Anywhere, anytime music

Source: 8tracks

I have always wanted music in all the areas of my home, as I am a huge believer in the power of music and the effect it has over mood, expressions, health and relationships.

I started off with the ambition of having multi-room music with remotely controlled playlist options and volume levels of individual zones. After a little bit of online research, I found that all this is very doable. But the tough part was about narrowing down on options, finding something inexpensive yet impressive and most importantly, something that works reliably in India!

I eliminated the Bluetooth speakers option in no time as BT speakers enable only a one-to-one pairing. In other words, any source can connect to only one BT speaker at a time, thereby not fulfilling the ‘all-home’ or ‘multi-room’ feature high on my wish list. Which meant, the option was to have a music system on a home network. And any search for such a system would lead you to Sonos.

Now, Sonos is god-send (or should I say ‘Elvis-send’?!) for music lovers because of the range in their speaker systems, quality, the multiple sources for streaming like Pandora, Google Play, Calm Radio, Deezer etc and a dedicated bridge for setting up a ‘music-streaming-only’ network to ensure an awesome experience. Definitely, this is what you should go for – if you don’t live in India and have deep pockets. Unfortunately Sonos is unavailable in India yet and comes at an import price steeper than the already steep retail price in the international markets.

This led me to Apple Airplay, which enables multi-room music controllable using iTunes on a PC or Mac. The range of Airplay enabled speakers is impressive, with Bose SoundLink Air costing a hefty Rs 21,000 to JBL Soundfly Air costing a reasonable Rs 7,500 thereabout and several other brands somewhere in between.

I chose to go with the Airplay based music system after all and it has worked beautifully for me. I have four JBL Soundfly Airplay speakers in various rooms and they live up to my expectations especially considering the price I paid.There were a few initial glitches but it has turned out to be a good experience over all.

If you are interested in having a similar Airplay based music system at home, I’d recommend the following:

1. JBL Soundfly Airplay:

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 These speakers may not be top-of-the-line but for the price, they are definitely good enough. Set up is super easy as there are about five or six steps to follow to get the speaker on to your home network and it would take you as many minutes to get it working. The best part is that it has no cables and the speaker plugs straight into the electrical socket. And this means, no recharging hassle. If you have one of those unused electrical sockets at home, JBL Soundfly Air was made for it! There is only one button for power/standby making it a very simple design with no clutter. While setting up, do remember to change the Name of the speaker to say a zone you are using it in – Bedroom, Living Room etc otherwise you won’t be able to detect one from the other in the iTunes speaker selection menu.

On the negative side, the bass levels could have been a little better; Tiesto and Armin Van Buuren fans might be a little let down with the thump. Since the speaker has a horizontal spread, accessing switches next to the socket plugged into will also be a slight challenge. And if I really were to nitpick, the white LED when the speaker is on and playing is not so great to have if you plan to sleep off listening to music in your bedroom – which I do and I find the light quite bright and hence disturbing.

Rating: 4/5


2. iTunes:

 

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Having been a Winamp disciple, I took to iTunes quite easily. As with all  Apple software, this is quite intuitive and easy to use. The various views of Playlists, Artists, Songs, Genres etc provided by iTunes along with automatically searching for and adding album art is quite a delight. I am yet to explore Genius so no comments on that yet.

Note: Don’t worry if you don’t see the blue Airplay icon next to the control buttons on iTunes; it is displayed only if there is a compatible Airplay device found on the network, so the moment you have one, the blue Airplay icon is displayed (amber if the device is detected and the connection to it is broken, in which case just reload iTunes)

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The not-so-great part of iTunes is its lack of support for external online streaming sources like Saavn, Grooveshark etc. One has to download buy all the music and add them to iTunes to be able to stream it to the Airplay speakers and that is currently the only way. Individual devices like iPhones or iPads can pair with only one Airplay speaker at a time thereby making them no better off than BT speakers. So the only way of streaming to multiple speakers is through iTunes on the PC/Mac which means all music has to be on the system’s HDD. Streaming music is still not available on iTunes but I hope with the acquisitions of Beats, this will change soon.  Till then, there is always Airfoil ($25) and Airfoil remote ($5) if this is really bogging you down.

It would also help to have a timer based playlist/song playback option to do something like say: Fri evening 9 pm – David Guetta, Sat afternoon 2 pm – Kishore Kumar, not to mention waking up to once fave music every morning!

Rating: 3.5/5


 3. Remote app:

remote

 The Remote app is really great thinking by Apple. Since only iTunes that is installed on the PC/Mac can stream music, what do you do if you are in a room away from the PC/Mac and want to change the song or stop the music? The answer is Remote which can be downloaded free of cost from the App store, available for both iPhone and iPad.

After downloading the app, turn on Homesharing and then pair it with your PC/Mac iTunes . Your entire collection on the system becomes available for control on your handheld device. Remember, the mp3 files don’t get transferred to your device; they only become accessible for control on your device, provided your PC/Mac, Airplay speakers and the device with the Remote app are all on the same local network. In other words, you can’t play the songs away from your home network on your device. In still other words, the Remote app is just what it says it is – and allows you to remotely control your iTunes without having to be in proximity with it.

Remote is really cool and helps you get a grip on your playlist. Playing songs as per your mood and those around you becomes really easy. Remote also allows you to select speakers and control individual volume levels so all the convenience of the iTunes is available on your handheld.

The best part of iRemote is the iTunes radio that was a chance discovery one evening. This opens up a world of new possibilities and I just love it. Not sure why it is tucked away in an obscure part of the software. And I am not able to find this on the iTunes PC version for some strange reason!

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On the negative side, I find Remote takes a long time to load every time a load the app despite checking in the ‘Stay connected’ option in the settings. Also, it would have been great if there was lock-screen integration for Remote just like the native Music app on all iDevices. Accessing the Remote app after the device gets locked is not easy right now

Rating: 4/5

This is the set up I have right now and but for some really glitchy Wi-fi the experience is just great. I would rate it a 90 on 100 right now.


Upgrades:

I might want to go for Airport Express soon to have a drop-free music experience. Currently, automatic app upgrades, new devices latching on to the home network all result in clogging which breaks the music stream and that is very VERY irritating. During such times, even the Remote app fails to connect so there is no way of stopping it. It sounds like a scratchy vinyl playing non-stop and that is my definition of hell.

And yea, Airfoil looks really worth the buy to me. I am not very fond of having a huge collection on my HDD and I am not much of a guy for listening to a standard playlist. Bringing on Saavn, Grooveshark, Raaga and Music India Online to my multi-room Airplay system looks really appealing to me.

So if Ambient music with Nature sounds is what calls you on a Saturday afternoon or the mellifluous notes of Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia lulls you to sleep at night; if you want to spend great moments with a loved one listening to romantic Jazz or have a dance party in your living room to the crooning of Yo Yo Honey Singh, having a multi-room Airplay music system is definitely an easy, good and inexpensive option.


What next?

And if that ain’t enough, try something like this Corseca in-ear BT headphones so that you can listen to your favorite music on-the-go and receive calls. The headphones are not as concealed as I wanted them to be and the cable connecting both earpieces is unavoidable, but it is the closest that comes to the kind of in-ear, wireless, completely concealed earphones you might have seen in the movie, Her

But is the ‘Her’ headphones just a sci-fi concept? Actually, NO! You might be having this in your ears as early as Jan 2015 – check out Bragi Dash! I am definitely making a dash for this one!

dashwhite_grande

Till then, JBL Soundfly, Airplay and Corseca should do just fine.

Keep the web free!

As a staunch an ardent netizen, I have been reading for sometime now, gruesome tales of censoring the web and my 4-letter vocab has two recent inclusions – SOPA and PIPA.

I was wondering if I was the only one to be overly concerned about the implications as I saw people on my social networks discussing ‘urgent and pressing’ matters like an asteroid that might collide with Earth a million years from now, global warming that might submerge all continents after we have reincarnated thrice and how contributing a cent towards the cause of world hunger will eventually solve the issue, if we are not already drowned by global warming or blown to smithereens by the asteroid.  :-o

All this changed over the last few days when I noticed Piratebay hosting an anti-SOPA video in place of its logo on the homepage, Wikipedia blacking itself out for 24 hours and even almighty Google joining in the fray by blacking its logo out.

To profess my support, I Googled for a ‘wallpaper on free web, anti-SOPA’ but didn’t get anything at all except news sources covering the issue and story!! So I thought I will do my bit and came up with these wallpapers for most popular desktop, tablet and smartphone resolutions.  I agree they ain’t the best but it is a start. Maybe this effort (or the lack herein!) will inspire several of you to come up with better designs and messages – until we black out SOPA and its proponents permanently, desktop to desktop, mac to mac, smartphone to smartphone and tablet to tablet.

Here are some popular resolutions for your fave devices – if you want a specific resolution, kindly request in the comments and I will try and get you one soon. :)

Desktop::   800×600 | 1024×576  | 1366×768 | 1920×1080 | 2560×1600

Mac:: Macbook Pro | iMac

Smartphones:: iPhone 4 | Samsung Galaxy S | Motorola Droid | Google Nexus One | Samsung Galaxy Note

Tablets:: iPad | Samsung Galaxy

Facebook:: Profile Timeline banner

 

 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – an iPhone 4 review from an Apple non fanboy.

Word count: 1005 | Estimated time to read entry: 14 min

It’s been a little over a month since I purchased my iPhone 4 and I have been giving many of its features a try. I didn’t want this review to be a comprehensive feature-by-feature rundown so I have kept this strictly to those features that jump to my mind when I ask myself, “What are the things that are great, not so great and pathetic about the iPhone 4?”. I also thought of including some philosophies of the iPhone because that is what makes this phone greater than the sum total of all its features (or less so), in my opinion. And this is what comes to my mind…

The Good:

  1. The form factor, touch sensitivity and screen resolution: Much has been said about this already by so many others and I completely agree with all the eulogies heaped onto the iPhone for this. These features are simply unparalleled.
  1. Utility: Of all the Apple devices, I find only the iPhone 4 worth its money for the sheer utility it has packed in. It is a one device equivalent to any device you need – a HD cam, a media player, a phone, a navigation device, a netbook, a portable gaming system and more.
  1. Attention to detail: Even seemingly small things have been given great attention on the iPhone. What impresses me most is the clicking sound that I hear when I lock and unlock the screen and also the fact that I just have to drag down apps like Twitter and Facebook to get fresh updates.

The Bad:

  1. iTunes UI: I just cant believe this software is from Apple, a company which stresses so much on UI. The prev page/next page buttons are 2 small icons on the top bar which is not very easy to operate. The software is sluggish and auto-suggest feature in the search bar works like it has a temper tantrum. And what’s more, the horizontal scroll of the 90’s is still seen on iTunes if you want to check the screenshots of an app you are about to install.  Unpardonable. Even the Windows 7 app store UI is far better compared to this.
  1. Music output quality: Somehow the quality of music on the iPhone’s iPod is drastically different, and for the worse, compared to the standalone iPod. I have tried changing the Equalizer settings but I don’t see much difference in the quality. The only reason I can think of why there is so much difference between these two products from the same maker is that Apple is deliberately underselling the iPod feature on the iPhone to keep up the sales of the standalone iPod and that aint fair.  That, together with the fact that FM is not enabled on the iPhone yet (but is already enabled on some iPods) makes the iPhone 4 a suboptimal choice for listening to music.
  1. Absence of Task/App manager: Of course multitasking came to the iPhone as a delayed boon but with that came the inevitable burden of managing the apps. Every time I shift to a different app, the previous one continues to run in the background for eternity consuming hardware resources and over a period of time slowing the phone down. The only way to kill apps is by a cumbersome method of double clicking the Home button and closing apps individually. Wouldn’t it be much easier to have an App manager like the Notifications menu, where I can turn off an app by a toggle button against each of the open apps??

 

The Ugly:

  1. The camera: This is a joke especially in the night. Small dark spots appear all over the snap when shooting in not-so-good light conditions. HDR on/off or for that matter Flash on/off makes no difference. The “HD” camera is a serious let down in iPhone 4.
  1. Geo discriminatory marketing strategy: iPhone 4 isn’t officially released yet in India, one of the largest market for mobile phones IN THE WORLD! Enthusiasts like me are forced to buy one from the grey markets and in the process pay upwards of $1000 for a device that is delivered without a receipt and without any warranty! Moreover, iTunes account geo isolates one on signup and if you aren’t in the US or Canada, apps like Yelp etc are not even seen listed in the iTunes app store! Maybe I will find very less utility for an app like Yelp here in India but I’d rather Apple let ME discover that instead of taking a call on that all by itself.
  1. Inadequate championing of the product: In India, Apple has never convinced  carriers to subsidize the iPhone so all versions till 3GS (as 4 is not yet available) were priced upwards of $800. And they were carrier locked all the same – that’s a double whammy!! Apple has till date not taken up the issue of mass adoption of 3G standards in India but has nevertheless sold 3G and 3GS phones. That is like selling a Ferrari to a village bumpkin knowing full well that the roads all over his village are bumpy and pothole ridden. Maybe the bumpkin got full value for his money for the Ferrari but imagine his delight when he hears that his car dealer is now taking up the cause of bad roads all over his village and trying to get that changed so that he has a great experience vrooming around in his new Ferrari! That’s what I call ‘championing’ and I have seen other great companies do it – not Apple. Not yet.

Apple is presently the best smartphone in the market, in my opinion. But considering the landscape, it can all change mighty fast. And I quote:

“There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: Those with a rope around the neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting”. -Tuco, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The *BEST* game series I have ever played – Prince of Persia

Word count: 330 | Estimated time to read entry: 7 min

Prince of Persia: A comparison


It was 4 years ago that I got serious about gaming. And the first game I ever picked up was “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time“. I spent hours everyday completing the various levels and I would look forward to returning to my room from office and progressing with the game. It was a world in itself in which I was totally immersed in – a feeling that I was longing for till then.

Looking back in retrospect, now that I have completed all the games in the series (not to mention, the movie as well), I think some of the most pleasant moments of my life have been while playing these games. I thank Jordan Mechner, creator of the game , Ubisoft the publisher and all other design artists, musicians and others involved in this effort for creating a truly absorbing and unforgettable virtual experience.

Above is a quick review of the games released so far, click on the image for a full readable view.  If you are a POP fan like myself, I would appreciate your comments and feedback.

If I were to give away the Oscars this year….

Word Count: 470 | Estimated time to read entry: 5 min


 

Well now, that’s truly wishful thinking especially for a guy who can barely tell the difference between Cinematography and tomato ketchup and whose closest brush with movie stars was gaping at Madhuri Dixit in the first class section of the plane from his economy seats almost a decade ago.

But having seen 8 of the top 10 nominated feature films, 3 of the 3 animated films, nearly 170 of the top 250 IMDb films, widely acclaimed world movie great masters like Bergman, Kurosawa, Dutt, Panahi, Miyazaki, Majidi, Kitano, Yimou, Ki-Duk, Ray  etc and of late Indian National Award winning movies across Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam etc *AND* considering this is my own blog, I can safely claim some, if not enormous, authority to post the following :)

Since I am not steeped in the finer techniques of movie making, I have gone by just 2 things – novelty or unconventionality of the movie/actor/role/performance and the impact (tears, laughs, introspection etc) it had on me.

And since this is just a blog entry, I didn’t invest much on rolling out a red carpet or cared to invite backless beauties before declaring the awards – pardon my inhospitality. :)

So here they are:

1. Best Film: Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton. Doubtlessly the best film of 2010. The book is profusely insane and the movie managed to keep most of it in tact. I think that was commendable.

2. Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for Inception. It was masterly. The theme of the movie was barely imaginable and in enacting it and bringing it alive (to whatever extent the audience finally got) DiCaprio did a fantastic job.

3. Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech. He was comic, ironic, satirical and touching in various stages of his role. I found it really good.

4. Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit. Good performance considering she was a first timer. Had it been any other guy than Jeff Bridges in that movie, she would be running for Best Actress and not Supporting. And had she had 2 more movies before this one, she would win too – I see no other reason why she didn’t win, especially considering the other nominees.

5. Best Animated Film: L’illusionniste by Sylvain Chomet. Again, very offbeat. It is a film on loneliness, on failure, on broken relationships, on the inability to impress – basically all those emotions of human life that no one wants to have or talk about. And therein lies its beauty, which again, no one wants to appreciate.

6. Best Director: Tim Burton for Alice in Wonderland. I have already explained why.

 

As for the rest of the categories I have either not seen enough movies (like for Best Actress for example) or don’t know what those terms are.

Yippdee-Yippdee- That’s all folks! What do you think?

 

 

Who wants to be a multi-millionaire when one can be The Dude??

Word Count: 650  | Estimated time to read entry: 6 min

The Dude

I recently came across this Joel and Ethan Coen movie called ‘The Big Lebowski’. For those who haven’t had the good fortune to see it yet, the movie is about an unemployed guy called Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) who insists he be called ‘The Dude’. His only priced possession, a carpet, gets urinated upon by money recovery agents, due to a case of mistaken identity after which The Dude sets out to find the real person whom the harm was intended, seeking compensation. The actual person, also a Lebowski (and hence the confusion), is a super-achiever with multiple decorations, riches, a sizzling hot wife and all that any ambitious fellow in the world craves for. The movie then goes on about how The Dude is asked to undertake some assignments by various family members of the other Lebowski, how he gets duped by all and how his two close friends superbly “assist” him in all his endeavors.

 

On first watch, I dismissed this movie as mindless, stupid and idiotic. But now that I take a relook at all of The Dude’s pursuits, I find it almost Messianic. Here is why:

 

  1. The Dude is unemployed. He lives on dole and moves about without a cent in his (torn) pockets. The metaphorical meaning of which is that he is not greedy and doesn’t seek more than what is necessary. True to the teachings of the Buddha, he follows the middle path of neither too much nor too less, but just enough. And since he doesn’t carry any money on him, he doesn’t tempt others into sin.
  2. The Dude never bears any ill-will against anyone. The only philosophy in his life is ‘The Dude Abides’, meaning he accepts things as they come, isn’t bothered by people who duped him or wronged him and moves on without any feelings of remorse or revenge. He is a living embodiment of Christ’s saying, “Forgive and you shall be forgiven. Blessed are ye, if men revile you, persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake for great is thy reward in heaven”.

 

Well, you don’t have to be religious to appreciate The Dude because he illustrates a life of no responsibilities, no accomplishments, no ambitions and therefore, no worries, no consequences, no disappointments. Without any of the things that is “supposed” to make one happy – a job, a house, a great car, a wife, children, social security, medical insurance, a social circle (no, not even Facebook!), riches and fame, The Dude drives home the fact that you actually don’t need any of this to be “happy” – if that is what you care for.

 

So if your goal is to be Happy and not Rich or Famous or Someone important, you must perhaps watch this film. The philosophy of The Dude is one of no philosophy; his aim is that of no aim; his ambition is to have no ambition and his goal is to have no goals whatsoever. In short, The Dude tells one that you don’t have to be ‘Successful’ to be ‘Happy’ because Successful is what everyone else tells you; Happy is what only you can tell yourself.

 

And The Dude is perhaps a litmus test who separates the Happiness seekers from the Success seekers – if you find the movie and this blog entry stupid, idiotic and mindless (like I first did, until I ‘woke up’) and The Dude a wastrel, a useless no-gooder then you are clearly a Success seeker. All the best mate, see you on top of Forbes!

 

But if Happiness is what you seek, I suggest you take a relook at your priorities, the things you are chasing and the things that are chasing you. If you really look at it, you don’t need much to be happy. Not much at all. All you need to do is say, “The Dude abides”! :D

 

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Blogger’s after-thought: If you are fascinated/obsessed by The Dude, you might want to know more about the philosophy called Dudeism on Wiki, after which you might want to get yourself officially ordained into Dudeism by the Church of the Latter-day Dude, buy some gear online at the Dudeism Store and check out other great Dudes of History. And for the Dude’s Anthem, check out ‘Looking out my back door‘ by Creedence Clearwater Revival at Grooveshark and the lyrics of this song on lyricsfreak.com.

I can always run movie-marathons or sleep 40 hours on weekends but…

Word Count: 429 | Estimated time to read entry: 5 min

Image Source: istockphoto.com


The months approaching placements in any B-school are full of apprehension, doubt and uncertainty. But for the few who are getting back into family business or entrepreneurship, the rest are trying to master every trick in the book to land their dream job. TAPMIans are of course no exceptions – all that BrandScan, Theme papers, Group work, Markstrat, MIP and other ‘learning’ better culminate into something fruitful, eh??!

Now, I am reminded time and again, from junies of various batches, that my blog is eminently popular among most of them. “Out of sheer modesty” :P I will skip all the eulogies.  I also get friend requests on Facebook from junies who ‘follow and appreciate’ my blog and I am surprised most of the times because I don’t see comments from (m)any of them and hence, I have no way of knowing my readers.

If the first paragraph is what you guys are feeling right now and if the second paragraph is even remotely true, I guess I can use both of it for something really useful. Here is the idea:

I have a couple of friends placed in various companies across various sectors from various batches, thanks to this blog! I can request them to address your queries on placements and all things concerned with it. We can have a nice discussion right here on the blog. And since this is an open forum, you never know what this can blow out into. In fact, every TAPMI junie is welcome to post queries and every senior to answer them. I will (of course) only moderate.

You send me your queries in the form of comments to the entry that I will be posting subsequently and seniors from relevant sectors with matching profiles who consent to help out will address your queries. I will pick some of the best comments and responses and make entries out of them so that they are not lost in the trail of comments, with due credit to the contributors. And yes, you can choose to stay anonymous but you risk getting into my comment spam folder.

I am not guaranteeing you guys a job here but if you think this is a good idea, please let me know. You can also suggest ideas on what you want featured. Based on the number and quality of comments I get, I will take a call. So the better your response, the higher the chances.

And if you come to think of it, I didn’t give this entry such a long title for nothing, did I? ;)

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