The overall quality thing with Dell

dell 24 I took a passing swipe at Dell in my latest article at The Atlantic, but I wanted to just tell you one specific story. Here’s the old-style Dell 24” UltraSharp monitor. Expensive, premium — it cost $599 back in the day, and the current version still goes for $399 today. I’ve had personal experience with three of these, and let me tell you.

  1. The first is the one I still use at work. It’s survived about three years. But. First of all, the USB-hub thingy built into the monitor never worked. Also, lately, the bottom left area of the monitor is way darker than the rest of the screen. I originally thought this was dust somehow getting sucked between the LCD and the backlight, but now there are weird faint horizontal bars in the same area depending on what’s on the display (i.e., a black square on a white background will make the area above and below it slightly than the surrounding white), so something funky is going on.
  2. The second one arrived in the mail, turned on for a split second, shut down, and never powered up again. DOA.
  3. The replacement worked fine for three years. Just about a month ago, though, the power button stopped working. Monitor works just fine, self-powers down when it looses a signal, but if I want to manually turn it off I have to unplug it. Mind you, I’ve never used the power button regularly, so it’s not like it’s worn out from overuse.

Is the Apple 27” display overpriced at $999? In light of all this, maybe not.

How to move an iTunes library in 2011

It’s amazing, considering how invested Apple wants us to get in iTunes playlists, play counts, ratings, etc., how hard it is to move all that stuff when you need to move your media files. These instructions may work for some people in some situations, but they never worked for me. After having screwed this up a couple of times, I’ve got a system that seems to work whether you’re moving your files to a new drive, a new computer, or even from Windows to Mac. Based on this, this, and this.

  • The most time-consuming step is to copy your media files. The important thing here is to keep everything in the same folders relative to each other. This is not the time for consolidation and reorganization, unless you’re prepared to start with a new library from scratch. You do not need to consolidate your iTunes library or let iTunes “Keep iTunes folder organized,” and you may want to uncheck “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library” under Advanced Preferences. You just need to know where all your media files are, and get them to where you want them to be.
  • Go to File > Library > Export Library. This’ll create a file called Library.xml, and might take awhile.
  • Now comes the tricky part. Open Library.xml in a text editor. There’ll be a short header, followed by a block of text like this for every song in your library:
   <key>Track ID</key><integer>20376</integer>
   <key>Name</key><string>Don't Let Me Lose This Dream</string>
   <key>Artist</key><string>Aretha Franklin</string>
   <key>Album Artist</key><string>Aretha Franklin</string>
   <key>Composer</key><string>Aretha Franklin/Teddy White</string>
   <key>Album</key><string>I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You</string>
   <key>Kind</key><string>MPEG audio file</string>
   <key>Total Time</key><integer>139728</integer>
   <key>Track Number</key><integer>5</integer>
   <key>Date Modified</key><date>2009-05-20T14:06:57Z</date>
   <key>Date Added</key><date>2010-10-19T02:02:06Z</date>
   <key>Bit Rate</key><integer>192</integer>
   <key>Sample Rate</key><integer>44100</integer>
   <key>Play Count</key><integer>3</integer>
   <key>Play Date</key><integer>3388003973</integer>
   <key>Play Date UTC</key><date>2011-05-12T04:12:53Z</date>
   <key>Persistent ID</key><string>151E35E000A507A9</string>
   <key>Track Type</key><string>File</string>
   <key>Location</key><string>file://localhost/C:/Users/alesh/Music/MUSIC A/Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You/05 - Don't Let Me Lose This Dream - Aretha Franklin.mp3.mp3</string></string>
    <key>File Folder Count</key><integer>-1</integer>
   <key>Library Folder Count</key><integer>-1</integer>
  • The bit we care about is the path in the third key from the end. In this case it’s file://localhost/C:/Users/alesh/Music/MUSIC A/Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You/05 – Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream – Aretha Franklin.mp3.mp3 — you may see a bunch of “%20” characters instead of spaces … don’t panic.
  • We’re going to do a search and replace for the part of this string that’s changing. In my case, I’ve moved this library from my Windows music folder to a folder on a drive called External on a Mac. So I’m going to do a search for “C:/Users/alesh” and replace it with “Volumes/External”. I’ll end up with file://localhost/Volumes/External/Music/MUSIC A/Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You/05 – Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream – Aretha Franklin.mp3.mp3.
  • You need to be careful here, and get everything right (No missing or extra slashes (and yes, they’re always forward slashes), drive letters on Windows but not on Mac, etc. If you’re not sure, do this: just drag one single file into iTunes, export the library, and find the path that iTunes assigned that file. You can delete it (from iTunes, not from the drive) when you’ve got the correct path. When it’s all done, save Library.xml to a new location, so that you have the old one if anything goes wrong.
  • If you’re moving files to a new location on the same computer, now comes the hard part: you need to DELETE all your music from iTunes. Go Edit > Select All and Delete. Confirm that you want to remove the songs from your library, but do not let it remove the files. If you’re moving to a fresh installation of iTunes on a new computer, no need for this obvs.
  • Now go to your fresh clean iTunes, and hit File > Library > Import Playlist. Select your Library.xml file, and go make a sandwich while iTunes imports the file. This’ll take awhile.

Let’s pause here a second and consider that “Import Playlist” command. Apple chose to call it that instead of “Import Library,” making it completely non-transparent to a casual observer that there’s even a way to move a library from one place to another. Shame on you, Apple, for (a) not making this whole process automatic and/or easier, (b) playing coy about the fact that it can be done at all, and © changing how it works from one version of iTunes to another. Rant over.

  • Everything imported? Now one of two things will become apparent: either it will have worked, and you can play your music, or it will not have worked, in which case all your songs will have a warning icon next to them and nothing will play. If it didn’t work, chances are you made a mistake on changing the paths. Delete all the songs from iTunes again, go back to your Library.xml, and try again.
  • If you’re moving to a new computer, you’ll need to transfer your podcast subscriptions, too. Much easier: right-click on the podcast listing in iTunes’ sidebar, hit Export, select “OPLM” as the file format, and drag that file straight onto the Library in iTunes sidebar. You’ll need to download the files again, but your subscriptions are good to go. The same will work for iTunes U subscriptions.
  • What DOESN’T get transferred is your iPod/iPhone/iPad sync settings and your apps. Keep this in mind, because as far as I know you’ll have to recreate that information if the new iTunes install is to be your external device’s new home.
  • And if you’re logging out of your old machine’s iTunes for the last time, remember to go Store > Deauthorize This Computer…

Please let me know if I’ve missed anything, or if this information is incomplete — I’ll be updating this file as necessary.

Photos of the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor

I don’t get this: we get to see photos and video of the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor in Japan, and we get to see pictures of the drone that took them, and listen to its pilot compare the mission to Afghanistan. (Though this is not a plane-like drone — it’s a pod that looks not unlike the probe droid in Empire Strikes Back, powered by a lawnmower engine.) Yet: “The cone of secrecy around Fukushima extends far and wide. We don’t get to know where they launched from or what their camera targets were. He couldn’t discuss whether their operations center had a roof over it or not, or whether it was a tent. We don’t even know how many flights they made, though he confirmed it was ‘a bunch.’”

my next computer

My mind’s made up: I’m buying a Mac mini. Apple has a serious problem with their lineup: their middle of the road computers, the iMacs, only come with monitors built in. I already own a monitor, so I’m forced to choose between the underpowered minis and the outrageously expensive Pros. (I’ve never felt the need to own a laptop.) Well, it’s settled; with the next update, I’m going to get a mini.

The Amazon tablet

John Grubber recently speculated that Amazon might well be working on an Android-powered tablet. And why not—everybody seems to be working on one right about now. More speculation, and a mockup picture, at Gizmodo.

This seems promising—Amazon has lots of experience with reading devices, Android for tablets HAS to become good at some point, and the Amazon app store seems like a good step. But i dont think they need have even gone quite this far. Two years ago I described what I wanted in a slate computer. It wasn’t far from what the iPad eventually became, except that it came with this orientation towards apps. Which is great, sort of. But it sure is leading us away from the open internet and onto walled gardens. “But apps do lots of things that websites can’t,” you say. True, but were it not for appland, development of protocolls for doing that stuff on the web would be all the more robust.

Still, I’m sticking to what I said two years ago: all i need to make me happy on a tablet computer is a decent web browser (yes, it has to run Flash*) and some local storage (which, btw, the iPad in many important respects does not have—try downloading a file from the web, editing it, and uploading it to a web from it and see how you do**).

So, yeah, i’ve had an iPad from day one, and I love it. But I’m not married to it. It’s genius, for now, is that it’s the only reasonable game going. If the iPad Kindle app gets shafted by Apple’s 30% subscription and disapears from the iPad, it’ll be a huge blow. (I read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom almost entirely on the Kindle app despite having the hardcover handy, and it was fantastic.) An Amazon tablet could be just the thing.

* And mark my word—within two years TOPS the iPad will have Flash.
** I’ve recently figure out a way to do this using iCabMobile and Dropbox, but it’s basically a world of hurt.


“Cannot start Microsoft Office Outlook. Unable to open the Outlook Window. The set of folders could not be opened. The server is not available. Contact your administrator if this condition persists.”

Seriously, Microsoft has been getting better lately, but they have a lot to live down. This is just fucking ridiculous.

I’m going to tell you one last time about The Awl

Last Friday I deleted the 400+ to-read items from The Awl in my RSS so that I could start fresh and really stay with it. And before I did, one thing caught my attention that deserves a little bit of explanation. If ever there was one canonical example of the sheer brutal Strength of this particular little site, maybe this is it.

Okay, so here is the post: I Mean, Really, “J-Setting”? I Spent Half An Hour On Wikipedia Figuring Out What That Is. You’re going to want to read it before I go on, and you may want to click through to the “J-Setting Marmaduke Welfare Office Cat Fight Video Dance-Off” link in it, and watch both the videos. I don’t want you to get lost here. There’s going to be a quiz.

A little backstory: Choire Sicha is a guy primarily known for being the editor of Gawker a few years ago, and though he’s been published in all sorts of other publications (even in print!), his name redirects to the entry for Gawker on Wikipedia, just to give you some idea. (I just added “wtf?” to the discussion page for the discussion page of the redirect, so that’s your half-hearted attempt at making the internet more coherent for the day.) Alex Balk worked for Gawker too, tho him I’d never heard of before the two launched The Awl last April. The consensus (scroll to #2) is (a) the Awl is fucking great and (b) how the hell is it going to survive, if the people who are writing it are hoping to eventually/soon do it as a major source of their income and not as a hobby (and keeping in mind that they’re good at their fucking job and live in New York City so a salary of like $30,000 is not really what we’re talking about here), considering the state of the publishing world and the generally accepted suckiness of online advertising revenue.

So you could be forgiven for thinking at first blush that this post is pretty sincere — we’re trying to make money, can we please take it just a touch more seriously. And while I ponder that there may be a grain of that literal sentiment behind it, I presume that would be about all there is. It’s an inside-joke of a throw away-post, quickly typed up by a guy who’s got so many hilarious/great ideas going that he can just pull stuff like this out of his ass anytime he wants. (Or is it? Read on!)

OK now on to the post with the videos. I’ll save you the 30 minutes on Wikipedia and just tell you that J-Setting is the dance that BeyoncĂ© does in that Single Ladies video. Watch carefully: The guy in the first video does it as he’s being escorted out the welfare office. And the dogs do it at the end of the Marmaduke trailer. They are both fucking upsetting. Furthermore, you will note that the pairing is pretty interesting and maybe even says Something Important about our culture, and that the headline “J-Setting Marmaduke Welfare Office Cat Fight Video Dance-Off,” is just about prefect (if smart-alecky, but of course smart-alecky is what sites like this use to make the medicine go down).

But there is more. Because, it is not enough that The Awl (I’m pretty sure I need to capitalize the “T” every time for the title to hold together) publishes 25 posts per day, at least a few of which run long. Also shockingly great are the comments, and sometimes indispensable. That fake Balk memo? Well take a look at this and try to not crap your pants. You probably know that Nick Denton is the wildly controversial head of Gawker Media (not just internet-controversial either, since the wider journalism world is afraid that his management model may be the way of the future for writers, and it’s not representative of a world in which they feel they can live), and as such Balk and Sicha’s former boss. And so yes, this is how “successful” blogs are run, and this is how successful blogs that are not run this way mock and poke fun at the ones that are, while simultaneously wondering what the future holds for them. And more to the point, this is how clever you have to be in 2010 to make it out here on the internet.

The future of the location-based Internet

Here’s the text of my introductory talk from last night’s panel. I think it took me about 6 minutes to get this out (the closest to the 5-minute allotment that any of the panelists got, I timed them), but I think I might develop it a little more and present it maybe at a future BarCamp or something.

Around the beginning of the 2005 I came across the websites Gothamist and LAist. They were part of a network of blogs dedicated to what was happening in one particular city, along with a network called Metroblogging. And I said to myself, why doesn’t Miami have a blog like this?

It wasn’t quite as easy to start a blog in those days as it is now, but I was coincidentally just getting to a place in web design where the idea of creating a blog seemed possible. And what’s striking is how odd that sounds today, when everybody has a blog. Because what I had in mind was a site where there were five or six people contributing, and I talked to lots and lots of people, but for some reason the idea of writing for a blog was really intimidating back then. I got lots of interest, but with some notable exceptions, Critical Miami ended up being basically a blog that I wrote.

And it sort of took off, and by the time I packed it in three years later, it was getting around 10,000 page views a day, and around 100,000 unique IP addresses visiting every month. There were over 11,000 comments posted over the three years. And still to this day, two years later, when people meet me they say, ‘aren’t you that guy, who used to have that blog….?’ So, it hit a nerve.

But something else happened during that time, and since, which is that everybody else started blogs. When I stopped writing Critical Miami there were dozens or maybe hundreds of great local blogs, lots of them wonderfully specialized.

But what’s happened since then is even more interesting. Because today everybody I know has a blog. And a twitter, and a facebook, and sometimes a Yelp account and a Foursquare. And what’s happened is that the internet has become, instead of this flat thing where everyone is accessing more or less the same stuff, it’s become this very personal and social thing. I read my friends’ blogs, and I see what they’re reading on twitter and facebook, and it’s this interconnected thing where you’re still reading stuff on the internet, but you’re also connected with your network of friends and acquaintances.

But what Yelp and Foursquare do is, they also begin to connect the internet to the physical world. So, I get here to MoCA, and I check in on Foursquare, and now not only does it know I’m here, but if one of my friends is here, or say a few blocks away, we instantly know about each other. And right now it’s this manual thing that I have to remember to do, but phones have GPS and WiFi, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s completely automatic and integrated into all the other services. I want to know what’s around here, I pull up Yelp, which incidentally just got this spiffy Augmented Reality feature built in, and I can look up what bars are nearby, and see what people have said about them.

So, in a very real way, the internet is becoming aware of where it is, right? We have WiFi hotspots here, and we can look up what people have posted to Twitter from this room over the last few months, and you can drop a pin on a map and get information on the architecture of this building and the history of this neighborhood and see what’s going on.

But this is all just the beginning. Jesse Schell gave a talk to game designers recently (there’s link on my blog, which by the way is Buildings and Food) where he was talking about how little video games are beginning to permeate out lives, and how in the future everything — every coke can — would have a little camera, a touchscreen, and a WiFi connection. Everything you interact with knows who you are, and the internet, instead of being this thing that lies on a screen that sits on your desk, is literally right there around you. For now we have these little screens we carry around in our pockets, and we have screens on the walls at the bank and at the theater, but soon the augmented reality tech will be built into regular eye-glasses, and it’ll be exactly as pervasive as you want it to be. And the internet will be sort of right there between you and the wall, and it can give you whatever you want anytime, usually before you have to ask for it. (Think how Twitter feeds you information you want and need, without you having to request it.)

What will make or break the iPad


OK, I have all these links that I’ve been meaning to assemble into a weekendly clickables post for like a month now, but the fact is that they’re like 99% stale at this point. And what’s interesting is that it’s my iPhone’s fault — I do so much of my web consumption on that thing these days, and it’s — just — hard enough to turn around and create blog posts on that it frequently doesn’t happen.*

Which brings me to the iPad. Which, first of all, but correct me if I didn’t predict it almost a year ago? Yes, I did. The big difference between between the iPad and what I predicted is Mobile Safari, which I think is also going to determine whether the iPad will work for me (and, by extension, the billions of people who are LIKE ME). I currently use Perfect Browser, which is an improvement over iPhone’s built-in Safari, but uses the same rendering engine and is in many ways tied down in the same way. All sorts of little things are difficult or impossible to do.

Just by the nature of its larger screen, the iPad alleviate some of these pains. And we’ve seen that the Apple apps will be custom-tailored to the device, and more powerful then their small-screen rivals. But whether this turns out to be enough to make the device useful enough to earn its $500 price tag remains to be seen. We don’t need that much, really. But I think that it’s going to take opening up the platform to some true alternative browsers. I want Chrome and/or Firefox, otherwise I’m going to be spending lots and lots of time at the Apple store playing with this thing before I put my money down.

* If you want to be bored with the details, it’s just hard grabbing URL links from all sorts of places and jumping to my web-based blogging window and pasting them in, then jumping somewhere else and being able to return. Plus there are scores of little inconveniences everywhere, wherein websites recognize that you’re on an iPhone and put you, in one fashion or another, into a sandbox. Show me how to get to’s search box in mobile safari. Show me how to post an embedded video to tumblr. The list goes on…