Money People Technology

An Appleless future

It is time to buy new computers.

My desktop Windows computer is a 4+ year old Dell laptop with a burnt out LCD that I hook up to an external monitor. It’s running Windows XP, and could potentially be upgraded to Windows 7, but only with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

My laptop is the last of the PowerPC PowerBooks running Leopard, since Snow Leopard only runs on the Intel machines. I’ve had to replace the Airport card, and the hard drive, but both were covered under warranty. The keyboard is starting to get mushy, but still works. The real problem is the growing lack of support for the old PowerPC architecture.

If July royalties go well, then I’ll look at replacing at least one, possibly both. When I do, though, I won’t be replacing either with an Apple computer.

Why an Apple-free future? One reason is cost: I can replace both my desktop and laptop with good, relatively powerful Windows machines for the cost of one 13 inch Macbook Pro. The days of having money to burn for “sexy” machines are over—now I want solid machines with good software support that are competitively priced.

Another reason to move from Mac back to Windows is I don’t need a Mac. All of the applications I use have a Windows-based version. I stopped using MacPorts a while back when I got tired of the continuous round of upgrades. I don’t run a web server on my home machines anymore, doing all my development out at my web site. Besides, you can run a web server on a Windows machine as easily as a Mac.

Ease of use isn’t an issue for me, as I’m comfortable with both environments. I haven’t tried Windows 7 but whatever quirks it has, I’ll learn and adapt. I used to be able to work with DOS and the old VAX/VMS—I can handle a new operating system.

Security used to be a big reason to stay with the Mac, but nowadays Apple is as much of a target as Windows. Besides, most security problems arise because of applications, and cross OS boundaries. Relying on using a lesser used OS to protect you from problems isn’t an effective approach: a secure system is 95% common sense, 5% other. So, save some money and use common sense.

My Photoshop installation is CS3 on the Mac, but supposedly I can cross-grade my license, and swap it for a Windows license. If I have spare change from buying a new machine (i.e., you all buy more of my books) I’ll upgrade to CS5, and cross-grade the license to Windows. If Adobe doesn’t let me port my license to Windows, well, then it’s time to move all of my graphics work to GIMP. Besides, I primarily like Photoshop because I like Adobe Bridge for editing metadata and viewing my images. There are alternatives.

A last reason for not staying with Apple is I’m tired of the company. I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of seeing people in line, waiting for a phone. I’m weary of the Apple cult, Apple lawsuits, Apple prototypes, Apple mystic, and stark black and white.

I am no longer enamored of devices where form takes precedence over function. What other manufacturer could get away with providing devices where you can’t replace the batteries?

Worse is the lock-in. If you want to develop for the iPhone or iPad, you have to own a new Macbook Pro just to use the relevant SDK, and then you have to purchase the SDK. It also peeves me to see people buying into what is nothing more than a horrifically closed, obsessively controlled environment. You have to use the Apple code, develop to the Apple model, think the Apple mindset, which embraces puritanical censorship and nowadays lacks both perspective, and sense of humor.

The Steve Jobs of yesteryear was arrogant, but innovative. The Steve Jobs of today is just plain arrogant. I don’t want to give him my money.

Legal, Laws, and Regs Money

The arbitration death march

If you’ve been following my ramblings for any length of time, you know that I love cephalopods, and hate mandatory arbitration agreements. Well, the Humboldt squid have got the divers on the run in the waters off the California coast, and the consumer protection advocates now have the major arbitration firms on the run in the rest of the country.

I missed the story about the Minnesota Attorney General filing a lawsuit against NAF, the National Arbitration Forum, the worst of the mandatory arbitration firms. As part of the settlement, NAF had to pull completely out of arbitrating any consumer arbitrations. Luckily, I caught up with the news when the C & P weblog announced that the AAA is following the NAF, and this before Congress has ruled on the Fair Arbitration Act.

Sometimes, we win one.

update If you’re curious as to why I’m so down on mandatory arbitration, read this story at NPR.


You get what you pay for

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Fake Steve Jobs

We all know that there’s no fucking way in the world we should have microwave ovens and refrigerators and TV sets and everything else at the prices we’re paying for them. […] You want to “fix things in China,” well, it’s gonna cost you. Because everything you own, it’s all done on the backs of millions of poor people whose lives are so awful you can’t even begin to imagine them, people who will do anything to get a life that is a tiny bit better than the shitty one they were born into, people who get exploited and treated like shit and, in the worst of all cases, pay with their lives.

(quote via Simon Willison)

We’re still hearing more details about a young man killing himself in China because of a missing iPhone prototype, and the subsequent accusations against him. Fake Steve Jobs hit the issue right on the head with biting satire, as he writes about our willingness, or lack of willingness, to pay a little more for something in order to ensure good working conditions for the workers.

There will be lots of condemnation among the social media: blog posts, and Twitter trends, and shaking of virtual heads. Avatars will get colored, icons posted, hash marks used. Solidarity!

The same folks making the most noise, though, will most likely be the first in line at Apple to buy that iPhone when it comes out. Stand in line, and blog, Twit, Book, Space their experience. Because, let’s face it, and I’m sure Fake Steve would agree: it’s a lot easier to dye your avatar green, than to make a lifestyle change that will make a real difference.

I find it ironic that as this story is being discussed, a report comes out about Apple’s record profits, primarily due to the iPhone.

Media Money

Frugal music

This week, I realized that my older first generation, fifth generation video ipod only has about enough room for a few hundred songs. In the years since I bought the device, I’ve managed to add an additional 15 GB of music to the already extensive collection of music from previously purchased CDs. And I’ve increased the repertoire of music I own, and can pick from any number of genres to listen to on a given day: from rock and roll, to new age, classical, jazz, folk, reggae, blues, swing, instrumental, show tunes, and even opera. And I don’t like opera.

Best of all, I didn’t have to go broke getting the music, nor do I have stacks of plastic CD cases littering the hallway. As I discuss in The Frugal Algorithm, there are many musical options for the frugal now available.


Musical options for the frugal

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I don’t buy *plastic CDs anymore. Digital downloads is the way to go: better for the environment, and better for my wallet.

Online sites such as iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 get most of the attention when it comes to online music buying, but for the frugal music lover, there are other web sites; especially if you’re willing to go outside the box with your music interests.

One such web site is Magnatune, which works directly with independent musicians, and gives customers the option to pay what they can afford, rather than a set price. In addition, the site also features two membership types: one that allows you to download as much music as you want, per month, for a set price; the other that provides streaming capability. You set how much to pay when you sign up (with a minimum of $5.00 for streaming, $10.00 for download), and half the money goes to whichever artists you listened to (or downloaded) that month.

I have found some especially good classical music at the site, including Asteria, a beautiful duet featuring medieval classical music. For an instrumental, I recommend the debut album for AlmaNova, and anything by cello player, Vitor PaternosterEhren Starks’ “Lines Build Walls” is also very good.

The site also features many new age and alternative rock artists, as well as a good selection of jazz, rock, and international artists.

Another, more mainstream, music site is eMusic. Like Magnatune, eMusic features many new and independent artists, and like Magnatune, typically rewards artists more than they would be rewarded through sites like iTunes. I’ve been able to pick up many old time albums at the site, including music by The Shangri-Las, the Shirelles, The Andrew Sisters, Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney, The Everly Brothers, and Jelly Roll Morton. Beginning in July, though, eMusic’s offerings suddenly got a huge boost: Sony and all of its musical subsidiaries (Arista, Columbia, and many others) have now placed their back catalog on the site. This brings to the mix of older and indie musicians such music as the complete album set for Michael Jackson, music from Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Janis Joplin, and Bruce Springsteen, as well as Christina Aguilera and Sarah McLachlan.

eMusic did raise its prices and reduce downloads per plan with this new change, which has made some indie music buyers unhappy. However, the site has also instituted a fixed album price, typically at 12 track downloads, regardless of album size, to many of the offerings, which with many of the albums (especially the Best Ofs), is a very good deal. Be aware, though, that some of the more popular albums may have fewer than 12 songs, but still be charged the 12 track price. Still, everything being equal, the music at eMusic is typically 40-60% cheaper than at iTunes or Amazon.

eMusic runs a subscription plan, where you get so many downloads per month, depending on plan. You have to use all your downloads, too, as they don’t roll over. I typically keep a list of single songs for those times when I have a few songs left over at the end of the month. The music is MP3, of course, as is the music you get from Magnatune, and iTunes, and Amazon, too. The days of proprietary formats seem to be over, long live DRM free music.

(Magnatune also offers other formats, including higher quality WAV files.)

Of course, iTunes and Amazon are still doing a brisk business, and both sites are good options for newer music, or music not showing up on the other sites. In addition, both regularly provide access to free songs, and special offers, which can provide a better buying option than eMusic, but you have to keep your eyes open—the specials typically don’t last long.

A frugal buyer is also a wise buyer, and shops around. Both Amazon and iTunes can indulge in gimmicks, from time to time, which are not as good a deal. One new option that iTunes is offering is what it calls Digital 45 or B-Side offerings, where you can download the “hit” and the “B-side” for a set price. There are only a few such sets available, and I’m not impressed with the cost. In fact, many of the offerings are available at eMusic for a better price. Still, let’s hear it for innovation.

You can also buy music directly from many artists, on their web sites. Most only provide CDs, but some will provide music for download. One advantage to buying music by the artist: there’s no question about who gets the money. However, many artists tend to charge more for music directly accessed from their sites than what is charged at a place like Magnatune, so check with all sites, first, before you buy.

Another thing I won’t do is use file sharing sites or other techniques to illegally get music for free. No matter what I may think of RIAA’s absurd tactics, not paying for music is theft, and hurts musicians as much as it hurts the studios. If the music is in the public domain, or offered freely by studio, web site, or artist, then I’ll gladly accept the gift, but I recognize it for what it is: a gift, not a right. Being frugal is not the same as being a cheap bastard.