Amazon: The Company that Can’t Figure Out Music

It’s embarrassing, really. Here we are with one of the largest retail companies ever conceived by man. A place where from your internet-connected device you can order anything from books, electronics,  to mincemeat, to fifty-gallon drums of personal lubricant. You can also buy just about any album in physical form whether it be brand-new or something long out of print. It’s the Sears Roebuck of my generation, and it’s done a pretty good job to that effect.

Naturally, as any online retailer does, Amazon tries to branch out into the digital distribution realm. They’ve done okay on the video side of things with a decent offering for Prime subscribers. Software purchases are also very smooth, with many games even working with Steam out of the box. Music streaming, however, is where Amazon fails miserably. And they fail in a way that a company known for innovation really shouldn’t.

Amazon recently introduced their revamped Amazon Music service, boasting millions upon millions of songs available on all of your devices. As a guy who has jumped from one streaming service to another, I was hopelessly intrigued. The size of a service’s library isn’t much of a selling point these days since most services now have similar catalogs and most of those services have ways to mesh your personal library with theirs.

I thought that Amazon Music would grant me that same luxury. I had used their previous iteration of streaming service in the past, which was then less miserable. It allowed me to sync my library with Amazon’s. The issue? Hundreds of duplicate items in all of my playlists. A pure clusterfuck. I then went to Google Music with little to no fuss. With the new Amazon Music, the duplicate issue didn’t seem to appear, since you now have to pay a new yearly fee to have your library synced. On top of my Prime subscription, I’d have to pay an extra $25 a year to store my songs, even though I already have an amount of cloud storage that could accommodate it.

The abysmal desktop application did not help my understanding of this fact. In my attempts to sync my library, no progress notifications were provided. The user interface twitched, brightened, and faded with each tiny movement of the mouse. It crashed a couple of times. My first few attempts to log in were unsuccessful. Downloading and uploading playlists was a frustrating experience.

This isn’t how Amazon usually does things. They usually work on a project obsessively until it’s to their satisfaction. Amazon Echo is a perfect example of what they can do right.  So what the hell is wrong with Amazon Music? I think they believe that a vast library will solve all of their problems. It won’t if it sucks to interact with that library. In my many and almost obsessive jumps across streaming platforms, the one that always gets my repeat business is Spotify – because the software is good! It treats my personal library not as an afterthought, but almost as a friend. It’s seamless. Google Play does a similarly good job. It’s infuriating that Amazon can’t equal this with all of their resources and built-in userbase in their Prime customers.

Here’s what they could do. Go ahead and charge Prime customers for the actual streaming service. Don’t further nickel-and-dime them for storing their music. Go ahead and charge the non-prime folks for that. Make desktop and mobile applications that actually work. I’m pretty sure that most of the population of the Seattle-Tacoma area are Amazon developers, so use ’em.

In the meantime, stick with Google Play or Spotify, ’cause Amazon Music is the very definition of a hot mess.

The Exposition: An Editorial

The following was an editorial I wrote for my Persuasive Writing class this semester in the Master of Liberal Studies program at Southern Methodist University. It has been slightly edited since the initial assignment.

On any particular day during the month of October, take a DART train towards the colorful, corny-dog-filled splendor of Fair Park. To get to Fair Park during those days that make up the State Fair of Texas, you’ll end up at some point on the Green Line southbound towards Buckner.

On the Green Line, you will with no doubt see families with children wide-eyed with the expectation of a fun day at the fair. You’ll see old friends talking about their many years of attendance of what has come to be known as the largest state fair in the United States. It’s a train car full of excitement and expectations.

After it departs from the Baylor Medical Center station with its glimmering hospital in the foreground, the train will snake its way through overgrown alleyways behind posh loft apartments made out of refurbished warehouses. Among the parking lots of said lofts, you may find polished Audis and possibly domestic cars with fancier-than-average trim packages. As you work towards Fair Park, however, something out of the ordinary catches your glance.

As you look to the left of the car just before the pre-recorded woman announces your arrival to the annual fried food exposition, you see something under a freeway bridge. You see a colony of tents gathered in tight clusters. Some areas have only sleeping bags without the luxury of a cloth ceiling. These are the people of Tent City, a community of homeless that has been a recurrent player in the local press and city politics.

Citizens of Tent City fall asleep and wake to the sound of squeaking train wheels as they struggle with the curve into Fair Park station. Their sleep interrupted by the deafening horn of the Love Bug ride on the midway. The aromas of fried foods probably don’t make it their way, being overpowered by exhaust fumes and waste. These people try to eke out a living while those on the train look and exclaim “There they are!”

City government tells Dallasites that something has to be done to protect these people of Tent City. Their first crusade of assistance involved rousting them out of their temporary abodes under yet another overpass and attempting to re-direct them to the already overcrowded shelters that both the city and private entities struggle to maintain. The city, as if designed to do so, eventually forces these citizens back into the margins. Out of the newsprint. Back under the bridge.

Back on the train, people begin murmuring about what should be done about these down-and-out citizens. This writer has heard a few half-hearted solutions during the first half of this year’s fair. As the festivities have worn on, however, the people of Tent City have moved farther down the overpass or have left altogether. They were roused once again. The reason?

More parking is needed for the fair.

Is Mitsubishi the Last Quirky Car Company?

The Diamond Star brand has been suffering as of late. Boring cars. Ho-hum marketing. A huge fuel economy scandal dating back to the early 1990s. Mitsubishi is now frequently in the news and speculation as to its fate is rampant in the blogospheres. Nissan has purchased a controlling stake in the company at fire sale rates. That worries me.

Why? Because in my humble opinion, Nissan stinks. On top of that, they’re owned by Renault, the equally crummy French car company. The bargain purchase of Mitsu has granted them market penetration in Southeast Asia, as well as more R&D resources. However, this move may kill off one of the last “quirky” car companies around if we’re not to include North Korea’s Pyeonghwa Motors.

I may be a bit biased here since I’m a Mitsubishi owner myself. Behold:

Mitsubishi Mirage

I bought this little bastard a few months ago. Three cylinders, 76 horses, manual transmission. Most other car companies would laugh in your face if you were to suggest this car to anyone. Hell, I would have laughed too. It also looks like the nameless generic car you see in car insurance commercials. In the few months I’ve had this car, however, I’ve fallen more and more in love with it. It’s a car that looks and drives like it has something to prove, and it does. It’s here to prove that Mitsubishi, despite their hardships and sparse lineup here in the States, can still crank out an efficient, well-thought-out car. I’ll totally agree, it’s a fucking strange car. The engine compartment wasn’t painted to save costs, so below the hood is a mess of overspray and gray primer.

I’ll totally agree, it’s a fucking strange car. The engine compartment wasn’t painted to save costs, so below the hood is a mess of overspray and gray primer. The storage compartment cover is attached to the back hatch by one lonely piece of string. Bluetooth streaming only works on the front two of the four speakers. The tires are 14 inches. It’s strange as hell. Mitsubishi probably knows full-well how odd this little car is. They’re no stranger to strange cars. For examples, we have the funky Mighty Max/Dodge Ram 50 pickup, the legendary Starion and GT3000, the pseudo-luxury Diamante, et cetera.

The Nissan buyout could put Mitsubishi’s quirky side at risk. I certainly hope not, since I think that the Diamond Star still has some innovation left in it with the Outlander PHEV and possible other forays in the EV market to supplement their extremely nutso i-MiEV. Here’s to hoping we get to see it all.

Up In Lights: Dallas’ Transformation into an LED Paradise

I came across an article today in the News about a new Dallas office tower was sold in one of the many cryptic and odd commercial real estate transactions that take place in the city every day. That wasn’t what interested me, though. The picture you see here (from the mentioned DMN article) is what that particular building, overlooking the Arts District, looks like at night.


In keeping with the downtown trend of flashy lighting, the KPMG Tower has even more of the hyper-bright multi-colored rods that also grace the BoA Plaza, the Omni, Reunion Tower, Hunt Oil…I could probably name a few more upon reflection. These last few years have brought the magic of the LED light to the masses with a massive decrease in cost. It’s allowed for a revival of the glitzy lighting trend of the 1980s in downtown Dallas. However, now, LEDs allow for the change of colors easily and with little to no maintenance. Lights placed in a certain fashion and programmed can display images like the Omni.

It’s starting to look a bit like our not-too-distant Blade Runner future. The skyline of Dallas has certainly benefited from LEDs, and at better efficiency, to boot. Plus, there really isn’t a height limit on building signage, so maybe we’ll actually get a Coca-Cola ad like in the movie? Hmmm…

Anyway, to me this new Dallas skyline we’ve been given pulls off a kind of flashiness that has somehow shirked the kitsch of Vegas lights. If you want to get all film-studenty about it, what about saying it conveys a “reserved confidence” or something? I dunno, maybe it’s just a way for this spunky town founded next to a muddy ditch because everybody was tired to stand out somewhat in this globalized culture of all kinds of bright metro areas.

An interesting article, nonetheless.

Rolling My Own: My HTPC Adventures

My Xbox One had wronged me for the last time. A few months ago, I needed to change my credit card info in order to renew Xbox Live. No biggie, right? Well, the new credit card info would never accept and every week or so I received an e-mail from Microsoft about how they couldn’t take my money from me, no matter how much I tried to hand it to them. So, I traded it in for Steam gift cards. All was well with the world. Except…

The one thing I enjoyed about the Xbone was its TV capabilities. With my humble Winegard OTA antenna, I had an on-screen guide, pause capabilities, etc that many people pay a shitton for if they have a cable box. Now I didn’t have that, so I began thinking about getting back into the HTPC game. I had made one in my spare time many years ago with limited success, but the scene has changed significantly. For the most part, HTPCs are easier to set up than before and the community is getting stronger.

I cobbled my most recent attempt out of a few spare parts combined with a new mobo, budget Pentium processor and a new case that looked nice by my TV. I first installed Ubuntu for the OS but soon discovered that the TV tuner card I was using (Hauppauge HTV-1265, I think) did not work under Linux. However, the USB dongle I used on the Xbone worked fine. Odd. Either way, Ubuntu eventually didn’t work out so I ended up with Windows 7.

For the actual HTPC software, I went with Kodi, formerly known as XBMC. It’s always been a great system, and it’s pretty great today. It melds with my PVR software well, it gathers metadata for my media on my NFS share almost flawlessly, and looks good, too. However, it does occasionally hiccup in places causing the app to completely freeze, which in turn causes frantic Ctrl+Alt+Deleting and/or Alt+Tabbing to bring it back to life. This tends to occur when Kodi is trying to change a channel in order to record a program, which may be able to be blamed on the PVR software.

Now, I have a fairly reliable HTPC with great video quality, plus a full PC experience if I want. Also, I can plug in my Steam controller and play all those games I’ve bought on Steam with those gift cards. 🙂

My Relationship with Alexa

I read a recent article in The Guardian about Amazon Echo, the nondescript black obelisk that sits in your home and caters to your every whim and question and pushes you further into the Amazon cult. I thought I’d give a quick opinion on my former relationship with Alexa, the female voice that embodies Echo.

Full disclosure: I am in love with Amazon. I order stuff from them at least once a week. I got the Echo at a deeply discounted rate as an early-adopting Prime member. It was great. You talk to Alexa in casual language and she answered most queries accurately. Much better than the absolutely horrendous Siri. All was well and good. I had her play NPR’s national top-of-the-hour news when I was getting ready for work and she played music too.

However, that’s when the coolness ended. Sound quality, although decent, wasn’t anything compared to my Sonos Play:5. On top of that, you soon realize that Echo listens to everything. Sure, Alexa is only supposed to really listen and respond when you say her name, but can we really be certain? Echo’s code is closed-source, and Amazon, as great as they are when buying random crap late at night, have one goal in mind: to be the only place where you buy things. To do that, they want to know what you think about buying, what you discuss buying, et cetera. It was this reason, along with it’s redundancy in my home audio system, that caused me to sell Echo on eBay at a huge profit.

Yeah, Echo is a cool tool that has had many other features added to it, like IFTTT and smart home features, but at it’s core, it’s a salesperson. I don’t like salespeople coming into my home.