Slacker Radio changes

I got an email yesterday announcing that the Slacker Radio Plus subscription I have will no longer include offline streaming, as of 12/31/2017. This is a bummer for me, since that’s the main reason I pay $4 per month for Plus. My data plan from Verizon only includes 3 GB per month, and I get pretty close to that most months, so I can’t really stream music over Verizon’s network unless I change my data plan.

To keep the offline streaming feature of Slacker, I’d need to upgrade to their $10/month Premium plan. That’s basically equivalent to Amazon Unlimited, or Apple Music, or Spotify. I’d get full access to their whole catalog, being able to listen to whatever I want whenever I want. (The Plus subscription just lets you listen to streaming radio. You’d can’t pick exactly which songs you want to listen to.)

I started using Slacker back in 2014. Back then, I had a 4 GB data plan, so I could do a little online streaming (though not that much). I’ve been pretty happy with it. I’m currently also using Amazon Prime Music, which is free with my Prime subscription. The iOS app for Amazon Music is pretty good, and it does also include offline streaming. It doesn’t, though, have the same kind of variety in streaming stations that Slacker has, and it has only a limited subset of the music that would be available if I went the next step and signed up for Amazon’s Music Unlimited service, which would cost $8 per month (after a $1 three-month trial).

I could also give Apple Music a try. I thought about that when it was announced in 2015, but it didn’t look like a good idea then. Looking at it again now, it’s still maybe a little iffy. It does have offline capability, but I’d need to check on how easy it is to use. And I’d need to review things to make sure I can set it up without screwing up my iTunes libraries on my Mac and PC.

Spotify still seems to be the 800-pound gorilla of streaming services. I’m considering Spotify simply because so many other people are on it. I often see links to interesting Spotify playlists on Reddit or elsewhere on the Internet. (I never see links to Apple Music playlists, and I’m not even sure if you can share them.) But, last I checked, Spotify’s iOS app isn’t very good for offline streaming. It’s possible, but it apparently doesn’t give you much control.

And as long as I’m looking around, I might as well look at Pandora too. I used to pay for a Plus subscription with them, before I switched to Slacker. Pandora Plus is now $5/month, and includes limited offline capabilities. Probably not enough to justify the cost. Premium is $10/month, and lets you copy anything down for offline listening.

My cheapest option would be to drop Slacker entirely, and rely on Amazon Prime Music for offline listening, along with podcasts and old-fashioned MP3s synced to my phone. That’s probably what I’ll do for now. Maybe at some point I’ll talk myself into being OK with paying $8 or $10 per month for a streaming music service, but not quite yet.


Rurouni Kenshin and other problematic entertainment

So I mentioned in my post earlier today that I was thinking about getting back into reading some manga, and maybe finishing Rurouni Kenshin, though I was having mixed feelings about that, due to the creator’s arrest for possessing child porn. Well, I did some soul-searching on that. (And by soul-searching, I mostly mean that I checked reddit’s r/manga, r/anime, and r/rurounikenshin sub-reddits for other people’s opinions.) I decided that, since I already own all 28 volumes, and have already read the first 19, it won’t do any harm to read the rest and see how the story ends. And also that maybe I should make a donation to The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. (I don’t want to imply that making a donation to a related cause “evens things out” in any way, but it helps, I guess.)

I’ve already gotten rid of the first 19 volumes of the Kenshin manga. I either included them with the big donation I made to Superheroes for Hospice in 2015, or to a more recent donation for a library sale. I’m not sure. Once I’m done reading the rest, I’ll probably donate those too, though I’m not sure how I’ll do that. (Or maybe I’ll sell them on eBay and donate the money.) Either way, once I’m done with them, I think that’ll be it for me and Kenshin.

I’ve been a fan of Kenshin for a long time. I just checked my Amazon order history, and I bought the Samurai X: Trust DVD back in January 2001. And I see that I was watching the regular anime series on Cartoon Network in 2003. (I’m pretty sure that I managed to watch the whole series, or at least all the episodes that aired on CN.) For the manga, I was buying it as it was being released by Viz starting in 2003 and running through 2006. I was reading it regularly for awhile, but fell behind, and then abandoned it at some point (along with a lot of other manga and anime that I was buying). But for a long time, Rurouni Kenshin was one of my favorite things.

In the wake of all the scandals that have plagued Hollywood since the Harvey Weinstein story came out, I’ve seen a few articles wrestling with the question of whether or not it’s still OK to watch Kevin Spacey movies or Louis C.K. comedy specials or Charlie Rose interviews. It’s pretty easy for me to answer “no” on all of those, since I wasn’t that big of fan of any of those guys to begin with. But figuring out what to do with Nobuhiro Watsuki’s work is a lot harder. I guess that finishing up the manga volumes I already own is OK, but after that, I should put it behind me and move on to something else. (Sigh.)

(And yes, as a disclaimer, I should say that I realize that I’m just agonizing over mindless entertainment, and my problems here don’t compare in any way to the problems of abused or harassed women, or abused children. “First world problems” and all that. I just felt like this was something I had to think through, write up, and get out of my head.)


Extended Thanksgiving weekend laziness

All this month, I’ve been tossing ideas around in my head about productive things I could do with my four-day Thanksgiving weekend. And now it’s Sunday, and I’ve done very little. I went to a friend’s house on Thanksgiving, and had a very good Thanksgiving dinner. Then I started feeling sick on Friday, and just sat around the house all day reading comics and watching TV. I felt better Saturday, and actually got a few things done in the morning, but then I started feeling bad again in the afternoon and went back to my “TV, comics, and napping” agenda. Today, I almost talked myself into going into NYC to see the new David Hockney exhibit at the Met, but didn’t quite manage it. (It’s not actually open yet, but member previews were this weekend.) There’s still time for me to get some stuff done today, but so far, I’ve only managed to shower, eat breakfast, and read comics, and it’s 10am already.

I made one more Black Friday purchase yesterday: I broke down and bought a 27-month Quicken subscription via Amazon for $54. Quicken had their own Black Friday sale, marking down a one-year subscription from $45 to $30, but Amazon had a slightly better deal, essentially $27 per year, for two years, with three extra months tacked on. I almost talked myself into trying MoneyWell, since they haven’t changed to subscription pricing, but I’ve been using Quicken for so long that they’d have to do something really horrible for me to switch at this point. I almost bought the sub from Amazon last month, when they were charging almost $90 for it, so I’m glad I waited. So now I should be set through 2018 and 2019, and I don’t need to think about it again until 2020. (Which doesn’t mean I won’t think about it again, just that I don’t have to…)

My comic book reading this weekend has been eclectic. I finished the Sandman: Dream Hunters adaptation that was done by P. Craig Russell about ten years ago. That was really great, as I expected. (Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers, and Russell is one of my very favorite comic book artists. Maybe my all-time favorite.) (That book is only $5 for the Kindle version, right now, by the way.) I read the original illustrated (not comic book) version a few years ago, and that’s also pretty great. (Yoshitaka Amano is a pretty amazing artist, too.) It’s a little weird how a number of Neil Gaiman’s books exist in multiple versions like this: one with prose and illustrations, and one done as a comic book. But I can’t complain. When both versions are so good, I don’t mind buying and reading the same story twice.

I also read volume 2 of Megatokyo, which is a fairly low-key manga-style web comic. I read the first volume some time ago, but wasn’t really into it enough to go straight to the second. But, yesterday, it seemed like a good “lazy day” book. It was good, but I’m not planning on picking up any more of it right away. If I’m in the mood for it again, maybe I’ll try reading it on the web.

Reading Megatokyo has gotten me somewhat interested in reading manga again. I’ve got a lot of manga paperbacks lying around the apartment, but I haven’t really been in a manga mood lately. I thought maybe I’d finally finish reading Rurouni Kenshin. I have all 28 volumes of the manga, but I’ve only read the first 19 or 20. But now I’ve read that Kenshin’s creator has been arrested on child porn charges, so maybe I’m a bit less enthusiastic about that now. (One slightly alarming takeaway from the linked article: possession of child porn wasn’t “completely illegal” in Japan until 2015? Yikes.)


Black Friday

My Black Friday spending, so far, has been limited to renewing my Pluralsight subscription for their usual Black Friday rate of $200. When I paid for my first year, I wasn’t sure I was going to renew it for a second, but I’m getting enough out of it, so I guess it’s worth paying for another year. So I’m good through 2018 now.

I’m not seeing too many other Black Friday sales that look interesting, but I’ll probably spend some money at Comixology before the weekend is over. They have a lot of good stuff on sale.

Net Neutrality

I put a little net neutrality widget from Battle For The Net on my site this morning. I’m not going to leave it up for long, since it’s kind of annoying, and I’m not sure calling Congress is going to help much at this point anyway, to be honest.

Here’s a piece by Tim Wu from today’s NY TImes. And here’s something from the EFF’s blog from yesterday. I will continue to support the EFF with occasional donations, and hope that things don’t go too far in the wrong direction over the next few years.

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful that, for now at least, I can still stream stuff like this Iggy Pop radio show from NTS without worrying about my cable company blocking it or charging me extra for it.

Super-Fast Podcasts

I like this article on People Who Listen to Podcasts at Super-Fast Speeds from BuzzFeed. Mostly, I like the fact that I haven’t fallen down the hole of feeling like I need to listen to podcasts at 10x speed or whatever, like these folks. I’m perfectly fine listening to them at 1x, and allowing Overcast to delete old episodes from my iPhone, even if I haven’t listened to them yet.

In the old days, I used to let podcast episodes pile up on my Mac, and I’d let myself feel a little bad if I didn’t keep up with them. Nowadays, I just have Overcast set up to keep the most recent 5 (or, for some podcasts, 10) episodes. If a new one comes out, and I haven’t listened to the oldest one yet, it just gets deleted regardless.

And I do sometimes use Overcast’s “Smart Speed” feature, which will generally speed things up to 1.1x or 1.2x without it being really noticeable. But, if I’m listening to, for instance, Judge John Hodgman, I usually don’t bother with Smart Speed, since I’m listening to stuff like that largely to relax, so it doesn’t make any difference if I get through an hour-long episode in 50 minutes or 60 minutes. (And I can relax a bit better if people aren’t talking too fast.)

I do sometimes wish I could jam more episodes of .NET Rocks into my head at a faster pace. There’s a lot of good stuff on that show, and it comes out 2 or 3 times a week. I wind up skipping a lot of episodes. Listening to it at  high-speed would, I think, just result in me understanding even less of it than I do now, so I’m sticking with regular speed on that one.

High Sierra and other updates

I updated my iPhone and iPad to iOS 11 some time ago, with no issues. There’s really nothing much in iOS 11 that I’m terribly enthusiastic about, but also nothing that bothers me. I do like the new screenshot stuff, so that’s cool.

And my watch is running watchOS 4 now. I was initially somewhat concerned that it would slow down my “Series 0” watch too much, or have a negative effect on battery life, but it’s not bad at all. I’m not really using any of the new features. I’ve settled on the “modular” watch face with a few useful complications, and I’m happy with that. And I continue to use the activity app to motivate me and keep track of my meager attempts at exercise. (For today, so far: move ring at 45%, exercise ring at 66% and stand ring at 33%. Step count at 4,474. Pretty good for 10:30am on a Saturday.) I was kind of hoping that the “auto-launch audio app” feature would be useful for me, but it’s an annoyance more frequently than it’s a help, so far. It tends to stay up after I’ve already stopped listening to music, and it sometimes appears for no discernible reason at all. Maybe it works better on newer watches.

On the Windows side of things, my desktop PC decided to apply the Fall Creators Update last weekend. I’m still kind of grouchy about the idea that I have little control over when major updates like this happen on Windows 10, and also about the crazy naming shenanigans. The update appears on the PC with an entirely nondescript name that doesn’t really let you know that it’s a major update (just “version 1709,” basically), while most articles about it use the “Fall Creators Update” name. I wish we could go back to the days when we just called these things “SP1,” “SP2,” and so on. Anyway, there’s not much there that’s of interest to me. The update installed with no glitches, and there haven’t been any issues post-install. I’m not really interested in any of the MR, VR, AR, and/or 3D stuff. I should probably look into the new stuff related to the Windows Subsystem for Linux, and I am genuinely interested in that, but I don’t have much practical use for it right now.

Back in the Apple world, I tried installing High Sierra on my MacBook last weekend, but hit a snag. I got an error related to firmware, the same one described here. It sounds like this is common for people with third-party SSDs. One of the answers in the thread suggested running “diskutil repairdisk disk0” in the rescue mode terminal.  I was a little afraid to try that last weekend, in case things went wrong, so I put it off. I did it this morning, and it fixed everything, and the upgrade ran fine. I wasn’t sure if my disk would be coverted to APFS, since it’s not an official Apple SSD, but it was converted, and it’s working fine so far. I should probably review this document before I try my next Carbon Copy Cloner backup. And maybe I should just remove Disk Warrior, since I don’t really use it anyway.

I guess the last big update I’ll need to do this year is getting the Fall Creators Update on my ThinkPad. That machine is old enough that Windows 10 updates can be a little dicey, but it’s been fine so far.

I used to be a lot more excited about OS updates than I am today. I still remember the thrill of installing the Windows 95 Preview from floppy diskettes. (Raymond Chen says it was 13 disks for the release version. I remember the preview version being more than that, but I could be wrong.) I guess I’m getting old and jaded. I’m just glad everything’s working, I haven’t bricked any machines, lost any data, or set anything on fire.

Moustache on the Orient Express

From Film Comment’s review of Murder on the Orient Express:

Poirot’s whiskers are more like a moustache within a moustache, or one set of whiskers grafted onto another. It could almost have been designed by H.R. Giger, if he did facial hair. The thing is so huge, and the corridor of the Orient Express so narrow, that it’s a wonder that Poirot doesn’t carve deep grooves along its exquisitely lacquered wooden walls as he passes.

I kind of want to see this movie, since I love both Agatha Christie and Kenneth Branagh, but I’m not sure I can take two hours of that mustache. I want to have an open mind, but it’s not easy for me to accept anyone but David Suchet (and his nice little mustache) as Poirot.