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Apple Music Launches Today

Apple is to launch Apple Music at 8am Pacific time today, when iOS is updated to version 8.4 (and an iTunes update is available as well). So those in the US will be able to try it out during the day; we in Europe will have to wait until late afternoon or early evening.

I’m not going to hurry to post my thoughts about Apple Music. I want to give it a day to be able to try it out for a while, and understand its interface. So, if you want a first look at it, go read Jim Dalrymple’s article on The Loop. He got a preview yesterday from Eddy Cue and Jimmy Iovine. The only real negative point I see from Jim’s article is that Apple Music only seems to have heavy metal. (Just kidding, Jim…)

Oh, and I just saw that Christina Warren of Mashable has a first look too. Hers has totally different music. (If she had her way, it we be all Taylor Swift.)

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Gadget Review: NetAtmo Weather Station for iPhone and iPad

About two and a half years ago, I reviewed the NetAtmo Weather Station for Macworld. I had to send the review unit back, and have used a cheap weather station ever since. That one having died recently, I looked at what was available, and decided to splurge for the NetAtmo. It’s not cheap; $150 or £139 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), but it’s easier to use, and provides much more information than standard weather stations.

StationThe NetAtmo comes in two parts, as expected. You place the taller unit indoors; it connects to an AC plug and manages the connection with the outdoor unit, and with your Wi-Fi network, to upload data to NetAtmo’s servers. You position the smaller unit outdoors, preferably on the north side of your home, out of direct sunlight or rain. The two communicate by radio waves, allowing about 100m between them. I live in a stone house, so communication is difficult, but the outdoor unit is on a wall opposite my office, so the connection works. Depending on your location, and the type of house you live in, you may have more difficulty getting the devices to connect.

Once you’ve done this, you really don’t need to touch the devices; you configure them and view their data on the free iOS app, or on a web page. The outdoor device records temperature, humidity, and some pollutants; the indoor device records temperature, humidity, CO2, sound level, and barometric pressure. The data is checked regularly, and added to your account, so you can not only view your latest readings, but also graphs showing historic readings.

Netatmo ios

One nice feature with the NetAtmo device is the way the company crowd-sources weather data. The company hadn’t yet started this when I reviewed the device in 2012, but you can now view maps showing your device, as well as all the others who are sharing data. Here’s a view of my environs:

Netatmo map

I’m in a semi-rural area, so there aren’t that many of these devices, but if you check a major city, you’ll find hundreds, even thousands of them. (Though the presence of this device varies greatly by country.) As such, you can check precise temperatures in areas nearby, or where you plan to travel. (You should assume that some of the weather stations are not positioned optimally; it’s best to make an average of the temperatures you see.)

My only complaint is one that I mentioned in my initial review: there’s no way to view any data on the devices themselves. You either need to use the iOS app, the web interface, or, if you want temperature data to be easily visible, an app such as the $4 AtmoBar 2, which displays temperatures in your Mac’s menu bar, and, when clicked, shows more detailed data.

This is a cool device, though. It’s lots more data than what most people need, though some may want more. The company also sells a rain gauge (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), and will be releasing a wind gauge in the near future.

NetAtmo also makes a thermostat, (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which works like many other smart thermostats, but which also takes into account the outdoor temperature that your weather station reports, which should make it more efficient. I may try this later in the year.

If you want a weather station, and want the ability to view temperatures in your home remotely, the NetAtmo is a great device. It’s a bit pricey, but it works better than most weather stations.

Update: So, one day after I posted this review, I encountered something a bit annoying. The iOS app showed no data, and I was not able to log into NetAtmo’s website to see my data. So, if the server hosting the data is down, then you won’t be able to see any of your weather data. I’d expect that you’d at least be able to see it locally, and I find it to be quite problematic that this is not the case.

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Apple Music to Match Tracks, Launch with 25,000-Track Limit, 100K Coming Soon

While Apple hasn’t given any concrete details about how Apple Music will work, Eddy Cue has been busy on Twitter, answering user questions.

Among the information he has provided include the fact that Apple Music will indeed work like iTunes Match, matching tracks, so you can play your own music together with music you stream from iTunes.

Cue1

Eddy Cue also informed a user that Apple Music will start with a match limit of 25,000 tracks, but that this will increase to 100,000 tracks with the launch of iOS 9.

Cue2

It’s not clear whether this number will also be applied to iTunes Match, but one can hope that it will. Like many iTunes users, I have been clamoring for an increase in the iTunes Match limit from 25,000 tracks to something allowing me to use my music library with iTunes Match.

Apple says that Apple Music and iTunes Match are “independent but complementary.” You’ll be able to have iTunes Match or Apple Music on its own. Apple Music will match tracks like iTunes Match, but I don’t see why you would want the two together.

We should know more tomorrow when Apple Music launches.

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Searching for the Perfect Recording

Music accompanies me in my daily life: when I’m working, or when I just want to sit back and listen, and immerse myself in music for an hour or so. I felt like listening to Franz Schubert’s last piano sonata today: the B-flat major sonata D. 960.[1] This is a long work, which lasts about 40 minutes, in four movements, the first of which is as long as the other three. I have twenty-two different recordings of this sonata, and I have one recording that features a pianist playing the work three times, on three different pianos.

So which one will I listen to? One of Alfred Brendel’s recordings? He’s one of the finest interpreters of Schubert on piano, and I have four by him, including a live recording from his final series of concerts in 2008. How about Paul Lewis’s recent version? This young British pianist has shown himself to be very sensitive in playing Schubert’s works. Or maybe one of the recordings I have for fortepiano, the ancestor to the modern piano, and the type of instrument that Schubert himself played. I have three of those, by Paul Badura-Skoda, Andreas Staier, and one I just bought by Jan Vermeulen. Brendel doesn’t play the repeats in the transcendent first movement, so his recordings are the shortest. I love the sound of the fortepiano, so maybe I’ll pick one of those. Or I could go back to a pianist like Wilhelm Kempff, or the more recent recording by Murray Perahia, who, while not a Schubert specialist, recorded a very moving version of this work. Or the brand new release by András Schiff, on fortepiano.

I don’t listen to this sonata very often; perhaps once a month or so. And I don’t give all the versions of this sonata equal play time, so there are some I’ve only heard once or twice, whereas there are others that I’ve listened to twenty times or more. But this is one of my favorite works, and I regularly seek out new or different versions of it. But why?

Call me obsessive.

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Music Notes: Codex, by Ghost Harmonic

Ghost harmonic codexI’ve written a number of articles here about the music of John Foxx, formerly of Ultravox, and who has had a long solo career since leaving the band in 1979. I’ve written about Ultravox, and about Foxx’s first solo album, Metamatic, which is one of the classics of electro-punk.

Foxx’s music comes in many flavors. There’s the early, glam/art-rock of Ultravox, the electro-punk, or more staid electro-pop, of his early solo career, but there’s also ambient music, which he’s recorded solo, and with artists like Harold Budd, Robin Guthries, and others.

This new album by Codex, a group that features John Foxx, together with Benge, and violinist Diana Yukawa, is part of that latter style. Much of it is atmospheric ambient music, with layered synthesizers and subtle waves of vocal melodies. Some of it includes improvisations by violinist Diana Yukawa, who provides an ethereal tone, and fits in perfectly with the slightly gray-tinged ambient sound of the album. In fact, my preferred track – the album is meant to be listened to as one long track, but is split into five – is the longest one, When We Came to this Shore, which features Yukawa’s violin prominently.

John Foxx constantly challenges himself to make new music, not music that sounds like what he’s done before, and in this collaboration, he succeeds very well with this long, atmospheric ambient work.

Check out the Ghost Harmonic website, where you can listen to the album, or buy it on Amazon.com, Amazon UK, or iTunes.



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Kirkville

Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn