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iTunes 7 Crashes and Freezes, or How to Ruin the User Experience

Apple gets a lot of credit for putting effort into the user experience. Many attribute the success of the original Mac, iPods, the iTunes Music Store, iBooks, and their other products to ease of use. But building a brand based on user experience can be much harder than, say, a brand based on low prices (like Dell) or ubiquity (like Microsoft). Because it doesn't take too much to go from "it just works" to "it doesn't work," which has been my experience with iTunes 7. The worst problem: it freezes up whenever I don't have an internet connection. For a long time, I used WinAmp as my MP3 player. As a nerdy web developer, I'm stuck at my computer for inordinate amounts of time, so I tend to listen to a lot of music through my SoundBlaster. By long time, I mean 1997 through a few years ago. I didn't have much of my collection ripped, so a static list of the 100-or-so songs I did have converted was fine. After ripping the majority of my CD library, and getting my wife an iPod, I started using iTunes. WinAmp has media library features, but I just liked iTunes better. Fast forward to 2006, when iTunes version 7 appears. It added some cool features, like album covers. It also was pretty buggy. Apple has released a few fixes so far, but now with even the latest version - iTunes 7.0.2 on Windows 2000 - I run into issues whenever my Internet connection goes down, or I have VPN up and running, blocking all traffic. It will start up and play like normal, but then after a few songs, the audio cuts off. Sometimes the track looks like it is continuing to play, others the time stops ticking off as well. Skipping to the next track results in more silence. When I finally close iTunes, it doesn't really close - I have to go into the Task Manager and manually end the process. I've done some Googling to see if there was a solution, but so far no luck. I found a blog post by Don Loper talking about freezing, but disabling automatic checking for podcasts did not resolve my issue. I tried disabling Audioscrobbler, a great plugin that uploads what you've been listening to to, and anything else that looked like it might be trying to send or receive data. Still no dice. Now, this is obviously not a huge problem, but when I'm dialing in to work from home, it would be nice to be able to listen to music. I can always dig up WinAmp, but I don't want to bother importing or recreating playlists. My solution so far has been to listen to NPR on my headphones. The risk that Apple runs with each release of iTunes is that bugs, even if they are fairly uncommon, can put the breaks on the flow of the user experience like Fred Flinstone jamming his feet through the floor of his stony, Neanderthal car. Which is why all the hype (and the 6 month lead time) around the iPhone could still blow up in their faces. My advice: test, test, test, and do it with actual users. Oh, and anyone have any ideas to fix my freezes that I haven't tried yet?

Aren’t Machines Cool?

FantasticMachine Poo, guys, I really wanted to have the video here for you to watch but it isn't cooperating. Please promise me that you will check out this link because this a a video of a really cool machine that makes music. I know that you won't be let down.
Now, before there are panties in a bundle, I know that this is not a real machine but some computer animated thing. But it's still cool. And realistic. I can see it happening.

We called it – 8 Apple iPhone predictions that came true

Today Apple finally released details about their new iPhone. There have been rumors and speculation about how Apple could bring it's iPod design skills to the mobile phone world for years now. Lots of web sites have posted predictions, feature wish lists, insider information and supposed leaks, including this one.

Does the iPhone live up to the hype? We'll take a look at it by going down the list of our 10 predictions about the Apple iPhone.Apple iPhone

1. Simple controls. - Apple has struck a blow against the proliferation of buttons by creating a phone with only a few buttons and a large touchscreen. This is a welcome change from smartphones and PDA-phones which have a whole QUERTY keyboard. The keyboard is nice the 5 percent of the time I'm taking notes to texting, but 95 percent of the time they just make it harder to hit the button I do want.

2. Consistent controls - This is a little bit harder to judge without having an iPhone in hand to play with, but from the demos and the fact that the iPhone runs OSX it seems likely you won't have to learn totally different ways to navigate your voicemail, songs, and photos any more. At the very least Apple has solved the mystery of the Green “dial� button and the OK button.

3. Innovative controls with obvious affordances - The iPhone's control scheme definitely falls into the innovative category, but is it's use obvious? Although I missed my guess about hanging up the phone, some of the features are automated responses to actions people are already very used to performing. The touch screen turns off when you put it close to your face, and the display shifts to landscape when you turn it. The learnability and obviousness of the individual applications which use the touch screen are a little harder to judge just yet (especially for old codgers), but it is nice to see the use of large, simple icons like the Palm or Blackberry rather that a Windows-style Start Menu, which just plain sucks on small devices.

4. Streamlined interaction design. - Apple has chosen to put Phone, Mail, Web and iPod icons along the bottom of the screen for ease of access. Presumably they expect other features, like the Calendar and Maps, to be used less often and so they are represented by icons filling the top of the screen. Assuming they are right about which tasks are most commonly used, this is a smart move. Calling and iPod functionality are obviously the biggies and are located appropriately at the corners in compliance with Fitt's Law. Will email and web browsing be as important? Millions of blackberry users say yes to the former, and built-in wifi make the latter possible.

5. No more disgusting face grease on your screen. - Unless the touchscreen is coated with some miracle material, maybe not. But wait - it looks like the solution comes in the form of the included hands-free headphones and optional bluetooth headset. I'm still a little surprised that the horror of gobs of face grease all over his beautiful device didn't push Steve Jobs over the edge. Apparently he can console himself with the thought that most people will use the headphones to listen to music and all the cool kids have headsets.

6. No more lock in - Not so fast. The iPhone is a Cingular exclusive, at least in the U.S., at least for now. It works on GSM, which is a widely used standard, and I am pretty amazed that Cingular is allowing a device with built-in wifi, but I will take this one as a failed prediction.

7. It will look really, really nice - This is, of course, completely subjective, but I have a feeling a lot of people will be lusting over iPhones when they hit stores this summer.

8. Integrated voicemail, chat, SMS and email - Hit the nail on the head with this one. This is the first device I've seen which takes the obvious step of allowing you to manage your voicemail the same way you do email. No more listening to 4 messages to get to the one you actually want to delete.

9. No camera - I was completely wrong on this one. The iPhone has a 2 megapixel camera built-in. I still think cameras on phones are really only used by drunk people and people with new phones. Maybe I have to add a new category, people who will soon be famous on YouTube.

10. Connectivity - The iPhone has bluetooth, Wifi, and EDGE meaning lots of potential for connectivity. Since it runs OSX, I'm guess that means the sky's the limit on how you connect and transfer files around. This is a very smart move – get your customers used to using the Internet often enough with Wifi, and they'll start wanting to use it all the time with EDGE (and an expensive data plan).

So that's that - our record was 8 out of ten. Not bad for a site with no insider information.

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.

Playstation 3 vs. Wii

Hmmm... It's a hard choice on how to spend your after Christmas/Hanukkah money. I hope these informational videos will help. [youtube]MFoyp71xw3w[/youtube] This is a commercial for the Wii. Nobody wants to play with the fat chick. But she is wearing layers[youtube]WPfMUD0_PHA[/youtube] And for the Playstation 3. Why does the font for the Playstaion 3 make me feel like I am going to be subjected to watching really bad films like Blade 3? This one is just creepy. The choice is yours, bored internet fans.

Top 10 Ways to Download Free MP3s without Breaking the Law

So, you finally got that shiny new iPod for Christmas.  How will you fill it up? After ripping your CD collection (I recommend CDex), you'll want some new music.  Don't have any cash left but want some new tunes?  Don't worry - there are plenty of good ways to download MP3s for free without getting a nasty letter from the RIAA. Below are ten of my favorite ways to get free MP3s legally on the web: 1)'s Audiofile. It helps to be a Salon member, but you can usually get a day pass by watching a commercial.  Audiofile is a music blog that writes a little about each tune and usually includes a direct download or a link to where you can download a track.  The music selection is pretty eclectic, and I find that even if I don't recognize any of the bands being covered I can usually catch a reference or comparison to something I have heard before.  If you have to time, go through the archives and just download everything and toss what you don't like later. 2)'s Free Downloads section is chock full of MP3s. For a long time, this was the best-kept secret on the web in terms of free music downloads, with hits by Yo La Tengo, the Hives, Sleater-Kinney, among many others.  It's a little hard to find, and to tell you the truth I'm sort of surprised they haven't removed it. ...maybe I spoke too soon.  It looks like their download landing page has been trimmed down to almost nothing.  I guess they are opening up an MP3 store soon.  Luckily their free MP3 search still works, and there are some good listmania lists to peruse. 3)  Music blogs like Hobby Box on The Larry Page.  There are a lot of passionate listeners out there writing about what they're hearing, and The Larry Page is a good example.  Some cover specific genres, while others just follow the writer's wandering tastes.  Many of them provide links back to band home pages and record label home pages with free promotional downloads. 4)  The Creative Commons CD was included in the November 2004 issue of Wired Magazine, but it is still available for download. You'll find pretty decent tracks from the Beastie Boys, David Byrne, Danger Mouse (of Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley fame), Le Tigre and others. 5)  The Weekly Free Downloads page. (formerly Audioscrobbler) is a great site that tracks what people are actually listening to.  Install their plugin into iTunes, WinAmp, Windows Media Player, or another player and the site will keep track of your favorite songs and musicians and make recommendations based on what others are listening to. The free downloads page is a relatively new feature, but there's already a huge list with some surprisingly well-known bands. 6)  The cover song sections at Soundclick.  I don't mean to imply that the only music worth listening to is something you can find on the radio, but it can be very hard to sift through  the thousands of unknown artists on sites like Soundclick.  One of my favorite techniques is to look for a cover of a song I know and then grab the rest of that band's stuff if it sounds interesting.  For example, here's the Super Mario theme in acoustic guitar. 7)  If you are feeling adventurous, there are many, many more places to check out that have independent music, garage bands, and other homebrew stuff. CNET has thousands of tracks but the quality can be uneven at best. 8) There's a ton of stuff from the South by Southwest music festival in Austin.  You can even download all 700 MP3s in one giant bittorrent. 9)  Netlabels at the Internet Archive.  There is a lot here, and it can be hard to find something you'll really like, but I have heard some worthwhile stuff here in the past.  Take a look at the staff picks, the items with high ratings, and the songs with high "batting averages." 10)  Legaltorrents lists a ton of legal-to-download, public domain files including MP3s and other music.  You never know what you will find here, but it's worth checking out. I like to find stuff that is interesting and new, but I can never seem to get deep enough into a particular genre to listen to bands "no one has heard of," and the list above reflects that.  You can always look for more free music on blogs that cover your favorite genre, band home pages, and MySpace. Do you know a site I left out?  Please let me know in the comments section below.