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So, Golly Gee, Fellas

Posted on Friday, January 5th, 2018

Dave!Yesterday I had to go to the post office, which is always a guaranteed interesting time here in Small Town America. After a boring wait to buy stamps, I thought I was going to be denied any entertainment until I was leaving and passed a woman (mid 40's?) who kept singing "Hello, Dolly! Well hello, Dolly! La da da da da da da da da da daaaaa!" I stopped to look through my mail as an excuse to see if she knew any of the lyrics other than "Well hello, Dolly" but she did not. It was just "Hello, Dolly! Well hello, Dolly! La da da da da da da da da da daaaaa!" over and over until she left.

Weird.

Not that I know what the hell the lyrics are. I can't stand Broadway musical type stuff, so she knew as much as I do.

I thought it was an odd song to be singing until I was driving home from work today and saw a banner advertising a local high school production of Hello Dolly! that's happening later this month.

After singing "Hello, Dolly! Well hello, Dolly! La da da da da da da da da da daaaaa!" all the way home, I finally Googled the lyrics. I also Googled what in the hell the play is about and ended up on Wikipedia. The Hello Dolly! article itself is Too Long, Didn't Read... but get a load of the character names! Horace Vandergelder? Cornelius Hackl? Barnaby Tucker? Ambrose Kemper? Ernestina Money? Rudolf Reisenweber? ERMENGARDE?!??

Hilarious. Maybe I need to buy a ticket to the high school play just to be able to hear today's teens call each other "Horace" and "Ernestina."

Just kidding. Sitting through a high school production of Hello Dolly! is what I imagine Hell must be like.

For the record, here are the actual lyrics I Googled...

Hello Dolly
This is miss Dolly
It's so nice to have you back where you belong
You're lookin' swell, Dolly
I can tell, Dolly
You're still glowin', you're still crowin', you're still goin' strong
   
I feel the room swayin'
While the band's playin'
One of our old favorite songs from way back when
So, take her wrap fellas
Find her an empty lap, fellas
Dolly, never go away again
   
I feel the room swayin'
While the band's playin'
One of our old favorite songs from way back when
So, golly gee, fellas
Have a little faith in me, fellas
Dolly, never go away
Promise, you'll never go away
Dolly, never go away again

So... apparently Dolly went away, came back to sit on somebody's lap, now everybody is begging her not to leave again?

I don't know why Wikipedia couldn't have just said that. Would save everybody who doesn't want to go see the play a lot of time.

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Categories: Music 2018Click To It: Permalink  1 Comment: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Bullet Sunday 538

Posted on Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Dave!Your eyes are not deceiving you, an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• THANKS, OBAMA! As I've mentioned here more than a few times, my feelings on President Obama are rather complex. I liked him personally. I loved his family. I thought he tried to fairly represent the country and his office the best he could. There's no doubt in my mind he's a patriot. But... by the same token, he also completely shit the bed on government transparency, privacy, and other issues that are important to me. Of course, when compared to the raging shit show currently occupying the presidency, it's not hard to romanticize President Obama's two terms. And now Netflix and David Letterman have teamed up for an interview that's worth watching...

I enjoyed the interview quite a lot, as it surprised me in many ways. First of all, they spent some time on his personal life where he was just as charming, touching, and funny as you would expect. Secondly, a goodly chunk of the show focused on The Civil Rights Movement and one of its key leaders, Representative John Lewis (a personal hero of mine) and how that lead to Barrack Obama's presidency. My only criticism is that I wish the interview was longer. The hour was over before I knew it, and I was left wanting more. Probably because it was so nice to remember back to the days when we had such a brilliant, literate, compassionate, leader running the country.

   
• One Day in Time! And speaking of Netflix... after work yesterday, I thought I'd watch a couple episodes of the One Day at a Time remake. I loved the first season, and was hopeful they wouldn't take a dump all over the second. They didn't. I ended up binge-watching all thirteen episodes and didn't get to bed until after midnight. This show is absolutely fascinating. It's firmly rooted in 1970's Normal Lear style laugh-track TV, but tackles contemporary topics in a way that's entertaining as hell...

One Day at a Time Season Two Poster

The writing and performances are top notch. I've never seen a show that manages to shift gears so often so brilliantly. You're laughing one minute... crying the next... but never bored. After the last episode was over, Netflix started playing the first episode of the first season. I was dang close to watching the whole thing all over again from the start, but had to get some sleep. Highly recommended.

   
• Future Power! But, by all means... let's keep investing in coal. We're fucking idiots like that...

Tesla Battery in Australia made Almost a Million Dollars in a Few Days

The story is here.

   
• Girl Power! "Tonight (it never gets dark this time of year) I skied back to the Pole again... to take this photo for all those men who commented “Make me a sandwich” on my TEDX Talk. I made you a sandwich (ham & cheese), now ski 37 days and 600km to the South Pole and you can eat it."

Jade Hameister at the South Pole with a sandwich!

Jade Hameister's Facebook post is an epic smack-down on idiots who don't believe that girls can do anything... when clearly she can do more than they can.

   
• The Mash Report! You may want to take notes...

If only I had regular access to the BBC.

   
• Guitarz! A very cool video featuring a musician with a three-necked guitar playing Feel Good, Inc. (originally by Gorillaz)...

The artist is Luca Stricagnoli, and his videos are pretty amazing. Here he is crushing The Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony on two guitars...

And one more for the road...

Terrific stuff.

   
And that's it. The end. Bullet Sunday is done.

   

Further Listening

Posted on Monday, January 29th, 2018

Dave!My favorite musician/band changes regularly depending on what mood I'm in. Sometimes I'm in the mood for classic rock and it's The Beatles, sometimes I need rap and it's Run The Jewels, sometimes I just want metal and it's Slayer, sometimes I want a catchy beat and it's Matt & Kim. The list goes on and on.

But most of the time it's 80's synth-pop bands and I make no apologies for it.

For the longest time, my favorite band was Thompson Twins, and this was well before their breakout success with Into The Gap. Once the band broke up, I gravitated to another long-time favorite, Depeche Mode. I obsessed over the band for decades. Then they changed their sound a bit when Alan Wilder left and my enthusiasm dwindled through the next four albums, then left altogether for their two latest. During that time, my longtime appreciation for The Pet Shop Boys took hold, and they're probably the band I listen to more than any other... and are my favorite band most days now...

The Pet Shop Boys

   
Given the massive catalog of music produced by the band, ranking favorite songs is almost impossible. And believe me, I've tried. I've made spreadsheets, listened through every song, shifted them back-and-forth... but then I'll look at it a couple days later and need to start over because I've changed my mind. If forced to choose a favorite, I'd have to pick The way it used to be off of the album Yes. It's everything you want in a PSB song... great beats, clever synths, and amazing lyrics. One of the most beautiful songs I've heard. Sadly, they never released it as a single or made a video for it, so all I can offer is this...

Of course, if you ask me another day, it could be Memory of the Future or even West End Girls that's my favorite, so who knows?

   
For Pet Shop Boys fans, there's a lot more to love about the band than their fantastic songs. They are highly creative in so many places, as the amazing retrospective book which encompasses the art, print, and media built around their music...

The Pet Shop Boys Catalogue

   
And, of course, there's the videos. Neil and Chris only work with the best, more imaginative artists, and their videos are a mixed bag because of it. But when they hit, they really hit. Once of my favorites being the video for yet another favorite track of mine, Flamboyant...

   
Needless to say, their live shows are amazing (I've been lucky enough to see them twice, and meet-and-greet them as well). When they were awarded at The Brits, they pulled out all the stops and were very Pet Shop about it...

No. Your eyes are not deceiving you. That's Lady Gaga filling in for Dusty Springfield. Watching this awards show would be the first time I had even heard of her.

   
As if all that wasn't enough, the band are forever collaborating with other artists. They've made albums and songs with everybody from David Bowie, Tina Turner, and Liza Minelli to Robbie Williams, Blur, and Madonna. Their music has been cited as inspiration from bands including U2, Coldplay, The Killers, Keane, Guns n' Roses, and many others. A true testament to just how good the Pet Shop Boys are and how well they're regarded.

When it comes to their own works, Pet Shop Boys never seem to be content. There are countless demos along with hundreds of remixes... both by them and others. Collecting them all is a bit of a nightmare for true fans because the sheer volume is overwhelming. For the past several years, the band has been making it a bit easier with their "Further Listening" CD sets, which have remasters of the original album along with discs filled with the various demos, remixes, B-sides, and other releases of the time period the album was created...

Please (Further Listening 1984-1986) — June 2001 / March 2018 Remaster
Actually (Further Listening 1987-1988) — June 2001 / March 2018 Remaster
Introspective (Further Listening 1988-1989) — June 2001 / March 2018 Remaster
Behavior (Further Listening 1990-1991) — June 2001 / ??? 2018 Remaster
Very (Further Listening 1992-1994) — June 2001 / ??? 2018 Remaster
Bilingual (Further Listening 1995-1997) — June 2001 / ??? 2018 Remaster
Nightlife (Further Listening 1996-2000) — July 2017
Release (Further Listening 2001-2004) — July 2017
Fundamental (Further Listening 2005-2007) — July 2017
Yes (Further Listening 2008-2010) — October 2017
Elysium (Further Listening 2011-2012) — October 2017

I never bought any of the original 2001 sets (I didn't have the money back then and they are insanely expensive now), but I've been buying all the 2017/2018 remasters and will pick up the March releases and the remainder when they are released later this year (even though I still don't have the money!).

As with so many remasters, I'm of a mixed opinion when it comes to artists messing with their older albums. When remastering is done badly, it's just increasing the volume so you can compete with modern albums that are mastered so loud that any subtlety is lost (casualties of the aptly named "Loudness War"). When it's done well, it can improve on the original tracks by bringing out details that were lost (especially when we made the transition to digital music). The "Mastered for iTunes" program, for example, attempts to compensate for sound compression and unwanted distortion that can leave iTunes purchases sounding much worse than their CD counterparts. For the most part, I've been pleased with the results. Very pleased. It's a fascinating process which makes for equally fascinating reading thanks to this article over at Ars Technica. The results can be pretty staggering, depending on the song (though I'm sure there are those who disagree, as this is highly subjective). I liked Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet better when it was Mastered for iTunes. Metallica's Master of Puppets I did not. Will an iTunes file replace an uncompressed FLAC file ripped directly from a CD? No. But, in so many cases, it's closer to the Real Thing than you'd get out of an MP3 file.

Back to the Pet Shop Boys...

The albums for sale by Apple were not "Mastered for iTunes" when remastered, and I dearly wish they had been. Since they were not, I ended up buying the CD releases and ripping them into iTunes for iTunes Match. The benefit in doing this is that you get the little booklets that come with each set which discusses the music (they are not included with the iTunes as booklets, for some strange reason). The bad news is that you end up having to deal with Apple's shitty, shitty iTunes app to try and get the music sorted. I had to rip Release THREE TIMES before I could get it to show up right, under one cover folio, in order, all while being labeled correctly. After ripping, CDs within the set would be inconsistently labeled, which is not Apple's fault since they are using a third-party service, but the music would then disappear when I merged the CDs into a single folio and labeled it correctly. What an infuriating waste of time. Eventually I figured out that you had to shut down iTunes then restart iTunes after every import/re-label in order for it to "stick" and be added to your catalog. Even then, I could never get some songs on the third disc of Release to be matched in iTunes Match, which means I can't access them on all my devices unless I download it*. How the fuck Apple can't get simple shit like this figured out is just beyond me. They have literally billions of dollars in the bank. They can't spend a minuscule portion of that to fix a bug-ridden pile of shit that their users are having to suffer with every damn day?

Back to the Pet Shop Boys again...

I've enjoyed the "Further Listening" albums I've bought so far (Nightlife through Elysium) quite a lot. Some of the material I already had, but a good chunk of it I did not. I was never as obsessive about collecting all the various parts and pieces for Pet Shop Boys as I was the Thompson Twins and Depeche Mode for some reason. In any event, there's certainly enough here to justify repurchasing the albums again (especially from the Yes era, which is responsible for some of my most favorite tracks.

Of everything I've heard on the "Further Listening" albums that completely escaped my notice, the song Always (a B-side for Home and Dry off of Release) is my favorite. A total treasure...

Beautiful. And I never even knew it existed.

   
As for the remastering? Overall I'd have to give them two thumbs up. Yes, they are louder than the originals, but not so much that subtle details are getting lost. Some albums benefit from the remastering more than others. You can tell with Fundamental that they made a real effort to pull out Johnny Marr's guitar work, which was appreciated. Most fans absolutely hate the original 2001 remastering of Behavior (featuring two tracks with Johnny Marr!) which I don't have, so hopefully the 2018 remastering will do a better job of it.

So... for the hard-core fan, the "Further Listening" sets are essential album collections to own. For the casual fan, probably not so much.

Though how anybody could be merely a casual fan of the Pet Shop Boys is a mystery to me.

   
*UPDATE: Eventually I was able to get the third album of Release into iTunes Match, but don't ask me how. I did delete the songs and re-rip them for a fourth time... though that didn't seem to be what did it, as I got a shitload of "duplicates" and "unmatched" icons, at which point I gave up. The next day the icons were still there, but when I restarted iTunes, everything was fine again(?). Well, whatever.

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All The Stars Are Closer

Posted on Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Dave!And so... it would seem that Black Panther is going to kick ass in more than just the writing, directing, acting, visuals, and special effects.

The songs from the soundtrack released so far have been incredible and, as if that wasn't enough, the video for All the Stars by Kendrick Lamar and SZA has dropped, and it is absolutely mind-blowing beautiful...

   
Seriously, the artistry here is nothing short of feature film worthy, and I cannot stop looking at it. Every frame is a sublime work of art...

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar and SZA All the Stars from the Black Panther Soundtrack

   
Stunning work by Dave Meyers and the little homies.

   

Strange Days Have Found Us

Posted on Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Dave!My love of movies runs the gamut. There's something in just about every genre that I have found to like. Science fiction, animation, and comedies are my favorite, but I have favorites in action, mystery, drama, musical, adventure, fantasy, romance, spy, thriller, horror, biography, Western... even period dramas and (my least favorite) war.

There's a number of underappreciated films that I obsess over which I have no earthly idea why they're underappreciated. I mean, some of them, I get. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a brilliant film that I love dearly (hell, a quote from it is tattooed on my arm). It is also one of the most bizarre mainstream releases ever, and it's no surprise that it's been relegated to cult classic...

No matter where you go... there you are.

   
But one underappreciated movie I absolutely do not understand why is underappreciated is the 1995 film Strange Days...

Strange Days Movie Poster

   
This future-noir film (bordering on cyberpunk) which takes place in the final days of 1999 should have been a blockbuster. It was written by James Cameron, who is responsible for The Terminator, Titanic, and Avatar (among others). It was directed by none other than Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow, who is responsible for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. It stars Oscar-nominated Ralph Fiennes, Oscar-nominated Angela Bassett, and Oscar-nominated Juliette Lewis. It also features revolutionary camera work which shouldn't have been possible in 1995. As if all that wasn't enough, it's just a really good movie.

And yet... Strange Days was a huge flop. A massively huge flop. It grossed $8 million against a budget of $42 million.

Recently while talking to a friend, I was reminded of it and decided to watch it again.

Which isn't as easy as you'd think, because Strange Days is not available domestically on Blu-Ray or any digital format. This is due to conflicting studio distribution rights or some stupid crap. And since it stunk up the box office, the desire to spend money and effort getting it all straightened out is minimal, I'm sure. It's only available on VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD. I own all of them. I also own a German Blu-Ray import, but I have no idea where my region-code-free Blu-Ray player is at.

DVD it is...

Strange Days DVD Menu Screen

   
Strange Days is surprisingly relevant 22 years after it was released... and 18 years after it takes place.

Much of the plot involves the future of how we consume entertainment, but there are significant story elements which revolve around police corruption and racism. It's a movie designed for the times we live. Which is to say it was most definitely a movie ahead of its time despite the fact that police corruption and racism are hardly new.

If you haven't seen it and can find a copy somehow, it's definitely worth a look.

Anyway… as if all that wasn’t enough, the soundtrack still holds up and is pretty great. One of my favorite tracks is a collaboration between Peter Gabriel and Deep Forest called While the Earth Sleeps that plays over the closing credits…

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Categories: Movies 2018, Music 2018Click To It: Permalink  0 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

The Sunken Place

Posted on Monday, March 12th, 2018

   

   

   

   

The Sunken Place from Get Out

   

   

   

   

   

SONOS and HomePod: Part 1 of 5

Posted on Monday, March 12th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. Because there's so much to unpack, I'm breaking it up into five parts.

And now on with the show...

Once Apple announced their HomePod, I started saving for one. "It's like having Alexa for my music!" I thought. And since I'm a Certified Apple Whore, how could I not buy some cool new tech from Apple?

Then at the last minute I changed my mind and went with their competition: the new Sonos One with Alexa. Yes, yes... I know. But I actually put some thought into this...

  • I am slowly getting to the point where I despise Apple. They keep shitting the bed over and over and I'm sick of it. HomeKit (their home automation ecosystem) is complete and total crap. Apple TV doesn't work worth a shit... even in its 4th generation. Their new "pro" laptop has none of the ports that pro users actually need. The list goes on and on. I no longer buy blindly into Apple's bullshit because I keep getting burned.
  • Apple's Siri assistant is practically useless because she can't do much. Once I gave up on HomeKit ever amounting to anything after years of waiting, I bought 100% into the Amazon Alexa ecosystem, which can do everything. Alexa runs my home. Alexa runs my life. Since Sonos One has Alexa built-in, it seems like a no-brainer to go with them.
  • Unlike HomePod, which can't do much outside the Apple bubble, Sonos is surprisingly extensible. If I end up giving up on Apple altogether one day, at least I know my investment won't be lost as it would be with HomePod. Rumor has it that Sonos is looking into adding both Google Assistant and Siri to the One, which would be pretty great if I ever need them.
  • I can get two Sonos One speakers for the cost of one HomePod. Reviews say the HomePod sounds better but if I end up expanding my Sonos system with a subwoofer and a soundbar, then there's no competition at all... the Sonos 5:1 setup will trounce HomePod... not just for my music, but for my television too (HomePod doesn't even have that as an option).

There's a caveat, of course. Neither Alexa nor Sonos cannot access iTunes Match, which is where the entirety of my music collection resides.

That's a huge deal.

I can download all my music from iTunes and put it on my local NAS drive, which Sonos can access, but Alexa can't control it there. The only thing Alexa can control is Amazon Music Unlimted, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. The cheapest option is Amazon at $79 a year, but that still won't allow me to access a goodly chunk of my more esoteric songs. I couldn't say "Alexa, play Love on Your Back by Thompson Twins because the B-side to Love on Your Side doesn't exist in Amazon Music Unlimited. It used to be that Amazon allowed you to upload your music to their servers for $25 a year, but they discontinued that which is such a bummer. Music options for Sonos are a somewhat long and complex discussion, so let's save that for tomorrow.

Obviously going the Sonos route has some down-sides when it comes to listening to my music, but the down-sides for HomePod are catastrophic. HomePod isn't even an option unless I have nothing better to do with $350.

And so now I'm here...

Sonos One Speakers

   
And now that I am here, I honestly don't know if it's a place I want to be.

There are plusses and minuses to Sonos that I need to unpack and see if the system makes sense for me. Fortunately, I've got 30 days to decide. I'm not anticipating returning them, mind you, but I do want to live with them for more than a week to see if I can live with the minuses.

So far, however, the plusses are frickin' amazing.

   

SONOS and Music: Part 2 of 5

Posted on Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

Yesterday I talked about deciding to bypass Apple's HomePod and leap into Sonos. Now that they've released the "Sonos One" with Amazon Alexa built-in, it was a better fit for me and my Alexa-centric lifestyle.

Alas, since Alexa has no way of accessing my iTunes Match library, my best option for having music she can control is to subscribe to "Amazon Music Unlimited" at $79 a year (that price reflects a $20 discount because I'm an Amazon Prime member). Since I can now discontinue iTunes match at $25 a year, that's a net increase of $54 annually over what I was already paying. I'm not happy about it, but there's nothing else I can do to get what I want. Something tells me that Amazon and Apple are not going to cooperate on getting things integrated, and I'm too enamored with Alexa to contemplate her not having control of my music the way she has control over everything else in my life.

Amazon Music Unlimited is nice, for what it is, but it's hardly perfect...

  • My biggest beef is that Alexa doesn't know shit about my music. If I want to listen to Paninaro by Pet Shop Boys, you'd think that all I'd have to do is ask her for it. Not so much. I don't care how I pronounce it, I can never get it to play. And if I specifically say "Alexa, play Paninaro by Pet Shop Boys, she'll say she can't find it even though the song is absolutely available on Amazon Music Unlimited. Whenever this happens (and it happens often) I turn into a rage-monster.
  • Even when Alexa can find the song I want her to play, she'll inevitably pick some freaky alternate version rather than the original song. If I say "Alexa, play Flamboyant by Pet Shop Boys," she'll fire up the demo version, not the album track. I have no clue why. If I want to listen to the demo version, I'd have said "Alexa, play Flamboyant demo version by Pet Shop Boys. It's absolutely stupid, and yet there's nothing you can do.
  • Let's say that I absolutely MUST hear the original Flamboyant track. What do I do? Glad you asked! First I have to fire up my web browser and search for it at Amazon. Then I have to add it to the "My Music" list. THEN I have to say "Alexa, play Flamboyant original version by Pet Shop Boys." Alexa won't know what "original version" means because it's not in the track name... however... when making guesses for a song she can't find, Alexa seems to give preference to songs in "My Music" before she'll play one of the millions of other songs available to her. This whole situation is just nuts but it's all there is.
  • Manually adding songs to the "My Music" list is not always a solution, however. Telling Alexa to "Play Always by Pet Shop Boys" inexplicably causes Alexa to play Always on My Mind instead... even if Always is added to "My Music." The only way I can play it is if I go to Amazon.com, find the song, then see that it’s listed as a 2017 remaster, then tell Alexa to "Play Always 2017 by Pet Shop Boys." It’s insane that I have to look up every song I want to play because Alexa is adding words to my request that I never asked for. If I wanted to play Always on My Mind I would have asked for Always on My Mind and not Always. Not getting what I ask for drives me insane, and I absolutely can't figure out why Alexa is making this a problem.
  • What's worse than having Alexa add words to what I tell her to play? Having her ignore words. Or having her hear the words and not know what to do with them. If I say "Alexa, play Starlight Goldroom Remix by Jai Wolf," she can't find it. She can only find the original Starlight song, which is not what I want. And here's the thing... I have no fucking clue how to play Starlight Goldroom Remix since Alexa refuses to acknowledge it exists in Amazon Music (even though it does). This kind of thing happens way more often than you'd think, and it's buckets of lame. I'm in no way being obtuse with my request. I am literally telling Alexa the exact name of the song, but that doesn't work? Why?
  • Alexa is useless in all new extremes when you ask her to play a song that dares to use initials or abbreviations. Love Etc. by Pet Shop Boys? Can't play it. Not if you say it as "Love Etcetera," not if you say "Love E-T-C," not if you say "Love ehtcee." Nothing. You have tell it to play the album Yes because that's where the song is. No clue how to do this directly with Alexa... I don't even know if it can be done.
  • For reasons I can't fathom, Amazon Music is not as extensive as Apple Music or Spotify. I tried to play A Home to Come To by Silhouettes... it's not there. Which means I can't play it. AT ALL via Alexa. Even though I purchased the song from iTunes and own the file, there's no way to upload it to Amazon. This is shitty in so many ways. Chunks of my music library are simply out of reach with Alexa and Amazon Music "Unlimited." Since I'm discontinuing iTunes Match, all the song not available to me from Amazon will have to be downloaded and stored on all my iOS devices (where Sonos can play them via the Sonos app by streaming off my phone).
  • The Amazon Alexa app for my iPhone is utter shit for so many things, but it's worse than shit for interacting with Amazon Music. You can't even search for a song! All you can do is perform very basic functions like skip to the next track and adjust the volume. I thought perhaps that I'd have better luck with the dedicated Amazon Music app, but it can't interact with my Alexa devices. So I have no idea how to get good control over Alexa when playing Amazon Music. I don't think you can... at least not yet... unless I'm missing something. Some of the slack is taken up by the Sonos app, which actually can search Amazon... but that's a workaround, not a solution, for interacting with Alexa.

That being said, there are some things I love about Amazon Music Unlimited too...

  • Despite not having all my music, the library available is unfathomably vast. In the past I've been adamant about buying music rather than renting it. Now that I can play just about anything any time I want, I'm reconsidering. I hate that any music I want to keep will disappear the minute I stop paying for it, but that's the price you pay for such unprecedented access to a bagillion songs.
  • Being able to ask for songs based on lyrics is about as dope as it gets. One of my all-time favorite Pet Shop Boys songs is The Way it Used to Be. But, for whatever reason, I can never remember the name. I always call the song "What Is Left of Love" because that's the primary hook of the song. Now I can just say "Alexa, play that song by Pet Shop Boys with the lyrics 'What is left of love'" and she'll fire it up. Hear a song on the radio and don't know what it's called or who sang it? Request Alexa to play it from the lyrics. This is far from perfect and Alexa fails as often as she gets it right... but the fact she can do this at all is just remarkable.
  • Alexa and the Alexa app may be shit for accessing the Unlimited library, but the integration with the far superior Sonos app is seamless. Thanks to Amazon for playing nice with Sonos.
  • The quality of the music that's delivered from Amazon is pretty great when played through Sonos. Some songs which break badly on the Alexa speakers are deftly handled by my Sonos One and sound fantastic.

So I dunno. If I have to pay for a streaming music service, I'd rather it be Apple because that's where my music purchases and videos come from. But since Apple was way late to the personal assistant game and has nothing to even touch what Alexa can do, that's not going to happen. So long as I am tied to Alexa for everything, Amazon is where I am going to be. Maybe one day Apple will give up on their laughably bad HomeKit crap and buy out INSTEON or something that drags me back into the fold, but right now I'm done. It's all Alexa all the time until something better comes along. And something tells me Amazon ain't going to allow something better to come along. Alexa is getting better and more capable every day.

   

SONOS and Sound: Part 3 of 5

Posted on Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

There was never any question that I would be giving up some sound quality when I went with Sonos One over Apple HomePod. Apple made sure that having awesome sound was a priority over everything else and, if that was my primary reason for getting a smart speaker, I would have bought one despite it all. But my priority was smart home integration with Alexa, so Sonos it was.

Though I'm hardly an audiophile, I do like having quality audio, and was hoping that Sonos with their years of experience would deliver. This was not guaranteed. Yes, they regularly get good reviews for their equipment, but I'm buying the smallest speakers they offer. And yet... since my home is not that big and I have cats (which means I never blast the stereo at full volume), I was optimistic.

Turns out the Sonos One is plenty enough speaker for me. Despite their diminutive size in comparison to other offerings, the One had no problem filling my home with rich, vibrant sound. I ended up putting one in the living room and one in my kitchen at opposite ends of my home, then grouping them so that they both play the same thing. I can control their volume independently, or control the overall proportional volume for both at the same time, which is handy...

Sonos Volume Controls

My dining room is closer to the kitchen than the living room, so I have the volume there a bit weaker. When I sit at the dining room table, it's a sweet spot where I am hearing sound equally from both, which is a very cool effect. People can dine and have a conversation while being enveloped in soft music for atmosphere. This... this is the true promise of Sonos. Everywhere sound that can be fine-tuned to whatever effect you want.

Obviously the problem with having only one speaker per room is no stereo sound, because pairing them for stereo in separate rooms is a bit schizophrenic. For my music, I'm not that bothered. If I end up going full-on Sonos with my television and A/V setup, then I'd have to add more speakers to get to Dolby 5:1 anyway (which is as far as Sonos can currently go... no DTS, PCM, DD+, or Dolby Atmos for you!). That being said, there is something which Sonos provides to get the best sound possible from their speakers no matter how many you have or where they're located. They call it "Trueplay" speaker tuning technology, and it's essentially an app on your smartphone that you walk around with to measure your room acoustics so your speaker can alter its output to give the best sound...

In my living room, Trueplay didn't make much different. The speaker seemed to sound the same before and after I applied it. But for my kitchen? Sound quality noticeably improved. Sonos is not blowing smoke here, there was an immediately noticeable improvement. This is a pretty great thing, even though it takes an extra couple minutes of setup to get there (Apple HomePod apparently does this automatically and constantly on its own... no need to walk around with your phone).

In the reviews I poured over before purchasing my pair of One speakers, I heard "lack of bass" mentioned more than once. This is puzzling to me, because I was thrilled to be getting so much bass out of such a small speaker. No, it's not earth-shaking (Sonos sells a subwoofer for that), but it's actually much better than I was lead to believe. Would I like more punch when I fire up All We Need by Odesza? Sure. That thumping bassline is meant to be something you feel. But I'm certainly not feeling deprived by the bass I'm getting, which is very good.

The Sonos One sound lives in the mid-range, which is pretty stellar. And while the highs are nice and bright, they can hit brassy spots that sound harsh to my ear. This is most notable when playing a song like There Must Be An Angel by Eurythmics (my go-to track for testing speakers). It handles the hook beautifully with the angelic backing vocals, but then fumbles a bit with the harmonica solo at the end. Still, it's never so bad that I'm wincing at it, and 98% of the time I'm not noticing anything but beautifully delivered acoustics that surprise me every time I fire up my speakers.

The upshot of all this is that I have no complaints about Sonos One sound quality for what I'm currently wanting to do with it. If I end up wanting to go further, I can absolutely do that buy purchasing more Sonos pieces. And that's the beauty of the system... it's just so darn extensible and configurable.

For a price, of course.

I bought two Sonos One speakers bundled at a $350 limited time price (now since expired), which is $175 each (regular $199). If sound quality is your primary concern, that kind of money can get you a larger speaker with significantly better sound quality. Sure, they won't be wireless, nor will thy have Sonos streaming capabilities or have Alexa built-in... and you'll need an amp to power them... but all that will mean nothing to a true audiophile. So know where your money is going before you plunk down for Sonos, which can get very expensive very quickly for chasing down the best sound the company offers (their largest PLAY:5 speaker, for example, is $500... so $1000 for stereo). Their 5:1 setup would require a PLAYBAR for my TV ($700) and SUB subwoofer ($700) and use my two One's as the back channels ($1750 total investment... $1800 now that the One is no longer on sale). This is a bit absurd when that kind of money can get you a Dolby Atmos-capable amp with some nice speakers for a better home-theater experience. But I'd probably go the Sonos route anyway because I love what it gets me in features and control. Maybe if I had a larger, more acoustic environment... like a custom home theater... my thinking would change. But since I don't, Sonos feels like a better fit, even for the price.

Hefty though it may be.

   

SONOS and Design: Part 4 of 5

Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

Sonos One speakers are designed to provide great sound in a small package and integrate a microphone so you can talk to Alexa... all while looking good. The speakers, as I mentioned in yesterday's entry, are pretty great for sound. The microphone array for Alexa, on the other hand, could use some improvement. Apparently things were much worse when the One was first released, and they've since improved it with software updates. My hope is that they continue to work on this, because it's irritating how ambient noise can obliterate any Alexa commands you might make. My Sonos One in the living room sits on my media center... exactly where my Echo used to sit. With Echo, I could have the television blasting and Alexa would still respond to commands easily. With One, that's not the case. Both my living room and kitchen speakers will hear me say "Alexa..." (I get that "beep" from both) but, if the television is on, half the time it's the kitchen speaker which is the One to reply. This sucks because I can't hear it with the television on.

Yes, this is a testament to just how good the microphones are at picking up when I ask for Alexa from across the house, but their ability to recognize where I'm at when I'm saying it is really poor. Sure I can disable the microphone on the kitchen One so there's no confusion, but that kind of defeats the purpose of having a One in my kitchen in the first place.

Another issue which may or may not be tied to the design of the Sonos One... there seems to be more lag between when I say an Alexa command and when the speaker will respond and act on that command. It seems faster on Echo and Echo Dot. No idea what that's about, because you'd think Alexa is Alexa no matter where she is. Perhaps Amazon prioritizes commands from the units they sell over third party devices? No clue.

And then there's Alexa not responding to Sonos control commands on the Sonos One speakers, but that's such a complex topic that I'm saving it for my final installment tomorrow.

When it comes to Alexa on Sonos One, the microphone problem and lag are annoying, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. If you listen to Audible audiobooks with Alexa, you can't do it on the Sonos One. At least not yet. If you use Alexa for drop-in (intercom between your Alexa units) or calling, they're not supported on a Sonos One. At least not yet. Some Alexa skills also don't work (like Sleep Sounds). At least not yet. Maybe it's Amazon that's refusing to allow these things, I have no idea. But it's scary to think how the Alexa features people rely on might one day disappear from their Sonos One speakers if Amazon decides to axe them for one reason or another.

As for the physical appearance of the Sonos One speakers, they're very pretty. Also... the design of the touch controls and indicators on the top of the unit are wonderfully unobtrusive. Rendered all in black, it's much better-looking than the multi-toned PLAY:1. Real thought went into making this a gorgeous piece of hardware.

Unless you want to mount it to a wall.

Then you have to add a bunch of shit which destroys the sleek lines of the product.

Because there's no screw mount on the back, all the screw-mount hardware used to hang the very similar Sonos PLAY:1 on a wall won't work. You have to use a specialized mount which has stupid restraining wires to hold on to the unit (something which seems ugly, flawed, and unsafe). I have run this over and over and over in my head trying to figure out why the screw mount was omitted, but keep coming up empty. This is profoundly stupid. Your options for mounting hardware goes from dozens to one or two, and neither are that great (the Midlite cable-conceal mount is not compatible, which is the one I wanted to use, but can't). Perhaps this was a ploy by Sonos to get kickback money? Maybe Sonos hates their customers and wants everybody replacing their PLAY:1 speakers with One speakers to have to buy all new mounts? Maybe they think the Sonos One is too pretty, so they want you to have to ugly it up if you mount it on a wall? I mean, come on... just look at this janky crap hanging off the back...

Janky-Ass Ugly Stupid Sonos One Wall Mount

   
That stupid wire will never stay straight, as you can see if you look close. Maybe Sonos just hates OCD types like me? And it takes two wires... TOP AND BOTTOM to restrain the damn thing...

Janky-Ass Ugly Stupid Sonos One Wall Mount

   
This idiotic shit is rage-inducing. Why even bother designing such a pretty speaker if you have to fuck it up to mount it on a wall?

Regardless of how ugly or stupid, I'm sure more mounts are coming. Hopefully somebody can find a more creative way of solving this which doesn't require a big ass wires and massively ugly clips hanging off the back.

Another design decision which may be problematic... you cannot create a stereo pair between a Sonos One and a Sonos PLAY:1, or any other Sonos product other than another Sonos One. While this may be a bummer to some, I don't know that I'd want a stereo pairing between two speakers that aren't identical anyway. I'm OCD like that. What Sonos should do is come out with a Sonos One "Lite" speaker which looks the same as a Sonos One, but doesn't have Alexa in it. That way it would be cheaper (no Amazon licensing fees or additional microphone hardware) and a much better option for those wanting to create a stereo pair. It's not like you need two Alexas in the same space (you'd probably turn one of the microphones off anyway), so this seems like a no-brainer.

But it's hard to give much credit to Sonos for brains when they screwed up the mounting so heinously bad.

And tomorrow we wrap all this up on an even more sour note, so be sure to tune in for that.

   

SONOS and Problems: Part 5 of 5

Posted on Friday, March 16th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

I'm just going to start this entry off by saying "I love my new Sonos One speakers." Because after you read the problems I've been dealing with, you may begin to wonder.

The whole point of the new "One" model over everything else Sonos has ever released is the Amazon Alexa integration. Without Alexa, the Play One would be just a prettier version of the PLAY:1 that they already have. With that in mind, you'd think that a company with the stellar reputation that Sonos has would make damn sure that the Alexa integration was rock solid and dead simple.

Yeah, you would think.

In reality? Not so much. This comes down to two issues...

  1. The Alexa Sonos Skill.
  2. Ducking.

In order to get Alexa to do things on top of the basic functionality that's built-in, you have to add app extensions to her "brain in the cloud" which are called "skills." Want to play Jeopardy with Alexa every night? You have to add the Jeopardy Skill. Want to control your Sonos speakers by talking to Alexa? You need the Sonos Skill. There are hundreds of skills to do all kinds of things, and part of the magic of Alexa is using these skills to customize your Alexa experience. Lord only knows I have. Alexa is such a huge part of my life that I find myself asking her to do things even when she's not around. I'm not entirely sure what half of the wall switches in my home do because I haven't used them in years. If I want to turn on a light, I either program it to happen automatically... or ask Alexa to do it.

The issue being that whatever you're wanting Alexa to do is only as good as the skill she uses to do it.

When it comes to Sonos, the skill is really rough.

On the third day of owning my Sonos One speakers, I woke up to an Alexa alarm to feed the cats... my path being lit by lights Alexa turns on. I then get to the kitchen and have Alexa play songs from Depeche Mode's 101 on my Sonos One while I'm dishing up cat food. Then I get myself cleaned up and head to work for the day. When I get home I ask Alexa to play songs by Roxette while I'm unloading my stuff and cleaning up the house. She dutifully complies and The Look starts blasting through my home.

I ask Alexa to turn the volume down and she won't.

I ask Alexa to stop playing music and she ignores me.

I ask Alexa to skip this song and she doesn't know what I'm talking about.

Eventually I'm screaming "ALEXA, STOP!!!" and she cooly asks me what I'd like to listen to while Roxette continues to blare. I yell "OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS, ALEXA!" but the joke is lost on her.

After the song is over, Alexa goes quiet. As a test, I ask her to play songs by Matt & Kim, but she ignores me. Anything else I ask her to do... tell me the time... turn on some lights... read my notifications... she will do. But she categorically refuses to act on commands to control my Sonos speakers. It's as if she has forgotten that my Sonos speakers even exist.

Just to make sure she's hearing me, I look through my request history on the Alexa app. Yep, she heard me alright. Apparently Alexa has gone brain dead when it comes to Sonos, so it's off to the Sonos "Community" forums to find out if other people are having this problem. Turns out they are. This is not an isolated incident or Alexa disobedience... this is the Sonos Skill being wonky as fuck.

What follows is hours of disabling/re-enabling skills... logging-out/logging-in to accounts... deleting/reinstalling apps... forgetting/discovering devices... renaming devices... factory resetting speakers... the list goes on and on and on. Nothing seems to work, so I try everything. Eventually I accidentally get things running again. I say "accidentally" because I have no idea which thing... combination of things... or order I did things... ended up being what got Sonos working with Alexa again. Not a frickin' clue.

And she seems to be working correctly now, though a couple times I've asked her to pause my music and when I ask her to resume, she sends the command to my television instead of my Sonos, at which point I'm back to disabling/re-learning skills.

Obviously, Sonos and/or Amazon has some work to do.

For the sake of anybody coming to this page via Google search because they are having the same problem I was and are ready to smash their Sonos speakers with a hammer, I have three tips (in addition to all the stuff you'll find out there already)...

  1. The thing that seemed to make the biggest difference was forgetting all my devices under "Smart Home" in the Alexa app, renaming my speakers to something entirely unused ("Galley" instead of "Kitchen" and "Lounge" instead of "Living Room" in my case) then rediscovering everything.
  2. When you connect an Amazon Music Unlimted account to Sonos, you're asked to name it. Sometimes (especially if you use different names) you end up linked to more than one account. If you have the individual plan, you'll get caught in a loop of "Amazon Music Unlimited is already playing on another device. Pause that device to play on this one." This drove me insane because I only have one device using my account, but it ended up that it was being used twice. At this point, delete ALL Amazon Music accounts from the Sonos app and then re-add it.
  3. The minute things even start to go wrong, don't keep hammering away at it to try and get it to work through brute force of will. It never works. Start with disabling/re-learning the Sonos skill immediately and you might get lucky that this is all it takes. The longer I spent avoiding disabling/re-learning, the more crazy crap I ended up having to do to get things working again.

This whole ordeal was frustrating to the point of rage for me, and I'm still not quite sure what in the hell is going on. I can only hope that it all gets figured out... soon... so that I don't burst a blood vessel or something.

And now for "ducking"...

Yesterday I mentioned that Alexa on Sonos One has trouble figuring out where you are located so that the correct speaker is talking to you. I ask it a question in the living room and it responds in the kitchen... that kind of thing. But there was something I left out.

"Ducking" is when Alexa will drop the volume of whatever she is playing through her speakers so she can hear your commands. And while it sounds logical, it's actually stupid, stupid, STUPID!

Alexa has a microphone optimized to pick your voice out of other sounds in the room. As an example... when I have the television blaring, I can still talk to the Alexa device sitting next to it. Alexa can't control my television volume, so she does her best to hear around it. And it works... mostly... unless the volume is so loud that she can't make out what I'm saying.

But when your music or your television is plugged into your Sonos system, Alexa can control its volume. And she will lower it each and every time you ask her to do something. And that's not the worst part. If I say "Alexa, next!" to skip a song that's playing, she starts ducking the volume seconds after I'm done speaking... which means she is ducking for nothing!

And it gets better!

Alexa doesn't just duck the volume on the speaker you're talking to... she ducks the volume on ALL Sonos speakers in your whole house.

This is a major bug which I'm told Sonos is working with Amazon to fix.

I sure as hell hope so, because it's a seriously demented flaw that will be especially insane when you have several people living in your home and they are all talking to Alexa in different rooms. Jimmy asks Alexa what time it is in his bedroom on the second floor and the speaker you're listening to in the basement drops in volume? What sense does that even make? Did nobody at Sonos notice this when they were designing the One speaker? NOBODY?!? Good Lord. There's stupid... and then there's... whatever this is. This issue should have been resolved with Amazon long before the product was released to market.

Assuming Sonos makes it so that ducking only happens with the speakers in the room where somebody is talking to Alexa, that will be a big improvement... but I still won't be happy. I want to be able to turn ducking off completely. I never needed it when Alexa didn't have control over my speakers, and I don't need it now that she does. Maybe some people like it or need it, but those of us who don't should have the option of turning it off. Until we do, integrating Alexa with Sonos is kinda stupid.

And so...

The only option for Sonos to work the way it's supposed to and not duck your volume is to disable Alexa from having anything to do with your Sonos speakers. Which is insane for somebody like me who purchased the speakers specifically for their Alexa integration.

Ultimately Sonos One is a very cool speaker with some amazing features which was rushed to market to beat out Apple's HomePod. Unfortunately the thing that makes the Sonos One so compelling... having Alexa integration... is not done very well. Which is a real shame, because this is something which could potentially take Alexa to another level.

I'd say "This is the end of SONOS Week at Blogography... thanks for reading!," but I cannot. Tune in tomorrow to find out why.

   

SONOS and PLAYBAR: Part 6 of 5

Posted on Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Dave!Welcome to Sonos Week here at Blogography! Each day I will be talking about my leap to the Sonos platform for "smart speakers" and how it integrates with Amazon's Alexa assistant. If you haven't read past entries in Sonos Week, you'll probably want to start at the beginning by clicking here.

And now on with the show...

"Dodge this."

When I started SONOS WEEK here at Blogography, I broke down what I wanted to say into five parts. Little did I know that a sixth part would unexpectedly appear.

Sonos gear is incredibly expensive. Whether it's worth the money is debatable. Given what it can do and how it works, it was worth it to me and my needs. I was able to afford the $350 for the pair of Sonos One speakers because I had a $120 credit at Amazon plus some tax refund money. And while I thought I might buy more pieces eventually, it was not on my radar. I have a nice Denon receiver plus a decent speaker setup and a living room wired for surround sound, and that's more than enough.

But then I had a long-time online friend notice I was reviewing Sonos on my blog who offered to sell me his PLAYBAR for cheap (well, maybe not "cheap," but for less than I could buy it new). He had upgraded to a Dolby Atmos 7.1 setup (Sonos can only do 5.1) and his PLAYBAR was sitting in his attic.

He had all the original packaging and said it was in perfect condition, so I said "Wrap it up, I'll take it."

The next day the UPS driver paid a visit and Christmas morning came early.

I anticipated that setting things up would be a bit problematic because I was having to shuffle around my existing Sonos speakers to get a surround sound system. The PLAYBAR would become the Left, Right, and Center channels... my existing Sonos One speakers (from the living room and kitchen) would become the Rear-Left and Rear-Right channels. Turns out it wasn't a problem at all. I plugged in the PLAYBAR, used the Sonos app to set it up, then was asked if I had rear speakers. Since I did, I tapped a button on the backs of them when instructed and everything was reconfigured for me automatically. Such is the joy of Sonos.

I was worried that a single PLAYBAR speaker taking the place of three speakers would destroy the stereo separation I was used to, but that was not the case at all. The Left, Right, and Center channels were fairly distinct after TruePlay tuning. The rear channels being in separate speakers were even more distinct, as expected. My go-to movie for demonstrating surround-sound is The Matrix, and it sounded terrific through Sonos.

It's a great system and the amount of wires and crap it replaces is very cool...

Bunch of old speaker stuff.
Denon receiver: $500 - Speakers: $300 - I should have just bought the $700 PLAYBAR to begin with.

   

There are some caveats to PLAYBAR, however...

  • Sonos does not support DTS, a popular multichannel sound system. A friend warned me about this ahead of time but I still find it more than a little shocking. Many an audiophile loves their DTS, and Sonos not implementing it is kinda weird. If you buy DVD or Blu-Ray for their DTS encoding option, PLAYBAR ain't for you.
  • Sonos also does not support PCM, DD+, or Dolby Atmos (among others). All you get is regular stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. If your devices can't output or convert to these formats, they won't work (I lucked out... my Blu-Ray player can be set to encode all outgoing sound as Dolby Digital).
  • PLAYBAR only supports an optical TOSLINK connection. Nothing else. Nothing. I was fully expecting to plug my devices in via HDMI cables or a single cable from the HDMI ARC port on my television. Nope. The only ports on your PLAYBAR are two ethernet ports and the single optical-in port.
  • With that in mind... some televisions don't have optical output... most televisions don't output 5.1 sound via their optical port. When I saw this was my only option, I nearly shit myself because I had no idea if my TV downgraded its optical sound to 2-channel stereo or not. I scrambled to Google it, but couldn't find my model listed anywhere. When I did find a list, all the Samsung televisions said No-No-No-No-No-No-No. Since HDMI is a current standard and optical is antiquated, this is a problem I never even considered. Turns out my particular TV is one of the rare Samsung models which can output Dolby Digital 5.1 via optical, but holy crap!
  • The PLAYBAR debuted in 2013. I don't think it has been updated since then. This means its aesthetic does not match the current black-on-black scheme which my Sonos One speakers use (along with the PLAY:5 and PLAYBASE). I'm not saying the thing is ugly... far from it, this is one beautiful piece of equipment... but it's kind of lame that even if you're buying a brand new unit you can't get a matching system. Mine are on opposite sides of the room, so it's not a big deal, but still. Would be nice if you could buy a strip to put across the metal piece so it can match.
  • The fabric covering the speaker array is a thin, stretchy dust-magnet and tough to clean. Sonos recommends vacuuming it, but if something won't vacuum off, you're kinda screwed. I used a damp towel to brush it in spots, which was better, but I worry about how the fabric is going to end up looking after years of service. There are so many audio-neutral fabrics out there which are much tougher... the choice they used here is perplexing. Ideally, Sonos would use a metal grill like they do on their other speakers.
  • The PLAYBAR is designed to sit on a table in front of your TV or be hung on a wall above or below it. The friend I bought it from said that it sounds much better on the wall. This meant I had to order some mounting hardware ($40 down the drain) and an electrical-code-compliant kit for putting the wiring in the wall ($50 down the drain). I'd like to mount it above my TV so my cats can't mess with it... but I think that's weird, so I'll end up mounting it below. Then pray my cats don't claw at the flimsy fabric mesh.
  • When it comes to music, I'm not so enamored with the PLAYBAR. I don't know what it's trying to do with the stereo separation, but it feels lacking. Fortunately I've got my two Sonos Ones in the rear channel to pick up the slack. If you're in a large room, you'd probably want a pair of PLAY:3 speakers in the rear for music (which would be expensive, but totally doable).

Some really nice things about PLAYBAR before I go...

Sonos PLAYBAR Exploded View

  • The sound on this thing, as I said, is very nice. Its nine-speaker array can separate sounds well and come in a good-looking package.
  • The "Speech Enhancement" option on PLAYBAR is surprisingly good. No more having to crank the volume to hear dialogue. I've always hated having to do that, but have found all the "enhancers" I've run across don't do a very good job. It seems to work with Sonos, probably because their speaker quality allows it to be good. On my wishlist... a way to temper it to a lower setting because on some movies it can be a bit too powerful.
  • In my old setup I had a subwoofer because the bass wasn't very punchy on my stereo. I like to feel the rumble of an explosion when I'm watching a movie. With PLAYBAR I'm liking the bass just fine. If my opinion ever changes, I can get a Sonos SUB. But for right now? I'm happy to save myself the $700.
  • I can't overstate how easy PLAYBAR is to set up. It's a simple step-by-step process with the Sonos app. Most things are handled automatically.

One horrible downside for me is that I lost my kitchen Sonos One speaker so it could fill out my rear channel. No more listening to music while I cook dinner or load the dishwasher. Replacing it is another $200, so that's the end of that.

The good news? Now that I could put my Amazon Echo in my bedroom and my Echo Dot in my garage, I have Alexa in every room of my house. All I need now is to embed an Echo Dot inside my brain and I guess I'm set.

Meanwhile, Neo has just realized he's The One and a fight has ensued, so I gotta get back to The Matrix.

   
UPDATE: And so my POWERBAR mounting kit came. It's pretty basic for $40... just a metal plate and some drywall screws. But it does the job. Kinda. There's a major problem with it.

Electrical codes make it illegal to run a power cable behind a wall. You have to purchase a electrical outlet wall kit which is code compliant. Then you can plug stuff into the outlet. But the six-foot power cable that came with my POWERBAR can't fit behind the speakers, so it has to hang below it in a big wad...

Bunch of old speaker stuff.

Kinda defeats the whole purpose. You'd think that since SONOS makes you buy a kit to wall-mount the thing that they would include a tiny power cable with it. Assumably they know that you can't run the cable in the wall, right? I mean, come on, every single photo they ever show of their stuff being wall-mounted shows the cables hidden in the wall... so how are they doing it? No frickin' clue since I can't find where they sell a short power cable anywhere. Maybe they don't care about complying with the electrical code and are mounting their stuff illegally.

I've emailed Sonos Customer Service, so I guess we'll see what they say.

UPDATE: Sonos Customer Service is all... "Uhhhh... nope, we don't sell that. We hire professional installers for our photos and they use adhesives and stuff to hide the wires!" (or something to that effect). Well, whatever. It really chaps my ass that Sonos has most every damn photo with the wires hidden, yet it's something they don't really provide for.

UPDATE: I found a Dell laptop 4.5-inch power cable that works much better than the 6-foot cord from Sonos. The plug is a tad too long, so it sticks out at the bottom a tiny bit, but it's better than the wad of Sonos cable I was dealing with. Hopefully one day Sonos will get off their asses and sell a short power cable with a small plug so you can legally get hidden wire mounting like they show in all their photos.

UPDATE: I have given up on wall-mounting my Sonos One speakers. With no screw-mount on the back, the solutions I've found are far from pretty. Furthermore, even if you buy short power cables, there's no really solution to bury the cables legally... at least not yet. Instead I'm using two IKEA 4-drawer shoe cabinets that are only 8 5/8-inches deep, wall-mounted, to put my Sonos One speakers on. They are the perfect height for the speakers to rise above my couch, but not so tall that they take up a lot of wall space. By drilling new holes to shift the top board, they can be set side-by-side. And once I drill holes in the top boards for power cables, they drop through and are completely hidden. Best solution I could find given hiding power cables in the wall was not an option for me.

   

Bullet Sunday 545

Posted on Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Dave!Don't click that "Back Button" just yet, because an all-new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• To Infinity! And so... here we are. A little over a month until the beginning of the end. Ten years of build-up all comes down to Avengers: Infinity War in April and its sequel next year...

So much to unpack here, which is not surprising considering the final movie has a runtime is 2 hours 36 minutes.

   
• A Brief History of Time. Stephen Hawking is gone! So remarkable that he managed to live so long with a disease which he was told would kill him decades ago. And look what his brilliant mind accomplished while trapped in a body which betrayed him! That he was a character on The Simpsons is just icing on the cake. An amazing, amazing man...

Stephen Hawking on The Simpsons

And funny...

Rest in peace, sir.

   
• LOLZ! Probably the funniest thing I've ever seen on Twitter...

Sarah Silverman Tweet

And yet... this is utterly insane as well. How in the hell do you confuse Kumail Nanjiani, Kunal Nayyar, and Kal Penn? They look nothing alike! I guess some people just see skin color and don't look any further.

   
• Fourth World! Looks like DC is finally moving past Zack Snyder's laughably bad take on super-heroes. After Patty Jenkins hit gold with Wonder Woman, they're striking a deal with another celebrated woman to helm New Gods for the big screen. Congrats to Ava DuVernay! My first choice would be Taika Waititi since his love letter to Jack Kirby in Thor: Ragnarok was so perfect... but this is a great choice too...

Kirby New Gods Cover

It will be interesting to see if DuVernay goes full-on Kirby or heads in another direction entirely.

   
• Incredible! ZOMG ZOMG ZOMG ZOMG... It's REAL!

Incredibles LEGO Game

Needless to say, I want want want want this game!

   
• Chain Gang! Since subscribing to Amazon Music Unlimited, I've been going a bit crazy over music. Now that I have "tens of millions" of songs available anytime, anywhere, I'm asking Alexa to play esoteric stuff all day long that it would never have occurred to me to play before I subscribed. Something pops in my head? Play it Hear a song mentioned somewhere? Play it. Song pops up on a commercial? Play it. For the past two days I've been obsessed with Sam Cooke. He was mentioned on an episode of The West Wing, and I've been listening to everything available ever since. So many songs of his I recognize but never really knew where they came from.

 

Such an amazing talent. Which makes the bizarre circumstances of his death even more tragic.

   
Until next Sunday then...

   

Obsessing Over Dunez

Posted on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Dave!I've come to the conclusion that he internet is an incredibly useful thing... in addition to being a blight on all humanity from time to time, of course.

Like when you hear a song you really like and have no idea what it is, so you Shazam it and, as if by magic, the name and artist appears on your phone. That is the kind of thing that makes having the internet totally worth the crap you have to suffer through.

As an example, I kept hearing a Culligan Water commercial called "Drinks" that has a fantastic track thumping in the background...

Mere seconds after rewinding the DVR and calling up Shazam, I learn that the song is Pumper by Mai Lan...

And then... then there are the times where Shazam comes up empty.

Like when I was watching a video on using Plex with Alexa and this cool track pops up that I've never heard. I totally dig it, so I Shazam and get a completely different song (Across the Universe by Akira?).

I tried searching for the artist and song said in the video, but I couldn't understand it fully, so Google wasn't helping. I then tried Googling lyrics, but that also failed. So I kept hammering away with different variations of what I was hearing and finally arrived at this...

Castaway by Dunez. There we go! That's it!

Except when I go to buy the song from iTunes, it's not there. When I go to play it from Amazon Music Unlimited, it's not there. The only place it exists is on SoundCloud.

With no way of buying it, I finally rip the song and make a note of yet another track I need to buy in order to keep my music collection legal.

Which begs the question... how can a band exist... create a track... and there be no trace of it or them? I found their Facebook page, but the last thing they mention about any music is a promise for "new tunes coming soon" on August 13th, 2015.

Tunes that never came. At least from what I can tell.

And so I'm left hanging... wondering whatever happened to Dunez, if I'll ever be able to buy their song, and if we'll ever get anything new out of them. Because, from the sound of it, this is a band I'd really like.

The internet... sometimes creating more mysteries than it solves.

In addition to being a blight on all humanity from time to time, of course.

   

The Name of the Game

Posted on Friday, April 6th, 2018

Dave!I was looking for background noise to play while I work and ran across Miss Congeniality playing. It's one of those guilty pleasure films that I really don't need to see for the tenth time, which is perfect because I won't be distracted by it.

At one point in the film Sandra Bullock as hapless undercover FBI agent beauty contestant Gracie Lou Freebush is practicing a dance routine and ABBA's Dancing Queen...

   
And now I'm screwed.

Because any time I hear ABBA, I am immediately sucked down a rabbit hole of their amazing oeuvre of pop genius.

There are few songs of theirs that I don't love, but there's one song in particular that's my hands-down favorite... The Name of the Game. It's so beautifully constructed that it's easy to say it must be one of the greatest pop songs ever written. Couple that with the flawless voices of Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad and... well... it's pretty tough to find fault in the magic of it all...

   
Listening to ABBA always leads me to A*Teens, a Swedish teen group that hit the Disney circuit back in 2000. Originally formed as "ABBA Teens," their first album was filled with ABBA covers, including their take on The Name of the Game...

   
What's interesting is that A*Teens ended up having surprising depth, moving past their ABBA covers and creating their own stuff. Yes, it was teen-pop. But it was pretty good teen pop...


   
A*Teens always leads me to Hoku... aka Hoku Ho, daughter of Hawaiian legend Don Ho... who was gaining popularity around the same time that A*Teens were blowing up in the US. Her one album is actually really good, though the song she's probably most famous for is Perfect Day from the movie Legally Blonde...

   
As an interesting aside, Hoku is apparently working on new music and plans on releasing an album this year! The EP has her listed as a "Christian Artist," so I can only imagine that she's no longer going to be singing the bubblegum pop songs that made her famous.

   
Anyway... Hoku always leads me to fellow Hawaiian artist, Iz, and his magical version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow...

   
The voice of Hawaii obviously leads me back to ABBA and Happy Hawaii...

   
And now it starts all over again...

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Bullet Sunday 462

Posted on Sunday, May 20th, 2018

Dave!Put on your Sunday's best... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Mo Carbs! Hey everybody... IT'S CARB AWARENESS DAY! I'm not supposed to eat many carbs anymore, but you can bet I'll be celebrating! Bread, pasta, and sugar for everyone!

   
• Twins Redux! And here it is... the first single from Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey's forthcoming album: Feels Like Love to Me...

Needless to say, it's a huge relief that this has a true Thompson Twins vibe to it... which is exactly what I want in a new album from Tom Bailey. It feels a bit more mature than Into The Gap, but doesn't sound as different as Big Trash or Close to the Bone did at the time... which is to say that it fits nicely between the end of the Thompson Twins and the beginning of Babel. At least from this one song it does.

   
• I Smell Bullshit! Fraganzia... because Febreze and every other product name worth a shit has been taken...

XXX

=sigh= Product marketing is officially running out of ideas.

   
• NEWS: Oklahoma governor signs law allowing adoption agencies to ban same-sex couples.

Holy shit... it's not a day ending in "Y" unless Mary Fallin is stirring up more bigoted shit. Such a fucking asshole. KIDS NEED LOVING HOMES. It has been shown over and over and over and over that same-sex parents DO AS WELL OR BETTER at churning out happy, healthy, well-adjusted children as opposite-sex parents. And in 2018 kids don't care... THEY SHOULDN'T CARE... because the ONLY things that matter is that they have a home to call their own. That they are fed and provided for. That they are loved and cherished. Who gives a fuck if that comes from two dads or two moms? Apparently Mary Fallin does, which means she is in no danger of spoiling her track record at being one of the shittiest human beings on the planet. Congrats, Mary, you repugnant pile of garbage. Are you going to take in all the kids being denied homes by your bigotry? =crickets=

   
• NEWS: GOP House candidate live streams herself challenging transgender woman for using women's restroom.

A women's bathroom has STALLS. Nobody is seeing ANYTHING. So it begs the question... exactly how is this candidate using public restrooms that a trans person entering is such a huge issue? Does she get naked and run around in there before she goes into a stall? Does she just hang around in there with her vag hanging out? What does she think people are going to see? What is it? You use a public bathroom to go to the bathroom, then (hopefully) wash your hands, then leave. Admittedly, I've never gone into a woman's bathroom before... so maybe I am completely unaware of what goes on in there... but this just seems extraordinarily stupid. If public bathrooms bother you this much, then don't use a public bathroom.

   
• Adventure Redux! Last Bullet Sunday I had mentioned the very first graphical adventure video game... Adventure! As a formative part of my childhood, it's a game that fascinates me in a hundred different directions. Mostly because it shouldn't have even been possible given the technological limitations of the time. In a stroke of randomness, I ran across an interview with Adventure creator Warren Robinett earlier this week! It's pretty great...

Needless to say, I am thrilled at the prospect of reading The Annotated Adventure book mentioned in the talk, but the last mention of it was in 2016, so I'm guessing it's been put on indefinite hold or outright cancelled by now.

   
And on that note... DeeTwo out.

   

Bullet Sunday 465

Posted on Sunday, June 10th, 2018

Dave!It's been yet another week full of hypocrisy and evil, but it's all good, because an all-new Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• Two! I loved everything about the first LEGO Movie... except the ending. When they dropped into "The Real World," everything fell apart for me. With this in mind, I have mixed feelings about the sequel...

Yes, I'm excited to see it. But can we please just stick in the world of LEGO and let Chris Pratt be hilarious? That would be great, thanks.

   
• No Reservations. There wasn't much I didn't like about Anthony Bourdain. He was responsible for some highly entertaining television. He was a world traveler and advocate for better understanding and acceptance between cultures. He used his celebrity to advocate for worthwhile causes and draw attention to injustices. He was an incredible guest on any talk show he dropped by. He was somebody I liked and admired, which is why his death has hit me so hard. You will be missed, sir.

   
• Darkness and Light! I was never a fan of the Cloak & Dagger comic books. They all had the same story. Cloak & Dagger hunt down drug dealers. Cloak goes a little crazy because he's hungry. Dagger feeds him a light sandwich. Lather, rinse, repeat. On occasion they team up with other heroes, but their baggage is always the same. And now Freeform TV has created a Cloak & Dagger television show...

Marvel's Cloak and Dagger on Freeform

Now, I'm not saying that every super-hero show has to be packed with super-power fights... but there has to be something to make it interesting... otherwise it's just another boring TV drama I don't care about. And if the first two episodes of Cloak & Dagger are any indication, here's yet another boring TV drama I don't care about. Which is a shame, because the actors are very good.

   
• You! Other than an occasional song here and there, I haven't given much thought to Maroon 5 in years. But now they've dropped a new video for their song Girls Like You that's packed with more guest-stars than you can shake a stick at.

Not a bad song at all. And if you're having trouble putting a name to all the faces, here's a link for you. And, as much as I like it, this is not going to displace my favorite Maroon 5 video...

And if that's not enough Maroon 5 for you... here they are covering Bob Marley's Three Little Birds...

'Cause every little thing gonna be alright.

   
• NEWS: With deal to close this week, Bayer to retire Monsanto name
Well of course they are retiring the Monsanto name! Monsanto is fucking evil incarnate, and people were finally waking up to it. But now? Bayer is just the aspirin people! Evil + Evil = Bigger Evil.

   
• A Red Letter Day! As my final bullet of the day, I leave you with one of my favorite Pet Shop Boys songs that's woefully under-appreciated... and highly relevant to my life as of late...

Doesn't get much more Pet Shop Boys than that.

   
So long until next Bullet Sunday!

   

Night Cafe

Posted on Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Dave!Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark has long been one of my favorite bands. During the 80's I was pretty much obsessed with them, and their albums were in frequent rotation (even the much-hated Dazzle Ships). Needless to say, I was pretty upset when the band imploded back in 1988.

Sure Andy McCluskey carried on and released some albums I loved... Sugar Tax, Liberator, and Universal... but it wasn't the same without Paul Humphreys, and it seemed as good a time as any when OMD finally died in 1996.

But then... a miracle.

McCluskey and Humphreys reunited. Then released History of Modern in 2010.

It was amazing and I loved it. The follow-up in 2013, English Electric, was equally good. And while listening to the album this morning I was reminded just how good it was when I got to Night Cafe. Not just for the song... but for the video, which is both remarkable and disturbing in equal measure. It's a song I can't get enough of, and it surprises me just how overlooked a gem it is...

The next album, The Punishment of Luxury came out last year and was pretty great once all the experimental interludes were deleted. But it was no English Electric, despite some pretty great songs...


And so...

Back to life after this OMD musical interlude.

Or maybe just one more song first...

   

Bullet Sunday 466

Posted on Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Dave!Time to celebrate all the good that's left in the world, because an all-new Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• The Carters! As if there could be any news bigger than Beyoncé and Jay Z dropping a duet album out of nowhere called Everything Is Love... there's the fact that they shot the first video for the single Apeshit in the frickin' Louvre. I mean, seriously! They rented out THE LOUVRE! Who does that? Who has the money to do that? Beyoncé and Jay Z, that's who...

Amazing stuff. Can't wait to get my hands on the finished album.

   
• Part Two!And so this popped up on the internet last week...

Avengers 4 Sneak Peek

I have some thoughts...

  • Captain Marvel! ZOMG! She looks amazing. Needless to say, I cannot wait for her movie to drop. It will be very interesting to see how she factors into the Marvel Cinematic Universe given her raw power that dwarfs everybody else. One thing is for certain, she's going to be one of the most dynamic visual treats to come along in super-hero movies.
  • The arc they've given Bruce Banner has been an interesting one. At first he could barely control The Hulk and hated the life he lost because of it... then he was near-despair over the destruction caused in South Africa... then he was kind of taken over by The Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok... then he lost The Hulk in Infinity War... and now it looks like he's reached some kind of compromise between himself and The Hulk. It's been a great ride, and I'm worried it might end.
  • How sad is it that Rocket Raccoon is the only Guardian left?
  • Disappointed that there's n representation from Black Panther here. T'Challa may be gone... but Shuri? Okoye?
  • So many questions about Thor and Asgard. Apparently some of them survived. But where does the Thor franchise go from here? Where's Valkyrie?
  • Ant-Man is there. Where's The Wasp? I'm guessing that she is part of the one-half gone, which is a shame. I thought I heard somewhere that she was in this.
  • Hawkeye is here. Odds are very good that some of his family is part of the one-half gone, so he's got serious stakes in this.
  • Odds are incredibly high that this is going to be the final appearance of Steve Rogers as Captain America. To have him go out on a high note, it's almost a given that he's going to sacrifice himself to save the universe. And that's okay... but... is it wrong that I want Nebula to be the one who defeats Thanos? Out of everybody, she deserves it most.
  • Iron Man's armor has evolved to kind of a weird place. The whole "legs merge to jet" thing in Infinity War was a breaking point for me.
  • War Machine, on the other hand, has a more logical progression to his look.
  • Black Widow had better get her own damn movie after all this. Seriously. What character has given more to other characters' films with nothing for themselves? She's woefully underutilized, and a solo movie will help fix that... and hopefully other characters she's supported over the years will support her.

Next up? Ant Man and The Wasp, which looks fantastic.

   
• Super! Here's the thing. With the exception of Wonder Woman, the DC Cinematic Universe has devolved into a heap of shit. Man of Steel... Batman vs. Superman... Suicide Squad... Justice League... they were all heinous crap that ignored huge portions of what makes DC characters so timeless and special. At the other end of the spectrum is the DC Television Universe (or Arrowverse, if you will) which has been killing it. Yes, Legends of Tomorrow has never quite worked... and Arrow has gotten stale... and the overall story arc for The Flash this past season went way too long and was ultimately pretty lame... but then there's Supergirl. It's been so good. And the season finale was no exception...

Supergirl Season Finale

Is it too much to ask that the people in charge of Supergirl give us a Superman show? Preferably a show where the central character STANDS ON THEIR OWN instead of yet another team show? The movie Superman is going nowhere, while Tyler Hoechlin has proven he's the best on-screen Superman since Christopher Reeve....

Supergirl Season Finale

DC should really just expand the Arrowverse into movies that don't suck. Because haven't we suffered enough? All I can hope is that we get another excellent season of SuperGirl. And a first season of Superman. Oh... and I would totally watch a Legion of Super-Heroes show too.

   
• 4K! I fell into a YouTube 4K HDR rabbit hole when I found out that my television can display them. Amazing stuff... even if you can't view 4K HDR. Here are some of my favorites...




But if you can watch 4K HDR on your TV...

   
• Beam! Don't get me wrong, I love my Sonos smart speaker setup, but there are some serious shortfalls that plague the system. Namely... it's stuck in the past. They've been clinging to optical cables for their PlayBar and PlayBase like a dead lemming, despite the fact that everybody else abandoned it a decade ago. And then this past week Sonos released a new product: Beam. Which is essentially a mini PlayBar that costs $399. But the biggest news? It's not using optical cable... it's HDMI ARC. Welcome to the future, Sonos...

Supergirl Season Finale

It's a step in the right direction, but not a very big one. Still no Dolby Atmos or other modern sound technologies have been announced. On the contrary, they say they have no plans for Atmos at all. Instead we're getting IKEA furniture with Sonos built-in. Wheee.

   
Good luck getting Apeshit out of your head this week...

   

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