Spotify user report in Singapore

Have been using Spotify as my main streaming service for both classical and pop/rock/indie music for a while. Just like to share with you my experience here. And you can judge whether you wanna give it a try or even pay for it. I’m not going into discussion how spotfiy is paying the musicians here.

This report is based on both PC and Android versions.

Pros:
1. One of the biggest streaming provider, legal, free (at least for basic service).
2. PC version is totally user friendly.
3. The premium account charge of $10 per month is also reasonable. I’m assuming you would agree that one month of music streaming service should be more valuable than two cups of mediocre Starbucks coffee.

Cons:
Mobile version still lacks some key feature.
1. For free account, you can only shuffle play a playlist. If the playlist contains only a few tracks (e.g. a symphony), spotfiy will insert other tracks they think you would like (so far i find their recommendation pretty poor..)

Some smart guy would suggest use the skip button for this. The spotify guys are not dumb either. They set a 6 skips per hour rule on the free mobile account.

I know you’ll be really be pissed off when you were listening to some great rock, suddenly one of the “boring” Bach’s cantatas was inserted (this is purely fictional, I have not experienced classical inserted into pop/rock listening session. Btw, isn’t that a good way to raise the awareness of classical music?)
Vice vesa, when you were listening to the St. Matthew’s Passion, you will certainly be annoyed when some crap pop popped up.

2. Another key feature lacking in mobile app is that there is no way to find out which musicians you are following. Everytime you need to search the entire spotify database.

3. Apart from that, when data connection lost, you can’t playback the cached tracks you just listened. I find this more useful feature than having to preload the offline tracks.

Miscs:

Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis as encoding format, which is a fine choice. Even though it is not as great as what I would like to have DTS Headphone:X. (Disclaimer: I work for DTS.)

Another thing I really hope Spotify could do is to launch their premium service together with Singtel. Such that the data charge can be free or at least much more than the plan package quota. I feel my 3GB monthly quota not able to keep up if I were to use Spotify as my sole mobile music service. I know that would mean Singtel have to kill their own AMPed which I have yet heard a good report.

Before all these being fixed, I’ll be still paying my naxos.com subscription, they’re even cheaper than spotify and also cover a pretty wide repertoire for classical music.

Darkness in Light

Last Friday, I attended a concert by Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) in esplanade concert hall. The title of this post actually comes from the concert.

It is also the name of the violin concerto composed by Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund.

One interesting fact of the concert is that, this was the first time I heard both the conductor and soloist performed in the orchestra (besides conducting and playing as a soloist). Conductor Vanska played clarinet in the opening piece, while violinist Pekka Kuusisto joined in the violin section in the second half.

The concert openned with Dvorak’s Serenade in D minor, which is certainly not a standard piece in concert programme. In fact, this was the first time I heard it. It’s always good to hear some thing new. But to be honest, I find the color tone a bit strange. Most of the time, oboe was the only instrument on high register, and sounded floating out of the otherwise bass dominated ensemble (bassoon, horn, cello, double bass).

The Asian premiere of Fagerlund’s Violin Concerto turned out to be a rather interesting piece. I particular like the slow movement. There happens to be a great recording on youtube by Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the same soloist Friday, Pekka Kuusisto. You can find out yourself here.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMAkBHqnJ6A  part 2

The main attraction of the concert for me was Sibelius’ Symphony No.5 in the second half. Having heard both Vanska’s recordings with Lahti Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra on BIS label. I was eager to find out how it worked out with SSO. The performance sounded generally fine, apart from some minor late entry of section in the beginning. I would also like the woodwind sounded a bit “colder” or more distinct from the string section. This is Scandinavian music, right?
The audience broke into applause after the first movement. You can tell this applause was sincere rather than inappropriate.

On my way back home, I chatted with my friend in SSO who played in the concert just now. When I told him Vanska just resigned from Minnesota Orchestra, which has locked out its musicians and cancelled the entire 2012-2013 season and ongoing. His reply was rather simple and true: whenever economy worsen, arts suffer the first.

When most people had to make a choice between bread and music, the answer would be apparent. Even though I skipped my dinner for the concert, I have to make sure my family were well fed. I play my part in supporting the music community by purchasing music live or recorded, from rock/pop to classical. Over the past 10+ years, the money I spend on music can easily pay me a car, say Volkswagen Golf (not in Singapore with the current COE..). However most people today expect music to be free. Many artists were forced to become “entertainer” and many many f**king boring “artists” jumped on to the stage to “entertain” the mindless audience.

I guess I should stop here. This is Darkness in light, happening now in this world we’re living in. If you were not yet bored with what I wrote here, read on what happened to Minnesota Orchestra and listen to the swan song of the Minnesota Orchestra. I hope this never happen to the city where I choose to live.

Canon EOS M for Travel

When EOS M was first released, I was a bit skeptical about Canon’s plan. The following EOS 100D somewhat confirmed my hypothesis. Canon certainly doesn’t want EOS M to hurt its own financially succesful EOS xxxD (or Rebel/Kiss) series. On the other hand, mirrorless systems from other firms had pushed Canon hard into developing it’s own mirrorless system.

Due to the reason above, on paper the late to party EOS M is not as exciting as some of the other firms’ offerings. However, choosing APS-C size sensor, excellent EF M lenses and seamless integration with Canon’s DSLR system, EOS M has its own selling points.

For casual snap, I’m happy with my HTC One XL. And my Canon EOS 40D DSLR still serves me right after five years. There was no strong attraction for me to adding a mirrorless system. It wasn’t until the following two events happened, i decided to take a serious look at EOS M again.

1. I planned for a travel to Perth, west Australia. And I wanted a more relax trip. DSLR togather with the lenses are just a bit bulky.

(Don’t be fooled by anyone who told you that a bit more exercises and a little more time in the gym would make your DSLR system lighter. Try yourself and judge. I finished seven full marathons in past years and could lift 100KG weight. I don’t find DSLR with lenses light by any mean)

2. The week before I bought the EOS M, I learned the news a new firmware which would significantly improve the AF was soon to be released for EOS M. What’s more, a new EF M 11-22 would reach the market right before I headed out to the desert in Perth.

The following weekend I purchased the system with EOS M + EF M 18-55 + EF M 22 + adaptor + 90EX + leather jacket (you need it to improve the poor grip) for just a little more than S$800 (after selling a free gift EFS 55-250). This is cheaper than what I paid for some of my DSLR lenses. I don’t think any other mirrorless systems can compete at this price or even higher. If minus the price for lenses, adaptor and flash (all these keep much of their value after years), the EOS M body only cost me about S$50. Even my home affair minister was supportive of my purchase plan…

The EF M lenses:

By now, I have all the three lenses available. They are all nicely built both mechanically and optical wise. Each of them seems to be among the best of the class. All three lenses are very affordable too compard to other firm or Canon’s own DSLR lense with same quality. I sold my Sigma 10-20 before I got my EF M 11-22.

The fact is, all three lens performs better than the EF S counter parts probably due to the flange distance and focal length. My future plan is to use EF M for ultrawide, wide zoom and prime. My DSLR would deal with the >=40mm primes and tele zoom.

Before getting my hands on the EOS M, I thought I would be using the 18-55 for most of casual shoot. But I was wrong. The lovely EF M 22/F2 was almost full time attached to the M. It was only during the Perth trip, 18-55 started to take the main role. I only used the EF M 22/F2 indoor and at night during the trip.

Here are some of the photos I took during the trip

The pinnacles

PerthDay3006

Vineyard in Swan Valley

PerthDay4004

PerthDay4002

Perth city view from Swan river

PerthDay4005

Here are some of the TIPS that may help cover M’s weakness compared to a DSLR during your trip:

1. Get THREE batteries. One major complain about EOS M or mirrorless cameras in general is the battery life. 3 batteries should serve most people right. I usually end up using 1.5 batteries during a day. 3 is on my safe side, and I don’t need to charge every battery every night.

2. Get a cap (for yourself), it helps block out some sun light while you shoot outdoor.

3. Setting up the EOS M while you’re on the tour bus or you asked your wife/partner to handle the camera while you were driving: This is what I did, Tv mode 1/1000, ISO auto up to 3200, AF multi-zone autofocus, always shoot in raw.

4. If you shoot in Av mode, you can trust the metering system on EOS M when you can’t really use the LCD as a reference for exposure. Of course, you still have to adjust the exposure compensation according to the scene.

[Update] 5. Secure your Sunglasses while composing outdoor in strong sunshine. I lost a pair of mine during one of my travels..

Conclusion

EOS M is far from perfect. but remember I told you it costs only $50. If you’re not happy with a $50 mirrorless, there are other options from Sony or Olympus or Panasonic, or you can also wait for the EOS M mark II.

[Update] EOS M mark II was released. Knowing the Canon way, I thing Mark IV sounds a better upgrade..

I would say it is great for travel and daily use. For more serious tasks, just pull out your DSLR or whatever you’re happy with.

Canon’s interesting answer to mirrorless

Canon has just introduced two more DSLRs into the line-up, 700D and 100D.

http://www.dpreview.com/news/2013/03/21/canon-eos-100d-rebel-sl1-hands-on-preview

The 700D is a typical “every year must update” model. While the 100D is a slight more interesting one. I feel 100D is Canon’s compromised solution to buy some time for developing the 2nd generation EOS-M. Let’s see how it works out in the market.

Too bad, both the 700D and 100D would most likely carry the vintage 18mp CMOS sensor debuted years ago.

70D is still missing, I’m crossing my finger it would come out with a better CMOS and improved AF system. Yes, Nikon D7100 is really what I want for a DSLR. But I’m OK with my Canon 40D. And since in the future I’d like to have a mirrorless backup that can take my current EOS lenses. Jump ship to Nikon is not a option, if the EOS-M from Canon is not a satisfying performer, the V1 J1 mirrorless from Nikon are both real jokes.

If you don’t need certain DSLR feature/performance, and don’t already own some DSLR lense, Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a great mirrorless, just grab this with the 12-50. Sony NEX series can be another option as well.

My naked laptop part II

3年前经过一番研究,买了个山寨白牌上网本。由于是山寨的反而不受Intel对上网本屏幕尺寸限制,所以配置反而比品牌上网本高,Atom 1.6G CPU 2G Ram 12寸 1366 x 768 LCD。而且内外部做工也都不错。以当年的标准,够轻够用,之前出门旅行一直靠这个。甚至我PhD答辩都用的这台机器。现在主要放在客厅接电视当播放器。

最近发现CPU长时间100%运转,机器会自行关机,底部也很烫,风扇出风口倒是温度不高。排除了软件问题后,综合以上现象,也就剩下一个解决方案,拆!

费了点周折总算将其大卸八块。吃惊的发现风扇下面居然没有CPU。原来Atom参考设计风扇不是必须的。CPU通过一个大片散热片将热倒入风扇上部。这台机器问题就出现在,导热硅胶干了,而且CPU接触散热片面积不够。恰好手头多一块小散热片,将其塞入CPU与主板散热片之间,两边抹上硅胶。然后整机原样装回。再开机让CPU长时间100%运转,温度没以前那么烫,也不会自动关机了。

naked之前说了,这山寨本配置不错,经过拆解发现内部布版设计也不错,可见方案商还是有点功力的,就是用料稍差,不过和品牌厂商低端产品是一个水平上的。这年头消费电子不好做啊。

For part I, please visit here http://vincent4wang.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/my-naked-notebook/

How to make your home WiFi better?

I was driven crazy by the poor internet and WiFi in my home. Called Singtel for on-site support twice. They even replaced one set of the integrated modem+router, rewired the whole cable in the flat. Since the last on-site support, the DSL connection is better but DNS and WiFi still poor. Finally I manged to sort all these out myself and share with you here.

So what are the problems?

1. Internet down too often, not just WiFi, LAN or Mio TVdown either? Switch ON/OFF, no use? Consider contact Singtel first, let them update the firmware or replace the 2wire router for you. I had mine replaced and Mio TV since working fine.

Before you read further, I assume you know how to access the router setup page. Try open in your browser http://192.168.1.254

Note: this IP is dependent on your router manufacturer.

2. You can log on QQ, Skype, PPstream, but can’t browse the net? Singtel DNS fails. You can try set your modem using Google DNS, free and more stable! Don’t know how? Google is free.

3. WiFi too slow and unstable, drop like crazy?

Get inssider from http://www.metageek.net/products/inssider/

Scan your neighbours’ WiFi channel frequencies, set your WiFi channel frequency away from the crowded area, usually channels 1 and 11 should be avoided.

If you using Android device, get WiFi analyzer from Play market

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.farproc.wifi.analyzer&hl=en

4. Place your WiFi router above the ground level, central to your devices not blocked by concrete walls.

Linksys

5. Use WPA2 AES to encrypt your WiFi, it is more secure. It may improve your WiFi SNR as well. But this might be dependent on various situations, some ppl find WEP higher SNR. But if you’re on a 802.11n network, you should only use WPA2, otherwise the speed would be capped at g level.

6. Set static IP on your device.

7. What? After all these your apple ipad, android pad or phone still refused to be connected? Replace it! I mean your WiFi router. (I have tried all the tips/changes online in my router and Nexus 7. They just don’t mate..) What I did was disable the Singtel 2wire WiFi, just keep the DSL and connect it to my Cisco Linksys WiFi router. Voila! my Nexus 7 finally connected to the world again and has not be dropping so far. WiFi SNR for all my devices up by >10dB!

The tips here are not specific for Singtel. Most works for any ISP, WiFi routers.

Hope this helps!