All posts by Adam

iTunes 8.0: I Finally Have a Music Secretary

Complete Score: 33.5 / 42 = 79.8%

For years and years I’ve had too much music. In college it was around 50-60 GB and it was manageable only because I listened to enough music on a daily basis that I knew where everything was and could find what I wanted when I was in the mood for it. Over the years as that number has grown closer and closer to 100 GB it’s also decreased, exponentially, in manageability. Over the past year it devolved to the point where I did not know what songs I had anymore and just listened to the same old stuff over and over because I simply could not match my music to my mood. It sucked.

In comes iTunes 8.0, with it’s Genius assistance applied to music recommendation. For years I’ve said I desperately need a music secretary and now I have one!

Value

Well it’s free. Personally I always hated iTunes and did not understand the rave reviews people gave it…until I bought a Macbook Pro. With it’s Core 2 Duo processing power by Intel, my Macbook Pro finally clued me in that Apple’s software rocks…within the friendly confines of a well-powered Mac OS X installation. On Windows operating systems, iTunes was always slow and buggy for me, and from the many reviews out in the blogosphere, it still seems to be that way. On my Mac however it’s fast, zippy and mostly bug free.

Still, iTunes 8.0 does use resources, and considering that many people play music while focusing on something else it’s important to keep resource use down. Without the visualizer, iTunes 8.0 uses between 10 to 20% of my laptop’s processing power. Not bad considering I have over 95 gigabytes of tunes for it to manage. I also host my music collection on a 120 GB Western Digital USB powered external hard drive, so keep in mind that it’s not pulling my music from the Macbook Pro’s internal hard drive, thus increasing transfer time and power usage.

With the fancy new visualizer turned on, it stabilizes around 25% of my comptuer’s processing power according to iStat Pro. I did see the CPU usage spike all the way up to 50% however, especially on fast songs requiring lots of visual stimulation and changes. I am running the visualization on a 24″ Soyo monitor so it probably takes a bit more power to run it smoothly on such a display.

Ooooh pretty colors
Ooooh pretty colors

So keep in mind this rating is on a Macbook Pro running Mac OS X with 3 GB of RAM and 2.16 GHz of Intel Core 2 Duo processing power. On my computer, iTunes 8 is not too much of a resource hog. It could be more efficient, but it has yet to crash or spin the dreaded rainbow ball. Results may vary.

Score: 4 / 5

Quality

With the addition of Genius, iTunes goes beyond mere music management and becomes a companion in your music listening experience, nay journey. I love discovering new bands and new musical styles and now I can do so within the comforts of iTunes. Sure, it’s not going to recommend musicians outside the iTunes store and of course it struggles with artists who do not have agreements with Apple (the Beatles for one) but what it does work with it does well. Over time the system should only get better as more and more people send feedback to Apple, anonymously of course.

I’d like to see Apple add an option for Genius to match music by genre or mood. For instance, sometimes I just want to listen to a bunch of energetic music, whether it by hip-hop or indie rock or what have you. Other times I want to just chill and be lulled by gentle rhythms, whether they be acoustic folk rock or reggae.

An iTunes Genius generated playlist
An iTunes Genius generated playlist

One gripe I have, and it annoys the heck out of me, is that iTunes restarts any song I’m listening to if I decide to build a Genius playlist around it. Genius should be able to tell iTunes to keep playing my current song, transfer it to a genius playlist and then add the rest of the Genius recommendations to that playlist. As is, if I’m listening to my collection and hit a song I want to build a playlist around, it restarts that song and then adds other songs to the list. It’s annoying and a bit surprising coming from the ease of use experts.

Still, on a Mac you won’t find a better music player and manager. iTunes 8.0 does everything I need and want it to do and then some.

Score: 4 / 5

Innovation

While music recommendation systems are not new, integrating them within a music player is news to me and it’s about time someone jumped on this idea. With the iTunes store integrated into iTunes, the music recommendation system makes complete sense and will likely make Apple a lot of money.

Apple will make bank off the genius sidebar
Apple will make bank off the genius sidebar

There’s been a lot of buzz around the blogosphere about a few odd recommendations Genius makes, but for the most part I’ve found it’s at least in the ball park, even if it’s not always exactly on point. Perhaps, my massive music collection also gives Genius a greater sample size than other bloggers and reviewers. Or, I see music less as fitting into specific genres and instead all being somewhat connected. Right now I’m playing some Ben Harper and Genius recommends Jack Johnson, Grateful Dead, O.A.R., Wilco, and Ray LaMontagne. All those artists fit into a similar groove and if I was a fan of Ben Harper and never heard of the other artists, I’d agree that they’re similar and most fans of one will like the others. Let’s take a look at some other artists and the corresponding Genius iTunes store recommendations.

I choose:
Pearl Jam – I Am Mine

iTunes Genius store recommends:

  • Temple of the Dog
  • U2
  • Alice in Chains
  • Soundgarden
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Smashing Pumpkins

Pretty good but where is Eddie Vedder?

I choose:
Atmosphere – Always Coming Back Home to You

iTunes Genius store recommends:

  • Cunninglynguists
  • Living Legends
  • Dilated Peoples
  • Immortal Technique
  • Zion I
  • Murs & 9th Wonder

Pretty good.

I choose:
Dropkick Murphys – The State of Massachusetts

iTunes Genius store recommends:

  • The White Stripes
  • Against Me!
  • Social Distortion
  • The Hives
  • The Offspring
  • The Bravery
  • Reel Big Fish
  • Rancid

Not quite as good. The Bravery, Reel Big Fish, The Offspring, and The Hives all seem to be sub-par matches to the Dropkick Murphys. How about the the Street Dogs, Flogging Molly, or even the Mighty Mighty Bosstones ahead of these choices? Still, it’s not like iTunes Genius is way off base and of course, no music recommendation system is going to be perfect.

Score: 4 / 5

Social Benefit

It’s not open-source so iTunes 8 loses a half-point right off the bat. Now, I understand why Apple chooses a closed source format for iTunes, but since they do not provide alternatives to people running Linux we must dock them. It’s important because even though I run Mac OS X and Ubuntu (Linux) at my house, some people only run Linux and thus cannot use iTunes on their computers. Though many Linux users probably do not miss iTunes, the fact remains it limits it’s usefulness and prevents Linux users from accessing some features of their iPods and iPhones via their home computers.

There are many people who object to the lack of support for FLAC and other open-source music and media formats, and unfortunately Apple’s adoption of these formats will likely be slow, at best. Personally, most of my music collections is in mp3 format, ripped from my massive collection of compact discs, so the lack of support for FLAC, ogg-vorbis and other formats does not affect me directly, though I understand the frustration. There are plugins available to force FLAC support for iTunes, though an Apple solution would be much more elegant and user friendly.

The iTunes store is great for reducing consumer waste by offering digital media instead of CDs and DVDs, however the Digital Rights Management restriction placed upon purchased content means you must continue using iTunes for your purchased media to keep working. We here at OTIBR believe that content you’ve paid for should be yours and that you should have the freedom to decide which device to use to view or listen to that content. The DRM software coupled with many iTunes store purchases prevents users from taking their media with them and in essence means you’re actually renting not buying any content purchased from Apple. EMI and Apple took a great step forward towards a DRM-free future but we’re not there yet and until we are, we’ll have to deduct points here.

Apple’s environmental record has been lambasted by numerous groups, including Greenpeace and Climate Counts. On the other hand the Environmental Protection Agency does rate Apple at the top of the industry in terms of lowest negative environmental impact for its line of laptops and ranks them highly for their other products. It’s tough to gauge the true impact Apple has on the environment but when they have products whose batteries are tough to replace (leading to consumers tossing or replacing those products when the battery dies) and stores that are constantly lit up nice and bright like the big Apple store on Boylston street in Boston, it’s tough to call Apple a green company by any means.

Looking purely at iTunes, as I stated in the value section it is a resource hog. Compared to more efficient and streamlined open source players, iTunes has a much worse impact via its higher energy demand. It’s certainly not the worst piece of software out there but it’s nowhere near the best either. Considering its’ closed structure, reliance on DRM, and high resource use, it’s tough to give iTunes anything above a 1.5. It helps users find music they like and provides artists a digital marketplace but with all the negatives I simply cannot rate iTunes above a one and a half for social impact.

Score: 1.5 / 5

Freestyle!

Honestly, there’s not much here for me to personally hate about iTunes 8.0, aside from it’s poor social impact. I could rail on the uselessness of the new grid view, but even that feature is at least an improvement on the even more useless album view. Still, I’m sure some people enjoy browsing their music view album art and it doesn’t detract from my experience so it’s a non issue.

If my music player plays my music and doesn’t freeze or slow down itself or the rest of my computer I’m quite happy. Now that iTunes also acts more like a music secretary, scheduling my future music listens for me, well it jumped up and made me pay attention and notice it. The genius feature is simple, and honestly still growing, but it’s provided me the one feature that I desperately needed in my music management, the out-sourcing of what to listen to. It sounds awful when I write it like that, but when I’m working on something else I just want to start with a song and let the music build itself around that mood. Fantastic job Apple, you’ve brought the joy back into my music listening habitjourney. I have to dock iTunes 8 for it’s social harms but even still it’s a great piece of software. Now if Apple can make it more energy efficient and remove the DRM from the iTunes store it’d be near perfect.

Score: 20 / 22

iTunes 8.0 is available for download from the Apple web-site.

Complete Score: 33.5 / 42 = 79.8%

Organic Australian Blood Oranges: Bloody Delicious!

Complete Score: 36.5 / 42 = 86.9%

While perusing the aisles of Whole Foods earlier this evening my eyes came across a sinister sounding citrus fruit, the organic Australian blood orange. I actually kept walking and within a few steps stopped and said, wait a minute, a blood orange?

I backed up and sure enough the sign said blood oranges and even the outer skin of the orange was in fact, bloody red. These oranges were a fruit I had to try and so I tossed three in my basket and made my way through the rest of the store.

Value

Whenever I shop at Whole Foods I nearly always spend more than I planned to. Still, I’m nearly always satisfied and feel the few extra dollars were worth it. The blood oranges registered at $3.99 a pound. My three medium sized oranges totaled 1.22 lbs costing me $4.87 total. At $1.63 per orange these little suckers cannot be called cheap. Still considering they are organic and shipped half way across the world to satisfy my hunger, $3.99 per pound is a relative bargain.

Organic Australian Blood Orange
Organic Australian Blood Orange

After devouring these delicious bloody oranges, I did a little bit of research on Wikipedia and found that blood oranges usually obtain their tell-tale color via a pigment called anthocyanin. This pigment not only gives these oranges a unique color but it is also an antioxidant, which many people now believe has a ton of disease fighting properties. Personally, I’m a big fan of antioxidants and find foods and drinks that contain them do make me feel better and give me a nice energy boost.

Wikipedia went on to state that a medium sized orange will contain about 130% of one’s daily Vitamin C requirement, 15% of one’s potassium and 28% of one’s daily dietary fiber requirement. For $1.63, that’s a fairly large amount of nutrients. I’m also a big fan of organic produce and feel it tastes better and believe it is healthier than conventionally grown produce. Considering the amount of nutrients per orange, and the taste and health benefits of organic produce, the price is worth it.

Score: 4 / 5

Quality

Wow, these things were bloody delicious! My first bite instantly reminded me of a tangerine flavor, and indeed Wikipedia hypothesizes these oranges were an ancient hybrid between a pomelo and a tangerine. These oranges have a sweet refreshing taste with much less acidity than oranges I normally eat. As you can see from the picture above, there are literally rivers of moisture pumping through its fibrous interior.

Due to their unique color and sweet taste, blood oranges make for a great juice and would go well in many recipes, from jams and marmalade to cakes and sweets. Personally, these oranges were so good raw I’d recommend just slicing them up and mowing ’em down.

Score: 4.5 / 5

Innovation

Well, blood oranges are certainly not new to the world nor the marketplace, so they are certainly not innovative in the traditional sense. However, organic produce and the massive global distribution of it is innovative in business terms, though organic farming is not new. Over the past couple of years, consumers have demanded and bought more organic foods and companies have provided more and more organic selections. It’s a good trend and perhaps one day all our food will simply be organic.

Hmm...
Hmm...bloody and yummy!

We also should consider that breeding the pomelo and tangerine, or whichever fruits the breeders actually used, is innovative and brought us this great tasting fruit.

Score: 4 / 5

Social Benefit

Organic produce is good for us and for our environments, so Global Organics NZ Limited gets credit for using organic processes for all of their foods and Whole Foods gets credit for stocking organic produce. Still, the USA has regions where these blood oranges could have been grown, and in fact blood oranges are grown in parts of California and Florida. Locally grown foods are much better for us as they are fresher and better for the environment as less resources are needed to transport the food from farm to plate.

Still, I have to wonder how the taste varies from regions here to Australia. My experience has been that Australia and New Zealand produce very good tasting fruits and perhaps their soil and climate is better suited to grow these blood oranges. If they have an absolute advantage for growing this brand of blood orange, does it overtake the comparative advantage of growing them closer to home?

If Australian blood oranges taste much better than homegrown oranges, they would likely encourage more people to eat oranges rather than some other alternative. In a nation with a huge obesity epidemic, it is tough to fault Global Organics NZ LTD for being a member of the global economy while we have much more crucial social issues to deal with at the moment.

Global Organics does take steps to reduce its footprint, for instance using recyclable packaging and composting. It won’t completely offset the fossil fuels used to transport their produce worldwide but it’s a good start. As is, the energy used to transport organic blood oranges from Australia is simply not the most pressing social issue of our time. Note, after this review was published Global Organics informed us that these oranges are sent via sea freight, as is most produce out of New Zealand and Australia. As shipping via sea contributes less carbon per tonne shipped than shipping via air, we’ve increased the social benefit score for these oranges to a 4.

Score: 4 / 5

Freestyle!

I love oranges. There is nothing quite like a tall glass of fresh OJ or a nice juicy orange to renew your senses and refresh your taste buds. Having tasted many oranges in my life, from the days of sucking back orange slices at half-time of high school football games to the morning after glass of orange juice, whenever I really need a blast of energy oranges are the first food I reach for.

These organic blood oranges from Australia, produced and distributed by Global Organics NZ LTD, are among the best oranges I’ve had. Just take a look at the picture at the top of this review and tell me that orange does not look delicious. Go ahead, I dare you.

Score: 20 / 22

Organic Australian Blood Oranges are produced and distributed by Global Organics NZ LTD and sold by Whole Foods Market and other retailers worldwide.

Complete Score: 36.5 / 42 = 86.9%

Sneak Reviews!

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