 2013 has been to write. Just, in general, write when you can. I enjoy experimenting with technology and software, so I thought a would do the trick. It has gone through several iterations, but this is where it has ended up.1

was the major internet trend in the early- to mid-2000s, which is why seemingly no one does it anymore and all the cool people broadcast their thoughts on their social network of choice. But there are several advantages to it that people forget about in the age of the like and the tweet. Blogging creates your own personal space on the web, free from advertisers devising new ways to use your own data to push their product more effectively. If done correctly, you own the content you put out, and you can learn a lot of about web hosting and internet protocols if you so choose. I was only just starting, so I tried going the free route to see what I could find.

Pressing & Tumbling

I started out with a wordpress.com blog. It had everything I needed to start , so I did. The community at wordpress.com is centered on writing, which was good encouragement. But once I started to get the hang of it, it seemed like there was a lot that the free account would not let me do. The open source Wordpress is a powerful tool, and their free site gives you just enough of a taste to know you can do more. I still was not ready to fork over any money, so I packed up for the other major free ‘blogging’ tool on the web today, Tumblr.

I had started a Tumblr account a while ago, but hadn’t used it much. I came back to compare features with my new Wordpress blog, and there was a lot to like. The site is very stylish and minimalist, which is kind of the opposite of Wordpress (unless you put a lot of work into it). It is easy to find a lot of interesting people on Tumblr, and the mobile app is great (better than Wordpress at the time). The combination was enough to keep me there for most of the year.

Ghosting

In late October, an episode of one of my must-listen podcasts focused on blogging (In Beta #70), and it convinced me to try to build my own blog. I finally had a feel for the writing part, and I wanted to make a place of my own that didn’t end in ‘dot something dot com.’ The one that sounded the most interesting, Ghost, had just launched to the public. I registered my domain, hacked around in my router settings, and started hosting it from my own laptop. This was obviously not an ideal situation, but I still wanted to experiment before venturing into the confusing world of web hosting services.

The experience was enlightening. Ghost will soon be a great blogging platform, but for the technical layperson it is not there yet. I enjoy the minimalist approach, and they are still adding features, but there are bugs. I was not able to even upload a picture, a simple task on another framework. I could not nail down whether it was a bug in the code or a bug in my makeshift server settings. My laptop was also hosting my Plex server and kept getting kicked off the network in favor of my NAS, so I finally gave in and found a cheap webhost. Ghost is too resource intensive for shared hosting, so back to Wordpress I went.

Tools and Takeaways

One of the major lessons I learned from all this is that formatting a post is much easier in Markdown. The native editor in Ghost offers Markdown support (which I miss), but the others have not added this (or have done it poorly). So, for the most part I composed posts with outside tools. Draft has been my tool of choice, and I have been using it since its release. It supports Multimarkdown (footnotes and tables and such), and it also allows professionals to review your work for a small fee. Draft moved to a freemium model, and has started to really push for users to subscribe. Although the writing features are invaluable I don’t feel like I write enough to justify paying (is this a recurring theme?). Because of this, I have tried out some other writing tools recently. Editorially and Dillinger are two good ones that I have found, but the best so far feature-wise is StackEdit.

What else did I learn?

  • Writing can be very therapeutic. A blog is a good place for venting frustration or righteous nerd anger.
  • I am apparently a cheapskate. I guess I did not know what I was doing, so going the free route made sense, but it did not hit me just how far I went to avoid spending money until writing this post.
  • Open source is the way to go. The wide open nature of the web would not be nearly as wide if it were built on proprietary tools. You can almost always find an open source, (nearly-)free version of whatever tool you need.

photo: paolovalde (via Flickr)


  1. In fact you are reading the fruit of my labors now!

Craig Pilcher

In Beta #74

1 min read

http://5by5.tv/inbeta/74This is my 'feel like i'm being productive and learning things' podcast that I usually listen to on my Thursday morning commute. I was floored this week when they started talking about video games. But, like the hosts, I also never hear about really productive people who always sound like they have their life together playing lots of video games. It is something I will try to do more often. Of course, it helps that I am also currently addicted to Tiny Death Star.

Craig Pilcher

Music for the masses

4 min read

Music is a staple of human civilization. Musicians are staples of music. Being exploited and undervalued is a staple of being a musician, especially if you listen to them long enough that they start talking instead of music-ing. Even in the early twentieth century when prerecorded music became a staple of movies, musicians were not happy with their lot. It is not a new concept, and the latest iteration of this argument has musicians battling music streaming services over royalties. If these problems have been around for so long, why can't anyone figure this out?

Growing up in the Napster age, I have a weird relationship with . Don't get me wrong; I love listening to music. It's just the discovering and buying and playing where my views are a little more fluid than the previous generation. For instance, I feel like there was probably a time when radio was relevant, and I keep hearing that MTV played music when Kurt Cobain was alive. Now, however, the interwebs bring meager fame to bands that would likely have never been in the MTV rotation, and in flyover country you are lucky to get anything on the radio other than just that: country.

History lessons

Let's go back to the beginning. The first CD I ever bought with my own money was by Chumbawamba, which I have come to terms with but realize I will have to acknowledge for the rest of my life like a bad tattoo. (For the record, I did marginally better on my first tape purchase with Space Jam) Then came Napster, which was shutdown by the time I tried to install it on my family's PC (75 MHz processors and dial-up had something to do with that). The local library really never caught on to the borrow-burn-return technique, though, so I got by. I finally found out about cool music around age 16, starting with the Strokes and a subscription to SPIN. My first MP3 player was a college move-in gift, which I soon flipped for the first iPod generation to have a color screen [1].

iTunes is all well and good unless you are (A.) a poor college student and (B.) that college has a fairly robust internal file sharing network. I would say my digital music collection increased by about 50% by sophomore year (we're talking double-digit gigabytes here), but growth has been stagnant since those halcyon days for several reasons. The low cost of entry back then is one, and the sheer difficulty to discover interesting, new music on the cheap is another. I gladly bought music from artists I enjoyed, but only because they were already on my radar. Thirty second previews never feel like enough to justify buying something I may not like -- I've been burned before (see Chumbawamba).

Interwebs killed the radio (star)

That is all coming back around now with the advent of music. broke the mold with an amazing engine of music association and recommendation, and and (and seemingly everyone else now)[2] has applied the Netflix model to music. This is the future of music, regardless of whether record labels will accept it or not. The barriers to discovery as they were even 5 years ago are non-existent. I have found more music in the last 6 months than I had in the previous 3-4 years using these services. My conscience is far cleaner than in my file sharing days, and I get the convenience of access wherever I want.

So, bottom line. If this reaches any music executives, heed these words: Ten dollars a month seems like the right price for all the music I never paid for in the first place. Make it work, and pay the musicians so they keep music-ing. I have pirated before, and taking that away will make me likely to do it again.
Signed,
Pilch
c/o the internet
dictated but not read

photo: Creative Commons License JD Hancock via Compfight

 

1. I would be remiss at this point if I did not mention my Audioscrobbler neé last.fm profile, which has chronicled roughly 80-90% of the music I have listened to for nearly 10 years. Probably not valuable information, but at least I can claim to have been a Kings of Leon fan back when they had beards and were cool.[3]

2. This is probably a blog post for another time, but right now my favorites are Rdio and Google Play All Access. Even though both those services are great, though, I feel like I could throw something together between Pandora and Plex that would do even better for a lower price (and I even got the early bird price on Play).

3. They are still kind of cool, but also kind of sold out. Another blog post for another time.

Craig Pilcher

Craig Pilcher

Craig Pilcher

Craig Pilcher

Craig Pilcher

Craig Pilcher