30 September 2015

Making an Apple Music playlist

The task: I have a list of songs that I want to make into an Apple Music playlist using iTunes on my iMac.

Step 1: Search My Music. If I already have the song in my library, that is likely the version I want in the playlist.

If it weren’t for step 2 below, this wouldn’t need to be a full, separate step. I’d search My Music and—if the song wasn’t there—one click would switch me to searching all of Apple Music.

The good news: If I find the song in My Music, it is easy to add it to my playlist. On to the next song. Otherwise...

Step 2: Search Wikipedia for the song to find which album (or other information) will distinguish the version I want.

Apple Music almost never has just a single version of a song, but it gives me precious little context to help me distinguish them from one another. I’ve learned from experience that things go a lot smoother when I check Wikipedia before searching Apple Music or the iTunes Store.

I’m not suggesting that a service should choose a definitive version for me, but it would be nice if it gave me some useful context. This sort of context seems in-line with Apple and Beats’ “people over algorithms” stance. In fact, I’d argue that this fits it moreso than mere curation.

Step 3: Add the song to My Music. Apple Music doesn’t allow you to add a song to a playlist unless you add it to your My Music first.

Well, I did find ways to do it, but it didn’t really work. The song wasn’t added to the playlist. Or if it was, it remained invisible.

Step 4: Search for the song (again) in My Music, and add the song to the playlist. Finally go to the next song on the list.

Compared to Spotify: Doing the same task in Spotify suffered, of course, from the issue of step 2 as well. Although it benefited from not having steps 1 or 3. Once I’d found a song, I could add it directly to my playlist. My biggest complaint about Spotify when creating a playlist was not being able to see the search results and the playlist side-by-side—which is also a problem in iTunes.

So... Even leaving out step 2, creating an Apple Music playlist with iTunes is shockingly clunky. It is hard to believe creating a playlist wasn’t an important enough use case to get better treatment. And a music service that wants to truly differentiate itself from the competition should perhaps look farther than just algorithms and farther than just curation.

A side note: Apple Music’s curation (over competitors’ algorithms) is touted as a distinguishing feature. I’d argue that Spotify’s shared user playlists are more useful curation that all of Apple/Beats “experts”. The ideal service would have both and ensure they both worked well.

24 September 2015

Will the iPad Pro get pro apps?

Why there is no Sketch for the iPad?

On the one hand, I certainly expect a developer to know their business better than I do.

On the other hand, this certainly sounds a lot like the same logic I heard from my competitors for not supporting the Mac back-in-the-day (the latter half of the 1990s) when my company was making a third of our profits from the Mac.

It’s ironic that Apple sells its products for a market willing to spend premium prices, yet the App Store has this perceived race-to-the-bottom justified by developers’ skepticism that the same market is willing to pay premium prices.

From products to platforms

Microsoft’s and Adobe’s subscriptions do not appeal to me. Although perhaps that has as much to do with my experience as a customer of both companies than with the subscriptions themselves. I’m glad they’re support the iPad, but I want apps from smaller developers too.

Would trials or upgrade pricing or other things “solve” the problem? Surely it could help, but this looks more like a perception problem to me. Although, sometimes the way to address a perception problem is to address the perceived problem. But those “solutions” have their own downsides.

Meanwhile, the Omni Group seems to be doing fine selling iPad apps for $50 each.

As an iPad user, someone who wants good apps, and someone willing to pay for them; this is something I worry about. Whether true or not, how many apps is this conventional wisdom keeping off the platform?

23 September 2015


...or “What for brains?”

Final update on the JetBrains Toolbox announcement

I’d been waffling on whether to buy JetBrain’s CLion when they announced their move to a subscription model. They’ve made the decision easy for me.

I do like to see companies admit their mistakes, and I like to reward that. But this has all the hallmarks of a leadership that is customer-unfriendly and not smart. I am not going to reward that.

22 September 2015

Modes and guitar

I find the use of modes in guitar instruction generally unhelpful.

The first problem is when modes are used simply to name positions. A mode is what notes get emphasized, not where on the fretboard you are playing them. You can play Mixolydian in the position that’s called Ionian. Using the mode names for positions simply confuses things for no reason.

The second problem is that modal playing is one style. And not a style for beginners. Modes should be introduced much later than they often are and only if the student is interested in that sort of style. Just as in music theory courses. Introducing modes early simply creates confusion for no good reason.

21 September 2015


The quarterstaff and its use—as described by 15th & 16th century sources—differs greatly from what we tend to see in movies, on TV, or in games.

You may have heard various reasons for the name “quarterstaff”, but the truth is that we don’t know.

The “short staff” of George Silver’s Paradoxes of Defence (1599) is 8–9 feet. (Contrasted against the 12–18-foot “long staff”.) This was not simply a scavenged branch (or a wizard’s walking stick) but a purpose made weapon, often with iron shod tips. Perhaps even sharped. It would, of course, be made of a hard wood like ash.

I haven’t found information about a period source for the diameter. Perhaps 1¼–1½ inches?

While the hands were presumably repositioned during use, the “default” grip would be to have one hand near the butt end and the hands about 1–1½ feet apart. Much like the use of other pole weapons.

To—as is my wont—apply this to role-playing games: A walking/wizard’s staff and a quarterstaff should be different things. A wizard’s staff used as a weapon ought to be treated as an improvised weapon. A quarterstaff should certainly not be free. For D&D, wizards should not get quarterstaff proficiency. (Indeed, oD&D and B/X do not allow magic-users to wield quarterstaves.)

If applied to my classic D&D melee weapons, perhaps a quarterstaff should become a large weapon?

On a related note: Did Gandalf use his staff as a weapon? (Spoiler: No.)

20 September 2015

Why don’t fans like Jar Jar?

From “Jar Jar Binks: A Digital Star is Born”:

Lucas doesn’t care too terribly much that some folks have a problem with Jar Jar. “I think the comic-relief character is an important dramatic device,” he says. “Some of the fans that want The Phantom Menace to be The Terminator don’t like the idea that there are comic characters in it. I certainly am not going to make a grim bloodfest out of Star Wars.”

I think Lucas is wrong. While there may be some fans for whom this is true, I think most fans who don’t like Jar Jar don’t like him because this comic-relief character is much too much the focus of The Phantom Menace. He detracts/distracts from the story rather than enhancing it.

(Which is why I’d love to see The Phantom Edit.)

I also suspect this is a direct result of Lucas experimenting with ways of filmmaking—doing pre-production, production, and post-production somewhat concurrently. My guess is that this process obscured the “big picture” from the filmmakers.

19 September 2015

Wizards’ closing their fora

Wizards of the Coast are shutting down their community fora.

Back with D&D3e came out, I was an active participant. Back then, I accessed them through an NNTP client instead of through the web site. (I still think NNTP worked better for such things than web sites.)

When I went “back to basics” with RPGs, I often spent time in their out-of-print forum. My “I used to think...” page was originally a post there.

They tried to turn it into a social network called Gleemax in 2007, which seemed poorly executed and was shutdown by 2009.

By the time D&D5e was in the works, I could still log in to comment on articles posted on their site but got an error when trying to log into to the fora.

I certainly spent more time on Dragonsfoot, ENWorld, and various other RPG-related fora; but the Wizards’ fora were always a fixture of that landscape. I spend almost no time on such fora today. Mainly because I’ve chosen to spend that time other—though not necessarily better—ways. So, I can’t really say whether this is a good decision or a bad one.