Sunday, March 07, 2010

11 inspiration songs (that you might not have heard before)

We've all got songs that make us feel like we want to get up and conquer the world, or at least get through one more day. Here are a few of mine. Some might be predictable, some you've probably forgotten about for 20 years, a couple might be cheesy, still others might be new and interesting to you. Watch and listen!

The Temper Trap - Sweet Disposition
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My newest inspiration - this reminds me of why my wife and I are doing all that we're doing together right now. We made a choice for our future and we're following through on it. "Won't stop till it's over. Won't stop to surrender."

Talk Talk - Life's What You Make It
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I remember this struck a nerve even way back in 1986, and I still feel the same when I hear it today. I grew up without a sense of entitlement, and always did pretty much everything my own way. For example, I dropped out of high school and moved to the midwest when I was 17. I worked at K-Mart on the overnight shift to pay the rent. Then I came back, went to NYU and got two degrees in film. You gotta trust the plan, man!

Whenever I feel I'm getting off track in my life, I listen to this song again and it sets me right.

Most of the music I listened to in the late 80's and early 90's was dark and depressing. This song kind of is too, but it was defiant in a way that most electronic music wasn't. "I'm never gonna do what you want me to" - so metal! I love that line, because you can apply it to EVERYTHING.

Warning for epilepsy sufferers - the next video will cause seizures.

Yeah yeah, but I was listening to Republica long before this song became a staple in between quarters at basketball games.

In the mid-90's, I was coming off what I can only describe today as a really, REALLY bad breakup. (It was more complicated than that, but I'm simplifying.) I lost basically all of my friends, and kinda lost my mind for a little while too. It was a dark, dark time and place for me. This song helped bring me back.

This song meant nothing to me until it came on the radio the first time I played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I was working at Rockstar Games at the time and helping play-test the game, even though that wasn't my job. When this song came on, I sort of just sat there, drove around a bit and took it all in. I felt like I was working on something important, something that would make a lasting impression on popular culture. I remember that feeling whenever I hear it today.

I almost didn't post this one - it's embarrassing. But it did (and does) get me going. We're all entitled to our guilty pleasures. I also first heard it while working at Rockstar (hence the special meaning of "hey now, you're a Rockstar" to me).

I first heard this during another dark time in my life, when I realized I was stuck in a corporate world with no obvious way out. I saw the rest of my life laid out before me and it was either give in and sell my soul or do something else. This song helped inspire me to make a dramatic change. "You know you're better than this."

This is my "everything's going to be ok" song. Even though that's pretty much the opposite of what it says... that's what it means to me.

These next few all relate to my and my wife's store, and how I feel about it.

This album came out just after the store opened, and this song perfectly illustrates how I feel about it. "We're not at the end but we've already won". I am very optimistic now.

A more defiant song, but it still makes me think of the store. There are a lot of forces actively working against us, and we are just pushing right through them. People who underestimate us are already learning that standing in our way is a mistake.

Hardly anybody knows it but this was the very first song we played in our store, on purpose. It described our customers and it also described us in a lot of ways. So we planned that ever since this album was released, and every time I heard it, it got me motivated to open the store - and now every time I hear it, I'm reminded of why we did it.

Friday, March 05, 2010

I bought an iPhone and I hate myself

UPDATE: Ha! I fixed my old Fuze! The iPhone is going back.

I'll leave the rest of this post up so you all know why. But happy days are here again.


I've officially crossed over to the dark side, and done something I swore I'd never do: I bought a touchscreen-only phone. I'm filled with self-loathing and buyer's remorse right now.

I didn't really have anything specifically against the iPhone other than the lack of a keyboard. (I have an iPod that I love and have owned other Apple products before, so I'm not a general hater.) But my beloved HTC Fuze officially died yesterday (mere hours after writing a post about how I'd saved its life), and with all the customizations I'd made to my Fuze, the iPhone was strangely the cheapest smartphone I could get that approached its capabilities. Yes, I said "approached"! And I needed something today, I couldn't wait for Ebay or whatever.

Ah, Fuze... your star shone brightly in the few short but wonderful months we had together. Farewell. (T_T)

I've had my iPhone for around eight hours now and so far, all it's done is make me angry. But I still might keep it, and I'll explain why once I'm done complaining.

What pisses me off about it:

1. The infernal "unlock" screen that you apparently can't disable (and I'm not the first to talk about it). I want to turn on my phone and be doing stuff, and I'm not worried about mistakenly pressing the "on" button that's too stiff to accidentally press anyway. I turn my phone on and off multiple times per hour, so this is hugely annoying. The iPhone seems to be made for people who don't use their phones very often.

2. The "home" screen is a big bunch of nothing. What the hell am I supposed to get out of staring at a bunch of icons? I'm used to - and love - HTC's TouchFlo interface, which puts all sorts of useful info on the home screen and organizes things in logical and intuitive ways. And it looks cleaner than the iPhone too, even with all that info. What I miss most on the iPhone home screen is the weather, but I also don't like that the clock is tiny and way up at the top, the date is on an otherwise random-looking icon, and I don't even know how it handles displaying missed calls or incoming messages. Everything feels like it's several clicks away on the iPhone.

It is an archaic, bad interface. I can't be anymore blunt than that. Anyone who says otherwise has not used another modern smartphone.

3. I can't customize anything. I am not a sheep, I don't like my stuff to be just like stuff everybody else has. But there is seemingly no way to customize much on the iPhone beyond the ring tone. Don't like the color scheme or theme? Tough. Want to change the email notification sound? Too bad. Want to (gasp) replace the useless home screen? Forget it. I knew the iPhone was a little more locked down than most phones, but this is ridiculous.

4. The email app SUCKS. And email's a big reason why I even have a smartphone. And as per above, there is no way to replace it. I can't even figure out how to "mark all as read", which is a pretty basic fucking function for an email application. If I'm missing something, please tell me, because it is a huge pain in the ass having to actually click on every single email I get to mark it as read when 90% of the time I know what an email's about by the preview in the message list.

5. There is no external notification of incoming messages. What?! Even all the dumbphones I've owned had a little blinking light. My Fuze had a smoothly pulsating orb, very sci-fi. The iPhone has nothing. If I want to check whether I have email or messages, I need to turn the damn thing on, slide to unlock it, and then look at the stupid little icon at the bottom of the screen. This is madness.

6. The screen is the worst I've used in at least six years. Seriously, I had a Samsung SGH-A707 that had a 320x240 screen, but since it was a lot smaller, it had a higher pixel density than the iPhone. My Fuze had a 640x480 resolution, and given its size, that pixel density was probably the highest ever in a phone. The iPhone has a 480x320 screen at 3.2", which looks very chunky up close. I can see the individual pixels. Everything's kinda ugly. (The HTC Tilt 2, by contrast, has a 480x800 screen!)

7. The lack of a keyboard. This one's so self-evident to me that I actually had to add it to the post after publishing - I didn't even realize I had only mentioned it in the first paragraph. Anyway, my first text message on this thing took me ten minutes to write. My second, which I decided to just try to write as quickly as I could, had so many uncorrected typos that I had to send another text message to correct it. Only I accidentally hit "send" before I was done, so I had to send a third message to correct the correction. Yeah, I hate touchscreens.

Now that my bitching is done (for the moment), why might I keep my iPhone anyway? Because frankly, I don't have a lot of good options (something I've also complained about in the past). I thought about returning it for a Tilt 2, which is basically the updated version of my Fuze, but it's a) too big, and b) still running that crappy old 528mhz Qualcomm processor like my Fuze had. I could accept that in the Fuze because it was old, but if I'm gonna put four bones down on a new phone (remember, I am not in my upgrade period yet), I expect a little snappier performance.

I'm still considering the new Motorola Backflip, which comes out in like a day, but I'm concerned about the unusual form factor and it's also using that same crap CPU. It does have a keyboard, though, and it's AT&T's only phone running Android, so I'm hoping the performance is better than the Windows Mobile-based Tilt 2.

I also will need to pay a 10% restocking fee if I return this phone, which is $40 - not insignificant. That's $40 basically down the toilet if I return the phone, and I keep that money if I don't.

You might ask why I don't just switch to Verizon or something, but I'm on a family plan and my wife loves her iPhone. (As they say, opposites attract.) I could still break my contract, but then this would all be even more expensive in the long term, because I'd be paying a termination fee plus the cost of a new smartphone plus the extra cost of us being on separate individual plans.

So I'm kinda stuck with AT&T, and they've pretty much thrown all their high-end eggs in one basket with the iPhone, which IMO is really a pretty shitty phone. The problem is they just don't have much that's any better in value.

I'll wait and see if I can try out a Backflip once it's in stores. I have 30 days to learn to love my iPhone.

(As I said at the top, it's now going back today. Here's the first and last photo of my day-old iPhone, taken with the camera of my Fuze.)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

HTC Fuze - don't throw out a perfectly good phone

UPDATE #2! I'd posted an initial update that I had ironically broken my phone for good on the very day I wrote this post. Well, it's fixed again! So everything below still applies, and I'm adding in the info on the new problem I just fixed. One thing about the Fuze is that it is very sensitive. Do not taunt the HTC Fuze.


I've just had one of those "phew!" moments. See, I've only had my refurbished HTC Fuze for about 6 months and I can't upgrade for another 12. If anything happens to my out-of-warranty Fuze, I'm up the creek - if I want a phone even half as capable as this one, it's going to cost me about $400.

A week or so ago, I dropped my phone and it splayed itself all over the sidewalk. This is actually about the fourth time I've done this - these things are slippery, and heavy for their size. All four times, my screen has gone nuts afterwards, like the internal cable had come half-disconnected. Two of the four times, I've also lost audio completely, meaning I couldn't hear anybody on the other end of a call. My speakerphone and microphone worked, but not the internal speaker.

A lot of people would probably throw their phones out, thinking they'd broken the hardware. And I have to believe these are common problems. But no! There's something weird about the Fuze, it's like it's self-healing. Spooky! I'll bet there are a lot of Fuzes out there in landfills that are perfectly fine. Here's what I did to fix these problems:

Reset repeatedly. It may actually take a full day for things to get totally back to normal. But eventually, you'll start to notice things are getting better. For me, I always start to be able to see parts of the AT&T logo on the reset screen before anything else, and that's when I know things will eventually be ok. It's very strange, like tuning in an analog TV channel using rabbit ears. Keep going and you'll get it just right - just keep resetting.

If you're like me, when the screen goes you may also lose screen alignment. Sometimes it can seem like you're not able to get it back. This last time, I spent literally two days trying to re-align my screen, and I thought the phone's digitizer had died. I actually bought a new phone! (An iPhone, no less.) But I wasn't happy with the iPhone, so I kept trying with the Fuze, and I eventually stumbled on the (dumb) solution to this problem.

The alignment instructions say to "tap" the screen. This is incorrect. You need to press and hold until the cross moves. Getting alignment to work by tapping (as the phone tells you to do) is just blind luck - it's how I always did it before, but it usually took several tries. Getting it to work by pressing and holding works every time. It's how it's really supposed to be done.

This was a tougher nut to crack. The first time it happened, my speaker just spontaneously came back on its own, so you might be able to just wait a while. But this last time, I was without the ability to really make or receive calls for days. I was very close to buying a new phone, but I didn't want to waste the money - I love my Fuze, and it worked fine otherwise. So I googled and googled, and finally stumbled upon somebody who had this same problem and solved it by quickly and repeatedly tapping the speakerphone on and off during a call. (Try calling your voicemail if you don't want to bother a friend, who you won't be able to hear initially anyway.) I tried it, and it worked! It only took about four or five quick taps and I had sound again. Very easy.

The Fuze is more or less an obsolete phone now in terms of specs, but with the custom ROMs still being released by Energy and others, its functionality has been extended, its interface aesthetics and usefulness is up there with any current phone, and there's just no reason to throw one out unless you absolutely have to (or you get a really good deal on an upgrade). In fact, part of my debugging process for the sound problem was throwing a new ROM on my Fuze, and that's also part of what made me so loathe to let it go. I just love the interface (go to post #2), and it just keeps getting better. (I also love the high-density screen, which only the very top-of-the-line phones can match, even today... and no, that doesn't include the iPhone!)

I'll upgrade when my 18 month window is up, but I'm glad I wasn't forced to now, and if you've got these problems or others like them, they're usually deceptively easy to fix.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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