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What’s Up with the U2 Free Album Download Numbers?

u2-album-cover.jpgIt’s an interesting turn of events that a free album, given to all iTunes Store customers, has elicited such a wide variety of reactions. Some people are delighted that the album is free; others incensed that Apple is forcing specific music on them. I wrote an article for Macworld about how to hide the album – because you cannot delete it from your iTunes library – which has been extremely popular. Lots of people don’t like U2, and don’t want this album.

But I’m curious about the numbers that are being reported. Re/code claims that “iTunes users have downloaded more than 2 million copies” of the album. That’s 0.4% of the 500 million iTunes Store accounts. Is it possible that so few people have actually downloaded this free album?

This album can show up in your iTunes library, or on your iOS device, in several ways. If you have Settings > Music > Show All Music turned on on your iOS device, you’ll see all your purchases (except for those you’ve hidden, using the technique I explain in my Macworld article). And if you have Show iTunes in the Cloud purchases checked in iTunes’ Store preferences, the album will display in your iTunes library. Presumably, if you have automatic downloads turned on, you’ll also have downloaded it. (I can’t confirm this; I don’t have this feature turned on, and I’ve heard conflicting reports about whether the album downloads automatically.)

So the above suggests that people will see the album in their iTunes library, or on their iOS devices, but could only two million people have actually downloaded it? U2’s last album sold a bit more than a million copies – very low for this band – but I’d have expected more people to want to grab a freebie. Unless the fact that it’s free makes it seem less worth listening to…

What about you, dear reader? Did you download the album? Did it show up in your iTunes library automatically? And did it download automatically?

The paradox of Charles Ives

“Viewed from just about any perspective, Charles Ives represents a tangle of paradoxes, and his reception has been consistently fraught. For many, he stands as the father of musical composition in the United States, yet he is by no means a frequently programmed composer today. In fact, readers of this review might know his name without ever having heard his music.”

Ives is one of the most astounding composers in history. But his music is not easy to listen to, and takes a while to get into.

via The paradox of Charles Ives | TLS.

Apple’s Web Wobbles Again

When Apple announced the new iPhone 6 on Tuesday, a few thousand people were fortunate enough to attend this carefully-choreographed presentation at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California. The rest of us watched on Apple’s website, or on our Apple TVs, and learned about things such as Apple’s TV truck schedule, and discovered that Apple provides a live Chinese translation during a presentation. For those of us viewing remotely, the presentation was a disaster. The feed kept dropping, or rewinding to earlier segments, and it wasn’t for about 40 minutes that it worked, more or less.

We later learned that this debacle was caused in part by some faulty JavaScript on Apple’s website. It’s surprising that Apple didn’t test this website sufficiently in order to prevent the kind of problems that we saw. For the largest technology company in the world to have this kind of problem as they are announcing “revolutionary” new products is embarrassing.

Today, at 12:01 AM California time, Apple was to begin taking pre-orders for the iPhone 6 on their online store. So I set my alarm early this morning — I’m in the UK, and I work at home, so I don’t usually get up very early — to make sure that I could be at my computer at 8 AM. I saw that a few of my friends in the US were up late; I could see that they were online in Messages, or chatting away on Twitter, where people were “waiting in line” for the new iPhone. A lot of fellow tech journalists were bantering about which iPhone they were going to buy, whether or not the iPhone 6 Plus was too big for their pockets, and how much storage they were going to get.

As usual, the store had gone down sometime before the sale was scheduled to start. Apple customers are used to seeing Apple’s “We’ll be back” message on its online store for several hours whenever the company announces new products. At least this time they replaced the familiar sticky note with a more modern design, allowing us to learn how to say this in a dozen languages. (And I wonder why there are two versions of it in French…)


As midnight — or 8 AM for me — approached, people were getting antsy. Those who had not yet decided which phone to buy were running out of time. When the bell tolled 12:01, people started refreshing their web browser, hoping to get the Apple Store when it came online. All they saw was “We’ll be Back” in a dozen different languages. Five minutes later, we were still refreshing. 15 minutes later; the same thing. Remember, this is a company that touted the accuracy of the upcoming Apple Watch to be within 50 ms; apparently, the same timekeeping doesn’t run on their online store. Read More

Two-Step Authentication Is Too Complicated for Many People

Apple’s recent nude selfie hack illustrated the need for two-step or two-factor authentication (TFA) as a way of hardening the protection for online accounts. You may be familiar with this from banks, some of which use systems where you generate a one-time authentication code that you enter together with your password. It ensures that access to your account requires both something you know (your password) and something you have (a device that generates a code; an app; a cellphone to receive a code by SMS).

Here’s how Apple explains the process:


In practice, however, this is problematic. I use TFA on Dropbox; whenever I log into Dropbox on a new device, I immediately get a code sent to my iPhone. I enter that code, and I can access my files. But, the other day, I tried to turn on TFA for Google. I went to step 1, where I entered my user name and password, then step 2, where I gave them my cellphone number. Then I waited; and waited. I then clicked a link saying I hadn’t received the code, and I clicked a link to have it sent again. And again. Then the Google site recommended I have them send a voice mail instead of a text message. I waited. And I waited. I finally got a voice call with the code, but when I entered it, it had already expired. I never got any of the text messages, which I requested four times. Needless to say, the way Google works, I would be effectively locked out of my account with no way at all to get back in.

I’ve thought about activating TFA for my iCloud account, but have you ever looked at Apple’s FAQ for two-step verification for an Apple ID? I make my living writing about computers, and telling people how to use them, and I’m daunted by this page. I once started the process, but it was so scary – full of warnings that if I didn’t print out the Recovery Key, I might never be able to get access to my iCloud data. Needless to say, I gave up.

Two-factor authentication is a powerful tool; my bank uses this, and a banker told me that, since they introduced it, fraud has essentially disappeared. But the way it is implemented for online accounts is problematic, and dangerous. Accessing my data is far too important to trust to a system that can go wrong, as Google’s did, or that is too confusing, as Apple’s is. There has to be a better way.

New Box Set of Rameau’s Operas Released

61f90emN3yL.jpgI’ve long been a fan of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s operas. His music is exquisite and joyful, being the highest form of the French baroque. Warner Classics has released a box set of these works, with 12 operas on 27 CDs, from their back catalog of Erato recordings. Performers include Les Arts Florissants and Les Musiciens du Louvre, with plenty of well-known soloists. These recordings were made between 1974 and 2002, and it’s fair to say that the older ones probably don’t show the same polish as the later recordings, especially those by William Christie and Marc Minkowski, who specialized in these works. But there’s more than enough in the set to make any music fan happy. (, Amazon UK)

CD 1-3: Hippolyte et Aricie – William Christie
CD 4-6: Les Indes Galantes – Jean-François Paillard
CD 7-9: Castor et Pollux – Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CD 10-11: Les Fêtes d’Hébé – William Christie
CD 12-13: Dardanus – Raymond Leppard
CD 14-15: Platée – Marc Minkowski
CD 16: Pigmalion – Nicholas McGegan
CD 17: Les Surprises de l’Amour – Marc Minkowski
CD 18-19: Naïs – Nicholas McGegan
CD 20-22: Zoroastre – William Christie
CD 23: La Guirlande – William Christie
CD 24: Zéphyre – William Christie
CD 25-27: Les Boréades – John Eliot Gardiner

I own about half of these recordings, but will probably buy the set for the ones I don’t have. It’s always a pleasure to listen to this music. If you’re not familiar with these works, I strongly recommend you check them out.

Independent Music Labels and Young Artists Offer Streaming, on Their Terms

“The rise of streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify and Beats Music has been a boon for listeners, serving up songs for a modest monthly fee or, with ads, free. But their effect on artists, especially those with smaller audiences, has been less positive.

But rather than fight what looks like an inexorable shift in how consumers listen to music, some independent record labels and their artists are embracing the streaming revolution — but on their own terms.”

My son’s a big fan of Other People artists, especially Darkside, and has been a subscriber for some time. $50 a year for as much music as they release is a very good deal. I’d expect to see more labels do this.

via Independent Music Labels and Young Artists Offer Streaming, on Their Terms –

Some Thoughts on the Demise of Macworld Magazine

As you may have read yesterday, Macworld magazine is no more. There will be a final November issue, then all that will remain is This is a sad moment, as Macworld was such a great crew of writers and editors, and they’ll be missed.

I’ve been writing as a freelancer for Macworld since 2001, and at some point, as I started writing more and more, they made me “senior contributor,” which is a nice way of saying that they like you enough to want you to write regularly. I’ve always been proud to work with such a fine team of people, all of whom were passionate about their work, and who loved the products they wrote about. But they never hesitated to criticize Apple or other vendors; there was no kowtowing to Cupertino at Macworld, and the editorial staff was never instructed to write certain things to keep a given company happy.

It’s a bit sad that the layoffs and closure were announced the day after the Macworld team provided stellar coverage of Apple’s latest product announcement, but in another way, at least they were able to cover that event.

These are tough times for those in journalism, and I know that new jobs won’t be right around the corner for all those laid off; and there’s not a lot of room in the Mac sector for all of them. But I know that all these fine people will land on their feet.

As for me, I’m told that will still need freelancers, but I don’t know how that will pan out. I’ll continue to post links to any articles I write in the future. But I’ll miss working with such a great team, and I’ll miss getting my monthly print issue of the magazine.

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