I’m still buying music CD’s

It’s May and two of my favorite recording artists, Bjork and Nine Inch Nails, released albums this month.  I first found out about the new releases when I was sent messages about them from iTunes and when they appeared on my recommendation list on Amazon.  I listened to the 30-sec previews of songs on the album on iTunes, but I ended up purchasing the CD’s rather than downloading thme.  I purchased Bjork’s from a brick-and-mortar book/music store and NIN from Amazon.

 

So why didn’t I do what the cool kids do and purchase the albums on iTunes?  Because I can’t burn the songs onto a CD so I can listen to them in my car.  Ah, iTunes DRM … it completely violates the mantra “my music, my way, anywhere I want it.”  Additionally, anybody who frequently uses their computer has experienced the pain of hard disk failure.  I’m rather hard on my computers, so I really don’t trust the integrity of my hard drives. 

 

In my purchases, this time, I noticed the albums’ packaging included some features that can’t be enjoyed without buying the CD.  The Bjork “Volta” CD has interesting shiny packaging that is like opening a little gift.  Inside there is the CD and a little book with pictures and lyrics.  I actually felt a little guilty breaking the seal on such a shiny red surface – it’s so pretty.  The NIN CD has provocative packing suggesting that listening to their/his CD is anti-Bush.  The CD itself is printed with thermal sensitive ink, so after you play it the matte black paint on the CD disappears revealing the title and credits on a creamy background.  I found this quite humorous.  I imagine a lot of CD’s have similar gimmicks to combat online music stores and downloading.

 

Anyhow, once I got the CD’s home, I immediately ripped them onto my iPod and then slipped them into the CD changer in my car.  Happiness …

 

I have downloaded some songs from iTunes, but only songs from albums that don’t have enough good songs on them to make them worth buying, songs that I consider poppy throw-aways that, for whatever reason, have caught my attention and but I can’t admit to liking, or, lastly, the album is out of print and the only place I can get the music is through a download.

 

I’m eagerly awaiting DRM free online music so I can download and do whatever I want to with the music I buy.  I imagine I will continue to buy CD’s from my favorite artists or buy CD’s that have special features that enhance the experience of the CD.

Hello Again …

I’m Jen. I’m a gadget freak and so is my husband — we’re those folks who have no furniture but each of us has 3-computers in our shared office space (mess) and at least 2 iPod products apiece (one for the car, one for the gym, one for the home office, one for work … and so on — somebody help us). Yep, I’m a gamer and hand-in-hand with that I’m into anime and the like. I sorta feel like I’m experiencing the childhood I never had because I spent 6th grade through grad school in the pursuit of a 4.0+ GPA (yes, this is what happens to a lot of those children that were pushed hard to do well … that is if they don’t burn-out and become “Domestic Gods” or “Goddesses”.). I have a little brother who chose childhood over school and I have a feeling that within a few years he’ll overtake me in professional success. He concentrated on learning about people and maintaining relationships — he’s a naturally likeable guy and he’s got the entrapeneurial spirit. We’re mutually jealous of each other, but I imagine he would never imagine that I envy his ease and likeability. He really looks up to big sister, but he has no idea that I look up to him … silly boy! So … I’m starting my 7th quarter of Japanese at UCSD extension. I’ve decided that I aspire to be an anime fansubber. To each his own I suppose. I have the full support of my husband who has me translating manga for him. I just translated my first manga this week. It took me several hours over 5 days. In these 5-days, I have learned to use a kanji dictionary and increased my vocabulary and grammar skills a little bit. I’m quite proud of myself. I’ve began my second manga a couple of days ago. It’s even more challenging than the first since there’s no furigana to help me with the Kanji’s I don’t know. As usual I can understand most of what is being said to me in Japanese (if common conversational words are used) and I can translate text pretty well with the aid of dictionaries, but I have lots of trouble getting it out of my mouth. Everything feels like a tongue twister — chotto hen na no … (I also learned Spanish and understand quite a bit, but I can’t get it out of my mouth either.) Translating text is actually a lot of fun. I find it stimulating because it’s like unscrambling riddles. Sometimes there isn’t a direct translation to English, so a lot adjectives are used to describe an object or a feeling — it’s kinda poetic. Anyhow, my neck hurts from hours of hunching over my dictionaries. I now lose big chunks of the evening and the weekends to translating, which isn’t so bad since my husband has joined WOW. We do these activities in the same space so we have a lot of funny side conversations about what WOW foolishness my husband has involved himself in and I share the Japanese “riddles.” It’s becoming a secret language — it like it :)! Anyhow, that’s enough for today … I’ll try to write something weekly in this blog and we’ll see how it goes :).

Our First TV Since Marriage

After 7 years of marriage my husband and I have finally purchased a TV!  Well, it’s not like we don’t have a TV — we have a 25-in TV we bought before we got married and we have a digital projector that we been using as a TV for the past 4-5-years.  We are constantly living in fear that our projector bulb will go out since it’s now several hours (years) past its life, so we figured we head off the situation by getting a HI-Def TV.

This has been a decision at least 3-years in the making.  We started fearing for our projector’s bulb’s life the first time we were warned about its age and saw that the replacement bulb was $500 (!!!).  Our first experience with Hi-Def was at CES 2003 when plasma TV were getting popular and many of the manufacturers were finally getting over the screen life issues.  We were instantly turned off to plasma because of the amount of heat the TV’s put off.  We  seriously questioned just how much of whatever is that thing radiating?  I have a vivid memory of being stuck in a stifllingly hot little demo room in which the walls were made entirely of plasma TV’s and escaping the room delirious with dehydration.  We resumed our exploration of Hi-Def TV when LCD TV’s started showing up — again, our first introduction was at  CES.  At that time (2004) “affordable” LCD TV’s were topping out at 32-in and cost a little over 2X plasma.  We would have bought one then, except our local big box electronics store (which shall remain nameless) sold us goods they didn’t actually have.  Our hopes dashed, we put it out of our minds and soon after thanked the heavens that we didn’t buy then, because shortly after prices began to drop and screen sizes increased.  Today, plasma TV’s and LCD TV are about on par cost wise — it’s just a matter of preference and how you intend to use the device.

For us, plasma has really never been a consideration since we don’t watch much broadcast TV.  I’d say about 80% of what we watch is either downloaded from the Internet or DVD’s from Netflix.  This was our main driver for getting the digital projector 4-5-years ago when we started watching fansubbed anime.  We were unable to watch our shows on our television because our TV did not have the proper interfaces to connect our laptop and when we figured out how to fudge it, the resolution was so atrocious we quickly abandoned the idea and got an HP digital projector expressed shipped to us.  *U-wah!!!*  *Sparkly lights and heavenly glow.*  The projector that we got has a max resolution of 1024 x 768 and for all purposes it functions like a 720-i Hi-Def device.  But alas, came the second half of 2006 and the shows we get from Asia are starting to show up in 1080 horizontal resolution and now I can only enjoy the full resolution is on my wide screen laptop — they weren’t kidding about being able to see every pimple and pore on an actor’s face — amazing! — but woefully only 15-in wide and I have to watch from my office chair — food in my keyboard, darnit! (“Goong” in Hi-Def — 16-Gigs of one of the most over the top soap operas ever.  A must watch if you like mush.  The Hi-Def really shows off the detail and the texture of the costumes and the set pieces.)  Spurned by this experience, the I-must-have Hi-Def bug kicked in and I got into high-gear looking for a projector upgrade or a new TV.  My husband, who has been keeping he hi-def desire in check, sheepishly grinned at me after I woke up from my 48-hr “Goong” orgy (watched it twice!!!) knowing that the TV that he had desired was finally going to be his.  Anyhow, I ordered an LCD TV from HP, and it should arrive in a week and half.  BTW:  the 360 is moving downstair … 🙂

Before looking into this, I also looked into other devices necessary to go fully hi-def.  I looked into upgrading our DVR and our cable service.  I had decided against upgrading the DVR and our cable for now since there aren’t many Hi-def cable channels available and we don’t watch enough TV to justify the expense.  “But Jen …” whines my husband.  We also need some Hi-Def sound.

So anyhow, we have new media challenges ahead of us now that anime is coming out in Hi-Def — mainly memory and processor power.  The files are now 2X what they were before and our entertainment laptop (a wonderful HP 7000-series machine) is having trouble playing some of the files.  Yep, I’ve got my eye HP media vault to meet our new storge needs and on a 9000-series laptop for the processing power and the HD-DVD drive, but I’m lamenting that I don’t have the option to get Windows XP.  I’m not feeling good enough about Vista yet to make the move.   Sigh, … what’s a girl to do?

I’m so glad HP is into the digital entertainment space and that most of the products have been good.  I’m quite pleased with the products I have purchased so far, although, a few years back customer service was horrible (!!!).  Now if we can get some further integration of devices and wrap it all up in a slick and easy-to-interface so I can finally clean up the wire clutter in my office and living room and patch the holes in my walls :).

No Security at the Gates in SD, Again …

So … I suppose this will end once cars start disappearing from the lot and assets (physical and intellectual) grow legs and walk out the door.  I’m feeling quite salty about this, but since my previous tirade magically disappeared from an errant mouse-click, I feel like some unseen greater power is telling me to keep my salt to myself.

So it’s Monday morning and my home technology has gone into shock.  Apparently somehow last night 9-Gigs of “something” showed up on my hard-drive causing me to have ~300-MB HD space which locked my poor little ‘puter hard.  First, things first, disconnect the computer from the Internet … sigh … I imagine I’ll be having fun tonight wiping my drive of some interesting pictures some malicious bug has put on my system.  The joys of the Internet … I forgot my badge too, my car was out of gas, and I’m hungry.

So I spent another weekend translating manga and pretending to do laundry.  The one thing I noticed is how “analog” my manga translation process is.  I’m translating a hard copy book and I’m using 4 paper laden dictionaries — 2 kanji dictionaries and 2 Japanese dictionaries — going from the already big dictionaries to the 40-lb tomes when I run across something uncommon.  When working in English I use an online dictionary and thesaurus (“WordSmyth”).  It’s not nearly as labor intensive — but I supposed that’s because I know English (so I like to think), whereas every time I come across a new Kanji, particulary if it has lots of strokes, I can’t figure out what the primary radical is.  It sounds like I have a little home task — check out what’s online in terms of Japanese to English dictionaries.  Considering that I always have to go through the middle-man of furigana, I doubt there is going to be an easy way to do this, especially when the unknown Kanji has no Furigana “cheats”.

So, it’s about a month into the new anime season.  My favorites so far are:

-Romeo X Juliet (a new take on the Shakespeare’s famous play — very well done so far)

-Darker than Black (can’t tell whether the main character is good or evil — I like it!  The main character is Bad-A##)

-Claymore (a lone half-demon female warrior who takes on a whiny sidekick)

-Reideen (apparently a grown up version of some bad ’80’s anime)

-Hayate Combat Butler (guilty pleasure)

Adventures in the World of the Internet Garage Sale

It was Christmas time, the time when my husband and I take 2 – 3-weeks off of work to clean the house, catch-up on anime, manga, movies, and videogames, and spend a weekend attacking a small section of the garage pile.  Last year after my manga collection finally took over every flat surface in our bedroom, so we headed down to the local put-your-furniture-together-yourself store and bought 4 bookshelves.  After filling the bookshelves (we have books other than manga too), my husband scratched his head and said to me, “this is rediculous.  No more manga for you until you get rid of some this.”  Huh?  Of course, I ignored him and went on my merry way and the manga piled up … Finally, it occured to me a couple of months ago that I could sell some of this stuff online from the very website I had initially purchased the manga.  I had already purchased lots of manga from used book sellers upto this point but I never imagined that I could be one of those sellers.

I’m still too timid to participate in online auctions, so I didn’t chose the obvious middle-man website.  I went with another that charges a hefty commission, but the processes of setting up a store front, listing items and the actual transaction are so easy and secure feeling that I don’t mind paying for the service.  Here’s how the process goes:

1.  From within my seller’s account I search for the item I want to sell via the UPC code or ISBN number

2.  I give a brief description of the condition of the item via a drop down menu and set the price.  When setting the price, the lowest price others are seling the item for is visible.

3.  I pick my shipping term — normal, express, and international shipping are possible

4. And then post my item

5.  Someone buys my item through the website interface

6. The website sends me a message that the item has been sold and to now ship the item to the buyer — name and address and a summary of the transaction are within the message.

7.  Money is deposited into an “escrow” account = cost of item + shipping credit – commission

8.  I ship the item to the buyer and then send a courtesy e-mail to let the buyer know the order has been shipped

9.  Twice a month the money in the “escrow” account is deposited into my bank account.

It’s a wonderful thing.  So far I’ve made $300+ in a couple of months and I’ve cleared out a good deal of manga that isn’t very dear to me.  I expanded my “store” to include video games that my husband and I don’t foresee us replaying.  Things are going well and I have a good reputation (5/5 stars and some nice comments from some of my buyers).  I sell roughly 1 book a day and I have sold books to people all over the US and some internationally.  I even have repeat customers!

Anyhow, I’m thankful for this service because it would be rather embarassing and inconvenient to hold a garage sale.  For one, I don’t want nosy neighbors picking through my used stuff and making judgements about me based upon the books I read.  More importantly, I don’t have set up in my garage on the weekend and actually sell stuff.  Managing my little storefront online maybe takes 15-mins of my time per day and $300 buys lots more manga and an extra night or two of eating out :). 

What next:  My husband and I will spend an upcoming weekend digging through our garage looking for our old Nintendo and Atari sytems and video games.  It appears that this old junk fetches a nice price online :).

Manga Online — I like it!

What’s not to like about manga online for 25-cents a chapter?  Not much … that’s just what a website called www.netcomics.com offers.  I came across this website about six-months ago while looking up the publisher of some of the manga/manhwa (Korean comics) I read.  The concept is simple:  buy a block of chapters for $10 and then pick whatever chapters from the manga they offer for 25-cents a chapter.  The chapters the user purchases are available for the user to view for 2-days.  For a typical manga, this is about $1 per volume vs. ~$10 to buy a new book from the bookstore.  For manga that I don’t want a hardcopy of, I think this is a good deal.  It also helps me decide whether I want to spend the $10 to actually buy a hardcopy.  Another great thing is that this method of distribution allows the publisher to simultaneously release the manga/manhwa in Korean and English.  The release period is about a chapter per week, so it feels very realtime unlike printed manga which can take years to get to the US and once it does, the volume release frequency is 3 – 6-months (ARGH!!!).

Unfortunately, Netcomics’ selection is small and most of what they have is of no interest to me.  I do wish though, for this method of distribution to be offered in general for books and manga.  I think for smaller authors it would give them a chance to be read without the publisher having to make production commitments, which leads to greater choice for the consumer.  Also, the consumer can preview or read the entire book without having to commit to the full cost of the hardcopy book and bookhelf space once the book is finished (ah, yes, there’s still the library …).  Also considering the size of some folks’ computer monitors, reading online can actually be quite enjoyable.  Particularly for manga, if you have a big enough screen you aren’t confined to squinting to read small text on a 7.5-in tall page.

There are other ways of getting manga online too.  Various download sites are available to get fan “scanlated” (scanned and translated) manga.  The quality, both of the scans and the translations, can widely vary and once the manga gets licensed in the US, the manga becomes vary difficult to find and the user becomes a pirate if he or she does happen to find it and download it.  And then there’s also the HDD memory issue which becomes quite apparent for multi-volume series.  Anyhow, kudos to Netcomics and I hope to see more sites like it in the future.

It Takes 6-Hours to Set up a TV? and the "Cord Fairy"

My entry into the world of high-definition continued last weekend and let me say that setting up a new TV and plugging in the various peripherals we own was not easy.  To set the scene properly, start the music from the Nutcracker Ballet going on your internal MP3 player.   First there was the task of dismantling our old set-up with the digital projector.  Since I’m the smaller of the pair between me and my husband, I had to venture behind the electronics pile to disconnect the stereo, the Tivo, the cable box, an antennae, and the hub.  The devastation from the Cord Fairy was extensive.  We were also visited by the Dust Bunny who left an egg-size wad of sneezing fun (thank goodness for mini-shop-vacs).  This was something I didn’t want to do until we actually got the TV in place because I had no idea how I was going to remember where all these cords plugged into without disconnecting and reconnecting them into the new holes one-at-a-time.  My husband challenged the engineer in me and after a long staring contest, in which I tried my best wifely “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” scowl, I gave in and with reckless abandon unplugged everything and did head to head battle with the Cord Fairy and the Dust Bunny.  With everything unplugged; the components spread out and the cords laid neatly in rows before us; my husband and I  lugged the TV onto it’s thone.   *Uwahhhh* (Imagine the Christmas tree unfolding scene)  Nice … again, since I’m the smaller of the pair, I climbed into the little triangle of space behind the TV, and pulled cords and components through the TV stand as my husband placed them into the empty cubby holes.  Okay … cable out the wall and into the cable box … S-video from the cable box and into the TV.  Red and black sound from the cablebox to the Tivo.  Red and black sound from the Tivo the stereo and then to the TV.  And so it went, the marvelous weaving the cords and within a blink of an eye, the Cord Fairy had struck (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is the Cord Fairy’s soundtrack) … “Honey!  I need some twist ties!”  Sigh … after an hour the cords were nicely contained and it was time to turn the TV on and test the cable and Tivo connections before plugging in the X-Box 360 and the entertainment laptop.

Miracle of miracles, my engineering prowess prevailed and everything came on!  (That wiped the smirk right off my husband’s face 🙂 ).  Now, onto the X-box:  Not wanting to be outdone, my husband decided that he could fit behind the TV too if he only used his upper body.  He sat down upon the TV stand facing out towards me and then leaned back and to the side to get behind the TV to plug in the HDMI cable, after which he discovered that he couldn’t get back up as he was then propped precariously on one butt-cheek and didn’t have enough leverage.  After chuckling a bit I helped him up and he powered on the X-Box and ramped through the resolutions.  480 lines – check, 720-lines – check, 1080 lines interlacing – check, 1080 lines non-interlacing – failure.  Huh?  It turns out that 1080p is a box spec and can only be shown on the display if pushed through at 30-Hz, which none of our devices can do.  My husband pouted, but I assured him that we most likely wouldn’t be able to see a difference.  We then enjoyed a couple of Halo 3 previews in all their 1080 lines of resolution glory.  *Nice*

Onto the nightmare – the PC:  The TV comes with a VGA port to directly plug a computer into.  We connected our trusty 3 – 4-year old entertainment laptop in (it may be old in computer years, but it still has respectable specs, even for a current desktop).  At first the TV defaulted to 1024 by 768 – no!  We then ramped through the resolutions only to get no response from the TV.  We fiddled with the refresh rates and dual view and again we were able to do 1024 x 768 and a few higher resolution settings if we spread the view of the desktop onto both screens.  After 1-hour of futility we gave up and figured that maybe the laptop was too old.  So we plugged in our laptop that is ~1-yrs old.  This time we were able to get more resolution settings to work, but not to our satisfaction.  Apparently the video card in that laptop scales everything according to the native resolution of the laptop.  We were able to push 1920 x 1080 into the TV, but it was scaled from 1280 x 800, so we had to pan in order to access the edges of the desktop.  No good!  It was now time to probe deeply into the finer features of the video driver.  After much trial and error, the video card recognized the TV as a TV and reported back that the native resolution of the device is 1360 by760-ish – Huh?  We set the resolution accordingly, laughed at HP “box specs”, and then enjoyed the third installment of the “Hellsing Ultimate” OVA.  BTW:  The TV produces excellent reds, which if any of you know anything about “Hellsing”, then you understand how marvelous (in a beautiful and hideous way) red can be.

After watching “Hellsing” we came back to reality and decided that we could not keep the working laptop downstairs because it is severely infested by Cord Fairies.  This is the computer that we download entertainment content to, print from, and do everyday computing stuff with and consequently it has 2 external hard drives, a printer, speakers,  a wi-fi mouse, and now a TV plugged into it – it looked like a hardware explosion in the middle of our Spartan family room.  So it was back to the old laptop.  Using the tricks I had learned from fiddling with the driver on the newer computer I tried a different approach on the old laptop and after an a couple of hours of trial and error and then a couple of TV synchronizations I got the thing to work at 1360 x 760-ish.  Victory!  And the casualties were: 1 digital projector which took 2 cords with it and three more cords because my husband figured out how to run all the audio connections to the TV such that there only needed to be one connection to the stereo for all the video components we have. 

Some observations on the TV:  The TV by default renders color vividly.  The is great for us because this feature really makes anime “pop,” it’s but not so good watching live action content because it causes flesh tones to look unnaturally flushed or washed out against vibrant backgrounds when the vibrancy is dialed down.  Since my husband is color blind he didn’t understand what I was talking about and I don’t particularly care because the colors are rendered much better than t
he digital projector and I like “poppy” anime.  The other thing is that watching TV (broadcast and cable) on this display sucks as it would on any high-res display.  This was made worse for us because there is significant noise in the connection between our Tivo and the TV.  Another thing about this TV is that it takes FOREVER for the thing to power up and it doesn’t come on until the second attempt to power it up.  This has gotten a lot better as of yesterday.  It now powers up on the first attempt in about 30-seconds.  Perhaps there was a burn-in period ???  Overall we are very happy with our TV.  It’s great for viewing anime, playing video games, and watching hi-def content (we watched some hi-def movie previews via the X-Box 360 and they looked outstanding! – it could be that the X-Box renders better so we didn’t get the weird flesh tones.).  As for cable TV, we watch it from a great distance so as not be upset by the blurriness.