Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 Downloads

Yes, you’ve read about this somewhere else already. However, I just wanted to provide a little detail on the service as-is. The files are prices at 89¢ to 99¢ each, and appear to all be 256kbps .mp3 files. Amazon has a small application to help manage downloading the files and adding them to your music database (iTunes or Windows Media Player, apparently); though it’s for Windows XP & Vista (no mac version, boo!) or Max OS X if you happen to be on that type of machine (I wasn’t when I was trying this out; but yea!). The files you download are .azm, which appears to be just a wrapper around whatever .mp3 files you’ve purchased. I don’t know that the .mp3 files have tag/header information that ties them back to the purchaser, a la iTMS Plus songs. Frankly, I don’t care, either, provided it doesn’t have any data that can lead someone to get into my Amazon account.

KT Tunstall's Drastic Fantastic

KT Tunstall: Cool Scottish rocker chicky.

The music that is available is fairly impressive. Of course, it’s not as large a catalog as the iTMS has. I was able to find some fairly obscure music (example: Bat for Lashes, who I’ve written about before), though not everything I was looking for. Any CD’s for sale that have downloadable .mp3s now have a link on that CD’s sale page, and vice-versa. I downloaded KT Tunstall’s Drastic Fantastic (which is a great album and I’ve developed a small fanboy-crush on her already…). Downloads are fairly fast (roughly the same as iTMS) and I used the Amazon download app to place them into iTunes for me. I’ve yet to try this out on the mac and I’ll update as soon as I can (I can only hope that if you don’t use the app, the .amz wrapper isn’t used as I don’t think my mac knows what to do with it).

So far, I have to say that I’m pleased as punch with Amazon’s store. Frankly, even if you don’t use their store, you’ll benefit from what they are doing: helping to pull down DRM just a little more. However, given the competitive pricing and use of more common file format (.mp3 instead of .m4a), I think I’ll use Amazon’s service whenever possible for the near future.

Update: John Gruber has more information and opinions than you could ever want on this over at Daring Fireball.

Get Yer Facts Straight

The Washington Post‘s website has a fact checking blog for (mostly) politicians. I’m particularly interested in the claims and statements made by 2008 presidential contenders. They’ve even included a handy "Pinocchio Test" scale for each entry. See also: FactCheck.org (not .com, Mr. VP) by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Edith Deaver, 1914-2007

Edith Deaver, 1914-2007

My grandmother, Edith Deaver (or just grandma Deaver) died early this past Monday morning. She had her three daughters nearby and, after living for a long, healthy life, she succumbed to those 93 years of time her on Earth. She will be missed, but no as much as she missed her husband Cicero, who had passed away some 11 years earlier. I like to believe that they are together again. Born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina, she left for the more coastal flat-lands to live most of her life in Hope Mills, NC. She had spent the more recent years in Birmingham, AL. Though she did not always have a happy or easy life, she made the most of it and raised three wonderful ladies (my mom and aunts) with my late grandfather. I remain grateful for her, for all that she did for my family through both good and bad times, and that she was taken after a long life without much suffering.

Appreciating the Classics

iPod Classic Packaging

Our new iPod "classic" – which comes in much more compact packaging than older iPods. The large cube box has been replaced with a much slimmer case. Also, you don’t get a charging block with it anymore.

After much debate and self-reflection in our home over the past couple of weeks, we decided to get an 80GB iPod Classic. We new that we were due for an upgrade from our old 20GB 3rd generation iPod. It’s tiny monochromatic screen was hard to see much on. The size wasn’t too much of an issue (of course, that’s partly because it couldn’t display video or photos). We played around with the iPhone quite a lot and debated getting an iPod Touch. There’s no denying that it has a gorgeous screen and sexy interface.

However, once we started looking at what we actually use an iPod for, the Classic was the right choice. I listen to music mostly in my car and that slick interface (you have to turn it sideways) wouldn’t work in a DLO transpod. Further, flicking around music probably isn’t a smart thing to do while driving. Also, we use the iPod as a hard drive to backup photo & video storage while on vacations and 16GB wasn’t going to be enough (I can average as much as 500 photos a day, which is about 3.5GB per day when shot in RAW).

All that being said, it also came down to a judgement in value. I simply didn’t want to pay more for something that did less of what we need from it. We don’t have the extra dough to be spending on frivolous features that we’ll rarely take advantage of (i.e. – the iPod Touch). We really did consider getting an iPhone, which would be nice to reduce the number of gadgets (phone, Palm, camera, iPod, laptop) but in the end, I think that even the mighty iPhone falls short of any one of those devices when compared directly. It’s not as good a camera as Angela’s Canon Elph, let alone my D50. It doesn’t have the third party software that Angela’s Palm has (nor will it ever as far as Apple is concerned, it seems). We have mobile phones that do a good job of syncing with our macs (for contacts, calendars, etc.). Angela’s iBook is great for surfing while not at home (though, obviously for only one of us at a time should be we apart). Lastly, I’ve enumerated why the iPhone is not the perfect iPod for us. Sure, the convenience of one sleek gadget versus five bulkly ones is alluring, but ultimately not a reasonable option for us. At least not for the present time (I probably will get a iPhone if a 3G network version is available when I decide to replace my w810i).

No Music

There’s been some typical blog/complaining about the interface upgrade, which I suppose was the most significant change between the 5G and 6G iPods. Given that I was using a (seemingly ancient) 3G, I don’t miss whatever they are pining for, to tell the truth. The "Ken Burns effect" on the album art in the background doesn’t bother me, though I suppose it looks more attractive with some cover-art more than others. Perhaps Apple could allow for users to select which art gets used? I don’t find the Cover Flow feature to be that great on the Classic, but it’s also not particularly sluggish, either. Some recent reports have indicated that the sound quality has dropped due to a change in some of the internal hardware, but only audiophiles are likely to pick up on this. Frankly, if the quality matters that much, I doubt these people listen to music on an iPod they downloaded from the iTunes music store. As I stated above, I listen mostly in my car on an FM modulator; the sound quality is at least as good as the FM reception on my stock Ford stereo so I don’t get too uptight about that sort of thing. Audiobooks and podcasts sound just great, as far as I care.

All things considered so far, I like the iPod Classic so far. The interface is an improvement in my opinion when compared to the old one. The cost to value ratio is great, given how great a gadget the origional iPod form factor is after six years (which is forever in gadget time scales).

Here’s some visual comparisons between the 3G iPod (back when they essentially only came in white) and the current 6G iPod Classic (now that none come in white):

Ch-ch-changes

Okay, so the iPhone and Touch have much larger screens, but this is a big jump in screen space (not to mention gorgeous color).

Moore's Law?

Wow, that is a slim little device. Now why could they put a hard drive in the iPod Touch?

Router Software Change

We have used Sveasoft’s public release of their “Alchemy” router firmware for the past couple of years. It has been very stable and I’ve not really found any reason to change it, despite much of the controversy surrounding Sveasoft’s somewhat shady business practices. This weekend, I got an update that the more recent “Talisman” version finally had a public version1. I decided I could stand to download it and give it a try.

Big mistake. What is it your supposed to do with something that isn’t broken? That’s right: Don’t try to fix it.

After hours of struggling with not being able to get network traffic routed back out to the internet and secure my wireless network, I gave up. I downloaded the latest stable build of DD-WRT, based on the recommendation of Lifehacker (among many others). I have the “mini” version installed and I’m pretty happy with it thus far. I may eventually upgrade to the full version, but I suspect I’ll end up with a newer router long before that happens.

Oh, one unfortunate side note regarding DD-WRT: it appears that it’s web interface is simply incompatible with FireFox. This befuddled me for some time but as soon as I started using Safari to manage the router, everything worked smoothly.

Now, to figure out our VOIP router… which will likely end in us dumping Vonage (pretty much like everyone of their other customers).

  1. What? Public? Free? You can read all about the Sveasoft/ DD-WRT/ Linksys firmware struggles elsewhere. Just know that I’m not paying anyone for a router firmware because they force me to. I’ll gladly tip people for their hardwork, but not because they think they can build a business model off of selling GNU licensed software. []

Don’t Get Scammed on Ringtones

I don’t find myself agreeing with John Gruber on a lot of things, but his lengthy post today on cell phone ringtones is spot on. I’ve said so myself before here. His money quote: “And any business that hinges on your customers ‘not knowing any better’ is a bad business.” Now, you know better, so get to making your own ringtones out of the music you purchased already.

This Is What Internet Security Looks Like

Security KeyHaving recently listened to the series on multi-part authentication on the Security Now! podcast (particularly episodes 90 and 103), I got this (very inexpensive) PayPal branded security key to use with my eBay and PayPal accounts. The device is actually made by Verisign and they are currently testing it’s use with OpenID. I wouldn’t have previously recommended this for most people, but after reading today’s news about botnet attacks on eBay, I think that pretty much everyone should spend the $5 and get one of these.