Vinyl – The Revolution

So it seems apt that a previous post, was about streaming music and now I want to discuss music formats again. Since Christmas the James household has been listening to more music than usual, but almost entirely on vinyl. In fact, I’ve cancelled my Spotify subscription, and disconnected my Sonos Connect.

So why have we taken a step back four or five decades and turned our backs on the convenience of streaming and wireless music? IMG_3500

It all started at Christmas, a good friend turned up (From Australia) with the most amazing Christmas present, an entry level vinyl player. We were blown away by the thoughtfulness of the gift, but didn’t for a moment imagine that it would be the beginning of a full blown obsession.

 

We started with a stack of LPs at my parent’s over Christmas and could already feel the appeal of being so involved in the music, putting the disk on the turntable, lining up the stylus and then dropping the arm and watching as the artwork spins and the arm tracks. It engages the whole family, rifling through old albums, pulling them out, blowing off the dust, and then taking it in turns to drop the needle and listen through at least a whole side, which in itself is an unusual pleasure these days. By the time my 30th birthday had come round in February, the addiction had really taken hold, and I elected to invest in a Project Debut Carbon MSL player to hook in to my existing FatMan Valve Amp and Wharfedale Diamond 9.1 speakers (I was already a bit of an audio-geek). Our collection of LPs had also expanded, taking over half of our living room.

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All of which leads me to… why?

Now, an audio-geek I may be, but I’m not here to talk about analogue wave forms, frequencies or bass response. Well, maybe a little bit about bass response. It’s more about immersing yourself in the occasion. I have gone out of my way to find an interesting album, maybe some Glenn Miller, John Mayer’s “Where the light is” live album or Coldplay’s latest album. This eclectic mix means we have themed evenings, Trad Jazz one night then Daft Punk the next. We have had several nights where we have invited friends around for “Whisky and Vinyl”, I can’t imagine inviting someone round for a Spotify evening…

So what about sound quality? Well this is a very subjective point, however, there is no doubt that having spent a reasonable amount on a decent deck, pre-amp, valve amp and speakers… the sound is… well… amazing. Deep, warm, rich and detailed. But, as I said, I have invested a lot of time and money in to my setup, far more then I have spent on a CD, MP3 or streaming setup. Having started with an entry level turntable, I have to say I fell in love with vinyl, despite the sound being thin and drowning in cracks and pops. I actually committed to investing in the more expensive gear because I had fallen so in love with the charm of vinyl.

I didn’t know when I started this piece that I would be saying I had fallen in love with vinyl, but there it is. It gets under your skin, and you fully immerse yourself in the occasion of popping on an album and actively listening to it with family and friends. Music brings people together, but vinyl is more akin to a campfire, the family sits around and feeds it throughout the night. It drives the evening and warms the soul.

The EU Referendum

It’s not about party politics or a personality competition between Farage and Cameron, it’s not even about how much money will be in your pocket. It can’t be, because the effect of leaving or staying in the EU is an unknown, and all predictions are subject to speculative models and subjective opinions.

For me it comes down to humankind’s endless pursuit of progress. We have come a long way from isolated tribes and villages to a global community which is celebrated by things like ‪#‎facebook‬. And it is this global community that is now finally coming together to tackle climate change, terrorism, famine and poverty.

This is the wrong time for the UK to be turning away from our brothers and sisters around the world and going back to tribe mentality. We should be pushing forward to unite humankind and strengthen a global community which might just one day be enough to save our race and protect our beautiful planet.

That is why I am voting IN tomorrow, I will not make a selfish decision about my money, or a fickle decision about personality or party politics just to turn my back on the rest of the world.

Going to the Dark Side

In April this year I made a snap decision. Having used an iPhone since 2009 I fancied a change. I went out and bought myself something new… something different… something running… Android.

The handset itself is a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and is the main reason for the swap. It’s a truly beautiful piece of design, and is a breath of fresh air from my slab-sided iPhone 5S. In my opinion this is the first offering I have seen that for me can compete with Apple on build quality and design. I’m sure there will be Android users out there outraged by this claim, but I have looked before, and just wasn’t taken with the cheap, plastic feel of previous Samsungs or HTCs or Nokias.

Day 1

The phone is on, and it’s beautiful. The AMOLED display is crisp and bright, the curved glass is gorgeous… I’m instantly taken with it. Now, how the hell do I use this thing? Do I even have signal?! It’s going to take a while to get used to this.

Oh god, I have to join the Play Store, and Samsung seem to want me to sign up to their ecosystem too… let’s see how this plays out…

Good news! SUPERCELL allows you to port your game between iOS and Android. I can actually continue to play on both my iPad and the S7 Edge now… that’s impressive!

Day 2

Wow, the battery is amazing…

Day 5

Ok, so a mate has told me I need something called a Launcher… apparently there’s one on the device called Touchwiz and it’s crap… will investigate later… At least Boom Beach is the same on this thing!

So a quick look on the Play Store and there are a lot of these Launchers. Let’s try a few… OK so I can make my icons all white, and add these little widgets… I’m not sold yet. Still trying to work out how to use this thing.

Been trying out the camera, it’s very impressive, although the front facing camera is a little grainy in lower light.

Day 7

It’s been nearly a week now and I think I’ve just about got the hang of how to use Android. I’m loving the back and multi-tasking buttons on the bezel, iOS could really use those! But my god it’s complicated compared to iOS, my Dad wouldn’t stand a chance of being able to use this thing. Also the curved sides make it almost impossible hold without activating something! Think I need a better case!

This battery really is good though!

Some time later…

I’ve now been using the S7 Edge for a little under 10 weeks. It now feels natural to use – in fact when I pick up my work iPhone, I find myself trying to tap back on the bezel next to my Touch ID Home Button. The camera is truly amazing, and compared to my Wife’s iPhone 6S, is the clear winner – especially in low light, you have to use the pro settings, but once you’re used to them you can quickly adjust the White Balance and ISO and get some stunning results. (I’ve attached a few below – unfortunately WordPress has not allowed me to upload the high quality files, I will add these soon!).

I consider myself to be fairly tech savvy, if I don’t know how to do something, I’ll work it out and then master it. But I have to confess it took me longer than expected to get used to Android. I think it’s safe to say, for the average user, it’s too much, too many options and too complicated. But, now that I am used to it, I do like it. I like the fact that I can manipulate the defaults a little more and keep my device feeling new and different and fresh everyday.

On a hardware level, the camera is outstanding and the battery is really good. But other than that there’s not much here to separate the S7 edge from anow iPhone 6s plus for most users on a daily basis.

Verdict

If I had to choose, right now I’d have the S7 Edge over any other phone out there. If I had the option of what software it ran… I’d stick with Android. I think the only improvement would be to strip back some of Samsung’s additional apps and Touchwiz, and have a purer version of Android. But all in all, it’s a great system running on a great handset. Will I go back to iPhone one day? Probably, maybe. We will wait and see what Apple have to offer in their next 2 or 3 iterations.

#Leanin15

It has become the thing to post your latest meal, running route or abs progress (or lack thereof) pics on Instagram these days. I have finally made the conscious decision to join the #trend.

Let’s start with the Hashtag. Whether you are following a subscribed diet, reading a health magazine or just winging it, several studies have shown that you are considerably more likely to achieve your health based goals if you are sharing them on social media. It is this publishing of your goals that really commits you to sticking to them. It really works. When every know you are doing it, they are supportive, they are encouraging, the actively reach out to tell you they’re impressed. It gives you the edge when it comes to will power. On top of this your Facebook wall, or Instagram feed will be full of others requesting to follow you and share their success stories with you.

For me it really appeals to my arty side, I put a lot of effort into making my food look like it might have come from the kitchen of some fancy health food restaurant and then apply the appropriate filter and a few hashtags for good measure.

They look pretty impressive right? Well it’s more than just that, I’m sure you won’t believe me, but I feel better, I feel less tired, I sleep better, I look forward to my meals more and I’m cooking more then I have in years. It has been a revolution in my life.

For my wife, who it has to be said is considerably healthier and fitter than I am anyway, it has been great. Meal planning, cooking and shopping have become daily and weekly events that we do together. I think it’s all too easier for a couple to both come home tired from work, eat something ‘quick and easy’ and slump in front of Games of Thrones and not really engage with each other. This has brought us closer together.

People do ask, “Oh which diet are you on?”

Like I’m doing this one now, but next month I’ll try Atkins, then the 5 – 2. I always answer now “It’s not a diet, it’s a life style choice”. And it really is. I choose to eat foods that make me feel better throughout the day, I choose to spend time with my wife planning the meals for the week and genuinely looking forward to cooking them each day.

I’ve always loved my food, and I still do. In fact, I’m eating more than I used to! I know that sounds odd, but it’s true, I’m eating clean and healthy and it’s easy. In the first month of doing this I lost 14lbs, a whole stone. I couldn’t believe it.

Joe Wicks of Lean In 15 fame tell’s you to throw away the “Sad Step” (his name for the bathroom scales) following the reasoning that weight is not an accurate measure of fitness or health, that being said it is a good indicator, and I certainly had a few pounds to loose when I started this. So, it works and I can’t believe I have found a way of being healthier, happier, spending more time with my wife AND loose a few pounds in the process.

So bring on the hashtags, share your meals and enjoy life!

Follow me on Instagram for more!

How do you put a value on music?

So in recent weeks and months, the hot topic in the music world has been streaming. Is it fair to the writers, the artists or the public? Just how do you put a value on music?

Taylor Swift’s recent out burst against Spotify seems like a good place to start. It seems all too convenient that whilst she was working her way up to fame and fortune, she was happy to let her fans stream her music, either paying a monthly subscription or the advertisements on the site paying for their consumption. Either way these fans were LEGALLY listening to Swift’s music.

The simple act of removing her music from Spotify means just two things, Swift is turning her back on the millions of fans who choose to listen to her music through Spotify, and Swift wants those loyal fans to pay more for her music. The same fans that she owes her career to. Now I don’t want to make any assumptions about Miss Swift, but I’m guessing she’s not doing too bad for herself, not short of a dime or two.

The last time the music industry refused to get on board with the latest technology (downloads), Napster came along and caught the Major Record Companies napping. Even after this industry changing moment, these companies still needed persuading to get onboard with iTunes, and now it’s happening again with streaming.

IF this kind of attitude defined how the industry worked, then we would all be listening to limited edition vinyl and paying £30 a time for the privilege. But it doesn’t, as with all free markets, the industry is controlled by simple supply and demand. Demand being the key word. The consumer controls every aspect of the industry, from which genre is hot right now to how we consume the content. There are more artists, more albums and more songs in the market then there ever has been. Which is great for consumers, we have choice. But it de-values the music. If you increase the choice, increase the supply, but keep the demand the same, then the price falls. Simple economics. The consumer cannot afford to keep buying music no matter what the price.

At the other end of the argument we have Apple buying U2’s album and then giving it away for free to iTunes users. In this deal both parties set a very specific price on music, a price that meant that U2 made more money than the traditional record deal that has served the industry well for so many years. Regardless of how you feel about U2, it’s clear that this deal cannot work for the vast majority of musicians. In fact it’s close to being a unique deal, and that’s why it’s worked so well for them. Interestingly, given the public outcry about this deal, Prince basically did the same deal with the Mail on Sunday back in 2007 with much the same response then.

Somewhere in the middle of all this we have Radiohead, who cleverly offer their album for free. Their only caveat was that if the consumer felt they wanted to place a value on their purchase, they should pay what they felt was just. And, they did. In fact Radiohead on average were paid MORE than they would have been had they released the album through the traditional model. A model that has always been skewed against the artists and writers, and in favour of the record companies themselves.

We live in a society where a lot of software is becoming free, Companies are launching as Kick Starter projects, Microsoft and Adobe are both going down subscription routes and Films and TV are available on demand, online or through subscription services. In fact there is very little left in media that isn’t available 24/7 online, books, radio and magazines have all joined the digital revolution. If content providers don’t get on board with the latest technology, or keep a grasp on how the consumer wants to consume their media, then the consumer will just take it for free.

It’s not that we don’t put a value on media anymore, it’s that we put a higher value on how we consume it and technology allows us to integrate media in to every aspect of our lives. Our pockets now contain our favourite books, playlists, movies and access to on demand services across the board. I hope this time the music industry will understand the power of the consumer and the technology in their pockets.

Nifty MiniDrive – Review

nifty1This is the Nifty MiniDrive . Simple extra storage for your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.

How does it work? The Nifty drive sits in your SD Card Slot, there are various versions which are compatible with all the MacBook range (except the 11 inch MacBook Air). The MiniDrive itself is really just an aluminium caddy for a Micro SD card, but as standard Nifty ship a 4GB card with your purchase (you can order bigger cards on purchase). Currently the largest card you can buy is a Kingston 128GB Micro SD card (£69.98 from Amazon.co.uk at the time of writing). So essentially if you’ve bought an entry level Air or Pro for around £100 you can double the storage of you MacBook.

Is it any good? Well it’s so simple it’s hard to evaluate it, it works, and it does sit flush in the SD Card Slot (The one on test here is the one for the 15 inch MacBook Pro), although if I’m being picky the alignment in the slot isn’t 100% perfect. But like I say, I’m being very very picky to even mention that. It looks great. I’ve put the 128GB card in my MacBook Pro and basically put my iTunes folder on there and it’s great. The read speed is more than enough to run iTunes and it means my iTunes collection isn’t going to fill my SSD in the Mac.

Nifty Speed Test     Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 19.22.05

As for speed I’ve tested the card and the caddy with Blackmagic Disc Speed Test. As you can see I ran the test twice, the first screenshot shows the test of the 4GB Micro SD card the Nifty shipped with. Write speeds of around 4.4MB/s and Read speeds of 20.9MB/s.
When I put in the Kingston 128GB Micro SD the Read and Write Speeds shot right up. 12.5MB/s Write speed and 44.1MB/s Read. Compared to the internal PCIe SSD of the Mac this is pretty slow (the Mac’s Read speed clocked in at 715.9MB/s), but for running a music library, watching video or browsing an iPhoto library, 44.1MB/s is plenty quick enough.

Verdict So the Nifty Drive still has a price tag attached to it, and realistically to make it worth while you want to get the 128GB card from Kingston. To get the same storage bump on an entry level MacBook Pro Retina it’s an extra £200, although you do still get use of your SD Card Slot. This is going to be the biggest issue for most users, to upload the photos I took for this review I had to Eject and remove the Nifty MiniDrive using the special removal tool (basically a metal hook). Obviously in my case that would mean I couldn’t listen to my iTunes library whilst importing photos.

Beyond this I also discovered that when the Mac is allowed to go in to Safe Sleep (when your battery is allowed to run down to 0%) the disc will un-mount. To re-mount it you need to find your drive removal tool, pull the drive out and re-insert it. Having said that, the drive has performed perfectly otherwise, no problems at all.

Using the Nifty comes with compromises, if you already have your Mac and you desperately need more space, then this is a winner. If you use your SD card on a regular basis, I’d look at other external options, although with both USB and Thunderbolt ports being limited in number, these too might limit your use of other peripherals. From my point of view, for a Top Spec 15 Inch MacBook Pro (512GB SSD) the next storage option is 1TB (£400 extra), so when storage has such a high premium, this extra 128GB can really make a difference without impacting on my daily usage too much.