For years now... a decade really... I've been experimenting with setting up a personal NAS (Network Attached Storage) media server that's connected to the internet. There are a lot of reasons I'd like to have such a thing, but the big one is that I want to be able to access my vast photo library from anywhere on earth. If I'm in Germany and want to show a friend a photo of the Hard Rock Cafe Yokohama (something that actually happened) it would be great if I could do that. Sure I have the option of paying for a photo service, but then I have to convert all my images from RAW format and lose the ability to access/edit the original photo remotely if I want to.
So I purchased a 1 Terabyte single-drive, internet-enabled "WD My Book Studio" NAS back in 2010 with that in mind. Everything ended up being a total mess and didn't work at all like I was hoping. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since.
Fast forward to 2019 and I decided to try again. I used money I had saved in 2014 for a trip to Norway's fjords with my mom (that we never got around to taking) and purchased a QNAP TS415+ NAS and two Western Digital 8 Terabyte RED drives to put in it. The drives are mirrored in a RAID configuration so I don't lose any data if one of them dies. Note that there's a television remote. That's because this model has an HDMI port so it can hook up directly to a television...
Today I finally set it all up. It was fairly straightforward, though not the most user-friendly thing to do. It spent hours doing a "RAID resync" (whatever the hell that is), which makes zero sense. The drives were empty and freshly formatted. How can it take over 24 hours to "resync" NOTHING? Note that QNAP doesn't bother with beta testing their apps. If they did, somebody might have noticed that the displayed percentage overwrites the text label, making it tough to read its progress...
Before you can do anything, you have to set up a "Storage Pool" from your drives. I maxed my pool out at 100% of my available drive space, because why only use part of your drives? QNAP is pretty brain-dead when you choose to do this... it will endlessly pester you with alerts because it defaults to a threshold of 80% usage. Insanity. If somebody sets their pool to 100% of drive space, why not ask if you want to disable the threshold alerts? I had to do it manually. Sadly, after setting things up, my 8TB mirrored drive resulted in only 7.1TB of space available. No idea what happened to nearly a FULL TERABYTE of storage (this seems high for overhead), but whatever.
Rather than have to install a third-party app, I decided to give the QNAP "Qmedia" app a try on my AppleTV since it's the "native" application from QNAP. It is complete and total shit. Despite "pretending" to remember where you left off when viewing videos, it doesn't. You can't even fast-forward the video you're watching, which is mind-blowing. I have no fucking idea why they even bothered. Qmedia is useless.
I'd rather not have to switch television video input sources from my AppleTV every time I want to watch something off the NAS, but apparently that's going to be how this goes. So I grabbed the QNAP remote and went for it. First I had to install an app (of course) but no big deal. Then I actually tried to use the thing and it's a total clusterfuck. The "VideoStation" app is just a fucking web browser interface. It's difficult to read because it's not sized for a television. It's impossible to use with the included remote because the remote doesn't do anything. You have to plug in a mouse and keyboard to make it work.
There's an "HD Player" app that looks like it's geared more towards television displays and using the remote control but it's fucking useless too, having many of the same problems as Qmedia. It goes non-responsive constantly, doesn't allow fast-forwarding (pressing the up arrow to skip forward is not the same thing), starts at the beginning of a video even if you tell it to resume from where you stopped, has a shitty interface that makes sorting through a large number of videos a nightmare, has crap video quality that you can't adjust for brightness or anything else, and is an overall steaming pile of fail.
I swear, QNAP is the most ridiculous fucking company. Why bother to make claims of being a multimedia center that can connect directly to your television if it does THIS shitty of a job of it? The whole thing is a fucking joke.
Fortunately there's plenty of options for serving your media from a NAS if it has a computer onboard like the TS451+ does. The "big two" are Kodi and Plex. Kodi is open source and free. Plex is free, but you can support the project by paying to subscribe to "Plex Pass" for additional features (like being able to download media on your phone for local playback instead of streaming it). Most people I know who started on Kodi ended up with Plex, so I just skipped a step and installed Plex Server on my NAS.
For what it is, Plex Server is pretty sweet. It transcodes just about anything you throw at it. Including the RAW Digital Negative photo format from Adobe (DNG) that I use. Which means I don't have to save out JPEGs in order to access my photo library remotely. Nice! I need to work on settings for this, however, because Plex compresses things pretty heavily for transmission. This results in some ugly visual artifacts, banding, and color shifts...
Video works brilliantly from Plex BECAUSE YOU CAN ACTUALLY FUCKING FAST FORWARD THROUGH IT ON APPLE TV! Plex does a really good job of cataloging it as well. Thank heavens, because I'd light my QNAP NAS on fire if I had to suffer through their shitty apps. The only problem I've run across is having the video stop and tell me that my connection isn't fast enough, which is absurd because AppleTV is literally plugged into the same high-speed hub as the NAS! There must be some kind of setting for that I'm missing. Fortunately, it's a rare event.
I don't steal media. All the movies and television shows I have are on DVD/Blu-Ray or purchased on Digital. Well, with two exceptions... Cupid (the Jeremy Piven original) and Oh Grow Up! (one of my favorite shows of all time)... are not available to purchase. Lord only knows I wish they were, because my digitized versions of VHS tapes are really poor quality. I've used Vudu's Disc-To-Digital service to convert the bulk of my DVD/Blu-Ray collection to Digital legally. But not all of my stuff is available for conversion. Now I have the option of ripping them to the NAS and viewing them digitally no matter where I am via Plex Server. Technically, any time you break the protection on a DVD you are breaking the law, but that's a bullshit law. I would happily pay to convert them to digital if the studio who owns them would allow them to be converted. What I'm not going to do is buy the same movie all over again. Fuck that. I already paid for it, I should get to pay a small fee for a new format, not have to buy it all over again. And so... I have a small collection of DVDs ripped to my NAS temporarily until the studio allows them to be converted and I can pay for that. Plex does a great job of streaming from my living room to remote locations in HD. No, the video quality is not as good as what comes off of iTunes... especially if the iTunes version is 4K... but it's plenty good enough for my iPad or iPhone. I'm sure if I didn't have tons of security cameras flooding my bandwidth I could set the quality higher, but it's really not necessary.
Music streaming (local and remote) is handled quite well through Plex, and my SONOS system can address Plex directly. This means I can download all my music from iTunes, put it on the NAS, then drop iTunes Music Match and iTunes itself with no problem.
And so... bravo Plex.
I'm going to try out "Plex Pass" for a month and see if I want to upgrade to the lifetime membership for $120. Something tells me that's a purchase I will end up making. I certainly can't do without Plex if my alternative is the QNAP crap.
UPDATE: Yeah. Easiest decision to make to get the Plex Pass... the apps for streaming are included and you're helping the team behind it to keep developing the app.
So okay... the QNAP multimedia is bullshit. What about the NAS itself? Well, I'd love to report on that, but the minute I login, it either immediately disconnects me...
...or it allows me in but gives me a shitload of error messages. My favorite? Telling me it's running out of memory. If 2GB is not enough memory to do even the most basic tasks, then why ship with just 2GB memory? QNAP has their own version of Microsoft "Clippy" to break the bad news, which is a weird choice...
Even better? If you choose "optimize" he does a happy dance when he recovers 0MB of memory! Once I can log in again, I'll turn off and uninstall absolutely everything except the bare minimum I need (which includes Plex Server, of course), so I'm hoping that will fix these problems.
My NAS can act as a Time Machine backup for my Mac, but I really don't need that any more. All my data is stored in the cloud, so the only thing that would need to be replaced on my MacBook if it were destroyed are the apps, which I can just download from the developer again.
QNAP provides Apple File Services so I can access my NAS over my local network easily. Weirdly enough, you are required to install Windows File Services in order to install Apple File Services, but (luckily) you can kill the Windows File Services after installation to save precious memory and everything seems to work fine.
Speaking of memory... QNAP is happy to sell you more, but they charge outrageous pricing for the stuff. I mean laughably outrageous pricing. Far better to buy it yourself (which I'm guessing I'll have to do sometime soon if killing apps don't work).
Remote management and access to my files is a breeze thanks to QNAP's tools and a service they call CloudLink. The NAS talks with QNAP so even though its IP address may change, you can still reach it with no trouble.
I am still relatively new to the QNAP TS451+ NAS and the Western Digital RED drives, so I can't comment much about them. I can say that Western Digital are the only brand of hard drive that hasn't disappointed me so I'm hoping that trend continues. Also, despite the shitty media center aspects and overly-difficult controls, QNAP is highly respected in the IT industry. I just wouldn't bother paying extra for an HDMI port and remote that you will probably never use because their software is shit. Put that money towards a Plex Pass where it will do some good.
There’s a difference between "I really connect to your lyrics"... and "I’m going to break in."
I never gave much thought to Taylor Swift. Her music was originally Country, which I don't listen to. Then she dropped into the world of Pop music with 1989 but I wasn't "in that place" at the time, didn't like the single Bad Blood at all, and ignored it. When Reputation was released I didn't much care for the first single, Shake it Off and ignored that album too.
Then I heard the song Mean while shopping in a store somewhere and didn't know who sang it, but Shazamed it even though it was Country because I was hooked by the lyrics...
Someday I'll be living in a big ol' city
And all you're ever gonna be is mean
Someday I'll be big enough so you can't hit me
And all you're ever gonna be is mean
I made a mental note to take another look at Taylor Swift because that one song impressed me so much.
When I finally remembered to pull up her catalog on Amazon Music Unlimited while brushing my teeth one morning, the first song to come up was New Romantics...
Cuz baby I could build a castle
Out of all the bricks they threw at me
And every day is like a battle
But every night with you is like a dream
I remember just standing there, toothbrush in hand, toothpaste dribbling out of my mouth, trying to really listen to the lyrics, which were pretty great. From there I blew through all her music, consistently impressed with her songwriting, even if I didn't always like the song itself. But most of the songs from 1989 and Reputation I did like quite a lot.
Then the singles from Lover started dropping and I was suddenly full-on fan of Taylor Swift... putting Lover in the top spot of my favorite albums of 2019.
And now, just when I didn't think I could love Taylor any more than I already do, a documentary dropped on Netflix called Miss Americana...
I enjoyed it quite a lot. The film is an intimate look into the highs and lows of Taylor's life and gives a glimpse into her songwriting process (which is worthy of a documentary all on its own). There's also a good chunk of time devoted to Swift's decision to unleash her political beliefs, even though she knew full well what the consequences might be for her life and career. The scene where she's about to unleash a political tweet that changes everything was almost a hold-your-breath moment.
It would be really easy to watch her struggles and think "Oh boo hoo! Go cry into your millions of dollars because nobody cares!"
But any such snap judgements are made out of ignarance. Swift built herself a castle out of all the bricks that were thrown at her and earned her millions of dollars with hard work and talent. The fact that she uses her popularity and fame to speak out against bigotry and injustice when her life would be a lot easier if she just sat quiet and smiled is what makes Taylor Swift be Taylor Swift.
Even though she all too often gets burned for it.
And so... Miss Americana is recommended for Taylor Swift lovers and haters alike. If you have Netflix, give it a look.
What in tarnation is happening here? There's no need to check your calendar... because an all new Bullet Sunday on Saturday starts... now...
• Red Sox! And so it begins... the team is converging on Fort Meyers for Spring Training, which begins full-squad workouts on Monday. Well, full-squad except Mookie Betts, who got traded to L.A. for some stupid reason (okay, it was probably to fall under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold for 2020, but still stupid)...
Photo from NBC Sports
I sure hope Boston has a better season this year than last year.
• 1917! If you know me, you know I love maps. This is so frickin' cool.
• You Better Work! As somebody who loves RuPaul, there was no way I was going to miss his new 10-episode series on Netflix...
From the trailer I expected it to be entertaining and funny. I did not expect it to be as deep, smart, and genuinely sweet and touching as it. Bonus: There's a lot of familiar faces popping up throughout, including many, many contestants from Drag Race. What sabotages the show is two things. 1) The kid is irrationally bratty and shitty at random times, screaming her head off for no reason. I have no idea why Ru and Michael Patrick King felt it necessary to go that far. And, 2) It doesn't have an ending and absolutely everything was left in the air with no resolution whatsoever. If Netflix doesn't give it a second season, viewers are screwed. Still, worth tuning in for.
• Miss Jackson! Janet Jackson Herself has announced that her new album and tour, Black Diamond, will be dropping this summer.
• Great Scott! These deep fakes are just getting more and more frightening...
Frightening because they are looking more and more realistic.
• Goo! If you did any kind of graphic design work in the 1990's, odds are you know of Kai Krause. His design tools allowed you to create some truly wondrous stuff... but had the absolute worst possible interfaces to get there. I never understood why they were so utterly wacky and nonsensical. Apparently, it was to spur creativity... to get people to just "play" with things until they were intuitively doing what they wanted to do. It never worked like that for me. I'd much rather have proper menus and tools that made it clear what was happening. Kai's Power Goo, for example, was just a mess. But it was Photoshop "liquify" before there was Photoshop liquify, and you have to respect that...
I owned absolutely everything Kai ever released. Used his tools all the time, even as I hated the way they worked. Even so, I found the story of his interface design an interesting read.
Sunday Saturday Bullets.
The news has been anything but cheerful lately, but hang in there... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• U-S-A! U-S-A-! U-S-A-! But before we get started... this video is two minutes long. I encourage you to take a hard look at every second of it. This is what happens when you call the coronavirus a "Democrat hoax" and don't take things seriously early on. And, for us here in the USA, we're not even at peak coronavirus yet because there are still states which are refusing to do anything because "We don't have many cases here." Well, yes, you dumb-fucks, the whole point is to KEEP IT THAT WAY...
Stay healthy everybody. You could end up breaking a hip or having a heart attack or chopping off a finger only to find that you can't be seen at a hospital because it's been overrun with coronavirus patients. You may consider yourself able to survive COVID-19... and that's great. But your actions could infect others who end up taking up hospital space you might need for other emergencies. It's in everybody's self interest to keep hospitals from piling up. Let's all pray it's not too late already.
• Trump Is Risen! Thank heavens that President Trump actually listened to people who know shit and reevaluated his plan to cancel quarantine by Easter. But before that happened, there was this, and if you close your eyes...
God only brought one guy back from the dead on Easter. Trump is here to bring back the whole economy on Easter 2020. Enjoy this clip (possibly, like, the best ever), share and be sure to subscribe to Making Podcasts Great Again (@TrumpPod) - new every week! pic.twitter.com/aUifVWRzfh— J-L Cauvin (@JLCauvin) March 24, 2020
And if you think this parody is an exaggeration, Cheeto Jesus has been Tweeting about how big the ratings are for his Coronavirus Press Briefings, despite the fact that more and more people are dying due to the snowball effect of his initial inaction. Holy shit what a narcissistic asshole. And he just keeps getting so much worse every damn day.
• Warz! If you don't know who Max Brooks is, you really should. His book World War Z is sublime apocalyptic zombie-fiction which reads so realistically because his research into pandemics was brutally extensive. He's so well-studied and important to the field of disaster preparedness that he has lectured at the U.S. Navy War College, for heaven's sake. Which is why his viewpoint on current events is worth noting: 'All Of This Panic Could Have Been Prevented': Author Max Brooks On COVID-19. This is some scary shit, and goes to show just how buffoonish the Trump Administration's handling of a crisis of this magnitude has really screwed us.
• ACCESS! Just in case you aren't watching Star Trek: Picard... and you absolutely should be... here's your chance to do so for free. I did not like Star Trek: Next Generation that much, but am loving Picard. I loved Star Trek: Discovery even more (especially the first season), and this freebie unlocks all of CBS All Access, so you can take a look at that one as well!
• Live! There was a meme running through Facebook where you are asked if you can name a band you've seen live for every letter of the alphabet and one that starts with a number. I did pretty good...
Many of these letters could have had multiple answers. I'm fairly certain I saw at least one band with a name starting with "X"... especially some of those indy bands that were playing during the whole "grunge" movement in Seattle when I was hitting the clubs... I just can't think of any.
• Museum Project! People are getting way creative in finding ways to spend their quarantine time. One of my absolute favorites are those who are recreating famous paintings. Some of them are absolute gold, and there's a terrific Instagram feed where they showcase some of the best ones...
A lot of creative use of toilet paper in that Insty-feed!
And there have also been some professional reimaginings that are absolutely sublime. My favorites by a wide margin are those that popped up by Dutch photographer Jenny Boot. Here is Pearl inspired by Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (housed at Museum Mauritshuis in The Hague)...
©2019 Jenny Boot Photography
The original Vermeer...
Here is de Kus, inspired by Vermeer's The Kiss (housed at Museum Belvedere in Vienna, which I was lucky enough to see in person)...
©2019 Jenny Boot Photography
The original Klimt...
And here is Davinci's Cat inspired by Lady with an Ermine (housed at Muzeum Czartoryski in Krakow)...
©2019 Jenny Boot Photography
The original Da Vinci...
For more of her insanely gorgeous Jenny Boot photography, you can visit their Instagram and website.
• Disneyland-ish? It's not just fine art which is being recreated while people are in quarantine... people are recreating Disneyland and Walt Disney World rides at home! Some of them are just beyond cool...
Yo ho yo ho a quarantine’s life for me! My family’s Disneyland Staycation!
— Brooke (@Brookie_disney) March 20, 2020
I guess if you can't visit in person, this is the next best thing? Kudos to those who are using their alone-time to be so creative!
And now we resume our self-imposed exile.
I watch a lot of television. It's nice to have it as background noise while I work. But lately I've been watching a lot more television because it's pretty much all there is to do under quarantine.
Tonight I watched random stand-up comedy specials on Netflix until it was time for RuPaul's Drag Race. This season has a wet blanket thrown on it thanks to one of the contestants, Sherry Pie, being a psychotic asshole... but they seem to be editing her out of the show as best they can, so there's that. Tonight was all the contestants doing their best Madonna impersonation, and many of them were really good.
For whatever reason, the episode made me think back to when Sharon Needles and PhiPhi O'hara did a lipsync battle to It's Raining Men by The Weather Girls. I went to YouTube to see if somebody posted it (of course somebody had) and was surprised to see that Geri Halliwell, formerly of the Spice Girls, did a cover of the song back in 2001...
It always amazes me how I can keep running across music that I never knew existed.
Anyway... here's that lipsync battle I was looking for...
Sharon Needles went on to win the entire season and became one of my favorite queens. Partly because she had big entertainment value... but mostly because she was in a relationship with Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, and who couldn't love that? Sadly, that relationship ended in 2013, but we'll always have the memories.
And now I guess we're back to our regular scheduled programming...
Yeah, we're all still in isolation quarantine, but there's a bright spot in the darkness... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Cool! I've been to the Space Needle dozens of times over the years. They have cut-away images you can look at, so I already know what's inside and how it works, but this
One of the most famous features of the structure has been the "Sky City Revolving Restaurant" which closed back in 2017 when they rennovated everything. I assumed that it would be open again by now, but I just checked and there's still no revolving restaurant to be found. Instead the space is still "The Loupe" which is a revolving platform with a glass floor. I guess that's more of a draw because more people can enjoy it? The restaurant was always so expensive that I've only ever been there once.
• Stuck! Lately I've had a hard time getting the song Adore You by Harry Styles out of my head. For the past week I've been playing it several times a day...
I wish I knew why certain songs stick with me at certain times. I mean, I liked Adore You when it was released, but now I addicted to it or something. I'm trying to replace it with the latest by Pet Shop Boys, but it isn't working so far...
Amazing how the boys are still able to kill it after all these years. Their music is always good.
• Driven! I bought Western Digital drives for my NAS because my past experience with them has been excellent. Now I find out that the pricey new drives I bought for my NAS may be low-quality pieces of shit that will likely fail sooner than expected because the way I use the data on my NAS is incongruent with the way the drive technology WD employs was designed to be used. I have 8TB drives which WD says are using the correct technology... but the part number has the "EFAX" suffix which designates cheap-ass shit, so who knows?
I am so sick and tired of companies like this not giving a shit about their customers. And yet this is the way businesses are run now. They sneak in low-quality shit, charge the same price as usual-quality shit, and the customer never need know they've been screwed until their data is lost. And at that point it's like "Oh... too bad... so sorry... if you're in warranty, we'll send you a replacement shitty drive... if you're not under warranty, go fuck yourself!" Because in today's disposible society, it's cheaper to replace shit with more shit until the warranty runs out than to actually make good quality shit in the first place.
• Flight Attendants in Quarantine! Ha!
Make no mistake, flight attendants have a really tough job. Trapped on a plane at work with a bunch of people... some of which treat them badly. Hopefully they can laugh along with the rest of us at something like this.
• In Control! Every time I start up Netflix there's a new show being shoved on me called Too Hot To Handle and I IMMEDIATELY start singing "Too hot to handle, too cold to hold, they're called the Ghostbusters and they're in control!" Say what you like about Bobby Brown, but the guy knows how to sing a hook that gets stuck in your head!
No idea what Too Hot To Handle is about. Looks like it's yet another show like Temptation Island where you win by not giving into temptation of all the sexy people prancing around? Whatever. Really not interested enough to investigate.
• Foxy! Aren't foxes the most amazing animals?
I will never admit how many times I've watched this.
• After! I loved the first season of Ricky Gervais's After Life and remember feeling a bit lost when it ended because it was only six episodes. Now, at long last, Netflix has released another six episodes for the second season (NSFW trailer follows)...
Even better than the first season. A shoe-in for my "Best of Television 2020" list. It's all at once hysterically funny and agonizingly sad. Postman Pat is one of my favorite television characters ever. Which is next-level funny if you know that Postman Pat is a British cartoon with an unrelated character with the same name from the 1980's...
Compare this charming cartoon to the character from the show and it's a bit disturbing... but in the best possible way.
And now I guess I'll go back to doing as much nothing as possible before work tomorrow.
Life doesn't hold enough pleasant surprises. All too often the surprises we get are crap. Especially lately. Take, for example, the Coronavirus. Could there have been a worse surprise for 2020? Though, given how health experts have been warning that a pandemic was nigh, I suppose the real nasty surprise was how ill-prepared that world governments have been for it actually happening.
What's nice is how people are stepping up to drop some nice surprises in our laps to make our quarantine-filled days a bit sweeter. My favorite is the bands who are either streaming old concerts for free or live-streaming new performances. Tomorrow one of my favorite contemporary bands, The 1975, is having a listening party... then on Saturday Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is unleashing their 2019 Hammersmith Apollo show with new footage.
A lot of other bands are doing something... so check in with your favorites on social media to see if they've got something going on.
The problem is that so many of these things are starting to overlap. No sooner did I get The 1975's listening party in my calendar than Erasure announced that they would be having a "Conversation About Nothing in Particular" at the exact same time! Two of my favorite bands competing for my affections! What to do?
I'm going to try doing both.
I used to roll my eyes over movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and 27 Dresses having characters double-booked for two critical events, then letting hijinks ensue to make it somehow "funny." It's just too ridiculous to be taken seriously... even in a comedy. Who does something that idiotic?
Apparently the answer is me. I do something that idiotic.
Wish me luck!
I'm bored out of my mind without being able to hang out with my friends, but excitement awaits me... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Nadiya! One of my favorite Great British Bakeoff contestants, Nadiya Hussain, has a new Netflix series out... Nadiya's Time to Eat. Not all of it is vegetarian, but I've gotten some good ideas from her show. Including this gem...
Sounds amazing, right? And how charming is she with her lovely British accent? Nadiya's got some cool ideas for quick and easy meals that makes her show a great thing to watch. Just keep in mind that the British terms for certain foods can be different ("caster sugar" there is "fine baker's sugar" here), and sometimes products (such as Double Cream, which is 48% milkfat, for example) may not even exist where you live (the thickest I can get is Whipping Cream, which is only 36% milkfat. Also? Nadiya provides all oven temperatures in Celsius, so you'll need to convert to Fahrenheit.
• Facebook "Standards!" It's gotten to the point where I can't understand the point of Facebook any more. They are so wildly inconsistent with the posts they ban that you can't really know what is acceptable or not. Take for instance this tweet I reposted that is clearly a joke on all the "5G causes the Coronavirus" conspiracy theorists...
Meanwhile, some of the anti-vaxers and homeopaths and flat earthers and other morons are posting shit that is ACTUALLY MISINFORMATION THAT CAN CAUSE HARM and have free reign? Dafuq? I have posts taken down more and more lately, and in no case did I agree with the decision or even see why they took it down in the first place. Facebook has no concept of context or humor and are acting like total dipshits with this ban-hammer crap.
• Love Is Love! One of the members of my "Bible Study for Non-Christians" group brought up the movie Road to Edmond, which they decided to watch because it sharply divided Christians who saw it. None of the rest of us had heard of it, but it was free to watch on Amazon Prime Streaming, so we all agreed to take a look so we could have a discussion about it. I honestly don't know what my takeaway is. I almost stopped watching 20 minutes in because one of the characters was driving me crazy and the non-budget and amateurish acting was almost too much to take. But I stuck with it because I didn't want to be left out of the conversation with my group. Turns out that everything was building to something, not everything is what it seems, and it's actually a fairly remarkable film. I definitely understand why some people are completely incensed with it... heaven only knows there's enough to provoke that reaction. But I also understand why some people have fallen in love with it too. As I said, I honestly don't know how I feel about it... maybe I'll have more perspective once I've discussed it. All I definitely know is that I love the closing credits song as much as I could possibly love any song... it's Love is Love by Trey Pearson.
Trey Pearson has a lot of great songs, this one is called Silver Horizon and is every bit as good...
And if not for Road to Edmond, I likely never would have found it.
• Download! Boo! BOOOOOOOO! AMAZON'S GREAT NEW SHOW, UPLOAD, ENDS ON A HUGE CLIFFHANGER! And what are the odds that they won't renew it? Fuck all the television studios who refuse to show a complete story in a season. All this does is fuck over fans of the show when they cancel it.
BOOOOOO! And what's so frustrating is that they didn't need the cliffhanger. It's just lazy writing, and NO show should end a season on a cliffhanger unless they have the next season already started. So rage-inducing. If Amazon cancels Upload I'll be more furious than usual when this happens.
• After! Somebody edited together the underlaying narrative of grief that runs through one of my favorite shows so far this year... and it's almost unbearable to watch. What makes After Life so amazing is how it tempers the grief with humor. Without the humor though? It's a serious exploration of the human condition. Spoilers, obviously...
Ricky Gervais really knocked it out of the park with this show. He's already said that he's been so touched by the outpouring of love for the show that he's working on a third season. And, oh well yeah, HE DOESN'T END HIS SERIES ON A FUCKING CLIFFHANGER BECAUSE HE KNOWS THERE'S NO GUARANTEE THAT THERE WILL BE A NEXT SEASON! He's talented enough to come up with a way to start a new season without cliffhangers.
• Suess Raps! These videos of a guy rapping Dr. Suess over Dr. Dre beats is total genius...
I hesitate to guess how many times he had to practice these before getting this good.
• Better! TIME IS JUST A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT TO KEEP YOU FROM DOING WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WHEN YOU WANT TO DO IT! WELL SCREW THAT! I AM IN CONTROL OF MY OWN DESTINY! SO... MORNING DRINKING at 9:00AM IN MY UNDERWEAR WITH CHEETOS AND TELEVISION, BABY! — MY DAY IS BETTER THAN YOUR DAY!
So how was your day?
And that's that for bullets on this fine Sunday in quarantine.
YOU YIELD TO TRAFFIC IN THE CIRCLE. It's that simple. That's the only rule. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand it. If there's a car already in the traffic circle, you wait until it's passed before entering. And yet...
25% of the time... at least 25% of the time... I run into somebody who doesn't yield.
Like yesterday when I was driving home. And of course the guy is pissed at me even though he was 100% in the wrong for cutting in front of me instead of yielding like he should have. And I honestly don't get the mentality. I'm supposed to just slam on the brakes in the middle of the traffic circle and back up traffic to let people in? That's the complete opposite of how it's supposed to work.
I continue to wade my way through the massive list of movies and shows I've flagged to watch so I can see if there's anything good on TV. My latest obsession is Plan Coeur (aka The Hook Up Plan) on Netflix. It's a French romcom that has its fill of stupid moments, but is otherwise fantastic. The characters are all beautifully realized and you want to care about them even when they aren't at their best.
Because it's French, I have to watch with English subtitles, which adds another level of amusement to the show...
Most of the time, the show is smartly written and has clever one-off lines throughout to bring the funny...
And, of course, it's French, so the romantic moments are flawlessly orchestrated...
What really took me by surprise is the music, which is haunting and beautiful. It's practically another character in the series and makes even mundane moments something to be savored...
I was compelled to track down the composer, which is Frédéric Magnon, and became an instant fan. When Elsa shows her sister her new apartment, I had to rewind the scene and play it over and over because it's just that good...
The entire soundtrack is fantastic and worth hunting down (Amazon Prime Unlimited has it).
So... if you're looking for a show to binge while you're stuck at home, I highly recommend giving The Hook Up Plan a try. Both series of the show are available on Netflix...
As much as I loved the show and want to see a third series, I almost think I'd rather they left things where they were at in the finale. It was the perfect way to end things even though you'll definitely be wanting to know what happens next.
Which is what makes great television, isn't it?
My thumbs may be numb from too much gaming, but that won't stop me... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Last Week, Every Week! John Oliver doing what John Oliver does best...
I don't pretend to know what the answer is. But something has got to change. The time for people joining the police force so they can legally be violent towards their fellow humans with hyper-militarized hardware is over. Time to get back to the original mission of our officers in blue... to serve and to protect.
• Support Our Troops! For the LAST FUCKING TIME... rubber bullets were NEVER designed to be fired directly at people and never at close range. Especially unarmed, non-threatening people with their arms up. They were designed specifically for times when an officer's life is in imminent danger from an approaching crowd, AND ARE TO BE FIRED AT THE GROUND SO THEY RICOCHET INTO THE CROWD AND DISPERSE THE DANGER!!! The kinetic energy of the projectile must be diffused or else the force of a rubber bullet can be LETHAL...
Cops shot me in the head at the #LosAngelesProtest with rubber bullets while I had my hands up in the air. My brain is now bleeding and getting worse. Keep fighting. pic.twitter.com/3ovzmIlJnd— Iz (@LowkeySinistra) May 31, 2020
Support the troops? This guy served as a fucking Marine, but ends up getting shot up right here at home by the very people charged with protecting him.
• Trumpism Unmasked! To say that I am disgusted and disappointed in our president right now is a grotesque understatement. Not just in his horrific response to protests which, by and large, are non-violent and have nothing to do with the opportunistic looting going on, but his being a terrible leader in general. Take his latest appearances where he is shown touring factories and going everywhere unmasked... despite the CDC telling us that wearing masks is the easiest way to help slow the spread of the virus and overwhelming our medical care system. Even if he did nothing else but set an example by just wearing a fucking mask, he'd at least be doing something presidential.
And if he could do that and just come out and say something like... "Scientists have said that wearing a mask in public is the easiest way to get this country back on track after the pandemic which has ravaged the world. Masks stop the droplets that carry the virus from infecting other people but do nothing to those who are already infected. Some of you may heard that masks trap carbon dioxide and are unhealthy. But the masks they are talking about are high-filtration masks, not the simple fabric masks which can stop the droplets, but easily allow carbon dioxide to pass through. Cloth masks causing hypercapnia is 100% untrue. I know they're uncomfortable. I know they feel awkward. I know it's not an ideal thing to have to do. But it's a simple kindness towards your fellow Americans, and we all have to do our part to prevail against a virus which doesn't care if your Democrat or Republican. Whether you're young or old. Whether you're a man or a woman. Whether you're healthy or sickly. And doesn't discriminate based on our faith, sexuality, or the color of our skin. I ask that all my fellow Americans join me in following CDC guidelines set to protect us. Wear a mask in public. Respect social distancing. Be kind. Be patient. And above all be united. May God bless all of us, our great country, and peoples around the world as we do whatever we can to prevail against the threat of COVID-19. Thank you and good night."
But instead we get his dumbass tweets about stupid shit and conspiracy theories which do nothing to help anybody except his ego. I don't like Joe Biden... at all... but I would vote for a pile of dog shit knowing that it would be a better leader and a better example than Impeached President Cadet Bone Spurs. I blame him for his terrible response to the coronavirus costing tens of thousands of American lives, but I emphatically condemn him for everything that followed... including the inevitable second wave of deaths which is almost a certainty thanks to his complete lack of "leadership." At which point I am obligated to remind you that a Twitter account which did nothing but tweet the exact same thing as the president was suspended after only three days. If only that applied to the president himself, maybe we wouldn't be quite so bad off as we are now. Because don't even get me started on his repugnant attempt to use the death of George Floyd to endorse fucking job numbers.
• FOX "News!" I agree that there's a clear and present danger to this country from "fake news." Unfortunately the fakest of all fake news, FOX "News," mostly gets a pass from our impeached leader (except when they lob a rare criticism his way, at which time they're garbage too!). Their nonstop parade of falsehoods, exaggerations, and outright lies are bad enough... but they insist on being racist fucks on top of it all.
Sane Humans: You can't put a price on a human life!
FOX "News": Sure you can! We do it all the time! Well... we do for Black men...
FOX "News" is doing stupid racist shit like this all the fucking time...
Laura Ingraham on Black players: "Shut up and dribble."
Laura Ingraham on white players: "They are allowed to have an opinion.. they have worth as people.... and speaking against them is Stalinist!"
FOX "News" doesn't even pretend they're not racist pieces of shit. Their agenda is full-on white supremacy, and people like Laura Ingraham who dismissed peaceful protest and encouraged everybody to persecute peaceful protesters is exactly why shit is going down right now. But of course they blame everybody but themselves. And note that Drew Brees ultimately realized he was acting like a privileged piece of shit and apologized. You won't get that from FOX "News." That would go against their agenda of praising straight white Christian men and demonizing those who are not straight white Christian men. This is apparently what they're talking about when they say "All Lives Matter."
The utter trash that is FOX "News" having viewers believe and support everything they say perfectly encapsulates how sick we are as a country and how totaly fucked we are.
• Do Better Democrats! And don't think for a minute that my political ranting is over and Republicans get all my attention... because wait, there's more! THE ROOT: NY Rep. Eliot Engel Caught on Hot Mic at George Floyd Press Conference: "If I Didn’t Have a Primary, I Wouldn’t Care."
Democrats claiming moral superiority over Republicans is laughable when y'all have dumbass garbage like this representing your party. Outright saying that he doesn't give a crap about the people he represents? I may die of unshock. Where is Democrat leadership in this? Oh... I know... they're nowhere... he's a powerful long-term incumbent, so I guess he gets a pass? Fuck that. And fuck this piece of shit. And if you want to make excuses for this? Fuck you too. We are way, way past the time when career politicians should get a pass on their heinous behavior and actions just because they're entrenched and have power. This repugnant do-nothing Democrat (who admits he only shows up when he has to) is on his 16th term in Congress. Where are our fucking #TermLimits?? Still waiting. And I'll keep waiting because trash like this are the ones writing the rules. We see you NY District 16. You elected him with 74% of the vote in 2018. Are you going to continue to support him knowing he doesn't give a shit... just because you find him "comfortable? You get what you vote for. Do better.
• Led Zep! And just because I want to end this on a positive note... I've been following Luca Stricagnoli for years. This is his latest, in which he is playing Led Zep on a single-neck guitar... a little different from how he usually performs...
Amazing what he's able to get out of an instrument.
And now... back to hacking and slashing monsters in a dungeon, I guess.
As I mentioned a while back, I had a DVD stop working and decided to backup my massive CD/DVD/Blu-Ray collection to computer files that I can import into my Plex Media Server. It's been going great so far, and I've been ripping through everything as fast as I can. Then I'm boxing all the physical media up and storing it in my garage. That way I have proof that I bought it in case anybody wants to accuse me of piracy. I don't steal content. On the contrary, I'm proud to support the artists who make the media I enjoy.
But CDs and DVDs aren't the only thing I'm attempting to back up.
For those TV shows I have recorded on VHS and 8mm tape which are not available to purchase, I'm converting them as well.
One of the shows I was going to convert from 8mm tape was My Boys because iTunes didn't have it for sale. But then I thought to check Amazon and managed to get DVDs of seasons 1-3 for just $17! How sweet is that?
Such a great show. Alas, the final 9 episodes of the series that made up Season 4 can't be found anywhere. Everyplace I've found which has DVDs for sale end up being bootlegs. And since I don't steal content, I certainly don't support people stealing content.
I've still got many, many shows to convert over but, as of today, all my music has been ripped or re-purchased digitally. Re-purchasing is easiest, but so many things I only have on mix-tapes or cassette singles or LP singles just aren't available. I keep checking through.
The only thing I cannot figure out how to purchase is some of the short films I've saved over the years. Some of them I've actually found on iTunes to buy. But others? No clue.
Plex got confused between two of these short movies I love... Sign and Signs. After separating them and telling Plex that they are not the M. Night. Shyamalan movie Signs, I had to watch them again, of course. This first one is entirely too sweet. I've seen it a dozen times and love it more with each viewing ❤️...
Here's the other short film that Plex got confused on. It's absolutely wonderful. More happens here in 12 minutes than you'd find in most movies that are 2 hours long ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜...
I sure do wish I could support these filmmakers and actors by buying these films on iTunes... or anywhere, really, so if anybody knows where they're for sale, I'd appreciate a heads-up.
Six months in quarantine and dumbass idiots just keep our pandemic going strong, but at least there's something to read... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• So Very COVID! U.S. Coronavirus Outbreaks Are Increasingly Tied to Small Family Gatherings, according to this Vice article: If You Love Your Family, Stay the Hell Away From Them. This pandemic is never going to end. This is why.
• WOMAN, CAMERA, TV! Sarah Cooper has just been given a comedy special deal by Netflix. After her many hilarious videos and this monologue for Kimmel, it's easy to see why...
Good on you, Miss Cooper.
• JAJA DING DONG! If you saw the Will Ferrell Netflix movie, Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga, you know that he plays an Icelandic singer who dreams of competing in the Eurovision song competition. A joke in the movie is when he sings a song called Jaja Ding Dong, which is about exactly what you'd think it would be about. Well, the real-life Iceland Eurovision contestant, Daði Freyr, is constantly being asked to cover the song, and he finally relented...
• Puppies! When I was in Zimbabwe, I was very, VERY lucky to see wild dogs. They are rare to spot, and there was a group of people that flew in a couple weeks prior to my visit who came specifically to photograph them... but never saw a single pup after a week of searching. They are really remarkable creatures, and it's cool that they have found ways to help restore the wild dog populations of Africa...
They're beautiful creatures, to be sure.
• Cats! Tell me that you don't think of Jake and his beloved toy Mufasa when you see this...
Cats are the most incredible creatures.
• Cohen! Michael Cohen's new book is coming, and it promises to be a doozy. I won't give the piece of shit a single cent of my money no matter how much dirt he's dishing... and there's really no reason to. I'm sure all the tea will be spread far and wide without me having to buy a thing. If nothing else we'll finally get confirmation that the pee pee tape exists...
I believed it all along.
And that's they way it goes. Enjoy your pandemic.
The world may be on fire, but don't let that dissuade you from pulling out the marshmallows... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Transplant! I've written a couple times about my favorite show of 2020, the Canadian medical drama Transplant. It's just fantastic television and deserves a look. If you're heere in the US, NBC is airing it on Tuesdays and on their Peacock streaming service. Today I found out that Apple iTunes Store is offering a Season Pass for all 13 episodes for $25. It didn't take me even one second to purchase it, even though I already have Canadian recordings of all the episodes. I support shows I like by purchasing them whenever I possibly can. This was a no-brainer.
• Farmer! In an age where laughs are getting harder to find, this was exactly what I needed...
Almost makes me want to get on TikTok to keep up with him.
• HEADLINE! Face masks could be giving people Covid-19 immunity, researchers suggest. Not that anything wil ever dissuade the dumb-fuck anti-mask brigade, but any news is good news, right?
• Float! Apple sure does know how to create amazing retail spaces. Every store I've visited around the world... even the most basic... is incredible. My favorites are those which take classic old buildings and turns them into jaw-dropping shops. But there's something to be said for their mind-blowing original creations...
Apple Stores are practically destination-worthy. If we were in different times, I'd take a diversion to Singapore to see this marvel.
• New New Order! One of my all-time favorite bands has released new music!
It's different. But as a huge fan of dream-pop, this half-step in that direction is not something I hate. I actually rather like it, even though it's not what I was expecting.
• Lunch! Yesterday I was going to get up at 7am, get some bread started, clean the kitchen, put another coat of paint on the cabinets, then cook up a vegetable bake with dumplings for lunch. But then I took one look out my window as smoke was pouring into the valley and decided I'd sleep until noon. This was lunch...
Now-a-days, you do what you can do and try not to feel like a failure for not doing what you feel you should be doing. Just getting up in the morning to feed my cats was doing good during a pandemic. But while the world is on fire during a pandemic? Vodka Coke and frozen veggie corn dogs is a frickin' miracle.
And now... once more into the breach.
September may be coming to a close, but not everything has to end... because an all new Special Video Edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Yikes! Need to be filled with awe and wonder today? Need to be filled with awe and wonder while shitting your pants? Well here you go...
There are some places you'd swear that man was not meant to go. Which is why they go, I suppose.
• Panda! Think wrangling kids is tough? Try looking after pandas...
It's the cutest kind of mischief, I suppose.
• Circles! I may not like a lot of Posty's music... but this song and video are sublime...
That he had a hand in writing it as well just makes it all the mor impressive a track.
• Hello! "912, what's your white emergency?"
• Enola! Looking for something good to watch? Netflix has a movie about Sherlock Holmes's teenage sister, Enola Holmes...
Really, really hope that we will be getting a sequel.
• Ted! Dang. Apple TV Plus is finally releasing shows compelling enough that I may actually want to pay for it when my free subscription runs out. Mythic Quest, Central Park, and Long Way Up are great television. But Ted Lasso is next level. Funny, sweet, and surprisingly deep... it's sure to make my Best of 2020 list...
And to think... Foundation is still on the way!
There it was... that was the last bullet for September.
I didn't really do much for Black Friday despite it being the most important shopping day of the year for me in past years. But I did make a purchase on Cyber Monday that I had been wanting to make for a while now... new wireless over-ear headphones.
While I live alone and can blast music as loud as I want to, I don't actually end up doing this because it is tough on my cats with their sensitive ears. Sometimes I watch a movie with the sound loud and they don't seem to mind... or run upstairs if they do mind... but I generally don't do that because it's not really fair to them since they can't escape the noise.
Enter the Beats by Dr. Dre Solo Pro WiFi Headphones which were knocked down to $170 (from their usual $300 price tag). And since I had $50 in reward certificates piled up at Best Buy, that knocked the price down to a reasonable $120...
Sexy, aren't they?
Not in the same league as Apple's incredible new AirPods Max headphones, but those cast $550, which is half a mortgage payment, so they're out of my league.
Probably the easiest way to review these is to just run through the pros and cons, so that's exactly what I'm going to do...
And that's a wrap. Most everything I have in the "cons" column can be overlooked or dealt with except the tight fit. And I cannot for the life of me fathom what Apple was thinking here. Surely they had people try them on before releasing them to manufacturing? If I were to return these, it would be for that reason alone. It's absolutely infuriating that this is a huge concern and outright complaint on these cans by so many people yet Apple has chosen to ignore the feedback. Infuriating but not surprising... just look at Apple's idiotic "butterfly keyboard" that they stuck to like glue despite years of massive outrage by customers telling them it was shitty. Apple always does what they want and doesn't give a crap about how it affects usability or comfort. You either live with it or you don't. And what a shame.
I guess we'll see if having my head squeezed is a dealbreaker and I end up returning these. In the meanwhile, I sure do like the sound I'm hearing.
Now that Apple has released their $550 AirPods Max, it seems fitting that I review my new AirPods Pro. I had done some work for a friend this past Summer who kindly showed their appreciation with an Amazon gift certificate. I never knew what to do with it until I bought a new heated mattress pad and had some left over to buy AirPods Pro. I wasn't going to get them because I didn't like the original AirPods, but they were on sale for $180 and reviews claimed that all the things I hated about the originals had been solved... and then some. And since I may end up traveling again one day, they seemed a handy thing to have. The sound, while nothing great, is good enough when you're traveling and don't want to cart around a big pair of headphones.
So let's get to it, shall we?
PROBLEM: AIRPODS FALL OUT OF YOUR EARS CONSTANTLY
This was my most hated flaw of the originals. It got to the point where I was afraid to travel with them because they would never stay in my ears. Fart with your head turned and you're guaranteed that at least one of them would pop right out, and I was furious that Apple screwed the design up so badly. Eventually I "solved" this by purchasing silicone cups to put over them, but it was a crap solution because I had to take them off in order to fit the AirPods back in the charging case. AirPods Pro, on the other hand, have silicone cups already on them (in your choice of sizes) and stay in my ears perfectly fine. In addition, the seal they make provides better sound.
PROBLEM: WIRELESS CHARGING CASE COSTS EXTRA
AirPods Pro come with a wireless case included, thus saving me from trying to track down the stupid-ass Apple "Lightning" cable with a USB-C connector. Considering I have ONE USB-C charging brick that I can never find (amongst a hundred USB-A bricks), I usually end up having to charge from my MacBook Pro. What kind of life is this? JUST SWITCH EVERYTHING OVER TO USB-C ALREADY!!! Holy shit. The dream scenario of just having to lug around ONE charger for everything will always be out of reach when Apple keeps forcing us to suck on their shitty, antiquated, idiotic Lightning port. But NOPE!. Fortunately the MagSafe puck I'll be traveling with can also charge these wirelessly, so at least there's one less thing to forget at home.
PROBLEM: NO NOISE CANCELATION
When traveling... especially on a plane... having noise cancelation is essential unless you want to blast the volume to insane levels. I really missed it when I upgraded(?) to AirPods, and am happy that AirPods Pro have remedied this. Not surprisingly, Apple did a great job and it works well. And when you don't need the cancelation, there's "transparency mode" which allows outside sound to come through.
PROBLEM: POOR CONNECTIVITY
The original AirPods used the W1 chip which had wonky connectivity problems which popped up at random. Apple then developed the H1 which improved on this greatly in their second generation AirPods. This was carried over into AirPods Pro and it is a far better experience. The H1 also features "Always On Siri" which means she's always listening and can respond to commands.
PROBLEM: SEALED, DISPOSIBLE DESIGN
Of course Apple hasn't solved this problem... they are in the disposable design business! Like previous versions, AirPods Pro are glued together so you can't replace the battery when it won't hold a charge any more, essentially making them landfill poison. About the only thing you can do other than toss them is take them to Apple for recycling. Apparently there's a battery program at Apple, but they don't actually replace the battery, they just give you a new pair and recycle the old ones for a price.
PRO EXTRA: SIZE
AirPods Pro are slightly smaller, but in a way that makes them look a lot smaller when you're wearing them... a good thing.
PRO EXTRA: SPATIAL AUDIO
And here's what convinced me to pull the trigger on the AirPods Pro... spatial audio. This weird, magical technology somehow simulates a kinda "surround" style sound where the speakers know when you turn your head in relationship to the multi-channel audio coming from your late-model iPhone or iPad. And it totally works! Turn to the left and your right AirPod has the center channel directed more towards it. The effect is actually best when your head is turned than when you're looking straight ahead... but it's still pretty good even so, because occasional head movement you're not even aware of keeps the illusion intact. I sincerely wish that this was a feature on the Beats Solo Pro cans I reviewed yesterday.
I would not have bought AirPods Pro if it weren't for the gift certificate balance I had. And I certainly wouldn't have paid the full price of $249 for them. But for "free" (relatively) and $180 (on sale)? They're still way overpriced, but ultimately worth it for travel or even just walking to work given that these ACTUALLY STAY IN MY EARS. These are what Apple should have released the first time, design-wise. On the plus-side, the sound is better than other wireless earbuds I've tried (but still not spectacular), pairing with Apple devices is effortless and the way everything works together is magical and seamless, the wireless charging case is great, the spatial audio is fantastic, and they work as advertised. On the minus-side the built-in disposability is awful.
Once I'm able to travel again, I guess I'm set for audio now.
Assuming I ever get to travel again.
In the war for smart assistant domination... Amazon Alexa vs. Apple Siri vs. Google Google, I'm firmly in the Alexa camp. I was so impressed with what Amazon had done that I built my entire "smart home" around devices which were compatible with Alexa. And it's been mostly glorious. I have Alexa-enabled SONOS speakers everywhere and can tell Alexa to control anything and everything just by talking to her in any room in the house.
Then Apple dropped Siri and I figured that it was all over. As a massive fanboy of Apple's computers and smart devices, switching over to Siri was inevitable.
Or was it?
Siri wasn't even a fraction as capable as Alexa was at the time. Siri relied on "HomeKit" to control your home, and it was so utterly bad that I dubbed it "HomeShit" and gave up. I tried once again to get Siri and HomeKit working for me when I bought a HomePod speaker, but that was such an epic disaster that I returned the speaker and gave up a second time.
Google's smart assistant which, from what I can tell, is also named "Google" was never on my radar. I had a Google WiFi router mesh network that left me cold when Google dumped IFTTT. The only smart devices I have are Nest cameras which Google bought out. But I was fine using my phone and MacBook Pro to interact with the cameras and nothing further was required, so getting into the Google ecosystem wasn't in the cards. The only thing I didn't like about this was that the Nest Cam integration with Alexa is awful, and telling Alexa to display a camera feed on my Alexa Fire TV rarely worked.
Enter the Google Nest Hub Digital Photo Frame which was on sale for $50. Down from its regular price of $90. I don't really have $50 to kick around, but I ended up taking it out of my Black Friday money just to have a look. If I hated it, I could always return the thing.
Yeah, this ain't being returned.
My only regret in buying it was that I didn't buy two of them.
The Google Nest Hub Digital Photo Frame is designed to display photos which means the screen is of pretty good quality. And while it's nice to see photo memories from my Google Photos account flash by, but that's not why I bought it.
"Hey Google! Show me the front yard."
Now instead of scrambling for my phone whenever I get an alert, I can just glance over at the photo frame and Google will display the camera feed I asked for. Immediately.
That alone would have been worth the $50. But it gets better. Google Assistant is faster and more accurate than Alexa. I have thrown every ridiculous command I can think of at Google, and it simply does not falter. Compare that to Alexa, which has been getting increasingly finicky. I honestly don't think that Google misunderstood a command or query in the near-two weeks I've been using it. The difference is so nice that I'm seriously thinking about looking into how to bridge my INSTEON smart home devices to Google, convert all my SONOS speakers to Google Assistant, and train myself to say "Hey Google" instead of "Alexa."
The problem is my music.
I go with Amazon Music Unlimited which is ridiculouly easy to control with Alexa. Needless to say, Google doesn't play well with Amazon because the two companies hate each other. Which means I would have to switch to Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, or something. Since Amazon Music Unlimited is just $6.60 a month because I have a Prime membership, I don't know that it makes economic sense to switch. Apple Music, for example, is $3.40 more a month. In which case I'd probably just buy Apple One to keep AppleTV+ when my free subscription ends in February (gotta have my Ted Lasso!) which also gets me Apple Arcade and a bump in iCloud storage.
So I dunno. Something to ponder in March, I guess? Or in May when my Amazon Music Unlimited runs out.
All I do know is that I wish I had a Google Nest Hub Digital Photo Frame on my bedside table. And in my kitchen. Maybe next Black Friday when they go on sale again?
In 2020 more than ever I found myself listening to old favorites rather than seeking out new stuff to enjoy. 80's pop, classic old-school rap, and 80's metal were all reminders of easier times, and that was where my refuge lay. And yet... there was some new stuff which crept into my listening, so here we go...
THE TEN BEST...
#1 Plastic Hearts by Miley Cyrus
I have made zero apologies of my love of all things Miley Cyrus. I loved her through her Hannah Montana years. I loved her as she went full-on rebel mode to escape Hannah Montana. I loved her when she dipped into country. And I love her now that she's taking a welcome plunge into classic rock with a pop edge to it. You can feel her influences for Plastic Hearts which is free of missteps but definitely has a stronger set of tracks to it. And if you don't think I lost my mind when she performed Blondie's Heart of Glass at the iHeart Music Festival, then you don't really know my musical tastes very well, do you? In any event, she's still got that million-dollar-voice that I'm completely addicted to no matter what form it takes.
#2 Shore by Fleet Foxes
Playing right into my dream-pop-loving hands, Fleet Foxes decided to craft an album that comes dangerously close to the sublime dreamy headspace that sends you to another world so effortlessly. I am scared to look at the play count for Shore but I'm sure it's substantial, as it inevitably gets requested when I'm sitting down to work. I work quite a lot, and so...
#3 What's Your Pleasure? by Jesse Ware
I am not really sure if this dance-pop miracle is reaching so far back that it's got disco in its DNA, but it sure feels as though that's the case. Filled with one great track after another, Jessie clearly had a vision for this album which paid off beautifully. Nothing here is going to blow you away lyrically, but the tracks transcend any failing by compelling you to move while you listen to them.
#4 Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa
And speaking of disco DNA, look no further than Dua Lipa's latest to hear exactly how pop tracks can plunder pop hits from the past to create songs built for heavy radio rotation (not that there's anything wrong with that). This is dance-pop wrapped up in everything bright and pretty but somehow still satisfies.
#5 Southside by Sam Hunt
As Country music starts adopting a pop sensibility, I find it popping up in my music more and more (Kacey Musgraves's album Golden Hour was my second favorite album of 2018). Sam Hunt not only has a great voice, but he is really inventive in how he crafts his songs. Some of it could almost be described as contemporary Country blended with 70's soft rock blended with 80's hip-hop blended with 90's pop, and I'm here for it. I remember that the single Downton's Dead actually dropped a long while back(?) but was apparently a single release until it found its way onto this album.
#6 Fun City by Bright Light Bright Light
Rod Thomas has blessed us with another retro dance-pop creation that sounds as if it was lifted wholsale right out of the early 1980's and, though it is a pretty great album in its own right, much of the time it had me reaching back for 2016's Choreography immediately after listening. I don't know that it's because I prefer the earlier album... or if it's because this album just isn't enough. Regardless, I found myself addicted to Bright Light Bright Light most of the year. As if that wasn't enough, Rod dropped what has to be one of the gayest mainstream music videos I've ever seen. And I mean that in a good way. No, seriously, it's super-cute.
#7 Notes on a Conditional Form by The 1975
Their first two albums, The 1975 and I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, cemented the band as one of my all time favorites. Track after track after track they were powering through some of the most brilliant pop I had heard in ages. But then... A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships gave me pause. It was enough of a departure from formula as to be jarring, and I wasn't sure I liked it. Sure there were tracks that fit nicely into what I love about their music, but it just wasn't enough. With Notes on a Conditional Form it's like they took a half-step back maybe? Still not capturing the magic of their first two albums, but there's enough within this 22-track(!) release once the introduction, musical interludes, and faux Marilyn Manson track People are deleted to keep me happy.
#8 Hotspot by Pet Shop Boys
Add another album to 2020's disco album train. I have long since accepted that I will never again get a Pet Shop Boys album where Every. Single. Track, is my favorite song ever. The last one of those was Yes in 2009, and before that was Very in 1993. And yet... this hasn't kept them from continuing to be one of my favorite bands of all time. Fortunately they are prolific enough that I can pretty much just smoosh the best of two releases together and come up with enough tracks to create an album I enjoy (I did this with Elysium and Electric from 2012 and 2013). And here we are again. By combining the best of Super (2016) with the best of Hotspot, I once again have another great release from Pet Shop Boys (though this one took a while to complete given their timing).
#9 RTJ4 by Run the Jewels
Every time Rap or Metal hits my list, people are somehow still surprised to learn that I listen to it, let alone like it. Probably because it's the complete opposite of the pop musings that dominate my musical habits. Well, what can I say, there are times I want to have my utter contempt and disgust of this fucked-up world attacked with a viscious melodic beatdown, and that isn't coming from any pop album. Run the Jewels remains one of my favorite groups, and every reason why can be found on RTJ4. Socially relevant commentary rarely sounds this good.
#10 folklore/evermore by Taylor Swift
My favorite album of last year... by a wide, wide margin... was Taylor Swift's Lover. The woman just knows how to craft a pop song that knows how to push every one of my buttons. So imagine my delight when she unloaded folklore as a surprise album release in July! Then imagine my actual surprise when she released yet another album this month! But, alas, they are not what I'm really looking for from Taylor Swift, so neither of them really did much for me. I mean, sure, there are some tracks that I enjoy (see below) but folk and folk-pop are just not something I enjoy, even when they're really pretty and well-constructed like this. Oh well. Maybe after the pandemic is on its way out she'll resume her "pop reinvention" phase and I can go back to hanging on her every lyric. In the meanwhile, I deleted half of the tracks from folklore and half the tracks from evermore and got an album strong enough to still make my list.
FAVORITE VIDEO OF 2020...
Take Me Home for Christmas by Dan + Shay
Being barely familiar with Dan + Shay (they're the "Tequila song guys" to me), you might as well have knocked me over the head with a snowman when I was watching the holiday rom-com Dashing in December only to have this infinitely catchy Christmas track pop up. I've listened to it at least a hundred times in the span of a month and love it more with each new listen. AND THEN I found this really great video, which is about the sweetest thing ever. I really have to remember to look up more of their stuff, because if this is any indication I've been seriously missing out...
ALSO WORTH A LISTEN...
A few more albums I found myself enjoying in 2020 can be found in an extended entry.→ Click here to continue reading this entry...