So On and So Forth

And so the epic saga continues. Last week, the Zune HD had just been announced, right around the time that an irritating-but-not-fatal flaw had developed on my Zune 80. I was determined to resist the Zune HD. I bought an MP3 player in 2006, 3(!) in 2007, and another one in 2008, and I had decided that 2009 was going to be the year when I broke that streak. The problem was that the Zune HD was just too wonderful.

I loved my Zune 80. I said it last week, I’ll say it again next week, and I’ll probably keep saying it until I die: the Zune 80 is the best hard-drive based MP3 player ever made. (Technically, the Zune 120 should have that honor, considering that it was exactly the same as a Zune 80 in every way except that it had a bigger hard drive, but I never owned a Zune 120.) The thing is, hard drives were never really ideal for portable music players. Hard drives are fairly bulky, and they spin and have various moving parts. Jostle a hard drive too much, and it will fail. (As I learned when I dropped my Zune 80 on the bathroom floor while it was booting up.) But flash memory is smaller and has no moving parts, so it’s much more resilient. It’s also much more expensive per byte. So hard drives were used in MP3 players at first because they cost much less for a greater amount of storage. But once flash memory advanced to the point where it was reasonably cheap, MP3 player manufacturers abandoned hard drives as quickly as they could.

As much as I loved the massive memory capacity of my Zune 80, I yearned for the relatively worry-free joys of a flash-based MP3 player, and the Zune HD used flash storage. Not only that, but the Zune HD had a touch screen (futuristic!) and a web browser (convenient!), two features the Zune 80 didn’t have that I really wanted. Plus, there was the little problem of my Zune 80’s broken hold switch. I was very excited about the possibility of being able to bend over with my Zune in my back pocket again without going deaf.

Even with all of that, I was managing to temper my excitement and enthusiasm for the Zune HD. I was barely holding on to my determination to make 2009 “The Year of No New MP3 Player”. And then Microsoft finally released the thing, and my determination was shot to hell. It wasn’t just the shiny newness of a brand-new gadget that had features that my old Zune 80 didn’t. It was also the fact that Microsoft released a new version of the Zune PC software as well, that had a bunch of new features that were useless unless you had a Zune HD. So not only did Microsoft release something newer and nicer than what I already had, but they also made the device I already had obsolete.

So, I bought one. Two days after they were released, I went into Best Buy, plunked down $290, and walked out with a shiny new 32 GB Zune HD. Needless to say, I was super excited, but I think I can safely say in retrospect that it was a little disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But I didn’t love it as much as I loved my Zune 80. For one, the web browser was disappointing. It was very slow, and virtually unusable except on mobile websites. Unfortunately, mobile websites are ugly and not nearly as functional as full websites. It was also tough to get used to only having 32 GB of storage versus 80 GB.

The touch screen was very responsive and cool and the UI was much more impressive than the UI on previous Zunes, so it’s not like I regretted my purchase. And the Zune HD had features like Smart DJ and Quickplay that earlier Zunes couldn’t do either, so that was nice. But the Zune HD always kinda felt like it was missing something. I couldn’t help but compare it to the competition (i.e., the third generation iPod Touch), and while I felt like the Zune HD was a superior music player, and that’s what I used it for more than anything else, but I missed those other features too.

As time passed, those missing features seemed more and more important. Features like a camera, a decent web browser, an app store, and so forth. What I really wanted was a Windows Phone 7 device. These were announced in early 2010, and were released later that year.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford a smartphone because of the ridiculously expensive data plans. And the only device out there that offers smartphone functionality without actually being a smartphone is the iPod Touch. So when Windows Phone 7 finally came out and it became readily apparent that I simply couldn’t afford one, I realized it was time to switch over to the dark side (or the light side, depending on where your fanboy tendencies lie).

(Also, it should be mentioned that 2010 was the fifth year in a row in which I bought a new MP3 player. So far, it’s looking fairly promising that 2011 will finally break that streak. Although I did buy a laptop, a Kindle, and an iPad this year, so maybe that isn’t much of an accomplishment.)

Initially, I intended to continue using my Zune HD for music, while my iPod Touch was for, well, everything else. But I soon realized that the iPod Touch was actually a better music device than the Zune HD, too. So I stopped using my Zune HD entirely, and soon ended up selling it, because what was the point of keeping it if I wasn’t going to use it?

And then I got an iPad. Which is pretty much the greatest device ever made by humanity. Until something better comes along to replace it. But for now I’m content.

And that’s pretty much it. Well, for now anyway. I’m sure there will be other gadgets that I love in the future. Like this, perhaps.

Like Butter on a Bald Monkey

I didn’t really get a chance to finish the story I was trying to tell last week. Part of the problem was that I didn’t really know exactly what kind of story I was trying to tell when I started out. I’m still not entirely sure. But I’m going to keep telling it, and we’ll see what happens. Hopefully somebody other than me finds it interesting.

I guess I’m trying to go back and look over the history of my engagement with technology. It’s difficult to explain why, but it probably has something to do with the fact that I majored in history in college, and I have a fascination with tracking the histories of all sorts of things, including my own tastes. I don’t really have a better reason than that.

I mentioned last week that when I finally bought a Zune, I actually ended up buying two. This was in the fall of 2007. Originally, I was planning to buy a Zune 80. This was the second-generation Zune device, which was announced in October 2007 and released in November. I loved my Creative Zen Sleek Photo, but it only had a 20GB hard drive, and I desperately wanted more space. The Zune 80, as the name implies, had an 80GB hard drive, so I was very excited about that. I preordered one the day it was announced, and I anxiously awaited its release date.

And then I discovered Woot. Woot, if you don’t know, is a deal-a-day website. In other words, every day they sell one thing, usually some kind of consumer electronics device. They sell that one thing for 24 hours, or until they run out. And if they run out before midnight, they sell nothing else until midnight hits. Well, one day, they were selling a 1st generation Zune, or Zune 30, for a ridiculously cheap price. And I heard about it through a Zune fan site called Zunerama. Unfortunately, I was too late to take advantage of this deal, but that is how I found out about Woot, a site I’ve checked almost every day since.

But Woot wasn’t done selling Zunes. A little while later, they had more Zunes for even cheaper (black ones for a hundred dollars, I think). But I still wanted to hold out for the 2nd generation Zune 80, even though I knew it would cost $250. But my wife did get one this time. And when it came, it was lovely. And I was incredibly jealous. So when Woot sold brown Zunes for 80 bucks a pop, I realized that if I got two of them, I would have almost as much storage as if I got a Zune 80, and I would save almost a hundred bucks. And I would get it sooner. So I bought two brown Zunes and cancelled my Zune 80 preorder.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I regretted that decision, but I will say that I still wanted a Zune 80 even after I got my two Zune 30s. I thought maybe that if I got a Zune 4 (which was a small flash-based Zune that was designed to compete with the iPod Nano) I would be content, since the Zune 4 had the same sleek design and streamlined controls as the Zune 80. So I asked my mom to get me one for Christmas, and she, being the lovely and generous woman that she is, got me a Zune 8 instead, which was the same thing but with double the storage for 50 more dollars.

And yet, I still wasn’t satisfied. Two Zune 30s and a Zune 8 did not make up for the lack of a Zune 80. So I finally broke down and convinced everyone I knew to pitch in and buy me one for my birthday. I believe I also sold one of my Zune 30s to my sister-in-law as well. And all was right with the world.

Of course, that’s not true. I still maintain that the Zune 80 (and it’s near-identical follow-up, the Zune 120) is the best hard-drive based MP3 player ever made. The problem was two-fold. One, technology isn’t made to last, and so it was with my beloved Zune 80. And two, technology inexorably marches on, and new and better things are always around the corner.

I had a couple of problems with my Zune 80, the first of which was entirely my fault. I’d only had it for a few months when I took it in the bathroom, turned it on, went to wipe the screen off on my shirt, and dropped it on the floor while it was still booting up. As you can imagine, that killed it. Fortunately, it was still under warranty, and Microsoft happily sent me a new one, despite the fact that it was completely my fault that it died.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of my poor Zune’s misfortunes. One day, the hold switch was acting weird, and so I was wiggling it back and forth, trying to get it to work properly, when all of a sudden I heard a small “crack”, and the switch broke off of whatever it was attached to on the inside. This meant that I could no longer lock my Zune, which meant that if I had it in the back pocket of my jeans and I bent over to pick something up, my butt would turn the volume all the way up, which then meant that I would have to quickly rip my headphones out of my ears or risk going deaf. Not fun.

But even if my Zune 80 was still working perfectly to this day, there’s always something newer and more exciting. In this case, it was the Zune HD. One thing that the Zune 80 didn’t do that I really wanted it to do was browse the internet. I really wanted a handheld device with a web browser, but the iPod Touch was pretty much the only option, unless I wanted to get a smartphone, which I didn’t. So I kept hoping that Microsoft would come out with an answer to the iPod Touch, and finally, in May 2009, they revealed that they did in fact have such a device in the works: the Zune HD.

Unfortunately, this is getting really long, so I’ll have to continue this epic saga next week. I’m sure you can wait. Go watch a movie or something. It’ll be fine.

What Are You Excited About?

There are people in the world who are perfectly content with what they have and don’t ever wish for anything more. I am not one of those people. No matter what shiny new gadget I get, there’s always something else out there that makes me think, “Gee, I really should save up for one of those.” My gadget obsession is actually a fairly recent thing. I’ve always been fascinated by technology, but I wasn’t really obsessed with it until about 2005 or 2006. Around the time that the 5th generation iPod came out, which was the first one that could play videos. I don’t remember exactly when that was. Anyway, I desperately wanted one of those, but my wife and I were quite poor back then, so there was no way I could afford one.

I ended up getting a Creative Zen Sleek Photo instead, which clearly had one of the worst names ever, but it was actually pretty nice. It cost about $180, which was still pretty expensive for us at the time, but more affordable than the $250 or so that an iPod cost. I remember that I managed to talk my wife into buying me one because I was going to be driving two hours to and from college every day, and I told her it would be safer for me to listen to music on an MP3 player than to have to constantly switch CDs.

I soon decided that I had majorly lucked out by getting a Creative Zen instead of an iPod. Although the Zen wasn’t as nice looking or as capable as a 5th generation iPod, it did have one capability that the iPod lacked, and that was access to subscription music services like Rhapsody or Yahoo! Music Unlimited. As somebody who was both poor and law-abiding, subscription music was wonderful. I couldn’t afford to spend 8-10 dollars on a single album, and there was no way that I was going to use LimeWire or whatever to illegally get music for free. But I could afford 15 bucks a month for Yahoo! Music Unlimited, and that was practically like using LimeWire and just downloading whatever I felt like.

There was one small snag, though. We were still using dial-up internet, and so there was no way that I could download enough music to make paying for Yahoo! Music Unlimited worthwhile. Fortunately, at the end of 2006, my wife and I flew out to visit my parents, who have had broadband since, like, 2001. After spending a week with fast internet, my wife couldn’t stand using dial-up anymore, so we finally decided to sign up for cable internet. Once we had cable, signing up for Yahoo! Music Unlimited seemed like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, Yahoo! Music Unlimited wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. The selection was limited in weird ways, and the software that went with it was horribly buggy. So after a few months, I abandoned that and signed up for Urge instead. Urge was a collaboration between Microsoft and MTV to provide an integrated music store within Windows Media Player. It was a pretty nice service, but a few months later, Microsoft abandoned Urge in favor of their own Zune service (more on this later) and MTV sold Urge to Rhapsody. Rhapsody gave Urge subscribers several months to switch over, but I figured there was no reason to wait and jumped over right away. Unfortunately, I never felt that Rhapsody was as good a service as Urge, so I was disappointed that Urge was going away. But I had my eyes on something new and different anyway.

Soon after I bought my Creative Zen Sleek Photo in early fall of 2006, Microsoft released their answer to the iPod, the infamous and ill-fated Zune. The original Zune received fairly mixed reviews, because it was bigger than an iPod, uglier than an iPod, cost the same as an iPod, and offered basically one distinctive feature that the iPod didn’t: the ability to wirelessly transmit songs and pictures from one Zune to another, as long as they were within 30 feet of each other. This was virtually worthless, because the transmitted songs expired once they had been played three times, or after three days, whichever came first. But the Zune also had a rather distinctive look, a very polished and attractive UI, and access to a subscription music service known as Zune Pass.

I was very intrigued by the Zune, but the mixed/negative reviews that it received gave me pause. Every time I played with the demo unit at the local Target, I absolutely loved it. But then I’d read reviews again, and have second thoughts. But I finally realized that if I loved using the Zune, and it had the one feature I couldn’t live without (i.e., subscription service), then there was no reason not to get it.

I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure where I was going with this, but I think you can tell that there always seems to be something else that I want. Part of this is just a natural consequence of the fact that technology companies keep coming out with new versions of their products. But a lot of it comes from simply not being content with what have. There always seems to be one more thing that I need to complete my technology collection. And frankly, a lot of these things have ended up being a disappointment.

But I may be learning my lesson. For the first time in a long time, there really isn’t anything I want. Oh sure, I would love to have a MacBook Air. And I kind of want to get a new Playstation 3 to replace the one I sold. And in a couple of years I will want to replace the iPad I just bought. But I really don’t feel like I need any of those things, and (aside from the iPad), I probably won’t actually get any of them. Am I growing up? Or is an iPad really all that I need? I don’t know, but I’m not going to complain either way.

I Think I’m a Vampire

So, I pretty much hate the sun. When I get up in the morning, and the sky is clear and blue and the sun is shining in my window, I get depressed. When I get up in the morning and I have to turn on lights in my house because it’s so dark and gloomy out that I can’t see otherwise, well, then I’m happy.

I don’t know why this is. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine that the vast majority of people are the opposite. I always hear people exclaiming over how wonderful the weather is when it’s sunny out, and complaining about how crappy the weather is when it’s cold and dark and rainy. And frankly, I wonder what’s wrong with these people. I cannot emphasize this enough. Sunlight depresses me. There have been many days when I have stomped around the house, snapping at my family and being generally grumpy and unpleasant. And on those days, I find myself wondering why in the world I’m in such a rotten mood, and more often than not, I come to realization that it’s because of the weather. The wonderful, bright, shiny, clear, blue-skied weather that most people get all happy and excited about puts me in an absolutely rotten mood.

This is true about seasons too. Most people love summer, when it’s all warm and sunny and crap. Most people get depressed about winter, when it’s cold and gloomy and snowy. I’m the complete opposite. I love cold, snowy days, and I hate warm, sunny days. The main problem is heat. I don’t handle heat well. If the temperature outside is much above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, I get all sluggish and cranky. But even sunny days in the winter make me cranky. There’s just something about sunlight that angers me.

Conversely, I delight in gloom and clouds and darkness and precipitation. Rainy days fill me with glee, and there’s no weather event that makes me happier than a rip-roarin’ blizzard. (Well, except for the fact that I have to shovel afterwards.) I don’t know what it is about gloomy weather that makes me happy and cheery weather that makes me cranky. But obviously I have a few theories, or I wouldn’t have bothered to write a blog post about it.

When I was a kid, probably 8 or 9, I was playing at a park with some other random kids, and one of them threw sand in my eyes. I ended up in the emergency room and I had to wear an eye patch for several hours/days. So maybe I’m a pirate vampire. Or a vampire pirate. Anyway, I’m also extra-sensitive to sunlight. As a kid, I always assumed that having sand thrown in my eyes is what made me extra-sensitive to sunlight, but as a more skeptical adult, I’m less convinced that there’s a correlation there. I really have no idea, since I’m not an eye doctor. The point is, for whatever reason, bright sunlight hurts my eyes.

So maybe that’s why I hate sunny days. Or maybe it’s just because everybody likes sunny days, and I have an obsessive need to hate things that “normal” people like, and like things that normal people hate. For example, I didn’t buy an iPod until last year, but I bought one of every kind of Zune ever made. Also, when the Nintendo Gamecube came out in 2001, it was available in black and purple and I, of course, bought a purple one. Finally, I couldn’t stand Nirvana as a teenager in the 90s. So perhaps I hate sunny days because liking sunny days is the “popular” thing to do.

Or maybe I’m a miserable, depressed person, and I love rainy days because they match my general mood. That’s certainly a possibility. I do wear dark clothes and listen to heavy metal. And maybe sunny days just make me bitter because they remind me of the happiness and joy that is missing from my dark and gloomy existence. I don’t think that’s it, though.

The strange thing (or perhaps it’s not so strange) is that I really don’t even understand what it is is about warm, sunny days that people like so much. From my perspective, warm, sunny days mean several negative things. First, warm days are warm, which means heat, which means that I’m more likely to sweat, which is gross. Not only that, but warm, sunny days are bright, which means that I have to squint. Which is annoying. I suppose I could wear sunglasses, but I’m just not a sunglasses kinda person, ya know? Plus, and I realize that this doesn’t apply to all places, but warm, sunny days around here mean more bugs, and I hate bugs. Mosquitoes, black flies, horse flies, you name it, if it has wings and sucks blood from mammals, then I hate it. I don’t have to worry about mosquitoes in the winter.

Which leads me to why I love winter, and dark, gloomy, precipitation-filled days in general. First of all, gloomy days are dark, so I don’t have to squint. Gloomy days are cooler, so I don’t have to sweat. And there’s just something comforting about water falling from the sky. I don’t know what it is, but watching and/or listening to snow and/or rain just fills me with a sense of… contentment.

Now, I’m not saying that gloomy days are perfectly perfect. I would much rather be outside on a warm, sunny day than on a cold, rainy day. I don’t particularly like getting wet, or being excessively cold, so as long as it’s not too buggy outside, I much prefer being outside on a sunny day than on a gloomy day. But that actually just reinforces my preferences, because I hate being outside in general. Gloomy days are thus better than sunny days, because I have more of an excuse to stay inside on a gloomy day than on a sunny day.

So yeah. I’m weird. But that’s not anything you didn’t already know if you read my blog regularly. I do wonder just how weird I am sometimes, though. I mean, I can’t be the ONLY person who prefers rainy days to sunny days. Can I?