Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why I don't own an Apple Mac

When I need a new computer, I always do thorough research before I buy a PC. I look at alternatives from Apple as well as Windows PCs and Linux based systems. Apple Macs are never on my short lst for several practical reasons:

1. The price difference is unreasonable. Some commentators compare list prices for Dell PCs or some other name brand PC to Mac list prices. On any day, Windows PCs of all kinds will are be available at huge discounts and Mac will be stuck at list price. I expect that the laptop I buy soon will cost $ 500 or less while the less satisfactory Mac alternative would be $ 1000 or more.

2. Apple does not offer what I need. They offer no reasonably priced desktop computer with expansion slots and room for more hard drives (3.5" as well as 2.5".) I can't buy a 3 pound Mac laptop with more than one USB port.

3. Software I depend on is not available for the Mac OSX environment. The next few programs I want to use will probably be available only for Windows. In general, software choices are more limited in the Mac OSX environment.

4. Hardware I use has no Mac support.

I can get the same basic functionality from a Windows PC or a Mac and I have no trouble using Windows PCs, so I make the practical choice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My path to PC audio playback

Around 2001, I started thinking about putting our music collection on a computer hard drive and using PC software to browse our collection and play music. I had to wait until hard drives got large enough and cheap enough. Finally, in fall of 2005, I felt that my plans were feasible.

I had worked for 20 years writing computer software (including audio and video device drivers) so I had a good understanding of the underlying technologies. I didn't know enough about the choices available for soundcards, DACs and software.

I started by researching tools: software for ripping CDs, tagging the resulting music files and playing those music files. I had a good idea about what I wanted to do and how the software needed to work. At that time, about 60% of our CD collection was classical music and another 15% was broadway musicals and showtunes albums. Being able to browse by Composer as well as as Performer was essential. Having a separate tag for a Work Name was also essential. Finding the tools that fit my needs wasn't easy but I felt it was necessary. I didn't want to accept a clumsy dis-functional solution because a software developer had not thought about my needs.

Once I had some alternatives in mind for each kind of tool, I experimented with a subset of our CD collection. That subset varied from 30 to 100 Cds.

I tried very hard to find a way to use iTunes but found it wanting. I rejected lots of other music player programs as being inadequate for classical music. Then I found J. River Media Center. (MC) It had the features I needed to rip, tag, organize, browse and play classical music.

I chose the lossless Flac format so that my music files had the same audio data as our CDs.

I started ripping my CD collection about 3 years ago. Ripping nearly 2000 CDs was a long, grinding task. I worked on it for about four months. I knew why the effort was worthwhile to me so I persevered. I continue to find small erors and inconsistencies in the tags but there have been no significant problems. Keeping up with our hundreds of CD purchases since then has been a very manageable task.

After our CD collection was in transferred to a library of music files, I selected a subset of those files, made MP3 copies and copied them to an iPod. It is a permanent collection of the music we like best. We use that iPod to make music available in our cars.

Having our music collection in a well organized PC based library has been a success. It is easier to select and play music now, so we listen to more music. The MC database remembers what we own so we frequently discover music we had forgotten. We can listen in our home office, in our library (room) and in our living room and dining room. I conceived this project and I feel a sense of accomplishment now that it is implemented.

An introduction to my blog

I chose my blog's name to reflect some of my interests: driving for fun, listening to music and appreciating nature. I'll also write on technology, especially as it relates to thse interests.

I enjoy driving sports cars and other cars that are fun to drive. That has been a shared interest for me and for my wife Lesley for over 40 years. We have always tried to pick cars that were fun to drive. They haven't all been powerful, fast or great looking but almost all of them made driving enjoyable. Great handling were always important than power. We keep cars for 10-13 years so we pick each car carefully. I do most of the research to narrow the field but Lesley is fully involved in test drives and making the final choice.

My parents didn't have any interest in music so I had limited exposure to music as a child. I certainly knew nothing about classical music. I wandered into that interest at the end of my undergraduate college years. Lesley had more exposure to classical music than I did so she aided in my education. As a graduate student, I had friends who liked classical music so we played recordings we owned for each other. During those years, Lesley and I spent a lot of time going to concerts and shopping for cheap LPs in record stores.

I'm an audiophile because I enjoy listening to music. Faithful reproduction of recorded music makes listening more enjoyable for me. I reached adulthood at a time when having a good stereo was a goal for many people my age. When I started, I could barely afford any stereo components. The top of the line equipment such as Marantz and McIntosh preamps and amps were out of reach. As time passed, I could afford to spend more money on gear but starting in the 70s, prices for high end audio gear went up faster than my ability to afford that gear. Great sound is just one interest competing for interest and funds with the rest of our lives.

Lesley and I share an interest in and love of nature. We walk regularly in our city's 2700 acres of open space and other nearby parks. We have worked in habitat restoration projects in our city's open space since 1991.  Many of our vacations have a focus on wildlife watching or wildflower viewing. Taking photos of what we see is a natural extension of our interest in nature. We have a gallery of photos of flowers, insects and other wildlife at .