Thursday, January 15, 2015

Xmas Report 2014, Pt II

In The Aftermath Of Santa

Christmas Day dawned and the sleepers of Chateau Stevie were not brought out of hibernation by an excited child as in previous years, so we slept in.

We got up late, whereupon Mrs Stevie announced we were going to church to see The Stevieling do a turn as Assistant Pastor. I did some pro forma whining but the truth is that I'm always in the mood to watch The Stevieling in action, being about as proud of her as it is possible to be1, and even though I have no belief that anything in me will survive death I like to sing the carols so a Christmas Service isn't such a terrible thing to endure.

The service was short too, which was good because we'd come out with no breakfast inside us. The Stevieling did very well except for the bit where during her reading she read something twice, then interrupted herself by saying "Oh, I read that already", after which I was plagued by the image of the angel going over to the shepherds and saying "I bring you tidings of great joy! To you a savior is born this night in Bethlehem! I bring you tidings of groh I did that bit already."

It certainly made keeping my mind on the sermon hard.

There was also the question of the tunes. Lutherans sing all the same carols normal people do, the same ones I'd been forced to learn and sing in my youth in those glory days of Mandatory State Religion Worship. But they sometimes use the wrong tunes to sing them to. This makes singing the blasted things hard.

I used to just sing the tunes I knew louder than everyone else, a task made easier than might be thought by the fact that most of the congregation sing carols and hymns softly in case they wake up God and annoy him, whereas I don't think there's anyone to wake and so belt out Oh Little Town of Bethlehem and Silent Night in a voice Ozzy Osborne would be proud of2. Naturally, this could cause problems if, as has happened, I dropped the hymnal and simultaneously forgot the words, but in that event I simply sang "Lobster Thermidor" over and over3 until I remembered where I was in the song.

However, Mrs Stevie had put her foot down after the humiliation of The Away In A Manger Fiasco some years before and I had to read the music and work out how it worked or shut up. So that's what I did, and it was a great triumph as I was in fine voice. A little flat, perhaps, but what I lacked in accuracy I made up for in decibels. Mrs Stevie complained, but then again she always does.

Back home and it was present opening time.

We had agreed that we wouldn't go crazy with presents this year, so naturally the pile of boxes under the tree had grown to huge proportions as each person tried to smuggle their present ambush munitions in unseen.

I had presented Mrs Stevie with a large flat screeen TV, a surround sound soundbar, the furniture to put it all on and a Blu-Ray player. She was a bit put out that this meant deep sixing the old surround sound, which was actually better for the sound panorama, but the old system a) was part of a malfunctioning DVD player that annoyed the living heck out of me, 2) would not connect easily or well with the new TV and þ) was too big to fit in the new TV stand anyway. She became more enamored of the system when she found out she could watch Netflix on it, as the TV integrated with our WiFi network out of the box.

But I knew she'd like a stocking stuffer or two so I bought her an Elton John concert on Blu-Ray and a copy of Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, a favorite movie of hers. I also bought her a book called Diabalries, which was a collection of digitally restored stereoscopic pictures of dioramas of scenes from Hell, first created at the end of the 1800s. The book contained lots of text about the pictures and included a sturdy steroscope with which to view the panels. It was the sort of quirky and neat present we used to find for each other when the world was new, we were newlyweds and Mrs Stevie knew nothing about Starbux and their mood-altering products.

I gave The Stevieling a book on the art used in the movie Frozen, a thumb drive disguised as one of the characters from that movie and the cash she needed to go and see her boyfriend5.

They bought me the Hess Trucks I'd asked for and an iPad air - something I'd looked at but dismissed as unattainable. Given our "no presents this year" pledge I thought my TV ambush had won the bragging rights, but I had been undercut and overtaken by this breathtaking iPad Ploy.

I also got scads of chocolate goodies, which I ate and made myself quite ill because I'd run out of my statin drug of necessity and the avalanche of fat caused the onset of the unmistakable signs of an attack of pancreatitis a few days later. But as I always say: what's the point of being given life if you can't throw it away stupidly?

We put ourselves in a good mood by watching Much Ado About Nothing on the new telly, then went over to the Mrs Steviedad's place so Mrs Stevie could make Xmas Dinner for everyone. We do this because the in-laws are too old to come over to ours as they did in former years. I took my laptop and new iPad so I could start moving some of my pdf textbooks over to it.

Upon arriving we carried in all the food and made our hellos, then, while Mrs Stevie and her Mom chatted I figured out how me and the Mrs Steviedad could watch an episode from the Band of Brothers Blu-Ray set we'd given him. We got about three minutes in to the running up Currahee bit before the women arrived in-theater, unloaded Band of Brothers and replaced it with some insipid movie about Christopher Reeves going back and forth in time so he can conduct an unbeliveably tedious affair with a woman.

I decamped for the front room and my iPad. Mrs Stevie did attempt a Don't you like this movie?6 gambit, but I cut her off at the knees with a heartfelt You must be bleeping kidding!7 and she retreated to leave me the bleep alone.

It took me about an hour to get the books moved, some of which was finding out that iTunes was the conduit for all PC-iPad communication (at least, hardwired communication) and then finding out how to work iTunes all over again, since I had foolishly allowed it to upgrade itself after months of nagging in full knowledge of what had been done to me the last time I was so idiotic as to say "OK". Once again the interface had been completely changed and it had taken me a long time just to find out how to display my music collection the way I want to in the bloody thing.

Why the bleep do software providers foist this never-ending unwanted set of changes on the user? Microsoft do it every time they upgrade Office to the point I won't use it any more if I have the option because I can't find anything in the revamped and completely bleeped-up menu. I can understand Apple wanting to fiddle about under the hood, but why would they assume that they know better than me what I need from my music player software?

It's not as though the changes fix any of the borked and unuseful user interface stuff anyway. All they've done is make everything different for difference's sake and force me to learn a new set of operations, typically making them harder-to-use, to get the same effect.

Building a playlist used to be a simple drag-and-drop thing. Then they changed the main window display and everything became tedious, as the window was never scrolled to where I needed it, or if it was the sidebar was scrolled to hide the playlist.

The cure? Not fix the display because, well, that was new and by definition "better". No, what had to change was the drap-and-drop mechanism. Now you build playlists using a drag and drop from the other side of the screen. Nothing is improved by this. Just annoyingly different. All the problems gthat the old method had are present in mirror image in the new one.

And yesterday I had to work doubletime to clean up a mess originally precipitated by the Amazon Music App, which sports an interface so mind bogglingly unfit for purpose I wonder how the Bright Young Things responsible haven't been found face-down in the mud of some tidal estuary.

My problem with it is this: There is no clear way to find the music I just bought from Amazon in mpeg format and differentiate it from music I bought weeks or years ago in CD form but sold with the "Autorip" value-added feature. Briefly, when Amazon sells one a CD they sometimes offer a downloadable version of the recording for free.

This is an excellent service, one I approve of, and certainly is not cause for approbation. Unfortunately, when one is forced to buy a downloadable version rather than a CD, one is then forced into installing the Amazon Music App in order to get the music from Amazon's cloudy goodness into one's personal electronic device.

"But Stevie", I hear you say. "Why not just stream it in from the cloud?"

"Because I do not have - nor do I accept the need for - a permanent persistent connection to the internet just to play an album Chris Squire recorded before you were born!" I rudely reply, cueing you that perhaps my tolerance for new technology has hit some Old Person arbitrary limit and I am not going to be susceptible to "reason" concerning persistent internet issues.

Anyway, when I pull up this bally app it shows me a button to download my purchases - say the Squeeze album I had a passing yen to hear again. When I click on that it downloads my Squeeze album, and every other album I've bought that has Autorip enabled.

The app is a nightmare of one-way navigation paths too, so if I move away from the download panel - perhaps to look for some help feature - I cannot find a way back to it again. This is annoying because I've already sucked those albums into iTunes the old-fashioned way, and have folders of mp4a files under the iTunes "music" folder.

No problem. Amazon's app uses its own folder to stash this content as mp3 files. It's all organized so you can sort it out.

Unfortunately, iTunes finds them and copies them into folders in its library folder. But wait! There's already a folder there containing mp4as of that content! No problem, iTunes will simply interleave the mp3s from Amazon with the mp4as it made itself. Then, in a move so stupendously unhelpful it beggars the imagination all over again, it imports the tracks into the iTunes user interface so whatever album it is has each track listed twice. And if I play the album, it will play each track twice8.

Convinced that this was in fact behavior caused by some switch I'd set, or perhaps that had been set for me when so much else of the bloody thing was changed, I rooted through iTunes to see what was what. After 20 minutes I was convinced that all the switches were set properly and that this was some dimwit functionality Apple was doing behind the scenes with one of the umptytump "helper services" it installs silently when you install iTunes9.

Lest you think I'm being harsh, consider: The music library My Music contains both the Amazon folder and, nested a few levels deep, the iTunes one. Windows media player can find both without any problem. The Amazon Music App can find both without any problem. And the secret Apple file buggerer-upperer can find both, which poses the question; why can't bloody iTunes find both and simply link without copying content around?

You see, in order to sort out this bleeping mess, if the content hadn't moved I would just need to delete the folders in the Amazon library folder that were duplicates. But because iTunes makes copies, wasting space for no good reason, screwing up the album experience for no good reason, I had to drill into the iTunes library too and delete only the mp3 files that were duplicates - a lengthy and manually intensive process - then pull up iTunes and delete the albums from the user interface, then re-import them.

People have stopped gibbering the Apple Mantra10 at me because I interrupt them by snarling the word "iTunes".

Anyway, all that messing around with iTunes tired me out almost as much as recapitulating it all here has, so, overcome with ennui and fed up with typing I'll just say we had a nice dinner11 and then went home.

  1. Even if she is breaking my heart by quitting school in NY and moving to another state and maybe emigrating to Canada but she's not sure and I'm not allowed to be negative about it all because she's a grown woman now so that's that
  2. Assuming Mr Osbourne had a tin ear, no sense of timing and a problem staying in the same key as everyone else
  3. A trick suggested by someone who had been in congregations featured in Songs of Praise4
  4. A televised service from a different church each Sunday evening for those unable or unwilling to actually go to church but still of a mind to partake of a weekly dose of Mandatory Religion
  5. This so she would stop trying to hijack our us-only vacation and repurpose it to her needs
  6. This an attempt to throw me on the defensive and make me explain my reasons why I didn't think Christopher Reeve is a compelling use of my time
  7. Which, of course, is as much of an explanation as any reasonable person would need
  8. Remember the Apple Mantra: It just works
  9. A practice Microsoft and Symantec (Norton) and McAffee get screamed at in public for doing for much better reasons than Apple have
  10. ibid
  11. Mrs Stevie makes great dinners if she can keep her urge to experiment with the ingredients tightly under control, but Mrs Beaton help you if she gets creative

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