In Your Ears, Bud.

As long as I can remember, I’ve cruised through life with radio or music in my ears whenever the time and opportunity allowed it. As a child, I was in the forefront of the “transistor” era, where advances in electronics technology made miniaturization possible. I went from having a radio with a handle on it tucked into the newspaper bag I carried on my delivery route, to a pocket-sized device with a tiny speaker and (usually) a single, wired earpiece. We didn’t call them “buds” back then.

The single earpiece gave way to the stereo earpieces, and that technology has pretty well persisted to today. Equipment, on the other hand, has continued to evolve. The cassette tape made carrying prerecorded music around with you a reality. The compact disc (CD) was a boon to record-scratchers everywhere, but its playback mechanism (a laser light on a movable arm over a spinning platter) made it susceptible to jostling, so it didn’t work well for runners and exercise enthusiasts.

Computer technology brought to life sound files, such as mp3, wav, ogg, FLAC, and so on. This birthed the mp3 player industry. I owned a variety of music players, including the nifty, but confusing Digisette Duo, an mp3 player shaped like to cassette that could be played through tape machines as well as via the now-ubiquitous earphones.

Apple shook up the music industry when it introduced its iPod in 2001. I didn’t buy an original, but when Apple shipped the “2nd generation,” I became one of the converts.

Miniaturization continued, and Apple gave us the iPod Shuffle (in numerous incarnations), the Nano, the Touch, and so on. I particularly liked the Shuffle, even the one that received media brickbats.

Earpiece technology also improved, but not as radically, and not as fast. Only recently has wireless Bluetooth made to earphones, eliminating the need to plug the sound “emitters” into the sound producer. Apple own Airpods are now everywhere, recognizable by the “handles” that jut from the wearer’s ears.

Perhaps I’m out of step. Or perhaps I’m just not “woke” enough to enjoy the current state of the art. By this, I mean that I haven’t yet found a pair of Bluetooth ear buds that suit me. For the record, I have thoroughly enjoyed my wired earphones. The Bose QC (QuietComfort) 20 noise-cancelling earphones have been a boon for air travel.

The YurBuds Ironman earbuds have lived up to their guarantee: they do not fall out, even during the most strenuous exercise

However, I have yet to find a pair of Bluetooth earbuds I like. I bought a pair of crowdfunded “air by crazybaby” in-ear, totally wireless earbuds. Oh, did I want to love these buds! They fit perfectly, and the absence of even a connecting wire was so nice–they fit well, and were all but invisible. The only problem was, they didn’t work. Battery life was pathetic, and the right earbud would simply die a few minutes after heading out the door.

I threw them into the trash last night

I have a pair of Jaybird X3 wireless earbuds, but their quirky design makes them uncomfortable to wear.

Finally, I broke down and purchased a pair of Apple Airpods 2. These are perhaps the best I’ve had so far, but they aren’t perfect. The left Airpod always seems ready to slip out of my ear, even though it doesn’t. They are the easiest to pair with any device, and the sound is good, although not exceptional.

I’m getting closer to getting a pair of Bluetooth earbuds I like, but now the player device is becoming an issue. My iPod Nano just died, and Apple no longer makes a compact mp3 player. It seems the only small, portable clip-on players are cheap products from no-name companies in China that break the moment you remove them from the box.. I shipped such a device back to Amazon yesterday after only 15 minutes of trying to get it to recognize any of my Bluetooth earbuds. Sigh.

The quest goes on.

A New Appreciation For The iPhone Camera

While I sit in the airport lounge on a four hour layover, I thought I’d take a little time to put down some recent impressions on the iPhone.  You see, for the past two weeks I have been traveling without a camera.  As such.

Yet I still have my phone.  And I found numerous photo opportunities, and the only recourse I had was to pull out my phone.

As has been my experience with cameras (both film and digital) in the past, I have found that activating the shutter is only the second step in photography.  The first is composing the picture.  The third is developing the photo.

Right now, software developers are releasing next-generation photo editing programs, and it’s almost hard to keep up.  Just recently, new and beta versions of ON1 Photo RAW, Aurora HDR and Adobe Lightroom have seen updated versions with new features (and new licensing schemes, in some cases).  Both have released beta versions, and ON1’s beta is public, meaning anyone can download it for free!

My recent travels have taken me to major cities:  New York and Boston.  Armed with only my iPhone 6s and a laptop with photo editing software, I managed to capture some very nice photos.

Fort Point, Boston, MA at dusk

Taken from the Evelyn Moakely Bridge.

Artist Gianna Stewart created this foam “iceberg” that “floats” in the water.

In the photo above, I used Adobe’s new Lightroom CC (the old version is now named Lightroom CC Classic). When shooting a wide shot, Apple’s iPhone exhibits pronounced barrel distortion. I used the Geometry tool in Lightroom to straighten everything — with a single slide and a click!

Manhattan Skyline in Black and White from the original color photograph.

Another example of straightening (I may need to adjust this one a bit more).

Boston Financial District

Finally, an “arty” photo I snapped on the spur of the moment. What two streets typify New York City? (well, maybe Madison Ave. But you take what you can get).

An Uncritical Look At The Apple Watch

2015-04-25 11.16.19I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for quality timepieces. When LED watches first came out, I bought a Pulsar, and then several other “multi-function” watches. As I matured, gimmickry gave way to elegance, and I moved to Cartier, Movado, and Omega.

More recently, I’ve gone more to the sport watches, including several iterations of Garmin’s GPS watches, which I use to track my running activities.

But, as an Apple aficionado, when the folks at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino announced they were releasing a watch, I was fascintated.

At first, I said to myself, “No, I’m not interested in another watch.  Even if it comes from Apple.”  Then I convinced myself that I would wait to see how the one-dot-oh release fared with the early adopters.

Yet, I found myself at midnight on April 10 on the Apple web site, curious as to how the “pre-order” process was going to work.  After minutes ticked by, I realized that “midnight” meant Pacific time — a full three hours later my time.  No way I was going to stay up.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

Somehow, for reasons I can’t explain, I found myself waking up in the pitch dark (I was staying at my daughter’s home at the time — that’s another story, for another time).  Fumbling for some light, I tapped my computer keyboard, and up sprang Apple’s pre-order web site.  Curious, I selected a watch (38mm stainless) and a strap (leather classic buckle) and hit the “order” button.  Wow!  Order accepted.

I thought nothing of it until later that morning.  I heard on the news that pre-orders for the watch had sold out in something like 15 minutes.  I guess the combination I ordered didn’t sell out as quickly, as I was a good hour “late to the party” as they say.

Nonetheless, my watch arrived on April 24, as promised.  Good thing, too, as I was heading out on vacation the following day (I’ll post something about my vacation later).  The first “test” of my watch came as I used it to have my airline boarding pass scanned (passed!).  I also used the Map application in conjunction with the watch to help me find destinations I had never before visited.

To cut to the chase:  An article I read spoke about the value of the Apple Watch is in “glances.”  There is no point to having a full-blown app that you navigate on a tiny screen.  What makes the Apple Watch valuable (for me) is that I can pick up data (message, news headline, map instructions, etc.) through a quick glance at the watch, which doesn’t require me opening an app and pointing, clicking, swiping and otherwise getting distracted.

I’m not always an early adopter, but at this point (which, ironically, is on the same day Apple has announced WatchOS 2.0) I’m very pleased with my choice.

(Postscript:  I have since added two more bands to my watch.  My experience has shown me that during hot and humid days, my perspiration causes a lot of wear on leather straps.  Since bands are easily interchangeable, I added a Sport Band and a Milanese Loop.  I keep the leather band stashed away for “dress” occasions!)