I recently posted about the iTunes update that fixed the MiniPlayer. This 11.0.3 update – a minor update – includes tweaks to the MiniPlayer, but also restores album art to Songs view.
Back in the not-so-far-off days of iTunes 10, you could view your music in Album Art view, which showed music in a list, together with album art at the left. This was touted in iTunes 9 as a great way to view music, but iTunes 11 nixed the album art, showing lists such as Songs view in a sterile, hard to navigate manner. But the latest iTunes update brings this back.
Album Art view has long been my preferred view, because, together with the Column Browser, which you see at the top of the window, I can navigate my large music library by genre, artist, composer and album, and always have a visual reminder of what music I’m looking at. Since I have album art for just about all my music, these graphics let me spot what I’m looking for much more quickly than by reading. (If you’re not familiar with the Column Browser, you can turn it on by choosing View > Column Browser > Show Column Browser.)
To display album art in Songs view, on in a playlist in List view, do the following. Click on Music in the iTunes sidebar to go to your Music library. Click on Songs in the navigation bar. Choose View > Show View Options, and you’ll see the following at the top of the window that displays:
Check Show Artwork to display album art, and check Always Show to display it no matter how many songs are in an “album.” If you don’t check this latter option, the artwork will only display when there’s enough vertical space for it. Depending on the size of the artwork, this is 3, 5 or 7 songs. You can choose from three artwork sizes by moving the Artwork Size slider.
Posted: 5/21/2013 by kirk | Filed under: Apple & Mac OS X | No Comments »
Apple released a minor update to iTunes last week (11.0.3), with, uncommonly, tweaks to a couple of features that are very welcome. The first I want to point out is the MiniPlayer:
I like the new MiniPlayer, but was critical of the lack of a progress bar in my review of iTunes 11 for Macworld. As you can see above, there is now a slim progress bar at the bottom of the window. By default, it shows the time remaining in your current song; click on the time to toggle through the elapsed time and the total time of the song.
Another new feature in the MiniPlayer is the merging of what I like to call the “artwork player,” a window that would display when you clicked on the album art thumbnail of the currently playing track. If you hover over the artwork thumbnail, you’ll see arrows showing you that clicking will expand this thumbnail. Click on the thumbnail to see the following:
The new artwork player is very nice. You can keep it on your screen, and it will change artwork as your music changes; just hover your cursor to display the controls.
I’m liking the MiniPlayer a lot more now. I’ve been keeping it visible since iTunes 11, but these two new features now make it perfect.
Posted: 5/20/2013 by kirk | Filed under: Apple & Mac OS X, iPod & iTunes Tags: iTunes | 1 Comment »
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I recently moved from France to England. About a year ago, I wrote an article for TidBITS about how a company called Free had shaken up the cellphone industry in France. I had an iPhone contract with unlimited calls, texts and data (truly unlimited; no “fair use”), for only €16.
Well, my arrival in the UK changed things. One quickly learns that there’s little competition in the phone market, and prices are higher. While there are carriers that offer unlimited calls and texts, unlimited data is rarer. And one carrier, Three, that offers unlimited data, doesn’t offer unlimited calls and texts.
I started out using GiffGaff, a company run by O2 that sells pre-pay SIM cards. It was practical, and fairly inexpensive, but it doesn’t allow tethering, which I occasionally need. So I switched to EE, which offers good coverage (the company, Everything Everywhere, was born of a merger between Orange and T-Mobile), and decent prices, with an unlimited call and text plan. But since I didn’t use a lot of data, I settled for their basic 500 MB per month plan at £21 a month, or about 50% more than what I was paying in France (but, remember, my French contract had unlimited data).
Before moving to EE, I was using about 250 MB per month. The last two weeks with GiffGaff, from when I topped up my SIM card on April 15, to May 2, when I switched, I used about 120 MB of data. That made me think that the 500 MB with EE would be more than enough. But things got weird.
I went away for a few days, without Wi-Fi access, and discovered that my phone had eaten 260 MB in just the first five days of my contract. I was using the exact same apps and services as with GiffGaff, with the exception of an EE app to track my usage. I called EE customer service, and they were not very helpful. While the person did give me a credit for 250 MB of data, she suggested I download an app that would track data usage by app on my phone. This app no longer works on iOS 6, but I found another. This app showed much less data usage than what the iPhone – and EE – was reporting. While no such app can be precise, it only shows about half the data that the iPhone and EE report that I’m using.
I’ve tried all the usual troubleshooting routines. I’ve turned off all services – push notifications, automatic email checking, iCloud, location services, etc. – and data was still going in and out of my phone. I’ve restored the phone – an annoyingly time-consuming process – and data is still flowing like a broken tap. Here are two screen shots. The first is when I restored the iPhone; data is 0. The second is less than an hour later, while the phone was syncing.
In less than one hour, 19 MB was used, doing nothing. (There were some push services on, and perhaps one or two emails downloaded, but nothing else.) Imagine if I was using the phone? If usage continues at that rate, it could exceed 200 MB per day!
The only possibility is that EE’s carrier services have an issue which appears on some iPhones. I’ve seen hundreds of reports of different iPhone users having similar issues on all sorts of networks, and no solutions anywhere regarding how to track down what’s using up all the data.
So my only solution is to cancel the contract with EE: they clearly mis-sold me this contract; there’s a latent defect in their network service, which would clearly cost me much more were I to continue using them with my iPhone. (I’m paying £21 a month, and I would need to pay at least £31 a month to have enough of a data allowance.)
So, dear reader, have you confronted a similar problem of suddenly excessive data usage, with EE or any other carrier? Have you found a cause and a solution? I’m curious. From everything I’ve seen on the internet, there is no clear cause, and no solution, other than to turn off cellular data, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a smart phone.
Update: I’ve spent way too much time trying to solve this problem over the past two days. At the suggestion of a friend, I downloaded an app called ActMonitor, which shows system processes that are active, but also shows real-time incremental data transfers. So I could see exactly when data was coming into and going out of my phone, though not by process, which would have solved the problem immediately.
With this in hand, I tried turning on and off features, such as push, iCloud, etc. I rebooted the phone, and saw that there was about 2 K/sec going out and coming into the phone. When I turned off push, this stopped. But when I turned push back on, the data did not start sending again. This suggests that there’s a carrier problem with the way it handles push; it’s as though the first time, the carrier’s servers don’t register something correctly, but the second time they do.
For now I’ll leave push off – it’s useful to get emails more quickly in some situations, but not a deal-breaker – and see how much data I use over the next few days.
Posted: 5/8/2013 by kirk | Filed under: Apple & Mac OS X, iPhone, Miscellanea Tags: iPhone | 5 Comments »
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The musical avant-garde has created a number of very long pieces of music. Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2, for example, runs for around six hours; other works by the same composer last from one to four hours. La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano runs around five to six hours. John Cage’s As SLow aS Possible runs from 20 to 70 minutes, but a performance underway in St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany, began in 2001 and should take about 639 years. Other long works include Erik Satie’s Vexations, which runs somewhere around 28 hours. But the latter two works are more gimmicks than anything else; Satie’s piece is merely one minute-and-a-half piece played 840 times.
Length does not equal quality, but in the area of minimalist music – this is the minimalism of sparseness, not that of repetition, such as the music of Steve Reich or Philip Glass – the listener enters a sound world that moves at a different pace from the world around them. Listening to such works – Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet is an excellent example of this – forces the listener to rethink what music is and how it is heard and experienced. I like music of this type which slows me down and makes me listen differently. In many ways, November, as with many of Morton Feldman’s works, is as much like looking at a painting as it is like listening to a work for piano. It’s beautiful music that moves in slow motion.
Dennis Johnson’s November is one such piece. It was composed in 1959, and, as Kyle Gann says in the liner notes to this new recording, “was glacially calm and meditative in the extreme.” Gann obtained a cassette tape from La Monte Young; “It was one of those thin, unreliable 120- minute cassettes, and the pitch wobbled badly.” He set out to transcribe the work, and eventually obtained a copy of the manuscript from the composer. But this score was far from perfect:
The manuscript score of November is a puzzle. It contains two pages of “motifs,” numbered first with Roman numerals and then switching to Arabic ones, often out of order, with many cross- outs, alternative possibilities, and self-questionings by the composer. These are followed by three further pages on which Johnson tried, with only partial success, to analyze his improvisation and arrive at a more exact notation. Little annotations among the notes, in the same handwriting of Johnson‟s letter in An Anthology, show him cogitating on paper and rather humorously arguing with himself: “maybe replace IVb with this”; “sounds better to enter with low A#”; “maybe add low E# in first chord – NO!”
Pianist R. Andrew Lee found himself interested by the piece. “My interest was first prompted by an Everest Complex, if you will. I attended Kyle Gann and Sarah Cahill’s landmark performance in 2009, and I really enjoyed the piece. I had also heard Kyle talk about November’s importance and read his posts on the subject. I’d like to think these factors influenced my decision to try it in the first place, but, if I’m being really honest with myself, I just wanted to see if I could do it.”
This recording, just shy of five hours, takes up that gauntlet and offers to the listener a unique work of subtle music, built around recurring motifs that become familiar, similar to the work of Morton Feldman, yet with its own style.
You can listen to this work in many ways. Few are those who would sit in front of their stereos for five hours; you can listen to one disc at a time (it’s on four discs, or four files if you purchase it by download), you can listen to a half-hour or so, then move on, or you can put it on as you work, and shift from paying close attention to having it flow by in the background. I think all these options are fine, but the longer you listen to the music actively, the more it becomes a meditation.
Pianist Lee sums up his feelings about this work:
I do not play this piece because of an Everest Complex, nor do I play it even because of its incredible historical significance.
I play it because I love it.
And that’s as good a reason as any to listen to it.
Posted: 4/4/2013 by kirk | Filed under: music Tags: classical music, essential music, minimalism | 1 Comment »
I recently mentioned that I will soon be moving to England, York to be exact. My move will take place in about ten days.
For the past few months, as I’ve been preparing my move, I’ve read a number of books about England and the English, some that I’ve uncovered, and others that friends have recommended. I thought I’d post some brief comments about a few of them in case anyone is interested in learning more about the English. (And for my English readers, you might find some of them enlightening.)
Bill Bryson is an American writer who moved to England in his early twenties, and eventually settled in Yorkshire. His Notes from a Small Island is a travelogue that recounts his journeys through England, almost entirely on public transportation. (Amazon US, Amazon UK) At times, I was in tears reading this book, but at other times, it’s a bit forced. Nevertheless, it’s a delightful portrait of the English, though a bit out of date.
BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman’s The English: A Portrait of a People (Amazon US Amazon UK tries to answer the question, “What is it to be English?” It does so quite well, examining a number of habits, customs and unwritten rules that explained a great deal of English concepts to me. (I was aided by a friend, who helped me better understand some of the subtleties the book presented.) It’s an interesting read, but many of the points Paxman makes won’t be obvious to those who haven’t been in England much.
In a similar vein, but in much more detail, is Watching the English, by Kate Fox. (Amazon US Amazon UK) Fox, an anthropologist, set out to discover what the “rules” of Englishness are. Undaunted by the observer’s paradox, she gleefully presents her conclusions, and her experiences, as she held a magnifying glass to her own culture. One of my informants questioned many of Fox’s points, so I’m taking them with a grain of salt. Yet I’ve already seen that a lot of what she says does apply, though the book is getting on in years.
Who better than Christopher Hitchens to examine the “special relationship” between the English and the Americans. In Blood, Class and Empire: The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship (Amazon US Amazon UK), Hitchens looks at the political ramifications of this long relationship, while also throwing in some more quotidian comments on American Anglophilia and the English attitude toward Americans. Hitchens, himself British, but who lived in the US for more than two decades, until his recent death, was a polymath, so much of the historical minutiae was over my head, but he’s such a fun writer to read that this book is a delight.
I’ve also read a handful of books on British history, but I won’t mention them here. And I have, of course, read all of Henry James, whose writings do help understand “old England.” If anyone has suggestions for other books to help me understand the English, feel free to post in the comments.
Posted: 3/28/2013 by kirk | Filed under: books, Miscellanea Tags: books, England | 9 Comments »
If you follow this blog, you’ll have noticed that I haven’t posted anything in a while. I’ve been busy with work at Macworld, and other work, but the main reason for my silence is that I’m preparing a big move.
In about ten days, I’ll be moving from my current home in the French Alps to York, England. The past three months have been very busy preparing this move, setting up a business in England, finding an apartment and more. I’ve visited York several times since January – along with other English cities – and I’m currently getting things ready for my impending move.
To all my friends in England: thanks for all your help planning and organizing this move. Without all of you, this would have been much more complicated. And to those who are helping me understand this odd culture where they speak my native language, I’m looking forward to learning more about your country.
So to all my readers, be patient; once I get settled, I’ll get back to posting here more regularly. In the meantime, here’s a photo of the York Minster on a (rare) sunny day in February.
Posted: 3/27/2013 by kirk | Filed under: Miscellanea Tags: England | 11 Comments »
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A string quartet, considered by some to be the optimal ensemble in classical music, is a delicate balancing act. Four people work together, closely, for years, rehearsing, traveling and performing. Some of the best string quartets last for decades, but undoubtedly at the price of many compromises. Unlike an orchestra, where there are a large number of musicians and a leader – the conductor – the string quartet’s size makes the interpersonal relations much more intense.
In this poignant film, we see the Fugue Quartet after 25 years of performing together reach a moment of crisis. The cellist, played by Christopher Walken, has a health problem and decides to retire. This brings up a number of conflicts among the four musicians, who are closely knit in many ways. Second violin (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is married to viola (Catherine Keener), there is conflict between first violin (Mark Ivanir) and second violin, and there are a number of subtle links among the musicians, and the daughter of second violin and viola.
The title of this movie is a play on words. It’s about a “late” – deceased – quartet, or more precisely one on the brink of death, but it’s also about one of Beethoven’s late quartets, the op. 131 quartet, which serves as a leitmotif throughout the film. The choice of the name of the quartet, the Fugue Quartet, is also apt: the story itself proceeds like a fugue, with the various threads of love and conflict among the group are subtly woven together until a finale which ties together many threads in a brilliant resolution. This is a very moving film, though it requires a bit of patience as the different “voices” of the fugue are exposed then developed, before the story harmonizes. But it’s well worth sticking with if as the relationships among these characters become more clear.
The acting is excellent, and the direction subtle and understated. Christopher Walken shows extreme restraint throughout, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener are excellent as the married couple living and working together. Mark Ivanir, an actor I was not familiar with, plays an inflexible musician, who learns, in the end, that he, too, needs to give a bit to allow the ensemble to continue.
A beautiful film, with a subtle story, that is memorable and moving.
For an excellent recording of Beethoven’s late quartets, this set by the Takacs Quartet is an excellent choice. And Vikram Seth’s novel An Equal Music also looks at the relations in a string quartet.
Posted: 2/23/2013 by kirk | Filed under: Films & TV Tags: DVDs | 7 Comments »
Apple has released iTunes 11.0.2, an incremental update to the latest version of iTunes, and states that:
This update adds a new Composers view for music…
Interestingly, it took a while to find where this new view is. A “view” is a way of viewing your media files, and you select views by clicking in the navigation bar above the content section of your window. Seeing nothing about Composers there, I went in search of more information. Several web sites mentioned displaying the Composer column in Songs view, and sorting that way (and one Twitter follower told me that’s what it was), but that has been in iTunes for donkey’s years.
It turns out that while Apple added this new view, it’s turned off by default. To activate it, go to the General preferences, and check Show Composers in the View section.
It’s odd that Apple would announce something new, yet have it disabled by default, but if you’ve been scratching your head trying to find this feature, it’s just a few clicks away.
Composers view is quite stark compared to the other views in iTunes 11. There is no album art next to the composers’ names, and there is no All Composers entry at the top, as there is All Artists and All Albums, for example. Just a long list of names. As if Apple didn’t think that composers’ names were worth illustrating, in the way they illustrate other content lists in iTunes.
In any case, it’s good to see that Apple is making a small concession to classical music fans. Viewing music by composer is one way I choose which classical music I want to listen to.
Posted: 2/20/2013 by kirk | Filed under: Apple & Mac OS X, iPod & iTunes Tags: iTunes | 6 Comments »