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Hanna

The experiences of a girl who has just gotten a new Macbook Pro, after her 5 year old one showed signs of carking it.

What exciting times we live in! I had a brand new computer delivered to my door the other day.

I grew up with there always being a PC in the house. I loved making my way through MS-DOS, looking at all the files we had and the folders they were in, and playing Prince Of Persia. My big brother programmed a maths game for me that was based on Silence Of The Lambs. I had to answer maths questions to get back to the asylum, to get the rocket launcher to kill Dr Lecter. On a green screen.

It looked just like this!
It looked just like this!

 

I still remember the glory of our extremely infrequent upgrades: getting Windows 3 and later upgrading to 3.1; upgrading our 386 to, as my brother explained it, the equivalent of a 686, and the miracle that was getting a colour screen to replace our old green screen. Not to mention years later, one of those fandangled screen screens that screened out radiation from attacking your face. And sound blasters! And CD-ROM drives that could burn CDs! And modems that meant I could dial my one friend who also had a modem! Man, things got exciting every few years.

I stuck with PCs, until around 6 years ago when I started recording music on my home computer. And, uh oh, weird things were going on. I could hear a strange hum when I was recording, for no apparent reason. I made the decision to get a Mac. I’d spent my youth chanting for team PC; and I was pretty surprised to be finding myself switching teams. But it was worth it; in mid 2010, I got my first MacBook Pro, and recording music with my analogue synths became easy.

That's me on the left.
That’s me on the left.

5 years on, my old MacBook started giving me problems. Taking a good 3 or 4 minutes to wake up, phone calls reaching it a minute after the call had already been answered on my iPhone, and then there was the restarting itself whenever it felt like it. I decided it was time to upgrade to a new, mid-2015 15-inch MacBook Pro.

And so, what’s the new one like? The best thing for me yet is IT’S FAST. I felt gleeful when I was installing a program, was shown a dialogue box that said “all open applications must be closed for the installation”. When I hit “close all”, BAM, they all closed in an instant!! (2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 with 16GB RAM 1600 MHz DDR3. Apple will get the next generation of processors next year.)

Which brings me to the next point: this new MacBook has a solid state hard drive. I never realised how much I listened to the computer’s sounds and felt its buzzing for feedback, to know that it’s thinking. Having a virtually silent laptop is really strange. (I upgraded from 500gb to 1TB flash drive. Recorded music files are big.)

THE SPEAKERS ARE STEREO! AND they actually have BASS and depth! I was pretty impressed with the sound. It’s still crappy laptop speaker sound, but considering, it’s very impressive!!

There’s also this new “force touch” trackpad. I think it’s early days for what can be done with this feature. So far, I haven’t come across a list longer than 15 things for what it can be used for. Give it another couple of years, and the Apple genies and app developers will come up with some amazing things. For now, it’s most often cutting out needing to tap with 2 fingers to bring up the “right click” menu, and then selecting options from there. I guess it’s making things slightly more intuitive. Considering the same technology (which uses haptic feedback, rather than actually clicking) is also in the new iPhone 6s and the iWatch, seeing what uses app developers come up with is going to be very interesting.

The battery life is 4-5 hours, if I don’t have anything external plugged in to suck the MacBook’s power away. Since my old laptop battery was down to 45-60 minutes, this is luxury to me. And they’ve removed the CD-ROM drive, so the thing is lighter and slimmer. I bought the external CD drive, and it works great. It’s nice that I can just plug it in only when I need it.

That's pretty skinny! Credit: theverge.com
That’s pretty skinny!
Photo credit: theverge.com

And finally, it’s got a retina screen. Which….is cool, I guess. I didn’t fall off my chair when I looked at the screen the first time, but I think that’s more of a reflection on me not being such a visual person, as opposed to this retina screen not being awesome. Hell, I don’t even know what “retina” means in this instance, and also I don’t really care. (Graphics processor Intel Iris Pro 1536 MB)

When I was backing up my old MacBook and choosing which files to copy over to the new one, I found myself coming across random copies of photos that the computer had decided to make. That’s something that still frustrates me about Macs: the secretive nature with which it stores certain files. I can understand if they want to hide system files so that computer illiterates don’t delete them by mistake. But they make it so hard to find any files in the iTunes and photo library. It doesn’t feel logical to me! And it totally makes me miss the days of DOS where trundling through directories was easy and logically organised.

Yes, that would be lovely, thanks Windows.

So, thank you Apple for making a lovely product for me to use everyday for work and pleasure. I wonder what features my next computer in 5 years time will have. Considering we have only had smart phones for 8 years and life has changed so drastically so fast, I am eager to know what the technology of the future will be!

Hanna Silver
http://youtube.com/astrobic
http://google.com/+HannaSilver
http://twitter.com/hannasilver
http://facebook.com/silvermusic

Spotify review part 2: response to accusations of being “grossly misleading”

By Hanna Silver

Apparently, someone from Spotify has read my review and has called it “grossly misleading”. They told me to look at spotifyartists.com , so I did. I read the section on how artists are paid, and have not found anything contrary to what I have written – only that it is spun differently. Whilst my article looks down upon Spotify’s shitty payouts from the artist’s point of view, their corporate website is written in an ALL HAIL OUR GOD, SPOTIFY, SAVIOUR OF MUSIC sort of way. One must be careful to realise that the entire website is trying to sell you something.

Currently, Spotify pays artists less than 70% of their total revenue. (On their website, they say “nearly 70%”. See how you can spin things either way?) They argue that as their subscriber numbers increase, so will the amount they will pay artists. They say this:

“Recently, these variables have led to an average “per stream” payout to rights holders of between $0.006 and $0.0084. This combines activity across our tiers of service. The effective average “per stream” payout generated by our Premium subscribers is considerably higher.

Again, we personally view “per stream” metrics as a highly flawed indication of our value to artists for several reasons. For one, our growing user population might listen to more music in a given month than the month before (resulting in a lower effective “per stream”), while generating far more aggregate royalties for artists. As with any subscription service, our primary goal is to attract and retain as many paying subscribers as we possibly can, and to pass along greater and greater royalties to the creators of the music in our service. Theoretically, another service could generate higher effective “per stream” payouts simply by having users who listen to far less music. We believe, however, that our service and the lives of artists will both be best if the World’s music fans enjoy more music than ever before in a legal, paid manner.”

Spotify are a corporation. If their business model cannot pay artists what their music is worth, then it is a flawed business model.

Imagine the food industry suddenly told farmers, “from now on we will only pay you one hundredth of what you were paid before.” Gradually, farming would cease to be a viable business. And then our food would come from where? How could it be made so cheaply, if the return is only one hundredth of what it once was?

Music is a basic human right. Fund the artists who make the music you love, so that they can keep doing it. Don’t fund the man who tells you you can have all this music because it is “legal”.

-Hanna Silver
hannasilver.bandcamp.com
theprinceofseagulls.bandcamp.com
youtube.com/astrobic

Spotify review by Hanna Silver

I’m going to go ahead and start with a TL;DR (“too long, didn’t read” for anyone not down with the lingo type speak). Because I have one clear message I’d like to send out about Spotify.

Spotify is great (provided you are not an audiophile who can’t stand mp3s), but you should choose to not use it. Artists are paid fractions of peanuts for listens.

I’m a musician, so this issue is close to my heart. I had to ask myself, if I’m comfortable streaming tv and film, why am I uncomfortable streaming music? It’s because when I watch tv and film, I usually only watch it once, and never again (or not for another 10 years). Plus, in tv and film, production companies pay their cast and crew respectfully for their hours of work, before distribution.

But with music, the revenue generated from sales is an important part of the artist’s income. I tend to seek out music that I love and then listen to it over and over and over again. Then put it away, pull it out a few months later, listen again, and so on it goes.

If you find someone’s music on Spotify that you like and you listen to it, they are getting less than between 0.6 and 0.84 OF A CENT per track play. Spotify says this is what they pay rights holders – so in most cases, the record label gets this money, takes a cut, and gives what’s left to the artist.

You just need to ask yourself, do I love this artist? Do I wish they would make more music? If the answer is yes, THEN GO AND BUY THEIR MUSIC. Musicians need to eat and pay the bills. Translate your love and appreciation into financial support for the artist, not a fat CEO. How much do you pay for a drink at the bar? If you were able to meet an artist or band you love, would you feel honoured buying them a round of drinks?

To conclude my rant and really start the review, here are some links that further discuss Spotify’s payment system:

Ok, so, what does Spotify have to offer? It breaks my heart that they don’t pay artists enough, because their platform is SO GOOD. I can’t deny that for many people, streaming is the future, and Spotify do it so well.

You can either pay for Spotify Premium ($10 in the USA, $12 in Australia per month. There’s even a $5 US student discount), or use Spotify for free, with some differences in service. The biggest differences are the ads you’ll hear on Spotify free, and that it only plays in shuffle mode in Free. Spotify offers a 30 day free trial of the premium service.

You can build “your own music library” – save artists, albums and tracks that you love, so you can find them quickly. If you have Spotify Premium, you can make playlists available offline for yourself on your device (seriously, how is this legal??). You can listen to Spotify either on your mobile with the app, or on your computer through the app.

spotify pic

The streaming quality is not great, so if you prefer to not listen to mp3s, give Spotify a miss and stick with your wav files, CDs and vinyl. (mmmmm, vinyl….) From their website:

“Spotify uses 3 quality ratings for streaming, all in the Ogg Vorbis format.

  • ~96 kbps
    • Normal quality on mobile.
  • ~160 kbps
    • Desktop and web player standard quality.
    • High quality on mobile.
  • ~320 kbps (only available to Premium subscribers)
    • Desktop high quality.
    • Extreme quality on mobile.”

You can log in with your Facebook login, or with a new username. If you login with Facebook, sure, Facebook has more information to use and sell about you. But you’ll get to see what all your friends are listening to! And they can see what you’re listening to! 😀

There’s also plenty of suggestions from Spotify of what you might like. Particularly as you do searches and add things to your “library”, it makes suggestions: “Because you like this guy, you might like that guy.” You can also listen to pre-prepared playlists, for example, music playlists designed to help you sleep, study or exercise.

IMG_1897IMG_1892IMG_1894

And you can make your own radio station based on an artist you like.

IMG_1901

As you listen to a radio station, you can “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” tracks played, so Spotify improves the station based on what you like.

IMG_1919

I don’t know about PC or Android, but I can tell you that with Mac and iOS, the music controls are integrated with your iPhone and Mac. So on iPhone, you can swipe up the control centre and control Spotify playback from there. On Mac, you can use the music control buttons on F7, F8 and F9.

You can follow artists or playlists, and then see what they have been listening to.

Those are the main functions that you want out of a service like this. There’s more, but I won’t go on about them.

So try Spotify if you want, but let a feeling of guilt follow you as you listen to tracks on the service. Because, what’s the one thing Spotify provides you with? And WHO gets the millions…???

FIND PART 2 OF THIS REVIEW HERE


Find Hanna in these places:

hannasilver.bandcamp.com
theprinceofseagulls.bandcamp.com
youtube.com/astrobic

Quickflix Australia review by Hanna

It was revealed recently that Australia has the highest rate of illegal downloads of Game Of Thrones. The overwhelming response is, well, what do you expect? In today’s digital world, the individual does not want to wait, nor see any reason why we should wait to see what the USA can see today. This isn’t 1986. Everyone is posting spoilers in our Twitter stream. We need to see it now, too!

Quickflix.com.au are coming close to helping solve our streaming problems. What’s more, they have come out of the dark ages with their pricing. It now costs just $10 a month for their subscription streaming service, where you can stream as many movies and tv episodes as you like from their subscription library. Or, if your local video library closed down and you don’t have anywhere to rent DVD/Blu-Ray discs from, you can use their disc mailout service for $13 per month for 1 disc out at a time, $23 for 2 discs out or $30 for 3 discs out at a time. Or, if you want it all, pay between $20-$30 per month for streaming AND discs mailout. All in all, it’s great value for money.

In my opinion, Quickflix’s best thing on offer is their DVD/Blu-Ray mailout system. You add things into your queue of what you’d like to watch. Quickflix systematically mails them to you so that you always have your maximum number of discs, according to what you signed up for (1, 2 or 3 discs at a time). The envelope they mail it in is reusable for you to post it back, free of charge. When they receive the returned disc(s), they automatically mail you the next disc(s) in your queue. It couldn’t be easier to rent discs. It’s a great system with many great viewing choices, including TV show box sets. The discs that I have had mailed to me so far (American Hustle and Her) have both been in great condition, no scratches, unlike discs from my local video store (which closed a few months ago anyway). Occasionally, a disc or box set may be in heavy demand, (e.g. currently there is a long wait for the new Orphan Black season 2 box set) but they let you know in your queue.

So that pricing is pretty good, and is comparable to America’s Netflix, which costs $9 a month for unlimited streaming. The only thing about Quickflix is that some things available to stream are part of their “premium” service. You can only watch by paying extra, the prices being basically the same as on iTunes. For heaven’s sake, Jonah From Tonga is available only by paying $17 to stream the whole season (or $3 per episode). The thing was on ABC iView for free a couple of months ago! On iTunes, it also costs $17 for standard definition or $20 for HD. Without me comparing ALL of Quickflix’s premium prices, I think we will find they are neck and neck with iTunes Australia. So it’s a bit annoying that despite paying $10 a month for unlimited streaming, some titles are not included (bascially, all new releases). Having said that, you can access Quickflix’s premium content without being a subscriber.

So, on to using the website (though Quickflix is available on many different devices). When you hover over a title, a ‘hovercard’ shows up with lots of handy bits of info on it. You can add a title to your DVD queue (assuming you have signed up for that service), or stream it immediately. If it is part of premium streaming, it will show you the price right there. It took me a little while to realise I had to look for the little picture of the disc to mean that I was putting a DVD or Bluray delivery in my cue, as opposed to bookmarking what I’d like to stream. Which leads me to a major criticism of Quickflix: It doesn’t seem to have a way to queue things I want to stream, which is THE WORST THING EVER. Definitely a major flaw in their service. I don’t know how they’ve managed this long without offering this.

[EDIT 9.7.14: Quickflix will soon be releasing a new version of their website with many issues addressed in this review being fixed. Looking forward to it!]

A major plus for Quickflix is that they have a deal with HBO. The HBO selection is really good, lots to watch just there, but a lot you have to pay extra for. Some things available as part of subscription streaming are:

HBO streaming

If you’re happy paying premium prices (which you can access without a subscription), you can watch titles like Veep, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, True Detective and Girls, plus heaps more.

I originally thought there was no easy way to see only titles available for streaming as part of my subscription. After emailing Quickflix with this feedback, I got an email reply the next day. Turns out that if you click on the Streaming tab, then scroll down the page, finally you get to the bottom section which says Browse. This section shows only subscription streaming videos. You can either browse all videos, or select a genre, and sort by title, year and rating. The ratings are just user ratings; they are not ratings supplied by the likes of Netflix which learn your taste and provide their best guess on how much you will like shows and films.

So what are some things available for subscription streaming? Here are some of the top rated films:

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 9.35.23 pm

And some of the top rated tv shows:

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 9.36.33 pm

Some top rated titles on offer on disc are:

quickflix

TV shows are listed by their season. So if I’m just browsing, and I find Sherlock season 1 listed, but I want season 3, I have to go and type it into the search box to find it. Clicking on the icon I have located will not help me find other seasons in the series. No links are provided to take me to other seasons, or related TV shows. I would say a weakness of Quickflix is they don’t show me related titles to stream, other shows or movies I might be interested in. I’m left to browse titles randomly to find something I want to watch. They only show you related titles if you add something to your disc mailout queue.

So what’s the quality of picture when streaming from Quickflix? Personally, I found it satisfactory with no problems streaming. From their FAQ:
On most devices under normal conditions, the picture quality on Quickflix content is as good as free to air TV (in Standard Definition or High Definition). On many of our supported devices, the picture quality will subtly vary to accommodate changes in the performance of your internet service – so that you can have an uninterrupted viewing experience.
To get the most out of Quickflix Streaming you will need a minimum Internet connection speed of 1.5Mbps. To view high definition movies on Sony Bravia devices you will need a service that operates at a speed of at least 3.5Mbps.

Quickflix is now streaming to Chromecast, and heaps of other devices. You can find the full list of devices here: http://www.quickflix.com.au/devices . It’s quite a long list!

Quickflix currently have a special offer for people who stream on Chromecast. Details here: http://www.quickflix.com.au/chromecastoffer?promocode=Social_PPC_Chromecast&utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=FB_Post

TL;DR verdict
Quickflix seem to be spending much of their layout on trying to get you to spend more money streaming premium content, which annoys me. In my opinion, their disc mailout system is the best thing they have to offer. Good range of titles on offer for a great subscription price. Until they make their streaming subscription library a bit more massive, I’m not going to sign up for it (though $10 a month means it costs merely pennies per day). But I might just keep using their disc delivery service, as it’s the cheapest legal way currently available to watch new releases. But do you have the patience to wait for the discs to be mailed to you? 😉

Quickflix offers free trials, so give it a go. Just be aware they take your credit card details upon sign up, and it’s up to you to cancel your subscription when your trial is up. You don’t need a Quickflix account to browse their library.

You can find Hanna and her music in these places:
http://youtube.com/astrobic
http://google.com/+HannaSilver
http://facebook.com/silvermusic
http://twitter.com/hannasilver
http://hannasilver.bandcamp.com

Apple TV review

Well hello everyone, Hanna Silver here. I’ve been asked to do a review of the Apple TV (which isn’t actually a TV, it’s just a little black box you connect to your TV). I feel I’m a good candidate to write this review, as I have a love/hate relationship with Apple. I grew up on PCs (we had a 386 when I was little), but now I’m on my 2nd iPhone, and I have a MacBook Pro (it’s perfect for recording music on). Clearly, I like Apple products, but I hate the company because they put out new versions of old products saying, “look, now you can do this!” like it’s this totally amazing new thing, when other companies were offering those capabilities 5 years ago. Gimme a break!

But, enough about me.

Firstly, if you want to know what the Apple TV actually does, take a look at the official page: http://www.apple.com/au/appletv/ . Then I can tell you what I like and dislike.

When you get an Apple TV, it’s like, “Yay! Woo! …Ok so now what do I do with it?” It’s perfect if you don’t already have a smart TV and you like watching TV a lot. I have a Samsung smart TV, so to begin with, I was comparing the two’s capabilities. I’ll start by listing the good things.

So, one of the coolest things that Apple TV (hereafter called ATV) does is Airplay and Airplay mirroring (i.e. screen sharing). What that means is, if you have an iPhone, iPad or a Mac computer from mid 2011 or newer, you can send any picture or sound onto your tv. (It was only after I got the ATV that I disappointingly discovered that my mid-2010 MacBook Pro is incapable of mirroring; http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5404. The older Macs can only Airplay sound. i.e. I can play music on iTunes on my computer, and have the sound come out of the TV). I’m not certain, but airplay on iphones and ipad may require iOS7 – connect to the same WiFi the ATV is on, and then the option to Airplay automatically appears in the menu when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen. The airplay works quite well, the picture streaming is smooth. This way you can, for example, on your TV watch ABC iView, or SBS, by doing mirroring with your iPhone or iPad. Also, it’s a great party trick, if you like your parties to be about the television.

If your computer is on, the ATV can access all your music and movie files from your computer (whatever you have in your iTunes library) wirelessly. Also, you can buy or rent movies, TV shows or buy music right from your TV. When you set up the ATV, you put in your apple ID, so purchases just go through that account, which is pretty easy. There’s also YouTube, Vimeo and Vevo for free content.

Of course, one of Apple’s strong points is always how things look. The ATV has a screen saver, which looks great.

The ATV comes with its own remote control (which, annoyingly, doesn’t control the volume), but you can also download an app on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, called ‘Remote’ and you can use your iPhone screen like a mouse touch pad. It’s pretty cool.

Next, I’ll talk about things I don’t like. Firstly, I don’t like that you can’t download apps onto the ATV, as I am accustomed to doing on my iPhone, Mac and Samsung smart TV. Basically, you’re stuck with what apps they give you…unless you use a VPN. (A VPN blocks your location so that you can access content that is normally restricted. Eg. In Australia, we are not offered Netflix or Hulu (which cost $8USD per month for unlimited streaming). In Settings – iTunes Store, you can change what country you are in. So if you change it to USA, you’ll see the apps available to US citizens, or UK, or any other country.

I feel like the apps available to Australian citizens are pretty limited. Like I said at the start of this review, “Great, I have an ATV…now what?” Just being able to watch YouTube videos or listen or watch anything from my iTunes library on the TV isn’t so exciting to me. I don’t torrent movies and I don’t want to spend $6.99 just to rent one movie off iTunes, or $3.49 to buy one TV episode. I am a self-confessed schnorrer (if I can get something for free, I am very happy). I’ll pay for stuff, but not that much.

If only the ATV had a browser, then we could easily access ABC iView, SBS and the new TenPlay. (Samsung smart TV has a browser on it.) But, computer says no. Apple love controlling what we can and can’t do. No. Extra. Apps.

So using a VPN (which is fairly easy to set up) and getting stuck into Netflix or Hulu for their small fees may be something you’d like to do to get the most out of your ATV. Using a VPN such as unotelly.com or unblock-us.com costs around $5 a month, or there are free browser extensions like Hola Unblocker for Firefox and Chrome. For the legalities on using a VPN, read this article http://nic.suzor.net/2013/07/22/using-a-vpn-to-access-netflix-is-it-legal/ .

Even if you use a VPN though, there are still some US apps you may not be able to use. Like iTunes Radio, which requires a US Apple ID, or the Disney and HBO apps, which want to know who your US tv provider is, and you have to put in a special code. Other apps available to Australia as well as US, like NBA, require a paid subscription to access.

Ok, now onto the problems that I encountered. Firstly, the most annoying thing that happened was my MacBook was responding to every touch of the ATV’s remote control. I tried pairing the remote with the ATV, but that didn’t help. I ended up turning off my MacBook’s infrared sensor. Problem solved. Info on that: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4513

The other big disappointment was one I mentioned before; that I discovered only after I got the ATV that my mid-2010 MacBook doesn’t do Airplay mirroring. (I was hoping to be able to use the tv as a 2nd monitor, wirelessly.) For info on which computers are capable of airplay mirroring, check this article: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5404 . There is software you can download for screen mirroring, eg. Air Parrot, but I found the stream to be jumpy, not smooth at all. And when I tried to use the tv as a 2nd monitor, rather than just screen share, it said it had to install a driver that had a known problem with my model computer, so I decided against it.

So, final verdict: The Apple TV works well, it’s easy to use and it looks good. It’s up to you whether you think you need one. If you don’t have any other Apple devices, I’m not sure how convenient it would be to use. I hope my little writeup might help you make a decision on whether to get one or not. Leave a comment if you’d like to add to the discussion or ask a question.

– Hanna

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