Dogs = ❤️

 

Mia was more than a dog, more than even a best friend. She became a part of my soul. She was with me through some of the best and worst times of my life, and we were inseparable. A gentle creature with the kindest soul I'll probably ever meet. The epitome of a "good dog". She loved every one and everything, but nothing more than her Daddy. She was that once in a lifetime dog that every person should be lucky enough to experience.

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Then came Rex. Fiercely independent yet scared of his own shadow at the same time, with a mean streak a mile long. In between biting random people (and occasionally me) he still wants to cuddle, but only when he makes it clearly known he wants to - otherwise he'd much prefer to not be touched, thank you. In retrospect I probably got him too soon after Mia and have held him to a standard he could never live up to. Not the smartest animal alive, but I still love the mean little shit.

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Now there's Roxy. A force of nature. A tornado of black hair and a hurricane of iron will with the physical size and strength to match. 8 months old and she's more horse than Labrador Retriever. In the back of my mind I still think maybe she can be the 'Next Mia', but that's just foolish wishful thinking. She's got her own personality and no amount of hoping on my part is going to change that one bit, and it's selfish to want her to. She's already proven to be the smartest dog I've ever had, and that intelligence matched with stubbornness is why she's not going to be the next anything, but will proudly be the 'First Roxy'.

Dogs are so much more than pets. They're family. They're individual beings with their own quirks, needs and desires. They give us both immeasurable headaches and unconditional love. I stopped wondering why I loved dogs more than people a long time ago and try not to take for granted the fact these three listed above each have given me more than I could ever provide in return.

Best Music of 2018

Just like last year, no album list, but a collection of the best songs (IMHO) of the year. A little bit of everything genre-wise, with a few that are totally predictable and some that'll make people who know me go "WTF?".

Of note, there's more female artists than on any list like this I've ever done. That's nothing but a great thing and hopefully next year there'll be even more.

As The Crow Flies

I've spent the last week making unmerciful fun of Chris Robinson's new project, his first foray back into playing the material that made him famous in 5 years. The band was woefully unrehearsed, have kept an identical setlist so far and are generally doing a disservice to the music I love so much. They've been the antithesis of everything his brother Rich and Marc Ford have created in The Magpie Salute.

Watching the opening night's show again on YouTube this morning I realized something. Everything I said above is true, and the imperfections are almost too numerous to mention, but that's not what bothers me the most.

Chris' heart just isn't in these songs or being a frontman anymore. And that's ok. I'm not really a fan of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, but when you see them live you can tell Chris is feeling the music in a way he hasn't for a long time. It's that same look he had in 1995 when the Crowes were at the peak of their powers. That look of being so wrapped up in the music you're creating that nothing else in that moment matters.

Watching As The Crow Flies just makes me sad. Even if they were musically perfect Chris is going through the motions with so little care he looks like he'd rather be almost anywhere else. I don't want to call this a "cash grab", but it's easy to be so cynical. Maybe Chris honestly thought he missed playing these songs. Whatever the real reasons ATCF exists, it looks like Chris now wishes they didn't. It's painfully obvious he'd rather be playing a 47 minute space jam on guitar than having to dance around and sing "Jealous Again" for the 10,000th time. And again, that's ok.

Or at least it would be ok, if he didn't try to sell us this as some celebration of The Black Crowes. Stick to what you love doing now and the ones who come along for the ride will be rewarded. Don't try and trick the rest of us.

As a wise man once said, "the music knows".

10 Days With The Apple HomePod

I feel like I need to preface this review with a brief history of my Apple fandom. My first Apple product was a third generation iPod in 2003, followed less than a year later by an iMac G5. Since then I've bought 2 more iMacs, 2 more iPods, a MacBook, 3 MacBook Pros, 7 iPhones, 3 iPads, all 4 generations of Apple TVs, an Apple Watch, BeatsX, AirPods, monthly iCloud storage, iTunes Match, an Apple Music subscription since the day it launched, moved all my photos, contacts and calendars to iCloud and hung onto my old @mac.com email address through iTools, .Mac, MobileMe and now iCloud. To say I'm deeply invested in the Apple ecosystem would be a major understatement.

In addition, last year I started adding smart home features to my house. Hue lights, WeMo switches, iHome Smart Plugs, etc.

I'm also a voracious music consumer. At one point I owned over 1500 CDs, first ripped into iTunes and now sitting comfortable in my iCloud Music Library along with several thousand more songs purchased directly from Apple.

I'm exactly the Apple fanboy that HomePod is made for.

And I took mine back this afternoon after only 10 days.

Apple has been pushing the HomePod as more of an old fashioned speaker than a "smart speaker", which is definitely a good move (more on that later), but as good as it sounds is it twice as good as a comparable Sonos? Not even close, if it's any better at all. The bass is at times too overwhelming and the special voodoo magic they use to calibrate the speaker's surroundings are a lot more impressive on paper than in actual results. For $350 it needs to sound exponentially better than the Sonos One which costs half as much, and it just doesn't. Controlling music by voice works well (one of the few things that does), but it's not really my preferred way of playing music. I much prefer scrolling through my library and picking what I want to hear, and AirPlay is still a mess. I've got a fiber connection and faster than most wifi, and dropouts and disconnections were a constant issue. Issues that never happened when streaming directly from Apple Music and not from a paired device. Not to mention the annoying 3 second lag that's part of AirPlay's specs. AirPlay is a mature 15 year old technology that's now less reliable than Bluetooth. Yes, I know AirPlay 2 is coming, but who knows exactly when and do we really know how much better it will be? You're also completely limited to Apple Music. Sure, you can use AirPlay to play Spotify or Pandora, but I've already documented how terrible that feature is.

That leads me to the other selling point of the HomePod, it's abilities as a Smart Home product. It does well enough in controlling basic smart devices. I had a 100% success rate turning on and off lights and plugs. Beyond that though? Siri is a complete shitshow. Anyone who's spent time with both Siri on iOS and any of the Amazon Alexa products (I have a full size Echo and 2 Dots) already knows Siri's limitations, especially compared to the competition. Myself and many others assumed with Apple making a product that put Siri front and center they'd find a way to vastly improve the service before HomePod's launch. It turned out to be the exact opposite. Siri on the HomePod is even more crippled than it is on iOS. Want to add something to your calendar? HomePod can't do it. Want to call an Uber? Not on HomePod. Want to add something to a third party task manager? Nope. Want to make a phone call? Good luck. Want directions? Hahahaha. There's no reason HomePod shouldn't at the very least be able to do everything Siri on iOS can do. The limitations are mindboggling. Hell, if nothing else handoff the request to an iPhone, don't just say "sorry, I can't do that". That should be the official motto for Siri on the HomePod. It's been repeated ad nauseam in almost every review, but HomePod can't even set multiple timers. The most basic of voice assistant tasks.

On the most recent episode of Accidental Tech Podcast Marco Arment made the statement that you shouldn't buy tech products on the promise of what they may eventually become. That's the perfect description of the HomePod. Airplay 2 is "coming soon". Using 2 HomePods as a stereo pair is "an upcoming feature". Multiroom audio will be available "later this year". All basic audio capabilities that Sonos has had for almost a decade. We keep hearing rumblings of an improved Siri SDK, but what exactly is "improved"? Even with a complete overhaul it will still be miles behind Amazon and Google.

Over the last 15 years literally every Apple product or service I've bought has brought me a measure of joy and/or convenience that wasn't in my life previously. HomePod has been nothing short of disappointing and frustrating. It feels like a half baked product that was rushed out simply to compete and have something/anything in the marketplace. Apple may claim to have been working on HomePod for 6 years, but it lacks so many basic features I find that impossible to believe. You couldn't add multiroom audio or stereo pairing after 6 years of development but will suddenly have it available a few months after launch?

I really do hope future updates make the HomePod the device it's meant to be. I don't want to rely on Amazon. I want to have everything I do be in the Apple ecosystem. I want the benefits of a unified product line. I want Apple to surprise me again. Right now though, the HomePod is little more than a wasted opportunity.

Link: Ginger Wildheart Hospitalized

Ginger Wildheart Hospitalized Due To Mental Health Issues

I've had more than a few posts detailing not only my struggle with depression, but almost as many praising the work of Ginger Wildheart.

Mental illness isn't a sign of weakness and it's time for the stigma to end. Many of you reading this loved Kurt Cobain, some of you may have loved Chester Bennington or Chris Cornell, but Ginger's music has touched me in ways almost no one else's has.

I've only met the man once (and was shaking like a school girl when I did), but have communicated with him via email and online for years. He sent me an amazing note when I had to put Mia to sleep and donated money to the Nashville Red Cross when he found out my home was destroyed in the 2010 flood.

As much as I revere his music and consider him one of the few contemporary musicians to deserve the title of "genius", he's also an all around amazing human being.

If it can happen to him (and I'm truly thankful he wasn't successful in his attempt) it can plague any of us.

The Salary Cap Illusion

In another example of the random thoughts that are constantly going through my brain, this weekend I got to thinking about how an imposed salary cap is supposed to bring "competitive balance" to the leagues that have implemented it and make a level playing field.

For those non-sports fans who may be reading this, a salary cap is when a professional sports league mandates how much money it's teams are allowed to spend on players. In theory it keeps large market teams (New York, LA, Chicago, etc.) from spending $100 million putting a team together, while smaller market teams who aren't as flush with cash (think Minneapolis, Phoenix and Nashville) are stuck trying to build a roster with 1/10 the resources. Leagues will set a maximum amount each season that teams have to stay under. If teams can only spend (and I'm pulling this figure completely out of my ass) $40 million, your smaller teams have an equal chance of signing big name players as anyone else. It also keeps individual salaries from getting too high, as no team can spend 90% of it's salary cap on 1 player.

The NBA has the strictest salary cap. You're not allowed to go over the set amount, period. The NFL and NHL both have salary caps but will allow you to spend more with increasingly higher penalties the more you go over, to the point that no team can realistically afford to go over by any significant amount. MLB in contrast has no salary cap at all. Teams can spend $1 billion if they have it to form their roster.

With all of that said, it would seem the NBA would have the most number of different teams winning championships, MLB the least, and the NFL and NBA somewhere in the middle. I decided to pull the figures over the last 25 years:

  • NBA: 11 different teams
  • NFL: 13 different teams
  • NHL: 13 different teams
  • MLB: 14 different teams

This is exactly what the salary cap is supposed to prevent. Going back less years the numbers are even worse. The NBA has been dominated by the same teams for more than a decade.

This isn't a complete indictment of a salary cap, as there are no doubt other benefits, but competitive balance isn't one of them.

Playoff Odds

With the Cubs winning the World Series last year and the Nashville Predators in the thick of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I put on my Math Hat this morning and started thinking about any given team's chance of making the playoffs in their respective sport.

Major League Baseball has 30 teams, and only 8 make the playoffs (I'm not counting the single game Wild Card playoff - that should really be considered game 163 of the regular schedule). With those numbers any MLB team has just under a 27% chance of getting in. Only the absolute best teams make it.

The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 playoff spots. So every team has a 53% chance of playing in the postseason. Before the first puck is dropped in November THE ODDS OF MAKING THE PLAYOFFS ARE ALREADY IN YOUR FAVOR. You can have a losing record and still get in.

The NFL has 32 teams, 12 of which make the playoffs. That equals a 38% chance of making it.

What does all of this mean? Baseball is damn near impossible, the NHL and NBA have way too many teams in the postseason but the NFL seems to get it right.

This is just some of the random shit that flies around in my head.

Rediscovering Vinyl

I've joked about hipsters and vinyl for as long as it's been a thing. It's an outdated format. Unweldy, impractical and by it's very nature designed to degrade. I hauled a half dozen milk cartons full of records around every time I moved until I was 28. Then I just abandoned them. Other than Aerosmith and the Black Crowes I left probably 300 albums in my Mom's garage when I sold her house. I didn't want them anymore and saw no future where I ever would. I only kept the records I did as a collector with no plans on listening to them. A few years later the flood of 2010 happened and I lost those too.

Fast forward to this year and there were actually a few special Record Store Day releases I really wanted, all the while hoping they'd come with download codes so I could throw them in iTunes and forget those 12" pieces of plastic existed. None of them did. I was stuck with 5 records and no way to listen to them. So I did what any sane person in 2017 would do - I had Amazon Prime Now deliver me a turntable in less than an hour. I hooked it to my receiver, dropped the needle...

And instantly remembered why vinyl is so fucking great.

For so long I never listened to records. I was just forced to store them and move them and completely forgot why they have the appeal they do.

The artwork, the inner sleeves, the liner notes, devoting time to sit down and actually listen, not having 25,000 other songs in your pocket to distract you, that sound when the needle first hits the record. Not to mention Aerosmith 'Rocks' (one of the greatest albums ever made by anyone) just sounds better on vinyl. Maybe not scientifically/technically better, but it sounds the way it was intended to.

I won't be growing a beard or wearing skinny jeans anytime soon, but count me as part of the resurgence.

Just don't fucking call them vinyls.